You wait ages for a bus, and then two turn up at the same time…
With Aerosoft promising a new A320, PMDG having done so too, but currently on the back burner, and Airsimmer having got theirs out of the door albeit sort of halfway, a really good Airbus A320 for Flight Simulator is something that continues to elude us. The Wilco and CLS Airbuses (or should that be Airbi?) are pretty good, but eschew the full-on realism that many hope for. Yet whilst this A320 saga continued, SimCheck were quietly plugging away for the past four years in order to bring us an Airbus of a very different kind, the very first Airbus to be made – the A300.
Now this may not be the Airbus you’ve been desperately waiting for, but just think about this: It’s an Airbus, but it has a cockpit that is about halfway between how a Boeing and an Airbus are equipped, so there is a conventional yoke and steam gauges, but a clever computer to help you fly it too, pleasing both camps. It’s a nice big ‘heavy’, but like the real A300, is optimized for short and medium range flights, so you get to fly a big jet without needing numerous hours to spare. It is a freighter and a passenger aircraft too, so the variety of destinations and stands you can operate from are quite wide as well. When you think about that, there’s a good many simmers out there for which some, if not all, of their boxes are ticked by that lot.
So maybe this is an Airbus you’ve been waiting for after all, or to be more precise, two of them since you get both the A300B2-200 and the A300B4-200 in this package. But before you go racing off to Aerosoft’s website with your credit card on fire, let’s find out if this really could be a hardcore Airbus that everyone has been wanting. And to do that, it will be useful to find out about the real thing, although if you already know all about the real A300, feel free to fast-forward down this article to the picture of the TNT A300, where the review of the SimCheck Airbus itself commences.
The start of a beautiful friendship
The A300 was the very first Airbus to be manufactured, and a remarkably innovative thing it was too, considering it was the first product EADS turned out. It was a product born of a vast amount of hard-won experience, much of that tinged with the bitterness and tragedy of early outings into a jet airliner manufactured by the various companies which make up EADS.
The name Airbus can trace its origins back to around 1959, when it showed up in a British aviation press advert for a projected high-capacity passenger version of the Armstrong Whitworth Argosy, of all things. However, this was merely the birth of an Airbus as a concept, and it was very soon realized that when it came to producing modern airliners in Europe, individual aircraft manufacturers had not the slightest hope of competing with the manufacturing might of the United States. As a result of this hard truth, European aircraft companies, and indeed most major European governments who might add funding to such efforts, were compelled to get behind the notion of collaborative efforts.
The 1965 Paris Air Show had seen many European airlines expressing the desire for a jet aircraft to suit their needs, and by this time the name ‘European Airbus’ was being used in relation to this requirement. The British Government had already been somewhat proactive in this arena, encouraging Hawker Siddeley to team up with the French aircraft companies Breguet and Nord to explore the possibility of creating such an aircraft.
The British and French were already cooperating on the development of the BAC/Aerospatiale Concorde SST, very much at the behest of their respective governments, but this was in fact damaging efforts to produce saleable subsonic airliners. The cooperation between DeHavilland and Sud Aviation on the Caravelle had been an early attempt at such teamwork when it utilized much of the forward section of the Comet, a feature which is apparent when the two aircraft are compared. But the disastrous learning curve which marred the birth of the Comet was another event that had given the US aircraft manufacturers a clearer shot in the commercial airliner business with the 707, DC-8 and the less successful black sheep of the trio, the Convair 880. The Caravelle, good as it was, was no challenge to that kind of business onslaught.
Back to the drawing board
Many concepts and configurations were projected before a design for the first Airbus was finalized, some of them truly bizarre, and reaching an agreement particularly on the range and capacity of the first Airbus was the subject of a good deal of dispute, since by the late Sixties, the nascent Airbus consortium had expanded to include Britain, France, Germany, Spain and for a time the Dutch.
Some countries, most notably Britain and France, periodically threw tantrums and withdrew from the partnership over various squabbles only to return, so it was hardly smooth going from day one and the Entente was often less than Cordiale. Nevertheless, eventually it was agreed that the Airbus would be a wide-bodied twin-engine aircraft with a range of roughly 1,200 miles – typical flights were expected to be around 800 miles – but with the intention of the aircraft being economically operable at ranges as little as 350 miles. Passenger capacity was finally agreed upon at 250-350, so it was christened the A300 in order to reflect the capacity it was likely to end up with. This was less than pleasing, particularly to the German contingent who argued for something smaller but they were happy to have a shot at getting into the airliner business by any means, so they went with it anyway.
