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FSElite Original: Interview With FsHubs’ Bobby Allen

INTERVIEW Bobby Allen Landing Rate Monitor Fshub

Today we bring you something slightly different and an original piece. Over the past few days, I had the pleasure of getting to know Bobby Allen, for those of you unfamiliar with this name, Bobby is the man and brains behind ‘Landing Rate monitor and FsHub.io’. FsHub has over 3,000 registered users and has amassed over 1,336,303 total flight recordings.

Landing Rate Monitor is a handy tool for the flight simulation community that works like a Black Box, taking data from your simulation such as landing rate, fuel burn, distance flow and other stats which are stored free of charge on FSHub.io where your data is collated into a virtual logbook. So whether your flying for a virtual airline or solo operations, make those hours count! I’ve been using this tool for around four years now and personally find it invaluable so with this in mind I was keen to get to know the person behind this excellent tool.

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Hi Bobby, thank you for agreeing to support this project! Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

blankNo problem Adam, it’s a pleasure to be asked!

My name is Bobby Allen, I’m 33 years old and I live with my fiancée and two daughters (Molly and Ruby) in Suffolk England, which is approximately 80 miles from London (in the UK) but I guess, given the reader base here, it would simply be easier to let you know that my nearest airfield is EGSO J

Flight simulation wise – I started “trying” to fly with Microsoft FS98 when I was about 10 years old I believe, I was really bad at it though, I never grasped how to successfully land a large jet and in those days, the (dial-up) internet was a privilege to have had and not something I had access to, so watching a YouTube tutorial certainly wasn’t something that I could have done “back in the day” so I soon got dishearten that I could not successfully land the stock 747 that and stopped altogether.

I got back into flight simulation in 2010 when I saw randomly (on YouTube) someone built a home cockpit, I couldn’t believe that you could interface with a consumer flight simulator like that and instantly got my attention and I was hooked once again. My father was an electronics engineer, over the years growing up I had gained some experience with the basics of electronics and I thought I’d build one too – this was like the ultimate project for me (being a software engineer) as this would bridge my two hobbies (writing code and flight simulation), anyway, to cut a long story very short… about 12 months later and a ton of money wasted spent (and more still needed to be spent) I decided that the space alone that the cockpit was taking up wasn’t really something I could continue to do whilst my children was so young and decided that maybe a “home cockpit”, for me at least was something that I should revisit when my kids are grown up and have left home.

So today, my flight simulation activities are restricted a desk-only setup, which is still a joy to use though!

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It’s clear from your website that you have an extensive IT background; what made you decide to create ‘Landing Rate Monitor’ and how long have you been running it?

After side-lining my home cockpit project, I was flying for a virtual airline in 2012 and I really liked the fact that my landing rate was recorded and some other basic flight stats was logged on their system  but I wanted the same kind of flight logging features for any flights that I flew regardless of if it was for a VA or not, I also wanted a system that was lightweight and I could “set and forget it” e.g. no need to setup a flight beforehand, selecting the aircraft, specifying a route etc. – I just wanted to go flying whatever type of aircraft I wanted and be confident that it’s logging my flight details to my log book; I even added the “BlackBox Mode” feature a few years ago so I didn’t forget to run it in future or have to manually start it every time.

LRM was originally developed in 2014 and FsHub (originally named LRMLive) came shortly afterwards, I’ve been running, supporting and developing both pieces of software ever since so approximately 6 years now.

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*Above – LRM Preferences Setup*

Was LRM your first dabble into software development for flight simulation?

It was the first piece of software that I developed for and intended people to use in the wild yes, obviously I build software professionally outside of my hobby though.

My first “dabble” with software for flight simulation was actually a tool that I developed and intended on running in my home cockpit – its purpose was to print out ACARS information and “system reports” to a small flight deck printer – that helped me understand a lot about interfacing software with main consumer-level flight simulators (FS2004, FSX, P3D, XP11 etc).

Having read your Pilot Logbook it’s clear you’re an avid simmer, do you have any favourite sceneries or aircraft?

Since 2011, I’ve jumped between FSX, P3D and I’m now running X-Plane 11as my main flight sim, I switched to XP11 after a few friends bugged me to try it out and I must admit that the sloped runways, flight dynamics and the general “open source” feeling to the simulator got me converted over from FSX/P3D.

Obviously, I own and have to run/test against all the simulators but XP11 is my main simulator that I actually install sceneries on etc, the others are all stock.

