The Jurassic Jet in FSX
At one point it was the best-selling jet airliner in the world, and even though it is now disappearing from our skies, the 727 will probably never disappear from the hearts of commercial aviation buffs. Thus it is gratifying to know that the 727 can have a place in our airplane folder for FSX too, thanks to Captain Sim, and on this occasion we can also thank Just Flight, since this review concerns their boxed DVD version of the CS 727, which is an approximate compilation of the slightly convoluted block-format which the Captain Sim website offers in the download version of this aircraft. It is more or less the same product, so if you are contemplating the download version of this product via the CS website, you can also use this review as a fairly rough guide to what you would get in the download version.
Some things to bear in mind on this last point though: Although the aircraft are the same in this DVD edition as they are if you buy the Captain Sim downloads, the paint jobs are most definitely not the same. There are quite a few more paint jobs if you buy all the download variants, and in doing so, you also gain access to a large set of other paint jobs from the CS website if you purchase it there. Since you need a CS order code to do that, you can’t get them if you have this Just Flight edition, as you will not be flagged on the CS website as a customer. This is not the end of the world of course, because many decent paint jobs are on Avsim anyway, but it is something worth noting all the same.
What could potentially be a more relevant issue however is that since buying the Just Flight boxed version means that you will not be flagged on the CS website as a 727 customer, which will also affect your ability to obtain patches from the CS website, and will instead be reliant on Just Flight for patch support. Since CS patches are sometimes slow to make it to the Just Flight website support section for boxed product versions, this could potentially mean that you might have to get slightly ‘inventive’ if you are seeking a CS patch. Although in practice, there tends to be unofficial patches and tweaks floating around the ‘net for a lot of CS add-ons, so there is no real need to be desperately concerned about this.
Now we’ve clarified the differences between this boxed Just Flight DVD version and the CS download variants, we’ll get on to seeing what Captain Sim have managed to create and how it compares to the real aircraft. The real thing hardly needs any introduction, but for the sake of completeness, and to assist those who weren’t around when these things were regularly screaming overhead leaving a smoky wake, I’ll give you a potted history of the real 727…
Three into one, will go
Following the success of the Boeing 707 in ushering in reliable transatlantic jet travel, in the process making Boeing a major player in commercial jets, the company was facing requests for a jet which would be more suitable for shorter ranged flights from smaller runways. They had partially addressed that demand with the revised 707 variant that was the 720, but it was not a complete solution to things. Driving the need for a completely new aircraft design, were requests from United, Eastern and American Airlines, but their three individual wish lists differed somewhat.
United wanted something that could operate out of high altitude airports, so they favoured another aircraft with four engines to give it sufficient power, American preferred the idea of a twin, since it would be more economical, whereas Eastern wanted a tri-jet because they flew routes over water to the Caribbean; at that time they could not use a twin, since the days of ETOPS were still far off in the future, owing to the lesser reliability of jet engines at the time.
Boeing therefore had quite a task in trying to please all of them, but they were also mindful of the fact that Pan Am was generally something of a barometer for the airline industry, in what Juan Tripp bought for Pan Am, other airlines tended to also buy. Since Pan Am flew overseas flights, that fact also favoured going with a four or three-engine configuration, but of the two choices, three engines would better suit the economic preferences of American Airlines, so a tri-jet it would be.
Having already created the 707, you might reasonably suppose that the new aircraft should have been called the 717, but Boeing had already used that designation twice even back then; once to identify the KC-135 variant of the 707, and again (very briefly) as the marketing name for the 720 variant of the 707. Of course these days we know they’ve used it a third time in renaming the MD-95 when they swallowed up McDonnell Douglas, but that’s another story. Thus the new tri-jet was designated with the next number in the sequence, becoming the 727.
To please everyone, the 727 featured aspects that all the airlines had expressed a preference for: It could fly for extended periods over water because it had three engines, and was also more economical than the 707 because of that too. It could operate from fairly small high altitude airports because, with the engines not located on the wing, it could feature full-span high lift devices. Such high-lift devices had already been partially pioneered on the 720, but the 727’s completely clean wing meant that the designers could really go to town on short-field performance.
As further concessions to operating from less well-endowed airports, the 727 also featured built-in airstairs at the front entrance, plus a set at the rear combined with a door ramp. New too, was an APU which could run the air conditioning as well as start the engines, and the 727 had the ability to push itself back from the terminal with the use of reverse thrust. All of which made it well suited to regional airports hampered by lesser facilities and shorter runways.
As an interesting historical aside, the 727’s rear airstairs were the subject of some notoriety, when in 1971; a man who called himself Dan Cooper hijacked a Northwest Airlines Boeing 727 bound from Portland to Seattle. Cooper had chosen the 727 specifically because it had rear airstairs which could be opened in flight. He claimed he had a bomb and demanded the delivery of 200,000 Dollars and four parachutes upon arrival at Seattle. The airline decided to accede to his demands, and when the 727 eventually took off again, the hijacker requested it be flown with the flaps down, unpressurised, and at less than 170 knots whilst below 10,000. When this was done, Cooper lowered the rear airstairs and jumped out, never to be seen again. Moreover, this method of hijacking was repeated in virtually identical fashion by another man just a few months later, again on a 727, but that time it was 500,000 Dollars the guy jumped with.
