How To...Install FS2004 Aircraft
By Andrew Herd
ome years ago I wrote a series of "how to" guides on installing aircraft in FS2000. At the time I realised that there was a need, but I had no idea how great it was - nearly 5000 people worked their way through the series. Many of those people emailed me to tell me how much they had appreciated the tutorials, which were my way of repaying the countless freeware authors whose products I was teaching people to install.
After the release of FS2002, it became clear that enough changes had been made to Flight Simulator that it was worth writing another series, customised for the new version. I kept some of the text from the old tutorials, updated it for FS2002 and redid most of the screen shots. I have extended the tutorial slightly to include common problems that people have installing aircraft in the new version of the sim.
If you are reading this, I can imagine that you have flown everywhere and done everything you can do in the Microsoft default aircraft set. By now you will be intimately familiar with the Cessna, have flown the Mooney upside down under San Francisco bridge, and tried to land the 737 on a 400 foot dirt strip in North Dakota. The program has given up its secrets and you are looking for something else to try your hand at - and you have noticed that FlightSim.Com claims to have over sixty thousand of files there for download, but you just aren't quite sure how to go about it. Now is time to learn.
First of all, before we even go looking for trouble, we need one essential utility, a shareware program called WinZip. Why WinZip? Well, many of the aircraft on this and other sites are in what are known as compressed files. You can imagine a compressed file as being like the suitcase you would like to take on holiday, with everything crushed into it, except with a compressed file you can get the kitchen sink in too. Aircraft creators use file compression to squeeze all the files that go together to make their planes into the smallest possible space - not only is it convenient to have everything collected together, it makes for faster downloads too. The universal format used around the net is what is called a 'zip' file, and the program you need to unpack a zip is called WinZip (there are others, such as PKZip, but this one is my favorite). The first thing you need to do to start this project is to create two directories on your hard disk: one called 'Downloads' and the other called 'Junk'. If you aren't sure how to do this, then I suggest going off and buying a book called Windows for Dummies (Windows XP For Dummies) (Windows ME For Dummies) (Windows 2000 For Dummies) and reading it thoroughly before coming back to try this, as your learning curve is going to be too steep otherwise. You will use these two directories to store the files you have downloaded and to unzip files before you install them in your Flight Simulator (henceforth known as FS) folder.
To get WinZip, fire up your web browser (Internet Explorer or Netscape) and click on this link. This should take you direct to the WinZip site and from there you can follow the link to downloading the evaluation version. When your browser pops up a dialog to ask you which folder to download the file to, make sure that the 'save this file to disk' button is checked and choose the download folder you just created to save it in. When you have finished getting WinZip, open up Windows Explorer, and take a look in the download folder. There should only be one file in there and it should be the install file for WinZip, so launch it by double-clicking on it and follow the instructions. Assuming you have a working FS setup you now have all the tools you need to build your own dream plane from the tens of thousands FlightSim.Com has to offer.
OK, so now we have to decide which aircraft to get. You may have your own ideas, but I think we ought to have a Convair 580, this being the hundredth anniversary of powered, sustained, FAA approved flight.
The first thing you need to do is to log in to FlightSim.Com, if you haven't already done so. Many people never get behind the news page, so if you have never seen the guts of FlightSim.Com, you need to register (free) as a member and then login. I have circled the link you need in red. Just click on the image on the left to see a larger version.
Incidentally, don't worry about giving away your family secrets on the Internet, FlightSim.Com only uses the login to keep track of the number of users online. You won't get deluged with junk emails.
The main menu page is the guts of FlightSim.Com and it is pretty daunting to look at, but it is well worth getting to know it, because it gives you access to all sorts of goodies and knowledge about FS. If you have got the time and the inclination, have a play around, clicking on the links to see what you get. Particularly useful ones include Product Reviews (which takes you to a long list of FS product reviews stretching back into the dim mists of time, when everything was in sepia) and the Forums, where you can post messages, discuss FS and aviation.
About two-thirds the way down the right hand side is a bar saying 'File libraries (downloads)' and just below that is a link called 'search file libraries'. I have circled it in red and I want you to left click it.
You should now have the Advanced File Search page up. This is right in under the hood of FlightSim.Com and if you understand how to use this page, the world of flight simulation is at your fingertips. The bit we want is sandwiched in between the two runway graphics. There are three selection boxes, two text boxes and a 'Start Search' button. Feel free to play around with this for a while, but once you are ready I would like you to left click on the button to the right of the top selection box, then grab the slider by left clicking, holding and dragging it until you see a line saying: 'FS2002 aircraft' (the sample plane we're using is for FS2002 but works with FS2004; it serves our purposes for now since at the time this is being written no FS2004 planes are available yet). Select it by left clicking on it and the line should highlight.
