• The Corner #35 - Things I've Learned From Flight Simulation

    Things I've Learned From Flight Simulation

    By Chip Barber (6 February 2008)

    Not a damn thing.

    Well, that's not quite true. Fact is, upon reflection, I'll have to decide if we'd like to catalogue the list alphabetically or in order of preference. I suppose I could start with the more "girthy" things I've picked up along the way.

    For one thing, our hobby ain't cheap. Let me tell you something, boys and girls, if you find yourself being able to pay for a piece of software from one of your favorite web sites and do not have to refer to your charge card when it comes time to punch in all those numbers, chances are better than good that you spend too damn much money on your hobby. I swore up and down, the last time I dug myself into an FSHole, that I would never, ever permit myself the indulgence of the mindset of "A new piece of software a day keeps the doctor away...". It may keep the doctor away, that is until The Boss gets the bill at the end of the month, at which point it comes time for the multi-trauma dressings and another visit to the local Emergency Department. It is truly amazing just how much damage one may do to oneself while attempting to appear busy on a ladder, hoping against hope that a good gutter-cleaning will make up for some of the crushing debt one has accumulated over the last four weeks. But no, in my last pique of remorse I actually cancelled my Visa card. This naturally led the kind hearted and well-meaning Visa people to send another, this time with flowery letterhead and promises of lower interest rates and the like. And damned if I haven't got the new number memorized simply by repetition.

    But on the plus side, I do have a really, really cool bunch of stuff that is tacked up inside my little FSWorld. Sooner or later there will be something else tacked up on the wall, I'm thinking.

    This, naturally, brings me to my next revelation. Now, you may wish to write this one down, and I believe it to be a "Universal Truth" that bears remembering: It is more than possible to add too much crap to Flight Simulator. The result of said adding of crappola invariably results in diminution of performance, if not an actual FSCatastrophe in which Flight Simulator actually sighs its last breath and collapses inwards upon itself in a small cloud of dust. This astonishing and not a little disturbing event results in several things happening, generally within 24 hours of the initial event. Swearing in various languages (some even made up on the spot, and which also bear writing down for posterity's sake if nothing else), deletion of FS2004, more swearing when you realize you've just deleted a bunch of stuff that you probably should have copied first and now you'll have to spend days if not weeks writing all those self-deprecating emails to all those developers telling them what a ninny you are for having deleted their work without saving it first, and would they please please please be kind enough to send another? And after this little slice of Heaven has played itself out, reinstallation. That FS2004 root folder looks mighty empty, don't it? I heard an echo after my expletive deleted having taken a peek inside that. Crickets. I heard crickets chirping it was so empty.

    Part and parcel to all this is the oh-so-awful realization that, despite all the hard-earned cash that has been spent on add-ons and enhancements and planes and scenery and maps and cool little freeware buttons to open and close the cargo doors without the annoying race to push SHIFT-E-1 (or is it 2?), that something, something has to go. You're joking, right? These are my offspring! My FSChildren! I've paid for these delights in blood (see above) and sweat and tears! And you expect me to decide which one gets the old heave-ho? Oh Solomon, where for art thou!?

    Well, this is something else I've learned. There isn't anything that you can do without if you want to fly badly enough, with the possible exception of cool airport scenery and nifty aircraft. No wait, strike that. See how insidious it is? I mean, look. The whole point of our obsession is that we like to fly, or at least pretend to. We like to think of ourselves as the master of our environment, regardless of whether said environment is earthbound or not. We'd like to believe, in our heart of hearts, that we are pilots. That we have already done so much sim-piloting that we've damn well earned our PPL (what do you mean that we actually leave the ground, Mr. Instructor?). Well, this just isn't the case. If you wish badly enough to jump into the cockpit or flight deck or whatever, and go from here to there with or without paying customers, you can damn well do it with just what Bill Gates (was that Angelic music I just heard?) provided to you when you bought the game. And, doing it this way will give you performance that is smooth as glass and at jaw dropping frame rates to boot! So yes, Virginia, there may be a Santa Claus, but there isn't the need for all that add-on software needed for you to realize your dream to fly. Live with it.

    There remain a few ubiquitous questions floating around our little FSWorld that bear mentioning, as despite pages and pages of speculation and learned and wise commentary from young and old alike, we still don't have an answer. Perhaps the most grand of these is ... (actually, it's not that impressive so I'm just delaying a little to play it up into something more than it really is)... can we as competent flight sim pilots actually take over a real aircraft in flight, and safely negotiate it back to where it is stationary and still resembles an aircraft? I'll not even bother to offer an opinion, as most certainly there will be those clamoring for a chance to voice their opinion to the contrary. Honestly, I have no idea, even though I like to tell all who will listen (Oh boy, here he goes again) that I am perfectly capable of starting nearly any Boeing or Airbus from cold and dark to engines running, to program in at least a rudimentary fashion their flight management computers, and can push/pull the throttles and so make the beast roar and move around. This, of course, has yet to be proven and with any small amount of good fortune, never will. I must say, however, that my daughter has just earned her security pass for a local airport and has promised to get me on board an idle aircraft. Just wait for the pics of me with a big, dopey smile on my face sitting on a flight deck, and more than likely a cordon of security personnel with weapons drawn just visible through the wind screen, waiting for me to touch something.

    Something else that comes up quite often is to be found in the forums. Is this guy who has the grammatical skills of a fruit bat, the spelling acumen of a bowling pin and the syntax of a box of hammers on a good day really, really a pilot? Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but in order to become a commercial pilot, you should be able to read and write somewhere north of the "See Dick Run" skill set, no? Certainly, you should have been able to have at least thumbed through the manual on how to fire the engines without creating a mushroom cloud and do more than just look at the cool pictures, right? So how on earth do these guys think they can come into a forum filled with more ways to spell "actually" than you ever thought possible, and expect anyone to believe they can pilot anything other than their finger towards their nose?

    And another thing that occurs to me from deep within my Purple Oxy Haze: I'm beginning to think the developers out there are on to us. They actually realize just how deep in our cups we fuzzy old flight simmers truly are, just how enamored we've become of our hobby, and they are taking advantage of us! The unmitigated gall! How dare ply us with their intoxicating mix of jetways and ground textures and other delights, all the while rubbing together grubby little hands in eager anticipation of the influx of cash that is surely to come. God, I love those guys!

    The list goes on and on. Yet another reason for our delight at playing this game of make-believe. Always something new and different, a new bird to master, a new gauge to learn, a new manual to print, a new cast and sutures from a new Resident who speaks passable English and smells funny.

    I am certain there are many more lessons I have learned, and have yet to learn, by my hours spent before the yoke. Some subtle, some obvious, some scar-rendering. But all contribute to the perpetuation of our virtual, flight simming species. Who knows, in another few years, perhaps technology will have progressed to the point where we all board virtual aircraft and are whisked to our destinations in precisely the same manner that we simmers do now. Finally, a return on my FSInvestments!

    Wouldn't that be a peach?

    Three Green!

    Chip Barber
    [email protected]


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