A new review, a new challenge, a new product! Ok, FS2Crew MD-11 may be different than its predecessors; but the FS2Crew ideology is and stays the same. Before buying it, it's absolutely worth checking out to see if this is what you want. Do you like to fly alone without a First Officer next to you, helping you out with all kinds of things; or do you want to master the aircraft with the help of a virtual flight/cabin/ground/handling crew?
When you bought the PMDG MD-11, I assume you were eager to master this kind of airplane and any software that could help improve your skills would be a logical choice ... or not? That's something we have to find out during this review and that brings me to the question of the month "Is it really worth adding this software to the complex PMDG MD-11"?
OK, not so quick since I would like to know why Bryan York - FS2Crew developer - started the FS2Crew software. According to Bryan: "I started FS2Crew back in 2004. The reason I did it was because I was using the PMDG 737 at that time, and I thought that it was very unrealistic (and rather dull) to fly the 737 as if it was a single pilot operation. People talk about how realistic the PMDG 737 is, but they forget that it’s not realistic to fly it like it’s a Cessna 172. Now there were some other flight crew programs on the market at the time, but I found them rather unsatisfactory and unrealistic. Those other flight crew programs were also severely limited by the fact that they couldn’t interface very well with the PMDG 737. So I said, well, if you don’t like what’s out there, make your own. So FS2Crew for the PMDG 737 was borne. Five years later FS2Crew is still going very strong; in fact, it continues to get stronger, and I look forward to doing FS2Crew for the PMDG 737 NG2. Each version of FS2Crew is different, generally, and I’m always trying to make things better with each new release".
That's why we're happy flight simmers, because of developers like Bryan. Simple thoughts result in great products! Now it's time to move on....
What and why?
Although FS2Crew MD-11 software is not the first one of its kind, it could be handy to new users telling them what FS2Crew is really doing, so let's have a detailed look at what Bryan York can tell us about that. "In general; the aim of the FS2Crew series is to let users simulate multi-crew flying in a SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) driven airline environment. We achieve this end by embedding a virtual flight, cabin and ground crew into the host aircraft - PMDG MD-11 passenger and freighter models - who behave in much the same way as they would in the real-world.
a word, it makes an already extremely realistic simulation even
realistic because no one flies an MD-11 solo. It wouldn’t
The Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) we modeled come from a real-world MD-11 First Officer, David Bartoli. What you will see in the simulation is a close approximation of the way FO David Bartoli flies."
I think the first paragraph tells you more or less what FS2Crew is all about. It's my challenge to find out if it really helps with the understanding of this aircraft and if it adds something new and challenging. Remember, and it’s probably very obvious, before you can use the FS2Crew software package you need to own the PMDG MD-11. Otherwise this software is useless and I will write it down many times; you need to know the PMDG MD-11 basics.
The PMDG MD-11 is already a complicated aircraft with a high learning curve and the FS2crew virtual First Officer will help you with certain checklist procedures but nonetheless, you still need to know the basics. Don't forget this. FS2Crew does a lot but it's not a magic box!
Installation and documentation
The installation of FS2Crew MD-11 software is straightforward without any complicated questions. By the way; the FS2Crew MD-11 main installer is a combo-package which means you get both MSFS versions - FS9 and FSX - in one installer for one price. The moment FS2Crew released the MD-11 software, several updates and other related packs became available and needed to be installed since the basic installer was not modified.
According to Bryan York there's a reason for this. "Technically, It’s very easy to create a new installer with the voice sets and Update 3 built in. However, it gets very complex because we have a lot of re-sellers and they cannot always be counted on to update the main file, file size is also an issue because with the voice pack included the installer would be around 500 MB’s and some people have to pay for bandwidth and not everyone wants the Voice Sets, particularly our US customers. Also, whenever PMDG releases an update, we usually have to issue an update. So there comes a point when it’s just cleaner and simpler from a management point of view to make certain updates separate."
With this being said, it means you need (as of May 2, 2009) to install not only the basic program, which includes update 2, but also the following packs:
- Update 3
Since it's very important that you do these steps correctly, it's worth adding the FS2Crew text here. Remember, the following steps are done after you've installed the updated April Start Center update software. Ok, what has to be done?
