Review: Leonardo SH Maddog 2010 Professional

Leonardo SH has given us their latest version of the Maddog… the MD-82 of the MD-80 series of airliners. Rather than take you through the various qualities of the aircraft, I’ll take you through a flight in FS9 so you can tell whether this aircraft is for you or not (FSX version available, too, read on…).

Basic Information

The MD-80 line first entered service in October of 1980 with the MD-81. It was developed by McDonnell Douglas to satisfy short and medium range routes while carrying 137 to 172 passengers. The MD-82 carries 172 and has a maximum take-off weight of 149,000 lbs. The most distinguishing feature of the MD-80 series is the rear mounted engines which started with the DC-9 in the 1960’s. McDonnell Douglas originally named the aircraft the DC-9 Super 80, but renamed their line to MD-80 in the early 1980’s and versions were named the MD-81/82/83/87.

Installation

The installation simply uses an exe file and you are prompted to register the product immediately. You will not be able to load this aircraft in FS until it is registered. If you try, you will be greeted with an error and FS will close. Make sure you enter the emailed information in the correct box in the Registration screen. The same file is used to install the FS9 and FSX version and both are included with the price you pay.

Preflight

The Maddog comes with a very handy, and necessary, Manager & Setup application. In here you will enter the number of passengers and cargo. You can balance your load fore and aft by clicking on arrow buttons and if you are overloaded you are warned to correct it. Then, you enter the route in the Fuel/Flight Planner section. This is not a full-fledged planning tool. You will have to create the route yourself with your flight planning software of choice and then enter the waypoints in here. It really helps to have the cruise altitude and winds here as the fuel planner uses this data to calculate the best fuel load taking the wind into account. You can request the current weather from within the Fuel/Route planner. If you are happy with the results you click a button to transfer this fuel back to the Load manager tab. You can save the route to be used within the Maddog’s FMC. The plans do not appear to be available from within the FMC in FS and I cannot find where the Planner is storing the routes in order to move them to the proper location. This may be a an issue with my Windows 7 computer though as I haven’t seen anyone on the forums with the same problem.

The important tab in this screen is the Setup tab. In here you can customize your Maddog to your specifications or select one of the preset airline configurations. These will affect the look of the displays, sounds, autopilot behaviour, and systems used. If you notice you also have a choice for a Wide 2D panel. It’s a nice option but you are sitting more towards the center area than the pilot seat and it just doesn’t feel right plus it’s hard to see the centreline when landing. After using it a few times I felt I was getting used to it and starting to like it, but still hard to land on the centreline. You can be the judge by looking at the screenshot below.

If you don’t use this manager, you will be missing views or cockpit displays. This is due to the numerous system options you have within the cockpit panel. Sometimes I am missing the VC and 2D side views while other times they appear so I’m still trying to figure it out. No help has been offered in the forum yet to understand how it works.

The next important tab is the performance section especially if you are planning to fly the Maddog in FSX. The framerate hit in FSX was hard. I lost an average of 14 fps after loading the Maddog. The impact in FS9 was far less. I think this is because our PC’s are so powerful now that we can run FS9 with 60-70 fps easily and loading the Maddog still kept it at good fps levels. Also, note that the FSX version works but it seems to be a FS9 native model that was ported to FSX rather than having a specific version for each. Not that it’s a problem as it works just as good in FSX if you have a computer powerful enough to cope with the framerate hit. Shutting off the AI Traffic freed up allot of resources so I was able to get the fps up to 24 which I find acceptable. The FSX version does not utilize the camera views that FSX models have.

Now that we have our setup complete we click on the box to start FS and then hit the OK button to start FS. You are then asked how you want the MD-82 to be started. I choose Cold and Dark because I like to start from scratch. I suggest that you start with Ready for Take-off unless you are experienced at aircraft systems. Leonardo has modeled the systems in detail so you better know what you are doing to start with Cold and Dark. Once you are in FS you’ll notice that the Manager did not load anything for you. You still have to select the aircraft, airport, etc., from FS’s interface. You are able to set a default start up situation within the Manager. If you fly for a VA where you are required to depart from the airport you arrived at, you can create a default flight sitting at the gate of place you just landed on. Then, load this into the Manager and start FSvia the Manager so you are located where you left off.

