AVSIM Commercial Utility Review

Abacus CoPilot 3

Product Information
Publisher: Abacus
Description:  Flight Planner / Tracking Utility for FS2002 & FS2004
Download Size:
25.5MB or Boxed
Format:
Auto-install
Simulation Type:
FS2002 / FS2004
Reviewed by: Brian Fletcher AVSIM Staff Reviewer

Introduction

Every once in awhile I like to start up Flight Sim, hop in my SR-71, and just let loose trying to violate the laws of physics. But that is not the norm for me, or for a lot of Sim enthusiasts I know. A lot of virtual pilots like to do anything and everything they can to make their Flight Sim experience as realistic as possible, and that is who this next product is directed towards.

The product is CoPilot 3 from Abacus, and the whole purpose of this package is to provide flight planning and tracking. Of course you can already plan a flight right in Flight Simulator, and it can be tracked with the GPS and map. But this program goes beyond the default capabilities by allowing you to get much more in depth when planning a flight, and then have this plan automatically entered into your new CoPilot GPS with the autopilot ready to take over on your command.

With the flight planner running separately from Flight Sim, you can create plans at your leisure and have them ready to go whenever you are ready. Then when you are ready, you can load the plan into your GPS and be on your way. But there is more, like the airport charts, maps, automatic GPS installer, and moving map that I will discuss later. One of my favorite aspects of this program is that I can print these charts to have in my home cockpit for reference on the fly, as compared to having to squint to see it.

If you are a current user of CoPilot 2, than you will need to read on to discover what, if anything, is new is this version. Unfortunately, I have skipped from the original version straight to version 3, so the only major difference that I am positive of is the fact that this version is fully compatible with FS9.

But like I said, much of what this program has to offer is already available by default, just in a different format. However, there are a few features, like the ability to manipulate the waypoint to your liking, that you will not find in Flight Sim. You can read the rest of this review and decide for yourself if Abacus CoPilot 3, available at www.abacuspub.com, is worth the $29.00 for new users or $15.00 for those upgrading from the previous version.

Installation and Documentation

This utility is available in a boxed version on CD-ROM, or by direct download. This installation method represents the download version. After the 25.5 MB download is complete you will be left with a single auto-install file. Double click on it and you will be shown a welcome screen. The next page is going to ask you for your name and registration key. That will lead you to a page that asks you to select the version of Flight Simulator installed on your computer (both FS2002 and FS2004 are accepted), and you will need to verify the location of your Flight Sim scenery directory.

 

After another message letting you know what’s going on, the program will install itself. This only takes a brief moment, and then you are on your way. At this point you should have an icon on your desktop titled “CoPilotv3”. This is where you will access the program and help files from. The help file is located on the menu toolbar across the top of the screen.

 

General preferences Projection type What to display
Adding some colour Labels to include

The help menu contains a walk-through of sorts that begins by familiarizing you with the basics. Then it moves on to discuss flight planning, the GPS, moving map, and some of the more advanced features. I would recommend taking a glance at this file to help you get started as some of the features are not completely self-explanatory.

Let's Get Started

Before I get into planning a flight, I will want to install the GPS into my aircraft. To do this I will select the GPS installer program in my start menu, which will be in the “abacus” selection. Once the program starts, you will be asked to select which version of Flight Sim you are using, then you can select the aircraft that you want to install the GPS into. The program will take care of all the dirty work for you, and from now on the GPS will appear in that aircraft whenever you use it. If you want to remove the GPS, follow the steps listed above, and then select the option that allows you to uninstall the GPS.

 

You will need to repeat this process for each of the aircraft that you want to install/uninstall the GPS. I have not had a problem installing it into any of the aircraft in my inventory, but I have been informed that there are a few third-party aircraft that are not as receptive. In this case, you may be able to install the GPS manually, but I have not spent enough time working with that process to comment.

