Tuesday, November 30, 2010

PMDG 737 NGX Manuals Coming Soon

Robert Randazzo of PMDG recently made an announcement regarding the availability of flight manuals for the 737 NGX in the very near future. Apparently, these are based on the real manuals for the 737 NG, available from Boeing! They will be a whopping 3,300 pages, and I'm sure it will probably cost a pretty penny to order them all. I'm thinking if I bought the paper and toner to print them out on my laser printer at home, I would probably be looking at close to US $100.

Still, the very fact that they are announcing the manuals is a very good sign that we are on the homestretch. Not clear that we will see the NGX before Christmas, but I think we have a good shot at flying her early in the new year.

Monday, November 22, 2010

PMDG Gives Another Preview of the NGX

Robert Randazzo at PMDG has given the world another glimpse of the upcoming 737 NGX. This one focuses on the Heads-Up Guidance System, or HUGS. Looks very impressive. You can really see this plane beginning to come together.

Can't wait...

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Mini-Review: SimCheck/Aerosoft Airbus A300

How about a little surprise? After tooling around in a Boeing 707 last month, we are going to continue the classic jetliner theme again with a look at SimCheck Software's Airbus A300.

Now before we begin, how about some background knowledge about Airbus and the A300?

In the 1960s, both the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 ushered in jet travel to the masses in the U.S. However, they represented a one-size-fits-all solution to air travel: they were too large to serve some markets, and too small to serve others. Aircraft manufacturers initially responded by developing somewhat smaller, more efficient aircraft for smaller markets: namely, the Boeing 727 and 737, and Douglas DC-9. At the other extreme, aircraft manufacturers designed wide-body jets to carry more passengers on high-demand routes: the Boeing 747, the Douglas DC-10, and even the Lockheed L-1011.

In Europe, a lot of similar designs for narrow-body aircraft emerged in the late 1950s and 1960s as well: the Hawker-Siddeley HS-121 Trident had some similarities with the Boeing 727, and both the Sud Aviation SE 210 Caravelle (French) and BAC 1-11 (British) had some similarities with the Douglas DC-9. Europe had narrow-body aircraft designs down pat, but lacked anything to compete with the wide-body aircraft the Americans were producing.

Several European governments recognized this deficiency, and decided that it would be beneficial to work together and pool their resources to more effectively compete in global aviation. Thus, the Airbus consortium was born in 1967 as the Groupement d'Interet Economique, or Economic Interest Group through a government initiative between the governments of France, (then) West Germany, and the U.K. Over time, the Airbus consortium would grow to include Aerospatiale, Deutsche Airbus, CASA, and British Aerospace.

With the framework of cooperation established, the Airbus companies set about producing their first aircraft, a twin-engine wide-body model. The use of only two engines was among the first of many groundbreaking decisions made with the design of what was to become the Airbus A300 series. ETOPS regulations had yet to be developed by the FAA, and twin-jets were banned from many routes in the U.S. at the time.

The A300 took its maiden flight in 1972, and entered routine service in 1974. Sales languished through the mid-1970s until Frank Borman, then-CEO of Eastern Airlines, became impressed with the A300 in 1977, due to being 30% more fuel-efficient than the Lockheed L-1011. Eastern went on to order 23 of the type, and it began to take off. Pan Am ordered some more, and Airbus went on to sell nearly 900 A300's during its entire production run, which ultimately ended in 2007.

In the U.S., the A300 continued to see regular service in the passenger fleet until 2009 with American Airlines, primarily on routes to the Caribbean out of Miami and New York's JFK Airport. Sadly, one of these planes was lost in the infamous American Airlines Flight 587 crash in New York in 2001, shortly after the 9/11 disaster. Even to this day, the A300 continues to see regular use primarily as a domestic freighter with both FedEx and UPS. Elsewhere, the A300 still features prominently in a number of foreign airlines' passenger fleets.

The initial variant of the A300 was A300B1, featuring GE CF6 engines. This was soon followed by the A300B2, which used either GE CF6 or Pratt & Whitnet JT9D engines, which were also used on the Boeing 747-100. Soon, more design improvements and a center fuel tank for increased capacity yielded the A300B4 series, with the A300B4-100 and A300B4-200. Further refinements and a glass cockpit (which eliminated the need for a flight engineer) were realized in the A300B4-600, or A300-600 for short. This was the penultimate version of the A300. A shrink of the airframe also resulted in the A310, which also utilized the glass cockpit.

