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Tom's Blog about all things simulation and then some!

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Tom Allensworth

20 – What are some of the things you dislike in the AVSIM community, what do you wish would change, and what do you enjoy?

 

The AVSIM community today consists of over 152,000 members. That community writ large is a great positive force in our hobby. Our community is visited and listened to by every commercial provider and freeware contributor in the hobby (whether they want to admit it or not). I can’t possibly dislike anything about our community. It really comes down to individuals, not only in AVSIM, but in our hobby world-wide, that sometimes set my teeth on edge, so to speak.

 

I dislike the myth creators and perpetrators and those that have less than positive agendas when it comes to AVSIM. We have seen these “poison dwarfs” throughout our 18 year history. Some of the myths that have been created and perpetrated over the years:

 

AVSIM was founded by a company intent on taking over the world of flight simulation. What company? The one I worked for at the time of AVSIM’s founding? A marine electronics company? What interest would they have had in taking over the world of flight simulation? I really had to laugh at that one.

 

Tom Allensworth is getting rich from owning and running AVSIM. Really? I have never taken a cent from AVSIM other than to pay expenses for travel and lodging on behalf of AVSIM and its community. It is part of my hobby! In November of 2012, the Board of Directors voted to allow me to take a monthly “salary” from AVSIM, but that has never happened. I am a retired Director of a major U.S. company with a comfortable retirement income. I choose to turn all of AVSIM’s revenue into funds that pay the expenses of bandwidth, hardware, technical consultants, software acquisition and licensing fees. I do not need an additional income. Despite the facts, there are some out there that insist they know the “truth”. There was a guy out in Colorado that actually put together some wild assumptions about our revenue from advertising and donations and concluded that AVSIM was a very large income earner, as in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. I wished! I can state without hesitation that nothing can be further from the truth. Our monthly income today is less than our expenses. I wished we had the revenue that some of these folks accuse us of having. To prove that to yourself, just take a look at the Donations Tracker at the top menu to the right.

 

Tom Allensworth is a bully. Why? Because the staff and I won’t tolerate your entitled self and your self-described “right” to do as you please on AVSIM? If so, then we are guilty as charged. I just love it when someone spouts off about “Freedom of Speech” and our response when we correct those that really believe they can say anything, at any time, to anyone. Interestingly enough is that often those who accuse us of violating THEIR freedom of speech are those that come from countries that don’t have freedom of speech at all or it is very limited. Again, simply read our Terms of Service.

 

We are unfriendly to commercial entities in our hobby. Really? Tell that to the dozens of commercial entities that have their support forums on AVSIM. If you mean that we won’t allow you to deceive, mislead or otherwise squash criticism of your products on the AVSIM forums, then again, we are guilty as charged. I should publish someday the emails I and our team have received from some companies in regard to our handling of complaints about posts on AVSIM about their products. On one hand we are accused of denying freedom of speech and on the other, we are being told to deny freedom of speech.

 

And the list goes on.

 

The one thing that I would like to impress upon readers of this interview is that if you see or hear a rumor about AVSIM, before swallowing it whole, post a message in the forums and ask us about that rumor. We try to be as transparent as we can be, and if appropriate, we’ll provide candid facts rather than rumour in response.

 

21 – If you moved back in time to 1997…would you do it all again?

 

Of course.

 

22 –What does the family think of AVSIM?

 

I alluded to my “second best decision” in life earlier. My best decision in my life has been to marry my wife of now 24 years, Denise. She has been a rock for me and has suffered many lonely hours allowing me to work and support the health and wellbeing of AVSIM. The AVSIM community owes her far more than I could begin to describe. If anyone deserves to be paid by AVSIM, it is Denise.

 

23 - Where to now for Tom Allensworth?

 

As I said about Dale, the retired Marine Corps Colonel in the Peace Corps, the answer is simple; keep on keeping on. 18 years of my life (and those of many of our volunteers) are vested in this thing we call AVSIM. I suspect that they will have to pry the IP Board code from my cold dead hands…

 

So there you have it, the man behind the name, behind the Avsim pages and behind its name. The man behind the side of the hobby you enjoy. Is he right? wrong? I personally don't care, I am just glad he did what he did, glad he fought to bring back a website that serves so many people's hobby needs throughout the world, glad he got back up when everything seemed lost, and glad he provides with an outlet for my virtual aviation needs. The cost is....several hours of his retirement, and 100% of his passion.

Tom Allensworth
Will Reynolds recently interviewed me and I am placing that interview here for others to read if they haven't already seen it, and more importantly, I plan to add some photos to this to round it out a bit. I have also taken the liberty of expanding it, considerably. So, here is Will's interview and my responses (which have been significantly added to).

Note: Most images are tied to my Gallery and clicking on them will take you to a larger image or the Gallery entry itself where you will find more notes and explanations of the images. I encourage you to click on the links provided as there is some great information to be had.


An Interview By William Reynolds

Yup, you heard right....why would Avsim interview Tom Allensworth? well....why not?

When I joined the virtual aviation community many years ago I had heard of sites like Avsim, Flightsim and a few others that came and went...and the name Tom Allensworth seemed to be mentioned quite regularly.

If you have been looking around, you would also see adjectives like "Pravda", "KGB", "Tom's Bullies", and many others when referring to his person, his site or the way he or the staff have allegedly dealt with something or someone. Whether you agree with the way things are done or not, you would have to agree that the work done by Tom and the Moderators is a fairly thankless task. Every forum will have differing points of view, and when you mix passion/maturity/immaturity/ego/ignorance/stubbornness/humor/sarcasm/willingness to help/thanklessness and a few others things in a melting pot that is a public forum, you can end up with a product that is not pleasant to digest. Enter "The Janitor".....

So is Tom right in his approach? Who knows, does he care? Would Avsim be better or worse without it? Who knows....but who is Tom Allensworth? I for one had no idea....apart from the few vague things I found on the internet, I knew very little of the person who has provided myself and many thousands of people around the world, with a reliable outlet for information and additions for the hobby I enjoy, and how does he do it? who pays for it, what is behind Avsim?

And will say, getting to know the Man behind the names, the sweeping brooms, the sarcastic and cutting humor, the resilience to not let go of his hobby when everything seemed lost was a very enjoyable experience.

So please, meet Tom Allensworth:

1 – Tell us about you and your family, where are you from? Where did you grow up?

I am your typical Navy brat. My father was U.S. Navy and no there is no surprise here; I was born in San Diego, California. We lived in many places during my years prior to graduating from high school. Oahu, Hawaii; Yokosuka, Japan; Spokane, Washington; San Diego, one more time, and finally at PAX River Naval Air Station in southern Maryland. During those various duty station changes, we drove across the U.S. or took a train across, more times than I can remember.

I am married and my much better half is Denise. We have no children.

2 – What about the young Tom, College, tertiary Studies?

I graduated from High School in June of 1968. That was a really, really, bad time to be loitering between high school and a decision to go to college. If you took your time in committing to a college, you could have found yourself in a jungle somewhere in SEAsia. I really didn’t know what I wanted in continuing my education; but I did know that I DID NOT want an education in viper, mosquito and leech biology, taught close-up and personal. Funny how that changed.

I was accepted at and attended St. Mary’s College of Southern Maryland in the fall of 1968 as a History Major. I didn’t last long. My heart and soul were not into advancing my education at the time and I felt I was wasting money and time.

3 – What was the dream at this point; did you know what you wanted to do?

I don’t think many 19 year olds have a clue about what they want to do in life and any dreams that they do have are probably more tied to their hormones than their future. Life at that point for most 19 year olds are a day-to-day experience – future goals are kind of amorphous and ill-defined. Or at least mine were.

4 – Your life in the US Navy…can you take us through that period?

I enlisted in the U.S. Navy in August of 1969 after working the summer for the Potomac Electric Power Company (PEPCO) at the Patuxent River generating station. I learned a lot in that manlift_demo_3.jpgshort job and it was a great experience. I am not sure that I will ever be able to climb on a “rubber band” (the thing is called a "man lift" as the image depicts) elevator again, but that is another story.

Rating_Badge_AT.pngThe Navy, in its wisdom, thought I would make an excellent Aviation Electronics Technician (AT) and I didn’t know enough about the subject to argue with them.

Just an aside; in those days Naval Aviation types were known as “brown shoes” and the Surface Navy was known as “black shoes”, because of the uniforms that officers wore at the time. My dad, a “black shoe”, found out I was destined to become a “brown shoe” and threatened to disown me. He didn’t, but it always made for interesting family get-togethers… Don’t ask me what submariners were known as – “bubble heads” – they all dressed in funky jumpsuits…

The Navy (and the U.S. taxpayer) spent a tremendous amount of national treasure on my education in electronics, particularly radar. I graduated from “A” school in May of 1970 and was promptly ordered to (guess where???) San Diego, my home town. That was after I had put in a dream sheet request for Viet Nam as a “Patrol Boat River (PBR)” crewman. Yeah, I wasn’t all that bright. The life expectancy of a PBR crewman was measured in days or weeks at best, once in-country.

tn_gallery_100001_175_36183.jpg The Master Chief of the school agreed; not too bright, and let me know it in characteristic Master Chief style. I still have mental scars from that brief meeting. The dress down started with “you’re stupid” and ended with “you’re stupid” and in-between was “we just spent a bazillion dollars on your education! You think we are going to send you out to be a target???” The image to the left is of a typical PBR during the Vietnam war. They definitely were not healthy places to hang out on for long.

So, the Navy spent all this money in turning me into a radar specialist and then sent me to a helicopter squadron. Guess what… Helicopters in the U.S. Navy in the early 70’s did not have radars. Nada, zip, none.

Okay, so now I think some jokes are being played on me. Send me home, where I definitely will not see the world, and train me on equipment that my squadron and all other helicopter squadrons there do not have; radars. Well, there was another surprise coming… My 19 year old brain was getting truly confused.

300px-SH-3H_HS-15_lowers_AQS-13_sonar_19The Navy, again in its wisdom, sent me to additional schools - Airborne Dipping Sonar and multiple radio and discrete technologies classes. I arrived at my squadron in May of 1970 and I didn’t see my squadron again for nearly a year while attending all these other schools. This image is of a Sikorsky SH-3 Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW) helicopter with an AN/AQS-13 Dipping Sonar being deployed. The AQS-13 was the principle piece of equipment that I worked with and maintained. I also flew in the thing more than my comfort level would like to admit. There is a reason that helicopters are defined as "A million mismatched parts flying in close formation". I can attest to that. Talk about cantankerous beasts.

200px-Elmo_R._Zumwalt.jpg Admiral Elmo Zumwalt became CNO at about the same time as I joined the squadron in April, 1970. Beyond being totally confused about my squadron, education etc., I was further flummoxed by the new CNO. During his tenure as CNO, with all the changes he made in pay, policies and the like, I never received a pay check that held any similarity to the previous one. I never knew what to expect on pay day. Navy! The only way to fly!

5 – Most interesting anecdotes/memories of this time?

Joining the U.S. Navy, with all the benefit of hindsight, was the smartest life direction decision in that l ever made. From that decision a life-time of personal and professional growth took place that would not have happened otherwise. I have always maintained that a young person (at least in the U.S.) should join the armed forces or an organization like the Peace Corps before or immediately after graduating from college. The experience gives you the time to consider your future, to mature, and fundamentally have a more rounded view of the real world and some grounding of your expectations of life.

The U.S. Taxpayer gave me an education in electronics that in those days was valued at over $200,000 (including all the “C” schools). I shudder to think what an equivalent education would cost today. It was a tremendous education and one which was to significantly contribute to my future. And I didn’t have college loans to pay off for the next 20 years…

sml_gallery_100001_175_44242.jpgOne of the most important events in my life, and in terms of AVSIM, occurred while I was in the Navy, stationed in San Diego; I took up flying lessons at Brown Field, just south of Chula Vista. My trainer a/c was a Mooney 210, otherwise known as the Mooney Cadet. I put a lot hours clunking around SoCal in that airplane before throwing in the towel due to leaving the Navy and going back to school as a very poor student.

