AVSIM Commercial Aircraft Review

Digital Aviation / Flight 1
Fokker 70/100

Product Information

Publisher: Flight 1 / Digital Aviation

Description: Add-on Aircraft.

Download Size:
282 MB (SP1)

Format:
Download
Simulation Type:
FS9 & FSX
Reviewed by: Etienne Martin AVSIM Staff Reviewer - October 24, 2008

Introduction

Digital Aviation’s F70/F100 adds to the hangar a couple of popular European regional jets from Dutch manufacturer Fokker.

Fewer than 300 Fokker 70 and 100s were built in the late 80s and 90s, mostly due to the unfortunate bankruptcy of Fokker Aviation in 1996. The manufacturer has a rich history of contributions to the aerospace industry. Starting in 1912 as a German aircraft maker, the company made a name for itself with the Dr. I triplane flown by ace “Red” Baron Von Richtofen. The company moved to the Netherlands after World War I, had several successes, most notably the original tri-motor passenger concept of the 30s.

This design was largely copied by Ford for its tri-motor by the time Fokker had captured close to half the “pax” market before WWII. With a branch in the U.S. and several partnerships from the post-war all the way to the 90s, the Fokker designs have found their way in aircraft and spacecraft made by Junker, GM, North American, Fairchild, McDonnell Douglas, EADS, and the European space program.

F70 F100 (4.7m – 15ft longer)

The financial woes of Fokker Aviation are largely attributed to the development cost of the F-100 airframe, combined with market competition from the likes of Boeing, Bombardier and Embraer. The F70/F100 pairs competed directly against the 717, the CRJ and ERJ series.

The F-100 and F-70 pair has roots in the 60s vintage Fokker-28. Its twin fuselage mounted engine and “T” tail configuration is virtually identical to that of the DC-9. In fact, the F-100 is probably to the F-28 what the Boeing/McDonnell Douglas MD-80 series is to the DC-9. The design similarity is not a surprise either - Fokker had a partnership with McDonnell Douglas in the early 80s.

Fokker’s model numbers approximately match the number of seats in a typical configuration of the aircraft. The F-70 seats about 70 passengers, and is almost 5 meters shorter than its older F-100 sibling (capacity a bit over 100 passengers). Both are short to medium haulers (F-70 1,000nm / F-100 1,600nm), and a cruise speed a bit above 0.7M. Both are powered by Rolls-Royce “Tay” turbofans. Each packs a modern glass cockpit, and a unique personality.

Relative size of the F70 compared to an MD-11 one gate over

Packaging

The product comes as 290Mb download from Flight One, to which you add a 7Mb service pack (at the time of this writing). The Flight One wrapper handles the e-commerce side.

The install program prompts a credit card and mandates an internet connection. The method has the benefit of immediately unlocking the software once the transaction is completed. I really value this delivery mechanism because all download issues are handled before the payment process starts, ensuring you have all the files you need already on your hard disk. Second, the software is immediately available, no need to wait for a registration e-mail outside of business hours or holidays – always seemingly an issue for me.

Installation

The setup program correctly identified my FSX folder on my Vista 64 box, and after a couple of clicks, a bit over 1Gb of disk real estate was dedicated to the product. The process was trouble free.

Setup program License agreement
FSX folder selection (automatic) And off we go, no more prompts.

Documentation

The product includes 40Mb of documentation and tutorials in the form of PDF files. The documentation set includes:

1. The Aircraft Operation manual – AOM (114 pages), covering nearly all major systems and avionics in the simulation;
2. A multi-crew operation manual (31 pages), describing how the DA Fokker can be used with linked flight simulator sessions over a network connection for a pilot/copilot configuration (note – untested in this review);
3. An avionics migration manual for Boeing users (8 pages), describing the primary differences between the “Boeing way” and the “Fokker way”; and
4. Two tutorials numbered 3 and 4.

The AOM and tutorial 4 fall in the “must read” category. At almost 130 pages and 25Mb, tutorial 4 is as much a reference as it is a “how to” during a detailed demo flight. In fact, tutorial 4 is probably the best written tutorial provided with an add-on I’ve had the pleasure to go through, with copious graphics and instructions for each phase of flight.

Tutorials 1 and 2 are referenced in the documentation, and both are curiously absent. Speaking of absent, reference data (such as V-Speed) is also missing from the documentation. I would find later that the information is available in-sim, although where to find it will only be known if you read the tutorials (more on this in a bit).

