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

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

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 

Another full-circle kind of moment…

As mentioned a few weeks ago here in my March 10th blog posting, some changes were possibly on the horizon for me with American virtual Airlines.  I’m excited to report that I’ve been appointed the Dallas/Ft. Worth Hub Manager for American virtual Airlines.  This was something I had wanted to happen for some time and I’m very excited and honored to accept the role.

My virtual airline (VA) experience all began in DFW with AvA almost 10 years ago.  I honestly can’t remember just how I learned about virtual airlines.  I believe it was either through Flight Simulator itself or in a magazine…but in any event, until the late summer of 2001 my experience with flight simulator was just standalone.  I had been flying computer sims since the early 80’s, but it was 2001 before I paired flight simulator with the internet.

I believe I’ve blogged about the selection process for a virtual airline.  If not, I’ll keep it brief.  Growing up in Texas and working some of my professional career in the DFW area I preferred American Airlines over any of the other carriers.  As a child I had visited DFW airport many times and always marveled at the big shiny aluminum planes.  Also, those who know me know I’m a proud Texan and with AA being headquartered in Texas….well it was just all the right reasons. 

So with the new knowledge of virtual airlines I began my search for an American Airlines version.  Unfortunately, AvA was not the first AA VA I located.  I found another group, joined and was assigned as a pilot to their DFW hub.  My career with this AA VA only lasted a few weeks as the CEO more or less vanished without a trace and the roster was no longer being updated.  So the search began again….

In the August 2001 timeframe I found AvA.  It was born just that previous June, but had already gained a few hundred members and had a half-dozen or more hubs.  Of course I requested DFW and was assigned as a pilot.  While my only real-world aviation experience is in the form of a passenger, I had been flying computer sims at this point for over 15 years and with my few weeks of experience with the other AA VA, the CEO of AvA offered me the position of Vice President of Operations, placing me essentially in the number two position of AvA.

Part of my responsibilities of VP of Ops was the day to day management of the hub managers.  If memory serves me correctly, we had hubs in DFW, ORD, LAX, JFK, MIA, BOS and SJU.  I was responsible for the hiring of new hub managers when a vacancy occurred.  Around the time of my VP of Ops appointment, the DFW hub manager position was open and since I was a pilot in that hub I assumed the manager role and planned to replace myself as soon as possible.  However, a few weeks after that we had more openings in ORD and SJU.  I began filling the positions for ORD and SJU first and basically never replaced myself in DFW. 

Back then the role of a hub manager was much, much more difficult than it is today.  In those early days we didn’t have automated PIREP systems and FSACARS functionality.  We used a web form which the pilot would fill out with all the particulars.  This web form would send the hub manager an email with the information.  The hub manager would then take the information in the email form and manually update an HTML page reflecting the pilots hours.  A good hub manager would update his hub roster page every couple of days.  One that really wanted to stay on top of things would do it daily as a big hub like DFW or ORD could easily produce 20 or more PIREPs per day. 

So much for being brief…..

Fast forward 10 years and I’m now once again the Dallas/Ft. Worth hub manager.  DFW is without a doubt my favorite airport and it is both an honor and privilege to be able to manage this wonderful hub for American virtual Airlines.  While the role of a hub manager has changed slightly since the early days, there is still a lot to do.  The automated PIREP and FSACARS systems that AvA uses do save the tedious task of manually updating a roster.  But certainly nothing has changed in the sense of what I need to do to motivate my pilots and keep everyone in line. 

aal100_dfwWhile each hub manager at AvA believes their hub is the best and the most important….I do know that the Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport is the “Jewel in the Crown” of American Airlines.  Now I truly have no intention of climbing any higher in the management ranks than hub manager.  My real-world life and career keeps me way too busy to take on any more. Plus Flight Sim isn’t my only hobby.  But I’m very, very happy to be back home where it all started.  By the way, the photo to the left is my first flight as DFW HM.  Pushing back in the MD80 for a flight to KMEM.

Now I would be remiss if I failed to invite you to become a member of American virtual Airlines.  AvA will celebrate it’s 10th birthday this summer.  We are planning a huge VATSIM event to celebrate.  AvA was the very first virtual airline to be affiliated with the VATSIM network.  We are a 100% online VATSIM virtual airline.  Which simply means that all flights must be flown on the VATSIM network to count towards pilot hours and rank.  Please take a look at our website and if you are interested in joining one of the oldest virtual airlines on the VATSIM network, then please sign up.

Well I believe I’ve kept you long enough from doing whatever it is you were doing before you landed here on my blog page.  I’m glad you stopped by and I’m glad to share with you my adventures in the wonderful hobby we call flight simulation.

Until next time…..

J

It’s been a while….

Yep, I know it’s been over a month…Oh who am I kidding.  It’s been over two months since I last posted a blog update.  January was a busy month for virtual flying…but February not so much.  I believe I logged over 60 hours of virtual simming in January and only about 3-4 in February.  Bottom line is February was a busy month for me in my job and we all know that jobs come first and hobbies come last.

