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.

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

An Update On X-Plane 11 Screen Configs

Today I tested my assumption that with the first C172 screen config under my belt I could configure other planes in much less time. This is correct, and I now have the Baron 58 and the Cirrus Jet set up for the sim. My basic routine was to create a copy of the aircraft folder, open the aircraft file in Planemaker, adjust the viewpoint default to the center of the aircraft, and then use the visualizer to decide which objects to delete (and delete them). In both cases this took just a few minutes. On loading the Baron I did notice that I needed to move the view up just a bit (which I can set in the .acf file if I like). I also changed the front-screen offset a few degrees to set the horizon, but that only takes a few seconds (unlike editing camera files in P3D …) and you can do it in real time inside the sim.

Photorealistic Scenery In X-Plane

A viewer was kind enough to gift me photorealistic scenery for a good portion of the world as a holiday gesture. I’ve been able to install most of it, and here’s a quick iPhone video below. As you can see, X-Plane is able to place autogen buildings and vegetation and lights ON TOP of photorealistic scenery, something that Prepar3D is unable to do. When paired with accurate street-level data / mesh and the World2XPlane objects and mapping, it’s a pretty awesome combination. Here’s a quick video illustrating it in SoCal. I tried my local field this morning, and it’s now an uncannily realistic experience flying into and out of my neck of the woods. Thanks so much to that viewer!

X-Plane 11 Beta Review Flight

The first full flight with the visuals set for the Basement Sim in the X-Plane 11 Beta, including some of my initial reactions having spent some time with the sim (and coming from Prepar3D). I refer to several add ons in this video, including:

As always, thanks for watching.

How I Configured X-Plane Screens For The Basement Sim

First, I’m writing this quite quickly as I have someplace I need to be. So forgive any typos, and I may revise it a bit later …

After several days of tweaking I finally have my X-Plane 11 visuals for the Basement Sim where I like them, and I like them a lot. It was a bit of a process getting there, and absolutely a learning experience as I’ve never played in this space in X-Plane before, but it was fun and I feel like I understand it much better – and I really like the results.

You’ll remember that the reason I had to do all of this is because of how X-Plane handles multiple monitors. Historically, it didn’t do this at all without significant add-ins. With X-Plane 11, though, we have multi-monitor support, and it works great, thanks to a simple dialogue that allow you to set a field of view (the default is 60 degrees), along with lateral, vertical, and roll offsets for that field of view. In essence, if each monitor is like a camera on a tripod, you can set the width of the image (field of view), as well as the direction it is pointing horizontally (lateral), tilt (vertical), and side-angle tilt (roll).

So by setting different offsets for each camera, you should be able to achieve a set of views where the front screen is looking out the front of the airplane, the left screen is looking straight out the left window, and the right screen is looking straight out the right window. By varying the fields of view, which act like a zoom, you should be able to get objects on different-sized monitors (I have a 100 inch projection screen in front and 32 inch LEDs on the sides) to match up. And finally, by varying offsets, you should be able to get the horizon to match up across the three screens.

After some trial and error, I was able to do this. For my screens and my cockpit, this was the setup that worked best:

LEFT SCREEN:

  • 57 degree FOV
  • -90 lateral offset
  • – 6.5 vertical offset
  • 0 roll offset

FRONT SCREEN:

  • 97 degree FOV
  • 0 lateral offset
  • 7 vertical offset
  • 0 roll offset

RIGHT SCREEN:

  • 57 degree FOV
  • 90 lateral offset
  • -6.5 vertical offset
  • 0 roll offset

These settings produced a nice alignment of horizon and runway lines that matched up very well, especially from the position of the GoPro in the back middle of the cabin. But there was a problem, and the problem was that I could still see the panel on the front screen. So just use the arrow keys to raise the eye point, right? But therein is the complication, because in X-Plane 11 (at least so far) the multiple views are all connected to a single eye point, meaning that they all move together. So when I raised the view to get the panel out of the way, the top of the virtual cabin windows were now in view. And if I lowered the view to get the windows out of the way, the panel was visible. Everything moves together. So how to solve THAT problem?

