Monday, December 28, 2009

Captain Sim 727 v2.3 Update Available

Captain Sim recently pushed out another new update for the 727 Captain. Here is a list of fixes. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Boeing 787 Maiden Flight a Success!

Sorry I missed most of the coverage on this here this busy with work stuff and didn't have time to blog about it. As you all have no doubt already heard by now, the first Boeing 787 took to the skies on Tuesday in her maiden flight. By all accounts, it was a successful flight, although it had to land early due to worsening weather conditions at Seattle's Boeing Field. Even still, it was up in the sky for over three hours, and they did a fair amount of testing on the basic aircraft systems, including landing gear, flaps, etc.

Here is a video of the takeoff from Paine Field (adjacent to the Boeing factory) in Everett, WA. Man, I can't get over the wing flex on this bird. Stunning. Beautiful.

Here is another video of the landing at Boeing Field in Seattle. Notice the fog. The one and only time I've been to Boeing Field (to visit the Museum of Flight -- well worth it IMHO), I remember the weather being exactly like this.

It will be cool to see these birds as a commonplace sight in the skies in commercial aviation in the coming decades, though I have no doubt we will all lament the disappearance of the 757s and 767s that they are largely expected to replace.

Congrats to the fine folks at Boeing on a successful launch!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

ERJ v2 SP1 is Available

An update to the feelThere/Wilco ERJ v2, SP1, is now available. Directions on how to obtain the update are available in this posting.

SP1 incorporates the following fixes:

  • fsX dark and cold and the tail lights are still showing also causing a light splash on the ground
  • ERJ 145XR bottom red bacon is misplaced
  • fs9 missing House texture for the 135
  • fs9, fsX TO Check button is inop in the VC
  • during icing condition CALL hungs at the taxi checklist
  • spoiler doesn't move on certain system
  • no overhead FADEC set knob in the VC
  • CALL forces turning the NAV lights off after landing
  • The clock's ET function had issues
  • Some users reported the H simicon didn't work for the HUD
  • fsX the right gear's cover was lighter than the left
  • HUD's bearing sometimes shows different than the PFD
  • not a bug, but we've got many requests: we will add a no yoke version of the VC for both fs9 and fsX
  • DME ident can't be turned off in fsX
  • Reversionary panel; switch moves but no change of screen. (VC)
  • Ice detection panel; ice test switch gets stuck on 1, will not reset. Test 2 does not work at all. (VC)
  • Temp knobs aren't working in the VC
  • manual updated: cold & dark checklist correction, how to save a flightplan created using the FMC, information on the ERJ's fuel system

  • Enjoy!

    Tuesday, December 8, 2009

    Captain Sim Holiday Sale This Friday

    Got a note in my inbox this morning: Captain Sim is planning their annual holiday sale at their online store for this Friday, December 11. On that day only, everything in the store will be €9.99, or around US $15.00. These prices are in effect from 00:00 to 23:59 UTC, so plan accordingly for your particular time zone. (For example, I live in CST in the U.S., so this means the sale is in effect from 6:00 PM on Thursday, December 10 to 5:59 PM on Friday, December 11.) If the servers are bogged down, they suggest you keep trying. I have taken advantage of some of their holiday sales in past years and gotten great deals.

    This sale makes their planes like the 757 and 767 an absolute steal. As for me, there is nothing there I really need right now, except for a couple 767 expansions (Tanker and AWACS models) which are €9.99 regularly anyway -- but if you've been itching to try one of their planes and have been held back by the price tag, then here is your chance.


    Monday, December 7, 2009

    QualityWings Releases Some 757s

    QualityWings has unveiled their Ultimate 757 Collection! It looks very interesting, with the -200, -300, and Freighter variants all available. It is described as a "mid level simulation" of a 757, with some systems not being fully simulated. It's a bit unclear which systems those include at this point, as some of the links from the FAQ are broken, and I couldn't find the manuals online. I gather from reading some of the forums that some of the overhead panel stuff isn't simulated, such as the fuel crossfeed switches. My guess is that this is somewhere in the ballpark of the Wilco/feelThere! 737 PIC. The external models look nice, as do the 2D panels and the 3D VC. The look and feel seems a bit more reminiscent of the Level-D 767 than the Captain Sim 757/767.

    It does ship with a FMS, and they have lobbied Navigraph for support for navdata updates.

    Price appears to be around US $45.

    Interesting that there are so many 757s available right now...first Captain Sim, now QualityWings, and presumably Level-D is still plugging away at theirs. I'm a reasonably happy Captain Sim customer, but I'll have to put this one on my list to look at at some point.

    Sunday, December 6, 2009

    PMDG Updates - 05-Dec-2009

    Capt. Randazzo from PMDG checked in with an update yesterday. Not a lot new to report, but here goes:
    • The MD-11 Advanced Tutorial will be out shortly.
    • The 737 NG v2 is still crawling along, making progress. PMDG does not anticipate having anything to unveil before late February. I would not expect to see this until next summer, at the earliest. Hope I'm wrong about that! PMDG is working closely with Boeing on this, which is very cool. Can't wait to see this one.
    • The Dash-8 is coming along nicely as well. We may get a preview of it soon, although it is not going to be released until after the NG v2 is out.
    • Development on the JS4100 is winding down, although the developers are chasing one CTD that appears to affect a small number of users.
    Looks like 2010 is shaping up to be another exciting year for PMDG!

    Friday, December 4, 2009

    Mini-Review: feelThere/Wilco ERJ v2

    feelThere! seems to have something of a mixed reputation in the Flight Sim community. Some of their products, such as the 737 PIC (737 "Classic" series), have been rather good as mid-level simulations -- not PMDG-level detail, but enough detail of simulated systems to make the experience rather realistic and fun without bogging things down too much. Other products, such as the Airbus series, are so-so: while they look nice and certainly have the look of flying in an Airbus, they lack the feel of a true fly-by-wire aircraft. Many of their older products have a reputation for having rather substantial bugs...their 777 is notorious in my book for having a severely broken FMS, to such an extent that I don't even fly that plane anymore.

    However, I will say that feelThere! seems to have taken their game up another level with their most recent products. Their E-Jets, released in 2008, is quite good, and the newly-released Embraer Regional Jets (aka ERJ v2) generally continues that trend. They seem to have a thing for doing nice simulated versions of Embraer's jets of late. Their original ERJ-145 PIC, released back in 2005 and subsequently ported to FSX, was my first introduction to feelThere!, and actually remained one of my favorite little planes to fly for a long time. I have really enjoyed their E-Jets product, and I was pretty excited to learn that they were working on a refresh and expansion of the ERJ product.

    Indeed, feelThere! did not disappoint with their new Embraer Regional Jets add-on. There are a slew of other features added as well. These include:
    • Two new ERJ variants: the shortened ERJ-135, and the range-enhanced ERJ-145XR. (They left out the slightly shorter ERJ-140, which isn't terribly popular and seems to have been produced primarily for American Eagle Airlines. Flightaware doesn't even distinguish it from an ERJ-135.)
    • Reworking of many visual elements of the 2D panels and VC to look more realistic.
    • Fully working simulated weather radar, similar to the one implemented in the E-Jets.
    • Call! for the ERJ is now included at no extra charge. You get simulated First Officer calls for various important phases of the flight, such as "Positive Rate of Climb - Gear Up."
    • A load manager is now included with the ERJ.
    • An online checklist for helping you run through the startup and shutdown procedures of the ERJ is now included.
    • The FMS implementation is more complete now, allowing such things as missed approaches and alternate landing sites. It retains full Navigraph database support, as found in the previous version.
    • A few liveries are included with each ERJ this time. McPhat Studios have done two more livery packs that cover most popular operators of the ERJ to date.
    In spite of the similarity to its predecessor, feelThere! insists that the ERJ is a reimplementation from scratch. Here is a look at the exterior models of the planes. First, the ERJ-135 in a Continental Express livery, bundled with the ERJ:

    Next, an ERJ-145LR (the base model) also in a Continental Express livery, available from McPhat's optional ERJ World Airliners Vol. 1 package:

    And finally, the ERJ-145XR in the Embraer House livery -- nobody has done a Continental Express livery for this one yet, although ExpressJet does indeed fly the type for Continental Express. Note the use of winglets on the ERJ-145XR:

    Here is a quick tour of the visual elements of the flight deck, starting with the virtual cockpit:

    One minor disappointing aspect is that the round buttons in the center of the VC appear flat, while everything else is very nicely modeled in 3D. Here is a closeup shot which illustrates this:

    I'm curious as to why they did this. Simple oversight? Trying to conserve framerates, perhaps? Even if the center buttons are not as tall as the ones on the right, the perspective is way off. It just looks peculiar.

