AVSIM Commercial Aircraft Review

McDonnell Douglas MD-11

Product Information

Publisher: PMDG

Description: Add-on FSX airplane .

Download Size:
155 MB

Simulation Type:
Reviewed by: Angelique van Campen AVSIM Senior Staff Reviewer - December 16, 2008
and Tom Dilbeck AVSIM Staff Reviewer

Table of Contents

Due to the length and complexity of the review, we’ve – Tom and Angelique – decided to add a table of contents to it so here we go …..

The Douglas Legend
- History
- McDonnell Douglas MD-11
Installation and documentation
- Installation
- Documentation
External model (passenger and freighter) and virtual cabin
- Accuracy of the PMDG MD-11
- Stock PMDG liveries
- Virtual cabin/cargo compartments
Available cockpits
- 2D Cockpit
- Virtual Cockpit
Flight Dynamics
Aircraft Systems, Emergencies and Flight Management Computer
Flight Tutorial and frame rates
Links and the “watch out” list

- Links
- The “watch out” list
Summary / Closing Remarks


Our goal at Avsim is to try to give you the best reviews on the net. Due to the scope of PMDG’s MD-11, we split our review into areas of expertise, with Senior Reviewer Angelique van Campen handling the management of the review and one of our resident real world heavy pilots commenting on the flight model, virtual cockpit, FMC operation and systems.

Precision Manuals Development Group chose to develop the MD-11 on the basis that they could build a very high fidelity, realistic, desktop simulation product which could realistically be operated by one pilot. Douglas designed the jet so the pilot’s flow of tasks are made much simpler through systems automation and the use of Auto-Throttles, Vertical Navigation and the Flight Management Computer.

PDMG thought carefully how to implement this in FSX, even the design of the knobs and switches in the virtual cockpit have been carefully redesigned allowing the user to focus more on flying and less on inputting altitudes, speeds and headings. A really effective test of any product is whether it is designed well enough to be “easy.” The designers of this product achieved that goal. At least as much as can be accomplished in modeling a heavy, long range, jet transport with 100% fidelity.

PDMG built this model with information from Boeing and their training arm, Alteon. Every system and every control was cross checked with its operation in a Certified MD11 sim. The result is an experience that is very similar to what real airline First Officers would experience in a modern airline aircraft training program.

PMDG starts by giving you the airplane’s manuals, a 436 page Flight Crew Training Manual, a 242 page Flight Management System Operating Manual, an 87 page Pilot Introduction, 8 pages of Checklists, 220 pages of Quick Reference Handbook, a 534 page Aircraft Systems book, and a 35 page Tutorial. Typically an airline pilot would be given two weeks to study these materials while practicing procedures before being given their “Type Oral Examination” prior to beginning their training in a level D simulator. For an airline pilot, the manuals are so close to real that you fall into the routine of studying just like you would any other assignment in your career.

What is PMDG telling us about this brand new airplane? Let’s have a look:

PMDG continues our lineage of fine airliner simulations with another popular heavy airliner, the PMDG MD-11! Born out of airline requirements for a "modern new DC-10" the MD-11 is a superb example of aircraft engineering from the era when modern computer processing power was beginning to bring truly new ideas, safety and capability to the cockpit of transport airplanes. Highly automated and employing innovative new approaches to the pilot/airplane interface, the MD-11 took the McDonnell Douglas wide body line into the future with fully automated flight modes, aircraft system status pages, failure consequence displays and clearly thought out pilot controls. One of the most advanced airplanes ever produced by Douglas, the MD-11 has been largely missing from desktop simulation... Until Now!

But there’s more …….

The external 3DS Max MD-11 Model which comes with both engine variants, accurately modeled to the smallest details and completed with high resolution textures. The Dynamic Virtual Cockpit is designed and animated using the same proprietary techniques developed for PMDG's award-winning 747-400 product line, Virtual Cockpit users will truly enjoy the sensation of "being there" when flying this simulator from the fully animated 3D virtual cockpit. Enjoy your flight from different locations in and around the aircraft, including multiple views of the wings. Cockpit Systems - Aircraft Systems modeled to the degree of accuracy you've come to expect only from PMDG. Whether using the 2D or Virtual Cockpit, all cockpit switches, buttons knobs and controls work as they do on the MD-11. Developed with comprehensive support of PMDG's MD-11 Technical Advisors, to ensure everything is simulated correctly including fuel, hydraulics, pneumatics/air conditioning/cabin pressurization and all other secondary systems. When applicable automatic and manual modes are simulated, including system redundancy, interdependency and failure consequences.

Although we’ve decided not to compare this MD-11 with other FSX available MD-11 models, we still checked around which other vendors do offer this Boeing/Douglas model. For one reason or another, it seems that the McDonnell Douglas MD-11 has been a popular model for years within the MSFS world. With many models, you either like it or you don’t like it.

Ok, surfing around on the web brings us to the Sky Simulations website. They offer already for a while the MD-11 for FS9 and FSX but it seems this one offers the same aircraft for a much lower price. It’s not a quarter of the PMDG price but it comes close to it. In other words, is the PMDG model too expensive or is the Sky Simulation model not as sophisticated as they say. Since we didn’t compare these models, we're not able to judge that and leave it, unfortunately, open. As far as our knowledge goes, there’s no other MD-11 payware model on the market.

The Douglas Legend


In 1967, with the merger of McDonnell and Douglas Aircraft, Dave Lewis, then president of McDonnell, was named chairman of what was called the Long Beach, Douglas Aircraft Division. At the time of the merger, Douglas Aircraft was estimated to be less than a year from bankruptcy. Flush with orders, the DC-8 and DC-9 aircraft were 9 to 18 months behind schedule, incurring stiff penalties from the airlines. Mr. Lewis was active in DC-10 sales in an intense competition with the Lockheed L-1011. In two years, Mr. Lewis had the operation back on track and in positive cash flow. He returned to the company's St. Louis headquarters where he continued sales efforts on the DC-10 and managed the company as a whole as President and Chief Operating Officer through 1971.

The DC-10 began production in 1968 with the first deliveries in 1971. In 1977, the next generation of DC-9 variants, dubbed the "Super 80" (later renamed the MD-80) series, was launched. This proved to be a very successful program. The next aircraft to be launched was the MD-11, an improved, upgraded version of the DC-10. Today, the MD-11 remains the only modern trijet. After its launch in 1986, the MD-11 sold 200 units, but was discontinued in 2001 after the merger with Boeing as it competed with the Boeing 777. McDonnell Douglas's final commercial aircraft was launched in 1988.

The MD-90 was a stretched version of the MD-80, equipped with International Aero Engines V2500 turbofans, the largest rear-mounted engines ever on a commercial jet. The MD-95, a modern regional airliner closely resembling the DC-9-30, was the last McDonnell Douglas designed commercial jet produced. Several artists impressions exist of an aircraft named the "DC-10 Twin" or DC-X which McDonnell Douglas considered in the early 1970s but never built. This would have been an early twinjet with a striking likeness to the Airbus A300 and similar performance characteristics, which was never progressed to a prototype.

It could be argued that this was a major mistake on the part of McDonnell Douglas as it would have given them an early lead in the huge twinjet market that subsequently developed, as well as commonality with much of the DC-10's systems and engineering. Poor airline acceptance was cited for not proceeding at the time.

The KC-10 was the second consecutive McDonnell Douglas transport aircraft to be selected by the US Air Force in 1976. The first was the C-9 Nightingale/Skytrain II. However, the buy of both aircraft was curtailed by the end of the Cold War. This curtailment combined with the loss of both the Advanced Tactical Fighter and Joint Strike Fighter contracts hurt McDonnell Douglas.

McDonnell Douglas MD-11

The MD-11, the worlds only modern large, wide-cabin trijet, offers a highly sophisticated flight deck and advanced automatic system controls that substantially reduce pilot workload. In service with customers in all parts of the world, the MD-11 was produced in Long Beach, California, at the Douglas Products Division of the Boeing Commercial Airplanes until February 2001. A worldwide network of subcontractors and suppliers supported the assembly line.

Maiden flight McDonnell Douglas MD-11 N111MD (48401/446) on January 10, 1990. This aircraft would later enter service with FedEx as N601FE

The MD-11 was available in four models -- passenger, all freighter, convertible freighter and "combi," where passengers and freight are carried on the main deck with additional freight carried below the deck. An extended-range (ER) feature was available on all versions.

Seating capacities on the standard airplane vary from 285 in a three-class arrangement to 410 in an all-economy configuration. Below the main deck, the MD-11 provides more space for containerized or palletized cargo after passenger bags are loaded than any other jetliner, yielding important additional revenue for its operators.

Advances in aerodynamics, propulsion, aircraft systems, cockpit avionics and interior design contribute to the performance and operating economy of all MD-11 models. Aerodynamic improvements include winglets and a redesigned wing trailing edge, a smaller horizontal tail with integral fuel tanks and an extended tail cone. These features reduce drag, save fuel and add range.

