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Flight Log – Wintry Spring

April 24th, 2021 · Gaming

Click the above image for the gallery on flickr cause the embed options all suck. Also all images are captioned with additional information not always included below

Time for some bush flying! Well, not really since we visited actual airports instead of just landing out in the wilderness but – small steps. Better to have a real field to get used to how the Carbon Savage Cub handles, since this would be my first time flying it. I’ve used the stock Savage Cub that comes with the game in previous flights, but this aircraft upgrade is pretty beastly, if you take a good look at the link to see all the upgrades it has. The engine upgrade is the most important because it allows me to keep pace better with my flying buddy Andrew, who prefers the digital cockpit of the X-Cub, which has a much higher cruising speed than the default Savage Cub and so on previous flights he’s had to work to fly slow enough for me to keep up. This time out we didn’t have any problems – in fact he sometimes had trouble keeping pace with me since my climb performance is much better.

This flight was originally supposed to take place several months ago over the winter because the area would be the closest best bet to have a look at the snowy weather the sim has been able to produce since an update in late 2020. At that time we would have been able to use live weather data to get snow but now, in mid-April, this was no longer possible. However this past week a large cold front has been sweeping through the entire upper US and snow has indeed been falling in the higher elevations. Nothing that would have lasted more than a day or so but I felt justified creating a custom weather scenario that laid out an 11cm snow cover – still a bit much but dammit we wanted some snow! Also, the Bing ground textures up here have noticeable snowy areas to begin with so it just made everything blend better anyways.

I spent some time before the flight figuring out if there is a way I could get my X55 flightstick on my lap and the throttle quadrant mounted to the left so that it would mimic the control layout of the Cub properly. I was able to ghetto together a setup that worked superb. The stick base ended up half on my lap, half on the books but that didn’t make me crotch-sweat or anything. It had to be there cause otherwise I couldn’t push the stick forward without hitting the edge of my desk. The clamp for my throttle quadrant was able to be rotated 90°, although I could only use two of the four screws but that still let it hold fast and I could side-mount it rather than have to front-mount it – though the difference wouldn’t be that much. It was really fun to fly with a stick rather than a yoke! The only issue is the box it was all set atop is just a little too wide and sometimes I can’t fully deflect my rudder pedals without adjusting it.

Flight plan for this trip.

Well I had all my mods installed still, Andrew had all his this time so we crossed our fingers and loaded up onto the tarmac of Saratoga County (5B2) with the time set to 5pm. Andrew had trouble getting his plane started until he used the ignition key in the game rather than the one assigned to his joystick, my Carbon Cub fired up straight away no problems, which was nice cause the last time I tried it messing with the sim a little while ago I had troubles. I could see Andrew’s aircraft properly this time, using the livery he had selected. We initially planned to take off Rwy21 and I had led us to Rwy32 and had taxied across towards 21 when I realized with winds out the the NW Rwy32 was actually the one we should be using, derp. Andrew was still holding short fiddling with things so I taxied back, we both pulled out to line up and then took off together.

As previously stated, my climb performance is way better but I didn’t realize this at first so I quickly rose above him and lost him on departure. I thought for sure I was ahead of him but he said he couldn’t see me and one of the cool features of the Savage Carbon Cub is a rearwards-facing very bright torch light so people can follow me easily. Finally we turned on player labels (still can’t toggle those for fucks sake) and realized he was actually ahead of me. So I quickly caught up and we began to plod westward towards our first destination. We decided to swap lead-follow each leg, so Andrew would lead first, then me, then him, then me.

The whole time we were trying to figure out where we were in relation to each other and get linked up to fly in formation, I wasn’t really paying attention to where we were so once I was settled on his wing and began to look around I noticed a water feature that looked like Hinckly Reservoir, which would mean we had passed our first airport, Kermizian (0NY3). I made mention of this to Andrew and we began to come about, but then he took a closer look at the GPS display in his cockpit and said that we were only halfway there so we came about back onto our previous course. As my mom would say – it’s not a real trip if you haven’t turned around at least once! Eventually I did spot the airfield as we flew over it, knowing how it looked from the air after working on enhancing it (along with the other two grass airfields we planned to hit). Andrew circled around to land first, while I circled around and promptly became disoriented, losing the field location. He landed, the GPS showed him not to be on the airfield and took off again while I was still trying to get my bearings.

Finally I was able to re-locate the field using the reservoir as a landmark and approach for a landing while Andrew watched to see where I was going. He actually ended up approaching a tad faster than he should have and shot right past me on final! I talked him down, saying it was the first clearing not the second, and he came in hot but landed okay. On the roll-out however heading towards the trees he braked too hard and nosed over into the ground. I bumped down hard with one big hop after a steep short final but managed not to break anything. Rushing to get off the ground earlier at 5B2 after a late start, I had forgotten to setup my external flight-tracking and landing-analysis tools – but I can say for sure this was a very rough landing. Was only the first though, there are subtle but noticeable differences to getting this plane down compared to the default Savage Cub I will need to get used to.

Andrew reloaded onto the airfield and we setup for departure after I brought my external tools online. I decided not to bother setting up the flight-tracking but I did remember to download a new replay tool I discovered so I could check it out. It was my turn to lead and even though we could go just straight north to the next airfield (NK26) I decided to head northeast then northwest to dogleg it more over the mountains. I ended up not traveling quite as far east as planned but had no trouble finding the large lake that led us towards the airport and flew low along some ridgelines on approach to really get some dynamic views from the gradually setting sun casting relief on the terrain and glinting off the water. Flying north of the field set us up for a left-hand pattern for Rwy31. I was cut again on landing as Andrew continued to find he descends faster than me at idle, but at least he didn’t almost crash into me as he whizzed by this time 😛

We both came down okay although Andrew appeared to land left of the runway and disappeared as if he had crashed into the trees, but says he came down fine. This time I had my landing analysis enabled and was rated an “average landing” – already getting better! Taxiing back I saw Andrew pop back into existence so we got prepped for our third leg, which he would lead. Getting lined up for takeoff I ended up rolling down a slope at the end of the runway towards the trees and had to slew back up, which was a pain because you can’t slew in small increments. I also noticed Andrew’s aircraft floating over the terrain and this was likely due to him having the higher-resolution terrain installed as part of the US World Update, which I didn’t have installed (although I have since installed it now that I know it works okay – in prior testing that was one of the differences in Andrew’s broken install versus my working one).

No issues on departure, rather than fly a direct NE route that would take us over mostly lowlands I proposed heading east then north, which would cover the mountain area I failed to fly over earlier on the way to NK26 and also take us right past the tallest peak in the state, Mt Marcy, which is also the name of the airfield (1I1) for which we were bound. Although Andrew had his GPS, the visual waypoints were easy to keep track of along the way, with our turn northwards over Indian Lake using the orientation of the lake itself to point us right towards Mt. Marcy, which could be distinguished as the tallest peak in the range ahead of us. Once past Marcy it was easy to pick out the valley we had to go for to get down to the airfield. We actually ended up flying over it without realizing it and coming around spotted it to land. Third time was the charm and I was rated a “very soft landing“! Although I got to buzz Andrew on landing this time he was already on the ground when I did so.

It was getting dark, but thankfully the Carbon Savage is outfitted for nighttime VFR and our final destination (KGFL) was a lit airport. Also, finding our way wouldn’t be a problem thanks to Interstate 87 leading us straight to it once we departed and exited the valley to the southeast. Sure enough, no problems enroute and while Andrew chose the more direct approach to Rwy19 I came in at an angle and turned left onto final for Rwy12. Technically we were both landing with a tailwind but the runways were ridiculously long for our aircraft so we just kept our speed up. Still, it didn’t let me gently set the aircraft down so I ended up with another “average landing“. We both landed right about the same time and taxied over to the tie-down apron to park. ~4hrs total for this flight and not a single serious technical issue along the way! The biggest problem is that for some reason Andrew doesn’t seem to see any of the static aircraft that I can see, and generally ends up parking inside one of them 😛

I’ve also given up using ATC completely because it’s pretty buggy and also I’m just still annoyed that you can’t use it to communicate to other players and you can’t use your voice, especially given the strict phraseology and the improvement of voice analysis. It’s good to go through the motions if you’re using the sim to keep up on your real-world pilotage but I don’t plan to do that so what’s the point? Especially when you can’t crash into other players anyway so why bother getting on the CTAF? I’m still considering looking into VATSIM however.

The next flight is already in the planning stages, heading out to Cleveland with a stop-over at Buffalo since we can’t make a direct flight in the Cessna 152/172. The Niagara Falls area would still look better with DX12 and the new particle system but for an aircraft flyover the scenery will do as it currently is – will definitely revisit the falls area with a helicopter in the future once it’s better looking up close. Then I think we will continue westward after some flying around the Lake Erie islands. I would like to reach the PNW by late summer/fall and up to Alaska by next winter…

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Flight Log – VOR Checkride

April 18th, 2021 · Gaming

Click the above image for the gallery on flickr cause the embed options all suck. Also all images are captioned with additional information not always included below

When my friend Andrew and I attempted to fly several weeks ago, problems arose for both of us. Andrew had been having sim crashes already and in the process of trying to fix his issues all the sudden my sim, which had been working fine, started to crash consistently on load. So we gave up and went back to playing Valheim. Recently there was an update with the latest World Update release so we decided to try again. I would still rock the full modded install and Andrew was going to just try with nothing but stock. The best day we had available to fly had crappy IRL weather but we were so desperate to just get a flight in neither of us had a problem with just using a built-in weather preset to ensure decent VFR flying conditions. For this flight our only goal was to complete the previous flight that was cut short due to icing and make it to the airport we had originally planned to land at, Saratoga County (5B2).

Flight plan (text under the 1B1 airport info was the ATIS from our first attempt)

We both managed to load into the sim no problems, although for some reason even though Andrew was using a stock and default airplane it showed up like a SimObject standard scenery aircraft rather than the detailed user aircraft model. There is an option to display basic multiplayer/AI aircraft and maybe that got reset on my machine somehow with the latest update, will have to remember to check next time. Hilariously one side-effect was his co-pilot model was oriented improperly so her arms and legs were sticking out the bottom of the aircraft.

Andrew accidentally started on the runway at 1B1 so after I went through my preflight on the parking tarmac I taxied out to him on Rwy21 and we took off together without issue. Standard departure from Rwy21 is “climb heading 190° to 2300 before proceeding on course” so that is what we did, as I remained tucked in behind him. Once high enough I came about northwards to the left so he could swing around and get behind me. We passed east of the airport heading north to intercept the 039 radial inbound to the Cambridge VOR – which I had listened to earlier before taxiing to confirm I was properly tuned and VOR was functioning.

As I worked to align with the radial Andrew made note of having trouble keeping up, which we figured was probably due to the weather preset not being exact for us both – he probably had different winds that were affecting his airspeed. Unable to keep a close follow to me, he stuck to his own route using the GPS map in his fancy-pantsy G1000 cockpit. Me, I intercepted the radial and lined it up okay on my CDI but it’s been so long since I navigated via VOR that I wasn’t entirely sure I was actually on the right course so I started looking out my windows and trying to get a visual fix via the VFR chart. I finally spotted the power lines beneath me and linked that to a lake I could see in front of me to realize I was indeed right where I should be. Yay!

Although I had the option to modify the cloud layers while flying, the preset I had chosen had them high enough for me to stay well clear of terrain. Although I was below the minimum safe altitude noted on the charts for this area, I could see obstructions just fine so I only stayed ~800′ AGL, climbing a bit higher when the clouds opened up some above me, reaching a height of FL25 for a short while before passing over the VOR and beginning to head west direct for the airport, tracking the outbound radial 293. Dealing with inbound/outbound radials has messed me up in the past but I got the CDI set properly. Taking this route not only let me confirm I could still navigate via VOR but kept me out of the Bravo airspace around Albany.

By this time Andrew was already getting setup to land as I continued west and tuned to the local ATIS for a weather update. Winds were almost straight out of the west at 8kts, so split between the cross runways. I was slightly north of Rwy32 and since they were all left traffic pattern and would have to turn slightly right onto final for that runway I chose to land Rwy23. Descended to pattern altitude well out and tuned to the CTAF but for some reason the sim wouldn’t let me choose a landing option in the ATC window. I now realize it is likely because I had used Com2 to listen to ATIS and I did not switch the comm panel button back to Com1. I did this because it let me preset both frequencies during cruise to swap them easily during approach, but it ended up messing me up looks like. IRL I would have realized this at the time rather than just shrug it off as a bugged ATC though 😛

Rolled out into final right on slope and took her in nice and easy, no flaps, for a soft landing as rated by the landing analysis tool I had running for the first time this flight. I also recorded the flight path with this tool and so you can download the KML to view it in Google Earth as well. Andrew made it down okay as well and we both closed the game normally. Success!! I had a nice smooth flight with ~45FPS average, even though I have the game set to lock at 30. We now know that Andrew’s rig can handle the default game okay and I have proven all the additional mods are working fine as well, so hopefully next time he can fly fully modded as well, especially since I put in a lot of work building up some turf airfields to land at in the Adirondacks!

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Flight Log – Icy Conditions

January 23rd, 2021 · Gaming


Click the above image for the gallery on flickr cause the embed options all suck. Also all images are captioned with additional information not always included below

This flight was flown earlier this week after a few days delay due to scheduling conflicts. This was actually a good thing because it turns out two of the lighthouse models that were supposed to have been updated with rotating lights had not been properly updated and still showed up with just static spill lights on the buildings themselves. I found this out Sunday the day before we were supposed to fly and attempted to contact the author. He finally responded Wed afternoon and uploaded the new files so we were able to install them just as we loaded up the sim that night.

After we couldn’t fly on Monday as planned we were forced to wait until Wed for weather to improve again. For keeping an eye on this I used meteoblue’s forecasts since that is the company partnered with Asobo to produce the live inflight weather data. I chose several points along our planned route and saved an image of each forecast then layered them to see how much cloud cover overall we would experience along the way. The image I linked to shows 3 flight windows on Mon, Tue and Wed. Slightly better than Mon cloud-wise Wed was a bit windier and also colder (air temp chart was higher up). Regardless clouds were the main issue because without moisture flying in the cold isn’t so bad. I was hoping there would be enough breaks in the 10-25% cloud cover to avoid them altogether, knowing later in the flight we would have to climb up to above 4,000′.

Flight plan for this trip.

So we are sitting on the tarmac at Cape May County (KWWD) getting ready for departure when all the sudden I start to hear…. I’m like to my friend Andrew – “is that fucking rain??” I turn on my cockpit flashlight and sure enough rain drops are spattering my windows. This despite the weather looking perfectly good earlier and nothing on the radar when I check meteoblue. So that was an oddly annoying decision by the game’s weather engine but I wasn’t also too concerned because I knew conditions could improve as expected as we headed north and cold temperatures were not yet an issue since we would be flying low over the ocean.

When I went to start my engine however after completing my pre-start checks it failed to turn over and I couldn’t figure out why. We were already running a bit late, Andrew had already taxied to the runway hold short so I threw a bit of realism out the window and just restarted the flight on the runway so everything would be set and ready to go. Well, almost I had to reset my nav and comm radios and after taking off Andrew reminded me I had to set my altimeter as well. Departure was almost into the wind from Rwy28 but even with just a slight crosswind it was coming at us around 15-20kts and so like last flight I had to give it a bit of aileron in addition to rudder to keep on the runway.

Once airborne I banked left over the shore to swing down past the tip of Cape May to scope out the lighthouse before continuing to work around back to the north. Unfortunately despite downloading and installing the updated files for it, it still showed up with a static spill light directed on it, no actual rotating beacon. At least it was there though to serve as a landmark, and I continued on northwards with Andrew joining up on my wing. Since he was in the faster 172 I was in lead as he could keep up with me easier. I had tuned my Nav1 to Atlantic City’s VOR just so I could check it was functioning properly for later in the flight and got a good signal and beacon code.

We headed up the shore, keeping low and over the water around 700′ as the clouds and light rain continued to encroach from not too much higher above. Thankfully though as we passed Ocean City roughly halfway from Cape May to Atlantic City conditions improved, good visibility came back and the rain tapered off. We stayed low to get a good look at Atlantic City all lit up as we cruised by and continued north towards our next VFR waypoint, the lighthouse that sits at Barnegat Inlet. Sadly this one too, which was supposed to have been properly updated this time, showed up with only a static spill light on it.

By the time we approached Sandy Hook just over an hour into the flight, we had climbed to around 1,200′ (FL12) as transition through the NYC SFRA would require an altitude between FL10 and FL13. Staying out over the water to the east as we passed by to avoid overflight of the national recreational area that Sandy Hook is, this time we finally got to see a proper lighthouse – or at least I did. Andrew says it never even loaded in for him. This lighthouse’s operation showed the rotating light but due to limitations in MSFS’ light system you couldn’t actually see the beacon light point itself from as far away as we were, just the spill rotating along the ground. So, better but still needs some work.

Right then, onto the SFRA, which we have already transited both ways several times on previous flights. It’s just the most convenient way to get through the busy NYC Bravo airspace without having to talk to ATC, which in MSFS is still buggy and pretty basic. We had a few new scenery enhancements loaded up to portray NYC at night so that looked great and a specific item in the flight plan reminded us to flip off Trump Tower as we flew past midtown. (I’m not affiliated with any political party I just consider Trump to be a horrible human being).

