Günther Steiner, the chief editor of our german sister site simflight.DE conducted an exclusive interview with A2A Simulations eloquent leader Scott Gentile.
The interview touches issues about current and future plans of this well-known industry leader in simulated aircraft design and gives an insight into A2A’s developing stages and processes. Read after the click…
What is a typical day in Scott’s life? (Mean, a typical day in a FS addon developers life)?
The start of any project begins with research that includes studying pilot’s handbooks, maintenance manuals, and anything that can be found about the plane. Early on we track down candidates for flight testing in our area, and eventually decide on the best one to base the project on. We then begin the process of capturing the entire aircraft with a wide net including measurements, photos, videos, flight tests, sounds, etc.
We then compare our results with all known data available, and our team starts chipping away on the development framework, 3d model, radios, avionics, and FSX UI and panels, etc.
It may be interesting to know that there is no book that teaches what we do. We are literally inventing the process as we develop. This means that our entire Accu-Sim development process is, by nature, innovating.
While my personal development world is primarily flight testing and building the physics to match the real airplane, the entire team is inter-dependent in all tasks. Some of our 3d artists are also learning about coding as well. We all just love making every aspect of flight simulation and we all must constantly be challenging ourselves by evolving.
In case someone doesn’t know, what Accu-Sim is: how would you describe it?
It’s important to first understand that airplanes are nowhere close to perfect machines. They rattle, pull, buck, shake, etc. And furthermore, every one is unique. Accu-Sim is the art and science of studying, capturing, and building this true physical machine into a simulation. We capture these imperfections and make systems that respond and are believable (and infinitely more interesting to fly). Essentially, we make genuine, physical parts of a flying machine and bolt them to each other.
There are still a few out stragglers there who have never tried Accu-Sim that think it’s just some “damage modeling” and that is unfortunate because the products that have made impressions in these people’s minds over the years have been truly dreadful. Most understood what Accu-Sim meant with the J-3 Cub, with a common comment prior to release, “what is there to Accu-Sim in a J-3?” The day after the plane was released; we never heard that comment again.
Can you please give us a short history of the A2A company?
The first project we did (then Shockwave), was back in 2002 to re-do the visual effects for Strike Fighters: Project 1 from Tsuyoshi Kawahito, who was the designer for European Air War and Jane’s Combat Simulations: Longbow 2. After that project, we made our own commercial add on, FirePOWER for Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator 3. Since the release, Firepower remains the highest rated flight simulator add-on or stand-alone.
Since the start, we are quite aggressive in pushing and testing the limits, and so as time pressed on we continued to migrate into more areas. It wasn’t too long before we started hitting limits in flight simulation, and over the years these limits continued to cause us difficulty. In order to break through, we had to create our own technology, and this was the birth of Accu-Sim. It gave us a new framework which, even today we maintain an almost a “sky is the limit” freedom.
Why does A2A have that technical and physical knowledge (regarding aircraft and engine simulation)?
Because we all have a burning passion, which means we push through any and all barriers, and are therefore constantly learning new techniques. Our core team is made only of self motivated, self managing individuals but the magic happens because we are able to work well as a team. The end result is almost a self-sustaining, efficient work flow. We all have our responsibilities and “have at them” on a daily basis. There is no time or interest in baby sitting at A2A as each of us takes pride in being able to carry our own weight plus some.
Which information sources do you use during development, beside that public available documents?
Over the years we have developed our own flight test schedule that captures almost every aspect of any airplane that flies. This includes far beyond simple performance, but internal systems and how they operate. For example, we model physical oil and how it heats up, applies pressure to the internal components, and even how it might leak out. Even the contaminants are modeled, that make the oil black over time. It may sound crazy, but is real and its FUN FUN FUN to fly.
How do you create a flightmodel? How many real flights do you need?
The Cessna 172 required over fifteen test flights, but we were also creating the new flight test process during that time. The Cherokee that followed was about seven or eight test flights. Our existing Accu-Sim project is currently close to the Cherokee, so it seems we’ve settled at ½ dozen test flights for an airplane. However, we have the process so efficient now that 90% of what we need is captured in the first three hours of flight testing.
How much harder is it to develop a multi engine aircraft? From an amateur’s viewpoint, you just have to copy and paste …?
In terms of making the engine and how it works, yes, you are basically duplicating one engine. However, there is a lot more to making a multi engine aircraft than just adding another engine.
What could be the most difficult part of designing a Jet-Engine on A2A standard?
Super sonic flight
How do you decide what project will be next? What factors do influence your decision?
While some aircraft choices are clearly more popular than others, the current state of our technology probably has the most impact of the next aircraft choice. But primarily, the long ball vision is decided by our current passions and experiences. For example, owning and operating a Comanche drew us into GA for the past two years. This was necessary to grow our technology, with affordable and almost unlimited access to these aircraft.
Is it just your decision or does the complete A2A team decide?
Since an aircraft choice profoundly affects everyone, the entire team discusses, at great length what projects are taken on.
We have an A2A round table that everyone can freely throw ideas out and the team gives feedback. These new ideas keep us thinking. The team will chew up a bad idea like a school of piranhas, others may get a mixed reaction and spark lively debates, and some have gotten an across the board thumbs up. The unexpected challenges are part of the fun that every project brings.
