Confused in Cleveland–Weather Addon for MSFS

I recently received an email from one of my long-time blog readers asking my opinion regarding the recent announcement from REX on their upcoming release of Weather Force 2020 for Microsoft Flight Simulator.  With his permission, I’m going to post a portion of his email and then provide my opinions.

Hello Jerry,

I hope you and your family are well.  I’ve really enjoyed reading all your blog posts regarding the new Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020.  Like you, I’ve been excited about this new sim ever since I first learned about it.  But I’m slightly confused about a recent posting over on FSElite regarding a new add-on being developed by REX.  REX appears to be developing a weather add-on for MSFS, yet I thought (I think we all thought) MSFS had real world weather baked into the sim and weather add-ons from REX or Hi-Fi  Simulations (ActiveSky) would no longer be needed.  I’m curious what your opinions are on this subject?

Thanks again for all your efforts.

Confused in Cleveland,
Bill

Bill brings up a very valid point and one that I’ve taken some time to ponder.  He’s right!  From the very early news regarding the new Microsoft Flight Simulator we’ve been led to believe that the sim would include real-time weather injection that would be far superior to anything we’ve had as default in the past and there would be no need for a 3rd party add-on to provide this function.  Microsoft actually released a video in October of last year where they specifically discussed the new weather system within Microsoft Flight Simulator.

It is worth noting, at the present time…Microsoft is well aware and working to resolve the real-time weather functions within MSFS.  We expect to see a fix in the upcoming “Patch 2” release from Microsoft in the next few days that hopefully will address the weather (or lack thereof) issues within the new sim.  I personally remain extremely confident that in time (and that’s the operative word or phrase we must all understand) Microsoft will address all these issues/bugs and MSFS 2020 will be an amazing sim. 

The news article which Bill references from the FSElite site can be read here.  It’s also worth noting some fine print which REX discusses on their website“Even though the REX weather engine is pushing the proper temperatures and winds aloft data through to the simulator, due to core issues of Microsoft Flight Simulator, temperatures and winds aloft are not properly rendered yet. Microsoft & Asobo are aware of this issue. (September 13, 2020)” 

My personal opinion and certainly my initial plan is to take a “wait and see” attitude regarding all things weather in the new sim.  While it’s been an almost necessity to use an add-on weather engine in FSX/P3D, the jury is still out on whether this will remain true in Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020.  At the present time, I’m not even sure the default aircraft flight models are stable enough for real-world, real-time weather.  This is also currently being worked on and improvements to both aircraft aerodynamics, avionics and systems are part of this update #2 patch.

Interestingly enough, later today Hi-Fi Simulations commented on the future of their Active Sky product as it directly relates to Microsoft Flight Simulator.  This announcement was posted to FSElite and can be read here.  One of the key takeaways from that article reads, “Sadly, Damian did say that right now they are not aware of any way to bring weather interpretation into the simulator or what the possibilities will be.”  I find this statement rather interesting considering the REX product announcement discussed earlier.  I’ve tried both REX and Active Sky over the years and always found that Active Sky does a much better job with accurate weather interruption and injection.

Having said all this, does this still mean there will never be an opportunity for a 3rd party weather add-on in Microsoft Flight Simulator?  Where I personally believe some type of weather add-on might be beneficial is for those who enjoy flying with historical weather.  But I plan to allow Microsoft time to address the current issues with real-time weather functionality and go from there. 

I appreciate Bill taking the time to email me his question and would like to invite anyone else the opportunity to do the same.  You can contact me via email or by Discord private message

Thanks to all for taking the time to read my blog articles.  I hope you find them educational and entertaining.  Stay tuned for more…

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

Jerry

Bad News from REX

As many are awaiting news regarding whether their favorite add-ons will be compatible with Prepar3D version 5, the development team over at REX posted a status update on their Discord.  I’ve included the announcement below, but will first share my own thoughts with their decision.

