Wednesday, December 19, 2007

FlightGear 1.0. released!

OK, I haven't posted in a long while. The truth is, I haven't flightsimmed in weeks now. It's not just the guitar thing--I've been sick as well with a nasty head cold.

However, I do read up on my favorite flightsim sites, and I was delighted to see that FlightGear has finally release version 1.0.0. I downloaded it tonight and it looks really nice. Go try it out! I might get around to a mine-review here, but don't hold your breath. You're better off just trying it for yourself.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Flightsim in my pocket

OK, so I lied. Here I am posting just days after I said I would be on hiatus. However, this is an unusual occasion as I am away from home (and the guitar) for a week, on a business trip. Of course, one of the benefits of this trip is that I got to fly for the first time in a few years. The experience was glorious, and I am really looking forward to the trip home.

But the main topic of this post running FlightGear from a thumb drive. This is a really neat thing you can do with FlightGear, and I've been meaning to post about for a long time, but somehow never got around to it. The truth is, you can easily get the entire FG base package, about 500MB, on a 1 Gig thumb drive. And then you can run FG off the drive without installing anything on the computer. These drives are really cheap nowadays: I got my 2 GB drive for less than $20. Of course, if you want to add more scenery areas, that will quickly take up a lot more space. Another option, with slightly less cool factor, would be to burn a CD. But then you couldn't fit it in your pocket.

The beauty of this is that you can fly FG on any eligible computer without installing it. This is especially valuable to me, since my employer keeps very tight controls on their computers and won't let the common folk install anything without going through IT. However, with the flightsim on the thumb drive, I can fly on my laptop any time I want to. This has been especially nice this week. Being away from home, I finally have my evenings all to myself, and no guitar to tempt me, so I've taken a bit of those evenings to enjoy some flying time again. The photo above shows FG running on my work laptop, from the thumb drive on the right side of the laptop, attached to my keychain.

My parting shot is a nice evening cloud effect that I never saw before in FG, until this evening's flight. I think it's awfully nice, and a fitting image if this is really my last post (for a while, at least).

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Hangar time

If you've been following this blog recently you may have wondered why I haven't written lately. Actually, you're if you're a regular reader more likely to know why, since the writing has been on the wall pretty much, in my last few posts. The truth is, my renewed interest in guitar playing has sucked up just about all of my meager supply of free time and I have hardly flown at all for weeks now.

I have actually set out a few times recently to have a little flying time, but have ended up hitting Control-C after 5 minutes or so. I'm not sure exactly why I feel so "unhooked" on flightimming. I think the fact that the hobby has a rival has made me much more sensitive to using my time as productively as possible. And flightsimming definitely demands a dedicated chunk of time to do it right. Right now, I find it's hard to justify spending even 30 minutes on a flight, when I have a to-do list as long as my arm for the guitar. Thirty minutes of scales could do me a lot of good.

It's not that the stuff doesn't interest me anymore. I still check in on the forums, and I've been following with great interest the news about FSX SP2 (see here for example). I will download that patch when it becomes available, though I won't be staying up late to do so this time. And of course I still love aviation, and still look skyward just about every time I hear something piston powered going over my house. Just the other day I was lucky enough to catch a good look at this beauty at low altitude right over my house!

So, a little shy of 100 posts, I feel I need to put this blog on indefinite suspension. I can't promise to post on any regular basis. I can't promise I won't post either, so if you've found any of this blog to be diverting, then check back every month or so. I've you've been a regular visitor, please add a comment or drop me a note. My site meter tells me I get a certain amount of traffic every week, but I still wonder whether they are real people or spam-bots. I'm sure I'll get back to flighsimming regularly, I just don't know when. I've enjoyed writing this blog, and I hope some of you have enjoyed reading it.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Google Earth flight simulator

By now the word is well out there that Google Earth has an Easter Egg flight simulator. It's even mentioned in Wikipedia. I've played with this a bit, and I think its worth having, but only because it is worth having Google Earth. It is fun, but you are not likely to get much actual flying enjoyment from it.

It made perfect sense to implement this feature, as they already had most of the ingredients: the imagery, a method to map the imagery to contours, and a way to manipulate the view so that you can it all from any perspective. All they had to come up with was a way to dynamically move through this world, with a motion that mimicked the behavior of an airplane. The result is fairly primitive flight simulator that feels like an arcade game. It's buggy too-- I can't give any better evaluation of the flight dynamics because when I fly it keeps resetting the throttle. However, there is a smidgen of realism. You can make it can stall, and it is smart enough to register a crash if you attempt to land on water.

