It’s been a long time coming but finally it's here. PMDG has been developing the MD-11 for some time now primarily for the FSX platform but due to the number of users still on FS9, I presume this is why they also did an FS9 version with the main differences being the visual model due to the differences in the FSX simulation platform. This review focuses on the MD-11 FS9 version.
Here is some history on the MD-11 and its development. This aircraft is based on the DC-10, but features a stretched fuselage, increased wingspan with winglets, refined aerofoils on the wing and tailplane, new engines and increased use of composite materials. It also features an all-digital glass cockpit that decreases the crew to two from the three required on the DC-10.
Although the MD-11 program was launched in 1986, McDonnell Douglas started to search for a DC-10 derivative as early as 1976. The first MD-11 was delivered to Finnair on December 7, 1990 and accomplished the first revenue service by an MD-11 on December 20, 1990, when the aircraft carried passengers from Helsinki to Tenerife in the Canary Islands. First MD-11 service in the U.S. was inaugurated by Delta Air Lines, also in 1990.
It was during this period that flaws in the MD-11's performance began to become apparent. It failed to meet its targets for range and fuel burn. American Airlines in particular was unimpressed, as was Singapore Airlines, which canceled its order for 20 aircraft. The former cited problems with the performance of the airframe and the Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engines selected for its use as reasons of the cancellation while the latter said that the MD-11 cannot fulfill the airline's long haul routes. The figures revealed exclusively to Flight International show that, based on pre-flight estimates, the P&W-powered MD-11 should have been capable of a 7,000 nautical miles (12,950 km) range with 61,000 pounds (27,680 kg) of payload. Even with the Phase 1 drag reduction in place then, the aircraft could only achieve its full range with 48,500 lb (22,000 kg) of payload, or a reduced range of 6,493 nm (12,025 km) with a full payload.
In 1990, McDonnell Douglas with Pratt & Whitney and General Electric began a modification program known as the Performance Improvement Program (PIP) to improve the aircraft's weight, fuel capacity, engine performance, and aerodynamics. McDonnell Douglas worked with NASA's Langley Research Center to study aerodynamic improvements. The PIP lasted to 1995 and recovered the range for the aircraft. However, the damage was already done.
The MD-11 was one of the first commercial designs to employ a computer-assisted pitch stability augmentation system that featured a fuel ballast tank in the tailplane, and a partly computer-driven horizontal stabilizer. Updates to the software package have achieved a situation where the plane's handling characteristics in manual flight are comparable to the DC-10, despite a much greater fuel efficiency achieved by the lessened drag of the smaller tailplane.
After McDonnell Douglas merged with Boeing in 1997, the new company announced that MD-11 production would continue, as a freighter. However, in 1998 Boeing announced it would end MD-11 production after filling current orders. The last two MD-11s were manufactured during June and September 2000, and delivered to Lufthansa Cargo on February 22 and January 21, 2001 respectively. Production ended because of lack of sales, due to internal competition from comparable aircraft, such as the Boeing 777 and external competition from the Airbus A330/A340. Also, two engines are generally less expensive to operate and maintain than three. Since there was a large demand for cargo aircraft and because there was no 777 cargo version available at the time, many airlines using the MD-11 were anxious to switch to the 777 as they had no problems selling their used MD-11s to cargo operators.
McDonnell Douglas and later Boeing performed studies on the feasibility of removing the tail engine and making it a two engine plane, but nothing came of it.
McDonnell Douglas originally projected that it would sell more than 300 MD-11 aircraft, but only a total of 200 planes were built. The MD-11 was assembled at McDonnell Douglas's Douglas Products Division in Long Beach, California (later Boeing's). In August 2006, a total of 191 MD-11 aircraft were in airline service. ( History info from Wikipedia )
Installation and Documentation
Installing the MD-11 is no harder than installing any of PMDG's other aircraft. Just follow the instructions on the screen and you will be fine. However, please ensure that your FS9 is updated to FS9.1 or the installation will not work.
