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Mission Statement 

The purpose of FLAPS-2-APPROACH is two-fold:  To document the construction of a Boeing 737 flight simulator, and to act as a platform to share aviation-related articles pertaining to the Boeing 737; thereby, providing a source of inspiration and reference to like-minded individuals.

I am not a professional journalist.  Writing for a cross section of readers from differing cultures and languages with varying degrees of technical ability, can at times be challenging. I hope there are not too many spelling and grammatical mistakes.

 

Note:   I have NO affiliation with ANY manufacturer or reseller.  All reviews and content are 'frank and fearless' - I tell it as I see it.  Do not complain if you do not like what you read.

I use the words 'modules & panels' and 'CDU & FMC' interchangeably.  The definition of the acronym 'OEM' is Original Equipment Manufacturer (aka real aicraft part).

 

All funds are used to offset the cost of server and website hosting (Thank You...)

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Journal Archive (Newest First)

Entries in PMDG (4)

Sunday
Jul152012

Avionics Software - Selection and the Future

Southwest Airlines is the largest low cost airline in the United States, and has maintained its success on a simple business model - its decision to fly only one type of aircraft, the Boeing 737.  By streamlining their fleet to only one aircraft type, savings can be made in maintenance, logistics and support.

Southwest only need to employ maintenance personnel knowledgeable on one aircraft type, pilots do not need to be cross trained, and more importantly flight and support crews can be airlifted anywhere to begin work immediately should a problem arise.  There is no time delay waiting for a type pilot or engineer to be found.  In the airline business, lost flight time means a loss in revenue.

So what has this got to do with flight simulator or avionics software suites?

Avionics Software Suite – What’s this?

Before proceeding, the avionics suite is the software that controls the aircraft’s avionics systems within the simulator.  The avionics suite controls nearly everything associated with the simulator that is automated and includes among others: the integration of the Main Instrument Panel (MIP) and Main Control Panel (MCP) and the projection of this data to the Navigation Display (ND) and Pilots Flight Display (PFD).  The software does not replace the main flight simulator platform (FSX or whatever), but acts as a separate platform.

It’s important to realize that this software is VERY important.  It is the backbone of any simulation and directly controls whatever flight model you are using.  Any software used must be accurate, robust, replicate real aircraft systems, be reliable, and be able to replicate its outputs on a consistent basis.
There are two broad types of suites – those that can be used in a full flight deck simulation and those that are more suitable to a desktop set-up.

State of Play - Software Contenders

Historically, Project Magenta (PM) was only one contender if you wished to tackle the task of building a B737 simulation.   At the time, the software was complicated and required the user to network several computers.  The software developed by Project Magenta initially led the way, laying the building blocks for others to follow (bravo to PM).

In 2012, contenders are several: Project Magenta, Sim Avionics (Sim-A), Orion, Aerosoft Australia, Flight Deck Software, ProSim 737, Precision Manuals Development Team (PMDG), i-Fly and several lesser known companies produce software that emanates the avionics of the B737.  Other software suites “pop up” on the horizon from time to time as talented software engineers attempt to enter the marketplace.

Which Avionics Software Suite Should I Use?

This is a personal decision and I’m not going to publish a “tit for tat” discussion to which suite from which company is better or worse.  I will say that each company’s software brings different aspects of the flight deck to realisation – some with greater accuracy, detail and finesse than others.  Before you purchase a suite, it’s vital to investigate exactly what that suite can and cannot do in relation to the hardware you have installed in your simulator.

Software suites offered by rival companies are NOT identical to each other.  Some developers have added functions and displays to their software in an attempt to make them more user friendly, or to be used for multiple aircraft types.  Other developers try to maintain as much accuracy with the genuine B737 suite as possible.

Before purchase, you should identify what aspects are important to you, will work your simulator, and represent the functionality you expect.  Flight deck building and simulation is often very much about compromise.

