|This article relies too much on references to primary sources. (March 2015)|
|Stable release||10.35 (March 16, 2015[±])|
|Preview release||10.31 (November 8, 2014[±])|
X-Plane is a flight simulator produced by Laminar Research. A desktop version is available for Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux, while a mobile version is available for Android, iOS, and webOS. X-Plane is packaged with several commercial, military, and other aircraft, as well as basic global scenery which covers most of the Earth. X-Plane also ships with other software to build and customize aircraft and scenery. X-Plane also has a plugin architecture that allows users to create their own modules, extending the functionality of the software by letting users create their own worlds or replicas of places on Earth.
As of March 2015[update], the most recent version is X-Plane 10.35. X-Plane 10 comes in a cardstock case on eight dual-layer DVDs, most of which comprise the global scenery, which is 86 GB compressed. The scenery spans from 70 degrees south to 74 degrees north. Switching the planetary model to Mars is an option that comes with X-Plane 9 only, and although the atmosphere is thin, flight is possible.
X-Plane differentiates itself from other simulators by implementing an aerodynamic model called blade element theory. Traditionally, flight simulators emulate the real-world performance of an aircraft by using empirical data in predefined lookup tables to determine aerodynamic forces such as lift or drag, which vary with differing flight conditions. These simulators sufficiently simulate the flight characteristics of the aircraft, specifically those with known aerodynamic data, but are not useful in design work, and do not predict the performance of aircraft when the actual figures are not available.
Blade element theory improves on this type of simulation by modeling the forces and moments on an aircraft, and individually evaluating the parts that constitute it. Blade-element theory and other computational aerodynamic models are often used to compute aerodynamic forces in real time or pre-compute aerodynamic forces of a new design for use in a simulator employing lookup tables.
With blade element theory, a surface (e.g. wing) may be made up of many sections (1 to 4 is typical), and each section is further divided into as many as 10 separate subsections. After that, the lift and drag of each section is calculated, and the resulting effect is applied to the whole aircraft. When this process is applied to each component, the simulated aircraft will fly similar to its real-life counterpart. This approach allows users to design aircraft quickly and easily, as the simulator engine immediately illustrates how an aircraft with a given design might perform in the real world.
X-Plane can model fairly complex aircraft designs, including helicopters, rockets, rotor craft, and tilt-rotor craft.
Blade element theory has shortcomings, as it can sometimes be difficult to design an aircraft that performs precisely as would real-world aircraft. However, as the flight model is refined, the simulator can better resemble real-world performance, and aircraft quirks, and design flaws.
Users are encouraged to design their own aircraft, and design software is included with the program. This has created an active community of users who use the simulator for a variety of purposes. Since designing an aircraft is relatively simple and the flight model can help predict performance of real-world aircraft, several aircraft companies use X-Plane in their design process. The CarterCopter uses X-Plane for flight training and research. X-Plane also contributed to the design of the Atlantica blended wing body aircraft.
Through the plugin interface, users can create external modules that extend the X-Plane interface, flight model or create new features. One such feature is the XSquawkBox plugin, which allows X-Plane users to fly on a worldwide shared air traffic control simulation network. Other work has been done in the area of improving X-Plane's flight model and even replacing entire facets of X-Plane's operation. Scaled Composites, for example, used the X-Plane rendering engine on top of their own simulator while designing and testing SpaceShipOne.
X-Plane can communicate with other applications via User Datagram Protocol (UDP). Through a relatively simple interface, third party developers can control the simulator and extract data regarding the simulation state. Companies like Scaled Composites and Cartercopter have used this tool to use X-Plane as a rendering engine for their in-house simulators.
Maps and scenery are fully editable. While no tool is provided to edit the 3D mesh objects, there are tutorials for using the third party 3D modelers AC3D, SketchUp, and Blender. Once built, editing 3D object placement is done easily with the scenery editor. Much of the world's detail, including that in airports, such as ramps, buildings, and taxiways, is provided by end-users. Users can also subscribe to a mailing list, receiving regular updates of the airport and navaid database.
