The Airbus Collection is a re-issue of Airbus add-ons originally released by developer Commercial Level Simulations (commonly referred to as "CLS") as downloadable payware. Just Flight, an enterprising United Kingdom-based publisher of aviation-based software, is re-issuing the CLS airplanes under their own "F-Lite" brand. In particular, one plane that is included in the Airbus Collection is the Airbus A300-600R which was already reviewed by Avsim's Brian Fletcher in his December 2005 review.
I took the trouble of asking the kind people at Just Flight why they are re-releasing the CLS product. Not being in the business of software development or marketing myself, I felt I needed a primer in understanding this topic. Here is a transcript of their reply:
"The flight simulation software arena is made up of three principal elements: freeware available online, software available to purchase online, and published product on CD or DVD-ROM. The true mass market still only exists in the latter category. Many flight sim developers offer their products online but don't have the facilities to produce their software in published format. Apart from the obvious elements such as packaging design, manual editing and design, printing, warehousing and distribution, the small developer normally has no access to the retail market and also lacks the finances to support retail stores with large amounts of stock that will sit around for many months before he receives payment. At this juncture they turn to a publisher such as ourselves.
We will take their software and compile it into a product that we think will best appeal to the public. This may involve the inclusion of livery sets that the developer is selling by individual download, or putting together a number of individual versions of an aircraft into a complete package (such as Airbus Collection). We will then develop a customized installation program that is a 'one click' for users and, most importantly, incorporates copy protection against piracy. Our studio will design packaging and we will edit and compile printed manuals for inclusion in the product. As sales are (hopefully) made we will pay the developer a guaranteed royalty on each sale.
Generally, we will allow the developer to continue with online sales of his product from his own website. Examples of developers who follow this model (not necessarily with Just Flight) include PSS (Phoenix), DreamFleet, PMDG, Captain Sim and Aeroplane Heaven."
So, at this juncture, we understand the mechanics of why both CLS and Just Flight are offering the same products. It may be possible that you already have a CLS Airbus in your virtual hangar, yet even so, there is value to be had in purchasing the Just Flight version. In the words of the Just Flight crew, "It's all about choice."
Airbus Collection is an add-on for MSFS 2004 that features these twin-engine Airbus jets:
A300-600ST Beluga, with five liveries
The entire collection comes on a single DVD in a colourful DVD-style box, and comes packaged with a helpful paper manual of around 25 pages. Alternatively, a downloadable version is also available, should you not see the box on store shelves.
Just Flight found that their customers demanded airliners that were high in detail but straightforward to operate. This is their "F-Lite" system; the whole idea is that complicated flight systems are either simplified or automated so that the sim pilot can focus more on flying and less on operating switches and knobs. This means that users looking for fully-functioning Flight Management Computers (FMC's) and other highly-computerized, labour-intensive dashboard gadgets will not find them in the Airbus Collection. Put simply, you can "kick the tires and light the fires", meaning that you can be up and flying these jets after pressing the cockpit Autostart button.
INSTALLATION: Easy As Falling Off A Log
One advantage to purchasing a collection of airliners on a disc is that the user only has to install the files once, through a central install file. Airbus Collection employs an easy-to-use installer which quickly sorts all of the files into their proper places. It is not exactly a one-click affair, yet the installer is efficient, while at the same time serving as an enthusiastic advertising platform for other Just Flight products. You are allowed, of course, to install only your Airbus Collection and leave things at that, but you are encouraged to browse through the other items, including a few free goodies.
The installation should take up around 1.9 GB of hard drive space. All of the airliners are installed at once, so you don't get to choose which jets are to be installed. On the plus side, all of the liveries are automatically installed with their respective airframes. Previously, CLS users had to download the liveries as separate files. After installation, it's simply a matter of booting up MSFS and navigating to the "Just Flight - Commercial Level Simulations" folder in the Select Aircraft menu.
DOCUMENTATION: The Right Stuff
The Airbus Collection airliners don't require heavy manuals to operate, nonetheless, the thin paper booklet that comes with the disc goes into a lot of welcome detail. Pages are devoted to statistics and realistic operational procedures, so that if you want to fly your jet as an airline pilot would, you have information on things like how far you would have to rotate the plane on take-off to achieve a tail strike (12.5 degrees); what the economy climb rate for a Beluga is (.70 Mach); how fast your fuel will cool off (from 3 to 12 degrees Celsius per hour); and so on.
