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Behind the Screen : November 2021


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Behind the Screen : November 2021


I am amazed really on how much knowledge I have accumulated with flying X-Plane in over more than a decade. Laughable was the fact that I was doing reviews at the turn of the decade without really any flying abilities at all. That is not totally true. As I always had an extremely good eye for detail and what makes something good, even brilliant from what is basically crap. So it is not the difference in something in being actually good than crap in every aspect, as it is what is in the lines between that sometimes can be very fine.


I could quite well fly an aircraft, that is take off, fly around and sorta land... In most cases back then I still cheated by using the ILS to bring me back to the ground.


But it is in the lower contexts that you learn to "Really Fly an Aircraft". The art of aviation and the point that everyone has to learn...  first the basics (If going straight into flying a Boeing 747 is notable as basic aviation, but then you could do that in a Simulator), then the real learning the complexities of moving around in a 3d space. This was the motivation for doing simulation in the very beginning as I wanted (still do) in the learning, mastering, and achieving the skills to fly an aircraft. Which brings you back to the old simulation adage, that could a "simulator user actually fly a real aircraft".


In most cases this scenario has been disproved, mostly by a clown called Richard Russell after he stole a Horizon Air Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 airliner from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) and then died after crashing it on Ketron Island in Puget Sound.


If you would put me in an aircraft a decade ago, and said "Go Fly", there is an extremely good chance I would not be writing this article right now. Same could be said of most gamers, who think they can fly, but would really only end up in Puget Sound like Mr Russell.


But what about now, could I fly an aircraft (and survive). My gut says "Absolutely", that is not being obnoxious or macho posturing. But having faith in my learned abilities and refined skills. I mean if you watch Austin Meyer's simulator skills, then certainly I could do far better than that and he flies and owns a plane.


So what does make the differences between then and now. As I have admitted, I really didn't know how to fly an aircraft back then, but I took each separate component and learned and refined the skills to acquire the knowledge to master them.


My interest was picked up via a real world transfer flight from Proserpine Airport (ICAO: YBPN) in Queensland, Australia to Great Barrier Reef Airport (ICAO: YBHM), also known as Hamilton Island Airport in a Cessna 172. In typical laid-back (She'll be sweet) Aussie Style in the barefoot only shorts wearing pilot (nice sharktooth necklace though), bundled me and my two cases into the very tired Cessna for the short hop over to the Whitsundays Paradise resort. Simple. The pilot took off from Runway 11 and headed east towards the Conway National Park.


No I am not at all a nervous flier, I understand aircraft, but this pilot set up the Cessna 172 at around 3,000ft and as we trundled towards Hamilton Island at around 90 knots, and I was scared beyond death that I was going to die...   The reason was the pilot wasn't at all flying the aircraft, in fact he was leaning back over the seat trying to get at his lunch sitting on the back seat, worse the Cessna was NOT on automatic pilot either, he retrieved his lunch and then proceeded to eat a variety of fruit and a cold meat pie, swigged it all down by water in a bottle. Any interaction with the little Cessna was only via the slight movements of the rudder pedals, otherwise we both serenely motored on. On arrival at the Hamilton Island Airport, he did a wide masterful curve around the airport and went directly into Runway 14 absolutely flat (no nose down pitch) and into very nice three-point landing. It was thrilling and terrifying in the same instance... no doubt he was an excellent aviator (If with a casual attitude).


And the point of the story? Well how did he do that, in fly the aircraft without actually holding of any of the controls, and with no autopilot functioning as well. "was it "Magic", but it served to fire my mind on how and why he did that, as there is no way I could take my hands of my car's steering wheel in the same way without ruining my very lovely car and me ending up in hospital... how did he do that, and the answer is how you fly aircraft correctly.


That small flight has always been in the background of my memory when learning to fly correctly. The trick or tricks he used are obvious, first as I was too obsessed at looking at the instruments as he had adjusted the trim, but not only had he finely adjusted the trim of the aircraft for pitch, but used (most of the time) slight touches to the rudder to trim the aircraft to go directly forward, even in a slightly angled flight to compensate for the wind direction. Set up correctly like this the little Cessna was perfectly balanced, to note he also loaded my cases behind us in the front seats and not in the rear baggage hold, but to keep their 30 kg weight centred, a small but clever loading idea.


So first if I wanted to be really good at the "Flying thingy", I needed to learn how to trim, but trim well. Not only in pitch only trimming the aircraft (like in the 172), but how to balance a big airliner correctly with no auto servos doing the job for me. Watch any good landing of a DHC-8 Q400, one a very, very tricky aircraft to land nicely (I have watched loads of YouTubes Q400 lately on flying the Q4XP better), and watch the pilot's left thumb on the electric trim buttons on the yoke, they are constantly moving the trim on the descent into the approach, adjusting and adjusting consistently to keep the aircraft balanced and which could be fatal if you get it wrong, but this is how the Pro's do it.


The Q4XP is a very interesting aircraft to fly well, a simple bugger to land well, so you have to know the tricks to master it, trimming is one, and certainly getting the balance right on approach and landing. As a side point I have been moved seats quite a few times on a Qantas Q400 to set up the balance of the aircraft.


Once I learnt to trim better or master it, it totally changed the way I fly aircraft. Secondly is not using pitch in landing (unless for a slight final flare). The trick again that I missed on the fateful Hamilton Island flight, was that the pilot was using his throttle (power) to go up or down and not the yoke. Less power and you descend, more power and you go upwards. It is a total feel thing between you and the aircraft, and you have feel the lift to keep the aircraft airborne and land it correctly... I personally don't think you can fly in X-Plane via key input (up and down throttle power), I think the inputs have to be more minute than that, and you need that touchy feel to get it absolutely right.


