COVID-19 Relief Flight Series #1

As I mentioned in my update post from yesterday, I have been spending some of my free time flying.  It helps me destress and gives my mind something to focus on.  The title “COVID-19 Relief Flight Series” has dual meaning.  First, yes…in my imagination I’m flying some form of relief supplies from point A to point B.  But secondarily, these flights are providing me a bit of relief from the stresses of everything that is going on in the real world.  I hope you enjoy this series. 

Flight Details

The first flight in this series (and I have no idea just how long this series will be) is a relief supply flight from Miami, Florida to Brussels, Belgium.  Why Miami?  That just happens to be the last location I flew to.  Why Belgium?  Well…why not?  By the way, I realize Fedex doesn’t routinely fly between Miami and Brussels. 

For our flight today, Fedex is transporting some much needed relief supplies from Miami, Florida to Brussels, Belgium.  We’re flying in the beautiful Boeing 777 Freighter and we’re heavy!  Very heavy today.  Our ZFW (zero fuel weight) is just below the limit at a whopping 550,000 lbs. and with our planned route, including weather along the way, we took on 171,000 lbs of fuel for the 9 hour flight. 

Our route takes us up the east coast of the US/Canada.  We begin our North Atlantic crossing at St. John’s Newfoundland and fly eastbound to Shannon, Ireland then across England and finally enter Belgium airspace. 

Route:

route

Brussels Bound

Again, for you hard core virtual pilots who might read this and blow a gasket because Fedex doesn’t routinely fly between Miami and Brussels, just relax or close your browser.  Nothing in our world right now is routine.  Either way, today…this Fedex Boeing 777 Freighter is virtually flying today between Miami (KMIA) and Brussels (EBBR). 

Our B77F is being loaded with all sorts of relief cargo which is needed throughout Europe.  Our departure time is 19:35 and we’re on schedule. 

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An extremely low ceiling makes the airport directly behind almost unrecognizable.  The condensation and immersion effects compliments of Parallel 42 777 Immersion.

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Love the immersion of the condensation. 

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As the sun sets in the distance, we turn to join our northeast route along the east coast of the US. 

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Here comes the sun.  With less than two hours to go, the sun is beginning to rise. 

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Making great time as we’re down to our last hour of flight and just leaving Ireland behind us.  It’s all business here on the flight deck as we begin to plan our descent and arrival into Brussels. 

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The west coast of Wales.

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Beginning our descent as we’re crossing the North Sea and headed towards the Netherlands. 

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Making our turn over Antwerp.  The airfield just in view over the wing is EBAW (Antwerp International Airport).  I’ve flown into this airport many times in real life. 

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On final approach into Brussels.  Nice green fields.

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Cleared to land runway 25R. 

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Slowing this heavy girl down.

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Time to unload the cargo.

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This was a fun flight.  For those that may not be in the know.  The main PC based flight simulators (Prepar3D and X-Plane) are both based on a real world scale.  Unlike American Truck Simulator or Euro Truck Simulator 2, where the distance and time is compressed, flying a flight in flight sim will take just as long as a real world flight would take.  Everything from the aircraft performance, weather, fuel burn…everything is “As Real As It Gets”. 

If you’re looking for a true “simulator”, look no further than either Prepar3D or X-Plane to give you the absolutely best simulation experience you can get on a PC.   Remember, this is not a game…this is a simulator!

Thank you for reading! 

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

Jerry

Credits

Flight Simulator:  Prepar3D v4.5 (hotfix 1)
Aircraft:  PMDG 777
Airline: Fedex (FDX)
ATC:  VATSIM
Airport Scenery: KMIA LatinVFR, EBBR Justsim
Terrain Scenery: Orbx Global Base, Orbx Vector, Orbx openLC North America
Sky/Cloud Textures: REX 5 SkyForce and REX 5 Environment Force
Immersion Effects – Parallel 42 777 Immersion
Weather Generation: ActiveSky (ASP4)
Flight Planning: SimBrief, Navigraph, FlightAware, FlightRadar24

Note:  If you are interested in any of the above mentioned add-ons.  Visit my P3D Add-ons directory for links.

New REX Environment Force

As most will already know, the new REX Environment Force add-on was released a few weeks ago.  Over the course of this article I’m going to share some opinions, show some evidence and basically discuss how I moved from the Envtex/Envshade products to REX and what my overall impressions are.  Spoiler:  I’m happy as a pig in mud!

If anyone tries to tell you the industry built around and supporting the flight simulation hobby is dead, dying or even stagnant…..they are wrong.  In addition, if anyone tries to tell you the industry supporting Prepar3D is dead, dying or stagnant….They too are WRONG!  The level of creativity coming from our 3rd party developers is very much alive and kicking.  The proof is certainly in the pudding and boy does this pudding taste good. 

I’m Getting Old

I can’t remember much about the selection of add-ons available for Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004 (FS9) nor my direct involvement with them.   When FS9 was the sim of choice, I was super busy traveling and had many irons in the fire.  But I do know (at least for me) with Microsoft Flight Simulator X (FSX) and certainly through each of the iterations of Prepar3D I’ve owned (P3D 2.x, 3.x and 4.x) I’ve literally poured hundreds of dollars down the ole proverbial rat hole in an attempt to achieve maximum eye-candy.  It’s truly a constant struggle and balancing act as I explained in a recent writing titled “Flight Simulation – The Struggle for Balance”. 

