What is Customer Service?

This blog post is going to be a little bit different as I’m writing it over a period of a few days to document a story.  I know exactly where the story will lead me and how I’ll feel when I complete the journey. 

What is Customer Service?  Does support and service after the sale exist today?  Does it exist in our hobby?  My story will sum all these answers up….please keep reading.

As I’ve mentioned a few times since starting this blog, I’m returning to the hobby after a multi-year break.  Please read this blog post if you haven’t already to bring you up to speed on my past experience with the flight sim hobby.    But to summarize, I’ve been flying computer sims since the early 80’s (I started on the Commodore 64) and I got super heavy into it around 2000-01 timeframe.  So much so that I replaced the joystick with a yoke and peddle set and began purchasing some additional hardware from a company called GoFlight.  You’ve probably heard of GoFlight.  They provide various pre-made hardware modules to enhance your flight sim experience.  From 2000 through 2002 I purchased eight items from GoFlight and used them in their flight deck console unit. 

While the GoFlight hardware modules may appear expensive at first glance….let me tell you the equipment is built solid.  You won’t find any plastic where plastic shouldn’t be.  They are constructed from metal and alloy materials.  They honestly feel like the real thing and will compliment any home cockpit setup.  These things remind me of my old Tonka trucks from the mid 70’s.  Anyway, I used this equipment without issue on my old Windows XP and FS9 setup for several years.  When I stepped away from the hobby, my GoFlight equipment was wrapped up carefully and stored.  I knew I would eventually return to the hobby when life settled down.

Well that time is now and as you know I built a brand new gaming machine dedicated solely to the hobby of flight simulation.  You can read all about my new hardware specs here.  I designed the system to run Windows 7, 64bit and FSX with all sliders set to MAX.  In no time I was ready to connect my GoFlight equipment and head to the skies.

I’ll admit that I forgot more than I probably ever knew about flight simming and specifically about setting up the GoFlight gear.  I still had my old PC which ran Windows XP and FS9.  When I would connect my GoFlight gear all worked and all worked as designed.  But on the new machine I encountered many issues.  With a little “tech support” from GoFlight I was able to correct 85% of my issues.  But something still wasn’t right with one particular GoFlight module, the GF-MCP Advanced.

The GF-MCP is the heart of my home cockpit setup.  The GF-MCP controls all the auto-pilot functionality and allows me to operate without the need to use my mouse to set altitude, heading, speed etc.  All these settings (including approach hold) are controlled by the MCP unit.  My problems with this unit were mainly centered around it’s ability to remain functioning for a long, cross-country flight.  In most cases a short 30-60 minute flight would function fine.  However, for longer flights the GF-MCP would appear to go to sleep or just simply stop working all together.  About 50% of the time I could “wake” it by turning each knob and pressing each button.  However, on more times than I cared for, the speed hold would just stop working.  It was becoming annoying to say the least.

I had read on the GoFlight forums and elsewhere that the problem could be with the GF-MCP and specifically with the advancement of USB technology today versus 4-5 years ago.  Equally the issues pointed to Windows 7 and FSX.  In my research (and in discussions I had with GoFlight) I believed everything should work without issue with Win 7, 64 bit OS and FSX.  But why was I having issues and what would need to happen to fully resolve the problem?

Much to my surprise within a day or two I received an email from Mitch at GoFlight.  Mitch is the Operations Manager for GoFlight.  Mitch had been the Operations Manager at GoFlight around the time I purchased my equipment and has now returned.  The goal for Mitch and GoFlight is to make their Customers happy.  After explaining my issues to Mitch he simply told me not to worry and he would be shipping me a brand new GF-MCP Advanced module.  WOW…this truly is a company which understands how to keep Customers happy. 

According to Mitch at GoFlight, my replacment MCP unit will ship Thursday, 16 September.  Mitch did just as he said and I received the replacement unit on Monday, 20 September.  Due to having family in town, I didn’t have time to test the replacement MCP until the approaching weekend of 24, 25 and 26 September.  I couldn’t wait to determine if this replacement MCP would solve my issues.

The moment of truth arrived and on Friday evening I installed the replacement GF-MCP Advanced unit, double-checked that it showed up in the GF-Config setup utility and loaded up FSX.  Just as expected, the GF-MCP Advanced lit up and was in perfect sync with FSX.  But would it stay that way?  Would the GF-MCP operate for an entire flight?  Would it work for a full, long-haul over the pond sort of flight?

The answers to all those questions was YES!  I was back in business.  I suppose GoFlight didn’t have to replace my older MCP unit.  However, GoFlight certainly went above and beyond and I’m a very happy customer.  So much so I have recently placed an additional order for a few more toggle and push-button switch units.  I truly love GoFlight and how they enhance the enjoyment of a long time hobby for me. 