When my four year commitment to Uncle Sam was fulfilled, I chose not to re-enlist. Instead, I wanted to finish my college education and I elected to attend college in Northern California. I had had my fill of electronics and sonars in particular and decided to declare as a Geology major. That wasn’t exactly a bright move either (at the time, but it had serious positive consequences for my future).

0_0_0_0_250_269_csupload_36952346.png Early on, one of my professors, George Wheeldon pictured to the left, suggested that he and I have a beer sometime and talk about my future direction. We got together at a local watering hole one day, and he was pretty direct. “With your background in electronics, why are you a Geology major? Don’t you realize that you will have to at least obtain a master’s degree and spend X more years as an apprentice before you will ever be able to work as a licensed Geologist in the state of California?” Though I loved being back in school THAT got my attention and ultimately changed my path (again). In the meantime I took a part time job as a staff photographer at a local weekly newspaper. And that lead to another of life’s forks in the road.

tn_gallery_100001_175_16443.jpgIronically, later on in the 1980's I called George and asked if he would like to accompany me on a survey of the southern end of San Francisco Bay. My company had been hired to assist the US Army Corps of Engineers to map out something or other. I think George enjoyed every moment of it. He recently reminded me that the boat's name that we did our survey from was named David Gaines, for one of the USGS geologists that died on Mt. St. Helen's in May of 1980. Another irony; the scientific crew of the SEAMARK departed for Alaska two weeks after St. Helen's blew up and we passed just to the west of her. We had an unobstructed view of the mountain still spewing ash and clouds.

I took a part time job as the “staff photographer” for a local weekly newspaper (read; the ONLY photographer on staff). I was called out to all manner of “shoots” including traffic accidents, fatalities, fires, etc. Each time I showed up at one of these, another photographer from the Sacramento Bee would also be on scene. After a few of these “meetings”, we got to be pretty good friends and started socializing. Over a beer or two and a BBQ at his family’s house, we decided that we would form a partnership and open a Camera Store, Studio and Laboratory, and do contract photography as well. We did weddings, studio and outdoor portraiture, and very quickly were asked to do evidentiary photography for the California Highway Patrol responsible for that sector of northern California. The CHP used essentially Brownie Box Cameras at the time (that’s an exaggeration, but not far from the truth). In all, we did lab work, specialty developing and printing, and so on. Because of my interest in Stock Car racing, I became the track photographer at the local race track on top of all that.

In the two years that I co-owned the business I think I photographed 60 some highway fatalities, a couple of murders, and god only knows how many “nasties” that the CHP needed photos of.

One of the most heartbreaking was the murder of a CHP officer who had made a normal road side stop for speeding. He was gunned down as he approached the car. I counted him as a friend. It was a formative experience for me and definitely altered my view of the human animal.

On the more mundane side I was once contracted by a law firm to photograph EVERY major pot hole in South Lake Tahoe on the California side of town. The photos were to be used as evidence in a law suit against the paving company that had paved the roads just three months earlier... From then on I have never seen a pothole that I liked.

In August of 1976 I married and it became another fork in the road. Within two months or so, my new bride insisted that I get out of the photo, store, lab business, as I was working sometimes 18 hour days, including Sundays. On Sundays I developed proof copies from the Saturday night races for the drivers and families to choose from on Monday.

I really wasn’t one to be in the retail trade, and truth be told, I was rather tired of dealing with demanding mothers of the bride. So, my wife’s urging of me to put my cameras aside was not all that hard for me to accept. I sold my half of the business to my partner. We decided that my wife needed a break from college where she was working on an accounting degree and that we should do something different for a while – a mental vacation if you like. One Sunday we were perusing the Sacramento Bee and came across an ad for the Peace Corps. Another fork in the road…

6 – The Peace Corps Volunteering, how did that come about? Where did it take you?

We answered the ad, and soon found ourselves in a meeting with a Peace Corps recruiter. He probed our backgrounds a bit, and homed in on my electronics degree and my “enough to be dangerous” smattering of geology. He totally dismissed her accounting major, making me the “primary volunteer”. She was left to find a job once we were in-country. It would be up to her to find a “job” once we were in-country.
In those days, and I assume this is still the case, a host country puts out a “requisition” to the local Peace Corps staff where they vet it and they, in turn, pass that back to PC HQ which, if approved, provides it on a list issued to all recruiters around the country.

In our case, the recruiter had two positions that met my background (or more accurately stated) ones that I actually had a chance of meeting the requirements for). Back in those days, the Peace Corps had two types of volunteers; technical volunteers and the better known teaching volunteers.

He said to us that he had two requests that might be met with my background; a position in Belize and one in Fiji (where???). The job in Belize was to teach radio and electronics repair to the Belizean Army. In January of 1977 Belize was at war with Guatemala, their neighbour to the west, and we would be located closer to the front line than the beautiful beaches. Okay…

It didn’t take a lot of grey matter or time to form the question; “So, what do my friends in Fiji need?”

Fiji had a request in for someone that could set up and maintain an electronics department for the Mineral Resources Division (MRD) of the Government of Fiji. Beyond that, there were two major projects that I would need to participate in (with more to come, as I was to find out). The first of these would be the co-designer of Fiji’s first indigenously built research vessel, responsible for the electronic survey equipment and the ship’s electronics and electrical systems. The second was to work with Cornell University in setting up an FM based remote sensing earthquake monitoring system islands wide. “Islands wide”… I had no idea what that meant, but it sounded exciting. Oh boy, was it. There are some 200 islands or so in the Fiji group. Not all of them are populated, and not all of them were candidates for installations.

Side note: the histories of the U.S. and Britain’s involvement in Fiji are interesting, especially the involvement of John Brown Williams and the events that followed the events surrounding him. Click on the link above to read all about it.

The closest I had ever come to a ship (other than sail boats), even in the Navy, was to go aboard a U.S. Navy Aircraft Carrier tied up at North Island Naval Station in San Diego in 1972 to calibrate one of their pieces of ASW sonar test equipment. That was the extent of my “sea duty” and I had to have someone show me around to keep from getting lost or falling overboard. I was going to help design a research vessel? In for a penny, in for a pound; youth, confidence and hutzpah – a powerful combination that knew no bounds.

I have to admit that we had to go to the local library where we lived to look up where Fiji was! We found two books that mentioned Fiji. One was the story of the mutiny on the Bounty. Oh great; an island of cannibals. In late January 1977 my wife and I found ourselves in San Francisco with a group of other volunteers bound for Fiji.

We were part of Fiji Peace Corps Group #28 – the 28th group to go into Fiji since the inception of the Peace Corps in 1961 with John F. Kennedy’s executive order 10924. Group 28 was purely a technical group; no school teachers, which consisted of accountants, fishery management experts, IT folks, mechanical engineers, architects and a sole out-board motor repairman.

7 – Thinking back on this period, any life changing or thought provoking experiences?

The Peace Corps IS a life changing event and thought provoking experience by definition, as I think any returned volunteer would attest to. Group 28 consisted of 14 volunteers, 4 of which were married. All but one was under the age of 30. That one stand out was a 60 something volunteer by the name of Dale. Dale was a retired Marine Corps Colonel.

Dale’s story is not unique (or at least not at that time – remember Jimmy Carter’s mother?). Dale’s wife had died shortly after he retired from the Marine Corps and Dale didn’t want to sit idly by and let his life be spent forever on the golf course. He wanted to do something more with his time left. So, he went and interviewed with the Peace Corps. The interview went something like this:

PC Recruiter: So, Dale, you retired from the Marine Corps. What skills do you have?
Dale: I am pretty good with a rifle and a grenade.
PCR: We don’t have much of a need for those skills. What else can you do?
Dale: Repair outboard motors.
PCR: Do you have any credentials to show your training in that?
Dale: No.
PCR: Well, we have needs for an outboard motor repairman and instructor in Fiji, but you have to have credentials showing your training in that area.
Dale: I will be back...

Dale put himself through every major outboard motor repair school that he could find, paid his own way, and finally returned to the Peace Corps Recruiter months later. Upon showing the recruiter his graduation certificates, the recruiter sent off a message to PC HQ and within a couple of weeks, he was invited to join Group 28 and come to Fiji. Dale spent time on almost every island that had a population, teaching outboard motor repair to hundreds. Dale has passed on now, but he taught all of us an invaluable lesson. If there is something you want hard enough, you don’t question yourself, loose self-confidence or back off from the goal. You just do it.

We departed KSFO on a Pan Am 747-200 or -300 and with a stop in PHNL and we arrived in Nandi, Fiji at about 11:00 in the morning the next day. My first thought as we crawled off the airplane was; “Where the hell is my scuba gear?” The humidity was somewhere near 99% in over 90 degrees heat and it was oppressive. I don’t know what the combined heat index was, but I had never been exposed to anything like that. We overnighted in a community on the way to Suva and there we were told that Viti Levu, the main island, was in a drought. We were told this as the rain was coming down in torrential buckets – and I mean buckets!

This is a drought? Really? Our local staff member went on to explain that the island gets an average of 200 inches or so of rain a year, and in that year they had only had 180 inches. 180 inches a drought? The explanation was quite simple, though not so obvious to us young Americans; with that much water normally coming down, there is not a tremendous need for storage reservoirs. With 20 inches less, that becomes a problem. It took a while to digest that little bit of insight.

We had 11 weeks of language and cultural training in Suva and had to pass those before being released on the Fijians. During that 11 week period we spent some time at our final assignment location; in my case the MRD. In the 9th week, while at the MRD, I came down with dengue fever. If you know anything about this disease, you will know that it is a killer (even today) and is very debilitating. It causes almost instant dehydration and tremendous fever. Sitting on a toilet and holding a bucket to your face, I discovered, was an art form. From what I have been told, it is like Malaria on steroids. I haven’t had Malaria, so couldn’t say, but I don’t want to ever find out. I do know that as I travelled SEAsia later in life, I was much attuned to the outbreaks of Dengue fever in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta and scheduled out or around them when I could.

I ended up designing the electronics and electrical systems on the Research Vessel “BULIKULA” (The “Golden Cowry” in Fijian – the rarest shell of all), the first and only Research Vessel that the Fijian government ever owned that I am aware of. The BULIKULA was taken out of service in the early 90’s as a research vessel and was pressed into service as a hospital ship after the severe and devastating typhoons that came through the islands during that time. I am told that the BULIKULA later ran aground on a reef and sank. But, while she was a research vessel, she was used to explore for maritime resources such as precious corals, hydrocarbons, manganese nodules and SAT NAV mapping of reefs, and the like.

tn_gallery_100001_175_685740.jpgSide note: most of the Fijian waters were mapped in the late 1800’s by the Royal Navy. When we did surveys in the Bligh Waters, as just one example, we found reefs that were as much as a ½ mile out of position based on the paper charts created earlier. Scary! This is an image of a ORE Sub Bottom Profiler (SBP) on the RV SEAMARK. The SBP is used to profile the ocean bottom and returns a high resolution image and depending upon bottom type, some penetration of the layers below the ocean floor. This image is of a shift of two, reviewing the incoming SBP data that is being recorded on an EPC Flat Bed Recorder. tn_gallery_100001_175_806828.jpg

Within a week of starting my job at MRD, I received a call from Commodore Stan Brown, commander of the Royal Fijian Navy. When World War II concluded, Stan Brown was Royal Navy officer who served in the naval flotilla that stayed in Fiji. When Fiji gained its independence, Commodore Brown was promoted to Chief of the Navy. The commodore had a problem; he had a number of NATO class mine hunters which were given to Fiji by the U.S. after independence in 1970, and their radars were all broke. Could I help? Yes, if Peace Corps HQ allowed it. Next thing I knew, I was on a hot, noisy, and very confused Mine Hunter cruising around with a U.S. Navy destroyer that was on its way home for decommissioning.

