Thursday, December 11, 2008

Wilco's Tilt Rotor Released

However, it's the download version only right now. It is priced at € 36.95 if you live in the EU, or € 30.54 elsewhere. For those of us in the U.S., that currently comes to around $41. Not a bad deal, although I think I shall wait a bit and see before springing for this one.

In other Wilco news, they dropped the price on their Legacy add-on, which was developed by the guys at feelThere. It can now be had for € 16.95 for EU customers, or € 14.00 elsewhere. Again, for those of us in the U.S., that currently comes to around $19. Nice little plane if you are looking for a cheap Christmas gift this year. The Legacy add-on is rather old, as it essentially served as a forerunner to feelThere's ERJ add-on (also rather old). It works OK in FSX, although it was originally targeted for FS9. The FS9 to FSX conversion tool is a bit clumsy, as I recall. Still, for less than $20, you aren't going to find too many better planes outside of some of the freebies.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Captain Sim Holiday Sale

Speaking of Captain Sim, they are running their annual holiday sale right now. You can pick up some great discounts on their add-ons for Christmas if you hurry:

  • 757 Pro Pack for €59.99 (around $78 US), normally €89.97
  • C-130 Pro Pack for €59.99 (around $78 US), normally €89.97
  • 727-100 and 727-200 for €9.99 each (around $13 US), 727 ACE for €5.99 (around $8 US)
And many others goodies there, too.

To be frank, I wouldn't spend $117 US on any add-on unless it came with a flight yoke or rudder pedals or something really juicy. $78 is a little high, but OK with me if the add-on is of high quality. Captain Sim's 757 has had some rather serious bugs in the past that would make me question whether this is a wise investment. However, they have been actively working on the issues and releasing updates, so I will give them the benefit of the doubt. Anyway, if you're going to pick up one of Captain Sim's goodies, now is the time to do it!

At the very least, I would jump on those 727 modules. They may not be the best now, but it will make the upgrade to the full 727 (when the panel and cockpit are done) less painful in the wallet.

Captain Sim 757 (FSX) v4.2 Released

Just got a note in my inbox today that mentions that Captain Sim has released an update to their 757 (FSX version), v4.2. I have no idea what it fixes, but hopefully it addresses the really irritating CTD when setting an altitude constraint in the FMC on an approach. There seem to be some mixed reports of success in the forums. I will give it a try later and see if I have any luck.

Would love to see Navigraph do updates for the Captain Sim 757. I understand it's in the works...


I was doing a flight on the PMDG 747-400X freighter from Toronto to Calgary last night. Somewhere over eastern Saskatchewan, the plane started to lurch right, even to the point where the autopilot could no longer control it. I did have real world weather turned on, and it had gotten a bit turbulent in the vicinity. Some research on the AVSIM forums indicates that the 747X may run into trouble if the winds switch around violently, as is how the real-world weather behavior is implemented in FSX. The FSUIPC module supposedly has a wind-smoothing feature, so I may need to go investigate turning that one on. I wonder if there is a bug in the flight dynamics of the 747X which gets tripped on when the air is excessively turbulent -- or if this is simply a feature of the aircraft, and the pilot needs more training as to how to correct the situation.

Anyway, as any good pilot would do, I assumed manual control of the aircraft and arranged to divert to the nearest suitable airport, which turned out to be Regina International in Regina, Saskatchewan. Steering the plane in this situation was difficult, but I managed to keep it in the sky. I finally found Runway 13 at Regina, lowered the flaps and gear, and lined up on approach. I then executed a visual approach and landing without incident, as I feared the automated instrument approach would fail. Fortunately, we all lived. Hopefully the plane will check out and we can get back in the skies again!


Monday, December 8, 2008

Flight Status: Delayed

Ugh. Sorry for the delays in the Around the World with Santa feature. I have completed two flights associated with this, and I will be posting them soon. I was sick last week -- seems like every time the kids bring home something from school, I end up getting it as well. I have also been busy with trying to wrap up a few work-related projects before the end of the year.

The good news is that I go on vacation (from work) on December 17, so I will have a lot more free time to catch up after that!

EDIT: Day 1 is available below. I had started the post on November 28, so that is the day it appears in the blog. Not sure if I can change the date on this. Anyway, scroll down to read it. Day 2 coming soon...

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Museum of Flight

As I mentioned earlier, we took a brief visit to Seattle this weekend. One of the nice things about living in Portland is that we are close enough to two other major cities (Seattle, WA and Vancouver, BC) that weekend getaways to see something different are quite feasible. Even better, there is so much to see and do in all three cities.

If you are an aviation junkie, then Seattle is definitely one of the best places around to visit. Boeing was founded there, as most of you probably already know. They have massive assembly facilities for all their civilian aircraft currently in production or under development (737, 747, 767, 777, 787), which are located in the suburb of Everett. Supposedly they run tours of the place, but two of my kids were too short for the tour. Maybe in a few years, we will go back and do that.

Down in south Seattle sits the King County International Airport, also known as Boeing Field. This airport is primarily used as a general aviation and cargo facility. Two small operators (Kenmore Air and SeaPort Airlines) do offer limited passenger airline service on small prop planes to nearby destinations from here as well. Boeing also uses the airport as a test facility for its aircraft -- although in spite of the name, it does not actually own the airport (King County does). In fact, while driving by, we saw an All-Nippon Airways 737 taking off for a test flight to Moses Lake, WA. Really cool! Note that almost all commercial traffic flies into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SeaTac), located a few miles south of Boeing Field.

Anyway, one of the great things to do in Seattle is the Museum of Flight, which is located directly adjacent to Boeing Field. They have a great collection of passenger airliners to walk up and touch, including the very first 737-100 and 747-100 planes ever produced. An old American Airlines 727 is also there. You can also walk through the original Air Force One, a modified 707 built in the 1960s and flown well into the 1990s before being replaced by the current modified 747 fleet. Another treat is one of the British Airways Concordes, which you can also walk through. The exhibits and gift shop are wonderful, and there is even a mock control tower where you can watch planes take off and land on the Boeing Field runways right in front of you. There are also sections devoted to space flight and military aircraft, especially WWI and WWII fighters and bombers. It is an excellent place, even for kids. If you are ever in Seattle, I highly recommend it.

By the way, I picked up two really cool posters in the gift shop. One of them is a close up view of the 777 cockpit. The other one features a whole bunch of different plane models, painted in different liveries. I need to get some poster frames for these, but once I hang them up, I will have to take pictures and post them.

