Category Archives: Simulator

Real v/s Simulator

A simulator is a combination of software and hardware with the purpose to imitate its real world counterpart. an imitation is never perfect and we need to understand, and benefit from the differences between them.

Not a game

Most importantly, a simulator can only be as realistic as you treat it. Sure in FSX you can fly a 737 in a sustained inverted flight. That is impossible in the real world, but does that make the simulator unrealistic? If you treat your virtual aircraft the same way you would treat a real one, you will have a much better experience.

Not all simulator products are designed for all type of manoeuvres. The default aircraft in FSX for example, don’t spin very well, it is unrealistic. But there are simulators and add-ons available that DO simulate aerobatic behaviour correctly. Do your research or ask me for advice, for what you need for your specialist training.

Seat of the pants

In the early days of aviation, aeroplanes did not have many instruments and the pilot had to rely on his own senses to judge the state of the aircraft. Speed was measured by the wind in your face, engine RPM by listening to the tone of the engine, engine health by the smell of burning oil, and turn coordination, literally by feeling the forces of your ‘pants’; in an un-coordinated turn you would slide off your seat.

It is nearly impossible to correctly simulate those experiences, although professional simulators get really close by placing the simulator on a moving platform (full motion), 3d full surround sounds, force-feedback flight controls, smoke injectors, etc.

smoke in cockpit

For the average home computer simulator this is a bridge too far, but the lack of all this can have benefits too, for example:

  • On a multi-engine aeroplane, recognising an engine failure without being able to hear and feel which engine has failed;
  • When flying in reduced visibility, and you cannot feel where if the aircraft is rolling or pitching;

This way you learn to properly use your instruments, which is exactly what you are supposed to do in such a situation.

Environment

Is it a rainy day with calm winds and with low cloud cover, and you need to practice your stalls and cross-wind landings? just set the weather to whatever you want!

Pause!

How convenient, If you can’t remember what to do next? of you need to read the theory again, just pause the simulator for a while.

Focus

You can focus your attention to one aspect of flying without any distractions. When you are practicing landings for example, in the circuit you have to listen to ATC and comply with instructions, look out for other traffic, pay attention to the change in weather, fuel, remaining daylight hours. With a simulator you can just focus on those landings.

Routine

Flying a plane requires routine. You need to be able to fly the aircraft and manage it’s systems from memory, because you need your brain capacity for other things that vary with every flight, like the weather, traffic, passengers, etc. This can only be achieved by repeating the same thing over and over again.

If you haven’t flown in a while; at all; or on that specific type, rehearse your flight on the simulator. Besides restoring routine, you might also find flaws in the flight planning that are not always obvious if you just see them on paper.

Preparation

When I meet my student for the day, my first question would always be (after good morning, would you like coffee!). What did you prepare for today. Often I hear the reply: I don’t know. An aeroplane is a very poor learning environment, therefore it is important to know exactly what you are going to do before you get airborne. Practice the next flying lesson before you go up for real and be prepared.

Cost

This brings us to this point. To let an aeroplane fly, it takes lift, thrust, and money. Flying is expensive. The last thing you want during your flying training is extra lessons because you need more practice. Do this practice in the simulator and use the actual flying lesson only to demonstrate what you already know.

Building a simulator can be expensive at first, but for a couple hundred Pounds/Euros/Dollars, you can build a basic pc simulator, which will save you allot of money later on.

Emergencies

In a flight simulator you can practice emergencies and the procedures better than in a real aircraft.

For example, in exercise 16 we will practice the forced landing. A flying lesson takes normally an hour, including take-off and landing. In the limited time available you may be able to repeat the exercise 3 times or so. Also you will have to recover at 500ft if you are outside the circuit or a low flying area. Lastly the engine didn’t really fail, it is ‘simulated’ by the instructor.

In a simulator you can actually fail the engine for real. You can also continue below 500ft to land somewhere in a field and you can repeat the exercise rapidly by resetting the simulation instead of climbing slowly to the starting altitude.

In a combat flight simulator you can even experience flight with structural damage. How does an aircraft fly if the vertical tail fin is shot off?

You can even practice ditching and belly landings. Not something I would like to experience for real, but it is good to be prepared if you ever need it.

full-13972-47012-16

Variation

A pilot is often quite limited in the variety of aircraft to fly.

