Taking wing

After my recent outings by boat to the Blake Sea and further afield to Second Norway, I became intrigued by the idea of aviation in SL.

Now, truth be told, I have owned an SL helicopter (rarely used) and I did recently pick up the wonderful Lepidoptera (which I still think is pretty amazing), and I love to occasionally zap around on my little Neuspa. However, I’ve never really tried my hand at piloting an aeroplane in SL (much to my shame, given my father actually does fly RL, and has had me at the controls of his ‘plane).

So, spurred on by the number of aircraft flying around Blake Sea, I decided to give things a go. Again, I’ll be honest here. I wasn’t sure how I’d take to things, so I too a cautious approach, and perused the SL Marketplace, visited a few in-world stores and saw what was available. I didn’t want anything “high performance”; I just wanted something to enjoy, and perhaps share with a friend or two. While I did find a couple of attractive light aircraft, I decided that, initially, I’d wet my feet (so to speak) with a couple of freebie offerings, and then if I liked things, would up the stakes from there.

I ended up getting two aircraft: a Terra Stingray and the Pitts S2C – and the proved to be very, very different in handling!

The Stingray is from Steve “Cubey” Cavers of Abbot’s Aerodrome fame. He’s actually single-handedly responsible for getting me into SL skydiving waaay back in 2007, and which I still enjoy today; Ziki Questi and I were going to try to do a “Felix” and make an almighty freefall jump in SL… but I digress.

The Terra Stingray

The Stingray is a jet aircraft with land and sea capabilities. It comes packed with features, including colour and decal changing, a flight HUD, menu system, and – in typical SL fashion – also coverts itself into a speedboat or submarine!

I started my flight in the Stingray from Ey Ren’s awesome new airport at Second Norway. This in itself is a magnificent build making prime use of the available space (departure area, complete with signage, check-in desks, security, etc., all neatly tucked under the runways, taxiways and airport apron).

Dawn take-off: awaiting ATC clearance to turn out onto runway 09L, Second Norway airport

Flying the Stingray is a pleasure. Simply attach the HUD, rez the plane (it’ll sense whether it is on land or water and either deploy the landing gear or not) and climb in. The throttle is controlled via PAGE UP / PAGE DOWN, and the HUD provides your fuel and throttle settings, among other necessary data. Pitch and turn are controlled via the arrow keys.

Ready to roll: opening the throttles

The Stingray is beautifully responsive, and I really enjoyed flying it. Once airborne I could raise the gear and just enjoy myself. Water landings were a simple affair: come down to around 20m, retarding your throttles back to about 40% along the way, then ease back gently, hold the nose steady and gently pitch the nose up before touching the water. Once your speed is down low enough (10%-ish), retract the wings and cruise boat-like to the pier / ramp.

Landing on a runway was equally easy, and helped with the visual references from the VASI lights.

The Pitts S2C is by Michie Yoksuka is an altogether different plane. It comes in three variants: the Mk1 (which is a tad blocky) and the updated Mark 2 with either wheels or floats. There’s no HUD and climbing into the Pitts starts the engine, otherwise controls are pretty much as for the Stingray. As I was flying over Blake Sea, I opted for the seaplane version and started my journey from Half Hitch. The build is a little blockier than the Stingray, but it does capture the essence of the Pitts very nicely.

Me and my Pitts S2B

Like its namesake, the Pitts S2C is fast and very friskly. The RL Pitts is designed for aerobatics, and in no time at all, I was barrel-rolling with wing tips just clearing the waves, and pulling impressive climbs which should have resulted in some pretty hard stall turns….

I wasn’t actually intending to do either, but as I said, the Pitts 2B is very frisky!

I opted to fly the Pitts from Half Hitch, out in the middle of Blake Sea. I’m glad I did as I encountered an unexpected visitor sailing through….

Yikes! Who put that there?! It can’t possibly be….
…it is!

