AVSIM Commercial Utility Review

Ernie Alston’s FS Build 2.2

Product Information
Publisher: Ernie Alston - Available at: Simmarket
Description:  A Powerful Flight Planning Utility.
Download Size:
23Mb + 1.5Mb Update file
Format:
Downloadable Self Installer
Simulation Type:
FS 2000/2002/2004
Reviewed by: Gavin Hendrie AVSIM Staff Reviewer - July 16, 2006

Introduction

Back in the day before I discovered FS Build, I was unable to fly trans-oceanic unless someone like Pete Pitman had already created the flight plan for loading with my particular Airbus or Boeing. Although I knew how to manually enter flight plans into the FMC, I didn’t actually know how to generate the flight plan itself. I tried using the default planner, but it gave me something completely bizarre. It once took me via Alaska when aiming to fly from London to Rio, which even an idiot knows is something of the “scenic route.” In fact, when coding the default planner, I’m sure whoever was responsible can often be heard to say “I know a shortcut!” Furthermore, the FS9 .pln format was no good when using many commercial products like the PMDG 744 and LDS 763 - the mainstay of my virtual flying career.

If you find the above paragraph sounds familiar, then you’ll definitely be interested to learn about Ernie Alston’s FS Build. It’s a flight planning utility akin to FS Navigator, but, in my opinion, better. The purchasing, download and installation was easy and straightforward and not worth any kind of a mention, save to say it shouldn’t pose you any problems at all. A 23Mb download from simmarket.com and also a 1.5Mb update won’t cause dial-up users too much of a headache. As for system requirements, a 700Mhz CPU, 384 Mb RAM and 80Mb of HD space shows that almost everyone should be able to run this without any problems whatsoever. In fact it will still run, albeit slowly, with only 256Mb of RAM, but modern add-ons being what they are, I doubt many of you have less than the 384Mb minimum anyway. What I really want to show you is how useful FSB is at flight planning.

Flight Planning

Make no mistake, FSB is a powerful utility and allows you to plan a route in a number of ways, from simply picking the DEP and ARR airports and hitting AUTO GENERATE, to manually entering each waypoint, fix, VOR, NDB, Airway etc yourself. The package also comes with a large number of pre-stored routes and plans. In fact, it is so powerful that it will even recognise and decode the entry of the following fix:

KBHM VUZ225040 MEI J20 JAN CQY6 KDFW

Now, those of you that know a bit about FP’s will know how to decode the plan but what about the VUZ250040 fix? I had no idea what it meant until I ran the plan through FS Build, it then generated the route on a map and created a very detailed navlog for me.

FS Build translates it as:

VUZ - VUZ (Vulcan) VOR
225 - 225 degree radial from VUZ VOR
040 – to a point 040 nm out

It gives a fix position of 33o10.8 N 87o26.7W and for me that was pretty impressive. But that’s not necessarily the kind of thing you’ll encounter every day. Crossing the "Pond" on the other hand may be more your regular type of flying, but what about those NATS? Where do I find them, how do they compare to my entry and exit point etc etc. Fear not, because FS Build can download the daily tracks (both East and West bound) for you upon startup, allowing you to integrate them into your FP. The screenshot below shows the West Bound NATs: A, B, C and D. You’ll see from the shot that the East bound tracks are displayed in yellow. Clicking on these at the time I took the shot (2034z) will NOT allow you to display them. Why not? Because it’s now too late in the day for the East bound tracks to be in use. Now that’s what I call attention to detail! Better still, it will also download PACOTS, the Pacific routing equivalent. If that wasn’t impressive enough, It’ll also download winds aloft from Active Sky (assuming you have a copy) to assist in the FP process! All of this is displayed over a map of the world so you can see at a glance if a waypoint is wildly out.

Westbound NAT tracks (A-D) displayed.

Want more? FSB will allow you to print off a NAVLOG including Fuel Burns and en-route timings, assuming you have an aircraft configuration correctly loaded. For those wanting that extra realism, this is not much different to what pilots would get from their Ops dept. You can also export this to a .pdf, quite a nice touch. As with all good FS add-ons, these are available throughout our community. What else, each airport comes complete with a list of available runways and SID/STARs which FSB can automatically incorporate into your Auto Generated FP, giving the complete brakes off-to-on plan. It can also incorporate Step Climbs as well as calculating TOC and TOD points, preferred IFR routes and severe weather routes. Routes can be stored and categorised as you please.

Some of the stored routes Planning a flight

I mentioned in the intro about exporting & importing to/from other 3rd party add-ons and FSB doesn’t let you down here. All you need to do is tell FSB, via an easy to use interface, where the appropriate add-on resides and it can export flight plans, once built, straight to that location. I found that I could run FSB and FS9 side by side, with my PMDG 744 or LDS 763 sitting on the ramp, create the flight plan in FSB, export it to the PMDG or LDS directory and then switch to FS9, insert the FP into the CO Route (ie EGLLOMDB) and it was recognised instantly, ready for the EXEC button to be pressed. It will also export to Squawkbox, Fly II, X-Plane and PS.1 formats to name but just a few. FSB will also recognise Flight Plans in various formats and interpret them accordingly. In the example in the screenshots, I took the FP for the first leg of the Concorde 1989 Round the World tour (KJFK-MMAA) straight from a website and copied and pasted into FSB. The flight plan I found looked like this:

KJFK N0565F290 DCT SHIPP/M200F430PLUS 3500N07500W 2800N07900W DCT JUNUR 2400N08100W 2300N09000W DCT NAU/M095F350 UJ30 MEX J21 ACA DCT –MMAA

Concorde RTW Tour ’89, first leg KJFK-MMAA as decoded and displayed by FSB.

