NASA Flyby

A buddy and I went flying the other day to build a little time, and I planned a route up to Daytona, then down to Cape Canaveral so we could request a low pass of the Shuttle Landing Facility. While all of the Cape sits within a restricted area, it’s only active around launches and it was quiet the day of our flight. And while you are not allowed to land at the Shuttle Landing Facility (KTTS), it’s a Class Delta airport much like any other, and you are able to request a low pass from the tower, which they nearly always approve. So we did, and they did.

It was something else to make a radio call that begins with “NASA tower,” and it was even better to set up on the same runway that welcomed so many Shuttle missions home and fly its length at 100 feet. The runway is 15,000 feet long, so even at 130 knots it took a while. One of the remaining Shuttles sits at the field, and the fly by provides great views of the launching pads and the VAB (Vehicle Assembling Building), the giant structure in which the United States assembled rockets prior to launch from Apollo to today. Here are some shots from the day. It was a great flight.

Gateway KTPA For X-Plane

I’m happy to say that the Tampa International I’ve been long working on has been approved by Laminar and is now part of the X-Plane Scenery Gateway. You may download it for free here, and as it’s a Gateway scenery it requires no custom libraries. It should also be in the next update of X-Plane that includes new airports.

The Source Of The Problem?

First, to those celebrating in the States (but really to everyone), happy Thanksgiving and thanks for your support through the past three years.

Those watching my recent VR streams know that I have struggled with performance issues. This goes back quite a time, actually — ever since I got the 1080ti, although they have been worse since I replaced the Rift with the Rift S.

The problem: after loading with great performance, as high as 50-60 FPS in VR, the graphics card after a few minutes goes to 100% load on 3D processing and the frames crater. Even more interesting is that the situation is persistent — once it begins nothing seems to fix it, including turning down sliders.

Today after some significant testing I think I’ve found the source of the problem: hyperthreading. I turned hyperthreading on my PC off, running on the four physical cores rather than eight virtual. (Yes, I already had threading support off in the GPU). While I was at it I also upped my CPU overclock to 4.8 from 4.6, without any real negative effect. And almost instantly the GPU performance improved and stayed rock-solid, as did temps on the GPU core. This is all good news as the situation has been driving me nuts. We will see if it lasts, but so far, it seems that for whatever reason X-Plane, the Rift S, the 1080ti, and hyperthreading were not playing well together.

VR Testing, Traffic Global From Just Flight, And Extended Night Lighting For X-Plane 11

VR Testing, Traffic Global From Just Flight, And Extended Night Lighting For X-Plane 11

Now that I’ve wiped the PC drive, reinstalled Windows 10, and upgraded to 64G RAM, I wanted to begin testing the new PC environment with VR. I’d also been reading about two add-ins for X-Plane 11: Traffic Global from Just Flight (payware), and the extended night lighting scenery download from the .ORG (donationware), and was eager to test them out. Finally, I’d read about some new configuration settings for Oculus Mirror (which I use to stream VR sessions from the Rift S) that apparently create a mirror more representative of what I see in the headset, and less likely to promote motion sickness for those watching, and wanted to test those settings out, too.

So, last night after the kids were in bed, I decided it was testing time. I loaded up the VFlyte SR-20 at KTPA (my custom airport model), activated Traffic Global, and went for a spin. There is a video below, including a random simulator crash at the very end. Not sure what caused it, but it was an X-Plane crash as the PC kept running. Regardless, early impressions are that my VR performance is better — higher frame rates generally, and smoother performance especially using Asynchronous Spacewarp. My impression of Traffic Global is that I’m very impressed. Great injection of real-world traffic, great models and animation, and no real frame-rate hit that I can see. My impression of the extended night lighting scenery is WOW! Beautiful, with lights all the way to the horizon, and again, little to no frame-rate impact that I can see — although I’ll do more testing to get a better sense of that. The image up top is a screen grab of what it produces, and again, here’s a video.

