Sunday, 28 July 2013

Old school

When not simming, I have been known to appreciate things of the slightly steampunky persuasion.  So I guess this was inevitable...
The Longest Flight In The World.... EVER!!!

Having tore things up in Kitty Hawk in 1903, I jumped into my time machine and skipped forward a half dozen years to 1909.  Louis Bleriot was all set to complete his record breaking crossing of the English Channel.  Outrageous, I say!  Can't let a bally Frenchie have that glory now, can we?  Once one of 'em figures out he can fly across the channel, they'll all be at it!  We'll be over-run... over-run, I say!

So I did the only decent, British thing to do.  I conked sim-Bleriot on the noggin and pinched his flying machine.  England Expects, and all that, donchya know.

More seriously, I had so much fun in the Wright Flyer that I started looking around for other freeware aircraft from the dawn of aviation.  There's not much in the way of pre-WWI aircraft out there, but there are a few, including a half decent Bleriot XI.

Instrumentation was non-existent.  Controls were basic but thankfully the primary flight functions of roll, pitch and yaw were all covered.  Rather than mess about trying to slew the plane to a suitable farmer's field, I took off from Calais airfield, adding a couple of miles to the journey.

Planes of this era really, really did not want to fly.  The Bleriot XI took constant control input to keep it on course and level, lacking any modern niceties like trim controls or autopilot.  The "cockpit" seat, little more than a bucket really, had terrible visibility - the view forward partially obscured by the engine and the view to either side totally obscured by the wings.  There was however an unobstructed view looking straight down, something I didn't want to do too often.  Cruising speed was between 40-45kn.  In real life, Bleriot flew at 250ft, I varied between 500ft and so-low-isn't-the-sea-spray-refreshing heights.

Bleriot flew without a compass but was able to set his course by following the route of a friendly French Navy destroyer (which carried his undoubtedly nervous wife aboard). Not having a spare warship handy, I settled for tracking the flight using Plan-G open on a second monitor.

The crossing was uneventful, apart from a couple of lapses in concentration that nearly led to some wet toes.  When I finally reached the English coast, and the Not The Least Bit White Cliffs Of Dover (heres hoping FTX England remedies that!) I ran into the same problem Bleriot historically did - neither of us had scouted a landing site properly, and both were faced with a sheer cliff face that we'd struggle to climb over.  We both turned west and followed the coastline, looking for a way inland.

Bleriot fortunately had a compatriot waving a French tricolore to show him a safe place to head inland.  I gained enough altitude to at least peek further inland, only to see modern urban development had rendered a safe landing inland problematic at best.  Instead I angled for a strip of green land right on the Dover seafront, open but sloping slightly upwards.

The landing itself was in fact quite anticlimactic.

Bleriot made it another 700 yards just over that hill to an open and gently sloping meadow.  A quick check both on Google Maps and in FSX confirmed there was no way I could have landed there, due to a century or more of changes.  My actual landing site, between Townwall St (pictured) and Marine Drive, is today in fact a Premier Inn.  The flying machine came to rest in what looks like the hotel bar's beer garden.

I don't think I could have planned it any better if I'd tried.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

FTX Global is out...

...and I've been playing around with it for a couple of hours now.  The first thing to realise is that this is just a worldwide texture replacement pack, it doesn't include the hand-drawn landclass or insane details from the full blown FTX regions.  What it does give is much deeper, richer textures and some very subtle tweaks to the way they blend together, plus some improved landclass in certain parts of the world.

Flying in areas that I've already got enhanced by UTX Europe, the results are pretty stunning.

Just after take-off, EIDW Dublin, with FTXG running over UTX
I recreated the flight from my first video, Barton to Liverpool John Lennon, following my old daily commute up the M62.  While before I felt it was a passable "symbolic" representation of the area I used to drive through, now for the first time it finally felt like I was flying over the British countryside.

Outside of UTX enhanced areas, the scenery still suffers from pretty awful coastlines and limited default FSX landclass data.  FTX are promising a range of "OpenLC" landclass add-ons in the coming year at a fairly reasonable price.  It'll work out cheaper than buying all the UTX packages, which at the moment only cover the USA, Canada, Central America and Europe anyway.   My impression though is that these won't be as full-featured as UTX, so I'm going to have to do some comparisons when the Europe OpenLC is released.  I suspect I'm going to wind up sticking with UTX where I can and use OpenLC to fill in the gaps.

