Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Siai Marchetti S-211 for X-Plane 11.30 - Beta Test Application

My first project for X-Plane 11 is in short final for Beta testing - so, if you are willing to help with the testing, in this post you will find the instructions to apply.

First, this is meant to be a "budget" payware project (15-20 Euros maximum) - the scope of this project is to provide a decent light jet trainer simulation… and much like in reality, this simulation project is meant to be fun to fly.
It will not be a study-level simulation, but all essential systems should work as expected and you should be able to conduct both VFR and IFR operations.

As usual, I am looking for testers with various level of aviation experience and skill, but I am looking in particular for users who know the XP11.30 scene well and can help with an assessment of this project in comparison with other similar products.

Hardware requisites:
- Anything that can run XP11 well
- Given that the plane uses a lot of high res texture, I believe that 2Gb video memory are needed… but that is just my estimation

Software prerequisites:
- X-Plane 11.30 or newer (the plane uses the new jet engine modeling, so will not work with older versions of XP11)

As usual… the Beta tester for my projects is not a paid position, by any stretch of the imagination: you do it just for the fun of doing it.
If you are willing to help, send me an email to indiafoxtecho.gmail.com - the email shall contain:

- a BRIEF description of your system (no need of minor details, I just need CPU type and clock, RAM, video card and video memory)

- a brief description of your real world flight experience (if any) including (if any) your knowledge of the S-211 Aircraft (note… the Beta is open to everybody: from teenage desk flyers to WWII aces - I just need to know who I am talking with!). No need of long and detailed stories...just a line or two will do.

- your experience with X-Plane 11.

The topic of the email shall be "S-211 Beta Testing" (note...I thought this was an easy requirement, but apparently it is not...but it is very important: it helps me a lot sorting the messages and it shows that you can comply with instructions).

Note it may take 2-3 weeks to reply and provide a download link… so be patient.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Flight Simulator is coming back!

You have heard the big news of these days for us simmers…. FLIGHT SIMULATOR IS COMING BACK!!!!!
There is plenty to be excited about, as the trailer was fantastic… but I see a lot of overly optimistic expectations which, I am afraid, will lead to some disappointment.
As any flightsim enthusiast, I went through the trailer several times to squeeze every bit of information from it… but this new Flight Simulator has been a well kept secret and none of the flight simulator developers I know has been involved or consulted for this project.

So, here is what we know for sure:

  • This new simulator is called simply "Flight Simulator"

  • It will be available for both XBox and PC (most probably through Microsoft's digital download platform, possibly enabling you to use it both on the Xbox and PC with a single licence)

  • It will be included in Microsoft "Game Pass" service

  • It will feature a number of different planes from small seaplanes to airliners

  • It will allow you to fly anywhere in the world

What we do not know:

  • If it will run on XBox "Scarlet" (my guess: yes, sooner or later)

  • If it will have an SDK and allow content from third parties (my guess: not on Xbox - the console version will at least have some form of moderation from Microsoft)

  • Be backward compatible with FSX addons (my guess: no, and it is a good thing)

  • How powerful your hardware needs to be to run the sim at a reasonable speed

What I hope:

  • Microsoft hopefully learned the lessons from Flight and Flight Simulator World

  • Microsoft will allow us developers to continue producing and selling add-ons as we did in the past

  • Microsoft will provide some sort of backward compatibility for the code and flight models (note that, unknown to many, this was planned in quite a smart way in FSW by providing a compiler for XML gauges)

  • Microsoft hopefully got some hint from the latest versions of P3D (which introduce a number of great features) and X-Plane 

And now… a quick look at some screenshots with my comments (and my guesses...for what matters): 

Very nice sky rendering (possibly implementing the "True Sky" technology, which was used by both FSW and Ace Combat)! But look closely on the lower right corner, and you see that a scenery discontinuity slipped through the trailer. The tile seems unrelated to the scenery, and looks a lot when I max out P3D and runs out of video memory. Aside, in this shot it is difficult to tell if the image is generated by a very smart landclass system or it is photoreal...but if it is photoreal, the resolution is pretty low. May be there is a "lower res" photoreal Earth model? I don't know.

