This past week a great friend, aka Boeing Buddy, and I met up at LAN Central in the upper Midwest to participate in Operation LAN 2017. What’s a LAN meet? Well, it is a great little “geek fest” which normally involves flight simming/gaming, great food, adult beverages, and discussions about flight simming. I have participated with LAN groups in the past but since we can fly with other individuals across the world, LAN meets are becoming a thing of the past. But, LAN meets with friends can be a great way to catch up and participate in your favorite sim, all while slinging friendly banter across the room. It had been a couple of years since I made the trek across the US with my carefully packed LAN rig, Thrustmaster Warthog controllers, and other essential items courtesy of Southwest Airlines…where “two bags” fly free (thank goodness). It had been a while since I fired up DCS, aka Digital Combat Simulator, and it took a few days of downloading updates, installing modules, and tweaking controller files to get my software prepared. The hardware in my LAN rig, which is normally my networked charts and weather computer for FSX and X-Plane is beginning to show its age with respect to its internal components. Fortunately, early tests showed that DCS was still running strong with high FPS, even in busy battlefield environments. The computer was packed, carefully I might add, which included several wrappings of bubble wrap and carefully placed clothes, towels, and whatever I could fit into my bags to offer support or cushioning. The first part of my trip was about to begin with an early launch from KRNO airport with a final destination of KMSP. But first, I had to convince my dog that she couldn’t go with me……
I made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare and getting through the lines at TSA can be a hassle even when you don’t have anything “curious” looking in your carry-ons. But, I had a back pack with an nVidia 780 GTX video card, a keyboard, an iPad, TrackIR, various cables, and plus, the all too suspicious looking Warthog Controllers. I always carry my controllers with me on the plane since they would definitely end up broken if placed inside a suitcase. Now mind you, I’ve made this trip numerous times over the years so I’ve learned what to expect when my bag goes through the X-Ray scanning machine. I placed my items on the rollers and as always, as I exited the body scanner I heard the all too familiar, “Whose bag is this?” I raised my hand and met the friendly TSA agent at the metal table, ready to explain exactly what he was looking at. Since the Warthog stick was detached and wrapped in bubble wrap, it does look strange unless you know what you are dealing with. This particular agent didn’t ask too many questions, wiped down my controllers and bag with explosive detecting wipes and I was on my way. Wheew, not a big deal. Now time for breakfast and to get ready for boarding.
My flight took me from KRNO to KDEN where I switched planes and departed for KMSP. The flight into KDEN was very smooth with some great sights crossing the Rocky Mountains as we flew the KAILE2 approach onto 16R. Since I had a window seat on the left side of the 737-700, I saw another aircraft also preparing to land at KDEN. It became apparent that we would be making a simultaneous landing while the other aircraft would be touching down on 16L. After a smooth touchdown, the pilot taxied to the “Charlie” gates which were full with plenty of Southwest 737’s.
I quickly switched planes for my final flight to KMSP and after getting situated, one of the pilots informed the passengers that they were waiting for a “minor” maintenance issue to be addressed before we could push back from the gate. Well, he said “minor” so no big deal. Then, I noticed a pickup truck with a “USDA” label on the side pulled up next to the jet and the representative got out and walked out of view. I thought that was odd but the captain then told us that the aircraft encountered a bird strike while landing. The ground crew was inspecting the wing, leading edges, engine, etc. to make sure that the aircraft did not sustain any damage during the strike. But, we were then told that the USDA needed to take a sample from the impact to ascertain what type of bird had been hit. Really? I thought that was odd but fortunately, we were able to push back without further delay and the flight crew was confident that we would still arrive on schedule. We pushed from the gate, taxied to RWY 25 and I was back on my way to KMSP. The flight was uneventful and I grabbed some photos/video during the approach into KMSP as we landed on 30L. The same thing happened with a simultaneous approach as a Delta flight was landing on 30R while we landed. I’m sure it is a regular occurrence at the large airports but it always makes the landings more interesting to see other aircraft landing at the same time. As we touched down, there was a Virgin Atlantic A340 sitting on the tarmac as well as other “heavies” on the Delta “Golf” gates. But more importantly, I had arrived and now it was time to de-board the jet, meet Boeing Buddy at the terminal and hope my cargo made it safely without damage.
