AVSIM Commercial Add-on Review

 

 

Rating Guide

Quite a striking cover!
Publisher: Dave March - Oncourse Software
Description:
Flight deck enhancement add-on tool

Download Size:
N/A

Format:
Retail Box
Simulation Type:
FS 98/2000/2002
Reviewed by: Aidan "Akulla" Williams, AVSIM Staff Reviewer

Possible Commercial Rating Score:
1 to 5 stars with 5 stars being exceptional.
Please see details of our review rating policy here

So what is Flight Deck Companion?

Flight deck companion is exactly what it says it is! A new product that brings added ambiance to the cockpit of your Fs aircraft. Whatever aircraft you enjoy flying, you can now have the feeling that someone is sitting beside you (other than the dog). From your Co-Pilot running through the various checklists to cabin announcements you get when flying in a commercial aircraft. The software comes with no less than 18 profiles of various aircraft, and a number of voice sets for you to choose from. Not being a big fan of the ATC that is available in FS2002, I was intrigued to discover what this new product had to offer. Dave was kind enough to agree to me doing a review, so without further ado, lets see what he has on offer with this new software.

Reader Survey

This survey is intended for those that have used this product or add-on. If you have used it, please let your fellow simulation enthusiasts know how you rate it by taking this survey. Please, if you have not used this product, do not take this poll (you can view the poll from the "Results" link below).

Review Poll
Have you used Flight Deck Companion?
Excellent
Good
Average
I can live with it
Taking it off my system

view results

Installation

After receiving the package in the post, I was more than anxious to install it onto my PC. The software comes in a "DVD" style case, with the cd and instruction manual. Avoiding my usual eagerness to just pop the cd into the drive and blast thorough the installation, I paused a second and took time to read through the manual. The manual itself is small, but very easy to read and follow. Only the first page of the manual is about the installation. Step by step instructions on screen show you how to proceed through the installation process. Once I had followed the necessary steps it started to install. During the voice sets phase of the installation, you are greeted with a series of photographs and background music with ATC chatter in the background. If Dave has gone to this much effort to make the installation interesting. I thought to myself, this has got to reflect on the product as a whole ( I wasn't to be mistaken).

Documentation

As I have already mentioned, the package comes with a small instruction booklet. A warm greeting and a brief description of what the product is about and other software which is credited to the author. A quick guide the installation procedure, how to find further help with the product, and a step by step guide taking you through a pre-programmed flight to familiarize yourself with what FDC is all about. The main documentation is provided via an electronic guide. This is accessible at any point whilst running FDC by simply pressing the F1 key on your keyboard.

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The manual itself is enormous with regards to content and information! Don't let this dispel you though. As complex as it is, the software is pretty much self-explanatory and you will only find yourself glancing at during the early stages of your learning process. Having said that, there is a wealth of information for novices and experts alike; I wholly recommend taking a good look at it, absorbing the detail that has gone into producing it.

So what does Flight Deck Companion do?

FDC is simply an add-on to that will bring your flight simulation to a new level of reality. Here is a list of the features:

  • 15 voice sets allowing you to choose the accent in which you hear the files.
  • If you're flying a small Cessna for example, you will hear calls from the co-pilot at various intervals in the flight; however, if you are flying a "Heavy" you will will not only get calls from the co-pilot, but any other crew members associated with the particular aircraft you are flying.
  • You have the choice of a co-pilot or virtual co-pilot. The co-pilot calling various things, Vref, rotate and acquisition of the localizer/glideslope. If you choose to use the Virtual co-pilot mode, it will automatically carry out raising/lowering of the gear as well as the flaps. As in the real world, this leaves the pilot in command free to concentrate on the actual flying of the aircraft.
  • A GPWS – Ground Proximity Warning Signal. If you start to fly too low to the ground or inadvertently bank at too steep an angle, you will be audibly warned to the fact.
  • Checklists editor: This allows you to build custom lists according to the aircraft you desire to fly. Not only will the call be made but lots of the features can be made "interactive." If a certain switch is incorrectly set the FDC will advise you to the fact, and wait until you have made the necessary correction.
  • The performance editor allows you to specify the numbers associated with the aircraft to get the desired dynamic effects.
  • If you create a checklist of performance for a specific aircraft other than that already supplied with the software, wouldn't it be good to have somewhere to upload the one you have created or download one created by someone else? This facility will be available once profiles have been created and sent to the author.
  • Cabin Announcements: As you would expect when flying in a real commercial aircraft, FDC recreates the atmosphere with cabin calls at various stages of the flight.
  • Flight Logging: FDC comes with a complete flight logging feature. You can pre program the log to start and stop at particular point.
  • Black box recorder: The black box recorder will log every event for the duration of the flight. It will keep settings for the 3 most recent flights.
  • ControllerX: A new concept that allows programming of your controller. It allows you to configure your joystick/yoke for a particular part of you flight giving you expanded functions with your controller.