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

JT

Around the World – Update 1

Just taking a few minutes to update everyone on my around the world adventure.  I plan to provide updates every four to six legs.  Here is my first update.   Please read this post to get the general idea of why I’m doing an around the world flight and how I’m accomplishing it. 

My position as of this posting is BGKK (Kulusuk, Greenland)
I’ve traveled a total of 3264 nm
I’ve burned a total of 325 gallons of fuel
I’ve flown a total of 18.75 hours
My next destination is BIRK (Reykjavik, Iceland)

Day One – Leg 1-2

I began the first of what will probably be many flight legs on 30 September 2010.  As discussed inthis post, I have no expectations on how long this trip will take.   I can tell you based on day one experience, I can cover a little over 1500 nm’s in a little over 8 hours.  But keep in mind that this is includes one fuel stop.  While I believe I covered a lot of ground on day one, I have much, much more ground and water to cover in the coming days, weeks and months. 

While I state I have no expectation regarding the amount of time this journey will take me, I do plan to be in Greenland at the end of the 5th leg and in Iceland at the end of the 7th leg.  This is as far as I’ve planned out at this point.  From Iceland I have many options.  I can drop down into the United Kingdom or slide over into the Nordics.  Right now I’m leaning toward coming down into the UK, enter Europe and drop down through Spain into Africa.  But like I said, I haven’t really planned much past Iceland.

I departed KAPA (Centennial, Colorado USA) on Thursday, 30 September 2010.  I knew I wanted to travel in an easterly direction and plotted a course that would take me up into northeastern Canada.  I planned to spend the first night somewhere deep inside Canadian territory.

Not having much previous experience in the Mooney Bravo(other than casual flying around) I wanted to make sure the published range was fairly accurate.  So I set a first leg for St. Paul, MN (KSTP).  This first leg would be a short stint at just 632 nm.

Departing runway 35 at KAPA. When will I see this airport again?

Just a minute or two into the air. My real world home is located just to the left of the lake in the background.

The flight to KSTP (St. Paul, MN) was uneventful.  The weather today all along the trip was perfect flying weather.  I encountered a lot of cloud cover as I approached Waskaganish, Quebec (CYKQ).  The runway at CYKQ is gravel, but very well maintained.  There was even a small amount of traffic around the airfield as I was approaching.  I would be calling it a night here and getting some much needed rest so I can continue on my journey soon (hopefully tomorrow).

Short Final into CYKQ to complete the second leg of a multi-leg journey

On the ground and parked at CYKQ. I’m thankful they have a nice security fence to protect my Mooney tonight.

Day Two – Leg 3-6

Day two began early reviewing weather forecasts with a good cup of coffee.  The goal today is to continue flying northeast through Quebec, Canada headed for a crossing over to Nuuk, Greenland.  I’m approaching the next half-dozen flight legs with a little bit of urgency.  While we’re just easing into fall, the weather this far north could be unpredictable at best.

The Mooney Bravo handles beautifully.  I estimate I have a dozen or more hours in this aircraft prior to starting this journey.  I’ve flown the Mooney around the rockies to airports like KASE(Aspen, CO) and KEGE(Eagle County).  Each time I was impressed with the power and maneuverability of this fine aircraft.   She is performing just great on this trip.  But enough about all this…let’s get going.

As I said the day began early.  well before sunrise as much needed planning needed to be done to determine the days activities.  I left a mild, Denver yesterday with day time highs in the mid to upper 70’s.  This morning in Waskaganish it was cold….really cold with a morning temp near freezing.  As I looked over weather reports for the route ahead, I did take a minute to watch Ten Minute Taxi.  I really love this show on Youtube.  Check out Shane’s recent episode by visiting the Ten Minute Taxi page here.  You can thank me later.

Dawn at CYKQ to begin day two.

Armed with the critical information I needed, it was time to head out to the airport.  My Mooney was just where I left it.  I settled up and paid for the overnight parking and fuel.  If all goes as planned today I’ll be making a hard effort to complete at least two flight legs today.  If I’m lucky, I’ll make three.

Today’s first leg (the 3rd leg of the journey) will be from CYKQ (Waskaganish, Quebec) to CYVP(Kuujjuaq, Quebec).  It’s a short leg of just over 550 nm, but I didn’t want to take any chances on fuel.  So the plan is to land in CYVP, refuel then depart for CYFB (Iqaluit).  Once refueled and a quick check of the weather a decision will need to be made if I push on to BGGH (Nuuk, Greenland).

Ready to go at CYKQ

Heavy cloud cover between CYKQ and CYVP. Nice tail number huh?

Lined up runway 07 at CYVP

The Mooney being serviced at CYVP for her next leg to CYFB. Are we there yet?

