• PMDG Boeing 777-200LR for FSX


    Gaiiden

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    Review by Werner Gillespie. For almost all of the really big fans of the airliner fraternity in the flight simulation world, the name Precision Manuals Development Group or its acronym PMDG as the company is more commonly known instills a sense of quality that is unparalleled in the industry, specifically as far as systems fidelity is concerned.

     

    PMDG has long had the reputation of building (I prefer this term to coding or programing, the reason for which will become apparent in this review) simulations that delve deeper and deeper into what is possible in the flight simulator realm, and then surpassing that and raising the bar higher and higher with each release.

     

    I firmly believe that the company has been it’s own worst enemy due to this, as can be seen by the impatient fans demanding the release months and months before its release date, as can clearly be seen by the banter that goes on inside the forums in the weeks and months leading up to the release of one of their products.  Worse still for them, when customers loaded up the NGX there was a sense of “wow, they cannot possibly improve upon this in the future can they?”  

     

    As many hardcore followers of PMDG will know, the forums have a tendency to crash when release is eventually announced and on release day it can be difficult to stake your claim for the illusive license key that will allow you access to the next finest piece of airliner software built (yeah, that term again) by the amazing folks at PMDG.

     

    Yes, I was indeed part of the release madness on the 3rd of September 2013 at around 23H00 local time when the 777 was eventually released. I was very upset with myself since I was caught in the rush that followed, but at 05H00 local the morning of the 04th of September 2013, I began the download and took the afternoon off from work to install and start to fly this amazing new toy I had just purchased.

     

    So with all of this said, many have asked the question “can PMDG improve upon the NGX?”   Let us see if they can...

     

    Installation and documentation

     

    Right, so how much airplane is in the downloadable installer?   It is one of the bigger installers out there folks, 783 MB large.  However, the download is quick and painless.  You have to make the purchase first as is a common PMDG practice and then you will receive the download link via e-mail and your product activation key is handed to you via e-mail as well.

     

    Once you have the downloaded installer, you simply double click and the installer will ask you the normal questions, tell me where your FSX directory is etcetera. Installation takes about two to three minutes; remember, this quite a bit of airplane that is being installed, but again the installation process is flawless.

     

    Once the installation is complete, you will start FSX and once you select the aircraft from the menu, you will be required to enter the activation key received via e-mail.   That’s right folks; it is no longer part of the installation process as in days gone by.

     

    For those of you that have the NGX this will not be anything new, for those of you still flying the 747 for FSX and FS9, or the MD-11 for that matter, you will find this installation procedure differing a little from what you are used to. Nothing to worry about though as activation proceeds quickly and painlessly.

     

    As far as documentation is concerned, you may be shocked by what you are getting as part of the package if you are new to PMDG simulations - if you are not new to PMDG simulations, it is pretty standard, since you get the following:

     

    1.            Flight Crew Operating Manual (FCOM in short) volume 1, which comprises 1210 pages of reading in PDF format. This takes you through the limitations, the standard operating procedures or SOP’s for the aircraft, supplementary procedures, dispatch performance and in flight performance data. This is the bible for the simulator and will teach you how to operate the aircraft properly.

     

    2.            FCOM volume 2, comprised of 1266 pages in PDF format, which will take you through the subjects of emergency equipment, doors and windows, air systems, anti-ice and rain systems, automatic flight, communications systems, electrical systems, engines and APU (auxiliary power unit), fire protection, flight control systems, flight instruments and displays, flight management and navigation systems, fuel systems, hydraulic systems, landing gear systems, and the warning system.  

     

    3.            Flight Crew Training Manual (FCTM in short), which is comprised of 356 pages of reading in PDF format, and will take you through the different flight envelopes and how to properly fly the aircraft in different conditions. This is all the stuff about actually flying the aircraft then!

     

    4.            The Introduction document, also PDF and comprised of 163 pages. This is a MUST READ before you start to fly the aircraft! Many of your niggling little issues will be addressed in this document. So before you start howling for help at the PMDG help desk, have a look at this document first. It includes a lot of FAQ’s (frequently asked questions) about PMDG products in general and some about the 777 in general. It also contains lots of information about what the beta team wants us, the end users to know. Very useful indeed, please take the time to read it!

     

    5.            The QRH (Quick Reference Handbook), 844 pages in PDF format which takes you through all the abnormal procedures in the aircraft. This is useful, but as we shall see later the 777 has this incorporated in the electronic checklist system which is absolutely breathtaking, but more on that later!

     

    6.            Finally there is a 126 page tutorial in PDF format released with the package and it is a good starting point to learn to fly the aircraft.

     

    A note about the manuals - yes, these are the real world Boeing 777 manuals folks, slightly modified (obviously) for simulation purposes, but they are the real deal, and access to this data is hard to get your hands on if you are not a pilot for an airline operating the aircraft or without any contacts inside an airline. The data is worth gold and the manuals themselves have been beautifully put together by the PMDG team. So if you want to know why the manuals are so technical and seems to be written in legalese, there is your answer folks!

     

    The introduction document is worth gold as well; did I mention that you really should spend the time to read it?

     

    The tutorial is beautifully put together with one goal in mind - get me flying the darn thing right now, give me the low down so that I can get on with it. It does this perfectly! It focuses on the flying, and some excellent new features which PMDG have included in the airplane, which we will look at a little later on.  

     

    It does not focus on a cold and dark start, although such a tutorial is planned a little further in the future, so keep an eye out for it.

     

    The overall experience with the documents and installation is excellent as we have come to expect from PMDG over the years. There really is nothing negative to write about it, period.

     

    Preliminary

     

    Folks there have been a number of complaints in the forums about disgruntled customers having bought the aircraft and thinking that it would install in P3D only to find out that this package does not work with P3D at all. You have been warned! This truly is FSX only.

     

    Next issue - this is a study sim!   If you have experience with PMDG’s other Boeing products, you should adjust easily and find the cockpit scans coming naturally very quickly, but if you are not used to advanced airliners simulated in minute detail, you will be required to sit and study this and work through the tutorial, period.  

     

    The aircraft has a far, far greater level of automation than the NGX for example, as well as the 747-400. It is comparable only to the MD-11 in systems automation, and maybe a little bit of an Airbus in there along the line.  

     

    Setting the aircraft up for flight is easier and faster than the NGX or the 747-400, but ONLY if you are already familiar with the systems operations of the next generation Boeing aircraft, like the 747-400 and onwards. If not, hit the manuals and start studying!

     

    Next item - although this has been said to infinity and beyond, I feel that it is necessary to say it again: this is not the NGX on steroids! This is a vastly different beast, and the flying skills that you are going to need for the different flight envelopes, are vastly different from what you are used to in the NGX. Taxiing certainly is interesting, and no it does not have a taxi camera, because this is not the -300ER version of the aircraft.

     

    One of the best features of the package lies outside the actual simulation - the PMDG operations center. This is revolutionary from PMDG, and I will discuss this in its own section below.

     

    Also bear in mind that this is the first Boeing to be kitted out with FBW (fly by wire) controls.   This gives you a uniquely different experience certainly from the NGX but also the 747-400.   This causes part of the drama in respect of going from the older style flight controls to the new FBW control systems.  

     

    Yes, they feel and function differently and getting used to this during the takeoff and landing phases of flight when operating the aircraft manually, is probably going to be the biggest challenge for you. This does not mean that you will battle for months to learn how to fly it, but the experience is different and it will take some getting used to.

     

    Right, so having said all of that, let us have a look at the operations center...

     

    The PMDG Operations Center

     

    Okay, so what exactly is this operations center and what does it do? In short, this is the heart of your PMDG fleet for the future. Once you start it up, it will automatically check for updates to the center itself. You are then taken to the main page of the operations center. If there are any updates you will see a red flag in the top right hand corner indicating that you have new notifications. If you then click on the grey gear symbol next to it, it will take you to a screen which will inform you of what updates are available.

     

    You will then be given the option to install the update or to ignore it. My advice? Always install it, it is quick and painless! Once you select to install the updates it will install updates for the center itself, and it might do so for the aircraft which are included in this operations center setup, which at this stage is only the 777, the J-41 and the NGX.

     

    Now let us look at some of the other features of this nifty little addition to the PMDG product line. Firstly, if you look at the menu on the left side of the main program page, you can see there are options to get more information about PMDG, more information about the PMDG operations center itself, a help section, a notifications option where you can see which notifications you may have, general settings for the center and some tools.

