Monday, December 26, 2005

My Flight Simulation History

Before we venture deeper into this exciting world, I thought I'd share a bit of my history. I grew up in Valhalla, Pretoria, South Africa, about 700m west from the Swartkops Air Force Base. And further to the west was a famous (shhh, secret) South African Army recon unit training area. So watching aeroplanes, helicopters and parachutes for many years, I, like many young boys, dreamt of flight one day.

In my first year of university I purchased a Sharp calculator. This was required for our science class. The next year I upgraded to another model, which could solve a 3 x 3 matrix. Awesome! In my third year, a Hewlett Packard Scientific calculator, which could solve a 10 x 10 matrix. Finally, in my fourth year came the creme de la creme, a personal computer. It was a 80286, with an EGA graphics card. (For those of you not in the know, EGA could display 16 colours, and VGA at that time was just too expensive for me.)

A computer-savvy friend gave me some software, which included Microsoft Flight Simulator version 3. I was hooked from the start, and my feeble excuse that I was going to use the computer for my university studies, well, seemed very feeble at the time.

Version 4 was purchased not long after, as was the Aircraft and Scenery Designer, and the Graphics and Sound Expansion pack (when sound cards came out). Version 4 also had the unique feature to fill in the wireframe mesh, so the sky was blue, and the ground was green.

Version 5's scenery actually looked like scenery, and FS95, FS98, FS2000, FS2002, and lately FS9 (FS2004 - A Century of Flight) followed suit.

Intermingled with Red Baron and Falcon 3, I built up thousands of flying hours in front of the computer.

In a mere ten years since starting my illustrious flight simulator hobby, I ventured into the world of online flight. You connect to the internet, and fly online with other people on the or the VATSIM network. I am specifying for a reason that will still follow...

And not long after that, I started controlling. First as FACT_GND (Cape Twon Ground), under the helpful guidance of Jannie Roelofse, and quickly upgraded to FABL_CTR (Bloemfontein Centre) in South Africa. And whatever night of the week you were flying, you would most likely find FABL_CTR manned by me.

With the purchase of FS2000, I took the conscious decision to fly like one does in real life. Speed is controlled by pitch, rate of descent is controlled by throttle position. And so I had to undo years of bad flying habits.

But it was worth it. My first real-life flight was performed at FAGC (Grand Central) in a Piper Cherokee 140 (ZS-FMV) with AVEX Air Training. On the way to the plance, I boasted about my countless simulated hours, and after taxiing past the other aircraft, my instructor handed control over to me, and there I was, taxiing a real airplane. We were cleared for takeoff, and I handed back control, fully expecting never to be allowed to take off on my first flight. But my instructor said, no, you take off. And I did. We did stalls and spins, circuits, and finally I landed the aircraft all by myself. It was the only greaser I ever had.

My instructor commented on my excellent radio skills for a rookie, and I was able to share about my vast controlling experience. I never completed my training, as my daughter was born, and we moved to Australia.

No more time to sit in front of a computer screen for hours on end ensuring the virtual safety of other pilots. Finding time to fly nowadays is hard. But some days I still manage. Saturday was a good example. I managed four hours in Dreamfleet's new Cirrus SR22, as well as two flights for my Virtual Airline in a CRJ200 (Canadair Regional Jet 200). Phew. No more explaining of acronyms.

What will the next version of Flight Simulator bring? A good place to keep an eye on is Microsoft Insider, as well as the blogs of the next version's developers. This one has links to many interesting blogs, and other sites.

And for military aviation simulation, there can be only one: Falcon 4 Allied Force. Fox Three!

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