You probably think aviation is getting worse. Planes are more crowded, extra fees more nefarious, the glamor of the jet age left behind like a contrail. But flying is in fact safer, faster, cheaper, and fancier (for those with cash) than ever. To get a look at how the industry’s pushing forward, we ventured beyond the locked doors of the airport. We saw how pilots train for disaster and avoid the turbulence that spills your coffee. We stood next to a jet engine enduring tests in a concrete bunker and landed a plane on one engine (sorta!). We put a GoPro on a bag, threw it onto the conveyer belt, and watched what happened after it disappeared into the darkness.

Training for disaster in an $18 million simulator.

Simulators are a key tool in pilot training, thanks to high-def screens and authentic cockpit components that maximize realism. A few taps on a touchscreen can recreate the experience with startling realism, letting a pilot run through the process of shutting down the engine, cutting off its fuel, and dousing it with flame retardant before trimming out for level flight and deciding where to land.