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Behind the Screen : February 2021


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Behind the Screen : February 2021


In most past years X-Plane has come out of the box at the start of a New Year, in 2020 for instance I was already doing big reviews, even before I had restarted after the Christmas/NewYear break, head down...  a New Year and a time to get on. Easter has now become the bigger purchasing period for X-Plane add-ons...  the maths are simple, as with even Black Friday sales, most cash is focused on loved ones or spending up big over the holidays, not on simulation. Easter though is different, except for a few Easter Eggs, then you have the spare holiday break and more importantly a few free weeks to do nothing but fly in your favorite simulator, so why not buy yourself something new and shiny to fly or get a few new destinations to fly to.


So over the last few years developers have not tried to crush in their last minute releases in to the Thanksgiving/Christmas period, but to now aim for the lucrative Easter sales, where you can ask full price and still get the sales, still do a discount after Easter and pick up more sales, but more importantly take your time refining the aircraft/scenery in the space of the New Year ready for Easter


But in early 2021, the state of the X-Plane union is very quiet, very quiet. Yes there has been a few nice releases like Banff National Park, and Manchu Picchu, and a very nice RJAA Narita from Drzewiecki Design, but most of the 2021 new year has been focused on strangely helicopters, mostly you get one a year, but there has been almost none for a couple of years lately. I admit the JRX Design Gazelle is a 2020 mid-year release, but a slow period allowed me to cover the aircraft with a worthy review, same with the newly released and popular CowanSim B222, another interesting new developer for the helicopter genre. As you could guess my helicopter skills have improved enormously already this year, but I am ready to move on.


There was a lot of serious indicators that the start of 2021 would be a blockbuster period of big releases for X-Plane, but in reality nothing actually happened? Now two months into the year and it is all still deadly silent?


There are maybe a lot of external reasons, Covid 19, Weather (Northern Winter), No Money, or your life is messy because 2020 was a messy and unpredictable year throughout...  Could Microsoft's new 2020 Simulator be having a major effect and taking the developers focus to the land of milk and honey and eternal riches. Not by the comments on the forums, the hard core users are still not buying the sales pitch, because the MS2020 is still feeling like a bad beta version, a few aircraft have popped up, but a fully functioning aircraft are not yet even close to being the sort of quality simulation that was advertised...  but still the overwhelming majority of releases in 2021 has been the bucket loads of existing scenery for MS2020, Sour grapes!


Well a little bit...  if scenery developers had delivered the same sort of detailed cityscapes they are delivering currently for MS2020, for the X-Plane simulator, then how different would our world be, obviously the returns are not there with X-Plane, but it is a chicken and egg scenario, overall we obviously only got the scraps that they can actually deliver, FS developers never wanted to get behind the X-Plane simulator in the first place anyway, but still stole wholeheartedly from it's ideas.


Laminar Research noted in their 2020 Christmas email, something about sharing all the new features coming to X-Plane early in the New Year, in other words...  X-Plane12. Well two months into 2021 and the sim house is still quieter than a closed up Disneyland. Ziltch!


Laminar even advertised for a new coding developer to join the team...  great, but still no announcements. One thing I have always found is that when Laminar are deathly quiet, then they are working hard, being impatient is certainly not going to help any situation, but I still think we need to know where our simulator is going, in the face of the MS2020 onslaught, and then currently more so for the sake of X-Plane and Simulation in general. My guess is on the 2021 FlightSim Expo in San Diego in early June that is going to be a focus, but still I think an announcement is required before hand to see the balance between the Microsoft marketing overwhelming the picture well before the middle of the year comes around, people need to see choices, and currently Laminar is not even currently in the game (so to speak). 


In reviewing you need space to cover a large release, mostly four days with the current sort of extensive menus and feature lists, that will sometimes take up almost a week, so there are only a few very large releases you can cover in a month, the list out there are imminent large scale releases is now getting large, the secondary issue is that most simulation purchasers only have a certain budget to buy these big feature and expensive releases, they may absorb one, or even two $70-$80 products, but that would be the limit for most punters, no matter what other great projects are put on the table, so most users would have to choose between one or the other. Most certainly with time they will purchase the other releases, but once the immediate "Gotta Have" moment wears off, then they are then willing to wait for the sales, and that means then the developers lose that immediate release sales punch.


So you will have to choose. and what will soon be on offer.


The biggest attraction is certainly Just Flight and their Bae 146 Series (with refining by Thranda), it is not going to be a cheap package as the P3D version is priced at US$85.99, but you will get eight, yes 8 variants, plus a feature list you can dream of, there is a lot of functionality and detail to be had here, and in my mind this aircraft goes straight to the top of the list in desirability.


