INTERVIEW: Project Magenta!

November 20, 2003

"Our ideal is to break out of the constraint of having all major systems cramped on one computer screen when a much higher degree of realism and immersion can be achieved on a networked system with multiple monitors and dedicated software. Enter our world... it will surely change your way of flying!"

Microsoft Fight Simulator has long been a favorite for the home cockpit builder due to it's expandability. Out of the box it is tailored to the desktop flyer, but with add on software it because a versatile platform for driving any kind of flying simpit, whether it be commercial, general aviation and even military. For those who are building a simpit to model a 21st century aircraft, one of the most important items is their multi function displays, or MFD's. Project Magenta allows simpits to have realistic MFD systems that rival any simulator made by the simulator specialists at Flight Safety. This level of MFD realism has transformed the MFD based simpits into high end simulation systems.

SimPits: Welcome Enrico, to Simpits. You have been involved in cockpit building for a while now. I understand it all started with Flight Simulator 4 and your SC1Map project.

PM: Well, that was 11 years ago or so... and not really cockpit-related. At the time I barely understood what a VOR is, let alone a full cockpit. I still wonder what I understand and what not. That was the first program I wrote for FS, and the whole thing took off from there.

SimPits: What motivated you to start Project Magenta?

PM: Project Magenta is the continuation of something which started roughly 5 years ago in Greece, a very good friend of mine was starting to build a cockpit and the idea was born to write software which realistically depicts what is happening in front (and around) of the pilot in a modern airliner's cockpit. I started off with the Glass Cockpit instrumentation and continued with the autoflight systems which were connected to real full-flight simulator hardware as well as flight controls out of a real aircraft. Once the basic things were up and running, I posted some pictures of that work on my web site and there was an astonishing response. It essentially grew from there.

SimPits: Project Magenta was originally made for Boeing and then Airbus. Tell us some of the features.

PM: Let's see... we have so much in there that I do not know where to begin. Apart from the other parts mentioned below we have a rather accurate depiction of the flight management systems you find in modern airliners... even more than that actually. We have several things that make a hobby pilot's life easier than their real world colleagues, and we actually have to add switches to remove them to make everything more realistic. Our autopilot software is quite different from what you find in FS... the modes are real, the flight mode anunciation is as accurate as you want it. All our software being modular, you can expand it, i.e. start with the Glass Cockpit, add the MCP/FCU and then use also our FMC on top of that. Our airliner software is also tied to our other add-ons such as the freeware pmSounds, QuickMap and WhazzUp Plus. As I personally have quite a strong tradition with freeware I intend to release a free "tease" product soon which will essentially be a Regional Jet PFD so that more people might get interested in networking a second PC and enjoy flying with a really large instrument in front of them. Many are now taking the plunge and moving from what would be a desktop simulator to a full blown enclosed cockpit. A lot of people have now also come to appreciate the difference of our way of flying, without cramping everything on a single screen. Every new iteration of the central flight simulator also calls for new PC hardware, and that "old" PC is now standing there, waiting for a new role, which we can provide with our software.

SimPits: I was surprised to see the TCAS ability in PM. That is a really neat feature.

PM: I am quite happy to boast that we had the very first TCAS in the FS world, seeing the AI aircraft in the beta of FS and given the software we were doing it was an obvious conclusion. Peter Dowson provided the information via FSUIPC right away and then the whole thing was up and running. I think it is quite a standard thing for today's panels.

SimPits: What exactly does the Weather Radar Display show? Does it include a strike tracker function for tracking lightning strikes?

PM: No lighting strikes. Our software displays real world weather downloaded from the Internet and doesn't "create" information... i.e. se do not depict things that we have no data for. Unlike some programs that base their weather information on METAR reports (which would include lightning/t-storm information and then generates random lightning) we have worldwide weather, even over the oceans which is based on satellite images.

SimPits: I think some of the most important features for simpit builders are PM's ability for all displays to be re-positioned and combined freely and being fully resizable. Displays can also be rotated left and right 90 degrees, I guess this is so a monitor can be placed on its side for use in the cockpit?

PM: Yes, some cockpit builders want to be able to do just about anything and we allow them to do that. That is one of the basic principles of our software and I also think part of the success. The nicest display isn't worth much if it can't be positioned and resized at will... and if it doesn't have a completely open interface on top of that. Very many settings are customizable and all of our FSUIPC offsets are documented and constantly expanded.

SimPits: For a long while builders of military pits have wished for a military version of Project Magenta. This wasn't going to happen until Romek Delimata contacted you from 20th Century Fox about a new movie called "Behind Enemy Lines". I bet you were a bit surprised to hear from him. So now you have a functional F-18 program called Fighter MFD - Mark I. Tell us about it.

PM: Well, it is a bit of a stepchild right now, I must admit. The response for the military software hasn't been too hot really, and while it is updated now and then it doesn't have the following of our other software. There have been several contacts from the professional side to make other types such as the F-16 but they didn't materialize until now. There is only so much you can do in one day, but I do have some things lined up for future versions.

SimPits: Does Fighter MFD have a radar capacity to track networked and AI planes? If it does, does it give range to target information?

PM: Yes, that information is in there... we even have an option in another program, QuickMap, which calculates the intercept heading based on the other aircraft's heading and speed... constantly updated as well.

SimPits: Thank you for your time Enrico, it has been an honor.

PM: Thank you very much! Ciao Enrico


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Interview by: Justin Messenger

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