IFR versus VFR

Just for clarification, my blog articles are geared towards the new flight sim enthusiast.  2017 is “The Year of Flight Simulation”.  With new and updated flight sim platforms from Lockheed Martin (Prepar3d v4), Laminar Research (X-Plane 11) and the new kid on the block Dovetail Games (Flight Sim World)…a lot of hype (very good hype) has been focused on our wonderful hobby.  If you build it, they will come…is just as fitting on the flight sim scene today as it was years ago in that Iowa cornfield. 

Today’s “How To” article is designed to help the new virtual pilot understand the differences of VFR and IFR flight rules as they relate to the flight simulation hobby.  But before we get started and to satisfy the attorneys….allow me to post the fine print.

Fine Print:  Unfortunately I feel the need to state for the record that my “How To” articles and tips are for flight simulation purposes only and should not be used for real world aviation.

Now that we have the legal stuff out of the way…let’s get started!

The Flight Rules

There are two sets of rules for flying and operating aircraft.  VFR and IFR.  The choice between these two sets of rules is generally determined based on weather conditions.  However, other factors may come into play such as flight operations, type of aircraft and terrain/border considerations.  But before we dive into these specific sets of circumstances, let’s clear the air on exactly what VFR and IFR means.  Let’s start with IFR first.

IFR

IFR stands for Instrument Flight Rules and is a set of rules that govern aircraft which fly in what is considered Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC).  IMC, in general terms, just means flying in the clouds.  More to the point, IMC weather conditions are defined as weather that is below the prescribed minimums for VFR flights. 

Essentially, under IFR flight or IFR flight conditions, the pilot or pilots will operate and fly the aircraft by instruments without any outside visual guidance.  In the real world, pilots who wish to fly IFR are required to possess an instrument rating and required to undergo additional training. 

VFR

VFR stands for Visual Flight Rules.  Just as the name implies, VFR flight rules require the aircraft must, at all times be clear of any weather situations which would prevent the pilot from maintaining visual separation with other aircraft, terrain, obstacles etc.  While some VFR flights may be under radar coverage by ATC, under VFR the responsibility for traffic separation lies solely with the pilot in command. 

Other Considerations

While weather certainly plays a crucial part in determining whether one flies VFR or IFR, also the type of aircraft, the type of flight operations being conducted and also general terrain and border considerations must be factored in.  Of course, the other really important factor is pilot rating/certifications.  However, pilot rating/certifications are not applicable in the virtual flying environment. 

Simply put, unless the pilot holds an instrument rating…if weather conditions are not VFR (meaning they are classified as IMC as discussed above) then the aircraft and the pilot will remain firmly in place on the ground. 

The type of aircraft also carries an important factor in the decision.  Something like a J-3 Cub with no lights and no radios will remain grounded under non-VFR conditions.  At a minimum, (along with pilot certification) any aircraft filing for IFR flight must have two-way radio communication capabilities, a transponder and navigation equipment. 

Any sort of scheduled passenger flight operations will require an IFR flight plan to be filed and the pilot/aircraft must fly under IFR flight rules at all times.  The exception to this rule might include certain charter operators, but for insurance purposes even these may be required to always operate IFR.  Obviously all large jet aircraft will generally file and operate IFR. 

Finally, depending on terrain and altitude restrictions, these type of flights might be IFR type.  Also, crossing of international borders will also most likely require an IFR flight plan.

Fine Print:  Unfortunately I feel the need to state for the record that my “How To” articles and tips are for flight simulation purposes only and should not be used for real world aviation.

Again,  while much of what I’ve discussed above comes directly from real-world aviation rules/guidelines, I just want to remind readers this information is not geared towards real world aviation. 

Virtual Flying  – IFR or VFR?  What is most common?

In the virtual world, and specifically speaking about the virtual multi-player networks of VATSIM and IVAO, the most common type of flight operations are IFR.  While both networks welcome and encourage VFR flying, the most common will be IFR. 

Even yours truly, got started on VATSIM flying IFR and of the almost 2000 hours I’ve logged flying on the VATSIM network, I’d guess that 95% of those hours will be under IFR.  As someone with over 17 years of VATSIM experience, if there is any regret I have today, it’s that I didn’t do more VFR General Aviation type of flying on the network to gain a better understanding of the key functional differences between the two. 

What’s Next?

