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    Airbus Extreme Prologue


    Roger

    Coke vs. Pepsi

    Ford vs. Chevrolet

    Goodyear vs. Firestone

     

    Sometimes we have strong preferences but may not have any real points of comparison or a rational basis for them.  Such can be the case of Boeing vs. Airbus for flight simmers.   It is likely that very few of us have had the good fortune to actually pilot jetliners manufactured by either of these two corporations. Therefore, our preferences are formed by other means.  For some, it may be on patriotic grounds, Americans supporting one of their own (“If it’s not Boeing then I’m not going”) or Europeans standing behind their “hometown” conglomerate (Airbus or bust- I think I just made that one up). 

     

    Me? I have always been a Boeing fan.  I like the way they look (the Airbus noses are softer and their rear ends are more pinched…so to speak) and the vast majority of my airline flights have been on carriers that fly Boeing aircraft, so it was to that brand which I became accustomed. 

     

    As far as my preference in flight simulation, that has tended toward Boeing as well. Partly because the first airliners offered in the genre (for those who recall subLogic) were 737s and 747s, and early on I acquired a flight yoke, which is a more accurate emulation of the Boeing controls than of the Airbus side stick.  And before you ask- yes, I also have a joystick but it is designed for right hand use and I use a throttle quadrant as well which would necessitate left hand use of the throttles and that would make me (shudder) a first officer.  So yoke it is for this captain.

     

    But beyond exterior looks and control interfaces, these manufacturers also have differing philosophies of how their aircraft should be flown which are reflected in their operation.  Airbus feels that it is imperative that the aircraft not be able to stray from its safe flight envelope and the flight computers, combined with the fly by wire system, will not allow inputs that exceed control law limits of pitch and roll. 

     

    Boeing, on the other hand, believes that the pilot should have the ability to easily override the autopilot system and manually input control movements which, via the traditional mechanical linkages, connect to the flight control surfaces and allow pitch and bank angles that might otherwise be deemed excessive.  In addition, the auto throttle systems operate differently with Boeing throttles moving with the change in commanded thrust settings while Airbus prefers to have the pilot set the throttles in a specified mode and thrust changes are controlled with no visible throttle movement.

     

    Debate can rage over whether one method might be superior but suffice it to say that the success of both manufacturers simply shows that there is more than one solution to the question of flight and a pilot proficient in one product will need some training in order to transition to the other manufacturer‘s offerings.

     

    My impression is that the Airbus flight deck presents as being a bit simpler with seemingly less knobs and even a more soothing blue background.

     

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    The clean and efficient look of the Airbus flight deck

     

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    Captain’s side panel.  Simple and orderly

     

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    Circuit breaker panel is well defined

     

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    Remarkable how the lack of yokes opens up a cockpit

     

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    Unfortunately, the MCDUs shown are non-functional

     

    Simulating the Airbus

     

    Years ago, Phoenix Simulation Software (PSS) offered what was arguably the definitive modeling of the Airbus.  The demise of PSS was bemoaned by many in the flight simulator community and now Black Box Simulation has endeavored to resurrect that product and update it for today’s more powerful computers. 

     

    Their stated goal is to build on the PSS legacy by producing the Airbus Xtreme for FSX, and while preparing that, have released the Airbus Xtreme Prologue to whet the appetite.  The Prologue does not fully simulate all of the aircraft’s systems but picks up where PSS left off and introduces us to the Black Box product line.  A visit to the product page on the Black Box site can be a bit confusing as it states in the narrative that Black Box is offering version .61 on the way to version 1.00.  However, a note above that narrative block says “Purchase price includes regular service updates as we continue development towards Airbus Xtreme

    CURRENT DOWNLOAD VERSION - PROLOGUE V0.70.1

     

    When I downloaded my copy it was version .61.4 and there is no information as to how to obtain the regular service upgrades.  I submitted a support request to Black Box Simulations on their website but as of this writing had not received a reply.

     

    The sim arrives as a 510.1 Mb download which installs (once you insert the license key) quite easily in FSX or Prepar3d as 1.08Gb of A319 base files and approximately 1 additional gigabyte of aircraft models consisting of 13 A318s and 20 A320s (with the choices of IAE of CFM engines), a 98 page manual and a 32 page so-titled “Airbus for Dummies” flight tutorial.

     

    T_fig.-5.jpg

    Not very flattering but it does get the point across

     

    During installation the program checks for FSUIPC and if not detected, installs an unregistered version of that gem.

     

    Once the install is complete and an aircraft has been chosen there is a one-time programming of the throttle levers that must be accomplished by accessing the appropriate page on the MCDU (what the Boeing folks call an FMS CDU) main menu and following the relatively simple and straightforward instructions to record the minimum and maximum throttle settings.  It only takes a minute to do so and the settings are remembered for future flights.

