Thursday, 4 October 2012

Chasing the white porpoise...

... as opposed to the white whale, is a little easier.  Or would be, were it not for MS ATC!

Since my last post I've generally been managing a flight every other day, due to Real Life(TM) commitments, which have generally been the usual short hops to Dublin.  There's not really much worth commenting on these flights, as they're mainly a way for me to practice and become familiar with the new aircraft I'm starting to fly.  I've been migrating off my dear old CRJ-700 onto the slightly larger tin - I've got a few hours on the default 737 and A321 and started filling the gaps in the collection with a few of the better freeware birds available.

But I found myself one day with a couple of hours to spare and decided to try something a little different.  So I hopped onto www.flightaware.com, put in my local airport code (EGCC) and had a look to see what flights were happening that day.  There was KLM Flight 1088 to Amsterdam in a 737 taking off around that time, so I thought "Let's fly that!"

First thing I had to do was quickly look around for a KLM livery for the default 737, which I quickly found.  The actual flight was using a slightly different model of 737 (a -700 instead of an -800 IIRC) but I wasn't going to be too fussy.  By the time I'd entered the details into the FSX flightplanner and loaded up into the gate at Manchester, the KLM1088 was halfway to its destination.  With the FlightAware screen on the home theatre PC showing the real-world flight's reported position, the chase was on.

It's weird, but recreating an actual flight as it was happening was quite a thrill, adding yet another layer to the "game".  More importantly I was able to look up the actual flight data from FlightAware, and this led to another interesting development.  I have to confess a general level of ignorance regarding real-world civil aviation procedures, including what altitude airliners generally fly at.  I did learn a handy snippet from one of the forums in the form of the mnemonic "Odd people go east" - certainly in FAA controlled airspace, if flying a course IFR between 001deg and 180deg, you should fly at an odd-numbered altitude, any other heading you should fly at an even-numberted altitude.  For VFR flights, add 500ft to that. (moot in FSX, since its ATC  can only handle even thousands of feet, and more than 200ft deviation from that will get you nagged at)

But exactly how high an airliner might fly at for any given journey, that I didn't have a clue about.  In practice I've generally been taking most of the flights I've done up to just above the 10,000ft mark.  But I was able to fire up the flight tracking data from the real flight and saw that it made it all the way up to 30,000ft, even for just a one hour hop across the North Sea.  So, dutifully recreating the flight as best I could, I got clearance to head on up to FL300.

Which is how I got this....

My first ever FSX contrail!

Flying at the lower altitudes I'd never seen this effect on my own aircraft, only on AI flights that were barely visible in the distance.  Another little thrill of excitement there! (As you can tell, I'm easily amused.)

So by this time the real flight was landed, deboarded and the flight crew were no doubt enjoying the comforts of the pilots lounge at EHAM.  Our simulated flight was fated to take a little longer, however.

The view from the ground.  See that contrail on the left?
That's me and Flight 1088!

Things started to go wrong after the descent. ATC gave me an ILS vectors approach to runway 27, which was fine.  But then they decided to send me off on one of their "round Europe" air tours, and had me routed halfway across the Netherlands at 3000ft with no indication that they were going to turn me back towards final approach.  Eventually I grew a little concerned that I was going to wind up somewhere in Russia, so I contacted ATC and asked for a new runway, something I've done to fix this problem before.  ATC gave me a new approach to 22, but then something strange happened.  I seemed to be getting alternating conflicting instructions.  It was almost as if two different controllers were both trying to get me to land on two different runways,  I'd get an instruction directing me towards 22, then a minute later an instruction steering me towards 27.  In the confusion between the two, and constantly trying to switch NAV frequency & course between the two runways, when I got final landing clearance for 22 I was right on top of it still at 2000ft with no chance of getting down safely.  I had to call a missed approach :-(
After the second runway change request, finally heading
towards final.

ATC then sent me off on a jaunt again, even further across the country this time.  In the end I tried requesting a different runway again, this time back to 27, and mercifully this seemed to do the trick.  The landing was a little sloppy and may have clipped the green stuff, but by that time I just wanted to get the damn flight over and done with.

The real-life KLM1088 had logged a flight time of just over 50 minutes.  I was pushing two hours before the passengers were carted way in their little bus.

I can see why people condemn the native MS ATC system.  I've not had them try to fly me through a mountain so far, but I'm sure it's just a matter of time!

But apart from that little glitch towards the end, I found copying a real flight as-it-happened (almost) was definitely a worthwhile exercise.  Not only have I learnt a little more about real-world aviation as a result, but somehow it felt a little bit more immersive than yet another Orbit 208 flight (which is the callsign I've been using for my practice flights)

I'm now carefully trying to fill in the gaps in my collection of flyable aircraft so as to improve my chances of being able to replicate as many of the real-world flights out of Manchester as possible.  I'm obviously looking mainly at freeware, trying to stick to the best available.  In the process I've been learning a lot about how the aircraft are put togetherm combining models, textures and panels, and I've even managed a couple of virtual cockpit merges, so I have a Project Airbus A319 successfully setup to use the default A321 virtual cockpit.  The only problem with that approach is that the VC is positioned to match the longer A321, and so sits about ten feet in front of where the A319 cockpit ought to be.  It's not a problem in flight, but it does make parking at the gate a little tricky, especially if using the GSX marshaller.

One final bit of news - today I won an eBay auction for a full set of CH flight yoke, throttle quadrant and rudder pedals, for about a third of the price of a new set.  Reading comparisons between CH and Saitek gear online, it did seem that opinions did seem to lean in CH's favour - talk about excessive dead zones with Saitek yokes and short lifespans.  The deciding issue for me was the CH 6 lever throttle.  Saitek offer a three level throttle, but allow you to connect two of them together.  Nice, but it adds another layer of complication as from what I read you have to connect and configure them one at a time before combining them.  The CH combination also has about 30 buttons, compared to about 20 with the Saitek gear.  Finally the CH pedal unit looks like it's a little more compact than the Saitek ones, which will make it easier to fit under my desk simpit.

On the one hand I'm stoked because flying with "proper" controls is going to change the feel of flying immensely.  But there is going to be a little work required to fit everything in the limited space I have, plus I'll need to consider what functions should move off the custom keyboards and onto the yoke/throttle buttons and what the keys that frees up can be assigned to.

How long before I'm getting out the jigsaw and soldering iron to build some actual switch panels, eh?


1 comment:

  1. Nice con trail.. I remember from my physics lessons that jet aircraft fly high because they are more efficient at higher altitudes.

    Does seem like a good way of making the journey longer though doesn't it,.. like going up a great big hill and down the other side.

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