There is no cockpit beyond a HUD, and there is no outside view, which is not surprising because that would take a major development effort. I would be very happy if they at least added the usual preset views that you could use with the number pad or hat switch. As it is, you can't see your house unless you are flying right at it. There is a way to pan the view (Alt+ arrow keys, or Ctrl+ arrow keys for slow and fast panning, respecively) but this is not easy to use in flight. As a result, landings are hard to set up.

There are 3D buildings for some major cities, which are not on by default but can be activated using the layers options. I find they really slow down the performance, and as you can see many are unpainted.

So you can have a bit of fun flying over your own house, flying to work, or zooming through the Grand Canyon. All in the daytime, in a single (mixed-up) season, and without weather. Beyond that there's not too much to do. But this is exciting because this is that clearly this is the future of flightsimming. Surely live streaming imagery will be in MSFS eventually. (I know there is a project to do this in FSX now, but someday this will be the way it is out of the box.) Maybe Flight Gear will beat them to it.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Feeding the hobby

Again, apologies to flightsimmers who come to this blog hoping for lots of flightsim info, because I have another installment in the Generic Hobby Blog. All I can say is that one of the motivations for starting this blog was to write about the experience of having an engrossing hobby, as much as to write about the hobby itself.

I notice, as I get deeper into my return to serious classical guitar playing how many of the same psychological dynamics come into play. And today, I want to discuss what I think of as "feeding the hobby". By this, I mean the sense of obligation to contribute something to the hobby on a regular basis. In flightsimming, this manifests itself as the need to throw more addons, and sometimes hardware, at the sim. For music, this can mean finding more sheet music, buying accessories, CDs, or the ultimate: upgrading the instrument itself.

Yesterday, I went to Staples and bought a new binder to hold my sheet music. I have a number of binders already, but this is to be my main binder that will hold my daily practice music. I didn't skimp and get the cheapest model, but got a deluxe version with D rings, a rubberized spine, a new and improved ring opening and closing mechanism. Then I got tab dividers and some of those post-it flag thingies for marking groups of music. The reason I mention all of this is that I noticed how it felt good, and I realized once again that I was feeding the hobby.

If this description might strike some as sinister, as if the hobby has become some kind of idol, demanding regular sacrifices. However, I think the explanation is more benign. This is a form of compensation: I'm not able to spend as much time on music as I would like, so I buy stuff for it, or find more public domain music online to print out. It is a kind of vicarious enjoyment of the hobby.

Do you feel the need to feed the hobby?

Oh, I haven't posted a screen shot here in a while, so here's a quick one to show you that I still get a little flying in, now and then. This is on final approach into KPVD, with the marvelous Flight Scenery addon scenery. I personally know all of these stores and restaurants, as I've driven my car this way often.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The website-driven life

If you will indulge me one more time I'd like to discuss a topic which is only tangentally related to flightsimming, and is really more about hobbies/obsessions in general. As I find myself getting deeper and deeper into music again, the more I realize that much of it is driven by things that have been made available on the web. And this is very similar to how the whole flightsim experience started. I am sure that my experience is not unique.

It goes like this. You have your hobby. Maybe it's something new, or maybe something you've been doing for years. One day you go to your favorite search engine to answer some question regarding this hobby, and in the process you find not just the answer, but one or more interesting web sites. Over the following days and weeks you find that there is an incredible amount of wisdom, not to mention free stuff to download, and suddenly you find yourself committed to the hobby like never before.

If you're reading this page most likely you know about some of the better flightsimming sites. So, you know how something you read about in one of the forums can send you racing to the download page. Or, you read a thread about something you'd never really given much thought to, for example scenery design, and to your surprise you feel yourself being drawn into a new area of the hobby. Your to-do list gets longer and longer.

The site that's really gotten me going with music, classical guitar in particular, is called See the forums here. After spending some time reading these forums, I'm excited about new practice ideas, new music to check out, et cetera. Also, there's lots of sheet music to download and print out for free, the ultimate guitar "add on".

I think this is a curious phenomenon. Contrast this to the way life was only a decade ago. If you had a hobby, chances are your sources were very limited. Information was either very local or very centralized. You may have been dependent upon your local teacher, club, or hobby shop. Or perhaps a certain magazine or catalog defined the universe of what was available to enhance your hobby. Now, we are not limited by geography or institutional authority. An amateur musician or flightsimmer can get helpful advice from another amateur on the other side of the planet, within hours of raising the question.

Gotta go print out some more music...

Thursday, August 16, 2007

It's all about time (it always is)

I think I should clarify what I was saying in the last post. After a rather enjoyable flying session last night, it became clear to me that it wasn't so much that flightsimming is losing its luster, but rather that it is now facing more fierce competition with regards to me free-time choices. If days suddenly got twice as long, I could happily spend hours a day flightsimming. It's still a lot of fun.

