COAA PlanePlotter Review Part 2

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)

Loading...

Bookmark and Share

Download PlanePlotter

Now that everything is working (hopefully!), we can proceed to customising the display.

The majority of the aircraft symbols seen will be yellow, but various colours can be assigned and labels expanded or reduced to individual preference. Additional colours are also used – for example expiring aircraft are orange and Mlat white. You may also  catch an aircraft with blue concentric circles radiating from time to time – these aircraft are squawking ident usually as a result of a squawk change.

POLLY01 (F-16 J-632) squawking ident 3635
POLLY01 (F-16 J-632) squawking ident 3635

To change these parameters we need to open up Chart Options (menu or easier via the spanner symbol). Initially the options seem bewildering, however its all quite straightforward, nevertheless I’d recommend changing a few things at a time and re-checking the display to see if its appropriate to your needs.

I've complied a sort of time lapse graphic here that illustrates colour changes as RYR96YE climbs to altitude (note nose colour cyan). In addition the aircraft data labels show what you can do by adjusting the Label settings under Chart Options...
I’ve complied a sort of time lapse graphic here that illustrates colour changes as RYR96YE climbs to altitude (note nose colour cyan). In addition the aircraft data labels show what you can do by adjusting the Label settings under Chart Options…

The Labels heading enables the user to select what data is displayed to the right of the aircraft symbol. These are all self explanatory such as Flight (callsign), Hex (ICAO hex code), Reg (aircraft registration), Alt (altitude) and Spd (speed). There are 12 labels in total but for the most part I use 7 (Flight, Hex, Reg, Alt, Spd, Type and Sqk). Some users prefer just one such as Type or Flight and this can be useful if your map is extended to cover a large area as it de-clutters the screen somewhat. The font size of the labels can also be changed, a background selected (good for regular maps) and the colour of local and shared plots so you can differentiate between what you are receiving and what is being shared. Mine are cyan for local and green for shared –  plotted on an outline map (black background, though any colour can be used). If using actual maps or charts choose something darker as the light colours don’t show up well against multi coloured backgrounds.

Chart Options
Chart Options

To the right is a panel named Plot aircraft. Here you can adjust the flight level interval in accordance with what you want displayed. For example unchecking all but FL-10 (lower limit) to FL100 (Upper limit) will display only plots under 1000ft to a maximum of 10,000ft. There are 14 default flight levels and these can be adjusted or changed to suit. Custom colours can be assigned to each block and thus plots will change colour as they move ascend/descend through various levels. I found it useful to make a spreadsheet with the flight levels and then adjusted the colours until I was happy with the look. It can be as complex or simple as you make it. One of these days I think I’ll simplify my scheme to just  5 colours and 5 flight levels (0-100, 100-200, 200-300, 400-500, 500-999 or something like that!).

Excel spreadsheet of the FL colour scheme I currently employ
Excel spreadsheet of the FL colour scheme I currently employ

For more information about Flight Levels and barometric pressure settings check out the Wikipedia link.

Talking of changing colours – look carefully – when aircraft are ascending the nose colour will change to cyan and when descending to brown. That is a really nice visual reference feature.

Contrails can be added if required for both local and shared data.

That is about if for the Chart Options, for now anyway.

The default aircraft symbols can be changed to display more accurate representations of actual aircraft plan forms. Its worth pointing out that customising symbols adds to processor demands and complex shapes even further. That said I haven’t experienced any negative performance issues on my modest XP set-up so unless you are using an ancient computer with a really slow CPU I’d give it a go – you can always revert to the originals by deleting the new symbols if need be.

By far the easiest method is to head over to Nic Storey’s excellent PlanePlotter reference site. Select Getting Started… PlanePlotter Symbols… and follow the video guide. Nic and John Locker (forum name SATCOM) collaborated on the symbol designs and they did a great job, covering just about all the common aircraft shapes likely to be encountered on a daily basis (within the confines of the 15 user tags allowed – $1, $2, $3, $4, $5, $6, $7, $8, $9 and $A, $B, $C, $D, $E, $F).