Making great time and the weather has been great.  It’s cold….but that’s OK.  If the schedule continues this smooth I’ll spend the night tonight on the west coast of Greenland.

On final approach runway 35 at CYFB. Is that snow I see to the right?

Once on the ground at CYFB (Iqaluit, Quebec).  I will take some time to have lunch, re-fuel and research weather conditions.  I’m making great time today and plan to make the crossing over from Canada to Greenland this evening.  

Make note of the screenshot below.  I use MyTraffic X with FSX and it does a wonderful job depicting the aircraft one might see at the various airports.  You won’t see the generic AI flying around or find aircraft here you wouldn’t see.  The “First Air” aircraft you see would be found here at Iqaluit and it is even mentioned here on the wiki page.   As Real As It Gets!

Taxing to parking at CYFB. MyTraffic X does a good job representing the aircraft you would see at this airport.

I departed CYFB after having a bite to eat and getting the Mooney fueled up.  This next leg will take me due east across the Labrador Sea to the small town of Nuuk, Greenland.  I say small town, however, it is the capital of Greenland and over 15,000 residents call it home. 

Heading east from CYFB. The Canadian Coastline is in view. This course will take me across the Labrador Sea over to Nuuk, Greenland.

The Labrador Sea crossing is perhaps the largest body of water I will encounter (at least in one go) for a while.  The next major ocean crossing will occur soon when I depart the east coast of Greenland for Iceland.  Then again from Iceland southeast to the Faroe Islands just before either dropping south to the United Kingdom or continuing east to the Nordics.  I just haven’t decided as of yet.  But I will say that I’m leaning towards touring through the Nordics.  But hey….I need to get to the Faroe Islands first.

Finally the west coast of Greenland is in sight. Now that I’m officially out of North America I feel like I’m making progress.

As the caption above states, runway 23 at BGGH was listed at 3110 feet.  The end of the runway came much quicker than expected.  But I managed to stop and all is good.  Perhaps it is just a perception that it was really short.  Anyway…it’s great to be on the ground in Greenland.  I grapped a snack, serviced the Mooney and decided today would be a great day to head to the east coast of Greenland.  I’ll call it a rather long day, but a good day over in Kulusuk, Greenland.  I departed BGGH and am headed to BGKK

Awesome moon scape as I fly across the tip of Greenland.

Most of this crossing was in the dark as it gets dark much earlier this far north.  But I’m anxious to get across this portion of the globe and get into Europe.  I plan to visit countries and regions that I’ve never explored in flight simulation and re-explore some old favorites.  The more I look at both the progress I’ve made and all the places I plan to explore, I realize this truly will be a long, long journey.

But the bottom line is this.  As of this posting I’ve flown a total over 3000 nm and spent over 18 hours doing so.  I’ve learned a ton about VFR flying and have really enjoyed the first half-dozen legs.  I’ve also learned a lot about the airports and towns I’ve visited.  I believe we should all learn more about the places, things and especially the people we share this planet with.  Who knows….if we all did this we might all get a long a little better.

Until next time,

JT

Around The World – 2010

I believe most all flight sim pilots attempt at least one around the world adventure in their sim career.  I’ve attempted it several times and have completed it just as many.  However, I’ll admit my successful attempts were either not very consistent (using multiple types of aircraft) and in each successful attempt, the adventure was completed in less than 4-6 legs.  Meaning in most cases I used a long-range jet like a B747 or B777.  In each case, the adventure was fun and I saw a lot of the FS world in doing so.   Before I move on, let me just say that any computer pilot who decides to attempt an around the world adventure, there is no right or wrong way of doing it.  Do it based on how you want to do it.  I guarantee it will be fun and you’ll learn a lot in the process.

For me and my attempt in 2010, I want to do things completely different from my past attempts.  First, I don’t plan to use any jet aircraft.  I also plan to select one aircraft type and stick with it.  After all, if you were trying to accomplish this in real life you would fly one aircraft and only one aircraft.

The way I see this is as follows.  First you need to determine what type of aircraft you will fly and second you will need to determine your route.   Of course there is a little more to it.  Actually, the most important element is to determine your ocean crossing points.  This is what I believe dictates both route and aircraft type.  It’s easy to cross from Asia into North America, but a little more planning, luck and judgement will need to be used to get from North America into Europe.  But it is doable.

The one absolute in all this is I have no expectation on time of completion.  I’m not going to set a length of time goal for this adventure.   I believe this is where I failed in my previous attempts to do something like this in something other than a B747.  If it takes me the rest of the year or beyond…my goal is to complete the adventure and have fun along the way.

