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I Don't Get Spaceplanes


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I've never quite understood the allure of planes. I know many many people really enjoy them, but every time I fly one I come away dissatisfied. I'm using NEAR right now, but even with stock, I have far too much trouble controlling one. They wobble and never seem to fly like a jet should. I expect them to handle like a plane from FlightGear or something, but they don't. I know I MUST be doing something wrong, because I know they shouldn't be this frustrating. Thoughts?

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Well, even presuming your plane is designed just right*, you'll still never get quite the right experience due to the imprecise way your plane and everyone elses is created. Real planes, including those modeled in proper flight sims, are precisely constructed, which allows for very fine tuning, which in turn provides a ride that's quite smooth for the pilot. You'll notice in proper flight sims that it isn't particularly hard to keep control of the plane with minimal knowledge, and this even translates into real life as well to a degree. Planes are just designed this way.

However, in KSP, planes are cobbled together from various parts that aren't necessarily designed to work with each other. Thus, planes in KSP aren't as easy to use out of the box compared to a realistically constructed plane, be it simulated or otherwise. This is why the shuttle mods like Buran from Bobcat or the KSOS fly better out of the box compared to a freeform design. They're full models that are just broken up into pieces rather than pieces stitched together into a model.

There's also the issue with controls. Keyboard controls aren't that great (even with fine controls on via CapsLock) and I personally have never gotten my joysticks to work well with the game.

But, keep at it. Eventually you'll get a plane that works well, I know I did.

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NEAR? You mean FAR?

Anyway, the allure of spaceplanes is that you can get about twice the payload to orbit for the fuel consumption. That, and the challenge of designing a good spaceplane is far greater than that of a good rocket.

With better aerodynamics plugins like FAR, you actually have to build your craft fairly aerodynamically as well. Meaning you can't put mostly-flat surfaces along the leading edge (ie. the front-side of the craft) and expect to have any sort of stable flight past mach 2 (and it'll be shaky before then even at that). A good tip for a balanced spaceplane is to place the fuel mass on the sides of the fuselage, and have the central part of your spaceplane have no draining of physical resources at all. If you use tweakables to empty and refill the fuel tanks, you can gauge when they are at the point of least resistance (ie. the center of mass does not meaningfully shift at all as the fuel levels change), meaning your craft will fly the same at a full tank as it does on an empty one. Besides making sure you have enough aerodynamic and control surfaces, and making sure center of lift is slightly behind center of mass, that's all you really need to know to make spaceplanes easy to build in KSP.

EDIT: Oh, one last warning: gauge your center of mass/center of lift balance before you add landing gear. Even though their mass is listed as fairly significant, landing gear is actually physics-insignificant, meaning it will throw off your center of mass reading and give you an inaccurate result.

Edited by SkyRender
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No, he actually means NEAR. It is a simpler form of FAR, with better aerodynamics than stock but not as realistic.

http://forum.kerbalspaceprogram.com/threads/86419-0-24-2-NEAR-A-Simpler-Aerodynamics-Model-v1-1-1-7-25-14

Oh. Well, that's news to me. I guess that, NEAR, FAR, wherever you are, there's an aerodynamics mod out there for you.

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Like everyone else has said, the big difference between KSP+FAR/NEAR and FlightGear is that FlightGear uses planes that are already stable. If you're interested, check out some of the crafts in the Spacecraft Exchange or the Better SSTO Spaceplane Challenge to see how others are making stable spaceplanes. My challenge entry was designed to be relatively easy to fly into orbit – it's inherently stable from take off through reentry with both FAR and NEAR*. I learned most of the key features by reading this tutorial, this article on wing configurations, and poking through the FAR thread.

I prefer spaceplanes over rockets because I actually have to fly them. With rockets+FAR, it's mostly pitchover and let it go. They're also usually more efficient and it can be a challenge to cram payloads inside their cargo bays.

*It's a little too stable with NEAR. Move some oxidizer to the back.

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Space planes and SSTOs are handy for a few things, more so now that there is contracts and it rewards you for designing and using reusable craft.

I found I can lift far more into orbit with my SSTO space planes then I ever could with most rockets in KSP. This is quite the opposite when I get into Realism Overhaul, but it doesn't stop me from trying to make a working SSTO space plane. While there are many people who play this game who enjoy just making the most unrealistic contraptions ever seen and then bragging about how they got it into orbit on the forums, or how they went to some planet somewhere and did some science. Those who often choose to use FAR/NEAR are often not of that mindset, and tend to want more from their gaming experience.

