E-mail Subscription

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Syndicate RSS
Welcome

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...)

No advertising on this website - EVER!

 

Find more about Weather in Hobart, AU
Click for weather forecast

 

 

 

 

  FEEDBACK:  

If you see any errors or omissions, please contact me to correct the information. 

Journal Archive (Newest First)

Entries in Sim Avionics (4)

Thursday
Aug042016

FS-FlightControl Instructor Operating Station (IOS) - Review

Virtual flyers can be grouped into three broad groups.  Those that are satisfied using a desktop simulator, those that gravitate toward a professional simulator, and those that strive to replicate, as close as possible, a Level D simulation.  No matter which group you belong, there is a requirement for a feature-rich, reliable, and stable Instructor Operator Station (IOS).

LEFT:  Opening screen for FS-FlightControl IOS on the server computer.  IOS can be easily configured to automatically open after Windows start-up.  (click to enlarge).

This post will introduce the Instructor Station FS-FlightControl, developed by AB-Tools GmbH, a company located in Germany.  The review is not meant to be comprehensive as such a document would be as long as the product’s operating manual.  Rather, we will examine some of the product’s features prior to making an assessment of the software’s reliability and ease of use.

What is IOS - Do I need It

IOS is an acronym for Instructor Operating Station.  At its simplest, it's the menu system in Flight Simulator that enables you to choose from several parameters to create a pre-programmed flight scenario. 

A dedicated instructor station is far more than a few options to alter the time, place, and scenario in the simulator.  A good instructor station should enable you to set basic flight scenarios, in addition to being able to monitor set tasks and parameters.  The software should provide clear and readable displays, be set out logically, be easy to operate, and also be able to initiate system failures.  Furthermore, the software must be stable, reliable and consistent in its output.

There are several Instructor Operating Stations available on the market and most high-level avionics suites come with a ready-made IOS as part of their software.  Therefore, the question must be asked - why is there a need to purchase a stand-alone IOS.  

Put bluntly, many generic instructor stations have been added at the back-end of an avionics suite.  These instructor stations can lack functionality, features, and ease of use.  Furthermore, their layout is often not optimal or configurable.

IOS Features - FS-FlightControl

The features and functionality that are supported by IOS are extensive, however, bear in mind that the instructor station has been designed to operate across different simulator platforms and avionics suites; not every feature may operate with the intended avionics suite.  For example, flight plans can be generated and sent to FSX in the standard .pln format, but they cannot be send directly to ProSim-AR in the correct format (as at the time of writing).

LEFT:  Screen shot showing the POSITION page display of IOS.  Note the easy to navigate menu at the bottom area of the screen (twelve modules).  This menu system is available on all IOS pages and enables quick and easy navigation between modules (click to enlarge).

I have purposely not duplicated what has already been written on the FS-FlightControl website.  The website provides a well detailed description of the features and functionality of the software and includes numerous screen shots.

Broadly speaking, IOS has been developed around 12 main modules.  Like-minded themes have been grouped into whatever module is specific to the subject.  If the information exceeds what can be displayed on one page, then one or more sub-pages (sub-tabs) are provided.  There is a gamut of features

Main Modules

Position:   Aircraft re-position, runway preference, aircraft scenario, approach presets, airport selection and re-position options.

Map:   Street map, satellite map and height map.   Navaids, AI aircraft, weather, aircraft location, compass and route/flight plan overlay.

Flight Planing:   Route and flight plan generation with load tool.  Importing and exporting of data with flight plan generated onto roving MAP.

Conditions:   Environmental conditions relating to weather (artificial and real-time), visibility (CAT presets), winds, clouds, precipitation, altitude levels, barometric pressure, presets, time and season, accelerated time, and user-generated conditions.  This section is very detailed and is examined in several sub-tabs.  Many of the presets are as easy as clicking a button on the screen.  For example, ILS visibility conditions can be generated by clicking one of the CAT buttons (CAT I, II, III, IIIa/b/c).

Push back:   Graphical interface enabling push back of aircraft at any angle and distance.

Fuel/Load:   Fuel volume, passenger, crew and cargo weights, aircraft weights (ZFW), center of gravity (%CG) and load tool.

View/Slew:   Alters external camera views of aircraft and enables the slewing of aircraft.

Failures:   Aircraft system failure conditions that can be triggered immediately, at pre-defined times, or at random.

