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: *****

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

PMDG Announces MD-11 in "BETA"

Per this thread over in AVSIM. Looks like we'll be adding the MD-11 to our hangars in the not-too-distant future!

I for one am glad that they are spacing all these releases out...first the Wilco E-Jets last month, then the Flight1 Super 80 Pro today. I wouldn't mind waiting a few weeks until the MD-11 comes out. This will give me a chance to evaluate each plane one at a time, and not to mention spread the costs over a greater period of time.

Wilco E-Jets PIC v1.1 Follow-Up

I had a chance to download and test out the Wilco E-Jets PIC v1.1 update last week. The main difference that I can tell is that they apparently corrected some of the erroneous behavior with the vertical profile display in the PFD:

Note on this particular flight into Memphis, weather radar picked up some thunderstorms!

Emirates A380 visits LAX

An Emirates Airlines A380 visited LAX today. Fox News briefly covered the touchdown of this beautiful bird on the runway this morning. Wish I could have seen it in person.

Interestingly, the A380 had to circle the airport a couple of times, due to the fact that an ETOPS-enabled American Airlines 757 had to return to LAX while enroute to Honolulu due to smoke being reported in the cabin. Fortunately, everyone safely got off the plane, and there apparently wasn't a fire.

Flightaware has coverage of the flight here, for all you aviation geeks out there.

Emirates begins service out of LAX on October 1, although they won't be flying the A380 there just yet.

CoolSky/Flight1 Super 80 Professional Out!

Gee, has it really been a week since I posted here?

CoolSky and Flight1 have released the highly-anticipated Super 80 Professional add-on yesterday. $54.95 US for new customers, while existing customers of the Super 80 add-on get a 35% discount. Commencing download in

I'll do a mini-review soon.