Author Archives: James Allen

About James Allen

I am an Australian living in Canberra. I am keenly interested in flight simulation including general aviation and virtual airline activities. My favourite flight simulation is activity is cross-country soaring in gliders. I am a member of the UK Virtual Gliding Association. I have no real-world flying experience other than about 20 or so training flights in gliders.

Condor2: My 1st cross-country glider flight and initial impressions

Making a video of this, my 1st cross-country glider task using Condor2, was a rash choice, because it has been more than three years since I last flew in Condor. So you may as well say that I am a newbie with this sim.  Thus my first cross-country flight was marred somewhat by my lack of experience with this simulator. I stopped using Condor because I found that the wealth of high quality add-ons for the ESP based sims (FSX and P3D) provided a more satisfying and immersive experience for cross-country soaring than could be achieved with Condor. I did purchase one good quality photo-realistic scenery add-on for CONDOR, but it was still not as well suited to low altitude flying as the Orbx FTX global and regional sceneries are in FSX and P3D.

Moreover, the sound effects in Condor have always been reminiscent of cheap arcade games in my opinion.

On the other hand, Condor has always excelled at glider flight modelling, soaring environment modelling, and provides multiplayer competition features for online events that are second to none. So it is not surprising that Condor is very popular with real-world glider pilots and virtual cross-country glider racing enthusiasts in general.

Since it has been such a long time since I last used Condor prior to the release of Condor2, I decided not to attempt  to compare the two versions. Instead, I treated this as a new gliding simulator and any comparisons tend to be with the ESP based simulators (FSX and P3D) or X-Plane 11. Also, I did not attempt to test the multiplayer features in this initial look at the new release. Nor did I test the task creation features.

My test task was the default task with default Slovenia2 scenery.  I decided to fly the  Avionic Diana-2, a 15 m water ballasted racing sailplane.  This is a flapped glider and I neglected to get hold of a flight manual for this glider, so I may not have been using the flaps correctly.  Also, I was having major problems elevator trim range at typical cruise speeds and I could not find any range adjustment in the settings. This meant that I had a lot of trouble controlling my speed on this task, although the trim worked quite well at low speed when thermalling.

CONCLUSIONS:

Out of the box, the default scenery is not overly bad, but I really expect something a little better from a product released in 2018.  Also the ESP based simulators (FSX and P3D) and X-Plane 11 have the advantage of worldwide scenery coverage, whereas Condor2 only includes scenery for Slovenia out of the box. Obviously there will be other freeware or payware add-on scenery areas available, but I suspect that you can only load a single scenery area for any given flight.  This could be a limiting factor when designing tasks.

You cannot directly import real-world weather into Condor2, although I was able to approximate some historical weather manually.  The weather user interface is very crude in functionality and rather simplistic compared to other flight sims like FSX , P3D and X-Plane 11. Most annoying to me was that could enter settings such temperatures, wind speed and wind direction using the keyboard  – I had to drag graphic objects to change the associated values, which is awkward and imprecise.

On the other hand there was a reasonable assortment of settings to control the characteristics of thermals. although you still could not use precise values. Also, you cannot define a detailed wind gradient in terms of speed and/or direction. There is one upper wind settings but this is mainly to set the amount of wave lift and presumably is locked in direction to your defined surface wind.

There is a setting for the height of a single inversion layer but this seems to be restricted to placement above the cloud base and controls the height of cloud tops and the width of cloud base.  There is no prevision for an inversion below cloud base such as we have in the CumulusX! add-on for FSX.

The cloud texture in Condor2 looked quite reasonable and they dynamically adjust their textures to the cycles of the associated thermals. So I could watch clouds form at the top of new thermals and then fade away as the thermals reached the end of their life. In general, the modelling of thermals is the best I have seen in any simulator I have tried so far.  I did not test the wave lift, nor the ridge lift in this task because the wind that I chose for this specific task was too light (only around six knots).

The flight model for the Diana-2 glider seemed convincing to me, although I have never flown a single seat high performance glider similar to this in real-world.  On the other hand, I was troubled by the modelling of turbulence and stall vibration, which seemed too harsh and very hard on my eyes – I am not sure whether that is a limitation in my sim PC performance or not. Also the modelling of turbulence seemed too simplistic with not enough variability in amplitude and frequency.

