Saturday, December 30, 2006

Buying a computer for Dad (part 1)

My father, who is in his 70's, has become a flightsim fan. He has had a lifelong passion for aviation. He took flying lessons as a teen (soloed in an Ercoupe!) but for various reasons was not able to keep up with it. Still, he loves airplanes-- reads books, magazines, takes rolls of pictures at airshows, etc.

For years he had been the recipient (victim?) of his children's old computers, whenever we upgraded. He attempted to get various flight simulators to run on them with less than satisfactory results. Eventually he saw FS9 running on my brother's laptop, and this became the holy grail. I determined that his latest hand-me-down was completely incapable of running FS9, I came up with a plan about a year ago to put together a system for him to run. It was an old Pentium III rig that I got from work, but at least it had a gig of RAM. I put a new 128MB video card into it, and it ran, albeit with pretty poor frame rates. Dad was thrilled nonetheless.

Well, recently the Pentium III's hard drive handed in its dinner pail, so to speak. No point in trying to patch up this old dinosaur any more, so I came up with a plan to get him a replacement computer. Even the low end systems that are selling nowadays should run FS9 with acceptable results, certainly much better than what he was used to. My own system is pretty modest and I am happy with how it runs FS9 (let's not discuss FSX here!)

However, sometime when I wasn't looking they stopped making PC's with AGP slots! Finding a basic CPU with a processor 2.3 GHz or faster, with half a gig of RAM and lots of hard drive space, for under $400 is easy, but they all take PCI-e graphics cards. I have a reasonably good AGP card that I want to reuse, and this is a vital factor in keeping the cost down. I finally did find one system that will work, sold by Microcenter (this one), but they are currently out of stock so I'll have to wait a bit until I can start to work on it.

I can't wait to do this. Compared to what he's used to, this new system will scream. Once I get the new PC I will load up FS9, then do a Golden Wings version, then add all of my favorite freeware planes and scenery. Toss in some must-have utilities like F1 view and the recorder module. I think I might buy another copy of Flight Scenery's Rhode Island package, since that's where Dad lives.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Travelling places

I have been reading (well, listening to the book on tape) Paul Theroux's The Old Patagonian Express, and he mentions an interesting part of Colombia that he describes as the Grand Canyon, except green. Therefore, for last night's sessions I thought I take the Maule there and see what the country looks like. I started off in Armenia, a city he mentions after the green Grand Canyon episode.

Since my flying time is so very scarce (time flies when it's flying time!) I did not do any research on the area or plan the flight in any way except to put my plane at the airport in Armenia (that's Armenia, Colombia, not the Eurasian country), go to top-down view, zoom out, and look for something canyon-like. So the flight plan was essentially "Take off and fly east. Oh, and watch out for the large mountains immediately to the east."

Eventually I got to a canyon-like object, but it was not very Grand. I might have been in the wrong part of the Rio Magdalena (or maybe this was the wrong river!) or maybe Microsoft didn't capture this topography quite right. I think there's a freeware mesh upgrade for this region--I may add that soon. Nevertheless, I had a great time flying, and the scenery felt exotic. It's amazing that this program has a continous representation of the entire earth, with some degree of fidelity. And, it looks so good! I don't think these shots do it justice.

I guess what I am trying to express is the wonder about the fact that you can hear about some not-so-well-know part of the world one day, then just walk over to your computer, and in a few minutes be virtually there.

I had a very convincing sensation of flight during this outing. Near the mountains I hit some turbulence (while using the Fair Weather theme!). Looking downwards past my landing gear at the scenery, as in the second shot here, you see the wheel wobbling in relation to the scenery, and your point of view wobbling in relation to both. I really felt that suspended-on-a-string sensation you sometimes get flying in a light plane.

Friday, December 08, 2006

What it's all about

I came across this remarkable account on Avsim (I'd provide a link rather than this lengthy quote below, except I don't know how to provide a permanent link to their daily articles). This writer, who has much, much more experience than I in both real flying and simming, expresses eloquently how simming can allow our imaginations to soar. Thanks Carl!

By the way, Dave Eckert's Stearman is a must-have freeware for FS9. It also works beautifully in FSX, but requires a manual installation (tip: install to a dummy location, then drag the files to the appropriate spots in your FSX install. You can skip the scenery parts). Thanks Dave!

