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Altering Rey’s Origin to Tie into the Entire 9-Movie Saga

January 12th, 2020 · Personal

Spoilers! Obviously!

I’m going to address the largest flaw in the sequel trilogy – Rey’s origin. Although her being a descendant of Palpatine is a good twist, it fails to tie into any of the previous movies and just burdens the viewer with unseen exposition. At no point was there ever any mention of or even suspicion of Palpatine having sired children. It’s certainly plausible that he had mistresses as a Galactic Senator, Supreme Chancellor or even as Emperor and one or more of them became pregnant, who had a child, the Force skipped that generation, then they had a child who was Force-sensitive and Palpatine somehow found out yadda yadda yadda who cares – the problem remains that no material in the movies ties into this idea of Rey being a Palpatine.

On the one hand this is what makes it so surprising, since even people who thought prior to Episode IX she might be a Palpatine were wondering how she could be. On the other hand, Rey’s entire purpose to the sequel trilogy as well as the surprise of Palpatine himself still being alive can be written using material from the past movies, to much better effect. In fact you can leave Rise of Skywalker largely untouched from a script standpoint with this alternate origin, which makes its lack of inclusion all the more frustrating.

The Skywalker Saga

Let’s recap the important plot points from the prequel and original trilogy written with George Lucas that will be used for my sequels trilogy plot fix.

The Birth of Skywalker

Shmi Skywalker was a slave to the hutts on the remote desert world of Tatooine who suddenly became pregnant and gave birth to a child. As any loving mother would, she raised the boy as her own despite having no idea how he was conceived, granting him the surname of Skywalker. Anakin would first make himself known to the galaxy as an integral aid to the Jedi in the first overt battles of the Sith’s centuries-long secret war to overthrow both the Republic and the Jedi. He was recognized personally by Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, a secret Sith Lord, as someone whose career would be “watched with great interest”.

Although Master Yoda remains unsure of the boy, the Jedi Council agrees to let Obi-Wan Kenobi train him as a Jedi.

Palpatine the Plotter

Ever since the Sith Empire collapsed and they numbered only in 2, they have been uncharacteristically but necessarily patient while working in the shadows to once again regain control of the galaxy, putting an end to the Republic and the Jedi Order. Each new Sith Lord has stood upon the shoulders (dead body, really) of the last but it is clearly recognized that Palpatine (AKA Darth Sidious) and his master Darth Plageius were the ones instrumental to bringing the centuries of machinations to a close and begin to shatter both of their long-held enemies. Palpatine was the master schemer, using the dark side to peer into the future in addition to his already well-imbued talents for politics, skullduggery and intrigue. Utterly evil, he was able to do things like arrange for the kidnapping and torture of Shmi Skywalker as part of his plot to turn Anakin to the dark side.

The Tragedy of Darth Plageius the Wise

As Palpatine uses his Force vision talents to blind the Jedi Masters (“The dark side clouds everything. Impossible to see the future is.” – Yoda) and set his hooks into Skywalker, part of the scheme was to project into Anakin’s mind the death of his beloved Padme giving birth to their child. He then starts to reel him in with promises of arcane Sith knowledge gleaned from his master on how to prevent someone he loves from dying. Even more interesting however is how he begins their conversation at the opera with mention of his master’s ability to influence the midichlorians of the Force to create life.

This comment seems to sail right over Skywalker’s head but we can clearly take it to mean that Anakin was possibly conceived by the Sith. Given his potential, that he was not immediately seized by them for training could mean Plageius may have thought his attempts to create life had failed, so no one ever looked for the child. Or, Plageius may have known he had succeeded but was not able to control where the conception took place and was unable to locate the child before the Jedi stumbled across him. If he knew he had succeeded but couldn’t locate the child, it’s likely he would have not told Palpatine.

Alternatively they may have purposefully never sought out the boy. Darth Tyranus, the former Jedi Master Count Dooku and apprentice to Darth Sidious, made it clear that the Jedi Archives could be tampered with when he erased Kamino. Despite a whole division of their order devoted to meticulous record-keeping the Jedi prophecy of The Chosen One could have been planted or tampered with by the Sith centuries ago, hoping one day they would succeed in learning how to create the life they needed to see it fulfilled. In their eyes, the Force was completely out of balance with all the Jedi that existed when they were only numbering two. Master Yoda began to suspect this when he mutters to his fellow Jedi generals near the end of the Clone Wars “a prophecy, that misread, could have been”.

The Fall of Skywalker

Ultimately, Palpatine’s master scheme comes to fruition when he succeeds in manipulating Anakin to turn completely against the Jedi Order and become his new apprentice, Darth Vader. In bringing the new Sith Lord into the fold Palpatine admits “to cheat death is a power only one has achieved, but – if we work together… I know we can discover the secret”. This somewhat flies in the face of an earlier statement at the opera when he tells Anakin his master taught him “everything he knew” before Palpatine killed him. This could have been a complete lie just for the sake of the story he based on real events meant to pull Anakin closer to the dark side, he could have simply been understandably cautious of his new apprentice and was holding back information at the time, or he really didn’t know the secret.

None of that matters anyway because Vader’s existence causes Padme to no longer wish to live, and her death means Palpatine no longer has to work with Vader at discovering how to save someone from dying nor does he ever have to admit to Vader that he knows or has discovered how at some point in the future.

The Death of Emperor Palpatine

Despite his success at overthrowing the Republic and practically wiping out the Jedi, the new Emperor’s reign on the galaxy falls under threat when it is discovered that Padme gave birth to a son powerful in the Force. More annoyingly, some old Jedi Masters still seem to be around to train him. Although he attempts to use his Force vision to crush the growing Rebellion once and for all to assert absolute control over the galaxy (twice) he is unable to foresee Vader’s return to the light and ends up being chucked down a reactor shaft by his former apprentice regaining the mantle of Anakin Skywalker. The resulting energy storm that blasts back out is attributed to his ongoing use of Force lighting at the time of his descent coupled with the power of the reactor vaporizing the last Sith Lord.

Luke Skywalker now fully takes on the mantle of Jedi Master and begins to consider how to rebuild the Jedi Order.

The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi

Now for the major plot points from Episodes VII and VIII, leading with those derived from between Episodes VI and VII based on what was revealed in Episode IX.

Palpatine Lives On

While the Rebellion celebrates their victory, the disembodied spirit of Emperor Palpatine that shot out of the reactor shaft as a burst of energy flies across space into the Unknown Regions of the galaxy, drawn to the Sith home world of Exegol. Although he may not have foreseen his death, he had certainly planned for it. Using Sith techniques he was able to not only carry over his essence but also reconstruct his body – to a point. Unfortunately the final battle on the Death Star II had taken a lot out of him, especially having his Force lighting turned on him (again) and he was left even more morbidly disfigured, blind and ironically dependent on life support equipment. This was not acceptable. He immediately begins to use the hidden Sith resources to figure out how to replace his body and do what he does best – plot his return to power.

Creation of the Dyad

Han Solo and Leia Organa marry. From their union a child is naturally conceived, but at the same time in the Unknown Regions Palpatine advances his own schemes. He doesn’t know about the new Skywalker descendant and uses the knowledge of Darth Plageius to will into existence a new life for himself. The mutual conception links the two children in the force with a powerful connection. Like Plageius, Palpatine is unable to control where the child is born and spends years searching for it in the Force, gradually narrowing down the location.

The Abandonment of Rey

The child created by Palpatine is born to a junk trader couple on the remote desert world of Jakku. Whether they think it is their own or are surprised by the birth is inconsequential. If they were surprised, it’s likely they would have not told their daughter or even if they wanted to she never got old enough to have understood before Palpatine’s minions found them. Although her parents had no idea who was trying to take their daughter they did as any loving parents would and hid her before blasting off Jakku, drawing away the Sith hunters who thought she was still with them. The entire ordeal is traumatizing for Rey, especially feeling the raw Force energy of the Sith so close. Having barely used or understood any of her internal power she unknowingly shuts herself off from the Force.