What can we await next?
Accu-Sim 182 Skylane, which we are hoping for a November release
Why the 182 as many will probably say there’s not much difference to a 172?
Anyone who thinks flying a Skylane is like flying a Skyhawk, hasn’t flown a Skylane. A2A pushes up against things like this all the time, and we see this as an opportunity to speak about things the general population may not know. The 182 is the world’s most popular high performance general aviation airplane, and for good reasons that many more will know first hand after the product is released.
With every addon you raised the bar a little bit: C172 with the walkaround, Cherokee with the carb heating. What would we expect with the 182?
Being a high performance plane, we’re going deeper into the systems. I’ve been preparing a “What’s New” page for our product page at launch, and will paste it in here as I think it best covers this question:
1. Lycoming 540 engine.
Most A&P mechanics refer to the Lycoming 540 as being “bulletproof.” Consider that a Chevrolet big block in an early ‘70’s Corvette is 454 cubic inches, a Skyhawk’s engine is either 320 or 360 cubic inches (like small automobile V-8). The Skylane engine is 541.5 cubic inches, which is bigger than the previously mentioned Chevy big block. I have the same engine in my Comanche, and you feel this 50% bigger engine under the hood, just rumbling and rattling, waiting to be opened up on takeoff. We expanded Accu-Sim to capture the more aggressive nature of operating such a nice and powerful GA engine.
2. Constant speed prop – propeller physics.
We upgraded the propeller physics for the Skylane in several areas. This was necessary to deliver the best experience when operating this new system. For example, many people don’t realize that a 2-blade propeller will generally cruise faster than a 3-blade at all but the very highest altitudes (and I’m talking where oxygen is required). The Skylane manual is based on the 3-blade, so you can squeeze out even more speed by using a 2-blade. The high cruise is just around 167 mph with a 3-blade, and around 170 mph with a 2-blade (keep in mind every plane will have slightly different cruise speeds, which speaks to the uniqueness of each airframe, engine, and prop). However, the 3-blade propeller will, in general, pull harder off the line and perform better in steep climbs. We also improved the modeling and sound of the propeller when it both flattens out and cuts into the air, which is most noticeable during prop checks on the ground.
3. Cruise management – beyond the book.
This was an unexpected, but pleasant discovery when making the Skylane: Our cruise performance accuracy actually exceeds the pilot’s manual. Yes, we’re actually better than “by the book.” This is because some figures in the POH are calculated / estimated. For example, in Accu-Sim, you can realize the benefits of flying at lower RPM’s with higher manifold pressure, or “over square” (higher manifold pressure X 100 than RPM). Some pilot’s are still being told today that running a modern GA engine over square is bad, which is a technique recommended on some older, larger radial engines of the past. The fact is that most engines run better and more efficient at lower RPM and higher manifold pressure, rather than high RPM and low manifold pressure (just make sure you follow the guidelines in the pilot’s handbook for the airplane). Accu-Sim models this efficiency, and we confirmed this on our actual flight tests. So, you will be experiencing the same differences from the POH with Accu-Sim than with the actual airplane. You will also find yourself thinking hard about your mixture, how it affects your cruise performance, temperatures, economy, etc., just like in the real aircraft. Just make sure, any real world pilots out there reading this that you follow the recommended cruise settings for your airplane because there is a limit to how much manifold pressure you are able to use at certain a RPM. Also, some engines require you to avoid certain power settings / RPM ranges due to vibration and balance issues. There is no one size fits all approach, but this Accu-Sim Skylane will certainly help both pilots and sim enthusiasts learn better flying skills and engine management practices.
4. Cowl flaps and advanced combustion physics
We further researched and developed engine temperatures, both cylinder head and exhaust gas temps. We also re-formulated the impact of mixture on the process and temperatures.
5. Expanded physical sound
The starter physics, engine starts, shutdowns, and in flight physics are pushed even further. Try playing with the throttle, or kicking the rudder at speed or doing a prop check. It’s a world of wonderful physics that drives our sound engine.
6. Hand towing
We added a new feature, turning your flight stick or yoke into a tow bar. It really gives the feel you are moving a large plane around, and you can put it exactly where you want it, however you wish. My son just said the other day “Dad, this towing is fun!” That’s a good sign coming from a 14 year old
In the 182 promo video we can see (in the real plane) modern avionics. Do you consider one day implementing such modern stuff also?
Yes, little by little we will be modeling all technologies, both old and new.
Everybody wants release dates. No developer wants to give them. But what could we expect in 2015 do you think?
I’d like to see at least a T-6 and maybe a T-33 in 2015.
You have a broad customer range and all of them are wanting there favorite addon first: what could you tell the folks who like especially Warbirds?
As stated above, we hope to make a T-6 and possibly a T-33
Twin piston aircraft?
We hope to make a Piper Seminole.
Big old iron like the B377?
Well… we do have something in the works, but it’s been put on the back burner for the 2nd time…
Starfighter and Phantom flyers?
Look for a T-33, because that has to be made first to take any further steps.
Scott, many thanks for that Interview!