The nonstop range of the standard MD-11 operating at a maximum takeoff weight of 602,500 pounds (273,290 kg) is approximately 7,630 statute miles (12,270 km) with 285 passengers and their bags. The extended-range version of the MD-11, equipped with an auxiliary fuel tank and operating at a higher maximum takeoff weight of 630,500 pounds (285,990 kg), has a range of approximately 8,225 statute miles (13,230 km). Three engines -- General Electric CF6-80C2, Pratt & Whitney 4460, and Pratt & Whitney 4462 -- are offered to power the MD-11, providing maximum efficiency in their throughst class.

The advanced flight deck features six cathode ray tube displays, digital instrumentation, wind-shear detection and guidance devices, a dual flight management system that helps conserve fuel and a dual digital automatic flight control system (autopilot) with fail operational capability. Computerized system controllers perform automated normal, abnormal and emergency checklist duties for major systems, reducing flight crew requirements from three to two persons. Industry-standard interlinked wheel-and-column controls enhance crew communications and situation awareness at all times.

The MD-11 was launched on Dec. 30, 1986. Assembly of the first unit began March 9, 1988. First flight was on Jan. 10, 1990. Certification occurred Nov. 8, 1990, with first delivery on Dec. 7. For comparison, the MD-11 is 200 feet 10 inches (61.2 m) long, or 18.6 feet (5.66 m) longer than the earlier DC-10 trijet, and carries about 50 more passengers.

Installation and documentation


There’s not that much to tell about the installer. It’s the basic PMDG installer, which seems to be the same as the 744X version, so it's straightforward. That means you have the online license validation – email address, order ID and password – which seems to work perfectly, then you’ve got the automatic FSX directory detection which works also without any glitches.

By the way, before I forget it; the tested MD-11 version is 1.00.0003 from October 12th 2008. I know that Robert Randazzo told me that when the MD-11 FS9 is released, there will also be an update for the FSX one. This to implement the additional FS9 features into the FSX software. When you chose a custom installation, you can check what’s installed and looking at this, it seems that only SID STAR data AIRAC 0808 is added and not as with the 744X, FMC Flight Plans. That’s a shame, and after investigation it seems this will be added with the next SP.

You’re sure .. PMDG MD-11! Basic MD-11 package and SID/STAR option FSX folder automatically detected via the Registry
Just an extraction of the basic MD-11 installation process. Any problems to expect? Not at all. It’s a smoothly as the PMDG MD-11 plane itself! The only thing you need to do after this is adding your favorite passenger- or freighter/cargo airliner livery.

Once the installation is finished, you’ve got a passenger and freighter version with not much more. Ok, not much more means; no airline liveries except for, of course, the PMDG House Livery! You have 4 aircraft models basically fitted with either the GE (General Electric CF6-80C Series) or PW (Pratt & Whitney 4000 Series) engines in a PAX or CARGO configuration.

Looking closely at your desktop, I can’t find a shortcut for the Load Manager but under the Start menu button you will find the following created folder -> PMDG Simulations – PMDG MD-11 FSX with a bunch of Acrobat files and the MD-11 Load Manager. Although the Load Manager is specifically designed for the MD-11, it looks, feels, and smells the same as the 744X. More about this later including the huge and comprehensive PMDG manuals.

Known from the PMDG 744 models, this MD-11 comes with a Load Manager. For those who are familiar with the 744, it’s more or less the same design except for the VC (Virtual Cockpit ON/OFF) option, but for those who have no idea what I'm talking about, let’s have a quick look into it.

It can be started independently from FSX via the Start menu -> PMDG Simulations -> PMDG MD-11 FSX and it doesn’t make any difference if FSX is running or not. You’ve got the possibility to change between kgs/lbs, different MD-11 models (freighter and passenger configurations), selecting the cargo for the lower decks, panel configuration (normal or windscreen bitmaps) and the amount of fuel.

That’s a lot, but in reality it isn’t. You can’t, for example, change the individual amount of passengers nor the cargo load. The fuel selector is just a selector to add or remove the aircraft fuel. When you want to calculate it “as real as it gets”, then you need another tool to calculate the correct fuel quantity like what’s needed in relation to the distance, is there a head or tailwind and thus less/more fuel and much more of that.

While checking the AVSIM PMDG forum and then in particular the MD-11 threads, I’ve seen some reports of Load Manager problems like not being able to move the fuel selector, not being able to write to the aircraft.cfg file and a few others. Unfortunately, I can’t confirm this. It could be because I’m using Windows XP, but also because not everybody reported this problem. In general, it’s an ordinary load manager tool, uncomplicated to use and nothing more then that.

General overview of the MD-11 Load Manager Lot’s of available models different pax and one freighter Normal or widescreen selection/bitmaps

The PMDG manual (Introduction - pages 67 up to and including 71) offers enough information to find your way through the Load Manager. Probably lots of you – I’m not one, by the way – own widescreen monitors and especially for those flight simmers, PMDG offered a quick and handy option. I will not write down what the Introduction manual is telling about this, but please read the possibilities that can be found on page 70 since it's important when installing new liveries.


Normally this section isn’t that long but I’m afraid it will be this time, but all the offered manuals together cover around +1400 pages. Oops, that’s a long study before even flying, so let’s have a look what you can expect:

Flight Crew Operating Manual (FCOM)
I don’t know if this manual is an extraction of the official McDonnell Douglas MD-11 FCOM but it looks very impressive. Ok, let’s figure out which chapters can be found. It offers limitations, normal, supplemental, emergency and abnormal procedures, level 0 and 1 alerts (remember, it’s not a Boeing!), procedures and techniques and finally performance data. All this in a small Acrobat manual of just 435 pages!

FMS Guide
This FMS manual not only tells the entire FMS MCDU operation, it also offers lots of examples. It’s surprising that this manual covers 242 page, so a lot to read. You can either read it or you do it together with your first flight in combination with the offered flight tutorial. Remember one thing, that the flight tutorial will never replace this FMS manual.

For those who are familiar with PMDG books and in particular the 744X, won’t be surprised that this MD-11 Introduction manual looks very similar in the way it’s written. Lot’s of things are discussed; like the add-on menu in FSX, optimum PMDG sound adjustments, PMDG FSX menu like the familiar general, panel state and failures adjustments. For those who are new to this PMDG product, it’s all clearly explained which steps have to be followed.

In between the pages, there’s a pop-up grey window which alerts the user of the existence of a tutorial. It seems PMDG also learned from this. BTW, during the Aerosoft show in Germany, held on October 25th, we were informed that PMDG will add additional tutorials to help all the new MD-11 co-pilots or it is captains?

What’s else is in this manual?

There’s also a list of native FSX keyboard commands. It seems useless since you can find them elsewhere but thinking about it, it’s very handy to have it all together in one manual. Further, you will find detailed description of the mouse pointers, which change shape depending on their function. Then there’s a listing of FSX limitations but more important, a special procedure of how to extend the FSX memory use in Windows XP. I can tell you included with the description that this is awesome and I really mean it! I tried it, although the PMDG description on page 58 is not that clear in my opinion but it works and offered me an FPS increase!

Since I found the description not that clear, find below the way I did it:
- Surf to http://www.ntcore.com/4gb_patch.php
- Run the 4gb_patch.exe or if “4” is replaced with a different figure,
- Navigate to your FSX.EXE and first make a copy of it,
- Patch with the utility your FSX.EXE,
- Select the Start menu button and right click on MY COMPUTER, followed by Properties,
- Select the Advanced tab followed by clicking into the “Startup and Recovery” section the Settings button,
- Click the Edit button,
- Add at the end of multi(0)disk(0)rdisk(0)partition(1)\WINDOWS="Microsoft Windows XP Professional" /fastdetect /NoExecute=OptIn
the following -> /4GB,
- It should now look like ->
multi(0)disk(0)rdisk(0)partition(1)\WINDOWS="Microsoft Windows XP Professional" /fastdetect /NoExecute=OptIn /4GB
- Reboot your PC and start FSX. You should find an increase in FPS because of this simple action.

Ok, we’ve almost reached the end of this manual. There’s also a chapter related to “tips and trick” and “things you need to know” and of course, a detailed description of how to handle and adjust the Load Manager.

Normal Checklist
Not so spectacular but nonetheless important pages (8 pages) covering all the different checklists.

Quick Reference Handbook
The Quick Reference Handbook (QRH) provides procedures and guidance to simulator pilots for resolving various abnormal conditions, alert messages and emergencies that may be presented during the operation of the PMDG MD-11. This means that lots of fails are simulated and according to the pages (220 pages), corrective action must be taken, so I’ve got the idea that the model is well simulated to the real aircraft. We were not able to check every detail or page for its failures and procedures, but later on we will pick out a few fromf the long list.

Systems Manual
Although the header shows the PMDG logo, looking closely at the pages, text and pictures, I’ve got the idea that we’re dealing with the original Boeing/McDonnell Douglas MD-11 material books. All the chapters needed to get the best of the best information are covered. I only hope that all this “professional” information is modified in a more didactical way and that it’s not taken directly from the original MD-11 manuals. All together a huge amount – 534 pages - of information.

