Tuesday, May 9, 2017

EC-135 Kelly Shergood's Ultimate Challenge

EC-135 Kelly Shergood's
Ultimate Challenge

Lately, I have been complaining about needed evolution in script technology for SL vehicles.  Kelly Shergood must be 10 kinds of brilliant because she's done it!  Kelly and I spoke last year about my doing a review about her and her aircraft.  I'm sorry, we went on our hiatus not long after she and I spoke and I didn't follow up. As we get back into writing, we are revisiting those builders we wanted to review and finding the exploration a lot of fun.

I try to be efficient in my reviews believe it or not.  When I encounter a game changing approach to vehicle design and function, I go into greater detail.  My apologies if this article is longer than most but given the levels of quality and innovation which exist in the EC-135 and I suspect other Shergood aircraft, I wanted to be as thorough as possible.

The Story

Lizzy and I were at a live music venue when someone recognized me as the writer of Things That Move.  It took me awhile to make the connection of why I was being recognized.  However, this gentlemen mentioned that Kelly Shergood had a new EC-135.  I was still processing an odd feeling about being recognized associated with Things That Move and I think my reply was a meager if not kind of dismissive "Nice!"  Wow, I'm a celebrity?  No and far from it but I mentally filed away the lead for something to investigate later. 

The file was reopened the other day when I heard, then saw, an EC-135 flying overhead.  The sound is distinct and different from the more common Bell 407s I tend to see here.  It sounds different than the EC-145 as well, which I have seen frequently in other locations.  I can only suggest the whirring sound comes from the shrouded tail rotor.  This model of helicopter is unusual here.  Aside from 407s and 206s, I'll see Blackhawks and Apaches.  An EC-135?  It is an oddity and ultimately a message was sent encouraging me to get my hands on Kelly's newest design.

When I acquired the EC-135 Eurocopter, I recalled my first conversation with Kelly (I don't forget much at all) about her interest and accomplishment in creating realism with aviation in SL.  For the most part, helicopters have been easier to fly than fixed wing aircraft in SL, at least to me.  The reverse, I'm told, is true in RL.  Easy can be a lot of fun but it can also be a little boring.  Longing for a challenge and more realism, I had to give this helicopter a try.

As an aside if you are reading this publication for the first time, I do have a private pilot certificate in RL, restricted to fixed wing aircraft.  Aviation has always been passion for me and though I'm arguably an adult, when I hear an unusual aircraft overhead, I still look up to identify what it is.  When it comes to this publication, we spend a lot of time with bikes but when I write about aviation, my soul is fed.

A Feature Rich Environment

This article will not be a tutorial on how to fly the EC-135.  If you need help, join Kelly's group to  find a flight instructor to teach you how to fly this helicopter.  My purpose is to expose you to my experiences, why the EC-135 is unique to SL aviation and why it is absolutely special.

Tossing the helicopter on the ground for the first time, I recognized the model from some RL exposure and also seeing similar models in SL.  Anticipating this helicopter would be different and possibly a game changer given the creator's credentials, I looked past the physical similarities.  The special nature would be found at the controls and systems.

When you first rez the helicopter, it magically communicates with a server (there isn't magic involved really) and its N number is registered.  In the USA, aircraft have tail numbers starting with "N".  The POH talks about how this process works so please refer to the documentation.  My N number is 703 Tango or N703T. 

A menu system activated by clicking on the forward canopy, allows you to change the paint schemes but more importantly, you can adjust complexity and a slew of other things you may want to change.

Jumping on board the EC-135, I hit a wall.  You mean I have to throw switches to start the helicopter?  I don't just type "start" and go?  Well isn't that inventive as all hell?  The system flow makes sense and is oddly intuitive after reading the pilot operating handbook and the notecards.  In fact, this is one aircraft where you will need to study the documentation just to get started.  There is a learning curve to any vehicle and with the EC-135 that curve is highly observable but not insurmountable.

My first run up was less than stellar as I quickly crashed and underscores why I was never interested in learning to fly helicopters in RL.  The second run was much better but I didn't have the feel of the aircraft and being limited, at the time, to flying on a single sim with buildings around and a surround, the second flight ended much like the first...in a flaming crash.  I wasn't disillusioned though.  Instead, I remain excited about the challenge!

The latest flight was far better.  The trick for me was choosing the right control method and making those small corrections to get the best result.  A default method (H) enables single handed flying with the keyboard and use of the mouse for mouselook flight.  I confess to be oversimplifying this point.  The alternate method (K) is stated "two handed" control using gestures for the IJKL keys controlling the cyclic and the ASDW keys controlling the anti-torque pedals and collective.  Method K worked best for me and was easily switched by clicking the canopy opening up the menu system. 

The price of realism is realism can be challenging.  I never found flying an airplane was all that difficult in RL.  The hardest part was accomplishing consistency in my landings though they improved as experience grew.  The same can be said of the EC-135.  Out of the box, this isn't the plug and play helicopter we have come to know in SL.  If you're a roleplayer or pretender type, perhaps plug and play aviation will meet your needs.  If you're an aviator, the EC-135 is what you want and yes you can use it for roleplay activities too.

The EC-135 can be flown from the autopilot and I will transition to it at some point. Until then, I want to be more accomplished flying it by hand. What's the point of having all of these cool systems if I am going to push the "easy button"?   Once you have the feel for the helicopter with your eyes out of the cockpit and using the feedback from the HUD (which shows the relative position of the controls), stable flight becomes far easier.  Would an instructor help?  Absolutely!

Cool Stuff

There are some features to the EC-135 which are simply outstanding.  A turn off for me with SL aviation is not being able to fly in a first person mode, either with a first person camera view or through mouselook.  In order to fly first person, you need some functionality built into the dash and overhead panels.  Fortunately, this has been all well thought through during the design phases.  All of the systems can be operated by throwing switches from the pre-start check list to use of the autopilot. 

Another feature is use of an operable transponder.  Transponders identify an aircraft with air traffic control. In VFR flight (visual flight rules) aircraft dial in 1200 on their transponder indicating a VFR aircraft.  ATC may assign a transponder code for transition within an airspace or through the duration of a flight.  I won't wrap around the axle bloviating about transponders or other communications equipment on an aircraft any more than this. The EC-135 pilot can enter a transponder code in the transponder through the map and if called upon to "ident" or squawk that code, there is a button for that as well.  Now we can be seen by ATC.

The dash panel was very similar to the glass cockpits in an Archer and Cessna 182 I flew a few times.  There are some more traditional gauges such as the attitude indicator, airspeed indicator, Hobbs meter, and those for engine performance. 

The glass panels provide navigation information, transponder, digital horizontal situation indicator with altitude and speed strips, engine performance, systems warning and fuel levels.  All of that sounds quite complicated until you realize how incredibly easy it is to process the information in front of your eyes.  Needless to say, all of the panels work!  These aren't painted prims made to look like they work.

Features in the back are equally clever.  As this helicopter is configured as an air ambulance, flight medics/nurses can use the stretcher to place a patient on board as well as monitor vital signs.  If the proverbial brown stuff hits the fan, there is a defibrillator to cardiovert the patient's heart. 

Construction and mesh parts are exquisitely detailed. At over 80 LI, it is comparable to similarly complex helicopters.  Sim crossings were uneventful.  The cyclic and anti-torque pedals look realistic as well as the comms panel. They aren't painted prims or badly designed parts which stick up from the floor.

Interior textures are thoughtfully applied to achieve realism.  The exterior could use with some shine but that is pretty low on the list of needs.  All of the doors function including the aft hatches providing access to the patient area. A stretcher is provided allowing your patient to be loaded on board by the flight crew.  The repaint artists will be boiling up designs for sale providing operators to have a unique style to fit with their fleet.

Flight Design

Kelly has to have some RL aviation experience and I suspect it is extensive.  The process of starting any aircraft hundreds of times wouldn't necessarily require a written checklist.  However, as pilots, we are trained to religiously use written checklists usually found in tattered POHs.  Many of us create our own checklists.  By clicking on the checklist by the pilot's seat, it pops up in you hand and you can work through the pre-flight items all the way through most elements of flight.  I haven't seen such a feature before and again, this adds to realism. 

She posts the following in her MarketPlace offerings and it is equally emblazoned at her shop:
"The SA-FE (Shergood Aviation Flight Engine) engine driving this virtual reproduction was created by an RL helicopter pilot and designed to fly like an RL helicopter. The engine is purely physics based and features independent control of cyclic, collective, throttle and anti-torque pedals enabling true power-off autorotations."
It is important to understand the statement above before buying one of these aircraft.  They are not entry level helicopters.  Instead, they are designed, in my opinion, for the advanced SL pilot and those of us who have RL pilot certificates desiring more realism in SL aviation. 

If you wanted to fly in RL, you might have become immersed in a flight simulator.  I had a flight instructor suggest that the old FS9 or FSX were helpful for students in getting spatial awareness to the air traffic control system and with some elements of aircraft operation including navigation.  You can't simulate the physical feeling of flight from a computer based simulator and you won't have that physical feedback from this helicopter but you'll have visual feedback with the HUD.  It is damned close to a simulation as I have seen in SL.

One of the admonitions in the POH states to make small adjustments to the flight controls.  That is a common thing to say from CFIs to students, "make small adjustments."  In getting the feel of the controls, one needs to understand what controls impact what actions and by how much.  In doing so, the process for me has been to gain feel and competence in the use of those controls.  To go forward, traverse left of right, to slow down, to hover, to bank, etc., all requires a mix of control inputs.  I'm still learning the EC-135 control responsiveness and in time, I'm confident I will fly competently.

Final Thoughts

We have become used to easy flying helicopters in SL.  I enjoy them still.  In other articles, I have been advocating for more realism in vehicle design including the scripts which control how vehicles function and operate.  Resigned to the complacency of SL scripting, experiencing this helicopter represents a resurrected interest in SL aviation. 

So let's be honest about this helicopter.  It isn't one for someone who has never flown in SL to rez then plug in and play.  That kind of pilot will be quickly frustrated.   The difficulty level of most SL helicopters is probably a 4 or 5 on my list, maybe lower.  At the stage I am with the EC-135, the difficulty is more close to a 10 and I'll get to the point of 4 or 5 soon enough.  Being an advanced helicopter and Kelly is very clear it is advanced, it is targeted more for the skilled and advanced pilot.  It is designed for the aviator.

If you have longed for realism in SL aviation, the EC-135 is up your alley and will be a welcomed addition to your hangar.  Learning anything new is appreciated and I love the opportunity to learn and hopefully master this helicopter.  There is far more to present about the EC-135 but I have found that discovery is far more fun than reading about it.  So get one then fly and be happy!

Where Can I Get One?

As of this writing, you cannot get the EC-135 through Kelly Shergood's Marketplace store as the helicopter is still in Beta which I would anticipate updates to be forthcoming as tweaks are made.  You can find the helicopter at her inworld shop and I recommend looking around.  Should you meet Kelly herself, I'm sure she will fill you in on all things aviation as she is definitely capable of doing.  It is always good to meet the builder, creator and revolutionary.

Find me on Facebook

You can get updates and new reviews through our Facebook group "Things that Moves in SL" which you should absolutely join or on my Google+ page.   We review bikes, boats, cars and aircraft.  If you would like us to review something that moves, send me a message.