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Configuring and Tuning X-Plane 10

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Having installed X-Plane as described in the previous chapter, you can configure the simulator in a number of ways. These include downloading the latest free update (giving you the latest set of features available), setting up flight controls, and tuning the performance of the simulator both in terms of graphics quality and frame rate.

Contents

General Use of the X-Plane Interface

X-Plane has been written to operate on Windows, Macintosh, and Linux systems. For consistency’s sake, the layout and appearance of X-Plane is the same across all three operating systems. This may be slightly different than the interface that users are accustomed to, but once they pass the learning curve, they generally find it easy to use.

Here are a few pointers to aid in the learning process:

  • X-Plane’s menu is hidden when the simulator is first launched. To access the menu bar, just move the mouse pointer to the top of the screen. When the mouse is within a centimeter or so of the top edge of the screen, the menu bar will appear. There is no keyboard command to access the menu bar.
  • Any window within X-Plane can be closed by clicking either of the Xs found in the upper left and upper right corners. Alternatively, those windows may be closed by hitting the Enter or Return key.
  • Key commands can be found by opening the Joystick and Equipment screen and going to the Keys tab. Key command assignments can also be changed using this screen (per the section NAMEREF sec keyboard shortcuts of this chapter) to anything you like. Also, note that many of the keyboard shortcuts are shown in the X-Plane menus. For example, opening the View menu will display the list of available views on the left side of the drop down menu, with the list of corresponding keyboard shortcuts on the right.

Like most programs, the simplest way to navigate around X-Plane is using the mouse, though there are many shortcut key commands to help you navigate quickly through the options after you become familiar with the program. These shortcuts are particularly important when using the mouse to fly. In that case, it is much easier to use the ‘2’ key to drop a notch of flaps than it is to let go of the controls, reach down with the mouse to adjust the flaps, and then reach back up and grab the controls again.

Also note that most instruments and controls inside the cockpit are interactive, meaning that the mouse can be used to alter switches, set frequencies, manipulate the throttle (s), change the trim, etc.

Setting the Language

To change the language used throughout X-Plane, move your mouse to the top of the screen (causing the menu to appear) and click Settings. Then, click the Operations and Warnings menu item. In the dialog box that appears, select your language from the list in the box labeled “Language.”

Updating X-Plane

The X-Plane simulator is designed for both realism and longevity. Maximizing both of these requires that X-Plane be updated often. Every few months, the we will make available a new update to the simulator. In between these official (or “stable”) releases, users can download beta versions of the upcoming update. These are treated as a kind of update in progress—new features and bug fixes are included, but in the beta stage, the updates have not been fully tested in a range of situations. This means that they may create incompatibilities or create other problems that would not be experienced in the stable releases. For more information, see the section “ sec:betas” below.

Newer versions of X-Plane often contain feature enhancements, bug fixes, stability improvements, aircraft and resource updates, flight model improvements, and even new feature additions.

A purchase of X-Plane entitles you to free updates through that full X-Plane version run. This means that if you purchase the Version 10 discs, you will get the Version 10.10 update, the Version 10.20 update, etc., all the way through Version 10.99 if it exists—all free of charge. Of course, you do not have to take advantage of these updates, but it is recommended that you do so.

As with the version of X-Plane on the DVDs you purchased, Disc 1 (the master disc) must be inserted into your computer to use these updated versions. X-Plane uses this as a “key” to unlock the software. Be sure to have the disc spinning in the DVD drive prior to starting up the program so that X-Plane can find it!

Note that although previous versions of X-Plane required users to have all the desired scenery installed before updating to a newer version, this is no longer the case. New scenery may be installed regardless of updates.

To update X-Plane, do the following:

  1. Launch the copy of X-Plane that you wish to update.
  2. Once it opens, move your mouse to the top of the screen and click About, then About X-Plane. The dialog box that appears will show both your version of X-Plane and the latest version available. If these differ, there will be an Update X-Plane button in the bottom right of the window.
  3. Click the Update X-Plane button. X-Plane will automatically download the latest version of the updater program and launch it.
  4. In the window that appears, please do not select the “Check for new betas” box unless you are prepared to potentially work with some kinks (per the section “ sec:betas ” below).
  5. Click Continue to begin the program’s scanning of your X-Plane directory. This allows it to determine which files need to be updated.
  6. Assuming there is enough disk space to download the required updates, click Continue to begin the installation.
  7. The installation files will be downloaded and installed. When the installation finishes, you’re ready to fly.

Using the X-Plane Betas

The X-Plane beta updates are for users who want to help test the newest refinements to the X-Plane software. The advantage to doing so is that these users get access to the latest enhancements to the software (flight model refinements, new features, etc.). The downside is that there is a greater risk of encountering problems with third-party models or other general bugs. We recommend that most users stick to the stable version releases, as these are the ones known to “just work.”

See the X-Plane Beta page for information on the current beta builds.

Uninstalling X-Plane

The X-Plane installer does not infest your hard drive with shortcuts and directories. Therefore, all it takes to uninstall the program is to delete the X-Plane installation folder (located by default on the Desktop) by dragging it to the Recycle Bin or Trash. After you empty the Recycle Bin/ Trash, the program will be removed completely from your hard drive.

Configuring Flight Controls

When using a joystick or other hardware, the hardware must be plugged in before starting X-Plane. If it is not, X-Plane will not see the input devices.

