Friday, October 30, 2009


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?