The real life Embraer ERJ-145 has been in production since December of 1996 and in less than nine years has sold over 700 units to 29 airlines internationally. Over one third of those are operated by USAir Express. The ERJ-145 is known for its high performance with low operating costs and is sold in three variants, extended range (ER), long range (LR) and extra long range (XR). Interior configurations allow for seating of up to 50 passengers with one nicely sized restroom at the rear of the passenger compartment. It would be hard for you not to see one while visiting any major airport in the USA.
Pilots like flying the ERJ because of its nice hands-on flying characteristics and no nonsense automated systems. Passengers and pilots like the way the Embraer, with its high wing loading, handles turbulence smoother than the smaller turboprop regional airliners. People on the ground like the quieter fanjet engines which make living close to a major airport a little easier on the ears.
All of this popularity in the regional airliner scene makes this aircraft a perfect choice for flight simulation. We want to fly what we are seeing at real airports… or dreaming of flying ourselves. There have been a number of freeware versions of the Embraer ERJ-145 line with repaints covering all existing real life airlines and a number of virtual airlines as well. Feelthere came on the scene in mid-2003 releasing a very detailed exterior and flight model of the ERJ-145 in July of that year. The modeling was far superior to the freeware versions available and its price took into consideration that it didn’t include a panel. J. Grabowski’s freeware ERJ panel became a popular choice for all the simulated Embraer regional jets. It is a nicely done panel which brings a good sense of being in the ERJ cockpit and the included manual is very well written.
Victor Racz and Feelthere certainly had their work cut out when they decided to create a full simulation of the ERJ-145 cockpit. They had to top the existing freeware panel so the inclusion of the FMS and additional operational systems was a must. With almost two years of development behind them they finally released the PIC ERJ-145 in December of 2004. Wilco allowed for the first time another manufacturer to use the PIC (Pilot in Command) name on a product other than their own.
Installation and Documentation
The Feelthere website is nicely laid out with detailed descriptions and screenshots of their current offerings as well as their future project, the Cessna Caravan. Once you have made your purchase, you can download the base package and any of the updates. On the day I downloaded the PIC ERJ-145, you could select the base package as well as three updates, SP1, SP1a and SP1b. There was no explanation on the download page as to which ones I needed or didn’t need so I got them all.
Installation was easy enough with a click of the mouse and I installed the base package first followed by each of the three updates. Later reading in the Feelthere ERJ forum, I found that the base package had the changes up to SP1a and I only really needed to install SP1b which has a small visual change to make one of the repaints work more accurately. I was told the current base download now includes the SP1b update. I also downloaded all 5 of the repaints currently available for this model on their website and installed them.
The PIC ERJ-145 comes with a pretty comprehensive set of manuals in PDF format which you will find in the Feelthere folder on your start menu. They are broken up into 14 individual files covering each of the different systems of the aircraft including a readme, first flight and quickstart guide. I could not find any single document that would actually take you from startup to shutdown on a single flight and found myself jumping from document to document to figure out how to operate and fly the aircraft. In my frustration I finally printed out the entire set of documents and placed them in a small binder with tabs. This actually worked out quite nicely as now I could operate the sim uninterrupted and flip the pages to whatever system or operation I needed help with.
You are going to have to read the documentation to be able to fly and operate the systems on this aircraft. This is not a kick the tires, fire her up and fly kind of plane, but there is a great feeling of satisfaction when you finally get everything done in proper order and the aircraft actually moves when you push the throttles forward and flies the FMS programmed flight plan when you activate the autopilot.
My First Flight Turns To Frustration
Like most kids with a new toy, the first thing I wanted to do was check it out. Having just skimmed through the readme and quickstart guide, I managed to get the engines started, power on to the radios, throttle lock off and pushed the throttles forward to taxi. Alarms started sounding and the throttle levers where jumping all over the place… OK, what did I do wrong? I didn’t find anything in the manual to cover a problem like this so I went into the Feelthere ERJ forum.
After just a little searching I came across a couple of posts indicating a problem with using FSUIPC’s reverse thrust calibration with separate throttles (like I have). I went to Pete Dowson’s forum to see what additional information or workarounds I could find. Only one post with a response from Pete indicating he needed more information. This seemed strange to me, surely more people had noticed this problem and someone must be working on a fix. Why weren’t there more posts?