This really is only scratching the surface and this article is really only providing the explanation and differences between IFR and VFR flight.  In a future set of articles I’ll provide more clarification specific to IFR and VFR flying as it relates to virtual flying on the various online, multiplayer networks.

Until next time…happy flying!

Jerry

Fine Print:  Unfortunately I feel the need to state for the record that my “How To” articles and tips are for flight simulation purposes only and should not be used for real world aviation.

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

Is the VA model still alive???

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time,

Jerry

AvA 10th Birthday –Something Special in the Air

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

vatspy2

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

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

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

ava_10_sunset

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

Until next time….

Jerry

Pro Flight Simulator–Honest or rip off?

I blog about the flight simulation hobby for many reasons.  Mainly to share my enjoyment of the hobby, but also to share knowledge with others.  While I don’t claim to know everything about the hobby and if you’ve read some of my blog postings you know I’m also learning or sometimes re-learning along the way.  Bottom line is I’m loving my re-entry back into the hobby and love sharing my experiences with all of you who read this.

As I shared waaaaaaaay back in blog post #1, I’ve been flying computer sims since the early to mid 80’s.  I started on the Commodore 64 with just the computer, software and a joystick.  The Commodore 64 version of Flight Simulator was rather crude in comparison to FSX today, but it was certainly in-line with the video games of the era.  By the way, yes I had the original Pong.

As time has passed from those days of the C-64 and flying around Meig’s Field, the versions of Flight Simulator have truly become “As Real As It Gets” and while I have no direct experience with X-Plane, I know many fellow enthusiasts who swear by it and there is certainly room for two major developers of software to support the hobby.

While the concept of freeware,shareware and open-source has been around for many years (even as far back as the C-64 days), in this hobby we’ve really only seen that in terms of add-on scenery, aircraft etc.  As far as I know the first true open-source flight simulator software package didn’t show up until around 1996 when FlightGear.org developed and released their version of a flight simulator.  Since 1996, FlightGear.org has offered their software (frequently updated) absolutely free.

In recent months a new flight simulator package has been advertised throughout the flight sim community, on Twitter and even Facebook titled Flight Pro Sim or ProFlight Simulator (perhaps other names as well).  I’ll get back to this in just a minute.

With exception to Microsoft FSX, my GoFlight hardware and a few other software add-ons just about everything else I use (including most of my aircraft fleet) is freeware or shareware.  Yes I do own a lot of scenery packages which I have purchased (I don’t support software piracy) but again most of my aircraft (especially the big iron) are all freeware/shareware models.  I routinely fly several POSKY models and before the breakup of POSKY, I did occasionally donate a few dollars here and there to help offset their web hosting expenses. 

Software piracy is a big deal not only in the flight sim community, but all over the software industry.  In my opinion, knowingly downloading and installing pirated software is just as bad as walking into your neighbors house and taking something of equal value.  It is stealing….there is no other way to say it.

Now back to ProFlight Simulator.  If you frequent Facebook or follow some flight simulator enthusiasts on Twitter, you may have seen the ads for this software.  Hopefully you have also read the warnings from others about avoiding this software.  But why? 

First of all, it is widely believed that the ProFlight Simulator software being sold for anywhere from $49.00 up to $89.00 is just a re-branded version of the absolutely free FlightGear software.  Remember, I told you a few minutes ago that FlightGear.org has offered their open-source software free since 1996.  Now…just don’t take my word for it.  Read the information here direct from FlightGear on how they believe this is their software, just re-branded.

I’m not a lawyer, I don’t play one on TV and I didn’t sleep in a Holiday Inn Hotel last night (inside joke on a TV commercial that airs in the US), but according to the guys at FlightGear, what ProFlight Simulator did is not illegal….just unethical.  In my mind this just infuriates me even more.

Again, while I touched on the issues this hobby and community faces with regards to software piracy, what ProFlight Simulator has done really doesn’t fall into that category and I’m not making a direct comparison to that issue.  The issue is ethics…plain and simple and yes people are getting hurt in the process.

First, any consumer who purchases or has already purchased ProFlight Simulator for any price has been hurt and mislead.  The reason is because it is widely believed the software ProFlight Simulator is selling is merely a re-branded version of FlightGear which is and always has been available for Free. 

Second, the folks over at FlightGear who from day one have worked hard to develop and provide to the community an open-source flight simulator software program for free have been hurt by this. 