The tutorial deals with flight SWR801 from London Heathrow (EGLL) to Zürich (LSZH). It counts 35 pages and I must say that it’s looking good; lots of screenshots with directly related text. The lay-out of the tutorial looks very familiar to me; on your left you’ve got the text while on the right the associated screenshot. I did the same thing already a few years ago while writing the Dc-10 and A330/A340 manuals for CLS. Anyway, it looks good and let’s hope when we use it for our test flight it is still good. To be continued!

Ok, a little longer then expected but worth reading. I won’t tell you how many pages it is in total, but it will cost you many days to read it all and not only that, to understand. Certain chapters are not offered to read and learn by heart. Abnormal procedures are offered and it’s worth trying them during a long haul flight, with some normal flight hours behind you. Have fun reading it all!

External model (passenger and freighter) and virtual cabin

Accuracy of the PMDG MD-11

First of all it’s worth looking around the model itself, to be in and out the aircraft, up or down the cabin, left and right of the wings etc. So let’s first see how real and with what details the model has. While writing this I also know how difficult it is to separate a basic model from a particular livery. Based on this particular livery, I’m trying to figure out how real the MD-11 really looks and for some reason, I’ve chosen the original factory livery of the McDonnell Douglas MD-11. I know that it’s very difficult to separate the basic model and then I mean the model details itself like gear, flaps, slats, tail section and so on from a particular livery, but as usual, I’ll do my best.

Thinking about details, I’m not only talking about if the wing looks nice, if the horizontal and vertical stabilizer are looking good, if the wheels have a more or less round shape, if the fuselage looks nice and more of this stuff. No, when talking about details we need to dig into it. We need literally to walk around the model as a ground engineer or when the pilot is doing his/her preflight check. Then we can say something if it reflects a real simulated MD-11.

Courtesy of NASA Dryden Flight Research Center
Indeed, these are real MD-11 screenshots but unfortunately not from the original McDonnell Douglas house livery. It seems that everything related to the old Douglas Company is more or less vanished. Anyway, the idea of these pictures is to show you some MD-11 details. The bare Aluminum is the best model to compare with the PMDG MD-11 although there’s no bare PMDG model yet available. BTW, a nice NASA livery!

Let’s first start with this; don’t expect funny things like the possibility to install/remove engine covers, wheel shocks, gear pins, integrated cargo belly or upper deck loaders and many more of those things. As we know PMDG, they go for cockpit quality and external model details and all those funny things are not simulated. That’s a way of thinking and to be honest, that’s the same way I think about add-on models. Personally I expect a good, realistic looking cockpit but above all, aircraft systems implementation which function and operate“as real as it gets”. Although I do understand that not everything is possible because of several reasons, I still hope that a developer tries to create the best of the best. It’s also a kind of challenge for the gauge developers to make something unique.

With what I’ve seen so far with this PMDG MD-11 model and cockpit, I think PMDG is heading for a total new approach. Let’s hope the external model - because that's the sub chapter we’re dealing with – is the crème de la crème! Is this English .. “crème de la crème”? I don’t think so but anyway, let’s do a walk around check on a default PMDG livery model. Remember once more, the idea here is not to look at the livery itself but at the model and which tiny details are incorporated.

Walk around check on the PMDG MD-11 (General Electric CF6-80C Series) in original factory colors.
Ok, remember this; for this moment I’m not interested if the McDonnell Douglas original factory color is as real as it should be. I’m only interested in the MD-11 tiny details and if those details reflect - within the FSX limitations – a realistic aircraft. I can tell you already, that’s hardly impossible but I’ll do my utmost best to split a livery texture from the basic MD-11 model.

As can be seen on these screenshots; at many places on the fuselage, wing, tail etc. it looks a little blurry. Based on the known PMDG quality and let’s say the 744X model, I was wondering what’s wrong here or what I did wrong. With this “doubt” I went to Robert Randazzo and I got the following answer “The MD-11 liveries are slightly lower in resolution than the 744X. This was an intentional choice to save on some texture overhead. The house livery is bip mapped, so if the user doesn't have selected antistrophic filtering mid to high, and if the airplane is viewed at an angle, the livery may appear a bit blurred. This too was a choice based on performance. No point in loading up 2x 1024x1024 bitmaps when viewing the aircraft from afar. We got to squeeze out fps where we can”.

Ok, in normal English it means that the external model could look blurry or not that sharp as expected; or even worse, it’s something you like or dislike. I need to add the following; this blurry look depends, as usual, on your sight distance. When you’re far enough from the aircraft, it looks great but when coming closer and looking for details, then it’s not as good as expected. Another good example is the engine inlet. Due to the lower resolution - and again when I compare it with the PMDG 744X engine inlets, which is, by the way, the same GE CF6-80C engine cowling – even the engine cowling inlet looks blurry. This is something that can’t be changed and that hurts!

Stock PMDG liveries

The installer offers basically four default house PDMG livery paintings, which we know already from the 744X. The four models can be split as follows; a cargo version and passenger version with each equipped with either the General Electric CF6-80C2 Series or the Pratt and Whitney PW4400 Series engines. Since the engines look different and the Pratt engines have additional EPR gauges, they are handled as separate models, as are the cargo versions with the large upper level cargo door.

In addition, many other liveries have been loaded on to PDMG’s website and are free for download. These four screenshots – passenger and cargo liveries – are just to show you what all is there. Believe me, there’s an even more impressive list for the passenger models, which also grows daily and this is the same for cargo models. In other words, when you’re preferred livery is not available, just wait and yours will be uploaded in days. All the different PMDG installers have easy to use auto installations.

PAX Model - file PAX Model - file
PAX Model – file
PAX Model – file
CARGO Model – file
CARGO Model – file
CARGO Model – file
CARGO Model – file

Is this all? No, as already said, there’s much more but no reason to offer more liveries and thus dozens of screenshots here. For your convenience, find here the direct link to the PMDG livery website and here the 51MB MD-11X paint kit link in case you want to start creating one livery for yourself.

As written earlier, the stock PMDG painting looks a little blurry from close-up and for those flight simmers who prefer High Definition MD-11 Textures (hdt), McPhat Studios offers us the very first examples of what’s possible. Since I’m not an aircraft painter and having no clue of all of this, it looks like magic to me but the end result is really awesome. I mean, remodeling the textures with a magic stick and now, it’s up to you to judge. See with your own eyes what’s possible and believe me, it’s a real “reworked” PMDG MD-11 livery!

The upper three screenshots are from the PMDG stock “Martinair Holland” livery (PMDGMD11XF_PW_MPF1.exe). We know, it’s a very close inspection and not every person will look to a model like this, but at the lower three shots from McPhat Studios you can see by yourself that without hardly any FPS impact, it’s possible to have a great looking livery and unbelievable sharp as well!
McPhat Studios Martinair Holland HDT (High Definition Textures) livery.
Probably you can’t see the difference with the stock screenshot due to the thumbnail size, but when you click the thumbnail, you see for sure it’s a McPhat HDT quality. BTW, this is a clean and brand new livery while they also offer a weathered look!

What else can I say before we head into the next chapter? Due to the lower resolution textures, some details of the gear and other fuselage/wing/engine components are not that sharp as expected. Expected, for example when you compare it with the 744X models. It’s a decision made by PMDG as you have read to keep the FPS counter as optimum as possible and that’s a good thing.

On the other hand, looking at the McPhat textures, it seems that even with more or less the same frames, it’s possible to give the model the look it deserves. I needed to confirm this to be sure what I’m writing is ok but Terrence Klaverweide from McPhat Studios could confirm that after extensive tests on different PC’s - Core2Duo 1.8Ghz, 2GB, Nvidia 7600, Core2Duo 1.8Ghz, 3GB, ATI HD4850, Pentium IV 3Ghz, 2GB, ATI X1900, Core2Quad 2.5Ghz, 4GB, ATI 4850 (512MB DDR3) and Core2Quad 2.5Ghz, 8GB, ATI 4870 (512MB DDR5) – the frame drop is not noticeable. The only thing Zach reported is the longer loading time the moment you swap from stock painting to McPhat painting.

In other words, it seems possible to have High Definition textures without affecting FPS and that’s great news!

Virtual cabin/cargo compartments

You will notice as you open these doors, the visual model of the cargo loading on both the upper and lower decks matches the choice you made in your PDMG Load Manager. Neat!

But is there more? Let’s have detailed look when we’ve opened the passenger doors or the upper deck cargo door. First the passenger configuration.

It took me a while before I got the right position to find my way through the cabin and the lower cargo holds. Not really an impressive passenger compartment as can be seen in the pictures. On the other hand, I’m not really interested in this but that’s a personal opinion. When you want a highly realistic passenger compartment, then PMDG doesn’t offer this in the MD-11 but at the same time, which is coming in a minute or so, it offers you an ultra realistic 2D cockpit and VC with lots of simulated systems, far beyond we’ve seen before!

