By Dr. David Wilson – Okamura
In Part I, we gave some basic guidelines for converting aircraft from previous versions of Flight Simulator to FSX. We reviewed the tools you would need, common file and folder locations, and outlined procedures for three different scenarios: conversion of an aircraft that’s already working for you in FS9, how to install an aircraft from a zip archive, and how to deal with installer programs. We showed how to add an FS9-style Aircraft folder for converted aircraft and discussed thumbnails. Using these techniques, it’s possible to use and enjoy a great many of our favorite aircraft from FS9, both freeware and pay ware. Some aircraft stubbornly refuse to operate properly in the new sim, including the PMDG 747 and the Level D 767; these birds are grounded until the developers come out with new versions that are made specifically for FSX. But there is a large middle category of aircraft that can make the jump, but still need some tuning on the other side. For example, the exterior model will transfer perfectly, but the cockpit is missing gauges.
Here in part II we’ll describe some of the more common problems and their solutions. My advice, if you’re just joining us, is to go back and read part I of this article (which you can purchase, if need be, from the Computer Pilot website), and practice the basic techniques by converting one of the default aircraft from FS9, such as the Lockheed Vega or Ford Tri-motor. Once you understand the concepts, you’ll be ready for the advanced techniques in part II.
To start I’m going to describe, in step-by-step detail, how to convert a specific item of pay ware, the Marchetti SF.260 from RealAir Simulations. You may not own this particular plane, but the problems I’ll talk about are common to many converted aircraft, and so are the techniques we’ll use to solve them.
We begin with the aircraft already installed in FS9. (As I said in part I, don’t be in a hurry to remove FS9. Disk space is cheap and there’s a lot we can borrow from the old sim.) If, for some reason, you don’t have the Marchetti installed in FS9, my advice is to install it in a blank folder.
Do not try to install an FS9 add-on directly into FSX; it might work, or it might make a big mess. Avoid the mess, install into a blank folder.
Using Windows Explorer, go to your old FS9 folder and open the subfolder called Aircraft. Now start a second copy of Windows Explorer, go to your FSX folder, and open the Aircraft folder there. (By default, FSX doesn’t have an Aircraft folder; I explained its usefulness and how to make one in part I.) Ready? Now copy (don’t move) the subfolder named RealAir SF-260 from the Aircraft folder in FS9 to the Aircraft folder in FSX.
How do we find the ones the Marchetti uses? Naming conventions vary, but because our aircraft is made by RealAir Simulations, all of the files we’re interested in start with the letters RAS: for example, RASSF260_ Canopy.bmp, RASSF260_Gauges_01.bmp, and so on. Because these weren’t in the main aircraft folder, none of these files got copied over to FSX. “Aha!” we think. “That explains why we couldn’t see them in FSX. I’ll just copy the extra textures to the Texture folder in FSX.”
That doesn’t work, though. (I’ve tried.) Something is different in FSX and aircraft don’t look in the common Texture folder anymore. Instead, we need to copy all of the RAS textures (the ones we just found in the FS9 Texture folder) and paste them into the texture folders of this particular aircraft. And since the Marchetti has eight different texture folders (one for each paintjob), we are going to do this eight separate times. That’s not an efficient use of disk space, but it works.
Let’s see how that worked. We fire up FSX, create a flight, and choose the Marchetti for our aircraft. We don’t have any thumbnails yet, but we know (from part I of this article) how to create them. Once the flight is loaded, we do a visual inspection of the exterior. So far so good, although the canopy looks opaque, grey instead of clear. When we switch to the virtual cockpit, we notice more problems. First, most of the gauges are missing, including the starter switches. We can start the engine from the keyboard (with Ctrl + E), and the sound is all right, but the prop looks wrong and the windows are clouded over with that same grey film. These are all signs that textures are missing.
In Flight Simulator, most aircraft store all of their textures—the digital paint that is draped over the aircraft skeleton—in subfolders that begin with the word texture, such as texture.0, texture.1, or in the Marchetti’s case Texture. GAERO. Sometimes, though, textures that are shared by all of the liveries are located in a common folder that is shared by the whole sim. This common folder, called Texture, is located in your main FS9 folder. Looking inside, we find about 1,000 files, most of them ending with the extension .bmp.
Now let’s reload the aircraft and test. How do you reload an aircraft? Good news: you don’t need to restart the whole sim, or even your current flight. Instead, select Options from the main pull-down menu, then Settings, then Controls. Choose the Buttons/Keys tab and then scroll down to Aircraft (reload). You can assign it to any key-combination you choose, but I use Ctrl + Shift + R. Click ok and you’re back sitting in the cockpit again. We reload the aircraft (using the key we just assigned) and look around. The gauges are back, the canopy window is clear, and the prop looks normal.
