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Behind the Screen : April 2023


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Behind the Screen : April 2023


On average over a 20 to 30 year commercial flying career, professional pilots will fly usually about 4 to 5 types of aircraft, first in the right seat, then a command in the left. I'm not counting their non-professional activities like private general aviation, gliding or even to the extreme of aerobatic flying. This is the core total of flying airliners, either domestic or international.


Do pilot's have to be more flexible in today's aviation industry? that is a big question, because, say in the 60's you could fly aircraft types from the BAC-1-11, progress to a Trident, then a Vickers VC10, then a Boeing 707 or a Boeing 747 Jumbo, or even on to the supersonic transport in Concorde. That career road would be far harder today, as you would mostly jump between types of the same design, say start in a A319, move to a A320, then a A321 and now an A321LR, you are progressing, but mostly on the same type, not "Types' of aircraft. Same with the A350 or Boeing 787 Dreamliner.


Progress to each aircraft type would mean going back to class, instruction, training and finally the hands on evaluation that you could handle the new machine, a jump from say the VC10 to a Boeing 747 would be a large challenge, but nothing like the jump from a VC10 to Concorde, of which most crews of the supersonic transport were nominated from. Today the line between a A320, to a A321, is not as large, and a conversion would be in weeks rather than the months like in the past.


Compare that to X-Plane, or with being a reviewer. God knows how many "Types" of aircraft and let us even include even the "weird" strange machines at that. Obviously I have lost count, but a thousand over 12 years is a rounded off figure, maybe even more than that, so you have to be pretty adaptable.


Like driving a car, aviation still has it's basics in controls and instruments, so you can be "so called", adaptable. But unlike driving a car on a road, aviation machines comes with a lot of different variations, weights and sizes, again you have to be adaptable.


A lot of Simulator users will also mostly stick to one type, or a variation of that type, a lot won't even progress from say a Single-Engined aircraft to a Twin-Engined aircraft, never mind a Commercial Jet. Another crowd will only fly heavies, big airliners, but most will usually use the Two-Hour rule of flying a Boeing 737 (Zibo) or Airbus A319/A320/A321 (ToLiSS), fair enough.


Me I do like variety, always have, call it a challenge if you will, I couldn't be a reviewer otherwise. But I do have my core "Top Ten" aircraft that I fly personally, a few General Aviation machines, but mostly Airliners, the bigger the better.


Also there is the aspect of getting "back into the groove". You would think with all that reviewing experience and skills, that I would easily slide into the seat and fly the aircraft like a pro, yes...  well no, it is not as easy as that.


One big bonus of doing reviews in that when a new aircraft or type is released, you do what I call a "Deep Dive". Reviewing in detail allows you to spend a lot of time on that aircraft, sometimes weeks, study it, understanding all those minute details. Then to learn to fly it correctly... then pass on the information of what has been learnt to you the users of the X-PlaneReviews site.


You would think that in say six months when the same aircraft from the same developer comes around with an update, with all that intimate knowledge learnt earlier, I should simply slide into the same seat and fly it again perfectly like the total professional I am, except that is very far from the truth. I even make copious notes, the Concorde review notes went for sixteen pages, yet I still need to revisit and revise them all every time to step back into that cockpit. And here is the thing...


My first flight back in that seat is usually atrocious, totally laughable...  a professional, mostly a joke in watching my efforts. At least I don't have a check captain sitting over my shoulder rating my poor flying abilities, and ready to give my career the total thumbs down.


Let's be clear, that is with the complex complicated detailed aircraft we are talking about here, sure I can pilot a GA around a circuit or two with my eyes closed, but something happened in X-Plane around eight years ago when basic PlaneMaker aircraft went to Plugins. Now the systems are real world duplication, so is now the way you also fly the aircraft in real world conditions in the Simulator.


Triggers...  notes can give you triggers, and then you fly the aircraft and then release all that the stored information in your brain, it does come back to you quite easily, but some machines do have their peculiar idiosyncratic natures, not only in their systems, but their flying characteristics as well, say the Dash Q400... One flight will release the learnt peculiar tricks on using and handling the machine, the notes help, but going over the learnt procedures and you will soon fall back into that aircraft category groove. I'm an odd one as well.


