Time waits, as I think we mentioned last week, for no one – and it now appears that “other developers” have decided to move ahead with their own 777 project. What impact – if any – this will have on the XPJets storied Trip-7 program remains unclear, but it’s fair to say that the market for add ons for X-Plane is – relatively speaking – a small one, and how many people will want two of these large Boeings is anyone’s guess? The answer to this question will, I think, be decided on two key points: how good the “other” file is, and exactly how such intangibles as “brand loyalty” play in this market. My guess? There’s always room in any market for excellence, and it’s nothing new for a market to have almost identical products competing for market share. It happens in FsX all the time, does it not?
That said, whenever any big payware file like a Boeing or an Airbus is released, the event is a BIG DEAL in our little community. When a prominent developer releases his first big Boeing, this becomes a VERY, VERY BIG DEAL – just by virtue of the novelty of it all. But when an über-talented FMS/plug-in developer joins the team, the dimensions of the program takes on even more importance. And finally, when an FsX hardware developer is convinced to port an existing hardware FMC to X-Plane so it can work in this new ACF, you have the recipe for a genuine “mega-hit” release, one that could very easily shake up the entire market as new hardware possibilities emerge. The FMC will be available a few months after release, by the way, but we’ll be keeping a close eye on this development.
Well, that “other developer” is Ramzzess, and he’s no stranger to the ultra-competitve X-Plane marketplace. His Sukhoi Superjet has been one of the most fun, and certainly one of the most engaging aircraft files in X-Plane over the past year or so, but he has growing experience making a wide variety of other ACF for our market too. We’ve interviewed this ultra-talented designer in the past so we’ll not spend a lot of time on the preliminaries here other than to mention that images about his pending 757/200 were featured prominently in that interview.
Also on stage is Philipp Münzel on plug-ins. By now you ought to know this name, but if not please note he’s the other half of the JRollon CRJ200 team, and he’s the one who pulled that file out of the fire and got it to market before we all just about died and had a collective hissy-fit when the CRJ was “cancelled”. Yeah…it’s THAT Philipp…one of the most cherished technical gurus in all X-Plane.
Okay, have we got your undivided attention now? You’re sure? Good, because if so, when Philipp reveals a few of the interesting new features in their new T7 ACF, you know you can take this guy at his word.
So anyway, we thought the best thing we could do to get this show on the road was update our previous developer interview, so without any further nonsense from the peanut gallery, let’s see what’s what!
xp+10+reviews: We think a lot of people are going to be surprised by this release. Could you tell us a little about the development of this ACF? Roman, did you start work on the file at the same time as work commenced on the 757?
Roman B (Ramzzess): Actually I was planning to make a T7 (777) even before I made the SSJ v5, but it seemed too much trouble, and too complex. I began working on it just before the 757 project started and left it basically at an early start stage when 1-sim project started. Then, when the 757 was put on hold, for reasons that I don’t want to discuss now, I got back to the 777 and started working on the 3D model, then the basic systems.
xp+10+reviews: Philipp, when did you “come on board” with this project, and what did you hope to accomplish when you set out?
Philipp M: On March 24th there was the 10th annual German Flightsim Conference in Munich, and I was there as a speaker to show X-Plane aircraft. Of course I showed off the CRJ but I had also asked other developers if I may show their aircraft, so it was natural to ask Roman for a copy of the Superjet for the presentation.
So when I was talking to Roman about the conference, he hinted at some project being in his backlog for quite some time, and if I might be interested in a cooperative venture. So I took a look at the 777 and found what he had made so far to be so inspiring that it only took me a day to decide I wanted to be on board. So on March 26th we exchanged a few emails and by dinner time the next big alliance in the X-Plane world had been founded: Ramzzess Aviation Design with Philipp Avionics.
