Have HOTAS Will Travel

or “Your Joystick…Never Leave Home Without It”

by Bill “BBall” Ball

Webster’s Dictionary describes the word “LAN” as follows:

“A network that allows the computers in a small area (such as an office) to share equipment (such as printers) and data — called also local area network.”

Noah Webster might have been a smart dude, but in my humble opinion, his definition is dead wrong. It’s not really his fault actually, for how could he know? It seems he took the big dirt nap way back in the year 1843, so I’m fairly sure that he never attended a flight sim LAN. But for those of us that have, there exists but one true definition of a LAN. Simply put, a LAN is “more fun with computers than anyone past puberty should ever have…period”.

With that said, my good friend Chad “Griff” Griffin decided to host a LAN featuring two of our favorite current flight simulations; the amazing twins from DCS… “A-10C Warthog” and “Blackshark 2”. The location would be his house in the scenic mountains of eastern California, and date was scheduled for early March. Griff is  gracious enough to attend our yearly LAN here in the Twin Cities, so it was only fitting that I pack up my trusty gaming lappy, the Warthog HOTAS, all my flight simming paraphernalia, and (to paraphrase Horace Greely) “go West young man.” Add to the equation that another long-time mate, James “Dusty” Rhodes would be in attendance, PLUS mix in the fact that I would finally get a chance to meet in person the witty (and always fit to fly) Ryan “Kozmo” Cowley, and well, a guy just can’t pass up the chance to have that much fun.

Logistics Can Be An Issue

Unless your buddies live in the same general locale as yourself, getting all your gear to the LAN venue can be a royal pain in the arse. Just ask Griff and our Twin Cities LAN group ex-patriot “Doc” (he abandoned us for the warmer climes of Texas a few years ago), for they have both done exactly as I was preparing to do…move my gaming stuff hundreds of miles away. They’ve shipped it, checked it as baggage, and even done the “carry on” dance with the airlines, all with various levels of success. They have their stories of the folks from our infamous TSA rifling through their bags interrogating them about those funny heavy metal things (with triggers) that seem to be deftly wrapped for travel. Unbeknownst to me, I was to suffer that same fate returning home.

So with the decision made to attend Griff’s “LAN-a-paloosa”, I decided to insure I had an airliner seat by invoking one of the biggest advantages of being a pilot for a major air carrier. This perk allows me to ride on the cockpit jumpseat, and even to “book” it up to 24 hours in advance. This turned out to be a smart decision on my part, for both flights (going and coming home) turned out to be packed to the gunnels. Had I attempted to travel using my employee pass benefits as a “space available” passenger in a cabin seat, I would have been forced to either purchase a ticket, wait for another flight hoping a seat opened up, or miss the festivities altogether. None of these options would have left me in my happy place.

The next issue was how was I going to get all of my flight sim gear from the woods of Wisconsin to mountains of California? The good news is that my work suitcase is what we call a “12 day Narita bag”. This simply means it’s large enough to hold enough clothes, shoes etc. for our 12 day Asia trips. When packed this monster is almost heavy enough to require some nose up trim on the big Boeing during take-off. It at least elicits more than a few grunts and groans from the hotel van drivers.

But was it going to be big enough for my:

  • Warthog joystick
  • Warthog throttle quadrant
  • Saitek pedals
  • mouse, Track IR, cables, connections, manuals, etc.

And finally…

  • stuff that’s totally unimportant for a LAN…you know, stuff like clean underwear, clothes, shoe, socks, shaving kits, etc.

Stuff before packing

Stuff before packing.

Stuff after packing. Lo and behold, it all fit! I guess living my life on the road for the last 33 years has taught me a thing or two about packing a suitcase.

Stuff after packing. Lo and behold, it all fit! I guess living my life on the road for the last 33 years has taught me a thing or two about packing a suitcase.

Outbound

The travel day rolled around and it almost didn’t happen. In the upper mid-west of the United States in that year, we enjoyed a rather strange winter. In a nutshell, we didn’t really have one. But (of course) the day before my scheduled launch, we received almost 10 inches of that evil white stuff that falls out of the clouds. It started as rain, turned to ice, and ended with a blanket of thick snow. But the flight sim Gods were firmly in my corner, for by the next morning, the roads were (mostly) clear, and my flight left Minneapolis/St. Paul on schedule bound for Reno, Nevada and “LAN-a-paloosa”.

