When first hearing about the expression “RAAS”, I was quite intrigued, as I had never heard of a similar sort of terminology in aviation! RAAS, or Runway Awareness and Advisory System, is a system designed by Honeywell to give the pilots of commercial aircraft improved situational awareness.
This is achieved by adding the package to an aircraft’s software system so that it plays audible alerts to the crew so that they know exactly where they are and quite a bit more!
The latest update for the package (real world) is the Smart Runway system, also designed by Honeywell.
So let us look at what the package looks like and how it performs!
Installation and documentation
The installer is larger than expected, yet still small by today’s standards. The installer is only around 125 MB. As per usual, just tell RAAS where to find your FS9, FSX, or P3D directory, give it the green light and it will install. No vices.
For those of you who have previously used other FS2Crew products, the usual pause in the installation happens near 100% completed. This of course happens because it is verifying certain things, like whether your Direct X is up to date, and with RAAS, one or two other things as well.
Once the installation is complete, it places a shortcut to the manual on your desktop, a manual which is considerably less substantial than other FS2Crew products - only 11 pages.
This manual, although concise, answers many of the initial questions you may have about the product and very importantly, deals with many of the serious issues you may or may not encounter such as sounds not playing etc. The explanations are detailed, yet concise and to the point, and although I did not have any use for this section of the manual while using the product, I am fairly convinced that you would not have difficulties in solving major emergencies by using the manual.
So the installation is painless and the manual is informative and gets you going without any hitches. I own several of their products and judging the manual against the others, the same high standard of assistance and information is being carried forward into the FS2Crew RAAS manual.
Whilst we are on that subject, what is also nice, although many people won’t give this a second thought, is the standardized “FS2Crew installer” philosophy that they have going here - it creates a feeling that no matter which product I install, I always feel familiar with it. Nicely done!
Right off the bat, from what has been said above, it is clear that this is something different from the usual FS2Crew products - this is NOT a multi-crew program which will provide you with “those other people” in and around the aircraft and cockpit, i.e. the First Officer, the cabin crew, the ground staff, etc.
This product only provides the services of the real world RAAS-package. If you want a good look at what it does and how it works you can simply search for the following video on YouTube -or you can follow the links provided at the bottom of the manual.
If you want to see what it performs like in the PMDG 737 NGX, you can watch the full trailer on the FS2Crew website.
It is built into your FS9, FSX, and P3D, which means there are no external starting programs. You will NOT find a starting center like with other FS2Crew products.
Another brilliant feature is that it works with ANY aircraft in FS9, FSX or P3D. This means that you can even use it in a Cessna 172 if you wish.
It is also extremely flexible - there is a bewildering amount of options which you can customize. Lovely!
VERY IMPORTANT: make sure you follow the manual’s advice to run the Make Runways software as cited - without it you might get funny results! This goes through all your scenery files and makes sure that all your runways are present and correct and that RAAS can correctly ID them.
The package has a very high quality sound set. It also has an adjustable volume for the sounds. What I also noticed, is that on my surround system, the voice calls are given a wonderful acoustic property. It sounds exactly like sitting in a small airliner cockpit and listening to the sounds reverberating off the cockpit walls - Nice!
The sound package is a work of art as far as I am concerned, 10/10!
The actual program
I extensively tested the simulation in my PMDG 737 NGX. The first thing you will notice, is that when you start up your aircraft and you look at the add-ons tab in the FS menu, you will notice that it has grown one larger - a tab labeled “FS2Crew RAAS Professional”.
Once you click on that, you will open a menu that shows the incredible customization options for the program. Firstly though, you have to click the Master Switch option on. This is an ongoing exercise - every time you start FS with any aircraft, no matter if you had used it before with RAAS, you still need to switch it on through the menu.
Once this has been done, I need to select a profile for the aircraft type that I am going to fly. This is done via the options within the program. You can also select to keep that profile as the default profile. Changing profiles are important!
For instance, if I fly a 737-800 (which is exactly what I am doing with this review) and I leave the profile set to that of an Airbus, which uses different flap indications, the flap aural warnings will be set incorrectly and the program may look like it is functioning incorrectly, whereas instead, it is simply configured incorrectly.
Right, so we set the profile to be 737-800 by default. Now I can start fine tuning my RAAS experience. And boy, there are lots and lots of fine tuning that I can do! There are a huge number of features that can be included or excluded from being simulated.
I will not go into the detail of each of these, since they are discussed in detail in the manual and quite frankly they are mostly self explanatory.
What I will do here briefly is to deal with the most common call outs you will get when flying. You won’t get any taxiway advisories, i.e. you won’t be told that you are taxiing on a specific taxiway except when trying to take off from one, however, you will be informed when you are about to cross a runway, or when you are approaching a runway, or when you are standing on a runway.
How does this work in practice? Well, let us say that I start up and taxi from gate M1 at KORD (Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Chicago Illinois). I proceed to taxi to runway 14L (a nice long taxi that!) from which I will depart. During the taxi I will reach runway 27L/09R.
When I come close to the runway, an aural warning is produced which says “approaching two seven left”, since I am closer to the 27L side of the runway than the 09R side of it. Once I cross it, it will not tell me that I am on the runway.