Of course I had something on my agenda as well: At the conference I had spoken to Frank Willfeld, who had been the German distributor of X-Plane in the days of X-Plane 7 and 8, and who now works for Lufthansa Systems. By the way, Lufthansa Systems and Aerosoft have formed an alliance for publishing navigational (AIRAC) data for flight simulation, and with the contact person at LH Systems being an X-Plane enthusiast, it was only natural that we needed a great X-Plane aircraft as showcase for the new data. The quality of this navigational data is outstanding, too. It allows us to do so many things we couldn’t do before, like initializing the IRS based on your gate position at the airport. And it allows for perfect vertical guidance and RNAV approaches, much more sophisticated IAPs, so it’s simply fantastic.
But now there was this problem for me: The CRJ was not the ideal candidate for showcasing the data quality of the Lufthansa material, as that aircraft has no VNAV capabilities. With the 777 however, this problem was solved overnight: the 777 has a sophisticated autoflight system, autothrottle, and everything you need for full-authority VNAV, right down to the ILS or, in case of a GPS approach, right down to your MDA.
So initially I thought of the 777 merely as the vehicle to show off this excellent data, but I learned to really love the aircraft the longer I actually worked on it.
xp+10+reviews: Does the 777 present any unique challenges from a designers standpoint? Aside from sheer size, what are some of the hardest parts of making an aircraft of this “type”?
RB: From the 3D point of view concerning this model, I am not hesitant to say that it has more detail than anything else currently on the market. I mean if you thought the SSJ had nice graphics, you have not seen squat – yet! We have dynamic reflections on the screens, I mean real ones which move when you move your head, real 3D type reflections, which move when you move the object being reflected, and even separate reflections of lights sources like backlighting. Also, we have outstanding paint jobs done by Hartmut Krüger and Dan Klaue. We have pilots and a stewardess, a pushback truck, airstairs, GPUs, a fuel truck and many more unique visual features. Of course, you’ll find pop-up menus and other cool features. We have also installed a map/chart display which can display up to 60 pages of charts. All you need do is convert your .pdf charts into separate .pngs and drop them in a special folder. Another interesting feature is the PA system. It is similar to what I had in the SSJ – only now more sophisticated! It has many more voice messages and some are really cool; it can even tell you (or rather, the passengers) the actual weather when you land!
PM: The 777 has a lot of “magic” going on behind the scenes that makes it impossible to simulate most systems with the stock X-Plane instruments. For example, most of the switches in the overhead don’t have an “on” or “off” logic, but rather the positions “do it automatically – by magic” and “I think the magic is broken, just don’t do anything”. So you can’t program buttons to turn systems on or off, you first have to program all the magic and then add a button to turn it off. And it’s actually quite hard to get every button working right, because sometimes even a real pilot doesn’t know exactly what happens. “I don’t know, because we never do that on our airplanes. I’ll have to ask a mechanic” is an answer that you typically hear if you ask what happens if you use one of the “magic disablers”.
In the end, the user will notice only very little of that, because the 777 is designed in such a way that you simply leave all buttons in the AUTO position throughout the entire flight. But once you watch the beautiful system synoptic screens that Roman designed for this ACF, you will get an idea of what is actually going on.
xp+10+reviews: What about the plug-in architecture…did you decide to go with SASL or did you create custom plug-ins, or both? Can you tell us a little about the plug-ins used?
PM: We use the best from both worlds, as there are tasks were SASL is a great tool, and other tasks where nothing beats a native plugin.
So we decided very early to split tasks between two plugins. SASL is an ideal tool for doing things like simulating electrical or hydraulic systems. It’s less than an ideal tool for procedurally generating a custom drawn nav display in real time. That’s where a native plugin working directly with openGL works best.
So we split the work according to what is the best tool to get the job done, agreed on some interfaces, and then Roman went off to program his systems in SASL, and I sat down and designed a new FMS and nav display in C++.
xp+10+reviews: What can you tell us about the real 777s systems that are included in the file? Which systems are modeled, and how completely?