So far I've noticed no compatibility problems with the add-on airports & airfields I have.  The UK2000 airports have a slightly lighter grass texture which makes them stand out a little, but nothing too unnatural.  In fact it makes it a little easier to pick out a grass field like Barton from the surrounding countryside.

The key thing, for me, is that FTXG removes the jarring difference between an OrbX scenery region and the rest of the world.  This was a problem I had not just with OrbX, but also photoscenery.  Taking off in one style of terrain, then crossing over a very noticeable border into a different style of terrain always broke my sense of immersion.

Now I can fly anywhere within FTX's Europe region and get the full features of the full regions I buy (currently Scotland, soon to be joined by England and Wales) and flying to a non-FTX area still looks like part of the same, cohesive world.  And with the Global Hybrid mode, you can fly seamlessly between FTX regions in different continents and with only a slight compromise in quality.

Does FTX Global make the whole world instantly totally awesome?  I think not.  But in the areas I predominantly fly (Europe) that are already partially enhanced by UTX, it's the final piece in the puzzle that turns FSX into a whole new sim for me, which makes it well worth the pricetag.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Just installed Orbx Scotland this morning...

...six hours later, I've just realised I kinda missed lunch and the whole of the afternoon.


Till now I've not honestly found GA flying to be that satisfying.  The FSX scenery for the UK, even enhanced by UTX and GEX, is OK at best, as a sorta-almost-kinda-right approximation.  Photoscenery is great, but only as long as you stay above 2000ft.

But flying over the OrbX version of Scotland felt, for the first time, like I was actually flying over a part of Britain.  The coastline looked like a real coastline, the landclass areas flowed into eachother in a plausible way, and the little enhancements made the world of difference, like having moving vehicles on all roads, not just the major routes.

A couple of times I saw things that I thought must be graphical glitches, only to zoom in to find them to be genuine terrain details that would never have shown up in default FSX,.  A cluster of whitish circles in the middle of the sea in the Shetland Islands turned out to be ocean fish farms, a thin white strip that looked like a texture seam turned out to be a very slender radio antenna, and some mysterious yellow splotches in the middle of a grassland turned out to be the bunkers of a golf course.

I can't swear to the pin-point accuracy for the terrain as a whole, but I was able to easily identify one quite minor road that I did know well from real life, the B7201 that branches off the A7 and leads to the village of Canonbie, where I've holidayed a couple of times.  The landscape around the area seemed to broadly match my memories of it, making allowances for the limitations of the FSX engine, of course.

Looking at the airport enhancements, Edinburgh didn't seem to be a massive improvement, maybe up to the standard of a good freeware.  But OrbX is all about the small fields and strips, and they were absolutely stunning, giving the UK2000 VFR airfields a run for their money.  Plus they had the bonus of OrbX's "PeopleFlow", animated human figures who move around the airfield buildings and vehicles, giving them a bit more life than UK2000's static billboard figures.

Strangely, all this extra detail didn't seem to have much of a FPS loss, if any.

I also spent an hour or so pottering around some of the remotest airfields up in the Shetland Isles.  Like I said, I don't generally do a lot of basic GA "bush" flying normally, but I could certainly see myself spending many more hours exploring that area from the air.

I have OrbX England and Wales on order.  The Australia-based FSPilotShop had these at such a ridiculously low price that even shipping both of them from the other side of the world still worked out cheaper than buying either one individually from any of the UK stockists I saw.

I decided to take the plunge and buy these particular OrbX sceneries for a potential flightsim project/adventure that I have in mind.  Money's tight right now, and any expenditure has to be justified by a big return on the investment.  I'm confident that these sceneries are going to revolutionise my GA flightsimming in the UK and thus be worth it.

The big drawback with OrbX scenery though is what happens when you move out of an OrbX area.  Apart from the jarring effect of the not-quite-as-pretty textures and landclass, I've read plenty of horror stories of people claiming that OrbX's non-standard implementation has screwed up the default scenery elsewhere (though I haven't seen any of that today first hand).  Even OrbX recommend turning off their regions when flying in other parts of the world.  But what happens if you want to fly from an OrbX region to a non-OrbX one, or even from one OrbX region to another, since you can't change your settings mid-flight?