As far as passenger jets go, none of this was especially unusual in itself. What would make the A300 innovative, was that it was to carry such numbers with just two engines, and production of the major components would be widely dispersed around several different nations. So in 1969, the fledgling Airbus A300 design was previewed at the Paris Air Show, complete with a cockpit mock up.
To fly as intended with just two engines, the A300 had to be aerodynamically efficient, which manifested itself in an innovative rear-loaded wing – a concept the Hawker Siddeley Trident had pioneered. The A300’s flaps would be of the simple fowler type rather than the triple-slotted ones common on other airliners. Moreover, in order to operate in European skies, the A300 had to be able to fly in all weather and make Category 3 landings, so it had to be well equipped.
In the late Sixties, conventional wisdom had it that large capacity airliners needed three or four engines to ensure safety, and in the face of this many ridiculed the concept not only of just two engines, but also the notion that the A300 could be built competitively by several nations separated by large distances and cultures, not to mention by five different languages. After all, at the time they began cooperating on this venture, it was less than twenty years since they’d all been building aeroplanes to bomb the hell out of each other.
Now things got serious. The inter-nation squabbling needed to cease if the A300 was to succeed; the Airbus consortium had to be seen to be one that was going to go the distance. So on the 18th of December 1970, the discussions, arguments and half-hearted promises came to an end and Airbus Industrie GIE officially opened for business. This was no ordinary company. It had been formed as a Groupement d’Interets Economique under a fairly new French law specifically aimed at making cooperative ventures such as this, rock solid. GIE status made Airbus Industrie more like a treaty between the partner nations than a mere company. All parties and Governments involved were effectively guarantors of the venture, meaning they were in it for the long run and this gave the consortium instant business credibility with regard to how stable it would be. There would be many cooks, but only one chef.
As economically sound and reliable as the A300 was, sales were still slow, and what really opened the door for sales of the new aircraft, was again a novel approach Airbus took to gain orders for it. To get the ball rolling, they needed one of the ‘Big Four’ US airlines to take an interest in the A300, and the only one they could persuade to do that, was Eastern Airlines, which at that time was in fairly dire financial straits and more than willing to seek the means to reduce costs.
Eastern needed an aircraft of a size between its Lockheed L-1011 Tristars and Boeing 727s, both notably featuring three engines. The A300 fitted the bill, but the problem was Eastern could not afford the shiny new A300. Realizing that if they could get the A300 in service with one of the Big Four, it would finally crack American resistance to sales, the Airbus marketing people came up with an interesting solution - they gave Eastern a free trial! In actual fact this was not hard for Airbus to do, since the A300 at that time was selling so poorly that there were a few ‘white tails’ forlornly sitting on the tarmac at Toulouse, awaiting buyers.
The deal was, four A300s would be ‘leased’ to Eastern for six months during 1977 at no cost othr than for the interior fitting out, and if at the end of that of those six months, Eastern did not like the A300s, they could simply return them to Airbus with no penalty. Naturally, Eastern eagerly snapped up such a chance to save fuel costs, and they introduced the A300 to their fleet, christening it the ‘Whisperliner’, where it proved a great success. The economic savings Eastern made with the A300 were enough to convince them to order 23 new Airbus A300s the following year, with options on another nine. And that’s how Airbus cracked the American sales market.
A legacy of innovation
It is not merely the fact that the A300 hauled a lot of people around on two engines which made it an innovative and interesting airliner though. From a technical standpoint, the A300 really did push the envelope. Although the early A300 models did not feature a two-man cockpit, nor side stick controllers or the fly-by-wire that the later models sported, the A300 did push boundaries in other respects right from the outset. It’s wide-bodied configuration made it a great medium range cargo hauler, and its cockpit, whilst not the modern wonder we see in today’s Airbus airliners, was nevertheless very modern and ergonomic for the time, with the focus on simplicity of operation getting an early outing even in the A300 prototype – hardly surprising with former Porsche designers at the Airbus drawing boards.
