AVSIM FSX Mission Review

Aviation & Mission,

737 Pilot in Command

Product Information

Publishers:  Wilco Publishing

Description: Missions for the FeelThere/Wilco Pilot in Command Boeing 737.

Download Size:
42 MB

Format:
Download
Simulation Type:
FSX
Reviewed by: Alan Bradbury AVSIM Staff Reviewer - April 6, 2009

Wilco on a mission…

Wouldn’t it be great to have a mentor in the cockpit with you, helping you to learn how to do things properly as you conduct your airliner flight? Wilco Publishing thought that too, and so that’s exactly what they have created, but with a bit of a twist…

Enter Aviation and Mission, PIC 737. Wilco’s shiny new offering specifically for their Pilot in Command FSX version of the Boeing 737. A product aimed at bridging a gap. Part flying instructor; part co-pilot; and part exciting and eventful airline pilot career, it’s an attempt to emulate the environment in which a fledgling 737 airline pilot might find himself when being checked out on the aircraft, but with a bit more excitement thrown in for good measure.

An interesting proposition; combine learning with fun and adventure, and all whilst giving your flights something of a role play aspect too, courtesy of the Mission feature in FSX.

Aviation and Mission is specifically designed to address the difficulties of getting to grips with your PIC 737, but more than that, it aims to do it in a fun and challenging way too

A new lesson from the old school…

The FSX Mission feature remains quite a hot potato among flight simmers. Some claim it makes Flight Simulator too ‘gamish’, others see it as a progression from the Adventure feature that has been with us since version 4 of FS.

Personally, I like the mission feature; there’s the promise it could revitalize what used to be a big part of the third-party market for FS – the FS adventure. And I like the idea of that because adventures, and the need to push what they were capable of doing, often pushed FS onto bigger and better things in the past. We see the benefits of that pushing in FS today, with features such as built-in ATC and more sophisticated weather modeling. And they could do the same thing again.

The adventure-type add-on has never totally gone away of course, but products of that nature used to be a much bigger part of the third-party market than they are today. I always thought their current scarcity was rather odd; it seemed to me that developers had been slow to mine what could be a rich seam of potential products, and one that could certainly attract a wider audience too, which is something most will agree would be a welcome thing in the Flight Simulator world right now, given the black cloud that is currently hovering over its future.

You should be aware that this is certainly the mission as far as Wilco Publishing is concerned. Aviation and Mission, PIC 737 is the first of a series they have planned; a plan which will make the same kind of thing available for many of their other add-on aircraft. So if your heart lies in Toulouse rather than Seattle, don’t think you’ve been forgotten, you’re merely stacked in the hold, awaiting your turn.

Keep an eye on this prospect too, Wilco are no slouches when it comes to pushing things and spotting potential markets. You’ll remember they were the company which made the premier airliner add-on for the relatively successful - if flawed - Flight Simulator rival Fly! Remember that? Which means Wilco certainly knows a thing or two about what people want from an airliner add-on.

So grab your flight bag Skipper, we’re off on a mission…

My trusty PIC 737-300 sets off for its first mission with Wilco’s new add on

Installation and Documentation

Before we get started on how Aviation and Mission does what it does, let’s take a quick look at what you get…

Test System

Aviation & Mission, Pilot in Command 737 was tested on the following computer:

A desktop PC with an ASUS P5 KPL SE motherboard, running 2Mb of DDR 3 RAM, an ATI Radeon 4800 PCI-x graphics card with Jan 2009 Catalyst drivers. Operating system: Windows XP Home with Service Pack 3 and DirectX 9.0c. Peripheral devices: Saitek Cyborg EVO joystick, Saitek rudder pedals and Track-IR 4.

Flying Time:
32 hours

Aviation and Mission, PIC 737 comes as a download from Wilco Publication’s website, the product being 41Mb in size. This expands to a hefty 121Mb when you get hold of it all (ultimately three .exe files, but more about this shortly). Right away you can see from the total size that it’s got something quite considerable up its sleeve, especially when you consider that the installation .exe for the PIC 737 itself is a considerably smaller 87Mb in size.

One thing which is definitely diminutive though, is the price; depending on where you are in the world, Aviation and Mission will cost you either 15 Dollars, or 14.95 Euros (with VAT), or 12.36 Euros if you are outside the EEC, so in these current economic climes, it’s built to suit our pockets.

Installation requires several things: First, you’ll need the FeelThere/Wilco Publishing PIC 737, of course, since this add-on is designed specifically for that aircraft; second, you’ll need FSX, as despite the fact that the PIC 737 is available for the older 2004 version of FS, this add-on utilizes the Mission capabilities of FSX in order to run; lastly, you’ll need Service Pack 1 for FSX to be installed. Beyond that, there are no recommended computer specs for Aviation and Mission, if you’ve got FSX and the PIC 737 and they run okay, you’ll be in business.

