Jeremy Louden’s first passengers were reluctant ones. As an eleven-year-old he’d make his younger brother and sister sit behind him while he piloted his MS Flight Simulator 4.0 Learjet 25 from Chicago to San Francisco in real time. Today, flying MD-88/90s for Delta Air Lines, he no longer has to arrange chairs prior to a flight and very seldom arrives at a destination only to discover his passengers have vanished en-route.
Like many simmers my age I caught the bug very young. I grew up in the Midwest, and my dad fixed electronic equipment for the local cable company. He was into electronics, so we always had a PC for as long as I can remember. The earliest ones I recall were the Atari 400 and 800 we had in the early-mid 80s, which for me was from age 4 until about 9. We had all kinds of games for it. My favorites were Star Raiders, Sublogic’s Flight Simulator II (and I do remember the white squares around Kankakee), Hellcat Ace (by some guy named Sid Meier), and a really neat space game called The Halley Project, where you had to travel about the solar system while navigating using the constellations, then land on various assigned planets and moons by establishing a proper orbit first. In my formative years I was actually intrigued much more by space than aviation, however it wasn’t long until I learned that it would involve a WHOLE lot of hard work and sacrifice, but in the end be nothing like Star Trek at all.
It was around this point (age 10-ish) that we replaced the Atari with a Tandy 1000, which included a copy of the original Falcon and a demo disk for F-19 Stealth Fighter by Microprose. I requested F-19 for my 10th birthday and it became the first game I was truly hooked on. Every day after school (and during school in my imagination) I would fly that F-19 until forced to get my homework done, taking out SAM radar sites in places like Murmansk and Pechenga. As I matured our library grew to include Red Storm Rising, Gunship 2000, F-117A Stealth Fighter 2.0, Their Finest Hour: The Battle of Britain, Red Baron, Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe, SU-25 Stormovik, and I’m sure a few I’ve failed to mention.
For most of my teenage years, I had my sights set on the Air Force. However I also knew that I wanted a family someday, and made the determination that I’d rather not have a military family, and decided to pursue a civilian pilot career. In 1997 I was accepted into nearby Purdue University’s aviation program. The funny thing is, other than an airplane ride my parents got me for my 11th birthday, and another that my girlfriend got me right before I left for college, all my flying up until that point had been on the PC. My first flying lesson at Purdue was only my third time in a real airplane.
Unfortunately for me, the time I started learning to fly for real was about the same time that flight sims started getting serious too. When Jane’s F-15, Falcon 4.0, and European Air War hit the scene, I picked some of them up, but found that I didn’t have the time to learn them, nor really the hardware or peripherals to enjoy them properly. Terminal Reality’s Fly! would end up being the last sim I would spend much time with for a while.
Skipping a few years past college, which was immediately followed by Sept 11 and the associated difficulties of getting a job anywhere in aviation, my wife and I had moved to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, to better position myself for a flight instruction or other flying gig once the job market thawed. I decided to get a copy of Flight Simulator 2004 in order to keep my instrument skills sharp. Once I finally did get an instructing job, I started to really have fun with MSFS, and caught the add-on bug. I had hundreds of dollars worth of aircraft, scenery, and utilities (that I promise, some day I will dig up and get working again on a VM somehow).
My all-time favorite was the PMDG 737-800. I went into Photoshop and painted a livery to match my favorite baseball team, the Chicago White Sox, and virtually flew them to and from all of their away games.
The flight school I worked at obtained a “glass cockpit jet procedures trainer” for those with ambitions of getting into the growing regional airline industry. This trainer consisted of a cockpit-shaped enclosure, several Windows XP PCs networked together which drove functioning cockpit screens, flight management computers, and an “out the window” view projected on the wall outside the enclosure. It all ran on a bunch of Project Magenta software running alongside Flight Simulator 2004, simulating a 737-800.
The reliability of this device was less than ideal. The instructor for it, a 737-rated pilot for Delta Air Lines, would mention certain things it was doing wrong. Luckily, I was well-equipped to help because I knew my way around computers, knew my way around Flight Simulator, had spent tons of time with the quite-realistic PMDG 737, and on top of that was an actual pilot. After all of my students were done every day I would often spend an hour or two with the machine, changing a setting or a config file and testing it out, updating the software it used and then sorting out the resulting issues, basically trying to make it perfect.
I never quite got it the way I wanted before I was hired by a regional airline back in my home town of Indianapolis, flying the Embraer 145 and later the Embraer 170. My wife and I left Florida to move back home and start our family. Once the kids arrived, my free time at home dropped to zero, taking my sim time with it. My interest in military flight sims is still there somewhere, but again the complexity is a barrier. My interest in civilian flight sims unfortunately waned the more it resembled work. That said, I did get a lot of good use out of 3rd-party addon aircraft to help me practice flying the various airliners I’ve flown in my career so far.
I have made some effort: I have a lot of free time in hotel rooms on my trips, it made sense to buy a laptop with enough power to run modern games. Unfortunately sims are still not very compatible with life on the road. I can fit a TrackIR and controller in my computer bag, but a HOTAS and pedals are out of the question. I tried to mod a gamepad with a throttle control once, but it didn’t really do the trick. I have a Steam Controller now and might be able to get something going with its excellent gyros and customization options, but overall after a long day of flying I’m just not up to the mental challenge of learning a complex sim and figuring out a novel way to control it. I’m sure with more effort I’ll figure something out someday.
As my kids get older and I manage to get more free time at home (where I do have a fairly nice, albeit under-utilized sim rig and have somehow managed several hours of IL-2 over the years) I’m hoping to finally get around to spending some time with the modern flight sims that have been patiently waiting for me in my library. In the meantime I actually get quite a lot of enjoyment winding down in the hotel with Euro Truck Simulator 2, or exploring the galaxy in Elite Dangerous. I think I was always more of a space sim guy at heart anyway.
But flight sims have been intertwined in my life from the beginning and most definitely got me to where I am today. The pilot I worked with on the flight school procedures trainer reached out to me a few years ago, and with some help from him I managed to get a job at Delta myself. I’m currently flying the McDonnell Douglas MD-88, with an entire stable of Boeing and Airbus airliners to fly once seniority allows it, and sims are in no small way responsible.
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