Once we flew out from under the floor of the NYC Bravo airspace about 1.5 hours into the flight we were clear to begin climbing as along the Hudson further north were two Class D airspaces we wanted to fly over which topped out at FL27. I could see there was a solid layer of clouds above but how high I couldn’t tell. I was hoping the clouds were closer to FL40 but I had only gotten up to FL17 before the lights below started to fade out. By FL20 though I could see them better again so I figured it was just a haze layer we could climb above. Continuing upwards my Nav2 OBI (which I wasn’t using) lit up with a VOR acquisition and for some reason that annoyed me so I swapped frequencies and it still caught a beacon so I randomly changed the standby frequency, swapped again and it still lit up. So I sighed and returned my attention to flying but I actually should have never taken my attention away from flying to fiddle around like that for a stupid reason because I suddenly realized I couldn’t see any ground lights out the front anymore. Looking to the side I saw a few but then I also saw the rim of my window was iced up. My cockpit lighting was not good enough to really see icing without my flashlight and when I clicked it on and saw the extent of the icing I immediately cut throttle and told Andrew I was descending.

I panicked a little, I will admit. I really couldn’t tell through the ice on my window if I was getting ice also on my airframe, and it was too dark to check even in external view especially with the majority of my plane painted white. So I oversped a bit dropping down and became slightly disoriented but managed to not smash into the ground. Once down below FL10 I saw that it wasn’t getting any worse but then again it also wasn’t getting any better. Despite my cabin heat being full open I couldn’t seem to melt the ice off my windshield, at least not entirely. I was definitely able to see just fine, and I felt no diminishing of my aircraft’s handling or performance. So I made the decision to carry on, keeping low over the Hudson to hope the ice would all eventually melt away.

This meant we had to call in to ATC at Hudson Valley Regional (KPOU) to request airspace transition, which I was hoping wouldn’t lock up my ATC window like it did the last time I had to do this. In this case though we transited in and out of the airspace with no issue, continuing up the river towards Albany. I actually started to find it very difficult to pick out the river in the dark despite the fact that it was surrounded by roads and towns. There was a gibbous Moon out but it was mostly shrouded by clouds and not shining down that brightly anyways to reflect off the water.

We continued north, and were able to eventually make it as high as FL20 without any problems with additional icing or clouds. A few aircraft were nearby and we made sure to call out visual sightings to ensure we both saw them. Cruuuiiiissssing right along. I did hear Andrew telling me he was climbing slow up to FL20 and took a while to get there after I did in his more powerful aircraft but I thought he was just being slow to keep pace with me so I didn’t really think too much about it.

At the point where we had to intercept a radial towards the Cambridge VOR and turn off the river over land, we had to climb back up and try to get above FL41 as that was the minimum altitude for obstacle avoidance in this area of the VFR chart. The clouds were broken now and you could see stars and the clouds looked pretty high, but I only got to FL27 before I saw the ice creeping back onto my windows. The air temperature was just too cold and the original ice from before still hadn’t melted away either. So it was another descent, much better managed this time, and time to consider diverting. A review of the charts though showed we could still proceed forward through Albany airspace and remain low. Dropping back down to FL10 again stopped the icing so we continued onward.

As we approached the airspace around Albany about 2.5hrs into the flight the amount of lights on the ground understandably increased but this actually made things worse for me because it was scattered by the ice on my windshield and practically blinded me from seeing clearly ahead. This was then compounded as we got closer by low clouds over Albany completely blocking our way and finally I had no choice but to tell Andrew we had to divert. I immediately banked around towards the south before we reached Albany airspace but the act of doing so got me really disoriented because of how poorly I could see out the window. Andrew’s 172 has a GPS so he took the lead to guide us to an alternate airport. As I swung around to follow him I realized we were heading northeast and was like “uhmm… where are we going?”. He had chosen an airport further from the river and at a higher altitude, which I immediately disapproved of and told him we need to turn around and head for Columbia County (1B1), which was near the river almost at sea level. I got my compass on a south-westerly course so I would eventually find the river again, then we could just follow it south until we spotted 1B1.

I was still having issues seeing very well so I again relied on Andrew to tell me when we were nearing the river, over the river, and when he could spot the airport on his GPS as the map scrolled along. I heard him call out the direction once we were close enough but looking that way I couldn’t make it out through the ice scatter and it took a few minutes to get closer before the lights were recognizable as an airport. Finally the beacon kicked in (some very weird short view distance settings on some of these game objects) and I could see exactly where the airport was. Left traffic pattern meant we could fly along the river on downwind then turn left onto base and again onto final. I went in first and you can see the landing on this video.

We both made it down okay, although Andrew commented on not having the greatest landing when touching down after me. After parking we got a good look at his aircraft under one of the airport lights and wow it was iced up pretty good, which would explain his performance issues! He had told me also during the flight he saw ice on his wing struts but never mentioned ice on his wings and said after we landed that from the bottoms they looked okay. So he was very unaware of how bad his aircraft was although the handling issues he was experiencing should have tipped him off – I probably should have wondered a bit more at the trouble he was having but again, it sounded more like he was just trying to fly slow to stay on pace with me! Anyways it’s not only a good thing I got us down quick but that I didn’t let him attempt to take us to an airport at a higher altitude.

I also want to note that after turning away from Albany I did not go into external view at any point. I wanted to really feel the pressure of the situation I was in, having trouble seeing out my windows while trying to regain my orientation and find the airport I had to get to. I wanted to see if I would experience any spatial disorientation, which coupled with icing can have deadly consequences. Very happy I managed to not crash! Also, even if Andrew had used external view it would have been too dark to see the amount of icing that had built up on his airframe.

Finally, an interesting thing happened to me upon landing – my lights cut out. I soon realized it was linked to my alternator, which wasn’t putting out enough energy if I cut throttle to idle below 1,000 RPM. Never seen this before but it makes sense if it’s so cold my battery drained and doesn’t recharge. Or something.

This was our longest continuous flight so far at just over 3hrs and 300nm. This was also the first time since restarting flight simming that I used a VOR navaid and it was nice to see I remembered how to do it, even if we ended up not needing it.

Anywhoo, we failed to make our destination of Saratoga County (5B2) and plan to make the remainder of the hop at a later date. From there we will hop back into our Cubs and head out over the Adirondacks for some bush flying – hopefully with snow!

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Flight Log – Southern NJ

January 18th, 2021 · Gaming


Click the above image for the gallery on flickr cause the embed options all suck. Also all images are captioned with additional information not always included below

This flight took place around the start of December last year – wow I’ve been so bad at writing this up but I also haven’t flown since… I will be doing another flight tomorrow though so time to recap this one.

The idea here with this flight was two fold – for one the Six Flags Great Adventure scenery had been updated recently, and the last time I flew over it darkness had fallen enough that it was hard to see the safari park and the animals in it. The second reason was the US Update had recently landed and brought with it new aerial imagery for southern NJ, so why not check it out?

To attempt to get things looking a bit more drab for winter time, I downloaded a seasons mod that darkened the trees and it definitely helped IMO. They couldn’t get the trees to show as bare models but the darker leaf colors worked well enough.

I didn’t make a full flight plan for this trip, I just sent my friend Andrew the route plan I had worked up in SkyVector. Once again the sim did not want to cooperate on letting us both see each other – I could see him but apparently he was not able to see me. This was unfortunate because the ideal situation would be for him to follow me since I knew the route plan better but more importantly I was the slower aircraft. So we had to make do with me constantly telling him how close I was and whether he needed to speed up or slow down. It worked out well enough I was able to stick with him almost the entire flight – but we’ll get to that later.

Departure was out of 3N6 Old Bridge and the day was quite blustery – I forget exactly but it was definitely close to max crosswing component for our aircraft because rolling down the runway I had to not only rudder into the wind but bank into the wind to keep from getting blown sideways into the trees before I even left the ground. Once in the air heading south, with the wind out of the west I could literally see my plane flying forwards and also sideways as I traveled along! Still, it was not a turbulent experience, so that was nice.

We reached Six Flags with no problems and circled it low and slow twice around, getting a good look at the giraffes and elephants visible at the animal safari. Then it was following Rt 195 west to the Turnpike (I-95) which with 8 lanes at this point is pretty hard to miss. Banking back south we followed it and the parallel I-295 until they branched apart slightly, which was our cue to head southeast over the Pine Barrens. Turning at this point and keeping our altitude below 1,500′ allowed us to stay out of Philly class-B airspace and also vectored us around the McGuire alert area. I’m proud to say I remembered this time to switch to the terminal area chart (TAC) to get a better look at the roads and airports to make sure we were flying where we were supposed to. When we passed Camden (19N) off to our left I knew we were right on course.