A Brief Vacation

Just a quick post to say that nope, I haven't forgotten about my Around the World with Santa feature. I took my family to Seattle for a brief weekend vacation during the Thanksgiving holiday, so I didn't get much simming in. I have one episode queued up and ready to go as soon as I upload the pictures. I will do a couple more quick flights to catch up. Stay tuned!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Around the World with Santa: Day 1

If you have ever looked at a map, you have probably noticed that the North Pole is located in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. Now it would certainly be possible to construct a runway in the winter up at the North Pole. However, the company owning Santa's chartered 747s would probably take a dim view of landing the aircraft at an unregulated airstrip which does not appear on any global navigation charts. (Besides, Flight Simulator X has no mechanism for this, either.) So, in order to comply with the terms of the lease agreement, Santa's elves have agreed to schlep the toys from their workshop at the North Pole using their fleet of flying reindeer to Iqaluit Airport, located in the far northern territory of Nunavut in Canada. This will be as close to the North Pole as the 747 aircraft's owners will allow it to land.

From here, we are going to make a run down to Montreal's Mirabel Airport for the first leg of our journey. Mirabel was originally intended to be a replacement for Montreal's Dorval (now Trudeau) Airport, but it never really quite caught on. Instead, Mirabel mainly sees lots of use by cargo, general aviation, and even some MEDEVAC flights. This makes it quite an ideal destination for staging Santa's toy deliveries to all the good boys and girls living in French Canada.

Here we are at Iqaluit, ready to go. The snow is blowing hard, and the weather is rather cold. Takeoff time is around 10:00 in the morning. Being in the far north of Canada, the sun rises very late and sets very early:

Our flight path will take us roughly due south over the Hudson Strait and into northern Quebec. We will go in and out over a few small portions of western Labrador as well. When we reach Baie Comeau, QC at the St. Lawrence River, we will turn southwest and follow the river the rest of the way to Mirabel.

We are airborne, at last. Here we fly above the snow. You can see the Hudson Strait below us:

Here we are in the great white north over Ungava Bay. We will be crossing back onto land in northern Quebec near Kuujjuaq, a largely Inuit village:

At Baie Comeau, we turn southwest. Here is the wide expanse of the St. Lawrence Seaway ahead of us:

We are getting close now. Montreal Center has directed us for an approach on Mirabel's Runway 24, so we will begin to vector into position:

Here we are on final approach. We expect a few bumps on our way down as we pass back through the snowy clouds:

We touch down in the snow at Mirabel. Gee, snow seems to be a recurring theme in the Canadian winter, eh?

Here we pull into a slip at the cargo terminal next to a UPS bird. There appears to be a problem with the texture on PMDG's Boeing dreamliner livery. I will have to check and see if a fix exists:

Our first leg of the journey is complete. Merry Christmas to all our friends in Quebec and the surrounding areas!

Around the World with Santa: Prologue

If you are like me, you have probably wondered at some point: how does Santa Claus cope with the ever-increasing numbers of children at Christmas? I did some checking around with various unnamed sources, and I have found some very surprising answers. It turns out that Santa has had to modernize his gift distribution network over the years to keep up.

How, you might ask? Well, it turns out that Santa has a global logistical network that puts both and UPS to shame. In fact, I have learned that Santa now has secret distribution centers all over the world! You see, if Santa had to trek back up to the North Pole to reload the sleigh after every trip, he would still be delivering gifts from five years ago this Christmas. So, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, he stocks up all his secret regional sites with goodies ahead of time. Sure, when Christmas Eve rolls around, Santa still continues the tradition of hitching Rudolph and the rest of the reindeer up to the sleigh and delivering gifts to all the good boys and girls. However, rather than wasting valuable time zipping back to the North Pole to reload the sleigh on Christmas Eve, Santa can simply zip over to the nearest secret site to tank up and keep going.

As you might expect, Santa and the elves have to rent some planes to get the goodies out from the workshop out to all the sites ahead of the big day. And let me tell you, Santa doesn't mess around! He charters 747-400 freighters like this one:

The liveries on Santa's planes tend to be similarly nondescript. Santa doesn't like to attract unnecessary attention before the big day, after all.

Now it turns out that different regions of the world have slightly different beliefs when it comes to Santa. For example, in much of Europe, Santa is known variously as Father Christmas, Papa (or Pere) Noel, Sinterklaas, or various other names. Many Europeans believe that Santa's operations are located in Lapland, rather than the North Pole. People connected with Santa's operations have assured us that these are just different franchises of the same operation, and everything is connected.

In a Pretend Flyer exclusive, Santa has agreed to let us tag along on some of his pre-Christmas gift delivery flights this holiday season! We will ride along in the jumpseat of one of Santa's 747s as they stage gifts in various locales ahead of the big day. We will even visit the European operations of the world's largest gift-giving organization along the way. Keep watching this space as we document the daily travels of Santa's flying elves.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

For those of you so inclined, have a great Thanksgiving holiday. We will be doing the usual around here -- spending time with the family, stuffing ourselves full of turkey, watching football, and of course, even a little flight simming.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Simulating the Gimli Glider

Interesting article over at about simulating the Gimli Glider.  The Gimli Glider is a pretty famous mishap in aviation circles, but in case you are unfamiliar with it, Wikipedia has a nice article about it.

The Gimli Glider was a 767-200, and the article uses a 767 from the library.  Wonder if the Level-D 767-300 would work?  Might be an interesting experiment sometime.

My Other Birthday Present

Along with the PMDG MD-11, I picked up another flight sim related present for my birthday: the Logitech Freedom 2.4 GHz Cordless Joystick:

I ordered mine from Amazon last week, and it shipped via 20 mule team UPS ground from Pennsylvania. It finally arrived on Monday evening, so I took it for a spin in Wilco's Cessna Citation X last night. Sometimes, I have a need for speed, and Mach 0.92 at FL510 is a lot of fun.

So far, I rather like it. We currently live in a small house in Oregon, and my little nook for the computers is tiny. Minimizing the cables tethering me to my computers is a really good thing right now. It means one less cord around for the kids to trip over.

It has 10 buttons on this one, along with the slider for the throttle and the twist rotation for rudder. My past joysticks have only used 8 buttons, so now I have two new buttons to define. Any suggestions as to what any of you use the remaining two buttons for? At this point, I am thinking about setting one to turn on/off autopilot, and the other to engage the parking brake. But I'm open to suggestions for optimal simming with this thing.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Mini-Review: PMDG MD-11

(The scene: somewhere within the large UPS cargo hub at Louisville International Airport, a pilot grumbles.)

Dammit, we should have been in the air three hours ago! What is taking maintenance so long to fix the friggin' plane? I realize Boeing isn't popping these MD-11 tri-jets out their assembly lines anymore these days, but come on, how hard is it really to get parts for this thing?

(Suddenly, maintenance radios in.)

"Good news, Captain. We have managed to track down the electrical fault. Should have you airborne within a half hour or so."

Thank God. I was beginning to think it might actually be faster to just unload the plane and drive the cargo to Memphis myself. Time to get going with the preflight rituals once again, I suppose...

(A half-hour later.)

Well, it looks like we are all set. Thanks to this delay, it looks like this bird will get a rare chance to see the sun while airborne. Oh well. Better late than never.

