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Tech Tuesdays with Russell: A trip to United Airlines' Training Center

Russell Okung ventured to the United Airlines' training center for the first trip in his new "Tech Tuesday with Russell" series. (Photos by Aric DiLalla)

DENVER – It was a bumpy landing.

On his two-hour flight on Tuesday, Broncos left tackle Russell Okung completed nearly a dozen landings as the pilot of a 747. Well, he did so in a simulator of a 747's cockpit, which he took control of at United Airlines' Flight Training Center.

But on one of the mock runs through a strong cross-wind, Okung didn't land the plane in the smoothest of fashions.

"That's not as easy as I thought it was," Okung joked.

For the most part, though, Okung thrived during a series of takeoffs, landings, barrel rolls and other maneuvers in a variety of conditions.

"I think he did fantastic," said Ralph Casciano, a United pilot instructor who guided Okung through the morning's flight exercises.

Not many people are given the opportunity to fly in the simulator, which is normally reserved for United pilots from across the country who travel to Denver to practice difficult flight maneuvers. The training system, which allows the instructor to control weather, speed, takeoff distance and a number of other variables, plays a big role in keeping commercial pilots sharp. Included in the simulator are scenarios that are based off data from real plane crashes. United uses these situations to help their pilots train for emergency situations.

On Tuesday, Okung got just a slight dose of what those pilots take on while in the air. The simulator mocked the sounds, sights and feel of a real flight, so Okung experienced the whole package as they flew through a thunderstorm.

"It was amazing," Okung said. "You fly on flights all the time and you wonder what's going on with turbulence or how they look at certain weather. You get a chance to kind of simulate that, it's been phenomenal. The experience was crazy. I didn't realize that much goes into it.

"I won't be so quick to give the pilot a hard time when I get off flights."

When asked whether it was harder to contain a dangerous NFL edge rusher or fly the simulator, Okung couldn't help but laugh.

"I think a lot of it comes down to understanding," Okung said. "In our case, there's a lot of film study in our preparation, as well as trusting in my left guard or in the running back to do their job, too. You've got a crew. You're not just one pilot in there. There's a lot of preparation [and] they're depending on the guy next to them. They're depending on their expertise as well as their aptitude as well. Seeing that synergy in-between those worlds is really interesting."

Okung then got the chance to see flight attendant training, which included a number of different emergency preparedness drills. He watched as flight attendants went through evacuation drills, and then he led a few of them himself.

The trip to the United facility was just the beginning of Okung's new "Tech Tuesday" series in which he will dive into the Denver tech community.

"I think there's some really interesting software and hardware that drives our country," he said.
"I've always been in this pursuit to understand it and learn more about it. The first stop is a great partner with the Broncos and United.

"It's going to be the first of many but [I'm] looking forward to going on this journey of seeing really cool, interesting things in Denver and around Colorado."