As a result of this criminal ingenuity, all 727s were quickly ordered to be fitted with an under-floor rotating lock which prevented the airstairs from being deployed in flight, by means of an aerodynamic swivel vane, which is colloquially known as ‘the Cooper Vane’. Ironically, the 727 has another criminal connection too, in that it is one of the few aircraft that the US Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System regularly uses. You may know that airline by its more film-worthy nickname: Con Air.
Success and beyond
Hijacking adventures aside, the 727 was massively successful for Boeing. It was in production for 21 years, from 1963 until 1984, during which time more than 1,800 were built, making it the best selling jet airliner until Boeing’s own 737 eclipsed that achievement. Principal 727 models included the original 100 Series, a stretched 200 Series, an advanced 200 Series with a number of improvements, and a ‘Super 27’ third party conversion variant which featured up-rated number 1 and 3 engines, the internal number 2 engine remaining unchanged.
Beyond this, there were numerous modifications available, including variants to reduce airflow and engine noise, as well as further upgrades to the avionics and engines. There was also a fairly rare ‘hot and high’ variant with an extra intermediate 20-degree flap stage for take off.
When the airlines sought more modern replacements for their 727s, specifically Boeing’s own 757, freight companies grabbed surplus 727s with both hands and some of these continue to fly today. The 727 is also occasionally to be found as a very large VIP personal jet too and does (just about) still serve as a passenger jet in some places. Interestingly, when more advanced avionics fits were being developed for the 757s which would replace the 727 in many airline fleets, it was in large part the Boeing 727 which proved the technology would be of benefit to its successor.
In 1978, the very first prototype FMC – then known by the less catchy name of the Performance Data Computer System – was tried out on a Continental Air 727-200, and it demonstrated almost a four percent fuel saving on the 727. When the autothrottle was later devised and coupled to the FMC in 1982, we had the basis of how all modern airliners operate. But if you prefer the old school, then that is what you will get with the 727, since two years after these combined innovations surfaced, the 727 was out of production, and the CS simulated version reflects the more common fit of the aircraft’s heyday rather than the fairly uncommon souped-up FMC examples.
A noisy farewell
Alas, all good things come to an end, and in the case of the 727 the end is indeed nigh. Unlike a lot of other aircraft of the same vintage, the 727’s engine layout is what has led to its decline. With one of its three turbojet engines located inside the rear fuselage, the design does not lend itself to incorporating larger diameter high bypass turbofans, which are considerably quieter than the older style turbojets it uses. Despite having hush kits designed and fitted to it, it is deemed too noisy by modern standards, and is gradually being banished from Western countries because of that, although it is likely that the aircraft will continue to flit around the skies of some countries for a few years to come.
Because of that, on the plus side, if like Dan Cooper you have some cash to spare, it is possible to buy yourself a serviceable Boeing 727 for about $350,000 these days, although the Just Flight/Captain Sim versions are undoubtedly a more wallet-friendly proposition, so let’s have a look at that version instead shall we?
The simulated 727…
Captain Sim’s FSX Boeing 727 is available as a download from their website, which is split up into several products comprising a base 727-100 pack, another second pack with the 200 variants, and third set with the freighter variants. But as noted, in this review I am looking at the boxed DVD version from Just Flight, which more or less collects up those download products into one, sticks them on a DVD, adds a printed manual and costs 34.99 in Sterling, $51.99, or 42.95 Euros.
This means the Just Flight boxed version is considerably cheaper than it would be to buy all the constituent parts online (which ends up being about ten percent more pricey, unless you are fortunate enough to find Captain Sim having one of their legendary sales). Sales aside, given the fact that you get the printed manual too, the Just Flight version is actually a better choice in some respects, so long as you are prepared to await Mister Postman, although there is the slight caveat of more liveries in the download version and that minor sticking point on patch availability.
You’ll need about 2Gb of space on your hard drive for installation and you will also need FSX with SP2 or Acceleration standard. Vista, XP and Win 7 are all fine as operating systems, and if you dabble with DX10, you’ll find this product is compatible with that too. So it is more than merely a rehash of the older FS9 CS 727 Professional, although it bears some similarities to it, notably the fact that it is possible to adapt repaints for that version to work on this FSX incarnation. Recommended computer specs are a 256Mb graphics card and 1Gb of RAM.
Installation and what you get
As far as installation goes, that’s a simple case of sticking the DVD in your drive and off it goes, with it locating FSX automatically and creating all the necessary folders in the right locations, so it is slightly simpler than the procedure with CS downloads that require the entry of a serial number. Installation is remarkably quick by the way too and when installed, inserting the DVD will also trigger an uninstall routine if you so wish. What you get after having installed the product, aside from the aeroplanes sitting in FSX awaiting your pilotage, is a Just Flight menu accessible from your Windows Start icon which provides access to a PDF operations manual, a configuration tool for your aircraft, and a hotlink to the support on Just Flight’s website. More on these in a moment.
Theoretically, what you should also get, if the printed manual is to be believed, is a Just Flight folder created in your main FSX folder containing a paint kit. However, this does not happen via the install process and the paint kit is nowhere to be found on the DVD either. Fear not repainters, if you go to that previously mentioned hotlink and visit the Just Flight support, you will find the paint kit there, so this is not really a big deal, but it does mean that subsequent reissues of either the DVD or the printed manual could do with that minor confusion being addressed. The paint kit incidentally, is a commendably small 22Mb in size, so is quick to download.
