Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Flight1 ATR (Nothing in Particular)

I took the Flight1 ATR out for a spin again last night, for the first time in several months. Now that AVSIM's library is back up, I managed to track down an American Eagle livery for it. American Eagle actually ditched all their Saab 340s based out of DFW Airport (KDFW) in favor of ATR-72s within the last year or so. They use these to serve smaller regional stations such as Wichita Falls, San Angelo, Midland/Odessa, Killeen, Lawton, Shreveport (along with some ERJ/CRJ's), and a few others.

Anyway, I had forgotten what fun the ATR is to fly. In that same vein, I am really looking forward to PMDG's JS4100 soon. We don't have any Jetstreams in the skies over Texas anymore, but it will be fun to pretend!

Will post a pic or two soon.

Random Speculation

With all the recent product announcements and hints being dropped here and there, I thought it might be fun to speculate on things we might one day see from some of the developers out there.


Here are things I would like to see, which would be totally plausible:
  1. 737 "Original" (-100/-200 series)

    Sure, 737 variants abound all over the place. Wilco/feelThere has a decent version of the 737 "Classic" (-300/-400/-500 series), and PMDG is working on a great "Next Generation" version (-600/-700/-800/-900 series). However, there aren't really any good versions of the 737 "Original" (-100/-200 series) for FSX. I think it would make a lot of sense for Captain Sim to take this one on eventually. They have already done a 727 and a 707, and the 737 "Original" cockpit is very similar to those two. It would fit in very well with their classic jetliners lineup.

  2. 777/747

    I wonder if Captain Sim is working on a 767-400 variant as a prelude to an eventual 777 product? Or even a 747 product, covering all variants in the usual Captain Sim style? The older 747 would dovetail nicely with their classic jetliners lineup, while the newest 747 could borrow cockpit elements from the 767-400 and 777 series?

  3. DC-8 (especially the "super 70s")

    Surprisingly, more of these are still flying around today than 707s, even though the 707 outsold the DC-8 originally. The DC-8 has retained life as a reliable short-to-medium haul freighter in many cargo airlines, particularly UPS. (Though UPS has recently announced that they will finally be retiring all their DC-8s.) This seems like it would fit in with Captain Sim's classic jetliners lineup. And the DC-8 is technically a Boeing plane now, since Boeing bought McDonnell-Douglas over a decade ago. How about it, Captain Sim? :)

  4. DC-10

    CLS's version isn't bad, but it just doesn't seem very realistic to me. Somebody somewhere is going to do a very realistic DC-10...just watch and see.

  5. Airbus A300/A310 series

    Another older jet that deserves some love these days in the flight sim world. American Airlines still flies the A300, although they will phase the last one out of their fleet by the end of 2009. The A300 sees plenty of action for passenger service, particularly in developing countries. Not to mention the use of the A300/A310 as freighters by both FedEx and UPS. I keep hearing reports somebody is working on a realistic A300, but I can't find anything reliable about it right now. Like the DC-10, CLS did a fairly unrealistic A300...but I want something better!

  6. Boeing 717

    I think this would be an interesting plane for flight simulator. It is essentially an MD-80 with the updated flight deck from the MD-10/MD-11 series. This one seems like it would make sense for someone like CoolSky or Leonardo to take on, since they already do excellent MD-80s. PMDG certainly has a wonderful MD-11 flight deck, but I get the sense that they would rather pursue new and different things.

  7. Russian jets (especially Tu-204, Il-96)

    Considering these already do or eventually will make up substantial portions of the passenger fleet in countries like Russia, Cuba, and Iran, it would be interesting to take one for a spin in flight sim. I know there are quite a few Russians working at Captain Sim these days. Wonder how much experience they have with the "native" Russian aircraft? Interesting to think about.