Visuals – Exterior

Both models of the Fokker 100 and 70 are crisp. I noted some minor polygon reduction near the top of the fuselage. The models are detailed with features such as gear linkage, cargo door supports, hydraulic actuators, and a fairly complex linkage system on the flaps. In brief, it’s in there.

F70 has stairs in the door External view, fuselage/wing
Rolls Royce engines – F70 F100 engine close-up
F100 gear detail F70 gear detail
Deployed flaps, note the detail of the interior linkage mechanism in the inner wing support strut Upper view with “lift dumpers” (aka spoilers) F70 “T” tail

Outside of the default FS “spot” views, two wing views are available, left and right. A bit skimpy.

Left wing view – alas no FSX style flex wing here More wing view from the external camera, no bump maps either, still convincing

A plethora of European liveries are included in the product. Curiously, American Airlines and US Air are not included in the set, even though these U.S. carriers ordered over 100 aircraft between the two of them.

The textures look good up close, with no tearing or artifacts to be found. In passing, our very own AVSIM library has some excellent non-European liveries for the Fokker, including US Air, using the available paint kit, a big thanks goes out to our creative contributors.

An extensive set of European liveries is in the box Some liveries are configured for left or right cockpit configuration

Visuals – Interior

The DA Fokker in its current form does not include a virtual cockpit. There is no interior cockpit or cabin represented, except for the cargo hold (this I found by moving the camera around in some views – you must have a mobile camera to view this). The fact the product has no VC is clearly stated on the vendor’s site. Flight One indicates on the product page that when released, the VC would be free of charge to current DA Fokker customers.

In my view, the market is split on Virtual Cockpits in the “must have”, “nice to have” and “who cares” category. Obviously, the Fokker as implemented now will not please the VC fans. Certainly, my TrackIR had to be turned off when flying the pair as it creates havoc with 2D. At the same time, I didn’t find myself missing the VC except during taxi operations, and I was very thankful for the positive impact this had on FPS at major airports.

Left cockpit (“Cold and Dark”) Right cockpit (powered, no IRS aligned)
Overhead panel (upper) – lesser used system are not modeled Center console (upper)

As far as other views, we find two wing views and the front 2D cockpit, that’s it for camera angles. Lean and mean.

Panels and features

Arguably, the 2D panel experience is top of class. Gauges are clear and smooth, depicting all primary and secondary systems. While not every button or knob functions, if it is depicted, it probably works. There is plenty to keep one busy (and reading).

Upper center console – only one FMC is visible at a time Middle center console Bottom center console (note the flight control lock lever on the left side)

The “office” comes either as the left or right seat configuration. This is selected at the time the aircraft model/livery is chosen. It is not possible to switch after the flight has loaded. This is an interesting design choice, and the Fokker controls are duplicated between left and right seats, with center panels being shared. Functionality is the same, just the perspective will be different.

This right/left seat plays well with the multi-crew networked functionality of the simulation, where two armchair pilots get to fly the same aircraft either as PF or PNF (note: the multi-crew functionality is untested for the purpose of this article). The requirement is that one pilot must select one or the other as long as they are not the same.

User interface

The flow of the panel interface is a delight to use. The panels have visual “hot spots” in the form of blue bars with arrows and corner “x” buttons that display as the mouse hovers on specific areas of the panels. The visual cues are novel among the add-ons I have had the opportunity to see. They remove the guesswork of finding the proverbial hidden click spot, and they are in intuitive and logical places.

FMC panel in init mode Glass displays can be zoomed in

In fact, there is virtually no need to use the panel keyboard shortcuts to switch panels, except perhaps to bring up common panels such as the FMC.

I should note here that the standard FS keyboard shortcuts may not function as expected. The DA Fokker wants you to use the panel and mouse interface to accomplish certain tasks (example, open cargo doors).

Left seat door control panel (blue bar collapses it) – options not applicable for aircraft model are labeled.

The use of the left and right mouse buttons to interact with knobs and switches is logical, as is the use of the mouse wheel to increase or decrease values. It is never evident how one should move the outer ring from the inner ring on multi-function knobs, but the design is practical. I particularly liked the “digit” specific behavior as you can set any digit on the MCP readouts very quickly by hovering the mouse on a specific digit.

Load times

In the initial release, the panel system loaded with a very significant initial delay. By very significant, I mean between 10 to 20 seconds on my system. The service pack addressed that and loading is now only a few seconds. Calling up the panels initially is perceptibly slower than subsequent displays. After the initial flight load, panels are speedy.

