Saturday, January 05, 2013

The NexGen of #Avgeeks: Meet Thomson Meeks of Team X-Plane

Thomson Meeks
By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

According to the FAA, the average age of all licensed pilots was 44.4 years old in 2011. But when you look around any airport coffee shop, or walk the flight line at EAA Airventure Oshkosh, no matter which way you look, it seems the predominant color of hair on the people in attendance that still have hair is...gray.

An aging demographic might be the only thing our aviation family has in common with the audience at an opera performance. Like major arts organizations who are in a continual search for younger patrons to place in their theatre seats, we in general aviation also struggle every day to keep a consistent flow of fresh young faces coming into the flight training system to replace those who will inevitably lose their medical and driver's license and be relegated to permanent passenger status.

One of those younger future pilots exemplifies what it means to be an #Avgeek, and that is a name Thomson Meeks wears proudly. Meeks (no relation to Lynda Meeks of @GirlsWithWings fame) is a 13-year-old from Asheville, NC with about six hours of lessons in his logbook. He has aspirations to continue training in the C172 when he can, but plans to begin soaring school soon. 


His initiation into our world is not unlike most of the Airplanistas reading this article:
"I've always been a big aviation fan," Meeks explained. "We have pictures of me as a toddler in the cockpit of a Cessna 172, and when I was around three, my family and I would park on a hill at our local airport just to watch planes land and depart for hours. I love so many airplanes now, deciding on a favorite plane, wow, that's a tough question. I really like the A330, the Piper J3 Cub (on floats of course) and the CRJ2."
In the mean time between flight lessons, Meeks does what many of us do, he flies a simulator, and his chosen platform is Laminar Research's X-Plane application. He is active in the X-Plane community, but his involvement with Laminar Research changed dramatically in 2012, and may have set this motivated young aviator on a new career path. 

"Last summer," Meeks said, "I saw a post on a X-Plane blog saying that Laminar was looking for booth workers for OSH12. I thought 'hey, why not?' After the show, they invited me to work with them on their social media pages. The title they gave me is Manager of Social Media. It's a very fun job, being able to interact with X-Planers is most enjoyable."

Randy Witt, Manager, Customer Support and Technical Service for X-Plane confirmed Meeks raised his personal #Avgeek stock value when the owners of Laminar saw him work as a volunteer. "I hired Thomson to work at our Oshkosh booth last summer and was so impressed with him, I hired him to help us with social media. Since he is a minor, his father was there working with him."

Having Meeks on Team X-Plane at their Oshkosh booth turned out to be a smart move, because as a young aviator, he was able to relate well to one of Laminar's most important customer groups. "Moms and Dads were particularly interested in asking how X-Plane was helping me as a young pilot and many of them bought copies to help their kids learn to fly," Meeks said.

Like any trip to Oshkosh for a young aviator, Meeks enjoyed everything we all love about the show:

"Airventure was an overwhelming experience. I got to meet X-Plane owners Austin Meyer and Randy Witt, check out Austin's plane, and I got to see almost every kind of plane I've ever flown on X-Plane. The crew at the Laminar booth treated my extremely well, even though I was just 12 at the time. I loved being surrounded by so many pilots...I met aerobatic pilots, all sorts of military and commercial pilots, and student pilots of all ages."
Since Meeks was indeed a part of Team X-Plane, during our interview, Airplanista asked him for the inside information on what would be the ultimate computer to run Laminar's latest version, X-Plane 10. It comes with global scenery, with realistic terrain, mountains, bodies of water and roads, around 30 aircraft, full scenery for two airports (KSEA and LOWI) with buildings, static aircraft to give the illusion of activity) and many other objects. Meeks passed the ball to a friend, @Ntr_09 on Twitter:
 "I would start with a nice case for good cooling, Corsair, Cooler Master and NZXT all make great full tower cases. I like the high-end ASUS and Gigabyte mainboards, for whichever socket you might choose. I would choose the LGA 2011 socket and put an Intel Core i7-3970X Extreme Edition Sandy Bridge-E in it. You'll need some serious cooling for that, so a Corsair Hydro Series H100 Liquid Cooler would be necessary. For the RAM, Corsair's Dominator Platinum line of ram is currently the best, and I'd say 16GB is plenty. For the GPU, I'm an nVidia fan so you'll want at least 2GB of VRAM (but in my opinion we're going to be saying 4GB in a year or two so why not go ahead and ramp it up?). The card you want is the EVGA GeForce GTX 680 FTW+. Now, we've got a lot of watts here, so we need a good PSU. Again, I like Corsair but there are plenty of good brands. This system will be comfortable with about 1000 watts, so take your pick an a 1000w PSU with good reviews. For loading X-Plane quickly and improving in sim performance, you're going to want an SSD. Intel SSDs are my favorite, as they are very powerful and reliable with decent IOPS and transfer rates. A 240GB Intel 520 Series should be plenty as long as it's not your boot drive, get a 512GB one if it is. For your storage drive, I like to put two Western Digital Caviar Black 2TB WD2002FAEX drives in RAID for best performance and data safety. Completed, this system would be in the $4,000 range."
It is a pretty safe assumption that the aviation future for Thomson Meeks looks bright if he stays on his current trajectory. It will take a few years due to his age, but we can be certain that this young #Avgeek will eventually earn his private pilot's license, and for decades to come, he'll replace one of those senior pilots who can no longer be PIC.

And when that happens, the circle of aviation life will be complete.