Minutes ago I landed at Belfast International EGAA after a short hop from Manchester EGCC.
(uh, just so we're clear, almost every reference to flights in this blog will be about virtual flights in the sim. I'm no jet setter in real life - you can count the number of times I've flown without taking your shoes off)
I'm particularly chuffed because this was my first proper and complete IFR flight with ILS landing, with absolutely no cheating - no pauses while I tried to work out the checklist, no missed approaches and go-arounds, no mulligans or reloading from an earlier save point. Took off from Manchester, flew over the water and landed at Belfast, with no dramas or whoopwhoopwhoop noises throughout the flight.
Belfast is looking pretty miserable and drizzly right now. Something tells me we've got rain coming our way later tonight.
Seeing that picture reminds me to mention the three add-ons which I've already purchased for FSX. I don't want to go too crazy with the payware, but I thought these three were a good initial investment to really give the immersion factor a boost.
The first two are kind of a matched pair - Ultimate Terrain X and Ground Environment X from Flight 1, the Europe editions of each. UTX has improved map data which makes the view outside your virtual cockpit window better reflect the real world. Things like the courses of rivers and roads, and how different areas of land are classified. GEX complements this with a completely new set of textures for the area covered, coupled with improvements on how the 3d terrain objects are generated. The overall effect of these two is subtle but pleasing - trees and buildings are generated aligned with roads and boundaries in a much more believable way. Bridges are more accurately generated where roads cross eachother or rivers (though I was miffed to note that it failed to correctly portray Barton Aqueduct, one of the few bridges to carry water over water.)
The second was TrafficX from Just Flight. With default FSX I tried setting traffic at 50% and got maybe two, three other planes at Manchester International. I looked into the various options available for AI traffic - WorldOfAI was my first choice, being free, but after working out the install process for one airline I noticed absolutely no difference so my confidence in it fell. I read a few reviews and forum discussions over the options available and determined that TrafficX was very much the man in the middle. Other AI packages have better graphics & models, are more up to date, have a lighter or heavier load on the PC. But TrafficX seemed to be the compromise on all counts - the graphics are neither the best nor the worst and while it does place an extra load on the box, it's not too bad. What I also liked was the fact that it was an all-in-one package. No building up an AI traffic picture from dozens of different airline installs as with WorldOfAI. The price was also very, very reasonable indeed. And by reasonable I mean cheap.
Firing up FSX now, Manchester International is positively teeming with aircraft of all shapes and sizes. At 50% traffic I know that when I taxi to the runway, there'll usually be one or two aircraft in front of me and one or two behind. When I briefly tried firing traffic up to 100%, the taxiway queue quickly built up to over 10 aircraft waiting to take off, with 2 or three in the air on final approach. While I'm after some verisimilitude, sitting for an hour in a taxiway traffic jam is just a little too much like hard work, and besides with the traffic set that high I found I could barely find a gap in the ATC and Ground chatter to request clearances.
So those are my current collection of add-ons. I thought about getting Just Flight's VFR Real photo-scenery for the UK, but it's my understanding that it works best with autogen turned off and personally I like seeing the 3d rendered terrain objects when coming in to landings. Once I have a beefier PC to run FSX I'm tempted to look into UK2000's Mega Manchester airport and possibly the VFR Airfields pack to improve the experience of UK flying, and maybe the Rhodes Diagoras add-on from the Greek Airports Project. Rhodes is my first "target" destination that I'd like to fly to once I've got a bit more confidence. The last time I flew there - for once, I'm talking about Real Life (tm) - the pilot was a little heavy handed with his landing flare and we dropped quite heavily onto the runway in what I'm guessing was a mini-stall.
But for now please forgive me if I just do a little jig and go treat myself to a virtual Guinness.