As the world’s largest competitor to the U.S. based Boeing Company, the Airbus Industrie of Toulouse, France has overcome many difficulties and setbacks to become one of the most lucrative aircraft manufacturers in the world. Airbus is in reality a conjunction of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS), and BAE Systems, that employs over 50,000 people throughout Europe for their “just in time” aircraft manufacturing. This type of manufacturing allows portions of an aircraft to be constructed in several different countries throughout Europe, and then be shipped to Toulouse, France, and Hamburg, Germany for final assembly. This idea has become so cost efficient that other manufacturers have begun to follow in the footsteps of Airbus.
Throughout the years, Airbus has manufactured a successful fleet of commercial aircraft from the ground breaking A300 series to the dwarfing A380, which will be the worlds largest commercial airliner upon its first delivery scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2006. Just as with passenger transport, the Airbus fleet has also become very common in the cargo delivery business as well. In fact, the A300 is second only to the Boeing 747 as the most widely used and traveled cargo aircraft.
As far as Flight Simulator is concerned, Microsoft has never included any Airbus aircraft by default. But now Abacus has found a way to fill that void with the “Fly the Airbus Fleet” add-on package. Included in this package are the A310, A319, A320, A330, A340, and the up and coming A350. The A300 was not included, nor was the A380, which is available in a separate package. Along with these six detailed models is a vast array of texture variations from the old and new house colors to an array of real world airliner liveries. Among other things, each aircraft contains an authentic virtual cockpit, optional cabin views and much more. So let’s get this package installed so we can go check it out.
Installation and Documentation
Installation of the Fly the Airbus Fleet package is done through an automatic installation wizard which will place all of the applicable files in their appropriate location. To begin the process, you will simply need to double click the installation icon and select the destination folder. Once complete, their will be six folders located in the main Flight Simulator aircraft folder that will contain each of the models.
Now the aircraft are ready for flight, but there are a few alterations that you may wish to make before considering the installation complete. For starters, the aircraft will be listed in the sim under the manufacturer heading of “Abacus”. If you would prefer the aircraft be listed under “Airbus”, you can change the ui_manufacturer in each of the aircraft.cfg files, making sure to change the manufacturer for all variations of the aircraft. Also, as we will discuss later, the A320 sound set is used for all of the Airbus fleet. So you may wish to find an additional sound set for the A340, which is the only 4 engine jet of the included aircraft.
The documentation included with this package is limited to a reference text file and a checklist for each aircraft, which is available from the aircraft folders, or by use of the kneeboard. The reference file contains the limitations of each aircraft, and the checklist includes the standard pre-flight through post-flight routine. There is also a folder located in the main Flight Simulator directory titled “fly the airbus fleet” that contains a read-me file for the package, and a program which will change the virtual cockpit view to a cabin view for each aircraft independently. There is also a document here for the Flight Management Computer.
If there are any questions not answered by this documentation, the Abacus homepage has access to technical support via e-mail, which I found to be quite helpful. With that said, it is time to go take a look at our new package and see what it has to offer.
Each of the six aircraft in this package are modeled true to life and have a variety of textures, the old and new Airbus house colors are included with all models. In addition to the house colors, the airline textures of Air Canada, British Airways, Air France, and Lufthansa are also included. The list goes on with German wings, Sucaba, SAS, Turkish, KLM, India, Iberia, and Emirates Airways. Regardless of the model and variation that you choose, all of the control surfaces, landing gear, wheels, and most passenger and cargo doors are animated.
Given the fact that this package bundles six aircraft with 14 liveries, you might expect to see a lesser quality than most premium payware. But in this case, I believe that the exterior modeling is very authentic with a great level of detail and realistic texturing on all variations. Each aircraft includes a variety of textures, all of which are true to life and fitting for each airline. The lighting adds a nice touch to the model, with a pair of beacons on the wingtips, a pair of inset wing lights, and an accent light on each side of the vertical stabilizer.
The point to be made about the modeling of these aircraft, is that they are indeed an authentic representation of their real life counterparts. As for the A350, which is still in the making so to speak, the Abacus version is a very good replica given the information released by Airbus thus far.
Now on to the frame rates. In this category, all aircraft in the fleet are not the same, nor are all of the texture sets. At default settings, the smaller aircraft, such as the A319 and A320, will not have an effect on the frame rates whatsoever. The larger aircraft, such as the A340, may lower the frame rates by 1 to 3 fps, depending on your system. The variation chosen for each aircraft will also play a role in what kind of frame rate you get. The more detailed textures may hinder the frame rates an additional one or two fps, but the less detailed variations do not seem to have any effect whatsoever. Therefore, an A340 with detailed textures could lower your frame rate by as much as 5 fps on less modest systems, but will likely have little to no effect on most computers.
All in all, I found the exterior modeling to be the best part of this package. Unfortunately, I prefer the realism of flying from the virtual cockpit and panel views, so let’s go take a look inside.
