FS2004 - The Aircraft.cfg file
aircraft.cfg file in FS2004 is critical in FS operations - much more
so than in earlier versions. It is also badly written by some aircraft
designers and, like it or not, you will almost certainly have to edit
this file if you want FS to run in a tidy manner. The data
in this file is not just for flying the aircraft itself - it is also
required for ATC and AI traffic to work properly. It is these two
sections I will be exploring more deeply in this article. The rest
of the config file is concerned with aircraft performance and, although
these sections can be amended by hand, they are best left until you
know exactly what they do. Playing around with performance values
can really mess up your aircraft's handling if you get things wrong.
The aircraft.cfg file in FS2004 is critical in FS operations - much more so than in earlier versions. It is also badly written by some aircraft designers and, like it or not, you will almost certainly have to edit this file if you want FS to run in a tidy manner.
The data in this file is not just for flying the aircraft itself - it is also required for ATC and AI traffic to work properly. It is these two sections I will be exploring more deeply in this article.
The rest of the config file is concerned with aircraft performance and, although these sections can be amended by hand, they are best left until you know exactly what they do. Playing around with performance values can really mess up your aircraft's handling if you get things wrong.
What's in it for me?
Quite a lot actually. There are not many lines in the config file you need to know about but a few of them have a substantial effect on the way ATC and AI behave. Let us look at a typical aircraft. The two sections of the aircraft.cfg file I will be describing are [fltsim.0] and [General] and here is a typical entry:
To make matters easier I have divided the [fltsim] section into three colour bands as there are three distinct areas.
will be familiar to FS98/FS2002 users.
In the [General] section I am only interested in the first two ATC lines. These lines will sometimes be in the [General] section but you can also find them in the [fltsim] section of some of your aircraft.
There is a simple rule here - if you have more than one aircraft variation in your aircraft.cfg file (two or more fltsim sections) then put the ATC_type and ATC_model lines in the [General] section. For the rest of the article I will not mention the [General] section when discussing the details of these ATC lines.
The Red Section
Title. The Title is used to uniquely identify the aircraft in FS. Although you only ever see this appear in your logbook entries the title is used by the AI engine (see my FS2004 AI Aircraft page) so if you change it you have to be aware that you will also need to amend the AI aircraft.txt file too.
One other word of caution. The title is used by FS to load each aircraft. If you change the name of the aircraft that is used in your default start up situation then FS will possibly fail to run. You can overcome this - just go to the Flights/Myflights folder and open the default .FLT file in Notepad, then amend that aircraft title to match your revisions.
- This should point to the name of the
.air file in the aircraft folder. In this case boeing737-400.air.
If you have downloaded any aircraft you will be familiar with the system used above. You will know that the aircraft folder will have dropped into the FS2004/Aircraft list and that it will have sub folders called model, panel, sound and texture.
Some of your will have also found the included panel or sounds for an aircraft are a bit punk and may have amended the appropriate config file to change it for something different. You do this knowing it is a permanent change - until you rewrite the file again (or use a good aircraft/panel/sound manager like JAB2000).
What if you want a choice?
The power within
The beauty of the aircraft.cfg file is that you can produce many variations for the aircraft. You can have a B737 for example with several airline options, with a choice of sounds or with a choice of panels. If you download a superb new panel you can replace the original - or you can set the aircraft up to give you the choice. Here's how - in two very easy steps.
1. Armed with your new panel/sound/texture files you create a new folder for these. This must have the panel/sound/texture name but here you add a full stop and a number panel.3, texture.5 - anything you want. Note that for some aircraft (look at the B737 folder) some extended folders might already exist so be careful not to overwrite these.
2. Create a second [fltsim] section in your aircraft.cfg file. Just to make sure you don't forget any lines you can copy and paste the original section - but be careful that you amend the lines in this new section correctly. For this example let us assume we wish to add a Boeing 737 in Red Arrows colours and with a military panel. We've dropped the panel files into a panel.3 folder and the textures into texture.5.. Now we add the new section..
The lines that I have changed are marked with an asterisk. The [fltsim] line must be changed to show that it is a new aircraft on your system. The aircraft title must be changed as each has to be absolutely unique. After that you simply change the lines for panel and texture to point to your new folders. Bingo - a new aircraft! You will also have to amend the ATC and UI lines of the config file but I will be describing these separately.