PAX configuration
Cabin lay-out
PAX configuration
Loose luggage in cargo hold
PAX configuration
LD6 cargo container
CARGO configuration
FWD lower cargo
CARGO configuration
UPPER deck entry
CARGO configuration
UPPER deck looking aft

This should give you an idea of what can be expected related to the virtual passenger cabin, lower cargo holds and upper cargo deck area. Don’t expect too high a quality but expect a highly realistic flight model with systems and cockpits. That’s what PMDG goes for!

Available cockpits

2D Cockpit

Although many of us prefer to fly from the Virtual Cockpit, I thought it’s a good idea to start with the 2D configuration. As seen on the PMDG 744X, there’s hardly any “direct” difference visible between the 2D and VC panels, so would this be the same on the MD-11 and is there a notable difference of frames between both cockpit configurations?

Let’s first see what all is modeled and if we can find our way without the manual? I can answer that already, you need to read the manual beforehand – Introduction manual pages 45 up to and including page 51 - otherwise you’re lost. Lost because the simicon bar on the top of you’re screen is no longer there. Instead of this you’ve got four dark grey icons below the FGS selector knob and above the landing gear indicators, but that’s not all. There are a lot of light grey arrows with symbols/text on the panel.

You think that’s all, no there’s much more. On the previously mentioned locations, the mouse pointer changes and depending on the new symbol, you can either use the LH and/or RH mouse button. Confused? Great, but it isn’t that difficult.

It’s a totally different approach than we’re used to with the 744X. We can’t explain it all to you and there’s also no need for that. The previously mentioned manual will tell you all, although it’s much easier when you have the MD-11.

Ok, let’s first see some screenshots taken at a foggy day at KMIA.

screenshot I screenshot II screenshot III
screenshot IV screenshot V screenshot VI
screenshot VII screenshot VIII screenshot IX
screenshot X screenshot XI  
I could leave you with this; just some screenshots showing all the panels or pop-up windows with some kind of explanation, but I think the way PMDG did it, deserves a much more thorough and thus deeper explanation than we normally do. Therefore, find below for every screenshot, a detailed description what happens when using your left and/or right hand mouse button.

Are you shocked or disappointed? I’m not but that’s not a very objective answer. What’s different compared to the 744X is the lack of some digitalized photo images. Every detail of the main instrument panel, glare shield, side panels etc. are handmade thus painted and no digitized image is used. That’s not a shame but a different approach and therefore it looks a little unrealistic. On the other hand, googling sites like Airliners.Net doesn’t offer many more different pictures. In other words, the left and right light grey panels on both sides of the Flight Control Panel are also looking like this for real, so it seems then that the PMDG version isn’t that bad at all.

Let’s go back to the previous screenshots. To be honest, the way PMDG modified the way of requesting additional panels, with a left and/or right hand mouse click, the possibility to turn a selector with the left and/or right hand mouse, is great and at the same time, also a little confusing. Confusing because – without reading the manual – it’s totally different than how PMDG did it before and different compared to other competitors. Whatever they did and you do, the light grey visible icons or text/arrow on the panels is a new way of requesting a pop-up panels/windows.

Now it’s time to explain something related to the screenshots. Our intention is not to write a tutorial, but the way PMDG created this new approach of panel pop-ups deserves more attention then we’re normally used to do.

Screenshot I

SISP (Source Input Select Panel) versus O2 (oxygen) light grey panel identification
Clicking within the yellow marked area (SISP) with the LH mouse button, results in the pop-up of the SISP, as can be seen on screenshot II (yellow area). The same will happen when you click with the RH mouse button on the O2 area. This result in the pop-up of – indeed – the captain’s oxygen panel and mask. Although it’s just a simple sentence, remember that you’re now able to control with both mouse buttons two different panels.
Further on I marked with light blue squares areas of pop-up panels. Those will be discussed later in more detail.

Since this is the first example, I’ll add something to it. When the mouse pointer is positioned over the light grey arrow, which is painted on the panel, the mouse pointer shows additionally two white squares. This means that two pop-up windows can pop-up, controlled via a click with your LH and RH mouse button.

Screenshot II SD (System Display) versus radio panel. Different panels can be requested, but the idea and principle is the same as with screenshots I and II. Within the light green area – LH mouse button - we request the System Display with its control panel. With the RH mouse button on the same area we get the radio control panel. Easy and straightforward!
Screenshot III A right mouse button click results in the pop-up of the AFT pedestal and it seems we need to replace the paper roll of the printer, since the indicator pointer shows EMPTY. OK, that’s a nice job for the technician.
Screenshot IV Clicking the same icon but now with your LH mouse button results in the FWD pedestal. I can tell you that this presentation looks really good but it’s indeed brand new and probably just delivered to the customer. There’s no scratchesa visible at all.
Screenshot V

Although this symbol within the yellow/pink squares seems to be the FMS MCDU, the reality is different.

It’s again an icon where the LH and RH mouse button can be used. A LH mouse button (yellow square) click gives you the captains MCDU. The First Officers MCDU can be requested via the FSX menu (Views – Instrument Panel – MCDU F/O) or via the F/O main instrument panel. A RH mouse click button (pink square) gives you the standby instrument.

There’s one square left and that’s the light blue one on the FCP (Flight Control Panel ….. with Boeing planes known as the MCP or for Airbus pilots the AFS panel). This light blue square brings me to screenshot VI.

Screenshot VI It’s just a simple grey arrow but again hovering your mouse above it gives you two possibilities, LH and RH mouse button click. A LH mouse button click offers you the full center part of the FCP (light blue square) and on this panel you’ve got two grey arrows within the yellow squares, to return to the previous panel configuration. When you’re back to the normal; panel lay out, a RH mouse click on the previously mentioned arrow, offers the next screenshot.
Screenshot VII From the basic panel (screenshot V – light blue square) we now click the RH mouse button. This shifts the full FCP with the ECP (Electronic Instrument System Control Panel) to the right and the whole glare shield is filled up. Very nice by the way! Here the same can be seen in the two yellow squared areas, returning to the normal situation by simply clicking in either yellow square.

Have we reached the end of this 2D panel description … unfortunately NO. There’s some more coming but the end of the tunnel is in sight.

Screenshot VIII/IX

Before jumping to the F/O seat, we need to have a quick look at the mid-span since that simple arrow on top of it next of the standby compass, offers us again a LH and RH mouse button click secret (for clarity I moved the lower part of the overhead panel slightly down but normally it’s hooked to the top of the screen).

LH mouse button click on the yellow squared arrow gives us as previously lower part of the overhead panel. The most important things not related to systems are all gathered here and I must say it looks very nice. To get rid of the panel, just LH click the grey cross, located in the LH upper corner of the panel but there is something special here. While you’re hovering with the mouse over this grey cross, there’s also a RH mouse button click option.

Ok, let’s do that and this brings up screenshot IX and that’s the whole overhead panel. It sounds so easy but it’s really fun finding your way through all those different panels and it's so easy! Why wasn't this made earlier?

Are we finished with the overhead panel? Unfortunately, not since there’s something nice here. At almost every sub panel or if you wish “system related” panel, you will find in the LH upper corner a cross. When positioning your mouse here, you can LH click on it which closes the overhead panel or clicking with the RH mouse button, the complete overhead disappears and instead this panel pops up. We did this, for example, on the electrical power panel (light blue square). What’s happening?; see screenshot X.

Screenshot X

This is the result of a RH mouse button click within the light blue square of the electrical power panel. The whole overhead panel is gone but instead of this you have only the aircraft's AC and DC electrical power panel. Not happy with it? No problem; just go to the LH upper corner grey cross (red and yellow square) and RH or LH click again. A LH click closes the sub panel while a RH click closes this sub panel as well but reopens the whole overhead panel again.

Isn’t great? I can tell you this is very handy and it also means that almost every sub panel is separately simulated as well. It’s not completely new. Since I’ve seen this, I believe it was with the Captain Sim 757 Pro Pack but it could be that others have implemented the same kind of separate 2D pop-up overhead panels.

Screenshot XI Located next to the other two previously discussed icons, we find the F/O icon (pink square within the yellow captain’s square). You still with me? Clicking this gives us the F/O main instrument panel with exactly the same possibilities of pop-up panels except for a few. The pop-up MCDU is not the captain’s one, but logically the F/O MCDU. Sounds logic. Remember, this MD-11 offers two simulated FMC (Flight Management Computers) with their own MCDU’s unlike the PMDG 744X, where there’s only one FMC simulated with two MCDU’s connected to it, so not as real as it gets. This one is!
Although not visible via an arrow or other symbol, you’re also able to select in the mid strut the full or partial overhead panel (light blue square).
Screenshot XII We’ve reached the last option; the enlarged PFD (Primary Flight Display), ND (Navigation Display) or EAD (Engine and Alert Display). Whatever you do, you always get one DU (Display Unit) as the time, so there’s no way you can get all three of them next of each other. Are you able to undock those DU’s? Forget it, this is not possible! Is this a problem for me? No, it isn’t because the standard format of each DU is already large and great to look at or even to land with it.

