How To Get Started With X-Plane 11 (For Those Coming From P3D Or FSX)

How To Get Started With X-Plane 11 (For Those Coming From P3D Or FSX)

Now that I’m spending so much time with X-Plane people have been asking if the switch is permanent. I don’t think anything in the world of computer software is forever, and we will see how much of a coding re-write the forthcoming P3D 64 bit release will bring, but for now at least, yes I have made the switch and I am no longer using Prepar3D. I’m also not missing it, and am far more satisfied with X-Plane than I was with P3D 90% of the time (and I’ll explain the other 10% below).

The other question I’m getting is “What advice do you have for others making the switch?” So I’m writing this little how-to in hopes it will help other P3D and FSX users at least get the most out of the X-Plane beta, if not make the switch completely. So here goes. This list of steps is a version of my own experience with the switch. There are likely dozens of other possible ways to get started, but based on my experience in P3D and X-Plane, this is what I would do if I were to do it again:

  1. Download the X-Plane 11 beta. I have found it very stable, and see no reason not to start with 11 rather than 10. It is taxing on the system, at least as much as P3D, although I find it much smoother at low frame rates. But realize it’s cutting edge, and you may need to back off sliders a bit (but I’ve done fine, personally, and as the beta moves to final the frames will only improve).
  2. Download and install alpilot’s HD Mesh Scenery V3. This is sort of the equivalent of ORBX Vector. It will increase the resolution of your terrain and will make roads, forest boundaries, towns, power lines, etc. all much more accurate in the sim. It is excellent, you can download only the areas you want, and it is donationware. (While alpilot does not have the entire world, the X-Plane 11 underlying mesh is also very good as it is, and while not as detailed, is more current.)
  3. Download and install the W2XP models and W2XP sceneries for the parts of the world in which you want to fly. W2XP is shorthand for “World To X-Plane,” and if HD Mesh Scenery V3 is ORBX Vector then the W2XP sceneries are the equivalent or ORBX regional landclasses, with improved textures, autogen, etc. You will download at least two files: the W2XP World Models, and any regional sceneries you want. I downloaded the models, America, and Europe. Don’t worry about the “Net” and “Aerials” versions – you only likely need the main scenery files and the models file. These files, too, are donationware. (UPDATE: If you’re going to use World2XP America, be sure you have these four libraries installed – OpenSceneryX, World Models, R2 Library, and FF Library.)
  4. Download MisterX’s Airport Environment HD textures. These are replacement textures for much of the default runways, tarmac, taxi lines, etc. in X-Plane. It’s a bit like REX Direct. But it’s free.
  5. Get some weather. There are several options:
    • Use the default X-Plane clouds and weather, and XP will download real-world weather data if you enable it to do so. (Note though that I, and many others, find the default XP clouds very unattractive.)
    • Further improve the weather injection with the free NOAA plugin, which has very accurate METAR and winds aloft data.
    • Get SkyMaxx Pro v4, which is payware and $40 US. It’s sort of an Active Sky for X-Plane, although many have found the clouds unrealistic. It also needs an injector, so you could use the NOAA plugin with it if you wanted very accurate weather data.
    • Get xEnviro, which is payware at $70 and the new guy on the block for sky textures, clouds, and weather injection. This is what I use, and I think it is very good. Downsides are that it does not let you set your own weather, so if you want to set a particular situation you are left with X-Plane default clouds (although it does have a “make it clear” setting if you need things to be clear for a while.) But they are iterating very fast (it’s already at 1.6 and I got it at 1.1 just a few weeks ago) and it improves with each release. The clouds are not 3D volumetric, but volumetric clouds are on the roadmap, and it does not hit my frame rates at all. I’m very happy with it, and think it’s every bit as good as Active Sky Next if not quite AS16/ASCA. If you like overcast, you’re going to love this.
    • There is another, more geeky option, which is the Real Terra Haze plugin script for FlyWithLua (and note you will need to download FlyWithLua as well). This is a free option, and sort of the equal to PTA for Prepar3D. It seems to be solid for weather and texture replacement when combined with something like NOAA, and lets you tweak a lot of things. If you want to be really geeky, and want to save some pennies, you might check this out.
  6. Get some scenery. One place where P3D and FSX users will be surprised is the relative lack of localized scenery in X-Plane (and this is part of the 10% I noted above). While it has about every airport in the world, many are just 2D with no buildings, and many cities also lack much of the custom building models that come with FSX and P3D (like Las Vegas, for example). The good news is that there is a MASSIVE online community that has designed scenery with which to fill the world, and most of it is free. Here’s my advice:
    • Download the free Prefab airports package. It will fill up 25,000 (yes, 25,000) airports with basic terminals, aircraft, etc. from one of over 30 layouts and make the world far less barren.
    • Do a Google search for any airport you might want appended with “X-Plane” (for example, “KMQS X-Plane“), and it will pull up options for you. You can also search the scenery library at X-Plane.org. Pay particular attention to anything by MisterX, as his airports are excellent (like KSAN … again, free).
    • For even more quality stuff, get some payware.
    • Make your own! The free WorldEditor (WED to X-Plane folks) program is easy to learn and it’s fun to make your own airport scenery. There are plenty of how-tos on the Web to get you started.
  7. Read this primer on scenery ordering so things layer in the correct sequence in your sim after you’ve added your new goodies.
  8. Get some airplanes. The big makers (like Carenado) make airplanes for X-Plane, but be careful as most haven’t been given the green light for 11 as yet. The good news is that x-Plane 11 ships with several great default aircraft, including jets, gliders, a C 172 and two twins. They all fly great, and I’ve been very happy with the default Cessna (there’s even a version with floats). The community has also made hundreds of others which you can find at X-Plane.org, and about everyone I’ve asked says the Airfoil Labs C172 SP is the most accurate GA airplane available for flight sim, anywhere, on any platform (including A2A’s 172). It’s not XP-11 ready yet so I’ve not gotten it, but I will.
  9. AI aircraft. Part of my 10%. Sorry, no great options for you compared to P3D and FSX, at least not yet. For AI aircraft, you can turn on up to about a dozen AI aircraft for wherever you’re flying, but the ability to have MyTraffic inject real world schedules for you just doesn’t exist with XP. X-Life is getting good reviews, but is only available for certain airports (although that list is growing). I live without it, or turn on the default dozen planes and make do.
  10. ATC. Also, no great options compared to P3D and FSX. XP has stock ATC, but it’s not sophisticated and only has two voices. When I want ATC I fly on PilotEdge, which is wonderful as it is real-world quality. And with the new Western Expansion, it’s better than ever.
  11. Spend time at X-Plane.org. It’s a great resource, and the X-Plane community is extremely welcoming, friendly, and charitable. It’s a great group and a great way to learn.

