VRInsight CDU II–A Review

Since starting this blog last September, I haven’t written many product review blog postings.  This has been for several reasons.  First, I’m not really setup as an official reviewer with any flight sim product developers.  Any reviews I do are because I purchased the product, own the product and shared my feedback with whom ever stops here long enough to read the blog.  Second, this blog is multipurpose in the sense I use this communication vehicle to discuss my own flight simulation experiences again with whomever stops by to read them.  Since returning to the hobby I’ve acquired a lot of new toys both in the form of hardware and software.  I will mix in the occasional product review from time to time to share the good, the bad and the ugly with you the reader.

Before I start this product review.  Please allow me to get the fine print out of the way. 

The product I am reviewing was purchased by me and for my own personal use.  I receive absolutely no compensation of any form (cash, credit, discounts, promises) for reviewing this product.  I have not contacted, nor have I been contacted by the vendor to provide this product review.  The opinions expressed (good or bad) are my own, your mileage may vary.

Product Review – VRInsight CDU II

It all started when I purchased and began flying the iFly 737NGX.  Before flying this aircraft I had never programed or used a CDU.  If you are unfamiliar with the term CDU, CDU stands for Control Display Unit.  It is the device depicted in many panels with a small LCD screen and keypad.  I suppose I never used the CDU before since in most freeware and default aircraft, the CDU is non-functioning.  As far as I know, most payware aircraft and certainly of the standard of the iFly or LevelD do come equipped with a functional CDU which can be programmed by the virtual pilot. 

The more hours I spent in the iFly 737, the more I became to appreciate all that the CDU provides to the pilot.  I began thinking about how wonderful it would be to have an external CDU unit in my home simulator setup.  I started searching through a few forums and using the best friend a virtual pilot has and that is Google.  The iFly forums have a dedicated hardware builders section and I found many who had success in getting the VRInsight CDU II setup with the iFly 737.  The decision had been made based on the research I conducted, I placed an order through FlightSim Pilot Shopand the unit arrived just in time for the long US Memorial Day (3 day weekend).

My new VRInsight CDU II arrived via Fedex on Friday morning.  I would be misleading you if I only said “some assembly required”.  While the CDU module itself is fully assembled, it is up to the user to place the labels and button covers onto the buttons of the CDU.  There are 70 labels and button covers required.  The button labels come in a sheet which normally are easy to detach and are in an order that makes them easy to locate.  Mine were so easy to detach that when I opened the box and pulled out the plastic bag which covers and protects the labels that the majority had already detached themselves and were loose in the package.  This created somewhat of a nightmare as they became harder to find.  Please Note:  The CDU II can also be used to control other cockpit functions such as auto-pilot etc.  So you’ll have a lot of button labels you won’t need if you only configure the CDU to be used as a CDU. 

Assembling the button and labels is not difficult, it is just tedious work that took me about an hour to complete.  If the button labels had not detached themselves this could have been done much, much faster.  Once the labels and buttons were setup correctly came the connection to the PC.  The CDU II requires a USB connection, a VGA connection and a power connection and comes with all the appropriate connectors including a VGA to DVI adapter if your video card has DVI outputs.

A note regarding power.  I was a little disappointed with the power requirements for the CDU.  Obviously because of the LCD screen in the CDU, the CDU II requires external power and will not operate on the standard 5 volts from the USB connection.  The power requirement for the CDU II is 12 volts and it does come with a 12 volt AC wall wart type adapter.  However, the plug configuration for the wall wart is not the standard US 110 electrical outlet. It is a two pin European style plug.  While I don’t mean to sound like a typical “American”, I have never purchased any piece of electronic gear which didn’t come configured and setup for the country it is intended to be used in. 

Now….I had prepared myself and purchased an adapter to convert the two pin European style plug to a standard US 110 outlet as I had read forum postings from others who were caught by surprise by this setup.  However, I’m happy to report the VRInsight people had included an adapter with the CDU II.  I’m not sure when this change was made so I suppose if you purchase this product you may receive a package that doesn’t include the adapter.  But most stores like Radio Shack, Micro Center or travel specialty shops will have these adapters. The cost was about $8 USD.