Unlike a lot of other paint kits, this one doesn’t go insane with layers, keeping things fairly simple, although it does take simplicity a bit too far in lacking a wireframe schematic guide layer to assist in judging exactly where the paint is going on the top and bottom of the fuselage, which is a feature that tends to be useful when creating some of the fancier paint schemes.
Nevertheless, it is easy to use since external paint schemes for this model comprise only four texture files, which merely have to be flipped vertically, stuck in a new folder and added to the aircraft config file to get more paint jobs to show up in FSX. Alternatively, this sort of thing can be done via a configuration utility if moving files around is not your forte and you prefer to simply download new paint jobs. In testing it out, I had a quick crack at painting a 200 Series passenger variant in Hughes Airwest colours without any problems, so the paint kit does indeed do what it says on the tin.
Default paint jobs in the boxed version
If repainting is not your thing, you’ll no doubt be interested in which paint schemes come with the thing by default. As noted in the intro, these differ from what is included with the download version of this jet. The ones that come with the Just Flight DVD version are a mixed bag, but are mostly period paint jobs from the 727’s heyday, so you get schemes depicting Northwest, Eastern, Delta, Air Canada, Pan Am, TWA, US Airlines, Ansett, Braniff, Lufthansa, Air France, SAA and a (thankfully) short-lived early British Airways scheme.
Representing slightly more modern times, you also get freighters in Cougar and DHL liveries, plus the rather unusual experimental 727 UDF, which was a test bed for the application of un-ducted fan (UDF) engines, featuring the number three engine as one of these. For people who like movie trivia, the real aircraft this depicts (N32720) was stripped for parts and later bought by a movie company and used as a very elaborate set, depicting a crashed airliner for the 1992 Dustin Hoffman movie, Hero (also known as Accidental Hero outside the US), which incidentally, is an excellent movie.
Back with the paint jobs though, as you can see, the focus is very much on historical rather than contemporary schemes, and I personally think that’s a shame. Whilst those paint jobs have their place, I would very much liked to have seen some of the more recent paint jobs the 727 has sported included in the package too, particularly Fed-Ex. To go with that, I think it would have been nice to see a Valsan Super 27 conversion variant, or even the Tay-engined UPS version make the cut as far as unusual models go, in preference to the interesting but ultimately rather esoteric UDF version.
As it stands, some models do feature the later round intake on the number 2 engine that is associated with the 200ADV version, but we are nevertheless left with the same engine rating in the aircraft’s config file, which one can understand from an add-on development cost point of view, but not from the standpoint of ultimate utility in FSX when one considers that a tweak to the flight model config files would doubtless involve less effort than modeling the UDF variant, although it does go some way toward explaining the livery selections.
Aside from what I would like, which admittedly is a personal preference rather than a criticism since it is what it is, there is one other slightly odd thing about the paint jobs, and that is how they fit with the way the interior is depicted. As we will see in some screenshots, the cockpit has been textured in a much ‘worn’ fashion. On the whole this is well done, but since that appearance portrays how 727s tend to look these days, I do think it is slightly at odds with exterior paint jobs which date from the period when the interiors would have been displaying considerably less wear and tear.
What is more, since that is how they are depicted on the interior, I think that there should also have been consideration given to providing a choice of some revised modern avionics, which tend to be seen on aircraft with a cockpit in that state of wear. That this has not been done does make for a somewhat anachronistic feeling. As a slightly picky criticism of the wear and tear, I do think it is a little bit poorly observed in some areas, notably the throttle quadrant. The real Boeing 727, in not possessing an autothrottle, tends to take a bit of a battering where the throttles are, and those big macho 1970s pilot watches were apt to scrape a lot of paint off the quadrant. So if a battered cockpit was the intent, it should certainly be a bit more battered around the flap lever, where the co-pilot’s watch usually leaves the quadrant bereft of its factory finish. Still, on the whole it is a charismatic depiction.
Aircraft Configuration Editor
In common with most Captain Sim aircraft, this 727 comes with an aircraft configuration editor (ACE) utility, which I have already briefly mentioned, since it can assist with configuring downloaded paint schemes. Whilst the ACE also lets you save loadouts as far as passengers and cargo are concerned, it doesn’t let you save fuel loadouts, so you have to do that via the FS fuel/cargo menu, but you can get around using this to some extent by instead using the animated cargo loader in the sim, more of which later.
Nevertheless, the ACE is where something rather disconcerting rears its head. When you use the ACE to save a loadout and then fire up FS and look on the fuel/cargo options in the menus, the aircraft Centre of Gravity is very far forward, in fact it is so far forward that the aircraft is massively nose-heavy, with the CoG being well ahead of the leading edge of the wing.
This kind of nose heaviness is ideal for paper darts, but for passenger aeroplanes it is not a great idea, and in fact it would mean that the elevator trim would not be able to override things sufficiently in reality. If any real-life airline loadmaster filled up a 727 with the CoG located where this ACE utility places it, they’d probably find themselves at the centre of an NTSB accident investigation in pretty short order, assuming the nose gear didn’t collapse under the weight.
To be fair though, the CoG system in FS is not exactly the best, so there may well be reasons of FS design compromise to explain why CS have had to create things in the manner they have, and it does seem to fly alright in spite of it, but it does tend to dent one’s confidence in this being a completely realistic emulation of a Boeing 727 upon seeing that. I have a suspicion that it might also explain why there is no FMC-equipped version of the thing too.