On the Airbus 320 jumpseat in line for launch from KMSP. “Could you guys please hurry up? I have a LAN to attend!”

On the Airbus 320 jumpseat in line for launch from KMSP. “Could you guys please hurry up? I have a LAN to attend!”

Almost three hours later descending into Reno.

Almost three hours later descending into Reno. This was one of those EXTREMELY turbulent days in the mountains. Gusty crosswinds (right at the max for the -320), supremely ugly ride (notice coffee cup WITH associated top cover), and for a few minutes there was talk of us diverting to Salt Lake City. “NO!”  We made it in, and all was well in my world (but judging by the number of full “sick sacks” handed to the Lead Flight Attendant upon deplaning…maybe not so well in the stomachs of your average passenger).

Griff, Dusty and Kozmo were there to meet me at the jetport, but I declined their offer of a drink in the airport bar. I’ve found that for the last several years, navigating around major airports is far easier when I’m in my uniform. For this reason, I opted NOT to share a cold beer, parked on a barstool, all while wearing my “Captains hat, and funny sport coat with four gold stripes”. The airline brass would NOT be amused.

After a great lunch in Reno spent catching up with my homies, we arrived at “Schloss Griffin” to be greeted by Griff’s beautiful wife and two amazing kids. For you single folks out there, one word of free advice. Find a mate that’s O.K. with your flight sim hobby (like mine, Griff and Dusty’s amazing brides), and you will live a long, happy life. We are married to three of the most understanding (read tolerant) ladies on the planet. Kozmo’s new significant other? More on that in a bit… (not to worry, it’s all good).

And so the time-honored ritual of the “setup” began.

Yours truly looking at my HOTAS throttle like it’s the first time I’ve ever seen it. “Hmmm…wonder what this does?”

Yours truly looking at my HOTAS throttle like it’s the first time I’ve ever seen it. “Hmmm…wonder what this does?”

“Dusty” looking at me wondering how the hell they ever licensed me to fly 200,000 lb. airliners…lol. Kozmo is intensely looking at something…Facebook entries from his new G/F I would guess.

“Dusty” looking at me wondering how the hell they ever licensed me to fly 200,000 lb. airliners. Kozmo is intensely looking at something…Facebook entries from his new G/F I would guess.

For quite some time, I was convinced I was getting continual aural indications of something amiss in the A-10C cockpit…they seemed to come every few minutes, and they were INCESSENT. Turns out those little chimes were Koz’s new G/F (we nicknamed her “Pookie Bear”) sending him “I miss you” text messages. Ahhhh…young love. Yep…Koz received a fair amount of “chin music” over that.

Dusty’s slick new MFD thingies. Way cool indeed…may have to put them on the “must have” list.

Dusty’s slick new MFD thingies. Way cool indeed…may have to put them on the “must have” list.

Our host Griff in his pit. Love the pig and birds on the monitor. Dusty was nice enough to bring his COMMS headsets, and it added a cool immersion factor.

Our host Griff in his pit. Love the pig and birds on the monitor. Dusty was nice enough to bring his COMMS headsets, and it added a cool immersion factor.

After a short setup time, we “let the beatings begin!”

A side note. My first LAN was way back in 1997 and was held at my house in Minneapolis / St. Paul. My new bride of just a few years, was amazed at all the large CRT monitors, big computer cases, joysticks and rudder pedals (no real HOTAS’s or present day “essentials” like TrackIR, Ventrilo, etc. back in those days), and cables running room to room. We had two guys at the kitchen table, and two in my office. Our calls of “Fox 3” and yells of “break left / right” within the world of “Hornet Korea” were foreign to a sane person like her, but she ignored all that and kept us supplied with food and beer. In the end, she seemed to truly enjoy the fact that we were having so much fun. Again, I stress having a mate that knows you’re crazy about flight sims and is on board with the fact. As it turned out, Kozmo let it slip that he has yet to indoctrinate his new G/F into his world of being an avid flight simmer. Lol… rest assured, more chin music over that fact.

