Review: PMDG MD-11

I am a fan of older airplanes. I think they are more fun to fly. That’s also why I find it a pity that few developers have decided to develop older, or “classic” jetliners. I am now thinking of planes like the Boeing 707, 727, 737-100/200, but also the DC-8 and DC-10. Sure, Some of the planes I have mentioned have been developed, and some even in stunning detail (the Dreamfleet 727 comes to mind). Most of the classic jetliners have never even seen the light in FS, however. Some have seen the light but with a systems simulation that is not what some people (me) would like to see. One of those is the DC-10.

The DC-10 is an interesting plane. It is one of the last tri-jets, for their operating costs became more than what airlines would have liked to spend, plus, there was a viable solution: the twin jet! Yes, the A300 set an example for how the new generation of airplanes would be like, and there was no room anymore for tri-jets. Well, there is one exception: The MD-11.

The MD-11 is a plane that has a long history. It started with the DC-10, which then get a complete overhaul to make it a more modern and capable aircraft in these modern time, and thus it was transformed into the MD-11. Finally, some DC-10 aircraft received a MD-11 cockpit and where aptly named “MD-10”. Sadly, there are few models available of the MD-11 (with full VC, that is). Sky Simulations has done one and, of course: PMDG. It is the PMDG MD-11 I will be looking at in this review. Will they have managed to make another winner? We’ll soon see!

Why this review

The PMDG MD-11 is already an older product. Released in 2008, it is now two years old and many releases of the past two years have taken over PMDG’s MD-11 in one or more ways, always because the technology now has moved far beyond the technologies available to the PMDG MD-11 development team when they were developing their MD-11.

With all these things in mind, why do I even take the trouble reviewing this product? It’s for two reasons:

1) To have another review out there, but not just a review: a definitive work that hopefully manages to capture the entire plane and give a good impression of everything that this plane is. That’s not to say that existing reviews are bad – not at all! However, I do feel that some reviews have neglected to mention certain things – things I will most definitely highlight. For example, I think the PMDG MD-11’s exterior isn’t up to the  standards set by the systems (a similar thing seems to be the case with the leonardo Maddog, or so I heard from a trusted source).

2) To highlight a dying breed. The MD-11 is being phased out with more and more airliners, and soon it will probably end up on the wasteland of history. In this review I hope to highlight (and draw renewed attention to) what is a very interesting aircraft, and I tried to give my thoughts about it. You may or may not agree with these thoughts, that is up to you.

All standard review items will be present of course: I will show the exterior; I will show the interior; I will go through a flight in order to detail the systems on board. However, I have also tried to include new stuff. Stuff that I have thought about, that I think is interesting and with which I hope to make other people think about the MD-11 in a new way. I hope to have succeeded.

An unorthodox choice

The MD-11 is a bit of an unorthodox choice. It has been in development for ages, and for what? There weren’t that many people that were truly happy with this choice. It is a dying breed. Hardly anybody flies this plane, so what’s the use to make it for FS, people asked? That may be true, but in the same vain you may ask yourself why Captain Sim develops a 727 or 707. Why would they? Apparently, it appears that people do want these planes and let’s be honest: it is precisely planes like the MD-11 that make our hobby interesting! These planes are not quite Boeing and they are not quite Airbus. Actually, they are set a world apart from all we know in FS, and this adds to “diversity”. That is a good thing and I wish we had more of it.

I myself am Dutch. KLM is one of the few MD-11 operators, so I am actually very pleased to see the MD-11 in FS. Flying it with the KLM logo on my tail is a treat for me, and I’ll be very happy to fly it to far-away destination such as Miami, Bonaire, Curacao and Paramaribo, which are all airports where the MD-11 is sent too, together with its brother the 747. Brother? Yes. Well, probably a “half brother”. Boeing and McDonnell Douglas are one company now, so I regard them as family.

Anyway, this is why the MD-11 is considered an unorthodox choice: it is not what most people wanted or expected (which is a Boeing 777). It is something very different, and something that truly expands FS diversity.

Installation and documentation

Those that have a PMDG product will know how installation goes with the MD-11. You start the installer, wherein you will have to input your serial code and a password. This password is the password of your PMDG account. That way PMDG can make sure you actually bought this product and not somebody else. It is therefore of the utmost importance that you keep this password to yourself. You then press a “Validate” button, which I presume prompts the installer to contact the PMDG server and inquire whether this MD-11 copy is, in fact, yours. If validation has gone without trouble, you are soon presented with an “Install” button, which you press. That’s basically it. There is nothing troublesome about this procedure, but I will say I that I have found the installers to be a bit slow sometimes. It might just have been my computer, but seeing as how other installers tend be quick and responsive, I’m more inclined to say the PMDG installer is at fault here. That said, this is but an excruciatingly tiny gripe…

Once everything is installed, you are the proud owner of the PMDG MD-11 — and a 1400 page manual. Yes, you read that correctly: 1400 pages of information on how to operate each and every knob on this airplane. Fortunately, there are tutorials too, for I cannot imagine every single user of this plane trudging through every page of that manual.

So what’s the quality of the manual anyway? In short: it’s good. The layout is easy to get your head around and tons upon tons of (useful) information are poured into it. There are clear figures, well written descriptions and easy to understand explanation of everything you need to know. I will tell you what I dislike, and it is something I see all the time in PMDG manuals: there is either no contents page, or, when it is present, it does not hold page number but chapter references, which is only of limited use when you are facing a 534-page systems manual. Finding the page you need could have been much quicker if the contents would have simply included page numbers.

That said, when you do find the page you were looking for, prepare for some meaningful time spent understanding whatever it is you set out to understand. There are lots of screenshots to aid you and, like with the PMDG 747 manual, it’s all pretty easy to understand. I quite like these manuals and I also like that they have been broken up into smaller chunks, so that you don’t have to load a 1400-page manual every time you want to check one small thing. The manual comes, namely, in various parts:

  1. -       Introduction
  2. -       Tutorial
  3. -       Systems
  4. -       FCOM
  5. -       FMS
  6. -       QRH (Quick Reference Handbook)
  7. -       Checklists

So as you can see, you first have to understand in what particular part of the manual you are most likely to find the information you seek. It’s only thereafter that the trudging though the many pages ensues, seeking for the right subchapter. Now let’s go into each of the parts in a bit more detail.

Introduction

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The cover of the Introduction.

This part of the manual focuses on the general stuff. Things like “where are the clickspots?”, “what is installed and how does it work?” are all dealt with here. There is no page of contents, so you are on your own to find exactly the thing you need, which can be difficult at times. Still, this 84-page (!) introduction to the addon is a must read, for it explains all the “supporting” stuff, like the PMDG menu in FS’s menu bar. If you are not willing to read it all (which I can understand), at least skim through it so that you know what it contains. It’ll prove useful later on.

Tutorial

manual-tutorial

The cover of the tutorial.

What the tutorial is and does should be evident. It describes a flight from London Heathrow to Zürich Kloten in a Swissair MD-11. An interesting detail is that this flight apparently was used in real life for already many years for route training and line check flights. As is described on the cover of the tutorial, it is designed to give you a basic understanding of how to fly the plane safely from point A to B, assuming everything works (so no failures are discussed). It is a well written, easy to understand document that is a must read for every new MD-11 pilot. Do note that it explains only the most basic stuff. I recommend you to continue with the second, more advanced tutorial which can be downloaded freely from PMDG’s website. This second tutorial is more comprehensive and it takes you through additional procedures, which will be valuable to know.

This is where I found a problem with the first tutorial: I found myself staring at the main instrument panel, thinking: “What the hell is going on.” I thought this because the first tutorial neglects to tell about many things you can see on the displays. Although the tutorial is supposed to give a basic overview of flying the plane, I would have liked more info on what I see on these displays and what it means. As it’s now, I feel too much was omitted.

Oh don’t get me wrong: you can learn to fly the MD-11 with the first tutorial quite adequately and easily, but you won’t know about 85% of the stuff on the displays and this is a bit of a pity. I also think you might not understand what it is you are doing and what it means for the operation of the plane. Luckily, the second tutorial expands on the first.