1. Open the FS2Crew Start Center for FSX (FS9).
- Update FS2Crew FSX Start
Center April 2009,
Last but not least, the "optional voice set".
before we continue, a quick summery of the correct installation
sequence regarding the FS2Crew MD-11 software:
After you've installed all these packs, we've got an FS2Crew shortcut on our desktop and accessible via the Start menu - FS2Crew -> the FSX Start Center April 2009 shortcut (same as on the desktop) and a PMDG MD-11 FSX or FS9 folder (I didn't test the Fs2Crew FS9 since I don't have this installed). This folder offers two manuals and an uninstaller. That's it and as I told you, straightforward without any hassle, so let's carry on with the documentation chapter.
As written before, the installer comes with one main manual (01 FS2Crew PMDG MD11 FSX Main Ops Manual.pdf) and after you've installed Update 3, that one comes with a small informative manual (03 FS2Crew PMDG MD11 FSX Update 3 Manual.pdf). I’ll leave the update 3 file and contents as it is since it only explains what's modified and a "how to do" list. My interest lies with the Main Operation Manual.
Although I tested the FSX version, the FS9 manual offers the same with some slight differences because of the MSFS version. My FSX manual counts 72 pages, which seems a lot to read but hold on ... the way the tutorial is written - largest section of the manual - helps you understanding the philosophy and is a perfect assistant for mastering this software. That seems a lot to read, but looking into it tells me that besides of the most interesting part - tutorial - the other pages are as well informative.
Ok, let's dig into it. It offers a quick start section, tips and tricks, troubleshooting part and some configuration advice. At the end there's a small part related to freighter models and a complete checklist. But as said before; the most interesting part, which starts at page 15, is the well written "Introduction of a sample flight from RKSI (Seoul) to RCTP (Taipei)".
This is an ideal combination between text and screenshots including developer's notes. See this as an FS2Crew panel description and operation integrated in a tutorial. Altogether a pleasant, highly didactical read. But moreover, it gives the flight simmer a quick idea about what this software is doing and how to master it. There's only one small bit of confusion, which can be found on the pages 36 and 37. I told you that this tutorial covers a sample flight from Seoul to Taipei and with that in mind, I've got no idea why the previously mentioned pages show on the FS2Crew control panel, AMSTERDAM.
Not a big deal but it could be confusing. On the other hand, the text is not referring to this, and therefore it should not lead to any problems.
Handy, informative and well didactical written. Still there's something worth adding to this and that's the availability of some AVSIM ZIP files.
Let's first start by giving you the direct link. (available when the Library comes back online) Released on 1st May '09, these two new FS2Crew PMDG MD-11 QUICK START tutorials are designed to get FS2Crew MD-11 pilots up and running as fast as possible. You do not need to own FS2Crew to take advantage of these tutorials; they can be of use to anyone interested in flying the MD-11 using real-world procedures.
Then there's another quick start tutorial/flow chart, released on 18th April '09 from Patrick Zwarts/Bryan York. Here’s the link for this document. (available when the Library comes back online) Which one is better or more informative? I leave that up to you since it has nothing to do with the reviewed software.
FS2Crew Start Center
It all starts with the FS2Crew Start Center. I would like to make one thing clear; I’m not intending to discuss every button or knob, but some items are welcome to be explained. Once started, it shows the user real time press releases and via tabs, you’re able to select your FS2Crew dedicated software, which depends on what you've installed.
When, in my case, you've installed only the MD-11, then this is the only tab which works. Although we’re dealing with the MD-11, there are tabs for the PMDG 737NG, PMDG 744, Wilco Publishing/FeelThere A320 and Airbus SE, Level/D 767; also for the Flight1 ATR and last but not least, the default FSX aircraft like the Cessna C172.
Remember, I've only tested the FSX FS2Crew MD-11 version! Furthermore, there are some tabs related to weather, AVSIM, as well as Civil and Military Aviation. I left those last four tabs as they are, since it doesn’t have anything to do with this MD-11 review.
Ok, selecting the PMDG MD-11 tab allows the user to install different voice packs (UK, Europe or US) and assigns command to the RED and GREEN buttons. These RED and GREEN assignments are, by default, for default keyboard and joystick assignments. However, you are free to modify this. These assignments are important since you need these during your interaction with the MAIN panel. More about this panel later in this review.