Previously that's meant saving your flight partway through, dropping out of FSX to make the change then restarting and reloading mid-flight.  But any day now should see the release of FTX Global, the package that applies OrbX textures to the whole of the world.  This will include a "hybrid mode" which lets you have all OrbX regions active at the same time, alongside the enhanced FTXG "new default" scenery.  That seems to offer the best of both worlds - much greater detail in the areas that the OrbX regions cover, while the rest of the world at least looks like it's been painted with the same palette, all blending together seamlessly.

Last year I kept seeing posts from some overenthusiastic souls claiming you could grow your own "FS11" or FS2012 by upgrading FSX with a particular set of add-ons, including all the regions that OrbX covered (at the time, basically Australia and parts of the US).  While I think they may have been reaching a bit at the time, this time next week we might be looking at FSX in a whole new light.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Flying down to Rio

This week's flight had an interesting origin.  I was looking at the stats I get from YouTube showing where in the world people are watching my videos and interestingly how long on average they watch them for.  If ten people follow the link to one of my videos, but half of them only watch for a few minutes before deciding it's not to their liking, that still counts as ten views, but the average viewing time will be a lot less.  For most of the views I'm getting, from the UK and US, I'm seeing average view times of five to ten minutes, for videos that are between 20 minutes and an hour.

But with as few subscribers as I have, it means you might only have one viewer in a particular country, and so you can see that person's viewing habits.  And it turned out I kept seeing one viewer from Brazil, who seemed to reliably be watching all the flight-sim videos in full.  So I figured why not make the next video flight a Brazilian one, by way of saying thankyou.

Last year, during a sale, I bought the TropicalSim bumper airport bundle, which had something silly like 32 FSX airports included at a greatly discounted price.  And it so happened that they included two airports for Rio De Janeiro and two for Sao Paolo.  On the day I decided to do the flight, I picked Santos-Dumont International (named after the turn of the 20th century aviation pioneer) and fired up FlightAware to have a look at outgoing flights.  It was obvious that the airline TAM was running regular shuttle flights to Congonhas several times a day, using Airbus A319s.  It was then about another half-hour's work to track down a good quality freeware A319 (Project Airbus FTW!) with a TAM livery. and I was all ready to fly TAM 3925.

Episode 09 - Blame it on Rio

Episode 10 - Runway Thirty-Five-Wrong

I know some "serious simmers" pick a single aircraft and sometimes even a single airline/carrier and fly them exclusively.  I can see how that can help build up verisimilitude.  In real life, you don't turn up at the airport and say "Now, who am I going to work for today?"  Flying a single airliner, even routinely flying a particular route, is going to be more like "real life" for a pilot.

But I'm not quite ready to settle down like that just yet.  While I want to fly jetliners as properly and procedurally as I can, I enjoy the variety of possibilities available too much.  And there's something inherently cool about picking a real-world flight at random and trying to emulate it as close as possible.

Does that bar me from calling myself a "serious simmer", condemning me to the ranks of "filthy casuals" who are simply playing a video game?  I'll hold my hands up and admit that when I'm in a miljet tickling the mach while flying inverted at FL 1, I'd be pushed to claim that I'm doing anything other than mindless fun.  But if I'm in a tubeliner, (albeit a default or freeware one), flying according to set procedures (albeit "scale model" ones that are simplified from real life) trying to do so as well as FSX's limitations will permit, I'm not sure it's so clear cut.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Video Killed the Blogging.... erm

...well I can't really call myself a star with only two subscribers now, can I?

But while I have been doing a bit of flight-simming in the last couple of months, instead of documenting it here I've made the leap to the multi-media world and been doing a video series on YouTube

(in case that video link doesn't work, click here.)

Last year, I noticed that while there are dozens and dozens of FSX videos being uploaded every day, most were either of the "As Real As It Gets!!!!1!one1!" variety, or very artistically filmed and choreographed "movies". Now there's nothing wrong with either of that style (though personally I don't see the appeal in yet another night-time wing-view video).  Nobody seemed to be doing "Let's Play" style videos with commentary for flight simulators, at least not in English.  It seemed to be an obvious gap in the "market".