The A300 pioneered several features that are now essentially standard on many aircraft, including:
  • Wind shear protection
  • First ETOPS certification in 1977
  • Autoland
  • Electrically-controlled braking
  • Automating the flight engineer's functions in later versions; thereby eliminating the flight engineer
The SimCheck A300 represents the A300B4-200 variant, dating to about 1980. It does include some niceties such as an INS and an autothrottle, but no glass cockpit or FMS. It represents one of the last of the great analog cockpits utilizing steam-powered gauges, before the 1980s ushered in the era of glass displays. Here is the SimCheck A300 in DHL Cargo freighter livery at LA/Ontario International Airport (KONT) in Ontario, CA:

The SimCheck A300 consists of a sizable number of 2D panels to represent the functions involving the pilot, co-pilot, and flight engineer.

Here is the pilot's panel:

And the co-pilot's panel:

Here is the electrics panel:

Here is the panel governing the hydraulics:

And the fuel panel:

And the pneumatics panel:

If you are intimidated by all these panels, don't worry. Fortunately, you don't need to mess with these panels much unless you want to simulate a full startup of the airplane. Otherwise, when the airplane loads, these panels will be configured in an appropriate configuration for engines already running.

Here is the overhead panel; pretty standard, by and large:

Here are the throttles, flaps, and other controls at the center pedestal:

And here is the radio stack:

Here are the Carousel INS navigational units, in lieu of a FMS:

Interestingly, unlike some of the CIVA INS implementations I've seen elsewhere, these do not require you to align the units in advance. I'm not sure if this is a feature of the A300 (doubtful), or if SimCheck simply chose not to implement this action as a simplification of the aircraft. I'm guessing the latter is more likely.

Last, but not least, here are a couple of views of the 3D virtual cockpit:

For good measure, here is a view of the configuration utility. This does not actually directly connect to the sim and configure the plane for you; it is merely a tool that you can use to do load and fuel planning in the aircraft using the standard FSX mechanisms:

So what do I think of the SimCheck A300? Overall, I really like it. It is fairly easy to learn, and fun to fly. You don't have to understand the ins and outs of the entire flight engineer's panel to get up and running, but it's there when you want to play around with it. The software itself is fairly solid - I did not have any noticeable problems with program crashes or the like.

Complexity is somewhat similar to a Wilco/feelThere product: there is enough there to feel like you are in the real thing, although some of the finer details (such as INS alignment) are omitted. Purists who like detailed, PMDG-style simulations may not like this as much.

I do hope SimCheck (or someone) will implement the A300-600/A310 glass cockpit as an option, along with possibly a FMS, in a future update to the A300. An A310 shrunk model would be cool, too.

Perhaps my biggest gripe about the A300 is that the panels do not look terribly realistic. Maybe I'm spoiled by too much time in Captain Sim's products lately - I will readily own up to that! Nonetheless, the rendering of the cockpit in the SimCheck A300 appears less than state-of-the-art. Perhaps this is not necessarily a bad thing; it may be somewhat more framerate-friendly this way. It's certainly not any worse than the Level-D 767, which continually gets high praise from the simmer community.

Bottom line: a solid product that is fun to fly. Definitely a worthwhile choice, particularly for simulating cargo flights. At around US $45, the price is right, too!

Rating: ****

Friday, November 12, 2010

Captain Sim 707 on Sale

Captain Sim has slashed the price on the 707 Captain, to only €39.99, or about US $55. I think this is a terrific deal for such a high-quality plane. Since Captain Sim is not planning on running their annual 1-day only €9.99 sale this year, this might be as good a time as any to jump on it if you are considering it.

If you are still on the fence, Captain Sim has released a free demo of the 707 Captain for trial purposes.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Captain Sim Announces Their Next Project

Captain Sim recently gave their customers a chance to have a say in their next project.

Well, the people have spoken, and Captain Sim has listened: the next project will be the 737 Captain series. They are going to take on the Baby Boeing initially: the base model will be the 737-100, and the expansion model will be the 737-200.

No word yet on how far they are planning to run with the 737, but the "737 Classic" series (-300/-400/-500) from Wilco is getting a little long in the tooth, and might benefit from the Captain Sim treatment as well. However, I just can't see them taking on the 737 NG, with PMDG moving full steam ahead on theirs.

Nonetheless, the Baby Boeing is a very solid choice for Captain Sim, as it will fit right in with their Boeing 707 and 727 models. I voted in favor of it myself, along with a Lockheed L-1011 TriStar and Douglas DC-8. I really do wish someone would take on the TriStar for FSX - there are some very interesting features about that plane, such as the Direct Lift Control system. But that's a discussion for another day. :-)