Tag Archives: flight simulator

Spring in the time of Covid-19

This spring (and summer) turned out to be very different than planned, due to the global coronavirus pandemic. Just a few days after my last flight lesson, Belgium went into lockdown, working from home became the new norm, and social distancing undoubtedly established itself as the word of 2020 in an instant. Luckily (or rather thanks to the hard work of scientists, health care personnel, and the willingness of politicians to listen to these groups) we managed to flatten the curve before the health system got overwhelmed, and we are basically done with the measures as even bars and restaurants reopened two weeks ago, and since last Monday international travel is also allowed again. As the virus is still present, and there is no vaccine yet, it seems like life will have to go on in a quite different way compared to how things were used to be before Covid-19, with face masks and keeping a safe distance whenever possible.

While we had no physiological or financial issues (I can work as well – if not better – from home as from the office, and there is enough work to do), mentally these weeks (especially early on) were really not easy. In the beginning my hypochondria was messing with my head way too much, causing large swings in my mood and productivity, which got better only by limiting my news intake, and when hospitalisation numbers finally started going down. Initially I could not even fully enjoy my occasional bike rides outside because of my bad mental state. Luckily individual cycling (and running) was always allowed (and even encouraged), because I am pretty sure I would have gone really crazy without that… But holiday plans (including the so thoroughly planned and booked Trans Pyrenees ride) had to be cancelled (and everything is was too uncertain to start making new ones), we could not go to restaurants, there were no flight training, Liverpool FC was halted on the way to their first Premier League trophy, and I was not even allowed to drive to the Ardennes for a ride :( Mainly 1st world problems, but still, a big negative change in everyday lifestyle is difficult no matter the baseline.

After the initial shock, we slowly got used to the new situation. The exceptionally dry and warm weather (average temperature of my rides in April was 20.2°C, which is several degrees over the historical average, and this April-May was the driest April-May in Belgium since the beginning of measurements) definitely helped by creating plenty of opportunities for biking (and since I work 4/5th as of February, I have more free time in general in any case).

So while my big sportive goal for 2020 suddenly disappeared, I still continued with the training that I started at the beginning of this year (wanting to get my earlier cycling fitness back, and simply wanting to do something else besides sitting in front of the computer). I tried to keep my rides interesting by always picking a different route (while avoiding the busy paths along the waterways), and by participating in small challenges on a few selected road segments. After my burnout last year, I really enjoyed being on the bike again, and I tried biking without looking at the numbers most of the time (so biking for the good feeling, and not to achieve a given amount of kilometers a week or month). Even though I try to not not concentrate on the plain numbers anymore, having completed all main monthly Strava challenges (bike more than 1250 km, with more than 7500 m elevation gain, and including at least one 100 km ride) in April and May, and even getting a few KOMs (back) is something I am happy about (plus it seems like my cycling fitness level has just reached its all time high too). I have also visited some new places, like the spiral bike path looping through the trees and the bike path crossing a lake (in a way that the road is under the water level while your eyes are in line with it) in Limburg, or the geographical middle point of Belgium, and the West side of Brussels. The open road (or gravel path) was also the only place where I could meet up with a few friends when it was already safe to do so, and some of the best rides were these social evening spins just before sunset. I expect that now that flight training is restarting I will bike a bit less, but as we are allowed to take the car to ride somewhere else since last week, I hope to get back to the Ardennes and bike further away from Leuven more often in the coming months (which already started with a nice outing to Luxembourg on Sunday).

I have been riding with my beautiful steel bike too a lot (already more than over the whole past year), not only because it is a very nice bike, but also because I had to miss my Endurace for two weeks… The reason: the frame broke under me (where the front derailleur hanger is screwed onto the seat tube), just 500 m from home, but luckily without me crashing. Fortunately it cost me only 120 EUR to get a brand new replacement frame (instead of 2600 EUR which is the actual price of a new frame), as the bike was still covered by the 6 year guarantee of Canyon.

Work went also quite well the past months, as while coding gets boring sometimes, we have been in the news a lot (among others in the VRT, in De Tijd, in De Standaard, in the Knack, and for example with an article in the Verkeersspecialist) thanks to the traffic monitor that I set up using Telraam data, comparing the measured cars, heavy vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians to the pre-Covid-19 baseline on a daily and weekly basis. I think one of my biggest achievements is getting uncertainty intervals into the national media :) [As this is the wet dream of any data scientist, isn’t it?]

I think it is safe to say that our numbers became the standard when referring to traffic beyond the highways network. I could write a full paper about this, but I will spare you of the boring technical details (here). It’s enough to say that we tracked the initial fall and the slow and long return of traffic on the streets, and we have also seen how strongly leisure oriented cycling correlates with temperature and the absence of rain. Nothing fundamentally surprising, but scientifically sound, precise measurements of our everyday lives and habits, on a level (geographical extent, various modes, temporal resolution, and precision) that has not been done before.

