On a Long, Grounded Journey…

PA321_Taca_FS9

Life is one long journey.  At time we are in the skies, below the water and, most often, on the ground.  Regardless of your life purpose, there are times we all must focus our energy on other things, letting some of the things we love fall through the cracks.

Such is the case with A Reality of My Own.  I started this blog so many years ago to document my experiences, flights, and favorite add-ons for Microsoft Flight Simulator.  I am always flattered when I look back on the history of this blog and the visits it receives on a daily basis.  I never had any other goal for A Reality of My Own than to combine my love for the hobby of flight simulation with my passion for writing.  Since more than one of you look at this blog on a regular basis, the success makes me realize I am not alone.

The past few years have seen the demise of Microsoft’s control of flight simulator, larger, bigger screened iPhones/Androids, and even the appearance of self-driving cars on our streets.  Like the world around us, flight simulator has changed.   The new players are Laminar Research’s X-Plane (9 & 10) and Lockheed Martin’s Prepar3D (their interpretation of the MS franchise).   While I personally never got into Prepar3D after their 2.0 release, I have fallen in love with X-Plane.

So, let’s begin a new chapter of the A Reality of my Own journey and explore the world of X-Plane together.  In fact, we might even explore the World of Tanks (WoT) a bit too.  War Gaming’s phenomenal MMO is a love or hate it experience, but I have found some tidbits the greater community might find interesting and they fit in well with the A Reality of My Own journey. Hope you don’t mind.

Over the coming weeks, I will work on updating the look and feel of this blog and also start tracking down broken links.  There is a lot to do and a lot to share.

 

A Smaller Side of Aviation

As an Analyst, I spend a lot of time paying attention to outliers in data sets.  Outliers are the odd balls that typically sit at one end of the spectrum or the other, separate from the population group.  Light sport aircraft (LSA) definitely fits into the outlier category of aviation.  This growing segment of ultra-small aircraft provide a restricted, but easy access to the friendly skies for those who may not become full private pilots in larger aircraft.   

One of the best LSA aircraft for X-Plane 9 and 10 is the Tecnam P2004 Bravo by TexasRanger.  Available for download from the .org file library, this great little aircraft is great to spend a few hours in shooting touch and goes and exploring more detailed scenery that screams for a low and slow experience. 

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I spent about an hour conducting touch and goes at Santa Barbara Municipal (KSBA) in this tiny bird and have to say that I appreciate the light feel and nimble characteristics.  The Italian made competitor to the Cessna 152 trainer, the P2004 does not try to be anything more than basic airborne transportation.  Even though it is relatively forgiving to fly, it is easy to over control the aircraft and end up in trouble. 

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Jumping back into Carenado’s Cessna C172N for a quick trip down to Camarillo, the 172 felt heavy, almost as if I was flying a Cadillac.  The Tecnam was surprisingly agile which gives the small-ish 172 a much heavier feel.  However, the 172 did feel much more in control when I let go of the controls.  Both aircraft are a lot of fun to fly, but I really look forward to spending more time in the Tecnam, especially in X-Plane 10. 

Download: < .org Tecnam Bravo P2004

Prepar3D Updates to Version 1.4

Prepar3D is Microsoft’s FSX under a new owner, Lockheed Martin.  Continuing on with the flight simulation tradition, Lockheed Martin has put its own twist on this new version of FSX.  While it is missing some of the more mainstream aircraft like the Boeing 737, just the fact that Lockheed Martin is continuing development of the platform is a huge win for the flight sim community.

Mooney’s Acclaim joins Prepar3D thanks to Lionheart Creations

This latest release shows their continued development, improvements include:

  • fixes for stutters or performance issues
  • Dialogs now remember their previous position
  • Various UI enhancements including the removal of the “apply” button
  • Added two new aircraft: Mooney Acclaim by Lionheart Creations, and the T-6 Texan II by IRIS
  • Fort Rucker area scenery expansion
  • Dozens of legacy scenery and database issues

Upgrading from a previous version (like 1.3) requires the user to download nearly 10G of data, conduct a full uninstall and then reinstall the program.  With this being 2012, such an upgrade procedure is cumbersome, but then Lockheed Martin is new to the consumer flight simulator market.  There is saying, “good things come to those who wait”, so patience is the key.

Beechcraft T-6 Texan II by IRIS in Prepar3d v1.4

I took both the Mooney and the Texan out for a spin around the Fort Rucker area to check out the new scenery.   I have to compliment Lockheed Martin on these additions.  The Mooney feels true to its brand, fast, sleek and forgiving.  While I am not a huge fan Texan II in the real world, I did enjoy flying this model.  It has gobs or power and is super fun to toss around.   I even managed to crash on landing as I came in a bit too fast and lost control.  Way cool!