Just because software is expensive or inexpensive, doesn't imply it's well tested and stable; try and see beneath the marketing veil.  Some of the smaller lesser known software suites are very good and provide excellent value for money.  For example, Aerosoft Australia has released a very competitively priced avionics suite which is more than enough for the average simmer who does not want to use an overhead panel.

Reliability, Repeatability, Accuracy, Expectations and Support

The most important facet of any software is reliability and repeatability; both mutually support each other.  Unfortunately, not all suites are reliable or have the ability to repeat defined outcomes.  Some high end and expensive software suites are plagued with teething problems, which for the most part, are left to customers to solve or report to the developer, in the hope that an update will rectify the issue.

As discussed earlier, software suites are not identical in functionality or appearance, even though in theory should mimic a real B737.  Although some of these variables are aesthetic, such as font type, size and colour; attributes that many virtual pilots deem important.  Other issues are not aesthetic and may relate to the available functionality of a particular system – such as the Flight Management Computer (FMC).  Depending upon the developer, upgrades to a software suite maybe frequent or only once every six months.

I have reviewed Sim Avionics in an earlier post.  ProSim 737 will be reviewed shortly.

Expectations

It’s important to understand that replicating all the systems of a fully functional B737 is a continual challenge.  Real simulators can cost upwards of 15 million dollars and expecting the same level of performance, reliability and repeatability from a software suite, for less than $1500.00, is not reasonable.  Add to this the vast array of different computer designs and installed hardware and you can easily see why minor problems can occur.

EVERY software suite has teething and minor issues.  This said; please don't go away with the notion that every piece of software is a nest of problems - this would be incorrect.  What is important, is to go away with the notion of "reasonable expectation".

Some developers, in an attempt to work around complicated issues have chosen not to implement certain systems or parts thereof.  These same systems in another suite may work perfectly or not at all.  For the most part, problems stem in the accurate development and execution of Vertical Navigation and the integration of a “fully functional” Flight Management Computer (FMC).

Support from the development team of the suite you have chosen is paramount.  Many issues can and are easily solved.  But a prompt and efficient support base, regularly visited and updated by the software developers is essential.  It also should be noted, that many developers work closely with users to rectify teething issues within their software.   

Connectivity with Micro$soft Flight Simulator and Prepar3D

Most virtual pilots use FSX or the earlier FS9 as their baseline program.  These programs are no longer being developed or supported by Micro$oft and are quite ancient with regard to much of their software architecture.  Other than X-Plane and a few other “no shows” the only program being developed as a baseline program for flight simulator is the Lockheed Martin Prepar3D.  I am not using Prepar3D, however, I envisage I probably will be within two years.  It’s important to ensure compatible with what well may replace FSX.

The Future

What does the future hold?  As computers became faster and software advances continue, almost exponentially, I envisage that avionics software will become more sophisticated and refined in how fluid they interact with, and parallel real aircraft systems.  If the recent release of PMDG’s B737NGX is anything to go by, it’s only a matter of time.

Two Camps

Presently, there are two camps; desktop users and those using partially or fully developed flight decks.  This is not including turn-key type full LEVEL D simulators.

PMDG, closely followed by i-Fly have taken the limelight in the production and release of the NGX which is a truly monumental aircraft simulation more suitable for desktops than a flight deck.  I-Fly has been further developed with functionality to cater to flight deck builders.

Technology doesn't remain static and improvements will drive more companies to produce dedicated software; the days of one or two companies reigning is quickly paling.

Market Share

Historically, Project Magenta was the suite of choice for those wishing to develop a fully functional flight deck, however PM is no longer the “strawberry fox” and is now showing its age, being surpassed by new “high end’ contenders such as Sim Avionics and ProSim 737.  Put simply, these new contenders produce software that is more reliable and sturdier, easier to understand, install, and configure, and can operate on a minimal number of networked computers.

Project Magenta in an attempt to regain market share has also extended its reach to support different jet aircraft including general aircraft. Sim Avionics has followed suit; in addition to the 737-800NG, they also produce avionics suites for the B747, B767, B777 and the A320.

