Aircraft - Format and Conversion, Uploading

I downloaded an aircraft and X-Plane won't load it. Why?

Usually, it's because the plane is an older version. There have been many aircraft version upgrades over the years; older aircraft versions require upgrades involving varying amounts of work. If you don't want to get involved with upgrading aircraft, download them through one of the registries and look for versions compatible with the current version of X-Plane.

On the other hand, if you're running a version of X-Plane other than the most recent, chances are good the plane is built for a later version of X-Plane. (X-Plane's error message isn't very explicit and will usually tell you it's an old aircraft, even if it's newer.) There's no way to fix this other than to update your version of X-Plane. Newer aircraft are not generally readable by older versions of either X-Plane or PlaneMaker.

When I try to load an aircraft, X-Plane complains about a missing airfoil.

Airfoil definitions are in separate files. X-Plane has a library of "standard" airfoils in the Resources\Airfoils folder. Custom airfoils go in the Airfoils folder under the main ACF folder. It doesn't matter which folder has any particular airfoil; X-Plane looks in both.

X-Plane's error message tells you the name of the missing airfoil. However, it's worth it to open the plane in PlaneMaker and check the Expert -> Foils menu for the airfoils the plane uses. Since you get dumped out of X-Plane for every missing airfoil, and where one airfoil is missing there will probably also be others, this will save you a lot of time.

Check the standard Airfoils folder for a similar name. The standard airfoil names sometimes change. If this what happened, just make a copy of the standard airfoil and change the name of the copy to what you need. Note: "flatplate.afl" and "Flat Plate (very thin).afl" are similar names; "NACA 2412.afl" and "NACA 2415.afl" are not! When in doubt, ask the Tech list.

How do I convert an aircraft for Microsoft Flight Simulator to use with X-Plane?

Sorry, you can't. The flight models are conceptually different, so no automated conversion is possible. The MSFS flight model is behavioral - that is, a large table of numbers deterines how the aircraft will behave under a certain set of conditions. The X-Plane flight model is structural - that is, X-Plane computes how the plane flies based on a model of its structure and other engineering parameters. MSFS also has a 3D model of the aircraft for external display use, but converting this to the X-Plane aircraft model would leave a lot of missing data. In addition, many of the more serious MSFS aircraft use plugin features that have no counterpart in X-Plane.

What are the different aircraft versions?

There have been several major aircraft version groups in recent history. Within each version group, aircraft are upwards compatible, meaning that a later version of X-Plane will correctly handle an aircraft built by an earlier version of PlaneMaker. (After 6.00 X-Plane also accepts the previous major version.) New features were sometimes added within a group, so it's not safe to go the other way, and in most cases simply won't work.

How do I tell what version an aircraft is?

The 3.5 format is a text file, and is typically 27KB in size. All later versions are binary files; 4.6 throuth 5.66 are about 160KB in size; 6.00-6.70 are about 424KB; 7.00-763 are about 632KB; 8.01 through 8.50 are about 1.4MB; 8.60 is about 1.6MB; 9.x is about 2.5MB. Without climbing in with a hex file patcher, it's very hard to tell them apart.

How do I convert an aircraft to work in the current version?

Since a lot of folks are still using older versions of X-Plane, the following material covers conversion to the V5 - V8 formats. Use the parts of the description that apply to your situation. I'll admit the V5 data is mainly of historical interest. If you want, skip to the V8 data here.

While there are conversion aids, almost all format conversions involve a certain amount of hand conversion. See the X-World page for links to information on using PlaneMaker.

Regardless of what version you're converting from, you have to set up the correct folder structure. Each aircraft folder may have the following subfolders:

Airfoils
Bitmaps exterior (versions 5.32 thru 5.66 only)
Bitmaps interior (versions 5.32 thru 5.66 only)
Cockpit (versions 7.41 and up)
Sounds

It should be pretty obvious what goes in each. In version 6 aircraft the interior and exterior texture bitmaps are back in the main aircraft folder. The folders and their contents are optional just as all the bitmap files and sounds have been optional all along. However, to be found, all custom files must be in the right folder. The convention for airfoils is that standard airfoils go in the main Resources/Airfoils folder. Custom airfoils specific to the aircraft go in the Airfoils folder in the aircraft folder.