After browsing the forums I noted that some users had problems validating their installations but I encountered no such trouble, it was very quick and easy. After this was done the installation started and took roughly a minute or two to complete. You also have your choice of custom or complete installation, this way you can control what features are installed.
Documentation is quite extensive as the MD-11 comes with a tutorial, aircraft system, FMS, flight crew operations, normal checklist and quick reference hand book. The FCOM manual has 400+ pages while the Systems manual has 500+ pages ( start buying lots of paper if you want to print it all out ) The details that are in these manuals truly show the level of research and hard work the PMDG team has done and justifies the length of time this product has been in development. After reading from start to finish, you will truly feel like a new MD-11 pilot, fully competent to handle the aircraft's every operation, the only thing this manual doesn’t tell you to do is how to flush the toilet and that’s because there isn’t one ( more on that later ).
After doing a brief walk around of the aircraft, the detail is simply amazing. Almost mind boggling how PMDG managed to cover every inch of this aircraft with accurate textures and precise detail. I have seen a few freeware MD-11's before, some of which were done fairly accurately, but PMDG really went to the next level as I could not find anything obviously wrong with the exterior model on both the passenger and freighter model.
The model features 100% moving surfaces and an added nice touch was the landing gear that hang down accurately and even change angles depending on your angle of attack. As is the norm nowadays, this flight model also has a very nice wing flex which is noticeable on takeoff and landing. Here are some more features listed by the developer:
Max MD-11 Model - Both engine variants are included,
accurately modeled to the smallest details and are complete
with high resolution
Lets take a look at the model more closely, here are some screenshots.
Cockpit and Avionics
Here are some features of the cockpit and virtual cockpit.
• Dynamic Virtual Cockpit - Designed and animated using the same proprietary techniques developed for PMDG's award-winning 747-400 product line, Virtual Cockpit users will truly enjoy the sensation of "being there" when flying this simulator from the fully animated 3D virtual cockpit.
Avionics - Sharp vector graphic cockpit displays bring the PMDG
MD-11 vividly to life.
The cockpit can only be described as the best that I have come across from PMDG. This gives a true pilot's view of the cockpit which may take some getting use to for some users. Click spots to open other essential panels are neatly hidden on the main panel. Many other panels can be opened via your own keyboard shortcut commands which is a nice touch.
The displays on the panel are very clear and precise in terms of operations; it still is amazing how complex this panel and all of the systems are. The overhead panel can be opened partially or as a whole depending on what function you would like to access, this too is a great feature since you can easily create a keyboard command to access a certain part of your overhead panel and it alone can be opened without having to block your view in a critical phase of flight with the entire overhead.
Another feature that was very original, is the lighting effects on the 2D and virtual cockpit panel. Never again do you have to endure a grossly bright panel while flying at dawn or dusk. The lighting effects are very gradual and fully adjustable, not to mention they are very accurate in terms of placement in that just the right parts of the panel are illuminated while others are not.
The avionics, including the FMS, are accurate and one wonders if after learning use this product whether or not you can climb into the real thing and feel at home. The systems simulation is so complex that if you don’t read the manual you may have a hard time enjoying this product. This is not for users who just simply want to fly a big aircraft, but at same time the manuals that come with this product are well written and very easy to understand. Here are some screenshots of the panel and displays.
Now for some day time shots
As you may have noticed, there are pictures of the overhead panel for the pax and cargo model. What is the difference? Well the pax model has the PA features for calling the flight attendant, while the cargo model has none, after all the cargo model has no need for flight attendants. It’s sad that the model did not come with a virtual cabin, but keeping things in perspective, pilots sit in the cockpit and not in the cabin.
Those added features would have been nice eye candy but really it would just lower your frame rates. PMDG’s focus on cockpit detail and functionality really shines through and with the in-depth level of system simulation; one hardly misses the lack of a weather radar. I am sure though, if ever we do see a wx radar update, it will blow past anything else we have seen.
