Review by Doug Horton. While visiting the exhibition hangars at last summer’s EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, several flight simulation associates asked if I’d yet visited the FlyThisSim (FTS) exhibit. I’d not heard of this company and I presumed incorrectly that it was a new flight simulation computer program.
Instead, I learned from founding partners Carl Suttle and Eric Paton that FTS is the developer of an innovative FAA-approved Basic Aviation Training Device (BATD) called the TouchTrainer™. This trainer uses FTS’s related SimAVIO software to displays high resolution control panels, instruments, and gauges in X-Plane versions 10.
This article describes the FTS TouchTrainer briefly and then focuses on the related SimAVIO software, which includes a growing variety of control panel software and GPS simulators that are available as retail products.
The TouchTrainer system is unlike other FAA approved aircraft training devices, because the customary requirement for realistically modeled hardware controls has been relaxed by the FAA for this product. Pointing out that many modern avionics displays increasingly have touchscreen controls, FTS has obtained FAA approval for the TouchTrainer with two touchscreen LCD monitors that display touch (or mouse) operable, photorealistic buttons, knobs, and switches.
Accompanying images show sample FAA-approved Cirrus Perspective and Cessna FTS1000 TouchTrainer systems. Note the differences in controls and what’s displayed on the touchscreen monitors for each control panel.
FAA-Approved Cirrus Perspective TouchTrainer system on base platform and table,
with left sidestick and optional three-monitor VisX visual system
FAA-Approved Cessna TouchTrainer system with FTS1000 GPS system,
Saitek Cessna yoke and rudder pedals (barely visible), and VisX system
As shown in the two images above, the TouchTrainer is customized with the applicable controls, and it can be enhanced with an optional three monitor visual system. While this three monitor system is basically X-Plane 10’s visual display of scenery, FTS has tuned the computer and graphics to provide good performance at an extremely competitive price.
The 100 degree field of view provided by the VisX system comes complete with updated instrument panel layouts that make full use of the extra screen area available for instrumentation. FTS indicates that many users have been impressed with how the addition of the visual system has enhanced their simulation experiences, and most TouchTrainer purchasers currently opt to include the VisX display.
Part 2 of this series will cover details of the TouchTrainer.
To model and display its control panels and instruments in the TouchTrainer, FTS has developed the SimAVIO (Simulated AVIOnics) software application. Significantly for flight simulation enthusiasts, this software and related aircraft control panel packages are available as retail products for flight simulation enthusiasts, separate from the TouchTrainer product.
SimAVIO is compatible with Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7 and 8. This is the runtime software needed to display in X-Plane, the FTS add-on panel packs, such as FTS analog panels, along with Avidyne Entegra, Cirrus Perspective, FTS 530/430, FTS 1000 GPS, and similar systems.
FTS suggests that, “Using SimAVIO is ideal for flight simulation enthusiasts and professionals who would like to add IFR GPS route and approach functionality, and high fidelity autopilot and aircraft systems models to X-Plane's capabilities.”
SimAVIO software runs the FTS control panels and interfaces with X-Plane
The SimAVIO software displays its own panels and gauges in a dedicated window that overlays the X-Plane 10 display. For X-Plane 10, FTS instruments and X-Plane communicate with each other through either 32-bit or 64-bit software plug-ins to respective 32-bit or 64-bit versions of X-Plane 10. With this linkage, movements of control devices such as throttle, rudder pedals, and sidestick or yoke, are reflected on the FTS instrument panel.
The high resolution photorealistic instruments can be life size or otherwise adjusted with the SimAVIO software for the user’s monitor size. SimAVIO can run on the same computer as X-Plane, or it can run on a separate computer and communicate via a home or office network.
By dedicating a single or multiple monitors for the cockpit, gauges and avionics can be life-size with sharp, ultra-high resolution. Though not required, the view looking outside the cockpit can be displayed by X-Plane on a second monitor or multiple monitors, such as with the FTS VisX system. SimAVIO panels can be configured to run with instrument bezels and knobs hidden so that compatible hardware can be used. SimAVIO is compatible with emuteq’s G1000, 530 and Avidyne bezels out of the box.