Statistics:   Approach statistics - Graphical representation of aircraft in relation to vertical and lateral position, aircraft position, ground altitude, vertical speed, pitch, and bank angle.  Results can be exported to Google Earth for further analysis.

Network:   Module to control all computers and software within your simulation network (server and any number of client computers).

Aircraft:   Selectable list of aircraft options re: altitude, speed, direction, radios, TCAS alert status, engine parameter outputs, throttle outputs, autopilot, light and switches, etc. 

Settings:   Customization of all aircraft, map, and program parameters: colours, fonts, map layouts, etc.  Additionally, other variables can be customised such as CAT visibilities and decision heights.

Favoured Features

I’ll be honest, the more I use IOS the more I enjoy my simulation experience.  At the very least, IOS provides a reliable way to store various approach scenarios to numerous airports at different times, seasons and weather conditions.   Granted, that this can be done from the flight simulator menu, however, it cannot be done as cleanly nor as quickly as it can from the IOS module.

Although I do not use all the features available in the program, there are several that I continually use.  It is these I will discuss in further detail.

POSITION:  Position refers to the position of the aircraft whether it be on the ground or in the air.  IOS enables the user to select from several ground positions such as the gate, runway, terminal, base approach, straight-in approach, etc. A click of the mouse will position your aircraft to any of several preset locations. 

I find this to be a very good time saver, especially if you do not want to simulate a long taxi or some other part of the flight but wish to concentrate only on one aspect – such as the approach phase.  In addition to various presets, this page also allows customized approaches to be generated and saved.

Another aspect of this page deserves mention; the ability to select a chosen aircraft livery, parameter list (fuel state, trim, radio frequencies, etc) and save this to custom-named 'slot'.  This is another time-saving feature and easy method to choose a pre-saved livery of an aircraft type.

STATISTICS:   For those who fly by the numbers and want to improve their approach techniques, the statistics section provides a graphical interface that records the vertical and lateral deviation of the approach.  It also records airspeed, vertical speed and several other characteristics.

CONDITIONS:   Conditions broadly refers to environmental and weather conditions at the airport selected, or at various pre-selected waypoints or weather stations.  Changing weather conditions, visibility, season and time is as easy as clicking a button.

This page is exceptionally feature-rich and the instructor station can generate live weather, weather from an imported METAR string or any number of pre-saved weather themes.  For those interested in setting up specific weather events, for flight training, it is very easy to do so.  

MAP:  The map is a hidden gem that enables you to overlay a wealth of information onto a street or satellite map of the area of operation. 

LEFT:  Screenshot showing MAP display page.  Many advanced features that can be displayed as a map overlay.  The tabs along the sides of the page can be clicked to turn features on or off (click to enlarge).

 For example, the user aircraft and AI aircraft are graphically represented along with all navigation aids which includes VORS, NDBs, high and low jetways, ILS feathers and waypoints.  Wind direction and current barometric pressure can also be displayed along with the current SID, STAR or route.  Whilst on the ground all aprons, runways and taxiways are shown.  Navigating to an assigned runway could not be easier as the user aircraft icon shows the position of the aircraft at all times. 

As with all windows, the MAP can be displayed as a separate screen on another monitor.  Therefore, it is possible to have IOS open on two monitors with one monitor showing the MAP view while the other monitor displays a different view.

An added advantage is the ability to position your aircraft anywhere on the map and create a position fix along with altitude, direction, pitch, bank, airspeed and radio frequencies.  This information can be saved for future activation from the POSITION page.  This enables you to quickly and easily set-up an approach and save this approach for future use.

For those that fly on-line, VATSIM, IVAO and PilotEdge are supported.

NETWORK:  IOS enables the user to program the software to control what programs open or close on any computer that is connected to the network.

For example, I use a batch file  to open and close flight simulator, ProSim-AR and other FS related programs (weather, flight analysis, etc).  IOS when turned on from the client will automatically execute the opening of the batch file on the server computer.  Likewise, when triggered, IOS will engage the batch file I use to close flight simulator and other ancillary programs.  Additionally, a time delay can be configured to cause a delay between the closure of programs and the turning off of the server computer.  

Installation of IOS - Server and Client

The software package is downloaded from the developer’s website and consists of a self-extracting .exe file. 

