Two weeks ago I didn't have the faintest idea where Great Inagua was. Now, thanks to Air Hauler, a rather splendid Flight Simulator add-on that transforms FSX into a globe-spanning courier sim, I know every crinkly mile of its dragon's head-shaped coastline.
The first fortnight in the life of Horsa Air Solutions began with nest building. AH lets you pick any of FSX's thousands of airports as a home-base, and my roving sun-hungry cursor eventually settled on a little island a stone's throw from Haiti, Cuba, and Jamaica. Was salt-stained, flamingo-sentinelled Inagua the perfect hub for a DHL-rivalling air freight business? Probably not, but it was cheap, ringed with unspoilt beaches, and a good excuse to break out the Captain Morgan between flights.
Because I'd plumped for medium difficulty and shortish job distances in the start-up options, Horsa's first aircraft was a complimentary Cessna Caravan and its first slew of randomly-generated job offers all within a 350 mile radius. Within seconds of those offers appearing, I'd accepted one and was on my way to Santiago de Cuba to pick up 895kg of herbal remedies. Mild disappointment #1: 'herbal remedies' wasn't a euphemism. AH doesn't let you fly contraband cargoes.
Tools to Cap Haitien, household supplies to Barahona, seafood to Port-Au-Prince... over the following days my trusty Caravan of Love worked like a Trojan, and my starting bank balance swelled satisfyingly. Quickly I began to appreciate the importance of combining jobs... If I fly up to Crooked Island with those microwave ovens, I can then pick up that load of flowers and fly straight on to Long Island before returning to Inagua with a plane-ful of live poultry. Long positioning flights - trips where you are running empty - are the ruin of the start-up sky freight company.
I also learnt the importance of careful fuel planning, constant concentration, and plane insurance. All my landings had been 'greasers' - silky smooth and painless - until job nine, where a heavy-handed dusk touch-down at Cabo Rojo (never attempt to land while peeling a banana) cost me a packet in repair bills and damaged cargo penalties. Worse almost occurred on a run up to Marsh Harbour when I somehow managed to overfly the destination without noticing it. By the time I eventually realised, turned round, and landed, the fuel gauge needles were almost horizontal and three scary warning lights were glaring at me from the dash.
I think it was round-about job fourteen that, dissatisfied with the barren strip at my home base, I decided to get busy with Whisplacer, a freeware scenery editor. After half-an-hour's labour, Cara the Caravan had a place to shelter during storms, I had an office in which to lounge, and MYIG had the kind of incidental details that all tin-pot Caribbean airfields should possess. Derelict DC3? Check. Beached dive boat? Check. Generous sprinkling of oil drums and crates? Check.
So what does the future hold for Horsa Air Solutions? Well, if I'm serious about building an empire to rival the likes of DHL, I think I'm going to have to start employing staff pretty soon and looking to lease more aircraft. In AH, AI crew in your employ will fly jobs while you're tucked-up in bed or busy doing other things outside the sim. Having Cara sit idle for most of the day makes no economic sense. I may also try to drum-up some extra funds by having a flutter on the sim's reality-linked stock market. Oh yes, I also plan to spend some time in Inkscape improving my work-in-progress custom livery. Though AH will utilise all installed aircrafts, it sadly doesn't feature its own paintshop.
Whatever happens, I can't see myself moving away from Inagua any time soon. Though it's only been two weeks, I already feel a real affection for the place. Taxiing up to my little hut, and shutting the engine down, I feel like I'm home. Strange, how quickly these bonds can form.