Are you a real Pilot?

This was the question asked of me after I landed my iFly B737NG (FSX version) on 16L at KDEN the other night.

It was a dark and stormy night….no really, it was both dark and somewhat stormy with lightning flashes to the west of KDEN.  I had departed KDFW for a 2 hour flight on the VATSIM network.  I’ve probably logged over 60 hours in the iFly 737, but that isn’t the subject of this blog posting.

I truly love flying on the VATSIM network.  I know there are those who don’t like it because of the sparse ATC controllers typically online.  Of course, with the various traffic programs available like MyTrafficX and Ultimate Traffic 2, you can turn an international airport into a hustling and bustling airport with just a few mouse clicks. However, you won’t hear and get the awesome “atta boy” comments that I received the other night from the FSX default ATC.  More about this in a minute.

True, I’ve been known to nail some real greasers on landing.  This is especially true when I’m in a bit of a hurry and not doing everything by the book. This happens more in the default aircraft since you don’t have the dynamic flight systems of the payware models like the iFly or the LVLD.  But it can also happen in these payware models I just mentioned when you cut corners.  But I digress and for that I’m sorry.

I had departed KDFW with no ATC online, but really wanted to enjoy this flight up to my now home town of Denver, Colorado.  This is one of my favorite flights for many reasons and only second to flying down to St. Maarten and TNCM out of KMIA.  I just love the approach over the beach and hope to visit St. Maarten in real life someday.  The flight to Denver was as uneventful as it can get.  While Ft. Worth Center was not online, I did pickup Kansas City Center and Denver Center.  Denver center was the only ATC on and he controlled me all the way down.

I typically do things just about the same way each and every flight I make.  I check the weather conditions either via FSInn or direct from the NOAA METAR database.   And in the case of Denver Center, he had an updated published ATIS which I pulled down well before entering his airspace and I acknowledged I had information Bravo when I initially checked in with him. 

I don’t think a lot of pilots really bother picking up or at least confirming they have the current information even though that is depicted well within the default FSX ATC.  Even if you don’t bother tuning into the ATIS frequency for the airport you are going to land, there are other ways of getting the info and it certainly helps the ATC guys for you to be that much more prepared.  Anyway….Information Bravo was telling me that KDEN was landing and departing to the East.  Landing runway 7 and departing runway 8.  So I pulled my charts for runway 7 and just quickly familiarized myself with the approach. 

As I was inbound on the Quail Six Arrival and roughly 50nm from KDEN, Denver Center updated the ATIS with updated information.  I quickly listened to the update and realized KDEN was now going to be in South Ops and made the adjustments necessary to plan for a runway 16L approach. 

Approaching KDEN from the South, the Quail Six arrival brings you just south of the airfield and makes for an easy transition when KDEN is under North Ops with easy access to runway 35L.  However, KDEN was not in North Ops and this would mean flying downwind to the east of the field for vectors to 16L. 

Now back to the dark and stormy night comment.  Weather conditions in the area was a typical summer evening in the mile high city with storm cells erupting out on the eastern plains. A few of these cells had moved in closer to the city and both myself and my virtual PAX were treated to a nice light show of cloud to cloud and cloud to ground lightning strikes.  The combination of ActiveSky X and Real Environment Extreme make for some truly impressive eye candy at times and this particular night was no different. 

As I completed the roll-out from the vectors given by Denver Center, KDEN airport and runway 16L was in clear visibility so a visual landing was certainly in order for the evening.  Along with FS2Crew (the iFly version) my FO and I readied the beautiful Boeing 737-800 for her landing and had a smooth landing with no complaints from the virtual PAX.  As I turned the B738 onto the high-speed taxiway and gave the “OK to Clean-up” order to the FO I received a private message from the VATSIM ATC Controller simply asking me “Are you a real pilot”? 

Now if you’ve read my recent blog post where I state I’m not a real pilot, you would know (or will know if you kindly read it) that I’m not a real pilot.  But of course the gentleman working VATSIM ATC doesn’t know I routinely blog about my flight sim hobby.  But I answered him by saying Negative….why do you ask?  His response simply was “you do a very good job”. 

I have no VATSIM ATC experience.  I also have no desire to gain any other than from a pilots perspective.  So I’m not 100% certain what the VATSIM controllers really can see and what they really can’t see.  I’ve been told by several VATSIM controllers that I know very well, that what they can see is very limited.  They of course can tell if you turn the wrong direction and they can also tell if you land on the wrong runway.  But they can’t really tell how hard or how soft of a landing a virtual pilot makes. 

So what is so special about his comments and why blog about them?  This is a very good question and the reason why I chose to blog about it was to one, share the experience and two to turn it into a learning experience for all.  As I stated in the opening paragraphs of this blog post, I’ve truly experienced some real greaser landings.  I call those controlled crashes.  While I’ve never mistaken a taxi-way for an active runway, I’ve certainly had my share of off center touchdowns and some of those where you hit just before the touchdown zone and some where you hit well past it.  This flight and this landing was textbook and the comments from the VATSIM ATC Controller sort of showed me that it is worth doing everything somewhat by the book.  Of course, having over 25 years of computer sim experience doesn’t hurt. 

In closing, You’ll never hear me make claims that I could fly a real plane….but I think my virtual PAX can rest easily knowing I at least know how to operate my iFly 737NG to get positive feedback from VATSIM ATC.  I hope you too will take your virtual flight simulation to the next level and work harder to improve your skills.  One day a VATSIM ATC controller might ask you, “Are you a Real Pilot”?

Until next time….

Jerry

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)

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.

cs777_baw

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

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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