IFR versus VFR

Just for clarification, my blog articles are geared towards the new flight sim enthusiast.  2017 is “The Year of Flight Simulation”.  With new and updated flight sim platforms from Lockheed Martin (Prepar3d v4), Laminar Research (X-Plane 11) and the new kid on the block Dovetail Games (Flight Sim World)…a lot of hype (very good hype) has been focused on our wonderful hobby.  If you build it, they will come…is just as fitting on the flight sim scene today as it was years ago in that Iowa cornfield. 

Today’s “How To” article is designed to help the new virtual pilot understand the differences of VFR and IFR flight rules as they relate to the flight simulation hobby.  But before we get started and to satisfy the attorneys….allow me to post the fine print.

Fine Print:  Unfortunately I feel the need to state for the record that my “How To” articles and tips are for flight simulation purposes only and should not be used for real world aviation.

Now that we have the legal stuff out of the way…let’s get started!

The Flight Rules

There are two sets of rules for flying and operating aircraft.  VFR and IFR.  The choice between these two sets of rules is generally determined based on weather conditions.  However, other factors may come into play such as flight operations, type of aircraft and terrain/border considerations.  But before we dive into these specific sets of circumstances, let’s clear the air on exactly what VFR and IFR means.  Let’s start with IFR first.

IFR

IFR stands for Instrument Flight Rules and is a set of rules that govern aircraft which fly in what is considered Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC).  IMC, in general terms, just means flying in the clouds.  More to the point, IMC weather conditions are defined as weather that is below the prescribed minimums for VFR flights. 

Essentially, under IFR flight or IFR flight conditions, the pilot or pilots will operate and fly the aircraft by instruments without any outside visual guidance.  In the real world, pilots who wish to fly IFR are required to possess an instrument rating and required to undergo additional training. 

VFR

VFR stands for Visual Flight Rules.  Just as the name implies, VFR flight rules require the aircraft must, at all times be clear of any weather situations which would prevent the pilot from maintaining visual separation with other aircraft, terrain, obstacles etc.  While some VFR flights may be under radar coverage by ATC, under VFR the responsibility for traffic separation lies solely with the pilot in command. 

Other Considerations

While weather certainly plays a crucial part in determining whether one flies VFR or IFR, also the type of aircraft, the type of flight operations being conducted and also general terrain and border considerations must be factored in.  Of course, the other really important factor is pilot rating/certifications.  However, pilot rating/certifications are not applicable in the virtual flying environment. 

Simply put, unless the pilot holds an instrument rating…if weather conditions are not VFR (meaning they are classified as IMC as discussed above) then the aircraft and the pilot will remain firmly in place on the ground. 

The type of aircraft also carries an important factor in the decision.  Something like a J-3 Cub with no lights and no radios will remain grounded under non-VFR conditions.  At a minimum, (along with pilot certification) any aircraft filing for IFR flight must have two-way radio communication capabilities, a transponder and navigation equipment. 

Any sort of scheduled passenger flight operations will require an IFR flight plan to be filed and the pilot/aircraft must fly under IFR flight rules at all times.  The exception to this rule might include certain charter operators, but for insurance purposes even these may be required to always operate IFR.  Obviously all large jet aircraft will generally file and operate IFR. 

Finally, depending on terrain and altitude restrictions, these type of flights might be IFR type.  Also, crossing of international borders will also most likely require an IFR flight plan.

Fine Print:  Unfortunately I feel the need to state for the record that my “How To” articles and tips are for flight simulation purposes only and should not be used for real world aviation.

Again,  while much of what I’ve discussed above comes directly from real-world aviation rules/guidelines, I just want to remind readers this information is not geared towards real world aviation. 

Virtual Flying  – IFR or VFR?  What is most common?

In the virtual world, and specifically speaking about the virtual multi-player networks of VATSIM and IVAO, the most common type of flight operations are IFR.  While both networks welcome and encourage VFR flying, the most common will be IFR. 

Even yours truly, got started on VATSIM flying IFR and of the almost 2000 hours I’ve logged flying on the VATSIM network, I’d guess that 95% of those hours will be under IFR.  As someone with over 17 years of VATSIM experience, if there is any regret I have today, it’s that I didn’t do more VFR General Aviation type of flying on the network to gain a better understanding of the key functional differences between the two. 