With your flight controls plugged in and X-Plane running, you can configure how the simulator responds to input from each axis and button. Throughout this section we will refer to any input device as a joystick; the instructions apply to yokes, throttle quadrants, and rudders also.

Setting Up the Control Axes

In X-Plane, move the mouse to the top of the screen and click Settings, then select Joystick and Equipment, as seen in Figure 1. This will open the dialog box allowing you to configure and calibrate the flight controls. If it isn’t already selected, click on the Axis tab at the top of the screen.

Selecting Joystick and Equipment from the Settings menu
Figure 1: Selecting Joystick and Equipment from the Settings menu

To begin, move the joystick’s controls around to see how the axes are mapped in X-Plane. As this is done, one of the green or red bars will move for each input that is actuated. Thus, when the stick is rolled left and right only one green or red bar will move; when it is pushed back and forth another bar will move. Each control’s desired function is selected from the drop down box to the left of its bar.

The axis bars are green when they are assigned a function, and they are red when they are not assigned a function. For instance, before the throttle axis has been configured, moving the throttle might move a red bar. After assigning that bar to throttle it will turn green.

The relevant portion of the Joystick and Equipment dialog’s Axis tab
Figure 2: The relevant portion of the Joystick and Equipment dialog’s Axis tab

The normal configuration of flight controls goes as follows:

  1. Move your joystick or yoke forward and back. A green or red bar should move as you do so. Click the drop-down menu next to it and set it to pitch. Do not check the reverse box next to this control unless, when flying, the aircraft’s pitch control is working backward.
  2. Move your joystick/ yoke left and right. The green or red bar that moves should be set to roll. Do not check the reverse box next to this control unless, when flying, the aircraft’s roll control is working backward.
  3. Twist your joystick (if applicable). The bar that moves should be set to yaw. If you do not assign a yaw axis, X-Plane will attempt to stabilize yaw movement for you. Once again, do not check the reverse box unless, when flying, the aircraft’s yaw control is working backward.

    If you are using rudder pedals, slide them forward and backward and set the green/ red bar that moves then to yaw.

    Additionally, only when using rudder pedals, press the left pedal down with your toes. The green or red bar that moves should be set to left toe brake. Do the same for the right pedal, and set that green bar to right toe brake.
  4. Move your throttle forward and back (on a yoke, this is typically the leftmost lever). Set this bar to throttle.

Note: Any green bar which is not actively controlled by your hardware needs to be set to none. When this is set, the bar will turn red, indicating that X-Plane is not using the axis.

Centering the Controls

With the control axes configured, you can tell X-Plane to treat your joystick’s current position as the center of its travel by pressing the Use this position as center button. Using this button will allow you to correct for flight controls that don’t return to the center of their range--for instance, a joystick that moves left to right in a range of 0 to 100, but returns to 55 when you lets go of it. Without centering such a joystick, the aircraft would constantly roll to the right.

Calibrating the Hardware

Some flight control hardware may send a signal from 0 to 1,000 when a user moves a given control from one limit to the opposite, while another device may send a signal (given the same movement of a user’s hand or foot) from, say, 1,000 to 6,000. The only way for X-Plane to know the range of a given joystick’s input is for the user to “teach” it.

All it takes to teach X-Plane how to interpret your joystick’s signal—that is, to calibrate the joystick hardware—is to move all the axes of the joystick through their full range of motion while on the Axis tab of the Joystick and Equipment window. Be sure to move each of the joystick’s variable controls (that is, all sliders, joysticks, rudders, etc.) through their full range of motion. Take them all the way forward, all the way back, left, and right. All of this can be done quite rapidly, as X-Plane can monitor all the different inputs at once.

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Figure 3: The Buttons: Basic tab of the Joystick and Equipment menu, with a button set to

Assigning Functions to Buttons

Each of the buttons and switches on the joystick can be assigned a function within X-Plane (for example, toggling the brakes or landing gear). To do this, open the Buttons: Basic tab of the Joystick and Equipment window. As you operate your joystick’s buttons and switches you will see the box in the upper left corner change the number it displays. This indicates that X-Plane has received the input and is ready to assign that button/ switch a function.

The instructions below reference only buttons. They apply, however, to switches too, though a switch can have a function assigned to both its “up” and “down.”

To change a button assignment, simply operate that button on your joystick and then select the function that should be assigned to it by clicking on the circular toggle next to that function. For instance, in Figure 3, button 0 has been assigned to the “Toggle brakes regular effort” function. Repeat this operation for as many buttons as need functions assigned. Close the Joystick and Equipment window and the settings will be saved.

Note: You must select the desired button by pressing and releasing it prior to assigning it a function. If this is not done, the assignment of the last button pressed will be overwritten.

To assign a function to a joystick beyond what is available in the Buttons: Basic tab, you can use the Buttons: Adv tab to assign any command function available to a button. As in the other tab, simply press the button you would like to assign, click on the command you would like to assign that button in the right half of the screen, and close the window.

Controlling Joystick Sensitivity and Aircraft Stability

To modify the joystick’s sensitivity or the stability of the aircraft, open the Nullzone tab at the top of the Joystick and Equipment screen. The three sliders in the upper right of this window control the response curves for the pitch, roll, and yaw axes of the joystick.

