Many of us want to fly, many of us have a passion for aviation, be it fixed wing or rotor, trikes, light aircraft, helicopter, commercial, or military aviation, but alas it is not always possible. So what do you do….?
There are many options to get involved with aviation, whether it is as ground crew, an airshow spectator, an aviation photographer, or a volunteer at a museum or airfield, but there is one option regularly overlooked, “Virtual Aviation”. Now you are probably sitting there asking yourself, what is this, a new theme park ride? No! Simply put, most of us own a fairly powerful computer or laptop these days, and almost all of us have tried our hand at a flight simulator some time or another right?
Virtual aviation utilises a flight simulator like Microsoft flight simulator 2004 or X, X-plane 10 and even the newest one on the market (not yet available in South Africa to my knowledge) PREPAR3D, and turns it into a purpose filled flying experience, with structure, rank and experience playing a big part.
There are some basic things we need to discuss before we get into detail about virtual aviation, and everything that goes with it. Firstly, what do you need? Well a mid-level pc, or fairly high end laptop, a joystick, a comfortable chair, internet connection (not much bandwidth is needed) and an understanding spouse as you might end up spending quite a bit of your free time being a virtual pilot.
There are many options as to what kind of a computer system you want to use for your virtual flying, whether it be your laptop, basic desktop computer, a dedicated gaming pc, or a custom built computer designed to squeeze every last drop of flying sensation out of a flight simulator, with multiple displays, a top end joystick, or even a yoke, throttle quadrant, rudder pedal and even gauge system, the choice is yours, and up to budget, with great products from companies like Saitek available out there!
Choosing which virtual airline you want to fly with is a hard choice, with many many of them out there, some take things very seriously, other are purely out there for fun, recreation and making friends, all while enjoying the one thing that brings everyone together, FLYING! The interesting thing to take note of is that you get real world virtual airlines, that means that a lot of the real world airlines have virtual counterparts, and then there are some really good fictitious ones too, like Fly Africa virtual, that flies out of South Africa, in Africa, and all around the world, with aircraft like the Cessna 208 Caravan, the Cessna 210 Centurion, Beechcraft king air 200, Boeing 737, airbus A320, Boeing 747, Boeing 777 and airbus A380, all dependant on personal choice, and in some cases your rank or pilot experience, all of which gets logged and monitored by the management, yup, virtual airlines also have a command structure, mostly just to do all the boring admin bits, route management and so on, but also to ensure that it remains safe and fun for everyone involved. So if you want to fly as a bush pilot and land your C208 Caravan in the bush, go for it! Want to fly an A380, DO IT!!! Where else can you get behind the controls of such a diverse range of aircraft?
For some readers, commercial flying is dull and uninteresting, well then, why not join a virtual air force, like the unofficial virtual south African Air Force? The goal here not to drop bombs and blow stuff up, but to follow a path through the air force, from basic flight training, to advanced training on the PC-7 Astra at AFB langebaan, to helicopter flying school, or 85 combat school with the hawks, or flying c130's on relief missions into Africa, doing a low level navigation flight in the Drakensberg with a SAAB Gripen fighter jet, flying search and rescue missions with a Oryx or Augusta 109, and even flying the president in his Boeing 737 BBJ aircraft around the world. The UVSAAF's goal and purpose is to mirror the present SAAF from training to flying at the SAAF museum, to becoming a fighter pilot, to joining the prestigious virtual Silver Falcons aerobatics team, it can all be done.
Last, but definitely not least, for the ultimate in reality, you can fly online, with your friends, in formation if you choose and thousands of other virtual pilots, using real radio procedures, approaches, and air traffic controllers on vatsim, combined with your virtual airline.
There are many add-ons available out there for most flight simulators to make it a lot more realistic, from extra aircraft, to scenery for basically anywhere in the world, to weather programs to give you real world weather as you fly, many of which are absolutely free!
So what are you waiting for?? Sit down, strap in and enjoy the flight! Finally you too can fly anything you want!
PS. For those wanting to get involved, here are some links for GREAT virtual airlines, freeware and pay ware add-on software:
www.aviationshop.co.za (stockists of joysticks and flight simulator add-ons in South Africa)
www.simviation.com (for any add-ons flight simulator related)
www.flightsim.com (for flightsim news, reviews and freeware add-ons and downloads)
www.uvsaaf.fsworld.co.za (home page for the unofficial virtual South African air force)
www.flyafricavirtual.com (Fly Africa virtual airlines home page)
www.fspilotshop.com (for all your flight simulator shopping needs online, these guys stock just about everything you will ever need)