Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Tools and toys

I think there are two ways to use thing in Flight Simulator, that is as a tool or as a toy. A toy is something to play with, while a tool is something for which you want to develop a skill. (In real life a tool also usually accomplishes something useful). In FS, often the same thing can be either. For example, you download a new add on airplane. First you treat it as a toy, looking at all the neat features, or taking it up for a quick flight just to watch it flying (if you love planes this can be very satisfying all by itself). But after a while the thrill starts to drain away. At this point you can either go off and find another download, or you can start to use the addon more as a tool. In the case of a plane this would mean learning to fly it well. So you can take off and land on a long runway? How about trying on the shortest length for which it is rated? How about flying by the book-- trying to nail the prescribed speeds for climb out, cruise, approach, etc?

Learning the tools does take more time and forethought. I mentioned my early morning flights a few posts ago. These are mainly toy flights, checking out a new plane or new scenery. Lately they have felt rather flat, so I think I will try to focus on skill building during these short sessions.

Friday, May 26, 2006

A dose of humility

I spent most of last night flying the pattern in the DC-3. This is teaching me humility. I've gotten very good at flying light GA craft, but this is a whole new challenge. The beast has a much greater range of power, and the response is a lot slower. I need to readjust my own control feedback loop. My glide slope looks like a sine wave, and I have a hard time keeping the runway centered. I think I've bounced just about every landing.

I have to confess I actually had a crash landing. I started to baloon so I pushed the yoke forward. This is a terrible thing to do, but I thought I was just a few feet off the ground and could get away with it. Wrong wrong wrong. It's much more critical to follow procedure with this bird. The next landing after that was my best of the evening.

I can tell it will be very satisfying when I can nail a good landing every time. Right now I'm pretty much in the same position with this plane that I was with the good old Cessna 172, only a little more than a year ago. I'ts nice to think how much my skill has improved in that time, and I can believe I'll see the same progress with the heavier planes.

Oh, another great reason to learn the DC-3, that I forgot to mention. I'll be able to fly the same plane in Golden Wings!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

I think I'm hooked on the DC-3

OK, I think I've found my next big flightsimming project. I want to master the DC-3. Not only is it such a beautiful plane to watch, but it will a challenge to become proficient. I will feel pretty satisfied when I can make dependable good landings. Finally, most of the skills will be in hand flying, which is what I love the most.

A lot of folks like to learn how to fly the big jets, and learn all the sophisticated navigation and autopilotage. They can have it--I want my hands on the yoke and throttle. I do want to learn a little basic ADF navigation, so I can start exploring the world of poor weather and night flying. (I do night flying now, but its the kind where you take off at airport A, go South until you see the bright lights of airport B.)

The DC-3 will also be good for those short hops. For me, flying is all about takeoffs and landings. If you get the landings closer to the takeoffs, you can do more flights!

So tonight I will do some pattern flying, followed by a short cross-country flight (maybe Providence to Provincetown).

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Life in 2006, and 1940

In yesterday's post I mentioned that one of the things on my to-do list was to learn to fly the DC-3 a bit better. Well, this being 2006, to think is to Google. Actually, in this case to think is to search the major flightsimming web sites. Within minutes, I found myself with a new paint scheme (vintage TWA) and a "fix" to make taxiing the plane easier. Did a little pattern flying. It took 3 attempts to make a landing (two go-arounds due to the approach being too high).

A little more searching turned up this really neat site: the DC-3 Airways Virtual Airline. This is an example of one of the things I love about this hobby-- you find groups of guys (almost always guys, one of th things I don't like about the hobby) who join together out of a shared passion, and do all kinds of neat work. Then they make it all publicly available on the web. This particular group is dedicated to flying the DC-3 the old fashioned way, using only those navigational aids that were available back in the day. Lots of educational info and resources. Looks like I'll be visiting this site often.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

My FS to-do list

Another indicator of how vast this is virtual world is the length of my to-do list. There are so many things I am looking forward to trying, once I find the time. Here's a short list off the top of my head:

1. Learn to fly the DC-3 better. I've winged it a bit, but I want to learn it proper. I like the default planm, but people rave about the MAAM version.
2. Work more on instrument navigation.
3. Spend some more time in Golden Wings land
4. Explore different parts of the country, and world.
5. Spend more time with the Custom Classics series from Bill Lyons. I've downloaded nearly all the planes, but have not tried many of the custom flights.
6. Learn a few genuine acrobatic maneuvers (beyond loops and rolls).
7. Learn how to better edit screenshots.

I'll stop there, but I could go on and on.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Early to rise

I'm a busy family guy, and free time is pretty scarce. I do my flightsimming when I can squeeze it in. Lately I've been getting up early to do a short flight or two before work. This shows how addicted I have become to this hobby, that it actually gets me out of bed early. Actually, that's not quite true. It gets me out of bed on time (no more hitting the snooze 10 times). Since I do these flights while eating breakfast, its not really taking much extra time from my day.

