Thursday, August 7, 2008

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: *****

4 comments:

Francisco said...

Good review, short, concise and useful. Hate comparisons, but just realized S80Pro is way FPS friendler than its immediate competitor Maddog06.

Princeton said...

While the reviewer's comments were valid in 8/08, the Super 80 Pro has matured since then. It now recognizes Terminal Procedure files, which are provided by the developer or which may be downloaded from Navigraph. Most of the initial problems in the FMS and VNAV systems have been corrected via beta patches. A few small bugs still remain, but they should be addressed in an upcoming Service Pack.

DamianJ said...

Hi everybody,
When I taxi with the super 80 pro in fsx I need at least an 1.25 EPR power to get the aircraft moving, whereas the manual indicates that the maximum power on taxi is 1.2.
Help please.
DamianJ
Canary Islands Spain.

DamianJ said...

Hi everybody,
When I taxi with the super 80 pro in fsx I need at least an 1.25 EPR power to get the aircraft moving, whereas the manual indicates that the maximum power on taxi is 1.2.
Help please.
DamianJ
Canary Islands Spain.