This FS2Crew product is the fifth in this series of Cockpit Management simulations that operate within other FS9 aircraft. The first one ever developed, reviewed here, operated within the PMDG 737NG. There were then versions for Cessna 172 and the default 737, but a major leap forward was the version developed for the Flight 1 ATR, which I reviewed here last December. It was clear to me that the developer, Bryan Yorke, had not rested on his laurels after developing his first innovative product. Instead he had used the experience and feedback to move the product forward in terms of function and usability. I was therefore eager to see his latest product, FS2Crew for the Level-D 767-300.
At an initial glance, it is rather different from its two main predecessors. Like the version for the Flight 1 ATR, Bryan has been able to get direct access to the innards of the Level-D 767, so there are no "mini-panels" popping up in the corner of the screen, and the First Officer's actions are much more discreet. However, a major difference from the ATR is that the 767 is a much less complex aeroplane to fly, with much more automation, and so its version of FS2Crew is also simpler to use. Some people who may have perhaps tried the ATR version and found it too complex, reflecting the complexity of the turbo-prop itself, may be surprised how much easier the 767 version is. Certainly I have found each version of FS2Crew to be a unique experience, matching the distinctive character of each aeroplane within which it operates.
So let's look at FS2Crew for Level-D 767 in more detail.
Installation and Documentation
Installation is by 107 Mb download, and then purchase using the standard Flight 1 wrapper. There is an optional Flight 1 Downloader Tool available that is useful if you get broken downloads from a bad connection. Once it's installed, you need to run the Level D 767 Configuration Manager before actually loading the 767. There are some other set-up actions that you need to perform within FS9, including setting up dedicated "Main" and "Secondary" keys for you to communicate with your virtual FO amd other colleagues.
Documentation consists of a 75-page manual. This itemises the setup requirements, describes the various panels that you will come across, a description of special procedures like the Monitored Approach, a tutorial flight from SFO to LAX, a list of the actions performed by Captain and Flying Officer in all stages of flight, a separate set of checklists, and diagrams illustrating different types of approaches. Whilst this structure works well when being led through the initial flights, it is not so convenient when you just want to look something up. However a gentleman called Markus Wichmann, who provided something similar for the ATR, has now produced a very clear flowchart that shows who does what, when, and in what order, throughout the flight. A combination of the checklists and the flowchart should get you through most situations and problems.
If you do get into problems or need further advice, there is the user forum hosted here at AVSIM, where responses to issues and questions are prompt. However, as with the earlier products, there appears to be very few issues. I myself came across one or two, but these were being addressed by an Update 1 release, which will probably be available by the time this review is published.
Virtual pilots who have used earlier FS2Crew products could be forgiven for expecting a steep learning curve with this product also. However, my own experience was that this is not the case. Although I had flown the PIC 767 in the days of FS2000, the first time I flew the Level-D 767 was while reviewing this product, so in essence was learning two new products at the same time. Yet, using the supplied tutorial flight, I was able to have a reasonable flight first time. There were none of the time pressures, especially before startup, with lots of people asking questions and sticking bits of paper under your nose. There were interactions and paperwork of course, but it all seemed to happen at a much more relaxed pace. When I mentioned this to Bryan Yorke, the developer, he said that this could be due to three reasons:
The Standard Operating Procedures (SOP's) are based on those of a British airline, and are themselves quite streamlined.
The design reflects a real effort to reduce the learning curve relative to previous products.
The Boeing 767 is a modern jet aircraft with a high degree of automation.
What FS2Crew Does
FS2Crew simulates all those people that a real-life pilot normally interacts with. There's the Ground Crew, who do such things as bring you paperwork and push you back. There are the flight attendants who do such things as tell you when the cabin is ready and bring you cups of coffee. And last but not least, there is your Flying Officer, who works most of the switches, runs through the checklists with you, and points out when you do something wrong. He does reduce your workload so that you, as the pilot, can do all the skilled stuff, like hold the controls, set the autopilot, and plan your descent. However, he is not as pedantic and "lippy" as his ATR equivalent, so he doesn't tell you off for taxiing too quickly!
The procedures that are modelled in FS2Crew are a replica of those used by a British* airline, and it is one of their captains who provided the necessary expertise, as well as helping to beta-test the product. So you can be assured that the checklists that you perform and the formal conversations you are having, are exactly the same as if you were sitting in a flight-deck of that airline. Although there are occasional mouse-click to bring up windows, most of the communication is via the Primary and Secondary keys (I use "M" and "N"), so the whole process is very natural and unobtrusive. Once you are familiar with the product, flights proceed very smoothly. However, if you feel that airline life is getting a bit dull, you can introduce the chance of a bird srike, a sick passenger, or an air rage incident, just to invoke the necessary procedures!