FTS Cirrus control panel with Avidyne Entegra glass cockpit instruments
FTS Cirrus control panel with Garmin Perspective glass cockpit displays
SimAVIO Control Panels and Instruments
FTS SimAVIO retail products are similar to the FAA-approved systems but they include the aircraft-specific software, with no hardware. These products include Beechcraft, Cessna, Cirrus, Diamond, and Piper aircraft control panels, with a growing collection of analog and glass instruments, as applicable to each aircraft or aircraft family.
All aircraft packages require purchase of the SimAVIO software to display and/or edit the control panels. Retail products and prices are shown on the webpage.
In preparing this review, I tested the FTS Cessna 430W/530W Combo package. This package includes four aircraft flight models for X-Plane 10: Cessna 172, 182, 414A, and 421A – and there are eight control panel layouts that can be selected with SimAVIO for these four models:
- Cessna 172-P
- Cessna 172-R
- Cessna 172-S
- Cessna 182 Turbo
- Cessna 182T
- Cessna 340
- Cessna 421C
- Cessna 414A
- Cessna 424
There are no external visual modes of these aircraft, but all control panel packages for this package include faithfully simulated Garmin GNS 530W and 430W instruments, an S-TEC 55X autopilot, and applicable gauges, switches, knobs, and levers for the different models. All are fully functional and communicate with X-Plane.
For non FAA-approved systems, routine editing and reconfiguration of control panel layouts can be accomplished with the SimAVIO panel layout editing feature. As an example of using the SimAVIO layout editing feature, the first image below shows the stock FTS Cessna 182T panel layout with the Garmin GNS 530W and 430W instruments, as part of the FTS Cessna 430W/530W Combo package.
Stock FTS Cessna 182T panel with Garmin GNS 530W and 430W
The next image shows the result of my using the SimAVIO panel layout editing feature to customize the stock FTS Cessna 182T control panel to match the control panel in the real Cessna Skylane 182S of which I’m an owner/partner. My “182” has a Garmin GNS 530W instrument only, so I removed the GNS 430W, and because the “430” would have provided the Com2 and Nav2 radios, I added a dual radio instrument under the “530” instrument. I also moved a few other gauges around the panel, to more closely match their locations in the real airplane I fly.
FTS Cessna panel layout customized for author’s partnership Cessna model 182S
To operate SimAVIO with X-Plane, start both in either order. After both are running, you’ll see the initial SimAVIO screen, which runs an interface test to check for connectivity with X-Plane, and it rates the performance of the user’s computer with SimAVIO and X-Plane running.
SimAVIO opening screen, which performs an interface test
and rates the performance of the user’s system
Next, from the X-Plane aircraft menu, select an installed FTS aircraft, which will open the model file without a visible model or control panel. The final step is to open the selected control panel file with SimAVIO, using File, Open, and then selecting the applicable file. After this step, pressing Ctrl+m opens a masked view of the control panel, which will be overlaid on top of the X-Plane outside view.
Because the SimAVIO packages are targeted for instrument training, the masked view may obscure most of the outside view, though the masked view can be moved downward or made less tall, as desired, using the SimAVIO Layout Tool.
SimAVIO and Aircraft Package Updates
FTS periodically updates SimAVIO and aircraft/panel/instrument packages, and checking for updates is easily accomplished with the FTS Updater tool. After starting the tool, it compares the versions installed on the user’s computer with the latest versions on the FTS server, and it then provides buttons for Download and Save, or Download and Install.
Updates of SimAVIO include fixes and enhancements, and updates of aircraft packages may include additional instruments and gauges from which to choose. In my experience, updating did not alter the customized Cessna 182 control panel I’d previously modified and saved.
