By Dr. David Wilson – Okamura
The new version of Mircosoft Flight Simulator, FSX, has been available in stores now for almost three months.. In that time, there’s been a lot of discussion about what improvements were made over the previous version (FS9), what improvements weren’t made, and especially how to improve frame rates. One thing everyone seems to agree on: the default aircraft are much improved. Except the Mooney and King Air, all the old visual models got a makeover. Cockpits, in particular, look much cleaner and more detailed. The new aircraft are winners, too. Out of the box, Flight Simulator now includes for the first time an Airbus, a Canadair regional Jet, a couple of Maules, a De Havilland Beaver, and A Grumman Goose. But there have been some deletions, too. For instance, all of the vintage aircraft that were introduced in FS2004: A Century of Flight are gone now, except the Douglas DC-3 and Piper Cub. Also missing are all of the freeware and payware aircraft that we’ve purchased or downloaded. Some of those aircraft, such as the PMDg B737 or level D 767, will have to be remade; an upgrade won’t do it. Many, though, of our old favorites can be converted to FSX. In this two-part article, we’ll discuss the techniques and give some examples.
For payware aircraft, the first thing to check is the publisher’s website and support forum. Some publishers have issued free programs that will update your existing FS9 aircraft for FSX automatically. If that’s the case for your aircraft, get the update, run it, and you’re done. But what if there is no update from the publisher?
In many cases we can do the update ourselves. Let me start with some general guidelines.
- If you have FS9, don’t uninstall it for at least one year. Even if you stop actually flying the old version (which many people won’t right away), there are files there that will come in handy later. Which ones? We’re not sure: that’s why we’re keeping
- Be patient and work slowly. If you’ve just installed FSX, enjoy the new aircraft and see what they have to offer. Get a feel for the new view Then, when you’re ready to start moving aircraft, do them one at a time. The old proverb is a good one: “Measure twice, cut once.”
- Work on a copy. Don’t edit your FS9 planes; edit the copies of them you make for That way, if something goes wrong, your FS9 version still works and you can start over.
- Think of this—converting aircraft for the new sim—as a hobby rather than a It’s not unlike building a model railroad in your basement: just because the train isn’t running all the time doesn’t mean you aren’t enjoying yourself. Running the train is fun—and so is building the model, choosing the various cars, painting them if need be, placing the signs and greenery.
- Notepad, to edit configuration
- Windows Explorer, to copy
- Some kind of image editing software, to create thumbnails. I use Photoshop, but you can use whatever software that came with your computer. All you need is something that can reduce and crop.
In what follows, I will assume that you understand the basics of each program. One tip: since we’ll be using Windows Explorer a lot, learn the keyboard shortcut: it’s the Windows Key (with the flag on it) plus the letter e (for Explorer). For copying files from FS9 to FSX, I find it useful to have two copies of Windows Explorer running at one time: one open to my FS9 folder (or a zip file, if I’m installing a new aircraft), the other to FSX.
Basic File and Folder locations
Almost all of the files we are going to be working with are in two Folders: C:\Program Files\Microsoft Games\Flight Simulator 9 C:\Program Files\Microsoft Games\Microsoft Flight Simulator X
This might be different if you installed Flight Simulator in some place other than the default. (On my computer, FSX is on the E: drive, so if you see that in a screenshot, don’t let it bother you.) From brevity’s sake, I will be calling the first folder “your FS9 folder” and the second folder “your FSX folder.”
There is one more file that we need to deal with, fsx.cfg. While well-known to tweakers, this can be tricky to find, because it’s hidden by default. We’ll need to fix that. In Windows Explorer, select “Tools” then “Folder Options” from the main pull-down menu. Now select the “View” tab and under “Hidden Files and Folders,” make sure that “Show Hidden Files and Folders” is checked. Otherwise you won’t be able to see fsx.cfg, even if you are looking in the right place.
Now, again using Windows Explorer, navigate to the following subfolder: “C:\Documents and Settings\Username\Application Data\Microsoft\FSX” where Username is your Windows user name.
You should see a list of several files, including fsx.cfg. If you’re still having trouble, you can find fsx.cfg using Windows file search
(keyboard shortcut Windows Key + f). My advice, once you’ve found fsx.cfg, is to pause for a moment and create a desktop shortcut so that you can access it easily in the future.
