I would like to share my thoughts on DTG Flight School as someone who is relatively new to civil flight simming.
The TL;DR version is there are things that I think are lacking, and issues that annoy me, but overall I like. Will probably buy the main DTG Flight Simulator depending on how good it seems closer to release date.
I've played a few flights sims before, but they were mainly arcade combat sims like F/A 18 Interceptor on the Amiga, Strike Fighters Gold, Pacific Strikers. Mainly because my cousin played them and I sort of played along too. I've also flown RC planes at a fairly basic level, so I'm not entering with no knowledge on how a plane stays in the air, but I think it's best that the software would treat someone loading the game up for the first time with no knowledge whatsoever.
A couple of years ago I stumbled on some YouTube videos of X-Plane 10 with photo scenery and 3d buildings using Open Street Map data, later that week on a whim I got X-Plane 10 when I saw it for sale at a local video game store and some VFR scenery for sale on Amazon (I think £30 for all of the UK, I'd be mad not to when each are is normally that price independently).
I used a tool to pull the 3D buildings, OSM2XP, added a HD Mesh of most of the UK and after a lot of setting up I took off at Heathrow, flew down the motorway, turned off at the junction to my home town, followed the roads until I flew over my house (there wasn't a 3D building of it) went back to Heathrow and landed.
Really, I didn't know what else to do, I saw people doing multiplayer sessions with air traffic control but it all seemed beyond me, X-Plane in its self is awkward to set up and use as a beginner to it. Once I had flown over the places in the UK I recognised and my curiosity regarding the scenery and 3D buildings was fulfilled I left it and forgot all about it. I mainly used it as a scenery viewer more than a flight sim and was more interested in it from a technical standpoint, though it was fun taking off in a jumbo and managing to land it.
I did see a book for X-Plane on Amazon which I thought about buying, but the scenarios were for X-Plane 9, and not compatible with X-Plane 10. Overall though flight simming seemed too deep and complicated for me as a whole, and something to come back to later when I wasn't working 50 odd hours a week. I liked the immersion and the authenticity of it, I didn't like how complex X-Plane and flight simming seemed was as a whole. Especially when you;re looking at a 600+ book to teach you. That was until the 24th of May 2016 when I loaded up Steam and saw Dovetail Games Flight School had been released. Hmmm..... Flight School..... with "Two high performance training aircraft: Piper PA-18 Super Cub and Piper PA-28 Cherokee" and "15 fun and immersive lessons covering the basics of the LAPL, PPL, and night flying."
Immediately I thought, a flight sim that can teach me how to fly properly and everything I need to use a proper flight sim. I looked into it and saw it was based on Microdoft Flight SImulator and that a forthcoming full featured flight sim from Dovetail games was coming out later this year. My curiosity in flight sims was there, though on the back burner, and seeing this made me think, well. I've spent £70 already on X-Plane and the scenery just out of technical curiosity, another £12 can't hurt especially if it helps me use X-Plane properly, or if it looks good the main simulator later in the year, so I hit the purchase button and waiting until the next day for it to download and install. Wow, that's a long preface for me to get talking about DTG Flight School. So I load the game up and immediately it's a nicer interface than X-Plane. It really is nice and easy to navigate. There's a nice photo of the two planes in the game, some music which isn't as horrible as some of the menu music I've heard over the years (like the horrible Japanese interpretation of Euro techno/dance that some PES games had in the PS2 era).
I have an entry level flight stick and that seemed to be already perfectly set up for the sim with trim buttons (are they like RC controller trims?) on the stick and the buttons for flaps, drop load and landing gear next to each other on the main body by the throttle. Probably because it was designed to work with the defult controls of FSX which this game is based on.
I noticed that the game jumps from full screen and then to a windowed mode while changing some settings, which is annoying. Though that seems to have stopped now.
