Introduction to the Boeing 737
The very first Boeing 737 aircraft flew in 1967, 44 years ago from the date of this review. Since then, countless innovations, upgrades and competitor aircraft have surfaced; however, the Boeing 737 series remains the best-selling airliner with 6,819 airframes delivered and 2,109 orders that have yet to be fulfilled as of July 2011 (The Boeing Corporation, 2011). The 600/700/800/900 models comprise the “Next Generation” group. The models prior to them, 100/200/300/400/500, are part of the “Original and Classic” groups.
In today’s economy, one of the most notable differences between the classic and NG groups is the fuel efficiency. In 2008 alone, airlines devoted 40% of an airfare ticket price to pay for fuel (compared to only 15% in 2000). (New York Times, 2008) Due to the very real fiscal dangers in continuing to operate such fuel hungry aircraft, many airlines began to retire the classic 737’s replacing them with the newer NG group (or sometimes the competitor Airbus A320/A319/A318 series aircraft).
The Next Generation series of Boeing 737’s can fly: between 130-215 passengers at Mach 0.78 (511 mph); up to 41,000 feet (or 12,500 meters) high; between 3,050 and 5,510 nautical miles (dependent on equipment and weights). These performance characteristics make the 737 NG series a tried and tested component of short to middle range operations.
Over 11 countries rely on the 737 for military operations with the largest customer being the United States of America (with 19 in service between the Air Force and Navy). The runner ups are India and Indonesia using 6 each both for Air Force operations.
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Introduction to Precision Manuals Development Group (PMDG)
Precision Manuals Development Group (PMDG) released their Boeing 737-800/900 Next Generation (NGX) add-on models for Microsoft Flight Simulator X in early August 2011. Since then, there is much anticipation from the community for the 600/700 models which, according to PMDG, are right around the corner!
The PMDG NGX took over three years of research, design, and coding to develop. Over the course of three years, PMDG received expert input from real NG crew, maintenance advisers and the Boeing Corporation. PMDG stated in the introduction manual that even well experienced NG crew can be awed by the fidelity to real life operations (such as the small quirks the aircraft or its systems may display in real life and also in the simulation).
At the time of this review, PMDG offers their customers delivery of the NGX via internet download only. The file is well over 659 megabytes in size, in (.zip) format, and appears to be hosted on a third party server, which happens to run fast.
Per PMDG manuals, it’s recommended to have FSX installed in a root directory of your <C:\> drive. The manuals go on to state this is especially important as FSX is constantly fetching files and accessing various folders on the drive which can be inhibited by security restricted folders such as “Program Files,” and “Program Files (X86).”
Once the (.zip) file is downloaded and extracted, the customer is faced with a single (.exe) file and a read-me in (.txt) format. Installation is very straightforward: double click (.exe), follow on screen prompts, allow installer to check for required Windows components, allow installer to update/install (if necessary) required Windows components, activate and done.
The fun aspect of the NGX is even after just reading the tutorial flight within the introduction manual, one may apply those same easy to follow steps in any flight of their choosing and get by until they have time to start reading the manuals in depth.
The deeper one chooses to dive into the manuals, the more aware they become of why the aircraft does certain things. Conversely, the deeper one chooses to explore and fly the NGX, the more interesting it becomes to read the manuals and think back to past scenarios and go “ah, yes, that makes sense, it happened to me before!”
The manuals may be large but like anything else in life, it takes time. It’s important to note that just because one chooses to read all the manuals in their entirety once doesn’t necessarily make one an expert in the matter. There’s an abundant amount of information to consume and one will probably forget a majority of it unless they see the referenced actions occurring in the simulator to remind them of their newly acquired knowledge. Each manual is detailed below:
Flight Crew Training Manual (FCTM) – This manual features 416 pages total. The FCTM is an official Boeing manual designed to supplement procedures outlined in the Flight Crew Operating Manuals in a way that will help the pilot gain techniques to operate the NGX efficiently and safely. It covers each phase of operation from ground operations to landing. Sample topics include how to taxi like the “pros” in adverse weather and all of the different scenarios and their respective procedures to start the engines. This manual details these and many more procedures.
NGX Introduction Manual – This manual features 132 pages total. Personally speaking, if you were to choose to read only one of the manuals, one may benefit greatly by reviewing the “setting up FSX section.” PMDG recorded and compiled the various settings their beta testers used to gain great performance from the NGX and made it available to the consumer. This manual details how to operate the switches, special features, click spots, and different equipment set ups.