I’m still flying with American virtual Airlines and still managing the training hub.  It keeps me busy.  On average we have 20+ new pilots join each month and again on average about half that many are terminated for inactivity.  For the life of me I can’t figure out why someone would take the time to join a VA and not fly.  Sure we have a few rules that must be followed and we also conduct a very brief quiz over VATSIM and our own policies….but this quiz is not difficult at all.  Also, you must fly 5 hours as a student pilot before transferring to a mainline hub.  But we don’t require a check ride and the quiz is done on-line and we even tell you where to find the answers.  Oh well. 

There is something possibly big going to happen with me at AvA.  I won’t talk about it now, but will be certain to come back and blog about it just as soon as I can.  It’s all good.

The FSX machine is still running incredibly well.  I finally got around to installing all the FSDTsceneries I had purchased a few months back.  I purchased about a half dozen on a special deal FSDT was running.  I installed KDFW and KFLL but had never got around to installing KORD, KFJK, KLAS, PHNL.  Anyway….I had all but forgotten I had KORD and had been having issues with the terminals showing up correctly.  Basically when I would land in Chicago and taxi to the terminal area all I would see were hanging jet bridges and no buildings.  Well..I’m glad to say that the FSDT KORD scenery fixed that issue and I went ahead and installed the rest.  I’m planning on flying from KMSP to KLAS on Sunday evening for an AvA event. 

Speaking of sceneries.  I also purchased the FlyTampa scenery for St. Maarten, TNCM and for Tampa, KTPA.  I’m really impressed with FlyTampa’s quality. I know many of you own this scenery and I’m really not sure why it took so long to purchase it.  I think Boston KBOS will be my next FlyTampa scenery. 

Back to the subject of FSDT.  Have you heard about the newest product they are currently developing?  It’s called Ground Services X and is pretty darn cool looking.  I’ve provided the video showing some of the things it will do.  It’s cool.  You can learn more about GSX in this forumthread.

FSDreamTeam GSX Preview

What else?  Oh….I also purchased and have been using FS Passengers in my VA flights.  It’s pretty cool and it has made me a better pilot.  I do think the lead flight attendant is flirting with me.  She keeps popping into the cockpit asking me what I’m going to do this weekend.  Ha ha

Well…that just about does it for this update.  I promise to get back to the blog and provide an update real soon on more of my flight sim adventures. 

Until then….

Happy Flying!

Jerry

FS Kneeboard

Back when I began to get serious about this hobby, I wanted to learn how to read all the various charts.  This included understanding how to read approach, departure and airport diagrams.  But I also wanted to understand how to plot a course from point A to point B using high or low altitude routes.   While you certainly do not need this knowledge to fly any version of Microsoft Flight Simulator in offline mode using the built in ATC, it truly is a must when you decide you want to connect to VATSIM.

So one weekend I managed to download all the various charts I would need to fly to most destinations in the lower 48.  I then printed off each chart and organized them by airport and placed each in a plastic page protector.  I created a binder for approach charts, a binder for departure charts and a binder for airport charts.  After all was said and done, I had 8 binders of data.  When I would plan a flight I would pull the charts from the appropriate binder and utilize online sites like SimRoutes to help me tie everything together.  After completing a flight, the charts (most of the time) would be placed back in their appropriate binder.  I’m proud to say that this system worked for me for several years.

When I came back into the hobby, I dug out all those binders and thumbed through them.  The first thing that came to mind was how outdated they probably were.  Some (if not all) were 8+ years old.  The second was how much time it took me to assemble all those binders.  Ugh….there’s got to be a better way.

Thankfully my iPad came to the rescue.  Since the birth of the iPhone and iPad, all sorts of Apps have been produced.  I figured it was worth a try just to search in the Apps Store for Flight Simulator and see what hits would pop up.  This is when I was introduced to FS Kneeboard.    FS Kneeboard is available in both an iPad App (which I own) and a version titled FS Kneeboard Mobile for the iPhone, iPod Touch (which I do not own).  While I own both an iPad and an iPhone, I only opted to purchase the FS Kneeboard for the iPad.  The iPad app is available for $7.99 in the Apple iTunes Store and the cost is certainly worth the investment considering it cost me a lot more than that to put together my binders a few years ago. 

The FS Kneeboard app includes all the same (but certainly updated) charts I have stuffed away in those binders.  It includes 148 IFR and VFR Charts for the US and over 15,000 US digital terminal procedures.  But wait….there is more.  FS Kneeboard also includes current weather conditions and weather maps for all US airports (updated via NOAA) and over a dozen built-in checklists (with ability to create your own).

FS Kneeboard has certainly helped me to de-clutter my flight sim cockpit and if you own an Apple iPad, I’m confident it can help you as well. 

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

JT

GrizzlyBearSims

5 User(s) Online Join Server
  • BlytungOnkel1
  • MEE6
  • GrizzlyBearSims
  • Dovsiljul
  • MonitoRSS