You’ll notice I somewhat cryptically mentioned that Aviation and Mission comprises three .exe files, and it does - but not right away - when you buy it you only get the first of these. Why? Well, the first file you get contains your first three missions, and you won’t get the next missions until you’ve completed the first three successfully. Do that, and part of your reward will be a download link to the next three missions, and so on, which is a wonderfully inventive way to reinforce the impression that you are progressing on an airline training course, because you don’t know exactly what’s coming next! How about that for some motivation?

Now, because Wilco sent me all the mission files to review in one go, I never had to actually go through that staggered download process to get all the files, but Wilco assures me that is not normally the case, and you’ll have to complete the first three to progress to the next ones under normal circumstances. So I have to assume that part works as advertised, but I’ve no reason to suspect it won’t. So here we’ll concentrate on simply installing the initial file which you get when you purchase Aviation and Mission, since the installation process is identical for the subsequent files you get when you’ve qualified for them.

Setting up is simply a case of double-clicking on an .exe file to commence the installation process. In addition to readying the first three missions which kick off your journey through Aviation and Mission, installation also places two PDF Pilot’s Guides on your Windows Start menu, one being in English and - Wilco of course being based in Belgium – one in French. You’ll also find the option to uninstall things from the Start menu, plus a browser hot link to Wilco’s website where you can register your product and try to avoid buying more of their toys!

Sacrebleu! You can install Aviation and Mission in several languages, but in common with the real world of ATC, the audio remains in English. No doubt that will upset some fans of Air France and Sabena!

At just seven pages, the manual, whether in French or English, is a relatively simple affair. It details some things you may have to do if running the program under Windows Vista (i.e. have full-on admin privileges), and gives a brief explanation of where to get started with things in FSX, as well as offering some hints about how to use the missions to best advantage with the kneeboard in FS. This is really all it needs to do, so its brevity is welcome. Obviously you’ll also require Adobe’s Acrobat Reader to view the PDF, but most people already have that. If not, it’s a free download from Adobe – but not for much longer, Adobe have threatened that they are going to start charging for it, so get it while you can!

That’s it, installation is simple - if a little different - and the documentation is good enough to get you up and running. No complaints there then, and in fact, full marks to Wilco for coming up with an innovative way to compel us to progress out of curiosity for what is around the corner!

The manual comes in both French and English. It’s not huge, and it doesn’t need to be, being clear, concise and to the point

Getting going in the Boeing…

Following installation, if you look on the Missions screen in FSX, you’ll find you can narrow down your search to only list Aviation and Mission’s offerings. Don’t worry, I’m not going to spoil your enjoyment of this product by listing everything that’s coming, I’ll simply detail the first of the three missions you initially get, and only mention a little bit about the others to avoid ruining the surprises in store. But I can assure you that you’re in for some challenging and educational flights, some sweating palms, and a good deal of entertainment too.

The somewhat misleadingly-titled first mission: ‘Engine Start Tutorial’ is a lot more than that; you have to fly to San Juan too. The briefing pages outline your task, recommend some FSX tutorials if you are a bit rusty, and give you an approach chart to study. Upon completion, you’ll get a 737 Type Rating Certificate on your Pilot Record in FSX

The first three missions also offer a bit of a hint at what to expect straight away, because they are not to be found listed under the Beginner setting, they start at the Intermediate skill level. If that notion worries you, don’t let it; you certainly don’t have to be Boeing test pilot material to get going.

Short as it is, the original PIC 737 manual and a couple of the lessons which come with FSX by default are more than capable of taking you up to the standard necessary to handle things in Aviation and Mission, the Mission Briefings even recommend which FSX lessons would be worth studying, and there is plenty of help forthcoming when actually in the missions to remind you about things you may be a bit vague on. Just make sure you know how to work the autopilot and the basics of the CDU and you’ll be fine.

Later missions incidentally, are rated as Advanced and Expert, but I’m not giving any more away than that, because it would spoil your fun.

You’ll need a reasonable understanding of this lot in order to get on in Aviation and Mission, as it doesn’t teach you everything, but don’t let that worry you or put you off at all, even the simple PDF manual which originally came with your PIC 737 will be more than enough to get you by, and you only have to know the very basics of the CDU, not much more than pressing LNAV and VNAV on the Mode Control Panel to be honest

Caribbean blue…

Aviation and Mission has a back story of sorts. It places you in the role of a fledgling pilot for Orbit Airways (i.e. one of the default FSX airlines) who has been posted to the Caribbean to fly the Boeing 737-300 (that’d be a nice first job huh?). Despite the Orbit call signs used in the missions, they actually load up the first texture set you have on your PIC 737-300 into the mission itself, so you’ll be driving a 737 in Boeing’s old-style bare metal delivery paint scheme unless you’ve added some custom liveries of your own.

Personally I quite like the bare metal look, and given that airliners are now being made from aluminum composites (that would be aluminum for the Americans amongst us) rather than bare metal alone, we might one day be quite nostalgic about that look.

