Chapter 1: About X-Plane
From X-Plane Wiki
Overview of X-Plane
X-Plane is the world's most comprehensive and powerful flight simulator for personal computers.
X-Plane offers the most realistic flight model available for home use.
X-Plane is not a game, but an engineering tool that can be used to predict the flight characteristics of fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft with incredible accuracy.
Because X-Plane predicts the performance and handling of almost any aircraft, it is a great tool for pilots to keep up their currency in a simulator that flies like the real plane, for engineers to predict how a new airplane will fly, and for aviation enthusiasts to explore the world of aircraft flight dynamics.
Welcome to the world of props, jets, single- and multi-engine airplanes, as well as gliders, helicopters and VTOLs. X-Plane contains subsonic and supersonic flight dynamics, allowing users to predict the flight characteristics of the slowest aircraft to the fastest. X-Plane also includes 35 aircraft on its master disk, spanning the aviation industry (and its history), sporting aircraft from the Bell 206 JetRanger and Cessna 172 to the Space Shuttle and the B-2 Bomber. Additionally, more than 1,400 additional aircraft models can be downloaded from the Internet (X-Plane.org, the X-Plane.com Links page, and Google are good places to start), nearly all of which are free. If those aren’t enough, users can design their own airplanes and test fly them!
The full X-Plane scenery package covers the Earth in stunning resolution from 74˚ north to 60˚ south latitude. Scenery is also available for Mars thanks to the Mars Orbiting Laser Altimeter, which mapped that planet's elevation. On Earth, users can land at any of over 33,000 airports or test their mettle on aircraft carriers, oil rigs, frigates (which pitch and roll with the waves), or helipads atop buildings. They can also realistically model the flight of remote controlled model aircraft, air-launch in an X-15 or Space Ship One from the mother ship, fly re-entries into Earth's atmosphere in the Space Shuttle, fly with friends over the Internet or a LAN, drop water on forest fires, or shoot approaches to aircraft carriers at night in stormy weather and rough water conditions in a damaged F-4. The situations that can be simulated are incredible!
Weather is variable in X-Plane from clear skies and high visibility to thunderstorms with controllable wind, wind shear, turbulence, and micro bursts. Rain, snow, and clouds are available for an instrument flying challenge, and thermals are available for the gliders. Actual weather conditions can be downloaded from the Internet, allowing users to fly in the weather that currently exists at the location of the flight!
X-Plane also has detailed failure modeling, with multitudes of systems that can either be failed manually at an instructor’s command, or randomly when users least expect it! Users can fail instruments, engines, flight controls, control cables, antennae, landing gear, or any of dozens of other systems at any moment. They can also have a friend or flight instructor (locally or via the Internet, working from an Instructor's Operating Station) fail components on the aircraft without the pilot’s knowledge. The instructor can alter the time of day, weather conditions, and failure status of hundreds of aircraft systems and components. Additionally, the instructor can relocate the aircraft to a location of his or her choice at any time.
Aircraft models are also extremely flexible, allowing users to easily create paint jobs, sounds, and instrument panels to modify any airplane you choose. Custom airplane or helicopter designs can even be created and flown using X-Plane and the included Plane-Maker software.
X-Plane is used by world-leading defense contractors, air forces, aircraft manufacturers, and even space agencies for applications ranging from flight training to concept design and flight testing.
For example, X-Plane has been used in crash investigations to depict the view pilots experienced moments before a mid-air collision, or to graphically present to juries and judges the forces that impact an aircraft in flight. Scaled Composites used X-Plane to visualize Space Ship One’s flights to the edge of the atmosphere in their pilot training simulator. Kalitta has used X-Plane to train their pilots to fly freight 7474s in the middle of the night. Northwest and Japan Airlines use X-Plane for flight review and training. Cessna uses X-Plane to train new customers in the intricacies of the Garmin G1000. Dave Rose has used X-Plane to optimize airplanes for his many wins at Reno. NASA has used X-Plane to test the re-entry of gliders into the Martian atmosphere, and the list goes on. These customers serve as perhaps the most significant endorsement of the incredible capabilities of this simulator.
