• Air Hauler

    Air Hauler

    By Gustavo Mercado (25 January 2010)

    Intro

    If I look back since my very first copy of Flight Simulator which I think was about 1985, I have spent a very large sum of money and time in making my flights as real as possible. When I mention real I mean I like to see the ramp agent giving directions while taxiing to the gate, I like to hear all cabin announcements, checklists, and the whole deal. If you think about it while trying to get to the point where your flight experience is "as real as it gets" you probably went through at least a thousand bucks in different programs starting with the real airplanes, sceneries, virtual copilots, etc.

    When I saw this product "Air Hauler" came out I thought gee, maybe it would be worth taking a look at the less charming side of aviation and get into the whole cargo deal, let's see if the offerings for simulating a cargo environment are as advanced as the offerings for offering commercial passenger transportation. I was very impressed to learn that for once, it's fun simulating cargo operations, it's as or even more challenging than passengers, and if you use the right software you can also put your managing skills to the test.

       

    Technical Stuff

    This product has two ways it can be obtained. The traditional download which you can do directly from the Pilot Shop or you can order the boxed version. Obviously the download version is cheaper, and you can start using it a couple of minutes after swapping the good old plastic. The download version comes in a compressed 57.9 MB package, and the boxed version is published by JustFlight.

    Installation time depending on your system should not take more than five minutes. Product key information is mailed instantaneously and the installation is a breeze. You will need Microsoft.Net framework 2, and FSUIPC both of which come included in the installation package. It is equipped to work with XP, Vista, and Windows 7. The Windows 7 compatibility is not officially guaranteed, but yours truly already tried it and it worked no problem, furthermore the Windows 7 compatibility application has not conflicts with Air Hauler.

    Do take note that when you run the software the first time it will need to sync with the scenery and airplanes you have on your system. This should take around five minutes and after all the scenery and planes are synced you should be good to go.

    AirHauler!

    The program itself was surprisingly simple to use since the first load. Air Hauler does not run inside FSX, it runs independent from FSX in another window on your desktop, and in all practical terms Air Hauler runs FSX. To run the program correctly, you must first load Air Hauler, choose settings, flights, etc. and after all parameters are selected in the program, Air Hauler then executes FSX and it loads it with the preselected settings and conditions you previously chose while setting up in Air Hauler.

    Air Hauler is not just software meant to help you simulate a cargo flight, it is a standalone simulator that gives you the ability to manage a cargo company, and at the same time fly and help it make money. While the software is relatively complex in terms of what it permits you as the user to do with your company, at the same time the controls and commands are well laid out, and it is very user friendly.

    You start off by naming your cargo company, and then choosing your first base of operations. Choosing your base it's very important because most of the cargo runs that you will be doing will either begin, or terminate in your base of operations so make sure it's a place you like flying into and out of a lot, and if you are going to use real world weather make sure it's a location that is not constantly closing due to poor weather.

    As you get your company set up you are able to choose a variety of startup scenarios that you can change as you go. The difficulty of the game really depends on how adverse your conditions are on startup, other than that game play is the same for everybody. Much like in FS Passengers you can choose between starting with a healthy bank account which will permit you to move faster, or start from scratch with little money which will force you to start flying Caravans and will have to some serious work before moving to the big iron.

    I chose CCAS as the name (Consolidated Central American Shipping) and Managua as my home base. Starting out in the middle meant I started with a decent reputation level; this permitted me to take out loans from the bank and move to the big iron quickly. I started off with a Learjet 45 and shortly moved up to the ERJ175, about a week after I had one ERJ 175, and one B737-500, all leased of course. The software also gives you the ability to hire pilots and you can assign cargo runs to them to make extra cash. It is important to mention that the cargo runs the AI pilots make only count towards your financials, they do not count toward your company's reputation (which is a key component) and since your company's reputation pretty much controls how well you do and move up in the game it is better to try to fly yourself at least once every other day. Otherwise you will just be gaining money, but not moving up in the game.

    What I most enjoyed about Air Hauler and was one of the main reasons for wanting to try this product was the way the jobs are managed. Unlike programs like FSPassengers, and FDC Live Cockpit where you choose any flight from anywhere and fly it, Air Hauler automatically generates a list of available cargo runs based on settings previously set by the user once the company started. For example my home base is Managua so since I chose to have my company fly short to medium range flights because I cannot afford to buy or lease long range aircraft, I get flights mostly around Central America and the Caribbean and a couple of flights in southern cities of the US. Another interesting thing is that you choose if you want to fly to small medium or large cities, since I chose small to medium, you get some cities where if you don't calculate your weights correctly you are not taking off no matter what you do.

    Getting a random list of cargo runs available gives you a great opportunity to fly to strange, new places and leave the repetitive task of always flying to the same destinations. The program also did a great job at integrating most of the payware aircraft and making them available for you to lease or buy from the Air Hauler command center. I have the E-Jets ERJ175, and the Wilco 737-500 and both are assimilated by the program with no problem.

    On a typical flight you will load the software, go directly to the jobs board where you can select based on a list of about 70 different jobs the best one for you. After accepting the job you have to make sure you can make the range where the city is the weight of the cargo, make sure the runways are long enough, and if necessary plan a layover to fuel up. Appropriate flight planning on this game is crucial, you need to be well familiarized with your aircraft's fuel burn, takeoff weights, range, cargo capacity, or you will be running out of fuel in mid air, or crashing into a building shortly after takeoff because the plane was too heavy or the runway was too short. I think this is probably the best feature this program has, it will force you to understand the limits of each aircraft you have, or you will most likely fail.

