Freeware Focus: Barry Blaisdell
By Andrew Herd (18 September 2006)
There are freeware developers and then there are freeware developers, and of all the people that have contributed files to the flightsim community over the years, one stands out head and shoulders above the crowd. This is Barry Blaisdell, who has been designing aircraft for Flight Simulator from the moment BAO Flight Shop came out in 1995. Since FlightSim.Com has been around for about the same length of time that Barry has been contributing files, it seems like a good opportunity to celebrate two milestones at once and look at the vast range of files that Barry has given us over the years. As far as I am concerned, Barry represent everything that is good in freeware and it is hard to understimate the sheer depth of commitment he has to flight simulation - looking at the enormous number of uploads that bear his name, few have given more, or taken less.
Barry's interest goes back a long way, not least because he lies at the 'mature' end of the simming world (i.e. he is even older than I am). There is a certain irony in this, as given the way freeware works, the majority of downloads of his planes are almost certainly made by simmers who are too young to remember the conflicts Barry has fought in and even, perhaps, the early days of the Internet. But that is one of the really good things about the 'net - it throws people from all kinds of different backgrounds together and most often, what comes out of the mix is better than anything you might have expected.
Barry's first encounter with planes was with the US Civil Patrol in the 50's, from where he went on to fly in F-105 Thunderchiefs over Vietnam. The F-105 wasn't everyone's favorite plane and it had a variety of alternative names, including the 'Lead Sled', but the moniker that stuck in the end was the 'Thud', which was supposed to be the noise one made when it went back to ground after take off. The big issue with the F-105 was that it was deployed as a fighter when it would have done better as a bomber and of the 824 that were built, something like 350 were lost to MiGs and missiles, so Barry must have seen some stuff in his time - actually, the one thing that did strike me while I was writing this piece is that the one plane Barry hasn't simulated is a Thud, but then again, he may very well have his reasons. After the F-105, Barry did a spell in choppers and from there, went on to work as a specialised computer lathe programmer in Connecticut, but it can safely be said that apart from his family, Flight Simulator has been his major passion.
Barry has his own website over at Premier Aircraft Design, which he runs with Bob May and Jean-Pierre Brisard. The site has been around a fair while and is updated very regularly, which is just as well, because Barry's output is prolific and a file library search turned up over a thousand separate files associated with his name. Most of these are in the form of the ultimate tribute any freeware developer can be given - which is repaints of their planes, but a surprisingly large proportion of this vast treasure trove of files are Blaisdell/PAD originals. The latest and most popular of all PAD's releases is their DHC6 Twin Otter, which is one of the most repainted aircraft of all time and is available as a 'full pack' from PAD and in the FlightSim.Com library. Also popular right now are a Bombardier Dash 8 and a CRJ 900, so if you want to enjoy good freeware, step over there right now and take a look.
Before we explore Barry's FS2004 releases, we are going to take a trip in the FlightSim.Com time machine, all the way back to the beginnings in 1995. The first file of Barry's we have - in fact one of the first files of any description we have - is a Pilatus Turbo Porter, listed in November 1995. This FS5 addon racked up the amazing total, for its time, of 807 downloads. In 1995, the Web was in the process of struggling onto its feet and it was by no means easy to connect up to it, so those 807 people would probably translate into ten times that number today. Barry's other upload for that year was a Shorts Skyvan, which wasn't quite as popular, although it deserved more interest, because the dumpy little Skyvan has to be one of the most distinctive planes that ever flew. The next year, we had another file, a Shorts 330, painted as a Washington National Guard C-23 Sherpa. Up to this point, there wasn't that much separating Barry from the crowd; just a few releases, all coded to a good standard and no hint of what was to come.
In 1997, Barry opened the floodgates. That year saw a Shorts 360, a DHC-6, a Grumman Goose, a DC-3, a Saab 2000, a DHC-8, a CRJ, an XC-17G (interesting one, this, as it was the prototype for a planned C-47 glider - no kidding, check out the file GLIDER.ZIP), a CL-600 and repaints of just about every one of them, totalling 39 files, the best of which scored over 4000 downloads. 1998 continued the trend with a King Air 350 and Barry's first FS98 plane, which was an RAF C-130H (C130-RAF.ZIP), painted by Gabe Eisner; this got downloaded 8000 times. Barry stayed loyal to his previous designs, almost all of which were upgraded to be FS98 compatible - some of them, of course, making it all the way to FS2004, which means that they have been under continuous development for the best part of a decade.
The FS98 Twin Otter was particularly popular and was an immediate target for repaints. Bearing in mind that Flight Simulator didn't include one at the time, the King Air was fabulously popular and eventually appeared with a spiffy panel and various other enhancements by Bob Walch (SKA35V4G.ZIP), in which form it was downloaded 24427 times. The Walch package required ACS-GPS98 (remember that?) which had to be downloaded and installed separately; I well remember the many evenings I spent trying to get my head around installing ACS-GPS and the excitement of figuring out how to use it. The Walch King Air was part of a tradition in freeware which has continued to this day, where one developer will add value to another's files and republish them - when it works well, the whole can be much better than the sum of the parts. A good example of this was the 1999 DHC-8Q-100 package (ONTD83D.ZIP), which was based on Barry's plane, with a panel by Alexander Lawrence, sounds by Achim Buerger and a repaint by David Cougar. 6000 people downloaded that one - the ritzy panel being part of the attraction, as I recall. Repaints of the DHC-6, the Dash 8 and the CRJ made a huge contribution to the file libraries at that time, because every time I looked, another couple of dozen seemed to have landed. Barry gave a huge boost to freeware by coding endless variants of the planes, until it seemed that there weren't any models left that he hadn't attempted. A significant new plane from the Blaisdell hangar that year was a Beech 1900D (B1900UE2.ZIP), destined to be another classic, although it took a while for demand to really stoke up on that one.
