By Timothy Homan
Where did it all start and who are the Virtual Silver Falcons?
The Virtual Silver Falcons started back in 2020 as a unique Lockdown project, a dream for Frank Moody; the founder and owner of the VSF and the Airtech group. Moody saw others implementing their own custom mods into Digital Combat Simulator (DCS) by Eagle Dynamics (A Study level flight Simulator). This started a spark inside Moody as he always wanted to manage his own project and at the same time learn new skills.
He then decided to create the Pilatus PC7 MkII as a project for DCS. Why the PC7 MKII? He finds the aircraft unique and relatable to South Africans since it's unique to the South African air force and an aircraft that the international market knows very little about since everyone is always more familiar with the PC9. Starting a project is not always as easy, as resources relating to the aircraft are limited. Moody and some of his friends from the online flight simulator community come together and started to learn 3D modelling to build their own unique aircraft for the DCS. While all of this was happening, He flew virtual formation for fun with other aircraft like the L-39 and Christian Eagle II. Therefore, Moody thought it would be a brilliant idea to start the Virtual Silver Falcons and aim high with his project.
An interesting fact about the VSF is that all team members have real-life aviation experience and all of them are holders of pilot licenses. They treat the simulator as they would real-life flying. As said by their Number 1 (Flight leader) Ryan "Panda" Nelson, "when the canopies come down its laser focus".
Why DCS and not other simulators?
What makes DCS special is that it’s a combat simulator and the net code for its aircraft is far ahead of other simulators. What does this have to do with formation flying? Everything. Since this simulator gets used for combat simulation; every object in the simulator is constantly calculated so if two wings touch, it is game over. The aircraft in DCS have collision models unlike other simulators, so this makes it so much more skilful and challenging. Then not to forget the Active flight model physics which is not scripted but actively calculated in the background.
A question that gets asked a lot by people is "do they use Virtual reality?" Out of the whole team, one member uses VR, number 2 Jonathan "Chaos" Stols. All the other team members fly on monitors, some of them like number 3 Frank "Prophet" Moody fly on a 3-monitor setup with Track IR 5 (To track the pilot's head), and others use similar setups with home-made tracking devices. The VR, however, has more benefits such as where you gain depth perception, something that you cannot have on a monitor.
Meet the team
Falcon 1: Ryan “Panda” Nelson. Panda is the Flight Lead for the Virtual Silver Falcons. In the real world, he holds a PPL, is currently a CPL student, owns and operates a Jabiru and is a video editor. He has 19 years of professional experience with RC Aircraft as well.
Falcon 2: Jonathan “Chaos” Stols. Chaos has been with the team since its inception in 2020. He holds a commercial pilot license and currently runs Stellenbosch Flight Academy.
Falcon 3: Frank “Prophet” Moody. The prophet is the project manager for the development of the team's aircraft, he is a photographer and partner of the Aviation Media team, The AIR.Tech. Frank has been flying since 2003 and has recently completed his night rating.
Falcon 4: Clinton “Spear” Troskie. In the real world he spends his time working on the development of aircraft and simulator gear, he is the Owner of Draken Flight Controls. He also holds a Private Pilots License. He used to work for Ravin Aircraft (a South African designed and built aircraft)
Falcon 5: Vaughn “Redline” Naudé. He holds a private pilot’s license and is currently working toward his commercial license with the eventual goal of joining the SA airshow circuit. He comes from a 3rd generation aviation family.
Falcon 6: Rugene “Frosty” Frost. He holds a PPL and has accumulated time on various different aircraft types. His love for flying started before he can remember, and his first solo flight happened when he was just 17 years old in 2005. He currently works for one of South Africa’s most prestigious aviation companies as the Snr QA Auditor. His hobbies include flying model aircraft, drones, and Photography.
Falcon 7: (Reserve), Julian “Skyhawk” Tirazona. His dream job was always to become a pilot but unfortunately, the closest he ever got was a full motion airbus simulator. Julian is one of the three main founders of the Virtual Horsemen who are also based on a real team and fly mainly P-51 Mustangs. Julian has been flying virtual aerobatics since 2004. Apart from flying simulators, some of Julian's other hobbies are building model kits, music, and gaming.
