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Gift Guide: X-CPL-Pilot


Publisher:Tino Nuglisch

Review Author:
Andrew Parish

Suggested Price:


How often have you sat down in yoursim pit, fired up X-Plane with your favourite aircraft at yourpreferred aerodrome, and then thought, "well, what am I going to donow?" This question has plagued me for more years than I care toremember!

The simulation community has of course sought and delivered severalanswers to this question!

Virtual airlines were the first to emerge, and my first sojourninto that space was with a fledgling Noble Airback in the days of dial-up modems in 1995. They (both virtualairlines AND internet communications) have come a long way in thetwenty-five years or so since then! The multitude of airlines thathave spawned offer varying degrees of structure to their flying andthere's every chance that you'd be able to find one which offers thesort of flying that matches what you're looking for. Often though,there is a requirement to commit to a minimum number of flights in adefined period - something that is not always compatible with othercommitments.

The emergence in around 1998 of SATCO, the organisation that in2001 spawned theVATSIMandIVAOnetworks that are more familiar to us today, delivered a new dimensionto simulated flying - the option to fly with 'real' air trafficcontrollers and in the same airspace as other visible pilots. Throughnecessity and a desire to closely emulate real-world operations, theypublish and enforce standards that might be more rigid that somepilots are comfortable with. The modern reliance on voice comms ratherthan the original text messaging also has the potential to take pilotsout of their comfort zone.

FSEconomy,launched in 2005, provides a virtual multi-player world where aircraftpersist, and jobs are spawned at aerodromes across the whole worldwhich are available to any pilot to complete. The most basicinteraction with the environment requires only that you have a variantof one of the aircraft contained within it. Without buying an aircraftin game though - which comes with its own complexities and usagerequirements - you are somewhat at the mercy of the game world andother pilots regarding availability of your preferred bird. I find itparticularly annoying to return to where I left off after some sleepto find that someone else has taken the aircraft I was using!


Figure 1 - X-CPL-Pilot Logo

So - despite having been looking for over 30 years, but not yethaving found a program or environment that delivers the sort of flyingI'm looking for with the flexibility that my hectic real-worldlifestyle dictates, the opportunity to undertake a review of X-CPL-Pilotcertainly piqued my interest.

Will it tick the boxes though?

What is X-CPL-Pilot?

The X-CPL-Pilot web site describes the program as "a Windows-onlyGA-business simulation for X-Plane 11. (Now with Airliner support!)". Icould not have put it more succinctly!

The program places you in the role of an entrepreneur working as apilot for hire. You get to choose the jobs you fly. You can choose totransport passengers or cargo from point-to-point. You can choose tofly a parachuting or sightseeing flight which is local to a singleairport. You might choose to fly a crop-dusting flight. You could havethe luxury of time or be up against a strict deadline. Thepossibilities are endless.

All jobs generate income; all jobs also generate fees, and both aregrounded in the real world and vary according to aircraft, airport size,season and pilot performance. It is therefore important to pick andchoose your jobs carefully to ensure profitability.

Installation, Activation And Set Up

Installation is straightforward. X-CPL-Pilot is provided as a ZIPfile which is simply extracted into X-Plane's plugins folder - thereis no installer. It is therefore not going to be much of a surprise tolearn that the program runs exclusively as an X-Plane plugin, and assuch the simulator has to be running for the pilot to be able tointeract with it. For me, this is a double-edged sword. In the firstinstance, there is the benefit of not needing to leave the simulationenvironment to be able to use the program, but in the second, the newsthat an upgrade is available only appears after you've opened it inX-Plane.

I don't know about you, but I always feel like I'm missing out onsomething if I'm not running the latest and greatest version of aprogram, but with the long X-Plane load times that are becoming morecommon with high fidelity scenery and complex aircraft, I do sometimesbaulk at the prospect of a reload. Fortunately, it is possible tocontinue without completing the upgrade.

On first run, the program needs to be activated - which iscompleted through entry of the licence code that will be delivered onpurchase into an activation dialog.

To be able to function, the program builds a database of theairports and their various characteristics, and to reduce the amountof time that this compilation progress takes, the world is broken downinto various regions. Before you start therefore, you need to decidewhere you want 'home' to be and choose the appropriate region. You'renot stuck with your choice though, and it's possible in-game toinitiate the build of other regions and to set up multiple "accounts"in different parts of the world and flip between them.

Finally, you're asked to choose your home airport where you want tobuild your Fixed Based Operator (FBO) HQ. This is where all your earlyflights will depart, so choose wisely. If you elect to be based at ahuge airport the costs will cripple you!

I'm the proud owner of a (lapsed) New Zealand PPL earned inTauranga. Given my familiarity with the area, and absolutely nothingto do with a hankering to go back there and fly again, NZTG is where Ichose to establish my FBO.

