Constantly scanning the sky is an integral part of flying. It’s for safety but also to take in the sites all around you. With that in mind, I want to show you how you can get awesome head tracking in your flight simulator with just a webcam and $3. You might wonder how this method compares to TrackIR. The short answer is that it’s not as precise as TrackIR, but still an excellent alternative that’s left me with almost no complaints.
For those who don’t know, TrackIR is the leading head tracking device on the market costing $149. TrackIR uses a camera and Infrared to track the movements of your head. It’s accomplished by mounting a camera in front of you and wearing the infrared light on your head. This allows you to look all around the cockpit and lean towards your instruments.
The method we’ll talk about today uses your web cam to track the movement of your face rather than infrared light. This is done with software called FaceTrackNoIR. This software tricks the simulator into thinking TrackIR is being used. The camera I’m using is the HD Pro Webcam C920, but any modern webcam will do. Your monitor should provide enough light, but if not, try to light your face as much as possible. This will increase the accuracy of the head tracking.
Once you open FaceTrackNoIR for the first time, you’ll need to configure your webcam. Click “Options” at the top left of the window and then proceed to “Webcam Utility.” From there, click “Devices” and your webcam should be recognized in the drop down menu.
Now that you’ve set up your webcam, you can go back to the main window. Here you will see various options that you can apply to the tracker. “Profile” allows you to save your settings and load them in at anytime. You might want to do this if you have different configurations for various sims. I use “faceAPI V3.2.6” for tracker source, “Accela Filter Mk2” for filter and “FreeTrack 2.1” for game protocol. I also set my smoothing to 30 samples and I invert the pitch axis. Lastly, you can adjust the curves for each axis.
When everything is set, you can click “Start” under GO!. You should now see a black and white video of your face with a yellow overlay tracking your head movement. This shows how your face is going to be tracked in the simulator. Always remember to click “Start” prior to opening the simulator. Otherwise it might not recolonize that you are using head tracking and you will have to restart the sim.
When it comes to compatibility, I’ve tested FaceTrackNoIR on Prepar3D v4.4, X-Plane 11, Aerofly FS2, DCS World 2.5, and IL-2. Each sim functions slightly different but they’re all very close in functionality. This is where you might want to start saving profiles for each sim. The head tracking works right away upon loading Aerofly FS 2, DCS World, and IL2. With Prepar3D and X-Plane 11, there is just a couple of extra steps to make the head tracking work.
For X-Plane 11, it helps to have the plugin X-Camera, which is free to download. But if you want your settings to save, you do need to purchase a license. Otherwise the free version works great for Track IR, as long as you’re okay with re-positioning the camera each time you open X-Plane. To turn the head tracking on, simply open the X-Camera control panel and check the “Enable Track IR” and “Retain Mouse Look Position” boxes. If the camera is not aligned correctly, you can use the arrow keys and mouse to center your view.
Prepar3D follows nearly the same process. The most efficient way to use head tracking in P3D is with camera software called ChasePlane. The head tracking should work automatically, but if not, click “Preferences” on the left and make sure “Enable Head Tracking (TrackIR)” is checked. Again, if the camera is not aligned correctly you can use the arrow keys and mouse to center the view.
From dog fighting over the Persian Gulf, or turning base onto final; FaceTrackNoIR has made a world of difference in my flight simulation experience. TrackIR can be a costly investment but if you already own a web cam you’re just a few dollars away from turning your head inside the virtual cockpit. Have fun out there everyone, see you in the skies!