The Seduction of Ben Solo

Palpatine has been foiled! His hunters caught the parents but were unable to locate the girl. She is no longer visible in the Force and he has no way to find her. However while his followers were back in the known galaxy they brought him news that Luke Skywalker was training a new generation of Jedi and one student in particular was a direct descendant of Darth Vader. Palpatine still sees a chance if the power of Skywalker resides within this boy. He reaches out and is gleefully pleased to find that Ben Solo is everything he could need – if only he could be turned to the dark side and his full power unleashed. If not, perhaps the Kamino cloners can help…

As the hidden Emperor works on Ben, Luke gradually begins to suspect that a darkness lurks in his young student. He is correct, but not being aware of Palpatine’s existence he mistakenly thinks the darkness comes from Ben being a descendant of Vader. When he probes the boy’s mind he actually links to Palpatine, who cannot resist the opportunity to show Luke all the dark hopes and dreams he has for Ben’s future. Thinking he is receiving a vision from the Force, Luke feels compelled to act, coming to his senses too late. Ben awakens to find his master standing over him as if to strike him down and all the fears Palpatine has placed in his head have come true. He retaliates and destroys the Jedi academy, taking what followers are loyal to him and killing the rest.

Kylo Ren is born.

Supreme Leader Snoke

Satisfied though he may be that he was able to once again lay low the Jedi Order, Palpatine realizes he has also done so prematurely – Kylo Ren still has much to learn about the Force. Other aspects of Palpatine’s grand plan present an opportunity however in the form of Supreme Leader Snoke, who is the failed attempt by Kaminoan scientists to clone Palpatine, thanks mainly to complications from the Force itself. The Snoke clones are decanted with disfigurement, short life spans, basic Force abilities and weak minds, which fail to serve the Emperor as a new host body. He can, however, manipulate them and channel his Force energy through them from afar, well enough that they serve as his puppet in command of the First Order, which is what remnants of the Empire he has managed to organize together. Snoke swoops in to take Kylo as his apprentice, making Leia (almost) realize who had been responsible for the downfall of her son.

Luke Skywalker Disappears

Although he survived the destruction of the Jedi Academy, Luke is broken with failure at losing a student to the dark side. He turns his back on the Force, shutting himself from it and ventures into the Unknown Regions himself in search of the ancestral Jedi home. Unlike Obi-Wan Kenobi he goes into seclusion without hope, without knowledge of a hidden presence that could one day save the galaxy. He goes to die and allow the Jedi to die with him.

The Force Awakens (in Rey)

After years still spent on Jakku, hoping against hope her parents would return, Rey has settled into the life of a scavenger, picking parts off crashed ships from a battle between the First Order and the Resistance and selling them for food. Suddenly she is swept up in the Resistance fight and dire circumstances causes her innate Force ability to begin overcoming the block she placed upon it as a child. She still doesn’t understand what it is, because she doesn’t remember ever feeling it before, but she meets Han Solo, who affirms the Jedi are real and can help.

In her adventures while attempting to get BB-8 back to the secret Resistance base and while aboard Starkiller Base she continues to develop her instinctual use of the force to save herself from danger and assist her allies in thwarting the Sith-backed First Order, much like Anakin did as a child against the Sith-backed Trade Federation.

If Leia were content to leave Luke in peace it’s likely she would have trained Rey herself. Sensing the power in the young girl and desperate to get her brother back, Leia withholds from Rey how much potential she has and instead uses Rey’s own desire to send her in search of Luke. Leia thinks she is sending Luke the hope he needs to return to the fight.

Meanwhile, still lurking in the Unknown Regions and working to build up his Final Order, Palpatine as Snoke gets word of the girl who bested Kylo Ren in lightsaber combat. He asks himself – “could it be?” If the girl finds Skywalker, then he needs to be ready and therefore begins the final stages of Ren’s training to become the new vessel for his Force essence.

The Last Jedi

Rey locates Luke on Ahch-To, expecting to receive his help but is instead turned away. Luke remains cut off from the Force and cannot sense Rey’s potential, so he has no reason to listen to her and reverse his decision to let the Jedi die. After spending time observing Rey, especially as she practices with his father’s lightsaber, he begins to suspect that she wasn’t just a simple messenger sent by his sister and had sought him out for her own reasons. Finally after she tells him she is in fact Force-sensitive and at the prodding of his droid friend R2-D2 Luke agrees to teach her enough to make her understand why he has chosen to seclude himself from the galaxy.

The first lesson does not go well. Rey learns to open herself up willingly to the Force and is drawn to a dark nexus on the island. She unleashes enough power when the darkness tries to pull her under that Luke doesn’t need to feel anything to know what he is dealing with. His own eyes see that Rey has as much if not more potential than what was in Ben Solo. It didn’t scare him enough then, but it does now.

As Rey continues to open herself more to the Force the Dyad bond between her and Kylo Ren begins to manifest itself as shared experiences where they can see and talk to each other. During the first instance she attempts to blast Kylo and only ends up shooting out the wall of her stone hut. Luke appears to accept her lame excuse but is actually starting to become more and more uneasy about her presence. He decides that to properly grasp the situation he must open himself fully to the Force again. When he does so he reaches out and touches his sister, stirring her from her medical coma.

After Rey’s last bonded encounter with Kylo and being confronted with the possible truth of her parents, she seeks out the dark nexus Luke said was trying to offer her answers. Inside she is faced with only the image of herself and fails to comprehend its meaning because she never knew or could have guessed she lacked biological parents.

Fully awake to the Force once again Luke senses the next time Rey and Ren are having a discussion in her hut and intervenes, but not before their bond grows to the point where they are able to make physical contact. They each get a glimpse deep into the other and Rey senses conflict within Ren while Ren senses the singular entity of Rey. In the ensuing argument Rey casts aside her desire to be taught by Luke and instead goes off to attempt to turn Kylo Ren back to the light. Before leaving she swipes the Jedi texts from the hollow tree.

Luke, distraught at his continued missteps, goes to destroy the hollow tree and the contents he still believed lied within. He hesitates but Master Yoda visits him as a Force ghost to do it for him and also pass along some wisdom: “Heeded my words not, did you? Pass on what you have learned. Strength, mastery. But weakness, folly, failure, also. Yes, failure most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is. Luke, we are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.”

Rey delivers herself to Supreme Leader Snoke’s flagship and Kylo Ren is there waiting for her, having already explained to his master what had happened and Snoke explaining that she would be coming to them soon. He likely says “She will come to you, and then you will bring her before me”. In the throne room Snoke takes credit for luring Rey there by saying he co-opted their connection in the Force, coupling that with the view of her Resistance friends being destroyed, much in the same way he once attempted to sway Luke. Although she predictably resists, at this point Rey remains but a pawn in Palpatine’s grand scheme. His true goal is to get Kylo Ren to kill Snoke and assume absolute power, fully taking on his Sith mantle and unknowingly preparing himself to become Palpatine’s new vessel.

And yet once again, for all his success – the plan goes somewhat sideways when Ren fails to also kill Rey afterwards. Instead he offers her a place at his side, a place where she can belong. Where she can be someone. He misinterprets the look he got into her as being alone and in need of somebody. But Rey came to join Ben Solo, not Kylo Ren, and refuses. While battling for control of Anakin’s saber it explodes, knocking them both out. Rey comes to first and despite her complex feelings for Kylo Ren and the hope of saving Ben Solo she leaves him to rush to the aid of her Resistance friends.

In the final confrontation down on the planet Crait, Luke finally comes out of seclusion to battle Kylo Ren so that his sister and the few remaining Resistance fighters can escape during the distraction. The effort of projecting himself in such a manner drains Luke to death, but he becomes one with the Force while at peace with a fulfilled purpose of giving Rey the chance to help the Resistance win.

The Rise of Skywalker – Revisioned

Now, take the entire movie as written and change only the references made to Rey being Palpatine’s grand-daughter. In the Death Star II wreckage Kylo is right about Rey’s parents being nobody. Palpatine didn’t want them, they were inconsequential. He wanted the life he created to renew himself. Upon Rey confronting Palpatine he doesn’t refer to her as his grand-daughter but still as his rightful heir.

This alteration to Rey’s origin makes Palpatine much more of the grand architect he is supposed to be. It also makes Rey’s character more purposeful instead of being the random grand-daughter that was simply a fortuitous outcome from some relationship some time ago completely unknown to the viewer. It not only better explains the existence of the Dyad but keeps it as a surprise to Palpatine, who now no longer has to transfer his essence but can instead renew his own body. Rey’s assumption of the Skywalker identity was more of a choice than Anakin’s but given they come from similar origins it fits nicely. Finally, as stated in the beginning, it ties directly into the previous movies without having to cause people to ask questions like: When, exactly, did Palpatine fuck?

The Rise of Skywalker – Reimagined

There remains so much more potential for Rise of Skywalker. Here are the major plot beats tied into the previous two movies that I would have liked to have experienced in the third, while changing as little of the current plot as possible.