An early use of computers to command various aspects of flight control in the A300 was a precursor to what we are all familiar with today, with the A300’s N1 computer able to manage thrust at various stages of a flight automatically. This may not seem that impressive these days, but back in the mid-seventies it was a revelation. Furthermore, the glare shield controls for the automatic flight control systems on the A300 look very similar to what we see on most modern airliners today, and it is obvious that what has followed from most manufacturers is based on this A300 concept. This is of more than passing interest to flight simmers too, since it means the A300 is a lot easier to get the hang of than other aircraft from the same era, as it has a cockpit more akin to that of a modern jetliner when compared to its contemporaries.
The last A300 EADS built, was completed in 2007, being a freighter for Federal Express of the 600 series, with all the fly-by-wire features that are familiar to everyone as Airbus trademarks. With that, the A300, and indeed the A310 production lines closed down, but the A300/A310 series itself is set to carry on flying for very many years, with EADS committed to providing support for it until 2049, so it is likely that the A300 will not be gone from the skies for quite some time.
The ideal flight simulation heavy?
What is especially interesting for the flight simmer where the A300 is concerned, is the fact that it is a big aircraft that is suited to short flights; unlike so many of the other heavy jets one can get for Flight Simulator, it is entirely realistic to perform fairly short flights with the A300, which is something that will appeal to those who don’t want to make a nine hour flight on their PC.
As noted, even though it is an Airbus, the early variant A300 cockpit is not the side stick controlled computerized mystery that many Boeing fans regard the Airbus as, thus the A300B4-200 is an accessible aircraft for those more used to flying products made in Seattle as opposed to Toulouse.
So we may be looking at an ideal choice for a lot of simmers, and that being the case, let’s see exactly what SimCheck have come up with.
Installation, versions and system requirements
Created by SimCheck and marketed by Aerosoft, this A300 is for FSX only. It is available as a download or as a boxed version on disk and has recently undergone a patch (to version 1.20), which requires it to be reinstalled if you have an earlier version since the patch is in fact a completely new .exe file. The patched download 1.20 version is the subject of this review.
Priced at 39.99 Euros for the boxed version and 37.99 Euros for the download (which is about 50 bucks, or around 35 quid), the download is approximately 394Mb in size, expanding to around 800Mb when installed. Installation is a simple click on the .exe file; whereupon you key in your serial number and off it goes. It managed to find my FSX installation (which is on my E Drive) without a fuss and I installed/uninstalled the download version three times (as a test) to discover it worked flawlessly on all three occasions, so no worries there.
Aerosoft recommends you have Flight Simulator X updated to SP2 or Acceleration standard with either, Windows 7, Vista or XP as your operating system. A multi-core processor is recommended, as is at least 2Gb of RAM and at least a 512Mb graphics card, although they do say it will manage better on 3Gb of RAM and 1024Mb graphics. Also worth noting is that you will need a fairly up to date version of FSUIPC installed, this can be the free unregistered version. I used the latest registered version for the purposes of this review as the documentation recommends FSUIPC version 4.581 or later.
What you get for your money
Upon installation, it very soon becomes apparent that you get a lot of bang for your bucks. For a kick off, you get both the A300B2-200 and the B4-200 variants, the main differences between these being MTOW, fuel capacity and range, and as a consequence, a very slight variance in placard speeds. You also get a lot of paint jobs, 23 to be precise, and since there is also a paint kit there are likely to be plenty more kicking about on the ‘net’ before too long.
Also included is a Flight Plan Converter so that you can get plans into the A300’s INS if they should be of an unusual format; a Configurator, so you can tweak the fuel and payload; and a Texture Installer to automate the process of getting downloaded textures easily installed. But the most pleasant surprise is the vast amount of documentation, which comprises no fewer than seven PDFs.
These include a manual for the Carousel INS navigation system, a guide to the livery installer, a normal checklist, a normal procedures guide, a panel overview, a quick start guide, and a tutorial flight guide. All of these are accessible from a SimCheck menu on your PC which is installed with the set up, as indeed are support, forum and homepage html links. This is a lot of stuff and very welcome it is too, since I’ve found that the developers are quick to answer queries on the support forum amongst other things.
