Two weeks ago a part of the FSElite team visited Lelystad, the Netherlands, to attend FSWeekend. This is a flight simulator show that’s been organised already since the late 1990’s, and thus certainly an established name. Unfortunately the show had to be cancelled the last two years due to COVID, but luckily this year it was back on. Together with Jordan I look back on a weekend full of flight simulation goodness and highlight our personal favourites.
Daan: I had previously attended FSWeekend in 2019, and after two years of not having any flightsim shows at all, I was very excited for this one. The location, the Aviodrome museum, is an amazing backdrop for this event. There are a lot of planes to see here, both outside and in. The museum takes you on a tour of aviation in the Netherlands, with Fokker and KLM being key drivers of that. But honestly, there was so much to see at FSWeekend, that I almost forgot about the museum itself. It was a great chance to see people in person that I haven’t seen in years, or meet ones I had thus far only met online.
Jordan: From only attending the Flight Sim Show in Cosford, UK, a few times, my expectations of FSWeekend were fed from my past experiences at Cosford. Boy was I wrong. FSWeekend has a much more community driven feel to it than I expected, set in one of the most impressive aircraft museums I have visited to date with the majority of aircraft open to have a look inside rather than admiring them from the outside. The close-knit community feel stems from the abundance of small home-built cockpits to pockets of virtual aviation groups that give the event a much more personal feel to it than just having those larger commercial exhibitors. It gave me the opportunity to speak with great envy to the creators of some impressive bits of kit ranging from some custom-built GA panels to full motion platforms.
As you drive into Lelystad airport, hidden under some trees sits a lovely looking red Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. An aircraft that I have only ever seen photographs of previously, so I rather excitedly pointed out to the rest of the FSElite team the aircraft sat by the side of the road as we drove in. You could imagine my further excitement when I spotted the replica of an F-104 cockpit sat atop a plinth with a fully clad RNLAF pilot strapped in flying low level. I spent some time in awe of the build as it was only using real world aircraft parts which only makes things more complex to get it all working with a simulator. It adds only the true feeling of being in the real-world aircraft that custom made parts cannot provide. Unfortunately, due to the complexity of the aircraft, I was unable to take to the virtual skies myself but I am secretly glad as I wouldn’t want too many people seeing how badly I ‘land’ my virtual aircraft.
Daan: My personal favourite of FSWeekend should hardly be a surprise: iniBuilds with their P-40F announcement. Walking in to FSWeekend, they were the first booth that we really came across, and my first reaction was: “Hold on a second, iniBuilds hasn’t made a P-40. What is this?” It quickly became apparent that they had announced it just in time for FSWeekend, and I was very eager to try it out in a VR setup they had at their booth. It was a really cool experience, and made me super excited for it. After talking to their aircraft lead developer it very quickly became apparent how much passion and dedication they have for the projects they work on. The P-40 was obviously my personal favourite, but it also made me very excited about the other projects they have (and which by now, some of which are available in the sim through the 40th anniversary update).
Another big highlight of the show was the FlyByWire team. This team has been operating in relative anonymity, or at least, their developers have. The name FlyByWire has taken the MSFS market by surprise and has quickly become a household name. Tucked away in a corner was the crown jewel of their work on display: the famous A380X. My first reaction to the rest of the team was “This thing looks much more real than I had expected”. After talking with the team for a good while we learned about the amazing amount of detail this team has put into this project. They were also honest about the work that still needs to be done though, and I appreciate such honesty. It helps manage expectations a bit. But what I can tell you after seeing this thing at FSWeekend is that their A380X, after so many projects we’ve seen over the years that didn’t make it, might just be the real deal. If not, it won’t be for a lack of effort and trying, that’s for sure.
