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Dubai World Record – The Final Crunch

December 27th, 2013 · Grucci, Personal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dubai World Record – Week 2

December 16th, 2013 · Grucci, Personal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dubai World Record – Week 1

December 8th, 2013 · Grucci, Personal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunset over the Atlantis resort

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Flight Log – Tropic Thunder

November 26th, 2013 · Gaming

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

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

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

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

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

Until next year…

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Flight Log – Executive Charter: Key West Cruise

November 23rd, 2013 · Gaming

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

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

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

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Flight Log – Cruising the Keys

November 22nd, 2013 · Gaming

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

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

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

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

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Range Report

November 21st, 2013 · Personal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Flight Log – Quarry Disaster

November 1st, 2013 · Gaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Flight Log – Plant Inspection

October 30th, 2013 · Gaming

The Cleveland scenery package includes a nuclear power plant that has a heli pad, so for this flight I role played as a charter pilot who was hired to ferry a nuclear inspector to the plant for an unscheduled spot check. The inspector arrived from Washington D.C. on a private jet and then transferred over to my helicopter for the final leg of his journey. I found a new paint for the Dodosim Bell 206B that was to my liking, although I tried to find something government or corporation-like first. Other than that there wasn’t much else to do to get ready for this flight.

I departed Cleveland International (KCLE) and used interstate highways to lead me first to downtown Cleveland and from there I picked up the interstate that would take me out to the power plant. Simple, although I forgot to orient myself before lifting off so as I rose I had to figure out which direction to head off in! With roads I’ve learned it’s still very hard to tell which road is which – even major highways. Luckily there were lots of other references for me to use as well such as waterways and railroad tracks. I had Plan-G open, which gives me an uncluttered view of the roadways, but I was able to use the Cleveland TAC just as easily to identify where I was. I was tuned to the CTAF while flying and heard a departure call across my route from Lost Nation (KLNN) but was clear before they actually took off.

Upon reaching the plant I did an overfly of the cooling towers – too bad they couldn’t simulate updraft, I’m sure it wouldn’t be a good idea to do this in real life but that’s what makes a sim so much fun sometimes. I circled around to land, there was little to no wind so I just used the circle to lose altitude for my approach. I managed to slow down low over the ground to a walking pace without coming to a full stop hover short of the pad like I normally do. So I made the last few dozen feet at almost a hover taxi and settled a bit rough onto the pad but not enough to bounce or damage the skids – and I didn’t futz around either just made an overall smooth and professional-looking approach. I was quite pleased with myself.

I had planned a return trip but didn’t have the time for it so this flight ended here. I have one more helicopter flight to try tomorrow if the weather permits.


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Flight Log – Day Trip

October 29th, 2013 · Gaming

So the good news regarding my throttle quadrant issue from the last flight is that it’s not broken. I noticed the same issue when I swapped it for my newer quadrant and that led me to think of other problems, which eventually made me realize that one of the adjustable controls on my X52 HOTAS was to blame. Specifically it was the wheel that I use to control the throttle on the Bell helicopters, and to do that it is set to the propeller pitch axis. D’oh! But good to know I don’t need to spend another $70 on a new quadrant. On ther news, if you need legal help for auto accidents, checkout Accident Injury Lawyer St. Louis MO. Also, The Maryland car accident lawyer consists of lawyers who have dedicated their careers to protecting the rights of innocent victims. Visit for a Free Consultation.

I did a lot of prep for this flight, like making sure that I had scenery that would be useful along the way. I noticed I would be flying right past Cedar Point, which contains an amusement park, and I managed to find some scenery that put some simple 3D objects in that area. It wasn’t anything sophisticated but it did make it easy to spot while flying for a landmark reference. I’ve been to the park before and it does indeed have some amazing roller coasters.

I also made sure that all the airports I would tune to for traffic advisories along the way had spoken names, not default phonetic ones, and used EditVoicepack as necessary to ensure this. It’s a lot harder to remember the airport designations when flying along and listening to see of there are any arriving/departing aircraft I may need to look out for. While mucking around in EditVoicepack I thought about the fact that CTAF transmission are pretty poorly rendered in the sim. I don’t know why I never put much thought towards this before but it’s true. Aircraft don’t say their type and they don’t repeat the name of the airport at the end of the transmission. These are pretty standard rules, to my understanding, so I was surprised to not find any voicepack mods for this in either the AVSIM or download libraries. So of course I just figured out how to do it myself. It’s available on the AVSIM library.

