As a follow up to last weeks article on “Learning a Study Level Aircraft”, I thought I would follow it up with my recommendations for your first payware, study level aircraft purchase. Because not all virtual pilots are interested in jet tubeliners, I’m going to throw out two recommendations with the first being a GA or General Aviation type and the second being a jet tubeliner.
The Fine Print
The recommendations I will provide are add-ons that I own and enjoy very much. Neither are overly complicated assuming you approach both with an understanding that their operational characteristics vary greatly from the freeware/default type aircraft you may be accustomed to flying. In addition, I will also just (as a reminder) encourage you to conduct your own research just to make sure your PC meets the recommended specifications to run the payware add-on aircraft. While it really makes very little difference regarding the flight sim platform you use (FSX, FSX:SE, P3D v2, P3D v3 or P3D v4) just keep in mind that if you are running something other than P3D v4, you may be required to repurchase the add-on when/if you upgrade. Let’s get started…
A2A Cessna 172 Trainer
I’m almost of the belief that every virtual pilot should own this aircraft. I think it just makes sense. After all, pretty much all the basics of flight can be learned and that knowledge finely tuned in this aircraft. The A2A Cessna 172 Trainer is available from A2A Simulations and most will agree is the finest study level general aviation aircraft you can purchase. Depending on your sim platform, this wonderful aircraft will run you from $49.99 – $79.99. The A2A Cessna 172 Trainer is feature rich and designed to be flown by the book. I’ve spent hours and hours and several more hours just flying around. It’s the perfect airplane for really taking in all the eye candy available in Orbx sceneries.
My readers shouldn’t be surprised that the PMDG 737NGX is my recommended and truly “must have” jet tubeliner. Much like the A2A Cessna, the PMDG 737 is one that should be in everyone’s virtual hangar. Yes, I know it’s extremely difficult to perhaps not choose the beautiful PMDG Queen of the Skies Boeing 747-400 or the incredibly beautiful PMDG Boeing 777. Likewise, the QualityWings Boeing 787 Dreamliner is also gaining a lot of traction in the community. But if you’re a Boeing fan, and you are interested in jet aircraft…then the PMDG 737NGX really should be in your hangar.
Once you master the 737 and understand the “Boeing Way”, the rest of the Boeing family of aircraft will almost be a piece of cake. The other advantage with starting with the NGX is this aircraft truly is the workhorse in the airline industry. Just about every major airline has (or have had) a fleet of Boeing 737’s and it’s the perfect short to medium haul aircraft.
Depending on your flight sim platform, the PMDG 737NGX (-800/900) will run you $69.99 – $89.99. The 737-600/700 expansion will run you another $24.99.
As I often say, there’s no right or wrong way to do things. The hobby of flight simulation is no different. There are virtual pilots who only prefer general aviation and there are those who only enjoy flying the jets. Of course, there are lots who enjoy both and the A2A Cessna 172 and the PMDG 737NGX are the best in class for these two flight sim areas. Get one or get both and enjoy the experience. Thanks for reading!
Until next time…
This will serve as the introduction and first of a multi-part blog tutorial series for how I learn and fly sim aircraft that might be classified as the more complex, study-level, payware aircraft types. While some will argue that products developed by QualityWings, CaptainSim, Carenado, Aerosoft (just to name off a few) aren’t in the same category or classification as the likes of PMDG, A2A or FSLabs. While I agree partially with this argument, there is still a learning process with these different aircraft models and more or less the same method I use can be applied to each of them.
The Fine Print
I’m sharing the methods I use to learn and fly study level aircraft. This series of tutorials are not designed to be the end-all, be-all of methods to accomplish this task. These are simply the methods which have worked well for me over the years. Actually, the process has become a lot easier since the dawn of YouTube and Google. If you have different methods that work, great. Likewise, if you prefer to first start by studying the Boeing manual…I take my hat off to you. However, many of us just don’t have the time, nor the desire to go to the full depths of understanding when it comes to “when I flip this switch in the cockpit, this is what is happening behind the scenes with all the complex theory behind it” type scenario. As I have stated many times…I have no desire to learn how to fly a plane in real life. But I get a lot of stress relieving satisfaction from the time I spend in flight sim and the other simulation based platforms I enjoy. There’s nothing wrong with any method. Let’s get on with this first tutorial.
The New Aircraft
So PMDG, FSLabs, QualityWings etc. have released their latest and greatest version of whatever real world airplane they’ve been spending years developing. This new virtual aircraft is the closest thing us flight simmers can experience to the real thing short of spending time in a full-size simulator or becoming a real-world airline pilot. Almost every button, switch, dial in the cockpit has been programmed to simulate the same real-world operation we’d find on the real flight deck. It’s truly a thing of beauty…but, just like in the real world…a series of steps must be carried out and in most cases these steps must be followed in a specific order before we’ll ever get the aircraft into the skies.
