As many of you know, I've been looking for a hobby for some time - one I could really get into and enjoy. I think I may have found it.
You may remember from previous posts that I'm a pretty big transportation geek generally, and more specifically, an aviation dork. I find air travel to be fascinating, including the miniutiae of it all.
So what does any of this have to do with the pic above? I'm getting to that.
This started about three weeks ago when I hopping around YouTube looking at this and that. There are fabulous videos on there about flying, but my favorite tend to be the ones of shots into and out of Princess Juliana airport in St. Martin. (There's also this more famous video of folks literally being blown into the water as a KLM 747 departs.) There are other interesting videos too - my favorites are this 747 barely having enough runway to get off the ground and this superb landing in really windy conditions.
But I digress, of course.
For as many real-world videos as you can find, there are almost as many videos of virtual flights. Those videos all come Microsoft Flight Simulator, as dominant in its genre as any other piece of software out there.
I had FS several years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. But I had no idea where that software was, so I thought it might be time for an upgrade. As it turned out, the latest version had just come out, Flight Simulator X. But I opted for Flight Simulator 2004 for two primary reasons: it's a good bit cheaper and I figured it would work better on my computer, which was built with budget - not high-end performance - in mind.
So I bought it, messed around with it and again thoroughly enjoyed it. While trying to look up some training hints - no one wants to pilot a Cessna forever, at least not virtually - I stumbled onto a reference to an online pilots association. While that site is dead, I did some more investigating and found there's a whole world of virtual airlines out there. Literally.
Wikipedia led me to a list of virtual airlines approved to fly on one of the most popular networks, VATSIM (Virtual Air Traffic Simulation Network). Many airlines are fictional, though several others are tied to real-world operations, both current and past. Just a sampling of virtual counterparts you may have heard of: Alaska, America West, American, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Continental, Eastern, FedEx, Frontier, Hooters, JetBlue, KLM, PanAm, Qantas, Southwest, TWA, United, and USAir.
In the end, I found a nice philosophical match with UPS Virtual Air Cargo. So, now my callsign is UPS1006, based out of Philadelphia (one of 14 hubs; among the others are Atlanta, Cologne, DFW, Miami, Newark/JFK and Louisville - the latter just like the real UPS). At the moment, I've got 2.6 hours of flight with UPS. And since I'm a newbie to the virtual flight and virtual airlines, I'm not flying anything like the nice Boeing 737 you see above. Instead, for the moment, I'm in a deHavilland Twin Otter that makes a loop between Philadelphia International with stops in Carlisle, Pa.; Wildwood, N.J.; Reading, Pa.; and Petersburg, Va.
The airline aims to run an operation as close as possible to its real-world counterpart. As a result, we're responsible for signing up for flights and filling out a pilot report (PIREP) after our run is completed. If I really wanted to go apeshit, I could sign up for a run between Calcutta and Boeing Field near Seattle (14 hours), Honolulu to Sydney (10 hours) or Anchorage to Hong Kong (just under 10 hours aloft).
There's even a virtual flight tracker which lets you check the progress of any UPSVAC currently in the air.
But don't look for me over the Pacific Ocean. I don't think the Twin Otter has the muscle to make it that far.