After a few days preparation, I joined my Dad and his friends online last night for my first experience “flying” online. Twice a week the group meet up to fly between two locations around the world, using a variety of flight simulators – which through the miracles of modern software and connectivity, allow them to appear within each other’s games, and to talk to one another.
You might think it would be enough for them to operate the ridiculously accurate aircraft together and have some fun chattering while doing so – and you would be wrong. Two of the group work as air traffic controllers during the evening – alternating between the various hats involved in directing the big jets around the world – from ground, to departures, to control centres, to arrivals, tower, and back to ground.
I hadn’t planned on doing any talking at all over the radio while joining them for their flight – I was no more than an interested onlooker. Sure, I put some time into learning the systems of the plane I was flying to make sure I could get it from A to B (a Boeing 737-800 – in the picture accompanying the post) – programming the route into the on-board computers, and operating the autopilot – but other than that it was all pretty much “seat of pants” stuff.
I think I got away with it. It’s amazing how quickly you can learn quite a lot when thrown in at the deep end. Operating the aircraft wasn’t the problem (well, it kind of was, but I’ll get to that) – talking on the radio was. There is a very specific language used in communication with air traffic control – and the people I joined knew it, were practiced at it, and were comfortable with it. I kind of did my best, and it wasn’t that good. I’m tempted to read up on the correct phraseology ready for a “next time”, but in reality I don’t know when next time might be – work and home life have been all consuming recently.
I had a few glitches with the plane on-route – mostly because I’ve paid the absolute minimum to get to where I am. The plane I used came free with the simulator, and it has some – how can you put this – idiocyncracies?
The flight management computer crashed while sitting on the tarmac at Heathrow, causing me to re-load the entire simulator while everybody else was busy chattering among themselves, and re-input the entire flight plan. While on approach to Bastia airport in Corsica at the end of the flight, it went on the fritz again – turning half of the cockpit into a fruit machine, and somehow stopping the airbrakes from deploying, and the wheelbrakes from engaging at all. Long story short – I arrived very fast, and went on something of a gardening expedition.
I’m going to use a different aircraft next time – possibly a commercial one that’s – you know – been tested…
Here are some photos of the flight, which took about four hours, end-to-end:
Could this be a new hobby? Maybe.
For those that are interested, the simulator is X-Plane, the ATC voice software was TeamSpeak, I used a route planner called LittleNavMap, and a piece of software called JoinFS enabled us to see each other’s aircraft across three or four different flight simulator platforms.