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

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

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