AVSIM Commercial FSX Utility Review

FS2Crew: Leonardo Maddog Edition

Redux

Product Information

Publishers:  FS2Crew

Description: Virtual first officer add-on .

Download Size:
148 MB

Format:
Download
Simulation Type:
FS9 / FSX
Reviewed by: Eduardo Ocampo AVSIM Staff Reviewer - June 4, 2010

Introduction

So, right now, there’s an application for every critical aspect of virtual flying. Weather? Active Sky. ATC? IVAO and VATSIM for those who enjoy online flying; Radar Contact for those who don’t. Complex aircraft? Pick your favourite! Another crewmember? Err…

I bet something similar to what I just wrote were the line of thoughts that came up to the minds of the blokes at the FS2Crew development team. Their solution? A virtual First Officer.

Up until recently, all of our virtual flying had to be done by ourselves. This, depending on the type of airplane we’d fly each time, would create moments of stress, chaos, mayhem and at times, unexpected manoeuvres from our aircraft that caught us with our guards down and with little altitude and speed to orthodoxly correct the situation and land our airplanes “safely”. I guarantee you know why that word is between quotations. However, at least with the MadDog (and several other airplanes), those days are behind us now. As stated in FS2Crew’s website, flying jetliners by yourself is not the way it’s done.

Let me tell you beforehand, that I was (and I still am) remarkably impressed by this product as I reviewed it. The innovative approach used in this add-on is spectacular and makes the world of a difference to virtual flying. I’ll definitely recommend to anyone to use this product.

With that in mind, I’ll gladly introduce you, by means of this review, to your MD-80 First Officer by FS2Crew.

Installation and Documentation

Test System

AMD Sempron 3000+ @ 1.80 GHz
2GB RAM
Nvidia GeForce FX5200
Genius joystick Maxfighter F-23
Windows XP SP3

Flying Time:
40 hours

The installation of the product itself couldn’t be any easier. A downloadable auto-executable file is provided after purchase; download it, find it, double-click it, read it and hit next to install.

Now, since this is software for which FS was not directly made for, you are going to need the Microsoft SAPI Engine, which is the “bridge” that links your voice to FS2Crew and the Flight Simulator itself. Vista users already have it; XP users might need to download it free from Microsoft’s site. Don’t worry though, as both the Readme file and the “Operations Manual” give you clear instructions on how to install the SAPI Engine. Word of advice: There’s no SAPI Engine for the XP-64 bit operating system. The recommendation issued by FS2Crew is to upgrade to Windows 7.

After installation of both programs, the Readme First pops up and it will give you basic information about the FS2Crew MadDog Edition. I will take one sentence from that document: Don’t forget to run the Microsoft Voice Training! The SAPI Engine needs to familiarise with your voice and the way you speak so it can be able to understand your commands. The Voice Training is fairly simple and quick; you just need to read aloud a few paragraphs that the engine gives you and done. It is recommended, especially for those like myself who English is not our first language, to read two or three excerpts from the choices available in the SAPI Engine training to improve the system capabilities to recognise your voice. It is completely worth it since the excerpts don’t take much time to read and the results can improve significantly.

From the documentation point of view, FS2Crew’s MadDog Edition does not fall short. As mentioned before, a Readme First and an Operations Manual are included. The OpsMan is thoroughly detailed and contains all the possible information needed to enjoy this software to its fullest. Everything from the credits and the system requirements to the checklists, flows and dialogues used to interact with your first officer, ground crew and cabin crew are in the OpsMan. Despite the steep learning curve you will experience with this add-on, it will help you to understand a lot more about this magnificent aircraft

Enough said; let’s get to it!

The basics…

Your interaction with this software, besides your voice, is the Configuration Manager (via “Start” menu), the main panel and the configuration panel (the two latter in FS). The Configuration Manager contains a few interesting options like the access to the Operations Manual (there’s one direct access to the PDF on the desktop though) and, in my opinion, the most important button on this window: The “Mute Voice Recognition Assignment”. This option allows you to change the key to instruct FS2Crew to not listen for what you say; this is especially important for those who fly online, since the “Push-to-talk” key on your online flying client and the “Mute Voice Recognition” key can be the same, making your life simpler ;)

The main panel shows up when you left-click the Captain’s Primary Flight Display. Remarkable items from this menu are what I would call the “checklist annunciator”, which shows the next checklist to perform; the “Voice” button, which turns on/off the Speech Recognition Engine and the FA button that upon clicking, will call the flight attendant which then will get in contact with you and ask you “what can he/she do for you”. Try “one water please”. Check the appendixes for the proper flows, dialogues and commands.

The configuration panel, accessible by right clicking the Captain’s Primary Flight Display on the MD-80 cockpit, shows the options for the departure and arrival. This panel contains several adjustable settings that will prevent FS2Crew from creating conflict with other installed software, namely, Aerosoft Enhancement Services and/or FSPassengers. It also lets you program your pushback (if you need it, given the fact that FS2Crew supports “no-jetway” operations) by changing distance and direction of pushback; V-speed selection for the First Officer callouts on take-off roll, take-off flaps and decision altitude at arrival are adjustable from this panel also. The highlight of this panel is the activation of the “First Officer Take-off”; first time ever that I’ve not performed the take-off myself. As it is said on the manual, be ready to kick in and help the “first officer” on the take-off, as a real Captain does whenever there’s a new co-pilot in the right hand seat.

You also have different voice sets, to amuse you with different accents. U.S., UK, Dutch, Irish, Italian, French, German, Finnish and Spanish are the nationalities your first officer can have.

Let’s go flying!

The way I see this, is that you actually implement a real life procedure (CRM or Crew Resource Management) into FS. How? By the use of checklists. And even though the first officer manages airplane configuration almost entirely by himself, you still have to do some homework, i.e. moving a couple of switches, for the software to run according to specifications. Those are your flows as an MD-80 Captain.

The flight starts when the first officer gets into the cockpit, says hello to you and asks you how you are doing. Multiple responses can be given to the question, both good and bad. Immediately after receiving you response, the first officer minds his own business, and while you are setting up the FMS loading the route and preparing the FGCP (Flight Guidance Control Panel, for those unfamiliar with MadDog terminology) you can see and hear the co-pilot performing all of the respective pre-flight tests. Once he’s done, he will call up “Pre-start checklist above the line”, letting you know his readiness to continue with the checklist “below the line” at your request. In the meantime, be ready to answer a couple of questions from the cabin crew and the ramp agent as they will ask you if you are ready to board and if on-board fuel is sufficient.

I’ve got to say this: The immersion you get with this add-on is amazing, as you get to interact with ground crew, cabin crew and a first officer. I remember reading from the FS2Crew’s website that this is a niche software, of course it is! And being an airline pilot myself, I’d recommend this software to those who seriously consider becoming a pilot (or those who are in the process of) as this program teaches a couple of things that they usually don’t teach at flight school. There’s your niche, right there.

Once the checklist is done, contact the ground crew via the interphone.

- “Cockpit to ground”
- Go ahead
- “We’re ready for pushback and engine start”
- Okay, all of the doors and hatches have been closed and the pin has been removed, please release brakes
- “Brakes released”
- Roger that Captain, pushing back and you are cleared to start all engines.

Sounds like a transcription of some radio transmission, but actually, that is the way things are done with FS2Crew. The whole flight is like this; you feel there’s someone there as proficient as you (I hope!) to help you out with the impetuous spirit of the MadDog.

- “Cabin crew, seats for takeoff”
- *Sound of chime*
- *Sound landing lights switches*
- “Line up check”
- *Crew performing “Line Up Checklist”*
- “Ready?”
- Ready, timing
- “Takeoff”
- Takeoff
- *Sound of engines spooling up*

I just love this! All throughout the flight, the crew coordination flows smoothly, that is, if you have made the proper callouts as there are some trigger words for the software to engage, if you will, the other flight modes. Not to worry, though, as the manual clearly states which callouts are trigger commands. There are no abrupt interruptions and certainly no feelings of being left alone throughout the duration of the flight; the software is very stable. Bryan York and his crew have managed to create a great quality add-on, and may I say, one that it’s truly a kind of its own. There’s no such thing as another software like this.

