Aircraft add-on for Microsoft FSX & FS9
 

"If you're into wandering around a cabin clicking things, you'll be in your element here."
 

The Boeing 757 is a slightly odd aircraft. Not in terms of configuration, which is pretty standard, nor cockpit, which indeed it shares with the larger widebody Boeing 767. The oddity with it is that it really has no direct competitor from any other Western manufacturer. Its closest competitor in terms of payload and numbers of passengers is the Airbus A300, but that's a widebody and is classed as a "heavy" aircraft, giving it ATC and airport restrictions above and beyond those of the "medium" category that the B757 just sneaks inside.

Announced alongside the B767 in the late 1970s, the B757-200 was actually the second into service, following its larger sibling with the first 757 revenue flights made in 1983 by launch customers Eastern Airlines and British Airways. Twenty-five years later, the type has been out of production for some time but, with a little under a thousand airframes delivered, they will be a fixture in our skies some way into the 21st Century.

Sim add-on developers Captain Sim announced the development of their B757 package back in the heyday of MS Flight Simulator 2004 and, when it finally appeared after a protracted development period, it was a visual model only without an accurate panel/avionics suite or flight dynamics. The set is now complete, however, and available for both Microsoft FS9/2004 and FSX. The two versions are nominally identical, available as a series of packs comprising the base "Pro" package (-200 with full avionics suite), with the freighter and stretch models available as add-on packs to this.

The review presented here is of the FSX version - a sim that is currently somewhat lacking in complex airliners developed specifically for it. It has, however, entered an arena with two well established and regarded incumbents so it's interesting to see how this newcomer stacks up...

Installation

The B757, as is standard for this developer's packages, comes as a number of executable installers, one for the base "pro" pack weighing in a little under 90Mb, with two more sized at 14Mb and 10Mb respectively, for the -300 and freighter add-on packs.

Even if you've never installed a Captain Sim add-on before, there is little to surprise you here. The security is nothing massively unusual, requiring your purchase key to be checked against the developer's online database, then simply point the installation path at the root of your FSX installation and tell it to install.

Because there is nothing overly unusual here, I won't dwell on this section, but the installers are well presented and professional, as usual.

Documentation

With an add-on of the complexity promised here, you might possibly expect a fairly hefty manual and that's what Captain Sim have provided. The manual is actually provided in the form of five zipped Adobe PDF format files, covering in turn the User's Manual (32 pages), Aircraft Systems (97 pages), Normal Procedures (36 pages), Flight Characteristics and Performance Data (30 pages) and the Flight Management System (91 pages).

All of the manuals are well presented, professional and usable, discussing each area of their coverage in turn, with a good index at the front of each. Where it is necessary, definitions of terms or acronyms are provided at the start of the section where they are discussed and they are actually interesting, if a little dry at times, to read. The manuals have been prepared as proper technical documentation, not the reader-friendly files you get with many packages these days, containing quips and jokes. There are people who prefer both types of manual, but I have to admit that I've found a few "reader friendly" manuals recently that lose a lot of detail that you really need to know, amongst the quips. This can result in a degree of frustration when you can't actually find the information to solve the problem you've created for yourself in the middle of a flightplan when the [DISCONTINUITY] won't go away, or the performance data won't appear. The friendly, joking, style is okay for tutorials or less complex add-ons, but my personal preference is for them to be backed up by a document that goes through every page and discusses everything that might happen. That's what you have here. You won't be reading it for entertainment, but it might stop you pulling your hair out when you can't figure out what you've done wrong.

Possibly the only thing missing from the manuals, indeed, are direct tutorials for new users. If you have used previous B757 or B767 add-ons, you can jump right in and all you will need to know is how the various cockpit controls work. For new starters, however, the sheer amount of detail in the manuals can be a little overwhelming. A good tutorial, showing everything from fuel planning, through programming the Flight Management System to actually flying the sector is more than just a nicety for a newcomer to airliner flying. Fortunately, there are a number out there for other Boeing models, particularly those from earlier versions of MS Flight Sim, which would fit in perfectly well here. It might be something to look at for the developers in the future, though.

Pre-Flight

The ACE utility - Aircraft Configuration Editor - is a standard feature with Captain Sim models, allowing you to add and remove repaints to the variants you have installed and perform pre-flight tasks such as loading cargo and passengers to the aircraft.cfg file, setting the aircraft's weight for a flight.

The version provided with the 757 is, unfortunately, limited to exactly that functionality. There are no cockpit options or model options here, just the ability to load either manually - clicking exactly where you want load positioned, or automatically by pressing green arrows to increase or decrease weight. You also have the option to change the weight of individual ULDs to be stored in the cargo holds. This is, however, not the only way of loading the freighter, as I will discuss during the "exterior" section of this review.

