The Rock of Gibraltar

I’m increasing my collection of add-on scenery for the European region and just recently purchased the Aerosoft version of Gibraltar LXGB for FSX.  This is a fantastic little airport and reminds me of my St. Maarten TNCM package I have from FlyTampa.  I currently own scenery from Aerosoft, FlyTampa, FSDT, Orbx, and UK2000 and truly love them all. 

I suppose one can quickly go broke on purchasing add-on scenery.  One criteria I attempt to use in making a decision on whether to purchase a particular scenery package is the frequency I think I may use it along with just how much more the scenery package will enhance FSX.  I really enjoy the KMIA to TNCM route in either a 737 or 757.

I’ve recently performed a lot of flights out of both London Heathrow and Gatwick, so adding those packages from UK2000 was an easy decision.  I also picked up the UK2000 package for London City as that is a really neat airport and one I fly into in real life every other year or so.  Plus I’m really looking forward to completing the EGLC-EINN-KJFK flight in an Airbus 318 soon.

Another factor I use in my decision is the level of difficulty a particular airport may offer.  Perhaps better known as the “Wow” factor.  I watched a History Channel program a few years ago called “Most Extreme Airports”.  Gibraltar is identified as the 5th most extreme airport.  If you are not familiar with this History Channel program, or just want to watch it again.  It is available onYouTube.  Fast forward to minute 33:00 for the Gibraltar LXGB segment.

Our simulated flight today is the British Airways flight 490 from London Heathrow to Gibraltar in the Airbus A320.  Gate to gate time is 2 hours and 50 minutes.  Our departure from Heathrow was uneventful.

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Our route today

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BAW490 departing EGLL runway 27L

Conditions for Gibraltar are showing winds 090 at 6kt.  We’ll be landing on runway 09 which is the more difficult approach. 

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Thick clouds and light turbulence as we approach the southern coast of Spain.

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Clearing as we continue the descent. 

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Approaching Victor

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Flying the published approach and configured at gear down and flaps 3 upon crossing the 5 mile radar fix.

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Beginning the turn after crossing the 3 mile radar fix.  Airport and runway clearly in sight.

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Just a slight cross wind and hoping the aircraft ahead will soon exit the runway.

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BAW 490 Clear to land runway 09.

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Slowing with plenty of runway to spare.

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At the gate.

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The Rock of Gibraltar in the background.

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Terminal at Gibraltar

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Additional detail shown for the LXGB scenery.  Need to watch those towers on departure.

All-in-all I’m very pleased with my purchase of the Aerosoft Gibraltar scenery for FSX.  If you like flying into and out of some of the worlds most extreme airports where weather, neighboring obstacles, traffic and shorter than normal runways are the featured attraction, then Gibraltar is an add-on I recommend. 

Now to return back to Heathrow along with 127 vacationers and crew so that we can plan the next adventure.

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

JT

Merry Christmas Flight

As previously mentioned in my blog, I’ve really been having a lot of fun flying for British Airways virtual.  I’ve accumulated many hours since joining just about a month ago and my travels have taken me to many European destinations.  Since reaching Senior First Officer, I’ve been really having fun in the Level D 767.  I’m only a handful of hours away from Captain and looking forward to some long haul routes.

It just so happened that I arrived back to London Heathrow from a flight I made yesterday down to Cyprus and decided today (Christmas Eve) that I would fly to Israel in time to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  This simulated flight is the British Airways BA163 from London Heathrow to Ben Gurion (LLBG) in Tel Aviv, Israel.  Gate to gate time is just under 5 hours.

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Our Route

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It’s a crisp winter morning as the sun is just starting to rise on the capitol city.  Our Airbus A321 is getting catering service.

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Can’t forget to load the bags and cargo items.

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Passengers have boarded, aircraft fueled and time for pushback.

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The weather this morning is dry with a nice steady breeze from the west. Holding short runway 27L waiting for a company Airbus A319 to depart.

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It’s our turn, BAW163, Position and Hold runway (line up and wait) 27L. 

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Climbing out with London Heathrow in the background.

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Beginning our gradual turn to join the departure route.

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Approx. 4 hours later we begin our descent.

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Beginning our turn to join ILS for runway 12 at LLBG.

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Almost there…

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Parked and unloading our passengers. We were just a few minutes late as I performed a hold waiting for other inbound traffic.  Great flight!

This flight was a lot of fun (aren’t they always).  I hope you have some time over the holidays to spend time flying in the virtual world.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

JT

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

Which Flight Simulator Software is right for me?

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

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

Microsoft Flight Simulator

Perhaps some will argue this point, but I believe Microsoft Flight Simulator leads the popularity contest when it comes to flight simulator software.   From Microsoft Flight Simulator 1.0 released in 1982 all the way to Microsoft Flight Simulator X released in 2006, Microsoft has certainly done its part to create the industry behind the flight sim hobby.

