• Dash 8-Q400 Pilot Edition


    Gaiiden

    Review by Marlon Carter. Majestic Software has been around for quite a number of years and the name is no stranger to fans of the Dash 8. Previously, Majestic Software released the Dash 8-Q300 which was quite a hit a few years ago and even today, it is still regarded as one of the most in-depth simulations of an aircraft for the flight simulator platform. Back when the Q300 was released, it came equipped with many innovative features that the FS community had not seen before (Read the Q300 Review).

     

    With that said, it is only fitting that their newest product should include even more innovations that will intrigue simmers for a very long time to come. The Q400 project actually started MANY years ago but this does not mean that the features and graphics of this product resemble those from the time of its inception. The quality of this product can easily be comparable to the newest of releases and in some respects it may even surpass them. 

     

    Before delving into the “meat” of the review, I thought it would be fitting for persons who may not familiar with Majestic Software to learn a bit about the company and its owner Oleksiy Frolov. I had the opportunity to interview Oleksiy about his latest project and I think you will find the following conversation very interesting.

     

    1. Can you tell us a little about Majestic Software?

    The Fanda Dash 8 Q300, was the first product that I launched for the MSFS platform.  Upon seeing how well received the Dash 8 Q300 was received (at the time FS2002 was in use), it became quite obvious that a deeper simulation of the aircraft was required, thus the creation of the Majestic Software company and product-line.

     

    2. How long did it take to complete the Q400 project and what were some of the challenges?

    The Q400 project, once it began took about 4 years to be completed.  One of the small hurdles that we had was finding a modeler, and after doing some research we had the pleasure of getting Dimitri of Samdim Designs on the modeling side, and Nikolai Samsonov on the artwork side onboard.  Once our decisions were made as to the platform that we were going to use to fuse the Q400 into FSX....the project started taking shape.

     

    Our challenges were really no different than any other development project where trial and error, and hours of testing were done to ensure that the ideas on paper could become reality.  With all this said, there are some challenges that became an issue for the virtual airlines flyers and users of some add-on utilities.  Some of these issues can/will be addressed in future patches while some will unfortunately fall under the irreparable limitations of the Q400.

     

    3. What features of the Q400 sets it apart from other high end products on the market? Also, which would you say is the feature you are most proud of implementing?

    The features in our add-on that set apart from other high-end/quality add-ons on the market are relatively simple.  We have utilized/implemented a different concept to the flight dynamics functionality of the Q400.  This platform was used in another Q400 project that has been developed and worked really well beyond my expectations which convinced me implement its usage within FSX.

    The JSBSim platform is based on a simulation framework used by NASA for some of their flight dynamics testing and it allows us to simulate many additional flight dynamic effects compared to the native FDE of FSX.  While the Q400 relies heavily on Simconnect, this allows us to bridge the two platforms to become dependent on each other.  

    4. The Q400 comes in a Pilot Edition, Professional Edition and Training Edition. Can you tell us which customers are targeted in the various versions of the Q400? (Eg. would you recommend that a beginner buy the Training edition?)

    While each Edition is targeted for a specific group, the PILOT Edition as a standalone add-on encompasses all of the stock systems that come with the Q400 minus special options.  As a result of this Simmers who require just the basic Q400 still have a plane that is state-of-the-art in systems functionality minus the complex features, such as the instructor panel system monitoring, circuit breakers simulation, failures simulation, or the shared cockpit of the PRO and TRAINING Editions.

     

    The PRO Edition is designed more so for the more serious flight sim enthusiast who wants more in-depth functionality including the capability of failing the selected systems as it would be possible on the real aircraft, and or airline pilots wishing to improve their knowledge and proficiency of their office by being able to execute procedures that are not done on a daily basis, and or assist in preparing for their CQ ride.  This edition has all the features of the PILOT edition, plus the Heads-up-Guidance System simulation, the shared cockpit feature and several more.

     

    The TRAINING Edition platform is geared more towards the cockpit builder, airlines, wishing to have a good quality inexpensive solution for the Dash8 Q400 technical and procedural training for both technical staff and the flight crews.

     

    5. What does the future hold in store for Majestic Software? Will your next release come much sooner than the length of time the Q400 took to be developed?

    Well since one is not able to predict the future, we project that at this time we are planning on bringing the "flagship Dash 8-Q300" back to the drawing board incorporating some of the techniques used on the Q400.  There is the possibility of the 100 or 200 series, but more information on this will be revealed as we progress further.  Since most of the systems are similar to that of the Q400 "hopefully" the development time will be somewhat shorter.

     

    6. Will Majestic Software ever branch off into producing jet airliners or perhaps other turbo prop aircrafts such as the ATR-42/72?

    We have gotten many questions regarding the ATR turboprop, and while it is an intriguing thought, we'll have to see what happens further down the road.  ATR has been doing really well especially since Bombardier no longer makes a 37 and 50 seat variant of the Q series aircraft, and as a result the ATR has been gaining some popularity once more, especially in the European markets.

     

    Well, jet aircraft would certainly be something different (not necessarily new) for Majestic Software but at this time there is nothing to announce regarding this.  At the moment however, there are some developers who already have a niche market for something that they do really well, which is something really good to see.  If our R&D is able to gather all the required data that we need who knows what the future will reveal.

