Monday, September 26, 2016

Well, That's Not Gone Well...

PC technical issues have knocked down blog writing and streaming for a few days. Hopefully will be back and fully restored by Thursday.

On the plus side, I'd rather spend the night re-installing two flavors of Windows than watch Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton debate.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Virtual Wings: Koensayr Manufacturing BTL-A4 Y-Wing PIREP

"You don't actually fight use this bird anymore, do you?" the tech grimaced at the incredulous tone in my voice.

"Look, we mainly use them for heritage flights, yes, but they're still a valuable part or our aggressor flights. A lot of pirates still use them, and they have similar flight characteristics to some of the common Uglies."

I'm pretty sure I still looked skeptical though, as I lowered myself into the cockpit and pulled my helmet on. The BTL-A4 Y-Wing had been the heavy attack workhorse of the Rebel Alliance. A single-seat successor to the two seat BTL-B and BTL-S fighters that had been introduced near the end of the Clone Wars, it retained the two-seat models primary weapon armament, but reduced the shields in favor of a higher top speed.

Higher being a relative term in this case. The corporation kept their two Y-Wings in fantastic repair, even maintaining one with the oft-removed cosmetic hull plating, but it was still the same craft that X-Wing pilots described as "Blind, wallowing pigs, and SLOW!"

Cockpit visibility felt like sitting in a box with small windows cut out. The canopy rails are massive, cutting off sight in all sorts of directions. With a gunner this wouldn't have been so bad, particularly on the -B models where the gunner had a trans-parasteel bubble they were sitting in, but it was a serious issue in the single seat spaceframe.

Top speed with shields and lasers in maintenance charge levels was 80 MGLT. Fully charging both shields and lasers gave me 39 MGLT, while pushing max power to the engines gave 121 MGLT, just enough to keep up with an A-Wing at normal cruising speed. Combat configured, with an increased charge for weapons, gave 70 MGLT. Roughly comparable to the TIE Bomber, but significantly slower than either the TIE Fighter or the Empire's primary hyperdrive capable strike craft, the Cygnus Xg-1 Star Wing.

Taking the fighter through the corporation's obstacle course revealed slow, but stable, rates of yaw, pitch, and roll. Useful traits for a bomber and attack craft, but problematic in a dogfight. Weapon positioning proved another strong point, however. the twin Taim & Bak IX4 laser cannons in the nose grouped tightly together, as did the ArMek SW-4 Ion cannons in the fixed dorsal mount. Useful traits for maximizing hits against slow moving targets, although against fighters it becomes something of an all or nothing proposition.

Engaging in a similar dogfight scenario as I'd done in the X-Wing, I was only able to get through a two-on-one engagement without being taken down. While shields and tight weapon groups provided initial success against a single TIE Fighter, I was simply too slow to engage multiple faster enemies alone. During the Galactic Civil War, successful Y-Wing pilots developed a weave technique that allowed them to cover each other and engage whichever enemy fighters were attacking their wingmen.


To see the Y-Wing in action, you can always check out some of my Star Wars: X-Wing playthrough missions.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Reno Air Races - Remembering the Nemesis

It's too quiet for her in the Udvar-Hazy center. She was always surrounded by giants, that's not new, but it's too quiet here on the floor, with just the murmur of voices and shuffle of feet. It's too cool as well.

I remember her when the sun beat down, when the heat of Nevada in September forced pilots to battle density altitude for every scrap of performance. I remember Nemesis as I saw her race, with Jon Sharp starting near the back of the pack in the Formula 1 racehorse start, then slowly reeling in the field until he'd finish half a lap ahead of the nearest competitor, and more than a lap behind the rest of the field.

Nemesis on display
Over a nine year span, Nemesis and her designer/pilot Jon Sharp won 45 of the 48 races they entered, including nine straight Formula 1 Gold titles at the Reno Air Races. I saw three of them at Reno over that time span.

This, however, came from a race in Jon Sharp's backyard,
Lancaster, CA.
Definitely one of my prize possessions.

After the 1999 season, Jon Sharp retired Nemesis to its much deserved place in a museum, first at the EAA headquarters, then at the Smithsonian. The follow-up to Nemesis, the NXT, is a Sport-Class racer with room for a passenger and a (small) overnight bag. And while Jon and the Nemesis NXT  have retired from air racing (but not from setting records), this year will mark the return to Reno of Relentless, another NXT racer that will hopefully give the Lancairs and Glasairs of the Sport Class Gold race a serious run for their money.

Relentless in 2007. I know I've posted this shot before, but I don't care because it's a gorgeous aircraft.

Do airplanes dream? When the lights go out, and the crowds go home, do the old air racers talk among themselves? Does Conquest I tell tales of the Unlimited circuit at Reno in the '70s, when mechanics (allegedly) picked sagebrush out of the airscoops of White Lightning? Does Sorceress tell about her career as the fastest biplane on the circuit, so fast that the rules had to be changed to ban her design all together? And does Miss Champion finally tire of the young pups talking about their exploits in the desert, and so silence them with a tale of winning the 1938 National Air Races in Cleveland?