For most users this description will apply primarily to adding new airline textures to the default FS airliners - many people are providing repaints of these. A word of warning - please ensure that the textures you get are really for an aircraft on your system. If the textures are for a different aircraft model (such as the Dreamfleet 737 rather than the default 737) then the textures will not work.
The Green Section
There will be three lines in this section - all starting with UI. These lines are used to sort your aircraft into sections in the FS Aircraft Menu.
click on Select Aircraft in FS you get a rather impressive menu appear
with a rotating aircraft in it (which you can click and drag around!).
To the left of this are three drop down menus:
These menus take the data from the three UI lines in each aircraft.cfg file:
This is neat because it will sort all the aircraft into their manufacturer, then aircraft type and finally the variation of that aircraft. You no longer have a huge drop down list as in FS98.
Things can go slightly wrong if designers are not too careful when they come to name these lines. If they have entered Boeing Aircraft as the manufacturer then you will find on loading FS that you now have Boeing Aircraft as well as Boeing on your menu list. Likewise you could easily find duplicate aircraft types - 737-400, 737_400, 737 400 if the ui_type line is different. A little time may be necessary in tidying these up but it can make your aircraft menu look much better.
If you add a new aircraft to an aircraft.cfg file as I described above you should change the ui_variation line to describe your new variant.
The Blue Section
These lines in the aircraft.cfg file are devoted exclusively to the ATC engine in FS2004. They determine the callsign that ATC will use for you and the type of aircraft they will describe you as (and all AI aircraft using this aircraft model).
There are five lines to this section. If you only have one [fltsim] entry in your aircraft.cfg file all five lines may be found here. If you have more than one variation of the aircraft the lines called atc_type and atc_model may be found in the [General] section. There's no hard and fast rule here - moving the data to the [General] section simply avoids having to repeat these lines in each [fltsim] section you have created.
The five items are:
- is the tail number or registration of the aircraft. It is a very
sensible thing to make all of these on your aircraft unique - despite
MS putting N700MS on EVERY default light aircraft.
The rule of thumb here is that if the atc_airline field is empty then ATC will use the atc_id (registration) as your callsign. If an atc_airline has been put in the file then your callsign will be atc_airline together with the atc_flight_number.
In the example above the callsign will be American 1123. If the atc_airline field was empty you will be called N734AA.
What airlines can be used in the atc_airline field?
Unfortunately you can't create your own unless you get the EditVoicePack add-on - you are limited to those airlines found in the airlines.cfg file in FS2004. If you put an airline in this field that FS doesn't recognise then it simply ignores it. All that ATC will use is the flight number part! When you get new aircraft take a second to check this field and make sure the author hasn't put an airline in the atc_airline field that does not exist.
A full list of the recognised airlines and agencies that ATC will accept can be found on my FS2004 ATC Airlines page.
There are a lot of gaps so improvisation is the order of the day. You've got Midland, Monarch and Regional but you can't have Jersey, Manx or Excalibur...
ATC Type and Model
I've left these fields until last because many people are being confused by them. It's fairly important to get them right - but MS haven't helped for two reasons. First they've hidden this information away, and second they haven't quite got it right themselves.
atc_type - This should have been a list of aircraft manufacturers only. In fact FS2004 has a mix of these together with some aircraft model names e.g. Cessna, Boeing, Chipmunk, Dakota.
atc_model - This field of short codes is confusing to many but it is a copy of the real ICAO aircraft type designators used in real world flight plans.. Almost. Unfortunately this information is both out of date and slightly erratic - ICAO codes should no more than four digits but some in the FS list are up to nine digits in length. Despite this the codes that are in the list cover almost every aircraft model that you could think of. (OK, well not a Spitfire.. or a Wright Flyer but most currently flying aircraft are available).
The only place I have found where you can see full listing of both atc_type and atc_model lists is when you open an aircraft using FSEdit. The drawback is that the atc_model box shows just the codes - it doesn't explain what any of them are. As a stop gap I suggested that people use real world ICAO codes but a lot have changed since the listing that MS have chosen to use.
If you go the FS2004 Aircraft Codes page you will find the full list of FS atc_type designators. The page also contains every atc_model code - together with the name of the aircraft as spoken by ATC. Please come back here when you've finished - I've one final thing to say.
I'll use a couple of examples here to illustrate how things work.