     

    As you can see, Majestic Software (or MJC) has quite a lot to offer in the Dash 8-Q400. As mentioned in the interview, the Q400 comes in 3 versions. Here is a comparison table of the 3 versions that showcases their differences.

     

    FEATURES

    PILOT

    PRO

    TRAINING

    CUSTOM FLIGHT DYNAMICS ENGINE Our addon is the only one available on the market, which includes a built-in Flight Dynamics Engine completely independent from the default FSX FDE. The consequence of this is a much more realistic aerodynamics behavior of the aircraft, in particular the realistic wind simulation, enhahced propeller physics including the propeller discing and auto rotation, effects of the propeller airstream on the wing lift and the icing effects on the propeller, wings and the flight surfaces.

    WEATHER RADAR The Weather Radar is capable of interpolating the weather returns, based on the actual FSX weather, using the FSX Weather Stations reports. The Weather Radar can work with both the FSX Real Weather, and the Weather Environment addons capable of setting the per-station weather. The beam geometry is also simulated in order to depict the weather based upon the aircraft altitude, antenna tilt and the altitude of the weather itself. There is a ground clutter and the weather shadow effects. In addition there is a ground mapping mode simulation, capable of showing the surrounding terrain. The weather clutter in the ground mode is also simulated.

    TCAS The Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) simulates most of the ICAO defined CASII functions, and provides the traffic indication, as well as the traffic and resolution advisories. The TCAS works with both the AI traffic, and the virtual ATC network traffic (Vatsim/IVAO..)

    FMS NAVIGATION, FUEL MANAGEMENT AND BASIC PERFORMANCE The dual Flight Management System, included in the package is built after the Universal ™ 1E FMS, and is developed with a high degree of detalization. The FMS system is capable of navigation in 3 dimensions (LNAV+VNAV), the RNP based navigation, the Fuel and Performance Management. The up to date navigation database, provided by our navigation data supplier Navigraph (subject to the additional charges, please see the http://navigraph.com for details), can be used to obtain the latest procedures. In addition, there is a custom provisions to control the availability of the ground services and the flow of the passenger announcements.

    USER DOCUMENTATION The documentation for each edition includes the systems tutorial, sample flight guide, Control Panel application tutorial, checklists and performance tables. The PRO and TRAINING edition also include the items pertaining to the abnormal operations (checklists and the system tutorial)

    VIRTUAL COCKPIT AND EXTERNAL MODELS Highly detailed external and cockpit models with HD textures and special effects. hundreds of animations, all of them are custom and controlled by the aircraft systems world's first realistic 3D propellers simulation featuring variable disk thickness smooth gradual lighting both in 2D and 3D cockpit complete custom lighting system with proper light splashes on the exterior model and ground. All lights are functional in the cockpit "intelligent" pilots with a sensed behavior in different situations (exterior model) complete muli-stage icing visualisation windows mist/demist simulation little impact on framerate, much smaller than comparable models

    ADDITIONAL LIVERIES AND PAINTKIT Detailed layered paintkit in Photoshop format with a unique stitching tool19 high resolution liveries from around the world :
    - Air Baltic
    - Air Berlin
    - Air Canada Express
    - Alaska Airlines (Horizon Air)
    - ANA (blue)
    - ANA (green)
    - Austrian
    - Croatia
    - FlyBe
    - EuroLOT
    - Lufthansa Regional (Augsburg Airlines)
    - Luxair
    - Qantas Link
    - Porter
    - SAS Commuter
    - SATA
    - Skywork
    - United Express (Colgan Air)
    - Wideroe

    PASSENGER ANNOUNCEMENTS In addition to the default announcements included with the aircraft, our scripting based announcement system allowes for building the custom announcements both per-livery or global. The announcement script can play the user defined sound files based upon the current condition of the aircraft systems and control states, thus allowing for a very customized and realistic announcement flows, specific to the particular airlines.

    FMS FPL WINDS (from v1.1) The FMS FPL winds functionality which is currently in development, and will be provided in the version 1.1 update, will allow the FMS to account for the enroute winds, thus increasing the fuel and time prediction accuracy.

    SAVING AND LOADING SYSTEMS' STATE When saving or loading the flight in the Flight Simulator, the systems will also store or retrieve their respective states

    CUSTOM SOUND SYSTEMOur product includes its own Sound System, independant of the Microsoft Flight Simulator sound system. The sound system is Direct X based, and is using the custom DSP (Digital Signal Processing) effects to simulate the propeller sounds correctly. In addition, the system is 3D enabled for both the external and internal sounds, including the switches and controls sounds, as well as the voice announcements.

    ADDON CONTROL PANEL APPLICATION The Addon Control Panel Application (CPAN) allowes the user to visually modify the most important parameters of the aircraft, as well as verify and apply the custom Weight and Balance configurations.

    SOUND SYSTEM ADVANCED MODE In the PRO edition and higher, our Sound System can, in addition to the 3D mode, be configured to reproduce the particular sound groups via the dedicated speaker(s), such enabling the sophisticated home simulation setups. In addition, the sound system supports a second sound device (including the USB headsets) which can be used to separately output the headphone sounds.