Now that the scene is set, let us accompany our severely tardy pilot on a short-but-sweet flight aboard PMDG's new MD-11 add-on, decked out in a very nice UPS livery. We are taking off from UPS's cargo hub at Louisville International Airport (previously known as Standiford Field), bound for Memphis International Airport. Ironically, Memphis just also happens to be a major hub of UPS's chief competitor, FedEx. This route is currently flown by UPS as Flight 1384, which has been known to use MD-11's on the route from time to time.

Here is a view of the plane we will be taking out for a ride today:

Some background: the MD-11 was developed in the late 1980s as an update to McDonnell-Douglas's successful DC-10 series. The DC-10 was developed in the early 1970s as an economical answer to the Boeing 747. It also competed with the somewhat similar Lockheed L-1011 tri-jet. The DC-10 is a wide-body tri-jet capable of both medium and long-haul service. The third engine made the DC-10 suitable for overseas routes in the days preceding ETOPS regulations that made twin-engine overseas flights viable. Unfortunately, several high-profile accidents in the 1970s and 1980s gave the DC-10 and MD-11 a negative public perception of being an unsafe aircraft; however it is worth noting that many cargo airlines (including FedEx) are still flying DC-10s and MD-11s as freighters to this day.

The MD-11 stretched the DC-10 a bit and completely revamped the avionics. Gone were all the old steam gauges of the DC-10 (save for the backup instruments); in their place, six state-of-the-art glass screens relay all important flight data to both pilots. This development was revolutionary at the time the MD-11 was developed in the late 1980s; though now, it is practically standard equipment on every new airliner produced today, including the most popular models from Boeing, Airbus, Embraer, and Bombardier. Honeywell developed the MD-11 avionics for McDonnell-Douglas, which became known as Advanced Common Flightdeck, or ACF. McDonnell-Douglas would go on to incorporate ACF in their MD-95 project (a revamp of the MD-80), which was ultimately produced by Boeing as the Boeing 717 post-merger. Indeed, glimpsing at real-life cockpit photos of the MD-11 and the Boeing 717 reveal that the two are strikingly similar.

Alas, the aforementioned ETOPS regulations have essentially doomed the future of the MD-11. Only 300 MD-11s were ever produced. Medium and long-range twin engine jets such as the Boeing 767 and Airbus A330 have largely filled the niche previously occupied by the DC-10/MD-11 on overseas flights, as elimination of the third engine has meant increased fuel savings. Still, a few airlines continue to fly some MD-11s as passenger airliners, including KLM and Finnair. MD-11s have become very popular as freighters, with both FedEx and UPS operating them for overseas (and even some domestic) cargo routes.

On board, here is a first glimpse of the virtual cockpit of the PMDG MD-11:

The virtual cockpit is visually appealing, and stunningly detailed. Among other things, pay attention to the three FMS computers on the center pedestal. There is a very neat detail about this coming up.

The 2D panel does not fail to impress, either. Here is the main view from the Captain's chair:

And from the First Officer's seat:

If you own PMDG's 747, you probably recall a row of buttons near the top of the 2D panel to pull up the different systems. PMDG has taken a different approach with the MD-11, which I really like. There are now six clickable areas on the panel which pull up different displays. Four of these appear as "ghosted" rectangular buttons. The remaining two consist of a "ghosted" left arrow for the autoflight controls, and another clickable area in the general vicinity of the compass near the top of the panel. These areas respond differently whenever you right-click versus left-click the area. Here is an example:

Left-clicking the compass brings up a miniature version of the overhead panel, with only the bottom row of buttons (generally covering the lights) visible:

On the other hand, right-clicking the compass brings up the full version of the overhead panel:

Here is a view of the autoflight controls:

The center pedestal:

One interesting thing to note here. The MD-11 is rather unique in that flap position between 11-25 degrees is completely variable. This is known as "dial-a-flap," as seen above. When the main flaps lever is pulled to this detent, the dial-a-flap value on the right is the actual value used. There are recommendations for different dial-a-flap settings depending on the conditions involved. Above 25 degrees, there are hard detents for 28 and 35 degrees, which are generally used for landing.

Here is the radio stack:

Clicking on the area marked "FO" from the Captain's seat will take you to the First Officer's view. Likewise, there is a corresponding button there to take you back to the Captain's view again.

While I am on the subject of the First Officer's view: recall the multiple FMC's mentioned earlier? It turns out that PMDG has modeled all three of these (the third one being on the radio stack) as independent units, just as in real life! This means that the First Officer may be looking at a different screen on the FMC than the Captain, and the simulation keeps track of this accordingly. Many add-ons just use a single FMC for all of them. This is one small detail that I find really neat; just one of many examples of the level of thought and detail that have gone into this product.

And here is a closeup view of the FMC:

The FMC bears a significant resemblance to the FMC used in the Fokker F70/F100 add-on from Digital Aviation. It appears to be something of a forerunner to the FMC used in modern Airbus models. If you have flown Digital Aviation's Fokker or Wilco's Airbus add-ons, the MD-11's FMC will rapidly become very familiar to you.

The FMC itself uses a common navigation database with the PMDG 747, which is also nice. If you subscribe to the Navigraph AIRAC updates, then the PMDG update will now update the FMC in both the 747 and the MD-11. The FMC has full support for terminal procedures, alternate airports, and more.

Oh yes, even the windshield wipers work:

I am not entirely certain if PMDG has modeled a weather radar on the MD-11, or even if the MD-11 actually has a weather radar. It was not mentioned in the tutorial flight. I need to go back and look at the reference documents on the aircraft and see.

PMDG has included extensive documentation about operating the MD-11. For the novice, they have done a fantastic step-by-step tutorial of taking the plane from cold and dark to airborne flight and eventual landing. The tutorial flight simulates an old Swissair route from Heathrow to Zurich. I ran this flight using real-world weather, and found myself landing in a snowstorm in Zurich! The MD-11 landed flawlessly using an ILS approach. The weather was really cool. In my excitement, I forgot to snap a few screenshots, but I wish I had now.

One other nifty tidbit: the PMDG has included a few extra goodies with the MD-11. I won't give them all away, but here is a teaser: a more precise pushback mechanism. This is invoked from a special menu within the FMC, which would not appear on the actual plane. You can specify how far back you want the plane pushed, and the angle of turn. Then sit back and listen to the captain and tug driver banter back and forth during the operation! Fun stuff.

Lastly, here are a couple of shots of the MD-11 in action during our flight to Memphis:

Bottom line: PMDG has come up with another winner. The price may be steep, but the quality and attention to detail match accordingly. If you have to forego your beer money for a month or three, or convince your relatives to give you cash instead of socks for the holidays this year, then the MD-11 is well worth the sacrifice. In a year in which so many great new add-ons have appeared on the scene, the MD-11 is definitely among the best.

