Make the Simulator Your Own with Custom Airports & Aircraft (Getting the Most Out of X-Plane Series)

Hi again! This is the next email in the month-long course you signed up for about getting the most out of X-Plane.

Today I’d like to share with you how you can make your own custom aircraft and airports, with no experience necessary.

Where do custom aircraft and scenery come from?

We discussed how to download and add free aircraft to X-Plane at the beginning of this course. (Need a refresher? Check out the “Expanding X-Plane” section of the manual.) But did you know that you already have everything you need to customize your own aircraft? You’re only one step away from making custom airport scenery, too!

Custom aircraft are made with the Plane Maker program that comes with every download of the X-Plane demo or installation of the full simulator. It’s found right in the main X-Plane folder on your desktop.

To create custom airports, all you need to do is download the free WorldEditor program. After that, just open a file in the applicable program, make any changes you’d like, then save it and it will be available the next time you start X-Plane.

It’s really that simple.

Using Plane Maker to customize aircraft

To get acquainted with Plane Maker, let’s modify one of the default aircraft’s wings to see how it affects the flight model.

  1. Open the Plane Maker program from the main X-Plane folder and click File -> Open.
  2. Select the B777 from the folders Extra Aircraft -> Aircraft From Previous Versions -> Heavy Metal.
  3. Next, open up the Wings dialog from under the Standard menu at the top of the screen. Our 777 has a wingspan of almost 200 feet split into three sections in the tabs of this window.
  4. For our experiment, click the Wing 3 tab.
  5. In the first box labeled “semi-length,” add 50 feet to make the total 78.80 feet. This change will be reflected on the other side of the plane, giving us a total wingspan addition of 100 feet.

777 with modified wingspan

Now, our aircraft looks a little strange, but let’s test it out anyway. We want to be able to compare this version to the original, so save a copy of this plane by doing a Save-As in the File menu.

Start X-Plane and open your modified 777 to see how differently it flies with those massive wings! A greater wingspan will produce more lift in flight, but it also creates more drag. Our modified 777 will require a much longer runway to get off the ground, so be sure to pick an appropriate airport.

For more information on designing wings in Plane Maker, see “Shaping the Wings” in the manual. Or, if you’re ready to try designing an aircraft from scratch, check out the “Creating a Basic Aircraft” tutorial or any of the other tutorials on the X-Plane Developer website.

Using WorldEditor to customize airports

To get started with WorldEditor (often abbreviated to WED), make sure to download the latest version. No installation is required, so we recommend placing the program in your X-Plane folder to make it easier to find.

  1. Once you’ve decided on an airport to modify, start WED and locate your X-Plane folder, then start a new scenery package.
  2. Open the File menu and click Import from Airport Scenery Gateway.
  3. Enter the name or airport code of your chosen airport in the window that opens next, then click Next.
  4. Select a version of the airport to modify from the list, then click Import Pack. We strongly suggest you modify the “recommended” scenery.

You should now be able to see, at the minimum, the main runway and an airport boundary. The airport will be in the correct location, so all we need to do is flesh it out some by adding objects.

  1. To draw an object, first find it in the library pane on the left side of the workspace. If you can’t see the pane, it might be minimized. You can fix that by dragging the gray bar to the right.
  2. Use the library drop down menu and the “Filter” field to narrow down the scope of the search (for example, by typing “tower” if you are looking for a control tower).
  3. Select an object by clicking on it in the list. This will automatically select the right tool for the job.
  4. Click in the map pane to place it, or click and drag your mouse around to set the object’s heading at the same time. If you need to move something, click on the vertex tool (it looks like a mouse pointer) then click on an object. Rotate the cross to change the direction an object faces.

WED interface object

When you have finished customizing the airport, open the File menu and select Validate. This command will check the WED file for errors. If no errors are present, select Export Scenery Pack from the File menu, and the new scenery will be visible the next time you load the area in X‑Plane.

For more information, see the WorldEditor manual or the Airport Customization tutorial.

The Airport Scenery Gateway

One of the newest resources for scenery development is the Airport Scenery Gateway. This site is a great resource for user-created airports. Artists can register on this site and then upload their creations directly from WorldEditor. X-Plane users can then download these airports individually, or wait for them to be included in an X-Plane update.

As you get started customizing airports, this is a great place to submit your work and share it with the entire X-Plane community.

A few last tips

Now you can see you don’t need to be able to code to make your own aircraft and scenery. All you need are the programs described above and a little determination (well, and maybe a little bit of research).

Remember you can get started on making the simulator truly your own with just the demo version. However, to get the full benefit of your custom creations (especially if you want to customize any airports besides KSEA), you’ll want to have the full simulator.

Until next time,

— X-Plane Customer Support