     

    AUTOPILOT TCS MODE The Touch Control Steering mode allowes the pilot to use the control column movements to command the autopilot mode parameters, such as altitude, vertical speed and the indicated airspeed adjustments, without having to disengage the autopilot.

     

    FMS ETP/PNR FUNCTIONALITY The Equal Time Point (ETP) and Point of No Return (PNR) calculations are the advanced functions of the Performance management (PERF), used during the navigation in the deserted areas (oceanic navigation, deserts...) in order to verify that the aircraft has sufficient fuel to proceed to the selected destination in the normal and/or abnormal conditions.

     

    2D PANELS The full set of the 2D panels, which can be used to fly the aircraft the "traditional" way, or build a multiscreen cockpit by moving the panels onto the multiple monitors.

     

    WORKING CIRCUIT BREAKERS SIMULATION We provide the simulation for all the circuit breakers in the cockpit with the correct mapping between the circuit breakers and the electrical equipment. The circuit breakers popup on short circuit is also simulated

     

    ALTERNATE GEAR EXTENSION In the cases of the main gear retraction/extension system failre, the gear can be manually extended by using the alternate gear extension mechanism, which includes a manual hydraulic pump and a nose gear release assembly

     

    SCENARIO BASED FAILURES Our product is coming with a sophisticated scripting system, which can be used to set the scenarios for any failures in the airplane. The scenario can be random as well as triggered by the predefined conditions (engine failure on V1, for example). The scenarios can also be written by the users and include the scenario flow logic as well as the custom sound playback.

     

    HEADUP GUIDANCE SYSTEM The HGS allowes for the operation of the aircraft under the weather minimums up to CAT IIIa. Our HGS includes a system control panel and the Headup Display. The HGS system also accounts for the pilot head position and angle in a Virtual Cockpit.

     

    SHARED COCKPIT FEATURE The Shared Cockpit is the way for two users to share the same cockpit over the network. Our Shared Cockpit syncronizes 2 instances of the addon over the home network or the internet.

     

    SYSTEM CONTROL APPLICATION Is an external application, which can be used to monitor the status of the aircraft systems and apply the selected system failures over the network. In the PRO edition, all the systems can be monitored, however only the Electrical and Hydraulical failures can be triggered. In the TRAINING edition, all the system failures can be freely triggered.

     

    FLIGHT CONTROLS DISCONNECT SIMULATION In the TRAINING edition, the flight controls can be disconnected and the respective independant flight controls system will account for the pilot flying position (based upon the pilot head position in the Virtual Cockpit, or the type of the main panel in the 2D cockpit).

       

    COCKPIT HARDWARE INTERFACE The Cockpit Hardware Interface is a UDP based network interface, which allows the numerous MJC8 Q400 components, such as our separate instrument executable, the 2D panel executables, as well as the custom built Dash-8 hardware - to be linked, enabling the user to build a full or a partial hardware cockpit

       

    PANELS AS SEPARATE EXECUTABLES A set of the network-enabled executables, showing the 2D panels independantly of the Microsoft Flight Simulator can be used to augment the home cockpit building or the CBT like pilot training applications.

       

    FMS RAIM SIMULATION FMS will provide the RAIM prediction, and simulate the changing GPS accuracy accordingly

       

    FMS ARINC WEATHER Working FMS ARINC function, which can be used to request the weather at any METAR enabled airport, as well as (optionally) receive the weather analysis graphics for the current region.

       

    ARCDU MAINTENANCE FUNCTIONS Are simulating the ARCDU maintenance interface with the appropriate error codes, thus allow to augment the technicians training

       

    SIMULATOR TRAINING MANUAL The Simulator Training Manual is the document, explaining the best ways to utilize the TRAINING edition in order to prepare to the full simulator checks

       

    CUSTOM FLIGHT DATA RECORDER The Flight Data Recorder is a part of the System Control Application, which can be used to record and visually reproduce a flight, such allowing for the classroom demonstration or analysis of the particular situations in the aircraft operation.

       

     

    For a more detailed breakdown and description of the features you can visit the MJC product page.

     

    Provided you have read through the features and their descriptions from the webpage, I am sure that your interest in this product has been peaked. Some may wonder whether this list of features is too good to be true, but I can confidently say that all of the features for the Pilot Edition are spot on and working correctly. This review will focus on the Pilot Edition since the Pro and Training Editions will be released at a later date. Let’s get started by first of all having a look at the exterior model.

     

    Exterior Model

     

    The Dash 8 is a very unique aircraft. The design of the aircraft can be clearly distinguish in the real world but within the realm of FSX, modeling the Dash 8 can be a tricky task. It’s one of those aircraft that you can either get it right or get it totally wrong.

     

    MJC has long demonstration that its team of developers is more than capable of accurately modeling the Dash 8. The Q300 was a perfect example of this and even though it is a bit older, the care that was taken in modeling that aircraft has been carried over to the Q400. Some of the tricky areas of the Q400 are the nose and cockpit areas along with the engines and tail section. The landing gear of the Q400 was an area of particular interest to me since this is an area where some may be tempted to take shortcuts.