To begin things, at long last the Emperor has prepared the might of his Final Order and is ready to unleash it upon the galaxy. He announces his presence, knowing that Kylo Ren would see it as a threat to his position and seek him out. But when Ren finally makes his way to Exegol he finds more than just Palpatine, who explains he was behind Ren’s training from the beginning and offers him the Final Order to command if he can but kill Rey. Since Palpatine can transfer his essence into either one, he needs one or the other dead so that when he does so he will face no contest. He warns Ren that the girl is not what she seems to be.

The Resistance meanwhile is hit with the rumors of Palpatine’s survival while mourning the loss of General Leia Organa Solo, recently passed away as despite her Force power the exertion taken to rescue herself from the cold grip of space some time ago had a lasting effect. In the time since, she trained Rey in everything she had learned from Luke after the Rebellion before giving up the Jedi way and focusing on rebuilding the Republic. Rey also seeks guidance from the Jedi texts she saved from Ahch-To and R2-D2 is also able to lend assistance as he often stood by Luke’s side during training sessions at his academy.

After the Resistance learns the rumors are true, Rey sets out with Finn, Poe, Chewie & Threepio aboard the Falcon to track down a Sith wayfinder as described in one of the ancient Jedi texts so they can locate the Emperor and send forces to destroy him once and for all. On this quest they come across Lando who offers assistance, taking the Falcon on his own hunt with Poe, Chewie & Threepio while Rey and Finn track down a separate clue. Together in private, Finn reveals to Rey that he is Force-sensitive, asking Rey if he would be able to train with her. Rey is unable to give him an answer, unsure if she even trusts herself still with the power inside her. Finn hands her a pendant with a Kaiburr crystal, saying it was forced upon him by a crazy old hag on Nar Shadda. When Rey was ready, she could give it back after training him to use it.

Ren meanwhile returns from the Unknown Regions and makes use of their force bond to track down Rey, although with some trouble as her growing strength in the Force allows her to block him out. With the stress from the troubles she gets into on her quest for the wayfinder however she often lets down her guard enough to allow Ren to burst in, eventually learning her location. They meet while Rey is still accompanied by Finn. In the ensuing battle Ren knocks out Finn before reaching a standoff with Rey. He reveals the truth of her birth to her and how they could be powerful enough to rule the galaxy together. Rey becomes so revolted and angry at her existence she unleashes her full power, incapacitating Ren. Unable to bear speaking to Finn, she loads him on their ship and sends him back to the Resistance. She then steals Ren’s ship, which has the wayfinder aboard, to lead the Resistance into the Unknown Regions after Palpatine. Ren steals a Resistance ship so he too can find his way back following Rey, desperate to get control of the Final Order before either she does or destroys it. The Resistance follows Rey after sending Lando and Chewie to the Core Worlds to drum up a fleet to combat the Final Order.

Rey arrives and is welcomed by Palpatine, who had sensed her tap into her full potential upon realizing what she was and crumbling away the final blocks she had erected as a child – which of course is what he expected would happen when he told Ren what Rey was, knowing he would tell her. In this case it was Rey who failed to kill Ren as Palpatine had hoped, but at this point with the Resistance and who knows else what bearing down upon him he had no more options but to take Rey as his vessel and deal with Ren himself. Rey of course is of the notion that she is powerful enough to stop Palpatine but the fact that he created her means that despite his relative weakness in the Force he nonetheless has the ability to knock her down and begin to assimilate into her body. Rey is forced to watch in the skies above as the Resistance battles futilely with the Final Order.

Fighting his way through the former fellow apprentices that left the academy with him, Kylo Ren arrives during the assimilation process and realizes that the Emperor never wanted to give him anything but instead just use his body. He attacks the Emperor, interrupting the process and sparing Rey, but despite his Skywalker heritage his experience with the Force is no match for Palpatine’s even in a weakened state himself. Ren was never trained by Palpatine to be a fighter, which is why he always lost to Rey. As Palpatine holds them both helpless and together, he finally senses the true depth of their Force bond, the Dyad, and realizes they contain enough energy together to completely revitalize his own body. Although Lando by now has successfully brought legions of ships to turn the tide of the battle above, the Emperor begins to drain Rey and Ren, who contain so much power combined he’s also able to shoot massive bolts of Force lighting up at the newly-arrived Fleet of People.

The Final Order pushes its advantage as Resistance and People ships fall from the sky. Rey and Ren are fighting but growing pale and faint as the Force is sucked from them. Palpatine continues to regenerate and cackle gleefully while unleashing massive amounts of Force energy. As Rey continues to struggle, gazing up at the battle above, she looks beyond and out past the stars. A voice comes to her from the Force, Anakin Skywalker reaches out to inform her that although he failed to keep those he loved from dying, she could. Determined to save her friends in the Resistance, along with Ben Solo, Rey quits struggling against Palpatine and instead floods her power into him, overwhelming his body. The Emperor’s Force lightning goes awry and begins to arc between the Final Order ships moreso than those fighting against them. Finally Palapatine is engulfed in the Force and explodes, the shock wave decimating the Sith temple and the Final Order fleet, allowing the Resistance and their allies to pound it to dust.

Rey, barely clinging to life, finds Ben to be in not much better shape. As they hold on to each other she looks into his eyes and recognizes that he had attempted to save her, stop the Emperor and renounce his hold on the dark side. She is at peace knowing she is with Ben Solo at last. As they kiss, she passes the last of her life Force into Ben to rejuvenate him, vanishing and leaving behind her clothes and the pendant worn around her neck. Aboard a Resistance ship, Finn pauses in grief as Rey’s contented Force spirit passes by, communicating to the rest of the Resistance that she has died, but through willing sacrifice to save them all.

Ben Solo stands at the edge of an abyss opened up by the disintegration of Palpatine and tosses Kylo Ren’s lightsaber into it. Although he has been redeemed by Rey and cast aside the darkness, he still feels lost with no family or friends to turn to and seeks to fly far, far away. He discovers the Resistance ship he has stolen has the coordinates for Ahch-To and travels there, crashing the ship and preparing to spend the rest of his life in seclusion. As he climbs from the wreckage he is met by the Force ghost of Luke Skywalker. Ben falls to his knees and asks his former master for forgiveness, which Luke does not grant. “I can never forgive you,” he says solemnly, “nor will others. But you can live to forgive yourself. Do not do as I did and hide from your mistakes. Learn from them. Pass them on.” He then provides Ben with his X-Wing.

Finn, devastated by the loss of Rey, has left the Resistance, which is now in the process of mopping up both evil Orders and setting up yet another just & true Galactic Republic. He is alone in a backwater cantina when Ben Solo finally tracks him down. Before Finn has a chance to react, Ben pulls the Kaiburr crystal pendant from beneath his shirt and offers it to Finn, saying he was with Rey when she died. Knowing Rey had passed peacefully into the Force, Finn accepts Ben’s explanation for acquiring the pendant as well as his offer to train him and restart a new generation of Jedi.

Expanded Universe References

I’m a big fan of the EU, now known as Legends after Disney chose to wipe the slate clean so they could build their sequels from a fresh start. In fact, I have the entire EU collected – although I admit I’m still a bit behind on reading all of it. I’ve read every novel at least once but the graphic novels were not of interest to me until fairly recently when the novels began to reference events from them more and more. Still, Disney pulls willingly from the Legends timeline for ideas to integrate into their new canon – was it really a coincidence the ancient Jedi texts on Ahch-To were stored inside a tree?

The most obvious EU reference for even the original movie storyline would be the Dark Empire comic series, which covers the resurrection of Palpatine using cloned bodies. It also includes the fall of Luke Skywalker to the dark side as Palpatine’s new apprentice. Luke is saved and returned to the light by Leia but his passage through darkness leaves a lasting effect on him.

Being to the dark side and back is what made Luke a more capable instructor of Jedi and one who better understood the nature of those who go dark, like one of his first students Kyp Durron did in the Jedi Academy book trilogy. Among the evil deeds he carried out while under the influence of the ancient Sith Lord Exar Kun, Kyp destroyed an entire star system with the Sun Crusher.

Upon his redemption by Luke, Kyp endured a long and harsh journey through various novels to return to a position of respect within both the New Jedi Order and the majority of the Republic. Both he and Luke are examples of how returning from the dark side can strengthen one’s overall character.

