by Iain Murray

This Tutorial may be printed direct or downloaded (12k) in Word format for printing.

It is possible to repaint existing aircraft for MS Flight Simulator with a colour scheme of your own using currently available public domain software tools; this means that you do not need FS Flight Shop (or similar product) to create "new" aircraft. However, as the tools available are not designed to be used together, it is not readily apparent how to use them to repaint an aircraft.
The purpose of this document (together with the associated archive files) is to offer an introductory tutorial on how to repaint your own aircraft using these tools. The tutorial describes how to convert existing aircraft (in FS5.1 or FS95 format) into "new" aircraft for FS98 (if you wish to produce aircraft for FS95 only, please read version 1.0 of this document which covers FS95 aircraft).
After installation of all the tools, your first aircraft repaint will probably take about 5-6 hours work, later ones 2-3 hours or so (depending on the complexity of your new colour scheme).

The Tools
Included with this archive is the following freeware (public domain) file:

  • FSPALETT.BMP, a bitmap image containing the FS colour palette
    You will also need additional freeware tools (available from this site):
  • Texture Converter by Kai Wang-Erlandsen, Windows program for viewing textures (files required are TEXCON01.ZIP and update TEXCONU1.ZIP from Utilities Section)· Flight Dynamics Editor
    You will also need additional tools:
  • the MS converter for FS98, all available from Utilities section - you probably already have this.
  • a hex editor, to modify contents of the MDL files; recommended is Hex Workshop, shareware available from http://www.bpsoft.com
  • a BMP graphics editor, to repaint the texture files; recommended is Paint Shop Pro, shareware available from http://www.jasc.com

Unzip and install all of the required tools following their individual instructions.

Stage 1 - Getting Started
First of all, you need to select an aircraft model to repaint. FS models of most well-known aircraft are already available as freeware, so search the available archives (see Appendix for a list of archive sites) for all the aircraft of the type you want; if several models of the same aircraft are available, select the best from those available according to the following criteria:
· the visual model looks accurate and attractive (look and see, compare with photos of the real aircraft), and includes "extras" such as working flaps, spoilers and lights
· the flight model is accurate (fly before you buy!)
· the existing model is textured as much as possible (aircraft sections are a base colour, with bitmap textures pasted onto certain parts - look for models with texture maps in areas that you want to repaint; as an example, it is possible to repaint the fuselage of the default Cessna 182 RG in FS98, but not the tail fin, as it is not textured) - use Texture Converter to preview the existing texture maps of your chosen aircraft (usually these have *.?AF filenames)
· where several versions of an aircraft already exist, some may already be repaints, so use the "master" aircraft where possible.
· remember that you will not be able to change the shape of any parts of the aircraft, add new parts or take parts off, or change the colour of any non-textured parts
Install and test fly your chosen aircraft as a reference for your own efforts.
You will also need as many good photographs of your target aircraft as you can get (if you are copying the livery of a real aircraft).

Stage 2 - Creating a Duplicate Aircraft with a New Identity
2.1 Duplicating the Files
Having installed your original FS98 aircraft (or installed a FS Flight Shop aircraft into FS98 format using the FS98 converter), you will find that it consists of several files. For example, if the aircraft is called ORIGINAL, you will find the files:
ORIGINAL.AIR (aircraft definition, the Aircraft\ORIGINAL subdirectory)
ORIGINAL.MDL (aircraft model, in the Aircraft\ORIGINAL\Model subdirectory)
ORIGINAL.0AF (texture file, in the Aircraft\ORIGINAL\TEXTURE subdirectory)
ORIGINAL.1AF, ORIGINAL.2AF, etc. (other texture files)
The first thing to do is to duplicate all of these files, then rename the copies, for example:
2.2 Editing the AIR File
Having changed the external identity of the files, we now we need to change their internal identity. Use FDE to load in NEWPLANE.AIR, then:

  • on the first page, edit the details to reflect your new livery; add your own credit to the original author's credits
  • on the last page, change the complex model to NEWPLANE.MDL and enter the new aircraft's registration
  • you may wish to alter the aircraft dynamics on the other pages, but this is optional and unnecessary if you do not want to change its performance

Save the revised AIR file with the same name (NEWPLANE.AIR).
You also need to alter the aircraft.cfg file in the Aircraft\ORIGINAL subdirectory:

  • change the text after title= in the 2nd line as required (this is used as the menu item in the aircraft menu in FS98)
  • change the text after sim= in the 3rd line to NEWPLANE (this is the name of the flight model used by the aircraft)