Decom? Ah, lots of parts and spares to be had - who worries about accounting for them, when they are all going to be thrown away. Sure enough, we anchored in the bay of a nearby island and while the Americans and the Fijians were partying ashore, we unloaded boxes of radar spares from the destroyer to the mine hunter. Side mission accomplished. Stan Brown is a very famous character and if you have a chance, read up on him via Google and Wikipedia. He wrote a very famous book regarding the history of Fiji and its creation which you can read excerpts of here.

Because of its position within the Fiji plateau, Fiji is a unique geophysics laboratory. If you want to read more about that, there are a number of sources, and one of them can be found here. There were a number of individuals in the “early days” of Plate Tectonics that developed the theories that eventually took shape and formed the basis of today’s modern understanding of geophysics and plate tectonics. Three names are famously attached to the adoption of Plate Tectonics as a fact in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. Isack, Oliver and Sykes.

tn_gallery_100001_175_82244.jpg Dr. Bryan Isacks (photo to the left - in the center) of Cornell University along with an engineer by the name of George Hade had done a lot of work in Fiji before my arrival. Bryan had written his doctoral thesis on the subject of subduction zones and tectonics that resulted from his extensive studies of the micro-seismics that Fiji experiences dozens of times a day. Bryan was a grad student studying under the tutelage of Dr. Jack Oliver, both of Cornell, was one of the other famous names. Finally, Dr. Lynn Sykes of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, was the third.

When I showed up in Suva, Bryan and George were well along on a path to establishing an earthquake management system established on key islands in the Fijian Group. That network was conceived to be networked back to the Suva headquarters’ building of the MRD using FM based VHF radio systems. Prior to my arrival, one remote seismometer was set up on government property five miles away or so, linked by telephone modem, and one seismometer was on MRD grounds. The remote stations on selected islands would expand the network, allow source point detection, and most importantly provide earlier warnings on possible tsunamis. I also would eventually install a Strong Motion Accelerometer (SMA) to provide an alarm for larger earthquakes.

A little footnote for historical purposes; my wife and I rented a house in Lami, not too far outside of Suva proper. On one of his visits we invited Bryan to dinner at our home. Our home had a front porch that had metal columns to hold up the tin roof over it. When Bryan left that evening he walked right into one of those columns. I thought we had killed him! He was okay and was able to get back to his hotel okay.

Another fork in the road… Fiji needed a technical representative to work on surveys with the United Nation’s Committee on Offshore Prospecting for the South Pacific (UN CCOP SOPAC) which coincidentally had its HQ on the same property as MRD. John Halunen, PHD., who was the Director of the CCOP at the time, somehow convinced the Director of MRD, that it would be a really, really, good idea to have me provide technical support to the CCOP. I called it being shanghaied.

I found myself on a number of cruises with CCOP SOPAC around the Fiji plateau looking for deep nodules and Tonga for precious corals, among others. My first cruise with CCOP was aboard a vessel from Dunedin, New Zealand, owned by Alex Black. Alex didn’t have a ticket to be the captain of a ship under contract, so he was aboard as the “cook”. I learned the first morning at sea all about breakfast goodies like black pudding, white pudding and other delectable fare. The Captain, Alex, John and I were the only ones that showed up for breakfast that first morning; everyone else was suffering from seasickness or fear of Alex’s cooking. And that is where I learned that John would eat anything that didn’t move fast enough.

Someday I will tell the story of that cruise. On that first survey, I discovered the worlds of free fall corers that take six hours to go to the bottom and return and flying fish omelettes. I also was confronted with the degree to which geologists would argue for hours over the colour of seafloor mud. Someday, if someone is interested.

We installed the first of the remote seismic sites on the island of Gau (pronounced Now and shone on Google Earth as “GNAU”). Upon arrival in a Norman Islander, our first task was to have the traditional Kava ceremony with the Chief of the village and its men. I happened to ask the chief how far the mountain was that we would have to climb (with the villagers being paid to carry all the equipment, batteries and the like up). Major cultural lesson follows; the answer was “ah, short distance, maybe two cigarettes long”. The way I smoked at the time (now quit), that translated in to maybe a 15 minute walk. WRONG…

What I did not know was that because of their remoteness and lack of cash incomes, island Fijians at the time would smoke half a cigarette, put the remaining half back in its pack and then smoke the second half some 20 or 30 minutes later. What I thought would be a short slog turned out to be a 90 minute trudge. So much for measuring time… Do a search on Google Earth and you will see what I mean.

At the end of our Peace Corp service, as the end date approached, John tried to talk me into joining CCOP as an engineer. My wife wanted to return home. Another fork in the road… I turned the offer down and have on many occasions looked back and wondered “what if”. It turns out the decision to depart Fiji was the right one, despite what was to follow.
In late May of 1980, in the bed of a pickup truck with 4 or 5 of my fellow crew members from the RV Seamark, going from the fuel pier in Dutch Harbor to the Unisea Inn, we encountered another pickup truck going back to the fuel pier. The two “shore men” driving the trucks stopped to trade notes, and in the back of the other truck was John. John was the chief scientist aboard another research vessel tied up at the same fuel pier. John was a pilot and owned his own plane based out of Port Hueneme. John joined a company in that area later on, and we ended up doing business together for quite a while after.

Side note: if you have never flown into UNALASKA’s Dutch Harbor’s airport, give it a try. I will never forget our real life arrival and departure there aboard Reeves Aleutian Airlines.

8 – Considering the world we live in now, would you do this again?

If I were I 27 again, I would without a second thought. At 63, not so much. Like the Navy, college, experiencing ownership of a business and my exposure to the world as the son of a sailor, my Peace Corps time was a life experience that is irreplaceable. It led to other forks in the road that were keys to my future and professional growth. Being an RCPV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) is one of the greatest privileges that I can imagine.

I would encourage everyone to consider the Peace Corps, or similar organizations in their respective countries. It is a tremendous experience which matures one’s view of the world. The cultural exposure that comes with it is something that is valuable beyond measure. Every RPCV that I have ever known firmly believe that they learned more and gained more than they would ever be able to give. I know that applies to me for sure.

9 – Let’s talk about your career at Northrop Grumman, how did that come about? Where did you start?

There was not a direct path between Fiji and Northrop, so let me bore you with the story in between first.
sml_gallery_100001_175_268546.jpgWe returned from Fiji in the middle of 1979 after just shy of 2 ½ years there. I took a job as a consultant for a while and then went to work for Exploration Logging in Sacramento, while both my wife and I returned to school. By the end of 1979 she and I had separated and I took a job with NEKTON out of Sorrento Valley (San Diego – back home – again) as an electronics type – the next-to-best decision I ever made!

sml_gallery_100001_175_218321.jpg NEKTON was known for its three two man subs; the ALPHA, BETA and GAMMA, of which one was used to explore the bottom of Lake Tahoe as well as other explorations that received a lot of public attention at the time. An image of the Research Vessel SEAMARK at the Dutch Harbor fuel pier.

My job was to support sea going surveys with the responsibility for operating and maintaining side scan sonars (as shown in the image to the right - an EG&G side scan used on the RV Seamark), various vertical high resolution seismic systems, magnetic detection tn_gallery_100001_175_770974.jpgsystems, sub bottom profilers, high power acoustic sound sources and so on. I arrived at NEKTON and immediately went on shakedown cruises in preparation for the surveys in the waters north of Dutch Harbor and Cold Bay in the Aleutians and eventually that summer, the waters off of Nome, Alaska. NEKTON owned the research vessels SEAMARK and BEARING EXPLORER. Over my short career at NEKTON, I did surveys off the coast of California, Alaska and the Georges Banks (scene of the well-known movie, THE PERFECT STORM – and yes, it can be a real nasty place) off the east coast of the U.S. Prior to leaving NEKTON, I was put in the position of “Party Chief”. That is, project manager of the sea-going operations. I ended up managing cruises on both SEMARK and BEARING EXPLORER before my departure to the east coast. I can attest to the fact that being a “Party Chief” is no party. Someday, I will write a story about that too.

In mid-1981 I left NEKTON to take a job on the east coast and eventually ended up at Ocean Research Equipment in Falmouth, Mass. I ended up winning a lawsuit against Raytheon as a result of that move, but that’s another story as well.

Another fork in the road… I was made a Marketing Manager for ORE, with interesting positions prior to that. I didn’t know squat about marketing and sales (other than selling Nikons, Olympus’ and Mamiya and other cameras in the store years before), but that didn’t appear to be a problem with ORE management. My design work and knowledge of the products helped convince them that I had something to offer in that area, I guess – or maybe they were just desperate.

sml_gallery_100001_175_27347.jpgI spent a lot of time on the water with ORE too. Time at sea included stints off of Yakutat, Alaska, the Straights of Labrador north of Saint John’s New Foundland, Norton Sound, and the Beauford Sea, off the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand, Green Turtle Key in the Bahamas, and many others. But most importantly, as a Marketing and Business Development type, I found myself traveling the world, working with ORE’s offices in Europe and agents, countries and their governments around the world. To the left is a photo of Ralph Hollis, Chief Pilot of the Deep Submergence Vehicle "ALVIN". See the story at the gallery by clicking on the image.

One business trip I took with ORE was to have later ramifications for my career. I went to China in 1983 or 1984 to negotiate a joint venture with the Qingdao Institute of Oceanography for co-production of our vertical acoustic profiling systems. The trip included a long stint on a Chinese “research vessel” demonstrating that equipment to our future partners.

The research vessel had more antennas and domes on it than any of the U.S. Navy’s intelligence ships at the time, so I was under no allusions that this ship was only on short term loan as a “Research Vessel”. When I boarded her and met the Captain, I was left in no doubt. I was put in the XO’s stateroom and told that if I went up one deck or down more than one deck (where the lab was) I would most likely be shot. Hmmm… Okay, I didn’t argue. Needless to say, when I returned to the ORE offices in Falmouth, I immediately received a call from one of those Alphabet Soup U.S. Government organizations wanting to know everything about the cruise, the ship, ad nauseam.

The politics within ORE finally got to me and I decided to make a short detour to another oceanographic company; BENTHOS, located in North Falmouth, Mass. I had the great privilege to work for Sam Raymond, BENTHOS’ founder and Doc Edgerton, the “E” in EG&G fame, who was on our Board of Directors.

EG&G made the precision timing devices for nuclear weapons during the war, and into modern era. They also made side scan sonars and other marine technology at the time. The technology of these timing devices also formed the basis for precision control of underwater strobes and cameras, all of which BENTHOS made. Doc and Sam were exceedingly important in the fields of marine systems. However, despite the luminaries, after a while I realized that BENTHOS was too cerebral for me and my field history didn’t really translate to the rarefied atmosphere of the company. About the time I had had it, I received a phone call.

During the period I spent with ORE and BENTHOS, a number of things took place that were addressed by both companies and I was able to participate to one degree or another; the KAL007 shoot down, both Air India downing’s, the Challenger tragedy, Titanic, and numerous other debris field mapping and recovery operations. Between the two companies, strobes, cameras, towed bodies, acoustic navigation systems, side scan sonar and sub bottom profiling systems, advanced timing and mapping system and remotely operated vehicles, were provided for those operations.

tn_gallery_100001_175_30991.jpg It was one of my greatest pleasures during this time to meet Emory Kristof. Emory, as you can read from the link, was an innovative and prolific contributor of photo journalism to the National Geographic. Emory was the brains behind the stunning vertical mosaic of the Titanic that appeared in the National Geographic Magazine after the Titanic’s initial debris field mapping. The technology to obtain those images is still a wonder to me. That’s another story too… However, the photo shown to the left is an image of ARGO, the towed sled that was used to capture some very famous photos in the vertical of the Titanic. I consider ARGO to be Emory's greatest contribution to that project. If you click on the image you will be presented a larger one on which you will clearly see the pressure containers for strobes, cameras, acoustic transponders and receivers, timing systems and other electronics. BENTHOS and ORE were contributors of systems aboard and associated with functioning of ARGO.