Southwest's Business Model

Other than i-Fly with its duel platform approach, and a few lesser known manufacturers, the only “high end” company dedicated ONLY to the development of the B737 for use in a full flight deck is ProSim 737.  Like Southwest Airlines, ProSim see benefit in producing only one avionics suite, doing it to the best of their ability and providing continued development until, if you excuse the phase “it’s as good as it gets”.

Leaders and Followers

The future is blurred, but in relation to a fully functioning B737 flight deck simulation, I believe that ProSim 737 and Sim Avionics will run “neck and neck”.  Presently, ProSim is more advanced in some aspects than Sim Avionics; but Sim Avionics comes under the mantle of Flight Deck Solutions which is a forward-moving company with a history of aggressive and progressive development.  I don't expect Sim Avionics will sit idle and wither on the vine...

Leadership in desktop simulation will probably be left to the current two major players PMDG and i-Fly; both which will “heckle” for the leadership, with i-Fly probably keeping feet in both camps.  

The other "lesser" contenders will always be there, and this is a good thing.  Competition drives development and improvement, which translates to increased functionality, greater simplicity and more stable software.  This can only benefit the consumer - YOU.

 

 

  • Please note that these are my opinions (albeit shared by other virtual pilots I am in contact with).
  • If you wish to comment, please you the comment form below.
Friday
Jun082012

Using PMDG 737-800 NGX Sound In The Default 737-800

I have received a few e-mails from individuals asking how to replace the default sound with the sound from the PMDG 737-800 NGX.  This is a relatively easy task and the improvement in audio quality and experience over the default B737 sound is second to none. 

Before continuing, I should state that PMDG have designed their NGX audio package to only be used with the PMDG flight model.  As such sounds that PMDG have mapped to specific actions within their flight model will not work outside the PMDG flight model.  I'm sure there is a way to strip the actual "specialist" sounds, but the time required outstrips the enjoyment.  This said, the basic engine sounds and environmental sounds are easily separated for use in other flight models, such as the default 737 and ProSim JetStream738 flight model.

In the examples below, my main FSX folder is located in a directory on C:/ drive and is named FS10.  You may have a different directory location and name for FSX.

Let's Begin....

When you install the PMDG 737NGX, the program copies audio to the following folders:

  1. FS10/simobjects/airplanes/PMDG 800 NGX/sound    (main engine sounds & some envirionmental sounds)
  2. FS10/sound/PMDG 737-800NGX/sound......   (specialist sounds such as gear lever movements, switches, call outs, etc)

The default B737-800 model’s audio is located in the default 737/800 folder (FS10/simobjects/aircraft/737-800/sound)

Make a copy of the sound folder and store to desktop in case of an issue.  Then, delete the sound files in the folder so you can start afresh

Two Methods - Back-up, Copy & Paste or Alias

There are two methods to access or link to the actual PMDG sound files.  You can either copy all the sounds (from the PMDG 737-800NGX/sound folder) and paste them into the default 737-800 sound folder – OR – alias the sounds.  

If you decide to alias the sound, you do NOT need to copy the files.

Either way you MUST have a sound.cfg file in your audio folder.  If you alias the sound.cfg, the content of the sound.cfg file located in the sound folder should look like this:

[fltsim]
Alias=PMDG737-800NGX/sound

If you have issues opening the sound.cfg file, use notepad as your editor.

If you decide to actually copy the files, then ensure the sound.cfg is also copied to your default sound folder.

Personally, I prefer the alias method......

The above process will allow you to play and hear the NGX engine package when flying the default B737 flight model (basic FSX B737-800).  You can also use the same methodology to replace the default sounds with the with the ProSim JetStream 738 fight model and with the FS9 version of the PMDG 737-800.

Following On - Replacing Audio

Following on the theme of the last two journal posts, you may wish to add additional sounds to the NGX audio package, for example, the TSS sounds Gear Up and Gear Down sounds.  This is easy to do.