Map imagery and aircraft paint can be created and modified with any paint program able to manipulate Portable Network Graphics (PNG) images. Laminar Research has released a 7 DVD "Global Scenery Package" containing imagery of a much higher quality than the default information. This package covers close to 85% of Earth's surface. The release of X-Plane 9 (Jan 2008) has introduced much improved areas of high ground relief (especially mountains) and a plethora of other improvements.
X-Plane 10 comes with several detailed aircraft, many of which include 3D virtual cockpits.
There are many aircraft available as freeware and payware.
- ASK21 Glider
- AV8B Sea Harrier
- B747-100 (Space Shuttle Transporter)
- Boeing 747-400
- Boeing 777-200 (Legacy)
- B-2 Spirit
- Beechcraft Baron B58
- Bell 206 JetRanger
- C-130 Hercules
- Cessna 172SP
- Cirrus Vision SF50
- F-22 Raptor
- F-4 Phantom
- KC-10 Extender (Default Refueler)
- King Air C90B
- King Air B200
- Lancair Evolution (Based on creator Austin Meyer's personal plane)
- Northrop B-2 Spirit
- Piaggio P.180 Avanti
- Piper Malibu
- Robinson R22
- Rockwell B-1 Lancer (Legacy)
- Viggen JA37
- Space Shuttle
- SR-71 Blackbird
- Stinson L5
- Tecnam P 92 Ultra light
- Van's RV-3, -4, -6, -7, -8, -9, -10 (Flight models only)
- V-22 Osprey
- XM8 Sparrow (Unreal)
- Great Planes PT-60 RC plane (RC Model)
- Thunder Tiger Raptor 30 v2 RC helicopter (RC Model)
There are thousands of other aircraft available for purchase online
The community for X-Plane has evolved rapidly over the last few years. A major factor in community growth has been thanks to the iPhone and iPad releases of X-Plane, the closing of ACES studios, which produced Microsoft Flight Simulator, and also the discontinuation of the short lived Microsoft Flight. There are several forums and sites including x-pilot.com and x-plane.org, where X-Plane users can talk about X-Plane and share any aircraft or scenery they may have designed and made themselves. On the iPhone and iPad version there is a multiplayer interface, although players can only play with people who are connected to the same LAN network. On the PC version of the game there is an online server where users can play with friends and other people connected to the server. Many freeware and payware extras are available for users to design their own simulator content.
Multiple utilities are shipped with X-Plane 10 by Laminar Research for users to customize various aspects of the simulation.
World Editor (WED) utility
Current Version: 1.3.1r1
World Editor is an overlay editor with a graphic user interface to facilitate editing of airports. With the most recent update, this utility global resources to allow users to submit data to be included in X-Plane by default with each update. The primary purpose of this tool is to modify and correct airport layouts. World Editor also can read the geographical coordinates in GeoTIFF files. In version 1.3r1, a new feature was added to allow users to submit airports using default assets to an Airport Scenery Gateway.
Plane Maker utility
This application allows users to customize or create aircraft by using a simple 3d modeling view and allows users to add other 3d objects to their aircraft in the .obj format.
Airfoil Maker utility
This application allows users to customize or create airfoils for the aircraft created in Plane Maker.
X-Plane 10 is compatible with Windows, Linux, and Mac. X-Plane Mobile is a downsized version of the game available on Android, iOS (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch), and Palm Pre devices. Laminar Research claims the flight model for mobile versions is 85% to 95% as accurate as the desktop version.
X-Plane can connect other X-Plane installation via network. The following UDP ports are used:
- 49000 for input of data
- 49001 for output of data
- 49002 for sending data to iPad
The IOS – Instructor Operation Station, can be used remotely as a learning session, moving the plane to every world and airport position, activating many failures and so on. A version of IVAP for X-plane is available.
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