Boeing 777 by PMDG
A co-op review by Aamir Thacker and Werner Gillespie
INTRODUCTION TO THE 777-300ER
-300ER, more commonly known as the B77W variant of the 777 family, is a stretched version of the -200/-200ER Boeing 777. The ER portion of the name signifies "Extended Range".
It features rakes and extended wingtips. It also has new main gear, a reinforced nose wheel, and also has some extra fuel tanks, hence "Extended Range". It is powered by the world's most powerful turbonfan jet engine, the General Electric GE 90-115B engine. It has a maximum thrust output of 115 300 lbs of thrust.
The aircraft has a maximum range of about 7 900 nautical miles (nm). The first -300ER variant was delivered to Air France on the 29th of April 2004. This variant is also Boeing's best selling 777 having surpassed the -200ER in both orders (2010) and deliveries (2013). There is also no direct Freighter variant of the -300ER.
77L vs. 77W
Let’s start with the basics; the 77W is 33 feet (and 3 inches, if you’re being pedantic) longer than its baby brother, the 77L. Naturally, the 77W also has a slightly higher MTOW than the 77L, being able to haul 775,000lbs into the air, versus the 77L’s paltry 766,000lbs. The main landing gear (MLG) is also different, with the 77W’s MLG being able to pivot thanks to an actuator on the front of the assembly.
This allows the aircraft to, when rotating, stay planted on the mains as the nose lifts up, allowing for greater rotation angle, and therefore less speed and distance required for lift-off. Minute changes, but important ones, nonetheless. Of course, the mammoth GE90s are different on the 77W, christened the -115B1s, compared to the 77L’s 110B/115Bs. The difference between the 115B and the 115B1 is only 240lbf of thrust, up from 115,300lbf to 115,540lbf.
Other, more operationally relevant details include a taxi-camera, allowing crews to ensure the MLG don’t begin ploughing airport grass as the aircraft makes long, sweeping turns during taxi, and a light specifically to illuminate the MLG and Nose Landing Gear for night-ops. These are both faithfully reproduced in the PMDG rendition, a topic that I will cover in the “Operational Differences” section of this review.
PMDG - THE DRIVING FORCE BEHIND THE PROJECT
The Precision Manuals Development Group, or PMDG as they have affectionately become known in the simulation community, has a long standing reputation for excellence as producers of high quality and fidelity simulations of Boeing's airliners.
The company was founded by Captain Robert Randazzo, a former airline pilot himself, as far back as 1997! Although the company is situated in Virginia, USA, it employs many talented people all over the world, as far afield as Belgium, South Africa and Canada.
The company started life by producing detailed manuals for other developers' software which is obviously where the name is derived from. The company however quickly went into the add-on producing side of things and the first aircraft developed by the company was the Boeing 757 and 767 the Fly! simulation.
Their main focus is Microsoft's Flight Simulator X, with some legacy simulations still available for the the also discontinued Flight Simulator 2004 by Microsoft, but they are looking to expand to other simulators with development being confirmed for some X-Plane products and hopefully in the future, some products for Lockheed Martin's Prepare3D.
The company has a rich history and a very prominent place in the flight simulation community for their role in advancing our hobby to unheard of extremes, constantly fighting the limitations of FSX, and then working their way around the limitations to bring us the airliners simulations which characterises their critical aclaim in our community.
THE PMDG 777 PRODUCT LINE TO DATE
PMDG started by releasing to us the 777-200LRX and the Freighter variant of the same aircraft in September of 2013. I had the priviliege to review the base package back then. In this review I will focus on the -300ER, which is the latest addition to the family.
It has also been mentioned by the folks at PMDG the the -200 product range is being considered for the future. Now why, has it been asked, did PMDG start with the -200LR which is the most uncommon 777 you might find spotting at your local airport? Despite many of the theories which some members of the community has come with, the real reason as simply that the 777-200LR is fitted with only the General Electric engine variant, and so to is the 777-300ER. This makes it easier for the folks at PMDG to cut down a little on the development cycle of the aircraft since they don't have to work in engine performance models for the Pratt & Whitney (P&W) or Rolls Royce (RR) engine variants.
Now as many of you may have noticed from my previous review, I love the -200LR and it has been said that the -300ER is a vastly different beast to fly so I was very keen to get my hands on it and see what the differences are.
Folks, the -300ER is not just a different visual model - it is a different aircraft to fly altogether, since it is longer, heavier and carries more weight in terms of passengers and cargo, but also has more powerful engines than the -200LR, but more on that later on!