     

    I will not deal with most of these items as they are fairly self explanatory. I am only going to take a look at the settings and the tools provided for in the menu. Remember, these are not product specific; they are general to the center itself.

     

    In going to the “Settings” option, it will take me to a page labeled “Program Settings and Associations” which has the following options:

     

    1.            Associate .PTP’s with the PMDG operations center.

     

    2.            Open PDF’s in external viewer - which just means outside of the operations center in Adobe Acrobat Reader or similar type of program.

     

    3.            Automatically check for updates - when you start the operations center that is.

     

    4.            Overwrite aircraft-specific options on livery install - this is unchecked by default and makes perfect sense. If I install ten different liveries and set the basic simulation settings inside the FMC inside the 777 (more on that later on), it will keep those basic simulation settings. For example, when I can see the thrust lever position in the simulator in relation to the hardware setting, it will utilize that setting across all the different liveries that I install, but if I override it via this setting, it reverts to the default, so unless there is a really good reason, just leave it unchecked.

     

    Bread and butter stuff. Next item is the tools section. When I select the “Tools” option, I am taken to a screen with three different headings, to wit:

     

    1.            Version information - this is the current operations center versions and the version of the products installed on your computer which is covered by the operations center, which is currently version 1.6 at the time of writing. In this section I have the option to ask it to check for updates or to show me the change log through the different versions.

     

    2.            Create support package - this is just wonderful for simmers who may not be experts with hardware and software configurations on their PC’s. This creates a report in essence for the folks at PMDG containing information about your hardware and PMDG aircraft information. The information is stored in a .cab file which can be sent to the technical minds at PMDG for analysis so that they can be better able to find solutions to a simmer’s problems.

     

    3.            Execute PTP - this assists you in issuing special instructions to the operations center or to replace missing or corrupt files in your products. Very nice!

     

    If I head over to the top left hand corner of the main operations center page, right below the PMDG logo, I can select a product, which will take me to product specific items. If I select the PMDG 777, it takes me to the product page immediately, so that means I can see the actual product page on the operations center without having to go to the PMDG website - wonderful!   Should I not own the product, I will have the option to purchase it through the operations center.

     

    From the menu I now get the following options which is specific to the particular aircraft, to wit:

     

    1.            Aircraft specific options - from this area I can select the various different liveries that I have installed and then select settings specific to that livery, both for the passenger and cargo versions of the aircraft. This includes whether you prefer a rising runway or flight director bars, whether you have a ground speed indicator active or not, etcetera. There is actually more in here than simply setting it through the FMC. Very nice!

     

    2.            Livery manager - this is where you can add or subtract liveries from the aircraft variant.

     

    3.            Livery downloader - you can now select liveries through the operations center and let it install the liveries for you! That’s right, no more downloading and installing them  separately, everything is handled though the operations center. From what I gathered in the forums, this is one of the enhancements that customers loved the most!

     

    4.            Version - this will tell you whether your product is up to date. Now, what PMDG wants to do is to release small fixes and eventually service packs through the operations center, so here you can easily see if your product is up to date and if not and a service pack of patch is available, you can install it through the operations center. Amazing!

     

    5.            Documentation - yes, that is right, I no longer have to go and hunt inside the PMDG folder for the manuals, I can access them easily through the operations center.  Remember the option to have them open through an external program?  This is what that was for.

     

    What I have discussed is in relation to the 777 only as far as the aircraft specific settings are concerned, but it gives you the general idea of what the enormous extra functionality of the operations center entails. I can only say again that this becomes the heart of your PMDG fleet management. Yes, but how do I load passenger and cargo onto the aircraft, there is nothing like that in there? Since the NGX, this has been done through the FMC as opposed to the loader utility that the older products like the MD-11 and 747-400 utilized.

     

    My experience with the operations center was an easy, user friendly and remarkably useful experience. There are some users who have complained that they could not get the operations center to function, however, PMDG have attended to the issues where they have popped up and I believe that most customers will now be able to use the center and if not, the excellent team at PMDG will assist them in getting the operations center up and running.

     

    I am posting a few screen shots for you so you can see what the operations center looks like:

     

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    Exterior

     

    Right, so now we have had a look at the preliminary items, let us have a look at the exterior of the aircraft. Now firstly, if you look at a real Boeing 777, one of the first things that strikes you (apart from the size that is), is the incredibly polished, smooth look that the aircraft has. During development, and with the plans that Boeing had for that part of the market the 777 was designed for, Boeing had decided to put an enormous amount of effort into reducing every possible bit of drag that it could, and it shows if you look at the aircraft skin.

     

    The aircraft has a beautifully smooth, slick appearance, like it wants to glide through the air with minimum effort.

     

    PMDG have also gone to great lengths to emulate just about (if not) ALL the moving parts that you can expect on the real world 777 in minute details.  Have a look at the wing view with the spoilers and flaps extended after landing - amazing isn’t it?

     

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    Let us look at the landing gear bays, just look at all that delicious detail in there - again, amazing.

     

    Now for something different - what happens when you overheat those brakes to the cooking point? In that instance, the brakes will turn red hot, the tyres will burst and you are stuck!   That’s right folks, even that has been painstakingly modeled by the PMDG team! 

     

    Oh and another thing, don’t think you are going to taxi that aircraft away from there sir, dream on. Just like the real deal, when you are in that position, you are well and truly stuck! You have to reset the failures as per the FMC.

     

    Now, the funny thing is that you don’t really need all this minute attention to detail do you? I mean, let’s face it - you spend most of your time in the cockpit don’t you? This just goes to show the unbelievable level of commitment that PMDG has to getting all the details right, no compromises!

     

    Here are some screen shots for you to illustrate the fact that PMDG have done a superb job in obtaining this same look and almost “feel” to it that you would find on the skin of the real world 777.

     

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    The exterior is simply amazing, nothing to fault with it whatsoever. Full marks to the PMDG development team!

     

    Liveries

     

    Right, now that we have seen just how gorgeous the exterior is, how about those liveries then?   What do we get and what is it going to cost us? First, PMDG have always had a policy of not selling liveries or livery packs - they are a free contribution to enhance the value of the base pack that you have bought.

     

    Which liveries do I get? For the 777-200LR aircraft, which is the passenger version, the following can be downloaded and installed through the operations center:

     

    1.            Aeroflot (fictional)

     

    2.            Aero Mexico (fictional)

     

    3.            Air Austral

     

    4.            Air Canada

     

    5.            Air France (fictional)

     

    6.            Air India

     

    7.            Air New Zealand (fictional)

     

    8.            Alitalia (fictional)

     

    9.            All Nippon Airways (fictional)

     

    10.          American Airlines (old colours) [fictional]

     

    11.          Asiana Airlines (fictional)

     

    12.          Austrian Airlines (fictional)

     

    13.          Boeing Wordliner

     

    14.          British Airways (fictional)

     

    15.          Cathay Pacific Airways (fictional)

     

    16.          Ceiba Intercontinental

     

    17.          Continental Airlines (fictional)

     

    18.          Delta Airlines

     

    19.          Egypt Air (fictional)

     

    20.          El Al (fictional)

     

    21.          Emirates

     

    22.          Ethiopian Airlines

     

    23.          Ethiad Airlines (fictional)

     

    24.          Iraqi Airways

     

    25.          Japan Airlines (fictional)

     

    26.          KLM (fictional)

     

    27.          Korean Air (fictional)

     

    28.          Lufthansa (fictional)

     

    29.          Air Malaysia (fictional)

     

    30.          PIA

     

    31.          PMDG house unpainted

     

    32.          Qatar Airways

     

    33.          Saudi Arabian Airlines (fictional)

     

    34.          Singapore Airlines (fictional)

     

    35.          TAM (fictional)

     

    36.          Turkish Airlines (fictional)

     

    37.          Turkmenistan Airlines

     

    38.          United Airlines (fictional)

     

    39.          Virgin Atlantic (fictional)

     

    40.          Virgin Australia (fictional)

     

    And for the -200LR/F:

     

    1.            Aeroflot (fictional)

     

    2.            Aero Logic

     

    3.            Air France Cargo

     

    4.            Boeing Wordliner

     

    5.            China Cargo Airlines

     

    6.            China Southern Cargo

     

    7.            Emirates Sky Cargo

     

    8.            Ethiopian Cargo

     

    9.            Ethiad Cargo

     

    10.          FedEx Express (yes, the Panda Express is also in there!)

     

    11.          Korean Air Cargo

     

    12.          LAN Cargo

     

    13.          Lufthansa Cargo

     

    14.          PMDG house unpainted

     

    15.          Qatar Cargo

     

    16.          Southern Air Cargo

     

    17.          Thai Air Cargo

     

    18.          TNT Airways

     

    19.          UPS (fictional)

     

    Wow, that is a lot of liveries! So what’s with all the fictional stuff in there you ask? Well, the

    -200LR is a very niche product by Boeing, and in actual fact, very few airlines worldwide are using specifically the -200LR compared to the -200/-200ER/-300/-300ER aircraft.

