Another VA

I’ve blogged about my experience with VA’s or Virtual Airlines.  When I setup my sim gear and eased back into the hobby I really had plans just to fly and not get involved with any VA.  Well, this lasted about two weeks.  I recently joined British Airways Virtual (BAv). 

I’ve known about BAv for over a decade.  Back when I was involved with American Virtual Airlines (AvA), we setup a partnership with BAv and I could tell even back then that this was one finely operated virtual airline.  While I’ll always be proud of the time spent with AvA, and I may even one day go back to AvA.  I can also say that BAv is perhaps the premier VA in all of the internet based flight sim virtual airlines.  Why do I say this?  Well…even back in 2001 when I was first introduced to the world of virtual airlines, BAv was the only VA (I was aware of) which actually had a relationship with their real world counterpart and this is HUGE.

If you’ve been around the virtual airline world long, you have probably heard about VA’s being shut down by their real world counterparts.  I know it has been “virtually” impossible to keep a Fedex virtual airline running for any length of time as the real Fedex Company attorneys will send the management of the Fedex VA a Cease and Desist letter and insist they cease all operation due to copyright infringement.  Fedex is just one example of many I’ve heard about over the years.  Why do some real world airlines take issues with VA’s simulating their operation?  Perhaps I’ll leave this discussion to another article.

Anyway, wanting to spend some time exploring Europe…I decided there was no better airline (and VA for that matter) than to fly British Airways.  I figured if I’m going to do this, I might as well have more purpose to my explorations.  So I pointed my web browser to the British Airways Virtual website and decided to fill out an application.  Now I’ll admit that I have thought about joining BAv before.  However, each time I visited their website they were not hiring.  BAv has a policy to not have any more than 1,250 members.  Luckily, when I checked this time around, they had an opening for 75 pilots and I was able to get my application in ahead of the quota filling up.

Within approx. 24-48 hours I received an email from their HR department with instructions on how to complete their online exam process.  An exam???  Yep, and one of the reasons why I believe this is a First Class VA.  I spent time reviewing the BAv policy documents, their website and sat down at my PC to take the exam.  All the answers to the questions could be found if you had taken the time to read the information.  Within minutes of successfully completing the exam I received my pilot number and temporary credentials to access the BAv website.

While I have thousands of hours logged flying computer flight simulators (and over 1000 hours on VATSIM) I opted to start at the low rank of First Office at BAv and work my way up.  Even with not transferring any hours over to BAv and starting out as First Officer, I can still fly the 737, A319, A320 and A321.  I’ll receive my first promotion to Sr. First Office at 50 hours and to Captain at 100.  I’m having a blast flying routes out of Gatwick and Heathrow in the Boeing 737 and Airbus A3xx. Once I reach 50 hours I’ll have access to the 767 for European routes and at 100 hours will have access to 747 and 777 and can do long-haul routes should I want. 

While VA flying isn’t for everyone.  I can tell you that you’ll find no better VA than BAv when it comes to their requirements of maintaining active membership.  With only one required flight per month and BAv allows for both online (VATSIM and IVAO) along with offline flights to be flown.  It’s easy peasy to not only be an active member, but also remain an active member.

In addition to accumulating flight hours, another element to BAv which I’ve not experienced with other VA’s is the way they award experience points and conformance percentages.  Flight hours are accumulated like any other VA.  However, BAv awards experience points for each flight you make along with nice bonus points for complete flight rotation (EGLL-EBAW-EGLL).  Pilots are also awarded for schedule conformance.  BAv uses actual real world British Airways flight schedules and conformance to these schedules are tracked. 

Finally, BAv uses a small software client called Phoenix to track your flight.  No this isn’t like having Big Brother watching over you (although I can see where some will think this), but more like a flight data recorder.  You simply book your flight on the BAv website, launch Phoenix and retrieve the flight.  Setup your flight and just before you are ready to start engines and push-back, you start the Phoenix client tracking.  Each hour the Phoenix client asks for a position report each hour of flight time.  You simply dial a COM 2 frequency when requested.  Phoenix also handles your PIREP reporting at the end of the flight.  While other VA’s have similar ACARS software, I’ve not seen anything as robust as the BAv Phoenix client. 

Again, VA participation isn’t for everyone.  However, in all the years I’ve been flying computer sims and participating in virtual airlines, BAv truly is for those who are serious about flight simulation.  If you would like to experience a first class virtual airline, then look no further to British Airways virtual.  As of this blog posting, BAv has 41 pilot vacancies, with 33 applications in queue.  Get those applications in today before all slots have been filled.

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

JT

What comes around….

Yes, I suppose it truly does go around.  I’ve blogged over the past 9-10 months about my full circle experiences of getting back involved with a virtual airline, flying on VATSIM and even managing my old DFW hub.  Sadly, it all came to an end tonight when I had to make the difficult decision to resign.

I just don’t have the time these days.  I haven’t flown or blogged much (as you can tell) and I want to change that.  But I’m afraid I just don’t have the time to spend flying 30-40 hours a month along with investing 10-20 hours with the management duties in the VA. 

I do enjoy the flight sim hobby very much.  I will return to it very soon as well as blogging about my adventures.  I think I’ll park the heavy iron and dust off the Carenado Mooney and my Carenado float plane and head up to the PNW soon. 