Back on track.  The CDU II also arrives with a CD containing the drivers and other supporting software required to make it all work with Flight Simulator.  By the way, while I’ve only tested this on FSX, it does appear to also work with FS9.  But I don’t find any discussion about it working with X-Plane.  Sorry X-Plane users.

The setup documentation was fairly easy to follow.  The CDU II can’t (at least at this time) be operated from a remote networked computer.  It must be connected to your main FS machine and also can’t be operated through a Matrox Triplehead2Go type adapter.  Luckily my video card came with two DVI outputs on the back.  One I’ve been feeding into the TripleHead2Go adapter providing video to three LCD panels.  The second DVI output was un-used.  If you do not have two VGA or DVI outputs on your computer, you will need to think about either upgrading your video card or adding a second adapter.

Within a few minutes after installing the appropriate drivers I had the CDU II connected and the display was working showing a Windows background.  But it’s not ready to fly just yet.

cduIIIncluded is a software application called SerialFP2.  This very lightweight software application is what essentially bridges the connectivity of the external CDU II device to the internal CDU in FSX.  This takes a little time to setup so the display from FSX is aligned correctly on the external CDU.  I estimate I’ve spend several hours tweaking this to get it just right.  The good news is once you get it set, the settings are saved in an .ini file and switching from aircraft to aircraft (pending you’ve setup each) is not difficult.  Currently I’m only running the external CDU II with the iFly 737 and the LevelD 767.  This SerialFP2 software does include panel config settings for the LevelD and several other aircraft varieties.  It did not include auto panel setup for the iFly. But this is where the iFly Cockpit Builder Forum came in handy. 

Are there alternatives to the VRInsight CDU II?  Yes, in doing my research I also found theFlyEngravity CDU and FlightDeck Solutions CDU.  I did look and research both, but at about twice the price of the VRInsight model, I decided to save my $$.  A final solution for an external CDU just to give you the information is if you own an iPad check out the iDisplay App.  It will allow you to extend your Windows desktop to the iPad across a wi-fi network.  I did experiment with this solution but since I also use my iPad as a kneeboard with the iPad app FSKneeboard, I opted to go with the external CDU module.

VRInsight CDU II is available from many Flight Sim Stores and retails for around $450.00 USD.  You can find more information by visiting the VRInsight website located here

In Closing, I’ve flown approx. 20+ flights in the iFly 737 and the LevelD 767 using the external VRInsight CDU II and I’m very pleased with the product. I would recommend this to anyone who is building their own flight simulator cockpit and/or wants to add the extra level of realism this hardware module can deliver.  The price is fair based on what you get (especially compared to other alternatives)

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

A real world adventure simulated…Part 2

Before I get started detailing part two, I just wanted to mention the Heathrow scenery is UK2000 Scenery.  They develop add-on scenery for both FSX and FS9.  It runs fairly well on my machine and since I enjoy flying to Heathrow, I wanted to update it from the way it looks in FSX default (which doesn’t include the new T5).

Part two of our journey takes place a few hours after we landed at Heathrow.  You can read about the Denver to London Heathrow flight in Part 1. As also mentioned in part 1, this is a real world trip my wife and I are taking to visit her family in Belgium. 

We made the 90 minute journey across London from Heathrow to London City Airport (EGLC).  London City Airport is a small airport practically in the center of London and right on the banks of the Thames River.  The airport services mostly other European destinations, but British Airways does operate a daily flight from EGLC to KJFK via a stop in Ireland.  It is a fun airport to fly into both in real life and in FS Life.  Please join me in this adventure as we depart EGLC for Antwerp, Belgium EBAW.

