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Review Part2: Airbus Vol1 Deluxe (FS2004 Version)

Welcome back to part 2 of this overly long review of the Wilco Airbus Volume 1 addon aircraft package. The first part was published in April here: Review Part1: Airbus Vol1 Deluxe (FS2004 Version)

In this second part I will take the plane for a short hop across Germany and show you how that went. Rest assured — I did many more flights than only the one I’m telling you about.

Taking it for a flight

Here is the most challenging part of the review. I, a student of biology at Leiden University, have to judge the intricate system simulation of this Airbus package. If anything, it was rather hard. First of all, the only planes I really “studied” in flight simulator are the PMDG 747, VRS Superbug and PMDG Jetstream 4100. This did help tremendously in understanding other planes, but none can be compared to an Airbus. The tutorial has also helped, however, and I feel I managed to step over this hurdle. Secondly, when I started doing this review, my knowledge of Airbus planes was ziltch. Okay, so I knew one thing: they are very different than Boeing planes. That’s certainly true, but not very helpful. In the end, what I want you, the reader, to know, is that I tried my utmost best to give a good overview of the system simulation of this Airbus package and determine whether or not it does its job right: give us a true Airbus experience. From that I encourage you to deduce if the package is really for you. Now, though, without further ado, I present you with a flight from EDDT (Berlin Tegel) to EDDF (Frankfurt Main). Before we go into the actual flight, let me tell you about some issues I encountered before I was ready to fly (partly a rehash from part 1).

Issue #1: The “insert a route CTD”

This was a weird one. Every time I tried to insert a route, I got a CTD. The screen turned black while the audio looped every time I entered origin and destination airports and clicked the corresponding LSK (Line Select Key). Since I ended up reinstalling Windows XP not too long after that because I was fed up with Windows’ sluggishness, I reinstalled Wilco Airbus Volume 1 without adding any liveries or whatever to the plane. The navdata supplied with the addon was also left intact. When I then tried to load the tutorial’s flight plan, all was okay. When I clicked the corresponding LSK, I got an overview of the route and could insert it into my flight plan without problems. So, I went one step further: I updated the navdata. The route couldn’t be inserted, sadly, because the navdata was out of sync (I’ll come to that later), but I theoretically had the option to insert it, so I deemed the test a success. Next thing I did was copy over all 163 routes I had prepared for the Wilco Airbus to the correct folder. At the test, the loading failed and I was booted back to the desktop. So, the conclusion is clear: there seems to be a limit to what the MCDU can handle. Since then, I simply copy the routes to the correct folder only when I really need them, and I haven’t had any problems of this kind since.

Issue #2: The missing fan blades story

So there I was: custom liveries installed, navdata updated, route loaded. Then I switched to exterior view. Where are the fan blades? I sort of covered this issue in the exterior model chapter, but I’d like to raise it again: on IAE engined models, the fan blades seem to be missing entirely on the A319 and there is blackness around them on the A321. Why this is I don’t know, and according to Feelthere it’s a very rare issue. No solution was provided, and to this day I simply do not fly the IAE engined models.

Issue #3: Navdata sadness

The final issue I encountered is also not solved to this day and I believe it will never be solved. Some of you might already know that Navigraph does not support Wilco Airbus Volume 1 and 2 aircraft. The reason for this is, apparently, that there always have been unexplainable issues and errors with the Navigraph navdata with these planes. What the exact nature of these errors is, I don’t know. What I do know, is that the 0610 database that you get with the Airbus upon installation works very well. The problems only started when I installed the 1002 version. All waypoints, airports, airways and whatever were still there, but I could not select a SID or STAR. They simply did not appear in the list. With all airports I tried, the SID and STAR list was blank (as in, nothing to select). Why this is I don’t know, but it’s very weird: the Wilco Airbus aircraft are supposed to use the same database that other feel there planes use, like the 737 PIC. In that plane, the SID and STAR selection works flawlessly. So basically, when you fly these Airbus planes and wish to use something newer then the 0610 version of the navdata, don’t count on SID and STAR to work. This is terribly irritating if you wish to fly difficult approaches, like Innsbruck.

Luckily, this issue doesn’t seem to be there for everybody. A poll I held at Avsim showed that many people, if not all, did not have this issue, which prompted me to go back and look at my installed files. After fiddling around a bit, I managed to solve it. What I did was remove the entire contents of the navdata holding folder in the Feelthere directory in the Flight Simulator 2004 main directory. I then reinstalled the navdata, went back to the navdata folder in the Feelthere folder, and threw away the “Navdata Backup” folder. Thus I ended up with two files only (where previously there were four and folder with a backup of a previous version). Now, everything worked. SIDs and STARs were back. I’m not sure what the problem here was, but it’s obvious: if it doesn’t work, something went wrong with the navdata’s installation.

