25 Nov 2012

REX Game Studios released REX Latitude on 11-22-12 as promised.  In this article I'll go over the prerequisites, the install and usage and thoughts on the new add-on for the venerable Microsoft Flight Simulator X and Prepar3D.  Check out our video at the end of the article for a brief overview of the Latitude interface as well.  Latitude is a great way to log your flight characteristics and learn from those results and compare yourself to other pilots in an "online Career" if you choose to upload your stats.

Lets start by taking a look at the system requirements for running this add-on with FSX or Prepar3D.

Prerequisites

MINIMUM SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS

  • Windows XP SP2 / Windows Vista
  • Microsoft Flight Simulator X (requires Standard Edition with at least SP1, compatible with SP2/Acceleration, Deluxe Edition required for network setup operations)
  • Processor: 2.0Ghz+
  • RAM: 2GB
  • Hard Drive: 15GB of free space for installation
  • Video Card: 256MB DirectX 9 compatible (512MB recommended)
  • Other: Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0 - required for Latitude, download from this link.
  • Internet connection required to download REX Latitude service packs and to participate online.

Once you are sure you have the minimum requirements, you can get Latitude at various online sources such as FlightSimStore.com for around $40 USD.

Installation

As a reference, here are some details on the system I installed REX Latitude onto.  My system has 16 GB of RAM, an i7 2600k processor overclocked to 4.8 Ghz and an ATI 5850 1GB video card.  On my one partition I run Windows 7 x64 Ultimate (on the other I have my full Windows 8 Pro x64 install).  I primarily use the Windows 7 x64 partition for FSX most of the time, though FSX runs fine in Windows 8 as well.  For this article I am referring to the Windows 7 install.

**Note:  You can install REX Latitude on a remote laptop or other computer if you do not wish to install on your main FSX machine.  It will use SimConnect to connect to your FSX install from that machine.  Of course be sure you have SimConnect working and the proper config files set before hand, so that the two can communicate.

For this demonstration I installed Latitude strictly on my main FSX partition.  Once you download the installer from FlightSimStore you get the following screen to start the process:

To install, you must provide the info that was emailed to you after the transaction was completed at the online store.

Now we get to the main install of REX Latitude.

Here you can go with the default install location, or change it to another path.  In my case I ended up changing this to "O:\Program Files (x86)\Latitude" as my FSX install is on a separate hard drive.

Next REX will attempt to install the .NET Framework 4 client profile, at least it did on my Windows 7 x64 box, which didn't have 4.0.

The installer then installs or reinstalls SimConnect Client v10.0.61259.0

At this point, on my particular Windows 7 machine, I ran into some issues with the install.  IE9 appears to be needed for things to work correctly.  So I chose to move forward, having only IE8 installed.. and you will see where this leads.

After the install, if I tried to run the add-on from the Start Menu, this error pops up.

It then takes you to a Microsoft site where you can choose from a bunch of versions of .NET 4.x. 

So how did I ultimately get past the .NET 4.x error and IE9?  I tried running the IE9 x64 installer by itself.  It would error and say it could not install, but there wasn't much in the way of diagnostics or logs to check into.  I opted to go into my Windows Updates and install a bunch of security fixes and other Microsoft related updates that I hadn't done to this point on my FSX Win 7 drive.  Afterwards, IE9 installed fine.  I was still getting the .NET requirement error, even though the .NET 4.0 Client Profile was installed.  So I ended up installing the .NET 4.0 Full download from this location to get past that error and finally launch Latitude without error.

After you launch Latitude for the first time you get this window:

Latitude Portal

Technically, you don't even need to buy Latitude to sign up to be able to use and view the Latitude Portal.  If you go to their portal site you can sign up for a log in ID which you can then view various leader board information, see the radar, pilots and more.  Once you have this log in associated with your email address, you will be set to actually use Latitude when its installed. 