I was not able to get the elevator trim axis to work with my Logitech Joystick slider – the trim ran out of range above about 60 knots, which made speed regulation on the cruise segments of the test task very difficult.  Also, I could not get the elevator trim axis to recognise my GoFlight trim wheel, so I had to fall back on using the Logitech throttle axis as trim control.  Thus,  I have some more testing and work to do to sort this out. I might have to to revert to using indexed trim control using up and down buttons, which is not ideal for gliding.

There does not seem to be any support for the GoFlight LGT II gear lever.   Condor2 seems to only provide a gear toggle option, which caused no end of trouble for me when I tried to map it to the 3 position gear lever on the GoFlight LGT II.

I have not seen any mention of VR support for Condor2, which is a big concern to me because I am intending to purchase a VR headset soon.

Overall, I think that Condor2 has a lot of potential for virtual gliding enthusiasts, and if I can work out some of the issues mentioned, then I will likely be using this simulator for some of my future gliding adventures.

 

MY CONDOR2 SETTINGS FOR THIS INITIAL TEST TASK:

Setup options are available from the “SETUP” button in the main menu:

Condor 2

 

I chose to use windowed mode but otherwise used the highest available graphics settings.  I initially tried to use fullscreen mode, but my display monitor blanked the display and showed a configuration error. This error may be due to the fact that I feed the video signal through a pass-through on a video capture card – I will have to do some more testing to confirm this.

Graphics

 

I left the sound settings at defaults. I hindsight I should have reduced the vario volume slightly because it was a bit too loud for video recording.

Sound

I do not have a force feedback stick, so I unchecked that. Also I added some non-linearity to my rudder pedals, based on experience with other simulators.

Input

 

I think these settings are for multiplayer use, so I ignored them.

Network

 

I set my units to “Australian” because I like to have speed in knots and height in feet. Also enabled the NMEA GPS output for future use with XCSoar or TopHat glide computers., but I did not attempt connect my XCSoar , nor the TopHat glide computers for this test task.

Options

 

MY TASK CONFIGURATION:

I used the default task in Condor2, but I changed the date and time to: 5th August 2017 at 13:00 local time, because according the historical weather in Active Sky, this seemed to be a good day for thermal soaring.

Task

The following screenshots show my weather settings, which were based on historical weather downloaded from Active Sky 2016:

Weather

 

Thermals

 

Waves

 

Upper level clouds

 

My choice of aircraft was the Avionic Diana-2:

Plane

 

I decided fly without water ballast for this first test task because the task is quite short. Note that on my second attempt, I changed the C/G to be 3 cm forward towards the nose in an attempt to improve the elevator trim range (adjustment is not shown in this snapshot.)

Plane settings

 

I left these settings at default, except for Aerotow height, which I increased to 3,000 feet AGL.

 

NOTAM

 


 

Prepar3D V4 Nephi 100 Km triangle glider speed challenge

 

This flight adventure was my attempt, using Prepar3D V4, to emulate a real-world gliding speed challenge.  My P3D flight was inspired by one of Bruno Vassel’s excellent YouTube videos (see links below).  In that video, Bruno broke the Utah 100 km triangle speed record of 95.2 mph set back in 2003 by flying an average 100.23 mph (162 km/h) in a Schleicher ASW 27b glider on the 5th August 2017 at Nephi, Utah (u14).

Link to Bruno’s speed challenge flight video:  https://youtu.be/pIsUk0c8Sck
Link to Bruno’s YouTube channel (highly recommended):  http://phoebus.vassel.com

My YouTube flight:

To emulate Bruno Vassel’s real-world speed challenge in a somewhat convincing way, I undertook the following actions and configuration settings:

Task replication: I replicated Bruno’s flight task by extracting the waypoint data from the IGC logfile captured on Bruno’s flight, and then converted the data to an FSX flight plan using a Python script that I had developed.

This is the resultant flight plan in Little Navmap:

Flight Plan

 

Choice of glider model: The choice of glider model was easy.  I used the ASW27b model from Wolfgang Piper’s collection of freeware gliders for FSX and P3D. This matches up nicely with Bruno’s glider, although there are likely some differences due to limitations in the simulator flight modelling.