What’s Next?

This really is only scratching the surface and this article is really only providing the explanation and differences between IFR and VFR flight.  In a future set of articles I’ll provide more clarification specific to IFR and VFR flying as it relates to virtual flying on the various online, multiplayer networks.

Until next time…happy flying!

Jerry

Fine Print:  Unfortunately I feel the need to state for the record that my “How To” articles and tips are for flight simulation purposes only and should not be used for real world aviation.

Flying the Heavies

Much of these early “How To” blog articles are dedicated to understanding some of the basic knowledge required, as we progress I’ll include some additional and more advanced “How To” information.  At this time I’m assuming you are still very much new to the hobby of flight simulation.  If you have been following my “How To” articles, you may recall I’ve suggested on more than one occasion to start with the default Cessna (or some other single engine, light aircraft) and work your way up.  In my opinion, this is important and shouldn’t be overlooked.  As in the real world, an individual just doesn’t walk off the street and learns to fly a Boeing 747.  They start off in a much, much smaller aircraft.

The principle of flight is the same regardless of aircraft type.  Regardless if you are flying a Cessna 172 or a Boeing 747, you must taxi, takeoff, climb, cruise, descend and land the aircraft.  Again, the process is much the same….but one major difference is in the speed at which you accomplish these tasks.  It’s easier to learn the basics in a slower and more forgiving aircraft like the default Cessna 172.  But certainly as you master these tasks in the Cessna it really is just a matter of applying the same principles as you progress to larger and more complex aircraft.

I know there are some (perhaps many) who have no desire to fly the heavy jets.  Likewise, many of you once you get the hang of flying may never fly anything smaller than a Boeing 737.  This is of course the beauty of our hobby.  There truly is something for everyone.

At some point if you want to try to fly the heavy jet aircraft, I would suggest you start with the default Boeing 737.  The Boeing 737 has been a featured default aircraft of Microsoft Flight Simulator since FS95 and is an easy aircraft to learn.

Tip – When starting to learn how to fly the heavies, stick with the default aircraft.  While these default aircraft models may lack the sophistication of their real world counterpart, the up side in learning is that they lack the sophistication of their real world counterpart.  Said another way, the default aircraft modeled in Flight Simulator are more forgiving and much easier to fly than the study-level, payware models such as PMDG.

Much as I did in the article titled “Your First Flight”, I suggest you load up the default Boeing 737 and head out to KEDW (Edwards Air Force Base).  Our goal is to spend time getting to know the flight characteristics and differences of the Boeing 737 (compared to the Cessna).  I highly suggest following the same steps of concentrating on taxi, takeoff, climb and cruise at first.  As you’ll quickly get the hang of that (since you’ve been practicing and mastering the Cessna), then add the descent and landing phase.  Just follow the pattern shown in the image below until you get it right.

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

JT

Your First Flight

A few weeks ago I shared with you all the choices you have available in the form of flight simulation software.  While you certainly have many options, the majority of my experience and what I will discuss throughout these tutorials will be how it all relates back to Microsoft Flight Simulator/Prepar3D.  Regardless of your choice, once you get it installed the next step is to take that first flight.

While it may be tempting to load up the default Boeing 747 and depart from KJFK in New York and fly to London Heathrow.  If this is your first time in a computer flight simulator, please allow me to provide some advice and encourage you to wait a little while before you jump into the big jets.

Remember, a normal aircraft flight includes several parts of flight including taxi, takeoff, climb, cruise, descent and landing.  Each of these parts do require a certain amount of practice and they are the same regardless of aircraft type.  Practice really does make perfect.

Tip – You may have read previous articles on my blog about flying for virtual airlines and flying online with other pilots and controllers on the VATSIM or IVAO Networks.  These are both fun aspects which can and will add additional layers of realism to your flight simulation experience.  However, please wait until you have sufficient experience before pursuing as VA’s and the online networks require you to have the necessary skills to operate aircraft in all aspects of flight (taxi, takeoff, climb, cruise, descent and landing).

In addition to the Microsoft Flight Simulator flight tutorials which will help you tremendously, load up a flight in the default Cessna 172 Skyhawk from KEDW (Andrews Air Force Base, California).  I suggest this location as the runways are wide and long.  Consider turning off the options for other traffic and set the weather to imitate a clear, calm day and just spend time practicing and maneuvering your Cessna 172 both on the ground and in the air.