Loading SIDs in the FMC Weather test Zoom annunciator panel

Panel lighting

The Fokker 70/100 has multiple panel lighting levels and a dome light. While panel textures look good during the day, they suffer from palletizing at dusk, dawn and night. This is a limitation of the color encoding within Flight Simulator’s gauge engine as it is also found in other products. The instrument/panel lighting as implemented doesn’t help. We do not find the soft and pleasing lighting gradients found in other add-ons, including Digital Aviation’s other products. This said, lighting does work and is effective.

Panel, night time – several backlight and instrument intensities are provided Note the palette on the trim knob Dome light on (works as storm light or flood light as well as simulated)

Simulation configuration

The configuration for the simulation is set through the REF/MAINT page in the FMC. There, we find calibration options for input controls, the ability to load or save a panel state, flight plan load/save, and simulation options such as the ability to turn the virtual co-pilot on/off, set display units, etc... One (likely unintended) consequence, the FMC bus must be energized for the REF page to be available. The configuration page is not available in a cold/dark scenario until the FMC gets power.

While a menu bar option would have worked just as well, the use of the REF page on the FMC to set options adds to the immersion.

Input calibration

The MAINT page provides several functions to calibrate axis inputs specific beyond the facilities provided by FS. The calibration is necessary to set the “sweet” spot on the throttle reversers for example, and also tune the limits of all major inputs. It is evident the Fokker isn’t meant to be controlled with the keyboard.

Checklists and load sheet

Load sheet is set by the external loader and displayed in the kneeboard – a must have to configure the flight computers V-Speeds are also in the checklist section of the kneeboard

The Fokker’s checklists and load configuration are available through the FS kneeboard. The load sheet, including take-off weight (TOW), fuel data and take-off trim setting, is created by the external configuration utility based on your selection. The kneeboard is quite handy to prepare the cockpit and when programming the FMC, and eliminates the need to chase around paperwork (or the numbers). In fact, performance tables are only available via the kneeboard.

Panel states

The panel state can be saved or loaded through the MAINT page. A default panel state can also be set whenever a flight is loaded, and all subsequent flights will use that panel state.

A cold/dark configuration is partially provided through the files included with the tutorials – by this I mean that not everything is turned off. Perhaps not everything is turned off by the crew when they leave the cockpit in real life. My cold/dark panel had to be created and saved manually, a good exercise.

The Fokker’s panel data is subject to a common ailment in the FS world: panel state gets confused when loading one aircraft, then switching to another. The more complex the aircraft, the more confused things get. Invariably, some obscure setting in the simulator’s engine or programming interface is not reset properly and odd behavior happens. After loading a saved flight, I found it often necessary to re-reload the aircraft from the FS “change aircraft” menu for the panels to be initialized properly, even after manually loading the panel state. This is not a behavior unique to the DA Fokker and seems tied to how Flight Simulator loads models and gauges.

Lastly, the panel state can only set while the aircraft is on the ground. This design decision makes it difficult, dare I say impossible, to safely resume a saved flight in the air.

Instrumentation / Avionics

The heart of the DA Fokker simulation lies in its instrumentation and avionics package. DA delivers a glass cockpit with above average trimmings.
We find as a full inertial navigation (IRS) simulation, a very complete CDU/FMC implementation (I use these terms interchangeably), the obligatory TCAS system, flight guidance, a full featured weather/terrain radar with tilt and gain controls, and all major automated flight functions.

Generally speaking, all primary systems are modeled in significant detail. In fact, the level of detail will have you frequently consult the documentation to discover yet another nifty feature.

Automated flight

The DA Fokker simulates automatic flight systems with all expected modes: Fuel computation, lateral/vertical track with speed/altitude constraints and overrides, inertial/GPS navigation, direct-to, go-around, alternate airport, climb/cruise/descent profiles and manual waypoint entry with reference/distance/bearing capability.

A SID/STAR database is included and the simulation had no problems finding any waypoint I threw at it. The SID/STARs did not automatically populate vertical constraints however, at least, the ones I tested. SP1 adds the ability to use either metric or imperial units for pressure/load data.

Some secondary modes are not simulated, such as an alternate flight plans (route) or failed engine. Other products simulate those. I can say I have rarely used them so I do not consider them essential, but a plus.

I found the lateral and vertical automatic profiles in the FMC work predictably. I ended up having to enter vertical profile parameters and constraints via the FMC, realistic, yet tedious. I found the aircrafts have a tendency to “chase the needle” a bit with regards to speed constraints. In practice, this meant needing extra time for the aircraft to speed up or slow down preferably keeping level flight to avoid overshooting the vertical profile.