Disclaimer: I haven’t dealt with product support for any other flight simulator third party developers, so I’m basing my judgement from what I’ve seen and experienced in other forms of support, i.e hardware RMAs, issues with other software, etc.
Having said that, I’ve found that as with much of PMDG’s work, their product support is exemplary. I had, before SP1 released, an issue with the doors on the 77L. I sent in an email on Christmas Eve, understanding completely that due to the small nature of the PMDG team, and the fact that it was holiday season, that I should not expect a reply for a couple of days at the very least. Imagine my surprise then, when on Christmas Day itself, I received a reply from Ryan.
Truly astounding, from my perspective. Fast-forward a few months, to when SP1 was released. There were a fair few bugs with the update, including the dreaded display failure/aircraft freeze. The very day I experienced that, I sent in an email to PMDG, receiving a reply a day later with a request for additional information. After I had sent out said information, I received an email with a few modified DLLs that were to be installed in order to alleviate the problem, and alleviate the problem it did! These DLLs were, apparently, the genesis of SP1b. Again, very pleased with the support provided.
As of the date of writing, PMDG have yet to release SP1c, intended to fix Time Compression bugs that were introduced with SP1/SP1b, stating that the 26th of September is a tentative date for release. As is PMDG’s SOP, this date is not concrete, and is subject to change.
In terms of supporting documents that come with the 777-300ER Expansion Pack, PMDG provide a helpful guide to getting acclimated with the limousine variant of Boeing’s famous aircraft, and also with SP1 of PMDG’s rendition. I’ve found it massively helpful in learning how to handle the 77W over the 77L, and make no mistake; they definitely don’t handle the same.
I run an Intel Core2Quad CPU, standard with no overclocking, an Nvidia GeForce 480GTX with 1GB RAM and 6GB Corsair RAM onboard. Furthermore, when testing the product, I used FS Global Real Weather (FSGRW) without any texture additions for clouds and weather effects. All my online flights were conducted using Squawkbox 4 for FSX.
I also operated in and out of FS Dreamteam's KORD scenery which is the base for my Virtual Airline (VA).
So as you can see, I have a fairly basic setup running and I operate with max sliders, apart from traffic, which I never use other than some ground vehicles at the airports and road and water traffic which is around 50%.
I also do not use any add-on texture packs for any regions. This should give you a good indication of how your setup and system specs compare to what I used to fly and test this bird on.
Let us have a look at the exterior of the aircraft...
Firstly, what I will write here is pretty much a repeat of what I wrote about the exterior of the -200LRX. Why? Not because I'm lazy, but because the same applies to this product. It is the same technology and looks on a different airframe.
Firstly, you will notice the difference in size! Yes, the -300ER certainly is quite a bit longer than that -200LR...
Just as with the -200LRX, if you look at the -300ERX, one of the first things that strikes you 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. Just look at this shot -how about that for smoooooooth...
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. We were impressed with the level of detail found on the spoilers and flaps. Even the landing gear bay doors are showcased in amazing detail.
Now here is something that you don't see in the 200LRX - the taxi cameras from the outside and the associated lighting systems. This is a very neat addition.
Again, as we have become used to from the talented designers at PMDG, the exterior is exquisite and keeps pushing the boundaries of what FSX is capable of. Full marks, nothing to complain about here!
Again, these are provided to the community free of charge as per PMDG's standing policy of enhancing enjoyment of the product that you have already purchased.
Which liveries do I get? Well, the good news is that since the -300ER is a much wider used package, we can now fly with far less fictional liveries than on the -200LR, and yes, these liveries are done to the same exceptional quality that is the trademark of the PMDG teams' artists.. eh... sorry, I meant repainters!
