One of the most awaited Airbus releases of the year is out this week, the Airbus X Extended by Aerosoft hit the vitual shelves, much to the delight of the Airbus fans as well as those curious about an affordable add-on that promised high quality graphics, good features and yet was simple enough to get going.
Following on from the previous chat we had with Mathijs Kok, I decided to ask him about what is actually in the package, what changed, and what we can expect. Mathijs was, as always, only too happy to talk to the Avsim members.
Q - Mathijs, congratulations on the release of the new Airbus X Extended. How would you rate the community acceptance of it?
Great! Very positive on the whole.
Of course no matter what you do, there will be about 5% of customers who are not happy for various reasons. In our case there are people who feel that our choice for a ‘wide’ product and not a ‘deep’ product was not what we should have done. With ‘wide’ I mean that we have a full RAAS implementation, a Digital Flight Data Recorder, Webserver, semi-automated checklists, all things you will have to buy separate for other aircraft. We include those and stay away from very complex stuff like full featured emergencies. We focus on the day to day flying not on simulating the systems. Some customers do not understand that or disagree with our choice. So be it.
Allow me to explain something. We feel that doing all the systems in an aircraft is very cool, but if something is never used in the real aircraft, not even in millions of hours flying, what role does it have in a $50 add-on? Take something like the Ram Air Turbine that provided power and pressure when both engines fail. That was extended exactly one time in all the hours flown by the A320 family (millions of hours). It was extended at the time the Airbus landed in the Hudson river. If you take your sim serious you would need to fly for years and years 24/7 to even have a tiny chance of needing it. There are at least 10 backup systems on the A320 that have NEVER been used in the real aircraft. It’s like expecting a car simulator to include the jack. It’s not where we want to go. But it is where some customers hoped we would go.
Q - We know the release was delayed by a few months, can you specify the issue that delayed all this? Has it been completely fixed or are there some issues to be addressed on this bug?
There are many issues to address, a product like this will have bugs to fix, will have features we still like to add etc. But we were happily surprised by the stability right now.
The delays were mainly caused by the MCDU. That is such a complex machine in any modern aircraft and certainly in an Airbus. It’s the tight integration of all systems that makes it hard to simulate. You change something here and it affects 4 other systems. We underestimated that.
Q - You were very proactive in making best use of the delay by adding features that were supposed to have been left for your first SP. Can you list the features that were added during this period?
The biggest one was a mode detailed Vnav system. It’s something that we thought could not be done in time but it was. Smaller things include the option to print from your cockpit etc.
Q - To what extent was the code from the original Airbus X re-used? The VC? external textures? Lights?
The external has not changed much other than that we added the sharklet version. The VC was overhauled to reduce the polygon count while making it look a bit better, but basically is the same. Some of the lesser systems were usable, others had to be redone. All in all about 50% is new. And as we feel it is not nice to ask customers to pay two times for the same things we give the owners of the Airbus X a 50% price reduction.
Q - This new release has more complex systems than the original Airbus X, now we have SIDs and STARs, Vertical and Longitudinal Navigation, and a better autothrottle system. Where did you draw the line when it came to complexity of these features? Should we expect spot on calculation of performance? For example, there are posts stating FLEX power is simply too low, EGT is not calculated correctly, etc. is it because of the level of complexity or can we expect further improvements on these?
We are looking at some of these issues, but as always things are a bit more complex than the people who post think it is. Watching a lot of YouTube videos does not make you an expert and using some old FCOM you found on the internet does not always give you the right information. We will have these reports checked by the real pilots on our team and where needed we’ll correct them. If there are issues there it’s not because we limit the product in some way. EGT as far as we know is 100% correct and follows the exact curve we have from a real engine test. That’s not exactly the same as FCOMs state btw. We will always use actual data and not document data when possible.
I just checked our own support and there is one issue with FLEX reported but that person forgot to keep in mind that runway length is also included in the calculation. So I assume the other comments were made on other forums. People really should report them to us, there is no way we can monitor the hundreds of forums that are around. In our forums the developers read the comments and will respond.
Q - There are some reported issues on the calculation of Top of Descent, again, is this due to the "capped" level of complexity or are we looking at the possibility of further tweaks along the line?
No we worked very hard to get this right. But it is very very complex and there are problems with winds created by some weather add-ons. To calculate the ToD correctly you got to predict the wind and when that is not possible (for example because of a weather update) there will be problems. That’s why the ToD moves about (also in the real aircraft) and that’s why it is not 100% foolproof (also in the real aircraft). It’s up to the pilot to monitor the process. But as we get more reports we will be able to fine tune it.
Q - The external model is very very good and the ambient sounds in the cockpit add a great touch, and I believe repaints for the original Airbus X can be applied to this model as well. Will you be using these as base for the upcoming expansions?
Yes, the modelling will be the base for our other Airbusses.
Q - Performance is very good for a high quality add on, even with all the animations programmed in it (sliding windows, tray table, jump seat, etc), in your view, what is the best animation feature on the aircraft?
Performance was one of our key goals. We feel that an aircraft should never use more than 30% of resources (that way scenery can use 40% and the remaining resources will be needed for the sim itself and other tools). Flight Simulation is a combination of all elements and we feel it should not become a system simulator. That’s why we spend more time on the task of the pilot and less on simulating systems. As one pilot told me when we discussed if we should do full non standard procedures, “do not try to simulate the simulator” and I think that’s good advise.
The best animation is one many people will not have seen, it’s the standby compass that drops from the overhead. But another very nice one is the automatic tray table extension of the co-pilots side when the aircraft is close to cruise. These aircraft are always flown with the table extended when not taking off or landing.