Copy the TSS sound to the SAME folder as the PMDG sounds (if you did the alias method this will be the PMDG folder).  Now, open the sound.cfg file.  Search until you find the Gear Up and Gear Down entries.    Now, you have to modify the file name in the sound.cfg file so it matches the TSS.wav file you just copied into the audio folder.  In this example, the pertinent lines that need altering are in bold and include the actual name of the action (gear up) and the file name for the action that you wish the program to play (TSS gearup).  

[gear up]
Filename = TSS-gearup (or whatever the .wav file name is)

Make sure you do NOT have two files that do the same thing, such as gear up TSS and gear up PMDG – your computer will explode!!! (not really, but the sound will not be heard correctly).

Important Point To Know (Gauge Commands)

PMDG, i-Fly and several other sound designers configure their custom sounds to play only when specific actions or commands are triggered - these are called gauge commands.  A sound initiated by a gauge command only works when that gauge is moved by whatever action.  Often it's not possible to use these sounds without some major editing work to the sound.cfg file.  For example, I've been attempting to use the speedbrake sound in ProSim, but as yet have not been able to do so.  This is because the speedbrake is configured to a specific "in house" command or action - in this case the speedbrake. 

You cannot just grab any sound, copy it to the audio folder, and then expect it to play.  There has to be some logic to when the sound is played.  This can be most challenging and frustrating part of manipulating custom sounds.

I hope this journal post, as an addition to the last two sound related posts, helps more than confuses.  Sound can be a nightmare and can be challenging to explain in a short jouranl entry.  It is also very much a trail and error activity (the Americans say "suck and see") - Good Luck.

Friday
Mar022012

B737 Fuel Management Program

Flight planning is a large part of flying the B737 –in real life and virtually.

Yes you can fly with the three fuel tanks full, however, bear in mind that you will not be simulating real flight.  Airlines rarely fly an aircraft between two locations with a full fuel load unless it’s required for operational use or safety. 

Fuel is heavy and the additional weight requires more power and fuel to move it between locations.  This equates to an increased expense.  Airlines usually only carry enough fuel to reach their destination and alternate.

You can calculate the appropriate load sheets, distances between airports, winds, altitudes to be flown and alternate airports, however, this can be time consuming and often you don’t want to simulate the paper trail that goes hand in hand with getting a B737 into the air.

Ross Carlson has created a very handy and functional fuel management tool to use.  The program is stand-alone and does not need to be installed into FSX or PMDG.  It can be installed to and run from any folder including your desktop.   Initially designed to work with the Boeing 737NG developed by Precision Manuals Development Group, the utility works well for other 737NG aircraft provided they have the same operating limitations and fuel tank capacities.

Initially made to be used in conjunction with the PMDG series B737 aircraft, the utility also functions with default FSX.

The only issue to be wary of is that the aircraft you are flying matches the same weights as those used by PMDG.

  • Supports 737-600, 737-700, 737-800 and 737-900.
  • Values can be entered and displayed in pounds or kilograms.
  • Reads payload (passenger and baggage) weights via FSUIPC.
  • Calculates en route fuel burn based on cruise altitude and trip distance.
  • Calculates fuel burn to reach alternate airport.
  • Calculates increased or reduced fuel consumption due to forecast winds en route.
  • Allowances for taxi-out fuel burn, holding fuel burn, and minimum landing fuel.
  • Indicates if any parameters exceed aircraft operating limitations.
  • Sets actual fuel levels in your aircraft via FSUIPC.
  • One simple .exe file, no external DLLs or data files required.
  • Loads first 1,000 pounds of fuel into the center tank to keep pumps submerged.
  • Fully FSUIPC accredited for use with non-registered copies of FSUIPC.

Operation

I've been using this fuel planner or quite sometime and it appears to work very well.  I open FSX first, then open the fuel planner and alter the figures as required.  Then, after I've boarded the fuel I exit the fuel planner program.