Depart the active runway and practice hand-flying the aircraft at first. Practice maintaining your speed, altitude and direction.  Don’t worry about landing the aircraft at this time.  Remember this is just a simulator and nothing bad will happen if you crash a few times.  As you spend more time practicing your take-off maneuvers, you’ll get the hang of properly trimming out the aircraft where it will fly straight and level with minimum input from the controls.

Tip – While the aircrafts autopilot functionality can certainly assist in controlling the aircrafts direction, altitude, etc…these tasks should also be understood and practiced without the need of relying on the aircraft autopilot.

Once you can successfully taxi to the active runway, takeoff, climb and cruise you really only have two elements of flight to master and that is descent and landing.  Again, using your default Cessna 172 at KEDW, practice landing maneuvers using the diagram below.  Depart KEDW and fly a runway heading while climbing a few hundred feet.  Practice turning on the crosswind leg, then again on the downwind leg (parallel to the active runway), then the base leg and then final approach.   Don’t worry about descending and landing.  Just practice this important maneuver and make sure you can correctly line up with the runway each time.

After you can demonstrate flying this pattern and being successful at lining up to the runway on final approach, then introduce descent and practice “touch-and-go” landing maneuvers.  Again, KEDW is a perfect facility to practice this with runway 04R/22L being a long 15,024 feet in length (2.84 miles).

Tip – Remember “Pitch for Speed, Throttle for Altitude”.  Trim your aircraft for the desired speed you want.  Need to descend? Simply reduce power.  Need to climb?  Increase throttle/power and the aircraft will climb.

As you complete one after another successful “touch-and-go” landings, try to eventually land in the touchdown zone and centered on the runway.  Practice will make this become perfect in time.

File:RunwayDiagram.png

I can’t tell you how many hours it will take to master the maneuvers I’ve discussed here today.  You should spend adequate time practicing until you feel comfortable.  But I can tell you that in time it will eventually become second nature.  As you get better and better controlling the Cessna then work your way up.  Before you know it, you’ll be the PIC (Pilot In Command) of a Boeing 747 headed from KJFK to EGLL.

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

JT

Fine Print:  Unfortunately I feel the need to state for the record that my “How To” articles and tips are for flight simulation purposes only and should not be used for real world aviation.

Must Have Hardware Items for Flight Simulation

A few days ago I reviewed all the various options you have in choosing a flight simulation application.  I covered everything back to FSX and everything forward to Dovetail Games Flight Sim World, X-Plane and my favorite Prepar3D.

While some simulation game titles such as Truck Sim, Farm Sim etc. can be played with just a mouse and keyboard or even a slight upgrade to an X-Box style controller, the same really can’t be said for flight simulation.  Yes, you can certainly fly only with the keyboard and mouse, but I’m confident that you’ll find learning to fly much, much easier with a good joystick setup.  For me, flight simulation is more than just flying from point A to point B.  It’s the extra level of immersion which a good set of controls provide and the ability to improve my virtual flying skills with each and every flight.

If you are going to spend your hard earned money on a new flight sim application, then consider spending a little bit more and purchasing a good joystick.  From my early days with the Commodore 64 all the way up until approx. the late 90’s or early 2000 timeframe, that is all I used was a joystick.  A very good joystick at a reasonable price is the Logitech Extreme 3D Pro Joystick.  Amazon currently lists this joystick at $34.99.  The 3D Pro might be considered entry level today, but that hasn’t always been the case.  When I purchased my first 3D Pro (just a few years ago) it was over $100 and it also works well with Farm Sim.  The joystick will do everything you need it to do from controlling throttle, rudder, ailerons and offers buttons which can be easily programmed to control flaps, landing gear etc.

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Of course, just like with everything else…there are many different options you have in the joystick department.  If you are looking for something a little more advanced then look into the CH Products Flight Sim Yoke and add the CH Products Pro Pedals for ultimate rudder control and precision landings.  The Yoke sells on Amazon for around $130 and the pedals for about $120.  The yoke offers a built in throttle, prop and mixture controls along with toggle buttons for flaps and gear.  Additional thumb control buttons can be programmed to suit your needs.  I’ve had my CH Products Yoke for well over 15 years and last year I replaced my pedals which had stopped working after about 12 years.