One thing with flying a plane which did take some getting used to was the speed – particularly in the Pitts, where I was zipping through regions at a stunning rate at times. The Stingray was slightly more sedate, especially when eased back on the throttle, and as a result tended to handle region crossings with more panache – several times in the Pitts I ended up being booted to 0,0,0, and sometimes I could TP home, other times I simply crashed. That said, there were a couple of times in the Stingray when a region crossing left my camera wedged in the engine air intake behind the cockpit…

Flying high: the Pitts S2B is a frisky little plane

Of the two aircraft I used, I have to say the Stingray perhaps offered the better experience for me as novice. The controls felt smoother and left me feeling more in control. The Pitts tended to respond to everything so fast, I was wibbling about all over the sky (and probably scaring the pants of those sailing by below me at times). But again, that’s perhaps how it should be: learning to fly in a racy plane like the Pitts isn’t perhaps the brightest way to go about things… I also have to confess I like the fact that the Stingray can also turn itself into a natty speedboat.

From plane to boat: Stingray shows its versatility

As to flying in SL, I have mixed feelings. It’s a great way to get to see more of the major areas of Second Life – particularly if you can up your draw distance a little to see beyond the next region as you fly. Landing a plane in SL isn’t always easy – it’s hard to make a good approach without making at least one region crossing, and this did throw me the first few times.

Region crossings are, inevitably problematic, and I did find myself getting frustrated when I wound-up at 0,0,0 on a number of occasions, as mentioned. Certainly, the problem hasn’t put me off flying in SL, so I’ll doubtless be back for more – and I still have my eye on one light aircraft on sale both on the Marketplace and in-world in particular.

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14 thoughts on “Taking wing

  1. Greetings!
    When you try to cross a sim and enter to a parcel with the option “Avatars on other parcels can see and chat with avatars on this parcel” disabled, the camera get messed up. Not long ago a found a hud.. kind of minimap.. that show in red the parcels with ban lines, in yellow the parcel near banlines and in purple the places where your camera will get messed while crossing. It was not cheap, but it did improved my flying experience a lot! I use it for sailing and driving aswell, it is a must have for me. The name is “Explorer’s HUD” and it is on the market.

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    1. Thanks Voodoo!

      I’ll look into it. Given the amount of saling I’m doing, and the problems I have encountered bouncing off restricted parcels in Blake Sea, it sounds like a worthwhile investment.

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    1. Nice video!

      Are the regions you mention early in it on for petites or tinies, tho? The houses on them (from a quick visit made) look more scaled to tinies. Even allowing for camera issues, when in my petite form, the window sills on the houses were at the level of my chin. Wondered this dure to their proximity to the tiny Myst island. Definitely an area I’m going to keep my eyes on, either way!

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  2. If you like the Stingray, you may also enjoy the little two seat float-equipped ultralight from Cloud Dancer Aviation.
    Another of my favorites is the EGA sailplane from EG Aircraft…it has a built in thermal system — you can (if you’re lucky) fly from one patch of rising air to the next.
    I prefer planes and helicopters that fly slowly, to avoid region crossing and other hazards

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    1. Now a sailplane does sound interesting! I had the opportunity to try sailplaning through a family friend back when I was in my 20s (sigh – so far away now!), and loved it. Going to have to see what it is like in SL :). Also goes to show that even after 6 years with SL, we all still have things to learn – I didn’t even know thermal currents existed in-world!

      I wanted a slower aircraft simply because of the region crossing issue concerned me. The Stingray did handle them very well at around 40-60% throttle. The Pitts didn’t do nearly so well, but I did put that down to it being far more of a “performance” aircraft, even at relevatively low throttle settings (20-40%). I’ve no idea how much the scripting on either plays a part in the performance (as Wolf notes, it probably does have an impact), but getting the Pitts did allow me to experience things from the perspective of a “fast” (or perhaps “faster”) aeroplane.

      The experience did have me missing sailing, however, I have to admit – so after writing this article, I was back out on Exotix, my 12-metre boat. It’s not as fast as some, but it is great on region crossings, and I’m finally getting the full hangof “tacking” with the wind :).

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      1. SL itself does not have thermals, darn it. But a few aircraft “make their own” in the same way that you can set a steady wind with a sailboat. the EGA sailplane, and a two-seat powered paraglider you can get at Tradewinds Yacht Club both do this.

        Last night, inspired by your post, I flew from south of Nautilus City east to the mainland, then all the way north up the channel and across the Nautilus continent to my home sim…without an engine!

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  3. People will argue about scripting quality. I know whose work I like and other people will tell you something completely different. A good old aircraft, without any Mesh, is the safe bet at the moment. The Lindens keep messing things up for Mesh-based vehicles.

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    1. Yup, I’d agree on scripting.