Systems

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The cover of the systems guide.

The systems guide is a 534-page handbook detailing all of the systems on board the PMDG MD-11. You’ll read about the mechanical functioning of the systems and how the crew should operate them. The systems guide is broken up into parts: every part is about a different system. For those that would like to print out the manual, I think a good tip would be to place stickers where every part begins, because however extensive and informative this guide is, the contents page does not have any page numbers in it. It’ll be very hard to find anything without proper external labeling. Those that want to read the document on their computer will have an easier life: using a PDF reader, you’ll find that all parts have been neatly divided into chapters which you can access via a menu. That way navigating the document is easy. The document itself has been made well. Language is easy to understand and I have found the guide to be well written. Diagrams and figures all help to clarify the complex MD-11 systems. Generally, this is not a guide I really recommend reading. I’d say you’ll get far more out of it by doing it “piece by piece”. First do the tutorials, and only when you stumble over something you might want some more explanation about, grab for the systems guide. Otherwise, you might drown in the wealth of information presented in this guide. Note, however, that once you feel comfortable flying the plane after having flown both tutorials a few times, you might want to delve into the systems guide anyway. In that case, park your plane at a parking spot at whatever airport, get that systems guide printed out or opened on a separate screen, and read the manual while sitting in the PMDG MD-11’s cockpit pressing the buttons, switching the switches and pulling the levers described in the manual. This way you’ll remember far more than if you just read the manual. This method of reading and trying in the sim is also recommended by PMDG.

FCOM

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Cover of the FCOM.

The FCOM, or Flight Crew Operation Manual, is a booklet almost as extensive as the systems guide. The FCOM, however, only counts 436 pages, which, of course, still is a flabbergasting amount of pages. The FCOM is described as a booklet that builds on the knowledge received during reading the systems guide, and therefore I suggest you read the FCOM only when you are comfortable with what is told in the systems guide. The reason is that the FCOM takes the explanations of the systems guide, and uses them to explain how the crew should use the systems during procedures while flying the plane. Now, there are many procedures on the MD-11, and all are explained here, together with overview given of limitations, performance data and alerts you may receive. Like the systems guide, the FCOM has been written well. An occasional typo can be excused in my opinion, given the thickness of this booklet. Basically, it provides the next step to fully mastering this addon and it does so very well.

FMS

manual-fms

Cover of the FMS guide.

Now here is a guide that I think will really be of use to many pilots that do not really know how to operate a FMS, or Flight Management System. The FMS is the brain of your plane. It tells the A/P what to do and how to do it and makes sure your plane ends up where it should, not a thousand miles off course, somewhere above the Pacific without fuel. A good understanding of how to operate the FMS is therefore crucial for a successful flight. The tutorial already does a very good job of telling you how to use the FMS as a tool during your flight, but searching for this information in the tutorial if you quickly want to check something might be a nightmare. The tutorial, while only 35 pages thick, does not have any form of a contents page, so you are on your own to remember at what page the information you seek is written. This is where the FMS guide comes in. It provides you with a detailed overview of all aspects FMS and thus gives you a framework in which to find all the info you need. It has a contents page (without page numbers) and you can count on finding what you are looking for somewhat quickly.

The FMS guide has, like the FCOM and systems guide, been divided into parts, or chapters: every chapter talks about a specific phase of flight. If you search for particular information, your best bet is to find out what phase of flight your “problem” arises, and seek help in this guide, searching at the chapter concerned with the phase of flight of which you want information. Do note that it is strongly recommended to simply do the tutorial, and do it more often than once, because this will lay the foundations on which the FMS guide will build. It may be hard to understand, certainly for beginning simmers, without doing the tutorials.

Quick Reference Handbook

manual-qrh

Cover of the QRH.

The Quick Reference Handbook (QRH), gives a “quick” overview of all the procedures you may need to do. Quick may sound like something short or small, but this is a deceptive term. The QRH is still a whopping 220 pages and details all emergency, abnormal and normal procedures you may want or need to do and thus gives an excellent way of, indeed, quickly determining what you have to do in a situation where seconds may be the difference between life and death.

Checklists

The checklists are just that: checklists. They are the final 8 pages of the QRH and hold all the actions you have to do during normal procedures. They are clear and they are handy; a must for every MD-11 pilot to have on next to him at all times!

This concludes this chapter. The installation is straight forward, and the manuals are extensive to say the least, with lots of helpful diagrams, nicely written explanations and easy to understand layouts. The only complaint I have is that the contents pages do not make finding the information you need much easier, and it’s basically the chapters menu you will use when viewing this on the computer, or self-made labels where a new chapter begins if you would like to print the manuals out.

Exterior model

Now let’s move on to a more colourful topic: the exterior model. The MD-11 is a big and very imposing plane. We will examine every part of the exterior model and see if it does justice to its real-world counterpart. We’ll start from the front and work our way to the back.

overview

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Figure 1. Overview shots of the MD-11’s exterior model.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Figure 2. A real world photograph I took myself at Schiphol Airport, the Netherlands.

First let’s look at the model as a whole. It certainly looks like a MD-11, no doubt about it. From this distance, it also looks rather good. Nice texturing, nice detailing and the plane has the shape you expect it to have. I would like to point out, however, that I think the plane is a bit too shiny and more moderation with the Alpha layer might have proved good However, not all is rosy: look at the nose of the plane in the first overview shot. You might notice how it looks a bit “pointy”. It’s not quite the correct shape, as you can see when you compare it to the real world photograph (figure 2). Let’s go into a bit more detail now.

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Figure 3. A close-up on the nose.

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Figure 4. The MD-11, seen from the left.

Viewed from the side, the nose looks good. Somehow, it does seem to be a bit different, and that’s not because of the angles the photographs were taken in. There is something different, but it’s hard to see. If you look at the nose from the back, it’ll quickly show, as figure 5 will testify. For the rest, the texturing is a bit blurry. That’s something I hadn’t quite expected to see, actually. The cockpit windows look good, though, and so do the pilots that sit in it.

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Figure 5. The nose, seen from a below-left angle

As you can see in figure 5, the nose looks different. It seems to be bigger than it should be, and as a result it “bulges” outward.

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nose-wheel-behind

Figure 6. The nosewheel.

Moving our view downward, we can give the nosewheel a good look. It’s very detailed, with lots of tiny tubes and bolts modeled in 3D. It looks good. The texturing has also been done well, making the wheel and the struts, look good. This is the kind of detail we want to see on a true PMDG aircraft.

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nosewheel-problem-2

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Figure 7. Nosewheel problems

The nosewheel does have some problems, as figure 7 shows. For example, you can see how the tires are now “stuck” in the gear strut, and you can see a black cable not ending where it is supposed to end.

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Figure 8. Engine overview.

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Figure 9. The engine from the front.

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Figure 10. The engine from the back.

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Figure 11. Reverse thrust activated.

engine

Figure 12. Comparison photo between the PMDG and real MD-11 engine. Original photograph by myself.

Now that we have looked at the front of the plane, we can go more to the back, where we can look at the engines. Figure 7 gives an overview shot of the engine, whereas figures 9 through 12 show close-ups of various parts of the engine. Note that in these screenshots you see one of two engine types: the Pratt and Whitney PW4460. The PMDG MD-11 is also available with General Electric CF6 engines.

The modeling is good, with okay texturing. It simply looks like the MD-11’s Pratt and Whitney wing-mounted engines. The details are not quite right, however: the small wings you see on the engine nacelle are not quite at the right spot. This can be seen in figure 12. Figure 12 shows something else, too: it seems that the space between the engine’s front and the fan blades is too big.

hind-landing-gear-front

hind-landing-gear-back

Figure 13. Hind landing gear.