Probably in a real-world adventure, one would spend months, perhaps even years planning such an adventure.  After all in the real-world a key driver to this would be finances.  We don’t have to worry about that in the sim world.  In addition, I believe in the real-world one would fully map their course before starting out.  This is one approach I plan to differ from.  I’m planning to start out on my journey with only a general direction in mind.  The rest will fall into place along the way.

The tools I’ll use to plan my route will be my imagination followed closely by FSCommander.  I will utilize the mapping and distance measuring capabilities to provide the information I need along the way.  In addition, I’ll use a giant 3×4 foot map of the World hanging in my office to help encourage me along the way.   I’ll also research weather conditions and plan accordingly since I’ll have real-world weather turned on.

Ground rules?  Well…since we are flying there are no ground rules right?  Ha ha…OK….poor attempt at humor.  But my ground rules are simple.  I plan to use a single, default FSX aircraft (non jet) with no time of completion goal.  I plan to use ActiveSkyX weather and will fly in real-time (no acceleration).

So why am I doing this?  I’m so glad you asked.  As I have shared many, many times….I’ve been flying computer sims for over 25 years.  Back in the early days all we had to fly was the Cessna.  I spent hours and hours and hours in the computer cockpit of  the Cessna flying around Meig’s Field in Chicago.  Over the years as the flight simulation software developed, I moved up into the larger jets and would rarely ever fly anything smaller. 

Since coming back into the hobby, I’ve grown to appreciate the smaller aircraft, grown to appreciate flying lower and slower and taking in the beauty of the sim world around me.  So to answer the question of why am I doing this, mainly because I can and just as importanly…because I want to. 

Now, back to my planning.  My aircraft of choice is the Mooney Bravo.  I selected this aircraft over the Cessna models  due to its extended range over its single engine counterpart.  According to FSCommander, the Cessna 172 has a range of 638 nm and cruise speed of 124 kts.  The Mooney provides 412 nm more range and cruises around 190 kts.   I believe the Mooney is the best choice of the single engine models available in FSX.  I could jump up to the Beech Baron 58 and increase my range and speed even further, but I really want to do this attempt in a single engine aircraft.

The initial route I’ve chosen will take me from my home airport of KAPA (Centennial, Colorado USA) up towards the Northeast.  At this point I’m not going to say whether I will stay primarily in the northern hemisphere.  There are some sights I would love to see in Africa and Australia is also some place I’d love to visit on a trip like this.   At this point, we will just have to wait and see.

I’m really excited about this challenge and the challenge began today.  I departed KAPA (Centennial, CO) enroute to KSTP (St. Paul, MN).  This first leg is just under 700nm and should give me a good feel for how the aircraft will perform over the coming weeks, months and who knows how long.   

I will blog occassionally about the trip, my status etc.  But you can see my trip status by clicking the Around the World – 2010 button at the top of the page.  I will keep a running journal of my trip on that page. 

Until next time,

JT

How cool is your CPU?

Let me start off by saying a BIG Colorado “Thank You” to my Flight Sim Friend, Al.  I met Al via his flight sim blog.  Al also has a personalblog which I also follow.   Prior to meeting Al via his blog and correspondence through email, both Al and I built new PC’s to support our flight simulation hobby.   Al named his HAL-i7 and you can read his blog entry here.  I estimate our machines were built within a month or so of each other and they are almost identical.  You can read my blog entry regarding my new hardware here.

My machine has been running for over a month now and I’ve always had two concerns regarding the machine.  First, I didn’t like the way my old CPU heat sink and fan mounted onto the motherboard.  I feel it is very poor design.  I actually wrestled with it for much longer than I should have needed in order to get it to fit snug on the motherboard. 

The second concern has been with CPU core temperature.  This is one of the main reasons why I purchased the Antec Twelvehundred case.  This case has more fans than all the other PC’s I have running put together.  I didn’t want heat to become an issue with this machine.  But even with more than a half-dozen fans, I still had heating concerns and it all pointed to the stock CPU heat sink/fan that came with my Intel i7 930 processor. 

Stock Intel heatsink/fan for i7 CPU

If you took a moment to read Al’s blog post regarding his same concerns, I’ll admit that I am also not one to tweak the system beyond stock hardware.  I’ve never overclocked a CPU.  So when I was sitting down and planning the new PC build, it never crossed my mind to add an aftermarket CPU cooler.  Oh sure, I’ve read about the liquid cooled systems and those are impressive…but I figured the stock fan and heat sink would be fine.

So the other day I visited Al’s personal blog site and noticed he had taken a stab at addressing the heat issues he had noticed with his i7 processor and I was excited with his results.  I took perhaps 5 minutes to conduct a little research on my own then quickly decided if it is good enough for Al, it will be good enough for me. 

