Category: Aircraft

Aircraft shadows and icons in 11.10

With 11.10 there is a new way aircraft only shadows are done, as well as how aircraft icons are generated. The big change is how we calculate the volume of the aircraft which up until now was based on all OBJ files that the aircraft ships with, including things like ground- and fuel trucks, stairs etc. The reason this is undesirable is because the greater the volume of the aircraft, the worse its realtime shadow quality will be because we use the volume of the aircraft to calculate our shadow map area. The bigger that area, the worse the shadow quality and the more pixelated it will look like. In an ideal world, the aircraft volume tightly hugs around the actual aircraft and we get the best shadow quality possible. With 11.10, hopefully this ideal world is finally here!

Why and how we failed before

Before 11.10 the aircraft volume was based on the volume of, well, the aircraft. However, this includes things such as the aforementioned ground trucks, fuel trucks and what have you, that artificially blow up the volume calculation. The problem is, all these objects are technically part of the aircraft (eg. we move them around with the aircraft), but they are for the most part invisible and most people wouldn’t actually consider them to be part of the aircraft proper.

In 11.05 we added a change to also consider the physical volume which kind of has the right size for the plane but doesn’t include OBJs. It is based on the physical size of the plane only, which sounds like it’s the right thing. However, as it turns out, this volume breaks badly for things such as helicopters because the rotor of some third party helicopters are attached OBJs and won’t be considered part of the physical volume of the helicopter.

At this point I should probably also quickly note what happens if the shadow volume is too small: Everything that gets clipped by the shadow volume will cast a shadow into infinity and beyond due to the way the shadow mapping works. This is especially bad for the helicopters that now have very quickly rotating bits that are constantly clipped by the shadow volume resulting in shadows flickering all over the place.

In short: What we want is a shadow volume that is as tight as possible around the aircraft for shadow quality, but not too tight because that also leads to problems.

What’s new in 11.10

In 11.10 the algorithm to compute the shadow volume has been completely changed. Instead of trying to jiggle around with the physical volume and the volume of all OBJs together and then coming up with a sane value, X-Plane now looks at what is actually being rendered. We start out with the physical bounding volume as before, but then we look at what is actually rendered! For that, we go through every OBJ that is marked as casting shadows and run the OBJ engine as if we were to render the whole thing. So OBJ animations as well as kill datarefs etc are considered. This happens during the first frame, so everything is set up the way it would be during normal rendering. Everything that is visible will be marked as such and the shadow volume will be expanded to include this OBJ.

The result is a volume with a tight fit around what is actually visible and therefore considered “aircraft”. Everything else is not included in the shadow volume and therefore stops casting shadows altogether. Of course, this is only in aircraft only shadow mode and is not used when scenery shadows are on. In that case, everything is handled like it was before and everything that is supposed to cast shadows does cast shadows. So, if you see missing shadows in aircraft only shadow mode, this is probably due to this change.

To visualize the differences, here are 4 screenshots showing the quality difference as well as the new shadow volume:


One thing that should be noted though is that going forwards these kinds of extra OBJs should really be done via the new drawing API in the 3.0 SDK! This allows us to very accurately determine the size of the aircraft but it also means that culling will become more accurate. The old method will of course continue to work, but it’s not the best or most efficient way to approach ground vehicles and other ground clutter.

Aircraft icons

The calculated volume for the whole aircraft with attached OBJs was also used for the aircraft icon generation. This led to some weird cases where the camera was positioned in such way that the aircraft was incredibly tiny due to the fact that we tried to get “everything” in at once. So far the recommendation was for authors to create a version of their aircraft without all the extra OBJs attached, but now that we have an adequate measure of the aircraft volume this is fixed as well! Aircraft icons should be correctly generated now with the camera positioned to capture the plane at the right distance.

There is one more fix for aircraft icons: Some authors created aircraft that did some clever culling based on where the pilots head is and then using the kill dataref to prevent parts of the aircraft from being rendered. Reading the view dataref now correctly reports the camera as being an external camera so that those custom culling solutions work with the aircraft icon generator. If your aircraft still doesn’t generate proper icons after 11.10, please file a bug report and let us know!

