Saturday, January 29, 2011

X-Plane Mobile

All seven (I added one that I will probably tell you about later) of my New Year's resolutions are on track, despite all the time I used creating the ultimate spreadsheet to track my progress at each in comparison to progress through the year 2011. (Today, as I write this, it's January 14th and we're 3.56% through the year, but I have earned at least four percent of the arbitrary points available for each item). Go me!

My sim progress is in part thanks to X-Plane Mobile, recommended by a reader. I feel stupid saying this, but I am playing with a flight simulator game the size of my hand, and it's a valid simulation of a real instrument scan and some of the thought processes and multi-tasking that go with flying an actual airplane. I was looking for a clunky little app that simulated hold entries, descent profiles, or some other semi-intelligent task, just to elevate my bored moments from Pac-Man and Mahjong to something more skill-enhancing. And what I got was a full flight simulator for ten bucks.

The iPod becomes both the flight yoke and the instrument panel. You control elevator and ailerons by tilting the device, and the rudder autocoordinates, including for slips on crosswind landings, while you are airborne. There's a slider for the rudder if you want to control it, and the same slider operates rudder/nosewheel steering while you are on the ground. There are also sliders for the flaps and throttle which appear when you put your fingers on them, then fade away again once they are set. You can fly it visually--yes, it has full, realistic-looking graphics--with a simulated HUD overlay, or press an onscreen button to be in panel mode and fly by instruments. A clever feature for visual pilots is a little arrow that points to the nearest airport. I know I lose track of airports when I'm visual in a flight sim, trying to fly a circuit but there is only a forward view. There are seven different airplane model options including singles, twins, jets and props. The ones that I've flown seem reasonably modelled. All but the basic Cessna 172 panel include VORs and ILSes but not NDBs, and there are six regions to fly in, five in the United States and one crazy mountainous one in Austria. You can even set the weather, time of day and the weight and loading of the airplane.

The regions are quite small, so if you go bombing around in a fast airplane you'll scroll off the end of the screen and wrap around again, which is kind of confusing, but you can always hop out to the map to see where you are. People who use flight simulators in order to look at the pretty scenery will find it repetitive, but I say if you want to look at scenery, just cruise around Google Earth. I start it up, take off, slam it into panel mode and stay there for most of the time.

That in itself poses a little problem. The HUD screen is the hub of the simulator. You have to be in HUD mode in order to operate the landing gear, see the gear position indicator, or access the map. On the jet panel you can scroll down to find a gear button above the nav radio, but not on the King Air. The way I normally fly an instrument departure is to set the power, look out the front window until rotation then right away I'm on the instruments. I confirm a nose up attitude and a positive rate of climb, then raise the gear. With this sim I need to pause, switch to HUD mode, unpause, raise the gear, pause, switch back to panel view, and back on the instruments. The same routine applies at glideslope intercept on the ILS approach. If I do it without pausing I tend to get off track or altitude. Maybe it's just something for me to practise.

You have to get the instrument plates to fly approaches. I was sort of surprised that the app or at least the support page didn't include them. The US ones are all available easily from links on AirNav, but I had to search through a few dead links to find the Austrian ones; there's just one airport, Innsbruck LOWI, depicted for that region.

After the mobile fun got me psyched to try the Microsoft one again, I grumbled my way through loading it into memory. It actually required me to insert one of the CDs, I'm not sure if that was for copy protection or because I did a minimum install. I wish there were a "no scenery" or "wireframe scenery" option for these things. They'd be a lot faster. They don't make the Microsoft version anymore, but the full version of X-Plane runs on a PC. The Microsoft one is good enough, but I took a peek to see how much the X-Plane one goes for. It's $30. I thought a full flight sim program would cost five times that. I fell silly buying a full on simulator when I never look at the scenery, but pretty soon I'll have had $30 worth of aggravation out of this seven year old Microsoft program. If my hardware can handle it, I may have to switch. Would you believe that X-Plane even has technical support where you e-mail them questions, and a real person e-mails you back? He called me "sir" but then ATC does that sometimes too. I guess my pilot voice isn't much more girly than my typing.

If you prefer your flights of fancy to have some chance of getting you somewhere, and have some multimedia skills, check out Cathay Pacific's Around the World in Eighty Days promotion. Air tickets, hotels and spending money everywhere their network goes for eighty days. Don't forget to stop in Siem Reap and see Angkor Wat.


wakemp said...

I'm using Foreflight on my iPhone and iPad, not as useful on the iPod Touch without GPS funcitonality - but for Weather (and charts and plates - where availible) it is a nice add to the flight bag... might help your approach plate issue with X-Plane.

Aviatrix said...

Can't print from iPod, can't switch apps midflight.

Michael5000 said...

Spreadsheets! Yay you!

Oshawapilot said...

I met the developer of the X-Plane software at Oshkosh a few years ago, he actually had a nice sim running it on a few big screens at his booth. It's not surprising that he offers excellent technical support, he is really dedicated to X-Plane (and the subsidiary apps) and prides himself on his work.

5400AirportRdSouth said...

Too funny, I just downloaded the Xplane app today. Still trying to figure it out, thanks for the info above!