    Here is the main 2D panel:

    Here is the overhead panel, including the lights:

    Here is the panel for center pedestal, including the throttles, trim, flaps, FADEC, and pressurization settings:

    Note that the ERJ, unlike the E-Jets, does not come with an autothrottle. This is modeled faithfully here. The FADEC helps you manage your thrust somewhat, but you still have to take care not to overspeed the airframe with too much thrust.

    Here is a new popup for the checklists:

    Here is a panel for the FMS:

    If you are familiar with flying the old ERJ-145 PIC add-on, you can pretty much hop in and go with these new ERJ's. feelThere! has kept everything similar enough that the learning curve is practically nil.

    The ERJ (just like its chief competitor, the Bombardier/Canadair CRJ) is typical of modern regional jets in that it lacks an autothrottle. LNAV mode for lateral navigation supported in the FMS and autopilot, but it is entirely up to the pilot to manage thrust during ascent, cruise, and descent. I am told the manufacturers leave out the autothrottle to save money. This can be a bit annoying if you were expecting an autothrottle, but once you get used to it, it's not so bad. I actually find the ERJ to be a fun little jet to fly in FSX; it's consistently one of my favorites, in fact. (Though admittedly, they are tantamount to a flying sardine can in real life.) It's simple enough that you can get up and flying without a steep learning curve, yet functional enough to keep you engaged for a long, long time. This is my go-to plane for simulating regional jet traffic at the moment, until somebody does a really nice CRJ someday. Even then, I'll still be flying the ERJ some.

    [EDIT: the article previously stated that VNAV mode is also supported in the ERJ, which is incorrect.  The ERJ autopilot does have the ability to adjust the rate of ascent or descent to match a target speed via the FLC mode, but as it is up to the pilot to manage thrust manually, there is no way to implement a true VNAV mode in this aircraft.]

    My complaints about the ERJ v2 are minor: the aforementioned substandard visual elements in the virutal cockpit, for one. In addition, I've tried flying the plane VC-only, as is increasingly the trend with add-on aircraft these days, but there is another irritating bug involving the chronometer: it is not fully functional in the VC, and appears to be mainly a placeholder. In the 2D panel, it actually works. Why is this? Hopefully this will be addressed in an update. There are a slew of other little bugs, and feelThere! has a running announcement of the ones they are aware of, and whether they have been fixed yet for the next patch update. Fortunately, I have not found any of the bugs to be major showstoppers: they have done a good job overall of avoiding CTDs and other severe problems.

    Bottom line: if you're looking for a fun regional jet to fly, you can't go wrong with this one. It's a little rough around the edges, as is typical for a 1.0 release, but it should get better with time. Don't let the minor bugs get you down too much. This is a fun plane that will entertain you for hours on end without demanding too much from you. Best of all, the price is very reasonable, roughly US $50. (The extra McPhat repaints are around US $15 each per pack.) Put a big red bow on an ERJ and stick it in your virtual hangar this holiday season!

    Rating: ****

    Stuff to Watch for: Airbus A300?

    Ran across this in the AVSIM forums last night: an outfit called SimCheck Software has been working on an Airbus A300 for FSX! They are doing the A300B4-200 variant in particular. Looks nice.

    A good A300 is sorely needed in my virtual fleet, as they remain rather popular as freighters to this day. Even American and Lufthansa flew them as passenger aircraft up until they both retired the type this year.

    It does not have a FMS, as the original A300's did not come equipped with one. However, it ships with a CIVA INS, which looks reminiscent to the INS used on the original MD-80, as it appears in the classic CoolSky/Flight1 Super 80. Basically, you have to program in the coordinates of your waypoints by hand (or as a shortcut, import them from your FS flightplan) rather than having a database around that keeps up with all this information for you. This is a step up from the classic 707/727/DC-9 way of "old school" navigating relative to VORs (or NDBs) only, but a step below modern navigation with a full FMS including VNAV support.

    It looks rather pretty, and I can't wait to try it out. A hint on the main page suggests that they may be getting close to a release soon, as RC3 has been released. Very cool!

    Testing the Latest Captain Sim 757 and 767 Updates

    I just wanted to take a moment and follow up here on the state of the new Captain Sim 757 and 767 updates from yesterday. I downloaded and installed them last night, and reinstalled all my extra liveries -- not too many, thank goodness. I then tried a short flight in both a 757-200 and a 767-200 from KDFW to KAUS. (Flight time: roughly 30-40 minutes, just long enough to takeoff, cruise, and land.) I have to say, I am very satisfied with both updates. The Captain Sim 757 and 767 are truly wonderful planes with the latest updates. I know some people will prefer the Level-D 767, and I like that one a lot, too. I think you have a hard time going wrong with either one.

    Some observations from my testing this morning:
    • The missing terminal procedures bug in the FMS at large airports (like KDFW) on the 757 has indeed been fixed. Hooray! This was one of my pet peeves about the previous version.
    • The "porpoising/rocking" bug on both the 757 and 767 when doing ILS approaches has been fixed, as well. Landing both was as smooth as glass now. Much, much improved.
    • The 757 flight deck has been revised to behave more like the 767 now. In particular, the "TCAS FAIL" message (which I alluded to with some confusion in my recent 767 mini-review) now appears on the 757 as well whenever you are below minimums.
    • With the v4.4 update to the 757, Captain Sim is now also bundling the Captain Sim Weather Radar for the 757 at no charge, as they already have done with the 767. The weather radar on the 757 now looks virtually identical to the 767.
    • The bug involving some of the keyboard shortcuts (such as Z for autopilot) not working appears to have been fixed.
    All in all, a nice update right before Christmas. I'm taking a week and a half off from work at Christmas, so I expect I'll get lots of flying in on these then. Looking forward to it!

    I know a lot of people had some bad experiences a while back with Captain Sim, but I think for the most part, they have redeemed themselves. I know some simmers will never be happy unless it's Level-D or PMDG putting out their planes, and that is their prerogative. I think Captain Sim has done a great job with the 757, 727, and 767 this year. They have been responsive to customer input and appear to be working hard to fix the defects in their planes as they are reported. They have also done a nice job of integrating their planes that use FMS's (757 and 767 currently) with the Navigraph updates. Big thumbs up to Captain Sim!

    I imagine things will be quiet for the rest of the year from Captain Sim now, with all the 767 variants (except the -400) and fixes. Wonder what they'll unveil next in 2010?

    Thursday, December 3, 2009

    Captain Sim 757 and 767 Updates (FSX)

    Captain Sim has released updates for both the 757 and 767 for FSX:
    • 757 Captain Service Pack 4.4 is now available. List of fixes is here.
    • 767 Captain Service Pack 1.4 is now available. List of fixes is here.
    Looks like both service packs address the well known "porpoising" issue on landing with these aircraft. There are some fixes to the 757 FMC as well...hope the bug involving airports with lots of terminal procedures is fixed, too. Off to download both and find out...

    Wednesday, December 2, 2009

    Ariane and McPhat End Agreement

    Ariane Design and McPhat Studios have ended their agreement in which McPhat had been contracted to develop repaints for Ariane's 737 series of aircraft. McPhat states that they initiated the termination of the agreement due to Ariane "not living up to their contractual (financial) agreements for an already longer period of time [sic]." Sounds to me like Ariane owed McPhat some money, and didn't pay up. Ariane, in a separate posting, claims McPhat did not deliver what had been contractually promised.

    Most astonishingly, the whole mess seems to have devolved into a "he-said-she-said" exchange of press releases, complete with finger-pointing and stopping just short of insulting each other's mothers.