     

    Thankfully this was not the case and as you can see from the screenshots below, all aspects of this aircraft were modeled the highest fidelity.

     

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    The moving surfaces of the aircraft were also given strict attention. As one would expect, the Q400 model has main exit doors and cargo doors that can be opened and closed. In addition to this there is also a visible GPU which appears when requested.

     

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    One of the features of the external model which isn’t new but intriguing nonetheless is the icing that appears on the cockpit windows, engines and wing of the aircraft. What I appreciated the most was that the icing effect took place gradually and when Ice Protection is selected, the ice is gradually removed. This simple but realistic feature makes flying this aircraft an experience unlike any other.

     

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    Another feature of the external model is the animated pilots. This is not entirely new to FSX but what makes this feature different is that the pilots are “intelligent.” This means that in different situations their behavior changes.

     

    The final feature of the external model that I would like to highlight is the visible change in the propeller

    DISC appearance with propeller beta dynamics. If you have ever flown on a Dash 8 or any other turbo prop, you would have recognized that as the throttles and condition levers are increased and decreased there is a visible change in the engine propeller. This is due to the change in pitch angle of the propeller that allows the aircraft to be more efficient in its use of power. This feature has been on my personal wish list for a long time and I was pleasantly surprised to see how well it has been implemented into this aircraft and for the first time in FSX. While on the topic of propellers, I found it interesting that at night the landing lights are reflected onto the 3D propeller simulation. This is a feature that has never been implemented in FSX for turbo prop aircrafts and it was a very nice addition to the detail of this aircraft.

     

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    Virtual Cockpit

     

    Apart from the systems simulation of an add-on, the virtual cockpit is another fact that can make or break the success of an otherwise perfectly fine product. These days, it is expected that the virtual cockpit of an aircraft should be fully 3D with every knob, button and level fully moveable or functioning. The virtual cockpit of the Q400 meets all of the expectations you may have and it may even surpasses it.

     

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    The Q400 virtual cockpit has been modeled to the highest detail and it features many impressive functions. For example, each switch and knob can be controlled by either using the left/right click or mouse wheel functions. Power and Condition levers can be controlled individually by left click and drag or at the same time by using the right click and drag function.

     

    Other features and animations that can be found in the virtual cockpit include Seat Animations, Sun Visor Animation, Yoke Visibility control, Emergency exit hatch and the Oxygen mask pressure indicator that indicates green normally but if you’re not observant that may not always be the case!

     

    Another important factor in what makes a good virtual cockpit is undoubtedly the textures. In recent years we have seen a new standard set with the use of high quality textures. Displays have also been improved to look much more realistic with the addition of glare effects and smudge marks. The Q400 has stuck to this standard and if you are wondering if the VC matches a well-known 737 then the answer is YES!

     

    Some of you may disagree, but taking into account what the real Q400 cockpit looks like the MJC Q400 is spot on and it isn’t supposed to look like the VC of the 737. The textures used in the Q400 VC shows a balance a new and a heavily used cockpit environment. While some areas of the VC appear new, others that are used more frequently shows signs of usage.

     

    At Night, the VC comes to life with smooth and gradual lighting. On its own the natural lighting based on the time of day is remarkably realistic. Factoring in the ability to have individual control over all lighting systems and being able to set them to any intensity, really takes this product to a new level from a visual perspective.

     

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    At this point I am sure there are some of you who are wondering if the Q400 comes with 2D panels. Unfortunately the Pilot Edition does not come with a “full” set of 2D panels. On the other hand there are a few pop up options for cockpit displays along with the Radio Panel and FMC. I personally don’t use 2D panels but for convenience I welcome this option. If you are adamant about having 2D panels then you may want to wait for the Pro Edition which includes a full set of 2D panels which can also be used for building a multi-screen cockpit.

     

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    Systems

     

    The systems of the Q400 are very complex and it is quite a task to get your mind around the operation of this aircraft if you are not familiar with Turbo Prop aircrafts. The manuals that have been provided are very well written and I think it is of the utmost importance that you read it before attempting to fly this aircraft. If you think that you will need more information, there are websites out there that provide manuals in greater detail. Nonetheless, the manuals are sufficient to get you started on the Q400 and to understand its systems and features.

     

    Let’s start off by talking about the Electronic Instruments System. The EIS consist of the Flight Data Processing System, PFD1&2, Engine and System Integrated Control Panel, PFD unit switch, MFD1&2, Engine Display, Electronic Standby Instruments and 2 Digital Clocks. All of these systems have been implemented to an extreme degree of accuracy.

                                    

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    The EIS for example is fully functional and will allow you to operate either the PFD1 or PFD2 depending on which side of the aircraft you choose to fly from. This therefore means that you don’t always have to fly as the Captain. If you wish to enjoy the Q400 from the perspective of the FO’s seat, you can do so with no need to rely on using functions from the left side of the panel.

