The History of FsFan
by Mathijs Kok
A friend called me a few weeks ago and asked me to write an article about FsFan. As I get a truckload of money for these articles I immediately jumped the gun and told him it would an honour to do it. A few minutes after we finished our telephone conversation I realized I made a mistake. A mistake because it is very hard to write about ideas and FsFan was in fact nothing more than ideas, some of which have grown into real projects. I think the editor mistakenly thought we are an organized bunch. Still, I need the money so let us start at the beginning and try to find out what FsFan really is.
Remember the origin of Microsoft Flight Simulator? Flight Simulator 2 with its start-up diskette and itís Ďcomplexí scenery? Well, picture me at home trying to fly, guided by a miserable manual. After I littered the surroundings of several USA airports with tons of mangled aluminium, I kind of lost interest in the simulator. I need a bit more realistic scenery to let me Ďjump intoí the simulator. A few years later, on an Atari ST it did happen. Flight Simulator and I started a relation that lasts until this day. To my great surprise I noticed I was not the only idiot who liked to spend three hours looking at a black screen (I still love night flights) and collecting aviation maps. There were others! Soon we got together, linked computers, talked about the best angle to intercept an ILS and decided to meet regular. That first meeting we decided not to be a real club, not to go public and to try to aim for the seasoned simulator pilot and have only one goal, to have fun with Flight Simulator.
The meetings were supposed to be monthly but we had meetings when we felt like it. Every meeting included a flight, a lot of talk and some alcohol. The invitations, still keeping it secluded, were send with a story that set the atmosphere of the meeting. They were made with care and looked very good. The maximum number of guests would be 16 and this proved to be a real problem. Soon we had people spying to find out when the next meeting would be and than crash our party. Still, we did not want to grow, keep lists of members, handle contributions, we wanted to have fun. As a result several groups were started in the Netherlands and Belgium, all highly independent and operating as they liked to fly. We kept in contact by telephone and occasional meetings. Than a revolution happened! I bought a kit to build a 300Bps modem, blew it to bits, bought a second kit and discovered digital communications.
That were exiting and expensive months, spending every franc I made on telephone bills but within weeks we had a BBS running, called the FsFan BBS. Soon we had a Dutch net running, spreading files and message all over our little country and as soon as German SysOp Miguel Blaufuks joined us we decided to make English the language of the net and to concur the world. One word about the language, there are hardly any rules in the FsFan net as we donít see the need for them but it is not allowed to make jokes about the mistakes somebody writes. The net is about flightsimming and not about language. As long as the others understand what you are trying to say you can not make mistakes.
The BBS proved to be a perfect medium to do what we want communicate with the hassle and disadvantages of being a real organization. The net was our magazine, nothing could beat that for speed and expansion and the readers write the magazine themselves (how about that dear editor?). At a certain moment, we were active in 15 countries and our files and messages can be found on over 400 BBSís in Europe and the USA. From Kiev to Iceland people exchanged messages. We always have been a pretty loose bunch and as said before there are hardly any rules. As long as the message has something to do with flightsimming we would allow it. We did however tend to attract the more seasoned pilots and hardly make a secret of that. Every question would be answered, even the most simple ones but it was clear you have to learn fast to keep up. Without too much modesty we claimed to have one of the best file collections around, our message base was lively and reached some of the most amusing and most well informed pilots. As everywhere in FsFan friendship was what drove the net. Thatís why we hardly needed rules, who wants to fight with friends? It was normal to see a lot of free stuff being offered in the mail areas.
We also started a virtual airline FEA (FsFan European Airline) and opened a new mail area in the FsFan net. This mail area was used as the bar, there used to be a lot of small talk, fisherman tales about crosswind landings in hurricanes and this was also the place to find out about new assignments to fly. It has always been a very lively place and we even invented virtual money (Virtual Bucks) to pay for the drinks and virtual secretaries to complain to. Later the airline was called FGA (FsFan Global Airline, why limit yourself?) and has subdivisions in Hawaii and the Caribbean. The airline is where the theatre element that we started with the story invitations in the original meetings is still alive, it is surprising that so many musicians, professional writers and other people who work in the media are active in FsFan. FGA pilots donít fly regular flight, they count elephants for wildlife organizations, fly the Rolling Stones to Ibiza for a concert or fly a sick cat to a hospital in Sweden. Most assignments are written with care and love for detail and have a short story to get you in the mood. We have our own shrink, an automated assignment logger and staff to fight with. By now thousands of assignments have been flown, secretaries have been fired and still new assignments are being uploaded by the pilots. FGA and it's sisters, including TCA (Tradewind Caribbean Airlines) are still active to this day.
Let's not forget he races. As our own meetings were always private (and still are) we organize big meetings that take place every 9 or 20 months. We called them Interstate races as they always include a big race including state of the art developments and the first was from New York to Key West (yes sir, thatís in a Cessna, we do make them long). The next Interstate was the first public one and we hoped a few hundred people would come. At the end of the day we had to admit we were wrong and that these meetings could never be small again. After the first thousand people entered the hall we had to close the door because we ran out of air-conditioning, toilet paper and beverages. At Interstate 6 and 7 we had over 3500 visitors making it the biggest events organized around flightsim. Pilots can expect to be tested to the limit and meet the unexpected. We always have some tricks up our sleeve the pilots do not know about. From the day Enrico Schiratti joined the Interstate Organization we have linked all computers in networks and have used the most nasty software we could think of to annoy the pilots.
As Interstate grew it became obvious to developers and commercial vendors that these meetings were ideally suited to meet people, customers and colleagues. Youíll always see some of the latest developments and get to see the people who write the shareware software you use so often. As it became the biggest races in Europe we decided to call them The European Championships. Most of them ended as solid 24 hours non-stop flying with big teams. Next to the big race we do a lot of smaller races, they are flown just for fun or to help make an event more interesting. In total there were 7 Interstate races with in total over 10.000 visitors. There were other groups that do demonstrations for user groups in companies and schools.
In 1995 it became painfully obvious that the FIDO technology was loosing ground. The Internet became the big massive affair it is now and it eat the small BBS's for breakfast. Even a powerful net like FsFan felt the force and traffic started to diminish. It was most of all the message areas which suffered, from a steady 50 new message a day we went downhill to a few a week.
There was a lot of discussion about the future of the net in the SysOp area. I was in favour of making an early move to the Internet but most SysOps disagreed with me. Some said the Internet was going not going to make it. BBS's would be more powerful, faster, more easy to access and what people wanted. I disagreed and rest my case. Consequence was that I resigned from moderating the mail areas and shifted attention to CompuServe where I served as a staff member of the SimGames area for some time. It was understandable that most SysOps felt they way they did. It would not be easy for them to shift all their attention to the new technology and the investment in time and money in their dial in systems would be lost. So they kept their systems going and to this day the FsFan net is still functional. Unfortunately it is only functional as a file serving network and distributes the files that are send into the main internet FS server FTP.IUP.EDU. Miguel Blaufuks, the SysOp of the German hub started work on a WWW site and that was the moment I returned to an old group of friends and joined SimFlight. FsFan might be dead. Long live SimFlight. It has to be expected that the FsFan network based on FIDO will not survive much longer. That is not tragic, it's technology moving on.
So to come back to original question, what was FsFan? I still donít know. FsFan was the network with itís services, the great airlines, the Interstate races, but it was more. It was friendship between people who like flightsims and the best description I have seen is that it is Ďa state of mindí. And no, you could not become a member of FsFan, if you read this magazine and love to take off and fly into the blue yonder you could consider yourself a member.
Mathijs Kok (1996)