When I reach 22R/04L, the same thing happens: I am warned that I am approaching the runway with “approaching two two right”. Again as I cross it, no indication that I am on the runway. Why is this you ask? I will tell you in a second...
When reaching runway 14L, I start to taxi onto it. I again get the warning “approaching one four left”, but this time, once I am more or less line up on runway 14L, I get an aural indication of “on one four left”.
Now for the really neat part - in addition to this, you are also advised, depending on which units for measuring runway length you selected in the main program options, of what the runway length remaining is in feet or meters if you are on a shortish runway for the take off.
This way you will always know which runway you are on and if you have enough distance to continue the take off for your performance figures, and certainly cuts out issues relating to using the incorrect links to runways and thinking that you have more runway left than you actually do. I love this already!
Now to digress slightly - if I now attempt a take off from KLGA (La Guardia International) from runway 31, which only has 7000 feet of runway, it will inform you of the following: “on runway three one...short runway, short runway, seven thousand feet remaining”. And trust me, the call makes you feel uncomfortable and creates a sense of urgency!
Should you taxi into position and not have your flaps set, the system will shout at you! It will tell you in no uncertain terms that you need to set your flaps by calling: “flaps, flaps!”
You can also switch on or off the advisory for the incorrect altimeter settings. This advisory becomes important during ascent or descent.
When approaching an airport, lets say KORD’s runway 32R, you will again get an advisory shouting at you if your flaps are set incorrectly. This is where the profile for a specific aircraft becomes important! You can also set the minimums for each phase of the flight. For example, on take off you can decide how many degrees of flap you want the system to check before it starts shouting at you! This is also true for the approach phase. I simply left it on 1 degree for take off and 15 degrees for approach phase.
A few nautical miles out, you will also get an aural advisory message of which runway you are approaching. So in this case, I get the following advisory: “approaching three two right”. Once I am in the actual landing motion, and I miss the touch down zones by floating a little too far (or you can also read into this when you are way too high), and with the touch down zone length set to 25% of the runway (customizable of course!) the advisory system will yell at you again: “long landing, long landing!” Again, you feel the anxiety when it starts to yell at you like that!
As the aircraft decelerates, it will warn you of how much runway you have left in either meters or feet depending on your selected measuring units. So when I reach a point where I only have
3000 feet left, it will tell me: “three thousand feet left”. And of course, again, when I taxi across runways whilst taxiing in, the same aural warnings will be sounded when approaching and crossing runways.
I honestly did not experience any major difficulties in using this software. Therefore, I cannot say which vices you may or may not experience when using this software - I tested it extensively, over 40 hours of flight time on it, and I could not find any extreme bugs e.g. crashes to desktop or anything similar. My experience with it was problem free.
Now for the obvious question - why would I want to use this software if it doesn’t actually help me to control the aircraft? Simple - have you ever flown online with heavy traffic density and ATC activity around a large airport and you found yourself in a CAT III B approach (that is no minimum altitude for the landing and only 75 meters of forward visibility) situation?
Then you will know that it becomes really important to make sure that I am in fact approaching the right runway and when I am on the ground, to know when I am approaching and are about to cross a runway that is right in front of me, which may be out of my visual range until it is too late.
I also found that it helps reduce the risk of becoming too distracted by using charts at unfamiliar airports causing you to be head down when you should be concentrating on the taxiway and the runways up ahead! The advanced warning precludes a runway incursion and possible disaster!
But what about good weather? Well, I still use it mainly because it is so much fun! It just adds a different dimension to your simulation experience. I really enjoyed it and will continue to do so in the future!
I found that there was no serious degradation of performance from what I normally get. In fact, I didn’t spot any degradation in performance at all! I was a bit surprised by this, because I did expect a bit of a performance hit, but this package together with my NGX and whilst flying online with the FS2Crew package for the NGX, the simulation ran rock steady with no issues, performance or otherwise.
My system? Core2Quad 2.8GHz, 6GB RAM, GeForce 480GTX with 768 MB RAM. Again this is one of those cases where if your FS9, FSX (which is what I use) or P3D runs well, you won’t have performance issues at all.
Although there may be no illustrious screenshots to be seen from this package, the proof, as they say, is in the pudding, or in this case, in the advisory system itself! No, it does not control the aircraft, but YES, it adds to the realism and immersion of the flight experience as a whole.
It is different, and refreshingly so, it is something new (at least to me, I have seen comments by users referring to a freeware package that I have not tried before), and more importantly, it is a package that was done to the highest standards as we have come to expect from FS2Crew. For me it is a simple matter - if the real thing has it, I want it!
As I already stated, no issues arise making the simulation unstable and as a result it is a seamless integration with whatever ‘plane’ you are flying. The next obvious question is this - is it worth the purchase price? YES, absolutely!
It is clear that this is a complete, well researched and beautifully put together package that will enhance your simulation experience considerably!
What I Liked About It
- Seamless integration with FS;
- Stable operation, no issues making FS unstable;
- High quality sounds;
- Highly flexible and customizable;
- Easy to use interface, no problems for first time users;
- Easy to follow and thorough documentation
What I Didn’t Like About It
Honestly nothing to put here folks!
Opening photo credit: from the FS2Crew product page on their website