An Interview (15 October 2009)
Recently FlightSim.Com had the chance to interview well regarded aircraft designer David Eckert. Best known for his award winning FS2004 Stearman, Eckert has now designed around 25 add-ons, both freeware and payware, even though such development is still only a part time task while a real job is required to support him and his family. Despite the added challenge of designing for FSX he is not through yet, with plans for an FSX version of the Stearman plus other classic planes.
When did you start developing add-ons?
Back in 1999. I attempted to make a Waco CG-4A glider for FS98 after seeing one in the movie "Saving Private Ryan". It's on FlightSim.Com but don't download it. It's really not very good.
How many people work with you?
It varies. I do almost all my own work except for flight dynamics and scenery and help here and there with XML and gauge programming. Plus the great guys at the freeflightdesign.com forum for support.
Do you or any of your team work full time doing development?
I wish I could work full time developing add-ons. The problem is that it's not very lucrative.
What experience does the team have with real aviation?
I picked up my love of aviation from my late father. He server 20 years in the USAF in Air/Sea Rescue as a crew chief on various airplanes and helicopters (his favorite was the H-43 Huskie). Then he worked for United Airlines as a mechanic for 20 years. I have about 70 hours piloting C172s but have never finished getting my license. Each time I get close something takes my time or money or both. I try to get in the air when time and money permit. I have flown in the Collings Foundation B-17, EAA's Ford Trimotor and Bell 47, Fantasy of Flight's New Standard, Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum's Harvard, a Stearman and various other light aircraft.
What do the various members of the team do?
For my "real" I work for Lifetouch. We do school portraits. I have done a little bit of everything for them such as photography, Assistant Territory Manager, Technical Support, web development, and other jobs. I also volunteer Sunday mornings at the Wings of Freedom Air Museum in Willow Grove, PA. Stop in and say "Hi!"
How many add-ons have you developed?
Somewhere around 25 both freeware and commercial.
What do you consider your best or most popular work?
My Stearman for FS2004. It was a labor of love.
What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of a project?
Balancing accuracy with the limitations of the game. I'm a sticker for accuracy (I even match Federal Standard colors) but if the model is too detailed it will look like a slide show in the simulator.
What are your most important goals in a new design?
To set the bar higher. I always try to create the best model I can. I also like to add some details other designers hadn't thought of. (which is getting harder and harder to do).
Do you develop for FS2004, FSX or both?
I have just started developing for FSX. My wife and I had two boys, Jack now 4 and James 2, which took all of my time. They are just now getting old enough for me to have a *little* free time again.
What primary software packages do you use to do your work?
I love FSDS for modeling. Why not Gmax? While Gmax is a very powerful program I find the learning curve to be too steep for my simple brain. FSDS is quirky but it does the trick and is simple. For textures I use Corel Draw. It allows me to create layers and move them around easily. I can then save items such as insignias, letter, etc. from project to project. One of the best fortune cookie fortunes I ever saw was "It's a simple task to make things complicated and a complicated task to make things simple." I believe in keeping my tools as simple as possible. if you want to build a house, what good is the "coolest" hammer if it takes you years to learn how to use it?
How do you decide what you want to develop next?
That's a tough one. It's got to be old and interesting. A number of factors come into play. A) Has it been done before (or recently)? C) How much data can I find on it? A few years back I started photographing aircraft for reference for myself and other modelers and now have over 3000 photos on my web site.
What are some of the new projects you plan on releasing next?
I plan to release an FSX version of the Stearman and perhaps a T-6 or BT-13. Maybe a 2-seat Me262.
What simulators or versions do you plan to support in the future?
Whatever supports FSDS.
In what ways do you see development changing in the future?
Since FSX is theoretically is the last PC version of Microsoft Flightsim this allows for time to develop more models. Designers can now take their time as they no longer have to race against the next version of Flight Simulator. Models however, are becoming more and more complex. When I first started designing models, there was no virtual cockpit, animated parts or glass. Now we have glass cockpits with animated buttons and levers. If it moves for real, we can animate it.
What can sites like FlightSim.Com do to better help promote and support your work?
FlightSim.Com has been very supportive of mine and other's work. They don't just cater to the commercial projects and never have an air of arrogance. They have always been my favorite site.
How do you feel about the future of flight simulation in general?
It will survive and thrive. However, we're at a turning point. MS purposely made it hard to make add-ons for FSX. The theory was that if it's harder to make add-ons then only the "good" (or determined) developers would do so. But my making it so difficult they lost a lot of support from the community. I only hope that when or if they switch FS to a game console that developers can still make add-ons for it.
What would you like people to know about you, your team and work?
I design flight models because I enjoy it. Many of my projects are commercial but that money usually ends up being plowed right back into computers, cameras and trips to Oshkosh and other aviation events. I try to answer all emails and inquires but some slip though the cracks. Don't take it personally or think I'm too busy or think I'm too cool to answer. I'm just forgetful sometimes.