This package comes with an easy to use load manager which allows you to change the loads and ultimately, the handling characteristic of the aircraft you choose to fly, whether it is the passenger or cargo model. Here are some more details and features listed by the developer, all of which I can say they truly delivered on.
• LSAS (Longitudinal Stability Augmentation System)
The flying experience
To sum up the flying experience, all I can say is that finally I know what a heavy jet feels like! I have heard some users of this product say how unrealistic it is and how difficult it is to fly, but all I can tell those who have had that experience is to "please read the manual"!
This isn’t your normal FS add-on aircraft. If you don’t setup the aircraft correctly, your flying experience will not be what you expect it to be. It took me some time to get used to the landings. It’s not difficult, but the aircraft truly has unique characteristics on final approach. Taxiing is very easy and it doesn’t take constant application of power to keep the aircraft moving. Braking action is just perfect, it isn’t too sharp whereby the nose dips almost into the ground, nor is it poor.
How does it handle in the sky? Well to be honest, I didn’t do much hand flying in the sky since the AP works so great, but at times when I did hand fly the MD-11, it was a wonderful experience and I felt in full control of the aircraft at all times, a feeling that all pilots need. Climb performance is as close to the specifications as possible, in my opinion, and I have had no problems whatsoever with the AP engaged in all phases of flight.
How about the auto land feature? To be honest I was almost afraid to let the aircraft do the full auto land but it actually works very well, bear in mind that after you land, you need to disengage the AP before you try turning onto the runway since the AP keeps the aircraft on the runway heading.
The approaches are very stable with the aircraft holding the ILS without making major adjustments. All I can say at this point is that you have to feel it to believe it, it's great! PMDG did a superb job on the FDE given the obvious limitations on the FS9 platform.
The sound of the PW and GE engines are truly amazing. What stood out a lot was the start up sound. When the engines are starting up there is a lovely rumbling hum that is very unique. The quality of the sound files are spot on, almost giving you a surround sound feel.
You will also notice that while engaging in normal flight operations, such as punching buttons and pulling levers, the sounds and overall cockpit ambience is of a very high quality. It makes you feel like you are right there in the MD-11 cockpit with the exact sound of every knob recorded for your pleasure.
The quality may even sound better depending on your speaker setup. On takeoff roll, you will immediately notice the sound of panels shaking in the cockpit; while on landing, the touchdown sound isn’t as generic as those we have grown used to from freeware providers. If you make a soft landing you will just barely hear the wheels impact the runway, while if you make a hard landing, you will definitely know it!
First officer callouts and AP warning sounds are also great and surprisingly not annoying as some callout voices I have heard before, these sound very natural and realistic.
PMDG did a great job with creating both the PW and GE sound files, I give it a 9/10 ( after all nothing is perfect )
Performance is always one of the most important factors in buying high end products like this one. No one wants to buy extra hardware just to comfortably fly one aircraft. There has been a lot of discussion on various forums about the performance of the PMDG 747 and some simmers may be a bit worried about buying the new MD-11.
Well, I must admit that I was simply stunned with how great the performance was on my low end system. I just barely made the minimum requirements for this product and it works almost as great as the default FS9 aircraft. Hard to believe but it is true.
I am guessing that some new technology is being used and perhaps with the lack of a virtual cabin, this really helped in boosting the performance. Even at night with the wonderful cockpit lighting effects, you may think that performance would suffer but it doesn’t at all. VC texture load at the snap of a finger.
So rest assured fellow simmers, this aircraft is not a frame rate hog, if it can run on my system it will surely run on yours and perhaps even better!
Summary / Closing Remarks
In summary, this product is worth every dollar. The level of research is evident from the in-depth systems simulationed. The missing weather radar would have taken it over the top, but I am hoping in time PMDG will release an update when they gather the needed data for a realistic weather radar. Performance of this aircraft is truly amazing given the fact that it is a high end product and I am sure it will blow you away. I definitely give the MD-11 two thumbs up.
What I Like About The FS9 PMDG MD-11
What I Don't Like About The FS9 PMDG MD-11
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