Here’s some video of us cruising south along the Turnpike. This was recorded with I think 30FPS but the sim only running around 20 or so. Screw all the people who need 30FPS or higher I never even notice low frames

At this point we were clear of all controlled airspace and just flew as we liked, keeping eyes out for traffic. Climbed up to around 3,500′ for a better view of the new scenery area, which to be honest I couldn’t tell if it looked any better than before but it was good looking all the same. As we approached Cape May County (KWWD) I let Andrew pull ahead so he could fly the pattern first with me following. I quickly lost sight of him but was calling out my position as he was calling out his. We managed to still mess up our positioning though because when he said he was on final as I was downwind I turned base then final expecting to slot in behind him and I actually turned right onto his tail!! I actually just said screw it and tried to land with him but was going to fast and had to call a go-around.

Flying the pattern again and landing was nice and smooth. At the airport Andrew and I tried to get the sim to let us see each other again but to no avail except for the one time he loaded in with an Airbus like “CAN YOU SEE ME NOW?!?” lol. Unfortunately the sim still has a limit on the amount of players it shows within a certain range and 7 aircraft had just loaded up and taken off as we were messing around plus plenty more I could see name tags for in the area. Really cool to see so many people out flying. A test just made today I was able to see both Andrew and another friend Mike who had recently purchased the sim. So that bodes well for my planned flight tomorrow with Andrew (maybe Mike too). When will I write up that one? Who knows…

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Flight Log – Pattern Practice

December 6th, 2020 · Gaming


Click the above image for the gallery on flickr cause the embed options all suck. Also all images are captioned with additional information not always included below

These flights took place on Nov 8th and 16th.

After the past few flights and experiencing issues in aircraft control and multiplayer, I decided to take some time to sit down with the sim and iron them out, flying the pattern around 3N6 Old Bridge as I did so.

First issue was the weathercocking of the aircraft, which I hadn’t really noticed on the first few flights but the last flight both Andrew and I almost ran off the runway landing at 3N6 it was so bad. First I flew the aircraft around with live weather and noticed I was definitely being pushed around on take off and climb out, looking behind and seeing how far off to the side of the runway I was. Coming in to land I also felt the need to really crab into the wind on final approach and after touchdown had to apply a good deal of rudder to stay on the runway, but I was ready for it this time. After confirming the behavior was still present, I went to clear and calm preset weather conditions and flew the pattern again. Departure was in line with the runway and I had no issues rolling out on landing. People on the forums claim this has been a persistent issue but I’ve certainly not noticed it prior to one of the major updates when landing in the 152 – I guess I’ve been lucky with good runway alignment and/or light winds. I didn’t play around with the windspeed to see if there was a threshold to when the weathercocking turns extreme. Okay so, know to be extra ready on landing if in a crosswind – moreso than I would expect anyways I mean. Weathercocking is a proper action of the aircraft but it just feels a bit overdone.

Second and third issues relied on waiting for a chance to fly with Andrew since they related to multiplayer. We had trouble seeing each other properly despite our settings and also he was having trouble getting live weather. I even reinstalled the entire sim to get back to a clean start and with that when I loaded up into the game not only could I actually see him he could see me flying the correct aircraft rather than a generic low-wing Piper-type. So then I started adding back mods and playing with settings until he saw me as a low-wing aircraft again. The trial and error found that me using a custom livery was the problem. Surprisingly, when I gave my livery to Andrew he was able to see me properly, and when I installed the livery he was using, I also saw him textured correctly! The game supports liveries in multiplayer! I never saw that in the change log for any updates and was pretty sure that wasn’t a thing originally because I remember editing the aircraft texture files directly to show his plane in the livery he was flying. However also that was before the freeware developer scene really got the hang of using liveries, so maybe the ability to see them properly in multiplayer was always there it was just the extra liveries were not made properly yet.

The latest major sim update also seemed to have cleared up weather issues for Andrew, although we still flew a pattern together with calm and clear preset to make sure we could do it in formation – he had no trouble keeping pace with me so that means the last flight when we had trouble staying together it was likely because our “live weather” was different and I was in a headwind when he was not.

We should be making our next real flight later today if things go well, which is why I’m finally forcing myself to write about the past two flights last month that got us ready to take on this next one. Whether I write it up today too is another matter…

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Flight Log – Into the Sunset

October 20th, 2020 · Gaming

Click the above image for the gallery on flickr cause the embed options all suck. Also all images are captioned with additional information not always included below

This flight took place yesterday

It’s been over a month since my last flight because I still find it frustrating how the default scenery is so close to perfect but not quite there. This has been largely reinforced as I continue to conduct an airport survey of the entire northeast US and spot numerous minor issues that can be easily fixed with the SDK – so why should I bother flying there until that happens? Right now I’m still relying on others in the community to step up – I’m too busy with my KSA project to delve deep into development yet myself and I am waiting for ADE to be released, the SDK and tutorials to mature further in addition to the upcoming US World Update towards the end of this year. So I keep daily tabs on the various community scenery sites and in the time since my last flight three interesting improvements have popped up to add a proper rendition of 3N6 Old Bridge, better bridges along the Hudson SFRA as well as the missing Alpine Tower, and Six Flags Great Adventure parks. So that led me to put together a flight out of 4N1 where the Cessna was last parked, down the SFRA, along the NJ coast, inland to Six Flags and back north to 3N6. Here is the full flight plan.

Some additional work I did on the sim was to finally figure out how to create a custom livery for the C152, because after the first game patch I realized the core files would often be overwritten and revert back to the default colors. The custom livery mod I used to figure out the config also had some nice new interior textures I chose to pick from to have a darker instrument panel and white leather seats with carbon fiber trim around the cabin. I also installed the C152x mod that alters the aircraft handling and systems to be a bit more realistic not just in terms of general performance but to also match, for example, the type of engine the aircraft should really be carrying given the range of RPM available. Another helpful add-on has removed the toolbar icon at the top of the screen so I don’t have to worry about it ending up in screenshots anymore. Another thing that kept me from flying was issues involving the sensitivity settings for game controllers and 10-story buildings popping up where stuff like restaurants and strip malls are supposed to be. The latest patch earlier this month fixed that.

So the original plan was to fly on Saturday evening but I had heard from the author of the NYC bridge pack that he was going to implement my request and add the Alpine Tower later that day or the next so I decided to wait on that. It was released Sunday but my friend Andrew couldn’t fly that night so we hopped into our cockpits Monday evening instead. This I feel was way better anyways because the weather on Saturday was almost perfectly clear conditions while the forecast for Monday was looking a bit more meteorologically challenging and dynamic. The plan was always to fly at sunset for some nice ambiance along the way – I had hoped to get to Six Flags with enough daylight to buzz the safari park and see the wildlife scenery there.

So we aimed to depart no later than 5pm and just a few minutes after that we were both lined up on Rwy06 at 4N1. Some light hazy cloud hung over the airport and larger clouds were hovering off in the distance. I had used the Windy site to determine wind was out of the southeast at the time, blowing across the runway so we decided to just head out in the direction we needed to travel anyways. Without a weather station at the airport we tuned our altimeters to field altitude – at least I did the first time before realizing I had the wrong tail number set and had to reload my aircraft. Rather than one of us takeoff and circle then the other take off and we meet up over the airport we tried to both take off together this time. This worked out pretty well with me behind and Andrew in front with the more powerful C172 but actually due to me being lighter I have better climb performance and I needed to throttle back to keep from racing ahead as we performed the departure straight out to FL17 as documented for Rwy06.

Once above FL17 we were able to turn on course and while Andrew made straight for the Hudson River I had to turn on a more southerly course to slip in between some large clouds. It was at this point we realized that Andrew was not seeing the same weather I was, which was a bit disappointing. The amount of clouds in the area was so great that I was pretty disoriented right away and simply had to just trust in my compass that I was heading towards the river because I couldn’t see it until I was just about to cross over it and the clouds began to break up a bit. Although I had meant to intercept it further north, I ended up turning downstream along the west bank at the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge (also known as the Tappan Zee Bridge) which is now a proper 3D model of the new bridge that has been built.

Still around FL20 I reminded Andrew we had to start descending here at the bridge to prep for entry to the SFRA, which has an altitude allowance of FL10-13. We sunk down to FL12 and a lot of my attention was on trying to locate Andrew amidst the various lights of real-time AI and other player traffic in the area. The sim unfortunately still doesn’t let you toggle nameplates with a key so since I was taking the photos and Andrew was trying to follow me I had him turn on nameplates so he could find and catch up to me. Clouds were still low-hanging and forcing me more towards the center of the river so I had to pay close attention no oncoming traffic was heading my way up the east side. The clouds managed to thin out just enough for me to spot the Alpine Tower (formally named the Armstrong Tower) which was the only landmark along the SFRA that had been missing up until now.