Prestart

OK, this is where the Cold and Dark cockpit really takes on a new meaning. The manuals that come with this product are detailed. In fact, you may need a weekend to print and read them all. They do provide you with a tutorial flight to get you up and running and it’s well worth the time to go through a few times before venturing out onto your own. You will be taken through the testing of all systems and this is no quick task as there are allot of systems to test. Thankfully, you can skip all of the tests. Also, there is some interaction done with the Flight Attendants by way of comfirming the emergency lights are working, loading passengers, and the take-off briefing. They are all accompanied by the FA’s speeches… a nice touch to add to the realism. Again, you can skip this if you like and just focus on flying. The good thing about the live passenger loading feature is that once the passengers are loaded, the load sheet pops up on your screen and you can confirm the weights and COG (Centre of Gravity) without having to print them from the Manager.

Once the APU is started and our systems are all live, we enter the data into the FMS which can be entered by the keyboard. The FMS is every bit as good as other top rated FMS’s out there from other developers and you can load the route you entered in the Manager into the FMS to save on typing. Need the takeoff weights and V speeds? Leonardo has installed a clickable button to bring up a flip card in the cockpit using the data you entered into the Manager & Setup application. Now you know why it’s “necessary” to use the Manager as I stated in the preflight section. This is really handy. Also, while we’re on handy features, hitting F10 will bring up FS’s Electronic Kneeboard and the checklists are loaded into it.

Follow the tutorial and checklists before starting the engines or you will be very frustrated with getting the engines started. Take it from me, I had to go through this many times before getting it right.

­Engine Start-up

This deserves a special attention because I was able to start engine number two as per the manual, but never got engine number on started with the same method. Look at the screenshot below. The way to get both engines started was to have the mini overhead panel opened and slid towards the top with the throttle system opened so that the Fuel cut-off switches were reachable. Click on the start button and hold it until the N2 doesn’t move for a few seconds (23-25%). This is very important. Releasing it before this point will not work. Then, for engine number two you can click on ctrl-shift-F4 to open the Fuel Cutoff valve or slide your mouse down to move the Fuel Cutoff switch to the on position. The tutorial says to hold the start button and continue to hold it until 40% N2. However, once you have the fuel on you do not need to hold down the start any longer, contradicting the tutorial. Do the same for engine number one. I was unable to use the ctrl-shift-F4 to get number one to start because hitting it once opens both switches and the MD-82 doesn’t seem to start when the switch is opened before getting to N2 23-25%. The startup is realistic in that when the engine comes on line, the power goes out for a second while the electrical generators kick in. This occurs so that the digital systems don’t blow with the spike in power that accompanies the initial switching of the power supplies.

The cockpit sounds are numerous and well done. The cockpit graphics are good. I’d like to see tips appear when you hover your mouse over an instrument. It helps when learning a new aircraft’s instrument panel and some buttons are very small by nature so they are hard to read. Changing to side views or the VC takes a few seconds every time while the textures are loaded even on my 4 gb (ram) PC. This is a little annoying but nothing compared to how slow it is in FSX. One thing I really like is that the FMC is operational from within the VC, too. You’ll just have to zoom in on it and start typing. The FMC you see in the 2D panel in the lower right is not functional and only shows the main ident page all the time.

Taxi

The taxi will vary as to what controls you are using and your personal preference. I use the Saitek Pro Flight Yoke System. I use the keyboard to turn while taxiing and controlling the rudder. The taxi is smooth but you will have to change your sensitivities to your liking. You only have to provide throttle to get the aircraft moving. Then you can set it back to idle and your decrease in speed is very slow. Also, take note that the nose wheels on the MD-82 are more forward than the Airbus and Boeing aircraft of the same size so you’ll have to get used to the turning.

