After the developments in DCS over the past couple of months I have had a significant change in thinking on how I will operate my sims. Up till now I have been working on a single, standardized software install across all my sims, but with the recent DCS developments, and some recent experiences with Orbx scenery in our sims at work, I have had a major rethink on my plan.
With my recent experience in DCS I realized that work I had been doing on my ‘TACOPS’ application was basically trying to replicate what DCS has bulit in.
So. Big decision, but now my 3 main sims will be running *different* software as their primary platform:
The Skyhawk will be running DCS:World with the A-4 Community Mod installed as it’s primary Platform.
The Arrow will switch to FSX:SE with Orbx NZ:NI and NZ:SI scenery
The 737 will continue using FS9, with my mature scenery build.
The current F421/Termserver PC will switch over to running DCS:Combined Arms as a JTAC (Joint Terminal Air Controller) for the Skyhawk, while retaining FS9 and FSX to run alongside any of the other sims.
DCS:Combined Arms has been a bit of a revelation; I bought it for the JTAC role, but once I had it installed and running I discovered that I had unwittingly bought the Tank simulator which I have been looking for since the days of ‘Armored Fist’ from Novalogic.
Combined Arms allows you to control ground forces in the DCS Digital world, and to assume control of individual vehicles. This means that I can free-roam around the map in a Humvee, driving wherever I like, sight-seeing or designating targets for pilots in the mission.
This new philosophy means that each sim will be working to it’s own strengths, rather than focusing on interoperability. This does mean that I wont be trying to make the Arrow or 737 be anything other than what they are, and I wont be trying to turn FS9 into a pseudo-combat sim. The switch to DCS allows me to leverage of a true combat sim, with robust multiplayer, a complex mission scripting system, giving me the ability to build realistic missions for the Skyhawk, and with the former-F421 PC running DCS as well, the mission options are pretty wide ranging.
The Skyhawk will be running both VR and 2D, using the Community A-4 mod, and one of the DCS ‘Panel’ utilities to render a 2d panel on the lower screen in-cockpit.
The switch to DCS will finally allow me to have systems operating which have been merely a dream before now. A good example is the RWR display, which Icarus can render on a small monitor which I can mount behind the RWR display in the main panel.
After the development work on TACOPS over the past few weeks, it was time to put it all to the test. Nathan and I fired up all three sims, plus the Tactical-Commanders station, Canterbury and a Navy RHIB. The testing plan involved flying and sailing all the assets into the same location, and testing radar and ibnet ‘visual’ contacts on each. The location for the test was the Bay of Plenty, Tauranga and Whakatane for the aircraft, and White Island for the ships.
The first part of the mission; the locating of all assets, meant a quite long flight in the Arrow, which was at Wigram all the way North to Whakatane. The positioning flight began on Thursday evening in awful weather. At one point, battling a terrible North West gale I had a mere 70 Knots ground speed, so I opted to drop in to Kaikoura for the night and try again the following evening.
Friday night, the weather was marginally better, but only marginally, but with tanks topped of and charts in hand it was time to push North. The initial plan was to position the Arrow to Galatea, but given that the airfield has no lighting at all, and it was going to be near midnight by the time I got there, I opted to continue on to Whakatane, with not only lighting, but published instrument approaches (which would turn out to be quite a good thing!)
Now, with everything in place it was time for our test ‘mission’, so bright and early on Saturday we powered up all the sims and started our testing.
We identified a few missing aircraft models on a couple of the sims, which were quickly fixed, then we moved on to the ‘radar’ testing.
TACOPS provided the radar targets, which were showing successfully on Eric Marciano’s early, freeware radar gauge, but not on his later, and much more sophisticated gauges, nor were they showing on the 737’s Project Magenta Glass Cockpit display. ‘ibnet’ Multiplayer targets were showing on Eric’s later gauges, but only when airborne (which I imagine was by design). So with this knowledge The Skyhawk will be fitted with the older radar gauge for use against Maritime and Land based targets. The down-side is that the locked targets probably wont be showed on the HUD… but that is merely a theory at this point and will need some testing!
Andy visited the cave tonight to sample VR for the first time. He flew a variety of aircraft in FSX/Fly Inside before switching to DCS:World.
