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Behind the Screen : June 2016


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Behind the Screen : June 2016


June started and ended with aircraft. But for a change not the virtual versions but actual real aircraft. I had a quick break at the start of June to go to Tasmania, which is the forgotten apple isle at the bottom end of the Australian continent. Beautiful beyond belief, but freezing wet and cold in winter and that makes the airfares very cheap when the weather is rock bottom, that my brother also lives there was the actual reason for the visit. The bonus of the ride to Melbourne was the chance to take a ride on Jetstar's Boeing 787 Dreamliner, con (36227) and rego VH-VKA. In the strange world of Qantas's route economics the B787 was going 2000nm in the opposite direction of its final destination at Narita in Japan, and the aircraft was barely occupied by only about 30 passengers. You had to check-in as an international flight and then go through arrival customs in Melbourne without actually leaving the country as this was classed as an international flight. Qantas does this route gymnastics quite often as when I went to Hong Kong I went from Brisbane to Sydney before flying back over the same airport four hours later that I had departed from earlier? and Qantas wonder why they are losing money with their shares going south.


N787 1.jpgN787 2.jpg


But a very lightly loaded new generation Boeing was going to be interesting. The pilots decided to have some fun before doing the hard yards to Japan. So it was a +3000fpm climb to a final altitude of 42,000ft, straight up and almost close to space. Up there it was more like being in the Gemini capsule in that the aircraft was static and the world now moved around under you and not the other way around. I could have balanced a pen upright and it would not have fallen over as was so smooth the Dreamliner, the landing was also one of the most slowest I have done in an aircraft of this size and well under 150knts, amazing stuff. The return trip was by bumpy bucket class A320 via Sydney.


The block end of June was fun as well with an "Open Cockpit" day at the Queensland Air Museum (QAM) at Caloundra. Here they open up the aircraft so you can crawl all over the aircraft and make buzzing noises in the pilot's seat. But there was a serious side to getting up close to some really interesting aircraft. A KingAir 200B (VH-FII), Fokker F27 (VH-FNQ) and a rare Beech 2000A Starship (N786BP) and for myself to compare the real deal with the virtual versions.


The main things to stand out is that the real aircraft inside are very small and tight, but huge outside in context to the actual space you work in. Vision is surprisingly limited, yokes are beyond small and tiny, levers and controls are heavyweights and very clunky to use or move and getting into and out of cockpit seats requires a circus diploma in acrobatics. Overall it gave a vital comparison to the computer versions and I will fly all very differently with the new perspectives. The Starship was an amazing aircraft that usually flew at a ceiling of 35,000ft, but sitting in that passenger and later the pilot's seat, I don't know if I would like to be that high up in it, it is very tube like and tight inside with just a small window look out on to those vast sweptback wings, the panel and instruments were quite standard early glass-era Beech. A final interesting aircraft that was in poor condition was the Cessna 336 Skymaster VH-CMY C/N 336-0005 with another very tight lovefest of your fellow pilot cabin, but those huge twin boom tails were very impressive.


X-Plane 10.50 Release

X-Plane beta 10.50 crashed and banged into our lives that 10.50b1 soon became 10.50b5 and now 10.50b6. But thankfully all is well with our X-Plane world now. Although the upgrade list is large, I haven't found the total complete love yet, in that I can't see any new autogen in density and it is all restricted just to the US doesn't bode well for the rest of the world where we really need it. My early framerate was shocking as well but settled down to a reasonable level, so I decided to let the waters smooth down a bit before making any major assumptions, but overall it is still too jerky and frustrating when flying even with a frame rate running high (50fr) and perfectly fine for my tastes.

Like most new X-Plane versions released lately they seem to be getting shorter but are also much more stable and that is reflected in the now (slightly) larger team at Laminar Research and it shows.


That said I was seriously impressed by the new features including an all new X-Plane menu and interface shown at Flightsimcon 2016 watch the video and see your new brave world coming soon, X-Plane will be seriously (insanely) good when we get to that release with it maybe even noted as X-Plane 11. Officially X-Plane11 doesn't still yet exist, but 10.50 is looking very much like the final complete 10 version run. Laminar can't hold X-Plane11 back for ever either, as it makes them huge instantaneous money or a load of new income by a new version release that goes a long way into paying the bills and wages.


FlyJSim Boeing 727 Study v2


I had a strange issue with the the FlyJSIm aircraft when I moved over to the Window's killer thriller. Both the B727 or B732 would not work (the Boeing 732 still doesn't) so it took nearly a week of pain and problems to finally get the new v2 version to finally fly on the computer. Something with the sound files and the dreamengine, just wouldn't let the full loading of the files happen. So I missed the release date because of the issues, but what annoyed me more was the issues could have been cleared up months before when I first reported it, as noted the Boeing 732 is still in some sort of intergalactic machine limbo and I have just given up on flying it in Windows?


I have spent over the years a fair few hours in the Boeing 727 and it certainly is right up there with the best of the best in X-Plane aircraft, the v2 update puts it even higher in quality and with the 60's style flying experience, but for all the brilliance, I just want to look out of the cabin windows at my takeoffs and landings in the replays? Is that too hard a request with an aircraft in this price range. As when all the hard work is done you can sit back and revel in your supreme handiwork and replay the whole flight and convince yourself you now really brilliantly good at this flying caper, well not still in the B727 you can't and I am now going to believe that I will go to my grave and not do so.