Simmers have many different reasons for flying from the virtual cockpit view of an aircraft. Whether it be the adjustable viewpoint, additional details, or the heightened sense of realism, the VC has become a must for any aircraft. But then there is always the dilemma of frame rates versus quality that goes with so many aircraft. Fortunately, Abacus has found a way to give us the best of both worlds with this package. In fact, all of the interior modeling of the Airbus fleet is done in a manner that provides realism and functionality without torturing the frame rates.
What you are actually getting in the VC's is a level of detail that far exceeds the default aircraft, but remains a little less than some premium payware programs. Each of the virtual cockpits contain all of the necessary instrumentation and functional controls to fly the aircraft, and are in fact, fairly well detailed. The instrument panel is basically a replica of the panel from the “cockpit” view with a little more depth in the gauges, switches, knobs, etc. For the first few zoom levels, all of the gauges are clear and legible, as you zoom out for a more panoramic view, or to access more controls and the autopilot, the gauges become less defined, and eventually unusable. There are however, two zoom modes in which all of the necessary instrumentation is clear with a fairly panoramic view.
Aside from the panel, the VC also contains a mildly detailed overhead panel with functionality, and a panel to the rear of the flight deck which is entirely for looks. There is another option to the virtual cockpit view, however. Included with the Airbus fleet package is a “cabin view” program that will allow you to switch from the virtual cockpit to the cabin view. This view varies with each aircraft, but basically places you in the front of first class or coach seating. From this viewpoint, there is little detail to be seen inside the cabin other than seats, a few television screens, and the entrance to the flight deck. There is a very good view outside the windows, and of course you can move around inside the cabin as much as the simulator permits.
Regardless of whether you choose the virtual cockpit or cabin view, you can expect the frame rates to take a hit, more substantialy so in the cabin view. Each of the six aircraft have the same effect, which can be a drop of 3 fps and upwards of 7 to 10 fps. The cabin view will most certainly borrow at least 5 fps and can be as much as three times that amount on moderate systems. The average computer will probably not have too much of a problem, if any, running the virtual cockpit but I found that even high-end systems had to wait for the VCc to draw when switching from the panel view.
Each of the six panels provide the essentials for flight, with additional sub-panels. The quality of the panels can be defined as acceptable, with room for improvement. All of the gauges and necessary instrumentation are very clear and responsive, and a moderately panoramic view outside is offered. However, I did not care for the lack of depth given to the gauges, and there is little in the way of shadow effects.
Each of the panels have a Flight Management Computer (FMC) which can access flight plans, give aircraft performance statistics, show the aircraft location, and much more on the control display unit (CDU). This system is very detailed and will likely require a review of the manual in order to learn.
Another good aspect of the panels is the large instrumentation and fully accessible autopilot. All of the primary gauges, such as the airspeed indicator and altimeter are easy to read at a glance, and the autopilot is fairly large given the size of the panel. Some items, such as the vertical speed indicator, are integrated with other gauges, and can be difficult to read at times.
Another nice feature of each of the panels is the great forward and side viewpoints. All aircraft have a virtually unobstructed high angle over the panel. Looking out the left and forward left side of the cockpit also offers a good view when trying to find that missed approach. Off to the right is a more intrusive view, but offers the “eye candy” associated with the co-pilots half of the flight deck. A full 380 degree turn will introduce an impressive rear shot of the cockpit, and continue with the seats, cockpit door, and miscellaneous panels.
As the screenshots show, the panels do vary from one another, mostly in color, but they are all arranged in a similar manner, making it easy to switch from one aircraft to another without having to relearn the panel again. No matter which aircraft you use, the sub-panels and views remain the same.
There is a lot to be said of the sound set included with this package, but unfortunately, there is only one sound set that is used for all six aircraft. Each of the aircraft alias the A320 sounds, which are very authentic, but not suitable for the A340 model. This is solely because the A340 is a four engine jet, whereas the other five aircraft are twins. With that one exception, the sound set works very well with the rest of the aircraft.
The quality of the sound set is second only to the exterior modeling. From the hiss of spool up to the deep roar at full throttle, the sounds offer an authentic recreation of an actual Airbus twin jet. Inside the cockpit, the rumble continues, silenced just enough to enjoy the traditional sounds of flaps, gears, and the occasional click of a switch.
On a side note, I found that the sound settings may need adjusted in Flight Simulator in order to achieve the best quality. By default, the air traffic controllers and environment sounds were drowned out in the cockpit and needed to be raised by about 10 bars to be heard properly. Of course you can always just turn the cockpit sounds down, but that tends to remove some clarity from the sounds.
As for runway roll and wind sounds, don’t expect too much. These are only subtle, and are pretty much overwhelmed by the engine sounds. In fact, outside of the engines and occasional flap, and landing gear sounds, there is not much more to this set.
To sum up my opinion of the sound set, I would recommend using this file for all of the aircraft except for the A340. There are many sound sets available for download that would work better for this one specific aircraft. On Avsim alone, I was able to find 9 sound sets that were more fitting. But make sure you test it first, as some people are not as picky about their sounds as I am.