Together with the screenshots, the description and the free downloadable manuals, you should have a good impression of the 2D cockpit. Did I cover every tiny detail? I hope so but I can’t guarantee that. One thing I know, although the panel looks different then we’re used to from the 744X – ok, I know, it’s not a Boeing cockpit – it still reflects a highly realistic look but the look itself is not important. Much more important is the simulation level and how far did PMDG go to get within the limits a realistic MD-11. All systems are simulated in one way or the other but remember, not every tiny item down to the bottom is simulated. Sometimes this is the simple reason that something is not really possible or when it is possible to do, it will cost many hours, days, months or even years and what do you see of it? .. probably nothing.

As an ex-ground engineer with lots of practical experience on big jets, I must say that this PMDG product went much further then I’ve ever seen. Just one thing; two simulated FMCs with their own MCDU, completely working independent from each other, like in the real plane. Ok, the real plane offers three FMC’s but there’s a limit on how far you want to go.

Are there no problems related to the 2D cockpit at all? Searching the AVSIM PMDG forum tells me that there are hardly any 2D cockpit problems. However, I’ve faced the following: to clarify this, look at the next three screenshots. As can be seen on all the shots, something is or went wrong during the MD-11 loading process. The biggest problem is that it’s once in a while. One time it loads perfectly, while another time the external view and 2D cockpit are separately in their own window. Undocking the panels mostly solved the problem like the 1st and 2nd screenshot. What seems to be a problem – FCP (flight Control Panel) – can be easily extracted with the mouse and finally it fits into place.

Is it good? No, it isn’t but help is on its way and I have to admit that there are hardly any complaints or forum postings about this phenomenon. Still, I though it would be a good idea to show you this since it can effect you as well.

Undocked by itself? Partly dock/undocked panels? Everything gone with the wind
Several examples of 2D cockpit reorganization problems. For some reason loading the MD-11 in a saved scenery situation, results in undocked cockpit panels or even the complete disappearance of the whole panel except then the grey background (3rd screenshot). For this situation, you’ve got no other choice then reloading the MD-11 or – unfortunately –restarting FSX.

I sincerely hope this problem is solved quickly since it’s a little frustrating that even after a clean FSX start, this suddenly pops up. Several conditions have been tried but it happens once in a while. I tried loading the MD-11 after a previous default FSX plane, I tried loading a preconfigured flight configuration, I tried reloading – Ctrl+; - an already loaded MD-11. Whatever I did, the problem appeared irregularly. Robert Randazzo informed me that work is in progress and an effort is being done to solve this. Although it’s not easy since it’s only applicable for only a handfull of flight simmers.

Last note from Angelique; due to several reasons, I had to re-install my whole Windows XP Professional and FSX. If it was related to the previous described 2D panel problem, I need to say that it didn’t appear anymore. So whatever the reason was for this, I have no idea!

Did we cover every tiny 2D cockpit detail? We hope so but it offers so many other tricks, it could be that I’ve forgotten one of those tiny details. However, that’s one of the reasons you need to read at least the introduction manual!

Virtual Cockpit

This is the best virtual cockpit we’ve seen yet. At this level you expect every system and schematic screen to work in high resolution and it does. Curious how to cross-feed fuel? Pull up the schematic page, click on it to make it larger, pan up to the overhead and take control of the fuel system manually. As you open valves you get a momentary disagreement while the valve has not yet moved to its commanded position, then a green flow confirming the system’s operation and the fuel, measure by weight, moves around the system.

It is fun just to watch the automated systems work through the engine start procedures or the emergencies you select. There are over 400 messages in the EIS Alerting system and these remind you of tasks you need to prepare for departure. As you complete checklists, these will extinguish so that you’ll be “clean and green” for your takeoff. So MD-11 captains, don’t forget this; the MD-11 doesn’t have an EICAS (Boeing) or ECAM (Airbus) system. McDonnell Douglas created their own EIS Alerting system. Difficult, different or extraordinary, not at all but to understand it you need to read the manual, just the same way real ATPL pilots must do before flying the aircraft.

PDMG has details like the color coding of the Pitch Limit Indicator correct as you approach critical angles of attack in a stall and the blue line that shows the difference in the pre-start fluid levels correct in their synoptic displays.

Is there a need to add additional words to these VC shots?
We don’t think so. The details are unbelievable, every tiny screw, switch, lights, reflection is there, well readable instruments and panel text, plus good looking seats. Apart from this, lots of components like the stabilizer suitcase handles, speed brake handle, throttles levers and many more, seem to be digitalized photo images which makes the sensation even greater.

One feature that sets this virtual cockpit apart, is the immersion factor that comes with having the right sounds and cues about the airplane’s performance. When flying airplanes of this size, cues are taken from the loud noises of the nose wheel as you approach rotation speed. On landing, the countdown of 30, 20, 10 from the Ground Proximity Warning System provides cues on when to pull power and flare. In addition to a fully functioning and correct GPWS system, PDMG provides correct call outs from your “Pilot Monitoring.” Again, coming from an airline background, the call outs come just as you expect them and make it easy to fly this desktop simulation.

We really like the mouse controls with the implementation of this cockpit. Douglas jets are just different than anybody else’s. For example, take the simple heading knob. In a Boeing and most other airplanes, you have two choices: right, or left. In the Douglas jet you actually have six choices on that one knob; right, left, push to slew right, or slew left, push (or “MASH”) for holding present heading and pull to select a pre-set heading.

Bouncing around in a virtual cockpit, trying to find a + or – would have made this product a miserable experience, so PDMG designed a much better way. You get your mouse close and a hand pops up showing a flat palm to push, a thumb and fingers to turn left, or another image for right, and cupped fingers to pull. Left click on your mouse turns the knob left, right for right, when you see the palm click left to push, right to pull. Just brilliant! Everything in the cockpit works this way, from the rheostat adjustments for the panel backlighting, to the pull to arm ground lift dumper / spoiler handle. As you move your mouse around cockpit, buttons have pop-up labels, again, PDMG makes it easy.

PDMG also went out of their way to make the operation of the VC pleasant by placing common requests in the #3 CDU / FMC unit. In the real world, pilots now do the majority of their company communications via a datalink called ACARS. Only if ACARS fails to get a response do we pick up the hand mike and make a radio call. PDMG put requests to open and close doors, supply ground power and air, fuel and pushback requests in this box. The call outs for push back are as perfect as a real pilot would hope to make while being observed by an FAA Examiner.

PDMG developed this model with customer's system limitations in mind. As a result, they have a submenu in FSX which allows the user to deselect First Officer’s instruments, or overhead panel function, to increase frame rates. There are also sliders to adjust the displays, allowing the customer to make adjustments and customize the VC to the constraints of their computer.

Some of the PDMG developer's machines were not cutting edge and mine has been built for almost two years now. Nonetheless, I saw frame rates in the range of 19 to 30 which mostly reflected the demands of scenery outside the virtual cockpit. Motion Pictures run around 24 FPS and in my opinion, this is a fine rate to run FSX.

Cargo Loaded… Nice External Lighting… and Nice Cockpit Lighting with Instrument Departure in FMC …
Descent Planning… Arrival Planning… and Landing…
Gear in Transit – notice the down locks… Cruising… What’s with the Ponytail?

One item to be careful about when flying in the Virtual Cockpit mode is to find where the auto throttle disconnect buttons are on the side of the throttle handles. The buttons are small and black and hard to locate, just as they are in the real airplane. Of course, in the real jet they are easy to find with the tactile feel of your thumb. The rotating switch to arm the Auto Brakes is also hard to locate. It is hidden just in front of the throttle quadrant. You may need to move the throttles, or spoiler handle to locate the selector knob, just don’t forget to re-arm the spoilers by lifting the handle up.

PDMG provides a variety of perspectives around the Flight Deck by pushing the “A” command. If you have an alert message you don’t want, it is easy to cycle through the cockpit to find the switch, and correct the configuration.

… and unlike Angelique’s opinion; I thank heavens that there’s a perfect combination between handmade/painted (sub) panels and digitalized photo images or let say, it seems like this. Looking closely to – for example - the speed brake handle, horizontal stabilizer suitcase, the throttle levers, oops, sorry, thrust levers and parts of the pedestal, it looks like these are digitized photo images. Perfect combination!

The MD11 these days is mostly a long haul cargo jet with panel backlighting and just a hint of flood lights that are perfect for shooting that CATII approach into the pre-dawn fog.

Not enough? Find here a YouTube link with lot of VC examples from Mr. Andymk. Absolutely worth surfing to it!

Flight Dynamics

It was interesting to see how PDMG would make this airplane fly realistically. In the real world, many operators of the MD11 were frustrated by performance that was not nearly as good as promised by McDonnell Douglas. Delta Air Lines was the launch operator. American Airlines and Singapore Air Lines were vocal in their complaints and cancelled orders. FedEx took the unusual step of parking their brand new MD11’s over the extent of their concerns.

Although McDonnell Douglas blamed the engine manufacturers for not delivering the fuel consumption numbers promised, and the engine manufacturers blamed the aircraft’s weight, the real cause of the airplane’s performance shortfall (when compared to Boeing jets with very similar engines) was the wing. Douglas tried to save money by enhancing the DC-10’s wing rather than designing a new wing and new landing gear to provide additional clearance for the 18 foot 6 inch longer fuselage. That compromise handicapped the development of the MD11, resulted in poor sales and arguably was the root cause of a poor safety record for the type, as I will explain.

