Interview With Thinus Pretorius
Conducted by Dominic Smith
When did you start developing for flight simulators and what got you interested in it?
I started developing for MSFS back in 1998. My son was looking for aircraft of the South African Air Force but none were available, so I downloaded some models that we could repaint. Some of the aircraft I enjoyed were created by Mike Hill, and so, with his permission, I started to create liveries for them. I eventually uploaded some of my repaints on to FlightSim.Com and Avsim.com.
After a while I decided that I would like to try my hand at creating my own aircraft so I purchased FlightShop. FlightShop enabled me to create my own aircraft and was fun to use. The first aircraft that I created was shared with local flight simmers. I then switched over to FSDS, and my first model created with that program was a Casa 200 and 300. Later, I changed this model so it would work with FS2000, and the rest as they say, is history.
Tell us about the nature of your designs and what you do?
Basically all my aircraft are military in nature, and also ones used by the South African Air Force. My first designs were of aircraft built during or just after the Second World War; for example the P51, Spitfires and Sabre. When it comes to locating information used for creating these aircraft, I visit my local air force museum which contains a great deal of information on many different types of aircraft. Not only can I find information on aircraft at the museum, but I also get the opportunity to take photos of the cockpits and instruments. This way I can get to work on designing the xml gauges and use the photos as backdrops for the panels. For me, a lot of the fun is had with the research. I also love testing new features and trying to improve on the aircraft (model, gauges, etc.). With each new aircraft that I create, I learn something new about design.
What do you consider your best or most popular work?
I have designed about 35 aircraft so far, and out of that number, only about 15 have been made available on numerous flight sim sites (the rest being made available to friends and local pilots only). Which ones are the most popular? I would have to say that the Cheetah C and Mirage III CZ seem to be my most popular aircraft so far, but I also have a Pilatus PC7 which is quite popular too.
I uploaded the Atlas Cheetah C to FlightSim.Com and also Simviation.com, but since then it has been uploaded to a number of other flight sim sites (don't know who by). From the sites that I know of, the model has been downloaded over 25,000 times.
What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of a project?
The most challenging aspect of a project can vary from one project to another, but I would have to say that, in most cases, the research stage is the most challenging part as it's not always that easy to locate the required background information needed. When it comes to the actual design of the aircraft, I'll have ideas on specifics but because of my limited computer knowledge, it's sometimes difficult to put them into practice.
I have no previous computer training so I had to learn how to use the software used for modelling, from scratch. I also have no background in software design, so I had to do all my work based on trial and error. I took some time to study the SDK's, and I taught myself to design gauges in xml (with the help of some experts), it all seems to work! When it comes to the actual flight characteristics of aircraft, I must emphasise that I do not consider myself an expert on flight modelling. I have to rely on the available information there is, and most of the time, the real life data is just not available, or it is classified, so you have to make use of what you can get.
What have been your favorite projects?
As I have mentioned, the PC7, Cheetah and Mirage all stand out (for me) because not only did I use makemdl codes, but I also animated the pilots and wrote specific codes for the VC gauges.
Another feature that I used for the first time was to design basically one model, and by using specific xml codes, make it possible to select the weapons you wanted added to that model in the payload section of FS. No longer did you need to have multiple variations of the same aircraft in your aircraft directory!
The Cheetah also has a very special place in my heart as my son helped me with the design of the previous version of the aircraft. Sadly he died of cancer about a week before it was due to be finished, so he never got to see it.
I have recently designed a new panel for the DSB BAE Hawk. I designed a new military MFD gauge with a number of windows (HIS, engine, attitude, radar with info on the AI aircraft, and it also includes a moving map). The radar gauge is not linked to any module or external software, and is very easy to use.
I am also busy with a GPS1000 type of gauge (a hybrid between the Garmin 1000 and the Dynon Avionics Skyview System). I'm designing this purely for me, and as a 'what if' gauge. It's being designed totally from scratch, and will be used just for fun.