The presentation started with an introduction to the presenter himself: Philipp Ringler, who has been working with Laminar Research since 2013 and is a commercial pilot and flight instructor. Emphasis was made on the fact that the presentation is focused around the roadmap of X-Plane 11, as this sim’s lifespan is far from over, with more and more free updates still to come.
A quick overview of the exclusive features in X-Plane 11 was given, with the Philipp mentioning the dynamic PBR (Physically Based Rendering) which allows the textures to react to the changing environment, as well as the all-new UI to replace the earlier UI which put many users off the sim. Additionally, he mentioned the fact that, as an instructor, his students would be introduced to the custom avionics provided with X-Plane to teach them how to fly.
F-mod and VR were then introduced, with a strong view on the sim making use of market-leading technology to enhance the flying experience. Then, we were introduced to our favourite developers in the X-Plane world: LR recently welcomed Orbx and FlyTampa to the sim and then gave some spotlight to the long-term supporters of the platform like Aerosoft, Just Flight, Carenado and even FlyJSim – a development group known for pushing X-Plane to the limits.
Finally, to end the introduction, we were given a view of the statistics behind the amazing scenery development by the community. One of X-Plane’s most amazing features is that you can fly from one airport to another anywhere in the world and almost guarantee amazing, up-to-date 3D scenery on either end. This is all thanks to the gateway community making the most of X-Plane’s default ‘Lego-Brick [sic]’ assets when creating scenery. Currently, X-Plane 11 ships with over 8,500 free custom 3D airport sceneries, with another 800+ coming in the 11.30 update.
One of the most difficult parts of getting into a flight-sim which users can be comfortable with is making sure that the controls act how they should/ in the most comfortable way, in terms of sensitivity and null-zones, etc.
With this new system, users will have a fully customisable experience. Specific null-zones and sensitivity curves can be set, as well as custom ranges for different roles in the axis. An example being setting a throttle, flight idle and beta/ reverse range for a turboprop throttle axis. All of this will be for a per-aircraft configuration, allowing for even more control over your flight experience.
Of course, users will be able to share the configurations between aircraft, so you won’t have to set is for all of your flying machines.
A new ‘Terminal Kit’ was introduced, which allows scenery creators to let their creativity run wild, as more and more default assets are added allowing for complex airport buildings/ jetways to be built.
More work has been done on LR’s ‘Landmark Cities’ project, where famous cities around the world are getting a touch of love, with custom buildings and landmarks being made; all with their own PBR models.
The landmark cities, like London, Dubai, Chicago, New York, etc. (With more to come, like Washington DC) are all created with a ‘plausible city scenery’ autogen technology, in addition to the custom landmarks. This ensures that the skyline is created with a plausible feel, as all of the heights for the buildings are known via open street map data so they are accurately represented in the sim.
Another huge feature of X-Plane 11 that is ever improving is the super-fast autogen system, which uses open street map data to place thousands of 3D default assets to create a living world. The library which holds all of the assets to create this has also been updated, to a point where almost every model has different colours/ characteristics to allow for subtle variation throughout the sim.
X-Plane accessibility to aircraft developers has always been a big thing for LR, so they are ever continuing to update their Plane-Maker program, with new features. Starting out, we were introduced to new and improved engine variants, like better turboprop modelling. Additionally, Philipp went into detail with the air flow modelling of different aircraft, explaining how X-Plane’s physics engine takes into account the air’s spin induced by props as it flows over the fuselage/ control surfaces and how that affects the flight dynamics.
Next, a focus was made onto the ground effect work that was happening to improve the dynamics of airliners. The team has been working to perfect the physics behind the ground effect, and the changes that happen to flow around the aircraft.
Additionally, Austin has been looking into the details of body-lift; not only do the wings of an aircraft create lift, but the fuselage also adds to it, as the air impacts the surface from varying angles. Unfortunately for the team, there’s not much literature on the physics behind it that would be useful to them…
Fortunately for us, Austin is both crazy and imaginative. He turned his Tesla into a test-bed, where a fuselage model was held above the car, and, whilst leaving it on autopilot, Austin would experiment to find the centre-point of the body-lift force as it moves through the air. It also turns out that this point would move back and the aircraft is yawed, so there will be even more differences in the flight dynamics, during crosswind landing as all of these new discoveries will be implemented in 11.30.
- Oxygen – In X-Plane 11.30, two different oxygen systems will be implemented; pressurised bottle oxygen system which the crew onboard an aircraft uses and chemical oxygen generators, where chemical reactions are used to form O2 molecules (found on passenger airliners).
- Anti-Ice – 4 new detailed methods of keeping your aircraft from freezing and falling will be added to 11.30 upon release. Electrical anti-ice; bleed air anti-ice, where hot air is used from the compressor section of the engines; TKS chemical anti-ices, where the leading edge of the wing seeps fluid, which prevents ice forming on the wings; pneumatic boot de-ice, where a rubber section is inflated on the surface, physically breaking and pushing ice off the aircraft.
- Propeller Governors – 4 basic systems to deal with the management of propellors on turboprops will be added, as well as various systems to test where the governors are working. All of which will be specific to the engine and prop type, like whether or not the aircraft is able to feather props, etc.
11.30 is set to come with more variety for autopilots, to better simulate various aircraft.
For the General Aviation market, the listed autopilots where the GFC 700 and KFC250, then for the roll-only based autopilots for G/A, the S-TEC 55, KAP 140 and the Piper Autocontrol module.
Next came the airliner autopilots which would be new features to the existing models: Autothrottle N1/EPR mode, Boeing-style CWS, Master Flight Director selector, dual and triple channel pre-conditions for autoland. So, in 11.30, we will get a fully functioning autoland system with flare and rollout capability and guidance.
The Vulkan update is set to solve one of the biggest problems with X-Plane 11, and that is performance and the way in which the CPU and the GPU communicate and work together.
Philipp told us that they could add the Vulkan system to the existing X-Plane 11 engine, but it would cause more problems than it solves; so two of the Laminar Research team have been working since April to rebuild the X-Plane 11 engine from the ground up with Vulkan. An alternative to the current OpenGL system, Vulkan only needs to do about 30% of the so-called ‘driver calls’, that was previously needed to run the platform.
A big concern from users then is ‘What will come of my hundreds of add-ons?’, Philipp was there to reassure us that add-ons which used OpenGL to render 2D parts of the cockpit, like the PFD and tablets, etc., should ‘Just work [sic]’. 3D programs, like those which render push-back trucks, refuelling trucks, etc., should also work providing the developer made them using X-Plane 11’s API. Those which were developed using X-Plane 10’s API likely won’t work, however. Add-ons that draw in 3D, without using X-Plane’s API and use OpenGL (Like weather add-ons) will need to switch to Vulkan.
Particle System Design:
A new particle system is coming to X-Plane 11.30 which will allow for some truly fire effects.
The new system will allow developers to add custom emitters of particles and also control the intensity, direction, how the particles behave, etc. A new level of immersion looks to be coming with this as we will finally get better contrails and water spray. In addition to this, we can also expect condensation effects in the engines and above the wings.
As a result of X-Plane not having a limit to how many light sources it can render at any one time, the new particle system will allow each particle to emit light. This will increase the realism for things like fires and afterburners as the heat interacts with the environment and its surroundings; in addition to this, heat blur will also be added, which will dynamically change as the user zooms into and away from the aircraft.
Are We There, Yet?
Nearly… The open beta for 11.30 begins next week and will include all of the new features listed, like the particle effects, autogen, etc. with final 11.30 release coming soon.
Vulkan, however, is not as close. Work still continues on implementing Vulkan, but there is not set release date, unfortunately.