My Use of REX

Since P3Dv4 first arrived on the scene, I had experimented with various shader applications.  The first I tried was PTA.  While I liked what I saw, I wanted more.  I moved to ENVTEX/ENVSHADE by TOGA Projects and was pretty happy with the eye candy it provided.  Then pretty much everything changed when REX released their SkyForce 3D and Environment Force products.  From many in the community REX had developed and sold to the community the “holy grail” of all things environment producing eye candy.  What I fell in love with was the simplicity of its use.  While I did some tweaking, I found the fully automated settings gave me exactly what I wanted.  I was happy.

While the two products combined can offer the flight simmer a complete weather and environment system, I deactivated the weather component within SkyForce and chose to use ActiveSky.  But bottom line, I was very happy with this setup and was looking forward to the continued use in Prepar3D v5.

Reasons?

I can only guess the reason REX has decided not to bring their Environment Force application to P3Dv5 is due to the enhanced shaders and cloud textures within the sim.  Yes, the sky and cloud textures in P3Dv5 are better than we’ve had in previous versions.  But at this stage, I’m not entirely sure

Other Shader Choices

As I began writing this posting, I decided to do a little digging to see what other shader choices were available or what news I could learn regarding P3Dv5 Compatibility.  It appears Tomato Shade (which I have no experience with) won’t be coming to P3Dv5 anytime soon.  Also, PTA (at the present time) is of unknown status.  As previously mentioned, REX will not be bringing their Environment Force to P3Dv5 so that leaves ENVTEX/ENVSHADE as the only one currently ready to go with P3Dv5. 

Final Thoughts

Many may ask why these shader add-ons are as popular as they are in the flight sim community.  Immersion is the answer.  For me, the eye candy is an important element in my flight simulation experience.  I’d even say it’s just as important as the level of immersion I get from flying a study level aircraft such as those from PMDG or FSLabs. The flight simulation hobby has come a very long way since my early days on the Commodore 64 and I truly love every minute I can spend in the sim.

As I do own ENVTEX/ENVSHADE from TOGA Projects, I will most likely use this product in my P3Dv5 setup.  I’ve read many improvements were made to the product over the last year.  But I think I’ll first experience P3Dv5 in its native state and see for myself the improvements Lockheed Martin made to the sim. 

Thanks for reading.  The REX announcement is below. 

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

Jerry

REX Announcement

SUBJECT:
REX Product Compatibility with Prepar3D v4.5 HF3 and Prepar3D v5+

TYPE:
NEWS

LEVEL:
HIGH

DATE ISSUED:
Monday, May 11, 2020

EFFECTIVE DATE/TIME:
Monday, May 11, 2020
END DATE/TIME:
Monday, June 1, 2020

NEWS TOPIC:
*
Over the past few weeks Lockheed Martin released Prepar3D v4.5 Hotfix 3, Prepar3D v5, and Prepar3D v5.0 Hotfix 1. We wanted to take time to inform you of the status of our product line compatibility with each simulator.

Prepar3D v4.5 Hotfix 3:
The following REX products are 100% compatible with Prepar3D v4.5 Hotfix 3:
•    REX 5 – Environment Force
•    REX 5 – Sky Force 3D
•    REX 5 – Worldwide Airports HD
•    REX 4 – Texture Direct with Soft Clouds
•    WX Advantage Radar

Prepar3D v5 or Prepar3D v5 + Hotfix 1
Currently none of our products are “officially” compatible with Prepar3D v5+. However, since we are part of the beta team for Prepar3D, we have been actively testing and evaluating each product. Here is the current status of each:
In Development:
•    REX 5 – Sky Force
•    REX 5 – Weather Force (Add-on to Sky Force)
In Process:
•    REX 5 – Worldwide Airports HD
Under Review:
•    REX 5 – Environment Force
Will not be made compatible for Prepar3D v5+
•    WX Advantage Radar

We will keep you updated with the status of each product as we progress. Thank you for your patience during this time.

New REX Environment Force

As most will already know, the new REX Environment Force add-on was released a few weeks ago.  Over the course of this article I’m going to share some opinions, show some evidence and basically discuss how I moved from the Envtex/Envshade products to REX and what my overall impressions are.  Spoiler:  I’m happy as a pig in mud!

