If you are interested in exploring some of the most beautiful scenery that the UK has to offer, than the product under review today may just be for you. The product is VFR Flight Plans over the UK Volume 1 available from Just Flight, and the purpose is to complete the first 9 flights of an 18 flight clockwise trip around the UK. These are not your typical point A to point B flights however; instead you will be using Visual Flight Rules (VFR) to navigate your way through an unconventional flight path taking you over cities, landmarks, lakes, tourist attractions, and much more.
To do this, Just Flight has provided pre-made flight plans for use with aircraft of four different cruise speeds ranging from 95 to 140 knots. Also included is a blank flight plan that will allow you to use any third party aircraft you wish. This is in addition to maps and photos that will help you to find your way to each of the waypoints. All of these tools are available through a single HTML document that provides links to the maps and flight plans for 9 flights from Waddington to Plymouth.
Though this package may seem fairly basic, it actually does a great job of putting all of the essentials for a VFR flight together. It is best used in combination with the Photographic Scenery package also available from Just Flight, but will work fine with the default scenery, assuming you have the scenery settings somewhere around medium-high or above.
Since this package seems simple, we need to get it installed to find out what makes it worth of being payware. To do this you will need to visit the Just Flight website at http://www.justflight.com. It might also be a good idea to take a look at the Photographic Scenery packages while you are there, or perhaps you will want to look for another form of scenery enhancement for this area. Again, not doing so does not make this package unusable, but the default scenery does not exactly do this area of the world much justice in my opinion.
Installation and Documentation
Once you have the download, all you have to do is double click on the “VFR Flight Plans UK Vol 1” icon and follow the auto-install instructions. The only input needed from you is to verify the Flight Simulator directory so that the flights and kneeboard maps can be put in the right place. You should not have a need to visit any of the installed files outside of the VFR Flight Plans HTML document, which can be accessed from an icon installed on your desktop or through the start menu under the “Just Flight” folder.
If you do want to see where everything went, the directory will be listed on top of the document when you access it through the VFR Flight Plans main page. Also available on this main page, is an instructional manual which will tell you everything you need to know about using this program. This manual will help you to learn how to follow a VFR flight plan and show you what the program has to offer to get you on your way. However, I would say that the HTML document is self-explanatory.
If you want to jump right in and get flying, you can load Flight Simulator and select any of the 44 VFR flight plans and be on your way. You will have a map on the kneeboard and the plan will be loaded into the GPS. But if you want to organize yourself a little first, then you will need to use the VFR Flight Plans HTML document, which should be on your desktop. Once you load this program there will be a list of 9 flights, each containing a map, flight plan, and photos of each waypoint you will be crossing.
The flights will be organized from top to bottom on the left side of the page. Above the flights listing you will see a map that shows you each of the flight plans from a very distant view. The flights begin in Waddington and continue through Coltishall, Southend, Turweston, Oxford Kidling, Biggin Hill, Lydd, Southampton, Yeovilton, and finally into Plymouth. To the right of each flight, is a link which will provide access to a flight plan and waypoint photos page. This page will give you four flight plans with varying cruise speeds, and photos that show each of the waypoints.
Moving on to the right, you will come across the maps. Each of the maps remains in the same order as the flights and can be viewed in two zoom levels for clarity. Finally, you will come across the Excel flight plans which can be altered to your liking, or you can use the blank flight planner on the top right side of the screen. To the top left is a link to an instructional manual that will help you to understand how to follow a flight plan. Once you have gathered all of the documents you can enter Flight Sim and select a flight, or create it for yourself.
Each of the flights will require you to identify a waypoint such as a city, landmark, tourist attraction, or body of water. You can also use the maps to note recognizable features along the way. For example, you may wish to place a mark on the map where you will cross a river, or where two or more towns form a geometrical shape, such as a triangle. This cannot be done on the maps themselves unless you print them out.