Overall rating: *****

Looking Ahead

2008 saw quite a few exciting new releases for Flight Simulator enthusiasts. What can we look forward to seeing in 2009 and beyond? I'm sure there will be many unexpected surprises in store, but here is what we know is currently in the works:
  • Level-D is still toiling away on their version of the 757. Will we see it in 2009? Who knows. If it is anything like their 767, it will be well worth the wait. For what it's worth, Captain Sim also does a very nice (albeit a bit buggy) 757 add-on if you need to fill that void in your fleet.

  • PMDG announced long ago that they are redoing their 737 NG series for FSX, to be dubbed NGX. I am really looking forward to this, given the wide adoption of the 737 NG by many airlines, especially in the U.S. Now that the MD-11 has shipped, will they refocus their efforts on the NGX? I sure hope so. PMDG takes their time on releases, but the attention to detail really shows. I would be very happy to see the NGX in 2009, but I'm not holding my breath just yet.

  • Vic from feelThere let slip in one of their forums a few months back that they are doing a rewrite of the ERJ. It will be interesting to see what they do with that. I am actually reasonably satisfied with the old ERJ, and would prefer they rework the CRJ instead. Among other things, it would be nice if the CRJ used the same navigation database as feelThere/Wilco's other products. At any rate, it will be interesting to see what their new take on the ERJ will be.

  • Vic also put out a question as to whether fans would be interested in seeing a new panel for the 737 PIC. I am not sure what to make of this one. Are they simply thinking of redoing the existing 737 "classic" panel? Or are they looking to do their own version of a 737 NG? I sure hope for the latter, but we shall see. Yes, I know there is a 737-800 built into FSX, but it is not terribly realistic.

  • Captain Sim also has several ongoing projects in partial states of completion. I really hope they finish their 727 next year. That would be a fun jet to fly, even if it has largely disappeared from the skies these days. I have already picked up the initial pieces of the 727, although the most interesting piece, the panel and cockpit, and not yet available.

  • Captain Sim also recently gave everybody a sneaky peek at their new B-52. Fun stuff!
I am sure somebody out there will throw us a few unexpected curveballs in the future, too. Plenty of stuff ahead to keep our Flight Simulator addictions going for well into another year!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Back Again

Ugh. Sorry about the unplanned hiatus. Lots of outside things came up with work, life, the universe, everything, you name it. I had thought quite a few times about posting here, then got busy doing something else.

So what's new in the flight sim world since I last posted?
  • feelThere released their MAP! add-on. They are selling this directly; not in conjunction with Wilco as with many of their other products. MAP! looks reminiscent of the LCD data displays feelThere uses in the virtual cabin of their Cessna add-on, with an additional mapping feature. It looks cute, but it's not really at the top of my list of must-have add-ons right now.

  • Wilco announced Tilt Rotor, the latest in their luxury airliners collection. This was the add-on they had the guessing contest about back in the summer. Unfortunately for me, I guessed wrong. At any rate, this looks like a rather interesting, unique bird. I may look into it a few months down the road.

  • Wilco also announced Aviation & Mission for the 737 PIC add-on. This one adds some new missions with challenging real-world situations involving the 737. Step-by-step training for 737 novices is also included as well. This one could be interesting, but I'll wait and see.

  • PMDG released their MD-11 add-on for FSX, with the FS9 version forthcoming. I am extremely excited about this one. In fact, I just picked it up for my birthday last week. I have been having a lot of fun flying this one, and I will do a mini-review soon. Now I know 59.99 (around U.S. $75) is a lot of dough to fork over, but this is definitely top-notch as far as add-ons go. Thank goodness that the exchange rates for the U.S. dollar are a bit more favorable now than they were this summer.

  • feelThere released the v1.6 update for their E-Jets add-on. Seems to be another relatively minor fix. I flew around some more in the E-Jets before I picked up the MD-11. I am beginning to really get the hang of it. Nice plane for simulating regional routes.
Outside of the flight sim world, it looks like fuel prices have taken a nice dive over the last several months. Ordinarily this would be good news for the airlines; however these are far from ordinary times. With the economy in shambles, fewer people will be flying, which means that the airlines will still have a tough go of it.

More service cuts at Austin Bergstrom International Airport (my old home airport) were recently announced:
  • Delta Connection (Comair) ends service to Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky on January 5. Not a big surprise, as Delta is in the process of scaling back Cincinnati in a big way. I would not be at all surprised to see Cincinnati eventually downgraded to focus city status in favor of the former Northwest hub in Detroit.

  • Northwest Airlink (Pinnacle Airlines) -- now Delta, I guess -- is ending service to Indianapolis on January 5. No big surprise here. I never really saw much obvious need for this route in the first place. If American couldn't make Austin to Seattle work (two high-tech hubs), then Austin to Indy was a definite head-scratcher.
On the other hand, things are fairly stable at Portland International Airport. JetBlue launched service on E190 jets to Long Beach back in October. Alaska recently announced service to Long Beach as well, beginning February 8. Clearly this is a defensive move by Alaska to defend against JetBlue gaining a foothold at PDX.

OK, I promise not to wait so long before posting next time!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

New Product: MAP! by feelThere

Vic from feelThere surprised everyone with a product announcement in the feelThere forums on Friday: MAP! Here is the announcement, if you would like to take a look.

The effect looks reminiscent of the realtime flight data maps you may have seen on the TV screens on the backs of the seats if you have ever flown airlines like Frontier, JetBlue, or WestJet. I love watching those, just to see where the plane is flying at any given moment.

The screenshots from feelThere demonstrate MAP! being used in conjunction with the feelThere/Wilco E-Jets add-on. One would assume that MAP! is compatible with all aircraft in FS9/FSX though.

I assume Wilco will be publishing MAP! for feelThere once again, as they have done with every other recent feelThere product of late. However, there is no mention of MAP! anywhere on Wilco's site yet.

I am feeling a bit lukewarm about this one right now. I might be tempted to pick it up if the price is right. It looks like a cute little product, but I am not sure if it gives me any info I don't already have via other sources. I can look at the built-in FS map to get my current position, although it does have the drawback of pausing the game. Most of the other data (distance traveled, distance to go) is available on the FMS of most add-on planes I fly. I guess if you are using the built-in FS aircraft or a simple add-on, this might really come in handy.

Wilco E-Jets PIC v1.5 Update

This one has been out for a few days, but I had not checked in a while. I have been busy playing around with the Captain Sim 757 and the CoolSky Super 80 Pro for a good bit of this week...

Anyway, the Wilco E-Jets v1.5 update offers the following fixes, according to their forums:
The following are part of service pack 'SP5':

- E190 nameplate issue
- additional E190 speedchart documentation
Looks to be a very minor update, for the most part. The funny thing is, I don't think I ever got around to installing the v1.4 update last week. Kudos to Wilco for fixing issues after the initial release, but the updates sure have been fast and furious lately!

