AVSIM Freeware Panel Review

Boeing 727 Panel for FS2002

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Richard Probst's 727 Panel
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Real ATA 727-200A Panel

Designer: Richard Probst
Description:
Most accurately detailed Boeing 727 panel available!
Download Size:
7.91 Mb
Format:
Zipped file
Panel Type:
FS2002 Classic Commercial Airliner.
Reviewed by: Chris Mueller, AVSIM Staff Reviewer

Freeware Review Rating Policy: Freeware reviews are unrated, but may earn an Avsim special award. Please see details here.


ATA 727 On Approach at Denver, CO

I remember my first flight on a B727-200. On a cold Chicago morning we were waiting to board a Mexacana 727-200. At such a young age you don't realize the importance of a Boeing 727 or the milestones it has accomplished since its introduction. I remember the Captain inviting my father to bring me up to visit the cockpit as my family was boarding the airplane. Picture a young flying-nut sitting in his first airliner cockpit. At that moment the Airliner-Bug bit me and I have been addicted ever since! Brings a smile to your face doesn't it?

As you can imagine the B727 holds a special place in my heart. Not just because it was the first airliner cockpit I sat in, but also because I flew on Mexicana and American Airlines B727s from Chicago to Acapulco on a yearly basis to visit my Grandparents. I have also had the pleasure of logging a few hours in the Level-C B727-200 simulator. As airlines begin to phase out this old girl it becomes more of a rare treat that I get to fly on her.

Just a few years ago I had the opportunity to fly on an ATA 727 (N776AT) from Chicago to Denver. This was the first 727 I had been on in 10 years. I smiled just like that young boy did years ago while patting the fuselage to say "Hello" to an old friend as I passed through the door. My return flight was also on a B727 so I got to live the experience one last time. Exiting the aircraft at Chicago's Midway Airport I had the opportunity to climb into the cockpit just like that young boy did 18 years before. I just sat there in silence as I brushed my hands over the control column and throttles while reflecting on all the experiences the B727 has taken me to and given me. I felt sad as I exited this elegant machine knowing that I will probably never get to fly on her again.

The 727 was the second jet airliner produced by the Boeing Aircraft Company. This was the most aerodynamic design for its time. The 727 introduced features such as the greater swept wing, both leading and trailing edge high-lift devices, automated landing, the flight director (introduced on later models), spoilerons, and numerous functionalities. She was introduced to the skies on February 9, 1963 and has continued to be one of the most popular airliners in history among both airlines, pilots, and passengers. The 727 series has seen numerous variants including the -100, -100C, -200, -200Adv, and the -200F. Recent regulation restrictions and increased operating costs have forced modifications which include hush-kits to reduce noise, the addition of winglets to improve fuel economy, and the addition or upgrading of digital-electronic avionics in the cockpit.

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727 Simulator in Braniff colors

It is sad to think that such a masterpiece of engineering is silently slipping into the pages of history. When most passengers bored today's modern airliners they do not think about the fact that it was the Boeing 727 that paved the way for the design features which have enabled commercial aircraft to get bigger and fly farther than ever before. I consider myself lucky to have the privilege to ride on and fly (in the UAL simulator) this classic airliner. For the younger generation of pilots, the 727 is more of a museum piece that they hear stories about, but will never get to experience. However, thanks to great 727 enthusiasts like Richard Probst those who missed out on the real 727 can live the experience with his Boeing 727 panel for FS2002.

Reader Survey

This survey is intended for those that have used this product or add-on. If you have used it, please let your fellow simulation enthusiasts know how you rate it by taking this survey. Please, if you have not used this product, do not take this poll (you can view the poll from the "Results" link below).

Review Poll
Have you used Richard Probst's B727 Panel for FS2002?
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Some of you may remember Richard Probst from the FS5.1 days in 1996 when he began enhancing the Austin Texas area with scenery he designed. He went on to create several airports for the FS5/FS95, but it was his Salt Lake City International Airport for for FS98 back in the spring of 1998 that really put his name on the FS Scenery map. With the addition of his Dallas Fort Worth International airport in the fall of '98, Richard began to establish a niche for himself in the FS Scenery Community. He wouldn't stop there.