    I generally try to keep the tone of this blog positive, and shy away from saying anything negative about anyone in the flight simming business. However, I have read a few things on the forums over at AVSIM about Ariane that give me pause when it comes to dealing with them. Supposedly they do not even have an automated purchase system set up to deliver registration keys when you buy one of their products. You actually have to wait for a support person there to email the key to you, and there have been horror stories of lost and delayed keys coming out of Ariane. If I had just paid US $100 to fly one of their planes, I would find this unacceptable -- I want to fly the damn thing immediately.

    I find Ariane's 737 products very attractive-looking, but I think I'll be content to wait until PMDG rolls out their 737 NGv2 next year. I've never had any problems with PMDG, and their products have been top-notch. Perhaps if Ariane changes some of their business practices, I will reconsider.

    Monday, November 30, 2009

    feelThere/Wilco ERJ v2 Mini-Review Coming Soon

    I've been flying around in the feelThere/Wilco ERJ v2 for the last couple of weeks, and I have to say, I really like it. The previous version of the ERJ was one of my favorite little planes to cruise around in, and the new version improves on it substantially while retaining the spirit of the original at the same time.

    I just got done simulating a delivery of an ERJ-135 to Luxair from the Embraer factory in Sao Jose dos Campos, Brazil -- seven hops in all, including stops in the U.S., Canada, Greenland, and Iceland. Fun times.

    There are a few minor bugs, but nothing that I would consider a showstopper at this point. Overall, it has been rock stable, with no CTD's. feelThere is keeping a list of known issues in the forums, and promises fixes soon.

    Wonder what those guys are thinking of working on next? Can't wait to see. In the meantime, the ERJ v2 promises to be lots of fun.

    Tuesday, November 17, 2009

    Captain Sim E-767 AWACS Expansion Model Available

    In the latest addition to their 767 line of add-ons, Captain Sim announced the release of their E-767 AWACS expansion model for the 767 Captain. Once again, price is €9.99, which works out to around US $15.00.

    This appears to wrap up all the models based on the 767-300 base model in the 767 Captain. Wonder how far along they are on the 767-400? Probably isn't a whole lot of work to do on the exterior model, but I suspect the new all-glass cockpit introduced on the -400 is going to take a fair amount of work. I am very interested to see how this one turns out.

    Thursday, November 12, 2009

    Level-D Gives a Sneaky Peeky of the 757

    Not to be outdone by all the other recent announcements, Level-D Simulations has thrown the faithful a bone this week, in the form of a screenshot of their 757! No word yet as to their progress, or when we can expect to see it. Perhaps 2010 will be the year!

    Wednesday, November 11, 2009

    Captain Sim KC-767 Tanker Model Expansion Available

    Hot on the heels of yesterday's big announcements, today Captain Sim announced the release of their KC-767 Tanker expansion model for their 767 Captain add-on. Price is €9.99, which works out to around US $15.00. Enjoy!

    2009 Buyer's Guide

    The holidays are fast approaching. Even yours truly has a birthday coming up this month! Maybe you just need a new plane to test out that new tricked out rig you built especially for FSX this year. Whatever the reason, either you or a special flight simmer you know will be looking for something cool to add to the ol' virtual hangar this year. This article will specifically cover the new products released during the previous 12 months, although it is definitely worth mentioning that you can't go astray with perennial favorites like the PMDG 747-400X or Level-D 767-300ER.

    Captain Sim
    Sorry FS9 fans, all Captain Sim products appear to require FSX only.

    Buyer's tip: watch for Captain Sim's annual Holiday Sale in mid-December. In 2008, they offered substantial discounts on most products in their catalog. I picked up their C-130 this way for a very low price!

    Flight 1

    Leonardo SH
    • Fly the Maddog v3.0 -- both FS9 and FSX versions available. €39.99 (approx. US $60) for the Standard Edition, or €49.99 (approx. US $75) for the Professional Edition.

    McPhat Studios
    • CoolSky Super80 Classic World Airliners 1 €13.29 (approx. US $20)
    • CoolSky Super80 Classic World Airliners 2 €13.29 (approx. US $20)
    • CoolSky Super80 Professional World Airliners 1 €13.29 (approx. US $20)
    • CoolSky Super80 Professional World Airliners 2 €13.29 (approx. US $20)


    • Embraer Regional Jets PIC (a.k.a. feelThere! ERJ v2) -- both FS9 and FSX versions available. Includes ERJ-135, ERJ-145, and ERJ-145XR. €33.02 outside Europe (approx. US $50)
    • World Airliners 1 Livery Pack -- extra repaints for the new ERJ developed by McPhat Studios. €9.83 outside Europe (approx. US $15)
    • World Airlines 2 Livery Pack -- extra repaints for the new ERJ developed by McPhat Studios. €9.83 outside Europe (approx. US $15)

    Happy holidays, simmers!

    Stuff to expect to see in 2010, and beyond:
    • Captain Sim 767-400
    • Captain Sim 707
    • Captain Sim B-52
    • PMDG Boeing 737 NGv2
    • PMDG Dash-8
    • PMDG's "next big thing" (a RJ maybe?)
    • Airsimmer A320 Advanced Edition for FS9 and FSX
    • Next Level Simulations A380
    And who knows what else?

    Veterans Day

    By the way, I just wanted to say thanks to all the veterans for their service today. Without the service of people like you, I wouldn't be able to enjoy flight simming or even blogging about it. Thanks so much for all your valor, courage, and sacrifice.

    Anybody want to buy a jet?

    It seems wealthy tycoon Donald Trump has decided to upgrade his private jet to a newer, larger model. So for the ultra low price of a mere $4 million to $8 million, you can fly the friendly skies like a king in a luxuriously tricked out Boeing 727 manufactured in 1968. Here are the pictures.

    It's actually a rather nice looking livery. Any volunteers to do a repaint of the Captain Sim 727 in this one? :)

    Wonder what he's replacing this one with?

    Captain Sim Updates Their Calendar

    Captain Sim has updated their calendar of scheduled updates. This is not surprising, since there was a whole flurry of 767-related activity taking place in October. Looks like the v4.4 update to the 757 (FSX version) has been pushed back to November, and the next update due for the 727 has been pushed back to December. I'll forgive them, as I know they have been busy. ;) I sure would like to get an update for the 757 to fix the broken FMS issue at KDFW, though...

    Tuesday, November 10, 2009

    Flight Simmer Buyers Guide for 2009 Coming Soon

    Since the holidays are coming up for most of us, it is probably time to start thinking about what to get that special virtual pilot in your life. While 2009 got off to something of a sluggish start, with the rotten economy and all, things in the flight sim world have definitely picked up recently. (Just like the global economy, come to think of it.)

    I will be putting together a recap of some of the most interesting products for flight simmers that came out in 2009 within the next few days. At the same time, I'll do a refresh of some things we may expect to see in 2010. Stay tuned!

    Eaglesoft Cessna Citation X 2.0 for FSX Released

    You know the holidays are approaching when...

    In still more good news for flight simmers, Eaglesoft recently released the FSX edition of their Cessna Citation X 2.0 ("Extreme Edition"). This one has a full FMS (with support for Navigraph updates), and looks rather impressive. Note that they do require a registered version of FSUIPC for full FADEC operation.

    Price is US $49.95. As with the Airsimmer A320, this one also uses the Flight 1 eCommerce wrapper/installer. Again, no mention of it at the Flight 1 site yet. Somebody needs to go poke them and get them to update their website. :)

    Oh boy, I'm going to have my hands full for a while!

    One Thing I Would Like to See

    I've been thinking about my wishlist of planes I would love to see in Flight Simulator that aren't yet available. A Dash-8 turboprop is way up there, as there is a growing interest in airlines operating this type for short-haul flights due to its fuel efficiency. (I would especially love to see the Q400 variant!) PMDG has said that they are hard at work on this one, which will be cool to see next year, hopefully.

    For a long time, a Boeing 777 has been on my list, as it is the one major long-haul airliner that is not very well-represented. Wilco has a so-so version that is extremely buggy, too much so for my liking. I have a feeling -- and this is purely speculation -- that Captain Sim will eventually not disappoint us on this one. They have already announced that they are working on a 767-400. It would be fairly simple for them to step up from that one to a 777, in much the same way they stepped up from the 757 to the 767-300/-200/-F variants. The 767-400 uses the same cockpit as the 777, so they could reuse much of their hard work with designing cockpit gauges and displays from the 767-400 on the 777. Again, this is just a hunch, but I suspect Captain Sim will eventually deliver us a 777 sometime within the next two years or so.