We now have our tools and we know where our materials are. There’s one more preliminary step.
Adding an “aircraft” Folder
As soon as the FSX demo became available for download, tweakers wanted to know, “Where’s the Aircraft folder?” In FS9, Aircraft was a subfolder of the main FS9 folder and contained all types of vehicles, including airplanes, helicopters, boats, and ground vehicles. In FSX, a boat doesn’t go in the Aircraft folder; it goes in the SimObjects folder, under Boats. That’s logical, but we’re trying to move FS9 aircraft over to FSX, so where do we put them?
We could put them in the Airplanes subfolder of SimObjects, which is where FSX puts most of its default aircraft, except, of course, the helicopters: those are filed, logically, under Rotorcraft. This works fine for most aircraft, but some FS9 payware aircraft come with configuration programs that expect aircraft to be in the “Aircraft” folder, not the “Airplanes” subfolder of “SimObjects” (neither of which existed in FS9).
Don’t start FSX yet. Instead, start Windows Explorer and open your FS9 folder. Go to the Aircraft folder and find the subfolder named Lockheed_Vega. Right-click on Lockheed_Vega and select “Copy.” (You can do the same thing by selecting Lockheed_Vega with the mouse and pressing control + C on the keyboard.) The whole aircraft, including all of its subfolders, is now on the Windows clipboard. Now, start a second copy of Windows Explorer and open your FSX folder. Select the Aircraft folder we created earlier, right-click with the mouse, and select “Paste.” (Be careful about dragging folders with the mouse: we want to copy the folder, not move it.) You should now have a copy of the Lockheed_Vega folder inside your FSX Aircraft folder.
That’s it! Start FSX, and you can now select the Lockheed Vega as your aircraft. At this stage, the aircraft is completely flyable.
Here is the solution. First, create a new folder inside of your FSX folder. Give it the name Aircraft. Second, start Notepad (or an equivalent text editor) and open the fsx.cfg file that we found earlier. Now, look for the lines that begin SimObjectPaths. On most systems, this will be SimObjectPaths.5=SimObjects\Misc. Found it? After this line, insert a new, blank line and type the following:
If there’s already a SimObjectPaths.6, then use the next available number instead of 6. Save fsx.cfg and we’re done.
Now we’re ready to convert some aircraft. In this article, we’ll consider three different starting points: an aircraft that’s already installed in FS9, a downloaded zip file, and an aircraft that comes with an installer program.
An aircraft that’s already installed in FS9
Let’s begin simple, with the default Lockheed Vega from FS9. Even if you never flew this plane in FS9, it will be useful in part two when we replace old gauges.
There’s a couple things missing, though. First, if we sort aircraft by publisher (something that wasn’t possible in FS9), the Vega isn’t going to be listed as a Microsoft plane. Second, we don’t see a picture of the Vega until after you’ve already selected it: where the default FSX aircraft have a nice thumbnail picture of the plane, the Vega has only a generic grey question mark. The bad news is this is going to happen with every aircraft we transfer from FS9. The good news is both things are easy to fix.
First, we’ll insert the publisher info. Open the Lockheed_Vega folder (under Aircraft) and look for the file aircraft.cfg. Open that file in Notepad and look for [fltsim.0]. Keep reading. After ui_variation=”Winnie Mae” we are going to insert a couple of blank lines, in which we’ll type the following: ui_typerole=”Vintage” ui_createdby=”Microsoft Corporation”.
For the first line, type role, you can use whatever category you like; since I’m interested in vintage aircraft, I decided to create a “Vintage” category. Now, we need to insert these lines for each paintjob or livery. So, keep scrolling down until you see [fltsim.1]. That marks the beginning of the second livery definition. (Notice that the numbering starts with 0 not 1). Look for the line that begins ui_variation and after that line insert the same ui_typerole and ui_createdby lines that we used for the first livery. We will need to do this for each livery. (The Vega has only two.) When you’re finished, save aircraft.cfg and exit Notepad. That problem is licked.
Second, we’ll add some thumbnail images. You’ll need a screenshot of the Vega in action, preferably one for each of its two liveries.
(If you don’t have one for each livery, you can either make the screenshots now or use the same screenshot for each one.)