PM: Everything you need for normal operations is there, and it all works. But we also took great care to make you feel “alert” when something doesn’t quite work right. For example, you will see (and hear!) the pilot getting cold if you misconfigure the air conditioning controls. Or you will notice you can’t load the APU indefinitely, because it will fail on you if you do. Manual engine start is modeled, and you can get nasty engine fires if you don’t follow procedures. There are custom failures too, like the fuel system can get leaky.
The best way to see what is simulated and what is not, is to look over the manuals. Because those are real licensed Boeing manuals, we simply annotated the things that are NOT simulated. So you can read about the real thing, and if find there is no annotation you can safely assume it works just like that in our plane. We did change a few things to make the plane easier to use in the simulator. For example we moved a few buttons on the autopilot so you can reach them easier, because not everyone has a 32 inch screen for simming. Also, we decided to make only one FMS instead of two independent ones, because it doesn’t really make sense if you only have one pilot flying the plane. Note that it’s not done by just having two independent CDUs, because things start to get nasty when you have to think about stuff like cross-filling and cross updating, not to mention what happens when you fly split configurations, as you do for polar operations. Speaking of polar operations, the 777-200LR – being a “world liner” especially suited for pole routes – we have been able to simulate grid tracks in the FMS for that purpose.
You see, it is easier to say what is not simulated than to make a comprehensive list of what is simulated.
Here’s the list of major items NOT simulated:
- split FMS operations, as we don’t have two independent FMS
- split ADIRU operations for the same reason
- degraded FMS operations, such as alternate LNAV or one-engine VNAV
- offpath descent energy management
- RTA calculations
- QFE operations
- degraded electrical when the plane is powered from unsynchronized backup generators
- electrical load shedding reconfiguration for LAND3 conditions, where the plane configures the electric for more fault tolerance
- weather radar tilting and ground clutter or terrain reflections, we use X-Plane’s radar image
- predictive windshear warnings
- interactive checklists, we have all electronic checklists, and you can navigate through them, but they don’t automatically navigate for you
- HF radios, because neither X-Plane, nor IVAO nor VATSIM simulates them
- SATCOM and company datalink, because that would require infrastructure with the virtual airlines, which no one has
- air data source switching
- ALTN EEC backup or split autothrottle
RB: Just to add to what Philipp said, the Operations Manual, Pilot’s Handbook, General Manual and the Non-Standard Procedures Manual, all which are included with this model, amount to about 1000 pages of text, so get ready!
xp+10+reviews: So, you had access to proprietary flight and development information from Boeing while working on this file. Can you tell us about this, and how this has helped develop systems and your flight model.
RB: When we started Boeing had sent us some drawings and even a 3D model. I was really excited and though I might get off with using a Boeing made 3D model of the entire plane. Boy was I surprised to find out that it had 40 million polys in and didn’t even have a landing gear, but the pitot tubes where excellently modeled – with 20 000 polys each!!!
PM: Having a Boeing license through the org allowed us to use the official material as documentation. For example, we had a 6000 page training manual used by mechanics that we could use for learning about systems. Remember what I said about pilots not knowing details beyond the automation? That’s where the manual for the mechanic comes into play! In this manual you have a sketch of basically every single valve, contactor, pump and breaker in the plane. We use that to figure out how systems behave when you inhibit part of the automation. Also, you learn how the communications between the subsystems of the plane work when you study that manual. For example, when you use the FMS, you will notice just a tiny bit of delay when you switch to another page on the CDU. That split second of darkness is not because the plugin is slow, but because the CDU communicates with the FMS using ARINC739 datawords, and we model the delay that it takes to get all data for the new page from the ARINC429 bus. Or take the radios. When you tune a new nav radio, you will notice it takes some time until you see the identifier on the nav display. That is because it takes some time to decode the signal, and occasionally the decoding will go wrong and you will see wrong information for a short time.
xp+10+reviews: Who is your target audience for this file? Experienced operators only, or will casual “simmers” still be able to enjoy this one?