And now we can finally fly

I’d like to remind you again that I am no Airbus pilot. I am approaching this addon as a newbie. This may mean I will not be able to provide you with the information you want, for example, if you are a hardcore simmer wanting to know about the finest of details. I will give you an overview of what this plane does right and does wrong and will try to do it in the best way I can.

At EDDT’s gate 4 with AES enabled.

Our journey starts at Berlin Tegel (EDDT), gate 4. Looking around the plane, I actually expected everything to be dark, but this is clearly not the case. The MCDU display is clearly powered, even though the batteries haven’t even been turned on yet. I’m sure if this is supposed to be this way, but it seems very weird to me. Powering up the plane is pretty easy and is done by switching on the batteries, after which soon it is signalled by a small green light that exterior power is available. I click the button to receive power from that source, after which I continue to enable the RMP (Radio Management Panels) using the corresponding switch. Weird thing here is that it doesn’t seem to matter whether the RMP is on or off. When they are off you can just as well communicate using the radios (meaning you receive and transmit using the radios. You can’t tune them however). The only thing the button seems to do is turn the display on. I’m not sure whether this is a (blatantly obvious) bug that should have been corrected long ago, or whether it’s supposed to be this way. The manual does not clarify on this point, and I’m assuming this is a bug, like the MCDU always being powered for some reason.

Slightly confused, I’m going over the FMGC pages and entering data where necessary. The tutorial is quite clear on what to do, thankfully. It does mention some things that seem to work differently when I tried to do them. This is mostly related to the three difficulty levels you can set in the configuration utility. In beginner and intermediate mode, you can get assistance when filling in some values, and all of these assistance possibilities are disabled on expert mode. I have put my difficulty on expert, but I still got some assistance when entering the ZFW and Block values. The tutorial clearly states that assistance should have been given in expert mode, but it nevertheless happened.

With the procedures regarding the FMGC now completed, I have to appreciate how very different this is from Boeing FMCs. Basically, 90% seems different in one way or another and it takes some getting used to. It’s not hard to get used to per se, it’s simply different. You have to take care with some things though: there is no clear way to activate changes. On a generic Boeing FMC you may have to activate changes, but on the Airbus FMGC, just entering a value is often enough. This is a certainty for the entered route: you don’t activate it; you only have to make sure there are no discontinuities. When you have checked that, the route immediately appears on the ND, ready for use. Overall, I think this has generally been simulated well enough. It all seems to work correctly for as far as I can see, save for the assistance which doesn’t always do entirely as you’d suspect. There are some issues that can’t immediately be seen, however, and I’ll come back to these issues once they become relevant.

With everything online and the autopilot set as it should be, it’s time to leave EDDT. I ask AES to clear the ramp and ready it for departure. Soon pushback starts.

Pushback.

Ready to go.

Following progressive taxi to the runway.

During pushback I get the green light to start my engines. At first I was searching the entire cockpit for the ignition switches. When I looked in the manual, it appeared to be the one knob on the pedestal, which you simply had to turn to the ignition position, after which you then put the engine master switch of the engine you’d like to start, to ON. The simplicity was something rather new to me. It was then that I realized that the entire cockpit actually seemed much more simple to me. Much less buttons, mainly. With Boeing planes you were staring at a crowded overhead filled with tiny lights; Airbus cockpits seem remarkably different in that it seems you have to push one button only to start up everything. I guess I felt proud that Europe managed to make such an easy to use plane…

With the engines started, I could now turn off APU bleed air and then the APU itself (I had enabled the APU prior to engine start, because the external power source can’t deliver the bleed air necessary to start the engines). I was ready to go and was following the pink progressive taxi line to the runway. Meanwhile, I armed the ground spoilers, enabled max autobrake (analogous to the RTO autobrake setting on Boeing aircraft) and set flaps to 1.

Airbus aircraft work a bit differently regarding flaps and spoilers when compared to Boeing aircraft. The flaps on Boeing aircraft (and many other types) are referenced to as a certain amount of degrees. So, The Boeing 747 for example has flap settings of 1, 5, 10 etc degrees. Airbus planes have flap settings of 1, 2, 3 and Full. These settings do not refer to a certain amount of degrees. This has been done, as I understand it, for simplicity. Regarding the spoilers, this is also a bit different. While you won’t notice the difference in the cockpit, there is a clear difference made between ground and flight spoilers, and the difference is in the extension of the spoilers. On the ground, ground spoilers are used to decrease lift during a rejected takeoff. Flight spoilers are used during flight to the same end, but the spoilers will not be extended as much as on the ground.