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Our flight today will be in the CityJet, Fokker 50.  I don’t get the chance to fly a lot of turboprop aircraft, nor do I get the opportunity to fly in them in real life.  One of my favorite commercial turboprops used to be the Saab 340B which American Eagle once operated.  I would take one of those when I flew from Dallas/Ft. Worth down to Killeen, Texas.  Now American Eagle uses the ERJ’s for that route and has retired all the Saab 340B’s from their fleet.  Anyway….the Fokker 50 is a sweet aircraft for FSX.  I do need to upgrade the panel for it and that’s why you won’t see any short final shots from the cockpit window in this adventure.

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Rubens 100, holding short runway 28 (as depicted in FSX) waiting for the Air France to depart.  Runway 28 is (actually runway 27 in real life) is a short 4,984 feet and again right in the heart of London’s Financial District (the Wall Street of London) and buildings all around.  We’ll need to let the props wind up prior to releasing the brake just for good measure.

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Airborne, now let the bumpy ride begin.  While this Fokker 50 needs to have a new panel installed, the ride characteristics are very good.  She rocks and rolls just as the real Fokker 50 does.  The rain in London has stopped, but the clouds are still hanging around and we have a light chop.  I expect the chop to get worse before it gets better.

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Bye-Bye London.  See you in a few weeks.

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Ladies and Gentlemen, we apologize for the rough flight.  We just cross Dover and are headed across the English Channel.  That is France just off the starboard side. 

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Approaching the city of Antwerp, Belgium.  Antwerp is depicted surprisingly well in FSX.  The river Scheldt is visible winding through the city.  Antwerp is a very beautiful city and I enjoy visiting there every chance I can.  The Antwerp Airport (EBAW) is just ahead, turning for the downwind leg approach.

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A short final shot (runway 29) from outside (sorry Al), just in the general direction off the right wing (less than 1 mile) is where my Mother and Father-in-law live.  I can sit in their garden and hear the aircraft wind up their engines and props.  We’re almost there.  By the way, EBAW has a slightly shorter runway (by 30 feet) than EGLC.  Landing and departing is less daunting with the lack of buildings and the obvious close proximity to the River Thames.  It’s still a fun runway to land and depart from.

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Parked at EBAW.  Again, surprisingly EBAW is depicted very well.  I’ve yet to find an add-on scenery for this airport.  But I think FSX does a good job. 

Well…I’ve simulated half of our real-world journey my wife and I will take in the next few weeks.  It is time to head over to my Mother and Father-in-Laws house, get a shower and then walk to the Frituur Shop for some incredible Belgian Fries called frites (like french fries, but without the french).  I don’t know the history of the friend potato, but the French have nothing on the Belgians and US?  Ha….nothing compares.  Also, Belgians don’t eat their fries with ketchup…it is mayonnaise all the way.  I will also enjoy a few curry worst sausages called frikandel in Dutch.  Ain’t nothing healthy about this dinner…it’s all about the reward after having been awake for over 30+ hours.

I don’t think I’ll document the return trip and will let this part 2 be the final chapter.  I will of course simulate the return flight from EBAW to EGLC and then EGLL back to KDEN.  But I’ll leave it up to your imagination how that trip goes.  Right now my mind and my stomach is thinking Belgium and that’s where I’ll leave it. 

Until next time, Happy Flying!

Jerry

A real world adventure simulated…Part 1

For about as long as I can remember I’ve enjoyed simulating my real world flights on flight simulator.  This probably started in the mid-90’s with the introduction of Flight Simulator 95 (FS 6), but I may have been doing it as early as FS5.  Generally the way I do it is a few days or a week or so before a real-world flight, I’ll simulate it on flight simulator.  Now during my several year hiatus from the hobby I didn’t simulate many of the flights but having now returned I’m back in the habit.  I find it fun and perhaps even a bit superstitious about it now a days.  But I also don’t remove the previous check baggage tag UNTIL I reach the ticket counter.  Ha ha

