Tuesday, 30 October 2012

GoFlight GF-LGT

I bought my first GoFlight module last week, a GF-LGT. I picked it up on eBay for under £40 which I'm very pleased with as the new ones are around £190!

Admittedly mine is the older model, black rather than grey and without the rudder and aileron trim or extra 3-way switch. As I have only ever used elevator trim and have plenty of switches this seems like a good trade off :)

My GF-LGT has an elevator trim wheel and a big ole landing gear lever linked to three LEDS (green is down, red is transitioning, off is up). It also has a switch for flaps.

I've decided to go with the older black GF modules as they are cheaper to pick up second hand and will match my MIP which will also be painted black.

After building and configuring several switch panels myself I was impressed by how easy it was set up the GF-LGT. After mounting the module in my MIP I dug out a USB cable and connected it up, then downloaded the latest GF software from their site.

I ran the GF config programme which detected the module and displayed a picture of it with dropdowns against each switch. All I needed to do was select the appropriate function for trim, gear and flaps and I was good to go.

Previously my gear, trim and flaps were mapped to the switches on my yoke. It's much more satisfying to slap a big lever up to raise the gear, and seeing the LEDs change from green to red gives me an absurd amount of pleasure. I really need to get out more.

Using the trim wheel is far more precise than the yoke switch, and gives a much greater degree of control. It really is a joy, and very close to the real world Cessna trim wheels I'm used to.

The flaps switch is a bit meh though. It's a feeble little thing which seems to be configured in reverse, so UP lowers the flaps and DOWN raises them. I'm sure this is easy to correct but the switch itself will always be naff. The GF-LGT-II has a proper paddle lever for the flaps but I'm sure this is still just attached to a two way momentary toggle switch.

What I would like is a lever that can be physically positioned in a detent for each flap setting, so you can see at a glance which position your flaps are in without having to display a gauge on the instrument monitor. Of course this poses problems in a generic cockpit, as some light a/c only have two flap positions while larger aircraft have five or more.

A project for the future might be to make a lever like this, or perhaps adapt a throttle quadrant for the job. I'm sure some imaginative labelling and profile specific axis mapping in FSUIPC will cope with all types of aircraft.

For now though I'm very pleased with my bargain purchase. I'll keep using the flaps switch (it's no better or worse than my existing one) and the elevator and gear lever (and LEDS!) are fantastic.

Highly recommended.

Next: GoFlight radio and transponder avionics modules.

Friday, 19 October 2012

A2A's B377 Stratocruiser

In my ongoing quest for realism I tried out A2A's Boeing B377 Stratocruiser, with Accu-Sim.

Eventually I think I'll hit the point where the realism starts to become too much for a simulator and become tedious, at which time I will have found my level.

As a real world pilot I do want a high degree of realism. With a C172 this is fine, as running through a few short checklists is not too time consuming. Even my beloved DC-3 is do-able, but when flying something a complex as the B377, which had a four man crew, compromises must be made.

For example, I printed off 18 pages of B377 checklists, which involve all four crew members. I haven't sat down and run through every item yet, but with only an hour or two in the evening to actually fly, I don't want to be spending half this time hitting switches.

Fortunately A2A offer an add-on called Captain of the Ship, which gives you full interaction with your crew and allows you to hand off tasks to them. I haven't tried this yet, but it looks like a good option to maintain a high level of immersion and still get off the ground in a reasonable time.

The B377 is also the first four-engined aeroplane I have flown. Initially I was planning on limiting myself to single- and twin-engined types but I have changed this policy allow myself to fly pretty much any aircraft, which means also changing my switch panel designs to accommodate four engines.

I had a crack at reconfiguring my panel designs over the weekend, and it looks like I will need a second Bodnar card in order to support four of everything instead of two. I am currently trying to split it all into two sets of panels so I can do one set immediately and the second when I buy another card.

This is the revised engine start panel, which will allow me to control the mags and start up to four engines. I'll have to write a LUA script for FSUIPC to make this work.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Centre pedestal progress

Finding time to work on the hardware side of things is difficult, particularly now that the evenings are dark. I need a proper workshop with electricity. One day, maybe...