I was already nervously aware of just how hot my i7 CPU was running.  Again, remember I’m currently not overclocking the machine.  I had installed RealTemp some time ago and was shocked at seeing temps north of 80 C (176 F) when running FSX.  However, when reading Al’s blog post I realized my CPU temps were not as extreme as his.  But I felt it was still a direction I wanted to go and I’m glad I did.

Back of motherboard ready for mounting bracket install

I had to pull the motherboard in order to attach the mounting plate.  This was the most timeconsuming part of the entire project.  But certainly well worth the effort.  The mounting plate that comes with the Noctua NH-U12Pis a two-part system and when installed is a strong connection and one that fully assures me of a solid connection.  Remember, I felt the stock fan/heat sink really didn’t connect to the motherboard in a secure fashion.  This corrects that issue.

New Noctua NH-U12P heatsink installed. Now that’s a heatsink

As you can tell from the picture above, the Noctua NH-U12P is a massive heat sink and I’m glad I had more than enough room in the case for this bad boy.  The folks at Noctua provide everything you need including detailed instructions and all the parts needed (including thermal compound).  They even included a screw driver.  But that’s not all.  In addition to the massive heat sink, the system also includes two fans as show below.

Massive 120mm fans mounted onto heatsink in a push/pull fashion.

I setup my fans the same way Al setup his.  I used a push/pull method with the pusher fan located on the bottom and the pull fan located on top.  The Antec Twelvehundred case has a top mounted fan just above for maximum cooling. 

Ready to put the panels on the case and test.

I sealed the case back up and moved it off the work bench over to the simulator desk for the moment of truth.  She made it through the POST test and Windows 7 came up just as expected.  I did have to restrain myself from starting FSX and jumping in some big iron to test her out.  I did the next best thing and launched RealTemp and Prime95 to see what improvements this project would provide.

Results???  Well first let me go over my numbers from running Prime95with the stock Intel CPU fan and heat sink.  The max temperature from the 10 minute test maxed out at 85C (185F).  After installing the Noctua NH-U12P heat sink and fan kit, my results with the same 10 minute test was 62C (144F).  Those are numbers I can live with and very proud of.

Until next time,

J

Adventure Alaska – KDEN – KSEA -PANC

I recently found a Boeing 737-900 in Alaska Airlines livery and just couldn’t wait to take it for a spin. I found the aircraft on the Project Open Sky site. It is designed for FS9, but a few modifications and she flies like a champ in FSX. The guys at POSKY do awesome work.  I remember having a few POSKY planes back when in 2001/02, but had forgotten about their website and the level of work they put into a freeware plane.  In addition to the B739, I also found an awesome freeware B727 at Flightsim.com. The B727 is perhaps my favorite airliner to fly. Yes I love the triple seven and the 747 is also a joy to fly. But I just have a love for the 727 and have for many years. But this story is not about that, so back on track.

It was a beautiful day in the Mile High City of Denver, Colorado this morning. The wind was calm and out of the South. ATC directed me to runway 16L. My course would take us through northwest Colorado into Wyoming, across the panhandle of Idaho and into Washington State. This would be a connecting and refueling stop in KSEA.

She floats right off the runway.

Denver International Airport (DIA) A one of a kind airport.

The flight across the Rockies and beyond toward the Pacific Northwest was uneventful. We knew we were getting close at the sight of Mt. Ranier just off in the distance.

Beautiful Mt. Ranier in the distance

The panel was one of the tweaks necessary to get this aircraft to work in FSX.  I found the panel over at Flightsim (they have just about everything in their download section).  The panel was identified as working with any POSKY 737.  The only short fall with this panel is part of the MCP is cut off.  But this is not an issue as I have my GoFlight GF-MCP hardware module.  You can also pull up a full view of the MCP should you need it.

Another view of Mt. Ranier

I’ve only been to Seattle in real life twice and both times it was raining. We lucked out today.

Seattle just in the distance and lined up with runway 34L at KSEA

Just seconds from touchdown.

I would take a 5 hour break and fly the second leg from KSEA up to PANC, as I needed to get some work done around the house. I’m glad I did as it made for some interesting weather on approach into Anchorage.

The weather in Seattle some 5 hours after arriving was virtually the same. ATC directed us to depart 16R. Our flying time was scheduled to be 3 hours and 15 minutes. I will apologize as I hadn’t realized I didn’t have Fraps running for a portion of the trip to PANC. But once we got closer to Anchorage the weather began to settle in. Visibility was poor on approach and an ILS landing on runway 6R was certainly called for.

Low fog layer keeping PANC nearly invisible

ILS Runway 6R, Clear for Landing

Safely on the ground at PANC.