Test System

AMD T-Bird 1.44 GHz
Windows XP Pro
512 Mb RAM
GeForce2 GTS Ultra 32mb
Creative SoundBlaster 1024
CH 3 Lever Yoke
CH Pro USB Pedals
GF Avionics
2 17" monitors

Flying Time:
30+ Flights in 18 days

Using FDC for the first time

As I mentioned earlier, I was right ready to jump head first into running the program up and pressing this and pushing that, seeing what this does, seeing what that does! But I restrained myself and went by the book. Included in the manual there is a pre configured flight to get you used to what FDC has to offer. I would strongly suggest you take this flight, as it will make you familiar with the following:

1. Shows you how to load up a profile and checklist.
2. Explains the necessary key presses used in FDC.
3. A Step by Step guide through the various checklists.

I found this extremely useful not only to become acquainted with FDC, but as a future reference once I progressed to making my own profiles.

When you start the FDC program for the first time, you are met with the following menu screen. The various submenus are selected from here to allow further manipulation as required. The main switch you will be using (apart from the connect switch) is the options button. This will bring you into the main configuration menu.

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The main configuration menu is where you can select/add/edit your profiles depending on what you wish to fly. If you wish to use an existing model that comes with the software, it couldn't be more easier. Clicking on the "Select Aircraft" button will allow you to make this choice. The window is split into two sections. The left hand drop down menu that allows you to select your aircraft, and the right window to choose the checklist. At this point you can also choose the checklists you want activated during your flight. In the bottom right you can specify the time delay and altitudes that the checklists are called.

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1.
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2.
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3.
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4.
1. Flight deck
2. Cabin
3. GPWS
4. Voice sets
5. Misc. options
6. Hotkey options
7. User files
8. Volume settings
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5.
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6.
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7.
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8.

Going through each of the menus in turn, you can quite clearly see the changes you can make to the FDC which will ultimately affect the way your environment is created.

Want to fly a light aircraft on a VFR flight or a 747 with a cabin crew? No problem, even if you're not a seasoned simmer; common sense will tell you what you settings you need and which you need to eliminate. No matter what discipline you choose to fly, it can all be edited to recreate the sensation that you would expect to find if you were flying the real thing.

 

 

 

 


The first flight – What can you expect?

I have so far taken you through what the FDC package has to offer on the programming side of things. Lets get into the air and see how it differs to your normal "quiet" flight. As you progress through the the flight, various checklists will start. (I would strongly suggest you print out your check lists prior to commencing the flight.) Some of the checks receive an automatic response from the pilot, where as others which are interactive, require the switch/lever/button to be in the correct position. If for example the landing lights are on where in the checklist they should be off, you will get a response notifying you to the fact, at which point you can correct the position and proceed with the checklist.

Depending on how you have configured the settings in the main menu will determine how the checklists work. I have come to like the manual approach whilst learning to use the FDC. You can go at your own speed and double check your switch settings before acknowledging the co-pilot. Once you are at the stage to release the brakes and begin your taxi run, you will get a check flaps announcement. Again depending on how you have pre-selected the configuration, either the co-pilot will extend the flaps on your command, or you will have to carry out the procedure yourself with a key press.

