We need a better try before you buy

Please note:  I wrote this blog post approx. 6 months ago and for whatever reason it failed to publish.  I just realized it was stuck in draft mode and while I’ve changed my mind about some aircraft developers and also own a couple of excellent payware models that work flawlessly with my GoFlight hardware, some of the ideas expressed are still very much valid in the grand scheme of things.

I don’t know about you, but I think we need a better “try before you buy” system for flight simulator software add-ons.  Yes I get the whole issue around software piracy.  In the “real-world” I work for a large enterprise software company.  We take software piracy very seriously and so should the creators of flight sim software and add-ons. But in most cases the “trial or evaluation” method in flight simulator add-ons is extremely limiting. 

As many of you who follow my blog know, I’m an avid GoFlight Customer.  I love this hardware and I love that for the most part I can conduct the majority of my flights with limited use of the keyboard and mouse.   I have over a thousand dollars invested in GoFlight gear with the very idea of not needing to click with a mouse during flight.  However, with this comes some restrictions that I’ve only learned about since coming back to the hobby.

During the 2001 – 2005 timeframe, most of the aircraft I operated were either the FS default variety or those based on the default variety and shareware type aircraft available from sites likeFlightSim and AVSIM.  Today most of what I have flown have been the same type of aircraft.  However, I did purchase a few Carenado models which I dearly love. 

Part of my on-going frustration with software add-ons and the lack of a decent trial system stems from a PMDG purchase I made a few months ago.  The product in question is the PMDG 747-400X.  I had heard about and seen images of this beautiful aircraft and decided to purchase it.  Once I downloaded and installed the aircraft I discovered it would not work with my GoFlight GF-MCP Advanced auto pilot module.  While I researched and found forums from years ago talking about a software fix available from PMDG to correct the issues, the fix is no longer available.  I essentially spent $54.99 on an aircraft that will sit in my hangar and never be flown.

Initially I didn’t understand why the PMDG 747-400X wouldn’t work.  I had a lot of experience with the default aircraft and the shareware type from Flightsim and AVSIM.  I’ve never run into any issues with the compatibility of my GoFlight equipment and these models.  I even had purchased from Flight1 an MD-80 model and experienced no issues using that aircraft and my GoFlight hardware.  So why is this PMDG model not working?

From what I now understand, the GoFlight GF-MCP Advanced is compatible with all MSFS default aircraft and any freeware/payware aircraft that model their MCP/autopilot functions the way the default aircraft are modeled.  After spending $54.99, I realized PMDG DO NOT model their aircraft autopilot functions the way that MSFS modeled the default aircraft.  This means if I want to fly the PMDG 747-400X that I own, I would need to fly it with my mouse and keyboard to control the autopilot/MCP functions.  Not cool.

To explain the above paragraph differently.  The GoFlight GF-MCP Advanced uses the standard Microsoft FSX keyboard commands to control the aircraft.  When I turn the heading knob on my GF-MCP, it sends the corresponding keyboard commands of Ctrl-Shift-H followed by = or – depending on which direction I’m turning the knob.  The PMDG aircraft uses a completely different keyboard mapping per function setup.  It’s this difference which prevents the PMDG aircraft from working correctly with the GF-MCP. 

Many will argue the PMDG aircraft is far superior to any default and shareware aircraft available today.  I do admit the flight dynamics, the look, the feel of the PMDG models are truly amazing compared to the default and shareware models I own.  My reservation to flying it is simply the lack of support for my GoFlight GF-MCP Advanced. 

Now before I forget, yes I have talked to tech support for both PMDG and GoFlight.  Both sort of point their fingers back to each other as being the responsible party.  However, I will take the side of GoFlight in this argument.  GoFlight creates their hardware to work with the default and shareware models.  GoFlight also makes their SDK available to any aircraft developers free of charge. 

What I’ll admit to not fully understanding is why PMDG (and others) code some of the aircraft functionality different from the default aircraft.  I’m not a software developer….but I would think it would be possible to create an aircraft model just as wonderful as the PMDG 747-400X, yet stay with the basic functional requirements as what the default aircraft uses. 