Posted in Aircraft by | 26 Comments

Improving AI Aircraft

AI planes face two major issues in X-Plane 11:

  1. AI aircraft are often way more resource-intensive than they need to be. Users are fine paying a performance penalty to load, say, a super detailed 3-D cockpit model for their own aircraft, but for AI planes, where you’re never going to be in the cockpit, there’s no reason for that sort of thing. A significantly “dumbed down” version of the same aircraft would allow users to load more AI planes at once, with no visible downsides during normal use.
  2. Many aircraft, for one reason or another, simply won’t function at all when used as AI planes. This is most commonly due to one of two issues:
    • reliance on third-party plugins (which only work for the user’s plane)
    • lack of support from X-Plane for flying aircraft like this (for instance, the X-Plane AI doesn’t know how to fly gliders, seaplanes, or rockets)

As a user, this is really frustrating, because it’s difficult or impossible to know in advance which aircraft will work as AI planes and which will either a) just sit on the runway, never able to take off, and/or b) tank your frame rate.

Coming in X-Plane 11.10: AI-Only and User-Only Aircraft

In the upcoming X-Plane 11.10 beta, we’ve added two new options to Plane Maker’s Author window: “supports user flight” and “supports AI flight.” By default, all aircraft support user flight, and do not support use as AI aircraft.

If a plane is configured for AI flight only, it will never be shown in the normal aircraft grid—only in the AI aircraft window.

If a plane is configured for user-flight only (or if it’s a pre–11.10 aircraft with no “supported flight type” info), it will be hidden in the AI aircraft window by default, but for the sake of backward compatibility with old planes, users will still be able to reveal them by checking a box labeled “Show aircraft without AI support.”

The upshot for aircraft authors

In the Glorious Future, we envision third parties shipping two versions of their aircraft:

  • one marked user only, which include all the bells and whistles, plugin-enhancements, and as much detail as possible
  • one marked AI only, which is stripped down for performance, only using plugin enhancements that have been tested in AI configurations.

The result will be a faster, more consistent, less error prone experience for users.

Posted in Aircraft by | 19 Comments

Three lesser known aircraft features for 11.10

These smaller features are likely to be overshadowed by the release of the G1000 for default aircraft in 11.10, so I decided to dedicate a blog post to promote the articles I’ve written  – you can find them among all the guides for aircraft developers:

Electric and remote gyro systems

Back in April, I flew a Mooney M20J with a KCS55A HSI in it, and realised that it was impossible to model in X-Plane correctly, so I got to work. See the manual for an explanation of this popular HSI/remote gyro system.

I’ve written a usage guide on the new datarefs and commands that I added, along with some more detailed explanation of all the different gyro systems X-Plane simulates, in this guide for aircraft developers. I also talked about the systems at length in a Youtube live stream earlier this year.

Separate GPSS autopilot mode

This is a feature that many add-on aircraft already simulate to some degree, but by means of more or less reliable plugin trickery. The X-Plane 11 default 737 and 747 are no exception. With X-Plane 11.10, a separate GPS steering mode for the autopilot becomes a standard feature.
The new datarefs and commands are explained in detail here.

Screen-only popup instrument windows

Several people who build home-cockpit setups have asked about removing the bezels from the popup displays, so they can have only the screen of a GNS430/530, FMS or G1000 instrument to put on an external monitor, with a hardware bezel around it. While this can already be achieved through some clever hacking in the Miscellaneous.prf file, we now offer a more straightforward way to do this: The popup and pop-out windows now get their bezel graphics from the library system, so you can override the bezel graphics. How to override the bezel with nothing, if your bezel is made of hardware? Simply supply a 1×1 pixel blank .png as a bezel graphic, and X-Plane will know that you really want no bezel at all. In the case of a bezel-less 430, you’d put a 1×1 pixel png as the “cockpit/radios/GPS FMS/Garmin_430_2d.png” resource of your plane.

Posted in Aircraft, Aircraft & Modeling, Cockpits, Panels, Uncategorized by | 31 Comments

Request for XPlane2Blender Documentation Improvements

Please tell me what confuses you about XPlane2Blender on this bug, or here!

We are going to be releasing the XPlane2Blender 3.4 beta soon, and with it, a refresh of the UI and documentation. Thanks to a great e-mail about a lack of documentation, it was put as an important part of 3.4 release roadmap. It goes to show… we can’t fix it if we don’t know what’s wrong, even if its not a code problem. And we do want to fix it, I swear!

