Why Do We Do What We Do?

In my previous article, a reader commented about the realism of SL aviation in general, and the point of concerning ourselves with aviation lighting or any other operating rule for that matter in Second Life. Indeed, SL aviation cannot be 100% realistic from a practical standpoint for several reasons:

  • The scaling is all wrong. It would take five sims to realistically launch a 737.
  • Realistic speed across region boundaries cannot be achieved.
  • Passenger loads appropriate for larger sized aircraft are not possible.
  • There are no penalties or consequences (other than possible reputation) for accidents.

So why do we bother?

This question goes beyond the limits of aviation in SL, and in fact goes to the very heart of SL itself. More examples:

Why does a large element of SL focus on virtual sex? After all, it’s just pixels on a screen. In the end any “real gratification” must be self motivated. Sometimes you don’t even know for sure if the person driving the avatar on the other end is the same gender as the avatar. Some don’t care. And if that’s all you want, why not just create another avatar and log them both in?

Why does HD make fire trucks and strive for realism at every aspect? Do they expect them to sit idle in an airport hangar or fire house and look pretty? Most of them probably do just that, but more on that later.

Why do plane makers like Tig, Carly, Kelly, DSA, Dani, Javatar, Erick, Cubey and many others do what they do, and make enough lindens to fill a virtual 747 doing so? And why do they strive so hard to make them realistic? Kelly Shergood even went so far as to create an airworthiness certificate for her new yet to be released Sikorsky helicopter. A small thing that adds an impressive touch.

Finally, why do many aviation enthusiasts choose the less than realistic SL model for aviation rather than the more realistic environment of FSX?

The answer to all of these questions rolls up into one word: interaction. SL would be a lonely place if you could not interact with others. Even Microsoft had to recognize that with Flight Simulator as aviation enthusiasts using FS developed their own ways of interacting with each other (VATSIM, IVAO, etc.).

At the end of the day, of course real aviation would trump pretend aviation, just as real sex feels better than the virtual kind, real food tastes better than the virtual kind and real fires burn more than the virtual kind. But not everyone can have the above. A virtual plane crash or fire doesn’t kill anyone. Virtual food doesn’t feed anyone and virtual sex doesn’t pass STDs or get women pregnant.

The previous comment pointed out that there is no responsibility to FAA or any other regulatory body. But there is no reason why there could NOT be a role played version of such operations, given players willing to participate. There is, after all, several virtual versions of Fire Departments, Coast Guards, Marines, Police, airlines, space aliens, talking animals and pretty much every other thing you can imagine.

The point is, the SL experience is whatever you wish it to be and choose to make it. No, you don’t have to turn on your strobe lights, or concern yourself with whether you get a 95 point landing score if you don’t want to. If you crash your plane, you don’t have to wait to be rescued. You can just derez it and teleport back to the airport and try again. That takes us to another point to ponder:

How real do YOU strive to make SL for fellow players?

Consider how enthused you would be about flying passenger planes, if there was no Passengers of SL group where you could announce flights and invite them to board your plane? How enthused would you be about flying combat planes if you didn’t have something to shoot at? And as mentioned above, how gratifying would the virtual sex be if that other avatar was just you running another SL client?

As players who rely on others to improve our experience, we must also consider doing so for others. Some ideas to consider:

  • If you crash your plane, you can certainly derez it and just head back to the airport. But could you also get on gridtalkie channel 16 and call for help? Of course you don’t really need any help. But in playing it out, you create an experience for someone else that at some point you rely on others to help create for you.
  • If your plane starts acting funny because of SL troubles, do you just derez it and go home, telling your passengers if you have any that it’s too rough to fly? Or might you declare a mayday and again call out for help.
  • And why NOT have an SL NTSB that would investigate that plane crash? I suspect there are players interested in doing so.

While I am not really proposing a lot of willful staged accidents, certainly when something real goes wrong, why not turn it into an opportunity. The borked plane scenario above actually happened to me with several passengers on board. I called out for help and limped the plane back to the airport where we were greeted by fire trucks. The passengers and the ground crew loved it and it was totally unstaged.

Much of what we do in Second Life involves some kind of role play. And role play is not done in a vacuum, alone. That is why we are here, instead of in FSX flying alone, or on Sims 4 “interacting” with computer controlled avatars.

Make it what you want it to be, as simple as you want it to be or as complex as suits you. But above all, enjoy it.

Blue Skies
Starbuckk

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Light Up the World (or at least the Runway!)

An intriguing discussion started early this week in SL Aviation about aircraft lighting rules (yes an actual aviation topic!). The basis of the conversation was about proper use of lighting, such as when to use certain lights, and more importantly, when NOT to use certain lights. The overarching theme of this discussion demonstrated some disagreement even among many in the group with live aviation experience.