If anyone tries to tell you the industry built around and supporting the flight simulation hobby is dead, dying or even stagnant…..they are wrong.  In addition, if anyone tries to tell you the industry supporting Prepar3D is dead, dying or stagnant….They too are WRONG!  The level of creativity coming from our 3rd party developers is very much alive and kicking.  The proof is certainly in the pudding and boy does this pudding taste good. 

I’m Getting Old

I can’t remember much about the selection of add-ons available for Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004 (FS9) nor my direct involvement with them.   When FS9 was the sim of choice, I was super busy traveling and had many irons in the fire.  But I do know (at least for me) with Microsoft Flight Simulator X (FSX) and certainly through each of the iterations of Prepar3D I’ve owned (P3D 2.x, 3.x and 4.x) I’ve literally poured hundreds of dollars down the ole proverbial rat hole in an attempt to achieve maximum eye-candy.  It’s truly a constant struggle and balancing act as I explained in a recent writing titled “Flight Simulation – The Struggle for Balance”. 

Choices & Decisions

In the area of visual add-ons to help stimulate your visual senses, there’s a lot of choice out there.  This is certainly the case for Prepar3d version 4.4/4.5, slightly less for earlier versions of P3D and FSX.  But still a lot of choice in this category of visual enhancing add-ons. 

There was a time (not too long ago) where I pretty much believed they all did just about the same thing.  Of course, each camp will have their fanboys and each will have their haters.  Remember, “haters gonna hate”, right?

I’ve honestly tried them all…well, most of them.  For the record, as I pointed out in a recent article titled, “Shaders – What’s the big deal?”, I haven’t tried Tomatoshade.  While there are plenty of Tomatoshade fanboys singing its praises…there are many others who are sitting in the corner crying because something catastrophic happened to the their sim.  I discuss some of these pitfalls here.  Yes, yes…ABSOLUTELY YES…I agree that most who are sitting in the corner crying either didn’t read the “destructions” or have/had some other issue going on which became a bigger issue when they attempted to implement a product they didn’t understand in the first place.  Bottom line for me, I just don’t like Tomatoes  LOL  and I guess I’ve never taken the time to fully understand and embrace its use and full potential.  Anyway….I digress.

Should I Stay or Should I Go…

You know how I like to intermix popular 80’s music lyrics into my writings…I had my own decisions to make and I spent about a week reading the accounts from others and literally drooling over the images I was seeing as a result of this new REX Environment Force add-on.  However, I kept flying with my previous setup using Envtex/Envshade along with ASCA/ASP4 and closely comparing what I saw on my own screens versus what others were showing in their screenshots.  The results/comparisons were almost night and day differences.  I couldn’t resist and I shelled out my hard-earned money and purchased both the new REX Environment Force and also REX Sky Force 3D.  These were on sale in a bundled deal direct from the REX store

Out With The Old…

and in with the new.  While REX Environment Force states it supports and will work along side all add-ons, there’s always a risk.  I also truly wanted to see exactly what my sim would look like with only the REX products installed and without Envtex/Envshade etc.  So the task I set out to accomplish was to remove Envtex/Envshade from my sim without blowing a hole in P3D as a result.  I said a quick little prayer and got to work. 

Step 1.  Removing Envtex/Envshade

I had done my research and had read accounts from others who had done the same thing I wanted to accomplish.  The first step was to restore the original P3D textures.  This is easily done from the Envdir program by clicking the Restore button.  This process re-installs your old textures from the backup made when you first installed/configured the Envdir/Envtex/Envshade programs. 

Step 2.  Delete P3D Shader Folder and start P3D

After restoring the P3D textures in the above step, I located my P3D shader folder (located under Users\YourUserName\AppData\Local\Lockheed Martin\Prepar3D.  Just delete the entire folder.  Launch P3D and in the process P3D will add a new shader folder and will reset shaders. 

Step 3.  Install REX Products

I installed and activated both my new REX Sky Force 3D and Environment Force products.  While REX Sky Force has a built in weather engine, I wanted to continue to use Active Sky.  So once Sky Force was installed, I simply deactivated the real-time weather function in Sky Force. 

