The First Night
I had the good fortune to check in right at about the time several exhibitors were getting their booths arranged. Without the throngs of convention-goers, the exhibitors actually had some time to spare for interviews. I really wasn’t sure what to expect. One of the first people I ran into was the director of IFC Global, Mark Silcock.
Mark is a tall, genial fellow with a build like a professional football lineman. His previous career had been as a radio and television presenter and both his voice and his demeanor reflect this. After talking with him for five minutes, your first impression is that he’s an evangelist of sorts for the world of flight simulation, and it’s a role that he’s not just comfortable with, it’s one he relishes.
Irritated with what he considered as unfair treatment, it was his goal to provide a venue for flight simulation that allowed the community to demonstrate its professionalism and pride. From software developers to cockpit builders and enthusiasts of every stripe in between, all were welcome under his broad scope.
Four years ago, IFC had its first convention in the coastal resort of Blackpool and the difference from then to now is striking in terms of growth, and it’s something Silcock takes a certain amount of justifiable pride in. Their first convention started with a modest 40 booths and an attendance of around 1,200. This December 2nd and 3rd, IFC Europe will be located in Birmingham at the National Exhibition Center, boasting floor space of 50,000 square feet and 140 booths, the great majority of which are already booked.
His goal wasn’t just to be the biggest and the best. It was also to give the flight simulation community at large — whether as a hobby or a commercial pursuit — the dignity and respect it deserves. One would argue that he’s accomplished this. Silcock has no plans to rest on his laurels at all and as far as he’s concerned, he’s just begun.
Captain Mike Ray
The next interview…well, conversation…wait while I consult my notes. They’re a mess. Let me begin by letting you know who Captain Mike Ray is and what he’s doing for the flight simulation community.
Captain Ray has more than two decades of service as a United Airlines pilot and prior flight experience as a naval aviator flying ASW aircraft. He is a walking, talking encyclopedia of flight knowledge. Witty doesn’t begin to describe him, and we would become running buddies for the next day and a half. Wherever Captain Ray goes, animated discussions about flying seem to follow him. Actually, they have trouble keeping up with him, as the man never seems to be able to sit still.
He’s the author of several excellent manuals that cover the operating procedures of Boeing and Airbus airliners in the Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004 environment, the contents of which border on hilarity on occasion, but after reading through one of them, it is the closest you can come to an actual Dash One manual for the real thing. Complete with graphics and illustrations, these manuals are the culmination of his entire career as an airliner pilot, gleaned from years of taking notes on various aircraft and their unique characteristics.
He’d had an epiphany the first time he saw a moving map display in an airliner. “It was as if,” he laughs, “my God, we can do anything.”After having learned the ins and outs of the FD-109 Flight Director, he remembered when he’d converted to the CRT screens. “Several guys,” he recalls, “just couldn’t make the jump. The same thing happened with going from steam gauges to tape instruments.”
Captain Ray is the kind of guy you could talk to for hours, but I had one more interview to try to squeeze in before Microsoft bought everyone beer at a cocktail party later in the evening.