The cloning complications due to the Force was an idea taken from the Thrawn Trilogy, which uses animals to remove the Force from around cloning chambers to allow for accelerated growth without side effects. In my version it’s not so much that the Force takes issue with clones in general (otherwise the Jango Fett clones wouldn’t have worked), just that cloning someone with Force-sensitivity is problematic.

Also, yes, the crazy old woman on Nar Shadda would be a reference to Vima-Da-Boda, who has her own link to the dark side and also to another example of a Jedi who fell to the dark side and was able to claim redemption.

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Flight Log – Sun Up and Sun Down

February 5th, 2014 · Gaming

Finally took my first flight of 2014 since I returned home from Dubai. I knew what I wanted to do for a flight but getting around to it took a lot more effort that I thought it would given the nature of the hobby of flight simulation. Plenty of stuff happened while I was away, so first I had to catch up on product updates and try some new mods to the SkyMaster and the sim in general I picked up on in the interim. I also had to download, install and configure the latest REX texture product – which has amazing textures but I found it a bit disappointing that you can only install every texture in a theme pack instead of just the ones you want. To do that you have to install them individually, which is a bit of a pain. It’s especially puzzling since this was a feature in the previous REX texture product. I also had some extensive work to do with the Bahamas Airfield Package I’m using to get the most out of this area of the Caribbean. For some reason pretty much all the airports have tower and ground frequencies, some with approach as well. Actually, the majority of them should simply include a unicom tuned to 122.8 for common traffic advisory. So I had to edit and recompile in ADE all the airports north of Nassau that I would be flying around for this flight. Then too I needed to make voicepack files for the airports so I could keep proper track of where planes were. All in all though these changes made for a great flight so I can’t complain, and the author of BAP and I are in contact and I will most likely be passing my improvements on to him for a new release.

Right, so the flight. I originally planned for a single flight up to Walkers Cay (MYAW) but wanted to get a full experience from the new REX textures, especially the sky textures based on screenshots I’ve seen on their forums. So I extended the flight and broke it down into two legs, one to fly at sunrise and another to fly at sunset. The only difficult thing about planning the second leg was finding an airport that was lit and also easily navigable to since once it gets dark seeing the smaller islands can be near impossible. Thankfully the southern-most airport still north of Nassau, Chub Cay (MYBC), has a lit runway and is easy to find at the end of a chain of islands. Here was my original plan:

 Leg 1: Sunrise

After preflight and taxi out to the runway I checked the sock and saw a crosswind. I decided to take off west and of course as soon as I begin to taxi down the runway a plane announces it is a few miles out inbound to land out of the west. I made it to the end and was considering parking on the grass and waiting but the pilot updated his position and was still a few miles out so I turned about, skipped my engine runup and just went straight into the takeoff. I was climbing out and turning south while he was still over 2 miles away so that worked out alright. Clouds were low, so I kept it around 1,000 feet as I cruised towards the two small islands south of Bimini to have a look-see. One of them, North Cat Cay had a carrier group stationed offshore, which was cool. The southern-most one, Ocean Cay, looks like a man-made affair still under construction after some demolition contractors demolished something there. No idea what for though. I did a loop around Ocean Cay back up past North Cat Cay rather than departing straight for the Freeport VOR as originally planned, but VFR plans are meant to be broken, I say!

The clouds didn’t let up by the time I reached Grand Bahama Island so I needed to request permission for Class D airspace transition. I left the VOR behind and switched to terrain navigation, following the south shore of Grand Bahama until I reached Deep Water Cay and headed north along a chain of islands towards Walkers Cay. There was plenty of traffic elsewhere, mostly Treasure Cay and West End, so the pattern was clear when I reached Walkers Cay and was able to enter straight into downwind with a nice turn to base and final lined up with the runway. I dropped full flaps since the runway was only 2,500 feet long and to complicate matters there were two rather tall pine trees right at the runway threshold I needed to clear. But I got her down with a heavy bump and only needed some light braking. The runway turns straight into the short taxiway leading to the apron so that helped extend it a bit as well.

Leg 2: Sunset

I climbed back into the cockpit an hour and a half before sunset. The clouds were still low but they were more scattered, so after takeoff I made the decision to climb above them since there was only one layer to deal with. I hadn’t flown the 337 higher than a few thousand feet so getting up to FL150 was a new experience. I adjust the prop pitch slightly to keep my RPM in the green and I was able to use the fuel flow gauge to properly lean the mixture – too high or too  low and you saw the fuel flow drop. I kept an eye on my EGT gauge but the needles stayed nice and low. I was at full throttle and my manifold pressure was almost out of the green arc – too bad this airplane isn’t turbocharged. Still, I managed to make 130kts as I cruised over Great Abaco Island. As the sun started to descend, so did I so as it got darker I would be able to still see the smaller islands I would eventually be following. I was supposed to fly to the tip if Great Abaco and vector out to the Berry Islands but decided to follow the Great Abaco Highway instead, which would point me to the northern-most island in the Berry chain. There was also an arriving aircraft into Great Harbour Cay that made it easy to find the north islands. Also, the SkyMaster has a GPS and while I wasn’t using it to follow a track you can see the islands on the screen to help with navigation.

It was almost fully dark as I approached Chub Cay, the island at the end of the Berry chain. While I hadn’t heard a single plane on approach to Chub Cay, wouldn’t you know that just as I’m turning south to follow the island chain and call out my position someone else also declares their intent to land. Fortunately they were a bit closer and making a direct approach so that gave me time to meander down the chain and set up for a downwind pattern leg, which by the time I got there the other guy had just landed. I didn’t hear him call clear of the runway so I he probably disappeared because no parking spots were open. Still, I kept my eyes peeled on final after rolling out a bit late from my base turn and needing to S-curve in a bit. I don’t think I even really noticed the trees on the small island on my approach until I looked later at the screenshot – shows how experienced I am at night flying. Fortunately I skimmed them but didn’t hit them. There were no obstacles short of the threshold so I was able to make a nice shallow approach and had a much smoother landing this time with only a notch of flaps needed as this runway was 5,000 feet. I rolled out short of the end and turned about without needing to brake and taxied back to the apron where I parked.

You’ll notice some loops in the trail over MYAM as this is where I descended within a gap in the cloud cover so I needed to spiral a bit to stay in that clear area away from the clouds. Other than a few other deviations previously mentioned the flight went according to plan.

Next up, I will be flying a loop around the central Bahamas, ending up at Nassau. I plan to stay put for a few flights from Nassau to the surrounding islands in a few different aircraft before moving on south.

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Dubai World Record – The Final Crunch

December 27th, 2013 · Grucci, Personal

 

The weather really gave us a beating this past week. My last entry was during a day off due to high winds and although since then we’ve been able to get out to the islands, working has been a bitch thanks to the winds still blowing 15-18 mph steady with gusts upwards of 25-30 mph. We even had a small rain shower pass through one day that kept us on standby all morning, then drying out guns and product all afternoon and for the days since as we’ve made our way to each location around The World. The wind makes traveling tough in the small boats like pontoon boat, or speedboat, and one day we just all stuck to the mothership to get us around, which was slower but better than nothing. As the week wore on the winds died down, the last two days have been mild breezes that keep you cool under the sunny sky devoid of clouds but not enough to stir up swells in the water that make boating difficult.

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The marine forecast is calling for them to pick up again before New Years but die down to single digits for show night. Fingers crossed!

Until this past week I was boating with my crew captain Andy. We weigh roughly the same so we could swap out driver/ballast duties. Now, after swapping out a crew member, I’m boating with Tom, who is heavier than myself so if he sat on the tiller and me in the front the boat would have trouble getting up on top of the water. It’s a 15HP engine so it’s possible it could do it but overall we’d be traveling slower. So now I get to drive all the time :)

It’s really been getting chilly in the mornings, down into the low 50′s so I have to wear long pants and a sweatshirt with my leather jacket liner to stay warm until we get out onto the islands – by then the sun is high enough to get things warmed up quick. Today I ditched the sweatshirt and jacket liner and just threw on my Taipei riggers jacket from the 101 building. It really is cold out there with no sun!

The big 24″ guns have been set up at their firing locations, they stand about 10 feet tall and it’s pretty cool to see them sticking up from the islands – you can see them from a fair distance and it helps us navigate around since their locations are marked on our maps. All the shells have been completed and today they were carrying them out for a photo shoot prior to begin the process of getting them loaded. can I say again how excited I am to see those things lift and break?

I also found out this past week that I will be one of the people firing the show, and my location is on the horn of Africa so I’ll have fireworks going off all around me. My responsibilities during the show because I’m firing will make it impossible for me to just sit back and watch, but I can definitely peek up from my console from time to time to steal glimpses, and will have my GoPro on its head strap mount.

I also just discovered the PR side of things over on Facebook, YouTube and the Internet in general. The video above features me in the first day’s coverage, and I’m not sure when there will be more – probably not until after New Years as things are only getting busier but you can subscribe to the YouTube channel to get notified of anything more popping up. There’s also going to be a livestream, so stay tuned for details about that as well!

In my last post I was going to the kart track later in the day, and I did with some of my crew. We had a blast running two heats. The clutch karts are all similar so the only factors separating lap times are driver skill and weight. My buddy Sasha who was a pro shifter kart racer tells me the general rule of thumb is 20-25lbs equates to around .5 seconds. I’ve been unable to get my lap time down below 1:20 and I wish I knew what the baseline was for my weight class. he also gave me tons of advice to do better. I’ve already been back again once (shaved .4 seconds off my lap time) and plan to go at least one more time to race under the lights at night. I’ve been able to mount my GoPro to my helmet both visits however I didn’t do a great job aiming it and you watch the video wondering how I navigated the course while staring at my steering wheel *sigh* The very first heat though that held my 2nd best overall lap time did have a good camera angle fortunately, so here’s that lap:

 

Another thing I got to this week I said I was going to try last entry was the full-scale car racing game I saw at the Dubai Mall. Unfortunately it was more of an arcade game than a racing sim. The car, a Nissan Skyline, was indeed right-hand drive but with no clutch pedal just a shift stick for up/down on the center console. And it was a drifting race as well. Still, the motion platform made it a fun ride.

I had made plans with the crew to go ice skating at Dubai Mall but when that fell through I decided to head over to mall of the Emirates and see if I could book a visit to the penguins at Ski Dubai. They had openings that night so I was able to sit as a small Gentoo penguin walked around the group while a trainer explained how they care for and train the penguins. Then they had a special bench where you could sit and the penguin would hop up for a photo

 

Next we were introduced to two King penguins, the second-largest in the world next to Emperor penguins but very similar to them as well. The Gentoos aren’t docile enough for strangers to interact with them directly but the Kings don’t mind a little human interaction and are willing to be petted and even hugged. A problem arose for me since I was wearing my bike jacket and the penguins found my appearance a bit off-putting – not just the colors but because I looked different than the normal outfits Ski Dubai give people to wear in the snow park. So while I got to pet them okay going in for the full hug wasn’t really to their liking. They didn’t bite or act nasty just sorta sidled away like “creeeeepy guy don’t touch me” hahaha. Still, it was great to get so close to my favorite birds at last! It always sucks to just watch them from behind a glass pane as they play in their zoo enclosure.

 

Speaking of zoos, I also paid a visit to the Dubai Mall aquarium, which has the largest single pane of acrylic in the world showcasing their main fish tank. They also have a zoo with tons of aquatic species, including otters and Humboldt penguins to go along with the usual variety of fish, lizards, crustaceans, etc. I’ve never seen or heard of a pig-nosed turtle before but they had one. It was a nice overall exhibit of marine wildlife. You can also walk through a tunnel through the main tank – it’s not the world’s largest or longest tunnel but it’s still impressive – especially when you have tiger sharks floating menacingly right over your head. I got a behind-the-scenes tour of the operations as well for my ticket price. Too bad I don’t have the time to take their scuba diving course!

 

Christmas has come and gone, unlike in Taipei things are moving along well and we were able to have the day off. I spent then morning checking out the textile Souk, which is a traditional-style market with stalls featuring, you guess it, textiles – traditional clothing and scarves and other wear made out of materials like silk and Kashmir. I had to visit a few shops and haggle a bit but ended up with a yellow and black scarf I like that I can wear around my neck or on my head. The shop vendors are very insistent – too the point of being rather annoying – and that made the shopping process a bit exhausting. You walk in and they do their best to not let you walk out empty handed, practically throwing stuff on you or placing it in your hands to get you to want to buy it. One guy followed me for a few yards “my friend! my friend, I have good deal. Come, come back I give you good deal. My friend!”

 

I had packed my santa hat with me again like in Taipei so was able to be properly adorned during the holiday party, only one other person out of the 200+ pyrotechs there had one and it was a pretty cheap one compared to my fuzzy hat. Win.

That’s pretty much it. The final push is on to get things ready for show and we’re well on track. I will come back with another update in 2014 but until then keep an eye on my Facebook for continuing updates, as well as the official channels I linked to earlier. Happy New Year!

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Dubai World Record – Week 2

December 16th, 2013 · Grucci, Personal

So this past week I finally moved out from the staging area on The Palm crescent to the World Islands, where we’ve been putting together the massive amounts of product we have over there. We get there via a boat, which we dub “the mothership” that is a speedboat usually around 25′ long with enough room for our equipment and the 9 of us. The trip takes about 20 minutes and then we transfer off the mothership to our smaller Zodiac-type inflatable hard-bottom boats that can carry 2 people + equipment or 3 people with no equipment if needed. But we have enough for 2 people per boat. Some boats have 15HP engines but most of them have 10HP. Depending on the engine and weight we can skip along at 15-25mph. They are a ton of fun to drive around, but just as fun to ride too since you have to sit upon the bow to keep the boat level on a plane for top speed, holding on to the ropes and leaning back out over the water racing under you. For short trips we can sit facing forward, the bow rides high enough you can sit with your legs dangling over the water. Riding solo, blipping the throttle makes the boat stand up so much it’s just like doing a wheelie on a dirt bike and it can be tough to get it to plane out for a fast ride, you sometimes need to cut throttle and get back on it and actually surf your own wake when it catches up to you. It’s tricky. Once I managed to surf a wake wave from the mothership as she rode past. No one has capsized yet but riding single in the 15HP boats has led to some close calls! If you don’t lock the engine steering down tight the boat can start to oscillate side-to-side like the steering forks of a bike prior to high-siding the rider. Some engine problems have caused us to break out the paddles a few times.

One of the awesome things about working on The World (other than getting to drive around in boats, and staying relatively cool throughout the day thanks to being near the water) is that here is where they will be firing off several 24″ shells during the show. They are actually making them out there and we’ve spent some time with the guys working on them and learning about the process, it’s really cool. These things are massive. They aren’t close to the biggest shells ever fired but until now the largest shell I’ve been around was a measly 8″. These things will end up weighing around 170lbs, will take 11lbs of black powder to lift half a fricking mile high and they will break about just as wide, containing various effects within 0_0 I don’t know yet where I will be stationed out on the islands during the show but I can tell you these things will be impossible to miss. I’ll have my camera recording the whole thing.

We are making good progress each day and I have a good crew working with me. Everyone knows their shit so there’s not a lot of discussion about who has to do what, we all just did what needed to be done and got into a nice routine so everyone was doing pretty much the same thing at each location, which is good because that way you can spot mistakes when you get to a site and realize something you’re doing here is different from what you did at the last location. My captain Andrew and I are both the companionable silence types who prefer to work quietly, throwing out occasional jabs or comments based on what we are doing. The other two, Tony and Tom are who I like call Jabberwockies, since they talk about random stuff just to have a conversation. I don’t mind, since they have themselves to jabber with and I can just toss out an occasional grunt or comment.

We can’t work after dark out there so we’re always back around 5:30 and to the hotel between 6 and 7. This hasn’t left a lot of time for activities after work if I want a good night’s rest but I did sacrifice some sleep this week to go check out the Dubai Mall, which is the world’s largest by total area. While the Emirates mall has the ski slope, this one boasts an indoor amusement park (not as cool as the one at mall of America though), aquarium and ice rink. I’m planning to get back for all three of these at some point – the amusement park has a driving simulator that features an actual complete full-sized car on a full-motion bed, with a large screen in front of the windshield. One of the cars is a Nissan drift-type car and it is right-hand drive so I want to see what that is like, plus it has a low deposit car insurance so it should be interesting.

Another event I was able to catch was Video Games Live, which I have attended before twice when it came to NJ. I couldn’t buy tickets online because of a consistent registration form error but luckily I remembered to bring my All Access badge I got when attending the first time back in NJ from one of the show producers who is a friend of mine and that let me walk right in and enjoy the show. They played an Uncharted 2 composition, which was fantastic, and had the Silent Hill producer/composer on stage performing with his bad-ass matte-black guitar. He and Tommy did a dual jam during the ChronoCross/ChronoTrigger composition as well. Great show and one of my roommates is a big gamer fan and attended as well for the first time.

