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.