    The more I think about it, the more I really want to see a high-quality BAe 146 or its updated variant, the AvroRJ. There is something cute about a little commuter-sized plane with four engines under the wings. The BAe 146 has gone the way of the Fokker 70/100 in most American airlines' fleets, in favor of more efficient regional jets from Bombardier/Canadair and Embraer. However, the BAe 146 still sees a fair amount of duty over in Europe, with airlines such as Lufthansa's regional variants. (Although I think even those airlines have eventual plans to phase these out, too.) So how about it? This would be a project I would love to see somebody like PMDG take on -- given their propensity and desire for modeling "unique" aircraft, this one would fit right in over there.

    Airsimmer A320 Basic Edition Released for FS9

    More good news for sim pilots!

    After a lengthy wait, Airsimmer has just rolled out the Airbus A320 Basic Edition for FS9! This looks like one sweet plane. I'm going to hold out for the FSX version, and I can see an eventual upgrade to the Advanced Edition in my future. This looks to be a PMDG-quality simulation of the A320. Really looking forward to this one -- I can't wait to give it a try!

    The Basic Edition is very reasonably priced at US $39.99, while pricing for the upcoming Advanced Edition is US $89.99. It appears that there will be an upgrade path for Basic Edition customers to upgrade to the Advanced Edition without having to pay full price for it on top of the Basic Edition.

    [EDIT: upgrade path to Advanced Edition is "still under consideration" at this point, according to this post.]

    The download uses Flight 1's eCommerce wrapper and installer, although there is no mention of it up at the Flight 1 site yet. I suspect we will see something there soon. In the meantime, the Airsimmer folks have a link to the A320 download from their products page.

    Combined with PMDG's upcoming 737 NG v2 due (hopefully) next year, it looks like these two add-ons will allow us realistically simulate most of the domestic fleets of most major airlines in the world today. Very cool.

    Looks like we simmers are going to be in for a very merry holiday season this year!

    feelThere! ERJ v2 Released

    feelThere! has officially released the ERJ v2! You can order it directly from them here.

    Contrary to previous speculation, Wilco is once again offering distribution of the ERJ v2. They updated their page today to reflect the release of the ERJ v2, which they are calling "Embraer Regional Jets PIC". Here is the link to Wilco's product page for the new ERJ.

    The price is US $46.99 from the feelThere! site. Wilco is charging €33.02 for customers outside of Europe, which is currently around US $49. European customers who have to pay VAT will pay €39.99.

    In addition, as with the E-Jets product last year, feelThere! has teamed up with McPhat Studios to do some extra liveries for the ERJ v2. There are two extra livery packs available this time around. These are available from the McPhat site or the Wilco ERJ v2 page. If you order them from Wilco, they are charging €9.83 each to non-European customers, which is currently around US $15. Again, European customers who have to pay VAT will pay €11.90 each.

    Pretty good deal. I have enjoyed the E-Jets and original ERJ, and am really looking forward to the ERJ v2. It will likely be this weekend before I can get around to downloading it and posting a mini-review. But stay tuned...

    Have fun, pilots!

    EDIT: forgot to mention both FS9 and FSX versions of this are available.

    Friday, November 6, 2009

    Fix for Captain Sim 767 Rocking Issue

    Many of you who have already picked up the Captain Sim 767 know what I am talking about: there is a rather annoying bug when having the autopilot follow the glideslope on APP mode in an ILS descent. On the automated descent, the plane begins to rock rather violently from side to side, almost as if you were landing with a 30 knot crosswind, even when the winds are calm! I have observed this personally on both the 767-300 base model and the 767-200 expansion model. This ruined a perfectly nice flight I took on the 767-200 from Schiphol to Houston Bush Intercontinental, for what it's worth...was not able to control the landing, and I landed in a part of Bush where planes aren't supposed to land. :-(

    Somehow, it seems that the flight dynamics on the 767 are a little off. Fortunately, some folks on the Captain Sim forums are on the case, and posted a fix for the 767-300 here. You'll need to hack your aircraft.cfg files for each plane. Check it out, if you need it. I actually scaled the values back a little for the 767-200...not sure if the mathematics/physics work out correctly on that, but it seemed to yield satisfactory results when I test landed my modded 767-200 using the ILS on 35L at Austin-Bergstrom last night.

    Reportedly, the 767 Freighter does not suffer from this issue. Hopefully the Captain Sim folks will roll the fixes into the 767-200 and 767-300 models in their next service update.

    Now if they would just fix those remaining minor-but-pesky FMS bugs in both the 757 and 767...

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009

    McPhat Readying Extra Liveries for feelThere! ERJ v2

    McPhat has been working hard on their end, with a whole slew of extra liveries for the ERJ v2. Terrence says they have been working on the installer for the extra liveries package, and they expect to have it done very shortly.

    Looks like the ERJ v2 is about to drop, folks! Are you ready?

    Friday, October 30, 2009

    PMDG News

    Capt. Randazzo, head honcho over at PMDG, gave us an update about some of the exciting goings-on at PMDG of late in a forum post. Highlights:
    • PMDG has secured a deal to distribute CD-ROM versions of their products at Best Buy stores in the U.S. This is huge! Hope it will lead to increased sales and exposure for those guys. Compared to some of the subpar addon aircraft I have seen on sale now at places like Best Buy or Fry's, putting some PMDG products in place will be a huge improvement. Along with this, PMDG is lowering the price on their 747 product.
    • The 737 NGv2 is progressing along well. No screenshots are available yet, as the team is working on modeling the cockpit at the moment. May have something to show off by Christmas. Do not expect a release on this until sometime well into 2010 at the earliest. One exciting aspect of this is that Boeing is apparently contributing some engineering support to the product. Very cool!
    • The PMDG MD-11 Advanced Tutorial is finished, pending final review. PMDG will make it available soon.
    • The PMDG product paintkits that were inadvertently removed have been restored.
    • The PMDG Dash-8 is also coming along nicely, and a preview will be available soon. Robert teases us with a comment, "Prepare to have your assumptions turned on their ear." Hmmm. Wonder what that could mean? The only assumption I have about the PMDG Dash-8 is that PMDG will do an absolutely killer job modeling one in Flight Simulator. Can't wait to see what they're cooking up.
    Exciting times for PMDG. How are you guys enjoying their Jetstream 4100?

    feelThere! Officially Announces ERJ v2 (Coming Soon)

    feelThere! has officially announced the ERJ v2 at their website. They have created a nice page about it here. Check it out!

    It appears that, unlike many past feelThere! releases (including their previous ERJ), they do not appear to be partnering with Wilco on publishing this one. Vic from feelThere! hinted as much in their forums. They will be partnering with an as-yet unnamed publisher on producing the CD-ROM version of the ERJ v2, but they are being fairly tight-lipped about it at this point.

    As a bonus, feelThere! is also throwing in Call! for the ERJ at no extra charge. No word yet on pricing, but I imagine the ERJ v2 will be released to take its place our virtual hangars very soon.

    Wednesday, October 28, 2009

    Former ACES Studio Employees Form New Startup

    This is a couple of weeks old, but I forgot to give it a mention here.

    It seems that a bunch of former employees of Microsoft's ACES Studio, who were responsible for the development of the last several Flight Simulator releases, have formed a new startup known as the Cascade Game Foundry. No word yet on what they are up to, nor if they have managed to secure the rights to any of their previous work on Flight Simulator at this point. Should be interesting to watch and see what they are doing, though. Maybe they could join forces with Aerosoft and work together on the Next Big Thing in flight simulation...

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009

    Captain Sim 767 Freighter Expansion Model Available

    Captain Sim just rolled out their 767F -- the Freighter expansion model for their 767. Check it out here. As with the 767-200 expansion model, this one also requires the 767-300 base pack. And just like the 767-200, the 767F is €9.99, which is currently around US $15.

    Monday, October 19, 2009

    PMDG BAe Jetstream 4100 SP1 Released

    PMDG has released SP1 for their Jetstream 4100 add-on. Get it from the updates page, if you need it.

    This thread documents the list of fixes and updates in SP1.