FlyThisSim Updater tool, shown checking for latest versions of
one Aircraft and Panels package, and SimAVIO software
Navigation Database Updates
The FTS website provides a link for purchasing updated U.S navigation data. The 12-month subscription package provides updated data on the normal 28 day cycle schedule to ensure instrument currency. The data is compatible with the SimAVIO FTS430W, FTS530W, and FTS1000 GPS instruments and glass panel GPS instruments. Purchasing this package also adds an additional 2000+ approaches to the data provided with SimAVIO aircraft and control panel packages.
FTS navdata updates include radio-based terminal procedures (ILS, LOC, VOR, VOR-DME, and NDB), GPS terminal procedures (RNAV, RNP, including WAAS), arrivals, departures, communication and navigation frequencies, obstacles, minimum safe altitudes (MSA), airports, VHF and NDB navigation Aids, fixes/waypoints, airways, special use airspace (SUAs), and Class B, C, and D Airspace.
As needed, commercial users can go one level deeper to create, modify and compile their own instruments using the retail Instrument Builder. FTS is looking to partner with individuals or companies that would like to help FTS build the next generation of instruments and avionics. With this goal, FTS has introduced a new product called Instrument Builder, which is a comprehensive set of tools used to design and create custom avionics, panels, and instruments for X-Plane. It can be purchased by anyone, though gauge and panel developers are the target users.
The image below shows the building of an airspeed indicator gauge in AC3D just before importing the model into Instrument Builder. AC3D is well known to X-Plane developers for building aircraft and scenery objects and has several other X-Plane specific plug-ins.
AC3D, showing an airspeed indicator under construction.
SimAVIO software currently sells for $40 US, at time of writing, and retail aircraft packages sell for $45 US and higher, for individual families of aircraft. The Cessna 430W/530W package I tried out sells for $65, for example, and if updates of navigation data are desired, an annual subscription currently sells for $78 US.
FTS is making a great contribution to general aviation training with their FAA-approved, retail, and commercially licensable systems and software, particularly for their introduction of instruments and gauges that can be operated with touchscreen monitors. Their instrument panels are “works of art” in terms of form and function. Whether for flight schools, individual pilots, flight simulator hobbyists, home cockpit builders, or other users, these are breakthrough products that significantly advance computer flight simulation and enhance instrument flight training.
About the Developers
FlyThisSim L.L.C. co-owners and developers Carl Suttle and Eric Paton met when both were piloting Cirrus aircraft out of South County Airport (E16) south of San Jose, California about six years ago. In pursuit of training for their airplanes, they discussed the fact that at the time, there was not an FAA-approved trainer for Cirrus airplanes.
With both Carl and Eric having Silicon Valley design and software engineering backgrounds, they decided to build a Cirrus trainer, including complex programming of glass panels and GPS navigation instruments. They’ve subsequently pursued additional certifications for the TouchTrainer, with continuing additions of other airplanes, control panels, and instruments.
Carl Suttle. Originally from the UK, Carl has over 30 years of experience working on the design and production of civilian and military flight simulators, including the Royal Air Force’s F4 Phantom cold war fighter and Short’s Tucano TMk1 trainer. 20 years ago he was recruited to the USA as an expert in flight simulation. Since then he has (as he puts it) ‘touched’ various projects like the F16, AC130, and Blackhawk flight sims and many research sims for all branches of the U.S. military. FlyThisSim is Carl’s 4th start up! He owns and pilots a Cirrus SR20 G2 aircraft and is instrument rated with over 1000 hours of flight time. Carl manages business development and software engineering for FTS.
Eric Paton is a California native, who grew up in Thousand Oaks, California. He received a B.Sc. degree from the California Polytechnic University at San Luis Obispo, CA, a M.Sc. degree from Purdue University in Indiana, and his M.B.A from San Jose State University. He was a semiconductor process development engineer at Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) in Silicon Valley for 8 years, where he authored over 100 patents and 22 publications. Eric later founded a commercial equipment leasing company where he originated, maintained, and held paper on a $3 million portfolio. He is part owner of a Cirrus SR20 airplane, and he’s instrument rated with 600 hours of flight time. Since the formation of FTS, Eric manages the operations of the company at its manufacturing facility in San Luis Obispo, California.