Richard longed for a good representation of the classic 727 and 737 panels. He spent some time experimenting with gauge designs and went on to produce his Boeing 737-200 panel for FS98 in January of 1999. He shortly followed with his true love, the 727, that same month. Richard also paired up with Chris Arrington to produce an enhanced version of his 727 panel which was one of the best freeware 727 panels for FS98. While others modified the Probst-Arrington 727 panel for FS2000, Richard released a new version of his 737-200 panel and was working hard on a new 727 panel. While FS2000 came and went Richard was diligently working to produce a freeware panel that would raise the bar to a whole new level.

After two years of hard work, Richard released his latest 727 panel for FS2002 in September of 2002. There is a good reason that his latest masterpiece is as visually and technically detailed as possible. Richard is a flight simulator technician for a company in Texas. His responsibilities include operating the computers, aligning the visual systems, making software changes, mechanical & electronic repairs, and test flying the sims each day to make sure they're ready for the customers to use. He is also on call to take care of problems that customers have during training. A big part of his job is to make sure that the simulator performs as close to the real airplane as possible.

Richard advises, "...(the 727 panel) is modeled after one of the simulators at my company. It is one of just a few 727 simulators left in the world that's still in use. Its sister in the next bay was scrapped just last year. This one started life in the late '70s for Braniff Airlines. As you can see in the photo (upper right), it is still painted in the original 'Ultra' scheme from 1978 that was designed to complement the new look leather interiors and urban-sophisticate crew uniforms by fashion designer Roy Halstom."

Installation and documentation

The panel (rp727pn3.zip) is available from the Avsim Library as well as other Flight Sim library-based sites. The main file is a 7.91Mb zip-file. Installation was a snap. Simply unzip the file into your main FS2002 directory and all the sub-folders will be unzipped in their corresponding directories. After unzipping the files, assuming you read the readme.txt file first, you will go to the manual directory for further installation instructions.

Richard elected to compile his panel without an aircraft or FDE file so as to allow end users to choose their own aircraft-FDE combination. Therefore, Richard provides instructions on how to set up any 727 in your library to use his panel. Richard related to me that he recommends the 727 FDE by Charles Fox as this was the FDE used to test the panel. Also worth noting, there are instructions for adding command lines to the Aircraft.CFG for optional engine smoke trails which are activated by a gauge on the panel when the aircraft's engines are at high RPM settings. Included in the documentation are a few speed charts, known issues, and detailed instructions on using the various custom gauges.

Test System

-Intel Pentium-4 1.8Ghz.
-Windows XP Professional
-512Mb RDRam
-64MB NVIDIA GeForce3
-Hercules Muse XL
-CH Flight Yoke & Rudder Pedals USB
-AOC 17" Flat Panel Monitor

Flying Time:
48 hours over 35 days


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Gauge lighting only.

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Gauge and background lighting

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Fluorescent panel lighting

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VFR view on short final to TNCM

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The overhead panel from ignition to pitot heat

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Central pedestal and radio panels

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Overhead lighting panel

The Panel

This panel is as fun to fly with as it is to look at. Richard used several hundred digital photos to assemble the panel's background images and gauges. While not exactly to scale, Richard preserves the layout and appeal of the gauges. Along with the main panel, Richard has included a landing VFR view, the throttle quadrant, center pedestal, fuel system control panel, cockpit lighting panel, and upper-right portion of the overhead panel. The background images are undoubtedly photo-real. Combine this same quality with the graphics and custom programming for the gauges and you feel as though you are really in the captain's seat of the B727. Flying at night is just as fun as during the day with multiple lighting options for the main panel.

Working Details

The main panel is full of accurately detailed gauges that function just as they do in the real B727. One detail that caught my eye right away was how this version of the 727 has the separate Machmeter, further adding to the vintage appeal. Richard further preserved this by using the Sperry SP-50 two axis autopilot.

The Sperry SP-50 two axis autopilot, while simple to operate, does take some practice to use effectively. Thanks to Richard's detailed instructions, it only took a few short runs to get the system down. One thing you will notice right away about the Sperry SP-50 two axis autopilot system is that it does not have an autothrottle and will not automatically capture a set altitude. Using this panel demands 100% attention throughout the flight as the pilot must continually monitor and adjust thrust settings when necessary, as well as autopilot performance. It is up to the pilot to slow the rate of climb/descent, coordinate the thrust setting and engage the manual altitude hold. The one thing that I really love about this system is that it forces the pilot to fly the plane.