Get the update from here if you need it.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Captain Sim 757 Redux

Forgot to mention that the Captain Sim 757 has a really nice external configuration editor, known as the ACE for short. The ACE provides two main features:
  1. As with most add-on planes with external configuration utilities, you can configure the initial load and fuel level of the plane once it loads.

  2. The ACE also provides a nice livery manager, which makes adding new external liveries effortless. One feature of this is that you can turn on or off the winglets on any 757 model currently installed. Remember the Continental 757-300 that had winglets in my review yesterday? Here is how it looks without winglets, which should be a more realistic representation of the 757-300s actually flying right now:

I honestly have no idea if the presence of winglets is accurately modeled on the 757 in terms of fuel consumption. It could be that the winglets are merely there for cosmetic purposes.

Also, I managed to snag a pic of the weather radar in action today:

I did get one CTD (crash to desktop) while messing around with the approach speeds in the FMS. Grrrrrrr. Think I'll try to contact Captain Sim support about this.

UPDATE: the CTD was reported in Captain Sim's forums about a week ago. No response from the developers yet. Hopefully they will address this issue soon in a service pack.

Mini-Review: Captain Sim 757 Pro Pack

Dear Captain Sim 757,

When we first met last year, I thought you were cute. We went out together a few times, mostly on short and medium flights around the southern and western U.S. We had some fun, but it just felt like something was missing. Ultimately, we went our separate ways when I became enamored with more sophisticated aircraft.

Then just a few months ago, I heard the news that you hit the big time. You picked up some sexy new features, such as a FMS and weather radar. Next thing I know, I am falling head over heels in love with you all over again. Won't you please take me back? I promise we will go on some grand adventures this time, even making some neat overseas trips to places like Hawaii and Europe. I can see us spending a lot of time together once again.


The Pretend Flyer

Okay, I admit that was a silly introduction to this mini-review, but it pretty much sums up my experience with the Captain Sim 757 Pro Pack product to date.

The Captain Sim 757 add-on comes in three parts: the base model 757-200, and two expansion packs for the 757-300 (stretched) and 757F (freighter) variants. I went for the hat trick on this one, mainly because I love riding around in Continental's 757-300 in real life, and my son loves the DHL 757 freighter livery. Yes, silly reasons I know. Write "sucker" on my forehead if you must.

Let us start with an external view of our specimen. Here is a Continental 757-300 at Houston's Bush-Intercontinental Airport. Note this one has winglets, which I believe Continental have yet to actually install on their -300s in real life -- though their -200s do indeed have them now.

The 3D model looks a little rough compared to some other planes I have seen, which indicates that they probably used less polygons to model it. In some ways, this is probably not a bad thing, as it may make it easier to maintain framerates on lower-end systems. In the end, it is good enough for flight sim work.

The Captain Sim 757 comes with a very lovely 3D virtual cockpit, as seen here:

Next, here is a tour through the 2D panel. We start with the baseline view:

Here is the overhead panel:

Now, the weather radar controls, the FMS, and the radio stack (including TCAS):

I did a short test flight of this plane from Houston's Bush-Intercontinental Airport to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Back in the salad days of 2007, Continental actually used to run one 757-300 a day between these two cities. Alas, Continental has scaled back entirely to 737s between these cities now. Here is a shot of the plane at cruise:

On one of my other test flights, I got some really nice activity on the weather radar. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate on this particular was too calm! Thus, I do not have any pictures of this available here at the moment.

The learning curve is pretty standard. Simmers with experience with the Level-D 767 will find this plane relatively similar in many ways. One notable difference is the procedure to align the IRS during the preflight checklist is more much realistically modeled on the Captain Sim 757, and this takes a little getting used to. Otherwise, everything pretty much works as expected.

As with all long planes, one has to be careful to avoid pitching up too quickly on the takeoff roll. It took me a couple of flights to get used to the feel of the controls of the 757. Needless to say, I was treated to a loud "bang" of a tailstrike more than once.

The navigation data in the FMS is of fairly recent vintage, but certainly not current as of AIRAC cycle 0808. The good news is that terminal procedures are fully implemented in the FMS. In fact, the 757 does a very nice job of autolanding once you get lined up on an ILS approach correctly. I did have some trouble with VNAV descents overshooting the descent profile, but that may be part of the learning curve with this particular plane. I am not yet sure if this is really a bug, or simply just a defective pilot.

The drawbacks with the software itself are mostly minor. I would really like to see support for Navigraph's AIRAC cycle updates for the Captain Sim 757's FMS. Hopefully they will work out something on that front soon.

One significant drawback for many U.S. customers is the price tag: the basic Pro Pack alone costs roughly the equivalent of US $90, which is right up there with the PMDG 747 Queen of the Skies product in terms of price. The additional 757-300 and 757F expansion packs cost even more on top of this. Fortunately, as a previous customer of the 757, I was able to upgrade at a discount; however, new customers won't be so lucky. It will probably be tough for everyone but the most hardcore flight simmers to justify this purchase, although the quality of this product is certainly very high.

Bottom line: I had originally picked this up thinking it would tide me over a while until Level-D got with the program and released their long-awaited 757 product. Instead, much to my delighted surprise, the Captain Sim 757 Pro Pack presented itself as an excellent, highly-sophisticated simulation of a Boeing 757 in its own right. My expectations have been greatly exceeded. In fact, the 757 Pro Pack itself gives the very similar Level-D 767 a run for its money, and that is a tall order. Level-D is going to have to seriously outdo themselves to come up with a better 757 than this one.

If you have the clams and are looking for a high-quality 757 to add to your fleet, this one is definitely a worthwhile addition. The 757 remains a very popular workhorse in nearly all the major U.S. airlines' fleets these days, and simmers will no doubt have lots of fun with this one. Needless to say, Captain Sim has rekindled my love affair with their 757.

Overall rating: **** 1/2

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Captain Sim 757 Pro Pack

Just a quick note to mention that I picked up the Block F upgrade for Captain Sim's 757 add-on last night. Have to say, so far I am very impressed. They even model weather radar with wind shear, something I haven't seen in any other add-on yet. I haven't flown around in it much yet, but the new FMS looks very nice. Level-D will have their work cut out for them if they still have plans to do a 757 of their own.

More on this soon, along with a full mini-review.

Zoom Goes Boom

Uh oh. Canadian airline Zoom suspended all flights and filed bankruptcy protection today. They operated primarily transcontinental routes between Canada and Europe, with a couple of U.S. destinations thrown in for good measure. Chalk up another victim of the high fuel prices.

reports that their whole fleet was less than half a dozen in size; mostly 757s and 767s.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Southwest Cutting Flights

Southwest Airlines announced yesterday that they are trimming 190 flights from its schedule starting in January 2009. While there do not appear to be many changes in service between cities, it appears that there will be reductions in frequency between cities with existing service. Some of the changes are seasonal, with the period immediately following the holidays typically representing a slower travel season. Southwest mentioned that they may add capacity again later in 2009 if things pick up.