On entering this, FSB instantly recognised the DEP and ARR airports and suggested the Alternate airport as MMMX. On pressing the BUILD button, it made sense of the flight plan and displayed it on the map. More importantly, it also exported it to the addon(s) of my choice.

With only one error (Easily identified and removed) it displayed the route quite clearly. I also found that an easy method of transferring my new FP from FSB to SB3 was simply to copy and paste the route from the planning window straight into the text box on the SB3 File Flight Plan page. Whilst on the subject of online ATC, FSB can also display what ATC is available for example on VATSIM covering your route. I know that ServInfo does this for free, but it’s still worth a mention to highlight just how thorough this utility is.

Screenshot showing the range of worldwide ATC available via VATSIM.

User Guides

A User Guide folder is installed as part of the installation process and contains both a range of thorough documentation, including a 4 page quickstart guide, which will have you planning and exporting simple FP’s in no time at all. The more in-depth 39 page manual will cover the remainder of what you need to know in order to get the best from the package. That said, this is one area where perhaps FSB falls short. Other add-ons such as those from PMDG install a shortcut to the manuals from the Start menu (in fact they even make it accessible by clicking on the manuals in the VC!!) but for FSB you will have to dig down into the folder itself.

No great hassle of course and you can always add your own desktop shortcut. However, read these manuals you MUST. The user interface of FSB didn’t at first strike me as terribly inviting or obvious to use. It does in fact become fairly simply once you have an understanding (even a basic one) of what each bit of the screen does but like I say, you’ll need to do what most Flight simmers hate doing with a new toy – read the flipping manual!

Test System

Compaq Presario P4 3.0Ghz with 800MHz FSB
GeForce 6200 PCIx 256MB
17” TFT 1280 x 1024
1 GB PC3200 DDR RAM
CH Pro Pedals
MS Sidewinder Joystick

Flying Time:
30 hours
(used daily)

Forum

Support is a key issue with any complex product, especially if we’ve paid for it! The FSB Support forum is a source of learning in its own right and any question posed stands a very good chance of being answered personally by Ernie Alston, the author and creator of FS Build. This level of support is not uncommon, but what I truly like about it is that the forum doesn’t seem to attract the same pointless responses from people who think they know the answer but have merely repeated the question!

The FS Build forum seems to me to be a real meeting place for serious simmers and not the type of idiots who populate some forums with stupid questions like “What is better Airbus or Boeing?” If you can’t find the answer to your question in the user manuals, then the forum is the place to go. In fact, if anything, I found the support forum more helpful when quickly trying to establish why my NAT tracks weren’t loading. In this example, regular NAT flyers will remember the now defunct glideslope.de site that published the NATs. FSB links to that but a simple cut and paste within the FSB.cfg will change that, with the correct text to paste being easily found in the forums. Upon reloading FSB, hey presto, I have all the day's NATs complete with entry and exit point and all en-route waypoints.

Summary

If I’m going to be honest (to be fair, what review would be worthwhile if it were anything but) FSB will take some learning if you’re to fully master its full range of features. Indeed, Ernie tells us in the documentation that FSB has evolved through customer feedback, with features added at the request of FSB users.

This being the case, you may never fully appreciate ALL of the features it offers, but equally, you won’t be left with a utility that is obsolete as it will constantly update with the times. As for compatibility with FSX and/or Microsoft Vista, only time will tell but Ernie has already considered the prospect but will need to get a hold of the software before he can say for sure what compatibility issues there will be, if indeed any. All I can say in summary is this. I used FS Navigator previously as trialware, and switched to FS Build afterwards. I was at first disappointed but once I got to grips with the manuals and forums (specifically for this review ironically) I can safely say I made the wiser choice.

If you need a powerful Flight Planning utility, buy FS Build.

 

What I Like About FSBuild 2.2
  • Download both daily NAT tracks AND Pacific Tracks on startup
  • Very intelligent and powerful flight planning tool
  • Can link upto ActiveSky to provide en-route winds
  • Provides a basic fuel planning capability
  • Cheaper than FS Navigator
  • Excellent level of support from the author himself

 
What I Don't Like About FSBuild 2.2
  • No moving map unlike FS Navigator
  • Will baffle those who don’t try to read even the quick start guide

Printing

If you wish to print this review or read it offline at your leisure,  right click on the link below, and select "save as"

FSBuild

(adobe acrobat required)


Standard Disclaimer
The review above is a subjective assessment of the product by the author. There is no connection between the producer and the reviewer, and we feel this review is unbiased and truly reflects the performance of the product in the simming environment. This disclaimer is posted here in order provide you with background information on the reviewer and connections that may exist between him/her and the contributing party.

Tell A Friend About this Review!

2006 - AVSIM Online
All Rights Reserved