My PhD student (whom I co-supervised the past years, even when I was not working at the university anymore) has defended her thesis, and while for the internal examination we could still meet up with the whole jury in person (followed by a nice dinner), her “public” defense was the first virtual defense at the department (and also the first PhD defense at the Institute of Astronomy of the KU Leuven that is now on YouTube). It went really well (of course), and having a sip of champagne and a piece of chocolate together with her (and my former) supervisor was a nice moment afterwards, even though nobody else could be present. As illustration of a perfect supervisor-student relationship, we both got each other a LEGO to build (and – unrelated – Clio also got me a really nice set to cheer me up when I was feeling really down, which we build up together on a less sunny weekend).

While I could not fly in real life, I spent quite some time (and that is a clear understatement) to create a very precise model of the airport of Charleroi for the flight simulator (X-Plane 11). Instead of listing all the features here (but it has a hand-crafted terrain model, extremely precise markings and lights, taxiway signs, and even some custom 3D models – which took me back to SketchUp after quite some years -, including the iconic first floor facade of the passenger terminal), I will just link the download page of the scenery for the curious readers. It has been very popular among fellow simmers, it is currently within the 20 most popular scenery downloads of the last month. It feels pretty much like the real thing, it is a shame that I can not fly with a Sonaca 200 in the simulator (and making a plane is a bit more complex than making an airport, so no thank you), that would really help in practising some flows and procedures. Sometimes I really hate my perfectionism, because I keep finding things to improve upon, which on one hand is something I like to do, but on the other hand it takes time away from actually just using the scenery.

Finally, for the rest of the lockdown news, we have seen the “train” of Starlink satellites on the evening sky (and even recorded the view), and also managed to find a game on PlayStation that we can sometimes play together (Minecraft Dungeons). Two weeks ago on Friday I was finally back in the air (then last Saturday too), so expect some flight training related posts in the near future (since I can barely think of anything else than flying since then).

The rest of 2019 (Part 2 – A summer of mostly flying)

As a result of biking less I suddenly got quite some extra free time, which meant that I could do things that I could not do before. First, I fixed the long-standing problem of not being able to give the home monitoring system’s sensors – and most importantly the central RPi a fixed IP (because it is not possible on the router of our internet provider – Telenet -, meaning that after a power-cut, or simply the restart of the router, sometimes the RPi did not get its preferred IP address, which screwed up the communication between the wireless sensors and the RPi, so I had to manually look for the conflicting device and kick it off the network, making sure that the then rebooted RPi got the IP it wanted, then restart the wireless sensors, etc. – even just writing this down took more time than what I would want to spend on such issues). As a solution I simply bought an extra wireless router (TP-Link Archer C2300) with all the necessary features, connected it to the Telenet router via an Ethernet cable, and migrated all our devices to using the new router (giving fixed IPs to the ones that would benefit from it). Since then everything works flawlessly. (Of course as we have literally dozens of WiFi enabled devices, this migration took more than two seconds, which might explain why I had not done this earlier already.) Recently I also switched to reading the data of our outside sensor cluster from its local JSON output instead of using the luftdaten database (which has been often unresponsive lately) – this was also made possible by the fixed IP addresses.

Then I bought a quite powerful gaming PC (Lenovo Legion T530, Intel Core i7 9700 processor, 32 GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070 with 8 GB VRAM, 1 TB SSD + 2 TB HDD) with the primary goal of getting back to the world of flight simulators (the only unrelated software I have installed is the Zwift client for my training workouts). I got X-Plane 11, rudder pedals (Logitech G Pro Flight Rudder Pedals), a joystick and a throttle quadrant and (initially a Logitech G X52 Pro but then I replaced them with a Thrustmaster T16000M FCS and a Virtual Fly TQ3+, both of which are using magnetic Hall-sensors which makes their use much more precise), a radio and a switch panel (also Logitech, and while these are definitely fun to use, they are the least necessary components of the setup, as everything they do could be done in the virtual cockpit with a mouse too). I also got a new screen (Asus PG279Q, replacing my 10 year old Dell U2410 which I now use as a 3rd display at work) when I was sure that I would not give up on this hobby after a few weeks.

Virtual flying was not completely new to me, since I had already gotten into it during my university years for a short while, so it did not take me long before I joined IVAO to fly online (so I had to buy a new headset too: SteelSeries Arctis 7) with other pilots and virtual air traffic controllers.

In the second half of the year I flew almost 200 hours online (and probably 100 more offline), using mainly study-level aircraft (planes that are modeled as close to reality as possible, meaning realistic flight model, systems, and procedures), such as the Cessna 172 with the REP package, the SIAI Marchetti SF 260D, the TBM 900, and the A319 from Toliss. In the beginning I flew only GA planes (and VFR), and only after the first ~100 hours did I start mixing in some commercial flights (and IFR) too.

