This is quite a treat and very refreshing to see something totally new in the desktop flight simulations market. Using the 2013 Sun ‘n Fly-In and Expo in Lakeland Florida as the choice location for first public viewing, and using multiple locations in the large tents, AOPA and Redbird unveiled their latest creation.
Actually the JAY has more big names behind it. Other partners include Flying Magazine, King Schools, EAA, and Sennheiser. Although the official name is the AOPA JAY, Redbird Flight Simulations in Austin, Texas builds and ships the units after one places an order at the AOPA Jay Store. Content is added by all partners, but especially by AOPA and Flying Magazine. This content takes the form of realistic flight scenarios for the end user to experience. You can add your own scenarios using the Prepar3D development kit but they will probably not be anything near the professional level work done specifically for the JAY.
This brainchild was originally planned for a pre-Christmas launch last year but some last minute updates and rethinking had the designers back to the drawing board dreaming and scheming and coming up with a better Jay. This is all better for us users as the desktop simulator now comes with improved graphics, more built-in hardware controls, more initial content, and Lockheed Martin’s Prepar3D Professional simulation software. Yep. That is what I said – no FSX here, no Academic version. This is the future.
Using a unique screen mask for flight selections, one would not recognize the startup screen as any known simulator. One simple, easy to navigation selection screen with a large green ‘GO’ box or red “Stop’ box makes for a simple startup.
Let’s push the prominently lighted On/Off red button on the lower right of the panel and get started. Do notice this is a flight simulator and not a computer running a flight sim.
We are greeted with a warm view of sitting in the pilot’s seat of a Cessna 172 with a G1000 package with a real world looking and feeling yoke, throttle quadrant and a rotary Mag switch and flap actuator.
It may not be readily apparent to everyone, but this is not a computer with a flight simulator package installed. It is a purpose built desktop flight simulator built and supported by the leading full-motion flight simulator supplier – Redbird Flight Simulations. This is demonstrated by the absence of any sort of disk drive, no Microsoft Office programs, or such. It does have an ample supply of USB v2.0 slots in the back along with all the other inputs.
That also explains why this is the first and only affordable desktop flight simulator that uses Lockheed Martin’s Prepar3D ESP software. As part of the purchase, you will receive the latest version of the Professional edition.
To get to this point you will have to open the big, well packed, JAY shipping box. Assuming you have a small table and chair, you are ready to start your adventure.
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Unpacking and Setup
Setup could not be any simpler. The overview is that you take the lower unit, the big metal box with the yoke, and place it on your table, place the 27 inch flat screen monitor on top and secure with 4 thumb screws, hookup the VGA video and sound cables between the two, plug in the USB keyboard and the two power cables in the back of the unit. The startup checklist is to verify the voltage slider is set for 115V, ensure the power switch is in the on position and Press the On /Off button on the lower right of the panel. That’s it, folks. You are now ready to select your free flight or scenario of choice.
If you are an experienced flight simmer, you might want to plug in a mouse or you can opt to use the touch pad on the keyboard and arrow keys for navigating the initial screen. I suppose you noticed there are no rudder pedals included. Although this does distract from the realism of flying, it is quickly forgotten provided you selected auto rudder or remember how to use keyboard strokes for rudder corrections.
I’m from the old school so I had a new set of Saitek Cessna Pro Flight rudder pedals in place and waiting. I hear Redbird is about to release their own brand of superior rudder pedals. These will be more for the ‘gotta be real’ enthusiast or the school/museum environment.
The default opening screen is for Free Flight where you can choose to start on the ground or in the air. Pick your airplane, airport and runway, choose day or night, set winds, visibility, weather conditions and click the green button to load and start your flight. You can skip most of these selections for a super quick start if you choose. The Jay default to ‘on the ground’, daytime, no wind, and 10+ miles visibility. So, pick your airplane, search or select an airport and ‘Begin Flight’.
The second tab is where the Jay really comes into its own. These Scenarios is what it is all about. Let’s take a quick look by clicking the Scenarios Tab.
Notice that all the choices vary from 5 minutes to up to 30 minutes. There are Categories ranging from Introductions to Instrument Proficiency, to Emergencies and Real World Events.
These make for the most realistic flying possible. You have night, day, poor or deteriorating weather, decision making with results, and just good old flying around punching holes in the clouds or weekend sightseeing.
This is also ideal for pattern work to fine tune to your speed control, altitudes and general smoothness. More advanced users will be working on holding patterns and approaches.