The Hanchey Army Heliport (KHEY) is a cool addition to Prepar3D

Flying around Fort Rucker, I learned to appreciate the subtleties of the scenery.  I landed at the Hanchey Auxiliary on the north end of the base and was surprised to see a tank hiding in the trees and a well placed Humvee next to the control tower.   I felt like I landed at the real base and was about to get annihilated by a tank.  There are three other areas to check out, the  Hanchey Army Heliport, Knox Army Heliport, and the Cairns Army Field. All of which are nicely done with a great level of detail.

I really like the direction Lockheed Martin is going with Prepar3D.  By leveraging the flight sim community for “default” add-ons and adding some scenery, the future of Prepar3D is bright.   I can’t wait to see what future releases bring.  In the meantime, its time to start porting over my favorite MSFS aircraft!

A Douglas DC-8 by Kingfisher Addons

The Douglas DC-8 family of commercial jets were perfectly good airliners produced from 1958 to 1972. Production came to a close as newer, larger, and more efficient airliners such as the DC-10 and Boeing’s 747 changed the game for airliner design.   During its 14 years of production, the DC-8 competed quite successfully against the Boeing 707 and even collected a world record for the first commercial airliner to break the sound barrier during testing in 1961.

To me, the DC-8 represents a gorgeous design.  The unique shaped nose, to its squarish windows, the design was the epitome of modern jet design.   Lucky for us, Kingfisher Addons (Kfa), reproduced the model for us in FSX.  Before I go too much further, I want to point out Kingfisher’s  tagline:  simple virtual  aircraft.  For those of you who have been around the flight simulator hobby for a few years, might remember Mike Stone who had the goal of building unique aircraft for FS, but kept it simple.  Eye candy took a back seat to simplicity and low polygon count.

Kingfisher DC-8-73 FSX

The DC-8 taxis to the active at KVCV for a ferry flight Denver.

When I saw version 1.20 available at FlightSim, I jumped at the chance to put this aircraft through the aRoMO paces.  While I am pleased with the visual model (could be better, but it  fully represents the aircraft to my eye), the FDE leaves me wanting a little more refinement.

My test flight was from Victorville, CA (KVCV) to Denver International (KDEN) as a virtual ferry flight for a customer that had taken the DC-8-73 out of storage.   This modernized bird has the CFM-56 engines as opposed to the original JT3C it debuted with.

Kingfisher's DC-8-73 turning to course for Denver  International

Kingfisher’s DC-8-73 turning to course for Denver International.

The weather was clear, a bit breezy, but otherwise perfect flying weather.  With some passing showers in Denver, landing was sure to be a bit more exciting.   I was  hopeful as I pushed back and began to taxi.  The visual model is clearly not as detailed or refined as the SkySpirit models, but it does represent a DC-8 competently and it is light on the frame rates.  The animated nose gear  and flaps are there, as  is the opening passenger door.  The basics are all there.

DC-8 v1.3 panel with era appropriate gauges

Also, basic means no virtual cockpit.  While a bit of a bummer, the 2D panel is okay.

As I lined up to takeoff, added power and trim, I was surprised to see my view appear to flop back on my butt.  It seems a click of trim up from my joystick sends this bird into rocket straight up and trim down sends her into a sharp dive down. However, I after a few resets (thank goodness we have a reset button in FSX), I was  able to finesse the bird into being airborne without the use of trim at all.  Perhaps when Kingfisher means simple, they also mean simple when it comes to FDE and flight controls.   Personally, this aircraft is best flown with the autopilot on!  (note there is a known trim issue with v1.2.  A fix will be released with v1.3 when it is ready.)

Cruising over southern Utah

Cruising over southern Utah with the sun behind us.

As we continued toward Denver on autopilot, I couldn’t help but wonder about the tail number of this bird, N872TV.  So, I searched for N872TV and discovered links to photo archives from the 1980’s or so of  a TransAmerica DC-8-73.   While the single white livery included in the download simply bears the name of the model and engine type, I am happy to see a legitimate tail number adorn the aircraft.  Now, if only someone could provide some additional repaints… perhaps a rainbow United livery?

Descending over Colorado in the dark

Descending over Colorado in the dark

We started our descent in the dark with the vast Denver area of lights before us.  The mountain peaks hidden in the darkness made us glad we were descending from FL330.  Using the autopilot, I setup the approach to runway 7 at Denver.  Once on short final, I cut the autopilot and found the maneuverability of the DC-8 quite sluggish.  Granted this was an early jetliner, but the FDE seemed much more difficult to control than the HJG DC-8 I’ve flown before.

