Interview with Lockheed Martin - P3D
By Will Reynolds - AVSIM Reporter
September 12, 2012
For many years we have been spoiled for our “Flight Simulation Fix. Every 2 years or so Microsoft would release a new version with better graphics, more options, etc.; all the way to Flight Sim X.
The last offering seemed to be “almost” there, although heavy on frame rates and with a few well known bugs, it continued to provide a Simulation World where we could all live our passion for aviation.
Then the rug was pulled from under our feet when the ACES studio was closed. What next? X-Plane looked to be the only option, but at that time it had limitations compared to the “old” FSX.
MS released Flight which came and went, but in the meantime Lockheed Martin surprised everyone and released Prepar3.what exactly is it? What is the aim?
Then the fun really started with the talk of “EULA”. I felt like I was relieving the Harry Potter saga and someone said don’t mention “Voldemort”, but is it that bad?
A few major developers actually embraced it and are openly producing add-ons for it, so why the hyperventilation about it? What is so bad? Is it really that difficult?
Well, I decided to find out for myself. I simply joined their forums, sent a personal message to one of their Moderators asking if they would be interested in talking to little old me, from Avsim, one of the largest (if not THE largest) Aviation Hobby communities on the internet. Within 24 hours I had my reply, absolutely YES!
I was put in contact with Sharon Parsley (Lockheed Martin Communications and Public Affairs) and subsequently Martile Allen (Lockheed Martin Prepar3d Program Manager) who offered me their time enthusiastically, to put together a snapshot of what Prepar3D is, what it is meant to do and what the future holds.
So we asked Martile to tell us all about it:
Question: Lockheed Martin is a household name in aviation...when you think LM you think Kelly Johnson, Ben Rich, the P-38 Lightning, the U-2, the SR-71, the P-3 Orion, the Space Program....but Flight Simulation??? Why did LM decide to venture into Flight Simulation?
Martile Allen: You call great aviation leaders and programs to mind, Will! This year, Lockheed Martin celebrates the 100th anniversary of our founding companies. In 1912, Glenn L. Martin and brothers Allan and Malcolm Loughead (who later changed to the phonetic spelling “Lockheed”) launched companies that took remarkably parallel paths on the way to becoming a joint force in 1995. Lucky Lindy, Rosie the Riveter, the iconic SR-71 Blackbird and the first missions to Mars are just a few of the remarkable people and achievements Lockheed Martin is celebrating this year.
With our heritage in aviation, we understand what it takes to prepare airmen for their missions. Lockheed Martin has provided training since the start of our company, and we worked with customers 30 years ago to introduce simulation to maximize the training experience. Our Global Training and Logistics business currently provides training systems for 36 military aircraft variants, including the most advanced training system ever developed, the F-35 Lightning II. These training systems are engineered to provide the shortest path to learning by incorporating simulation.
In 2009, Lockheed Martin had an opportunity to enter an intellectual property licensing agreement with Microsoft to further develop its ESP™ technology. Lockheed Martin launched our version of the simulation software, Prepar3D®, in 2010 for immersive learning and training. This is a natural fit for our business as we look to reduce costs for our customers by moving training tasks from aircraft to full mission simulators, and from full mission simulators to part-task and desktop trainers for the right level of technology to meet the learning objective.
Question: Microsoft had a long-standing product in their Flight Simulator lines, it was very successful, until they stopped their ACES group from going further with Flight Simulation, only to create a new Flight Development Team for their now stopped FLIGHT product. What is LM's current setup for Prepar3D??? What is the support structure for this group of developers and what are the plans for the future?
Martile Allen: Lockheed Martin has a team of brilliantly skilled Prepar3D developers – really smart, creative people who are working hard to make Prepar3D even better. Our team is a great blend of gaming-minded coders, developers with commercial experience and long-standing Lockheed Martin simulation developers. Besides coding, several team leads that guide the product’s development can be found at the Prepar3D Forums answering your technical questions or adding to the conversation threads.
We also recently started a video tutorial series to provide guidance on how to best apply Prepar3D features. Our terrain expert, Max Perry, is the host of the series and the tutorials were his idea – check them out!
We believe we have the best simulation framework on the market for learning and training, and we’re committed to serving as good stewards of the product.
Question: P3D was released in November 2010 and we are up to version 1.4....what was the base of the product? what did you intend to create as a simulation? are you happy with the result?
Martile Allen: Beyond our military customers, we saw applications for training by private pilots, commercial flight schools, civil agencies and students. To transport users to any place on earth, from deep underwater to suborbital space, we expanded the simulation to support ground and maritime missions. Here are some of the enhancements we’ve made in the 1.0 to 1.4 releases of Prepar3D:
- Global land class update – Millions of square kilometers of the earth have been checked and upgraded appropriately to represent the urban environment more accurately. One of our developers had this idea and worked on the update for a little over a month. After reviewing the datasets involved we were able to make correlations that helped identify which of the hundreds of landclass types should be improved. The datasets were processed in both GIS and SQL databases that are used to handling datasets with over 500 million points so we had technology on our side! We also went through a few iterations to make sure the changes are unique to the regions.
