In my normal fashion I have again reversed a decision in my projects. Some time ago I was working on a Tactical Ops program, trying to make MSFS into a pseudo-military sim, which was quite clunky, and requires a PC running a bunch of apps to air it all happen. I called ‘time’ on the project when I decided to focus on DCS for my military sim needs.
Fast forward to this year, and some random internet surfing and I stumbled on an idea for using some existing tools to achieve what I wanted for my TACOPS program.
For this new version of TACOPS I needed to learn ho to work with MySQL I my VB.NET console application. So now I have a simple client app on each sim machine which takes to a Database hosted on Camalus, which is my main server connecting all my sims together. Another small application, this time on Camalus, takes the data from the MySQL database, massages it into the right format then publishes it to my web server. Al this means that anyone, anywhere can run a compatible viewer and see where my sims are. I am using the whazzup.txt format, used by VATSIM and IVAO for displaying their online clients. Viewers such as DOLOYNUM and Qutescoop are my favourites.
Tonight while quietly sitting on the couch I had a great idea about using another PC in my ‘virtual ship’ setup… This second PC would be a surrogate for Canterbury when I arrived at a location and deployed the RHIB. This would mean that the surrogate would take on the identity of Canterbury while I used the TACOPS PC to simulate the RHIB (or any other support vehicle). All of this would mean that I could leave Canterbury on other adventures, yet she would remain persistent in my virtual world.
With my playing around in DCS, and my love of the FAC mission, I decided to try a conversion of my CT4 model as a working FAC aircraft in DCS.
I had the basic aircraft geometry imported and converted, albeit with a few bugs so I tackled the task of adding weapons to it one night, and the results were surprisingly good!
I was certain that somewhere in the past the idea of a FAC conversion of the CT4 had been floated, which added some sort of legitimacy to my project.. A bit of searching on the ‘net came up with this page at Aviadejavu.ru
Finding this image was a great step, giving some credence to the idea of a FAC CT4. I need to model the pylons, and find the right sized pods to hang under the wings, and we will have a usable FAC platform for our multiplayer missions!
The most recent news on the modding front is that I am running a 30 day trial of 3DStudio Max, which will hopefully give me time to finish the CT4 project at least… And plans are in play to secure the use of 3DS Max for longer… watch this space!
Forward Air Control is something that I’ve always been interested in, so with a little bit of ‘fiddling’ with some files in DCS, I have a pseudo-FAC aircraft set up. I need to define and test some ‘proper’ weapon options, but this test, with WP rockets worked pretty well. Looking forward to some multi-player missions utilizing the FAC Cessna!
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.
Saturday afternoon was a good time for some brushing up on my tanking skills in the Skyhawk.
The afternoon started with Alex’s friend Jethro having a look around the ManCave, and a quick Air-to-Air refueling introduction. After he left, I spent a bit of time in the seat.
It was a great afternoon chasing both the VC10 and 707 around for some refresher training. I had the 707 orbiting on Autopilot at various speeds and altitudes giving me lots of opportunities to practice. Using the TACOPS command interface I was able to set the autopilot on the 707 directly from TACOPS, without having to go to the specific FS machine. This all means that during a ‘mission’, the tactical commander could direct the tanker (or any other ‘Drone’ asset) to where they are needed to suit mission requirements. I’m quite pleased with this aspect of TACOPS, and will be expanding on it’s capabilities in the near future.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
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.