Being this is the boxed version we are examining, it has the advantage of a printed manual along with a PDF one as well, and these are not merely the same manual in two forms, they are two different things.
The printed manual is perfect bound with a colour cover, comprising 120 glossy black and white pages inside. The print quality and layout is excellent too by the way. This covers installation, with information concerning working around any potential issues. It then goes on to explain the configuration editor, followed by a look at all gauges and systems, with labeled pictures for literally everything in the cockpit. As far as that goes, it is useful in identifying the location of various bits and pieces if you are not familiar with a 727 cockpit, but it does not extend to any in-depth explanation of what those systems actually do, so if you wanted this aspect of the manual to teach you the correct way to fly a Boeing 727, you’ll be disappointed. However, in combination with the tutorial which also appears in the manual, this is not as bad as it might at first seem.
Fortunately, in the last sixteen pages, the printed manual redeems itself with regard to learning the aircraft via a tutorial on how to operate the 727 on a typical flight, the tutorial being based around a trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco. The good news here is that it was devised and written by Jane Rachel Whittaker, and having corresponded with Jane in the past, I happen to know that not only is she an experienced and knowledgeable pilot, but also a very good writer. It shows in the tutorial too.
She does have her work cut out to show you how to fly a 727 properly in just sixteen pages (including explaining old-school VOR navigation, starting the 727 up and doing all three crew member’s jobs), so don’t expect miracles, but even so, she pretty much pulls off a miracle in achieving a tutorial that will get you from LA to SF in one piece and familiarize you with the 727 in just those few short pages. So as it turns out, you will not be completely in the dark if you at least read those last few pages of the printed manual, even if you don’t know a 727 from a number 27 bus. In short, it’s an excellent tutorial and certainly one of the better ones to be found for an FS add-on aircraft.
The PDF manual is labeled ‘Flight Manual Part III – Operations’. Your guess is as good as mine as to where part one and two are, because I certainly couldn’t locate them. Thus, we have a single PDF Flight Manual, or at least part 3 of it. This is 29 pages in length and laid out much like a real aircraft manual, albeit thankfully somewhat abridged, since the real 727 Flight Manual is about 750 pages long. The fact that this eminently shorter PDF manual is laid out like a real aircraft manual does make it rather printer-friendly though, since real aircraft manuals aren’t big on flashy design or colour pictures. You actually can print it as well if you like because unlike some PDF manuals, this one isn’t locked.
It covers the main points of how to perform a take-off and landing and has a selection of checklists that are very much akin to the real ones. Where it falls down however, is in its lack of performance tables – something that is fairly necessary to fly a 727 like the real thing (these may be on the mysteriously absent parts one and two, but not having found those, I wouldn’t know). Prior to the days of FMCs, autothrottles and fancy mode control panels, aircraft such as the Boeing 727 would come with pages of cross-reference tables full of information about how to operate the systems properly, with details such as the correct engine settings for a given temperature at a given altitude and the like. These days the FMC handles all that stuff on modern airliners, but on a 727, without these, you’ll be lacking something real 727 crews can refer to in order to operate the aircraft safely and economically. More on this later too – yup, we see that a few issues are piling up here.
Rounding it up
So to sum up what is included, you get quite a variety of models, although some of that is merely visual and the flight models are the same when they should really be different. You get a configuration utility, although it appears to be mainly a means to add an arbitrary cargo weight rather than something which can radically affect the CoG in a completely realistic fashion. You get a good few paint jobs and you get a couple of manuals that could be better, but have one or two redeeming features, in particular a good tutorial.
Something in the air…
One other thing worth noting with this add-on in terms of what the package includes, is the fact that it comes with Captain Sim’s FSX Weather Radar as part of the suite of avionics in the 727’s cockpit. There are mixed views in the FS world as to the utility of weather radars in MSFS, most of which centre around the fact that the way FS simulates and displays weather is not really geared toward a radar being able to work exactly as it does in the real world.
Nevertheless, I personally think the CS Weather Radar is pretty good given the limitations that are forced upon it, to the extent that I did buy the standalone version of the CS FSX Weather Radar and do find it useful on occasion. But if you have not bought it, then you effectively get it for free with the FSX 727 since the gauge can be easily added to any aircraft in your FSX hangar via including it as a pop-up gauge to any panel file.
Since that CS Weather Radar costs around ten quid, this indirectly knocks ten quid off the price of the CS 727, and if you happen to catch a Captain Sim sale rather than buy this DVD Just Flight version, you’ll be really getting a lot of bang for your bucks.
Anyhow, that covers everything you actually get in that DVD box from Just Flight and also highlights the minor differences between that and the download variant from CS themselves. So now it’s time to take a look at how all that stuff shapes up in the sim itself...
The 3D modeling
Straight off the bat, I have to say that the external 3D modeling of this 727 is truly excellent. In almost every respect it is right up there with the very best you can get for FSX, being both accurate and with all the right choices in terms of how far to go with polygons. If you like admiring your simulated jets on external and internal views - and with the beautifully sleek 727, who wouldn’t? – the CS 727 is something that will make you very happy indeed. I’ll throw in a couple of shots here to show you what is what, but really, there is no need to include too many pictures because it is enough to say that it looks exactly like a Boeing 727 from any angle you care to choose, either inside or outside.