However, with life as it is, time spent flightsimming is time NOT spent on music, or reading, or sleeping. And right now music has gone up a few notches in priority. This is a good thing.

Last night being Flying Night, and having pretty much finished my recent music project, which was adaptating a couple of of Mozart piano sonata movements for two guitars, I decided to take another stab at the flightsim. I went to my favorite place (Alaska)with the now seemingly low-maintenance FS9, and had a very nice time. First, I tooled around Atlin a bit in the Cessna 150. Then I switched to the Aero Commander and flew from Atlin to Skagway, following the path shown below. This was a thrilling scenic route; it was especially fun descending through the valley into Skagway. I will surely fly the route again, in different times and seasons, perhaps try the reverse direction. . I got some nice screenshots along the way, but refrained from adding them to this post, since I've had too many similar pictures here already.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Throttling back

Believe it or not, I've done very little flying lately, even though I have had the usual trickle supply of free time. Another hobby has started to demand more time. This is my first love, music. I am a classical guitarist, and have played at varying levels of intensity for more than 25 years. Having kids cut way into practice time, and for quite a while I hardly played at all. Recently, though, I've started playing duets with a couple of different folks and that has re-lit the spark.

Part of the "problem" is that I have found a number of different ways to use the computer for this other hobby. This has opened up whole new avenues. For example, I have been dabbling a bit using an open-source music typesetting program called Lilypond. An example of the work I've been doing is in the screenshot below. This is a movement from a Mozart piano sonata that I am adapting for guitar duet.

Lilypond is a fantastic product, and if any of my readers share my interest in music you may want to check it out. The learning curve is a bit steep, but a great help is available in a plug-in for the open source text editor jEdit (it's called lilypond tools). Then there's Audacity, an open-source multi-track recording software...

But this is a flightsim blog, so I will cut the digression there. The thing of interest here is that I have actually found myself with a block of free time, the simulator up and running, and yet a little voice in my head is saying "wouldn't you rather finish working on that score?". So, control-C, Yes, and I'm off working on the other hobby. Can you believe this actually happened during the flight in which I captured that beautiful image below?

Of course, this is how normal people live. But its a little disturbing for the flightsim fanatic. The magic is gone! Well, yes and no. I'm sure I'll keep simming, and I'm sure I will develop new fascinations with various parts of the simming hobby, but for now it's going to get a bit less time from me. Keep checking back here, because I will try to update at least once a week, and you never know when something will draw me back in full throttle.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Autogen City

Here's a quick tip: If you want to get a good look at cityscapes, but don't have a system that can handle New York, Seattle, Tokyo, etc, then why not try a second or third tier city? The pictures here are from Worcester, MA. It looks like there are not any custom buildings here, just autogen. I get low but manageable framerates with this autogen, totally flyable compared to Seattle.
I was very pleased and somewhat surprised by the quality of the textures. I've flow a bit in urban areas, but usually the big cities, but this is the first time I've tried a city like this, flying low and slow, taking time to notice the details. For example, the roofs have a nice 3D shape now, and what's more, they are landable!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Having fun again

Fun has been eluding me lately on my Flying Nights. Flying Night is my weekly dedicated night to fly, occurring each Wednesday when my wife works an evening shift. Lately, these nights have been less than satisfying. I think this is due to too much tweaking and twiddling, combined with the pressure to wring the most out of this all too limited window of time.

So, last night I decided to keep my ambitions modest, and spend the evening in good ol' Glacier Bay (FS9). I decided to do some plane hopping, which can be dangerous in the sense that you don't allow enough time in any one plane for a sense immersion to develop. However, this time it paid off, probably because I was sticking to old favorites.

The first leg of the journey was from Hoonah into Juneau in the freeware Cessna 150. I didn't get any pictures, but it was a nice relaxing and uneventful trip. I had some time to play with the VOR and ADF. These were not necessary since, as usual, I was flying by pilotage, but it made me realize I should use those things more often--you never know when you might get lost or confused if you are just using the chart and looking out the window. The long approach into Juneau Int'l was magical.