One of my favorites is the Lake Parker Arrival to Sun n’ Fun where you can experience a similar flight arrival to the annual Oshkosh AirVenture. This list will grow with time and the content will be expanded in depth and width. I also thoroughly enjoyed the ‘Night Visual Approach at Pompano Beach. I am an old pilot that learned to fly along the Florida East Coast so Pompano Beach was a regular stop for me.
PilotWorkShops plans on a series of in-depth training scenarios for flight proficiency and for instrument rating preparation.
Each scenario is very detailed with an overview, available and included charts and plates if needed, background magazine articles and other links. They are also airplane and equipment specific but you can modify some of these for a slight twist or change.
These are very detailed and well thought out scenarios with realistic voices, data, etc. with multiple outcomes. That nagging backseater will make you want to get on the ground as soon as possible. Been there, done that.
These are delivered by way of your internet connection, which can be Ethernet or wireless. The wireless option has a small USB dongle installed and waiting for your one-time password startup. You can even receive updates while you are actively flying and the update is blazingly fast.
Of course, there is a 5 minute Intro on how to Save your Jay Flights for later use or just to shorten the setup time to get into the air.
Some planned summertime additions will include the Carenado Cessna 182T with the G1000 panel and the ever realistic A2A Simulations J-3 cub. A brief announcement has most of us sitting on pins and needles waiting for Scott Gentile’s A2A Cessna 172. Although these will be a payware add-ons, you will be able to fly the scenario using the specific add on without having the actual full featured airplane. This will add a rung or two of realism to your desktop flying.
This may be the first time you can actually fly a Carenado or A2A Simulations add on a realistic test flight without purchasing the product. This would, of course be limited to the specific scenario using that aircraft but, then you would most likely be convinced to purchase the full add on for general use.
Speaking of realism. As sound is a large part of the immersion, I highly recommend you forego using the tiny built-in monitor speakers and opt for the outstanding Sennheiser gaming headset. Partner Sennheiser has a special edition noise blocking, PC 350 over the ear headset with built-in microphone that mutes when pushed up and away from your mouth. The sound is fantastic and you don’t have to involve your entire household and neighbors while flying the Jay.
The built-in flight yoke is a Redbird edition and similar to the yokes found on their much larger commercial products. It is much beefier and more ‘real world’ like than my Saitek Cessna Pro Flight or CH Products yokes. It comes with a single rocker switch for the left thumb to control the elevator trim. This is where you begin to notice the difference between a purpose-built flight simulator and a gaming edition.
The power quadrant is the black knobbed throttle and red knobbed Mixture control. The Jay is built to resemble the typical trainer – the venerable Cessna 172 – and does not have a Propeller or Conditioning level. When I asked about the absence of the prop level I was told it was a pricing issue and I suppose you have to draw the line someplace to keep the Jay really affordable.
The quality and fluid movement of the throttle and mixture control levers are as real as it get. Absolutely outstanding feel, they could have been taken from the Cessna parts bin.
Maybe there is a SuperJay in our future with Propeller and Landing Gear controls built into the panel. For now, these are easily controlled by keyboard presses or using the track pad or mouse to select from the VC panel.
Speaking of Track pad, the ¾ sized USB keyboard is feature rich and designed especially for the Jay with color coded keys. An add on that increases the immersion and realism factor immensely will be the TrackIR with Ezdok. This requires some setup time to get everything calibrated for you to be able to look around all the nooks and crannies, down at the fuel tank controls or those hard to see avionics and light switches or even to do a walkaround inspection. The slight tilt of the head will result in amazing simulator motion and you will probably never want to use any simulator without the TrackIR installation.
The Ezdok addition adds all the custom views and cockpit navigation, vibration shakes and turbulence imitation to the TrackIR. You can view yourself in flight while sitting in the cockpit seat (not literally) or you can open the little door and check the oil level if that is built into your simulated aircraft. Get this one from Flight1.com.
Should you elect to expand your views and cockpit realism using the Exdok Camera from Flight1.com without having the TrackIR you will still receive quite a boost in close-up views and expanded views and the camera effects including the hard landing and camera shakes. This could possibly be one of those one – two type add-ons.
Another neat add on is the Redbird supplied Cygnus Home Direct. This is nifty red cable and some installed software to fool your iPad into thinking it is where the Jay simulator says it is and not in your backyard. The simple plug-in lets you have your existing iPad show your moving maps. This will let you use your ForeFlight, WingX, FlyQ or even the basic Google Maps to show your position. It even works with the free Yelp app so you can fly to an airport and then Yelp that $100 hamburger or milkshake. This will change how you search for Starbucks.
