AVSIM Commercial Utility Review

Reality XP

Wx500 Weather Radar
and
ST3400 TAWS/RMI

Rating Guide
Publisher: Reality XP
Description:  Weather Radar and Terrain Awareness Warning System with RMI
Download Size:
Wx500=3.21 MB
ST3400=6.62 MB
Format:
Auto-Install
Simulation Type:
FS 2004
Reviewed by: Brian Fletcher AVSIM Sr Staff Reviewer - 23 May 2006

Introduction

For this review we are going to be taking a look at two of Reality XP’s award winning products that are sure to enhance any Flight Sim enthusiast's home cockpit. The first product deals strictly with weather. Even though many simmers like to hunt down the storms, real world pilots (for the most part) prefer to avoid them. To help you accomplish this, Reality XP has released the Wx500 Weather Radar to give you ample notice of dangerous weather systems that should be avoided. The whole point; to help you create the smoothest and most efficient flight plan possible.

So given the fact that Flight Simulator does not penalize you for a crash quite like in the real world, why would you want to spend your money on an instrument that helps you avoid some of the most impressive and eye catching weather systems? To answer this question I took a look at the Wx500 promotional page on Reality XP’s website, and it all became clear. First and foremost is the added realism. With the exception of the Air Force and Navy Hurricane Hunters and the National Meteorological Weather Service, it is not typical for aircraft to go hunting down foul weather. But here’s the neat part, even if you do want to go searching for horrid weather, this instrument can help you do that too; whether you’re looking for the storms or trying to avoid them, the Wx500 has you covered.

The second aspect of this add-on that caught my attention is all of the features. In addition to other pros that I will mention throughout this review, the Wx500 Weather Radar includes a multitude of features including gain control, radar beam tilt angle, WX, WXA, map modes, weather attenuation compensation (WAC), radar ground clutter echoes, and radar shadow from heavy water bodies. Also included is an EZ mode to help introduce you to weather picture interpretation and an EZ configuration program to help you easily install the Wx500 into any aircraft you wish with a simple click of the mouse.

Join me in the “Exploring the Wx500” section of this review and I will clarify what all of these features mean and discuss this product more in depth, but for now, let’s take a sneak peak at the other item under review. The second product from Reality XP is the ST3400 TAWS/RMI, which, among other things, acts as terrain awareness warning system, radio magnetic indicator, traffic collision avoidance system, and ground proximity warning system all in one.

Accessible from the same sub panel as the Wx500, the ST3400 includes TCAS and Mark V GPWS modes, TAWS, FLTA, and PDA modes, audible and visual alerts, and the same EZ installer to ease the installation process into each aircraft. Other features include a complete airport database and the ability to work with any default or add-on GPS and flight plan display.

In addition to all of the aforementioned features, the ST3400 TAWS/RMI terrain, topographic, and navigation way point maps are compatible with the default and add-on mesh terrain throughout the virtual world. And just as the Wx500 works for the daredevils and conservative pilots, this instrument will fit the needs of those searching for dangerous undulation and those who prefer to avoid it.

This instrument will be covered in more detail in the “Exploring the ST3400 section. But before I get too much further into this review, let me show you the proper steps for installation. The first step is to visit the Reality XP website at www.reality-xp.com to download the products at $24.95 USD each. While you’re there you may want watch the promotional videos to see these gauges in action.

Installation ...this will take a while

Okay, it is not really that time consuming, unless you have a lot of aircraft that you want to install the WX500 and ST3400 in. That is because you will need to add the gauges to each aircraft individually, but don’t worry, there is an auto installer to ease this process. Of course before we do that, we need to install the program which can be done by double-clicking on the Reality XP icon titled to identify either the Wx500 or ST3400. You will need to make sure that your internet is enabled, and have your key code handy that you received when you purchase the product.