Sarah said...

I'm glad you are enjoying X-plane mobile, and find it useful. It sound like it has some limitations, but what an amazing thing to hold in the palm of your hand.

You may want to hold off on the desktop version - version "10" is coming any month now. I've found it useful for approach practice, with some annoying quirks. Some of the navaid data is buggy - freqs, ILS/DME locations may not match current charts. That problem is worse in non-US locations. The aircraft delivered with X-plane9 are limited - lots of jets and weird a/c but for GA only a 172 and Piper Malibu.

Still - I think X-plane is great. It's a bit of a pain to find and install what you want, but I do like the semi-open source community development of airports and aircraft.

Sarah said...

Oh - I forgot to thank you for the LOWI approach plates link. Looks like fun!

david said...

I've had this app running on my Android Nexus One for over a month now (on an Android phone, you *can* pause the flight and switch apps, BTW). Graphics are very smooth.

I've also been missing NDB support -- NDBs still matter where I fly (as for you) -- but after reading your posting, I thought of something: why not use the little arrow that points at the airport as if it were an ADF needle? Just pretend that there's an NDB at every airport, all sharing the same frequency.

It should be good enough to practice NDB holds and on-field NDB approaches (published or made up) over any airport.

Aviatrix said...

Yep, that's exactly what I planned to do, Dave. Although it's like the really old kind of ADF, the "radio compass" with only half the needle. Harder to do OB tracking.

Also sorry about missing yesterday's post. It's not finished yet, and I forgot to finish it and queue it on time. Later.

david said...

It looks like a full needle in the Android version -- it pivots in the middle and has a head and tail (though it's rather small to read).

Anonymous said...

Just a heads up that (Contrary to David's assertion this is exclusive to the now-cancelled Nexus One) you can in fact pause the game in ipod touch/iphone and switch into other apps as needed then resume your xplane mobile flight where left off.

Older iPod touches/iphones don't offer multitasking, though no mobile devices from 2007/2008 offer multitasking with Xplane...

One great thing to try is Xplane on ipad, it's beautiful.

david said...


I love the "now-cancelled Nexus One" jibe. :) My comment actually applied to pretty-much every current Android phone, and was in response to Aviatrix's specific complaint about her phone. It's true that in mid-2010, Apple showed up at the multitasking party, and when 'trix gets around to upgrading to a recent iPhone, she'll have multitasking, too.

If I were running a flightsim on an iPad or Android tablet, I think I'd want something closer to the desktop version, with a full 3D control panel/cockpit combined with outside view, view panning, etc. (except taking advantage of the touchscreen and inertial sensors, of course). Is that what the iPad X-Plane version has, or is it mainly the smartphone version blown up for a bigger display?

Anonymous said...

Well the Nexus one was cancelled right? (And not long after launch if I recall) It was as much of a jibe as your inaccurate multi-tasking comment. I just don't think comparing your 2010 Google phone to a 2007 1st gen ipod touch makes much sense, unless it's a battery life (in which case any of generation of Apple mobile products win hands down)

Don't get me wrong, the various Android flavors are definitely the future of mobile, but I argue with the assertion that they are already superior.

X-Plane for iPad is similar to the mobile version though with more scenery options, aircraft, and improved graphics. The processor really shines with this flight sim.

I keep meaning to jump in with electronic kneeboard software, but I fly so rarely and really am not comfortable with the distraction potential.

david said...

@Anonymous the iPhone is a fine phone -- no need to be defensive about it. FWIW, Aviatrix wrote:

"Can't print from iPod, can't switch apps midflight."

I replied:

"I've had this app running on my Android Nexus One for over a month now (on an Android phone, you *can* pause the flight and switch apps, BTW)."

I see no assertion of exclusivity here (to Nexus One specifically, or to Android phones in general) -- X-Plane Mobile also runs on the Palm Pre, and I don't even pretend to know how that handles multitasking.

Then you came in with

"(Contrary to David's assertion this is exclusive to the now-cancelled Nexus One) you can in fact pause the game in ipod touch/iphone..."

I scratched my head over the "assertion this is exclusive" part, but thought the "now-cancelled Nexus One" was a pretty funny dig -- I've been seeing a lot of Android vs. iOS flame wars recently, with people on both sides taking things pretty personally.

The Nexus One was never a mass-market phone, though it was available for nearly a year, like a typical iPhone model, before it was superseded by the Nexus-S. If you want to compare the iPhone to consumer devices, it would be better to look at the Droid X, Galaxy S, etc. I'm still fond of my N1 with its thin metal body, though, and wouldn't trade it for any of those consumer models.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it was that line 'on an android phone you *can*...' like those Verizon 'Droid does' ads from last year (which advertised another phone that sold poorly.

Guilty as charged on the defensive thing, I just really LIKE what Apple has done to the industry, and roll my eyes at the lazy copy-cat competition offering minor incremental iterations, proclaiming each and every one (including that Nexus one) an iPhone-killer. Palm-Pre is a perfect example, it went from being an iPhone killer to Palm-Killer; the company went under and was bought out by HP. Android is a good OS, and I do expect them to achieve great things someday, but for now, no current offering bests Apple's mobile stuff.