• Tutorial: Beyond Plane Maker

    Beyond Plane Maker

    A First Step into Miscellaneous Bodies

    By Ray Hill

    Creating objects that Plane Maker doesn't do...

    After spending hours and hours in Plane Maker, we eventually begin to compare our own work with some of the high quality payware planes that are developed. However, there is no reason why your design will not fly as equally well or maybe even better than some of the professional offerings. Of course, because we are limited by Plane Maker, there are a fair few missing parts; i.e. things that we cannot create. In this article, I will go through my own baby steps on how I made some of the missing parts, such as creating simple undercarriage doors and attaching them to native Plane Maker objects.

    Firstly you will need to become familiar with a suitable 3D CAD package, which in itself is a far from trivial task. My own preference (on balance of price/functionality) for hobby purposes, is to use ViaCAD to create 3D solid models. Unfortunately, whilst it can export many CAD file types, there is nothing to import them into Plane Maker. On a positive, it does offer the ability to export to SketchUp (nice of them) so one can then import to SketchUp and then use the SketchUp to X-Plane add-on to then export an X-Plane *.obj format.

    Others may prefer just to start with SketchUp and ignore additional feeder apps. Oh, somewhere in there we also need to use a graphics editor to create/edit a suitable PNG texture file for each object. Another alternative is to use Blender and the Blender2XPlane add-on. Not being a computer artist, I personally have found Blender extremely difficult to learn, and whilst I have had some success with very simple objects, my skills are nowhere close to creating a quality airframe. I have also found the Blender2XPlane utility very difficult and inconsistent to use, which is a general problem across far too many freeware offerings. I also looked at AC3D but the fact that the X-Plane add-on was so old, did not fill me with the greatest of confidence. Each object in X-Plane has a defined programmed action that is referenced by "datarefs", the set of which (1,000+) probably gets extended and possibly modified through later versions. As you can see, there are quite a few processes going on and inevitably getting the version levels of all file objects stabilised will mostly preclude using software too far out of date.

    As this is a general entry level tutorial using low cost, demo or free software I will only discuss using SketchUp and its ability to export to X-Plane.

    For a good beginners guide on how to use SketchUp, have a look at Paul Mort's series here.

    I would suggest that unless you are an experienced 3D CAD user, with existing software, SketchUp is probably a good place to start. But do start with simple things, as most won't learn all the skills needed to do a full wing, let alone a complete plane without significant investment in learning time. If you want to know more, do a YouTube search for "SketchUp Caravelle".

    So why is it all so complicated?

    Firstly you will see a typical wavefront .OBJ (geometric vector) file. These files may be opened with a basic *.TXT reader:

    Beyond Plane Maker

    Secondly, here is an X-Plane format *.OBJ file:

    Beyond Plane Maker

    The above is X-Plane's OBJ8 file format. For the techies it is described here.

    Note: You need to initially refer to section 2.

    So basically, software is required to translate from a 3 column system where each line is an instruction to draw a line (vector) in three dimensional space, to a 7 column format which also contains the basic geometrical three dimensional vector information, plus the texturing information (which in Wavefront would be in a separate MTL file). For your information, you can also open *.acf files with a basic text editor and see similar logic, but I strongly urge you not to start fiddling, although it is interesting to "lift the hood" and see what is really going on.

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