What you have to do otherwise depends on the version you're converting from...

Version 3.5 thru 4.5

There was a conversion utility that takes you from the 3.5 format to the 4.6 format. Once you've done that, treat it as any other version 4.6 aircraft. The utility used to be available for download, but those copies are long gone. Given all that's happened to the aircraft format since then, it's not clear how interesting models this old are anyway. If you really want to turn up a copy of the utility, ask in the tech list.

Versions 4.6 thru 5.31

PlaneMaker 5.54 automatically converts all released formats from 4.6 through 5.31 to the 5.32-5.66 format. (There's a couple of V5.x beta formats that it doesn't handle. If you hit one of these, all your instruments will be wrong.) Later versions of PlaneMaker 5.x only support version 5.32 and later aircraft. If you're looking to convert old aircraft, keep a copy of 5.54 around!

Simply open the plane in PlaneMaker 5.54 and save it. Then you can open the plane with PlaneMaker 5.66 or 6.xx. Beyond that, there is a certain amount of manual conversion you'll have to do, depending on what version you started out with·

Versions 5.12 and earlier

You need to start over with the panel - the instrument representation in pre-5.20 aircraft is incompatible with current formats and there is no automatic conversion. In PlaneMaker, open the Standard -> Panel menu, click the Reset to Default button, and take it from there. If the plane has a custom panel bitmap, discard it. (You might be able to use it as the basis for a new custom panel, but it will involve a lot of work.) Read the rest of this section; then move on to the Converting to Version 6 section below.

You'll have to fix up the landing gear to set tire sizes and strut angles in the Standard -> Landing Gear menu. If the plane has retractable gear you must also specify the retracted positions of the struts.

If the plane is a jet capable of supersonic flight, open the Standard -> Engines menu and set an engine intake mach limit. Typically this needs to be about .5 Mach less than the plane's maximum speed, but you'll have to experiment. Also, if the plane has an afterburner, set its maximum throttle setting to 105%; this makes it easier to engage the afterburner with the throttle.

Make sure the plane's tail number (in Standard -> Viewpoint) has a non-blank first character.

Versions 5.20-5.31

The following material applies to features that were added in 5.20 or later, so it doesn't apply to the 4.6 aircraft format. This discussion also applies only if you're converting to 5.66. If you're converting to V6 or later, skip this and go to Converting to Version 6 below.
The main thing that's incompatible in the ACF format is that all the instruments have been renumbered. For the basic conversion, just open the ACF in PlaneMaker and re-save it. Make sure the plane's tail number (in Standard -> Viewpoint) has a non-blank first character. For planes without glass cockpits or custom bitmaps, you're done!

The following work is mandatory, depending on ACF design:

The EFIS map has changed significantly.
      1. The old ARR mode is gone and has been replaced with a glass HSI.
      2. So what was the ARR button is now the HSI button.
      3. There are two new buttons, to select NAV1 and NAV2 for the HSI
      4. The mode buttons are no longer part of the map instrument, but are a separate instrument you must add.
      5. You may also want to add another new instrument, the HSI OBS and heading select knobs.
If you have a custom panel bitmap and an EFIS map, you'll have to make a couple of changes:
      1. Add and relabel the map mode buttons as described above.
      2. Remove any custom overlays you had on the map screen. X-Plane now displays the flight track and a moving compass rose, along with a bunch of new data.
      3. The panel boundaries on instrument placement appear to have shrunk a pixel or two. If you have instruments at the very edge of the panel you may need to move their panel backgrounds a tad.
The handles bitmap has been doubled in size and some of the old buttons have moved. Many new items have been added - almost all the moving parts and indicators on the panel are now there. You'll have to convert your old custom handles. The best way to do this is to open in your favorite paint program:

the new standard handles.bmp,
the old standard handles.bmp, and
your old custom handles.bmp.