- Abu Dhabi Amiri Flight
- Air Austral
- Air Canada
- Air China
- Air France
- Air France (Skyteam)
- Air India
- Air New Zealand
- Air New Zealand (All Blacks)
- Air New Zealand (Hobbit Jet)
- Air New Zealnd (original colours)
- Air New Zealand (Smaug Jet)
- All Nippon Airways
- American Airlines
- Biman Bangladesh Airlines
- British Aiways
- Cathay Pacific Airways
- Cathay Pacific Airways (Asia's World City)
- China Southern
- Egypt Air
- Emirates (1000th 777)
- Ethiopian Airlines
- Etihad Airways
- Eva Air
- Garuda Indonesia
- Japan Airlines
- Jet Airways
- Kenya Airways
- KLM Asia
- KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
- KLM Royal Dutch Airlines (SKYTEAM)
- Korean Air
- Lufthansa (Fictional)
- Pakistan International Airlines
- Philipine Airlines
- Qatar Airways
- Saudi Arabian Airlines
- Singapore Airlines
- TAAG Angola Airlines
- TAM Linhas Areas
- Thai Airways
- Turkish Airlines
- Virgin Australia
Notice how little fictional liveries there are! Yes, the 777-300ER is very popular with real world operators. With the soaring fuel prices these aircraft are replacing more and more of the venerable old 747-400's and the older 767's around the world.
The liveries are of exceptional quality! They are very high resolution and simply beautiful to look at. No matter which one you choose, no matter which airline is your favourite airline, the liveries are authentic and beautiful. You will love them, guaranteed! And these are only the PMDG ones - expect to quickly see an explosion of liveries from other highly talented repainters in the community to start appearing in the AVSIM library and other sites all over the internet.
The PMDG ones sometimes have real world setups as far as equipment go as well. Just have a look at the Operations Centre and you can see which ones are included in this list.
The exterior is a masterpiece as we have come to expect from PMDG, no question about that. Full marks to the developers here - yet again!
As with the exterior, the interior is that of, well, a 777! There is one very important change here, which I want to point out to you regarding the EFIS controls, but I will get to that in a moment...
Again, 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.
As with the -200LRX, this VC is a masterpiece of artwork! Again, 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. Everything is photoreal!
Just like the -200LRX the aircraft is nice and clean. Robert keeps jumping into the cockpit with that bottle of cleaning agent and a cloth to make sure we don't have to put with a dirty aircraft.
As with the -200LRX, 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. Not much different obviously from the -200LRX
The overhead panel is at a nice, comfortable angle and distance from your head with everything easily legible and reachable. As with the -200LRX, not much has changed here, apart from the fact that you no longer have the optional auxiliary tanks since the -300ER does not have them either.
PMDG uses the same texturing technique with it's displays as the -200LRX, so again you get beautifully clear displays and you don't pay a hefty performance price for it.
The pedestal and throttles are basically unchanged from the -200LRX.
There are also the same 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.
Again, the most frequently used knobs and buttons show 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.
Now let's look at the one difference. Have a look at the EICAS selection buttons. There is one more - can you spot it? Yes! There is a CAM button! As with the real world -300ER, this one models a taxi camera system.
Now, there are some limitations to this system. For instance, you cannot open it in the lower EICAS screen as with the real aircraft. It opens up as a separate 2D popup. Again, FSX limitations unfortunately. PMDG have tried their best and put in many hour to try and get it to work on the lower display but it just could not be done.
The display looks exactly like the real thing, as you can see in the next screenshot...
There is one problem though. In order to make this happen, PMDG draws another three worlds inside the one already running. This does take it's toll on your system! I drop right down to about 8 to 10 fps when switching it on, so be warned, although a lovely addition, adding greatly to the immersion, you will need a very powerful machine to get decent performance!
As with the -200LRX, the VC is complete and it does everything it needs to do to convince you that you are in the cockpit of the -300ER, which is helped on in no small way by the addition of the taxi cameras! I cannot fault it in anyway, again, excellent work PMDG!
Here are some screen shots for you...
As with the -200LRX, the same differing sound set is modelled for the buttons and switches inside the VC. This means that you will get a different sound depending on how you push, pull or turn a knob, button or switch - very nice!
Now you will also notice that when you go to the Operations Centre (OC), that the look has changed a little, specifically when going to the 777 and then Sound Settings options inside the OC.
The first thing you notice is that you have the option to install a different interior soundset for the 777. This uses lower quality files, which in turn decreases memory usage. It is a 120 MB download, and is free of charge.
The second option is to install exterior sounds for the 777-200LRX. This is also a very nice addition since it creates a 5.1 type surround sound setup if you have such a system connected to your pc. Again, free of charge and is a 50 MB download.
The third option is also a 5.1 surround sound set for yout -300ERX, and is another free download. And it also includes surround sound for the interior by the way. This is my default package now, as it adds another subtle but definitive change to the immersion which is the cockpit of the airliner, as well the outside of your jet.