Now I certainly do not hold PMDG responsible for me spending $54.99 on something that I may never fly.  As a matter of fact, the aircraft isn’t installed any longer.  I should have conducted better research.  However, back to the original subject of this topic, PMDG does not offer any sort of trial process.  But even if they did, I would imagine it would be lacking in the functionality available.

As an example to the lack of functionality available in a demo model.  I looked into the Captain Sim Boeing 757. I downloaded and installed it.  But the demo model is so locked down in functionality, I couldn’t make a conscious decision to buy.  Here is what the Captain Sim website states about their demo model “We hope this Free Demo will help our customers to make more informed purchase decisions and thereby enhance their satisfaction with the 757 Captain product.”  Further down the page, this is how it reads to inform you of what doesn’t work in the demo:

Please note, the following features are not included in the Free Demo:
• Extensive Systems Programming (ADI, HSI, EICAS displays inop)
• Flight Management System (CDU inop)
• Realistic Flight Model (flight controls locked in the Demo)
• Custom system sounds and crew voice messages
• Authentic Sound Set – PW and RR engines (alias to default 737 sounds in the Demo)
• Collins WXR-2100 Weather Radar
• Aeronautical Data including Terminal Procedures
• Repaint Kit

I don’t know about you….but how do you make an “informed purchase” with the above mentioned restrictions?  I couldn’t even find a way to contact the Captain Sim folks to ask if their aircraft would work with my GoFlight hardware as the only way it appears to reach their forum is with an order number.  Sorry….you’re not going to get my money before I can find a way to review your support forum.

Now I realize I’ve picked on two aircraft manufactures.  Here’s my thoughts on how some scenery developers handle their trial periods.  I own several FSDreamTeam sceneries.  They offer a try-before-you-buy method.  But the scenery demo only works for the first 5 minutes.  Yes, you can restart the timer, but only if you exit and restart FSX.  5 minutes?  One can’t explore the complex scenery of KDFW in 5 minutes. 

Another small beef I have with some vendors is what appears to be the number of times I can activate a particular product.  I believe if I purchase a software product, I should be able to install this particular software product over and over and over (as long as I’m not running it on multiple systems).  In other words, if I feel the need to rebuild my FSX computer every 6 months, I shouldn’t have to worry in a year or two running out of the number of install/reinstalls I’ve performed.  This appears to be an issue in our hobby.

As I stated near the beginning, I fully understand the issues software vendors (all software vendors) face with software license piracy.  I understand (and appreciate) that a lot of hard work goes into the development of quality software.  While I don’t have the answers, I believe in the examples I’ve provided that a better solution must exist.  There must be equal parts of trust built into the license protection so that honest customers like myself can determine if the product is right for them and the software developers can protect their IP or intellectual property

In closing, I want to make it clear that I do not hold any bad feelings toward PMDG or any developer of Flight Simulator add-ons.  Yes I called out my experiences with PMDG, but I only hold myself responsible for purchasing something that I may never use.  I may never fully understand why PMDG and others develop aircraft add-ons that differ in the primary functional aspects from the default aircraft.  Yes I get the need for better flight dynamics etc.  But why change the autopilot keystroke combinations which is basically why the PMDG doesn’t work with GoFlight?  To me and my flight simming experience, it is more accurate to turn a knob on my GF-MCP to control autopilot functionality than to use my mouse.

Until next time…Happy and Safe Simming…

Jerry

Caution–Hard Hat Area

I recently read a blog article which I can easily relate titled “Banging my Head Against the Desk” by fellow blogger and flight sim developer, Bill Womack.  Bill describes some of his frustrations with getting his brand new 737 off the hard ground and into the beautiful skies.  Bill fully recognizes the differences between complex airliners and GA aircraft and his blog post asks some questions which I believe are questions I too have wanted to be answered.  Now before I continue…I’ll add there is a big difference between Bill Womack and Jerry Taylor with regards to flight.  Bill has accumulated over 50 hours in a Cessna 172 and is working his way towards his private pilots license.