So, back to your question now…. XP11 scenery wise, I must say that Ortho4XP is an amazing piece of (free) software to generate satellite imagery for your simulator but as it’s quite hungry on storage space, so instead, since my old hard drive died, I’m mainly been using Orbx Great Britain sceneries exclusively for my GA UK flying and pretty much using stock XP for everywhere else – up high in an A320 the stock scenery doesn’t look too bad in XP11 anyway.

In XP11 the community are involved in submitting airport scenery updates so for the most part, XP11 airport scenery is pretty accurate and if a scenery is not so good for an airport I will generally update it and submit it on the XP11 scenery gateway for inclusion into XP11 core myself – that’s probably not the answer you wanted to hear though.

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Do you have any real-world flying experience?

Not as yet, no – funnily enough though, my fiancée bought me a flying lesson/taster session for my birthday this year however, given the current global situation I’m not sure I’ll get to use it any time soon.

So LRMs features include the ability to send aircraft system and position data to the FsHub.io service which records things like landing rate, fuel burn, distance flown and hours. These are displayed on a user dashboard to enable the user to track progress and other stats mentioned above. Not only does this enable you, the user, to keep track but also any virtual airlines that you may be a part of. There’s also a handy radar page not too dissimilar to FlightRadar24 where you can see other users in real time.

Bobby, what other features do you plan to add?

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been doing a load of updates to the backend code, optimisations (futureproofing) and dataset updates, these features and updates are now live and whilst most people probably haven’t noticed much change to the frontend, these updates have been major and will support the new Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) system and other smaller features that I plan to implement soon too.

I’m also going to spend more time working on client-side integration features for “power users” of FsHub too – FsHub has a full REST API for getting data out but unless you’re a software developer this isn’t all that easy a task – I’ve personally helped a few users that have emailed me direct and helped them integrate FsHub into their own personal or VA websites. It’s clear from that, that I need to spend some time building and publishing (maybe a few YouTube videos too) some SDKs which I plan to start working on after the EFB is completed.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to say that the fact that something isn’t available in LRM Client or FsHub, could simply be an oversight on my part (because I don’t use it or didn’t know of the need for such a feature for other people’s flying “style” etc), so I’m always looking for new ideas and features to add to the system that simply haven’t even crossed my mind, so as long as it’s pretty generic e.g. GA aircraft and airliners could equally benefit from them, I always encourage community members to contact me with feature requests.

You do this totally off your own back and it is no small feat, what’s the appeal and do you have any plans to move into payware?

So, there is actually several things that appeal to me here, these being:

  • I personally want to use the system (LRM and FSHub) and I have a “need” for its features – I like the “hassle free” flight tracking and log book features and nailing a super smooth landing always feels great too!
  • When I decided that my A320 home cockpit was eating up way too much of my money and space in my house I decided that I wanted to build something else as a side project that covered both of my interests… software engineering and of course flight simulation!
  • Both of these “side projects” also come in pretty handy when going for job interviews and everyone I speak to (in the IT field) are always pretty impressed with what these systems do (and especially the server side technology used behind FsHub) – as you mentioned above developing such a system is no small feat and even more so when you’re doing it alone, the technical issues that you come up against are the kinds of issues that you want to be having in software engineering and require you to really think and develop really efficient code (e.g. The platform is having to record hundreds of flight data messages every minute, it’s doing analysis on that data and having to store it without causing other parts of the system to run slow due to deadlocks).
  • Software development in general is a rapidly changing landscape, new technologies are ways emerging and having a platform that I can implement these features in, with real users gives me the perfect excuse to learn and implement new advances in technology which ultimately helps in my professional career too.

With regards to moving to a payware model, although it would certainly make my life easier with my fiancée when she sees how much time I spend on these projects, she can’t understand that I do it for the love of it but and also that I’m an advocate of free software and giving back to the community is more important to me!

The platform, as it stands now and the features that it already has will always be free and users can continue to use LRM and FsHub without any cost or worry that it may one day become locked under a subscription model or anything.

If I do add new (additional) and more advanced functionality in future (the kind that I may have to pay a monthly subscription myself to access other commercial datasets for example) then I may look to implement a small monthly subscription fee if users wished to access those additional (optional) features but I certainly have no plans at the moment and where ever possible I always look to use open/public-domain datasets and it is always more important to me that people are using my creations than not.

As an example, the new EFB system will use “Community Uploaded” charts (those that are public domain) which users can then add to their electronic flight bag (which will then be instantly available on their internet-connected tablet connected device), I don’t personally have the time or resources to go searching for literally thousands of charts so the success of the new EFB (chart functionality at least) also lies on the community providing charts for their favourite airports.

