by Marlon Carter
As an aviation enthusiast, I am sure many of you have once argued the age old debate of Airbus vs Boeing. While such discussions can be enlightening and entertaining in the real world context, we’ve never been given the opportunity to draw a comparison in the Flightsim world. Over the years, many have tried to develop a complexed simulation of the A320 and 737NG aircraft but have only found success with the latter. Why? Well it’s no secret that the complexity of A320 has made it extremely difficult for developers to create a high fidelity add-on that truly represents the intricacies of Airbus systems.
Depending on how long you have been part of the Flightsim community, some may recall a handful of developers that produced Airbus add-ons that served us well at the time. However, many of us will agree that while they were good products, they often misrepresented the way many systems on Airbus aircraft truly function. The most notorious of these systems, was the Fly By Wire programming that always seemed to be lacking and was inconsistent from user to user depending on your hardware.
With the interest of flight simulator enthusiasts shifting to more realistic and complex aircraft, the pressure was on for an Airbus add-on that would match and surpass the standards set by leading developers. In 2010, the FS community was on edge with an announcement from Flight Sim Labs that would potentially change our perception of what we thought was the impossible. In 2010, they announced that they would be developing a high fidelity A320 series for FSX (and later P3D), that promised to be a true and complete simulation of the real aircraft within the “limitations” of FSX. As with all things, many of us were thrilled with this announcement while others were quite skeptical. Would they be able to pull it off? Or will FSLabs fail or fall short as other developers who have come and gone? To answer that question only time would tell and some 6 years later, we finally have an answer with the release of the A320-X.
While the development time for this product was by no means the longest, it was certainly a time filled with eager anticipation on the part of potential customers who have long awaited a realistic Airbus aircraft. What was the development process like? Why did it take so long, and what can customers expect from this new product? Well let’s find out the answer to these questions and more as we chat with one of the developers.
Hi, Lefteris. While I am very familiar with FSLabs, there are many readers who are getting their first introduction by means of the A320X. Can you tell us a little about FSLabs, how it started and the products you have created besides the A320?
-(LEFTERIS) Flight Sim Labs, Ltd was started in 2008, when I decided I needed to step away from my position as Technical Director and Lead Developer at PMDG, to start my own company. At that time, Andrew Wilson, who ran SSTSIM, Ltd. and was responsible for the FS2004 Concorde had wanted to move the aircraft into FSX and was looking for a larger team to do this with, so he joined FSLabs. Together with Margarita Fiotaki and some other developers at the time, we created the Concorde-X for FSX (and later for Prepar3d). Apart from the Concorde-X, we are also responsible for the FSLSpotlights add-on, a product that allows any aircraft to have fully three-dimensional volumetric lighting inside the virtual cockpit and external model, something we also use in the A320-X to achieve never-before-seen 3D moving lights in the cockpit.
2. Can you tell us briefly about the development of the A320? For example, when did you first decide on creating the A320 series and what challenges did you have to overcome to get this project started and completed? Where there any periods where you thought of giving up on this project because of its complexity?
-(LEFTERIS) The A320-X series had already been decided while we were developing the Concorde-X. As many of your readers might be aware, the engineering teams responsible for the Concorde later moved on to work on the Airbus series. We simply followed the same natural evolutionary process at FSLabs, as a significant amount of the infrastructure required was already being designed for the Concorde. While we had some idea back then, we were blissfully unaware of the differences in the amount of complexity involved in coding all the computers required and the interactions between them. While it's a daunting task - larger than anything we'd ever attempted before, we never thought of giving up - the aircraft is too beautiful to give up on...
3.Among all the features of the A320, which would you say is the feature you are most proud of and which feature would you say is the most innovative in the history of aircraft add-ons?
-(LEFTERIS) There are too many to choose from:
- The Fly-By-Wire action that everyone swore could never be done properly (alpha speed and alpha floor protections accurately simulated and verified by a multitude of real-world bus pilots)
- The ground performance and characteristics (single engine taxi done correctly for the first time on a desktop simulator - none of that marmalade default ground friction anymore).
- The design and implementation of simulating over 60 aircraft computers on a single PC with unparalleled accuracy while at the same time maintaining adequate performance.
- The engine and flight model that follows its real-world counterpart inside but also outside the flight envelope (where the aircraft stalls).
- The very high resolution of the external model, for crispness and clarity at all levels of detail - from far away, or closing in, any text on the aircraft airframe no matter how small, can be read clearly.
- The aircraft model animations. Every single moving part modeled with acute precision - from the smallest (Angle of Attack vanes) to the largest, together with the respective actuator controls, which, when lost, will render the corresponding part inoperable.
- The wing flex (or - more correctly - the wing bounce), painstakingly modeled after a multitude of observations of its real-world sibling.
- The particle-based effects: Watch the exhaust haze after the APU has been started.
- Spotlights: They should have an entire chapter allocated to them, but we are proud to say there's no other aircraft add-on featuring true, three-dimensional cone lighting that is adjustable in brightness and moves together with the respective lamp that provides it.
- The real-time refueling panel, with fuel distribution timed exactly after real-world measurements.
- The absolutely immersive sound package found inside the cockpit, but also outside it for both the IAE and CFM engine variants. From the tiniest button and knob, to the electric whirl of the pilot seats, the subtle hum frequency variation of the generators based on electrical load and their three-dimensional positioning, how the PTU bark comes from its proper location and can only be heard in the cabin - those make a completely unparalleled sound package.
There are just too many more also... If I had to choose one myself, however, and given the complexity in how it's designed and coded, I'd say that the implementation of the hydraulics and fuel infrastructure together with the electrics wiring, all coming in place with the System Data Acquisition Computer and the more than 3800 logic sheets that comprise the Flight Warning Computer modeled in their entirety to produce all possible "ECAM Actions" just like its real-world counterpart - this would be my pick. You see, in the FSLabs A320-X, there is no room for simplifications - none of that "if this switch is on, show that warning message" piece of programming like any other add-on out there: The base infrastructure, with all the complete wiring required that is plugged in (which some add-on developers feel is "unnecessary" for them to provide) is what makes this possible. Without it, the A320-X would be just another simplification, devoid of the aura and immersion that makes for that imperceptible, intangible, impalpable sense of "feeling you're in an Airbus".
4.Given the fact that the aircraft was simulated from the very components of each system, does this mean that the possible faults and ECAM actions match the real aircraft? In other words, does it mean that there is no limit to what faults can occur?
-(LEFTERIS) Our customers have already discovered that we have incorporated the entire FWC logicsheet package (version H2F3P) inside the A320-X, which means that all possible faults and ECAM actions have been incorporated - the only limitation is that to produce some of them, circuit breaker tripping is required, which we have not included in the entertainment version. Our professional version will offer a complete C/B mechanism facility as well as updated FWC versions as an option.
5. It is well know that Airbus aircraft operate based on Normal Law, Alternate Law, Direct Law, Abnormal Law etc. Does the FSLA320 take all of these Laws into consideration?
-(LEFTERIS) Absolutely. It wouldn't be an A320 simulation otherwise. While other similarly titled products already in the market claim to offer some of these laws, your readers will quickly find that it is only our A320-X that features complete and accurate simulation of all Flight Control Computers (ELAC, SEC, FAC) which govern how the aircraft will be flown at any given time. While I cannot go into any comparisons in features such as alpha prot / alpha floor, dynamic pitch and roll control, etc (they would be quite unflattering to the competition), I'd like to underline the complexity of these systems was such that it took over two years to program the simulation of those three computers alone.