Why would anybody want to live there?

With Takeoff configuration set and checked, I continue the taxi to the runway. On the way I wonder why anybody would want to live this close to the runway, but soon my attention is drawn to the takeoff which I may commence as soon as I arrive at the runway. I check everything a final time, and then move the throttle to TOGA. The engines spool up to take off thrust, and we begin our roll down the runway until liftoff. Then, we are airborn.

Liftoff as seen from the passenger cabin.

Climbing through the fog. The weather is rather lousy…

Before continuing, let me tell you something about the throttle. This, too, is somewhat different than most planes, but I’ll continue to use Boeing planes as a reference. As you probably know, the throttle can be moved all the way, and when you enable auto throttle, the throttle levers will move as commanded by the auto throttle (A/T). Well, no such thing in Airbus aircraft. It actually is pretty simple and fully automated, and I guess in a way it’s quite a bit better than in Boeing aircraft because the workload is reduced so much. Anyway, the way it works is simple: there is a range on the quadrant where you can move the throttle much like you would on a Boeing plane. This is the manual range. However, Airbus throttle quadrants work with detents: something which Boeing doesn’t have. A detent is a specific place on the quadrant, to which a specific  A/T setting is tied. There are separate detents for Idle, Climb, Flex and TO/GA. Idle is self explanatory. Climb detent is the most normal setting, and you don’t take the throttle levers out of it for most of the flight. Flex and TO/GA do pretty much the same thing, namely, set take off thrust. However, Flex is more Flexible and you use it if you need reduced thrust on take off (analogous to a derated take off on Boeing aircraft), while TO/GA will always give full power. This means that the operation of the throttle is quite different on Airbus aircraft compared to Boeing aircraft. Remember that on Boeing aircraft you push a TO/GA button on takeoff, after enabling A/T? On Airbus aircraft, you simply put the throttle into Flex or TO/GA, and A/T will automatically engage. After liftoff, at around 1500 feet AGL, you’ll receive a signal to take the throttle levers out of flex or TO/GA and into CL (Climb). The A/T regulated everything by itself for the rest, and you’ll only have to move the throttle levers again at touch down (back to idle) or at an emergency situation (usually into Flex). This system is very intuitive and very simple to understand, but you need to understand it first.

There is one problem here: how do you simulate these detents? On the real plane, the throttle levers will “click” into such a detent and you have to apply some force to get it out of a detent. You feel no such “click” on your own little plastic throttle lever, of course, and so something else must be done to simulate this. Feelthere has done it by including a sound, and you’ll notice that over a small range of your throttle lever, the simulated Airbus throttle levers will not move, but stay in a detent. I think this is a good and intuitive way of handling this, and it works very well. So, good job on that, Feelthere!

The plane hasn’t just stopped in the air however, and while I was explaining all that, we have been flying on. We have passed BUREL, and the plane is turning towards LODRO now.

The turning plane as seen on the ND.

The turn as seen from the cabin.

FMGC calculations.

The plane has overturned and corrects.

Level-off well after the calculated T/C.

On  the past three screenshots, there are various things to see. Mainly look at the ND here (Navigation Display). On the first shot you see we are already turning toward LODRO. Notice that the plane is in fact not following the route very precisely. This is because the actual flight path of the plane is not shown on the ND, resulting in a faulty representation of what the plane is doing. I know for sure that the ND should in fact plot the actual flight path, not just “connect the dots”.

The third screenshots shows clear discrepancies between what the FMGC calculates for the vertical profile (climb, in this instance), and what the autopilot (A/P) is actually doing. According to the FMGC, we should have climbed to 10800 at LODRO, but the A/P is at 25500 well before LODRO. For all I know, the FMGC should calculate the climb profile and update it when necessary. Its calculations are completely faulty here and it doesn’t correct them. While it thought we’d take far longer than we did to reach 10800, at the Top of Climb (T/C) we were still climbing, suggesting the FMGC was far too optimistic with that calculation. Conclusion: something has gone completely awry here.

The fourth screenshot shows A/P clumsiness: it failed to turn fast enough and has to correct by turning back to realign with the route. I’m no Airbus pilot, but I can’t imagine this happening in the real plane…

The fifth and final screenshot shows what I already mentioned before: the prediction for the T/C is faulty. It levelled off way after the predicted T/C, which resulted in level off at KENIG (T/C is indicated by the white arrow).

And thus our flight continues.

