Category Archives: FSX Steam edition

Cross-country Gliding Adventure at Zell am See (LOWZ) in FSX

 

In a recent post I discussed my first cross-country glider adventure using the Schleicher ASK 21 glider model in X-Plane 11.  That flight, which was published on my YouTube channel, was principally a ridge soaring task set at Zell am See in the Austrian Alps. This post details and links to another YouTube flight, which is a repeat of that task, but in the FSX Steam Edition simulator.

The YouTube video of this flight is best viewed in HD full screen mode if your Internet service supports it.

My intention in repeating the same task in these two flight simulators was to compare the virtual ridge soaring experiences that could be delivered by both products. To give some validity to this comparison between X-Plane 11 and FSX, I used: the same cross-country task course,  the same time and date, near identical weather conditions, and identical glider model types, although the glider models were made by different developers.  The only common glider model type available in both of my sims at the time of these comparison flights was the ASK 21 2-seater training glider. This meant using an add-on glider model in FSX. Leaving aside the motorized (self launching) versions, there were two add-on glider models of the ASK 21 available to me in FSX. For this flight I chose to use the Aerosoft ASK 21 rather than the ASK 21 available from Wolfgang Piper’s collection of freeware glider models because I am most familiar with that model from Aerosoft.

To be fair to X-Plane, I have no doubt that if I had compared both sims without any add-ons or plugins, then X-Plane would be streets ahead of FSX in any virtual gliding comparison. However, I am mostly interested in comparing the best possible virtual gliding experiences that these two flight simulators can provide me, including any available add-ons or plugins that I currently use to improve the overall experience.

Bear in mind also that I intend this to be a two part comparison.  These first two flights provide a comparison based on a cross-country task in an alpine location where ridge or slope lift is the predominant energy source for the glider.  In the second part of this comparison between X-Plane 11 and FSX, I intend to create a cross-country task in a flatland location where only thermal lift is available.

There is a discussion of the flight plan for this task in the YouTube video linked above.

Configuring the Soaring Environment in FSX

Obviously, time and date are the easiest components of the soaring environment to match up in the two simulators. Thus, in FSX, I set these to: 14 July 2016 at 14:00.

Matching FSX weather settings with those used in X-Plane turned out to be more problematic. Initially, I intended to use default FSX manual weather settings in conjunction with the CumulusX! add-on to re-create the soaring environment as near to that used in my X-Plane 11 flight as I could manage. However, I ran into a commonly occurring bug in FSX whereby multiple wind layer settings can be corrupted by the addition of turbulence and/or wind gusts in some layers. This led to failure of wind generation in FSX and thus no ridge lift in my first failed attempt. Moreover, turbulence and wind gusts in default FSX weather seem to be unrealistically abrupt and make the variometer very difficult to read because it does not have a gust filter.  To work around these issues, I opted to use the Active Sky 2016 add-on in custom manual weather mode to re-create the weather conditions. Even with the less abrupt wind variation generated by AS2016, the wild excursions of the Total Energy variometer needle on the ASK 21 proved to be difficult to read at times.  I seem to recall that the X-Plane ASK 21 had a similar issue with its variometer.

Following are some screenshots of my Active Sky 2016 weather settings.

NOTE: I started by selecting the default Realism Mode in AS2016. I then disabled any AS2016 wind updrafts or downdrafts so that CumulusX! could do its thing without unnecessary interference or augmentation to lift production.   I also set wake turbulence to zero because that effect seems too violent and the motion unrealistic for a glider following a tow plane.

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This was principally a ridge soaring task, however, I felt that it was both reasonable and realistic to provide some thermal lift, which I hoped might assist with ridge transitions.

It is difficult match thermal conditions between X-Plane and FSX because FSX has the benefit of the CumulusX! add-on with comprehensive user control and documentation, whereas X-Plane provides minimal support for random thermal generation with only a percentage coverage slider and a thermal height slider for user control.  I chose to use the default settings for CumulusX!.  The default settings in CumulusX! provided a smaller thermal coverage than my chosen setting in X-Plane, but I wanted to  provide similar overall thermalling advantage to the task bearing in mind that CumulusX! provides cloud based thermals, which are easier to intercept, whereas X-Plane thermals are invisible “blue” thermals.

Following is a screenshot of my CumulusX! soaring environment settings.

NOTE: The Min and Max Lift Ceiling settings in CumulusX! do not apply for this task because CumulusX! gives preference to any cumulus cloud base setting in FSX. This was set by AS2016 to 10,153 feet.

