Interview With Julian Lockwood, Gateway Architect & Moderator

Jennifer Roberts

Julian Lockwood is the main man behind the Airport Scenery Gateway. He moderates all the incoming airport submissions, and liaises with both the artists, and the Laminar team, to get X-Plane populated with the 3D airports that people want and expect to see in a contemporary flight simulator.

Question: What are your duties with X-Plane & the Gateway?

Julian Lockwood: My primary duty is to manage the X-Plane Scenery Gateway. I moderate the incoming airport submissions, and liaise with both the artists, and the Laminar team. We track a multitude of criteria for each airport submission, and our airport database continues to grow in terms of size, and as a commodity that has distinct value to the company.

Additionally, I build some airports myself in-house, and have recently completed EGCC Manchester and KLAS Las Vegas McCarran (not yet released). I’m currently working on KPHX Phoenix Sky Harbor. I do my very best to set the bar as high as is possible within the scope of the existing World Editor (WED) Lego-brick library, and I’m very fortunate to be able to influence some aspects of the design of WED, and the available library objects. The objective is always to provide our Gateway artists with a tool that’s intuitive, makes X-Plane look ever-better, and continues to inspire them to create new work.

Finally, I am authoring the pilot operating manuals for the default X-Plane 11 fleet, and navigation devices (FMS and GPS). I have always felt it’s very important to provide comprehensive documentation for the airplanes and the nav devices because I see so many examples of frustrated customers seeking this, and only finding snippets of information here and there, and trying to piece it all together. I still have quite a way to go, but ultimately, I am committed to providing quality and comprehensive pilot operating manuals for every default aircraft, and every default nav device.

Q: When and how did you get started with X-Plane? Do you have an aviation, programming or design background?

JL: I have a commercial software systems background, specifically around business systems and logistics. I started my career as a programmer at IBM, and more recently a software design and project manager in the Government sector.
I got my PPL back in the 90s, and racked-up about 330 hours of PIC before I gave it up. I don’t really know why – it just happened that way. Fast-forward many years and I wanted to go back to “flying”, but without all the expense and hassle associated with the real thing, so I decided to build my own fixed-base sim. I looked around for the best software platform and decided to go with X-Plane. At the time, version 10 was in it’s infancy – I think it was 10.08 that I started off with.

As an X-Plane customer I wanted to see 3D airports bundled into the core product, and I got the idea for the Gateway, which is essentially a centralized portal for crowd-sourcing airports from the community. I was very lucky on a number of levels. First, because Laminar had already built the airport developer tool (WED) and made this available to the community. Second, because the timing was just right, and third because it turned out I lived only an hour away from Austin. Now what were the odds of that? One in a thousand? Anyway, without knowing we were neighbors at the time, I sent an email to Austin with a mock-up of how the Gateway might look, and never really expected to hear back frankly. Not only did I hear back, but in less than 30 minutes!! To cut a long story short, we had lunch the next day at Austin’s favorite local restaurant, and that was the start of it, although I still had to put together a formal proposal and system-design.

The Gateway scope evolved somewhat from my original mock-up, but it still looks recognizable today actually. Ben had a considerable influence on the ultimate direction we went in – which was to develop a two-way interface between WED and the Gateway. Tyler put a lot of coding work into the project too. The collective team-effort was crucial to the outcome. We have over 2,000 artists currently signed-up, and we’re closing in on 5,000 3D airports.

Q: What type of computer set up do you use? Any hardware or accessories you couldn’t live without, or a 3rd party program or tool you find invaluable?

JL: I’m not a hardware expert, so I went to X-Force PC in Columbia. They specialize in building high-end gaming PCs that are nicely optimized for X-Plane. I did know that I wanted an i7-based machine, with the best graphics card available at the time, which was the NVidia GTX 1080. Because I moderate a lot of Gateway airports every day, I couldn’t live without the SSD. I need fast load times in X-Plane. Here’s my spec:

Intel i7-6700K, Nvidia GTX 1080, 32 GB DDR-4 2400 Mhz RAM, 1TB SSD, 700-Watt Power Supply, Fast USB 3.1 with USB Type-C ports, 8-Channel Audio, Windows 10

Q: What’s the most challenging part about your work with X-Plane?

JL: Well I come from a traditional corporate and Government background, with all the hierarchies, checks and balances that come with that. Large organizations must be structured that way, to move towards a collective strategic goal. Laminar Research is quite different, because it comprises a small team of people that are frankly incredibly talented, and have an outstanding work-ethic. That allows for a lot of freedom within the company, and some latitude to influence the direction the product goes in the future. It’s a big philosophical shift, and that can be a challenge at first.

In terms of the work itself, the most challenging duty I have currently is the construction of airports that utilize only our Lego-brick library, and yet meet a high standard in terms of default content for a simulator. It does require a lot of patience at times, and you must push WED to the limit, and sometimes go to battle to get the resources you need. It takes a lot of practice, and every airport is a little better than the last one. I do have to thank my colleague Jan Vogel here, because he pioneered the construction of what I’m going to call “super-airports” for the Gateway. Before that, I don’t think anybody really thought they could be that good. If mine are as good as Jan’s, I’m happy with that, and I would say I’ve met THAT challenge.

Q: What’s the best or most rewarding part?

Every time we reach a new milestone on the Gateway it’s rewarding for me personally. The original goal I had in mind when I went to see Austin for that first meeting was 1,000 3D airports. In fact, before the Gateway got a name, it was “Project 1000”. I figured we needed that many, so people could fly from one airport to the next in a small GA airplane in a reasonable time. After we got 1,000, I wanted 2,000, then 3,000, and now 5,000.

Q: Who or what do you look up to or get inspiration from?

Well lots of people, and lots of things. In this context, every time I moderate a group of airports that people have submitted to the Gateway, I’m inspired by the fact that we have a community of artists and enthusiasts that put so much of their own time into making this stuff. No other sim platform has that, and it’s one of the things that makes X-Plane the best in the end. You can build your own stuff. You can get involved!

Q: What’s the most important thing for new artists or people just get started with X-plane development to know?

Well, speaking only in terms of airport development in WED, it’s important to know where to go for the information you need. Start off with Jan Vogel’s YouTube tutorial series, which you can find on the Gateway NOTAMS page. This is, in my mind, the definitive source material for any artist interested in developing airports for X-Plane.

New WED artists should also download the WEDBing tool. This inserts ortho-photo imagery into your WED project, which allows for accurate placement of objects and features in your airport. That’s crucial for serious artists.

If you’re interested in seeing your airport appear in a future release of X-Plane, check out the developer instructions posted here. You don’t have to be a Guru. You can start by searching the Gateway for a small and simple airport that has no 3D scenery currently in X-Plane. Import it into WED, and then just make it a little better – perhaps by adjusting the pavement to fit the WEDBing imagery, and adding a few 3D buildings and objects. Now your airport is an improvement over the old one, and it’s probably going to be approved on the Gateway. You have taken the first step, but be careful, because it’s addictive! 😊

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