Aircraft add-on for Microsoft FS9 & FSX

 
 


You're a passenger, you need to get from A to B, with a minimum of fuss, and you have a choice of airlines. One operates a Boeing 737 on the route, one a B727 and the third operates something called a "Mad Dog". Which do you choose to fly?

The possibly surprising answer is that when this question was asked, the majority of people chose the McDonnell Douglas MD-8x series or its predecessor, the DC-9 in various lengths and guises. It was more comfortable, a nicer ride and quieter, apparently, than either of its competitors from Boeing - who, incidentally, now own McDonnell Douglas and have absorbed the DC-9/MD-80 line into their own as the short-lived Boeing B717.

Originally, however, the DC-9 was a success story for Douglas Aircraft Company, then McDonnell Douglas who rebranded it as the MD-80 as the year 1980 approached, and sold around the world in large numbers. All are now ageing and most have long since been retired or scrapped, but considerable numbers still fly on with airlines as diverse as national flag carriers and small holiday charter companies. Whether customers would still specifically choose to fly on a carrier that operated an MD-80 over a B737NG or an A320 I can't say, but the type is far from vanished from our skies.

Leonardo Software House are not a big name in the Flightsim industry. Most people reading this, I suspect, will never have heard of them, but the product I am reviewing here, Fly The Maddog 2006, is not their first foray into the field, having been proceeded by a 2004 version of the same aircraft. It has not been highly anticipated by the mass of PC pilots, nor has it been widely advertised and hyped, but one look at the features list provided on the developers' site or at SimMarket provides a lot of expectation regarding what the product can deliver. It promises to be right up there with the LDS B767s and PMDG B747s of the FS world. I, for one, was very interested to see whether the package lived up to it's low-key but very promising advertising.
 

 

 

   

 
 
Installation

After purchase either from Leonardo themselves or from SimMarket, you will be provided with instructions to download the 108Mb installation executable file - not a small file, but you can keep yourself entertained(!) while waiting by starting to read the manuals... Well, the first one anyway. There'll be a few more after that, but I'll come to documentation shortly.

The executable installation is pretty much as standard these days, except that it includes an option to install to either FS2004 or FSX. Around 1Gb is required for the installed file - the developers require 1Gb free space - and a further 750Mb is required if you want the livery pack. Both that and the Paintkit are, incidentally, free downloads from the Leonardo website. For the purposes of this review, all testing is being done in FS9 because like many people, I await the benefits of FSX SP1 or possibly a new computer before I can even consider running something this complex in the newer sim!

The installation creates two entries on your Start menu - one appropriate to the version of the sim you have installed it to, which contains links to documentation and utility applications, the second a general one with uninstaller links. Like many people, my Start menu has become exceedingly cluttered over time and if I am entirely honest, I would have preferred to have only one entry rather than the two, but that's a minor point.

After completion of the install procedure, the Manager & Setup utility is called, opening directly to a registration page. Access to the internet is required for registration, although apparently it does not specifically have to be from the PC the product is installed to. You simply enter your e-mail used for purchase and purchase code into this application, then pressing the "register" button opens your internet browser software to a page which submits this information to Leonardo. The requests appear to be handled manually at that point and it may be up to 24hrs before you receive back an "Enable key" which, once entered, activates the product. Attempting to use it before doing so will fail. The requests sent to activate the review copies were handled within an hour, but the requests were made in the middle of a working day inside Europe, so elsewhere may well take longer (Nick and I are both based in the UK, the Leonardo team are based in Italy - a 1hr time difference.)

Some things worth noting about activation are that there is currently no limit on reactivations and that the key is limited to a single PC and will not work on other hardware. I do not know at the time of writing what the effect of hardware alterations or upgrades on the activation are.

 

 
 

   

 
 
Documentation

If you want to print it, before doing so buy more ink/toner, paper and at least one ring binder or lever arch file. You'll need them!

In reality, probably the best way to read the manuals included with Fly The Maddog 2006 is on-screen, using Adobe Acrobat Reader, and only print what is absolutely necessary. At the time of writing, I have only printed the tutorial, as a quick reference for starting the aircraft, and the checklists.