If these sliders are set all the way to the left, the aircraft’s response to that axis’input will be completely linear. This means that a 50 percent deflection of the joystick will deflect the airplane’s flight controls 50 percent of their travel. As these sliders are moved to the right the response becomes curved. In this case, a deflection of the joystick from center to its halfway point may only deflect the aircraft’s controls by 10 percent. This will dampen any aircraft movements and desensitize the user’s controls. Keep in mind, however, that in this case, the remaining 90 percent of the control surface deflection must take place in the last 50 percent of joystick movement. Thus, the controls will be dampened for the first half or so of their travel and then become hyper-sensitive for the remainder of their throw. This gives the user plenty of fine-tune control near the center of the flight control envelope to hold altitude and roll precisely, but still allows for full control authority at the extremes.

Try flying with the sliders in various different positions to see what setting works best.

In the upper left portion of the Nullzone screen is another set of sliders, labeled “stability augmentation.” These control X-Plane’s stability augmentation by damping the predicted forces acting on the aircraft’s flight control surfaces. If these sliders are all the way to the left, then there is no stability augmentation of the aircraft. As the sliders are moved to the right, X-Plane will automatically add some stability augmentation to the aircraft, adding some elevator input to level the nose, some aileron input to minimize the roll rate, and some rudder input to counter any aircraft yaw rates. In other words, the simulator will try to make the plane easier to fly by adding control inputs for the user. The downside, of course, is that as X-Plane adds stability, the aircraft becomes less responsive (and less realistic).

Setting Null Zones

Null zones determine how much the joystick must be moved before X-Plane actually starts to take action. A null zone may be set for each joystick axis to fine-tune how responsive the control surface inputs are, but this function is typically used to prevent hardware from “creeping” in flight or to ignore the constant jittering that many older controllers will send to X-Plane.

To set a null zone, first open the Nullzone tab of the Joystick and Equipment window. Now drag the nullzone slider (found in the lower half of the window) to the desired position; the higher the percentage, the larger the “dead zone” that does not affect the aircraft’s controls will be in the joystick’s input.

Adding Special Equipment

The final tab in the Joystick and Equipment window, labeled Equipment, is used to set up special equipment for use in X-Plane. This tab is generally used on multi-computer X-Plane configurations in professional, FAA-certified simulators or to tie in various GPS navigators (such as a real Garmin 96/ 296/ 396 or a 430 GPS radio). After being connected to the computer, this equipment should be set up per the manufacturer’s recommendations, then checked off on the Equipment screen to tell X-Plane that it is connected.

Troubleshooting Problems with Flight Controls

If the joystick and other flight controls appear to be configured correctly according to the above sections but are not giving the desired response in the simulator, it’s time to troubleshoot. Thankfully, X-Plane makes it easy to find out how the software is perceiving the flight controls’input.

In the following example we’ll assume that the plane’s pitch, yaw, and roll are not matching the way the joystick is being moved. A similar procedure may be used for other malfunctioning controls.

  1. Move your mouse to the top of the screen and open the Settings menu.
  2. Click Data Input and Output.
  3. Select the rightmost box next to joystick ail/ elv/ rud. This box will cause X-Plane to display the input it is receiving while running the simulation.
  4. Close the Data Input and Output window.
  5. A box in the upper right should be displaying the elev, ailrn, and ruddr commands (elevator, aileron, rudder, respectively) being received from the joystick.
  6. Now, center the stick and pedals. Each axis should indicate 0.0, or close to it.
  7. Move the stick full left. The ailrn should indicate
  8. Move the stick full right. The ailrn should indicate 1.0 or near 1.0.
  9. Move the stick full aft. The elev should indicate 1.0 or near 1.0.
  10. Move the stick full forward. The elev should indicate
  11. Move the rudder full left. The ruddr should indicate
  12. Move the rudder full right. The ruddr should indicate 1.0 or near 1.0.

By moving the stick and pedals and seeing what values they are sending X-Plane, you can see if X-Plane is getting proper stick input.

If the correct values (according to the tests above) are not being received in X-Plane, and you have calibrated the controls in X-Plane per the section “ sec:calibrate_hw” above, then the issue is with the hardware’s calibration in your operating system, not X-Plane. If the hardware is indeed calibrated correctly in the operating system, the hardware itself is malfunctioning. On the other hand, if the correct values from the above tests are being received, then the hardware is working fine.

Configuring Keyboard Shortcuts

X-Plane has been designed to be both extremely flexible and easily usable. For this reason, most of the keys on the keyboard do something.

To see which keys are tied to which functions, first open the Joystick and Equipment dialog box by moving the mouse to the top of the screen, clicking Settings, and clicking Joystick and Equipment. There, select the Keys tab. In the Keys tab, you can look at the functions assigned to the keys of the keyboard.

There are two ways to change a key’s function here. The window has each key of the keyboard represented by a rectangular button (found on the far left of the screen), and it has that button’s function to the right of it. One way to program a key is to click one of the square buttons in the left-hand pane and select the function (found in the left-hand pane) that the key should control.

Functions are classified into a number of categories (operation, engines, ignition, etc.), found in the middle pane of this window. The functions themselves are found in the right pane of the window. Click on the radio button (that is, the small, circular button) beside the category you’re looking for, then click the radio button next to the function itself.

Alternatively, click the Add New Key Assignment button found in the bottom center of the window. This will add a new gray button at the bottom of the left-hand pane, labeled NONE. Click this button and press the key you would like to program. Next, find the function you’re looking for in the right-hand pane of the window and select it.