I also imported some additional phraseology mods I stumbled across on my search for the non-existent CTAF mod. You can find more on that and the Ohio scenery in my FSX Installation and Tweaking Log.

I decided to hop into the Beech Staggerwing produced by Alabeo as I hadn’t flown it in one of my flights yet, only for a review. It’s a tail dragger, and I normally don’t bother with tail draggers because they are a pain in the ass to handle on the ground and during take-off and landing but I’ll make an exception in this case because the Staggerwing is just a beautiful aircraft and has one of those big rotary engines that just sounds awesome under power, with the deep thrum I can really feel through my subwoofer. It took me a while to get up and going – I wanted to be wheels up with the sun but first I had to troubleshoot the recurring propeller pitch issue, then I realized I never installed the aircraft since I last reformatted my system, and then when on taxi to the active I actually crashed into another aircraft! I don’t know why Ground didn’t tell me or the other aircraft to stop, like it usually does, but – BAM! So after I reloaded the flight and got ready to depart of course I had to wait a few minutes for the deluge of taxi clearance requests to fall off since the AI traffic reloaded with the sim… and then I just taxied in spot view. Screw it.

Anyways I finally made it into the air about an hour after sunrise and made my way west towards the Bass Island group out on Lake Erie north of Sandusky, Ohio. I kept her low and slow the whole way and it took me about 30 minutes to get out to the islands. On the way I monitored some traffic frequencies and checked in on the weather report before tuning to the CTAF for the airport on South Bass Island, Put-In-Bay (3W2), to see which runway was active. I figured 21, but turned out to be 3. There were three other aircraft arriving so I took a long swing around the islands before entering the pattern to give them time to land and get out of the way – especially because one said it was making for 21, not 3. What I didn’t count on was to be on short final and find an aircraft positioned on the runway for takeoff! Honestly, unless I had paused the sim and set up for an external screenshot I probably wouldn’t have seen it since by the time I was close enough to spot it I was too nose-high. Fortunately there is a displaced threshold so I still probably would have flown over it on landing had I not seen it. Not sure if it was going to start taking off I announced a go-around and swung back into the pattern. I checked the ATC window and saw no notification of the aircraft taking off so I just shrugged, swung back around and landed over it! Turns out the airport was poorly designed by the US Cities developers and I fixed it to allow aircraft to depart properly.

My wonderful pattern work around 3W2. Longer, shallower approach 2nd time to spot & clear the aircraft

So in the real world after I parked and shut down I went off to bed for a few winks but my virtual self was off exploring the islands for the day until it was time to climb back into the cockpit for the flight home around 4pm.

There was some more confusion on active runway use when taking off – the sock was pointing at runway 21 but I heard traffic coming in for runway 3 so I hustled to the hold short, rolled and took off from 21 while they were still 4 miles out. I flew back on the opposite side of Kellys Island but other than that the flight was essentially the same going as it was coming. Sandusky traffic was landing from the west so it didn’t get in my way and I cruised around FL017 back along the shore of Lake Erie until I was close enough to get ATIS from KBKL and contact the tower for landing instructions. I was hoping they were also landing from the west so I could just fly straight in but instead had to enter downwind to land out of the east. Either way though it’s really cool to be approaching from the west and flying past downtown Cleveland. I considered flying back to a different airport in the area covered by the US Cities scenery but the lakefront airport is just too cool to pass up – reminds me of Meigs in Chicago – RIP

I had a weird case of yawing almost uncontrollably off the runway shortly after touchdown and I still haven’t really figured out why. I managed to stop before falling off a small cliff in the terrain mesh near the water and had a few good bounces taxiing back onto the runway. Would have really sucked to crash at the end of a flight. I’ll have to remember to do a replay of my landing if that happens again – I wonder if it was from my tail wheel touching the ground while it was unlocked. I may have unlocked it too soon and should have slowed down further until I felt my rudder authority weaken. Again, not much experience with tail draggers here…

I’ve got ideas for two helicopter flights, one for the 206 and one for the 222 if I can find time to do them before the start of November in two days. Then it’s down south for the winter!

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