With just over four weeks to go until FlightSimCon 2017 takes place, below are the highlights from last year’s conference. For more information on the upcoming event, click here
The fourth annual FlightSimCon convention took place at the New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks, Bradley International Airport, Connecticut on June 11 and 12. It was held in two hangars with stands set up next to aircraft on display, enabling visitors to speak to developers and discover new products. More than 20 exhibitors attended the event as well as community groups and organisations such as IVAO, VATSIM and of course Boston Virtual ATCC, which had a full complement of pilots and controllers demonstrating online ATC.
The show kicked off with Peter Wright’s ‘Frooglesim’ presentation called ‘State of Sim Nation’. He highlighted what has been going on in the industry over the past year with advances in virtual reality, the increased exposure of X-Plane with major releases such as the 737 Classic by IXEG, PMDG’s DC-6 and the Flight Factor 767. He also noted the growth of DCS World with the release of version 2.0 Early Access and high-quality add-ons such as the SA342 Gazelle (reviewed in this issue), which introduces new features such as multi-crew capability. He also discussed entry-level simulators such as Dovetail Games’ Flight School, Combat Air Control 2 and Aerofly FS 2 (previewed in this issue) and their importance to attract new and younger enthusiasts to the hobby.
The event was marked announcements from major developers in the industry. Scott and Jake Gentile of A2A Simulations revealled their next project would be the Accu-Sim Lockheed Constellation (for further information visit www.a2asimulations.com).
REX Simulations announced details of its next major product, Sky Force 3D. The company has spent two years redesigning an entirely new weather system, adding approximately 1,400 cloud models and textures using real-world data to make the flying experience more realistic. The package is due to be released later this year (more details can be found at www.rexsimulations.com).
HiFi Simulations announced two new products: Active Sky 2016 (AS16) and Active Sky Cloud Art (ASCA). AS16 will feature an updated weather engine with Navigraph integration, while ASCA works in conjunction with the former to create a dynamic weather system (visit www.hifisimtech.com).
Orbx is working on upgrading its autogen buildings with HD textures, which will double the resolution of buildings and common library objects such as factories and water towers. The HD buildings will be compatible with all Orbx regions (www.fullterrain.com).
Other exhibitors included GoFlight with several products on display including its new VantEdge Yoke. QualityWings was present, running a beta version of the upcoming 787 Dreamliner, along with FSFX Packages, the developers of PrecipitFX, which add effects such as contrails, wing tip vortices and volumetric lighting. The company also announced its upcoming 787 Immersion expansion for the QualityWings 787.
FlyInside, a company which specialises in making software for integrating Virtual Reality headsets for FSX and Prepar3D, had a stand showcasing the Oculus Rift. It was a highly popular attraction with queues of visitors lining up to have a go for the entire weekend (www.flyinside-fsx.com).
Volair Sim had a cockpit fitted with its new avionics panel. The company specialises in designing affordable cockpit systems, which can be used for flight training. Appropel was demonstrating its Android app, which uses voice commands to control aircraft in X-Plane and Sim-Pit Flying was present with a full-size Cessna 172 cockpit, built in the shell of a real aircraft.
Finally, EasternHops was a welcome addition to the event. They run a variety of meetings and challenges such as Cessna Sundays, Thunder Thursdays and Foggy Fridays. They can be found at www.easternhops.com.
Although not exhibiting, Jack Skieczius from FlyJSim revealed the imminent release of the 727 V2, turning it into a full study sim. This was very exciting news for me as it is one of my favourite aircraft (see www.flyjsim.com).
Another unexpected surprise was TFDi Design demonstrating its upcoming Boeing 717. This is a study level simulator for FSX and Prepar3D and is due to be released later this year (www.tfdidesign.com).
Throughout the weekend, the event was host to panel discussions and seminars from developers, airline dispatchers and retired airline pilots. Major Adam Cybanski from the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) explained how the RCAF uses desktop flight simulation to train its pilots for tasks such as IFR proficiency and tactical training.
A discussion titled ‘Exterminating Mice from your Cockpit’ by Russ Barlow described how Air Manager by Sim Innovations (www.siminnovations.com) can be used to increase the level of realism
by removing the mouse from a home flight simulator by using touch control.
Completing Scenery Design Projects by Misha Cajic, Airport Developer at Orbx Simulation Systems talked about the challenges of designing commercial scenery. He has four years of experience in airport design and has completed six commercial projects. He announced that Orbx will be bringing Santa Barbara in California to FSX and Prepar3D.
The My Cessna Sim Project was hosted by Tom Gauvin. He shared his experiences of building a 172 cockpit from the shell of a real aircraft and described the many challenges of interfacing unusual hardware devices and connecting switches, LEDs and servo motors as well as the difficulties of how to build a magnetic compass from scratch. American Airlines Flight Dispatch Training Instructor, Michael Collier, discussed techniques used by flight dispatchers to plan domestic and international flights. Topics included fuel and route planning, selecting alternates and ETOPS (Extended Twin Engine Operations).
One of the highlights of the conference was a presentation by the Laminar Research team which included Austin Meyer, Chris Serio, Marty Arant and Ben Supnik. They revealed details of the next major X-Plane release, version 10.50. The update features a new autogen system, which uses OpenStreetmap elevation data to create realistic city skylines. The default King Air and Beechcraft Baron have been reworked with HD textures and 3D cockpits. Laminar also introduced new manipulators such as mouse wheel support for tuning the radios. Static aircraft with real-world liveries will be randomly placed at airports in real parking locations, so airports will be populated. Global winds aloft for the entire globe, including turbulence has also been implemented. Finally, air traffic control has been updated with more plausible instructions for vectoring aircraft. AI traffic will fly and taxi more realistically, and will arrive and depart from parallel runways.
