Sunday, May 30, 2010

FlightSimLabs Confirms Airbus A320!

FlightSimLabs has confirmed that they were working on an Airbus A320! Recall that they gave a preview of their next product last week, and it looked remarkably similar to an Airbus FMGS. Well, sure enough, they are indeed cooking up an Airbus A320 over at their secret lair. The A320 will be the first in a new "A3XX Master Series" Product Line. Presumably, this means that they will do the other A320 variants (A318/A319/A321) and the bigger 'Buses, too, like the A330 and A340 series. Who knows, maybe we can even get them to do an A380? That would be great!

The "master series" moniker indicates that this will indeed be a PMDG-style simulation in terms of complexity.

Anyway, given the way pretty much everybody has been raving over their Concorde-X lately, this should be good. I am definitely planning to pick up the Concorde-X sometime in mid-June and give it a go myself. If they can successfully model a complex monster like the Concorde, they should do just fine with the Airbus series. Can't wait to see this one.

CoolSky Super80 Pro SP2 Available

CoolSky has released the SP2 update to the Super80 Professional add-on. This update picks up all the changes and fixes that had been under test in the beta patches that were put out since SP1, plus a few more. Visit their downloads page to pick it up.

If you haven't picked up the Super80 Pro yet, Flight1 will bundle SP2 as part of the installation package now. Trust me, you're missing out -- this is an excellent plane. Though I really should get my hands on the Leonardo MadDog 2008 sometime as well, as I have also heard many good things about that one, too...

Friday, May 28, 2010

Another Sneak Peek at the PMDG 737 NGX

The gang over at PMDG is having some more fun with us, giving us another little peek at the 737 NGX flight deck. Very cool, and agonizing at the same time. :-)

Robert Randazzo also took a quick timeout from the campaign trail to pop in and answer a few pressing questions about the 737 NGX:
  • Pricing should be below US $80, although exact price hasn't been determined yet
  • Models included will be -600/-700/-800/-900 and most sub-variants (I assume he means things like the -900ER here?), but no BBJ initially.
  • The NGX will be out before the Dash-8. In fact the NGX and Dash-8 will likely not hit the streets before 2011.
The slip on the Dash-8 release to 2011 is a little disappointing, but I'm sure it will be worth the wait. At least we'll have the NGX to tool around in while we wait! :-)

Robert did promise that the NGX will not be too much longer. Hooray! Wonder if we will start to see some preview videos in the not-too-distant future?

EDIT: another peek today. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Captain Sim Gives Early Preview of B-52 Driver

This one has been around for over a month, and I neglected to mention it here!

Captain Sim has also released some preview shots of the VC of the B-52 Driver product they are working on. This is the full B-52 they recently announced, as an upgrade of the B-52 BUFF Exterior Only model released earlier this year.

The models are still in an early stage, and haven't been textured yet. However, you can clearly see it beginning to take shape. I think it will be pretty cool when it's finished -- a nice compliment to their C-130 in their line of military-oriented add-ons.

Captain Sim Demos the 707 Captain in Video

Captain Sim just uploaded a video of their upcoming 707 Captain in action over at YouTube! The focus is on the operation of the weather radar, but they also have some nice external shots of the plane as well. The demo features a 707 painted up in a Pan Am livery. Enjoy:

The radar operation is very cool -- they simulate the original-style weather radar (black & white) of the 707. You also get a nice look at some of the autopilot controls in this video, too.

Judging by the looks of this, perhaps it will not be much longer before the 707 Captain is unleashed to the world!

EDIT: don't forget the new Captain Sim 707 Captain forum for discussions about the upcoming 707 and all its features.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Another Morsel of the PMDG 737 NGX

Vin Scimone of PMDG threw out another bone for the fans recently, in the form of this little screenshot from the VC of the 737 NGX.

It's jaw-dropping. The level of detail is unbelievable. Can't wait for this one!

Monday, May 24, 2010

FlightSimLabs' Next Project?

