Welcome to Developer Month 2019. Between April 8th and May 8th 2019, we will feature a variety of developers, publishers, community personalities and more who will tell us their story. From written interviews and blog posts to video interviews and more, we have curated a range of interesting content to maybe even inspire you to be one of these developers in future years. Please enjoy Developer Month 2019 as much as we enjoyed putting it together for you.
We couldn’t have put together Developer Month without the support of all the developers & publishers involved. Also, huge thanks to Thrustmaster for their assistance in sponsoring Developer Month.
April 24th: Airline2Sim
Airline2Sim is well known for their high-quality and beautifully detailed videos and tutorials for a range of products. Their Airline2Sim products focus on giving a series of training videos. They have worked on the brilliant 777 training package, along with the detailed Q400 pack covering everything from day-to-day operations to some scary emergency situations. Whilst aircraft are Airline2Sim’s bread and butter, they recently released their Airport2Sim series which featured how real-world pilots navigate Amsterdam Airport.
In today’s Developer Month interview, we speak to Ben from Airline2Sim who gives us some awesome insight into his development process and motivation.
Tell us who you are and what you do currently?
I’m Ben, and I’m the managing director of v1 Digital Media, better known to the sim community as Airline2Sim/Airport2Sim. I’m the creator of our training programs for the Majestic Q400, the PMDG Boeing 777 and more recently Airport2Sim Amsterdam Schiphol.
How did you get into flight simulation?
I’ve always been a plane nut, and one of my earliest memories was flying on a Dan-Air 727 as a kid on a school trip to France. Even back then the 727 was no spring chicken but the beautiful livery and classy lines of the 727 started a love affair with the whiff of Jet-A that persists until today. I remember playing a game called ‘747’ on my brother’s BBC model B computer back in the day which was literally just dots on the screen and was incredibly difficult to fly! I was however quite late to the party with desktop simulation as an adult as I didn’t get my first PC until 1999. However since then I’ve been on the journey with FS98, 2000, 2004, FSX and now of course Prepar3D. I’ve dabbled a with X-Plane, but it’s not quite sucked me over to the dark side completely yet.
What first inspired you to create training packages to help the community?
I bought the Q400 when it first came out and had the hardest time trying to fly it as training resources were very limited and the learning curve for it is very steep. I also found myself between contracts in my day job at the time and thought it might be fun to try a new training concept that was different from the regular ‘here’s a video where I explain stuff’ format. I wanted to get a real world Q400 pilot and have two of us in the flight deck – me to act as the student and ask the questions and the real pilot to act as the instructor. Hence Airline2Sim was born and a year later we launched the Q400 Cadet Training Program with Josh, a Q400 pilot from a UK regional operator. We followed that up with the PMDG 777 Cadet Program taught by Myron, a recently retired pilot from a US legacy carrier.
As a radio broadcaster, how has this helped you with the production of your video packages?
I still am a broadcaster, for an English language station in the Middle East. It helped me immensely as I had already attained the skills to create speech-based content. There were many challenges to adapt this to including visual content and all the stuff that the sim throws at you, but the fundamentals were already there. I also knew next to nothing about video editing and graphical design and creation, so that was very steep learning curve. And still is!
Tell us about the process of starting a new video series. How do you source a pilot to help you? How do you plan what content to include?
The video series aren’t really created in any particular order, but are down to the suitability of the aircraft and the availability of a pilot, who are sourced in a variety of ways. We’ve used LinkedIn before now but often our pilots are friends of friends or even people who approached us, which shows that we are seen positively by the community.
We only really do study level aircraft as once you start working with someone who flies it in real life, the cracks start to show for those aircraft that aren’t very well modelled. We’ve abandoned projects before now where aircraft simply aren’t up to the job. Once you start saying ‘erm well ignore that as the real aircraft doesn’t do it’ or ‘that’s not correct’ more than a few times then it’s game over as far as I’m concerned. You’re going to be teaching stuff that SHOULD be happening but isn’t, which for me is pointless.