Now, I am not an aviation expert, nor do I play one on TV. But I do play one in SL and am much interested in getting it right. So thanks to the powers of Google, some pointing in the right direction by a couple of the members of the SL aviation community, and a desire to publish a new article this week while the topic was still fresh, I set out to find the answers as they are written. The sources of the information I am presenting is based primarily on FAA documentation and information about the runway collision of US Airways flight 1493 with Skywest flight 5569 at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in February 1991 (NTSB communications and National Geographic special).

There were really two key points of confusion during the discussion:

  • Beacon Light
  • Strobe Lights

The key to the confusion likely resulted from a change of rules concerning aircraft lighting that was recommended (and in the case of strobe lights apparently implemented) as a result of the 1991 accident. The NTSB issued Air Safety Recommendation A-21-112 which reads as follows (emphasis added, typos not corrected):

THE NTSB RECOMMENDS THAT THE FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION: EVALUATE AND IMPLEMENT, AS APPROPRIATE, SUITABLE MEANS FOR ENCHANCING THE CONSPICUITY OF AIRCRAFT ON AIRPORT SURFACES DURING NIGHT OR PERIODS OF REDUCED VISIBILITY. INCLUDE IN THIS EFFORT MEASURES, SUCH AS THE DISPLACEMENT OF AN AIRCRAFT AWAY FROM THE RUNWAY CENTERLINE, WHERE APPLICABLE, AND THE USE OF CONSPICUITY ENHANCEMENTS, SUCH AS HIGH-INTENSITY STROBE LIGHTING AND LOGO LIGHTING BY AIRCRAFT ON ACTIVE RUNWAYS, AND ENCOURAGE OPERATORS OF AIRPLANES CERTIFICATED PRIOR TO SEPTEMBER 1, 1977, TO UPGRADE THEIR AIRPLANES TO THE PRESENT HIGHER INTENSITY STANDARDS FOR ANTICOLLISION LIGHT INSTALLATIONS.”

The only guidance from CFR I was able to locate was 14 CFR Section 91.209 which reads:

No person may: (b) Operate an aircraft that is equipped with an anticollision light system, unless it has lighted anticollision lights. However, the anticollision lights need not be lighted when the pilot-in-command determines that, because of operating conditions, it would be in the interest of safety to turn the lights off.

This seems to leave a lot of discretion to the pilot in command in most cases. The Pilots Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, Appendix 1 -Runway Incursion Avoidance, along with the NTSB finding above, would seem to remove that discretion when it comes to the runway:

  • Crossing a runway—illuminate all external lights when crossing a runway. You should consider any possible adverse affects that illuminating the forward facing lights may have on the vision of other pilots or ground personnel during runway crossings.
  • “Line up and wait”—when entering the departure runway without takeoff clearance, turn on all exterior lights (except landing lights) to make your aircraft more conspicuous.

Below is a table from Appendix 1 which shows the recommended lighting usage. My take-away from the pilot discretion vs the NTSB finding is that in the table below, pilot discretion really only applies to taxiing. On the runway, turn on every external light you have except for the landing light. When cleared for takeoff, turn it on too.

AircraftLightUsage

The handbook contains bullet points following this table with more specifics. Will leave that to your perusal.

In summary, it appears much of the aircraft light usage rules are more guidance than codified law except for 14 CFR Section 91.209 which is quite brief. Guidance and common sense from the above information therefore seems to line up like this:

  1. Turn on the beacon before starting the engine.
  2. Turn on navigation lights, logo lights and taxi light if equipped before taxiing.
  3. Turn on everything but the landing light before entering the runway (including crossing runway).
  4. Turn on the landing light when cleared for departure.
  5. Keep all lights on below 10,000 feet unless poor weather conditions cause light issues.
  6. Strobes optional above 10,000 unless poor weather conditions make them a hazard.
  7. Turn strobes and landing light off as soon as you clear runway after landing.
  8. Keep beacon and navigation lights on until engine is shut down.

The final caveat to this is, that all of this is based on the standards set in the US, by the FAA and the NTSB.  Some of these “rules” differ under different jurisdictions. And “handbooks” don’t qualify as legal references.

What does this mean for SL Aviation?  Simple. Remember, in the end we are here to have fun. Don’t make it too complex. If you want to understand the guidelines and implement them for your flying in SL, check out the full Pilot Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge. Until digging into this issue I was not aware of this. But it is a wealth of information.

For SL, of course you would need to translate things into SL equivalents. 10,000 feet for example might turn into “three or four sims out”, or 175 meters above the runway.

Above all…enjoy the experience.  Whether you just want to fly around, or you want to use realism to add to your experience, do what works for you. That’s what we’re here for.