You’ll find you are based at Princess Juliana International Airport on the island of St. Maarten in the Dutch Antilles. This is an island with which you are probably familiar, for one of several reasons. First, there’s a default airliner mission in FSX called Caribbean Landing, in which you have to set the default Bombardier CRJ700 down at St. Maarten, so if you’ve done that mission, you’ll be familiar with the place.

If not, you might know it’s where many 17th Century pirates plied their trade, plundering galleons on the Spanish Main in the days of sail, so if you’ve seen Pirates of the Caribbean, you’ll know the kind of picturesque holiday scenery we’re talking about.

If neither of those rings a bell, there’s a good chance you’ve seen some well-known footage of a KLM Boeing 747 coming into land over Maho beach onto runway 09 at St. Maarten, with its wheels frighteningly close to the people sunbathing nearby. Photos of this landing are often thought to be fakes because it looks so insanely dangerous, but they aren’t. If you’ve never seen the footage of that landing, here you go - enjoy: footage link (4.1 million views on YouTube and counting, so it’s worth a look). Yes, it’s that airport you’ll be based at, so expect some fun landings when Aviation and Mission starts throwing emergencies at you.

Yup, landing at Princess Juliana International is not for the feint-hearted. Come to think of it, sunbathing on Maho Beach isn’t for the feint hearted either

Pass me that wrench…

I suspect Orbit Airways might have made some cutbacks in the maintenance department. Either that or it is the unluckiest airline in the world, because all manner of mishaps and emergencies await you in Aviation and Mission. Although these appear to be triggered at least somewhat randomly – I certainly didn’t have them happen on absolutely every flight - which added a nice air of uncertainty to things. They also happen in a progressive manner, so you don’t have to deal with lots of major difficulties immediately. Even so, you might save a bit of time by setting the transponder on your 737 permanently to the emergency 7700 squawk code and taping over the adjustment dial!

Not good. You don’t have to work for Boeing to know that there’s something wrong with the landing gear here. Will your co-pilot be able to hand-crank the nose gear down? And if he can’t, can you land safely? I think this one is clearly the co-pilot’s fault, as you can see the engine on my side is running perfectly well…

Starting number one…

To give you an idea of what to expect in terms of structure, we’ll take a closer look at the first task: Mission one starts you off with a simple enough introduction, a commercial flight from Princess Juliana International, to San Juan in Puerto Rico. The purpose of this is to ease you into things, teach you the correct way to set up your 737’s overhead panel, and to show you how you start the engines up properly.

Now, I’d be lying if I said that this and the subsequent missions teach you everything about how to fly the 737, because they don’t, but what they do manage, is to segue nicely in between where the manual which comes with the PIC 737 leaves off, and where more complex guides to the 737, such as Mike Ray’s series of books on how to fly simulated airliners begin.

So it’s perfectly placed for the relative newcomer to complex airliners who fancies a bit of adventure while they learn the ropes. But before you go rushing off to Amazon to buy those fancy books – or even Wilco’s website, where you’ll also find them - let’s see what Aviation and Mission does cover, by running through some features.

Missions begin in a suitably cinematic manner. As the intro plays, you get both on-screen text and an audio briefing for the task ahead

Putting you in the picture…

Like all subsequent missions, the first one begins in a pleasing cinematic fashion, which is indicative that Wilco’s developers have mastered the nicer features of the FSX Mission SDK and can use them to good effect. So, first you perform a walk around check of your Boeing 737, as you would in real life. Although to be honest, this is largely window dressing and you’ll not be expected to start pulling dipsticks out of the engines to check the oil level or anything like that.

On later missions you might wish you actually did have that ability to check the engines, given the propensity for them to suffer problems whilst you are airborne, but I don’t want to give too much away on that score. As you perform your walk around, you’ll find your 737 is surrounded by various service vehicles; such as the catering van, the honey wagon and the fuel truck etc, and a multitude of aircraft marshalling figures are dotted about the apron looking very industrious indeed. This all combines nicely to get you in the mood for the upcoming challenge.

While you are admiring the view, you get a narrative voice over - duplicated with on-screen text - explaining the upcoming mission and what is expected of you. Like most computer emulations of human voices, it has the odd weird inflection, but on the whole it’s pretty good, so you won’t feel you are being briefed by Stephen Hawking.

Click okay to proceed and you’ll board the aircraft, where you meet your new co-pilot. Again, voice emulation for him is very good and appears completely natural, he has a reassuring tone and sounded like he might be Australian to me, but I could be wrong on that. Although you can hear him, he has no physical presence on the flight deck; the right hand seat remains resolutely empty except on the external views.

Now, unlike the kind of co-pilot you find in things like FSHotseat, FS2Crew, and products of that nature, this guy is not going to verbally take you through the checklists, waiting for you to do everything and respond to call outs etc, he is more akin to an instructor or line check pilot who is helping you through your first few flights. So he’ll tell you useful stuff, teach you things, and operate the radios for you etc – this again with both audio and on screen text - but it is up to you to perform these tasks yourself. It's sort of in the manner of a check ride or Type Rating, which is in fact the reward you’ll receive in your FSX pilot log book upon completing this first mission.

