Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Visitors and a try out of FS Instant Approach

We had a visitors this weekend, Gianluca and Linda. Hard to believe it's been a year since they were last up this way! This time around I had Gianluca do the flying (to be honest I had too much wine at dinner to be much use myself). He did an excellent job considering my sim was new to him and that he didn't have the luxury of a working MIP (the CPFlight MIP board blew out about a week ago - more on this later).

After a smooth landing in San Francisco, we tried out a utility I recently purchased call FS Instant Approach. With it you can set the plane up for any airport/runway in your simulator, specifying how far out you want to be, weather, visibility, speed etc:

We noticed a bit of a hiccup - when you switch to FSX and take it out of pause, the throttles firewalled! A brief pull back on the levers and normal behavior was observed. This could be set up dependent. When I tested it again today for these pictures, I didn't have my TQ or Prosim turned on and the engines were running under the command of the A/T.

The pause feature is quite handy though. Since the utility has no idea of what other software you're running, it gives you time to re-program your FMC and get the rest of you aircraft squared away for approach. With this done, come out of pause and in my case, adjust your thrust settings.

In this example I set visibility to 2 miles and as you can see, created a typical San Francisco summers day:

I flew the approach and caught sight of the runway in time to make my go/no go decision:

One feature of the utility is that you can view your flight map "in Google maps". A bit of a con really because the software uses the vendors website to show the flight path taken:

I've made a number of test flights and only 3 are available to view. Plus you can only see the flight track, would be better if you could also see the altitude and have it displayed in Google Earth rather than their half baked version of Google Maps. Some kinks to work out there boys. For $14 though, not bad at all.

Gianluca also left me with a generous gift - some projector screen material! What a gentleman!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Visuals part 3 (end....for now)

Well I've gotten about as far as I can with wrinkly paper and a version of Warpalizer that doesn't save its configuration. I purchased it today but it requires a "dongle" (something that plugs into an otherwise usable USB port) that verifies the software as being legit and not some knock off. It's being shipped from Norway so it will be a week or so before I can get Warpalizer up and running properly.

"What is Warpalizer?", I hear you say. It's software that bends (or warps) the projected image on a curved screen so that to the observer, everything is the same focal point and is distortion free. Without it your 3 projector set up looks funky as all get up. Now the challenge with the evaluation version is that it doesn't allow you to save your settings and sometimes a change in focus in windows (ie. you switch to FSX) will cause the settings you made to disappear. This photo gives you an idea of how Warpalizer works:
You use the edit function to make all of the rows appear to be equally spaced and in proportion to each other. I could only get this in so so shape since the butcher paper screen sags and bunches up unevenly across the projection field. Sometimes I was staring at the image not sure if it was the paper or the warping factor that was out of whack (it was almost always the paper). You can also set the edge blending, where the 2 project beams intersect (on box 11 and 22).

Per my opening sentence of this post, I've tested about as much as I can with this prototype rig. Plus the wife wants to park the car in the garage so tonight I pulled it all down.

Just for giggles, I took the semi circle base of the frame into the sim room to see if it would fit. Oh my it's tight! It works though. I can't wait to re-arrange the room, get the projectors mounted on the ceiling and install some kind of screen. Plywood or a screen hanging down from the ceiling? Will need to think about this one.

What else? Happy to report with all projectors running at 1280 x 800, FSX was managing 30 frames per second while on the ground in SFO. Haven't tried it on an "add on scenery" airport but so far, performance doesn't look like an issue.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Visuals part 2

Spent a couple of hours testing tonight. First off, got the Nvidia cards working in SLI mode with one big expanded desktop at 3840 X 800 resolution (each projector is 1280 X 800). Loaded up FSX and tweaked the window settings. More work is required here - later. Fired up an evaluation copy of Warpalizer. It took a bit of trial and error and I'm by no means finished but here are some preliminary results:
I need to make some physical adjustments to where the projector beams intersect. The edge blending from Warpalizer works quite well though. Also, the fact that the projection surface is not completely flat causes problems in the projection too. For a proof of concept though, I'm thrilled.

Here's a closer look of our fair city:

I may tinker around a bit more tomorrow but next step is to purchase Warpalizer. I can't save the config in the evaluation mode and I really need to get a laser level on the test grid lines to make sure everything is where it ought to be. Again though, very happy with the results!

Visuals part 1

While waiting for our friends at CPFlight to get back to me on the (second) blown MIP card, I thought I'd turn my weekend attention to the external visuals. My goal for the weekend was to prototype the setup in the garage, to check on all of the dimensions and geometry. This way I'll know for sure if my plans will work, before turning the guest room completely upside down to get the rig in there.