The answer is the great little program that comes with X-Plane, Planemaker.exe. It allows you to make your own aircraft for the sim, or to modify the ones you fly. You can find it in the same root directory in which X-Plane sits. It turns out that the airplane models in plane maker are made of three-dimensional objects that the designer loads to cover the wireframe (and invisible) physical dimensions of the airplane and flight model. In essence, they design a wireframe airplane, and then fill and cover it with textures and objects, like wings. These objects don’t affect the flight characteristics, as they are simply window dressing for the flight model. And it turns out that you can move them around, and even delete them entirely. The airplane will look different–if you delete the wings and look at the airplane in chase view, it will have no wings–but it will still fly just fine.

It’s because of this that I was able to solve my view problem of having a panel that was too high, wings that were two low, and cabin walls that I could see. Here’s how I did it, with some screen grabs from my Mac which has X-Plane 10 on it (this Cessna looks a bit different than the one in X-Plane 11, but you’ll get the idea):

  • In my X-Plabne “Aircraft” folder I made a duplicate of the default Cessna 172 folder. I created a full copy called “Cessna 172SP Copy” that had all the contents of the original in it. This way I could work without messing up the original.
  • The file that Planemaker reads is a .acf file. I opened plane maker, and opened the Cessna_172SP.acf file from the Copy folder. When you do, you’ll see something like this:

Screenshot_12_14_16__4_43_PM

  • With the Visualization menu on the left you can “turn on” or “turn off” different parts of the visual model. This does NOT make them invisible in the sim – it just makes them invisible so you can see what’s behind them. Here’s a view where I’ve turned off the fuselage object:

Screenshot_12_14_16__4_46_PM

  • Turn off the fuselage object so it’s out of the way. Then click Standard / Misc Objects from the menu. You will see a screen that lists all the 3-D objects that make up the visual model of the airplane. something like this:

Screenshot_12_14_16__4_47_PM

  • This is a powerful screen, so tread lightly here. But if you click the “clear” button for any of the objects, Planemaker will delete them from the visual model. They won’t show up in the sim at all, but it also won’t affect the flight model. Your external screenies may look strange, but you can easily remove things you don’t want to see. If I delete the cockpit.obj object, the model now looks like this:

Screenshot_12_14_16__4_49_PM

  • So that’s what I did. In the X-Plane 11 172 I also deleted a second cockpit object, seats, and a bit more. I DID NOT delete any of the avionics or panel, because I think they may need to be in the model to work, but I’m not sure. When I loaded X-Plane 11 and loaded that Cessna (if you look at the details for the airplane in the flight setup screen it will show you which folder it’s in so you can pick the correct one from the Copy folder), I could see the wings, cowl, and prop, but the cockpit was gone, and I finally had a correct view like I was looking out real windows. BUT – there were still alignment problems (wings too low, cowl too high, panel too high).
  • If you look at the Misc Objects screen you will also see that you can adjust the vertical, lateral, and horizontal positioning of objects, and you will actually see them shift around on the screen. I used this to lower all the panel objects a lot (but still so I could see them by tiling my view in case I needed to), to lower the cowl and prop a bit, to raise the wings a bit (I suppose I could have just raised them and left the cowl in place, but I’d already moved it), and to move the wings forward.
  • Finally, I adjusted the starting eye point so that every time I load that airplane the view is in the right place: in the center of the aircraft, rather than in the pilot’s seat, and a bit forward so the wings are just where I wanted them (again, If I moved the wings more I could have accounted for this there, but not the center position of the view). You can tweak this in Planemaker as well, using the Standard/Viewpoint window. It looks like this (this is the X-Plane 10 version, and the 11 is just a bit different):

Add_New_Post_‹_On_The_Glideslope_—_WordPress_and_Cessna_172SP

  • By adjusting the “pilot’s viewpoint” values you alter the starting location of the view when you open a flight with the plane. I adjusted the lateral value to 0, which starts the camera right in the center of the cabin, and moved it forward a bit by adjusting the longitudinal arm (long arm) value DOWN to be about 2.2 feet. This starts the sim with the view just where I want it, and the whole thing now looks like this:

DCIM106GOPROGOPR7006.