For a final giggle, being that he rolls his eyes when I talk about my various sims, I put him in a Kenworth in American Truck Simulator! Never shall he scorn me again! I suspect I’m in trouble when Andy goes home and tells his wife he’s buying a VR headset 🙂
While Andy was flying I fired up the Arrow for another flight around Korea. The weather was still pretty awful, so it ended up being an IFR return to Osan. It was nice flying over unfamiliar scenery, having to use charts and navaids to navigate.
After Andy left for the night I did a little VR flying; taking the Bell 206 from Christchurch over to Okains Bay on the Peninsula for a great night-flight. VR in FSX is amazing at night, with really vibrant lighting effects. The moon reflecting off the Pacific Ocean looked fantastic, and the moonlight bathing the cockpit as a really cool effect. I look forward to more helicopter flying in VR!
Despite the rubbish weather at Ohakea, I had a really successful night of testing FSRecorder in both the TA-4 and Arrow sims.
First I flew (and recorded) a track in the Arrow, shooting rockets at various things out at Raumai, with the previous TA-4 tracks as a background.
Then I fired up the Skyhawk, and loaded both TA-4 tracks, as well as the new Arrow-as-a-FAC track..
After a couple of entertaining flights, I can see that my ideas and plans for FSRecorder are entirely plausible… A couple of issues with effects displaying to sort out, then more testing with different “weapons” effects and I’ll be read to plan a multi-aircraft scenario to record.
I was planning on upgrading the sim PC for the Skyhawk, but got distracted and ended up getting the new PC up and running for the Arrow!
FSX Steam Edition
FTX NZ Scenery
FS Real WX Lite for Weather
FSUIPC4 and GA28R.dll from Peter Dowson
Modified version of Carenado’s PA28R Arrow
After a quick “test” flight around Christchurch, a little FSUIPC tweaking, and some tinkering and it is all working remarkably well! Next step is to do some graphics tweaking to maximize performance, then it will be time to start exploring NZ again!
And it’s true! Tomorrow night I have some friends coming to fly the sims…. and the ManCave was is a real state! The Skyhawk had it’s throttle out, awaiting installation of a new throttle , the Arrow had no pilot seat… and there was *CRAP* everywhere, stacked on every available flat surface.
So, tonight was a huge working night on the sims, and finally a big tidy up of the ManCave.
I mounted the new Thrustmaster TWCS throttle in the left console, which meant removing the left side outer skin, removing the old throttle and it’s associated wiring, then re-positioning the panels behind the throttle, to match the new footprint.
Since I had the drill out I figured I might as well finish off the mounting for the Gear and Hook panels, by attaching them permanently. I also finally screwed down the aft end of the left side console and tidied up a bunch of cabling where it runs out the front of the panel.
With it all screwed back together and the outer side panels in place (the first time they have both been on the sim at the same time in years!) I thought I might as well fit the insulated lining on the right sidewall.
Next the Arrow got some attention; since it will probably be flown tomorrow I figured it probably needed a pilot seat, as the 737 Pax seat is just leaning on the wall next to the sim, so not a whole lot of use. A couple of blocks of 4×2 and some long screws and it is a little more secure. Though it is still not the right height, it is certainly better than it was.
The final part of the evening was getting all my ‘IT’ ducks in a row, so to speak. at some point in my tidying I had inadvertently disconnected an Ethernet cable, effectively isolating the skyhawk sim, and server from the rest of the network, and the outside world.
With all the issues sorted, it was time to bed the sims down and call it a night.
Just when you thought I’d abandoned the Arrow project….. I ordered some seat sliders as part of the conversion of my 737 passenger seat for the Arrow.
These seat runners come from scarles.co.nz who provide loads of car parts for custom/race car builders. I’ve used these universal rails on a project at work and the will be perfect for the arrow seat, and at $55, the price is right too!
I’m travelling again… so that means more FS development….
This time the Arrow got some new paint! For some of my ideas for multiplayer missions I saw the Arrow acting as a Forward Air Controller or ‘FAC’, and for that it would need a completely different paint scheme. I whipped up this completely fictional paint as NZ1770, an Arrow IV FAC aircraft attached to No.14 Squadron….
Didn’t come out half bad I thought! So next up is the 737 in either tactical grey, or the same “Euro 1” colours……