Test System

Computer Specs
Compaq Presario SR1232
AMD Athlon 2.2 GHz
2 GB Ram
NVIDIA Ge Force FX5500
StarLogic 21” Flat Panel Monitor @ 1024 X 768
CH USB Flight Yoke
CH USB Rudder Pedals
Saitek X52 Flight Control System
FTP 290 Throttle Quadrant
Bose 5:1 Surround Sound

Laptop
Toshiba Satellite
1.6 GHz Intel Celeron M
512 MB DDR2 SD Ram
Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 900

Flying Time:
109 hours

After you enter your key code, verify the FS9 directory, and agree to the terms of use, the program will be installed and accessible from a few different locations. The easiest way to access the help manuals and panel installers is to go to the “Start” menu, then to the Reality XP sub folder. Here you will find the instrument configuration utility, a help file for that utility, a service manual, and a users manual. These files can also be found in the FS9 directory in a folder labeled “Reality XP”.

The Wx500 and ST3400 manuals are 18 and 12 pages respectively, each containing anything and everything that you will ever need to know about using these instruments. The Wx500 manual begins with an overview and continues by explaining the general features. You will then get an introduction to weather radar and weather interpretation, followed by operation specifics in Flight Sim, and while in flight. The manual for the ST3400 also begins with an overview and explanation of the general features, then goes into discussing operations in Flight Sim, and ends with a great explanation of the Ground Proximity Warning System (GPWS).

Okay, we have the program installed and ready to use, right? Wrong, now we have to put the instruments into each of the aircraft that we want to use it in. To do this, go to the “Start” menu, then select the sub folder titled “Reality XP”, then pick which instrument you want to install, and finally, select that instruments configuration utility, which will be titled “WX500config”, or “ST3400config”. The program will first compile all of the aircraft in your inventory, then display them for you to choose from. Select which ever aircraft you wish and click on the button on the bottom right side of the screen that says “configure aircraft”.

A new screen will appear that has a picture of the aircraft panel on the right and a series of options on the left. You will first need to check the box next to the name of the instrument that you want to install. Then you can choose where you want the drop stack to be positioned. The drop stack is a small panel that you can choose any of the Reality XP instruments from in the “cockpit” view. You can choose to position the drop stack on the upper left, upper right, lower left, or lower right side of the panel.

Now you will need to position the instrument where you want it to be displayed on your panel. You can place it anywhere you wish, but you will not have the option of resizing it in the installer (that will come later). While placing the instrument, you can use the drop down menu to pick which of the available panels you want to display the instrument on, i.e. main, overhead, radio, FMC, etc. Finally, once you have everything right where you want it, go ahead and click on the “Apply” button, and you are ready to go fly.

You will need to perform the aforementioned steps for each of the aircraft that you want to install the instruments in, keeping in mind that you can change the position anytime you want by going back into the configuration utility. You can also uninstall the instruments by going right back into the configuration utility and selecting the aircraft that you want to remove the instrument from and removing the checkmark from the box next to the name of the instrument.

Exploring the Wx500

So now that we have the Wx500 Weather Radar installed, let’s take a close-up look at what it has to offer. To begin you will need to drag your curser over the Reality XP drop stack that will be located either on the top left, top right, bottom left, or bottom right of the panel depending on where you chose to install it. When you place the curser over this sub panel, a drop down will display the Wx500 and any other Reality XP instrument that you have installed in this panel. In this case you can see that both the Wx500 and ST3400 are available.

Click on the instrument that you want to use and it will be displayed where you chose during the EZ installation process. Alternatively, you can display and hide the Reality XP drop stack and the instruments by use of the “shift” key in combination with the applicable number key, which you will have to determine for each aircraft. The instrument will initially display in the “off” mode, but will remain on until you turn it off regardless of whether or not you keep it displayed on the panel.

 

Okay so now the Wx500 is positioned on your panel, let’s go ahead and turn it on. To do this you will need to click on the button in the lower left corner of the instrument. The options will be “OFF”, “STBY (standby)”, “TEST”, and “ON”. For now, let’s go ahead and turn it all the way to the “ON” setting. NOTE: If you are using a program that allows you to zoom by use of the mouse wheel, you will need to left-click on the dial or button in order to keep your view from shifting.

