Related to this post is a YouTube video featuring one my virtual cross-country soaring tasks in the Aerosoft Discus X. The video can be accessed at the end of this post.
I designed a relatively short cross-country task at Laufenselden in Germany for testing the compatibility of real-world weather injection with CumulusX!. CumulusX! is a competition soaring environment add-on for FSX, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in virtual soaring in FSX (SP2) or FSX with Acceleration Pack.
For my first test flight using this task, I chose to test the compatibility of the PILOT’S FS Global Real Weather (FSGRW) add-on with CumulusX!.
My interest in pursuing compatibility of real-world weather injection programs with CumulusX! grew indirectly out of frustration caused by the tyranny of time zone differences, which make it difficult for me to participate in multiplayer gliding events based in the UK. Thus I tend to fly most virtual soaring tasks off-line. Since I don’t need to maintain a common soaring environment when flying offline, I am free to explore various weather injection options that otherwise might not be appropriate in a multiplayer event. To make my offline tasks more interesting I have been trialling various static and dynamic real-world weather options. Real-world weather provides some interesting challengers, particularly when used in conjunction with CumulusX!.
I have both Active Sky Next and FS Global Real Weather add-ons but for my first test flight with a static snapshot of real-world weather I decided to try the latter.
Why we need to suppress weather updates for virtual soaring: The problem with frequent weather updates in FSX is that CumulusX! may reset the soaring environment any time an update arrives with any significant changes. A typical weather update may cause all thermal clouds to disappear and then a new distribution of CumulusX! clouds will gradually begin to appear. This behaviour is not realistic and adds unnecessary stress to the challenges already faced in any x-country task. Moreover, any update that results in a full overcast or a dominate layer of stratus clouds will suppress all thermal production in CumulusX!. Precipitation can also effect the soaring environment. Some of these effects are realistic but the abruptness of change may not be so realistic, although I have seen real-world thermal conditions change within minutes when a front or afternoon sea breeze from the coast moves through.
To use a static snapshot of real-world weather with FSGRW it is just a simple matter of selecting the static download options followed by either the current weather option or historical weather option and then selecting an appropriate time from the dropdown list. One drawback with FSGRW is that the number of historical dates available are very limited. Another disadvantage of the static weather option in FSGRW is that it doesn’t seem to continue to inject some arbitrary variability in wind direction and strength in static mode whereas ASN does do this.
I decided to give FSGRW a try with its static historical download options because it was not convenient for me to fly in real time. The downside of this choice of weather engine compared to say Active Sky Next is that there would be some loss of realism with cloud/visibility depiction and transitions. For me this is an acceptable compromise because in my opinion the key to an enjoyable x-country soaring session in FSX is having a convincing and challenging soaring environment and the rendering of visibility transitions is less important, although it would be nice to have the best of both.
The YouTube Test Flight
Below is the link to my YouTube video of this cross-country flight using FSGRW to inject a static real-world weather snapshot into FSX. The date and time that I chose for the flight was 1st August 2014 at 11:22 GMT (13:22 local) and the FSGRW static weather snapshot was 11:25 Zulu. The task flight plan was designed with Plan-G (by TA Software) and the resultant task map is featured in the video.
If you stick with this video to the end, and I admit that it is rather long (1 hour and 20 minutes), you will see the problems that typically occur in FSX with visibility updates in various situations, for example when circling in a thermal at cloud base there are sometimes some sudden transitions in visibility sweeping across the display. Rapid and unrealistic visibility transitions were also evident on the 2nd last leg of the task where I ended up circling in a thermal that I presume happened to be co-incident with the boundary of an interpolated visibility transition between several weather stations. The pauses that I experienced in the sim during the more extreme visibility changes are not so evident in the captured video for some strange reason.
Nevertheless, as a long time FSX user I tend to turn a blind towards some of the weather transition issues and pauses that plague this simulator so that on this trial task FSGRW together with CumulusX! provided a very convincing and enjoyable x-county task. I particularly liked the mixture of cloud and blue thermals and the variation in cloud coverage types at various locations around the course. When passing through areas without cumulus clouds I had no idea of where and when my next thermal would appear, so I had to press on towards my next waypoint at a conservative speed and hope for the best.