So actually today is my first day off, but only because of high winds and rough seas we’re not able to get out to the World Islands. Catching up on some work this morning (including this update) and then heading out with crew mates to check out karting at the Dubai Autodrome this afternoon. Maybe go skiing or ice skating this evening, or hang with the penguins, or check out the Souks. So many options! I’m also gathering up people to go see The Hobbit this week sometime. Winds are supposed to return this Sunday so we’ll see if another day off is in the cards…

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Dubai World Record – Week 1

December 8th, 2013 · Grucci, Personal


Taken my first day onsite, from the barrier island around the Palm Jumeirah. Burj Khalifa on the far left, Atlantis resort on the far right  For the full-sized version click here

Alright I’ll get the crappy news out of the way first and say that I’ve been reassigned from the Burj. It was simply a logistical decision – I was asked to come out early but was unable to due to coaching commitments, attending MIGS and running an online virtual conference for Flight Simulator development. So my spot was taken by those who came out early and worked exclusively on the tower. Fine, I get that. My only complaint is that two days before leaving I had a crew list emailed to me saying I was working on the Burj and I wasn’t told I was being reassigned by anyone until three days after arriving and working at the staging area on the Palm I casually introduced myself to one of the guys I had been working with often and he told me I was on his crew there. Until then I figured I was just spending a few days helping out at the staging area before heading to the tower similar to my time in Taipei. So finding out indirectly in that way had me rather upset and generally annoyed at the world for a while. And that’s all I really have to say about that.

The flight over was roughly 12.5 hours long aboard a massive Airbus 380-800 from Emirates airline. A widescreen monitor was hooked up to an entertainment suite similar to what I had on my flight to Taipei, with movies, TV shows and a flight information service that showed flight progress graphics, airspeed/altitude/ETA and three camera views – nose, forward from high up on the tail, and belly down. The seats in economy were barely larger than what you’d find in a normal economy-class regional airline but they had a great recline angle and headrests that adjusted up and down. I spent the flight watching movies I missed in the the theaters this past year, except for comedies – I can’t watch comedy on an airplane, with my laughter I would be worse than a screaming baby. They also had a cool TV documentary series on the Dubai airport. Unfortunately, with 1500 audio channels or thereabouts none of them was a feed to the cockpit. I didn’t sleep since I knew I was getting in late Sat evening to Dubai so I could collapse after getting in and be awake and on a good sleep schedule day one.

Unlike the regular hotel rooms we had in Taipei we’re being put up in more of an extended-stay type hotel so our rooms have two bedrooms, a full kitchen, living area, 2 full baths and a balcony. There are three of us in my suite and we all get along fine. The hotel is right across the street (six-lane highway I mean) from a metro station that’s accessible via a pedestrian bridge equipped with slidewalks. There’s an Asian restaurant downstairs with some good food, and a Subways and Dominoes around the block. A small but well-stocked grocery store is there as well, and the hotel has a small market too.

Quality entertainment is a bit further from the hotel, though the city has a great metro system that recently came online to make it easy (and cheap) to get to where the good stuff is. The metro is completely automated – imagine an airport monorail system but scaled up for city use and you get the idea. Trains pull into a closed-off track and open inner/outer doors to allow people to get on and off. Paying a bit extra for a Gold ticket gets you up in the front where you find better seating (not really more available seating) and the ability to look out the front of the car, since there’s no human driver. You pay to travel by zones, not strictly by distance, but the zones are pretty big. You can use a refillable card or purchase a single-ride ticket, either way they use RFID rather than a magnetic strip to let you into and out of the system by tapping the card at a reader panel at the gate.

The closest large attraction is the Mall of the Emirates two stops closer to downtown Dubai, so it takes about 20-25 minutes to get to when you count the time taken to walk to the station from the hotel and catch a train over (trains come like every 8-10 minutes) and then walk across the ped-bridge to the mall. The mall has everything from high-end shops to international food courts to a huge arcade area, cinemas, restaurants (TGI Fridays and Johnny Rockets to name a few) and a freaking ski slope.

I took on the ski slope this week while we still were working decent hours and I was still fresh and not worried about missing a little sleep and possibly killing my legs. They have a 2-hour slope pass for 200AED, which comes out to about $55 and includes your ski/snowboard rental with pants and jacket. I brought my own clothes from home so I didn’t have to look like everyone else in the same exact clothing, which was curiously colored red, white and blue. The work week in the UAE is Sunday to Thursday with Friday and Saturday being the weekend (Friday being the holy day) so when I went Saturday night from around 8:30 to 10:30 there were only like 10 other people on the slope and you could totally bomb it. The average time from getting on the lift back down to the bottom is around 8-10 minutes, but that’s mostly due to the chair lift being stupid slow sometimes thanks to the fact that even people not skiing but admitted to the general snow park area can ride it with their little kids. They do have the type of lift you can only use with skis you sit on between your legs and get pulled along but that was shut down when I was there. I saw tons of people recording their runs and rides on the lift so it should be a cinch to find video on YouTube if you want to see what it all looks like. There are two main slopes from top to bottom that start as one broad slope before branching just before the structure curves almost 90 degrees. The tighter inside of the curve is the expert run with a steeper slope. The outside curve bends around a mid-slope cafe (closed for renovations currently) forcing you to slow down, but has two steep short drops that you can get some air over if you manage to stay going fast enough. The temperatures are below freezing obviously and the snow feels natural – late in the day like on a real slope it was rather packed down with a few ice patches even. 2-hours was a good time limit because by then it does start to feel repetitive. Still, it was legit skiing and a good time. I plan to go at least once more and see if anyone else from the show wants to tag along, have a few interested already. Also, they have penguins, but I don’t think I’ll be able to do that without a day off.

That’s pretty much it so far. Work-wise we are up before the sun to be onsite with the first light of the day so we can get as much done as possible with the days only getting shorter, wrapping up as the sun starts to kiss the horizon. Given our good progress each day so far I doubt it will come to working under floodlights later this month but that’s always a possibility. The hotel serves a great breakfast buffet that has me full up until lunch is provided, which is a lot more hit-and-miss here than it was in Taipei. But I’ve started bringing energy bars and snacks to keep me on my feet if I don’t eat all my lunch food. Overall I’ve been getting a good 6-8 hours of sleep every day so that hasn’t been a problem yet. I’m driving around trucks (almost everything out here is a manual transmission that not everyone can handle) and marshaling heavy equipment so that’s always fun. Haven’t gotten run over yet so that’s good.

Catch up again in detail next week, in the meantime I’ll continue short bursts on Facebook – the only place I can get online is when I’m in the hotel

Sunset over the Atlantis resort

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Flight Log – Tropic Thunder

November 26th, 2013 · Gaming

For my last flight of the year I wanted to make it to the Bahamas so that next year I could launch on a grand tour of the islands as I continued to move south in the Caribbean. My chosen destination for this was Nassau, given that it hosts the largest airport and that airport is rendered by a TropcialSim addon I purchased as part of a 15-airport pack for the Caribbean in a sale on SimMarket. I did a check of the weather and although things were a bit rough around Miami I was just going to be passing by so didn’t expect to catch the worse of it. I climbed back into the SkyMaster, ran through my preflight and got taxi clearance to the active behind a Southwest airliner taking off. I pulled up to the hold short and radioed the tower for clearance but they had me hold for arriving traffic a few miles out. While that traffic was approaching another aircraft announced landing intentions and ATC gave them clearance. Then another. These aircraft were like 3-5 minutes out each but ATC wouldn’t slot me inbetween. Finally after holding for almost 15 minutes waiting for three aircraft to land ATC cleared me for takeoff. Check out my blog – SecurityInfo here to learn home security tips.

Cloud cover was low so I only cruised around 1,000 feet and the light rain stopped a few miles from the airport. I had my comms tuned to the CTAF that Marathon was part of so when I neared the airport I realized I was about to cross the landing paths of incoming aircraft and swung a bit more northward to pass west of the airport, then I crossed over the runway to get back to the eastward side of the keys. Around this time things started to get a little bumpy and I had to throttle back from 160kts to 140kts in case of sudden severe turbulence as 160kts is just under the yellow arc. From this point on I was mostly 140-150kts depending on how the air was behaving. I had a few more bumps before arriving offshore of Miami and turning east to vector towards Bimini, the western-most islands of the Bahamas. Clouds remained low and closed in to overcast with only about 10nm visibility, but not rain.