Now that we are at cruise altitude, a period of relative silence ensues. ATC hands us off to some other centre while we continue flying. In the meantime, I fiddle around with some of the E/WD screen (that’s the lower middle screen) to monitor fuel and look at some other stuff displayed there. I also take another look at some of the FMGC pages, only to conclude that it all looks rather good and it seems to do what it’s supposed to do. All the fun starts once again when ATC tells us what our assigned approach is. This moment is when we overfly BEBLA. I had already entered the ATIS frequency into comm 2, and thus I was suddenly awakened from my daydream (that’s what you got from staring at a screen where nothing happens) by an orgy of chatter. I was to descend to 24000 and turn to an amount of degrees I honestly don’t remember anymore while writing this.

Here is where Boeing pilots (like me) tend to get confused, because the FCU (analogous to the Boeing MCP) works very differently than what we are used to in our Boeing aircraft. Remember how we do it in Boeing planes: there is an enormous load of pushbuttons, knobs and switches, and every function has its own dedicated switch. Now look at the Airbus FCU in a screenshot of your choice. There aren’t that many buttons there, are there? That’s because many buttons have been incorporated into the white knobs you see. They don’t just turn: you can also push and pull them, meaning that in those four knobs you see on the FCU, a total of 16 functions have been incorporated! Namely: increase value and decrease value for starters. That’s rather straight forward, but the pushing and pulling needs some more getting used to. With the A/P on, when you push, you connect the A/P to the FMGC for that specific parameter (“Managed mode”), and when you pull, you disconnect it from the FMGC (“Manual mode”). That make sense? If the knob is pushed, an orange “ball” appears on the FCU next to the parameter you put in managed mode. Now look at the panel shots at climb and cruise: there are orange balls next to all parameters: this means everything is in managed mode. It can be compared to Boeing’s LNAV and VNAV. Once you understand this, it works pretty intuitively. For example, when you put heading into managed mode, the A/P simply follows the route, like with LNAV. Pull the button, and it will follow what’s displayed on the FCU. This is what you do to follow ATC’s lateral instructions. When ATC commands you to descend to, say, FL240, like they did on my flight to EDDF, you basically have two options, but they start with the same action. First thing you do, is enter 24000 into the FCU. Next, you can push the altitude knob to initiate a managed descent. In this mode, the plane will regard restrictions set in the FMGC. You can also pull the altitude knob however: in that case, the A/P will engage in “Open descent”, resulting in a descent that does not regard restrictions. I’d personally always just push the altitude knob, since in my view it should give you the safest method of climbing or descending.

So that’s what I basically did on my flight, too. I took the heading out of managed mode by pulling, and I commended the A/P to descend to FL240 by, in this case, pulling (so I descended in Open Descent). I did the same for speed. I hope you appreciate how very different this is from the Boeing MCP. Even though I think I understand how to operate the Airbus FCU, I feel I have more control over the A/P by using the Boeing MCP. This is mostly because you can engage separate A/P functions, while in the Airbus everything is on by default. You can only choose between managed and manual mode, but if the A/P is on, you don’t seem to have any control anymore over anything. That’s what I like in Boeing: when you turn on the A/P, you can turn on the various functions separately, but the A/P will not immediately take all control from you. You can have it do LNAV, while you do VNAV. This is not possible on Airbus planes. However if I am incorrect here, please notify me about this!

So, now that this is cleared up, let’s continue with the descent:

In range of ATIS, and obtaining the info I need to approach and land.

I honestly wonder what my passengers think of this idiotic descent rate…

The descent to FL240 wasn’t exactly normal. The moment I gave the command for the descent by pulling the altitude knob, the A/P took the nose down with an incredible speed, resulting in a scent rate of between 4000 and 5000 feet per minute. Now, I remember the PMDG Boeing 747 reaching such climb rates in order to maximize the effect of the thrust provided, but it never plunged down like that during the descent. It seems to me that it does this because of the way the FMGC calculated my descent, and the A/P is only following what the FMGC calculated. So, while I understand that the A/P’s actions are a logical consequence of the FMGC, I can not imagine that the actual plane will do the same and if I were a passenger on this flight I’d probably complain.

A bit later, I was already starting to slow down, using flaps. I had slowed down to 220 knots or so, which is well within the maximum extension speed for flaps 1. However when I descended to the next FL per ATC’s instructions, the plane again dived down with roughly 4000 feet per minute, going way over 230 knots (the max flap 1 extension speed). I was using open descent, but the manuals only tells of altitude restrictions which open descent doesn’t regard; it does not mention that open descent disregards speed restrictions and speed protections. This is contrary to the PMDG 747, which perfectly abides by the rules and doesn’t speed up beyond the speed restrictions imposed by flap settings and the like (provided you don’t descend using V/S, of course).