At 3 stages during your flight you will have a message appear in a text bar on the screen of the simulator. The first one appears when you are taxiing. This will tell you relative data for take off. The second when you are cruising, and finally data required for landing.

Once you start rolling for the takeoff, the co-pilot will call airspeed active, V1, Rotate and V2. As you commence your climb, the climb out checks come into effect. Depending on how you have preset the GPWS, you get an announcement 1000ft prior to attaining your desired altitude telling you "One to go" As you approach your destination the decent checks begin.

If you have opted for an ILS approach some added features are available. You have tuned your Nav1 to the ILS Frequency, and activated the approach hold, the aircraft will begin to track the ILS and establish itself for the final approach. When the localizer and glideslope are acquired, the co-pilot will tell you the fact, and again tell you when they are captured. These work independent of each other depending on your aircraft's situation. Another nice feature is once the ILS is acquired and locked, you will be asked to set the missed approach altitude and heading. How many of us remember to do that when we fly!! Again the GPWS will kick in with an alert as you reach your minimums and call the altitude as you descend for the landing.

I chose to fly a turbo prop for the majority of my flights, and on landing you will get a "Engage reverse thrusters". As your speed reduces and you apply the brakes, the following announcements are made: Manual breaking, flaps up and airspeed. Two more checklists to complete... After landing and Parking checks. And there you have it... Your first flight using FDC. It takes a couple of attempts to get used to it, but let me assure you the experience is great.

ControllerX

Got a joystick/yoke with only a few buttons? Ever wished you could program it so depending on what mode of flight you're in it will do a different command? Well Dave has included a ground-breaking program into FDC called ControllerX which allows you to do exactly that. Its functionality is available once you are connected into FS. As you will have read in the "First flight – what you can expect", the checklists are broken down into various stages of the flight. ControllerX allows you to program a series a button pushes for each phase of the flight.

Black box and Flight Log recorders

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Completed flight logs

The FDC will keep a date/time reference for any flight you undertake. Although FS2002 has this feature already, the FDC will carry out the task automatically every time you fly.

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Black box data view

The Black box recorder serves two purposes in FDC. The first is to show you a textual reference to the various stages of your flight, and the second the ability to be emailed to the FDC team to use as analysis in the unlikely event you are experiencing a problem .

 

 


Conclusion

Having spent many years flying simulators there are only a few products that I can say I use all the time when I fly. A couple of examples I fly with nearly all the time are FsNav and FsMeteo. I can now say that there is a third. Flight Deck Companion is an add-on that will certainly be added to the list. The added ambiance and interactive element makes the simulation experience even more "As real as it gets." The program is very complex in what it achieves, and at first seems rather daunting. I would say that after a couple of hours reading and "tinkering" you will pretty much have it under your control, and a few more hours to have it mastered.

You can keep it as simple or as complicated as you wish. Whether you're the type of simmer who flies as close to the real thing as possible, or just enjoy flying around and generally enjoying yourself, it caters for both.

To purchase go to the Flight Deck Companion website.

A final word

One last thing that should not go without mention is the time and effort that was put into the credits for FDC. As with most programs these days, it's not a single handed affair. Dave has gone to the trouble in putting together a great credit list with background music to acknowledge all the various parties involved with the development and testing of this software. The dedication that goes into a project like this would probably overwhelm the vast majority where as some just carry on in the search of excellence. The FDC Package is dedicated to Dave's daughter who died during its development.

What I Like About Flight Deck Companion
  • A quick start manual to get you into the air and a very in-depth electronic manual for the more complex aspects of the program
  • The ability to configure any aircraft of your choice to suit your method of flying
  • Quick and easy to use
  • Having additional ambiance and voices during the flight
  • No impact on frame rate
 
What I Don't Like About Flight Deck Companion
  • If using real weather, the altimeter is still called at the default 2992

 

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The review above is a subjective assessment of the product by the author. There is no connection between the producer and the reviewer, and we feel this review is unbiased and truly reflects the performance of the product in the simming environment. This disclaimer is posted here in order provide you with background information on the reviewer and connections that may exist between him/her and the contributing party.

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