We’re getting somewhere, but we’re not done yet. The first sign of trouble is the whiskey compass: it’s spinning uncontrollably, even though the plane isn’t moving. If the compass were invisible, we’d suspect a missing gauge, but we can see the compass all right, so it isn’t that. Another problem is the navigation and strobe lights: they won’t turn on. Also, when we change the time to night, the cockpit lights are flickering.
The clue here is lighting. In Flight Simulator, lights are usually classified as Effects. The lights aren’t working correctly because the Marchetti uses custom lighting effects, and those effects haven’t been transferred yet. Using Windows Explorer, we go to the FS9 folder and open the subfolder called Effects. It’s full of files, all of which probably end with the extension .fx. Which ones need to be copied over?
Using Notepad, open the file named aircraft.cfg. Scroll down to the sections that begin [LIGHTS] and [EFFECTS]. This shows the file names (with the .fx extension) of all the effects that the aircraft is trying to use. Some of them are already present in your FSX Effects folder. How do you know which ones? Look in your FSX Effects folder. In this case, all of the files that are listed in the [EFFECTS] section of the Marchetti’s aircraft.cfg file are already installed as FSX effects; we don’t need (and we don’t want) to copy over the older files. It’s the missing effects that we need to copy over—again, copy don’t move—from FS9 Effects to FSX Effects. In this particular case, we need the two files that begin with fx_RAS and the eleven files that begin fx_sf260.
We are almost done with the effects. Like aircraft, effects sometimes have textures of their own. These are stored in the texture subfolder of Effects. Scanning the list, we notice one with a file name similar to the FX files we just copied over: SF260_SmokeWhite.fx. Copy this file into the texture subfolder of FSX Effects. That’s it for effects.
We reload the aircraft. The whiskey compass has settled down and looks normal again. The NAV and strobe lights come on and the cockpit lights don’t flicker.
Only one problem remains: we now have extra strobe lights and extra navigation lights. This is not a common problem, but I’ll describe the solution anyway. Using Notepad (or a similar text editor), open aircraft.cfg again (the FSX copy, not your original) and scroll down to [LIGHTS] one more time. Each light has its own line in the file, and to remove it we add two forward slashes to the beginning of the line. This makes the line into a comment rather than a command. It’s not obvious which lights to comment out, so we make some educated guesses. If we guess wrong, we remove the two forward slashes and there’s no harm done. After some trial and error, we settle on the following changes:
We could make an educated guess, as we did with Textures earlier, looking for files that begin with RAS. That would get some of them, but not all. Fortunately, there’s a better, surer way. Go to your FSX folder, find the RealAir SF-260 folder that you copied earlier, and look for:
//light.7=3, -3.30, -13.82, -0.05, fx_SF260_VCnavred
//light.8=3, -3.47, 13.85, -0.06, fx_SF260_VCnavgre
//light.9=2, -3.28, -13.75, -0.12, fx_SF260_VCLstrobe
//light.10=2, -3.50, 13.75, -0.12, fx_SF260_VCRstrobe
light.11=4, -2.40, -10.75, 1.80, fx_SF260_winglight
light.12=4, -2.40, 10.75, 1.80, fx_SF260_winglight
//light.13=4, -17.4, 0.00, 2.40, fx_SF260_winglight
Our favorite GA plane now works in FSX!
Perhaps the most common problem, when converting aircraft to FSX, is missing gauges. This is easy to spot, and usually easy to fix. Inside each aircraft folder, there are a number of subfolders: Model, Panel, Sound, and Texture. For gauges, we’re going to be dealing with the Panel folder. Inside Panel, there’s a file titled panel.cfg. Open this in Notepad and look for lines that begin with gauge, such as:
gauge00=SF260!Manifold Pressure, 82, 34
gauge01=SF260!RPM Indicator, 232, 34
Let’s look at the first line. SF260 is the name of a gauge file. The file name is separated from the gauge name, Manifold Pressure, by an exclamation point. When this happens, it usually means the file contains several gauges. If there’s no exclamation point, then the gauge name is also the file name. That’s nice to know, but how does it help us?
When you transfer an aircraft to FSX and a gauge goes missing, it’s usually because a gauge file didn’t get transferred. By looking at the gauge lines in panel.cfg, we can find out what gauge files the aircraft is trying to use. Question is, where do we find the missing gauges?
Usually they are in FS9’s main Gauges folder. Now that we know what the file names are, we can look for them in Gauges using Windows Explorer. Once we’ve found them, we have two options. We can copy (not move) them into FSX’s Gauges folder, where they’ll be usable by any other aircraft that we transfer. (Some folks have gone so far as to copy all of their FS9 Gauges into the FSX Gauges folder, just to save future hassle. This can work, but be very careful not to overwrite newer, FSX files with older, FS9 files of the same name.) The second option, for cautious types, is to copy the gauges you need into the new aircraft’s Panel folder. The advantage of this is that if you decide later to remove the aircraft from FSX, you can just delete its aircraft folder, and all of its unique gauges will be removed as well.