Via the PMDG MD-11 Options section, the user is also able to directly open the Acrobat file manual, apart from the previous RESTORE/SET commands. No need to go into detail when we're dealing with the RESTORE/SET commands, since we discussed this already during the installation sub-chapter.
FS2Crew panels and...
The MD-11 FS2C panel configuration is different than before and is very easy to follow. You only have two panels; the MAIN and SECONDARY. The manual doesn't offer you a separate chapter to explain every light, button or text window of either panel. Instead, it offers a huge but very informative tutorial and where and when needed, it explains the functions of each panel or a specific part of it.
In other words, by doing and following the tutorial, you start understanding what each panel offers and can do for you. It's a totally different approach, but I must admit it works. With this in mind it also brings me to the next item and that's the function of the QUICK START chapter, which is more or less the first section in the manual.
The problem with the QUICK START section - a very short tutorial version - is that it's positioned before the tutorial and a new Fs2Crew user could get the idea that he/she should start with this first which is by the way logical, but keeping the tutorial in mind, it's not a logical sequence. Remember, this is my opinion and I won't say that there's no need for the QUICK START, but it seems a little repetitious: QUICK START versus TUTORIAL! As written before, the QUICK START guides you through the necessary steps to perform, compared to how to work with the FS2Crew software and the PMDG aircraft itself, but it comes without any screenshots and therefore I could imagine that beginners could lose their way.
Anyway, this is what I think and looking from an educational point of view, the FS2CREW TUTORIAL is, in that respect, much better and very easy to follow since most of the work is done by your virtual first officer. Still, I think it's a good idea to contact Bryan York and ask his point of view, since he's the person responsible for the manual. Bryan informed me that "the quick start is more for those who want to use FS2C as quickly as possible without reading the detailed tutorial since most users do not want to read many pages."
Based on my own experience, I know that he's right and it frustrates me as well sometimes, that a lot of work has been put into a nice, comprehensive and didactically written manual while most of the users don't even look at it. Anyway, this clarifies the reason of having the short tutorial, know as QUICK START or for those users who need more time; they can read and learn more about the background of certain things by using the larger TUTORIAL, which starts on page 15 of the main manual.
Ok, back to the FS2Crew panels. Let's first have a quick look at the following screenshots, representing the only two Fs2Crew control panels available.
I'm not going to explain every bit and piece of the two control panels since this will be discussed during the tutorial. What I can tell you about is the perfect blending into the default PMDG MD-11 sub panels and the clear way those panels are built up. I'm not talking about what it can do for you. While starting with that, let's give you an idea of what the FS2Crew MD-11 offers.
What does it offer? Since it's made exclusively for the PMDG MD-11 and developed in consult with the PMDG developers, the two FS2Crew panels are of the same kind and style as the original ones. FS2Crew MD-11 offers the following simulations, actions, spoken messages etc:
FS2Crew SECONDARY Control Panel
• PRE FLIGHT section (red square)
Is it necessary that he's doing all of this? That's up to you since there's not really a need to use this PRE FLIGHT section. On the other hand, when you follow the tutorial, it starts with the activation of this and every page refers to how many minutes to go and where you are. Oops, that brings me to the total countdown. It starts counting down T minus 45 minutes. This means, all the checks, tests, paper work, and whatever else there is to do, must be done within 45 minutes. I can tell you, when you leave the first officer doing most of the PREFLIGHT checks, you'll make it within this time frame. In case you want to hurry the process, the button next of the start one, known as FAST FWD allows you to speed up the countdown. Clicking this button counts – 1 minute including all the belonging simulations and this means that even using FAST FWD, all the panels, switching’s etc. are simulated and popping up as well. Very handy feature but above all, nicely integrated!
/ APPROACH BRIEF (amber squares)
CREW (blue square)
ADDRESS (yellow square)
Did I get them all? No, but the idea is that within this section the Captain can initiate different spoken pre-recorded messages. So, to make it clear; you can't change these messages but the variety is great and brings a lot of fun in the normally quiet virtual cockpit.