References

NTSB Safety Recommendations – US Air 1493 vs Skywest 5549

NTSB Summary of Safety Recommendations related to US Airways 1493

FAR|AIM Educational Reference 4-3-23 Use of Aircraft Lights

Natl Geo Video: Air Crash Investigations – US Airways 1493 (Lights reference begins at 37:15)

14 CFR 91.209 – Aircraft lights

Pilot Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge – Appendix 1

FAA Aeronautical Informtation Manual

Carly’s PC-6 STOL Airplane

If you are looking for a great versatile bush plane that can handles passengers and cargo as well as handle runways with short and difficult approaches, the PC-6 by Carly (carollynn85) is your answer. Released on December 26, this plane is a refreshing addition to the flying community.

First, a little history of the PC-6. The real world PC-6 is, as far as I can determine, the only commercial grade taildragger still in production. The plane has become quite an icon thanks to a popular series called Worst Place to be a Pilot found on Youtube. This series features pilots flying for Susi Air in Indonesia, often to places and strips that have no business being called “runways”. The series features the two primary aircraft flown by Susi Air, the PC-6 and the Cessna Grand Caravan.  The most dangerous and difficult airstrips are places where only the PC-6 can get to.  In these types of landing areas, a tail dragger simply outperforms the conventional tricycle gear configuration in both durability and STOL (Short Take Off and Landing).


One word of caution:  Once you look at this plane both the RL and SL version, you will realize you are not looking at a plane that was designed to be sleek and pretty. The PC-6 is a workhorse. It looks like one in the real world. Carly’s implementation of this plane is very accurate to the true form of the airplane.

PC6 Dashboard_002

This photo is the airline configured PC-6 using generic blue colors. As delivered, you get several livery options:

  • Air America
  • US Army
  • RAAF
  • Generic

The generic version has nine different color options.  As of this writing, the PSD files for designing your own liveries have not yet been released. Carly’s business partner, Vetron, has indicated that the PSD’s will be available soon. The plane has a land impact of 86 for the airline configuration.

The airframe of this plane is also fully modifiable. As one of the more recent entrants into the plane building community, Carly understands the importance of making a plane that customers can adapt to their needs. This is even more important for the cargo version of the aircraft because it means you can attach cargo to the plane rather than be stuck with “wearable cargo” as you are forced to do with no-modify cargo planes incapable of actually carrying cargo not provided by the builder.

What You Get

The PC-6 package includes five different plane configurations:

  1. Airline configuration. Six forward facing passenger seats with relatively decent cushions, designed for as close to economy passenger comfort as a PC-6 can get.
  2. Charter configuration. Nine forward facing passenger seats. Designed to carry a larger load trading off some comfort to allow for larger groups.
  3. Executive configuration. Four passenger seats, two forward facing and two rear facing, with a small carry on cargo compartment in the back for small personal carry on bags.
  4. Cargo configuration. No passenger seating. Open back for cargo.
  5. Medevac.  One attendant seat and two bunk style patient beds.

 

Features

Pilots that prefer flying in mouselook will appreciate the fully working and mostly readable gauges. Larger avatars however may find the fuel guage blocked by their hand while in mouselook.

PC6 Dashboard_001

In addition to the usual gauges is a GPS that provides a real time map of the current sim the plane is flying in. While this feature is starting to become more commonplace, it is still not universal, so it adds a very nice touch to the dashboard.

Seasoned pilots (and most European pilots) may not be comfortable with the speed being reported in scaled miles per hour instead of knots (real or scaled). This, however, is as much preference as anything else. Some are likely to prefer this. At the end of this article I’ll present a chart that gives approximate figures for the key values of the plane (scale mps) as stated in the documentation, real m/ps (approximated from information in document) and knots (also approximated). If the mph and/or m/ps reporting is uncomfortable, you might consider a generic hud that reports speed in knots.

HUD

While most SL aircraft provide huds intended to emulate dashboard instruments, the hud provided with the PC-6 is designed more for conservation of space. It is totally digital and takes up a very small space at the bottom of the screen. This will be preferred by some pilots, disliked by others. It is a matter of preference. Vetron HUD

Unfortunately the HUD shares the same issue that almost all airplane huds in SL have in that it is connected with the avatar camera rather than the aircraft. The heading, pitch and roll information respond to the direction you are looking in rather than the orientation of the aircraft.

The airplane also has a simple fuel system. It is not tied to any of the specific fuel systems in SL. Typing “refuel” will replenish the fuel supply.

 

Flight Controls

Pilots accustomed to DSA planes will have an easy time adapting to the flight controls of the PC-6. The base commands are very similar with regard to lighting, flaps and engine controls. If you have gestures set up for DSA’s planes, most will work with the PC-6.

