An introduction by Lefteris Kalamaras
A William Reynolds Interview
When you cast your eye back 10 years ago, the Flight Sim world had developers such as Lago, SubLogic, PSS, etc...in those days, all household names...
These days we have the established entities or newer developers who rose from the ashes of previous ones, satisfying our craving for virtual reality with ever impressive offerings.
And then a new player enters the field...their first offering, none other than a Concorde!! And what a simulation it was!! Did I mention it was their FIRST Aircraft model???
Now we hear they are working on an aircraft that seems to bring developers to their knees....the Airbus A320 and its associated family.
So who exactly are these guys, who boldly came up with a Concorde first up, an aircraft which, flying it with such delicately simulated realism, has been described as "skateboarding backwards down a flight of stairs whilst trying to accurately fire an UZI"...and their second offering will be a modern marvel many try to accurately simulate, but so far nobody appears to fully satisfy the realism-based simmer?
Well, I decided to ask directly, and I was extremely pleased to find them very friendly, approachable and candid. Despite having a mountain of work with their new design, they readily offered their time to Avsim readers to tell us a little about who exactly is Flight Sim Labs...and who better to tell us, than their founding Boss....Lefteris Kalamaras!
Q: Lefteris. please introduce us to Flight Sim Labs...why the name? Who started it? What was the goal/purpose?
Thank you for the opportunity to showcase our company to your readers! Flight Sim Labs is an independent company specializing in add-on aircraft for desktop simulation systems. Its name symbolizes its dual purpose: not only to provide flight simulation products to our customers, but also to continuously research and enhance methods for developing accurate simulation, taking advantage of desktop computer technology advances – in the same fashion that would take place in a modern-day laboratory.
Q: Your current role in Flight Sim Labs? What does a typical day look like for you?
As the founder and managing director of Flight Sim Labs, my tasks are diverse, ranging from liaising with our accounting and financial advisors, overseeing business direction and strategizing with our team on deliverables and goals. As my roots are in programming though, I am still directly responsible for a good part of our code development, so a good chunk of my time is spent coding various systems of our upcoming products and designing new development techniques with our team.
Q: Who is Lefteris Kalamaras? What is your background? How did you start in Virtual Aviation?
I was born and raised in Greece where I currently reside with my family. I spent ten years in the USA, studying (I received my degree in Computer Science with a minor in Economics) and then working for various Wall Street firms. My involvement in Flight Simulation started in its very early days, originally as a hobbyist and for over a decade now as a professional developer. After eight years as the Technical Director and Lead Developer at PMDG, it was time to start my own business and that was how Flight Sim Labs was born! I have also been fortunate to receive the Microsoft MVP award recognition for five years in a row, for my contributions to the hobby in general.
Flying is a big part of my life, whether real (I hold a Private Pilot’s license which I use to fly around Greece when time permits) or virtual (I am one of VATSIM’s Founding Members, having also served as VP of Development for some time) so I would say that I am FSLabs’ biggest customer and a simmer at heart.
Q: How is FSL structured internally? What kind of post-sales support programs do you have? Any future plans?
We have a relatively flat organizational chart, as we are still a small business. Our divisions are primarily task-related, with small groups for code development, graphics and 3d design, support and documentation. We are also assisted on a daily basis by a fantastic group of technical advisors who have been instrumental in our success. We are very fortunate to have as strong a team as we have – each individual brings unique and very strong skills to the table which mesh together to make us one of the premier simulation groups in the market today.
Our support team provides 24-48hr response times to any written inquiries and is very active in our forums where our customers and friends can find an ecosystem designed to assist in all their simulation-related needs.
We’re very excited to see the market expanding with some new flight simulator platforms that are now striving to gain ground after Microsoft decided to close their studios and we’re working closely with most of them to support our products on their platforms too.
Q: The current stock of products at FSL shows interface drivers for dedicated hardware, the Concorde-X and your upcoming A-320 and its family. Does this show a shift in focus for FSL or is it merely expanding the reach? Will you continue development of drivers or focus more on development of Aircraft?
As our company name denotes, we’re interested in all things related to flight simulation. We have concentrated in the past in providing dedicated hardware drivers and we will continue to do so, but our main focus at this time is aircraft development. We have, however, been working with several clients to assist them in specialized project needs involving various aspects of flight simulation and we’re happy to provide our services where necessary.
Q: The Concorde-X is the first product from FSL, reviews and comments from users indicate it is a very good representation of the machine. As far as FSL is concerned, why the Concorde? How difficult was it to put the project together, particularly since it was FSL's first aircraft development?