In Juneau, I hopped over to the classic Beech 18 by Shupe and co. I really should spend more time in this one--its so gorgeous to watch. I think I'm finally getting the hang of taxiing this one. It's a bit difficult without a steerable tail wheel. The trick is to dance on the toe brakes. Differential throttles would help a lot, but I don't have those.
From Juneau, I flew the Beech to Gustavus. En route the real-world weather started to get more interesting. I had to reduce altitude to stay out of the clouds. I finally figured out the ADF on this one, which helped a lot, since there is a transmitter at the airport. This model has lovely vintage radio controls which take a little time to figure out (unfortunately they are not visible in the screenshot below). I made a nice landing in spite of having not flown this one in quite a while. My approach was a little sloppy though- I underestimated the drag of the lowered gear and had to pour on the power to get back on a good glide slope.
In Gustavus, I switched over to the Long Island Classics Aeronca (sorry, model number escapes me right now). This is the more powerful model, which is rated for light aerobatics. I find it to be a real blast doing loops and rolls in this old ragwing. I also practiced stalls a bit, yet another thing I should be doing more often.

I tried to emulate something I saw on an old video about Duane Cole. He would end his routine by cutting the engine and doing the final part 'dead stick' (this was before Bob Hoover). I cut the engine at 3000 feet, but could only manage one loop and one roll before I ran out of altitude. I did make it to the runway, though!

So go dust off some of your old favorites and take 'em for a spin. Happy flying!

Friday, July 13, 2007

FlightGear multiplayer and moving map

First, in reference to the doldrums mentioned at the end of my last post, I'd like to say once again that my remedy of flying the pattern really helps me get back into the groove. I can't recommend highly enough the benefits of pattern flying, particularly when your base airport is on the small side or presents some other challenge. There are few things as satisfying as honing a skill over the long term.

One thing I've been doing a fair bit in the last few months, but have not yet blogged about , is multiplayer flying in FlightGear. I know people have been flying multiplayer in MS Flight Simulator for years, and perhaps some day I'll give it a try. However, multiplayer mode is really easy to set up in FlightGear. See this article in the FlightGear Wiki for instructions.

When you fly multiplayer in FlightGear you fly with the entire world of online FlightGear users. An additional really cool feature is the live map that shows who's online, where they are (their plane, that is), and what they're flying. You can see whose flying right now, without signing up or logging in or anything, by checking out the online server. If you click that link you will see KSFO (San Francisco), which is the default FG airport, and anyone who's flying at the moment. You should at least see "mpdummy" who is not some self-effacing individual, but rather a test connection to show that the server is running properly. If you happen to see "marlboro", that's me!

A fun thing I like to do when I have a few spare minutes is to check the server, see if anyone's flying, and then starting up FG and trying to fly formation, or at least buzz the other planes. I hear there is a way to message other pilots, but that requires a newer version of FG than I have (i.e. the kind you have to build yourself).

The server map can also be used to track your flying. It can be configured so that your plane is always centered on the map. you can zoom in and out, and display road names and such, just as with any Google Map application. It's easy to switch back and forth using the Alt-Tab combination. Unlike MSFS which tends to go into a sulk if you try task switching, you can switch in and out of FG very quickly.

Last night I decided to do a comparison between where I was in the FG world and where the server would show me. The results are below. I think that's pretty amazing.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Summer doldrums

I know I'm a little behind in posting. Last week I got a fair bit of flying in, but was also busy around the house, so I didn't get to any blogging. Next week I'm away on vacation, so I thought I'd pop in with a quick note.
The big news for me is that I purchase Vancouver+ for FS This is really big news for me, because I'm very frugal with addons, this being only the second scenery I ever paid for. It's a pretty nice package, and I really should be gracing this post with lots of nice pictures. However, I haven't made time for much screen grabbing. One word of caution: this package is pretty demanding on the hardware, for example, with my mere one gig of RAM I have lots of trouble with the urban areas. But the country is just beautiful. Here's a link to a shot I took showing a comparison to a real world view, and I think it is quite impressive. I'm also a little proud of the shot, because it takes a bit of work to do something like this, to get the location and perspective just right. It's not perfect, but I think it's pretty darn good.

Last night was Flying Night, but it turned out to be a dissatisfying experience. I think I've got too many new things going on, and even though I tried to stick to one situation for a while, I felt distracted and un-immersed. I think I'll try to squeeze in a half hour or so of pattern flying tonight, if I can, since that usually brings the joy back.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Did I really need this? Yes! (Dash 7 by Milton Shupe)

You know, I'm really trying to buckle down and focus my flightsimming activities, but along comes another freeware Must Have. I've hardly had time to absorb the great Cessna 150, Glacier Bay v.2, or the new-to-me freeware Maule for FS2004. This is getting to be a problem, I have too much flightsim stuff to do, and not enough time. I guess this is a good problem to have (from a real-world perspective, having any flightsim problem is a good problem, because the prerequisite for having such a problem is a certain amount of free time and material resources.)