In early 1987, I received a call from a “head hunter” on behalf of a company yet un-named, interested in recruiting me. Why? I was eventually to find out that it was because of the Chinese Joint Venture efforts and my experience globally in the marine environment. After some dickering, I found myself on an airplane out of Boston on my way to the big metropolis of Charlottesville, Virginia, where I was to interview with a team of folks at Sperry Marine. I signed on and came to work for Sperry in July of 1987.

It was the best of times and in one sense, the worst of times. Sperry Corps was the target of a hostile takeover by Burroughs Corp and was acquired at the end of 1986. The resulting company was instantly was marketed as the “Power of Two” – forming UNISYS. When I joined Sperry, it had been moved under the auspices of Sperry Aviation. Because we were non-core assets to UNISYS, both the Aviation and Marine divisions were going to be sold. And in early 1989, they were. Aviation was bought by Honeywell and Marine was acquired by Tenneco (a mining and oil pipeline company – say what???). Tenneco owned Newport News shipbuilding; the only shipyard in the U.S. that built aircraft carriers and roughly half of all the U.S.N.’s nuclear submarines. I guess Tenneco management thought we would be a good fit with Newport News and so we ended up under Newport News’ management.

To make a long story somewhat shorter, in my career at Sperry, we were owned by Tenneco, sold to the J. F. Lehman and Company, an investment group, which sold Sperry to Litton Corps, and in January of 2001, Litton in its entirety was purchased by Northrop Grumman. So, through no devious designs on my part, I ended up as an employee of an aircraft company – and a historical pair of them to boot.

During my near 25 years with Sperry / Northrop I was privileged to work with some real luminaries in the world of inertial navigation, and in particular, ring laser gyro based inertial navigation. Some of those were Dick Brady, Dr. Manny Levison, Bob Hibbard, Henry Stacy, and many others. I was part of the team that won the NATO SINS program against Litton, Rockwell, Sagem and Anschutz. I was the co-author, along with Bob Hibbard, of the requirements document that eventually lead to the development of the ring laser gyro based attitude and heading reference system. You’re tired of hearing it, I am sure, but that is another story…

10 – You retired as Director of Division, was there anything else you wanted to achieve there or was it truly time?

A correction is in order. I retired at 61 as the Director of Business Development, International Defence, of Sperry Marine. Sperry Marine was a world famous company founded in 1911 by Elmer Sperry. Our first international office and production facility was in the UK, where in 1912 – 13, we started production of the first gyrocompasses and gun fire control systems to be delivered to the allies for World War 1. Ironically, our first agent was contracted in Japan in 1918 by Elmer himself. It is a great story and one that I will hopefully tell someday.

I remember my first trip to Indonesia shortly after I joined Sperry. Though my father, as a retired Navy Chief was very aware of Sperry and was excited that I had been recruited by them, in truth I had no idea of the importance of Sperry in the naval world until that trip.
We arrived and were scheduled to have a meeting with a Captain who was responsible for navigation systems and spares. The equivalent of the Indonesian Chief of Naval Operations (the U.S. Navy’s CNO) apparently found out that we were visiting and requested that we meet with him. He simply wanted to talk about his experiences with Sperry equipment as a younger naval officer at sea and his appreciation for our support and history together. The meeting lasted an hour. That is a lifetime! I was left with a bit of a jaw drop, but I found in the early days that this welcoming of the Sperry Marine Company was a rule rather than an exception. I experienced early on the same in Egypt, Kuwait, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan and many others to my great appreciation.

In its wisdom, Northrop Grumman decided to shut down Sperry Marine in the U.S in 2011 with the closing date of January 31st, 2012. It moved all of its management functions to our offices in the UK, and that was where Sperry is based today, with no U.S. presence. Over 60 people at our HQ either found themselves without a job, or in my case, retired. Had I had my choice, I probably would have held out to 65 somewhere else in the NG organization, but I decided to pack it in and adopt “retirement”. With all the benefit of hindsight, Northrop did me a tremendous favour by shutting down Sperry Marine, U.S.

Why did NG shut down Sperry U.S? Another story to be told (and not a pretty one)…
There are only two things that really upset me about this devastation of a world class and historic company (other than the senseless loss of jobs among my colleagues and friends); I was cheated out of my 25th anniversary party that would have happened in July, and it kept me from reaching a million miles flown on United. That’s just United, but I was so looking forward to that milestone. I have lost track of the miles flown on other airlines, but I know that when I joined Sperry in 1987, I brought with me roughly 500,000 miles flown on TWA. I never worried about Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). I was more concerned about DAT… Deep butt Thrombosis.

11 – Let’s look at AVSIM, in its infancy it was CAPENET, a Bulletin Board, was it just a pastime? Did you think it would turn into anything else?

Capenet was an early BBS that I ran out of my home, as a hobby, when I was living on Cape Cod, prior to coming to Virginia in 1987. It was a social networking system with no aviation or simulation focus at all and whose sole purpose was to teach me online communication systems and technologies. When I moved to Charlottesville, I transformed Capenet into The VINE – The Virginia Information Exchange – another socially focused BBS that grew to 8 lines and a couple of hundred members, which in terms of BBS’ at the time, was a pretty large system.

As the Internet grew and global connectivity became a day to day norm, the BBS became the dinosaurs of our time. I shut down the VINE in early to mid-1996 and floundered around looking for something else to do as a hobby. I dusted off my old BAO Flight Simulator disks, fired up my Apple ][c and relived the moment of discovery of flight simulation on a computer. I was “re-hooked” after having abandoned flight simulation when I moved to Charlottesville in 1987.

12 – AVSIM morphed in 1997, what were you trying to achieve at the time, what was the roadmap?

Late in 1996 I was “inspired” for lack of a better word, to publish an HTML based magazine that would be zipped up and uploaded to various sites around the net with an interest in flight simulation. It was my intention to do a monthly magazine reporting on the events and happenings in flight simulation. I think I published three or four issues in that manner before bringing our web site online on March 24th, 1997, which I consider our “birthday”.
There really was no roadmap. I had a rediscovered a hobby, I wanted to teach myself HTML, Java and other web skills and I wanted to share my efforts with what was then a young and growing community of members with similar interests.

The 12 years leading up to 2009 were periods of growth, expansion in terms of hardware, services, FANCON’s and a very rewarding, though sometimes bumpy, period for me personally with all my international travel and other commitments. I like to think for those that volunteered their time to AVSIM and the community that developed within, it was a memorable time in our hobby.

13 – We reach the hacking case in 2009. On a personal basis, did you think it was the end of AVSIM? How heavy a toll did it take on you?

Yes, I did think that it was the end, initially. As numerous world-wide news sources reported, my first reaction was to state that we had been totally destroyed. We did not know the entire story until we were able to get people on the secure server site to do a total inventory of what we had left. That was almost a week after the event. Thanks to one lonely little bad sector on one of our disks, the complete destruction of AVSIM was prevented. In the meantime, for those of us on AVSIM Staff, it was the lowest of the low. Within the first 24 hours following the sabotage of our system, we were pretty well convinced that AVSIM would never be recovered. Notice the use of the word “sabotage”. It was not a “hack”. It was a wilful act of a single individual from the inside to destroy AVSIM. You can read all about it here.

The second guessing that immediately occurred after the fact regarding our backup strategies and our lack of professionalism really sapped my enthusiasm for even trying to recover and to bring AVSIM back. There were some pretty nasty comments made at that time by folks who had no clue as to the truth of the matter. That soured me for months after.

But, the collective effort of the community to see that we were able to recover and set the stage for the future was awe inspiring. The myth was that we set out to raise money from the community to fund purchases of equipment to replace the older systems we had – and that myth is still perpetrated today by those that have a not so friendly agenda when it comes to AVSIM.

Initially we heard the accusation; we had sabotaged our own systems just to raise money off the backs of the community. I have multiple witnesses to the contrary and for a long time, I kept the disks that were wiped in my desk to prove otherwise.

The truth is that we never ever asked for any money or donations and initially I was reluctant to take any donations at all. What occurred was a community initiated effort to raise funds so that we could purchase new hardware and start over from there.

As I have said on my blog about that period, it was the single most motivating event for AVSIM in its short history. I was awe struck then and remain so today. It was truly an outpouring of support by our members and the act of donating by hundreds declared without equivocation the unselfish support of our members, and told us without any question that we must march on and bring AVSIM back to life.

14 – AVSIM staff around that time, what was the effect on them? I can only imagine a depressing situation all around.

As I said, and as I sure you can imagine, it was a very depressing time for all. When the total willingness of the community to support our rebirth became evident, that changed everything for us. Everyone on staff at the time was rejuvenated by the outpouring of support and we were daily amazed at the contributions flowing in. A community based initiative that gave us life again.

15 – When AVSIM returned, did you notice any changes in the community? What was the AVSIM public like compared to before the Hack?

Not really. We had the normal collection of conspiracy nut jobs making up stories and adding to the AVSIM myths, but for the vast majority, it was “Thank god you are back! I missed my dose of AVSIM everyday”. We quickly got back to business as usual and the community has grown amazingly since. My big disappointment then, and it carries over to today, is that a number of web sites in our hobby allowed those conspiracy theories and myths to exist on their forums, even to this day.

16 – We know when you give voice to an entire community; you may be giving powers to some folk who may misuse it. A forum, even a free one, has responsibilities. Can you take us through some of the issues you focus on every day to ensure the integrity and legality of the content in AVSIM?

We have had some who have abused their position as volunteers, if that is what you are referring to. But I can count them on one hand, basically, over the last 18 years and we dealt with them pretty quickly.

The dozens of volunteers that have put in their time, blood, sweat and tears into AVSIM over the last 18 years with integrity have been and are the norm. There have been and are many volunteers over the years that have contributed endlessly to our hobby and the entity known as AVSIM.

Have we made mistakes? Sure we have. We’re human after all and nowhere near being perfect. I like to think that we are fair however, and will reverse decisions that are clearly a mistake.

With all the benefit of hindsight, I wished I had created a “Volunteer’s Wall of Pride” to give view to those that have given tirelessly to our community over the years – a small place in history as it were. I think that is a project that I will work on in the coming months.

17 – You call yourself “The Janitor”…and let’s face it, some people have an opinion of your methods. Does it tire you having to chase some of the issues you see? Do you question if it is going to change or end? And if not, what keeps you going?

I try to be somewhat philosophical about the minority that have a view of me that is less than flattering. No doubt, I do not “suffer fools gladly” as the saying goes. I once had a VP in Sperry stand up in a manager’s meeting explaining just that about me. I wasn’t flattered at the time, but the truth is the truth. I come from a world where fools could and did get you killed.
And why should I or any AVSIM volunteer suffer fools gladly? We provide a free service and all we ask in return is that you abide by our Terms of Service. If you can’t abide by them, you will eventually be shown the door.

I have zero tolerance for those that come to AVSIM and think that they are entitled to anything, let alone free reign to disparage, abuse, and denigrate or otherwise do as they please on our system despite agreeing to our terms of service.

I have even less tolerance for those that do that to our volunteers. I deliberately signed my signature with “Janitor” to send a message. I will clean the halls of AVSIM, if necessary, of those that have less than honourable intentions in being in our community and those that disparage our volunteers. And let me say that we have used that broom to ban unethical (and well known) commercial vendors, high profile members and others that were there to act as shills for others. I should write a book about that someday.