Nemesis is where she belongs, nestled under the wing of the Boeing Dash-80 that broke open the jet age, and sitting with the other record breakers. But in my head, I'll always remember little white wings screaming around pylons at Reno, leaving everything else far behind to take another checkered flag.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Virtual Wings: Incom T-65B X-Wing PIREP

Note: I've realized that while I like doing history and pseudo-history blogs, I'm no David M. Vanderhoof. I really enjoy aviation and simulator games, and these mesh well with the games I cover on my Play Something Oldschool broadcasts, so I'm going to turn these into more of a PIREP (Pilot Report) kind of thing.

Stat screen captured from the Star Wars: X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter database.
Luke Skywalker, Wedge Antilles, Tycho Celchu, Poe Dameron. All the greats of the Rebel Alliance and the New Republic flew the Incom designed X-Wing starfighter. I'd been invited by a private security firm whose name I promised not to reveal to come and experience the full range of craft used on both sides during the Galactic Civil War. Never one to turn down an offer to fly something new, I accepted.

First up was the icon, the signature fighter of the Alliance and New Republic space forces, the T-65B X-Wing. While the upgraded T-85 and T-70 models have rendered it obsolete, the T-65B is the Death Star killer, and the craft I was going to be flying today.

The bird I got showed her years, however, the security firm kept her in excellent condition. While primarily used for training, a recent shape stenciled under the cockpit showed that the old fighter was still proving more than a match for many of the pirates of the Outer Rim.

Strapping in and starting up was conventional, and certainly familiar to anyone who spent part of their youth racing T-series Skyhoppers. Incom patterned the X-Wing's cockpit after their successful T-16 Skyhopper, which both simplified pilot training, and ensured good cockpit ergonomics. 

The canopy frame rails offered a bit less visibility than the Z-95 Headhunter's bubble, but the extra pair of sensors from the Astromech droid riding in the socket behind me mostly made up for that. The Novaldex 04-Z power generator spooled up with a quick whine, and the fighter lifted off its landing skids and exited the hanger on repulser power without a bobble.

I brought the shield and weapon capacitors up to maintenance levels and cruised out to the target practice area the company had set up. The X-Wing had earned its keep as a Space Superiority fighter, its four wingtip mounted laser cannons and two proton torpedo launchers providing more than enough to take on both other starfighters and capital ships with equal aplomb. This model sported a common modification to the warhead launchers, replacing the stock proton torpedo launchers with a general purpose warhead launcher capable of carrying and firing any of the common warhead types. Proton torpedoes remain the standard choice due to their mix of speed and damage.

With shields and weapons maintaining charge, I indicated 100 MGLT. Transferring all power to the engines revealed a maximum speed of 150 MGLT, while pushing max charge into both shields and engines gave a top speed of 50 MGLT. In typical combat configuration, with an increased charge going to the weapons, the X-Wing held at a solid 88 MGLT, a solid, if unspectacular number, that matched exactly the same as the TIE Fighter.

Running the X-Wing through a basic obstacle course revealed sharp, but well mannered handling. The X- is not a twitchy fighter, but responds well to pilot inputs while settling into new headings quickly, a must in a stable gun platform.

Target practice demonstrated both the strengths and flaws in the wing-tip mounted lasers. The wide spread ensured a high probability of getting hits, but a lack of any zero point for the weapons meant that at typical combat ranges several shots would go to waste. I've heard that at less than 100m, a TIE Fighter could be bracketed by all four lasers and not be hit by any of them, should the TIE pilot be fortunate enough to be at the precise center of the X-Wing's bolts.

The final exercise on the card was a simulated dogfight against up to four of the company's TIE Fighters, the T-65 X-Wing's primary foe. All of the company's TIE's have been retrofitted with shields, but for this exercise they would simulate the shieldless versions favored by the Imperials.

One-on-one proved almost laughable. The TIE grazed my shields with a pair of hits, but a pair of hits from my own cannons reduced him to (simulated) wreckage. Two, and then three fighter engagements proved similar. My shields took greater damage, but each time I was able to shrug off hits that the slightly more maneuverable Imperial fighters couldn't. It was only with the final four-on-one engagement that the company pilots were able to completely overwhelm my shields and take me out.

The cruise back to base gave me ample time to think about what I'd seen. To a large extent, the X-Wing had become the icon of the rebellion because it was the right fighter for the right job. Its hyperdrive had allowed the Rebels to strike anywhere, at any time, with tactical flexibility that the Imperials couldn't match. Every combat engagement saw the rebels significantly outnumbered, and required them to maintain a significantly favorable kill ratio just to keep their heads above water. Even then, the mortality rate among pilots was extremely high.

I came away from the flight impressed by the capabilities of the X-Wing. It had earned its workhorse reputation, and continued to produce in corners all around the galaxy.


Everyone with even a passing familiarity with Star Wars knows the X-Wing. It is one half of one of the most iconic starship pairs in all of science fiction. It appears in every good Star Wars movie, the best Expanded Universe novels, and nearly every video game starting with the early 80's Star Wars arcade title.

