First impression? Wow. Big improvement in visuals, at least for me. Colors are better, and in the virtual aircraft I have to work to notice the screen door effect. The difference was immediately apparent. No problem fitting over my glasses. No problem with pupil distance, at least for me. Comfortable. Sound is not as good as the prior version with its headphones (as many have reported) but I use a headset anyway. Blacks are not as dark, but I may need to turn off SPUD as I did with the original Rift. Performance for me was great. Very smooth with OVR set to 45 FPS (which sets to 40 in the Rift S) and ASW set to Auto. With HDR on, textures at max, 2xSSA+FXAA, objects at max, and my auto-LOD tool working I had lots and lots of buildings with 1.5 supersampling. That is no loss of performance for me, and in fact, it may even be a slight improvement. With no supersampling I could read the G1000 including the airports on the MFD map display, and with 1.5 things were even sharper. It was no problem to lean the aircraft to 50 lean of peak using the EGT reading on the MFD. Reading charts and maps in AviTab is significantly improved. Put it this way: I didn’t zoom my view once in my short virtual flight. Ortho scenery looks fantastic. Not having sensors is great — no hand controller blind spots in my cockpit and not a single “wow – it just jumped my view 45 degrees left and three feet back” moments. Your mileage may vary, but for me this is an easy upgrade decision. Very glad I did it.
… this time in the home cockpit. I’ve not tried this much lately as I’ve been trying to focus on instrument rating practice in the sim. And when I have tried, the sim has crashed. But today we made it from virtual Portland to virtual Teri Cities and enjoyed some virtual IMC along the way. PilotEdge founder Keith Smith was also in the chat room most of the flight, and we discuss the merits of PE for instrument training at some length. As always, thanks for watching.
I came across a new X-Plane configuration utility yesterday: FlyAgi. There are now more than a few utilities that allow an X-Plane user to modify settings in the interest of visual preference and frame-rate performance. Most recently I have been using VMI-TwickVR, which for me was very helpful, but having read the reviews of FlyAgi I decided to give it a shot. I like it very much – the user interface is straight-forward, and its auto-level-of-detail and “fast clouds” functions, combined with being able to easily turn off X-Plane’s dynamic water effects, gave me excellent frame rate performance yesterday. You are also able to change shadow and atmospheric settings on-the-fly without reloading the sim. I’ll keep using it and you may want to check it out. Note that FlyWithLua Next Generation is required for this utility to work.
In other news …
Some of you may have seen that I tried to live stream a flight in the home cockpit both yesterday and the day before. Both streams ended with a system crash: X-Plane crashed in one, and my entire PC crashed yesterday. I would describe my reaction as “frustrated.” I was eager to get in some IFR practice yesterday, though, so I re-booted, took down the streaming software and cam, and tried again with excellent results. I can look at the Windows logs, but my initial believe is that the webcam driver is probably causing the problem. This makes streaming from the physical cockpit hit-and-miss, and while I appreciate that not everyone likes VR streams, it’s another argument for me streaming in VR. Perhaps I will stream in VR and go back to uploading physical cockpit videos if I’m unable to get the matter sorted. If you’re interested in seeing yesterday’s stream pre-crash it’s below (and unlisted on YouTube):
Finally, I did get into the virtual air with the new VirtualFly Yoko “The Yoke” PLUS yesterday. First reaction is: WOW, what a GREAT yoke. The resolution is amazing, and you can truly fly with your fingertips (as in the real world). I will post a thorough review after spending more time with it, but it’s a great piece of gear and an improvement on the already excellent original.
The very nice folks at VirtualFly have recently sent me their new Yoko “The Yoke” PLUS for testing. I took it out of the box today, and here are my initial reactions. The short story: like the original Yoko Yoke, this is a product of superior build quality. I hope to have it in the sim this weekend at which point I will post a more complete review. The Yoko Yoke PLUS product page is here.
I’m still here, but have been quiet as late so I thought I would post an update. First, my private pilot license finally came in the mail last week. It’s great to have the plastic!
Second, since passing the checkride I have rolled directly into IFR training. A series of things have kept me out of the air over the past three weeks, but prior to that we got four lessons in, one in the FAA-approved sim at the school and three in the SR-20. These lessons have been great, and I have enjoyed both the IFR work and getting to know the Cirrus platform. I am proud to say that on our third flight we completed my long cross-country IFR requirement. This is a flight in real or simulated instrument conditions (we flew it under the hood as the weather was beautiful that day) with three different approaches at three different fields. We departed Albert Whitted then shot the VOR approach at Gainesville, the ILS approach at Lakeland, and then the RNAV approach at Albert Whitted. I was very pleased to complete this requirement so early in my training, and for me it was a strong testament to the value of PilotEdge. On my third instrument flight I shot three approaches and navigated over 250 miles cross-country, under the hood, manning the radios in and through congested Tampa Bravo airspace, and never missed a beat. I’m absolutely certain this would not have been possible without my PilotEdge experience.
Third, a few weeks back I attended a Cirrus Pilot Proficiency Program at Lakeland Airport, near Tampa. I took classes in GNS430 use, in-flight weather, pre-flight and in-flight decision making, and much more over two days. I found this experience extremely valuable and worth every penny, and it was very humbling to rub shoulders with so many pilots and instructors who are (1) deeply experienced, and (2) deeply committed to a culture of safety. I continue to be impressed with Cirrus not just as a platform (I love flying the SR-20), but as a culture. It makes me a better pilot, that’s for sure.