An Early Flight

The main dialog is where jobs are selected, and different job typesare shown in different colors. Point to point passenger flights ingreen, local flights in pink, user-defined flights in yellow, andmulti-leg flights in other distinctive colors. The program willgenerate a random set of jobs based on the set of job creationparameters that are defined in the program's configuration. Theinitial settings are a reasonable balance, but you can adjust them tosuit your own preferences. Options include minimum and maximum flighttime, the maximum number of legs in a multi-leg flight, and whether toonly pick jobs from those that you've created yourself. If you don'tlike the look of the jobs that are listed, a tap on the "Regenerate"button will give you a new set!

The program typically generates a mix of around two to three eachof point-to-point jobs, local flights, and multi-leg trips.


Figure 2 - Choosing a flight and some jobs

Selection of a route in the map view is as simple as clicking onthe leg in the map window. Doing so brings up a list of available jobson that leg, and it's up to you as the pilot to accept jobs from thelist, making sure that you don't exceed the maximum take-off weight ofyour chosen aircraft.

Of course, you're going to want to know whether the jobs you'veselected are going to make you any money, and the program offers anoverview of this.


Figure 3 - Checking whether the job is going to be worth my while

So, flying my three passengers and a bit of cargo in my trustyWarrior for around 40 minutes is going to make me a little over£560 once I've paid all the costs (as a Brit, I chose to work inPounds Sterling, although Euro or US Dollars are available). Not tooshabby, although it should be remembered that this is an estimatebased on expected flight time!

Once the job is set up, we move to the X-CPL-Pilot tablet to managethe flight, and the first thing to do is select the time you want tofly from the flight schedule. There's an option in the settings toremove that choice of start time and always use the simulator time,but when you're flying on the other side of the world, or are subjectto those long winter evenings at home, an element of choice is welcomeand a tick in the box!


Figure 4 - Starting the flight

After selecting and accepting your start time, you will need towait until your passengers and cargo arrive - which could be some timein the future! Fortunately, a "time machine" button "whooooshes"(literally) the simulator time to close to your scheduled departuretime, and a few moments later, your passengers or cargo arrive insuitable transport and stand expectantly in front of your aircraftwaiting to board!


Figure 5 - The punters are here!

The passenger or cargo objects that X-CPL-Pilot displays are selectedat random from those that have been made available to the program, andI didn't take a huge amount of care when selecting my passengerobjects. This is no doubt why one of my three passengers is sitting onan invisible chair facing the wrong way, but you get the idea!Passengers board when you tell them to, and before you can depart youhave to give them a safety briefing, at the end of which you can hearthe seatbelts click shut. You're then ready to go!

Once in the air, the focus can be wholly on flying; there is littleneed to interact with the tablet at all. You do have the option todisplay a basic looking map showing where you are on the your route,and it is possible to pull up the ambient weather at any time. In thisimportant phase of your simulated flight, the performance impact ofthe program on X-Plane is negligible; on my reasonably powerfulsystem, X-Plane reported it as taking less than 450us per flight framewith both the map and the tablet displayed - which is not very much atall, and another tick in the box!

On landing, for X-CPL-Pilot to recognise the end of the flight youhave to find your way to somewhere to park, shut your engines down anddisembark your passengers - all under the guidance of prompts in thetablet. With that, you are finally able to reap the rewards of yourlabors, but before you do, the program will rate your flying and letyou know how it thought you did against a number ofcriteria. Remember, your performance on flights can affect yourpotential earnings.


Figure 6 - Post-flight rating and pay calculations

Don't be too impressed by my score - this flight is the one andonly time that I managed to secure full marks in the almost twenty sothat I've taken in X-CPL-Pilot.

This was a run through of a simple flight where the only objectivewas to get my passengers to the destination airport before a specifiedtime. Different flights might have additional objectives. Sightseeingflights will always require that you overfly a particular location orpoint of interest and when you do, you get to hear the shutters ofyour passengers' cameras. Crop dusting flights require that you flylow (below 35 feet) over the location. Parachute drops generally askyou to climb to 8,500 feet before you're able to release yourpassengers.

All these criteria for success are available to you to incorporateinto custom jobs that you can create for yourself.


A real-world Commercial Pilot's Licence (CPL) allows a pilot to flyfor hire or reward. Typically, a pilot needs 200 hours of variedflying experience before being able to qualify for a CPL, must haveundertaken many more hours of ground-based training, and sat andpassed a host of examinations. They must also successfully complete aflight test designed to demonstrate their ability to safely operate anaircraft to the required standard.

And that is probably a gross simplification.

X-CPL-Pilot steers clear of enforcing any of this real-world rigiditywhilst offering a career structure of sorts. Access to aircraft withinbands of increasing MTOW (Maximum Take-Off Weight) is granted withincreasing numbers of flying hours.


Figure 7 - Promotion!

Fortunately, if you have a particular favorite aircraft and don'twant to work your way up to it, even this light touch level ofgovernance around career can be easily disabled in the programsettings, and you're free to fly whatever you want whenever you wantto.

More Advanced Program Features

In the early stages of your career, you always need to charteraircraft to complete your jobs and will always be hiring them 'wet',that is with fuel included. Once you have completed enough flights andearned enough cash, you'll be able to buy your own aircraft.

