Do you know those stories when someone had been loving airplanes from their early years, and they spent every free moment to learn about aviation, flight procedures, various aircraft and so on? It was nothing like this for me. I cannot recall a single defining moment that sparked my interest in aviation. I think it was more gradual, growing slowly without me noticing.
While I was not an aviation geek, I have always liked to watch some documentaries about airplanes, although there was no particular reason that I can pinpoint. Maybe it was because of the technology involved? Or physics of flight? Or just the awesomeness of aerial view? I have no idea. I only know that I had been watching Air Crash Investigation on National Geographic Channel for a few years and I found that series really… interesting (I don’t think that “entertaining” would be the right world, especially in the context of what was shown in the programme, but I truly liked watching new episodes and discovering reasons for failures that were reenacted).
I remember that at the end of 2017 I had a lot of free time. I was staying home alone after Christmas, till the 2nd or 3rd of January, since the rest of my family travelled to another city for a family meeting. I was a designated house-sitter, so I had to look after our house and a family dog. It was a nice although not necessary exciting time. I was spending evenings watching Marvel movies (basically did an Avengers marathon), I read some books, watched YouTube, but soon I found myself a bit bored. I decided, rather spontaneously, to check out some flight simulators for PC. Keep in mind that I was not familiar with the subject and knew nothing about the software or hardware required. I found a relatively cheap joystick and throttle set1 on Amazon, that I ordered with express delivery, and after a short web search I found X-Plane 10 and bought its license.
Two days later the joystick and throttle set arrived, and after a brief configuration I opened X-Plane 10 to begin my first flight. I remember that once I launched X-Plane I was surprised that there was no such thing as “new mission” or “play” button, etc. I was a newbie back then, and I didn’t know yet that flight simulation is not a game and it would be rather depreciating to treat it as such. To be fair, I still don’t consider flight sim a game. It is a sort of entertainment, that’s for sure, but for me there is a distinctive difference between playing e.g. Skyrim or Minecraft, or GTA, and flight simulation. I suppose it is because, while in ordinary games I can do whatever I want, regardless of how real my actions are, in flight simulation it is much more enjoyable for me to try and imitate the realism of actual flight than to do some wild acrobatics that would probably end in a crash and a virtual crater on the ground (although there were many unintended crashes at the beginning of my flight sim journey; I was learning how to fly by trials and errors…).
It was an exhilarating experience, to perform the first successful flight in a flight simulator. I remember that I was proud of myself, even though my landing was probably rather hard (I didn’t have a landing rate plugin back then, so we’ll never know—maybe it’s for the best?). The experience of virtual flight had another important impact on me: it made me want to learn more about the topic. I was consuming huge numbers of articles, posts on web forums, YouTube videos, to learn everything: how to handle the aircraft, what are correct ways of navigating, how to fly safely and effectively. I read the whole manual for X-Plane twice.
I think that within a month or two I dived into another big subject, that is the social aspect of flying virtually. I learned about VATSIM and online flight certification, I also discovered virtual airlines and how great it was to be a member of a community. Before I realised, I have been flying regularly, thoroughly enjoying the experience. I started flying with a virtual airline, first it was Alliance Airways, an airline specifically focused on X-Plane. I enjoyed my time there, but at some point I decided to broaden my horizons, and I became a member of Fly Virtual. I’ve been flying with them ever since.
From the very beginning of my experience my simulator of choice was X-Plane. The key factor that determined me buying it in the first place was good physics of flight, better than in FSX, according to some fellow flight simmers. I did my first flight on X-Plane 10, but not long after version 11 was released, and my license key was good for both versions, so I made the switch. In January this year I bought X-Plane 12, although I still use version 11 on a regular basis, simply because all my add-ons and paid aircraft are there, and I haven’t got enough motivation to go through the trouble of checking which of my add-ons are compatible just yet.
Naturally, my adventure with flight simulation is not over. I still have a lot to learn, and there are many, many things on my to-do list, both in terms of routes and aircraft to check out, as well as improving my skills and learning something new. As long as flight simulation continues to bring me joy, I will be spending some time in the virtual skies.
If you want to check out my flights statistics and maps you can go to the summary page for my flight simulation hobby.
Thrustmaster T.Flight HOTAS X, to be precise ↩