2.3 Editing the MDL File
We now need to change the MDL file to use our new texture files. Use your hex editor to load in NEWPLANE.MDL; search through the file looking for the original texture file names (ORIGINAL.0AF, etc.) and replace each with its new filename (NEWPLANE.0AF, etc.); make sure the 3-chracter extensions are not altered. Save the revised MDL file with the same name (NEWPLANE.MDL).
You also need to alter the model.cfg file in the Aircraft\ORIGINAL\model subdirectory:
· change the text after normal= in the 2nd line to NEWPLANE (this is the name of the visual model used by the aircraft)
If you now run FS98, select the Aircraft Menu and choose Select Aircraft, you should see your new plane on the list (distinct from the original on the list). Select your new plane, and it should look and fly exactly like the original (if it doesn't (or doesn't appear on the menu) you must have corrupted either the AIR or MDL file during editing (or one of the .cfg files), and will need to erase these files and start again). Now that your new plane has its own identity, you are ready to repaint the textures!

Stage 3 - Repainting the Textures
3.1 Changing the Format
The existing texture files will be standard 256x256 pixel 256 colour pictures, with a file size of 64K (some aircraft may have "shrunk" texture files which are smaller than this, and these cannot be altered, but I've only ever come across two planes like this). However, this format is not supported by most graphics editors, so we need to change them to the BMP (bitmap) format, which is supported, before we can edit them. Use Texture Converter to load each texture file (NEWPLANE.0AF etc.) in turn, then save in BMP format (use filenames like NEWPLAN0.BMP, NEWPLAN1.BMP etc. for the bitmaps corresponding to the original files).
3.2 Editing the Bitmaps
Use your preferred bitmap editor to edit the BMP files. Remember to leave features like windows, hatches and engine vents intact, painting your new logo around them. You will also have to use the FS palette, otherwise your aircraft will change colour when you fly it - use the enclosed FSPALETT.BMP file as a source palette for the colours to use in your new livery (if the colour you want is not in FSPALETT.BMP, it is not available in Flight Simulator)!
3.3 Changing Back to Textures
Now we need to convert your revised BMP files back to aircraft texture format - use Texture Converter to open each BMP file in turn, and save back as NEWPLANE.0AF etc.

Stage 4 - Hints & Tips
Depending on the original aircraft chosen and the extent of your texture repainting, you may need to do some additional editing to finish off your new paint scheme correctly - going back to re-edit your bitmaps, then reconvert to textures, then review in Flight Simulator, and so on until you are happy with the result!

  • Where sections of the same bitmap are used on different parts of the aircraft, or the texture fits onto an irregularly shaped area (e.g. a tail fin), you may need to use trial and error to locate the correct sections; try using bright colours from the palette temporarily to identify particular target areas in the final textures.
  • Often, bitmaps must line up (e.g. where several bitmaps are used in line along a fuselage); if your graphics editor supports multiple open files, use this facility to help in maintaining alignment. In some aircraft, the textures may not line up quite as you expect, and you may need to shift your bitmaps a pixel or two to maintain correct visual alignment on your aircraft.
  • Use existing windows, hatches and panel lines to guide your repainting.
  • Some of the "bright" colours in the palette are not affected by darkness, allowing you to create night-visible effects, such as window lighting.
  • For complex logos and writing, copy real ones wherever possible, for example:
  • Copy logos from existing FS aircraft in your chosen livery
  • Convert logos from graphics on airline websites
  • Use your picture editor to clip out logos from photos of the real aircraft.
  • You may find that one texture file is used in more than one place on the aircraft e.g. on the top and bottom of a wing. If you need to modify the texture in only one place (e.g. to add an underwing registration), you will need to create a new texture file (initially a duplicate of the original) and change the reference in the MDL file to the new texture (e.g. copy NEWPLANE.6AF to NEWPLANE.9AF, and change the instance of NEWPLANE.6AF in NEWPLANE.MDL to NEWPLANE.9AF using your hex editor; as there will be more than one reference to NEWPLANE.6AF, you may need to use trial and error until you get the correct one)!
  • Occasionally, texture files arrive on the aircraft reversed - this appears to be random! If this occurs, simply reverse the original bitmap using your graphics editor!
  • If you are using FS95, you need to exit and restart in order to load a newly modified aircraft. If you are using FS98, you don't need to exit - just reselect the aircraft from the menu, and the latest textures will be loaded in.
  • If you wish to make your "new" aircraft available on the web, collect all the component files and a "readme" text file into a ZIP file; as a courtesy to the original aircraft author, you may like to contact them to tell them you have produced a repaint of their aircraft.

REPTUTOR V2.0, © Iain Murray, 1999

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