So that’s the long version. The short version is:

  1. Download the beta.
  2. Download HD Mesh V3 for the parts of the world you want.
  3. Download W2XP models and sceneries for the regions of the world you want.
  4. Download Airport Environment HD.
  5. Read the primer on scenery ordering.
  6. Get xEnviro.
  7. Get the Prefab airports package and MisterX airports (and any other airports you might want).
  8. Stick with the default airplanes for now.
  9. Have fun, and quickly forget what it was like to play with .CFG files.

A final few words on scenery. First, I know that coming from P3D and FSX some of this seems like a foreign language. This primer on scenery at AVSIM is very informative and will help you learn how things work in X-Plane.  Second, it’s relatively easy (if time consuming) to make your own photorealistic scenery for X-Plane. Do a Google search on “X-Plane ortho scenery” and “X-Plane photo scenery” and you’ll learn plenty. I was lucky that a viewer gifted me a bunch of photorealistic scenery (no, I can’t share it) so I’ve not had to make my own, otherwise I would. But unlike FSX and P3D the autogen buldings and trees will populate on top of the photorealistic scenery, which makes for excellent effects, so photoreal is worth looking into if you have the time and storage space.

So I hope this helps. I’ve loved X-Plane, and the one time I loaded P3D since I downloaded the XP-11 beta I was left thinking, “Boy, I don’t miss this.” I don’t know if X-Plane 11 is for ever P3D and FSX user (in fact, I’m certain it’s not), but it is for me. It’s fast, stable, looks great, has very realistic flight modeling, and is supported by a massive community of people working together to improve it. I’m sold, and if you decide to try it out, I hope you enjoy it, too.