Zell am See CumulusX! config

 

Results and Conclusions

Ridge lift conditions were remarkably similar between these two flight simulators for this task.  This was a surprise to me. I was expecting FSX with the CumulusX! add-on to provide a better ridge soaring experience.

The level of difficulty in completing the task was also much the same in both sims, although I achieved  a better average task time in X-Plane. I believe that the faster task time in X-Plane was probably more the result of my mistakes and tactical choices than to any differences in the way these simulators render the task. Also, due to my inexperience with X-Plane, I may have set the thermal conditions in X-Plane a little more advantageous than was needed in my effort to offset any anticipated disadvantage due it being limited to blue thermals only.

Both simulators had convincing flight models for me, although fluidity and dynamic movements seemed noticeably better in X-Plane using X-Camera and HeadShake plugins. I was using Chaseplane and A2A Accufeel add-ons with FSX, but I could not achieve the same level of immersion using the settings that tried for this task.

Sound effects seemed slightly better to me in FSX. X-Plane lacked any sound effects for the spoiler operation. The spoilers should make noticeable clunks when opening and closing and they should create extra drag and rumble noise effects. Modelling of aircraft vibration with the spoilers deployed was absent from both sims. The tyre squeal on a grass landing in X-Plane was awful and unrealistic.

The aerotow launch was definitely more realistic in FSX compared to X-Plane. In X-Plane the tow plane veered off the runway centreline as soon as the ground roll commenced, which I assume was a lack of control over the wind vane effect on the tug aircraft due to the cross-wind component in this task.  Also the X-Plane ground roll seemed far too short. Moreover, by default, X-Plane commences the launch automatically as soon as any glider flight loads. It would be much better if there was an option to have the launch manually started after instrument and control checks.

In regards to the alpine scenery around Zell am See, I believe that the X-Plane default scenery and mesh had the edge over FSX with Orbx global textures and Pilot’s Ultimate Mesh. This was mainly due to the apparent stretching of textures in FSX on steep mountain slopes. Also the scenery coloration in X-Plane seemed more convincing to me. River boundaries looked slightly less artificial in X-Plane, but roads seemed to be more unrealistically placed over the terrain mesh than in FSX, although both had problems. Each of the sims had a scenery anomaly. In X-Plane it appeared on the second leg of the task and it looked like a tile seam mismatch.  In FSX it appeared on the last leg of the task and it looked like a data issue in the terrain mesh.

The lighting and shadows are noticeably better in X-Plane. There was, however, some annoying flutter in cloud shadows evident in X-Plane. On the other hand, FSX does not even have cloud shadows.  CumulusX! has an option for cloud shadows for CumulusX! generated clouds but this option has issues, particularly in alpine areas, and I rarely, if ever, use it.

It would be unfair to compare airport scenery between the sims for this task because X-Plane was using default, but I inadvertently chose a location for this task  that included an add-on airport scenery from the Orbx European freeware airport packs.

In my opinion the issues mentioned and any that I may have overlooked are not major.  Overall, I am mightily impressed with both simulators and their ability to provide a convincing and entertaining virtual ridge soaring task with the Schleicher ASK 21 model glider. In the case of X-Plane, this is quite surprising to me given that X-Plane does not have a sophisticated soaring environment compared to FSX with the CumulusX! add-on.  It will be interesting to see whether both simulators will compare as equally when tested with a flatlands thermalling task. So that is my next intended YouTube project.

Bonners Ferry to Kaslo ridge running in Aerosoft ASK21 for FSX

I recorded this cross-country gliding task on New Year’s eve 2016. The intention of the task was to get some ridge soaring experience with the Aerosoft ASK21 training glider in preparation for some upcoming UK Virtual Gliding online events to be based in the Northern Rockies and the Pacific Northwest.