I took part in a few online events, e.g. two real flight events (RFE, simulating the actual traffic on a selected airport – in my case Munich and Budapest -, aiming at reproducing the real-life arriving and departing traffic at that airport, providing a complete coverage of the various air traffic controllers and high traffic levels, which results in a very busy and realistic – and in the beginning stressful, but rewarding – experience altogether), and also the annual crowded skies event (where the goal is having the most people connected to the IVAO network at the same time – during the peak period there were more than 2000 people connected to the network this year, resulting in a lot of radio chatter and a complete coverage of the European airspace by various levels of ATC).

It is a quite serious hobby, I follow real-life checklists, real-life procedures, I fly according to actual flight rules (instrumental or visual), and communicate with air traffic controllers using the real life phraseology. (This means that just setting up the A319 before getting ready for push-back already takes almost a half hour…) Besides flying, I also enjoy designing airports (it’s basically drawing “maps” – layouts based on official charts or satellite pictures – and doing some 3D modelling), so far I have completed EBGB and EBNM (two small airports in Belgium), and now I am working on EBCI (Charleroi). It’s like an advanced version of colouring books for me, lately I have spent more time working on EBCI than I spent flying… (But you will see the significance of this specific airport later.)

Some more tidbits again: this summer all previous temperature records were broken again in Belgium (and all over Europe), and sadly this is becoming a recurring news item every year… On the 25th of July the temperature reached 39.7°C in Brussels (Ukkel), which is 3.1°C more than the past record, and 41.8°C in Begijnendijk (not far from Leuven). To put things into perspective, this is only 0.1°C less than the maximum temperature record in Hungary, while in theory Hungary has significantly warmer summers… I became 2nd on the annual Tour de France prognosis competition at work, which was definitely necessary to restore my honor after finishing almost last during the spring classics… Not much later there was a fire in the student apartments just in front and above our offices, which luckily resulted in no injuries, but forced us to work from home for a week, as the electricity could not be turned back on before all the water damage was cleaned up by the team of the insurance company, etc.

The annual meet-up with my parents this year brought us to the Trier and Luxembourg (and Saarburg), and while both of these cities were nice to walk around in, the best part of the long weekend was still the elevated wooden path that led to the lookout tower built just above a sharp bend of the river Saar (Treetop path Saarschleife).

Around this time I had a serious lack of sleep because I kept staying up until completely unreasonable hours, being busy with the flight simulator… (Since then this has improved, but I am still finding it very difficult to go to sleep in time, as I just want to keep doing stuff even when I am tired…)

During the autumn we spent one day in Breda with Clio (staying in the Hotel Nassau, with a fancy dinner, and breakfast served in a former church), and I also made it to Bilbao for work for two busy days. We also tried a few new restaurants in Leuven, actively seeking new experiences, leading to the discovery of a couple of really nice places (even though ordering food from the couch is just so easy), we should continue this when the weather becomes good enough to sit outside again.

While I got deeper and deeper into training on the flight simulator, I also got to fly in a small GA aircraft for the first time, thanks to Clio’s cousin, who invited me to join him for a flight at the end of August. We flew a Cessna 172S (with a G1000 glass cockpit) from Grimbergen to Brasschaat and back, and most importantly, on the way back I got to do everything from take-off (with a bit of assistance in that phase) to just before the landing. I did climbs, descents, and various turns, following instructions.

By then I had more than 50 hours on the exact same plane (with the exact same instrument panel) in the simulator, so everything felt very familiar (but of course the actual movement of the aircraft can not be replicated, so that was very new). It was definitely the best one-day thing I did in 2019 (I could not stop smiling the whole evening), and it motivated me so much that I decided to sign up for an actual PPL (private pilot license) training. I started with having my medical certificate arranged (EKG, blood test, and a general checkup lasting more than an hour at a certified doctor), then after a face-to-face meeting in Charleroi, I enrolled at the New CAG Air Academy. I am using a distance learning platform to study the theory (this is really well done and very convenient too), and if everything goes well (weather – just confirmed OK!) then tomorrow afternoon I will have my first practical lesson too (booking this was not that easy even though there is a good online tool for it, but as a newcomer I had way too many practical difficulties in the beginning). I am really looking forward to flying (and at the same time I wish that I could make things happen a bit faster, but that is just how I am), and I am sure I will write more about the training later on…

Budapest – Milánó

Most már élő szóban kommunikáltam! Elég nehéz minden utasítást megjegyezni, visszamondani – de főleg megérteni… Az osztrák légiirányítók német akcentusa meg egyenesen mellbevágó :-) A repülés útvonalát itt meg is lehet nézni. Leszállásnál pont előttem ért oda egy másik gép Londonból, így szépen tartanom kellett a követési távolságot – tisztára mint a való életben. (A kép ezután készült, dokkolásra várva…) Egyébként ezen a héten jól ment a munka, így ma egész sok kedvem volt elmenni még bevásárolni is. Holnap (azaz már ma) meg túra, aztán lehet hogy vasárnap is. Sajnos Flóra talléravatójára nem fogok tudni elmenni, mert most már szinte 100%, hogy Piszkéstetőn leszek :-( Pedig nagyon szerettem volna ott lenni Vele.