With the Wx500 on we can go ahead and get a few of the more self-explanatory controls out of the way. On the top left side of the instrument is a dial labeled “BRT”, which allows you to adjust the brightness of the display. On the far right side of the instrument are two buttons separated by the label “RANGE”. These buttons will permit you to alter the maximum distance that the radar will detect weather systems, which ranges from 20 knots to 80 knots. The Wx500 does not become less accurate as you increase the range, but the results will appear smaller as you go up. For an aircraft cruising at 250 knots, I find the best range to be 40 knots to get the best display and still have sufficient time to avoid upcoming storms.

 

Now let’s move on to some more advanced features. The first and possibly most important feature of the Wx500 is the radar tilt. Tilting the radar involves adjusting the angle in which the radar departs the aircraft. By default the tilt will be set at 0 and can be altered to plus or minus 15 degrees. You can choose to configure the WX500 in the vertical stabilization mode, which corresponds the angle of the radar with the horizon, or you can disable this mode, which allows the radar to move as the aircraft does.

With the tilt at 0, the radar will depart straight forward from the aircraft with the upper and lower limit distanced evenly. When you tilt the radar, the limits remain the same, but will be directed upwards or downwards by up to 15 degrees either way. This will allow you to see what is above and below your flight level and still let you see just about half of what is straight ahead.

 

Adjusting the radar tilt is essential if you want to get a good reading of where you are going, and where you might be going. As the manual says, “management of the antenna tilt is the single most important function performed by the pilot to ensure that the radar depicts the weather in front of the aircraft as accurately as possible in order to assist in making good tactical decisions”. I would definitely agree with this statement, and here is why; If you are going to deviate from your heading and/or altitude to avoid running into foul weather, than you certainly want to be sure that you are not redirecting yourself into more foul weather.

With all of this talk about adjusting the weather radar to better display the upcoming weather systems it would be nice to know what all of those clumps of color on the screen mean. The weather systems are identified by the color and density as shown on the display. Different types of precipitation are more or less reflective than others, the general order from least to most would be dry snow, dry hail, wet snow, ice crystals, rain, and wet hail. Therefore, clouds containing dry snow or dry hail will produce much less radar echo than clouds containing rain or wet hail.

 

The three colors used to identify the weather systems are red, yellow, and green. Green does not usually represent anything to worry about, unless you happen to see dense sections of it. Yellow is worse, and red is as bad as it gets. When each of the colored sections are less dense, or spotty, than you may not encounter much more than light rain and some turbulence. As the colors get more dense, or thicker, you will want to avoid these areas all together…unless, of course, you are looking to take on the storm.

With that said, let’s take a quick look at some of the other features of the Wx500. First is the “HOLD” button on the bottom of the instrument. You can use this button to toggle the stab mode, which is the vertical stabilization that I talked about earlier. There is also an easy mode which can be selected with the square button to the left of the tilt dial. When using easy mode, the radar is much simpler, providing a top-down view of the weather systems despite where you have the tilt settings.

On the top right side of the Wx500 is a gain control which allows you to adjust the radar gain from 0 to -20 db. The mode selector, located on the left center portion of the instrument is used to select between the weather (WX), weather alert (WXA) and map modes. When in the weather mode, you will see the green, yellow, and red, as described above, to represent weak to heavy returns. In the weather alert mode, the red areas, which represent heavy weather, will flash from red to black. The map mode can be used to sensitize the ground returns, almost making it more like a TAWS, but much less effective and accurate.

Remember the “HOLD” button that I mentioned before? Well, you can also use this button to freeze the display. I am not really sure why you would need to do that, perhaps to take a moment to evaluate your options. Moving on, you can use the “TRACK” + and – buttons to create a yellow centerline to provide a horizontal profile. This line can move in increments of 1 degree, and will remain on screen for about 10 seconds. And that just about does it for the features, now let’s take a look at where you need to have your settings for best results.