The MD-11’s hind landing gear consists of three wheels: two mounted under the wings and one mounted in between these two, in the fuselage. The screenshots only show the right hind landing gear, under the wing, but I found all wheels to be equally detailed. This meaning they all look rather good. Plenty of parts have been modelled, making the gear look realistic. The texturing is okay, too. It’s only the details that are a bit inaccurate: the side brace on the gear, for example, is stuck halfway into the gear’s strut.

leading-edge-of-wing

wing-edge

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Figure 14. Various screenshots of the right wing.

From the hind landing gear we move on to the wing. There really isn’t that much to show here, actually. The wing looks good and there isn’t much to show about it. Texturing is a bit blurry, though. This can be seen rather well in the second and third shot of figure 14, where bolts and such do not look very good. I did find one thing here that is weird:

light-have-shadows

Figure 15. Lights have shadows.

As you can see in figure 15, the wing lights seem to have odd-looking shadows. It is actually the first time I have seen this on a payware plane, so I suppose it is something that should not be happening. Why, then, is it on the PMDG MD-11?

all-out-overview

Figure 16. Going all out: flaps and spoilers extended.

The nicest picture one takes of a plane is when it is on final approach, or so I think. That’s when all is extended: flaps, gear… It’s when this huge, roaring monster of metal is giving up the power to fly to bring its passengers safely back to the ground. The aircraft has to slow down and extends all it can to do so. It flares, it touches down. Heavy braking, spoilers extended and the roar of the reverse thrust all make the plane come to a halt. This is it: this is when I love planes the most. It is for me therefore not a small deal how flaps and spoilers look. They do not have to be wonders of the world, but I require a certain level of detail — you may call me a nitpick.

Figure 16 shows an overview of this situation, when all is extended. What’s already striking is that the spoilers hardly have any detail to them. No tiny connections to thrust them up on touch down. The flaps look better, but we will soon look at them from under the wing. Figure 17, meanwhile, shows a close-up of the spoilers, which doesn’t look too good: hardly any detail there. That’s a pity, and I am surprised: the PMDG Boeing 747 had much more detail than this.

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Figure 17. Close-up of the spoilers.

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flaps

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Figure 18. Close-up of the flaps.

So here we are: close-ups of the flaps. Look closely at the middle screenshot, and you’ll see that nothing is holding that small flap segment. It is floating in the air. I find this a bit disturbing, given the price of the plane, but it fills me with a lot of surprise, too. Let’s move on to the plane’s tail now.

tail

Figure 19. Overview of the tale with a comparison to a real world vertical stabilizer.

The tail doesn’t look too bad. At first glance, nothing seems amiss. But if you now compare to a real world vertical stabilizer, you’ll where there is an inaccuracy; I denoted it with the red rectangle. The error should be obvious.

vertical-stabilizer-back

vertical-stabilizer

Figure 20. Vertical stabilizer close-up.

Figure 20 also shows some other problems. Again, I am truly surprised, even a bit taken aback by this. This is not the quality I am accustomed to from PMDG.

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Figure 21. Hind engine.

Figures 19 and 20 also show the hind engine, which seems to be modelled well. It is rather accurate, and it’s nice that you can see the fan blades in it. I know of some addons that for some reason do not show the fan blades in the hind engine and I’m not sure why that is. This model does it, luckily.

So that’s the exterior model. I have shown you all relevant parts and have shown you some of the details. Here is also where some of the problems are, though. I frequently found inaccuracies and mistakes that I think should have been fixed by now. The quality of this exterior model is, honestly, below my expectation. I had expected it to be better, like the PMDG Boeing 747, which has a beautiful exterior model and is an older release than the MD-11, too. By that logic, I expect the MD-11 to be as great as the Boeing 747. It is not, which saddens and surprises me.

I can think of reasons why this is the case. Maybe they simply did not have access to the right materials to make an exterior model that is as good as the Boeing 747’s. Maybe they used an aircraft as reference that differed in some of its characteristics from the aircraft I photographed at Schiphol Airport. What the correct explanation is, I do not know.

To be perfectly honest, chances are this paragraph might have been far more favorable then it is now. The reason for it is very simple: when you don’t directly compare the MD-11’s exterior model to real world aircraft, you think the model is okay – maybe even great. However, fact is that as soon as  you start to compare it to the real thing, all kinds of small mistakes rear their ugly heads. Indeed: even though I compared to screenshots from the start, it was only after speaking to a friend of mine that I started noticing the problems. This person told me of various errors and how he was disappointed with the MD-11’s exterior. I then looked far more closely at the photographs I had took of the real MD-11, and noticed that the guy was right. However, often one does not do this and the model looks good while in fact it isn’t.

I’ll be frank. I feel uneasy about all of this. PMDG is regarded by just about everybody as one of the very top of FS addon developers, if not the ultimate top, and here I come, whining on about how the MD-11 exterior doesn’t look good and contains many errors – errors that could have been avoided, even with the technology of those days. (The PMDG 747, for example, seems much mroe accurate than the PMDG MD-11, while the 747 is older than the MD-11). Let’s get on with the review now – I’ll come back to the exterior model at the conclusion of this review.

Interior model

Everybody has an opinion when it comes down to VCs. I don’t care how the VC looks; I need it to “feel” right. I can be perfectly happy with a flat, 2D VC such as the one featured in the Wilco 737 PIC, as long as it has that feel that is hard for me to describe; a sense of comfort and pleasure. The Wilco 737 PIC sure has it, though: it feels “legitimate”, like a true cockpit that has seen extensive use. It is one of those VCs that I have always felt comfortable in, right from the start. My question here is: will I feel the same about this VC? We shall soon see.


cockpit-overview

Figure 22. Forward cockpit overview.

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Figure 23. Backward cockpit overview.

My first impression of this VC is that it’s quite impressive. There is lots of 3D detail (just about every button seems to be modelled in 3D and is useable) and the textures look good. Especially the forward cockpit overview, in figure 22, gives a view of what seems like a good rendition of the real cockpit. Let’s get into the Pilot Flying’s (PF) seat and see what we will be seeing during our flights in this beast.

pf-front-view

Figure 24. The PF’s front view.

So what will you see when you get into the VC? Figure 24 is your answer. We see a main instrument panel with clear gauges, topped off by some very nice texturing. This is how a VC should look like. The window frames look equally good: textures are good and give a very nice representation of the real thing. Also use this shot to appreciate the big differences between the MD-11 and Boeing and Airbus planes. It’s not the basic layout that is different, it is the gauges themselves, their names and their functioning that are so very different. The first time I laid eyes on it, I found it intimidating, but also familiar: many cockpit sounds, such as the GPWS are the same as on the MD-80, which is a plane I have flown in FS2004.

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Figure 25. Looking left.

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Figure 26. The overhead panel.

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Figure 27. Looking right: cockpit overview.

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Figure 28. Looking back.

Figures 25 through 28 all have a PF’s viewpoint and give an impression of what you will be seeing when flying your plane from the VC. I can only say one thing: amazing. This is a really good-looking VC, one I will enjoy flying the plane from. Textures appear crisp, everything is easy to read and the modeling is great. Oh, and did I mention that every button/switch/knob makes its own click sound? Let’s get into a bit more detail now and zoom into various parts of the cockpit.

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Figure 29. Main Instrument Panel.

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Figure 30. Main Instrument Panel, viewed from the side so you can admire the 3D detail a bit better. Note that the yoke has some holes in it from this side, but do you care? You won’t, since you won’t be looking at your displays from this angle.

We start with the most important part of this cockpit: the main instrument panel. The first thing that is striking is the quality of the texturing. It is simply phenomenal. Just look at the screws right above the displays. The precision, the crispness, the clarity… And it is not limited to the metal parts; it extends towards the buttons and knobs, too, although I think the text on these buttons is a bit blurry. Look at the MCDU (Mode Control and Display Unit. In Boeing planes this is called the CDU, In Airbus planes it is called MCDU), for example: the buttons there look very sharp. For the rest, the 3D detail is great. Every knob here seems to be 3D, and believe it or not, just about all of them can be moved, switched, pushed, flipped or twisted. This is a main instrument panel you’ll love to use. By the way, the colors of the attitude indicator can be changed. How’s that for attention to detail! More about that sort of stuff later, though.

overhead-overview

Figure 31. Overview of the overhead panel.

