After the success of the Embraer EMB-120 Brasilia regional turboprop, Embraer decided to enter the regional jet market in competition with Bombardier’s CRJ series. Originally announced in 1989 at the Paris Air Show, the initial concept design of what would eventually become the ERJ 145 family was supposed to have 75%+ parts commonality with the EMB-120, a straight wing with winglets, and a range of roughly 2500 kilometers (1550 miles). After some preliminary wind tunnel testing, it was decided to scrap the straight wing, and use a supercritical wingletted swept wing and under wing engines (which were eventually scrapped due to a higher and heavier landing gear setup).
In 1991 the design was finalized with a more conventional rear mounted engine with a T-tail layout and the winglets were deleted on all but the XR and Legacy models. The first flight of the type occurred in August of 1995, with the first delivery just under a year and a half later in December of 1996 to Continental Connection’s ExpressJet. Since then, the ERJ series has been very successful, with over 1000 being produced. Thanks to cockpit commonality, the ERJ 135/140/145 share a type rating, making the aircraft very attractive for a regional airline with some diverse routes. Despite being introduced later than the CRJ 100/200 series, the ERJ series is nearly even in the deliveries/in service numbers. The ERJ 145 series is so successful that Embraer decided to expand its line of regional jets to include the larger E-Jets series (170/175 and 190/195)
As for Wilco’s simulated ERJ, it is one of many modern regional aircraft in the Wilco Publishing hanger which also includes a CRJ-200/700 package as well as a highly praised E-Jets series simulation. This is actually Wilco’s 2nd take on the ERJ-145 series aircraft, the first one being released for FS9 and ported over to FSX as an interim fix until this complete remake was finished. The newest version which covers the ERJ-135/145/145XR for FSX includes Wilco’s “Call” program which provides you with a copilot to assist with procedures, along with the World Airliners 1 and 2 livery packs by McPhat Studios is the subject of this review, and is given Wilco’s “Pilot In Command” label, which means extra attention has been paid to detail and quality, and possibly most importantly: realistic procedures. So realistic in fact, that this ERJ package is used by the Belgian Defense’s 15th Wing for flight deck procedures training for its pilots.
Installation and Documentation
The Wilco ERJ-145 is available in a 164MB download or a boxed version (coming early 2010) direct from Wilco’s website. The McPhat packages are available for download only, also direct from Wilco coming in at 93MB and 78MB respectively. Installation is quick and painless using an auto installer and key code provided in an e-mail with your purchase information, provided you have enough hard drive space.
Being a complex aircraft and simulating most of the real ERJ’s systems, the feelThere team has included a rather extensive eighty page PDF manual covering everything from subpanel shortcuts to a full FMC training flight walkthrough and everything in between. Unless you are a real world ERJ pilot, you will probably need to get to know this manual rather well during your early ERJ flights, as the systems are complex and will be a bit different than any other aircraft you are flying in the virtual skies.
Also covered in the manual is the operation of the included ERJ Configuration program that allows you to adjust dozens of options relating to the ERJ simulation including things like metric/imperial weight, realism options (nose wheel steering limitations, autopilot functions, etc) display brightness, startup condition, sound and joystick options, shortcut key combinations, and HUD settings. Many small ERJ specific things that are necessary to fly this model are included in the beginning of the manual for a simmer who may not want to fly a full realism flight or for someone who chooses to start with engines running, and the more complex simulation aspects (FMC, full procedures) are explained in greater detail in the later parts.
History of the real aircraft as well as reference pages, checklists, and more thorough explanations of select systems are also provided. All in all, the manual is excellent in providing a complete walkthrough for the aircraft using screenshots and panel diagrams in combination with easy to read information (provided you know a little pilot lingo).
After briefly skimming the manual (big mistake, but we’ll get to that later on), I loaded up the ERJ at my local international airport (KDTW) planning on a short flight to one of the nearby RJ destinations to get my feet wet with this Wilco/feelThere product. Having many hours in the freeware ProjectOpenSky ERJ series aircraft, I was already familiar with the cockpit layout and felt confident I could get my new jet from Detroit Metro to Pellston without too much difficulty, but unfortunately I turned out to be wrong.
In any case, I was immediately impressed by the quality of the modeling and textures of the exterior, as well as the level of detail of the external animations (The door handle actually moved when I used Shift-E to open the air stair to board for the flight!). The only thing I didn’t immediately fall in love with on this aircraft was the engine fans, which just look strange to me with a flat, almost non-textured appearance and no gaps between the blades.
A quick change of views brought me into an incredibly detailed VC, which in the end would take a bit of getting used to, however it was an extremely fun and rewarding experience to learn all the procedures on this ERJ. A few more quick view modifications and I was sitting in the passenger cabin, which is a nice touch and was an interesting viewpoint to use occasionally on some of the longer flights. At that point I probably should have just reclined the seat and read the manual, but it’s just a regional jet, it couldn’t be that hard to fly right?