     

    PMDG have always made fictional liveries available in the mix, specifically the MD-11 comes to mind at this point, and then of course, airlines like British Airways do operate 777's but not the LR, so if I wanted to fly a BA livery and I do not have the actual 777 variant that BA uses, well who cares, PMDG have made it possible for me with a fictional livery

     

    The liveries are of exceptional quality. The textures are 4096x4096 and the quality, of not only the paint job itself, but the resolutions of the textures are of exceptionally high quality. Nothing negative to say here folks, you will love it, guaranteed!

     

    Interior

     

    Okay, so now let us move to our office at 39 000 feet, the interior and more specifically, the virtual cockpit. Now folks, before anyone asks, NO, this does not have a 2D flyable panel!   PMDG already stated after the NGX that valuable resources are being attributed to the design of the 2D panels and that they serve to increase the final price of the package when it is released.   You have to fly it from the VC.  

     

    Without beating about the bush, this VC is a masterpiece of artwork! It does a few things: firstly, it gives you an exact replica of the 777 flight deck, fully functional, with every switch able to be clicked, pulled, pushed, or turned at your heart’s desire. If you look directly ahead, it looks like that leather right in front of your nose is something that you can touch, and the buttons, especially the larger ones, look just as good. This is photo realistic imaging here folks!

     

    Another thing that you will notice is how much cleaner this aircraft is. It certainly does not have the dirt and grime that the 737 NGX cockpit has, that’s for sure. This must be because Robert jumped into the cockpit before the photographers could get there with a bottle of cleaning agent and a cloth to make sure the NGX textures, the dirt and grime never, never, never happens again.   

     

    Another aspect is that you get a feel for the sheer size of the 777's cockpit. It is huge compared to the 737 and it is beautifully relayed in the masterpiece that PMDG has reproduced. This is also I believe what is known today as the Boeing signature interior. Even if you look to the left side of the VC, you get some idea of how much room there is there. All the switches and dials and knobs feel quite far away from you, like you really want to lean over to reach them.

     

    The overhead panel is at a nice, comfortable angle and distance from your head with everything easily legible and reachable. If you look at the displays, you will see that PMDG has created an even sharper display quality than the NGX. That’s right, they did improve. PMDG used a different texturing technique this time around which means that you don’t pay an arm and a leg in terms of performance either.

     

    The pedestal and throttles are just as beautifully modeled. Whilst we are on the pedestal, another quick note - see the VHF microphone section? You actually have to push the button to switch on the VHF Left channel, or your radios won’t work. Yes, that is how deep the simulation runs!

     

    There are a few 2D popup panels, like all three of the FMC’s which can be called up separately which is actually quite useful due to the features of the 777 and what can be done using the different FMC’s in conjunction. If you click on a display it will undock and popup as a larger window in the screen somewhere. You can also call up a 2D popup of the EFIS (Electronic Flight Instrument System) and the MCP (Mode Control Panel). I don’t use any of these however; it is simply too much fun to perform these functions on their panels and places inside the VC.

     

    One thing that I do do is press the A key on the keyboard to cycle views to the overhead so that I can have a full-on view of the overhead when doing the pre-flight setup. Not absolutely necessary, but I just like it, similar to the 747-400.

     

    While we are in the overhead, there is another interesting feature of the product for you. This is just another indication of the absolutely insane level of detail that PMDG have put into this simulation. If you look at some of the switches in the overhead you can see a simulated feature that you will come across in the real 777. Try it with the pack switches for example.

     

    Zoom in and then click on the switch, but watch it very closely... What do you see? That’s right, the switch light has a little drum rolling mechanism inside which opens and closes as the switch is turned on or off.  Pretty insane stuff right there, but again it forms part of the I-know-it-is-there routine.

     

    On the most frequently used knobs and buttons you can see a slight bit of wear and greasing where fingers continually get into contact with panels and writing, which adds a lovely subtle touch to the overall impression that the aircraft is not a showpiece but an airliner flying the line daily. The balance is striking and forms part of that “I know the whole package is just great, it just feels great, and although I cannot put my finger on it, I just know it is there” feeling you get when flying the aircraft.

     

    Throw into the mix the blue photo real carpets, the photo real seat covers and all the surrounding little items and the simulation, in terms of what the VC looks like, is complete. I don’t doubt it; I know that I’m sitting in the cockpit of one of the world’s most loved and respected airliners.

     

    Folks this is the finest VC that I have had the pleasure of flying. So did PMDG improve on the NGX then? The answer must be a resounding YES! Full marks to PMDG, I cannot fault the VC in any way.

     

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    As a bonus, here is a look at the some of the night lighting available...

     

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    VC sounds

     

    Now, I usually include this as part of the “Sounds” section of my reviews, but I deliberately separate it here for reasons that will soon become apparent. Remember how some customers (of simulations in general) have always complained about “canned” sounds for switches and the like? Well, not anymore folks. PMDG have revolutionized this aspect too!  

     

    What they have done is recorded for each and every switch and button, the sounds for when it is pushed, pulled, or twisted in all the different positions and with varying degrees of veracity and modeled that into the simulation. Unbelievable? Believe it! Go ahead, try it!

     

    I sat in the simulation for about 15 minutes just probing this claim and I had to concede that it was not just a publicity claim, it really works that way.

     

    So now your VC will always sound a little bit different from what it was on a previous flight, or even change a little in the same flight depending on how you handle the switches, knobs and buttons. Excellent!

     

    Systems programming

     

    Before we get started on flying the aircraft, I want to show you folks some of the systems around this amazing aircraft. To do that, firstly we need to look very, very briefly at the design philosophies of the 777.  

     

    Remember what I said about the level of automation compared to the other Boeings (please exclude the 787 from this group)?  The 777 has an enormous amount of automation driving it, more so than any other Boeing that you have come across.

     

    With that in mind, let us look at what lies beneath this intricate bird’s exterior panels, knobs, switches, buttons and displays. Firstly, the 777 has a very different approach to how it uses electrical power. It will try to shed as much power, and therefore use it as wisely as possible in the startup phases of the flight, but it will also power down differently, trying to prevent you from cutting power to the aircraft completely due to the huge redundancy built into the aircraft for reliability and therefore safety.

     

    Powering up the aircraft from a cold and dark state is not something I usually do since this is,  realistically speaking, not the way that you would find it when you walk onto the aircraft. I prefer a panel state that has a warm cockpit with the ground crew around it and the engineers having been inside the cockpit and set it up in the basic state so that I can continue the pre-flight checks and scans and to get on with it.

     

    However, apart from learning all there is to learn about the scans and flows from following a cold and dark startup, it also shows you some amazing features of the powering up sequence of the aircraft.

     

    For instance, the displays (including the FMC’s) take time to warm up, and if you watch the startup of the displays on both stations, you will find that they flash on and off in a specific sequence and then depending on what power source you are using, certain displays will be prioritized, others de-prioritized to save electrical power and use it more wisely. It will also tell you what the vital statistics are in each bus, i.e. what is the voltage and amperage, and what is the power source, i.e. the APU, the generators.

     

    Then there is the speaker self test which is performed automatically. It sounds terrible and will get to you for the first time or two, believe me. The FMC’s will start to appear very slowly until they are warmed up properly before they show their natural colours. Very realistic, and very well modeled.

     

    So how about those digital displays for the frequencies on the pedestal then? You can alter the colours and their different shades and intensities as well. Talk about customizable!

     

    The Status display has all the information you would find on the 747-400 or the NGX, so I will show you a screen shot of it, but will not discuss it in any great detail.

     

    The hydraulic systems are modeled perfectly, and when you look at the hydraulics selection on the lower display, you can see how it is mapped pretty much in accordance with the overhead layout. Looking at the top of that display however, you will notice one difference to older aircraft, the layout tells you exactly which systems powers which items.