To fix the performance problems McDonnell Douglas attacked the drag of the airframe, with the help of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. One area they worked on was the horizontal stabilizer, which they reduced in size. They also placed fuel tanks near the tail so they could adjust the center of gravity rearward. The result was less stable than other designs, so they added a Longitudinal Stability Augmentation System to help the pilot with pitch controls.

Pilots tell me the MD11 always flew like it had 100,000 more pounds of airplane than it had wing to support it. They also say the LSAS rewarded the smooth pilot, but for average pilots, the LSAS would start trying to correct, providing unwanted pitch inputs which the pilot might make worse as he tried to override the LSAS’s “corrections.”

If you add these factors together; a small wing that doesn’t provide a lot of lift, a small elevator that does not provide a lot of control, a tail heavy center of gravity and a LSAS providing inputs the pilot might not anticipate, the result is a tail strike. There are also reports of the airplane departing controlled flight at altitude. National Transportation Safety Board member, John Goglia described the MD11 as a “terribly, terribly, unforgiving airplane.” In reality, the MD11 is perfectly safe, but care must be made to ensure that it is operated at its correct speed and in its correct configuration. Operators report with additional emphasis in training, crews are operating the type with good results today.

PDMG’s MD11 flies like the Douglas jets that I’m used to. The V Speeds are calculated by the Flight Management Computer and they are higher than you will experience in Boeing jets as a result of the MD11’s relatively small wing. Once airborne, careful attention must be paid to these speeds as you climb, retract the flaps and stow the slats.

The leading edge slats make a nearly 40 knot difference in the airplane’s stall speed, they are critical. One nice feature of Douglas jets were their auto-slats, which are part of the airplane’s stall protection system. Should a pilot get slow, the slats will automatically extend in an effort to maintain controlled flight. PDMG’s auto slats operate just as they do in the real jet. Pitch control in the stall, along with roll control at low speeds is very realistic. The outboard ailerons lock out with flap retraction, just as they should. The result is nicely coordinated control responses. I did not see the expected roll and thrust differential when pulling individual engines to idle. This could be due to the jet’s yaw damper and other stability augmentation systems. So before I write that PDMG might have gone easy on that part of the model, I would need additional information on the MD11.

At low altitude the MD11 has plenty of power, but really needs to be faster than 220 to clean up. Even 250 is slower than this airplane is comfortable with, so your FMC will probably recommend a climb speed slightly faster than 300, and eventually settle in to a Mach .76 to .82 climb. A steeper climb actually reduces performance.

At heavy weights, the FMC will advise the airplane’s maximum altitude is in the low thirty thousand foot range. When you reach this peak, you will find the pitch angle uncomfortably high and the engines at max power for cruise. A better solution is to look at your recommended cruise altitude and stay there until your fuel burn reduces your weight, allowing you to climb higher. This is very realistic and is just the way the airplane operates with the limitations of its wing. The MD11 is a relatively fast airplane at cruise; remember this wing likes lots of air. You’ll see .82 or .83, which matches the performance of real MD11 flights on flightaware.com.

We flew several long distance flights in the PDMG MD11 and did not observe fuel transferring to the aft ballast tanks, or a change in pitch trim. Our fuel burns were higher than expected and I guess this might be related.

During descent the airplane comes down at a slower speed than the climb due to its now reduced weight. Your FMC will calculate an idle descent in the interest of greatest fuel efficiency. In the real world, a related drift down at 250KIAS would have controllers asking you what your problem is, so you will probably want to override the FMC with a 310 knot / .83 descent.

Here, I really like the work PDMG has done with their FMC and the way they have thought about their customer’s needs. Many of us will not sit by a monitor while MSFS does a 7 hour trip. So, PDMG has an option to halt the sim at top of descent. You can have time to get the weather and program your arrival profile into the FMC.

In real life it isn’t a good idea to fly a complex arrival by hand. PDMG has a very nearly complete database of arrivals in your jets FMC, with speeds and altitude constraints built in. The auto pilots work well and your only real task is to slow down and configure for your approach.

Systems and Failures

V1 Cut, Auto Slat & Stall Protection Test, and Balancing Fuel in manual override

The PDMG hand flies approaches well. Pitch and roll are responsive, but not touchy. Shift Z turns off your autopilot, but not your auto throttles. You can either set your speed command bug manually, or click the auto throttles off with the aforementioned black button on the throttle handle. If you turn off your auto throttles, be careful with your speed. You do not want to get slow. The airplane has plenty of drag, so it is easier to bleed off extra speed than to accelerate from behind the power curve. My guess is that pilots who have had a difficult time with pitch control have made the error of getting slow on approach and become unstabilized.

You will hear the Ground Proximity Warning System count down your altitude. Begin a shallow flare between 20 and 30 and adjust if you find too large a pause between “10” and the click of your spoilers deploying on touchdown. (you did remember to arm your spoilers, right?)

PDMG uses a MD-11 Load Manager program to set fuel and cargo numbers outside of Flight Simulator’s default ranges. They explain that the real MD-11 loading uses reference points forward of the nose of the aircraft. PDMG’s documentation explains, “we are using actual mathematical models for everything from the control laws of the autopilot system and auto throttles., to the manner in which the lift/drag curve is modeled for the simulation. This process allows PMDG to put a flight model/autopilot control process in place that exceeds the capabilities and performance of those that are based upon the center-of-rotation method used traditionally in modeling MSFS airplanes.

This reviewer had some minor problems with the auto throttle. The system works perfectly with the FMC and the Mode Control Panel, as most pilots will fly this airplane most of the time. However, CLMP mode and the interaction of the stall protection system bring some interesting variables to desktop simulation.

In real life, CLMP mode is when the auto throttle releases the drive clutches and the pilots can manually place the throttles in position. In a desktop sim, you don’t have servo motors driving the throttles, so at times the throttles are out of position. If the airplane stalls, the protection system should drive the engines to maximum thrust regardless of commanded throttle position.

I had luck clicking the throttles off, pulling the engines to idle and re-engaging the auto flight. PDMG provides “Auto flight. Controls Override Options” in their controls menu and it may be that my most realistic setting of “only in clamp mode” was responsible for these problems while performing stalls. It should be noted that control inputs will disengage the autopilot, just as in the real world. If you have strange autopilot disengagements, it is likely that one of your controllers is “spiking” and the program reacts accordingly.

Aircraft Systems, Emergencies and Flight Management Computer

The PDMG MD-11 simulator is an incredibly deep product. In real aircraft training an initial session covering the basics is rapidly followed by every emergency and abnormal system operation conceived by the engineers, your instructors and the Federal Aviation Administration.

PDMG gives you the option of selecting failures, and options to make your jet more failure prone. In particular, I like the way they triggered events, so that you can have your engine failures prior to takeoff decision speed (V1), or prior to rotation (VR) or at single engine safety speed (V2). You have realistic options such as high vibration failures, high temperature bleed failures and failures of various modes of the flight control and auto flight systems.

Frankly, the PDMG simulation provides more options for training than some Level D certified systems. In these failure modes you really appreciate the incredible amount of work that PDMG has accomplished. Let us consider the example of an engine failure and fire after V1. As the engine fails the airplane yaws and differential rudder is needed to keep the airplane on the centerline. You look down and notice the auto ignition has turned itself on and the systems schematics show the airplane has reconfigured its hydraulic, air and electrical systems. If you intervene and manually isolate systems, you see that those items quit working.

This is very interesting to watch with the flight control systems, as spoilerons, inboard ailerons, inboard and outboard elevators and other hydraulic actuators are modeled so that in the external views you see the unpowered flight controls ride up (or sag, as the case may be), and can see fuel being dumped as you reduce to your maximum landing weight.

PDMG is proud of their ability to realistically model display source transfers, which would be used to transfer information from one screen to another as a result of a multifunction display failure. With this extensive system modeling comes a lot of flexibility. PDMG has generously provided menus for configuring your aircraft to the airline’s specification that you prefer. For instance, you can select your Flight Director to be a single cue or crosshair style dual cue. You can decide whether or not your airline uses the deflected aileron option, or has updated FMC components, GPS and a host of other configurations.

We were unable to trigger deployment of the Ram Air Turbine and do not know if it has been modeled.

Flight tutorial and frame rates

Although we did a test flight where we checked the MD-11's fight dynamics, this tutorial gives us not only a second chance to check the air file, but also to check the contents of the tutorial and not as unimportant, the frame rates.

Ok, let’s then first start with my – Angelique’s PC – FSX settings, and the use of showing the frame rates. Is it useful to write down anything related to the offered frames? Readers, I can read your mind … but are they really useful?