A new version of World Editor (WED) was also released to support the new static aircraft. According to Marty Arant, more than 6,000 airports have been submitted since it was launched two years ago. Of those 3,000 airports have custom 3D buildings.
Laminar also announced new technologies it has been researching for future versions of X-Plane. The first item on the list was a new and more intuitive graphical user interface (GUI). It is based on the Quick Flight mode introduced in X-Plane 10, but it will take advantage of a powerful filtering process to select parking locations at airports and aircraft based on manufacturer and type. Weather and time of day can also be selected using sliders and joystick controllers can be configured graphically by clicking on buttons and switches on thumbnail images of a joystick.
The company is planning to implement major upgrades to the graphics engine using a process called Physically Based Rendering (PBR). This is a method used in most modern game engines to render light reflections off objects based on the colour and type of material as well as the angle of reflection. As a result, this process makes the graphics in the simulator look much more like the real world. The team also talked about Ambient Occlusion, another technique used in game engines to create shadows based on how much light is hitting an object, making shadows more realistic.
Laminar is also planning to implement a new sound system. Rather than recording static sound files, the new sound engine will interact with the state of aircraft systems. For example, when starting an engine, you will hear multiple sounds from the starter motor and as fuel is introduced to the engine. The sounds will change depending on the speed of the gyros when spinning up. Sounds are also directional and will change depending on your location in relation to an aircraft.
The final presentation was given by Creative Director, Stephen Hood of Dovetail Games on his vision of flight simulation. He explained how Flight School was introduced to bring new people to the hobby and how new technology for the Dovetail Games Flight Simulator has been implemented in Flight School. Although not much was revealed on the upcoming simulator, according to Stephen, it is likely to be released on Steam and it will be 64-Bit and DirectX 11-compatible. He also said it would be based on the existing FSX engine but significant technological improvements will be implemented.
Panel Discussion – Flying Online: The Benefits of Connecting
Another major highlight of the show was the panel discussions. The first one was titled Flying Online: The Benefits of Connecting. Panellists included Tom Gilmore, Training Coordinator, US Division at IVAO; Justin Friedland, former Vice President Communications & Marketing, VATSIM; Dave Pascoe from LiveATC.net; John Pettit Director, Pilot Training VATSIM; Keith Smith, founder of PilotEdge; and Bart Waclawik from Volair Sim.
The panel was hosted by Evan Reiter from Boston Virtual ATCC and covered topics such as how going online increases the virtual flying experience and the sense of community. For those who haven’t taken the leap, all the panellists emphasised that there are comprehensive training programmes and a community eager to welcome new people.
Flight Simulation Developer Forum
The second panel, called Flight Simulation Developer Forum, was hosted by D’Andre Newman, owner of AirDailyX. Members consisted of Amir Salehi owner of Flightbeam Studios; John Venema, CEO of Orbx Simulation Systems; Aerosoft, Downloadshop Manager and Head of Internal Developments, Mathijs Kok; Just Flight Publishing Director, Alex Ford; Dovetail Games Brand Manager, Aimee Sanjari; REX Game Studios Managing Partner, Reed Stough; Majestic Software, Simeon Richardson; and QualityWings Simulations Vice President, Lars Roennig.
The main topic of discussion was the constraints of tools to create add-ons and the importance of better communication between third-party and host flight sim developers. John Venema commented that there needed to be a ‘fundamental architectural change’ to enable programmers to create new products. All parties agreed the Software Development Kits (SDKs) needed to be more open. For example, Simeon Richardson explained Majestic had to create the Q400 turboprop model outside FSX because of limitations with the host software. Attracting new people to the hobby was also discussed. The growth of the community over the past five years has been static according to Mathijs Kok, although he explained the Steam version had attracted a lot of younger customers. This was also confirmed by John Venema who said Orbx revenue is growing by 20% a year, mostly from Steam. According to Aimee Sanjari, more than 600,000 copies of FSX: Steam Edition have been sold with 40% from existing simmers.
Since the inaugural event four years ago, FlightSimCon has grown from a small gathering of enthusiasts to a show with more than 500 visitors. Compared with 300 attendees in 2015 it can now only be described as a resounding success.
To help convey the atmosphere, what follows are comments made by two of the main organizers, Evan Reiter and Nicole Glander. Evan explained: “Boston Virtual ARTCC has been sponsoring FlightSimCon for the past four years. Members of our community were thrilled to see so many exhibitors and sponsors supporting the event, and we are grateful to everybody who chose to spend their weekend at the New England Air Museum. Each year we look forward to FlightSimCon as an opportunity for the flight simulation community to come together to share in the latest news and developments. The conference is a highlight of my year. I can’t wait to get started on our 2017 event.”
Nicole added: “I am so pleased with the success of FlightSimCon. The event has advanced so much since our first one four years ago. This year we welcomed approximately 520 attendees alongside 24 exhibitors, 30 sponsors, and 24 speakers. This is the biggest year for the conference, attracting pilots and aviation enthusiasts from more than 40 US states, as well as from Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, and the UK. I am grateful to all and those that travelled great distances to attend the conference.
We will incorporate changes in 2017 including more hardware and software exhibitors, displays and developers. There is a possibility that the event will be held at a different venue next year and we will be announcing the 2017 date and location by the end of summer so stay tuned!”
We at PC Pilot very much enjoyed the show – the atmosphere was excellent, and personally I can’t wait for next year’s event.
By Richard Benedikz