     

    Next we look at the fuel system. Again pretty standard stuff, although the layout is prettier than the older aircraft.

     

    The air system display is again very similar to what you would see on the 747-400, not much explanation required here.

     

    The door display will not only show you when the doors are opened or closed, but will also tell you when the doors are armed/in auto as can be seen from the screen shots by the green A indicated at the relevant doors. 

     

    The gear display is the same as in the 747-400 for example, however the layout of the wheels are obviously different.

     

    Another fine difference between this aircraft and the 747-400 for example, is the way that the flight controls are indicated, they are no longer on the Status display, but have their own display selection. From this selection you can see an overhead view of the layout of the systems and also detailed digital readouts of the rudder and stabilizer trims which is a nice change from the 747-400.

     

    You can also see at the bottom of the display in which mode the flight controls are operating. In my screen shot you can see the green boxed indication of “NORMAL” mode. Should that change into an alternate mode, the indication will change likewise.

     

    Now we move to one of the grandest features of this aircraft, the electronic checklist. Let us start by investigating what this checklist is. This checklist system incorporates the normal checklists, the non-normal checklist system (which in essence is the Quick Reference Handbook or QRH on its own), and then there are the options available to reset the various checklists.

     

    This is probably one of the finest achievements that form part of this package. Let us look at how the system operates. It is intuitive and easy to use to say the least. I simply move the mouse cursor over the checklist and it automatically changes into a magenta cursor inside the checklist itself and once I move it past the border of the checklist, it becomes a normal mouse pointer again leaving me to do whatever needs doing inside the VC.

     

    What is also brilliant, and this is the same for the real world aircraft too, is that once you tick off an item inside the checklist, you can keep the mouse completely still and the cursor will automatically jump to the next item. All you then have to do is click and go down the checklist.   Grand isn’t it?

     

    Here are some systems screen shots for you, including the electronic checklist:

     

    T27.jpg
    T28.jpg
    T29.jpg
    T30.jpg
    T31.jpg
    T32.jpg
    T33.jpg
    T34.jpg
    T35.jpg
    T36.jpg

     

    The checklist, just like the real world aircraft, has what is known as open and closed loop items.   This simply means that when you select a checklist some of the items are automatically ticked and green, which means that the aircraft has detected automatically that the item is correctly configured. This is what is then referred to a closed loop item. All the others which the aircraft doesn’t detect is open loop. All good then!

     

    An example of a closed loop item in the pre-flight checklist for example, would be the fuel control switches. If they are in the cut-off position, this would automatically indicate green and be ticked off in the list. See the screen shot below.

     

    The most impressive part of the checklist system however is the non-normal or emergency procedures. As I said above, this is the QRH in essence. What does this mean? It simply means that all the recommended steps and options are presented inside the checklist when the emergency occurs and you follow them as you would the QRH itself. Very nice!

     

    So once the emergency presents itself, the aircraft will automatically bring up the right non-normal checklist section and you can get to work on it immediately, no rummaging through a book that you need to reach for somewhere in the cockpit. I will take you through an emergency a little later on so you can get a good view of how this works.

     

    Speaking of emergencies, one of the core features of the 777 in the real world is the Thrust Asymmetry Compensation or TAC in short. What does this do you ask? Well, if at any time you lose an engine or thrust from an engine, the TAC system will handle it for you, trimming the rudder for you to make sure that your workload is reduced.

     

    Yes, it is specifically useful on takeoff where it is worth gold. We will look at how it deals with an engine failure on takeoff shortly after V1 (decision take off speed) as part of the review.

     

    The aircraft has other safety features as well.  It won’t stall or over speed when flown on the autopilot, regardless of whether the auto throttles are engaged or simply armed. I accidentally found this one out when climbing out of Denver on a short flight back to Chicago.

     

    This was only my third flight on the aircraft and the EICAS (Engine Indicating and Crew Alert System) warning told me that the auto throttles had not be engaged. I looked over at the MCP and though “what on earth is this aircraft talking about, both auto throttle switches are armed man!” What I did not engage though was the “A/T” switch after the short ground turn at Denver.  

     

    The aircraft followed the VNAV profile beautifully, but then at some point I realized that the aircraft was not following the standard type of climb pattern that I had become accustomed to during the previous two flights. Then I notice that the aircraft was at full throttle and the despite the auto throttles not actually being engaged, the system would not let the aircraft over speed. It simply adjusted the pitch to keep it a few knots below the over speed.

     

    Another incident to demonstrate the protection envelopes of the aircraft is stall prevention; the working of which I had known but had not intended to use by choice! I was on an ETOPS flight across the Northern Pacific from VHHH (Hong Kong Intl) to KMEM (Memphis, Tennessee) and I had switched off my weather program mid flight, which caused the temperatures to rise drastically at high altitude. This obviously caused a serious drop in performance and the aircraft couldn’t maintain the altitude, which I would have known if I was in the room at that stage.

     

    The aircraft simply adjusted by drifting down and despite unfavorable winds and some turbulence, the 777 adjusted for this remarkably well. Although the warnings sounded and I came running from the other part of the house, it did not stall and it adjusted properly. I was very pleasantly surprised to see how well this was working!

     

    So how about some of the other protections built into the aircraft then? How about if I take the autopilot out and hand fly it? Okay, let’s do that then.

     

    Let us have a look at what the aircraft does when I try to bank it excessively. Now we have to start considering the differences between a fly by wire aircraft and conventional aircraft.It now begins to show differences. I start to turn the aircraft to the right by thirty degrees. In a conventional aircraft, you would need to apply back pressure to keep the wings level right?   Well not here, the FBW system compensates for you. Nice isn’t it? When I did this maneuver for the first time, I pulled back on the control column and the nose shot upwards.  

     

    When passing 30 degrees, I now find that I do need back pressure on the control column to prevent the aircraft from descending. When reaching around 35 degrees of bank the aircraft starts to resist the roll further to the right. It is quite noticeable as the roll is very smooth and sensitive to this point.  

     

    Want to see something really cool? Fight the forces a bit, bank it to maybe around 50 degrees or so and the just let the control column go. What happens? The aircraft will return itself to roughly a wings level attitude. This is fantastic, especially for if you find yourself in an extreme situation and you get spatially disorientated, just let go of the stick and the aircraft will start righting itself for you.

     

    So how about speed protection when the flight director and auto thrust system is turned off and the throttles are pushed way up? Good question! The 777 is what is referred to as speed stable, so you will have to trim forward on the stick to keep the nose level.  

     

    When you approach the red over speed tape on the left side of the PFD, you reach a point where you can no longer trim. With excessive pressure I can keep the nose level, but it will over speed, unlike when the autopilot is in command. You will be required to close the thrust levers and extend the speed brake, normal over speed recovery procedure.

     

    But what about a stall when the autopilot is disengaged then? Let us test it out: we close the throttles, and we keep the nose level.  

     

    Again, speed stable, so we trim the aircraft little by little as the speed drops off to keep the nose level. As the speed drops we will eventually reach the yellow line on the speed tape. At this point, the trimming authority stops, I cannot trim the aircraft’s nose up any longer.  

     

    Okay, no problem I will just apply back pressure on the stick, and once we reach the red line, if your auto throttle is armed the throttles will go into what is known as “wake up mode”, where they will advance automatically and then the stick shaker will start bashing at you to tell you to stop this idiotic behavior! Once it is activated, the throttles will advance further to attempt to fly out of the stall. If your throttles are not armed, they won’t go into the wake up mode and you would ultimately stall and would have to recover per the normal procedure.

     

    Folks please bear in mind that this is very basic, it doesn’t go into full details of the FBW system and I am sure that I may have misinterpreted something somewhere, I am not a real world 777 pilot and I would love to see some comments from guys with real world experience on how this 777 compares! It really is worth it just to have a look at the manuals to discover all these elements and to acquaint yourself with the system.

     

    All in all then, this is the complete package, nothing excluded, and although this review can never be long enough to go through each and every system in minute detail, you should be able to get an overview of the completeness of the systems and the fact that this is a serious simulation and not a toy or a light product.

     

    We will delve into the operation of systems a little deeper during an actual flight cycle.  

     

    Doing an actual flight

     

    Okay, so a lot has been said above, but now let us get to the business part, let’s stop talking about the building blocks of the aircraft and start flying it!