Service with a smile
Captain Sim have really gone to town modeling external services and such, including a fully working cargo loading system that can actually affect how the weight of the aircraft in the sim is depicted by allowing you to save what you have loaded as a choice which affects the loadout in FS. If you like all that kind of ground servicing stuff, then there are perhaps only one or two other FS add-ons which can rival this level of interaction when not in the air. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea to supervise loading their simulated jet, but this is without a doubt one of the best attempts at depicting it in FS.
Also probably not escaping your attention, is the fact that you get cabin crew (or stewardesses as they were known back then) on the tarmac to welcome your virtual passengers into the friendly skies. This is quite a nice touch and the uniform colours do change depending on which livery you have loaded up. The uniforms themselves are not completely historically accurate depictions of what the various cabin crews actually wore back in the 727’s salad days. Anyone who ever flew on Braniff or Southwest in the 1970s will know exactly what I mean here, where in a bout of massively politically incorrect ‘sex sells’ marketing, the real cabin crew girls were often draped in unbelievably short hot pants and high-heeled patent leather boots, or wild Italian haute couture catwalk designs, making them look like refugees from an Austin Powers movie. This is largely why blokes wanted to be airline pilots back then – getting to drive a plane was merely a bonus.
More excellent touches in the modeling department await us when we climb aboard the Captain Sim 727. The entire interior of the aircraft is created in fairly exacting detail to the extent that the tray tables can be folded up or down, the window blinds work and even the overhead storage lockers open and close. You can you can go to the washroom if you like, or visit the galley, so if you fancy doing a virtual remake of Snakes On A Plane in FSX this is probably a good choice for the set. If on the other hand, you have a hankering to be a flight attendant, you’ll also find that the main doors are operable from within the cabin.
In a nice touch, the colours of the seats change with the livery you select, although fortunately the awful brown, orange and turquoise paisley patterns which most airline seats were upholstered in back in the late 1960s and 1970s have given way to a slightly more tasteful looking plain colour, so if emulating mid-seventies Braniff cabins is your desire you’re going to be busy in Photoshop.
Joking aside, this does actually offer a potentially interesting creative outlet for repainters. One interesting point to note here however, is that such detailing comes at a price to systems overhead. It’s no secret that CS aircraft tend to be a bit heavy on FSX, and if you were wondering why that is then you need look no further than the textures folder which has a massive array of files in it to depict all that interior detailing and visual luxury when on the ground.
In the driver’s seat
Moving on to the virtual cockpit, since there is no 2D main panel, we see another very good bit of modeling and texturing, although there are one or two sloppy things in evidence which should have been picked up by beta testers. Some of the 3D joins are not completely spot-on either, so it is actually possible to glimpse a sliver of the outside world through one or two tiny gaps if you look very closely. Although this is certainly not the only FS aircraft to be guilty of that, and to be fair, it’s not hugely noticeable.
More clumsy however, is the fact that the throttle quadrant depicts the flaps having a 20 degree detent setting which the real Boeing 727 does not posses unless it is a special variant aimed at hot and high operations, which this simulated version isn’t. Since this depicts a more typical 727, the flaps don’t go to 20 degrees on the external model nor does the panel’s flap indicator display such a stage, instead going straight from 15 degrees to 25 degrees as you would expect.
Fortunately, this is merely a quadrant labeling anomaly that was probably a result of using a photo of a Mexicana 727’s throttle quadrant (they being one of the very few 727 customers who went for that 20 degree hot and high flap option). So while this is a minor quibble, it’s not so bad that it cannot be fixed with a tiny texture tweak in Photoshop. I think it really should be patched.
Despite the fact that this is indeed an excellent virtual cockpit, one minor gripe with the cockpit is the fact that all models in the package share the same VC and this means some of the placarding for things such as stage three hush kits and quiet wing modifications are present on variants which don’t actually have those features. Although it is clearly expedient to have one VC for all the models, and not a huge big deal in the grand scheme of things, to be honest it seems a tad on the lazy side from a development point of view to have not gone the extra mile and had individual VC textures to suit these variations.
Apart from such minor quibbles (and to be fair, they are mostly minor), the Captain Sim Boeing 727 cockpit is an excellent rendition of the real thing and has a convincingly well worn look to it. That battered look might not be everyone’s cup of tea of course, but there is no doubt that it makes the thing seem very realistic. Also on the plus side, the cockpit lighting is especially worthy of note, being a lot better and more controllable than almost any other FS add-on aircraft you care to name.
While this might not be a big deal to some simmers, others tend to like this kind of detail and if you are one of those who do, the CS 727 certainly won’t disappoint you on that front. One thing users of the older FS9 CS 727, and indeed those who only know this FSX version will doubtless appreciate, is the cockpit icon pop up panel which makes a welcome reappearance in this FSX version. This allows you to operate most of the fancy things the CS 727 has up its sleeve with ease.
If not gaining ten out of ten because of that silly flap placarding mismatch, the cockpit certainly deserves at least nine point five out of ten as there are few FS cockpits which appear so convincing as this one, and it really does transport you back to the days when airline pilots had a bit more real flying to do when up at the pointy end of a jetliner.