The overhead panel has textures that appear a bit blurrier, a bit less spectacular than on the main instrument panel, but to be perfectly honest, the difference is too small to start moaning about it. Fact is I think it looks great. All buttons here are 3D and they all work; trust me, I checked! They all have at least one action associated with them, and in some cases, for example the cockpit’s light controls, have multiple actions associated with them. The overhead is just as phenomenal as the main instrument panel. The only thing you may complain about is the ceiling, which has some slightly blurry textures. It’s not that bad, but it’s noticeable. It’s a pity that it’d drag down the overall experience of the VC. In the end, when you sit in your chair as PF, you won’t find it too annoying, though. You will rarely look above you, at the ceiling. You may see the ceiling above your co-pilot’s head, but in that case, the ceiling will appear a lot less blurry because you are looking at it from a distance.

pedestal-overview

Figure 32. Pedestal overview.

We head down, where we find the pedestal, which looks equally beautiful. There is some great texturing down here. Everything is 3D and all buttons are textured amazingly well. What amazes me in the modeling especially is the throttle quadrant. You’ll often see addon aircraft with blocky throttle quadrants, but this MD-11 is not one of those. It is smooth, with handles and levers that truly look good. The textures for the metal parts are really of great quality. The text on and around buttons looks a bit blurry, though. Some of the text looks very blurry, even. That’s sad, because the rest looks so good. Even the carpet, a nice dark/light blue combination, looks very nice. The chairs are a bit blurry here and there, but it’s nothing big. Yes, the pedestal, like the rest we have seen, is also a work of art.

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Figure 33. First Officer’s window.

To look at the details of the window frame and surrounding area, we look at the F/O’s window. Every handle and knob has been modelled in 3D and textured beautifully. The sign below the window frame is readable, for example. Also look down, near the ground: I think those textures for these metal parts are stunning. To be frank, what I have seen of this VC seems to border on CaptainSim VC quality, and I think that’s a compliment. CaptainSim’s 727 VC is possibly one of the best VCs I have seen, but this MD-11 sports a VC that certainly is as detailed. The only thing that could have made the MD-11 VC better is by making it look a bit more worn down.

observatory-station

Figure 34 Observatory station.

Now that we have seen the front of the cockpit, let’s move to the back. Here we find the observatory station. This is basically a chair with a table and lots of fuses. Certainly from this distance it looks extremely well, there is no doubt about that. Also notice the great texture quality of the door. It all looks really great!

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Figure 35. Playing with the observatory station’s seat.

This VC also has plenty of nice animations. You can adjust the headrest of your seat, you can move the seats, you can play with your arm rest… The above series of shots shows what you can do with the observatory station’s seat, for example.

compass-not-stowed

compass-stowed

Figure 36. Playing with the compass.

And here you can see what you can do with the compass: stow it or reveal it. Pretty nice! It is impressive to see all the stuff that can move here. It makes the VC livelier when you can interact with many of its parts, and this, too, is something CaptainSim has understood very well and which I see in this VC too. So, how about night lighting?

mip-no-light

mip-backlight-only

mip-panel-light

Figure 37.

The main instrument panel in figure 38 shows clearly how the light systems works and together with that the great detail found in this addon aircraft. Basically, you have a very wide range of possibilities. You can enable the lights for the main instrument panel and overhead separately, and you can choose for each one if you want no light at all, just backlight or also full panel lighting. On the 2D panel you can even decide how bright all the lights should be. Suffice to say that the amount of options available to you regarding the lighting of your cockpit is truly impressive. You can even turn on the lights at the observatory station, as figure 38 shows:

circuit-light-on

Figure 38. The lights over the observatory station turned on.

The only pity is that all this lighting has no effect on the outside model. No matter what light you have turned on, be that the flood light, backlight or no light, you don’t see anything changing on the exterior model. There, it’s always black:

flood-light-on-not-seen-from-outside

Figure 39. Having the flood light on does not change the exterior appearance.

This concludes the interior modeling chapter. I have shown you the VC from many angles, and I think I can safely say that this VC is absolutely stunning. I will remark that it looks a bit clean, so if you favor “dirty pits” you might not really like this VC. But the 3D detail and the texturing is top notch. It’s amazing how very different the quality of this VC is when compared to the exterior model. Where the exterior model lacked accuracy, the VC has it all. With this chapter coming to its end, we have looked at all of the 3D modeling on this plane. It’s time to move on to the 2D side of things…

Panel

“The 2D side of things” is of course the 2D panel. Note that I will not talk about functionality here. I will only talk about appearance. Functionality is a topic I’ll save for the “Taking it for a flight” chapter.

The 2D panel is made up of a lot of panels, far more than you can access by using the shift+ number combinations. To that end, there are click spots on the main instrument panel so you can access all relevant 2D panels.

main-panel-pf

Figure 40. The main instrument panel, PF side.

The main instrument panel looks very good, basically. Nice bitmaps have been used and all gauges are very clear and easy to read. The buttons you see with the red border around it are all multifunction clock spots. Multifunction because you can both right and left click them, and a new panel will come up. This way they give you access to a wide range of panels. Plus, there are click spots that are sort of invisible but will activate new 2D panels once you click on the gauge you want to work with. The entire 2D panel seems like a well-organized piece of work to me, and navigating is fairly easy, although I suggest memorizing the click spots for easy access.

It actually goes even further than that. Not only does left/right clicking show different panels, you can also isolate specific panels from the rest, although this only works with the overhead panel. To achieve this, you have to right-click on the top left corner of subpanel you want to isolate. The rest of the overhead panel will then close, leaving you with the main instrument panel and the specific subsystem’s panel you right-clicked. You can then either right-click the top-left corner again to close the subpanel and reopen the overhead, or you can left-click it to close the subpanel.

Controlling the buttons, meddling with the knobs and moving the levers in and out of place has been made possible by a variety of ways. Those that are familiar with the PMDG 747, will already know how PMDG might solve the issues concerned with fiddling with buttons — because let’s be honest: on the real MD-11 there are buttons that can be manipulated in six ways, so how do you code this same functionality in the FS way? On the 747, you might remember the FCP: some buttons can be turned and pushed, depending on where you place the mouse. The MD-11 has about the same system, but it has been extended and improved. It is the same in that one button may have as much as six click spots, with every spot having a different function (increase value, decrease value, change mode, deactivate, activate, etc). The difference is that every such function, depending on the movement the pilot would make with his hand, has its own icon. So, here are some examples:

cursors

Figure 41. Cursors used to operate the MD-11 panel (both VC and 2D)

Make no mistake: these are but the basic four. There are some variants on the rotary switch cursor icon, ranging from a grayish to a turned-90-degrees-clockwise variant to denote specific actions you may take or have taken upon clicking the rotary switch. All in all, it is a system that works well and really helps you, certainly in the beginning, quickly understand what can be pushed or rotated and in what way this can or should be done. A marvelous system indeed, and well thought out!

Now follow some screenshots of some of the additional 2D panels. I have said all there really is to be said, for this chapter only focuses on the cosmetic part of the 2D panel, not its functioning.

fcu-panels

Figure 42. Different FCU panels, all showing different sections of the FCU.

fmc-and-throttle

Figure 43. Then MCDU and Throttle levers, with some surrounding buttons and knobs.

overhead

Figure 44. The 2D overhead panel.

Sounds

Sounds are as important as the modeling of the plane. This addon shines in the sound department, however. All warnings sound authentic, although they seem to have a small reverberation. This can be heard very well when turning on the seatbelt signs: the sound seems to carry on for just a tad too long. All the other sounds (engines, fans etc) seems to be very good, however, and you’ll find some great pleasure sitting in the cockpit listening to all the button clicks, lever handles and button switches.