I emailed Pete Dowson as well as Victor Racz and they told me that there were very few reports of this problem, mostly because it would only affect someone using a throttle quadrant with individual throttles assigned and then only when those assignments were being additionally fed through FSUIPC so that reverse thrust would be enabled when pulling the throttles back behind their detent. The easy fix at the time was to turn off the FSUIPC throttle calibration, which did work fine. But Victor had his lead programmer, Alex Koshterek, get in touch with Pete and together they came up with a fix. Wonderful what a little communication can do.
repeat that the problem I encountered will only affect those using individual
throttle levers which are additionally calibrated through
3.47 or earlier) individual throttle calibration to include reverse thrust. The
latest version of FSUIPC has an option to make this work and if you don’t
use the payware version of FSUIPC you will never notice any problem. I
also want to comment that once the appropriate parties were aware of what
the problem was,
it was quickly solved and an update to FSUIPC made available, good customer
service from both Peter Dowson and Feelthere. Certainly more effective
than griping on
an unrelated forum.
Search For Decent Frame Rates
The Search For Decent Frame Rates
Now that I figured out how to make the throttle work on my computer, I was faced with a second dilemma. I have been able to get most aircraft to work quite well on my system (which is no longer state of the art!). I am not one to really quibble over frame rates, in fact I have rarely paid any attention to the actual readings on the screen. If it looks smooth, I am able to fly, if it gets jerky, I am not… quite simple really. The only real trouble I have experienced in the past has been with texture loading times.
The Feelthere PIC ERJ-145 has taken the crown for one of the most CPU intensive aircraft in my hanger. This is directly due to the instrument package. If you view the aircraft from spot view, the frame rates improve dramatically; in fact, I found the VC view not to be as big of a hit on frame rates. Reading in the Feelthere ERJ forum, I found this was a strong complaint with the initial release and Feelthere did respond with a configuration utility that one of their first service releases included. With this utility you can change the update rate of the instrument displays as well as the clarity of the EFIS displays. I found that you have to keep the PFD (Primary Flight Display) set to 95% or higher for it to be usable for flying, but the other displays can be set much lower (as low as 5% on my setup) to lower the CPU load. With a little experimentation I was well on my way to getting a usable, smooth display. Some documentation about this configuration utility would be very helpful and should be included in the original download or a future service release.
Now, understand that I am a real pilot and there are some factors that I want to retain when I simulate an aircraft. For improved ground appearance I have FSGenesis 36dem mesh and their landclass, American Data streams and railroads, AEU 7 (with the cracked asphalt taxiways from AEU 6) FlightOne USA Roads, and FS Water. For more realistic weather, I use FSMeteo v7.0 with FSW Clouds. I realize that all of these factors do have an adverse affect on my frame rates and will pull down the final numbers for the Feelthere jet more than for a user not running all of the aforementioned enhancements.
I downloaded Ken Salter’s FS Autostart and did figure out how to use it. This wonderful little program will shut down all unnecessary programs and defrag your memory, then start Flight Simulator. This probably made one of the biggest differences in improving frame rates, in fact it was so good I actually found myself using a little higher settings on scenery than before without a loss of frame rates. I also downloaded Powerstrip and made some changes to my latency settings per another forum thread but I haven’t made my mind up as to whether I notice much difference.
My final solution actually came from Fr. Bill Leaming in a different forum posting. I made a copy of my FS9.exe and FS9.cfg file and renamed the copies to be “FS9 ERJ145.exe” and “FS9 ERJ145.cfg.” This allowed me to then open this new file for flying the ERJ-145 and lower some of the display settings sliders without having it affect my simulation of other aircraft. Yes, that means that when I fly the Feelthere PIC ERJ-145 I reduce my visibility by 20 miles as well as pulling most other display sliders back about one notch. The good news… it worked. There are times at busy airports that the ground view gets a little herky-jerky but overall, it is usable and I am able to fully enjoy all the wonderful things this simulation can do.
Exterior Model and Animations
This is a high point for all of the Feelthere ERJ-145’s. I obtained press privileges over at the Embraer site and was able to get some of their media release photos of the ERJ-145 which are in this article. When comparing the visual model to the freeware offerings, you will notice that the Feelthere jet sits correctly on the ground. It looks like it is just waiting for you to fly it. Moving in closer, you will see the attention to detail in the landing gear, tinted passenger windows that allow you to still see inside, radio antennae and even the numerous pitot tubes and wipers are visible.
All the animations that you have come to expect in a complex GMax designed aircraft are present for all moving surfaces including trim tabs. Just the right touch of dynamic shine adds to the realism of the exterior models. Many of the earlier aircraft to experiment with dynamic shine had a little too much shine and ended up looking like were coated in glass or chromed. With the right background scenery and clouds, this Feelthere PIC ERJ-145 can give you screenshots that are hard to tell from a real photo.