  8. Embraer 120 "Brasilia"

    This seems like a good candidate for PMDG to take on someday after they finish up the Dash-8. On the other hand, feelThere seems to have developed quite an affinity for Embraer products lately. First the E-Jets in 2008, and now the upcoming ERJ v2 sometime later this year. If feelThere wanted to take on a turboprop project of their own, this might be a good candidate. The fuselage of the EMB-120 is supposedly very similar to the one used in the ERJ-135 series. They would mainly have to focus on modeling props instead of jets, as well as the (probably substantial) differences in avionics. Hmmmm. Who knows? The EMB-120 still sees a lot of use in the U.S. these days, in both passenger and small-market cargo service. Skywest flies a bunch of routes in EMB-120s for United Express to small markets in the Western U.S.
Don't know whether any of these things will happen, but it's fun to think about.

2009 Product Outlook and Review

I know I just did one of these back in May, but there have been so many surprises and updates, it's worth a few moments to do an update.

2009 started off rather inauspiciously for us flight sim fans, with the demise of Microsoft's ACES Studio, the developers of the Flight Simulator franchise. (Rumors persist that Aerosoft is working on development of their own flight simulator, so we shall see if anything comes of that someday.) On top of that, it has been a relatively quiet year for third-party add-ons so far, too. Don't know if it is the poor global economy, just a normally slow time of year, or maybe a scheduling quirk among all the various developers out there. Probably a little of all of the above. Fortunately, there appears to be some momentum going into the second half of 2009, and things are definitely showing signs of picking up.

First off, here are some of the significant add-on aircraft releases that have appeared already in 2009:
  • Captain Sim 727 Captain (including -100, -200, and freighter variants)
  • Flight1 Cessna Citation Mustang VLJ
  • Sky Simulations DC-9
  • Captain Sim 767 Captain (-300 variant)
(Apologies if I have left anything out -- please feel free to comment in the comments section below.)

Here is what I believe will be out very soon, possibly within the next month or two:
  • Captain Sim 767 Captain (-200, freighter, tanker, and AWACS variants)
  • Flight1/AirSimmer A320 -- feature complete, supposedly entering final testing now.
  • PMDG JetStream 4100 -- in final beta now.
Here are projects that we know are in the pipeline, but completion timeframe is unknown:
  • Captain Sim 767 Captain (-400 variant, with all-glass cockpit like the 777)
  • Captain Sim 707 Captain (refresh for FSX) -- I think there will be a sudden, surprise announcement about this on their web page at some point, like they did with their 767 recently. This would be in their "early jets" lineup, on the heels of their 727. Perhaps before Christmas?
  • Captain Sim B-52 -- some early prototypes up at their website. Looks like an interesting follow-up to the C-130 in their military aircraft line. No clue how far along they are on this one.
  • Wilco/feelThere ERJ v2 -- I think we'll see this one sooner rather than later, as they shipped a repaint kit to McPhat Studios back in late April. feelThere has been very mum on this one, other than teasing us with some really pretty screenshots. Wilco has yet to acknowledge the existence of this product on their website. I liked the original feelThere ERJ, and I'm looking forward to the update.
  • Flight1/Digital Aviation CRJ 700/900 -- I think this one is still a ways off, but they have showed off a nice screenshot of the overhead panel. Digital Aviation has done a nice job with the Fokker 70/100 and Cheyenne, so I'm definitely looking forward to this one someday.
  • PMDG 737 NG v2 (aka the NGX) -- if this came out in time to show up as a present in my virtual Christmas stocking this year, I would be a very, very happy man. I have been wanting a quality 737NG for a looooooong time. This would dovetail very nicely with Airsimmer's upcoming A320 series in my virtual fleet. I don't know when this will happen, but I will be very excited whenever it does.
  • PMDG Dash-8 -- confirmed to be their next turboprop after the Jetstream 4100 is released. Don't know which variant yet, but I am really hoping for a Q400! Won't see this one until sometime in 2010, at any rate.
  • PMDG's "Next Big Thing" -- don't know what this one is, but they told everyone to stop asking for a 777. Heh! I don't know if they were just pulling our legs, of if that request means anything. Won't see it until 2010 at the earliest; not until well after the NG v2 is out the door.
  • Flight1/AirSimmer A320 variants (A318, A319, A321) -- I think in a fashion similar to Captain Sim, these will be sold as optional add-ons to the A320.
  • Edit: according to a posting in the AirSimmer forums, these will be included with the A320 product. Sorry for any confusion.
  • Flight1/AirSimmer A330/A340 -- the next big thing in their lineup, and a logical choice to follow the A320. The A330/A340 uses the same flight deck, so they will no doubt be able to reuse many aspects of their previous work on the A320. Won't see this one before 2010, though.
  • Next-Level Simulations A380 -- don't know much about these guys, but it looks like they are working on an interesting A380 project. Will be worth watching to follow their progress.
  • Flight1/Level-D 757 -- who knows? Level-D isn't saying much, and Captain Sim seems to be stealing their thunder a bit lately. I have thoroughly enjoyed their 767, though, and hope one day their 757 will see the light of day.
Well there you have it. Lots of things to look forward to! No doubt, there will be a few more unexpected surprises along the way, too. It's one of the things that keeps this hobby interesting.