After running a few errands and a quick lunch, we arrived at LAN central and it was time to see the condition of my computer. Well, of course after getting settled with a cold beer and a warm welcome from Mrs. Boeing Buddy. Fortunately, the package made it unscathed and after getting things set up, the power switch was pushed and the LAN rig came to life. Boeing Buddy was kind of enough to let me use a 32” TV for my gaming monitor which worked out very well. While I set up my rig, Boeing Buddy was putting together a new office chair for his wife’s office. Of course, it was my job to break it in so that we could ensure it was comfortable enough for her to use. It was nice having a brand new office chair during the LAN meet and once again, just another indication of the warm hospitality. More on that later……
Over the next few days, we flew plenty of missions in DCS World, both on the Caucus Map and the Nevada NTTR. During those missions, we flew the A-10C and UH-1 Huey helicopter providing ground support and inserting ground troops into hostile territory. During those missions, the sim performed flawlessly with only a few hiccups from downloaded missions on the net. Unfortunately, updates to DCS World can break missions and their scripts which is what I think happened a couple of times. But, the multiplayer missions provided plenty of excitement and plenty of screenshots captured the action. Also, the weather turned bad with snow and cold temperatures so what better way to pass the time by flying sims and drinking beer :-)
One of the best experiences during the LAN meet was the opportunity to experience VR or virtual reality using the Oculus Rift. I had never used a VR headset before and while I was very anxious, I was also concerned about motion sickness since I am susceptible to it. After a short briefing and setup, I found myself sitting in the cockpit of an A-10C and I was simply blown away by what I was seeing and experiencing. Yanking and banking down low, shooting through valleys, and passing over the terrain at 200 feet was very exciting and this was a whole new dimension for simming. Of course, I had to fire off the cannon at some soft ground targets and the feeling of immersion was simply awesome. I jumped into the Huey and did some hovering around an airfield and after about 20 minutes, I had to take the head set off and rest my brain and stomach. Yes, I wasn’t feeling well and that was all I could handle. Also, the resolution wasn’t as high as I had hoped for and the lack of clarity on the gauges and MFD displays was hard on my eyes. A couple of days later, we fired up IL2 Sturmovik and I flew a series of dog fights over the Kuban map with my BF-109 vs. various Russian aircraft. This was an even better experience flying through the mountainous terrain covered with large trees, all while yanking and banking in my BF-109 trying to get the advantage for the kill. I didn’t realize how much I would have to move around the seat while twisting my upper body while keeping an eye on my adversary. My neck began to get sore and my once again, my stomach was telling me it was time to either knock it off or grab a vomit bag. So, I chose to accept that I couldn’t handle much more and I hung up the Rift. The VR in flight simming is certainly a game changer, especially while dogfighting in WWII aircraft and I look forward to future hardware that will increase the viewable resolution. But for now, I'll just stick with my TrackIr and see how things develop.
After more flying, running and gunning, enjoying wonderful meals and adult beverages, Sunday night soon rolled around and it was time to start packing up the gear. Of course, this is my least favorite time since now I have to put everything back into the suitcase and prepare for the trip home. As they say, all good things come to an end but there were will certainly be future LAN meets.
Monday morning rolled around and we had an early launch from the house at 3:30 AM to make my 5:45 flight home from KMSP to KRNO. There was a short stop in KPHX to change planes but the flight home was uneventful. The TSA at KMSP was more curious about my back pack and hand bag so unfortunately, I held up the security line while they removed my video card, keyboard, and HOTAS. I'm sure the lady behind me was wondering what I was taking on board the plane but I chose to get through as quickly as possible without looking for curious or upset faces behind me. Of course, they still wiped down my controllers with the explosive detecting wipes and I made it to my gate just as the first boarding group was preparing to enter the plane.
After two flights and one plane change, I was back on home soil and taxiing to the gates at KRNO. I was met at the lounge area with a Mocha, courtesy of my lovely bride and it was time to collect my luggage. I had a great time and look forward to the next one, whenever that might be. Until next time..........