Additional functionality

After discussing all the “basic” stuff we are not done yet here. The PMDG MD-11 comes with a slew of additional functionality, such as panel state saving and loading and failure generation. All of these are grouped together in the PMDG addon menu, which you will find in Flight Simulator’s menu bar after installing the PMDG MD-11. Those of you that have the 747 will already be familiar with the addon PMDG menu, for not a lot has changed. Those that do not know what I am currently talking about, are invited to read on. Please note I cannot discuss every aspect of the PMDG menu, simply because the amount of options is so gigantic: it offers all the tools to customize your MD-11 flying experience to the detail. I can therefore not include everything in my review, but the PMDG MD-11 manual, freely downloadable from the PMDG website, gives an overview of all the functions of said addon menu.

pmdg-addon-menu

Figure 45.  The PMDG Addon menu (screenshot from the PMDG manual).

The PMDG menu simply sits in the menu bar of FS. Opening it gives the sight seen above. There are three submenus: General, Panel State and Failures (About shows a simple info screen on the PMDG MD-11). Clicking “General” will give you a menu through which you can customize much of the PMDG MD-11’s functioning and cockpit instruments. General’s submenu holds several more entries:

general-submenu

Figure 46. General’s submenu holds five entries.

The above shot shows these entries. Options enables you to change a wide range of specific things about how the systems look like. For example, the colors of the attitude indicator, what sort of style flight director you want and how long the IRS should take to align and much, much more. Below are some examples.

attitude-indicator-colors

Figure 47. Through the general menu you can change the attitude indicator’s colors.

irs-alignment-time

Figure 48. Through the general menu you can change the time it takes the IRS to align.

options

Figure 49. Through the general menu you can change a whole host of other, depending on your own preference.

The other entries in general’s submenu are self explanatory. The Fuel entry will enable you to refuel you plane in-game. The Sounds entry enables you to set the volume of the entire PMDG MD-11 addon, which I found very useful; I found the sounds too load, while I still wanted to maintain the volume of, for example, ATC. Using the Sound entry, I could diminish the MD-11’s sound, while still having ATC at the “normal” volume. Performance Tuning enables you to set the refresh rate of the displays in both VC and 2D panel, and the Keyboard Commands allows you to customize many keyboard commands so that you can operate whatever you wish the way you want it. I personally don’t use this last feature often, but I can see why people would.

The PMDG menu does not end here, though. You can also load and save panel states, using the Panel Saving entry. Choosing this entry will result in a submenu holding the entries to save and load the panel state. Choosing these, this is what you get:

panel-loading-window

Figure 50. The panel state loading window.

panel-saving-window

Figure 51. The panel state saving window.


These windows do not differ in appearance, only in function. What the difference is, should be obvious: one enables to save the panel state, the other to load it. I have rarely found any problems with this, although one time the IRS was suddenly unaligned while, during saving, it definitely was.

I should stress that you’ll probably hardly use these menus at all: the PMDG MD-11’s panel state is automatically saved and loaded while saving the flight in FS, so you can always count on being able to continue where you stopped previously without needing your further intervention: an elegant and easy way to get you flying quickly. The only thing I don’t like is that it takes 20 seconds for the panel to be fully loaded. This means that you can forget about saving the panel state at critical moment, such as climb or final approach. At these moments, the 20 seconds needed to load the panel are the difference between a safe landing and biting in the dust (or earth, so to speak).

The failures menu is what it is: a huge overview of all kinds of airplane parts and systems that you can set to fail. The amount of stuff to fail is truly staggering and I am not going to sum it all up, but here’s a screenshot:

failures-menu

Figure 52. The failures window.


As you can see, you can probably make pretty much all of the plane fail, if you wish to do so. I have tried failing some parts, which was great fun, but afterwards I had no real idea on what to do about it. I simply restarted the flight, let the engineers look it all over and fix it all (you can do this through the MCDU), after which I resumed doing whatever I was going to do. Ultimately, failures can be great fun, but I do not use them. Once you know the plane inside out, failures offer a great and challenging way to perfect your MD-11 flying skills, but until that time, you’d be better off ignoring it.


Comparing the MD-11 to others: “and now for something completely different”

Before moving on to the chapter where I take the plane for a flight, I found it interesting, in the context of this review to compare the MD-11’s operation to other manufacturers’ aircraft. Thinking about design philosophies of planes, the choices involved in making the systems and the layout of the cockpit, are things I enjoy and find very interesting. In this chapter I hope to make you appreciate the MD-11’s choices. Do note that all of this is my own thinking and I cannot be sure that this is what McDonnell Douglas originally intended when they designed the MD-11.

So let’s look at what others have been doing: Boeing and Airbus. The interesting thing is that the nationality, or origin, of the airplane manufacturer can be observed in the final design. Airbus is a terribly simple aircraft, let’s be honest about that. Easy to fly, I mean. The pilot does not have to do a lot to get the plane flying; so much is automated that the pilot does not have to be on edge all the time. This philosophy, of enduring simplicity, is everywhere in the design. The overhead holds only a few buttons and switches. There are no multiple landing lights: there is just one that activates the lot. The throttle lever: you engage A/T by simply moving the throttle levers into TO/GA mode and leaving there. Afterwards you move them back to CLB mode. All the while, you only move the throttles when a mode has to be changed, and then it stays put. The A/T system does not move throttles, adding a factor of possible confusion for the pilots. Also the FCP is as simple as possible: hardly any buttons; most of the functionality has been squeezed into one pull/push/rotate knob per particular A/P function. The list goes on and on, but it should be abundantly clear what my point is: everywhere in this cockpit the simplicity can be seen. And I do mean everywhere. It’s the big stuff, like the overall functioning of the A/T and A/P systems, but also the small stuff, like the one-switch-for-all-landing-lights example I gave earlier.

The simplicity of Airbus extends to all models. Not because they all have the same design philosophy, but because they all more or less feature the same cockpit. I mean, how more simple can you make them than simply putting roughly the same cockpit layout in A318 through A340-600 aircraft? Everything is automated, everything works, everything is the same and it is all easy to comprehend. The interesting thing is that this is like a metaphor for the European Union: it regulates it all and tries to make it all as simple as possible for the individual governments of the member states by taking away the burden of all the minor rule-and-law-making. Of course this does not always work, but that’s another matter: fact is, Airbus = Europe, and the design is evidence of this fact.

Now look at Boeing. What a completely different world this is. First of all, every cockpit is different since the Boeing 737. I’m not sure why, but 707 through 737 all remained roughly the same in terms of cockpit layout, but from then on, things changed dramatically. In the current lineup, Boeing planes are all somewhat different. Compare 747-400, 757, 767, 777 and 787, for instance. All have a different cockpit. The differences sometimes are minor (757 and 767), and sometimes they are major (767 and 777), but it cannot be denied: just about every new Boeing plane has a new cockpit. Why have it so complicated, when Airbus’s design philosophy makes so much more sense (namely, having the same cockpit layout for all planes)?

It does not end there. Consider the Boeing 767’s overhead panel, or the 747’s perhaps. It is filled with buttons. Everywhere you see them; buttons, buttons, buttons! For every landing light there is a switch, the A/T system moves the throttle when it’s on, the MCP has dozens of buttons. The list goes on and on with examples. Boeing planes are fully automated, for sure, but the pilot always ahs to do something, and this is where the difference is with Airbus aircraft. Airbus takes much work away from the pilot, while Boeing still keeps some of it at the pilots. If this is good or not is not relevant. However, I think this is again a very interesting mirror of American society. Because, and bear with me here, what does the extreme amount of buttons in the Boeing cockpit mean? It means freedom. That probably sounds weird, but let me explain.

To have buttons for everything means you have options. Do you want only the left landing right, both, or only the right one? You are free to choose. Everything in the Boeing cockpit breezes freedom, and also control, because with so much buttons, you have a lot of control over the exact configuration. America is all about freedom on one hand, and control on the other, and Boeing planes are evidence of this fact. They always achieve stuff in a sort of round-a-bout way that gives the pilots sense of complete freedom and control to meddle and do as they wish.

