So I’ve gotten very proficient at cancelling sorties. The rain, the floods, the winds, the moronically unpredictable maintenance practices of the Aero Club have all contributed to Nicole and I flying a big fat goose egg this past three weeks. Combined we are perfect 0 for 8.
That’s right, I’m going right to Ace Combat on the PS3 to get some… wait, that’s not what she meant when she said simulator. Nic wants a full up, for real, simulator that flies like a Cessna 172 so she can learn. Now lets be honest, in our jobs, we’re both button punchers. In the air or on the ground (or under it), it’s all just button punching. But I think I’m the expert here at Video Games. And the simulator that she wants does not come with firepower, you don’t thwart any revolutions, and you can’t save any princesses. Suck it video games.
Nic: This isn’t a video game, its about learning.
Me: But… I don’t want to learn.
Nic: Too bad.
So I got online and built a simulator for my girl to fly with.
I started off with a Saitek FlightPro Yoke and Throttle Quadrant. I added in the Saitek Rudder Pedal attachment and the Cessna Pro Elevator Trim Wheel. All of these things are USB, plug and play equipment. I was worried that I would not have enough USB ports to support all this, but the Yoke has 4 ports on it so you can plug in the rudder pedals, throttle quadrant and trim wheel to the Yoke mount and then plug the Yoke into the computer.
All of this is being run from an Asus Eeebox Net-top computer. Yeah, that’s not even a real desktop. The key to my madness is Microsoft Flight Simulator 10 (FSX). I know that the normal run-of-the-mill computer monitor was just not going to cut it for me, so instead of the monitor I plugged the computer into a 52 inch Samsung LCD television running on full up HD 1080p. Boom.
The rudder pedals move around when you try to use them, but they came with some Velcro strips so you can secure it to the floor without actually drilling holes. Sure, it’s taking up all the space on my dining room table, but that’s just another reason to go eat out. It is restaurant week in Colorado Springs after all.
Was it hard to set up and get flying? No. Very easy to get this system running.
Was it hard to get the damn thing to actually fly like an airplane? Hells yes!
I spent a serious amount of time setting the sensitivity of the yoke and I still haven’t gotten it right. The yoke has an adjustable dead band (which is good) but it goes from dead band to a full input with no ramp up. For those of you inclined towards mathematical analogies, the yoke is like the Dirac Delta (while useful for scaling in Fourier Transformations, it’s not that good when it makes me crash). So I tried to calibrate it. When I pulled back on the yoke a half inch the nose went up a normal amount, but then when I let go of the yoke the damn thing noses over to about 40 degrees nose low. There was also no feedback on the trim wheel, I had no idea if it’s working or not. I couldn’t trim out the pressures at all and I was forced to manually hand fly the plane 100% of the time. Even at the lowest sensitivity level, the elevator was WAY too sensitive. I was a PIO machine. In the science of flight control systems, that’s wack dude.
But that’s just a two dimensional problem, so let’s take that up a notch. For reasons unknown, the simulator will suddenly go into a 30-40 degree bank with no inputs and start shaking around like it was being ravaged by a Wookie (Spoiler Alter: this is not the last Wookie reference in this post). In one case I had a serious left input in an attempt to bring the aircraft to level after this crazy unexplained right bank, I had to go full turn left to even get a response. If this would happen in an actual aircraft, I would suspect runaway trim (except C-172s don’t have aileron trim) or a broken aileron, or maybe the damn instructor is messing with me. Either way, for this sim, it was not acceptable.
After some interrubes surfing, I found some useful nuggets. People generally believe that sensitivity controls the effect of the response. In the real world it works that way, lower sensitivity and you need to turn the wheel more to get the same effect. In this world, that is not the case. The sensitivity settings on FSX control the RATE of the sensitivity. Lower sensitivity delivers a lower RATE of response. So to dumb it down for me, I put in an input and I don’t get what I want so I put in more input. The rate catches up and I now see that it’s too much so I take it out, but I don’t see it right away so I put in more. It catches up as too much and now I’m in a wicked PIO (again). While not the same thing, it has the same effect as Phase Lag, which anyone who has talked to Evil Bill for more than 10 seconds knows is really bad. So while my developmental test training on flying qualities tells me that the sensitivity was too high, the reality of the equations and algorithms behind the hardware mean that the sensitivity was not high enough. Saitek recommended really high settings, and while that fixed some issues, it was still too high and after some trial and error, I found something that would work. I also found some helpful soul in Wisconsin who knew all about my troubles with the trim wheel and helped me fix it up proper. It’s issue was the dead band. When dealing with trim inputs you don’t want ANY dead band. So I set that to zero, increased the rate sensitivity to maximum and it works at what I would call an acceptable level. I didn’t mess with the rudder settings only because, well, I still don’t really know how to use the rudder.
I thought about messing the settings up on purpose just to piss Nicole off. Her frustration level is at an amazing high and when she sits in front of this thing I just know she is going to blow her top. It is hilarious. For those of you unfamiliar, this woman is the very definition of composure. Until this week, I didn’t even know she had a temper (and I’m a complete dick, so I should have seen it by now). It has made my week to see her totally lose her shit in front of a machine. When she loses it, it’s better than Game of Thrones. One day, I thought she was going to flip the table over. An hour later she just paused the thing and then stared at the screen for 15 minutes. The look on her face was akin to Joe Pesci’s look right before he shot Spider in Good Fellas. Just to put this whole thing into perspective, Nicole doesn’t swear very much. In 9 years of marriage she has said a swear word in my presence only 12 times. 7 of them have been in the past week at this simulator.
Saitek’s reccomended settings for use in FSX
Aileron = Sensitivity 75%, Null Zone 5%
Elevator = Sensitivity 75%, Null Zone 5%
Buckley’s settings where Nicole doesn’t flip the table:
Aileron = Sensitivity 60%, Null Zone 25%
Elevator = Sensitivity 60%, Null Zone 25%
So, with these new settings the sim is flyable. It doesn’t fly the same way that the C-172 does, but hey, this thing cost $300 and the airplane cost about $120,000. While we’re not really getting out of the simulator what we wanted, it’s not all bad. I can see that, subconsciously, Nicole has developed a usable instrument scan pattern. The sim work has also reinforced procedures during pattern ops, i.e., when to drop the flaps, what RPM setting to use on downwind, how to make radio calls and sound cool doing it. And to be honest, the thing taxi’s pretty well. (Spoiler Alert: I suck at taxi)
So she’s a Weapons School grad, which means that I am obligated to debrief the objectives of this mission…
Objective: To Learn.
Did we succeed? Yes.
We learned that either (a) Saitek makes shit hardware [probably not], (b) Microsoft makes shit software [I think we all know the answer to this one], or (c) I have no idea how to set up a flight simulator [fo sho!].
I have to get this woman back in an airplane before she divorces or kills me.
DISCLAIMER: *I was not financially compensated for this post. I did not receive any sample for review purposes, I purchased them myself online. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience. Please don’t sue me.*