6. After reviewing a few news updates that were released during the development of the A320, mention was made of the fact that the performance of the engines were very close to the real world aircraft. Can you tell us how you were able to achieve such an accurate engine simulation without being hindered by FSX limitations? For example, FSX has long been plagued with issues such as ground friction and the incorrect simulation of icing conditions and the effect it has on an engine. Is the A320 limited by these issues?
-(LEFTERIS) Obviously, I need to keep some details close to the vest here, but I can say that when we initially tried using the default FSX engine model, we quickly ran into a dead-end given its constraining simplifications. As such, we turned into techniques that are modeled outside of FSX itself to accurately model the flight and engine characteristics found in the A320. Default FSX thrust and drag parameters are ignored in favor or a very complex simulation model that ultimately provides the appropriate calculations to run the engine numbers that match their real world counterparts. As far as ground friction is concerned, we went into the FSX code itself to find and replace the internal tables which control it so that each surface is correctly providing the friction model required.
7. In details on the release of the A320, it was mentioned that DX10 would be the best option for using this aircraft. Can you tell us why FSX along with DX10 is the recommended setup for using the A320?
-(LEFTERIS) It is generally common knowledge that FSX was coded to use DirectX 9 and that there is an option for a "DirectX 10 preview", which was put in place because FSX was prematurely released without a full conversion into DX10. This left several aspects of the simulation incomplete when DX10 was selected, so simmers were advised to not use DX10 at all, as it would cause several issues (incorrect shadowing, many visible glitches with scenery etc).
What is not so common knowledge is that memory management is a lot more efficient in DX10 than in DX9, leaving more VAS available for use by scenery and aircraft add-ons. Also, performance is significantly better with DX10 (if same graphics settings are selected). These two advantages, combined with the availability of Steve Parsons' "DX10Fixer" utility which fixes most of the issues found with DX10, make us recommend it over DX9 for the A320-X. One small example of this would be the Virtual Cockpit view, complete with amazing shadows and crispness that DX9 just fails to provide.
8. On the topic of Performance, was it quite a challenge to offer such a complex simulation that didn’t significantly have an impact on VAS and framerates?
-(LEFTERIS) And then some. A product of the A320-X complexity is orders of magnitude more difficult to produce than anything that does not have the word "Airbus" on it. The easier it is for the pilot to fly and control, the more protections an aircraft provides for safety, the more complex it becomes to program as there are several layers of variability that come into play that need to be coded into the computer simulation. While I have lots of respect for our competitors, I'd like to point out that it's not a coincidence no other company has ever successfully produced a full A320 simulation before - one came close but they eventually went out of business because of its complexity. It took us six long years to be able to not only code all the intricately interconnected systems of the aircraft but also do so in a way that wouldn't make the average simmer computer come crawling to its knees. Very advanced programming techniques have been developed that take full advantage of multi-threading systems operations so that all available processing power is used, despite an underlying simulator platform that was inherently single-threaded in its design and is definitely showing its aging problems.
9. Now that the A320 is completed, will there be a long wait to enjoy other variants of the A320 family such as the A319 and A321? Also, will there be any expansions that add more airline specific options to the A320 such as the Sat-Dome, and Sharklets?
-(LEFTERIS) I have a more detailed road map laid out for our customers in our FSLabs Support forums (http://forums.flightsimlabs.com), but in a nutshell, we're looking at the following milestones in general:
- General Release of the A320-X for FSX (done)
- General Release of the A320-X for P3D (same complexity level and details as FSX)
- Updates for the A320-X to allow some secondary missing items to be included (SEC FPLN, etc)
- Release of other variants (A319 / A321 / A318)
- Release of sharklet variants
- Release of Professional version of A320-X for P3D (different target market as it will be a training environment complete with instructor stations etc)
The latter three releases are not necessarily going to happen "in series" as they can be developed in parallel and are already in different stages of completion.
10. With regard to your target user, would you say that the A320X is a product for everyone or is it mostly targeted at advanced simulator enthusiast and persons with real world experience?
-(LEFTERIS) We think that the A320-X is a product for everyone who loves having total immersion in an advanced aircraft such as the Airbus family provide. While it's not an aircraft that a virtual pilot would sit in, turn the key and go flying in five minutes, we're very confident that as long as the simmer reads the tutorial flight documentation and follows the appropriate steps in it, they will easily start to understand what it really feels to fly like a professional. At the same time, our A320-X provides so much detail that professionals globally are already offering accolades on how the handling of a desktop simulated aircraft feels exactly like its real world counterpart - so much so that some of them are already using it to prepare for their Class D Sim sessions.
11. Judging from the reacts thus far, it seems like the FS community is extremely pleased with the FSL A320. Many are very curious as to whether FSLabs will continue to develop more Airbus aircraft such as the A330, A340 or even an A380. It is obvious that such plans cannot be discussed openly at this point, but is there anything you can share on the future of FSLabs and what we can expect as far as future releases are concerned?
-(LEFTERIS) As long as our customers are happy with our work, we'll continue offering new and more exciting products for the simulation market. We are already aware there are different simulation platforms being developed that will be 64-bit and take advantage of modern technologies, so all we can say is: The sky is the limit!
12. Finally, are there any thoughts you would like to share with the FS community about the A320 that may be overlooked or any thoughts on the type of support potential customers can expect to receive?
-(LEFTERIS) You'll catch me repeating this time and again in our support forums: We at FSLabs are not after a sale and the income it provides. First and foremost, we are simmers ourselves. As such, we want to be able to get as much enjoyment from flying our products as we get from developing them, so support of our customers is of paramount importance in our minds. In fact, those few of our customers who had some teething problems with the A320-X in its early adopter stage were amazed by the swift and immediate help they received, most of the time to fix issues that were not even our products' fault.
Our support staff is working 24/7 to provide help - they go above and beyond, not refusing help even when customers have issues with their Windows installations or have misbehaving simulator platforms (especially when FSX legacy was mixed with the FSX Steam editions etc).
People keep asking me: How do you have time to run remote sessions on our computers when you have a company to run? My answer is simple: You are what makes our company run, so making sure you're happy is exactly what I need to ensure our company runs well. The biggest mistake I could make would be to step on a pedestal and pretend I am too important to help anyone, or belittle people with my comments. Our customers need to know we're all exactly like them... we love simming and we'll do everything we can to allow our hobby to grow.
We certainly would like to thank Lefteris for his insight into the A320-X and FSLabs. Where many have tried and failed, FSLabs has kept up the momentum throughout the past 6 years to develop a product that is the true definition of a “game changer”. For those of you who are moved by visuals rather than text, here is a video preview of the A320-X that nicely introduces this complex aircraft to the sim community.
After reviewing many aircraft add-ons over the years, at times I would forgo discussing the installation process since it has become a relatively simple process. While the FSL A320-X has an easy to follow installation, it is far from what we have come to know. The installation files come in two parts. One is labelled Resources and the other is labeled Binary. At first it was a bit puzzling seeing two installation files but later the wisdom of this was made clear since it allows updates to be made without always having to fully reinstall the product. For information on the proper installation procedures, please see this forum post HERE.