Kingfisher DC-8 landing at Denver

Landing at Denver, a little off center.

With some luck and slightly off center, the DC-8 touched down and quickly decelerated. Exiting the runway, I found that steering required a very low forward velocity.  As speed picked up, the nose gear seemed to become non-responsive.  I would expect  this as turning the nose wheel too much with too much speed can lead to skidding and excessive tire wear.  After a  few turns I got the hang of it and we parked at the gate.

With my first flight in the Kingfisher Addon DC-8 in the history books, I must say that I am impressed with their work.  The model delivers simplicity, but the FDE and trim needs work. It also needs a few good repaints. But beauty can come in many forms and in this package, beauty is simplicity and that is significant.

Microsoft Posts FSX Service Packs on Avsim

This was a downright surprise. Microsoft Corporation posted both FSX Service Pack 1 AND 2 in the Avsim File Library!

Both service packs are available on Avsim

(link to SP1) ~ (link to SP2)

While I fully welcome the decision, this action makes me wonder a few things:

  1. Is Microsoft about to terminate the FSX product site?
  2. Despite trying Microsoft trying to exit the desktop simulation market, do they realize just  how popular FSX still is? Wiith Prepar3D retailing at $199, FSX is still a bargain if you can find the DVDs.
  3. Will they be posting the FS2004 service packs as well?  FS2004 is alive and well, especially since Carenado has begun updating their releases for it.

Anywho, just wanted to post this here as it is an interesting move on behalf of Microsoft.

Microsoft Flight: The Coconut Bra Says It All

“I won a Coconut Bra!”, I yell as I guide the Icon A5 down alongside the yacht off the coast of Hawaii.  “I won a Coconut Bra?” I question as my passenger disembarks onto a clearly computer generated yacht.   In fact, this question has been at the top of my mind since I started testing the demo version of Microsoft Flight, released on February 29th.

Icon A5 cockpit in Microsoft Flight

Icon A5 cockpit in Microsoft Flight

The second question I have been asking is “do pilots in the real world win coconut bras for successful landings?”  My answer to this is no, unless they are subject of a bad joke.   So then the third question becomes, “what is Microsoft Flight?”

Simulator vs Game

The purpose of any simulator is to replicate real world conditions to a reasonable exactness that would aid the user in experiencing the real world so that they can learn, learn to react to unknowns, and gain first hand experience.   The purpose of a game is entertain, often with the objective to collect prizes and achieve a goal.

The Icon Exterior with the cross-hairs for situational flight information.

I believe Microsoft Flight to be a major disappointment for flightsim enthusiasts and virtual pilots because my experience with the demo is far more representative of a “game” than a “simulator”.

The Evidence

To support this fact, I offer the community the following evidence:

  1.  With the demise of the coveted ACES Team, the “simulator” genre has been picked up by Microsoft Game Studios, who’s purpose is to develop games, not simulators.
  2. Flight has been distributed through the Microsoft Gaming – Live network.  In order to get it, you install the gaming distribution files on your computer.
  3. The word “game” has replaced references to “simulator” that were found in FSX.  In fact, “game” is the most prevalent word throughout the software package.
  4. I am unable to locate settings to adjust aircraft realism and more intricate commands to control more specific systems for the aircraft.
  5. I won prizes as I continued to “play” the game.  A ukulele and coconut bra add a certain amount of entertainment value not found in the real world aviation experience.
  6. Where did the real planes go?  No Cessna?  No Piper Cub?  This isn’t about aviation is it?
  7. The cross hairs that appear on the screen to help navigate by mouse cheapen the pilot experience. As does the HUD across the top of the screen (although having it there is growing on me).
  8. Flying in Free Flight mode was numbing… where is the crosswind? Where are the usual slight tweaks required to keep the aircraft on course?  Its like driving a stick shift and then switching to an automatic (Save the Manuals).

I will stop there as you get the drift of where this is going.  Microsoft outright abandoned real world arm chair pilots with this release.  After flying a few hours in the demo, I am NOT inspired to make the purchase of the full software. In fact I would rather buy a new add-on for one of the other beloved “simulators” that reside on my computer: FSX, FS9, X-Plane 9, and X-Plane 10.

A fitting end to a numbing flight, I crashed into a hangar post while parking.

I will say this though. I think Microsoft will sell Flight to bunch of beginner gamers that think they can brag about being an arm chair pilot after earning their coconuts bras in Flight.  For me, I will stick with a true simulator and wish Microsoft the best and hope their coconut bras are fitting well.

PS:  Do you think Bill Gates earned a coconut bra yet?