I plan to depart PANC in the next day or two for a run back down to KSEA. From KSEA I have a bit of a surprise for myself which involves a brand spanking new Boeing 747-8F that I plan to pickup and deliver somewhere. Would anyone care for a pint and some fish and chips, Mate?  :-)  This is the new POSKY Boeing 747-800 Freighter model they just released.  Man…what a stunning piece of machinery and I’ll bring you my experiences with her very soon.

Until next time,

J

A Toolbar just for us

As I’ve shared multiple times on this blog, my full-time day job is in IT.  While I work for a very BIG company, my day-to-day job role is within an organization of about 500 employees spread out all over the world.  I have about 120 located in the same office I’m in and I do a lot of “hands on” work with these employees and their systems. 

Over the years, I’ve grown to really despise Internet Browser toolbars.  You know the kind that automatically get installed when you install something.  At one time these auto-installs were pretty much only happening with Instant Message applications.  But today….everything wants to install a toolbar on your browser.  In some cases these toolbars change the behavior of the browser.  They are a challenge for anyone in the IT support field.  My philosphy at work is the employees I support do not need external IM clients to do their job and certainly don’t need toolbars.  I generally remove both before diving into the problem to further troubleshoot. 

I heard about a toolbar dedicated to flight simulation.  At first glance I dismissed it.  My natural instinct regarding a web browser toolbar is bad.  I actually closed the website and went on about my business.  Within 30 minutes or so I was back on the website looking at the information again.  I decided I could be wrong in thinking that all web browser toolbars are created equal.  I downloaded, installed and after 5 minutes I was glad I did. 

The Flight Sim Toolbar is pretty cool.  It has helped me tremendously catch up with all the various web URLs and such to sites I may have visited 5 years ago or sites that have come online within that period of time.  It’s all right here and just a click or two away.  The toolbar features direct links to sites like Avsim, Flightsim and VATSIM.  There is a button dedicated to Virtual Airlines and includes links to over 300 different VA’s.  You’ll also find links to assist in your flight planning with everything from charts, fuel calcs and routes.  Weather info?  Yep, the Flight Sim Toolbar has all your WX needs covered.   There’s also an extensive list of flight sim product links.  It’s all right there and incorporated into your browser.  The Flight Sim Toolbar works with Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari.

I installed the Flight Sim Toolbar on my main flight sim PC and on a laptop which sits close by.  On this laptop I run FSCommander and also use it to look at various charts and such along the route.  You can visit the Flight Sim Toolbar directly on their website located athttp://flightsimtoolbar.com or visit their Facebook fan site.  They guys behind this project are actively taking suggestions and making updates on a regular basis.  Perhaps they will develop an iPad App next??  :-)  That would be cool.

Speaking of iPad apps.  I will very soon blog about my experiences with an iPad app designed to help take some of the clutter out of your home cockpit.  I know it has helped me and I’m confident it will help you as well.

Until next time,

J

Flight Simulator Network – A First in the FS Community

If you’re like me, when you’re not sitting down in your home cockpit flying…you want to be tuned into the flight simulator community news and happenings.  This might be through forums, message boards, Twitter or even Facebook.  By the way, you can now follow me on Twitter.  I’ve been using Twitter for a couple of years now and have created a special Twitter account specific to Flight Sim.  During the work week I will eat lunch at my desk and peruse the forums looking for answers to questions and/or trying to help others by answering their questions.

This morning as I was easing into my day with a nice hot cup of coffee and reading email and checking my Twitter feed from my iPad, I came across both an email and a tweet titled “World First for The Flight Simulator Network – Real Time Updates on your Desktop”.  Both the tweet and the email directs you to this blog post by Mark Avey.  You can read more about Mark here.  The subject of the blog post is an announcement regarding how to receive (and send) real time updates to/from The Flight Simulator Network right to your desktop.  Like Mark, I’ve been in the IT industry for almost two decades and this news story (along with the help of the strong coffee) really got me excited about the day.

Seesmic Desktop Client setup with feed from The Flight Simulator Network and Twitter

Please don’t forget to read the story here.

I’ve known about the Seesmic Desktop client for a while.  Until today, I had been a hard core user of Tweetdeck to manage my Twitter accounts (I have several).  But all this will change with the cool functionality that the Seesmic desktop client offers to help me organize my FS Twitter account and news and info from The Flight Simulator Network. 

So….if you’re a member of The Flight Simulator Network, please read this articleand setup the Seesmic Desktop client.  If you’re not a member of The Flight Simulator Network, please considerjoining this fine community.  I’m a proud member!

OK…I need to now go checkout Seesmic for iPhone and iPad. 