Without this explanation you will survive otherwise just dump your questions into the FS2Crew forum or write your question to the FS2Crew e-mail address. I guarantee that you will gett an answer within 24 hours, depending on your global location.
Test ride.... RKSI-RCTP
Before even starting with this I want to clarify at least one thing; don't think this FS2Crew product is a magic box, that it does all the things for you and that you can sit back and relax. No way!
It's a great additional simulation tool in combination with the PMDG product, but as captain you're still responsible for lots of things and don't forget, your virtual first officer is just a dummy cockpit crew member as well as all the other virtual people!
The other thing I need to warn you about is that you need to have a basic knowledge of how the PMDG MD-11 works and you need to be familiar with all the panels and systems. Although the FS2Crew tutorial offers a lot more information not related to the FS2Crew product, it expects that you have studied the basics of the PMDG MD-11.
A suggestion from my point of view; first try the PMDG flight tutorial - SR flight from EGLL to LSZH - and after that, jump into the FS2Crew flight deck and together with the FS2Crew, make the flight from Seoul (RKSI) to Taipei (RCTP). Ok, before starting with all the phases, it's not easy to find a balance between what it's doing and what it's showing you. I tried to write down what I've seen and of course what I think of it. Where possible, I've added some screenshots showing you what it's doing but remember, this is just offering you a limited impression of what it really can do.
The basic pre-flight and additional tests and procedures before we've reached the pushback phase, takes in total 45 minutes. Since your virtual First Officer is eager to learn and does many things, we’ll leave him doing all that work, which reduces our workload to a minimum. For the first and second time that's ok and gives you the time to get used to the stress.
Indeed, without FS2Crew MD-11 there was never any stress. Without FS2Crew all the preparations could take 50, 60 or even 90 minutes, so be it! With FS2Crew installed and active, we don't have that additional time thus it's hard working for our First Officer. During this pre-flight it's worth checking the FS2Crew tutorial and see where the FO is and how many minutes are left to go. The manual shows you that at 30 minutes to go, the First Officer should have finished the listing but you as captain should have done also certain things.
This interaction is fun but above all, it makes working around in the MD-11 flight deck realistic. For your convenience, FS2Crew offers two files needed in relation to this tutorial, apart from a few others. These are the FS2CREW_WARM_EXT_PWR panel state configuration and for the FMS the RKSIRCTP001 data file. In real life the simulated panel state doesn't exist however, this is mostly done and is the responsibility of maintenance or the handling agent but the prepared FMS flight plan file or COROUTE (Company Route) is something which is used very often. At least, it's used as long as the planned flight is a known company route flight.
One remark related to this COROUTE file: it comes with a SID and DEPARTURE runway, which in real life is not the case. It all depends on the actual or simulated environmental conditions, which runway is in use as well as the SIDs (Standard Instrument Departure). By the way; even when you're flying online with IVAO or VATSIM, ATC tells you which runway and thus which SID needs to be used or when arriving at RCTP, which STAR (Standard Terminal Arrival Route) and runway should be used and thus selected in your FMS MCDU (Flight Management System - Multi purpose Control Display Unit).
Pushback, engine start and taxi
This is the workflow as the tutorial suggests but in real life engine start can be done before or after the pushback. This depends on company policy, airport regulations or even gate positions. That's up to you but for now, let's stick to the tutorial flow. All the above steps are well described in the tutorial and with all the additional Developer's Notes, it becomes a friendly, informative and very useful part.
Don't be afraid of doing things wrong or forgetting to do something. In most situations, it's virtually seen by your First Officer and he will take care for it. We discussed this already in that the FS2Crew secondary panel comes with a built in pushback control. You're free to use it since the PMDG also offers a pushback facility and when you intend to fly online at IVAO; IVAO also offers you an additional pushback tool. So it's up to you if you use this or any other pushback tool.
After we've completed the pushback including the necessary ground communication with maintenance, we're ready to start our engines. It seems the external equipment near the aircraft is gone so we can start with the next part. Your FS2Crew First Officer helps you again with this procedure although due to the automatic start sequence, there's not that much to do. One thing helps and that's the engine start sequence; first engine #3, followed by #1 and last but not least, number 2 (tail).