In addition, I want to remind everyone a core part of the Laminar Research philosophy, identity, and business plan is a thriving modding and third-party plugin ecosystem. Aside from build scripts and the like, Laminar Research employees use the same scenery development tools that are available to all. This is was a deliberate choice that elevates everyone to the same level – except when there is a gap of knowledge. This is never intentional, and never benefits anyone in the long run, especially third-party-devs. If your work is suffering because we forgot that not everyone knows what every little checkbox means, tell us! We’ll put it in the bug queue like everything else, and try to get back to you, personally, quickly.

Posted in Aircraft, Aircraft & Modeling, Cockpits, Documentation, Modeling, Panels by | 29 Comments

FMOD Video Tutorial

We have a new video tutorial on using FMOD to add custom sounds to X-Plane 11. This simple tutorial shows how to add a snapshot and an event in FMOD.

The video also has a permanent home on the video page of this site, and on the X-Plane YouTube channel.

As always, let us know your thoughts in the comments and if you have requests for other tutorials. I’m starting to get the hang of creating movies, and if you don’t troll me too hard about the quality I might make more. 😉

Posted in Aircraft, Screencasts by | 12 Comments

Suddenly surrounded by heliports? How to configure airport criteria for aircraft

With X-Plane 11.02 the built-in GPS and FMS units for X-Plane 11 aircraft will also display heliports and seaplane bases. While this change is obviously needed badly for the helicopter flying community, improperly configured fixed-wing aircraft might suddenly feel themselves confronted with unsuitable options in the nearest airport selection pages and on the moving map.

Filter criteria

Every X-Plane aircraft has three parameters for airport and runway filtering that can be used to configure the moving map. These settings have existed for a long time, influenced which airports were displayed on the moving map, and kind of worked with the X-Plane 10 GPS as well. X-Plane 11 completely broke those settings for airplanes using the new X430/530 GPS, and not all aircraft authors go through the trouble of setting them up correctly.

X-Plane 11.02 correctly filters airports for GPS and FMS use as well as for the moving map based on these parameters. Because the GPS now also displays heliports and seaplane bases, it is important to set these filter parameters correctly in Plane Maker, to prevent unecessary clutter on the map.

The three settings are:

  1. Only Airports on Map – If not checked, the GPS and moving maps will show helipads and seaports. Check when you do not want those to show up in the nearest airport list on the GPS
  2. Only Paved Runways on Map – If not checked, the GPS and moving maps will show airports with no solid runways like grass, gravel and water surfaces
  3. Minimum Runway Length to Show on Map – This will filter out airports where the longest runway is shorter than this distance

Note that the these settings work on a per-airport basis. That means:

  • At an airport with both runways and helipads, the helipads will still be shown regardless of setting.
  • At an airport with both paved and grass or water runways, both runways will still be shown.
  • In other words, airports are filtered out if they ONLY have helipads, or ONLY soft runways
  • For seaplanes, leave the “Only Airports” box unchecked but enter a runway length number in order to supress the heliports.

If you already set these parameters in the past and they worked in X-Plane 10, there’s nothing for you to do. If you never bothered to set them, and suddenly see places inappropriate for landing show up in your built-in GPS, that is why.

Posted in Aircraft, Aircraft & Modeling by | 9 Comments

New Manipulators and the Mouse Wheel

First, we are making progress toward X-Plane 10.50. I sent out a private beta a few days ago; how soon we get to public beta will depend on how buggy the private beta turns out to be. (I am assuming that it will have zero bugs, because I have decided to not write any more bugs in my code. So…there, I fixed it.)

Coming in 10.50: X-Plane supports new manipulators.

  1. In 10.50 you can add scroll wheel to any of the existing manipulators that takes one dataref. This is done via a second directive that sets the amount the dataref changes when the wheel moves.*
  2. There are six new manipulators (they form a set) to support knobs and three-way switches. Each one takes a pair of commands and provides a consistent UI experience.
  3. The no-op manipulator now takes a tool-tip, which lets you make tool tips for gauges and other unclickable geometry.

I want to make two things clear here:

  • This is support for these manipulators in the engine. This means that we can use them in our aircraft and third parties can use them in their aircraft. Adding these manipulators is a separate task, one we are working on, but which won’t be complete as of 10.50.
  • Third parties are welcome to use the new manipulators, and they are welcome to follow our internal usage guidelines. They are also welcome to keep doing what they are doing; none of this is binding, everything is opt-in.  Nothing about this breaks compatibility with any existing aircraft.

Why Did We Add These?