I also cheated with landings...  Back then I usually set my weather wind settings at below 5 knts or mostly zero to make perfect landings. That is another area I explored to master, severe crosswind landings are always a challenge, but I can now pull off a realistic landing in any conditions, to a point you have to with xEnviro as you can't turn off the wind direction or strength. Another area I had to master was taking off with heavy weights on board. X-Plane is very good in creating aircraft at different weights, and how aircraft react in different loads, so I fly consistently at both ends of the spectrum of flying very heavily loaded aircraft to very light to understand the feel between the two conditions. A point is that it is good to fly older aircraft. 1960's machines are very good with no or basic automation and have under powered engines, so you have to work harder to fly them well in trimming and navigation.


I once spent days trying to get a fully loaded Boeing 747-200F off the runway and into the air, or grabbing the air, then getting the aircraft up to altitude with a consistently falling speed. It was a challenge. But I learnt well in how to fly heavies really well, and how they respond to marginal limits. I was quite proud of the way I mastered (finally) that challenge.


Another target was to understand my 3d space. I spent a lot of time adding in and using correctly the course pointers on the Rose Dial. The HSI (Horizontal Situation Indicator) is a very valuable tool when used correctly. If flying off a flightplan, or General Aviation, these tools are essential to understanding where you are in relation to the airport and the runway angle. Important in getting your approach position in height and distance right. The tools are there with the Navigation pointer arrows and the revolving Course pointer, and that is why I rally  even rant quite high when a developer does not include Nav Pointers on the HSI, as they are essential tools.


I wrote in Behind the Screen : April 2021 of the challenge of arriving at your destination airport at the right speed and altitude. It is still the one area that can still bug me from time to time, in being too high at the arrival point having to do a dreaded "Go Around". And yes I did that annoyance just the other day on approach to London, worse I did the Go Around three times as it was in very poor conditions...  Epic Fail.


Watching videopilots is interesting. They are exceptional at throwing all the right switches and finding their way around cockpits, but a fair share of them have very poor piloting skills (which probably killed Richard Russell). The real life pilots are certainly far better to watch, but you won't learn a lot of good aviation skills by following most deskbound videopilots. Real world videos are a far better learning tool, just keep to the ones that show the instrument panel numbers to learn what they do and when. In fact you would be shocked on how violently they control the aircraft on approaches for a smooth touchdown. I am forever shouting out errors to the videopilots of what they are not doing or of what not to do in flying aircraft... They do have a responsibility to show you the right way, and not get off on their own"Jollies".


I understand I say or describe things in over detail or repeat points review after review in X-Plane-Reviews. But everything described has a reason to be there. From a new layout of a FMS (Flight Management System) to a new addon tool you can now use. We provide a tutorial and review in one, to get you very quickly up to speed on that aircraft without all the head desk bashing I have gone through in trying to work it all out. (The Felis Boeing 747-200 was a NIGHTMARE). But overall it ups my own skill set in working through it all.


That above point was worn in a decade ago... you were back then pretty well on your own to work it all out, no videopilots, no tutorials and everything was page by page manual learning, but you learnt it well, and and I will make the point the aircraft were quite simple to learn back then...  not today. This year 2021 has been a complex level raising year for simulation complexity, good in one way, but far harder to work though in another. But the exceptional level of releases has certainly raised the standards of both developers and pilot's alike.


So here is the big question, could a good experienced simulator pilot fly a real world aircraft, I personally think yes, if they are of a certain grade of experience. There is only really only one way to find out, fly a real world aircraft and find out...  in 2022.


There will be as usual no Behind the Screen December 2021 issue, but our full yearly round up of the year review to be published on 17th December 2021, so watch out for that.


Stephen Dutton

2nd December 2021

Copyright©2021 X-Plane Reviews


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After 35 odd years and a bit over 6000 hours of flying, I find the sim often more difficult.  With limited visual range, especially peripheral, control recoveries and aerobatics are much more difficult to the point I find myself flying in 'chase camera' position so I can see what's happening.  Thus far, trim in XP is a mechanical thing - not the feel thing you have in RL.  Ideally you put the aircraft where you want it and trim to relieve pressure on the control - I don't feel this in the sim.  Reading your reviews, I would assume considerable knowledge of flight dynamics so, whether or not you have cardboard (guess it's plastic now) in your wallet, continue the excellent work.

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Big Question?...   What is real and what is not? The big difference is feedback isn't it, that is were RL has an superior advantage, and no matter what on a computer we just don't have that aspect. But you can still feel the machine if the programming is very good, but there will always be that wall. The question always arises, is it the Sim or the Aircraft that is not performing, or even in a lot of cases yourself. So in my position I have to find that answer, but a collective of views will also show you the situation. One or two can be wrong but not a multitude, but most videopilot's are actually quite poor is this aspect...  and everybody follows them thinking this the right way to fly? 


Refining the way you are positioned in the aircraft can help though, I use set command keys for the internal view, messing with the right-click mouse (unless weirdly good) is not the best way to fly (yes i will get thousands of comments about that), but a quick view movement to the set view you want is the best way to control the internal environment, and can not be as so distracting , only in odd views do you need to right-click, so my (number) keyboard is set up the same way for every aircraft, certainly if you are doing aerobatics and need to focus on certain points of view, there should be a point were as you find the same perspective as in RL, certainly VR helps or actually doesnt, because you get the visual perspective, but also a barrier created from the aircraft and it's controls...   the future is interesting here were as the computer and RL start to merge, roll on 2051!

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