The interesting thing is, how does the MD-11 fit in all of this? Well, after flying the tutorial flight for some time, I have come to appreciate the fact that the MD-11 is a mixture of both Airbus and Boeing philosophies. I find this interesting, because I think it gives an excellent platform to build upon. I think the philosophy of the MD-11 is this: take away control, but always make sure control can be re-established with the pilots. Why do I think this? I will explain this using an example: engine start.

How does one start the engine on an Airbus plane? Make sure APU and APU Bleed air are ON, turn the ignition switch, open the fuel valve, and that’s it. You have now managed to start all engines with basically one knob turn.

How does one start the engine on a Boeing plane (using the 747 in this example)? Make sure the APU and APU Bleed Air are ON, make sure Packs are OFF and there is enough duct pressure, turn on the relevant fuel valves, and then open the starter valves. See what I mean here? There are many more steps involved in getting your engines started in a Boeing 747, and other Boeing aircraft really are not that different.

Now here is where it becomes interesting: how does one start the engines of the MD-11? Press the ignition switch, after which the aircraft “will understand” you want to start the engines. It then automatically deactivates everything that is necessary. You can then start the engine by simply activating the relevant ignition switch and then opening the fuel valve of the relevant engine. Now repeat for the other two engines. See? Very easy. The system does it all for you. However, if need be, you can deactivate the packs yourself, too, no problem with that.

I find this all terribly interesting. The MD-11 clearly is an American plane in that it gives control to the pilots, but it can also be fully automatic. That’s not to say Airbus does not let you do stuff manually. It does, but in my experience in a less “thorough” way than the MD-11 lets you do. This is what makes the MD-11 a very unique aircraft: it caters for all. It can be mind bogglingly complicated, but it can be extremely simple, too, depending on what you want.


Taking it for a flight

We have now arrived at what is most probably the most interesting part of this review. We are now going to fly this plane from one place to the other. More specifically, we are flying from EHAM (Amsterdam, Schiphol, the Netherlands) to TNCC (Kralendijk, Hato Intl, Curacao). This is a flight of roughly 8 hours and it is an intercontinental flight, so most of the time nothing at all will happen and we will resort to reading a book (“The brain that changes itself”, to be more specific).

We start our flight early in the morning at gate F4 at EHAM. The aircraft is powered down completely, but we manually unlock the left front most door. We quickly get seated, switch on the battery and ask ground to connect external power. Soon, we sit in a fully lighted cockpit.

1-first-steps

Figure 53. Aircraft is power up and the IRUs are aligning.

1-plane-is-serviced

Figure 54. The aircraft is being serviced. Courtesy of Aerosoft’s AES.


Soon comes the initialization of the FMS, using the MCDU. We enter weights and flight plan. To do this we go to the INIT pages, of which there are three. On the first one (F-PLN INIT) we enter some general flight plan related stuff and we get the chance to load a company y route (I used FSBuild to construct a flight plan and I loaded it into the MD-11’s MCDU using the CO ROUTE function).  On the second page (WEIGHT INIT) we have to enter several weights, such as the amount of fuel we have on board and several other such weights and quantities. The third page is dedicated to fuel. Here we only enter a “refuel quantity”. Using the third MCDU (the first being the captain’s, and the second the copilot’s MCDU), we access the “FS Actions” menu. This is a menu that is not present on the real plane, but it offers the ability to do various tasks on the FS MD-11. Via here you can open and close doors, communicate with the ground crew and various such stuff. It’s a very easy to use and pleasant way to do what otherwise can’t be properly done. One of such things is loading your plane with the correct amount of fuel. You can do it via FS, but doing it with the FS Actions menu is much more fun. To be able to do it, you need to have filled out an amount of  fuel in the “refuel quantity” spot on the third INIT page. You then press “Start”, and in real time your aircraft is being filled with fuel. It’s nice, because you can follow progress of filling on the MCDU. Other methods to fill the airplane is via the PMDG menu in the menubar: simply select the amount of fuel you want, click “apple” and you immediately have the amount of fuel you requested. It’s fast and reliable, but not as much fun as the real time filling via the MCDU.

1-route-has-been-entered

Figure 55. The route has been entered and I’m busy entering all the necessary info in the MCDU.

1-loading-the-suitcases

Figure 56. Suitcases are loaded. I opened the cargo doors via the MCDU’s FS Actions menu.

2-setting-up-the-fcp

Figure 57. Setting up the FCP.

3-ready-for-engine-start

Figure 58. Ready for engine start.


Final data entry in the MCDU consists of entering the SID we will be suing: GOPLO1, departing from runway 27. We get our IFR clearance and are assigned an altitude of 10000ft, but our first altitude restriction is at 6000ft. Still, I set the FCP to 10000 ft, 250 kts and 268 degrees, to correspond with the altitude and speed restrictions and the runway heading (the screenshot shows 270 degrees. This is because at that time I was not quite sure of the runway to be used, I presumed it would be 27).

The MD-11’s FCP is quite unlike a Boeing MCP, looking more like the Airbus FCU. The Airbus FCU is as clean and uncluttered as the MD-11 FCP, plus they share much of the operation. For instance, pulling the knobs will result in what Airbus would call “manual mode” of the various A/P functions. However, unlike Airbus and like Boeing, there are buttons to engage functions like VNAV and LNAV, which on the Airbus is achieved by pushing the knobs associated with increasing and decreasing values. It is an interesting mix of Boeing and Airbus methods and it shows very clearly that every manufacturer has his own take on how this stuff ought to be operated.

With all data entered, the FCP set up, doors closed and final checks complete, it is time to leave EHAM. We request ground to clear the area, make it ready for departure. The jetway is disconnected and it slowly retracts to its starting point. The stairs at the aft door and the cargo lifts are backed away and the pushback tug is being driven in front of the plane. We are ready for departure!

4-pushback

5-pushback

6-pushback

7-pushback

Figure 59. Pushback.


Pushback soon is started. I am a bit annoyed when I see that AES turns the plane into the wrong direction, but soon I remember how pushback at the back gates (those closest to the terminal) usually proceeds: you are turned and pushed back “tail first” out of the terminal area. You are then sort of parked on a taxiway where you can start your engines. I have seen this on numerous occasions while standing at Schiphol’s panorama terrace.

During pushback, I am told that both left and right are cleared, and thus I can start my engines. Starting the engines is very simple on the MD-11, involving less steps than a Boeing plane, but one more than an Airbus plane. I have described the procedure earlier too, but here it is again:

-       Turn on the ignition. You can see I have done this on figure 58. Almost in the middle, you will notice a small, white “A”, signifying that I have started ignition system A. The plane will “understand” I am about to turn on the engines and automatically turn of the packs when in automatic mode. Otherwise you’d have to do it yourself (Boeing style!).

-       Open up the starter valves.

-       When the engine reaches 15% N2, open up the fuel valves.

The engines are started in a 3-1-2 order. Generally one can start the engines as soon as the start valve is closed again (it automatically “clicks” off), but one of the pilots will have to keep monitoring the just-started-engine to make sure it stabilizes. Now, this is a simulation and unless you have failures enabled, there is nothing to worry about, but still, if you want to do it by the book you will have to start an engine, monitor it and only start the next engine when the other one has stabilized (you are alone, so you can start only one engine at the time, or you’ll have to try to monitor two starting engines at once… not ideal!)

I wish I had started them later though. Pushback took more time than I thought, and meanwhile I was using valuable fuel that I would need on my long flight to TNCC. When finally the pushback tug drove away and I got the hand signal on the right hand side, signifying that I could taxi away, I asked taxi clearance from the tower. I soon got it and was off to runway 27.

8-cleared-to-go

Figure 60. Cleared to go.

9-taxi

Figure 61. Taxiing to runway 27, now passing pier E.