While we are taxiing we’ll take a look at the outside of this aircraft. They have really done a nice job on the exterior modeling and really paid attention to the weathering affect on older frequently flown aircraft. The moving parts are numerous and animated smoothly. There are too many animations to list. All of the usual systems are animated plus the APU doors and stairs.

Leonardo has provided us with a few liveries for different airlines of the world to be installed separately in two packs. One is devoted to Meridiana completely while the other has various schemes from notable airlines that use(d) the MD-82. Alitalia, Delta, Iberia, and Alaska just to mention a few.

Take-off and Climb

If you started with Ready for Takeoff and are sitting at the end of the runway you’ve avoided the hardest parts and now will enjoy the MD-82’s finest attributes… the flight model. Remember the engines are on the rear of this jet and they are powerful and efficient for their time. Read through the take-off section of the manual and commit it to memory because you will be busy below 5,000ft. The take-off is modeled excellently. I have to say this is one of the smoothest aircraft on take-off I’ve seen to date in FS when flying without AP. Learn the Auto-throttle and vertical AP systems before taking off in this aircraft or you’ll find yourself in a nose dive. In fact, I manually fly it until around 2,000ft or so and then kick the AP in. There are some reports on the forums about the VNAV behaving erratically, but I think this can be contributed to pilot error or lack of experience, more than a bug in the MD-82. I can attest to that. My first few take-offs were very scary but once I got used to it and read the procedures a few times it became more obvious that the cause was my lack of experience.

The climb seems to be well modeled in relation to take-off weights. My test flight from KPIT to KORD was a flight with an 88% pax/cargo load which resulted in a slow climb above FL200 while a lightly loaded aircraft on the KORD-KATL route was much peppier over FL200.

Cruise

While in cruise let’s take some time to look at some of the other features of the MD-82. The overhead panels are completely functional. There are icon shortcuts placed on the main panel to reach all of the panels. The panels themselves are well layed out. Other than preflight and before takeoff, you won’t need to open and close various panels often. I find that I don’t use the VC as much in this aircraft. It’s not that it’s poorly done, it’s just that the 2D panels are very well layed out. In fact the 3D panel is as functional as the 2D. I use the 3D panel mostly when landing as I can get a better view of the runway. You also get a co-pilot panel in case you are not qualified for the left seat in your VA yet. They even simulated the bouncy Mach readout when the speed changes! Other systems that are included and functional are the Digital Flight Recorder, Windshear Alert, Weather display, and GPWS (Enhanced). They even model two different cockpit versions. You can choose either the Honeywell or Canadian Marconi systems.

One little story that happened while I was testing the MD-82. I booked a flight from KATL-KDFW and changed my mind during flight because there were storms at KDFW. I changed the destination in the FMC to KIAH and put in the waypoints. However, I was unable to delete the waypoint KDFW. I had to put the new waypoints in after KDFW and once I passed the first new waypoint, by controlling the AP using the Heading Select knob, the FMC removed the KDFW waypoint and I was able select NAV on the AP and continue lateral navigation with the FMC.

I use 4x mode at most for any flights I do but only while at cruise altitude. I never use accelerated time at any other phase. With that information in mind, I find that the Maddog does behave a little erratic at 4x especially during banks. It doesn’t lose track. It seems to bounce up and down  and back and forth a little more than when not on accelerated time. Nothing you can’t handle and quite acceptable.

Descent and Landing

Normally, I like to do a manual descent but I let the AP/FMS do the descent for me and it behaved as I expected dropping me fast at first and then a slower descent approaching FL100 and below in order to maintain speed restrictions. The landing has to be done properly and you should be set up around 9nm from the runway until you are used to it. If you are not, you’ll be too busy trying to slow the plane down and your landing will be a rough one. No surprises on approach. It’s a really smooth aircraft to land. As with take-off, you must learn how the AP works in regards to throttle and vertical navigation or you’ll be in trouble. Flying a manual approach is just as sweet. The sensitivities seem to be just right. Don’t forget to hit the brakes on touchdown unless you have the auto-brake version in use!