Before I get deep into the meaty systems/flying portion of the review, I want to take you on a brief tour of the exterior of this ERJ. For those of you who have spent time in the ProjectOpenSky ERJ, you will already know what a beautiful aircraft Embraer made, and will also know that for exterior modeling, POSKY’s is hard to top.
For comparison purposes, I did indeed do a brief “walk around” on the ProjectOpenSky model before scrutinizing the feelThere product. While POSKY’s model is incredible in its own right, but Wilco’s blows it out of the water in every possible way with one exception. On my first walk from the terminal out to the ERJ, I was not enthused about the appearance of the first stage turbine fan at all. It seems to be almost two dimensional (it is not, but just appears to be so due to the lack of texture detail and having no holes in between the blades almost like a small scale plastic model). Other than that, the model is drop dead gorgeous, recreating the Embraer’s unique shape and curves seemingly perfectly. From the sleek pointed nose to the two piece rudder assembly I was unable to find a single glitch (aside from the fan of course).
Starting my preflight walk around, I immediately noticed the beautiful shaping of the air data sensors and the very detailed nose gear with its triple light setup. Unlike larger airliners, the entire gear bay is open when the landing gear is down and locked (as opposed to having part of the well closed up by separate doors after the gear is fully extended), allowing you to view not only the strut and wheels, but also the linkages and well in plain view. Moving back just a few inches, the animated windshield wipers were stowed in their upright, streamlined position resting near the center pillar on the gracefully curved windscreen.
Moving past the cockpit bulkhead, the very well modeled air stair was down, welcoming flight crew and passengers alike aboard this high tech RJ. Not only was the animation perfect, but the hinges and door handles work properly as well! For some reason, I absolutely love how the yellow shark tooth vortex generators look on the outboard portion of the wing, as well as the shape of the wing itself. The airfoil is of a swept low drag design, and attaches to the aircraft as part of a smoothly faired bump on the underside of the fuselage. On the ERJ-145XR model, winglets are also fitted, and give the aircraft a very cool look. That said, the ERJ does look great with and without the winglets, which is more than can be said for some other modern airliners. Special attention has been paid to the small fairing on the underside of the wing fairing which is where the bottom rotating beacon is. The beefy trailing link main gear is also extremely detailed, from the bolts on the brake calipers, to the lines providing hydraulic pressure; it’s all modeled in its glory on the Wilco ERJ!
The landing lights as well as nav lights on the wingtips are all modeled in 3D behind very realistic looking lenses. Heading back towards the business end of the ERJ, the engines are beautiful with the exception of the first stage fan. Not only do the reversers deploy accurately, but you can actually see the shaped exhaust duct inside the tail that I assume is designed to help reduce noise levels, which would certainly help to get the ERJ certified to fly into airports usually denied to commercial traffic. The vertical and horizontal stabilizers are also beautifully done, with the ERJ’s angled APU exhaust directly below.
In addition to top notch 3D modeling, the usual animations are all present including control surfaces, flaps, spoilers, gear, the air stair, and baggage door (located below the left engine). While not absolutely perfect, the one minor flaw with the Wilco ERJ is easily overlooked and really only matters when the engines are shut down and you are looking to find an issue with the model. In other words, you probably wouldn’t notice unless you were nitpicking to an extreme degree. In all likelihood though, the lure of this product is not so much the hyper-realistic model al la CaptainSim, rather its systems modeling and frame rate friendly nature (more on that later in the review). While talking about the exterior model, it’s probably wise to talk about the skin that covers it, so up next is the textures section of the review!
In addition to the Embraer house livery and a select few airline liveries provided by Wilco/feelThere, additional textures are available from McPhat studios. The three part World Airliners livery pack is also available from Wilco for about $14 per pack (9.83 Euro). You will have to decide if this is an add-on worth purchasing, but at roughly one dollar per texture I feel it represents a pretty good value given the quality and variety of the textures.
World Airliners 1 and 3 feature 13 liveries for the ERJs from airlines including Delta, Continental, AeroMexico, Air France, and United’s respective regional divisions to name a few. Additionally, some airlines that use ERJs in a more primary role such as Dneproavia and TSA (Trans State) are also included. World Airliners 2 covers the extensive British Airways ERJ fleet, and the respective artistic Tails of each aircraft.
For the purpose of this review, I am going to focus on a few representative liveries from the World Airliners 1 and 2 packs (World Airliners 3 was not available during the early stages of this review) rather than dissect 26 separate exterior textures.
As a whole, the textures are very high quality, with many fine details from the original produced in high resolution while preserving frame rates. Every aircraft has at least some weathering on it, especially under the windows, thrust reversers, and around the door where the jetway seal rests. I do feel that overall the textures are a bit too dark when viewed under bright sunny conditions, but seeing as many textures look too bright on cloudy or overcast days I can see why McPhat chose the colors they did. This may just be personal preference, so I’ll let you decide based on screenshots.
