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.