PMDG JS4100 Page Goes Live

Check it out here! Woohoo!

Looks like August is going to be a very busy month for us simmers...

AirSimmer A320 Entering "Final Testing"

So sayeth Nik, at AirSimmer.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Captain Sim 707 for FSX in the Works

Captain Sim confirmed in a post on their forums that they are working on an update to their 707 product for FSX. This is not too surprising, since the 707 shares some similarities with the 727, which Captain Sim recently updated for FSX. Still, another cool old plane to look forward to down the road!

AVSIM Library Back!

The AVSIM file library is back, after some delays in recovering from May's hacking incident. Thanks to all the hard work of the AVSIM staffers in putting it back together again! Looking forward to picking up some more repaints here soon.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Mini-Review: Sky Simulations DC-9

Flashback to February 1965. The Dow Jones Industrial Average traded at around 900 points. Gary Lewis (son of comedian Jerry Lewis) and his band the Playboys had the #1 hit in the U.S. with a song called, "This Diamond Ring." In aviation, a significant milestone was reached when the very first DC-9 prototype took to the skies for its maiden flight.

Over 44 years later, the Dow Jones Industrial Average now trades at somewhere around 8,000 points, down from an all-time high of over 13,000 points. Gary Lewis reportedly lives in relative obscurity near Rochester, New York. However, the DC-9 remains a venerable workhorse in commercial aviation in the United States, comprising a significant portion of Northwest Airlines' domestic fleet. In addition, the DC-9 spawned two additional derivatives: the highly-successful MD-80/90 series, and the Boeing 717 (originally MD-95) -- both of which also continue to see action in the skies all over the world.

Sky Simulations has lovingly reproduced the DC-9 for Flight Simulator X (and soon, also Flight Simulator 9), so we sim pilots can appreciate firsthand this plane whose illustrious career spans nearly five decades. Every model in the series is represented, from the -10 through the -50, including freighter variants. Here is a shot of the DC-9-30 in action, sporting a Northwest Airlines livery:

The Sky Simulations DC-9 sports a very nice set of 2D panels, for pilots who prefer to fly in that mode. Here is the main 2D view from the captain's chair:

And here is the first officer's view:

One interesting thing about this is that there are certain controls that are only accessible from the first officer's panel: note in particular the light switches across the top, and the hydraulic switches near the lower center. Hydraulics are modeled very faithfully on the DC-9: if you do not switch on the hydraulics, important systems like the flaps will not function!

Fortunately, the DC-9 ships with a pair of PDF documentation files: the first one being essentially a tutorial/checklist walkthrough, and the second one being a more detailed operations manual.

Continuing our tour of the 2D panels, here is the center pedestal (throttles, flaps, etc.):

Here is the overhead panel:

Here is the autopilot and radios:

Note that the autopilot is an old-school Sperry SP-50A. Fans of the 727 will pick this one up in no time at all, because it functions almost identically to the 727 autopilot. There are no LNAV or VNAV modes here: you are responsible for managing the vertical ascent/descent on the aircraft, as well as horizontal navigation. As is typical for these kinds of planes, you should generally plan on hopping from VOR to VOR. Fortuntely, DME is available, so you can find airspace fixes relative to VORs fairly easily.