     

    For the purposes of this review, I will start from a warm setup, in other words, the engineers have already been inside the aircraft and have done their part of the magic and brought part of this incredible machine to life. So when I step onto the flight deck, the displays are already partly initialized, and the FMC’s are warmed up.  

     

    The equipment cooling is running and intermittently switching on and off as required (remember, very little equipment on the flight deck is actually running requiring extensive cooling) and the speaker self test initiates a minute or so after entering the flight deck.

     

    The ground equipment is also connected (operated through the FMC just like the NGX) and the doors are already setup (also operated through the FMC like the NGX and also the MD-11). So how to go about the scans then?  I have adopted a very straightforward scan which differs a little from the prescribed scan, but which works perfectly well and covers everything. I will be using this scan, however you can easily follow the procedure outlined in the manual, it’s all there, it all works exactly like it should.

     

    Now for a little more on the 777 design and operating philosophy. It works on the principle that should all warning lights be off, the systems are properly setup. Keeping that in mind, let us start the flow.

     

    The first thing I would do is to go to the overhead and switch on the ADIRU (the IRS in essence) and then head down to the navigation display. After a few seconds, I will see a real time count down in minutes and seconds of what is left before the ADIRU is fully aligned, and if you have this option set to realistic, it should take around 10 minutes or so.  

     

    Once I see this count down, I would then turn to the FMC and enter the name and coordinates of the airport at which I am stationed. I would then head over to the RTE (route page) of the FMC and enter my departure and arrival airports, the flight number and then select page down and start to enter the route.  

     

    Entering the route has a shortcut in it if you choose to use it. Instead of simply entering all the jetways and waypoints following it, you could simply just keep entering the jetways and it will automatically keep entering the ending waypoint of the previous jetway in the waypoint section.   Pretty nifty isn’t it? The NGX follows the same operating principle.

     

    Once that is done, I would save the route for a recall at a later stage should I wish to fly it again.   This is done via the route request function of the FMC.  

     

    Once I have entered my departure and arrival airports, and then select route request, it will narrow it down to only the routes that I have saved between these two airports. I can then select the SID (standard instrument departure procedures) and the runway I intend to take off from or have been cleared to use by ATC.

     

    Next up is the performance page setup, in which I enter my zero fuel weight and my intended reserve fuel, followed by the take off page in which I select if I want to de-rate the take off and by how much, and also the flap setting that I intend using. Then I head off to the initial reference page again which is where I am informed of the trim setting which I need to setup and also my take off speeds.  

     

    Wait, something is wrong here, I am not seeing any take off speeds. But I did setup my departure runway, what the heck... Oh hang on, I cannot do this before the ADIRU is aligned! Keep this in mind folks, it caught me out the first time.

     

    After this I go to my VNAV page, setup my transition level and also the heights at which I need to accelerate and transition to climb thrust, and I usually use 3 000 feet AGL (above ground level).  That’s it!

     

    It takes about two minutes (unless you have to set up a long route which is not already saved for you to recall from the FMC database), and it is very much like the NGX or even the 747-400 for that matter. There are quite a few differences in the rest of the FMC setup which we will take a look at during the cruise.

     

    The manuals now instruct us to do a walk around the aircraft, but since this the first officer’s job and I am in the captain’s seat, we will skip forward to the rest of the scan. I will now cover the overhead panel from left to right, top to bottom in each section of the overhead.

     

    So we start off by ensuring the TAC is switched to auto, that the primary flight computers switch is guarded, the battery is on, the APU is running, that the APU generator is on, that the bus tie switches are in auto and that the external power switches are off (these are covered in supplementary procedures and I will not be having a look at these for the purposes of this review).

     

    The generator and backup generators must be switched on, with the off lights illuminated, and the drive disconnect switches must be illuminated “DRIVE”. The left windscreen wiper must be off. Going back to the top on the next panel, make sure the ground proximity runway override is off and guarded, emergency lights guarded, service interphone is off, passenger oxygen is off and guarded, the window heat is on and the RAT switch is off and guarded.

     

    Make sure the left and right engine hydraulics is switched on with the fault lights illuminated and that the center hydraulics are switched off with the fault lights illuminated, then check that the both electric and both air demand pumps are off with the fault lights illuminated. Set the passenger signs as required and make sure the interior and exterior lights are set.

     

    Back to the top: make sure that the cargo fire system and the APU fire system is normal and works properly by performing the test, that the EEC switches are normal and guarded, that the engine start switches are normal and that the auto start switch is on. Then check that the fuel jettison system is off, and that the fuel pumps are all off. Check all anti-ice switches are set to auto and that the lights below them are properly set according to the phase of flight.

     

    Back to the top again, make sure that: the equipment cooling is in auto, the gasper fan is on, both recirculating fans are on, the flight deck and the cabin temperature switches are in the 12 ‘o clock position and that the left and right pack switches are set to auto.

     

    Next check: the trim airs are on, the bleed air switches are in auto, that the engine bleed switches are “on” with the off lights illuminated and that the APU bleed is in auto. Lastly check that the pressurization is set to auto and the right wiper is off. That’s it, told you it was quick and easy!

     

    I then head over to the left panel next to me, checking the oxygen, then the heaters and panel lights setting them as required, checking the NAV, DISPL CNTRL and AIR DATA /ATT switches to be off and guarded. I check the clock is set, then setup the EFIS as required.

     

    One word here - these switches are not normal rotating switches like the NGX (which are apparently incorrectly modeled by the way) you would click it and it would turn a short distance and stop, like the volume controls on some Hi Fi’s today. It does not keep rolling and rolling and rolling!  

     

    I then set the MCP up, check the displays are correct, do a quick status check, making sure only the TCAS message is displayed, check for normal secondary engine indications, check the fluid levels required, check the throttles are closed, the fuel controls are cut off and the stabilizer cutout switches are guarded. Then a quick scan of the pedestal to see that my radios are set, and that the transponder frequencies are set, and the trims are set. All done!

     

    Once you are familiar with the setup, this takes about 5 minutes to complete. This is a vastly more automated aircraft in comparison with any other Boeing that you may have come across and it cuts on your preparation time spent.

     

    So next we do the pre-flight checklist by hitting the CHKL button to call up the electronic checklist. The checklist functions as explained above, and we quickly run and complete the checklist. Then we prepare ourselves to push and start.

     

    This is accomplished by heading to the FS Actions segment inside the FMC, going to the Doors selection, closing and arming all the relevant doors, and whilst this is going on we can switch to the Doors section on the lower EICAS display to see when the doors are closed and armed. We then switch on the Beacon lights, switch on the fuel tank switches,  switch on the fuel control switches and do a quick recall to make sure everything is in order.

     

    Now complete the “before start” checklist. Once it is done, we simply head over to the overhead panel and switch on the number two engine start switch and then check on the lower EICAS to see that the oil pressure is rising and the temperatures rise normally on the EGT of the engine on the upper EICAS. Repeat for engine number one.

     

    Just to digress slightly here - the aircraft will take care of any abnormal things which can happen during the start, but just keep an eye on it yourself as the rule of automation is to watch it very carefully. Okay, back to the flight.

     

    Should you wish, you can also perform a push back via the FMC as per all PMDG products. This has always been a very nice feature of their products. Just set your distances, tail side and angles, and initiate it and you are good to go.  

     

    Then switch off the APU, do another recall, set the flaps to take off position, set the autobrakes to RTO, check the flight controls, and run the before taxi checklist. Then switch on the taxi lights and you are good to go.

     

    So we know that those engines are pretty darned big, how much of it do we need to get this aircraft taxiing out to the runway? Very little is the answer! Even under very heavy weights, the aircraft moves along easily being powered by those GE engines.  

     

    To give you an example, the flight that we will use as an example flight here, flight DL 200, the Delta Airlines flight from KATL (Atlanta) to FAOR (Johannesburg), uses about full fuel tanks, and then I have a pretty heavy payload, 150 passengers and some 41 140 lbs of cargo, giving us close to the maximum operating weights for the aircraft. Getting the aircraft to move from a standstill required only around 27% N1! That was also enough to start accelerating nicely.   

     

    Once you start going around 90 degree turns, you need to add a touch of power, but don’t overdo it, or else you might run off onto the grass.

     

    For this take off I decided not to de-rate, but to use full take off power on runway 27R, the longest runway at the airport and using flaps 15 for takeoff. The aircraft handles surprisingly sensitively on the taxiways, much more so that you would think. Just remember that the nose wheel is quite far behind you, so just like a 747 you need to taxi your seat far beyond the center line before turning or those main gear will eventually end up on the grass.  