As IOS has networking capability, it's not necessary to install IOS to the computer that has flight simulator installed; it will operate on a client computer.  Additionally, a wizard is used to direct you through the installation process and configuration.  Networking to a client is done via SimConnect.  FSUPIC and WideFS are not required.

LEFT:  Screenshot showing the PUSH BACK display page (click to enlarge). 

Although networking is achieved through the use of SimConnect which can, at times, be problematic, I did not experience any issues with SimConnect in relation to the installation and networking of the instructor station. 

Configuration

Configuring the program to suit your requirements is done from the SETTINGS page.  Variables can be altered for each aircraft, and aircraft profiles can easily be created that save particular parameters or conditions.  Likewise, the software can be altered to enable a particular font style and colour to be displayed along with a zoom value and size.  The process is straightforward.

Pretty much everything in IOS is able to be configured to your liking.

One aspect of IOS I found to be very handy, was that when you close the instructor station it will keep the last known settings.  This means the parameters for the next flight session (if not altered) will be identical to the last.

Ease of Use

The IOS program is set-out intuitively and the various pages (modules) follow a logical sequence with like-minded themes bundled together on the same page.  The twelve page main menu located at the bottom of each page is promulgated across all pages and enables quick access to various features. 

LEFT:  Screenshot showing the FAILURES display page.  Note the open conditions call-out box.  There are several sub-pages (sub-tabs) that deal with failures.  Failures are an important asset to enthusiasts striving for realism (click to enlarge).

Unlike other instructor stations, all information relating to a specific theme is located on the one main page (for example, failures or position page); it is not necessary to navigate between several pages trying to find the information.  Furthermore, the screen display can resized to either fill your display or only part fill it.

Another advantage is the implementation of large-style buttons that enable quick and accurate identification of a module.  Everything is easy to find and access.

Program Administration

Program administration encapsulates the opening and closing of programs from one or multiple computers. 

Without an instructor station or the use of batch files, several programs must be opened on the client and server computer to begin a flight.  This takes time and the process can be unwieldy.

If the instructor station is configured correctly, it is a two-step process to begin a flight.  First the computers must be turned on.  Second, from the client the FS-ControlControl IOS icon is depressed.  Once IOS opens on the client computer it will communicate with the server computer (via SimConnect) and open any number of programs on the server (assuming they have been configured correctly in the IOS NETWORK page).  

Once Flight Simulator opens and you are on the flight line it’s only a matter of using the instructor station to alter any variables particular to the flight (airport, aircraft position, weather, fuel, weight, etc).  All changes are automatically promulgated across the network to Flight Simulator.

The important aspect to note, is that other than turning on the server and client computers, everything is done from the one screen on the client computer using the one mouse/keyboard.  Likewise, when closing the simulator session everything can be done, including turning off the server computer, from the instructor station.

Cross-Platform Operations

The IOS operates with Microsoft Flight Simulator X (FSX/FS10) including Steam Edition, and with Lockheed Martin Prepar3D® 1.x, 2.x and 3.x. in a Windows environment.  A separate APP is available for Android and Apple (iOS).  The software works traditionally using the keyboard and mouse in addition to being optimized for touch screens.  IOS can be run either on the computer that has Flight Simulator installed or from a networked client computer.

Stability and Speed

The last thing anyone wants is a crash to desktop caused by a bug-ridden piece of software that exhibits stability issues, poor performance, and does not operate consistently.  

The stability of the instructor station is excellent.  In my simulator set-up the IOS is installed on a client computer and networked to Flight Simulator located on a server computer.  The software loads quickly and interacts with the simulator seamlessly.  

The speed at which software interacts with Flight Simulator is important and it’s pleasing to note that IOS commands do not exhibit any significant time lag between the client and server computers.  There is no time lag when switching between any of the interface screens on the instructor station.  Surprisingly, this includes the MAP mode.  Often a high definition map with several overlays cannot generate its resultant map within an acceptable time. 

This said, internet connection speed may cause users to experience different speeds.

The time taken to open the instructor station from the icon on the client computer is approximately 10-15 seconds.

Updates to IOS (Annual Fee)

The software developer is very proactive and software updates with improvements, minor fixes and new features are regularly provided free of charge.  

LEFT:  Screenshot showing the CONDITIONS display page.  This page has several sub-pages that deal with conditions.  For example, real weather, presets, season, ILS visibility and accelerated time.  Note the display box in the lower left side that shows the frame rates (click to enlarge).

