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Sunday, June 26, 2022

Love Big Jet TV? Meet the flight simulator streamers | Games

As most of us were hunkered down at home last Friday, Jerry Dyer braved Storm Eunice by livestreaming passenger jets landing at Heathrow Airport from the roof of his van. Dyer’s YouTube channel, Big Jet TV, became an unlikely hit, attracting more than 200,000 viewers who were gripped by the rough and tumble landings. If you now find yourself with a newfound interest in aviation commentary, good news: there exists a small but dedicated community of flight simulator streamers who bring viewers in to the cockpit.

For thrill-seekers, some of these broadcasters offer a front-row seat to the drama, tension and ultimate glory of guiding an aeroplane through turbulence or pulling off a tricky landing. For the risk averse, other streamers ride around the Aegean Islands, allowing viewers to bask in the digitised sun and hollow sea of a computer-generated Mediterranean.

Most streamers play Microsoft Flight Simulator. They love the game for its lifelike graphics and geographical accuracy. Players take control of aircraft as if they were in a real cockpit; the game can be played in real time, meaning an in-game flight from London to Cairo will take five hours – as it would in real life. For much of the community, flight simulators are the only type of game they play. One reportedly spent $2.5m on a full-size cockpit set up to enhance their (and their viewers’) plane-sim experience.

Bosh … Jerry Dyer, host of Big Jet TV.
Bosh … Jerry Dyer, host of Big Jet TV. Photograph: @BigJetTV

Thomas David Cochran, 61, of Billings, Montana – known as 757spy on Twitch – started streaming five years ago. “I stumbled across livestreaming completely by accident. I came across a video that was three or four hours long and I discovered there were other people who play with fake aeroplanes like I do.” Cochran had spent more than 40 years in broadcasting, working as an anchor and reporter for local news stations across the US. He decided to take up streaming full time after the “layoff monster” caught up with him. “I was able to repackage my 40 years of over-the-air broadcasting and put it on Twitch.”

Broadcasting was not Cochran’s first career choice; he originally wanted to be a pilot. But he is nearsighted, which prevented him from getting his dream job. “At the time, the hiring managers had more people who wanted to be pilots than seats in cockpits, so they could be very selective.” Cochran delved back into gaming after he was laid off, dabbling in Assassin’s Creed and getting deep into flight and space simulators.

Cochran describes his streams as hanging out with “friends who like aeroplanes and exploring the world without buying a ticket”. Despite the occasional jibe about his age, Cochran loves his newfound career. “Aside from being called grandad it’s been the best experience in the world for me.”

What does this button do? … Microsoft Flight Simulator.
What does this button do? … Microsoft Flight Simulator. Photograph: Microsoft

Matthew Smith, 28, of Oxford – Chewwy94 on Twitch – started flight-sim streaming in his last year of university. It’s now been his full-time job for five years. “If somebody had told me I’d still be doing this as a job going into 2022, I’d have said you were joking. It’s been a dream.”

Smith streams Monday to Friday at 3pm, and attributes his success to genuinely loving his job: his passion for aviation extends into the real world. “I’m going to LA in May and I’ve booked to go on a specific type of aircraft,” he says. “Through the flight simulation community, I’ve met my partner, I’ve met my best friends. Microsoft even flew me out to Seattle for a preview of their most recent flight simulator game.”

Jamie Paine, 21, of Cheshunt – LondonController on Twitch – has been streaming for two-and-a-half years, having played flight simulation games from the age of 11. Paine’s livestreaming career took off when the first lockdown hit. Now, along with Chewwy94, Paine is one of the UK’s biggest flight simulation streamers. Paine traces his interest in aviation back to going on holiday with his family. “As a young kid, it was always about going to the airport and getting on the plane. My family didn’t enjoy getting on a plane, but I loved it.”

Blue-sky thinking … Microsoft Flight Simulator.
Blue-sky thinking … Microsoft Flight Simulator. Photograph: Microsoft

Fabio Guardini Miguez, 46, of Columbus, Ohio – known as TheFlyingFabio on Twitch – is one of the newest streamers on the scene. Before he started streaming a year and a half ago, Miguez was a real pilot turned flight instructor, flying business jets before going into teaching. “Covid ate my job, so I had to do something else, and that’s when I turned to streaming,” he says.

Compared to his fellow streamers, Miguez takes a more educational approach: “Most streamers fly from A to B. I didn’t just want to fly, I wanted to teach”. He is also on a mission to improve flight safety, restaging real-life accidents to see what could have been done differently. “We will go out and fly that flight in the simulator and put ourselves in the same situations. We make some different decisions to see if we can change the outcome. There’s a lot to learn that could keep other people alive.”

With his streaming career on the rise, Miguez has no plans to return to real-life aviation. “I’m done with flying. I’m a full-time streamer now.”

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