These two FS2Crew products are the latest in this series of Cockpit Management add-ons, and are designed for the Boeing 747. The first operates with the excellent 747 from PMDG, and the other with the default 747 that comes with FSX. Being based on the same aircraft, they are very similar in many ways, and follow the same SOP's (Standard Operating Procedures) of one particular airline. Obviously, the default FSX 747 is a much less complex aircraft than PMDG's version, and so there is rather less for FS2Crew to do. However, the difference between the two products is not as great as might be imagined, and anyone who becomes very familiar with one will find it easy to cross-train to the other. In the review that follows, I will be describing both products, only referring to one or the other specifically where there is a particular and significant difference.
For those unfamiliar with this product series, it adds a whole new level of realism for full-blown passenger operations. It's OK when we're just tooling around in a Cessna 152 or doing some bush flying to be the only person in the cockpit. But being all alone in a in a 747 cockpit when flying transatlantic? It's a bit like that movie where the co-pilot opted for the chicken dish, and chicken was the Wrong Choice, and now they're somewhere in the bowels of the plane with their own bowel problems. FS2Crew on the other hand relieves you of such a burden of responsibility, and provides someone in the right-hand seat to share the cockpit workload, to call out the checklists, or just to have an idle chat when you're somewhere near N58W30 and it's monotonous blue all round - "I hear they're thinking of revising our contracts...." sort of stuff - but this FO never selects the Salmonella dish.
This is the third FS2Crew product that I have reviewed. What had impressed me previously was the continuous series of improvements that developer Bryan York had been able to incorporate, particularly improvements to the user interface that made the product easier to use each time. He had obviously made a rod for his own back in setting such expectations of continuous development, and so I was curious to see what he had improved on this time. Bryan certainly does not lack ambition in what he sets out to do, and building a common set of operating procedures for two very different 747 models and technologies was just such an example. So what did I find this time?
Installation and Documentation
Installation is by 108 or 116Mb download, depending which one you go for, and the purchase uses the standard Flight 1 wrapper. There is also an optional Flight 1 Downloader Tool if you get broken downloads from a bad connection. Once it's installed, you need to perform a number of set-up operations before loading the 747.
In the case of the FSX 747, that just involves setting up dedicated "Main" and "Secondary" keys for you to communicate with your virtual FO and other colleagues. For the PMDG 747 it's a bit more complicated. It involves making sure that you have all the PMDG service updates applied, stopping PMDG from duplicating FS2Crew's V-speed call-outs, and then replacing the current PMDG keyboard assignments with the ones that FS2Crew needs to use, which may in turn mean that you need to go back and re-input any special ones that you set up before.
Documentation consists of a 83-page manual. This lists the setup requirements, describes the various panels that you will come across, a description of special procedures like the Monitored Approach, a tutorial flight from Seoul in South Korea to Tokyo in Japan, checklists, and a full list of who does what and when. It's all very clear and easy to follow through the first few flights, but it would also be useful to have the type of flowchart summary that was produced for the ATR and 767.
If you do need further advice, there is the user forum here at AVSIM, which is very active and where Bryan himself responds very promptly when needed. Having said that, when you look in the forums you find very few real problems being reported.
People found quite a steep learning curve with the original FS2Crew products, but this tended to decrease with the later ones. Although I'm getting familiar with FS2Crew, and previously knew both 747's pretty well, I did find this version particularly easy to get up to speed with. That's partly because we're talking about a very automated plane, or a very simple one in the case of the default 747, and there have been further improvements in the user interface.
What FS2Crew Does
FS2Crew simulates all those people that a real-life pilot normally interacts with. There's the Ground Crew, who do such things as bring you paperwork and push you back. There are the flight attendants, who do such things as tell you when the cabin is ready and report on passengers needing assistance. And last but not least, there is your Flying Officer, who works most of the switches, runs through the checklists with you, and points out when you do something wrong. He does reduce your workload so that you, as the pilot, can do all the Captain's stuff, like hold the controls, set the autopilot, plan your descent, or just look out of the window.
