There is no question about the impact of ActiveSky for P3D and how it really brings the weather to life. HiFi Simulations has been working on bringing their renowned weather engine to X-Plane for about three years. In December of 2018 Active Sky for X-Plane (known as ASXP) was born. The add-on is a welcome addition to the default simulator weather and injects a more realistic and exciting feel to flying around the globe. I’ve had ASXP for a while now and I would say I have just about mastered the complexity of the system. If you were sat on the fence as to whether you should take the plunge, then I’ll hopefully help you make that decision.
GETTING IT INSTALLED
Initial installation was quick and easy, the system installs all the necessary files into your X-Plane root folder, including ASConnect – the plugin that allows the system to communicate with your sim. Once all that is done, all you need to do is login to ASXP with your email and password. You set this up on activation, where you’re also prompted with the question ‘would you like to install the ActiveSky weather textures?’ This alone is worth the cash – the upgraded textures for clouds in X-Plane really make an immediate difference. Not only do they look great, they are easy on your frame rate too. I normally get about 40 FPS in the air using the FlightFactor A320 rendering overcast skies with ASXP. This isn’t too dissimilar to using the default X-Plane clouds and weather system. By no means are these volumetric clouds, they are just texture replacements, so you still get the rotating cloud effect, but this does make a big difference to the clouds and realism overall.
USER INTERFACE AND EXPERIENCE
I found the Active Sky user interface a little congested and not very intuitive. You get a tab bar with five tabs along the top – these allow you to change between weather modes (which I’ll get to later), view the weather map, view the weather conditions at a chosen airport or weather station, set a flight plan, read/listen to the weather briefing, and a weather search function. Down the left-hand side, you are presented with other options and settings that could be condensed into one; these are functions like using the ASXP textures, filing bug reports and so on.
Another issue I have with the UI is that in full screen mode, the UI fills the screen completely so you lose the taskbar. This tends to get frustrating if you only have one PC monitor when flying or have to switch between two windows. I imagine the idea behind this is to use a secondary screen for your weather station. There is a workaround and that is to dock the tabs you use most; these then pop out of ASXP into their own windows which you can maximise.
INJECTING WEATHER INTO XP
Many users will only really use ASXP for live real-world weather. This is a snapshot of current global real-world weather downloaded in the form of a METAR file. This is then interpreted and packaged into a file that X-Plane can read and insert into the simulator. For any weather from ASXP, you simply point X-Plane in the direction of the saved METAR file. This is constantly updated providing you have ASXP and X-Plane running together, though the ASConnect plugin will do this for you. There are two more types of weather modes: historic and custom. With historic weather, you can download specific weather conditions from any day in the past two years. This is great if you want to try your hand at storm chasing, providing you have hurricanes enabled. Creating your own weather is a little more complex. Initially you must do so via the map tab. You need to select the area you wish to create weather for and then add in the weather systems. This does take some time but is fully customisable through changing the METAR descriptions, and you can make things as challenging as you want.
The map view itself, regardless of which mode you are using, is a little hard to interpret. The weather systems are layered onto a global map but they then cover any stations and country outlines below making it quite hard to navigate your way around. The best way to use the map is by inputting your chosen flight plan via the Flight Plan tab. This is where you can either dispatch your flight using Navigraph data, or you can import a flight plan from an external file. Setting your flight plan in ASXP also gives you a more realistic experience in terms of weather overall. Once your flight plan is set, you can use the briefing tab to get departure and arrival weather in printable coded METAR or decoded audio formats. These are available by tuning your radio to a set frequency. The audio is of high quality but doesn’t have a radio effect like listening to ATIS on VATSIM. This is, however, an improvement on the default X-Plane weather audio briefing.
If like me, you spend more time deciding where to fly to than actually flying, when in live and historic modes you can search for a particular type of weather such as thunderstorms, hurricanes and different types of precipitation. This is a great way to help you decide where to fly. You can also tailor this by limiting the distance searched from a particular airport or station.
If you just want to know the weather at a specific airport, you can do so by searching the airport name or ICAO code in the conditions tab at the top.
AS REAL AS IT GETS?
The data used and exported to X-Plane is in-depth and real time, that means looking out your window is the weather you get in X-Plane, depending on how quickly you refresh your weather. The accuracy of the system is great; you can use ASXP to check the weather all around the globe in real life and for your simulator. The added benefits of using Active Sky for X-Plane mean that your in-sim experience is far better than what you would have if you were using the default weather.
ASXP also creates windshear; the wind actually gusts at different speeds which is something you don’t get in the default simulator either. The dynamic nature of the weather is modelled really well and it is evident in the simulator. Moving from dense clouds up to 30,000ft to sparse cloud at low level. The transition between the two areas brings a level of realism that you just don’t get with the default weather.
If a challenge is what you want, ASXP has a function where you can add in wake turbulence at the click of a button. You can choose the strength and heading. This adds a real skill to fly through. When you’re not careful, it can even be strong enough to send your aircraft rolling in a flat spin.
I think the multi-layered weather that ASXP injects into X-Plane really makes the flying experience come alive. ASXP also delivers complex winds aloft data to X-Plane. I have found this a good feature, but the level and intensity of the turbulence I have experienced has been low, even when I have the setting for turbulence effect turned up to 100%. Of course, this may just be down to calm real world conditions. ASXP also downloads thermal data for soaring purposes. Unfortunately, I have not been able to get this to be visible in-sim which is a little frustrating if gliding is your thing.
Ongoing development for ASXP has a long way to go, but it definitely has the fundamental building blocks to really enhance the weather system within X-Plane.
Image Source: HiFi Sim Tech website.
- In-depth customisability and functionality
- Weather texture replacement
- Multi levels of weather systems
- User interface needs some optimization and improvements
- Needs stronger turbulence and thermals
- Refresh of weather means redrawing of weather