Look for fresh blog content about this adventure very soon.  Thanks for stopping by.

Jerry

Is the VA model still alive???

I saw this question mentioned on the VATSIM Forums the other day and it got me thinking.  Is the VA model still alive?  Being someone who has been involved with virtual airlines off and on for a decade now, I sort of began pondering why I joined a VA in the first place and why I re-joined my old VA when coming back into the hobby last year and why I spend many hours a month running the Dallas/Ft. Worth Hub for American virtual Airlines.  By the way, American virtual Airlines just recently celebrated its 10th birthday.  I think this very point is the answer to the overall question.  But we’ll dig a little deeper and see what we find.

First of all….what is a VA?  A VA or Virtual Airline (according to Wikipedia) is a dedicated hobby organization that uses flight simulation to model the operations of an airline.  VA’s date back to time before the “big bang” of the Internet.  VA’s are reported to have been found on services such as Prodigy, CompuServe and AOL.  But I think they could have easily existed before that time…before the time of the Internet age and those previously mentioned online services.  VA’s could have (and probably did) existed between neighborhood friends who manually tracked their time with a Big Chief tablet and a #2 pencil.  I will admit that when flight simulator expanded into the ability to fly to a few more places than just around Meig’s Field, I was tracking my flights and counting up the hours I spent doing so.  Was I in a VA?  I suppose I could have been with MMI Airlines (Me, Myself & I).

I learned about the virtual airline concept one of two ways (I can’t remember for certain, it’s what happens as you get older).  Either I saw something on one of the older versions of Microsoft Flight Simulator or I read about it in one of the Flight Sim Magazines.  This was in the early 2001 timeframe.  At that time the apartment where I lived didn’t live close enough to the Telco central office to receive DSL and I was still on dialup.  Anyway, the concept interested me and I joined several which either were inactive or closed their doors.  In the late summer of 2001 I found AvA. 

Back in this 2001 timeframe, I don’t remember all the various communities to support the hobby.  Sure there were forums, but today there exists various online communities where members come together to share knowledge, swap lies, post screenshots and learn about the hobby.  One of the finest that I know of and proud to call myself a  member is The Flight Simulator Network.  This website was founded by a fellow flight sim enthusiast, Mark Avey and in my opinion is one of the best on the internet.   These communities provide an alternative to the traditional based VA.  Some of these communities have a built-in VA component and some do not.  I understand that The Flight Simulator Network now offers a virtual airline within their website. 

Back to the specific topic of Virtual Airlines and if they matter today.  The general problems with most VA’s today can be lumped into a couple of categories.  The first being lack of experience, the second being lack of funds and possibly a third is lack of maturity.  Take out these key ingredients and a VA will fail to get off the ground.  Please allow me to drill into each of these issues.

I want to start with lack of maturity first.  This doesn’t automatically mean the individual starting the VA is a young person.  It simply means the individual wants to be the CEO of his/her own VA and generally this has been decided because they find fault with an already existing VA or its members. 

Lack of experience is also a HUGE issue with the success or failure of a VA.  Individuals will form a VA without any prior knowledge of how a VA should run. 

The third element is lack of funds.  Any VA website created on a free web service will more than likely fail.  This may not have been the case a decade ago, but today….it will fail…..guaranteed.  Virtual Pilots demand certain functionality which can be difficult to provide on free web services.  Second, most free web services have various pop-up ads that again just aren’t tolerated in this modern Internet age we live in.  One could expect to pay anywhere from $100 up on an annual basis to run a successful virtual airline and in most cases you can’t count on members to donate anything towards the cost. 

There is a final element or issue that does plague VA’s today and that is legal issues.  Most VA’s that portray the operations of a real world counterpart (such as American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Fedex etc. etc.) are doing so somewhat under the radar.  While I won’t say that the real American Airlines doesn’t know about AvA, it is just possible they have not bothered with trying to shut it down.  Many upstart VA’s could expect to receive a “cease and desist” letter from the real world airline they are trying to portray.  Some airlines are more diligent than others.  I think a lot of the reasons why VA’s get shut down by their real world counterparts can fall into the other three elements I previously mentioned.  Some VA’s have been extremely successful at reaching out to their real-world counterpart and not only gaining approval for using copy write material, but also gaining the full support (non-financial) and endorsement.  One of the most successful stories that I know of is British Airways Virtual.  These guys presented their ideas for BAV to the real BA legal and marketing teams and won their full support.  That is incredible.

But aside from all that, is the VA model still alive today?  I say YES, it is.  I’m not just saying this because of my involvement with a VA, I’m saying this from what I experience reading in the various online forums and communities and what I witness each and every time I fly on the VATSIM network.  I see this is the dedication of the virtual pilots who fly for me in the DFW hub. 

If you are reading this and you currently are not involved with a virtual airline, I say join one.  Don’t create a new one just because you want to be the CEO.  Trust me, you’ll regret that decision down the road.  But join an existing VA and experience it from the pilots viewpoint.  If you haven’t experienced a virtual airline from a pilots perspective, how on earth can you be a successful CEO? 