Your flying club may only have a few different types of aeroplane, and even those may not all be available to you. More complex aircraft require a class- or type-rating and there is a limit in how many ratings you may hold at a time;

In the simulated world, you can fly anything and anywhere you like. Can you fly under the Eiffel tower? try it! Maybe you want to practice a high altitude take-off in hot weather, but lack the opportunity to travel to such place; or would you like to know how a Boeing 777 works? you can buy one for 30$ only!

pmdg_777_vc_06

As a private pilot, you will share the sky’s with airliners, helicopters, balloons and gliders. Knowing their speeds and performance limitations will give you a better understanding and the ability to predict their next move.

Turn back time

“Listen kid, back in the old day’s…”

Do you have a clue what that captain sitting next to you is talking about, when he tells you how he flew the Gooney bird on the beam of a radio-range? or how he navigated across the oceans in a 707 with only a Doppler navigation system? Why don’t you give it a try yourself, and the next time you will have something to talk about with the good man.

v707_9

Use your imagination

For the best result, use your imagination to substitute where the simulator cannot go. When you pull a 60 degree turn, you see 2.0G on your indicator but you don’t feel anything, try to imagine the feeling of 2 G’s. It is not easy for everyone, but you can train your self and if you get better and you do that steep turn again, you might even start building tension in your leg muscles to prevent a black out.

Imagination is more important than knowledge – Albert Einstein

 

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FSX setup

Microsoft’s Flight simulator X is the last successful version of a long line of flight simulators since 1982, but with the latest service packs installed it is far from perfect and support by Microsoft has been suspended. Still it is favoured by many and thanks to a vast on-line community of both freeware- and payware add-on developers, the simulator can be made into a useful training aid and a great hobby.

FSX installation, service packs and the ‘Acceleration pack’

The basic version of the simulator has many limitations and performance issues, and you should install either Service Pack 1 and 2, or even better, update with the ‘Acceleration pack’.

Amongst other things, SP1 and 2 increase the performance (frame rates) of the simulator greatly and introduce the DX10 preview mode. The service packs are freeware.

The acceleration pack includes a few (worthless) default aircraft to your fleet, but most importantly add the turbo-charger functionality to the sim which is required for some piston driven add-on aircraft. The Acceleration expansion includes both SP1 and 2.

Graphics

Because of the vast variety of computer systems, I will not attempt to write a guide how to setup your graphics settings.

The sole important thing for a flight simulator is: Frame rates.

Always make sure that your simulator can run at least at 10-15 FPS, and preferably at 20-30. Higher is not necessary because the human eye cannot process any more than that.

FSX key commands:

  • With the key combination Shift-Z you can get the Frames per seconds information on your screen.
  • ALT key will highlight the menu bar, press and hold to hide it.
  • By default, the simulator runs in full screen mode, press ALT-ENTER to run it in windowed mode.

There are many tutorials on-line which explain how to ‘tweak’ the CFG files in order to squeeze those extra few FPS from your system. But to start with, the basic settings in the FSX options should suffice. Just play with the sliders and settings and find out a good setting for yourself.

It may or may not help, you can adjust the FSX.exe properties by right clicking on it in the simulator’s main folder. It always helps giving as many computer resources to the simulator as possible by reducing background activity.

FSX settings

If your computer cannot make your simulator run at least at 10-15 frames per second, you should consider installing FS9 as a better alternative for low-end computers. I still run FS9 on my travel laptop.

Realism settings

In the menu bar, select Aircaft/Realism and settings… I suggest going for the most realistic by choosing ‘hard’ from the drop-down menu, change the crash detection to ‘Ignore crash and damage’ and ‘enable gyro drift’.

Joystick

Only a joystick can make a flight simulator complete.

The best option is to choose for a joystick or yoke with a throttle lever and a set of rudder pedals with toe-brakes.

You can change the settings in the menu bar: Options/Settings/Controls… Set all the sensitivity sliders to the right (Max) and the null zones to the left (Min). If the axis are not setup correctly by default, they can be adjusted under the ‘control axis’ tab.

controls

Click on the ‘buttons / keys’ tab and assign the following buttons at a minimum:

  • Elevator trim UP
  • Elevator trim DOWN
  • Autopilot master (on/off)
  • View (Pan) (POV hat)

If you don’t have rudder pedals with toe-brakes:

  • Brakes (apply/release) (trigger)

If you have a few buttons left:

  • Auto-throttle engage (TOGA)
  • Auto-throttle Arm (ON/OF)

Joystick setup

Assign as many buttons as you like, remove all assignments that you don’t intend to use to avoid accidental actions. If for what ever reason the simulator doesn’t shut down properly, the settings are not saved permanently, so it is a good habit to exit the simulator and restart after you have changed any settings.

