Interview with Lionel Zamouth from Aerobask: Next Projects, MSFS and More
April 13, 2021
In an exclusive interview with Threshold, Lionel Zamouth reveals Aerobask’s next projects, gives us insights into the upcoming Falcon 8X project, gives us his thoughts on MSFS and much more.
Lionel, tell us about you, who are you, what is your role in this community?
I am now 53 years old, I used to be a developer for different companies including Nintendo when I was younger, I then went towards management roles into the world of data management, a very specific industry. I have always been a passionate aviation enthusiast, starting off with a gliders license, then my PPL when I was thirty. Being interested in both aviation and computing, flight simulation was a natural hobby for me since my early days. I am now an X-Plane developer at Aerobask where I take care of all aircraft systems and avionics. I also have my own business, Skunkcrafts, which remains minor compared to my activities at Aerobask.
When did you first get into flight simulation?
I got into flight simulation with the Psion Flight Simulation (released 1982) on my Sinclair ZX81, very early days. It was made up of blocks in black and white. Even though it was very primitive, it was amazing for the time.
What did you first study and were you a good student?
I was a good student up to my school graduation, very good at maths. I then studied maths for two years, however, I stopped my scientific studies to concentrate on other aspects of life. I then picked my studies back up and got a degree in finance.
Did you work in other sectors before starting to develop flight simulation solutions?
I entered the computing sector in 1990, working on the French Minitel system. I introduced the first interactive paid services on phones in France. I remember organizing Christmas for the French TV channel RMC, people could send their messages by phone. It seems insignificant now but at the time of analogue telephony, it was very interesting.
What were your first experiences as a developer in flight simulation?
Before Aerobask, I hadn’t really been developing any flight simulation content. Everything happened when I discovered SASL, and how I could draw on panels.
How did you meet the rest of the Aerobask team?
I contacted Aerobask, discussing with Stephane, offering to fix numerous details that kept bothering me. I then started developing a Dynon Skyview, this avionics suite would then be integrated into the Epic Victory Skyview. I usually make great use of SASL as I find it to be very intuitive, this really changed the way Aerobask develops.
Support in software companies is undeniably essential to a successful enterprise, how do you manage it?
I had been giving support for commercial software for a long time in my life. I believe that the skills learned at that time allow me to give proper support to our clients and I think this has been positively influencing our reputation. However, we sometimes encounter aggressive clients who often take advantage of our company size to let off steam, these people should not expect good support. Fortunately, we are often met with kind comments which really warm our heart.
Tell us about Skunkcrafts, are there any projects down the line?
I originally started Skunkcrafts to develop add-ons Aerobask wasn’t interested in developing. At that time, I thought I would have time for several projects, since the beginning of the Falcon development my time has been limited. For now, nothing is planned.
The Lancair Legacy started out as a Skunkcrafts project but ended up being released as Aerobask, what happened?
I obviously can’t go into too much detail, however, my partner in this project Khamsin was unable to deliver his part on time. It was very frustrating for me as a lot of work had been done on the fully custom avionics. A decision was therefore made to finish the product with the rest of the Aerobask team as Aerobask was also in the need of a new product.
Do you ever get the time to fly your planes? If yes, which one do you enjoy the most among your lineup?
I have very little time on my hands, however, when I want to have a bit of fun I take the Lancair Legacy out of the hangar. It’s a real rocket, with lots of power and torque, it is very enjoyable to fly and has great flying characteristics. I believe it is one of our best products which is sadly not as popular as some others from our line-up.
Your Embraer Phenom 300 just released and it is phenomenal! Did you use it as a test platform for the Falcon project?
It wasn’t really a test platform. It obviously helped us develop many solutions that would then be used in the Falcon and gain expertise in particular in optimizing performance. The main reason for the project was the need for a release waiting for the Falcon. Stephane and I are full-time developers meaning we need a constant source of income from our add-on sales. The Phenom 300 was a financial necessity more than anything else taking account of the delays on the Falcon.
The community is very excited about your upcoming Falcon 8X, how far is it down the line?
It is still being developed, we are working as fast as possible with Dassault. I am currently working on the FMS and the fly-by-wire system. We are aiming for a release this year.
You have been collaborating with Dassault on the Falcon development. How has it been working with such a large and prestigious company and what do they bring in this partnership?
I can’t reveal the details but they bring us a lot, we can use their brand and logos. We also had access to the real aircraft numerous times. The expertise they bring us is simply amazing.
About two years ago, X-Plane seemed to lack business jets, this market is suddenly being filled; your Falcon and Phenom, RW’s Mustang, X-Craft’s Legacy 650, Hotstart’s Challenger. How can you explain this change?
I believe the market of general aviation and airliners for X-Plane became very crowded with developers such as Flight Factor and Carenado who have a large line-up. The business jets category on the other hand wasn't as crowded.
Aerobask is one of the few developers to have been steadily releasing high-quality add-ons for the past years, however, it seems as if you have risen the bar recently. Is that correct?
Yes, that is very correct, we try to release better products each time with the experience gained with each development. I improve on the depth of the systems each time and Stephane also learns new techniques on his side.
Any new exciting projects coming after the Falcon?
Our top priority now is finishing the Falcon. Then we will be working on our next project, the Shark.Aero Shark ultra-light. After that, we will be retrofitting our G1000-equipped aircraft with the synthetic vision we use in the Phenom 300. If this is done before the release of X-Plane 12, the update will be free to our customers. We will also be working with a light aircraft manufacturer to bring one of their airplanes to X-Plane. Further down the line, we’ll be developing another business jet, they are very addictive!
Now the question everybody has been waiting for. Aerobask has been loyal to X-Plane over the years, what are your thoughts on the brand new Microsoft Flight Simulator personally and is it something Aerobask is considering in the future?
As long as it isn’t available on Linux I won’t be using it! Developing for Microsoft Flight Simulator is not at all something we are considering. As long as we can live decently developing for X-Plane, we will continue to do so. FS2020 is a beautiful simulator that will continue to develop but it is just not for us. Hundreds of developers will be developing for it and we have no experience developing for ESP platforms, we’d rather leave them to develop on their side. We also have great relations in this community, we an excellent relationship with people such as Saso Kiselkov from Hotstart, Steve Wilson from X-Crafts or Dan Klaue from Thranda and have been helping each other for years. More recently, I have been helping iniSimulations with their A300 and Beluga. Laminar Research really helps the developer community by keeping us in close contact with their development team which can be very useful and unique to this platform. We really hope Laminar will continue developing their visuals to keep up with this new competition.
The booming of flight simulation has given rise to a wave of young aspiring developers, would you recommend your line of work? What advice would you give to them?
My first advice would be to not announce anything until having a product ready. They must really understand development is not only making a 3D model in Blender, it is a difficult process that is difficult to master. X-Plane is great for developing for fun but if they want to develop for a living, they should take time to reconsider. It is a very difficult line of work.
Check out our review of the Aerobask Phenom 300 released last week.
Thank you to Lionel and the rest of the Aerobask team for taking their time to record this interview.
Interview translated from French.
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