Upon arriving at the gate I calculate the aircraft fuel usage is 3.6 gal/nm. This seems like a realistic figure when I compare it to more modern aircraft in the same class such as the B737-800 which burns 3.3 gal/nm on a similar route. It’s an older aircraft with less efficient engines than the B738 so it should burn a little more fuel on a similar route with a similar take-off weight. On longer routes the fuel burn was 3.1 gal/nm compared to 2.5 nm/gal on the B738.

How realistic is this aircraft? Another story for you. During one of my test flights from KATL to KDFW at 7nm from touchdown I dropped the gear… well I tried to anyhow. The gear would not go down. I held the G key until the lights were green (and my fingers bled) and still the gear would not stay down. In real life I don’t think the lights will turn green unless they are completely down and locked. It was then that I realized the Hydraulic system was on Low. I switched it to High and turned on the Aux pumps and transfer switch and then the gear went down properly. So, while the lights turned green inappropriately (IMO I’m not a pilot), the system prevented me from locking the gear when there wasn’t enough hydraulic pressure to do so. Pretty good.

Multicrew

The MD-82 package is multicrew capable. This means that you and a friend can play pilot and co-pilot either in the same room or across the internet. You will need a solid high speed connection for this setup. Emphasis on solid. Broken connections do not bode well with multicrew cockpits. I did not have the opportunity to check the multicrew out so I won’t elaborate on it other than just making you aware that it’s available.

Final Words

The support from Leonardo is questionable at the moment. I signed up to have access to their forums and was given a message that my request has to be approved by the administrator. It was finally approved after 5 days. There have been a few questions asked on their forums but I have not seen a response from Leonardo. Other users have responded however. I give their support at this time a “thumbs down.”

There are two versions on Simmarket. The Professional version is reviewed here and is the latest version. The Standard version was offered in 2008 and if you opt for that one you will be missing allot of features including the extra cockpit versions and the Autobrake system.

The question I ask at the end is if this product is worth your hard earned money. This is more difficult to answer with this add-on because the MD-82 is not for everyone. I will say that if you want a MD-82 in your fleet, and don’t currently own the other (competitors) model on the market, then you will love this aircraft. I don’t think it’s worth spending money on if you already have the “other” MD-80 package, but if I had to choose between the two, I’d take the Leonardo one.

Beginners may think it’s too overwhelming, but don’t be discouraged because you can start with the aircraft ready for take-off and avoid the most complicated detailed procedures. The purchase price of 49.98 Euros or around $66 Canada/USA is on par with aircraft of the same quality. If you are on a budget you can get the Standard version for 39.98 Euros or $50 Canada/USA. Take my advice, if you’re going to spend 40 Euros then save your money for another few weeks and get the Pro version. You’ll be much happier.

I believe that the Leonardo Maddog will go down in history as one of the best aircraft you can purchase for FS9. A “thumbs up!” I know I said the support is questionable at the moment, but the aircraft works excellent out of the box and reading the manual will resolve issues you think are bugs. The more I tested the aircraft the more I wanted to fly and the more features I noticed. I have started to use it in FSX and I’m happy to report no problems related to FSX so far after 3 flights. It works just as well as FS9.

Thumbs up and a well deserved pat on the back for the Leonardo team.


Compatibility: FS9 and FSX

Price: 40 Euros (rounded up) for the Standard version and 50 Euros for the Pro.

Developer: Leonardo SH

Simmarket Link to Standard and Pro versions.

System specs: Pentium Core 2 Duo overclocked to 3.3 ghz, 4gb 800mhz RAM, EVGA 9800GT 512mb video, FS9/FSX at 1600 x 1200 res accept for the screen shot of the wide panel which is at 1920 x 1080. All screen shots are from FS9.

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