As for it ending, I doubt it. We have grown by some 25,000 members since the first of the year. I have no doubt that that number includes those that will use AVSIM for less than honorable purposes and will pretend to be something or someone that they are not. It is a sad indictment on some of the people that use the Internet, to say the least. But, that is not news.

18 – What is a “normal” day for you, do you actively monitor the site?

I am not retired when it comes to answering that question. Upon my retirement from Northrop, I set my goal to “redesign” AVSIM to what you see today. With the help of numerous of our volunteer staff, we have significantly changed the look of AVSIM and its offerings. We caught a lot of flak for making those changes early on, but I think in the main that most are happy with the result.

So, to answer your question, I spend at least 3 or 4 hours every day, 7 days a week, working on AVSIM. There is always something to tweak, change, improve or amend. It is an endless labour of love for all of us that I hope never ends.

19 – We have had some recent problems with hardware, which are being fixed. They are expensive. How long can AVSIM go? Obviously there is always a point at which any business stops. Is the roadmap for the future affordable?

Yes, we had some unusual events with a RAID array that many of the “experts” in the community declared without any hesitation, could not happen. Well, with the help of HP and numerous others, we found that they could indeed happen. So much for self-described experts. We spent a tremendous amount of money fixing those problems and setting the stage for future hardware upgrades. Do we have a roadmap? Yes. I published an abbreviated version in the forums not too long ago. I think it was well received. It points to our dedication to the future of our community and the hobby in general.

We survive by donations from the community members and income from advertising and almost nothing from our “Market Place”.

How long can we go? Well, simply said, until members stop supporting us via donations and advertisers stop advertising. When that day comes, then it will be simple. We’ll shut down AVSIM and know that it has been a great experience and a great community that once shone brightly in our hobby and our lives. Hopefully, if that day comes, we’ll be remembered favorably by those that shared in the AVSIM experience.

Continued in Part 2
Tom Allensworth

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Picture to the Right - Some of the ACES Studio Members at our Washington D.C. FANCON in 2006. Can anyone name the three whose faces are shown? For bonus points there is a fourth team member whose face you can't see, but his balding head is very visible. He's standing behind that dude with the skinny knees and a Seattle suntan. Any guesses? For more bragging rights, there is a fifth team member with his back to you? Anybody know who he is?

Okay, on to the reason for this entry...

 

I think that anyone who has been in this hobby for any reasonable amount of time would agree that it has come a long - a very long - way. The positives in terms of growth of our hobby, the choice of alternative sims and the thousands of possible add ons, all bear witness to the dedication and perseverance of companies and individuals throughout the long evolution of this hobby.

 

In January of 2012, I wrote a blog entry here about the then soon to be released MS Flight product. In that blog entry I wrote regarding Microsoft's position on its historic role in the market;

December

With the decision to produce a "Flight Game" a totally different set of dynamics came into play. One of these dynamics was the damaging loss of contact, in my opinion, with the flight simming community...

 

I would now like to pick up on that thought and look at it in context of this industry and our community today.

 

Let me start by asking you a question; are communications today between the sim community and commercial providers in our hobby better than when you got into the hobby, or are they worse? Put your answer to that question in the comments section below and lets discuss it.

 

When I look back over the last 18 years or so and ruminate over that question, I see distinct phases that took place and then only with the benefit of time have they made any sense, at least to me. And, I will be the first to admit that this is somewhat a view that is from an AVSIM perspective.

 

PHASE 1:

 

Most certainly the early communications (or lack there of) was driven by the commercially sensitive Microsoft. Everyone else in the commercial side of flight simulation, with some exceptions, seemed to have adopted the same mindset, or more likely, Microsoft had them all under Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDA's). Of course, that resulted in silent MS Clones around the world. Communication from that team were sparse and communications did take place, took place mostly with print media - certainly not web sites. Most of us knew from back channel communications that anyone from the FS team that dared to post in a public forum with anything but an alias and deny-ability would be drawn and quartered and never heard from again.

 

RichardHarvey_sm.jpgPHASE 2:

december

By 1999 Terminal Reality had launched FLY and communication within the hobby was about to change - in a very big way. Richard Harvey (pictured to the left), the FLY team lead, joined the forums and starting communicating directly with his customers. The earth shook, heads turned, questions from the commercial members of the hobby started to percolate and rambled about behind the scenes. After all, the Terminal Reality team was breaking the mold, throwing out the conventions of the day and actually daring to have a forum and post there and, with earth shifting impact, answer customer's questions. Publicly no less. The teams from Propilot and Flight Unlimited were increasingly visible in the forums as well.

 

PMDG had been in the forums too at this time and Rob and guys were very open with the community from the outset. So, I consider PMDG to be a significant part of the phase 2 opening of the lines of communications.

 

Phase 2 opened the doors to what was to become a relatively new era in flight simulation. The dialog between commercial providers and the flight simulation community started to dramatically improve and the effect could be felt.

 

PHASE 3:

 

34678_1534898497614_790893_n.jpgEnter the new Microsoft FS team. In 2005 AVSIM held its conference and exhibition at the San Diego Aerospace Museum in Balboa Park. Michael Zyskowski (photo to the right), otherwise known as "Z"., the MSFS team "evangelist" at the time, attended and made a point of meeting with the AVSIM team. His message was pretty straightforward. There was to be a change in MS' approach to communicating with the community toward the better, but that it would be slow in coming. He was not kidding and the following year his promise of more openness was becoming true.

 

In 2006 we held the AVSIM Convention and Exhibition in Dulles, Virginia. MS had a whole team there and the event was a tremendous experience for all who were in attendance. Hal Bryan, Z, Brett Schnepf, and others from the team interacted with and circulated among the attendees. Their emphasis was what we now know as FSX today and they were very open to discussing it with the attendees, including a Key Note address by both Brett and Hal on the upcoming release. DSC_0802_small.jpg

 

To my knowledge, never before had MS revealed so much to so many in one place at one time. The relatively openness of the team to all attendees was pretty impressive. This level of communications would eventually lead to joint 2007 Microsoft DEVCON and AVSIM FANCON in Bellevue (Seattle), Washington.

 

For the first time in the hobby Microsoft held a Developer's Conference (DEVCON) followed immediately by AVSIM's FANCON at the same venue. The combination of the DEVCON and FANCON brought developers, Microsoft and the community together; a potent and very enlightening experience for all who were in attendance, I am sure.

 

Before it starts to sound as if all Microsoft communications and openness only took place at AVSIM events, let me dissuade you from that impression. From where I sat, evangelism had become a core tenet of the new ACES team. Evangelism meant reaching out to the community through whatever means seemed appropriate. AVSIM and many other entities in the hobby were in conversations with the team. Discussions that were comfortable and not encumbered with too many restrictions. As I alluded to above, this had a ripple effect. img_3751_small.jpg

 

That Microsoft openness was not to last...

 

In January of 2009, Microsoft shut down the ACES Studio and made an announcement on the FSInsider web site. 2008 of course is a year that we recognize today as the beginning of a serious recession that had a strong negative impact on just about every corner of the U.S. and global economies. It certainly was not a popular or well accepted decision by the flight simulation community. In mitigation, there were strong add on products to the FSX series of simulators and there were rumors of others coming. In dissolving the ACES studio, MS had abandoned its strategy behind the acquisition of the gaming studio in favor of turning to their own in-house Microsoft Games Studio.

 

PHASE 4:

 

67125_10151057998556951_500209533_n.jpg The closing of the ACES Studio resulted in a unique event unfolding. Arnie Lee, President of ABACUS PUBLISHING (pictured to the left) was concerned enough that he suggested to companies and major web sites in the flight simulation genre that we should gather and spend a day or so discussing the future of the hobby, our industry, and how to mitigate the loss of ACES Studios.

 

As a result, a number of third party devs and a couple of major website owners were in attendance. We met at a hotel adjacent to Schiphol Airport over a weekend in April of 2009. I won't say that things were tense, but the group, almost to a man, were concerned about the closure and it's implications for their future business and direction. A full day of discussion took place, starting with a bit of marketing analysis and going through to alternative sim developments that the group was aware of. We left no better equipped to deal with the closing of the ACES STUDIOS, but at least we were talking. For a many of us that attended, that was a milestone in and of itself.

 

Never the less, the closure of ACES put a large pall over the entire community and it's industry participants. It couldn't get worse, could it? Answer? It sure could and did.

 

Enter Microsoft Games Studios... We knew from early in 2008 that MS was considering a "community" approach to its website, file hosting, community building and so on. Brett Schnepf had been scheduled to meet with some developers in Europe and he contacted me about my travel plans. I happened to be scheduled to be in London that week and he and I agreed to meet. We met at the White Hart Hotel in Hampton Wick, just across the Thames from Kingston. Though Brett was careful not to tell me what the "plan" was, it was obvious from his questions that the MS Management was looking into the "Socializing" of their brand. That is, a social media like environment tied into digital content delivery, including add ons. Over the coming months there was a number of questions and data gathering exercises, all pointing toward the "socialization" of the FS product line. The idea seemed to percolate through the first eight or nine months of 2008 and then things went silent on the subject. Here is the quote from the FSInsider page noted above:

V

We believe these future investments will push innovation, community, and collaboration to unprecedented levels and will provide more synergy with our ongoing investments in Games for Windows - LIVE as well as other Windows entertainment technologies.

 

With all the benefit of hindsight, this was a pretty accurate, though vague description of what was to come. After the closure of ACES in January, things got very quiet. Any communications with the Game Studio that developed were apparently under Non-Disclosure Agreements, which we knew a number of devs were restrained by. From the community perspective, the silence would be there until late 2011, when we and a small group of other individuals in the community were invited to meet with the FLIGHT lead manager and have a look at FLIGHT; the forthcoming MS replacement for FSX.

dece

Joshua_Howard.jpg In December of 2011 the group met with Joshua Howard (photo to the left), Studio Manager for the MS FLIGHT product. In March of 2012, not three months later, Joshua gave us an interview. In our meeting in December, Howard pretty well closed the door on dialog with the flight simulation community. In that interview in March, he essentially said it publicly. Here is the question and the response:

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December

TA: At our meeting in December, when asked about the existing “hard core” flight sim community’s probable negative reaction to FLIGHT, you indicated that you and your team anticipated that reaction and accepted it as an outcome of your decisions you adopted in your FLIGHT business model. Since then, have you altered your view as to the significance of the “hard core’s” reaction?

 

JH: We accepted that by doing something different with the franchise, we were going to upset some of our existing customers, but that’s the cost of trying something truly new. This new version has always been about finding a way to bring the joy of flight to massive new audiences, and we felt that we couldn’t best do that by building Flight Simulator 11. However, we believe deeply in the value of that underlying simulation, and invested a lot in Flight to create a more sophisticated simulation than we ever had before. (You can read the entire interview here)

 

With the closure of ACES the community was worried. With the advent of FLIGHT and the abandonment of the FS customer base for pursuit of the larger "masses", the community was furious. With the Game Studio's shuttering of the FLIGHT product development, the MSFS product was now presumably dead after decades of "presence" and a following by millions world-wide over all those years.

 

PHASE 5 - TODAY:

 

iconPrepar3D.pngTo put the history of this aspect of flight simulators into hard breaks, such as Phases as I have done, is probably a disservice to all that had been occurring in parallel with the machinations, drama and ultimately, the abandonment of the genre' by Microsoft. In the meantime other developments were taking place that have had, and will continue to have, a significant impact on our hobby. The communications have morphed considerably during the emergence of these other developments. Companies like Aerosoft, Lockheed, PMDG, Laminar Research and many other developers are increasingly engaged and their relationships community-wide were and are maturing.