But what virtual airline should you join?  Well…this is not as hard as it may seem.  Most of us that are truly addicted to the flight simulation hobby will have a favorite airline they enjoy flying in the real life.  It may be American, it may be United or Southwest or it might even be Era Alaska as portrayed on the Discovery Channel TV program, seek out and find these VA’s and join up.  You’ll easily be able to tell from their website if they are active or defunct.  Look for VA’s which have an online policy manual and read this before joining.  Look for VA’s which provide automated PIREP systems. 

I would welcome anyone reading this blog post to join me at American virtual Airlines.  If you like the real world AA, AvA is the best VA out there simulating AA operations.  We’ve been around for 10 years and have an active and very experienced management team running every aspect of the VA. 

Again, the VA model is very much alive and kicking.  Consider joining one to take your flight sim hobby to the next level.  I think you’ll enjoy it.

Until next time,

Jerry

Captain Sim 777–A First Look

This is not going to be an official review of the new Captain Sim Boeing 777-200 as it basically is an exterior only model which incorporates the default B747 panel and B737 sound at this time.  Now I know what you must be thinking, especially if you are not familiar with the Captain Sim product and the way they have released products before.  From what I understand they have released products in the past in a piece by piece fashion.  Meaning it starts with the exterior model and then sometime down the road they will release an interior model etc.  While I’ve known about Captain Sim for a while, this is the first time I’ve installed and flown one of their aircraft.  Thankfully they start with the exterior as it would look funny flying around just a shell of an airplane.

At present time, the Captain Sim Boeing 777-200 (exterior model) is available 9.99 Euro ($14.56 USD).  Now if you’ve read several of my recent blog posts you know I’ve purchased several new aircraft for my virtual hangar.  First, about a month ago I purchased the iFly 737NGX and that was followed by the LVLD 767.  I’ve blogged about how much I enjoy flying these aircraft and that I’m hooked on the payware aircraft modeled closely after their real world counterparts and have truly enjoyed the realistic procedures required to get these aircraft into the sky and safely back onto the ground.  So why did I pay nearly $15.00 for an exterior model that only that acts and behaves like a default or freeware model? 

Well…the answer to that question is I didn’t pay for it.  I won it.  Yes…I won something and I’m tickled about it.  I haven’t won anything in years and wasn’t expecting this at all.  It was given away as part of the raffle for our AvA 10th Birthday bash event.  I actually could choose from any Captain Sim product and I chose the 777.  Why?  Well this one of course is easy to answer.  Since I already had the B737 from iFly and the 767 from LVLD, it made sense to select either the B757 or the new B777.  I decided against the B757 as I’m really looking at the Quality Wings 757 if they can ever get their GoFlight hardware integration working.  Once this happens then I’ll gladly give them my money.  So I figured I really had nothing to lose on the 777.  I decided if all else fails, I would just fly it like I would my POSKY B777’s until I found a payware model that I liked.  Plus, the FSX Flight Sim community (in my opinion) is really lacking in the quality payware 777 department.  We have awesome 737 models out now (and soon to be released PMDG) and we have great 747, 757 and of course my new pride and joy the LVLD 767.  But 777’s???  Nah….not really.  So I’m hopeful this one fills a very important void for all of us FSX users.

I had just wrapped up a KDFW to PHNL flight in the LVLD 767 (wow what a treat to fly) and had some time before dinner to install and check out this CS 777.  She installed with no issues and when I fired up FSX she was listed right there in the aircraft menu.  Where else did I expect to find it?  I was pleased to find that out of the box she comes in the following liveries American Airlines, British Airways, KLM, United Airlines, Japan Airlines, Air France and Singapore Airlines.  This is great because three of the seven are members of the oneworld alliance (AAL, BAW and JAL) and I’m planning to simulate my real world trip to London from Denver in a few days.  I can fly any of the oneworld codeshare flights with AvA.  This is great by the way as it allows for such diversity in aircraft.  When I have a need to fly a Boeing 747 I can jump in and fly a BAW flight.  Now I have a saying (which you’ve all heard I’m sure) and that is “If it ain’t Boeing, I ain’t going”.  So…while I could jump in an Airbus A380 as Qantas I haven’t done so just yet.  Anyway you get the idea.

cs777_baw

So I started the Captain Sim Boeing 777 in the British Airways livery and took her for a lap around DFW.  We departed on 17R and headed east around and out of the way of Dallas Love Field and then came around from the NE to land on 17C.  For a default, freeware aircraft I have to say she handled great.  Yes..I had just finished an almost 8 hour flight to Honolulu in the awesome LVLD, but this wasn’t bad.  Considering she is lacking in the interior and flight dynamics like the LVLD.

From the outside the “eye-candy” is fantastic and the image above doesn’t do her justice.  I can tell you this B777 will be moved front and center in the virtual hangar in front of the POSKY models I have.  The POSKY’s look great, but there are some visual issues (like a hole in the fuselage) which sort of stick out.  I’ve tried to find a fix, but gave up.  I just make sure I take on extra oxygen and blankets and life is good.  Smile

Again, this is just a first look. Please….Please…Please keep your 9.99 euro in your pocket for now (unless of course you just want an exceptional looking exterior visual modeled aircraft in the liveries I mentioned before.  You can also find additional liveries in the usual places such asAVSIM.net.  I plan to take this beautiful aircraft on a round-trip long-haul from Denver to London Heathrow and back to simulate my real world trip I’ll take in a few weeks.  I will make sure to provide more information in the form of an update so you can better decide.

