When I have, finally made it into the air, things haven't been entirely glorious. Let's just say my default practice destination of Dublin (EIDW) is in need of a little landscape gardening, after I've ploughed up their grass a couple of times. Both were the indirect result of crappy MS ATC and its merry go-around. ATC also cost me another flight when taking off from Manchester (EGCC) an AI plane crossed 23R as I was throttling up to take off.
But on a brighter note, I finally took the plunge and replaced my Logitech USB headset with a newer Microsoft LifeChat 3000. This seems to have cleared up the problems I was having with the MCE copilot constantly hearing his own voice and misinterpreting it as voice commands (so that he'd get himself into an infinite loop saying things like "Got that. Sorry what was that? I can only handle so many things at once. You're welcome." etc etc.).
And this morning I fell in love with a plane.
The Airspeed Ambassador is a British twin-engined prop airliner that flew in the late 40s, 1950s and 1960s. It was designed to be a replacement for the DC-3 for short to medium haul flights.
A chap by the name of Rob Richardson has produced an absolutely stunning freeware recreation of the Ambassador, with a full virtual cockpit. Someone posted screenshots of a flight with it at Flightsim.com, and as soon as I saw it I just knew I had to fly her.
Look at her, isn't she a beauty? That tri-tail and the long boat-like nose just scream "yesteryear" don't they? Unlike the tail-dragging DC3 the Ambassador has a modern tricycle landing gear arrangement, which makes taxi-ing a lot easier.
In the air she's nice and stately, and the VC seemed to be fully functional. I struggled to get the autopilot working, but then again I don't generally use autopilot when flying this sort of aircraft. The only fly in the ointment, I felt, were the sounds. They're aliased to the default Grumman Goose, which sounded OK on the whole, but on a couple of occasions the sounds didn't quite match the sim. For example, when I started the engines, the full engine idle sound didn't kick in until I'd started the second engine, and it came on suddenly rather than sounding like a natural result of starting the engine.
My first shakedown flight turned into a bit of an adventure. I took off from Manchester from the active runway and just headed north VFR while I tried working out all the sim's systems. After a while at 6000 feet I noticed the cloud getting a bit thick below me, so I decided to drop down below the cloud cover.. only problem was, there was no "below" cloud cover. with zero visibility down well under 1000', I decided to play safe and pull back up above the clouds. It looked like Cumbria was not a safe place for VFR flying.
I finally got the radios working and called up the nearest airfield asking for permission to land, and something happened that I'd never experienced in FSX before. They refused, citing the poor weather conditions restricting them to IFR flights only.
In the end I turned around and headed back south hoping to get back ahead of the cloud, and contacted Leeds Bradford (EGNM) who cleared me for a landing. With a few verbal directions and by getting the GPS working again, I found the field and landed without further incident.
(I know it sounds like a cheat, using modern GPS in a classic bird, but to be brutally honest I just don't quite grok VOR/DME navigation yet. I understand the principles, but in practice it just hasn't quite clicked for me yet, at least not enough to actually use it in a sim flight.)
Anyway Rob's freeware Ambassador is a fantastic plane, and I'm definitely adding her to my "fly for fun" hangar. He's also created an Avro Shackleton which I'm looking forward to trying, as well as a whole slew of vintage British fighter jets.
There are some fantastic freeware planes out there - I've also downloaded the impressive looking Basler BT-67, another DC3 replacement (actually a DC3 turboprop upgrade) which I'll try out, as soon as it doesn't feel like I'm cheating on my new love!