Running Latitude

Once you have launched Latitude, head straight to the Settings tab to enter your License information and the Portal email address you used in the previous step.  It would seem that the license key gets bound to the email address you sign in with.  So as of now there doesn't appear to be a way to have multiple pilot profiles on one FSX machine without buying separate keys, which makes sense that they designed it this way.  Separate profiles come in handy if you are sharing the same physical machine with others or family members and you don't want your stats being tracked if they log in with your user id.

It is in this window where we can toggle some of the options, such as the check box to shut down Latitude after the simulator exists.  There is also an option to minimize on start up if you choose to enable that as well.

Once you are logged in and the application is running, you can simply launch FSX/P3D and take off and do a pattern and land.  You will be presented with an analysis of the flight once you land and check back in the Latitude window (you will also hear voice prompts if you are running latitude on the same machine as the simulator).  The area at the bottom will change from Connecting to Connected or paused depending on the sim's current setting once SimConnect is connected.  It will also display data during the flight in the bottom area of this window.  After your flight is complete, simply click Analysis and Scores to view the results.  FSX will also show an overlay window directly in the sim showing the results and results for each category.

It should be noted that taxing is not considered part of your score nor is systems and procedures.  Latitude looks strictly at your flying skill.  Scoring begins on your takeoff roll (above 30 knots or 1/2 VS1) and ends after you land and slow down (below 15 knots or 1/2 VS1).  You could technically just practice landings as one example, then note your scores for the approach and landing sections of the flight.  In terms of the online Career mode and uploading stats, you can only upload and earn money on full flights, however.

Here is an example of a poor flight via Latitude's interface:

If you hover over details then you can get a deeper explanation of what went wrong during that portion of the flight.  You can also choose a different pilot type from the pull down.. in the image below it is set to Student Pilot, but there are others like Sport and Commercial etc.  Changing this changes the categories shown and the overall rating.

The Latitude manual gets into great detail on how to score well for the various areas that are logged.  For instance, here is Enroute.  They describe enroute as Climb/Level/Descend. 

As an example of how one section is scored:  the keys to success for the "enroute" segment are: 

  • Establish climb Speed early and maintain it
  • Maintain cruise speed and level flight precisely
  • Descend at a constant vertical rate or path angle
  • Plan ahead and make speed changes during descent
  • Transitions between climb / descent segments shall include a level segment

They get into great detail on the other phases in the manual as well.

Other things to consider is that Latitude likes level flight.  For instance, if you are drifting from 2300 feet to 2700 feet, then back down again and so on, then this will result in deductions in your score.  Latitude gives you +/- 250 feet (the point at which in real life you could be fined if under their control), whereas if going for your Pilot's License you only are given a +/- 100 feet range.

Technically you don't need a flight plan to fly from point A to B (but pre-flight planning is recommended).  The Latitude profile path only matters on takeoff, approach and landing.  The approach profile can be straight, curved, or a combination of the two.  Generally the stabilized portion of the approach is considered to be the last 30 to 60 seconds before landing.  Approach is based on a standard 3 degrees for altitude.  It can be steeper but shouldn't be shallower.  Shallow approaches are penalized because in general they are a bad idea in case you have an engine failure or you are approaching at night.  Typically GA pilots do a steeper approach than the 3 degree rule however.

Latitude will also penalize you if you slow down during the descent, not to say that it isn't a common thing in real flying (saving fuel), but the purpose of the this with Latitude is to do some planning ahead of time or use an FMS and follow it.  Typically you should be at your expected feed by around 3 miles from the airport as a rule of thumb.  Typically if you can't slow down your plane then you are likely descending too fast or didn't plan far enough in advance of your location.  The typical learning mentality is to be at 500 feet above pattern over the airport and at that point do your slow down for maneuvering and do the 45 degree entry.  Your approach phase is actually reset if your above ground level (AGL) climbs back up again.  For instance if you fly low over a mountain then suddenly climb and gain altitude, the approach is "reset" and starts over.

