AVSIM Commercial FSX Aircraft Review

A320 Jetliner

Product Information

Publishers: Just Flight

Description: A fly by wire Airbus.

Download Size:
NA

Format:
DVD
Simulation Type:
FSX
Reviewed by: Robert Mariani AVSIM Staff Reviewer - December 27, 2010

Introduction
 
The real Airbus A320 is the Airbus Company’s second entry into the commercial airliner fleet, and so far the 318-321 family has been the most produced of any Airbus model.  Designed in the 1980’s with production continuing today, the A320 is a direct competitor to Boeing’s most successful 737.

While both airplanes are twin powered, single aisle, short to mid-range jets, the A320 and its family vary greatly from Boeing in the way they are flown.  While Boeing retains the traditional yoke and cables (hydraulically assisted), the Airbus uses Fly-By-Wire technology and a joystick in the cockpit. This means that any input by the pilot is sent to the computers which is then interpreted and sends the commands to the aircraft’s surfaces.

There is no direct connection between the joystick and the elevator for example.  By design, this is a very complex airplane.

In FSX the Airbus 320 Jetliner, published by Just Flight, is another offering in the F-lite series of commercial airliners.  F-lite, according to Just Flight, are “aircraft that are not only extremely high in detail and visually impressive, but also less demanding to fly than complex procedural simulators.”

So, on the outside the plane will shine in all of its glory with moving surfaces, animations, and effects such as sparks for over-rotations.  No flexing wings though.   On the inside, you will get the virtual cockpit in relative fine detail with many clickable switches.  In addition, you will also have at your disposal a “custom built MCDU”.

All those fine visuals and to top it all off, you can just jump in, firewall the throttle and take off…but wait…is that a good thing?  Should they really be emphasizing the simple(r) flying model?  That is interesting, considering other add-on developers often emphasize the opposite - the complexity of their add-on airplanes.

To find an answer to the above questions read on and see if this package makes sense for the Flight Simulator X user.

Test System

Pentium Dual Core at 3 GHz
9600GT PCI-E video 512MB
2GB memory dual channel
TH2GO and Track IR

Flying Time:
5 hours

Installation and Documentation

The installation is very simple and straightforward, since the airplane came on a DVD.  There are no complicated authentication processes, and all you need is the genuine DVD.   After you insert the DVD, you will need to agree to the EULA, and confirm the location of your FSX, and in a few minutes you are ready to fly.  Even if your FSX is not located in the default /Microsoft Games/Flight Simulator/..folder, the installer will find it, and place your new A320 where it needs to go without a fuss.

The DVD comes with a 68 page printed manual, and the same manual gets installed as a PDF file on your computer.  The printed manual is a very nice touch as most instructions these days come in electronic format.  That being said, the printed manual has to conform to the size of the regular DVD box so the text is quite compressed, i.e. small.  Still it is nice to have a printed manual, as they are a dying breed.
  
The first half of the manual covers the panels in detail, the MCDU, and key commands while the last 30 pages or so are devoted to tutorial flight.

Finally, if you interested in painting your own A320 there is a six page tutorial on how to create your own livery out of the enclosed paint shop file.

Virtual Cockpit

The VC is made with sharp bitmaps and all autopilot and MCDU switches work well - if you plan to fly from this perspective.   The highest resolution I tested was 3024x768 with a TripleHead2Go (TH2G) spanning the VC across three monitors.  There were no problems.  If you have Track IR then zooming and panning shouldn’t be a problem either and this VC will be your new pilot’s seat.  However, one thing that you will notice is that the VC overhead is missing some sections that the 2D overhead provides, most importantly the working electrical switches. This will preclude you from flying from cold and dark to landing entirely in the VC mode.

At night the cockpit light has only one panel switch and that one does the job wonderfully.  Everything is well lit, yet not too bright to be intrusive to your outside vision.  Night lighting in both the VC and 2D panels are done extremely well.

Other than that, another popular feature in FSX these days are the window reflections.  While it may look realistic to some people, I find it highly distracting and mostly undesirable. Fortunately, in this airplane it is not very noticeable at night.  I wish there were alternative textures, but that is my preference and should not be taken against this fine VC.

VC during day and night. The textures are crisp and night lighting is excellent.