 

One of the barriers to communications within our hobby has always been the polarization of enthusiasts along the lines of their favorite sim platform; FS vs. X-Plane, X-Plane vs. P3D, FS vs. P3D, etc. An important evolution is occurring; the evolving openness between sim enthusiasts despite sim selection. The previous two or three years have motivated enthusiasts to reach out and try the other major sims, even if only for a flight or two. But that cross platform participation seems to have "softened the edges" of communication between differing platform owners.

 

The story of "Today" is still being written of course, but it is tremendously encouraging to see the cross simulator dialog between users, the openness of Lockheed and Terminal Reality and the common understanding that our community is healthy, growing and busting with potential.

Tom Allensworth

The AVSIM FANCONS have been an annual event for a number of years, starting in 2002, with a large break taken from 2009 until 2013, when we did the FANCON in conjunction with Cockpit Fest at the Kansas Aviation Museum in Wichita in April. In-between we held a couple of social gatherings at our annual Board of Director's meetings in Chicago, Washington D.C., etc. Many of you have attended the FANCONS and our "socials" and we hope you enjoyed them.

 

It has always been a puzzle to me, frankly. Gatherings of simulation enthusiasts in Europe draw hundreds, if not thousands, of attendees and exhibitors number in the dozens. AVSIM FANCONS, with rare exception, drew hundreds of attendees (at most), and a handful of intrepid exhibitors. I can accept that maybe we were not doing something right; advertising, price, location, whatever. However, having experimented with locales as diverse as San Diego, Washington D.C., Seattle, Wichita, and so on, geography did not seem to make a difference. Cost of admission didn't seem to make a difference. Whatever the reason, U.S. based flight sim enthusiasts just didn't seem to want to attend in numbers that made holding a FANCON worthwhile, for either our exhibitors or AVSIM.

 

Given the small level of interest (relatively speaking) in the U.S., the cost to put on a FANCON, and the state of the economy, I don't see AVSIM doing a FANCON this year. In fact, I don't foresee another AVSIM FANCON happening again, at all. We are open to suggestions and insight about how to change this around.

Tom Allensworth

Over the last six months there have been a number of days that resulted in our community members pulling their hair, gnashing their teeth, and calling us (and me specifically) all kinds of names because of system outages, time outs, ad nauseam. I will be the first to admit that we have been struggling from time to time with the system. But, I am getting ahead of my self. Let me review a little history.

 

When we first setup AVSIM in our collocation service (known as a COLLO service), the architecture consisted of a single MySQL database. That serviced primarily the file library and was installed on JUPITER, our library and email server. When we brought online our new forum system in 2006 (the first generation of the one you see today), we decided to host it on a second server, MARS. But because we needed a MySQL database to run it on, and our previous forums were simply text based systems, we decided to simply connect the forum to our existing MySQL database on JUPITER. That worked for a long time; until the last six months to be exact. Seven years of successful service via an architecture that we did not anticipate would have a load placed on it that we see today.

 

Let's set that aside for a moment and address another issue. As I write this, over the last 24 hours, we have had over 670 spam attempts from one country alone, and not even one of the "biggies" in terms of spam sources. We have a number of functions in place that block spammers, including the service known as "Stop Forum Spam" or SFS for short. But, that doesn't prevent attempts to register - in order to block spam, we need to at least get a bit of information before they are blocked (email, IP, etc.). That takes server time to accomplish - server time that is taken away from you as a community member. Add all the spam attempts over a 24 hour period and that is a tremendous amount of server time being used to protect you and this community.

 

Okay, so, one more... if you look at the bottom of the main forum index page, you will see a breakdown of members and "guests" online. "Guests" take three or more forms. The first is that they are indeed users who have not registered or have not logged in and are here viewing the forums and its content. The second form of "guests" is that of search engine search attempts. Every time someone uses Bing or Google or any of the couple of other dozen search engines are used to find something that can be found on AVSIM, the system registers the search effort as a "guest" visiting AVSIM, which indeed it is.

 

The third form is that of "spiders" or "bots" that sweep through our servers looking for data to put in search databases, or for other, not so positive acts; like collecting email addresses and any personal information they can find. That process consumes huge amounts of server time and Apache connections - again stealing those from our legitimate members. There are hundreds of these and many of them are not "friendly" like Google and Bing are. The fact of the matter is that we have processes in place to prevent the bad bots from dragging the system to its knees. However, as in warfare, there are bots that masquerade themselves, use well thought out "spoofing" methods and successfully avoid or circumvent our protective measures.

 

Finally, there are features that we employ that do add significant load to our servers. Take TapaTalk as an example. It multiplies server load by 5 times! We have been working with TapaTalk on this, but if no solution is found, we might have to remove it entirely, and never look back again.

 

Now let's go back to the architecture... Because we rely upon one database between two servers, we have a bottle neck that exists between the two. That bottle neck is the interface required to go from MARS to JUPITER in order to connect the forum with the MySQL database server. In 2011, 12 and most of 2013, that was adequate. In fact, we rarely, if at all, suffered problems because of the single MySQL implementation. That has obviously changed. I guess you could say that we are suffering from our own success. We have out grown our configuration and we need to change it to prevent further "throttling" of performance for our registered community members.

 

So, how are we going to fix this? We are working to bring on MySQL experts and Linux / Server / Apache gurus to focus on the issues and we are daily taking remedial steps (like blocking all but a handful of guests at any one time) to make the AVSIM experience as positive as it can be for you.

 

It is our hope that your patience will withstand the time outs and outages, and that the outcome will be more than sufficient to make all these to be nightmares of the past.

Tom Allensworth

I was having a PM conversation with a community member the other day, and it occurred to me that most people in our hobby do not equate their time and experience in the hobby to that of being a leader or having the opportunity to provide leadership.

 

Fred Xman has over 1,200 posts and his profile shows that he has been a member of the AVSIM forums for 7 years and that does not include his participation and contributions elsewhere. Question: Is Fred a leader in our hobby?

 

In order to answer that question we have to define the word "leadership". My simple definition of leadership in the context of our hobby is being able and willing to provide guidance and support to other members of our simming community, no matter the forum or location, AVSIM or otherwise. This, of course, is not the entire definition of leadership, nor is it the only one.

 

Let me give you an example of my definition in the context of our hobby. Sam Fman is a brand new user of flight sims and discovers resources and a forum at the Brand X web site. In looking through the forum, he notes members with high message counts and years of membership. I would be willing to bet that his initial assumption is that these people are those whom he can turn for help and reasonably expect to receive it.

 

Does providing expertise and knowledge in response to his question imbue leadership to the experienced community member? I argue that it does not happen automatically, that it certainly provides the opportunity to be so. I would argue that the experienced long time member most often does not recognize that opportunity and some even squander it by disparaging the question or the member entirely.

 

And what a shame that is... In my nearly 31 years of running public Bulletin Board Systems and now forums; communities if you will, I have seen countless thousands of wasted opportunities to provide leadership for some of the most immature and childish reasons. Self aggrandizement, misplaced self-importance, arrogance, condescension... and you get the idea. How often have we read the statement; "I am afraid to post a message there, cause I know I will be bashed"? Or, "Every time I post a message there I get slammed with responses that tell me to (RTFM, YOUR DUMB, THAT'S A STUPID QUESTION, GET MORE EXPERIENCE AND THEN COME BACK AND ASK, etc. You insert your favorite negative response). Or, the worst indictment; "I will not participate there, because the users are so hostile"...

 

There are any number of what I call the "entitled" that were significant personages in our hobby in days gone by. They are not around much any more because, among other reasons, they wore their welcome out across the hobby. These individual are the extreme example of squandered opportunities to show their leadership potential. Where they could have provided measureless experience and knowledge, they did more to drive members away than otherwise.

 

If you have time in the hobby and have shown your willingness to participate and share your experience via messages and contributions in our hobby, you have the leadership potential waiting for you to exercise it. But remember, being a leader comes with some responsibilities. Responsibilities like providing respect, maturity, thoughtful guidance, and so on. Ignore those responsibilities and you too will have squandered your opportunity to lead.

 

My point is simple; you may not see yourself as a leader, but the potential is there for you to nurture and provide if you so choose.

Tom Allensworth

blog-0735447001331955492.jpgTalking about things that AVSIM Staff are proud of, how many of you remember Denver, Colorado, United and the UA training facility there? How many were in attendance? It was a first of its kind for the simulation community. United, despite the heightened concerns about security resulting from 9/11, sold us over two hundred hours of full motion simulator time at a price that was, well, charitable. We only found out after the fact that the time they sold us was actually 20 percent of what they normally charged airlines other than United for the same access.

 

With that positive memory firmly in hand, we come to a very horrible, but uplifting time for AVSIM and a truly shining moment for the flight simulation community - the 2009 AVSIM Hack. I have hesitated to give more details until now, simply because AVSIM picked up and moved on, and I did not feel there was a need to do so. I have been scouraged by some in the community for not having done so (as in, we had something to hide) and I am reminded by my colleagues that in the interest of history, and long after we are gone, people will talk about this event and possibly see it as a water shed occurrence in our hobby. I don't know about that - you are welcome to draw your own conclusions.

 

In 2008, Matt Johnson, our tech manager and all around IT guy for AVSIM, made it known that his real world responsibilities would keep him from putting in the time that he had unstintingly provided for many years. He also told us that he could not guarantee that he would be around to help us out if things went "south". He was leaving the University environment in which he had worked from graduation, and going to work in the commercial world. The game play had significantly changed for him. Obviously, the responsible thing for us to do was to find a replacement for Matt, and do so rather quickly. I can tell you that replacing such a talent is not an easy thing to do, especially as a volunteer, which Matt was.

 

Our servers were getting long in the tooth, and our risk assessment of them was growing more ominous by the day. In fact, in the fall of 2008 a disk sector had gone bad. We took that as a ominous harbinger of things to come. What we did not know was the future role that bad disk sector would play... THE single most significant role in saving AVSIM.

 

In the latter part of the year, we brought aboard Stan Harmon as a paid consultant for his professional experience in Linux and its implementation. We asked John Binner, who was our hardware manager, to work with Stan to define a remediation plan for our existing hardware and operating systems. In early 2009, Phil Dawson appeared on the radar as a potential designer for what we hoped would become our new library. In January of 2009 he had opened his own IT business, SOURCEWISE LTD. in the UK, and was very much involved in the flight simulation community via his website; SIMFLY.EU. It was the SIMFLY website that established his credentials in our thinking and we invited him to join our team.

 

A lot was happening all at once. Microsoft had just announced the closure of the ACES Studio. The global community was in an uproar as to the future of flight simulation, and in the storm that surrounded of all of this, we were looking to both address our immediate hardware issues as well as set the stage for the redesign of AVSIM. Our first priority, in terms of design was the file library and we asked Phil to look at that. In the meantime, Stan and John were working out the hardware issues.

 

The shuttering of ACES precipitated a call for a meeting of industry to discuss the future of flight simulation and the direction that we should take given the demise of the MS Flight Simulation genre'. We decided upon a meeting to be held at a hotel adjacent to Schiphol airport in the Netherlands in April. Since I was going to be there, I decided to fly Dawson over from the UK to meet me to discuss the file library and its conceptual design. Phil agreed and met me at the hotel. Leading up to the meeting at Schiphol, we had given Phil moderator access to our forums, where he had also volunteered to help.

 

Phil and I discussed the library, what our larger vision of the library was, and what we had hoped to accomplish in its redesign. Phil returned to the UK and we went ahead with our meetings regarding the future of flight simulation.