The sounds are slightly different from the -200LRX as you would expect. the -300ERX is a bit longer causing the sound of the engines and the main gear to be further back from the cockpit and that decreases the sound levels slightly. The nuances have been added to this package. Again, it is not just the look folks, the sounds and the rest of it, it is all different.
The performance on my setup is very smooth with frames per second (fps) not really dropping below 20 fps, even on the ground at KORD in bad weather I easily attain 22 fps and even if it slight drops below that, I have a smooth performance in general.
The real frame hog here is the taxi cams. Once enabling those, my frame rates drop to 08-10 fps and is not very smooth in the least! So if you want to use them, either use a monster pc or live with the drop in performance. I just don't use them as for me on my machine, my system is not good enough to have an enjoyable experience but for the guys and girls out there with the monster machines, this should not be that big an issue.
I also found that by switching between the different soundsets provided for by PMDG, I could use any of them without any noticeable drop in performance. Now, with SP1b being released, the experience has gotten even smoother and more enjoyable. Honestly folks, if you have a pc, which is close to or above the recommended system specifications, you should be able to enjoy the simulation without too much hassle.
Now here’s where it gets interesting, I’m going to talk about the difference in feel between these two aircraft, and generally cover my experiences with the 77W over the 77L in terms of day-to-day handling. For a start, this aircraft is hilariously long. It’s really quite difficult to wrap your head around. 33 feet (and 3 inches) really doesn’t seem like much of a difference; but it is. The 77W is so long, that I’m willing to bet that most people kissed the ground with her tail on the first rotation with this new bird.
Heck, I certainly did (twice, but who’s counting?). Rotation must be handled with careful attention, and it’ll take some practise to perform a flawless take-off. It’s also really quite awkward trying to taxi this behemoth the first few times. The amount of oversteer required seems greatly exaggerated, but after a couple of failed line-ups, you begin to believe the manuals. You begin to believe that you need to wait until the pillar by your First Officer’s shoulder passes the centreline before making the turn. It’s amusing, if not frustrating for those without patience.
Luckily, I’ve managed to tame the beast, and can now taxi proficiently without any problems. You have the option to use the taxi-cameras that PMDG have included (as a 2D popup, thanks to FSX’s limitations), however, I’ve found the use of that tool extremely taxing on my system, as it needs to draw scenery thrice over in order to function. It’s still nice that PMDG went through the trouble of modelling and implementing both the taxi-camera and the taxi-camera light.
The 77W feels significantly heftier than the 77L, it’s as if suddenly, 2 of the world’s largest turbofans don’t make the 777 feel like quite the hot-rod it was, but don’t get me wrong, this thing is certainly powerful. Flying the short trip from Munich to London (without any passengers) and no engine derate means that there was a German VATSIM controller chuckling at the absolutely incredible climb rates I was achieving. That being said, with the sheer amount of weight and fuel this aircraft can carry for a UHL sector, you should expect slow(er) climb rates, lower initial cruising altitudes and longer take-off rolls.
All these performance differences are obviously very well rendered in the simulator. In terms of roll and pitch, the 77W doesn’t feel slow or sluggish, but it certainly moves with a hefty sense of weight behind it. Lining up for an ILS manually is troublesome the first few times as you bank to correct simply because of the inertia this leviathan carries. This means that the 77W definitely feels like a different aircraft, not like a superficial model with the 77L’s flight dynamics, and that’s brilliant, because it begins to justify the $29.99 asking price.
SP1 CHANGES & NEW SYSTEMS
PMDG’s Service Pack 1 for the 777 was immensely anticipated, not only for its bug squashes, but also for its PMDG-first WX Radar, and it’s definitely my favorite 777 features. The WX Radar doesn’t depict superficial pretty colors on the MFD, no sir, it’s a fully replicated Collins-modeled unit, functional down to the last letter, save for not depicting ground clutter. Tilt and gain, as with the real aircraft, can be set as per the pilot’s preference or left in automatic, fully functional either way.
The new Weather Radar is certainly up to the PMDG standards that we have all come to recognize, being accurate in its depiction of precipitation in front of the aircraft. Personally speaking, my favourite bit about it is the sudden rush of immersion when asking for WX deviations from CTR controllers on VATSIM/IVAO, but of course, this also has other significant operational ramifications, chief of which is the fact that you will no longer go barrelling through a line of thunderstorms and having hail rain down on your aircraft.