 

According to the manual, and my personal experience, you will want to increase the cloud draw distance, cloud density, and cloud detail for best results. Anything less than medium will greatly reduce the Wx500’s ability to decipher weather systems. But, if you are trying to find a happy median between display and frame rates, you can just set the cloud draw distance up and leave the rest down. This will allow the Wx500 to work its magic, and still allow you to maintain reasonable frame rates.

Speaking of frame rates, you may need to make some adjustments if you are running a modest computer. It has been said that weather themes, especially those with more density, like heavy thunderstorms, can be a major drain on the fps. And if you want to get any use out of the Wx500, you will need to have some type of adverse weather, or else it would be pointless to have. However, I can say that the instrument itself will not make a big dent in the frame rates. On average, I found no more than a couple of frame rates difference having the Wx500 installed and turned on when compared to the same aircraft without it.

If you would like more information on the Wx500, you can join me for a flight later on, or you can visit the Reality XP website, but for now it’s time to move on to the ST3400. We can now rest assured that our passengers will not encounter too much turbulence, so let’s go make sure that we don’t run them into any mountains.

Exploring the ST3400

The ST3400 TAWS/RMI serves a variety of purposes, so let’s dive right in and get the easy stuff out of the way. By default, the instrument will load with the terrain map displayed, you can use the “TERR” (terrain), “TOPO” (topographic), and “RMI” (radio magnetic indicator) buttons to switch between these three views. For now, let’s click on the topographic map. In this mode you will see that the type of map is displayed in the top left corner, along with the track, heading, and range. On the display you will notice groups of colors that represent undulation, not dissimilar from the GPS terrain view.

 

On the right side of the screen will be 14 small boxes stacked vertically, each containing its own color. You will use this visual reference to determine the severity of the undulation in a given range. The terrain will be displayed with dark brown to represent the highest terrain, and lighten to tan as the terrain becomes flatter. Continuing downward through the scale you will see green textures, which represent relatively flat land, followed by blue for water, and ending with a cream color for terrain below sea level. You can determine how far the undulation is from your aircraft by use of the graph on the display, and your heading as compared to its location can be determined by using the triangular icon on the bottom of the display, which shows the direction your aircraft is going.

Though you will not get exact altitudes given for upcoming undulation, the color coding provides a quick and easy way to determine whether or not you will clear these obstacles. But this display is not the only indication that there is trouble ahead, there is also an audible GPWS to warn you if immediate action is required to prevent an incident. The GPWS has six callout modes that activate when your aircraft is within certain parameters.

 

Mode 1- Excessive Descent Rate – This mode remains active for the entire flight from takeoff to landing. If the aircraft begins to descend too quickly, then you will hear the callouts “Sink rate” and “Pull Up”. However, when you are on a valid ILS glide slope, the GPWS will desensitize to prevent it from becoming a nuisance.

Mode 2- Excessive Terrain Closure Rate- This mode remains active during climb out, cruise, and during approach before you reach the glide slope centerline. The callouts “Terrain…Terrain” and “Pull Up” will sound when the radio altitude rapidly decreases.

Mode 3- Altitude Loss After Takeoff- This mode will alert you with the callout “Don’t Sink, Don’t Sink” if your aircraft has a significant loss of altitude during the takeoff phase of flight. Once the GPWS concludes that you have gained enough altitude to no longer be in the takeoff phase, this mode will be deactivated.

Mode 4- Unsafe Terrain Clearance- This mode, which is divided into two parts, will alert you when you do not have a sustained altitude to safely clear upcoming undulation. You will be warned with the callouts “Too Low…Terrain”, “Too Low…Gear”, and “Too Low…Flaps”, depending on whether or not your altitude and airspeed is not sufficient for gear and flap extension, or if you are simply approaching hazardous terrain.

Mode 5- Excessive Deviation Below Glide slope Using a variety of desensitizing features, this mode will advise you when you are excessively below the glide slope The callout here will be “glide slope”

Mode 6- Advisory Callouts- In this, the sixth and final mode, a variety of warnings, such as “Bank Angle”, “Minimums”, will be called out when your aircraft reaches predefined parameters. This is also the mode that notifies you when of your altitude, in increments of 100 feet, when at or below 500 feet AGL, and again in increments of 10 feet for the last 50 feet or so.