However, the update period is only for one year following purchase.  After this period has lapsed, an annual fee will need to be paid to enable future updates to be used.  The annual fee is only for updates, the original software will still function.

Do you need to update ?  If you are happy with what you have, then no.  However, if you are seeking specific functionality then an update may have this functionality.  A list showing the updates can be read in the INFO section of the software. 

The developer realizes that each person’s requirements for an instructor station is different, and as such, entertains ideas and suggestions for additional features or improvements from end-users.

Support

FS-FlightControl does not have a dedicated forum, however the developer  replies promptly to all e-mails sent via the software help page.  

A benefit of sending e-mail directly from the software is that the log files from your system are automatically attached to any outgoing message.  This enables the developer to easily understand the issue, saves time in asking for further information, and leads to a faster resolution.

Dedicated Manual

A manual for any in-depth software is an absolute necessity.  It is pleasing to note that the developer has written a manual and does not rely on a forum to provide answers to common questions.

The manual, which reflects the latest software build, is accessed from the FS-FlightControl IOS website.  If necessary a .pdf is available on request.  

Additionally, the manual can also be accessed directly from the software.  Each page has several small question marks (?) that when clicked navigate the user to the appropriate help section in the manual.  If you find the questions marks unsightly, then they can be turned off from the SETTINGS page.

Software Trial

This review has only examined several of the features that the instructor station is capable of.  To enable a comprehensive examination of the software, IOS can be installed with full functionality (including any prospective updates) for a period of 14 days.  After this time has elapsed, the software will need to be purchased.

Final Call

Considering the scope of what an instructor station does and how it can be used to enhance the effectiveness of a simulator, there is little doubt that a good IOS is essential.    

I've spent considerable time using the FS-FlightControl IOS and although this review touches on but a few of the features of IOS, I believe this software to be superior to other contemporary products.   It certainly has enhanced how I use the simulator leading to a more enjoyable experience.

The IOS software and further information can be downloaded at FS-FlightControl IOS.

  • Please note I have no affiliation with FS-FlightControl.  I have not been provided with ‘free’ software, nor did I receive a discount in return for a favourable review.  The comments and recommendations I have made are my own.
  • Flight Simulator, in this article, refers to the use FSX/FS10.  I use the B737 avionics suite developed by ProSim-AR.
Monday
Aug182014

Primary Flight Display (PFD) - Differences Between Sim Avionics and ProSim737 Avionics Suites

As I work on a slightly more technical post, I thought I would post some images of the Primary Flight Display (PFD) belonging to two of the most popular avionics suites - ProSim737 and Sim Avionics.  I am not going to compare avionics suites in this post as both have their pros and cons and specific features.  What is important, is that the reliability and graphic output of either suite is second to none and exceeds that of many competing avionics suites.

Sim Avionics is owned by Flight Deck Solutions (FDS) in Canada and simulates both the B737 NG and the B777.  ProSim737, developed in the Netherlands, is dedicated solely to the B737 NG.

In the interests of disclosure, I own both suites, however, use ProSim737. 

A post located on the ProSim737 forum discusses the various PFD differences.  The post can be read here: 'Comparing the ProSim PFD' (thanks Jacob for sending this to me).

BELOW:  First image is a screengrab of the PFD from ProSim737.  Second image is a screengrab from Sim Avionics, while the third image is a photograph of a real B737-800 PFD.

 

 

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
Apr132012

Sim Avionics Flight Software - Review

I've heard it said that a "simulated flight deck is as good as the software behind the scenes" and I agree with this comment: a flight deck with poor software is a hive for frustration, disappointment and time wastage.

It's easy to write about the features and functionality of Sim-A as they are plentiful; but, I don't want to become too bogged down in minute detail, otherwise I’d be writing a manual.  This review will not address in detail everything that Sim Avionics (Sim-A) software can or cannot do; if your interested in a full functionality list, it’s best to check their website, as functions are altered and improved upon on a regular basis. 

Before continuing, it should be noted that there are several flight avionics suites currently available on the market.  They all replicate the basic avionics functionality of the B737.  However, not everything is operational with each suite and some functions behave differently between suites.  Therefore, it’s a good idea to research what works and what doesn’t before your purchase. 

Sim Avionics is a complete avionics solution providing the avionics software needed to build a fully functioning home cockpit; no other software is required.  It has been designed to run on multiple PC's in various configurations interfacing with FS2004 (FS9) or FSX via FSUIPC and Wide Client.