Flight planning

The FMC can load FS plans or DA format plans, although FS plans didn’t quite work as expected. The Fokker refused to load any of the FSX flight plans created by my two external flight planning utilities, even if they load in other products without problems. The workaround was to load the flight plan in the FSX flight planning utility, then save under a different name. It is then possible to load the FSX plan then save it in the “DA” format. If it looks convoluted, it is. In the end, it works.

REF page index MAINT page panel state and flight plan setup MAINT page options 2
MAINT page options 3 Loading an FSX flight plan, some file names don’t show up correctly… …and are inconsistent – also, the up/down arrows act reversed, so click up to move down (you are scrolling the screen up, not showing content below)
INIT page – ALIGN IRS shows here to sync the flight computer with the inertial system. Our initial FP from Amsterdam – the flight computer automatically inserts a discontinuity to ensure we enter a SID or look up a departure vector. Same for arrivals. This forces the pilot to check the data.

Weather and terrain radar, and TCAS system

DA simulates a weather and terrain radar with tilt/gain features. The operations of which are nearly all controlled through the lowest center console panel, and several modes are simulated. This worked rather well and added much immersion to the flight. The TCAS system is also modeled, showing the relative positions of aircraft nearby, as well providing cues to avoid mid-air collisions.

Zoomed displays – showing route and weather Weather with FMC route overlay Weather under TCAS overlay / rose display

Aircraft Operations

While the Fokker avionics may look the same, they operate differently from anything else I’ve flown virtually. In fact, I had to forget the Boeing or Airbus “way”, which is harder to do than expected. The Fokker’s systems have a distinct “lean and mean” philosophy. This goes beyond the push the button in one cockpit vs. a pull in another. For me, it meant repeated trips to the AOM and tutorial 4.

Some examples: Bleed is automatic. Climate control PAKs auto-shutoff during engine startup. No indicator means the feature is actually on, making for a very dark overhead panel (note, they are also off when there is no power, which can be confusing). The FMC likes to control all frequencies including ILS, and override must be programmed in the FMC before the radio knobs will work.

Spoilers are called “lift dumpers” and only operate on the ground. Using them to increase drag on approach is not possible. Strobes are automatic, and come on only when the wheels are off the ground (they can be manually forced on). Autoland engages by itself - no need to engage other auto-pilots so long as approach mode is on when the glideslope is captured. The list goes on.

The co-pilot

The virtual copilot, when enabled, is, (and I mean this in the kindest way), only reasonably intelligent. The copilot assists with various PNF tasks, such as control of the landing lights, flight controls lock, transition altitude barometer callouts, APU start, engine start and ground calls.
I found our AI copilot sometimes gets confused, not knowing that the engine or the APU is already started for example. Sometimes, the copilot falls silent, requiring a reload. Still, a nice feature to have.

Configuration Utility

The external configuration utility controls the pax, cargo and fuel loads of the aircrafts. Using sliders and random buttons, it is possible to configure the aircraft’s load out in specific or random ways. The load sheet appears in the kneeboard when in-sim.

Aircraft Load Configuration

The configuration utility does not have the ability to load a flight plan at this time to estimate fuel use.

Fuel load setup

Model animations, lighting & special effects

The aircraft models include the standard control surface animations. Flex wing seems absent, so are bump maps and some of the new FSX texture reflections. In fact, the model looks quite “flat” at night especially. The 3D cockpit crew as viewed from the external camera views are quite animated, even reaching for the overhead panel.

F70 cockpit– a bit of polygon reduction shows in the upper fuselage F100 cockpit – our pilots seem to have had better hair days

A special panel in the 2D cockpit controls pax and cargo doors (default FS key maps will not work). They are not linked to the FSX ground AI so you will not see ground baggage handlers show up. However, it is very convenient to have a panel to operate the doors this way. The Fokker does not include in the box the FSX jetway support (this can be easily added in the aircraft.cfg files).

F100 rear cargo hold detail F100 front cargo hold detail

Exterior lighting includes the usual navigation, beacon, strobe, logo and landing lights.

Landing lights deployed F100 front cargo hold detail Wing tip and wing landing light detail

The aircraft does not have engine smoke (it can be added manually, a forum post on DA’s website describes how to do that, and more).
Wingtip vortices as well as rain/snow/landing effects are included. Blades rotate, and in parked mode, the model shows wheel chocks/engine covers as well as external power connection. Lastly, the landing lights extend/retract.