The final page of the utility, "Tools", is only used in case of a problem with your installation, so can be ignored unless you have cause to go there.

The one thing I would have liked to have seen in the utility is a fuel planner, allowing those who don't want to spend hours with the charts to quickly ascertain how much fuel is needed for a flight. Although they aren't released with every airliner add-on, they are a popular addition to those that include them. At some point in the future, particularly if CS intend to keep releasing high-end airliner packs, this may be something they'd like to consider adding.

Exterior

The Boeing 757 packs, in common with all Captain Sim products, are more than a little photogenic. There are a total of 45 liveries included by default, if you get all three packs, covering a total of six models; the B757-200, B757-300 and B757-200F, each with Rolls Royce or Pratt and Whitney engines. Unlike its bigger sibling, the B767, the B757 wasn't sold with an engine option from General Electric. Additionally, as I already mentioned, there is an option to give all, or none, of the models winglets so a total of 18 .mdl files are provided to cover all the options (including differing interiors when necessary).

Going back to the textures, they are provided as a number of 1024x1024 DDS files per livery, with specular, bumpmap and lightmap files held centrally in a base "texture" folder as is the preferred method for FSX. The bumpmap could possibly do with being a little "stronger" in places, particularly around panel lines and the wings, but overall the quality of the textures is excellent.

Regarding the models, the other thing that Captain Sim are well know for is having large amounts of external "eye candy" and animations on their aircraft. Predictably, this one is no exception. Pressing shift-3 brings up the animations page, allowing you to access all the animations, open hatches and add things such as dust guards and wheel chocks. In the freighter pack, there are also two additional animations pages accessed from the window manager (shift-2 to access outside the 2d cockpit) which allow you to control two visible loading vehicles, one of which puts containers on the upper deck, one on the lower deck. These aren't entirely just eye candy, though. As discussed before, you can set the weight of each ULD and, if you press the "save" buttons after loading the number of containers you wish to carry, your aircraft will reload with the appropriate amount of weight on board as a payload. This change does not appear to be saved to the aircraft.cfg, so is only valid for your current flight.

Unfortunately, there isn't an equivalent module for the passenger versions, so you can't see little busses pull up and loads of people climb up into your aircraft, for example. Instead, the passenger versions have animations for each individual door, plus the same maintenance accesses, chocks, Remove Before Flight flags, etc, that the freighter sports. One thing I might have liked to have seen, given that FSX provides us with moving jetways (I'll mention these again shortly), would be an equivalent of the loaders that puts a mobile stair set at the front and rear of the aircraft for use at airports not equipped with jetways.

The reason that I said I'd mention the jetways again is that there is a bug in the aircraft with these, causing the jetway, when activated, to dig into the side of the aircraft, away from any doors, rather than matching up with one. This is apparently on the list to be updated as part of the next update (4.2) while, in the meantime, the CS support knowledgebase for registered users does contain a temporary workaround.

In general, the B757 is a modern airliner and, apart from its slightly droopy nose that people will forever discuss the accuracy of on any model, it looks exactly like I would expect it to comparing it to pictures of the real thing. I happen to think the nose looks right. Others' opinions differ. Strangely, that's been the case with every 757 I've seen done for FS, right back to when FSFS was first released for MSFS5!

Interior

The photogenic textures aren't limited to the outside of this model, either. The entire interior of the flightdeck, the forward galley and the twelve seats of first class are modelled with high quality textures. The downside of this is load time and a frame rate hit. The more textures FS has to deal with, the longer they take to load and while at low settings, or at sparsely details airports, there was no real effect compared to other models, when testing the B757 at more complex airports, the delay before the textures loaded was considerable.

Once the textures and displays have loaded, though, you will find yourself looking at a VC where every caption can be read, the displays are nice and clear and, if you want even more clarity, the electronic displays such as the Primary Flight Display, Navigation Display and EICAS displays can be "popped up" as larger 2d overlays. Possibly the only surprise in this is that there is no click-spot to bring up the 2d FMC CDU. That can, however, be opened using the shift-7 keys.

FSX's view system is used quite heavily, with a number of cockpit views and two views of the cabin interior cycled through using the "a" key option, plus left and right wing views. Neither of the wing views are inside the cabin, so you're not looking through a window - they use the external model of the aircraft.

The aircraft's 2d panel comprises the expected "two thirds" panel view, where the left side and central main panel instrumentation is all clearly laid out, plus a large number of pop-ups that can be controlled using a little icon panel at the bottom left corner of the screen. Using the hat switch in the 2d cockpit provides views around the VC, as FSX does not support alternative 2d views that straight ahead.

