Friday, January 28, 2011

PMDG Shows Off Their 737 NGX

PMDG has just posted a major update on the 737 NGX, complete with tons of eye candy.  Captain Randazzo goes into great detail on all the small details that are very realistically modeled on the plane.  My description here wouldn't do it justice - just pop on over to AVSIM and read it for yourself.  Suffice it to say that this is probably the most detailed plane ever modeled in Flight Simulator.

PMDG has promised to post more pictures this weekend.  Could the 737 NGX really be on final at long last, ready to land in our virtual hangars very soon?

Get ready, this is going to be a fun ride!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Too Cool!

I recently upgraded the hard drive in my main FS rig to 1 TB from 250 GB, as my many planes and liveries were stretching my available space to the limit. I used Acronis True Image Home Edition to move my Windows installation over to the new disk, without having to reinstall everything. (Great product, by the way - did exactly what I needed to do, with a minimum of fuss. Two thumbs up!)

Unfortunately, in the process, I discovered that running everything from the new drive invalidated many of my license files for my aircraft add-ons. The major problem children have been the planes from PMDG, Flight1, and Captain Sim. So, for the last several days, I have been going through the painstaking process of backing up my Aircraft.cfg files containing all my repaints, uninstalling planes, reinstalling planes with new license files that take into account the new drive, and then restoring my Aircraft.cfg files. Ugh. Surely there HAS to be a better way of upgrading your hard drive. This is nearly as bad as just reinstalling FSX and all my airplanes and repaints from scratch. :-(

Anyway, I took this as an opportunity to double-check all my favorite sites for any updates to add-ons that I may have missed, by redownloading the latest versions. While perusing the Flight1 site for the CoolSky Super 80 Professional, a familiar line appeared in the "Product Reviews" section:

"If you can only buy one add-on for FSX this year, get this one. You won't be sorry. It is really a shame that the MD-80 is a dying breed these days, in the era of high fuel prices. This one is definitely a fun plane to fly, and the Super 80 Pro add-on captures that essence very nicely." - The Pretend Flyer

Very cool, guys! Thanks so much! It's really neat to see this site get mentioned elsewhere in the flight sim community. I do this blog mainly as a little hobby whenever time permits, and I find interesting things to talk about. Lately, most of the developers must be really hard at work, because there has not been a whole lot of new news since the holidays. Still hoping to see the PMDG 737 NGX and the Aerosoft/Digital Aviation CRJ real soonish.

I have been very pleased with nearly every Flight1 product I own, and they are great guys who are very easy to do business with. Go give 'em some love if you see something there you like.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

QualityWings Announces Boeing 787

QualityWings is showing off some initial screenshots of their Boeing 787.

This one should prove to be interesting...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mini-Review: feelThere! E-Jets v.2

I've been thinking about this review off and on for a few weeks now, and admittedly, I have struggled with it a bit. This review will be much shorter than a typical review, as the feelThere! E-Jets v.2 is primarily a derivative product of the original feelThere! E-Jets released in 2008. If you have seen that product, this product does not add a whole lot new to it.

I refer you to the original mini-review of the feelThere! E-Jets here, in case you missed it. The E-Jets v.2 VC and 2D panels are largely unchanged over the original E-Jets version.

In this review, I will focus on the new features that the v.2 product adds to the original version.

The main things that the E-Jets v.2 adds include:
  • Two new E-Jets models: the Embraer 175 and 195
  • feelThere's Call! for the E-Jets
  • feelThere's Map! integrated into the 175 and 195 models
  • A simulated HUD used in the 175 and 195 models for landing
  • Many new liveries for the 175 and 195 from McPhat Studios, at extra cost.
Here is the 195 model, in the Embraer house livery:

Here is a shot of the Call! panel for the E-Jets:

I actually like Call! a lot. It does add a degree of realism, in the sense that it acts as a virtual copilot that helps you run through the checklists at each stage of the flight. You can even have a virtual flight attendant provide a safety briefing to the passengers before takeoff.

Here is the HUD, which I think is actually rather neat:

Bottom line: I can't really say anything bad about the E-Jets v.2. It works well, behaves as expected, and is actually fun to fly. A few of the textures look a little subpar in the 2D panels when flying at night. It's not terrible, but not very realistic looking, either.

My main concern with the E-Jets v.2 is one of value. If you have never bought the E-Jets package before, then the v.2 product will definitely be worth your while. Otherwise, if you previously bought the first E-Jets package, you probably can't escape the feeling that you are paying twice for something you already bought previously. Sure, Call, Map, the HUD, and the 175/195 models are extra bonuses, but are they really worth around US $45 for all that? I would have liked to have seen a lower, upgrade price for previous owners of the E-Jets package. Unfortunately, no such option exists.