Anyway, this simulated flight is a true real world adventure that my wonderful wife and I will be taking very soon.  We will fly from Denver, Colorado to London’s Heathrow Airport on British Airways.  We will transfer from Heathrow to London City Airport via the London underground to then fly a CityJet (now owned by Air France) from London City to Antwerp, Belgium.  If you read my initial review of the Captain Sim Boeing 777, then you know that I planned to fly that aircraft in my simulated adventure as that is the equipment British Airways operates between Denver and London.  However, after two attempts to get the Captain Sim T7 off the ground at KDEN, even using that massive 16000 foot runway which I’ll talk about again in a minute, the CS 777 struggled to take to the skies and maintaining airspeed just didn’t happen.  I’m superstitious enough about this sort of thing and put the CS 777 back in the virtual hangar.  She just isn’t ready for prime time and certainly a workout under a heavy load.   I have resorted to go back to the POSKY for this round-trip flight.  I know she is up to the challenge. I’m just thankful I didn’t send her out to the desert to retire.

I really have no rules for these flights.  I will fly the BA legs on the VATSIM network and will fly the CityJet flighs offline.  This is keeping in the rules of my virtual airline, American virtual Airlines.  Because British Airways is in the oneworld alliance, I can fly those flights as codeshare and file the PIREPs for hours.  However, since Air France is in that other codeshare system I won’t be able to log those hours.  But no worries.

Our journey begins at the beautiful Denver International Airport (KDEN) on a warm almost summer evening.  The daytime temperatures have been soaring the past few days with daytime highs topping out in the upper 80’s to low 90’s.  This of course is not always the best situation for a large, heavy aircraft full of fuel and passengers.  This is one of the reasons why KDEN built the massive 16R/34L measuring in at a whopping 16,000 feet (that’s over 3 miles long).  This new runway (completed a few years ago) helped put the Mile High City into the record books as this is the longest commercial (non-military) precision instrument runway in the US.  This runway would allow KDEN to handle the new Airbus A380 should any carrier decide to add it to their route. 

Our journey begins with our British Airways, Boeing Triple Seven (777-200) parked at terminal A, gate A37.  The flight had arrived earlier and is currently being serviced, re-fueled, cleaned etc. for the long journey back to London’s Heathrow Airport. 

Taking a look at weather conditions both local, along the way and even at our destination some 9 hours away, all appears to be smooth flying.  I’ve ordered 194,618 pounds of fuel which gives us plenty of reserves for holding, diversion and contingency planning.  We have a full flight and our overall gross weight is just over 540K. 

2011-6-15_8-53-17-941Our route tonight will take us out from KDEN via the Plains four departure, Hayes Center transition then out across Iowa, Illinois and in a general northeasterly direction through New England.  Since we are simulating a evening departure from KDEN, North Atlantic Track data isn’t updated so I’m using the data for the real world flight that departed yesterday.  It will be close enough.  Our flying time will be just a little over 8 hours at a distance of 4135 nm at an altitude of 35,000 feet.  As we departed on-time, the Colorado sunset is just about to drop out of sight behind the Rocky Mountains as we climb through 17000 for FL350.

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Flying the downwind leg parallel to London Heathrow off the port side.  Weather conditions in London were partly cloudy and light rain.  Basically a good typical English day.  Flight Attendants, prepare for landing.

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Making the left base leg turn to intercept the ILS for runway 27L, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament are shown just in the background.

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Completing the rollout from the base leg turn.  BAW100 has joined the ILS. 

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A “short final” shot for my friend Al.  BAW100 inbound ILS runway 27L, Number One for landing. 

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Thrust reversers and speed brakes deployed.  The Posky T7 slows to exit 27L at London’s Heathrow Airport.  Taxi to to terminal 5.  The journey is only partially complete.  Return soon to read about part two.

Until next time….Happy Flying!

Jerry

What’s in a name…

When I started this blog I was inspired by a fellow flight sim enthusiasts blog titled “Clear Left…Views from the virtual Flight Deck” of Al Stiff.  Another blog I enjoy reading also comes from a fellow flight sim enthusiast titled “Clear Right…Onur’s virtual skies”.  Both Onur and Al do a fine job blogging about their flight sim adventures. 

