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BenW

Airsimmer reborn (for me at least) - a quick review

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So you'll know that on these forums I've been pretty scathing of the Airsimmer A320 debacle and have perhaps been guilty of wading in to forum discussions with a 'it doesn't work/it crashes/it's not finished/they robbed our money' type vibe. I think what made me most peed off was that the A320 felt so 'nearly' there. It was so good in many areas but in the end trying to make it work just felt like pushing water uphill and in the end I resigned myself to the fact that we were never going to have a decent 'Bus for FS9, and that made me a bit grumpy. Whenever I flew in real life on an Airbus it almost wound me up that unlike the Boeings that we've been chewing on in FS9 for years, I was rather in the dark on how to fly one. Certainly unlike the level-D 737-400 sim I flew a couple of years back there was no way I could hop in, start the APU and engines, program the FMC and fly a couple of decent circuits because frankly, I didn't have a clue what to do with the mythical Airbus and the lack of a really good one for FS9 wasn't going to change that.

 

As it happened one recent forum conversation led me to our very own Airsimmer guru Flex1978 who kindly offered to log into my PC on Teamviewer and install my copy of the Airsimmer A320 properly, with the latest extended team updates. This we did and Rob spent a good while patiently running through the process until finally there it was, the Airsimmer A320 was sat in my virtual hangar. With a bit of guidance on how to avoid CTDs (most of which are well documented now) Rob wished me well and left me to get to grips with the Renault of the skies.

 

So, I needed a test flight but then ran into the first Airsimmer gotcha. You can't import flight plans, so my normal method of dumping a vRoute plan into the aircraft flight plan folder was not a goer. You can use it to get the route and the SIDs and STARs of course, but you need to input the route manually. This doesn't take as long as you might think as you can input airways to cut out many of the waypoints but if you're a company route man like me then it's worth learning how to do this properly. The other thing you need to fly the A320 properly is all the information that comes from TOPCAT. Without weights, CoGs, flex temperatures and the right V speeds you're on a one way ticket to taking out a forest a la Habsheim (okay that crash wasn't caused by the wrong figures inputted but the result will be the same) but thankfully the A320 is supported by TOPCAT and coming up with the numbers is as easy as falling off a log. You can also load the aircraft payload and fuel via TOPCAT too, which is all at the touch of a button. So far, so good.

 

So into the flight deck and away here we go. It's important to load the default Cessna first and then the A320. The second Airsimmer gotcha is that if you start the APU from the VC you get a CTD. The workaround is to assign a key to do it from the keyboard or do it from the 2D view. No showstopper there. The A320 kindly offers you ground power through the FMGS menu and within a moment in spot view you'll see a cable snaking from the ground up to the aircraft and the 'avail' light comes on. Hitting it powers up the beast with a satisfying 'chung' sound as the flight deck comes to life. Oddly ground air is offered as a menu option but isn't modelled, so the only way to keep your passengers comfortable is to fire up the APU and select bleed air on to feed the packs, which roar into life.

 

The flight deck ambience is superb and it really does sound like an A320, with that droning packs/fans sound that anyone who has spent time aboard one will recognise. The VC itself is superb, with lot of nice touches like a jumpseat that folds away, 3D switches, nicely textured seats and walls and wonderful night lighting which is 3-way adjustable. The only thing that's odd in the VC is the headrest texture on the pilot's seat. A320 seats have a headrest that is nearly as wide as the seat itself but the Airsimmer's tiny headrest looks like it has shrunk, as if someone left it in the wash. Hopefully some enterprising individual might be able to rework the seat texture and make the headrest look normal! Popping outside after dark with the cargo doors open you notice that the holds are lit up and throw pools of light onto the ground below; a nice touch. Similarly the flight deck glows brighter from outside when the dome light is turned on. The exterior textures are really nicely done, too, with lots of detail.