It is now time to go into the CoPilot 3 program. The first page you will encounter is going to ask you to select a region in which you want to fly. Your options are Africa, Asia, Australia, Canada, Central America, Europe, South America, Trans-Atlantic, USA Alaska, USA Continental, and USA Hawaii. After choosing a region, you will be presented with a map projection screen that allows you to select the map projection, distance units, elevation units, and the resolution of the map.

 

Now you will see a map of the area we have selected with the airports represented by small dots. I will discuss how to alter this map later, but let’s stick with the basics for now and create a flight plan. To do this, I will select the “quick plan” option in the “navigation” menu on the toolbar. This brings up a screen that asks me to select a departure and arrival airport. Again, I can get more detailed, but let’s save that for later.

 

Northwest USA Map Projection Screen Map with Nav Aids Nav Aid properties screen

Next, it is time to start Flight Simulator, which can be done from the CoPilot program by clicking on the icon of the airplane. You need to enter the “select a flight” menu in Flight Sim and choose the aircraft that you want to fly making sure that you select one you have installed the CoPilot GPS into. Then you need to select the departure airport that you have chosen for your flight plan. At this point you can feel free to choose any weather, time, and season setting that you wish.

Airport Info
Flight Planner

Now that we are at our departure airport, it is time to prepare the CoPilot GPS for flight. The first step is to push the “RTE” button which will present a list of flight plans. The plans will be listed by departure and arrival ICAO codes, and as long as CoPilot 3 is still running in the background, the plan we just made should be first.

When you are ready, you can go ahead and take off. Once you are on your way you can press the “AP”, “HDG”, and “GPS” buttons located on the far right side of the GPS to let the autopilot take over. Unless you are already heading straight towards the first waypoint, you should notice the aircraft begin to bank. If not, you may need to re-examine the steps above to see what went wrong. What we have done in this step is activate the autopilot on the aircraft, except for the altitude…that’s next.

 

GPS Information NAV Route
TDS Waypoint

After you reach your desired cruising altitude, you will need to press the “ALT” button on the GPS to allow the autopilot to take control of your altitude, which should leave you in control of nothing more than the throttle, which we can set at a later time. And that is it for now. You should be able to go grab some screenshots, take a walk through the cabin, or do whatever you want…the autopilot has you covered, at least until you need to land.

This section covered the most basic features of using CoPilot 3. All we have done here is create a flight plan and enter it into the GPS. If that was all it did, I would probably save my money and stick with the default flight planner, so we had better go see what else this program has to offer.

The Moving Map

The moving map uses a zoomed in view of the map that you created your flight plan on to keep track of your location. You can use the moving map without a second monitor, but you will have to fly in the windowed mode. Quite frankly, I can not stand flying like this, and I do not like having to have a map take up half of my screen. But there is an alternative to this for those of you who use two monitors. In this case you can use one monitor to run Flight Sim, and the other to run the moving map. Depending on how you have your home cockpit set up, you may still need to use a windowed mode, in many cases you will not.

 

There are a lot of ways to use multiple monitors, but for this example I have simply connected a second monitor to my video card and dragged the moving map onto one of them, and Flight Sim on the other. Though I must use the windowed mode to do this, it does not bother me quite as much since the sim and map take up a full monitor each.

While in flight, the moving map will represent the location of your aircraft with crosshairs, and you can choose which details you want to be present on the map, for example, the airports, waypoints, etc. For the most part, I like the moving map, but in reality the default GPS can do the same thing. But I did find one benefit of having the moving map on a separate monitor that I really like. With a little configuring that I found in a forum, I can now minimize Flight Simulator on my main screen without it pausing. This allows me to perform other tasks while my aircraft keeps flying straight and level.

Though I am writing reviews on one monitor, I can glance over towards the other every once in a while to see where my aircraft is. Once I notice that it is time to prepare for landing, I can maximize Flight Sim and land my aircraft. This has come in handy for some of my long flights. But when I am in the cockpit I like to play around a little bit, so let’s go see what the CoPilot 3 GPS is all about.