The leg to Bimini was a bit tough since I don’t use autopilot. The horizon was very unclear thanks to the low cloud cover and reflection of the water so it was hard to know when I was banking slightly unless I kept an eagle eye on my instruments. I was tracking a VOR vector from the Miami area even though Bimini has its own VOR so when I finally arrived at the island I was about 2-3nm south of it. But still not too bad, I wanted to see whether I could hit a target from a vector since the majority of these islands don’t have their own VORs for me to vector in on. I then vectored outbound from the Bimini VOR to my next leg, which would put me in the middle of the Berry Islands north of Nassau and let me vector south towards the airport along the main runway heading for an easy straight-in approach or pattern entry.

However about 20nm into the 80nm leg to the Berry Islands from Bimini I noticed lightning quite frequently off in the distance. I pulled up the REX weather radar and it didn’t show any thunderstorm activity ahead of me. I checked the weather at Nassau on the web and it didn’t give any indication of thunderstorms. I pondered over whether I could head south and try to swing around the storm and then head north to Nassau but I had no information about this storm, like the direction it was headed it. I could run into it on my way north to Nassau. What the hell was this storm even doing here? Well, I figured it was just because this was the Bermuda Triangle after all, and sudden storms are known to coalesce. Given the Triangle’s reputation, once I started seeing lightning light up my cockpit and hearing thunder I did an about-face and headed back for Bimini!

There’s a small airstrip on Bimini that can handle my aircraft easily so that’s where I put her down once I got back to the island, leaving the storm behind. The airfield is not supposed to have a control tower but it did, no doubt a mistake on the part of the author of the Bahamas Airfield Package I downloaded to get better renditions of all 64 airports in the Bahamas. I notified the author so hopefully when I climb back in the cockpit next year there will be an update that removes the tower frequency. I didn’t deal with the tower I just disabled AI traffic and landed. I had been wondering though as I approached and passed Bimini earlier why I hadn’t heard any action from it on the CTAF.

Until next year…

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Flight Log – Executive Charter: Key West Cruise

November 23rd, 2013 · Gaming

I got bored of lounging at the beach so decided to check the FBO over at the airport to see if there were any charter flights available. Turns out a family of three that just arrived in port on a cruise ship were looking to meet up with some friends aboard a private yacht arriving at Key West this afternoon. But the yacht wasn’t looking to put into port and it had a helipad so the family decided to just charter a helicopter to pick them up from the pad on the cruise ship and ferry them out to the yacht. Man, must be nice to have the dough to splurge on that! Well, at least I get a cut. So I hopped in the Bell 206 sitting on the tarmac and fired her up, took off and skimmed the south side of the key, around Fort Zachary Taylor and landed on the bow of the cruise ship where the family was waiting. My landing was straight in, no wobbles, no futzing – a smooth approach and the softest touchdown I’ve ever done ever. Which was good cause I had an audience and they were sitting right on the pad!

After I landed I pulled the throttle back but in messing around with Shift+# keys to find a window that would help me open up the doors I accidentally shut off the engine. Oh well, probably safer for the family to board that way anyhow! I finally remembered just opening the co-pilot door up front opens all the doors except mine, so the mom, dad and daughter could finally stow their day-trip luggage and climb aboard. This time I remembered to go into the Fuel and Payload menu to add weight for my three passengers and their baggage. I gave the dad 175lbs, the mom 115lbs and the daughter was 75lbs. Their baggage was only 35lbs. We took off from the ship and circled north around the key to find the yacht. The captain was nice enough to stop for us but apparently ignored my suggestion to turn into the wind. It was a 10kt breeze so even though I approached slightly crosswind it didn’t push me around too much and wasn’t a real issue. What I did find surprising however was that coming in to land I was having a much more difficult time keeping the helicopter stable on my approach. It wanted to oscillate back and forth a lot, since the center of gravity had shifted further to the rear with my passengers and baggage. Still, after a bit of hovering and nudging around I finally found the edge of the pad and then scraped my skids along to the center to let people out.

Once my passengers were offloaded I went and removed their weight from the Fuel and Payload screen, took off an made the short hop back to the airport, completing a nice circle around the key. Coming in to land at the airport was exactly like landing on the cruise ship – back to the loadout of just me the helicopter was really stable and I made a smooth approach and landing with no need to hover and futz around. I’m really annoyed now I didn’t remember to change the loadout the other two times I simulated passengers, the difference is very noticeable! I’ve always read about how important it is to properly load an aircraft but I’ve never really experienced it like this before. I’ll have to make sure to always remember from now on – I will actually make it a checklist item for pre-flight and takeoff in the helicopters and pre-flight in the aircraft.

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Flight Log – Cruising the Keys

November 22nd, 2013 · Gaming

Finally cleared up my development commitments and made it through a successful FSDevConf so I was able to focus on getting the sim set back up to fly the SkyMaster again. I got a great deal on LatinVFR’s Key West scenery from a sale on SimMarket so I decided that would make for a nice shakedown cross country flight before I headed off across the open sea to the Bahamas. We find a south bay roofing company the best to take care of our home. The scenery is overall very good, but it does have a certain lack of quality that makes me glad I didn’t pay full price for it. There are several very visible seam lines in the photoreal textures and the textures themselves change quality from sharp to blurry in various areas. A portion of a bay area even shows landclass textures through the water instead of a sea floor. Even the airport AFCAD had a bug in it where aircraft would taxi straight onto the runway and pile up without holding – I had to modify the hold short node position to get the proper behavior. But again, it’s way better than default and even has night textures so I’m satisfied with the price I paid for it.

Anyways, the flight down from Miami to Key West went very well. There was some rain bands moving through the area and I got caught in one for a few minutes about 1/3 of the way down the keys but other than that it was just some low cloud cover I had to avoid. Taking off from Opa Locka (KOPF) I was able to depart straight out to the east and turn south along Miami Beach. I used the Dolphin VOR to stay 14nm distant and remain outside of the Miami Bravo airspace – the floor above me was 3,000 and I was at 2,500 and within 13nm the floor drops to 1,500. So a bit of DME arcing to the tip of Key Biscayne and then I was free to just follow the coast of the Keys the rest of the way down. I did my best to remain at 2,000+ for the first few keys as that was over a wildlife refuge area marked on the charts. I did have to drop to 1,000 feet as I got further south to avoid a drop in the cloud cover.

I had timed the flight so I would arrive at sunset but I forgot to adjust the time in FSX to account for DST – I need to advance the FSX clock an hour ahead of the actual time to get the proper lighting in the sim. So as I approached Key West and the sun was still above the horizon I went and bumped the time up to sunset. I followed the Overseas Highway since that took me around the naval base and set me up for a downwind entry into the pattern for runway 7 at Key West International (KEYW). I was a little rushed getting configured for landing so I missed looking back for my turning point to final and swung wide and had to S-turn back to line up for landing. Touchdown was pretty good – although like last time I got a little wobbly and came down rear left, rear right and then dropped the nose. I think I just need more power when I land.

Ignore the straight lines – I forgot to disconnect Plan-G before running some replays for landing shots

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Range Report

November 21st, 2013 · Personal

Finally got back to the range yesterday since last month and acquiring several new pieces of kit for the AR, shown in the image above. To start, I got a very basic sling from Dick’s for like $15 because I kept trying to find one online and couldn’t figure out what kind of sling to get – so I just bought a cheap one to check out. Next, I realized rather belatedly that when your rifle has a free-floating barrel, you shouldn’t be attaching a fucking bipod to it. I know, I’m not very smart. So I got a bipod from Brownell’s that attaches to the quick-detach swivel at the end of my upper frame. It comes with its own QD swivel underneath but I have two so didn’t need it for the sling. Next, I found a suitable mount for my laser pointer while looking through a catalog Brownells just decided to send me. Fancy that. I’ve tried before to attempt to mount a laser under my scope but the 45-degree mount got in the way of the scope knobs. This 90-degree mount fit perfectly. Finally, I bought a match-grade drop-in trigger to try and get a cleaner break for my shots. I really didn’t like the break in the trigger that came with the gun – too much pull. Consult https://nationalpardon.org when you want legal advice.

