How To...Install FSX Aircraft Liveries
By Andrew Herd (19 September 2007)
Although I am assured that the development team put a great deal of effort into creating the 'default' liveries which adorn the planes you get as standard in FSX, it is hard to imagine anything cheesier than the Orbit scheme. Every time I see it, I cringe, and I have only been running FSX for a few months now - before a year has passed, a single viewing will probably make me want to kill on sight, despite the fact that the new one is much better than the old brown Orbit scheme. Yeccchhh.
It has, of course, always been this way. To be fair to Microsoft, they can't please everyone all of the time and if they had chosen real airline liveries, there would have been negotiations involved and making a selection from all the airlines the world over would have been an unenviable task. So instead, the team left the architecture of the sim open enough that it is possible to install new liveries without breaking into a sweat, just as long as you have a fairly basic understanding of Windows file management. The icing on the cake is that there is a constant stream of freeware liveries pouring into the file library, with new paint schemes arriving on a daily basis, and unless your tastes are particularly recherche, your favorite airline should be out there, only a couple of clicks away.
All that for free. Fantastic world, is it not? Just spare a thought for the simmer who spent so many hours doing the repaint, because getting these things right is not easy, and send him an email telling him how much you appreciate him taking the time out.
Okay. If you have experience installing textures for FS2004 aircraft, the only thing you really need to know is that the folder structure has undergone radical surgery in FSX and the planes now live in ...\Program Files\Microsoft Games\Microsoft Flight Simulator X\SimObjects\Airplanes, although bitter experience tells me that different language editions of Flight Simulator have a horrible habit of creating slightly different folder structures. Whether this is true or not for FSX, I cannot say at present, but the final path, ...\Microsoft Flight Simulator X\SimObjects\Airplanes should hold true regardless of where you find yourself on the planet.
If you are new to installing textures for FS aircraft, it might help to skate around the general principles first. For about as long as I can remember, FS planes have been constructed on a modular basis. If you select the default 737 in the folder described above - you will find it in the b737_800 folder, you will see a clutch of sub-folders, including: model; panel; sound; soundai; various texture folders; a file called aircraft.cfg; a file called boeing737-800.air; one called boeing737-800_check.htm; and one called boeing737-800_ref.htm (depending on how you have Windows set up, you may not be able to see the file name extensions - i.e. the three characters after the full stop in each filename). Together, the contents of these files and folders describes the plane that we see as a Boeing 737 in FSX, the ones that we are particularly interested in being the aircraft.cfg file and the texture folders. If you double click on the aircraft.cfg file (again, if you don't have filename extensions enabled for viewing, it will just appear as 'aircraft'), you can open the file using notepad and take a look inside. If you haven't opened a file of this type before, Windows will pop up a dialog asking which application you wish to open it with and I would suggest notepad, unless you have some other favorite text editor already, in which case, you have no business having read this far (-:
Aircraft.cfg details all kinds of stuff about the plane with which it is associated, including a section which tells the hull which paint schemes it can wear. With the 737 aircraft.cfg open, you can see the schemes listed in order right at the top of the file, beginning with [fltsim.0] and continuing through [fltsim.1], down to about [fltsim.5], although my FSX installation is so hacked around now that there may be more entries than this in a clean installation. If you read the lines under [fltsim.0] you will see an entry which reads 'texture=1' and if you flick back to view the ...\SimObjects\Airplanes\B737_800 airplanes folder, you can see that this refers to a folder called texture.1, which holds a Boeing livery for the 737 - or at least it does on my system. Inside that texture folder is a collection of specialized graphics files which are called by FSX to 'skin' the 737 when you select that particular livery using the aircraft selection dialog. It really couldn't be simpler, except that there is still plenty of scope for good old human error when you are installing new schemes!
Just about the only other thing worth knowing about installing additional liveries is that you can only install them on the 'base' plane that they were designed to work with. Actually, it is possible to install schemes on the wrong planes, but the results tend to be peculiar to say the least, so the first thing to do is to check that what you are downloading is what you think it is. You may think I jest, but for once I am not, the problem being that there are many different 737 FS aircraft models out there in the libraries besides the default Microsoft jet and quite apart from the fact that these often depict different variants of the real aircraft, it is unfortunately the case in Flight Simulator that two simulations of the same variant of a plane like the 737 can be dissimilar enough that liveries designed for one base model are not interchangeable with the other. So you have been warned...
This is the first tutorial for Flight Simulator that I have written using Windows Vista. Yup, I know that the majority of you are sticking with XP because you aren't foolish enough to risk a perfectly good operating system on an upgrade, but equally, there is no doubt that Vista will become the dominant OS within the lifespan of FSX, so I am making the change now, in order that people won't be reading this in years to come and wondering why I have stuck with an old operating system - these pieces have a long lifespan. However, even if you are an XP user, the principles used remain the same and the folder structure in Vista is exactly the same as it is in the older version of Windows, so as long as you make allowances for the screenshots looking a little different, nothing much has changed. For what it is worth, FSX definitely runs better under Vista, or perhaps it is just that you get a new set of bugs that I haven't identified yet.