(* Being a Brit myself, I appreciated the typical British politeness. Before doing the Oxygen mask check, the pilots apologise for the noise they are about to make!)
At The Gate
Sitting at the gate, the virtual pilot is facing either the 2D panel or the VC panel. On either of these, there are a number of "hot spots" that, when clicked, bring up special panels for use by FS2Crew. We will meet a number of these in the description that follows.
Clicking in the middle of the Captain's Airspeed Indicator panel brings up the Master Panel, which allows access to a number of important functions. The first one that you will need will be the clock. Clicking on the clock starts FS2Crew, opens the doors, and initiates a 30-minute count-down to the time when you can move from the gate. If you are impatient, you can click and speed up the whole process. Alternatively, if events are getting on top of you, you can pause things and catch up with yourself; however you are unlikely to need to do this, unless you are very unfamiliar with the 767 - I found that everyone else was doing the work around me and I actually had time to relax!
You are now greeted by a cheery Engineer, who asks you how things are. In one of those nice FS2Crew touches, you can either respond that you feel great, or so-so, or else are having a bad air day. He may then make your day better or worse by telling you about your plane's faults, or confirming that there are none. Then it is time for the walk-around. In the SOP's upon which this product is based, it is actually the Captain who braves the elements and does the walk-round. Now is the time to put Active Camera or similar to work, and go and check those tires and lights. Returning to the cockpit, you call up the handling agent, who will tell you your Zero Fuel Weight. You wait until the FO has finished with the FMC (including inputting the location for the IRS) and then you can move on to entering the route.
A little later, the Agent enters the cockpit and hands you the Load Sheet, which confirms your weights and CG TRIM setting for the FMC. Soon after, the FO hands you his Performance Calculation Sheet, with the V-speeds for you to enter into the FMC and on the the Airspeed Indicator bugs. As time proceeds, the Engineer brings the Fuel Slip; the Flight Attendant may ask you to radio to the ground handlers for extra meals or pillows. Then it's time to click the "Brief" button on the Master Panel to bring up the Departure Briefing Panel, and go through the Departure Briefing with the FO. Soon you are ready for the Before Start Checklist, and you respond to the FO's challenges by pressing the Main Button that you previously configured. More paperwork, in the shape of the Distribution Form, appears on your screen. When the Flight Attendant asks you if it's OK to close the aeroplane up, it's now an appropriate time to introduce yourself to the passengers. Clicking the "PA" microphone selector on the pedestal panel brings up the PA Panel, with the appropriate button for welcoming the passengers.
Finally, you're ready to....
Pushback, Star and Taxi
FS2Crew provides its own ground crew, so you don't need to use the one provided by Level-D. You specify the duration of pushback and the direction you wish to turn, and they take care of the rest. When starting the engines, you ask the FO to start either right or left by the appropriate choice of Main and Secondary buttons. He turns all the necessary switches, apart from the fuel levers which are the Captain's responsibility. The FO performs his after start actions, by which time you call for the After Start checklist, which is handled as before. Once you've both confirmed that all is clear on your respective sides, you can start to taxi.
While taxiing, you review the Departure Procedure, run through the Before Takeoff Checklist, and get the cabin crew seated. Sadly, compared to the earlier products, you can't tell your passengers how many planes are ahead in the take-off queue. Approaching the Takeoff point, you run through the Rejected Takeoff review. Soon, hopefully, you are lined up and ready for....
Takeoff and Climb
When you are cleared for takeoff, you make sure your joystick throttle is at idle, and then click the Main Button to ask the FO to set 60% N1. When the FO calls "Stabilized,” you press N1 on the MCP. The FO will call "80 knots", "V1", "Rotate" and "Positive Rate". You will automatically call for the gear after the FO calls “Positive Rate,” and the FO will raise the gear. At 400 feet above the runway, you can either command the FO to engage LNAV by clicking the Secondary Button, or alternatively command the FO to engage HDG SEL by clicking the Main Button. At 1000 feet, clicking the Main Button again causes the FO to select Climb Thrust, VNAV and engage the autopilot. Further clicking of the Main Button causes the FO to retract each stage of flap on your command, after which it's time for the After Takeoff Checklist.
