In this tutorial, you will learn how to create basic conventional aircraft for X-Plane by using Plane-Maker.
Conditions and Assumptions
When this tutorial was made, it was made based on X-Plane 9’s Plane-Maker with Windows Vista 32 operating system. It is also assumed that you already have your own aircraft design, ready to be modelled on X-Plane. If you haven’t had your own aircraft design, it is recommended that you read the other tutorial, Creating Ample the Example Plane with Plane-Maker, to get a brief understanding in how to use Plane-Maker.
Before taking a further steps in this tutorial, you should prepare the items/data listed below. It is important that you have them all completely, so, you can go through all part of this tutorial without any obstacle. Note that all required data below must be expressed in british unit for Plane-Maker (ft for length, lbs for mass and force).
Airfoil (afl files) for all aircraft’s lifting surfaces, rotor, and propeller (see How to Create Airfoil with Airfoil-Maker tutorial for the instructions about how to create airfoil for X-Plane).
Planform parameter for all lifting surfaces (If your planform geometry is complex, divide it into several simple trapezoidal planform section), which includes span, root and tip chord length, incidence angle, dihedral angle, twist angle.
HLD and control surface parameter, such as its spanwise location, its chord fraction, and its type.
Aircraft fuselage and other non-lifting bodies’ drawing, which includes the three view drawing and cross-section drawing at several station.
Aircraft’s engine specification data which includes thrust value, thrust point location (the location where thrust force is applied), SFC, compressor area, etc.
Aircraft’s weight and balance data which includes empty weight, MTOW, fuel weight, and CG location (most aft, most forward, and default CG location), etc.
Aircraft’s landing gear parameter, which includes gear type and position, wheel dimension, strut dimension, etc.
1. Introduction to Plane-Maker
Plane-Maker is one of the three X-Plane’s supplemental programs. This program is used to create custom aircraft for X-Plane. Aside from aircraft, you can also created other flying vehicles such as airships and rockets or non-flying vehicle such as cars (although the simulation may be inaccurate). However, as the name suggest, Plane-Maker is actually intended to create custom airplanes or helicopters.
In Plane-Maker, creating custom aircraft is done by constructing your aircraft model inside Plane-Maker and also inputting your aircraft’s parameter. Optionally, several third party 3D models can be imported into Plane-Maker as parts of your aircraft.
2. Plane-Maker User Interface
Plane-Maker’s interface consists of a toolbar, a main window showing your custom aircraft, and a few textboxes at the bottom of the main window. The toolbar consist of six main buttons: ‘about’ button, ‘file’ button, ‘standard’ button, ‘advanced’ button, and ‘background’ button. The ‘about’ button is used to check your version of Plane-Maker, the ‘file’ button to open or save your aircraft (acf), the ‘standard’ button for standard aircraft building, the ‘advanced’ button for advanced aircraft building, the ‘background’ button for view editing, and the ‘background’ button for miscellaneous function.
Figure 1: Plane-Maker main window
The main window of Plane-Maker shows you the appearance of your custom aircraft. Here, you can see how the your aircraft look like and how the change on any parameter that you made affect your aircraft appearance. In this window, You change the view of your aircraft by using several keyboard shortcut keys. Use directional buttons to pan the view of your aircraft, +/- buttons to zoom your view in or out, W/S/A/D to rotate your aircraft, and space bar to switch from wireframe view to solid view, and vice versa.
Whenever you select any options/button from Plane-Maker toolbar, a new window will appear, completely blocking you from your main window. These new window will have different appearance and function, according to what buttons that you choose from your toolbar. However, all of them contains a lot of input boxes and a close button at the upper right corner. Keep in mind that in all window, a pop-up box will appear whenever you hover your mouse for a while on an input box, which contains an explanation regarding what value that should be inputted into that input box.
3. Creating acf file and folder structures
Before you start creating your aircraft, it is recommended that you create a folder named by your custom aircraft name somewhere inside your X-Plane directory. I would recommend that you put it inside X-Plane\Aircraft directory. This is important because your custom aircraft will requires other files (such as picture files for the aircraft paint and cockpit panel, additional object, and so on) so that it can be flown in X-Plane perfectly. If you are not doing this, your custom aircraft may become incomplete after being moved to another location.