     

    Oh, and I did mention already that the -200LR does not have a taxi camera? Just checking!

     

    As I taxi to the runway, I run the one item on the before takeoff checklist, which is closed loop, that is the flap position, showing 15 degrees green automatically. As I approach the runway, I start to run through the runway entry procedures which are to turn off the taxi lights, turn runway turnoff lights off, turn the landing lights on, switch the transponder to C-mode, and I always run another quick status check. I will explain my obsession with the status page during cruise.

     

    Somewhere in the taxi a chime sounds in the cockpit and when I look at the upper EICAS display, I see that a new notification has been added, the “CABIN READY” notification. Very nice!

     

    Okay, so we are on the runway and it is time to see what this aircraft behaves like near the limits of its capabilities. I turn on the LNAV and VNAV buttons as I will be flying a SID that I can execute without ATC vectors, punch the stop watch and push the throttles open to 55% N1.  

     

    Another quick digression - you will notice that unlike the NGX the throttle positions on the engine dials are not numbered, so how the heck do you know where 55% is? Easy - just push the throttles open until the throttle needles point at the T of the EGT label of the engines and presto, you have about 55% N1. Thanks Kyle, and also Ryan for that bit of information!

     

    The aircraft reacts like it is not so heavily loaded, it start rolling quite quickly down the runway, so I use the click spot (the screw underneath the F/D switch), and shove my hardware throttle all the way up.  

     

    Why do I do that? Well if you don’t shove them all the way up, you will find that at some point during the take off roll, the aircraft will reject the take off, you have been warned.

     

    Once the engine spool up to full power, the reaction is just tremendous. You cannot believe how much power these engines generate! Even at these weights it accelerates to V1 just after half of the runway! Simply staggering, I just realized at this point that I could even have de-rated my take off by some margin and I still would have been safe.

     

    Keeping the aircraft steady down the runway in a bit of wind is both easy and tricky. The FBW controls have a very nasty tendency (until you get used to them that is) to lull you into a false sense of the enormity of the aircraft under your control. The controls are so easy and so smooth and sensitive that you get the feeling of flying a much lighter aircraft, which can destroy the sense of mass and inertia that you are actually dealing with.

     

    Beware of this - this is a huge aircraft, very heavy! So the same mass and inertia related issues that you would encounter when steering down the runway in a 747-400 applies here. Don’t fall behind with the rudder inputs, you might regret it!

     

    Once you have to rotate, make sure you don’t pull with all the strength in your arms like you would with the 747-400, you would over rotate in a heartbeat. Rotation is so smooth and so easy in this aircraft, it really feels like flying a computer, but it also feels real, you can feel the weight but to a lesser degree than you would a 747-400 on takeoff.

     

    Next item - careful for over rotation please! This is one long aircraft and getting a tail strike is easier than you think. Be careful until you are about 50 feet or so from the ground. Again, you have been warned!

     

    Next issue - do not trim the aircraft as you would a 747-400 or other jets for that matter! This is where Boeing meets Airbus to a large extent. With the systems being FBW, you can simply hold the pitch for a second or two and the aircraft will hold that pitch once pressure is released, no worries. Should you start trimming, you set yourself up for a difficult session with the initial climb out, just leave the trim alone.

     

    Four hundred feet for the engagement of the autopilot rushes up to you, and once you select the autopilot on, you start to do nothing but monitor the systems. At 3 000 AGL as setup in the pre-flight, the engine thrust note reduces to climb thrust and the aircraft pitches down and starts to accelerate for the clean up.

     

    The clean up happens quicker than you might expect, again the power of those huge engines.   Once the aircraft is clean, we proceed with the “after takeoff” checklist which contains two closed loop items, the landing gear and the flaps; all good, next checklist under normal conditions would be the descent checklist. We switch the lower EICAS display off.

     

    Our recommended cruise flight level is FL 310 for the flight east to Johannesburg. So, next question, how long does it take to climb to cruise with those monsters under the wing? Almost invariably, whether it is light with a high cruise level or heavy with a lower cruise level, 20 minutes is a good benchmark. That’s right, it takes only 20 minutes. Good grief!

     

    Transitioning from climb to cruise is smooth, the autopilot operates beautifully. In fact this can be said for any phase of the flight. Now, this is obviously going to be an ETOPS flight right? Right. So let us attempt to do it as realistically as possible.  

     

    To be honest, I am not the expert on ETOPS, however I do know the basics regarding the time constraints placed upon you in case of an engine out or a pressurization problem. But where can I get some decent information to use for setting up my FMC fixes with those 420 mile circles that are so ubiquitous on ETOPS flight NAV displays?

     

    Here we digress again. For those of you who are not familiar with the site, head over to www.simbrief.com. You have to register on their site, which is free, and then you can get a proper dispatch document which can be saved in PDF format on your desktop for use. This will tell you how much fuel you require at the departure gate, and also give you all the ETOPS information required for your flight.

     

    Another grand feature is that you can download the flight plan from that document for the PMDG FMC for example, so no more typing and wasting time with it. Awesome! It also gives you a downloadable file for weather entries into the FMC so you don’t have to do it - wow!

     

    The only catch with this site is that if you want to use the latest navigational information, you have to buy it from Navigraph and enter your purchase ID there. This however is no big deal.   How accurate is the fuel information? Extremely, just try it, you won’t fly again without it!

     

    Now that we are in cruise, let us discuss some of the features that PMDG have built into the simulation. Now, the -200LR is the world’s longest flying twin engine aircraft. The capability of this machine is staggering!

     

    The route we are flying from KATL to FAOR is:

     

    MUNSN6 IRQ CH AR4 OLDEY L375 DABAK UL375 EGIBO UL375 PUGSA UL375 DIGOR 0300S 02500W 0700S 02000W 1200S 01500W 1600S 01000W 1900S 00500W 2100S 00000E 2200S 00500E 2300S 01000E NIBEK ETUSO UN181 PEDIL UQ19 AVAGO               

     

    which is 8,449 statute miles. Our flight time is estimated at a staggering 17 hours based on our cost index. According to our chart per the dispatch document, we enter our ETOPS part of the flight at TXKF, so we head over to our FIX page on the FMC and enter TXKF as our first leg, and draw a 420nm circle around it. We complete the process with TBPB, GVAC, FHAW, and finally FYWH, which is where the ETOPS part of the flight ends.

     

    So it is clear that we are not going to sit and monitor the flight for the full 17 hours. I actually started the flight at 17H00 local time and finished it the follow day at around 11H00, some 17 hours and 43 minutes later. So, PMDG have decided to add a few things which are not in the real aircraft to help us simmers with real world time constraints manage these ultra long haul flights.

     

    The first thing which can be set via the FMC in the simulation section is the auto step climb feature. This I always use! Once the aircraft is leveled out at FL310 for the cruise, I leave it, I don’t touch the altitude again.  

     

    What happens is when the aircraft needs to, it climbs in 2 000 feet increments without any intervention from the pilot, which is great because this allowed me to sleep through Friday evening and complete the flight the following morning. And yes, it works properly without any issues whatsoever.

     

    If you don’t want to fly in real time for that amount of time due to time constraints for example, you can use the auto cruise feature. This can be setup by going to the FMC, FS Actions, and then Auto Cruise, and selecting whether you want to have auto step climbs, whether to pause at the top of decent, and what sort of time compression you require at cruise level.  

     

    So how does this work then? What it is, is a safe time compression feature which will speed up and decelerate as the flight progresses compensating for winds and turns and climbs and turbulence etcetera, making sure the aircraft does not do something silly during time acceleration like when you use the FSX default acceleration feature. And it works too!

     

    So how do I activate it then? Simple, just right click the chronometer button on the clock. To disable it just left click on the same button. Easy isn’t it? Once activated the time on the clock will change from amber to green, and once deactivated, from green back to amber.

     

    And whilst we are at little additions adding to the quality of the product, NGX users will be aware of the fact that the hardware throttle position could be seen on the engine indications so that you could sync it with the actual position in the simulation to avoid power surges when taking over from the auto thrust system. This feature is retained in the 777! Goes without saying I know, but there you go!

     

    Now some features that are not in the NGX FMC or the 747 FMC for that matter. The 777 FMC has a button labeled ALTN which is alternate airports close to you. If you select this it will show the closest airports capable of taking a 777. Should I select one from the list, the FMC will ask me if I wish to divert there now, and if I say yes, it will immediately navigate me there directly.  