ACT On PilotEdge

As in “After hours Closed Traffic,” which is a group of guys who have been flying on PE Saturday mornings (US) from non-towered fields for practice, and then finishing at a towered field with the controllers once they’re online. Today we took advantage of the Western Expansion, flying a number of short mountain fields before finishing at KSEA. Here are some shots showing what XP11 and xEnviro can do when combined with photorealistic scenery (that first one looks almost real).

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Cross Country Simulator Practice

In my real-world flight training I have a cross country coming up from KOQN to KMDT and back. A few mornings back I pulled out the charts, flight planner, and E6B flight computer and planned the flight using real-world weather, and then flew it in the sim with only paper charts and my flight log. Here’s the flight, and for simmers looking to learn more about VFR and VOR navigation it should be of some interest as well. As always, thanks for watching.

KMQS Chester County (X-Plane)

KMQS Chester County (X-Plane)

At a reader’s request I’ve designed a second custom airport for X-Plane, KMQS Chester County. Chester is a local field where I’ve done pattern work, and I think it turned out well as a second attempt at scenery design. You may visit the download page here if you’d like to grab it.

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Solved! How To Use Dual Controls In X-Plane 11

* NOTE: I updated this post on 1/16/17 to clarify how you find the initial assignments of axes and buttons.

The one lingering barrier to my complete switch to X-Plane was the inability to use both sets of the Basement Sim’s controls. It seems that in X-Plane if roll/pitch/yaw are assigned to more than one controller, only one will work and X-Plane disregards the other. (This is not the case with FSX or P3D, which simply read whichever control provides the most recent or largest input.) Only one set of working controls is a real problem for me, as being able to fly with family, friends, etc. is a big part of what I enjoy about the Basement Sim.

There is an answer, though, and it turns out it is Lua. From the Lua website:

Lua is a powerful and fast programming language that is easy to learn and use and to embed into your application. Lua is designed to be a lightweight embeddable scripting language and is used for all sorts of applications from games to web applications and image processing.

 

Lots of simmers and cockpit builders use Lua to write little bits of computer code, called “scripts,” that allow them to execute unique commands (like having the buttons they installed in their panel turn on the cabin lights). Lua scripts are like little apps you can run to get things done that the sim software won’t do itself.

X-Plane is very easy to integrate with Lua thanks to the FlyWithLua plugin. I had posted on the X-Plane.org forums that I was hoping the final release version of X-Plane 11 would allow multiple sets of controls, and one of the very helpful folks in that community — Teddii — responded that a Lua script might be the answer. He said I should be able to write a script for one of the buttons on my yoke where if I flip the button to the left the left controls are live, and if I flip it to the right the right controls are live. He even volunteered possible code.

Getting the code to work meant finding out which axis numbers X-Plane was associating with each of the yokes. Fortunately every time you launch X-Plane FlyWithLua puts a little .TXT file called “initial_assignments.txt” in its plugin folder that shows initial joystick and button assignments. To find my axes and button assignment numbers I first went into X-Plane’s joystick configuration screen and assigned the axes of BOTH yokes to pitch and yaw. This gives you a warning that you have dual assignments in X-Plane, but that’s OK. I also assigned the button that I wanted to use to pass control of the airplane to a command I would recognize (in my case, calling ATC). Looking at the initial_assignments.txt file I could see the pitch, roll, and yaw axes for both yokes and the button numbers for the left / right switch on my Yoko yoke (which X-Plane reads as two buttons – one for each position – rather than as one, and I had assigned BOTH to call ATC in the joystick configuration screen). You will see commands like this in the initial_assignments.txt file:

set_axis_assignment( 0, "roll", "normal" )
set_axis_assignment( 1, "pitch", "normal" )
set_axis_assignment( 3, "yaw", "normal" )

… and …

set_button_assignment( (4*40) + 1, "sim/operation/contact_atc" )

You need to do a little math for the button assignment: (4*40)+1, for example, is 161. That’s the button number for the MyAirplaneYourAirplane code. You may also need to guess which set of axis assignments are the left and right controls, but that’s easy to change if you get it wrong.