I wanted a name which was sort of catchy but at the same time defined my flight sim blog.  I liked the term “Position and Hold” from the aspect of positioning yourself in a nice comfy chair and holding by reading what I hoped would be just as fine of content as Al and Onur produce on their blog.  I had learned of the FAA’s plan to eventually change the phraseology of position and hold to line up and wait.  My blog officially debuted on 2 September 2010 and the FAA policy change was scheduled for 30 September 2010. 

I’ve received a few comments regarding the name of my blog.  Most start out like “don’t you know the term position and hold no longer applies” or “you should change the name to line up and wait”.  Yes, again I’m aware of the phraseology change and no I’m not going to change the name of my blog to line up and wait.  Smile

My blog will proudly stay titled “Position and Hold” to reflect the original thought I had and described just a minute ago and to also serve as a reminder of the phraseology which certainly sounds better than “Line up and wait”.  But of course I understand the concerns around the phraseology…just think of this blog as helping to preserve a snap shot in time.

Until next time….Please “Position and Hold”

Jerry

Captain Sim 777–A First Look

This is not going to be an official review of the new Captain Sim Boeing 777-200 as it basically is an exterior only model which incorporates the default B747 panel and B737 sound at this time.  Now I know what you must be thinking, especially if you are not familiar with the Captain Sim product and the way they have released products before.  From what I understand they have released products in the past in a piece by piece fashion.  Meaning it starts with the exterior model and then sometime down the road they will release an interior model etc.  While I’ve known about Captain Sim for a while, this is the first time I’ve installed and flown one of their aircraft.  Thankfully they start with the exterior as it would look funny flying around just a shell of an airplane.

At present time, the Captain Sim Boeing 777-200 (exterior model) is available 9.99 Euro ($14.56 USD).  Now if you’ve read several of my recent blog posts you know I’ve purchased several new aircraft for my virtual hangar.  First, about a month ago I purchased the iFly 737NGX and that was followed by the LVLD 767.  I’ve blogged about how much I enjoy flying these aircraft and that I’m hooked on the payware aircraft modeled closely after their real world counterparts and have truly enjoyed the realistic procedures required to get these aircraft into the sky and safely back onto the ground.  So why did I pay nearly $15.00 for an exterior model that only that acts and behaves like a default or freeware model? 

Well…the answer to that question is I didn’t pay for it.  I won it.  Yes…I won something and I’m tickled about it.  I haven’t won anything in years and wasn’t expecting this at all.  It was given away as part of the raffle for our AvA 10th Birthday bash event.  I actually could choose from any Captain Sim product and I chose the 777.  Why?  Well this one of course is easy to answer.  Since I already had the B737 from iFly and the 767 from LVLD, it made sense to select either the B757 or the new B777.  I decided against the B757 as I’m really looking at the Quality Wings 757 if they can ever get their GoFlight hardware integration working.  Once this happens then I’ll gladly give them my money.  So I figured I really had nothing to lose on the 777.  I decided if all else fails, I would just fly it like I would my POSKY B777’s until I found a payware model that I liked.  Plus, the FSX Flight Sim community (in my opinion) is really lacking in the quality payware 777 department.  We have awesome 737 models out now (and soon to be released PMDG) and we have great 747, 757 and of course my new pride and joy the LVLD 767.  But 777’s???  Nah….not really.  So I’m hopeful this one fills a very important void for all of us FSX users.

I had just wrapped up a KDFW to PHNL flight in the LVLD 767 (wow what a treat to fly) and had some time before dinner to install and check out this CS 777.  She installed with no issues and when I fired up FSX she was listed right there in the aircraft menu.  Where else did I expect to find it?  I was pleased to find that out of the box she comes in the following liveries American Airlines, British Airways, KLM, United Airlines, Japan Airlines, Air France and Singapore Airlines.  This is great because three of the seven are members of the oneworld alliance (AAL, BAW and JAL) and I’m planning to simulate my real world trip to London from Denver in a few days.  I can fly any of the oneworld codeshare flights with AvA.  This is great by the way as it allows for such diversity in aircraft.  When I have a need to fly a Boeing 747 I can jump in and fly a BAW flight.  Now I have a saying (which you’ve all heard I’m sure) and that is “If it ain’t Boeing, I ain’t going”.  So…while I could jump in an Airbus A380 as Qantas I haven’t done so just yet.  Anyway you get the idea.