Note that it is not necessary to try and remember all of the keyboard shortcuts. Instead, many of them are shown in the menus when flying. For example, while in flight, move the mouse to the top of the screen and click the View menu to see each view (listed on the left) and the keyboard shortcut it’s assigned to (found on the right within a set of brackets). For instance, in the view menu, the “Forward with Panel” view has a ‘w’ next to it, so it can be selected with the ‘w’ key.

Configuring the Rendering Options

X-Plane is a very advanced simulator that has been designed for use across a broad range of computers with varying specifications. As such, X-Plane offers the ability to change numerous settings to optimize performance on your computer. For this reason, this is one of the most critical portions of this manual. The Rendering Options window allows you to match X-Plane’s settings (and thus the demands the simulator puts on the computer) to you computer’s capabilities.

The simulator’s performance is measured in frames per second (FPS, or frame rate). This is how many times per second the X-Plane physics and rendering code (currently more than 700,000 lines of code!) can be run. Each time the computer runs through the program it advances the aircraft and recalculates the images that are seen (cloud formations, scenery, aircraft instruments, other aircraft, etc.).

Obviously, X-Plane has to be tremendously flexible to be able to run on a three year old computer and also take full advantage of the latest and greatest hardware available. There are two things that affect X-Plane’s frame rate: the computer’s capabilities and how much it is being asked to simulate (e.g., how much visibility is set, how many buildings, clouds, and other aircraft are being drawn, etc.). It will be much harder for the computer to compute images when flying an airplane in 30-mile visibility with 8,000 3-dimensional buildings and cloud puffs than it would be if X-Plane were set up with only two or three miles of visibility and no clouds. Thus, generally speaking, the higher the rendering options are set, the lower the performance and frame rate achieved.

The faster a computer can run X-Plane the more realistic and rewarding the simulation will be. Testing has shown that the human brain can separate individual frames at frame rates of less than about 20 FPS, causing the simulation to appear “choppy.” Coincidentally, this is also about the same place that the engineering behind the simulation begins to fall apart. For this reason, X-Plane has set the minimum operating speed at this level. If a computer is not capable of delivering a frame rate of 20 FPS while rendering the level of detail set up in the Rendering Options page, X-Plane will automatically introduce fog to help the simulation to run more smoothly. The fog keeps X-Plane from having to draw the world to as great a distance, allowing the simulation to run faster.

The Rendering Options dialog box is used to configure the level of detail in the simulator. This window can be found by moving the mouse to the top of the screen, opening the Settings menu, and clicking Rendering Options.

Setting the Basic Rendering Options

The broadest-reaching graphics settings are located at the top of the Rendering Options dialog box, in the section of the window labeled “Resolutions.” These include the texture resolution, the resolution of the window when in full-screen mode, the level of anti-aliasing, and more.

Texture Resolution

The texture resolution drop-down box determines the clarity and detail of the textures displayed in X-Plane. Textures are the image-maps that are draped over the terrain and aircraft to make them look realistic. If the texture resolution is set to low, the runway and terrain will look blurry and blocky. While this will not look very good, it will use very little video memory (VRAM), so a high frame rate will be more easily achievable. The more powerful a computer’s video card is, though, the higher the texture resolution can be set in X-Plane without hurting the frame rate. The frame rate will be significantly impacted, though, if a texture resolution is selected that requires more VRAM than the computer’s video card has.

You can easily determine how much VRAM is required to render the current scene. At the bottom of the Rendering Options dialog box is a line that reads “Total size of all loaded textures at current settings: xxx.xx meg.”

In most cases, this number will only be updated after X-Plane is restarted—that is, you cannot change the texture resolution, close the Rendering Options window, and reopen it to check the amount of VRAM used.

If your system has a video card with 512 MB of memory and the VRAM currently used is only 128 MB, then a higher texture resolution can be set without problems. This will cause the scenery, runway, and airplane to all look sharper and crisper. As long as X-Plane is not requiring more VRAM than the system’s video card has, the simulation’s frame rate will not be impacted. Note that if a texture resolution is set which requires substantially more VRAM than the video card has, the simulator’s frame rate will be massively impacted as the computer begins to use system RAM to store textures—a very slow process.

Do not worry if the total size of all textures loaded is larger than the amount of VRAM in your system; in a perfect world, the VRAM used will be about equal to or a bit more than the VRAM of the system’s video card. This will give maximum texture detail without overflowing the video card’s memory and reducing the frame rate. Machines with faster graphics busses (like PCIe x16) will be less sensitive to VRAM use.

Gamma

The gamma setting controls the overall brightness of the dark parts of the X-Plane world. Versions of Mac OS prior to 10.6 Snow Leopard used a default gamma of 1.8, whereas newer versions of OS X, as well as all versions of Windows, use a default gamma of 2.2. Increase this by a small amount (0.1 or so) if X-Plane looks too dark.

Anisotropic Filtering

Anisotropic filtering is a bit complicated.

Imagine taking a photograph and looking at it from about two feet away, with your eyes directly above the image and perpendicular to it. Things are clear and sharp, right? Now imagine taking the same picture and rotating it 90 ° away from you so you’re looking at the edge. Obviously, the image is no longer visible. Now rotate it back towards you 5 or 10 °. You can just start to make out the image, but since you’re looking at it from such a low angle, the picture is fuzzy and poorly defined.