Just Flight also announced last year their Vickers VC10, for X-Plane, but the trail has gone cold for a while, mostly because the Bae 146 is the priority release. This is another US$70 ($69.99 P3D) aircraft, but does not have the attraction of the Bae 146, as it is in reality a nostalgia aircraft, nice to have, but certainly not a high seller.


There has been a lot of noises around X-Trident's Chinook CH-47F, as a lot of testing and refining has been going on lately, so the aircraft has to be close to release, and a big feature list does this aircraft have. The testing has shown what a brilliant aircraft this will be if it is up to the standard of their excellent AB412, the AB412 is priced at US$35.95, but expect the Chinook at around the US$50-$60 dollar mark, but it will be well worth the high investment.


Q4XP, or the new Dash8 Q400 for X-Plane. This is from FlyJsim, whom created the original Q400 now called the "legacy" version, this aircraft is now actually 10 years old (how time flies). This completely new Q400 version is certainly going to be of a very high quality and detailed aircraft, and thankfully the FMC is a custom version modeled on the aircraft's OME Universal UNS-1e v1000, again it won't be cheap at around the Mid-60s dollar mark, but will be well worth the investment. Time has gone on a long way since any announcement with the aircraft, with the trail again going cold around August 2020. The Q4XP has to certainly be close to a beta or release phase after a nearly a three year development.


Another aircraft that has had a very long lead development is the McDonnell Douglas MD-11, coming from Rotate. Development spoilers and videos pop-up every few months, but again the extensive lead time (May 2017) now has to be showing benefits. If the quality is as good as their MD-80, then this will be an exceptional simulation from Rotate. It won't be cheap either, with my estimation in the Mid-$70's to $90's price range, but again you will get great value, no information if the aircraft will be a package of the two variants of Passenger and Cargo together or as separate purchases.


Aerobask are known for small modern composite aircraft. So the announcement of Dassault Aviation's Falcon 8X was a surprise. It is an official product, but also a very different type and scale aircraft than what Aerobask have done before, and a step up in the type of aircraft than they usually deliver. The price will be higher as well around the US$50 mark, but you will get quality detailing and authentic systems (FMS is custom), and  Synthetic Vision for a good deal. The Falcon 8X was initially proposed for Q4 2020, so that release timeline has now certainly slipped, and the recent announcement of the release of the Embraer Phenom 300 - EMB-505 from Aerobask, will certainly push the Falcon 8X back down the list again, but for how long?


Felis, Boeing 747-200 Classic is another project coming to fruition. Felis is know for his classic Russian aircraft, so a big American Boeing 747 is certainly a big departure from the past for him, but a Classic B747-200 has to be an interesting aircraft to relive the Jumbo's classic years when it was changing the airways and also the airlines in a significant way. Felis notes "I want to do a variant with fully analogue gauges with LTN72 or LTN92 INS. Probably will do AF1 variant also, as it was in 1970's", Engines modeled will be the P&W JT9D-7J version, the early ones that blew up, the -7J  had a power output 48,650 lbf (216.4 kN) and was installed in the B742 from 1976. Price? The TU-144 was priced at US$45, so the Boeing 747-200 should be around the same price. Note that Just Sim has also announced a Boeing 747 Classic version for X-Plane in the 747-100 and -200 passenger variants and the 747-200F cargo variant.


VFlyteAir have also been deathly quiet, which is not like them, as they usually release two aircraft a year, but one that is slipping way off the radar is Carenado, once highly prolific, their output has dropped to a trickle since the departure of Thranda, with nothing at all announced, or even updated for months.


Looking further and into the second half of 2021, there are several projects also worth mentioning. The ToLiSS A340, is a great expectation of genuine long haul flying and another dimension to flying ToLiSS aircraft (Although the A321 NEO LR/XLR are medium range aircraft), the A340 is more of a real long range machine, I hope ToLiSS do a A330 as well.


The biggest announcement for X-Plane in 2021 in a significant release is certainly the FlightFactor Boeing 787-9. Noted under the FF "Professional" series like their B757/B767, the Boeing 787 will be levels again in detail and of course deep systems, slated for Q3/Q4 later this year, it will be certainly the release of the year for X-Plane.


A final note for 2021 goes to X-Crafts. They announced an all new remodel and design of their E-JETS Family, which will include all variants of the E170, E175, E190, E195, and Lineage 1000. Significant will be the inclusion of (finally) a real authentic Flight Management System (FMS), however X-Craft's mentions three FMS units. A new "authentic" FMS (yet to be named more specifically), the Tekton FMS, or the X-Plane default FMS. The same custom FMS will also be transferred into their current ERJ Family, and in so making that aircraft also much more authentic.


Overall a lot of the above projects are already quite overdue, you can blame a lot of reasons why, and mostly on the Covid-19 situation, but there is no doubt that most of these projects in one form or another will be released in the late Q1, Q2 period, so there is a lot to look forward to and fly in all these high quality aircraft.