(You can do this with FS9 as well. Before it looks in the Gauges folder, an aircraft will look for gauges in its own Panel subfolder, and if it finds them there it won’t look any further.)
Confirming Gauges and Modules
When you load a new aircraft for the first time, FSX will frequently ask you to confirm the publisher, gauge, or module. It may do this for every new gauge, and if there are new gauges in the virtual cockpit (VC), it may ask you to do it twice. Generally speaking it’s safe to click “Run” (for so-called unknown publishers) and “Ok” (to trust gauges or modules). This is cumbersome, but if the gauges work then you only have to do it once.
Replacing Obsolete Gauges
What if the gauges don’t work? This can happen, especially with older aircraft. Gauges that were made using the gauge-building methods of Flight Simulator 98 or earlier—even if the gauges were actually constructed in 2006 and worked perfectly in FS9—are no longer supported in FSX. If you select an aircraft that uses them in its instrument panel, the aircraft will load, minus the offending gauge or gauges, but the sim will display the following message: “This gauge was created for Flight Sim ‘98 or earlier; it is no longer supported.”
To solve this problem, you need to substitute a modern gauge that does the same thing. For an example of a successful substitution, look in the AVSIM file library for Bill Lyons’ Travel Air biplane (tamo_fsx. zip), which Bill Schulz has updated for FSX using gauges from the default Beaver and other aircraft.
Let’s say the offending gauge is a fuel indicator. We’ll get rid of it by editing the aircraft’s panel.cfg file, but first let’s make a backup copy; that way if something goes wrong we can start over. Now we’ll open panel.cfg. The error message told us the name of the offending gauge, so it’s just a matter of searching panel.cfg for all occurrences of that name. If the aircraft has a virtual cockpit, there will probably be at least two. Let’s say the first one reads like this:
This is a fuel gauge, and it’s one of several gauges in a file named obsoleteaircraft.
The first thing we need to find is another fuel gauge. Let’s make this easy and use one from the FSX default planes. (We’re not limited to default gauges, but we know these will work.) Now, where are the default planes? They’re in the SimObjects folder, under Airplanes.
Pick an aircraft that has a gauge similar in shape, size, and style to the one you need to replace. For example, if you need gauges for a vintage airplane, try borrowing them from the default Douglas DC-3. (The Lockheed Vega, which we converted from FS9 in part I of this article, also has lots of gauges that look good in vintage aircraft; another source is the Piper Cub.)
Using Notepad, we open the DC-3’s panel.cfg file (which is located in the DC-3’s panel subfolder). Scanning the gauge entries, we find a fuel gauge:
We want to copy just part of this line to the clipboard: Douglas_ DC3! fuel_gauge. Again, the exclamation point tells us that fuel_gauge is actually one of several gauges in the Douglas_DC3 gauge file. Now we go back to the panel.cfg file for the aircraft we are trying to convert. Using Notepad again, we replace the old gauge file and gauge name with the new one, pasting from the clipboard. When we’re done, the line looks like this:
Notice that we didn’t change anything but the file and gauge name;
gauge05= stayed the same, and so did the string of numbers at the end.
We save panel.cfg and reload the aircraft. The error message is gone (at least for the fuel gauge), but the new gauge isn’t showing on the panel. Why not? It all depends on where the DC-3 is getting its gauges from. If they’re in the main Gauges folder, then any aircraft can use them. What do gauge files look like? Usually, their file names end with .gau, .cab, or for newer gauges .xml. We know from the DC3’s panel.cfg that the name of the gauge file begins with Douglas_DC3, but there’s nothing like that in the main Gauges folder for FSX. Then we remember: gauges can also be hiding in an aircraft’s panel folder. Sure enough, if we look in the DC-3’s panel folder, we find the file: Douglas_DC3.cab.
To make this gauge usable for other aircraft, we have two options. We can either copy (not move) the DC-3 gauge file into the main Gauges folder, or we can copy the file into our converted aircraft’s panel folder. The advantage of putting it in Gauges is that other aircraft that we add later can use the same file.
We copy the DC-3’s gauge file into the main Gauges folder and reload the aircraft one more time. The new gauge should now appear on the instrument panel, in roughly the same location as the old one. We may need to adjust its height and width, by editing the last two numbers on the gauge definition line (in our example, 128 and 128). Unless we have a panel editing program, such as FS Panel Studio, we’ll need to experiment with different values, saving panel.cfg each time and reloading the aircraft. The main thing is we now have a working gauge, and if there are more obsolete gauges in the aircraft we are trying to convert, we know how to replace them.