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Dan Hopgood Developer Interview


Dan Hopgood Developer Interview

Conducted by Dominic Smith








Dan, when did you start developing for flight simulators and what got you interested in it?


My adventure with flight simulation began way back in 1998, soon after I purchased my first flight simulators for the PC. I produced a Rolls Royce Merlin engine sound package for FS98 / Combat Flight Simulator which you can still download to this very day: 1merlin.zip and 1merlcfs.zip.


As for my interest in development, it stems from seeing others making improvements to existing aircraft models, and me making use of their work and then wanting to put something back into the flight simming community.


In those early days, virtually all the add-ons for flight simulators were freeware - and sharing improvements helped make the simming world a better place, and that philosophy has stayed with me.


Could you tell us about the nature of your work and how you enhance existing aircraft?


I'd have to say it's having an aircraft which sounds believable. Microsoft Flight Simulator, whilst difficult to create models for, had a sound file structure that was accessible and one which I could work with.


However, one of the primary reasons I converted to X-Plane way back in 1999, was that it allowed users to design a model in much the same way as you would if it were a real aircraft. Added to this was X-Plane's flight model, which at the time, was one of the most advanced available.


When it comes to my work, I've designed and published complete aircraft, as well as flight model and sound modifications to designs created by other authors. I have to say, X-Plane's sound modelling was pretty crude really, right up to X-Plane 10, but the latest version (X-Plane 11), introduced the option of FMOD - a fairly tricky but very powerful sound creation package. Due to this, I'm known mostly for the FMOD sound enhancements I've created for X-Plane 11.






Dan, what would you consider to be your best or most popular X-Plane work?


I would have to say I am rather proud of a Tiger Moth I created for X-Plane 7, a flight model that still lives by the name of the Aeroworx Tiger Moth. I had a long break after that and got married and then spent time with my then baby son, only returning to X-Plane at the end of 2020. This was due to being stuck in the house due to COVID restrictions and looking for something to do. Of my recent work, the sound package I did for Humbug's Lockheed L12a Electra stands out the most.


What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of a project?


Painting aircraft is always a challenge, mainly as I'm no artist! However, the issue now is mainly the learning curve for all the design options available. I'm just starting to learn 3D modelling and there's the "old dog and new tricks" element coming in!


What have been your favorite X-Plane projects so far?


My favourite project is always the one I am currently working on. I have two styles when it comes to development: quick and dirty is often the way, but for some projects I'm more thorough. The quick and dirty projects are often the more satisfying for me personally. An example of this kind of work was a modification of Philippe Gastebois' (Gasthood) Sea Fury for X-Plane. Here I tweaked the flight model, added custom sounds, and produced a souped up "Reno Racer" version.






What software packages and tools do you use when creating for X-Plane?


I have a simple setup which consists of a 10-year-old PC running Windows, plus a second-hand copy of X-Plane. I've recently invested in the latest version of AC3D. AC3D is great as it allows the opening of object files for editing and you can learn most things by studying how others have produced their models.


For sounds, I use freeware Audacity and FMOD studio, plus GIMP for image editing. I use both Profili2 and Javafoil for airfoil production. I have two versions of Blender installed and use them for converting public license 3D models to useable formats. I've tried and failed so far to get into modelling with Blender.


I still use my one and only original joystick and rudder pedals from 1998 - a CH Flightstick Pro and Pro Pedals. The joystick has had the potentiometers replaced and is getting tired, but the pedals are untouched after all this time, and still work perfectly. I had to invest £12 in a USB adapter about 10 years ago to keep the kit useable, and so far, (touch wood) it keeps soldiering on.






Dan, who would you consider to be your mentors or inspiration in the X-Plane world?


During my time with X-Plane, I have learned a huge amount from the many freeware developers out there. The fact that they are willing to share their work and help others through forum posts and tutorials helps enormously.


If I had to pick a single developer who's inspired me, I think it'd be Philippe Gastebois (Gasthood). Over the years he has created a great many interesting aircraft, and I've learned a lot by studying and modifying them.