Relative Newcomer

Although a newcomer to Sim-A and still learning some of the more advanced features of the software, I thought it pertinent that I make an "introductory review".

Reliability

Reliability is the most important aspect of any software.  To date, Sim-A has performed as one would expect from any high-end payware software. Overall, the software is reliable, performs well, and appears to be a robust and stable platform with consistent responses.

Certainly, it seems much more stable than some of the competitors on the market (if comments on flight simulation forums are anything to go by) and is far easier to use than some other well known brands.  But, it must be remembered that the software is only as good as the information inputted; therefore, if you try and do things that the aircraft & software is not designed to do, expect problems.

Further, you must bear in mind that no one computer (PC) is the same as another.  Different drivers, software, flight models and hardware configuration can cause any software to behave erratically from time to time.

This said, Sim-A can on occasion produce spurious results.  This is mainly associated with the more advanced auto pilot functionality and user operator errors!  

I’ve documented the issues and fixes, including some user operator errors, that troubled my installation below.

Issue 1 - Trim Tab Dancing

Now and again the trim tab will become unstable as the auto pilot continually recalculates the required pitch for the aircraft at the current speed.   The trim tab will “dance” causing the aircraft to pitch up and down. The trim dance (as I call it) occurs only on flights that have weather depicted, and it doesn’t occur on every flight.

FSUPIC to the Rescue

Although a little disconcerting, I believe the cause is not so much Sim-A, but the way the weather, especially aloft winds, are generated causing the elevator to continually move to counter weather differences.  There is a tab within FSUPIC that stops the elevator trim from operating when the aircraft is in auto pilot mode.  Since checking this FSUPIC setting (placing a tick in the box), the trim dance I was observing has decreased markedly and is now nonexistent.

Information for the auto pilot is located within the aircraft's configuration file.  If auto pilot trim issues persist then some minor tweaking of the numbers maybe required.  If this happens to you, then be rest assured that FDS and Sim-A staff will assist you with any minor tweaking to get you flying.

I’ve discovered that if the auto pilot does not provide consistent outputs (such as trim dancing), an easy method to often solve the issue is to switch the auto pilot command button off and then back on. 

Issue 2 - V-Nav Inconsistency

Replicating the more advanced B737 auto pilot functions requires complicated algorithms.  This is especially so with vertical navigation (V-Nav).  

Sim-A handles V-Nav reasonably well, although you have to keep an eye on what V-Nav is doing, espeially when transitioning from level flight to descent and approach.  On some flights, V-Nav honours the speed and altitude restrictions and transitioning the STAR to approach is accurate.  However, at other times restrictions are not followed and the aircraft will overshoot the height and speed restriction.

V-Nav always operates correctly on take-off utilizing a Standard Instrument Departure (SID).

There is no particular reason for this - it just happens from time to time.

Understanding V-Nav and what its doing can be challenging

The challenge, I have discovered when using V-Nav is two-fold.  First and foremost, you must use it within the designed capabilities of the program, and second, you must learn how and when to operate V-Nav.  If you enter data that the FMS cannot assimilate, such as an altitude that is too high or too low, for the time required to reach the waypoint, then expect an overfly of the entered restrictions.  This is not the fault of Sim-A.  It's user error

Sim-A, in my opinion is not alone with minor V-Nav issues; Project Magenta, Pro Sim 737 and others also have difficulties replicating this complicated algorithm. Indeed, real pilots are often confused understanding how V Nav operates and why it's doing whatever it's doing! 

This is one reason why V-Nav should only be used as a guide and not as an absolute.  If V-Nav, for whatever reason does not function in a method you believe to be correct, then turn it off and use the more reliable L-Nav, Level Change or Vertical Speed functions.

Issue 3 - Display Lag and Staggering

There is minimal display lag running Sim-A and FSX (using two computers). 

The gauge movement of the displays is fluid and there is no pausing as information is shuttled to and from the computer and Sim-A.  However, if “all waypoints” is selected to be displayed on the ND, then staggering becomes obvious on the Main Flight Display’s altitude tape, as the aircraft ascends or descends in altitude. 

I’ve been told by long-term Sim-A users that this is normal as the information required to display and update the “all waypoints” is very comprehensive and can easily generate an “information bottleneck”.  The solution is easy – turn off “all waypoints” when climbing, descending, or on approach.  Honestly, I rarely have "all waypoints" selected and only use this function if I am searching for the nearest waypoint to make an alteration to the flight plan.