Choices & Decisions

In the area of visual add-ons to help stimulate your visual senses, there’s a lot of choice out there.  This is certainly the case for Prepar3d version 4.4/4.5, slightly less for earlier versions of P3D and FSX.  But still a lot of choice in this category of visual enhancing add-ons. 

There was a time (not too long ago) where I pretty much believed they all did just about the same thing.  Of course, each camp will have their fanboys and each will have their haters.  Remember, “haters gonna hate”, right?

I’ve honestly tried them all…well, most of them.  For the record, as I pointed out in a recent article titled, “Shaders – What’s the big deal?”, I haven’t tried Tomatoshade.  While there are plenty of Tomatoshade fanboys singing its praises…there are many others who are sitting in the corner crying because something catastrophic happened to the their sim.  I discuss some of these pitfalls here.  Yes, yes…ABSOLUTELY YES…I agree that most who are sitting in the corner crying either didn’t read the “destructions” or have/had some other issue going on which became a bigger issue when they attempted to implement a product they didn’t understand in the first place.  Bottom line for me, I just don’t like Tomatoes  LOL  and I guess I’ve never taken the time to fully understand and embrace its use and full potential.  Anyway….I digress.

Should I Stay or Should I Go…

You know how I like to intermix popular 80’s music lyrics into my writings…I had my own decisions to make and I spent about a week reading the accounts from others and literally drooling over the images I was seeing as a result of this new REX Environment Force add-on.  However, I kept flying with my previous setup using Envtex/Envshade along with ASCA/ASP4 and closely comparing what I saw on my own screens versus what others were showing in their screenshots.  The results/comparisons were almost night and day differences.  I couldn’t resist and I shelled out my hard-earned money and purchased both the new REX Environment Force and also REX Sky Force 3D.  These were on sale in a bundled deal direct from the REX store

Out With The Old…

and in with the new.  While REX Environment Force states it supports and will work along side all add-ons, there’s always a risk.  I also truly wanted to see exactly what my sim would look like with only the REX products installed and without Envtex/Envshade etc.  So the task I set out to accomplish was to remove Envtex/Envshade from my sim without blowing a hole in P3D as a result.  I said a quick little prayer and got to work. 

Step 1.  Removing Envtex/Envshade

I had done my research and had read accounts from others who had done the same thing I wanted to accomplish.  The first step was to restore the original P3D textures.  This is easily done from the Envdir program by clicking the Restore button.  This process re-installs your old textures from the backup made when you first installed/configured the Envdir/Envtex/Envshade programs. 

Step 2.  Delete P3D Shader Folder and start P3D

After restoring the P3D textures in the above step, I located my P3D shader folder (located under Users\YourUserName\AppData\Local\Lockheed Martin\Prepar3D.  Just delete the entire folder.  Launch P3D and in the process P3D will add a new shader folder and will reset shaders. 

Step 3.  Install REX Products

I installed and activated both my new REX Sky Force 3D and Environment Force products.  While REX Sky Force has a built in weather engine, I wanted to continue to use Active Sky.  So once Sky Force was installed, I simply deactivated the real-time weather function in Sky Force. 

Step 4.  Reinstall ASCA

If you’re using ASCA (Active Sky Cloud Art) with Envdir, you’ll want to reinstall it as it will error when it can’t locate certain files related to Envdir. 

Step 5.  Read, Read and Read

Both the REX products have comprehensive documentation found in the .pdf files which accompany both products.  If you’re anything like me, you want to get going as soon as possible.  But I would encourage you just the same to do some reading about these products, their settings and how to use them.  But hey…I get it. 

Step 6.  Launch REX products before P3D

I know there are various schools of thought on this.  But it’s just a habit I’ve been doing for many years.  I first launch REX Sky Force, then REX Environment Force, then ActiveSky (ASP4)/ASCA and then finally P3D v4. 

Step 7.  Fly and enjoy….

Obviously some configuration is required with the REX products.  But the real beauty of REX Environment Force (EF) is these tweaks and changes can be made while P3D is running.  So you can choose if you want to run EF in auto mode or in manual mode and tweak to your heart is content.  I’ll be honest, I’ve done a bit of both and will play around more in the manual mode.  But here’s a series of screenshots I captured on a recent flight from Miami down to St. Maarten. 

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Taxing out to the active runway (08R) while watching a company 738 land on runway 12. 

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Blasting out of Miami.  The weather is perfect for testing the new REX products. 

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Beautiful clouds and water textures.

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The PMDG Boeing 737-800 decked out in the American Airlines livery.  This is my favorite add-on aircraft.

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Getting ready to punch through the clouds.

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One of my favorites.

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Just another minute before we fly over Maho Beach and land safely at Princess Juliana International Airport.  I love this approach and landing. 

Well there you have it.  I’m truly pleased with the experience I’m getting from the new REX Environment Force and REX Sky Force products.  I’ve used REX products in the past.  Specifically REX Soft Clouds and the older REX Texture Direct.  While I moved away from these older products for something better, I believe the best at this time is these new REX products and I’m happy to be a REX Customer once again. 

Until next time…

Happy Simming!

Jerry

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