Furthermore, X-Plane has received certification from the FAA for use in logging hours towards flight experience and ratings. This experience can provide credit towards a private pilot's license, recurrence training, hours towards instrument training, and even hours towards an Airline Transport Certificate-—it’s that good.
Note: This certification requires not only that the user has the certified X-Plane software, but also the certified hardware (cockpit and flight controls) available through companies like Precision Flight Controls and Fidelity. This is because flight-training systems can only be certified as a complete package (a software and hardware combination). The certified software is available for $500 to $1,000 per copy from PFC and Fidelity and the hardware runs from $5,000 to $500,000. The retail version of X-Plane purchased at X-Plane.com is not certified for flight training right out of the box, since certification requires a software and hardware combination. However, the software available for about $50 at X-Plane.com is almost identical what is found in the $500,000 full-motion FAA-certified platforms. The biggest difference is that the FAA-certified versions have custom aircraft files with larger instrument panels, which are set up to work with hardware radios like those found in the physical cockpits. The FAA-certified version also has some of the purely fun stuff (like Mars and space flight) removed—-even though those situations are simulated accurately in X-Plane, just like the FAA-certified subsonic terrestrial flight. When the FAA certifies the first Martian business jet, we’ll be there.
What X-Plane Includes
Windows, Mac, and Linux installers are included on the discs purchased from X-Plane.com. There are approximately 74 GB worth of scenery (covering essentially the entire world) and thirty-five aircraft, with thousands of planes available on the web. The DVDs contain everything needed to run X-Plane-—there is nothing more that users need to buy. You’ll receive free updates to version 9 until version 10 is released, as well some of the best customer service and tech support available.
While on its own X-Plane represents the world's most comprehensive flight simulator, the installation DVD also comes with Plane-Maker (allowing users to create custom aircraft or modify existing designs), Airfoil-Maker (allowing users to create airfoil performance profiles), and Weather-Briefer (to give users a weather briefing before the flight when using real weather conditions downloaded from the Internet).
The stock installation includes the following aircraft:
|Cirrus Vision SF50||ASK-21 glider|
|Cessna 172SP||Beechcraft King Air B200|
|Piaggo P-180 Avanti||Piper PA-46-310P Malibu|
|Van's RV-3/4/6/7/8/9/10||Stinson L-5 Sentinel|
|F-4 Phantom II||F-22 Raptor|
|Viggen JA37||Space Shuttle Orbiter|
|Boeing B-52G Stratofortress||Boeing B747-400|
|Boeing B777-200||KC-10 Extender|
|Bell 47||Bell 206 JetRanger|
|Robinson R22 Beta||Sikorsky S-61|
|Northrop B-2 Spirit||Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird|
|Rockwell B-1B Lancer||Bombardier Canadair CL-415|
|AV-8B Harrier II||Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey|
|X-15 and X-30 X-Planes||Mars Rocket|
|Mars Jet||Great Planes PT-60 RC plane|
|Thunder Tiger Raptor 30 v2 RC helicopter|
Of course, the thousands of aircraft available on the Internet provide even greater variety. The following is a (small) sample of what’s out there:
Beechcraft Bonanza Boeing 727/737/747/etc Mooney M20J 201 Piper PA-16 Clipper de Havilland DH-106 Comet Pitts “Mountain Dew” S2C Sikorsky S76 StratoCloud Ram-Air P-51D Mustang Piper Twin Comanche PA30 Beechcraft King Air 350 Cessna 195 Cessna C150 Bell 222 Douglas A-4B Skyhawk Ilyushin IL-76 Fiat CR.42 Falco Paris Jet III Bell 407 Peregrine F222 Firenze Beechcraft Staggerwing Curtis P-6 Hawk Ford Tri-motor Cessna 120 Hawker Sea Harrier FRS1
Many people ask us about the history of X-Plane, how we got started and where we're going. Here's some background information about Austin Meyer (the author) and the history of X-Plane:
As users are probably aware, the most popular flight simulator on the market is Microsoft Flight Simulator. This may be predominately due to their early start with their flight simulator, which dates back to about 1982 or so. Over the years, there have been many other upstart companies that have attempted to compete against Microsoft (Flight-Unlimited, Fly and Fly-2k are a few examples). All have failed... except X-Plane, which has traditionally enjoyed a relatively small market of fanatic users. From the very beginning, the largest advantage of using X-Plane was in the way the flight model is generated and the high frame-rate at which X-Plane can run. This has long given us an advantage in being able to accurately calculate and depict the flight response and feel of an aircraft in flight. In the past, Microsoft had scenery that was superior to X-Plane's, as well as many more add-ons. Microsoft’s advantage here largely died with the release of the first set of high-definition, world-wide scenery disks on December 1, 2004, about midway through the X-Plane Version 8 run.