Going Nowhere

Time to "fess" up. Embarrassed but X-Plane can do that to you sometimes. I decided to do a service from BNE (Brisbane) to CNS (Cairns), Australia, in the updated FlightFactor/Airbus A320-214 Ultimate, to checkout if the nasty framerate issue has be fixed (It has). Restrictions of using both the FF A320 Ultimate and xEnviro both together means a big even huge downpull of your framerate, and no matter how light the rest of your simulation set is in the scenery. I manged to fly both earlier in the v1.14 xEnviro and A320 Ultimate settings, but it was a close call on the numbers before I slid down into the slideshow situation, overall I could use the aircraft if I picked the right airports that didn't put too much strain on the framerate. First up the new 1.1.19 version of the FF320 Ultimate and it felt like the old days and thankfully now with a lot more usable headroom.


But here is the funny point...  I set up the aircraft and pushed the Airbus back with the "BetterPushBack" tool, and everything was normal, until I rereleased the park brake and lifted the throttles a bit to move forward into a taxi speed. Nothing moved...  more power and the Airbus was solid, and no matter how much power I applied to the engines, this Bus was going absolutely nowhere?


I started checking out problems....  Flightfactor have a very sensitive fault system on the A320, so that was my first call, no it was turned off, then the X-Plane fault system and again it was clean?  Brakes are also sensitive on the FF A320, so I rechecked them, about 30 times? nothing as the A320 was still solid as a rock? I was now seriously confused and was resetting everything and searching everywhere, but nothing worked?


Time was clicking on and I was going nowhere, 20 minutes of head scratching and now even with a load of swear words, nothing was not making this Bus move. My earlier review had been of the Cessna 140, a sensitive little thing that required this taildragger steering by using your rudder pedals as toebrakes, I don't have rudder pedals yet (expensive in Australia), but tried to steer the C140 via a set toggle switch (C) on my X56 Rhino joystick (That was not very successful either), but the point was the braking response setting affected the A320 Ultimate to a big degree... I reset the settings both to "None" and the Bus finally moved, and with applause from the passengers as we were finally all going to Cairns


Obviously you can set a "Profile" for a particular aircraft in X-Plane, but I never really use that as I go through with reviewing a lot of aircraft  and need the basic default settings, the FFA320 Ultimate also uses the hands off CEF (Chromium Embedded Framework) system anyway so it is not reliable, but overall it was a fluke I found the problem, the real problem is that X-Plane requires a lot of very different settings to fly some very different aircraft (Taildragger to an Airbus A320), but for about thirty frustrating minutes I was simply going nowhere!


See you all next month.


Stephen Dutton

1st March 2021

Copyright©2021 X-Plane Reviews


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Interesting and well thought out points. My observations


1. There have been several new start up developers during the pandemic in some ways making up for the drop in content from more traditional sources. In some cases this is likely people finding alternative income sources after losing work, in other monetizing the time at home that lockdowns have enforced. One questions is how active, if active at all, some of these new developers will be when life returns to normal. Some ai fear may become abandonware.

2. There seems to be an increasing trend not to sell software on the well known sites like the Org store. One understands developers wanting to save commissions but equally how will those products sell? Once the initial announcement is made of the availability of the software and where to go to buy it how will future purchasers even know of its existence let alone where to buy it or whether the site is safe? Again developers knowing how to code but having less idea on how to market I would suggest. Might we also find instances where software is made available on developers sites that might contain malware without the screening of the big sites? 
3. One does wonder just how well some developers are doing after stepping away from Xplane. Carenado would be an obvious example. Although their aircraft often had critics they did provide a good pipeline of aircraft into Xplane. I myself bought several. But there’s been nothing recently nor have I seen any signs of anything in the horizon or even much needed updates. Is their limited set of MSFS offerings replacing all of the old Xplane revenue. Is Carenado for Xplane now effectively abandonware?

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While Carenado my well be abandonware with Thranda no longer porting their stuff to XP, I feel X Plane sees little advantage in going head to head with '2020' right now.  The initial fascination will fade as the gloss wears down and XP should be ready with a strategic strike (XP12 with NEW goodies) and all true believers will have their faith justified.

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Yes Thranda (Dan Klaue) did every Carenado conversion to X-Plane, but stopped August 2019, they were under contract to service up to Jan 2020, then they went their separate ways, it is debatable if the last releases in the G1000 versions, if they were Thranda or finished off by Carenado. But the differences in quality were highly noticeable.


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Hi Stephen, I really enjoy reading your reviews of X-Plane aircraft. Thank you.

Many aircraft in X-Plane 11 require activation and many do not. 

Could you indicate in your reviews if a an aircraft requires an activation?


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