The manuals are split into a number of Acrobat PDF files, accessible from the Start Menu folder for the product. They consist of user manuals in Italian and English, tutorials (again in Italian and English), takeoff speed charts, landing speed charts, the normal checklists and an operations manual which is actually just a front for a further 17 PDF files in volume 1 and 6 PDFs in volume 2. In total, there are around 380 pages, split over 30 PDF files - and that's not including the Italian ones.

The best starting point is the user manual, which in a rare bit of common sense I actually read through before even installing the product, courtesy of the download link from the website. I'm glad I did, because any add-on this complex has its own way of dealing with things such as switching between panels and operating controls - the user manual is where this stuff is explained along with the install/activation procedure and suchlike. Effectively it is the manual that tells you how to use the add-on, rather than fly an MD-80 aircraft.

The operations manual is, as is evident from its complexity, where the vast majority of the how, where, what and why is to be found. Using the front end PDF files, you can link around quite easily to find what you want and, despite the developers' first language not being English, I found very few errors or typographical mistakes in them. Because of the depth of the simulation involved with this add-on, they are definitely worth reading, but having flown a few fairly complex MD-80 and DC-9 add-ons before, I jumped straight into the tutorial flight from Rome to Cagliari. It took me a while to find some switches, but for the most part, this was an excellent introduction to the aircraft without having to wade through all the paperwork first. The way it is written, with images showing what you are looking for and what it should look like after you have set them, is very usable indeed. That, incidentally, is 41 pages of the 380.

Finally the takeoff and landing speed charts are, quite simply, a series of pages, each one covering a specific configuration of the aircraft at that stage. This information can also be called up from a gauge inside the aircraft, which I will cover later.
 
 
 

   

 
 
Pre-Flight

I'm adding an entirely new section into this review, because this is one of very few add-ons I have reviewed that require much of the pre-flight work to be done outside Microsoft FS, before it is even started. As such, it doesn't come under the usual headings so I'll put it here instead.

The work in question consists of all the stuff a real aircrew would do before walking out onto the tarmac or meandering randomly down identical airport corridors until the find their aircraft for the sector: Route planning, fuel planning, load planning and checking the weather, etc. All of this is done through the Manager and Setup Application from the start menu, commencing with the first page opened when you launch the application, covering the aircraft's load.

It is worth noting at this point that Fly The Maddog 2006 is probably not the best add-on to use with other packages such as FSCargo, FSPassengers or anything else that wants to change fuel, load or similar on a flight model. Although it does work, with a little effort in some instances, some of the functions that provide the realism require you to have set the aircraft up, if not launched the sim, using the Manager and Setup utility.

After setting up the load, including a dynamically updated graph showing Zero Fuel and Take Off Weight centres of gravity, you can proceed to the Fuel/Route Planner page, which uses the same PMDG format AIRAC information as the internal FMC itself and can, quite literally with the exception of SIDs and STARs, be used to fill in the route that you intend to take using airways and waypoints. As you set up the route, the amount of fuel you can expect to use is updated automatically and after inserting your required reserve amounts, you can transfer this to the load page in one click. Routes can be saved in and loaded from the FMC format directly, so a route saved using the Manager and Setup application can be called up inside the sim simply by entering the filename in the "Company Route" box of the FMC Route page.

The other useful facility of the Fuel/Route Planner page is a box at the bottom that allows you to directly call up weather information - TAFs and METARs - for the airports you are operating between. I was not able to find the source of the weather information in the manuals when I looked, but loading ActiveSky 6.5 and comparing reports for stations on planned routes gave identical results.

Pressing the print icon at the top of the page produce three sheets of paper from your default Windows printer - a trip planning sheet showing fuel and weight information, the route itself and the loadsheet which would normally be presented to the Captain by the Dispatcher just before departure. One of my friends is actually a real world dispatcher (for a Boeing operator rather than MDD unfortunately) and he has testified to the accuracy of the output. The dispatch loadsheet is, incidentally, one of the reasons that the aircraft works less than perfectly with load generators as I mentioned earlier. It is "presented to you", as a form inside the cockpit, after loading is completed but the form is generated by the external utility, so if you change the loads after launching the sim, this sheet (and thus the settings you are required to enter from it) will be incorrect. There is also the possibility that adjusted weights may be outside the aircraft's tolerances (CofG settings for example) and can cause the simulation to not function correctly.

