What is TOPCAT?
TOPCAT is an acronym for Take-Off and Landing Performance Calculation Tool and is a highly realistic, easy-to-use planning tool for all serious flight simulator enthusiasts. It brings into a single application all of the calculations required to plan for safe and repeatable take-offs and landings.
TOPCAT will provide you, the captain, with Load Sheets, Take-Off and Landing performance analysis, Individual Runway Tables including all relevant speeds (V1, VR and V2), optimum thrust and flaps configurations, de-rated and assumed/flex temperatures and stop margins.
TOPCAT is similar to real-life software and was developed by professional airline pilots.
FAQ’s about TOPCAT is featured on their website however; I thought it would be helpful to post some of this information in this review.
Activation / License
Documentation and Installation
The installation and registration process for this program is quite straight forward and it doesn’t require anything more than following the instructions given during the installation. The documentation provided is hands down one of the most thorough and fully comprehensive 88 page manuals I have come across. It not only explains how to use the program, but it also gives information that teaches the novice user everything they need to know about aircraft performance, it’s almost like being taken to flight school.
One of the features I appreciated the most was the thorough explanation of how to read load sheets, as well as takeoff and landing reports. This really came in handy and I am sure that even experienced simmers will enjoy this.
How good is it?
At first glance I thought that this program would be very complicated to use. After reading the entire manual I had absolutely no doubt in my mind that I would be able to use this tool as it was intended. The documentation is very thorough and it leaves no gray areas or any aspect of the program unexplained.
I have always longed to replicate all aspects of real world flying, after all, when you have information such as weather, cargo/passenger loads, wet/dry runway to name a few, it enables you as a pilot to know exactly what to expect of your aircraft from the time you throttle up for takeoff to braking upon landing.
Out of the box so to speak, TOPCAT is compatible with many of your favorite aircrafts from PMDG, Quality Wings, PSS and other payware and freeware aircraft. This allows not only users of high quality aircraft add-ons to enjoy accurate aircraft performance, but also freeware aircraft users.
Here is a general layout of the program. We are going to examine each page and discuss what it does.
Since each aircraft is unique, this page allows you to select and register your aircraft. It also allows you to configure the weights and thrust policies. These features enable you to give various aircraft specific settings and handling characteristics.
Weight and Balance
data shown in the screenshot shows a flight from KIAH to
FNLU (Angola) This page may seem intimidating to anyone
who is not familiar with weight and
balance but it is quite simple. This page allows you to set up passenger,
cargo and fuel loads for your flight. If you are unsure
of how to calculate fuel
on your own or you do not know how many passengers or the amount of cargo
allowable for a specific flight, TOPCAT has an “auto” feature
that calculates fuel based on the length of the trip
and your payload. Loadsheets are also
products automatically and they can be exported to Microsoft Flight Simulator
Take off data is extremely important. The performance of an aircraft varies sometimes dramatically due to varying weather conditions. This page allows you to calculate takeoff performance using real world current weather information for any given airport utilizing information from various sources (more on this later). TOPCAT is also able to optimize flap settings and thrust settings for any given runway. This feature is extremely useful and one that I find highly practical.
Not much different from the takeoff page, the landing page offers performance data based on various weather conditions and airport operational conditions such as a shortened runway perhaps due to maintenance in effect. TOPCAT calculates the reference speeds and landing distances for varying brake settings and inoperative items on your aircraft.
TLR (Takeoff/Landing Report)
Take off and landing reports can be generated and printed from this page. This is extremely useful when flying in various weather conditions and while using specific runway lengths.
This page is self explanatory. This page allows you to update weather information from various sources such as IVAO, VATSIM, NOAA and ActiveSky. There is also a choice of whether you require METAR or TAF reports.
What about ACARS? Well if you fly for a virtual airline that operates a dispatch system, you will be able to receive loadsheets for your flight directly to your flight deck via ACARS. This feature utilizes Jeroen Hoppenbrouwers ACARS system. For more information see the TOPCAT manual and Jeroen Hoppenbrouwers website.
In closing, the default fuel and payload manager that comes with MSFS is very limited to say the least. I believe that this program takes flight planning to another level of realism that will, in the long run, help you and me both to become more proficient on any given aircraft and also better airmen.
The developers of this program have obviously put a lot into it and they deserve thumbs up for their efforts. Many simmers are already using this program and have all commented that it is an extremely useful tool in flight planning.
Before the era of TOPCAT, I relied heavily on first hand knowledge and limited performance information that was made available by aircraft developers. But now I can confidently say that this program is so comprehensive, that performance charts may now rarely be needed since all of your takeoff and landing data can be calculated and printed at the click of a button.
Summary / Closing Remarks
The TOPCAT tool for me has been the missing link in having that true to life flying experience. Performance calculations are an everyday part of flying whether you are a private pilot or a commercial pilot. Mimicking these tasks within the flight simulator can be extremely difficult without aircraft manuals, charts and accurate weather data but thankfully TOPCAT makes it all very easy for the majority of your favorite aircraft.
Is this product for you? Well it depends on how much of an enthusiast you really are. Some prefer to keep things simple by loading up an aircraft and flying to the destination of their choice without giving too much attention to cargo weights, density altitude, V-speed calculations and other preparations that have to be made before a flight.
If you are a hardcore simmer who enjoys all aspects of flying, including the preflight paper work and calculations then this program is a must have. It will not only increase the realism of your flying experience, but it will also help you to gain a deeper understanding of the physics of flight and aircraft performance.
What I Like About TOPCAT
What I Don't Like About TOPCAT
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