To see the X-Wing in action, check out a few of my previous mission playthroughs.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Motorcycle Adventures: Time for a New Harley?

It's been about three months now since I took delivery of my clattering, angry, sewing machine of doom. Thus far, the Sportster has proven to be an excellent all-around machine for me, with more than sufficient power for freeway blitzes and on-ramp dashes, sufficient storage in the saddlebags for small grocery runs, and sufficient comfort for a decent day's ride.

But, I was also fortunate to be invited to a reveal event at my local Harley dealership, where they showed off the new Harley Touring line for 2017 with the Milwaukee Eight engine.

I was impressed. Look, I'm not a motor-journalist, the Sportster is the first bike I've ever owned, and only the second I've ever ridden. I know I like it, but I don't know but that I may like something else as well. The people who ride a lot of bikes all seem to have a lot of good things to say about the new Touring lineup, I'll leave that to them.

One of the best features at the reveal party was a Ultra Limited Low on a dyno. Not a real test drive admittedly, but a good chance to work through the 6-speed transmission with the improved clutch, and wind the new Milwaukee Eight engine up towards the redline. Getting on, I knew imediately that a low bike will never be for me. At 6'1" it felt like my knees were past ninety degrees, and would be screaming at me over the course of a long ride. But the engine! The noise! The idle! The things that I love about my Sporty are all present here, only more! Gear changes were smooth but still distinct, and on the dyno, at least, the big bike passed the speedometer's 120mph top with plenty of revs to go.

I want a bike with this engine.
I'm a sucker for this Black Denim color
Maybe not a tourer, though, There's a lot of storage space there, which I like, and a whole lot of toys (stereo, cruise control, sat-nav, all you need is a sandwich maker) but I'm not quite there yet. But when that engine trickles down to the Dynas like the Softail Slim in a few years...

Or maybe I just need a Night Rod Special. The closest thing Harley's got to a sportbike, but with better looks than pretty much any recent crotch-rocket from Japan.

Looks fast while standing still.

I plan on being on my Sportster for a few more years at least. But when I'm ready to move up, or my daughter finally sells me on giving her my old ride, it's nice to know that the next step up is going to be just as fun.

Thanks to J&L Harley-Davidson for sponsoring the member's only H.O.G. chapter reveal. It was a fun event and a great way to meet the new 2017 lineup.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

AvGeek Gamer History: The Horten Ho-229

The Air and Space Smithsonian magazine recently published an article on one of my favorite lost World War II aircraft, the Horten Ho-229 flying wing. I was priveledged to see this aircraft in the preservation center last year, where the lone survivor looked like this.
Wings are on the right.
That still looks better than when I first learned about this aircraft, from a pixelated cockpit in a game called Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe.

Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe DOS Go229 - Flying through B17 formation
Screaming through a B-17 formation.
(screenshot courtesy of

If I were to point to a game that really fired my love of weird late WWII aircraft, it would have to be SWotL. The Ho-229 (GO-229 in-game), DO-335, He-162, and others all took flight on an old 386DX computer and fired my imagination.

Seeing a survivor of these types, even in a partially assembled condition, is a rush. Here's hoping that the NASM can get their bird into display condition at some point. I'd love to see it in the gallery with the DO-335 and ME-163.

A more modern, and difficult, take on the Ho-229 can be found in IL-2 Sturmovik: 1946.
Over the top in IL-2.

In both game versions, the Ho-229 is imagined as what an operational version would have been: a fast bomber interceptor armed with a pair of 30mm cannons, and underwing hardpoints for air-to-air rockets or bombs for ground attack.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Time Points - Life is a Series of Sprints

This upcoming Sunday, my youngest daughter, "The Queen" will turn three years old. It's the first time in my life as a parent where the child turning three doesn't have a younger sibling waiting behind him or her.

It's an odd feeling. One of those milestones that sneaks up on you, much like realizing that The Queen's oldest brother has started Sixth grade and will be wanting his Learner's Permit in about three years.

Big milestones are a typical time to reflect, and I think it's beneficial to do so. It's what drives us to make New Year's resolutions, start workout programs after a significant birthday, or make somewhat irrational purchasing decisions.

It's also one of the points of Agile methodology and the Sprint system. I've been working on this for the past month and a half, and am currently on Sprint #3, with each Sprint being a two-week increment. The idea was to focus on being better organized, and getting more things done by setting specific goals for each sprint period.

It's working. I'm slowly seeing long running projects start making progress, as I focus on knocking out one or two components of a major project each sprint period. Daily tasks are becoming easier too, as I start falling into more of a cadence.

Where will this go? Hopefully to a better, more productive me. I've always been good at grinding along, but as I've noted previously, I have a tough time closing out on personal initiatives. If I don't want to pass that particular issue on to my kids, I need to make progress on showing them better ways of managing time and resources.

My current desktop image and reminder.

This is my current desktop photo. Relentless. Why? Aside from the obvious (that the NXT is one of the best looking piston aircraft ever designed) it's because the name is a visual reminder for what my daily outlook needs to be. It's a good, visual reminder that you can accomplish a lot, provided you're willing to cut out superfluous things.