Reviewed By: Rick Desjardins
FSX was first released in October of 2006 and although FSX did come with a Boeing 737 as one of the default aircraft, it wasn’t until this past year that third party developers finally started releasing their versions of this iconic aircraft.
This long wait has been rewarded with a multitude of releases covering all models of this legendary aircraft. Captain Sim have provided the community with the 737-100, 737-200, 737-200(Adv), 737-200C and 737-200F also known as the Originals. My review will take a look at these aircraft.
The Boeing 737 is a short to medium-range twin-engine narrow-body jet airliner originally designed to supplement the 727. The 737-100 went into production in 1965 and began to see service in 1968. Lufthansa was the first airline to put it into service having placed an initial order for 21 aircraft. The total number of 100’s produced was only 30.
United Airlines was the next customer to see a future with this new aircraft but was looking for an aircraft with increased capacity. To meet this request Boeing stretched the fuselage and the 200 variant was born. Both the 100 and 200 variants began to see service in 1968. In total 1010 of the 200’s were built.
In 1971 the 200–Adv began flying; the main differences were improved aerodynamics, automatic wheel brakes, more powerful engines, more fuel capacity, and a longer range than the 200.
The 737-200C (Convertible) allowed the conversion between passenger and cargo use and the 737-200F was the freighter variant; 104 were built.
An interesting capability of the 737-200, which is not shared with any other similarly-sized jet aircraft, is its ability to operate from unimproved or unpaved landing strips, such as gravel runways with the “gravelkit” modification installed.
Even after more than 40 years some of the 200 variants are still in service.
A few very important points to remember before you begin the installation process; your PC must be connected to the internet and you will need to have your order number. Keeping these two points in mind the installation of the product is straight forward.
The installer will automatically add the ‘737-200’ to MSFS and the models will appear in FSX as 'Boeing 737-200’ under 'Captain Sim' manufacturer in the MSFS aircraft selection menu. In the program menu you will see a new program group titled “737 Captain” with links to: ACE; Manuals, Support, Updates and Uninstall. If you have any of the expansion packs installed the variants will appear as a sub menu.
The ACE utility is where you will set up the aircraft payload and select a livery. The interface is straightforward and simple to use but you need to remember to save your selection after making your choices. You will have to do this every time you start FSX as your selections aren’t saved.
There are four documents available from the Captain Sim site that total 310 pages so they definitely give you plenty of reading material with a wealth of good information.
I’ve listed each of the four manuals giving a brief description of what you’ll find in each. Depending on just how in depth you want to fly this aircraft will determine how much reading you will want to do.
Part 1 – User’s Manual - 39 pages
This provides information on the product and its features including such topics as installation, physical specifications of the aircraft, views, animations, panels, explanation of the ACE utility, repaint kit and finally support info.
Part 2 – Aircraft Systems – 139 pages
As the name implies the manual goes through each of the aircraft systems providing brief descriptions and some explanations. It is the thickest of the four manuals and one that all CS 737 pilots should take the time to read. The part that most users will be interested in is the flight deck. They take each instrument panel and break it down to individual components and then each component is given a very brief description.
There are several things I found with the manual that I didn’t like. Although they describe everything, there are some instances where an explanation on how to you use it would have been very helpful; for example the PDCS, unless you are already familiar with this device you are left with many questions.
The other thing I didn’t like was that they don’t tell you when a particular item’s function is not modelled in the product. As an example again using the PDCS(Performance Data Computer System), the output of this device is supposed to drive the EPR bugs but that functionality is not modelled as of yet, but there is no way of knowing that. This should have been flagged in some way so the user is aware of this lack of functionality.
Everyone who purchases this aircraft is not a pilot and may need some guidance in using some of the aircraft’s instrumentation. Part of the fun is to be able to use the aircraft’s built in capabilities and to be able to do that, some of the more complex items may need more than a bare bones explanation.
Part 3 – Normal Procedures – 40 pages
The manual goes through the areas of responsibilities of the Captain and First Officer plus there are procedures and check lists for each phase of a flight from the preliminary pre-flight to securing the aircraft. I found myself referring to this document on multiple occasions. The checklists are every useful as guides.
Part 4 – Flight Crew Training Manual – 92 pages
This is another manual I recommend taking the time to read. They go through all phases of flight providing lots of helpful tips and information with much of it being relevant to more than just this aircraft. This is a great reference if you want to know the sequence of events say at take-off or approach. They include diagrams and tables that can be used as quick reference and are quite useful.
One big omission in my opinion however was the lack of any performance charts for the aircraft. Anyone who wants to try and fly the aircraft in a realistic manner would be looking for this information and it is not part of any documentation provided by Captain Sim.