During this practice flight I wanted to try out some new payload weight distribution (i.e. centre of gravity adjustment) in the Aerosoft ASK21 and find out how that would affect trim and speed control at higher speeds.  In my experience,  the ASK21 tends to run out of nose down trim adjustment at speeds that are too low for typical glider racing tasks but on the other hand it seems to have more than enough nose up trim for slow speed thermalling.  To try and counteract that, I have set the centre of gravity further forward than with the default weight distribution.  This can be achieved without exceeding the maximum weight restriction by reducing the pilot and passenger weights and then offsetting  that weight reduction by adding some trim weight in the aircraft payload settings.  These are my changes to the default payload settings:

Capture as21 settings

 

I also wanted to test the most recent beta version of the A2A Accu-Feel add-on with the “Land” effects disabled to make sure that an intermittent bug that causes excessive lift in violent turbulence and wind gusts has been cured.  I am not usually keen on using beta versions of software but I am desperate to overcome this bug and still enjoy the benefits of Accu-Feel.  I know from previous test flights that this beta version reduces the frequency of the problem dramatically but does not seem to completely eliminate it, that. that is to say that I have seen one instance of this bug since installing the latest beta version from the A2A forums several weeks prior to this flight.  The forums suggest that disabling the “Land” effects in the setup dialog fixes the problem in the production version of Accu-Feel, so I am hoping that this fix might also eliminate this bug from the beta version.  Sacrificing the “Land” effects is a reasonable compromise if it works and I can still have the in-flight effects – otherwise I will have to disable Accu-Feel altogether when flying gliders.

I opted to use manual FSX weather settings for this task instead of real  world weather with the intention of exercising  what I thought would be more control over the ridge soaring conditions.  I set a wind gradient and direction that I hoped would create sufficient lift for a high speed ridge run along the eastern side of the long valley running northwards from Bonners Ferry, Idaho to Kaslo, British Columbia.  Since it was a training flight, the flight plan was a direct path between airports of approximately 75 nautical miles (139 kilometers) without any waypoints.

Bonners Ferry task

My FSX weather settings were as follows, although I also created a high level cirrus layer, not shown in the settings below, of 6/8 coverage at around 40,000 feet for purely visual effect.

Cumulus cloud layer settings (a cumulus layer is required for random auto-generated thermals in CumulusX!):

Bonners Ferry CU setting

 

Ground wind (set low enough to provide relatively safe launching and landing):

Bonners Ferry wind low setting

 

Upper layer wind (to create an increasing wind strength gradient with increasing height):

Bonners Ferry nwind high setting

 

Pressure, temperature and dewpoint settings (dew point consistent with my cumulus base level setting):

Bonners Ferry temp setting

 

Visibility settings (set high to enjoy the scenery):

Bonners Ferry visibility setting

 

As always, I used CumulusX! for the soaring environment because it produces the most realistic ridge soaring and thermalling conditions in FSX. For this task I used the default settings as follows:

CumulusX setting

 

As is often the case, this cross-country glider flight tuned into a different adventure than expected with more challenges and less speed than anticipated. The ridge lift was patchy and surprisingly weak in places where I expected more. Also I had to leave the ridge to find some thermals, and even backtrack at one stage, to keep this task alive. In retrospect, I believe that I set the wind strength a little too low.  Also I underestimated the ‘jaggy’ nature of the ridge line and the effect of the numerous gaps in the ridge line when assessing the terrain map. I chose a wind direction that I thought would be close to ideal but even that surprised me with the lack of efficacy in producing ridge lift on some of those ridge lines. Also my cumulus cloud base setting made climbing to and staying on station in the best lift zone on top of the ridge difficult at times, but that was intentional. Although I struggled in the early part of this task, the situation improved as I got further north into Canada. In the latter part of the flight, between Crawford Bay and Kaslo, I managed to maintain some good speed, although not getting as close to Vne as I had hoped for.

Within minutes of tow rope release, I became totally immersed in the challenges of reaching my destination airfield and forgot about my original intentions for this practice task. Nevertheless, in retrospect,  I did not see any evidence of the A2A Accu-Feel intermittent bug that typically manifests itself as excessive lift in strong turbulence and wind gusts.  So my latest attempts to fix that bug may be working, although one test flight is not enough to check an intermittent bug like this.  Also, as far as I can recall, I did not notice any necessity to use excessive pressure to hold the stick forward to maintain speed when required, so I assume that my changes in centre of gravity may have been beneficial.   More testing will be required before I am fully convinced that these changes have been successful.

The REX soft clouds are excellent, but the view of clouds in general is spoiled somewhat by the low resolution CumulusX! clouds.  There are times though when the CumulusX! clouds blend in quite well.

