Monday, June 20, 2011

Flying from home

From a very early age I've been interested in airplanes, thanks to my father and some 80s movie starring a short scientologist, who is nowadays crazy. This interest of mine grew over the years by building Airfix models of war planes, throwing wooden gliders I had constructed, and when I finally got a computer of my own I got my hands on a piece of software that would become a hobby for me ever since.

I am talking of course of Flight Simulator. Whether you wanted to turn the realism all the way down and fly around with a jet, trying to slalom around the buildings in New York City, or make an impeccable landing in Rome, the freedom was there to go out and about. I loved it and still do.

Of course there have been many versions since, each one adding more features and technology to the simulator, but what is really astonishing about this particular hobby is the great community that has developed. Thousands upon thousands of custom made airplanes, sceneries, missions; you can find almost any airplane ever made to download and if you don't, you can always learn the tools and create it yourself.
As with any large community there are equally large amount of different tastes and ways of doing things. As I mentioned some just like to not take the realistic approach and fly around for fun, while others take it in all seriousness, with airplanes simulated down to the tiniest details, which take hours of checklists to get off the ground.

Cockpits are not as complicated as 20 years ago, but require the same concentration
One other thing that is of extreme importance is the hardware you use to fly your airplane. I'm sure you've seen simple joysticks for sale at your local electronics store, for around 25 bucks. That will get you off the ground if you're along the lines of flying a jet to the stratosphere just cos it's fun. More serious fliers however require more serious kit. Realistic looking packages can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, so you can now imagine how seriously some people take this hobby. What impresses me the most, however, is people who take the time and patience to build entire reproductions of cockpits right at home, just for the joy of it feeling as real as it can get.

There are two examples of things that happen when the community comes together. The first one is virtual airlines.  Basically they are organizations of virtual pilots who will fly according to timetables or defined routes, some organizing events or "fly-ins" to certain airports. I invite you to go through the site of the VA I'm part of, EuroHarmony.

Last but not least there's the online aspect of simulation. If it feels too lonely up there flying offline, you can always join one of the two big networks which enable you to join virtual skies with other pilots from all around the world. However, the real key feature here is the interaction with simulated Air Traffic Control, people who are also connected to the network and whose job is to control the airplanes flying on their designated airspace. This is where the simulation takes another turn towards realism, since you have to talk to the controllers the same way a pilot would talk to a real controller, by using Voice over IP technology.

Ever tried Flight Simulation? Do you have any similar hobbies?


  1. I haven't played a flight simulator in years; but, when I was younger I played quite a lot of them. I've also always had quite an avid interest in airplanes, mainly because they are just a few steps away from being spaceship - at least in my imagination. Was never actually very good at the flight sim games, always ended up crashing when trying to land; suppose I would make a good terrorist.

  2. Hey I remeber this very vividly. I myself was interested in WW2 aircrafts. Got all my models from Ravell, a german company.
    My best friend at the time had the M$ flight simulator, but I went for Combat Flight Simulator. Same story though. All the custom build airplanes that were on download. I remember staying online on a dail up for over an hour to download a 2mb Corsair Aircraft!

  3. this game is really amazing but so hard

  4. the closest ive been to flight simulation is the arcade game in boomers :P

  5. i like who the game looks like, i'm thinking about play it

  6. I've tried a couple flight simulator-esque games like Hawx and Ace Combat, they were okay. Learning to fly is on my bucket list actually, I've been enamored with airplanes and the concept of flying ever since my first flight. The wallpaper on my cellphone is actually a picture of a plane taking off lol.

  7. Disneyworld ride? They have a jet simulator there.

  8. I remember this, had lots of fun with that game. Did you check out the flight-simulation in google earth? Pretty cool too

  9. The guy in the video must have put in a lot of time to build a home cockpit and it is awesome :D
    Simulations sound fun, hope I get to try one :)
    Can you put up a post on the highlights of major air shows like the recent Paris one? That would be helpful. Informative post