    Mini-Review: Captain Sim 767 Captain

    The Boeing 767 represents one of the most successful and popular wide-body aircraft models in existence. Developed by Boeing in tandem with the narrow-body 757, the two aircraft share a common flight deck and pilot rating. The 767-200 variant first took flight in 1981, and United Airlines launched it into routine service in 1982. It represented a smaller, more economical wide-body aircraft than Boeing's 747, and enabled Boeing to effectively compete with McDonnell-Douglas's successful DC-10. (Indeed, the more efficient, twin-engined 767 is a chief reason that the tri-jet DC-10s no longer see active service as passenger airliners anymore.) Boeing launched a freighter version of the 767 in 1995, and cargo airlines such as UPS and DHL/ABX have readily adopted it as well. The 767 remains in active production at Boeing's facilities in Everett, Wash. to this day, although it will likely be eventually succeeded by the 787 "Dreamliner" whenever the latter finally takes flight.

    Level-D Simulations first brought the 767 to life in the flight simulation world with their fine 767-300ER product a few years back. This one came highly recommended to me; so much so, in fact, that it became the second add-on I ever acquired. I have not been disappointed with it at all. It is rock stable, framerate friendly, and always ready to take me on my virtual adventures over the seas to Hawaii, Asia, South America, or Europe from North America. More recently, Captain Sim has gotten in on the act with a 767 of their own: the 767 Captain. This is a very logical step for them, as the 767 shares much commonality with the 757, which Captain Sim already released a high-quality model of back in 2008. So what does Captain Sim's version offer over the Level-D version?

    Captain Sim's 767 Captain product represents a first for me: it is the first time I have picked up an add-on plane representing a model that already exists in my virtual hangar. In short, Captain Sim offers several new takes on the 767 over the Level-D version. Whether you find them compelling enough to pick up the Captain Sim version is largely a matter of taste.

    In the usual Captain Sim practice, they have announced several variants of the 767 will be available. The base model will be the 767-300, and other variants will be sold as expansions that require the base model. Just recently, the first of these became available: the 767-200. Sometime in the near future, they will also produce freighter and military (e.g. AWACS) variants of the 767 as well. Longer term, they also have plans to produce the 767-400. This will represent a very interesting development, as the 767-400 is not just a mere stretch of the 767-300. The 767-400 also utilizes a newer, all-glass cockpit, which happens to be nearly identical to the ones Boeing used in the 777 and the 747-400. Could this mean that Captain Sim has long-term plans to produce a 777 once the 767-400 is out? It would make a great deal of sense, much like producing the 767-200/-300 series after they did the 757 series. This will bear watching.

    Owners of Captain Sim's 757 Captain will notice a lot of similarities in the 767 Captain. The ACE (livery and load manager) and cockpit are nearly identical. As with the 757, you can optionally determine whether a given airplane repaint should have winglets on the wing tips. I think in both cases, the effect is largely cosmetic, and does not model the increased fuel efficiency that winglets actually deliver in real life. Still, it's a nice touch, particularly if you want your 757 or 767 to really look the way they are actually deployed in the field right now.

    Here is the Captain Sim 767-300 in an American Airlines livery:

    Here is the Captain Sim 767-200 in the same repaint, with winglets enabled:

    And just for contrast, here is a third-party supplied-repaint of the Level-D 767-300 in American Airlines livery:

    One rather interesting thing here is that the American Airlines repaint is the only 767-200 using Pratt & Whitney engines shipped with the 767-200 expansion pack at the time of its release. American Airlines has a well-known stance against commercial entities selling virtual repaints of their aircraft in flight sim games. It will be interesting to see if this offering stands the test of time, or if the lawyers will get involved.

    The American Airlines 767-300 repaint is not shipped with the liveries included in the 767 Captain base pack, but is available as a free download linked from Captain Sim's support site.

    The 767 Captain has a very rich set of 2D panels. If you are familiar with the 757 Captain, they directly correspond to the same ones used in that product. In fact, even the keyboard shortcuts are all the same.

    As with various other Captain Sim products, they provide a bunch of nice little animations associated with the aircraft. Once again, these can be controlled via mouse clicks on a popup menu. Here is the 767 Captain's version:

    Here is the 2D overhead panel of the 767 Captain. I will do a direct comparison with the 757 version later, just to spotlight the similarities (and minor differences) between the two:

    Here is the FMS from the 767 Captain. It is largely identical to the 757. One nice thing is that, on the 767, Captain Sim has fixed the bug in which a bunch of terminal procedures (SIDs and STARs) were missing at large airports like KDFW. Apparently they are in the database, but due to a bug in the FMS, they do not currently appear on the 757. Given that Captain Sim is planning a 757 update within the next week or two, hopefully this fix will be backported into that aircraft as well:

    Here is the 2D lights panel (at the bottom of the overhead panel in the actual aircraft):

    This 2D popup governs the RA and range of the EFIS display:

    This 2D popup gives you the full autopilot controls. I use this one a lot even when flying the 3D virtual cockpit, as it saves me the trouble of having to pan over to the autopilot in the middle of the cockpit in order to tweak a setting:

    This 2D popup is the radio stack, including the transponder and TCAS. One interesting quirk of the 767 compared to the 757 is that the Captain Sim 767 will display a "TCAS FAIL" message while you are below the decision height (i.e. on the ground). This was confusing to me at first, as I thought the TCAS had actually failed. What could I have been doing wrong, I wondered? I finally figured out that the warning goes away once you takeoff. I don't know if this behavior is based on actual 767 behavior, or if it is just a bug:

    Here is a 2D popup for the IRS settings on the overhead panel. In practice, I usually just set these on the overhead panel during preflight anyway, as I am busy flipping other switches up there in order to get the plane ready to go:

    Last, but not least, here is the 2D popup for the settings for the weather radar. The weather radar looks fairly realistic, as it actually uses Captain Sim's Weather Radar product, which is included with the 767 Captain:

    If you are familiar with the 757 Captain, getting airborne in the 767 Captain is a breeze. The differences are mostly minor, and you can figure them out in less than 5-10 minutes of fiddling around. If you are not familiar with the 757, then getting airborne is not terribly complicated, but takes a little getting used to. Overall, I find it generally simpler than getting a DC-9 or MD-80 ready to go, for example.

    Lest I forget, the 767 Captain also has a wonderful 3D virtual cockpit. It is actually my favorite way to fly Captain Sim's planes these days, as they have done such a nice job with the 3D VCs on their 757, 727, and 767:

    Notice much difference from the 757? I couldn't either. The differences between the overhead panels between the 757 are 767 are a bit more stark, but still fairly minor. Here is the 757 overhead panel:

    And the (slightly) more complex 767 overhead panel:

    Just for comparison sake, here is the main 2D panel in the Level-D 767-300ER:

    Personally, I have mixed feelings about the graphics quality of the Level-D. I think it is less realistic-looking than the Captain Sim 767 -- it almost betrays its FS9 origins, in many ways. However, it is a very clean design, and the displays are easy to read. It is also much more framerate friendly on older video cards. Again, it really comes down to taste. I suspect many diehard Level-D 767 fans will probably not even so much as sniff in the general direction of the Captain Sim 767.

    So why would you even want to pick up the Captain Sim 767? I can see a few main advantages:
    • Support for physical models of the different 767 variants, including the 767-200, freighter, and military variants.
    • More realistic 3D graphics.
    • Lots of eye candy, including extensive 3D modeling of a cabin inside the 767.
    However, if you are perfectly happy with the Level-D 767-300ER, then these minor enhancements may not justify the pricetag for duplicating an aircraft that is already in your hangar.

    On the other hand, other simmers may balk at the pricetag, particularly for a product which is largely derivative of another existing product (the Captain Sim 757). At €49.99 for the base 767-300 package plus another €9.99 for the 767-200 expansion, the pricetag runs around US $75 for these two planes. However, Captain Sim is well known for running sales, especially around Christmas, so keep your eyes open for a temporary reduction in the pricetag in the near future.

    Now I know the question many are asking: what about bugs? I have found a few, mostly minor problems with the Captain Sim 767. Conventional wisdom with Captain Sim dictates that you generally want to stay away from their 1.0 releases anyway, as they can be frustratingly buggy. Captain Sim has gone a long way to improve their quality, but still, for this reason (and a host of others, too) I held off until Captain Sim released a few service packs of the 767 before diving in.