We’ve had a long term internal goal of making the 3-d cockpit as usable and user-friendly as possible. We’ve reached a point where 3-d cockpits are the norm, and all of our new aircraft development is 3-d only. But you can’t deny that 2-d cockpits are incredibly usable from a user interface standpoint. How do you make 3-d usable?

We already have view presets to let you get to a particular cockpit view easily. Once you have a good view of the surface you want to interact with, the next step is to have a mouse gesture that’s easy to use.

This is where the new manipulators come in. Rather than describing a mouse gesture (drag, click, etc.) they describe a type of physical hardware, one of a rotating knob, left-right multi-way switch or up-down multi-way switch.

Because the manipulators describe the physical hardware and not how the UI should work, we can change the interaction mode based on user preferences, available hardware, etc.

One of the big UI questions is: should you change a knob by clicking and holding or dragging? I built a test airplane with some of each and the company was split down the middle. By using knob manipulators (and not click or drag manipulators) we can change the way knobs work in the cockpit for all airplanes with one change of the code, rather than having our art team redo every single manipulator in every single airplane.

I don’t know whether we’ll use dragging or clicking-based knobs – or whether a user preference will be exposed. But by having a higher level manipulator type we make this a small programming problem and not an unmanageable authoring problem.

(The new knob manipulator automatically uses the scroll wheel – since we know it’s a knob, we can figure out how the wheel should work. The new command to add scroll wheel to legacy manipulators is necessary to provide the data the sim needs to make the user interaction good.)

The new higher level manipulators also give us flexibility for new input devices. For example, if we someday want to support multi-touch tablets and track-pads, we could map a pinch-rotate gesture to a knob – since we know the manipulator really is a round knob (and not just ‘something that you drag’) we can know that a rotating gesture makes sense.

How Do I Add Them?

The new manipulators are already supported in code in the Blender 2.7, Blender 2.49 and and AC3D. The manipulators are released in the newest Blender 2.7 exporter; I need to post newer 2.49 exporters. I do not know if/when there will be a public release of the AC3D exporter, but I can probably find the time at some point to do one more compile.

All aspects of the new manipulators are opt-in; if you don’t change your airplane, its functionality should not change.

What Aircraft Use Them

I’ve buried the lead a little bit here: X-Plane 10.50 will have a heavily upgraded Kingair C90 and Baron B58 that will use the new manipulators. We have not (yet) upgraded the rest of the fleet, and this upgrade will happen over a very long time-span. The goal of 10.50 is to lay the groundwork and make cleaner user interfaces possible by making the new manipulators available to our art team and third parties.

The guidelines I’ve been advocating for our artists are:

  • Large things that move a lot like throttles are dragged via an axis that tracks the actual 3-d motion.
  • Yokes track via a 2-d XY manipulator.
  • Anything that toggles or has only two states is a single click, particularly for small things.
  • Rotary knobs and rheostats use the new knob manipulators. The mouse wheel can turn them.
  • Linear switches with three or more positions use the new left-right and up-down switch manipulators. The mouse wheel can click them.

There’s no reason why third parties have to use these guidelines; I post them only to show how we are thinking about usability. A more “3-d” approach is possible, e.g. drag a banana switch up and down to toggle it; my view is that for Laminar’s default fleet, which are the first aircraft users are going to use, single clicks provide a more direct and less surprising user experience.

For power users, having single clicks for switches may also mean you can get more done in the cockpit faster. (In real life, a pilot can reach up and flip four metal banana switches on the overhead panel very, very quickly.) We’ll still use dragging for big 3-d motions.


*This feature targets one-wheel clicking Windows-style mice. 2/3 of our users are on Windows, and Apple has shipped a wide variety of strange input devices, so the one-axis clicking mouse wheel is the most consistent hardware target for us to aim at. And frankly, I think it’s the most useful since you get clear ‘detents’ as you scroll things – good for changing a radio by one notch.

Posted in Aircraft, Development by | 21 Comments

Blender 2.7 Exporter: New Version

Ondrej has posted a public thread about the new version of the Blender 2.7 exporter here.

The 3.3 release is the first release where we (Laminar Research) have worked closely with Ondrej to build what we hope will be one of the future cornerstones of modeling for X-Plane.

If you are currently using Blender 2.49 or AC3D, I expect that 2.73 will provide the best way forward for modeling in X-Plane.

