AVSIM Commercial Aircraft Review

Phoenix (PSS) Boeing 757

Product Information
Publisher: Phoenix Simulation (PSS)
Description:  Boeing 757 airliner simulation.
Download Size:
See review
Format:
Web Based Auto Install
Simulation Type:
FS2004
Reviewed by: Joseph Ellwood AVSIM Staff Reviewer & Kris Heslop, 757 First Officer- December 17, 2006

Introduction

The Boeing 757 is a medium range transcontinental aircraft which was intended to replace the 727. Originally, the airplane was designed for Eastern Airlines and British Airways and entered service in 1983. The 757 program can be undoubtedly perceived as one of Boeing’s most successful. A lack of sales in the late 90s eventually caused manufacturing to cease. The last 757 was produced in late November 2005 and was delivered to Shanghai Airlines in August 2006 after a total of just over 1,000 aircraft were built. However, many still remain in active service with airlines and military forces alike, with 996 still flying today.

The primary purpose of the 757 was to complement the 767 on less dense routes. It was originally tagged as the 727-300, which had the T-tail, but was followed by changing the airplane to the conventional tail, therefore earning its name as an entirely new design. The 757 does contain the same fuselage diameter as the older 707, 727 and 737 models.

Many 757s are used privately and for military usage. The United States Air Force uses a 757 – which is dubbed as the C-32 – for VIP transport, and sees the majority of its usage transporting the US Vice President, and has the operational callsign of “Air Force Two”. The Royal New Zealand Air Force has two 757s which it uses for troop and VIP movement. There are several 757s which are used for private transport (not a bad way to get around). One by supermarket giant Ronald Burkle, and two are owned by Microsoft Co-founder Paul Allen, one he uses for personal transportation, and the other one is used to move the Portland TrailBlazers and the Seattle Seahawks around; both teams of which he owns.

Although now out of production from the Boeing plants, Aviation Partners Inc. now offer winglet additions to enhance fuel usage and range. Airlines such as American, Finnair, Icelandair and Continental use winglets on their -200 and -300 based models. Other upgrades for avionics, engines, fuel efficiency and other enhancements are available from Boeing and other aviation suppliers.

A Helping Hand From A Mate

To assist me in giving this product a thorough lookover and a huge amount of expertise to the review, I’ve teamed up with my good mate Kris Heslop. Kris is a 757-200 First Officer for a European airline, and he is due to transition to the left seat sometime next year. Kris will be commenting on the flight envelope, sounds, documentation, other operating procedures and the cockpit and I will be looking at the installation process and exterior model. No better way to test a complex airliner sim than to have a real pilot on board. Kris will comment on the final rating of the product, as obviously his word is much more worthy than mine. Now, let’s get into it!

Installation

Test System

Intel Pent 4 2.66GHz
512MB RAM PC2700DDR
ASUS A9550
40 GB HD 5400RPM

Flying Time:
40 hours combined

Installation is quite different from what most of us have grown to be comfortable with. To purchase this product, you’ll need a free account at the PSS website. Once you’ve logged into the PSS site and entered your details, you download the installer from the ‘My Files’ section of the website. This is where things change a bit. The installer download is very small, less than one megabyte. Once that file is saved on your system and it’s opened, it will establish an internet connection. Once you’ve read through the legal terms and conditions, you’ll need to enter in your email address and password that you use to log into the PSS website. Once that’s verified, you simply go ahead and install the 757.

I am not a fan of the web based install; I feel it’s unnecessary to download the entire plane every time you wish to install the product. This also means that it’s almost pointless backing up the EXE, as it’s only a small file and does not contain the add-ons files. There is a way around this however. Simply point the installer to another folder and install it there. Once that’s done, zip up all the files in one package. Of course, one has to ask: should the simmer really have to do this?