Finally, I am entitled to the additional packages once they are made available by Captain Sim.  I’ll do a full review of the Captain Sim Boeing 777 at that time.  Time will tell if she’ll work with myGoFlight MCP when all is said and done.  I sure hope so.

In closing, I’ve really enjoyed providing this first look into the Captain Sim 777.  I think I’ll review a few other items I have in my flight deck in the near future.  I know I promised some information on the VRInsight CDU I purchased a few weeks ago.  Perhaps that will be the first review item.  We’ll see. 

Until next time,

Jerry

AvA 10th Birthday –Something Special in the Air

American virtual Airlines was founded on June 1, 2001.  Each year AvA has celebrated its birthday with an event of some kind.  I remember the early days when we might get 25 pilots or so that would fly in the event.  Normally the event consisted of a group flight from point A to point B.  As I’ve previously discussed, real life events got in the way of my flight sim and virtual aviation hobby and I had to step away for about 5 years.  I re-joined AvA in November of 2010 and quickly worked my way back up to DFW hub manager.  You can read more about this here and here.

Shortly after I re-joined I began hearing about the plans for the 10th birthday celebration.  To say I was excited would be an understatement.  After all, this is almost unheard of in the flight sim community.  VA’s come and go…mostly go.  If you look in the VATSIM forums under the VA News category, you’ll see at least one new VA announce they are opening their doors on a weekly basis.  Some weeks more.  If these new VA’s survive their first 3 months they are lucky.  Survive their first year and I’d call them double lucky. 

As I said, VA’s come and go.  For the most part someone will start a VA just because they want to run their own VA.  While I have no scientific proof, I would say most new startups are done by younger members of the hobby.  There is nothing wrong with this….but there are several key ingredients to starting, running and maintaining a successful VA and most either do not know, understand or care to use these ingredients.  But I digress….

The AvA 10th birthday also marks an anniversary of mine as well.  Prior to joining AvA I really didn’t consider flight simulation a hobby.  It was a game that I played on a computer with a joystick.  I would play the game by departing from an airport and flying around.  Sometimes I would fly from one airport to another…It really had no purpose.  Joining AvA gave me purpose as far as logging PIREPs and gaining a much better understanding of real world policies and procedures.  It also marks my anniversary with flying online via VATSIM. 

As the event planning began just after the first of the year, it was determined that each respective AvA hub would fly from their hub to DFW as DFW is the headquarters for American Airlines in real life, it is also the HQ for AvA in the virtual world. 

As the year progressed I moved from being just a pilot at DFW to the training hub manager then the hub manager position opened up at DFW.  This was something I really wanted and I’m very honored and humbled that I was given the opportunity to once again manage this fine hub for AvA.  With the event taking place with all hubs flying into DFW, I’m especially honored to get to show the DFW hub off to all of AvA.

I wanted to do something special to commemorate my 10th anniversary as well as that of AvA’s.  This is why I arranged to spend all day on Saturday flying.  I cleared it with my very supporting wife, made sure to bring her flowers and cooked her dinner.  Plus I got the chores and other tasks out of the way that I normally do on Saturday out of the way.  The day was set and the calendar was cleared.

My day of flying was planned to look like this.  I would fly from KDEN to KDFW, then KDFW to KTPA.  Since the AvA hubs are flying into DFW, DFW pilots had a choice to fly from either TPA or SJU.  I chose to fly from TPA and join up with the training hub guys who are based out of TPA.  I would then fly TPA to DFW in the large group celebration event.  Did I mention this event is BIG?  We have over 115 AvA members signed up with invitations going out to all of the flight sim community. 

I set my alarm (which I rarely do on a Saturday) so I could make sure to be up for my first flight.  Since I pretty much always fly from my last arrival location, I was coming from Denver to Dallas.  The only problem I had was I actually woke up about two hours before my alarm was set to go off.  After about 10 minutes of not being able to fall asleep again, I said…I know…I’ll fly from DEN to ORD then ORD down to DFW then resume my regular flight schedule.  Plus this will add one more flight to my schedule for the day.  Life is good!

If you fly online and especially during heavy VATSIM event times, you know things can get a bit hectic.  The DFW hub was scheduled to depart from Tampa (KTPA) and as the departure time approached we had no ATC online.  We began systematically departing based on our scheduled time and that worked out great.  I pushed and started on schedule and was approaching runway 01L when Tampa Approach popped online.  This caused a slight kink in the chain as I needed to get clearance and there were about 3-4 aircraft lined up behind me.  Once I got my clearance, I was cleared to take-off.