FlightSimLabs has released SP1 of the Concorde-X, and it recently got praise from the FlightSimulatorXWorld blog, as I mentioned a few posts ago. This one is definitely on my short list, although I will probably put it off until the summer for when I have a bit more time to devote to learning such a complex aircraft!

So how does FlightSimLabs follow up their Concorde masterpiece?

Lefteris Kalamaras recently gave us all a hint in this post. He promises a "big announcement coming VERY soon." Ooooh, I love surprises!

I don't know about you, but that image looks suspiciously like an Airbus FMCS, as seen in this photo from a real 'Bus. Several people in the thread have pointed this out.

So...either FlightSimLabs has found a way to retrofit the FMCS into some other plane, or they are cooking up an Airbus of some flavor over in their development labs. I'm betting on the latter, myself. :-)

EDIT: worth noting that FlightSimLabs has slashed the price of the Concorde-X by €10, to €49.95 now. Along with the recent meltdown of the Euro vs. the U.S. Dollar, those of us living in the good ol' U.S.A. can now pick up the Concorde-X for just a shade over US $60 now. That's about $20 less than it was when it came out earlier this year. Very good news for us Yanks, even if the overall implications to the global economy are troubling.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Condolences for the Air India Express Tragedy

And I would certainly be remiss if I did not take a few moments to express my condolences for all the victims of the recent Air India Express Flight 812 disaster. The plane, a Boeing 737-800, appears to have overshot the runway while trying to land. Reportedly, the weather was very rainy, and the pilots may have possibly been attempting a go-around. The airport, located near Mangalore, India, is located on top of a flattened hill with steep drop-offs.

Captain Sim Unveils 707 Captain Preview

Captain Sim has just let out a few screenshots of their upcoming 707 Captain product! There are only 4 up so far, but they look rather nice. Perhaps it won't be much longer before we will be cruising the virtual skies in their 707.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Aerosoft Also Announces the BAe 146

Hot on the heels of their exciting work on the CRJ, Aerosoft has also announced that they plan to tackle doing a BAe 146 later this year. This is an aircraft I've been dying to see in Flight Simulator for a long time! I really hope they do a full-featured simulation in terms of complexity, but I guess we'll have to wait and see...

Digital Aviation Folds, but the CRJ Lives On (and the Fokker, too!)

Well where I have been? This news is nearly two months old, but here goes...

Digital Aviation announced on March 31 that they are closing up shop. It's an understandable decision -- they were down to three people, and were really just too small to make a go of it. No word on any plans regarding the VC for the Fokker 70/100 series, which is too bad. The Fokker does have a very nice set of 2D panels which approximate the experience, though.

However, there is a silver lining. DA had a CRJ series (-700/-900) under development, but apparently, they weren't terribly far along with the exterior modeling. Aerosoft has decided to play the knight in shining armor, and rescue the DA CRJ project! They have committed one of their expert 3D designers to the project, and he has been making great strides with getting some 3D models of the CRJ on track. Matthias Kok of Aerosoft has been providing regular updates over the last few weeks in this thread, and it is really neat to see its progress. Matthias claims that it will be a PMDG-type simulation of the CRJ in terms of detail, Aerosoft is shooting for an August release of the CRJ. Very cool!

Between the Aerosoft/DA CRJ and the PMDG 737 NGX, we've got a lot of great stuff to look forward to in the next several months. By the way, Matthias also claims that Aerosoft is studying the possibility of doing an advanced edition of their Airbus X product. If they pull that off, I'll be one excited sim pilot...especially considering that the Airsimmer team currently appears to be having some issues.