I don’t know about you, but when I first purchase, download and install the latest and greatest from my favorite developers the first thing I really want to do is fly the darn airplane. While I absolutely love flying on the VATSIM network, I’ll never fly a brand new aircraft until such time as I’ve learned more about the aircraft and can perform all the necessary functions as not to embarrass myself on the network or more importantly, not cause any disruption or dissatisfaction with other pilots.
I’ll be open and honest, in the beginning for each new aircraft I’m just concerned with the minimum effort needed to get the aircraft in a state where I can fly it, control it and land it. Once I can do this….I then proceed with diving a little deeper and deeper into the aircraft. As time goes by, I’m following more of the “checklist flows” for how things are done. Once I reach this point, this is when I’m willing to use the new aircraft on the VATSIM network.
Over the course of the next few written tutorials, I’ll share the steps I follow to learn these new aircraft and to develop a proficiency at flying them well enough to fly online. As I’ve stated in the past, I’ve been flying on VATSIM from the very beginning. I have over 18 years of online experience, I’ve never been banned, I’ve never been given a warning. I take great pride in always being professional and always following the rules.
But how do I begin the learning process?
Read the Manual
Yes…it starts with reading the manual. I’m sure you’re probably thinking to yourself, surely (don’t call me Shirley) Jerry has figured out a better process to all this versus reading the manual. Well…all I can say is the manual generally has a lot of valuable information that will assist you in the process of learning your new aircraft. But even I’ll admit that a lot of the information contained in these manuals provide more of the theory behind how things function versus the how do I do this and why should I do this procedure. But at the very least….know where the manual is located (where it’s been installed on your PC) and familiarize yourself with it. It’ll make for great reading material during the cruise phase of your first flight.
Most complex, payware aircraft will include a tutorial flight. As I begin laying out the framework of this article (early July timeframe), I’m in the process of learning the FS Labs Airbus A320 (and the A319). I’m relatively new to the FSLabs Airbus and you can read more about my decision to purchase this add-on here. The tutorial flight for the A320 is a short flight from Vienna, Austria to Copenhagen, Denmark. It’s written in a step-by-step fashion and can very easily be followed.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always learned by doing. I can sit in a classroom listening to someone explain something until my eyes glaze over and not learn a thing. Or I can actually roll up my sleeves and follow along by actually doing the same thing the person is talking about and learn everything I need to know. Well, learning how to fly is the same thing for me. The FS Labs tutorial flight is one of the best documented processes I’ve seen and after flying this flight twice, I was ready to fly to other destinations using the processes documented in the tutorial.
YouTube is your Friend
The first complex payware aircraft I purchased was the Level-D 767. This aircraft came out before YouTube was born and I must admit that the learning curve for the 767 (for me) was much steeper than any other aircraft since the dawn of YouTube. Prior to the 767, I was a CTRL-E kind of guy. So trying to follow along in the manual (and I can’t remember if there was a tutorial) was much like trying to fly to the moon. But now days, within days (sometimes hours) of an aircraft release, you’ll find really detailed videos from very talented individuals on full, immersive flights.
Some YouTube content creators will go over the flow based on the provided checklists and others will hit the highlights of just what’s needed to power up the aircraft and fly it. As I previously mentioned, I’m more inclined to initially take the path of least resistance in the beginning. But there are a few real world airline pilots who also record YouTube videos and stream on Twitch while flying in P3D. I thoroughly enjoy watching their content, especially once I’ve somewhat mastered the basics and it helps me to then go back and fill in some of the areas I’ve either missed or perhaps just don’t understand why a process is done.
Once you’ve completed the tutorial flight(s) and have a better understanding of your new aircraft. Future flights are easier and setup a lot faster when using a checklist. Again, most of the developers will include a checklist within the documentation of the aircraft. However, in some cases these checklists when used without any additional aids may not be enough to get you over the learning curve. This is where my modified checklists come into play.
Generally after a few tutorial flights, then a few flights loosely based on the tutorial flight, I begin creating my own checklist flow. I do this for a few reasons. One, in some instances there are steps on the official checklist that just don’t provide enough details as to the steps I need to follow. For example, in the FSLabs A320 checklist provided in the documents, the first checklist item in the Before Start section is “Cockpit Preparation”. What does all this entail I ask? To a veteran airline captain or first officer, they know all the finer details behind all that goes into this important checklist item. But for me…it’s simply not enough…at least not in the beginning stages. So I’ve developed a method of creating my own Word document lists which somewhat mirror the actual A320 checklist, but at the same time helps me to remember everything I need to do to ensure the cockpit is fully prepped. In addition, when I lay out these flows, I try (as best as possible) to follow a flow that works best for me. Yes, I realize this may deviate from how things are done in the real world. But if it keeps me from having to bounce all around cockpit then that just saves me a little time. And honestly, we’re not talking about major differences…just a few shortcuts here and there. I may consider making an effort to clean these documents up and make them available to anyone interested.