I have the setting set to hard, and jump into the lessons I load them up and whiz through the first 5. Well I say whiz I had to redo a couple. I especially liked seeing how the trims worked, that makes for much easier flying. So far I liked it, it's pretty basic so far, and it was nice to see everything in a structured manner. Need to get more flight time before you can do the test, which annoyed me at the time, but I saw the reason for it later.
I completed a couple of the shorter missions, the one when you're running out of fuel and the one where you have to get to the airport before dark. I tried the icing one too, but that was too difficult for me at this moment, I can almost get to the runway, or get over it and crash onto it. I liked the missions I've tried so far, they're pretty fun and a good way to use the skills you've learnt.
I've started doing some free flights, it was nice to fly over London from Heathrow to London City Airport and see some of the landmarks. Didn't have the level of street detail X-Plane had, but it had the M4 and other major roads.
So far at this point I am impressed and enjoying the experience.
I jumped into the next school and started the next set of lessons, The first one was rather difficult as I kept losing too much altitude on the approach, but I just kept the throttle a little higher than I was told and I got though okay. Now here's the first issue with the game I had. The 'Radio Navigation' lesson. What? The previous lessons were pretty straight forward to me, and though it could be difficult to listen to instructions and fly at the same time it wasn't overwhelming. This one was.
First of all, I have no idea what a VHF Omnithing is. I've never heard of them before, and all of a sudden I am meant to listen to someone tell me about it, while flying. While I've gone through the previous lessons and am sort of okay at flying straight and level, I can't automatically get the perfect trim and turn keeping the same speed and altitude automatically, So I try to pause the flight so I can read the write up of what is being said in my own time, and then carry on flying, but the pause screen takes away the messages.
My concentration is taken up with trying to fly the plane, listen to what the instructor is saying, finding the buttons he's telling me to press, turning the OBS, which is difficult and far too sensitive for my liking, it just seems to spin about.
I have a second monitor, so I load up the radio stack window on there, and that makes it easier to see what he is talking about and press the right buttons on the radio, but turning the OBS is still too fiddly I hope there's a keyboard shortcut I can use to move knobs clockwise or counter clockwise. Maybe with practice I can get used to them. There is probably an easier way to do this, but sadly I wasn't shown.
The instructor also says to look at the radio/devised labelled as a DME, except it isn't labelled and you can only confirm it is what you think it is by holding your mouse over it until you get a little pop up telling you what it is.
So during this lesson, I have to fly, learn the new terms and theory regarding VOR navigation, and carry out instructions at the same time, That was a bit too much for me. I had to go away read about VOR navigation on my own and once I sort of understood what it's used for come back and do the tutorial and complete it.
I think it would have been better if I was explained the theory being VOR navigation and told what instruments I would need to use prior to taking control of the plane and carrying out the practical instructions. A short written description for this as the lesson loaded that I can read and then hit continue once I read and understood it would have been nice. Thinking about it, this would have been nice for all the lessons. While I've fiddled with flight sims before, if I was an absolute beginner I think that little bit of theory before you start a lesson would have been helpful. Especially when you consider that there will be people with no prior knowledge at all using this sim as a learning too and may be discouraged if they can't fly straight away and keep failing lessons.
Now I know about VOR navigation, how to tune into a station, intercept a radial, turn so my plane follows it and navigate to another VOR station as I fly over it.
I don't know how to plan a flight using VOR navigation.
I've not been told how to find where VOR stations are, what the frequency of them are. I've stumbled across this but zooming in on the flight plan map, but it's "Flight School" I could have been told that rather than seeing it for myself and going, ah, that's what those are for after doing the tutorial. Another thing I have noted is that I've not found a way to show a map as I fly, so I can look at where the VOR stations and airports are. It would be nice to be able to pause, load a map, look at where everything, look in a virtual book to get the VOR station radio frequencies is and fly your journey as opposed to writing all the information down during the flight planning. Also a little virtual book about the airports too, their radio frequencies, altitudes, runway layouts etc. Would be helpful if you get lost, lose track of you VOR station and have to find a way back home. Another thing I would have liked to be told about is how to use the ATC. There are no lessons on this, and how to taxi your plane around an airport. I sort of made my way through the ATC, not really knowing for sure what everything means. What exactly is controlled space? Am I meant to fly around airports at a certain distance/speed/altitude? What does right circuit mean? Do I do a right traffic pattern circuit relative to the runway and to the right of the runway or the direction of my plane? Which is runway 9L?
The last point I went away and goggled, and found out how runways are named after their bearing to the magnetic North Pole. Easy enough to understand, but I shouldn't have to do that to understand how to use a feature in a game called Flight School. The school part of the name implies it would teach me and I am finding things I am needing to exit the game, go away and research things on my own. Researching these things, I found out that FSX had a learning centre and narrated lessons that covers how to taxi, use the ATC and more that is not covered in Flight School such as instrument flying. I can understand that the beginner maybe doesn't need to know how to fly in zero visibility using the instruments only and that this might be out of the scope of Flight School (and you may keep these lessons for DTG Flight Simulator as an incentive for people to upgrade to the main product in a few months), but I think how to use the ATC, an explanation of the terminology used, and how to taxi/navigate on the ground around an airport should be included in Flight School.
Even a written glossary would have been nice.
Learning that FSX has a learning centre with a ground school and lessons that cover more than is included in Flight School make me think that maybe I would have been better off getting that sim.
Another thing isn't explained is the GPS device, which works great for following a flight plan, but what to the other buttons do and what are the other features? How do I select a different airport to navigate to if I want to go on a detour? What else can it do apart from show me where the next waypoint/airport on my plan is? A lesson on this would be nice. I've also noticed that clicking on some of the buttons on the GPS device makes the whole game crash.
I suppose that the GPS device does what it's meant to which is show the way you've planned on the flight planner.
I do like the flight planner, it's easy to use. Click and go. Select your starting and ending airports (or a number of airports to visit in sequence) and click on the lines between then to drag to waypoints you want to fly over.
After a few free flights, I've clocked up enough hours to take the first test. Wow I suck at keeping my altitude and speed consistent while turning. I guess I've picked up some bad habits in free flight since I did the first set of lessons, and that's why you need to complete 3 hours of flight time before you take the test. I guess I need to retake the turn to heading lesson and that I'm not as good as I thought I was!
The instructor/examiner did go "Ugggh" after I failed to maintain 1000 feet and 90mph durning a turn. It might be realistic, but it's not the most positive feedback for someone trying something for the first time.
After more 3/4 attempts I managed to pass it okay, the penultimate attempt on the landing I was far to the left of the run way, and had to try to intercept it by turning right and then turn left to line up, by which point I was already too badly lined up to land successfully. I paused on the third attempt and looked about a lot and used the GPS to show how the runways were lined up so I could turn and level out straight on. I guess lack of vision around teh plane is why soem hardcore simmers have multiple monitors all around them and use Track IR. Using VR in the future could be really good for these kind of applications.
I went through the solo cross country and night flying lessons first time. I liked how the cross country solo flight lesson reinforced how to use VOR navigation, though at one point in the briefing the ATC or the text says to follow the 161 degree radial, though you've tuned 61 degrees with the OBS.
The night flying lesson seemed a bit... basic. Avoid mountains and follow street lights. I'm sure there's a lot more to it than that.
My computer is a bit dated. but at med high graphics settings (with traffic at ultra high) the game runs reasonably well, and looks okay. One thing I didn't like about the settings was setting up the controls. The method of moving down a list of controls is clicking and dragging down the side bar which is far too easy to move too quickly fly though the list of commands. One thing I didn't like is there is no way to calibrate the joystick in game. In the windows properties of my controller it shows that the centre of left/right movement is the centre, and centring the stick always puts the input always go back there. In X-Plane, when I load a plane, the ailerons are dead straight and return to being dead straight after I move the stick about (including holding it my the stick and shaking it about to make sure). In DTG Flight School, there is a slight bias to the left when the stick is centred. I've tried changing the null zone to the highest, but it's still there. I've also tried using the keyboard trim controls and can level the ailerons out, but as soon as I move the stick and come back to centre, they're offset again. It's visually noticeable on the Piper Cub, and the Cherokee seems to slowly turn to the left too and one some lessons I have to constantly apply a right movement after a few seconds, but that might just be me imagining it or I've been blow of course by wind.
I would like to see in game stick calibration options, where you select the centre point see the movement live in the options setting, set the dead zones so there is no movement when the stick is centred or lightly held, etc. I've seen this in other games and it's a good way of getting your controls set up and to check you have them moving in the right direction. I think the GTR/GTL racing games let you do this in the past for example.
I've also tried the stick in other games, and the middle seems to be the middle, so it's annoying that I can't get it working perfectly in DTG Flight School.
While I was writing this, I decided to check using a Xbox 360 controller, and the slight left aileron bias is there. So this seems to be an issue with DTG Flight School and there is no way I can see to rectify it. If there are no thought on how to solve this issue, I'll send a bug report to Dovetail Games.
I've done all the lessons up to the Private Pilot License one, for which I have to accrue another 2 hours and 50 minutes of flight time before I can do.
Despite the things I've nitpicked at, my overall impressions are good. It's for the most part easy to navigate through the user interface, and get flying. The lessons are structured well, and though I would have liked to see a lesson on how to taxi about an airport get onto and off runways, where to go to park, refuel etc. Also a lesson on how to use the ATC and what everything they say means. The same applies for how to plan a VOR flight.
My main issue, like I've mentioned before is, I would have liked a little theory/quick briefing about what you're going to cover in the lesson before you do it, so you have some sort of idea what to expect and what you're doing. I think in one of the lessons, the instructor mentions a pre-flight briefing.... which wasn't given.
For absolute beginners, with no understanding about the dynamics of flight, I think even the early lessons could be a bit overwhelming for them. It tells you what motions to go through, but not why and does this in flight, while you're concentration is on flying leaving you unable to take in new information as it's told to you in the lesson. Though you can go away and research this, you shouldn't have to, it should be taught to you in game.
It doesn't even tell you what buttons/controls to use for different commands come to think about it.
I've spoken about the negatives quite a lot here, but over all I do like it.
The flight planner is a joy to use. It might be too simple for people who are hardened flight simmers, but this product isn't aimed at them and keeping it simple here makes it easy for new comers to fly free flights.
Flying about a virtual world is rather fun. and for longer flights you can speed up the simulation up to 8 times to makes crossing vast seas and oceans less tedious.
There are famous landmarks about the places that I flew, and I hope that the full simulator would have them for the entire world.
The street detail isn't as high as the defualt X-Plane maps, where you can navigate using Open Street Map data out of the box and includes even small local roads. Again, I hope this is addressed in the main simulator or it's easy to add these details in. The generated scenery is okay from a distance, when I'm flying over Devon/Cornwell I guess that's what those places would look like. The Rockies are also nice to fly over.
The graphics are okay I'm not running at the highest levels and the game runs smoothly and looks reasonable.
There are issues, and I think for an absolute beginner it'll maybe seem too complex like X-Plane did to me, but I like it. A higher level of hand holding would be required for someone with no base knowledge.
There is a new plane coming out soon, with new lessons. This allows the developers to address the lack of briefings before lessons, add in what the controls are during the lessons (press this button to raise flaps, break, trim your plane, and so on) and maybe add in a lesson about ATC, and the lessons that seem to be in FSX but not included in here.
Overall disappointed about some things, but nothings perfect and it's enjoyable enough for someone with my level of familiarity. If I had no prior flight sim experience, or knew the basics of flight from RC flying, I can't help but think my experience would have been a lot more negative.
Will I buy the full version? Maybe, depends on how good the added plane and lessons are in the upcoming patch and the features of the full sim. I am liking this, so I'm probably leaning towards getting it. A discount for people who have Flight School would probably help too. I would say I'm 75% sure I will be getting the full product.