Though I have had the privilege of flying in many of these Airbus aircraft, I have never done so from the cockpit. Therefore, it would be very difficult to judge the accuracy of the airfile(s). I will say, however, that each of the aircraft perform very close to my expectations, which is not a great deal different from their Boeing competitors. The A310 will operate at speeds upwards of 484 kts at a range of 5,107 nm. The A319 and A320 also perform well up to 487 kts, and have a range of 3,697 and 2,850 nm respectively. The A330 is a little slower than the rest at 464 kts, but can travel up to 5,500 nm. The big A340 crosses into the mach measurements as .83, and is suited well for long range flights of up to 7,500 nm. Finally, the A350 has been designed to break mach .82, and has the longest range of all at 8,800 nm.
All of the aircraft act as you would expect a wide body to. Of course, you will not hear a sonic boom or perform aerobatics, but I would say that they respond well to control commands and are fairly easy to operate, even for the novice pilot. If you can handle any of the default airliners, then I would suggest that any of the Airbus fleet will not pose much of a challenge. A combination of smooth rollouts with control surfaces that are well short of being “touchy” all combine to make each of these aircraft very pilot friendly.
Each of the aircraft do perform differently based on their size and speed. The A319, for example is much more flexible than the A340, which is less responsive on banks and requires more room for takeoff and landings. Of course, the fuel and payload settings make a big difference in the performance of the aircraft.
After several hours of testing in each aircraft, and having referred to the specifications from www.airbus.com, I am confident that each of the aircraft perform very closely to real life, and are equally as accurate as any other payware Airbus on the market.
Enough about the details, let’s take one of these birds for a test flight, or better yet, let’s try them all out. On this flight, I will start with the A310 in New York’s JFK International Airport, and switch aircraft throughout the flight until we deliver the new A350 to Toulouse. With so many navigational options, I have elected an IFR flight plan, which is now loaded into my FMC for quick access. After a pushback from the gate, and waiting for a few others to take off, I was on my way headed straight out to sea.
After climbing to flight level and cruising steady for about an hour, I figured it was time to bring in the A319. This change was hardly noticeable at all from the panel and virtual cockpit views. In fact, I had to take a look from the spot view just to make sure I really did switch aircraft. The next switch about an hour later, left no doubt however, as I introduced the A320 to this flight. The biggest difference here is the blue panel, which does not exactly fit my taste.
Moving on, I opted to switch to the A330 just a few knots off of the coast of Portugal. This is not exactly where I am supposed to be, but that’s what happens when you don’t pay attention to the controllers. Anyway, the A330 is the first step in a series of noticeable changes in the fleet. Having to get back on course, I notice that this aircraft is not as responsive as the smaller ones. That’s not to say that it is not dynamically accurate, but it does take some getting used to.
Finally over Germany, it was time to bring in the big A340. Naturally, the aircraft was slightly more sluggish than the A330, but for whatever reason, it had a much more responsive elevator control. This could have something to do with the fact that I had been flying for seven hours and the fuel was getting low.
After enjoying the German scenery, or what I could see of it from 30,000 feet, I had crossed the French border and hopped into the flight deck of the last aircraft in the fleet, the A350. I instantly felt like I was back in the A330 again, with a little more speed of course. Coming out of 10,000 feet with only 35 knots to go, I took control from the autopilot and found this aircraft to handle quite well. Unfortunately, I am running on fumes, and missing the approach is not an option. After following the traffic pattern for what seemed like hours, I made a so-so landing, and managed to get off of the runway just as my engines started to cut out. Looks like I will need a tow from here.
Throughout this flight, I found that the only major difference in each aircraft was the model, and the flight dynamics of the larger aircraft. This was good for switching from one aircraft to the next, but it got kind of boring after a while. Perhaps a new sound file for the 340 would have woke me up a little.
Considering all of the aircraft included with this package, I found the $29.00 price tag to be quite the value. And that’s not to mention the seemingly endless amount of texture variations included with each aircraft. I like the interior modeling as well, but the panels seemed to yield a little room for improvement. Not that they aren’t realistic, but I would have liked a little more depth. Perhaps the fact that the package includes nearly the whole Airbus fleet added to my impression from the start, but I have not overlooked the quality of work in the virtual cockpits and cabins either.
Yes, I would like to see some improvement on the panels, but I still find them all to be very close to the current cycle of technology that Flight Simulator aircraft are currently in. The only real complaint that I have is the lack of individual sound files for each aircraft. Even if the A320 sound is fitting for other Airbus aircraft, I find it hard to believe that a four engine A340 does not vary from the twin engine A320. But to be fair, it is not too hard to find a good freeware sound set.
The bottom line
is that you will have to decide the quality of this package for yourself
as I cannot possibly compare these aircraft to all other comparable
aircraft on the market. But, with the exception of the airfiles and sound,
you can see just about everything you need to make an educated decision in
the screenshots. However, speaking for myself, I would say that this package
is definitely worth the money and would make a nice addition to any Flight
Sim collection. Rather than defining it as a “must have”, or giving
it two thumbs up, I will simply say that it is in deed a good buy.
|What I Like About the Airbus Fleet|
|What I Don't Like About the Airbus Fleet|
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