Velence – Budapest

Tegnap megvolt a második on-line repülésem: most jöttem vissza Velencéből. Megint minden jól ment, pedig leszállásnál nem a standard procedúrákat kellett követni, hanem az irányító utasításait – a kis forgalom miatt. Élveztem, jó volt, legközelebb lehet hogy megpróbálom a “szóbeli” kommunikációt (eddig csak írásban beszéltem az irányítókkal). Itt megtekinthetők a részletek, illetve lent egy kép – naplemente valahol Szlovénia felett…


Flight Simulator – live!

Hétfő este minden dolgom végeztével elérkezettnek láttam az időt, hogy életemben először igazi légiirányítókkal repüljek az FS9-es repülőgépszimulátor játékban. Az előző napokban átrágtam magam a PMDG Boeing 737NG repülőgépének több száz oldalas leírásán, az FMC (fedélzeti számítógép – avagy Flight Management Computer) használati útmutatóján (erről a YouTube-n is megnéztem egy majdnem másfél órás videót), valamint begyakoroltam a repülés közben esetleg előforduló standard eljárásokat (várakozás, stb – ezeket mind az FMC-n keresztül kell vezérelni). Átolvastam az ún. fóniáról szóló dokumentumot is (ami a légiirányítással való angol nyelvű szigorúan szabályozott kommunikációról szól), valamint letöltöttem a repülőterek megközelítési, leszállási, stb. procedúráit tartalmazó térképeit (lásd példának itt van a velencei reptér egyik leszállási térképe).


Ez az on-line repülés úgy néz ki, hogy egy központi szerverre kell felcsatlakozni (ez a VATSIM hálózata), így látja az embert a többi pilóta (egyszerre úgy 500-nál is többen repülnek a világ virtuális légterében), illetve a való életnek megfelelő szektorok felett rendelkező különböző poszton szolgálatot teljesítő légiirányítók is (szervezett keretek között folyik a “valódi” kiképzésük is – az egész szimuláció igen valósághű). Minden navigációs pont, még az időjárási körülmények is a valóságnak megfelelően találhatók meg a játékban (előbbit havonta frissíteni kell, utóbbi az internetről automatikusan és folyamatosan frissül). A valóságnak megfelelő kommunikációs és navigációs frekvenciákra kell állítani a rádiókat, és engedélyezett, előre leadott útvonalakat kell repülni. Az FMC és a repülőgép dinamikája nagyjából 90%-ban (ha nem több) le van modellezve, így tényleg nem gyerekjáték. Az első repülésem Ferihegy és a velencei repülőtér között zajlott (itt meg lehet nézni az adatokat és az útvonalat), nagyjából egy órát töltöttem a levegőben, de beszéltem (egyelőre írásban, miközben a tapasztaltabb, már szóban kommunikáló pilótákat és a légiirányítókat is a headseten hallottam) magyar, osztrák, szlovén és olasz légiirányítással is. Velencében ködben, 900 m-es látótávolság mellett (viszont szinte szélcsendben) landoltam (lásd kép), nagyon nagy élmény volt, úgy csinálni mindent, hogy a légiirányítás radarján minden esetleges hibám azonnal megjelenik.


Ugyan nem 150 ember életéért voltam felelős, de ez már egy érezhető “teher”, amit el kell bírni. A repülés és a leszállás is hibátlanul sikerült, így nagyon boldog, de nagyon fáradt lettem a végére. Aki egy ilyet végigcsinál, az már sejt valamit abból, hogy mennyire nem eseménytelen a pilóták levegőben eltöltött ideje, amikor azt hisszük, hogy ma már mindent megcsinál az autópilóta. Nos, ez nagyon nem így van. Minden tiszteletem a pilótáké (és persze a légiirányítóké). Nagyon jól esett, hogy a virtuális magyar légtérben nagy szeretettel fogadtak (a VACCHUN fórumán), és mindenki meg volt lepve a felkészültségemen (ráadásul találkoztam egy ELTE-s ismerőssel is – kicsi a világ)! Ha egy nap 48 órából állna, erre is lenne időm, de talán hetente egy estén így is tudok majd repülni :-) Bár most szervezem, hogy járjak egyesületbe floorballozni is…