NGX Tutorial 1 – This tutorial features 97 pages total. The tutorial flight is set in easy mode to follow steps. Each step is laid out with some pictures included to help guide one along the process. Procedures cover all the way from inputting the route manually in the CDU to the shutdown procedures at the destination. The perceived purpose of this tutorial is not only to teach you how to fly for the first time in this aircraft, but also to show off the NGX’s ability to adhere to strict speed/altitude restrictions especially during descent.
Flight Crew Operating Manual (FCOM) v1 – This manual features 1,035 pages total. This manual covers aircraft limitations, normal procedures, supplementary procedures, performance dispatch, and performance in-flight. This all was perceived to be raw data from actual Boeing manuals.
Flight Crew Operating Manual (FCOM) v2 – This manual features 1,240 pages total. This manual covers all the systems on the NGX (examples: APU operations; autopilot; fire protection, anti-ice, and more…). This all was perceived to be raw data from actual Boeing manuals.
Quick Reference Handbook – This handbook features 452 pages total. The handbook, when used properly, will guide the reader to find quick remedies to almost any situation within the cockpit. Engine fire? The front of the document has that situation bolded and capitalized in a list, with the page 8.2 noted next to it. Just as the title implies, this handbook provides a quick reference to various scenarios and their respective solutions. This all was perceived to be raw data from actual Boeing manuals.
In summary, each of these documents with their depth provide a detailed learning tool for the reader, professional pilot and flight simmer alike. It’s possible that the procedures, failures, solutions, and other information provided in these manuals may induce endless amounts of amusement to the reader to try out in the simulation.
In summary, advertised features include:
The NGX has a very handy user interface that is fully implemented within the CDU of the aircraft. Even with power completely cut-off, the pilot can hold the MENU key down for five seconds to activate the NGX customization options. These include fuel, payload, performance settings, sound options, panel set-ups, failures and maintenance options.
No more going into the FSX menus to change your fuel and payload. No more pesky programs to open outside of FSX to manipulate weights. Not sure what your center of gravity is? No problem, the CDU will calculate that for you. Not sure what your take off trim is? No problem, the CDU will calculate that too.
In my opinion, a certain level of convenience was cleverly added to the NGX without prying the user from the immersion and realism it offers. Everything in the user interface seemed straight forward and easy to work with.
I have to admit this add-on made me a little nervous from the get-go on how it was going to handle on my aging computer equipment. I was very impressed to find the NGX isn’t as resource demanding as I anticipated. PMDG did a very good job keeping performance high up even with all the amazing visuals and systems simulations.
There are stated to be over 500 individual recordings in the sound set of the NGX product. Each switch has its own noise and certain switches such as the hydraulic pumps, pack switches, and system test switches create either faint noises in the background that a real-world pilot should hear upon activation, or loud alarms and bells to alert the pilot the test was successful.
The NGX exceeds the expectation of having just a cockpit and exterior sound set by having a third type of sound set—passenger view. When the simmer changes their view to the passenger views over the wing, and they lower the flaps, they will hear the motors working as the flaps lower. Even in the exterior view of the aircraft the simmer can hear the varied sound perspective of the flaps lowering.
The flaps lever has a different sound for each setting as well. In example, lower it one set and hear the clicking noise as the lever lowers. Lower it again, and the produced sound is not the same as the last. Press F8 and lower the flaps all the way—it’s one fluid sound to simulate the pilot moving the lever all the way down…not 8 repetitions of the same flap lever clicking noise. Also, there weren’t any gaps in noises (i.e. when the engine is taking longer than normal to start, the starting noise doesn’t just loop from the beginning again).
There is also a special sound set for flight deck to ground communications. When pushback is requested, one can hear the specific instructions provided by ground to the flight deck crew. When the simmer complies with the given instruction, such as releasing the parking break, the sound set picks up again and continues with the procedure.
In my opinion, the sound set was superior to any other add-on I’ve experienced. Not only were the sounds of high quality, but they all came together in unison to really add a high level of immersion. I liked how when I would move the view around the virtual cockpit, the various sounds would mesh together, change levels, or fade away to simulate the true perspective of what one would hear in the left and right ears with those same movements (i.e. a sound happening on the left side of your head is more noticeable in the left ear than on the right ear – the same applies in this simulation). This observation is intensified with headphones on.
The sound set also seemed to be crafted by a true expert in the matter. To be able to capture all of those minor and major sounds alike and blend them together into one experience really added to the immersion. This category received top points in this review for the quality, immersion, and attention to detail.
In the virtual cockpit, every texture, gauge, placard, annunciator and switch comes to life in one big collage of realism. The simmer will notice intricate details such as smudged fingerprints and dust specks on the EFIS displays. There are also sharply textured heating elements on the windows that add to the realism. The speeds placard on the upper middle beam is clear and sharp enough to read. On the MCP, the numerical displays also feature reflections.