Tip – Microsoft released a new ‘simulator’ titled Microsoft Flight in February 2012.  While Microsoft referred to MS Flight as a simulator, the flight sim community does not.  Unlike all other versions of Microsoft Flight Simulator, Flight is geared to be more of a ‘game’ versus simulator. On July 26, 2012, Microsoft cancelled any further development plans for Flight.

If you are looking into purchasing a version of Microsoft Flight Simulator, you’ll find Flight Simulator 2004 (AKA FS9) and Flight Simulator X as the most common versions used among Microsoft enthusiasts.  You’ll also find software add-on options (including scenery, aircraft and other accessories) widely available for both FS9 and FSX versions of Microsoft Flight Simulator.  I wouldn’t advise purchasing any version prior to FS9.

FSX will function (as well as just about every add-on) without issue on the Microsoft Windows 7 OS (32 bit and 64 bit).  I’ve also read in various forums where users have installed FSX on the new Microsoft Windows 8 OS.  However, I can’t confirm Windows 8 will handle all the other add-on options available. 

X-Plane

X-Plane, developed by Laminar Research is another popular flight sim platform which has been around for a number of years.  Designed for Mac, but also available for 32/64-Bit Windows and Linux OS systems, it has become a solid alternative to the Microsoft brand.  Most 3rd party developers designing the various add-on options include X-Plane versions.  Unlike Microsoft, the developers of X-Plane continue to develop the software and as of the present time the most current version is 10.10.

Prepar3D

Prepar3D or P3D is the new kid on the block with regards to payware flight simulation software.  Announced in 2009, Lockheed Martin negotiated the purchase of the intellectual property including source code of Microsoft Flight Simulator X along with the hiring of many of the MS developers which were part of ACES Studios to develop what would become Prepar3D.  From what I understand, most add-ons as well as the default FSX aircraft work in Prepar3D without any adjustment since Prepar3D is kept backward compatible to FSX.  However, there are some small technical changes that must be made if you want to fly online via either the IVAO or VATSIM networks.

There is some debate whether or not Prepar3D is designed to be used in the flight sim hobby community.  I don’t believe Lockheed Martin plans to develop a public version, but the Prepar3D website does state that the academic license version is available for students from kindergarten through undergraduate and is suitable for home use.  You can learn more about the licensing of P3D here.

Freeware/Open-Source Alternatives and a warning

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

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

Final Thoughts

I base much of my decision around what flight simulator platform I continue to use around the fact that I have a large investment of money and time in the Microsoft platform.  I built a custom PCback in 2010 which would handle the demands of Microsoft FSX.  I have hundreds of dollars tied up in add-on software and hardware to enhance my flight sim experience.  If I woke up tomorrow and could no longer run Microsoft FSX, I would probably further investigate Prepar3D as a solution.  However, if you are just starting out….the sky truly is the limit in the direction you proceed. 

While there are many reasons to select Microsoft Flight Simulator as your software of choice, the fact that Microsoft discontinued development and in my opinion will never develop flight simulation software again is perhaps a reason to steer away from this as an option.  But for now, FSX continues to be my platform of choice and it works well for me.

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

JT

British Airways to Rome

After returning back to London from Cape Town, South Africa, (see my around the world adventure posts) I wanted to spend some time flying in and around Europe in some “Big Iron”.  While I’ve flown to and from Europe in jets (mainly from the US), I haven’t done much route flying within the UK/Europe.  I figure after spending the better part of my 25+ year virtual aviation career flying US domestic routes, it is time to add the UK/Europe region to my experience. 

So I spent a little bit of time re-familiarizing myself with the iFly 737NG and slapped on the BA livery and began my pre-flight planning to fly from London Gatwick (EGKK) to Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino (LIRF).  I do like British Airways and perhaps consider them my second real world favorite of airlines I enjoy simulating. This is emulating the real world British Airways flight BA2540.  The real world flight uses a B734, but I’m going to use the B738 in my simulation. 

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BA2540 at the gate London Gatwick.  Gatwick is especially busy today. Lots of company traffic as well as Alitalia, Air France, EasyJet, Portugalia and others all waiting to depart.  Preparing to push back and taxi to runway 26L. Our flying time today will be 2 hours and 30 minutes.  Note:  I’m currently using the default FSX London Gatwick scenery.  However, I really love the UK2000 Heathrow scenery I’ve owned for a few years that I believe I’ll pickup their Gatwick version soon.

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The initial climb was a bit choppy.

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Crossing the English Channel and climbing to FL360.

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Intercepting the localizer runway 16R LIRF. 

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Down below the clouds the runway is in sight. 

An uneventful and fun flight in the iFly 737NG.  My passengers were pleased to arrive eight minutes early and I’m sure looking forward to their time in Rome.  I’ll stretch my legs, grab a cup of coffee and prepare to head back to Gatwick tonight.  I’m told to expect a packed flight with worsening weather conditions. 

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

JT

Flight Simulation–Why?

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

JT