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*Top – Logbook/Middle – Flight Specifics/ Bottom – Speed and Altitude graph with flight path*

From your website, there are a lot of projects, do you have support to stay on top of it? 

Support as in monetary or human resources? – I’ve been lucky to receive a handful of donations for my work on FSHub and LRM over the years and I’m truly grateful to those people that have done which helps offset hosting costs and occasionally I get myself a beer 😉

I don’t have any help from other people physically working on the projects as although I have several developer/web designer friends that I could call in, they are mostly driven by making money  so bringing them onboard to help would cost me in one way or another; I also feel that it’s important to work on projects (in your spare time at least) that you enjoy working on and have a passion for, most of the people that I know and trust to help do a good job aren’t really into flight simulation so just trying to explain concepts etc could be very time consuming.

Most of my other open-source projects that you refer to (from my website) are much smaller in size so don’t take as much time or effort to maintain in comparison to LRM and FsHub so it’s not too much of an issue.

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*Above – Chart Bag*

 As we discussed earlier there is an EFB in the pipeline, what is the long-term plan for this? and what kind of features can we expect & how in-depth will it be?

As I’ve already covered some of the details earlier in this interview and I apologise if I’m repeating any of it but essentially my plan is that the EFB will be fully cross-platform (compatible) with all tablet operating systems and thus supporting iOS, Android and Surface tablet devices too, my plan is to have it provide a real-time  moving map of your aircraft position (easier to see taxiway positioning etc), ability to quickly access (community submitted, public domain) airport charts (you could also upload your own charts too and in-turn be sharing these with others!), the ability to query and get real-time weather updates from a configurable weather service (NOAA, VATSIM and IVAO etc), I’m also looking into a generic way that I could implement a configurable “Fuel Calculation” system that, depending on the aircraft model detected, would allow the user to quickly calculate fuel requirements for their flight(s) – This kind of functionality is where I could really do with community help to bounce ideas off etc though…

Some newer features that I’m adding to FsHub VA functionality next week will also allow VA’s to internally message and post up NOTAM’s to their pilots that will automatically alert them on their tablet devices. VA admins will also be able to publish “Company Route” information that will appear on their EFB too.

All the data would reside on FsHub but would be synced and be available offline on the tablet too (with the exception of the moving map of course, this would require local network access to your flight simulator)

I have my personal use cases for the EFB but if these fall short of what your readers would like to see (within reason of course) I’d love to hear from them and I can work to get them added too!

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*Top – GPS Tracker/Bottom – Radar*

Going forward, with the advancements in technology and next generation simulators where do you see your product?

I love a challenge and wherever possible I will keep integrating this software with new simulators that come out in the future… As long as people continue to use LRM and FsHub I will continue to develop, host and enhance them!

I’m keen to see what integration support MSFS 2020 gives us out of the box, I’m hoping for day one support though and don’t think I’m going to have to do any major code updates which is good – I could of course be wrong!

If you could offer some advice for someone, a simmer perhaps who was entering the field of software development what would your advice be?

I would definitely suggest working on a project that is flight simulation related, it’s always much better to work on software projects that you are actually interested in.

I would also say start out on small projects, build little things first before trying to build a massive software project, little wins will go a long way for your morale as there is nothing worse than working on a project that never gets used as its scope was just too large that you run out of energy before you ever got to use or share it with others.

Some languages I would recommend learning, if you wanted to get started is Python or JavaScript – Both can now pretty much be used for anything (Desktop GUI clients, web applications and machine learning etc) but more importantly they have a much less steeper learning curve than the likes of C++, C# and JAVA etc .

If you’re really only looking to maybe build add-ons for aircraft and customise some functionality in-game and if you’re using XP11, then I’d suggest looking at LUA scripting.

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If the community wishes to do so how can we support you?

Here is a number of ways that the community can support me and the project:

  • Upload and share any *public domain* airport charts that you have over on FsHub in preparation for when the EFB will be released – Users can do this using the “Charts” tab on the airport information pages (Use the new search feature to locate the required airport ;))
  • Give me feedback – If you don’t like something about FsHub or think a new feature might be cool please contact me (use: https://fshub.io/contact)
  • Buy me a beer? – Donations are always really appreciated but not essential! (https://fshub.io/donate)
  • Use the software and tell your friends to use it too!

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We hope you enjoyed reading today’s article and that we’ve provided some insight into this valuable resource. I’d like to thank Bobby for taking the time and agreeing to support this article.

It’s important that we support community-focussed projects such as this so if you haven’t already done so please check out FsHub.

 

Tags : Bobby AllenFsHubInterviewsLanding Rate MonitorUtility
Adam Errington

The author Adam Errington

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