 

The timeline from this point until the evening of the 12th of May gets a bit confusing, but here is the long and the short of it. Phil asked for increasing access to our servers to fulfill his role in the redesign of the library. He also volunteered to help us with the hardware issues we were having. We gave him the access that he argued successfully that he should have. That was a tremendous mistake of judgement that we would come to regret. In our defense, there were no indications that Phil could not be trusted. Who would expect a volunteer to have anything but honorable intentions? Well, we found out the hard way that not all volunteers are what they appear. That has had lasting implications.

 

In the day or two leading up to the hack, spam email had been sent from SIMFLY.EU to every member of the AVSIM forums. AVSIM members started reporting that the spam was hitting email addresses that they only used to access AVSIM. It didn't take much to conclude that Phil had taken advantage of his position and had stolen AVSIM's forum email database. Phil eventually admitted as such in the forums, after the hack.

 

On the evening (EST) of May 12th, we removed Phil's access to the admin functions of the forums and we started to shut down his access to the workings of our servers. Stan and I were both online, communicating, and watching the servers when we noticed that our directories were starting to disappear. We were not fast enough. At about 3 a.m. UK time (10 p.m. EST), Phil was attacking our servers and doing a data refill of our disks.

 

In an apparent fit of anger resulting from our removal of him from our forum administration, Phil went on a rampage, attempting to wipe out the entire AVSIM structure. He knew about our bad sector and our weakening disks. He apparently believed that he could get away with wiping out our system and blame our tottering architecture to cover his tracks. He had also set up a trip to Turkey which he was leaving for early on the 13th. He attempted to later use both as an alibi. The Turkish trip is substantiated in later court testimony. See the link below.

 

Phil was a smart guy, but not that smart. He had set an automated process to run which would delete disk sectors, fill them with "zeros" and effectively render them unrecoverable. What he did not anticipate was that the very disk sector that was bad and which we were all painfully aware of, would be his undoing. That bad disk sector caused his automated process to come to a screeching halt. When that happened, his process stopped short of destroying our access to the logs as well. As result, we had a log of everything that Phil had done, starting in the evening of the 12th Eastern Standard Time. His fingerprint, portrait, and genetics were all over the attempt to wipe us out. The logs told all.

 

Stan and I watched this unfold that night from our PC's in absolute shock. We could not shut down the process fast enough. Luckily, it hit the bad sector, died, and not known to us at that moment, we were saved. But we did not know that until much later. At approximately 2300 on the 12th of May, I sent out an email to the world stating that we had been hacked and that it appeared we were destroyed. Nothing we could see at that time indicated any possibility of reviving AVSIM. That was the worst moment in the history of AVSIM - and one that I was sure we would never recover from. Every indication was that we were dead. Phil had known enough about our system to also know of our backup server and he went after it too. From what we could see that night, AVSIM no longer existed.

 

It was not until after Stan made multiple trips to our Network Operating Center (NOC) in Northern Virginia, that we were able to really establish the amount of damage and our potential for recovery. Phil's ignorance of the impact of the dead sector set the stage for us to recover far more than we had ever hoped possible.

 

The following morning we set up a temporary forum elsewhere and started to provide forum services once again to our community. Almost immediately, the user community launched a donation effort. We were frankly surprised by that, and in short order we recognized that the community stood solidly behind AVSIM. As our understanding of the depth of the community's dedication to the AVSIM cause deepened, we opened a PayPal account to accept those donations. I think I can safely say that the AVSIM Team was astonished by both the community initiated donation effort and the results of that effort. The community raised well over $30,000 USD to help get all of AVSIM back online. To say that we were shocked and pleasently surprised by this still remains an understatement.

 

Our initial plan had been to effectively give into the hack, pick ourselves up, and wipe what remained of our existing disks clean and start over with the aged hardware then in place. As the community's contributions continued to grow, we reassessed that plan and decided that given we were able to recover data, and that we wanted to continue, grow, and extend our services to the community, it made sense to do our very best to put in place hardware and systems for the future. That's the plan we finally adopted and which you see the benefit of today.

 

As the tech team moved forward with getting our hardware and systems back online, we decided to pursue Phil for violating a number of UK and US laws and to recoup damages from him, both monetarily and otherwise. Those were inconsequential compared to our larger concern. The most important motivator for us was that Phil was attempting to sell himself as an IT guy who would set up and manage commerce systems for business owners in the UK and elsewhere. Given what he had done to us, the thought of Phil controlling the back end of commerce systems with access to financial and credit information was the last thing we wanted to see him get away with. We could not allow him to wreck havoc with an unsuspecting business owner and the customers that faced the potential of fraud. As a result, we hired a prominent international law firm, London based law firm K&L Gates LLP, and went after Dawson. K&L Gates also had U.S. offices that we could use if we decided to pursue U.S. prosecution.

 

I met with the London police in November of 2009 to provide data and a deposition which they would then hand over to the authorities in the appropriate jurisdiction. K&L Gates had numerous contacts with various departments and jurisdictions, including that of Phil's home town police. It became apparent that law enforcement in the UK did not consider this incident sufficient to prosecute, nor that the risk of fraud warranted pursuit. Given that realization, our choices were to spend enormous amounts of money to pursue a civil case against Dawson or file a U.S. complaint. Neither of these choices were guaranteed to succeed and would have cost well over 100,000 UKP ($180,000 or more at the time).

 

At the point that we shut K&L Gates down, we had spent over $10,000 of AVSIM's savings. We had not spent any of the community's contributions on the effort. Everything that the community had donated toward our recovery effort to that point had been spent on hardware, software and the consultation fees to get us up and running with the new hardware.

 

We decided that investing in the community was a better decision going forward and certainly a better use of AVSIM's funds. That decision was effectively made at the end of 2009 after my meeting with the London police and further consultations with K&L Gates. Our decision was that it would be far more beneficial to the community to put our money and that of the community's contributions to work directly, rather than pursuing a legal case that would do nothing to advance our hobby and accomplish nothing more than incurring futher expense.

 

Ultimately, the outcome was that we put into place multiple high performance servers with raid arrays, extrodinary amounts of RAM, and plenty of room for expansion. On Memorial Day a couple of weeks ago, John installed a high performance background backup system to further insure that anything short of an internal hack could rapidly be overcome.

 

This story was a tragedy on a number of levels. If you visited the Simfly.eu site link above, you will have seen a hint of what transpired with Phil. Without further comment, we will direct you to this link to conclude his part of the story: http://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/9505178.Man_took_own_life_days_after_lover_was_busted/

 

I would like to pass on a couple of thoughts...

 

Phil was an impressive young guy. My meeting with him left me confident that he could do the job we were asking him to do, and I had no reason to question his integrity or sincerity. I was, and continue to be, stunned that he chose to do what he did. I cannot begin to tell you how frequently I have questioned my judgement in people then and since.

 

The greatest moment in AVSIM's history is and will remain the willingness, initiative and commitment by the flight simulation community to stand up and provide us the means and where-with-all to put AVSIM back together. It was a very humbling moment for all of us on the AVSIM team. We cannot begin to convey our thanks to all that contributed to our resurrection and those that have contributed since. Our gratitude is without bounds, and we cannot say thank you enough. Thank You!

 

The 15th anniversary retrospective will continue. Thanks for reading this one.

Tom Allensworth
Never stop being a kid. Never stop feeling and seeing and being excited with great things like air and engines and sounds of sunlight within you. Wear your little mask if you must to protect you from the world but if you let that kid disappear you are grown up and you are dead.
The airplane is just a bunch of sticks and wires and cloth, a tool for learning about the sky and about what kind of person I am, when I fly. An airplane stands for freedom, for joy, for the power to understand, and to demonstrate that understanding. Those things aren't destructible.

Richard Bach, 'Nothing by Chance,' 1963

This month we celebrate our 15th anniversary. I find it hard to believe that it is now 15 years since AVSIM was a downloadable monthly magazine. A lot of water has passed under this bridge and all of us on the AVSIM Staff are proud of this accomplishment and the many contributions that we have made to our hobby and our community. We take a look back now, and hope you will enjoy some of our retrospective.

 

Though my memory isn't quite what it used to be, I can still see those times and incidents within our hobby that are formative and which AVSIM had the opportunity to participate in and share. I would like to reminisce a bit, and hope you will bear with me (and the other members of our team who have contributed to this retrospective). If you remember some of these and would like to add your memories, or provide corrections, please add a comment and help fill the gaps.

 

The Microsoft FS2000 Boycott: Sometimes we get it right and sometimes we don't. In 1998 we launched a "boycott" of MSF2000. We felt that the boycott was justified as FS2000 really had some issues that MS should not have allowed to make it into the RTM. The community will probably argue for years whether that boycott was justified or not. All we know is that the next release corrected many of the issues found in 2000 and more. The law of unintended consequences... We had not intended to "make a name for ourselves" by instigating a boycott, but that appears to have been the result. The name "AVSIM" was considered language not used in front of children in Redmond, Washington for a number of years after.

 

The Papa Tango Affair: Some will argue the significance, or importance, of this phase of our collective history. I will argue that it was a very formative point in the history of flight simulation, and an event that still reverberates today (more later on that score). In short, Peter Tishma, AKA "Papa Tango", signed a contract with American Airlines and the UK carrier British Airways as well as Austria's Lauda Airlines for use of their logos on his products. Peter took those contracts and attempted to corner the market, so to speak, on every livery he had a contract on. Lauda, BA and AA were only the lead actors in this scheme - more were to follow. In short, Tishma argued that he had the rights to every logo that he had a contract with. Therefore, his "thinking" went on, he had control of the use of the logo within flight simulation. Take that to its logical conclusion, and Peter insisted that his contracts allowed him to "regulate" the use of those logos in freeware and anywhere else they were found in flight simulation. Imagine a PMDG not able to produce a Boeing Aircraft today, without prior approval (and a hefty fee we suspect) because PT had a contract with Boeing for its trademarked logo in flight simulation.

 

AVSIM called Peter's bluff. Peter had AA look into some sites (that shall remain nameless) and they in turn were sent letters of "cease and desist". AA and Lauda liveried files were being removed as fast as they could be found. Peter had managed to coerce some, via the law department at AA, to drop any possible competitive product (freeware or otherwise).

 

I was in Kuwait in April of 2001 (yeah, note the date and location) when I received an email from American Airline's lawyers asking to have a talk. This was in response to an AVSIM letter sent to those same lawyers questioning their sanity, in a manner of speaking... In a nutshell, they were told and ultimately understood the truth, and the PT affair became a nasty memory. Although a memory that refused to go away (more on that later).

 

Had PT succeeded, there would not be freeware as we know it today for liveries that were under his control. Any add-on that attempted to replicate a real world livery under control of PT would have had to been "vetted" and approved by PT. You can imagine, I am sure, that a commercial "charge" would have been applied for the privilege of having that logo approved. PT's sights were set on more than AA and Lauda.

 

Once that Pandora's box was open, you can also imagine that every commercial producer who had a logo contract would have been at least looking at, if not practicing the same.

 

I think that the PT affair and AVSIM's stand (alone I might add... other sites caved without even questioning the validity of PT's claims - a fact that I am particularly proud of) were water sheds in flight simulation's history. It could have altered our hobby for the bad. Forever.

 

Joe Jurecka, Jason Grooms, Marty Bochane and the Early Days of Online ATC: Many in our community are unaware of the history of the development of online ATC as we know it today. In the summer of 1997 and through the summer of 1998, AVSIM provided the first beta server in support of what were then Sqauwkbox and the ATC client that were the foundations for organizations that came later - specifically SATCO. SATCO spawned its rival IVAO. SATCO itself was replaced by VATSIM.

 

Joe Jurecka, Jason Grooms and Marty Bochane, names not too many recognize in the hobby today, are the grandfathers of all online ATC as you know it. A lot is owed to them by the many thousands that benefit from their handiwork today. Their collective contribution to our hobby with Squawkbox and the ATC client set the stage for many hundreds of sites and virtual airlines that were to come and still exist today.