Have you ever been tempted to create payware models?


No, only freeware, as I really like the philosophy of sharing. There's no pressure with freeware either; I do what I want and if I think others might like it, I post it. If others then like what I've done, great, but if they don't, then there's no issue.


The Team

Dan, do you work alone or as part of a team?






I generally work on my own but have occasionally worked with others on projects. Collaboration is rewarding but it can be tricky, especially if the priorities of team members are not the same. However, there are big advantages in sharing the workload and being able to specialize in certain areas. For example, my skills in sound production are pretty good (I think), but when it comes to plugins, I'm hopeless.


Real Life

Do you have any experience in real aviation?


When I was younger, I flew hang gliders and soloed an ASK-21 glider. I also did a lot of radio control gliding in my youth, including designing and building my own models.


How did your interest in aviation begin?


My dad flew models when I was growing up, so there was that influence, plus he used to take my brother and I to airshows. We lived next to the London Gliding club (Dunstable Downs, UK) and I had several flights in gliders as a boy. It's probably the pure feeling of flight in those first glider flights that I'm constantly trying to recapture. One of my school mates ended up as a first officer for British Airways on Concorde, and my brother is a fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society, so those growing up around me had more than a passing interest...






Dan, do you have any memorable flights you'd like to share with us?


I have a couple I can share.


The first was not adjusting my hang-gliding harness properly before taking off, and then having to fly and land safely whilst being "challenged" in the nether regions!


The other was a glider flight with John Jeffries, a legend in glider flying circles. He'd been flying since the 30s and was a superb instructor. He took me up in an ASK-21 behind a tug, on a grey day with low cloud. The instructions to the tug pilot were to try and find a gap in the cloud. The tug eventually found one and headed for it. As we proceeded up (with no blind flying aids), we flew through the gap, and over the cloud. As the tug peeled off, we were left flying in brilliant sunshine, above and around the cloud. With only the sound of the wind around the glider, it was an unforgettable and magical experience.





Dan, how do you see development changing in the future?


For flight simulators in general, the focus has generally been towards more detailed visuals, and I see that trend continuing for the foreseeable future. In terms of X-Plane, I see a move to increased use of plugins, which have almost limitless possibilities for modelling, but require an understanding of coding, which is difficult for dinosaurs like me.


The more detail that gets added, the more difficult it is for freeware to match the standard of payware, just because of the time investment required. I can see X-Plane continuing to support the "quick and dirty" developers like myself, who are interested in the flight characteristics, more than the looks, which suits me down to the ground.






How do you feel about the future of flight simulation in general?


I've always had a concern that the freeware community will be overrun by payware, and that this valuable side of the hobby will die. In saying that, twenty-three years have passed since first having that thought, and it hasn't happened - yet.


There seems to be an increasing focus on payware "study level" aircraft, where it's all about modelling the systems. While this has a place in the hobby, I do think some people might be put off flight simming as a result, mainly due to the time investment needed in which to get the best out of those models. New simmers may also not have the necessary hardware required in which to run those models properly either.


What it comes down to I think, is that I hanker after a simpler world. I still use and enjoy the original Flight Unlimited simulator from 1995, which is all about what it feels like to fly - and it still does that for me. I really hope that the future of flight simulation includes this all important element.


Lastly Dan, what would you like people to know most about your X-Plane work?


For me, a lot of the reward from developing aircraft is the actual development process, not the end result.






Researching an old aircraft and then recreating a model as though it were the original, forces you to think about all sorts of issues. For example, how do all the undercarriage members fit together and articulate, did it have electric or hydraulic flaps, what did the undercarriage and flaps sound like, and how can I simulate those sounds? Hundreds of decisions like this are needed when modelling an aircraft.


To see old photographs, an aircraft 3-view drawing and a few sound recordings turn into a living aircraft - albeit in the virtual world - is just great and I love it!






Dan, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with FlightSim.Com, it was a real pleasure.


Dan Hopgood

Find Dan Hopgood's freeware in the FlightSim.Com file library

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