What is especially impressive, before you even crank up the SimCheck A300, is the extensive checklist and procedures documentation. Frankly, this is a hardcore simmer’s dream come true and is about as comprehensive a collection of paperwork as you could possibly want, with everything from load sheets to ideal descent profiles and circuit diagrams. If you like the minutia of flying an airliner, you’ll love all this stuff.
Also worth noting here is the fact that Aerosoft have been kind enough to keep the fonts light and the coloured graphics to a minimum, so apart from the fact that you might have to chop down a small rainforest to get enough paper to print it all out, you certainly won’t need a lot of printer cartridges.
All told, the documentation amounts to well over 170 pages and the vast majority of this is stuff you will really want to read too. There is the odd typo here and there, but these are minor and merely stuff that occurs when translating into English, so they don’t affect usability in any way at all. There is a really informative set of documentation on the aircraft and the tutorials are equally as good too.
For the purposes of reviewing this add-on for Avsim, I actually bought some A300 manuals and books, and to be honest, I could have saved my money on that score because the included manuals tell you all you need to know and more. This is the second time I’ve reviewed an Aerosoft product for Avsim and it’s also the second time I’ve been particularly impressed with Aerosoft’s thoughtful approach to manuals. It seems to be their forte.
Of particular interest to anyone considering purchasing the SimCheck A300 will be the tutorial, and I’m happy to report that it is excellent. Based around a short flight from Brussels to London, it will teach you the operation of the A300 including fueling it and topping up the hydraulics, starting it up and getting a flight plan into the INS navigation system, through making a de-rated take-off, managing the climb and the descent, then bringing it in for an ILS approach with a bit of information on navigational charts thrown in for good measure. Even if you knew nothing about all this stuff, you could probably get the aircraft from Brussels to London in one piece by following this guide. It’s a really top-notch job as far as tutorials go.
External and internal model and features
Having installed the shiny A300, it was time to check out its appearance. With 23 paint jobs to choose from, this is a fun thing to do, but what really matters of course since you could repaint it if you wanted to, is the 3D model itself. I could bang on about this of course, but pictures probably say it better, so below are a series of screenshots of the A300.
I’ve also stuck in a short walk around video on YouTube as well. Note that the video was captured with every other frame to ensure that there would be clear still images for you to see, so it does not reflect the frame rates the SimCheck A300 actually gets in FSX, which are good when not doing a capture of that kind and writing a massive FRAPS file.
Inside the A300
Most of the interior of the SimCheck A300 is modeled, but despite there being passenger variants in the repaint selections, the only interiors are cargo variants and these are fairly detailed. Nevertheless, the door configurations do match the cargo and passenger variations, so unless you desperately crave a wing view with a seat, this is not a big deal and is in fact a prudent design choice since the vast majority of A300s these days are freighters. If you are fortunate enough to possess Flight 1’s EZDOK Camera, you can happily create yourself a wing view anyway, which is in fact how I got some of the above screenshots.
Lower deck holds are modeled until you get a long way into them by moving the viewpoint camera to extremes, and the main cargo deck is fully modeled for those who want to simulate the ramp agent’s job. If you do choose to operate the ground freight loading equipment, you get an animated freight handler and elevator pushing LD containers into the main cargo deck, with them rolling back into the correct cargo positions.
Obviously the cockpit is modeled, but if virtual cockpits are not your thing, you’ll be pleased to know that there is a full complement of 2D panels available as well. To be precise, what you get as 2D panels can be seen in the FSX menu screenshot below:
In addition to all the panels you’d expect, there is that extremely well-featured ground services utility panel seen in a screenshot above, which allows you to manage everything from topping up the fire suppression bottles and hydraulics, to manually handling refueling pretty much like the real thing. In reality this can be performed by one person on the A300, so ground operations during turnaround in the simulation can be done accurately if you like that sort of stuff.
Once seated in the cockpit, a quick glance around reveals that most of the switches are operable in the VC including the INS, I could only fine one operable switch requiring the use of a 2D panel. Not every single system is simulated, but to be fair, it comes pretty close and is certainly more sophisticated than a lot of fancy add-on FS airliners out there. What is not simulated is largely the kind of thing it would not make sense to include, since if it was you’d have to do the flight engineer’s job as well as that of the pilot and co-pilot.