So, I am at a complete loss here. I’m genuinely wondering how good this A/P is and if it really does what the real plane does. The vertical profile calculations seem faulty to say the least, and with that come descent modes that plunge the aircraft into a steep descent or climb. Perhaps I did something wrong, which is a legitimate possibility, but I did exactly what the tutorial told me to do. I’m assuming these are issues with the addon, and the plane is probably okay. Otherwise, I won’t feel quite safe the next time I get into an Airbus plane…

Let’s see what happened at the rest of the flight. First some screenshots:

The plane turning, seen from passenger view.

Getting lower and slower.

As the approach progressed, ATC directed me fairly successfully towards EDDF. The descent continued with descent rates alternating between 1000 and 5000 feet per minute, depending on the current speed and whether it was above or below it.

Finally, EDDF comes into view.

Time to extend all I’ve got…

Full flaps.

And then, from behind a cloud, finally EDDF came into view. We were to land on runway 25R. With the ILS entered and the localizer captured, the plane took its time to align with the runway, but it succeeded right about when the glideslope was captured. It proceeded on a very gentle ride down to the runway, at least, that’s what I thought would happen. I forgot all about the weather down at the ground, mainly because by the rather bad default weather. Take a look:

The weather suddenly became rather bad again.

Here’s what I love about Aerosoft airports: AESLite. I love going over highways!

Why weather can be a pain: the A/P is blown off course.

As I said, the weather got bad again, out of nowhere. Because of winds, the A/P was slowly blown away from the centreline, and as you can see on the last screenshot, we were going to land next to the runway if I hadn’t turned it off and took control myself. I confess that the A/P tried to realign the plane with the centerline, but it failed to do so and I didn’t quite feel like going around. I got us down anyway, as seen here:

Right after landing.

Right after landing: going all-out.

Touch down wasn’t as soft as I’d hoped, but it was fine. The spoilers extended automatically and I engaged reverse thrust. Still, it’s sort of weird to get “retard” shouted at you just before landing. Of course, the plane isn’t trying to insult me. It want me to cut the throttle (“retardation” of the throttle), which I did.

The taxi to the gate was nice and quiet, while I listened to the chatter of stressed pilots and ATC. Here are some screenshots from the taxi:

Looking at a Vietnamese plane.

Taxiing past the parked planes.

I tend to feel rather small when next to my giant siblings.

End of the trip.

So that’s it: my flight from EDDT to EDDF. Despite the erratic behavior at the descent and the weird calculations of the vertical profile, I rather enjoyed the flight.

I did more of these flights, including one from LLBG (Tel Aviv) to UDYZ (Yerevan, previously UGEE). I did that flight without ATC, mainly to test out the managed descent (VNAV descent for Boeing aircraft). It appeared that the calculations of the FMGC for the managed descent were somewhat more accurate than for managed climb, but there, too, it gave me crazy high descent rates of 5000 feet per minute. Landing was in principal okay, however, although it didn’t actually flare like it should have done. It simply “dumped” the plane on the ground and engaged in rollout mode, which should keep the plane from deviating from the centreline while above a certain speed. I am guessing that I probably didn’t enter the barometric setting correctly, although the GPWS gave accurate height warnings (100-50-40-30-20-10 was all correct and at the right mark). At landing, my altimeter also showed the correct height, so I am wondering if I made a mistake, or whether the A/P simply failed to deliver a good landing.

The A/P is a bit flaky during landing. That is, it aligns the aircraft correctly and captures the glide slope without much fuss, but flaring seems to always be a problem. I have done about 5 or 6 flights during this review, and all landings ended up with the aircraft slamming rather hard onto the runway because the flare was too late. The altimeter was always set correctly, so I’m not sure what I was doing wrong here.

Finally, FBW does its job okay. It does what it should do: gives protections where needed and if I did something stupid it was apparent FBW was trying to correct that mistake. Still, it didn’t always work out all right. I think this is because the FBW system tends to react too late. Here’s an example: try rolling hard to the left, and you’ll notice that the plane is able to “overshoot” before FBW kicks in and corrects the roll, holding the plane at a specific roll and no further. The same thing happens when your pitch up or does is too great: FBW does react, but a bit late.

Before we move on to Eric Marciano’s upgrade, there is one thing I deeply value about this Airbus addon: you can save the panel state. The way it works is simple: there is a file that stores all panel data, including the FMGC, when you save your flight. This means that when you save your flight you can jump right in without too much hassle. Beware though: this works only for your last saved flight. So if you were hoping to make a flight, and save it at various locations, you can only successfully restart your flight at your last save!