Definitely a photoreal shot. Buildings are unique and fit perfectly to the scenery… and look a lot as the ones in Google Earth 3D. It is totally unrealistic to think that the simulator will look as good and detailed everywhere in the world… this would require several Terabytes of data. However, is not unthinkable that the sim comes with a number of high detail areas and *MAYBE* streams sceneries from a server, much like Google Earth 3D. This may or may not require a subscription…BUT THIS IS JUST A WILD GUESS. 

Wether it True Sky or not it looks great… the sea in this shot is less impressive, and so is the fog. But still an awesome shot.

Yeah!!!! Hangar enviroment with ground crew! And real time raytracing!
...all cool and dandy, but: we have no clue if all hangars will look like this (most probably not - for all we know this may be just an aicraft selection menu) and while the rendering engine looks cool, similar results can be achieved with a PBR engine. So neither the hangar nor raytracing are confirmed IMHO.

Another impressive shot of the sky. Looks awesome! The scenery however is not hugely better than the best addons we have.

I've seen people commenting that this new Flight Simulator has the best plane models ever… and I agree they are really good. Better than the best add-ons around? I do not believe so - the difference is in the rendering engine, which frankly seems the best around in terms of quality.

Very good light contrast. Both X-Plane and (to a lesser extent) P3D fail, IMHO, in rendering the HDR contrast between the external world and the cockpit. DCS and AFS2 do a better job in that respect… but it seems that this new Flight Simulator will be the best in class in this respect.  

Ground vehicles and crew! It will have awesome airports and detailed ground services!
...well, we'll see. Sure this one looks good, and the assets look great. But we'll see how interactive the airport will be and how good the average airport will look. My guess is that only major airports around the world will look this good.  

This shot is interesting for two reasons: it shows what the engine is capable of doing for sky and cloud rendering (very menacing weather...do not fly there!) but most importantly it shows what I believe will be a "regular" airport. Does not look bad at all. 

Giraffes, elephants and flamingos! This reminds me of the "living world" thing when FSX launched… may be there will be animals in the wild as we were promised ten years ago, maybe they will be "mission objects" like they were in FSX. However they look pretty good. Will we get autogen grass?

This seems another photoreal area…medium-high res. Looks good, but not much beyond what we already have. What I do not understand is how such big chunks of photoreal scenery will fit into the installation. Surely the sim will not have the whole world at this resolution upon install...may be you can pick some specific areas and download a higher res version of them, or maybe it will stream the scenery from a server. Or maybe they only showed us the good bits. 

Impressive rain effect on the cockpit and excellent weather rendering.

Night lighting looks excellent - it looks superior to XP11, which is quite a feat as I consider XP11 night lighting to be excellent.

The flamingos! Again, not sure if you will be able to see wildlife around the world.. for all we know, these may be mission object - and by the way, if they will pack some good missions with the sim I'll be very pleased: I loved FSX missions!
Aside, water looks pretty cool in this shot - and flamingos have their own shadow.

Great rendition of the pyramids: good job! Hopefully there will be several places around the world with this level of detail.

The lighting on the plane looks great (but again...nothing that cannot be achieved with a good PBR implementation)… but the ground texture? Does not look great.

San Francisco looks wonderful...and looks like the Icon A5 is back from Flight ;-) !

The presence of the TBM-900 is pretty great...may be a sign of much needed diversity in aircraft models.

Some final random thoughts:

Graphically looks great. The engine is good and the 3D assets look top-quality. There seems to be a tremendous amount of content that only a big corporate with high-end videogame technology as Microsoft could deliver (no offense to Lockheed Martin or Laminar Research).

I've seen people afraid that, since it will be also on XBox, it will be dumbed down (for those "stupid gamers")… like if recreational flight simming is a serious thing ;-) ! But no, I do not think it will be the case. Much like you could play most of the FSX missions with an XBox controller, here you will be able to fly around and play mission with one. So, it will be like FSX.