Third, while I’ve never installed or used FlightGear (and perhaps many of you never have either), but  the entire Flight Sim Community has been hurt by this.  The reason is because this selfish action of ProFlight Simulator could cause others who want to develop freeware, shareware and open-source software for the benefit of all of us to re-think their plan. 

So what do you think?  Honest or Rip Off?  Well….only you can decide for yourself.  If you are looking at getting into the hobby then please do your homework.  While I’ve not researched what either of these software packages can fully do, I don’t think they are supported to the extent of Microsoft Flight Simulator or X-Plane when it comes to the various add-ons available and for example VATSIM.  My advice in this case is to read the info available from all software packages and make your own decision on what is best for you. 

In closing, the purpose of this blog post is to just help get the information out there.  This is not a new issue as again I say this topic has been blogged about by many.  But if just one person learns the truth from reading this blog post then it has been worth the effort to put the information out there for all to read. 

Finally, you’ll notice I did not provide the direct link to the ProFlight Simulator website.  Since this is my blog I can decide what I want linking from it.  In my own mind I believe what ProFlight Simulator has done is unethical, misleading and hurtful.  If you want to visit their website…Google is your friend.

In the spirit of Hill Street Blues….

Jerry

A lesson shared from one hobby to another

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time,

Jerry

Grasping Procedures

I’ve changed the subject or title of this blog post a few times since I started typing all that I wanted to say.  At this point I’m really not sure what it will be called….so it is just as much of a surprise to me as it might be to you the reader.

As I have stated many times, I’ve been flying computer sims on various computer hardware platforms for over 25 years.  In those early beginnings I was still in high school and was one of those kids that wasn’t 100% sure what I wanted to be when I grew up.  But airline pilot was really never in my top 10 list.  So having said that, I never really got all that serious about learning all the procedures and perhaps this is why I struggled for so long on learning how to correctly land my airplane. 

In the post Windows age of computer simming I have changed my ideas on what once was only a game to me.  While airline pilot is still not in my top 10 list, at the age of 44 I guess I need to stick with just being an IT guy and not change careers.  But learning and understanding how things are done is important to me. 

Over the years my landings have sort of gone from being non-existent to crashes to controlled crashes to where I am today.  Yes today I can pretty much make a great landing and my FSPassengers don’t complain much  Smile  and my tires don’t pop.   At least not all the time. 

I learned how to fly SIDS and STARS back in the 2001 timeframe.  It was sort of a requirement for VATSIM…at least for me.  I say this because I know there are a lot of computer pilots today who do not know how to fly SIDS and STARS.  You can see this from the way some pilots file flight plans.  Now being involved with a VA and especially one that requires all flights to be flown online (VATSIM) I know from first hand experience that some of this is a lack of knowledge and some of it is just laziness.  It’s easy to fix the lack of knowledge….but much harder to fix the laziness. 

When I began learning SIDS and STARS, I looked at it as just a road map.  After all, this really is all a SID and STAR is.  It is a road map either to an airport or a road map from an airport. Of course we know there is a little more to it…but when I explain SIDS and STARS to new pilots I first get them to grasp the road map concept.  It makes all the rest a little easier. 

Anyway….I still find there is something new to learn with this hobby.  One might think with nearly 30 years of experience that I know everything there is to know.  Simply put….I don’t.  However, I’ve also forgotten a lot from the days of heavy online VATSIM flying in the years 2001 – 2005.  The five year or so hiatus I took from the hobby caused me to forget a lot more than I truly ever knew in the first place. 

Back in those early VATSIM days for me I did fly a lot of “over the pond” flights.  I don’t remember the heavy influence on NAT Tracks (North Atlantic Tracks).  Perhaps we (or I) just ignored them….I just don’t recall.  However, today there seems to be more information about them and I’ve spent the past few weeks trying to better understand how it works and what it means to me as a computer pilot.

Unfortunately I didn’t start my “learning” with enough time to participate in the VATSIM “Cross the Pond” event which took place a few weeks ago.  So I did the right thing and stayed far away from the event, but am working to understand for next time.  If you are interested in learning more about how NAT’s work (especially for VATSIM use), please visit the following link

There truly is something in this hobby for everyone.  I know many who frequently read this blog only fly offline and several who are like me tend to fly mostly connected to VATSIM.  This is what makes the hobby what it is.

Well…I think I’ve settled on the title for this blog post.  While I choose to fly computer sims as a way of de-stressing from my IT job….I find the challenges of learning and even making mistakes to be very therapeutic.  If there is something you don’t know….just learn it.  Practice makes perfect and don’t worry about making mistakes.  We all make them and best of all….in our computer sim environment no one gets hurt.