A couple of things to highlight on this plane:

1. The plane as delivered does not whisper the throttle settings. If you use the hud, it is reported on the hud. If you choose to use alternate huds, you will want to use the “chat” command to activate the chatted throttle speed. This command will stick, so if you prefer to keep it this way, you’ll want to take the plane back into inventory after typing it.

2. When the engine is running, the tail displays floating text to show airspeed and throttle. Use “text” command if you wish to turn this off. This preference does not stick so you will need to use this command each time the engine is started.

For new pilots, or pilots using other craft, the package includes a set of function key based gestures to help you get started. The function keys will control all the most critical flight systems.

The PC-6 has two features rare in Second Life aircraft:

  • Independent Rudder option
  • Trim

I do not use the independent rudder but pilots that prefer a more realistic experience will likely appreciate this feature.

Trim control does not appear in most SL airplanes because it is not required based on their scripting. In the next section on flight dynamics, you will see that it is definitely needed in the PC-6.

The plane includes independent navigation lights, strobes, beacon, cabin lighting and landing light. No taxi light.

The throttle control is a bit unusual. It does not operate in a fixed increment. When increasing the throttle, the steps seem to rotate between two and three steps for awhile but then at 18% the steps change. I was originally also going to comment negatively on the small increments of the throttle as I’ve heard some feedback from pilots uncomfortable with this. However, after some experimenting with this plane, the reason becomes clear. As a bush plane, it is subject to fly into some very tight spots.  A more fine tuned throttle can be invaluable in this situation.

One other distinction of this plane is the prop pitch reverser. While other planes actually use the throttle for this, dropping to zero then into the negatives, the PC-6 requires you to use a separate control to reverse direction with prop pitch. This distinction might seem confusing but it is realistic. Engines don’t go backwards. Control surfaces are used to reverse airplanes that are capable of backing up. The PC-6 does this correctly. This also prevents you from accidentally going into reverse.

Flight Dynamics

This is the area where the PC-6 leaves every other plane I’ve flown in SL behind. There is simply no comparison. This is where the propeller meets the sky.

Though not part of flight, I’ll start with taxi. The plane is a bit touchy on the ground and may be tricky getting straight on center lines. However, it may be realistic. I’ve been told that this is a characteristic of tail draggers.

The first thing you will notice is on your takeoff roll. The tail wheel will very quickly lift off the ground as expected. The plane shortly thereafter will want to lift off the ground and a quick tap on the down arrow and up you go. The plane performs as a tail dragger is expected to perform.

Where you are in for your first surprise is when you start your first turn. Most SL airplanes will hold altitude during a turn. The PC-6 will not. A turn causes reduced lift, so the PC-6,as it should be, will lose altitude unless you also pull back on the stick when turning.

The second surprise you will find, is that the airplane will probably be wobbling a little as it flies. That is not SL Lag, your machine acting funny, or the Long Island Ice Tea you drank before takeoff. Yes, the plane is emulating turbulence. Your course will remain fairly steady, but the wobble is a design of realism.

The third surprise has already been spoiled above. The airplane has a trim control. And you will find that you need to use it. Depending on the speed you are flying, the plane will want to nose or nose up.  Trim will need to be applied to keep from having to continue tapping the up or down arrow and maintain a smooth straight and level flight.

The plane has a very low vertical attraction time. This means it will bank steeper than most SL passenger planes, and will not right itself as quickly. You will need to react quicker and do most of the return to level control yourself. Again, this is also as a real plane would function.

Finally as the saying goes, take off is optional, landing is mandatory. The PC-6 both in the real world and in SL, is a true bush plane. In the real world, the tail dragger design with extra reinforced gear struts, allows the plane to handle some very rough runways and landing conditions. In both worlds, the plane is a true STOL (Short Take Off and Landing) craft. As an example you can land this plane at St Martin field with runway to spare by using the prop pitch reverser on touchdown. The Corsica continent has several airfields that have been built as particularly challenging airstrips, specifically meant for STOL aircraft.

Summary

The PC-6 by Carly gets thumbs up for form, realism and performance. Here, summarized is my list of pros and cons:

Likes Dislikes
Modifiable Airframe Scaled MPH speed reporting
Excellent Flight Dynamics
Multiple Configurations in single package
Independent Rudder Option
Trim Control

The plane is not currently available on the Marketplace. You can purchase one at Yeager Field.

Speed Conversion Table

Value MPH* m/ps knots
Top speed 150 21 41
Cruise Speed 115 18 35
Takeoff speed no flaps 59 9 17
Takeoff speed 10% flaps 48 8 15
Stall speed no flaps 59 9 17
Stall Speed full flaps 45 7 13

* Scaled speed