Within the flight sim community (at least over the last decade) there’s been dialog on the various forums (and there’s a lot of them) regarding virtual pilots who fly the more complex and realistic aircraft models such as Sublogic_Flight_Simulator_II-300x205PMDG and the default or freeware models such as POSKY.    I’ve experienced it myself even over a VATSIM personal message once.  I was holding short of an active runway and number two for take off.  I had another pilot behind me.  I believe I was in a 767 and he asked me if it was the LevelD.  I said no, it was a POSKY.  He went on to add that he felt the POSKY was inferior to the LevelD and stated a few reasons why.  It was interesting that his reasons were never around the flight dynamics or the differences and difficulties of getting the LevelD 767 ready for flight, but more around how much more realistic the panel was.  It is interesting to note that this individual is about 15-16 years old.  Heck I have a pair of tennis shoes older than that.  I felt like telling him “look kid, I remember when all we had to flight simulator was flat graphics and aircraft choices was only one and I still had to walk to school up hill both directions (I grew up in Texas so there wasn’t a lot of snow)”.

Anyway, this dialog while not often spelled out can sometimes certainly read between the lines that if you don’t fly the PMDG whatever you are not a real pilot.  HELLO???  For most of us we are not real pilots.  Some may be in the process of obtaining their private pilots license and some may already hold one.  Some are retired or ex-military who flew missions in Korea, Vietnam or Desert Storm.  While each of those examples may know the aircraft they have flown (or fly) in real life, most couldn’t get a real modern jetliner off the ground if their life depended on it, let alone land one.

I suppose in recent years I could have referred to myself as a purist.  Until just a few weeks ago I only flew freeware aircraft which for the most part are modeled along the lines of the default aircraft that comes part of MSFS.  Fire up FSX and pull down a flight plan into FSCommander and Ctrl-E and off you go.  I truly supported these freeware developers for their efforts in giving something back to the hobby.  A POSKY (or now called FreeSky Project) may not have the same flight dynamics as the PMDG, but they look great for what they cost (zero cost freeware) and handle equally well.  But yes, to the dark side I went a few weeks ago after learning about the iFly 737NGX and it’s out of the box compatibility with GoFlight hardware.  I couldn’t resist the true beauty of this aircraft from the outside in.  I got her downloaded and took a brief test flight around DFW.  I was hooked.  A few days later this led to the purchase of the LevelD 767 which again is fully compatible with my GoFlight hardware. 

Now back to Bill’s blog post.  Bill discusses how he likes to learn something.  He states “My favorite way to learn something complex is to first learn the bare-bones essentials. Once I’ve mastered them to the point of feeling semi-proficient, I like to add on layers of depth, exploring each new concept until I’ve drilled it permanently into my brain.”  I fully agree with what he says here and will admit that I’m the same way.  For the most part I’m a self-taught IT Professional.  I studied at the school of hard knocks.  But I very much learned the basics and progressively built onto that.  After all, what makes a giant skyscraper capable of standing?  It’s not the spire on top, it’s the solid foundation often not even visible.  I believe this is the point Bill was trying to make.

There is another point Bill makes in his blog post which gave me a good laugh, “Give me a stack of manuals and I’ll be stuck inside them for days. Show me a video of what I’m supposed to do, and I’m doing it like a pro in an hour. It seems that most airliners developers are just the opposite type.They spin out reams of paper about this or that system, when all I really want in the beginning is to get in, familiarize myself with the plane, and get it in the air.”     It was the “They spin out reams of paper” comment that gave me the chuckle.  The iFly 737NGX manual is over 500 pages and while LevelD is only 175 pages I still find that a bit much…especially when talking about first experiences with the aircraft. 

Now before you get all excited and want to post those comments about realism and tell me I’m not a real pilot (I already know I’m not a real pilot), let me say this.  I’m enjoying (I’ll say it again), I’m enjoying learning more about how both the iFly and the LVLD aircraft operate.  I’ve completely changed my flying style, meaning I don’t just run down to my basement and fire up FSX and take off.  I enjoy running through the pre-flight checklists, programming the FMC (even purchased the VRInsight external CDU for added realism).  I enjoy the 20-30 minutes I spend before I ever start to taxi. 