The user tags correspond to type as follows:

  • PlaneSymbol1    $1    Light, C152
  • PlaneSymbol2    $2    Light, Twin prop
  • PlaneSymbol3    $3    2 Rear Engine Jet, MD82
  • PlaneSymbol4    $4    2 Engine Jet, 737
  • PlaneSymbol5    $5    4 Engine Jet, 747
  • PlaneSymbol6    $6    Fast jet
  • PlaneSymbol7    $7    Helo
  • PlaneSymbol8    $8    Biz jet
  • PlaneSymbol9    $9    RJ85, B146 etc
  • PlaneSymbolA    $A    VC10
  • PlaneSymbolB    $B    C17
  • PlaneSymbolC    $C    C130
  • PlaneSymbolD    $D    DH8, SB20
  • PlaneSymbolE    $E    Glider, U2
  • PlaneSymbolF    $F    AWACS

Watch the presentation a couple of times if need be. Basically copy/paste the downloaded files to the PP Logs folder and auto run the batch file to update the database user tags (e.g. $5) to match type code (e.g. A388). Much easier than opening up the database itself and manually doing it! The SymbolUpdate.sql file can be added to (or edited) at your leisure (i. e. add additional types). Exit PP prior to updating otherwise errors will occur.

I must confess I tweaked the original symbol files so that the nose colours correctly showed up as cyan/brown and also changed the C-17 aircraft symbol from $B to $5 so that I could make my own custom V22 symbol exclusively for $B. I used COAA’s SymbolMaker for this.

Custom CV-22 Osprey symbol, made using SymbolMaker.exe available from COAA
Custom CV-22 Osprey symbol, made using SymbolMaker.exe available from COAA

There is no documentation just the executable file so a degree of experimentation is required to get results. Lionel K Anderson MSc complied a PDF file a while back and that explains the process admirably.

A really powerful display tool is a simple text file that can be created so that the keys 0-9 can be used to display selective information in either Alert, List or Chart format. These are similar to those found under Options… Conditional expressions…  with the obvious bonus that a single key press displays a particular interest area (just helicopters for example) or routing (BA flights inbound Heathrow) or whatever you can think of within the bounds of the expressions (which are extensive to say the least).

The file needs to be named condex.txt and formatted like this example:

Chart: ICAO hex code = “AE%” or ICAO hex code = “ADFC%” or ICAO hex code = “ADFD%” or ICAO hex code = “ADFE%” or ICAO hex code = “ADFF%”
Chart: ICAO hex code = “43C%”
Chart: tag = “$7”

If for example these were saved the top chart would be assigned 1, the next 2, then 3 and so on. By pressing 1 only USAF aircraft would be charted whereas pressing 2 would display RAF/RN/AAC assets. 3 for helos only.

Maybe you’d prefer that a specific interest area (in this instance UK police helos) are displayed in Aircraft List. To do this simply replace Chart: with List: The same applies to the Alert: command.

List: flight number = “UKP%”

Note that % is a wildcard and suitable for any combination of number (prefix or suffix).

It quickly becomes apparent that the condex.txt file can be configured to display all sorts of info be that individual registration, routing, specific airline, altitude, speed or range related data to name but a few.

There are 10 possible combinations 1-0 (0 being 10) and the order in which they are entered corresponds with the keyboard position. Note: Don’t put spaces, new paragraphs or indents between the expressions and remove any blank sections at the bottom of the text file as this can (will) lead to errors.

Although it may seem obvious if you compose the condex.txt file with say List: 1-4 and Chart: 5-0, you’ll need to be in Aircraft view and Chart view respectively. For example if you are in Chart mode and press 1 (List) you’ll see no expression.

To activate the condex.txt file just place it in the main PlanePlotter program folder (not the COAA folder containing Chart files/Log files/Image files). It should work immediately, if not quit and restart.

So as it stands we now have a highly customised chart view set-up. The next “modification” involves adding additional data to the outline mapping.

