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SimPlates ULTRA for Windows PC and SimPlates ULTRA for iPad/iPhone


Recent Avsim Front Page announcement: Add-ons come and go, but SimPlates is the one tool that the serious simulator pilot will return to over and over again to make the sim experience as real, challenging, and fun. The PC version SimPlates ULTRA featuring over 70,000 real-world IFR and VFR plates and charts (including SIDs, STARs, approach plates, airport diagrams, and much more, including a worldwide airport and NAVAID database) is now released.

No other plates package comes even remotely close to offering this many plates. Please visit
SimPlates ULTRA for PC Homepage for a free demo and if you’re a user of SimPlates X, the previous version, a discounted version is available. Strictly for serious flight simulation use and are not for real-world flight.

Who is Dauntless Aviation?

Dauntless Aviation is a real world aviation information supply company. They are known for their ground and flight school prep material for pilots to effectively navigate the written and practical tests up to and including Airline Transport Pilot ratings. They are just at home working in Europe, Canada, or America and many other countries around the globe.
 

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The Company name is derived from the legendary SBD Dauntless dive bomber aircraft from early WWII battles in the Pacific theater. Many historians credit the SBD Dauntless torpedo squadrons and heroic pilots, who changed history when the U.S. soundly won the Battle of Midway in June, 1942.

I fondly remember the Dauntless as one of two plastic models that I built and cherished as a small boy. The other being the T-33 Shooting Star.

SimPlates have been around the flight sim community almost as long as we have had sim airports. I checked a few old archives and found announcements for SimPlates in February 2000.

What are Plates? Why Plates?

Instrument Approach Plates were the official name of the Instrument Approach Procedures Charts but ‘plates’ has been replaced with the term IAP Charts. The word ‘Approach’ is used in the operative term. I don’t remember anyone ever mentioning landing at an airport, only approaches to the airport in instrument flying conditions. They are designed as a ‘pilot briefing’ to take the pilot flying in instrument weather from an en-route fix to a position for landing at a properly equipped airport.

There are so many acronyms and abbreviations used here that it would be a distraction to list each one. If you aren’t familiar with the terms try this link.

Initially the published approaches were mostly ADF type approaches using NDBs; then VOR approaches were added for more accurate lateral control; then LOC for much tighter limits; then the vertical aspect was added with the ILS. Along comes GPS, later renamed RNAV and finally RNP. RNPs and the rare LDA- DME offsets are some of the newer designations. DME is often used as a requirement for identifying fixes or intersections. TACAN is strictly for the military high speed high altitude approaches.

There are special approaches such as the famous Parkway Visual to 13L at KJFK in New York and the Waialai golf course around the punchbowl visual to Rwy 22L.

Most every pilot has heard of the steep London City airport approach or the ‘frighten the tourist’ approach into St Maarten – Princess Juliana or the heart stopping, scare you to death, steep valley approach to Lukla airport in Nepal and finally the crazy last minute steep turn at a low altitude approach into Kai Tak prior to its closure that made famous the term – Hong Kong turn.

I’m sure just about every country has a famous approach or two. These are just a few that I am personally familiar with.

All these different instrument approaches make use of the national or international navigation system with VHF Ommiranges, Instrument Landing Systems with Localizers, Marker Beacons (Outer markers, Middle markers, Inner Markers) backcourses, etc. Everything is about proper guidance using instruments when the ground and objects are not visible outside the aircraft. Otherwise they would all be visual approaches. There are always special frequencies and identifiers with unique audio sounds and flashing lights associated with these markers and other electronic guidance aids for the pilot.

The once sacred ILS approaches are now being replicated from earth orbit with GPS signals enhanced with WAAS. This is the GNSS LPV approach using certified GPS receivers. Today there are literally thousands of these new LNAV/VNAV published approaches.
 

