YouTube: X-Plane flight from Troutdale to Aurora

Recently I videotaped a simulated flight from Troutdale, OR [KTTD] to Aurora, OR [KUAO]. The aircraft was the default Cessna 172 with the Reality Expansion Pack installed.

This was on my home flight simulator, which runs X-Plane 11.25 on a Windows 10 machine with an i7 processor (4.2 GHz overclocked to 4.6 GHz), 32 GB RAM, and a GTX 1080i video card. I was getting an average of 31 frames per second during the flight. I use three 32″ flat panel monitors, Saitek FIP gauges, yoke, throttle quadrant, and rudder pedals. I also use Saitek radio, switch, and multi-function devices.

You can view the flight on YouTube here.

This was more a test of how to videotape and record audio of my flight simulator than it was to portray an actual simulated flight (so please forgive my flying ability, lack of ATC, etc.)

Windows updates and maintaining a flight simulation system

After a recent Windows 10 update from Microsoft, many features of my flight simulator (running X-Plane v11.21) stopped working. Specifically, all of my Saitek Flight Instrument Panel (FIP) gauges stopped working, and my Buttkicker stopped as well.

To get the FIP gauges working again, I had to reset their USB power management settings. The Windows update reverts those settings back to their default state. Why does an operating system feel it has the authority to change user-managed settings like this? Turning their power management back to off is a tedious process.

The Buttkicker stopped working because the software that manages the sound signals stopped working and had to be reinstalled. It also changed the assignment of which sound device fed the Buttkicker its sounds. Again, why does Windows do this?

After a bit of tedious settings management and some more trial and error, I got everything working again. The simulator is running normally.

On the X-Plane side, after updating it, I noticed the Cirrus Vision default airplane starts off with its control surfaces defaulted to full-left, making it impossible to fly. Calibrating the yoke and rudder pedals doesn’t fix it. Finally, X-Plane 11.21 gives me a warning that my Reality Expansion Pack Cessna 172 won’t look right. I click the OKAY button and then fly it as normal. I can’t tell what’s different visually.

After going through all this, I’ve since disabled Windows updates. Having a tightly controlled system like this requires only modifying it when necessary, and random changes imposed by OS updates can cause a lot of headaches. I only use this system for flight simulation, and it is well protected behind dual firewalls, so I’m not concerned about security. I don’t even surf the web from that machine.

X-Plane switch from Airfoil Labs to Reality Expansion Pack Cessna 172

X-Plane comes with a Cessna 172 by default. It’s a competent plane and it is what I have flown since I got X-Plane 11 back in May of 2017. I wanted more realism so I purchased the after-market Cessna 172 by Airfoil Labs.

It was buggy and presented several challenges to flying. I had to learn how to land all over again. There were several graphical issues that prevented me from flying the AFL 172 at all. I got fed up and uninstalled it.

After reading posts from other sim pilots on X-Plane.org’s forum, I discovered another approach. Now, I fly the default Cessna 172 with the SimCoders.com Reality Expansion Pack ($19.99) installed on top of it.

The aircraft experience feels more immersive, because I’m not just flying a virtual plane, I’m managing the entire aircraft from when I approach it on the tarmac to take-off to flight to landing and finally when I park it. I even conduct maintenance on it like I would a real airplane.

The REP has been very stable, too. There was one sound error that occurred, but removing the Cessna 172 from the list of possible AI aircraft fixed the problem.

So far, I’m very impressed with this approach.

Crosswind landings in X-Plane

I’ve spent several hours practicing pattern work, but I’ve always done it with clear weather and no wind. Lately, I’ve attempted to add crosswinds to the mix to simulate more real-world conditions. It hasn’t gone well.

I set up a 6 kt 90 degree crosswind at Aurora Muni (KUAO) and took off in the X-Plane default Cessna 172. Take-off and flying the left-hand pattern went relatively well, but when I came in on final and entered the glideslope, things seemed to get wonky.

My approach was made on runway 35 so the wind should have been directly from my left. The windsock showed this to be true. However, my plane seemed to be drifting to the left. I attempted a forward slip with a little right aileron and a small amount of left rudder, and things went wonky even more.

It was crazy trying to get the plane lined up with the runway, yet the wind was only 6 knots, with no gusts configured. I gunned the engine, raised my flaps, and conducted a go-around.

