The DC-9 is one of the last of the true “pilot’s airplanes”. It was designed and built in the 1960s when jet aircraft were still a relatively new concept and there were no such things as flight management systems, VNAV, LNAV or GPS navigation. This was a good thing as pilots could transition to what may have been their first jet and only be concerned with mastering the intricacies of jet powered flight instead of also wrangling with new forms of navigation. However, in practical terms this meant that pilot workload was little reduced beyond having fewer engine control levers to manipulate and they also had to get used to events occurring a bit quicker than the pace to which they were accustomed.
This pioneer of small commercial jet service allowed the movement of appreciable numbers of passengers and is certainly deserving of reproduction as a high fidelity simulation. This was the thinking of Sky Simulations a relatively new developer whose only previous offering was a DC-10. With the DC-9, Sky Sim sought to utilize the powerful sim engine of FSX to generate as faithful reproduction of the DC-9 as possible.
Installation & Documentation:
It arrives as a 127mb download and during installation one must make the critical choice of whether to go with a blue or gray instrument panel background for the virtual cockpit.
During the install there is a slide show of various splash screens to keep you amused but unfortunately these will cycle nonstop and there is no progress gauge of install completion, so one is left to guess and hope that it was completed.
Once that was done, a visit to the SkySim website brought the discovery that there was a Service Pack 1 update of 49.3mb available to correct some deficiencies, most notably new flight dynamics resulting in better engine tuning and lower V-speeds. I repeatedly attempted to download this file but each time could only achieve a partial download before the connection would be terminated. I contacted the SkySim support team and asked if anyone else was reporting this as I suspected it originated from their end.
They responded that it was a known problem with their server and they were planning to switch to another one. Indeed they did. Just before this review went to press the service pack was available to be downloaded and I was able to obtain and install it.
Documentation installs with the aircraft into a separate folder (Program Files/SkySim)and consists of an Operations Manual and a Flight Tutorial both in PDF format. I was not aware of the existence of these until I posted a question to the SkySim support team and was directed to look for the folder. I felt that the installation instructions should have included a mention of these manuals as they are a must read. I have a bit more to say about them in the next section of this review.
The SkySim website also offers 26 free exterior liveries as well as 5 paint kits for the various models.
Airframe and Cockpit
Attention to detail abounds with this offering. You get five different variations of the DC-9, the original -10 model, -21, 31, 41 and 51. Differences amongst the models relate mostly to size. There are some differences as well in some of the instrument locations in the cockpit but these are well covered in the 105 page operations manual.
About that manual. One area that is quite frustrating is that Sky Simulations went to considerable trouble to provide a very detailed manual that explains the functions of every instrument and technical information about practically all functions of the aircraft. Unfortunately, although it is written in English, it appears to have been translated from some other language as some of the wording is either cumbersome or in some areas just plain wrong.
This is a small example: “ The DC-9 series come from factory with the C.G. in a Operating Empty weight located between 25 and 27% of the MAC. Varying the CG depending of the aircraft at maximum gross weight between 12 and 19 percent of the MAC.”
Another is this note from one of the install splash screens: “Flight Dynamics recreated to the minimal detail possible,” which I interpret as meaning it is recreated to the maximum detail possible but this sort of distortion of intent is prevalent throughout the manuals.
I actually went so far as to contact the support team once again and offer my services to rework the manual and make it readable. They were receptive to the idea and made repeated promises to provide an editable version of it. As of this writing that document has not materialized but I hope they will follow through and deliver it.
But if one can get beyond the, shall we say interesting way some of the phrasing is presented, the manuals offer a bounty of information and demonstrate the complexity of the simulation. They are also a must read as it will be extremely difficult to get this airplane up and running without reference to the information provided.
It took me three sessions before I could manage to get all the switches in the correct positions in order to start the engines…and truth be told, even though I followed the checklist instructions as closely as I could, I had to cheat and use CTRL+E or else I would very likely still be trying to get the turbines turning.
Taking the information from the tutorial flight description I filled six pages of legal paper with the checklist instructions to go from a cold and dark aircraft to pre-takeoff configuration. Having to deal with all the nuances of checking batteries, setting electrical bus ties and configuring the hydraulic, pneumatic and pressurization systems gives one a true appreciation for how far along cockpit automation has come and how much easier it has made things.