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The whole idea is to have the aircraft at the right place, at the right time, at the right altitude, at the right speed, with the proper configuration set for landing (flaps, gear, lights, power, etc.) with a backup plan (go around) in case the visibility is less than expected or some other part of the approach is not in sync.

A key element in the approach is the procedures portion. This goes back to the basics of flying the airplane by maintaining a specific heading at a given altitude at a certain speed and making turns using a stop watch for accuracy and distance to intercept a point and do it all over again except maybe while descending at a constant rate while deploying flaps, and landing gear. This is where the term ‘fly by the numbers originates’.

There are circling approaches, straight-in approaches, precision and non-precision approaches and there are also multiple approaches using the same Navaids to the same runway. These are given unique names with the letters Z, Y, X, etc.

Most conventional approach procedures are built around a primary final approach navaid, others such as RNAV (GPS) are not. If additional navigational equipment is required to fly the approach, such as radar or VOR DME, ADF or NDB this will be shown on the plan and stated on the chart as Required and in the Notes if incidental. The pilot must ensure he has the necessary functioning equipment on board.
 

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Let’s look at the approach plate with a broad view of the general layout. There is an enormous amount of navigational and flight information available on any given Instrument Approach Procedures chart.

Beginning in early 2000, the US Department of Transportation began issuing the current format and refers to it as the Pilot Briefing Information format

Very few run-of-the-mill sim pilots have even seen an actual ‘approach plate.’ They comes in small booklet form from the FAA in the USA and are bound by geographic regions, usually 2 or 3 states or maybe just Florida or 5 states for the Pacific Northwest or only parts of large states with lots of airports like California and Texas. The lower 48 US states are divided into 24 areas or an average of 2 states per region. The actual real world size is 5 ½ inches wide and 8 ¼ inches high, almost exactly the size of an iPad screen.

Just the Legend for reading an approach plate is 4 pages packed with information and examples. The basic layout seems to hold up fairly well although they appear to have a mirror image sometimes with the airport diagram and vertical profile swapping places.


There is a Plan view (looking down) in the center of the plate with a minimum safe altitude for a 25 nm distance shown usually by quadrants. The approach is drawn with nav aids, names and ids, magnetic headings, turns, obstructions with heights, etc. usually drawn in a 10 nm circle.

The profile box (side view) show expected altitudes, minimum altitudes, directional heading outbound and inbound to the runway and distances in nm from usually an intermediate or final approach fix. Close by will be a chart with minimum altitudes and distances for different types of approaches and speeds of the aircraft.
 

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A box in one of the lower corners will be the Airport Plan View showing the runways, taxiways, etc. and the elevation above sea level and runway lighting detail. You can always find the runway identifier 10/28 and the length and width of the available runways for landing, 6002 x 150 in feet in the US.

The name of the approach is always on the top and bottom of the chart. This is where you will find the name of the airport and usually the town or city and the type of approach and runway. Several boxes along the top known as the Communications strip or Pilot Briefing Area has the frequencies used for the approach, the id, the approach/departure control service and frequencies. Several other supporting frequencies will be in this area such as ATIS, ASOS, Unicom, CTAF, Clearance Delivery, etc.

Along either side of the chart is the effective date. Most flight sim charts should be expected to be out a date, but not more than a couple of years for foreign countries. U.S. IAP charts can be found online and updated on the same cycle as the real world versions.


Instrument approaches can be made into tower controlled airports as well as non-towered airports. Special care should be taken when practicing instrument approaches at non-tower controlled airports and pilots are expected to self-announce their arrival starting at 10 nm from the field. Mixing in with the VFR traffic that may be operating in the vicinity requires monitoring the radio at all times and a vigilant observer.

To make things a little easier on the ATC controllers so they don’t have to spend so much time repeatedly explaining what they expect of the flight crews and tie up the radios with repeated chatter, SIDS and STARS were introduced.