After the product is installed, it is recommended that you read through the manuals that are provided. Unlike previous Concorde-X release (which is also an outstanding product), the manuals that accompany the A320-X are somewhat simplified and they center around a flight tutorial, setup and flying procedures. The manuals are very comprehensive and by reading them in advance, you will eliminate any chance of mishaps on your first flight. If I had to pick the document that I consulted the most, it would have to be the Normal Procedures manual which perfectly outlines the way in which the A320 is to be operated. If you consider yourself to be an avid Airbus virtual pilot, this manual will be useful in correcting some of the incorrect procedures we may have picked up along the way. It not only explains which procedures are to be followed, but it also explains why. Given the complexity of the product, knowing the why aspect of flying the A320 is crucial if you wish to avoid faults or failures of any nature. As a supplement to these manuals, I would also encourage users to frequently visit the FSLabs forum where many interesting topics on the A320 are discussed by avid users, the developers and real A320 pilots.
Another process that we may easily take for granted is the selection and loading of the aircraft after starting up FSX. Once again, due to the complexity of this product, there are very specific instructions that are recommended for loading the aircraft correctly. For details on the recommended step to load the A320-X in FSX/FSX SE, please click HERE.
Once this is completed, it’s now time to have our first look at the aircraft.
Normally I would start off an aircraft review by focusing on the interior details, but this time we’ll be taking a look at the exterior of the aircraft by means of an aircraft walkaround. The Normal Procedures manual included with this product has a detailed explanation on the exterior walkaround inspection and we will be following this document as our guide to getting familiar with this aircraft. As we move around the aircraft to inspect items such as the AOA probes, Static Ports, inlet valves, Nose gear assembly and engine blades to name a few, it becomes quickly apparent that FSLabs has spent a significant amount of time ensuring that the exterior model was very detailed. Some of the features I especially enjoyed were the engine blade animation as it slowly spun with the influence of the surface winds. This animation was so detailed that the direction of the spinning blades were dependent on the direction of the wind! Another fascinating feature of the exterior model is that areas such as the landing gear bay, flap hinges and even the dual navigation lights were modeled or textured to an exceptional level of detail that many aircraft developers shy away from. Finally, an impressive feat that FSLabs was able to achieve is to allow users to actually read some of the small writings on the fuselage and engine. Why is this so significant? Well in the past when using most aircraft add-ons, detail was given to the most observable aspects of the exterior and the more you zoom in on areas such as the static ports or the engine panels that have text, they quickly become blurry and undiscernible. As you will see with some of the screenshots below, the FSL A320’s exterior textures are very high in quality and no matter how much you zoom into specific areas, the text never becomes blurry and they are clearly readable. Here are a few screenshots that nicely showcases the stunning exterior of this aircraft.
Clear text on the fuselage
As we get into the cockpit of the A320, it’s clear to see that a significant amount of research went into the modeling of this cockpit. While there will always be differing opinions on which Airbus product has the best looking cockpit, it is my opinion that FSLabs did a fantastic job in the modeling and texturing of the virtual cockpit. While I’ve never personally sat in the cockpit of an A320, I’ve seen sufficient photos and videos to indicate that the accuracy of the cockpit was spot on with the windows and panels all being perfectly proportioned. Buttons, switches and knobs have all been modeled with no “dummy” switches than turn on and off without actually performing a function on the aircraft. In fact, the only part of this aircraft that doesn’t have a modeled switch or knob is the circuit breaker panel (for now at least...) This isn’t to say however that the systems do not support having working circuit breakers but we will find out more on this later…
As we continue to move around the virtual cockpit, we can see that in addition to the accurate layout, we also have a host of animations which include the storable tables for both pilots, moving tiller, rudder pedals (rudder and brakes) adjustable seats, sun shades and side windows that can be opened. The cockpit displays are very clear and the information that is displayed is easy to read. As far as lighting is concerned, the lighting switches all work and this allows the user to fully control the level of lighting they wish to have in the cockpit. With the aid of the Spotlights program from FSL, the lighting detail is taken to another level with a very realistic 3D lighting effect for the flood lights. If you wish to fully benefit from the superb lighting of the FSL A320, the Spotlight program is a must have.
I mentioned previously that the textures in the virtual cockpit were outstanding. While everyone may not agree on this topic, I can honestly say that the individual charged with the responsibility of adding textures to the cockpit deserves high commendation. Replicating the look of an airbus cockpit isn’t a very easy task since many can’t seem to agree on the exact color. The textures used in the virtual cockpit seems to be a blend of both real and custom textures, but the end result is a cockpit that presents itself as being authentic. An added touch that I also took note of was the way lighting effects had an impact of the textures. The simple task of increasing the brightness of the displays would also result in a slight reflection on the underside of the glareshield. Another plus is that the cockpit textures come in various levels of detail. One can choose to have standard textures or have textures as high as 4096 for the best possible visual experience. For those of you using DX10, you will also enjoy the stunning cockpit shadows that add another element of realism to this product.
On a final note, many users often voice their preference for 2D panels vs the VC only option we have grown used to. If you prefer 2D panels, you will be happy to know that this option is also available during the installation process. The 2D panels that accompany this product are all high quality and the display clarity is outstanding. To sum things up, FSLabs has done an outstanding job with the interior of this aircraft and I can guarantee that you will be impressed. Here are a few screenshots for your viewing pleasure.
Before we jump into the flight report, there are a few things we need to clear up. It has become our habit at times to associate the way an aircraft should work with the way previous aircraft add-ons have always worked. While in some cases this is somewhat true for Boeing aircraft, the A320 is a whole new animal that deserves a fresh perspective. If you are a simulator enthusiast who is familiar with add-ons that simulate the 737, 777 or 747, it might be easy to assume that the A320 will be a walk in the park or perhaps too easy to fly due to its automation. However, this perspective is largely due to previous Airbus add-ons that have overly simplified the design of the systems of the A320. As you would have noted from our interview with the developers of the A320-X, this aircraft sets a new standard when it comes to accurate systems and it also has a host of new features never seen in the Flight Simulation world. For example, let’s have a brief look at just three (3) outstanding features of this aircraft and then we will hop into the flight deck for a test flight.
The Fly-By-Wire (FBW) system of the A320 was undoubtedly a significant step forward in aircraft design. In the past, muscle power was the only requirement needed for moving the control surfaces of an aircraft. As aircraft grew larger, sheer human strength was no longer enough to effectively control an aircraft. As a result, solutions such as wheels and pulleys, electrical servos and hydraulically powered control surfaces came into existence. While these solutions worked well, they still required numerous mechanical linkages and ultimately added more weight to the aircraft. It also resulted in more maintenance cost which airlines are always eager to reduce. With the introduction of the A320 however, these mechanical linkages were replaced by electrical wiring and the need for large control columns were no longer necessary. While older airbus models had the typical flight yoke (A300 B2), the A320 featured a side stick which many Airbus pilots favor in comparison to the traditional control column.
With the A320 introducing commercial aviation to FBW technology, many have misunderstood how advantageous such a design would be to the industry. Far from disconnecting the pilot from the aircraft, the FBW system provides the pilot with full control of the aircraft while adding safety features or protection laws that enhance safety. The Electronic Flight Control System (Which basically makes up the FBW system) is made up of various modes or laws. For example, we have Normal Law, Alternate Law, Direct Law and Mechanical Backup. How do these Laws work? Let’s have a closer look at how they work and why they are important. Before we begin, let me first of all say that I am not an A320 pilot and the information I am about to present is purely based on my research.
As a starting point, Normal Law can simply be described as a mode that provides protection against Stalls, Excessive load factors, High Speed etc. Its operation is dependent on your phase of flight and it will command various functions while either in Ground Mode, Flight Mode or Flare Mode. In the event of multiple failures of the redundant systems, Normal Law will degrade to Alternate Law. While Alternate Law offers the same level protection in Ground Mode as Normal Law, this is where the similarities end. Under Alternate Law, the protections offered while in Flight Mode are far less than what is offered in Normal Law. For example, the Alpha Floor function, turn coordination, automatic pitch trim and yaw damping are all either limited or completely lost. Contrary to those who believe that an A320 cannot stall, while in Alternate Law, the aircraft can indeed be stalled due to the low speed stability function that replaces the normal AOA protection.