Each of us have our own reasons for participating in this hobby.  My reasons might be the same as your reasons and they might not be.  Over the past decade I’ve learned a lot about flight.  Prior to getting started flying on line, I didn’t know what a STAR or SID was, nor did I understand how to read and follow them.  Now I do.  Until just a few weeks ago I didn’t really understand how VNAV and LNAV functioned, nor did I use the functionality.  Now I do.

I fully support what Bill Womack is talking about in his blog post.  If someone…anyone…wants to shell out $30, $40, $50 or more on a pay-ware aircraft and spend hours and hours and hours reading the manual that is fine.  Likewise, if the same individual wants to spend the same amount of money and gradually ease into the more complex procedures that is also fine. 

Now…having said all that.  I applaud iFly for at the very least incorporating various panel states that one can start out with.  I’ll admit that there are times I begin “cold and dark” and there are other times I begin “before engine start”.  iFly and other developers could take this one step further and create a “fully automatic” or “basic flight” mode.  This will allow those of us to get the aircraft off the ground and then build on the knowledge as we go along.  Again….it’s my $$ and how I want to spend it is my business. 

In closing, while I’ve found a payware 737 and 767 for my virtual hangar and currently looking to expand into a 757 and 777 payware models, I hope people like the folks at FreeSky Project(formerly POSKY) will continue to develop awesome freeware models.  The hobby still needs quality freeware add-ons and individuals willing to develop them.

Please leave your comments.  If you agree or disagree, this is fine. 

Until next time,

Jerry

I’m not a real pilot…

And I don’t play one on TV, nor did I sleep in a Holiday Inn Express last night.  You may need to be familiar with American TV to fully understand those comments.

I’m often asked why do I want to sit behind a computer for hours at a time and pretend to fly an airplane from one destination to another.  No, it’s not the wife that asks this question.  She is actually very supportive of my hobbies.  I personally think this question is a relatively new one in the scheme of things.  Computer flight simulation dates back to the mid to late 70’s but really didn’t gain mainstream attention until versions were released for the Commodore 64, Apple II and the TRS-80 (or Trash 80 as my friends referred to it).  Computer flight simulation was just in its infancy and certainly just in its game stages.  While I did spend hours at a time flying around Meig’s Field on the Commodore 64, I was after all in my teens (late teens) and what else did teenagers do back then?

As I have described in this blog many times, for me the game of flight simulation grew into a hobby about a decade ago.  While I believe I may have had a SATCO account, I never used it until VATSIM was born in July 2001.  I’ve also described in detail my getting started with virtual airlines etc.  It was these elements which turned a game into a hobby for me.

I know it may sound weird to hear someone who is so passionate about the hobby of flight simulation to say that he has no interests to learn to fly in real life.  I simply don’t.  However, I do love, love, love flying commercially.  I consider myself a pro at it.  I know when to take off my shoes, my belt and empty my pockets and I pride myself for being able to pass through security without anything beeping at me.  By the way, my wife and I will soon travel to Europe to visit her family in Belgium and I’m looking forward to the trip.

Everyone who will read this blog has his or her own reasons for participating in the flight simulation hobby.  Many of you hold a real world private pilots license and even some of you are professional commercial pilots.  Some of you are like me and either don’t want to become a real world pilot or can’t.  The reasons are many and none of those really matter.  Some of you are young, some of you are old and some of you are in between.  This also doesn’t matter.  But this does lead me to an interesting statistic I’ve been pondering.

When I started flying online and flying for virtual airlines ( a decade ago), the impression I certainly got was the age demographics were slightly skewed to the younger side.  Keep in mind I was in my mid-30’s at this time and most of the pilots I encountered on VATSIM and who flew in the VA were squeaky voiced teenagers.  Please note, I’m not speaking bad about young people (then or now) and I owe the fun I have today on VATSIM to one of those squeaky voiced teenagers who today works as ATC.

But today, I rarely encounter a young person on VATSIM (or at least the squeaky voiced kind) and it somewhat concerns me.  Like any hobby, the hobby survives and is renewed with new products and such by younger people coming into it.  Now the good news is most of the teens from a decade ago are still in the hobby…they are just 10 years older and of course so am I.

Back on subject.  While I have no desire to take my computer pilot skills to the next level, I do really enjoy making my experiences on the computer “As Real As It Gets”.  Meaning, I’m really enjoying adding different hardware elements to my home setup which mimic those of real world instruments.  Just as I recently blogged about my entering the payware market with the iFly 737NGX, I’m really loving the experience of flying with an FMS/CDU setup.  So much so I purchased a hardware CDU which provides the look and feel of a real Boeing 737 CDU.  This adds to my growing collection of external hardware including the CH Products Yoke and Peds and many GoFlight modules including the MCP Pro. 

Before I wrap up, I just want to give a shout out to Moshe who has started his own Flight Sim Blog and kicking off an around the world adventure of his very own.  Please visit and bookmark his blog website by clicking this link. Alternatively, you can look to the right side of my blog page under blogroll.  Just look for FSX Scenic Adventure Around the World.  This is one adventure I plan to follow very closely. 

Well…this wraps up another edition to the blog.  I know my blog posting schedule is somewhat sporadic.  I struggled with posting anything earlier in the year and in May I posted several.  I hope to share with you my cross the pond flight which will simulate the real world British Airways flight I plan to take in real life in a few weeks.  It’ll be a BA 777 flight from Denver to London Heathrow then a VLM flight in the Fokker 50 from London City over to Antwerp, Belgium.   I plan to fly the round-trip the week before I fly it for real.  Both will be extremely fun.

2011-5-31_19-35-30-461Oh…before I fly off into the sunset (or in the case of the pic to the left, away from the sunset).  I also wanted to mention I recently added the LevelD 767 to my virtual hangar.  The LevelD 767-300 also easily supports and works with the GoFlight MCP Pro.  I’ve only taken her on one round trip, but plan to put more hours on her in the very near future.  The photo to the left is the LevelD 767 in the American OneWorld Livery.  I’m sure you’ll hear about it here. 

Until next time,

Jerry

I’m proud to say iFly the new B737NG

When I began flying computer sims back in the early to mid-80’s all I really could do was get the Cessna off the ground at Meig’s Field in Chicago.  If I was lucky I could return to Meig’s field and land within a 5 mile radius of the airport.  Most times I ended up in Lake Michigan.  As time went by and with the help of my Uncle who once had his PPL, I was able to narrow it down from a 5 mile radius to a 4, then a 3, then a 2 and before I knew it I could depart Meig’s fly around for a while and return and land….YES on the runway.

As the flight simulation software evolved into what it is today, I’ve slowly been trying to learn more technique and follow procedure more accurately.  While I have no aspiration to become a pilot in the real world, I do continually push myself to be a better pilot in the virtual world.  After a stressful day in the office….this is my stress relief.  Of course, I’ve had more stressful days flying my computer sim….but that is a different story and I know you understand what I’m saying.

My friend Al (who is a flight sim blogger and inspired me to start by blog) will often ask me “What MD-80 are you flying?”  By the way, check out his blog here.  Anyway, I will usually answer…Oh that is a freeware model I found somewhere.  With exception to some GA aircraft I own from Carenado, all the heavy iron I fly is freeware.  Oh wait….I do own a PMDG 747 but she never leaves the hangar, but more about that later.

Back in around late 2001 – 2002 timeframe I heard about a company called GoFlight.  I’ve talked about GoFlight before.  They make various hardware modules for those wanting to build a home cockpit.  My goal when I began purchasing these hardware modules was to make every attempt to avoid having to use the mouse and keyboard in flight. 

