Thursday, 1 November 2012

Today I learned....

...VOR navigation.

It's one of those things that I'd put off, since it's so easy these days just to load up your destination into the GPS and follow the magenta line.  And while I pretty much understood the theory and how it worked, for some reason it never quite clicked for me as something I should use.

If you're here from the flightsim world, then you no doubt know what VOR navigation is, but for the 50% of followers (hey Rick) and the lurkers (hey Jonesy) who aren't , a VOR is basically a radio beacon that sends out radial signals in all directions, like the spokes on a wheel.  If you have the VOR frequency and the bearing of a radial, you can feed those into your little nav doohickey and it can tell you whether that course is to your right or left.  (Pardon the deep technical jargon here, but we're trying to entertain AND edumacate.)  So if you've set the frequency and radial bearing and your gauge shows you lined up perfectly, then you know you're either heading directly towards or directly away from the VOR station on that heading (or its reciprocal)  There's obviously more to it than that, but that's the jist of it.

So yesterday I popped over to Aviator 90 for a refresher and rewatched the videos pertaining to VOR navigation, and this morning I tried and impromptu VOR navigated flight.  Just for shiggles I fired up FS2004, with the default Cessna taking off from Barton Aerodrome, then once airborne looked around for somewhere to fly to.  I decided on RAF Scampton, which I'd driven past on the (Real Life) return trip from Lincoln, then flown to (Simmed) in the DC3.  This time I decided to work out the course purely using nearby VOR stations.

Flight Simulator 2004: A Century Of Flight.
Surprisingly less crappy than you might expect!
In real life you'd have nice navigation charts with radials marked on them and a little protractor like thingie to work out headings, but I fuddled by with just the default FS9 on-screen map and reckoning headings by eye.  It turned out to be a lot easier than I feared it would be.  Eyeballing it worked well enough, and I found it wasn't always necessary to stick strictly to the radial course, as long as I was heading roughly parallel to it.  I think I'm confident enough with it now to consider using VOR  navigation in some of the older aircraft.  Following GPS in a Spitfire, DC3 or the Ambassador just doesn't seem right somehow.

One other thing that struck me was how nice FS2004 was looking.  Somebody put a post on one of the Avsim forums asking if people thought FSX with all the graphics options turned to minimum would still be better than FS2004 with all of them turned to maximum.  For me it's no contest - I've enhanced my FS2004 with various freeware textures and add-ons, treating it as a little side-project challenge.  The only payware I have on there is Manchester and Rhodes airports, and that's purely because I'd bought the FSX versions which were back compatible.  I'm also using the entirely free ENBSeries shader, which adds some visual niceness.  I think it compares very favourably with the appearance of FSX, into which I may or may not have ploughed a certain amount of money for payware improvements.  Oh and FS2004 happily chugs along at twice the framerate I'm getting from FSX.

It's not hard to see why some of the old timers still rigidly cling to the older version.  If I was starting again from scratch, I'd be sorely tempted to forgo FSX and stick with FS2004 myself.  After all, what's the difference between one unsupported legacy product and another?

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