The manual describes the Load Manager and Fuel/Route Planner as "the perfect tools to prepare your flight" and the description is very fair indeed. It is without doubt the best planning tool I have seen for an FS add-on.

Pressing the big green "OK" button, either with the "Start FS" tick box pressed or not, accepts all the settings you have made and transfers them to the aircraft configuration. At this point, you are provided with another box with two options available. If the "Start FS" tick box is pressed, you can select a situation/flight to be loaded at launch, positioning your selected aircraft exactly where you want it. In either case, you are offered a panel state file to use with options of "cold and dark", "ready to start" or "previous", which is however you last left the aircraft. I'm a masochist... It's normally on cold and dark!

If you do start FS from within the utility, your fuel settings and the time, date, etc. of the flight you entered will be transferred to the sim as well. If not, you'll need to set them manually. In my case, because I use FSAutoStart to close down background functions and launch other applications along with FS, I tend not to use the tickbox.

Finally, you are ready to move into FS itself and go flying... Well... After the walkaround and internal checks, anyway.
 
 

   

 
 
Exterior

Now that all the paperwork is complete, it's time to go and look at the aircraft itself.

There are a number of MD-8x models available for FS, both freeware and commercial, with a wide variety of levels of detail from low-poly models intended primarily for AI use up to the fully detailed and textured models that come with several commercial add-ons. This one is definitely towards the upper end of the spectrum.

It can be found - possibly following a little hunting - under the manufacturer name of "Leonardo SH" and with only the base pack installed, only one livery is available, that of McDonnell Douglas with "MD80" written on the forward fuselage, the tail and both engines. Only the MD-82 model is available, but by installing the livery pack, the number of aircraft available increases to 25, covering most European and North American operators. Additionally, a .PSD format paintkit can be downloaded, so if there are any missing, or Virtual Airlines want to operate the model, new liveries can be added.

The liveries are detailed and stand close inspection pretty well. Rivets, panels, placards and warning labels are present where appropriate although obviously the placards and labels are not readable or the texture files would be colossal!

Animations are provided for all of the control surfaces and similar that users expect these days, plus a not inconsiderable number of doors. The port side passenger access doors are both animated, as is the air stair for the forward door. The tail stair is animated - and requires sufficient hydraulic pressure to open fully as I discovered to my cost (I'm not the only one... I found the answer on the forums in several threads!) - as are the starboard side cargo doors and single galley door. They are accessed using key combinations specified in the configuration options of the setup utility but set as default to shift F5 to F8 and control F5 to F8, rather than the FS default shift-e-1, etc, which has been known to cause issues on other models, with users unable to open doors at times.
 

 

 

   

 

   

 
 
Interior

The cockpit interior is the heart of this product. The place where the quality of it really shines through, although unfortunately many will, these days, be put off by the lack of a 3d VC.

I might as well get that bit out the way before discussing anything else, as it is really the only significant downside of the package. Selecting the VC gives you a nice, clear, all round view with no obstructions, although a VC is promised as a free update when it is developed. To be honest, I can see why it is missing. The sheer amount of animation and programming that will be required to transfer all the functionality from the 2d cockpit to a 3d environment is massive and only doing a partially functional VC would seriously detract from the experience that has been developed for users. As a result, personally, I'd rather not to have a VC and be forced to fly the aircraft 'properly' than to have one and keep having to switch back to 2d to complete checklists. Personal preference, I guess, is the key at this point. I've never seen the point of 'wing views' or 'virtual cabins' except for screenshots or showing off modelling skill at the expense of frame rate inside the sim. For other people, these features are vastly more important.