So what about the controls themselves? Well, they're pretty much identical between the 2d panels and VC, with only a few controls operating differently. There are a mixture of methods of twisting switches and dials, with some using +/- clickspots, some left/right side clickspots and one - the push button for HDG SEL autopilot mode - using a right click. I found this a little tricky to find on occasion, but the vast majority of time I got it first attempt when switching from FMS managed heading to pilot managed heading when flying radar vectored approaches or simply flying without the management systems.

I have found one "feature" which bugged me from time to time, which is that using the mouse wheel to alter the speed and HDG knobs resulted in the numbers spinning downwards uncontrollably - they couldn't be stopped using the mousewheel and it sometimes took a bit of playing to get them back under control. Clicking on the segmented numbers above the dials seems to be the best method of controlling the autopilot, although left and right clicking the knobs also works. To counteract that, one thing I did like which has been missing on a number of other developers' airliners I have used is that the engine fuel levers are tied to the FS fuel commands. You can shut them down by pulling a lever on a throttle quadrant to cut-off and during the (correctly modelled) start procedure, you can move the levers forwards to provide fuel to your engines.

The VC also has quite an array of utterly pointless things to click, fiddle with and play with when you get bored during a six hour ocean crossing. Some examples are that the rudder pedals can be adjusted backwards and forwards, books can be lifted from pockets, arm and head rest positions altered and provided the lock is not set to "DENY", the cockpit door can be opened and closed. That's not an exhaustive list, but if you're into wandering around a cabin clicking things to see what can be altered, you'll be in your element here.

In terms of system depth, pretty much every control on the panel and overhead can be poked, prodded and at least a visual difference will be seen. The cabin and ground call buttons, along with those for the SELCAL system, are used to provide cabin announcements in a decidedly British accent, although I did find it quite amusing when both cabin chief and pilot announced the aircraft type as a "seven mppfh seven"... I don't suppose CS are planning a 767 to add to the range, as well, are they? :)

I'll discuss the autopilot and flight management in the next section, so that's about it for the interior. The best way to sum this model up is, as with the exterior, exceptionally photogenic, but with sufficient depth that the system fans won't get bored on a flight.

Flying

While modern airliners can be hand flown, that really isn't what they're designed to do - hence the requirement, in a complex add-on package such as this, for all those techno-doodahs, widgets and buttons I've just been discussing in the previous section. That isn't to say you can't do so, however, and indeed you really have to. You can guarantee that at some point, the absolutely critical doodah will not work as you expected it to and at that point, your best bet is to hit the "DISENGAGE" bar and put your hands and feet on the controls. Fortunately, whether in automatic or manual flight, this package works very well indeed.

As I mentioned above, the downside of a complex model, a complex VC and a lot of systems depth, in FSX, is that you do take a significant frame rate hit and, unfortunately, the autoflight systems of the Captain Sim B757 behave a lot better at higher frame rates. That isn't to say they don't work at lower ones, but I don't trust certain features below about seven to eight FPS, so if that's all you are getting on final to a busy and complex airport, don't be afraid to hit that bar - you might actually enjoy it.

The B757 isn't a fighter. It rolls sedately, the pitch is a bit quicker, but all in all, it's a very easy jet to hand fly. If you are flying on the autopilot and disconnect it, in still air the aircraft will, as it should, just keep doing what it was until you move something. Trimming can take a little bit of doing, partially because the aircraft responds fairly slowly, but also because inertia tends to take over before you have quite got it where you want it. If you make small changes, wait, then adjust - exactly as I was taught to do flying a C152 or a PA-28 - you'll get there pretty quickly. Holding a turn is very easy, even with the constant adjustments that seem to be required to keep FSX's balance ball centred.

Stalling in this model is interesting. You certainly get warning before it breaks, in that when heavy, the aircraft becomes very unstable just before the airflow breaks down. You will get a roll, possibly a yaw, and a rapidly increasing descent before the stall warning stick shaker kicks in. The roll/yaw instability is less pronounced with a lighter fuel load, but at any weight, once the wings are waggling, you really need to have recovered already. Even with a light load, by the time the stick shaker kicks in, you will be descending in excess of 2000fpm - a bad situation to be in, particularly in approach configuration. Clean, your nose will be over ten degrees up, with the power off, which, to be honest, isn't a situation you should be happy with anyway. In approach configuration, your nose will be even higher - you won't be able to see the ground over the glareshield unless you raise your seat position, so unless you are in cloud, with no visible horizon, you should have more than enough clues to help you avoid the stall happening.