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The CH Products Pedals can certainly be added at a later time.

 

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You still have many other cool hardware accessory items you can add to increase your level of realism and fun.  I’ll cover more of these in a later article.  The purpose of this posting is to provide you with a few examples to get you thinking.  I own and use these items in my setup and can tell you that if you take care of them, they’ll provide years of flight sim fun.

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

Jerry

Which Flight Simulator Software is right for you?

Back in the early days, we didn’t have much choice when it came to selecting flight simulator software.  When I was a teen back in the early 80’s, I had a Commodore 64 computer.  I had a version of flight simulator which ran on the Commodore 64 computer.  In those days you only had a small selection of airports to fly to and from and typically only one type of aircraft.  I spent many, many hours flying the Cessna around Meig’s Field in Chicago.

As time passed, the sophistication of the various flight simulator software titles evolved from just one aircraft and a few airports to any aircraft one could imagine and an entire globe full of airports with tons of eye candy to look at while flying from point A to point B.  Today, flight simulator enthusiasts have many different software platforms to choose from when it comes to setting up their flight simulator.

I’m going to break down the options you have in the various flight simulators available today and provide a brief description and even some opinion regarding each of the available options.

Microsoft Flight Simulator

I’m starting off with Microsoft Flight Simulator since I very much consider this the grandfather of all today’s flight sim applications.  While Microsoft discontinued their popular Flight Simulator franchise many years ago, many enthusiasts continue to use their two previous editions of Flight Simulator 2004 (FS9) and Flight Simulator X (FSX).  Actually, the first several titles I’m going to list below were all born from much of the original FSX code.  As I stated, many still use both FS9 and the original FSX boxed edition today.  However, due to their age…I feel for those looking to get started in this exciting hobby entertain other available options.

Dovetail Games – Microsoft Flight Simulator X: Steam Edition

In July 2014, Dovetail Games announced a licensing agreement with Microsoft to distribute the popular Microsoft FSX via Steam.  Dovetail Games made a few minor tweaks to the application to help improve performance and fix many issues which Microsoft had failed to patch before they mothballed the flight simulator projects.  The Dovetail Games Microsoft Flight Simulator X: Steam Edition (FSX SE) is still available to purchase via Steam for $24.99.  Since the release of FSX SE, many third party payware add-ons or DLC have been made available.

While FSX SE remains a 32 bit application, with the impressive list of available add-ons (which most have been optimized to function well with FSX SE) this simulator remains an excellent starting platform for the brand new flight sim enthusiast.

Dovetail Games – Flight Sim World

Around the same time Dovetail Games announced their licensing agreement to distribute the above mentioned FSX SE, they also announced they had plans to develop their own flight simulator platform.  Just last month, Dovetail Games announced and released Flight Sim World as an early release (beta) product.  Flight Sim World currently sells for $24.99 on Steam.

At this point in time, not a whole lot is known about the future of Flight Sim World (FSW).  There’s a wide variety of opinions regarding this simulator and how much support it will receive from 3rd party developers.  I recently wrote an opinion piece regarding my experience with FSW which you can read here.

In a nutshell, Flight Sim World is not a complete re-write.  There’s still a lot of the old FSX baseline code which exists within the sim.  However, Dovetail has developed it into a 64 bit application and of course this is great news from a systems performance perspective.

Unfortunately, the “what we don’t know” about Flight Sim World is about the only thing giving me some pause.  The way I see it, (and this is just my opinion) but as FSW is born from FSX…if Dovetail doesn’t get the 3rd party developers involved and allow them to develop the content we all expect to see in a sim, then this may never get off the ground.

The Importance of 64 Bit

Before I proceed with my article, I just want to touch on one very important piece and that is the importance of a 64 bit application in today’s modern technology world compared to the older 32 bit architecture.

I’ve written many pieces regarding the obstacles we’ve all faced in trying to wring out as much performance as we can from the older 32 bit applications like FSX (and early versions of P3D).  As we drifted further and further away from the date the original FSX code was developed, we’ve pushed harder and harder on that ever important envelope referred to as VAS or Virtual Address Space.  Essentially available RAM.

