Flight Sim X Product Reviews & Tips From An Airline Pilots Perspective

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Product Review: PMDG Boeing 747-400X For FSX

I have some very limited experience in the real world flying the 747. When I was about 7 years old I was on a PanAm 747-100 flight and my dad had brought me up to the cockpit to have a look around. Even at this point in my young life I new I wanted to be a pilot. Even then. My dad told the crew that when I grew up I was going to be a pilot. Little did anyone know that day that I would. Dreams often die hard. I was invited by the co-pilot to push a button on the panel and froze in 7 year old fear that I would push the wrong button and doom the aircraft. I was terrified and quickly ran to hide behind my father as 7yo do. For another 22 years that was my experience with the 747.

I had the opportunity a few years ago to get a few hours in the 747-200 simulator down in MIA I was just getting out of a sim session in the 727 and an FO flying support for a FE's training session in the 747 was a no show so I was invited in for a 4 hours of flying in the right seat. So I do have some idea of what a 747 should feel like.

Every pilot aspires to fly a 747. It's the pinnacle of ones career. It's the place where old, grey haired, experienced pilots go before they die. Undoubtedly this is currently Boeings flagship and hasbeen for the last 39 years and will be in the foreseable future. The 747 is what everyone pictures when you mention the word Boeing. If you tell people you fly a Boeing they assume it's a 747. Even if you tell them you fly a 727 they ask if that's like a 747! It's happened to me on more than 1 occasion. Of course I tell them "Yeah... it's eactly like a 747!" Then they look at me like a god!

PMDG has given the PC sim world the gift that is the 747-400X for anyone that is brave enough to give it a try. Be forewarned! This is not the default FSX 747 in any way. This plane has to be flown as a real 747-400 is flown... by the numbers and by way of the FMC. Knowledge of the FMC is a necessity. Everything in the 747 revolves around this often reviled system by pilots unfamiliar with it. Once you learn it it's a piece of cake and greatly reduces workload. If your going to take the plunge into the world of the FMC this is the plane to do it. PMDG's documentation makes the transition easy.

Configurations

747-400 Pax with GE/P&W/RR power
747-400 Freighter with GE/P&W/RR power

The shortened upper deck present on the freighter is modelled.

Initial impression

My first impression sitting in the "Cold & Dark" cockpit was that the learning curve was going to be steep. Every system is modeled as in the real plane except the weather radar and ACARS. Taxiing this beast around the airport is quite demanding. It is a very large plane. In the air you are in no way aware of it's size until your back on the ground again. You will have to relearn the correct "out the window" view. When this plane flares the cockpit is some 70 feet off the ground. It feels weird the first few times. Runways and taxiways definitely get a lot narrower looking out of this cockpit.

Views

As I am a pilot and this being a flight sim I'm only interested in the virtual cockpit views and will not be going into detail about the external or pax views which are available.

Cockpit Views


2D
Virtual Captain
Virtual FO
MCP Panel
FMC 1 Radio Panel
Overhead Panel

The VC is composed of all 3D panels on par with anything Captain Sim has to offer. The textures are 1st class. The virtual cockpit is impressive. The cockpit textures and visual presentation are the best in the business. There is nothing to complain about here. There is a touch of wear and tear added giving it that realistic used look. There are many animations in the virtual cockpit such as seats that move with stowable armrests and sunshades. Too many animations to mention all of them. The plane is designed to be flown from the VC. With a TrackIR head tracking device the realism is at epic levels. TheVC textures on their new Jetstream 41 are even better than the 747. And the 737 NG they are working on now promises to have the same level of visual accuracy as the J41. Wow! Can Haz Now Please?

Exterior Modeling

Simply put the PMDG 747-400X has a beautiful and accurate exterior model. At all angles this is a perfect rendition of the Boeing 747.

Animations

All main entry doors, upper level emergency exits and the belly cargo hold doors operate on the passenger version. In addition to these animations the freighter version the nose door and aft side cargo door operate. The plane has it's own loading equipment and push back tug. Wings flex as they should on the ground and in flight and bend realistically as wing loading increases.

Liveries

Included with your download is PMDG's attractive house livery for all 3 engine versions of the 747. For an additional selection of free liveries visit the website. Pick your favorites and download them. There are a good many to choose from. The Cathay Pacific freighter is my personal favorite in bare aluminum.

Sound

PMDG has a unique sound package for each engine configuration and they all seem to represent the real deal. The Rolls RB-211 has that sound only the RB211 can make. Cockpit sounds include a co-pilot voice for V speeds, a GPWS system, flap handle movement and all the aural warnings/cues the 747 should have.

System Simulations

This is what the PMDG aircraft are known for. The system modeling is so accurate and so thorough there is likely no discernable difference between this simulation and the real plane. The FMC models just about every function the real FMC does minus a few obscure features no one will miss. The FMC is the heart and soul of the 747's flight deck and is the primary point of interaction between the pilot and airplane. All performance data is derived from the FMC such as EPR settings for various auto throttle thrust modes. The FMC calculates the weight of the aircraft during all modes of flight as fuel burns off. It keeps track of fuel burn, and tracks the fuel remaining comparing it to the fuel required to reach your destination and will alert you if your destination cannot be reached. The FMC calculates the TO & LNDG speeds for all flaps settings. It is a critical piece of equipment and it's accurate modeling critical to a great simulation. The PMDG FMC is impressive.

