• Plane Maker Tutorial Part 1

    Plane Maker Tutorial Part 1

    How to Create a Simulated Aeroplane for use in X-Plane

    By Ray Hill

    My name is Ray Hill. I have had an interest in aviation, an uncle's fault (plastic kits), since the age of about six. However, I actually spent the larger part of my life doing various roles in the IT industry. At some stage I also completed about half a PPL course. After retirement I started volunteering at Brooklands Museum and recently spent a lot of time working on restoration of their P1127 and a Hawker Hunter.

    Somewhere down the line I also acquired a new computer and downloaded a copy of X-Plane 10, I played with it a bit, then put it aside whilst working on the 1:1 scale big toys. That project finished, so about a year ago I started looking at X-Plane in more detail and fumbled across Plane Maker. I should maybe add that when weather was bad I was also writing some books on theories of aeronautics, rocket science and motor racing. I have always had a technical bias so am interested in how things work, so Plane Maker was intriguing. My first release was the Bell X-1 of Chuck Yeager and Right Stuff movie fame (check the file library here at FlightSim.Com).

    This series of articles will cover using X-Plane's Plane Maker utility, which enables you to create your own custom aeronautical designs for flight in their simulation environment. What I mostly like about X-Plane is that short of paying millions for airline or military type simulators it offers one of the most realistic flight modes available. I like to think of every flight as being through a virtual wind-tunnel covering and snaking its way around the whole world. With that in mind this means that you can model different airfoil types and test different rates of climb. You can envision and use the types of thought process that designers such as R.J. Mitchell and test pilots such as Chuck Yeager would have used, without having a degree in aeronautical engineering. For those that need the deeper science the "Mechanics of Flight" by Kermode is an excellent starting point.

    I am doing this on an iMAC; I cannot comment if there are any variations on different platforms.

    If you go into your X-Plane folder (not available on tablet versions) you will see the Plane Maker icon,

    Plane Maker Tutorial

    so spin the prop (well even click on the icon) and fire it up.

    If this is the first time Plane Maker has been started the first thing you will see is a grey tube, which is the beginnings of a fuselage, as below. If it opens with an aeroplane in view just use "file"/"new" from the menu.

    Plane Maker Tutorial

    Before we go on I would like to say that on the forums I often see comments about this and that not working in the latest version (11 at time of writing). People who have not touched Plane Maker will be unaware of the "Convert All Aircraft to Latest Format" command that is available below the "Special" menu header. So if you have upgraded and your old planes won't fly then try that. But prior to that do make sure that you have taken a backup copy of the X-Plane 11\aircraft folder from which you can selectively copy back if things go wrong. This works well for version 10 upgrades, I cannot comment on prior releases.

    So we have a grey half cylinder; many of the objects that we will come across start life as a half cylinder. When we save, Plane Maker will interpolate the missing side.

    The route we will cover is to use a sequence of procedures to create a fuselage, add some wings, an elevator and two fins. Add both a prop and a jet engine in an engine nacelle and then add the undercarriage. You may also like a cockpit and a canopy. Plane Maker uses dimensions of feet, knots (for airspeed) and lbs for weight. It is a good idea to sketch out your dimensions and design coordinates on paper so you know where everything goes, oh and know the weight. The second thing to bear in mind is where you want your datum point of zero, at the nose of the fuselage or at the middle (near the center of gravity). Personally I use the nose because if I am experimenting with a new design I can expand or shrink to the the right. Conversely If I have forgotten to put a pitot tube on the nose I can easily add from zero datum to a negative number, e.g, -8.00. If you are copying spec's from an existing design do make sure to convert any metric values into imperial.

    The first thing that you need to do is to consider the radius of the fuselage and the number of stations, which you could choose to correspond to actual frame positions on a blueprint.

    So from your grey half cylinder now click on menu header "standard", then "fuselage". You will see the fuselage build page with a number of stations (frames) as which is a good start numbered from 0.00 to 9.00 (9 feet from one end to the other, hmm), body radius of 2 feet, number of radii is the dot coordinate count that describes each half curve. A 2 foot radius may seem a bit small but as you will shortly see it is very easy to scale out.

    Plane Maker Tutorial

    The above represents the structure of that starting grey half cylinder. The front and rear are not closed. X-Plane objects, apart from engine nacelles, generally need to be closed to give the simulator an aerodynamic shape against which it can calculate the airflow around. So I will click on the center dots of the first and last frames, I will also change the distance values for each frame so they are 5 feet apart giving us a more realistic fuselage length of 45 feet. The screen will now look like below.


    3 Comments
    1. DominicS's Avatar
      DominicS -
      Excellent tutorial Ray. Plane Maker doesn't seem quite as daunting now.

      Roll on part two
    1. CatOnMyLap's Avatar
      CatOnMyLap -
      Thank you very much for this. Nice to have a quick survey with hints at proper order before deeper delving.

      Two issues: XP/PM 11.32r2 on Linux
      CG offsets are negative, which I assume means that I've missed setting the "datum point," but I don't see where/how to set that.
      When I start X-Plane w/ new test plane on ground/runway, the fuselage immediately falls through the scenery and crashes before I can even pause the sim; starting in the air works fine, and I see a slow rotation to a nose dive.

      Finally, is there any way to graphically show/set the CG in the fuselage at this point?

      No worries, I'll figure it out in the morning. Cheers!
    1. CatOnMyLap's Avatar
      CatOnMyLap -
      "Fixed" negative CG: Well, I saved, quit, came back later and I could set positive CG. Don't know if I changed something else that would have affected this, but it's fine now.
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