Flight Simulation: A peak through the Pixels.
Since the release of FSX Steam Edition, there has been a large rise in the number of people taking to the virtual skies. Many people are just starting out in what, for some, will be a very long and often expensive journey. This blog is just my 2 cents on what they have to look forward to. So sit back, relax and grab a pen & paper- My native language is sarcasm, so if you struggle to take light hearted digs with a pinch of salt and a smile, I would politely ask you to seek an alternative source of reading material- I hear the bible is still very fashionable these days…
So what exactly is Flight simulation? A friend of mine once told me that in her place of work, she looks out for certain signs- tick boxes, if you like, that indicate a borderline autistic state in reference to a particular subject. This can be anything from numbers, to computers and yes, Planes, trains & automobiles.
I’m not ashamed to say that according to her, I personally tick many, MANY of these “boxes” when it comes to flight simulation. I have also seen a lot of evidence on forums, Facebook pages and reviews to indicate I am not alone. So it should come as no surprise then that for many of us, it’s a fascination with something that, for reasons nobody could hope to understand, just makes sense.
But why is it so difficult for other people to understand?
To us, it’s as close as we can get to sitting in the left hand seat of an airliner- taking passengers and cargo halfway across the globe, retracing the route my holiday flight took last week or flying “alongside” a sibling’s flight as they depart for sunny skies.
For others, the hustle and bustle of Air Traffic Control, Line up & Wait’s and delayed departure clearance sounds as attractive an idea as leaving a ginger spouse in the sun… without sunblock.
For them Flight Sim offers peace and tranquillity- flying a few hundred feet above the perfectly modelled south Islands of New Zealand, taking in the breath-taking scenery of Milford Sound without having to get a second mortgage to enjoy the sight in reality. After a stressful day, nothing offers quite as much “R&R” as taking to the skies in a piper cub and exploring the Alaskan wilderness and dealing with any weather that crops up, by having a sip of beer, re adjusting your seat and planting your feet squarely on the rudder pedals beneath the desk for when the need to battle a crosswind in the valley jumps out of nowhere on a quarter-mile final.
To anyone reading this who has just started out in this world of a million add-on’s I welcome you into the family. I am serious when I say there is literally something for everyone. If you like to hop around the outback in a Cessna on its last legs, Carenado and A2A’s “Accu-Feel” is a great way of combining study-sim style aviation with the option to add squeaky breaks and a cabin that rattles more than a politician’s trouser pockets.
But if reading up on paperwork is not for you, why not try Just Flights F-Lite series of aircraft. Don’t expect the cabin to be anything special, but for a good model you can jump in and switch on, they offer everything from MD80’ to a FREE Boeing 757- the sound on that last one isn’t too bad either…
Regardless of how new you may be to this hobby, there is always going to be one developer that you just can’t get away from. PMDG is everywhere- and for good reason. Model detail, flight deck complicity and really just everything you see on screen (and much more that’s going on behind the scenes) make these the Go-to for any wannabe pilot and Flight Sim enthusiast. 80 hard-earned US Dollars will get you a Boeing 777-200 and, subject to many factors, up to 23 hours of non-stop flight ability (if that’s your thing). One feature that stood out to me was a controlled fast-forward button. Suddenly that London- Maldives trip isn’t a weekend-only affair anymore, a quick right click and the sim will take me to my top of descent without spazzing out and nose-diving into the ocean. It can also pause there for me so that when I get back from cooking, cleaning or anything else that people with rent and a job must face on a daily basis, I can enjoy the descent and landing. One big bit of advice to those reading this however would be to not mention the FF feature on the internet- you run the risk of opening so many floodgates, The Damn-Buster Raid would pale in comparison.
So you have your weapon of choice… now what? Well pick an airport- odds are, it’s been meticulously recreated and, for a fee, will transform the generic brick-box of the default scenery, to a maze of taxiways, terminal buildings and jetways.
Line up on the string of pearls and land on “the 9’s” at London Heathrow, skim the heads of sunbathers at St Maarten or bank right and plant yourself down on the tarmac at the now long-gone Kai Tak airport in Hong Kong.
Prefer to take things slow and enjoy the scenery? Google “ORBX” and take a moment to look through the thousands of acres the guys there have re-created to the finest detail. England, the Pacific Northwest, Australia- all modelled and re-textured to make the scenery something to behold and enjoy.
Combine that with REX for clouds, water and sunsets and you have yourself an unlimited source of poster-quality photographic opportunities.
So I ask again… what is flight simulation? Perhaps nobody really knows the answer- a dictionary will tell you that it’s a machine designed to resemble an aircraft’s cockpit, with computer-generated images that mimic the pilot’s view and the aircraft’s motion… Well done, you can google “flight simulator: Define” and we are all very proud of you, but what is it to the people who spend hours of their lives dedicated to this often “guilty secret” of a hobby?
It’s the option to go anywhere and see everything from the comfort of your office chair, it’s a pilots licence that doesn’t cost you £70’000 and gives you the ability to fly long-haul for your favourite airline without the red tape that would prevent you to in “reality”.
But beyond all of this, it’s a platform that you have built on, added to- comprising of holiday airports from your childhood, aircraft that retired decades ago, textures that are in no way “realistic”, but are installed because the sun simply doesn’t set like that here and my god it makes for some great screenshots … It’s yours and yours alone and each time you depart from an airport that cost you £20, its hours you spent at work or persuading your parents to entitle you to fly to a new destination- time often spent thinking about what add on you will treat yourself to next and… you know what?
Who really gives a toss if other people think you’re a bit odd for doing it! Last time I checked, the “in thing” to be interested in at the moment are the Kardashians and, frankly, if I had the choice of “fitting in” or death, I’d be at the front of the que- ready to take a magnificent swan dive into a running GE90.