We started getting a good deal of turbulence as we passed along the SFRA corridor over the GWB (also now modeled not a photogrammetric mess – though could use some textures) and continued past midtown (which was now adorned with the Hudson Yards buildings as well). At the time I was too focused on maintaining proper altitude and keeping track of Andrew to think about it but now in hindsight a bumpy ride here makes sense with winds out of the southeast – they would be striking the cliffs of the Palisades along the river and causing updrafts. Overall though the transit through the SFRA was without issue although one mistake was made: I forgot to tune my Com1 to the Hudson CTAF – I really should have done this at preflight so I could just swap the frequencies. I was also too busy talking to Andrew and keeping eyes on traffic to properly report my position anyways.

Crossing over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (now too also a nice 3D model) we exited the SFRA and began a slow climb while aiming for the western side of Sandy Hook across the Raritan Bay. until we passed that point we were under a Bravo airspace floor of FL15 (I incorrectly mark it as Class-C airspace in the flight plan). Once south of the tip of the Hook and over the bay there we could climb as high as FL30. Once again despite our efforts a large gap had opened up between us and a lot of attention was spent trying to bring our aircraft back close together as we continued south more overland than along the shore as planned. I still find it amazing how well I can know the area from the ground and yet looking out my windows trying to determine exactly where I am is a struggle. Still I managed to note passing Asbury Park south of Shrewsbury Bay to know we were totally clear of Bravo airspace and could climb as needed. Clouds above however kept us below FL30.

A short while later we had reached Belmar and could see KBLM off to our right to let us know that it was time to head west and pick up I-195. I actually almost ended up following the Garden State Parkway until I realized I was still heading south and needed to be going west, turning further to the right I finally saw the proper interstate although it was a lot narrower than I expected and in the dying light it was starting to get hard to see. Poor Andrew had no clouds still so the setting sun was just blazing into his cockpit and really drowning out the view outside. We were still making attempts to get closer to one another despite me going ~110kts and Andrew working to hold ~90kts.

Following I-195 led us straight to Six Flags Great Adventure/Hurricane Harbor/Safari and by this time the ground lights had started to come on making it easier to track where we were. The park scenery comes with night lighting so it was nice to fly low over and check it out. I spent three years working at Six Flags doing stunts for Fright Fest and the live-action Batman show. It was too dark by now to really get down low for a view of the Safari – I hadn’t factored the headwind and trying to work on staying together into my flight time estimate so we arrived after 6pm. Instead we just did a low circle around the property and then continued on along I-195.

Next step was to reach the junction of I-195 and the NJ Turnpike (I-95) which was easy to spot because the Turnpike has like 8 lanes of traffic plus N87 is right there as well to serve as a visual marker with its runway lights and beacon. Banking hard right we headed NE along the interstate until it bent off to the NNE while we continued on our current heading. This brought 3N6 into sight shortly thereafter. Winds were still out of the southeast and there was no traffic in the area so I announced position and prepared to make a straight-in approach. I lined up okay and picked up the slope on the PAPI, throttling back as I knew it was a steep descent to clear the trees. Probably should have put flaps all the way down but kept it a notch above full just because my attention got sucked up with keeping my approach straight – not sure how strong the winds were but I was definitely crabbing.

Touchdown was hard but not enough to damage the undercarriage although as soon as my nose wheel came down the aircraft tried to swerve to the right. I had to stand on the left rudder pedal and it caused the plane to roll a bit and actually went off the runway into the trees a little bit – I was waiting for either my left wingtip to scrape the ground and cartwheel me or for some collision detection to happen with the trees but I managed to somehow keep either of that from happening, got back on the runway and stopped right at the far end, taxiing off just as Andrew announced short final. He came down and almost swerved off to the right but also managed to not crash. Phew! We taxied in together and parked in front of the hangars.

In hindsight we probably should have flew the pattern around to Rwy24 so we could nose into the crosswind. It’s likely that the tailwind tried to weather cock our aircraft around. Or something – we really don’t know there were no such problems on taxi and takeoff at the start of the flight.

I have an idea for the next flight but am still waiting on some scenery enhancements. In the meantime I will continue my airport surveying and also spend some time with Andrew working on our formation flying. It was rather frustrating that although my airspeed was higher than his I could still see him pulling away, and makes me wonder if I was dealing with a headwind when he was not although he did seem to have the same amount of turbulence and wind issues I had. So fixing his weather problems will be something to work on as well.

It’s probably going to be at least two weeks until the next flight because I want to see if this fix the lightning/thunder issues. People were complaining about lack of these effects in storms and now with the recent patch the effects happen everywhere all the time. It was constantly thundering and lightning during this last flight and yes it did get rather annoying. Next update is next week so we shall see if they manage to address the issue.

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Flight Log – Low & Slow is the Way to Go!

September 2nd, 2020 · Gaming


Click the above image for the gallery on flickr cause the embed options all suck. Also all images are captioned with additional information not always included below

This flight took place on Monday and today

So I’ve become annoyed with the state of the default airports and it’s mainly because the rest of the default scenery is just so damn good that when I arrive at the airport I expect to see something approaching reality but instead I get insanely huge hangar buildings, missing buildings, improper buildings, terrain errors, missing wind socks, wrong PAPI/VASI lighting (sometimes even over running the taxiway), double taxi way lights, improper lighting in general… it’s kind of crazy how these things wouldn’t have bothered me in FSX because the base scenery would have also been so largely erroneous and inaccurate using generic landclass tiles to approximate the actual surroundings. Now I’m immersed in the actual surroundings and flying over the actual surroundings and by golly I want to land and taxi around the actual airport.

Obviously my annoyance doesn’t extend towards the MSFS developers, because holy shit 37,000+ airports?? No way they get them all close to accurate. So I figured the simpler they are, the closer to reality they would be, which was the motivation behind this latest flight to visit some of the turf airports in the area and put my theory to the test. I once again compiled a flight plan document for quick reference and also put together a visual route in SkyVector. A new tool I also started using is Windy, which has an airports overlay to show VFR/MVFR/LIFR/IFR status along with metars and other data including just general wind reporting.

I buddied up with my friend Andrew again, but his work schedule meant an early evening departure that would get us back barely before sundown – if we left on time and technical issues on both our ends prevented this from happening so I figured we’d get as far along as we could. I should mention that all images of his red cub are post-edited by me – although I tried to play around with liveries so he could have a red cub in the game and me yellow, I couldn’t get them to work in the limited amount of time I had to muck around with it. No biggie, the post-editing doesn’t take much effort in Paint.NET I just copy the plane, paste it on another layer, box-select it, adjust the hue to -38 and then erase the mis-colored background to leave the red aircraft.

So we departed 4N1 around 6pm instead of 5pm, with weather being clear VFR but with a low cloud ceiling that was mostly overcast which prevented us from climbing much higher than 2,500′ ASL. We still have trouble finding each other after take off despite trying to have Andrew get up in the air first then me as he circles back around to meet up behind me as I climb out. I had to enable player nametags to find him, which annoyingly isn’t something you can just toggle on and off with a control binding and when you pause you disappear. We finally hooked up over I-87 though and proceeded to follow it north as planned. I properly identified Rt. 17A snaking off to the west as we flew in formation and knew the next interchange was our first way point. However I guess I became too enamored with looking around the scenery, or maybe it was talking to our other friend Nuch who was on Discord voice chat with us watching me stream the game – whatever I got distracted and lost track of time and suddenly realized we were fast approaching Stewart International (KSWF)!

So yea, whoops. It wouldn’t have been such a big deal except for the fact that we were still below 3,000′ and thus quickly starting to penetrate unannounced into the Class D airspace. So we both radioed up the tower for clearance through and in the hassle of getting re-oriented lost track of each other visually again. My first instinct was to double-back to pick up the Rt. 6 interchange and I was in the middle of a turn to do so but then taking another look at the VFR chart I realized we could continue just north of Stewart and follow that highway, I-84, which we would have eventually turned to follow anyways after Rt. 6. So again we had to spend some time trying to locate each other but thankfully the highway was hard to lose track of and our first airport was right next to it so without having to pay too close attention to additional way points we were able to re-establish visual contact just as we approached the area of the airfield.

After closely scrutinizing the VFR chart (I was not also using Google Maps satellite imagery, although I had checked prior to flight to see what the airport looked like) I figured the airfield was nearby and began to circle before finally picking it out among the heavily-forested area. Although Lewis Landing (NK79) was supposed to have a wind sock, none was visible so I just chose the runway I was already setup to make a downwind, base and final pattern approach to. Making sure Andrew could see me and also find the field, I took her down for a bumpy but okay landing, the stall horn squawking at me a few seconds before touchdown. Unfortunately Andrew failed to be mindful of his airspeed, over-stressing his airframe and breaking apart on his approach. Can’t really blame him – the Savage Cub really wants to go faster than it should really easily!

So we had already departed behind schedule, we had taken a longer route than planned, and now Andrew had to reset and reload and the sun was just getting lower and the weather not any better. So we called it for the day. I was pleased though at least that despite the missing windsock the airport looked exactly as it should have. I might be on to something here!

We picked up the flight today although weather was not better and in fact was worse, but Andrew was able to clear up work early enough to let us depart with ample sunshine, even if it couldn’t really penetrate the overcast clouds. NK79 was recognized by MSFS so we were able to load up and start there to depart and continue southwest along I-84 over the ridge and down to Port Jervis along the Delaware River. Along the way I completely forgot to look out to the left and see if the High Point tower monument marking the highest point in NJ was rendered properly. We were only about 500′ or so above the deck to keep well clear of the low cloud cover, which equated to about 1,700′ at this elevation.

At Port Jervis we began to follow the Delaware River south and here is where I had to kind of smother my urge to remain faithful to FAA regulations because due to the cloud cover there was no way we could maintain at least 2,000′ feet over the surface of the National Recreation Area below us that also followed along the river. However the official wording on the charts is that pilots are “requested” to do this and instead I did my best to just climb as high as possible. Shhh. Nothing to see here…

I was able to mark our progress along the river well with the VFR chart and was ready when we reached the Delaware Water Gap to turn back east and hunt down Mt. Pleasant (67NJ). Disappointingly as we passed to the other side of the ridge the Gap cuts through the tree cover almost completely vanished. There were large clumps here and there but the ground texture was quite obviously forested and I’m not sure how the AI managed to screw this up. There were also some oddly-placed large houses and buildings where the forest canopy should have been unbroken. Coming in to land at Mt. Pleasant most of the field was not ringed in by trees when it should have been completely enclosed. Drat! Mistakes here too (not to mention still no wind sock).

We both made it in okay and taxied back to depart once more, heading southeast to try and locate our next private turf field. I had already scoped out the area via Google Maps so I knew what I was looking for but getting there would still be a bit of a challenge since I would have to follow power lines but the game does not yet include those so I instead had to look for the clear-cut that defines their run across the landscape. Being forced to fly low made this more challenging but I did locate it without too much trouble. Then I once again almost flew past the field – I happened to actually be looking around for Andrew when I caught sight of what I suspected was the small river that ran right by the airport. Came about and sure enough there was John E Rogers (NJ65).

Here we both ran into a bit of trouble because the approach to the field led you right over some tall trees and to make matters worse I decided to do a right-hand pattern (just out of habit) which took me along a ridge that meant turning base to final I had to drop fast and ended up over-speeding with my flaps lowered, calling a missed approach and hauling ass back out of there. Andrew also called a missed approach and we both came around for a second attempt. I ran my downwind leg further out to descend over some farm pastures so I could turn base and final at a lower altitude for a smoother and longer approach. This worked well until I realized I was still sinking into the trees, nearly stalled but managed to get enough power to pass over them then dumped it down halfway down the runway and needed full brakes to stop in time. Andrew had the better idea of making his short final along the river and sidling over to land.

Despite making it down okay when we both went to turn around to taxi back for departure the sim must have thought we got too close to the river or… something. I was pretty close when it crashed and said I damaged my landing gear but Andrew asserts he was further away and it still registered severe gear damage for him as well. Strange, but okay we’ll chalk that one up to the sim being a bit overzealous. NJ65 was also a recognized airport so we were able to load right back up on it for departure on our next leg. I was also happy to see that this airport, again although missing a wind sock, was faithfully rendered and thus a pleasing destination.

Onwards to our final turf airfield, Trinca (13N) which was actually a public airfield but still simple enough I hoped it would be properly constructed. Getting there was relatively simple since NJ65’s runway practically pointed straight at it, but I was still a little off in my dead-reckoning and only spotted the airport after also spotting the beacon for Aeroflex-Andover (12N) which gave me a good bearing on my location. We were already slotted in the downwind and since this was public I had tuned to the CTAF to announce my landing intentions, turned base, turned final and managed to get down and out of the way of Andrew by just a few seconds. This airfield had a much easier approach with a nice long runway so no toubles getting in or out. It also looked great, as expected. It also was missing a wind sock. Sigh.

Weather had still not completely closed in and the sun was still high so we departed Trinca to make the final leg back to Greenwood Lake. For visual navigation I had plotted a course over Lake Hopatcong from which we could take a bearing that would lead us towards the airfield. Trouble was we still couldn’t climb very high to get a good look at land features, and I was struggling to match the shapes of the lakes we were passing over with features on the VFR chart. By happenstance Andrew was recently near Hopatcong this past weekend and while I was struggling to identify the water bodies below he assured me we were passing over the lake, recognizing the road he had driven on. However while the road may have been correct, it wasn’t the part of the road near the lake, which was still a ways off to our east. Still, we were at least heading in the right general direction, the problem was the weather had finally started to close in and it finally got to the point where a wall of cloud stood before us and I was like – time to divert!

Here we split up, since Andrew was taking advantage of it being a game while I chose to keep it more real and not fly into IFR conditions with an aircraft only certified for VFR conditions. While I headed back towards the beacon of 12N, Andrew used his CTAF callouts (he called it ATC but it was really his virtual pilot self magically knowing where he was in relation to the airport) to get his position and dead reckon his way back to 4N1. Despite our differing views, we at least both made it safely back down to the ground. I’ll probably hop back over to 4N1 tomorrow when the weather is nicer, or maybe I’ll just depart on my next journey from 12N.

One thing I could have done better on my last flight leg was switch over from the VFR regional chart to the Terminal chart for New York as that whole lake area where we got disoriented was covered by it. Terminal charts are more focused areas of airspace and have way less clutter, which allows for finer details of landscape features such as lakes and rivers. I would have definitely been able to recognize which lakes we were over using the terminal chart. In general this flight reminded me how hard visual navigation can be and that it’s easy to get disoriented even when you are familiar with an area.

So my experiment in airport scenery was mostly a success. Only Mt. Pleasant was poorly recreated by the sim’s default scenery. I’m going to preview some other small turf fields and visit some more that are faithfully depicted while marking the ones that are not for future fixing up once I get time to really dig into the SDK and learn how to work airport projects. There’s already been a ton of progress in the community and my past experience with FSX scenery work should make things easier. Sticking to low and slow flying is also my goal for the foreseeable future while the base sim continues to mature – soaking in the scenery is just so enjoyable coupled with the amazingly-rendered dynamic weather.

Also with the recent first post-release patch the SimConnect issues appear to be cleared up which means using external applications like those that are required for VatSim is now feasible and I will have to spend some time getting back into that to earn my private pilot rating there. Fun times ahead!

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Flight Log – Heading to the Country

August 25th, 2020 · Gaming


Click the above image for the gallery on flickr cause the embed options all suck. Also all images are captioned with additional information not always included below

This flight took place on Sunday

So my original plan was to end the previous flight at 12N but since my buddy Andrew wanted to keep flying we ended up back down at KBLM. No big deal tho, because I haven’t yet blogged about flying past NYC in daytime so a return trip back north was still worth while. Why did I want to head back north? We’ll get to that. First here’s a look at the flight plan for the trip that contained all the relevant reference information. The only major navigational challenge would be properly going through the Hudson SFRA (I noted it as SVFR), but it’s something I’ve done in the past in FSX and just needed to brush up on the procedures.

Weather was partly cloudy with a chance of thundershowers as we departed KBLM to the north, there were also some medium convection alerts over the area but the chop wasn’t unmanageable. Flying straight north to the Sandy Hook Bay we passed over our old neighborhood of Lincroft as well as the community college we both spent some time at. By this time we were north of the weather and looking forward to clearer skies with less turbulence.

Coming up on the Verrazano-Narrows bridge we ran through the checklist to make sure everything was set for our transit along the Hudson, sticking to 1,100′ towards the middle of the 1,000-1,300′ airway. Even though we are not yet connected to Vatsim I practiced announcing my position properly as we passed all the major checkpoints. Also because we weren’t on Vatsim there was a good deal of air traffic flying around haphazardly on close-up sight-seeing passes. No big deal, none of them got in our way but they were amusing to watch as we cruised up the east shore of the Hudson River past Manhattan, which was rendered splendidly as I had managed to jack up my visual settings even higher.

The last checkpoint of the Hudson SFRA was a problem since it was either a radio or power tower and neither of those are represented well in the sim yet. However the Tappan-Zee bridge was a clear way point and also indicated that the Class B floor of the NYC metro airspace was ending as well, allowing us to climb back up for some better views off into the distance as the terrain started to get interesting. It was a necessary climb anyways since we wanted to skip over top of the Class D airspace around KSWF.

No issues following the Hudson, as although it does narrow north of the city it still heads predominately north and doesn’t snake around as much as the Delaware. Around the time of reaching Stewart I had lost track of Andrew – which is common since he tends to speed ahead a bit in his faster C172 – and in the process of determining our locations I realized he was intending to land at KSWF! Not sure where that confusion came from, and I was a bit put off about it though I probably should have encouraged a touch and go rather than demanding he get out of the approach and come find me. I get a bit grumpy when my finely-laid plans are messed with, what can I say.