Link to Wolfgang Pipers website: https://www.fsglider.de/

 

Payload and ballast settings: To maximise my cruise speed performance, I set the payload and ballast in P3D to give the maximum take-off payload of 500 kg.  I also set the pilot weight and ballast to bring the centre of gravity slightly forward of default to improve high speed trimming as shown in the following snapshot:

Payload

 

Weather settings: To approximate the weather conditions of Bruno’s flight, I initially explored the possibility of using Active Sky 2016 (AS16) to inject historical weather directly into the sim. The problem with that approach was that the AS16 add-on chose stratus clouds when the historical meta data left the lower cloud layer type unspecified and the soaring environment add-on (CumulusX!) will not produce thermals when stratus clouds are present in the lowest cloud layer.

To get around that problem, I tried using a snapshot of the historical weather in manual mode and then changed the cloud type to cumulus but then I ran into other problems.  Firstly the upper level wind layers had enough wind shear to make thermalling in the simulator almost impossible. Also AS16 seemed to generate too many clouds for the specified cloud coverage, which did not look anything like the real-world conditions seen in Bruno’s video. Moreover, the extra clouds exacerbated performance issues that I have been experiencing lately in my simulator.

In the end, I decided to use the historical data from AS16 as a guide for manually creating a weather scenario using the advanced weather settings in Prepar3D. I tried to copy the AS16 reported weather conditions as closely as possible but I did modify the upper wind layers a little to reduce the wind shear to more modest levels.  I also reduced the reported visibility to better match the cloud haze visible in Bruno’s video because this visibility issue had not been reported in the AS16 historical weather data. Plus I elliminated the lower level cloud layer completely, relying instead on clouds generated by the CumulusX! add-on in ‘Unblue’ mode. I added a high-level cirrus cloud layer for purely cosmetic reasons.

weather01

weather02

weather03

weather04weather05weather06weather07

 

Soaring environment configuration: To create a convincing soaring environment (thermals) consistent with the conditions evident in Bruno’s flight video, I configured CumulusX! as shown in the following snapshot. Note also, that I was using ‘blue’ thermals (i.e. no cumulus cloud layer in P3D) and I had the ’Unblue’ option in the CumulusX! Help menu ticked. This was done, partly because my P3D installation did not seem to represent a 2/8 or less cloud coverage accurately, and also because reducing the cloud coverage helped with some performance issues that I have been experiencing lately.  Unfortunately, the CumulusX! cloud textures looked awful.

Link to CumulusX! competition soaring environment add-on:

http://luerkens.homepage.t-online.de/peter/

 

CONCLUSIONS

While I fell well short of the Utah 100 km speed record (only 95.88 mph as against 100.23 mph) in my attempt, I nevertheless enjoyed this speed challenge immensely.  I felt pressured all the way around the set course, trying to balance minimum arrival height against the need to achieve a task average speed greater than 100 mph.  I am convinced that a speed challenge, such as this, can be equally entertaining as any race against other gliders in a multiplayer event.

 

TASK RESULTS AND FLIGHT PATH

My task result in SeeYou:

Result

My flight path in Little Navmap:

Flight path

X-Plane 11: Racing the sun at Cunderdin WA

After lengthy delays with some technical and personal health issues, I finally…finally managed to get this latest X-Plane 11 cross-country gliding adventure recorded and edited!

I even managed, after several failed attempts, to eventually upload all two hours of it to YouTube, although I had to split the video into two parts.  Such is the nature of the 2nd rate internet services that we are lumbered with in Australia.

Apart from having some more fun with another virtual gliding adventure in X-Plane 11, my task was intended to be an experiment. My question I wanted to be answered by this task was this:

Can this simulator successfully and convincingly implement a cross-country gliding task of about two hours duration, which is based solely on ‘blue’ (cloudless) thermals?

To answer that, here are the links to the videos on my YouTube channel, and my conclusions and X-Plane 11 settings can be found below.

MY CONCLUSIONS

This was overall another enjoyable flight adventure using X-Plane 11, and that was in spite of some personal pain discomfort at times during the flight. X-Plane continues to surprise and please me with what it can provide to a virtual gliding enthusiast like myself, and it does this regardless of some pretty significant limitations in the modelling of a realistic soaring environment. For example, there are no cloud based thermals in X-Plane. Every glider soaring session in X-Plane 11 is effectively what glider pilots call a “blue” thermal day.  Imagine what a great virtual gliding sim this would be if X-Plane had competition soaring environment functionality similar to that provided by the CumulusX! add-on for FSX.  Blue thermal days are fine occasionally,  and they do occur sometimes in the real-world, but thermals with cumulus clouds on top make for a more tactical cross-country challenge or glider race. Completing a cross-country task without a land-out is less of a lottery with cloud based thermals.