Unfortunately, simply adding more RAM to a PC isn’t the solution.  A 32 bit application (like FSX) will only utilize up to 4 GB of available RAM regardless of the amount available in the PC.  Running down to the local hardware store and buying an extra 8 GB of RAM will do nothing to help prevent those pesky OOM’s or Out Of Memory Errors.    Of course, these OOM’s are (for the most part) self-inflicted by piling on visually stunning add-on payware in the form of ground textures, enhanced airport scenery and highly detailed study level type aircraft.  In other words, for the most part….the base FSX application works well until you begin adding the eye candy.

Let’s continue with the list….

Lockheed Martin – Prepar3D

In 2009, Lockheed Martin announced they had negotiated with Microsoft to purchase the intellectual property (including source code) from the Microsoft ESP side of their flight simulation division.  ESP was the commercial side of Microsoft’s business in developing flight simulation applications.  Prepar3d version 1.1 was released in 2011, P3D v2 in 2013, P3D v3 in 2015 and finally Prepar3d version 4 (64 bit) in May 2017.

For me, P3D v4 has become my personal standard and it is what I use for my day to day flight simulation enjoyment.  While P3D v4 (just like versions 1-3) still very much contain original baseline ESP code, and much of the base scenery hasn’t been updated since the days of FSX….the 64 bit architecture is a noticeable “night versus day” difference maker for this very popular flight sim application.

Unfortunately, the only real drawback to P3D comes down to their EULA or End-User License Agreement.  To put it mildly, it’s confusing.  Essentially, P3D is licensed under the following structure:

Academic – ($59.95) Designed to offer the academic community a platform to develop hands-on STEM lessons.  While the academic version of the software is the same as the professional version, there is a watermark visible  signifying the acceptable use of the license.  The academic license is provided at a discount for students.  Currently, there are no requirements to prove eligibility for the academic license.

Professional – ($199.00) The P3D Professional license does allow for training, instruction, simulation and learning.

Professional Plus – ($2300.00)  The P3D Professional Plus license is designed for real world business customers who are going to use the software for extensive training purposes.

Developer – ($9.95/Month) Registered software developers can subscribe and receive two full copies.

I’ve written about the confusion of how the P3D EULA simply doesn’t offer a license for basic entertainment purposes only.  It is for this purpose, I personally purchase the “Professional” level which does specifically identify simulation as part of the acceptable use of the software.  I feel this is also the right thing to do considering that I do often stream and record my flights on YouTube, Twitch etc.  Plus….I’m not a student.

All versions of P3D are still available for purchase on the Prepar3D website and all are offered at the same price.  So if you are truly interested in the P3D platform, I would saddle up with the brand new P3D version 4.

Before I venture away from the topic of P3D allow me to address one thing.  Many are upset, disappointed etc. with the fact that Prepar3D version 4 is simply a 64 bit update of the original ESP code.  Meaning, much of how P3D looks by default hasn’t changed since FSX hit the store shelves almost a dozen years ago.  While I truly understand what many are saying….I must also remind everyone that P3D has never been directly marketed to the general consumer for mere entertainment purposes.  The real target audience of P3D is the commercial, professional and academic side of things and I suggest that perhaps…just perhaps the criteria is just different.

Needless to say, I for one am extremely pleased with P3D v4.  If Lockheed Martin had followed the suggestions from those demanding a new game engine, the wait would be much, much longer.  P3D v4 is performing extremely well on my gaming system and is allowing me to finally enjoy ultimate realism without the need to worry about the crash due to running out of memory.

X-Plane

Just a reminder, my list is not ranking the titles in any particular order.  X-Plane has been around for a number of years and it should be noted that X-Plane was the absolute very first to release their flight sim platform built on the 64 bit architecture.  Their recent release of X-Plane 11 has been making news and is certainly a worthy consideration.  One of the great things about X-Plane is the community behind it.  It truly reminds me of the old Microsoft Flight Sim days where the community truly worked together to develop quality freeware add-ons.  Unfortunately, for the FSX, FSX SE and P3D titles….most add-ons will be payware (with a few exceptions).