Q - The co-pilot feature for checklists and some procedures is a very nice touch. What was the original scope for this? Obviously it is very scripted so you cannot request things, they just happen at certain times, is it likely to have an expanded functionality in the future?
We are pretty close to what is possible with that one. It comes from a freeware module made by two talented Germans for the Airbus X. But right now it has grown into something a lot bigger. We feel it fits the product very well as it assists and guides the less experienced pilots. And after all it is a two crew aircraft. What will happen is that we add more features to the right MCDU. It is in fact an open system that people can add things to. Pretty basic XML code.
Q - The fuel and load manager is a very useful feature. Can you explain how it works? Is the fuel calculator designed for actual load or just a ballpark figure? from what I have seen, it works better if the flight plan selection is made on the MCDU so we know exactly the track distance we will fly?
We have two version, one basic where you enter how long the flight will be (that’s because many people know how long it takes them to fly somewhere but have problems figuring out how far it is in miles) and one that is more detailed and calculates all stages of the flight. It’s not connected to the MCDU systems so the actual flight plan is not used in the calculations. It’s basically a table based calculation, corrected by some tweaks from real Airbus pilots.
Q - A feature I am truly enjoying at the moment is "Airbus Connect"...the ability to connect via any web browser to the aircraft and display the MCDU in a tablet with no loss of frames or performance is fantastic. Can you describe how this is achieved, and if this feature may be expanded in the future?
What we did is build a webserver into the MCDU. It’s capable of accessing all variables of FSX and of the aircraft. To keep it from hurting the fps it’s not updated very fast (the ini allows you to tweak that btw). We are currently thinking about how we could use the system for more functions. One possible new one will be to recreate the PFD or ND there. But also the right MCDU is an option so we could move all the non-realistic stuff from the cockpit.
Q - The heart of the Airbus "issues" in Flight Simulator is the Fly by Wire system. I notice that handflying this aircraft is a joy, it holds pitch and roll really well, a totally different feeling from the traditional hydraulic or direct aircraft. Are you satisfied with the level of accuracy on it or can we expect further refinements? It was also reported the aircraft was just a little too sluggish on rotation, needing a full aft stick move to get airborne, can you comment on this?
Two of the testers of this aircraft are busdrivers (they hate it when we call them that btw, lol) and they must have flown thousands of circuits to fine tune the flight behaviour. It is not only very easy and very ‘nice’ to fly manually, but it’s also rather accurate. It’s so much fun to manually fly that at a certain moment in the tests we had to ask people to stop doing manual landings and test the auto land! There might be tweaks but this part is pretty solid as it is.
I do not share the idea that it is sluggish on rotation. The A320 is flown with pretty strong inputs, just check the video’s on youtube of landings where you see the pilot go from stop to stop with the sidestick for minutes, in a Boeing you would be doing aerobatics by then. As the stick is not linked to the flight control surfaces there is no relation between the stick position and the flight control surfaces. It’s fly where you point. You pull the stick fully up till you get the AoA you want and let go. Same with bank angle. You can slam the stick to one side and the FBW system will make a smooth bank angle. It’s a lot easier to fly them most other aircraft that way. Far more forgiving.
Q - We have to keep reminding ourselves this is a $40 add on, and if value for money is the measure, then this is a winner. Having said that, is there any scope left in a $40 add on for further improvements down the line? What is planned for the next Service Packs and when could we expect them?
Actually, the average customer has paid around $30 because we have update options from the previous Airbus X and have discounts for VA pilots etc. The price was really important for us. As you know we handle companies like PMDG for boxed releases (and many others in download and boxed) and we just did not want to get into their high end-high priced market. They do that better than we do and it is also a complex and not very large market. It gets all the attention on the internet, but we often see that less complex aircraft sell as well or sometimes even better.
But there is ample room for changes.
Q - I read recently you were considering expanding the Airbus X line to include all the "Baby" Airbuses as well as an A330! Any further updates on this? When can we expect the next installment of the Airbus X family?
Yes we will do the A318/319 next, they should be ready before summer next year. The team that works on the systems is still working on them. The new functionality they are doing will be available as service packs for the Airbus X Extended and will of course be in the A318/319. We are currently discussing what should be done based on user feedback. The 330 is a project for later next year, it requires some serious work in all aspects. Both modelling as in systems.
Q - What is your favourite feature of the new Airbus X family? what will be your "Aerosoft" calling card? The graphics? the simplicity? functionality?
We’ll we try to get quality software out for a reasonable price. And always aimed at a large group of people. I believe the Airbus X Extended ticks those boxes. In the end my favourite feature is the price.
Q - What will Aerosoft's status be over the upcoming Christmas break? No doubt you and your team are looking forward to a well deserved break! will you have reduced levels of support?
The main HQ in Germany will be closed but as sales are always high at that time of year and many customers have more time to sim, the demands on support are always high in festive season. So support will be up and running with at least 3 people around 18 hours a day. I am trying to slow down the developers (keep in mind I could not code my way out a wet paper bag, I’m just a manager) a bit but they seem to enjoy themselves.
On behalf of Avsim, wish you and the entire Aerosoft crew a safe, joyful Christmas and all the very best for the New Year.
And the same to your readers. Been an amazing year for us. We grew quite a bit and we have some serious plans for next year.
And to all, keep in mind it’s just a game, loved ones and people who need some attention should always come before that next flight.
Many thanks once again, Mathijs.
There you go folks, a very good, affordable add-on to satisfy the Airbus cravings of our community.