EDIT: Florian Praxmarer, developer of the Fokker 70/100 series, has migrated over to the Flight 1 forums, and has announced that work continues on the Fokker 70/100 VC. Good news! They hope to unleash a preview soon.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

External Review of FlightSimLabs Concorde-X

The guys over at FlightSimulatorXWorld have posted a review of FlightSimLabs' Concorde-X. It got generally favorable ratings from both reviewers. Looks like a pretty sweet plane, although it also looks extremely complicated. I admit I have been a little intimidated about diving into this one, considering the tutorial alone is over 150 pages long! I definitely want to give it a try though, and will probably look into picking this one up in the summer when I have a little more free time to give it a go.

Gotta admit, the idea of cruising over the pond at Mach 2 (without the use of the FSX time compression feature) is a pretty thrilling prospect.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Mini-Review: QualityWings Ultimate 757 Collection

QualityWings debuted onto the flight sim scene this past winter with the release of the Ultimate 757 Collection. The Ultimate 757 Collection actually spans several of the most popular variants of the 757, including the 757-200 (most popular), 757-F (cargo), and stretched 757-300 variant. Variants with and without winglets are also included. I decided to hold off a bit until at least one service pack came out, which happened in early April. Much to my delight, the v1.1 update included support for Navigraph nav data updates in its FMS! I decided by then it was time to give the product a closer look.

Here are some shots of the base 757-200 variant on the ground and in the air. It's really a very nice-looking plane:

Next, we will take a tour through the 2D and 3D panels of the interior. Let's start with the 3D virtual cockpit:

Here is the main 2D panel:

There also exist several 2D popup panels. Here is one for the overhead panel area:

Here is one for the center pedestal area. I think it looks a little cramped:

Here is the radio stack:

Here is the FMS:

And EFIS display control switches:

From here on, I'll break down the rest of this review into three parts -- call it the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

The Good
  • QualityWings has done a really nice job with the external model. The 757 series is framerate-friendly, and still manages to look very realistic.
  • Purchase includes both FS9 and FSX versions of the product. This will no doubt make FS9 zealots happy.
  • QualityWings has also created an impressive number of repaints. My favorite is the Delta Breast Cancer Awareness livery, which looks really nice on their 757.
  • QualityWings' slogan is "Complexity...Simplified!" If you are looking for a plane you can jump into and take off without having to deal with all the startup procedures, then this is the plane for you.
  • The Ultimate 757 Collection has full support for VNAV and LNAV modes in the autopilot. A reasonable subset of the FMC is simulated as of v1.1, including terminal procedures (SIDs/STARs) at airports.
  • You can customize some features of the flight deck in the Ultimate 757 Collection. For example, you can enable or disable the speed tape on the EFIS displays. (The original 757 EFIS did not have the speed tape, but newer 757s do. Depending on the airline you are simulating, you may want to enable or disable this option.) In addition, QualityWings has created a variant of the 757 flight deck with the new Boeing retrofit, which utilizes LCD displays similar to the 737NG and 777. Very cool to be able to fly around in all the different varieties of the 757.
  • QualityWings permits 4 activations of the 757 on a single license purchase. This is rather nice, as I was able to install the 757 on both my desktop (main rig for FS) and my laptop (for when I travel).
  • Based on my prior FS experience with other 757/767 aircraft, I was able to complete a short flight from KDFW to KAUS without even reading the manual.
The Bad
  • A lot of the 757 systems are not simulated in the Ultimate 757 Collection. I know, I know, the philosophy of the QualityWings team from the ground up is "complexity simplified." I get that. Keep this in mind if you are looking for a PMDG or Level-D type simulation of the 757 -- this product does not rise to that level of complexity. I respect the choices of the designers, but I do hope at some point they will consider adding more detail to the systems, at least on an optional basis. To be fair, the QualityWings 757 is not as basic as a default FS aircraft or even a CLS product, although it has less detail than even the Wilco 737. In particular, I noticed the following systems were missing from the QualityWings 757:
    • INS alignment
    • TCAS
    • NAV radio autotune mode
    • Engine startup from cold and dark
    • Weather radar
    There may be others as well.
  • I also noticed a few minor bugs with the 757. For example, on random occasions, the rudder would not move left or right on the external model whenever I would twist my joystick. However, rudder control was still active, as the plane would still move in the desired direction. I consider this a minor glitch. I also had to restart FSX once before the 757 came up with engines started. There were no major CTD problems, fortunately, so I'm willing to overlook these small, yet mildly irritating issues.
  • The Repaint Manager is broken. It fails to even properly start up on my system. I consider this a rather severe bug. There may be a workaround, but I haven't been able to find out about it yet. More on this in the Ugly section, below.
  • One other thing I dislike about the Ultimate 757 Collection is that clicking the glass displays of the EFIS and EICAS to zoom them does not make them substantially larger when zoomed! The small numbers on the displays are practically unreadable in normal mode, and only barely readable in zoom mode. I would prefer that they blow up a little larger when zoomed. This screenshot illustrates what I am talking about:

The Ugly
  • The QualityWings v1.1 installer is very buggy. QualityWings relies on the Virtuali Addon Manager to activate your license over the Internet. Unfortunately, the v1.1 version of the QualityWings Ultimate 757 Collection ships with an incomplete version of the Addon Manager. The net result, if you did not have the Addon Manager already installed via another product (a lot of add-on sceneries use it), is that it will crash FSX every time it starts up. Unacceptable!
  • Even worse, QualityWings denies access to the support forums except to paid license holders. I understand the motivation for this -- it is intended to cut down on piracy of the product, by providing support to only paid members. That's not my issue. The issue I have is with the absolutely broken system they use for handling registrations of paid members. Basically, you fill in a web form which apparently sends an email to a forum administrator to activate your account. Well, it has been over five days now, and a forum administrator has STILL not activated my account for paid support! Unacceptable! Flight1 has no trouble with using an automated system to validate paid license holders for access to their support forums -- why can't QualityWings come up with something similar?
  • All sales of the QualityWings products are final, unlike Flight1 and other vendors. Keep this in mind when purchasing from QualityWings.
  • I had to do research on my own to figure out how to fix the problem with the Virtuali Addon Manager above. Fortunately, I discovered a brief mention in another forum about downloading and installing the standalone version of the Virtuali Addon Manager, and after I did that, the QualityWings 757 successfully activated and installed, and I had no more problems with FSX doing a CTD every time it would start up. Still, it really chaps my butt that I paid $50 for a product that didn't work out of the box, and I had no way to get support from QualityWings to fix the issue. At least I can fly around in it now, thanks to my own research.
  • I am still very annoyed that the Repaint Manager is broken, and I have no way to figure out how to fix it until QualityWings gets around to activating my access to the paid member support forums.
Bottom line: I found the QualityWings Ultimate 757 Collection to have so much promise, but ultimately, I was a bit disappointed by the lack of features. But even more than that, I was VERY disappointed about the lack of access to the paid support forums after FIVE DAYS of owning the product. I want to like the QualityWings 757 -- I really do. I think there could be much to like about it. However, because of the issues as stated above, I cannot rate it any higher than the following:

Rating: ***

Friday, May 14, 2010

Flight1 Unveils the Britten-Norman BN-2 Islander

Today, Flight1 unveiled their new Britten-Norman BN-2 Islander aircraft for FSX! Looks like a fun little ride. I seem to recall reading a while back they were working on this. Among many other features, it includes simulation of a Bendix-King GPS unit for navigation. At US $39.95, it's not a bad deal.

QualityWings 757: Total Success! (Almost)

A few reboots later, and the other system is good to go now, too!

There still seems to be a bit of a problem with their repaint manager that I haven't figured out yet, but hopefully soon I can get into the support forums and figure that one out as well. At least I can get going with flying this thing now.

Have a good weekend, everybody.

QualityWings 757: Partial Success!

Well, without the help of the QualityWings support forums that I still haven't been granted access to, I think I managed to solve this one on my own, on at least one of my systems.

