This is going to be part Flight Journal and part commentary on the state of X-Plane 12 right now as I fly across Florida in the Aerobask DA42 from Fort Lauderdale to Daytona Beech. Let’s go!
What I’m flying and where
Earlier in the year, Aerobask released their simulation of a Diamond DA42 for X-Plane 12. This aircraft is a remake of their very first X-Plane 10 project from 10-years ago and although there isn’t a ton to distinguish it from their other Diamond aircraft that they have done, I kind of had to have it. More on that when I get to a full review.
As is my way, I decided I wanted to do a little cross country journey and with all of the storms and activity in the Florida area (terrible flooding in Fort Lauderdale recently btw) I wanted to see how X-Plane 12’s weather engine was keeping up with the storms and if their cloud rendering has improved recently. I’m not on the beta release cycle right now so its the latest stable version available on Steam.
My takeoff spot was Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport (KFXE) and my destination was Ormond Beach Municipal Airport (KOMN).
Takeoff, sightseeing and seeking adventure
Starting up the DA42 is pretty straight forward. Following the by the book method takes just minutes and before long both Austro Engine E4 turbocharged diesel engines were purring as they should. Oil temperature and fuel pressure all in the normal values and it was time for a short taxi from the GA area over to runway 31 for departure.
Takeoff is also easy in the DA42 provide that you provide the necessary amounts of counter rudder to the two propellers being driven by the 168 horsepower engines. Then, positive rate, gear up, flaps up and continue to climb out on the runway heading before turning north and onto our route up to Daytona.
A setting sun, speckled clouds, and city lights coming on dominated the scenes as I climbed to a cruise altitude of 5,000 feet.
Because I don’t as carefully plan my flights as I absolutely would if I were a real GA pilot, sometimes the adventures I come up with end up being of my own making. Case in point, a higher than expected throttle, a tight schedule on the clock, and a desire to just get there meant that my half tank DA42 didn’t quite have the range to reach my target. I kept being confused as to why my range circle was shrinking until I glanced at my fuel tanks and my fuel consumption… way higher than they needed to be. That’s on me!
With fuel in the red and precious few minutes remaining of fuel, I immediately reduced the throttles and began looking for options. Fortunately, Space Coast Regional Airport () was just 5 nautical miles away. I setup and performed a landing on Runway 18… and it was a great landing too with a good flare with 2 degrees nose up and just under 100 feet per minute on the touchdown. Missing? My landing lights! Oops!
I found a FBO and taxied over. In real life this is the US Aviation Jet Center and the DA42 didn’t seem too out of place with the aircraft parked there in the sim nor the SR22 and RV14 that I spotted on the satellite imagery.
With the engines off, fuel in the tank, and the GPU providing power, I setup the next part of my journey up to Daytona. This time with more gas and less simulated irresponsibility.
Then it was takeoff time and back into the darkening sky as I made the hop up to Ormond Beach airport for yet another smooth touchdown – albeit not quite as good as the last one. Taxi, park, shut down and off. Mission accomplished… but not in the way that I thought.
Fun, mostly immersive, and a cool challenge to boot. There are some problems, however, and I want to talk about X-Plane 12 and the thoughts that popped into my head on this journey.
Some X-Plane 12 remarks
As I was flying along on this journey I found myself thinking quite a bit about the state of X-Plane 12 right now. I have so many conflicting feelings about how the sim is going right now and I thought I’d try and compress them into a few key points.
One of the most impressive things about this journey has been the airport autogen. Laminar put a lot of time and effort into their airports particularly around the generic buildings, the grass textures and the runway textures and signage. Together with their scenery gateway, X-Plane 12 now sports some of the best generic airports in the business. They still all have a kind of samey feel about them but the assets are of far higher quality than they were under X-Plane 12 and the scene is pretty cohesive. Most of the trees are superb as well (although a few at these Florida airports are the old style billboard type that are in desperate need of replacement).
One of the items that I feel quite mixed about is the clouds and lighting. Laminar were keen to tout their physically based lighting engine and X-Plane 12 is definitely a huge step forward for the sim when it comes to lighting. There are elements of the lighting that are top notch and the night time lights both on the airplane and in the rest of the world are great.
