Richard Russell Horizon Air Q400 HiJack and Microsoft Flight Simulator

Q400 Microsoft Flight Simlulator Seattle Hijack Richard Russell

(Image Credit Denis Kabelev / Shutterstock)


Richard Russell stole a Horizon Air Q400 from SeaTac airport. What looked like a joyride seemed to transition into a deathwish as the aircraft crashed on Ketron Island in Southern Puget Sound.

As reported in the press, everyone is asking how he could have done this? He is not a pilot, where did he learn to start up and fly this aircraft? I can probably come up with a pretty good possibility how he would have known to pull this off.

While Richard was speaking to the air traffic controllers he stated, “I’ve played video games before so I know what I’m doing a little bit.” I don’t think we are talking just any video game. It is my opinion the investigators will find out he spent many hours, maybe years, using any number of flight simulator programs, including but not limited to Microsoft Flight Simulator X.

MS Flight Simulator is as close as anybody can get to flying a plane without leaving the ground. There is even a flight ground school program built into the software. And in fact at one time, I believe the FAA allowed up to 10 hours of recorded flight sim experience toward their licensing requirements.

The Majestic Software Q400 is one of the aircraft that you can upload into the game. And in fact the following video even shows how to start up the Q400. Advance to 4:08 into the video to learn how to start a Q400.

Here is a short video of a takeoff and short flight of the Q400

MS Flight Simulator allows you to choose your aircraft, your airport and your staging spot. After learning how to start up and fly the aircraft in simulator program, he could have literally moved the sim aircraft to the exact place he started it up, taxi out to the runway, taken off and flown the same routes he flew Friday night.

I am speaking from experience. I have many hours invested over the past 15 years with MS Flight simulator. I have even been given the opportunity to take second seat in many of the aircraft I flew with the simulator. I know for a fact I could start up a 737 and take off. I know I could take over the controls and land it in an emergency. It’s that accurate.

Most commercial aircraft do not require a key to start. Maybe the solution is a key or an electronic card or chip based technology only available to the pilots which would unlock the initial start up procedures of commercial aircraft. And no, you cannot start up a Q400 with the flip of one switch. If you watch the video above you have to complete many tasks, in order, for the aircraft to even start.

Off subject but noteworthy, on one of my projects out at Edwards AFB, it was brought to my attention inmates from the former Boron Federal Prison Camp(FPC) would work out at the base each day. However if that inmate was a pilot, they were not allowed to take those positions and had to stay at the camp. Why do you think that was?

Yes, we need secure options in place to keep this from happening again. And yes, it is my opinion a games based flight simulator was instrumental in giving the wannabe pilot hijacker enough knowledge to take flight in a real aircraft.