Keyboard

In most FS-aircaft, systems can be controlled with the mouse in the 2d or 3d cockpit panels. Only a few keyboard (or joystick) buttons are required for the items that you normally do in the blind. (in a real aircraft by motor-memory and feel).

All keyboard settings can be changed in the same location as the joystick buttons. By default, the most important keys are:

  • F1-F4 keys, Throttle
  • Ctrl F1-F4, Propellor
  • Shft F1-F4, Mixture
  • F5-F8 keys, Flaps
  • / , Speed brake
  • G, Gear up/down
  • H, Carb-heat on/off
  • Z, Autopilot on/off
  • CRTL+. (dot). Parkng brake
  • S and A, change view
  • Q, Sound on/off
  • P, Pause simulator

Add-on scenery and AFCAD files

By default, most airports in FSX are basic and the layout may be incorrect or outdated.

Gamston default

For most airports you can find an add-on scenery update. Follow the installation instructions provided with them, but the generic instruction is as simple as this: Example airport scenery: EGNE Gamston airport Locate the add-on scenery folder, and copy the add-on scenery there.: C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Games\Microsoft Flight Simulator X\Addon Scenery.

addon scenery folder

Start the flight simulator, in the main start up screen, click on ‘Settings’ and ‘scenery library’.

scenery library

click on add area, open your add-on scenery folder. you should see a scenery and a texture folder now, click on the white below those folders to set this folder. (this strange method is required due to an error in windows).

scenery library2

Now your airport is added to the flight simulator.

Gamston addon

Also interesting to know, the airport layout (runways, taxiways, radio beacons, buildings etc) are set in an AFCAD file. if you cannot find a good scenery for your airport, it might be worthwhile to search for an updated AFCAD to at least have the airport layout corrected. Very useful when you use up-to date approach charts for instrument training.

Navigation database and magnetic variation

FSX was launched in 2006, but its navigation database was already outdated by then. If you intend to use your simulator in combination with up-do date charts, you will need to update the flight simulator first. This used to be a very difficult and painful process, but has recently been made much easier: http://www.aero.sors.fr/navaids.html

Many thanks to Hervé Sors for making this great add-on, and making it freeware.

Ground friction

If  you care about proper taxi-behaviour of aircraft, don’t trust Native FSx. The aircraft behaves like it is constantly rolling in a puddle of mud and you a lot of power to get moving. not realistic, however there is a fix.

Download and install FSUIPC, You can pay for the program to unlock additional features, but the free version will suffice to get the ground roll fixed.

After installation, start the flight simulator, then shut it down again. Answer the FSUIPC DLL warnings with YES. This will generate an .INI file in the FSUIPC folder.

Normally: C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Games\Microsoft Flight Simulator X\Modules

Open the FSUIPC4.ini file in a text editor and paste this at the very end:

[Auto]
1=Lua DynamicFriction

Open the folder Modules/FSUIPC Documents and open the Example LUA plugins.zip

In the zip file you will find a file called DynamicFriction.lua

Copy and paste this in the Modules folder. It sounds harder than it is, have a look at the screenshots too.

FSUIPC1  FSUIPC2

That’s it, now the friction problem is fixed. Thank you Mr. Dowson!

And more

This concludes my blog about the setup of FSX, however, you can limitless enhance your flight simulator.

Maybe you are not content with the weather system in the default simulator? you can get a program that downloads TAF’s and Metars and uses it to generate accurate weather.

You can change textures to make the sim look better or have low-resolution textures to increase frame rates instead. You can add scenery or even build it yourself. There is software available that adds ground handling with marshallers, fuel trucks, air stairs and more.

To find the newest possibilities you can join email newsletters or find information on sites such as www.flightsim.com or www.avsim.com, browse forums and in the near future on this blog 🙂

Please leave a comment or your questions/suggestions below!

Cheers!