The big question is… will it support third parties and smaller developers like me? Maybe. Or maybe not. From what I have seen so far, Microsoft has learned a lot from the Flight fiasco...but never underestimate the capability of a large corporate to make stupid decision when they see a potential for a business model they like. And the current ruling business model in entertainment is "subscription" (rather than DLC).
In any case, I am pretty sure that, even if third parties will be allowed to sell their stuff, the content on the Microsoft Platform will be moderated - for a number of legal reasons.
This may kill smaller developers like me... but we'll see.

Flight Simulator may kill P3D "home" market (which is not supposed to exist but it does) and may push P3D in its own niche of education/serious simulation - I would not be surprised if LM starts to enforce some strict controls on the licences in future. We'll see what P3Dv5 will have to offer, but I believe this announcement weakens P3D position a little.

On the other hand, if Microsoft screws up for the simmers, Flight Simulator may actually mean a larger audience for XP11...as disappointed simmers may jump to that platform.

Time will tell… for the moment, let's enjoy the simulators we have: it will take some time before we get our hands on this new Flight Simulator.

Friday, May 24, 2019

SIAI Marchetti S-211 / Aermacchi M-311 / M-345 PBR Update (and other news on this project)


While the S-211/M-345 has been my test bed for PBR technologies, I've never found the time to properly package the resulting files into a coherent update...but I decided to dedicate some time to release this update for a number of reasons.
For one, the S-211 has been also developed for other platforms including X-Plane 11... it is basically done, but needs improvement on the flight model and then some further testing will be needed. XP11 has a very neat PBR implementation which looks cool… you can see some photos on my facebook page.
Speaking of other platforms, I have just received a notice that AFS2 is being updated and the update can break the compatibility of the S-211... Right now it is still working, but if is breaks I will fix it when I'll have some time.
Anyway, here is the change log for the Prepar3D version. NOTE THAT THIS UPDATE IS COMPATIBLE ONLY WITH P3Dv4.4 AND ABOVE. If you install it on previous versions of Prepa3D or Flight Simulator, you will not be able to load the plane in the sim anymore...and you'll have to reinstall the base package.

Version 1.20 - 23/05/2019
- Redone all external models and added textures to support PBR technology

The update can be downloaded by clicking HERE or from the side bar.

Also, few months ago Leonardo made the first flight of the first M-345 from serial production. The aircraft is a little different from the demonstrator and the prototypes that I have depicted. There are a number of changes which you can see in the photo below, and which I'd like to implement some time in the future. The major changes are:
- New nose shape (shorter than the prototype, closer to the S-211 nose)
- New wing tips
- Addition of formation lights
- New Landing gear
- New auxiliary air intakes and exhausts
- New LED landing lights
- New panelization of the fuselage
- Adoption of MK-16 ejection seats
- Different positions of antennas and sensors

…these are not big changes, but some of are quite annoying to make. But I'll do them when I will have some more time.

On the left (in primer), the first production aircraft, on the right (grey livery) the prototype.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Which Simulator Should You Buy (April 2019)?

Whenever I talk to people about my hobby, sooner or later during the conversation I always receive the same question: which simulator should I buy (and will my computer be able to run it)?
This is not an easy question, as it vastly depends on which kind of person you are talking to. He or she may be a gamer, an aviation enthusiast or an experienced pilot...and may prefer a long peaceful flight in an airliner, a scenic bush-flight over a wild region or an historically accurate air battle.
Therefore I typically reply with another question: what would you like to do in the simulator?
Depending on the question I will try and direct them to the simulator that may be the best fit between the ones I know (relatively) well.

So, as a quick recap and a go-to reference for the people I speak with, here is what I think of the simulators I use the most, and what I believe to be their strong and weak points as of today April 20th 2019.

But first, a word about the hardware:
In general you need a fast computer (I'd say a 3.0 GHz quad core minimum) and a good graphic card (by today standards a GTX 960 is probably the bare minimum). Some simulators run better than others, but running a modern flight simulator without a good computer is an exercise in frustration. A Windows PC is preferred over an Apple computer since not all the simulators are available on the latter.