The Teams Participation in VIAF and the Challenges that come with it.
The Virtual Silver Falcons recently participated in the Virtual International Air Festival. The VIAF is the biggest international virtual air show. The aim of VIAF is to bring the virtual community and real-world community closer together. This year at the VIAF there was a total of 56 displays, including other real-world virtual teams like the Virtual Thunderbirds, Virtual Blue Angles, Virtual Red Arrows and many more. The streaming time over the weekend of the event was a total of 26 hours. What makes this special is the fact that VSF was the only team to represent South Africa. This was, however, not the VSF’s first display on a virtual airshow as they have participated in a few over the last two years and they also strive to always improve and stay up to date with their routines, as well as come up with some small surprises, like the Black Widow tribute.
As a South African team it is difficult to train and prepare for events like this in the digital environment since as all South Africans know, we live our lives around Eskom. Thankfully South Africans are very good at adapting and overcoming challenges. The scary fact is that in preparation for this year’s air shows the VSF had a total of 5 flights where they had all members present. This means that on some training nights they had two members present or sometimes maybe three, and they could only focus on their specific roles and routines at that time. When they could come together, they had to take all these individual routines and combine them to make one amazing display based on timing.
VSF, Air.tech and The Marksman
Mark Hensman gave Moody a call and invited members of the Virtual Silver Falcons and the AIR.Tech group to a training day. The idea behind this was to see if one could use simulated flight to practice procedures for real life. An interesting fact is that air forces such as the United States Air Force, Armée de l'air et de l'espace (French Air force), Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force) and the Ukrainian Air force do use DCS for training on some level or another.
The Marksman and VSF became close friends and share an unquenchable passion for formation flying, a passion that grew exponentially with the support of The Marksman team. They are a big influence on the VSF and support them in many ways.
As quoted by Mark “Bugs” Hensman, Flight lead of The Marksman Aerobatic Team:
“I’ve been following the VSF with great interest. They have trained in parallel to us (The Marksmen) and have developed very similar skills.
We use aerobatic aircraft, and they use gaming computers connected to the internet, running as simulators! The VSF has attained an incredible standard and can be really proud of what they’ve done. I can’t imagine how many hours they’ve put into this, but I’d guess it’s an awful lot.
It doesn’t take many sums to figure out that a real-world formation team such as ourselves, could save an awful lot of avgas by teaming up with these guys. I’m thinking they would benefit from the real-world experiences of flying in our planes and we would have the opportunity to do a lot more complex training on the same budget. We’re looking into it now. Who knows, maybe a Virtual Marksmen Aerobatic team is in the making? …”
VSF Tribute to Glen Warden and Mark Sampson
If you watched the latest routines of the VSF, the team flew tributes to the late Glen “Gringo” Warden and Mark “Sammy” Sampson. Both of whom were very special people to the South African aviation industry.
A day before the VSF début display at VIAF 2021, Glen Warden sadly passed away. He was a legend in the South African aviation circuit, he was famous for flying the Mirage III “Black Widow” amongst others. They performed a small tribute before their fan break manoeuvre at the end of the 2021 show. The VSF team had always intended for the 2022 show to be a tribute to Glen Warden. The team painted up a Mirage IIICZ in his honour and it was kept as a surprise for the show. Number 6 Rugene “Frosty” was tasked with flying the display and had to fill in some big shoes in his routine.
Stols and Moody met Sammy during a Marksman formation training day, where they were privileged enough to get a ride on board a formation aerobatic display, allowing both of the virtual pilots to experience real G-Forces. The team bonded well with Sammy, and they grew to call him a friend. This led to a few projects that Sammy and Moody would begin, including one in which the team decided to digitize Sammy’s personal aircraft. His loss earlier this year affected the VSF deeply and the team insisted the very least they could do was fly a Missing Man Formation for someone who contribute so much to them, both professionally and personally.