Oh, one final thing: for this video I just used the default Oculus Rift S headset and mic rather than my aviation headset. I think it worked really well, even if it doesn’t sound like an aviation headset. It’s certainly more comfortable.

Good News & An Update

I’m happy to say that last week I passed my instrument rating check ride. I’m looking forward to flying in the system and building my proficiency with this new skill set. Thanks for all the encouragement along the way.

I also replaced the RAM in the sim yesterday, pulling the two 8 gig strips that shipped with the machine and replacing them with four 16 gig strips. This means the sim now has 64 gig RAM on board, and while it initially messed up my overclocking settings, with some tweaking the sim is running stable. While I have not noticed a frame rate improvement (nor did I expect to), the sim is now very smooth with little to no stutters.

I Bit The Bullet

I’ve been getting hard crashes, all the way to a reboot, when streaming. I thought the El Gato camera card was the problem, but the crashes continued after getting a new camera card last week. So I decided that today was the day to completely wipe the PC Windows drive and do a full and fresh install of the operating system. That drive has never been wiped since I bought the PC four years ago, and it was crammed full of legacy registry entries and other junk from years of use (and using FSX, P3D and X-Plane along the way). I very deliberately run X-Plane from a separate SD drive, so it would be unaffected by a change like this — and it’s a reason that you should probably run X-Plane from its own dedicated drive, too. (In fact, I have X-Plane and its associated programs on one drive, and all my ORBX and ortho scenery on a different drive, just so they won’t be affected by any Windows problems or updates — in fact, I could buy a new PC, plug in those drives, and be good to go for the most part).

So far, it seems everything has turned out OK. It took a while to download some drivers, and I’ve had to update a few settings that changed with the new installation, but now I have a clean Windows drive that’s loaded only with a bare-bones install of Windows 10, Navigraph’s data install program, Active Sky XP, Project Lasso, and the OBS streaming software. I have not noticed a significant increase in performance, but the sim seems to be running very smoothly — and no crashes so far. With any luck tomorrow I’ll get in a stream for testing.

The Problem Seems To Be The Rift

If you’ve tuned in or watched the last few YouTube flights I’ve posted, I’ve been having problems with GPU usage in the sim. Things are great for the first 20 or 30 minutes, at which point my GPU usage goes to 100%, frames plummet, and the sim crashes (often crashing the entire PC). Nothing seems to fix the issue.

The past few flights have been in VR. I have found the Oculus software since the Rift S quite buggy, and as an experiment yesterday I disconnected the Rift S and went back to my three-screen physical cockpit setup. I ran the sim for several hours, with clouds and over the ORBX Washington scenery, with absolutely no problems. Frames were down in the 20s at some points, but overall they held in the 30s (with the benefit of VMI Twick to limit objects some), and most important, I had no crashes and the GPU never really went above 60% utilization. I don’t believe the issue is the increased hardware requirements of the Rift S compared to the Rift, as it will run just great for a while before cratering. It must be a software issue. So I’ll be abandoning the VR for a while, at least until Oculus gets their software hammered out.

The Fun Of Real World Flying

I have had some rare openings in my calendar this week and have been able to take advantage of them to get in nearly 10 hours of cross-country instrument time. Flights included a round-robin Albert Whitted to Daytona to Melbourne back to Whitted, a hop up to Perry, FL for a $100 hamburger, and today a flight from Whitted to Pahokee, FL (on the shores of Lake Okeechobee), then to Naples for lunch at a German deli, then back to Whitted. All this leaves me less than 10 hours short of my cross country and instrument hours requirements. With any luck the check ride will be in September.

Note that much of what has made flying this week interesting has been weather planning, in particular avoiding the afternoon cumulous and cumulonimbus buildup typical of Florida this time of year. But perhaps the most fun thing about this week has been its fulfillment of one of the reasons people love to fly: the ability to see things and go places. While we didn’t stop in Daytona, flying the missed approach next to the track was great for its views, as was the flight down the Space Coast past Cape Canaveral to Melbourne, as was the routing over the top of Tampa and KTPA on the way back. The hop to Perry yesterday was great because it was a chance to borrow the crew car, see a neat little north-Florida town, and have a great burger at a local haunt — without the seven-hour round-trip drive. Today we saw the large agricultural districts of central Florida, the still wild areas around Lake Okeechobee, and the always-exciting and beautiful view of the Skyway Bridge with St. Pete and Tampa in the distance. Flying to travel new places is really, really, cool, and I’m excited to explore many new places in the years to come. Here are some snaps of these flights over the past few days.