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So I started the Captain Sim Boeing 777 in the British Airways livery and took her for a lap around DFW.  We departed on 17R and headed east around and out of the way of Dallas Love Field and then came around from the NE to land on 17C.  For a default, freeware aircraft I have to say she handled great.  Yes..I had just finished an almost 8 hour flight to Honolulu in the awesome LVLD, but this wasn’t bad.  Considering she is lacking in the interior and flight dynamics like the LVLD.

From the outside the “eye-candy” is fantastic and the image above doesn’t do her justice.  I can tell you this B777 will be moved front and center in the virtual hangar in front of the POSKY models I have.  The POSKY’s look great, but there are some visual issues (like a hole in the fuselage) which sort of stick out.  I’ve tried to find a fix, but gave up.  I just make sure I take on extra oxygen and blankets and life is good.  Smile

Again, this is just a first look. Please….Please…Please keep your 9.99 euro in your pocket for now (unless of course you just want an exceptional looking exterior visual modeled aircraft in the liveries I mentioned before.  You can also find additional liveries in the usual places such asAVSIM.net.  I plan to take this beautiful aircraft on a round-trip long-haul from Denver to London Heathrow and back to simulate my real world trip I’ll take in a few weeks.  I will make sure to provide more information in the form of an update so you can better decide.

Finally, I am entitled to the additional packages once they are made available by Captain Sim.  I’ll do a full review of the Captain Sim Boeing 777 at that time.  Time will tell if she’ll work with myGoFlight MCP when all is said and done.  I sure hope so.

In closing, I’ve really enjoyed providing this first look into the Captain Sim 777.  I think I’ll review a few other items I have in my flight deck in the near future.  I know I promised some information on the VRInsight CDU I purchased a few weeks ago.  Perhaps that will be the first review item.  We’ll see. 

Until next time,

Jerry

More naughty behavior

Last month I blogged about some old news regarding how I believe the Flight Pro Sim software (I’m sure you’ve seen the ads on Facebook and Twitter) is seriously cheating the flight sim hobby by taking an existing product available totally free from the good folks at FlightGear.org and ripping YOU, the flight simulator enthusiast off by re-bundling the software and charging for it.  

Well in recent days I’ve learned how they have shown back up under a different name called Flight Simulator Plus.  Trust me, this is the same old stuff just under a different name.  The fraud is the same, the software is the same and the overall concept of taking your money for software which is available for free is still the same.  It’s bad regardless of how you slice and dice it. 

Look….as I stated in May I’ve not played around with the original FlightGear.org software.  The reason being is I’m fully invested in Microsoft Flight Simulator X and do 99.9% of all my flight simulation flying on the VATSIM network.  It is not that I’m resistant to change….I just have my FSX machine running so smoothly with FSX that I don’t see the need for a change.  But I do care about this hobby and care about those who are involved in this awesome hobby and especially those who are just starting out.

Individuals who have been around for a while may already be set with either Microsoft Flight Simulator (of any version) or X-Plane.  You have already made an investment and are probably already set in the direction you want to go.  However, new people checking the hobby out may look to Internet web searches, Facebook or Twitter data and may stumble on this fraudulent website.  They may read all the things this flight simulator can do and may think it is what is best for them.  They may not realize (until it is too late) that the same software….the original software is available for free.  

Again, as I explained in May…FlightGear.org has stated the reasons why they believe this is their software only re-branded.  I believe what they say is true and encourage you to help share this information throughout the Flight Sim community. 

Thank you for reading my blog and helping to spread the word. 