I have my doubts and why do I have my doubts? Because it’s almost impossible due to the many available computer systems. But not only that. There are a bunch of other items which can influence the FPS. Like which operating system you are using, what’s the tweak status of Windows XP or Vista and what did you do with FSX. Oops, I also forgot to mention whether you’ve got a 32 or 64 bit operating system and thus the associated hardware and since I’m busy, did you implement the 4GB_ptach.exe file for Windows XP systems which has over 2GB RAM installed and did you use – to reduce the amount of services and background running programs- Ken Slater's AlacrityPC program?

Then you could ask yourself if it's possible to compare the MD-11 with a default FSX plane? No, that's out of the question! For the very simple reason that the PMDG MD-11 is so complicated, and a highly realistic programmed system that none of the default ones can even compete with it. Not only in external details but also in the complicity, so this automatically reduces the frame rates. As you can see, this is just the beginning of all the possible influences of the famous, horrible, frustrating FPS counter.

Ok, let’s give it a try. Let’s assume that I tweaked Windows and FSX. The next step is to figure out which FSX Settings like Graphics, Aircraft, Scenery, Weather and Traffic we have. The following screenshots are our settings.

Display-Graphics Display-Aircraft Display-Scenery Display-Weather
Angelique’s FSX settings. I implemented the 4GB_patch.exe because I’m running Windows XP with > 2Gb installed!
As you can see there’s no screenshot for Traffic. That’s easy for me; all the settings are not activated or all the sliders are set to the left. Reason: to prevent the traffic impact and because I’m flying online at the IvAo network.

So, these are the settings I used for flying the flight tutorial. So please join me on my virtual MD-11 trip from EGLL to LSZH.

The tutorial doesn’t start with a cold & dark configuration but explains to the user why they haven’t done this. He – PMDG tutorial writer Markus Burkhard – has chosen for a different approach, an approach which is more realistic. Ground staff or the mechanics have started the APU or connected external power to the aircraft, so it’s no a longer cold & dark configuration. Pilots normally never enter an aircraft parked at the gate or ramp, which is cold & dark.

Instead, they enter an aircraft which is already powered, with air-conditioning switched ON and the cabin and – more important – flight deck heated. The only thing that’s missing is their bed! The galley’s are already electrically supplied and this means the coffee is brewing, ovens are switched ON etc.

Three screenshots of the in total 35 pages offered flight tutorial. The flight tutorial explains a short flight from EGLL (London Heathrow) to LSZH (Zurich Airport) and we and you are invited on flight SWR801.
It’s a good well written tutorial, some examples and tips and tricks are given as well.

Anyway, with the printed tutorial in my hand, consisting of 35 pages with well writing explanations and pictures, I start digging into it and try to find my way. I can tell you, I loved reading it, it's well written with the associated pictures directly next of it. While reading it, there are a few items to keep in mind.

Although it’s a very short, real SR flight from EGLL to LSZH with hardly any cruise time available, it doesn’t offer any practical jobs to perform. Ok, that’s the consequence of this flight but I could imagine that they could add practical jobs to perform while cruising, like getting familiar with the MCDU. Probably that will become available in one of the new tutorial(s). I’m personally looking forward to the new ones.

With this question I went to Markus Burkhard – the writer of this tutorial – and his answer was “There are a lot of ideas for further tutorials. The one that is certain to come is the advanced tutorial covering another flight from A to B, this time with more detailed procedures to follow, a non-precision approach and the covering of hand-flying. I expect to finish that towards the end of December but unfortunately I can not guarantee that at all”. Looks very promising!

Ok, let’s rock and roll! I’ve loaded the special FLT file, which brings our aircraft to the spot where I should start. FSX computer in one hand, tutorial in the other hand. Oops, that’s not the case. On my LH TFT FSX is running the PMDG MD-11 while the Acrobat flight tutorial is running on the RH TFT. No need for me to print out the complete tutorial (I did it anyway!). Reading page for page, step by step and doing all those actions on the actual PMDG model. Everything goes pretty good and it’s – as said before – clear and easy to understand. For those who can’t or will not read those entire MD-11 FCOM, this tutorial helps a lot, but remember, it won’t replace all the books.

While it’s time to activate the pushback via the MCDU – very handy including the OPEN/CLOSE controls of the passenger/cargo DOORS – I also need to perform a few other checks but never mind, the truck driver and ground engineer are doing their job. What job by the way?

Pushback completed Bye bye EGLL – VR Nice view of what?
LH sharp turn via FLT PLAN Limited till waypoint DET5 Reaching the coast
FRAME/SEC = 19.9

Taxi is fun and I need to watch out that I’m not going too fast. Arriving at our planned runway it’s time to check and verify we did all the checklist items before we turn onto the runway, heading for Switzerland Zürich. Since there’s no ATC, I announce we’re cleared for TO. I checked the manual several times since there’s a lot of work to do during this initial climb procedure. The moment of lift off and initial climb, the aircraft moves my controls very nicely, and I don’t want to switch on the AP … oops, failure … the AUTO FLIGHT button.

There’s no longer a separate AP and AT switch, pushbutton or selector in this aircraft. Yes yes; it’s a complete different philosophy than Boeing! Since we finished a few days ago with our virtual Level-D FFS training, we don’t want to play with the systems too much. Apart from this, it’s a very short – around 01:20 minutes – flight to LSZH, so we keep it simple and try to stick to the tutorial.

While checking and following the tutorial, we’ll also check the frame rates and I must say, it’s impressive for an old system like mine. Thinking of the complexity of the simulated systems, my settings are above average, not bad, not bad at all!

We don’t have too much time to enjoy the cruise. I’ve lots of time from the top of climb until and including the top of descent, but I think it’s around 40 minutes. On the other hand, while in cruise and making the necessary descent preparations, the aircraft does most of the things automatically. As usual, the FMS is doing all the work for us.

Leaving the Channel
Somewhere above Europe
FRAME/SEC = 25.7
Descending LSZH ILS 14
FRAME/SEC = 23.4

As you can see on the screenshots, some frame rates are rather low but although I’ve switched OFF certain background services, the counter is – not always – like a yoyo. Then it’s steady between 20-25 frames, then it goes up when the speed goes up, it goes down as well, and sometimes even below 15. This has nothing to do with the PMDG product. It’s a background services thing but don’t ask me which or whom is doing this.

Anyway, the PMDG MD-11 model consumes a lot of memory. With my configuration and settings including the availability of UTX Europe, I found an average of 140.000KB so roughly 1.35GB. On time while approaching LSZH at 4000 feet, the memory counter went up over 1.5000.000 and resulted immediately in a OOM (Out Of Memory) and thus an FSX crash. Reason “unknown”!

My next attempt to LSZH was successful, although FSX with the PMDG MD-11 still consumes the same amount of memory as mentioned before. Whatever, with the automation of the aircraft systems and the way it’s simulated, it’s really fun flying and not only the TO, climb, and cruise but also the descent, approach, final approach and the landing.

Due to the good looking UTX Europe scenery, it's fun looking outside while we’re on descent – oops, the aircraft is doing all the work. Ok, we still need to manually to select the FLAPS (and thus the SLATS) to 15°, 28° and 35° but that’s all, apart of a few buttons to press or to arm a system, like the APPR/LAND button on the FCP.

During this, the MD-11 is doing all the work which gives me the possibility to take some nice shots of the approach. A little too many screenshots. Yes, it is but it’s also fun to see this nicely created MD-11 with all its details. Apart of that, the frame rates are important to give you at least an idea of what to expect when still using an older configuration.

LOC ILS 14 captured
Final turn for LOC ILS 14
FRAME/SEC = 10.7
GEAR moving DOWN
all set for ILS 14 approach
FRAME/SEC = 14.3
Settled for an ILS 14 landing
Although it was my second attempt for landing on LSZH ILS 14, I liked the tutorial because of its detailed and necessary items as well as the frame rates. It seems that the above six screenshots don’t offer too high frames but that’s also because of my high scenery settings. Eye candy external landscape is also important but the best is replacing the whole computer but that’s a different story.

Altogether, a lot of preparations to create this sub chapter but as usual, I did it with a lot of fun and I’m very optimistic. Optimistic because of the average frame impact on your FSX. It doesn’t sound important but not everybody does have the money to spend thousands of US$, Euro’s, Sterling pounds or whatever you’re currency is, to buy a brand new computer or upgrade it with the latest hardware. I’m not in the position either but see it as a challenge to get the most out of it. With that in mind, I’m very happy with this plane and – that’s where it all started– the flight tutorial and I'm looking forward to what else is coming.

One last item related to the use of AIRAC. The MD-11 comes with AIRAC 0808 and the flight tutorial is based on this. Keep in mind that it could happen that when using the latest AIRAC, the SID and/or STAR mentioned in the tutorial is not the same as the one in the latest AIRAC. It’s not really a problem for experienced users, but when you’re a beginner and want to master this MD-11, it’s better to fly this tutorial flight with the installed AIRAC version.


The sound files are very realistic. Although mentioned earlier in this review, it is worth noting again that PDMG’s real world experience shines through in the immersion factor. In the real aircraft, the loudest sounds are often the nose wheel banging along the runway and air conditioning systems. When you hear details like the air conditioning powering down as bleed air is diverted for engine starts, or the click of the start knob stowing at 50% N2, it is just like the real aircraft. The Pilot Monitoring call outs, the Ground Proximity alerts, even the Fire Bells and other warning systems are all correct and at the right volume.