I also loved to see all the people bringing their setups to FSWeekend and having attendants try them out. The show was very accessible for young and old. I’ve seen kids get behind a PC and fly a Cessna over their house, showing their parents where they lived. One dad seemed quite amazed by the knowledge his son had about aviation and flight simulators. Somewhere else I overheard a bit of an older couple talk about simulation. The wife, who was quite clearly dragged along to the event by her husband, while there still made sure to enjoy her time as I heard her say that she still wanted to try out a few simulator setups she had seen somewhere. It was so much fun to see so many people get together over such an, arguably, nerdy hobby and get to share it with others.
Jordan: From a military perspective, there were two exhibitors that really stood out from the crowd for me. The first was a recreated F-16 cockpit and seat with such detail, you would have been fooled to think it was straight from the real aircraft. Viper Charlie and the team at JaHeLi have put together the 1:1 scale F16 cockpit that is made up of a metal frame with 3D printed bezels, a shell that is made from hand shaped aluminium which gives the cockpit that recognisable shape as well as a quality that you just don’t get with wholly 3D printed parts. A bunch of amazing technology such as a working Head Up Display and butt kickers give the sense of feedback and motion when on the ground and in the air and even to the small details. Viper Charlie insists that every button and switch works and he showed me that even the parachute block detaches from the seat, just as in the real-world counterpart. Although this project for VC has taken around four years, all the individual parts are available to purchase to build your own F16 through the team at JaHeLi.
What is clear, is the use of 3D printing techniques to create these wonderful mammoth pieces of kit has become more and more popular as the price of 3D printers and laser cutting equipment has fallen over time, as well as the abundance of templates that are now available for all types of aircraft panels, gauges and peripherals that can be used to customise your own setup. This was evident in the number of small cockpit builders that were present at FSWeekend that are now utilising the technology to keep the price of a home-built cockpit as low as possible. One of the exhibitors that focused on this approach were 737DIYSIM, a small team of aircraft engineers that provide the community with affordable templates for you to 3D print at home to help you build and customise your own cockpit setups. I was fortunate to try their latest design, the Heli Cyclic and collective which makes flying helicopters so much easier given the additional aerodynamic control in an affordable solution.
On the flip side of the bespoke projects, we experienced the other end of the scale in the Skalarki/ProSim fully built replica of the Airbus A320 cockpit which is designed, manufactured and assembled by the team. To say this product is impressive is an understatement. After Daan and I completed a flight from Rotterdam to Amsterdam in a rather quick 12 minutes, we left the static flight deck astounded by the level of detail and immersion you get from such a product. There is a lot to be said regarding the satisfaction of pressing all those buttons. I now just have to figure out where I am going to put the complete nose section of an Airbus A320 in my London terrace house..
Some of the other exciting and slightly more affordable products on show came from those at Honeycomb and VirtualFly. Honeycomb were showing off their brand new Charlie pedals which were beautifully designed and comfortable in addition to their previously released Alpha yoke and Bravo throttles. VirtualFly had a rather understated exhibit with their GA panel equipped with the Yoko+ yoke, TQ6+ throttle quadrant and their Ruddo+ rudder pedals to give people a one stop experience of what VirtualFly have to offer. Something that wasn’t part of their setup but was on display were the EFOS EFIS panel and the Switcho radio panel. Both brand new products with a lot of potential and customisation including touch screen displays which are said to be plug and play with the top simulator platforms.
Jordan: To me, FSWeekend was surprising on many levels. Considering I took off from London early on Saturday morning, hired a car and drove from Schipol to Lelystad airport within a matter of a couple of hours, I would certainly encourage people from the UK and wider Europe to visit the warm, welcoming and friendly FSWeekend to indulge in everything flight simulation, meet like-minded people and the people behind your favourite developers.
Daan: All in all, I thought FSWeekend was a great load of fun. It gave me a chance to talk to the developers that I write about on a regular basis, and put some faces to names of people I had never met before. It was also a great way to see (a part of) the FSElite team again. But most of all, it was an absolute blast to get to geek out and enjoy a whole weekend with nothing but flight simulators, developers, and the community that makes it so great.