Support is provided by Redbird and the techs seem to be very knowledgeable. I called a couple of time with some routine questions and was given very direct and totally correct answers and explanations. I was having one of my ‘weak moments’ and couldn’t find an easy method of doing screen captures while using the JAY start up screens. It has been a while since I used the Win Key Alt-Tab to step through the open programs. So their knowledge extends well past the basic program and they don’t read from a troubleshooting guide, aka U-Verse support.
As for prices, the current price list of what I reviewed for this review:
JAY - $2,490
Wi-Fi dongle - $40
Sennheiser PC 350SE headset - $180
Cygnus Home Direct cable - $190
TrackIR - $159
The Ezdok Camera add on can be purchased online at Flight1.com for $34.95
Suggested Upgrades or Additions
The first suggestion is to download and install the free FTX/Orbx demo area and free airport upgrade. This is a generous area that most everyone will enjoy. You will not be required to purchase anything to keep it working, although you may decide to purchase more of the upgraded scenery.
A wireless mouse would be a useful and handy addition for those that choose not to remember or use the keyboard key presses.
The Sennheiser headset is a slam dunk although any headset is better than none. I really do not recommend using the built-in speakers in the 27 in monitor. They just do not do justice to the engine sounds. Any speaker system with a good subwoofer would be a great improvement provided the others in the household appreciate those sweet engine sounds for hours and hours.
The included 27 inch monitor is certainly a good start, but you will eventually want to explore the nooks and crannies of the cockpit and easily change those radio frequencies or headings. Ezdok and TrackIR make a dynamite combo with the JAY.
A few nifty programs that are mainstays for FSX will not run on P3D without some special help or without a programming upgrade. But, eventually most will find their way into the Prepar3D edition. Remote Cockpit comes to mind for those with iPads or iPhones.
The Cygnus cable or any program that will provide moving maps for your iPad will add to the situational awareness.
In case you missed it earlier, I think rudder pedals are an absolute necessity. There are several choices and any of them are much better than none. You will find some of the scenarios will require pedals. I wouldn’t recommend flying those acrobatic Yaks without rudder pedals.
Redbird was very clear from the beginning that the AOPA JAY was not targeted for the typical Avsim Flight Simmer (if there really is such a person). The more likely user is the real world pilot that would like some additional flight time without incurring the associated real world cost of avgas, maintenance, insurance and such. Or the flight student that would like to practice some pattern work and hone his or her cross country skills. Maybe the instrument rated pilot that would like to work on his or her holding patterns, instrument scans and approaches. Or heck, maybe someone like me that just loves to fly.
I can see where the AOPA JAY would make a perfect gift for grandchildren that may have an interest in flying or to create that interest in flying. I can also see where it would make a great gift for the Grandfather from the kids. How about the Civil Air Patrols cadets, or any organized introductory flight school or for that matter, any flight school could benefit from having a JAY or two.
As for the Avsim flight simmer, this may be the answer you have been looking for. A flight simulator that you can recommend but not have to support. Either for yourself, your friends, or whomever. None of those nagging questions about config.sys or upgrading the video card every time a new review comes out. You can recommend the AOPA JAY and your friends can start flying, right out of the box.
No one knows for sure, but, I suspect the AOPA JAY will become a mainline product in the homes and the flight schools. The simplicity of the purchase and startup is just the beginning. The continually added scenarios and additional aircraft add-ons will boost the interest and keep you coming back for more.
Nothing can be simpler than turning on your simulator and automatically receiving new content. This will give the AOPA JAY owners new and interesting flights based on many real world flight situations.
I suspect some photoreal scenery, like the new MegaSceneryEarth v2.0 will make its way to the AOPA JAY soon. You can then answer those questions – Can we fly over my house, my girlfriend’s house, your house, etc. Yes, you can because you will be looking at the real world from the JAY, just as it was a couple of years ago.
I just learned that some new acrobatic team scenarios are on tap for this summer using the Yak-52. These will use the licensed version from Virtavia and be a no cost add on for the JAY owners.
The newest addition is the Redbird Rudder Pedals, priced at $495, these allow for realistic rudder pressure rather than just pedal movement according to Redbird.
| Publisher: AOPA |
Reviewed By: Ray Marshall
Do I recommend the AOPA JAY? You bet I do. Get the big box, a table, some rudder pedals and go flying.