This event is the largest online event I’ve participated with the new computer I built last September.  I experienced a slight lag on the ground at Tampa.  I’m running the FlyTampa scenery for FSX and I estimate there was about 20 aircraft on the ground and we were all within a 100 yards of each other.  I think all in all the machine held up well.  Time will tell how the machine handles the approach and arrival into DFW.  I expect many more aircraft on the ground and in the airspace than what was experienced in Tampa. 

vatspy2

As reflected in the photo, this is what the VATSIM skies looked like about 2100z.  The photo is a screenshot of VAT-Spy.  VAT-Spy allows virtual pilots to see other aircraft an air traffic control who are logged into the VATSIM network.  If you look at the image, you’ll see AAL100 in the southeast corner of the Memphis ARTCC airspace that is me flying in the iFly 737NGX.  Also, all the orange colored aircraft labels are AvA Pilots.  We had a heavy concentration of pilots departing from TPA, MIA and SJU (San Juan).  But all hubs are represented with BOS, JFK, ORD and LAX. 

As all aircraft began approaching the airspace around Dallas/Ft. Worth things changed from calm to organized chaos but in a good way.  What I mean by this is this is about the only way that we can simulate what real world conditions look like and act like in and around a major airport.  The standalone FSX ATC won’t do it and I’m not aware of any software add-on package that will do this and do it like its done in the real world with true human like involvement.  We had exceptional air traffic control from the top down.  And while we still had a few minor pilot errors, as far as I could tell everyone had fun. 

Once the majority of the aircraft landed, we held an induction ceremony to welcome a few new members to our AvA Admiral’s Club.  Our Admiral’s Club is reserved for members who perform above and beyond the call of duty.  Most have been in the VA for more than 3-5 years and have flown over 1000 hours exclusively for AvA. 

ava_10_sunset

Of course, what is one to do after having such a great day of flying the friendly VATSIM skies and participating in an event with over 80 other AvA members?  Yep, you guessed it.  Saddle up the iFly 737NGX and head west to Vegas Baby!  Yep…about a dozen departed DFW for LAS to continue the after the party party.  This 5th flight for the day caps off a great almost 12 hours of flying and 10 awesome years for American virtual Airlines.  Happy Birthday AvA!

Until next time….

Jerry

A lesson shared from one hobby to another

While Flight Simulation is the only hobby I discuss on this blog, it is not the only hobby I enjoy.  As discussed in the blog posting titled “The Cost of a Hobby”, I do enjoy photography, golf (although my game is suffering right now) and amateur radio (also known as ham radio).  It is a lesson from amateur radio that I plan to share with you today.

I returned to the world of VATSIM last November and estimate over 90% of my current flight simulation time is spent flying online.  I also had a “full-circle” moment and re-joined with my old virtual airline, American virtual Airlines. In another “full-circle” moment,  I’m now managing the Dallas/Ft. Worth Hub for AvA (which I did back in the 2001-2004 timeframe) and am truly having a ball. 

For those who have never experienced the fun of flying on VATSIM, you should check it out.  Yea I know all the reasons some people have.  Let’s see.  ONE The software is too complicated to install.  TWO The procedures are too difficult to master.  THREE  There is never any ATC online at the time I want to fly. 

OK…So number three is a valid point.  There are times (OK…a lot of times) where ATC coverage is not available.  But there are also times when there is and when there is….it truly is As Real As It Gets.  But this blog post is not about that and unless you regularly fly on VATSIM then it probably won’t apply.  But I hope you’ll keep reading.

When I previously flew on the VATSIM network (back in 2001 – 2004 or so) I didn’t have my ham radio license.  In 2007 I did earn my license and upgraded to the second level (general class) in early 2008.  I’ve been off and on studying for the top tier, (extra class) for several years.  One very key element that all beginning ham radio operators learn about is the art of listening. 

Now we’ve all been (regardless if you are a fellow ham) taught this lost art.  More than likely it was taught to us at a very young age by our parents and certainly was taught during Kindergarten.  After all, everything we need to know in life was taught to us during our year of Kindergarten  The problem is we tend to forget and most of us have simply forgotten the art of listening.

Back to the hobby of amateur radio.  We are taught again about the importance of listening.  Part of the material we read and study to earn our entry level license (called technician class) tells us we will do more listening than actually speaking when operating our radios.  The guidance when tuning into a frequency is to listen………..listen some more…………listen yet some more……….no we’re not done listening just yet……..after some time we don’t hear anything….then we listen a little more and finally will politely ask if the frequency is in use and yes……LISTEN. 

We do this because it is possible I may not hear another ham operator using that particular frequency and my transmission could interfere with his or another operators ability to hear and use that frequency.  After I listen for a minute or two and politely ask if the frequency is in use, if I then do not hear anyone…I’m free to go ahead and begin using that frequency.

Of course in VATSIM we do not need to ask if the frequency is in use.  This was merely an example of how the art of listening is applied in the hobby of amateur radio.  But the key take away that I’m trying to make with this blog post is even in the world of simulated ATC on VATSIM, we all need to LISTEN more than we speak.

Many, Many, Many times fellow pilots will “step over” another pilot or ATC simply because they are not listening.  Other times pilots need to ask again for ATC to repeat what they said again because they are not listening.  I know some will argue that what is happening is not because of the lack of listening…but I think many and actually most cases it is.

My first piece of advice for virtual pilots is to invest in a good set of headphones.  Preferably USB so you can set Squawkbox or FSInn to only send the ATC audio into the headset and keep the sound of the flight sim (the airplane) out of the headset.  I know I also flew for many years with the sound of my aircraft mixed in with the ATC audio.  It’s not like this on a real airplane….so make the change.  You’ll thank me later.

