Full Circle

From the Archive – 9/29/2005

As of next month, I will have been working on the Flight Simulator franchise for 7 years.  As of next year, I will have been a customer of said franchise (the longest continuously published piece of software I know of) for 25 years.  One of the very few tangible, material things that has been a constant in my life that actually predates FS is the family airplane, a 1944 Cessna T-50. 

(Another worth noting is the book "Flying: A Golden Science Guide" by Barry Schiff. I’ve had this since I was 3, and I still learn from it every time I pick it up. Originals are still available here, surprisingly.)

This is the first airplane I ever flew. I was 4 years old, and had to sit on phone books to get my eyes level with the attitude indicator – actually seeing over the instrument panel and flying VFR was years (or at least inches) away.  Inside, it’s vintage Air Corps utilitarianism meets Packard limousine, outside it’s a lumbering bright red classic with two noisy radials that knows nothing about subtlety. It isn’t a common airplane – out of about 5500 built from 1939-45, about 24 still fly. Most people mis-identify it as a single-tailed Beech 18, or a miniature DC-3. If they do recognize it, it’s most likely thanks to the "Sky King" TV serial of the 50’s. The airplane is obscure enough that the Flight Sim community has produced only three add-ons of the type that I’ve been aware of over the years.  If you missed the irony, I’ll point out that "only three" for an aircraft this relatively obscure is actually pretty impressive . . . .

With that, I have to make a simple statement about Flight Sim add-ons: we love ’em. One of the greatest joys of this job is the "honeymoon phase" shortly after we hit the shelves when we get to take a a bit of a break and sit back and watch all the new aircraft, scenery, utilities, etc, start rolling in.  The staggering number, variety, quality, and creativity of the add-ons that are out there are what, in my opinion, help make Flight Sim among the richest, most personal and customizable experiences someone can have sitting in front of a PC.

Anyway, the most recent FS T-50 (aka UC-78, AT-8, AT-17, JRC-1, Crane, "Bamboo Bomber", "Bobcat", "Rhapsody in Glue", etc)  comes from Alpha Sim in the UK. It’s a nice model, with a clean panel and virtual cockpit, stable flight model, gorgeous exterior, and includes wheeled and float versions and a half-dozen or so liveries for $14.00 US.

Just finding a well-done and full-featured model of this type is unusual enough – the moment I saw it (last December), I was $14 poorer (more than half a share of MSFT stock at today’s prices!) and happier for it. 

But, unfortunately for those reading this, the story doesn’t end there: You see, one of the aforementioned liveries, completely without context, contact, or connection, just happens to be our family airplane. I don’t mean that it just looks like it – the paint scheme is one-of-a-kind to begin with, and, if that weren’t enough, the N-number (a unique registration number, not unlike a license plate on a car) is the same.

Somehow, someway, pictures most likely taken at an air show or fly-in found their way over the Internet (presumably) to the UK and on to a texture sheet, before ending up here, at Microsoft in Redmond, on my test PC, under the (legitimate, I swear) guise of compatibility testing.

Phil at AlphaSim said that they thought their texture artist just made it up. The coincidence didn’t seem to strike him as much as I would have thought, but I enjoyed it. It was a nice, and wholly unexpected way to add yet another personal connection to the franchise.

If anyone reading this buys this add-on, be nice to the red one. (Oh, and ours has never been on floats, so you might want to do a little re-mapping.)

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