Daytona, Home Of The Daytona 500

Downtown Tampa, FL

Raymond James Stadium, Home Of The Tampa Bay Buccanneers

KTPA While Flying The Bridge Transition, Which Goes Right Down The Middle Of Runway 27

A Huge T-Storm Over The Gulf, Topping Out Over 40,000 Feet

The Great Little Perry Airport, Where Only Three Planes Were On The Ramp

Three Nelsons, Home Of A Great Burger And Great Ice Cream (Perry, FL)

A Stunning Live Oak In Perry, FL (Outside Three Nelsons)

Some Clouds You Fly Through, Others You Go Around. This One You Go Around.

The Mouth Of Tampa Bay And The Skyway Bridge

An Update On Instrument Training, MS Flight Simulator, Yoko “The Yoke” PLUS, Video Streaming, And More

My posting is down quite a bit, for a variety of reasons, none of them bad. Some of it is that I’m busy with things away from the blog. Some of it is that I’m spending most of my aviation-related time on real-world instrument training. Some of it is that streaming IFR flights via VR is a bit of a challenge in the X-Plane aircraft I’m using. But here’s an update on all that and more …

Instrument Training

I rolled directly into my instrument training in February / March, and have been doing most of my flying toward its requirements since then. I’ve checked out in the SR20 (which took about 10 hours of flight time to do right) and am doing all of my flying in that aircraft, and while that creates some scheduling conflicts, I enjoy that airframe very much and am better for keeping to one set of avionics and numbers during my training. I’ve completed most of my requirements for the practical exam, and just have a body of instrument hours and cross-country hours to complete, along with the written exam. My long cross country is done. If things stay on track, I hope to schedule my instrument check ride for sometime in September or October. All that said, flying in Florida in the Summer continues to be beautiful, if strongly defined by afternoon cumulus buildup (as you can see below).

MS Flight Simulator

Like everyone else in the world of flight simulation, I was surprised and excited to see Microsoft recently show a preview of its new flight simulator. And like everyone else, I have the same questions about how full-featured and capable it will be for those of us who use flight simulators for real-world-level simulation or training. So we shall wait and see … but I can tell you this, even if it’s “just a game,” that game will be on our X-Box 360 if it’s anything like what we see in that promo video …

Yoko “The Yoke” PLUS

I’ve been using the Yoko “The Yoke” PLUS for several months now, and It’s fantastic. Rock-solid construction, extremely fine resolution and responsiveness, and a feel that, at least for me, is very much like a real-world yoke in terms of force and resistance. Highly recommended.

Video Streaming

I haven’t been doing much, for a few reasons. One is that streaming in VR when practicing instrument procedures isn’t as easy as in the physical cockpit, although with the AviTab plugin and my Navigraph subscription, it’s not too challenging. But the SR20 models available for X-Plane vary in their avionics in VR, and it’s not really easy for me to simulate in VR the Avidyne systems I’m using in the real world. I enjoy streaming in the physical cockpit, too, though, and in it I’m able to better simulate the Avidyne platform I use in the real plane. BUT — the cable I use to connect the GoPro to the PC for streaming broke and is out of action. So until I get a new one, my streaming is probably going to be limited to VR VFR leisure flying … and I hope to put some online soon.

And More …

While my posting here and on YouTube isn’t as frequent as it has been, I remain passionate about aviation and simulation, and intend to keep posting as well as I can. I also get mail from time-to-time from folks saying that the site is still a strong resource to those building their own simulators or getting started with simulation. Thanks for that, and I’ll try to keep it so.