Flying a plane is no different to riding a bicycle, it’s just a lot harder to put baseball cards in the spokes: Despite the fact that they occasionally stand in places that I wouldn’t recommend, the addition of these guys and the various service vehicles on the apron does add a fair bit to the atmosphere of the missions

We have clearance, Clarence…

In the case of the first mission and most subsequent ones, you’ll find your co-pilot has very helpfully started up the APU, programmed the route into the CDU and set up some of the equipment, such as having aligned the Inertial Reference System, which is just as well really, since the align procedure is something the original PIC 737 manual could be clearer on. Nevertheless, it’s your job to get the engines going and prepare the aircraft for departure in every other respect.

This is where Aviation and Mission starts to score big time, because you’ll find that not only do you have the checklist on the kneepad in FS, it is also accompanied by illustrations of where all the switches are on the overhead and other panels and they appear in the order you have to operate them too, with the specific switch for each point of the procedural flow highlighted in red.

Even a complete novice would have no problem getting ready to taxi for the runway by following this. And as if that wasn’t enough, the co-pilot verbally explains most of it too. It’s also pretty close to a real Boeing 737 checklist procedure you’ll be pleased to know, so if you are at all shaky on the correct start up procedure for your PIC 737, this is one good reason to check out this add-on straight away. Since every mission requires you to do that, you’ll get very familiar with the correct start up procedure without even feeling like you are trying. The upshot of that is, Aviation and Mission succeeds in teaching you stuff painlessly; so it’s much more fun, and much more effective than studying a manual, because you learn by doing it.

This is the kind of thing developers should be using the FSX Mission feature for when they produce an add-on aircraft, so full marks to Wilco here. I think they might start a trend with that, and I’d expect other developers to latch onto this method poste-haste and do a similar thing if they have any sense. It would also be my guess that Wilco will, at some point, offer a bundle with Aviation and Mission and the PIC 737 in a combined package. While it might add a fiver or so to the price, marrying the two would offer a very painless introduction to operating complex add-on aircraft for those who are dubious about their ability to do so, and that would bound to boost sales of the PIC 737.

The kneepad in Aviation and Mission is utilized in an impressive way when combined with the mission’s audio. Your checklist appears in simple text form and as a visual flow with all the switches highlighted on very clear screen grabs. On the first mission, the co-pilot talks you through the procedure too. Even if you’d never operated the PIC 737 before - or any aircraft for that matter - you’d still be able to get it fired up and ready to go and with all the switches correctly set up on the overhead, simply by following the mission’s guidance. It’s very impressive and a great way to learn. Do it a few times and it’ll be second nature to you

A precision approach…

Now, I should point out that the way in which you do things in Aviation and Mission is, strictly speaking, not the way Boeing expect real airline pilots to do things in terms of how they share the cockpit workload. You’ll be doing a good deal more work than a Captain really does at this point of your pre-flight, because you’ll do some of the co-pilot’s job too.

A point of fact, the vast majority of airlines usually take the official aircraft manufacturer’s checklists and produce their own versions of them - with some modifications - in order to get pilots to do things ‘the airline way’. But in recent years, Boeing have been fairly insistent on getting pilots to share the workload in a more logical fashion than used to be the case. So, the reality is that most of the overhead is the co-pilot’s responsibility on a real Boeing 737.

This is to allow the Captain to concentrate on the bigger picture instead of worrying about every single switch and dial, but that doesn’t mean he abdicates any overall responsibility if things go wrong! As far as Aviation and Mission is concerned, since some of its focus is to teach you the right way to set your aircraft up, you’ll be working the overhead panel yourself. This is actually a good thing, in that you effectively learn both jobs, the co-pilot’s and your own as the Captain.

As noted, Aviation and Mission doesn’t cover everything. For example, you’ll find there is no climb checklist made in Aviation and Mission, in spite of the fact that this is a pretty important matter on a real Boeing 737. So important in fact, that the real 737’s climb checklist had a specific check of the cabin pressurization setting switch added to it in 2006 following the tragic loss of a Helios Air 737 in 2005 when the crew climbed up to 35,000 and forgot to pressurize the aircraft.

You don’t have to do that in FS, but there’s nothing preventing you from adding some realism by doing this and other checklists yourself. However, keep in mind that the focus of Aviation and Mission’s training aspect is as an interim step between knowing the basics of your PIC 737 and what you find in more complex manuals you might get hold of in order to go for full-on realism.

So it’s a deliberate choice not to burden you with too much realism before you have a solid understanding of the basics, upon which you can build. Incidentally, see the information at the end of this review for some useful links I’ve added for that kind of thing if you really want to go for full realism.

You’ll often have enough on your plate just dealing with the weather, let alone everything else, so Aviation and Mission strikes a careful balance between having some fun and burdening you with every single realistic detail

Because of this, don’t expect Aviation and Mission to do the same thing as FS2Crew-style co-pilot add-ons, which do attempt to replicate the exact responsibilities of each crew member and everything on the real aircraft’s checklists. That’s not what this add-on is about; it’s about learning the basics well and having some challenging fun whilst doing so. Aviation and Mission definitely will teach you most of the responsibilities of both crew members, but not necessarily everything which real crews do as their individual duties; you certainly will follow checklists in Aviation and Mission, but you’ll be doing a bit of both jobs when you do so.

Don’t worry if this sounds complex, it’s all introduced at a nice progressive rate, and you’ll have a lot of fun whilst doing it all. Moreover, you’ll find it is very engaging, not to mention being much more akin to how real crews learn things rather than simply being thrown in at the deep end with a big thick manual.

Ultimately, things such as FS2Crew-type co-pilot add-ons will make a lot more sense to you doing it this way if you are not an expert at operating airliners, and it should be apparent that Aviation and Mission will provide a good stepping stone up to things like that, particularly if your ultimate goal is to operate your 737 exactly as the real crews do. Worth noting too, is that FeelThere - the developers of the PIC 737 - have produced their own specific co-pilot add-on for the PIC 737 which you will find is named Call! for PIC 737. Aviation and Mission will certainly be a good primer for that.

So what we have here is a sensible, painless approach to matters, which aims to flatten a steep learning curve. And it does that really well.

Look out!

Having set up the aircraft ready for departure, you push back and head for the active runway. Now, as far as you are concerned when running Aviation and Mission, the co-pilot is working your radios, as co-pilots often do in real life, so there’s no need for any ATC interaction from you other than to follow the instructions you hear from both ATC and the co-pilot, who relays much of the info to you with some expanded explanations about those instructions.

However, just because the normal FSX ATC is not running, this does not mean FSX stops running AI aircraft around you. As a result, you can occasionally get situations where the co-pilot or the Mission’s ATC tell you that you are clear to enter the active runway when there might actually be an AI aircraft coming in for a landing, so you have to be careful to factor this in and keep a good lookout for AI traffic. Alternatively, you could turn off AI traffic in the FSX preferences if this aspect bothers you.

Aviation and Mission does occasionally add an AI aircraft of its own to proceedings to help put you in the picture as far as procedures go. But for the most part, you can regard yourself as the only aircraft in the sky, so turning off FSX’s AI traffic is no great loss and might be worth considering if you want a few more frames per second when running Aviation and Mission, not that it really slows things down too much anyway.

Keeping a good lookout is especially important when at Princess Juliana International Airport, especially if you wish to emulate the impressive safety record the real 737 enjoys (statistically twice as safe as the average airliner); in common with many small holiday resort airports, there is no full length parallel taxiway at Princess Juliana (although the real airport has plans to build one), which means you have to use part of the active runway as a backtracking taxiway when you want to take off from the runway 09 end.

The historians among you will know that the world’s worst-ever airliner disaster happened under just such circumstances at Los Rodeos Airport in Tenerife in 1977, when two Boeing 747s collided in poor visibility.

Notice the speech caption on the screen giving me take off clearance: Like all FSX missions, Aviation and Mission runs independently of FSX’s AI traffic. You can either keep a good lookout and work around it, or turn off the AI traffic. Either will work and whichever you do, Aviation and Mission will still run just fine. In the case of this screenshot, I simply waited for the two AI airliners to take off and had a good look to the left before going myself

What’s our vector, Victor?

There’s not much danger of losing your way when you taxi for the active runway, in common with all other FSX missions, you can have an on-screen pointer indicate where you should be heading if you wish (this needs to be turned on in FSX preferences incidentally, so if you don’t like it, you don’t have to have it on screen). For the most part the co-pilot will keep you informed of things anyway, so the pointer is not vital, but it is handy if you are fairly new to things.

Having got to your assigned runway, and having been cleared for take off, you line up your Boeing on the runway, and it’s off you go. The co-pilot will assist you with V speeds during the take off roll and warn you about raising the flaps and gear etc, but you have to do all the button pressing yourself, so make sure you know how the Mode Control Panel works and where all the basic switches are.

Most of the time, and certainly in the first mission, you’ll be taking off from runway 09 at Princess Juliana International (actually now Runway 10 since late last year, a change not reflected in FSX), and that can be quite challenging. Just beyond its 7,900 foot length is the 1,100 foot peak of Mount Fortune, which means you’ll have to be on the ball to rotate your aircraft to the correct climb out angle and be ready to turn a bit if you’ve got a lot of fuel on board.

Conversely, when you land there, it offers good practice for the fledgling airliner pilot, in that there is no ILS; it’s a VOR/DME/NDB approach, which is further complicated by the navaids being slightly offset. If you miss your approach to runway 09, you’ll have to rack your aircraft around to 160 degrees and get on the power pretty swiftly if you don’t fancy being a reason to rename the terrain Mount Misfortune.

This is one of the best things about Aviation and Mission, the missions and their location are excellent for practicing flying your 737 properly, especially on the later challenges, which are pretty much guaranteed to make you break out into a sweat, even if you are a fairly accomplished 737 driver. And it’s good to have the co-pilot explaining things like missed approach routings and how to line up for your approach if you are a bit vague on things like that.

