It's becoming a bit of a career for me to review yet another FS2Crew product. However it's not been drudgery yet - each new product has been a significant improvement on the previous one, which itself was good. In the previous review for the 747 version, we gave FS2Crew the Avsim Gold Star Award. This time I'm reviewing the version for the Wilco Feelthere A320, although it can be used with the other models of Airbus in their current range. The plane itself was something I reviewed earlier in 2007. The Airbus version I've used for this review is the latest Service Pack 3a version, which thankfully has fixed a number of the problems that were around at the time, although some still exist.
For those still unfamiliar with this product series, it meets the need of virtual pilots who want to simulate the professional routine of life in that office at the front of the plane. So not only is there that important paperwork to deal with, and those little passenger emergencies that keep cropping up, but you have someone in the right-hand seat to share the workload and checklists with. So it's more "real as it gets" than flying a passenger jet in solitary splendour.
As I said, it's never boring reviewing another FS2Crew edition, because they always show developments from the previous ones. So what did I find this time?
Installation & Documentation
Installation is by a 91 Mb download, and then purchase via the standard Flight 1 wrapper. There is also the optional Flight 1 Downloader Tool if you get broken downloads from a bad connection. Once it's installed, you need to perform a few set-up operations, but less than with previous versions. You need to set up the Red and Green buttons that are the primary communication with FS2Crew, on your joystick and / or keyboard. if you want to use it in other Airbus variants than the 320, then there are instructions via the Forum that allow you to cut and paste the aircraft.cfg and do just that. When you load up the Wilco Feelthere Airbus in FSX, be prepared to click your mouse 36 times, because that's the number of gauge warning messages you'll get! Apart from that, you're all set.
Documentation comprises the usual thorough manual. This lists the setup requirements, describes the various panels that you will come across, a description of special procedures, a tutorial flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles, checklists, and a full list of who does what and when. It's all very clear and easy to follow through the first few flights, but I do still miss the flowchart summaries that a user produced for the original ATR and 767 variants.
If you do need further advice, there is the user forum here at AVSIM. I always make a point of looking at forums closely, because they can tell you a lot about a product and its support. I've come across one or two that look like those spaghetti-Western towns, all dust and tumbleweed, otherwise deserted; there are hardly any customers, for reasons that soon become obvious. Others are like a very rough pub where if you dare raise your voice, some large oaf wanders over and metaphorically empties beer into your lap to humiliate you. One that I know is like that nightmare where you're back at school and always wrong - tell them about the bug you found, and it's always your fault, must be something you've messed up; they expect you to uninstall everything, remove Windows, take your PC back to the store, disown your kids, divorce your spouse, assume the foetal position, and then retrace your complete life back up to the point where you found the bug, but don't make any mistakes this time. By contrast, the FS2Crew Forum reminds me of a Norman Rockwell hardware store, managed by an always-genial Bryan York. Nothing is too much trouble, the very few problems soon get solved, and everyone seems as happy and content as in those paintings.
Anyway, enough of forums. One final point I will make, and one that I always make, is always to get familiar with the basic plane before venturing into FS2Crew territory. FS2Crew is not difficult to get to grips with, but the Airbus is, and if you've been raised on an American diet of Boeing, then switching to Airbus is a European meal of sauerkraut, langue de boeuf and jellied eels. So take it one step at a time to avoid "cognitive overload".
What FS2Crew does
FS2Crew simulates all those people that a real-life pilot normally interacts with. There's the Ground Crew, who do such things as bring you paperwork and push you back. There are the flight attendants who do such things as tell you when the cabin is ready and report on passengers needing assistance. And last but not least, there is your Flying Officer, who works many of the switches, runs through the checklists with you, and points out when you do something wrong. He does reduce your workload so that you, as the pilot, can do all the Captain's stuff, like hold the controls, set the autopilot, plan your descent, or just look out of the window. The procedures that are modeled in the version of FS2Crew for the Airbus A320 are based on one specific although un-named airline, so you can be sure that as a virtual Captain you are following the professional procedures of aircrew in the real world.
At the Gate
Before loading up the Airbus, the first thing to do is put in specific information relating to the flight. This is done in the FS2Crew Start Center, which is used for all versions of FS2Crew that you might have installed. Here is where you put in your name (for a later signature), departure and arrival airports and runways. (It would be nice if the latter could be picked up directly from what you've entered on the MCDU, but the Wilco Feelthere Airbus doesn't have an SDK that would allow FS2Crew to "read" these.) So in this example I've set it up for an Air Canada flight from Vancouver to Los Angeles. Once the Airbus is loaded, and the 2D panel should always be loaded first in order to initialise everything, the Checklist Panel is visible. This is the panel that controls where you are in the sequence of operations- for example, "Before Start" or "After Takeoff" - and so determines what's going to happen in the way of checklists, paperwork and other actions. A simple click on the arrows will move backward or forward in the sequence if necessary. It will normally just tell you where you are, but if you want to go back a stage or move ahead and skip one, because you've made a mistake or are in a hurry to get going, then that's easy enough. If you want to get rid of it or bring it back to your screen, then there are the usual hidden "click spots", like the Standby Altimeter, that allow you to do this.
OK, so now it's time to get this show on the road. Another hidden "click spot" reveals the Panel Selector, and from there clicking "PF" brings up the Pre-Flight panel. This allows you to set the whole FS2Crew process in motion, with doors opening and the Jetway (FSX only) trundling across to attach to the plane. If you don't want to wait 30 minutes before you're finally ready to push back, here's the place to speed it up.