     

    The Engine & Display Control Panel is also fully functional and it allows you to have full control over your MFD to cycle through many of the systems of the Q400. If you would like to display any of the MFD modes on the Captain’s or FO’s display, you have the option to do so using the MFD mode knob. I have found this to be very useful when flying since it allows you to have an increased situational awareness of both the systems and navigational aspects of the aircraft. Through reading the manual you will also see that there is a way of displaying 2 system pages on 2 MFDs simultaneously.

     

    What if there is an emergency situation and you lose one of your displays? Well since each PFD and MFD gets its data from either the L or R AHRC and ADC, you have the option off switch the source of the failed display.

                                           

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    The PFD and MFD are perhaps the most important displays to the pilot. I was very impressed with the level of detail within these displays since they replicate the real world functions to the T. If you were to look even closer at these displays (especially the PFD) you would also notice that even the fonts and symbols were spot on. The side by side comparison below give you a good idea of how realistic these displays really look.

     

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    Can you tell the difference between which is real and which is the MJC Q400?

     

    The MFD in NAV mode is also very impressive and fully functional. Some of the feature you will definitely enjoy is the Terrain and Weather Radar functions. Let’s first of all talk about the Terrain overlay. The function has 2 modes of operation which are Normal and Peak. Normal mode shows the relative elevation (relative to your altitude) while the Peak mode shows the actual terrain levels under the aircraft.

     

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    This isn’t an entirely new feature to FSX but it one that is not commonly implemented in add-on aircraft.

     

    What I like the most about this feature is that the information is very clear and easy to understand. The accuracy of these displays is also very good.

     

    Now let’s talk about the Weather Radar which is a source of much controversy throughout the FS community. It’s somewhat a known fact that FSX does not provide enough weather data that can be used to produce“accurate” weather radar. It is important to note that Majestic Software does not claim to have“accurate” weather radar. What has been provided is described as an interpolation of weather returns, based on the actual FSX weather, using the FSX Weather Stations reports.

     

    The Weather Radar can work with both the FSX Real Weather, and the Weather Environment add-ons capable of setting the per-station weather. The beam geometry is also simulated in order to depict the weather based upon the aircraft altitude, antenna tilt and the altitude of the weather itself. There is a ground clutter and the weather shadow effects. In addition there is a ground mapping mode simulation, capable of showing the surrounding terrain. The weather clutter in the ground mode is also simulated but you should beware of false returns.

     

    Another display we will talk about is the Engine Instrument Display and Throttles. This is a very complex topic but I will do my best to summarize what MJC has been able to achieve with the Q400. First of all, the Engine display itself is very accurate as it displays all of relevant information you would expect to find. Understanding this display is quite simple so I won’t elaborate much on this feature. The most complicated aspect of this topic comes with the Engine Control Panel and the use of the Throttle itself.

                                                  

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    The Engine Control Panel is used to control the engine rating modes, program the reduced take-off mode and reduced Np landing mode. What was also impressive (though not implemented in the Pilot or Pro Edition) is that the Event Marker will also be implemented perhaps in the Training edition. This feature allows you to take a snap shot of abnormal readings that can be later checked by maintenance.

     

    Moving on to the throttles, MJC has done quite an impressive job in the operation of the throttles. The throttles operate in 5 ranges. First (from the bottom up) we have the Reverse range followed by Ground Beta, Flight Beta Range, Constant Speed Range and finally Emergency Range. Each range has its importance and I think it is important that you familiarize yourself with how the throttles are correctly operated by reviewing the manuals.

                                                     

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    Using the throttles requires extreme care as you no longer have to press F2 to activate reverse thrust. The throttle operates just as in the real world where you have one range of motion that will cycle through each range. This done quite smoothly with the aid of FADEC but it will take a bit of practice to get used to it.

     

    The condition levellers are also fully simulated in their range of motion. Its primary function is to control the propeller speed which is very much visible from the external model. Its operation is also controlled by FADEC so you will find that selecting the desired range is not very difficult.

     

    What I just described is only the fringe of this complex system and you will have to read the manual in order to fully comprehend how this system works.

     

    One of the features I am anxious to discuss is the FMS, however, we will leave this for last since it is a very complicated unit and it is very different to FMS units you may have used in the past. In the meanwhile, let’s talk about the Audio and Radio Management System (ARMS). This unit controls and monitors the Radio Communication, Radio Navigation Management, Passenger Address, Communication Interphone System and Audio Integration System.

                                                    

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    The various functions of the ARMS is quite extensive and in order to get a grasp of how each function works you will have to consult the manual. Two features of this unit I would like to discuss however are the DME Hold and the ability to store frequencies for easy access.

     

    The DME Hold may be a new concept for many of you but in a nutshell it is basically a function that allows you to decouple the DME receiver from the VOR/ILS receiver. In so doing, the currently selected navaid DME is kept receiving and you are able to also select a new navaid!

     

    The second feature is the ability to store frequencies. This is an invaluable function that will decrease the workout of pilots who are at a critical phase of flight and are required to change frequencies regularly. Doing this is very easy and you have the ability to store up to 8 different frequencies. As you can see, the features that have been implemented are extensive and what I have just described is only a fraction of what has been modelled.

