FLIGHT SOFTWARE & AVIONICS SUITE
When I first became interested in flight simulation much of the software was rudimentary.
I settled on using Microsoft's FS9 as a base platform, and after using several add on aircraft I favoured the B737 produced by Precision Manuals Development Group (PMDG). Overall, I found the flight model realistic, reliable and the software stable.
Although a functional glass flight deck is available within the PMDG model (on the computer screen), there are considerable software limitations if wishing to utilize PMDG software on a full-feature simulated flight deck. Furthermore, since the release of FS9 there have been considerable enhancements within the flight simulator platform culminating in the release of FS10 (FSX).
The base software is Micro$oft Flight Simulator 10 (FSX).
Avionics Suite - Which One ?
The three contenders to supply the avionics suite (the software that provides much of the flight logic) were ProSim-AR (ProSim737), Project Magenta and Sim Avionics.
The flight avionics suite provides the logic for the simulation to operate and interact with the base FSX program. Each suite is similar, but not identical. Fonts and colours may differ and functionality may alter between different companies' software. Before purchasing, it is wise to thoroughly test and evaluate the software against its competitor.
Project Magenta: Project Magenta (PM) was eliminated early in the process because of inherent problems, instability, and the need for several computers with the installation of, what appeared to be complex software.
Sim Avionics: (Sim-A) is engineered by Mark Hastings and developed further through Flight Deck Solutions (FDS). Sim-A is the software marketed to any prospective purchaser of a FDS product (such as a MIP).
The simulator has built around the skeleton of a MIP designed and supplied by Flight Deck Solutions. Therefore, Sim Avionics was the initial software of choice by 'default'.
After using Sim Avionics for close to 6 months, it was apparent that the software platform, although very robust, was convoluted in set-up and was not easy to update. Furthermore, the behaviour of VNAV was inconsistent and the potential for 'run away trim situations' problematic.
The version of Sim Avionics that was evaluated was released in late 2011. Updates to the software may have rectified many of the problems I encountered.
ProSim-AR: Three real world commercial pilots recommended ProSim-AR. After contacting Hanne at ProSim-AR, I was provided the software to evaluate for a four week period. The software was very easy to install and was straightforward to configure. Additionally, updates to the software are easy to implement.
An evaluation of Sim Avionics and ProSim737 has been published in the journal section.
Flight Model - Which One ?
Four flight B737-800 models were evaluated: The default FSX B738, PMDG B738 (FS9 version), PMDG B738 NGX, the dedicated Sim Avionics flight model, and the dedicated flight model for ProSim-AR.
Default B738: The simulation initially was using the standard default FSX B737 flight model. (tweaked for greater flight realism). Although the aircraft.cfg was tweaked, I wasn't pleased with the overall result.
PMDG B738 NG (FS9 Version): In my opinion, the PMDG (FS9) 737-800 NG flight model (with flight logic removed) provides a realistic flight model. I have had no major issues with this flight model, with the exception of slight time lag, prevalent at rotation after moving the control column to the correct angle for Vr. I am unsure what causes this and tweaking the aircraft.cfg file has not rectified this problem.
PMDG B738 NGX: In April 2012, I decided to upgrade the flight model to the PMDG 737-800 NGX (FSX version).
The NGX model appears to replicate the real aircraft much better than that depicted in the earlier FS9 version. However, although the model is more advanced, there are teething issues interfacing the flight model with Sim Avionics (and other avionics suites). Initial testing with Sim Avionics presented several problems such as: severe pitching above FL14, incorrect behaviour when using Level Change, and incorrect responses when using VNAV.
PMDG have made it very difficult to successfully remove the flight logic from the program, and many functions are interrelated. Remove something and something else does not work correctly.
Clearly, the NGX is not able to be used with Sim Avionics (as of April 2012).
Sim Avionics Flight Model: Designed to be used solely with Sim Avionics, the flight model did not perform to expectation. I had far better results using the PMDG FS9 version with Sim Avionics.
PROSIM-AR Flight Model: Designed from the outset to integrate seamlessly with the ProSim737 avionics suite, the flight model demonstrates excellent performance, is very reliable, and consistent in operation (for the most part...).
Evaluation Completed (16 June 2012)
Following several scenarios designed to test the performance and consistency of the software and flight model, ProSim-AR has been selected to supply the avionics suite and the flight model.
The software has proved to be robust, stable, easy to update, accurate to the B738 flight characteristics, and feature rich. Further, continual improvements and upgrades are frequent.