As I was flying the pattern again, I paid close attention to what the wind seemed to be doing to the aircraft. At pattern altitude of 1,000 feet AGL, it seemed to be getting blown to the west. That’s incorrect — the wind was configured to be blowing from the west. I turned onto the base leg and the groundspeed slowed, again indicating I had a headwind from the east. When I turned onto the final leg, once again I had fits getting a line on the runway.

I’ve heard that X-Plane 11 has notoriously inaccurate ground effect winds and handling. This seems to be the case. When I got my wheels on the ground, I turned my ailerons fully to the left, to the west and the direction the windsock indicated the wind was blowing, and got shot far to the right and onto the grass.

I can’t confirm it, but it very much acted like the wind was blowing the exact opposite direction the windsock was indicating (and the weather configuration specified).

UPDATE 01-29-2018: I have confirmed the wind and windsock are behaving correctly in X-Plane. It’s operator error on my part.

Forgive me Father, for I have simmed.

I have been very busy lately, but not with what you may expect. As you may know, I have been a motorcyclist for over a decade now, riding both a 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650 adventure bike, and a 2012 Suzuki GSX-R750 sport bike. I had wanted to ride motorcycles ever since I was a kid, and have enjoyed doing so very much, racking up over 80,000 miles in 10 years of riding.

There is something I’ve wanted to do from an even earlier age.

Fly.

I had the opportunity to take flying lessons when I was in my late teens but opted out because of the expense. Learning to fly is expensive, and flying once you get your license is expensive as well. So despite my passion and desire to fly since I was a very young boy, I have never pursued it.

Recently I heard about X-Plane, the flight simulation software that is arguably the de facto king of realistic simulation for the consumer (and professional) market. I ran a demo version of the software on my Macbook Pro and was blown away by the realism and depth.

Digging more, I found YouTube videos [ like this one ] of home-built cockpits and flight simulation rigs people are building in their own homes. Something clicked, and I realized I could get much closer to the experience of flying but at much lower cost and no risk to life-and-limb.

To get that desired realism, however, I would need a system a bit more involved than just a laptop and second screen. I began to research the kind of computer systems required to obtain the level of realism I needed, all based around X-Plane, and the flight simulation gear such as flight controls and gauges that would enhance the realism.

I purchased books about flying from both a theoretical and practical standpoint. I investigated products and vendors and watched hours of YouTube videos posted by home flight simmers. I produced a budget for what my desired system would cost.

Unwilling to incur debt, I was also unwilling to tap into savings. I had to find the money from another source. Doing some soul searching, I realized it would be better to own one motorcycle and a flight simulator than to own two motorcycles and no flight simulator.

So I sold the Gixxer.

Using the sale money from the motorcycle, I had the financial side of the project covered. Based on my vendor and product research, I had a shopping list ready to go. All I needed to do was start placing orders.

The heart of the flight simulator is the computer. I chose a high-end Windows PC purchased from X-Force PC, based in South Carolina. They partner with Laminar Research, the company that makes X-Plane, to provide LR with the systems used in X-Plane development and testing. This would ensure high compatibility and reliability. After a phone call with Michael Brown, the chief builder and head honcho at X-Force PC, I had a system ordered. I also purchased my Saitek gauges and flight controls. The service I got from X-Force PC in general and Michael specifically was fantastic.

Closet shelf
Monitors, desk, and cockpit panel
Panel, yoke, rudder pedals, and computer
In-flight, showing LED lights around cockpit panel
Full system with gauges

Another key aspect of this system was location. Where would I put it? My home doesn’t have a basement, so I got creative. I emptied the closet of a spare room, mounted an adjustable shelf on the back wall to hold my video screens, and repurposed a small desk. The system is half in the closet, half out (no sociological puns intended). I have plans to build an enclosure around the seating area to mimic the realism of being inside an actual cockpit.

Flying is complex. It takes a lot of practice and a lot of knowledge. Operating the airplane is challenging enough on a perfect day, but when you factor in weather, topography, air traffic control, mechanics, and the myriad bits of information constantly deserving your attention, it quickly becomes an immersive experience that can eat up years of time and dedication.

This is something I won’t outgrow anytime soon.