So, it’s pretty, but can it fight? Well, let’s find out…
In the sim and in the air
There’s no denying that all the visual grooviness and all the whistles and bells the CS 727 sports means that it uses up a bit more RAM than the default aircraft, but to use the Captain Sim 757 as an impromptu benchmark, since many will know that bird, the 727 appears to improve on that performance. Once loaded up into FSX we have to get the thing cranked up. Being that this is an old school jet airliner, starting her up means more work for you unless you care to indulge in hitting Control+E, which will actually start the engines up if you are in a rush.
Doing it properly however, we need to pay a visit to the Flight Engineer’s panel, and this is indeed an accurate simulation of the real thing. One or two very minor systems are non functional, but all the important ones are working and do actually perform in concert with one another so the button flipping is more than mere eye candy in most cases. The printed manual takes you through that procedure, so it isn’t actually that hard just more involved than you might otherwise be used to if you normally fly modern jets in FSX. There is a choice of ground power or APU too, so you can simulate lots of different airport environment operations.
Unlike a lot of modern jets, the 727 could happily start up at the gate since it has the capability to push itself back with reverse thrust, or at least the real one does, because if you try I with the CS one you’ll find it doesn’t want to move which is a bit annoying because that is one of the 727’s party tricks. On the other hand, it is a trick that is becoming somewhat frowned upon these days owing to the noise it creates near the passenger terminals. In any case, having got those big old turbojets turning and pushed back by whatever means, it’s time to taxi for the runway.
Now this is where things get interesting. There have been complaints that the CS 727 is underpowered and we’ll look at that in some more detail in a moment, but as far as taxying is concerned, this is an aircraft that is easy to keep at a sedate taxi speed and I wonder if that power output has been dropped a little to facilitate this ground handling aspect.
The real 727 was often taxied on just the outer engines, so for a touch of authenticity you can do that and it will move well under the thrust from just two engines to get it moving and then keep rolling at more or less idle power just like the real 727, which in reality has engines that actually put out about 800 pounds of thrust even when at idle. So as far as ground handling is concerned, apart from the lack of ability to power back from the gate, ground handling is good and if you are so inclined you can use the tiller in the VC to steer. The real 727 can actually steer a little bit with the rudder so you needn’t feel like too much of a cheat in doing that.
On the subject of which, the nose wheel steering is especially well animated, correctly depicting the 78 degree arc which the nose wheel can turn in either direction on a real B727 so there is not much of that immersion-spoiling sideways wheel-scraping nonsense which even some fairly high end FS add-on airliners exhibit.
Having lined up on the runway ready for take off, this is where the manuals and the panel let us down a little bit. To understand why that is so, we need to learn a little bit about the real aircraft and how its engines are operated: The real Boeing 727 has four rather important gauges on the panel which enable the pilots to operate the engines correctly; however, the CS 727 has only three of these present.
On the real thing, these are the three Engine Pressure Ratio (EPR) gauge/controls at the top of the engine instrument stack in the centre panel, plus an air temperature gauge on the main panel which is also calibrated to depict the correct EPR settings for the temperature adjusted for altitude. The CS 727 has the three EPR gauges alright, but it lacks that temperature/EPR setting gauge. There is a way around that, which I will come to.
If you are not hugely familiar with old school jet engines, you may be wondering why EPR is measured and what makes it such a big deal anyway? EPR is the ratio of the jet turbine’s output pressure divided by the inlet pressure, which shows how much thrust the engine is developing. When the engine is not operating, the EPR will be 1.00, i.e. no differential ratio is indicated because no thrust is being developed so there is no pressure difference between the air at the front of the engine and air at back of the engines.
When the engine is developing a lot of thrust, the EPR will be something like 2.00 on the JT8D engines which the Boeing 727 has, i.e. about twice as much pressure shooting out the back of the engines as compared to what is coming in the front, which is what pushes the aircraft along. At cruise, the EPR is likely to be something like 1.70 or so. There is a little bit more to it than this but that’s the gist of it and enough to understand what that EPR malarkey is for.
So why does this stuff matter and why is an air temperature gauge so important? Well, put simply you need to know the air temperature in order to set the correct EPR on those gauges because the air density changes with different temperatures. Too low an EPR setting and you won’t develop enough thrust, too much and you will over-boost the engines and damage or possibly even destroy them, as well as probably swamping them and making it difficult to achieve an efficient fuel/air mixture.
You might know that this kind of thing is also what all that derated thrust and N1 settings stuff is about in FMCs on more modern airliners. So to properly operate the engines on a 727 which has no fancy FMC to assist in controlling engine air intake, you need to know what the temperature of the air coming into the engine is because then you’ll know its density, which will affect the pressure setting you need to apply in order to get the ideal thrust from the engines for any stage of the flight you are at. Normally this is not too hard to work out on a real 727 because it generally has a temperature gauge with EPR settings marked on it, but the CS 727 is bereft of such a gauge.
Since the air pressure varies not only with temperature but with the altitude as well, you would normally need an outside air temperature gauge and your altimeter to be able to correctly determine the ideal EPR setting because that controls exactly what the throttle is doing to the engine in terms of fuel and air mixture and such. But in lieu of such a calibrated temperature gauge (since on the real thing that gauge might fail), the real 727 also has a comprehensive set of tables in its flight manual which will tell the crew what the correct EPR setting is for any given altitude and temperature.