Compare the old and new standard bitmaps to see what's moved where, and then cut and paste your custom handles into the new one. Remember to do a Save As on the new bitmap under the new name!

The new EFIS map has pointers slaved to NAV1, NAV2, and the ADF. If your plane lacks any of those, you can remove it from the map by painting it over with the transparent purple color in handles.bmp.

This file replaces the old letters.bmp. There's a new group of letters for the GPS readout and the various numerical displays (radios, etc.) Again, if you have a custom letters.bmp it's best to start with the new one. The tire texture is no longer part of paneltext.bmp. New exterior texture file. Very few people have custom tires - just go steal it from the Cessna to avoid the "pimpmobile" look.

Optional work:

New bitmap: compass.bmp. This is used for the compass rose in the EFIS map. There are a lot of new instruments; I'm not going to try to list them all here. Rummage the instrument list in PlaneMaker's panel menu to see what's going on. There are also a several new ACF features, like multiple landing lights with settable angles.

Version 5.32 - 5.66

Converting to Version 6

Converting to Version 7

Although there's a new ACF format for V7, actual differences from V6 up through V7.30 are fairly minor. A V7.x PlaneMaker reads V6 aircraft and automatically converts to V7 format when you save. So far X-Plane also is willing to load V6 aircraft. However, this may end in the near future, so be ready to convert.

There are a couple of minor gotchas in moving aircraft from V6 to V7:

Additional changes in 7.10:

Additional changes in 7.21:

Additional changes in 7.30: 

And, of course, there are always new features and controls worth looking into.

Converting to V7.41+

V7.41 introduces another overhaul of the panel and instrument graphics. There are a number of new instruments and controls, but the functions of existing instruments are largely unchanged. However, there are significant changes in how the instrument graphics are handled:
To see how to use this, have a look at the SAMPLE CUSTOM PLANES folder. This is the preferred way of creating custom panels for the future.

Compatibility and conversion implications:
Other important new features:
New instruments and features and refinements continue to show up in releases after 7.41. Check the Detailed History pages and the Planemaker menus for details.

Converting to V8

As you might expect, V8 introduces another rev in the aircraft format. Mostly, the changes are internal and conversions are reasonably transparent, with a couple of exceptions. For a detailed description of the changes in the V8 aircraft format, see the 8.01 detailed history page.

Significant things to watch for:

Converting to V9

There are a couple of significant new features in V9 aircraft:
Conversion from V8.x to V9 as always involves re-saving the aircraft in PlaneMaker. Specific conversion gotchas:

How do I upload an aircraft I've built or modified?

Copyrights...

OK... hold on a minute. Where did you get this aircraft from? All the aircraft for X-Plane are available free of charge. But that does not mean they become your property. Most are under copyright and are made available to you under some sort of license. The license terms should be in a Read Me file included with the aircraft you downloaded. Often the terms prohibit redistribution without permission. Please check the license terms and ask for permission before you redistribute a derivative of someone's work.

Make a compressed archive

The first thing you need to do is to pack up your files and folders into a compressed archive. Zip format is preferred, simply because that's what the majority of users are set up for. Current versions of Windows and Mac OSX have the ability to create Zip archives built in.

The other compression format, seen mostly on Macintosh, is the Stuffit archive. Feel free to use it, but be prepared for complaints from PC users that don't know about Stuffit Expander for Windows.

Find an FTP site

You need to upload your archive to some internet-accessible FTP server. Most ISP accounts include some FTP file space. Check the documentation for your ISP about how to use it.

X-Plane.org provides several classes of web hosting, ranging from a free service to several classes of paid service. The X-Plane.org download manager provides combined aircraft registration and storage space.

Alternatively, you can upload your archive to Avsim.com. At Avsim.com, you upload and register your plane in one operation.

Register your plane

There are two registries for X-Plane aircraft. Both require you to establish an account (no charge). The Avsim X-Plane registry is relatively stale and doesn't get a lot of use these days. X-Plane.org is the preferred site.
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