PDX is losing three flights: one each to Chicago-Midway, Las Vegas, and Spokane. This will leave only one flight a day to MDW, although there will still remain several to LAS and GEG.

Captain Sim 757 Pro Pack

This one has been out for a few months now, but I figured I should give it a mention on my blog. Captain Sim came out with a major update to their 757 add-on a few months ago, known as the "Pro Pack." It was previously referred to as "Block F," and sometimes you see this mentioned on their site. Basically, Captain Sim decided to release the 757 in increments. "Block B" was basically the base model for the previous iteration released a year or two ago. It contained the 3D model, a 3D VC, a 2D panel, and several liveries. They also did a separate sound pack, which supposedly contained a faithful representation of the sound of the various versions of the 757's engines. The only thing missing was the FMS and related autopilot functions, i.e. VNAV and LNAV. This functionality was promised in the "Block F" update, which was finally released back in June. In the interim, Block B relied on the built-in GPS navigation system used by FSX to support LNAV navigation, just like FSX's built-in planes.

It's also worth mentioning that Block B only included the 757-200 model. The 757-300 and 757F (freighter) models were sold separately, although they required the base model.

Now with the release of the Pro Pack, Captain Sim has done away with the separate Sound Pack, Block B, and Block F packs, and replaced them all with a single product. (The 757-300 and 757F extensions are still separate, though relatively inexpensive.)

I bought Block B and the Sound Pack last December, when Captain Sim was running a holiday sale with all products significantly discounted. I liked it for the most part, although I thought the 3D model was a little rough compared to some smoother models I have seen from other vendors. I did happen to run into a few CTDs (crashes to desktop) while flying the 757 though, which were pretty annoying. I kind of put the 757 on the back burner for a while and decided to wait for Block F to come out.

Anyway, I think I have made up my mind to go ahead and pick up the 757 Pro Pack, especially since Captain Sim is offering reduced upgrade pricing for previous Block B owners. I don't think the Level-D 757 is going to be out anytime soon, and I am really itching to try a 757 on some of the ETOPS routes between the east coast of the U.S. and western Europe. So I'll probably bite the bullet this weekend, and maybe even pick up the 757-300 and 757F while I'm at it. My four-year old has a toy DHL plane and loves their yellow livery, so I may have to get one that he can "help" me fly! Thankfully the U.S. Dollar-Euro exchange rate is a little more favorable now than it was a few months ago.

Word on the street is that Captain Sim's navigation data for the FMS is incomplete and outdated, but Navigraph has expressed interest in supporting it with their updates. Let's hope they can work something out soon.

I'll post more on this soon.

P.S. Captain Sim has a free demo available if you want to try it out.

P.P.S. If somebody would prod Captain Sim into finishing their VC and 2D Panel for their 727, they would probably be successful in making my wallet even lighter.

Wilco E-Jets PIC v1.4 Update

Whee, that was quick. Wilco just released a v1.4 update for the E-Jets add-on. Get it from their support page as usual.

No word yet on what this one fixes. Given its relatively rapid release after v1.3, I suspect it was probably an emergency release to fix a critical bug introduced in v1.3. But that is just purely speculation on my part, so don't take it as any kind of official announcement from Wilco.

UPDATE: Vic from Wilco made a forum post with this info about SP4:

A small hotfix:
-preview mode now captures ILS only below 5000 AGL
and we removed the SB3 integration from fsX since
it's not compatible with fsX.

The End of an Era

Alaska Airlines retired the last of its MD-80 planes this weekend, completing the transition to an all-Boeing 737 fleet like Southwest. The MD-80s were considerably less fuel-efficient than more modern aircraft, and production has ceased entirely in the wake of the merger of Boeing and McDonnell Douglas. The move is understandable, although the MD-80s were unique in a sky filled with Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s, which are largely similar to one another.

Alaska did lose an MD-83 in the Flight 261 tragedy back in 2000.

Other airlines are doing or have already done the same with their MD-80 fleets. Continental phased out the last of their MD-80s in 2005, having since moved to an all-Boeing fleet. American is planning to do the same, but they have a LOT of MD-80s (around 300) to work through, so it is going to take them quite a while.

Alaska still flies a bunch of 737 Classics (almost entirely -400s), which I guess will eventually be the next to go in favor of the shiny new 737NGs (-700s, -800s, and -900s). I understand the Classics are considerably less fuel-efficient than the NGs as well, and a lot of airlines (United comes to mind) are simply parking them as they reduce capacity.

Fortunately, in the hearts and minds of us simmers, the MD-80 will live on in the form of the Super 80 and Super 80 Pro add-ons from Flight1.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Wilco E-Jets PIC v1.3 Update

Wilco has released the v1.3 update for the E-Jets PIC add-on. Get it from their support page if you need it.

Here is a list of fixes from the Wilco forums:

The following are part of service pack 'SP3':

- Spoiler lever in the Virtual Cockpit
- Bleed air logic adjusted
- Custom waypoints enterable for 'direct to'
- Entering alternate flight plan destination
- Tail wing for Embraer 190 and Lineage

Sunday, August 24, 2008

More Troubles

An Itek Air Boeing 737-200 bound for Iran from Bishkek crashed shortly after takeoff, according to CNN. Initial reports suggest that there may have been around 25 survivors out of the 90 or so passengers on the aircraft. This is not a part of the world many westerners visit, although there is a U.S. air base at the Bishkek airport. News on this disaster may take a while to reach our side of the globe...

It seems that Itek Air actually wet leases one of their 737-200 planes from Kyrgyzstan Airlines, although it is unclear as to whether this plane was lost in the crash. Even more interstingly, Wikipedia mentions that all airlines from Kyrgyzstan, including both Kyrgyzstan Airlines and Itek Air, are on the list of airlines banned from flying in the European Union due to a poor safety record. I guess if you ever have to go to Kyrgyzstan, you might want to consider taking Aeroflot, bmi, or Turkish Airlines instead.

In other news, another Spanair MD-82 had to make an emergency landing in Malaga, Spain after the pilot reported a technical problem. Fortunately, the plane landed safely without incident. Definitely not a good week for the Spanair folks.

Investigators are still sifting through the Spanair crash at Madrid-Barajas, but it will take a while before we learn the culprit of the crash. Speculation has been running rampant over on various aviation forums. Spain's civil aviation authority reports that the plane's engines were not on fire before the crash.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Spanair Plane Crash in Madrid

A Spanair MD-83 enroute to the Canary Islands appears to have crashed on takeoff from Madrid's Barajas Airport, according to many sources. Here is the story at the BBC News and also CNN. Preliminary reports indicate that only 26 passengers out of the roughly 170+ on board survived. Reportedly, the plane had mechanical problems prior to takeoff, and may have even aborted one previous takeoff. There are also reports of an explosion in one of the engines, triggering a massive fire. Due to the intense heat of the fire, the rescue crews were unable to get close enough to the plane to rescue more souls.

