Tuesday, August 30, 2011

QualityWings Shows Off BAe 146/AvroRJ Some More

QualityWings has also given the fans some nice views of the virtual cockpit of the upcoming BAe 146/AvroRJ product.  Note that this is not the final version, as they are still actively fixing several inaccuracies.  However, this is looking really nice so far.

A preview of the night lighting is also available here.

This looks like it's going to be a fun little plane to fly when it's ready to go.

Captain Sim Says 737 Captain (Exterior Only) Due in September

Captain Sim has posted an announcement that the 737 Captain (737-100) will be released in September, but it will be the exterior model only at this time.  Price will be €9.99.  Interior and expansion models will come later.

Apparently they are also seeking beta testers for the 737.  Note that this does not tie in to McPhat's announcement today, as the 737 Captain (737-100/200 series) does not happen to use CFM engines.

Majestic Software Developing Q400 for FSX

I have known about this one for some time, but this project appears to be taking shape and making good strides toward release.  Majestic Software has been working on a Bombardier Q400 turboprop, and the advance screenshots are looking very nice.  Visit their forum for more details.  Enjoy!

McPhat's Partner Looking for Beta Testers

McPhat Studios posted an interesting comment at their Facebook page today.  One of their partners is looking for beta testers for an upcoming product.  They dropped the hint that the product is a twin-engine model powered by CFM engines.  Well, that means a few possibilities:

  • CFM56-3 series - found in Boeing 737 "Classic" (737-300/400/500 series)
    feelThere! at one point had expressed interest in possibly updating their old 737 PIC with an updated 3D virtual cockpit.  This is a definite possibility, if that project is still active.  Who knows, maybe someone else out there is working on this.
  • CFM56-5 series - found in Airbus A320 series (A318/A319/A320/A321)
    We know FlightSimLabs is working on an A320.  Some have also suggested that the AirSimmer A320 is not dead yet.  I suspect one of these two is the most likely possibility.
  • CFM56-7 series - found in Boeing 737 NG (737-600/700/800/900 series)
    PMDG just released the 737 NGX, and has a pretty tightly-controlled community of beta-testers.  With the iFly 737 NG also out there, I can't imagine that there is big enough of a market for any more 737 NG products at this time.
So, the bottom line is that somebody out there appears to be looking for a beta tester for either a 737 Classic, or an A320.

feelThere's Next Airplane: Embraer Phenom 100

Well, after a period that has been mostly quiet for the last several months, it looks like some upcoming projects are finally being unveiled.  I'll hit you with a few of these today:

feelThere! has made a couple of interesting posts on their Facebook page recently.  While it seems most of their effort has gone in to developing their ATC Suite, they haven't completely neglected developing airplanes, too.  They showed off a nice rendering of an Embraer Phenom 100 that they appear to be working on.  Supposedly they will show an in-game screenshot of it soon.

Here is a cutaway rendering of the cockpit, too.  And here is a cutaway rendering of the interior.

No word on when this will be out, but feelThere! usually doesn't show off projects until they are nearing the final stages of development.  Could be we'll see this one before Christmas, but don't quote me on that!

Along with the ERJ and E-Jets, feelThere! seems to have found their niche as the go-to company for Embraer products in FSX.  (I would love to see them try their hand at an Embraer turboprop, too, such as the EMB-120!)  Just the same, the Phenom 100 is a very interesting choice...seems the Cessna Citation Mustang from Flight1 will have a little competition in the VLJ segment in FSX.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Mini-Review: PMDG 737 NGX

Earlier this month, PMDG released their long-awaited 737 NGX product.  The initial product release consists of the 737-800 and 737-900 models, with other 737 variants forthcoming as optional expansion packs.  PMDG's servers were overwhelmed with enthusiastic flight simmers around the globe picking up their copies of the plane - and also a rogue denial-of-service attack apparently originating in China.  I decided to wait about a week and let the initial excitement die down just a touch.  I finally picked up the NGX about two weeks ago, and have spent a fair amount of time with it since.

Here we see the PMDG NGX 737-800 model in all her glory, in an American Airlines repaint:

For our test flight during this review, we will be doing a quick charter run from Miami International Airport (KMIA) to Jose Marti International Airport (MUHA) in Havana, Cuba.  The above screenshot was taken on the initial climbout over south Florida.  Flight time will be about 45 minutes, which is just about enough time to do a quick rundown of all the features of the NGX.

As with PMDG's previous flagship level products, the NGX comes with a full set of 2D panels.  Here is the main 2D panel for the captain's seat:

Here is another 2D panel for the dome lighting directly overhead:

Here is another 2D panel for the captain's FMS:

Here is a 2D panel for the center pedestal, controlling the radios, transponder, and TCAS:

Here is another small 2D panel controlling the fire suppression controls:

And another 2D panel for the overhead switches, including the lights, pressurization, and hydraulics:

Here is another 2D panel for the INS:

And here is a smaller 2D panel for just the overhead lights - this is a smaller version of the overhead panel, designed to not obstruct the pilot's view while flying:

Now here are a couple of screenshots of the 3D virtual cockpit, which is my preferred way to fly.  The Florida Keys loom somewhere down below:

PMDG has spared almost no detail when modeling the NGX.  Every switch makes a click, and with few exceptions, actually does something.  Boeing supposedly gave PMDG unprecedented access to the schematics and design documents of the real 737 NG series, and PMDG used this information to model every last bit of a 737 NG in the NGX.  I understand Boeing is providing PMDG with similar access to the 777 for their forthcoming 777 product, as well.