 

In addition to the features already discussed, the ST3400 also includes visual indicators of the collision impact site on the display. This is yet one more way for you to tell if you are not going to clear an upcoming obstacle. As I mentioned before, there is also a radio magnetic indicator, which can be accessed by pushing the “RMI” button, and the option to switch from the terrain to a topographic map. So let’s go put these instruments to use and see what else we can find out about them.

Let's Give Then A Try

For today’s flight I have chosen to go hurricane hunting up the east coast of the U.S. I will be departing from the Jacksonville Naval Air Station and heading out over the Atlantic. Eventually I will head back to the mainland and find some place to land, but I am not too worried about that right now. Before I begin I would like to give a special thanks to Daisuke Yamamoto, Hiroaki Kubota, and Toshikazu Harada for the use of their excellent Lockheed/Kawasaki P-3A available at AVSIM as p3_au_as.zip.

The first step is to follow the instructions as outlined in the “Installation” section of this review to install the Wx500 and ST3400 in the panel with the drop stack. With that done, I have loaded my flight departing from the Jacksonville NAS (KNIP), and will resize the instruments to fit into the panel without impeding my vision of necessary gauges. Now I’m ready to takeoff and go looking for some storms.

 

As you can see from the weather radar display there is little or no precipitation within a 40 knot range of the aircraft. Even when extending the range to 80 knots there is still not a drop of rain to be found, but I have a feeling that will change. Looking at the TAWS I can see that this area is relatively flat with only the occasional slight dose of undulation, but again, that will change a little as we head north, so let’s go do it.

For the weather theme that I am using I will cruise at about 8,000 feet for the best chance of running into some foul weather. You can see that according to the Wx500 we are beginning to receive some spotty radar echoes within 40 nm. As I approach the weather system the solid green areas on the display are slowly turning yellow. Given the fact that I am flying in the August at only 8,000 feet, I can assume that this display is showing potential rainfall, as opposed to other forms of precipitation with similar radar echoes, such as wet snow, or ice crystals.

And here it is, just as the Wx500 predicted, fairly heavy rainfall with associated turbulence from the storm system as displayed in red. Had I been piloting a passenger aircraft, the weather radar would have given me more than enough time to adjust my heading or altitude to clear this weather system and keep the ticket holders happy. So now I will enjoy the storm for a while, then we can dim the lights a little and head back to dry land to look for an airport.

 

Now with the sun gone and nothing to light the hilly northeastern terrain other than the occasional moonlight through the clouds, it is time to put the ST3400 to use. At this point I am over the mountainous terrain of West Virginia with the Elkins-Randolph Co. Airport about 35 knots north. Between me and the airport is a multitude of hills, valleys, mountains, and just about everything other than flat terrain. With the TAWS set to a 40 knot range, I can see that there will be a chain of fairly large hills, or possibly small mountains, right smack in the center of my approach.

Using the scale on the right side of the display, I can see that the upcoming undulation ranges between the tan and light brown colors, which indicates that I will likely need to keep my altitude a couple of thousand feet higher than normal until I have a visual of the VASI lights. Once I can see the lights, I now know that I am safe to descend as the mountains are no longer an issue. Because of the darkness I was unable to see any undulation, even when flying at only 5,000 feet. So I went ahead and paused the simulation, switched back to daylight, and took a look around to see just how close I would have come to running into them if I had not had the ST3400…I was a little surprised.

After landing, I took a moment to review how accurate, and essential each of these instruments was for completing this mission. Had I been trying to find a thunderstorm without the Wx500 weather radar, chances are that I would have failed. But I am certain that if I were trying to avoid foul weather, I probably would have run right into it. My analysis of the WX500; very successful.