Of course when I finally got around to publishing my first video, I found two other YouTubers who'd just started Let's Plays of FSX within the previous few days.   Fortunately instead of being bitter rivals, we've formed an alliance of sorts, helping promote each other's channels and covering complementary topics (Infin8Lives is playing a career in FSPassengers, AShadowBoxsFSX is doing the same for cargo with AirHauler and while both are flying some excellent payware, I'm fooling around with mostly stock and freeware aircraft.)

Trying to commentate while flying adds another level of complexity to the exercise, but it's something I'm getting the hang of.

Rather than "moving on" from blogging to video, as a friend put it (prompting this post, in fact!) I'm going to make a determined effort to run the blog and video series in parallel from now on.  So watch this space!

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Best of British

Managed to cram in a little more flying on the new flightsim rig this morning, and can happily report that the number of successful landings equalled the number of take-offs.  This was a particular pleasure since the second flight I did was in this little beauty...

That's the Just Flight Supermarine Spitfire Mk IV prototype.  JF do other Spits, but I received this one free as part of a promotional sale earlier in the year.  I have exactly four "payware" aircraft, of which three were free for one reason or another.  The one I paid for was the Just Flight F-Lite A318, which I have yet to try and bought purely so I could get this Spitfire.

Anyway this Spitfire Mk IV is currently £12.99 and isn't too bad if you're not too fussy about flying a variant that was never operational.  It's far from perfect - I couldn't get the engine to start following the documented start procedure to the letter, then when I gave up and hit Ctrl-E to auto-start, the engine didn't make any noises until I switched to the external view, at which point I heard it cough into life after which the sound remained in sync with the controls.  On landing I noticed that the tail wheel wasn't quite in contact with the ground, but about 2 inches above it. That's probably easy to fix with some config hacking, but since I rarely use external view anyway, it's not a big deal.

There's something about sim-flying these classic tail-draggers.  Even though nothing is real, when coming in to land you still find yourself thinking "Good heavens, this is a priceless historical airplane.  I'd better not crack it up!"

By the way, the airport in the background is Leeds Bradford, from UK2000's VFR Airfield packs.  These are fantastic value and an absolute must have for anyone flying in the UK, giving you greatly improved versions of both small airfields and the big airports.  The latter aren't quite up to the same standard as their full price Xtreme airport range, but I'd say they're better than the free versions and a whole world away from the default FSX airports.  I can't recommend them highly enough.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Blimey, are my flying skills rusty.

Having seen Stockoglaws Air Hauler series on YouTube in which he flys a Cessna Grand Caravan, I thought I'd broaden my flight horizons and try the plane out.

Oh dear.

What little piloting skill I'd built up seems to have deserted me during my break from the flight sim.  Since restarting I've not managed a decent landing in anything other than the Cessna 172.

Practice, practice and more practice, and maybe a return run through of Angle Of Attack's Aviator 90 video series are the order of the day.

In other news, Active Sky is working out fine.  It just sits there in the background happily injecting real-world weather into the sim.  For only a little more effort, if I load up a flight plan into AS2012 before starting FSX, it can install an appropriate texture pack  for the detected weather.  Graphically, the AS2012 clouds look very nice, though I was quite happy with the default FSX weather.  But I have my real-world weather back.

I also spent some time today getting Multi-Crew Experience working again, so I have voice comms with ATC and the services of a copilot.  With the new headset I bought just before taking a break, all the problems I'd had with MCE hearing its own speech and getting into an infinite loop have gone.

The only thing I have left to do in order to restore the sim to its former glory is AI traffic.  I was really not very happy with the Traffic 360 upgrade last year.  While I've just about been persuaded that the volume of flights taking off and landing might be more realistic than the traffic queues I was seeing with its predecessor, I'm convinced there are some fundamental problems with the type of traffic it generates.  For example, in one test I did 90%+ of the traffic I saw in one hour were using Speedbird callsigns, whereas the reality should have featured planes from a dozen different airlines.  Other users have reported problems with the mix of airlines at their local airports too.  Then there's the whole issue of AI planes flying with their doors open... I'm sure we've all done it in the sim at one time or another, but I expect better from the AI.   Right now, I'm seriously considering re-installing its predecessor TrafficX and turning the traffic slider way down to 25% to match T360's "realistic" traffic volume.  Then again, Just Flight are currently working on a service pack for T360 which might... just might... be worth waiting for.  No ETA yet, other than "soon".