Anyway, the real subject of this post is the Dash 7 upgrade from Milton Shupe and his team.
This release came as a complete suprise to me. I flew the first updated version of this plane quite a bit, and really enjoyed it even though I missed having a virtual cockpit. Then, I heard that they were working on an update with a VC, and was watching progress reports on this project with great interest. But about a year ago Milton announced that he was retiring from modelling, and would have to leave this project unfinished.

I won't attempt a review of this plane other than to say it is a fantastic model of a really fun plane. Andrew Herd wrote a very informative review of this plane when it was released for FS2002, and it is still worth reading.

This update includes a very well done VC as well as a fully-appointed cabin. The latter is nice if you want to replay a flight, and go back and sit with the passengers. That's what I did for my last picture here, on final into Skagway.

As if this wasn't enough, Milton says on one of the forums that this is not the final version, and a much-improved version will be available in 6 to 8 weeks!

Tonight is Flying Night, so I plan to devote the better part of it to mastering this plane. I can usually land it where I want, but often with a rollercoaster approach path. I haven't flown turboprops very much at all, so I need to get used to the delay between throttle changes and the effect on the descent rate.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

FS9 keeps getting better

I'm a real Johnny-Come-Lately on this one, but I've finally installed the freeware Maule package for FS9, designed by M.Maliniemi, K.Virtanen, I.Grant, R.Horelli, A.Swindle, S.Grant, T.Foosnes. This package was recognized as one of the best when released, and has remained on many 'must-have' lists. However, I put off downloading it becuase it is a rather large file, and I didn't strictly have a need for it. I took Glacier Bay v.2 as a suitable excuse and finally tried it. (Tip: for a quicker download go to and search for

This package is incredible, all the more so considering it was released in 2003. I've flown the default Maule in FSX a bit, and this freeware model holds up quite well against that one. The textures aren't quite up to FSX levels, but they're really not too far behind. Considering you get 6 variations (I mean different configurations, not just paints), its tempting to install this in FSX. If nothing else, it fits the niche for a smaller amphibian.

By the way, if you find the Maule intriguing, go visit the official manufacturers site. It's got some neat photos and still shots from some of the movies its been featured in.

I anticipate weeks of fun exploring the GB scenery in this plane.The more time I spend in Glacier Bay, the more I am fascinated by it, and the more I appreciate its beauaty. It's kind of scary how much the Glacier Bay scenery designers seemed to anticipate the kind of flying I like to do. For example, last summer, after studying my sectional, I dreamed up a mission to visit the tiny Sisters Island, just East of Hoonah, to service a VOR transmitter located on the island. The results are documented in this post on the screenshot forum. Well, wouldn't you know it, the designers of GB v.2 have actually put a grass airstrip (unleveled) on this island!

So, if you don't already have them, go get this scenery, this plane, a sectional chart (prefereably one on paper) and go lose yourself in Alaska!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Feels like Christmas

Because there are so many new things to play with. I'm building up a huge to-do list for flightsimming. I'm most excited now about the new Alaska scenery I mentioned in the last post, and I'm going to spend tonight (flying night!) exploring this region. I'm going to try to stay focused, and not hop from one thing to the next. Otherwise, I may get that bleary-eyed Christmas morning overloaded feeling.

To whet my appetited, this morning for my breakfast flight (screenshot is above) I took a quick spin around Atlin, in British Columbia. I flew there last year as part of my Alaska journey, but this a whole new experience because the Glacier Bay version 2 freeware scenery package has done major work with this area.

I'm pretty certain I had GB version 1 installed the last time, and in that version Atlin was untouched (correct me if I'm wrong). I remember the generic airport design, and nothing resembing a town. This time around, I find custom buildings, cars, GA traffic, lots of trees, and birds (!). It's amazing how much it helps to have cars around. We've been conditioned to overlook this, but if you think about it, most FS landscapes look as if aliens abducted all the ground transportation. Anyway, perhaps the best thing about this scenery the local town is there, including a road connecting the town to the airport. That level of detail makes it feel like a real place. I checked Google maps, and everything--town, airport, roads, docks--looks authentically located.

What exactly is Atlin? Its a small town in BC that I'd never heard of, but I flew there last year because it was a nice destination for a shortish flight from Skagway. I'm delighted that the GB team put so much effort into this town and airport, because it is a beautiful location to fly around. You can read about Atlin here.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

FS9 Renaissance?

First, it was the Cessna 150, and now Glacier Bay version 1.
Actually, this scenery package has been out since March, but it came in under my radar, and probably the radars of many others who were wrapped up in tweaking FSX. Of course all the attention paid to FSX SP1 threatens to make this the best kept secret in FS9 freeware. It only came to my attention because of a post on the screenshot forum.

