Monday, February 08, 2010

My Flight Sim Setup

Some of you asked about my flight simulator set up, so here's a geek post on the details. The computer is a Toshiba laptop with dual Pentiums at 2.16 GHz and 2 GB of RAM running Vista. I only have the one computer, with my data back ups being a stack of CD-ROMs and my access back up an iPod touch.

When I'm at home I have a CH Pro yoke and pedals which plug into the computer USB ports. I fasten the yoke to the keyboard drawer on the desk, and then jam cardboard into the tracks of the keyboard drawer, so it doesn't roll in and out when I try to make pitch changes. It still does a bit, so I try to control pitch more with trim and power, which doesn't work to well either, so then I use the autopilot. When I start up the simulator I sometimes find that the controls are unresponsive, but I've learned to unplug and replug the USB connectors and that usually fixes the problem.

When I'm on the road, I just have a little butterfly-shaped controller. It's made by Logitech; I think it might be called Wingman. It's about the same size as my hand, including fingers. I have to replace it fairly often, as the action gets damaged in my luggage, even though I pad it with clothes. It has two thumb yokes and lots of buttons and is covered all over with DYMO labels because I never remember what I've assigned to what. When I use my road controller I mostly just fly the autopilot. It's an exercise in sussing out the plates and planning descents and turns to be efficient and legal.

On screen my default aircraft is some fairly generic twin with a six pack panel. I think it's a Beechcraft. There's a King Air style autosynch display on the panel. NAV1 is the HSI and NAV2 is an integrated receiver with a big fat yellowish needle for the ADF and a double striped green needle for the VOR. Instead of having the usual standard head presentation of zero to ten degrees deflection and a TO/FROM indicator, it acts like an ADF. That means if I'm tracking to a waypoint in order to intercept an ILS, it's like ADF tracking, which is okay, because I like ADF tracking. The engine instruments are mostly hidden by the avionics display. I can see just enough of the left ones to know what power setting I have selected.

The only keyboard controls I use are G for Gear and B for Baro--i.e. to reset the altimeter to the current setting. My kudos to anyone who can actually manage a flight entirely from the keyboard.

My system description makes me laugh, because my first hard drive was 40 MB. I remember a friend who returned to Canada after a few years travelling and used my computer to update his resume and re-enter the job market. He asked, "Do you have the Word disks?" When he left the country, the typical computer only had enough memory for its own operating system, so you ran Word right off the disks, then saved your document to another disk. And by disk I mean a 5 1/4" square of thin flexible plastic inside which was the disc-shaped magnetic media. The disk was sealed inside the sleeve and you put the whole thing into a slot in the computer.

Any questions?


Julien said...

Ahhh... 5 1/4" disks. Reminds me of the good old days of 48K BASIC programming on the TRS-80. Those kids today don't know how good they have it with 2GB or RAM. We used a special boot file for optimizing memory allocation when we wanted to play Doom on a LAN on a PC with 4MB of RAM. Those were the days.

Don't you find it amazing how quickly one can sound like an old fogie in the IT world, while old aviators still mesmerise audiences?

Aviatrix said...

The first fifty years of anything has amazing advances. In the 1960s, you could talk to a pilot who had just retired from flying a four-engine commercial passenger jet, yet who was born before the Wright brothers' first flight, who had witnessed the age of the barnstormers, learned to fly in a Tiger Moth, seen the introduction of IFR, the flight attendant, pressurization, the artificial horizon, the centre console ballast unit, and movies on airplanes. Would you believe the last was in 1925? I'm guessing they set up a screen and a reel-to-reel projector.

Maybe someday people will want to hear our amazing 5 1/4" floppy stories. "And if the disk was write-protected, you could still re-use it by carefully cutting a hole in the top corner of the case."

I have an amazing hundred-year-old book I will show you how quickly airplanes outstripped our imaginings. If spaceflight has progressed as fast, we would have warp drives by now.

Jim said...

When you are computer-literate, the neighbours eventually find out and you end up fixing a lot of computers.

Among the components I have extracted from the corpse of some computer was a 40MB 8" HDD. I attempted to sell it in a garage sale with a label of $3,000 (a fraction of the original price), but no takers.

Wild Blue said...

Keep plugging away at the flight sim - it's useful. I used to practice stuff with Flight Sim and a B767 add-on (PIC767 I think). Years later, I got assigned the B767 in training at a major US airline. Training was pretty easy since I had spent hundreds of hours in front of that panel.

It seems people who have the most trouble in airline training programs are those who flew mostly VFR - even though their stick and rudder skills were awesome, they had lost their instrument scan. I'm talking people like cropdusters or people flying in the Southwest US where it's always clear and million.

Julien said...

Well said Aviatrix. For the record, I am also the proud owner of an antiquated 8" floppy disk. It's like a 5 1/4" disk, just a lot more floppier.

And you could buy single-sided 5 1/4" disks, which were cheaper than double-sided ones, punch a hole in the appropriate spot and very often use the side you didn't pay for.

And don't get me started on the coolness of "fast loader" software for increasing the speed of loading games from tapes on my Commodore 64. Simply magical.

townmouse said...

oh yes, tapes... I can still remember the 'song' of our BBC B loading games from tapes. And even a couple of years ago, I used to know just from the noise whether a modem was going to connect or not.

Hamish said...

Floppies, pffftt!! My first portable(ish) disk was a 19" (yes!) DEC RK-05 that held an absolutely marvelous 2.5MB. It was inserted into a rack-mounted housing; all of the Edition 6 Unix OS I used back then could fit on it.

But no, I never get nostalgic for what I still think of as the bad old days — my iPhone has more power and storage than any of the computers I used back then, and I like it that way. Onward and ever upward!

Aviatrix said...

Update: I've been promised a "barely used" copy of MSFS 2004 delivered on Friday. Presumably it won't be on 8" floppies.

CeridianMN said...

In the Navy I got to work on a system which used a set of buttons for loading the program from massive sized 8k (I think) hard discs. The buttons consisted of an array of 8 sets of 3 I think. (It has been awhile.) The load was done by inputting various octal codes in in the right order. (The buttons were lights with two states, on and off.) At first I memorized the sequence, later I learned what it all meant.

On the more personal front, I do remember the first time I used a 9600 baud modem and feeling like it sounded faster during the connection handshake than our old 1200 & 2400 baud ones.

Julien said...

@CeridianMN: Would that be a PDP-11 by any chance? The row of coloured octal switches can be seen at the bottom of the photo on the Wikipedia article.

Anonymous said...

5 1/4" floppys were disk-ETTES. Disks were huge.