It turns out that there appears to be some kind of bug in the QualityWings 757 installer. QW 757 needs the Virtuali Addon Manager, and it tries to install it for you as part of the installation process if you do not already have it. Key word here is tries. Unfortunately, it fails, leaving you with no way to activate the software.

The solution for me was to download and install the standalone version of the Addon Manager from here. Once I did that and ran it, I was in business.

Still crashing on my other system, but I'll keep plugging away...

On the system that works, the 757 looks decent. A little less smooth than the Level-D 767, but nice enough. Will be anxious to give it a spin soon.

QualityWings 757: No Bueno

OK, so I picked up the QualityWings 757 v1.1 release today, and so far, I am extremely disappointed. I have tried installing it onto two different systems here, and it does not work! Crashes to desktop on both. Unfortunately, they have to "manually approve" my account to gain access to the support forums, so right now, I am stuck with a $50 purchase that does not even function.

I am really unhappy. Not off to a good start on this one at all.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Spring Doldrums?

Sorry I haven't posted here in a while, but things have been fairly quiet lately in the world of virtual aviation. I hope this means all our favorite aircraft developers are working hard on their next big projects! :-) Still no word on when Fly Different/Wilco is actually releasing their Piaggio Avanti II, although it is been announced on their site for a while now. I hope it will be soon, as this looks like it will be a really fun business turboprop to take out for a spin.

I finally got around to picking up Ultimate Traffic 2 last month, and so far, I really like it. Seems very realistic, without a huge hit on system resources. Last night, I was in line for Runway 28 at Dublin International (EIDW), waiting in a long queue of Ryanair 737's to takeoff. I was in the Level-D 767 simulating a charter flight to Stockholm-Arlanda (ESSA), but this really made me look forward to the upcoming PMDG 737 NGX. Would have been fun to be another Ryanair plane in the queue.

Speaking of this, I have finally gotten around to doing a substantial amount of exploring Europe lately in FSX. I guess my boredom with the USA has finally caught up with me. :-) Lately, I have developed a new appreciation for European terminal procedures, especially the STARs that practically line you right up on the runway. We do have some nice RNAV procedures at many airports here in the USA, but far too often, many terminal procedures just drop you off at a certain point, and then it's pretty much up to you and ATC to vector in for the localizer signal to do an ILS landing.

I have been mulling over my next aircraft acquisition in the meantime. There have been a few good candidates this spring, including:
  • Simcheck Airbus A300
  • Flightsim Labs Concorde-X
  • QualityWings 757 series
The problem I have is that all these developers are relatively new to the scene, and I'm often very cautious of initial releases until I find out for sure if the quality is there. Though I will admit, I have been known to overlook this policy for certain developers like PMDG that have a strong reputation of quality and support after the initial release. However, with these, I had decided to hold off a bit and wait for a service pack or two to come out before I decide to jump in.

I took another look at the QualityWings 757 recently now that its SP1 has come out, and I have to say, I have become very impressed with how it is looking. So much so, that it will probably be my next acquisition. SP1 fixes a lot of bugs in the initial release, and adds full support for Navigraph updates for its FMS. I suspect the QW 757 is probably a lot like the Wilco 737 series -- good enough, but not a spectacular PMDG-type simulation. That is OK. I do like the features I am seeing on it, though -- including all the major 757 variants. I am reasonably happy with the Captain Sim 757, although it only simulates the old-style 757 glass displays (among others) -- a reasonable design decision, to be sure. However, the QW 757 does simulate the newer LCD retrofit displays, which delivers an experience very similar to the Level-D 767 -- things like a speedtape, for example. I think there is enough difference from the CS 757 to make it rather interesting. The price (US $45) isn't too bad, either. I will post a mini-review here in the near future.

Lastly, I just wanted to give a mention to the recent Afriquiyah Airlines A332 crash in Libya this week. Condolences and prayers for all those affected by this tragedy -- especially the young Dutch boy who appears to be the sole survivor. He will have a long and difficult road ahead of him.