Rating: ****

Mini-Review: FlightSimLabs Concorde-X

This review has been a long time coming. I let my wife borrow my main computer for FSX after her laptop needed some repairs. I sometimes use my laptop for decent, lower-detail flight simming, so it was not that big of a deal. Most of my add-ons run fine on my laptop...with one major exception: the FlightSimLabs Concorde-X. Finally, after several months, we got my wife's computer repaired, and my main FSX rig is back. I had hoped to do this review months ago, but finally, here we are. Guess this is a pretty decent way to start off 2011, eh?

Here is an action shot of our specimen for this review:

As I started looking at the Concorde-X, a few potential product slogans came to mind:

"Captain Sim says it's only 7 magic hours from New York to London in their 707. Now try our Concorde - we get you there in less than half the time! How's THAT for magic?"

Yeah, probably too long.

"This product is what a PMDG Concorde would look like, if PMDG ever did a Concorde."

True statement, although probably not the most flashy slogan.

Oh well, I guess this is why I work in engineering and not marketing.

For anyone older than 30 or so, the Concorde needs no introduction. It dutifully served a niche role providing supersonic transatlantic transport for the well-to-do who needed to get from New York to London or Paris (or vice versa) in a big hurry for almost 30 years. Its futuristic-looking design resembled something more akin to a rocket than an airplane. Though the age of faster-than-sound transport has passed, at least for now, the development of the Concorde brought about many innovations in aerospace technology that we take for granted today.

The Concorde was jointly developed as a result of a cooperation treaty signed by the governments of Britain and France. The two major companies involved were the British Aerospace Corporation (or BAC, now known as BAE Systems) on the British side, and AĆ©rospatiale on the French side. The name "Concorde" reflects the cooperation involved in designing and producing these aircraft. Only 20 frames were ever produced, and of those, only 14 saw service with British Airways and Air France. The Concorde began service in 1976, and had an impeccable safety record for nearly 25 years. Tragically, one French Concorde was lost in 2000 in a crash upon takeoff from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. The Concordes were grounded for a time after the accident, but they resumed service again in 2001. Finally, due to rising fuel costs and poor economics, the Concordes were retired for good by both British Airways and Air France in 2003. The now antiquated flight deck of the Concorde (requiring a flight engineer) was also a significant contributor to this decision.

The features that made the Concorde unique are too numerous to list here. Most people are already very familiar with its iconic delta wing shape and droop nose. The powerplant consists of four Rolls-Royce/SNECMA Olympus Mk. 650 turbojet engines, mounted underneath the delta wings. Much less obvious to the casual observer is the complex system of 11 interconnected fuel tanks, positioned all throughout the plane. These tanks are designed so that the fuel itself provides ballast for the plane, and fuel can be shifted around in flight to alter the CG of the plane (and thus, its flight characteristics) in flight, as fuel is burned off. Cruise speed is typically Mach 2.0-2.02, which reflects a ground speed of over 1300 MPH.

When flying in excess of Mach 1.0 (supersonic), the Concorde was required to be a minimum of 35 nm away from land, due to the sonic boom produced by its pressure wave. The Concorde typically cruised anywhere between FL500-FL600 over the Atlantic, and had special dedicated tracks (designated as Sierra Mike for westbound, Sierra November for eastbound, and Sierra Oscar for overflow) that it always followed on its journey across the Atlantic. Typically, the BA Concorde would depart Heathrow on a southwesterly track, and skirt the southern coast of Ireland as it reached its supersonic acceleration point. On the other side of the Atlantic, it would skirt the coasts of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and New England before decelerating off Long Island and circling to land at JFK Airport. This made for a seemingly convoluted track until you keep in mind the 35 nm requirement for supersonic flight.

So here is our specimen on the ground at London Heathrow, preparing for our transatlantic hop to New York-JFK:

Here are a couple of shots of the 3D VC inside:

And here is a collection of the various 2D panels you well see. Many of them are self-explanatory, but I won't take the time to detail them all here, due to the sheer number. Suffice it to say that the overhead controls, center pedestal, and flight engineer's panel are fully represented with all of these. Note our cruising speed in some of the panels below: at 1040 knots ground speed, we are well on our way to Mach 2.0:

As you can see, the Concorde uses triple Delco INS units for transatlantic navigation. They were quite state-of-the-art for 1976; although quite dated now in the era of FMS systems. Still, they're better than nothing. They work essentially the same as the INS units you have seen in the Captain Sim Boeing 707, the Simcheck A300, and others. Basically, you program up to nine coordinates in at a time, then point the plane in that direction and tell it to fly. Add nine more coordinates each time you run through the previous set of nine.