    The bugs I noticed included these:
    • Once, the taxi lights on the 767-200 got stuck on. No amount of switching them off in the lights panel made them go away. This seemed to be a very random, intermittent problem that I cannot reproduce with a known sequence of actions, or I would have opened a ticket on it with Captain Sim.
    • Very occasional program crashes, especially when ending a flight or pulling up a menu option such as the map. These didn't happen often enough to be bothersome, but they are lurking out there. Hopefully Captain Sim will squish as many of these as possible.
    • There is a well known bug involving ILS-controlled descents in which the plane rocks from side to side or "porpoises" up and down. I observed the rocking problem with the 767-300 last night, and I finally had to just land the plane manually. This one is a bit irritating; hopefully they will fix it soon.
    • I wouldn't call this a bug, per se, but the 3D virtual cockpit takes a long time to render on my ancient video card if none of the textures are in memory. Render time can be measured in seconds, at times. Ick. Beware.
    Bottom line: in and of itself, I think the Captain Sim 767 Captain is a faithful, well-done representation of the 767. Some simmers may balk at the similarity to the Level-D 767 or the Captain Sim 757. If you are a diehard simmer or 767 fan, this one is definitely worth picking up. I completed a short flight from DFW to Chicago-O'Hare with no trouble at all, other than the ILS issue mentioned above. The price is a bit steep, but hopefully it will come down in the years to come. Hopefully Captain Sim will iron out the remaining minor bugs soon, as well.

    Rating: *** 1/2

    Friday, October 16, 2009

    Captain Sim 767 v1.3 Update and 767-200 Released

    Captain Sim has just released the v1.3 update to their 767 Captain add-on. It is most likely a bugfix update, although it is unclear exactly which issues this one addresses at the moment.

    Furthermore, Captain Sim has also just released the 767-200 expansion model. The base product (767-300 model) is required for this. No word yet on when the freighter or military variants are out, but presumably, they will be next. I imagine they are also hard at work on the 767-400, which will feature a radically different flight deck from the -200 and -300 models.

    I have just picked up the Captain Sim 767, which includes their Weather Radar product. I will do a mini-review soon, including a side-by-side comparison with the venerable Level-D 767-300ER. Should be interesting to see how the two stack up!

    In other Captain Sim news, supposedly another update for the 757 is due this month as well. I sure hope they fix the issue in the FMS regarding loss of terminal procedures at large airports. Hard to fly correctly out of KDFW when half the terminal procedures are missing from the FMS! At any rate, I will definitely give it a mention here when the 757 update is ready.

    Wednesday, October 14, 2009

    PMDG Readying SP1 for JS4100

    Meanwhile, over at PMDG, the good folks there are no doubt keeping busy with work on the 737NG v2 and bugfixes/enhancements to the recently-released JS4100. They are readying SP1, which is supposed to fix many of the minor CTD problems people are experiencing. On top of that, they are readying a bonus external model of the JS4100, too! Good stuff.

    See various pinned posts at the top of AVSIM's PMDG forum for details.

    Airsimmer A320 Startup/Takeoff Video

    Not to be outdone in the pre-release hype department, Airsimmer has given us another new video of the A320 in action, this time doing a startup and takeoff!

    I really want this.

    feelThere ERJ v2 Nearing Release?

    The feelThere folks keep teasing us with more screenshots and tidbits of information regarding the ERJ v2!

    They have announced the initial livery list:

    ERJ 135:
    • Embraer house
    • BMI
    • Continental
    • Luxair
    • South African
    ERJ 145:
    • Embraer house
    • KLM Excell
    • US Airways Express
    • United Express
    • Andalus Lineas Aereas
    • Alitalia Express
    ERJ 145XR (XRJ):
    • Embraer house
    Pretty nice list so far, and no doubt the fine folks at McPhat are working on more. I for one would love to see an American Eagle livery, as I live near DFW Airport, where dozens of them take off and land every day. I know there are legal issues involved with a commercial enterprise doing any sort of American Airlines livery, so hopefully some talented painter out there will do one on his/her own soon.

    Elsewhere, Vic commented that they are working hard to get both this and Map! v2 out by the end of the year. Given that there are only around 2 1/2 months left in 2009, I think there is a pretty strong chance we will be seeing the new ERJ pulling into our virtual hangars before long.

    One rather interesting question that came up was whether Wilco would be handling distribution for feelThere on this one, as they had with nearly all of feelThere's add-on planes up through last year's E-Jets release. Vic from feelThere declined to comment on this. Given the lack of any sort of announcement on Wilco's site, I'm beginning to think that there may be a very good chance that somebody other than Wilco will be doing this one. feelThere self-released Map! after they put out their E-Jets product through Wilco, so the precedent exists that they may handle distribution on their own from now on. But who knows. Guess we will have to wait and see!

    Sunday, October 11, 2009

    Airsimmer A320 Screenshots

    The Airsimmer guys are teasing us with some more screenshots of the A320 series. Enjoy!

    Wonder if it will be much longer before the A320 takes flight for the masses?

    Wednesday, October 7, 2009

    Eaglesoft Cessna Citation X

    Has anyone tried out the Cessna Citation X product from Eaglesoft? I noticed recently that Navigraph has started putting out updates for Eaglesoft products. I am OK with the feelThere/Wilco Citation X that I already have, but I am curious if the Eaglesoft version is better.

    I am a bit hesitant to buy add-ons for planes that are already represented in my hangar -- haven't picked up the Captain Sim 767 or the Leonardo MadDog yet, as I already own the Level-D and CoolSky versions of the same. Ditto for the Eaglesoft Citation X. That's not to say I will never pick those up, but they are lower on my priority list compared to new aircraft models. However, the Eaglesoft Citation X does certainly look interesting, and Eaglesoft has done other private jets in the past, such as the Raytheon/Hawker Beechjet. Interestingly, Eaglesoft purports to be working on a Citation XLS and the Dornier 328JET. The Dornier used to see some action with some regional airlines in the U.S. before the CRJs and ERJs took over. Will be interesting to see what they do with it.

    Thoughts on Aerosoft's Flight Simulator Efforts

    Somebody recently asked me what I thought about Aerosoft's efforts to do a new flight simulator product. I thought I would take a few moments to comment about it here. Perhaps it might generate some interesting discussion!

    Truth be told, I don't know what to think about it yet. Part of the problem at this point is that there seems to be so little information out there about their efforts up to now. It takes tons of manhours to develop a realistic flight simulation like Flight Simulator 2004 (FS9) or Flight Simulator X (FSX). Developers, of course, have to eat, so there is cost involved in supporting them. There are also equipment and software costs involved, too. Unless you pursue a Free/Open Source Software development strategy, then you are likely talking about a significant investment in developing a flight simulation as good as Microsoft's. It's not necessarily an insurmountable challenge, but it just takes an outfit with deep pockets and a commitment to the product. Will Aerosoft fit the bill? I hope so, and I certainly wish them luck.

    For Aerosoft or any other upstart to be successful, it will have to offer simmers something that they do not already get out of FS9/FSX. Ideally, there needs to be some kind of migration path from FS9/FSX, as people probably aren't going to be as willing to buy into it if their thousands of dollars worth of add-ons will not work with it. While I recognize there may be some legal and intellectual property issues with Microsoft on this, perhaps one solution might be to provide a mechanism to allow the developers to simply recompile or port their add-ons to the new Aerosoft flight sim.

    Actually, I would like to expand on something I touched on earlier: when you get right down to it, FS9 and FSX are really just frameworks for flight simulation. They provide you a toolbox for building airplane models, airports, scenery, weather, ATC, and so on. You can choose to use the default toolbox elements provided by Microsoft, or you can buy upgrades for any of those if you want something better. The problem with Microsoft or Aerosoft or any other company owning the toolbox is that you, the simmer, are pretty much subject to their whims. If Microsoft decides they don't want to do Flight Simulator anymore -- as they apparently have -- then you are out of luck. Sure, we will all muddle along on our FS9 and FSX for quite a while -- probably the next several years to come -- but eventually they will get long in the tooth, and it will show.