Here is the panel for operating some of the doors and systems on the DC-9:

Last, but not least, Sky Simulations also makes available the standard FS Garmin GPS unit as a concession to the modern era:

This is helpful if you are trying to locate the glideslope on an ILS approach, but not necessary.

The DC-9 also has a very nice 3D virtual cockpit:

And while not shown here, the cockpit is also available in grey, in addition to the blue color seen in these shots.

Prepping the DC-9 for takeoff can be a fairly complicated affair, but the tutorial document does a fairly good job of walking a new pilot through the procedure. Note that the DC-9, being a 1960s era plane, lacks a lot of conveniences taken for granted in modern airliners. Many pilots prefer it this way! This means that you will have to manage navigation, ascent/descent, and even the pressurization of the cabin manually. Do not expect to be bored when flying this bird!

The sounds in the DC-9 are relatively faithfully modeled, too. Everything from the GPWS ("Pull Up!") and the Stall alarm/sirens is all there. In addition, Sky Simulations have provided several free add-on liveries spanning all variants of the type, including the Northwest Airlines livery featured in the screenshots here. This is a very nice touch, at a time when some companies are moving toward charging customers for extra liveries. Surely more free liveries created by hobbyists will appear at places like AVSIM in the future.

I do have some complaints about the DC-9, which I hope will be addressed in future bugfix updates:
  • I could not get ILS approaches to work on the autopilot, for the life of me. I can't tell you how many times I stalled the aircraft and crashed short of the runway. The radios will pick up the glideslope, and I can see the glideslope bug, but I cannot get the autopilot to descend with the glideslope, no matter how closely I follow the approach procedure in the tutorial. Either I am missing something that is unclear, or there is a bug with regard to ILS approaches.
  • Speaking of stalls, the stall speed in the DC-9 seems high. I have had the plane stall at 160 KIAS at flaps 40. Really? Seems like the flight model needs to be tweaked a little bit.
  • There are a few minor graphical glitches here and there. One example is tuning the NAV1 radio, when going from 108 MHz to 109 MHz: the text shows up as "119" rather than "109". The actual value is correct (109), but the text displayed is wrong.
These defects aren't terribly surprising for a 1.0 release, and I would be willing to overlook most of them if the developers make good on their promise to address them in a future release. The flight model seems a little off, though. I had a terrible time trying to land the DC-9, crashing it quite a few times on final approach before I was ultimately successful.

I leave you with some money shots of the DC-9 flying past the Chicago skyline enroute to O'Hare from Minneapolis:


Rating: *** 1/2

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sky Simulations DC-9 Teaser

Here you go...just departed MSP enroute to ORD:

This sucker is a challenge to fly, much like the Captain Sim 727. Landing is especially tricky, as the stall speed is higher than you think...will take me a few tries to get the hang of it.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Caspian Airlines Tu-154M Crashes

According to CNN and various other news reports, a Caspian Airlines Tupolev Tu-154M passenger airliner has crashed just outside of Tehran, Iran. All aboard are feared lost.

The Tupolev Tu-154M is a Russian-built tri-jet that appears to be quite similar to the Boeing 727. I've never seen one in person, as we get so few Russian-built airliners here in the U.S. Supposedly, they are ruggedized to withstand takeoffs and landings in very harsh, remote airfields in places like Siberia, which do not have paved airstrips.

Condolences to all those affected by this tragedy.

Snagged the Sky Simulations DC-9

I picked up the Sky Simulations DC-9 this morning. I haven't had much time to look at it yet, but I did briefly fire it up. So far, it looks very nice -- the sounds seem very faithful to the actual sounds heard in a DC-9, for example. The Sperry autopilot is very similar to the one used in the 727, and I had no trouble getting the DC-9 to fly around on its own. I think I am going to enjoy this one.

Will post some more thoughts about it soon, when I have a chance to play around with it a lot more.

Initial reviews over at AVSIM have been generally positive, but as with any 1.0 release, there are some minor bugs being reported. Nothing major that I would regard as "show-stoppers," but hopefully, they will release some updates soon to fix the little glitches.

Southwest Ends Publication of Printed Timetables

According to their blog, Southwest is doing away with printed timetables. I didn't realize airlines were still publishing these! Apparently Lufthansa still does, but very few others do. You have to go online or call the airline to get a schedule of flights these days.