I added these variables to Teddii’s initial code, put the “My Airplane Your Airplane.txt” script file in the FlyWithLua scripts folder, and gave it a go. Partial success: it worked in swapping to the right controls, but would not swap them back to the left. Looking at the joystick configuration window in X-Plane I could see that I again had conflicting yaw / pitch / roll controls, and deduced that while the swap from left to right worked, the script did not clear the assignments for the left yoke, resulting in the same problem I had started with (dual-assigned controls).

So I just modified the script a little bit, adding lines to assign the axes that I’m switching away from to “none.” SUCCESS! It worked, and now I’m able to easily pass control of the airplane to a passenger by flipping the yoke switch to the right, and take it back by flipping it back to the left.

The final code follows, and you are welcome to use it if you like. Thanks again for Teddii for his help as I would not have been able to do this without his initial and very helpful code. Also, there is a nice primer on getting started with FlyWithLua here.


 

My Airplane / Your Airplane FlyWithLua Script

-- axis numbers for left yoke
L_axisPitch = 75
L_axisRoll  = 76
L_axisPedal = 52

-- axis numbers for right yoke
R_axisPitch = 25
R_axisRoll  = 26
R_axisPedal = 2

function yoke_switch()
    if button (486) and not last_button(486)
    then
        -- activate right yoke
        set_axis_assignment(R_axisPitch, "pitch", "normal" ) --"normal" or "reverse"
        set_axis_assignment(R_axisRoll,  "roll", "normal" )
        set_axis_assignment(R_axisPedal, "yaw",  "normal" )
        -- DEactivate left yoke
        set_axis_assignment(L_axisPitch, "none", "normal" ) --"normal" or "reverse"
        set_axis_assignment(L_axisRoll,  "none", "normal" )
        set_axis_assignment(L_axisPedal, "none", "normal" )
    end
    if button (480) and not last_button(480)
    then
        -- activate left yoke
        set_axis_assignment(L_axisPitch, "pitch", "normal" ) --"normal" or "reverse"
       set_axis_assignment(L_axisRoll,  "roll", "normal" )
       set_axis_assignment(L_axisPedal, "yaw",  "normal" )
       -- DEactivate right yoke
       set_axis_assignment(R_axisPitch, "none", "normal" ) --"normal" or "reverse"
       set_axis_assignment(R_axisRoll,  "none", "normal" )
       set_axis_assignment(R_axisPedal, "none", "normal" )
    end
end

-- check for the switch button every frame ...
do_every_frame("yoke_switch()")

-- end

KOQN Brandywine (X-Plane)

KOQN Brandywine (X-Plane)

I’ve been playing around with the X-Plane world scenery editor and decided to make custom scenery for my home field, KOQN Brandywine. The default KOQN is just a strip with taxiways, and while the prefab airport package made it better, I decided to make my own as a learning experience.

I’ve created a page for the scenery here, and anyone is welcome to download and use it. I’ve also added a new menu item to the main navigation menu for it as future scenery packages I might make. And here are some snaps of the real thing and my interpretation.

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KOQN 1

 

Westward Ho! The PilotEdge Western Expansion (And Beta Test Flight Video)

The PilotEdge Western Expansion goes LIVE tomorrow, December 27th. It’s going to be a fantastic addition to the service, with a remarkable expansion of the network’s the controlled airspace:

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I was fortunate to participate in the beta test of the expansion last week, and here’s a video I made of the flight. It’s a long one: KSLC to Heber to Price To Moab. This is the longest video I’ve uploaded to date, but I wanted to capture the entire flight (with some edits) and the ATC handoffs along the way. Thanks for watching, and if you cater to real-world ATC, PilotEdge is as real as it gets.

Fun Is …

Listening to Philly Approcah and NY Center on your new handheld air band VHF transceiver, which Basement Fly Wife was nice enough to give me for Christmas. This will be my backup for my solo work in the real airplane, but while at home it’s sitting on my desk scanning the local frequencies. (Just don’t hit the PTT button, ’cause this baby broadcasts as well.)

Center Pedestal Console Plans (An Early Holiday Gift For You)

Yesterday I was able to build the center pedestal console I’ve been wanting to build for some time, and I thought that today it would be nice to share my plans here as a holiday gift to the cockpit builders who frequent the site, and as a thank you for their readership. So here they are (and this is a preview of what will be in the guide I’m writing). Happy holidays!

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Photo Dec 22, 5 23 32 PM

Photo Dec 22, 5 50 48 PM