The modules aren’t cheap in price, but as I’ve said before…all hobbies have a cost and I even blogged about that here and I simply do not mind paying for quality and quality is what you get with the GoFlight gear.  Anyway, I began buying a few here and a few there.  At the time I sort of mothballed my equipment and took about 5 years off, I had about $1000 invested in GoFlight hardware and only needed to use mouse and keyboard about 60% of the time.  I had moved the needle, but I needed to move it more.

The Fall of 2010 came around and the Flight Sim bug bit me again.  I pulled out all my gear (I also have the CH Yoke and Peds) and I built a new PC worthy of running FSX with sliders all the way to the right.  I plugged all my GF gear in and started flying. 

Sometime between the time I semi-retired from the hobby and the five long years it took me to get back into it, I forgot (perhaps never knew) that a lot of the payware companies don’t factor into their aircraft programming design to incorporate external hardware like that of the GoFlight gear.  The difficulty comes in around how a payware company designs the auto-pilot functionality.  If they get away from the Microsoft default key assignments then most likely the add-on payware aircraft won’t work with the GoFlight MCP.  This is what happened and why I own a PMDG 747 FSX model that never leaves the hangar. 

Now let me briefly explain what happened.  I am a sucker for eye candy (have been since I was a teenager) and I fell in love with how the PMDG 747 looked and all the features.  I spent about 2.5 minutes researching and found a thread talking about a software patch available from PMDG (for free) which would allow the PMDG to work with the GoFlight MCP.  Credit card in hand….BOOM…there she was…the Queen of the Skies.  But that excitement was short lived with the GF-MCP wouldn’t work.  I calmly researched and after about 10 minutes or so of digging around I found another thread stating that PMDG was no longer offering that patch.  However, I could purchase it, but it only worked with the GF-MCP Pro.  I had the GF-MCP Advanced. 

This experience left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.  It would cost me several hundred dollars to get to the point where I could fly the PMDG 747 without having to use mouse for MCP functions.  I took a stand and said I wasn’t going there.  I would not fly an aircraft and not be able to use the hardware that saved me 40% of the keyboard and mouse interactions.  I remembered freeware/shareware companies like POSKY who make some nice looking aircraft and they all work with my setup.  So that is what I’ve been flying. 

A few days ago I began reading about a new payware aircraft that was soon to be released.  It was the Boeing 737NG and everyone was talking about it.  Yes, everyone is also talking about PMDG’s soon to be released product….but this company beat them to it.  iFly just released their Boeing 737NG for FSX and let me tell you she is as beautiful as she is functional.  When I saw the images some of my FS friends had captured and watching the videos I forgot about my past experiences with PMDG for about 2 minutes. 

But like a giant hand coming from no where, I was slapped back into reality.  This probably won’t work for me.  Oh…by the way, in the past 2-3 weeks I’ve spent another $1000 in GoFlight gear.  The needle has been moved even further.  I only use the mouse and keyboard about 25-30% of the time.  So there was no way I was going to just give my hard earned money away so this 737 can sit next to the 747 and collect dust. 

I quickly started researching but I couldn’t read everything in their forums about add-on hardware functionality.  Thankfully my virtual airline CEO purchased the 737NG earlier that day and was setup with forum access.  I asked him to look through the forums to see if there was any mention of GoFlight compatibility.  Bada-Bing-Bada-Boom he sent me a message through our AvA forums saying to get on TeamSpeak.  A very long story short, he told me there was support for it and I nearly started a fire with the friction created by taking my credit card from my wallet so fast. 

I installed and set her up for a quick flight and took her for a lap around KDFW.  She handled beautifully and just launched off of runway 35C like being launched from an aircraft carrier catapult.  I was flying her in her base iFly livery colors.  I couldn’t sleep last night with the excitement of flying her again today. 

alaska_iFly737NGXSo I got up and installed an Alaska Airlines paint on her (American Airlines is not available yet) and am flying an AA Codeshare from KDFW to KSEA then on up to PANC.  She handles better than I could imagine and I’m learning a lot from flying a more complex aircraft than the default or freeware models.  I also flew the return trip from PANC to KSEA then on down to KDFW.