    With this in mind, I would absolutely love to see the base toolbox for flight simulation use an open source model. The flight simulation community as a whole would own Flight Simulator, and anyone could contribute to it. In essence, we already have this with Flight Gear, but I don't know what it would take to get it to a critical mass where it would become fully on par with Flight Simulator. Flight Simulator itself already has a long legacy of add-on products, especially for FS9 and FSX. Imagine how nice Flight Simulator would be if we, the community, could go in ourselves and fix the remaining bugs that Microsoft will never fix? Or add new features that Microsoft will never add? Short of that, I would love for Flight Gear to take off and become on par with Flight Simulator in terms of realism, features, and add-on products. Developers like PMDG would still be free to develop add-ons for Flight Gear and sell their products, even if Flight Gear itself were free. Hybrid open-source/commercial software models already coexist and work very well in many other places.

    I haven't completely thought through my wish list for the next great Flight Simulator, but one thing I sure would love to see is an easy way to upgrade navigation/scenery elements of Flight Simulator. Right now, we're stuck with a snapshot of the world from around 2003. The world of aviation has moved on greatly in the last six years: new runways have been added at airports including Seattle/Tacoma, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky, Washington-Dulles, just to name a few; new airports like Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi have since opened; old airports have closed; and so on. Not to mention ILS frequencies have changed (e.g. 17R/35L at Austin-Bergstrom); VOR identifiers or frequencies have changed (e.g. LVS is now FTI); and many more. Sure, you can go buy Airport Facilitator and hack up your FS scenery to your heart's content to keep up with all the changes. But wouldn't it be nice if the developers did it for us? Just download a regular update to Flight Simulator, the same way we do OS updates with Windows or other OS's! Or perhaps provide an easy platform for Navigraph or somebody to do the updates for you. There are so many new airspace fixes or airway route changes in aviation now since FS9/FSX were done, that half the time, you have to enter your own custom waypoints in the flight planner if you want the ATC to guide you on what is now a realistic flight path. I would love for all the built-in airspace fixes and routes in Flight Simulator to be easily upgradable with new data!

    Anyway, who knows what the future will bring? In the meantime, I plan to keep on enjoying the ride with FSX for as long as it remains viable.

    Sunday, October 4, 2009

    feelThere! ERJ v2 Teasers!

    The feelThere! gang has been quiet ever since the release of their E-Jets product last year, but that is about to change. We have known that they have been working on a new version of the ERJ for a while now, and finally, the fruits of their labor are starting to appear. Check out this thread for some screenshots.

    This will be a much more complete sim than the old ERJ v1 they did several years ago. The new version will cover nearly all the variants of the ERJ, including the ERJ-135, ERJ-145LR, and ERJ-145XR (called an XRJ by some). Looks like they do some very detailed modeling of the systems, including a weather radar this time around. As with the E-Jets, McPhat Studios is doing liveries for them this time around, too. All in all, looks like a very nice product. Vic from feelThere! says it is in beta now, which means that we should be seeing a release very soon!

    No mention of it yet at the Wilco site, though. Wonder if Wilco is still distributing this one for them, or if they are making other arrangements this time?

    Thursday, September 24, 2009

    AimSimmer Airbus A320 Goodies!

    AimSimmer recently gave the fans some juicy new tidbits on their upcoming Airbus A320 series product!

    First of all, they gave us a preliminary list of liveries and screenshots. I am a bit disappointed that there are no Frontier Airlines liveries listed here, but I imagine the repaint community will get to work on that! On the other hand, I am impressed by the fact that they will include a Delta A320 repaint, which is an ex-Northwest aircraft. True to modern form, there is a Northwest repaint as well, to allow for the birds that haven't been repainted yet.

    Second of all, they recently posted a wonderful video of the Airbus doing an autoland. I think I'm in love.

    I know there is a lot of cynicism out there regarding this product, as AirSimmer has been hard to pin down regarding their release plans for this. Chalk it up to the fact that a modern Airbus is a hellaciously complicated aircraft, and doing a realistic, detailed simulation of one is a massive undertaking. It sounds like they are working hard to get it right, top to bottom. I enjoy the Wilco Airbus series, bugs and all, but I do yearn for a PMDG-style simulation of the Airbus of the highest quality. It looks like the AirSimmer product may fit the bill!

    All in all, I'm pumped. I'm one of the rare simmers that is FSX only, so it will be a little longer wait for me after the initial release for FS9. Hopefully the wait won't be long!

    Monday, September 14, 2009

    Mini-Review: PMDG BAe Jetstream 4100

    First of all, I must apologize. There will be nothing "mini" about this particular review -- it is going to be quite long. However, once in a while, something comes along in the flight sim world that is so game-changing, you wonder how you got along without it. Sure, lots of companies are doing Flight Simulator add-on products for jets of every size and vintage, with anything from good to excellent results. Simulations of turboprops are another story, though. There are so few good ones around, partly because Flight Simulator apparently does not lend itself well to modeling turboprops.

    Enter PMDG.These guys seem to pride themselves on doing new and unique products, such as 2008's MD-11, which (along with its sibling the DC-10) is the only remaining tri-jet wide-body still in active service. PMDG's newly-released BAe Jetstream 4100 continues this trend very nicely. Never before has there been a simulation of a turboprop as complete and realistic as this one. Although the JS4100 does not grace the skies over the U.S. or Canada much anymore, they still remain popular in places like the U.K. to this day. PMDG has painstakingly recreated a BAe Jetstream 4100 turboprop for Flight Simulator in excruciating detail. The only other turboprop I own at the moment, the Flight 1/Dreamfleet ATR-72, almost seems like a toy by comparison. (And don't get me wrong, I enjoy that one a lot. No disrespect at all intended toward the Dreamfleet folks, considering the ATR is a 3-4 year-old product that is rather long in the tooth now. It is what it is.)

    Once again, by modeling all the quirks of turboprops, and especially the JS4100's own unique set of quirks, PMDG has set the standard by which all other turboprop add-ons from here on will be measured. Take a ride with me, and you will catch a glimpse of what I mean.

    For this review, I will simulate a short flight from Pangborn Memorial Airport near Wenatchee, Wash. (KEAT) to Seattle/Tacoma International Airport (KSEA). Horizon Air flies a deHavilland Dash-8 Q400 turboprop on this route daily, so this will be a good approximation of what such a flight might be like. Incidentally, PMDG has announced that the next turboprop product they plan to work on will be a deHavilland Dash-8, although they won't divulge which variant yet. (I for one would LOVE to see a Q400!)

    Anyway, the ride from Wenatchee to Seattle only takes about 30 minutes, but there is tons of scenery to enjoy along the way. Buckle up and prepare for a treat!

    Our ship for this ride is this Jetstream 4100 below, operated by (the now defunct) Atlantic Coast Airlines in a United Express livery. Up until a few years ago, ACA operated a fleet of Jetstream 4100s primarily along the east coast of the U.S., feeding small markets to hubs for United and Delta Airlines. ACA had its largest base at Washington's Dulles International Airport, where United also maintains a major hub. Here is one of their planes in a United Express livery, parked at Pangborn:

    Note that SkyWest actually flies Embraer 120 turboprops as United Express to connect various smaller markets in the Pacific Northwest to larger cities like Seattle/Tacoma and Portland. (With a little imagination, this could almost be one of those planes!) However, Wenatchee is not one of the cities served by SkyWest. Oh well, play along anyway...

    Later, I will also include a few shots from another short flight I took from Aberdeen to Newcastle in the U.K. in the PMDG JS4100 in the Eastern Airways livery. (Not to be confused with the defunct U.S. legacy carrier, Eastern Airlines!) Eastern Airways still has an active fleet of JS4100s that it uses to fly between smaller markets in the U.K.

    Anyway, on with the show:

    The JS4100 uses geared turboprop engines. This presents some rather unique challenges, especially in Flight Simulator. In essence, the JS4100's engines work by spinning around at a constant rate, while forward thrust is modulated by changing the pitch of the propeller blades. As the pitch is changed, the torque produced changes, while the RPM remains constant. Thus, the amount of forward thrust for climb, cruise, and descent is modified accordingly.