By default the outline map is just that – an outline of your area. By zooming in and out and re-outlining (to refresh the scaling so it looks in focus and not pixelated) you’ll note there isn’t much going on! How you go about adding detail is going to be a personal choice thing – initially I downloaded an outline vector style pack from ManTMA and pasted it all into the Charts folder (that is where all the chart data including map calibration files goes) and to be honest the display was a total mess. Add to the equation 200+ aircraft plots it is near impossible to see what is going on. So what I did was analyse the original outline data and separated the proverbial wheat from the chaff.

Custom outlines. Here Biggin Hill has a detailed airfield plan (yellow), ATZ (green circle), FA (purple lines) and holding patterns (teal)
Custom outlines. Here Biggin Hill has a detailed airfield plan (yellow), ATZ (green circle), FA (purple lines) and holding patterns (teal)

What you see on my outline is a combination of MATZ, ATZ, FA, Holds, HR outlines and detailed airfield plans. I have sacrificed numerous things like airways, NDB’s, AWACS orbit areas and danger areas (plus others) for the sake of visual clarity. Of course you can add/delete whatever you like. Make a copy of your original Charts folder first though just in case you don’t like what you see!

The outline colours can also be manipulated by zooming in really close and pressing Ctrl+left mouse click to bring up a colour option. I have grouped all the files I personally use into a zip file so if you’d like to try it by all means click the download link (1.2MB).

“Installing” the .OUT files is simply a copy and paste to the Charts folder nothing complex at all. Once complete click the outline map icon and you should have an identical display to the one seen above (barring the colours – you’ll have to change those yourself).

Finally, and again this is a personal preference thing, you could always add a GPX overlay file or two to add text data such as airfield names, NAT tracks, waypoints and/or sharer locations. As with most things they are highly adaptable. I mainly use airfield names and have edited the original quite heavily. I added more local airfields and areas of interest (for me Sculthorpe, STANTA and Woodbridge for example, plus all major and quite a few minor airfields). As mentioned in Part 1, its a good idea to join the PlanePlotter Yahoo Group as they have lots of GPX files, add-ons and useful information about all the things covered so far.

By the way, I use XML Marker 1.1 (freeware) to edit GPX files in conjunction with Google maps to determine accurate lat/long coordinates.

Next on the customisation to do list is adding company flags/logos, aircraft silhouettes and country flags to the Aircraft View screen. Again this is purely cosmetic and optional.

Company flags add a touch of colour to Aircraft View
Company flags add a touch of colour to Aircraft View

There are a fair few websites that provide the files required and the process is a 5 minute copy/paste, define folder location job.

Country flags
Country flags

Country Flags require a folder named BMPflags and all flags should be inside it and the folder placed in the main PlanePlotter directory (the one with executable file). A text file named bsflags.txt is required and should contain file location information. Once that is complete the flags need to be defined under Options… Define country flags and then Options… Enable country flags. Click the Aircraft view icon (or press A) and the flags should be there. If not quit PP and restart.

If you want to install country flags try ManTMA.

This site provides the files required and also some really useful installation advice.

Installing company logos/flags and aircraft silhouettes is a similar process, but will take a little longer to complete dependant upon how many logos are being pasted (my operator logo folder contains over 7,000 image files!). Fortunately no text file is required just a folder named OperatorLogos which contains said BMP imagery. This also needs to be placed in the main PlanePlotter folder.

I’ve experimented with various logos and my favourites are:

A couple of other worthy sites are:

Once all the files are in place define and enable under Options…

Aircraft silhouettes can be used standalone or in combination with company flags/logos. If no flag is available for a specific airline a silhouette will be displayed instead - thus avoiding nasty gaps!
Aircraft silhouettes can be used standalone or in combination with company flags/logos. If no flag is available for a specific airline a silhouette will be displayed instead – thus avoiding nasty gaps!

If you just want aircraft silhouettes install those only – if you want a combination of both (aircraft silhouettes will show up if no company flag is present) download and install (paste) both.

And here is what they look like in Aircraft View
And here is what they look like in Aircraft View

Of course you don’t need to do any of this, but I think it really enhances PP. I picked up lots of tips and ideas from the various resources mentioned and customised my PP set-up over a period of about 4 weeks or so, fine tuning as and when I had the inclination. Right now I like it as is and haven’t touched a thing for months.

