Tu-22M3 – Photogrammetry

Task: Photogrammetry & Modeling
Purpose of creation: Mod for DCS (Digital Combat Simulator)

I absolutely love aerospace, engineering & simulators.  In 2016 I was looking for a new side project within DCS modding community.
Digital Combat Simulator is an incredible flight simulator, filled with magnificent aircrafts and helicopters. Within community I discovered a modding thread by Brian Cooper, who was looking for team members that would like to join him on a journey of creating Tu-22M3 mod for DCS.

I find this plane incredibly beautiful, so I signed-up for a task. Of course we needed a lot of photo reference, prior to the start of modeling process. Plane is huge and internet couldn’t provide us with the amount of reference we needed for high presicion modeling. Fortunately Brian had already planned a meeting with Dmitry – the director of Kiev’s aeospace museum. He was planning to travel to Ukraine and he invited me to come with him.

Prior to my departure I was looking at different techniques that could help us in the modeling process. Photogrammetry was one of them, I had some experience with it, but it was limited to boulders and other simple objects. This time around it had to be done on a whole another level. To test if it was even possible, I first went to Dutch aerospace museum “Aviodrome”. The museum had majestic Boeing 747, and I decided to use it’s main landing gear as a testbench. After getting rough results in photogrammetry, I understood that it could be done. Soon after I packed all the necessary gear and took my flight to Ukraine.

After landing I was held at the border, and I was nearly sent to interrogation room, due to unfortunate tensions between Ukraine and Russia at that time. It’s being only 2.5 years sinds the revolution happend in the country, so it was understandable. After providing them my proof of The Netherlands being my home country, I was granted the premission to enter the country.

My time schedule was tight as I would stay only three full days in the country. The next day I went straight to the museum, to familiarize myself with the exterior of the plane. I was positively surprised by the planes beauty and good condition. It was also the day when I began to shoot front and rear landing gears for photogrammetry. After the first day I was very excited for the next one, as we would get full access to the front and rear cockpits of the plane.

Upon arrival to museum next morning – we where amazed by the sight! Tall stairs where standing and waiting for us, on both sides of the plane. They where placed there – just for two of us. It felt like a real privilege! After climbing into the first cockpit I was overwhelmed by the amount of gauges, buttons and switches, so many of them!

There was not much light & space in both cockpits, and I understood that it will be a challenging task to capture it all properly. I didn’t want to waste a single second, so I just started to shoot right away. I was sliding other the whole cockpit back and forth, taking bizare positions, jumping in and out, and running between sides of the plane. Unfortunately due to lack of time and having only one camera, I had not enough time to photograph the whole exterior of the plane in a same way as both cockpits and landing gears. Within three days I was able to shoot over 10000 pictures.

Dmitry and staff of museum where very kind to us, and it was a pleasure to talk to them, hearing their stories and see other planes of museum from inside, during our short breaks. But it was a time to go home.

After returning back home to The Netherlands, I began to process all taken pictures and run first calculations of photogrammetry.
My coputer had only 64GB of RAM, so crashes where not uncommon – considering the amount of data that I was feeding into calculation process.
It took me nearly a month to finish all the calculations and export the meshes. We where amazed by the results of photogrammetry – it was looking really good, considering the old Canon camera and challenging shoot conditions.

Right after that I began to model the plane. It did go very well, but soon after I realized that without financial support it was not possible to complete this mod on a level of detail that we want. I was the only modeler in our team and the amount of work needed to be done – was immense. Monthly bills had to be paid, we did try to find funding, but it was not on a level that could sustain the cost of living. The decission was made to archive the project until better times.
I still have a wish to revive this project, and finish the model in all it’s glory!

Baking test of highpoly to mid-poly meshes, and texture test with newely baked maps.

Below you’ll find 360’s photogrammetry of landing gear.