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Extreme low level..

So yesterday on the sim rig I did a lot of low level flying.  I mean really, really low level.  Like eight to ten feet altitude.

Maybe this will explain...

Yes, in a somewhat perverse turn of events having finally got the flight sim cockpit set back up, the first thing I've done is use it to play a truck driving game.  Now I'm not a particularly big fan of trucks or trucking, but to be honest the reason I bought ETS2 and the reason I mention it here is that for me at least, it hits a lot of the same buttons as flight simming.  They're both journey-based simulations, where the objective is simply to get from A to B in a timely and safe manner.  They both involve controlling large vehicles that many of us will never get the opportunity to control in real life.  Both have lots of nice simulated scenery to enjoy.

ETS does approach things a little differently, with more focus on giving an enjoyable game rather than a strict simulation.  The simulated world extends across most of western Europe (with an upcoming DLC extending that further into eastern Europe), but at a time and ground scale of about 1:12.  That means that for every five seconds of real time, a minute ticks by in the game world.  But since the scenery is scaled down to match, you're still driving in "real time".  It's a good compromise - I really wouldn't want to be sat simulating a five-hour drive in real time, and the journey and game-world times seem to match reality fairly well.  The road networks are based on reality, though the city streets are greatly simplified to give a good impression of the sort of industrial/commercial zones that trucks might deliver to.

The motorway network (I've only really driven in the UK, both IRL and in the game, so I can't really compare the continental roads) is a decent approximation with a few irritating diversions from reality.  In reality, many if not most motorway junctions in the UK are roundabouts.  If you miss a turn-off, it's usually simply a matter of waiting for the next junction and doubling back on yourself.  That's not possible in ETS, which means a missed turn-off can result in a hundred-mile detour (I missed an exit on a trip from Cambridge to Manchester and wound up crossing the Humber bridge on the resulting detour).  Some of the motorway routes are a little wacky as well - IRL the journey from Manchester to Liverpool is a simple matter of heading straight up the M62, whereas in ETS2 the sat-nav gets you to turn off and take the southbound M6 and then the M56 (which in reality takes you to Runcorn and the Wirral).  Finally motorway service stations are directly next to the motorway carriageway, rather than being set back or concealed by scenery as they almost always are.  This last is probably an artifact of the scaling down factor, but it does break immersion a bit if you're used to driving on motorways.

Another area where the game falls down as a simulation is the flight model... sorry I mean driving model.  While it does give a decent impression of driving a heavy goods vehicle, it doesn't do anything to differentiate between the different models of truck available, so a Scania will feel and handle exactly like a Volvo, which will handle just like a Renault etc.   Customisations and different specs do change the handling, so a 700hp engine will have more oomph than a 540hp one, and a six wheeled chassis will have more stability than a four wheeled one.

But where ETS2 scores highly is the career/business side of the simulation.  You create a character representing your driver and build up his or her skills and reputation by taking on contract jobs driving for other companies.  Once you have enough money in the bank you can buy your own truck and drive as an independent operator, then move on to buying more trucks and hiring drivers to work for you.

I never thought that I'd enjoy a truck driving simulator.  But it gives a lot of the same enjoyment that I get from sim-flying, with the added bonus of a compelling career game.  I can see some interesting possibilities for synergy between FSX and ETS - How about shipping goods by road to a city with an airport, flying it out to the continent, then driving the last leg to a final destination?

Back into the air, and on to the issue of FSX's no-longer-functioning real world weather.  After reading an awful lot of reviews and opinions, I've bitten the bullet and picked up ActiveSky 2012 as a replacement weather engine.  From what I've read, while it does offer a lot of features and fancy texture controls, it is possible to use AS2012 transparently, having it sit in the background and inject real-world weather into FSX seamlessly without further intervention.  Since that's really what I want... the ability to jump in the sim and fly a flight today, real time with the weather that's outside my window right now, there doesn't seem to be an awful lot to choose between AS2012 and REX Essentials with Overdrive.  I've just finished the download and am about to install AS2012.  Fingers crossed.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Back in the air!