Taxi is as uneventful as always, but I enjoy looking at the other aircraft. Flaps to 22 degrees, autobrake set to T/O (Take Off) and ground spoilers armed, I have nothing to do until we get to the runway. I should mention the interesting system that is the flap deployment schedule of this plane. You don’t really have several the various detents like you always have. Remember that on Boeing planes, you have various detents signified by amounts of degrees (The Boeing 747 thus has flap settings of 1, 5, 10, 25 and 35 degrees). Airbus simply has three settings that correspond to a specific amount of degrees. The MD-11, while it does have these detents, has a “dial-a-flap” system where the second detent is variable. It is used during takeoff to set the price amount of degrees you want the flap to extend. At landing it is always set to 15 degrees, though, and default flap extension is 35 degrees on the MD-11, which is a pre-set detent. While we were talking about flaps, we have in the mean time arrived at the holding point of runway 27:

10-holding

Figure 62. At the holding point of runway 27.


At the holding point we contact EHAM tower and ask for takeoff clearance. Much to my astonishment, we get it immediately. Usually we’d have to wait for 15 minutes due to landing aircraft. Seems we have gotten here exactly at the right time. So, we turn on the HIGH INT lights (which are the high intensity lights, or strobe lights in most other aircraft we know. I have no idea why in the MD-11 it’s suddenly “high intensity”, when “strobe” is perfectly fine?), landing lights and we taxi onto the runway and line up. We then stop for a minute to recheck V speeds and such. Then, off we go!

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Figure 63. Ready for takeoff.

12-liftoff

13-liftoff

Figure 64. Liftoff!


We press the Autoflight button on the FCP once to engage autothrust. This will activate once N1 exceeds 65%. We will then hear a short “click”, after which the thrust levers will “clamp” at the right setting. At that event, we will hear another “click” to notify that takeoff thrust ahs been set. The co-pilot will also say it. Soon afterwards, the lumbering MD-11 start to roll down the runway. At 80 knots, V1, Vr and V2 the co-pilot does the required callouts that, quite honestly, sound very good. I like the voice of the co-pilot on this plane.

At Vr I pull the yoke towards me at a — as steady as possible — 2,5 degrees a second to follow the F/D’s cues. At V2, the plane lifts off the ground, shown in figure 64. It is a truly magnificent sight to see this big, fully loaded MD-11 take to the skies. In FS it looks as great as it looks in real life.

Positive rate, gear up. Following the cues, I steer the plane along the SID, soon activating the A/P. For the record, I did this takeoff twice. First time I flew the SID myself, second time I turned on the A/P, like the first tutorial would have instructed me to do. You turn on the A/P by pressing the Autoflight button a second time above 400 feet. To have it follow the flight plan, you have to press NAV and PROF (LNAV and VNAV respectively on a Boeing plane). I had already done this before takeoff, so once I pressed autoflight, the A/P immediately climbed and steered the plane along the flight plan.

14-following-the-sid

Figure 65. Following the SID out of EHAM.


I was soon handed over to Amsterdam center, all the while following  the SID. Now flying over the North Sea, I was heading for England. I would be overflying Heathrow and by that time I should already be around my cruising altitude of 30000 feet. That’s indeed not very high, but because of the high fuel load and the amount of cargo and passengers, this is the optimal  cruise altitude.

15-goodbye-holland

Figure 66. Say goodbye to Holland.

17-england-in-view

Figure 67. England is already in view.

18-heathrow

Figure 68. Overflying Heathrow.

20-atlantic-leg-almost-starting

Figure 69. Almost over the atlantic.


While flying over England, the weather becomes a bit rougher. That’s what I presume anyway. At my cruising altitude there is no foul weather at all, but below me many clouds have gathered and I can imagine what “watery hell” has erupted down there. Soon however, the first Atlantic leg comes into view on the ND and it is time to say goodbye to England, too.

21-goodbye-england

Figure 70. Goodbye to England too.


And thus we have left behind us, the continent of Europe. While I look around the cockpit, there is nothing but sea. We are like a tiny spec on a huge, blue blanket. Meanwhile, in the cockpit all become silent. I monitor ATC (although that too has become very quiet when we started flying over the Atlantic) and look at the SD pages from time to time.

22-only-sea-now

Figure 71. Only sea now.


The SD pages show us all the systems on the aircraft on clean, neat pages that are easy to comprehend. The control panel for these pages can be found right under the throttle quadrant. Such pages include, for example, the engines, air and fuel. They give the pilot a quick overview of all that happens on the plane. Additionally, warning will light up on these pages. When such a warning occurs, you will also notice how the button on the SD control panel, to access the relevant page, will light up. Thus a status update is never far away. For a complete overview of warnings and faults, there are also the STATUS, MISCELANOUS and CONSEQUENCES pages, which summarize all warnings.

23-ny-center

Figure 72. Contacting New York center.

25-more-sea

Figure 73. More sea stretches out below us.


Nothing is happening at all at this point, as figures 72 and 73 portray. There is nothing but sea and clouds. Occasionally we get handed of to another center, this time it being New York center.

26-close-to-st-maarten

Figure 74. Close to St. Maarten.


But then, stuff becomes a little more exciting. I had already potted St. Maarten on the flight plan before we left, but I see it appearing on the MCDU as one of the next waypoints. Figure 74 shows waypoint PJM, which is St. Maarten. I own the FlyTampa scenery of this wondrous little island with its quite beautiful, but smallish airport, so you might imagine why I am excited about overflying St. Maarten. Soon, it came into view:

28-over-st-maarten

Figure 75. Overflying St. Maarten.

30-other-islands

Figure 76. other island, such as Saba at the right hand side.


St. Maarten is a truly beautiful destination and FlyTampa has made it even more beautiful than it normally is. From high above we look down at the island and see the houses, hotels, boats and of course Princess Juliana Airport. To me amusement, I also spot a second airport that I never knew existed. I will soon fly around the island with my trusty Cessna C182RG and go to that airport!

31-descent-and-approach-started

Figure 77. Finally! Descent and approach have started.

32-descent

Figure 78. Descent viewed from outside.


And there we finally are. I am handed off to Curacao center, meaning our flight ahs almost come to an end. The descent has now started, and Curacao center asks me to turn to 285 degrees and descent to 16000. I will get radar vectors all down to the runway 11 ILS approach. Contrary to what Navigraph charts tell you, TNCC does not seem to have any STARs, so I can only assume that the TNCC charts you can get via nDAC are badly outdated… Had the STAR worked I’d have ignored ATC’s radar vectors and simply flown the STAR. Since that is not the case, I decided to simply do what FS ATC tells me to do.

33-bonaire

Figure 79. Bonaire is just to the left. This means Curacao cannot be far off.

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Figure 80. And indeed: a first sign of Curacao!


Suddenly, we see Bonaire to our left. I check the map to be sure, but it is Bonaire indeed. Bonaire’s airport, Flamingo, TNCB, is a truly tiny airport. KLM flies there now and then, using it also as a stop over for the flights to South America. Anyway, the good news is that with Bonaire in sight, Curacao cannot be far off. And indeed: when we look straight ahead we see Curacao in front of us. We have made it to our destination, now we only have to get this lumbering beast down to the ground, safely.

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Figure 81. Down to 10000 feet.

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Figure 82. Curacao.

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Figure 83. Down to 2500, which is the height at which we will capture the localizer.


Over the next ten minutes or so, the descent is continued. First down to 10000 feet, then to 2500 feet. All the while you can see Curacao to the left of us. As you probably already understood, I had to take the A/P of the managed modes and switch it back to manual (using some Airbus terms, but they are quite clear, so why not use them?). The MD-11 A/P is surprisingly easy to operate. I’m not sure this is because it really is that easy, or because I have experience with both Airbus and Boeing A/P operation and thus know what to expect. In the end, it is a nice A/P to operate and PMDG ahs done a great job simulating it here in the confinements of FS.

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Figure 84. We get our approach instructions.


With the last instruction we get from center, we also get our approach instructions. We slow the plane down in advance, and copy the instructions we got. Whether slowing down already is strictly necessary I do not know, but experience with both the JS4100 and Boeing 757 doesn’t want me to take any chances. Our landing weight is okay now, thanks to the vast amounts of fuel burnt.

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Figure 85. LOC capture. We are now truly on our way down to the runway.