 

outside.jpg

 

CPIT1.jpg

 

CPIT3.jpg

 

My first flight was from Menorca LEMH to Ibiza LEIB in the Iberia A320. Programming the FMGS was nice and easy using all the information from TOPCAT and before long we've got a route planned, V speeds in, doors closed (you can do this from the FMGS menu) and I'm running through the checklist for engine start as AES starts pushing us back using the AES config file Rafal kindly uploaded onto Aerosoft's site. The first issue then occurred as all I could hear during the pushback was a horrid graunching, grinding noise and 'G LOAD' appeared on the ECAM, along with clouds of smoke from under the cockpit. I wondered whether this was an issue with the AES config but knowing Rafal as a stickler for detail I couldn't see how. One to investigate after the flight, that one. Engine start in an A320 is a cinch - simply flick the engine mode switch to 'ignition/start', hang on until you hear the packs die (not sure you need to do this but I did) and then hit the master switch for each engine in turn and soon enough there was that wonderful dog barking sound of the PTU in progress. At this point I hit the Takeoff Config button on the pedestal which gives a run down of items that must be taken care of before departure (auto brake max, spoilers armed, signs on etc), set the flaps, the THS (take off trim, done manually with the trim wheel) and finally set the taxi light, which also has a brighter setting for 'takeoff'.

 

Taxying away from the stand, the engine noise and taxy ambience is superb, with a nice deep 'crump' sound every now and then to simulate running over cracks in the concrete. I recall there was a bit of aggro over this sound in the Airsimmer forum years ago but I think it's one of the best sounds added to any FS9 aircraft as it conveys a sense of a big, heavy machine bumping along the taxyway. The ground handling is also very good, with a great view as you sit higher than in a 737. The A320 feels heavy on the ground although taxying at or near idle thrust is easy, yet you don't get the speed build up that plagues other aircraft. It's fairly easy to get running and taxi along at 20-25 knots without touching either the power or the brakes. Now however another issue, which is my CH pedals don't seem to like the A320. The brake pressure light is swinging madly up and down every time I go any near the pedals, let alone push them and it's near enough impossible to brake without wobbling all over the place. I delete the brake axis and try again (they were processed twice, oddly, once through FSUIPC and once through FS9) and then I have no brakes at all! I decide to crack on with the flight and investigate later so use reverse thrust to bring myself to a stop (apologies to Iberia maintenance!). Lining up was nice and easy and off we went, although I initially pushed the throttles into the TOGA gate I flicked them back an inch to get back into the Flex gate as all the numbers were set up for the derated takeoff and I didn't want to be fighting TOGA power. I remember learning how to fly big iron years back before I really understood derating and every takeoff was like man versus machine as I didn't realise at the time that they were all full power, low weight takeoffs! In real life of course such takeoffs are a real handful as everything happens incredibly quickly so I make life easier for myself these days with plenty of payload and derate so that everything happens so much more slowly on the takeoff roll.

 

The first thing I noticed on the takeoff roll was how slowly the A320 seems to accelerate compared to the iFly 737. It seemed to take an age to get to 100 knots and the end of the runway was looming but eventually V1 came and a moment later I rotated and we were climbing away. This was a SID departure so there was little to do but point it wherever the FD told me and bring the gear up. I found the handling in the air very wobbly. A tiny bit of movement on the stick sent me wobbling all over the sky. There was work to do on the joystick axis too, unless it was meant to do this! Once on autopilot though it was very smooth. The A320 has a three stage takeoff procedure - the initial rotation, a climb at V2+10 to the 'THR RED' (thrust reduction) altitude where the thrust levers are pulled back to the CL gate and then at the 'ACC' (acceleration) altitude the speed pings to 250 knots, the nose comes down a bit and the speed builds up. Once past the 'F' mark on the speed tape I went to flaps 1 and past the 'S' mark retracted the slats by selecting 'flaps 0'. Climbing in the 'Bus is actually pretty easy. You dial in the selected altitude and push the alt button in, which is a bit like VNAV in a Boeing in that any altitude constraints will be honoured along the way. If ATC clear you to the high heavens you can select the altitude and PULL the alt button and that selects 'OP Climb' which basically shoots you straight up and any altitude constraints can go whistle. Speed is managed by the FMGC.