     

    Now it’s time to discuss the FMS which is one of the most extensive and interesting features of this product. The two Flight Management Systems that come with this airplane consist of a Flight Management Computer, Multifunctional Display Unit, GPS Receiver and Interface module. It provides Vertical and Lateral navigation, Situational awareness, Flight planning, Fuel Management and it also allows you to control the announcements, music and ground services. Many of you will be familiar with FMS ground service control from another popular add-on and you will be happy to know that is has also been implemented in the Q400 for easy access to these functions with the exception of operating the aircraft doors.

                                        

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    The FMS, while complicated is not at all difficult to understand. After the unit is turned on and initialized it is basically ready to go. Filling in the flight plan is not very difficult but you may meet a potential hurdle when you try to enter airways in the traditional fashion. To enter airways you have to enter the LIST page which will give you a host of options in choosing your next waypoint.

     

    By clicking on the LSK next to AIR/WAY, you will be able to choose which airways you would like to fly and then select the necessary transition point. During this process of flight plan entry, you may also be wondering where the STAR/SID page is. To access the STARS and SIDS you have to select the ICAO airport code which you should have entered first and last in your flight plan page. After selecting the airport and clicking the MENU function key, you will now have access to a host of options whether it is to select a Departure, an Arrival or other options.

                                                          

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    After the flight plan entry has been completed, you now have the option of saving the flight plan through the previously mentioned MENU key. The fuel page is also fully functional and it allows you to enter data pertaining to the number of passengers, cargo weight and fuel onboard. I think by now you get the picture that this FMS is no “light” version. I mentioned earlier that the Q400 came with 2 FMS that are independent in how they operate. This means that when you select a page on the Captain’s FMS, it does not affect the FO’s FMS. Does this mean that you have to enter the data twice? No, this is where the X-FILL option comes into play and it allows you to copy the information from one FMS over to the other.

     

    Another function that is available through the FMS is the ability to fly various approaches. Don’t let this little FMS fool you, it is packed with goodies! Some of the approaches that can be flown with the FMS are RNAV, NDB, NDB-DME, VOR and VOR-DME approaches. Another treat is the ability to fly RNP (Required Navigation Performance) Enabled Approaches provided that necessary conditions are met. This comes in handy if you are avoiding noise sensitive areas or flying into areas with very tricky terrain.

     

    The VNAV function of the FMS has also been fully implemented, but it may not work the same way it does on a 737 or 747. There are basically two ways to use the VNAV function. First we have VNAV TO which is used when immediate VNAV application is needed. All that is needed is to select the waypoint you desire and the FMS will calculate the required vertical path to the waypoint. For this to work correctly you must have an altitude entered next to the waypoint on the flight plan page.

     

    The second way of using the VNAV function is the VNAV Enroute. This is the main VNAV function and it is designed to basically calculate your TOD (Top of Decent) point and thereafter, it will give you at TGT VS (Target Vertical Speed) to your next waypoint that has a lower altitude restriction. Another option that is provided is to fly a VNAV approach which is also dependant on meeting certain conditions. A word of caution is in order at this point due to the fact that the VNAV function does have its limitations as it would in the real world. For a list of these limitations you may want to consult the manual.

     

    As you can see, the features implemented in the FMS of the Q400 are very in-depth and I have only touched on a fraction of these features. What is even more impressive is that MORE features are on the way with the Pro and Training Edition. While I would love to delve deeper into the features of this aircraft, this review would quickly turn into a novel. For the sack of those who are still keenly interested in other systems that have been simulated, you will be pleased to know that systems such as Hydraulic, APU, Electrical, Pressurization, Fuel System, Ice Protection and more have all been fully implemented with some being based upon differential fluid dynamics equations.

                                                 

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    Test Flight

     

    Taking a break from the brain busting complexity of the Q400 systems, let’s talk about how the Q400 feel in the skies? I will start off by stating that the Q400’s FDE is completely unlike anything you have experienced in all your years, months or days of using a flight simulator. Many high end add-ons in the past have impressed us despite having their FDE’s fully confined to FSX. While some of you may not see a problem in this, FSX is notoriously known for prohibiting the level of realism we expect in how an aircraft handles both on the ground and in the air. The Q400 on the other hand does not rely on FSX for the simulation of its FDE.

     

    The flight dynamics of the MJC400 utilizes an open source JsbSim flight dynamics engine, which is a successor of the LARCSIM built by NASA. Here is a list of advantages over FSX dynamics:

    • Correct ground dynamics – The airplane wheels friction is correctly simulated by the JsbSim, preventing the aircraft from “skidding” on take-off, landing or even taxi with side wind.
    • The JsbSim works with a rate of 125Hz versus 30Hz in the Microsoft flight dynamics, potentially providing a 4 times better responses to the flight conditions.
    • JsbSim also gives a full control on gear positions, allowing us to fully simulate the gear malfunctions (not locking, failure to retract or extend)
    • Lift due to propeller airstream simulation: with JsbSim we also simulate the changes in the wing lift due to the propeller created airstream, the effect without which the correct turbo prop

    If we were to sum this all up, it would be safe to say that FSX is simply a scenery generator for the Q400 which functions separately. This being the case it is easy to see the hype behind the high praises that have already been voiced over the realism of them Q400’s FDE. Speaking from the view point of a simmer and a private pilot, the Q400 is perhaps “one of” the most realistic simulations of an aircraft in flight. The fact that real airline pilots have also voiced their commendation for this aircraft, speaks volumes for how realistically the aircraft’s FDE has been simulated.

