17 September 2011

Dr. Some's Guide to SL-Aviation

The Red Baroness in full flight. This beautiful little machine got already confused with an air-ambulance...

One of my favorite hobbies in Second Life - besides hunting humans, biking, building and clubbing - is flying airplanes (especially my red Fokker Triplane)!

Its something I really enjoy since I put my first plane together (a freebie-kit by Cubey Terra). I actually learned how to build this way. Flying in SL is fun and a great way of adventuring - especially when you are flying your own machines - believe me.^^

For this article I have put together some information which should help beginners getting - literally - started with aviation. Of course SL has its own peculiarities but once you dealt with them its a very pleasant experience.

Getting started

Of course the temptation is big to dress you up for your ventures in the SL-skies. Countless attachments with fancy effects and lots of prims, HUDs for every kind of purpose, etc. but alas, all the bling-bling we do like so much is also responsible for loads of lag when piloting an airplane.
Best you stay simple: No multi-prim belts, boots, cuffs or skirts (and of course no HUDs or scripted restraints). Runways are no catwalks and when you are enjoying the great view to the world beneath you, no-one cares what you are wearing anyway ;-)

The next thing is getting a nice airplane. Again I lean towards simplicity and prefer to just fly for fun without having to worry about retracting the landing gear, watching the fuel gauge or asking for takeoff permission via radio (asking isn't exactly drow-style anyway).
There are some very nice machines available at the Marketplace. Of course I do recommend picking one of my planes - they are easy to fly, have low-lag scripts and you can choose from a nice range of historical accurate machines like the Fokker Dr.1 Triplane and the Sopwith Camel or purely fictional machines like my steampunk airplanes or even some spaceships.

A great view from the cockpit and a stunning design - my Steampunk Airplane Mk2.

Two classic designs: The venerable Prague-Airport and my Sopwith Camel fighter plane from World War I.

Not the Batwing - but way more cool: The Starchild, a drow-spaceship!

Where to Do Your First Steps - Finding Locations for Flying

After you got a suiting airplane you need a place to take off and do your first flights. The Blake Sea area is excellent for these purpose. There are plenty of airports and airfields located there you can use as starting point and for more extended journeys later on. I have put together a selection which easy access to the open sea:

SLPG Prague Airport

Hollywood Airport

Foliage Airport

Honah Lee Airfield

The Blake Sea (middle) is surrounded by the continent of Satori in the south, the Nautilus islands in the west and various archipelagos in the north and east (source: Secondlife Search and Rescue)

There are of course more places to discover than airports. As this map by the Second Life Department of Public Works shows:

Not just plain open water: The Blake Sea is actually full of sights to discover.

In general its best to stay over open water. Mainland continents are usually pretty laggy and full of banlines, which both make the flight there very unpleasant and usually - short

Banlines (not visible on the screenshot though) have the tendency to appear when you least expect it. Here I was just flying a few meters into mainland to seek a good landing location.

Getting the Right Flight Setup

So, you have rezzed your plane now, and moved to the runway, its just seconds until you take off. What comes next?

One thing is for sure. This is the last chance to make yourself familar with the controls of the airplane. Usually the WASD- and the arrow keys are used for changing direction.
Throttle controls are the PG up/PG down keys - at least thats the method my planes apply. Others may have more complex features but I prefer not getting distracted from the joy of flying by managing pressing buttons.

Its also a good idea to go into your preferences menu now and turn down the LOD (level of detail) sliders. Especially the object and Avatar LOD have great effect on the performance.  Also the water reflections. But of course different computers need have different adjustments.. You can get the advanced graphics-settings by enabling the Advanced-menu hitting Ctrl-Alt-D.

The graphics-settings I use for flying. Not written in stone but it should give you an idea. Lowering the render quality also gives some extra performance.

A good way to find out about the performance of your Computer is displaying its fps (= frames per second) by using the statistics-bar. Firestorm user can enable it by hitting Ctrl-Shift-1. Don't let yourself get confused by the many features there. You only need to watch the fps there. An amount of 20 fps or more is recommended for a smooth SL-experience. If this number drops significantly you experience the infamous "slideshow-effect" which can make any steering attempt useless.

I have minimized the statistics window to only show the fps. A very handy tool to keep an eye on your performance.