When the simmer is flying or taxiing the aircraft and the sun hits the right spots, the light reflects on the various gauges and MCP displays. The textures throughout the virtual cockpit are very sharp, especially with the texture limit boosted in the FSX.cfg as prescribed by the introduction manual.
In the passenger cabin perspective, the simmer is seated in different spots with their respective view of the wing. The wing views were very convincing, and can really make one feel as though they really are sitting on board the real NG aircraft. One can see the wing flexing during take-off, flare, and various stages of turbulent flight.
Time, research, teamwork, and precision combined to create one spectacular add-on. The interior model is no exception to this feat. I couldn’t find a single part of the interior portions of the NGX that didn’t look real and/or modeled to the fullest. Even the fire hydrant received a high amount of attention. For instance, it has a properly modeled pressure gauge, sharp textures, safety pin, and a rating placard. To add to the list, the arm rests are animated as well. The small things really do combine to a greater equation in the NGX add-on.
In my opinion, this high level of detail and precision is unprecedented in MSFS and its various add-ons that I’ve experienced. I truly feel as though these fine details really spoil the simmer to the point where precision and high details become almost an expectation for any future add-ons. This category received full points for going above and beyond and setting an extremely high standard.
The exterior model boasts a ton of eye candy. Generally, I’m one who is huge on eye-candy, but seldom do I see eye-candy coupled with simulation that rings true to life. Please, allow me to elaborate. On the NGX add-on, the red beacon light on the bottom of the plane is set exactly to spec as provided by the light bulb manufacturer in real life to go off at the right intervals. It doesn’t end there, that red light also has a reflection on the dark ground below it at night. This scratches the surface of PMDG’s interest in detail and aligns with their definition of what a simulation should be.
The flap movements are fully customized and go beyond the standard FSX flap movements. PMDG found a way to bypass most FSX limitations, as stated in their introduction manual, and really bring this aircraft to life with those abilities. The one thing that lacks at the moment is during pushback, there is no push truck animated/connected to the aircraft. I read in the PMDG community that this will change with future updates.
There is an air start unit, external air unit and a ground power unit modeled when these features are requested in the NGX user interface on the CDU. And as you may have guessed, these items have their own sound set too. One can hear the diesel engine roar outside of the cockpit on any of these units.
The movements of the landing gear, flaps, spoilers, reverse thrusters, engine fans, stabilizing surfaces, and the retractable landing lights all operated realistically. When the perspective is set behind the aircraft, looking at the rear of the engines, one can see the light from the front of the engines through the fan blades.
The texture set on the exterior model is equally as sharp and detailed as the interior surfaces. Each rivet and line seems to be announced on the texture set to add to the realism. I tested out several repaints and they all looked very sharp.
Overall, the exterior model was highly presentable and textured just right. I was impressed by both the interior and exterior model and gave these area full points for the review.
Aircraft Systems Simulation
The NGX add-on by PMDG features a high fidelity simulation of various systems. One particular feature I felt they went above and beyond with was electrical demand simulation. Above the captain on the overhead panel is a power gauge to be monitored by either pilot. Turning on and off various high demand options such as landing lights and autopilot modes will make this meter fluctuate to their real standards.
Virtual “liquid movements” are also featured. When hydraulic pumps are turned on, a simulation of weights and liquid exchange is simulated on the panel as they happen “behind the scenes,” so to speak.
The FMS is fully programmable via the CDU in the flight deck. The sky is the limit on the CDU to program the FMS to your heart’s desire. There are various tutorials emerging on the PMDG forums from users on how to fully utilize the CDU. The CDU also features an alert with AIRAC data is out of date. Updated AIRAC data may be obtained from Navigraph as mentioned earlier in the review.
The fuel and payload system is another aspect which is not controlled by FSX menu, but by the special CDU page for configuring fuel and passengers. With PMDG’s expert input from Boeing, they were able to simulate the actual fuel flow of the real NG.
The failures system is extensively covered in the CDU as well. The user may have random failures occur, timed failures and also service related failures (maintenance issues like any real NG pilot may face). The CDU keeps track of service time and will generate failures close to those on the maintenance schedule for a real NG. To provide maintenance to the airplane, it must be done on the ground and through the CDU interface.
The autopilot system works excellently and can fly the airplane from take-off to flare before it disengages and the plane’s wheels meet the pavement. I was able to perform many flights with autopilot and when programmed properly it works like a dream. Hand flying the aircraft is also very friendly as soon as you trim the plane properly.
The Head-up Guidance System (HGS) is truly a treat to any simmer. It works as advertised and really adds a high level of precision to instrument approaches.