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Figure 86. ligned up with the runway.


It is now time to arm approach mode, which I done by pressing the APPRLAND button just above the Autoflight button. It being armed is signified by the LAND ARMED notification above on the FMA. LOC will first be armed upon capture, and then later G/S will also appear once capture of the glideslope has occurred. LOC capture has occurred in figure 85, and in figure 86 we are aligned and will underway to the runway. I have dropped slats and flaps to 15 degrees now that the localizer has been captured. Once the glide slop has been captured, I will extend the flaps further, and also the gear will be extended.

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Figure 87. Cleared to land!

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Figure 88. All out.


The moment we capture the glide slope, we get our clearance to land. Time to go all out! Flaps to 35 and gear down. The plane is now slowing down even more, to our Vref of 161 knots. I have set this manually on the FCU. When we are down to 1500 feet, we check if LOC, G/S and DUAL LAND have appeared on the FMA, signifying that a full autoland can be expected. Luckily, this is precisely what happens. The GPWS slowly counts the altitude while we near the ground…

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Figure 89. Getting closer. You can see LOC, G/S and DUAL LAND in green on the FMA.

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Figure 90. Almost there…

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Figure 91. Touchdown!


As the GPWS calls out the 50 feet mark, the engines are automatically retarded to idle and flare mode is activated. On touchdown, you press F2 once so that the reverse thrusters unlock. Once that happens you can press F2 again until full reverse thrust is engaged. The spoilers deploy and the autobrake also helps to slow the plane down. Soon we reach 60 knots. The reverse thrust is deactivated, the spoilers are retracted and we taxi gently off the runway.

Autoland on the MD-11 is a very advanced affair, I think. I have never seen the A/P retarding the throttles by himself. On Airbus and Boeing alike the pilot has to do it himself. The rest is the same for all aircraft. flare and rollout work the same on both Boeing and Airbus, but I think PMDG has done a very good job on the autoland. At all instances, the MD-11’s autoland has worked flawlessly. It’s only the autobrake that I do not quite grasp. It doesn’t seem like it brakes all the time. It only seems to do so when the reverse thrusters are disengaged that the “Brakes” message appears in the lower-left corner of the screen. I’m not sure why this is, because at some occasions I have seen the Brakes message light up earlier.

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Figure 92. Waiting for taxi instructions.

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Figure 93. Going after the Follow Me vehicle (Courtesy of Aerosoft’s AES).

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Figure 94. Turning into the gate.


Once I am clear of the runway, I retract the flaps. Suddenly it has become quite busy on the airport, and I have a hard time getting my radio call in between the others. While I wait for taxi instructions, I spot a pleasing sight in the distance: A Martinair plane has landed before me and I see it now parked on the apron. It’s nice to see some fellow Dutchmen here! Once we do get our taxi instructions, I enable AES’s Follow Me vehicle, which brings me to my gate, being gate 1.

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Figure 95. parking the plane.

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Figure 96. Plane is now parked, and the passengers are deboarding.


Once the airplane is correctly positioned in the gate, I am commanded by ground to kill the engines. The APU is on and providing power, so the engines can be shut down. Soon, the stairs arrive and so do the buses. The doors are opened and passengers are allowed to disembark. As the plane slowly empties, I sit in the cockpit, going over the final checklists, shutting down what needs to be shut down, looking back at an enjoyable and quiet flight with a very nice and interesting plane. I have really enjoyed flying the PMDG MD-11 to this exotic location, and I mean to do a short hop to SMJP, Paramaribo, Surinam, soon with this same plane.

Speaking of SMJP, next to the Martinair 767 you might have spotted the nicely colored MD-80. That plane is of Surinam Airways. They do not operate the MD-80 any more, it being replaced by two Boeing 737-300 aircraft — not in my sim, though! I was really happy to see that Surinam Airways plane here. I did not expect it at all, but it’s nice to see it around. I hope to see it soon again at its home base of Johan Adolf Pengel Intl, SMJP! Will you fly with me there, too?


Conclusion

Let me clarify on one point, before I start this conclusion: I do not except the notion that missing details on a PMDG aircraft can be excused solely on the basis that PMDG aircraft are there for systems, not looks. Nor do I accept that a plane that has earned many prizes must therefore be good on all accounts. Why do I say this so specifically? I see often that if a product is famed and receives prizes, then it must be great on all accounts, while this does not necessarily have to be the case. The PMDG MD-11 is such a case and you will see in due course why this is my opinion.

With that out of the way, let’s review each and every part of this plane once again:

-       A huge and comprehensive manual offers a portal to fully understanding how to operate this aircraft. It has a good layout, the tutorials are well written and the entire thing offers all the tools to understanding this plane.

-       The exterior appeared to be not as good as I’d expected. There are mistakes and inaccuracies that, when compared to photographs, seem pretty obvious. Some of these mistakes should have been fixed already long ago. Note that I do not only speak of stuff like engine shape. I also speak of flaps that seem to float in the air because none of the mechanization was modeled that we see when the flaps are extended. This kind of detail was present (into great detail) with the PMDG 747 (and many other aircraft out in 2008. Think of the CS757, for example). So, what happened? Why do we miss all this detail on the MD-11? not because of lack of technology, I’m quite sure of that. The reason is probably a different one, but I wouldn’t know which one it would be. Probably never will, too. So my ultimate conclusion of the MD-11’s exterior model is the following: it sure looks a lot like the MD-11, but lots of missing details and inaccuracies of the engine, nose and vertical stabilizer dull what could have been a very good exterior model.

-       The interior is a delight. This is a VC I love to sit in, that I love to fly the plane from. An ingenious system to control everything with your mouse results in a very nice experience. Gauges are easy to read, and together with the overall good texturing operating the plane from the VC is easy. I should add that here and there the text was a bit blurry, but not to a degree that it could pose a problem for operation. I am very satisfied with this VC, both on the aesthetic and functional front.

-       The sounds are very good. Be sure, for full enjoyment, to set the sound sliders of FS to the values PMDG recommends. I do ask myself if the reverberation of some sounds isn’t a bit excessive, but then again, it sounds fine as it is.

-       Need I say more about the systems simulation? This is one of the best-simulated planes I know off. With the amount of options to tweaking performance of the systems, the ability to have failures and save the panel state, the system simulation is an award-winning masterpiece of FS – even two years after its release! PMDG has again shown that on this department they have close to no rivals.

The PMDG MD-11 is a remarkable piece of software programming. It offers an MD-11 simulation of such intricate detail that it becomes hard to find a plane that offers the same kind of abilities. The PMDG MD-11 truly is beyond many other addon aircraft on the market — yes, even two years after its release it is still a marvel that every serious, hard core FS pilot will really want to have in his hangar.

The only thing I find to be a let down, is the modeling of the exterior. With inaccuracies and mistakes, it is not as accurate, nor as detailed as I would have wanted it to be. For an aircraft of $80, I think this is not good and these things should have been cleared — indeed, should have been cleared two years ago.

Now, I do not want to sound like a hypocrite; I know what I started this chapter out with and I indeed think that an $80 aircraft should have a more accurate exterior model than it currently has. However: this plane also a very nice VC and a system simulation that is simply beyond many addon aircraft, even addon aircraft released now, two years after the release of the PMDG MD-11. This is no insignificant feat! It is because of this that I award this product the “Top recommendation” label. It is a truly remarkable aircraft, even with the errors it has.


Important details

  • Developer:             Precision Manuals Development Group
  • Medium:                Download/Boxed
  • File size:                305MB (Combo FSX/FS9)
  • FS version:            FS9/FSX (FS9 version reviewed)
  • Price:                      $120 (Combo FS9/FX)/ $80 (FSX or FS9 only)
  • Where to buy:     http://www.precisionmanuals.com/pages/product/md11.html


Reviewed by Benjamin van Soldt


  • My system specs:
  • Macbook pro with:
  • Windows XP 32bit
  • 4GB RAM
  • Nvidia 8600GT
  • Intel T8300 2,4 gHz Dual Core processor

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