July 17, 2017

X-Plane 11 flight simulator

Like many real-life pilots, I also have an interest in ‘flying’ using flight simulator software on my PC. In fact in years gone by I was very active within the community creating airport ‘sceneries’ and aircraft ‘repaints’ some of which having been downloaded many thousands of times by other flightsim enthusiasts all over the world.

I’m less interested and less involved these days but still occasionally fire up my PC software if I’m at a loose end for the odd ‘flight’ in Europe, North America or elsewhere.

For many years, the dominant software was, and still is, the Flight Simulator franchise acquired and developed by the mighty Microsoft over a considerable period of years. Others have come and gone over that time, the only other effective contender in the market place now being X-Plane.

Microsoft lost interest in the genre in around 2006 after launching the version known as FSX (Flight Simulator X) which it launched while still essentially broken and full of bugs. This brought the franchise to its knees and Microsoft sold it off shortly after to Lockheed Martin who have since done their best to develop it, with greater or lesser success depending on your point of view, under the name Prepar3D.

Lockheed Martin have attempted to reposition the simulator within the market place as a ‘pro’ or ‘training’ product and have nominally created barriers that are easily overcome to stop the ‘public’ acquiring it for ‘entertainment’. However, in my view it has always remained limited by being based on the FSX software engine and after acquiring FSX myself and finding it so buggy and unrealistic, I decided not to upgrade and to leave things there despite my many years of flightsim involvement.

But although FSX stayed where it was, X-Plane continued to be developed and expanded and several months ago a new version, X-Plane 11 was launched to the flightsim community as a ‘beta’ free trial, since when it has been constantly updated and improved. I downloaded a copy and found myself very impressed when I gave it a go, having not been much of a X-Plane fan in the past. And every time over recent months that I’ve fired up the trial I’ve found that they’ve fixed something or added another new feature, raising expectations that eventually it could become something really special.

As I’m ‘confined to barracks’ so to speak, I thought that I’d fire up the X-Plane 11 demo again a few evenings ago, and what a surprise when I did. I found that they’ve updated it yet again and sorted out things like the shadow problem that it previously had. They’ve also made it compatible with and able to run smoothly on less powerful CPUs with the result that the program is now absolutely stunning.

I’m running an inexpensive (relatively) AMD FX-8350 8 core 4 GHz processor that I’ve modestly overclocked to 4.24 GHz in Windows 10 64-bit Pro with 8GB RAM and a Nvidia GTX950 graphics card. Even so, I’ve got all of the X-Plane graphics sliders maxed out resulting in awesome 3D static and dynamic autogen scenery and amazing lighting effects but with super-smooth frame rates like I’ve never experienced before with FSX.

The moving autogen vehicle traffic is truly awesome and I especially like how, as shown in the video that I made below, the aircraft’s landing light lights up the 3D autogen (buildings and moving vehicles) in a highly realistic and totally convincing way.

This has completely transformed my ‘low and slow’ flying experience, which is what I like doing, and made it incredibly close to real life and if payware and freeware designers get behind X-Plane 11 as they did for FSX, the prospects for transforming the whole PC flightsim experience are, I think, almost unlimited.

For example, Orbx created a dynamic ‘people’ library which has contributed enormously to bringing airport and other sceneries to life in FSX. If they or another developer were to do the same for X-Plane 11, I think that we really would be getting incredibly close to ‘as real as it gets’.

The only problem for me was that after deciding to purchase X-Plane 11, I had to cancel the download as it would have taken over 100 hours, if at all, for me to complete the installation. So now I’ve had to pay extra for the DVDs and am waiting for them to be delivered before I can fully experience the whole program.

July 8, 2017

Going Ukrainian

I was confined to the house yesterday afternoon with an electric fan blasting away because of the high temperature. I dropped into Intermarché on my way back from getting my hair cropped off and saw 40 degrees Celsius showing on my car temperature gauge for a short time after it had been parked in the direct sunlight, a temperature which in my current state of health I find totally debilitating.

But it meant that I was able to spend my time profitably assembling the Savannah’s new Ukrainian prop. Kean-eyed readers will note from the pictures that follow that it’s a total knock-off of a Kiev model and even the pitching tool that came with it, which I found to be a doddle to use, is similar, but not identical to, the Kiev version.

First a shot of the assembled prop with its blade covers on.

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Now a shot with the blade covers removed.

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The blade edges are all protected with stainless steel strips, yet again just like the Kiev. Time will tell how good the quality is but I hope that the strips will remain firmly attached and do the job that they are intended to do.

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When the blades were delivered, I found that the quality of the finish was not up to the level that I expected and desired. In particular, where the blade tips had been worked to give a nice sharp edge, the tool had been allowed to penetrate the surface, resulting in a small hole in each tip exposing the construction gap between the front and rear faces of each blade.

This wasn’t difficult to deal with as the following picture shows, because all I did was drop some epoxy resin into the hole in each tip and then apply a dab of white paint to maintain each blade’s appearance. Job done and nice solid blade tips that should last the life of the propeller.