Flying the NGX is a bit like peeling an onion.  (Then again, I think this is probably true of every PMDG product I own!)  Veterans of the old PMDG 737 series (FS9-only) or the iFly 737 NG will have no trouble getting the NGX up in the air quickly - probably without even reading the tutorial.  To a lesser extent, any flight sim veteran should be able to get the NGX airborne with only a modest learning curve.

However, there is a gotcha: systems that are not modeled in other 737 NG products are modeled on the NGX.  In gory detail.  For veterans of other 737 NG products, this will occasionally lead to some unexpected issue popping up, due to the fact that the NGX actually models a particular system that others do not.  One example: on my maiden flight of the NGX, I simmed an American Airlines flight from KDFW to KAUS.  I ran with about 1/3 fuel load.  About midway through the flight, I get an alert that the hydraulics system is overheating!  Never seen that one before.  Well, it turns out that the real 737 NG uses fuel in the center tank as a heat exchanger for the electro-hydraulics pumps.  If you don't have at least around 2,000 lbs. of fuel in the center tank, there is no liquid there to collect the excess heat from the hydraulics pumps, and they overheat.  Good to know.  This is the kind of detail you can expect to see in the NGX.

Similar to the PMDG MD-11, there are other bits of eye candy modeled as well.  Things like the pushback sequence, and ground connections for the MD-11.  You can even chock the wheels when you are parked at the gate!

Now I would be remiss if I did not mention one of my most favorite features in the NGX: the Heads-Up Guidance System, or HUGS.  Sure, PMDG is not the first developer to introduce a HUGS in a product - the Wilco/feelThere ERJv2 models a HUGS in the Embraer E-175 and E-195, for example.  However, PMDG probably has the best implementation of a HUGS I have ever seen.  Notice how the color of the light changes when you peer through the HUGS to the outside windscreen, for example:

The HUGS is a wonderful innovation for pilots, as it provides them all the instrumentation information they need without having to look away from the window.  Pilots can integrate the instrument data along with the visual external cues to increase situational awareness - for example, if the airspeed is too high or too low, the pilot can adjust the throttles accordingly without even taking his eyes off the approach.

Another nice feature of the HUGS in real life is that you can see the data being presented at any viewing angle.  Notice what happens in the HUGS in the following screenshots when I pan to the right in the 3D virtual cockpit:

Amazing!  This is the level of detail you can expect with the NGX.  Using the HUGS makes a smooth landing in normal conditions a snap almost every time.  You never have to pan away (or zoom back far enough) to monitor the instruments while landing.

Here are a few other pictures of the exterior model as we fly over the Florida Keys:

Key West is down below: NAS Key West (KNQX) on the right, and the smallish Key West International (really?) Airport (KEYW) on the left.  With a runway only 4800' long, it's hard to believe that AirTran and Delta actually run Boeing 737-700s (severely weight restricted) on scheduled service out of there to Orlando, Tampa, and Atlanta.  Remind me to try that flight when PMDG releases the 737-600/737-700 expansion models for the NGX:

Touching down in Havana.  Welcome to Cuba!

Another nifty feature of the NGX, not shown here, is the ability to dynamically configure the airplane's fuel, payload, and features through a special menu on the NGX.  If your pet airline uses the Collins instrument panel instead of the Honeywell instrument panel, changing it is easily done in just a few mouse clicks!  You can also save configurations for a particular repaint.  Some of the repaints from PMDG even come with configurations that accurately reflect how that particular airline configures its 737 NG.  Very cool.

So you may be asking, what are the downsides to the NGX?  Not many.  Here are a few I can think of:

  • I have experienced a few intermittent freezes and crashes.  However, this may have been a product of having my graphics sliders set too high on the new flight sim rig I am testing out.  I need to run some further test flights with more realistic settings to gauge whether or not this is a big problem.
  • Performance did seem fairly reasonable on both my laptop and my main flight sim rig.  It may tax some older systems or video cards much more than some other add-ons.  PMDG has spent a great deal of time optimizing the NGX, and there is definitely a balance to strike between having lots of detail versus reasonable performance.  I think PMDG did a smashing job of finding the right balance with the NGX - for most of us with decent systems and video cards, we will have our cake and eat it, too.
  • Price is US $70 right now, for a limited time only.  It will jump to US $75 when the first expansion model (the 737-600/737-700 series) comes out.  This seems on the high side, but is actually a tremendous value for the features and level of detail that you get.  Plus, you get to control how much you want to spend: if you want all the variants, you could potentially blow as much as US $150 or more.  (Thankfully, not all at once!)  If you don't care about those and just want to fly a 737 NG of some sort, then you'll get by just fine with the base model.
  • Complexity will put off some novices.  I love a certain amount of complexity myself, but if you don't, then you might consider giving the iFly 737 NG a go instead.
In short: PMDG will no doubt clean up on all the 2011 Flight Sim Product of the Year awards.  It won't even be close.  Which is really too bad in a way, because there are also a lot of other interesting aircraft coming down the pipe in the not-too-distant future.  However, PMDG has definitely earned it with the NGX.  Serious flight simmers will definitely want to add this one to their collection.  The NGX is fun to fly, and will reward extensive study of her features for a long time to come.  Don't miss it!