I really enjoy these early morning flights. Often I will set the time of day to the actual clock time, and real-world weather (except when that would preclude VFR flying). The other day I looked out the back door and saw the moon, so I set the real time and date and flew along with the moon in the sky (yes, it does accurately simulate the lunar cycle). Last week I was flying a short flight in the Stearman from Richmond (RI) airport to Quonset Point. Very nice with the sun coming up over Narragansett Bay, with the Jamestown and Newport bridges in the background!

By the way, if anyone is reading these please leave me a comment (you don't have to log in-- you can use the anonymous option). Thanks!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

What I'm flying lately

Thursday night is my official flying night. My wife works a shift on this night. I have a rehearsal until 9:00, but after that its 2 and a half hours of guilt-free flying.
I've been flying a lot in Rhode Island, thanks to a great scenery package from Flight Scenery. I have never paid for scenery before, but I broke down and got this one because I grew up in RI, and because it is so well done. I heartily recommend it.
I've also been flying Kirk Olsson's Sabre (pictured above), a fantastic model (and free) however I'm not that adept at flying this sort of plane. But its so nice to look at, and fun to try something different for a change. So I began my Thursday night flight this one from Logan airport to T.F. Green in Warwick, RI.
Then I got serious and switched to the Piper Warrior, a model from Just Flight. Another of my rare purchases, this is part of their Flight Club product, which includes 4 common general aviation planes as well as a detailed airport.
I spent the rest of the night tooling around the airports in RI, working on my realistic skills. (By realistic skills I mean skills that I might actually use if I pursued pilot training).

Then again, its fun to mess around sometimes. In the shot below, I am trying to fly an ultralight airplane out of one of Microsoft's goofs. The airport is sunk into a massive sinkhole. This is caused by a mismatch between the global terrain data and the particular airport's elevation data. To be fair to Microsoft, they give you practically every airport in the world, so if a few of them are messed up a little, its not a big deal.

By the way, I did suceed in getting out of the hole, then going back in for a safe landing. You can see more pictures from this flight here,
(at some point these pictures will be removed from that host).

Friday, May 19, 2006

Flying the pattern

Flight Simulator lets you do all sorts of exotic things-- fly unusual or historic airplanes, visit foreign lands, try dangerous things. But the funny thing is that one of the activities that gives me the most satisfaction is pattern flying (pattern flying means flying in a rectangular route around the airport, and is used for landing and touch-and-goes). I do this all the time and it never gets boring. Its not exactly the same all the time, because I will frequently change the airplane, the traffic, or the weather. But even when I fly my "regular" flight (same plane, same conditions) its still a lot of fun.

I think this bears tribute to how well the product has captured the real experience. (I speak as one who has not piloted a plane in real life). What I mean is that it has created a space to develop one's skills, and that space is large enough to contain most of the things that concern the real world pilot. For example, all of the instruments the real pilot needs to keep an eye on are there in front of you, and more or less faitfully reproduced. One also needs to take into acount the current weather conditions. If you like, you can fly with other traffic, and use the radio to communicate with the tower or with other pilots on that frequency. This level of complexity means that one can spend hour after hour perfecting one's technique.

Perhaps part of the allure for me is that the airport I do most of my virtual flying from the one closest to my actual home. It is a small airstrip with a 1600 foot runway, and tall trees on one end. This makes every sucessful landing a small accomplishment.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Why a Glog?

My motivation for writing this is that I have found myself completely absorbed by this hobby, in fact, head over heels in love with it. This all began about a year ago when I bought the Microsoft Flight simulator 2004 ( I had dabbled with FS 98, but never got full drawn into it). I want to explore this fascination, and try to communicate the experience of it to others.

In some sense this will be an apologia. To the unitiated, this is just a game. It seems a little silly to spend so much time and thought (and sometimes money) watching little planes fly on the computer screen. But to those who have become hooked it is much more. It will always remain, on one level, a game. But more accurately it is a portal into the world of flight. Most of us have been interested in flying for years, and flight simulators allows us to be actively engaged with flight, at least in the imagination.

Another feature of this blog will be to celebrate what we have before us. A marvel of technogies (hardware and software) that can represent the physics of flight and display the airplanes and the environment in which they fly (terrain, weather, seasons, time of day) with almost photographic accuracy. Add to that a dedicated community of folks who work on creating additional aircraft and sceneries, and often give them back to the community free of charge.

There will be some reporting-- what I flying lately, reviews of new products (most freeware, as I am a tightwad), etcetera.

Finally, I may also write about the object of all this, which is actual aviation. This will certainly be from a spectators standpoint, since real flying lessons are out of the question for me, budgetwise.

This is a test post