New Stuff

The new release has a few major features, all aiming to create a new modern work-flow:

  • All animation bugs are fixed. (At least,we think – if you find one, please report it ASAP!) This means animation is WYSIWYG.  Armatures are supported for animation as well as animated data block containers.
  • The exporter understands all modern OBJ features, including ones scheduled for release in X-Plane 10.50.
  • Instancing is handled via a single option with exporter validation, so you don’t have to know how instancing works to get instancing.
  • The material rules are validated, and materials are found automatically; you can simply model as you want and Blender will do its best to export it or tell you if there is a problem.
  • Specular and Normal maps are ‘merged’ together from two separate sources.  This lets you set specularity and normal maps in separate material channels in Blender for a more WYSIWYG approach.  It also means no more messing with Photoshop to combine these layers.

The goal of many of these is to hide the idiosyncrasies of X-Plane’s modeling format and provide a cleaner, more artist-friendly view of modeling.

Regarding instancing: the model we have adopted is the one we used internally on the 2.49 exporter: you (the artist) tag an export as either “instanced” or not.

  • If instancing is on, the exporter writes only data to the OBJ that will be hardware-instanced by X-Plane.  If you do something that cannot be instanced, like animation, you get an export error telling you what you have to remove.
  • If instancing is off, the exporter writes the object normally.

The win here is that you don’t have to know the (complicated) instancing rules; set instancing for the scenery objects you need to make fast in bulk (e.g. a luggage cart, a house, something that will be used many times in a small area) and you’ll get optimal output.

Optimization – Coming Soon

The goal of the 3.3 release was to set up an environment where authors could work using the new work flow. We have not finished optimizing the OBJ output.

If you are using the existing 2.7 exporter for airplane work, the output should be similar in performance. If you are using the 2.49 exporter, the new output is (like the current 2.7 exporter) not as well optimized.

In a future update, we will tighten up the generated OBJ code; this should not affect anyone other than producing better OBJs.


The new exporter should be fully work-flow compatible with the previous Blender 2.7 exporter; if you find your existing project does not work, please file a bug!

Our plan is to create a migration tool for Blender 2.49 projects; this will forward-convert the datarefs on annotations, manipulators, and object properties from 2.49 to 2.73 format. This lets authors using 2.49 move forward to 2.73 and have a migration path for existing content. (This work is not started yet, but is planned – we have our own aircraft we need to keep working on.)

Posted in Aircraft, Aircraft & Modeling, Development, File Formats, Scenery, Tools by | 15 Comments

Don’t Ship Payware Using Beta Plane-Maker

In my previous post I mentioned that re-saving your aircraft in Plane-Maker from X-Plane 10.45 would opt you in to the new fixed torque model.

I’ve talked about this before, but it might bear repeating now:

Please do not ship an aircraft saved with a beta version of Plane-Maker.  Instead wait for X-plane to go final or use the previous non-beta version of X-Plane.

The problem is that file formats change during beta and if they do we do not provide compatibility; the file format is only “for real” when beta is over.

So if you need the torque bug fix, plan to ship your aircraft in a week or two when 10.45 beta is over.  If you need to ship now, use Plane-Maker 10.42.  Test against the beta, but don’t save using it.

Posted in Aircraft, Aircraft & Modeling by | 2 Comments

How to Apply the Torque Fix to Your Aircraft

X-Plane 10.45 beta 1 fixes a bug in X-Plane’s flight model where props applied too much torque to the aircraft. The effect is most noticeable on single engine aircraft where the prop torque is applied along the center of the fuselage.

Authors: in order to have the new correct torque applied to your aircraft, you must resave your aircraft in Plane-Maker 10.45. When X-Plane finds an aircraft authored with an old Plane-Maker, which includes all existing aircraft already shipped, we preserve the old torque behavior.

We put in this compatibility because some aircraft have plugins and other work-arounds that try to get correct flight dynamics assuming X-Plane will apply too much torque.  If we were to apply the fix to these planes, they’d then have too little torque (because we’d apply less torque and the work-around would already be in place). So this is an opt-in fix.

Authors: if you use Plane-Maker 10.45 to work on your aircraft, you will be opted in to the fix!  There is no way to work on a new aircraft and preserve the old torque. Our thinking is: the old torque calculating is physically wrong, so we’re not letting anyone preserve this mistake when working on a new aircraft.

So when you bring your aircraft in for its next feature update, note that you will be getting the torque fix and you should make sure the results are useful.

Posted in Aircraft, Aircraft & Modeling by | 6 Comments