X-Rotors started back in 2004 like many other development start: with a passion for aircraft and flight simulation. Lucky for us, that passion happens to be helicopters. Forced to stop development for some time and to become a low-profile team, they became a development team shrouded in a lot of mystery. There’s not a lot the community knows about them, although the project they have been working on for over a decade now is one of the most appreciated and sought-after helicopters out there: the AW139.
We managed to speak to Xavier Pretini, the public face of X-Rotors and talked about the project, what happened to the team, how they are handling it and the future project.
Xavier is not a new guy in development, having worked on projects such as a custom EC135, a secret A129 Mangusta, an A109E Power and an AW109S Grand. He is clearly a passionate helicopter fan and developer and he and the team are working hard to remove the dark clouds above their heads and rise above what they describe as “an unquestionably idiot mistake”.
Hi, Xavier. Thank you for taking a few minutes out of your schedule to answer to our questions. X-Rotors is a project/company that not a lot of people know about. How did it all started?
It started after the outcome of a first development attempt, started back in 2004 and soon forced to a stop, after that parts of it were discovered to be actually taken from other aircrafts. To be more specific, a plug-in and a portion of a texture were involved in a clumsy copy.
An unquestionably idiot mistake indeed, that carried out some nasty consequences. Although we fired the guilty and quickly took the responsibility by admitting the truth and excusing on a primary community forum, we were permanently banned without appeal. We tried to get in touch with the platform owners, but every plea to get back into the club remained unanswered.
In the years, despite some of those who were using our latest creations were asking for a rehab, the word-of-mouth had gone so far that the old mishap was even said to be a total robbery of an entire 3D artwork, which was obviously false. Still willing to proof our genuine skills, we started the IFLY project, but we were so overwhelmed by the controversy that soon we decided to close it.
Times later, the pressure from our users and fans asking to resume the development led us to a second attempt to contribute to the X-PLANE platform. And that’s how the fresh X-ROTORS project was born, with the aim to keep our flying software alive and kicking.
What about the guy behind the team? Who’s Xavier? Care to tell us a bit more about yourself?
Very few things to tell, indeed. I’m a true passionate who unfortunately doesn’t fly a helicopter for living, I’m the front man of the development team and the guy who runs the website.
The team is composed by two developers, a real coding expert and three test pilots, two of which are real AW139 pilots and constantly raise the bar for us to do always better. This comes in handy when we talk about the software laying behind the eye-candy, we try our best to make the handling and behavior of the simulated machine as close as possible as the real one.
You seem to be quite reserved when it comes to contacting with the public. There’s not a lot of information going on about your products or about, well, anything, really. Is there any particular reason for this?
That’s the price for our mistake. We had to keep ourselves outside the official community, we’re still afraid to knock at that door, our old wounds still burn. It’ll be difficult to get another chance maybe, but we love rotors and X-PLANE so much that we keep doing what we do anyway.
Of course, living in the shadows means to have basically zero exposure. We use some social media for news posting, but we rely mostly on what our users say around the internet once they try our products. To these gentlemen goes our sincere gratitude. Thank you, guys!
What was the thing that drove you into developing for X-Plane? Specifically, the AW139?
We’ve been flying with X-PLANE since version 5.x. It’s a platform that always showed a great realism potential, something that we learned to discover as soon as we upgraded to version 6.x and entered the community, where we’ve found a place to share knowledge, documentation and tools. Our passion with helicopters, simulation and 3D modeling made the rest and soon we attempted to reproduce our favorite helicopters.
We started to model the AW139 as soon as it hit the market. It was huge and beautifully designed. An instant classic, it had something completely different but still familiar, it would have been great to jump in and fly it in X-PLANE, which is maybe the easiest platform to deal with as a developer.
How long did it take you to get the first version out for the public?
When we started to collect the aircraft documentation, prior to initiate the modeling phase, there were no technical drawings available around, just pictures. We made a huge effort to model it without numerical references, that’s why we had to introduce so many changes in the years.
he first production lasted five months, but it was a very simple model back then, even X-Plane didn’t have the beautiful features it has now. Current production is actively running for two years now, but you’ll be surprised by the differences from the previous one, it’s basically a 95% new aircraft.
What were the challenges you encountered throughout the development process?
As soon we decided that to upgrade the latest version, we started to need more and more photos. We were clearly in need of a live shooting of a real AW139. We were luckily able to get an appointment to perform a complete shooting of a real AW139, it was an amazing experience.
The first time we put our hands on the real one we were amazed. It’s really a beautiful machine, massive and elegant at the same time, as we all know. Once inside the cockpit, the nicest thing to notice was that we were really clever with the dimensioning of the inside. It wasn’t easy, though.
Sometime later, in order to avoid the multiple platform development requested by the plugin, we had to face the XLUA coding. Not such a terrible issue, but it requested an extra commitment. Most of the times, though, the biggest challenge is represented by the frustrating lack of time, because we don’t do this for living.
I know that Agusta Westland uses your AW139 module. Can you disclose how is it that they are using it? Does this mean that your AW139 is, indeed, as realistic as possible in X-Plane?
There’s an agreement between us and them. I cannot say a lot, except that we went to the factory to proudly see our aircraft in action and - best part of the trip - to evaluate other contributions. About the realism - well - our test pilots can assure you that the feeling of flying the classic pitched-up, mid-weight, flying beauty it’s quite realistic.
In both cases, we couldn’t be prouder than this.
Do you know of any other companies that have been using your AW139?
Other than Agusta itself, we’ve been providing custom versions of our AW139 to some of the biggest players of the rotating-wing transportation industry. The first one has been Era Helicopters, whose stripes still cover the default livery on our model. We’ve been also in contact with Bristow, CHC and Gulf Helicopters, whose liveries will also be released along with version 4.0.
We’ve been also dealing with a couple of small flight simulation companies, such as Geosim, but our most appreciated customer in the real world remain the Italian Fire Fighters SAR team. For us, it’s a little success, that rewards our misadventures and our huge efforts.
Version 4, which will support X-Plane 11 has been under development for quite a long time. What’s the estimated date of release, if there’s one? Or when would you like to be able to release it?
As said, we don’t do this for living. It often happens that a scheduled deploy is delayed for some reason. We try our best to keep a more commercial pace, but it won’t happen easily. Anyway, we are actively seeking to release version 4.0 by the next spring. Fingers crossed, then.
How do you see the newest X-Plane 11.20 release and VR support? Is it something you were waiting for? Will that affect the release of the AW139 v4?
The AW139 will be definitely VR compliant starting from the sub-versions of release 4.0.
Are there any other helicopters in the pipeline? I heard something about an A109 but that seems to have been canceled? Can you shed some light on it?
The AW109 isn’t canceled at all, it’s just delayed. It’s the next project in the pipeline, right after the new AW139 will be released. There’s even a sneak peek of it on YouTube, somewhere.
What’s next after the release of v4? Are you going to keep updating and adding stuff to the AW139?
Definitely. After the super-classic 12 + 2 transport configuration, there will be an official SAR version and a military one - the AW149 - plus a lot of extras such as liveries, paint schemes, etc…
Well, Xavier, thank you again for your time and for answering our questions. Any last words for the folks out there?
Just an invitation: try it and see with your eyes. Thanks to you Sergio, clear skies!