Second, (and this ties in with the above) route your aircraft sounds into some external speakers and keep the audio turned down low enough so when you speak into your headset only your voice is transmitted and not the sounds of your engines etc. This will help everyone hear and understand you better.

Third, if you use an external microphone….read my first piece of advice and invest in a USB headset with boom microphone.  Spend some time setting up the audio.  The new USB headset you buy might be plug and play, but getting the audio levels just right isn’t. 

Fourth, after taking all the above advice….when you tune into an active ATC frequency please LISTEN and LISTEN just a little bit more to see if there is an active conversation taking place.  Even when being handed off from one ATC to another, you have plenty of time to LISTEN first.  The reason why I’m suggesting you listen is to assist in the overall flow of communication. 

What are you talking about Jerry?  I’m glad you asked.  Just like in normal conversation you have with a friend either face to face or on the phone or what ever, there is a period of time where you speak and then you stop talking and you listen while your friend speaks.  This is the flow of normal conversation and is exactly what we learned when we were young. 

In the virtual ATC world on VATSIM, the normal flow of communication works something like this.  ATC issues instruction to pilot.  Pilot reads back instruction to ATC.  In some cases (as in reading back clearance) ATC might confirm the instructions the pilot read back.  The point I’m making is there is a normal flow and an expected flow of communication. 

In the above example, this is a communication between ATC and a pilot A.  Let’s say pilot B is on frequency and is not carefully listening or just ignoring the normal flow of conversation.  When ATC issues an instruction to pilot A, Pilot B should not speak on frequency until he is aware the conversation between Pilot A and ATC is finished. 

Some may argue and ask the question…well how do you know when the conversation between ATC and Pilot A is completed?  Again, depending on the situation you will know or you will learn over time.  Let’s use another example.  ATC is issuing vectors to Pilot A and providing runway assignment.  Pilot A needs to read back or confirm this instruction to ATC.  Typically once that read back is completed…then the conversation is finished. 

Finally, when it is time to speak…speak clearly.  So many fellow pilots sound like their mouth is stuffed with cotton balls and ATC have a difficult time understanding them.  Remember….we all learned these very important lessons when we were small.  Many of us just simply forgot over time.  Have fun and LISTEN!

By the way, if any of you reading this are fellow ham radio operators.  I operate mostly HF SSB, PSK and a few months ago tried JT-65 and truly love the mode.  I also podcast about amateur radio.  You can visit MyAmateurRadio.com to download/listen or find me on iTunes.  The podcast is titled “The Practical Amateur Radio Podcast”  73 de KD0BIK.

Until next time,

Jerry

Another full-circle kind of moment…

As mentioned a few weeks ago here in my March 10th blog posting, some changes were possibly on the horizon for me with American virtual Airlines.  I’m excited to report that I’ve been appointed the Dallas/Ft. Worth Hub Manager for American virtual Airlines.  This was something I had wanted to happen for some time and I’m very excited and honored to accept the role.

My virtual airline (VA) experience all began in DFW with AvA almost 10 years ago.  I honestly can’t remember just how I learned about virtual airlines.  I believe it was either through Flight Simulator itself or in a magazine…but in any event, until the late summer of 2001 my experience with flight simulator was just standalone.  I had been flying computer sims since the early 80’s, but it was 2001 before I paired flight simulator with the internet.

I believe I’ve blogged about the selection process for a virtual airline.  If not, I’ll keep it brief.  Growing up in Texas and working some of my professional career in the DFW area I preferred American Airlines over any of the other carriers.  As a child I had visited DFW airport many times and always marveled at the big shiny aluminum planes.  Also, those who know me know I’m a proud Texan and with AA being headquartered in Texas….well it was just all the right reasons. 

So with the new knowledge of virtual airlines I began my search for an American Airlines version.  Unfortunately, AvA was not the first AA VA I located.  I found another group, joined and was assigned as a pilot to their DFW hub.  My career with this AA VA only lasted a few weeks as the CEO more or less vanished without a trace and the roster was no longer being updated.  So the search began again….

In the August 2001 timeframe I found AvA.  It was born just that previous June, but had already gained a few hundred members and had a half-dozen or more hubs.  Of course I requested DFW and was assigned as a pilot.  While my only real-world aviation experience is in the form of a passenger, I had been flying computer sims at this point for over 15 years and with my few weeks of experience with the other AA VA, the CEO of AvA offered me the position of Vice President of Operations, placing me essentially in the number two position of AvA.

Part of my responsibilities of VP of Ops was the day to day management of the hub managers.  If memory serves me correctly, we had hubs in DFW, ORD, LAX, JFK, MIA, BOS and SJU.  I was responsible for the hiring of new hub managers when a vacancy occurred.  Around the time of my VP of Ops appointment, the DFW hub manager position was open and since I was a pilot in that hub I assumed the manager role and planned to replace myself as soon as possible.  However, a few weeks after that we had more openings in ORD and SJU.  I began filling the positions for ORD and SJU first and basically never replaced myself in DFW. 