 

So a short while later, safely in the cruise, we're all good. I review the landing, mindful of the advice from Rob earlier about the A320s CTD issues. You must have a go around waypoint in the flight plan or the A320 will CTD at 50 AGL, possibly the most annoying thing to any simmer in the world ever as the landing is the money shot of every sim session and being denied it is intensely maddening. So I check and there is one, no problem. Also you have to be careful when selecting a STAR because if the first waypoint is the same as your last waypoint on the active flight plan then you'll get a CTD. No problems for me on this one, thankfully.

 

The descent however into IBZ was very unstable and rushed, as I got myself into a panic over the Airbus's many descent modes and ended up very hot into the final approach. After the event I spent some time googling my plight and the best resource I found was from a Cathay Pacific Captain about the black art of landing an A340, a virtually identical aircraft from a pilot's point of view. If you are interested you'll find it here: http://www.smartcock..._Monitoring.pdf

So what went wrong? Well essentially you can fly the descent in managed mode but there are several Airbus gotchas that you need to understand before attempting this and for the brave hearted the Airsimmer actually models all these modes pretty well. There are a multitude of different modes that come into play depending on where along the descent profile you are and which mode you select on the FCU. Getting these muddled up is a recipe for an approach that will end in a go-around, or tears, or both. You can use the old fashioned VS modes and control the speed yourself but bear in mind you'll miss the one thing unfortunately not modelled on the A320 which is 'level off' indication, where a blue arrow pointing up (climb) or pointing down (descent) give you the point on the ND at which the aircraft will level off at the altitude that is selected. This is the 'Bus equivalent of the useful descent arc or 'green banana' you find in a Boeing. You don't know how much you miss this until it's gone. In the Boeing you just dial in the vertical speed until the arc hits where you need to be and down you go. In the Airbus, you need to do the required arithmetic in your head or you'll miss the level off point by miles and potentially find yourself too high or low on the approach. It's better in many ways to leave this to aircraft and descend in managed mode so that the aircraft does the sums but RTFM first! It's also worth pointing out that the ET version (unlike the basic - work that one out!) can't manage speed on the final approach so you have to do it yourself as VAPP is blank on the PERF page.

 

The other 'Bus gotcha is slowing the thing down. Boeing kindly give you lots of flap settings that can get you out of bother on approach as there's always a stage of flap available to you somewhere along the line. The Airbus only has four, and the first is unavailable to you until under 220 kts so don't think that a dirty dive for the ground is a good idea if you don't want the ECAM screaming at you about overspeeding the flaps. The plan in the A320 is to get down to green dot speed (essentially min clean) around the early part of the approach down to 2000 feet, slowing to get flaps 1 and then 2 out just before glide slope intercept and then gear down, descend on the ILS before taking flaps 3 or full. This all happens fairly quickly and I had a real job on my hands as I found the speed just didn't want to come down between flaps 1 and 2. On the glide I disconnected the AP and found myself wobbling all over the sky again and the arrival was best termed 'positive'. Autobrakes disconnect when reverse is cancelled (which I pulled out at 60 knots), so forgetting I had no brakes I ran right to the end!

 