One of the most important parts of any simulation, for me, is the flight deck or panel. You can have a beautiful visual model with all kinds of gimmicks but if you move up to the flight deck and find FSFW95 style cartoon graphics or worse yet, low resolution pictures with gauges placed on top, it just kills the whole sim. I am happy to report that the Feelthere PIC ERJ-145 really delivers in the flight deck.
You are going to find yourself sitting behind one of the most complete simulations of the Honeywell Primus 1000 all glass panels available. This is a five tube setup, three are visible from the main panel display, however, the copilot’s additional two are visible in the VC only. What is truly unique in this simulation, is that the copilot’s PFD (Primary Flight Display) and MFD (Multi-Function Display) are independent to the pilot’s. That means you can have the pilot’s display showing a rose arc with superimposed flight plan feeding off of the FMS and the copilot’s showing an overview of the flight plan or displaying VOR information off of the navigation radios. All of the glass displays, as well as the radio unit (RMU) and FMS, can be zoomed in with a click of the mouse over the desired gauge. This kind of attention to operational detail is what sets this aircraft apart from previous airliner simulations. You can accurately simulate flying first officer position in the VC! Now that’s neat.
Much of Feelthere’s programming and testing time went into the design of the autopilot and FMS system. Microsoft’s programming for autopilots is not only very simple but also constraining and many of the real autopilot’s functionality are usually simplified to conform to this programming. The Feelthere team actually wrote their own autopilot coding to operate outside of this box. What you get is a system that operates basically 100% like the real life unit. It also allows a smooth integration with the FMS which gives you the ability to follow precise lateral as well as the vertical navigation in your flight plan. When flying in heading mode, you can select a half-bank mode which is more comfortable for passengers (and crew) especially when flying at lower altitudes. The flight director, which is a tool I really like to fly with in real life, is the smoothest and has the most realistic movement I have seen for Microsoft’s flight simulator. When the FMS is programmed with a flight plan with altitude information, the PFD will alert you when you need to descend and the flight director will even give you the proper angle of descent to follow to reach your target altitude at the specified point in your plan.
The engines are controlled by a FADEC (Full Authority Digital Engine Control) system. With this system the crew no longer has to make constant adjustments to throttle settings, they are handled by an engine management computer. Push the levers full forward for takeoff and you get maximum takeoff power for the given conditions (pressure altitude, temperature, humidity). After takeoff you don’t touch the throttle levers, just press a button for climb power. You can watch the power settings change on the MFD when you press the buttons and also as the system makes adjustments during the climb. When you reach your cruising altitude you still don’t touch the levers, press another button and you have cruise power which you already have selected in the FMS, high speed for shorter trips, long range if you want to save a little fuel and money. You will only have to bring the levers back when you start your descent or if the current settings bring you too close to an over speed. This is not the same as an auto throttle system and therefore it doesn’t automatically hold a given speed setting when in cruise configuration or during your descent. I found the system to work very nicely, and the throttles operated very smoothly making thrust changes a breeze. You will learn very quickly how to maintain a given speed in cruise and also to how to maintain a given speed during your descent.
The flight dynamics of the PIC ERJ-145 is something that the Feelthere development group also spent a great deal of time with and it shows all the way to its ground handling. Real life ERJ pilots were recruited to test the flight characteristics and give it their seal of approval. One of the first things you will notice is when you start to taxi the aircraft. Let your speed get too fast or attempt too sharp a turn and the whole aircraft will tip, you will also find on your takeoff roll that you have to be very smooth with your rudder inputs. Many sim flyers actually complained about this on their forum. This, unfortunately, is another area that Microsoft’s sim teaches bad habits. You can taxi most sim aircraft at near rotation speeds even in crosswinds, try this in real life and you’d have some pretty expensive repairs to deal with, not to mention some potential problems keeping your license! This perceived ground instability can become troublesome on takeoff with some joysticks since their travel or inputs aren’t always very smooth. If you find the “tippiness” a little much for your tastes, there is a revision you can make to the aircraft configuration file posted in their forum that will smooth out the ground handling.
The real ERJ-145 is also known for rocketing off the tarmac when you rotate, this is actually simulated quite well. With proper decision and rotation speeds programmed in to the MFD (included on a printable chart in the manual) it will reward you with very realistic takeoff performance. Just keep it straight on the runway during the takeoff run and you will be delighted at how nicely it hand flies your initial departure. I found hand flying the Embraer to be a real joy; this was only enhanced by the smooth movement of the flight director function programmed into their custom autopilot.