    The PMDG developers discovered that the built-in model for turboprops in FSX was woefully inadequate for modeling this type of engine, so they took great pains to work around these limitations with the JS4100 product. There are two sets of levers in the center pedestal for controlling the engines: a condition lever, which sets the power (think N1 %) at a particular rate, and the throttle control lever, which changes the angle of the propeller blades for controlling thrust. The condition lever can be modified directly in the 3D virtual cockpit, or by holding down the CTRL key and typing F1 through F4. (Plain F1 through F4 will control the throttle.) Part of the problem is that Flight Simulator makes certain assumptions about the throttle lever, which aren't completely valid for turboprops. These are well documented in the manual, and I urge you to read the manual thoroughly.

    To save wear and tear on the engines, the condition lever can be set to different power settings. There are recommended settings for taxi (roughly 77% N1), takeoff (100% N1), and cruise (96-98% N1). It is important to use an appropriate setting for a given phase in flight -- setting takeoff power during taxi can overheat (and melt) the engines, for example! Or, setting taxi power during takeoff will make it very difficult to takeoff, and the takeoff condition alarm will alert you accordingly. The engine startup sequence is pretty standard, although there are a few gotchas (e.g. the start latches) that you have to be aware of. The tutorial document is around 100 pages long, and it discusses all of these aspects in great detail.

    Does all this sound scary? It shouldn't be. The good news is that once you run through it a few times, the PMDG JS4100 really isn't all THAT hard to fly. It is definitely an expert-level product, though, so Flight Simulator newbies will have a steep learning curve if they try to dive into this one right away. Once you get the hang of it, it's a blast.

    There are two major aspects of the PMDG JS4100 that make it somewhat controversial among some flight sim enthusiasts:
    1. The JS4100 product is FSX-only. This apparently has to do with the fact that PMDG relies heavily on features only available in FSX, and modeling the same functionality in FS9 would be very difficult and labor-intensive.
    2. The JS4100 product only has a 3D virtual cockpit, no 2D panel.
    #1 is purely a business decision, but #2 is more of a design decision intended to enhance the realism of the user experience. This is not unprecedented; both the Captain Sim 727 and the Ariane 737 series also only have 3D virtual cockpits. I had already gotten used to the idea of a 3D VC only, having done quite a few flights in the 727, which is one of my favorite planes. If the 3D VC is done well, it's not that big of a deal to me. However, a lot of longtime simmers prefer 2D panels for ease of use, and this decision has turned them off. Fortunately, PMDG does provide a few 2D popups, though, for the FMS and autopilot controls. These are a concession to the fact that one person is flying the plane in the sim -- normally in real life, the PNF can work the autopilot settings as needed on approach, while the PF monitors the visual approach and/or instruments. To keep you eyes in front of you, the 2D popup helps here!

    Anyway, if the lack of 2D panels bothers you, then I say give this a chance. You might be surprised. In lieu of different 2D panels, the PMDG JS4100 designers have created a series of preset views in the 3D VC. These somewhat resemble the 2D panels seen on other products. You can cycle through these by hitting the A or Shift-A keys. Here is a quick rundown of the preset views:

    The Captain's seat, facing ahead:

    The Captain's seat, looking toward the center instrument panel:

    The FMS, click on this and you get a 2D popup of the FMS for easier operation:

    The First Officer's seat, looking toward the center instrument panel:

    The First Officer's seat, looking ahead:

    The First Officer's seat, looking toward the center pedestal:

    The overhead panel, including the lights:

    The center instrument panel from between the seats:

    The Captain's seat, looking toward the center pedestal:

    Now with the 3D VC, you can actually position the viewer, the direction of viewing, and even zoom in from any of these views. These presets are intended to get you to a particular viewpoint quickly. It's a nice touch for those of us who are used to 2D panels for everything.

    Switching gears for a moment, PMDG has added a couple of other revolutionary features worth mentioning. One is a built-in load sheet, in which it will automatically carry out all the calculations for you. This is not unlike a simplified version of a spreadsheet:

    You still have to manually enter the values for fuel and payload into the FMS, just as a real pilot would. However, I have been on quite a few sim aircraft where I needed some scratch paper handy to work out these sorts of calculations. Very nice of PMDG to offer this convenience!

    Related to this, an optional feature of the 3D aircraft model is actual passengers! Based on how many pax you specify on the load sheet, you can optionally have the sim populate the seats with actual people! Here is an example:

    Another interesting feature is the Ramp Manager, which is managed via a popup accessed by hitting Shift-2:

    The Ramp Manager governs various things external to the aircraft while it is parked at the ramp, such as the baggage cart, the ground power unit, the front wheel chocks, several doors, etc. An area shaded red on the Ramp Manager indicates an off/closed/away condition, while green means on/open/present. Captain Sim uses similar popups to control certain animated features on their 727 and 757 aircraft, but the PMDG design here is much more appealing and functional. For example, you actually cannot start the engines of the JS4100 using ground power unless the ground power unit is attached! Here is what this looks like:

    Another nice feature is the animated speed cards. CoolSky uses something similar on their Super 80 Pro, but once again, PMDG does it with flair here. Use these to set your V1/Vr/V2/Vy speed bugs during preflight:

    I haven't done a closeup of the FMS in action, but I will warn you: it is rather different than the ones seen in most Boeings, Embraers, Maddogs, and Airbuses. It's not bad -- just different. It actually provides all the features needed for flight, including a VNAV mode. As you might expect with a turboprop, there is no autothrottle, but you can set a target IAS speed, and have the autopilot adjust its climb rate to match based on the current throttle setting. A little time spent in the manuals will help you figure it all out very quickly.

    Just for fun, below are some shots of the PMDG BAe Jetstream 4100 in action as we fly from Wenatchee to Seattle.

    Here, we have taxied to Runway 30 at Pangborn. It is an uncontrolled airport, so once we get clearance from Seattle Center for takeoff, we are on our own:

    And now we are airborne, enroute to Seattle. Looking east, Wenatchee is down below, and the Palouse of eastern Washington State stretches as far as we can see behind us:

    Looking west, we will make a scenic trip over the Cascade Mountains toward Seattle. The granddaddy of them all, Mount Rainier, is clearly visible off to the left ahead:

    At 14,000 ft. we level off and begin to descend toward Seattle. It's a short flight, so it did not take us long to get up here! Typical climb speed is only 170 KIAS, which seems a bit low. We do have a few minutes to build up to 240 KIAS before we slow for the descent. I am assured this low climb speed is standard for a turboprop like the JS4100, though:

    West of the Cascades, it looks like a typical rainy day in Seattle:

    We are cleared for approach to Runway 16C at SeaTac. We fly up to Everett to turn south and line up for the ILS:

    Here are a couple of cool scenery shots of downtown Seattle as we line up on final:

    Boeing Field/King County Intl. Airport (KBFI) is below us, and SeaTac (KSEA) looms ahead in the distance:

    Touchdown, and turning onto the taxiway:

    And for good measure, here is an Eastern Airways flying the friendly skies of Scotland en route from Aberdeen to Newcastle:

    So are there any drawbacks? Well, a few, and they are minor. I already touched on a couple earlier: it is FSX-only and lacks full 2D panels, which will turn off a lot of flight simmers. The learning curve may be a bit steep for some, but time invested will be well rewarded. If you start up the simulation with engines already running (the default FSX mode), it will not take you long at all to prep the plane for flight. Some people in the U.S. might be turned off at flying a plane that no longer sees much active service in real life in the U.S. anymore, but I just consider it a good approximation for a Dash-8-200 or a Saab 340. Techniques mastered with the JS4100 will no doubt apply to future turboprop sims that PMDG does, so again, it is time well invested. And kudos to PMDG for doing something unique!

    My only real complaint is that the PMDG JS4100 currently has a tendency to CTD at the end of the flight, or sometimes when I load a previously saved flight, such as the tutorial flight. It was so bad at one point, I had to reboot the computer before I could get a saved flight to load without CTD. Fortunately, the JS4100 has not crashed FSX during flight, which I would consider absolutely unacceptable. As it stands right now, it is merely annoying, but probably not unprecedented for a v1.0 product that has just been released. Hopefully they will clean up these minor sorts of issues with a patch very soon.

    Bottom line: get this, you know you want it. :)

    Rating: **** 1/2 (would be five stars were it not for the minor CTD issues)