Sunday, 9 June 2019

The VR Desk Tidy!

Other than the undeniable "Wow!" factor, and irrespective of the fact that VR is utterly awesome, who here can say that their Oculus Rift VR experience still doesn't need a little je ne sais quoi?!

As flight simmers, we would probably all agree that it can be a bit of a faff getting your VR setup and ready to go, and just when you ready to kick-off, hey presto, you need to dismount because you forgot to open that all important document or application?

There are differences between X-Plane and P3D VR. For instance, X-Plane users have Avitab which is a gloriously useful re-sizeable and movable tablet ready for use in any aircraft. It provides Navigraph access, a moving map, any PDF such as aircraft manuals, and so on.

I amongst many lament the loss of FlyInside for X-Plane as it allowed users to bring into their VR world any open application. In its place, the ever resourceful X-Plane community came up with MoveVR, a freeware plugin that allows users to import open applications one by one into VR.

When it comes to VR under P3D4, however, this is a step too far. Whilst I like P3D's roaming eye-centred dot to facilitate clicking, there is still no possibility of importing apps into VR.

Then quite out of the blue, I found the solution...

Why not bring your entire desktop into VR?

Whilst this facility has been present and ready for use all along, it has presumably stayed untapped. It also happens to be a portable solution which works well under XP11 and P3D4.

Here's how...

1. Some button familiarisation...

2. When running VR inside your sim, pick-up your right hand OR controller...

3. Press the "Oculus Rift" Home button to enter the curved home screen...  

4. Click on the "Monitor" icon and select which desktop [monitor] you wish to import...

5. Point at the desktop, and clasp it using the button that falls to the middle finger...

6. Keep the grasp going; simultaneously move the thumb joystick to resize and/or zoom the desktop and rotate the entire controller to position the miniature desktop onto your lap....

7. Once in position, point the hand controller at the bottom right hand corner and click the trigger at the small "pin" icon...

8. Once your mini-desktop is pinned, aim the controller at your sim icon, and click...

9. And that is how you do that - your mini desktop is now on your lap and you have full mouse control on any app shown on it!

And if that wasn’t enough, if you start the MS Windows "On Screen Keyboard", you can equip your desktop with a mouse clickable keyboard too. 

Let me tell you how great this is. The ability to import into VR a full desktop plus running apps including a web browser is like the proverbial missing link.

It is that important, period.


Saturday, 8 June 2019

Born Again: DC-3


In line with this years 75 year anniversary of D-Day, I have developed an ever so slight fever pitched fixation about the venerable DC-3, C-47, Dakota, Skytrain, or Gooney Bird depending on your preferred name for this iconic machine.

I’ve watched several YouTube videos covering the gathering of DC-3 types at Duxford and Old Warden. How fabulous it is to see so many of these grand old timers flying together and sharing the same skies as once they did in such difficult times. 

I also stumbled upon a series of videos produced by Buffalo Airline’s Mikey who, with a team of engineers and enthusiasts, pieced together bit by bit an old ramp resident DC-3 in the space of just six months.

It was said that it wouldn’t fly again as it had been derelict and standing open to the elements for far too long. At the start of their project, it had no doors, no hatches, no engines, no instruments, no seats, and definitely no heater. 

Their goal was to get it airborne in time for D-Day 2019, and to their credit, they managed it. They worked tirelessly through thick and thin to get the job done. I was quite reminded of how these machines were once kept airworthy through thick and thin by way of the talented and dedicated engineering ingenuity of the bygone era in question. 

“Plane Savers” is a great series on YouTube, especially the last where she finally becomes again airborne with Buffalo’s Joe at the controls.

Poignant and rousing moments indeed, be they celluloid or digital, these are all fitting tributes to all that has passed.

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Spin Training!

David Gunston said in his now famous 2004 after dinner speech "What goes up might come down" that as an ATC officer, whenever dealing with helicopters he never really got a handle on why helicopters never screwed themselves into the ground instead of flying!

Should you be determined enough to take a whirlybird out for a spirally spin, perhaps to test out their questionable right to fly for yourself, I thought that I would share with you some of the exceptional freeware helicopters that are available for X-Plane 11 at the X-Plane.Org.

Bell 429 Skid or Landing Gear by Timber61

Twin engine royalty with a full VC, RealityXP GNS compatibility, and many fantastic repaints.

Bell 206 by joe_rowe

Equipped with a fully operational VC, great night lighting, working trim and governor (read the manuals), and Avitab.

AĆ©rospatiale Gazelle 1.0.1 by JohnBray

Full VC and great looking PBR ready model.