From now on you're going to be fairly busy. There'll be exchanges with the Gate Agent and senior Flight Attendant, and dialogue panels will help you with those. One bit I really enjoy is when the engineer comes in with the Fuel Docket and Flight Release form. This comes to you with a few items filled in, but the rest is for you to do. When you left-click on the empty fields than they are "miraculously" completed in blue ink, although you can change them if you wish. FS2Crew picks up the values from the aircraft.cfg or the Start Centre. Click to add your signature at the bottom, and the engineer will come back in a few minutes to take it away.
Then it's time to prepare the plane for flight, as you would normally do. The MCDU needs to be set, and the oxygen tested, with matching sound effects. At some point the Loadsheet arrives, which allows your Flying Officer to fill out the values in the Takeoff Data Card. And don't forget to run through the Departure Brief - the appropriate panel is opened from the Panel Selector, and this allows you to set the weights and heights values as needed. Some of it can be run through right away, but some needs to wait until you've got the Takeoff Data Card, so you may prefer to leave it all to the last few minutes.
The whole process at the gate can be quite involved, and initially quite stressful, just as in real life. It's quite surprising how 30 minutes can just fly by, and it doesn't seem long before you're told that all the passengers are aboard and you're ready to leave the terminal. However use of the FS2Crew panels and controls soon becomes second nature; as always they are very well-designed and intuitive.
Pushback, Start and Taxi
Before pushing back, you should run through the Before Start checklist. You step through each item by clicking the Green Button, whatever you assigned that to (see above), or hitting the - (minus) key. Once that's done, the Flying Officer calls for clearance to pushback and start. In order to push back, you call up the ground mechanic by pushing the regular "Mech" button on the overhead panel; FS2Crew has appropriated this for its own purposes; it brings up a panel in which you specify the pushback distance and angle. Press the "Contact" button and the pushback dialogue starts, ending with your plane suitably positioned on the apron.
The same pushback panel has two buttons to announce that you are starting each engine; as Captain with this particular airline's procedures, it's your job to start the engines yourself. Both of you then run through the after-start procedures and checklist - this includes the Flying Officer confirming that you have "full and free" movement of the flight controls which are, this being an Airbus, joystick and rudder.
When taxing, switching on the Taxi light and then the Strobes is the trigger for the Flying Officer to call the cabin and then to run the Before Takeoff checklist.
Takeoff and Climb
Things obviously flow thick and fast in the takeoff and initial climb. The Checklist Panel should now be displaying "Takeoff Roll". Pressing your Green Button results in you announcing "Takeoff". You push the throttles, the FO makes the speed calls, you rotate, the FO lifts the gear and disarms the spoiler, you engage the autopilot, then by pressing the Green Button you cause the FO to retract flaps. When the flaps are fully up you both run through the After Takeoff checklist. You turn off the taxi lights, the FO turns off the landing lights at 10000 feet.
Unlike previous versions, there is not the option for the FO to handle the takeoff instead of you. However it's unlikely that many people will have used that regularly, beyond just trying it once. There's not much fun flying a flight simulator if someone else does the takeoff, is there? May as well be sitting in the main cabin, breaking your teeth on airline pretzels.
The cruise, as always, is relatively quiet. However Bryan York has introduced another source of diversion to liven things up, if you wish. You can request a random event, and be rewarded by an air rage incident, or a passenger smoking in the toilet. Or else you can just use the Flight Attendant panel to ask for a cup of coffee.
As you approach the Top of Descent, you need to perform the Approach Brief. That involves using the Approach Briefing panel that is similar to the Departure Briefing Panel used earlier.
Approach and Landing
In the descent, you'll be going through the Approach Checklist. As you come close to landing, pressing the Green Button successively will cause the FO to lower flaps, and the Red Button will make him/her lower the gear, followed by arming the ground spoilers. You'll both then go through the Landing Checklist. At decision height, the FO calls "Minimums" and you either press Green to say "Landing" or Red to say "Go Around, Flaps".
Once landed and on to the taxiway, you both share the duties of cleaning up the aircraft; similarly when parked and shut down. Unlike previous versions, if you want to do a back-to-back flight, you don't need to reload the aircraft - just start FS2Crew once more.
This has of course described a standard routine flight. FS2Crew does allow you some variations, such as rejected takeoff's and go-around's.
Performance and Reliability
I have never noticed any additional performance overhead from using FS2Crew. I also find it to be completely reliable. As long as you know the Airbus and its systems, so you know what's going on and what your FO is up to; and as long as you work through the Tutorial Flight a couple of times to become familiar with it, it'll become your tried and trusted friend in the cockpit. Having said that, if you completely screw up, then it's easy enough to get things back in sync with where they should be.
This is the fourth FS2Crew review I have done, and once again Bryan York has produced a little masterpiece. I said in the last review that I didn't see how he could improve the FS2Crew design further, and yet he has, making the interface even more simple and intuitive, to become almost second-nature to use while retaining all the complexity of passenger airline flight deck operations.
The coming year is expected to be an exciting one for virtual Airbus pilots, with at least two more products coming along to compete with the Wilco Feelthere Airbus. This FS2Crew design would support any Airbus product very well, so let's hope there are no major technical difficulties preventing it being carried across and released for these new entrants as well.
FS2Crew for the Wilco Feelthere Airbus is the latest in a series of excellent products from this stable. If you are a 'bus flyer, you shouldn't be without it!.
*To buy this aircraft package, go to FS2Crew
|What I Like About FS2Crew|
A completely professional simulation of real-world cockpit management
|What I Don't Like About FS2Crew|
Fleeting appearance of "mini-panels", but that is due to Feelthere's technology, not FS2Crew's
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