Until next time…happy flying.

Jerry 

Full Circle

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year!

Jerry

Christmas Rush 2010

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

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

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

Climbing through the clouds out of KORD

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

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

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

Beautiful sunset behind the MD83

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

Turning south over DC.

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

Final approach into KDCA runway 1

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

On the ground at KDCA

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

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

Jerry

What’s Next? How bout a trip to Texas

In a few days I will travel down to visit family in Texas.  In the past, and for at least the last 3-4 years, we would always drive down.  This year we have decided to fly.  We are flying American Airlines from Denver (KDEN) to Dallas/Ft. Worth (KDFW) and then on down to Killeen, Texas (KGRK). My parents live in Salado, Texas and the drive to come pick us up is only about 30 minutes versus over an hour if we were to fly into Austin (KAUS).

I’ve been flying into Killeen for several years now.  Only a few years ago the old Killeen airport (KILE) relocated to the much larger Gray Army Airfield.  Gray is located on the south end of Fort Hood and now serves both military and commercial traffic.  American Eagle which has served the Killeen/Ft. Hood area for many years had to operate the Saab 340B into KILE.  With the expansion to Gray, American is now able to fly just about anything in now and occasionally does so for military charter flights.  But the normal equipment is the Embraer ERJ-145.

Now I don’t know if you are like me, but when I fly in real life I like to simulate the flight before hand in FSX. I fly a few times a year and every other year my wife and I fly to Belgium to visit her family.  We’ll be doing this flight next summer and I’ll enjoy simulating that one in FSX as well.

For this trip to Texas, I’ll simulate flight AA1034 and AA3246.  AA1034 will take me from Denver, Colorado (KDEN) to Dallas/Ft. Worth (KDFW).  I’ll use the same equipment in FSX as American Airlines uses for this route. The equipment is the MD80.  The MD80 series is the workhorse of American Airlines and one of my favorite FSX planes.  The route I used was again the real world route which takes us south to Pueblo, Colorado on the Pikes4 departure then turning southeast across the southeast corner of Colorado and down into the panhandle of Texas to Amarillo.  From Amarillo the route follows very closely the Texas/Oklahoma border then drops down to Wichita Falls and then on into the DFW Metroplex on the Bowie One arrival.  The route is as follows: PIKES4 PUB J17 PNH UKW1  You can view the flight info from the Vataware website here.

The weather in the DFW area on this flight day was clear and DFW airport was in their normal south operations.  ATC directed me to runway 13R.  After taxing across DFW I parked at the gate and prepared for the second leg of my journey.

MD80 climbing out of the clouds over southern Colorado.

The second flight and second leg of my real world flight will be AA3246.  This is an American Eagle flight from KDFW to Killeen, Texas (KGRK).  The equipment type is the Embraer ERJ-145.  I departed runway 18L and once airborne made my turn to join the Nelyn Two departure.  This route takes you south to Waco where you turn southwest carefully missing President George W. Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas to the Tenat intersection.  At Tenat I turned to heading 125 to head across a portion of the Ft. Hood military base to land on runway 15 at KGRK.  You can view my flight info from the Vataware website here.

My real-world trip is to visit my family for the holidays.  We are sort of splitting the difference between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  The little town where my parents live hold a Christmas festival in early December with nighttime shopping and an outdoor play.  This outdoor theater is presenting A Christmas Carol.  It will be a lot of fun.  Back in the early 90’s I played the character of Bob Cratchit in this same outdoor theater.

I have completed the return trip from KGRK to KDFW and have been running some short flights in the MD8x out of DFW.  I’ve flown down to KMSY and back and then over to KMEM and back.  Finally I took a short hop up to KOKC and back to KDFW.  The screenshot below was captured during my climb out of KOKC on Sunday evening.  The sun had just set and the evening sky still had a hint of red in it.

Climbing out from KOKC

I’m not sure when I’ll complete the return leg to KDEN to match up with my real world travel.  I’m having fun running routes out of KDFW for now.  But when I do return to KDEN I’ll probably fly from KDEN over to either KLAX or KORD and run routes for a while.  Eventually I will head back up to the Pacific North West or even Alaska for more of that GA flying I enjoyed so much on my return from my Around the World – 2010 Adventure.

Until next time,

Jerry