That said, all the fun stuff on the engineer’s panel does work and indeed is very well emulated. For example, much of the automatic reversion of systems, depending on what sources you have selected, is just like the real aircraft so you will find things like the parking brake not working until you have sufficient pressure in the related yellow hydraulic system, for which, the auxiliary pump that is found on the real aircraft is also simulated on the SimCheck version, and you’ll notice stuff such as the ground power overriding the APU if you have it connected.
If you like doing things such as pressurizing and depressurizing the aircraft for various stages and altitudes of the flight, you can do all that on the engineer’s panel, and the fuel system, hydraulics, pneumatics, electrics and bleed air switching are all there and operational just as their real world counterparts, so you’ll notice that the APU and all the buses on this ‘Bus’ work like the real thing.
This is actually a remarkably robust bit of programming and I was impressed by its fidelity to the real deal in terms of how systems interact with one another. It may not be something you want to play with, but it is nice to know that you can if you wish.
Realism does not extend to the circuit breakers on the back bulkhead being operational, thus you won’t be able to simulate failures by ripping a fuse out, but then again, the A300 is very reliable and has a lot of dual and triple redundancy built in anyway, so much of that would be rather pointless unless you were after getting a certification as a flight engineer on the real thing. In short, this is a fairly hardcore treatment of the real cockpit, but not so hardcore that you have to worry about fuses blowing or what to do about landing it on one wheel if the gear fails to lower, although obviously you can actually have it do that if you like via the normal failures FSX can generate.
Starting the thing up requires the correct procedures, and unless you get things right, you will find various systems are offline such as the autopilot not able to be engaged unless you have the right trim and damper switches properly set on the overhead.
On the subject of the Captain and FO’s panels and switches, this is really very realistic indeed. There are some compromises on trivial things such as cockpit lighting options for the main panel floods and the radar is non-functional, but apart from that it is basically a case of all systems go, and you can play around with them to your heart’s content. They all work pretty much like the real deal, which means it is just as well that the documentation, and particularly the tutorial which comes with the SimCheck A300, is as good as it is! So if you think all this sounds rather daunting, then you’d be wrong. The tutorial PDF is more than up to the task of comfortably easing you into that left seat, or the right seat if you prefer.
At its heart, the A300 has a wonderful series of automatic computing aids which makes it fun to mess around with and ultimately very engaging to fly properly. So if getting the flex temperature settings correct and using the right take off, climb, cruise and descent thrust are the kinds of things you like, or would like to like, then this could be the bird for you. In particular, the N1 computer which made the A300 such a hit with pilots, is extremely well simulated and in combination with an excellent incorporation of the Carousel INS, which can be used in either a complex or simple fashion depending on your preference, this is about as good an introduction to navigation 1970s-style as one could hope for.
If that INS has you worried by the way, it’s worth pointing out that you can have it load an FS flight plan with just a few simple clicks, and so long as you slave the navigation system to the autopilot properly, the A300 will cheerfully fly itself where your flight plan tells it to go. So whilst it is not what could be described as an FMC-guided no-brainer to fly, neither is it an aircraft that will have you scratching your head in puzzlement as it refuses to follow your planned course.
There are numerous hidden click spots to assist you with stuff if you so desire. For example, with one click on the fuel weight readout and one on the ASI, you can have the it automatically calculate the V-speeds for you and set the bugs to the correct positions, or you can of course also do it manually if you prefer, but it is things like this which assist you in lieu of a genuine zigzag that will ensure this is an FS aircraft that is suited to hard ore and partially hardcore simmers alike.
So to conclude the interior overview, I would say the SimCheck A300 is among the more realistic FS airliner offerings in terms of systems, with a cockpit that is largely functional and certainly fun to be in. Neither old school nor new school, the A300 is a fascinating hybrid snapshot of a time when computers were just starting to make themselves known on the flight deck.
With an array of computer-aided gizmos, an INS navigation system and full auto land capability, like the real deal, you could theoretically barely touch the yoke and get the SimCheck A300 from A to B. But doing that all the time is no fun and you are going to want to drive the thing for yourself at some point. Fortunately, this is where the SimCheck A300 scores big time as well. It has a genuine ‘heavy’ feel to it when flown manually, with lots of inertia, yet manages to also seem sure-footed thanks to a very faithful emulation of the real aircraft’s superior aerodynamics. Or to put it another way, it’s pretty damn convincing and great fun to fly.