Documentation

The first thing anyone should do is take a look at the documentation, which is both first class and easy to read, but equally quite complex. There are 5 PDF documents which provide you with a panel guide, which doubles as the user guide; a technical manual covering the aircraft and its history; a charts and tables manual which provides a raft of tables from which you can manually trawl through to get V speeds and trim values; but most beneficial is the tutorial which even I followed to make sure I didn’t miss any of the ‘features’ that PSS have packed in. Unfortunately the PDF files don’t have any bookmarks, so you simply have to either print them or trawl though them on screen if you just need to find the odd snippet of information.

Exterior Model

The external model is finely done, and it’s quickly evident that this is a great looking plane. Everything you’d expect from PSS is there. As with almost all models these days, everything opens and moves respectively. The doors can be controlled via the 2D panel. The RAT opens and closes, the flaps retract and extract, the engine blades spin and are in great detail etc. Not much can be said about the model here, it is a pleasure to view and Ben Jones’ artwork adds to the realism.

However, I do have one concern with the 757. Ben Jones has done an astonishing 80+ (yes, eighty) repaints for the 757. There are over a handful of airlines that I’ve never even heard of! There is something there for everyone, no matter where you want to fly. My only worry with the outside model is the windows. I’m not sure the way they were modeled, but to be honest, I think they look downright ugly. Mostly because of the reflections on them.

Each window looks exactly the same which detracted my personal rating of “eye candy” for this model. Another point about the windows is the fact that you can see straight through them. No seats are visible when looking inside; I may have been able to live with this if I could see seats when panning around in spot view. The windows are the same on the 777 released in 2005, which shows me that the modelers have not come far from their last project. Call me old fashioned if you want, but I still like the good old textured windows. When done right, they look more realistic than modeled ones.

The Cockpit

The PSS B757 flight-deck comes in two flavours. For those with older systems, you can load just the 2D panel and those with monster systems can load the 2D cockpit along with having the Virtual Cockpit sitting in the background for use as required. This arrangement allows the users of the older machines to avoid the frame rate sapping VC sitting in the background simply consuming resources.

Both flight-decks are very nicely presented; the 2D panel has crisp artwork allowing an awful lot of gauges to be crammed in without losing too much detail. Pop ups can be activated in several ways, either by using the ever present menu bar across the top of the screen, using hotspots or using hotkeys. Each of the panels are treated to the same attention to detail, although the avionics panel (aka the aisle stand or pedestal) is rather sparse. Most notably missing is the ILS tuner box although most other items are condensed into a more usable slim-line panel which neatly sits anywhere on the screen. All of the EFIS (Electronic Flight Instrument Systems) and EICAS (Engine Instruments and Crew Alerting System) screens are available in pop-up windows as well as allowing you to get a much larger representation of each screen as needed. This is essential due to the size of the main 2D panel where the screens can be quite difficult to use. For example, the speed tape is difficult to make out.

The Office
The Pedestal Overhead Panel

The VC benefits from similarly crisp textures and a fully clickable 3D environment from which you can easily operate the jet. Pleasantly, PSS have really looked at what it feels like to taxi this aircraft and the sensation of being 12ft ahead of the nose-wheel is carried off remarkably well. All of the normal taxi cues I would use in the real thing seem to work nicely, resulting in a remarkably good ground handling experience when flown from the VC. The big downside to the VC is the refresh rates on the EFIS and EICAS screens, which tended to jerk rather than flow, making it difficult to accurately fly the aircraft using raw data or the flight director. This can be alleviated by using the pop-up function of the screen but the pop-ups have to be carefully placed in order to allow you to still see key instruments such as the VSI and Altimeter. Performance is also affected with frame rates dropping markedly with any more than one pop-up open while in the VC.