PMDG and the whole damn fine thing


Precision Manuals Development Group have a huge reputation in the Microsoft Flight Simulation (FS) world. But that doesn't say the same model works in X-Plane as many other FS developers have found out. The clever ones bridge the gap by using top X-Plane developer specialists and really circumnavigated the obvious issues, and in the process they have done very well in X-Plane. 


PMDG's approach is unique and clever in the fact that to just create from the ground up an aircraft just for X-Plane, and not try to bend the FS product to run on X-Plane's rules. It is certainly a brave and costly approach. But with this approach the return information on the inner workings of the X-Plane environment will pay out dividends when you really understand how the simulator deep down really ticks. You feel this newly acquired knowledge in the product and how far PMDG are willing to go to understand the platform and this approach has to be seriously applauded.


So the released DC-6 Cloudmaster is quite a different but very interesting aircraft to fly and use in X-Plane. PMDG's willingness to create different but clever new features does really standout as well and mostly in the areas of usability that actual aircraft features, very clever and certainly made the flying and the use of the aircraft far more enjoyable than I ever expected. It is not totally perfect, but it is very good... 


...    So yes I was very surprised and very impressed by what PMDG have achieved. But as a caution to note that this release is not the best style or type of aircraft to make final surmise of the X-Plane platform for future releases as the aircraft is too much a niche product. If PMDG were to release one of their mainstream aircraft and there is a lot to choose from in the MD-11, Boeing 747-400 and 737NG series, then with the current detailing of what is included with the DC-6 then PMDG would do very well in X-Plane and certainly create a devoted following of their products like Carenado have done. My choice would be their Boeing 747-400 series and that aircraft would certainly be a notable seller on the X-Plane platform, overall I was seriously impressed by PMDG and their X-Plane approach.


The paradox


This of course brings us to the paradox that PMDG and Aerosoft and their like are caught up in. Can they afford to ignore X-Plane and it's small user base in terms of sales. Still the FS world is a huge but it is now a seriously aging simulator, 32bit and all as is Prepar3d. Dovetail have bought the FS rights and are claiming to reinvent and upgrade the simulator to a more modern platform, but my personal view it is just a repackaging exercise to keep the platform at least viable and Dovetail's first average training release seems to confirm that view. The problem for PMDG and Aerosoft et all, is just that elephant in the big room...  64bit?


Laminar Research bit the bullet and did the switch a few years ago, but our base plugin aircraft back then were few and not the huge range we have today, but now consider Flight Simulation's huge mammoth user base and even X-Plane would struggle to cover all the aircraft that would now have needed to be converted over. Ben Supnik was right and it would hurt and it took three months to clear and fix all the plugins, but could FS do the same? or lose such a huge amount of unusable aircraft as success and market domination can at times turnaround and kill you.


And then consider that X-Plane year on year well past the cut off date of FS as it has been updating and beta-ring away with very detailed new X-Plane versions of a very current simulator and soon as noted above X-Plane will be going into another new version cycle with X-Plane11, like it or not X-Plane cannot be ignored, and how many of the adopted ones that have come over to X-Plane have noted they would simply love to go back there, and the only reason they do is for the likes of PMDG et all, but most if not all love their new X-Plane environment.


So still on the X-Plane.Org forums we get the cry of "why don't we still get the big names of Flight Simulation in X-Plane". Well if you look around you a lot are already here. But it does come down to fear or even survival in simulation. The ones I can't understand are scenery developers are like FlyTampa, as most airports are mostly the same objects and textures on an X-Plane base then why don't they develop for X-Plane, it is a market easy transferred as aircraft are harder to translate with X-Plane's basic "blade theory" and the way the aircraft interacts with the simulator makes it a completely different build than with FS, but in strangely weird way we get more FS aircraft than scenery?


But there has to be the point of the seesaw moving the other way, as pure survival will make the difference as to change or die, can you see FS in another four or five years time as X-Plane swings into X-Plane12 (unless Austin Meyer kills himself in his driverless Tesla car). Four years is not a long way off and yes even I would admit anything can change in that period.


Will X-Plane11 finally be the circumstances of change and mass migration from FS to X-Plane? The main issues in change is one the X-Plane interface as FS users hate it and won't use it, but that issue is being fixed in X-Plane11 with a whole new visual interface. The other huge barrier is the actual developers themselves...


...   the biggest issue is the the huge investments that have been made in FS in aircraft and scenery, reverse the situation in that would I go to FS with all the investments I have made in X-Plane and the answer is no. So why can't the developers drop the barriers and let their clients transfer their already paid investments over to X-Plane, or ask a nominal fee to do so as it is in their own interests to do so. If you are not going to lose your favorite aircraft or scenery then the choice to change is not going to be hurt by the fact that you have to pay the same amount again to get the same thing in another simulator. Once the migration starts then all the other scenery, plugin developers and effects houses will quickly move over as well.


My favorite words are "critical mass", once it generates its own power it will continue to do so, and it just takes a small amount of energy to start the process...  But when will X-Plane hit that "Critical Mass" point. Like everything else in life and even for Apple Computer with the iPhone, it will be an interesting few years ahead for the X-Plane simulator.


Stephen Dutton


11th July 2016


Copyright©2016: X-PlaneReviews


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