DCS Library Development

For many years Military AI Works have produced excellent military scenery, many of which leverage of a series of ‘Object Libraries’ produced by many very talented designers. I have been using these libraries in my projects for a long time, and with my switch to DCS I felt a little lost without the breadth of objects available to “detail” airports with.
So, being the infernal tinkerer that I am, I have cobbled a workflow together which allows me to convert FS9 Object Libraries into DCS ‘mods’. It is a laborious task, with a lot of file editing and hand manipulation of 3d models, but it does work!

MAIW Objects scattered around a P-3 in DCS

While I was converting models I had a small experiment with static aircraft, converted from FS9 models. The P-3 in the picture above is by Jake Burrus, with my retro RNZAF AI paint, and looks quite good in the sim.

These first experiments with bringing my ‘familiar’ FS9 objects into DCS has started me thinking about how I can incorporate some of the design philosophies that have evolved over the years into the DCS world.

The flight line could get ‘interesting’

With a workflow established, and a bit more learning of the lua files which run everything in DCS, I got a little more ambitious and converted HMNZS Canterbury, and have it operating as a working vessel, with a landable helipad..

RNZAF Iroquois landing on HMNZS Canterbury…. a DCS First (I believe)

Change of Sim Philosophy

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.

DSC:Combined Arms

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.

The tank sim I’ve been looking for…. bought ‘by accident’
The operational possibilities are almost endless…..

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.

An example of the A-10C Panel in Icarus

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.

A weekend of Development and Testing

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.

First stop;  Kaikoura

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!)

Some pretty cool cloud-scapes and colours as the sun set

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.

Tactical Commanders view, Tactical Situation on Google Earth, Weather brief via Windy.com and a camera view from the host aircraft.

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!

Canterbury on station off White Island



It *was* dark…. but the ‘TAC-CDR’ made a low-pass on arrival in the AO

More Decorating, TACOPS Update, and a Mission Clock

There hasn’t been a whole lot going on in the ManCave lately, but over the weekend I did add some more stickers to the wall and fix a bug in TACOPS (for those playing along at home I’m up to v1.02….) 

Most of the new stickers have come from a trip down memory lane as I dug through some old boxes of photos.  The 29Sqn RAF sticker was from the son of my 5th form Tech Drawing teacher who was a Phantom pilot…

Part of ‘nostalgia’ trip involved framing a picture for Nathan, which got me thinking….  I have been wanting to frame my Air Training Corps Solo Certificate since I received it in 1989. So a cheap A3 frame from The Warehouse, an old NZCH VTC as a background, and my Certificate is ready to be hung somewhere in the ManCave.

I have been wanting to frame this since I first received it.  Finally it’s done!

With all my recent messing around with my TACOPS programming, I have been thinking about how I could set up the ‘Mission Commander’ station in the ManCave.  Using the big TV with either Google Earth, or MSFS with a tower/radar view, and an old (small) laptop running my TACOPS software I could make something pretty cool… But it needed more…. and I was thinking about a “Mission Clock”, or a sim-driven Zulu/Local clock. 
With this in mind, I did some messing around with an Arduino and some 7-Segment displays, working with MobiFlight.

And it works!

v1.0 TACOPS Online

I had 2 goals for the ‘initial’ release of TACOPS;
– Show all Clients as TCAS targets on AI Radar displays
– Display all Clients on Google Earth
And they are both now achieved.  It may not be the tidiest code in the world, but it does work, and I am very happy with it.

TACOPS running, connected to 7 active clients

I even have the early stages of a ‘command prompt’ setup.  From the prompt I can disconnect, and reconnect to Clients, and exit the application..  Future plans include the ability to assign callsigns to Clients, and even to send autopilot commands to drones – useful for the Tactical Commander during a multiplayer mission 🙂  Imagine being able to vector a drone tanker to where it is needed… all from the TACOPS command console!

TACOPS is alive

So the very first, earliest implementation of TACOPS is up and running.  At this point all it does is show the location of all my sim ‘assets’ as targets in Google Earth.  They are also shown as a generic looking blue circle.  This is actually the start of my attempt at using NTDS symbols for my ‘Tactical Overview’ display, with the blue circle being a ‘Friendly Surface Contact’ (which is of course where all this started…)

The Tactical Display for the Mission Commander

The most recent work on TACOPS was to standardise the configurations for each WideClient instance which include labels, so that when operating you can identify which client is which.  I am using the WideClient “Button Screen” function which allows me to display the Client label in a button, as well as assign other controls and commands to onscreen buttons.

TACOPS ‘Command Centre’ 🙂 WideClient Button Screen works well to help identify each connection.

If you would like to have a look at TACOPS in action Download TACOPS.KMZ and load it in your Google Earth.  The Clients will automatically refresh every 10 seconds.

TACOPS Update

I am enjoying getting back in to writing simple software for my sim, and the TACOPS project has taken a major step.  Now I can view the location of all my connected sims on Google Earth!  
My application, along with *all* the instances of WideClient are running on my Terminal Server as a new user.  This means I can leave TACOPS doing its thing without impacting on any of my sim operations.

TACOPS running quietly on my terminal server

In its present form TACOPS consists of a simple console app, called by a batch file, which also opens all the copies of WideClient.  Eventually I hope to make it as a single standalone console application, with ‘text’ commands for management of the application and connected clients.
For now, having all connected sims showing on Google Earth is pretty cool!
With a bit of luck, and a quiet weekend at home I should have the ‘Dynamic KML’ ready to publish, meaning that anyone who wants to can connect and see what I’m up to 🙂

FSHost

   In my continuing quest for multiplayer/multi aircraft missions in my sims I have been experimenting with FSHost.

Using this freeware (well, “donationware” actually) server and client I am able to connect different FS versions to the same multiplayer server.  This means I can connect my FS9 based sims with my VR enabled FSX… Imagine a formation hop in VR flying wing with the Skyhawk sim…….

First test, FS9 in the 737 on the left, FSX on the VR ox on the right

One exciting discovery was that lights seem to appear correctly, meaning I should be able to assign “effects” to the light switches in each sim.  This gives the possibility of simulating guns, rockets and bombs across multiple platforms in the same multiplayer session.

TA4KSIM.COM is now hosting a 24/7 FSHost server.  For more info Click on the FSHost Server link under “Sim Projects” above.   To connect to the server, just point your FS, or FSHost Connect Client to ‘ta4ksim.com’ and you should be connected.