THERMAL LIFT MODELLING

One good thing I can say about the X-Plane 11 thermals is that do appear to be modelled reasonably realistically in terms of their lateral structure. The thermals exhibit a noticeably irregular lift profile when circling in them, making centring on the core quite challenging. I liked this and believe it is much better than the thermals in FSX and Prepar3D, which are too circular in lateral profile. With the weather settings that I used, the X-Plane thermals seemed lumpy and bumpy  – just like the real-world thermals as I remember them.  Also, the lift at the tops of the thermals tapers off reasonably convincingly in X-Plane, but I am still uncertain about whether there is any modelling of the overall vertical lift profile for X-Plane thermals.

There is still some more testing to be done. Some questions about thermal modelling remain in doubt or are still unanswered by just one test task. These include:

Do the thermals exhibit lift weakening close to ground level?

Do the thermals widen and lift become stronger in the upper levels?

Are the life cycles of thermals modelled in any way?

THERMAL LEAN/DRIFT

One tick in the box for X-Plane 11 that I can report is that an examination of my flight tracks when circling in thermals indicates that X-Plane seems to be making some attempt to model either thermal lean or drift of thermals in response to the wind.

EFFECT OF GROUND FEATURES & LAND CLASSES

On the other hand, I have not seen any clear evidence yet that X-Plane 11 thermals might be linked to ground features, nor have I seen confirmation yet that the thermal distribution might be linked to land classes such as large water bodies, forests, built up areas etc.  The land class question might be resolved definitively when I fly future tasks in more diverse areas than was the case at Cunderdin.

CLOUD FLICKER

One current disappointment is that the X-Plane 11 cloud shadows exhibit a very annoying and distracting flicker on my system, which I cannot seem to get rid of. To get around this problem for this task, I eliminated the lower cloud covering, leaving only the high cirrus layer. The cloud shadows from the cirrus layer still flicker but are less noticeable due to the lighter shading from these high level and thinner clouds.  Since recording this flight, I have found a plugin that allows me to make all cloud shadows totally transparent, effectively hiding cloud shadows, so that this problem does not irritate me. Nevertheless, I would like to have visible cloud shadows that do not flicker – so I am still looking for a better solution to this problem.

THE FLIGHT PLAN

The flight plan is a 160 kilometre triangle based on a real-world task at Cunderdin in Western Australia. The original task was flown by Luke Dodd in an Astir CS sailplane in 2000. For my own convenience, I chose not to convert the task turn point coordinates, and instead, I modified the turn points slightly, placing them over the grain elevator structures at Kellerberrin and Wyalkatchem. Also I placed the start and finish lines over the glider clubhouse at Cunderdin airfield with an arbitrary maximum start height of 6,000 feet MSL and a minimum safe finish height of 500 feet AGL.  My chosen start and finish line height limits are typical of the limits set for UK Virtual Gliding Association tasks.

The Plan-G flight planner shows that I should be able to complete the task in under two hours if I can achieve a task average speed of 83 kph or better. As the 2-part video above shows, I completed the task faster than that and was able to land and park the glider before the sun set.

Flight Plan

Flight Plan (click to enlarge)

 

AIRFIELD LAUNCH POINT LOCATION FOR THIS TASK

For this task, I setup for an aerotow launch from Cunderdin, Western Australia on runway 32 at 15:50 local time on a sunny autumn (fall) afternoon. My intention was to release at 3,000 feet AGL, climb to the maximum start height of 6,000 feet before crossing the start line, hopefully by about 16:00. This would give me about two and quarter hours to complete the task before the sun sets. I felt that this would give some incentive to keep pushing harder, in effect a race against the sun, rather than having me taking it too cautiously and cruising around the course at the best L/D speed.

Airfield

Airfield (click to enlarge)

 

DATE AND TIME SETTING

Time and Date

Time and Date (click to enlarge)

 

WEATHER AND THERMAL SETTINGS

Atmospheric Conditions

Atmospheric Conditions (click to enlarge)

Cloud Layer 1

Cloud Layer 1 (click to enlarge)

Wind layer 1

Wind layer 1 (click to enlarge)

Wind layer 2

Wind layer 2 (click to enlarge)

 

Wind Layer 3

Wind Layer 3 (click to enlarge)