The MAIN FS2Crew control panel helps you with this sequence since it tells you which engine is next. Taxi is an important part of our flight profile since we can't live without it. Somehow we need to go from "a" position to the beginning of the runway and not that many things are done during this trip. Oops, that's not really correct! Lots of things are done during the taxi phase like flight control checks, last settings or switching's including take off briefing which has already been done during this pre flight check. It could be this differs again from airline to airline procedures.
Take off, climb, cruise
As with every simulated take off, it's a good habit to check and re-check for all the things that are coming. Remember, you should be able to know every item needed during the take off run, the initial climb until let's say TA (Transition Altitude). But this time you're lucky; you've got a well trained First Officer who's helping you with a lot of things and he even tells you what he's doing, as long as you respond.
Still it's a good idea to study at least pages 54 to 57 before even thinking about making a take off. Yes, you're right ... not many pages to read and to remember. Ok, you could use the PAUSE function to lock the simulator but I don't think that's a good idea. You bought a highly sophisticated PMDG product, added to this a highly realistic virtual First Officer and cabin crew as well as maintenance and handling facilities, and with that in mind, you should not ...no, never .... use this PAUSE button! You want to fly it as real as possible, then this "P" keyboard key is no longer allowed and by the way, I've never seen a flight pause in real life.
You're ready? I am, so let's go. Ears open, eyes on the center of the runway and here we go. The First Officer helps reminding you with things and then, it's quiet. After the 80 knots sign, all your attention should be on your instruments and controls. Then there's the V1 call, followed by VR and than it's your turn to gently lift the aircraft nose. Via the GREEN or RED button, you interact with the First Officer. Via these two buttons on the MAIN CP you're able to command the FO to do certain things like the GREEN button text changing to AT (Auto Throttle), which means engage AT or another example, the AF (Auto Flight) call for the autopilot or PN for engaging Profile and Navigation mode and F (FLAPS) for retracting the flaps. Of course, you could do it all by yourself but in the real world it's done by your First Officer and that's why you've bought FS2Crew for the MD-11. You’ll want your own private virtual First Officer!
The AFTER TAKEOFF checklist doesn't offer too much as does the TA (Transition Altitude) action. Before you know it, you've reached CRS flight condition. While flying offline, we don't have too much to do since there's no need to constantly monitor ATC. Instead of this, we could entertain our passengers by giving them some information about our flight, including information if we will arrive on time, the weather on our flight and other things.
This and other pre-recorded PA messages are available on the SECONDARY CP Public Address section. Although the messages are pre-recorded and non-adjustable, it still allows you to add some realistic feeling to it. In case I'm not clear; non adjustable means you're not able to add new or modify existing messages.
Just one last part; the TO is performed by your virtual First Officer. A simple click and change on the SECONDARY panel section DEPARTURE BRIEF TAKEOFF (PF) from CAPTAIN to FO, allows you to relax during the takeoff run and initial climb. Ok, you can't close your eyes since you still need to do those things which are normally done by your first officer, but the TO, rotation etc. are all done by the flying virtual FS2Crew crew member. I can really tell you that this is awesome and at the same time odd, but as realistic as possible. When you change roles for the takeoff and climb, I strongly advise you to read pages 68 and 69 and learn these by heart! See them as mandatory memory items! Anyway, an awesome experience!
Descent, approach, landing and termination
As well as in the real world; the descent and approach means that a lot of preparations need to be done including crew briefing. Comparing this with Microsoft Flight Simulation, it depends if you're flying online or not. When online, then ATC commands are added to the already busy workload. Anyway, our FS2Crew First Officer can help you out by reducing the overall work.
Starting on page 58 with descent prep(aration) including collecting the necessary information and entering it into the FMS MCDU and the SECONDARY CP panel, select APPROACH BRIEF. Entering data into the APPROACH BRIEF part is essential. Essential for the PLAY BRIEF message since the PLAY is based on what you've entered and not what the magic FS2Crew box can do for you, so pay attention while entering the data. Oops, by the way, what should you enter for data; the STAR, IAF (Initial Approach Fix), runway condition (if applicable), BRAKES, FLAP, transition level and airport elevation.