Just before closing this sub chapter, one thing that really makes me crazy or I should say, gives me an incredible feeling, during the cockpit preparations you hear a lot of things because you’ve selected or rotating a switch, moving handles UP or pressing them DOWN, air conditioning running and producing the characteristic sound level, but it even goes further. When starting an engine; it sounds so simple but it is recorded in absolute detail. When the air conditioning packs where ON, they are temperately switched OFF. When the engine start switch is PULLED, you will hear, within a short time, the rumbling noise of the engine.

Wow! Later when the fuel switch is selected ON, it includes the right sound. When the engine start switch drops down, you not only see this, but you will hear it as well. This was all for engines 1 and 3, which are the wing engines. For engine 2, the cockpit sounds are the same but you hardly hear the engine itself. Surprisinged, no, not at all since it’s a little too far away from the cockpit. Just an example of the many sounds available.

Links and the “watch out” list


Welcome to MD-11.org, with a study guide -> http://www.md-11.org/
Kev’s MD-11 site -> http://md-eleven.net/
Of course, the Boeing Commercial Airplanes -> http://www.boeing.com/commercial/md-11family/index.html
ITVV in-flight DVD and Video MP flight MD-11 -> http://www.itvv.com/product/MD11/mpmd11dvd.html
JustPlanes.Com Swiss MD-11 -> http://www.worldairroutes.com/Swiss1.html
SmartCockpit MD-11 related material -> http://www.smartcockpit.com/plane/boeing/MD-11/

The “watch out” list

I think this is it. Oops, one thing and that’s the AVSIM PMDG forum. But I will keep it short and I’ve got good reasons for that.

The forum community for the MD-11 is extremely active, and many sim-pilots have found technical issues with this aircraft. It goes a little too far to point out all the possible questions or problems. There are too many “not always” problems, many “user” solutions and “under investigation” items and then keep in mind that this list grows daily. Remember that this is not new, that problems or strange/different behaviors could be the result of external non-PMDG programs or even limitations within FSX or the Windows Operating System.

With that being said, it’s impossible to add some forum postings here.Why? Because what’s important to me may not be important for somebody else and visa versa. Some threads are short while others are extremely long and sometimes even the real problem - where it started - is completely out of sight and the discussion has no longer anything to do with “the real problem”.

I must add on thing; the PMDG development team members, PMDG beta testers and many other flight simmers are very helpful towards each other and sometimes it results in a solution or it’s transferred to the HIL (Hold Item List). Sorry for that, transferred to the under investigation list or packed together with the upcoming Service Pack.

Summary / Closing Remarks

Test System

Angelique’s PC specs:
Dell Precision Workstation 650
Dual Intel P4-Xeon 3.06Ghz
4Gb RAM DDR 533Mhz
nVidia 7800GS+ 512Mb AGP
RAID-0 HDD’s - SCSI 340Gb
Windows XP Professional SP2
Flight Simulator FSX SP2
Saitek Pro Flight Rudder Pedals
Saitek ProFlight Yoke System
TrackerIR Pro 4
TrackerClip Pro

Tom’s PC specs:
Intel E6600 Clocked at 3.0Ghz
2Gb linked at 667Mhz, 1333 FSB
NForce 680i
GeForce 8800 GTS
RAID 0 Configuration, SATA
Microsoft Vista SP1
Flight Simulator FSX SP2

Flying Time:
90+ hours

Let’s put it simply, we think this product raises the standard by which Flight Simulator add-on products will be judged in the future.

This PMDG model offers so many new features, that reading the manual is mandatory. Don’t forget that licensed “real” ATPL pilots need to study these as well before heading to the real flight deck of the MD-11 with flying hundred of passengers or tons cargo moving around the globe.

PMDG offers a huge list of liveries, which is growing weekly. Both aircraft types – passenger and freighters – are offered including the two types of engines. Tom mentioned this already, not only the shape of the engine including the cowlings is different, but also the necessary changes are made in the flight deck. The best and directly visible one is the EPR (Engine Pressure ratio) on the engine page but not only this, the model offers two different sound files, one for the General Electric DCF6-80C2 engine and one for the PW4400 Series and not surprisingly, they sound different, just as the real ones.

The stock liveries are unfortunately of a lower quality than compared with the 744X but there’s a good reason for this. One example of a McPhat Studios livery – Martinair Holland – it seems that even with a much higher texture quality, the frame rate stay more or less the same. Which one is better? That’s up to you to decide. Currently while writing this, McPhat Studios offers only one HDT livery, but you never know what’s on the way.

Aircraft systems are thoroughly simulated in-depth, which really gives you the feeling that you are sitting in the captain's or co-pilot's seat of this magnificent PMDG MD-11. The 2D cockpit is already stunning with all its options but don’t forget the VC. Nice frame rates make it a pleasure to sit back, relax and enjoy this model.

Although the model offers a low quality passenger or upper deck cargo area, that’s not so important in our opinion. Flying the PMDG MD-11 on short, medium or long haul flights with all of its simulated complex systems is fun. There’s a bunch of possible simulated failures while the manuals can help you in solving them.

By the way, you want it as real as it gets? Then we can strongly advise you to buy the whole hardcopy series of the PMDG books. It consists of a FCOM (Flight Crew Operating Manual), QRH (Quick Reference Handbook), Systems & FMS Manuals and even a complete set of cockpit posters. Detailed information can be found via this link.

We both tested the air file; Tom jumped into the flight deck for a difficult test flight where lots of systems where checked while I, as a rookie MD-11 co-pilot, jumped in the right seat. I enjoyed the simulated PMDG MD-11 flight characteristics while onboard of flight SWR801 from London Heathrow to Zürich International. On longer flights Tom, acting like a real relief Captain, set the FMS in Germany, ate dinner, went to bed and landed the sim in Memphis in the morning.

It is very impressive that PDMG accurately modeled the FMC to enable these sorts of flights with standard departure, enroute, VNAV arrivals and approaches. We were able to take real aircraft routing, program the FMS and operate in VNAV and LNAV from clean up to roll out. For both of us it was fun. I do miss the “real” motion like in the real Level-D FFS (Full Flight Simulators), which by the way, has nothing to do with PMDG, but looking around in the VC flight deck really gives us that feeling .. YES, that’s it!

There’s only one thing that worries me and that’s the huge amount of PMDG manuals available. When you want to master this highly realistic MD-11 model, then you should sacrifice some free time and go back to school and study as never before. Unfortunately, this model doesn’t offer a“user level” – Beginner-, Intermediate- and Advanced Users - menu like we know from, for example, the Wilco Publishing Airbus Volume 1 and 2 packages.

There’s also no integrated training device or co-pilot who can help during your ground and flight operations like we know from the Flight1 Super 80 Professional. (Tom respectfully disagrees. The MD11 is a very simple airplane to operate compared to the MD80, which is part of the brilliance of modeling the MD11. If you start the sim ready to take off, you need only program the FMC and ensure you understand the stabilizer trim and flap / slat configuration settings to fly.)

PMDG created an almost “new standard” where it seems that the sky is no longer the limit for developers. The PDMG MD11 is more expensive than most add-on models, however, its depth and quality make this production a good value for your money. The PDMG product very closely resembles actual airline training resources. Many add-on products could be considered toys - we consider this product a useful tool. But before we forget, FS2Crew offers for this MD-11 - released at the same date - their famous FS2Crew software, while Angle of Attack Productions is busy making an operational, instructional DVD set.

Before typing our last words, I would like to thank a few persons; first of all, AVSIM reviewer Tom who helped me a lot in creating this comprehensive review. His in-depth real ATPL experience and contacts in the real world, gave us a thorough look into the flight dynamics. I also want to thank Terrence Klaverweide from McPhat Studios who gave me the opportunity to show a “different” kind of HDT (High Definition Textures) livery for a passenger MD-11. It’s not that this will be the standard; it’s good to see what is possible these days with hardly any frame rate impact.

I think this is it and if we’ve forgotten something for you, we’re sorry for that. We hope this review helps in making the right decision about buying the FSX version of PMDG's MD-11.


What I Like About The MD-11

  • Product created for FSX SP2, with self shadowing, bump mapping, bloom effect, cockpit self-shadowing and FSX (.dds) textures
  • Very thorough and deep modeling of systems with the ability to train emergencies and abnormal conditions. The ability to see these in external views.
  • Very high fidelity flight dynamics modeling
  • High levels of flexibility to configure options specific to an airline’s specific MD11 specifications
  • Tools to manage the programs performance on the user’s system and maximize frame rates
  • Flight Management System with departure procedures, arrival procedures, approaches and aircraft performance
  • Manuals that teach the user all they need to know for a quick flight, or all they want to know for a flight around the World with multiple failures


What I Don't Like About The MD-11

  • What’s with the Captain’s ponytail?
  • Once you learn this airplane the way PDMG teaches it, you deserve Wide Body Captain pay, weekends off and overnights in Rio.



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