Having your own aircraft does of course bring its ownchallenges. Where you choose to keep your pride and joy - on a tiedown or in a hangar - will impact on the cost of ownership in terms ofboth day-to-day fees, and repair and regular maintenance fees too. Youalso become liable for your own fuel costs on your flights.

You can also set yourself up with additional FBOs and if you do so,the program will also generate jobs with either single or multiplelegs that allow you to fly from one to another. There is a financialimplication in the form of rental for owning more than one FBO, butthat said, fees incurred by flights at your own FBOs are reduced whencompared to other airfields so there's a balance to be struck.

The concept of difficulty levels is a relatively recent (at time ofwriting) addition to the program. At the "hard" delivery level youneed to choose jobs carefully, because airports have a finite amountof fuel and you don't want to arrive somewhere with barely any fuel tofind you can't get out! The 'hard' level also restricts the frequencywith which you're able to regenerate jobs.


X-CPL-Pilot describes itself as a GA simulation, so the ability tofly larger aircraft might seem out of place. If, like me however,you're agnostic as to the type of flying that you do rather than beinga passionate advocate of one or the other, then the inclusion offlights in larger aircraft is another tick in the box. Just don'texpect to get particularly rich doing it though!

There are options within the program settings that allow you totune the types of job you get offered. These are limited to a minimumand maximum flight duration, and whether you want the option to fly inthe X-Plane default aircraft as well any of your purchasedadd-ons.

Airline jobs are selected, as is the case for GA jobs, from a listpresented at in the X-CPL-Pilot main dialog.


Figure 8 - Time for something a little different? A heavy flight!

When you accept a job, you're teleported from wherever you are intothe aircraft that aligns with the job you've chosen at the departureairport, and the rest of the process is largely the same as that forany other job in the program.

Scene Creation

A quirky inclusion in X-CPL-Pilot is the ability to create "Scenes"which are probably best described as a collection of scenery objectsthat are rendered in predefined positions. You might choose to set upa scene at your airport as you leave the ramp. Scenes can be createdanywhere though, and it is possible to create multiple scenes in asingle location of which only one is displayed. With the ability toset up a custom sightseeing job that requires overflight of a scenethere are all sorts of possibilities for mystery tours for both youand your passengers!

All these scenery tweaks require a degree of setup on the part ofthe user however, as they call on scenery objects that are defined inX-Plane and X-CPL-Pilot needs to be told where to find them. Theplethora of different X-Plane object libraries does make this a littledifficult if this is unfamiliar territory. X-CPL-Pilot does howeveroffer the facility to export your own scenes and objects to share andto import scenes created by others - although my search for arepository from which to import proved fruitless.

Virtual Reality

Where X-CPL-Pilot is different to many other programs is that it hasbeen written to take full advantage of X-Plane's VR capabilities andthe program and all its functionality are fully accessible when flyingunder VR. The different dialogs can be called up, navigated andpositioned using the VR controllers of your headset of choice - therereally is no need to come out of the VR cockpit.

Again, this is a big tick in the box for me. I don't particularlywant to be dipping in and out of VR if I've chosen to use it whilstI'm in X-Plane, and accepting that working in dialogs isn'tparticularly representative of the immersive environment that VR seeksto deliver, for me it's preferable to perching the headset on myforehead when I need to interact with a program.

An Evolving Program

I mentioned upgrade messages earlier in this review, so it is worthmentioning that they have been a relatively frequent occurrence whilstI've been evaluating the program. At least one new version a week,sometimes more! Whilst some of the changes between versions are bugfixes, there has also been steady flow of improvements andenhancements.

The option to fly heavies has been added to the program since Ireceived my first review copy, and the program web site and maindialog are signalling that a future enhancement will allow pilots tohire employees to fly jobs for you!

The author, Tino Nuglisch, is also active in the X-CPL-Pilot supportforums which are hosted on "the org" web site. Tino's activeinvolvement in and support of his program, and obvious willingness tolisten to and help its users is a significant box tick - some of thefeatures that have been added have been suggested and refined by theuser community. This degree of interaction is a promise that I haveoften seen made but, in my experience at least, seldom deliveredupon.

In Summary

It has only been possible to take a whistle stop tour of theprogram and its features in this review. As is becoming ever morecommon, the user manual is available for users as a PDF file from theprogram's web site(Download manual here)so if you're at all unsure having read this far then working throughthe documentation may help you decide.

There are many different experiences that people look for in theirsimulated flying and, as described at the start of this review, thereare many different options that appeal in different combinations todifferent pilots.

From my perspective having used the program for a few weeks,X-CPL-Pilot seeks to provide a structure to flying that allows you todrop in or out as and when you please, doesn't require you to talk toanyone, and always offers the sort of flying adventure you want in theregion - or regions - that you want it, and it is this combinationwhich caught my eye when my attention was first drawn to it. For me,X-CPL-Pilot does the job it sets out to do extremely well and ticks alot of the boxes that I look for.

I can safely say that this is a program that I intend to keep in mysimulation library for some time to come.


Andrew Parish


Purchase Tino Nuglisch - X-CPL-Pilot for X-Plane 11

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