Condolences for everyone lost in this tragedy.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Checking DirectX 10 Compatibility

Just out of curiosity, I spent some time checking various add-ons for DirectX 10 compatibility recently. Here is what I have found:

Publisher Product DX10 Compatible?
CLS 747 Classic no
CLS DC-10 no
Flight1 ATR 72-500 no
Flight1 Fokker F70/F100 no
Flight1 Level-D 767 yes
Flight1 Pilatus PC-12 yes
Flight1 Super 80 yes
Flight1 Super 80 Pro yes
PMDG 747 yes
PMDG Beech 1900D no
Wilco Citation X PIC yes
Wilco 737 PIC no
Wilco 777 no
Wilco Airbus Vol. 1 PIC no
Wilco Airbus Vol. 2 PIC no
Wilco A380 v2 yes
Wilco A400M no
Wilco CRJ no
Wilco ERJ PIC no
Wilco E-Jets PIC no
Wilco Legacy PIC no

Hope this helps.

Mini-Review: Digital Aviation/Flight1 Fokker F70/F100

I took the Fokker F70/F100 add-on out for a spin yesterday, and I have to say, I am very impressed. So impressed, in fact, that I am wasting no time writing up a mini-review of it here. It is a very nicely done product.

For our test run, we are going to take a Click! Mexicana F100 jet for a little spin between Mexico City and Havana. U.S. pilots rarely get the opportunity to fly into Jose Marti these days, but plenty of airlines from Latin America, Europe, and even Canada fly there routinely. Fortunately, as a simulated Mexican pilot, the gringos' political problems aren't really any of our concern... :)

Here is our test specimen, parked at the main terminal at Benito Juarez:

Here is a money shot from the air:

As I have said before, I think the F100 bears a strong resemblance to a Douglas DC-9. The T-tail, fuselage-mounted engines at the rear of the plane, and 5-wide (2+3) cabin seating are but a few of the things these two aircraft have in common. However, one unique aspect of the F100 is the design of its speed brake. Rather than being implemented as wing spoilers as with most aircraft, the F100 uses a unique "pop-open" tail design, as shown in the following image:

The cockpit itself strikes me a something of a hybrid between a Boeing 737 classic (-300/-400/-500 series) and a modern Airbus. There are a number of similarities between the FMC of the F100 and the modern Airbus in particular, such as not being able to initialize the performance data of the flight while the engines are running:

As with the Flight1 Super 80 and Super 80 Pro add-ons, this is also a rather technically demanding aircraft. There are no automatic configuration wizards handy to get you up and flying, so you will have to spend some time familiarizing yourself with the startup procedures. Fortunately, these are not extremely byzantine, and once you do it a few times, you can get the aircraft up and running within a few minutes. One other interesting feature of the F70/F100 is the optional "virtual first officer" feature. If you enable the virtual first officer, he will automatically assist you with certain tasks in-flight, such as doing the call-outs during takeoff, raising the landing gear, and turning off the landing lights at the appropriate altitude. This is a unique feature that offers a little bit of extra realism when flying, and not to mention a helping hand when you are learning your way around.

The documentation also comes with a pair of tutorials that will completely walk you through an entire flight from startup to shutdown. I cannot stress this part enough: read and work through at least the first tutorial, if not both! The F70/F100 is a very complex plane, and you will likely be very lost if you do not work through the tutorials. In particular, there is one aspect of takeoff (pressing the TO/GA button) that does not presently appear as a button on the panel, and you would have no way of knowing about it unless you read the tutorial.

The 2D panel is very thoughtfully laid out. In fact, it implements one of the coolest features I have ever seen in a 2D panel. In addition to all the usual keyboard shortcuts (Shift-1 through Shift-9), moving the mouse around the edges of a panel will bring up some blue arrows. Clicking on the blue arrows will bring up the next panel in that direction. In this example, we move from the lower part of the overhead panel to the upper part:

As this is the "early adopter" edition of the Fokker F70/F100 add-on, there is no 3D virtual cockpit yet. This arrow feature somewhat simulates a virtual cockpit by giving each panel a spatial relationship to every other panel. With your mouse, you can move around from panel to panel very much like if you were in a virtual cockpit.

As I previously mentioned, the Fokker's FMC will seem vaguely familiar if you have ever flown a real or imaginary Airbus, such as Wilco's Airbus Vols. 1 and 2 add-ons:

The Fokker FMC can take navigation database updates from Navigraph, so feel free to update it with the latest AIRAC cycles as they become available. It uses the same format as Digital Aviation's Cheyenne product. SIDs and STARs are fully implemented, although ILS approach procedures are not. Generally, this means that you will have to dial in the ILS frequencies by hand, and also add extra waypoints from the ILS charts if you want to give the autopilot additional help lining up on final.

There is also another interesting aspect of the Fokker panel. Each plane in the FS selection menu actually appears twice. The first version provides the view from the captain's seat, while the second version provides the view from the first officer's seat. This leads to one of the really nice features of this aircraft: you can link up with another player over the net and fly the Fokker plane together as a team! I guess you could also just fly the plane solo from the first officer's perspective, if you want.

On our flight to Cuba, we hit a nasty little patch of storms on our descent into Havana. This made for a great opportunity to demonstrate another of the Fokker's handy features: fully-functioning weather radar!

Fortunately, the F100 did a great job of lining us up for an ILS approach into Marti's Runway 6. The autoland feature worked flawlessly. It swung around a little more than I would expect, but I attribute this to the bad weather at the time. In real life, we probably would have diverted to our alternate airport.

It is also worth mentioning that the Fokker product is bundled with a respectable number of liveries, representing a variety of European and Latin American operators of the F70 and F100 aircraft.

Here are a couple more shots of the F100 in action, just for fun. Here we are on short final into Marti. Are they growing tobacco for some fine Cuban cigars down there?

And here is our picture perfect landing at Marti, in spite of the weather:

My only criticism of the Fokker F70/F100 is its relative instability. I encountered several bugs which made it frustrating to fly the plane at times. FSX crashed to desktop (known as "CTD" in the forums) once, and there were some intermittent issues with the takeoff config warning lock and some font problems in one of the panels. I understand the author is working on a SP1 patch to address some of these issues, so hopefully they will improve. Just beware that this is a new release, and as with all new releases, it will take some time to iron out the issues.

Bottom line: Flight1 has published another winner here. For those of us in the U.S., the F70/F100 add-on provides a taste of flying an aircraft that unfortunately, we do not often see flying in our skies much anymore. I would rate this product even higher were it not for the bugs and the incomplete state of the product. With time, these issues should improve.

Overall rating: ****

Friday, August 8, 2008

A Good Fokker?