This is analogous to looking at the X-Plane scenery from a low altitude on a clear day. The images directly in front of the aircraft will be relatively clear, but the closer the scenery gets to the horizon, the fuzzier the image becomes. The anisotropic filter helps to clear this fuzziness away, making the image clearer. This option has a minimal effect on most machines and a moderate impact on some machines. Try it out and see if you like it and if you can live with the performance penalty.

Full-Screen Resolution

The box labeled run full-screen at this resolution will cause X-Plane to run in full-screen mode at the resolution you choose from the drop-down box. Selecting the “Default Monitor Settings” will make X-Plane use the same resolution as your operating system. If you choose a resolution with a different aspect ratio than your monitor has, X-Plane will appear stretched. This would happen, for instance, if your monitor had a native resolution of 1920 x 1080 (a widescreen, 16: 9 aspect ratio) and you selected a resolution of 1024 x 768 (a “standard” 4: 3 aspect ratio).

Frame Rate Locking

The frame rate lock to monitor drop-down box allows you to steady the simulator’s frame rate by not allowing the frame rate to exceed a certain value. If X-Plane generally runs as a high frame rate on your computer, but does not do so smoothly and consistently, you can lock the frame rate to some ratio of your monitor’s refresh rate to keep the frame rate steady.

Anti-Aliasing

The anti-alias level parameter is used to smooth the edges of the objects drawn in the simulator. When a computer tries to draw diagonal lines across the finite number of rectangular pixels in a monitor, “jaggies” result—pixelated-looking, stair-stepped lines. These jaggies may be (somewhat) eliminated by turning on anti-aliasing. This will cause X-Plane to actually draw the simulated world several times per frame and blend those frames together, resulting in a better looking image. Thus, it is similar to using a higher screen resolution; running at a resolution of 2048 x 2048 without anti-aliasing is similar to running at 1024 x 1024 and 4x anti-aliasing. Both situations tax the video card with virtually no increase in CPU use. This will completely kill the simulator’s frame rate if the system doesn’t have a strong video card, but if the video card can take it, crank this option up.

Please note that in HDR rendering mode, standard anti-aliasing using this parameter is not recommended; it will impact frame rate without providing any real benefit—this is simply a function of the way the new deferred rendering system works. Since HDR rendering is really the way X-Plane 10 was meant to be seen (since it is the only mode where the beautifully realistic global shadows are available), the anti-alias level parameter should probably be left at “none.” Instead, use an HDR-specific method of anti-aliasing described in the section “ sec:special_fx” below.

Field of View

The final of the basic graphics settings, found near the bottom center of the screen in the section of the window labeled “Special Viewing Options,” is the lateral field of view. Older monitors with a 4: 3 aspect ratio (corresponding to a resolution like 1024 x 768 or 1600 x 1200) probably want to stick to a 45 ° field of view. Widescreen monitors (those with an aspect ratio of, say, 16: 10 or 16: 9 and a resolution of, say, 1920 x 1080, 1600 x 900, and so on) may benefit from a wider field of view (60 ° or so).

Setting Up the X-Plane World

Many features of the X-Plane world are turned on or off using controls found in the portion of the window labeled “Stuff to Draw.” These are discussed below.

Miscellaneous Drawing Settings

When the box on the far left labeled draw view indicator is checked, you will see a small orange airplane in the top of the screen when you rotate your view left or right using the Q and E keys, respectively.

X-Plane can simulate orbital and sub-orbital flight using the Space Shuttle and other spacecraft. If the box labeled draw hi-res planet textures from orbit is checked, X-Plane will display high-resolution images of the Earth when simulating space flights. These high-resolution images will typically be displayed at altitudes of 100,000 feet or higher. This has no effect on frame rate except when flying above that altitude.

The runways follow terrain contours box should always be checked. This causes runways and taxiways to follow the elevation of the terrain upon which they are drawn. In some cases, the changes in elevation of the terrain may be very abrupt, which can make airport runways overly bumpy. Unchecking this box will cause X-Plane to flatten the terrain under runways to alleviate potential problems. This option has no effect on frame rate.

When the box labeled draw forest fires and balloons is checked, X-Plane will randomly generate forest fires, which can be put out after scooping up water in a water bomber such as the CL-415 Bombardier. It will also cause hot air balloonists to meander through the world when the weather is nice. This option has a negligible effect on frame rate.

Checking the box labeled draw birds and deer in nice weather will put randomly generated deer near the airport which may bolt across the runway and cause a collision. It will also generate very realistic-looking flocks of birds, each of which is modeled independently and has its own “mission.” Colliding with the birds will cause damage to the aircraft as well as engine failures and other things, just like in reality. This setting has only a marginal effect on frame rate.

The box labeled draw aircraft carriers and frigates will cause X-Plane to put boats and aircraft carriers in the water near your aircraft.

The box labeled draw Aurora Borealis will make X-Plane show the Aurora Borealis at night when in the North.

Objects on the Ground

The number of trees, number of objects, number of roads, and number of cars determine how many of each type of ground object are drawn. In general, the number of objects will have the greatest effect on the simulator’s performance. Each of these options are CPU-intensive; if you do not have a fast, multi-core CPU, you may want to leave them at the default.