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And finally the spinner.

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So all in all a nice looking prop that I hope will give the desired level of performance and all for around half the price of a replacement Duc Swirl and spinner. I’ll be happy with that if it meets the performance figures I’ve seen for a similar Kiev 😉

July 7, 2017

Nearly there

I couldn’t sleep so got up early (for me!) this morning and after breakfast rubbed down and top-coated the Savannah’s repaired nose wheel faring. After searching unsuccessfully for ‘proper’ white spray undercoat I decided to take a chance and use all that I could find, which was the kind of undercoat that you use to cover damp patches on ceilings and walls.

In fact it seemed to work surprisingly well and despite my spraying it on fairly thickly, it seemed impossible to make it run as it must contain some kind of ‘thick’ ingredient that masks up the stains.

I was worried that despite being produced by the same maker, the top coat that I’d bought might not be compatible, but my fears were allayed when it covered beautifully and uniformly. It hasn’t achieved the level of gloss that I’m looking for as the following pictures show, but it’s early days and I can try flatting it down again and polishing it and even, if necessary, giving it another coat.

The first picture below shows the damaged faring still in place on the nose wheel and the following ones the painted repair. As you can see, the faring was quite badly split.

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But that’s it for the day. We’re expecting a high of 36 degrees Celsius today so that’ll mean that I’ll have to stay in the cool. However, after tomorrow we’re expecting a week of cooler weather (mid-20s) so as I only have two hospital appointments, I should be able to get the X-Air finished off and more done on the Savannah.

Next thing today is that I’m thinking of carrying out a preemptive strike on my hair, which is now falling out quite rapidly. I don’t want to look like a badly plucked chicken so I’m thinking about having it cropped all over to just a few millimetres, which may make me look like a gritty US marine (he said hopefully). Then, by the time I end up looking like Ross Kemp maybe nobody will notice the difference 😉

July 5, 2017

Another small triumph

As well as having the X-Air standing in the barn needing to have its ignition stator replaced (now done), the Savannah has been in the hangar with its nose in the air and its nose leg and wheel off since shortly after the bump that caused the damage to its front end back at the end of April.

I’d had the new nose leg ready to be refitted for several weeks but was unable to do the work, until Wim and I went over to Malbec today in the cool of the morning. We got the new nose leg installed and the Savannah back on three wheels again in about 1½ hours, something that I regarded as yet another small triumph along the way and a source of some personal relief.

So now I’ve only got an hour or so’s work to finish off the X-Air work and something similar to complete the work on the Savannah once I’ve assembled its new prop ready for fitting. I sprayed its nose wheel faring the other day but messed it up by getting a lot of runs. I don’t like the spray paint that I used but that’s no excuse and now I’ll have to spend more time rubbing them out and respraying it.

No work tomorrow and for possibly a few days thereafter as I’m due in Périgueux at 9.00 am for my second chemo treatment that will take all day, so wish me luck. By the way, I’ve noticed today that even after just the one treatment, my hair is now beginning to fall out if I grab a clump and lightly tug on it. They told me beforehand that it would happen, so all I can do is grin and bear it 😉

July 3, 2017

Back onto the X-Air

At last! As I mentioned in my last post, the X-Air has been standing for several weeks with its flywheel pulled off ready to have its ignition stator removed and replaced with MYRO’s old one that I thought was damaged but possibly might not have been. Only one way to find out – swap ’em over!

My good friend Wim gave me a hand to do just that today and we managed to avoid re-timing the engine by only removing one (of the two) ignition contacts and then replacing it in exactly the same position relative to the flywheel mark as the one that we’d not moved. By mid-afternoon it was time to fire up the engine and find out if we’d done the job properly and if the replacement stator did indeed work.

As usual, the trusty 582 engine fired into life after a bit of hand priming to get fuel back up into the empty carbs and then it was time to check the mag drops. The mere fact that the engine had started so easily was a good sign and when I checked the drops they were both small ie within expected limits and equal.

So that was it! MYRO’s old stator was undamaged after all but as the X-Air’s was faulty there was nothing lost (except my time) by replacing MYRO’s old one with a new one on the 503 engine now fitted to the Weedhopper.

So tomorrow all I’ll have to do is return to Malbec and finish the job off as various cables need to be properly routed and tied and a couple of nuts securing the butterfly valve oil container bracket then retightened. All I’ll then have to do is give the X-Air a clean up, take some shots and post it for sale on Le Bon Coin. It’d be nice if I could have one last flight in it, mind.

By way of bringing me back down to earth, this evening I got a call on my mobile from one of my doctors at Périgueux. He said that this morning’s blood test showed that my white blood cells are very, very low, which is not unexpected as a result of the chemo. However, he said that if I get the slightest fever or feel sick, I MUST immediately come into the hospital to be dosed up with antibiotic.

Alarming in a way, but luckily I feel absolutely fine. And it’s very comforting to know that they are keeping so close to me and taking my treatment so seriously that they’re prepared to give me a call out of hours. I’m humbled and incredibly grateful.