After the flight we can also click on Charts to bring up the chart for the currently listed flight.  Click on the chart below to see a zoomed view with explanations on what the major sections are.

You have the choice of whether or not you want to upload your flight to the REX servers or not.  Use the buttons below to do so.  The upward arrow button is how you upload it, while the circle with the hash in middle is to not upload this specific set of data.

Once you upload your data to the server, you have effectively begun your online "Career" where you can then begin seeing how you stack up with others and others in the same class as well.  If you don't upload your scores then you can't see the career, reputation and economic components of your simming experiences, just the analysis of each flight.  Throughout your online "Career" you can gain promotions and score higher to increase your Reputation, at the same time there can be demotions down the ladder.  Flights uploaded to the portal become part of a "rolling average" of flights until you achieve all the career advancement requirements.  Once you have achieved all the minimum requirements to advance you get promoted automatically.  Once you do, scoring becomes harder and planes become cheaper to operate.  An example is where everyone starts out at "Student Pilot."  To get to "Sport Pilot" you need 10 total hours and 10 flights, a 50% average skill over the last 5 flights and 5 hours as well as 50% average in comfort over the last 5 flights and 5 hours.  Each notch upward is even harder, requiring more hours and more flights, but the percentage stays at 50% for each notch (Airline Pilot being the highest).  I really could dive deeper into some of the Career aspects of Latitude, but that is a lot of heavy reading, best served for once you get deeper into using Latitude.  The example below shows a portion of the Career stats for an online profile.  Note that you can click the "More like this button" to see other pilots flying the same type of aircraft:

You can view the "Radar" by clicking radar in the toolbar.  This shows everyone else who is logged into Latitude at the moment.  There is also a chat window.

Latitude gets into the world of the economics of a flight based on several factors for each flight such as fuel used and payload.  The overall score and economics of your flight can depend on these things plus other factors like proper planning for weather and average winds aloft.  REX Essentials Plus can greatly compliment Latitude.  You can use Essentials to make things more realistic and also to get data such as the Winds Aloft.  Winds can cause fuel consumption calculations to be off, thus you end up burning more fuel than necessary had you planned properly before the flight.  This is where the operations area comes in handy.  It is recommended to use the operations area before a flight to get a more accurate score and cost estimate for each flight.  The Latitude user guide gets into this in great detail for further reading.

Once connected to FSX/P3D Latitude lets you make changes in the Operations area as below.  Keep in mind any changes you make in the payload and fuel areas must be saved or they won't show up in FSX.  The Takeoff and Landing configurations are just the "expected" configurations on each phase, they don't actually lower and raise flaps.

Conclusion

REX Latitude is a great Addon for FSX and P3D which will greatly enhance your simming experience.  It's like unlocking another dimension to your flights that you never knew existed.  Since all data is logged automatically you can review various aspects to your piloting skills that you wouldn't have thought possible in the past.  Then to make this an even more exciting experience, your stats can be uploaded and compared world wide, making you strive to become a better virtual pilot.  It should be mentioned that at least in my experience so far there is no impact on frame rate.  All the analysis and stats are done after landing, so there is no impact on the flight itself in terms of the performance.  The only thing is that you must run the app in the background if you aren't running it on a remote computer.  There is no direct Virtual Airline (VA) integration with Latitude.  REX is planning future updates to include a "Groups" feature, which may or may not mirror VA's and allow VA's to make hiring, promotions based on your flying performance down the road.  The trickier parts of using Latitude are that if you really want to dig into the economics of the program a thorough reading of the manual will be needed.  Also, the details popup on the areas of your flight could use a little better description, though the manual does try to clarify exactly what is meant in the details field for the various phases of flight.  Overall, Latitude is fantastic and worth the price and will definitely add that extra layer you have been looking for in your flight simulator experiences.  As I use the program even more, I will likely update this article to include hints on some of the phases of flight that Latitude looks at in determining scoring.

Overall Score:  9.2 out of 10  - "Must Have For Flight Simmers"

 


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