(Alaska B739 at KDFW during an afternoon rain shower).

Now…if you are a GoFlight user and own the GF-MCP Pro (which  I now do) there are some very minor bugs.  Most all functionality works with exception of a few lights do not illuminate.  I’m told GoFlight is currently in beta testing for a new GF-Config software (this is what makes all the GoFlight hardware work with FSX) and it should be available soon. 

To fly this aircraft the way she needs to be flown, I’ve probably moved the needle backwards on my quest for no mouse and no keyboard interaction.  But most will be just on the ground.  I’m OK with that for now. 

It has taken me a few days to write this blog post and I’ve now owned the iFly 737NG for FSX for a little over 4 days now.  I’m learning more about her each and every day.  I won’t say I’ve not had my frustrations with this bird, but each one I walk away a little smarter and a little happier. 

I won’t say I’ll never fly the old freeware models I have….actually I will fly them as I do enjoy a variety when flying for AvA.  But I do really enjoy this new airplane and glad to say iFly the Boeing 737NG.

Next time I’ll share with you my experience with a new flight simulator add-on called FS2Crew.  I purchased the FS2Crew version for the iFly B737NG and it has helped by adding a virtual second pair of hands in the cockpit. 

Until next time,

Jerry

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

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

Hello Fellow Flight Simulator Enthuasists

OK…where to start?  Oh I know…let me tell you about myself.  My name is Jerry, I live in Denver, Colorado.  I’m less than 5 miles from KAPA and about 20 miles from KDEN.  I’m married to a wonderful woman who supports all my various hobbies.  Before moving to Denver in 1998, I lived in Dallas, Texas.  I lived very close to KADS and about 15 miles from the awesome KDFW airport.   As a child we would visit the Dallas/Ft. Worth area and one of my two highlights would be visiting Six Flags over Texas and KDFW to watch the planes.

I’ve always been fascinated with airplanes and flight.  Now the weird thing is I’ve never had any desire to learn to fly and/or pursue my private pilots license.  I know….this may sound weird…but it is what it is.  My Uncle has his PPL and he took me flying for the first time in a small Cessna when I was a small child.   While I wouldn’t fly again for 10+ years (and my first commercial flight was around the age of 16) I always loved watching airplanes.  Even as a “Big” kid, I love all aspects of travel (well perhaps not the waiting in security lines).  I love getting to the airport early and watching the planes and the people. 

I’ve been flying computer simulator games for over 25 years.  Yes….they’ve been around that long.  It all started for me with the Commodore 64 computer.  The Commodore 64 computer launched my flight sim hobby, but more importanly it helped launch the career I’ve enjoyed for almost 20 years in IT.  This IT career has helped to further my enjoyment of the hobby with a better understanding of how computer hardware and software functions together and has provided the opportunity for me to fly around the world. 

In the early days of computer flight simulation it was all very basic compared to what we have today withMicrosoft Flight Simulator X.  While a friend of mine had a TRS-80 around 1982-83, I didn’t personally own a flight simulator program until 1984 when a company called SubLOGIC created Flight Simulator II.  This was the second generation flight simulator and was amazing. 

While I was interested in a few other “computer games”, flight simulator was the one that I spent the most time playing.  Now I already mentioned that these early versions were basic.  While I haven’t played Flight Simulator II in over 20 years, I do remember you would start off at Meig’s Field in Chicago.  I honestly believe that was about it.  I believe (but not 100% certain) that KORD was represented in the software as well as several other smaller airports.  However, that was about it.   I also remember a few updates to the Commodore 64 version.  Towards the end of my Commodore experience I had obtained some sectional maps and such of the areas where airports were represented.  I still only flew with a joystick but my skills were improving with every hour of flying time. 