Captain Sim has a community forum which is a great resource if you have any problems or questions. I went to it several times during the course of doing my review and found it to be helpful. It was through the forum that I was able to get a set of performance charts for the 737-200.
Looking at the cockpit you immediately see that it is made to resemble one that has seen its fair share of flying hours. There are scratches and the paint is worn away. All in all I felt it was realistic looking.
I noticed that all of the 737 variants had identical panel layouts. If anyone has spent time in any of the newer 737 Next Generation series you will immediately see that there are big differences. The instrument panels in the 737 Original series aircraft consist of individual gauges rather than the newer multi-purpose glass gauges found in modern cockpits. You will also notice that the autopilot panel is very different with much less functionality and there is no FMC like you find in modern aircraft but instead a primitive CDU known as the PDCS.
I tend to fly in the virtual cockpit as much as possible so being able to easily manipulate buttons and knobs with a mouse is important. Depending on the button or knob you may find yourself right clicking, left clicking or holding and dragging but generally speaking it was pretty easy to manipulate everything.
There were instances where I found it a bit awkward to get at something depending on the angle I was viewing them from. Most times it was with the upper console or autopilot. To help give you a less obstructed view of the instrument panel they give you the ability to remove one or both of the yokes.
Virtual Cockpit at night
Panel lighting was not as realistic as I had hoped for either. Lighting was either off or on even though the light controls were dials that should have provided variable light intensity; instead they behaved like simple on/off switches.
Using the virtual cockpit during night time operations proved to be difficult sometimes because of the dark colouring of the panel. From the flying officer’s perspective trying to use the autopilot controls was especially bad and I found that I had to switch to the 2D panel in order to reliably operate any of these switches.
Autoflight panal was difficult to manipulate at night
so I had to revert to the 2D panel
Virtual cockpit night lighting
I think it would be hard for anyone to disagree with the statement that aircraft released by Captain Sim are among the best when it comes to external visuals. You could spend lots of time just admiring all of the discrete details included in their products and this one is no different. I was very impressed with what I saw especially the weathered look of each aircraft.
Although I spend most of my flying time in the cockpit, being able to examine the outside of these aircraft close up and count rivets was a real treat and a feast for the eyes. Their work in this area is definitely a product highlight.
American Airlines 737-200
Flaps 30, spoilers up and engaging reverse thrust after landing
On final into Cardiff International Airport
Outstanding level of detailing
Some of the eye candy
Taxiing to the runway at London City Airport
Each variant of the 737 comes with a number of different liveries as part of the product download; 737-100 has 3, 737-200 has 6, 737-200(Adv) has 2, 737-200C has 1 and the 737-200F has 1. However there are many more available from their website, last time I checked they had 73 liveries available for download.
Each aircraft includes a modelled passenger cabin and/or freight compartment dependant on the model you are flying. I thought they were interesting to look at but have very little functionality during a flight.
Lower freight deck
Passenger cabin showing overhead bin doors open
Animations and Effects
This is definitely another product highlight. In the Part 1 – User’s Manual they provide a pictorial breakdown of all the animations that are modelled and there are hundreds of them.
Many are part of normal aircraft operations such as flap and slat extension and retraction, gear up and down, opening and closing of aircraft doors, and reverser deployment to name a few. However, they include many more that you don’t often find in other developer’s aircraft. Some of them are: emergency slides, stewardesses, opening radar dome and engine cowl covers.
With the freighter models they also include a load manager so you can see the freight bins being loaded or off loaded from the aircraft.
Load manager with loader
If you enjoy eye candy and are one of those sim pilots that likes to spend time looking at the exterior of an aircraft you will love what they’ve done in this area, it complements the rest of the superb external modelling. I’ve included a screenshot of the animations control panel which gives you a good idea of some of the built in animations.
Animation control panel
There are several 2D panels included with this aircraft. I have provided a screenshot that shows how they can be accessed using the “Simicons” panel, some can be opened up directly through key combinations. Although I try to stick to the virtual cockpit I did use their 2D panels in certain situations.
I ran test flights using each variant of the 737 and found that there were no real differences as far as how the aircraft performed. In the end I did most of my flights
using the 737-200.
To setup the payload for the 737 is a very simple procedure. You must use the ACE utility and it must be done before you start FSX. Through the utility you will choose the passenger and cargo loads for the passenger variants and the upper and lower deck cargo loads for the freighters. It is a simple matter of clicking on the appropriate box till you have the payload you desire. Always make sure you save your selections.
Fuel for your flight is done from the Fuel and Payload menu item in FSX, you should also check to see that the payload weight matches what you had set in the ACE.
After getting through the preliminaries of payload and fuel I was ready to begin bringing the aircraft to life. I chose to start from a cold and dark cockpit. You can refer to the checklists in the Flight Manual Part III - Normal Procedures as a guide to getting the aircraft up and running.