Long ago in the pre-Web era, I used to grab the Southwest timetable whenever we would pick my grandmother up at Hobby Airport in Houston. It was interesting to read and/or dream about flying to all the different places that Southwest would go. Needless to say, that list is a lot longer now than it was about 30 years ago...

The blog post has some cool pictures of old timetables from several other airlines besides Southwest. Fun for aviation history buffs out there.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Yikes! Southwest 737-300 Depressurizes in Flight - Hole Found

A Southwest Airlines 737-300 had to make an emergency landing in Charleston, West Virginia yesterday after a hole formed in the top of fuselage ahead of the tail. Here is a link to the story, along with a picture of the hole.

Luckily, the plane landed safely, and nobody was hurt. The plane had taken off from Nashville, bound for Baltimore. Southwest sent another plane to Charleston to pick up the stranded passengers and continue them on their way to Baltimore.

Glad this one ended well. Very reminiscent of Aloha Airlines Flight 243, for sure. Wonder if metal fatigue was a factor in this Southwest incident...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Airport News

Some of this has been known for a while, but I just thought I would acknowledge it here:
  • Lufthansa announced that they are ending service to PDX. Not a big surprise, given the terrible shape of Oregon's economy right now. Lufthansa recently started service to SEA and also serves YVR, so it was probably not as cost-effective to serve so many stations so close to one another in the same region. Sucks for PDX, but Delta is still running nonstops to AMS for Oregon travelers who want a direct flight to Europe.
  • vivaAerobus ended service to AUS back in May, thus ending the "low cost terminal" experiment at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport for the time being. I think this concept has some potential, but bad economy coupled with the swine flu outbreak in Mexico ultimately did this one in.
  • Somewhat surprising announcement: American Airlines announced the end of their "nerd bird" service between the high-tech centers of AUS and SJC, after nearly 18 years. Another victim of the recession, no doubt, as high-tech companies continue to lay off staff and restrict travel. Fortunately, Alaska Airlines stepped in to save Austin's high-tech travelers from the nightmare of connecting flights through DFW: they announced one daily direct flight between AUS and SJC, with continuing service onto PDX. Will be interesting to see how well this does. Alaska has clearly identified Austin as a target market, given that they had previously planned to start offering direct flights between AUS and SEA (another former American direct flight that was recently terminated). Alaska will be using 737-800 planes on both routes. I wish them well -- I have heard many good things about Alaska, and it is nice for Austin to maintain some direct flights to the West Coast. Maybe a direct flight to PDX would be in the cards, eventually?
  • At DFW, things seem relatively stable for now. This is American's principal hub. American Eagle recently launched service to Santa Fe, NM, and is planning to start up service to Manhattan, KS, soon. Interesting choice...there must be a lot of pent-up demand for flights there among Kansas State University fans and Fort Riley soldiers, perhaps?
  • Over at IAH, Continental Airlines seems relatively stable at their main hub as well. Alaska continues their expansion into Texas -- they will be running a nonstop between IAH and SEA soon, too. This will directly compete with a Continental Airlines route. More choices for Houston travelers, which is good!
Airline cutbacks due to mergers and the global economic situation have really hurt airports like CVG, and even flying out of AUS or PDX ain't what it used to be. However, at least around Texas, I suspect things could be a lot worse.

Captain Sim 767-300 Released, More Variants Coming

I just popped over to Captain Sim, and it seems they have officially released their 767-300! Visit the link for screenshots and features. It looks like they are using a common Navigraph database format as the 757 series, which is standard with a lot of add-on software houses across their product lines. Nice to be able to upgrade the FMS in the 767 as a standard feature right off the bat, though!

The 767-300 model is listed as the base model. Several variants have been announced as add-on expansions, to be released soon. These include:
  • 767-200
  • 767 Freighter
  • KC-767A (military tanker)
  • E-767 AWACS (updated military AWACS plane)
  • 767-400 (!)
The last one is especially interesting, given the fact that the 767-400 essentially introduced a new cockpit that is similar to the 777 and the 747-400. It is listed as a "work in progress," which probably means we won't see it for a while yet. However, it could portend a nice transition to possibly some Captain Sim 777 or 747 models in the roadmap down the line.