Overall, the systems seem to bear a close resemblance to what the real Boeing should be. I can’t say this for certain as I’m not a NG pilot in real-life – however, the folks at PMDG assure us this is the true; especially upon having a roster of real NG pilots test fly the NGX. After reviewing this aircraft for 50 hours, I can say in confidence I don’t question their assertion.
PMDG offers high quality repaints of countless liveries on their website free of charge. There is also a paint-kit available, which is so extensive it’s just as large as the base installer of the NGX. I noticed a prominent high definition texture artist known in the community is also working on some payware repaints for the NGX.
The expansion pack of the NGX to include the 600/700 variant will be available hopefully in October per PMDG. They plan on pricing it at $29.99, but that is subject to change—I don’t want this review to be a guarantee of that pricing. I anticipate the release of this expansion and will gladly submit my interest in reviewing it as well to supplement this one.
Overall, PMDG doesn’t lack in any details with the extras. The community seems to be hyped about the next release and the pricing seems to be very reasonable given the extreme quality of their products.
PMDG utilizes a support ticket system on their website that uses a separate login than the actual PMDG commerce site. Once in the support system, a customer may look at the knowledgebase for all the PMDG products or can submit a trouble ticket for review by the support staff.
I’m going from memory here, but Robert S. Randazzo of PMDG, stated on a forum post that reply times, even in peak submission time during release, was below 5.5 hours.
Third Party Software
I found the following to greatly enhance the work flow and planning necessary to execute a successful flight with the NGX. Please note, the following is completely optional and one can get by without using these. Also, each subject below is not covered in the fullest detail as this review would begin to lose its focus.
Navigraph – A web based service that provides a customer access to aeronautical charts and FMS data. At the time of this review, a customer has the option of purchasing a year subscription to FMS data updates for all add-ons they support (i.e. AivlaSoft, FSBuild, PMDG, etc.). This will keep all your navigational programs in sync with the latest data. You may also download:
AivlaSoft Electronic Flight Bag As the name suggests, this is an electronic flight bag (EFB). By definition, the EFB provides you all necessary flight information “right at your fingertips,” in digital format, such as:
The goal upon integrating use of an EFB is to minimize paperwork in the cockpit, provide faster access to data required for takeoffs, landings and even emergencies, and reduces workload during stressful situations. AivlaSoft EFB receives monthly updates from Navigraph.
FSBuild v2.3 – FSBuild, current version 2.3, offers up a full service flight planning interface. Complete with a fully automated route generator, SID/STAR integration, fuel/performance planning, flight plan exporting options, and much more.
This program can also export flight plans to the NGX to save the user much time by automating data entry into the actual CDU in the game. It’s as easy as exporting the flight plan from FSBuild and selecting a “co-route” in the CDU. Navigraph releases monthly updates for this program as well.
Summary / Closing Remarks
In summary, I find this add-on to be above any other that I’ve ever had the experience of flying in FSX. I’ve been involved with flight simulation since 2000, and can remember the very first add-ons that were emerging when I was new. To see how far they have come—from animated rolling wheels (remember how the wheels used to be a static texture?) to tilting bogies on large aircraft—there have been a lot of small but huge advancements.
PMDG has followed the pursuit of this trend and has gone a step above anyone else to ensure the customers of their products experience the newest and latest advancements. I’m sure some customers, at face value, would wonder why PMDG just included Boeing manuals instead of writing up extensive PDF manuals on their own headers. Well folks, upon getting to know this bird pretty well, it’s because it’s what makes sense. The official Boeing manual applies directly to this simulation—very well too.
PMDG has not only exceeded past any other in visual quality, but also in their definition of simulation. It’s too often we find new aircraft models released by vendors and freeware producers that are basically just a shell with cool textures and a good sound set (I say good because before I thought some sound sets to be excellent, until compared with PMDG’s).
It feels as though PMDG has built this plane piece by piece as the plane would have been constructed at the factory in real life. Thousands of pictures and diagrams led the team to be able to construct such a beautiful simulation that will entertain for years to come.
I can honestly say if for some reason I had to re-purchase the NGX I’d spend the money again. I have found, in the community, I’m not the first person to say this. The plane is available at a magnificent value when compared with all the features, hard work, and extensive simulation it provides.
I recommend any flight simulator user carefully look over the system requirements for this advanced simulation to ensure their hardware is capable of running it. I hope you all enjoy the NGX as much as I do and I wish you all many successful flights!
Sources (Where Applicable)
Wikipedia contributors. "Boeing 737." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 1 Oct. 2011. Web. 1 Oct. 2011.
"737 Model Orders and Deliveries data." Boeing, June 2011. Retrieved: September 6, 2011."To Save Fuel, Airlines Find No Speck Too Small." New York Times, June 11, 2008
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