• Freeware Focus On Dennis Simanaitis

    Dennis Simanaitis

    An Interview (13 July 2010)

    Recently FlightSim.Com chatted with a resurfaced Dennis Simanaitis, an add-on aircraft designer whose work stretches back not quite to flight sim beginnings, but certainly pretty far back. You might have seen his most popular contribution, the Hughes HK-1 "Spruce Goose," highlighted here recently at FlightSim.Com. We wondered how he got into all this and what he's been doing of late.

    The Team

    When did you start developing add-ons?

    I had to check this out at the FlightSim.Com library, but my first contribution was January 6, 1996. I wonder, did my wife get me BAO Flight Simulator Flight Shop for Christmas 1995? Before FSFS, I recall there was only one flightsim add-on, an Alitalia jet done by an especially enterprising Italian. (Any other oldtimers remember it and him?) My own first choice was a sensible one, the first aeroplane of all, but also terrible one. Quoting myself (hem hem...) from the documentation, "I doubt that Bruce Artwick et al had the Wright Flyer's canard layout, offset motor and pilot, and multiplicity of struts and wires in mind...." FSFS defined its graphics with "Assembly Groups," and my first attempts looked like Escher drawings, the ones with impossible perspectives. Also, the entire download was 37,417 and still hit the limits of FSFS. In fact, this gave rise to an early trademark, my Little Red Blockhead pilot. LRB appeared in my planes all through the early days, much to the annoyance of some simmers. Sorry, but there was no way you could model anything resembling a real person without utterly blowing the Parts Count.

    Is there a team?

    Not exactly, but I've certainly profited from the knowledge and artistry of other simmers. On that earliest effort, I thanked Chris Evans for his Cyber Sky Tutorial #1 on the use of "glue templates." Remember glue? This was how a builder finessed one element to appear "in front of" another, along with the artificiality of FSFS Assembly Groups. Later, an immensely talented panel designer, J.L. Stubbs, did fabulous work for a bunch of my efforts. Plus, the forums at FlightSim.Com, freeflightdesign.com (hello, Felix!) and The Old Hangar have proved invaluable over the years.

    Have you ever considered doing full-time development?

    No. Early on, I sensed that this would be a fine way of screwing up a really neat hobby. In real life I'm Engineering Editor of Road & Track, an enthusiast's car magazine. Believe me, it's the best job in the world. Nevertheless, doing for a living what others do for a hobby has its tradeoffs.

    Do you have any experience (or lust?) for real aviation?

    No, I'm not even a wanna-be. I know I'm missing the discipline to do it properly. I can fantasize that maybe in the 1920s it would have been neat to buy a Jenny.... But today I need that reset button.

    Any memorable flights in real life?

    I flew in a Bushmaster, the latter-day Ford Trimotor around the Monterey Peninsula. That was really a thrill. And we did a joint article with "Flying" magazine that compared the Beechcraft Premier I with the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren. I got to fly second seat from Sedona, Arizona, to Beechcraft's home base in Wichita, Kansas. Got a sense of controls at FL410 and also on Base to Final. Fortunately this time my "reset button" was sitting right next to me. One day, I'd like to hitch a ride in the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum's wonderful Westland Lysander III and in one of those de Havilland DH.89 Dragon Rapides still in use in the U.K. These are two of my favorite aircraft (and also flightsim projects).

    More on that "real life" of yours?

    I've been at Road & Track since 1979. Prior to that, I worked at SAE International back when it was called the Society of Automotive Engineers. Before that, I was in academic life, for a while teaching mathematics at the College of the Virgin Islands on St. Thomas. (I've got a Ph.D. in mathematics.) I've never had a real job and hope my good fortune continues.


    How many add-ons have you done?

    Again I checked at FlightSim.Com (where all but the last couple at The Old Hangar reside). The count is more than 100, but that includes J.L. Stubbs panels (which were often posted separately for reasons of download size) and others' modifications of my stuff. Also, in retrospect, it sure looks like I've done maybe a dozen aircraft, but in repeated upgrades of building software. There are several Wright Flyers, Bleriot Type XIs, Benoist Flying Boats, Dragon Rapides, Bristol Brabazons and the like.

    What's your most popular work?

    By a longshot, the Hughes HK-1 "Spruce Goose." I think so many of us just want to emulate Howard's Long Beach Harbor adventure, brief though it was.

    What about your favorite projects?

    Looking back, the satisfaction came in exploring limits of the earlier building software and sim. For instance, it used to be a real challenge to make an airy see-through interior. My first Dragon Rapide was, for me, a real breakthrough. Similarly, the early sims treated water in strange ways, and making something appear to float was a neat trick. I believe my first Benoist used this. Now, of course, all of this is easy-peasy. A "recent" favorite: my Miles M.57 Aerovan, mainly because I fooled with a Cooper Formula 3 race car that unloads and loads. The car, done in memory of a good motor racing friend, Rob Walker, is a separate driveable download and another favorite.

    How about your goals in choosing a project?

    I've always said you better like the appearance of a project, because you'll be staring at the thing for hours at end. Also, I'm a student of aviation history and have tended toward aircraft that played noteworthy (if maybe relatively obscure) roles. That 1913 Benoist, the first regularly scheduled heavier-than-air service. The 1924 Douglas World Cruisers. The 1937 Tupolov Ant-25 that might have flown from Russia across the Arctic to our west coast (or, maybe as one of my source books says, had a stand-in double shipped to an Alaskan island and assembled there to complete the effort!).

    Are you building for FS2004 or FSX or both?

    I'm kind of a Luddite in this regard. I haven't upgraded to FSX as yet. At first, it was an equipment limitation. But now that I've partitioned our new iMac 27 to have a PC portion, that excuse won't cut it any more.

    What software packages do you use?

    I jumped into Gmax when it was included with FS2002 and never looked back. I've heard others talk of its steep learning curve, but I guess I learn it bit by bit. I realize I don't use many of its really trick features, but still enjoy it a lot. I've never tried FSDS but sure admire its results by others. I use Paintshop Pro for textures and have FS Panel Studio to fool with panels. By the way, I confess I have no artistic ability (make that "negative" ability...) and this shows up in my modeling. Were I doing this seriously, I'd team up with someone who has this sense of rendering textures.


    Have you any future projects?

    I'd like to update that Tupolov Ant-25, just to try to simulate that Russia/San Jacinto flight. Also, I continue to learn more aviation history, and along with this comes encouragement to do something original. At the moment, though, sorry, I have nothing in progress.

    What can sites like FlightSim.Com do to support the hobby?

    It does a great job right now providing opportunities for interaction. For me (and maybe other Luddites like me), I'm pleased it still cares about other than FSX.

    What about the future of flight simulation, even beyond FSX?

    We've all heard about different platforms for simulation, game consoles and the like. Whatever the format, I sure hope Microsoft keeps something of an open architecture. I know folks complain from time to time about M$, but I commend the company for encouraging add-ons through the many iterations of flightsim thus far. Not to sound like a heretic, but years ago I would have lost interest in the hobby, were it not for its aircraft building aspects. And, to me, this is one of the hobby's real attractions: There's good fun and excellent camaraderie for so many different people, those who enjoy virtual airlines, others who practice IFR procedures, or attempt simulated night carrier landings, to my building old crates. And thanks sincerely for asking.

    Dennis Simanaitis
    View Dennis Simanaitis related add-ons in the FlightSim.Com file library

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