DCIM106GOPROGOPR7005.

And I think that looks pretty good. So, with all this behind me, when it’s time to do this for a new aircraft I believe I’ll do the following:

  • Configure the screens first, probably using the “no scenery, no HUD” view so I can just focus on getting the sizing and alignment correct.
  • Then look in the 3D cockpit view to see how things interrupt with the view, and to move the eye point around to get a sense of what I need to delete and move.
  • Use Planemaker to delete objects.
  • Go back into X-Plane to see how it looks and to decide if I need to adjust the wings, etc., then go back and forth with Planemaker until I have those adjustments how I like them.
  • Use Planemaker to get the permanent starting eye point where I want it.

I actually don’t think that will take very long, now that I’ve done it once. Of course, If Laminar allows unique eye points for each screen, all this will be unnecessary. Until then, I hope it’s of help to you, and that it helps many more X-Plane simmers build their own cockpits. To help with that, you may download my .acf file for the 172 here. It probably won’t be perfect for your sim, but it might be a good starting point. Thanks for reading.

X-Plane 11 Visuals Continued

A new video, shot with my phone, showing off some of the textures in the default X-Plane 11 scenery textures, and xEnviro clouds and sky textures. I was impressed with the quality of the default textures, although flying around the LA basin this morning I think I’ll look for something that improves upon that part of the world …

X-Plane 11 Update

I know there are a number of questions here and also at YouTube, and I’ll get to them as soon as I can. But in the meantime, here’s a quick report on my new adventures with the X-Plane 11 beta:

  • I’m pretty blown away. I used X-Plane for years on my Mac before using P3D for the Basement Sim, but with the immersive setup in the sim I’m really astonished by the look and feel of things. The UI is definitely first rate, and I just can’t get over how good and smooth everything is. Not seeing texture tiles resolve into a higher resolution is a very welcome thing in particular. Look out into the distance in XP-11 and it’s just a very different, and more realistic, feeling than it is in P3D, at least for me.
  • I’m more blown away after downloading two add-ons meant to improve the default airport scenery in X-Plane: Prefab Airports (which put accurate taxiways and some buildings at thousands of smaller airports, including my local strip – which is important to me, because it was just a runway in the default scenery), and Airport Environments HD (which adds all sorts of realistic airport textures, much like REX Direct does in P3d). Airports look great now. And the price for these additions? Free. Welcome to the XP community.
  • And I’m REALLY blown away after installing xEnviro. This is payware (and not cheap, at $69 US), but it injects realistic weather into X-Plane, and completely revolutionizes the cloud system. And if there is one thing that XP is weak at out of the box, it’s weather. But I’ll tell you, the first time xEnviro loaded my local weather I said, “Holy #x$5!” It looked just like outside my window. And get this: ZERO frame rate hit, at least for me. Astonishing.

Tonight’s mission is to get my Saitek panels working correctly. SPAD.neXt now has X-Plane support, but it’s been crashing on me, so I’m going to try some other options. I’ll report back, and as soon as I’m able, I’ll post how I got the visuals right, as I know some of you are waiting for that. But in the meantime, I think X-Plane 11 is a winner, and candidly, I can’t believe it’s a beta. The final product should be world class indeed.

Success On The X-Plane Screen Config

At least darn close to it! The trick was to use Planemaker.exe to delete the cockpit objects. I’ll get it just right and then I’ll post a how-to. But I have to say, X-Plane 11 looks astonishingly good to me in the sim. I can’t believe it’s a beta.