Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Making FSX a Decent Soaring Simulator

Microsoft Flight Simulator 10 is a powerful flight Sim. With its decided bias towards commercial aircraft and civilian power planes, it rather neglects the soaring enthusiast with its one sailplane offering. The stock Dg 800S is a decent flying sailplane with realistic flexing wings, however the thermal modeling in FSX is rather unrealistic and thermals are sparse. The aerotowing is completely ridiculous with straight out tows to altitude.

There are thermal add ons available at the various free download sights. These merely add additional stock thermal to selected global regions, a vast improvement but still rather static and there is no real slope lift except for the missions in FSX.

Enter Wolfgang Piper and Max Roodveldt.
These two guys have dedicated themselves to converting FSX into a fairly decent Soaring simulator. Wolfgang Piper has designed models for FSX that represent nearly every significant modern and vintage sailplane in Europe, as well as a few Schweizer models.

These sailplanes fly extremely well, have GPS, and (unlike the FSX vario)a compensated vario, and a neat realistic working yaw string. The gauges are designed by Max Roodveldt and are Caiset gauges. representing a step up compared to the stock FSX gauges. Way points in the GPS.nav file located in the FSX main folder are editable so you can add your own way points. not as easy as popping up the GPS in FSX though, which is disabled in the gliders. Everything you need to know to get these gauges working is contained on Wolfgang Piper's web page FS Glider.de. This includes installation instructions, files needed, and the tweaking guide.

This is only the beginning. Now that you have these nice gliders and gauges, where will you get realistic thermals and slope lift?

Cumulus X! is the module you will want to add to FSX. It creates realistic thermals using a thermal graphic that looks more like a real cloud than the default spirals in FSX. Invoked under the natural thermal selection in "weather" they self generate, are adjustable by the user for multiple parameters and include several default modeling presets for your use. but wait, it gets better, you can use real time downloaded weather files from various sources to generate lift info. The coup de gras is the nesting module called Sim probe. Sim prob is an add on for cumulus X that provides slope lift in realistic locations based on how you set up wind velocity and direction from within the FSX weather set up window.

I have been using these programs for about a month, and while a little sensitive to set up and glitchy at times, represent a step forward in thermal soaring in FSX.

Be warned if you are not capable of editing your registry files and or are not confident in editing you FSX directory files, don't try these add ons. It is not difficult but you have to follow the instructions carefully and make back ups as you go. In addition, there are some small unclear areas in the instructions with regards to editing your registry for autorun (which is desirable). I will write a detailed update for dummies (like me) in another article.

You will need a clean FSX install service pack two running on XP. Add on planes are OK. Vista users need to do some additional tweaking outlined on Wolfgang Piper's web site.

An additional program that adds more realism and flexibility is "Aerotow" from Paavo Pihelgas that makes it easy to change tow planes , and also to get the tow to fly a selected pattern.

TOWING AIRCRAFT allows one to select a towing aircraft. Lists all aircraft from SimObjects\Airplanes folder. Please note that not all aircraft are suitable for towing. Some are too fast (Learjet 45) and some are too slow (Piper Cub) for most gliders. Towing aircraft are flown with throttle at 75%.

PITCH OF TOWING AIRCRAFT allows to set pitch for the towing aircraft. The resulting rate of climb also depends on performance of the aircraft, so it may require playing around a bit with this value to get an acceptable result. Values between 5 and 10 should be fine for most aircraft and glider combinations.

PATTERN DIRECTION allows to choose the general path of towing. The towing aircraft is currently being flown by flight sim's AI and so the aircraft may not always fly exactly the selected path.

MINIMUM TURNING ALTITUDE is altitude above ground level, below which towing aircraft keeps flying runway heading. In case of left or right hand pattern, higher value means longer INITIAL CLIMB leg.

PATTERN DURATION specifies the duration of one CLIMB PATTERN. Values below 120 seconds may result in unexpected behaviour.

SAVE CHANGES saves all modifications made to towing settings. Modifications take effect after flight sim is restarted (if it is running).

So as you can see, we now can tell our tow pilot how to tow us and what plane we would like to use!

This program comes packaged with the redo of the Microsoft FSX DG 800S by virtualsoaring.org. This plane comes with two missions using the cumulus X and simprobe modules mentioned above.

With these additional modidifications to FSX, the program becomes a workable soaring simulator. If you fly the SOAR DG-800S, you can design your own tasks with way points in the flight planner window and they wiill automatically show on the Caiset GPS.

Sources:

CumulusX! from http://luerkens.homepage.t-online.de/peter/

For the full soaring experience you should also have:

sim_probe from http://carrier.csi.cam.ac.uk/forsterlewis/soaring/sim/fsx/dev/sim_probe/

1 comment:

Samuel said...

All this is very true. I have become addicted to the missions for the sailplanes. One topic that you did not bring up was that your flights are now recorded in IGC files. These files can be used in a version of Google Earth to show your wife all the places you had been. Additonally, you can upload the file to Everytrail and write a little story about your flying mission mishaps and or improvements. I recommend flying the Austrian Series and the Mifflin Series of missions to anyone. There are a couple of others like Sion to Geneva, The South French Alps and Tennessee. You'll have tons of learning experience and quite of few people to share it with @ VirtualSoaring.ORG

SlaminSamuel