‘…and if you look out of the right side of the aircraft, you can see a squirrel in a tree’. The departure from Princess Juliana International’s runway 9 is pretty entertaining stuff

Smooth operator…

The first mission is essentially a fairly short hop from one island to another, and should take no more than about 45 minutes, with you only getting up to about 17,000 feet, which is still high enough up to give you some practice at descending efficiently. It ends when you get to San Juan, land safely and taxi to parking, and generally speaking, it’s a good introduction to flying your 737 in a professional manner.

You’ll have to follow things accurately in order to get there without any traumas as your fuel is limited, but your co-pilot helps a lot with that and you shouldn’t have too many problems. Having got mission number one under your belt, you’ll be pleased to see your pilot record has gained a nice shiny 737 Type Rating Certificate. Seeing that, you might think everything else is going to be a breeze, but you could not be more wrong. This is where things start getting tougher.

So you think you’re pretty good, huh?

Now, as I’ve said, I’m not going to spoil things by telling you everything that can go wrong or prove tricky on the subsequent missions. Let’s just say that if you think you’re a pretty good pilot, and one who can handle anything that is thrown at you, prepare to alter that view a bit. If and when you complete all the missions, you will certainly be a better 737 pilot, that’s for sure.

Better get used to setting your transponder to squawk this particular code…

While reviewing Aviation and Mission, obviously I had to fly all the missions quite a lot to see if they had any glitches or anything that didn’t work as advertised. If I tell you that I spent over thirty hours at the wheel of that PIC 737 while doing all the testing, and in that time I crashed off the runway at Princess Juliana International three times (once very spectacularly).

I had to belly land the 737 on the ocean once when I ran out of fuel, and I ploughed into Mount Fortune on take off once when I didn’t climb out properly, you’ll get an idea of just how tricky these missions can be when the challenges start piling on and you aren’t on the ball. I managed to complete them all eventually, so it’s certainly not impossible, but if you think they’re all going to be a walkover, think again.

Not paying attention in Aviation and Mission can lead to all kinds of unforeseen things happening, including this brush with the water…
As you can see from this shot, it was a successful mission on this occasion (and no, I’m not going to tell you what mission that was, or what the emergency was, that would spoil your fun). What I will tell you is that you’ll get pretty used to seeing emergency vehicles waiting at the edge of the runway as you come in for a landing, and you’ll be genuinely alarmed by the solemn way in which the co-pilot fatalistically wishes you luck and tells you it’s been a pleasure flying with you, as you attempt some of the things asked of you to get your aircraft safely back onto terra firma

Missed approach…

The Mission Briefings include approach plates for some of the airports you will operate from and fly into, and most of the time you’re really going to need these. The plates included are for Princess Juliana International (TNCM) and Luis Munoz Marin International (TJSJ), so if you don’t have plates for these airports, you can print these off. But you might find it easier to open them up from the mission folder in which they are installed, as they are kind of hard to view from the FSX Briefing page.

Even so, there’s one missing from the set; that being Miami International (KMIA), which is an airport you will also visit on one of the missions (you’ll go to some other airports too, but to tell you more would spoil the fun). I mentioned the lack of an approach plate for Miami to the developers, and asked if it was a mistake that there wasn’t one included for KMIA?

It isn’t, they simply couldn’t get one cleared for use in the product without it adding considerably to the expense, and they preferred to keep the price down. Fear not however, being the kind of lovely reviewer I am, I’ve added a link at the end of this review where you’ll find all the information you might need with regard to that airport. It’s worth a look too; Miami is a fairly complex place to land at, if you get there...

You get some approach plates to assist you on the missions, but not for every airport you might visit (note that I have dropped the resolution of these screenshots to avoid giving part of Wilco’s product away for free here, the resolution of the charts you get with the product is much higher)

Getting a bit picky…

There’s not much wrong with Aviation and Mission, but given that a review is supposed to be exhaustive, I’ll mention the minor things I have come across. Keep in mind that most of these are absolutely not Wilco’s fault, nor particularly serious anyway, but more a function of how missions work in FSX. None of what I found affects either the usability of the product, or the enjoyment to be had with it...

One is the CDU (or FMC as some people call it) and an occasional glitch relating to it: The audio briefing for each mission tells you that the co-pilot has set up the CDU with your flight plan and that you’re good to go in this respect. This is not always the case, despite what you are told. I’ve found that FSX occasionally failed to load the plan into the flight management computer when the mission began.

Restarting the mission always sorted it out though, so apart from watching that FSX load progress bar (which we all love so much) twice instead of once, it’s not a big deal. On the subject of which, you’ll find that these missions actually load up remarkably quickly. Nevertheless, I would advise you to check that the flight plan is in the flight management system the moment the mission loads, otherwise you’ll waste a lot of time cranking up the engines etc, only to occasionally find you can’t engage VNAV and LNAV on the MCP because the flight plan isn’t there. I’d hesitate to say this was Wilco’s fault; as you probably know, the FSX Mission feature can occasionally glitch even on the default missions which come with FSX. So I think FSX is the guilty party here, and in any case, it doesn’t happen a lot.