Just to repeat myself
There’s no right or wrong way with these things. Yes, there are those “hard core” types that actually dress up like a real pilot to enjoy their computer based sim. But the thing everyone needs to keep in mind is that what we’re simulating…the workload and role of an airline pilot in the real world is carried out by two highly skilled pilots. Unless you are using an aircraft capable of shared cockpit functionality, you’re really doing all the work typically shared between two pilots. There are add-ons available for some payware aircraft which simulate a multi-crew experience. FS2Crew is one that I’m most familiar with. The add-on is capable of performing various tasks on the flight deck using voice recognition. I’ve used it in the past on the Level-D 767 and one or two of the PMDG aircraft I own. While I’m no longer using it, I certainly recommend it if you’
The old saying, “Practice Makes Perfect” is certainly a very wise suggestion. The more you fly your brand new aircraft, the easier it will be to commit all the steps necessary to memory. But remember, even real world pilots use a checklist for each and every flight so don’t feel bad if you (from time to time) need to reflect back to your checklist. It’s just all part of the process. Finally, for the sake of all others (and your own reputation)….spend a little (or a lot) of time flying your new aircraft off-line to familiarize yourself with it fully before contemplating going online with VATSIM, IVAO or the other online networks.
I hope this information helps you.
Until next time…
Not everyone appreciates the joy of study level aircraft in the flight sim world. At one point in time, I was one of these individuals. My argument (and I believed at the time it was a valid one), was simply I just didn’t have the available time to spend 30 minutes or more on the ground flipping switches and programming a complex FMS. I simply wanted to spend less time kicking the tires, and more time lighting the fires and flying.
It must sound strange…
…to a non-flight sim enthusiast that anyone would spend the amount of money and time on a hobby like this, but truly have no desire to learn to fly in the real world. The argument is a valid one, I’ve spent at least a high four figures (perhaps five) over the years which would have more than paid the costs of obtaining my PPL. While I absolutely love flying in real life (as a passenger), I just simply don’t share the same interest in obtaining my private pilots license.
There’s No Right or Wrong Way
Something my YouTube viewers have heard me say many, many times. There’s no right or wrong way to enjoy the hobby of flight simulation. I recently wrote an article titled, “Default/Freeware Aircraft in P3D v4” where I discussed some of the history of both default and freeware aircraft and the fact that there is nothing wrong with using these models to simulate flight. As I was writing that article, I saw a comment posted in one of the Facebook groups I follow. The individual discussed the fact that he simply doesn’t have the time to study, study level aircraft. He expressed many of the same reasons for not flying the complex study level aircraft which I mentioned in the first paragraph and his bottom line was he wanted to spend time flying for maximum enjoyment to escape the stresses of his day-to-day hectic life. Sound familiar? It does to me.
While I’ll always argue and defend the fact there’s no right or wrong way to enjoy flight simulation. I’ll also add that over the years I’ve found I actually get the maximum enjoyment from the more complex, study level, payware aircraft I once avoided.
Point A to Point B and EVERYTHING In-between
I absolutely enjoy all aspects of flight simulation. I enjoy the flight planning, the setup of the aircraft, the taxi, departure, climb, cruise, descent, arrival, approach, landing, taxi…..basically everything. To me, a flight from point A to point B isn’t complete unless all the I’s are dotted and all the T’s are crossed. Yes, it takes some time. But over the years I’ve developed a process which I use to both learn and also fly these types of aircraft.
New Tutorial Series
The past two articles I’ve written did get me to thinking that I should share my processes for how I conduct my flights with the payware, study level aircraft I enjoy flying. I’ve only really started the frame work portion of how I draft and write my articles so I’m not sure just how many tutorials or how in-depth they’ll actually be. But in keeping with my philosophy of “There’s No Right or Wrong Way”, if you are the type of simmer who enjoys dressing up like a real world airline captain and working through each and every checklist, then most likely you’ll not get a lot out of these future tutorials. HOWEVER, if you desire not to spend greater than 30 minutes, 45 minutes or even up to an hour on the ground just to enjoy a flight…then perhaps you’ll learn something from these upcoming tutorials. We’ll see.
The first article will focus mainly on how I learn/study the process of flying a new aircraft and I hope to bring that to you within the next week or so. As I’m looking at my calendar, I have two work related trips I’ll be taking in July, followed by one in early August. Then my wife and I are leaving for Belgium/England for two weeks in late August, early September. I honestly can’t wait for this vacation, but will do my best to at the very least get the tutorial series started before vacation.
As always, thanks for reading. Until next time….happy flying!
P.S. You can read my other Flight Sim Tutorials, by clicking Flight, then Flight Sim Tutorials on the GrizzlyBearSims website.