Over the years, we've consistently seen increasing sales, with a total of about 750,000 copies of X-Plane shipped through either Internet orders or retailers as of April 2009 (not counting the 500,000 copies of the new iPhone apps!). Furthermore, X-Plane is the only single commercial flight simulator available for the Macintosh, Windows, and Linux platforms. The set of discs sold at X-Plane.com includes copies for all three, so there is no possibility that a user will pick up the wrong version for his or her computer. (Note that some retailers have been known to stock Windows-only or Macintosh-only copies of X-Plane or sell X-Plane without global scenery to keep costs down. Read the box carefully if buying from a store shelf.)
Aside from the improved accuracy and fluidity found in X-Plane, another big difference between Microsoft's simulator and our own is that, whereas Microsoft releases updates about every three years or so, we release updates for X-Plane about every ten weeks! Thus, instead of buying a disc and having the software remain stagnant for the next thirty-six months, X-Plane encourages users to go to our website every three months or so and download cool new (and free) updates to their software!
In short, we are a few very driven and talented people that have made the improvement and accuracy of X-Plane pretty much our life's mission.
Austin's Bio, Last Updated Mid-2006
Hi! I am a private pilot with about 1,500 hours in a handful of light and medium-size Cessna and Piper singles (the airplanes I grew up flying) and a Cirrus SR-22 Centennial Edition 8141Q, which I purchased in 2003. In a month or so, I will be switching to a Lancair Columbia 400 for maximum speed to hop around the country serving customers. (My customer support guy, Randy Witt, flies a Beech Baron. I'm telling you this to make the point that the guys that write and support X-Plane are pilots, aircraft owners, and engineers. Aviation is a huge part of our lives, and we love what we're doing).
Anyway, back in 1988 or so, after I had gotten my instrument rating in the calm and friendly skies of Columbia, South Carolina, I found myself in San Diego, California, working for DuPont Aerospace, a small aerospace tech firm working, on some excellent but unusual designs that I cannot discuss in detail.
I must digress here for a moment because this is interesting and also applicable to one of the aircraft in X-Plane. One of the projects that DuPont was working on back then was the well-known NASP, or National Aerospace Plane, a single-stage-to-orbit aircraft that can, in theory, take off from a runway and fly clear to orbit. Tony DuPont, the president of the company, was the founder of this ingenious NASP concept. While the Space Shuttle and other conventional rockets use rocket engines to blast up to their orbital speed (18,000 mph), the NASP breathes air to run its engines, so it must do most of its acceleration in the atmosphere. This use of the oxygen in the atmosphere, rather than carrying liquid oxygen on board, makes the vehicle much more light and efficient, but it also means that the aircraft must fly at many, many thousands of miles per hour in the air, which creates tremendous heat and drag. Circulating cool fuel through the skin of an aircraft is not a new idea... in fact the bell-shaped nozzles on most rocket engines employ this technology to keep them from melting! For the NASP, this is one of the few options that will keep the skin temperatures down and allow hypersonic flight (that is, flight at five times the speed of sound or greater). You might think that using an insulated tile system like the one the Space Shuttle has would be a good option, but maintaining and replacing thousands of small tiles would be problematic, bulky, and expensive. Of course, circulating fuel to keep the skin cool has its drawbacks too! The SR-71 Blackbird uses its cool fuel to keep its surface temperatures down, and in fact is limited to much lower speeds than Mach 3 when low on fuel because there is nothing left to absorb the heat! Open the SR-71 in X-Plane and rather than seeing a red line on the airspeed indicator (like just about every other aircraft) to indicate maximum allowable speed, there is a whole red arc! That big red region is the speed range that you can only operate in if you have enough fuel in the tanks to soak up the heat from atmospheric friction! How far into the red zone you are allowed to fly depends on your remaining fuel load—-Now you know.