A quick note here, unlike some other addons there are no options to choose the start-up state for the aircraft. The default has the aircraft powered up and both engines running.
After getting the 737 powered up it was time to look at configuring the aircraft for my flight. That meant setting up a variety of items such as my V speeds, radios, heading, trim, etc. This is where the PDCS Control Display Unit (CDU) was to come into play; unfortunately this is one area where they dropped the ball. If you are one of those people that want to make a flight as real as possible you will be disappointed.
First of all there is nothing to explain how to properly program it or how to interpret the results. The manual explains the functions of the various buttons and screens but they don’t explain how to actually program it and use it for flight planning. It is supposed to provide information such as V speeds but I was never able to get it to work properly. It was hit and miss and I found this very frustrating.
This topic was mentioned in the forum and one of the members posted a short tutorial but even following that document I could never get it to do what it was meant to do. Even with this setback getting the aircraft off the ground and up to cruise altitude was still straightforward.
On the runway with the heading set and alert altitude set I advanced the throttles and with sufficient speed pulled back on the yoke and I was airborne. I don’t know how the flight dynamics compare to the real world 737 but this aircraft is forgiving and responsive. Above 1000ft I engaged the autopilot switches and watching my airspeed, I was climbing to my cruise altitude.
Except for not being able to use the PDCS the autopilot and flight director worked as I expected them to. At my cruise altitude I reduced the throttle, leveled off and engaged the altitude hold switch.
The cruise portion of my flights consisted of navigating a route by using VOR navigation. A task that takes some effort on the pilot’s part. You must tune the NAV receiver to the correct frequency, watch your Digital DME Indicator distance and set the HSI (Horizontal Situation Indicator) to the correct course. The combination of these three done correctly will get you the desired results.
In testing the 737 I flew several different routes and found that the instrumentation worked as it was meant to and I was able to comfortably and confidently go from point A to point B successfully as planned. There is no auto throttle with this aircraft so you must be aware of your airspeed at all times and make adjustments as required. The aircraft was responsive to my inputs.
I need to bring up something I found that I wasn’t happy with. During one of my longer flights I decided to save it during the cruise phase in the hopes of resuming it at a later time. When I loaded the saved flight I discovered that many of the switches were now in the off position but the systems they controlled appeared to be functioning. For whatever reason it had not been saved properly.
Here is a list of some of the switches I had to re-set upon resuming my saved flight: fuel pumps, window heat, probe heat, yaw damper, packs, engine bleeds, generators, flight director controls, galley power, gasper fan and AP alt hold. As you can see the list is significant. I tried saving different flights and had the same results each time.
Upper console panel state after loading a saved flight in cruise phase
Except for the saved flight problem the 737 was a very capable aircraft throughout the entire cruise phase. Now it was time to see how well it could handle the approach and landing.
This aircraft is equipped to handle ILS approaches. So of course I wanted to try out this capability. For the ILS approaches I would be using my NAV radio, HSI, and the FD and Autopilot panels. Just as with my test flights, I experimented with this at several different airports and was able to execute successful landings. The aircraft was able to capture the localizer and glideslope bringing me down on the centerline each time.
ILS approach to Cardiff Airport
After touching down on the runway I found that the braking seemed to be too strong, stopping the aircraft in a very short distance. There appeared to be no change in the braking based on auto brake settings.
Not being a pilot, determining how this aircraft compared to its real world counterpart was purely hypothetical. I can only go by what others have said, by comparing it to other similar aircraft in FSX and by my own interpretation of how I think an aircraft of this type should respond in any given situation. In the end it comes down to how real does it feel. I did a number of different flights with varying payloads.
Overall, I felt that the plane handled well and within my expectations of how I expected it to. I was also happy to see that the handling and performance was affected by the payload. I could definitely tell the difference between an empty aircraft and a heavy aircraft.
Frames rates with this aircraft remained high at all times and I never encountered any appreciable loss in performance that I could attribute to this add-on. Overall, I was very happy with how well the product performed.
This aircraft that will take you back to an era before onboard computers played such a prominent role in the cockpit. Despite some problems with this product, it is still an aircraft that is fun to fly and is sure to bring many hours of enjoyment.
If you are in the market for a true classic, this one is definitely worth considering.
What I like
- Quality of exterior graphics.
- Responsiveness of the autopilot.
- Manuals contain a wealth of information.
- Huge number of repaints available.
What I don’t like
- PDCS is not fully functional.
- The inclusion of a tutorial would help in learning the functionality of the aircraft and its systems.
- Performance charts were not included as part of the documentation.
- Panel state does not save correctly.