The good news is that the Concorde does come with autothrottles, and essentially automatically handles step climbs above FL500 for you in its "Climb-Cruise" mode.

The tutorial that comes with the Concorde-X is excellent, and is an absolute must read. It simulates an entire flight from Heathrow to JFK, going through the checklists in minute detail. The tutorial is very nice in that it actually correlates the checklist items with pictures of the panels, showing you exactly which switch to flip on which panel in the right order. This eases the rather steep learning curve of the new Concorde pilot a bit, with so many panels to keep up with. I would recommend running through the tutorial even two or three times at minimum, just to really get the hang of it. Using the tutorial, I successfully completed a flight from Heathrow to JFK in 3 1/2 hours. Not bad for a rookie!

Here are some more action shots from the flight below. First of all, the reheaters (afterburners) are active when the plane accelerates from supersonic (Mach 1.0) up to about Mach 1.7. Here you can see them in action:

Nearing our destination, we cruise past Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket. We are cruising at around FL560 here:

As we slow down to subsonic, don't you love the exhaust coming out of those Olympus engines?

We capture the localizer and glideslope, and come in for a smooth landing on Runway 31R at JFK:

Welcome to New York. According to local time, we actually landed before we took off!

Are there any drawbacks to the Concorde-X? Well, let me put it this way:
  • This is NOT an airplane for beginners. If you are new to FSX, I would recommend cutting your teeth on some easier planes before attempting this one. The real Concorde required years of dedicated training and flight experience; and the Concorde-X faithfully reproduces many of those considerations in the simulation. Even for experienced pilots, getting airborne in the Concorde-X will take considerable time and patience, due to the unique nature of the aircraft.
  • The 2D panels are not terribly photorealistic, but acceptable. Quality reminds me a bit of the Simcheck Airbus A300. Decent enough, but not totally convincing. The 3D VC is very nice, though, and may even be the preferred way to operate this aircraft.
  • However, this may be due to the fact that there are a LOT of 2D panels - just like in the real Concorde, with its myriad of panels. In fact, the sheer number of panels will tax many computers with subpar graphics cards, including most mobile chipsets. You have been warned - I could not play Concorde-X on my laptop, due to frequently running out of graphics memory just from loading the sheer number of 2D panels. Be sure you have a decent graphics card with sufficient dedicated graphics memory (say, an nVidia 8000-series or better) before you try the Concorde-X.
I don't consider these "cons" terribly negative, per se - really just cautionary advisories for potential customers.

FlightSimLabs is a relatively new player on the flight sim scene, although their founder is an ex-employee of PMDG. The PMDG influence shows - FSL does a terrific job of simulating the Concorde in all of its gory details in such a way that even PMDG themselves would be proud. Complexity of operating the Concorde is managed through various shortcuts, including the Virtual Flight Engineer, and keyboard commands for automated startup of the engines, and automatically aligning and programming the INS units. These shortcuts simplify things for the pilot who just wants to get to Mach 2.0 in a hurry, without worrying about all the little details. This is actually not a terrible compromise - in the real Concorde, there are no fewer than three crew members (including the Flight Engineer) working through their preflight checklists simultaneously, while in the Concorde-X, the burden falls squarely you, on the pilot. So having the Virtual Flight Engineer automate some of the flight engineering tasks is not necessarily an unrealistic compromise. All that said, cruising at Mach 2.0 and watching Greenland zoom by on the overhead map is a rather exhilarating experience.

FlightSimLabs is reportedly working on an Airbus A320 next. If their upcoming A320 simulates a real Airbus as well as the Concorde-X simulates the real Concorde, then it will be another surefire winner.

Bottom line - the Concorde-X is a must-have for the pilot who absolutely, positively had to get there yesterday. The overall quality is very high, and the plane behaves largely as described, without any major bugs or CTDs. Detail is exquisite. Difficulty is challenging, but don't be daunted. Just be prepared.

Rating: *****

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Merry Christmas (belated) and Happy New Year!

Seasons Greetings to all! What did you enjoy flying or seeing in FSX in 2010? And what are you looking forward to most in 2011?

I am definitely awaiting the PMDG 737 NGX and 777, and maybe we'll inch closer to a fantastic Airbus for FSX from Airsimmer or FlightSimLabs, too!