So with that out the way, we can switch to the overhead, turn on and lock the battery switch, then run through the five minute procedure before starting the APU... Or we can enable ground communications and ask the ground crew to provide power. Yes, as if you hadn't guessed already, it's one of those type of panels, and a very good one at that.

The MD-80 cockpit is a partial glass development of that from its predecessor, the DC-9 series of aircraft. They were developed before ergonomics was a word seen anywhere other than a dictionary and oh good grief can you tell it! To complete a single checklist, the chances are that you will have to access at least three panels (often at the same time, which can be tricky) and the game of hunt-the-switch can reveal them in some surprising places for people more familiar with the modern 'flow pattern' designed cockpits of Airbus and newer Boeing models. Take the bleed valves for providing high pressure air to the engines. These days, they'd be on the air panel or, at worst, with the APU and engine controls. Nope, here they're on the bottom of the centre console at the back. Light switches should be on the eyebrow panel, right? Nope. In an MD-80, they're on the panel glareshield - either side, so the Captain has to control the landing/taxi lights and the First Officer everything else. Seriously, allow yourself a considerable amount of time, the first few times you run through the checklists, to hunt for the control you're looking for.

This is also the first panel I've met where you actually have to (and can) test the Emergency Lights and Intercom. You can communicate with the cabin crew through a window menu, very similar to that seen in another similarly complex simulation covering the Boeing 767-300, and yes, you will get told off for forgetting to turn the air conditioning on here as well, including requests to make it warmer or cooler. If you don't confirm that the emergency lights and PA are working, you can't ask the cabin crew to start the boarding simulation (sorry, there's another clash for FSPassengers users) and without the self loading cargo, you won't be going very far, will you? There are no pure freight models included in the package.

After loading the passengers, the doors will all be closed automatically so you can call for pushback from the ground crew. You will need to enable the ground communications channel before doing so, the same as before calling for ground air, power or failures to be fixed, but the pushback option opens a window that allows you to set the length of straight pushback and the angle that you want the tail to be pushed through after that.
 
 
 

   

 
 
Navigation around the panel and subpanels is through both hidden clickspots and a small "panel manager" series of icons accessed by moving the mouse over their positions on the P1 and P2 panels. If a switch is present, the chances are it is functional, including the circuit breakers (more shortly!) and, at the time of writing, I have actually found four switches on the entire flight deck that aren't clickable and functional - the Captain's map light and a small switch on the bottom of the clock that I can't read, plus the First Officer's equivalents. Given that there are about 75 (I'm not sure I counted them all) clickable controls on the P1 panel alone, and there are 8 other panels, you'll get an idea of the level and depth of functionality included.

All of the rotary or +/- controls can be activated using the mouse wheel, which can also be held down while scrolling for fast or fine control, depending on the specific function. Certain functions such as selecting screens on the Navigation Display and setting bugs on the Airspeed Indicator have been abbreviated by the inclusion of hidden clickspots to speed the process up. They can, of course, also be set the accurate way for the panel.

A weather and terrain radar simulation is included, which appear to draw information from the sim, rather than just displaying randomised or generic patterns. A stormy emergency approach into Seattle following a cabin pressure alarm resulted in a very, very, colourful display and a real challenge for the autopilot.

The flight management system is a little odd for those used to Boeing 737s, which share the same interface unit if not glareshield panel as this MD-80. The vast majority of inputs and settings are the same, so if you are familiar with the PMDG unit, you will have very few problems operating this one (as I already mentioned, they use the same NavData as well). Some things, however, seem to be included but not functional, such as setting V-Speeds on the INIT REF Takeoff page and I had real problems setting a slower airspeed for a descent. In the former instance, this isn't a massive issue as the bugs are set separately and in the latter I used the "FMS OVRD" function of the autothrottle to command 240KIAS instead of 250KIAS because it kept overshooting 250KIAS due to wind changes. The descent path section of VNAV isn't as "intelligent" as the Boeing equivalent either, although it is present. It just seems to fly the same path, regardless of restrictions or whether the descent was started early or late. That's a question for the developers to answer, I think.
 