SIDS for standard departures and STARS for standard arrivals. One gets you away from the airport and runway after takeoff the other gets you in position to start an approach or procedure from an en-route fix. SIDS are now known simply as SDs or Standard Departures.


DP (SID) Departure Procedure

STAR – Standard Terminal Arrival

Terminal Procedures Publication (TPP) coverage of the USA (Just for background Info)

Terminal Procedures Publication (TPP) coverage of the U. S., Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, and Pacific Territories are published by the U.S. Government every 28 days for real world flight operators. Copies of many of these charts are found in the SimPlates X Ultra database.
 

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Included in the Terminal Procedures Publications are:

  • Instrument Approach Procedure (IAP) Charts (new name of Plates)
  • Departure Procedure (DP) Charts
  • Standard Terminal Arrival (STAR) Charts
  • Charted Visual Flight Procedures (CVFP)
  • Airport Diagrams (AD)

IAP Charts are designed to provide an IFR descent from the en-route environment to a point where a safe landing can be made.

DP Charts are Air Traffic Control (ATC)-coded departure procedures which have been established at certain airports to simplify clearance delivery procedures.

STAR Charts are ATC coded IFR arrival routes established for certain airports to simplify clearance delivery procedures.

CVFPs are an operational technique designed to move air traffic safely and expeditiously. In addition to conventional visual approach procedures, it has been necessary to specify routes/altitudes to enhance noise abatement at some locations.

CVFPs have been developed to provide a pictorial display of these visual arrival routes.
 

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Airport Diagrams are specifically designed to assist in the movement of ground traffic at locations with complex runway/taxiway configurations and provide information for updating geodetic position navigational systems aboard aircraft. Airport Diagrams can also be found in back of the Airport/Facilities Directories.

How about all of us VFR pilots?

Although the premise for having specific procedures to execute an instrument approach using Instrument Flight Rules, IFR, is the whole reason for having approach plates. That of course, does not mean all the VFR pilots can’t make good use of the extensive amount of information for each of the airports and surrounds nav aids and obstructions.

Anything one would want to know about at airport, Navaids, etc. can be found in the SimPlates X Ultra data. Many airports have a detailed full page airport diagram and some of the larger ones have additional ones to show taxi routes and such.
 

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One of the really great advantages of having 70,000 pages of charts and data available at your fingertips while flying is that the database covers the entire world. Eighty countries have mostly up-to-date flight information, well certainly up-to-date enough for flight simulation.

Many times a VFR pilot may only be interested in the airport layout, a specific runway number and the airport elevation. He may not even have a radio turned on while flying in FSX. SimPlates X Ultra is ideal for these sim pilots.

You can display the data in a dedicated window, a second monitor or should you have an iPad or similar device you can use it and retain your primary monitor for the flight simulation views. All images are stored in the pdf format and use the free Adobe Acrobat reader to display the images. The load time depends on your setup and how many other tasks are running. On my test system the load time is very acceptable. A little bar chart pops up with the load progress. You can view a single chart in the viewer and can preload all the charts for a given airport in a local

A working demo version available for download

Actually the demo and full version downloads are the same, it is just the demo is limited to the state of Hawaii and Iceland. When I last checked the demo it seemed to work as expected in the browse mode but didn’t perform up to par in the search mode. I’m sure by the time you read this the programmers will have sorted that out.
 

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The 28.8 MB download file can be found at http://www.simplates.com/ along with help files, FAQ, guides and an informative section on how Dauntless Aviation got its name and a lot of photos of WWII pilots, etc. A click on the Help/About button will reveal your program version number and your database version. If both are up to date LATEST, in green, will be visible. Nice touch.
 

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Once you purchase the full product and receive your key-codes you will have a full working version in a matter of minutes. You should click on the ‘check for updates’ button to make sure you have the latest data.

One of the installation and setup requirements is to have the latest version of Adobe Acrobat reader installed to display the data. I did not have the latest version and I experienced some undesirable display glitches. I had to actually resize the window for it to display the data. I got tired of that and upgraded to the latest pdf reader version and it now displays properly.