This next issue I found could be regarded as Wilco’s. But to be fair, it’s more a case of me being picky than an actual mistake. Some of the missions present you with very challenging weather, notably quite evil thunderstorms on occasion. You’ll find that in these conditions, the plan which is loaded into the flight management computer has the cruise speed set perhaps a little on the high side, as it is essentially the same plan which you use for a similar flight, but in good weather.

As you probably know, the PIC 737 is remarkably accurate in its flight modeling – one of the many reasons why it won an Gold Award when Avsim reviewed it – but this means that, like the real 737, its speed can fluctuate by as much as 20 knots either side of the speed the auto throttle is trying to maintain when in rough air. This means that on missions with thunderstorms and turbulence, there is a danger that the aircraft can overspeed if you fly it with LNAV and VNAV using the speeds in the flight plan as it loads up by default.

I found that dropping the speed from the 335 knots it is invariably originally set at to 320 knots meant that I could happily go and grab a cup of coffee without coming back to find my virtual passengers attempting to break the ‘world skydiving without a parachute record’, after my aircraft had broken up from being overstressed!

So, not really an error, more like an inadvisable practice for a safe flight. In the real 737-300 aircraft manual, Boeing actually advises pilots that they can drop the speed to as low as 180 knots in rough air if the turbulence is really bad (any slower than that and you’d need flaps, and that’s not a good idea when the wings are flexing a lot in turbulence), so you’ve got a fair bit of speed range flexibility on that score if you like realism.

I mentioned this to Wilco by the way, and they responded by telling me that my comments had been passed on to their creative dudes, so we might see a tweak to those flight plans at some point. But if not it’s no big deal, you can simply alter the speed in the CDU for yourself. Incidentally, despite what I said, I don’t recommend making a habit of disappearing from your computer for cups of coffee for too long when flying these missions, things can get quite exciting at very short notice!

You can see here that the cruise speed is uncomfortably close to the barber pole on the ASI, as the autopilot follows the default flight plan settings on LNAV and VNAV. What you can’t see is that we are at 14,000 feet, just climbing above a thunderstorm and the aircraft is bouncing around all over the place, occasionally over speeding. Visible on the CDU is my adjustment to the cruise speed down to 320 knots, from the original 335 knots, to get us away from being too close to the limit of our safe rough air penetration speed

One thing that could be slightly better in Aviation and Mission is sort of a related issue to the one above. Some of the audio files for your co-pilot and ATC’s communications are reused for more than one mission and that means, on a few occasions, they are not always totally appropriate to the conditions.

This is not a huge problem, and you can see why it has been done. But once or twice it does lead to silly things such as the tower telling you that ‘Winds are calm’, as you take the active runway whilst a 21 knot tailwind buffets your aircraft about and a thunderstorm rages overhead! Watch out for that one by the way. As an experiment, I set the V-speeds incorrectly because of that erroneous information to see what would happen. I ended up not clearing the mountain at the end of Princess Juliana International’s runway 09 on take off. Kaboom!

Other than these very small tribulations, most of which are more a case of me being picky than actual mistakes, I found just one very minor typo in the on-screen text, and I only noticed that when reviewing it in the kneepad. But let’s be honest, one typo on a product of this magnitude is entirely forgivable (we all make mistakes). On just one occasion, I noticed the co-pilot incorrectly read back the heading which ATC told us to take up. That was it, everything else appeared spot on, and even when these miniscule errors cropped up, they certainly did not prevent me from doing the missions, or indeed enjoying them very much indeed.

There are hardly any errors at all in Aviation and Mission, but I did spot this one. Notice the ATC instruction to turn to 120 degrees, and the co-pilot’s incorrect read-back response. Actually, if we are being picky (and trust me, I am, this product is damn-near perfect), it’s ATC which is incorrect and the co-pilot who is right; the missed approach heading for Juliana’s runway 9 should indeed be 160 degrees. This doesn’t really affect the mission in any detrimental way incidentally, as another vector is forthcoming shortly after this and that puts you back on the correct heading, and you should really be flying based on the approach plate which is provided anyway

The jet set…

It’s worth noting that even though Aviation and Mission is designed for the PIC 737, it is actually possible to use any 737 with it (or any other suitable aircraft for that matter. You could do the missions in an Airbus or an ATR if you liked), so long as you are prepared to accept that you’ll need to tick the checkbox which says ‘Enable changes in selected mission (no rewards given)’ on the Mission selection screen and load up a different aircraft when the mission has begun.

Of course it means you’ll not progress to the next levels if you complete them like that, but it does mean that after you’ve completed them all in your PIC 737, you could do them in something else too. So if you have the Ariane 737, or even if you wanted to use the default FSX 737, there’s actually nothing stopping you from doing so as long as you are aware of the lack of rewards it will engender.