Courtesy of the excellent cockpit computer aids to help plan your thrust settings for departure, and an equally accomplished configuration utility to set everything else up, take off is a simple affair. Like the real A300 with its impressive aerodynamics at light to medium weights, it is off the deck in quite a sprightly fashion and able to climb at a fair old lick. As with the real thing, it is capable of cruising at up to Mach 0.84, but in reality you are likely to find better economy at Mach 0.75 or thereabouts.
When it’s time to dangle the Dunlops and set it down with those big old flaps and gear out in the slipstream, if you get your fuel calculations right, you can bring it in at under 140 knots,which is much like the real thing. But being a bit of a slippery fish on the descent, it’s well worth planning the let down in a timely fashion since it is a big old bird that likes to keep going - especially when heading downhill - although I was pleased to note that it handled so convincingly and predictably that I didn’t even bother with an auto land on my first go at getting it down.
As luck would have it, I managed to grease it right onto the piano keys at Heathrow on my first go. Later making the same flight, I got an impromptu chance to appreciate the N1 computer again and the efficacy of the TOGA setting when a runway incursion from one of those pesky newer BA Airbuses at Heathrow forced me to go around. This was rather ironic, since BA cabin crews were actually on strike that day!
Yup, it’s a delight to fly manually and an engagingly different experience to master in automated flight, being kind of familiar but just unusual enough to make life interesting. In fact I’d have to say it’s a bit of a winner all around.
Another important thing with simulated airliners is the audio. Those General Electric turbofans were an unusual sound in the skies overhead back when the A300 made its first flight, when screaming turbojets on 737-200s and DC-8s were more the order of the day and Comets and Caravelles were still a regular sight. So the sound is something that is contemporary but ever so slightly different from the average modern airliner. Generally speaking, SimCheck have got this right, with the deep growl of a high bypass engine when you are aurally positioned in front of the engines and more of a jet sound when at the rear, facing the exhaust.
Nevertheless, one area where this is not as convincing as it could be is on the take-off roll from the VC. In the cockpit of the real A300, as the power goes on one tends to hear a bit of a jet whine which rapidly changes to that good old high bypass growl, and that was a bit lacking from the SimCheck A300’s VC. If I had any criticism to level at all on this aircraft, this would probably be my only one, and fortunately it is something which could be relatively easily rectified. However, all of the other sounds are top notch in my opinion, so I don’t want to come across as mean in picking on the one that could do with a bit of a tweak because it is about the only thing I would change. And keep in mind that this is a little bit subjective in any case.
I do have one other minor criticism though, and that is the plastering of the SimCheck logo on the yoke and back cockpit bulkhead. I can understand SimCheck being justifiably proud of what they have made here and all credit to them, but I really don’t want to see their logo on the yoke of what is supposed to be a product made by Airbus. If it was up to me, I’d ditch that logo off the yoke as it is a bit reminiscent of the equally incongruous ‘rabbit poster’ in the Captain Sim 757.
The SimCheck A300 is really rather hardcore when you look at how realistic the systems simulation is, but because it is a simulation of an airliner that was meant to be easier to fly than its contemporaries, in practice hardcore does not mean hard to do. Thanks to the great tutorial documentation it ends up being something that is just different enough and just challenging enough to be entertaining and an important aircraft that is kind of the missing link between all the old steam gauge airliners and the glass cockpit wonders of today.
While it is nicely modeled and textured, you can see for yourself that it doesn’t rival the absolute pinnacle of modeling and texturing such as can be seen on the PMDG J41 and Aerosoft’s own A320. But then again, the truth is that it doesn’t really need to do that because it succeeds in spades where it really matters, with excellent flight and systems modeling and intelligent choices on what to simulate and what to leave out. Thus it is immensely likeable.
In short, this is a really great add-on for FSX; well deserving of being regarded as up there with the best of them and I recommend you do yourself a favour and check it out very soon because this is a ‘Bus’ you definitely don’t want to miss. And that’s coming from a Boeing fan.
What I Like About The A300
What I Don't Like About The A300
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