I wanted to do this on the cheap, since it won't be used beyond the prototype. I turned to 1/2 inch PVC irrigation pipe for the framework. They run about $1.50 for a 10 foot length and the slip together fittings are cheap too. Calculating the required lengths using high school math, I came up with this:

Not the straightest of frames but it will serve my purposes. Next I taped together 3 runs of butcher paper and clamped it to the frame
Again, not perfectly flat but good enough for the prototype. In the final set up the projectors will be mounted from the ceiling. Today I can set them on the ground to check for coverage, positioning etc. Much easier to make fine adjustments here than on the top of a ladder:

From a previous posting you'll remember that I have 2 double port video cards in the FSX system. I hooked up the projectors via some HDMI cables and here is the first result:
I'm standing in the way there to give you a sense of scale - this screen is huge! The radius is 60 inches and the screen width at 220 degrees is approx. 253 inches. As you can see, I need to resize the FSX windows to get the appropriate edge overlap. I also installed a trial version of Warpalizer to blend the projector images and bend the image into shape. We had guests coming over for Easter dinner so I had to cut the tests short. The wife's given me another 24 hours of grace in the garage - I'll run more tests tonight.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

One step forward, one step back

Gianluca emailed me today saying he will be in town in a couple of weeks. It's been about a year since he and his lovely F/O visited. To be honest, there's not a lot of progress to show in the last 12 months - I was shamed into getting back on it today.

There were some things I wanted to straighten out so here's the punch list for today:
  • Get the upper EICAS screen working
  • Fix the annoying connect/disconnect sound the TQ makes all the time
  • Sort out the terrain display in the nav display
  • Fix voltage drop on my CPFlight units
Easy enough. Plugged the second monitor into my new Dell system and extended the desktop over the 2 screens. Created a copy of the ProSim display folder and added a new shortcut to the desktop called EICAS. Once I had the ProSim display situated, I clicked on the "fullscreen" option and it held its place on the second, 10" monitor. Fired up the other display and all was well. Cool. I can finally see what the engines are doing and how much fuel I have left. Handy.

A "feature" of the wonderful Revolution Simproducts TQ. I followed their fix it guide (you can find it here), first by changing the power options in Windows 7 (made no difference) then by adding a powered USB hub. Doing this meant I had to change the SIOC ini file but I'm wise to this now! Still no difference although once I got the sim fired up, the problem seemed to go away.

Terrain Display
This is a great option in Prosim737. I don't believe they have it Project Magenta and if they do, it's probably in that annoyingly named module called Wazzup. I'll tell you what's up, the thing isn't documented I could never get it to work. With Prosim though, it's a breeze.

First check your cockpit settings in the instructor station:
Make sure the "vertical situation display" option is checked. Also, install the terrain data files on the computer that has the cockpit displays running (more on that here). While I was in this screen, I noticed a setting for weight in kg or lbs. In my previous post I mentioned I preferred pounds, so here is where you set it. FMC works like a champ now.

Here are some examples of the terrain display. I'm making an approach to KMFR (Medford, Oregon), ILS14, coming in from the south. The area is mountainous and you can see where my descent is taking me and at what altitude I'll intercept waypoint KUSHI at the current rate:
In this shot, I've made the base leg and I'm heading to waypoint SAMIE. If I continue on this heading and descent rate, I'll clip the top off a mountain - not good:

Next shot you can see the remaining waypoints and the runway. I better get down sharpish - you can see I'm in level flight and I need to get the nose down to intercept the glideslope:

Last shot I'm on short final and more or less on the glideslope. See how the mountains on the other side of the runway are highlighted in yellow? If I mess up the landing and go around, I better start climbing in a hurry:

Fix voltage drop on CPFlight modules
And this is where we take a step backwards...

I've been in touch with CPFlight since I noticed that the radio displays would flicker when the solenoids that release the fire handles would kick in, during fire drill tests. They recommended I add a second power supply, one to the MIP card and keep the existing one plugged into the MIP. This I did and moved the jumper on the board to the "I" position so that it would take its power internally.

It didn't work. Unplugged the power to the board and reverted to the "E" for external setting. Nothing. The MIP is working but the board has quit on me. This is the second one that has died - I await further instructions from Italy before making any more improvements to the sim. Replacing the board is a pain since it requires rewiring every connection. Hope that isn't what's required.