VC instruments VC on intercept

Performance and EFIS fit can be altered via the setup screen which is accessed as part of the panel. This means you can alter the EFIS fit according to whatever operator option you would like. For example, choices include a V-Bar or Cross-hair flight director, Speed tape or Fast / Slow pointer and also position of the FMA (Flight Mode Annunciator) at the top or bottom of the EADI (Electronic Attitude Direction Indicator). This setup screen also allows adjustment of fuel load, screen refresh rates and controls the provision of ground services such as ground power and RAT stowage. Thankfully, tweaks to the setup via this screen doesn’t requires the often irritating re-load of the aircraft or whole sim.

EADI-EHSI pop-up in the VC EHSI pop-up in the VC MCDU in 2D

PSS have tried to model as many systems as possible, so expect to have to seriously read the manuals and tutorial flights, as almost all of the overhead panel works (the only exceptions being the HF radio panels). If set for ‘cold and dark’, as I did, you need to be particularly vigilant. As this is a situation where EVERYTHING is OFF , not just in a position where you would expect to find a de-powered aircraft. As a result it is easy to miss things, although a quick check on the EICAS will give you a clue as to what you might have missed. The only problems I found were when I tried to get quite technical and tried to get the Autoland system to degrade to LAND 2 by turning off a hydraulic system which caused all the autopilots to disconnect which got quite exciting.

Autoland in the 2D panel
Autoland sequence from the VC

The FMC is based on the more modern Pegasus model, more commonly found in the B767, although many B757’s have been retrofitted with this unit to improve the navigational performance of the aircraft. While slightly different to the one I use in the real world, anyone who has used a previous Boeing based FMC will have little trouble adapting to the changes in Pegasus. PSS have managed to get the FMC and auto-flight systems very nicely integrated with the VNAV and LNAV functions being very well modeled and stable, including things like gear and flap limit speeds.

The only main bug in the panel is the FMC CDU (Control Display Unit), which has habit of hanging. Having played with the FMC extensively, I found that it appeared to be the screen of the CDU that was hanging rather than the FMC function itself. The fault can be alleviated to a point by closing the CDU window and then re-opening it but this is not terribly practical if it decides to hang in a useless page when you need to make a swift correction. Of course, you always have the backup of using the basic autopilot modes such as FL CH (Flight Level CHange) but that is again not the way the aircraft was designed to be operated. PSS seem to have acknowledged this problem, so with a bit of luck it will be addressed in a patch in the none too distant future.

Flight Dynamics

Often the biggest failure of a developer when producing a big jet add-on is to not build in a ‘big’ feeling to the way the aircraft flies. PSS have embraced this and so far this is the closest I have seen an add-on come to actually ‘feeling’ like the real thing. The B757 is as sporty as it looks in terms of its handling but it must be remembered that at max take off weight, the aircraft can weigh a little over 113,000kgs and therfore carries quite a lot of inertia. The PSS model really gives the positive crisp feel to the controls while at the same time giving the sluggish feel you’d expect from something of that size. The feel carries on as the handling changes with flap and gear configuration and flying from the VC gives an accurate attitude and picture in all phases of flight except the last 10 feet of the flare where it seems to be a rather higher nose attitude than I’d expect.

Taxi Cue for turning Getting airborne

The engines were my biggest bug bear with this package as they seem so far off the mark. Pilots learn to look for ball park numbers to hang their hat on, such as an EPR or 1.2 for approach with full flap. On this aircraft, the power needs to be 1.30 – 1.35 to keep the speed on the approach. Other factors, such as unrealistic spool up on start and unrealistic numbers for N2 and N3 spool speeds at start, contribute to a feeling that the aircraft was modeled on the less popular Pratt & Whitney PW2000 engines rather than the mighty Rolls Royce RB211-535-E4’s that most operators opt for. Other little factors, such as incorrect EICAS cues for start (fuel on cue on N2 rather than N3) and a complete lack of any thrust change when climb thrust is selected, served to irritate me somewhat because the package as a whole is so nicely put together.

Overall the flight characteristics are fantastically accurate and feel just like the real thing but the lack of accurate thrust settings will upset both the purists and the real world pilots looking for a good procedure trainer.