Pricing of the base 767-300 model is fairly modest: € 39.99, which is about $56.00 in U.S. currency. In the usual Captain Sim fashion, the expansion models will require purchase of the 767-300 base model, and then be priced substantially less as subsequent purchases.

I love the Level-D 767, but I do like the fact that Captain Sim is covering the entire 767 series. Casual users of the Level-D 767 will probably not be tempted to snag this, but diehard simmers who want to try something new and different will probably want to give it a look for this reason.

Looks like I'm going to be busy doing some more mini-reviews soon...not that I mind. Things have been slow in the Flight Sim world for a while, but it looks like they may be heating up again a bit.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

More on the Sky Simulations DC-9

There is a demo video of the DC-9 at YouTube.

The simMarket order page for the DC-9 has a ton of additional screenshots that were not present on the Sky Simulations site.

At least one reviewer at simMarket really likes the product, so far.

Veeeeery interesting. It's been a hot, slow summer here in Texas, so some new planes to fly are welcome news!

Sky Simulations DC-9 Released

An outfit known as Sky Simulations announced on July 6 that their DC-9 product has been released for FSX. An FS9 version is expected to follow along soon. I don't know a whole lot about Sky Simulations, other than the fact that they seem to have previously released an MD-11 add-on. The MD-11 looks okay, although I am not sure if it would top PMDG's stellar MD-11 product, feature-wise.

That said, the screenshots of the DC-9 do look rather impressive, though. I think it would be a fun plane to fly, very similar to the Captain Sim 727 series. Both the 727 and DC-9 are roughly of the same vintage, technologically speaking. Northwest Delta Airlines still flies a bunch of DC-9's around the USA to this day.

Looks like you can order the DC-9 through simMarket online. Cost is €35.70 if you happen to be in the E.U., or €30.00 for us VAT-exempt shoppers who live everywhere else. In the USA, €30.00 works out to around $42 at current exchange rates. Not a bad deal. I might grab this one next week, just to see if it's any good. Will post a mini-review here if I do.

PMDG Jetstream 4100 Goes Beta

According to this post in the PMDG support forums, the new Jetstream 4100 product has officially gone beta this week. Hooray! Looks like we will have a new plane to try out in our virtual hangars very soon. PMDG does top-notch work.

I know the Jetstream 4100 is a controversial pick among some enthusiasts, perhaps because we don't see very many of them flying in commercial service anymore on this side of the pond. I know I was bewildered by the announcement myself, at first. However, the more I thought about it, the more the idea grew on me. I know it is a labor of love for Captain Randazzo at PMDG, who used to fly them for a living. The screenshots out there already are very impressive, and I know it will be a treat to fly and master this bird. There are so few good turboprops out there, that any new ones are welcome. Flying one around in the USA will be something of an anachronism these days, but then again, so is tooling around in the Flight1 Fokker 70/100 series. Perhaps some of the most interesting planes to fly are the ones we don't see much of anymore...

If nothing else, you can always just shut your eyes and pretend you're flying a Dash-8. :-)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Captain Sim Announces 767-300 Captain

Got an interesting surprise in my inbox while ago -- Captain Sim is readying their new 767-300 Captain add-on for release soon. Check out the preview page for screenshots and a list of features.

I had not heard that Captain Sim was doing the 767-300, but honestly, it isn't a big surprise. The cockpit of the 767-300 is extremely similar to the 757, so it makes for a logical successor to the 757 product. (The Airbus A320/A330/A340 series are also much the same in this regard, which is likely why Airsimmer has long-range plans to do the A330/A340 after they get the A320 out.) It is entirely probable that the developers can reuse substantial portions of the 757 on the 767-300.

I have mixed feelings about this -- I am very happy with the Level-D 767-300, and would have preferred to see Captain Sim take on something new and different. However, being the sucker that I am, and given the fact that things elsewhere in the flight sim world are very quiet right now, I'll probably go ahead and give it a chance...