Inside your custom aircraft folder, you can create several folders according to your need. The following section shows the folders that can be created inside a custom aircraft folder along with its use. Note that the creation of all these folders below are not compulsory. If you are not going to use custom sound for your aircraft, you don’t have to create the ‘sounds’ folder, and so on.
‘airfoils’ – contains all afl (airfoil) files for your custom aircraft’s lifting surfaces.
‘cockpits’ – contains all bitmaps files for your custom aircraft’s cockpit object
‘liveries’ – contains all texture files for your custom aircraft’s external painting
‘objects’ – contains all 3D model (in obj format) for your custom aircraft.
‘sounds’ – contains all sound files for your custom aircraft.
‘weapons’ – contains all weapons files for your custom aircraft.
4. Constructing aircraft’s wings and other lifting surfaces
Constructing aircraft’s wings and other lifting surfaces is the most important things to do in Plane-Maker because your aircraft won’t be able to fly without wings (except if you are creating an airship). To construct aircraft’s wings and other lifting surface, click standard>wings and an editing window will appear as shown in figure 2. In this window, you can create and modify up to 4 wings, 1 horizontal stabilizer, and 2 vertical stabilizers. If this are not enough, you can create and modify more wings by clicking standard>miscwings.
Figure 2: Plane-Maker lifting surface editing window
The lifting surface editing window (for both standard>wings and standard>miscwings) consists of tabs (most upper), foil spec box (upper left), element spec box (lower left), texture box (upper right), and the preview of your aircraft (lower right). The upper tabs show which lifting surface that you are currently editing, while foil spec box, element spec box, and texture box consists of several input boxes that will define your lifting surface planform geometry. Note that in this window, you can use the keyboard shortcut stated in section 2 to change the view of your aircraft (inside the preview box).
The foil spec box consist of input boxes for your lifting surface’s planform parameters, such as semi-length, root chord, tip chord, etc. The use of foil spec box is to modify your lifting surface planform parameters. Insert these input boxes with your lifting surface planform parameters to create your lifting surface. However, keep in mind that all planform parameters value that you inserted must be measured relative to the lifting surface’s quarterchord line instead of the lifting surface’s leading edge. So, the position of the lifting surface (long arm, lat arm, and vert arm) must be filled with the position of your lifting surface’s root airfoil’s quarterchord point and the angular parameters (sweep and dihedral) must be measured from quarterchord line. Keep in mind also that the semi-lenght box must not be filled your lifting surface’s semi-span because semi-length is not semi-span. Semi-length is the half length of lifting surface’s quarterchord line and can be calculated simply with the formula below.
semi-length = ((semi-span)/cos(sweep))/cos(dihedral)
The element spec box consists of several columns of check boxes. The use of element spec box is to define control surfaces into your lifting surface. The most left input box of the element spec box is used to define the number of subsection that your lifting surface has (the lifting surface subsections are generated by dividing your current lifting surface uniformly in spanwise direction), while columns of check boxes (and an input box for incidence angle) to its right are used to define what control surface is installed in each lifting surface subsection (the most left column is the root subsection and the most left column). Note that when you modify the number in the subsection input box, the number of column of checkboxes will change accordingly and your wing’s appearance (its spanwise station) in wireframe view will also change accordingly. To define one or more control surface on your lifting surface, simply check the control surface’s check box at the its corresponding subsection column. For example, if you have wing section with span of 15ft and your wing has aileron located from 10m to 12.5m spanstation, simply divide your wings into 6 subsections and check the aileron1 check box on the fifth column from left. After you define your control surface, you may notice that no change was made in your lifting surface appearance because the control geometry of your control surface is not yet defined. See the section 6 for instruction in defining your control geometry.
Other than control surfaces, in the element spec box, you can also modify your lifting surface subsection’s incidence angle from the input boxes at the top of control surfaces’ checkboxes. The incidence angle value that you filled must be the incidence angle at the middle of the corresponding subsection. Keep in mind that when you add an incidence angle to a subsection, the rotation is done around the quarterchord location instead of leading edge.
Still in the element spec boxes, you can switch to customize chord mode by checking the customize chord box at the upper right corner of element spec box. In this mode, you can modify each lifting surface’s chord on the corresponding spanwise station. Use the first row input boxes to scale each chord (from its quarterchord) and the second row input boxes to move each chord forward or backward. Remember that you can always switch back to control surface mode by unchecking the customise chord box.