Eric Marciano’s Paid Upgrade

Now that we have seen the “default” plane in action, let’s take a look at the modified plane. Eric Marciano’s upgrade is a module that improves the existing gauges and adds some new functionality. I have seen many posts on forums saying multiple things about it. Some people say it’s great, others are less optimistic, with some condemning it. What all people seem to agree on, though, is that whether the thing works or not, Eric does a good job on giving support.

Whatever the case, the opinions on this paid upgrade are very diverse. This is a problem for many people, because the question “should I buy it?” is therefore not easily answered and doubts arise easily because of this. In this short review of Eric Marciano’s upgrade, I’ll try to give you an idea of what the module does and how it makes the plane better. If anything, I certainly hope it fixes some of the vertical profile calculations!

Note: In this review I’m looking at version 1, because that’s what was released at the time!

Before going on, let’s take a look at the most notable of fixes:

  • Better management of leg types;
  • Improved SID/STAR filtering on the MCDU;
  • Improved selection of transitions when possible;
  • Better management of transition names;
  • Improved DIRECT TO operation;
  • FMGC data persistence (meaning you’ll be able to use all routes, even if it doesn’t fit the current NAVDATA cycle);
  • Flight plan edition (simply handles better now);
  • Flight plan display (distances on the MCDU are updated in real time);
  • More accurate holding patterns;
  • Approach speeds depend on flap handle position instead of flap position itself;
  • Pseudo waypoint calculation is better (T/C and the like are better calculated, let’s hope so!);
  • Fly-by-Wire doesn’t control rudder (meaning you can use the rudder to point the nose when necessary. This is especially useful during crosswind landings, and might have saved my EDDF landing!);
  • Radio turns off when RMP master switch is turned off;
  • -          Cold and dark can be set by pressing a definable key (seems useful, especially for FSX users, who don’t have the option to use the configuration manager).

There are many more things. I invite you to read them here: http://emarciano.free.fr/En/index.htm

The FAQ section of the page dedicated to these update states three interesting things, and I quote:

“Q: The screenshots shown on the upgrade description show nice curves, but my route is still drawn using straight lines.

A: Curved trajectories are only drawn when a turn is described in the navigation database, like in the LACOU5A SID used as an example above (example made with the AIRAC0813). The main part of this upgrade consists in handling all the 21 waypoint types you can find in the navigation database for the SID and STAR procedures. Some specific waypoint types, such as VI, CD, FD or others can generate the nice curves you see on my images.
I plan to work on the route drawing to make curve line at every waypoint in a further version of the upgrade, but I can’t say when.”

What does this mean? Basically, while SID and STAR will look good, the rest of your route probably won’t, and the actual flight path won’t be displayed. It will still be a “connect the dots”-esque affair, but, as you read, Marciano hopes to amend this in a later version.

“Q: Will you develop another version of the upgrade?

A:
Yes, I hope so. This is why the title of this page states “version 1″. Some things still need to be improved and I have many ideas for new features, but time is missing… I really want to keep improving the Airbus Series, but I don’t have the necessary time for this. It will be done, but I can’t say when.”

This is good news! Things that might not be included just yet, might be included later, and that means we can have hope for further improvements.

“Q: Will you fix the problem of high vertical speed when using the DES or OP DES mode at high altitude?

A: Probably not. This problem is only related to the flight dynamics of the aircraft. This is why it does not happen with the Volume 2 aircrafts, which were released later with the awareness of this problem. 
As I know nothing about flight dynamics, I will not be able to fix this. There might be a chance that I work with a FDE designer who can fix it, but the probability is low.”

So this is terribly disappointing. It basically means that the idiotic A/P descent rates won’t get fixed anytime soon, which for me is a prime reason of annoyance.

I hope this gives somewhat of an impression. Now let’s dive in and see how much it actually does for me. As I said, some people report that it does nothing for them, others say it’s great, and some people have trouble installing the update.

First of all, I redid the EDDT-EDDF flight, which progressed pretty much as did the flight with the “default” plane. It almost seemed like an exact copy, if not for the fact that some details were noticeably different. For instance, the RMI had to actually be turned on for it to work. Secondly, lights didn’t just turn on when activating the corresponding switch; they turned on when they corresponding electrical source was turned on. Sadly, this means the lights have some wonky behavior in the VC. Basically, you can flip the switch, but it’ll immediately flip back to the OFF position if the right electrical source is not turned on. On the 2D panel there is no such problem, however.

