There have been two major releases of 737 models this year- PMDG and iFLY and both have brought out FSX versions of their 737NG families. Undoubtedly, divided camps of flight simmers will be hotly debating the relative merits of each developer’s product but both are welcome additions to any hangar and buyers attempting to decide between the two may have a difficult decision to make.
Installation & Documentation:
Minimum System requirements are; FSX w/SP2 or Acceleration with Windows7/Vista/XP as operating systems, 2GHz dual core CPU, 256Mb graphics card, 2Gb RAM and 2.2Gb hard drive space.
The product ships as a single disc (in a two disc case which was momentarily disconcerting - however, Flight 1, in their infinite wisdom foresaw this and printed ‘This Product Contains One Single Disc’ on the background of the box) with a sticker displaying the registration number (needed to gain entry to the support forum…more on that later).
Installation should commence automatically upon disc insertion although one must have administrator rights enabled.
Documentation is abundant…six PDF documents which are loaded into the system folder and with the boxed version, an additional 55 page abridged manual/tutorial, plus a two-sided, full color panel familiarization sheet.
The 737NG was more than a simple tweaking of the 737 Classic (-300/400/500) family, incorporating a 25% increase in wing area, 16’ greater span, 30% more fuel capacity, and upgraded CFM56-7B engines resulting in an increase of the aircraft’s range by 900nm and a larger cabin. iFLY chose to include seven models of the 737NG: the 737-600, 737-700, 737-800, 737-900, BBJ, BBJ2, and BBJ3.
The program is equipped with a Configuration Manager that installs to the hard drive with a desktop icon for access. This provides for selection of the particular aircraft model to be flown, and as the name implies, allows determination of passenger numbers (one can go so far as to determine which seats will be occupied), cargo weight and fuel load.
The screen maintains a running total of the aircraft weight with each tweak along with computing the aircraft center of gravity (CG) position. Red font indicates when any weight load has been exceeded or if CG is beyond the permissible range. Of particular note are the CG and Zero Fuel Weight (ZFW) numbers. These need to be noted before exiting the Configuration Manager as they will be needed to program the Flight Management System (FMS).
The Configuration Manager is used before starting up FSX and also to add additional liveries and customize the aircraft models by deciding if they should have winglets, eyebrow windows on the flight deck, engine model (up to six choices of CFM56 engines ranging from 19,500 to 27,300 lbs of thrust), and even the color of the readouts on the MCP panel.
There is also the option of running each model in standard screen or wide view format. Running in wide view adds specific textures in the 2D cockpit view to avoid distorted gauge appearance. Want more options? There are choices to configure avionics displays, the startup aircraft state, Inertial Reference System alignment time, aural callouts and Metric or U.S. display of weights.
The additional liveries are available from the Flight1 library or from avsim.com (shameless plug-but true nonetheless) under ‘iFLY 737” and, as to be expected, new ones are regularly being added.
Once FSX is started, the desired iFLY 737NG configuration will be loaded, and for the initial startup of each of the seven models the user will be prompted to allow some gauges to be added to the trusted list. Once so approved, the model will load normally thereafter.
The PDF documents are stored in the iFLY folder and accessed outside of FSX via Start /All Programs/iFLY Jets-The 737NG for FSX.
About those documents…
The Manual and Tutorial included with the boxed version are well written and provides sufficient information to enable installation and getting the airplane airborne by instructing on the basics of powering up the aircraft and programming the FMS. This document is actually an overview of how to use the aircraft. These instructions make reference to the Panel Familiarization Sheet that divides the various flight deck panels into 62 areas. Procedures indicated direct the pilot to the appropriate numbered panel area to locate the requisite control or data screen. This is an effective way to acquaint a new 737 pilot with the controls and get the relatively impatient aviator flying sooner.
However, (and you had to guess this was coming), the iFLY 737NG is a very complex simulation and to gain the full benefit of its capabilities as well as a greater understanding of the aircraft and its systems, it would behoove the pilot to spend some time reading the PDF documents that installed with the aircraft.
Primarily, this would be the 529 page Operations Manual that provides a comprehensive explanation of every switch, display, annunciator light and system of the aircraft. The information contained within is very well presented and will greatly increase the pilot’s understanding of the aircraft, how to fly it efficiently and what the aircraft is telling the pilot about its condition and operating state.
A demonstration of the insistence on accuracy is the fact that the aircraft cannot be operated unless the Inertial Reference System (IRS) is aligned by the pilot. There is an option to use a full alignment (5-17 minutes depending on airport latitude) or a quick version (2 minutes), but it must be done. Curiously, the alignment is accomplished by turning the two IRS switches to the NAV position - passing through the ALIGN position in order to do so. But once alignment is complete, the switch need not be moved to operate the system.
The other documents are:
Setup for flight is basically a familiar routine for anyone with experience on more than a basic 737 sim. Ground power and air can be requested from within iFLY and once power has been established, the IRS alignment should be initiated which will allow it to complete while other pre-flight checklist items are attended to. You will know when the alignment is complete as the PFD and ND do not become operational until then.