Until next time,

J

My new hardware

In my IT career, hardware has always been my strong point.  I learned most of what I know about hardware by taking old PC’s, taking them apart and putting them back together again.  I’ve always subscribed to the philosphy that software is only as good as the hardware it is running on.  This philosphy is especially true with regards to the flight simulator hobby.  While I’ve been working in the IT field for almost 20 years, it doesn’t mean I’ve always had powerful machines to run the simulator software on.  Much like an auto mechanic that may do quality work for customers, but drive a beat up truck….I pride myself in the work I do in the IT field, but with every release of Microsoft Flight Simulator I always found myself in the backseat and I haven’t always quickly moved up into the drivers seat until now.

As I mentioned here, I’ve been flying computer simulation  games for over 25 years.  I’ve watched a computer game grow from being a basic, no thrills (especially in comparison with today’s versions) to an almost true to life gaming experience.  An entire industry has been born to support this very fast growing hobby and from all accounts, everything is very healthy.

When I began looking at getting back into the hobby, I first had to research what version of Flight Simulator was the latest and greatest.  Flight Simulator X was released around the time I dropped out of the hobby.  I had purchased it, installed it and played around with it.  But at that time (late 2006) FSX was pretty much standalone.  The hardware I owned at the time just barely would run it and I still had that PC in operation when I began looking into the hobby again.  Since FSX was still the latest and greatest version I would build a system to fit that need. 

I’ve always wanted a machine dedicated to my flight sim hobby.  Flight simming is pretty much the only “game” I play on a computer and just wanted something I could dedicate to this software without cluttering it up with email and such.  I spent a little time researching through forums to find out what other simmers were building.  I knew I would build the machine myself with off the shelf components versus buying a brand name machine.  I needed a machine based on my specs and only wanted what I wanted.   I also wanted to stick to a budget, but I didn’t want the budget to 100% dictate all my design decisions. 

I knew I wanted to build the machine around a couple of key points.  In my mind these were requirements.  First I wanted the hardware to take advantage of a 64 bit operating system.  I’ve been testing Windows 7 at my day job and knew it was a solid OS.  The second key element was the Intel i7 processor.  I’ve heard very good things about this chip and I’ve always used Intel in my homebrew machines.   I knew the rest would fall into place.  So I made a shopping list and off to Micro Center.

My Parts List

Intel i7-930 Processor
EVGA X58 FTW3  Motherboard
GeForce GTX 460 1024MB Graphics Card
OCZ DDR3-1600 RAM (6 GB worth)
Corsair TX750W 750 watt power supply
Microsoft Windows 7 64bit OS
Antec Twelve Hundred ATX case

Once home with all the parts, I began the fun job of putting it all together.  This Antec Twelve Hundred case is much more than I need at the present time.  But I’ve never owned a case with this much ventilation and the lights are neat too.  I had the Windows 7 64 bit OS running in no time and just applying a few tweaks here and there to just get the most out of Windows 7.  After a few more hours I had Microsoft Flight Simulator X installing on the new machine.

I’ll admit I’ve spent the better part of this past weekend and many hours this week tuning and tweaking FSX.  I had a bear of a time getting my GoFlight hardware working the way it should with this setup.  The issues???  Equal parts of hardware, software and my own lack of knowledge has contributed to most of the issues.   I still am experiencing a few issues and am working directly with the awesome guys at GoFlight.  I am confident all will be resolved soon.  Anyway, I was surprised at home much I had forgotten in the almost 5 years I’ve been away from the hobby.  Of course, the information I forgot is only a small drop in the bucket compared to all the new information available now.   While what I’m going to say next is not scientific in any way…..but I personally believe that all aspects of the hobby has grown by 2x, 3x or more in these past 5 years.  I regret not being a long for the ride.

All-in-all I’m glad I chose to allow my background in hardware to make the right decisions on building this new machine.  The machine and software (Windows 7 64bit) is working great together.  I’m getting the performance from all aspects of the configuration that I expected and believe I have room to grow.  Of course, none of us know exactly what will be needed for the new Microsoft Flight.  But I’m confident my current setup running Flight Simulator X will perform just fine for the next few years.  After all, I have learned that FS9 is actually still used heavily in the community and we all know it takes the industry a little while to catch up to the latest and greatest Microsoft releases.

So for now I’ll continue to tweak this new machine to get the best from it while using FSX.  I do plan to install FS9 and all my add-ons from the old machine just to do some comparison studies.  I’ll probably blog about this experience in the future.  Stay tuned…..

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my flight sim blog.  Please tell a friend.

Until next time,

J

Rock you like a Hurricane

I decided today would be a good day to head out of Martha’s Vineyard.  Hurricane Earl (currently a CAT 2 storm) was churning his way up the East Coast of the US through North Carolina’s Outer Banks.  The leading cloud cover ahead of the eye had already made its way up into New England.  The latest update from the National Weather Service was that Hurricane Earl would reach Cape Cod and the Islands on Saturday.  It was time to leave the peaceful island of Martha’s Vineyard.  I do hope to return again soon.