Just because the cockpit controls have been simplified does not mean that the flight model is so simple. The manual gives you brief, accurate checklists for safe and economical take-off, climb, cruise, descent, and landing. I found this type of information extremely helpful, and in this case, it is also very clear and concise, too.
The manual also devotes good space towards the installation of the Airbus Collection and answering technical questions you may have if you run software that might conflict with the installer. Finally, Just Flight lists the many features that are included with the Airbus Collection, especially the special effects related to the various aircraft animations.
FLIGHT DYNAMICS: The "True Feel" Experience
A criticism of the simpler airliner add-ons for MSFS is that they act more or less the same way as the default jets do. In other words, are you flying the default Boeing 737 dressed up to look like the A300-600ST Beluga? As far as Just Flight and CLS are concerned, the answer to this issue is in their proprietary "True Feel" flight model. I will definitely say that "True Feel" makes the Airbus Collection planes handle differently, and in most ways better than the MSFS jets. The manual suggests that the "True Feel" system was created based on the experiences the CLS developers had in FAA Level D flight simulators. I cannot support or deny that claim, as I have neither piloted a real-world airliner nor have I yet been invited to use a Level D simulator (although if anyone happens to have one that's not being used at the moment, I would be more than happy to give it a spin for you!) . What I can say is that flying the Airbus Collection planes is a real treat!
The cornerstone of this add-on is definitely in the flight dynamics of the various airframes. I would not venture that the handling is a hundred percent realistic, but it is a hundred and ten percent fun. "True Feel" injects a sense of the massiveness of the airliners, so that you don't feel like you're flying a model airplane on a set track. The controls are appealingly responsive yet not overtly aggressive, so that as you manoeuvre, you have to be aware of the weight of your jet and account for that in your movements. I think that "True Feel" is an impressive system and that it goes a long way to adding value to the Airbus Collection.
As would be fitting for a creature of the air, "True Feel" works best in flight but shows some minor issues when your jet is on the ground. Taxi-ing your Airbus Collection jet is a little more difficult than driving a default MSFS airliner. The turning radius of your jet is wide, as this reflects the way that real Airbus planes turn. Just Flight cautions that sim pilots should try to taxi slowly, so as to make proper turns and avoid going onto the grass, which I consider excellent advice. If you do go fast and turn hard, your Airbus Collection jet will noticeably heel over, simulating a real jet loaded with fuel, swaying almost to the point of wing strike. Really, this amounts to aesthetics, though. I quickly got used to the rolling sensations and in using the default MSFS planes, I actually felt that their taxi felt too stiff in comparison. A happy medium would be somewhere in between.
Related to the way they taxi was the sense I had that the Airbus Collection jets are tail-heavy. All of the Airbus Collection come pre-loaded with passengers/cargo and full fuel tanks. Airbus Collection does not come with a load manager, however, you can change your loads within MSFS. Just Flight recommends adjusting the fuel load prior to each flight to solve the problem of tail-heaviness. I found that if I didn't adjust my load, then the airliner was nearly balancing on its rear wheels. Applying thrust reversers and then brakes had the effect of tipping the nose right off the ground in a very expensive-looking "wheelie". A very violent wheelie on my part resulted in a tail strike, which set off both the sparking fuselage animation and the burning fuselage crash animation.
The various airframes, basically A300 and A310 variants, seem
to handle fairly similarly to one other in flight given identical
fuel and payloads. The exception to this is the A300-600ST Beluga,
super-transporter. In addition to being tail-heavy, this beast is also
top-heavy, which is to be expected given its unusual cargo configuration.
The Beluga carries a lot of mass, so it can definitely be a handful
to fly. As mentioned before, altering your load-outs in MSFS may result
in changes in how your jet handles. In the air, the weight of your
fuel is closely modelled, so that an A310 taking off with full tanks
handles very heavily. On the flip side, landing your jet on fumes
means that your Airbus feels almost as light as a feather and is so
much more manoeuvrable. The differences in handling that
are occur as your fuel runs down are excitingly modelled; it's a lot
of fun to test-fly the airframes with different loads.
COCKPITS: All For One And One For All
In real-world aviation, Airbus has decided that they wanted the cockpit environments of their various jetliners to be as similar as possible, so that a pilot could fly, say, an A300 for part of his or her career, and then quickly get rated to fly an A310. Since the systems across many Airbus planes are intentionally made to be similar, it should theoretically be easy for a pilot to switch from one type of Airbus to another.