Panel

The 2D panel is well made as well, and includes several sub-panels such as throttles, full overhead panel, primary instruments zoom panels (3), and several other pop-ups.  There is however one little thing that I often find to be more of an annoyance.  When you undock certain panels such as the PFD, or any of the primary pop-ups there is huge black area that comes along with it.  Look at the pictures for the example of what I am talking about.   Nevertheless, this panel is very well put together and lives up to the promise of “visually impressive”.  Furthermore, at normal resolutions the panel does not affect my FPS on my rather “old” computer.

As far as the panels go this one is good, simple, and functional.  My only wish would be that the center post is detached from the main panel, as this would provide more flexibility with wide screen monitors or triple monitor displays.

First picture shows how the PFD looks when it is undocked.  Second is the error I have encountered several time when playing with MCDU too much or too fast.  Finally, MCDU at night - lights configuration page.

The gauges are done well and move smoothly, so there are no complaints there.  The only thing with a jerky movement that I have observed was the trim wheel on the throttle sub panel, in 2D only.  That is not even considered an instrument, I believe, and interestingly enough in VC that same wheel moves quite smoothly.

Custom MCDU (Multifunction Control Display Unit)

The MCDU found on this F-lite model is “considerably simplified and also includes features which have been added to meet the needs of FSX pilots”.  The manual devotes some 15 pages to different displays on the MCDU so you could say that the instructions for this simplified version are quite detailed.

I found the MCDU relatively easy to use and simple to adjust or change.  My computer configuration must not agree with it a lot since I would often get FSX to come to crushing halt after going through several pages and the culprit listed on the error screen includes one jf_a320.gau.  I have contacted the Just Flight’s customer support and downloaded the latest patch for the plane, but according to their representative - who answered my inquiry very promptly (within 12 hours) - this is not a common error among the A320 users.

Some of the unique features include the lights page, autopilot page, cockpit navigator and checklist.

On the lights page you can turn on and off individual lights or you can choose presets for different stages of your flight.  For example, on the ground you can select TAXI preset, all the lights that you would normally have ON during that stage would turn on, and others would be off.  Before take off, you would choose TAKE OFF/LANDING preset and lights that are needed at this stage would be turned on, while all others are shut off.

The autopilot page works in a similar fashion.  You can select certain presets and have only certain AP functions on - such as AP main, AT, and various Hold functions ON while others are off. Alternatively, you can adjust each AP function individually.

Cockpit navigator serves the purpose of turning various sub panels on or off (no need for icons or shift-n presses) while the checklist goes through each of the crucial checks before the next stage of flight.  One neat feature about the checklist is that once you set something ON that is listed on the checklist that item changes color and you can move on.  It is very basic, but it never promises to be anything else.

Some features that you might be expecting here is flight planning and to a degree this MCDU has it.  You can either load an FSX created flight-plan (you do not have to load it in an FSX menu-MCDU will list all your created plans) or you can select two airports.  The A320 Jetliner comes with an “internal database of flight plans that cover flights between the most popular destinations across the world” Unfortunately that’s it since the manual doesn’t explain anything further.

On the other hand, you can also select a standby flight-plan which can be used if you need to go to the alternate airport.  One thing that I can’t find anywhere though, are various approaches available in FSX‘s own GPS database. There seems to be no built-in provision of loading the approach and then displaying that on the moving map portion of the MFD.  Even worse is the fact that the FSX GPS is not available.

All that neat technology and all those displays are not quite up to par during the approach phase of your flight, and I wish they would have included at least the default GPS database.  Let’s keep those paper charts and ILS/DME approaches handy.

Exterior Model

This airplane is beautiful.  The shape and size, as well as the two engine variations, detailed textures (which do take some time to load on my semi ancient system), the moving surfaces such as flaps and ailerons all combine to be one very pleasant visual experience.  The wings do not flex, but do they really flex in real life on small airliners like this one?  Of course they do, but it is not as easy to see as it is on the 747’s and A340’s.  So even if that detail is not modeled, it really doesn’t look like it is missing.