The only let down with the program, and this probably an advanced feature not deemed necessary when the program was developed is that it doesn't provide %CG which is used in a CDU to determine your take off trim.

Search google for PMDG fuel planner and you will find several sites that allow you to download the program.  You can also download from the Training & Documents Section of this site (Fuel Planner).

Monday
Jan162012

Flight Testing - The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

 

Flight Testing - Hardware & Flight Models

Now comes the fun and not so fun part - field testing.  Everything has been configured (throttle, MIP, yoke, etc) and requires flight testing to ensure correct operation.  Reliability is related to repeatability, therefore; to ensure reliability you must replicate the outcome several times before you can state something is working correctly.  This takes time and a lot of touch and gos.

As you can imagine, there are many systems that inter-finger to achieve the desired outcome, and all the systems, hardware, software and components must be correctly communicating between themselves to replicate flight.  Often a small problem can develop from something as insignificant as a loose wire or a incompatible computer part.  I've already had a few "spanners thrown into the mix" with faulty power  packs, problematic USB cables and USB ports and a few "user " issues

It's during this test period that I hope to "iron" out any "niggle" problems to ensure a robust and trouble-free system for the future (touch wood).

Word of Advice - Go Slow & Be Methodical

To determine the solution to any problem that may arise, it's important to know which hardware or software is causing the problem.  When in the test phase, it's best to only have the basic software installed.  When your happy with the result, add another piece of software and test.  This is the best way to build a robust system.  The temptation is to install everything and then field test, only to find an issue and not be able to work out what is causing the problem.  Develop and build in stages, try to take your time, be methodical, take notes and replicate the results before moving on.  It's a slow and often tedious process.

One benefit of "going slow" is that you will have the opportunity to learn your software and know what it can do and more importantly what it can't do. 

BUGS

Often individuals will state a piece of software has "bugs" as it doesn't do what "they" believe it should be doing.  Certainly some software is "buggy" and should be avoided, however, for the most part high-end software and hardware is often functioning correctly.  A piece of software or hardware can only function within the  constraints provided to its framework by the computer, motherboard and other software you have installed.  It's not uncommon for one individual to state a "bug" whilst another has no issues what-so-ever.  Before crying BUG, it's best to check, double check and then check again.  Often the fault will be your computer set-up or your lack of knowledge to what the software can or cannot do.

Examining The Flight Models

Testing also includes evaluating the two flight models that interest me: the PMDG FS9 and default FSX 737.  At the moment I prefer the former; probably because this is the aircraft model I've used since it was release.  Each model has its differences and nuances.

I'll post a separate entry in the Journal outlining my thoughts on the two models in due course, although this is a personal preference.

Unfortunately, the CP Flight MCP PRO I purchased appears to be faulty and have been returned to Italy.  Using the virtual Sim Avionics MCP achieves the same outcome, but it's a bit ungainly using a mouse and separate MCP screen.  Hopefully a replacement MCP will arrive in a few weeks time which will flying easier and more enjoyable.

Testing Duration ?

It depends upon my availability, but to do it properly requires at least a few weeks, probably longer. When I'm happy with everything and any issues have been tweaked or repaired (hardware, software, add ons, wiring, etc), then I will remove FSX from my main computer, reload Windows 7 and do a complete reinstall of FSX.  I intend to mirror FSX using a ghost program.

Eye Candy

The outside model, what the Americans call "eye candy" is not of great importance to me.  Most of the time I like to fly IFR in inclement weather, so looking out the front or at the exterior isn't that important; I spend most of my time reading instruments, manuals and looking at charts (yes I like paper charts although I do also have an electronic flight bag).

External Visuals

To view the outside world from the flight deck I'm using a rather small computer display.  Ideal when building and testing, but not that exciting to fly with.  Now that construction has been more or less completed (does it ever "actually" end), I'll begin to investigate projectors, screens and television displays.