Direct Law is the lowest level of computer flight control and it offers little to no flight control protections. Direct Law is typically active if the aircraft experiences multiple failures and the aircraft basically flies like a conventional aircraft with the pilot having a more hands-on direct relationship between the side stick and the control surfaces. If the flight controls degrade to Alternate Law, Direct Law automatically becomes active when the landing gear is extended and if no autopilot is engaged. Finally, if there is a complete loss of electrical flight control signals the system degrades to Mechanical backup. The Mechanical backup basically means that pitch is controlled by using the manual trip wheel and lateral control is maintained by using the rudder pedals which both require hydraulic power.
By now, if you haven’t been bored to death with these technical details, you would have realized that there is much more to an A320 than we once thought. The FBW system is a superb marvel of engineering and knowing how it functions is essential to correctly operating the aircraft under both normal and abnormal situations. While it’s nice to know a little about the real aircraft, how does the FSL A320 match up?
Here is an excerpt from a post made by the developer on the EFCS that may answer this question.
“The Electronic Flight Control System (EFCS) has been modeled in its entirety (Normal Law, Alternate Law, Direct Law and Mechanical Backup), and we’ve carried out extensive testing to ensure that it's modeled to within a very narrow margin of the real thing, using data collected from the real aircraft to fine tune every characteristic. From the calculated speeds computed by the Flight Augmentation Computer, to the C* (C Star) law that uses various algorithms with pitch rate and g load depending on the speed of the aircraft. By taking areas of the default flight model away from FSX and tailoring the simulation characteristics to meet our requirements, we’ve been able to design and implement complex control loops that simulate with accuracy, the fly-by-wire system found on the A320.”
Here we see that the FSL A320’s FBW system is a near perfect replica of the real aircraft in the operation of its EFCS and this basically means that FSX and P3D users will indeed have their hands full when flying this aircraft.
ELECTRICAL AND FUEL SYSTEM
The Electrical System can easily be described as the life blood of the A320. How was it designed in the A320-X? Well in the past, most developers gave little attention to the electrical system other than following the concept of “this button turns on this feature and this switch turns of this light.” With the A320-X, the developers took a completely different approach that resulted in the most immersive experience when using the aircraft. In contrast to the previously mentioned coding where a switch simply commands a light, message or animation, the developers took the time to virtually model nearly each component of this aircrafts electrical system. The end result is that each component communicates with each other in order to achieve a simulation that is highly accurate.
The A320-X has about 60,000 electrical connections for components with relays, switches and servos included. To add the icing on the cake so to speak, the communication between all electrical components are via ARINC 429 protocol variables. ARINC 429 is a data transfer standard for aircraft avionics and for the first time this is also included in the A320-X. What does this mean? Well in theory it means that you can connect hardware components to the A320-X and it will work correctly. This feature isn’t offered in the Entertainment version of the A320 but stay tuned for further news on this feature. It’s hard to imagine that the coders were able to pack so much in to this product, but at least we can understand why this aircraft took some 6 years to complete. From what we’ve seen thus far, this aircraft is as close to the real aircraft as can be not just from a visual perspective, but also with respect to the components and electrical connections that allow the aircraft to function.
Finally, let’s have a quick look at the Fuel System. I’m sure many of you may be wondering “what’s so exceptional about the fuel system?”In the past and perhaps even currently, some developers have already simulated very complex fuel systems for aircraft such as the 737, 747 and FSLabs has also done so with the Concorde X. What makes the A320-X exceptional? Here is an excerpt from a post made by Andrew Wilson on the fuel system.
(AW) I've mentioned before that we've designed a fluid dynamics simulation to model aircraft fuel, bleed air and hydraulics - it is actually adapted from a similar model we use to simulate electric current throughout the aircraft. This system allows us to simulate, for example, an accurate model of fuel pressure and temperature propagation through the aircraft.
What we're also doing is simulating our fuel tanks in 3 dimensions. Most aircraft products for MSFS only simulate a fuel tank using the default coordinate system that FSX provides. Our fuel tanks on the A320-X are more than just a point in space, we actually calculate where the fuel is inside the tank - how it reacts to pitch, roll and acceleration.
Why have we done this? Well - the A320 fuel system comprises of around 30 fuel sensors (all of which are modeled), and their resistance is measured by the Fuel Level Sensing Control Units. From this resistance the FLSCUs can deduce if the sensor is wet or dry and through a series of logic gates, controls various valves in the fuel system. Such valves include the wing tank transfer valves that latch open to allow the transfer of fuel from the outer wing tanks, to the inner wing tanks where the main fuel pumps feed the engines. The logic gates in the FLSCUs command the transfer valves to open if any one of the inner wing tank low level sensors becomes dry.
Now here's where it gets interesting and where our 3D fuel tanks come into play: two of the fuel low level sensors are situated on the rear spar of the wing inside the inner wing tank. If the aircraft pitches down, for example at top of descent and the fuel level in the inner wing tank is within a few hundred kilos of the low level, there is a good chance that the sensors on the rear spar will become dry and the FLSCUs will command the wing transfer valves to latch open early.
This isn't documented in the FCOM or AMM; but it occurs quite often on the real aircraft. And because we have modeled the Flight Sim Labs A320-X in such intricate detail, you can expect to see the same thing happen in our simulation.
With simulated sensors, 3D fuel tanks and simulated fluid dynamics it’s clear to see that the A320-X is in a class of its own that includes features only an avid flight simulator enthusiast would truly appreciate.
Now that we’ve gotten some of the technical subjects out of the way and have dismissed the “boring Airbus” mentality, let’s move on to the Test Flight segment of our review. In the following segment we will see how many of these features work and learn more about why this product is truly ground breaking.
For the purpose of this test flight, I chose to fly a series of flights using both variants of the A320 while flying to airports such as KSAN, KSNA, KDEN, KMEM and EGLL. Each flight followed the same procedures that are typical of a commercial flight and it nicely showcases the performance of the aircraft through a wide range of airports and interesting approach procedures. Here are some of my personal highlights from each phase of flight.
LOADING AND SETUP
When loading up the A320, it’s important to follow the recommended steps of loading a default aircraft like the Trike and completely shutting down the aircraft. The A320 is a very complex add-on and loading the aircraft after using other add-ons can cause issues. When the aircraftis fully loaded, it will be in a cold and dark condition and it is now up to you to follow the checklist for the first flight of the day checks and to watch how the aircraft comes to life.
During the power up process, the first signs of how accurately the systems of the aircraft were programmed are very apparent. The manner in which the displays loaded matched the loading sequence of the real aircraft with a high level of accuracy. This remarkable level of detail in the powering up of the aircraft was a good indication of things to come. While on the topic of powering up the aircraft, with many other add-ons it is common to sit in the virtual cockpit and hear the startup of the APU. However, with the real A320, the APU startup is not heard in the cockpit in real life and the same is true of the A320-X. Does this mean that there is no APU sound? Not at all, in fact, if you were to change your view to the exterior aircraft view or pan your view to the rear of the aircraft, you will distinctly here the start-up of the APU. While I would love to discuss more about the sound aspect of this aircraft, this deserves a section of its own and we will discuss more on this topic later.