When I think of just how close I could have come to the mountains surrounding my destination airport, I am very happy that I had the ST3400 up and running. Even though the GPS could have given me a hint of what is going on down below, the accuracy does not compare to the TAWS. And a GPWS system by itself would not have told me where and how elevated the undulation is. Therefore, my analysis of the ST3400 is; also very successful.

As I noted when describing each of these instruments, they can combine to do much more than just look for weather and undulation, but in this example, I can not think of any other tool that I would have preferred to get me through this flight. Not only did both of the instruments give me an ample opportunity to determine the correct action to take, but they did it with a sense of realism like no other instruments I have evaluated thus far.

We're On Final

I can not in good conscience place my stamp of approval on any product without first asking myself two very important questions. First, I question whether or not I would buy this product again if I were to lose the copy I have, and secondly, I must take into account how long the product will remain on my system. After all, with the multitude of products that I review and acquire for my own personal use, the disk space gets eaten up pretty quick.

To answer the first question, I doubt that I would buy both of them, but perhaps I would choose one or the other. It’s not because they aren’t stellar products, but for $24.95 each ($49.90 for both), that seems just a little steep for instruments. I have come across some fantastic aircraft, scenery, and utility add-ons for less. As for the second question, I predict that both of these instruments will remain in my wide bodies, and a few other aircraft, for quite a while to come, likely well into the next version of Flight Simulator.

So who would benefit from the Wx500 and ST3400? While I believe that they can both make a great addition to any simmers home cockpit, I think that those of you using third-party flight analysis programs have the most to gain. For example, when using FS Passengers it is essential that you keep your passengers satisfied… flying through a hail storm will not put smiles on their faces. And as for the ST3400, it could come in handy for other programs, like Airliner Pilot, where you will be performing many flights in the evening when it can be difficult to see mountains and other impediments.

On the up side, I am extremely satisfied that both the Wx500 and ST3400 do everything that they claim and more. I find the displays to be crystal clear, the information is relative and accurate, and they can be resized to fit into just about any cockpit. I like having the ability to use them in any view, and there was not a single bug or glitch to be found.

On the down side, I really would prefer to have the ability to install the gauges into my panels in place of other instruments. For example, I would like to have placed the Wx500 in my Airbus A380 panel as a permanent fixture, just like the FMC or heading indicator. I have consulted a few Flight Sim XLM gauge designers who have informed me that it is possible to place the gauges in this manner by altering the panel configuration file, but with all of the aircraft I have in my inventory, that would be very time consuming.

Do I recommend either of these instruments? Sure, as long as you are seeking to avoid heavy weather or hunt it down, then the Wx500 is just for you. And if you want an all-inclusive TAWS, RMI, and GPWS system, then the ST3400 is for you too. They have both earned my stamp of approval, but I would like to see the price come down a bit. I would feel much more comfortable recommending these products at five or ten dollars less than advertised.

So to sum it up, I really enjoy using both of these products, I continue to do so, and I will likely continue using both of them for a long time to come. Aside from the price, of which the cost-value can be easily debated, there is nothing bad to say about either product, that is assuming that I can someday implement them both directly into my panels as opposed to using them as sub panels. Are they a must have? Not really, but I will say that they are guaranteed to make a great addition to any Flight Sim enthusiasts arsenal.

 

What I Like About the Wx500 and ST3400
  • Accurately based on real world instruments.
  • Both instruments can be moved and resized to your liking.
  • The instruments are extremely accurate, even at maximum range.
  • The displays are clear, legible, and easily understood.
  • The frame rates do not take a big hit, even with both instruments active.
  • The documentation is informative, concise, and straight to the point.
  • The drop stack and instruments can be hidden as a sub panel
  • Both instruments are available in all views.
  • Every dial and button are fully functional…no useless eye candy

 
What I Don't Like About the Wx500 and ST3400
  • $24.95 each? You can decide if this is a good deal or not.
  • I would prefer to have the option of installing the instruments in the panel with the rest of my gauges.
  • The instruments are too large when the flight loads.
  • I would like to be able to position the drop stack wherever I want as opposed to the four optional locations.

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Wx500 and ST3400

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