Pushing back Taxi in the rain Cleared for take-off
Takeoff at about 130kts – rain cleared up Gear up – wingtip effects Initial climb out – hard to reach 240kts with what feels like a slightly underpowered design
F100 taxiing at night F100 night takeoff – w/strobes

Flight dynamics

The very first impression of the Fokker after pushback from the gate is that of precise and graduated steering response. In fact, steering seems impervious to the usual “rudder twitch” in FSX. For once, keeping the center line is within grasp in FSX, so kudos to DA for pulling this off.

On the other hand, I found body roll, pitch and general motion associated with lurching ahead at full throttle from a dead stop, braking abruptly on one wheel, or making sudden turns didn’t sway the aircraft’s frame very convincingly at all. In fact, it was rather impervious to my mishandling, no matter what I tried. I simply could not get the drinks to spill. It feels like there are no shock absorbers at all, and no body sway. That certainly doesn’t feel “right”.

Once in the air, we get a totally different animal. The Fokker 70 (or 100) is nimble and responds well to inputs. Bank is very sensitive. In fact, even with all the automatic gadgets at hand, hand flying the aircraft is extremely enjoyable, especially during approach. The aircraft responds easily to throttle, bank, elevator, and feels surefooted. This is particularly noticeable (and appreciated) on approach. Controlling the rate of descent on throttle alone with timed flap increases makes the Fokker pair behave more like an F-18 approaching a carrier deck. I can’t speak to how realistic that is, but that is definitely the impression I was left with.

Our KLM F70, on approach to Paris-Orly LFPO from Amsterdam EHAM Gear down, a Korean Air 747 nearby On final, other aircraft waiting for us
Almost there Touchdown Auto-brakes on, lift dumpers deploy automatically

The Fokker’s climb performance is far from spectacular – as is reported in the aircraft industry. The 100 does marginally better than the 70 when fitted with the larger engines (10% more thrust). The Rolls-Royce engines feel underpowered compared to say, the MD-83 or a CRJ for that matter – these feel like rockets compared to our F100. Remove the passengers, cargo, and go with 20% fuel, things get a lot more exciting during the climb, but what would be the point?

Failure model

The DA Fokker does not include failures beyond the default set in FS. In-flight engine restart and fire procedure were not attempted. The FMC does not model engine out (button does nothing).

Performance

Test System

QX9650@4GHz
4 GB of RAM
NVIDIA 8800 Ultra
CH Products controllers
NaturalPoint TrackIR
Vista 64
FSX Acceleration/SP2

Flying Time:
2 weeks (RTM)
1 week (SP1)

Outside of a very significant and consistent initial panel load time – up to 20 seconds or so, no major performance issues are found. The 2D panels are smooth under any circumstance on my system. I did note that exterior textures took a bit to load when switching from the cockpit to an exterior view, but nothing out of the ordinary.

Conclusion

The Digital Aviation Fokker 70/100 package provides an excellent glass cockpit experience in a regional aircraft package. The choice of a Fokker aircraft is intriguing and uncommon.

While the VC is missed, the 2D panel system is robust and one of the better implementations on the market today. All major systems are modeled in depth including options like the weather and terrain radar. A multi-crew capability is also included in the package (untested). Throughout, the product comes a bit as FS9 trapped in FSX. It feels a bit held back by the limitations imposed by the earlier version of Flight Simulator.

Frankly, my first week with the DA Fokker upon its release left me with a strong aftertaste of beta software rushed to market. Some very obvious bugs where somehow missed. Thankfully, DA responded responsibly and quickly with a service pack released on the advertised schedule – a rarity. This was the correct response showing attention to customer care.

In the end, I find that DA’s simulation in its SP1 form delivers an engaging an immersive experience, in manual or automatic flight modes. The Fokker 70/100 continues DA’s reputation for delivering in-depth treatments of the aircraft they model.

If you like complex simulations of aircraft with character, Digital Aviation’s Fokker is one of the better choices on the market.

 

What I Like About The Fokker 70/100

  • Immersive
  • Rich set of avionics, excellent 2D panel usability
  • Nimble, predictable handling, wants to be hand flown
  • Built-in multi-crew, left/right seat (not evaluated)
  • One of the best examples of a useful tutorial guide (tutorial 4)
  • A different kind of regional jet, a unique experience

 

What I Don't Like About The Fokker 70/100

  • Unrealized potential – no VC, no visible FSX model capability features
  • Initial quality assurance lacking (largely corrected with SP1)

 

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