OK, that’s my opinion but who am I? I’ll quote a highly respected pilot in the real world as well as in the world of flight simulation:
“Go get the ERJ145 PIC. The aircraft is really superb and gives a "I am really there" feeling. Framerates are excellent as is VC and 2D clarity. You may have to call up and resize the 2d pop-ups for the displays if you have bad eyesight but this is easily done with a click on the VC displays. What I like with this aircraft is the operational usability and the fact that everything is easily at hand to operate the aircraft while keeping a good outside visual. Flight dynamics in the air are excellent. Hand flown the aircraft is precise and using the flight director only is very satisfying. My only minor gripe is a little too much suspension movement and sensitivity for ground operations but this doesn’t detract from the overall flight model. Highly recommended… Peter Sidoli”
Flight Management System
The true highlight of the Feelthere PIC ERJ-145 is the faithful reproduction of the Flight Management System found in the Honeywell Primus 1000 avionics suite. While this unit isn’t capable of simulating 100% of its real life counterpart, it hits high marks with basically all of the functions you would use for a normal day to day routine air work. Alex Koshterek and team get top billing for this programming, which follows the same operational flowchart as the real life unit. It is true you can go through all the ground work of setting up a flight plan just like the real unit, the added bonus feature that I appreciated though was the ability to load the MSFS flightplan directly into the FMS. This is a real time saver that real pilots don’t get to enjoy. Of course you can manually input your own flight plan and save it, so if you are using the ERJ for a virtual airline you can save your most frequently used routings and bring them up at the touch of a button, just like the real thing.
If you are flying online or using an enhanced ATC program like Radar Control or VoxATC, and get assigned a holding pattern it is a breeze to fly with the FMS. From the NAV menu you can bring up basically any kind of holding pattern that could be thrown at you and the plane will fly it for you, you can even watch from outside ‘cause that’s the amount of input you will have to do after entering it. You can also tune the radios from the FMS. The closest VOR stations are directly available from the menu page and you can also enter the ICAO code for the navaid and it will be automatically tuned to the correct frequency.
Your initial download of the aircraft comes with a database for the FMS that covers most MSFS programmed airports, navaids and waypoints and many SID/STAR’s. There is a continually updated database downloadable through the Feelthere ERJ forum and a new database editor that you can use to manually enter your own waypoints. The Database editor is a recently released separate program available from the Feelthere website and there is a forum devoted just to this database editor.
OK, Enough Blah, Blah, Blah....Let's Go Flying
For our test flight we are going to charter a United Express ERJ-145 from Victoria, British Columbia to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Our departure time is 5:00 am, yes early, but we want to get to Jackson Hole in time for lunch and some afternoon skiing. It’s still dark when we get to the airport and at 13C a little nippy. It’s raining and there is a low ceiling, visibility is two miles. The rain slick runway and our takeoff weight with 31 passengers and 1 hour fuel reserves means we are limited to using runway 9 or 27. We are assigned runway 9 but with light winds our crosswind factor is only 4 knots. After startup and programming the FMS I enter our V-speeds in the MFD (Multi Function Display) from the chart in the manual. We are off taxiing (yeah, I remembered the throttle locks this time), the ground handling is a bit less topsy-turvy since making the changes to the airfile.
We pull out onto the runway, I press the “Go Around” button on the throttle lever to bring the flight director to proper pitch guidance and I hold the brakes as I bring on some power… everything looks good on the engine display so I release the brakes and continue advancing throttle to the stops. Acceleration is brisk enough we pass through V1, VR and V2 all during my rotation. Positive rate of climb and gear up, I just maintain the aircraft’s attitude to the flight director and as we accelerate to V2 + 15 (which is 157 knots in this case) I bring up the flaps. As we pass through 1,000 feet AGL I press the FLC and HDG button on the autopilot and engage the autopilot with the AP button. I also press the “CLB” button on the pedestal so that climb power is set. ATC has me turn to intercept my flight plan and clears me to continue as filed so I rotate the heading bug and press the NAV button… the computer’s got the plane now. The only thing left to do is make a few changes to the altitude setting as ATC clears me to higher and when we reach cruise altitude I press the CRZ button on the pedestal to set cruise power on the engines. My little Falcon XP was never this easy!
During our flight I find that I have to pull the throttle levers back to about 85% to 86% to keep the aircraft from an over speed. You’ll hear an audible warning and lights start flashing if you let it get too fast. Even when I get it all set and maintaining its speed just below mach .78 the winds can still cause an upset and you’ll either find yourself slowing down as a tailwind comes along to help you on your way, or you’ll be cutting power again if that tailwind subsides or you hit a headwind. This gives the pilot something more to do as you watch your waypoints on the FMS and navigation displays pass by. If another aircraft gets too close you’ll get an audible “traffic” warning which you can verify on the TCAS display which you can toggle below the arc display, or just look out the window.