World Detail Settings

The world detail distance controls how much detail to use when drawing objects and other things in the X-Plane world, as well as how far away that level of detail should be used. You should almost always use the “default” setting here, ensuring that what you see is what a scenery artist intended. Lowering this parameter may improve frame rate on slower computers, though.

The airport detail setting controls how much detail is used in drawing portions of the scenery at airports. It can have a significant impact on performance when flying near airports. The highest settings will ensure that you see all there is to see around an airport.

The shadow detail setting controls how realistic the shadows in the simulator are. “Static” shadows simply draw a flat, unchanging shadow of your aircraft on the ground below it. “Overlay” shadows vary the shadow cast by your aircraft on the ground by the position of the sun in the sky. “3-D on aircraft” shadows use X-Plane 10’s new shadow rendering to allow the aircraft to cast shadows on itself as well as on the ground; this would be most visible with a high-wing aircraft. “Global” shadows allow all objects, trees, etc. in X-Plane to cast shadows on everything else. Global shadows, of course, are much more difficult to render; they are both CPU- and GPU-intensive. The degree to which your frame rate is affected by shadows will be a function of the number of objects you’re using; lots of objects combined with global shadows may massively impact your frame rate.

Finally, the water reflection detail controls how thoroughly water reflections are calculated using pixel shaders; it changes how many calculations the computer must do on each pixel in the water. This can have a significant impact on the simulator’s performance when near water.

Expert Rendering Options

Checking the compress textures to save VRAM box and restarting X-Plane may enable the simulator to use about twice the VRAM as before without overflowing the video card. However, doing so will cause some of the crispness and precision to be lost from textures. Try it out and see what happens.

The 3-D bump-maps and gritty detail textures will make surfaces in X-Plane appear more realistic. They will have some impact on frame rate (they use both the CPU and some VRAM), but for most modern graphics cards, the benefits will certainly outweigh the small cost associated with them.

Special Effects

In X-Plane, fog is used to control the visibility. Thus, enabling the draw volumetric fog option creates a number of small, localized fog effects, causing the density to vary whenever X-Plane draws fog. The result is that objects and scenery fade into the distance in a much more gradual (and pleasant) way than they otherwise would. On some computers, this can have a significant effect on frame rate, but for newer machines, the benefits significantly outweigh the costs.

The checkbox labeled draw per-pixel lighting toggles pixel shaders. Using pixel shaders allows X-Plane to add 3-D lighting on a per-pixel basis, to incredible effect. Rather than having the simulator tell the graphics card how to light an area, the graphics card determines it in real time, creating a very realistic image. If you have an older graphics card, this can have a large effect on frame rate.

HDR rendering is the new method X-Plane 10 uses for drawing the world. It allows an unlimited number of light sources, resulting in very convincing shadows across the whole world. If you have a newer graphics card (one that supports DirectX 10 or later), you will probably love using this effect; as this option is GPU-intensive, however, if you have an older graphics card, you may want to avoid it.

With HDR rendering on, two new rendering options become available: atmospheric scattering and HDR anti-aliasing. Enabling the atmospheric scattering option causes objects that are far away to appear more washed-out, just as they do in the real world. Once again, this shouldn’t have a great impact on frame rate on newer computers. The HDR anti-aliasing setting allows for more effective means of smoothing otherwise jagged lines than the older anti-alias level control. The “FXAA” version of HDR anti-aliasing is both high quality and computationally inexpensive, so it is recommended for almost all users. The “4xFSAA” version, on the other hand, simply has the graphics card draw the image at four-times the normal size, then scale it down. This will have a much greater impact on frame rate than FXAA.

Cloud Effects

The clouds in X-Plane can be configured in a number of ways. X-Plane’s 3-D clouds are generated from many smaller cloud sprites, or “puffs.” They give the appearance of a true, volumetric cloud, which can be flown through or around. They also develop over time, just as in real life, depending on weather conditions.

The number of cloud puffs slider sets the number of cloud puffs. Increasing the number of puffs will have a significant impact on frame rate. Be careful with this one.

The size of cloud puffs sets the size of each cloud puff. The larger the size of cloud puffs, the slower X-Plane will perform, although this may not be too noticeable on modern video cards.

Setting the Rendering Options for Best Performance

The following procedure will allow you to optimize X-Plane’s performance for your computer, regardless of the power of that computer or any limitations it may have.

Before we begin, we will need to be able to tell how fast X-Plane is running on your computer. To do this, launch X-Plane and:

  1. Move your mouse to the top of the screen (causing the menu to appear) and click Settings, then Data Input and Output.
  2. Check the far right box next to frame rate item 0, in the upper left corner of the window). This will cause X-Plane to display the current frame rate in the upper left of the screen during flight.
  3. Close the Data Input and Output window (either with one of the Xs in the corners of the window or with the Enter key on the keyboard). You should now see how fast the simulation is running, in the freq/ sec output on the far left. This is the current frame rate, given in frames per second (fps).

Note that the frame rate will change depending on what is happening in the simulation. It is not uncommon for a computer to output 50 fps while sitting on an empty runway, but drop down to, say, 35 fps when rendering lots of buildings, other aircraft, etc.

Refer to the following to determine the significance of this number.