Approaching position and hold for runway 6 at KMVY

I checked out a Learjet 45 (FSX default aircraft) for the trip and plotted a course direct for Hurricane Earl (crossing safely above of course) for the warm beaches of Ft. Lauderdale and KFLL.  I wanted to check out the FSDT scenery I just purchased for that airport anyway.   Like I said, the leading wrap-around clouds had already made their way up into New England.  I was given clearance to depart runway 6 by the KMVY tower. The take-off and climb-out were uneventful.  Active Sky X does a very nice job depicting accurate wx conditions.  We made a turn to the east and began our flight down the coast.

Turning to the east. Leaving Martha’s Vineyard

There were certainly periods where the cloud cover (forward reaching bands from the hurricane) would completely disappear along the route.  As we passed along the New Jersey Coastline the cloud cover was open enough to make out the coastline areas.  But within minutes we had caught up with more bands.  We were getting closer and closer each and every minute.

Heavy clouds already starting to move up the New England Coastline Clearing just along the New Jersey Coastline. But for how long?

My flight path took us directly over the eye of Hurricane Earl.  The lightning below put on a nice show and while I’ve never been directly over the eye of a hurricane, Active Sky X depicts it from what I’ve seen on radar and even specifically what I saw on radar for this particular storm.  Of course the storm is not as defined since the satellite images are taken from much, much higher.  But you get the point.

The leading edge of Hurricane Earl

Crossing the eye of Hurricane Earl

Broken cloud layers just south of Earl’s position

Directly south of the eye was solid cloud cover.  As we traveled south from the eye the ride became a little bumpy for a few minutes and then everything was calm again.  Once we reached the coastline area of South Carolina all visible traces of Earl were gone.  The skies remained mostly clear the rest of the flight down to Ft. Lauderdale.  However, on approach things did begin to cloud up again and yes it was raining in what I thought would be a sunny and warm Ft. Lauderdale. 

Turning on final approach to runway 9L KFLL

Must keep my pace up as I’m being followed

Nice flow of vehicle traffic on the highway below.

I love the rain effect being kicked off the rear tires. We have arrived at KFLL

The fine print.  I certainly do not mean to take the impact of Hurricane Earl lightly.  My thoughts and prayers are with all those living along his path.  While I’m sure all commercial aviation steers clear (way clear) of these types of storms, the purpose of this flight and my blogging about it was to really test the accuracy of Active Sky X.  By all accounts I can testify that this software add-on for Microsoft Flight Simulator X is worth the cost.

Like all the flights I’ve flown, this one was a lot of fun.  I look forward to the next time I can get back in the cockpit and take to the skies. 

Until next time,

J

A little R&R in Martha’s Vineyard

I had flown into KFJK a few days ago. Since I like to keep my flight simulator adventures in somewhat of an orderly fashion (meaning I tend to fly from airport to airport and don’t jump around alot) I decided I wanted to practice my VFR techniques. Since I only had a short amount of time I decided to park the “Big Iron” and jump into something smaller. I haven’t spent much time looking for add-on aircraft so I picked the Beechcraft King Air 350 which is part of the Microsoft Flight Simulator X (FSX) default aircraft. I departed runway 22R for my adventure.

Soon after departure from KFJK

My route took me up the coast of Long Island through Block Island Sound, Rhode Island Sound and then across Buzzards Bay. Once reaching my crusing altitude it was all smooth sailing. The FS Kneeboard iPad application provided all the charts I needed for the route. I have 3-4 notebooks of charts and maps printed from 5+ years ago I once used. This little iPad applications gets me access to all the US region. I certainly hope they continue to develop the app to include more regions.

Crusing up Rhode Island Sound

The descent started over Buzzards Bay and then a turn across Cape Cod. Running Active Sky X, the ride down was a little bumpy for a few minutes. The Beechcraft King Air handled the bumps nicely.

A bumpy descent over Cape Cod

We’re almost there. Lining up on runway 24 at KMVY. Traffic was light today heading into the island. Certainly a good change of pace from the congestion around KJFK earlier.

Lining up to runway 24 at KMVY

Once parked with engines off and brake set it is time to head into Martha’s Vineyard for a relaxing short vacation. I’ll need to keep a close eye on Hurricane Earl incase he decides to travel up this direction. I may decide to leave Martha’s Vineyard and fly up to KBOS to meet up with some “Big Iron” from there the sky is truly the limit. Of course, I could also fly down and meet up with Earl to see how well Active Sky X models a hurricane. :-)

Engines off, parking brake set and ready for some R&R

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my Flight Sim Adventure as much as I enjoyed flying and blogging about it. If you blog about the flight simulator hobby please let me know and I’ll link to your blog site.

Until next time,

J