The texture box consist of several input boxes for aircraft texturing/painting. See the other tutorial, How to paint your aircraft, for the instruction for this box.
Remember the instructions about foil spec box and element spec box above applies for all lifting surface such as wings, horizontal tails, vertical tails, misc wings, and engine pylons (use standard>enginepylons to open lifting surface editing window for engine pylons). The only differences that you should keep in mind between each lifting surfaces are the following:
Wings and horizontal tails are automatically generated with its left side and right side planforms (symmetric).
Misc wings are defaulted to be in the right side only. However you can change it to be in the left side by checking the check box at the upper left of element spec box. So remember to always create a pair of misc wing (one for left side and one for right side) if you are using misc wing as the component of your main wing.
Vertical tails and engine pylons are defaulted to have a dihedral value of 90 degrees.
Note also that if you are creating a lifting surface with complex planform, you can use more than one lifting surfaces (for example, wing 1 and wing 2, or wing 1 and misc wing 1, etc) and connect it by using ‘snap to’ dropbar button at the upper left of lifting surface editing window. For more advanced tutorial in constructing lifting surfaces n Plane-Maker, see How to Construct Lifting Surface in Plane-Maker.
5. Assigning airfoils
After you have finished constructing your lifting surface, the next thing to do is to assign airfoils to all of your lifting surface (and propellers). Assigning airfoils can be done by clicking expert>airfoils to access airfoil assignment window as shown in figure 3 below. In this window, you can assign airfoils for all lifting surfaces that you have created previously and also add several feature to your lifting surface such as variable sweep.
Figure 3: Plane-Maker airfoil assignment window
Airfoil assignment window consist of tabs (upper) and several boxes (lower) that labelled with a name of of a lifting surface. The upper tabs show which group of lifting surfaces to which airfoil assignment will be made, while the labelled boxes consist of input boxes for airfoil assignment. Note that these labelled boxes will show no input boxes in it if the corresponding lifting surface is not created yet.
In each labelled box, there will be four input boxes for airfoil assignment. The first two input boxes on the left are for root airfoil while the last two input boxes on the right are for tip airfoil. You can browse which afl file to be assigned in each input box by clicking the small square box locate at the left side of each input box. Notice that both root and tip airfoils, you must enter two afl files. One afl file for airfoil’s performance in high Reynolds number and one afl file for low Reynolds number. This is necessary because an afl file only contains a certain airfoil’s aerodynamic performance for a certain Reynolds number, while airfoil’s aerodynamics performance changes as Reynold number changes and an aircraft always operate at wide range of Reynolds number. Thus, two afl files (one for aerodynamics performance at low Reynolds number and one for aerodynamics performance at high Reynolds number) is needed by X-Plane to estimate lifting surface’s aerodynamic performance over a wide range of aircraft’s operating Reynolds number.
Beside four input boxes, there are also four checkboxes at the right-side of each labelled box. These check boxes are used to allow variable-swept, variable-dihedral, variable-incidence, and retractable features on your lifting surfaces. By checking each checkbox, an input box will appear at the right side of checkbox for specifying the amount of variable angles (for swept, dihedral, and incidence) and/or the ratio of retractable part of the lifting surfaces that will be applied. Note that for lifting surface with variable angles, the default value of angle used for initial configuration is the value given in the lifting surface editing window, thus, only insert the amount of variable range (angle range) in this input boxes. Keep in mind that these variable angles are always measured from the quarterchord line.
6. Defining control surfaces
After you have successfully created your lifting surface and assigned airfoils for it, the last thing to do with lifting surface is to define the control surfaces. To define control surfaces for your lifting surface, click standard>controlgeometry and an editing window will appear as shown in figure 4. In this window, you can define the geometry and characteristics of all of your control surfaces.
Figure 4: Plane-Maker control surface editing window
The control surface editing window consists of 4 window selection tabs and the editing window for the selected tabs. The contents of this editing window will change depending on the tab that is currently selected. If ‘controls’ tab is selected, the editing window will appear as shown in figure 4 above, which is consist of control size box on the left and flap spec box on the right.
7. Constructing aircraft’s fuselage and other non-lifting bodies
8. Constructing aircraft’s engine
9. Constructing aircraft’s landing gear