In the meanwhile, let’s have a look at some of the MCDU functions as we setup our controls and loading our flight data.
As mentioned in the documentation section of our review, this product comes with a manual on how to correctly setup your controls to have the most immersive and realistic experience. The most important features of this aircraft that should be correctly setup are the side stick, throttle and new Tiller feature. By using the control options in the MCDU, you will be able to correctly configure your throttle range for the manual and detent range of the throttle system. In addition to this, there are a few recommended settings to be implemented to ensure that your flight control responds in a similar manner to the real A320. The new Tiller feature allows users to have a realistic taxi experience by using a separate control axis that can be configured via FSUIPC or through the MCDU. To find out more on how the NWS is setup, I encourage you to read the manuals thoroughly since your hardware will determine which setup is best for you.
For those of you who are wondering if you can still use your keyboard to control the throttles and rudder pedals, the answer is yes, but as with all things on this aircraft, the keyboard functions have been modified. For example, if you want to control your throttles, it’s important to note that the familiar manner in which we use the F1-F4 keys have been adjusted. The F1 and F4 key is used to move the thrust levers from one detent to the next, while the F2 and F3 keys are used to move the thrust levers between the detents in a smooth manner. These features were an impressive addition that takes into consideration the varying hardware that FSX users may or may not have. Ultimately, it ensures that everyone has an enjoyable experience while using this product.
In addition to the control configuration features, the MCDU also has options to adjust units of measurements, fuel, payload, ADIRUS alignment time, arm failures and select whether you are flying from the Captain’s seat or the F.O’s seat. While there are many other options, out of all these features the one I was most puzzled by was the Seat Selection feature. However my moment of bewilderment was short lived after realizing that this was actually a brilliant idea. In the A320, the pilot flying (PF) has what’s called control authority. This means that whenever the PF moves his sidestick, the sidestick for the PNF remains neutral. By having a seat selection option, users can decide whether they wish to fly as the Captain or First Officer and the corresponding sidestick will be animated. It’s important to note that this feature doesn’t change your viewpoint in the VC and it is purely an option to more or less select which side has control authority. With most of the unconventional features of the MCDU covered, another interesting aspect of the MCDU we will discuss is the flightplan loading.
For loading your flightplan, many of us make use of the popular PFPX program (or similar) which plans and exports our flightplan directly to the aircraft if your add-on supports it. If you use PFPX, you will be happy to know that FSLabs has also provided aircraft profiles for the IAE and CFM A320 models via their forums. By using these profiles, it will improve the overall accuracy of your flight planning while using PFPX. While PFPX has become an essential tool for flight sim enthusiasts, its only drawback is keeping up to date with new add-ons and providing flightplan export capabilities. What FSLabs has done in this case, was perhaps the most innovative idea to ensure flightplan exporting is available from day one. After the flightplan has been released, the print function is used to export the flightplan directly to the left of right MCDU. What about other details such as fuel and payload? Well the MCDU can also be used to adjust these variables along with an addition application for realistic fuel loading. The fuel application is an external program that can be loaded on your PC or Tablet and be used to load fuel just as in the real world with a real world fuel panel interface. A similar application is also available for the MCDU and these are features you will find very impressive.
After the passengers, cargo and fuel are loaded the remainder of our MCDU setup most involves entering and confirming our performance and all other necessary data for our flight. The level of detail seen in the MCDU is quite remarkable and it is a step up from what we’ve grown used to seeing with previous Airbus add-ons that offer limited capabilities. In addition to the advanced features, a simple but important feature is that the MCDU actually has the correct fonts and the displays themselves are very easy to read from the VC and 2D panel. Having the correct fonts and LCD display has long been an area where many developers take shortcuts. In this case, FSLabs has proven that their aim is to achieve an all-around high quality product. After setting up the MCDU, it’s now time for us to bring this aircraft to life by starting the engines.
ENGINE START AND TAXI
The engine start up procedure of the A320 is a relatively easy process given the fact that it’s automated. But before the engine startup, we obviously have to push-back the aircraft from the gate. How is this handled? Well if you are a user of GSX, you will be happy to know that the A320-X is fully compatible. If you don’t use GSX, you can always use the default “Shift+P” command to push-back the aircraft from the gate. During the pushback process, a virtual pilot has much more to consider before commencing the engine startup process. For example, are the throttle levers at IDLE? Which engine should you start first, ENG 1 or ENG 2? If you are at a high altitude airport, will you have to use the manual start if there isn’t enough starter inlet pressure?
Here we can see that knowing how the systems of this aircraft work is crucial to having a successful engine start. Since ENG 2 powers the yellow hydraulic system which is linked to the Parking Brake, it is recommended that you start engine 2 first so that you will have adequate hydraulic pressure to apply your parking brake. With the IAE model this may be especially beneficial since the engines take much longer to start up in comparison to the CFM model. Another interesting aspect of this process is that if the second engine is started within 40 seconds following the end of the cargo door operation, a PTU fault may be triggered. These quirks are all characteristics of the real A320 and they have all been programmed into the A320-X.
What about the PTU or Barking Dog? For those of you who are not familiar with the PTU, it is known as the Power Transfer Unit. It basically allows the yellow system to pressurize the green system and vice versa. In the real A320, the PTU cannot be heard from the cockpit, but in the A320-X, if you change your view to the cabin of the aircraft, the PTU can be heard during the startup process.
When it comes to taxiing the aircraft, the A320-X has two very unique features/capabilities. The first of these features that I would like to highlight is the Tiller control that allows the user to control the nose wheel steering of the aircraft with a separate control axis. If you use a joystick that has a Z axis, it is suggested that this axis can be used to control the Tiller. The Tiller simulation was smooth and it made taxiing the aircraft a pleasurable and realistic experience. Another aspect of the taxi simulation is that ground friction issues are now nonexistent. We are all well aware of the issues with FSX where it required large amounts of thrust to get the aircraft moving and sometimes to keep it moving. With the A320-X, little to power is needed to get the aircraft moving and the braking simulation is perhaps one of the most realistic of any add-on (we will discuss more on this in our landing segment of this review).
The second feature that was perfectly executed is the ability to do a single engine taxi. For some airlines it may be practical to do a single engine taxi in order to save fuel and if you truly want to fly by the books so to speak, you can rest assured that this feature works perfectly with asymmetric thrust being an insignificant factor in remaining on the centerline. Speaking of the centerline, let’s line up on the runway to discuss some of the highlights of the A320-X during the takeoff through cruise phase.
After years of using FSX, it may become all too easy to treat all aircraft the same when it comes to the takeoff portion of your flight. After lining up on the runway, we apply full throttle, engage AT and pull back on the yoke when we get to VR. The default FSX and some add-ons aircraft have overly simplified this phase of flight and have also molded us into the habit of paying little attention to what is happening with our aircraft instruments. The A320-X is an aircraft that is very detailed and it requires ones full attention just as in real life. What are some of the things a virtual pilot will have to keep in mind during the departure? Well first of all, are you at a high altitude airport? Will you need to use the anti-ice system? Are you planning to takeoff with the APU on? What indications should you monitor on the PFD during the takeoff run and why? The fact that we have to consider all of these factors was a significant highlight of this aircraft and I personally enjoyed the fact that it forces you to be a more focused virtual pilot.
As an example, one of my many flights with the A320-X featured a high altitude operation out of KDEN. In addition to operating out of a high altitude airport, the aircraft was also fully loaded for a flight to KSAN. This meant that in order to achieve the best takeoff performance, I would have to give consideration to doing a PACKS off departure in addition to whether I would use TOGA or FLEX thrust. Also, if passenger comfort was a concern I would also have to give consideration to using the APU to provide air conditioning. Under these circumstances, if there were also factors such as Icing, it would be essential to be aware of the fact that using the APU is prohibited when the wing anti-ice is used.