We did manage to link up again after I had come about to the south over KSWF to follow I-87, keeping the highway to my left since my next VFR way point was going to be off to the right. Just as we passed beyond the Class D airspace and were able to begin descending I was able to pick out the long shoreline of Greenwood Lake, at the far end of which would be our destination, 4N1. There was no weather station, so we tuned to nearby Sussex for the ATIS report to set our altimeters and pick a runway to land. Referencing the flight plan info I decided Rwy24 would be ideal. Andrew had fallen back to let me approach first so I continued descent, announced position, did a nice 45° entry onto downwind, turned base, final and came in for a nice landing…

On runway 6.

I have this thing I call “compass dyslexia” that strikes sometimes and here was the first instance of it since I started flying again. What’s worse though is I’m staring at my compass the entire time to setup my pattern legs and clearly the 24 was behind me on the compass as I made my final approach… I just – I don’t know. It happens. I fucked up. Thankfully Andrew came in with good separation because he actually flew over the airport to go into the proper pattern to land on the correct runway so I was well off the runway by that time. Okay so we both made a mistake on this flight. Live and learn!

Or, actually – don’t learn because apparently I made a similar mistake when I flew into this airport years ago in FSX!!! Epic face palm

While Andrew had some IRL chores to take care of I stepped out of my C152 and into the Zlin Aviation Savage Cub! There’s really nowhere to actually bush plane in NJ but there are several grass strips out in the farmlands of northwestern Jersey and I felt 4N1 would be a great jumping-off point to get there and also remain accessible for actual bush opportunities to the north in rural NY state. FS2020 actually has 3 Cub models but this one was the one with all dials and no digital displays for its flight instruments. It was also black and yellow so, you know, that counts as well. After a quick perusal of the POH to get an idea of how she performs, I started her up and taxied out. Translating my camera view all the way up and panning the view down gave me a great view to either side of the nose and all my instruments so I didn’t need to s-turn all the way to the hold short.

Take off was sudden and steep – that thing accelerated so quickly down the runway I pretty much just pulled back out of pure panic and was surprised to find I hadn’t stalled off the runway and was in fact climbing at the recommended speed. Whoa! Quite the different experience to the slow roll C152 take off, which is great to see that the flight modeling is indeed very unique to each aircraft. After leveling off at (okay, near) pattern altitude I began to swing around to crosswind and downwind legs, learning how I needed to really keep my hand on the throttle because the Cub is very quick to accelerate into the yellow on the speed gauge. I felt pretty comfortable in the handling as I rolled onto base leg and then into a long final – again in the same view as taxi so I could keep the runway in sight over my nose as long as possible.

Coming in to land I had a tendency to keep the nose up too much due to my viewpoint high in the cockpit and so I came close to stall speed once or twice but a quick throttle adjustment brought me back up to landing speed so I never felt the need to call a missed approach. You’re supposed to do a three-point landing but I wasn’t able to manage it, slamming down on my main gears but not hard enough to damage them. I immediately pulled full back on the stick to bring my tail down. Not gonna lie – was sweating a bit. But the aircraft was undamaged so I taxied off the runway, back around to the threshold and took off again for another pattern flight. Second time I came closer to nailing the 3-point but stalled out and dropped onto the runway pretty hard. Still undamaged, I taxied back for yet another takeoff.

In the air again this time I flew south a few miles to search out a private airfield called Hilltop (JY43) I knew would be a fun landing challenge. I also knew it probably wouldn’t be shown as an actual airport in the sim but that the Bing imagery should make it visible and the game’s terrain lets you land anywhere so I would just land on the runway on the terrain textures. When I found it I was surprised to see that they had made an airport on it, but had turned it into a grass strip and only part of the actual runway texture was showing. Much disappoint! But whatever, I made the approach onto the ground texture strip, coming in with the setting sun just to the right so visibility was rough but I managed to make it down okay. You’re supposed to take off the same way but I decided to see if I could make it up and over the tress on the down-slope runway (non-flat runways in the sim are so cool! Finally!) and I managed to do a short field takeoff just above the tree tops. Wheee!

It was starting to get dark, the Cub is not rated for night time VFR flight so I returned to 4N1, made another stall-drop landing, taxied to parking and shut down to take care of some IRL stuff of my own – like eating. By the time Andrew and I returned to the sim it was past sunset so we grouped up and did a private-lobby fly with custom weather set to near the time I was last flying. This would be what I consider “free flight” since no other traffic was included, AI or Live, so all normal flight regulations were suspended and we could do whatever we wanted. Mostly tho I helped him through his own introduction to the Savage Cub, which didn’t go as smoothly – he crashed once coming in to 4N1 and again on his first attempt into Hilltop. Upon our return to 4N1 he switched over to the XCub and we went flying back south down the Hudson. He was waaay faster than me, moreso in comparison to the C152/C172, so keeping together was a challenge.

We ended up landing on the shore of Sandy Hook to close out the day, since it was getting late and I was also getting some weird repetitive stuttering as we crossed back over Sandy Hook Bay. Will have to keep an eye out for that on future flights. Backup service was suspended but perhaps longer gaming sessions can cause memory leaks. Overall today was without much technical issue although I did have to force-kill the backup service twice before it finally stayed dead and we had some problems in actually appearing visible to each other again at close distances and I’m pretty sure the sim has a problem with beacon visibility. But overall the sim remains a solid piece of work. Look forward to exploring some smaller fields next outing!


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Flight Log – A Full Day

August 22nd, 2020 · Gaming


Click the above image for the gallery on flickr cause the embed options all suck. Also all images are captioned with additional information not always included below

This was all done yesterday.

I was unable to get up early enough to beat the sunrise but that was okay I had already gotten a sunrise flight in and today wasn’t going to be much different weather-wise, at least to start with. So I hopped back into the C152 that I had left at KWWD and got ready for departure. The flight I had planned was to head south across the Delaware Bay and down the coast of DE/MD/VA, around the tip and back up overland. I was mostly flying seat-of-the-pants with no real planning other than to just have SkyVector open on the side monitor and reference it as needed to get where I wanted to go. It worked out well enough given that I had no major air spaces to deal with. I’m still working my way back into full-on proper-procedures flying so pre-flight planning remains a bit lacking.

The trip down the coast went well, weather was great, I was able to track my progress on the VFR charts and the only airspace I had to be concerned about was the Wallops Flight Facility (KWAL), which had no problems granting me clearance through. I did make the mistake of improperly remembering how high you are supposed to stay over areas marked as parks, nature refuges, etc – I thought it was 1,200′ or above but afterwards when I remembered where on the chart to look for the info I re-learned it was actually 2,000′. Like I said, slowly getting back into it.

The plan to continue south from Wallops around the tip of Virginia was cut short by IRL responsibilities coming up soon that morning so I came about to fly back north along the inland side of the waterways and land at Ocean City Municipal (KOXB). It had an interesting approach because there’s a state park area right in front of the runway I chose to land on, so I hugged the opposite coast and approached at a 45° angle until short final lining up with the runway. When I was taxiing to parking I noticed one spot had a marshal standing there with wands at the ready and was like – wait would this work? Sure enough as I approached she began giving me directions into the parking stand! It was just a normal-looking GA parking stand I’m not sure why a marshal was there but it was cool nonetheless.

I got back home a little while later and fired up the sim again to continue back to KWWD. Weather was still great, departed to the northwest and did my inland overflight, picking out the highways that were shown on the VFR charts without too much trouble. Whatever trouble I had was simply due to the amount of detail on the ground rather than any problems with it. In older sims it was much easier to pick out major roadways cutting across the generic base landscape! Yes there was noticeable blurriness a long ways out, especially if you zoom in your view, but near enough where it matters ground detail is very sharp.

The flight back to KWWD was again planned to be a bit longer and travel more into northern DE but I started to get anxious as the fuel gauges approached 1/4 tank still over DE (I should have adjusted to full tank on start but left it at default 1/2 tank) so I cut straight east towards Cape May before reaching Dover AFB. I took one last look for the Cape May light house since I looked in the wrong spot on my initial flight down but yea it was still not there. Entered the pattern, flew a proper left-hand pattern as designated for the runway (instead of right-hand like I did on my initial flight down) and parked at KWWD until later in the day.

In between this and the next flight for the day, I got busy hunting down a serious issue – the sim was not just stuttering at times it was completely locking up for several seconds. In fact when I finally landed at KWWD the game clock, as shown on my instrument panel, was a few minutes behind the real world time (interesting that it never synced back up despite the pauses). I was fearing that the sim was finally starting to behave in a way I’ve seen others complain about, despite being problem-free until now. My first suspect was the scenery cache, since I only had it set to 10GB and my data usage was 12GB+ so maybe there was an issue with making room for new scenery to stream in while flying. I fiddled with the data settings a bit but it wasn’t until after I exited the sim and went about my normal business and the hangups still happened that I realized it was something else.

