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.
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.
Back in June, 2012 I rode my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650 to Colorado and back, a loop trip of 5,000+ miles over 15 riding days, passing through 10 states. [You can read my riding blog here.] Once I began learning to fly in my home flight simulator, it became my goal to simulate that trip as closely as possible in a virtual Cessna 172.
The trip in my flight simulator has been ongoing since late June and is nearly complete. I only have one leg remaining. My plane is currently parked at Grant County Regional Field [KGCD] in John Day, Oregon, with my final destination of Troutdale, Oregon.
Throughout this trip, I have attempted to mimic the actual route I rode on my motorcycle as closely as possible, following primary waypoints at major junctions. I have also landed at the nearest airport to the places where I stopped each day for lunch. This means that each day’s simulated leg entailed at least two take-offs and two landings.
Recently, I experimented with early morning take-offs to see what lighting conditions look like in X-Plane 11. The results are amazing, but I noticed that in cities with custom scenery (Ortho4XP), the lights are nearly non-existent. Only stock scenery has the great lighting effects.
I flew from Red Lodge, Montana up and over Beartooth Pass and across Yellowstone Park to land for my mid-day stop at West Yellowstone. I took a screenshot of my cockpit.
I landed at Butte, Montana. The following day, I took off from Butte and flew to Grangeville, Idaho. I simulated real-world weather conditions and barely survived the landing. I had a constant cross-wind of 12 knots with gusts up to 21 knots. This shot me diagonally across the runway, coming to a stop on the adjacent taxiway. Suddenly a gust of over 60 knots hit my plane broadside and flipped it into the air and over onto its top. It’s my only crash of the entire trip so far.
The take-off from Grangeville the next morning was stunning. I left a few minutes before sunrise and the scenery and lighting was very life-like.
From there, I mimicked my bike route to Oxbow, Oregon along the Snake River at Hells Canyon, then over to Baker City where I landed for lunch. The day ended at John Day, Oregon.
This trip has been an excellent learning experience. The airstrips and airports have been diverse. Flying in Colorado was a special challenge because of the high elevation airstrips and numerous 14,000+ mountain passes. Some take-offs required circling like a bird to gain enough altitude to move forward.
Back in 2012 I took a solo motorcycle trip from Oregon to Colorado that spanned 10 different states in 16 days (Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Wyoming (again), Montana, Idaho, and back to Oregon). One of my goals after setting up my flight simulator was to take that same trip virtually in a Cessna 172.
I began that virtual trip a few weeks ago and am currently parked at an airstrip in Durango, Colorado. I have mapped the trip to include takeoffs and landings at the same towns where I had overnight stays on my original motorcycle trip, and I even have landings and takeoffs in towns where I stopped for lunch. I’m trying to mimic the same route as realistically as possible, just in the transportation medium of flight.
One of the aspects of this trip I have implemented is detailed flight logs. I started by making notes in a spiral notebook as I flew, writing down flight date, departure airport, destination airport, and a few minor details along the way such as waypoints and altitude. I refined those notes to include more detail, then decided to use a formal flight log form that I fill out for each flight.
I used a spreadsheet to create a printable form that I put on a clipboard and fill out as I fly. I make notes every time I change course or altitude, with timestamps. About the only thing I don’t write down is my airspeed.
So far the logs have worked great, and I have really enjoyed the detail-oriented aspect of the process. Flying, once you’re at cruising altitude, can be somewhat boring, especially if you use autopilot. Making notes as you fly keeps your brain occupied, and gives you a reason to pay attention to your gauges and the other aspects of the flight, rather than just zoning out and getting bored.
You may download a printable PDF version of the logbook here.
The original Excel spreadsheet is available here [XLSX].
The Delta column is for denoting changes in altitude or bearing. I often use < or > to show changes in course for left or right, respectively, and up or down arrows with X fps or -X fps to show changes in altitude. For Altitude, I write the altitude I was at when I began the delta.
Over the weekend I completed the next phase of my home flight simulator project. This effort was spent enclosing the cockpit in a shell or box to at least somewhat mimic the inside of an airplane’s cockpit.
I didn’t pursue realism. I wanted versatility, low impact, low cost, and ease of construction. The size of the cockpit enclosure is rather large compared to a real airplane, 59″ wide and 60″ tall. There are no side windows or imitation door handles. What it does, however, is make me feel like I’m inside the simulator, rather than sitting halfway in a room staring at a computer sitting in a closet. It also lets me control the amount of light and even the air flow to a certain extent. Here are pictures of the enclosure so you can see what I mean.
The materials to build the ceiling panel and side panels cost about $125, all purchased at Home Depot. The entire structure can easily be removed without having to remove any screws or other hardware, other than unplug the USB-powered ceiling fan.
After using the enclosure, I will be attaching some lightweight material along the back to block out sunlight, as there is a window directly behind the camera in this photo and it makes the inside of the cockpit a little too bright during mid-day. I’ll attach the material with binder clips for easy removal. The ceiling fan does a good job of ventilating warm air from the PC (lower-right, behind the mouse stand) and keeps the enclosure relatively comfortable. The fans themselves are relatively quiet, but because of how I mounted them they make a slight buzzing sound which actually is similar to what a Cessna 172 sounds like when it flies overhead at 5,000 feet. When I fly I wear headphones and don’t hear the fans or PC, however, so it’s moot. To others in the room, though, it actually sounds like a prop-driven plane buzzing along (quietly).
Next steps include putting a shelf of some kind on the left-hand side of the cockpit chair. I’ve also been teased that I need to put posters of blue skies and clouds on the inside of the side panels. We’ll see.