Caution–Hard Hat Area
I recently read a blog article which I can easily relate titled “Banging my Head Against the Desk” by fellow blogger and flight sim developer, Bill Womack. Bill describes some of his frustrations with getting his brand new 737 off the hard ground and into the beautiful skies. Bill fully recognizes the differences between complex airliners and GA aircraft and his blog post asks some questions which I believe are questions I too have wanted to be answered. Now before I continue…I’ll add there is a big difference between Bill Womack and Jerry Taylor with regards to flight. Bill has accumulated over 50 hours in a Cessna 172 and is working his way towards his private pilots license.
Within the flight sim community (at least over the last decade) there’s been dialog on the various forums (and there’s a lot of them) regarding virtual pilots who fly the more complex and realistic aircraft models such as PMDG and the default or freeware models such as POSKY. I’ve experienced it myself even over a VATSIM personal message once. I was holding short of an active runway and number two for take off. I had another pilot behind me. I believe I was in a 767 and he asked me if it was the LevelD. I said no, it was a POSKY. He went on to add that he felt the POSKY was inferior to the LevelD and stated a few reasons why. It was interesting that his reasons were never around the flight dynamics or the differences and difficulties of getting the LevelD 767 ready for flight, but more around how much more realistic the panel was. It is interesting to note that this individual is about 15-16 years old. Heck I have a pair of tennis shoes older than that. I felt like telling him “look kid, I remember when all we had to flight simulator was flat graphics and aircraft choices was only one and I still had to walk to school up hill both directions (I grew up in Texas so there wasn’t a lot of snow)”.
Anyway, this dialog while not often spelled out can sometimes certainly read between the lines that if you don’t fly the PMDG whatever you are not a real pilot. HELLO??? For most of us we are not real pilots. Some may be in the process of obtaining their private pilots license and some may already hold one. Some are retired or ex-military who flew missions in Korea, Vietnam or Desert Storm. While each of those examples may know the aircraft they have flown (or fly) in real life, most couldn’t get a real modern jetliner off the ground if their life depended on it, let alone land one.
I suppose in recent years I could have referred to myself as a purist. Until just a few weeks ago I only flew freeware aircraft which for the most part are modeled along the lines of the default aircraft that comes part of MSFS. Fire up FSX and pull down a flight plan into FSCommander and Ctrl-E and off you go. I truly supported these freeware developers for their efforts in giving something back to the hobby. A POSKY (or now called FreeSky Project) may not have the same flight dynamics as the PMDG, but they look great for what they cost (zero cost freeware) and handle equally well. But yes, to the dark side I went a few weeks ago after learning about the iFly 737NGX and it’s out of the box compatibility with GoFlight hardware. I couldn’t resist the true beauty of this aircraft from the outside in. I got her downloaded and took a brief test flight around DFW. I was hooked. A few days later this led to the purchase of the LevelD 767 which again is fully compatible with my GoFlight hardware.
Now back to Bill’s blog post. Bill discusses how he likes to learn something. He states “My favorite way to learn something complex is to first learn the bare-bones essentials. Once I’ve mastered them to the point of feeling semi-proficient, I like to add on layers of depth, exploring each new concept until I’ve drilled it permanently into my brain.” I fully agree with what he says here and will admit that I’m the same way. For the most part I’m a self-taught IT Professional. I studied at the school of hard knocks. But I very much learned the basics and progressively built onto that. After all, what makes a giant skyscraper capable of standing? It’s not the spire on top, it’s the solid foundation often not even visible. I believe this is the point Bill was trying to make.
There is another point Bill makes in his blog post which gave me a good laugh, “Give me a stack of manuals and I’ll be stuck inside them for days. Show me a video of what I’m supposed to do, and I’m doing it like a pro in an hour. It seems that most airliners developers are just the opposite type.They spin out reams of paper about this or that system, when all I really want in the beginning is to get in, familiarize myself with the plane, and get it in the air.” It was the “They spin out reams of paper” comment that gave me the chuckle. The iFly 737NGX manual is over 500 pages and while LevelD is only 175 pages I still find that a bit much…especially when talking about first experiences with the aircraft.
Now before you get all excited and want to post those comments about realism and tell me I’m not a real pilot (I already know I’m not a real pilot), let me say this. I’m enjoying (I’ll say it again), I’m enjoying learning more about how both the iFly and the LVLD aircraft operate. I’ve completely changed my flying style, meaning I don’t just run down to my basement and fire up FSX and take off. I enjoy running through the pre-flight checklists, programming the FMC (even purchased the VRInsight external CDU for added realism). I enjoy the 20-30 minutes I spend before I ever start to taxi.
Each of us have our own reasons for participating in this hobby. My reasons might be the same as your reasons and they might not be. Over the past decade I’ve learned a lot about flight. Prior to getting started flying on line, I didn’t know what a STAR or SID was, nor did I understand how to read and follow them. Now I do. Until just a few weeks ago I didn’t really understand how VNAV and LNAV functioned, nor did I use the functionality. Now I do.
I fully support what Bill Womack is talking about in his blog post. If someone…anyone…wants to shell out $30, $40, $50 or more on a pay-ware aircraft and spend hours and hours and hours reading the manual that is fine. Likewise, if the same individual wants to spend the same amount of money and gradually ease into the more complex procedures that is also fine.
Now…having said all that. I applaud iFly for at the very least incorporating various panel states that one can start out with. I’ll admit that there are times I begin “cold and dark” and there are other times I begin “before engine start”. iFly and other developers could take this one step further and create a “fully automatic” or “basic flight” mode. This will allow those of us to get the aircraft off the ground and then build on the knowledge as we go along. Again….it’s my $$ and how I want to spend it is my business.
In closing, while I’ve found a payware 737 and 767 for my virtual hangar and currently looking to expand into a 757 and 777 payware models, I hope people like the folks at FreeSky Project(formerly POSKY) will continue to develop awesome freeware models. The hobby still needs quality freeware add-ons and individuals willing to develop them.
Please leave your comments. If you agree or disagree, this is fine.
Until next time,