Step 4.  Reinstall ASCA

If you’re using ASCA (Active Sky Cloud Art) with Envdir, you’ll want to reinstall it as it will error when it can’t locate certain files related to Envdir. 

Step 5.  Read, Read and Read

Both the REX products have comprehensive documentation found in the .pdf files which accompany both products.  If you’re anything like me, you want to get going as soon as possible.  But I would encourage you just the same to do some reading about these products, their settings and how to use them.  But hey…I get it. 

Step 6.  Launch REX products before P3D

I know there are various schools of thought on this.  But it’s just a habit I’ve been doing for many years.  I first launch REX Sky Force, then REX Environment Force, then ActiveSky (ASP4)/ASCA and then finally P3D v4. 

Step 7.  Fly and enjoy….

Obviously some configuration is required with the REX products.  But the real beauty of REX Environment Force (EF) is these tweaks and changes can be made while P3D is running.  So you can choose if you want to run EF in auto mode or in manual mode and tweak to your heart is content.  I’ll be honest, I’ve done a bit of both and will play around more in the manual mode.  But here’s a series of screenshots I captured on a recent flight from Miami down to St. Maarten. 

2019-5-5_7-14-6-88

Taxing out to the active runway (08R) while watching a company 738 land on runway 12. 

2019-5-5_7-16-26-882

Blasting out of Miami.  The weather is perfect for testing the new REX products. 

2019-5-5_7-17-16-352

Beautiful clouds and water textures.

2019-5-5_7-17-29-752

The PMDG Boeing 737-800 decked out in the American Airlines livery.  This is my favorite add-on aircraft.

2019-5-5_7-18-7-112 

Getting ready to punch through the clouds.

2019-5-5_7-18-37-864

One of my favorites.

2019-5-5_9-34-39-800

Just another minute before we fly over Maho Beach and land safely at Princess Juliana International Airport.  I love this approach and landing. 

Well there you have it.  I’m truly pleased with the experience I’m getting from the new REX Environment Force and REX Sky Force products.  I’ve used REX products in the past.  Specifically REX Soft Clouds and the older REX Texture Direct.  While I moved away from these older products for something better, I believe the best at this time is these new REX products and I’m happy to be a REX Customer once again. 

Until next time…

Happy Simming!

Jerry

Are you a real Pilot?

This was the question asked of me after I landed my iFly B737NG (FSX version) on 16L at KDEN the other night.

It was a dark and stormy night….no really, it was both dark and somewhat stormy with lightning flashes to the west of KDEN.  I had departed KDFW for a 2 hour flight on the VATSIM network.  I’ve probably logged over 60 hours in the iFly 737, but that isn’t the subject of this blog posting.

I truly love flying on the VATSIM network.  I know there are those who don’t like it because of the sparse ATC controllers typically online.  Of course, with the various traffic programs available like MyTrafficX and Ultimate Traffic 2, you can turn an international airport into a hustling and bustling airport with just a few mouse clicks. However, you won’t hear and get the awesome “atta boy” comments that I received the other night from the FSX default ATC.  More about this in a minute.

True, I’ve been known to nail some real greasers on landing.  This is especially true when I’m in a bit of a hurry and not doing everything by the book. This happens more in the default aircraft since you don’t have the dynamic flight systems of the payware models like the iFly or the LVLD.  But it can also happen in these payware models I just mentioned when you cut corners.  But I digress and for that I’m sorry.

I had departed KDFW with no ATC online, but really wanted to enjoy this flight up to my now home town of Denver, Colorado.  This is one of my favorite flights for many reasons and only second to flying down to St. Maarten and TNCM out of KMIA.  I just love the approach over the beach and hope to visit St. Maarten in real life someday.  The flight to Denver was as uneventful as it can get.  While Ft. Worth Center was not online, I did pickup Kansas City Center and Denver Center.  Denver center was the only ATC on and he controlled me all the way down.

I typically do things just about the same way each and every flight I make.  I check the weather conditions either via FSInn or direct from the NOAA METAR database.   And in the case of Denver Center, he had an updated published ATIS which I pulled down well before entering his airspace and I acknowledged I had information Bravo when I initially checked in with him. 