The Copilot 3 GPS (EZ-GPS)

CoPilot 3 GPS is a far cry from the default Garmin GPS in the sense that you do not have a map screen that shows your location over the terrain. Instead you will need to understand what each function of the CoPilot GPS is to track your aircraft. The GPS displays a variety of information including, but not limited to, your heading, speed, current position, and altitude.

One feature that helps you stay on course, is the course deviation indicator (CDI) displayed across the top of the GPS as a small black triangle. To reach your next waypoint you will need to keep the triangle in the center of the bars going across the top of the GPS. If the indicator moves to the right, than so should you. If it moves to the left, than you need to bank left to until it is centered. Even though there can be a lot of things going on in the cockpit, this indicator is clear and simple to read at a quick glance. Once you reach a waypoint, the CDI will be updated to guide you to your next stop.

By cycling through the pages in the GPS you will discover that there just about any information you could need to be found. You can use the “+” and “–“ keys to make adjustments to the autopilot settings, such as the vertical speed and altitude. There is also a function activated by pressing the “D” on the GPS that will void the waypoints and take you directly to your destination no questions asked.

In addition to all of this, you can use the “NRST” button to get information on the airports, and the “TDS” button which will give you an update of what you have done so far. This includes the distance traveled, average speed, and more. And, of course, you can always double check your route and information usually with a single click.

I really do like this GPS, especially the way that it keeps me busy in the cockpit. I also like the fact that it is easily legible even if I have to shrink it a little to fit into my panel somewhere out of the way. The only feature that I miss is having the map screen, but it isn’t necessary. You can learn more about this GPS at the Abacus website. Now let’s go see what more we can do inside of CoPilot 3.

Test System

Computer Specs
Compaq Presario SR1232
AMD Athlon 2.2 GHz
2 GB Ram
NVIDIA Ge Force FX 5500
StarLogic 21” Flat Panel Monitor @1024X768
CH USB Flight Yoke
CH USB Rudder Pedals
Saitek X52 Flight Control System
FTP 290 Throttle Quadrant
Bose 5.1 Surround Sound

Flying Time:
40.5 hours

Altering Displays

There are quite a few ways that you can alter how this program looks and functions by use of the toolbar menu items. One way you can do this is by selecting the “general” tab and then the “display” tab which will bring up a page that allows you to alter, among other things, what is displayed on the maps, such as airports, VOR’s, NDB’S, and fixes. This is also where you can adjust the color that each of the map items will be displayed in.

As I mentioned before, you will have the opportunity of adjusting how the maps are displayed each time you load them. You can choose to have the distances displayed in feet and knots, or in meters and kilometers. You can also choose to have elevations displayed as feet or meters, and the resolution of the map can be altered as well. These selections can be changed anytime you wish.

For the most part I prefer the default settings of CoPilot 3, but if you find something that you would like to display, or not display, there is probably a feature to add or remove it. You can explore the menus and set up the program to your liking later, but for now, let’s go take a look at the maps and charts.

The Maps and Charts

Once you have loaded a map of one of the eleven regions into CoPilot 3, you will notice that it is just an outline of that region with a bunch of dots in it. Now it’s time to zoom in a little and see what’s hiding under all of those dots. We can see that those dots actually represent airports as the facility name and ICAO identification are listed next to them. You will also notice that the active runway is shown going across the center of the label.

When you click on one of these airports a screen will appear providing information about that facility. It will display the ID, latitude, longitude, elevation, ATIS frequency, and let you know if it is lighted and if fuel is available. You will also notice that the available runways are identified in the box below, along with the runway type i.e. gravel, concrete, asphalt, etc.

Now, if we click on the tab to the right labeled “Diagram” we can get a real close-up of the airport. These airport diagrams will show the runways, parking areas, and taxiways as applicable. As with any of the maps and charts in this program, you can print these diagrams to have in your cockpit for a quick reference.

