Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Time to join a virtual airline.

After spending a reasonable amount of money on a new computer for flight simulation, FSX add-ons, and every plane under the Sun, flying around willy nilly is just not going to cut it.   This is finally leading me to consider joining a virtual airline.  There has to be some meaning to this FSX madness.    Entering a route in the FMS, pouring over navigation charts, disseminating Metar data.
What if I could do all that, with the sole purpose of delivering virtual passengers safely to their destination.  

But which virtual airline to join, that is the question?   I want some form of realism that is not overly demanding.  In essence my goal is to join a virtual airline that encompassed the following: 

  1. Contains scheduled routes.
  2. Does not require online flying.
  3. Allows me to fly the aircraft I want to fly.
  4. Flies to interesting locations. 
  5. Has an up to date website using the latest tools for virtual airlines.
  6. Appears friendly and responsive with an active forum 
Point number one is scheduled routes.  I do not see the purpose of flying for a VA that does not contain a schedule.   If the requirement is to fly a regional aircraft from KEWR to KIAD departing at 12:30 pm with scheduled arrival at 1:30 pm, the realism bar has just been raised.   Obviously the clock on in FSX can be changed to allow for flying at the appropriate time.   Given my love of using real weather with REX, I hoped to fly as close to the allotted time schedule as possible.  For example the FSX clock is set to the current GMT time.

Some virtual airlines require you to fly online with networks such as Vatsim or IVAO.  This appears to be very limiting.  Flying online can be very complex.   The ability to communicate with ATC is not a simple thing.  You need to know ATC phraseology.
The virtual pilot needs to communicate effectively their intentions while understand the directions of the controller.  This does create a very realistic environment though.

My hope is to eventually work up to this level, but it is not going to happen overnight.   So the ability to start out with a virtual airline that does not require online flying upfront is important.   Personally, I believe that some of the virtual airlines that require online flying want to form their own elite club.  To each his own, as they say.
In the meantime, I have been reading about ATC phraseology and watching many Vatsim related videos.   Some of the youtube videos done by the MusicalAviator are very well done.   There are the videos by Peter Matthess flying on Vatsim with the A2A Cessna 172.  His videos really inspire me to consider eventually flying online.   My current plan is to purchase the VOXATC software which will allow me to learn and practice communicating with ATC offline.   Then, when comfortable, I hope to transition to some online flying.   I even have a VATSIM ID already!
No one wants to fly an airplane they could care less about as mentioned with point 3.   Many of the virtual airlines require the pilot to fly a set number of hours before a promotion to different aircraft types.   For example the venerable Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 can be flown after logging 50 or so hours with regional planes like the CRJ700 or Q400 Dash8.  Some airlines require even longer hours to be logged before becoming a Boeing 777 pilot.  I have no problem with that structure.   To me, this is realistic and makes sense on many levels.  But some virtual airlines simply do not aircraft of any interest to me.

Flying to areas of geographical interest is a big requirement.  This is why I decided to eventually join 2 different virtual airlines.  One for North American and one for Europe.  This way, I am not limited to one specific geographical area.   Nothing sounds more intriguing then flying over the English Channel at 30,000 feet or looking at the mountain ranges of the Pacific Northwest.   Dividing my VA duties between two airlines will help allow for this.   Also, should one of the virtual airlines go belly up (which does happen), I will still have time invested with one of them

 Requirement number 5 details my interest to join a VA with a good website that utilizes the latest in virtual airline software.   Many VAs use the ACARS system that allows visitors to track the path of pilots on a virtual map.  In real world flying ACARS stands for Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System.  ACARS is a digital datalink system for transmission of short, relatively simple messages between aircraft and ground stations via radio or satellite (Wiki Description).   One of the uses of ACARS is to determine and report the different events of a flight, such as “At gate” “At cruise” and recording the various flight management parameters.  The virtual ACARS software provides this service.  Once logged on, the visitor to a VA website can tell, who is flying a plane, the current phase of flight, the speed, altitude, location, and route.  That is pretty amazing!   Many of the virtual airlines I have seen have a live map showing the location of each pilot thanks to virtual ACARS software.

So in essence, I feel that joining a VA will bring realism to the flight sim experience.  
Repetition is a key element here.  Really getting to know one particular type of aircraft as you fly it monthly for a VA sounds like fun.  Many of the high level payware planes are highly complicated just like their real world counterparts.  It takes quite a bit of flights to really be comfortable with them.   Even then there is still something to be learned. Landing or departing from a hub airport, and becoming comfortable with scheduled routes also sound very realistic too.    



And the Unlucky Winner is? 
                                     Intercity Virtual Airline 

Intercity Virtual!!!   This VA encompasses each of the 5 requirements that I had for joining a virtual airline.  Intercity Virtual is a small regional VA that flies the turbo props BAE Jetstream J4100 and the Dash8 Q400 back and forth to many of the cities in Europe.  Intercity contains 4 distinct Hubs.  At this time I have not joined a North American based VA, but hope to in the coming weeks.   Still, joining Intercity has been very exciting, and I will elaborate in a future post!!

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