If you are an old time Adobe Acrobat user then you know it must be the most updated free program of all time. It would be interesting for someone to keep track of how many individual updates are sent out each year - must be several hundred. I remember my Mother told me a million times not to exaggerate.

You have the option of adding a start icon on your desktop so a click or two will start the program. The fixed size home screen is quite colorful as it uses the country flag as the icon for each country. Rather than having to scroll through 80 countries you can use one click to go directly to the alpha code. 25 of the 26 letters in the alphabet have from one to twenty-six countries listed with flight data. Only X has no country.

The first choice is to decide whether you would like to view Plates, NAVAID info, or Airport Info (Aerodrome Info). The follow-on screens for the Navaids and Airport Info are very similar with the only difference in the search screen being the words Navaids or Airports in the upper left.
 

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Once you remember the correct flag or your country, you can save the alpha step and go directly to the country provided the flag is displayed.
 

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Selecting a SimPlate to view is a little different as you can see in this search screen. You can select your country of interest by clicking on the corresponding flag or use the step down method of clicking the alpha key for those lesser accessed countries.

Your next choice has to do with how much or how little data or the specific kinds of data that you are interested in viewing.

One you have the country selected, the next step would normally be to select an airport using the ICAO code. Then you can use the check boxes on the left for Approach type, SIDs, and STARs and the check boxes on the right for Weather minimums and Airport (Aerodrome) Diagrams. Big cyan buttons can be used for Select All and Select None (reset).
 

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One little tidbit is to remember if you want to view an Airport or Aerodrome diagram, you will not find it using the Airport Info button. You have to use the View Plates button to view the layout and diagram. Remember, not all airports will have an Airport Diagram available.

These Airport diagram charts are also feature packed with good useful information for the sim pilot. A study of some of your favorite airports will reveal not only the open and closed runways with exact magnetic alignments, thresholds, the location of the FBO and Cargo handlers, the name of most buildings and hangars, taxiway identifiers, location of the control tower and rotating beacon, field name, ICAO code, city, Lat/Long, all frequencies, and cautions. The field elevation at the center and at the touchdown area for each runway is useful to VFR pilots along with the runway surfaces, length and width.

Not for real world flight planning or navigation

This should be obvious to everyone but, the red and white banner is attached to just about every screen stating the data must not be used for real world purposes. Also, don’t put the baby in the oven or cut the lines on your parachute or walk into the propeller when the engine is running.
 

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Navaid Info is more than you will ever need to know about NDB, VOR, VORTAC, TACAN, VOT, etc. An example of how this works comes a little later in the review.
 

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Airport Info is a structured information display for the airports, civilian and military including, location, operations, communication, Navaids, services, very specific runway information for each runway, operation statistics with number of annual movements and lots of additional remarks.
 

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Searching feature

Fortunately, SimPlates X Ultra has a semi-smart search engine. You can find your airport using the ICAO, IATA, FAA, and sometimes using the Name or Location. This is a real time saver and almost necessary with 70,000 unique files to access. It is not perfect but still a very handy feature for quickly finding your data.

I would think any text displayed on the home screens would be searchable but that is not the case. An example is KJKA – GUF – JKA Jack Edwards airport located in southern Alabama at Gulf Shores, USA.



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Success
Search on Jack
Yes
Search on Edwards
No
Search on Gulf
Yes
Search on Shores
No

I think the lesson learned is to keep trying and be a little creative with any known information.


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You can improve your success rate if you narrow your search down to at least a country before you start you search. Of course if you know any part of the airport codes you should be able to go directly to your destination.


Just about any two characters of the KJKA – GUL designation will find the airport. This is one of the few airports that SimPlates X Ultra has approaches and airport information but not an airport diagram.