Speaking of printing, CoPilot allows you to print instrument approach plates, glide slopes, ILS frequencies, and basically everything else in the program. I have even begun an Airman’s guide which contains a collection of these charts for future reference that has really taken my virtual experience to the next level.

Point, Click & Fly

After we installed this program, I showed you a quick and easy way to create a flight plan. Now I am going to make another plan, but this time I will use the point and click method which will allow me to select the waypoints. For this flight I am going to need to load the map of the continental U.S.A. The default settings will work just fine for what I am doing here. Now I will zoom in on the state of Florida, focusing on the east coast. Rather than selecting the quick plan, I am going to choose my departure and arrival locations manually. In this case, I will be departing from Miami Intl. and arriving at Daytona Intl.

I could pick a direct route, but then I would miss out on the Fantasy of Flight Museum in Polk City, and I can’t have that. So, I will place my mouse where I want each waypoint to be and a green line indicating my intended flight path will appear. I will choose a triangular pattern that takes us west of Orlando to Polk City, and then back northwest to Daytona. While I am here, I will also print out the flight plan and arrival airport diagram along with the approach plate, glide slope, and ILS Frequency.

Assuming that I followed the steps that I took in the example above, minus the fact that I created my own flight path, the GPS should be ready for me when I start Flight Simulator, let’s go see. I have used the “select a flight” menu to choose my default Cessna 208 departing from Miami Intl. (KMIA). The sim starts and just as it should be, the GPS is up and ready to go. Now I will activate my flight plan and head to the runway.

Just as before, I can use the autopilot feature built in to the GPS and it will follow my modified waypoints for me. With the GPS and autopilot doing there job, I can start grabbing some screenshots of my trip. You will notice how the GPS fits into the view nicely without impeding any of the necessary instrumentation, yet it is still perfectly legible from where I am sitting.

Now that I am getting close to Daytona, I will take a quick glance at the approach plate that I printed out earlier and take note of the frequencies I will need to communicate with the tower, ATIS, and ground control. Now I am ready for a picture perfect landing thanks to my CoPilot GPS and print outs.

 

That Just About Does It

It is extremely difficult to decide whether or not to give this utility my recommendation. Not because I don’t like it, but because much of what it does can already be done in Flight Simulator. Many of the features, however, are not available in FS9 while others are, but not to my liking. I think that I have explained it pretty well, and of course the screenshots speak for themselves, so maybe it would be best just to say that I like it, I use it, and I would suggest giving it serious consideration. Perhaps a trip over to the Abacus website might help you to decide.

The reason why I prefer using it is because of the moving map and the ability to alter the waypoints to my liking. I also like the fact that I can create flight plans and have them saved for later without having to start Flight Sim. I also like the fact that the regional maps have all of the information I could possibly need in good detail. That’s not to mention the charts, diagrams, and all of the other pertinent information available with a click of the mouse.

If I were to put a recommendation on this program, it would be based on the fact that not only do I like it, but apparently so do thousands upon thousands of other simmers. According to Abacus it is an all-time best seller with over 60,000 copies sold since the original. Personally, I rarely ever use Flight Simulator with out it. It is a great alternative to the default flight planning.

 

What I Like About Copilot 3
  • The GPS is a nice alternative to the default Garmin.
  • The ability to print out maps, charts, diagrams, etc.
  • I can adjust the waypoints to my liking.
  • Most add-on scenery is accepted in CoPilot (according to the manual)
  • The walk-through is a helpful tool to get you on your way
  • Maps can be imported

 
What I Don't Like About Copilot 3
  • The moving map can be difficult to use on a single monitor
  • I miss the map screen on the GPS

Printing

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Copilot 3

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The review above is a subjective assessment of the product by the author. There is no connection between the producer and the reviewer, and we feel this review is unbiased and truly reflects the performance of the product in the simming environment. This disclaimer is posted here in order provide you with background information on the reviewer and connections that may exist between him/her and the contributing party.

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