Flight plan loading should be the next order of business and anyone familiar with the Boeing FMC should have little trouble inputting the necessary information. Those new to the FMS will be able to follow the instructions in the printed or PDF manuals to learn the required inputs.
Note on the Takeoff Reference page that after the flap setting has been entered the V-speeds will be computed and displayed automatically but those entries must be manually confirmed in order to program them into the system to be displayed on the PFD speed tape and to receive an aural callout at V1. Also on this page will be the need to input the CG number obtained earlier from the Configuration Manager.
Once ready to leave the gate, pushback can be initiated either via the iFLY menu or from the SIMU section of the FMC. There are a few pages available in that section dealing with setting system failures, US or Metric measurement units, and even an option to remove the pilot seats in order to obtain an unobstructed panel view when using Track IR or a distant eye point setting. The pushback page provides for selecting the straight back distance and degree and direction of turn.
Engine start is a pleasure. Selecting the throttle view brings up the lower engine display so once the start switch is activated in the overhead display it is easy to monitor the N2 fan speed and switch on the fuel lever when it reaches 21% and the engines exhibit some great sounds as they spool up.
The flight model is very good, a fact I discovered early on when I had to hand fly the airplane due to an inexplicable failure of the FMS to maintain autopilot settings. I was unable to have the VNAV climb to and level off at my designated cruise altitude and altitude hold also would not engage.
I made extensive use of yoke movement and trim inputs to hold some resemblance of the proper altitude. This resulted in the LNAV or Heading hold functions to disconnect, as they are programmed to do when the pilot takes manual control. The aircraft switches to Control Wheel Steering mode and the auto throttle remains functional. Although I was perturbed at the failure of the FMS, I was pleased to see that the aircraft responded smoothly and in a stable way to control inputs. I hand flew from FL360 to a visual approach and landing with very little difficulty.
I found the detailed information displayed on the PFD and ND to be a bit difficult to discern at times both in the VFR and IFR panel views. In these settings the displays are 3 1/2” x 2 1/2”. But clicking on them brings up larger views of 5 1/2’ x 4” and everything is sharp and easily readable at that magnification. Any such amplified view remains visible even in other panel views until clicked again. This can be helpful in maintaining situational awareness while tending to other duties; however, there is a tradeoff as the display screen also blocks a section of the new panel view.
I headed to the iFLY forum and searched the topics. I found that this is apparently not that unusual of a problem. There is a tendency for the -700 models to have difficulty engaging autopilot functions and across the board the caveat is given that before A/P and VNAV will engage, the aircraft must be properly trimmed with no control pressures being applied to the yoke.
There have also been incidences reported where CH Yokes will fail to allow A/P engagement. A suggested workaround is to set the joystick sensitivity to minimum in the Styles menu. However, I could find no posts relating to the situation I was experiencing, which was that the A/P was engaged in VNAV and LNAV modes but then would disconnect with no input from me on the controls.
While a vexing problem for me personally, the fact that no one else has expressed this problem is heartening and leads me to believe it is a glitch with my particular hardware setup. One suggestion that helped was that iFLY runs much better if the user first loads a simpler airplane and then switches to the iFLY model. This tip has been posted in the iFLY forum as an officially endorsed method of startup procedure and doing that did allow the autopilot functions to arm and engage as anticipated.
Since the main difference physically between the 700/800/900 series of 737s and their corresponding BBJ/BBJ2/BBJ3 versions is mostly interior appointments, it is pretty cool that iFLY chose to also differentiate these models for the pilot.
While the basic cockpit layouts are almost identical, the BBJ-branded aircraft have at least a couple of impressive features that their numbered sibling do not. These would be the Head Up Display on the Captain’s side in the VC panel and the addition of a vertical profile display on the ND.
The HUD can be shown as a display option and it contains practically all the information needed to fly the aircraft while projecting it on the windscreen view. So comprehensive is the HUD that an entire section of the PDF manual is taken up with interpreting the symbology.
As any good pilot should and must do, I spent the vast majority of my time on the flight deck and that is where the majority of my screenshots originate. But on the ground, a walk around inspection of the aircraft’s exterior will reveal considerable effort has been expended to produce a realistic aircraft and the overall effect is quite enjoyable.
This is a most impressive product and it is apparent that the iFLY team has embarked upon a labor of love. This is a complex aircraft and serious aficionados of the 737 will enjoy the level of detail inherent in this rendering and the fact that proper operation of the aircraft and its systems is very much dependent on following the correct procedures.
With seven different model variations it is a great value. Even if all you did was sit in the cockpit, program the FMC and flip switches on the various panels you would probably not be disappointed - but of course, there is the fact that you get to fly it too and I can tell you that I will be flying this one quite often.
What I Like About iFLY's 737NG
What I Don't Like About iFLY's 737NG
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