These are nowhere to be found in the included CS 727 manuals, so with no gauge and no performance tables, you have no real way of knowing what to do with the adjustment dials on the EPR. This doesn’t actually prevent you from flying the CS 727 but it does prevent you from simulating flying the 727 properly unless you source the required tables from elsewhere. Because all this stuff was fairly complicated, engines outputs on modern airliners are now normally rated by the N1 rotation and the FMC and autothrottle will handle all that fuel/air mixture-related stuff automatically, but for an engaging old school experience the hard core 727 simmers will need all that old school stuff.
All is not lost…
However, if you think the lack of an EPR-calibrated TAT gauge and no suitable charts in the manual means the 727 cannot be flown properly, then fear not. In the grand tradition of Avsim being the best, I’m going to point out a few ways to solve these issues at the end of this review. For example, there is a rule of thumb that real 727 crews will be well aware of which goes like this: If you want to know the correct EPR setting for cruise flight, you take your flight level number, multiply that by two, then take the figure you get for anything that is over 100,000 lbs gross weight, and halve that. Add those two figures together and that will give you the last two digits of your cruise EPR setting for a 727.
Sound complicated? Don’t worry, I’ll include a link to that and lots of other useful 727 stuff at the end of this review, including where you can find all those performance tables. You don’t actually need them to fly the CS 727 since over-boosting the engines on a simulated aeroplane is not such a big deal, but if you like realism you might want to get hold of that stuff.
Anyhow, let’s just ignore all that EPR technical stuff for the moment; set it to 2.00 and firewall the throttles to get this baby in the air. With anything between 5 and 15 degrees of flaps, depending on runway length and gross weight, the 727 will get off the deck much quicker than other contemporary mid-1960s airliners thanks to that high-lift wing and like most aircraft, it will climb out best at about 12-15 degrees and around 220-250 knots, rising to 280 knots when you get above 10,000 feet, although in more modern times things get backed off a bit for noise abatement.
The fact that the engines are a little underpowered means that to get the needles to match the 2.00 EPR setting on the gauge, it’s very likely we will have to firewall the throttles, which would probably not be the case on the real 727. The thing is definitely a little under-endowed in the thrust department, but apart from making taxying easier, the other reason I suspect is because we basically have the same flight model for the 100, 200, 200 ADV versions CS have made.
That’s a lot of different MTOWs and even different maximum thrust power for the various engines those models sported, so I think what CS have done is averaged it out to ensure that the 100 is not vastly overpowered. But it does mean the 200 variants are a bit weedy. This would be especially true for a Super 27 variant, which is a bit of a rocket ship in reality.
Off the deck
Once in the air, the CS 727 flies pretty well although one problem it suffers will rapidly be apparent when you manually fly the departure, that being the trim control. Since the 727 is an old school airliner it has no autothrottle and although it has an autopilot which can steer, track beacons, hold altitude and do an automated approach, getting the aircraft to a point where you want it to do those things tends to be achieved by actually flying it into that situation yourself and then flipping the switch.
Because of this the trim is very important, and as it comes, the CS 727’s trim is far too sensitive. Unfortunately, merely tweaking your FS button repeat settings will not be enough to remedy the situation and you will have to manually edit the config file in order to make the trim less fierce if you want this thing to be controllable. If the prospect of doing that does not appeal to you, again don’t panic, a link to how to do that tweak is at the end of this review along with all the other helpful stuff.
In the cruise
Since you won’t find either an FMC or an INS system in this 727, this thing is strictly a case of tuning ground-based radio navigation aids as you fly along your planned routing. So it does mean either writing a route log with notes on VOR frequencies or using the FS navigation log of your flight plan to progress along your route. If you like ATC, then this is not necessarily a bad thing since in pre-FMS days, airliners tended to get steered around the sky a bit more than they do when using an FMC.
It also means that you won’t be doing any automatic SIDs, STARs or holds – you’ll have to hand fly all that stuff. Having actual printed approach charts or alt-tabbing out of FS to view such things on screen might be necessary (as will that trim tweak). This is not to everyone’s liking of course, but using such charts is how the 727 was flown a lot of the time in real life so you’d better be certain that this is what you want to do if you buy this aircraft.
That is not to say it isn’t fun because it definitely is, not to mention being a rewarding experience too. If you are unfamiliar with the kind of precision hand-flying that often entails and are instead used to FMC or even INS automation, then prepare for a challenge. Multiple monitor set ups will be a boon here for those who have PDF charts.
Fortunately, if you do tweak the config file a bit, you’ll find that it does actually hand fly quite well and that means if you prefer doing manual approaches, this thing is a very pleasant simulated aircraft in which to attempt them. If on the other hand you prefer to use the ILS, it will happily do that too. Either way it is certainly fun to bring it in for a landing after you have got to where you were going.
So on the whole, the thing flies okay (when tweaked) and does a credible job of emulating the real thing in most respects as long as you are prepared to accept that a few broad concessions have been made to get it to work in FSX without being too bloated a product.
An unfair complaint
Some people have complained that the CS 727 is not great at capturing an ILS localizer or steering to a VOR heading from a large offset, but the truth is that it is emulating how an airliner of this era actually does operate. When flying an FS aircraft which simulates a DSP-controlled fly by wire modern jet, it is indeed reasonable to expect such an aircraft to happily capture a localizer from an offset of 30 or more degrees and latch right onto the thing. That’s not generally how things were done in aircraft such as the 727 in its formative years, when it was far more likely to manually fly a teardrop procedure turn onto a direct heading for a localizer before the pilots would engage the autopilot to track it.