The first step in getting a new livery installed is a visit to the file library to check out what is available. For the purposes of this tutorial, we are going to download a livery for the default 737-800, so that we never again are we condemned to fly around in a plane painted in the Orbit scheme. I have chosen as typical a freeware livery as I can, in that the zip gives only basic instructions about how to go about doing the installation. If you think this is concise, some freeware zips come without any guidance on installation whatsoever, but once you have got the hang of how the livery entries in the aircraft.cfg file work, it is the work of a moment to clone one and edit it appropriately, so that the new scheme appears; only a few lines need changing and as long as you make sure that the number in the [fltsim.x] entry isn't a duplicate and the texture= line points to a valid folder within the aircraft's directory tree, then the new livery will appear in the aircraft selection window. Don't forget that these liveries are freeware; the author has spent many hours painting them and writing extensive documentation is the last thing on their mind when they make the final edit. Be grateful that they do the work at all.
The first thing I would like you to do is to go to the File Search page on this site, which can be reached from the Main Menu, or failing that, from here, assuming you are logged in. Click on the arrow to the right of the box saying, 'Search only file section' and select FSX Jetliners, which will narrow our search down considerably. In the 'Search for text' box, type in the words 'default 737' without the quotes (as shown in the left hand screenshot, second row) and then click on the 'Start Search' button down the bottom of the page, just above the runway. This will bring up a list of files, numbering sixty when I wrote this tutorial, but undoubtedly much longer if you are reading this a couple of years from now and somewhere on that list will be a very nice livery for an FSX Qantas Boeing 737-838, by Raul Abella. The filename, if you have trouble finding it, its qanvhvxh.zip. Under the title for the file are the words 'download' and 'view'. Clicking on view allows you to see the contents of the zip, which can be useful if the author has included larger previews than the standard thumbnail. Clicking on 'download' takes you to the screen on the left in the third row of screenshots - the infamous download copyright notice. Click on 'I accept' and you should be looking at something like the screen above right, give or take an operating system or two. You could open the zip as soon as it is downloaded, but the best thing is to click the save button and open the file from your hard disk. I have a system of download folders, but in this case I am going to save the zip in a file called 'Qantas 737' to make things easy for me.
Vista's recent files list will actually show the downloaded zip, making it easy to open the file, but if you check out the contents of the folder you downloaded the 737 into, you should find a zip file called 'qanvhvxh.zip' which you can open using the Windows zip file system, WinZip, or whatever. I have to say that I like using WinZip, because it gives you more control over what happens with files, but the system built into XP and Vista is definitely adequate. If you open qanvhvxh.zip, you will find folder called Qantas_VH-VXH_B737-838 and a description called file_id.diz, which has credits and other info and can be opened using notepad. Opening Qantas_VH-VXH_B737-838 (reminds me of playing pass-the-parcel as a kid) brings us to another folder, called 'FSX' and a readme in web and text format. Take a minute to read this, because it is one of the reasons behind my selection of the file... it takes you right to the heart of what freeware is about. I hope things go well for you, Raul! Anyway, leave the readme open somewhere, because we will need it later.
Now keep clicking your way through the folders that appear in the zip file, which will be 'simobjects', 'airplanes', 'B737_800' and finally, 'Texture.Q'. Double-clicking on Texture.Q brings up something like the shot above left, telling us we have hit paydirt. Now backup until you can see the Texture.Q folder again, as in the screenshot above right. What we are going to do is to drag this folder into ..\Program Files\Microsoft Games\Microsoft Flight Simulator X\SimObjects\Airplanes\B737_800 which I am going to trust you to find. Remember that if you are using Windows Vista, you will have to turn off User Access Control to do most of what follows.
The shot above, taken at great personal risk using high-speed data-logging equipment, actually shows the copy in progress, as I drag and drop the Texture.q folder from the zip we dowloaded into the FSX B737_800 folder. At this stage, half the audience will have gone 'phew' and laid back, but we aren't quite finished yet.
Although the Qantas texture folder is in the correct place, the default 737 hasn't been introduced to it, which is why we kept that readme open - inside the readme is the magical spell that does the how-dos. Double-click on the aircraft.cfg file you can see in the FSX B737_800 folder and use Notepad to open it should Windows ask for an app to read the file with. Copy the section which begins [fltsim.6] into aircraft.cfg just above the section where it says [general]. Just in case anyone can't find the correct section in the readme, here it is:
title=Boeing 737-800 Qantas
description="One should hardly be surprised that the world's most prolific manufacturer of commercial aircraft is also the producer of the world's most popular jetliner. The 737 became the best-selling commercial jetliner worldwide when orders for it hit 1,831 in June 1987 (surpassing Boeing's own 727 as the previous champ). However, it wasn't always that way\s in the first few years of production, there were so few orders that Boeing considered canceling the program. They didn't, and the airplane has more than proven itself in over three decades of service."
If you look in my FSX B737_800 folder in the left hand screenshot a couple of rows above, you will see that I already have a Texture.6 folder and, as it happens, a [fltsim.6] entry to go with it. What to do in that case? Well, checking that you don't have any duplicate [fltsim.x] entries is a vital step in the business of installing liveries and if you find you have a duplicate, the solution is easy - just increment one of the [fltsim.x] entries until you don't have any duplicates and then save aircraft.cfg. In this case, just paste in the new section as shown in the screenshot on the right, a couple of rows up. Raul has provided a cut and paste section for aircraft.cfg, but many freeware authors do not and you may have to write your own, in which case just copy one of the [fltsim.x] sections in the existing aircraft.cfg, increment the number appropriately and make sure that the 'texture=' entry points to the folder you have just dragged and dropped. Other edits you will need to do will include the title, which can't be a duplicate, the atc_airline= entry, the atc_flight_number= data, and the ui_variation, all of which should be easy to figure out. Just remember that duplicate [fltsim.x] and 'title=' entries can cause liveries not to show up.
OK, save everything and start FSX, because we are about to fly Qantas.