My only suggestion is stick with it, if you are unsure of what you are doing wrong ask in the NEAR/FAR thread or in the Q&A section, post pictures of your craft, if there is a bug post your output.log.

But most importantly, KSP is a game, if you are not having fun move on to something else that is to you.

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"Adequately stable" is in the eye of the pilot, of course, but as others have said your problem is most likely poor design.

There's also the point that even a well-designed spaceplane is likely be not quite as nimble as an equivalent conventional plane, simply because it's burdened with the extra mass of equipment required for space. Also keep in mind the relative speeds involved: conventional planes don't spend a lot of time at the edge of hypersonic like spaceplanes do.

Give this one a go: http://forum.kerbalspaceprogram.com/threads/89092-Kerbodyne-Scattershot-a-simple-and-easy-to-fly-beginner-s-SSTO-spaceplane

I designed it with the intention of making something decent looking but easy to fly into orbit; if you struggle with this plane, it's likely that your piloting needs some work as well.

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I learned most of the key features by reading this tutorial

This. Even with a background in physics, I found spaceplanes to be quite the challenge, though I really like them for the novelty. I found that tutorial to be incredibly helpful and informative, and after some subsequent experimentation, I've built up an intuition for how to construct them.

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I've never quite understood the allure of planes. I know many many people really enjoy them, but every time I fly one I come away dissatisfied. I'm using NEAR right now, but even with stock, I have far too much trouble controlling one. They wobble and never seem to fly like a jet should. I expect them to handle like a plane from FlightGear or something, but they don't. I know I MUST be doing something wrong, because I know they shouldn't be this frustrating. Thoughts?

The major, over-riding thing about spaceplanes vs rockets is that with the 'planes you're going to be spending much more time in atmosphere than with rockets. If you like flying in atmosphere - and you've bothered to install NEAR so I assume you do - then you're just going to have to learn to live with the limitations of aircraft in KSP. If you like flying in space then, even with spaceplanes, the amount of time you spend in atmosphere is too trivial to worry about - certainly too trivial to spend all the time on them that they take.

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Well, I've discovered a large reason why NEAR might make you hate spaceplanes, and that is that its simplified aerodynamics model compared to FAR breaks down something awful the moment you start to spin out. FAR at least gives you some shot of recovering your vehicle when that happens, but with NEAR, it actually gets unphysical in the way planes go out of control. You literally cannot get your plane facing any sane direction during a spin-out with NEAR if it's aerodynamically stable otherwise.

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Well, I've discovered a large reason why NEAR might make you hate spaceplanes, and that is that its simplified aerodynamics model compared to FAR breaks down something awful the moment you start to spin out. FAR at least gives you some shot of recovering your vehicle when that happens, but with NEAR, it actually gets unphysical in the way planes go out of control. You literally cannot get your plane facing any sane direction during a spin-out with NEAR if it's aerodynamically stable otherwise.

While I'm not disagreeing that this isn't how it should be: have you tried it with ye olde test pilot trick of spin recovery parachutes?

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Anyway, the allure of spaceplanes is that you can get about twice the payload to orbit for the fuel consumption. That, and the challenge of designing a good spaceplane is far greater than that of a good rocket.

That efficiency is what ruined spaceplanes for me. First I realized that the less I used wings, the easier the planes were to build and fly. Then I took that to the logical extreme, and started building rockets with jet engines. After that, I started wondering why jet engines were so useful as rocket boosters, and found a lot of ways in which they were broken by design. Then I learned about the bug that made airbreathing engines ~15x more fuel efficient than they should be. Now I rarely use jet engines for anything, as they feel like some magic tecnology from Star Wars.

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That efficiency is what ruined spaceplanes for me. First I realized that the less I used wings, the easier the planes were to build and fly. Then I took that to the logical extreme, and started building rockets with jet engines. After that, I started wondering why jet engines were so useful as rocket boosters, and found a lot of ways in which they were broken by design. Then I learned about the bug that made airbreathing engines ~15x more fuel efficient than they should be. Now I rarely use jet engines for anything, as they feel like some magic tecnology from Star Wars.