How this affects the Airbus Collection is that you get one cockpit that represents all of your airframes. The good news is that you don't have to learn a lot of new cockpit layouts, but the bad news is that there is no variety of cockpits. This is not a fault of CLS or Just Flight, but rather a reflection of the way Airbus designs their product. It does make learning to fly these aircraft easier.
The Airbus Collection cockpit is very good. It is a faithful reproduction of a real Airbus cockpit. Since the Airbus Collection is part of Just Flight's "F-Lite" brand, some of the more complicated cockpit devices, like the FMC, are inoperable and are included merely for show. However, wherever possible, the gauges in the Airbus Collection cockpit are functional.
There are actually three cockpit views to be had within the Airbus Collection. The first is a fairly traditional-looking 2D cockpit, then a nice 3D cockpit, and finally the "Wingview" cockpit. "Wingview" completely removes the 3D cockpit to save your frame rate, and it also models the wings (but not the fuselage) of the aircraft as would be seen from the cockpit if you looked way back. I thought the "Wingview" mode looked a little spooky, seeing disembodied wings flying through the air, but if you turn your camera view just right, you can simulate looking back at the wing from a first-class passenger seat.
The 2D cockpit is filled with useful gauges. As such, the view out of the front windscreen is largely blocked by the huge dashboard. It's a visual balancing act to get as much readable instrumentation into the dashboard as possible, yet still retain a good view out of the front window. In Airbus Collection, the balance is tipped towards having readable instruments. As I have mentioned before, even though the flight controls are simplified, the flight model is still complex and it's good to have a full set of gauges to monitor your flight. Otherwise, I thought that the look of the 2D cockpit is a bit of a mixed-bag. The overhead panel is built from what looks like a photo of a real cockpit, while the rest of the cockpit is designed in the stylized, cleanly rendered look of most Flight Simulator dashboards. I find the two visual styles clash a bit, but then I'm picky when it comes to aesthetics. Functionally, the Airbus Collection 2D cockpits are very good.
In terms of what you can do in the cockpit, the Airbus Collection
provides a good level of refinement over the default MSFS cockpits
without being overwhelming for the novice or casual sim-pilot. All
of the usual basic controls and gauges, such as heading indicators,
autopilot controls, radio stack, engine read-outs (EICAS), and so forth,
are modelled. Then, there are nice additions like the fuel gauge that
changes colours from green to orange, indicating exactly how much fuel
you have in each tank and showing you how the fuel pumps are automatically
operated. There's a large display that allows you to open and close
various cabin and cargo doors and operate fuel booms (if your jet is
so equipped) from the comfort of the cockpit. My favourite gauge is
one of the smaller ones: a little radar-altimeter that gives you a
hyper-accurate altitude reading from ground level up to 2,000 feet.
This little beauty helps make landings in low visibility a snap!
The Airbus Collection 3D cockpit is very close to what you could see in a real Airbus. The view out of the windows is very good, and the instrumentation is readable at normal zoom levels. With the exception of the Map button and the Engine Autostart button, every clickable control in the 2D cockpit is replicated in the 3D cockpit. You can easily fly your jetliner using just the 3D cockpit. Frame rates do take a bit of a hit in the 3D cockpit, but on a mid-range system, you shouldn't notice a drop of more than 5 frames per second or so. Gauge refresh rates are not as fast or as smooth as they are in the 2D cockpit, so that instruments like the attitude indicator and the radar altimeter stutter slightly. An Airbus isn't expected to perform like a jet fighter, so the slight reduction in 3D cockpit frame rates is not a real liability. Having all those clickable controls available in the 3D Airbus cockpit is great!
The gauges in both cockpits are easy to read in both day and night settings. Although, I felt that the night lighting was very low-key and muted, at least compared to photographs and video footage I have seen of Airbus cockpits at night. Fortunately, the most important aspect of cockpit operations, instrument readability, was not sacrificed in any way. Included on the Airbus Collection is Flight One's freeware F1 View Utility, which you can use to change your pilot's viewpoint with ultimate precision. Even if you did not like the instrument readability, you can use this little application to set your cockpit view exactly where you would like it.