Even though the Concorde-X is our first product as a business group, our developers have been tightly involved with producing various other add-ons in their previous engagements so we’re all considered ‘veterans’ in the field. When FSLabs was first formed, we looked for a challenging product to develop, both in terms of programming complexity and also something that our customers would not have seen in the realism levels that we desired. A logical result was the Concorde, easily the most complex aircraft to have ever been developed in the real world and a favorite among most simmers. Our decision was made easier since Andrew Wilson, one of our principal developers, had been responsible for the creation of the SSTSIM Concorde for FS2004, a product that led the market in its time. It turns out that the decision to go with the Concorde-X could not have been better, as we have been blessed to receive multiple awards for it.
Q: From your own eyes, the best feature created by FSL on the Concorde?
There are actually many to choose – from its Ogee Delta wing modeling, the complete Engineer panel simulation, accurate Visor and Nose 3d design, all new custom Auto Flight logic, realistic supersonic simulation and reaction of aircraft systems to exterior temperature, or even the affectionately named “Marilake” Mach and Altitude display in the Concorde cabin, the Concorde-X features about 400% more fidelity than its closest competitors in the desktop simulation market. My personal favorite though, however easy to produce, has to be the accurate simulation of the cockpit visibly expanding when the Concorde is flying supersonic, something evident in the Virtual Cockpit where the back wall distance will increase with the hull temperature rising… quite a neat little feature but indicative of the level of detail we like to put in our products.
Q: Current "core" skill set for Flight Sim Labs....programming? development? research? all of the before-mentioned? When people say "Flight Sim Labs"...what would you like them to think?
We like to think of ourselves as a laboratory of flight simulation development, where all concentrations are found in equally strong quantities. We are happy to include skillsets that vary from graphics design and 3d art, to flight dynamics and engine modeling, code development, sound engineering and technical documentation writing. All these concentrations combine to form an environment where each individual complements the other to produce the best possible outcome for our customers, whether in the entertainment market or elsewhere.
Q: Future projects for FSL? Concentrate on Aircraft or other areas?
At the moment, we’re allocating most of our resources in the development of our A320-X aircraft which will be the first in the A3XX series (with the A319-X and A321-X to follow as add-ons). We felt strongly that while there might be other versions in the market currently (or shortly in the future) which attempt to simulate an A320, none go to the realism and fidelity levels that we strive to maintain and are known for. As such, while we endeavor to maintain our ties with the entertainment community, our product line will also expand towards the training and professional markets soon thereafter.
Q: Flight Sim Labs was invited to the Aerosoft Munich conference earlier this year. Your thoughts on the current state and future of the Hobby? Support for MS Flight and Prepar3D?
We were very happy to have attended the Aerosoft conference where we were invited to show case our A320-X in our product line presentation. We recognize the hobby needs such gatherings to promote new development and we welcome any such efforts, not just by Aerosoft, but also others such as the Lelystad FS Weekend which gathers people from all over Europe, as well as the FlightSim Weekend that takes place in mid-November in Hergiswil, Switzerland, one of the most beautiful areas in the world, in my opinion.
While my schedule doesn’t always allow me to attend them all, it means a lot to desktop flight simulation to continue such traditions and bring the younger generation closer in touch with virtual aviation.
To most of us working on flight simulation, the decision by Microsoft to close down their studios was not quite unexpected as it became apparent that the latest MSFlight effort was not railing together with the original aviation ideals set by Bruce Artwick and later supported by Bill Gates that made Flight Simulator a thirty-year continuous success. However, I view this event as most fortunate as it now opens up space that had been monopolized by a single giant and as we know, void is rarely left unfilled in nature. Already, Prepar3D is following closely in the FSX footsteps and the latest v1.4 release is welcomed as most stable and improved. We stand behind Lockheed Martin’s product and hope to use it as our training and professional market platform in the years to come.
Q: What does 2013 have in store for Flight Sim Labs?
We are actively looking to expand our horizons towards more simulation products while actively supporting the sales of our Concorde-X and A320-X product line. As we are constantly receiving requests to provide training and professional versions of our simulation products, we expect to use our current product line to expand into these areas and provide the level of fidelity in flight simulation to markets that might still feel PC flight sims are “games”. Well – I am sure we can prove them wrong!
Lefteris, I am sure you will!
I am humbled by the approacheability and friendliness from yourself and your team, an absolute pleasure to meet you!
Well, there you have it folks, for those who had heard of Flight Sim Labs, now you know a lot more about them, and like me, I believe many of you will be keeping a very close eye on them!
So what about their upcoming Airbus A320? Well I have always been rather curious, and Flight Sim Labs offered us none other than Andrew Wilson to tell us what is in store!
Stay tuned to the second part of our chat with Flightsimlabs.
Read the complete series of William Reynolds Interviews in our Published Archive Section