It does also mean you can do the missions in the PIC 737-400 and 737-500, as opposed to sticking with the PIC 737-300 which the missions always use by default. With that in mind, you can see that the product has a bit more longevity and replay value than you might at first think.

A repaint of the default FSX 737 in Aviation and Mission. Providing you enable mission changes, you can fly whatever you like on the missions, but of course you’ll not get any mission rewards and in the case of the default 737, you’ll be lacking the CDU, so you’d have to navigate by some other means (following the mission pointer would do). Nevertheless, it does mean you can try it in the other PIC 737 variants, or anything else for that matter if you fancy using something other than a Boeing

Conclusion

In fairness to developers such as Perfect Flight and FSX Adventures, Aviation and Mission is not the first set of missions for an FSX 737, but it is the first one to attempt to combine the mixture of elements that it does. As such, Aviation and Mission is a pretty bold attempt at creating a product which does more than one thing; a combination of on-the-job airline training and thrilling adventure. There was a real risk that it could have fallen between two stools by having too broad a focus, but fortunately, that’s not the case. It remains perfectly poised between the two, which I think is a remarkable achievement.

Because of this, many people will discover at least one, and probably several reasons to like it. Inexperienced PIC 737 users will find it immensely helpful in increasing their familiarity with the aircraft’s systems, yet there’s enough of a challenge in there for users who already know all that stuff, so its appeal is not limited to newcomers.

It goes a long way toward addressing the problem of inadequate manuals which often plague add-on aircraft, and provides a stepping stone up to full-on realism for those who would like to learn more or increase the complexity of their simulated airliner operations. The notion of having to complete the missions in order to even get hold of, let alone attempt, more challenging aspects of it also provides an excellent spur to improve one’s understanding of the PIC 737 and the operation of other aircraft too. But most of all, it’s just damn good fun.

As noted, this is the first of a planned series of Aviation and Mission add-ons from Wilco, and I think they are onto something good with this concept. As a first attempt at it, one could easily have expected it have some glaring errors or horrible glitches. It doesn’t have any of that and we can only hope that other offerings, perhaps even ones that take the training aspect up another level, will be forthcoming. This planned series will definitely be one to watch, and while you’re watching, if you have the PIC 737, why not give Aviation and Mission a try? I think you’ll like it.

Not forgetting…

As promised, here are some links for you, which you might find useful. These were very handy reference for testing Aviation and Mission and for making sure I was driving the 737 properly. If you like the Baby Boeing, you’ll like these websites:

Information on all aspects of the Boeing 737, including technical documents, manuals, schematics, quizzes etc, etc

Boeing 737 checklist and a great site for information on many other airliners too

Boeing’s web page for the 737

Information for Miami International Airport (KMIA), including PDF airport charts

Wilco Publishing’s website, where you’ll find a number of useful books on flying the 737, as well as the PIC 737 and Aviation and Mission

 

What I Like About Aviation & Mission

  • It’s a good introduction to using more complex aircraft in FSX and goes a long way toward bridging the gap between what the PIC 737’s original manual doesn’t tell you, and what more complicated manuals might confuse you with.
  • It’s a bold and innovative product and fairly inexpensive for what you are getting.
  • It makes good use of the FSX Mission feature, and will hopefully encourage more developers to do the same.
  • The voice sound files are of a good standard and build the mood well, as do the scenic enhancements.
  • A well-structured approach to the missions means it will take inexperienced users up to a fairly advanced standard relatively painlessly.
  • The drip-feed aspect in which the missions become available, based on your progress, is an excellent spur to make you want to improve your performance.
  • The choice of Princess Juliana International Airport for the focus of most of the missions was an excellent one. It adds considerably to the value of the missions as a training device, especially for people who enjoy trickier landings.
  • The later missions are extremely challenging and ramp up the drama quite considerably, making Aviation and Mission an enjoyable experience, even for very advanced simulator Captains.
  • It has quite considerable replay value.
  • Not surprisingly with this being the launch product for a new series, support for it appears to be good from Wilco, I had several email chats with them regarding this product and the PIC 737 and they always responded quickly and helpfully.
  • It’s the first of many, according to Wilco, which is a good prospect.

 

What I Don't Like About Aviation & Mission

  • Nothing that would stop me from recommending it, except perhaps the fact that it kept me up until the small hours of the morning!
  • One or two minor (and I do mean minor) errors stop it from being perfect.
  • It would have been nice to see more than the three badges you get on your pilot record, considering that there are more than three missions and particularly in view of the fact that some FSX users really like collecting those badges.
  • It could perhaps give a little more assistance during the descent phase of your flight, such as specific flap settings, and perhaps a few more hints on operating the CDU.
  • I’d have quite liked a woman co-pilot’s voice, female airliner pilots are not uncommon these days and that might broaden its appeal. Similarly, whether male or female, I’d have liked to see a tweak to the cockpit model which actually put the co-pilot figure on the flight deck, although I’ll admit that’s a big ask.

 

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