If you prefer, you can get your FO to handle the takeoff instead. A small panel allows you to communicate with him and respond to his calls, and this time you're the one who raises the gear, sets the autopilot etc.
As you continue in the climb, ATC will assign new altitudes and flight levels. You press the hidden click spot located in the middle of the Alt Knob on the MCP (Unfortunately, 2D only, not VC) to simulate pointing your finger at the new altitude setting. The FO will reply "Seen”, as per the SOP's of the airline being modelled. Similarly, any time the mode changes on the EADI, you need to announce that fact. To do that, you open the Master Panel and select "MODE ANN.” A panel appears where you can select the appropriate mode change to announce.
Cockpit life is relatively quiet when in the cruise. There are checks on altimeter accuracy and engine readings. You and your PO can exchange gossip about the job and your families (via a special "chat" hot-spot on the panel). You need to keep the cabin staff informed about flight status, and ask whether there are any special requirements, for example wheelchairs, that you need to relay onward to the arrival airport. And of course, it wouldn't be FS2Crew if you couldn't order your in-flight food and drink!
Now if your cruise involves doing some "pond-hopping", then this FS2Crew product allows you to practice your ETOPS (Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards) procedures. A special ETOPS panel allows you to call for Oceanic clearances, and check and confirm positions, tracks and headings, as you leave and rejoin the security of land-based navigational aids.
As you approach the Top of Descent, you need to perform the Approach Brief. This involves clicking the "Brief" section on the Master Panel, and an Approach Briefing panel opens up, which is similar to the Departure Briefing Panel seen earlier.
Approach and Landing
In the descent, you once again change altitude settings at various points, and indicate these to your FO. At 7000 feet, you press the Main Button to call for, and step through, the Approach Checklist. Subsequent presses of the Main Button will cause the FO to extend flaps, gear, and run through the Landing Checklist. If the weather has closed in, you can do a Monitored Approach, with the FO handling the controls, and another special panel to allow you personally to monitor the instruments. You can also opt for a Cat I ILS, Non-precision, or Circling profile approach, but usually it's a normal Low Drag Noise ILS profile approach that you'll perform.
Once on the runway, the FO calls out the reducing speed, so that you know when to stop Reverse Thrust. On the way into the ramp, the FO does most of the cleaning up of the aircraft, with yoo concentrating on steering. Similarly, when you cut off the fuel, the FO starts his shutdown actions so that you can both run the Shutdown Checklist.
That is a somewhat simplifed outline of a typical flight. As I've indicated, there are variations to handle different operational requirements, and FS2Crew has the flexibility to cater for most needs.
Performance and Reliability
I did not notice any additional performance overhead from using FS2Crew. I also found it to be completely reliable. However it is important to follow the installation instructions for setting it up correctly in the first place. Whilst there is a learning curve involved, it is less steep than for the earlier products. Nevertheless, it is important to follow all the steps specified during the flight, and make all the key depressions, otherwise FS2Crew can get "out of sync" with where you are in the flight. However this is typically only a problem of the early learning stages. Once you have developed a rapport with your virtual FO in the form of FS2Crew, the whole flow becomes standard and second-nature.
This is the second FS2Crew product that I have reviewed, and the third that I have used personally. What continues to impress me is the way in which they are improved and refined each time. This Level-D 767 version clearly shows that the lessons of earlier versions continue to be learnt, as well as the feedback of loyal users, not to mention the realistic practices of airlines themselves.
As I said in the previous review, this is not a product for everyone. If you just like to fly a passenger jet as an essentially solitary experience, perhaps communicating with ATC, but otherwise having no-one to bother you, then you may find that FS2Crew limits your freedom of action. FS2Crew expects you to work as a team with your virtual FO, not to mention other colleagues, and this means that you need to do certain things only at certain times, and not at others. However, for others, who want to immerse themselves fully in the cockpit experience of flying the Level-D 767, this is the product for you. It is realistic, it is absorbing, and it is rewarding. There may also be a third class of virtual pilots, who have perhaps tried FS2Crew products before, but found them too complex for their taste - they may be pleasantly surprised by this one. The 767 is a less complex craft to fly than the ATR 72, and the user interface is much slicker than that developed for the original PMDG 737.
FS2Crew for the Level-D 767 is a solid and reliable product, which mirrors accurately airline cockpit management practice, in a way that is simple to learn and become familiar with. It is as excellent as the excellent Level-D 767 on which it is based.
*To buy this aircraft package, go to FS2Crew
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