On August 17th, 2020, the flight simulation hobby was changed forever with the immensely successful launch of Microsoft Flight Simulator which added millions of new virtual pilots to the flightsim hobby. Less than a month later, the inaugural ArkanStol event was held at 51AR Byrd’s Backcountry in Arkansas. After witnessing the event firsthand, I went to work on creating the scenery for the simulator and improving upon that scenery after attending in 2021 to take thousands of reference photos. Online sim communities such as The Pilot Club and others started running online competitions and posting videos which caught the attention of the ArkanStol organizers, starting the process of an unprecedented collaboration between the real event and the simulated event. Information provided by Spencer Doyle.
Video from ArkanStol Simulator Experience 2023:
ArkanStol Simulator Experience 2023:
AviNation USA is committed to promoting youth aviation and growing the industry. With that goal in mind, we have partnered with ArkanStol to bring the ArkanStol Simulator Experience on-site at the annual ArkanStol event at 51AR Byrd’s Backcountry. The ArkanStol event venue can be a challenging place to set up multiple simulators that require online access. 51AR Byrd’s Backcountry is in a remote location, as any good bush strip is. Late September in Arkansas can bring temperatures in the mid-90’s, and we see nonstop action at the booth for 12-14 hours a day from a wide variety of skill levels, from young children getting their first look at the inside of a simulated plane to seasoned pilots who just completed their competition run in the real ArkanStol event and even retired airline pilots, military pilots, etc. These conditions demand quality products, from the SimFab cockpits, MSI monitors & laptops, Thrustmaster pedals, and our sim software providers.
Real pilots would jump in the seat and fly around and marvel at the fact that every detail looks exactly as it does in real life. Some local pilots even jumped in and did some VFR flying and showed us hidden strips and local sandbars that they land on in real life, saw that they were present in the sim, and landed on the same sandbars in the sim. On the final night of the event, we had head-to-head competitions on the ArkanStol course, which we projected on a massive screen. At first, the crowd did not know what they were looking at, thinking they were seeing drone footage of the real competition until one of the sim pilots flipped over after landing. The crowd reaction at that moment was priceless as they realized this was simulator footage.
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The conditions at ArkanStol demand a durable sim cockpit, and SimFab brings heavy-duty build quality. The frames are heavy and durable, and their system is extremely modular, allowing you to customize the cockpit to your specific needs. You can swap sticks for yokes in just a couple of minutes, and their mounting hardware included mounts for everything we brought, including a Thrustmaster Viper throttle that hasn’t been on the market long enough to have dedicated mounting hardware. The SimFab triple monitor stands paired perfectly with the MSI 32” curved monitors, giving us a wraparound effect. Their laptop stands were another critical feature that allows staff to run the simulators while remaining behind the guests that are flying them.
MSI provided us with 32” curved monitors and laptops for the event. As mentioned earlier, ArkanStol takes place during hot weather, and MSI laptops are the only ones I trust to stay cool in these conditions. Guests at the event frequently marveled at the fact that the amazing Microsoft Flight Simulator graphics they were seeing rendered on Ultra settings were coming from a laptop. The 32” curved monitors on the SimFab stands create a nice wraparound effect that provide much-needed visibility to properly fly the simulated ArkanStol course.
Thrustmaster provided us with several quality peripherals, from pedals to sticks and throttles. Their Warthog & Viper stick and throttle setup is built like a tank, which is necessary when you’re cycling through hundreds of people each day at an event like this. The TPR Rudder pedals match this durability as well. The common theme we heard from guests is how great these peripherals felt to use in the simulator. One Boeing 737 pilot remarked how impressed he was that pedals of that quality are available for home simulators.
Parallel 42 provided us with copies of their Kitfox Freedom Fox as well as usage of some special event-specific scripts for their must-have Flow Pro utility. On top of that, Edson and his team came to ArkanStol and were a tremendous help. The Flow Pro UI utility enabled us to create a single “wheel” page that our staff could use to teleport sim-pilots, reset them, change time & weather on the fly, change fuel, ensure all 3 sim setups were on the same server, and more. The demands of this event require that you swap sim-pilots in a timely manner, and we would not have been able to do so without the Kiosk utility. The utility saved us several minutes PER PERSON as we cycled through players, and after having used it, I can not fathom running an event without it.
SimWorks Studios provided us with copies of their well-respected Zenith 701 for the event. Guests who struggled with the Kitfox and other tailwheel options, or just preferred a nosewheel, gravitated to the Zenith, which has always been a great choice for Virtual ArkanStol.
GotFriends provided us with several of their planes, including the DoubleEnder & Wilga as well as all their freeware bush plane offerings. They provided a nice change of pace, as we were able to run different planes on all 3 setups at all times.
Of course, none of this would have been possible without MSFS, who provided us with additional copies of the sim for the event. When you are flying just a few feet off the ground, nothing beats the Microsoft Flight Simulator platform. It just looks REAL. The ArkanStol event draws a wide range of people, from those who are daily sim pilots to people who have never seen a home simulator. The common reaction from those who have never seen a home simulator before is amazement that this is a simulator (they often think they’re looking at real footage when they first walk up) followed by even further amazement that they’re looking at the very bush strip they’re standing on. This is usually followed by even further amazement that they can purchase this simulator for their home PC or XBOX.