When we've collected the necessary information, it's time to start the DESCENT checklist via the MAIN FS2Crew CP. The tutorial tells you exactly what you, as PF (Pilot Flying), need to do and what your First Officer is doing. In-between these flight deck conversations and procedures to follow, you also need to inform the purser about the approach.
Speaking about the approach, it's time to see the next checklists: APPROACH, followed by the SLAT-FLAPS where via the command SLATS and FLAPS, those secondary flight controls are selected as well as readjusting the corresponding calculated FMS speeds. It's seems as simple as ABC and believe me, it is! This is partly because of the "real" MD-11 technology used, but also because of the simulated PMDG model and thus the "real" way FS2Crew tries to implement itself in this simulated flight deck.
We're almost done, just a few meters to go and just before landing, we've reached the FINAL checklist on the MAIN FS2Crew CP, directly followed by the DECISION part. To be honest, not every part shown on the MAIN CP is a real checklist but more a reminder for you as PF and your virtual fellow First Officer, not to forget important things like in this case Decision Height/Altitude.
After landing and clearing the runway, we taxi to our assigned gate but nevertheless, there's still a lot to do. Here again your virtual FS2Crew First Officer is helping you out with all the switching that needs to be done. While you're taxiing to the gate, apron or assigned freighter location, you can check pages 64 as to what the First Officer is doing.
Arriving at the assigned parking spot means again that you will be contacted by maintenance and of course your virtual purser will ask you a few things. I do believe I didn't cover every tiny detail of the FS2Crew MD-11 software.
Not directly a part of our test ride, but still worth mentioning, directly after the FS2Crew tutorial flight there's a GA (Go Around) procedure available. This can be activated or started by one of the available MAIN CP buttons next of the RH pointed arrow. You can expect what this means: an interaction and commands by both the captain - you - and your FS2Crew First Officer. Already mentioned before; the switch role between you and the PNF, but remember this time the virtual First Officer performs the TO and that means you need to retract the gear, retract the flaps etc.
Switch roles means not simple changing a word in the DEPARTURE BRIEF section but really changing a lot of things. This is worth trying and this also includes the simulated interactive RTO (Rejected Take Off) section.
Summary / Closing Remarks
Let's first start with some interesting items, which are by the way not made by me but other enthusiastic FS2Crew people. Several good looking instructional movies are available on YouTube. Either you follow this FS2Crew forum link directly or you go to YouTube and search for "FS2Crew MD-11 Demonstration" or you can leave out the “Demonstration” word. These five movies offer you a good idea what FS2C really does and the realistic impact it has on your learning profile.
Then our own library at AVSIM offers three different handmade tutorials. Since it doesn't belong to this review, I'm not going to express my thoughts about these individual tutorials but what I can tell you is that those tutorials are created by persons who like this FS2Crew MD-11 product.
Let's take a quick summary of what we've seen. The installer is suitable for both FSX and FS2004 and does its work perfectly. The only thing you have to keep in mind is that after you've installed the main program, you need to add update 3 and importantly, the latest Start Center version. While writing this, this is the version from April 2009. Don't forget this and don't swap the update 3 with this April Service Center. The sound pack can be installed afterwards.
When you've done this, it's time to open and check the Start Center to perform some procedures before continuing. When the preparations are done, it's time to start FSX or FS9 indirectly or simply via the Start Center control panel. I leave this up to you. There's not really a need to study the whole manual - most of you will probably not read this at all - but a quick look at the first pages is useful.
you've done this, try following the tutorial,
starting at page 15. Probably as a new FS2Crew
user you won't
follow it all
and if that's the case, just give it another
try. Believe me, when you can read the
understand why this
FS2Crew MD-11 product is so unique. Anyway, try
tutorial steps but before I forget, you need
absolute basic PMDSG MD-11
knowledge or else you'l be lost.
This brings me to the end. A great piece of software for no more than 23.95 Euro (US$30.00) (combo package with FS2004/FSX software) or you can also chose the FSX or FS2004 stand-alone version, which is just 15.95 Euro (US20.00). Keeping in mind what I've seen and how interactive it works and how bustling with activities this product is, it's absolutely worth every penny. I hope this review helps you make the final decision about buying the FS2Crew MD-11.
What I Like About FS2Crew MD-11
What I Don't Like About FS2Crew MD-11
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