And we're done!  For the moment.

Everything's where it should be, ergonomically.  With a little creative furniture arrangement I was able to cram in the second monitor after all on top of the side cabinet.  The upper and lower custom keyboards are comfortably placed and there's room next to it for a 10" netbook running Gmap or Plan-G.

Connecting everything back up was the usual headache of swapping USB sockets around until everything mysteriously worked.  My good friend Mark, who'd helped enormously with the practical side of this build, wanted to see the results of our hard work before he left, so I nervously fired up FSX and setup a Cessna 172 on the runway at our local aerodrome (Barton EGCB)  After four months away from the flight yoke I was incredibly rusty, but somehow managed to get into the air, do a circuit and bring the plane back in for a half-decent landing.

Then, with a little coercion, I was able to persuade Mark, a non-flight simmer and self-proclaimed clumsy oaf, to have a try in the pilot seat with the flight model turned down to Easy.  Take-off was a little hairy, just making it into the air over the perimeter fence and clipping a few treetops, but once in the air, he quickly picked things up, and after a bit of flying around tentatively brought the plane back in for an impressively bounce-free landing.  He seemed quite energised by the experience, Even though it was just "a game", he reported a nervous tingling in the hairs on the back of his neck that must be a familiar feeling to most simmers.  I was delighted that after he'd put in so much hard work to help put this project together, he was able to get at least a taste of the flight sim experience for himself.

So what's next?  Well no cockpit project is ever really finished and we've already been thinking about improvements we can make.  I'm going to try and get in a few flights with it as it is for now before investing any more time and money in prettying it up.  After that we might think about covering the top and sides a bit more to give it a more enclosed feel, and obviously at some point it'll be painted.  I certainly need a lot of practice to refresh my flying skills before I can think about getting back to driving the heavy metal.  There's also a little bit of reconfiguring and re-installing of sim components required - things like GSX and MCE which aren't currently installed for some reason.

Reading the various flight-sim forums, I've also discovered that the FSX "real world weather" function is no longer providing up-to-date weather.  This is probably down to Microsoft ending support for FSX at the tail end of last year (I believe that the multi-player functionality is similarly affected, although I don't do multi-player FSX so that's not such a problem.)  Unfortunately, since flying with "real" weather was a big thrill for me, I'm going to have to do something to get around this.  There are several notable weather engines available, REX, ActiveSky, OpusFSX etc.  I've tried the freeware "FSrealWX Lite" but found it completely impossible to figure out.  I'm going to have to bite the bullet and find the money to buy one of the other products.  Right now I'm leaning towards ActiveSky, but all of them seem to have their detractors and supporters in equal numbers, it's a tough choice.

But I've flown.  Not far, and not particularly well, but I got the sim-bird up into the air and back down safely again.  I am content.

I'm back!

Aviation Help 5c. The Pilot is: IN

Here's the current state of the Ghetto Flightsim Cockpit.

The original plan of stacking one Laiva desk on top of another was quickly abandoned when it became clear that the TV I plan to use for the main display would not fit.  Instead we've put together a frame for the overhead keyboard to attach to, as well as replacing the desktop with a piece of MDF which extends further out than the original, to provide plenty of room for the flight controls.  The lower of the two custom keyboards will attach to an upright piece of MDF just in front of the screen.  Unfortunately this change has led to a cost overrun of about 400%.  But since the original budget was a modest £20, we're not doing too badly.

Now I'll grant you this project isn't up there with some of the stunning cockpit builds you see on the web, but then again it was never meant to be.  The goal is simply to recreate the setup I had at the end of last year, with the two custom keyboards mounted over and under the main display.  The one thing I won't have at the moment is a second monitor for instruments and the ATC window, but I can get by without that for now (and there are a couple of possible options we can look at later).

Once we get the lower keyboard mount fitted, this'll be basically ready for a test flight or two.  After that we might look at the possibility of boxing in the top and sides to give more of an enclosed cockpit feel, and make it look a little less like Lucy's kiosk in the Peanuts cartoons.