But there are instances where the lighting doesn’t seem to cohesively light the world and so you have these moments where the airplane looks one way and the clouds look another and the ground still another.
Sure, that can happen in real life at low sun angles but there just isn’t the kind of bounce from nearby objects that you should see. Sometimes it all comes together and looks great, fantastic even, but other times its disappointing. It leaves me wondering if their lighting system, physics based as it is, doesn’t need a dash of artistry to fill in the blank spots where physics calculations haven’t yet tread.
There’s also the clouds and this is a big one for me. X-Plane 11’s clouds were horrible and many users and companies spent time and efforts to try and replace them in different ways. In 12 we have both a new weather and cloud system and… its not quite there yet.
Between the weird way that dense clouds appear both dense and translucent at the same time to the almost completely black clouds at sunset that don’t appear to take on the lighting of the rest of the scene to the weird shapes… its just not doing it for me yet. There’s also plenty of compositing issues between the aircraft flying infront and the clouds behind it. It shows less in screenshots but in motion its jarring and annoying. IL-2 Great Battles, as some of you will recall, used to have this issue too but they solved it. Laminar needs to do the same.
It’s so close too but it needs more work.
Weather is an interesting one too. The new weather engine is pretty good and far better than what we saw before. But it also seems to miss out, in much the same way that MSFS’ engine does, on more localized weather phenomenon. I purposefully flew to Daytona Beach because I wanted to see X-Plane tackle the rather intense thunderstorm there. It wasn’t there at all.
Of course, X-Plane scenery remains rooted in the past. Yes, the autogen is great and textures have seen some updates but the overall look is one of jagged edges around ponds, lakes, and ocean and low elevation resolution not to mention the roads. There have been updates and the ground to water transition is better than it ever has. Golf courses also stand out from all the jagged edges with nice smooth transitions.
I have a feeling that Laminar aren’t done with their work on the scenery but absent a more cohesive statement on the matter I just don’t know what they are doing. Orbx has yet to fill the void either as we’re still waiting to find out what they are doing with their TruEarth series or many of the items in their scenery portfolio from X-Plane 11.
I love the way this sim flies, I love many of the airplanes that I can fly in it, but the sim itself remains an unfinished masterpiece. One that I have high hopes for but one that I can’t help but notice the rough edges, literally and figuratively, in some of its features.
3 Comments Add yours
100 percent agree with your thoughts, especially your last paragraph. The scenery gateway is one of XP’s best features. I used to instruct out of FXE and the default XP version is very accurate. Same thing goes for Purdue University Airport (KLAF), where I learned to fly.
As I’ve said in the past, I would have easily considered $60 of payware addons for XP11 incorporating XP12’s weather and lighting features worth it. Yet somehow because I instead paid that amount for “the next generation of X-Plane” it feels like I got less. Weird.
MSFS still has its gaps to be sure, but they are being filled much faster than XP. With XP’s small team size, I’m not sure what they are realistically capable of.
I still use XP for a few high quality payware planes that don’t exist in MSFS yet, but I honestly don’t expect it to surpass the overall experience of MSFS at this point. I would be happy to be proven wrong someday though.
There was some discussion on the Orbx Forums, I am not sure but I think they have some plans for True Earth and XP12 .
I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. I still love flying in X-Plane, and I’m still frequently drawn to MSFS by the scenery.
They’re truly Yin/Yang – lovely and frustrating in opposite measure to each other.
X-Plane is catching up in scenery, MSFS is catching up in flight dynamics.
I’m at a weird, “inverse” place right now where I’d rather fly airliners in MSFS because flight model doesn’t matter so much, and for GA/Military I’d rather fly X-Plane where flight model is incredibly important. But the scenery pushes me in the exact opposite direction… 😦
And don’t even get me started on the competing “requirements” of helicopter flying, where BOTH highly realistic scenery AND a highly nuanced flight model is incredibly important (did I mention how much I adore XPs SA 315 Llama?).
Anyhow, I still regard it as an embarrassment of riches.
And whenever I can’t make up my mind, I just go do a low level run ending with carrier traps in DCS: Tomcat 🙂
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