     

    While the FDE is a shining point of the Q400, I would also like to point out that any difficulty experienced in flying this aircraft, does necessarily mean that there is a bug. During the month of May, there was a Teamspeak session with a Captain at Horizon Air that discussed the Q400 at length. It was quite remarkable that many of the quirks of the Q400 that users had concerns about, were actually the exact characteristics and quirks of the real aircraft! The fact that this is a very realistic simulation means that you have to be in full control of the aircraft at all times when flying manually.

     

    Some of the features of the Q400 handling that some have found a bit difficult to grasp is the steering controls while on the ground. Most of us have become familiar to using rudders or a yoke to steer the aircraft while on the ground. With the Q400 this is not the case in real life and it is surely not the case in the MJC Q400. When taxiing it is important to note that under 40kts, the rudders do not have command of the steering mechanisms. When taxiing under 40kts you are required to use the Tiller which can be linked to your mouse, or to your ailerons.

     

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    When on throttles have been advanced and you commence your take-off run, be prepared to take command of the aircraft with your rudders as the Q400 passes 40kts. If you do not have rudders, it may be best to have keyboard commands that will assist you in steering the aircraft. It may be inconvenient using keyboard commands but it is the next best option to not having rudder pedals. With that said, I would highly recommend using rudder pedals if you plan on having the best experience using this aircraft.

     

    Landing the Q400 can also be a tricky task because it requires being in control of the aircraft at all times. This means controlling your speed and keeping the aircraft co-ordinated should there be any crosswind conditions at your airport of arrival. If you want to have a more challenging experience, you may choose to change the aircrafts weight and balance through the control panel which is used to setup various options for the Q400. My only problem with the Control Panel is that some of the changes made to the aircraft require reloading the aircraft.

     

    In this day and age, I think most simmers prefer real time updating that does not require reloading the aircraft. Thankfully, the one feature that does not require a reload is the Weight and Balance page, which I am sure you will be using more frequently. Overall, you will be VERY impressed with the handling of this aircraft.

     

    While we are on the topic of aircraft handling, I thought it would be a good time to discuss the handling of the autopilot. The AFCS is very easy to use and while it may operate a bit differently to the MCP’s you may be used to, you won’t have any issues transitioning to this unit.

                                          

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    Using the AFCS effectively calls for a lot of advance thinking. As in the real world, every pilot must mentally stay ahead of their aircraft and the same proves true with the Q400. Prior to departure and in planning your descent and landing, you will be required to make various changes to the AFCS settings. For example, every change in altitude required a manual change and arming ATL SEL. When climbing we have become very use to simply activating VNAV and allowing the autopilot to control the aircrafts speed. With the Q400 this is not the case and your climb speed/rate is control buy the pilot using the IAS mode.

     

    The transitions between turning the autopilot on and off were smooth at best, but there were one or two occasions of instability when taking off the autopilot. These incidents were due to improper trimming of the aircraft and poor speed control while the autopilot was on. Another “incident” was that while in cruise with the autopilot on, I noticed that the aircraft was someone banked to the right. It was then I realized that due to the winds at my flight level, I needed to adjust the rudder trim to keep the aircraft coordinated. I am not sure if these experiences will happen to you, but if it does, now you know a possible reason why. Overall the autopilot was simulated very well.

     

    The final areas I would like to comment on as it relates to flying the Q400 is the amazing sound that comes with this product and the Ice protection system (since it has a bearing on the handling of the aircraft in stalls). The sound system utilizes a state of the art sound processing technology to provide a highly realistic sound simulation of a Dash8 Q400 aircraft. Here are a few features of the sound system;

     

    Surround sound support

    The MJC400 sound system is a scalable system, and supports up to 2 sb5.1 or

    sb7.1 sound cards (6 channels max per each), simulating up to 12 channels

    Simultaneously.

    Each sound group (such as engine, environment, warnings) can be assigned to the

    particular channel or combination of channels (incl subwoofer channels), making

    the real surround sound experience possible

     

    Engine and Propeller sounds

    Simulation utilizes the digital sound processing (DSP) effects to account for the

    sound changes due to the changing engine airflow pattern with changing airspeed,

    RPM and propeller beta angles.

     

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    Intercom

    A complete intercom simulation is made first time possible for home use software. The MJC400 sound system can utilize an extra sound card to provide 3 microphone inputs (Captain, First Officer, Observer), and 5 dedicated output channels (Captain Headphones and speaker, First Officer headphones and speaker, Observer headphones) to capture and route the sounds in the real time.

     

    The Intercom activation will result in an automated reconfiguration of the sound system so that the appropriate sound signals, such as caution and warning and synthetic alarms, as well as passenger announcements will be routed to the intercom outputs, at the same time as the primary sound card will continue to render engine and other environmental sounds. It is also possible to use the intercom system with 1 (sb5.1 or greater) soundcard; however the observer audio channels will not be simulated.