Along with a fast computer with a good graphic card, you'll need memory (some sims can run with 4Gb but 8Gb should be the standard) and a sizeable available space in your hard drive. The required space will depend on the add-ons you will use, but I'd say that 256 Gbyte is the bare minimum...but be warned that many simmers typically have dedicated hard disks with 1 Terabyte or more: some add-ons (and in particular high detail photoreal sceneries) take a lot of space.

One last thing before we start: you'll need a flight stick. You do not necessarily need a replica of a real one, and you can buy a decent one for 40-50 Euros or less. But trying to use a flight simulator without one will drive you crazy. Be sure that it features a throttle control and a "twist" motion for the rudder.

Prepar3D v4
Published by: Lockheed Martin
Latest version: 4.5
Price: USD 59.95 (Academic); USD 199,95 (Professional)
Available on: Windows (64 bit)

Several years ago, Lockheed Martin acquired the rights to the Microsoft ESP platform, which was basically a tentative to market Flight Simulator X for professional simulation / visualization purposes. Lockheed Martin has constantly upgraded this simulator, adding a new rendering engine and a 64 bit code and maintaning a good backward compatibility with FSX. With the failure of Microsoft Flight and Dovetail Flight Simulator World, Prepar3D is the "de facto" heir to the venerable Flight Simulator legacy.
Disregard the incredibly expensive "Professional Plus" version which is meant for military use.

Strong Points:
- Backward compatibility with many FSX add-ons means that there are literally thousands of good quality add-ons, either free and payware. It is highly likely that a good rendition of your favourite plane or airport alreadyt exist for this simulator.
- Very flexible experience: you can fly anything from a glider up to a 747 anywhere around the world.

Weak Points:
- Default content is not great and the base scenery is outdated (looks a lot like Flight Simulator X). You'll need some add-ons to make it look good.
- Needs a very powerful computer to run well.

Recommended to:
Basically anyone who has an interest in flight simulation...but be warned: the default content is not great and you'll need to get some add-ons: there are some great freeware ones, but the best ones are typically payware.

Not recommended to:
Users who have no will to look for (and eventually buy) add-ons to improve the simulator.
Users interested in air warfare simulation: while P3D has a wide choice of (excellent) military aicraft, it does not support weapon functionalities by default (unless you buy the professional plus edition - which I do not recommend) although it can do that with packages such as vACMI, Tacpack or others. If you are interested in air combat you should first check DCS.

X-Plane 11
Published by: Laminar Research
Latest version: 11.33
Price: € 64,99
Available on: PC, MacOS, Linux

Strong Points:
- Simulation engines is based on an actual fluid dynamics model: arguably a superior approach with respect to table-driven engines like the one of FSX/P3D.
- Graphic engine runs well and does an excellent job in portraying small scale details.
- Some of the default aicrafts are really well done.
- Fantastic night lighting effects.

Weak Points:
- Default terrain textures are quite bland and repetitive. You'll need add-ons to make it look good.
- During the day, the default lighting engine is not great (poor water rendition, bland daylight brightness and shadows, poor cloud rendition).
- While there are some excellent add-ons out there, P3D in my opinion still has the lead with a wider selection of better quality add-ons (but the tide is changing).

Recommended to:
Basically anyone who has an interest in flight simulation. It is a great simulation and does a lot of things better than P3D (but not everything). If you have an Apple or Linux system, this is the best flight simulator you can buy. If you have a PC, choosing this over P3D may depend on your computer and which add-ons you would like to use.

Not recommended to:

Users interested in air warfare simulation: while XP-11 has a limited support for weapon functionalities, DCS is the simulator your should check first if you are looking for military flight operations

Aerofly Flight Simulator 2
Published by: IPACS
Latest Version: 2.
Price: € 59,99
Available on: Windows (64 bit), MacOS, Android

Aerofly FS 2 started as an attempt to bring a decent flight simulation experience to high end mobile devices and then was scaled up to a fully-fledged desktop experience. While its heritage still shows in the user interface, the fact that the simulator was designed for the limited resources of a mobile device makes it so that it runs really well on desktop computers, providing exceptionally good frame rates even if your hardware is not the latest and greatest. However there is no traffic, no multiplayer, no ATC and basically no weather system. It is just you, your plane and the photoreal scenery.