That is not all, though: an improvement in climb and descent calculations was clearly noticeable, but it was not enough of an improvement. When I passed the T/C, I was still 1500 feet below the cruising altitude. The interesting thing is that although the calculations were more accurate, the problem remains the same: about halfway the climb, for some reason the plane starts climbing at a shallower rate. Here is where the first discrepancies appear, but these become quickly bigger, until the difference between calculated altitude and actual altitude becomes far too big for comfort. Eric will still have to work on this, and he said he plans to try and improve it even more than he has already done. Nonetheless, there is some improvement to be seen here. Here is a shot to demonstartie this problem is still present:

The calculation is still off.

Climb and descent rates are still pretty wonky, but that was to be expected: Eric says in the FAQ this is a FDE related issue and thus will not get fixed anytime soon. That’s bad, if you ask me, since this is the biggest issue of this plane. To illustrate this issue, let me tell you of my flight from EDDF to LOWW: basically, it was one of those very pleasant flights where everything just goes well. No weirdness, no problems, everything is smooth (considering the time I took to study the SIDs and STARs, I thought it’d be pretty disappointing if it’d all turn out bad). Anyway, the calculations for the descent were off and these were not amended after I had fiddled with the route a bit. Moreover, the descent rate was also completely inadequate and I had to manually take over by enabling V/S and get the plane down with 4000 feet/minute. So, when you do not want it to go so fast, it does go too fast, but when you need it to go fast, it doesn’t do that.

How about the displaying of the route? Now that I got SIDs and STARs working, I can safely say these are indeed handled better. It looks nicer and you can now actually see what the plane is going to fly and how it will fly it. This doesn’t seem truly universal though, as can also be understood from Eric’s FAQ: there are certain types of legs that will look good and make these nice curves, but not all of them. The problem is, I think, that for that to happen, the ND should display the actual trajectory of the plane, and it simply doesn’t do that (yet). I hope Eric will work on that, so that you can see what the plane will be actually flying.

One more thing about the flight I did from EDDF to LOWW, and many other flights (if not all) I did with the Airbus: the landings are always a bit rough. Why?

Well, even though I had set my altimeters to 29.91, as per the tower’s instructions, the plane flared when we touched down! It did this on all flights I did, with all landings I attempted and I’m at a loss for why this happens. It’s as if the A/P doesn’t quite know where the ground is and when it will hit it, resulting in a far too late flare that makes the plane bounce on the runway. Not so neat, and I hope Eric will be able to do something about it. Somehow, though, I fear it might be another FDE related thing…

Besides these persevering points, there isn’t much to say. The upgrade does correct stuff, but I feel it does not correct enough. That is to say, it corrects a lot, but it does not correct where it truly matters. What should be corrected is the FDE. That is top priority. The rest is sort of an added bonus in my opinion.

The Volume 1 upgrade costs 25 Euros. You’ll have to make the decision yourself if you think it’s worth it. As I said, the upgrade certainly corrects issues and flaws that were annoying and in my opinion it improves the Airbus Volume 1 package quite a bit. I find it a pity that it does not fix the most glaring issues. However, this upgrade is continuously being worked (as time permits, of course), so there is hope for existing flaws to still be fixed. Whether the FDE, the biggest flaw of them all, will ever get fixed, I do not know. At least the upgrade makes flying the planes in this package more realistic than it would have been without it.

Performance

One last thing I will look at is the performance of these planes. While doing these flights, flying into some true mega airports, I have found to be performance a bit on the low side. At busy Frankfurt, my FPS were around 12, but could jump down to 9, which lower than other addons I own. I refer now to the PMDG 747, for example. When up in the sky there is no problem of course, with FPS being as high as you’d want them. All in all, the performance was okay, but not mind-shattering.

Conclusion of part 2

And so we have come to the conclusion of part 2. In this part, I have shown you how the plane handles and flies and I have tried to give some more info on how Airbus planes function. I hope I have succeeded.

The Wilco Airbus is not a bad plane, but it is also not a very good one. It is flawed where it matters: The FDE is faulty and many issues with the systems can be tracked back to this single but huge fault. Because, actually, most of the systems work pretty nicely. The FMGC is a nifty instrument that seems to be modelled quite allright. The displays are all good and seem to show what they have to show in the way they should show it, although I find the lack of a proper plane trajectory display on the ND to be a disappointment. Most of the other systems work allright, although some bugs (like being able to use the RMI while it is actually turned off) do break the sense of immersion. I think An Airbus fan of the intermediate type would enjoy himself with this Airbus package if he could overcome the FDE problems.