     

    It also has an FMC COMM button which shows you a position report option as well. Where you are now and where you will be for the next two waypoints. Again, just a very short overview of some of the functions that you will not come across with the FMC in an NGX.

     

    Perhaps this is another good opportunity to refer you to the manuals for an in-depth study of all the systems? Folks, I really cannot take you through all the systems since for one I am not an actual 777 pilot and on the other hand I am still studying the simulation myself. There are probably many, many more things in that FMC which I have not touched on.

     

    Another nifty feature, which I have turned off, is the crew alertness simulation. Should you not perform an action in the cockpit for a period of time, you will first get an amber notification on the EICAS, which is followed by a red caution and an alarm sounding in the cockpit until you perform some kind of action, which could be turning, pushing or pulling any button. I have this turned off, but it is in fact a feature in the real aircraft.

     

    Now, although we are in cruise flight, now is also the perfect time to have a look at one of the niftiest features of the all, the ground operations programmed into the FMC! This is a full simulation of ground operations.  

     

    What does this mean? Well, it means that I select whether I would have a long or short ground turnaround time, how much fuel needs to go onto the aircraft for the next leg. The computer then calculates what your turn time would be, how much fuel needs to be uplifted and you can select whether you want to push back and start automatically at the end or not. It will also deal with the doors for you. How about that? Awesome stuff isn’t it?

     

    What is also great about this is that you can actually see how the fuel levels rise in real time as the aircraft is being refueled on the ground. How cool is that?

     

    Another feature of the aircraft is the way that it deals with polar flights. Once you reach a certain latitude, the aircraft will automatically change over from magnetic to true navigation and the will begin to display grid positions on the navigation display. A full explanation of how polar flights should be done is in the manual, take the time to read it, it is well worth it! Not because you need to do anything, the aircraft will do all that is needed for you automatically, but just to get a sense of what is going on behind the scenes, trust me, it is well worth the read.

     

    Another aspect that many would want to know about is how this aircraft reacts to turbulence and high altitude winds. I use the FS Global Real Weather program which is amazing at getting the upper air temperatures, winds and turbulence right. I found that what was predicted by the simbrief package and what was experienced in terms of the FSGRW weather and the effects it had on the aircraft in terms of fuel usage was pretty much spot on.  

     

    In terms of how the aircraft reacted, it would be as you would expect. No extreme and unrealistic gyrations of gigantic proportions or uncontrolled dives and climbs as can sometimes be the case, the aircraft didn’t do anything strange or out of the ordinary.

     

    So we are now close to our decent into FAOR some 17 hours into the flight. We now set ourselves up for the descent and approach. We check our weight, set our Vref speed, select our flaps for landing, just like I would in any other Boeing FMC, and then do a quick recall and status check.  

     

    I select autobrakes to level 1 (I found that unless I am landing on a very short runway, I don’t need more than this at all), and run through the briefing with myself. Then I run the checklist for the descent and reset the altitude window.

     

    So what is it with this guy and that darned status page? Does he have an obsession? Yes I do!  

     

    The 777 is a remarkably clever aircraft. Firstly, as is obvious if you study the systems, the aircraft has a tremendous amount of redundancy built into it which makes it so safe. But there is also another aspect of this aircraft - it will not make you alert to every single thing that goes wrong, especially if it is something that you cannot do anything about as a pilot.  

     

    The aircraft may just simply have another system take over the compromised system’s duties without any fuss. Any problems would be listed in the status page in order of effective priority, but you won’t know about it unless you actually check the status page. Therefore, it is said, the wise pilot always checks the status page on a regular basis.  

     

    Oh yes, and while we are talking about compromised systems, the same model for failures that have been built into the NGX for service based failures, are also built into the 777, but with one difference though. It is clear that modern day airliners are tremendously reliable machinery.   Therefore, you may not necessarily get a serious failure in your professional career as a pilot.  

     

    PMDG recognized this and introduced a way to speed up the occurrence of these problems for those interested in constantly breaking their aircraft. I am not one of those people, so I have not done this!

     

    Right, so we now start our descent. The aircraft handles descents and vertical profiles in general wonderfully well, better than almost anything that I have flown so far. There is just one thing to note. The 777 uses a high lift, super critical wing, which makes it able to handle heavy loads at high temperatures and high altitude airports, as well as cruise faster and climb faster. What it does do is make the aircraft a little slippery when descending, so you may have to use quite a bit of speed brake as you head downwards.

     

    At our transition level we switch over to the local QNH, do the approach checklist and prepare for the landing. The 777 is easily flown manually from the glare shield (MCP) and it operates smoothly and reliably in that fashion.  

     

    So, we have set ourselves up for the approach and we intercept the ILS, this is a smooth, painless process, we select our landing flaps, get our gear down and arm our speed brakes, do the landing checklist, which is all closed loop, we just confirm that all items are green, and then we continue down the glide slope.

     

    Some companies instruct the pilots to let the aircraft handle the throttles all the way down onto the runway, so let us see how this works. I switch off the autopilot as my approach is straightforward manual ILS approach. I take over at about 1 000 AGL and continue down the slope. I just make sure that my hardware throttle is all the way down, because once you are on the runway and try to engage reverse whilst your throttles are on approach power settings, your hardware throttle will take over and you will find that far from reducing speed, you are speeding up and taking off again!

     

    Now, again the FBW controls are so smooth, so precise, but can mislead you into how much input you require to land the aircraft. This is a big heavy aircraft and must be flown like one! I have to honestly say that I battled for the first few landings to get this right. It becomes second nature though very quickly. Again, don’t touch the trims folks, the aircraft will handle these issues for you, just fly the yoke and let the FBW systems take care of the rest for you.

     

    As we head down the slope, I see that the auto thrust systems are doing a sterling job of keeping approach speed for me, Vref and 5 knots indicated. I keep going until the “30" call out is made then I raise the nose ever so slightly, just slowing the descent rate up.  

     

    Do not over rotate, you will float for ages and come crashing down onto the runway. The auto thrust system performs perfectly on its own! Keep it smooth, steady and precise! Don’t allow the AOA (angle of attack) to get too high, if you do, you will float for ages. Remember, high lift and super critical airfoil!

     

    Right when the throttles are at idle, the main gear kisses the runway and I fly the nose wheel onto the runway as gently as I can. You would be surprised at which low speeds one can keep that nose wheel in the air. I apply reverse thrust and come to a good clean 20 knots ground speed for the taxi.

     

    Folks getting the landing right in this aircraft, takes a bit of practice, predominantly to get the FBW systems under control, learning to get to grips with how light it feels as opposed to how heavy it is and to get the flare right, that is the most important part of the landing! Once you get it right though you would be able to enjoy smooth, perfect landings every time.

     

    Taxiing off the runway I stop the clock at 17 hours and 43 minutes, having taken off with 307 000lbs of fuel and having landed with 28 700 lbs. It has a real sense of achievement for me, although the automation did most of the work as is the case these days. I switch off the landing lights, on with the taxi lights, switch off the transponder, switch on the APU, pull up the flaps and make sure that the speed brakes are down. That’s it. To taxi it at this lighter weight requires even less thrust and a slight opening of the thrust levers is enough to get the job done!

     

    At the ramp, I switch my dome lights on, check that the APU and its generator is online, then flip off the fuel control switches, switch off the beacon light, switch off the fuel pumps and the hydraulics, get the ground services connected and then open the doors, and I run the shut down checklist, most of those items, apart from the parking brake is closed loop and will be green automatically if done correctly.  

     

    The secure checklist is straightforward: switch off the ADIRU, disarm the emergency exit lights, and switch off the packs, and you are done.

     

    Folks this is the finest FDE with integrated systems that I have ever flown before. There is absolutely nothing that I can criticize about it. Has PMDG improved upon the NGX in this area?   Wait hang on, this is now apples and oranges isn’t it? FBW versus conventional control systems etcetera?  

     

    Yes you are right, but how about the overall immersion?  Did they improve upon that? Yes! They did say you will find it is better, you may not be able to put your finger on it, but you will know that it is better. They were right. Excellent job PMDG, period!

     

    Mayday, mayday, mayday!

     

    Right, so now that we have covered the normal stuff, let us look at an abnormal situation. Let us see how all those critical safety measures work when the aircraft needs to use them. And of course, what better way to put the aircraft through its paces than with an engine failure shortly after V1. This will employ the TAC system and will incorporate the QRH on the electronic checklist system. Let’s have a look...