My Commodore 64 computer was finally replaced in the late 80’s with an IBM PC.  My flight sim hobby took off from there with the Microsoft Flight Simulator version 3.0.  This was a HUGE jump from the version I had been flying on the old Commodore.  In the complete history of Microsoft Flight Simulator software, I did miss out on versions 1.0 and 2.0.  Microsoft Flight Simulator 3.0 (the first MS product I used with a PC) 3 aircraft including the Cessna we had all known to love along with a learjet and a Sopwith Camel.   The graphics were much improved over the Commodore 64 version and for the first time you could actually look outside of the aircraft.  From MSFS 3.0, I’ve owned every version released and each release was better and better and I couldn’t wait until the next one would come out.

Over the years as the graphics improved so did the options.  Microsoft began adding more scenery and a lot more choices for aircraft to fly.  With the birth of the Internet, an entire industry was born to cater to this exciting hobby.  No more were you just limited to the features Microsoft provided….you had access to hundreds…probably thousands of different add-on products to enhance your experience.  You could fly around the world and land just about anywhere.  “Real World” airports and the accurate scenery around them was all being developed into the software or available through a third party add-on. 

Again, while I’m fairly confident I’ve owned every version of Microsoft Flight Simulator since version 3.0 (circa 1988), for me personally it was Microsoft Flight Simulator 2000 (aka version 7.0) that really pushed the game experience into a true hobby.   I picked up a flight yoke and peddles and joined a virtual airline or VA for short.  I have flown for several VA’s over the years.  The first was a VA setup as American Airlines.  It soon went bust.  I then joined a VA operating as Air Canada and then found another American Airlines VA which looked awesome.  I joined and within a short period of time had worked my way up in the management ranks to VP of Operations and also managed the DFW Hub. 

In this timeframe I began flying online and experiencing operating with other online pilots and online ATC (Air Traffic Control) through a network called VATSIM.  During this same timeframe I was traveling more and more both through work and for personal reasons.  I would fly from KDEN to KDFW, then down to KILE (now KGRK) to visit family a few times a year.  One of my favorite things to do would be to re-create the flight before and after a trip.  I would fly the same aircraft at the same time of the day etc.  It almost became a pre-trip ritual.  My first real international (over the pond) flight was in the Spring of 2001.  I was headed to our London office for 3 weeks.  My real-life trip would take me from KDEN to KDFW then to London’s Gatwick airport EGKK.  I simulated this trip in Microsoft Flight Simulator 2000 (version 7.0) before and after my real-world flight.

Microsoft has used the phrase “As Real As It Gets” since at least the days of Flight Simulator 95 (version 6.0).  It all became too “As Real As It Gets” with the release of Flight Simulator 2002 (version 8.0).  Microsoft had planned to release FS 2002 in mid-September 2001.  When the terrorist attacks of 9/11 happened, Microsoft delayed the release of 2002 so developers could remove the WTC twin towers from all copies of the software.  As a way of paying respect to those who perished that day, all online flights taking place on VATSIM were suspended for the same duration that real-life air traffic operations were shut down.  I was scheduled to fly to London on 14 September for business.  Needless to say this trip was cancelled.  I wouldn’t fly again until just before Christmas of that same year. 

I continued participating with VA’s until sometime in late 2006 when life just really got busy for me.  Like with any hobby, my flight simulation hobby had to be set aside.   My wife and I bought a house and my job has changed dramatically over the years.  Just before I put the cockpit and software in storage I had purchased the latest version of Microsoft Flight Simulator X (version 10.0).  At the time of FSX release, my computer was a weakling and there wasn’t a lot of add-ons available.  I’m also not even sure FSX at the time would work on the VATSIM network.  But I had to have it and purchased it soon after it came out. 

Now it is late Summer 2010.  I was flipping through the TV channels and came across a History Channel program about to start called Extreme Airports and I was reminded of how much I loved flying the flight simulator software.   The PC I used back in the 2005/06 timeframe still had FS9 and FSX installed.  I connected my GoFlight gear, my yoke and peddles and flew from KDEN to KDFW in FS9.  My old PC just wasn’t powerful enough to run FSX.  But this was soon resolved. 

I’ll blog about my new “Beast” of a PC on the next post and bring you all up to speed on what I’ve been doing to get started in this awesome hobby again. 

Until next time,

J