I spent a lot of time with the first version of this freeware scenery package back in the days before FSX. I have thought about going back there since, but have been too busy trying other things in FSX. FSX default does an OK job with Alaska, certainly much better than FS9, but this package really stands out. There is obviously a lot of careful attention paid not only to the 'major attractions' but also lesser airfields and seaports. And of course that is most of the fun of exploring this kind of scenery--finding the little hideaways.

It's really nice to see that FS9 is not yet forgotten. I have made my peace with FSX but many folks are still struggling to make it work on their hardware. With packages like this available, one can look forward to many months of great flying experiences in FS9.

I'd like to say more about this great package, but its Saturday and I have Things To Do. But you can go get it yourself (on the usual sites) and find them out for yourself.

Monday, June 04, 2007

That nifty 150

A note to those readers who may have found this blog through the FlightGear review on Welcome! I've been writing this for almost a year now. I try to do at least one post a week, so please come back again! Many of these posts are "dashed off tripe", to quote one of my favorite bloggers, but occasionally I'll spend a little more time to develope a theme with more care. Also, I try to put pretty screenshots in as many posts as I can.

Anyway, I'm still having a lot of fun with the Cessna 150 model mentioned in the last post. After more extensive flying, I'm finding I love this bird even more. The look and feel of this plane is absolutely first rate.

One thing I missed when I wrote the last post is that there is a pop-up options tool that lets you do things like open the doors and the oil flap, but more importantly, hide the instructor! You can also chose to hide the wheelpants, which I do becuase for some reason most of the 150's I see around here do not have the pants.

Also, I should say that with all the detail it is a slight frame rate hog. This should only be a concern if you're running an older rig.

I have also found that this works pretty well in FSX, but there are a few things that don't work quite right. For example, in the options tool the checkmarks do not show up (but the options cna be changed). Little stuff like that. A little less trivial is that a couple of times it made my computer reboot! Once it rebooted after I crashed the plane, which in spite of the annoyance made me laugh. It is almost as if they were saying "You crash my plane, I'll crash your computer". I'm not complaining, becuase this it is not advertised to work in FSX, and when I'm not trying to do something unusual it is trouble free. I encourage you to try it in FSX; you may not have the same problem.

Happy landings!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Incredible Freeware Cessna 150

OK, call me a hypocrite if you like. After my little sermon on resisting the twin evils of tweak-itis and download-itis, I go ahead and recommend a scenery tweak, and now I'm going to recommend a download. But didn't I admit I was preaching to myself?

Also, in my defense, the FlightGear ship traffic tweak was really simple--you could do it in ten minutes or less, then get back to flying. As for today's post, the download I am recommending here is extraordinary.

This Cessna 150 model has created a minor buzz on my favorite screenshot sharing forum, and is easily the best freeware airplane I have yet seen. This is high praise, considering I have downloaded and enjoyed the excellent work by such freeware developers as Milton Shupe, Dave Eckert, and Kevin Lemanski (a.k.a Long Island Classics).

To be honest, I have had trouble enjoying FS9 because the FSX default planes have spoiled me. Going back to the default the FS9 Cessnas is a real let down. I have better addons in FS9, but I always find myself wanting to fly the workhorse Cessnas. With this addon, I can see myself spending a lot more time in FS9 world, especially where I can enjoy FlightScenery's excellent RI scenery package.

You may recall a while back I discussed the problem with contrast between the view inside the cockpit versus the view out the window in this post. I don't know if addressing this problem was a conscious objective of the developers, but I think they've made a great progress in this respect. The gauges are darker than in typical FS models. To me this is more convincing, because if your eyes are adapted to view out the window, the interior will appear relatively dark. Additionally, the window interior window reflections and aged glass effect serve to wash out the external view a bit.
Before I go on, I have to say I've only flown with this model for about an hour, last night. I reserve the right to retract some of this enthusiasm in a later post, if I find any glaring bugs. But I really don't expect to, because the thing looks and feels so well crafted.

As you can tell by these shots, the interior is amazingly well detailed. All of the gauges are built from scratch--no recycled bits here. There are some neat touches in the interior, such as a fully functioning E6B computer that pops up when you click on the one in the passenger seat. Another nice touch is the checklist that comes up with one of the shift-number combinations is a facsimile of an old reference sheet.

The exterior model is very nice, but I must admit I spent so much time inside the cabin that I didn't check the exterior out too much. But you can see from these shots that they've given it a convincing aged look. One minor quibble: in the exterior view you can see the passenger (instructor?) waving a chart around and then putting it away. It's a neat little animation, but after a few repetitions is starts to be distracting.