Regarding Eric Marciano’s upgrade: the problem is that a lot of work has been done without the user noticing much improvement because much of it is under the hood. This drives the price upwards without any seemingly clear reason. I think the upgrade is worthwhile, but I’m not sure it is worthwhile for the current price. The upgrade fixed stuff and indeed the plane becomes better. I have had no issues getting it to work or installing it, but it might not be a bad idea to hold off purchasing the upgrade until most pressing matters have been corrected (which are the climb/descent calculation and FDE).

Final Conclusion

What we get in this package is basically a good-looking model with nice system simulation for the beginner or intermediate, but it has a terribly flawed FDE. Let’s look at each of the “departments” separately:

-          I really liked the model; it looks authentic and it has been done very nicely. The interior is also rather good. It must be one of the best Airbus VCs out there, and the cabin is also nice. However, beware of some holes in there! Luckily, you will only notice them at the very back of the cabin, but nonetheless I find it an act of sloppiness that should have been corrected. Other than that, a good visual model!

-          The system simulation has been done well. In principle you can do all you want if you are a beginner or an intermediate, but if you are looking for “the ultimate Airbus experience” you’ll be disappointed with this package. For me, however, the system simulation suffices. What’s there seems to be working, although the FMGC and A/P have some noticeable and annoying flaws, mainly concerned with climb and descent profile calculation. These problems are actually the result of a much bigger, much deeper problem, namely the flawed FDE, discussed in the next point.

-          The FDE is, well, utterly flawed. There are issues in here that should have been fixed. And when I say that, I really do mean it. For me, it’s like a skyscraper that has parts of its foundation missing and nobody has bothered to repair that. I deem it unacceptable that these flaws exist, even more so because, according to Eric Marciano’s own words, the issue was actually fixed for Airbus Volume 2. I might be short sighted, but you’d think the issue could then also be resolved in Volume 1, right? Apparently not. Why? I have no idea. Don’t get me wrong though: most of the FDE seems okay. You can taxi and cruise without problems, but the climb can be tricky and the descent is a mess. The A/P will plummet the plane down to earth with a rates of over 5000 feet per minute. I even saw it go down with 7000 feet per minute a few times. That said, you can learn to live with it and there are ways to circumvent this problem. Although not ideal, it’s possible and there are people that do just that: live with it until something better, or a fix, comes around the corner. It’s sad that the product is being dragged down so much by this, and it’s even more saddening that Eric Marciano does not think he’ll ever fix this, which brings us to our last point.

-          Eric Marciano’s upgrade does in fact do good stuff, but I find it a great pity that it does not solve the biggest flaws, namely the FDE problems and VNAV calculations. Here’s what I think: it does not fix the biggest problems, which potentially make the plane a pain to fly, and therefore I’d be hesitant to buy it just yet. If you want your plane to be as realistic as possible, I say get the upgrade. If not, and most of the stuff in the features list of the upgrade don’t mean much to you, then don’t bother. Instead wait for more progress on this upgrade.

So there you have it. My final conclusion is that this package is a good try but is dragged down by one or two serious flaws that really should have been fixed long ago. That said, you can learn to live with them. It’s not ideal, but it’s the only option. I can therefore recommend this product to anybody willing to adapt and simply enjoy himself, except to the seasoned Airbus pilot. I think these people will have to look somewhere else. The beginner or intermediate, however, will probably find that this package is good enough for them.

Finally, a nice screenshot:

Looks nice, me thinks, no?

Important details — Wilco Airbus Volume 1

  • Developer:                                                      Feelthere/Wilco
  • Medium:                                                          Download/Boxed
  • File size:                                                          126 MB (FS9)/153 MB (FSX)
  • FS version:                                                      FS9/FSX
  • Price: The scenery can be acquired at Simmarket for 49,94, here: http://secure.simmarket.com/wilco-airbus-series-vol-1-deluxe.phtml

Important details — Eric Marciano’s Upgrade Module

  • Developer:                                                       Eric Marciano
  • Medium:                                                          Download
  • File size:
  • FS version:                                                      FS9/FSX
  • Special Comments:                                         Separate versions for Wilco Airbus Volume 1 and 2
  • Price:                                                               25 Euros for Vol 1, 15 Euros for Vol 2, 35 Euros when buying for both Airbus Volumes at the same time.
  • The gauge upgrade can be acquired at Eric Marciano’s site, follow the directions there: http://emarciano.free.fr/En/index.htm

Reviewed by Benjamin van Sold

My system specs: Macbook pro with: Windows XP 32bit 4GB RAM Nvidia 8600GT Intel T8300 2,4 GH

About Miguel Blaufuks

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