  • 19 fps is terrible and barely adequate to run the simulator.
  • 30 to 50 fps is the ideal range. Higher frame rates indicate the computer isn’t rendering with as much detail as it could. Studies have shown that starting at about 50 frames per second, your subconscious mind forgets that you are looking at a simulator and begins thinking you are actually flying.
  • 100 fps is excessively high and indicates that the system has plenty of capacity to draw more buildings, clouds, and other objects.

Increasing the Frame Rate

If the simulator’s frame rate isn’t as high you would like, you can raise it by following the instructions below. We recommend following these instructions in order, checking the frame rate after each major change until you find settings that give an acceptable frame rate.

Changing Texture Quality: If your graphics card has too little VRAM for the textures X-Plane is loading (a very real possibility in Version 10), you may see a huge drop in frame rate. To correct this, try the following.

  1. Move the mouse to the top of the window, making the menu bar appear, and click Settings, then click Rendering Options.
  2. The texture resolution drop-down menu determines how much video RAM (VRAM) the computer will use. If your graphics card has plenty of VRAM, you can set it as high as you want with no loss in frame rate, but as soon as the texture resolution requires more VRAM than the graphics card has, the simulator’s frame rate will plummet.
  3. To determine how much VRAM is being used at the current settings, look at the very bottom of this window. The last line reads “Total size of all loaded textures at current settings: xxx.xx meg.”

    While it is in some cases possible to load more textures than can be stored in VRAM without a performance hit (as not all textures will be used all the time), the size of the loaded textures should not be significantly greater than the VRAM on the system’s video card.
  4. Lower the texture resolution if the current settings require much more VRAM than your video card has.

After changing the texture resolution, X-Plane must be restarted for the change to take effect. We recommend putting the texture resolution on its lowest setting, exiting the sim, restarting it, and noting the frame rate. From there, raise the texture detail up one level and repeat until the frame rate decreases. This is the point at which all of the video card’s RAM is being used. Back the texture resolution off to one level lower than where the decrease was noted and restart X-Plane one more time.

If, after restarting X-Plane, your frame rate is still low, you may want to disable some of the newer features of the X-Plane renderer, such as HDR rendering and global shadows.

Disable HDR Rendering, Simplify Shadows, and Lower Water Reflections: The latest rendering features in X-Plane 10 (HDR rendering, global shadows, and water complex water reflection) can be very costly on older computers. HDR rendering is potentially quite GPU-intensive, and global shadows and water reflections are both CPU- and GPU-intensive. Therefore, if you are having issues with the frame rate, should be some of the first options to go.

Uncheck the HDR rendering option (located in the Special Effects portion of the window). Next, set the shadow detail located in the Stuff to Draw portion of the window) to either “overlay” or “3-D on aircraft.” Finally, set the “water reflection detail” to “none.” Restart X-Plane, and you should see a dramatic rise in frame rate. If, however, the frame rate is still unacceptable, you may need to change the resolution as well.

Changing the Resolution: The screen resolution refers to the number of pixels that X-Plane must fill. The lowest available (and default) resolution is 1024 x 768. Increasing the resolution will cause a drop in frame rate if your graphics card is not powerful enough.

When using X-Plane in windowed (i.e., not full-screen) mode, simply dragging the window size down will lower your resolution. When using X-Plane in full-screen mode, open the Rendering Options by moving the mouse to the top of the screen, clicking Settings, then clicking Rendering Options. Since the run full-screen at this resolution box must be checked for full-screen mode, you can use the drop-down menu to the right of that box to choose a lower resolution. Try 1024 x 768 first to see if lowering the resolution does indeed improve your frame rate. Note, however, that choosing a resolution different from the resolution set in your operating system may cause X-Plane to display a black border around the simulator.

Optimizing Other Rendering Options: A few more rendering options are very important in getting the best performance in X-Plane on your computer. Once again, to modify the rendering options, move your mouse to the top of the screen, click Settings, and click Rendering Options.

On most computers, the rendering options with the greatest impact on performance are the number of objects, number of roads, and number of cars, simply because these are CPU-limited rather than being GPU-limited. These settings have a huge impact on frame rate. Set them to none for the most speed, then restart X-Plane for the changes to take effect. Check the frame rate, bring both settings up one level, and repeat, restarting the simulator each time to see how performance is affected. Setting these options to higher levels will look much nicer but will negatively impact the X-Plane’s frame rate.

Another important factor for X-Plane’s performance is the world detail distance setting. This setting determines how far away from your aircraft the simulator’s 3-D objects will be rendered in high quality. Doubling the detail distance will cause X-Plane to draw four times as many objects. This is due to the fact that, from the aircraft’s point of view, the number of objects rendered will grow in all directions equally. You may want to change this from default to low if frame rate is at issue.

Higher values in the airport detail field will give, among other things, nice 3-D runway lights, center line lights, and runway edge lights instead of simple, bodiless spots of light. These effects contribute to a very authentic look for airports, but since these are only visible near the ground, you may find the default value an acceptable compromise; lowering this setting can improve performance significantly.

Modifying Cloud Rendering and Visibility:

Another group of settings that can be modified for performance are the weather effects.

The number of “puffs” in each of X-Plane’s clouds can significantly affect performance. To get a boost in frame rate, first open the Rendering Options as described above. There, drag the number of cloud puffs slider down, perhaps to 10 percent.