The A320 Jetliner comes in eleven CFM and nine IAE versions.  Airlines included are Air Berlin, Air Canada, China Eastern, Air France, Iberia, Lufthansa, Philippine Air, TAP, Thai AirAsia, US Airways, Virgin America, Aegean, British Airways, Jet Blue, Lan, Mexicana, Spanair, TACA, Turkish, and United.

Textures are done well, although I occasionally have problems when switching to IAE versions of the jet.  Again, I contacted the customer service and downloaded a patch but that didn’t quite solve my problem.  Just as I said before, the customer service rep was very prompt but unfortunately it seems that problems like those have not been reported to them, so I will chalk that one up to my video card drivers, or something. Anyways, my problem is not a big one.

Sometimes when I load an IAE version, the airplane comes out as a sharp and shiny looking black and black only.  I have to load a default FSX plane before I can try to reload it and get it to display properly.  Fortunately, it doesn’t stop the sim and nothing bad happens.  I really have to look at those drivers.

All the variations in the FSX menu, and some random shoots of A320 in different stages of operation.
More details of the exterior.

Sounds

Sounds are excellent.  From start up to flap extension to spool-up.  Everything sounds realistic and the only thing that seems to be missing is the chime associated with the No Smoking and Fasten Seat Belts switches.  I didn’t ask the customer service about that one.  Every summer I fly on a real A320 and when I crank up the volume at home on this A320, it brings me right back to my vacation memories. If only there were more repaints available - a very quick (maybe too quick) glance at the AVSIM library under FSX aircraft repaints revealed exactly… zero. Oh well, it’s still new.

Airfile

How does it fly?  Well, in the real world and in some other add-on packages the piloting experience is quite different from your regular stick and rudder controls.  Yes, there is a stick on a real aircraft and it’s modeled nicely in the VC of this add-on, but that stick tells the computer what you will do and then the computer decides whether you will be allowed to do it or not.  And yes, it takes much less time for the computer to figure all that out than for me to type FBW (or Fly By Wire).

Here in this airplane, the FBW and its nannies are not modeled and if you want to stall the darn thing you will successfully do so.  Elsewhere (as in other more complex iterations of this jet), the throttle might advance automatically if your speed and AOA are approaching critical, but here you can just fly into a stall and try to recover manually as you would in your typical Cessna. Stick forward, full throttle, watch the pedals…  Again that is not bad here, as the publisher proudly touts the fact that this thing is less demanding to fly than some of the other similar add-ons.

Overall this A320 is a pleasure to fly manually and on autopilot.  It is docile at any speed, handles the low speeds well, climbs briskly, and ground handles fine.  On rotation if you follow the speeds suggested by MCDU you will always have a perfect lift off.  In addition, I never managed to scrape the tail to see the sparks effect (when the tail hits the ground) because the main wheels always lifted sooner.

In other words no complaints, what is advertised is here - simple to fly and not too complicated.

2D panels and various pop-up.   First picture in the second row is the VC and second is the 2D overhead.  Notice the difference?

Summary

At first I wondered why a publisher would brag about an add-on airplane for its less than complex features. While doing this review I discovered why.

Some people want the simplicity of the FSX default airplanes, with much more visual artistry.  Some people love the FMC, but don’t really care about all of its functions. They do care about the simple ways it interacts with the airplane and provides you with the magical magenta line to follow.  I think this airplane addresses that niche market.

These are the folks who might want to fly the nice jets and are willing to learn a thing or two, but do not have the time, or do not want to spend hours looking at manuals and cross-referencing data before they can take to the air.  At this point in my life, I can totally understand that.

Yes, it lessens the realism somewhat, but let’s face it, even if you do take half an hour to go through the proper prestart you are still sitting in your room in front of your computer and not in the real thing.

However, I also understand the die-hards and the need for the ultimate realism.  If every switch has to be in place and turned in the right order for the right things to happen, then unfortunately this A320 Jetliner is not for you.

If, on the other hand, you might fit into that niche of people who like nice airplanes, but have no time for complex systems and very long pre-flights, then this A320 Jetliner is your ticket to fly.

 

What I Like About The A320 Jetliner

  • Just Flight customer support response time
  • Visual model
  • VC and 2D panels
  • Sounds
  • Panel lighting and outboard lights

 

What I Don't Like About The A320 Jetliner

  • No default GPS approach plates

 

Printing

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