Not all is lost. You can always call up one of the approach plates and review the airport diagram in the lower corner. A Google search did not return this airport diagram from any source.


Airport or Aerodrome Information


I have not seen any estimates on how many Airports are in the SimPlates X Ultra database, but it is safe to assume it has just about all of them. I would venture a guess it has more than FSX has for worldwide airports and the amount of data and the ultra amount of detail is fascinating. I enjoy just bring up an airport at random and reading the airport information and reviewing the full set of charts and other data.


I did an unofficial count for the US airports and found 3,028 including territories with published approaches. KLAX is the leader with 86 charts and KLBX has the most for a single runway in a small town (46 charts)and with no airport diagram included.


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Most of the airports in the US have a scrolling page of data that includes:

  • Full Name, identifiers, location and country flag in the header.
  • Latitude and longitude, elevation, variation and distance from city
  • Operational info for facility use, sectional chart, FSS, lights, beacon, landing fees, etc.
  • Communication frequencies
  • Nearby radio navigational aids location, distance from airport, name and ID and frequencies.
  • Services for fuel types, airframe and engine services, oxygen availability, etc.
  • Runway information – anything and everything you might wish to know about each runway.
  • Annual Operational statistics by type operation
  • Additional remarks with some of the dumbest abbreviations known to man.
  • Each section of data has a source icon near the right margin. FAA in most cases for US airports.

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The world-wide airports tend to have much less detailed information but still enough to be useful. Most have a box with varying amounts of information. The major airports in all countries tend to have a fully populated data box.

The SimPlates website has a FAQ section for the SimPlates X and X Ultra. Every airport in the database that has a published approach is listed by Country on a long, scrolling list. The basic X edition has approximately 30,000 total plates while the Ultra edition has an additional 50,000 plates or approximately 80,000 total plates including multiple sheets of some international plates. Wow.

It seems like Australia and New Zealand’s data is less up-to-date than most other countries around the globe. Mexico is also singled out as having less than ideal coverage. Even though these countries’ charts may not be as stellar or some of the others, they should still be fully usable for flight simulation entertainment use. But on the other side of the coin, China, Iran and several other countries are reportedly well represented with a nice complement of plates.

Navaid Info

The selection and display of Navaid Info follows the similar procedures as seeking Airport Info above.
 

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The iPad IOS edition

This is one of those cases where you need to choose either the Windows desktop version or the more portable Apple IOS iPad/iPhone version. They are sold as totally separate editions and if you want both, you will have to purchase both versions.


Remember, 80,000 or so pdf files will generate an absolutely outrageously large file storage problem for any PC - reportedly more than 100 Gb. Therefore, Dauntless retains all the source data on their servers and as users request to view a plate it is downloaded to a local cache. You have the option of saving the file on your local drive or printing them should you choose. Most users will only view the plate images.

I looked at hundreds of plates for this review and each and every one was crystal clear, perfectly aligned, as in ‘not skewed’ and therefore easily readable and usable. That is not to imply that all the remaining plates are of the same quality, but, I would be surprised to find very many bad apples in the batch.

I find the country selection process on the iPad not as easy and user-friendly as the Windows PC edition. When the country list comes up it is Alphabetical and cannot be reversed as in windows. Fortunately, there is a button for ‘Recent’ to partially save the day. Maybe a future update will place the 3 or 4 most frequently used countries at the top of the list instead of totally alphabetical. This is one of those disadvantages of having a home country starting with ‘U’.

This is confusing to me because when I select USA, I get all the states arranged almost alphabetically but mixed in with other countries.


Like Albania, Hawaii, New York, Afghanistan, Alabama, Alaska, American Samoa, Angola. I just scrolled to the end to pick USA and selected New Jersey, then back to the ‘recent’ button. I have the same list as Albania, Hawaii, New York, except now New Jersey is in the first slot. I don’t think this would be very useful for me. Got to be a better way.