The sounds are aliased from the default 172. One can't complain about this, given that it is freeware, but I hope some other contributor can come up with a replacement sound set because it almost breaks the spell. However, they did replace the default stall horn with one that has a more warbly sound. Not being a pilot, I can't say for sure this is how it should sound, but it seems more convincing.

In addition to the basic 150, they've included the Aerobat model. I only had a few minutes with it last night, but it looks like it will be a lot of fun.

I'm planning on spending most of tonight (Wednesday night is flying night!)taking this plane for an extending Rhode Island tour.

You can get it here.
When you go to that site, note the bit about the password on the left hand side. You'll need to use the one they give you.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

FlightGear ship traffic-- A Dummy to Dummy Guide

Ok, this is probably one of the most useless things you would want to do with FlightGear, but it is kind of fun. A full guide to AI Systems can be found here on the FlightGear Wiki. Here, I will show you exactly what I did to easily add some ships to my local scenery. Using this method you will have boats that travel in slow circles according to their rudder settings, without the need to explicitly define routes.

The first thing to do is to copy the ship_demo.xml file found in your FlightGear\data\AI directory, and rename it. In my case I called it RIship_demo.xml, because I was creating boat traffic for the Naragansett Bay in Rhode Island.

Edit the file in any text editor, such as Wordpad. Below is how I edited the file. (My apologies for giving this with screen shots instead of cut-and-pastable text, but I don't know a simple way to put xml code into this blog without the browser trying to interpret it as code.) My edits are red. Mainly, I just changed the latitude and longitude for the ship. Then I copied it twice, and modified each copy for location and speed. Finally, in the third entry I changed the vessel to the freighter. This required one more modification, which I will explain below. To find the latitude and longitude values, you can go here. Move the map to your desired location, and you will see the lat. and long. in the upper right corner.

But before we set up the freighter, I will show you how to add this traffic file to your preferences. This step is essential or we will not see the ships. Edit the preferences.xml file in your FlightGear\data directory. Search for the text 'scenario' and add a line for your new file, as shown below (use your file name, however). My edits are in red. Also, make sure the boolean value shown in red is set to true.

I noticed there was a freighter in the same directory as the sailboat model. However, it did not have a corresponding xml file. Acting on a guess, I copied the sailboat.xml, edited as shown below, and saved it as freighter.xml. It worked!

Once you've modified and saved these files, load up a flight in the appropriate area, and go look for your boats!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Your flightsimming stuff isn't going anywhere

Please note: if this sounds at all preachy, please be aware that I am speaking to myself as much as anyone else. Also, at, Chip Barber's most recent installment"The Corner" deals with some similar themes, albeit in a lighthearted manner. I wrote this before seeing his column.

Remember: Your flightsimming stuff isn't going anywhere!

Many of us are fairly obsessed with flying, and flight simulation in particular. We squeeze in a flying session whenever we get a chance, and when we can't we read the forums, or read flying books, or study sectional charts. I know I am not alone on this, as I read many of the flightsim forums. It's not a bad hobby to be obsessed with. It is relatively inexpensive, safe, and doesn't require you to spend a lot of time away from home (physically, that is). On the positive side, besides learning about airplanes and how to use the program, we are also learning about more general subjects like geography, weather, physics, and maybe even a little history. Not the least benefit is relaxation it provides, or the aesthetic pleasure derived from a well-rendered scene.

Still, it can become a serious preoccupation, and let’s be honest: we’ve probably all shortchanged a few worthy activities due to the time and attention we’ve given to simming. It is worthwhile to examine the time and attention we give to this hobby. How much is too much? In the worst case, we could find ourselves so wrapped up in this that it affects our personal relationships and harms our health due to sedentary behavior and/or lack of sleep.

For me, one sign of an unhealthy obsession is 'download-itis' and 'chronic tweaking disease', subjects I have discussed before. Now these activities are part of the fun of flight simming, and in fact some tweaking is necessary to get the most out of the game. But this kind of behavior can bring us dangerously close to that of the compulsive gambler, who thrives on the rush that each new attempt brings, all the while squandering his capital. Much of the time, after the initial excitement, we find that the result is less than we hoped for, and we walk away unsatisfied. Then the search is on for the next great solution, but this is really just our next fix. In other words, this is the obsession feeding on itself.

But even if our obsession falls far short of the pathological, it is good to remind ourselves that there are other things to do. Regardless of where we think our involvement with simming falls on the hobby/addiction spectrum, we can keep it all in perspective with the simple thought that the flight simulator will be happy to wait for us if we spend time on something else. Can the same be said for the activities that we have neglected?

So why not get out and enjoy the spring weather, tend the garden, go for a walk or a run? Reconnect with a neglected hobby, or read a good book. Play a board game with the kids. We don't have to devote every scrap of free time to checking out the latest and greatest hope for the flight simulator.