I am also trialling new water textures and wave effects using a combination of the REX 3 Essential Plus OD application with the FS Water Configurator application. Specifically I toned down the wave effects to avoid the otherwise exaggerated waves, particularly on inland water features, that I have seen in some previous flights.  In general, I am much happier with my new settings but would like to see more white caps in wind conditions such as I had in this task.  As always the wave direction does not match the wind direction in FSX,

As always the Orbx regional scenery for this region transforms FSX into a far more convincing experience than the FSX designers originally achieved.  Moreover, when I think back to how FSX was with default aircraft, scenery and mesh, I realise how much the many wonderful add-ons that are now available have transformed this otherwise ageing and bland simulator into such an absorbing and entertainment experience.  2017 may be the year for emerging new flight simulators but I am nervous and sceptical about the likelihood of these new products ever providing the same, or better, virtual gliding experience that that which I now enjoy with FSX optioned up with some excellent add-ons.

FSX vintage glider flight in the Schulgleiter SG-38

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While browsing through some real-world glider flights on YouTube, I came across numerous videos of the Schulgleiter SG-38.  There is something incredibly appealing about this single seat training glider originally designed and built by Rehberg, Schneider and Hofmann in 1938.  Moreover, the modern replicas featured in those videos look as though they would be just as thrilling to fly as the originals.  I have absolutely no chance of flying one of these in real life but I was inspired by these videos to try the FSX model of this glider in one of the UK Virtual Gliding Association (UKVGA) vintage cross-country tasks.

The UKVGA vintage glider tasks are typically designed to suit vintage gliders that have have a maximum L/D ratio between about 1:20  to 1:30 and speeds between 60 to 70 kph.  The Schneider Schulgleiter SG-38  from WolfGang Piper’s large collection of freeware gliders for FSX is not typical of the vintage gliders that UKVGA members usually choose for these events.  The SG-38 has a much lower performance with a nominal L/D ratio of 1:10 at 52 kph, so this would be a more daunting challenge than your typical vintage glider for any cross-country task. But that is the advantage of a flight simulator – you can try the near impossible without concern for real-world limitations and consequences.

The task that I chose for the SG-38 was a recent UKVGA Association Group Launch event for vintage gliders designed by Mark Hubbard. This on-line vintage gliding task was set in Mexico (see Plan-G flight plan below.)  The flight would be from  Colotlán South airfield (MM33) to  Colotlán airfield (MM19).  The total distance was 50.6  nautical miles (94 km) and the soaring weather conditions promised to be relatively easy (i.e. suitable for vintage gliders.)  So with this task package downloaded from the UKVGA forum, I hoped that I might have some chance of getting this particular glider model to the finish line.

Unfortunately, I could not attend this on-line event due to other commitments so I decided to fly it a few days later off-line.  To add some interest I downloaded the IGC logfiles from the club members that had already flown the task and replayed them in FSX as AI gliders using the “sim-logger” add-on.  This recreates some of the atmosphere of flying in an online event, albeit without the usual advantages of being able to converse with the other pilots and the LPC  (Launch Point Controller) on TeamSpeak.

Flight Plan 2

Being such a slow glider meant that the video of this flight became too long to be uploaded on my poor performing internet link to YouTube.  So, reluctantly,  I had to break the video narrative into three parts.

Part 1 features an introduction to the SG-38 glider model, a description of the task, two attempts at winch launching due to a cable break on the first, and my near disastrous effort to come to grips with the limited performance of this glider on the first leg of this cross-country task.

In Part 2 I am saved by dumb luck from the dangerous situation that I stupidly got myself into in Part 1. Then with restored confidence I manage to get past the first waypoint but the stress continues as I try to grapple with the performance limitations of this vintage glider, which is clearly unsuited to cross-country racing tasks.

In Part 3 I lose even more confidence in the ability of this glider to get me to the finish line as I try to skirt around a blue hole on the final leg of this cross-country task. This affects my judgment of final glide and I end up arriving at the finish line with some height to spare.  Turning onto final too high and being cramped by hills behind the runway led to an awkward final approach without the benefit of air-brakes.  Nevertheless, by some fluke I managed a decent soft landing on the grass.

In truth this virtual flight was probably unrealistic with this particular glider. However, flight simulation allows for a bit of occasional fun with foolhardy adventures like this.

Links related to this video:
UK Virtual Gliding Association: http://www.ukvga.org/
CumulusX! by Peter Lürkens: http://www.luerkens.homepage.t-online.de/peter/
Wolfgang Piper’s glider models: http://www.fsglider.de/index.htm

A real-world SG-38 replica flight on YouTube: https://youtu.be/cV6wZQdorVk

For more Sim Soaring videos see my YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/c/TuggyRacing