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.

The Rift S

I caved and ordered a Rift S. It arrives Wednesday. Review to soon follow.

In other news, instrument training continues and I’m enjoying the SR-20 very much. Took some family up in the 172 yesterday, though, for some sightseeing. It sure is nice up there.

Streaming Again …

… 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.

FlyAgi Utility (And A Few Other Things Including A Yoko PLUS Update)

FlyAgi Utility (And A Few Other Things Including A Yoko PLUS Update)

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.

What Happened To BFG?

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.

I sure like flying this bird …

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.

More Air Manager Progress

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 …

Migrating My Six-Pack To Air Manager

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.