2000 saw a significant release in the form of the DHC6 (DHC6PNL1.ZIP), where Barry had designed the panel as well. This came as part of a complete aircraft set, developed with the help of Jens Borgstroem - in those days, it was rare to find a freeware plane with a panel included, let alone a sound set, and trying to get all three to work together could waste many hours, so it isn't surprising that this version of the Twotter became an instant hit with the repainters. Mid May of that year Barry gave us a Dassault Falcon 50 (UNDF50.ZIP) the package here being repainted by Christopher Susie. The Falcon was eclipsed, however, by the beginning of Barry's releases for FS2000, which started that month with a comprehensively upgraded Dash 8 (D82AJX2K.ZIP). The Falcon was followed by a very good Beech 1900D (B19FAC2K.ZIP) and all the other old stagers followed, although FS98 releases continued in parallel, perhaps because the shortcomings of FS2000 were becoming apparent. By now, Barry's name was established as one of the stars of the freeware community and I doubt that any other freeware developer was seeing his files targeted for repaints more regularly. Barry continued to repaint his own planes and these did a good solid trade, with few being downloaded less than 800 times and many running up 2000 or more hits.
The FlightSim.Com Developer's Award was instituted in 1999 and I can only think that Barry's many fans must have been distracted that year, but they put things right in December 2000, with an award for a superb USCG HC-130H (HC130_2K.ZIP), developed with Jens Borgstroem and Dave Gilespie. This was an absolutely superb file, which I remember well, because I used it for some tutorials, and it racked up over 17,000 downloads, plus an endless list of repaints. As 2001 wore on, Barry's output steadily moved over towards FS2000 and he scored his second Developer's Award with an FS2000 Beech 1900D pack (B19COE2K.ZIP) developed with Juan Alcala, Angel Pradel and Aaron Swindle. By now, the community had woken up to what Barry was about and a third award followed in short order, this time for DH6ERA2K.ZIP which was a Twin Otter pack, with a livery by Bob May, flight dynamics by the talented Steve Small and sounds by the irrepressible Aaron Swindle. Another really neat release by Barry that year was the 'Pro Panel' for the Twotter, (PROPNL22.ZIP) which I had hours of fun with - but hold on, that file was for FS2002, wasn't it? Yep, sure enough, I missed the beginnings of a switch to the new version of the sim that began in October 2001, when Barry upgraded and re-released a new version of the Twotter (DH6ABC22.ZIP) - by now, this addon had been downloaded tens of thousands of times in no less than four different versions of Flight Simulator and there is every sign that it will make it all the way to FSX. By late 2001, more or less all of the Blaisdell hangar was up to FS2002 standard, with the switch over occurring much faster than it had done to FS2000 - understandable, given the problems we all had with that version of FS.
Alert readers will no doubt have spotted that as 2002 dawned, Barry hadn't released any totally new planes for a while, although there had been plenty of minor variations. If you have never spent several thousand hours designing a visual model, this may strike you as odd, but at this stage Barry was supporting more different packages than many commercial developers did and it amazes me that he still kept the faith, given that most freeware feedback tends to be of the 'Why can't I make this work the way I want it to?' type, rather than the expressions of gratitude which you would expect. That is one of the reasons why the Developer's Awards came about and I am pleased to say that June 2003 saw a fourth given for the Scilly Skybus project by Udo Lemmob, Barry Blaisdell, Samy Fay and Bob May (D6SKYBUS.ZIP). The team followed up with many repaints which saw the Twotter become established as one of the most popular freeware packages ever released. An FS2004 update came in October 2003, done in Gmax (D6_MDM24.ZIP) and then a period followed where the Twotter team upgraded most of their livery packs and re-released then for FS2002 and FS2004 in parallel - in FS2004 format the Project Scilly DHC6 did another 8500 downloads (D6SKYB42.ZIP) and it is still counting. All the other addons were upgraded to be compatible with the new version of the sim and then, out of the blue, Premier Aircraft gave us a DA20 Kataana (KATFFC24.ZIP) that immediately scooped a fifth Developer's Award.
What with all the updates and everything, you would have thought Barry and the team would have gotten tired, but no, in July 2004, they released a Diamond HK36 motor glider (HK36KAYX.ZIP) that must be their most underestimated release to date, because it is serious fun. In August that year, the CRJ (CRJ900ER.ZIP) achieved the highest accolade with a sixth Developer's Award, which must be some kind of a record. Premier Aircraft Design must have got second wind, because not so many months later they released a totally new plane in the form of a Socata TB10 in April 2005 (TB10BLUE.ZIP). One of the FS2004 Dash 8 packs got a seventh Developer's Award in May (DHC8MESA.ZIP) and, incredibly, the team picked up a eighth in December, for a Socata TB-21 pack (TB21N725.ZIP) and - hard to believe how many they have been given, but they are well deserved - and an ninth in March this year, for the DHC 6 again (DH6_BVVK.ZIP). The Twotter has been given a Developer's Award on no less than three occasions, which takes the total up to an incredible nine awards and if you want to see the full list, check it out here. Bear in mind that these awards are given by a user vote, so they really do mean something.
Barry and the Premier Aircraft Design team, we at FlightSim.Com salute you, because you represent all that is best in freeware. We haven't got an award big enough to recognize your talents, so I hereby bestow upon you the one and only Freeware Lifetime Achievement Award that we have ever given. Something tells me it won't be the last award you get!Andrew Herd
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