For me personally, while I do own X-Plane 11, I’ve really found it to be a struggle to forget the old Microsoft ways of controlling the sim application.  Fortunately for my old mind, much of how FSX was controlled (again from the application level) is absolutely the same in the most recent version of P3D v4.  Plus my extensive collection of add-ons continue to work well.

Freeware/Open-Source Alternatives and a warning

There is an open-source alternative to flight simulation software available from FlightGear.  While I’ve never spent any time testing or flying using the FlightGear flight simulation software, I know others do use it and there are methods of importing planes from Microsoft Flight Simulator into FlightGear.  In addition, there is also an on-line client for the VATSIM network called SquawkGear that will allow you to use FlightGear to fly on-line.  It is extremely encouraging to see developers like FlightGear contribute to the flight sim community with their open-source program.

Unfortunately, there are some individuals who have taken the open-source code from FlightGear, made a few minor modifications and are attempting to market the product under various names such as Flight Pro Sim, Pro Flight Simulator etc.  I first learned about this back in 2010 and blogged about it here and here.  But please….don’t take my word for it.  Read the official statement released by FlightGear and judge for yourself.

What should you choose?

Unfortunately, we all have different interests and we all have different budgets.  If you’ve previously been involved with the flight simulation hobby and are looking to get back in…then I would recommend either Prepar3D v4 or X-Plane.  What we know about these two platforms should prove these will both be around and will see continued improvements and enhancements for many years to come.

However, if you are brand new to flight simulation and are looking for simply an entry level starting point to help you understand some of the basics of flight and serve as a litmus test if you want to pursue the hobby further, then I suggested giving the new Dovetail Games Flight Sim World a solid look.  While this sim is in early access (beta), the current price of $24.95 won’t be money wasted even if you decide in six months you want to move to P3D or XP.  I’m very impressed with the tutorials in FSW and believe they can be most helpful in helping you achieve a better level of understanding in the principles of flight.  I believe this to be extremely helpful.

As time permits, I do plan to feature more flight simulation content on the GrizzlyBearSims YouTube Channel.  Most likely, I will provide some videos from Flight Sim World and of course also Prepar3D v4.  While I do own XP 11, I’m really just not comfortable enough with that platform to do it justice.

I hope this information has helped you.  As I recently discussed, I truly believe 2017 will be a great year for flight simulation.  I wish you the very best in your new aviation adventure.

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

Jerry

Why Flight Simulation?

A little over 5 years ago I wrote a series of blog postings from a “How To” perspective with regards to the exciting hobby of flight simulation.  While some things have changed, some things haven’t.  Over the next few weeks I plan to re-release these articles, but will tweak and update the information so it’s more applicable today.  After all, a lot has changed over the past 5+ years.  For todays installment, I’m going to discuss Why Flight Simulation?

To some individuals, a computer based flight simulator is just a game and to many others it is much more, it’s an important hobby.  I’ve even known many younger individuals who were inspired to pursue aviation careers and became pilots and air traffic controllers as a result.  Regardless of your motive, one can learn and experience many different aspects of aviation and even learn something about geography through a computer based flight simulator program.

For me, flight simulation changed from being “Just a Game” around the year 2000.  As it was around this timeframe when I was first introduced to the world of internet based virtual airlines or VA’s.  I’ll discuss VA’s in more depth in a future article.  Before 2000, I would load up a flight in my simulator, pick a destination, take off and come back in a hour or two and land the plane.  I was happy if I could land within a hundred miles or so of the airport.  However,  with a little practice (practice does make perfect after all), I could navigate my aircraft and found it was actually interesting to fly the aircraft versus letting the autopilot do it.

Tip – It is easy to get caught up in wanting to fly “Big Iron” aircraft like the Boeing 747.  However, you’ll learn more about flying and navigating when spending time in the default Cessna type aircraft which are featured in all versions of the popular flight simulator programs.  Work your way up from the single engine prop models just like real pilots.

While I have no desire to take flying lessons or earn my private pilots license, the flight simulation hobby has taught me much about aviation, about the world we live in and I’ve met some really wonderful people as a result.

Next time I’ll discuss what flight simulator software is right for you (there are many to choose from) and some tips on setting it up.  Thank you for reading my blog.

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

JT

Fine Print:  Unfortunately I feel the need to state for the record that my “How To” articles and tips are for flight simulation purposes only and should not be used for real world aviation.