    Based on the job you accept, Air Hauler will load up FSX with the right initial and destination airport, the right weather conditions, the right airplane, parked at the right spot, with the FSX generated flight plan, and most importantly with all the weight information already programmed on the simulator. Before loading FSX you will have to load the aircraft with the cargo, then load the fuel, and make sure you can make it to your destination without running out of fuel in midair, and making sure wherever you land, you have enough runway to go back home. All flights are monitored by Air Hauler so you cannot cheat, if you landed in Sin City International, next time you load that plane will have to be flown by either you, or your AI pilot to its next destination, and if for some reason the runways are too small you better have lots of money in your bank account.

       

    Once all the settings are calculated, and you are ready to make your cargo run, Air Hauler will load up the simulator with everything so you are ready to make preparations, go through the checklists and get going. Once you are switched to FSX everything is pretty much like it is on any normal flight. If you made the correct calculations regarding weights, runway lengths, and fuel burn you should be able to have an uneventful flight. Once you land at your destination and shut down the airplane at the cargo hangars you switch back to Air Hauler using alt tab, and unload the cargo, once the dispatcher accepts your cargo (given that you took the right cargo to the right place on time before the order expiration) you are done and you get paid.

    Although it sounds pretty much uneventful I can almost guarantee if the planning phase is not calculated correctly in Air Hauler before making the flight you will most likely run into some kind of trouble. For example, on one of my first flights, I did not plan ahead for fuel contingencies and the cargo plus the fuel gave just enough to get to my destination, about 25 seconds before touching down my engines turned off and I landed without the 2 engines. On another occasion, I got to fly to an airport that was so remote, our friends at Microsoft decided to plant a huge tree right in the middle of the runway; I had to abort the landing, go to the alternate, and lost the money for that contract. Of course cancelling, or delivering late harms your reputation, which in turn harms the quality of jobs available to you, and how much money you get paid. Like I said earlier take care of your company's reputation since that affects everything in the game.

    I remember when I was doing flight school for my private pilot license (in the real world) I once asked the owner of the school who flew DC10's for UPS as a first officer why he would not go to the airlines. His answer was simple, cargo doesn't complain when you land too hard, cargo doesn't have tantrums against the crew forcing the aircraft to divert, cargo doesn't get sick, and cargo doesn't have family to leave behind. Well Air Hauler apparently does not share that opinion because the most lucrative cargo contracts (which will be fine crystals and handle with care cargo) come with their challenges. For example, if you land too hard the crystals will break and you will not be paid, and your reputation will suffer. Obviously this never happened to yours truly but it is there haunting you on takeoff and landing.

    The setup of the simulation is also very complete. Since you are in a sense managing a cargo company, you have access to a world of graphs, P&L statements, operational budgets, fuel expenses, payroll, and pretty much all important financial expenditures that include running a cargo company. You can hire pilots and assign them to aircraft and cargo runs so they can keep your fleet busy and make more money. You can purchase an aircraft, lease it, or buy it used. All with their ups and downs, and in case you hire the cheaper more inexperienced pilots you can also insure you fleet.

    Ultimately you and only you are 100% responsible for the success of the cargo company. The program gets real life fuel prices, and keeps track of the stock market in case you want to try your luck at Wall Street with your hard earned money. All in all the game has many features that go way beyond just flying an airplane which I think is the purpose of these types of programs. The most important factors to ultimately be successful in this game are to make sure you fly constantly. If you don't your rep goes down no matter how many AI pilots you have. Make sure you are aware of the operational limitations of your aircraft in terms of weight, fuel burn, and range. And last but not least, do your deliveries on time, and don't break the fine china in hard landings or bumpy takeoffs!

    All Said And Done

    Highs - The program does a great job at giving people like me a new choice and trying something totally different. It is user friendly, has no compatibility issues with any pre-existing software, it forces you to know and understand your airplane's limitation which is a great thing, and its job assignment system will take you to places you never thought of.

    Lows - Too much emphasis is given to the reputation rating, it is very easy to lose points in this area and the damage can be tremendous. It might have been better if it depended on a mixture of other areas to distribute the weight better. At around $45.00 (US) it's a little pricey.

    The Verdict - The developer has given us a great option for those looking for things other than the usual airline flight. Very well made product, easy to use, and fun to operate. I would definitely recommend it to someone looking for a new challenge in our virtual world.

    Requirements

    Flight Simulator X or FS2004
    Pentium III 1.7 GHz PC or better
    512 MB RAM
    Windows XP, Vista (32-bit or 64-bit) or Windows 7
    1 Gb hard drive space
    Microsoft .Net Framework 2 (included)
    FSUIPC 4.50 for FSX, 3.90 for FS2004 (included)

    As Tested

    Microsoft Flight Simulator X (SP2)
    Windows 7
    3.10 Quad Core Extreme
    4 GB RAM
    526 MB Nvidia graphics accelerator

    Gustavo Mercado
    gusifer@gmail.com

    Learn More Here

    Similar Products:

    Just Flight - Cargo Pilot


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