The Hardware Curse

The one thing that’s never fun at a LAN is the “hardware curse”. It seems that at every LAN I’ve attended, some poor soul gets it, and I always do my LAN setup praying I’m not that poor slob. I’ve seen everything from the dreaded “BSOD” requiring a format (and reinstall of everything!), to gremlins in a mouse/keyboard, peripheral, etc., to everything in between. One dude showed up years ago, unpacked his brand spanking new computer ready to clear the skies of DPRK jets in the newly released “Falcon 4.0” only to hit the “ON” button and watch (and smell) his new rig fry itself into oblivion (bad chip install IIRC). I remember Frugal flying in from “ol’ Blighty” for a LAN, and spending nearly the entire time working out “the curse” on someone’s machine. I’m sad to say that the curse would rear its ugly head at this LAN also (but with much better results than usual).

Mission 1. Early morning launch to fly a “routine” refueling sortie.

Mission 1. Early morning launch to fly a “routine” refueling sortie.

Since I knew that this LAN would specifically feature just the two flight sims, I spent dozens of man hours in the last several weeks hammering together a mission set for us to fly. I made sure that (with the exception of one mission) all missions would offer either the A-10C or the Ka-50 for your aviating enjoyment. In other words, you’d get to pick your own poison.

We entered the AR Track and found we had to wait our turn. Damned “Buff” beat us to the boom.

We entered the AR Track and found we had to wait our turn. Damned “Buff” beat us to the boom.

TBob will swear that every mission I make for our local LAN group has us peering into the sun. It’s not true…well, maybe it’s “schoshi” true.

Kozmo on the boom.

Kozmo on the boom.

Many of my missions require a trip to the tanker; ALL of my missions have a tanker available. As I write this, I’m winding down a 13 day airline trip in Asia, and my F/O for this adventure is an ex-Air National Guard F-16 driver. At dinner last night he was relaying stories of dropping LGBs in Iraq, and every other sentence was, “…and then we hit the tanker… then were tasked with XYZ, and then we hit the tanker again…”. I know it may be boring to some, but getting JP4 inflight is just a fact of life for your average fighter/bomber pilot, and I feel that “realistic” missions in this flight sim should reflect that fact. It’s almost like breathing to these guys, and I’m a strong proponent of having certain “skills” around the tanker. Just my .02…

Griff decided to land regardless and did a masterful job of NOT running into me.

In the middle of the tanking, we were told to RTB and begin working with a JTAC to locate and prosecute enemy arty that was shelling our departure airbase. We landed, armed up (we had no ordnance for our “routine” tanker mission), and started killing bad guys. I took some damage (had only one main landing gear that would extend), and decided to put her down “gear up” on the grass adjacent to the duty runway. Upon skidding to a stop you can see where I ended up. Yep! Right on the centerline of the pavement…lol! Griff decided to land regardless and did a masterful job of NOT running into me.

Darn…these guys are good! They only need ½ a runway (and not the length…the width)!

Later after re-arming, Dusty decided to ignore me and launch for more combat. Darn…these guys are good! They only need ½ a runway (and not the length…the width)!

THUMP!

This is about the part in the movie where the “hardware curse” showed its ugly face. In the midst of all the yanking and banking, we heard a huge “THUMP”! over in the vicinity of Kozmo’s rig. We mentioned it and went back to flying. Within a few minutes, Koz noticed his joystick was not working. Oh oh…”hello Mr. Curse, how are you today?”

Birthday Boy.

Even though it was his birthday (and Griffs a day later), this did not exempt Koz from the curse. As you can see, he opts to sit on the baseplate of his joystick, thus having the stick between his legs (*snicker*), and …you guessed it…it accidentally fell. Thus the loud “thump”. If you own a Warthog HOTAS you know this monster is pretty heavy. Apparently when the baseplate fell, it nearly severed the wiring that extends to the USB plug! We pondered the dead joystick for a few minutes until Koz looked down and noticed that he had effectively amputated his stick from the rest of his rig. An impromptu fix was begun.

Viola! Some stripping, some re-attaching, some tape and the prognosis from “Dr. Kozmo” is a full recovery.

Viola! Some stripping, some re-attaching, some tape and the prognosis from “Dr. Kozmo” is a full recovery. As it turned out, this would be our only brush with the curse, and that’s a good thing. “LAN-a-paloosa” would continue…

In Part 2 of “Have HOTAS Will Travel” Bill shows what happens in the various missions, and the unusual occurrence in the ride back home.

Discuss this article….

, , , , , , , ,

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes