Avsim Interview:
767 Pilot In Command

By Pardave Lehry

With the recent release of 767 Pilot In Command, and subsequent Avsim Online Award of Excellent in Flight Sim Design, we thought it would be a good idea to introduce the developers of this fabulous product. All of you may be familiar with Eric Ernst. However, did you know there were three other people involved with the product? Chances are you have been using their work for quite some time, but didn't know who they were or what they did. And with the recent thread in the MSFS Forum right here on Avsim Online, where Captain Slarty posted a message asking what visitors to the forum did in the real world, it fits in quite nicely. If you didn't get the chance to read the review, you can do so by clicking here.

Avsim: For those of our readers who have no idea who you are, please introduce yourself, and tell us a little bit about yourself, where you reside, and what you do for a living.

Eric: I will start by telling you that I am part of the panel design team that created the 767 PIC panel. That team consists of Laurent Crenier, Wade Chafe, Pedro Sousa, and myself. Without the work of the team, and especially these individuals, this interview with me would be meaningless. So I hope that your readers will keep these gentlemen in mind when they are reading about me and my contributions to the sim world. They would not be possible without the team effort and support of these fantastic friends and programmers.

I have been an active flight simmer for over 20 years now. I started flying sim games from the time I got my first computer. I think I was 14 or so. Presently, at 34 years of age I am both a flight simmer and a licensed Airline Transport Pilot. I started simming some 7 years before I ever piloted my own real airplane.

I currently live in the US with my wife Arlene and two daughters Amanda (4) and Cassandra (10 months). When they are not scolding me about spending so much time on the computer, I am on the road for my day job. I currently fly for American Airlines as a Boeing 757/767 First Officer based in LGA. That means that I fly from all three major NY airports (KEWR, KLGA, and KJFK). Although a clear majority of my flight begin from KJFK since that is where most of our 767 flying originates.

Wade: I am 44 years old. I live in St. Phillip's, NF, Canada which is near the most easterly point in North America. I am a computer professional involved in IT security.

Pedros: Concerning myself. I'm 21 years old and live in Portugal (where I was born) with my parents Luís and Leonilde and my sister Ana. Currently, I'm a student of Aerospace Engineering having only 1 year left to finish the degree. Therefore, you can safely say that my parents are my way of living :). I also have a girlfriend, Marta, who is my main interest in life. Besides aviation I'm also interested in computers (obviously).

Laurent: I'm 33 year old, French-speaking (I mention that to apologize for my bad English) and I'm married with a very understanding wife, as I guess a lot of us involved in this hobby. In the "real life", I'm a physician with a specialization in adult endocrinology and I work in a big academic general hospital in Brussels (Belgium). My main concerns are thus my patients suffering from diabetes and other glandular problems. I'm thus far away aviation and flightsim during the day ! But to manage two very different activities in my life is very enriching for me. This is also a good way to make some good friends all around the world!

Avsim: Eric, this question is more tailored towards you. How did you start your flying career?

Eric: I have always had a fascination with flying. My father retired as a pilot for AA back in 1993. So I grew up in an aviation oriented family. Even though I was surrounded by aviation growing up, I did not get interested in flying as a career until my senior year in college. That was probably a good thing since the "flying bug" can bite very hard, to the point of distraction. Therefore, I could concentrate on getting a quality education before devoting all my energy to flying. Once I had my mind on it, I concentrated full time on making aviation my career.

Avsim: And how long did it take to get to where you are today?

Eric: After high school and 4 years of college, I would say that I invested 10 years of time prior to reaching my goal of flying for a major airline. That involved lots of money paying for flight training. Lots of time building up the required hours. Lots of nights away from home. And lots of years living at relatively low income levels while building up the hours and experience required by the major airlines.

Avsim: Many people dream of becoming pilots, but most are held back because of the high cost of training, and the subsequent uncertainty of landing a job. What words of inspiration do you have for them?

Eric: The pursuit of a flying job is basically a pursuit for happiness. Those seeking to fly for a living are those that seek to do a job that they thoroughly enjoy doing! I am not sure that I could inspire somebody to take on the task of becoming a pilot as a career by spelling out the down sides to the process. I will say that if an individual wants to be successful in reaching the goal of flying for a living, they must devote 100% of their time and energy to making that happen. A half-full approach will not result in success for most people. To be successful, I believe you must have the passion for the work and the discipline to do whatever it takes to achieve the goal. The bottom line is that one needs to set a goal and then live their life in pursuit of said goal.

Avsim: You are the most well-known panel author in the flight simulation community. But obviously you must have some help. Please tell us a bit about the "design team" who worked on 767 Pilot in Command.

Eric: Having help is a severe understatement and an unfortunately popular mischaracterization of our current work. The 767 PIC panel was (and still is) a team effort. That team includes Laurent Crenier, Wade Chafe, Pedro Sousa and myself. This panel would not have come about without the 110% efforts of all involved. Unfortunately, as a result of the panel being created from my original freeware work, people place an undeserved amount of credit on my efforts without acknowledging the hard work of our team. I have done everything in my power to ensure that simmers know exactly who is responsible for bringing this amazing panel to life. I hope that in the future people will refer to our work as a team effort.

The 767 project started way back in 1997 with my first version of the panel. Over the years, I continued to add functionality to the panel by updating the graphics and hacking gauges together from existing gauges. But I quickly reached the limits of sim design and clearly needed custom programming to build the type of panel I had in my mind. I wanted to take the 757/767 to a higher level of realism. I needed the help of a programmer. In late 1998 we released version 6.4 of the panel with the help of programmer Christian Koegler and others.

Version 6.4 was extremely fun to create because we really pushed the limits of simulator technology at the time. But I wanted to go further with my radical idea (at the time) of an overhead panel and systems integration for FS98. To achieve this, I called on the help of three more outstanding programmers (and friends) Laurent, Wade, and Pedro.

I electronically met Laurent via email after creating my very first panels. Laurent was already famous for his AUTOBRAKE gauge (if I remember correctly ;-)). I remember very well adding that gauge to my panels and thinking about the possibilities for the future of the 757/767 panel (the eventual creation of our freeware version 7.0). Laurent and I collaborated initially to create the best AFDS system ever seen. To say that Laurent's AFDS is second to none would not be a stretch. At about this same time, I was shopping around my idea for an overhead panel and systems. Everybody thought I was nuts....Laurent included! I had even created the graphics and outlined the concepts in my proposal before having commitments from anybody to help me. Well I guess Laurent is as crazy as I am since he took on the task with amazing tenacity and we have never looked back since.

Our systems integration could not have progressed without the help of Wade and his amazing programming talents. I started collaborating with Wade to create better basic flight instruments. Our first effort was a real RMI gauge that had selectable needles. Since then, Wade has created some of the best vector programmed gauges around. He completed the basic flight instruments and all of the EICAS components with amazing levels of detail. Bringing Wade together with Laurent was a natural progression to achieve our panel design goals. And the three of us worked together with amazing proficiency. However, there was still one piece of the programming puzzle needed to create our current PIC panel.

Those vector gauges Wade created would not have been possible without the help of our most recent addition to the team....Pedro Sousa. Pedro had always been a big supporter of our work. And with his offer to help create vector programmed gauges, he eventually became a regular member of the design team. His collaboration with Wade in creating the FMC in our current panel is nothing short of remarkable. Pedro is one of the most talented designers I have ever had the privilege to work with. The whole team is a pleasure to work with!!

So here is another bottom line. The success of this panel is the result of a team effort and is not remotely the result of my contributions alone. The team really deserves all the credit here.

Avsim: I remember following you on the Internet back when you were a pilot at American Eagle. You produced some fabulous aircraft and panels, including your now famous B767 panel for FS98. What prompted you to switch from freeware to commercial?

Eric: I enjoyed very much my work in the freeware arena. I spent almost 3 years working for nothing else except the gratification involved in creating aircraft panels. I have made a lot of friends in that time. Those friendships are more important than the hobby itself in my opinion. However, the stark reality of life is that our team could not have produced a panel with the level of detail, complexity, and accuracy we have without some level of compensation. This is mainly a "justification" of the time spent away from our families than anything else. Our current effort was more than 18 months in the making. That does not include our freeware work on version 7.0 of the panel on which our current panel is based. The freeware panel had almost 2.5 years of work invested in it (in total).

I have seen some uneducated speculation about our switch to payware being a result of past piracy problems. Those unfortunate black marks on the hobby had nothing to do with our decision to market the panel as a commercial product. In fact, we released version 7.0 of the 757/767 panel as freeware AFTER the piracy problems occurred. And there are a few piracy instances that the community is not aware of that we let slide. Going commercial does not solve the piracy problem. That would not be a legitimate justification since commercial products as a whole are probably pirated more than freeware products.

The bottom line is that our decision had more to do with justification to our families for the enormous time investment needed to create our product. Also, we wanted our product to be available to all sim pilots and not just those with Internet access only. The only way to do that is via a commercial distributor.

Avsim: Laurent, Wade, and Pedro, please tell us a bit about how you got involved with flight simulation. In other words, when did you start, and on what simulation/computer setup did you have?

Laurent: I've been an aviation & computer fanatic since I was 13. My first flightsim experience was through an adapted version of the Flight Simulator for the ZX-Spectrum computer, in the eighties ... do you know this one ??? I learned programming on these little "ZX" computers and on the "TRS-80" from Radio-Shack. I was too young for the Apple-II ... and when I became enough rich to buy a computer, the PC era had already started :-) Nevertheless, I've been involved seriously in flighsim for only 3 or 4 years or so. I knew well the MS FS 5.1 but I did not play so much with it, mainly because I'm above all fascinated by big jets and by the avionic background developed for these airplanes. But the MS Flight Simulator was not intended for big jets. Even if the sim itself was really amazing, to fly a 747 ... or a 767 with a Cessna-type autopilot was not very funny for me.

Wade: I have been involved in flight simulation since the Commodore 64 days and have had every version since.

Pedro: I became interested in flight simulation about 8 years ago when I was living in Macau, near Hong-Kong. I had the dream of being an airline transport pilot from a very young age. Unfortunately, my eyesight was not very helpful in allowing me to pursue that dream. So I started to get interested in flight simulation with Microsoft Flight Simulator v4. At that time I was using an IBM 486 DX computer with 8mb of ram and 250mb of hard disk. It was a great machine for the time and it still works.

Avsim: How did the fascination for flight simulation begin?

Laurent: I became really fascinated after the release of the "747 Precision Simulator" from Aerowinx. During more than 1 year, I gave up flying with Microsoft because I was very delighted with the Hardy's work. Since then, I know that to simulate the complex systems of the big jets is possible ... on a home computer. In the same time, I started an aviation private licence course here in Belgium, but my family was not very happy with that. When the FS98 Panel SDK came on the scene, I decided to stop with real aviation and try instead to improve what I had on my computer. Well, I learned at least in that flight school some basic things very helpful to translate the Eric's gibberish :-)

Wade: I have always been interested in flight in general so when computer flight simulations came along this I was thrilled to be able to experience something of what it must be like to fly.

Pedro: Well, as I said I had a dream of being an airline transport pilot so I wanted to try it on my computer. But what really motivated me to start simming was the challenge of trying to replicate the famous VHHH Kai-Tak approach. I did that one so many times when I lived in Macau (before the local airport was open). As most of you know, after you start using MSFS, coupled with already having a real interest in commercial aviation, makes it really difficult to get away from it.

Avsim: Please tell us about a bit about your portfolio of creations for the flight simulation community. Which product are each of you famous for?

Laurent: When I came in gauge programming in the FS98 era, a lot of people thought that the panel SDK did not allow a lot of freedom in designing. Numerous panels were advertized as "the most realistic possible within the limits of FS98". I felt such a statement as a way to rest on one's laurels :-) So, I thought it should be funny to create from scratch new aircraft systems to show that a lot of things still could be done with the SDK and thus that the "FS98 limits" were not reached yet ! So I did my first freeware gauge, an autobrake which had been curiously not designed yet for FS98 at this time. After that I did some gauges for the great Eric's MD-83 project. But the very unrealistic autopilots we had still itched me. After the MD-83, I started to work for myself on a new autopilot for the 767. I think Eric was not interested by designing again a 767 at this time ... He had already released 6 versions of this panel and he wanted to move on ! So, I understood that the only way to change his mind was to give him the best autopilot he had seen :-) Because of that motivation, I think I'm one of the first designers who have been working for several years now on big jets autopilots including "real" features as bank angle selection, multiple channel operations, "pitch for speed" modes (FLCH), autoland and flight directors, for instance.

Wade: My first project was a Fokker F27 that I did with Brian Magby. It was a great learning experience and Brian and I had a lot of fun with it. I then went on to join Eric and Laurent on V7 of the 767 panel. As well I have contributed various gauges to panels by members of the FPDA and others.

Pedro: Actually, PIC is really my first contribution to the flight simulation community. I was never an artist so my only contribution would have to come from gauge programming. I started by finding out how to do the vector type gauges because that was really the only way I could draw something decent since all of it is done with code. That means you don't need an artist hand. After I found out how to do it, I sent the code to Eric and the team since I was a long time admirer of their work. Meanwhile, Wade got the code, improved it, and started converting the 767 CRT's to vector type gauges. At the same time I started to communicate with him using ICQ and email. We started discussing the idea of an FMC for a later project. That FMC is the one you can currently use in 767 PIC. We worked hard and fast on this FMC since it was not added until late in the panel project.

Avsim: How did you meet up with Eric?

Pedro: My real first email exchange with Eric was about the vector gauges (like I said before). After that, there was a period of time when Eric started training for American Airlines where we really didn't communicate. I started talking to him again when his daughter Cassandra was born and after that we never stopped talking again. I think I can safely say now I'm a good friend of Eric. Like I'm a good friend of Wade and Laurent.

Wade: I first met Eric when I saw his original Saab340 panel and emailed him to tell him how much I liked his panel. His artistic skills were quite obvious and it was graphically far beyond anything else available at the time. I can also take some credit for introducing his panels to the world because I wrote Tom Allensworth at the time and told him about this guy and the fantastic work he was producing ;-). It was a year later before we started working together. I had made a dual needle RMI for the F27. I offered to adapt the gauge to the 767 panel and that was the beginning of or working together.

Laurent: I was an anonymous fan of the Eric's panels for a long time ;-) They were really my preferred ones ! Eric has unique skills to play with bitmaps and create from scratch panels with a deep immersion feeling. It is thus without any hesitations that I sent him my first gauges. I can say that I never stopped to work with him since my first autobrake gauge. Just after the release of our freeware 757/67 panel V.7 for FS98, I had the opportunity to spend a few days in New-York after a medical meeting in San Diego. I met Eric there and we did a nice tour of Manhattan "by air" in a Piper Arrow ( if I remember well ). I must say Eric landed at the Teterboro airport as a chief :-)

Avsim: Please give us a "behind the scenes" look into the making of 767 Pilot In Command. What was each one of you responsible for in the final product?

Wade: I was responsible for the various steam gauges, lighting, EADI, EHSI, EICAS, engines simulation, TRP, radios, some of the FMC programming including VNAV logic and waypoint predictions logic, and the flight model.

Laurent: After the release of the 757/67 freeware panel, Wade & I continued to improve the panel. Eric took a long break ... and he came back with the cap of a real B767 pilot ! This has been our main motivation to redesign again this panel to a new level of realism. Eric brought new incredible photorealistic panel bitmaps (I still don't understand how he made these ones !) and he was responsible for the final realism of the panel and the pilot's manuals. He did also a great job with Wade on the flight dynamics. Wade & Pedro (who joined us more recently) are the devils behind the vector programming (for the CRT style gauges) and the incredible FMC. Wade made also the autothrottle, the engine start-up sequence ( I tried to play with his code but I created a bug ... sorry for that) and all the "analogic" gauges. He is also our wise man :-) I was responsible for the autopilots, the aircraft systems (on the overhead), the panel menu and the failure simulation. I did also the levers gauges on the pedestal. Finally, Wilco brought the aircraft and designed all these beautiful liveries. They also created the "training" concept and asked to Olivier Dubois, a former B737 copilot (now on Airbus) to write the "failure scripts" that Serge Baye translated in adventures. Olivier made also the normal & abnormal procedures manuals, and Serge recorded the cockpit voices.

Pedro: I was responsible, together with Wade, for the Flight Management Computer, LNAV and VNAV. Although we started work on the FMC about 1 and 1/2 years before release, it was a really slow start. The FMC really came to life about 6-8 months before release and was integrated with the AFDS about 2-3 months later. Thanks to the help of Laurent and his beautiful AFDS, our FMC can seem to work seamlessly with the panel. Behind the scenes we are just 4 friends trying to make a 767 panel "as real as it gets."

Avsim: 767 Pilot in Command has been awarded the Avsim Award of Excellent. How do that feel?

Wade: My satisfaction comes from the comments of users, especially all the great comments we've been getting from real heavy iron pilots.

Laurent: I just told my wife of this great news. She answered that I should better to repaint our house front door instead of be stuck to the computer. Life is hard, but it's life :-)

Pedro: Since this is my first FS creation I'm really excited by this award. I visit Avsim Online several times a day and I know about the premium quality of both the site and the team behind it. So I'm really honored by this award and would like to thank the Avsim staff for all of the support you give to our products and the entire Flight Simulation community.

Eric: The PIC Team thanks Avsim for its support over the years and continued acknowledgment of our hard work. Having previously been awarded this honor for our work on Version 7.0 of the panel, it is especially exciting to see our expansion of that concept being recognized for it's further contribution to the sim community.

Avsim: Any final words or comments for our readers?

Eric: The PIC Team would like to thank our friends for their support over the years. That means a great deal to us. And frankly, support in the community is what drives us to continue pursuing our goal of creating the most realistic and accurate panels ever for FS. Laurent, Wade, Pedro and myself are committed to that goal and probably will not rest until perfection (or as close to it) can be achieved. Since perfection is not humanly possible, I suspect that we will never finish the work required to improve our creations. So I will close by saying to our fans that updates to our product in the future is definitely a priority for us ;-).

Wade: Try to be positive in your feedback to developers, especially the freeware authors. They really need your support. When someone spends an inordinate amount of time creating something they can be very sensitive about their creation and we all tend to accentuate the negative and diminish the positive. We all like to mention the problems we see with an addon. Mention the good too. If you have a good experience with an addon someone has created, tell them about it. Trust me, they want to know :-)

Pedro: I would like to thank everyone who supported us with nice comments after 767 PIC was released and AVSIM online for this opportunity. To the community developers, both freeware and commercial, I would ask them to continue raising the bar and giving us a fantastic flight simulator world to fly and thank them for all their work until now. I will leave the words of wisdom to my older teammates since they are far more experienced in flight simming.

Laurent: Don't believe the guys who tell you that the limits of "what is possible" in FS2000 are reached ;-) Be suspicious when a new add-on is advertised as "100% realistic" ... We said that ? ;-) Be kind with the freeware designers ... They created ALL the tools we need to make great add-on products now!


 

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