EXTERIOR VIEWS & ANIMATIONS: Plane And Simple
The original CLS Airbus releases were released as payware downloads in 2005, with Just Flight re-packaging them only recently. The time that has passed has means that the CLS airplanes look slightly dated to me, especially in comparison to some MSFS models I have seen recently. In this opinion, I am speaking merely for myself, and I am sure that most sim-pilots are not as picky as I am when it comes to the look of the airliners. The user base for Just Flight's "F-Lite" series are probably not interested in fidgety tiny details. On the whole, the Airbus Collection does a nice job of representing the variants of the A300 and A310. In my opinion, the textures for the models are reasonably good, the models themselves are very good, and the animations that come with the Airbus Collection fleet are extremely good.
The choice of liveries is from around the world, with many of the real-word paint schemes originating from Europe and the Middle East. As well, there are specialized liveries for cargo aircraft, including military and civilian carriers, the A300-600ST Beluga, and two air-to-air refueller planes. CLS provides their own fictional "in house" livery and the all-white paint-kit scheme as a livery for each airframe.
Most of the liveries are the aircraft logo and a stripe or two on a white fuselage. In the real world, this makes sense in economics, as coloured paint weighs more than white, is more expensive to maintain, and contributes to heat accumulation in the fuselage, making air conditioners work harder. However, for sim-pilots, this means that many of your jets will be largely white. Some of the liveries, like the Emirates Sky Cargo, are beautiful and exotic, while others, like the CLS livery, look to me like a rushed Photoshop project.
By day, the textures look appropriate without being overly detailed. Wing textures seem generic, but are not bad. Cargo planes have some extra weathering to make them look more well-used. By night, the textures look low-key and greyish. Night lighting from the taxi and landing lights is good, and beacons and strobes put on a lovely pyrotechnic show. Incidental light reflections on the wing, engines, and fuselage are either very subtle or absent. I never quite got the feeling that light was reflecting off of metal surfaces, except when the beacons were flashing. Naturally, things are supposed to look dark at night, but opportunities to show light on the wings from cabin windows, or metal texture and rivets under the flare of taxi lights were missed. What looked good in 2005 is starting to show its age even now.
The good news is that there already exists an Avsim library of user-modified liveries for the Airbus Collection jets. So if you choose to purchase this product, you can quickly find more paint schemes.
As far as the models go, the variety of airframes is good and there are some interesting choices given that all of the aircraft are twin-engined. The A300-600R and the A310-200/300/304 do resemble each other on a basic level as their airframes are all designed to the same purpose. All of the models look realistic, and plenty of attention has been paid to details. Fuselages, engines, control surfaces, winglets, wheels, and landing struts all look very convincing. Cargo variants will have the passenger windows in the fuselage blocked out and feature a large realistic cargo bay door behind the cockpit. The oversized A300-600ST Beluga seems peculiar with its inflated fuselage and low-slung cockpit, but the Airbus Collection model is faithful to its real-world counterpart.
Two military air-to-air refuellers are included in the product: a modern German Luftwaffe Multi-Role Transport Tanker (MRTT), and an EADS (European Aeronautical Defence and Space Co.) demonstrator tanker. I am of a split opinion regarding these two planes. The fully-animated refuelling booms look great in the air (but a bit silly on the ground when extended), but as I fly MSFS solo, there's simply no need for air-to-air refuelling. I imagine it would be fun to simulate an online refuelling operation, but then one would wish for more features than are found with "F-Lite", such as militarized cockpits, and the ability to actually transfer fuel. Still, the two tankers are an interesting and well-modelled addition to the Airbus Collection, if only because they are fun to fly. I found researching these rare planes on the Internet to be educational.
In terms of animations, the Airbus Collection has a wide range of special effects that grace their planes. The majority of these animations, including aileron, slats, flaps, speed brakes, and rudders, are in a word: perfect. Subtle nuances of control surface movements are rendered with complete precision, the ultimate counterpart to the outstanding "True Feel" flight system. Using a "Wingview" cockpit, a sim pilot will see the complete sequences of movements as the Airbus makes its turn, and will even notice wing flex if there's turbulence about.
Then there are all manner of cabin and cargo doors that can be very easily opened and closed on every Airbus Collection jet. The smallest is the typical passenger door, then there are the huge cargo doors in the freight carriers, and finally, the entire front end above the cockpit of the Beluga levers upwards to reveal a new fuselage for a future Airbus! That big door is really slow and cumbersome, taking total of 100 seconds of stop-motion animation to either open or close. A little time-compression speeds up the process nicely.
After all of that, the Airbus Collection includes still even more animations! Control surfaces droop when the engines aren't running, and perk up when the engines give them power. When you spool up the engines to start them, you can see puffs of smoke from the nacelles. Tires on landing will generate clouds of smoke or vapour from the runway if it is dry or wet. If you strike the tail on the ground, sparks are generated, and if you destroy your airplane, some smoke and metal bits are emitted from the fuselage.