Why are we focused on all of these details? Ultimately, the detail of this aircraft is one where all of these factors WILL affect your takeoff performance. After applying TOGA thrust and accelerating down the runway, some of the things a virtual pilot has to monitor are the FMA indications such as MAN FLEX, MAN TOGA and SRS. Why are these indications important? Well this will confirm that the systems are functioning correctly and that the thrust settings are correct. The SRS (Speed Reference System) indication basically manages your speed by changing pitch commands during takeoff and GA. We won’t go into too much detail on this system but it is essential to know that since it provides attitude and vertical path protection, it is a system you will want to ensure is active during the takeoff phase of your flight.
During the Climb phase, Airbus aircraft differ from Boeing in that you are required to manually move the thrust levers to the CLB detent when the aircraft reaches its thrust reduction altitude. At this point, if you’ve decided to depart with PACKS off, this is the recommended time to engage PACK 1. If packs are turned on before thrust reduction, it will result in an EGT increase and ultimately it will put more wear and tear on your engines. Interestingly, it is after the flaps are retracted that PACK 2 is turned on but with passenger comfort in mind, you may want to do this as soon as is practical. Initially I thought that the operation of the packs was an insignificant aspect of operating the aircraft and that all I needed to remember was to either turn them on or off. However, according to one of the developers, the PACKS were fully simulated. What does this mean? Well it means that the Air Cycle Machine, Condenser, Reheater, Fan Plenum, Primary Heat Exchanger, Main Heat Exchanger and Water Extractor were all simulated! This means that the effects of using or not using this system correctly will have a definite effect on your aircraft and the ECAM cautions that may be triggered.
So far we’ve seen that there is much more involved during the takeoff phase than we once though. Far from being a “set it and forget it” type aircraft; the A320-X is an aircraft that requires constant monitoring by the pilot during the takeoff. While on the topic of Takeoff, it would be remiss if we did not discuss the handling of the aircraft while on the ground and hand flying. Although it is strongly recommended that you have separate rudder controls, the A320-X can also be easily controlled using the keyboard rudder commands if necessary. While accelerating down the runway, the aircraft requires rudder inputs to remain on the centerline and in my experience the controls were very smooth and effective even with strong crosswinds. After a positive rate of climb is confirmed, this is where the fun really begins. As noted earlier, the FBW system of this aircraft took some 2 years to fine tune and this has resulted in a flying experience that is unlike any other. From my own experience using a Saitek ST-90, I found that the hand flying characteristics of this aircraft were perhaps the best I have experienced yet. The aircraft reacts smoothly to inputs while maintaining FBW protections and the thrill of flying this aircraft by hand will undoubtedly leave a smile on your face.
As a final word on the topic of handling, some may wonder whether the handling of the aircraft will be affected by the type of controller you have. Early in the development of this product I asked this very question on the FSL forums and the response from the developers hinted that the design of the FBW system would ensure an authentic flying experience that is as close to the real aircraft as possible regardless of your controller. Obviously, using your keyboard to fly this aircraft may not yield the best results but it is highly recommended that you use a joystick. If you are wondering which joystick is best suited or as close to the real thing in terms of overall feel, there are numerous discussions on this topic over at the FSL forums. There is so much more we can discuss on just the takeoff and climb aspects of this aircraft that are truly remarkable, but I will try to leave some of these surprises for you to discover on your own.
During the cruise phase of any flight, it is general a time where pilots have a reduced workload and it may even allow them the opportunity to chat about varying topics. In this case, the cruise phase of flying within FSX will offer us the opportunity to explore and discuss some of the systems and features of the A320-X.
You would have noticed that throughout this review there isn’t an official features listing and this is largely due to the fact that there are just too many features to have an official list. The design of this aircraft all started from the very components and electrical connections of each system and it has resulted in a dynamic simulation that reacts to pilot operation and the environment. Over the past month or so, I have personally seen just how dynamic this aircraft can be after experiencing pressurization issues, fuel issues and an APU fault. With an ever curious mind I was puzzled as to why these issues occurred since I followed the checklist to the best of my ability. However, after having a chat with Lefteris about these failures, I was told that there are certain failures that are either a result of user misconfiguration, user "trigger-happiness" (not waiting enough time between actions as per real world), or real-time weather conditions. There are also some failures that are service-based, in that they can happen as infrequently as they appear in the real world (hydraulic reservoir leaks, etc.).
Given the fact that we are dealing with an aircraft that seems to have no limits as far as systems depth is concerned, it was quite difficult to single out features to be highlighted. However, if I had to choose my personal top 4 features, I would begin with the Sound Package that comes with the A320-X.
Earlier in our flight test report I alluded to a few systems such as the APU startup and PTU which offered sounds that can only be heard based on your position. This feature was especially intriguing to me as I had grown used to hearing everything from the cockpit of nearly all aircraft add-ons. How was FSL able to achieve this new 3D sound package? Here’s what Lefteris had to say:
“We have implemented an all-new three-dimensional sound system which allows us to play sounds that can be "located" at the sound source itself. For example, the PTU sound (the very characteristic "dog bark" that is such a trademark of the A320) is "located" in the underbelly of the aircraft, so moving the camera towards / or away from the PTU will actually increase or reduce the loudness of the PTU bark volume. Same is true with all our sounds - external and internal. This sound engine is not dependent on FSX itself so the same feature will be applicable on the P3D release as well.”
This feature is indeed a step in the right direction that all developers should consider. For far too long, the sound packages that come with various add-ons have lacked realism in this regard and after using the FSL A320, it would be very difficult for users to accept anything less. Apart from the 3D sound feature, it also goes without saying that the sound package for the CFM and IAE versions are both very unique and realistic from an interior and exterior perspective at all thrust levels. With regard to the avionics and bleed air system, as you power up the aircraft you can actually hear the various systems come alive. This immersion of sound also includes the change in electrical hum as power is changed from ground power to APU power! On a final note, the high definition sound package also covers wind noise, switches, buttons and all animations within the virtual cockpit. For anyone who is critical of sound, this aircraft will surely impress you.
The second feature I particularly liked may seem insignificant, but I find it equally important as a good sound package. The Effects and Lighting of the A320-X are thorough and absolutely outstanding. The virtual cockpit offers individual lighting controls that cover the integral and flood lighting. While the integral lighting was fairly standard, the flood lighting was unique in that it made use of the FSL Spotlights add-on that creates the most realistic 3D lighting available for FSX/P3D. Without this program the flood light feature will not be available, but thankfully FSL Spotlights is free to anyone using FSLab aircraft so there is no reason to worry about any extra cost. Exterior lighting is also an important feature for any aircraft add-on. After flying numerous night flights I was extremely impressed with the high quality programming that went into the landing and taxi lights. These effects were very realistic in appearance and operation while accurately illuminating the fuselage of the aircraft. As an addition point, in the past I once thought that the 2 positions of the NAV/LOGO switch on the overhead panel controlled the navigation lights and logo lights separately. After doing some research, I soon realized that this switch actually controls both lights in both positions. Selection 1 or 2 simply utilizes a pair of redundant navigation lights in the event that one isn’t working. The logo light is always on and is automatically turned off when very specific conditions are met such as when the flaps are up or when the landing gear isn’t compressed. Again, this level of detail has been nicely included in the A320-X and it will truly enhance your night time flying experience.
