Monday, 5 February 2018

Navaid First Aid

A Dark and Stormy Night....

Imagine if you will being on approach and just about to establish on the localiser, when all of a sudden nothing happens.Those tiny needles identifying the ILS localiser and glideslope remain stubbornly dormant and the ident is playing nothing but tuneless static.



You look across to your NAV radio, Garmin box, or FMC to double check that the frequency you previously input has been correctly entered as per the approach chart, and that all other navaid frequencies match your payware navdata subscription.

It is, and they are. 

Your only option is to pause whilst you sort out what is going on, though this might subject you to the mighty wrath of ATC, with resultant ejection from the online session, Martin Baker style. 

Marks awarded for style and preparation: 0/10


What's the Frequency, Kenneth?

The disparity comes down to different datasets that are simultaneously in use, specifically the navdata within your aircraft pitted against the navdata within your simulator

Default FSX and Prepar3d  simulators are equipped out of the box with navdata that is woefully out of date. Not only are VOR’s, NDB’s, fixes, intersections and all the rest well past their “sell by date”, but included in this large packet of erroneous inaccuracies are several default airports that have failed the test of time. 

According to FSX, Frankfurt EDDF has but two runways, yet in the real world it now has three, and the same applies to Beijing ZBAA. It is short sighted to think of default FSX and P3D navigational and airport data to be in any way accurate and representative of the real world. 

Yet there you are in your £300m aeroplane complete with a pricey navdata subscription and a passenger load of lawsuits. You are about to establish on the ILS seemingly with the right frequency tuned into NAV1 but flying into a default airport that is operating on navdata that is well past its shelf life. 

What a disparate mismatched pair you make...

Happily there are steps that one can take to remedy this preventable situation, but you will need to do this prior to flight as opposed to on-the-fly, if you will as part of your comprehensive pre-flight fidgets. 


FSX & P3D Navadata

Intersection, waypoint, and fix navdata present within FSX/P3D is held in those magical BGL files (as is worldwide magnetic variation data), and there is no reason why these cannot be changed for up-to-date BGL's.



If you are interested, then visit aero.sors.fr for updateable FSX/P3D waypoint navdata which comes in a neat BGL installer complete with a comprehensive “restore” function (current cycle 1802; please consider donating).


In-Sim Airport Data: MakeRunways

Pete Dowson of Schiratti.com made available during the good old days of FS2004 a very useful and widely used utility known as MakeRwys.exe which serves to extract airport data present within your particular simulator installation (FS9, FSX, and P3D).

Essentially, Makerwys.exe READS your sim data and then WRITES it own text file based on your sim data; it makes no changes whatsoever to your system.

Instructions are included, but all you need do is to place and run it from the root folder of your sim to produce a large text file named "Runways.txt". Be warned as it may take a few minutes to complete depending on the size of your particular installation; my Runways.txt file is a shade over 2,000,000 lines long with Gatwick EGKK taking up 1069 of them (yes, you read that right!).

The data extracted contains runway information including length and surface, navaid data including ILS frequencies, taxiways, gate and parking information, airport frequencies, and so on. 

Great, I now have my precise airport navdata, but what to do with it? Well, the answer is to read on, but first know this:

Don't bother sharing your Runways.txt file because unless your installation is 100% default it is pertinent only to you. Also, do run the file periodically because as you update your system, the navdata within your sim will change as well.


QuickILS

Quick ILS is a super little freeware utility available from Avsim.com, and is something that I have previously mentioned, but even so it is worth renewing our acquaintance with it in light of any default vs. payware vs. freeware scenery debates.



QuickILS reads the above mentioned Runways.txt file, and produces useful and concurrent runway data for a given airport, for instance KJFK in the screenshot provided above. It is worth mentioning that this utility reads Runways.txt and make absolutely no changes to your setup.

With it, simmers can quickly and easily double check the correct ILS frequencies for the airports present within their installations.

Going back to the situation described above, what this really means is that whilst your FMC is busy reading your expensive payware navadata and in so doing correctly telling you that the ILS frequency in use today in the real world at airport ABCD RW09 is 109.50 CRS 087, but when you check using QuickILS you can easily determine that your scenery, be it freeware, [older] payware, or default actually holds ancient information ABCD RW09 ILS 110.45 with CRS 089.


Enter a Scruffy Duck

Scruffy Duck Software is a long established .org flight simulator website and forum which produces many key scenery and object freeware design utilities; without Scruffy Duck, our preferred scenery download libraries would be sad and empty places.


First in the list, and the only download we will address here, is the somewhat ubiquitous and quite superb AirportDesignEditor freeware program (current V1.75).

This program is responsible the many AFCAD files that you can download, for these are the creations and recreations of the standard FSX/P3D airport BGL format by scenery designers or users like your or me.

These are the "Lego-Brick" airports that we see as default scenery, specifically airports created using the default library of parts and objects contained within FSX itself. AFCAD's can also represent upgraded default airports for when users update a default airport from it's basic and unrealistic state into something resembling its real world counterpart with added runways, buildings, navdata, objects, and so on.

An AFCAD has within its root structure an XML programming base which is then compiled into BGL format for use within the actual simulator. For instance, the XML/BGL might say:
Place FSX library building small terminal LAT/LON elevation 123 rotated 240 scale 100.

With this in mind, an airport layout AFCAD with ADE will show runways, buildings, exclusions, frequencies, navaids, parking, gates, taxiways, and other airport objects, and it will look something like this (Beijing ZBAA):


It uses a drag'n'drop interface which makes scenery design easy and fun - once you get started, it's actually quite hard to stop adding buildings, airport vehicles, and other detailed paraphernalia (from default library or from within other installed object libraries).

ADE, as well as other SDS programs, require the SDK of your platform to be installed for FSX/P3D, and happily these can still be downloaded/obtained (see this old post). If you use FSX, then do read the linked post as you will likely need to download the SDK for P3D V1.

So, what has this to do with navdata and frequencies? Well,the idea is that you can easily check and list all navaids to do with an airport using ADE, be it default, freeware, or payware; here is ZBAA:


Not only can you interrogate your scenery BGL's, but you can also amend and then compile new updated BGL's, perhaps with up-to-date frequencies and other navaid data. If you want more information on this aspect of scenery design, I would suggest to you to read up on Scruffy Duck Software and it's helpful forums. There are many other scenery design forums and YouTube channels as well, but to be honest, ADE is straightforward enough for most (once the SDK and its components are in place in ADE's configuration).


What Next?

This bit is up to you - you may wish to crack on with scenery design, or experiment with correcting a few airport layouts, or simply be happy with this additional knowledge.

If you wish, you can begin creating scenery objects using freeware tools such as Google Sketchup and later importing these using ModelConverterX from Scenery Design.Org.


This exceptional program lets you to import and export objects of many different formats allowing you to rotate, move, and zoom the object at will. You can even place objects precisely using overlays such as Google or Bing maps so facilitating accurate visual geographic placement, to then convert these into BGL files which house the object's placement data within - you then simply drop the BGL into your addon scenery and voila! What next is really up to you, but the world is, as they say, your oyster!

You can also begin repainting airline and GA liveries with MCX, as it support the import of MDL files for you to see the aircraft wearing old and new liveries which for repainters is invaluable as you paint your favourite Boeing or Airbus in the colours of your preferred airline.

So, try asking Kenneth what the frequency is now, I'm quite sure that he will now know!




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