     

    Okay, we are on the runway at PANC as Fed Ex Express 93 on our way from PANC (Ted Stevens International or Lake Hood Strip) to VHHH (Hong Kong). We are carrying 210 000 lbs of fuel and our ZFW is 428 300 lbs. Yes, I prefer pounds (lbs) to kgs (kilograms). Our TOW is 638 300 lbs. We are using flaps 15 for takeoff and a takeoff derate of TO 1 and full CLB power. I now head over to the FMC and the FAILURES section and set up a very serious engine failure after V1. All set? Let’s go!  

     

    Again the tremendous power of those General Electric motors ensure that we hurtle down the runway comfortably. A second or so after reaching V1 and “BOOM”, there is a mechanical bang in my right hand engine. Now, I have to admit it was very difficult to trust the computer to apply the right amount of rudder to ensure that I keep going straight down the runway. The TAC system kicks in and corrects the force that drives me towards the right side of the runway and before I know it I am airborne! Well, apart from the slightly reduced deck angle and slight bit off oddness on takeoff, it was a fairly normal take off!

     

    Okay, I am airborne and under control, I engage the autopilot to assist me in flying the aircraft whilst I now deal with the emergency. I look at the lower EICAS display and see that the correct section of the QRH has automatically appeared for me to look at and it gives me a few options. I now flick my eyes back to the upper EICAS and see that my right engine N1 shows 0.00 percent. Not good at all, that means that the fan blades are not spinning, so the chances of getting that seized up engine started again is zero, zilch, nada, nothing!  

     

    Back down to the lower display and the QRH. Looking at our options I can see that it certainly is giving extremely abnormal engine indications, so I head down to that section of the options by selecting it on the checklist. I follow the checklist by switching off the affected engine’s A/T Arm switch, closing the thrust lever and switching off the fuel control for my right hand engine and utilize my engine fire switch as per the checklist.

     

    Good, the engine is shut down and I don’t have any further indications that a fire may erupt at any moment. Further following the checklist I switch on the APU, select my transponder to TA ONLY and head for the nearest airport, in this case, PAN C which is where I took off. 

     

    Now, up until now with my head stuck in the checklist the aircraft has been flying itself beautifully with the TAC system taking care of the thrust asymmetry hogging my bird. I simply select headings and set myself up for very much a standard traffic pattern. The aircraft is performing beautifully!  

     

    Now I dig my head down in the checklist again and I have to make a few more decisions. What flap setting will I use for landing? I can choose between flaps 20, 25 and 30 depending on the performance of the aircraft. Hmmm...

     

    Now, we are attempting an overweight landing here, deciding not to dump any fuel. Yes, I do this just for the heck of it folks! The runway is long and dry, and I would prefer to use a little less drag on the airframe due to the weight of the aircraft, so I go for flaps 20. The checklist instructs me to use Vref and an extra 20 KIAS for the landing. I set this up.  

     

    That pretty much covers it! Did that seem a little easy? It was actually, considering that I have never simulated such a failure on the 777 before!

     

    Again folks, this an absolutely amazing flying machine. The way that the automation and the support features are incorporated into the airframe, this is where the 777 becomes different from anything else that you have ever flown before. This is where it starts to earn the money that the airlines and us end users of this tremendous product paid for it.

     

    So how about the landing then? Here is the other neat part - this aircraft can still auto land in this configuration! Since my experience is fairly limited I let the aircraft land itself, firmly as with any auto land, but smooth and more than survivable!  

     

    If you have been worried about using your service based failures because of fear of not being able to cope well with emergencies, those days are gone - I think the scenario I described above outlines this very clearly! Full marks to PMDG, it is clear to see where all those months of waiting in anguish for us simmers went and it was clearly well spent time!

     

    Sounds

     

    This now refers to all the other sounds that I have not dealt with above. As expected they are all there, but there is a big difference this time around - they are crisp and clear like never before! When you handle that flap lever it is the most satisfying, crisp and clear “clack” sound when it goes from one detent to the next. This is the case with every other knob that you pull, push, turn or whatever you do with it. It adds the next level of immersion of feeling that you are in the cockpit.

     

    The rolling sounds are just tremendous, the best we have ever had from PMDG. The engine sounds are to die for (that may well happen if you spend too much time drooling over the sounds and keep the nose pointed down for too long!)

     

    The entire sound package is a little bit like the Matrix - you cannot be told what it is, you have to experience it for yourself! I cannot fault any part of it, full marks to PMDG, as well as a great thank you for the above-and-beyond job that they have done with it. 

     

    Performance

     

    Now, this has been a point of discussion in the forums, some reporting better than ever frames in comparison with the NGX and other products, others saying that they have a slight decrease in performance.  

     

    I have an Intel Q9550 Core2Quad machine running at 2.83GHz, 6 GB RAM, and a GeForce 480GTX with 1.5 GB RAM. Performance is on par with the NGX, but I do experience that even where there may be a slightly higher impact on fps in certain scenarios, it has to be said that the overall experience is way smoother when compared to the NGX.So what am I saying? If you get satisfactory performance from your NGX, this will run well on your system. 

     

    As many of us have discovered it is not necessarily how many fps you are getting but how smooth they are. The 777 is smoother than the NGX on my system. As always though, the same caveat applies - make sure you have the minimum system requirements before you take the leap.   Oh and I did mention that the product WILL NOT RUN ON P3D, IRRESPECTIVE OF YOUR SYSTEM SPECIFICATIONS? Just checking!

     

    Conclusion

     

    What remains to be said then? In conclusion, this is a complete package.  

     

    In some packages you will find that the sound is better than the textures and the aircraft’s flight control responses are better than the operating of the different modes in the auto pilot. Not so in this package.

     

    PMDG have long had the standpoint that it will be released when it is ready, and not one day before. This again shows clearly in this package. Yes, there have been some issues here and there for the odd simmer, but in general, the package was complete and again, in a class of its own.

     

    I for one have not had any issues with the aircraft since using it for the first time. This is beyond any doubt the finest 777 simulation that is available for FSX and I would venture to guess that it is close to Level D simulation standards, apart from the missing hydraulic actuators and actual flight controls that you can manipulate without having to use a mouse. Only real pilots will be able to substantiate this though.

     

    Every flight is a joy, a thrill! It is the most enjoyable simulation that I have used on ultra long haul flights. The 747-400 has always been my favourite aircraft, and will continue to be so. For me nothing beats the thrill of a maximum weight take off in the Queen, but until the new 747-400 and the -8i expansion from PMDG appears, this will take her place.  

     

    Now for the price. It is unusually high for an add-on at USD 89-99, that’s true. Whether you think this is too much or not will depend on what you want from a simulation. If you are more into a 5 minute setup and taxi for a quick blast, this is not for you, although after spending some time in it, it may convince you that using it on short hauls or getting you addicted to systems depth and long haul flying can become possible.

     

    If you love long hauls, but not systems depth, this again may not be for you. On the other hand, this may very well change your mind! If systems depth is your forte but you have a below par machine, this is definitely not for you, but again on the other hand, you may consider upgrading your PC slightly?

     

    For the hard core, die hard, systems depth fanatic simmer, like myself, this is a must have simulation. I continue to read and learn about it and the deeper you dig, the more you will find! Like the NGX, you will spend years finding little things that you did not know were there.  

     

    From my perspective, based on my background, the USD 89-99 that I spent on it was an investment, a purchase that I can easily justify in terms of the hours I have spent in it. My logbook reflects 197 hours now since completing this review. And of course, this is only the beginning of my love affair with the 777.

     

    Bottom line, if you are a die hard 777 fan that love systems fidelity, get it, you won’t be disappointed! The 777 is not worth what you pay for it - it is worth much, much more, and PMDG is still letting us have it at a steal folks, trust me!

     

    I’m off again, blasting off into the blue yonder. As I open the throttles and hear those GE’s spooling up to take off power I get goose bumps. When the rotation arrives and I gently rotate this gentle giant’s nose into the air, a smile slowly starts to spread across my face.  

     

    There is a definite feeling of breaking away from terra firma, I really have just gotten wings and started to fly. I ease gently into the sky on my way to another destination beyond the capabilities of most other aircraft.  

     

    I’m at home now, this just feels right! 

     

    What I liked about it

     

    Everything!

     

    What I didn’t like about it

     

    Nothing!



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