Back then the role of a hub manager was much, much more difficult than it is today.  In those early days we didn’t have automated PIREP systems and FSACARS functionality.  We used a web form which the pilot would fill out with all the particulars.  This web form would send the hub manager an email with the information.  The hub manager would then take the information in the email form and manually update an HTML page reflecting the pilots hours.  A good hub manager would update his hub roster page every couple of days.  One that really wanted to stay on top of things would do it daily as a big hub like DFW or ORD could easily produce 20 or more PIREPs per day. 

So much for being brief…..

Fast forward 10 years and I’m now once again the Dallas/Ft. Worth hub manager.  DFW is without a doubt my favorite airport and it is both an honor and privilege to be able to manage this wonderful hub for American virtual Airlines.  While the role of a hub manager has changed slightly since the early days, there is still a lot to do.  The automated PIREP and FSACARS systems that AvA uses do save the tedious task of manually updating a roster.  But certainly nothing has changed in the sense of what I need to do to motivate my pilots and keep everyone in line. 

aal100_dfwWhile each hub manager at AvA believes their hub is the best and the most important….I do know that the Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport is the “Jewel in the Crown” of American Airlines.  Now I truly have no intention of climbing any higher in the management ranks than hub manager.  My real-world life and career keeps me way too busy to take on any more. Plus Flight Sim isn’t my only hobby.  But I’m very, very happy to be back home where it all started.  By the way, the photo to the left is my first flight as DFW HM.  Pushing back in the MD80 for a flight to KMEM.

Now I would be remiss if I failed to invite you to become a member of American virtual Airlines.  AvA will celebrate it’s 10th birthday this summer.  We are planning a huge VATSIM event to celebrate.  AvA was the very first virtual airline to be affiliated with the VATSIM network.  We are a 100% online VATSIM virtual airline.  Which simply means that all flights must be flown on the VATSIM network to count towards pilot hours and rank.  Please take a look at our website and if you are interested in joining one of the oldest virtual airlines on the VATSIM network, then please sign up.

Well I believe I’ve kept you long enough from doing whatever it is you were doing before you landed here on my blog page.  I’m glad you stopped by and I’m glad to share with you my adventures in the wonderful hobby we call flight simulation.

Until next time…..

J

It’s been a while….

Yep, I know it’s been over a month…Oh who am I kidding.  It’s been over two months since I last posted a blog update.  January was a busy month for virtual flying…but February not so much.  I believe I logged over 60 hours of virtual simming in January and only about 3-4 in February.  Bottom line is February was a busy month for me in my job and we all know that jobs come first and hobbies come last.

I’m still flying with American virtual Airlines and still managing the training hub.  It keeps me busy.  On average we have 20+ new pilots join each month and again on average about half that many are terminated for inactivity.  For the life of me I can’t figure out why someone would take the time to join a VA and not fly.  Sure we have a few rules that must be followed and we also conduct a very brief quiz over VATSIM and our own policies….but this quiz is not difficult at all.  Also, you must fly 5 hours as a student pilot before transferring to a mainline hub.  But we don’t require a check ride and the quiz is done on-line and we even tell you where to find the answers.  Oh well. 

There is something possibly big going to happen with me at AvA.  I won’t talk about it now, but will be certain to come back and blog about it just as soon as I can.  It’s all good.

The FSX machine is still running incredibly well.  I finally got around to installing all the FSDTsceneries I had purchased a few months back.  I purchased about a half dozen on a special deal FSDT was running.  I installed KDFW and KFLL but had never got around to installing KORD, KFJK, KLAS, PHNL.  Anyway….I had all but forgotten I had KORD and had been having issues with the terminals showing up correctly.  Basically when I would land in Chicago and taxi to the terminal area all I would see were hanging jet bridges and no buildings.  Well..I’m glad to say that the FSDT KORD scenery fixed that issue and I went ahead and installed the rest.  I’m planning on flying from KMSP to KLAS on Sunday evening for an AvA event. 

Speaking of sceneries.  I also purchased the FlyTampa scenery for St. Maarten, TNCM and for Tampa, KTPA.  I’m really impressed with FlyTampa’s quality. I know many of you own this scenery and I’m really not sure why it took so long to purchase it.  I think Boston KBOS will be my next FlyTampa scenery. 

Back to the subject of FSDT.  Have you heard about the newest product they are currently developing?  It’s called Ground Services X and is pretty darn cool looking.  I’ve provided the video showing some of the things it will do.  It’s cool.  You can learn more about GSX in this forumthread.

FSDreamTeam GSX Preview

What else?  Oh….I also purchased and have been using FS Passengers in my VA flights.  It’s pretty cool and it has made me a better pilot.  I do think the lead flight attendant is flirting with me.  She keeps popping into the cockpit asking me what I’m going to do this weekend.  Ha ha

Well…that just about does it for this update.  I promise to get back to the blog and provide an update real soon on more of my flight sim adventures. 

Until then….

Happy Flying!

Jerry

Full Circle

If you’ve followed some of my blog posts in the past 4-6 weeks, you know that I started flying on VATSIM again and also re-joined American Virtual Airlines.  AvA was founded in the summer of 2001 and was the very first VA to be affiliated with VATSIM.  While I wasn’t one of the “Founding Fathers”, I did join in August 2001 and within a few weeks had been offered the role of VP of Operations and managed several of the hubs.  AvA was my virtual employer from 2001 until 2004 timeframe. 