 

From these beta trials and group gatherings on the AVSIM server, an organization evolved that was to be become SATCO - founded by Randy Whistler. The morphing of SATCO into an offshoot and then a replacement which was VATSIM is a history in-and-of itself, but suffice to say that AVSIM was there at the beginning and we are pretty proud of the role we played in nurturing the early development of this now very popular and important aspect of our hobby.

 

I would like to think that there are old timers around that remember "Friday Fright Nights" where IMC conditions were set server wide for flight into KORD (or anywhere else for that matter. Weather was a universal setting in those days). Those were certainly the good 'ol days...

 

The FLY Generation and Richard Harvey: Late in 1999 and early in 2000 there emerged an effort to develop an alternative to MSFS that caught our attention. This was the development by Terminal Reality of the flight simulator FLY!. This effort was lead by a gentlemen by the name of Richard Harvey. FLY was an attempt to take the visuals and the accuracy of flight far beyond what MSFS, Flight Unlimited and ProPilot had accomplished up to that time. One of the ground breaking aspects of FLY was the cockpits. Never before had simmers seen the fidelity of a cockpit as they saw in FLY. Today FLY is continuing in development in an open source environment and its future is solely the result of efforts by a small and dedicated team whose product evolves daily.

 

Behind every story is another that adds substance and meaning. FLY was no different. Richard Harvey was the lead of the FLY team and stands out in our collective history for a number of reasons. For years flight simulation enthusiasts had begged Microsoft to be more engaged with its customers. Don't just listen, but respond. Let us know that you are hearing what we are telling you. Recognize us as your customers and our suggestions, complaints and desire to be heard.

 

Richard took that message to heart and communicated with a vengeance! Through the AVSIM Forums, Richard became a part of and dedicated member of the global simulation community. He engaged with our members and heard them. He explained the whys and where for's of why Terminal Reality could or could not do something requested by a user. Richard set an example for everyone as to how a developer could and should be engaged with his customer base; before, after and between products.

 

We all know what happened in September of 2001. FLY was a serious product and circulating in the community. Richard and his team spent countless hours in the AVSIM FLY forum working though the kinks, user suggestions and all the while maintaining the gentlemanly demeanor that we had all come to know him and his team for. Known to only a small group at the time, Richard had suffered multiple rounds of cancer and treatments over the proceeding two years. In 2002, his cancer started to get the better of him.

 

We had scheduled a FANCON to be held in San Diego on September 14th, the Friday following the attacks. We naturally canceled that event for the year, and immediately scheduled our next FANCON for Reno / Lake Tahoe the following year, which would coincide with the Reno Air Races. As the time approached for FANCON Tahoe / Reno, we realized that having Richard in attendance would be a great thing to do for a great guy and for the community he so cherished. Richard and his wife, Tara, attended. We awarded Richard our first Lifetime Achievement award the night of our banquet. By the following spring, Richard had passed on, finally loosing the battle that he had fought so hard and long with. At our FANCON in Tahoe, with Richard and Tara present, AVSIM announced the college scholarship program in Richard's name.

 

[imgleft]http://www.avsim.com/tom/RichardHarvey_sm.jpg[/imgleft] The Richard Harvey Endowed Scholarship: The AVSIM team has never had a prouder moment than the day that we launched the RICHARD HARVEY Endowed Scholarship Award for college students attending Embry Riddle Aviation University. Our scholarship drive saw immediate contributions from hundreds in the community, including many of the commercial organizations that are still supporting our community today. As I write this, a scholarship award is made every fall to a deserving junior or senior at ERU. The scholarship has grown in value and is now self sustaining. It is indeed one of the prouder moments both for us on the AVSIM Team, and for the hundreds of community members who contributed to make that scholarship come to life and continue to live today. Every fall there is a recipient of the Richard Harvey Scholarship for Aviation, and in a way that pleased Richard very much, his name and legacy is continued. Some day, we hope to look back and find dozens, if not hundreds, of pilots and areonautical engineers who have benefited from and known the name, Richard Harvey.

 

Richard in his last post to the forums said; "Try to stay away from things that are dark, dreary, introspective, tear jerkers, etc. Think HAPPY -- be HAPPY. If that is too much to ask, then I'll change the word HAPPY to POSITIVE. That's the flow of feeling I want rolling through my soul as I depart this earth from each of you, is absolute POSITIVE energy. Don't stall on me, I have to soar!"

 

TO BE CONTINUED

Tom Allensworth

blog-0818016001328396456.gifIt came much faster than I had anticipated. At the ripe old age of 61, I am now retired. I woke up on Wednesday, February 2nd, a retired dude with no meetings, conferences, customers, or anyone or anything putting demands on me. Got up, fed the cats, and went back to bed. Amazing...

 

I suppose I will eventually adapt, but thinking of your "to do" list without a job to populate it takes a bit of getting used to. We'll see how long that lasts. I can certainly say that with four days of retirement under my belt as I write this, the hardest thing I will have to do is separate myself from whatever I am doing at the time and force myself to get up and walk or do something else physical. Sitting behind a computer (or worse, becoming an expert on day time soap operas) is a sure way to an early grave. And I am too early in my retirement for that to happen.

 

Anyway, I am looking forward to sharing this experience that many of you do.

Tom Allensworth

blog-0141494001325693927.jpgJust prior to Christmas a small group of people representing various organizations in the flight sim community were invited by Microsoft to attend a meeting in Redmond, Washington. The purpose of this meeting was to preview Microsoft's most recent and soon to be released entre' into the "Flight Game" world; MS FLIGHT. We were given an entire day to view, operate, and ask questions of the leadership of the FLIGHT team, including Joshua Howard, the studio lead for this program.

 

Robert Whitwell, AVSIM Reviews Editor, and I attended. Microsoft has released more images, videos and a press release since then, all of which have driven the flight sim community to disappointment in some quarters, and elation in others.

 

As some of you may know, and it certainly was not a secret, the MS ACES team were talking to AVSIM, and presumably others, as early as 2007 about the emerging importance of social sites and the possible integration of a social site and flight simulation. Other questions asked had to do with the mechanics of AVSIM, how much bandwidth per month did we consume, how many files were downloaded in a day, median age, income, etc.

 

It was obvious then and glaringly apparent today, that Microsoft was considering an alternative model to the one that was employed with FSX and its predecessors. That model, in light of the growing expectations of MS management for improvements in revenue and margin, was not going to work for any future release of a product in the flight simulation genre'. The lack of profitability with FSX lead to the enevitable; the ACES Team were let go, with only a handful transferred to other sections of Microsoft. (I believe that there is one individual from the earlier ACES team that is on the FLIGHT team today.)

 

In a very short period of time a tremendous amount of experience and talent were lost. From that point forward, there were two things that influenced the path to a new flight simulater; the pressure to improve margins and the loss of many man-years of experience and talent. With the decision to produce a "Flight Game" a totally different set of dynamics came into play. One of these dynamics was the damaging loss of contact, in my opinion, with the flight simming community (that is another blog entry for another day however).

 

It is then no surprise that FLIGHT has a totally different business model and stategy behind it today. There are too many games that have far outshown the flight simulation genre' in terms of revenue and profit. There is no doubt that the MS team took a look at the Apple ITunes store and even some of MS' own products which have an online presence with downloadabe content. The the light bulb did light up. Control of the downloadable content (DLC), and the revenue that DLC would generate, increased the odds of satisfying executive expectations.

 

Summing up the business side of the FLIGHT product, it all makes sense and I applaud the FLIGHT Team Management for making a decision that flew in the face of their historic market, and the thousands of sim enthusiast who they knew would not be happy about it. It is a risky decision on many fronts, not just that of potentially alienating their history core customer base - you and me.

 

About the product itself... We were given an hour or two to "play" with FLIGHT, both standalone and in multiplayer mode. Focusing just on the flight model, graphics and frame rates, I have to say that FLIGHT was not bad at all, considering that you were limited to one relatively small part of the world. That may well have impacted frame rates as well. I saw no discernable stalls or hesitations thoughtout the period we were given to fly that sim.

 

I am not a Stearman pilot, and would not know the performance charateristics of one if they were enshrined in the POM and shoved down my throat. Having said that, I put the Stearman through what I considered to be a relatively challenging set of manuevers (or at least they would be considered so in FSX). The one that I will describe here was the loop. If you do not enter a loop correctly and depending on the aircraft you attempt it with, there are no limits as to what can happen. Power on stalls, inadvertent wing over, spins and all manner of fun things. I made three attempts to loop the Stearman and succeeded on the third go. The first two attempts resulted in pretty mushy stalls, as would be expected. In the third, I was able to finally get altitude and trade that for speed. Hitting the loop at speed did the trick and over the top we went. Keep in mind that this was flying soley with the mouse (my joystick wouldn't work for some reason) and it took some getting used to. Anyway, the loop "felt right". You tell me what a real Stearman "feels" like in a loop.

 

My point here is that the flight charateristics of the Stearman are significantly more realistic than the assessment that it is a game and aircraft dynamics and characteristics are modeled for that less demanding audience. If the Stearman is an example of the detailed flight models to come, then the picture is much prettier than some vocal community opinions would concede.

 

Over the last couple of weeks, more information has come to light on the sim. Some strategies that Microsoft will employ in bringing this product to market and growing it into a online enterprise has caused all manner of angst. A lot of this has been debated to the point of mindlessness in the forums. I will keep it simple.. The one thing that causes me concern among all others is the perceived, or in some cases actual, reluctance of third party suppliers to participate in Microsoft's approach to product acceptance, revenue sharing, and distribution restrictions, among others.

 

My personal opinion is that we need to give this aspect of FLIGHT a bit of time. Based on the initial success of FLIGHT and its early performance with the "target market", this will change. And that really sums up my feelings about FLIGHT today; give it time and wait and see...

 

But, there is one other aspect of this story that needs to be told...

 

There has been thousands of posts, or it seems like it, bewailing the demise of FSX and any successors that might appear. Of course that is not based on any real "fact" or "direct" knowledge of the subject. Nashing of teeth and arm waving are in my opinion, wasted energy at this point in the story of the Flight Simulation genre'. For those of you who are nashing your teeth, running around with your hair on fire and quickly damaging your shoulders, I have news for you...

 

In the meetings with Microsoft in December, the question of FSX's future was asked.. I can't remember the details of the answer, but I can sum it up by saying that MS has NOT SAID they are abandoning the product or ruling out a future successor. You can interpret that, anyway that you wish.

Tom Allensworth

Those changes I mentioned earlier are happening. In the last few days or so, we have added the new Classified Advertising system, reopened our Staff Galery, opened "Groups" and brought online our Blogs for staff. It has been rather busy around here. We encourage you to dip your toe in the water and take a look and put to use the ads system and groups system, and of course, pay our staff features as frequently as you can.

Tom Allensworth

Changes Coming

blog-0639915001324854252.pngAs you might have noticed over the lead up to Christmas, we have been a bit busy here at AVSIM cleaning house and putting in place new features and small additions to the forums that we hope will make things easier for our members.

 

An example of that is the recent modification that we have added called "selective quotes". In the past, if you wanted to quote a forum message, you were forced to quote the entire message and then edit out the bits you did not wanted included in your message, or were not germain to your response. Selective quotes allows you to high light the pertinent text you want to quote, and then you click on the button for "Selective Quotes". It then puts that segment in your response without further editing.

 

I will be posting updates on what we are up to over the coming weeks. We are really excited about one expansion that we'll keep mum on for the moment.

Tom Allensworth

Today was somewhat of a tumultuous day for the AVSIM Forums. Truth be told, we were adding functionality to the forums and I blew something up. With the help of our resident geeks, we were able to recover and now things appear to be back to normal. There is some functionality that we had added earlier today that was wiped out, but those will be taken care of shortly.

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