Strong Points:
- Exceptionally efficient graphic engine: runs really well and provides a fantastic performance in Virtual Reality.
- Very sharp photoreal textures (default scenery covers the majority of the western United States).
- Excellent choice of good quality default aircrafts. Both external and internal models are done really well.

Weak Points:
- No ATC, no traffic, no multiplayer: it is just your aicraft and the scenery.
- No water shaders, no cloud shadows, very basic clouds and almost non-existent weather system.
- Scenery coverage is limited to some areas of the world (coverage is slowly being expanded through add-ons).

Recommended to:
Anyone who would like to fly over a super-sharp phoreal rendition of the State of California or over the Grand Canyon. Flying in Virtual Reality is very impressive in terms of immersion and "feeling" due to the exceptionally high frame rate.

Not Recommended to:
Anyone looking into something more than basic flying: absence of traffic, ATC or multiplayer is a big drawback. And needless to say there are no military functionalities.

Digital Combat Simulator (DCS)
Published by: Eagle Dynamics
Latest version 2.5.4
Price: base software is FREE (one map, two planes)
Available on: Windows (64 bit)

Starting from the heritage of a successful combat flight simulator like Lock-On Modern Air Combat, Digital Combat Simulator (DCS) has become arguably the best air combat simulator available on an home computer. You can download the base software for free but it only features one map (Caucasus) and two planes (SU-25 Frogfoot and the TF-51 Mustang) - then you can buy a number of sceneries such as the Persian Gulf or the Nevada training range, and a growing selection of excellent aircrafts (including the F-14 Tomcat, the F/A-18 Hornet, the A-10 Thunderbolt and the AV-8B Harrier II). These add-ons are not cheap...but they are extremely realistic and detailed. WWII and Korean War warbirds are available too. DCS also includes a detailed simulation of ground vehicles and ships. 

Strong Points:
- Excellent rendering engine providing good performance and great scalability to small details
- The general quality of the add-ons is outstanding: while some of the planes are a little expensive, they are typically the best rendition available of the machine they depict.
- Arguably the best combat environment you can play on your PC

Weak Points:
- Some ground texture repetitions
- Weather engine is not great in some instances
- Scenery is divided in "maps" you need to buy. While they are large, you cannot fly anywhere in the world.

Recommended to:
Anyone interested in digital military simulations. DCS is the best combat simulator on the market.

Not Recommended to:
Anyone not interested in air combat. You may also want to check in advance if your favourite plane is or will be available for the platform, since the current selection of vehicles is somewhat limited.

Other Simulators:

The simulators listed above are the ones I know and use on a regular basis. But there are many Others you may want to consider… here are some of the most popular:

Flight Simulator X is still available on STEAM for 24,99 euros, although I think it is outdated and I do not recommend buying it. You may still consider it as an option if you do not own a high end PC.

Flight Gear is a collaborative effort to create an alternate, open source flight simulator platform - I have not checked it in a while but it seems way behind the simulations I have mentioned above.

If you are looking to WWII combat simulator, IL-2 Sturmovik is still considered by many the best simulator in that niche. I have to confess I have not tried it.

Believe it or not, Falcon 4.0 has still a large dedicated community that over the years has improved it considerably. Frankly I have not checked it in years and I think it is outdated.

...and then there are a many other simulators I have not played. But again these were just my two cents.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Prepar3D V4.5 Notes and Compatibility Statement

With apologies for the delays (I was on a business trip in the U.S.) here are some notes on P3Dv4.5 and its compatibility with my planes.

First thing: at the moment I am writing, VRS has not yet updated Tacpack to support P3Dv4.5. Tacpack is built in such a way that it needs to be updated each time a new version of P3D is released so it is not a surprise. However, some of my planes rely heavily on it (especially the F-35 and the Typhoon) - so you may want to wait until Tacpack is updated before switching to P3Dv4.5.