Okay, now type 'Convair 580' (without the quotes) in the box called 'search for text' and click 'Start search'.
After a pause, your screen should fill with a list of Convair 580 files. There are ten on the first page and if you scroll down to the bottom, you will see a link called 'next ten files.' Left clicking this will bring up files 11 through 20 and so on. When I did the search, there were 120 files found, which should be enough Convairs for anyone, but by the time you do this search, there are likely to be more, so don't be upset if none of the files in this illustration appear on the page you see. Greg Pepper and Tim Gibson's Convair 580 is a popular download and who knows how many repainters are sharpening their skills on it right now.
The aircraft we want isn't shown in this screen shot - I chose a repaint by Andrè Vermeulen, largely because it looks great and comes equipped with a custom panel. It works well in FS2004 and makes a fine introduction to freeware add-ons.
This might be a good moment to point out that not all FS add-on planes come with panels, so it may be that you download some that don't have one, but we'll deal with that in another tutorial.will write one.
Normally, you wouldn't know exactly what the file name of the aircraft you wanted was and would have to scroll down the list, but because I have been sniffing around, we already have a file name and so we are going to go back to FlightSim.Com's Advanced File Search page, so that I can show you how to use it. You can get there either by using the 'back' button on your browser or by clicking the 'exit list files' links on the page.
Back again at the Advanced File Search page, make sure that you still have the "search only file sections" dialog set to FS2002 aircraft and type 'cv580.zip' (no quotes again) but this time in the 'file name' box. Then hit 'start search'.
Hold on, here. This is an FS2002 plane!
Well, yeah, but it works in FS2004. Trust me, I have a propellor
on every hat I possess.
Incidentally, if you click 'view' instead, all that happens is you get a look at the files contained within the zip. Sometimes this is interesting, sometimes not, but it can be a great way of taking a peek at what you are about to get. If the developer has been kind enough to put a text readme in there, you will be able to click on the filename and view it, and sometimes there are screenshots of the plane and even the owner's dog.
Up should pop the file download dialog again, and making sure that the 'save this file to disk' button is checked if you are using Windoze 98 or ME, click OK, then use the 'Save as' dialog to select your download folder and click the OK button again.
If you are using Windows XP the screen will look like the shot opposite and you should left click the save button and then select your download folder to receive the new file.
Time will pass, depending on the speed of your modem and the
quality of your Internet connection. When the download is finished,
close the download dialog box, back up the menus on FlightSim.Com
until you see the logout prompt, click that, wait until you are
back at the site's main screen, close your browser and shut down
your Internet connection. If you have broadband, do not take that
last instruction literally, as it will involve yanking the cable
out of the wall and I don't want to be held responsible for damage
Now fire up Windows Explorer. If you use XP you can just hit the 'folders' button on Internet Explorer and open up whatever folder you downloaded the file to. Being tiresomely logical I use a special folder called 'Download' in the 'My documents tree and create folders inside that for all the stuff I have er... downloaded. Call me Mr. Tidy or what? My halo is available for inspection elsewhere.
If you have done everything right, there, sitting all on its lonesome should be cv580.zip, although depending on how Windows is set up on your machine, you may not be able to see the .zip bit. If you have WinZip installed on your machine, the file icon should be a yellow filing cabinet in a vice.
Open the file in WinZip by double clicking on on the cv580.zip icon (my apologies to people who have Windows set up so that single clicks substitute for double clicks). In the colorful WinZip window that opens up, you should see a worryingly long list of files.
Click on the 'extract' button up there in the middle of the WinZip toolbar and you will get a new dialog which is there to help you select which folder you want to extract the zipped files into. I hate to do this to you, but along with my addiction to having a special download folder, I have a special one for extracting files to, called 'Junk'. You can call yours whatever you like, but it might be worth creating one right now to extract your file into. Whatever you do, don't forget where it is.
Why do I have such a folder? Well, if you download enough files, you will get left with all kinds of stuff you don't need to install and having it all in one place makes it real easy to clean out. Not such an issue in these days of two hundred gig drives, but it makes for an easier life.
If you use the 'folders/drives' pane to find the 'Junk' folder on your hard disk, and left click on the folder name to select it, the 'Extract to' pane should change to show something like this.
Make sure you have the 'all files' button checked and especially the 'Use folder names' button checked too.
To unpack the files all you have to do is to left click the extract button at the top right of the 'Extract' dialog and there should be a flurry of disk activity as your aircraft files are unzipped into the junk folder.
