How To...Install FSX Aircraft
By Andrew Herd (12 June 2007)
Way back when, 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 that 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.
Then FS2004 came along, so I rewrote the tutorial again...
And now, we have FSX, which is a whole new ball game compared to the older versions of Flight Simulator. 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 Cessnas, 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 has a zillion free files ready for download, but you just aren't quite sure how to go about it. This is the place to start learning.
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 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 WinZip is the best way I know of getting the contents of those suitcases out without breaking anything. 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 98 For Dummies (Windows XP For Dummies) (Windows ME For Dummies) (Windows 2000 For Dummies) (Windows Vista 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, Firefox, Opera 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.
The plane we are going to install into FSX is a Piper Arrow by Hauke Keitel. The file name is pa28r201.zip, but needless to say, we are going to find it the hard way (skip the next few paragraphs if you understand how to use file library searches).
If you follow the links to the Main Menu, you will see the page is divided into sections, with the file library links half way down the right column. Click on 'search file libraries'. This takes you to a new page, which lets you search for more or less anything you want. We are going to narrow our search down to FSX files, so click on the down arrow to the right of the 'search only file section' dialog - in the default state this reads 'all file sections' - and scroll the drop down so that it shows 'FSX general aviation aircraft'. Now type in 'piper arrow' without the quotes. At the time of writing the review, the package we want appears third in the list, but time may well have passed by the time your eyes scan this page, so be prepared to flick through a few pages until you find pa28r201.zip. You will notice that on the left side of the blurb, there is a tick (check mark icon), which confirms this is a complete aircraft, which means it has a panel included - quite a few addons do not, but we will get onto that in another tutorial. There is also a blue 'B' icon, which means that you are about to download a 'base' model of a plane, which has been used for repaints.
The next step is to left click on the download link you can see just under the word 'Piper' which takes you to yet another dialog warning you about copyright and giving some advice about what to do if your download won't start. Click on the 'I accept, start download button'. This will pop up the Windows file download dialog and my suggestion is that you click the 'save' button on this, because it is simpler in the long run. Doing so will trigger another Windows dialog, asking which folder you want to save the file in - my suggestion is to create a 'download' folder if you don't already have one. By the time you are on your hundredth freeware download, you will thank me for this (-:
Once the download has finished, you are ready for the installation. Assuming you haven't forgotten which folder you downloaded the package into, you need to go there and double click on the pa28r201.zip icon. If you have WinZip installed, this will trigger the app to launch and you will be able to see what you have downloaded. I have chosen a well organised package for this tutorial, but be aware that your mileage may vary here and there are almost as many systems for making up zips as there are freeware authors and packagers. A good rule is to read the documentation first, because the opportunities to make a mess of an FSX installation are boundless! Not only do I make a habit of reading the docs, I usually do a trial installation into a spare folder - just to make sure that the directory recursion works... there is nothing worse than finding out that you have files spread all over your hard disk because someone didn't quite get the folder structure right in the zip.
In this case, it is reasonably obvious which file contains the instructions, but if you download enough addons, you will encounter every possible combination, ranging from no documentation at all to full automatic install routines that leave little room for user intervention. In this addon, the manual is available in English and German, in the form of PDFs, which are respectively the fifth and seventh files listed in the zip window above - English speakers should click on manual_pa28r201.pdf to read it. In this case, the readme assumes you are an expert, the installation instructions being confined to a bald statement that you should 'unzip and move into the main directory of your FSX'. OK, so this is on the thin side of concise, but do bear in mind that you aren't paying for this addon and manuals are boring things to write.
So what next?
In FS2004, the main aircraft folder (which is where all the planes live, default and addon alike) was relatively easy to find, but in FSX, Microsoft have, in their wisdom, chosen to move it to C:\Program Files\Microsoft Games\Microsoft Flight Simulator X\SimObjects\Airplanes - in the English language version of FSX, at least. In the past, the path has varied depending on which language set the Flight Simulator installation has used, so when you come to actually installing an addon plane, if you cannot find the path above, keep on looking; it won't be far away. Do note that some zips are made up to decompress into the main FSX folder, so it is vital that you check where you need to point your zip at in order for it to decompress correctly. As I hinted above, if I have any doubt, I create a folder called 'junk' and decompress the zip into that, then take a look at the folder structure that is created. We are going to do that now.
Shut down the manual, close the zip file window by clicking the red X at top right and then double click on pa28r201.zip to open it again. This sounds long-winded, but it means that you will get all the files you want extracted properly. Expert users can just check that all the files in the zip are selected.
The crucial step here is to have 'use folder names' checked in the extract window - some earlier versions of WinZip use 'folder recursion' instead. If you don't do this, then the result will be a mess, because the unzipping will not create the correct folder tree. Before you do anything else, make sure your junk folder is empty, as stray files left there cause confusion. Once you have hunted your way to your junk folder in the WinZip extract window and have double checked that 'Use folder names' is enabled, you can hit the extract button.
Stuff will happen for a while. When the dust settles, go visit junk and you should see this:
Open the SimObjects folder, then the Airplanes folder that appears inside it and then the Piper28r201 folder that appears inside that and you should see something like this...
The only reason for taking a peek in the aircraft folder is to check everything that should be there, is there and it is - a complete plane should have at least one model, panel, sound and texture folder, as well as aircraft.cfg and a .air file. They are all there, so back up one folder level until you are looking at the Piper28r201 folder again.
We are now going to perform major surgery on FSX, so wash your hands and try and get the larger bits of dirt out from under your nails. Open another folder view and find C:\Program Files\Microsoft Games\Microsoft Flight Simulator X\SimObjects\Airplanes - it should look something like this:
Now, with both windows open, click on the PA28R201 folder in ...\junk and drag it across into ...\SimObjects\Airplanes - then let go. Watch it for a bit in case it tries to escape (-: Once you are happy that the PA28R201 folder is in ...\SimObjects\Airplanes, then you can close all the folder windows and start FSX.
Scroll through the aircraft list and somewhere down the bottom, you should now have a PA28 listed. Hauke Keitel has produced a remarkably good little addon here that has already garnered its share of repaints, so have fun playing around with it.
I am sure that people are going to ask, 'Can I install FS2004 planes in FSX?' and the answer is that you can, but the results are variable. In my experience, most FS2004 addons work fine, but if the addons have any clever programming in them, the end result isn't always as good in FSX as it is in FS2004 - in other words, some stuff may not work as advertised. Some addons appear without transparent windows and I have come across all kinds of other oddities, but the best advice I have is to play around, because you have nothing to lose. One thing I would not do is to attempt to transfer payware addons from FS2004 to FSX as that is almost guaranteed not to work because of copy protection schemes and so forth.
If you are planning to move favorite FS2004 addons into FSX, bear in mind that FSX has a gauges folder at C:\Program Files\Microsoft Games\Microsoft Flight Simulator X\Gauges and a sound folder at C:\Program Files\Microsoft Games\Microsoft Flight Simulator X\Sound - but if your addons use aliases, you will need (a) to alter the paths and (b) check that they work, because many FS2004 addons reference gauge sets that don't exist in FSX. If you are uncertain of how sound and gauge files should be installed in addons, read the FS2004 panel installation tutorial, as the general principles are unchanged in FSX, even if the folder structure is different.
There is much experimentation to be done - have fun!Andrew Herd