I love playing in a sandbox. Outside of flight simulators my hard drive is populated with titles like “Mount & Blade: Warband”, “Oblivion” (love it or hate it!), “Evochron Mercenary” (an excellent indie space flight sim), and the venerable “Silent Hunter III” (Grey Wolves mod naturally!). The common thread between them is the developer basically saying “come on in to my sandbox-here is a framework to play in. Have at it however you see fit!”
I venture to say that flight simulation is one of the ultimate sandboxes where one gets to choose and control virtually …well… everything right down to choosing the weather. While this provides infinite “replay” value; unless one has a specific goal in mind (i.e. learning to fly, flying for a VA) the amount of freedom provided by flight simulation can be daunting - even to the point of choosing what aircraft to fly and where to go. FSX does a very good initial job of providing additional context and framework in the form of missions - an area that X-Plane lacks.
Enter Duncan “Slopey” Murray - the developer of Air Hauler for X-Plane. Legions of budding Frederick Smith’s (FedEx founder) have already discovered Duncan’s addictive creation for FSX and now X-Plane pilots can join the fun and discover a whole new reason to fly.
In a nutshell Air Hauler challenges you to become the next Fred Smith by founding your own air haulage company (clue in the title!) and making it a success. Sounds pretty simple right?
Not quite. Disguised by a polished and user-friendly GUI is a fairly sophisticated simulation model that “puts you in charge every step of the way - from landings to leases, flight plans to finances, and repairs to recruitment”.
I will illustrate the main features of Air Hauler by incorporating my own personal AAR as we go. Try not to chuckle too much!
Installation and Documentation
**Important Note**Air Hauler for X-Plane is currently available for the Windows OS ONLY!
Installation is a breeze after downloading the Just Flight installer executable. Be aware that Air Hauler (unlike all of my previous X-Plane add-ons) runs externally and separate from X-Plane itself and can be launched on its own. There is an Air Hauler plug-in package installed into the X-Plane plug-ins folder as well.
During the initial setup Air Hauler will ask for the path to the X-Plane.exe file. Most Window’s-based X-Plane users will have the sim simply stashed on the desktop (like me) and once identified for Air Hauler you are all set to go.
You can launch Air Hauler at any time; however, make sure you have X-Plane shut down prior to commencing an actual flight operation. Once the flight selection has been made Air Hauler launches the simulator for you.
An excellent tip-filled .pdf manual is also installed.
Baby Steps To A Cargo Empire
Once you have completed the installation, Air Hauler guides you through setting up your first company. You will note that my initial “AVSIM Flight Services Ltd” got transformed along the way to the current “AVSIM Hard Case Haulage MK II Ltd” which reflects my initially starting out on relatively easy mode and then restarting in Masochist….oooops I meant Career Mode!
Basically you get a choice of Easy-Medium-Hard modes that translate to progressively larger starting cash, airframe (you can fly any airframe you can afford), and higher all important reputation.
The Career mode option is Hard mode with the additional requirement to earn rank based on the number of jobs completed prior to being allowed larger MTOW airframes.
The next step is setting up the various options to include real-world fuel price tracking and weather displays and then its time to choose where you will open your first base.
You Got to Have A Plan!
You can pick any airfield present within your X-Plane installation as a base of operations. The database features extensive filtering including a display of affordable bases - a prime consideration in Career mode with limited starting funds.
I chose to start my first base at CYPW (Powell River NNW of Vancouver) for a few reasons:
Your decision process will vary depending on what your plans are and what mode of play you decide to use. I used FS Commander (you can use whatever map you like best) to ensure that my selection had plenty of potential destinations in easy flying range of my starter Cessna as well as room for future expansion in the region with better airframes and possibly a couple of employee AI pilots.
Once I had my initial base set up I dumped the majority of my remaining capital into a few stocks (minus a bit of funding for initial fuel and costs). If you fancy yourself a stock market player Air Hauler cheerfully lets you indulge via the NYSE, NASDAQ, FTSE 100, and DAX30 markets with delayed 15 minute quotes. This functionality is completely optional.
In addition, I also insured my C172 on the off chance I manage to prang it while flying the assigned jobs. Better safe than sorry!
“You want me to haul what? Fertilizer?”
And the moment we have all waited for - time to start building our empire one flight at a time. Within the Air Hauler options are settings for job generation ranging from setting the flight distance to number of jobs, airport sizes, and base-to-base flights. You can tweak these as you see fit.
Then it’s off to the detailed Jobs board to see what contracts are available to fly. You can filter the jobs in multiple ways to ensure the best efficiency or simply to find a job flying to an interesting location. A critical element here is when the contract expires because if you blow the time frame for delivery your reputation will decrease.
**A note on reputation**This is a key element of Air Hauler and it is THE definitive factor in job types and numbers generated, pay scales, cargo types, loan interest rates etc. Essentially if you do not maintain and increase your reputation by avoiding cancelled/mis-delivered jobs, crashing (bad for wallet too), or even flying like a slob and damaging your cargo you will be in TROUBLE! Get a good reputation and strive to keep it!
Once you have selected a job (or jobs) to fly it’s a quick switch over to the “My Jobs” tab which is where you begin flight ops. Either use an AI crew (yes you can hire AI pilots if your rep is good enough) or fly it yourself. When you fly your own jobs you are taken to a load screen where the cargo is ready to be loaded (it’s bad to forget this and need to turn around and go back!) and you can also load fuel if needed.
Once this is done Air Hauler launches X-Plane for you and away you go flying as per normal. There are a couple of brief messages thrown with audio accompaniment at various points in the flight to let you know Air Hauler is monitoring the flight properly.
A word of caution: Big Broth-errrr..Air Hauler is watching you in flight! If you made mistakes in your flight planning and neglected to load fuel and try to correct the shortcoming during flight the software will take it away from you! If you use slew or a go to airport function more bad things happen.
You CAN use the go-to function to select a different starting point at your airfield prior to engine start with no problem (I do this to launch at a proper parking ramp). You are also free to use time acceleration and whatever time of day/weather you like (I always fly real time and weather personally being a bit of a grognard!). Air Hauler ignores the simulation time and uses real time for tracking delivery expirations.
So you fly your job carrying fertilizer, sheep, DVD players, Christmas trees and what have you to the right destination. After landing and shutting down Air Hauler prompts you to return to the program and unload your cargo. If you made it in time and with the goods undamaged, you get paid and a little bump to your reputation. You also get a detailed flight report and a landing report card from the flight monitor for your review.
Then it’s back to the Air Hauler program to plan your next jobs and ultimately the expansion of your budding cargo hauling empire.
Other Useful Features
- Importing your favorite aircraft into the available Air Hauler database is simple and the system will calculate the value (i.e. what you pay to lease/buy/sell) for you.
- The Air Hauler portal which can be set up within the program allows you to upload your company stats as well as providing a semi-ACARS look at pilots flying within the Air Hauler realm. Useful information there also includes a handy reference to aircraft costs, cargo capacity, and more plus you can compare your company against other FSX/FS9/XP pilots.
A note about Career Mode
I totally enjoy the Career mode of play. It forces you back to flying a simple (yet IFR-capable) C172 and lets you concentrate on the basics of flying with a purpose. For X-Plane pilots new to simulation it seriously fills the lack of context and purpose in the “where and why” to fly and the importance of good airmanship, VFR/IFR navigation and techniques, flight planning, and nailing those landings.
Believe me after taking a break from sim flights for a few months I was on the edge of my seat every time I had to deal with a crosswind landing or unexpected weather made my supposed fertilizer milk run (ewww yuck) into a reach-for-the-barf-bag adventure!
You are also NOT forced to fly. You can (with enough reputation) have AI pilots fly jobs for you or even keep things ticking over for months with a couple reasonably profitable runs flown by yourself. I went into the red while on a 4-month break and was able to quickly pull that back with just a few flights.
I would highly recommend this mode even to sim pilots with years of experience simply for the feeling of accomplishment when you get that rep over 50 and can FINALLY step into your favorite shiny payware aircraft of choice (if you can afford it!).
Duncan has crafted a gem with Air Hauler. With the current popularity of shows like “Flying Wild Alaska” and “Ice Pilots” and the lack of FSX-style missions within X-Plane to give context to the sandbox this add-on hits the mark offering a variety of challenges and options to satisfy everyone.
Not to mention that in over 40 hours of testing I have only scratched the surface. I’m looking forward to hiring my first pilot - he better be good or he can “get on the Greyhound”!
Duncan obviously developed the software as a “game” he wanted to play. Nice of him to share it with us in X-Plane!
What I Like About Air Hauler
What I Don't Like About Air Hauler
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