Anyway, enough about the fascinating NASP concept. That summer in 1988, while living in San Diego, I took an instrument currency flight to keep my IFR skills sharp, and had a very difficult time getting up to speed in the crowded, fast-paced, hectic ATC system of San Diego after the relative slow and laid-back ATC operations back home in South Carolina. After finally getting my IFR skills up to a comfortable level (requiring about three or four flights), I decided that I wanted an instrument trainer to keep my IFR skills up to snuff. Microsoft Flight Simulator was pretty much the only game in town back then, and I was pretty disappointed in what I found. Microsoft was running on the little baby Macintoshes back then, which was great, but there were a few other little things I wanted done differently as well, and I knew Microsoft would not change their sim just to suit me. Thus, X-Plane was born, at the time called "Archer-II IFR.” I used this program for several years to keep up my instrument currency.
A bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering at Iowa State University soon followed, and during my engineering studies there I expanded "Archer-II IFR" to be able to simulate almost any airplane imaginable by simply plugging in the blueprints for that airplane, and letting the sim then figure out how the plane should fly based on those blueprints. This is completely opposite how most any other simulator works and is by far the largest and most important differentiator between X-Plane and its competitors. I started to use the simulator to test out various aircraft designs I had conceived, and quickly learned that Cessna, Piper, Lancair, and Mooney build the way they do for a very good reason-—my designs were efficient, but too difficult to fly safely. Later, I renamed the program "X-Plane” in honor of the series of aircraft tested at Edwards Air Force Base in the '60s and continuing through today.
More about Austin can be read on the Austin’s Adventures web page.
Today, X-Plane is still written and developed on the Macintosh (as it has been since day one) and ported to Windows and Linux machines to allow cross-platform sales and distribution. Thus, the single set of disks available from X-Plane.com’s Ordering page will run on nearly any personal computer available in the world.
Engineers at Velocity, NASA, Scaled Composites, and Carter Aviation have all used X-Plane to do design, evaluation, and simulated flight testing. The National Test pilot school uses X-Plane to train pilots in non-conventional aircraft and flight-control systems. I know an eight-year-old Italian girl likes to taxi the planes around to see the Corvettes parked around the airport fence in Version 7. Other kids try their own designs in X-Plane, and countless youngsters gleefully crash their simulated F-22s into the ground at Mach 2 as well.
Most X-Plane customers are pilots, or people who want a sim that has a level of realism that is appropriate for pilots. Many airline pilots take X-Plane with them on their (real) overseas flights on their laptop computers and simulate the next day's flight and possible approaches while on layover. Many airline and freight pilots keep their currency up on X-Plane to breeze through their bi-annual reviews and flight currency checks. Countless private pilots use X-Plane to help maintain currency when time and money constraints keep them from making it out to the airport as often as they would like. While we have received a handful of orders from the DOD, the CIA, and Microsoft, the majority of X-Plane customers are simply people who want to experience the joy of flight. A copy of X-Plane provides a fun, easy (and safe!) way to do just that.
Many pilots have regular access to old Cessnas, but what would it be like to get dropped from the wing of a B-52 in an X-15 and head to the fringes of space at 4,000 mph? Or to fly a full re-entry in the Space Shuttle? Or take the SR-71 to 70,000 feet at Mach 3? Or fly a rocket plane on Mars?