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

How much time do you spend…

Hobbies are things we do for fun, to relax, to just get away from the tasks of life.  Some people are less passionate about certain hobbies and more about others.  Sometimes a hobby gets placed on the back burner for a time and then moved forward again when life permits more time to dedicate to the hobby.  Some hobbies require the individual participating to leave home and some can be enjoyed right from the comfort of home.  Regardless of what hobby you are involved in…the important lesson is to enjoy it and allow it to give you the fun, the relaxation and the escape we all need from time to time.

I think most everyone I know has a hobby.  Most (including myself) enjoy several hobbies and while we may not always devote equal time to each….we do what we can do and basically do what we want to do when it comes time for hobby time.  Since this blog is about the hobby of flight simulation, it is this subject that I of course will blog about today.

How much time do you spend per month devoted to the flight simulation hobby?  I’ll let you ponder on this while you continue to read the rest of my blog posting and will come back to this question at the end.

Like you I have good days and bad days at work.  Thankfully, the good outweighs the bad on average…but when the bad starts to happen it can come out of nowhere.  I had one of those days on Tuesday.  The first day or so back from a holiday or vacation can be the worse in the IT world and the day after the US Memorial Day holiday was no exception.  Since my wife and I both work for the same company we have a enterprise IM (instant message) solution and I sent her a message reading….”stressful day, do we have anything planned for this evening?  If not, I would like to fly”.  Her response back to me was “I’m sorry you are having a rotten day, yes…why don’t you fly tonight”.

Now if you are a younger person reading this blog you may think to yourself, why is Jerry having to ask permission from his wife to fly?  If you are an adult and married, in a relationship etc. then you fully understand that I wasn’t asking for permission in the sense of a child asking a parent for permission….just a much necessary step when you are in a relationship. 

My wife is most supportive and while she didn’t tell me until later, she too had experienced some stress that day and wanted to spend a few hours reading a book.  By the way, my wife enjoys reading and she considers it a hobby.  My flight sim setup is in the basement and she has free roam of the house from the courtyard to the formal living room to read without hearing any of my aircraft and ATC noises.  But bottom line is she is very supportive and those of you in relationships will certainly understand the importance of this.

Anyway…I did fly and had a very enjoyable time doing so.  This was the last flight of the month for me and after sending in my PIREP via FSACARS I realized I had accumulated over 120 hours of flight time (time from parking brakes off to parking brakes on or gate to gate time) over 43 flights completed for the month of May.  But we all know there is more time involved than just the gate to gate time.  Some of these flights probably had a minimum of 15 minutes, some had 30 minutes of setup time.  I define setup time as starting the computers, starting FSX and all the other support software like ActiveSky X, FSINN, FSACARS etc. Then searching for a flight, booking that flight in my VA’s system, programming the FMS/CDU, getting clearance (if ATC is online).  Most of my 43 flights flown in May were not single flights of the day.  Meaning I flew multiple flights and of course only had the time to start the PC’s, load FSX etc. once.  So just using a round number of 20 minutes per flight…this still means I had another 12+ hours to add to the 120. 

Of course only some of the above time is spent performing my duties of DFW Hub Manager at American virtual Airlines.  While I do tend to do some of my required tasks when also flying…I would estimate another 5-10 hours per month are devoted to the VA work and let’s throw in another 2-3 hours for this blog and who knows how much time I spend reading other FS blogs and the forums at various flight sim sites.  What???  Perhaps almost 150 hours?  180 hours?  200 hours?  Of course I have no real way of defining the time I spend outside of the actual flying, I’m not going to punch a time clock as this is a hobby after all.  Ha Ha Ha

So how much time do you spend per month devoted to the flight simulation hobby?

Oh….I need to quickly close this blog posting out so I can get back to my flight planning for my ALL DAY online VATSIM flying in celebration of the 10th Anniversary of the founding of American virtual Airlines.  I will fly for over 12 hours in five different flight legs.  Man do I have a great wife or what? I’m glad I stopped to get flowers yesterday on the way home from the office.  She deserves them.

Until next time….enjoy the hobby.

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

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