I pulled up my task monitor and kept it open as I continued working on other things for a while before the next hangup came and… nothing. No obvious culprit, CPU spike, RAM spike… WTF? So I kept watching and finally on the next hang I saw a huge CPU jump from my backup service. Why? Well once I thought about it I realized oh shit – it’s trying to backup my windows/user/appData folder where MSFS2020 is installed by default. Generally this folder holds basic information that doesn’t take up much space so I just have the whole folder selected by default – now it’s host to a nearly 200GB MSFS2020 install!! So when I completely killed my backup service the hang ups also ceased.

Problem solved, I hopped back into the cockpit later in the day with my friend Andrew also signing on in his C172, which I helped him repaint red so it looked just like the aircraft his father used to own, which he spent some time flying as well. This flight I had planned out in detail since we would both be on the same route and thus would want a good idea ahead of time where we were going and what would be done along the way. Like our previous flight together I setup a group for us but this time also set for real-world weather, traffic and other players then we launched into the sim – although being in a group doesn’t let you pull members into the same airfield automatically. In fact it turned out being in a group was the worst idea for anything unless when you want to restrict the game to just that group of players – Andrew had trouble seeing me and didn’t even get the real-world weather I was set to.

Unfortunately we couldn’t really take the time to restart since I wanted to make sure we made it up to 12N by the “golden hour” at sunset for some pretty visuals, which the game delivered. En-route the atmospherics were amazing as well with the cloud layers also posing a bit of challenge for me to stay VFR. At one point I was actually a bit “VFR on top” an unable to see the ground for a little while before finding a hole to descend through. On a whole the trip went as planned although there was a moment where I wasn’t sure I was still following the DE River and then turning east to dead-reckon my way to the airport almost got me lost with less than 1/4 tank of fuel and no idea what to do for an alternate. Also some ATC issues as after squawking my transponder code to the KPHL approach for bravo airspace transit they never acknowledged radar contact and I was not given any other options in the ATC window.

Since Andrew couldn’t see me he had traveled well ahead in his faster C172 and made it to 12N long enough before me to try the approach and totally fail on landing, not realizing just how short the runway was and plowing off the end into the water. Looks like I’m not the only one who has to work on his flight planning! He was able to reload, take off, and was in the process of making a second landing attempt by the time I finally reached the airport. I flew a long downwind while he landed (successfully this time) before turning base onto final to make my own attempt. I wasn’t sure of the wind conditions, because this airport doesn’t have a weather station radio, and a flyover of the field failed to show a windsock. Really MSFS2020? Okay fine, but Andrew made it down okay and my plane was smaller and lighter so I was confident in my approach and rolled out with plenty of runway to spare.

With the sun setting, we had few VFR options if we wanted to continue flying so the decision was made to head back east to the NYC metro area, which is lit up with enough VFR references at night finding our way would not be a problem! Grabbing sight of Rt. 80 shortly after taking off to the south led us straight to where we needed to be to turn south and follow the Raritan River to the Turnpike to the Parkway to Rt. 35… it was all so easy for us NJ residents to pick our way along via roadways being so accurately lit up. We did not group up on this flight and were able to do some formation flying a good deal of the way back to KBLM. Check out the video.

MSFS2020 has all of the big things well implemented, but there are still a lot of little things that need working out which is why I’m keeping my flights as simple as possible for now because that means I’m running up against far fewer game issues than people trying to fly IFR or some of the more complex aircraft. In fact I haven’t even used the 152’s basic radio navigation capabilities yet nor do I plan to for a while still.

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Flight Log – Easing Back Into It

August 20th, 2020 · Gaming

Click for the gallery on flickr, because the embed options suck

Click the above image for the gallery on flickr cause the embed options all suck. Also all images are captioned with additional information not always included below

I have been mucking about with the new Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 since it release earlier this week and for the most part have had a great experience, all things considered. I was very surprised to see it releasing prior to holiday 2020 so I knew it was going to be a rough launch, and it has been, but the basics are there and functional and all I need right now as a low-skill level VFR flyer. It’s been almost 7 years since I’ve flown and while I’ve been reading up on my past flight logs to get a sense of where I was, my knowledge has faded a lot so I will need to do some basic flying for a while to relearn things. Before that however I needed to get all setup, literally dusting off my flight hardware and getting it all laid out and plugged in then mapped to controls. Of course first I needed to setup my start plane of choice, the Cessna 152, with a proper paint job and ID. Then I got down to the business of getting my controls setup, testing it out – and ended up with a pretty nice layout with my current desk setup compared to what I was working with just over a decade ago. I did a triple-monitor flight, only loosely following proper VFR flight rules, just to see how the experience was. Overall I decided I would stick to single-monitor and still use my side displays for reference material. I of course flew over my house and flew with a friend.

Today though I’m finally starting to get serious again. I upped my simming a bit with a flight from KBLM down to KWWD with real world weather, multiplayer traffic and real-world traffic. I also opted initially to turn on the chance of failures but apparently that’s still a bit buggy as I loaded onto the ramp with an engine fire. I was going pure VFR, no nav radios, just a simple flight down the Jersey coast to reach Cape May. Loading cold and dark I ran through the C152 startup procedures from the POH and then used the ATC interface to check the weather, set my altimeter and pick my departure runway. Winds were calm so I chose to depart from Rwy14 to head straight out. I announced my taxi and set off for the end of the runway. As I taxied along I happened to look behind me and see another Cessna taking off from Rwy32, unannounced. Such will be the nature of dealing with other people in multiplayer – thankfully you can’t crash into them so if incursions like this happen it’s no big deal. Annoying still though that they choose to fly with others but can’t respect the rules of actual air traffic.

I made it to the hold-short of Rwy14 and pulled off into the run-up area to perform my before takeoff checklist. Running up to 1700 RPM I toggled through my magnetos but didn’t notice an RPM drop, which was disappointing to see the electrical system not deeply modeled but at least when I pulled out the carb heat I did see RPMs drop as they are supposed to. I also saw my oil pressure gauge at the very bottom of the green instead of actually in the green as it is supposed to be. But suction and ammeter looked good so I throttled back to idle and radioed my intent to depart straight out from Rwy14.

Takeoff was routine and I was soon climbing out towards the shore, looking to level off and trim out to 1,200′ ASL. I had SkyVector open on one monitor so I could keep track of my progress down the coast. The ride was mostly smooth, I only noticed a bit of light chop here and there. Flew through some sea haze I probably should have climbed over or maneuvered around. Coming up on Barnegat inlet there should have been a lighthouse visible for a landmark but it was not rendered. Overall though the experience was not lessened as I enjoyed the sun rising higher, glinting off the water and illuminating my cockpit with its soft glow. Such awesome atmospherics and lighting in this new engine.

One major disappointment during the flight was Atlantic City. None of the casinos or the boardwalk and amusement piers were visible, which I didn’t think would have been much of a problem for the photogrammetry algorithm. The sim also re-opened Bader field while at the same time marking it closed, so that was weird. (Edit 8/30: it’s already been fixed by a local hero and I updated the album image. This is what it used to look like) I maintained my altitude of 1,200′ or lower to scoot under the KACY charlie airspace and continue on my way south, tuning to Ocean City (26N) to stay aware of any traffic in the area, but there was none – most of the user traffic was around NYC metro area far to the north now.

I made it down to the tip of Cape May with no issues still, the aircraft was handling superbly although I had taken out the weight of the passenger so needed to make constant roll corrections but that wasn’t too big of a deal. I took a look around for the Cape May lighthouse but again was denied – other VFR stuff like radio towers and power lines have also been reported missing but I did see wind power turbines so the lack of towers is a strange omission.

Air traffic in the area remained non-existent so after getting the latest weather report I opted for the obvious upwind approach to Rwy28 and announced my position and intention. Hearing no response as I circled the cape, I setup for a crosswind pattern entry onto the downwind leg and continued to report my position all the way onto final approach. Working through the pattern however I noticed my instrument panel compass was not calibrated properly – which was weird because it seemed fine at KBLM and I didn’t think gyro drift would be an issue on this short flight but I guess not and I reset it to my magnetic compass on the windshield. Landing was buttery smooth – when I first got back into the cockpit earlier this week I was bouncing a bit on landing but this was my 5th and earlier by the 3rd one the bounce was gone. Like riding a bike!

It’s great to be simming again, and FS2020 looks to carry the genre well into the future. I will continue with my progression, sticking to the C152 until I get my basic flying chops down, only taking off from the last airport I landed at – making the journey part of the experience if I want to go places. Onward to the skies!

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