Fourth, I’ve been spending time in the simulator but primarily as an IFR training aid. I have it configured as an SR-20, and have been spending all my flights on PilotEdge, mostly working through the I-Ratings the provide via their website. I’ve completed up through the I-9, and I hope to fly the I-10 in the next few days.
Finally, I have not posted a video since passing my checkride. Folks have been asking for another one, and I’ll post one, but so far the absence has been intentional. Because I am now using the sim primarily to augment my real-world instrument training I am trying to replicate the same environment I would try to create in the real world — an in the real world I would not introduce the distraction of narrating a flight and interacting with folks via the chat. This isn’t to say I won’t stream live in the future — certainly once en-route chat is no problem — but I’ve been flying the I-Ratings and working on shooting approaches, and it’s bad practice in my view to be managing a stream at the same time. Practice makes permanent, after all. But I will post a new video soon, and I may try streaming a flight privately or filming it for posting later rather that streaming it live with interaction. Either way, I’ll have something up in the future, and thanks for staying tuned in.
I’ve made quite a bit of progress with the Avidyne Entegra panel modification I’m doing in Air Manager. I have the ILS bugs working correctly, have added a flight director, am making progress on the HSI display, and how have a working power tape on the left-side of the display. It’s starting to look and work more and more like the real thing, and I hope to try it out on a PilotEdge flight later today.
Here’s the original …
And here’s the current modification …
Air Manager from Sim Innovations is a great product that lets you design custom flight simulator panels for display on PC, Mac, Android, and iPad screens. I’ve used the iPad version for some time to display panels for some of the aircraft in the sim, and it works very well. My complaint has been that the iPad version is limited to the instruments available in their instrument store. There are over 500 of them, and nearly all of them are free to use, but they don’t all match the airplane I’m using or my panel, which is black.
As a result, over the past two weeks I have paid for and have been working with the desktop version of Air Manager. It’s much more powerful that the mobile version, and lets you customize instruments. Doing so means being good with PhotoShop (or good enough), but more important, means knowing your way around basic Lua code and scripts — and that is something I barely understand.
But I have been playing with it, and have come a fair way in modifying some of the free instruments to create my own panels. One is a C172 panel that better matches the instrumentation of the Skyhawk I rent, and which has black instrument backgrounds to better match my sim’s black panel. It looks like this:
That was an easy modification. I just changed the light settings on the backgrounds for the steam gauges so they were grey/black.
A more significant bit of work has been modifying the default Air Manager Avidyne panel so it more closely matches and works like the actual Avidyne Entegra PFD in the Cirrus I’m flying. The actual panel looks like this (not from the airplane I use — I found this image on the Web):
… whereas the default Air Manager panel looks like this:
… and after spending some time with PhotoShop and working with the Lua script, I now have a panel that looks like this:
I’ve moved the left data block down below where it is in the real plane, and added the engine data block on the other side. That scripting was all straightforward. More complicated (at least to figure out, as the code is simple) was the data block for the GPS data. I had to figure out how to have it display the full name of the next waypoint, and found some clever code to convert the time enroute estimate to hours:minutes:seconds. And finally yesterday I was able to create the power percentage at top left. X-Plane has a dataref for total power for the airplane in watts, and another for current power in watts. Some math created the power percentage, and it seems to accurately change with mixture and altitude. Given that all Cirrus power settings are in percentages, this data block was important for the panel to work well for my IFR training. There is more to do, but this is a great start and I hope to keep working on it, and at some point I will upload it to the Air Manager store so others can use it.
In terms of running these panels, I can’t do it on the iPad as the iPad player is limited to instruments in the store. So I pulled out an older Microsoft Surface I have, cleaned it up and updated its Windows, and installed on it Sim Innovations Air Player software. This lets me send any panel I create in Air Manager to the Surface where it can talk to X-Plane. I’ll now be mounting that Surface where the iPad used to be in my panel. I’ll post and update when it’s up and running, but so far the tests look great.
I made the decision earlier this week to do my IFR training in this SR-20. I had a flight in it last month, and another this week, and while it is more expensive per hour than the other airplanes I’ve been flying I believe it’s the right platform for me long term. As I’ve done more research on Cirrus I’ve been particularly impressed with the focus on safety and the very strong pilot community, embodied by COPA, the association for Cirrus pilots and owners. I’ve joined it, and have already learned a lot about general aviation just from reading its forums. I also very much like the tone of that community: everyone uses their real names, the disagreements are extremely civil, and folks are beyond helpful.
COPA also runs a series of proficiency programs, called CPPP’s, several times a year that include flight and ground schools and can count as FAA Wings training credit. There’s one in Lakeland, FL next weekend and I’ve enrolled in the ground school. I’m really looking forward to it.
Finally, I’ve configured the sim to model an SR-20 using Jason Chandler’s Cirrus package. I find the flight model excellent, and you get both SR-20s and SR-22s in the package. I tried the vFlyte SR-20 but it was difficult to remove cockpit objects so they weren’t visible in my monitors. That vFlyte package would be better for VR use, though. Air Manager for iPad has a basic Avidyne panel (which the SR-20 I’ll be flying uses) that I can run in the sim. It works well, but lacks a lot of the data the real thing presents, so this weekend I’ll be looking into building my own via the Air Manager desktop app. I’ll keep you posted on that experiment.