I did manage to grab a couple of hours on Sunday morning to work on the centre pedestal. I had already cut out the sides, which are now fixed to the base. The throttles are mounted and I think it's looking pretty good. I'll live with it for a week before adjusting the throttle position (they need to come down a little) and adding a front and top.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Blocky gauges problem - Solved

I've been having problems with gauges looking torn and pixellated when I dragged them to my second monitor.

It turns out that in FSX Settings I had that monitor set to 1024x768, instead of its native resolution of 1680x1050, so no wonder the gauges were looking big and nasty.

I feel pretty stupid as I had set the correct resolution of my main view display, but after adding the second monitor I hadn't thought to use the dropdown to select the new monitor and set the correct resolution on that one as well.

Still, it's working fine now :)

I spent a couple of hours last night configuring the new RealityXP Flightline T gauges on a custom panel with a black background in the default C172. I was trying to get them to display at 8cm x 8cm so I could cut some holes in a plywood mask to allow them to show through.

Because of its age FSX assumes all monitors are 4:3 and consequently round gauges appear oval unless you edit their size in the panel.cfg.

After some experimentation I got the basic six FLT gauges displaying correctly in full screen on the second monitor. They're still not perfect, with some minor tearing on some of the instrument markings and lettering, but they are a big improvement on the default gauges.

Next step is to create a generic default panel that will work for all the single engine aeroplanes in my hangar, then do the same for the twins.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Maiden with Buffalo Airways Virtual

I got my registration details through for Buffalo Airways virtual airline (BFL), so I thought I'd have a weekend off from cockpit building and just fly. I chose a simple route from their main base in Yellowknife to their secondary base about 150nm away in Hay River. On the BFL website I 'bid' on this route (which allows you to be paid virtual dollars for completing it) and got it.

I also downloaded the BFL ACARS app, which tracks your flight and submits a PIREP to prove you've done it. This is a nice piece of software and only took a few minutes to set up using the very clear tutorial.

Although I have downloaded the free BFL C-46 and DC-4 I thought I'd start with something I'm familiar with, so I fired up my MAAM-SIM DC-3 which comes with a Buffalo Airways livery.

I created a flight plan in FSX and also entered the route on my real world GPS, then positioned myself at Yellowknife and started my other new toy, VoxATC UK.

I took the plunge and bought this last week after trying the demo back in the summer. It's pricey (my most expensive purchase so far other than hardware), but lends a whole new dimension to flights by replacing the default FSX ATC and allowing you to speak to controllers and have them respond. I'll post my thoughts once I've given it a full shakedown.

The flight itself was uneventful, just one straight leg south over the enormous Great Slave Lake. VoxATC performed well at Yellowknife and offered traffic advisories en-route, and the GPS tracked my progress all the way.

This was the first longish (just over an hour) flight I've taken in the MAAM-SIM DC-3 and it certainly keeps you busy staying on heading and altitude. The trimming was tricky, and it didn't settle down the way some of the others planes do.

After an acceptable landing I shut down and used the ACARS app to submit my PIREP, which was approved the next day. I logged 1.1 virtual hours and earned eleven virtual dollars. I'm not sure what to do with my new found wealth, but in another 8.9 hours I'll be promoted from Rampie to Flight Attendant, so perhaps I'll save it for a party.

I can see the attraction of flying for a VA, but I can't see myself doing more than one flight every couple of weeks. There are a lot of interesting routes on offer, so it's always something to do if I'm stuck for ideas (which is NOT a problem at the moment).

Monday, 8 October 2012

Fame at last

Chris Evans was discussing flight simulators on his Radio 2 breakfast show this morning, so I texted in and got a mention :)

Friday, 5 October 2012

GenX vs OrbX

For my UK flying I have been using UK2000 VFR Photographic Scenery Generation X, with Treescapes and the demo version of VFR Airfields (which fortunately includes Wellesbourne). Judging by Wellesbourne the airfields are excellent in terms of accuracy.

GenX is the first photoreal scenery I've used and I have mixed feelings. Before buying it I read a quote saying that above 800 feet it looks amazingly realistic.

I have to disagree with this. For me, at anything under 2000 it looks very 2D and just like what it is: a big photo. This makes take-off and landing a little disappointing.

However, at above 2000 ft it looks great, although the shadows from the trees can be a little jarring at times. It's particularly good with poor weather and low visibility.

Treescapes is a great product and helps enormously, positioning thousands of trees to give the landscape a more 3D feel, and mitigating the shadow problem to some extent by plonking 3D trees and woods on top of their flat photo texture.

Landclass accuracy seems good too, with the roads, railways and rivers I'm familiar with all in the right places.

But I don't have to limit my virtual flying to Blighty. Two of the great advantages FSX has over real world aviation is that you get to fly in aeroplanes and to places you would never get a chance to experience in RL.

In FSX I enjoy bush flying around Seattle, Canada and Alaska, and a while back I installed OrbX's free demo of their excellent FTX Pacific NW product.

I was very impressed, so this week I took the plunge and installed the full version, together with a couple of their free add-on airports.

After a quick hop from Vashon Island to Seattle-Tacoma and a buzz around Bowerman I was blown away.

For me, this is far better than photoreal scenery, with fantastic textures, buildings and trees right down to the moment your wheels hit the ground.

OrbX offer most of Australia and New Zealand, and a large amount of north western North America.

I would recommend the UK2000 products, but for me OrbX is streets ahead.

Ice Pilots NWT - Recommended

I do enjoy flying the old WW2 vintage piston pounders, and on Monday my trawling of the web turned up a TV programme which had previously passed me by.

Ice Pilots NWT is a Canadian show about Buffalo Airways, which flies old DC-3s, DC-4s and C-46s (to name a few) to remote locations in the Northwest Territories.

It's real Tales of the Gold Monkey stuff, and well worth a watch.

I found the narration a little grating at first. It's one of those annoying shows where the narrator constantly repeats what you've just watched two minutes ago, I can only assume for acute amnesiacs or the hard of understanding. Despite this it's great fun to watch, and a vintage plane buff's dream.

Ice Pilots is now into its third season, and I believe the show airs on Quest in the UK. I'm currently working my way through season one, which certainly removes the rose-tinted spectacles and exposes the harsh reality of being a freight dog in such a remote area.

There's even a Buffalo Airways virtual airline which I've registered with. I've never joined a VA before so I'll post how it's going.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Planes and plans

The centre console is in place, albeit temporarily for testing purposes. I'll live with it for a week or two but I've already improved the design so unless anything changes I know what I'm doing with it now.

This has meant I've got my throttle back in operation and can fly again. Most of the latter part of last week and the weekend was spent testing and checking out my new Carenado PA28 Cherokee. It's a very agile little plane, which Hugo enjoys using for tree hopping.

I also added to my growing DC-3 fleet with the Just Flight version. This is a beautiful aeroplane to watch from exterior view, and sounds great. The VC is not so good though, being far too pristine. This is not a major problem for me as I use the 2D cockpit, but even that is just the default FSX one which is a little disappointing. My ideal DC-3 would be the Just Flight version fitted with the MAAM-SIM 2D panels, but the Just Flight DC-3 is now a firm favourite anyway.

On Saturday I spent a very useful fifteen minutes adjusting the height of my external monitors. This has enabled me to move the whole cockpit further in under the camber of the roof, giving me more room and allowing me to fix the overhead panel in place. This just has the engine management module on it at the moment, I still need to add the engine start module.

The side console is on hold as it's basically a glorified keyboard shelf and since adding the base I don't really need the stability it would give the cockpit anymore.

So now the two things at the top of the job list now are gauges and the glareshield.

I'm fed up with using the default 2D cockpits on my instrument monitor as these appear ugly and pixellated. I'll have a play with editing their dimensions but I suspect I will have to buy the RealityXP gauges to see how these look. Unfortunately these do not include engine gauges so I'll have to source these elsewhere if I can't get the default ones looking okay.

My plan for the glareshield is to curve some bendy MDF or flexible plastic around the curved edges of the MIP, then carve a block of insulation foam into a gently curving top. Once it's all covered in black vinyl I'm hoping it will look okay.

I'll mock something up in cardboard first to see what it looks like.