The outline for each program is usually created in discussion with the pilot after looking at the airline they work for and the kind of routes they fly. So for example the Q400 Program was reflective of routes around the British Isles and into Europe that Josh flew with his UK-based regional airline. The 777 Program took us all over the world, which was reflective of the medium and long haul routes Myron flew from Chicago, Newark and San Francisco in the 777. Our FSL Airbus Cadet Program will be based in Europe, going to places such as Nice, Geneva, Tenerife, Berlin and Milan.
How do you arrange all those hundreds of gigs of files?
The technical aspect is quite a challenge. A long program will have hundreds of GBs of video, audio and graphics. I have quite a complex RAID setup these days to handle big files. Storage of the files however is relatively straightforward compared to the challenges of filming it in the first place, which can be quite torturous. It takes a lot of patience, time and beer!
Is there a particular behind-the-scene moment that you’d like to share? (if it was funny, a wow moment for you)
We’ve done it all, from doing a whole real time sector from the Isle of Man to Birmingham and forgetting to press record, to trying to re-record a landing which took longer than just going back and redoing the whole sector again (which we did in the end), to turning off the runway at San Francisco onto the active crossing runway instead of the high speed taxiway! But the funniest moment was when we were waiting for the GSX marshaller to give us his departure wave off when we was run over by the pushback tug, not once but twice! Josh, with perfect timing said ‘I think we’re gonna need a new pushback guy’. I think we had to stop recording at this point as we were in fits of laughter.
You recently released the Airport2Sim series starting with Amsterdam. Why did you decide to create that product in the interim between aircraft products?
The aircraft products take a loooong time to make. We need a pilot to be available to us for an extended period and also to be physically with me in the same place so we can fly together. This isn’t something we can do three times a year, so in the downtime between aircraft we created the Airport2Sim product which can be made much faster and with a significantly reduced pilot input. Plus there was, in my view, a demand for better GSX handling at bigger airports as well as helping people to understand how these giant hubs work from a pilot’s perspective. At somewhere like Amsterdam it’s hard to know where to begin! Amsterdam has been a big hit so it’s a gamble that paid off.
What are you working on at the moment? Why does it excite you?
Airport2Sim Greek Islands is in the production process right now and will be released in a few weeks, where we get a real-world Volotea pilot to show you ropes at the challenging airports of Skiathos, Corfu and Samos. We then dive straight into recording our Airbus Cadet Training Program which will be in the shops hopefully by the end of the summer. It’s exciting because the Airbus series has been a long time coming!
What advice would you give to a new developer who would like to make a product?
Haha don’t give out release dates! PMDG are the kings of this, with very good reason. The problem I think for most devs is that we get very excited about what we want to do and then share that like a giddy teenager all over the community. At some point later, whilst trying to realise these grand plans it hits you that perhaps they aren’t deliverable in the time frame you announced or even at all. Keep quiet until you’ve got something deliverable! And think carefully about how your product is going to be received and what you want to get out of it. Very few of us make a ton of money from development, although we wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t profitable. However, most of the amazing content we enjoy for the simulator is created because somebody wanted to make it and became a labour of love.
Think of the tiny ‘surprise and delight’ details in the best add-on aircraft or the fun little details on the church spire of the best add-on sceneries. They aren’t there because the dev is going to make any more cash out of it; they are there because they wanted you to enjoy it more. This is the amazing thing about the sim community and why every cynical attempt by people from outside of it to make money has failed. You only make money in this game from understanding what makes it tick in the first place.
Anything else you would like to share with the community?
Only that I’m grateful for their continued support. I went through a very tough patch in my personal life after the release of our 777 Cadet Program which I talked about a bit at the time time. It effectively shelved all development while I concentrated on just making it out of bed in the morning. I’m indebted to those amazing customers who were patient I got things back on track.
Onwards and upwards!
Thank you once again to Ben from Airline2Sim for taking part.
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Stay tuned as Developer Month continues tomorrow. Tomorrow, the duo from FlightSimExpo will be featured!