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

Are you a real Pilot?

This was the question asked of me after I landed my iFly B737NG (FSX version) on 16L at KDEN the other night.

It was a dark and stormy night….no really, it was both dark and somewhat stormy with lightning flashes to the west of KDEN.  I had departed KDFW for a 2 hour flight on the VATSIM network.  I’ve probably logged over 60 hours in the iFly 737, but that isn’t the subject of this blog posting.

I truly love flying on the VATSIM network.  I know there are those who don’t like it because of the sparse ATC controllers typically online.  Of course, with the various traffic programs available like MyTrafficX and Ultimate Traffic 2, you can turn an international airport into a hustling and bustling airport with just a few mouse clicks. However, you won’t hear and get the awesome “atta boy” comments that I received the other night from the FSX default ATC.  More about this in a minute.

True, I’ve been known to nail some real greasers on landing.  This is especially true when I’m in a bit of a hurry and not doing everything by the book. This happens more in the default aircraft since you don’t have the dynamic flight systems of the payware models like the iFly or the LVLD.  But it can also happen in these payware models I just mentioned when you cut corners.  But I digress and for that I’m sorry.

I had departed KDFW with no ATC online, but really wanted to enjoy this flight up to my now home town of Denver, Colorado.  This is one of my favorite flights for many reasons and only second to flying down to St. Maarten and TNCM out of KMIA.  I just love the approach over the beach and hope to visit St. Maarten in real life someday.  The flight to Denver was as uneventful as it can get.  While Ft. Worth Center was not online, I did pickup Kansas City Center and Denver Center.  Denver center was the only ATC on and he controlled me all the way down.

I typically do things just about the same way each and every flight I make.  I check the weather conditions either via FSInn or direct from the NOAA METAR database.   And in the case of Denver Center, he had an updated published ATIS which I pulled down well before entering his airspace and I acknowledged I had information Bravo when I initially checked in with him. 

I don’t think a lot of pilots really bother picking up or at least confirming they have the current information even though that is depicted well within the default FSX ATC.  Even if you don’t bother tuning into the ATIS frequency for the airport you are going to land, there are other ways of getting the info and it certainly helps the ATC guys for you to be that much more prepared.  Anyway….Information Bravo was telling me that KDEN was landing and departing to the East.  Landing runway 7 and departing runway 8.  So I pulled my charts for runway 7 and just quickly familiarized myself with the approach. 

As I was inbound on the Quail Six Arrival and roughly 50nm from KDEN, Denver Center updated the ATIS with updated information.  I quickly listened to the update and realized KDEN was now going to be in South Ops and made the adjustments necessary to plan for a runway 16L approach. 

Approaching KDEN from the South, the Quail Six arrival brings you just south of the airfield and makes for an easy transition when KDEN is under North Ops with easy access to runway 35L.  However, KDEN was not in North Ops and this would mean flying downwind to the east of the field for vectors to 16L. 

Now back to the dark and stormy night comment.  Weather conditions in the area was a typical summer evening in the mile high city with storm cells erupting out on the eastern plains. A few of these cells had moved in closer to the city and both myself and my virtual PAX were treated to a nice light show of cloud to cloud and cloud to ground lightning strikes.  The combination of ActiveSky X and Real Environment Extreme make for some truly impressive eye candy at times and this particular night was no different. 

As I completed the roll-out from the vectors given by Denver Center, KDEN airport and runway 16L was in clear visibility so a visual landing was certainly in order for the evening.  Along with FS2Crew (the iFly version) my FO and I readied the beautiful Boeing 737-800 for her landing and had a smooth landing with no complaints from the virtual PAX.  As I turned the B738 onto the high-speed taxiway and gave the “OK to Clean-up” order to the FO I received a private message from the VATSIM ATC Controller simply asking me “Are you a real pilot”? 

Now if you’ve read my recent blog post where I state I’m not a real pilot, you would know (or will know if you kindly read it) that I’m not a real pilot.  But of course the gentleman working VATSIM ATC doesn’t know I routinely blog about my flight sim hobby.  But I answered him by saying Negative….why do you ask?  His response simply was “you do a very good job”. 

I have no VATSIM ATC experience.  I also have no desire to gain any other than from a pilots perspective.  So I’m not 100% certain what the VATSIM controllers really can see and what they really can’t see.  I’ve been told by several VATSIM controllers that I know very well, that what they can see is very limited.  They of course can tell if you turn the wrong direction and they can also tell if you land on the wrong runway.  But they can’t really tell how hard or how soft of a landing a virtual pilot makes. 

So what is so special about his comments and why blog about them?  This is a very good question and the reason why I chose to blog about it was to one, share the experience and two to turn it into a learning experience for all.  As I stated in the opening paragraphs of this blog post, I’ve truly experienced some real greaser landings.  I call those controlled crashes.  While I’ve never mistaken a taxi-way for an active runway, I’ve certainly had my share of off center touchdowns and some of those where you hit just before the touchdown zone and some where you hit well past it.  This flight and this landing was textbook and the comments from the VATSIM ATC Controller sort of showed me that it is worth doing everything somewhat by the book.  Of course, having over 25 years of computer sim experience doesn’t hurt. 

In closing, You’ll never hear me make claims that I could fly a real plane….but I think my virtual PAX can rest easily knowing I at least know how to operate my iFly 737NG to get positive feedback from VATSIM ATC.  I hope you too will take your virtual flight simulation to the next level and work harder to improve your skills.  One day a VATSIM ATC controller might ask you, “Are you a Real Pilot”?

Until next time….

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