PM: Sure, casual users will be able to use the 777! As I said, the 777 is an highly automated plane where a lot of things “just work” without pilot intervention. So if you don’t want to learn all the crazy details, just leave all buttons in the auto position, uncheck the option for “Custom failures” and simply fly the plane! Should you then become bored during the cruise phase, you can flip through the manual and try some more things.
xp+10+reviews: What about liveries? Will these be available “as usual” from the Org, and free, or is another method being planned to distribute these files?
PM: We have an incredible amount of liveries for the plane, I think 70 of them now, including really beautiful special liveries like the “England” paint of British Airways. In fact, we have so many liveries that we broke X-Plane 10′s UI for the aircraft selection. It would just not display them all! So I called Austin and said “hey, X-Plane 10 can’t display more than 54 liveries on a plane for selection!” and he was like “what the heck? How did you find that? I can’t believe someone would have so many liveries for one plane!”, so I had to send Austin a copy of our plane and all liveries so he believed that he must improve that on X-Plane 10.
Of course, not so many operators in the real world use the 777-200LR, but we wanted to have a lot of beautiful airline paints even if they only fly the -300 or the -LRF in real life – or even no 777 at all. So some of those liveries are fictional, but I think they are so beautiful that I hope some airline managers will rethink their fleet policy and buy some 777s for them!
The liveries for the European airlines were done by the famous FSX artist Marcel Felde, who is the creator of the Aerosoft Katana and Dornier aircraft, and I convinced him to seriously look into X-Plane now.
All those liveries are produced under our license, which means we can provide a constant quality across all of them.
We make all those liveries available through the .org store at a symbolic price of $1/livery. I think that is justified given the incredible job our painters did.
You miss a livery that you’d like to produce and also put on the org store for a dollar? No problem, just talk to us!
By the by, here’s the initial list of liveries to be available for sale on release of the ACF. It’s our understanding here at the blog that they’ll be made available in regional groups, self-explanatory in the lists below:
North American Pack
EU Pack 1
EU Pack 2
|Air New Zealand|
Far East 1
|All Nippon Airways|
Far East 2
|TAAG Angola Ailines|
|Royal Air Maroc|
Okay, a side note here, but all images in today’s post were provided by Ramzzess, and they’ve been posted elsewhere. We’ll start to post our own images as we work our way through the beta file.
Exterior detailing, from these angles at least, appears well done in these images. We’ll get in close and look at those wings and gears closely as soon as we have the file onboard!
And just peeking at these interior images, it appears even the pax cabin has details that ought to bring a smile to your face, and perhaps a frown or two to a few other developers.
Of course, we’ll be putting this one through a fairly lengthy review process. As you know, these types of files just don’t come along every day, and this one holds significant promise as the Trip-7 is one of the most popular, and significant airliners extant today. The hardware FMC option alone could be transformative for a lot of developers and end-users, and once again, we’ll be watching developments along these lines quite closely. Some questions already come to mind, such as: will the hardware be Windows only; will it be readily adaptable for use in other ACF; and what kinds of systems will we need to take fullest advantage of this new option?
On the ACF? Will systems depth indeed make take OPS into the realm of true “Procedures SIM” depth while, as Philipp states above, still being easy enough for newbs to use. What will the framerates be like? How immersive will the cockpit really be…at night…or in daylight? How hard will it be to program systems – for an experienced user…or for those just wanting to take a quick look around?
So yes, we’ll be busy working through this extraordinary new ACF…all of us…to get the answers out to you. If you have questions already, fire away. We’ll see if we have an answer on hand, and if not perhaps we’ll be able to dig up some meaningful information for you.
So yes, a lot of ground to cover, but again, we’ll be dedicating our resources to getting the answers out to you as quickly as we can. That said, we’re off to do some flying…
As always, thanks for coming along with us today, and we’ll see you again soon. Hasta later – Chip