If by now, you are still reading this review instead of purchasing the add-on, I will tell you where this software really becomes helpful: Approach and landing! Let’s put it like this: As if there’s not enough things to worry about while approaching an airport, like terrain, other airplanes, weather, airplane configuration (gear and flaps to name a few), in the MD-80 you have to do it while the airplane wants to go supersonic! You certainly could use another set of hands. Guess what, you have them! Instruct the first officer like it’s done in real life: “Set speed 1-8-5”; “set heading 0-0-5”; “flaps 28”; “gear down”; “flaps 40”; “landing check”. See? No need to take the hand off your joystick while flying that tricky approach, endangering your virtual passengers with risky manoeuvres; those moments, the most critical phase of flight, not only for the simmer (which only has one set of hands), but also for the real life pilots (it is estimated that 46% of air accidents occur while landing), are now easier for you to handle; you’ve got yourself another crewmember.

- “After landing check without APU”

The first officer will perform the checklist silently and will advise you when done.

- “Flaps and slats”
- *Sound of flaps moving to UP position*
- *Sound of engines shutting down and external power kicking in*
- “Parking check”
- Parking brakes
- “Set”
- Flaps/slats
- Up
- APU/ External Power
(…)

Showcase

Let’s face it: It would be very difficult for me to fully show you what this add-on does only on images. So peeping around YouTube, I found 2 videos of someone flying the MD-80 with FS2Crew. Krister, aka kittealand on YouTube (who is also a member of the AVSIM Forums) let me use his videos on this review. I figured these videos would make a better example since they are done by an actual owner of the software whose English is not his native language (Swedish is). Krister uses AES on his FS.

There are two videos, the first one showing the pre-flight procedures. The second one shows departure, landing and shutdown.

Preflight

Departure, landing and shutdown

Summary

Having some time in the MD-83 as an observer for Colombia’s flag carrier, I can give fidelity of the procedures implemented in this software, and with a couple of exceptions (that may vary from airline to airline); they were identical to those I know. The only problem (if it is such) I had with this software is that some of the words used to respond to a challenge from the first officer in the checklists were difficult for the speech recognition engine to get right. The words “check” and “set” were the ones that gave the hardest time. While this may seem somewhat of a problem, it’s actually not, since you can say “next” if you get stuck on a checklist and the first officer will continue the checklist without further turmoil. The recommendation made by Bryan York and FS2Crew is that you should try to speak with an American accent, which will make things easier for the speech recognition engine.

Once you try this software, you are going to want to have one of these for each aircraft you fly in FS. It really is a remarkable invention and an incredibly different angle for flight simulator. I strongly recommend to anyone using this software, whether they have or don’t have experience in the MD-80, to print the A, B, C and D appendixes of the OpsMan (or download a software which permits to see PDF documents whilst on FS) as this might be completely new terrain for most simmers, and given the level of realism and depth in this software, you won’t enjoy it to its fullest unless you have a fairly quick access to certain information. As always, read the entire manual! It’s quality bed-time reading material. It’s worth noting that, despite what this software does; performance is not affected adversely, even on low end systems.

With the SP1 announced on AVSIM forums on February 23, several things were fixed, changed and even a few were added. The highlights from this update are the increased efficiency in the speech recognition and the new commands, which now enables the first officer to set courses and tune navigation aids on your side (captain side), perfect when you’ve got your hands full on approach and landing. Do visit their site after purchasing the add-on, since the SP is not included in the installer.

 

What I Like About FS2Crew For The Maddog

  • Another crewmember in FS!
  • Installation couldn’t be easier
  • The crew coordination implementation, perfect for wannabe pilots
  • The flawlessness operation of the software
  • The developer’s costumer support
  • No adverse impact on performance
  • Leonardo MadDog + FS2Crew = Most perfect add-on combination ever

 

What I Don't Like About FS2Crew For The Maddog

  • May a lighting struck me if there’s something bad about this software

 

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