Over the next couple of days of extensive flying and with the kind assistance of Rob via email I sorted out the handling (deleted all axis via FSUIPC and set them as recommended by the Airsimmer forums), fixed the AES problem (press 'repair for push' on the AES config page with the A320 loaded at an AES airport), bought myself some new Saitek pedals (feel nice and stiff and much better on the ground but only half solved the brake issue - I'll come back to that) and started to fly the A320 with PFE, which is an ATC add-on. I set up PFE to give me a SID (if applicable) on departure and then for arrival I program the first bit of the STAR along with with the main flight plan and then take vectors to the final approach. This I've found is fairly realistic to the way it's done in real life and is useful for planning purposes as you can get a good idea from the chart of where the approach will begin and still have the unpredictability of the vectors and final approach speeds after that to final. Flying the A320 with vectors, altitudes and speeds from ATC is actually very easy as you're managing the speed, the VS and the headings just like you do in any other aircraft. The A320 flies very nicely on autopilot although I do find that the auto thrust tends to seesaw up and down a lot on final approach. I find it best to disconnect it once established along with the auto pilot and eyeball it in. Once I sorted the axis out I found the manual handling much better and it's actually pretty nice to hand fly, once you get used to the weirdness of not trimming. The best policy with the stick, in the words of an Airbus pilot is to treat it like someone's else's man part - 'don't touch it any any more than you absolutely need to'! On a couple of test flights I tried the old 'heel over the stick and come back in 10 minutes to see if it's still holding the bank angle' trick and indeed it was. From what I could see, in normal law it was pretty hard (although not impossible) to stall the thing or turn it on its back. Clearly if you want to break the flight model then you can, but for the amount of hand flying most of us will do in the heavy iron with ATC etc then you'll find it goes where you need it to with no fuss.

 

So, in summary, it's been a few days since the second coming of the Airsimmer A320, after it was sent off to the virtual Mojave of my hard drive a couple of years back. Clearly there's still work to do as the annoying CTDs, although largely isolated to specific instances, are still present, and despite containing detail like not being able to select auto brake whilst the nose gear is disconnected, there is still stuff like ground air selectable in the menu but not modelled. The brakes are still an issue as although they work, for some reason when you apply full toe brake they actually stop working altogether so you have to judge around 75% travel on the pedals to stop the thing. It's annoying as any braking that's little harder on one pedal than the other leaves you yawing all over the place or when you pull onto stand and realise you're going a bit fast you panic, stomp on the pedals and of course keep going straight through the terminal, like that scene from Airplane. In all my other aircraft they work fine, so it's an Airsimmer issue as far as I can see.

 

But these are all minor niggles to be honest. If you're prepared to jump through a few hoops then you'll be entering into the world of the Airbus and all its sights, sounds and weird foibles. Flying it like a Boeing is not an option and the learning curve is steep. There's a lot of 'what's it doing now?' and that's not down to Airsimmer, that's down to Airbus. The VC is one of the best for FS9, period and the soundset is superb. As far as I can see for everyday flying all the ECAM stuff is there and you can drive it exactly the way Airbus say you should, with the exception of managed speed on final approach.

 

There, I've said it. The headlines tomorrow - Airsimmer in A320 that actually works shocker!'

 

BenW.

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:Whew: i haven't read that much since school :lol: my eyes hurt now, need 2 rest :LMAO: The AirSimmer Airbus is a beautiful plane 2 fly :good:

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Ben,

 

An outstanding review! :good:

Not only well written but also breaking the stereotypical thinking many people have both about AirSimmer and the Airbus A32X series itself.

 

I admit I was myself preparing kind of mini tutorial in both screenshot and video versions, but I dropped the idea seeing how many people hate this outstanding addon.

Now you have returned my power, so I may reanimate my work, not seeing it as a waste of time anymore.

 

Sorry for the AES confusion. Yes, using 3rd party configs it is often required to use the 'repair for pushback' option when applied in your sim.

Especially when there are model differences - I am using only the basic version.

 

Once again: great job on this post and great to see you happy with AirSimmer. B)


Rafal Haczek

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I assign a button to apply brakes. It comes in handle once the auto brake is disengaged. Great review. And Rob is definitely awesome.


Jason

FAA CPL SEL MEL IR CFI-I MEI AGI

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Very nice to read a positive review of this Aircraft, loooong but well written, and most helpful.

 

As it happened one recent forum conversation led me to our very own Airsimmer guru Flex1978 who kindly offered to log into my PC on Teamviewer and install my copy of the Airsimmer A320 properly, with the latest extended team updates.

 

 

 

The only slight frustration is reading about people enjoying the "Extended" version, but it is not available to the general public (yet?).


