FSLabs A319-X “super-cool” feature reveal!

Η FSLabs παρουσίασε σήμερα την εξομοίωση παγοποίησης στο αεροσκάφος, που θα είναι διαθέσιμη αρχικά στο επερχόμενο Α319-X και αργότερα στο A320-X. 

So the moment you’ve all been waiting for – the reveal of our “super-cool” new feature, exclusively for the A319-X!

Before we go any further – we’ve had great fun over the last couple of days reading all the different predictions. We really thought we’d given the game away -- but surprisingly few people caught on!

It is:

  • unique feature not implemented in any modern airliner simulation in the P3D environment
  • A feature which directly affects pilots on a day to day basis

OK… enough tension… here’s the first screenshot:

Well done to those who guessed right – what we have for you is, for the first time in a desktop flight simulator, a fully realistic airframe and engine icing model!

Now you can see why we’re so excited. Ladies and gentlemen, this is truly groundbreaking work from the team. Other developers have modelled icing in a crude manner – often simply adding tonnes of weight to the airframe, or by very roughly increasing drag. What our development team have achieved, however, is a fully custom dynamic performance model.

In our unique simulation, ice and frost builds up dynamically on the airframe, based on actual atmospheric conditions – from the obvious, such as precipitation like the snowfall above, to the less obvious – temperature, humidity and sun elevation, for example, as well as internal airframe-specific factors:

In the image above, the sharp-eyed of you will notice there’s an area a little over half-way along the wing which is free of contamination. This is not a bug! This is a true representation of what happens on the real aircraft. Why? The answer is found by looking at the IDG system; fuel from the inner wing tank is passed through heat exchangers in the IDG system to cool the oil, hot fuel returns into the outer wing tank; enough to keep the area of the wing over the fuel tank frost-free under certain conditions.

We can’t stress enough –  this is NOT just ‘eye candy’! It might look beautiful but like a cute looking polar bear – this is in fact deadly! Studies have shown that even a smallamount of ice can destroy lift, increase drag and dramatically lower the stalling angle of attack -- airframe icing is one of the most dangerous scenarios faced by real aircrews on a daily basis, and has contributed to – or directly caused – numerous fatal accidents. Our dynamic performance model means that you will, for the first time in a desktop flight simulator, experience the authentic effects of ice accumulation upon an aircraft.

We asked Peter, one of our resident A319/A320/A321 captains, to give us some insight in to how real pilots deal with icing and how much it impacts their day-to-day operations.

“The biggest consideration is the departure. Having ice/snow on the flying surfaces will degrade the aircraft performance. So, pre-flight a good check of the weather actuals and forecast so that you can make a plan is a good start. Things to decide are what de-icing may be required, what has already been done, and maybe some ‘what ifs’.

At the aircraft a thorough inspection is required (harder at night) to decide what you will actually ask for. For me, if there is any doubt I get the FO to check independently and give me his/her opinion.”

Ah! The pre-flight walkaround, of course, is an essential part of every real-world pilot’s daily routine – and for the first time in a desktop airliner simulation, you’ll be able to inspect your aircraft to ensure it is safe to fly The wings, tail, fuselage, engine nacelles, spinners and fan blades must all be checked to ensure they are free of contamination – not an easy task – “the tail plane is near impossible to see so assume if the wings are affected then the tail plane will be too,” is Peter’s advice.

So – you’ve done your walkaround and you’ve spotted contamination. What now?

Oh yes! You didn’t think we’d just leave you hanging with no means to clear that contamination off, did you?

FSLabs’ unique de-icing system is fully integrated with GSX. For the first time, calling those de-icing trucks will actually mean something more than just spectacular visuals – through integration with our bespoke de-icing simulation, you’ll actually be removing built-up ice, snow and frost from the airframe as well as protecting against further deposits building up.

Don’t have GSX? Don’t worry – we’ve added a new de-icing control page in to the MCDU options, shown below:

Here, you can request de-icing in the event that GSX is not available – or if you want to de-ice the aircraft at a remote site en-route to the departure runway. You’ll need to choose your timing and your fluid type carefully, however, because, as you’ve probably come to expect from us by now – we weren’t satisfied with just providing a simple means to ‘switch off’ the ice, as you’ll see from the screenshot below showing the de-icing control page once de-icing is completed:

Real pilots will be familiar with the concept of a ‘holdover time’ for anti-icing treatment. Yep – as you might imagine, the anti-icing treatment is only effective for so long, and as soon as you start that treatment, the stopwatch is running and it’s a race against time to get airborne before the holdover time runs out.