X-Plane will show you, but even better, it will let you experience it for yourself.
Versions of X-Plane
X-Plane can be used in a wide array of situations, ranging from home use to commercial flight training. Different situations require a different software “level.” Situations that go beyond the standard retail use require the purchase of a USB “key” (simply a flash drive) that is used to unlock a specific level’s features.
The Level 1 X-Plane Simulator
This is the standard retail copy of X-Plane. It requires one X-Plane DVD for each copy of X-Plane on the network.
A Level 1 simulator is what users get when they purchase X-Plane from the X-Plane.com site and use it for whatever non-commercial use they desire. (Any use associated with any payment from a third party to the purchaser of X-Plane for creation, installation, or use of the sim is commercial use, of course.) This requires no USB key to be plugged in. Many copies of X-Plane on many computers can be networked to act as external visuals, external cockpits, instructor stations, and the like. One X-Plane Disc 1 DVD is required for each computer networked together running the simulator. This system cannot be certified by the FAA or any other authority for logging flight training, due to the fact that it does not self-test for the presence of flight controls or a useable frame rate. However, since only one X-Plane Disc 1 DVD is needed for each computer, this setup is amazingly affordable and easy to assemble at almost no cost, even though a user could never 'certify' the system with the FAA.
The Level 2 X-Plane Simulator
This version of X-Plane is for commercial use, FAA-approved simulators, and the EFIS-App. It requires one Level 2 USB key for each copy of X-Plane or EFIS-App on the network.
This is similar to the Level 1 simulator, but it adds EFIS-App, a standalone program that runs on its own computer that gives a very realistic Avidyne primary flight display (PFD) and modular flight deck (MFD). All that is required to run this is a copy of X-Plane or EFIS-App from X-Plane.com and a Level 2 key for each computer that will be networked into the simulator. Of course, two monitors can be hooked up to one computer running EFIS-App so that one only has to buy one computer to run both the Avidyne PFD and MFD, which will save some money.
Additionally, this is the key that needs to be used for commercial purposes and FAA-approved simulators for flight training. This gives a “Commercial Use” startup message. It checks for flight controls and it self-tests the frame rate for FAA certification.
This is the option designed to replace Microsoft ESP.
The Level 3 X-Plane Simulator
This version of X-Plane requires one Level 3 USB key for each copy of X-Plane or EFIS-App on the network.
The Level 3 key for X-Plane will do everything that the Level 2 will do, in addition to driving real Garmin G430 and G1000 GPS units. It can do cylindrical and spherical projection as well.
Note: In order to interface with a real G430 or G1000, users must get a Simulator G430 or G1000 from Garmin, then make the wiring harnesses to plug them in to the serial or Ethernet cables to the computer. Users unsure on how to do this are better off buying a simulator boxed and ready to go from Precision Flight Controls. PFC does provide ready-made units with real G430s and G1000s installed and running.
The Level 4 X-Plane Simulator
This version of X-Plane requires one Level 4 USB key for each copy of X-Plane or EFIS-App on the network.
A Level 4 simulator does everything that the Level 3 sim does. It adds the ability, though for EFIS-App to simulate the AVIO system in the Eclipse Jet. This option is currently only available from Excel Aviation. Email email@example.com for more information on this.
Since X-Plane has been approved for flight training in many countries to many levels, users should be able to use it to build their own flight simulators by simply purchasing a copy (or copies) of X-Plane, purchasing the appropriate USB key, and possibly downloading EFIS-App. From there, all that’s left is to build the hardware.
USB key drivers for both Mac OS and Windows can be downloaded here. Run those installers to make X-Plane recognize the USB keys.
Questions, Comments, and Corrections Regarding This Manual
Please direct all inquiries regarding the X-Plane manual to firstname.lastname@example.org. Your feedback on the manual is greatly appreciated. Of course, this is a Wiki--if you find errors, you're welcome to correct them. If you aren't sure if they are true errors, use the Discussion link at the top of each page to talk it over.