I don’t think a lot of pilots really bother picking up or at least confirming they have the current information even though that is depicted well within the default FSX ATC.  Even if you don’t bother tuning into the ATIS frequency for the airport you are going to land, there are other ways of getting the info and it certainly helps the ATC guys for you to be that much more prepared.  Anyway….Information Bravo was telling me that KDEN was landing and departing to the East.  Landing runway 7 and departing runway 8.  So I pulled my charts for runway 7 and just quickly familiarized myself with the approach. 

As I was inbound on the Quail Six Arrival and roughly 50nm from KDEN, Denver Center updated the ATIS with updated information.  I quickly listened to the update and realized KDEN was now going to be in South Ops and made the adjustments necessary to plan for a runway 16L approach. 

Approaching KDEN from the South, the Quail Six arrival brings you just south of the airfield and makes for an easy transition when KDEN is under North Ops with easy access to runway 35L.  However, KDEN was not in North Ops and this would mean flying downwind to the east of the field for vectors to 16L. 

Now back to the dark and stormy night comment.  Weather conditions in the area was a typical summer evening in the mile high city with storm cells erupting out on the eastern plains. A few of these cells had moved in closer to the city and both myself and my virtual PAX were treated to a nice light show of cloud to cloud and cloud to ground lightning strikes.  The combination of ActiveSky X and Real Environment Extreme make for some truly impressive eye candy at times and this particular night was no different. 

As I completed the roll-out from the vectors given by Denver Center, KDEN airport and runway 16L was in clear visibility so a visual landing was certainly in order for the evening.  Along with FS2Crew (the iFly version) my FO and I readied the beautiful Boeing 737-800 for her landing and had a smooth landing with no complaints from the virtual PAX.  As I turned the B738 onto the high-speed taxiway and gave the “OK to Clean-up” order to the FO I received a private message from the VATSIM ATC Controller simply asking me “Are you a real pilot”? 

Now if you’ve read my recent blog post where I state I’m not a real pilot, you would know (or will know if you kindly read it) that I’m not a real pilot.  But of course the gentleman working VATSIM ATC doesn’t know I routinely blog about my flight sim hobby.  But I answered him by saying Negative….why do you ask?  His response simply was “you do a very good job”. 

I have no VATSIM ATC experience.  I also have no desire to gain any other than from a pilots perspective.  So I’m not 100% certain what the VATSIM controllers really can see and what they really can’t see.  I’ve been told by several VATSIM controllers that I know very well, that what they can see is very limited.  They of course can tell if you turn the wrong direction and they can also tell if you land on the wrong runway.  But they can’t really tell how hard or how soft of a landing a virtual pilot makes. 

So what is so special about his comments and why blog about them?  This is a very good question and the reason why I chose to blog about it was to one, share the experience and two to turn it into a learning experience for all.  As I stated in the opening paragraphs of this blog post, I’ve truly experienced some real greaser landings.  I call those controlled crashes.  While I’ve never mistaken a taxi-way for an active runway, I’ve certainly had my share of off center touchdowns and some of those where you hit just before the touchdown zone and some where you hit well past it.  This flight and this landing was textbook and the comments from the VATSIM ATC Controller sort of showed me that it is worth doing everything somewhat by the book.  Of course, having over 25 years of computer sim experience doesn’t hurt. 

In closing, You’ll never hear me make claims that I could fly a real plane….but I think my virtual PAX can rest easily knowing I at least know how to operate my iFly 737NG to get positive feedback from VATSIM ATC.  I hope you too will take your virtual flight simulation to the next level and work harder to improve your skills.  One day a VATSIM ATC controller might ask you, “Are you a Real Pilot”?

Until next time….

Jerry

Around the World – Update 4

My position as of this posting is LLJR (Jerusalem, Israel)
I’ve traveled a total of 9914 nm
I’ve burned a total of 934 gallons of fuel
I’ve flown a total of 54. 75 hours
My next destination is Cairo, Egypt

Hello everyone. After taking a day off from flying (Tuesday), I’m back at it on Wednesday, 6 October. The route today will take me from Antwerp, Belgium through the heart of France to the town of Cognac, France (LFBG). After a brief stop for fuel I will depart Cognac, France for Gibraltar (LXGB).

I chose Gibraltar as I had watched a History Channel show on the most dangerous airports. Gibraltar was listed due to the winds that are produced by the Rock of Gibraltar and the location of the airport. I can state that FSX along with Active Sky X both do a very good job depicting the turbulence around the airfield. It was a bumpy ride into LXGB but the Mooney handled the job.

Flying downwind at LXGB Gibraltar.

Short final at LXGB

Once refueled I departed LXGB headed south to Africa. But before turning south, I flew past theRock of Gibraltar. (See below)

The Rock of Gibraltar. Awesome huh?

I turned and flew across the Strait of Gibraltar into Morocco. I then turned to back to the east towards Tunisia and DTTA in Carthage. I’m planning to fly across from Carthage to Sicily then continue across to Greece. My future route will continue through southern Europe into Turkey. I plan to then head south through the holy land then back down to Egypt.

One goal I’ve tried to accomplish is to keep things as “real” as possible. I’ve pushed and flown perhaps more hours than might be possible in a real world setting. But I’ve enjoyed the planning for this trip as much as I’ve enjoyed the actual flying. As I set a course through the Holy land, I realize my course may not be the course that would be taken in real life due to political, religious or other reasons. In addition, I’m not omitting countries or regions for any political or religious reason either. I’m simply enjoying what this hobby provides to us and learning a lot in the process.

Did you notice the new paint job on the Mooney?  Well it’s not just a new paint job, it’s an entirely different Mooney.  I decided to purchase the Carendado Mooney M20J and I’m using the freewaretexturefrom Orbx.  Hey…I figured I deserved a little “Eye Candy”.  This new Mooney is awesome.  However, she is a little slower than the FSX default Mooney, but I figure this is just more “true to life”.  I’ve had to look behind me a few times to make sure I wasn’t pulling a trailer.  But she’s fine and she’s real purty.

OK…time to move along.  I resumed my Around the World – 2010 adventure on Friday, 8 October flying from Carthage, Tunisia (DTTA) to Catania, Sicily (LICC).  This is a short leg in comparison to others I have flown at just 270 nm.  While I’m headed for Athens, Greece and Athens is certainly in range for the Mooney, I wanted to take in some of the sights of Sicily.  I plan to re-fuel and the continue to Athens.

Now speaking of “eye candy”.  I also recently installed REX (Real Environment Extreme) and am running it for the next few legs instead of Active Sky X.  Both products appear to be similar in depicting real world weather conditions and feeding that data into FSX.  However, where REX walks away with the prize is in the textures it produces based on those weather conditions.  I’ll discuss REX and my thoughts about this product in a future blog post.  But for now, I’m happy with the product.

I arrived in Greece with several hours to spare and decided to go ahead and fly down to Jerusalem, Israel.  This would position me for a quick flight down to Cairo, Egypt before heading east into the Middle East towards India. 

Passing over Athens, Greece

REX (Real Environment Extreme) has done a beautiful job depicting the clouds and sunset over the Mediterranean Sea

Clouds over the Mediterranean Sea

Sunset over the Mediterranean Sea courtesy of REX

I arrived in Jerusalem LLJR airport about an hour after sundown.  LLJR is closed in real life, but wide open and ready for traffic in FSX.

Short final LLJR

As mentioned earlier, I’ll depart Israel for Cairo, Egypt.  After flying around viewing the pyramids I plan to set a course that will take me across Saudi Arabia, Qatar, The United Arab Emirates then across the Arabian Sea to India.  From India I haven’t decided my course.  I may head southeast to Singapore which will set me up for Australia and New Zealand.  I would then head back to Australia from New Zealand then Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Philippines, Taiwan, China, Japan and then Russia.

Bottom line, at this stage I’m just a few miles shy of 10,000 nm traveled and I’m still having fun.  While I’m still a long ways away from KAPA, I get closer each and every day. 

Until next time,

JT

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