The HTML document is an all-inclusive file providing links to the aforementioned utilities. Each of the files are printable, but if you are using a second monitor, you can open this document on another screen to save yourself some ink. Personally, I like to put the maps and flight plans on a second monitor for quick reference. But no matter how much access I have to the maps it can be difficult to find your way around, especially for a high-flying IFR fan like myself. Let’s go see how to do it.
Finding Your Way Around
There are several tools available to help you find your way from one waypoint to the next, without missing any of the scenery along the way. First we have the VFR maps, which are pretty much all that you need make it through each flight. The maps may seem awfully simple at first glance, after all they appear to be nothing more than a street map with a flight plan drawn over top of it, but in reality they tell quite a story.
The story begins by identifying the departure and arrival locations, and connecting them with a series of waypoints in between. But at times it can be difficult to follow these maps if you are trying to find the ground target, such as a city that represents each waypoint. This is when a closer look at the VFR maps may reveal a lake, river, or some other recognizable ground texture that you can use to verify your location.
For example, if the first waypoint happens to be a certain town, you can examine the map and try to find a lake nearby, which won’t be too hard in this part of the world. As long as you stay on the right heading, or close to it, then you should have plenty of time to notice the town and look for the lake. Then you will know that you are at the right place. The idea here is to use a combination of ground targets to act as a waypoint.
Another tool available through the VFR Flight Plans HTML document, is the flight plan that includes waypoint photos. When you open the document containing the plan for the flight you are going to take, you will notice four different plans that are designed to be used with cruise speeds of 95, 100, 120, or 140 knots. These flight plans will give you the heading, time to remain on that heading, distance between waypoints, and much more.
If you would like to alter the flight plan to accommodate aircraft with a different cruise speed, you can use the blank flight planner to input the information yourself, or you can alter any of the four Excel flight plans on the right side of the VFR Flight Plans main screen. The waypoint photos that I mentioned above are in each of the flight plans and are available in small and large sizes. These photos can help you to identify the waypoints, but the actual scenery will appear differently without the appropriate VFR Photographic Scenery add-on installed.
In addition to these utilities you would also benefit from having a chronometer, or at least a stopwatch or clock. Since there are freeware chronometers available that you can put in any aircraft you wish, I would recommend sticking with that. Having a flight log can also be useful to keep track of your flight. You can choose a series of ground targets to follow and check them off as you pass each one.
Aside from the tools listed above, each of the flights are also programmed into the GPS for quick reference. Though this does not really follow the scheme of VFR Flights over the UK, it can be a great tool for learning how to follow a map. Let’s go check out some other utilities that can help you learn how to follow a VFR flight plan.
Alternate Forms of Navigation
It can be difficult for someone who is used to using a GPS to follow a VFR map. Therefore, you may wish to use the GPS in small increments to make sure you are staying on course and to double check yourself from time to time. After a while, you will find yourself referring to the GPS less often, and eventually you won’t need it at all. Each of the flights is programmed into the GPS with all of the waypoints identified. If you find yourself off course you can use the GPS to get back on track and then review what you have done so far to see where you went wrong. You can also use the map in FS9 to see where you are in relation to the flight plan.
Another way you can keep track of your location is with a moving map, many of which are available as freeware. This is another great tool to help you learn how to follow a map by letting you check your location and see how it aligns with where you are supposed to be. Just as with the GPS, I would not suggest using these utilities in place of the VFR maps and flight plans, but they can really help you when you’re in a jam.
If you want to try something really neat, you can use Google Earth, available at http://earth.google.com to keep track of your flight. This program in conjunction with MyFsTools-1-4.zip and MyFsGoogleEarth-1-0-1.zip, available from http://www.elbiah.de/flusi, will allow you to view the location of your aircraft imposed over a satellite image. This is my preferred method for learning to follow a VFR flight plan as you will have a good view of the city, river, or landmark acting as a waypoint.
Again, these forms of navigation do not fit in well with the idea of this product, but they can be used to help you learn how to follow the maps. Personally, I get a much bigger sense of accomplishment knowing that I did not have to refer to a GPS or moving map. If all else fails, just give ATC a call…I’d rather get home safe than to end up over the ocean out of fuel.
Let's Try a Flight
In fact, let’s take the final flight of this first volume, which will take us from Yeoviltion (EGDY) southwest to Plymouth (EGHD). The first thing I will do is enter the VFR Flight Plans HTML document and consult the flight plan, waypoint photos, and map. While I’m there I will print them out to have available in my home cockpit. Then I can enter Flight Sim and either create the flight myself, or find the applicable plan in the “select a flight” menu.
For this flight, I will be using the default Robinson R22 just in case I want to get a close-up view of one of the cathedrals. Once the flight loads I can open the kneeboard to view the map, but since I have printed it out ahead of time I can use the paper map instead to free up my view. This flight starts on the flight line with a cold cockpit, at EGDY. I have performed a brief pre-flight inspection, and am on my way southwest to Chard.
Following the flight plan, I will not reach the top of my climb until I am almost ¾ of the way to the first waypoint, which is about 20 minutes after takeoff. I have identified the town of Chard by using the waypoint photos in combination with the map, which indicates the presence of a river to the north. Once there, I have altered my heading slightly to take me towards Honiton and ultimately Exeter, which is the third waypoint.
After hovering around Exeter for a while, I have changed course to the southeast enroute to Exmouth. This waypoint can be recognized in many ways, but even with the default scenery it is hard to miss with all the water. But what happens when the weather gets too foul to see the ground targets? To find out I have loaded up some foggy weather as I turned back to the southwest towards Salcombe. Though I can not see the ground textures very well, I can reset my chronometer and stay on the correct heading for the time dictated by the flight plan.
And it worked. As the fog cleared I was able to see the point where I was to begin my decent, which was about half-way between Salcombe and Plymouth. Had I strayed from my course, I could have consulted the GPS or map, but following the flight plan has eliminated the need for that. Now I can go to the 6th waypoint which will take me right into the traffic pattern for EGHD. One final turn to the northeast will put me inline with the airport, which is only a few minutes away.
Finally I landed, after hovering around Plymouth for a while. This was the 9th and final flight in the first volume of the VFR Flight Plans over the UK package, but it was the first that I did not use any form of navigation other than the map and flight plan. This accomplishment will likely leave me wanting volume 2.
I can not possibly determine who will and will not enjoy this add-on, but I can say that I liked it…not loved it, just liked it. I was impressed at how well I could follow a VFR flight plan with just a little practice, and I believe that each of the 9 flights were created to expose the most beautiful scenery in this part of the world. I also liked having the VFR maps, the flight plans, and the waypoint photos accessible from one easy to use document. Having the opportunity to create a plan for any of my third-party aircraft was also nice.
The only aspect of this program that leaves me a little disappointed is the fact that I would have liked all of the 18 flights in volume 1 and volume 2 to be combined into one package. Once I made it to Plymouth, I really wanted the next 9 flights to take me back to Waddington. Also, technically speaking, it is possible to obtain freeware flight plans, maps, and waypoint photos, or you can create your own, but this package did a great job of putting them all together into one big 9 hour mission.
Unfortunately, the VFR Photographic Scenery add-on is almost essential if you want to get the most out of this program, but there are alternatives to having this. I happen to use the World Extreme Landscapes program from Abacus which defines the undulation much more sharply than in the default scenery. You can also use other Photo-real scenery packages to enhance these flights. A few of the areas along the flight plans have scenery enhancements available as freeware as well.
When it comes to giving this program my approval, I can only say that I liked it and I will continue to use it. Whether or not you will feel the same is impossible for me to determine, so I would recommend taking a flight over to www.justflight.com for a closer look. But be warned, you may get hooked on flying the virtual skies over the UK and end up buying more and more add-ons to improve the experience…I know I have.
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