Where do we save it? Every aircraft has one or more texture subfolders, one for each livery. Our goal is to save the new thumbnail. jpg file in the texture folder that matches the livery in the screenshot. Some texture folders have names (such as texture. blue or texture. army); others, such as the Vega, just have numbers (texture.1, texture.2). If we guess the wrong folder, that’s all right: we’ll just move the file to another texture folder until the thumbnail matches the actual livery. (The aircraft.cfg file will usually provide some clues.) Then we’ll do the same thing for each of the other liveries: crop a screenshot to 256 by 128 and save it as a JPEG in that livery’s texture folder, using the standard filename thumbnail.jpg.
In your photo editing software, crop the first screenshot so that it’s 256 pixels wide and 128 pixels high. Save this cropped screenshot in JPEG format using the filename thumbnail.jpg.
Installing aircraft from a Zip File
The standard freeware aircraft comes in the form of a downloaded zip file, which contains an Aircraft folder and possibly a Gauges folder. (Some publishers release payware aircraft in the same way; Alpha-Sim is an example.) In FS9, you install the aircraft by copying both folders into your main FS9 folder: Aircraft contents go into FS9’s Aircraft folder, and Gauges contents go into FS9’s Gauges folder. Sometimes, instead of an Aircraft folder, the zip file will contain a folder with the name of the aircraft, such as LICEagle_II or HCJayhawk_cz; these folders should be copied inside of the main Aircraft folder, where they will join your fleet of previously installed aircraft.
That’s how it worked in FS9. Now that FSX has an Aircraft folder, we can do something similar. But don’t start copying right away.
With FS9, it was usually safe to copy both main folders, Aircraft and Gauges, directly from the zip file into the FS9 folder, and when Windows Explorer asked if it was all right to overwrite files, click
“Yes to all.” Don’t do that with FSX. There is a small but real danger of overwriting a new and improved FSX file with an old FS9 file of the same name, and that can make trouble elsewhere. Instead, open the zip file’s Aircraft folder and copy its contents—the files and subfolders—into your FS9 Aircraft folder. We will then do the same for the Gauges.
First, the semi-cautious method. Instead of copying the whole Gauges folder from the zip file, open the folder and copy its contents into FSX Gauges. If Windows Explorer warns you of an overwrite, click “No.” We want to leave the new gauges in place. But what if they don’t work with the old aircraft?
That’s not a problem, if we use the following, ultra-cautious method of installing gauges. Instead of copying the add-on gauges into the main FSX Gauges folder, go to the FSX Aircraft folder (the one we created earlier) and open the subfolder with your new aircraft in it. Inside you will find several more subfolders: usually model, panel, sound, and one or more texture folders. We are going to copy our add-on gauges—not the folder but the contents of the folder—into the aircraft’s panel folder. This works because, when it loads a new aircraft, FSX (and FS9 too) looks for the aircraft’s gauges in its panel folder before it looks in the main Gauges folder. This is a neat trick.
It avoids any question of overwriting new gauges, and if you decide to remove the new aircraft, you can just remove its folder; you don’t need to remember which, if any gauges, might be left over in Gauges. The only catch is, if your add-on has multiple aircraft folders, you need to copy the gauges into each aircraft’s panel folder.
Aircraft with an Installer Program
What if the aircraft has an installer program? Theoretically, we can now point the installer to the FSX folder instead of the FS9 folder, and the aircraft files will go into the Aircraft folder, same as before. In practice, that may work. I would argue, though, against doing that. Instead, create a blank folder on your desktop and, when the installer program asks for your FS folder, point it to that blank folder and let it put all of its new files in there Now using Windows Explorer, open this blank folder and copy the contents of each subfolder into FSX, using the same, ultra -cautious method we described in the last paragraph.
This gives us more control over the process and avoids the problem of overwriting files. Moreover, if something doesn’t work, we’ll have an idea of what files the aircraft is looking for.
Things That Can Go Wrong
In part one of this article, we’ve described three basic methods of installing pre-FSX aircraft in FS9. In part two, we’ll discuss what to do when things still don’t work. The most common problems are missing gauges and textures; we’ll tell how to track these down. Sometimes, when you first load a new aircraft, FSX will ask you to confirm a publisher, gauge, or module. Generally speaking it’s safe to click “Run”(for so-called unknown publishers) and “Ok” (to trust gauges or modules). With FSX, though , some older gauges will still not work, even if we click “Ok”; in part two, we’ll show how to replace these non-working gauges with newer equivalent.