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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

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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

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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

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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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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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