I just won't jump in and go flying (unless there is a reason), I go through the whole set of procedures from "Go to Woe", more so with an update (or upgrade) to cover the changes in the new updated/upgraded version, the differences between the Old and the New.


That second flight (basically the review flight) is usually "Back on Song", not flawless, but back in tune with the aircraft, the third flight has to be flawless, if not there is something wrong or something has been changed? The only thing about this process, it is time consuming, two flights take time, three flights is in days to do a review, but you internally and personally have to know you have everything right, in the interaction between yourself and the aircraft before reviewing. That is why I don't like a lot of VideoJocks, watching them power through procedures and incorrect flying, and missing SOP's (Standard Operating Procedures) makes me cringe by in the amount of mistakes made, some are very good, and yes even I can learn from a real line pilot doing video Simulations, but most are "Cowboys", and have bad habits that are being passed on to the unsuspecting junior (learning) Simulator users in picking up and using the same poor methodology.


Okay, I come from the strict school of being serious, and a lot of users reading this will say, Hey, lighten up, it's supposed to be "Fun" it's only a "Game", but my approach is strictly professional, if you want to "Fool" around and wizz upside down in a A320 (yes looking at you Austin Meyer) then your looking at the wrong personality type, to me "Professional", means being very good at what you do and to not fool around with a 80 Ton aircraft. Simulation was created as learning tool for real world pilots, we are just lucky, and if you have enough computer power, to be able to do the "EXACT" same things as the real world pilots do, that for me is where the excitement comes from, and my on line experiences.


Out of the "Thousands" of aircraft I have reviewed, a few go into my own personal hanger, the ones that are very special, but also fit my own personal flying needs, I keep the list to like I mentioned to around ten aircraft, but it is about four to five of those aircraft are what I use consistently, again these aircraft are also required to have a shakedown regularly, and the same process of a "trigger" flight and then a regular flight are required to get me again "Back in the Groove".

I know these aircraft intimately, and yet I still need to reset my brain to fly them correctly, lose one or two that has happened with the X-Plane 11 to X-Plane 12 transition and you feel a bit lost without them (both will be released for X-Plane 12 within the next month). Again I will stress that regular repeatable flying is still required to keep your skills in prime shape, yes it is more (even relaxing) fun than the serious approach of reviewing aircraft, but still serious in the way you approach in flying the aircraft professionally. To make it "Fun", is to set up a few scenarios, I have two.


The first is a real world day's flying, usually three sectors between regularly used airports (quality sceneries), In Australia say the "Triangle". Brisbane to Melbourne, Melbourne to Sydney and finally Sydney back to Brisbane, all in a days work and following real world services. It's more tricky than you think to fly on real world times and turnarounds with the same aircraft type. Exhausting as well, but that is what real world pilots do everyday, but it is fun to coordinate the lot together...  The second is real world airport hopping. Start a service from say Barcelona and fly to Copenhagen, then from Copenhagen to Dubai (combining European to International with different aircraft types), then Dubai to Hong Kong, then Hong Kong to Los Angles and so on...  if you wrap up a sector in say New York, then the next time you fly you restart in the same place, say, New York to Copenhagen, and hey, you have flown around the world with real life timetables and the same aircraft types used on the real world routes... both above scenarios are based on real world flying, but for me a fun factor as well. But all learnt during these travels, goes back into the reviewing, and the consistent practise on aircraft types means your skills are kept at a high level.


This April "Behind the Screen" edition, looks a bit into how I fly and do reviews, but also shows you the amount of practise it requires to keep your flying skills at a high level, same as the real world pilots...  I like to think so, dedication is everything in life.


See you all next month.


Stephen Dutton

2nd May 2023

Copyright©2023 X-Plane Reviews


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Thanks Stephen for this very interesting episode of behind the screen, as a long time follower of your website I always enjoy those monthly editorials, and this week's clearly outlines the hard work and dedication that you put in all your reviews (about which I never had any doubts anyway).

So many thanks for your great contribution to our flight simming community, looking forward to all your future posts.

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