Sounds

This, along with the engines being badly modeled, is a big cause for disappointment. PSS seem to have simply forgotten to do anything. The complete lack of ground ambiance and background noise seems a large oversight. I have yet to sit in a 757 with the air con packs running and be able to hear a pin drop as the usual cacophony of rushing air and whizzing gyros drowns out most things. The actual engine noise both inside and out appears no different to the stock B737-400 sounds. If you are looking for the familiar buzz-saw noise from those big RB211’s, then think again, as this sound set seems more like a significantly smaller CFM56.

Those wanting a full co-pilot function will be disappointed, as PSS have chosen to model the callouts purely on the aircraft systems normally fitted. So you’ll have to call your own V speeds I’m afraid. On the plus side, all of the warning systems are correctly sampled, so you’re never far from ‘Hank’ telling you to ‘WHOOP WHOOP PULL UP’ (EGPWS) or ‘DESCEND, DESCEND NOW’ (TCAS).

The EICAS messages all come with their relevant audio warnings including the inordinately loud ‘Config Warning’ which still frightens me into next week. Unfortunately, something seems to have gone slightly pear shaped in the modeling of the EICAS which gives an awful lot of audio warnings when they are normally inhibited (on the ground) which serves to irritate, particularly during start and shut-down. All in all, the sound is an area which PSS have really let themselves down.

Performance

Kris: The frame rates in the VC and the 2D panel stuck at a constant 17 FPS in a low scenery density area, but in VC with 2 or more screens popped-up, I found a drop to a rather jerky 12 – 15 FPS making it slightly more difficult to fly manually.

Joe: I initially installed the VC variant, and found that my PC couldn’t pump out more than 7 FPS. Obviously, this is unflyable. I then installed the No-VC model and was better off, but not perfect. Loading times were longer than I would want, initial cockpit loading is about 30 seconds and generally my PC struggled. The payware and freeware planes I have tried were much better than this. Each time I took the 757 out for a spin, I had to go in and lower my Anti-aliasing and other graphic settings just so I could get decent frames. I had to avoid large airports and complex sceneries whenever I flew this plane, and as I said, usually I don’t have to worry about this.

Conclusion

Kris: Despite its problems and bugs, the PSS aircraft is actually a pretty good package. Its accuracy depends on what you want from it. If you want an ultra realistic, no expense spared, any better and it would be in a box on top of a hydraulic movement system kind of package, then this obviously has its faults and you may wish to reconsider your purchase until either the bugs are ironed out or a more realistic package has been released. If you want a 757 that is complex yet accessible, then this is ideal, it has a good balance of button pushing and FMC tinkering while being simple enough just to crank up and pole it around the circuit. If, however, you are right at the other end of the spectrum and are new to flight simming, consider this an intermediate package that if you are not prepared to read the book, will infuriate you purely because it is complex.

Personally I like it and I will use it for the lead up to my recurrent sim training and check flights. As a procedural trainer for actual pilots, it is ideal as it provides a clean, clear and interactive environment to practice all manner of skills from learning your cockpit scans to fathoming out the FMC and learning how the autopilot works. If only they had sorted out the engine management and EPR values, it would have been an absolutely first class package but even in its current state to anyone on a type rating, it will be a godsend and that has to say something about the quality and value for money any flight simmer will get from it.

Joe: I’ll wrap this up with a few simple words, I know this has been a long review but I hope this will give you a good indication of what to expect with PSS’ rendition of the 757 series. Some parts I enjoyed, while others I don’t. Bad performance limited the enjoyment I had with this plane. If I had a better system, or if this add-on was less performance hungry, I would have enjoyed it much more. The systems are there, but as Kris mentioned, not 100% there. I agree with Kris in saying that this add-on should not be considered an airline sim. I think Phoenix still have a ways to go in creating a fully functional airline sim that can be considered in the same league as PMDG or LVL D.

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