The procedures that are modeled in the version of FS2Crew for 747 are based on one particular airline (un-named), whose SOP's involve only calling out "abnormals", in other words exceptional situations only. So the FO won't call out, for example, "Flaps 5 …running …Flaps 5 set" if all is going well. This does make for a very "quiet" cockpit atmosphere, although in real life I distrust any "management by exception" procedure - does silence mean that everything is OK, or that whoever is supposed to be checking has let their mind wander? However the FS2Crew FO never eats chicken and never lets their mind wander, so all is well.
Most of the communication with the FO is via the Primary and Secondary keys that were configured initially, and you are able to choose. (I use "M" for main and "N" for the much-less-used secondary), and the whole process is very natural and intuitive. Once you are familiar with the product, flights proceed very smoothly, and if you have used another version of FS2Crew you will find that cross-training is very easy.
At The Gate
Before loading up the 747, the first thing to do is put in specific information relating to the flight. This is done in the FS2Crew Start Center, where you put in such things as your name (for a later signature), departure and arrival airport, and so on. Then once the 747 is loaded, and the 2D panel should always be loaded first, the virtual pilot has a small number of "hot spots" that, when clicked, bring up special panels for use by FS2Crew. The most important of these is the Main Selector Panel, which is the major difference, and improvement, over earlier versions of FS2Crew. Not that there was anything wrong with the earlier versions, in fact they were all good and continually being improved, but as the saying goes, "You don't need to be ill to get better". So for me, the Main Selector Panel is the latest in a long series of improvements to the user interface.
The thing about the Main Selector Panel is that it lays out all the functions you will want to use in a nice simple line of push-switches. It's relatively unobtrusive, especially if you park it, as I do, at the bottom of the screen. The thing about this panel is that it allows you to select a particular function, perhaps a series of panel operations, perhaps a checklist, as and when you choose. A possible problem with earlier FS2Crew's was that it or the FO could "get ahead of you" - in other words be on to the next operation before you expected, perhaps because you clicked a button a bit too quickly. This panel allows you to see where you are, because a small yellow light on a button shows which function is in progress, so if you want, you can retrace your steps and get yourself back in sequence.
Apart from that, much of what you see will be familiar if you have used previous versions. Clicking on the "FP" button opens up the Flight Planning page, where you determine how long you'll wait before the passengers are loaded and you need to complete all the pre-flight steps. Another small innovation here is that if you are pressed for time, you can skip all the pre-flight, get the doors closed and light those engines. Having said that, if you're flying a 747, it's going to be at least a six-hour flight, so who cares about an extra 45 minutes? As previously, you can also use this panel to pause the activity, if you find that all those people sticking pieces of paper under your nose is getting too stressful!
There's the usual Flight Attendant briefing and the ever-cheerful Engineer who puts his head round the door and lets you know of any defects. Thankfully on this airline it is the FO who braves the elements and does the walk-round. When he come back, he calculates the take-off performance and you can see the results if you click the Green Book you see on the glareshield in the 2D panel.
In between briefing your FO, handling any exception situations with the Flight Attendants and Operations (missing blankets, meals or even passengers) and setting up the panel and FMC, you'll be presented with the Load Sheet, confirming your weights, and the Fuel Sheet, telling you what's in the gas tanks. A typically "neat" Fs2Crew touch is that you "sign" the Fuel Sheet in the bottom RH corner - it knows your name because you entered it earlier, remember?
Pushback, Start and Taxi
When you are ready to push back, you press the "PB" button on the Main Selector Panel and the small Pushback Panel appears. You specify the distance and angle you want, and it takes care of the rest. The FO does most of the work at this stage, starting the engines and then configuring the aircraft systems, and you just press the Main Button to tell him when to do things. Obviously, there's a lot more for him to do if you're operating the PMDG 747 in FS9 compared to the default 747 in FSX. Another difference is that with the PMDG aircraft you'll see little "mini-panels" appearing, being clicked, and then disappearing. This is because the PMDG 747, like the PMDG 737 NG before, doesn't have a suitable SDK for FS2Crew to allow direct interaction with its internals.