The Effects that come with the A320-X is another outstanding feature of this aircraft. For those of you familiar with developers such as FSFX, you may be familiar with their immersion products that add various effects such as wing condensation, water spray effects and more to specific add-ons. While such a package isn’t available for the A320-X, FSLabs has included a few amazing effect of their own. Included with this aircraft are APU hot air effects, engine hot air exhaust and water spray from the thrust generated by the engines on wet runways! These effects might mean very little to some users, but to avid simmers these effects are the icing on the cake as far as features are concerned.
Our third feature to be highlighted is the Terrain and Weather Radar. The ability to show terrain data on navigation displays isn’t an entirely new feature to most advanced add-ons. While I am not a programmer, I can only assume that the approach taken in developing this feature may vary among developers and the level of accuracy may also vary. With regard to the Weather Radar, while this is also a feature that isn’t entirely new, it is a feature that has been the source of controversy among simmers and developers, who have called it’s accuracy into question. What has FSLabs done to ensure that these features are of the highest fidelity? Here’s what Lefteris had to say.
“Both systems were modeled exactly like the real world counterparts. So much so that we recreated the logic found in the filed US Patents that describe the mechanism behind reception, image rendering and representation for each of the drawing mechanisms. The work is done in separate back buffered threads so that it can appear layered within the Nav Display.
For the terrain, we purchased and merged several database sources to allow for various levels of detail (different data exist for 640nm range than for 40nm range, for example, without the need for downsampling like other add-ons, which suffer signal degradation).
For the weather radar, we worked very closely together with HiFi Simulations and are continuing to do so in an effort to constantly improve our rendering mechanism. Especially with Active Sky 2016, your readers will find there are some updates coming which allow precipitation image capturing to be as accurate as in the real world. In our upcoming updates, we're also going to be introducing cloud shadowing, something long desired in the simming world.”
From the above statement, it is clear to see that FSLabs wasn’t “all talk” when they said each component is simulated. As you view the screenshots below, you will see that the quality of the Terrain and Weather Radar are quite remarkable and this is due largely to the high quality data used for each system. The Weather radar makes good use of the technology developed by HiFi Simulations to ensure the most accurate portrayal of precipitation. What is even more exciting is the news that in the future, more features such as cloud shadowing will be added. What is cloud shadowing? Well without getting to deep into a discussion on how weather radar’s work, cloud shadowing basically means that clouds (mostly CB’s or large storms) cause an attenuation (reduced signal strength) that show up on a radar as a shadow. Adding such a detailed feature to the FS platform is an exciting prospect that adds to the realism of your flying experience.
Finally, the fourth outstanding feature of this aircraft is the necessity and ability to “Fly by the Books.” As mentioned previously, this aircraft is very dynamic and given the fact that each component, electrical connection, fluid simulation, sensor simulation and more were programmed, it give you an authentic experience where actions do indeed have consequences. When flying this aircraft, it is important to not just follow steps and procedures, but it is also necessary to do everything at the right time. Turning on or off a particular system too soon can generate faults requiring ECAM actions.
FSLabs has not listed in detail many of the features of this aircraft and the numerous faults and failures that can occur. They’ve basically left it up to us to discover just how deep the systems of this aircraft runs and if you’ve encountered a fault or failure, please know that this isn’t a bug and it may just be that you missed something on the checklist or you were not flying the aircraft correctly. Although we will discuss this in greater detail in the next segment of our review, an example of this is landing too fast and having to use excessive braking. With older add-ons, this never posed a problem and we gave little thought to the consequences of excessive braking. With the A320-X however, excessive braking can result in a “Brakes Hot” ECAM indication. In addition to this, landing on a wet or icy runway has a definite effect on this stopping distance of the aircraft. With the A320-X, all that we once knew about landing an aircraft changes drastically and we now have to thoroughly plan ahead just as a real world pilot would. On this topic, there is much more we can discuss about the intricacies of the A320-X, but it would be much more exciting if you experienced it yourself as I did. Far from being a boring simulation, this aircraft allows you to plan, fly and think like a real world pilot with little compromise for the fact that you are using s desktop simulator. Let’s now have a look at some of the highlights of the A320-X on the descent and landing phase of flight.
In the real world it is generally recommended that the descent preparation and approach briefing should being 80nm before T/D. This is mostly due to the fact that variable factors such as weather can easily cause a briefing to take as much as 10 mins. Within a 10 min time period one would be quite surprised at just how much distance can be covered so this recommendation is a good habit to enforce. With the A320-X, the descent planning is a very involved process that requires a virtual pilot to check landing elevation, performance, weather and entering the necessary information on the PERF APPR page which is unique to Airbus aircraft. Is that all? Well with previous Airbus add-ons this was pretty much all that was required in addition to simply monitoring the aircraft. If we needed to slow down quickly, all that was necessary is the application of your speedbrakes and we gave little though to any other factors in doing so.
With the A320-X however, much more is now involved and it requires intimate knowledge of the aircraft to properly manage the descent. For example, are you landing in icing conditions? If so, it’s important to know that if the engine anti ice is selected, the flight idle is increased. This increase might make it a challenge to maintain your required rate of descent and the use of speedbrakes may be necessary. But how should the speedbrakes be used? If you are in DES mode it is recommended to use up to half of your speedbrakes while use of full speedbrakes may be used if you are in OPEN DES mode. For more details on this, here’s what the Manuals had to say:
In DES mode: If the aircraft is on, or below, the flight path and the ATC requires a higher rate
of descent, do not use speedbrakes because the rate of descent is dictated by the planned
Thus, the A/THR may increase thrust to compensate for the increase in drag. In this case, use
OPEN DES with speedbrakes.
1. If speedbrakes are used above 315 kt/M .75, with the AP engaged, their rate of retraction is
low (total time for retraction from full extension is approximately 25 s). The ECAM memo page
displays SPD BRAKES in amber until retraction is complete.
2. In order to avoid overshooting the altitude, due to speedbrake retraction in ALT* mode,
retract the speedbrakes at least 2 000 ft before the selected altitude.
Here we see that what we once thought was a simple process, now requires more forethought on the part of the pilot. The overly simplified procedures we once grew used to have no been replaced with an authentic experience that matches the real world performance of the A320. While it took some time to get used to a new way of thinking, being able to properly manage the descent was a definite highlight of this aircraft and one that I think you will also be impressed with.
For the landing, my personal highlight of this aircraft was the smooth flight controls during the approach and landing. Over the past 10 years, I have had the opportunity to fly many Airbus add-ons both freeware and payware. Many have boasted of having a realistic FBW system and superior handling. With the FSLabs A320, I can honestly say that I’ve never flown an aircraft that handles so smoothly. As an added bonus, on a windy day, one can actually feel the turbulence while on approach while hearing the subtle shaking of panels in the cockpit. Such an immersive experience is a first for me personally and I think many developers will have a hard time matching this level of realism.