AVSIM fan Carl Avari-Cooper submits a short piece that I'm sure other readers can relate to, especially those past aviators who can only fly to lofty heights in the virtual world.
"Dear David and Crew (

I wanted to express my sincere thanks for a wonderful experience yesterday. As a kid, aviation fascinated me. Other kids drove pedal cars, I had a pedal bipe. Others dreamed about racing, I only considered flight. Later, I read everything I could get my hands on. Morgan and Baxter became two friends I looked forward to seeing each month. Anyway, I finally got a job as a line boy at our local field. Pumping gas, selling sectionals, the occasional quart of Aeroshell and E6Bs filled my work hours. After work, I washed airplanes, waxed airplanes, pushed airplanes- in short did all I could to bum a ride in anything I could talk my way into. I got my ticket and flew every chance I got.

As it often does, life got in the way and my old Champ flew off into the sunset. Raising two children, working and all the other sundries of life pushed airplanes back into the old dark and damp corner of my life. Every now and then, I hear a round engine and strain skyward until I saw the framework of two wings silhouetted against the light. Flight Simulator, has been my sole solace for years now.

All those years ago, every day I walked to the pumps, I would look out of the corner of my eye and see the prettiest airplane in the world. You see, in a corner hanger, very dusty and quiet, sat a white Stearman. She sat there, all alone, for years. I would walk over and eat a sandwich with her, pat her on a wingtip and imagine what I would be like to fly her. I could only think of Baxter saying, “She flies like a grand piano!” Every once in a while I would look around furtively, usually late in the evening, and if no one was watching, I would slip into the cockpit, grab that ball bat and peer through the grime yelling “clear prop”. I never did find out who owned her and I never did get to fly her. She never was quite forgotten though, and even when mooching time in a King Air, Citation or Aero Commander, I would particularly when breaking into severe clear on top, think of the old girl and long to feel her hold me up in the sky.

Yesterday, I came across your download. I was excited when I saw the visuals and decided to have a bit of fun. I turned the lights down low, adjusted the virtual cockpit just so and turned the sound way, way up. Starting at Vandenberg with everything off, I cranked up, watched the smoke bellow out and lost touch with reality. S turning out to runway 36 I did a run up and then was off. Tapping rudder right left right left then right again, I tracked down the runway, let the tail come up all by itself and then with some pressure she was off. I don’t quite know what your FDE is, but all of a sudden I knew what a grand piano felt like at 90 KIAS. With the radial bellowing, wires singing and a smile plastered all over my face, I turned crosswind and then downwind, coming back on the power to about 1800. I don’t know where a real Stearman smiles, but mine (ok, yours) climbs at full throttle, about 2100 and 85 KIAS, cruises at 1850 and 105 KIAS and descends at 1500 and 85 KIAS- all day long! Never in Flight Simulator, and I have flown this software since Apple IIc days, have I ever been so completely captivated by a PC Simulator (I’m just beginning to know Real Flight and PMDG).

Downwind, I broke out at a 45 and pointed her nose towards the Tampa skyline. She climbs and descends like an old New York elevator and cruises majestically, oblivious to any hurried thought. Watching the world slip by so utterly solidly, yet so unbelievable lightly was a transporting experience. Never has any light aircraft been modeled in FS so quintessentially and so perfectly. I could feel her huge and kite like, yet solid and reassuring, all around me; and with the speakers turned up enough- I could feel her when she grunted and growled as well.

All too soon it was time to announce position on Peter O’Knight’s Unicom, and making a left base to runway 21 I came back to 1500. She slowed to about 80 and I left her a bit high. Turning final with the wind whispering to me softly my eyes were moist and streaming. I came back on the power and nudged her nose a bit over, slipping to lose altitude and keep the asphalt in sight. The fence flashed under me and I held her off until she told me I’d better be done with this flying business, or she would be! With a chirp the mains settled and then I did my tap dance holding her straight. Once we were at a walk, I turned off and taxied to the FBO ramp, making the same familiar turns I did so often when ferrying planes over all those years ago.

With a burst of throttle, I swung her around and parked. Switching off was painful! So was the deafening silence after- amazing! After 20 years of wondering, I know what the old girl feels like- thank-you!