The MCP (mode control panel) features the auto throttle, speed control, autopilot functions, heading select, and LNAV/VNAV is also modeled accurately. All EICAS functions are modeled. ACARS and weather radar are not.

Just about any failure you can think of can be simulated including random failures. Failures can be programmed to occur at critical phases of light such as a V1 cut. Everyone's favorite!

All buttons and switches are easy to manipulate in virtual cockpit. Much better than the default FSX aircraft.

Cockpit Lighting

One of my sore points when it comes to sim planes is they never seem to get the panel lighting correct. In short PMDG does allowing panel flood to be independent of instrument lighting. All LCD/CRT panels are dimmable

Supporting Software

To add complete realism to your flying PMDG is supported by TOPCAT, FSBuild and Navigraph.

FSBuild flight planner should be used to create fuel burn data to derive an accurate fuel load. Plug in a real world route from flightaware.com cruise altitude and FSBuild will give you an accurate fuel requirement some supporting programs will plug in winds aloft some will not. If you do not have a program to do this just take into account the winds and adjust fuel accordingly by best guestimate. FSBuild offers free updates to their AIRAC FMC navigation data every 2 cycles.

TOPCAT is a takeoff and landing performance calculating program. TOPCAT downloads real world METAR/TAF reports and prepares takeoff and landing data such as V-speeds, engine power, load plan including % MAC and stab settings. It will create random cargo weights and load the aircraft in balance. Plug in the fuel required derived from the FSBuild program and TOPCAT will create a load sheet, flight report, and runway analysis information for takeoff and landing. The numbers produced on these programs should be compared to the data the airplanes FMC generates. The numbers should match. Any numbers not in agreement should be looked into further.

TOPCAT & FSBuild will give you the data & paperwork you need to fly legally. If you want realism then these programs are a must have.

Navigraph & Planepath both offer FMC AIRAC navigation data updates for the FMC. Navigraph charges a small fee and Planepath is free.

With these programs and FMC updates to the PMDG 747-400 you will have real world dispatch capability.

Nice To Have

The "panel state loading & saving" feature allows you to save a panel configuration and load it again form a menu whenever you would like. For example my most frequently used saved panel state is a flaps 10 departure. When I'm just in the mood to go flying I don't have to go through all the panel flows and checklists. I just load up the saved panel and I'm configured for a flaps 10 departure.

For more accurate balancing of fuel loads PMDG has created it's own fueling panel which distributes fuel to maintain aircraft balance. The FSX fueling utility should not be used with the PMDG 747.

PMDG gives you is the ability to decide between CRT displays or the newer LCD displays. You can also choose the colors for your PFD (primary flight display) and allows you to pick between "single cue" or "pitch roll" flight directors. You can choose the performance of the FO and captains displays for optimizing FPS. The higher the settings the more computer resources will be dedicated to the displays. It is nice if your system is not great on frame rates. If you like to shoot raw data approaches and hand fly in IMC then the highest setting will suit you best as the displays will be very smooth.

Manuals & Checklists

PMDG by far has the best supporting documentation for it's aircraft I have encountered. Included is an aircraft operating manual, FMC handbook, and tyore rating courses, The aircraft operating manual is a light version of a real AOM. It does not go too in depth but gives you what you need to know. The FMC handbook is thorough and well written. The 4 type rating courses are tutorials which help get you going with the 747. PMDG has further support by way of an Angle Of Attack training DVD. It is not included but well worth the cost. The aircraft comes with a checklist. There are other checklists available around the internet if you care to use another. Each airline builds it's own checklist. Find one you like.

Computer Demands

This is one area the PMDG bird does not do well. But with the cornucopia of visual splendor and system modelling this had to be expected. It's simply the price you pay for an aircraft of this complexity. Add in low visibility instrument meteorological conditions and your FPS could be in the single digits. I am using a quad core i7 920 processor overclocked to 3.0GHz with 12GB DDR3 RAM. FSX is not very demanding on video cards. FSX places a large burden on the processor and RAM. In short a fast quad core processor and DDR3 triple channel RAM is needed here for optimum results.

PMDG Support

PMDG has an extensive knowledge base accessible from the website. Subjects include troubleshooting, known issues and how to tweak your computer and FSX for the best FPS. E-mails to customer support were quickly replied to. PMDG offers a support forum on their website. You just need to register to use it.

Conclusion

For $80 it's an expensive add-on aircraft but worth every penny unlike the Captain Sim products. No regrets here. PMDG is certainly at the top of the game of FSX add-on aircraft. My only gripe with PMDG is that they aren't producing planes at a faster rate. If every aircraft PMDG makes is produced with this much care and attention to detail then you can't lose with PMDG. If it takes a long time to produce quality aircraft then I will have to learn to be more patient but when it's this good it's hard to wait.

Screen Grabs/Videos

I'm going to post up a short clip I made using TrackIR and FSDreamteam JFK scenery. Watch the video in HD and full screen! No fancy music or editing. Just flying!



3 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Thanks for doing this! Enjoyed your childhood story.

    ReplyDelete
  3. How do you look around so easily?

    ReplyDelete

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