One thing many virtual pilots like to see is a good set of night textures, and the World Airliners livery packs do not disappoint. True, the cockpit seems to emit a bit too much light and there is no reflection/diffusion of the strobes, nav lights, and beacons, but there are obviously some positive elements of this ERJ at night.
Inside the cockpit, the backlighting and instrument lights are absolutely flawless. More importantly for the sake of this review, the exterior looks awesome, with just the right amount of light is splashed on the sides of the fuselage near the landing lights. The same goes for the rudder and vertical stab. There seems to be just the right amount of light coming out of the windows as well, though it is not reflected on the top of the wing as I have seen in the past on other aircraft (and in the real world). A fine example of attention to detail is the lack of light coming through the windows covered by shades.
A Closer Look: Dneproavia’s ERJ-145
For my first close inspection, I chose the interesting Dneproavia airlines livery, with a distinctive and sharp two tone scheme that matches the Embraer well. Starting at the back of the aircraft, the reflection on the APU exhaust duct matches the real thing very well. Under close scrutiny, every access panel and seam is present on the vertical tail, covered by the Dneproavia logo. They did a great job with Photoshop, as the blending of layers is flawless.
Unlike many members of the DC-9/MD-80 fleet, no exhaust stains are present on the tail cone, though due to many factors (Different shape, less emissions, and a much lower airframe age), and this is reflected in the McPhat livery. A few non modeled aspects of the ERJ (Rudder hinge clearance gaps and small fairings) are textured on well. The bare metal areas around the connection of the horizontal stabilizer and elevator look very realistic. There are a few small areas where the paint has been “stripped away” and “chipped off” around rivets on the leading edge, which adds a nice touch to the weathering and dirt on other areas. Despite a bit of warping near the front of the engines, they are also well done, though a bit more blurry than other areas. The same goes for the difficult to see pylons that connect the turbofans to the fuselage. Maintenance hatches, warning labels, and Rolls Royce titles are all present.
Moving forward, the transition from white to blue is flawless and smooth, closely resembling the real McCoy. The windows are not transparent, though they are still well done, with window shades in the up or down position and everywhere in between they are visible all the way down the fuselage. Behind each open shade you can see the silhouette of a passenger, hopefully calmly enjoying their virtual flight. Though not legible, the emergency exit’s labels are textured, as are the handles and arrows for evacuation on the wings.
The seams and rivets are prominently displayed through bump mapping and texturing, on the fuselage as well as the wings. The saw tooth leading edge vortex generators on the outboard portion of the wings are textured in an interesting and realistic way that shows not only the zinc chromate anti-corrosion paint on the body, but also the sharpened and aerodynamic wedge shaped front that seems to be bare metal. The transparent lenses of the ERJ’s landing lights look exceptional, as do the bulbs hiding behind them.
Nearing the front of the aircraft, the door, and its frame are well represented, as are numerous warnings and instructions around inspection/preflight areas. Though grainy, the ERJ titles and small airline titles near the door and cockpit windows are present, as are all the rivets around the AOA probe and windscreens. The 3D windshield wipers are also very believably textured, as is the composite nose cone, which is not the same shade as the surrounding metal fuselage.
A Closer Look: America West Express ERJ-145
America West’s unique paint scheme, featuring similar colors used next to each other, is part of World Airliners 1. I chose to take a closer look at this livery because it shows just how high quality the McPhat renditions are, pulling off this colorful yet difficult livery in stunning fashion. As this is a purely visual phenomenon, I’ll let the screenshots do the talking for this particular ERJ.
A Closer Look: British Airways ERJ-145s
As discussed in the introduction, the World Airliners 2 livery pack contains 13 variants of British Airways ERJs, though only one is a conventional livery. Eleven of the others are special tail schemes, all very colorful schemes, almost like a fleet of Qantas Dreamin’ series planes, but only the tail having the artwork. The one remaining livery utilizes the standard scheme, save for large 300th titles over the wings. For pictures of all the British Airways ERJ special schemes, visit the ERJ v2 page on www.wilcopub.com.
For roughly one dollar per livery, you can be the proud owner of dozens of high quality textures for your new Wilco ERJ. Thanks to McPhat’s attention to detail, these liveries seem to mimic their real world counterparts nearly flawlessly. Despite my personal preference of slightly lighter and more vibrant/saturated colors, I still enjoyed flying with the McPhat liveries, and could not find a real flaw.
I feel that these livery packs will be popular with simmers, as it allows you to use your ERJ around the world using a proper livery. Imagine the jokes you would hear from other forum goers if you posted a picture of say a Houston based Continental Express ERJ-135 on final approach to London City or a FlyBe ERJ in the pattern at Hong Kong’s Chep Lap Kok.
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