This also means that I actually check WX enroute before departing, to see if I need extra fuel for weather deviations. It also makes for great screenshot fodder because the colors are pretty, but don’t tell anyone I said that. All in all, the weather radar is certainly a leap forward for PMDG, adding interesting value to the product for its simple function, avoiding puffy cotton candy of doom (see: CBs)! Sadly, as of now, the only weather engine officially supported by the WXR is Active Sky Next, which is a bit of a faff for people using OPUS, Active Sky 2012, and any other Weather Engines.
Beyond the Weather Radar, PMDG has also completely rewritten the Fly-By-Wire logic in order to alleviate concerns about the trimming of the aircraft, as was previously noted by customers. The aircraft now even comes with an (optional) little blue marker on the speed tape, indicating the speed that the FBW system is trimmed to. It’s not entirely realistic; however, it is certainly an acceptable solution without having to spend thousands on a real force-feedback yoke to mimic the real aircraft. Other nuances of the FBW system that PMDG have modeled include the “blip” feature, as I like to call it.
If the FBW system is trimmed within 5 knots or so of the current speed, tapping the trim upward (or downward, in the case of decreasing speed) will immediately center the FBW trim on the current speed of the aircraft. Nifty. The new FBW system definitely feels different to trim, however, having never flown a Level-D simulator, let alone a real 777, I cannot comment on how realistically the aircraft handles. All I feel comfortable commenting about is that the aircraft is now far less of a handful during approaches and take offs. PMDG do claim that this aircraft represents an “as-close-as-possible experience of Boeing’s C*U flight control system”, and I have no reason to doubt them.
The reworked flight dynamics now also allows the aircraft to experience what is called Phugoid Oscillations, a constant change in pitch due to a repeated change in airspeed and altitude. In my hours flying the line with this simulated aircraft, I have not, to my knowledge, experienced Phugoid Oscillation, however, it is certainly extremely cool to know that if I do handle the aircraft incorrectly, she will bite. I’m overwhelmingly impressed with the level of detail PMDG have put into this Service Pack update.
As far as further changes go, the entire list can be read here.
Since the original -200LRX came with the full set of documentation for all variants of the 777, and the first tutorial, I will not cover the manuals in detail here. These are essentially unchanged.
What should be noted however, is the document that was released by PMDG just prior to the release of the SP1 running concurrent with the 777-300ERX. This gives a major overview of all the changes in SP1 and what to expect from the -300ERX. Great read and prepared the community very well for the release of SP1 and the -300ERX.
The documentation is as usual, an excellent quality project and how far you want to take your simulation is essentially entrenched in how far you are willing to study all the manuals that are part and parcel of the package. No negatives to note here either.
I used to be a rather avid repainter until I found the advances in the kits to be a little too much for my software and my head to get around sometimes! The paintkit for the -300ERX can be downloaded from the PMDG website and is a 394 MB large archived file and contains the instructions, which are easy to follow and the paint kit is surprisingly easy to work with!
That said, you will need to have some idea of how to do a repaint and what to use to get the final results. But, if you are like me and you have been out of the game for a bit, here is an excellent tutorial on repainting the 777 series from PMDG specifically, but will assist with any of the other PMDG paint kits to:-
(All credit to the author of the video. I do not own any content of the video.)
This actually got me repainting again and after watching the tutorial and trying my hand at it, I was back into the repainting business in an hour or two. Excellent and very user friendly paint kit this!
The -300ERX is not just a new look, it handles differently, it sounds different from the -200LRX. It is not as overpowered and feels bigger, both on the ground and in the air. Yes, it is a different aircraft and has slight systems differences which have been accurately modelled by PMDG as always.
I thoroughly enjoy mixing up the -200LRX and the -300ERX and then enjoying the difference in each one from the other. As always, systems, looks, nuances and sounds all come together to create an amazingly accurate and immersive experience.
The new technology that we received free of charge from PMDG, just adds exponentially to both the -200LRX and the -300ERX. This coupled with the continued hard work behind the scenes and the release of the SP1 and SP1b show that PMDG, as a team are committed to solving all issues and completing their products before moving onto the next one. Their passion for their projects seep out of every little nook and cranny in the package. No stone is left untouched.
Both the project and its developers deserve a huge round of applause. The price? The SP is free for download and the -300ERX will set you back a mere USD 29-99. Folks trust me, it is a steal at the price! You can purchase this simulation with confidence. If you are after systems depth and high fidelity in a 777 simulation, this is your product, period. For that reason, we nominate this aircraft for the Gold Star Award!