     

    It is also recommended that a line be added to the airplane .cfg file in order to fully utilize the high definition textures of the model.  This only takes a brief moment to accomplish so why not?

     

    The Manual

     

    As mentioned earlier, there is a 96 page manual included in the download.  The manual does a good job of describing the functions of the instrumentation and provides much useful information.  However, it could have been an 83 page manual as the last 13 pages, while informative and comprehensive, are pretty much useless for simulation purposes…at least with this iteration of the Airbus Xtreme.  Is it truly necessary to know that the cockpit windows cannot be opened if airspeed exceeds 200 kts or that it is okay for the fuel servicer to hand the pilot the fuel slip through the cockpit side window? 

     

    The Tutorial

     

    The 32 page tutorial states that it covers a flight from LMML (Luqa, Malta) to LFKJ (Ajaccio, Corsica) gate to gate.  It goes into great detail of how to program the MCDU to execute the trip efficiently but is a little short on some details regarding the trip   (takeoff heading? lighting?) which can be seen by following along on the checklist.  Oh wait - I just remembered - there are no checklists.  This seems like a bit of an oversight for a detailed aircraft.

     

    The tutorial’s flight planning section makes reference to an online resource for determining the needed fuel load.  The website given is www.fuel.aerotexas.com.  but going to that site one is redirected to www.fuelplanner.com Not a big deal and the site is very helpful, but I also found that the download installs its own Airbus fuel planner that is just as accurate and easy to use.

     

    T_fig.-6.jpg
    Basic fuel planner included in the package
    T_fig.-7.jpg
    Fill in a little information and bingo...

    T_fig.-8.jpg

    Trip planner generated from www.fuelplanner .com 

               

    The greatest benefit of the tutorial is that detailed explanation of the MCDU programming as it varies enough from the Boeing method to require considerable attention for an experienced driver of 7xx series aircraft to get it done correctly.  One of the biggest differences between the Airbus and Boeing methods is that the Airbus MCDU does not have an Execute button. 

     

    Once changes are initiated in the flight plan all of the line items change color and there will be a selection on the screen ‘Insert’.  Pushing that saves the changes and the flight plan route will be in green once again.

     

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    The flight plan is set in the MCDU

     

    The MCDU is a joy to operate.  I don’t know how they managed it but the push buttons seem extremely realistic-one can almost feel the tactile texture and they make a very pleasing click sound when pushed.

     

    T_fig.-9a.jpg

    Takeoff speeds are all computed by the FMS

     

    The Flying

     

    This is a fun aircraft to operate.  It is quite responsive, and the flight characteristics are stable and predictable.  The Airbus is designed to be flown primarily with autopilot functions engaged in order to properly coordinate with the autothrottle so having an active flight plan in the MCDU is mandatory. 

     

    I set out for a flight from KSEA Seattle to CYVR Vancouver-a relatively short trip of 400nm but one realistically served by an A320 due to popularity and thus demand for more passenger capacity than a turboprop or regional jet can provide.

     

    T_fig.-10.jpg

    Fuel plan for the trip KSEA-CYVR

     

    The instrument panels are laid out very well with all instruments and labels crisply displayed and easy to read.

     

    T_fig.-11.jpg

    2D Main panel view.  I really like the short checklist for takeoff configuration on the engine screen

     

    The attention to detail even runs a bit extreme here.  There is a sub-panel that displays a couple of dimmer switches and toggle switches.  I switched on the Foot Warmer but felt NO warmth on my feet.  What is up with that?   (Almost as disappointing as not being able to open the cockpit side window- how am I going to get my fuel slip?)

     

    T_fig.-12.jpg

    Got to be able to check whether the foot warmer switch is on

     

    But speaking about dimmer switches- there are actually three different dimmers; the main panel illumination, internal lighting of the main panel graphics and internal of the pedestal graphics.  They offer a variety of lighting choices and the pedestal lights are absolutely beautiful.

     

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    Main panel with basic lighting
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    Main panel with integrated lighting

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    Overhead panel easy to read with night lighting

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    Throttle quadrant with basic night lighting…
    T_fig.-17.jpg
    …add the integrated lighting and the graphics really stand out

     

    Engine start on an Airbus is the very definition of easy.  Set the engine master switch to Start, engage the lever below each engine and the process is completely automatic.  Of course, to balance things out, starting the APU requires first activating the APU Master switch and then pushing the start button- an interesting slightly complicated way to get the APU running (for a habitual Boeing driver) but not too burdensome all in all (although there is a delay of a few seconds between turning on the APU Master and being able to use the start button). It is also necessary to monitor APU and engine starts via the instruments as the engine sounds are quite muted in the cockpit and the APU is silent.

