Well, now I can fill in the gaps a little as to our plans for the next year and let you know what we're working on.
The next product will be the First Officer Training for the Q400, but this is taking longer to bring together than we had hoped. In the Cadet course as we taxi in from our first landing at Birmingham Airport, you may recall Josh and I having a brief conversation where he suggests that it's a lot easier to fly a real Q400 as you have two pilots to share the workload and that there are physical controls as opposed to having to make selections with a mouse. In his opinion, the one single thing that makes life tough inside FSX is the fact that even with a real rated Q400 pilot sitting over your shoulder you're effectively flying single pilot.
As we saw in the Cadet training, if you keep your eye on things and have nimble fingers it's just about manageable. Once we embarked on the F/O course, we pushed ourselves into the kind of flights where even trained crews in the real flight deck are working hard to earn their $$$. For example, departing from a busy London Gatwick for a short positioning flight to Southampton, where a VOR approach in fairly rotten weather awaits. Then a flight from Southampton down to Jersey using the noise abatement procedure, where you'd depart in HDG SEL, before flicking to VOR mode to track the outbound VOR radial, before going to LNAV and a direct to an waypoint out in the channel. This is all happening as the gear is going up, along with the flaps, the bleeds, the autopilot coming in and the checklists being done in the right order. To do this single pilot and nail it all 100% is actually impossible as you simply don't have enough fingers to do it all when it needs to done. Trust us, we tried. A dozen times. Of course, you can cheat a bit by flying it in HDG SEL and manually track the VOR, or fly it in LNAV, or leave the bleeds off for a bit until you can look up, or leave the flaps or gear dangling out a bit later than you should but we will not charge you money for something that isn't the real deal. Our tagline is 'Real pilots teach you to fly' so if we can't do it the same way they do it in the real thing then we'll take our ball home.
Let's take for example that VOR approach into Southampton; you could cheat and fly it with an RNAV overlay - or if the weather's alright you could just eyeball the PAPI from miles away to get yourself down the slope and turn it into a quasi-visual. The other option is to get yourself back to landing Vref with gear and flaps down 12 miles out and then just fly the vertical speed given on the chart for your given ground speed down to minimums, breaking off to line up at the last moment. But in the real world with fairly marginal weather a visual portion isn't really an option and with four aircraft behind you and two at the holding point burning fuel, reducing to 112 knots 12 miles out is also going to make you very unpopular with ATC. So you'll have to fly down the slope with your speed reducing as you configure and depending on whether you're a little high or low on the path you'll need to adjust your vertical speed to compensate. To do this, you really need someone else to read off the altitudes on the chart and prompt you for a higher or lower VS, along with doing all those distracting things like give you gear, flaps, run the checklist etc.
So we're going to move a step further forward and we're going to use the (as yet Beta) shared cockpit feature of the Q400 to shoot the F/O course. There are some reasons behind this. Firstly and most importantly, by the time we've shot and edited this, we'll be nearer to (or even beyond) the release of the Pro version of Q400 with the shared cockpit, although I'm duty bound to say I know no more about the timescales for this than you do. But, we know it's coming and trust me - it will revolutionise the way you fly. All the really rewarding stuff that is very, very hard to do single pilot in an airliner, such as NDB approaches, VORs, CATII to minimums with a go around and high workload noise abatement procedures etc is so much easier when there's someone to allow you to concentrate on simply flying the aircraft. The other thing to point out is that this allows us actually show you how a real crew operates and how the workload is shared between them. In the Cadet training we strived for complete realism but ultimately the workload was still totally in one direction, which is not what happens in the real thing. For the first time ever, you'll not only hear a real Q400 pilot but you'll also see him actually demonstrating how the task of operating the aircraft is shared out in the flight deck. This is a ground breaker!
But what if I don't buy the shared cockpit version or choose to fly alone, will learning how to do these kinds of approaches help me?