- Downtown Norfolk scenery – Prepar3D offers the most accurate city representation, scenery that was created directly from aerial photos and contains 12 cm imagery. Our friends at Pictometry developed this scenery through a process they developed. The landclass changes mentioned above also made a huge difference – the scenery is more detailed, accurate and crisp than offered before. We also have the ability to go underwater with the bathymetry scenery on the U.S. coastlines and the ability to adjust the transparency of the water so you can better see the shorelines.
- Shader 3.0 and increased texture sizes – A modernized shader model is offered for higher quality graphics and increased texture limits to 4096 x 4096. If you compare this texture upgrade in digital camera terms, we increased the maximum resolution from 1 megapixel to 16 megapixels. This allows for much higher fidelity visuals. Specifically, the shader 3.0 update allows for more instructions per shader, which we leveraged to create our new translucent water surface. It also improves performance on some hardware due to driver optimizations.
- Bathymetry – Users can take their simulation experience under water with submarines and the U.S. Geological Survey’s coastal bathymetry. This feature includes the ability to import users’ custom bathymetry models using the Software Development Kit (SDK). The bathymetric data is the equivalent to an underwater digital elevation model and provides the ability to add underwater terrain anywhere in the world. This adds new perspectives for submarine, aerial water landings and boating training.
- Multi-channel – Users can harness the power of multiple computers to increase the quality of Prepar3D’s graphics, stability and performance on huge monitors or multiple monitors. Prepar3D offers multi-player and shared cockpit modes, and we wanted to expand those features and rev up the program’s performance for large or multiple monitors. We leveraged the existing software code to allow for multi-screen simulation, spreading out the graphics processing across several computers. Multi-channel works in two modes. The first option allows monitors to be placed individually, allowing for full 360-degree wraparound display systems and offering more than one view per computer. The other mode can be used for flat or nearly flat video walls and supports perspective-correcting technologies (OmniMap from Scalable Display Technologies and EasyBlend from Elumenati).
- IR sensor camera options – Users can experience night vision and infrared sensor camera options to enhance military mission or night flying training. We filter the vehicles, auto generated elements and other scenery objects based on relative heat values and color the screen based on that information. The challenge lies in separating all the vehicles and scenery objects into temperature categories, and we developed a new process for that when developing the camera options.
- Performance – We continually focus on improving performance to create a user experience second to none. Throughout our Version 1 series of Prepar3D software, the team has improved upon many legacy issues for performance gains. The community plays a vital role in improving performance by citing their experiences in our online forums; the forums are a venue that allows our developers valuable insight into performance of the software. The statistics are showing better and better performance and that is something all of us on the Prepar3D development team believe illustrates a great partnership with the user community.
We’re really proud of our work on the simulation, and we appreciate hearing feedback from the user community about their experience with Prepar3D.
Question: What is the road map? What expansions do you see to be added in the future? any set improvements planned? Features? Hardware compatibilities? What is the focus?
Martile Allen: Our development work is now directed to further amping up performance and adding weapons training for our military customers.
- Performance – As we mentioned earlier, feedback from developers and users in the community indicate that performance is a high priority. Prepar3D is well on a path to take advantage of modern day computing hardware, moving away from the tradition of being CPU bound. We are now updating our rendering system to support DirectX11 and development is progressing nicely. With DirectX11 support, Prepar3D can leverage features such as hardware instancing, shaders, GPU-based particle systems, tessellation and multi-threaded rendering. We’re excited about the future of Prepar3D’s new rendering capability and are eager to be able to release it to the community in 2013.
- Weapons training – Prepar3D will soon offer weapons training to allow our core customers a training capability of weapon selection and target acquisition. It will also enable developers’ weapons add-ons to integrate with their Prepar3D-ready models. Developers and end users will be able to attach weapons to existing and user-created aircraft through configuration files and in-game user interfaces. Users will be able experience and learn weapon processes from all angles, including loading the munitions, acquiring the target and then experiencing the weapon collision and detonation results in real-time.
Question: Currently P3D has 3 "flavours": Professional, Academic and Developer. There are professional training products in the market that can also be purchased by the average "Joe Citizen" and used for self-training and on to simulation. Can you expand on your products? As a former Private Pilot and ATC (who can no longer fly or practice due to medical reasons) am I able to purchase one of your products to keep my former skills up to date in a simulation environment?
Martile Allen: Our end-user license agreement explains that Prepar3D can be used for purposes other than personal/consumer entertainment. Lockheed Martin does not offer Prepar3D for entertainment, and we have no plans to enter the entertainment space. Our focus is on learning and training. The bottom line is that it depends on how the software will be used. What it can’t do is support just-for-fun simming.
We are sometimes asked where Prepar3D can be used. Location is not a consideration in the end-user license agreement; it only matters how the software will be used.
We see the core audiences for our products as:
- Professionals – This license is intended for professional skills training. This group could include private pilots, commercial flight schools, military personnel, civil organizations such as firefighters/emergency response or students pursuing a technical degree or an advanced degree such as a masters or PhD.
- Students – We launched an academic license recently at a reduced price for educational purposes at the undergraduate college level and below (students in elementary, middle, high school or pursuing a bachelor’s degree). This is an extension of our philanthropic support for STEM education to engage the next generation of technologists and engineers.
- Developers – To provide the best experience for all companies and individuals working with Prepar3D, we provide a standardized interface and tools so that anyone can create Prepar3D-compatible products. Encouraging development is the driving force behind offering open access to an online SDK, tools and simconnect interface. For the individuals or companies who are interested in developing aircraft models, scenery, terrains and weather effects for Prepar3D, we offer a Prepar3D developer license.
Question: With the world we live in, there will be no doubt certain caveats around the offering of weapons training in P3D....will there be changes to the licensing? Do you envisage ANY changes to the EULA at any stage in the future that may mean developers of add-ons will no longer be able to have their products accepted in P3D?
Martile Allen: That’s right, Will, we will set up a process that guides who can access the weapons training capability. As the top military training provider in the world, we understand how simulation fits into military training programs and the regulations that are critical to government contracting. For the non-military user of Prepar3D, we do not envision that the addition of the weapons training capability will affect professional licensing or how developers make their add-ons compatible in Prepar3D for learning and training.
While the weapons capability is for military purposes only, we do foresee that all users – military, professional, student and developer – will benefit from the performance enhancements in development.
Question: Let's look at developers....it does appear MS FLIGHT did not hold much appeal for developers to work with the product originally, and it suffered. The P3D website has specific steps for installing add-on aircraft and scenery, both Commercial and Freeware, be it P3D specific or FSX addons as your product is backward-compatible. Most Developers are extremely excited about supporting your product and are launching P3D add-ons, others appear to fear the "TRAINING" clause in your EULA and refuse to support your Product lest they have a mean looking group of men in black suits knocking at their door....What is the stance here?
Martile Allen: We love developers and encourage the development of software add-ons and hardware. Developers’ work expands the options available to the Prepar3D community for tailored learning experiences. We understand that developers and companies create products that span entertainment and training, and we welcome the contributions to the Prepar3D ecosystem that add to learning and training applications. One of the key reasons we wanted to make sure we maintained backwards compatibility with FSX was to facilitate an easy migration of developer content over to Prepar3D for the companies who are focused on learning and training.
Question: Reading your website you welcome developers adding to your product, despite the fact that your product is for Training purposes and most Flight Simulation developers are for leisure, even though the current level of realism is extremely impressive. If a developer states their product is not to be used for Training purposes, but their product is migrated to P3D, which is supposed to be used for training purposes....does the Add On EULA take precedence over yours? (it would really make sense, since you are providing a platform, but the user would agree to the EULA of the add-on they purchased). How do you work with this scenario?
Martile Allen: The use of Prepar3D is governed by the end-user license agreement (EULA). We expect each developer and end user to abide by the agreement we create with them upon purchase. Lockheed Martin Prepar3D license agreements are separate from any other company’s intellectual property. If a company desires their product to work with Prepar3D and their EULA does not support the same end use as Prepar3D for non-entertainment applications, that company would need a Prepar3D-compatible EULA.
Question: How closely are you working with Flight Simulator Developers? What kind of expansions can we expect in the future?
Martile Allen: The number of developers creating software and hardware for Prepar3D is growing all the time! We are really impressed by the work of the development community.
On the software side, we’re seeing tremendous products from ORBX and REX Game Studios.
In terms of hardware, one aspect of note is that more and more flight training schools and clubs are turning to simulators approved for logging flight hours to bring costs down while still providing a realistic training environment. The companies that provide simulators for flight training are required to complete a thorough evaluation process in order to obtain Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) or European Joint Aviation Authority (JAA) qualification of their training devices. Several companies are currently using Prepar3D software in their simulators and working to obtain qualification.
Question: How do you see the future for P3D?
Martile Allen: We’re excited about what the future holds for Prepar3D. For our core product, we see the performance becoming increasingly impressive. We see more and more developers and companies creating peripheral products that work with Prepar3D to enhance the simulation experience.
Through our academic product, we see more students becoming interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers. In our increasingly complex global environment, economic health and national security relies on cultivating a pipeline of trained and capable technical talent. The National Flight Academy is one of the organizations we support, and their mission is to engage young people in learning through stories of aviation. Over the next five years, the National Flight Academy plans to reach more than 60,000 students through their classroom, community and in-residence programs.
We’re honored to be part of engaging people all over the world in learning through simulation. Thanks for this great interview, Will, and we welcome feedback from AVSIM visitors and contributors about Prepar3D.
Martile Allen, Prepar3D Program Manager
Martile and Sharon, many thanks for giving us your time, it has been a pleasure to interact with you, and look forward to hearing more about your wonderful product.
There you have it folks, if you wish to have a tool that enables you to learn about aviation, ATC, Navigation, etc. then P3D is the way to go for you.
A Note from Tom Allensworth, Publisher, AVSIM Online: On behalf of all of the AVSIM Staff and our readership, I would also like to thank Martile and Sharon for the time they have taken out of their day to answer our questions, and for the patience shown to us over the last three or four months.
You can participate in discussions about this interview in our P3D forum here.