We didn’t stop there, either. We didn’t just ‘can’ pre-defined holdover times for each fluid type – over to Peter again:

“With regard to hold over times, they are a guide only. Changing actual conditions could change the initial calculations and a pre-departure check is always required. The pre-departure check can be from the flight deck if the initial conditions have remained the same or are better. However, if they are worse I.e. heavier snow then a visual check from the crew outside (remote de-ice) or a pilot from inside the cabin is required.

Many places do remote de-icing which is always the best option as the conditions at the time of application are unlikely to change much before takeoff.”

So the holdover times you experience in the A319-X are based upon the actual ambient conditions after the application of the de-icing fluid. If the conditions get worse, the holdover time you thought was going to comfortably see you out to the departure runway may suddenly start ticking away very quickly!

This is perhaps our favourite shot of the lot – you could be fooled in to thinking this is a real photo! However, we guarantee this is very much the A319-X. What you’re seeing here is the de-icing fluid after it has been applied to the wing, during the taxi to the runway. At this point it is still protecting the wing against further contamination.

But what about that statistic, that even a small amount of contamination can destroy the wing’s ability to generate lift? Even a film of de-icing fluid will affect the shape and efficiency of the wing.

Fortunately, the people who formulate anti-icing fluid realised this and one of the interesting properties of the fluid is that it is designed to ‘shear’ or ‘wash off’ at a particular speed during the take-off roll, leaving a beautifully clean wing to take to the skies with. Indeed, one of the major differences between the fluid types is the speed at which this occurs. The more viscous Type IV fluid ‘washes off’ at about 100 knots and is therefore more suited to jet transports compared to, say, Type III fluid which ‘washes off’ at a lower speed and is better for slower aircraft. Naturally, we’ve authentically modelled this too!

Getting airborne, though, is just one part of the challenge… once you’re in the air you’ll need to rely on your skill, judgement and experience to protect the A319-X against ice accumulation. Over to Peter again:

“In the air the main issue is engine anti-ice – on when less than 10deg TAT down to -40deg SAT when climbing or in level flight. In the descent, always on in icing conditions irrespective of temperature. As soon as icing is seen on the icing probe, wiper blades or wing leading edge (difficult in the 319) get the wing anti-ice on. I personally then leave this on until I am sure it’s not an issue. I try to have wing anti-ice off for the landing itself, although it can remain on if required.”

Just like Peter in the real A319, you too will be able to see ice building up on the A319-X’s icing probe – or, optionally, you can enable the electronic ice detectors fitted to a small number of A319s which will generate an ECAM message when ice starts to form (but where’s the fun in that, eh?).

Flying through icing conditions will, of course, cause ice to build up dynamically on the airframe, and as well impacting the aircraft’s ability to fly you’ll see the ice building visually as well:

See the characteristic ‘T’ shaped icing on the wing? This is a particular foible of the A320 series and forms on the hollow part of the wing above the gear bay well. The shot above also shows some of the outstanding visual effects created by the team portraying the build-up of ice on the leading edge. Better get that wing anti-ice on pronto!

To deal with some questions which I know you’ll have:

What impact does all this have on performance? It’s gonna be a slideshow, right?

Wrong! We’re obviously still checking everything over as a Beta team, but so far our experience is that the impact on frames is minimal, if anything.

Will you be adding this to the A320-X?

Yes, but not yet. The plan is to add the icing model to the A320-X in a future update. Obviously it’s not a cut and paste job – just like with the A319-X, the A320-X icing simulation will be custom-tuned and verified against a huge number of real-world flights.

So there you have it – the first brand new feature we’ve announced for the A319-X. We’re incredibly excited and proud of it – it’s a genuine world first for the desktop flight simulation environment and I think it raises the bar. It’s amazing to think that something which has such a direct impact on how aircraft are flown around the world on a daily basis has never been modelled with anything like this level of accuracy before.

We’ll leave you hanging… just enough to… wet your appetite for the next new feature we’re going to be adding.

For now, though – airframe icing: #FSLabbed