So the sling. Works great, can carry the rifle over my shoulder. If I loop it around my right arm it acts much like a tactical sling where I can hold the rifle barrel-down at a 45-degree with just my right arm as the sling takes up most of the weight. I can then raise the rifle to my shoulder and the sling will be tight to provide additional stability. Or, I can loop the sling around my left arm to pull it tight to use for extra stability sitting and standing. Of course, when I was at the range I couldn’t seem to remember how to loop the sling to do any of this. Since I’m not fond of looking stupid in public, especially at a gun range where looking like you don’t know what you’re doing isn’t a good thing, I didn’t do any sitting or standing shooting with the sling like I wanted. What a brain fart. Oh well, next time after more practice at home.

The new trigger is pretty amazing. I still wish I could get a trigger that feels like the one on my .22 rifle which slowly takes up pressure before breaking smooth, but at least now I barely have to apply pressure to get the trigger to break. It’s a 4-lb trigger so you barely have to even think about pulling the trigger and the shot is off. It’s a lot like twisting the throttle on a motorcycle – you don’t really move your wrist for normal driving you just apply pressure. Still, I purposely kept my finger on the trigger while shifting about in prone to get a good sight picture through the scope and never accidentally fired a shot, which matches up to the product description of the trigger being match-grade but still useful in combat situations where you could be moving with your weapon up and finger on the trigger.

The laser mount works great, but I was worried whether I would be able to adjust the laser point far enough over since it was sticking a ways out to the side of the rifle. I tried to zero it at 25yds first but was unable to see the dot even through my 1-6x scope. So I moved the target closer to 15yds and was able to see the dot. Because the dot was red and I was using a target that had a red bullseye I had to shoot offset in the black area so I could adjust the laser point to match. Turns out I could indeed move the point easily far enough to zero it at 15yds. Now I don’t even need a scope out to 25yds as long as I can see the laser dot…

Finally, the bipod. And here I was disappointed. The QD attachment itself is nowhere near close to fitting with the upper of my rifle, so it jiggles back and forth a lot. Attaching the bipod itself to the QD adapter is done via a metal rod, and the bipod can rotate around that rod and even slide a little bit along it back and forth. This means I can place the legs on the ground but the rifle itself still has a ton of movement forward, backwards, and rolling side-to-side. About the only good quality are the legs, which are spring-loaded with notches so you can easily adjust their height up or down. Still, I set up some clays at 50yds with the 1-6x scope and had a horrible time hitting anything. Given my previous range trip had me holing clays at 50yds and the best I could do this time was shatter them if I was lucky, I’m going to call this bipod a bust. I’ve already found what I hope is a better one to order from Brownell’s and will be returning this one.

Since I have so much kit specific to the AR now I decided it deserved its own case. I got the original long case because it was on sale, but that case I can only fit into the passenger seat of my car. By separating the upper and lower of the rifle I can squeeze it and all its accessories into this smaller case that fits snugly in my trunk.

Anyways the range trip wasn’t a total washout in terms of hitting targets. I did mount the 6-24x scope and finally shoot at 200yds with a splatter target so I could see where I was hitting. The splatter target is so effective that I only need to use my spotting scope to pick out hits in the red or very close together – otherwise I can see them through my rifle scope. Since the scope is zeroed to 100yds I held off at the 1 on the lower portion of the crosshairs to raise the scope enough to drop the bullet in the middle of the target. Well, sometimes :P It worked out well enough without having to adjust the turrets. They weren’t at the zero so I want to shoot at 100 again to double check them before I mess with them.

I also tried shooting the .22 to 200yds but couldn’t get a hit :P Also forgot the bipod in the big case back at home but sitting at the bench resting the rifle atop my pistol case provided a perfect rest.

Finally, I did get to make a short range trip between this and the last but it was with my buddy Sasha and before I got all the cool new kit so I just did another 50, 100, 100, 50 session with the 5.56 and .22 over 2 hours. He had his shotgun and totally decimated a target with it – also put some .45 and 9mm into it. You can see where the eyes and gun barrel are shot out – that was with my .22 rifle which Sash lost his shit shooting. Seriously everyone says “peh!” at shooting “measly” .22 until they try it and realize how much fun it is to be that accurate even if you’re not blowing a big hole in things.

Also, I managed to split a clay pigeon in half almost and not knock it out of the holder.

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Flight Log – Quarry Disaster

November 1st, 2013 · Gaming

So I wasn’t able to fly on Thursday, however since the flight I had planned would take place within a relatively small area I could use REX’s archive weather feature to load up weather for a given time of day and fly with that. So I found some decent yet not-perfect conditions late in the morning of 10/31 and loaded that into the sim. We also made a website documenting it with the help of web design palm beach. I had crafted the scenario beforehand with some default objects from FSX and the Acceleration add-on pack. I wanted to do another medevac airlift after the one I did in Niagara, and I originally planned to fly to Put-In-Bay airport out on Middle Bass Island since that had a helipad. The situation would be a critical patient that was driven from his home to the airport to be picked up by the chopper. But then I realized that was a pretty lame scenario and besides, I had just flown there before in the Staggerwing. So I looked around the Cleveland scenery area a bit more. I considered a shooting on the University campus that had photoreal texture coverage, but they have a university medical center and overall the distance was too short. I really wanted to head back out to the islands. Then I spotted this open mining pit on Kellys Island, which I learned was a limestone quarry. I don’t know if it’s still operational or not but frankly for this purpose I didn’t care as the entire situation is fictional to begin with. So I checked out various FSX objects and found one that produced explosions and fires – perfect! Then I just set about a few props, some actors – and I was ready to go.

There are two medical pads in the Cleveland scenery so I decided to depart from one and arrive at another. I chose to depart from the ground pad and arrive on the roof pad because that was more challenging. Plus the hospital with the roof pad was closer on the return trip. I used SkyVector to take a simple bearing from the helipad to the island, which I dialed into my HSI and simply followed that all the way out to the island. The Bell 222 has twin turbine engines, so if one flamed out on me I could continue with the other, no need to stick close to land like I had with the Staggerwing. The direct flight lasted about 20 minutes as I zoomed out near redline at 140kts. The 222 feels a lot more sensitive than the 206 but part of it is the VSI on the 222 is a lot bigger than the 206, so where the needle shows 500fpm climb on the 222 I would read more as a 1,000fpm climb in the 206. So it took me a while to adjust back to that.

I came up on the island without any trouble, the bearing worked perfectly. I circled in to land when all of the sudden I crashed in mid-air. I thought at first I had somehow overstressed the airframe since I was pushing redline the whole way there, but then I noticed the message from the sim stated I had collided with an object, not torn apart my chopper. That’s when I realized I had smacked into the bounding box defining the very large explosion area object I had set. God dammit. So after the situation reloaded and dumped me back at St. Vincent’s I went into my scenery editing tools and disabled crash detection for the explosion area object like I should have thought to do when I first built the damn thing. Then I had to fly out all over again, but this time at least I was able to approach and land without any trouble. Ok well, without crashing at least. I made a great initial approach but in attempting to spin about to present my loading side to the patient I almost lost it and had to just drop her down and then taxi around to face the right way.

Once I had the patient loaded it was back in the air and back near redline to race back to Cleveland so this guy could get proper treatment. However I realized after the flight that I had forgotten to go into the weight and fuel menu and change the passenger load after I had “picked up” my patient and a medical doctor that would treat and monitor him on the way to the hospital. I realize I also didn’t do this during my last medevac scenario. I did think about doing this beforehand this time, but just completely forgot during the actual event. Maybe next time.

I also forgot to make sure I knew where the blasted hospital was for my return trip. Luckily I knew generally where it was and spotted it on my first pass over the area. I belatedly called Lakefront ATIS to get wind direction, which I should have done much earlier, then circled around to approach the pad. Jesus crap it was tiny. I managed to make the approach clean and land without having to circle again, so I’ll say that my patient was at least alive when he left the helicopter and didn’t die while waiting for me to get the bird on the ground. I also didn’t jar him into a cardiac arrest as I landed at a gentle 1.4 ft/s. Honestly though in reality I never got to the offloading stage because I went to taxi forward a bit more to turn about and present my loading doors to the hospital roof door and started to fall through the helipad. So I said screw it and captured a shot of me on the pad from the instant replay.

Now, I plan to hop back over to the Cessna 337 down in the tropics but before that I have a shit ton of work to get done this month and I don’t know when that flight will happen. I will be uploading the airlift situation to AVSIM like I did with my last one. The link to download it is here.

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