Tried 'em with post-nerf FAR? Fuel efficiency is still high, but Ferram halved the power.

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While I'm not disagreeing that this isn't how it should be: have you tried it with ye olde test pilot trick of spin recovery parachutes?

Yep. In fact, that was what made me realize that the model broke down: the plane continues to spin out of control with the parachutes deployed. It's only when full deployment happens that anything even resembling a return to order takes place. And even then, the craft will have issues if you try to take off again.

EDIT: Yep, NEAR has problems, all right. I suggest to the original poster that a switch to FAR would ironically be less complicated than trying to deal with NEAR at this point. It'll up your jet engine requirements slightly, but it will also cut down significantly on the whole "plane becomes an uncontrollable mess" problem.

Edited by SkyRender
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Also, some basic piloting tips:

Don't use SAS. Even in straight and level flight it's likely to put you in a "cross-control" situation, rolling one way and yawing the other. In an extreme case that's a great way to enter a spin.

Do use trim to maintain level flight. Ctrl+WS, Ctrl+X resets it.

Turn by banking, like a real plane.

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plane in KSP is lackluster now.

the lack of a stock cargo bay make the whole point of flying a plane meaningless, and how weak the stock control surfaces are forces you to install B9

but the problem of B9 is, the maker hasnt updated it since 0.23.

you have to find the communtiy fixes for the .dll youself

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I only fly space planes. The only reason I launch a rocket is to get a payload larger than a hundred units into orbit for refueling my space planes. Personally, I find atmos/exatmos flynig rather dull without at least FAR, Deadly Reentry and a _bunch_ of parts for aircraft, in particular cockpits (edit; CARGO BAYS).

I spend a clear majority of my time playing KSP in the design phase. Generally when a plane is done, it can perform extended missions in a reasonable amount of (real world) time. Transonic testing is usually what takes the most time-- getting the center of lift and center of mass in the right spots so that it flies well at mach 0.5 as well as mach 5 can take a lot of fiddling about with wing angles.

Flying space planes definitely moves the focus to the craft creation, even if you don't go overboard with cost/performance like I tend to do.

Edited by SSR Kermit
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plane in KSP is lackluster now.

the lack of a stock cargo bay make the whole point of flying a plane meaningless, and how weak the stock control surfaces are forces you to install B9

but the problem of B9 is, the maker hasnt updated it since 0.23.

you have to find the communtiy fixes for the .dll youself

I fly spaceplanes almost exclusively, and I don't use B9 (just downloaded Spaceplane Plus today, but I don't expect to use it much; sure, they're pretty, but all your planes end up looking kinda the same if you use those parts).

While a stock cargo bay would certainly be a sensible addition, it isn't that hard to build your own from parts. And the standard control surfaces work just fine. If you're having trouble controlling your plane or the control surfaces are tearing off, the problem is in the design, not the parts.

Mod-kit planes are like putting together a Lego model according to the instructions. Stock part planes are like being given a bucket full of random blocks and making something new and cool.

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While a stock cargo bay would certainly be a sensible addition, it isn't that hard to build your own from parts. And the standard control surfaces work just fine. If you're having trouble controlling your plane or the control surfaces are tearing off, the problem is in the design, not the parts.

Mod-kit planes are like putting together a Lego model according to the instructions. Stock part planes are like being given a bucket full of random blocks and making something new and cool.

I disagree. Cargo bays built from other parts will have a lot more drag than actual cargo bay parts and don't shield parts when using FAR or NEAR.

Also stock spaceplane parts just look terrible IMO. B9 and spaceplane plus give me a lot more variety and it doesn't feel even a tiny bit like putting something together from instructions.

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I disagree. Cargo bays built from other parts will have a lot more drag than actual cargo bay parts and don't shield parts when using FAR or NEAR.

Also stock spaceplane parts just look terrible IMO. B9 and spaceplane plus give me a lot more variety and it doesn't feel even a tiny bit like putting something together from instructions.

My cargo bays tend to either have a rocket nosecone at the front or are shielded by a Procedural Fairing (no, not stock, but not a spaceplane parts kit either). And the FAR menu accessed from the space centre screen allows you to tweak which parts suffer drag, how much drag they suffer, whether that drag is affected by orientation and whether that part shields its contents or not.

But, as usual, each to their own. I like the challenge of making something usable from stock bits, but that doesn't mean anyone else has to.

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