Back in those days, the ILS approach was more commonly regarded as a means to assist the pilots rather than a procedure they would always use and indeed pilots often had to work in that way at the behest of the airline SOPs. So to expect the 727 to fly to the standards we accept as normal today is somewhat unfair. Thus it is worth remembering that this add-on is intended to be flown manually much of the time and when it has that trim tweak, it does a good job of being the kind of airliner in which that is an engaging experience.
Because of this, perhaps more than for any other reason, I would caution potential buyers to be absolutely certain that this is the kind of flying they want to do, as the CS 727, like the real thing, is no ‘fire and forget’ FMC experience. This is not by any means a criticism but it is something to be aware of if you use the FMC a lot and have grown to prefer such modern amenities and that way of operating an airliner.
Whining of a different kind
Last but not least for this review, we’ll examine the sounds. The audio is of course hugely important in any FS add-on aircraft because it adds a great deal to the feeling of being there and makes up for all the other stuff that is less visceral in a desktop PC simulation. Certainly that is true for an aircraft which is notorious to the extent that it is actually regarded as too noisy these days and the Pratt and Whitney JT8D’s which the 727 sports in real life are nothing if not noisy.
Although the CS 727 does a reasonably good job in the audio department for both internal and external sounds, you won’t find yourself being deafened by the screaming whine which the real thing emits, nor stunned by the realism of those sounds. So there is definitely room for improvement here, because the JT8D’s sounds are an intrinsic part of the real aircraft’s character.
Jet sounds aside, there are one or two sounds in the CS 727 that are default FSX, but there’s plenty of custom stuff too. Since they could be improved upon, one can only hope that TSS will at some point update their FS9 727 sound pack so that it is suited to this FSX 727. As it stands, you could use those FS9 TSS sounds (which were actually mainly directed at use with the Dreamfleet FS9 727), and it would absolutely be an improvement. All the sound cone stuff that FSX can reproduce will probably be lacking, so fingers crossed for an update to that third party sound set, eh? Pretty please?
Alternatively, if you want a freeware solution, you could do a lot worse than to check out the Avsim file library where you will find that this file - b727_pw-jt8-d_snd.zip – can be used to switch out some of the CS 727’s sounds with a bit of effort.
Also on the subject of audio, it’s worth noting here that some people have reported issues with the CS 727 and how it performs in concert with some sound cards. I had no problems on that score, and so I can’t really comment on that since it worked just fine on my system with simply the on-board sounds from my motherboard.
Nevertheless, you might want to check around for yourself on the CS and Just Flight forums before committing yourself to a definite purchase if you have a fancy sound set up. Note that there is a link below which will steer you in the right direction for that.
Captain Sim can come in for a bit of stick on occasion and to be brutally honest, it’s not always been entirely undeserved. I’ve personally been fortunate to never have any insurmountable problems with purchases from them and I’ve bought quite a lot of their stuff. For the most part, such criticisms centre on things that can usually be easily fixed, which might in itself be justification for such criticism. Since if it is easy to fix, one wonders why CS haven’t done so already.
As long as you are happy to accept that there’s a bit of DIY tweaking to be done with CS stuff on occasion, there’s usually a good product to be found lurking in there and this is certainly the case with their 727 for FSX.
That said, even straight out of the box, the CS 727 definitely has more plus than minus points by a considerable margin. On the minus side, you’ll have to tweak the config file trim setting to get it manageable for hand flying (not too hard to do); there are one or two anomalies in the cockpit (which can be fixed); the panel lacks a calibrated TAT gauge for the EPR settings (again this is fixable), and the documentation could be better (see below for some suggestions).
On the plus side, it is a generally well-detailed and complex simulation of the real aircraft; it looks fantastic both inside and out and has an embarrassment of riches as far as ground servicing simulation is concerned. When you consider all that, both pro and con, you have to come down on the side of liking it in spite of its small failings since the glitches are invariably capable of being remedied; rendering them mostly non issues.
Do I recommend it? Well since there’s a bit of DIY involved to get it up to par, that definitely marks it down. So long as you are happy to tweak it, then yes, I do recommend it.
So put on your flared trousers, stick on your 1970’s pilot moustache and sideburns, dig out that chunky gold pilot’s watch, crank up the disco music, dress your girlfriend up like Barbie and have her serve you coffee, and get ready for some old school piloting fun.
Avsim to the rescue…
Having pointed out some cons and mentioning that they can actually be worked around, let’s see what we can do about that. Here are some useful links to things that can make this more fun and sort out those issues…
Find an excellent online guide to all things related to flying a Boeing 727, including some useful rules of thumb
Learn about all that Engine Pressure Ratio stuff
Buy a complete copy of a Boeing 727 flight manual for just ten quid
Buy a complete guide to how to fly a Boeing 727 well enough to pass a check ride
Find a series of mods for the 727, which addresses many of the shortcomings highlighted in this review
What I Like About The Boxed Just Flight Version Of 727 Captain for FSX
What I Don't Like About The Boxed Just Flight Version Of 727 Captain for FSX
Tell A Friend About this Review!
All Rights Reserved