I have not experienced any display lag or staggering issues with other EFIS functions. 

Issue 4 - Software Server.exe Lock-up

When you read this title, I can image the thoughts going through your mind.  But, this is one of those negative aspects that has a very positive twist. 

Although the software has never crashed to desktop, it has on occasion “locked up” requiring a reboot of the Sim-A server.exe.  The lock up usually occurs when I have been repeatedly doing something incorrectly, such as keying into the CDU  incorrect information, therefore; the lock-up caused by user error

If this issue should occur (for whatever reason), it's only a matter of closing the server.exe using the shutdown command tab and then reopening the server.exe window.  You do not need to close down Sim-A or FSX. 

This brings me to the positive twist I mentioned in the earlier paragraph.

Outstanding Sim-A Feature

Of the many features Sim-A has, the ability to historically re-set the software without loosing your flight details or actual flight (in real time) is probably one of the more beneficial. 

If a problem should transpire during a flight causing the server.exe display to freeze or something to stop working, you can re-set the software by closing the server.exe display and reopening it.  The interruption to your flight will be seamless, providing you depress the tab “last state” within ten seconds of reopening the server.exe display window.

This is but one of several "smart" features that are often overlooked.

Functionality Controlled by Control Panel

Sim-A’s central access point is the control window (server.exe) which is always visible on your “flight configuration” monitor. 

The server.exe display window is the core of the program and shows the current “avionics” status of your aircraft (EFIS settings, weather, terrain, TCAS settings, aircraft details, engine, hardware settings, etc).  The display also provides a handy central area in which you can tweak the aircraft’s .cfg file, FSUPIC settings, offsets and so forth.   For more detail on this comprehensive display I direct you to the Sim-A website.

LEFT:  This is screenshot of the main Sim-A interface (server.exe / control window).  From this screen you can control all of the Sim Avionics variables.  It does look complicated and there is a lot of information on the screen; however, it took me less than 30 minutes to get a rough idea what was happening and get into the air.  Menu tabs open up further screens and all settings are automatically saved on a regular basis. 

 

Sim Avionics Features

At the minimum Sim-A will supply you with:

  • Captain and First Officer Pilot Flight Display (PFD) and Navigation Display (ND)
  • EICAS Display (upper & lower) with fully integrated EICAS messaging
  • Virtual Main Control Panel (MCP)
  • Virtual EFIS Display (two)
  • Virtual overhead panel
  • Virtual CDU Display
  • Multiple CDU Support
  • Support for Hardware MCP & EFIS
  • Complex Auto Pilot Functionality (SINGLE CH, LAND 3)
  • Sound module
  • EGPWS and TCAS
  • B737 system logic
  • Radar (weather) & Terrain overlay displays
  • Virtual stand-by instruments (vast selection)
  • Fuel & scenario loading platform (dispatcher console)

Other functionality, such as instructor station, and observer CDU is available depending upon which license type you purchase.

To see screen grabs of the display functionality of Sim-A (PFD, ND, radar, etc), navigate to the PFD page on the Sim-A website

Of course, if you are operating a full flight deck with the appropriately supported hardware you will not require the virtual MCP, EFIS, CDU and overhead displays.

Support for Add On Hardware, Flight Models & Software Cloning

Speaking of hardware, SIM-A supports many of the popular hardwired instruments available on the market.  For instance, the CP Flight MCP and EFIS units are, with some minor .cfg  file alterations plug & fly.  Similarly, GoFlight and Flight Illusion products are easily configured for Sim-A use.

Currently SIM-A supports the B737 and the B777.  Several B737 and B777 aircraft configuration files (FS9 & FSX versions) are available within the software: default model, PMDG, Posky, Wilco, XPlane and Meljet.

Another feature of Sim-A is the ability to run certain aspects of the software from different computers.  For example, you can clone the sound module to run on different computers, thereby, playing aircraft sounds through one set of speakers, and ATC commands through another set of speakers (or headset).

CDU - Background Software

No review of Sim Avionics would be complete without a short segment on the CDU.

Sim-A is the controlling software that provides the intelligence behind the CDU.  It's amazing what this software can do, and do so with reliability and consistent behaviour. 