Setting the draw distance is also an important factor. If its too low, you might get surprised by objects popping up in front of you too late to evade them. If the draw distance is too high you may get problems (lag/low fps) when too many textures from objects far away are loading.

To make it easier to keep the overview on where you are flying at, you should use the Mini Map. You also can choose to either control your airplane by using 3rd Person view (seeing your Avatar from behind) or Mouselook. Since moving your mouse doesn't affects the controls of your airplane but the direction you are looking at, using Mouselook can be confusing at first.

Me and my faithful Camel racing down the runway - its definitely too late now to read the manual!

A Little Flight School

The Start itself is pretty simple. You place your airplane at the runway, point it into the right direction and accelerate. It is recommended to put the nose down a bit for getting the plane in a horizontal position for a smooth and easy takeoff.

I found out that good speed for taking off (and flying my planes in general) is at 60 % throttle. The plane ascends very nicely then and you are still slow enough to enjoy sightseeing. For more daring acrobatic maneuvers or for gaining altitude quickly a higher setting is recommended. But always keep in mind that at full speed a 256x256 meter large sim can get very quickly very small. Its in general a good idea to be dynamic at the throttle control as soon you got used to flying and add or reduce throttle if the situation demands it.

As soon you became airborne get used to the controls and try a few turns. Don't let yourself get frustrated if the plane doesn't reacts as you want it to. This will get better very soon.
You actually don't need to do much for performing a turn. Just pointing it in the right direction with a few key-strokes. Give the airplane time to react. You don't have to out-turn a flying ace on your maiden flight.

Sim Crossing

Sooner or later you will get tired by just circling above your airfield and wanting to see more of SL. This means you have to leave the sim you have taken off and fly into another one. This is in fact as simple as it sounds - if you keep a few things in mind:

Good idea vs. bad idea: Flying straight into a sim border (green) makes a much smoother sim-crossing experience than crossing it at its croners (red), which can use to bad crashes and the loss of passengers.

First this is - as the picture above shows - is avoiding corners. At corners like this there are 4 sims adjacent to each other which means you can end up anywhere but not where you want to fly. In the worst case you lose your plane in massive lag and find yourself sitting on the bottom of the sea...
In the best case you cross sim borders as the green arrow shows you: in right angle and as close to the middle as possible.

The second thing is keeping in mind that the higher the speed the higher the load on the sim is. High sim load of course means lag - the arch enemy of every SL-Aviator. So best don't cross sim-borders at top speed. The recommended 60 % will work fine.


As you might have noticed on the maps above, Blake Sea is a pretty huge area. So its handy to at least have a vague idea where you are and which direction to choose. A simple but effective way of navigating is using the mainmap and marking the place where you want to fly to with a mouse-click.

Many airports as the - SLPG Prague - also offer detailed maps providing you with precise flight paths and a large amount of supporting information. I find these maps actually pretty confusing though. Especially since I don't really find the time nor the opportunity to look them up in flight. Here are two examples of these maps. I guess its good to know where to find them but you can survive without them too ;-)


After some time flying it is likely that you want to go down to the ground again. The good news first: going down is a very easy task with an airplane. Doing a safe landing however is a bit more tricky but doable too.
In the ideal case you have picked a nice flat piece of land for that already. The landing stripe of an airport for example is a good choice. If there is no landing stripe available you may have to improvise:

Only odd on the first glance: Public roads have actually less traffic than the average airfield in SL

For performing such a skillful landing you best reduce your speed below the recommended 60 % throttle. At about 30 % you will notice the plane begins to sink pretty quickly. So try to stay somewhere between these values. Also keep in mind that turns performend with low speed also make you lose altitude.

You don't have to perform your landing at the first try. To the contrary: A few fly-by's help you getting used to the terrain. In the ideal case you put your plane into the right direction early and fly perfectly straight towards the landing area without doing too many corrective actions. Then you reduce speed until you smoothly decent on the runway. Don't forget to pull the nose a bit up at the touch-down and reduce your throttle to 0 %.

I hope you find my "little" (yes, I know: it became pretty epic) aviation article useful. It is a very appealing and quite different way of exploring SL than just teleporting around - and surely worth to try :-)

Blue Skies!

No comments:

Post a Comment