It appears to me the iPad edition treats US states as countries. Once I click on USA that choice is replaced by the individual states so I can’t make it one of my recent choices and move it to the top of the recent list.

Of course, a big advantage of having the SimPlates X Ultra on the iPad is the portability and it does free up that valuable monitor real estate should you only have one monitor. Because I have twin 24 inch widescreen monitors, I think the PC version will find a happy home as a popup window on the 2nd monitor when I am actively flying FSX.


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Another advantage of using the iPad is that it is so easy to reach over and scroll the sim plate up or down when zoomed in. Just a simple slide of the finger. Very nice indeed.
Oops. I just called up China and picked a VOR approach at random. It was fairly washed out and not near as sharp as most of the US charts.

I haven’t found a pleasing method, or any method actually, of seeing the big picture with the iOS edition. The iOS GUI makes the windows PC interface almost elegant in comparison. This may be due to the iPhone and iPad sharing the same app and the smaller screen seems to determine the layout for both.

Also, I have to figure out how to turn off the spell checker/autocorrect feature. Every time I try to search for a Chinese airport, the ICAO code gets changed to xBox or some other non-wanted word just as I start the search.
 

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I need to find a tutorial for the iPad edition (almost zilch at the help site). When I touch the ‘Edit’ or ‘Filter’ button, I am booted out of the program and back to the iPad desktop apps screen. I rebooted, checked that the iPad is up to date with the OS and also the iOS app is up to date from Dauntless. The support request response states I am the first to report this so it must be my setup at fault, a couple hundred happy users and the large beta team are not experiencing these problems.

The load time is noticeably longer on the iPad than on the PC edition. But, even so, the download time is still very acceptable.

The end result of displaying the pdf approach chart on the iPad is that it works great, it is just the loops I have to jump through to get there is less than desirable.

Other edition/version available for Flight Simulation

See developer’s website for other editions/versions at http://www.simplates.com/

Conclusion

Publisher: Dauntless Aviation
Platform: iOS, PC, Android
Format: Download (29MB)
Reviewed By: Ray Marshall
As the press release states, any serious flight simulator pilot will return over and over again to the that tool that makes the sim experience real, challenging and fun. I certainly find that to be true for my personal flight simulation experiences.

I didn’t even realize the total count of worldwide approach plates were anywhere near the numbers being advertised here.

One thing is for sure, the Dauntless Aviation server delivery method is surely the most intelligent solutions for such a huge number of charts. Being able to search, find, select and display approach charts on your primary monitor, secondary monitor, an iPad, Android or iPhone will certainly appeal to most flight simmers especially when you don’t have to mess with the file management problems of trying to keep 70,000 pdf files organized.

My personal choice is the PC version with my dual monitor setup, but I can certainly see the advantages of using an iOS screen to support the primary monitor without draining any of the resources. Only those with exceptional eyesight will opt for the iPhone version, but in a pinch it will be much better than not having the needed chart handy. Sometimes it only takes a quick glance to confirm a frequency, an ID, heading, fix or altitude during a simulated approach.

Those strictly VFR pilots may only be interested in the airport ICAO code or runway alignment or maybe the elevation so the iOS editions would certainly deliver that type of information and be handy.

The extensive collection of worldwide charts and diagrams should also appeal to the worldwide base of flight simulator operators. Most foreign countries do not tend to make this type of data as readily available as the US does. I think those are the flight simmers that may benefit the most with this collection.
 

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3 Comments

I see a few typos but I bet you can guess the proper word for that instance.

The review title would be more accurate if it read . . .
SimPlates ULTRA for Windows PC and SimPlates ULTRA for iPad/iPhone



Ray
Photo
Tom Allensworth
Mar 02 2013 02:22 PM

The review title would be more accurate if it read . . .
SimPlates ULTRA for Windows PC and SimPlates ULTRA for iPad/iPhone


Ray, title modified.
Thanks Tom, very appreciative.

Ray

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