Flight Simulators for the Serious Hobbyist

As computers get more powerful and cheaper, and as human beings advance their knowledge and experience further, we are fast approaching a point where fantasy and reality are fused into one big blur of sensory exhilaration. Some time in the last decade, we crossed the point where Flight Simulators became so realistic that time spent flying in a simulator started being counted as actual flying hours. And new technologies such as Oculus Rift VR are only making the future more exciting. The best part is that a real(istic) flight simulation experience is now well within the reach of the common enthusiast.


Getting off the Ground

For PC or Laptop owners, there are already several high quality, open domain Flight Simulation software available that are backed by worldwide communities of enthusiastic users and contributors. Coupled with easily available off the shelf controllers and accessories, they are enough to transform your desk and armchair into a virtual cockpit. For the latest news, reviews and discussions, check out resources such as SimHQ and NewsFlightSim.

Doing It Yourself

If you want something more immersive, and have access to a bedroom, you can draw inspiration from this French gentleman and build your own simulator at home. There are plenty of DIY resources available to guide you, such as X-Sim (also check out the work of SirNoName), DIY Flight Sims and ARC Air. For those willing to splurge, there are high-end solution providers such as SIM Room.

The Complete Flying Experience

The full fledged flight simulation is experience is much closer than you think. The Emirates Aviation Experience will let you fly an Airbus A380 in an instructor-led 30-minute session for about £50, in UK or the Dubai Mall. You can even fly a Boeing 737 in shopping malls around the world, such as  in Bangalore or Mumbai (Flight4Fantasy) or in Budapest or Győr (PremiAir). And if you are really serious about flying, you can get professional lessons in a full fledged flight simulator at Swiss Aviation’s training center in Zurich for the price of a high-end laptop.

The Future

With Virtual Reality making a comeback, keep an eye out for interesting Oculus Rift enabled Flight Simulators. Or take the next leap into Space Flight. And while we are on the topic, why not eliminate the aircraft altogether and jump right in to the experience of flying like a bird?

Forget UAVs, The OPVs Are Coming

Imagine a behind-enemy-lines rescue operation where a pilot-less aircraft penetrates enemy territory, wreaks havoc (or not), picks up some friendlies, and lo! The helicopter now has a crew to fly it around, make their escape, wreak more havoc, penetrate deeper into enemy territory, any or all of the above. Kinda like KITT returning to Michael Knight, isn’t it?

As technology increasingly shrinks the gap between science and science fiction, the US Army estimates that half of its aircraft will be OPV, Optionally Piloted Vehicles. And here’s the clincher: this is their estimate for the next 15 years. In other words, OPVs are already here.

And you thought Skynet’s electronically waged real war was unbelievable.

(On the brighter side, it may not be Skynet that wages the war, it could just be some Iraqi militants using a $26 shareware program.)

Flight Simulators: How Humans can no Longer Tell the Difference Between Reality & Illusion

That was the title of my session at Barcamp Bangalore 9. It was more of a presentation actually, since I was talking about a topic that not many people know about (at least not in what was going to be my target audience that day). In fact, that was the idea behind the whole thing: to raise awareness about how advanced & mature simulation technology is today, where it is going, and where lie the obstacles and opportunities. I also included a bit of philosophy and some high-res photos. Here’s the synopsis of my session:

Since you are in some way associated with technology, you are probably aware that technology is/can be used to train humans for dangerous, skilled and expensive-to-repeat tasks, such as Driving, Surgeries, Operating specialized equipment, and well, flying.

– Did you know that there is something known as a “Zero Flight Time” Simulator, which is so realistic, that every hour that a potential pilot spends in it, is considered equivalent to flying an actual aircraft? And that pilots go flying on an real, revenue-generating trip for the very first flight in that type of aircraft without having ever set foot in it before?
– That there are only a handful of companies in the world that have the technological capability to create the accurate reproduction of reality (sight, sound, motion & vibration) that makes this possible?
– That Simulation is probably the only field of Computer Science, that makes use of just about everything that Computer Science is made up of, from Algorithms to 3D Graphics, from Embedded to Web, from Usability to Networking?

This discussion is going to be about Simulation (mostly Flight Simulation) and some of the amazing technology that lies behind it. How the Simulation, Gaming & Movie industries are feeding each other, and feeding off each other. And finally, Simulationism: the possibility that you and I are complex objects living inside a Computer Simulation.

Here’s a stripped-down, text-only PDF version (77 KB) of all the PPT-fu that I did (Sorry about the crazy contrasts, they make more sense with the pictures behind them). Do leave a comment letting me know your thoughts.

Barcamp Bangalore 9

I’ll be attending Barcamp Bangalore 9 on 18 September, 2010. In fact, this time around I intend to present a talk as  well. Do stop by if you’re in town, there are a lot of interesting sessions lined up.

As far as this blog is concerned, I haven’t given up on it yet. It’s just moved a little lower down the priority list, but it will rise from the ashes 🙂

Yahoo! Open Hack Day India Returns

Yahoo! India R&D is organizing it’s second Open Hack Day in Bangalore this weekend (14-15 February, 2009. Yes, it’s Valentine’s Day, and it also coincides with Aero India, Asia’s premier air show). The event is a semi-unconference comprising of structured technology presentations and unstructured hacking time, where participants try to come up with new and interesting ways to use Yahoo!’s APIs and libraries.

Yahoo! co-founder David Filo will be kicking-off the event. The hackday website contains useful info and links to the hackday blog.

Day 128 – Airbus A380 at Montreal Airport

_Captain’s Log, StarDate 2007.11.12-01.15_

The gigantic A380 (flight AIB 380) landed at Montreal airport today, and even though the runway is visible from my office, I miscalculated the ETA by a few minutes (I’m told that it landed sooner than expected). Nevermind, here are some photos. I’m sure some of them have been taken by people from office. I’ve also been listening in to the LiveATC feed all afternoon, and most pilots coming in have been asking the controller if the A380 is still there 🙂

While watching the video coverage later, I saw that traffic on the major roads around the airport came to a standstill as people came out of their cars to witness the spectacle. I had actually seen the news helicopter that had taken the footage hovering over the airport for quite some time. Interesting.

Open Domain Flight Simulators

FlightGear is a completely open-source and multi-platform flight simulator. X-Plane by Laminar Research is an open, customizable and multi-platform flight simulator. Also check out the X-Plane community. Then there is VATSIM – Virtual Air Traffic Simulation Network – a unique website aimed at pilot and air traffic controller training. Someone on Google’s dev team obviously had a lot of free time… and probably worked for a flight simulation company earlier. Easter eggs don’t get any better than this. Update 2015-03-29: Big Fat Simulations offers a range of interesting Air Traffic Controller Simulations.