Warren

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A great review Ben. Thanks for the hard work and for shedding some "light" on a topic that too often has consisted of mostly "heat." It's contributions like this that make me think I'm participaing in an informed discussion among competent 'professionals,' rather than the usual infantile verbiage you find on most of the web...

:clapping:

Ian

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Wad53 has hit it on the head; what's the point of raving about this Airbus when the very parts (the extended team updates) that make it platable aren't available to the general purchaser? Why should you have to 'be in the in-crowd' to make a product that you purchased usable?

 

If Airsimmer ever release the full version in a usable shape, I'll be first in line to buy it. But I won't jump through hoops to get a product that I bought usable. Sorry.

 

Cheers, SLuggy


I do not have a signature. Why are you reading this?

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I am using only the basic version.

Sluggy ... Rafal has been advocating the AirSimmer for months. As you can see from the above he uses the basic edition. After the latest update (1.4) many, not all, of the problems have been overcome.

 

I am a first day member of the extended beta team though currently I have the basic version installed.

 

With Flight1 offering their 30 day refund policy could I gently suggest that you may equally profit, as has BenW, by giving the AirSimmer a try. It IS the best A320 available for FS9..


Capt_Sig_Day.jpgmce_forum_banner.jpg

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A great review Ben. Thanks for the hard work and for shedding some "light" on a topic that too often has consisted of mostly "heat." It's contributions like this that make me think I'm participaing in an informed discussion among competent 'professionals,' rather than the usual infantile verbiage you find on most of the web...

:clapping:

Ian

 

+1.


Gavin Barbara

 

Over 10 years here and AVSIM is still my favourite FS site :-)

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he uses the basic edition

 

Indeed. And I would again like to underline the fact that the word 'Basic' is exceptionally misleading in case of this addon.

It is much more complex than many other addons which describe themselves as 'The most realistic blah blah blah...'

 

 

It IS the best A320 available for FS9..

 

And for the whole MFS series (and all other home sims) ever.

I know simmers who use mainly FSX but also have FS9 installed just to enjoy flying an A320.


Rafal Haczek

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Wad53 has hit it on the head; what's the point of raving about this Airbus when the very parts (the extended team updates) that make it platable aren't available to the general purchaser? Why should you have to 'be in the in-crowd' to make a product that you purchased usable?

 

If Airsimmer ever release the full version in a usable shape, I'll be first in line to buy it. But I won't jump through hoops to get a product that I bought usable. Sorry.

 

I don't know exactly how useable the airsimmer bus is, but I've heard that only the CFM version works reliably. Correct me if I am wrong. When I use FS I try to fly realistic routes, with the right aircraft/airlnes/callsigns. The reason I've not gotten the basic version yet is that I don't want to dish out money for only an A320 CFM, while the A321/A320 IAE/A319/A318 go unmodelled. I'm sure the 320 CFM flies great and works like a charm now after the updates, but I'm not going to buy the basic version because only one aircraft/variant is being offered.

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I'm not going to buy the basic version because only one aircraft/variant is being offered

 

Isn't it like that with some of the top addon aircraft we all know? Like Level-D and many others?

Of course it is always better to get more for the same price.

But for me, knowing well now what a gem this simulation is, resisting to enjoy it 'because I don't get other models' would be a loss I am happy not to be experiencing.


Rafal Haczek

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Isn't it like that with some of the top addon aircraft we all know? Like Level-D and many others?

Of course it is always better to get more for the same price.

But for me, knowing well now what a gem this simulation is, resisting to enjoy it 'because I don't get other models' would be a loss I am happy not to be experiencing.

 

Well, the difference is that 767's that aren't a 767-300 are rare, and in the example of the 767-400 the cockpit is completely different, resulting in more work for the developers. Not so with the A321/A319/A318, which are very common, and furthermore, share the same systems and cockpit. It's more a question of waiting to get the full version so I don't needlessly buy the basic- money is a bit tight.

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