Rating: *****

Friday, August 19, 2011

Another Little Piece of the CoolSky DC-9

Espen of CoolSky gives another little sneak peek of the upcoming DC-9...this time, in PMDG fashion, it's a small sliver of the VC.  Looks very, very nice...McPhat seems to be doing a great job with the modeling.  Looking forward to this one, too!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Did You Get Yours Yet?

I picked up my copy of the NGX today.  Here is she is on her maiden flight from SeaTac to PDX:

Folks, this plane is an absolute gem to fly.  I love the iFly 737 NG, but the PMDG NGX is even better.  And that is not intended as a slight against iFly - theirs is a very nice plane, too.  However, the attention to detail on the NGX is second to none.  Will elaborate more once I have a chance to completely soak it in.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Digital Aviation/Aerosoft CRJ Cockpit Previews

Mathijs Kok of Aerosoft gave the masses a nice update on the Digital Aviation/Aerosoft CRJ project a few days ago in the Aerosoft forums.  There are some nice screenshots of the cockpit there, too!  It's looking really nice.  Hopefully they will put the finishing touches on this bird in the not-too-distant future, and we can open up the CRJ-based regional affiliates for our new NGX-based airlines...  ;-)

Monday, August 8, 2011

This Week's Sim News

Lots of little news items trickling out here and there.  Rather than making a bunch of new blog posts, for each one, I'll just collect them all and post them here:

  • The PMDG 737 NGX is out.  I'll be snagging my copy later this week, when the initial stampede dies down slightly.  I guess this means they will be turning their full attention to the 777 next...
  • CoolSky made a new blog post pertaining to their DC-9 - specifically, on radio navigation.  This is a highly useful introduction to anyone who isn't familiar with old-school aeronautical navigation, before the days of GPS and modern FMS units that do most of the work for us.  The CoolSky DC-9 will be true to original form, predating all of these technological advances.  Thus, knowing how to track VOR radials will be very important to successful operation of this plane.  Espen is also including a "special radio navigation training simulator" as a component of the CoolSky DC-9.  This is apparently one of the secret features he had referred to previously.  Looks neat.
  • According to this post, Captain Sim is apparently looking for some 757 experts to help test out VNAV/LNAV functionality in their upcoming v4.5 service pack for the Captain Sim 757.  Bugfixes include stripping out the dependency on FSUIPC, which will make the flight model much more stable.  Major thumbs up on this one.

Friday, August 5, 2011

PMDG Releases 737 NGX, Gets Cyber-Attacked

Well, it's been an interesting day over at PMDG!

First off, they did indeed release the 737 NGX, as promised.

However, at around the same time, their servers were targeted by a nasty denial-of-service cyberattack, apparently originating from China.  This attack forced PMDG to take their servers offline for a while.  As of this writing, they are still offline, but hope to be back up again soon.

Speculation in the forums is rampant that the perps may be sympathetic to the competing iFly 737 product, which was developed at least partially in China.  However, PMDG has downplayed this suggestion, and urges everyone not to jump to conclusions.

I think I'll wait at least a few days for the stampede to die down, then I'll order by NGX in an orderly fashion.  Hope to have a mini-review up here in a week or two.

Elsewhere, AVSIM's forums (where PMDG's user forums are hosted) were also offline due to technical difficulties earlier today.  Not exactly the smooth launch PMDG was hoping for, I suspect.  Nonetheless, these are just minor blips along the way, and everyone should be enjoying their new NGX's very shortly.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

McPhat Unveils Some Interesting Plans

The gang over at McPhat Studios have been rather busy this year, and they recently shared some previews of their upcoming projects with the masses:

  • As previously mentioned here, McPhat has been handling the 3D modeling of the CoolSky (Flight1) DC-9-30 project, in addition to their usual repainting duties.  In their blog, they mention that the DC-9 development phase is "nearing its end."  Elsewhere, Espen has promised another update on the DC-9 very soon.  Looks like we may be taking flight in the DC-9 before long!
  • McPhat has also been going it on their own for the first time, with the development of an ATR 72-500 model.  It still looks early in development, but the screenshots are very nice so far.  Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this project is that they are targeting this for X-Plane, and not FSX.  However, they have not ruled out a FSX version of the ATR at some point.  They state it will not be a full simulation of the ATR, but the flight model will be realistic.  It will be interesting to see where they go with this.  I love the PMDG Jetstream 4100 turboprop, and hope we can see more realistic turboprops in the future.