 

   

 

   

 
 
Flying

As with most FS airliners, setting an exact power setting can be a little tricky, but other than that, hand flying the MD-80 is nothing that anyone who can fly the default B737 couldn't cope with. It's stable, relatively easy to trim but if you get the settings wrong it will let you know about it very quickly. I'll be honest, I didn't hand fly the model too much, just doing some very simple checks to make sure you can and fairly frequent manual landings (I don't quite trust the Auto Land function as much as I possibly should...) but found nothing spectacular wrong with it. It handles very similarly indeed to other aircraft of its class.

Switching to autoflight, which is where most of your time should probably be if you are operating realistically, I had quite a few problems early on which were caused by my lack of knowledge of the type. Climb and descent management, particularly, is different in the MD-80 than any other airliner and, having spent far too much time recently on Boeing types, I was looking for responses that were never going to happen. A little application of common sense and the manual, however, soon had everything under control and flying the aircraft using the autopilot got a lot easier, very quickly. The only issues I have with it are really speed related - it does sneak past 250KIAS very easily when the autothrottle is activated and slowing it down on descent can be something of an issue, though far easier than using the default autopilot, it has to be said! Joining and tracking an ILS, which is where many packages tend to have problems, was very straight forward and surprise free in this model, even in the appalling conditions I mentioned earlier about the radar test flight into Seattle (which I'll admit to landing by hand because the auto approach went too high at about 200' and I'd already been around once because of a B737 on the runway!)

Finally, the package includes one thing that I have not seen in an FS add-on previously at all - the ability to truly multi-crew the aircraft as Captain and First Officer. There is another add-on, albeit one I've not heard a lot about recently, which allows you to do the same thing, but this is the first time I have actually seen it "built in" to an aircraft. There have been some reports on the forums concerning severe frame rate issues when using the package in this manner but unfortunately I have not yet been able to test this feature as the people I have been trying to test it with and I keep missing each other.

By the same token, there is also a tool which can be used to monitor the flight and can fail any component from an engine to a minor circuit breaker in a random, specified or on-click manner. During testing, I discovered that this could be run on another networked computer directly from my FS PC, which resulted in my Primary Flight Display going out mid cruise courtesy of my wife. Fortunately, she doesn't know enough aviation acronyms to REALLY make life difficult on short final in bad weather!
 
 
 

     

 

   

 
 
Conclusion

Congratulations if you've got this far. I know the review is a bit long, but the problem with any add-on of this complexity is that if you ignore or gloss-over too many sections, you do it a disservice. On the other hand, if you have managed to read all that and not given up then the chances are that you're the type of person this add-on is aimed it.

With the exception of the lack of a Virtual Cockpit, I found almost nothing to complain about at all with Fly the MadDog 2006. It doesn't work perfectly with a number of other add-ons, that's true, but there are work around for all the problems I came across and the reason that it doesn't work that well is that it errs constantly on the side of realism. The Manager tool is excellent and is one of the reasons I suspect I will keep coming back to this package in preference over others.

Even if you already have competitors such as the Flight1 "Super-80" package, it's worth seriously considering this one. If anything, this one comes out better than the F1 offering in my opinion. Put another way, I have both and will definitely be using this one in preference.

Now... Who can I con into joining me on the flightdeck from Frankfurt to Rome? ;)

Edit: This review was written before the V2.1 build 29 patch and FSX SP1.

 
 

Please visit LEONARDO SH for more information on this product.

 

 

 
 
 

Ian Pearson
Is a real world CAA PPL-IMC qualified pilot who has been hooked on civilian flight simming since Mail Pilot on the Commodore 64 and Thalion Airbus on the Amiga. He joined the MS Flightsim world with FS4 and almost immediately FS5.1CD, which was when his first attempt at designing aircraft went seriously pear shaped and he gave up. He has Beta tested for a number of well-known organisations and teams from FS98 through to the present day, but still hasn't found a way of making his addiction to Flight Simulation pay for itself, so officially works in the railway industry in the real world.
 

 

Images by Nick Churchill & Ian Pearson

 

www.screenshotartist.co.uk

 
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