I started flying again with AvA just over a month ago.  I joined the DFW hub and for the month of December have accumulated over 52 hours and I still have one more day to go.  Anyway, after a few weeks I contacted the CEO of AvA and offered my assistance in whatever capacity he could use me.  Initially his response was that he would keep me in mind for future openings (as there were none at the time).  About a week later he contacted me again and told me about an open position for the AvA Training Hub.  The position would be to manage the training hub. 

So as you can tell from the subject of this blog post, I was officially offered and I accepted this position.  I officially got started in the position yesterday and am learning about the automated PIREP system and trying to figure out what pilots are active and which ones need to be showed the door.  Don’t worry…I’m not issuing any pink slips just yet.  I granted everyone a 2 week amnesty to either start flying and file their required two PIREPS per month or just simply contact me and let me know what is going on. 

Since this is my blog, I’m going to insert a little “Help Wanted” notice here.  Are you looking to join a virtual airline?  Would you like to fly for one of the oldest and best VA’s?  Want to fly for the best American Airlines group?  At American Virtual Airlines we offer a fully automated PIREP system complete with FSACARS/FSPassengers/FS Flight Keeper/XAcars integration.  We offer a low commitment of only filing two PIREPs per month to remain fully active and while all flights must be flown on the VATSIM network, this really only enhances your overall FlightSim experiences. 

I would love if you would stop by American Virtual Airlines and submit an application.  If you have less than 100 verifiable VATSIM hours you’ll be assigned to the training hub.  We offer complete training (soon to be fully automated) to help get you started flying on the VATSIM network. 

As Frank Sinatra would sing…..Come Fly With Me, Let’s Fly, Let’s Fly Away.

Happy New Year!

Jerry

Christmas Rush 2010

Yes it’s that time of the year and our virtual passengers need our help.  Like my discovery of how much I enjoyed flying the Mooney around the world, I’ve also discovered I really enjoy flying online on the VATSIM network.  My frustrations of trying to fly online from years ago seem to be resolved with my awesome flight sim PC that I built back in the September timeframe.  If you are just finding my blog, please read some of the older posts from September as I describe my new hardware and also discuss how I’m keeping it cool.

Anyway, since re-joining American Virtual Airlines (AvA), I’ve flown over 15 flights (over 30 hours) all of them on the VATSIM network.  Of these online flights I’ve covered flights out of KDFW to DEN, LAX, MEM, MIA, MSY, ORD and my most recent flight to our Nations Capital, DCA.  In thisblog post I discussed how I simulated a real world flight I made recently.  Bottom line is I’ve had a ton of fun and my online experience has been nothing but fun and also educational.

Just like the airlines we simulate, I’m enjoying making every effort to get my flight sim passengers from point A to point B as quickly and as safely as possible.  I’m trying to get in as many hours as I can over the next few days.  This weekend I managed to find time to fly from KDFW to KMIA then from KMIA up to KORD.  Today I picked up my route and headed back to KDFW from KORD.  Finally this evening I’m flying from KDFW to KDCA.  My PAX are happy today as the in flight entertainment is compliments of Fox Sports and CBS Sports.

Climbing through the clouds out of KORD

The weather across the areas I’ve been flying has been mild.  This morning I had some cloud cover as I departed ORD.  I enjoy the challenge that real world weather provides us through the various add-ons like ActiveSky and Real Environment Extreme.  As previously discussed on this blog, I do own both of those applications and find myself using the REX graphics more and more, but I still tend to run ActiveSky weather engine.  I guess it’s my way of getting my $$ worth out of both applications.

Something else I’ve really enjoyed about my new beast of a PC is how much better it functions when flying at night.  When I took my wings off five years ago, not only was it a struggle to fly online…it was also hard to fly at night.  I pretty much had to simulate all my flights during the daytime hours, but now I can handle the twilight and full night-time operations.  I love it.

My flight up to Washington DC this evening was a lot of fun.  DFW was in its usual south operations and ATC gave me 17R.  Once airborne I resumed the Triss3 departure and began my northeast flight up to KDCA.  My route was TRISS3 TXK J42 MEM J42 BKW ELDEE4.  I had ATC coverage just about the entire route with both Memphis and Indy Centers providing the coverage.  Once I departed the Indy airspace I was on my own the rest of the way.

Beautiful sunset behind the MD83

The northeast portion of the US is the most crowded airspace and it is always typically represented this way on VATSIM.  Tonight was relatively light.  I began researching weather conditions for the DC area about 300nm out.  If all holds I’ll be landing on runway 1.

Turning south over DC.

The ELDEE4 arrival takes you north passing over Dulles then turning south keeping you far away from Andrews AFB, The White House and other important locations in the area.  The above image was captured just after I turned south.  I checked weather conditions again and winds were from the north at 7 mph, yep runway 1 is still my best choice.

Final approach into KDCA runway 1

Taking the easy way into KDCA.  On final ILS runway 1.

On the ground at KDCA

At the gate and shutting down.  An end to a great weekend of flying.  I’ll try to fly another route or two this week as I will have a day off and can’t think of anything better to do but fly and help my virtual passengers get to where they need to go just in time for Christmas.

Until next time…Merry Christmas to you and your family.

Jerry