SAN JOSE (KPIX) – When 29-year-old Richard Russell stole a passenger plane from the Sea-Tac Airport, he told air traffic controllers he didn’t need help flying because he played video games. Soon afterwards, he crashed to his death.

Russell used a tow tractor to turn a parked aircraft 180-degrees toward the runway, got behind the controls and took off.

With no flight experience, he was still able to fly the plane like he was in an air show before fatally crashing.

In fact, flight simulators are very accurate and more and more of the videos are available online.

The ones at San Jose State University’s Aviation Lab are so realistic, even the simulated cockpit tilts and swivels as pilots maneuver the controls.

“The real purpose of simulators is to help pilots with instrument flying which is flying using the instruments instead of looking out the windows,” said Ryan Soohoo, a pilot.

Yet, you don’t have to be in flight school to access high resolution simulators, video games and streaming and step-by-step video guides such as one entitled “How to Start a Boeing 737-800.”

It has over two million views on YouTube.

Russell stole had no formal flight training, but told air traffic controllers he didn’t need it as he performed some dangerous aerial stunts. He ended up crashing into a small island and was killed.

Dr. Fred Barez is San Jose State’s Aviation Technology Chair.

“In general, it’s a lot easier to fly and get off the ground than it is to land,” he said.

Barez said anyone can go online and buy flight simulator software and the cockpit hardware to go with it and practically teach themselves how to fly.

He doesn’t want to restrict those sales because it would hurt legitimate students like the ones he teaches. He says security should be beefed up at the airports.

“They should have been able to stop him on the tarmac before he actually flew,” he said.

Student Kenny Behlen says he doesn’t want what happened in Seattle to give young people the wrong impression.

“Just because some guy hopped into a plane and flew and did some barrel rolls, I don’t want people to think there is nothing to being a pilot,” said Behlen. “It takes a lot of time and training to get into this career.”


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