Robinson R44 Raven II V2 by Brett S

An update for X-Plane 11.33; uses default XP systems and now has a working governor.

Mil Mi-2 by Ekre

This Russian go anywhere workhorse of a helicopter comes with a huge list of features including fully operational custom coded VC, haze effects, agricultural sprinkler effects, custom Russian style cockpit colours including red night lighting, Avitab, ability to personalise the VC with your own images, rain effect, and lots more!

Mil-8 by user124

Comes with a fully functional and authentically Russian VC, and has numerous liveries available for it too - check it out on this YouTube video!

That's about it for now, except  for one or two honourable mentions such as the Airbus H120 Colibri by John Bray and the ELA 07S Autogyro by Dom Henry.

If you've not yet listened to David Gunston's after dinner speech, then do make the time to do so as he has that wonderful droll intonation that few are gifted with, but don't listen to it whilst driving or, dare I say, flying!

Sunday, 26 May 2019

XP11: B737 Ultimatums!

Warning! Extreme Hyperbole Ahead!

I believe that the word that I am looking for to best describe the B737-700 and 737-900 Ultimate is...


The ubiquitous X-Plane 11 B737 comes in several different flavours. To begin with, there's the default XP11 737-800 which out of the box is infinitely better than the FSX default 737, and there's simply no arguing with that.

And then you have the legendary 737-800 Zibo Mod which has justly earned its place in flight simulation history because it is as good as, if not better, than the PMDG 737 NGX, and what's more, it's free!

Next up are two relative newcomers both of which are free. First up is the 737-700 Ultimate by AudioBirdand and next comes the 737-900 Ultimate by Captain Kitten.

Both are essentially the Zibo mod but re-imagined with the appropriate fuselage, flight dynamics, and systems as per their real world counterparts. Not only do you get a full and accurate FMC, but you also get integration with other well known X-Plane freeware add-ons, including...

Terrain Radar by Dr Gluck
Avitab by Folko
BetterPushback by SKiselkov

They also include FMOD sounds, flight dynamics, rain effects, and so much more.

In a nutshell, these are keepers, period.

You have no excuse to not indulge.

Friday, 24 May 2019

Ultra Weather XP V2.5: Storm Clouds

It has taken a while, but finally we can say that X-Plane clouds have reached a point where they are comparable to some of the fluffy formations found under the skies of the ESP platform with the likes of HiFi and REX!

Ultra Weather XP V2.5 has seemingly broken the boundaries of cloud depiction to bring you fabulously rendered clouds with a superior cloud passing effect thrown in.

For $35 you get a modest selection of cloud types to choose from, each with varying degrees of blue tint. You also receive lighting effects along with open water colours too.

You have to jump through one or two hoops in order to inject the textures into your active environment (reload textures), but this is clearly explained in the accompanying PDF.

I must say that it all looks fantastic, and even if it doesn't offer thunderous towering CB's, for a short exquisite moment, all was well with my X-Plane cloud surfing.

However, the immersion was broken when after a long flight I found myself descending on finals to the point where I expected the clouds to fade away leaving the airport smack bang in front of me...

...but the clouds on this particular day were stubborn. Instead of shrinking away, they stayed solid and unyielding. No problem I thought, some excellent variance in the cloud base is no bad thing, and really I should have listened to the updated ATIS.

No, I was to be disappointed because my clouds went right down to sea level instead of sitting obediently at the METAR indicated 2000'. Let me be clear that this was a two thousand foot discrepancy.

And history repeated itself on my next flight. In fact I wasn't alone because other users were reporting on the UWXP Facebook page that their clouds were often similarly at odds with the ground.

The developer is clear that there is no way around this problem, and that the essence of the issue is to do with 4K texturing and Laminar Research's terrain blending. You at least get a slider to add blending in case things don't appear as they should.

UWXP has a feature called "Avoid Cut-Off" which can be set to auto in an effort to determine where the cloud base should lie in the case of cloud vs. terrain issues. There is a manual option in the form of a slider to raise or lower the cloud base, but the trouble is that one doesn't know where to set the slider until literally breaking out of cloud. Auto in my case resulted in entirely wayward cloud bases which in my book is a no-no when flying VFR or IFR under IMC or VMC conditions. Sorry, but cloud base lottery isn't a game that I wish to play.

There are excellent things about this package such as it being VR ready, but I would say that it is better suited to VFR flight than IFR for IMC

Flight simulation: It's always going to be a bitter sweet blend of technical headaches and mind blowing experiences. In this case, it is both.