A further increase in frame rate can be obtained by drawing only a few simple clouds, with relatively low visibility. To set this, do the following:

Selecting the Weather option from the Environment menu
Figure 4: Selecting the Weather option from the Environment menu
Setting the cloud coverage for the whole world
Figure 5: Setting the cloud coverage for the whole world
  1. Bring down the menu as above and click Environment, then Weather, as shown in Figure 4.
  2. Select the radio button labeled “set weather uniformly for the whole world,” located near the top of the screen.
  3. Using the three cloud drop-down menus (found in the upper left of the screen, and pictured in Figure 5), set the cloud types to “clear” or “cumulus overcast” for max frame rate. For a good frame rate, set them to “thin cirrus” or “stratus.” “Cumulus scattered” or “cumulus broken” take a lot of computing power to display.
  4. Set the visibility (found on the left side of the screen) to about five miles or so. Higher visibility takes more computing power because the computer has to calculate what the world looks like for a much larger area.

Changing the Number of Other Aircraft:

The final setting that really impacts the simulator’s frame rate is the number of other airplanes. Access this by moving the mouse to the top of the screen, clicking Aircraft, then selecting Aircraft and Situations. In the dialog box that appears, go to the Other Aircraft tab.

There, the number of aircraft setting (found in the upper left of the screen) should be set to one for maximum speed. This means X-Plane will only have to calculate physics on your aircraft, providing a significant speed increase on slower CPUs.

With that done, your performance should be optimized, and you’re ready to fly.

Configuring the Sound

To configure the sound, move your mouse to the top of the screen and click Settings, then Sounds. The dialog box that appears allows you to configure the relative volumes of all sounds in X-Plane using the sliders on the right side of the window. On the left side, sounds can be turned off by category. By default, all sounds are enabled, with volumes set at 100 percent (sliders fully to the right).

The bottom of this window will also check the status of speech synthesis software. If the software is not installed on Windows, download the Microsoft Speech SDK 5.1.

Expanding X-Plane

X-Plane can be modified in a number of ways. You can add aircraft or custom scenery, or you can download plug-ins that can radically alter the functionality of the simulator. If you don’t find the aircraft, scenery, or plug-ins you’re looking for, you can create you’re own with a bit of programming know-how. The X-Plane Wiki has a wealth of information on creating both scenery and aircraft, and the X-Plane SDK site has documentation on developing plug-ins. The Plane Maker manual will prove especially useful for users creating aircraft files.

Adding Aircraft

Perhaps the easiest place to find new aircraft is the X-Plane.org “Download Manager” page. All the aircraft in that section of the site are free, though X-Plane.org does have models (some of which are very, very good) for sale. Other noted sources of high-quality, payware aircraft are the folks at X-Aviation, as well as Jason Chandler of AIR.C74.NET.

When downloading a custom aircraft, it will typically be in a compressed folder (usually a ZIP file) that contains the airplane and all its various paint jobs, airfoils, custom sounds, and instrument panels. Once the compressed folder is downloaded, you should be able to double-click on it to open or expand it on Macintosh, Windows, or Linux boxes.

From here, the folder can be expanded out into the Aircraft folder within X-Plane 10 directory, or the files within can be dragged and dropped into the Aircraft folder. Be sure to place the new aircraft files in a folder with the name of the aircraft—for instance, for a newly downloaded Piper J-3 Cub, the folder path in Windows might look like this:

C:\Documents and Settings\User\Desktop\X-Plane 10\Aircraft\Piper Cub\

With the new aircraft in the proper directory, open up X-Plane. Move the mouse to the top of the window (causing the menu to appear). Click Aircraft, then click Open Aircraft. Find the file there and double click on it to load.

Of course, users can also upload their own aircraft to X-Plane.org and similar sites. To do so, first create a custom airplane (using Plane Maker) with airfoils, panels, sounds, etc., per the Plane Maker manual. All the files making up the aircraft then need to be compressed into a ZIP folder to be uploaded to the Internet.

To compress a folder in Windows, right click on the file containing all the files needed for the plane, move the mouse down to Send To, then click “Compressed (zipped) Folder.” A new. zip file will appear in the directory.

On the Mac, right-click or control-click (that is, press the Ctrl key on the keyboard while clicking with the mouse) on the aircraft folder in Finder. In the resulting menu, click “Compress file or folder name” to make a compressed ZIP archive of that aircraft.

These custom aircraft may be uploaded and shared (or sold) at will. We place no copyright restrictions of any sort on aircraft made by users with Plane Maker.

Adding Scenery

Custom scenery packages, too, can be found on the “Download Manager” page page of X-Plane.org, among other places. These may be downloaded and installed at will. Typically, custom scenery packages will need to be unzipped into the X-Plane 10\Custom Scenery folder. Additionally, the XAddonManager utility may be helpful for managing a large amount of custom scenery or downloaded objects.

To create new custom scenery, use the World Editor tool (WED), downloadable from the Scenery Tools page of the X-Plane Wiki. A good number of tutorials for the tools can be found in the of the X-Plane Wiki.

Installing Plug-Ins

Plug-ins are little programs that let the user modify X-Plane. People write plug-ins to do all sorts of interesting things like hang weights on the dashboard that move around accurately, run little tugs around to push your airplane on the ground, or draw interesting terrain visualization systems, among other things. Once again, X-Plane.org (and specifically the Downloads > Utilities page) is a good place to go to find various plug-ins and other things to tweak your copy of X-Plane.

For information on creating custom plug-ins, see the X-Plane SDK site.

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