We think so. Just because these things are hard doesn't mean we shouldn't strive to learn and understand how they work, even though they might be tricky to do. As I pointed out, you can 'cheat' a little by flying with an RNAV overlay on a lot of these tricky approaches (and we'll show you how to do this) and of course when you're flying with a glass of beer in your own house one weekend no-one is going to mind if you're a bit wobbly with getting it all done in the right order at the right time. We however are striving to show you something that is as near to 'the real thing' as it can be, which is why we have to nail it as Josh does every day in the real one. We want to show you how it's done and leave it up to you to decide how far you want to go with the realism at your end. You'll ultimately have the option to go the whole way and share a cockpit with someone else (we'll look at setting up an Airline2Sim shared cockpit flying club, with folks who have watched the training so you're all flying to the same SOPs) to do it the hard (and most rewarding way) or if you just want to kick back with a cold one in your hand on your own, punch it into LNAV and watch the autopilot do it all for you. That choice is yours but this IS the F/O training - the big boy pants have to go on at some point.
Is the First Officer course all about the flying?
Actually no - we also go deeper into some of the systems and do a full walk around where we discover something that might make you think twice about sitting at the back of a Q400 the next time you travel on one! There's also a lot of emphasis on the mindset of the operating crew. We'll introduce you the concept of CRM, the management of 'threats' around each given sector and also you'll see a lot more detail about the actual day to day operation of the aircraft on the line. We'll get fogged in, have angry passengers, have passengers having heart attacks on us, shout at de-ice crews and have baggage loaders trying to kill us, as well as French ATC doing their best to ruin our day. All the while you'll see how Josh has been trained to deal with each situation as it arises, which I promise you'll find very interesting. Couple this with the fact that we'll now be operating completely realistically as a two man flight deck - we really are now in the realm of 'it doesn't get more realistic as this'.
So how long?
In the words of a famous chap who frequents his own forum on here - when it's ready. We're punting for the end of the summer, but this is subject to change. Prices, run times etc to be confirmed but it'll be in pixel perfect HD again and there will be discounts for purchasers of the Cadet course.
And after that?
We've already announced that the next aircraft we'll train for after that will be the Aerosoft Twin Otter. We already have a fantastic pilot on board for this, a Dublin native called Conor who flies for one of the two UK operators of the Twin Otter. I suspect once we bring it out you'll probably work out which. Thankfully our friends at Earth Simulations have already blessed us with an amazing airport scenery to fly in and out of and I'm hugely excited about it as it's a very different aircraft to the Q400 but comes with its own set of foibles and challenges. Timescale is back end of this year. It won't be a multi part course due to the fact that the routes are short and the aircraft is fairly simple so will simply be called 'Aerosoft Twin Otter Pilot Training' and will be co-branded as an Aerosoft product.
And after THAT?
Airbus - Cadet, F/O and Captain with an A330 'differences' course later on. Again this will be an Aerosoft co-operation and we'll be using the as yet unreleased A319. We've had an inside track on some of the goodies in it and it'll be perfect for the Cadet course. We've got a couple of Airbus pilots but the guy we really want to use is a bit like an Airbus version of Josh - he's mildly geeky about the aircraft, has only been flying it for a couple of years so all the type rating stuff and wise words of the trainers is still in his head and he's also still hugely passionate about it. We've found that a lot of the old salts know it all, but long ago lost the passion to convey their knowledge of it. I can't give you much more detail yet as we're still putting it together but expect a multi-part course along the lines of the Q400 where we'll take you from 'what does this joystick thing do' to fully fledged Airbus pro over the length of the course, all done in our usual style over multiple real-time sectors with real-world scenarios and challenges. Timescale - umm, the Cadet course hopefully in time for Christmas, but as ever, it depends on many factors. We're also planning a German language version, details TBC.
And next year?
The Q400 Captain's course, where we'll let the aircraft try to kill us and we'll show you how to save the day, land it with an engine on fire, taxi in and score with the hottest FA in the cabin. Or maybe just the first bit.
Ah then - well that'd be telling. But what I can tell you is it'll hopefully involve this thing: