• Vendor Interview December 2005

    Jonathan Richardson of Project Magenta

    MyCockpit has decided to do an interview in a unique and unusual manner. Rather then throwing out a bunch of questions to the interviewee at one time, we'll do one at a time. Perhaps one every few days, and maybe by surprise some daily. We want to go a step further and give you, the readers an opportunity to participate. You have the opportunity to send you're question to mailto:vendor@mycockpit.org Depending on the quantity/quality of the questions, yours may be used. We'll continue this for up to 30 days. Then weíll seek another vendor and start over.

    9 December 2005

    MyCockpit: Jonathan, I've watched you're progress at http://www.projectmagenta.com for the last several years. You're work has been impressive. We've watched a change from not only as a Software developer but now, building cockpits. This is a flight-sim builders dream, getting paid for doing something he loves to do.

    Before we get into the nitty-gritty of you and Project Magenta, let's find about Jonathan Richardson as a person. Would you tell us a little about your background and how you got involved with Project Magenta?

    Jonathan: My family are entwined in aviation, and as such I grew up with aeroplanes and the types that fly them. I was fortunate in this regard, and fell quite naturally into flying, in fact I could fly before I could drive. My interest in flight simulators came from a slightly different shelf. I visited a 737-200 simulator at Heathrow Airport in 1982. I was much less interested in the flying on that brief visit but more the psychological illusion the simulator managed to create, it felt so real yet you knew it wasn't. That fascinated me. I started to look into the history of simulators and how they worked. That was the first hook which sparked a long term interest. My professional career path took me into the film & television industry, in which I spent 18yrs. Working in special effects units, moving up the ladder from tea boy to things as diverse as computer animation/editing and directing. Much of what I learnt in that time is directly drawn on with the work I now do at Project Magenta. There are many cross overs. When I first discovered PM it was not even PM at that stage. I came across an early version of the PFD whilst surfing the net. That was my second hook. After that, I replied to a request for help, and it all grew from there.

    11 December 2005

    MyCockpit: Thatís very interesting. It amazes me how so many stories, of how we got into flight simulation, are somewhat similar; although yours is unique with your experiences as a young pilot. Would you share with us, what aircraft(s) you've piloted, and perhaps an interesting pilot story of yours?

    Jonathan: Aircraft types I have flown are mainly piston engine aircraft and a lot of full motion sim time on heavy transports . My own aircraft which is a group share is a Piper Archer II 181. Other types are the, Aztec, Grumman, Aerostar, Seneca, Tomahawk, Dove amongst others.

    A pilot story, if you mean a kind of "incident" I have only thankfully had one in a light aircraft. Myself and an instructor who was monitoring me for a check ride had just flown in from Fairoaks Airport (EGTF) to Shoreham Airport (EGKA) on the south coast of England. The weather was quite bad and there was no need for fog goggles to simulate IMC conditions. The outbound trip was uneventful. We did a normal NDB let down and landed at Shoreham with a cloud base of about 1000ft, drizzle and a 15 to 18kt headwind. Knowing that the weather was only going to get worse, we had a brief cup of tea at the club house and we started our return before the conditions worsened to a point were it was unsafe to fly. Everything was normal with the aircraft prior to take-off, power checks showed no indication of engine problems, and our own briefing was that soon after take-off we would be in IMC almost immediatly. Just as the aircraft rotated the engine started to run rough which caused (much to my surprise) the whole airframe to shake quite violently, at first there was a brief moment of not knowing what was actually going on, I remember thinking perhaps we had picked up ice and the wings were trying to stall or something but the aircraft was going up. The departure was out over the sea, had it been in the other direction direction we would have been flying towards high ground and our options would have been more limited. I took the power off a little, and momentarily the engine seemed to recover, but then it started to run rough with accompanied vibration a second or two later. As there were only a few seconds left before we would enter the cloud base a decision had to be made to continue the climb and see what was going on at a higher altitude, or return to the airfield and keep low over the sea. Flying into instrument conditions with a faulty engine is not a good idea, if it failed or was failing then the instruments would quickly become unreliable and with a low cloud base it would have been extremely difficult to make an effective emergency landing. I levelled the aeroplane to maintain about 400ft whilst my Instructor made a Mayday call to the tower indicating we had an engine problem. They cleared other traffic and gave us a priority. We suspected one of the Magnetos was failing causing the rough running and vibration, but there is no way on a Warrior to determine which mag is faulty, without risking the selection of the faulty mag as you turn the key through the mags and possibly creating an even worse situation. We had a 15kt/18kt head wind for the take off and the runway was wet, it was reasonably long but even so it was going to be marginal to land with a tail wind on a wet runway and as I put the aircraft into a turn back towards the field we were high. To do a full procedure let down for the NDB approach would have meant going into cloud and positioning for that let down which would take us over high ground rather than flat sea. I was still the handling pilot and I recall my instructor asking me what my intensions were. I think I said something like, "to get down on the ground" - (I'll let you fill in the blanks). We decided to do a 180 and land downwind. With the power off for the descent we were high, and we used full flap and tried to lose height side slipping. This just brought us down a little long from the threshold, the tail wind certainly made a big difference, but we were able to stop in time. It is difficult to say what I learnt from it, perhaps just that it is not necessarily the actual thing causing the problem that is going to cause you great harm, but more your actions thereafter in dealing with it. The aircraft went into the hanger and I returned home on British Rail !

    14 December 2005

    MyCockpit: That certainly put a knot in my stomach, you can hardly just pull over, open the hood and see what the problem is. Thank you for sharing that hair raising experience.

    Back to simming; prior to your current Project Magenta cockpit building project, were there any cockpit projects you worked on? If so what were they and what type of equipment did you build, such as making original parts or fabricated parts work. Builders I talk to, always like tell me stories of their determination to make things work, even though there were obstacles and frustrations. In the end, they're proud of their accomplishments. If you have such a story would you share it with us?

    Jonathan: I have built a few simulators now. But this dates back quite some time and the end results of the early ones were shall we say a learning curve. I made a half cockpit 747-400, all the I/O was done via torn apart keyboards and using their encoders (until I discovered you could by encoders for just this purpose) all switches were thus momentary. Panels were backlit, I made the light plates myself, using translucent white plastic plates, different widths of model makers masking tape and letterset. Spraying them Boeing brown, pealing away the tape leaving the clear lines and then using sticky tape to gradually remove the letterset thus leaving behind the clear texts that light could pass through. It took forever, had a high failure rate, but in the end I completed all the 747 light plates including the overhead. A lot of eye candy and not much functionality. I then made my first attempt at a 737, which I soon shelved, as I was not happy with my approach six months into it. I started again from scratch, this time using the very first (I think) A320Project (at that time) 737 light plates. That sim was based in London/UK, it served me well for about four years, all the time being upgraded, it was once featured in "Pilot" magazine and we actually had several UK based airlines visit it. It was made entirely out of wood, with a wooden shell, very thin marine ply skin, and the I/O side of things had moved on a bit, and after some major revisions it was reasonably functional. Then there wad a small GA trainer semi enclosed, a great deal of fun to fly and very useful for instrument practice. That just about takes me to the present time when I started planning about two years ago the current much higher fidelity simulator. The process of making a simulator and all we learn from doing it is creative, I think anything creative is going to present problems and challenges that have to be overcome. I guess I do like that part of it, I suspect that is why most people get into doing this stuff apart from the satisfaction of flying your simulator at the end of the day. I especially like it when through this process we get fresh ideas and the whole software side dove tails with the hardware side of things. The benefits are sometimes difficult to see, especially when you are in the thick of it but when they do appear it is incredibly rewarding.

    17 December 2005

    MyCockpit: Youíre building experience has such a familiar ring as I am sure my fellow builders will agree. Iíd like to go back, regarding when you started with Project Magenta (PM). You mentioned your introduction with Project Magenta was in responce to a request for some help. Obviously it has evolved, could you tell us about your first official project and some of itís challenges?

    Jonathan: It is difficult to name anything specific. Apart from starting to help with the support side of things which was mainly Katy's area, my input started with helping on the logics of the MCP (747 and then 737) and flying side of things. Then a big task was re-inventing all the front face graphics of the software. That was perhaps one of the biggest challenges to begin with, I think that was six or seven years ago now but is still a smaller but on-going area. This required becoming competent with Photoshop and various tools which were new to me, and then actually coming up with a style for the graphics. Enrico and I discussed it at length. What we wanted was a clean professional look, after a few concept styles I set to work in that area. It was actually quite a big job and could not be done in one hit but over a few months, it was not only about drafting images, there is a lot to comprehend with what the programming side requires at the end of the day as well. It was enjoyable work, and I was pulling on skills that I had not used in a while at that time and of course the more you work in this area you learn the tricks to make things look better and you also work faster. Then of course we took this further with programs such as the GAIFR and Enrico developed new ways of handling the graphics side so we could produce truly amazing high resolution images - in fact I had to get a new PC to cope with the size of memory the GAIFR development images required, of course this is not apparent in the software itself as we conform everything to have minimal load on your graphics card, only when making the graphics which have many hundreds of open layers in them. This was just one area of growing tasks that I got involved with. This type of work also spread into the website, you may have noticed at one point we changed the logo and general look. Plus documentation, (we just finished a completely new set of docs) these will be released soon to help new users and hopefully the old hands as well. I also did a few videos to help people get a feel for what can be achieved with the software - with a little imagination.

    20 December 2005

    MyCockpit: Jonathan youíve been intricately involved with different projects, would tell us which one(s) you consider to be the most challenging and rewarding.

    Jonathan: I think one of the most challenging was probably the development of the current 737 simulator. The reason is mainly because we are aiming at a device that shows the software and everything we as Project Magenta can represent in a type specific aircraft. I have tried to leave no stone unturned in this venture. A lot of hardware had to be developed from scratch, and certainly this was not only down to me but incredibly talented people we are lucky enough to be surrounded by. Areas we had not envisaged cropped up like directly driving I/O hardware via pmsystems. Lots of things have fed back into the main software because of this work. To be honest one of my own most personal challenging parts of this was the final lifting and placing of the collimated display system. Unfortunately the place we work in is not like a simulator bay where they have hoists and height / room enough for cranes and lifting equipment. We had to improvise with a structure to lift the glass mirrors into position. This sounds possibly like it should not be rocket science, but it actually turned into a big challenge, because the structure has not only to lift the displays (they are incredibly heavy) it has also to move them exactly into place over the nose section within a few millimetres. The whole process involved making sure we had the loads correct on the beams (you are limited because the nose gets in the way of where you would just love to place extra supports) and as such we were right on the limits of what we could do. I asked a structural engineer to check the loads. At one stage during the lifting process the steel cross beams were bending so much I was convinced they would fracture and if they had, well, the simulator would have been quite literally squashed. The images the displays produce are fantastically good having originally come from an old full motion simulator.

    21 December 2005

    MyCockpit: Youíve had the opportunity to travel and see and fly many Cockpit Projects. Would you share some of your experiences and impressions, particularly when you see your work in action?

    Jonathan: Recently I was presented with a real 757 nose section for a feature film in which PM software was going to be used. Whilst I initially went to the studios to supervise the software installation, I ended up getting a very old 757 working again (mostly eye candy) but it was certainly a messy business as anyone who deals with old aeroplanes can testify to. I expect you will see the film next year - I'm afraid I can't expand on it any more than that re the film itself. But seeing the end result of the work and the software, with two real 757 pilots flying it was a thrill. In a more professional environment, when confronted by real training captains and training organisation, it really does simply become a work thing. Of course, there have been times when I have been invited to see some cockpits builders work - that is often a time when you can just relax and get the pure enjoyment from it all.

    23 December 2005

    MyCockpit: Now that you are so deeply enrooted in Flight-Sim Building and cater to the quite a bit to us amateurs; what is your impression of how the Amateur Flight-Sim Building community will evolve?

    Jonathan: I think and hope that cockpit building will continue to grow and just continue to get more impressive. Technology will and has already moved forward so much in such a short time, and hopefully vendors will come with products that offer choices between the less plug and play solutions for the die hards who love to get into the thick of wiring up every switch and light to the more plug and play solutions where you might have a series of overhead panels (for example) that arrive ready to go. I think only the market will dictate these things, if it grows then companies will be able to offer products at a reasonable cost, if it remains small then such offerings will be difficult to produce for budget projects. I have a feeling though it will simply grow and more and more (as we have already seen) will become available and perhaps more different types of people will be less intimidated by the technical side of it all. We receive so many e-mails of this nature, people who are very interested but quite concerned about that side of things. Sometimes it is less about hardware and more about software, but it can be both or vice versa. As I say, I hope more choice comes and as such more people can get involved.

    24 December 2005

    MyCockpit: Jonathan, itís been a wonderful experience, having the opportunity to interview you. I have so many more questions, perhaps leave those for another time. In behalf of my fellow flight-sim builders I want to thank you for participation. Are there any last comment youíd like to make?

    Jonathan: It has been my first interview when I think about it! I was never asked before and as such it has also been a pleasure. From my point of view, most of this started from dreaming about what was almost the impossible - building a full flight simulator, and now so many different people from all corners of the world have shown that it is possible and gained so much enjoyment from the process. I hope the community continues to grow, and the people involved share their own experiences which help others to step into this area, that I think has been the key in the past and I think is the key to the future.

    Finally, seasons greetings to everyone and a Happy 2006.....

    Jonathan Richardson