Thanks to an unexpected windfall, today I decided to go ahead and pick up Flight1's Fokker F70/F100 add-on, developed by Digital Aviation. I figured the "early adopter" pricing was too good of a deal to pass up, as I will be able to get the 3D VC upgrade when they release it at no extra charge. I'll give it a fly this weekend, and we will see if it is indeed a good Fokker airplane to fly.

The Fokker F70/F100 series never really caught on much in the U.S., where regional jets like the CRJ and ERJ largely fill the same niche. However, they remain widely popular in Europe and Latin America for smaller markets. The F100 looks remarkably similar to a DC-9-30. The Airbus A318 and Boeing 737-600 are probably the closest comparable aircraft still in production.

BTW, sorry for the bad pun. :)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Guess Wilco's Next Product!

Wilco is having a contest where you can guess the next product they are working on! I have an idea, but I'm not telling. Winning entries will be eligible for a drawing for a complimentary copy of the new product, with up to 10 winners. Good luck!

Wilco E-Jets PIC v1.2 Update

Wilco has released a v1.2 update for their E-Jets PIC add-on. Get it from their support page if you need it...

No clue yet as to what this one fixes.

EDIT: here is a list of fixes from feelThere's forums for v1.1:

The following items has been added/fixed/removed in the service pack:

+ added
* fixed
- removed

+ no PRESENT POSITION at FMS powerup
- click sound for APU GEN button
* FLEX temp rate changed to 0.3% per 1 centigrade
* BARO color on PFD
* NO TAKEOFF message doesn't produce triple chime when parking brake is on
* Y/D is on by default
* ISI works on batteries
* FPR line is shown automatically when FPA mode is active
* Origin waypoint colour is yellow in CDU
* G/S loss in autoland
* tied Vert Profile range to Map/Plan range
* increased T/O thrust
* reduced spoiler drag by 30%
* improved in-turn behaviour
* exchanged VR and V2 bugs
* CTD at automatic flight plan clearing after flight
* CTD at failed flight plan export in FSX
* ILS detection
* AT behaviour at manual landing
* correct EMB 190 sign in the 190's and Lineage cockpits
* ground spoiler in the interior view
* wiper upper part now moves in the VC
* wiper moves on the external model (fsX only)
* animated elevator trim on the exteriors
+ new simicon including a popup flight information instrument
* Lineage interior modeling bug

Mini-Review: CoolSky/Flight1 Super 80 Professional

I just spent the last 24 hours or so flying around in the new CoolSky/Flight1 Super 80 Pro, so I thought I would post some impressions. And let me just say, this bird is a beauty. To start things off, here is a shot of the Super 80 Pro in action, in the latest Delta Airlines paint scheme:

Okay, the one in the foreground is ours. The rest are AI planes. Welcome to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta. Delta flies a bunch of MD-88s out of here.

How about a shot of the Super 80 Pro in flight:

The Super 80 Professional is essentially an upgrade of CoolSky's previous Super 80 add-on, which I will refer to as the "classic" version for the remainder of this article. The main difference is that the Pro version comes with an updated suite of avionics, featuring a fully-functional flight management system (FMS), glass gauges, functioning weather radar, and a TCAS system. Here are some views of the 3D virtual cockpit and the 2D panels:

The glass cockpit is essentially representative of what the MD-88 and MD-90 came with as standard equipment. Older versions of the MD-80 series, including the -81, -82, and -83 variants, can all have their cockpits upgraded to include the glass gauges and FMS as well. In fact, most western airlines still flying the MD-80 have made these upgrades to their cockpits, so in essence, the Super 80 Pro is akin to flying any given MD-80 these days. By comparison, the "classic" Super 80 add-on is almost more akin to flying an older DC-9.

Unlike the classic Super 80 product, the Super 80 Pro uses an external navigational database as the source data for its FMS. This database can be updated using updates from Navigraph, as with many other flight simulator add-ons. (I believe the Super 80 Pro is a new option for Navigraph data debuting shortly.) By contrast, the Super 80 classic used the built-in FS navigational data, with some additional hoops that the user had to jump through in order to initialize its ONS. The ONS was essentially a primitive version of a modern FMS originally introduced with the MD-80 when it first came out.

If you are familiar with flying the classic Super 80 add-on, then you will have a leg up on flying the Super 80 Pro. Many aspects of the cockpit layout are the same, so the main trick is understanding the new functionality introduced by the FMS. The 2D panels are visually appealing, and very well-thought out with regard to access. The FMS itself is nearly identical to the version seen on many older Boeing planes, including the 737 Classic (Wilco) and the 767 (Level-D). The Super 80 Pro models the FMS uniquely, though, so it takes some time to get used to all the nuances.

If you are a relatively inexperienced pilot, then beware: both the Super 80 classic and the Super 80 Professional versions are both very technically demanding. Both versions come with an automated configuration mode that will get you up and flying fast, but many systems on the plane are modeled in excruciating detail. This makes the Super 80 add-ons perhaps the most realistic out of all the FS add-ons available. Do not be discouraged; just be prepared to spend a lot of time getting acquainted with flying this particular bird. You will probably screw up many, many flights along the way, which can be frustrating at times. However, if you stick with it, mastering such a complex machine will give you an extremely satisfying feeling.

As with its classic sibling, the Super 80 Pro has extensive checklists, and step-by-step walkthroughs to actually prepare the plane for flight. Again, previous experience with the Super 80 classic helps, but is not essential.

The Super 80 Pro also comes with a number of liveries representing many major operators of the Super 80, at no extra charge. McPhat Studios have also kicked in a few, and they have even made a few more available for download for free from their website. Best of all, if you upgraded from the Super 80 classic version and have a favorite repaint installed there, it is a straightforward process to import the repaint into the Super 80 Professional version. Both the classic and Pro versions can be installed at the same time, so you can easily switch back and forth between either version in your journeys.

I have a couple of criticisms, although I hesitate to even call them that. They are both extremely minor:
  1. There appears to be a bug in the IAS hold mode (which the VNAV CLB mode also uses) in the initial release of the Super 80 Pro. One of the developers has posted an update to the gauges .dll file in the Super 80 Pro forums that may fix the problem. If you purchase this add-on, be sure to register in the forums for support. Bugs in newly-released products are not unusual, so it pays to stay informed.

  2. The FMS fully supports SIDs and STARs, but not terminal procedures. You cannot tell it to use the Runway 26R ILS approach at KIAH and have it import those waypoints into the flight plan. It is simple enough to do this by hand if you have the ILS charts handy, though. This behavior is a bit different than the Level-D 767 (for example). This may be a feature of the actual MD-80 FMS that the add-on has very faithfully modeled, but I am not sure. Just take note that you will have to enter the ILS waypoints yourself if you want them to help you line up for the final approach.
Bottom line: if you can only buy one add-on for FSX this year, get this one. You won't be sorry. It is really a shame that the MD-80 is a dying breed these days, in the era of high fuel prices. This one is definitely a fun plane to fly, and the Super 80 Pro add-on captures that essence very nicely.

Overall rating: *****