     

    Note: The intercom module will not be a part of the most basic edition of the MJC8Q400 airplane add-on, however this module is only required if the Microphone audio routing is desired. The intercom (without microphone sound capturing) would work regardless of the Intercom module availability.

     

    Cabin door simulation

    The cabin door position has an effect of how the cabin announcements, passenger boarding sounds and the cabin chimes are heard. For example, when the door is closed you will still be able to hear the FA announcements via the intercom (this option does not need an intercom module activation).

     

    Cabin procedures

    The sound system will automatically or manually play the music from a dedicated MP3 files folder, utilizing the real time equalizer to “compress” the music audio to fit the spectrum of the airplane cabin loudspeakers, play the flight attendant and pilot announcements, switching the audio system automatically to the correct mode (PA system simulation). Announcements are also correctly routed via the intercom system (this function does not require the intercom module active).

     

    So what does all of this have to do with the handling of the aircraft? Well nothing really, but the feel of an aircraft is not only dependant on the physical handling. The feel also has to do with the sound environment and I think you will agree with me that this is “one of” the best sound packages for FSX to date. Since it works externally it is able to fully reproduce the sound of the props as they pitch is changed, it give you a better feel for what the aircraft is doing at all times. My only complaint with the sound package is that even when you minimize the FSX to do other things on your PC, the sound can still be heard.

     

    The sound package and its capabilities contribute significantly to the overall feel of being in the cockpit of a Q400. When changing your view around the cockpit you will quickly notice a change as you would experience while sitting in the actual cockpit (Trust me, I have sat in the cockpit of Dash 8s more than in the passenger seat.) Overall, words can’t express how good this aspect of the Q400 really is and you will have to hear it to believe it.

     

    The final area we will touch on is the Ice Protection system and how the aircraft reacts to stall situations. You might recall that a few years ago, a Q400 sadly crashed due to improper handling of icing conditions in the Buffalo area. For this reason, I decided to carry out my own test of this aircraft in similar conditions. On a flight from KPDX to KSEA, there was quite a build-up of thunderstorms in the area and severe icing conditions. On my approach, the Engine display alerted me to this fact and it became necessary to turn the REF SPEED switch to INCR. This switch increases the reference speeds on the PFD to compensate for the increases stall speeds that may occur due to ice on the leading edge of the wing.

     

    At one point, I allowed the aircraft to go into a stall and the results were surprising. The aircraft began pitching up and it almost initiated a turn and dive. Whether this is normal or not I am not 100% sure but it was eerily similar the behaviour of the aircraft that crashed back in 2009. With that said, is a stall recoverable? Well before things got out of hand I was able to recover the aircraft and to land safely thereafter.

     

    Another area I was interested in testing was to fly using 1 engine. All I have to say on this matter is to ensure that you have rudder pedals if you plan on trying this yourself! Landing this aircraft softly is challenging enough as it is and one can only imagine the challenge it would be to land using 1 engine. Despite the challenges you will find the Q400 a joy to fly.

     

    Summary/Conclusion

     

    In summary, there is a lot to say about this aircraft as it is quite impressive and addictive. I can’t remember being as excited about an aircraft since the NGX and I was very pleased with all of the features of the Q400. This review is by no means a comprehensive review of ALL the Q400 systems since time will never allow us to discuss them all in details. What I have discussed in this review is simply some of the highlights of the Q400 and features that you may find impressive. At this point it is purely up to you whether you would like to experience it or not.

     

    If you are interested in checking out the MJC Q400, your next question may be, What does it cost?

    The Pilot Edition of the Q400 will cost you 49.95 Euros which to me is a fair price for what you are getting. If you are interested in the Pro Edition, the cost will be 74.95 while the Training Edition will cost you 149.95. If you own the Pilot Edition and you wish to upgrade to the Pro Edition, you can do so by simply paying the difference between the costs of the two products.

     

    In the end, I can only say that this product is more than deserving of an AVSIM GOLD STAR AWARD. Why? Well the Q400 has introduced a number of new features into world of flightsim. The most significant of them all are the outstanding FDE and Sound simulation. The systems can also merit recognition for manner in which they were programmed using real life laws of physics.

     

    I can’t say that the Q400 is THE best product out there but it is definitely a product that will meet the standard of any serious flightsim enthusiast with a quest for realism. Many have called this product “The Game Changer” and I tend to agree that the way in which this product was developed sets the bar even higher for what we expect from this point on.

     

    Other links & Additional Information

     

    AuraSim has created an EFB which is a web-based application to be used from your desktop or tablet (iPad or Android) to acquire departure/destination weather (METARS & TAFS), but more importantly to calculate (takeoff and landing) performance data.

     

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    Airport Sceneries shown in various screenshots are from Aerosoft

     

    What I Like About The Q400

    • Innovative aircraft effects
    • In-depth Systems
    • High quality textures
    • Highly accurate external models
    • Excellent aircraft sound
    • Very realistic FDE
    • 3D Propeller Simulation

    What I Don’t Like About The Q400

    • Nothing much not to like other than having to wait a few more months for the Pro and Training Edition.


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