     

    I found the throttles and the yoke/joystick axes to be rather particular.  Almost any slight touch to the flight controls resulted in the autopilot disengaging.  This may be a fault of my FSX setup but it does not occur with other aircraft.  I increased the null zone and that seemed to help somewhat.

     

    Attention to detail for throttle setting is also very important when flying an Airbus.  Takeoff thrust is full forward but shortly after departure the throttles must be pulled back to the CL detent on the pedestal so the FMS can properly control thrust.  I use a CH Throttle Quadrant and pulling the throttles back requires a look at the pedestal view to ensure they lock into the CL position.  Failure to do so results in an ECAM warning message that Autothrottle control is limited.

     

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    EICAS shows I don’t have the power levers properly situated in the CL detent

     

    I used real world weather for my KSEA-CYVR flight and conditions could not have been better.

     

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    Panel shows that everything is set for departure
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    Runway 16L Line up and wait

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    Beautiful day for flying.  Mt. Ranier to the south

     

    With a relatively light fuel load, the A320 performance was excellent and climb to cruise was brisk. 

     

    I took a little time during the short cruise at FL220 to look around outside the aircraft and at some panel details.  The exterior model looks like the real thing, but I could not help wondering if Black Box might not still be working up to the final version.  Nothing looks out of place, what is shown is well rendered, and the usual control surface animations are present, but I just get an impression that the overall detail could be just a bit sharper.  Then again, this is a rather minor complaint from me as my flight time is overwhelmingly spent on the flight deck looking at the instruments and the depiction there is much more important.

     

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    Good attention to detail with air inlets and vents showing some dirt…

     

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    …and the landing lights as well

     

    In that regard, the model fulfills its task remarkably well.  I have already noted the clean look of the cockpit and the excellent and varied night lighting.  The display screens on the panel can be clicked to bring up a slightly expanded view of each which is useful for the Nav display but seemed to have little noticeable difference on the PFD.

     

    T_fig.-25.jpg
    T_fig.-26.jpg

     

    The main 2D panel display provides a choice of six sub-panels with the selection icons under the registration plate on the right side of the panel.  These call up the MCDU/Overhead panel/ Front pedestal (with throttle controls)/Rear pedestal (speed brake-flap-parking brake-rudder trim)/MFD dimmers (and that all important foot warmer switch)/Lower MFD.

     

    The lower MFD screen provides an array of pushbuttons to call up various aircraft systems status and functions.  Not all of them are active (notably, Hydraulics, Pressure, and Condition (whatever that is) and Doors, but apparently it is Black Box’s intention to have these operational by the final release.

     

    T_fig.-27.jpg
    ENG
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    BLEED
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    ELEC
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    FUEL
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    APU
    T_fig.-32.jpg
    WHEEL

     

    My approach into Vancouver went well.  The aircraft followed the flight plan route and joined the ILS approach to runway 26L.  Autopilot guidance operated smoothly and I disengaged and flew the final mile manually. 

     

    The A320 has a pretty light feel and is quite responsive.  The altitude callouts prior to landing were complete with the “Retard” call below 20’ (for some reason it just does not seem like an insult when a slightly European accented voice says “Re-tard” to you just as you are landing).

     

    One feature in need of re-work is the reverse thrust dynamic.  The reversers are way too powerful and airspeed is down to 80 knots or less within seconds of deployment.  I believe this error was corrected in the v.70 release.

     

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    Slowing to taxi speed at CYVR

     

    With a wide variety of colorful livery options there are plenty of choices to appease those who spend any length of time in exterior views.

     

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    Gulf Air
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    Iberia
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    LAN Chile
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    Mexicana

     

    Summary

     

    Publisher: Black Box
    Reviewed By: Roger Curtiss

    This is a very well-engineered A320 series product.  At $39.00 it seems like a good value provided that customers who purchase now continue to be entitled to free upgrades as Black Box releases more complete versions. 

     

    I would like to see an effort made to update the flight manual (pages 85-96 even have Phoenix Simulations Software headings in the text) and the entire manual is titled A319/320/321 though the A318 is modeled and the A321 is not. 

     

    Finally, the comprehensive charts do not show a breakdown of specifications or differentiations for the models.

     

    I enjoy flying this aircraft, although as a long-time Boeing guy it is a challenge to figure out all the auto flight programming, modes and operation and the ‘Boeing way’ seems much more natural to me (Mac vs. PC anyone?).  But if you are an Airbus fan, I think you would be hard pressed to find a more comprehensive model…especially if/when Black Box releases their fully functioning final version that is supposed to have all the systems modeled along with various failure modes. 

     

    I just hope that Black Box is able to deliver on its promises and pick up where PSS left off.  I am sure there is some kind of “Phoenix rising from the ashes” analogy to be made here but I shall resist.



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