So there you have it a fully customised version – now its time to consider becoming a Ground Station/Master User.

This is not as difficult as it seems though certain parameters have to be accomplished and checked off. PP has a built in test system under Help… Test Networking…

Don’t be put off by early setbacks – its all too easy to change things without figuring out the impact they have so take a steady approach starting with the basics of sharing. Avoid the A B C D configuration buttons like the plague during this phase!

A handy LAN IP address checker is built into PlanePlotter
A handy LAN IP address checker is built into PlanePlotter

Ensure you home location is accurate and NTP is running (if NTP isn’t working correctly a voice message will remind you each time you run PP). Check your own LAN address via Command prompt (ipconfig /all) or the inbuilt PP LAN address checker. Then click the i/o spanner icon to bring up the input/output menu. The image below shows how this should look if using an RTL dongle>RTL1090 set-up.

Input/output settings
Input/output settings

Ignore the output data as it is not relevant for this. Just make sure the input UDP/IP local port is 9742 and auto Mlats and Raw data for Mlats are both checked. Of course Mode-S/ADS-B and UDP/IP data from the net should also be checked.

That is that. No need to come back here if this is correct.

Next. Options… Sharing…Setup…

pp_sharing_setup_rn

Enable Download positionless, Upload positionless and Upload Mode-S. That is it. No need to check or uncheck anything else unless you want to upload/download additional data or want to share with a secondary server. Enable hypersharing can be checked or unchecked.

From a PlanePlotter perspective that is it. The thing that causes most headaches is router port forwarding. If you are using a wired set-up (no router) lucky you! No need to move on to the next step you are ready to be validated. If like most, a router streams data to your computer then “Google” port forwarding for your specific router model. There is a lot of information out there plus the extensive PP resource network of course.

A static IP address needs to be assigned on the computer running PlanePlotter as a reboot will often change (renew) the previous IP address which will definitely add to the confusion during the port forwarding process. Disabling the routers Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) will prevent the router from issuing a new IP every time, but then all devices connected to the network will have to be manually assigned a static IP too. That is what I did as I’m sick of Windows network confliction error messages popping up. It takes a bit of time, but you’ll thank me in the end!

Windows Firewall also needs to allow port access and may need adjustment. Usually the first time a program runs and requires port access the Firewall will ask: allow or block – choose allow.

As there are numerous router models and admin interfaces, I’m sorry I can’t help much with this part – just some basic guidance. Suffice to say most port forwarding settings are listed under Advanced Settings, Virtual Server (like my DSL-3780), LAN set-up or in some instances quite literally Port Forwarding. The startport and endport range should always be 9742 and the IP address of the computer(s) used in conjunction with the port (9742). Once complete name it PlanePlotter (or whatever you want) for future reference.

Port Forwarding on a DSL-3780 router. The table beneath the settings screen shows how my two computers are configured, note each has a different IP address but the same port number
Port Forwarding on a DSL-3780 router. The table beneath the settings screen shows how my two computers are configured, note each has a different IP address but the same port number

If all has gone according to plan it is time to check your system for validation. Help… Test Networking…

  • Check sharing status
  • Check raw data out
  • Check raw data in

If your set-up passes the above it is highly likely all is okay. Proceed to Check GS/MU functions. The COAA automated system will run the same series of tests and tell you if you’ve passed and ready to be manually validated. Follow the on screen instructions to continue with GS/MU validation. Once complete you’ll receive an email and get issued with a unique two character sharers code (viewable under Help… About PlanePlotter…).

About PlanePlotter
About PlanePlotter

The fun bit. Now you can manually inititate Mlats and provide the all important raw data required to enable other users to hunt down positionless Mode-S aircraft (all subscription free as a validated GS/MU). A definite win-win situation!

In Part 3 I’ll look at conditional expressions, alerts and Mlat, plus some other bits and pieces…

Download PlanePlotter

Bookmark and Share

Comments are closed.