If you look in the Junk folder, you should see that it contains a single folder. Now this is a particularly well organised add-on plane and you may not always get something as near a result as this. Some freeware designers like to make it a little tougher for their users and you will get a clutch of ten or more files and folders when you decompress the zip.
Inside that folder are all the files that make up our plane, but as I hinted above, you are not always going to get such a neat result. If that happens, don protective headgear and click here to see what you do.
Left click on the little + sign next to the Program files folder in the left hand pane of Windows Explorer. A huge list of sub-folders should appear - drag the scroll bar on the divider down until you can see a folder called Microsoft games. Click the + sign next to that. Again, you should get a list of sub-folders appearing, the length of which will depend on how many Microsoft games you own, but one of those folders will be called 'Flight Simulator 9'. Make sure that you don't accidentally drop the plane into the main Flight Simulator 9 folder - believe me, it is easily done.
At risk of getting repetitive strain injury here, left click the little plus sign next to the Flight Simulator 9 folder. Even more sub-folders will appear - I bet you had no idea how many files there were on you hard disk… Now one of these sub-folders should be called 'Aircraft,' find it but don't click on it, because that is where we are going to put our hard won Convair 580. Now go back and select the Junk folder - you may need to use the scroll bar to find it depending on how much software is installed on your machine. Left click on the Junk folder in the left hand pane of Explorer and then select the CV580 folder by moving your mouse to the right hand pane. Left click on the plane folder and the drag all the way down until it is level with the 'Aircraft' folder and then move it across until 'Aircraft' folder is highlighted and let the mouse button go.
I'll have you know that all the screenshots here were created with SnagIt and to get that particular one, I had to hold down ctrl and shift with my left hand, drag the file with my right, and press the 'P' key with my nose. Now you know what we go through here at FlightSim.Com. It isn't all sitting in the penthouse suite swapping stories with Boeing executives.
The CV580 folder should disappear from Junk and move to Aircraft - check it has really gone there by left clicking the + sign next to Aircraft and somewhere in there you should see it. If the CV580 folder doesn't appear in Aircraft there are two possibilities. The first is that Windows hasn't updated Explorer to show the move - you can check this by left clicking View on the Explorer menu bar, then selecting Refresh from the drop down menu. If CV580 doesn't appear in Aircraft after this, either it is still in Junk, or you have missed Aircraft and dropped it in some other nearby folder. Or it is in Flight Simulator 9. Or the network pixies have got it. The only good news if you lose it is that by now, you should know enough to go looking for it and move it back to its rightful place.
Close Explorer and any other windows that happen to be open. We are going to see this bird fly.
Take a deep breath and start up FS2004. Once the default plane is on the runway, go to the menu bar and click 'aircraft' and then 'select aircraft'. If you scroll down the list of aircraft manufacturers you should see "Convair" early on. Go to the line below, the one that says "Aircraft model" and left click on the arrow at the far right so that the list drops down. You should see "Convair CV580" a little way down there.
Left click on that line and admire your brand new 580 spinning around in the show room.
Want to take it for a spin? Select the OK button down at the bottom, wait for it to load and you have a new plane.
Depending on your flying skills, it is possible to get this mother off the ground at Meigs. Make sure you wind on a fair amount of trim and drop some flap if you don't plan going waterskiing. Additionally, I would floor the throttles and let the fans build up a bit of power before you release the brakes. And good luck; because this baby isn't quite as manoeuvrable as the Cessna.
Before we finish up here, a quick word on things that can go wrong with aircraft installations. This CV580 installs fine, but sometimes installations fail - the first sign that something has gone wrong being that the plane doesn't show up in the "select aircraft" dialog.
There are a few things to check. First off, hunt down the list of manufacturers and peek into the "unspecified" section. Sometimes planes which weren't originally designed for FS2004 end up there. Next, check that you really did drop the plane's folder into \Flight Simulator 9\aircraft - it is easy to miss.
If it isn't either of those two things, then it is very likely that the plane you chose isn't compatible with FS2004. The best way to check this out is by looking at the readme file which will almost certainly be included with the plane. Freeware readmes are often very basic, but they normally say which version of the sim the plane was designed for - and if that was FS98 or before, then the plane is not compatible with FS2004 and won't show when you try to select it (of course, the best time to check this out is before you do the install...) The other reasons for an apparently good installation failing to produce a plane in the menu is a corrupt or missing air file or a bad aircraft.cfg. Unless you are a developer yourself, that kind of thing is tough to fix.
One last thing - if you are running Windows 2000 or Windows XP, some add-on planes will fail to load, sometimes triggering a dialog which says "Unable to load visual model". If this happens, you need to download Dave Parsons' excellent MDREPAIR.ZIP, which will fix the error and allow the planes to load normally.Andrew Herd