The first version of Microsoft Flight Simulator that I got seriously into was FS2000. One of the interesting things about it was that you could get Flight Sim Design Studio Pro, a new model editor by Abacus, to design new aircraft for it. I have always been a fan of the Beechcraft Starship 2000A, so I thought it was a good idea to build a starship for FS2000. While 0n my first visit to Seattle, I ordered FSDS and Aircraft Animator (on CD) from Abacus, and when I got back to Cape Town, I started work on it.
That was in 2000. We are about to go into 2009 and I’m still not done. The real Starship went from clean sheet of paper (1982) to first production airframe flight (1988) in 6 years. That means I have already taken 50% longer than the real thing, and I’m still not done. At least I haven’t spent the $300 million the real thing took to develop yet, so in some senses my project is not a disaster.
Why the delay? Partly life interfering (I completed two degrees, wrote some 30 papers, moved in with Ilda, adopted two rabbits, started two careers, immigrated, etc, etc, etc), and partly bloody Microsoft kept coming up with new versions of the sims which kept making want to add new features (there was FS2002, FS2004, and now FSX). Well, recently I started mailing Blake Melancon who for similar reasons got stalled a big project, but has recently gotten back in the saddle with a very nice racing plane. So I decided it was worth another shot. Here is how far I have gotten.
This is almost done. The basic structures are in place and animated. Plus, using FSDSxTweak, I have added a number of custom cameras and nice material effects (click for larger images):
As you can see I am using an imaginary livery – no Starships were registered in Japan, but I like the ANA blue cheat lines, so I thought why not add something similar to the Starship. Akikaze, by the way, means Autumn Breeze.
The most complex part is the wing. It is a single part with several complex shapes cut out of it (for the gear to retract into and the flaps. The flaps are not quite correct, but for the time being I am not going to fix that – cutting holes into parts into FSDS is a huge pain, because the boolean operations often give you a degenerate result. So you need to merge another part with the correct vertices in it, and then add the polygons by hand by selecting vertices, and hitting the ‘create polygon from verts’ option. This is horribly tedious. Worth it in the end, as the gear looks pretty good now (click for larger):
There is still a lot of texturing to be done. Speaking of texturing, I hid a little Easter egg in the pilot (the pilot by the way, is animated to look into the turns and leans away from the bank, as if by centrifugal force). Look closely at the pilot – he is wearing a CVC sweater! I did work on this in the CVC lab when I should have been doing data analysis, so this is my homage to those days (click for larger, you can’t really see the sweater in the small image):
Gauges and the VC
The gauges have been insteresting. The Starship has a glass cockpit (with the exception of a few standby gauges), so that means inplementing them from scratch. Originally I began doing these in C++ using the old .GAU standard, but with the shift in FS9 to XML gauges, I re-coded all the work I did into XML. I struggle to wrap my head around the reverse-polish notation used in FS, but by disassembling the default gauges I am making progress. All the gauges are 3D for the VC. Here are the airspeed and altitude gauges, which allow control of the autopilot settings also (click for larger image):
Here are the standby versions:
And here is the main Navigation gauge – it has several modes, and is heavily based on the default A321 MFD gauge. It is still missing some ILS functions (click for larger):
In general, the VC is generating a huge amount of work. It is hard to make it look good and be functional! Here is a wide view of the VC currently (click for larger):
The throttle quadrant needs to be redone, and I would like to do something to make the walls look a little textured. The seats also need better textures, and the sun shades are completely the wrong shape. Lots of work to do here.