Going back to autoflight, I have to say that when it comes to my pet beef with complex airliner add-ons, the autothrottle, this one absolutely excels. I have quite a number of complex airliner add-ons in FSX, some better than others, some older than others, but I have about three that can control airspeed well on managed descents and even the pick of the bunch, prior to this, had problems starting a climb without significantly busting the 250KIAS below 10,000' rule. The Captain Sim B757 will do both, with ease.

In general, that pretty much sets the tone for the autoflight, with some exceptions. The first exception is holds, where although the display will show a very nice standard 4-minute hold, the airliner doesn't follow the track on the screen and chases its tail a little bit, although it does retain the hold within what most people would think to be reasonable distances and times. The second is, as I mentioned earlier, on very low frame rate approaches. The autoland - which works superbly above about 8fps, really starts to struggle below that. Because I have an annoying tendency to run lots of AI, the vast majority of which is FS9 models, I can get my frame rate very low on approach at times. Another recent airliner add-on managed to pull a deliberate stress test of 5fps off, full autoland. I wouldn't try that in this model - as soon as it looks a little jerky, I disconnect the autopilot and land manually. If I don't, the autoland starts chasing the glideslope on short final and tends to nosedive the last few feet, resulting in at best a broken nosewheel, more commonly a green bar across the screen announcing "CRASH!". Finally, when making large turns at low airspeeds in approach configuration, it has a tendency to lose altitude and overshoot the heading - both of which it will then overcorrect for. As this is far from the only airliner to do that and even the "best in class" do it in my experience, whether these issues are critical or not is very much up to the individual user.

You might remember, back in the documentation and pre-flight sections of this review, that I commented on the fact that this package does not come with a simple fuel planner or, indeed, a tutorial on how to plan fuel for a flight. Because of this - although primarily because manual Part IV was not available for download when I first received my review copy of the package - I started out by falling back to an FS98 manual, by another well respected development team, to plan my flights. I found, in general, that the CS model used significantly less fuel than the numbers I was using would suggest it should. This was borne out, when Part IV became available, by considerably lower fuel burn figures in the tables, for the same weight/altitude combination. I'm not a real world airliner pilot or dispatcher, so I can't really comment on the accuracy of either set of figures. It does, however, mean that if you use an alternative product's fuel planner, the chances are you will load a lot more fuel than you will use on a flight. At least you'll be erring on the side of caution!

I think, in general, the only real issue I have with operating this add-on in FSX is the unfortunately high frame rate effect caused by the amount of detail put into the model. I did have to turn down settings from those I use for other, less complex, airliner add-ons in order to use this, but as with everything, that's a trade off. I don't have a massively fast CPU (Core2Duo E6600 at default 2.66 clock speed) and, to be honest, I know most people who regularly fly "heavy metal" are less interested in seeing trees and buildings on the ground than I am. Therefore, considering that things like water effects, autogen and those little cars you get on the major roads are amongst some of the biggest frame rate killers out there, even on a moderate PC, you should be able to use this quite successfully. It's something to be aware of - not only with this, but with all complex airliner simulations. As per advice from Captain Sim themselves, it is very much worth installing FSX Service Pack 2, with its associated frame rate improvements, if you want to use this. The frame rate issues certainly aren't something that will stop me using the model, though.

What may be more of a problem for a potential user is that the navigation data used by the FMS is far from complete. The supplier chosen by CS only gives a very limited amount of airport, SID and STAR data. Even that provided is far from up-to-date. I understand that discussions are underway with another provider, who also supply data for a lot of other add-ons, as an alternative source. It is worth noting, however, that the data used is advertised as being updated for free, while the data source currently under discussion requires an additional subscription to download updates.

Conclusion

Considering how long this package was in development, those waiting for it could have expected something pretty special and, in the end, this is well worth the wait for those with a powerful enough machine to run it and a penchant for complex airliners.

Not everything is modelled, no. There are no control panels for random or planned failures and, at the time of writing, the flight management system's database is somewhat lacking compared to those of competing products. For those who want to fly a very attractive airliner model around the planet though, with a high depth of systems complexity and provided you have a "rig" that can fly it, this is a very good add-on to the range of airliners available.

Apart from the issues with frame rate when flying with high settings, I've had no real problems using it at all and have completed a large number of flights of varying lengths without major problems. If this is your type of flying, this one is definitely worth considering as an addition to your hangar.

For more information on the Captain Sim Boeing 757 series, and to download the limited functionality demo package, visit the product page at the web site or simMarket.

If you'd like to comment on this review, please use our forum to do so.

All images are Copyright � screenshotartist.co.uk

Ian Pearson is a real world CAA PPL-IMC qualified pilot (unfortunately now lapsed) 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.

Nick Churchill has been providing images for marketing purposes of Flight Simulator products for several years and claims that staring at a virtual cockpit for too long can make you go blind.
 

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