Occasionally, a forum post catches our attention and encourages us to give it greater readership than it might otherwise get isolated in a single forum. Here is a post from Carl Avari-Cooper, who writes of his BETA test flight of the forthcoming PMDG 777. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
"Since the PMDG 777 Beta Test Program started yesterday, there have varied methodologies employed to share the excitement and astounding development with you. I have long subscribed to word-smithing, so I shall leave the videos and technical explanations to others, far better qualified than I. Instead, I want to share my visceral thoughts about the platform, albeit from a more ethereal plain (pun intended).
I loaded her up at Gatwick, on Stand 157. A few years ago I deplaned from a BAW 777 (albeit not a 777F) in close to that exact spot, and so Gatwick holds a certain charm for me. Initial impressions can be very telling, and the moment the VC spread itself out in front of me, I knew this was going to be separate from what I knew to be true about FSX.
The very first thing that took my breath away was size. It’s hard to express how fantastically spacious that flight deck is, after spending a few thousand hours in a 737NGX VC. It seemed to stretch for miles. EZCA needed tweaking. I fly my NGX at 90% zoom, and wanted to try and do the same with the 777. That would not be possible. Large is relative, and I fly on a 60” Sony XBR (it has enough peripheral cues in the flare to suit me). Despite the available screen size, after much twiddling, I ended up at 70%. I would like to go back to at least 80%, but that will take more time and more tinkering- it is enormous. Everything on the flight deck is crisp and dimensional. Unlike some of the flatter offerings from others, this flight deck is very much a 3D environment- but one that has a tangible element of expanse. You can literally feel how big this aeroplane is!
I spent a couple of hours setting customer options and adjusting views. The depth of options provided is incredible. Remember wanting to select CRZ or CLB as an option in the 744? You can here. Siren or wailer- take your pick. Angle of Attack or not, round radio altimeter dial or digital; even a company speed option. From the immediately obvious, to less apparent details, there is enough here to satisfy your desire to mimic your favorite operator. Like everything about this aeroplane, the apparent simplicity is accomplished through intense sophistication- only a thinly veiled layer beneath. I was reminded, about a hundred times, that pilots transitioning to type learn to push buttons. It is only after the first 300 or so hours, that they begin to understand the philosophies and depths of the processes their button-pushing accomplishes.
Time to start engines. For those transitioning from the NG that, as well as most other things are simpler here. Boeing achieved operational nirvana with the 777 and PMDG has faithfully replicated the systems. I actioned the start switch and giggled like a pigtailed schoolgirl. The sequential chorus that emanated from that massive right engine, so far behind me was exquisite. When I moved the fuel lever from cutoff to idle the giggling was replaced with a broad smile. Suddenly I was transported from my study to that November evening at Stand F90 KTPA, which was the first time I had heard what 110,000 lbs of thrust sounded like. The powerful contained hum, progressing to the thrumming rotational expression of energy, exploding into raw thrust- all there.
I will tackle individual portions of the sensory experience in greater depth later, but for now, let me tell you that the minute she moves, her size becomes apparent. Large ships, tied up along side are impressive, however, they tend to be associated with the comparative and reassuring bulk of their immovable surroundings. Move them, even a fraction of an inch, and suddenly their size is overwhelming. I was overwhelmed!
Sitting there, pushed back, engines humming, going through the still unfamiliar electronic checklist flow (that works so intuitively you will marvel at Boeings ingenuity whilst ignoring PMDG’s technological coup) that follow pushback and engine start, I was busy enough, immersed enough, heads down enough during the push to remain placid. When it was time to taxi, and I advanced the thrust levers I was completely stimulated. Suddenly this massive aeroplane was moving, and I had to somehow find the runway without sticking a raked wingtip into anything. Massive bulk and presence could not be ignored any longer- it was in my face!
She taxis beautifully with a modicum of thrust. Residual output at idle allows for perfect speed management, with an occasional advance of the thrust levers. It was a fairly short taxi to 26L. Way too short to fully appreciate the bumps, creaks, bangs and rattles of an airframe, meandering through tight taxi lanes with 90 degree turns. I promise to spend a few hours loosing myself in the soundscape (soon).
We held short, lit her up and then eased forward a long, long way past the runway centerline, before turning slowly to line up. I had selected a light load and 24T of fuel for my circuits and bumps. Later I would load her up to within 10T of MTOW and still she floated my boat- but that’s another story.
We rolled forward a few feet (to make sure the nose-wheel had straightened out) and I started the clock as I advanced the throttles to 55% N1. The engines began to do their work and observing their stabilized efforts, I pressed TOGA. The A/T set thrust and I told myself that this was a long-body in a way I did not completely understand long-bodies. This incantation was interrupted by glorious, sensory inundating sound.
It was a series of small things… the sound of a spherical fuselage, suspended at three relatively hard points, accelerating rapidly; the more felt than heard sound of two gigantic engines- an amalgamation of spinning machined metal, liquid fire and obscene amounts of thrust; the sounds of a nose-wheel bumping over the centerline lighting; the drumming of the mains far behind, the sounds of metal flexing under the increasingly imminent strain of flight; the sounds of rapid acceleration…. All this, and so much more transfixed me.
Meanwhile, something heretofore unfelt in the FSX world was occurring. Flight can be explained by science, but much like medicine, remains an art. Recounting the feeling that it evokes, is often a hapless endeavor. Despite this caution I shall attempt to do so. As the “virtual” 777 gathered way, my senses did something uncommon. Smothered as they were by visual and auditory stimulus, they were able to extend throughout the airframe. Halfway through that initial take-off roll the PMDG 777F and I melded into one.
In a surreally detached fashion, I watched the centerline lights pick up speed. Concentrating fiercely on the rotation I kept muttering the mantra that Steve Bell had drummed into me whilst preparing for the 777 over the course of the past several months, “8 degrees and let her fly off.” Somewhere during the third repetition, with the world streaming by at an astonishing rate (which I did not fully appreciate because of my unaccustomed height above ground and the reassuring electronic calm that the Flight Deck emanates) I pitched for 8. One lingering moment allowed for full extension on the main oleos, and I was flying.
There are moments in a pilot’s life, that he keeps safe, and pulls out for nostalgic recollection when needed. I remember motoring along on a misty winter morning in my Aeronca Champ. It was a still day, tendrils of fog wet my Ceconite. It was severe clear, crisp and cold. I had my elbow out of the left window, my left hand on the throttle and my right on the stick. I stopped, and the world streamed far below me. I shall never forget it.
Similarly, I shall never forget that first 777 rotation. I rotated, elevated, ascended and translated all in the blink of an eye. I was trundling down 26L, happy as a trolly-bus, and then I wasn’t. Instead, I was very definitely flying. Pilots understand the secure disconnect. Unlike most FS aircraft that respond to control input in a linear and mechanical, unknowingly predictable fashion, the PMDG 777 responds as though it is indeed a spherical tube, supported by wings, passing through a fluid, dependent on infinite variables with their resulting influence to describe its flight path. I cannot describe this adequately enough in words. I felt as though I was piloting an aeroplane.
I use the phrase “secure disconnect” because for the first time in the FSX world, I felt that looseness that comes with physical separation from terra firma. The controls are beautifully harmonized, and never is there a lack of control authority or concern, but that ethereal connection between mechanical flight control surface, and the viscous matter that passes around it, have finally been captured. You will finally understand the rapid continuous control input you see in so many real-world videos of manual approaches and departures.
Fluid Dynamics is no doubt science. Once you have felt the PMDG 777 rotate, you however will join me in a sufficient depth of understanding to call it art."