While taxiing, you run through the Before Takeoff Checklist, brief the passengers, and thankfully the "We are number 19 for take-off" sequence number facility is reinstated in this version of FS2Crew. And yes, I have actually heard that - Philadelphia, after a thunderstorm had passed over, returning to the UK from this year's AVSIM Conference. However, I did find it reassuring to have a pilot who could count up to 19.
One "cool" feature of the FSX default 747 version, is that FS2Crew makes use of the FSX Tiller facility. If you wish, you can steer your Queen using mouse clicks on the pop-up tiller, rather that using the rudder.
Takeoff and Climb
When you are cleared for takeoff, you set 70% N1, then engage TOGA. Thereafter, you as captain, handle the yoke and the FO does most other things, like calling out speeds, raising the gear, raising flaps and engaging autopilot modes on your command.
If you prefer, you can get your FO to handle the takeoff instead. In that case, you'll use the Main Button to do the callouts and they will handle the yoke while you raise flaps and engage autopilot.
Things are obviously a lot quieter in the cruise, which in a 747 can last for quite some time. To relieve the boredom you can of course, as with earlier versions, engage in some chit-chat with the FO. You can also give him a number of tasks, such as radioing for medical advice about sick passengers, or adjusting the weather radar (non-operational in the PMDG 747 of course). And you can always talk to the Flight Attendant.
As you approach the Top of Descent, you need to perform the Approach Brief. This involves clicking "AB" on the Main Selector Panel, and an Approach Briefing panel opens up, which is similar to the Departure Briefing Panel used earlier.
Approach and Landing
In the descent, you'll be going through the Descent Checklist ("DS" on the Main Selector Panel) and later the minimal Approach Checklist. As you come close to landing, once again the FO will respond to your button presses by lowering flaps and gear, amongst other things, leaving you free to fly the plane
Once on the runway, the FO makes sure that the Speed Brakes are up, and calls out 70 knots so that you know when to stop Reverse Thrust. On the way into the ramp, the FO does most of the cleaning up of the aircraft, with you concentrating on steering. Similarly, when you cut off the fuel, the FO starts his shutdown actions so that you can both run the Shutdown Checklist.
If you want to spice up your approach and landing with a bit of variety, FS2Crew allows you to conduct Monitored, Non Precision and Visual approaches, as well as conducting Go-arounds.
Performance and Reliability
I never noticed any additional performance overhead from using FS2Crew. I also find it to be completely reliable. However, the same caveats apply here as with previous versions. It is important to follow the installation instructions for setting it up correctly in the first place. There is a learning curve involved, and if you are new to the PMDG 747, then I recommend getting familiar with it first before using FS2Crew with it.
On the other hand, the default 747 is as simple as it always was, so there's nothing to stop you using the FSX version right away. The big difference from earlier versions is that if you get "out of sync" with where you are in the flight, the right choice of button on the Main Selector Panel can usually get you back to where you want to be.
This is the third FS2Crew product that I have reviewed, and I am pleased to see yet more refinements to the user interface, to make it more forgiving while retaining all the complexity of passenger airline flight deck operations.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that this is now a very mature product, and it is difficult to see what other substantial improvements could be made to it (although the obvious ingenuity of the developer, Bryan York, will no doubt catch me out!). I think Bryan's challenge now is to be able to roll this product out to the better airliners out there that do not yet have an FS2Crew version. 2007 is likely to see a spate of Airbuses and it will be good to see FS2Crew versions for the different procedures that these use.
FS2Crew for the PMDG and FSX default 747's is an excellent product, which reflects a continual development and improvement over the earlier versions that were good in themselves. I thoroughly recommend it.
*To buy this aircraft package, go to FS2Crew
("Aeroport de Cayenne Rochambeau" (French Guyana) scenery by Delblond Christian; rochambeau.zip in the AVSIM library.)
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