SOUND SET: Environmentally Sound
The airliners of the Airbus Collection come powered by two manufacturers of engines, at least according to the manual: the General Electric CF6-80C2A8 or the Pratt & Whitney 4000. I don't think I could write an in-depth discussion about the operational differences between the two engines, apart from being told by Just Flight that they are very similar to one another. In the Airbus Collection, they are so similar that CLS has decided to alias the GE engine sound into the PW engine sound. In simple terms, there is only one airplane sound file.
Still, it's quite a good sound file. The engine audio has been recorded very carefully and represents a wide dynamic range from the throaty roar of the turbofans to the piercing shriek of the APU. Throttling the engines up or down produces a satisfying sequence of sounds from the relative calm of engines at idle to the heart-pounding cataclysm of full power. Other minor sounds like cockpit switch clicks, doors opening and closing, and landing gear moving are also very nicely done, adding to the overall cockpit ambience.
It is important to note that the sounds in the cockpit are dramatically different from the sounds as they are heard from the outside. It is even more important to make sure that your sound settings in FS2004 are correct for Airbus Collection. The manual gives specific, simple instructions on how to achieve the optimal sound balance and after playing around with several different settings, some of my poorer choices generated some unwanted audio artefacts such as flanging. I must agree that the Just Flight manual gives the very best advice.
Airbus Collection does not include any co-pilot voices, nor any cockpit audio warnings, save for what already comes with MSFS.
OUTSTANDING ISSUES: Goodies & Bugs
Before I conclude my review of Airbus Collection, I want to take this opportunity to address the things I may have missed in the other sections. The Airbus Collection is certainly a fine product with many stand-out features. There is really a lot of material to play with in this one package.
Some minor things do slip by, such as a couple of textures that are misaligned on the vertical stabilizer of some of the jetliners. A texture for the Pan Am jet features a small misspelling. A Beluga with "Wingview" shows up in the menu for jets with 3D cockpits, and a Beluga with a 3D cockpit is mistakenly placed in the "Wingview" menu. In fact, the name "Just Flight/Commercial Level Simulations" is so long that it runs outside of its menu box and into the Airports box, sometimes making an airport name hard to read. Finally, there are a few small menu errors and misspellings. The one of which I would most like to see corrected being an anachronous reference to the Royal Canadian Air Force. The RCAF was merged into the Canadian Forces in the 1960's, well before the first Airbus took to the air.
On the plus side of the ledger, I haven't yet mentioned a very distinctive vehicle that's a free bonus for Airbus Collection pilots: a very nice-looking tractor cart that appears whenever you call for pushback. It's a great touch to see this cart, with a CLS paint job, help with the pushback duties and it provides a good excuse to enjoy the exterior views.
CONCLUSION: Air Paradise
Just Flight has recently re-packaged a number of twin-engined Airbus jet airliners originally offered by Commercial Level Simulations. This add-on for FS2004 can either be downloaded or purchased on DVD. This package comes loaded with A300-600R, A310-200/300/304 variants, including passenger planes, freight haulers, military transports, and air-to-air refuellers. Did I forget to mention the inclusion of the A300-600ST Beluga?
is intended as part of Just Flight's "F-Lite" series
where cockpit controls are simplified, yet airplane and flight
models are of the highest quality.
there is no FMC to fiddle with, but that does not mean that these
aren't fun to fly. Aimed at the casual sim pilot, the Airbus Collection
is suitable for the novice pilot who wants more realism than the
default MSFS planes, right up to experienced veteran simmers who
want to get up into the sky and enjoy flying a realistic-seeming
jetliner without having to run through a fifteen-minute checklist
just to start the engines.
Every plane in Airbus Collection looks good, sounds great, is frame-rate friendly, and comes loaded with animated parts. The crew at Just Flight are extremely proud of this product and were keen to answer my many questions about it. In their own words, Airbus Collection provides "a big improvement over the standards of the default aircraft". While I found some minor details that did cause issues, in terms of the big picture, I would certainly agree with that statement. For the average casual user, Airbus Collection provides a stable, robust, and most importantly, fun add-on for MSFS.
|What I Like About the Airbus Collection|
|What I Don't Like About the Airbus Collection|
Tell A Friend About this Review!
© 2006 - AVSIM
All Rights Reserved