Coupled with the autopilot is a fully functional annunciation panel (above altimeter) and horizon director indicator. The annunciation panel has two columns, flight director (left) and autopilot (right), which displays the status of the aircraft while flying an ILS approach. The horizon director indicator, a Collins FD-108, will give roll commands based on the mode set by the mode selector switch. Pitch is set by the pitch trim control knob for the desired number of degrees of body angle you want the aircraft to follow; note though, that it is only a visual aid for reference. Changing the pitch trim command on the flight director will not cause the autopilot to increase or decrease the aircraft's pitch to match. Only when tracking the glide slope will the HDI give pitch commands. All these features operate exactly as my real 727 manual dictate.

Another instrument worth noting is the digital vertical speed indicator with simulated TCAS function check. The reason this detail stands out to me is because in today's commercial/private aviation environment all large commuter and jet aircraft are required to have TCAS. For most older analog-based flight decks this meant the introduction of a digitally integrated VSI with TCAS. It allows the aircraft to meet the legal requirements while not having to perform a large alteration to add an additional gauge. Reminds us that although this is a vintage aircraft we are flying in modern times.

The radios and audio selector panels also reflect a little modern touch to them. The VHF navigation and communications panel preserves that original non-digital rotary selector appearance. Note that there is no backup frequency selector. The modern element in this panel comes with the ADF panel. The ADF panel features a digital readout with rotary knob control. This is a far better option than the original ADF that came in the 727, which was a variable frequency tuner with gain control and a signal strength meter. The audio selector panels are accurately recreated and function as close to the real thing as FS2002 will allow. The backlighting at night makes it easy to read and use.

The overhead lighting panel has two sections to it, cockpit lighting and exterior lighting. The cockpit lighting has a combination of dummy switches for functions that cannot be replicated in FS2002 and active switches for functional light settings. The dummy switches include the map lights, right-forward light, and right side lights. The active cockpit light switches include left forward/side panel, center forward panel, forward background, forward panel fluorescent (bright), overhead panel, control stand, light override, dome white, and compass. While not on the overhead, the radio panels and autopilot light located on the aft left side of the center pedestal also functions. The numerous light settings provide a realistic look and feel to the panel's night time appearance. Truly impressive!

The exterior lighting panel also has a combination of dummy and active switches. The dummy switches are the inboard landing lights, runway turnoff lights, wing (inspection), and wheel well lights. The functional switches include the outboard landing lights, taxi light, navigation, and beacon. One thing that I don't like is that switching on the beacon activates both the beacon and strobe lights because there is not a separate switch for the strobes. To counter this I simply use the "O" shortcut key so the beacon operates without the strobes while on the ground.

The overhead panel includes sub-panels for ignition, alternate flaps, cockpit/cabin/ground call systems, cockpit voice recorder, cargo fire detection/suppression system, wing-engine anti-ice, window heat, and pitot heat. All the switches are functional within the limitations of FS2002. Another panel included is the fuel panel. The fuel panel allows the pilot to set fuel boost pumps and shutoff valves while the crossfeed valves are dummy switches (due to limitations).

Other details worth mentioning include working fire handles which include a functional test system, auto engine smoke which will activate the engine exhaust smoke during high RPMs, auto-taxi that adjusts thrust settings to maintain taxi speeds, authentic clock with timer, VFR view, and many more.

In Summary

Richard Probst has established a new standard in freeware panel design. With true-to-life functionality and appearance this is truly one of the greatest freeware panels ever produced for Microsoft Flight Simulator. Every gauge functions as close to the real thing as possible while retaining its usability. The authenticity of the autopilot's function combined with primary gauges of the era make this a pilot's airplane. Add to this the extreme attention to every gauge's function corresponding to its real life counterpart and you have the best representation of the 727's flightdeck ever produced for PC Simulation.


What I Like About the Boeing 727 Panel by Richard Probst
  • Detailed photoreal panel artwork
  • Multiple night-lighting settings
  • Autopilot functionality
  • Accurate gauge representation and function
  • Auto taxi speed "quick key"
  • VFR view for final approaches
  • Authentic background sound and associated gauge sounds
  • Instruction manual with speed charts and cruise-power settings

 
What I Don't Like About the Boeing 727 Panel by Richard Probst
  • FDE used for final development not included resulting in possible mismatch with performance and engine settings
  • No separate switches for the beacon and strobe
  • Too many panel "quick keys" culturing the main panel
  • Had to hunt for the readme file in the original ZIP file prior to installation


 

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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.

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