I installed the program, which was easy enough, but I also had to install the drivers and such for my Saitek X45 flightstick and throttle combination. I remembered that the last time I did it I had all sorts of problems because I didn't install everything in the correct order (RTMS), so this time I was extra careful about it, doing things precisely as written. It paid off, because the test screen showed everything was working perfectly. Since it's a few years old, I decided to check the Saitek site to see if there were any driver updates. There were. That's when I made my big mistake. I downloaded and attempted to install the newer drivers. There was no Read Me file, or any other kind of documentation with them, just an .exe file. I double clicked on it, and went through the install process. Everything seemed just dandy, but when the test screen finally popped up neither the stick nor the throttle worked. All the various buttons were working, but none the potentiometer based stuff registered.
There was a big button that said "calibrate" (something the older drivers never had), so I clicked on that. It took me to the calibration routines, but it still didn't see any of the things it was supposed to be calibrating. Reading some of the FAQs on the web site, I learned that they changed their whole driver system a while back, and the two systems are incompatible with each other, although the sticks should work under either. I checked the download page, but there wasn't a single mention of any incompatibility there, no sirree. No warnings what so ever. Fine. Doesn't work. We'll just uninstall the new ones, and go back to the ones that work.
So I did that, and although the stick was working again, the calibration was all out of whack. The stick was only responding in the upper left quarter, the rudder was slammed over to the left, etc. Remember I mentioned that the old drivers have no calibration button? That's called foreshadowing. The stick is auto-calibrated by Windows. I figured there must be something left over in the registry from the newer install, so I went through it, deleting every key that mentioned Saitek. I also uninstalled the old drivers, figuring a clean install would be best. Still no joy(stick). Back to the web.
I searched through the official forums, but no one else seemed to have exactly my problem. I did find a reference to the registry key where the calibration is stored. Deleted that key, and reinstalled. No joy. So I finally posted my problem to the forum. still haven't heard anything back. Meanwhile, I discovered that someone had developed an alternate set of drivers (flight simmers love to tweak things). They also had explicit instructions on how to completely clean every last vestige of the official drivers from a machine. There are about a hundred registry keys that have to go. I again scrubbed away the old drivers, then installed the alternates. The calibration was a little off, but there was a calibrate button, and it did what it was supposed to. I finally had a working joystick. Now let's download some aircraft and let the flying commence.
Except... FS 2002 was long ago succeeded by FS 2004, and a lot of the newer aircraft downloads only work properly in 2004. A lot of them will still work in 2002, but there's a couple that I'd like to fly that don't. Ah, the tyranny of the upgrade. I didn't buy 2004 when it came out for a couple of reasons. First, the upgrade is incremental, as 2002 was over 2000, so there's not a lot of noticeable difference between them, especially until people actually started taking advantage of the new features. There was also at least one major bug. When I was flying at Alex's on 2004, I took off from Quonset, and the first thing I noticed that the Newport bridge was missing from it's usual spot on Narragansett Bay. The Longfellow bridge in Boston stopped halfway across the Charles, no doubt dumping it's traffic into the water. A bunch of NYC bridges were missing, too. It was like the terrorists had won. Turns out the programmers had changed some scenery code, and put some placeholders in there, and just forgot about putting back 160 some bridges. (When I checked Microsoft's site today, I noticed they've since issued a patch with the missing bridges.) Now I have no reason not to upgrade. Plus, it's about $20 cheaper than it was when it first came out. This'll be the eighth version of Flight Simulator I'll have bought since 1984, going back to FS2 on my C-64. Of course now I fully expect FS 2006 to be announced any day.
Anyway, I finally did get to fly, and I did find plenty of fun aircraft to download, like this one:
Buzzing the Pru, in Thunderbird 2 (which rhymes).
That's Fenway Park in the background, with the Christian Science Mother Church visible below the tail.