That being said, on my system P3Dv4.5 works fine with no significant issues. Actually I am under the impression that frame rates and texture resolution are improved (keeping in mind that I typically fly over large photoreal sceneries such as the ones from Blue Sky).

The only minor problem I am having is a strange and subtle "blurry" effect in VR which is difficult to describe (and may be due to my system settings)… will report on that after further testing.

As I supposed, there are no buig differences in the code or compatibility in my planes - so they all work as expected. In detail:

F-35 Lightning II
Everything seems to work fine including STOVL, custom sound and fuel system. Until Tacpack is updated, DAS, TFLIR, A/A radar, loadout configurator and weapon system functionalities will not work.

Eurofighter Typhoon
Everything seems to work fine including custom sound and fuel system. Until Tacpack is updated, A/A radar, loadout configurator and weapon system functionalities will not work.

SIAI Marchetti S-211 / Aermacchi M-345
This aircraft relies on Tacpack only for the weapon system, so pretty much everything works fine.

E-2 Hawkeye / C-2 Greyhound
These aircraft rely on Tacpack only for the IFF, so pretty much everything works fine.

All freeware aircrafts will work on P3Dv4.5 to the same extent as they did in P3V4.4.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

SIAI Marchetti S-211 for Aerofly FS 2 - update to version 1.04

The latest update to Aerofly FS2 has introduced some changes that broke the compatibility with the S-211. The aircraft was still selectable from the menu, but could not be loaded (the sim reverted to the default C172 upon loading).
Apparently the compatibility issue is confined to the generator code, which has been replaced.
Here is an update to fix the issue.


Version 1.04
- Changed generator code for compatibility with latest version of Aerofly FS2

Updated version (full install) can be downloaded from the side bar or by clicking HERE.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

F-35 Lightning II - Version 3.61 PBR Update (Prepar3D v4.4)


Here is the PBR update for the F-35 package. In order to implement this, I had to rebuild the source models as they had been lost to a ransomware attack years ago... this was quite a big work, and a lot of things had to be redone. Still I think the plane looks much better now and it was worth it - however, please beware that some minor bugs or glitches may be present.

Model files were compiled with P3Dv4.4 tools, so they cannot be used with FSX or prior versions of P3D - however, I have also included non-PBR model variants for those who may prefer them (they should provide slightly better frame rates and lower memory consumption).
Aside, compiling the model for P3Dv4 made it so that some graphic glitches were fixed.

Initially I thought this could be the baseline for version 4.00, big given that the aircraft functionalities are pretty much the same as previous iterations, I thought it was unfair to make it a new, full price version - or even a paid update.
However, supporting different variants and options is quickly becoming impossible to manage - so from now on this project will only be updated for Prepar3D v4.4 (sorry for that).

Here is the list of changes in version 3.60 and 3.61

Version 3.61 - 20/03/2019
- Fixed bug preventing refuel probe to deploy on F-35B external model
- Fixed typo in aircraft.cfg suggesting that gun should be mounted on STA5 instead of STA6

Version 3.60 - 02/03/2019

- Rebuilt all external and internal models to support PBR textures
- All models recompiled using P3Dv4.4 tools
- Updated landing gear model
- Fixed minor UVW coordinates error on F-35C external model
- Fixed minor graphic glitches in F-35B and F-35C external models
- Major rewrite of MFD code with reduced memory footprint and (marginal) performance improvement
- New .air files to provide better, more linear throttle vs. thrust curve
- Fixed several glitches in the FCS code
- FCS Animation code rewritten
- Fixed bug that caused the first radar track not to show in some screens

* - This update by default is configured to use PBR models and work with P3Dv4.4.
You can use this update also with P3Dv4.0 to P3Dv4.3 by deleting the model.cfg files in the model folder of each aircraft and rename the "model.cfg.BackupNonPBR" to "model.cfg".

Download the update by clicking HERE or from the link on the side bar...