I'm also holding out for a cupholder.

Friday, 8 March 2013

New Project - The Ghetto Flightsim Cockpit

Moves are afoot to get me back into the (virtual) skies.

I have just arrived back from Ikea with a couple of boxes which will, when suitably hacked together, form the basis of a new "cockpit".  It's not going to be anything spectacular, nor do I expect it to be long term, it's just going to be a cheap way to get me back to something comparable to the setup I had last year.

Basically, last year I had a standard 19" widescreen monitor and a computer desk with one custom keyboard mounted below the monitor and another above it.

At the start of the year, my main monitor started playing up, so I replaced it with a "spare" 38" TV.  Using such a large screen for a desktop PC may be unusual, but it's bloody fantastic in practice.  But unfortunately to facilitate this, I had to remove the upper shelving section of the desk (which was a little worn and rickety anyway).  That means nowhere to attach the custom keyboards.

Now I'm not a great handyman, nor do I have a great selection of power tools available (Hot Glue Gun and a sander are about it) so doing it "properly" would represent a major investment.  Plus at the moment I have no money coming in (zero, zilch, nought) so I can't afford to spend much if anything.  But on the other hand, I did invest quite a bit in flightsimming last year which unless I start using it again would just be wasted money.

I was brainstorming this dilemma with a good friend the other day, and after looking at the options from RogerDodger Aviation and Sim Samurai (both do DIY cockpit plans) we started looking at the possibility of repurposing other furniture.  We came up with this...

This is the Laiva desk from IKEA, their bargain basement desk product, selling for the sum of £10 each.

Now visualise this if you can - mount one Laiva on top of the other.  The main screen (probably the 38" TV) will fit on the little shelf at the back of the upper desk.  The lower custom keyboard mounted just below it, the overhead will be fitted to the horizontal bar across the top.  If you're seeing what I'm seeing, then you'll understand why I use the name "Ghetto Flightsim Cockpit".  It's not going to be terribly pretty, but it should be relatively simple to do and be functional, and at the same time if it doesn't work out or I replace it with something better sooner, it's only £20 wasted on firewood.

There are plenty of people who enjoy flightsimming on an entirely regular PC at a desk - some even play on a laptop and fly by keyboard controls.  Others insist that the only way to do it is with a flight yoke and  custom cockpit complete with real instrumentation.  The truth is that we each find our own level of "realism" that we absolutely must have in order to enjoy the experience.  For me, I'd gotten so used to the custom keyboards being placed where they were... reaching up for lights, fuel controls and anti-ice, reaching down for avionics and autopilot stuff... I honestly feel that going back to a single standard keyboard and worrying about what combination of Ctrl-Al-Shift keys I need to do something would spoil the experience for me.  That's where I'm at now, and so that's what I need to reproduce to restart the flightsim hobby.  

Maybe at some point in the future I'll wonder how I could ever go back to "playing" without the full array of physical switches and a rack of Saitek modules in my custom built enclosed cockpit.

But for now, the Ghetto Flightsim Cockpit Project is under way and will hopefully bear fruit in the next month or so.  Watch this space.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Requiem in Pacet

On January 3rd 2012, at about 10:30am, my father died peacefully at home.

Shortly after my last post, Dad's condition started to deteriorate, to the point where he required 24hr attention and care.  Flight simming is, by it's nature, an immersive experience and therefore not compatible with a need to be constantly alert for movement or signs of distress in the real world.  Because of this, I've not flown, or really tinkered with the sim setup in over a month.

Moving forward, the next few months area likely to be an upheaval, as I transition from being 100% focussed on Dad's care to getting back into the world, getting a job and getting a real life once again.  Though money is likely to be tight for a while, having the whole house to myself means there's a chance there'll be room for a more elaborate cockpit setup at some point.  I also find myself with an embarrassing surfeit of wide-screen TVs, especially since I don't watch television myself, with the result that one 38" TV has now been retasked as a flight-sim PC monitor. (it's also pretty good for writing blog posts! :-)

Will post again once the initial turmoil is over and I'm able to get the sim setup once more.