As alluded to in the opening paragraph, this is a rudimentary jet and the rendition of the cockpit offers the feel of being in an older, slightly cramped work environment. The profusion of similar sized round dials all with white indicators on black backgrounds can be a trap for the unwary pilot. It takes a while to determine exactly what gauge is reporting on a particular event.
The 2D panel provided me the best overview of most of the instruments. I found the virtual cockpit, while beautifully detailed, does not allow panning with ease to see needed dials and switches. I do not believe this is a fault of the program, more often than not I get this effect with most of the FSX VC panels. While the DC-9 is available for both FS9 and FSX I had only the FSX version available to me for this review. I would like to have used the FS9 version as I generally have better performance with that platform.
I did find this DC-9 to be a frame hog at times. I tried setting almost all of the scenery sliders to minimal (and I do mean minimal) positions and still was only able to derive 1 to 2 frames per second while taxiing. This was incredibly annoying and frustrating…so Santa, if you are reading this…perhaps a faster computer or graphics card?
The instructions for cockpit setup are thorough and demanding but once engine start can be achieved, the reward is a terrific sound mix. The powerful engines can be heard, though it is properly muted considering their distance from the cockpit.
I found this an absolute beast of an airplane to fly. When I actually managed to get both engines running and keep them doing so I was still presented with an annunciation panel warning that the left start valve open was open even though the switch on the panel had sprung back to the closed position.
Aircraft handling was all too quirky for my appreciation. I had considerable difficulty in attempting to maintain level flight at airspeeds of 180 kts or less even with flaps extended. Pitch control movement at that configuration would result in airspeed changes and level flight could only be maintained through constant power adjustments.
I know that in approach configuration pitch controls airspeed and throttles command descent rate but the actions needed with both controls was excessive and it was aggravatingly difficult if not impossible to maintain either level flight or a desired descent rate. And in order to maintain a desirable descent rate I had to sacrifice the ability to see the runway. For some reason that I have not yet been able to discern, I can change the eye viewpoint for the side window views but not through the main windscreen. That, and the fact that the throttle response seemed twitchy made for some very difficult approaches.
I was also having a problem with stabilizer trim repeatedly resetting itself to full nose down. This necessitated having to keep the throttle pedestal window opened when using the 2D cockpit-which blocked a lot of area.
Flying from the virtual cockpit without a head tracking device I found that the trim indicator is not visible from the captain’s position. The trim wheel is in the way. That and the fact that the hydraulic pump switches are not accessible from the left seat made this one of the few airplanes I have chosen to fly from the right seat view.
There are co-pilot callouts of flap and landing gear extension/retraction but the landing gear extension call is “Two Green” which I also found a bit disconcerting seeing that “Three Green” is what you want to hear…and yes, there are 3 indicator lights on the panel.
I wanted to post these problems on a SkySim forum but there are no forums. Yet another frustration. Any issues are addressed via individual emails to the support team. While to their credit, SkySim did respond in a timely fashion to my inquiries this does seem to be a tedious way for them to address common problems and it denies users the opportunity to learn of inherent bugs in the program or query one another for operating tips.
If you want to experience 1960s era jet flight in a realistic setting then this is an excellent choice. If, however, you prefer to throw a couple of switches to start the engines and set the autopilot to drive the airplane from takeoff to landing this is not going to make you happy.
DC-9s are simply not operated in that fashion. This airplane must be piloted and flown throughout every phase of flight and if nothing else it teaches the importance of strict adherence to checklists.
At approximately $53.00 this is not a cheap product and for the most part I believe it to be worth the purchase price. The problems I experienced with views and frame rate performance may be more a result of my computer vs. FSX than anything having to do with this DC-9. But if you are like me and do not have 100% confidence in the way FSX runs for you, I would opt for the FS9 version.
Either way, this is going to be an airplane that will need to be learned to be operated with any degree of precision and being able to do so will be a reward for the computer pilot as this is anything but a push button airplane and its operation is very much a reflection of the pilot’s ability.
What I Like About The DC-9 Series
What I Don't Like About The Dc-9 Series
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