At about 100 miles out ATC starts giving me descent instructions so I feed the altitude information into the autopilot and press the FLC button. Now you really got to watch the speed and pull your power back during the descent to keep from an over speed. As we approach 60 miles from Jackson Hole, I start to receive the AWOS on Com2 and ATC gives approach instructions and tells us which runway we’ll be using. Now Jackson Hole (KJAC) is at almost 6,500 feet elevation and only has a 6,300 foot long runway. We’ll be using 45 flaps for landing to get this thing down legally, so I look up the approach speeds and set them in the MFD.
Descending into the valley, visibility was limited in haze. As I got lined up for the initial approach fix (IA), I could see why you wouldn’t want to try this approach at night. Those are some pretty imposing mountains off to the right and with the haze obscuring the horizon the way it is it looks like the aircraft is in a left bank, just watch the instruments cause you’re not. Speed was easy to modulate, I disabled the autopilot at 500’ AGL (above ground level), pulled back on the power and touched the mains right where I was aiming. The spoilers are automatic and deploy when the mains touch and I pulled the levers back for reverse thrust which works beautifully now (thanks Pete and Alex ). I could have braked harder and used an earlier turnout but I saved the wear and tear and rolled out to the runway end taking the final turnoff. Nice flight and especially with the wonderful sound package. It almost did feel like I was there.
Now I just happened to pick KJAC for our arrival airport, it would not be a common choice for this jet. I didn’t realize the misinformation MSFS has and didn’t expect the latest navigation data for the Feelthere FMS to also have errors. The actual charts for this airport list a single runway 1/19 with an ILS for 19. MSFS has it in their database as 18/36 with the ILS on 18 which is not too far off. The navdata in the Feelthere FMS though listed runway 15/33 (?) and worse yet the ILS was listed for 33. Curiously when I set the FMS for the ILS 33 the waypoints and vectoring were still correct so I think the error is just in the runway numbering. Something I will fix for the next flight using the database manager.
I really liked the attention to detail Victor Racz and the Feelthere Team have put into the Feelthere PIC ERJ-145. This is the most faithful and realistic simulation of a regional jet airliner you will find to add-on to FS2004, certainly worthy to carry the PIC (Pilot In Command) name. The programming that went into recreating the Honeywell Primus 1000 system is amazing and I wouldn’t hesitate recommending this product to any pilot pursuing their type rating in the Embraer ERJ series. From the number of posts on the Feelthere forum from real ERJ pilots, I would suspect this program is commonly used for helping new pilots gain panel and system familiarity.
While the Feelthere name is a relative newcomer to the flight simulation scene they have really shown their skill at creating an aircraft simulation that can stand head to head with the best available. Even more impressive, is their commitment to customer service which really shines in their forums. I just can’t wait for their release of the ERJ-135 Legacy (that’s the corporate version I’ve been in).
I have noticed on various forums that sim enthusiasts are asking for a comparison to the FlightOne ATR 72-500 Regional Propliner. These are two very different aircraft and the choice would really depend on what kind of flying you wanted to do. I didn’t have the ATR when I started testing the Feelthere PIC ERJ-145 but I recently did purchase it. I personally found them to be very equivalent in their faithful reproduction of what a pilot might experience flying either one. The ATR does have 2d interior views and a 2d First Officer’s panel which the Feelthere product lacks but I also found the ATR to put a larger demand on my computer so the frame rates suffered a little more. Both aircraft fill a notch previously ignored in the flight simulator add-on market by providing highly accurate simulations of regional airliners, and I think that together they represent the current state of the art. As a general rule, a propeller aircraft has a higher workload than a jet so in real life I would rather fly the jet. As a pilot friend of mine once said “propellers are for boats!”
During the course of this review my computer suffered a frozen fan on my trusty GeForce Ti-4200 graphics card. Faced with the choice of replacing the fan or the card I picked the card. My new GeForce NX6600GT did not give me the drastic improvement in frame rates I was expecting but it does seem to give a little better picture. I also changed from using Chris Willis’ nice freeware FSW Clouds to using FlightOne’s Flight Environment by Peter Wilding. This did make a noticeable difference in frame rates, graphic smoothness and overall appearance and I am happy with the change.
|What I Like About the ERJ-145|
|What I Don't Like About the ERJ-145|
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