Remember: your flightsimming stuff isn't going anywhere!

Monday, May 21, 2007

SP1 second impressions, and more FlightGear

Having had SP1 for, oh, five days I guess, I'm finding it's not quite as good for me as originally seemed, but still it's pretty good and definitely an improvement over the original experience. But I have not yet tried any config file tweaks, so more improvement may be on the way.

The airport shot is from Logan Airport, with about 33% traffic. I assure you that 20 FPS indication is not typical. Usually I get around around 11 FPS. While not ideal, it is definitely possible to fly at this rate. This is one of the first situations I tried, in order to give the patch a good test, and I was very impressed at how well it handled everything in this very busy scenery.

I typically fly suburban and rural areas, and found that the FPS increase, while appreciable, was not as high as I had hoped. I think the trees, in the quantities I need, might be more demanding than a lot of the urban scenery. Also, the more I fly, the more I notice intermittent blurries. This seems to be the most common complaint on the forums, and my single-core system is running into this more often than I'd like. You can see the blurries in the second shot. I'm also noticing and occasionally being annoyed by autogen popping. Aces' Phil Taylor's blog mentions that they implemented some kind of batch processing for autogen, and acknowledged that scenery popping may occur.

As I mentioned in my last post, the one improvement that has really made me happy is the fluid panning with either the hat switch or mouse, and instant view changes using the number pad preset views. It was the lagging view changes that caused me the most grief before the patch, and after a few hours I have not had any poor performance. For me, this one big improvement makes the other minor issues easy to swallow.

My third FSX shot shows a goof that perhaps might have been there before SP1, but I only just noticed it. The cargo doors on this jet remain open, even when it takes off. I don't get incensed by this kind of thing the way some people do, but rather find it mildly amusing.

I have gone back to FlightGear a few times since SP1, just to see if my earlier enthusiasm for this product was more than a flash in the pan. I'm convinced FG is the genuine article. I continue have lots of fun and look forward to the new version, whenever that gets out. This morning I tried a back-to-back flight around the pattern in FSX and FG. Besides the obvious differences (FG loads in a fraction of the time, FSX looks much prettier) I have to say the flying enjoyment (Flug Vergnugen?) is about equal.

The last shot shows my first attempt at a carrier landing in FG. It was a sucess! However, you'll have to take my word for it. The screenshot here is from a replay, and I discovered that the AI carrier continues along its path during replay, so by the time you reach the original landing spot you've missed the boat.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

SP1 first impressions

I'm not the kind of person that lines up outside a store in order to be among the first to get a new product. I even had the self discipline to use the slower Super Saver Shipping option on my FSX preorder. Nevertheless, Tuesday evening found me hitting the refresh button on my browser again and again, waiting for the SP1 download to appear. The truth is, I just wanted to fire off the download before going to bed. Still, it was a little exciting : first, the announcement that it would soon be available. Then, the download link on FSInsider (alas, it lead to a 404 error). Then the update to the FSInsider front page, with a link (still 404'd). The forums were buzzing with each development. Finally, the link worked! The download was in progress!

But I was good. Even after I realized that the download was going very quickly, and would probably be done in about 20 minutes, I walked away from the computer to go to bed.

The next morning, I scanned the forums an saw that most people were very happy with this patch. This inspired me to do a hasty install and a quick flight before going to work. First impression: looks good.

Last night I had a quite a while to try it out. It is a noticable improvement. I didn't do the calculations, but informally I can say that a I believe I have at least the promised 20% improvement in FPS. What is even better, is that I see a dramatic improvement in panning response. Finally, "real-time panning" is possible. Previously, there was a delay in using the number keys for side views, etc, and using the hat or mouse to pan was painful. Often there was such a lag that I would over-pan, and find myself looking at the tail. Now it is very smooth and natural. It is a little ironic that the feature which most excited me about FlightGear the smooth panning, is what has been most improved in FSX.

I flew around the highly-detailed Logan Airport, with about 33% traffic and airport vehicles, and FPS averaged in the mid teens. I kept waiting for it to get bogged down, but it didn't happen. I did have a few short pauses, but I can live with that as long as it only happens in the busiest areas.

It's not perfect--I've had a few hangs, and there are a few glitches, such as the scary-looking blank message window (see below). This is the loading progress indicator, and it usually is blank for a few seconds before the progress bar appears. Also, the dusk textures have been improved, but look at the night landing shot-- why are the skyscrapers on the left unlit? Looks like a power outage. Also, you may notice this shot shows a case of the blurries. I almost never see them, but they are not yet extinct.

I'm looking forward to re-exploring FSX.