Most pages associated with a commercial CDU are modeled and updates continue to add new features and improve on existing functions.  Some of the basic features that are modeled by the software are:

  • Indent page on start-up (weights, fuel, cost index, etc)
  • Approach reference page with VREF selection
  • Route, LEGS, Arrival, Departures & Holding pages (user controlled including approaches, STARS & transitions)
  • Progress pages (fuel, distance to go, ETA, wind, crosswind component, cross track error, fuel prediction etc)
  • Cabin calls
  • METAR (real time)
  • V-Nav & L-Nav compliant (climb, cruise and descent)
  • GPWS overrides
  • NAV radio page (ADF, VOR & ILS data)
  • ACARS
  • Captain EFIS control
  • SIM control page (separate commands to control SIM instead of using keyboard)

To see screen grabs showing the various features available, navigate to the CDU page on the Sim-A website

Further Functionality

I/O Interfacing and FSUPIC is fully supported as are FSUPIC offsets, and if your using an FDS MIP, a program called InterfaceIT provides an interface for connection of switches, lights and other modules to Sim-A. 

Documentation

A manual is supplied with the software and there are several documents (within the documentation section of the main Sim Avionics folder) that assist in the correct set up procedure. It is VITAL that you read all the documentation BEFORE installation. 

To read the Sim-A installation & operations manual, navigate to the Training Section.

For a more in-depth look at how the autopilot functions, see this document in the Training Section Autopilot Functional Examples - Sim Avionics.  This document provides an excellent review of MCP procedures in relation to take off, descent and landing (ILS & LAND 3).

Software Installation

Installation is uncomplicated.  However, there are a number of changes you need to make to several files to ensure correct operation.   Additionally, if you’re using two computers then basic networking knowledge is required, as are the programs Wide Client FS and a registered copy of FSUPIC.

Determining the correct location for the various avionics displays on the computer monitors (within the MIP) is straightforward, although fine-tuning the location on the monitor can take a little time.  Basically, you alter the length and width of the various displays within the config files.  Once you know how this is done, it's just a matter of altering the line numbers until your satisfied with the result.

When Sim-A is set-up correctly, everything is relatively painless and obvious - more or less “following your nose”.

Running a flight deck isn’t pressing a button and “presto” there it is… 

For the avionics suite to operate correctly, several programs or clones of the program must be loaded.  At the minimum this is: Captain's PFD and ND, First Officer's PFD and ND, CDU, EICAS, Server.exe, Tcp Client, InterfaceIT, Wide FS and Sound.  Depending upon your requirements and set-up, the MCP, Overhead, First Officer's CDU and the Dispatcher console may also need loading.  The window displays are opened by clicking the .exe shortcut files that the program installed to your desktop.

To minimise the time in loading and to be user friendly, a handy program has been included with Sim-A, hidden within the documentation folder; it is a start-up batch file. This program allows to you start all the functions and displays with the click of one button.

I've compiled a short video showing how the program automatically opens and loads the software using the batch file.  In my set-up, Sim-A is installed and operates from my second computer (client). 

Double click to open and close full screen viewing.

Video showing operation of batch file.


Video showing the various functionality available via the main display server.exe window.

Ownership and Support

Sim Avionics is the preferred avionics suite of Flight Deck Solutions.  If you purchase an integrated MIP from FDS, Sim-A is the flight software that will be supplied. 

Support for Sim-A is provided by the software’s main engineer and FDS staff.  Help can be obtained either via the active support forum (on the FDS website) or via e-mail.

Continual Development & Financial Investment

Sim Avionics is not an inexpensive investment, however, it’s pleasing to see continued development of the software; updates that add or improve on existing functionality are released on a regular basis.  Furthermore, the software designer is open to suggestions from users on how to enhance the software.

At the time of writing, if you purchase Sim Avionics through Flight Deck Solutions then the price of the software includes full support and updates for an unlimited time period. 

Recommendation & Overall Score

Sim Avionics is a stable, well tested and tried software platform that provides most of the real-world avionics of a B737 jet-liner.  The software is easy to install and use, however, advanced knowledge is required to use some of the advanced features such as FSUPIC offsets and the like.  All avionics software has issues from time to time, and Sim-A is no different, but the ongoing development of this software and a solid support structure can only be seen as positive.

To investigate Sim Avionics more closely, visit their website - Sim Avionics Website.

My Rating is 8.9/10

Please note that this review is my opinion only and is not endorsed.