As the aircraft transitions from approach to flare mode, another interesting highlight of this aircraft is the handling characteristics upon landing. If you are fortunate enough to have a greased landing on your first try, don’t smile just yet because you are still far from taming this animal. Previously I mentioned that the braking simulation of this aircraft was very realistic. While your landing may have been spot on, there are numerous factors that can turn the joy of a smooth landing into the nightmare of keeping the aircraft on the runway. If you are landing on a wet or icy runway, you may notice that your braking action will be affected. In addition to this, if you also floated down the runway to get that greased landing, you may also find yourself in a situation where excessive braking may be necessary. The end result of these actions may be the hot brakes or the loss of braking action in the case of a wet runway. The braking system and ground control of this aircraft is outstanding to say the least and I’ve never come across another aircraft that has gone to such lengths to offer this level of realism. Being so impressed with the braking and ground control aspects of the A320-X, I asked the developer for some insider info on how this system was designed. Here is what they had to say:
“The default FSX (and P3D) ground friction logic has been replaced entirely with our own rolling, sliding and braking model which takes into account real-world stop distances for dry, wet and icy conditions. This allows our A320-X braking distances to match the behavior of the real aircraft, not only in terms of braking distance and effectiveness, but also in terms of the entire braking energy system. While several of our competitors take shortcuts on this by applying simplified formulas, we decided to apply a conservative energy model whereby kinetic energy absorbed by the brakes is converted into heat, which is sensed by the heat sinks and modeled using thermal inertia laws, double-checked and tested against real-world observations. As such, thermal equilibration happens with the same observed delays as in the real aircraft.
Same is true for the cooling down process: it is calculated based on heat flow from the brake pads to ambient air, calibrated via cooling tables. Refinements are made so that when gear is retracted, the cooler air captured inside the gear bays has limited volume, thus cooling times are prolonged, compared to when the gear is down, whereby the relative wind chill effect will cool the brake pads in a shorter time frame.”
Once again, the above statement shows that the A320-X is not typical add-on you have grown used to seeing. The level of detail is remarkable and it shows during every stage of flight. Believe it or not, during the landing phase there is much more we can talk about. For example, what happens during a Go-around? Are there any specific procedures for how long the engines should run at idle before shutting them down? To answer all of these questions, you might need to go grab a cup of coffee before we delve into these topics, but for the sake of simplicity, all I will say is that this is a product that will change the way you think about flightsim and it will change what you though could never have been done. Even though this review is a bit lengthy, we have only scratched the surface of how detailed this aircraft truly is. The points mentioned throughout our test flight were my own personal highlights and I am sure if you purchase this product you will agree with most of what has been said.
Let’s conclude this review by talking about performance, pricing and whether this product is suited for you.
To conclude this review, let’s discuss a few points that may obviously be on the minds of prospective buyers. First on the list is PC Performance. Whether an aircraft is a frame rate hog or not is one of the foremost concerns that anyone has when considering a new add-on. While we now have so many advances in PC hardware, we somehow still struggle to have the best experience possible when using FSX or even P3D. Thankfully however, the development team at FSLabs had spent a considerable amount of time fine tuning the performance of this complex aircraft to match and exceed the performance of many add-ons currently available. If you use products such as the NGX or 777 from PMDG, you can expect to see similar performance from the A320-X. As outlined in your interview with Lefteris, it is recommended that users transition to DX10 in order to achieve the best overall performance and visuals for this aircraft. On this note, I can confirm that using DX10 along with the DX10 fixer takes FSX to an entirely new level. If you use DX9 primarily, the performance may be stable, but you do run the risk of having OOM errors depending on your location and add-on scenery.
The next hot topic is the price. If you are interesting in purchasing the FSLabs A320, it will cost you $99.95 USD for the FSX/FSX SE version. When the price of the FSL A320 was first announced there were numerous cries that in effect said “the product is just too expensive.” But is it? Well let’s consider the facts for a moment. From the review we just completed, it was clear to see that this product is quite possibly the most advanced add-on for FSX. For the past six years, this product had been under development with the goal of producing an add-on aircraft that was built to match the systems and performance of the real A320. This product is so advanced that it actually simulated the flow of fuel within its tanks in addition to modeling nearly each electrical component and connection. One has to sit back and ask themselves this question, what would someone have to pay ME to develop a product of this nature for 6 years? Well I am quite sure that your answer may be much higher than $99.95. Realistically, spending nearly $100.00 on any add-on may be a considerable amount depending on your situation. However we also have to consider the true value of what you are purchasing. For the price of $99.95 you are purchasing the best A320 simulation on the market that is even being used by some real world pilots to assist in their simulator preparations. If you stop to consider what this means, this means that real world pilots trust this product as an aid to preparing for their simulator checkrides, the same checkrides that determine whether they keep their jobs. Unlike the temporary value of spending $100.00 on a night out at dinner, you can enjoy the thrill of using the A320-X for years to come. In addition to this you are also purchasing a product that is fully supported by a dedicated team who will go the extra mile for their customers. Ultimately, I think that $99.95 is a very fair price for what you are purchasing and what makes this even better is that the P3D version will only cost you the difference. This means that if you own the FSX version, you can buy the P3D version by paying the difference between the two prices and KEEP both FSX and P3D versions!
Personally I think this is an unbelievable deal that many developers should take into serious consideration. While we understand that P3D is slowly becoming a very different platform from the developer’s perspective, one has to also consider the cost to their customers and be fair with their pricing. If you are a developer and you have a product that works with FSX and P3D, unless the P3D version is rebuild from the ground up, there is hardly any reason to charge full price to those who already purchased an FSX version. This to me was one of the major selling points of why the A320-X is such a reasonably priced product and FSLabs certainly is to be commended for taking this stand in their pricing policy. As an added bonus, the A320-X has some 60 liveries that are provided by FSLabs in their Download Area free of charge. There is also a high quality paint kit that has allowed talented painters to produce even more liveries for your use.
On the matter of whether this product is for you, I think that this is a question that can only be answered based on your expectations and normal FSX use. If you are the type of virtual pilot who simply likes to hop into an aircraft and fly around aimlessly, then this product might be quite a handful as it requires proper planning for each flight. If you are an avid flyer who prides himself (or herself) on completing a realistic flight, then the A320-X may be the perfect solution to your needs. Ultimately, one has to also assess whether they are willing to put in the required time for reading and getting acquainted with this aircraft before they can truly see its value and enjoy using it. For me personally, I have found it difficult to fly anything else besides the A320 and while it isn’t perfect, it certainly provides a new and refreshing experience.
To the developers of the A320, while it is understood that specific aircraft models were used to create the A320-X, my only recommendation on making further improvements would be the addition of a few more airline specific options such as Sat-Domes and Cabin lights that can be turned on and off manually or automatically based on phase of flight. The importance of these features to the user is that it allows them to have a flight experience that is realistic not just from an aircraft systems point of view, but also from an airline point of view. Flying the right aircraft with the right airline options adds another element of realism that we all can appreciate.
As a final note, I think it would be unjust if I didn’t conclude by saying that this product is certainly deserving of AVSIM’s highest award, the AVSIM Gold Star. The A320-X has set a standard that many will find difficult to match and they have certainly silenced the claim that an airbus could not be fully simulated for FSX. With the A320-X being such an amazing product, one can only imagine what the future holds for the flightsim community from this developer as they continue to introduce the flightsim world to more complex Airbus aircraft.
By the way, for those of you who are eagerly anticipating the P3D version of the A320-X, here is a teaser screenshot
A320-X in P3D
I would like to offer a special thanks to the Developers of the FSL A320-X for their detailed explanations of the various systems of this aircraft. Judging from the outstanding work done on the A320, one can only imagine what the future hold for other Airbus products.
For the benefit of our readers, here is a list of some of the highly recommended products (scenery and Utilities) seen in various screenshots and mentioned throughout the review.
Flightbeam – KDEN
Flytampa - TNCM
While this product is NOT associated with the FSL A320, I found the Mike Ray A320 Pilot Handbook very useful as a reference to flying the aircraft. If you would like to checkout this manual, click HERE.