      Not sure it’s fair to say “the Linden keep messing things up” when it comes to mesh vehicles. The issue here is the havok physics engine. As Oskar said recently, SL pushes the boundaries in using the engine, and Havoak themselves have no need to consider backwards compatibility with the system when updating it, as the majority of its uses are in “non-dynamic” environments (i.e. effectively standalone games without the completely dynamic content we have in SL. Ergo, there are likely to be issues of some description when a new version of Havok is being deployed, and one could arge if it is better for around 10% of the grid to present problems when moving between different versions of Havok while a new release is being tested, or whether it is better to roll it out to 100% of the grid not knowing what else might go wrong, even if mesh vehicles get a free pass as a result.

      Of course, one could argue whether or not LL actually needs to update Havok, but that’s an argument of an entirely different colour :).

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      1. They’re doing a bit better, but the problem with Havok upgrades is that the layout of the RC regions makes for a lousy job of testing. There’s a test region in the ANWR channel, the only vehicle link between the Heterocera and Sansara continents. so you cannot make that trip with Mesh.

        They know they have the problem with Havok version differences. They have no need to test that particular sort of sim crossing because they know it will break. But they set it up so that you cannot avoid it.

        They test in a live environment, but they don’t seem to be paying adequate attention to how that environment is used.

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        1. They’re improving.

          Blake Sea has been aligned so as no regions are on LeTigre; Racer’s Gutch is all on the same RC (although obviously only available to premium).

          Again, RCs areb’t just about physics and Havok, they’re about testing everything that comes out of LL by way of server updates and how they ight / will impact the main grid above and beyond problems already discovered on Aditi. So this means trying and get as broad a sampling of updates running on different region types as possible into each RC to make sure as much as possible is covered. In turn, this inevitably means mixing full with homestead with openspace, residential with commercial, mainland with private, small estates and large, car racing with building and combat and roleplay, and so on and so forth. And with the grid being dynamic, that’s just not possible.

          Now, would it be a good idea to set-up something like a specialised subset of an existing RC – which comprises land and water sims and has room enough for people to sail, fly drive, drive, shoot, collide, script, etc., and use that for initial Havok deployments? One which could effect be “broken off” from a larger RC and used for the initial testing of Havok releases, then “folded back in” for other releases? Possibly. Even then there is no guarantee everything would be covered, but it might conceivably ease more of the pain. Potentially the problem here is convincing LL that the pain is widespread enough for them to consider doing so; I’m not sure that the see the problem with mesh vehicles as being “widepsread”.

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  4. I agree fully with the use of the explorer Hud, as well as the fact that mesh are useless with LL rolling out buggby non tested enough services on main channels!
    And the best scripts are those that allow your plane to make a trip everhere with the less problems!
    Being doing several planes, most based around the free and amazing Beaver dc2, that any can get a copt for free on San Catalina Airport, or Marketplace, solme of them with four full scripted engines and one almost the size of s full sim, and able to do a lot of flying, not only on blake sea (Any can see pics of my trips on my profile pagbe or on my flirck account), always with my soulmate as copilot or follwing me on one of her planes!
    Explorer hud is essencial to use,. mostly due to the stupidity of the users, that close their sims and use security orbs on open spaces that should remain so!

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    1. In fairness to LL, all updates do get tested (as far as possible) on the beta grid prior to deployment to the main grid. However, the beta gird is very much smaller than the main grid, very much less dynamic in content, and used by far fewer people – including content creators (although some do spend a fair amount of time trying to test-out products there and seaech for possible bugs). This means at times that with the best will in the world, things which can cause problems on the main grid may slip through – simply because the right test conditions to discover them do not exist on the beta grid.

      That is why the main grid has a number of Release Candidate channels, the largest (at around 10% of the main grid each) being Magnum, BlueSteel and LeTigre. These are not “main channels” (there is only one main channel), they are effectively also “test” channels for new releases.

      They exist so that upcoming releases can be tested in the more dynamic environment of the main grid in order to minimise any widespread adverse effect of something going wrong. And it largely works. Even when something goes drastically wrong (as it did recently with a bug in the prim accounting system on Magnum) the overall negative impact is contained (with due respect to those on Magnum who were affected). It also allows issues to be rapidly identified and rolled back before being felt right across the grid (as with the case this last week with the llSensor() issue on Magnum.

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