Captain Sim 707 Captain reviewed

As far as aircraft go, it doesn’t get much more iconic than the good old Boeing 707. Captain Sim released their ‘707 Captain’ earlier this year, finally brining a detailed version of this icon of aviation to FSX. Let’s take it for a flight, and see what it’s made of!

The Proof of Concept aircraft for both the 707 and the KC-135 was the Boeing model 367-80, commonly known as the ‘Dash 80’. Because of customer demands and competition for Douglas, Boeing redesigned the 707 several times, resulting in an aircraft that, although similar looking, was quite different from the ‘Dash 80’. The ‘Dash 80’ first flew in July 1954, the first 707 production aircraft in December 1957, followed by the first commercial flight in October 1958. Several versions of the 707 have been built, incorporation different fuselage lengths, newer engines, and improved wings and high lift devices. The 707 has also been very popular as a base for military aircraft. 707 derivatives served as in-flight-refueling aircraft, AWACS aircraft, mobile command and control centers, military transport planes and VIP transport aircraft. Note though, that the USAF’s C-135 and KC-135 were not converted 707’s, but rather new aircraft developed in parallel with the 707 from the Model 367-80.

This version for FSX is available from the Captain Sim webshop (www.captainsim.com) or simMarket. The base pack covers the 707-300, -300B and -300B Advanced models. Expansion packs are available for the E-3 Sentry, the VC-137 (former Air Force One aircraft) and the 707-300C convertible cargo version. You will find more information on these expansion packs later in this review.

And this place is as good as any for a note about the screenshots: all were taken by me, at the settings I use for flying. No enhancements, no modifications, no nothing. This is what I get at my system and my settings. You can find more ‘detail’ shots at the Captain Sim or SimMarket product pages. I’ve included the links directing there at the bottom of this review.

Installation:

The 707 Captain uses the same installation routine you find on other Captain Sim products, and requires internet access for activation, although an email based activation (using another pc with an internet connection) is also available if you don’t have internet on your FSX pc.
After buying the product, you will receive an email with a personal serial number, and a download link to the installer (or installers, if you also bought the expansion packs). If your connected to the internet with your FSX pc, all you have to do is download the installers, run them, enter your email address and serial number, and wait until installation is finished. Be sure though, if you’re using Windows Vista or 7, to run the installers as administrators, to make sure everything gets installed right. I have never tried the offline activation option. It takes a little more work, but in the end, the results should be the same.

Exterior:

Upon installation of the base pack, you get 15 new entries in your FSX aircraft selection menu. You get 3 new models: the 707-300, the 707-300B and the 707-300B Adv. Along with these 3 models, you get 15 new liveries: 4 for the -300, 2 for the -300B, and the remainder for the -300B Adv. Captain Sim has quite a reputation for detailed exterior models, and they didn’t disappoint here either. The models are detailed and accurate. From small details, like the landing gear or vortex generators, to the general shape of the 707, it’s there. Very nice to see is that the cabin windows are really cut into the model, and not painted on with textures. This makes that you can see into, or even through, the cabin. You will see the rows of seats, and even some passengers in the cabin when looking from the exterior views. Of course, these aren’t very detailed, but they’re more than good enough for their purpose. Very nice addition in my opinion.
The exterior textures support the good modeling perfectly. Captain Sim has delivered solid texture work with this product. The entire model is covered in detailed and crisp textures that show lots and lots of details. Diffuse, specular and bump textures are all there to deliver a great visual experience. What strikes me as the best aspect of the textures, is how good the bare metal looks. In an old aircraft like the 707 bare metal is very prominently represented, and to create good bare metal textures in FSX is an art very few people or companies get right. Just look around on the web, and you’ll see more bare metal that looks like gray plastic in FSX. Not so on the CS 707. It’s as it should here… a real masterwork. On top of the basic texture work, there are of course the liveries. Generally, they’re looking good, and represent the real aircraft they’re painted after. However, if you go looking in depth, you can find some minor faults, like cheatlines placed too high or too low, logos that aren’t placed 100% correct, etc. These things are quite hard, and time consuming, to get right, I know from experience. And indeed, if you go looking around the FS market, you will find many small errors like this, in many liveries from many developers. As I said, the liveries are good generally. You really have to put a photo of the real aircraft next to it to even notice the differences. All in all, an amazing exterior from Captain Sim. Next to that, performance in the exterior is very good. At a standard FSX airport, the frame rates I get with the 707 in exterior view go right up to 30, the value at which they are locked on my system.

(Please note that I also used Aerosofts AES in the above screenshot)

Interior:

How much I like looking at the exterior of this add-on, I like the interior even better. The amount of detail in the VC, both model and textures, is nothing short of amazing. Whether you’re looking forward, backwards or somewhere else. Details range from 3D modeled circuit breakers to books on a shelf behind the captains seat. If those details are modeled, there’s no need to say that all ‘critical’ items are as well: knobs, levers, dials… And not just on the Captains panel, overhead and pedestal, but on the Flight Engineer station as well. This great modeling is once again supported by amazing textures. Sharp, clear and realistic. All labels are readable, except those on the circuit breaker panel. As usual from Captain Sim, the interior textures also reflect quite a used cockpit. Some people like that, some people don’t. I for one like it like it is. I prefer a used cockpit (if it’s done right) over a clean one. And Captain Sim indeed got it right. It doesn’t look fake at all. One thing that I don’t like though, is the yoke. For something so central in view, that could do with a little more detail, in my opinion, both model and textures. Apart from that, I really love this VC. But there’s more to the interior than the VC: as we’re used from CS, you also get a gorgeous and accurate cabin to walk around in. It’s complete, it’s detailed, and beautiful… But 2 remarks: first of all, it’s very clean, the exact opposite of the VC. And second, I don’t see the point of a cabin. It looks good, but I only visited the cabin in order to be able to say something about it in this review. I don’t use it, at all. If you come to the same conclusion, you can turn off the interior cabin in the ACE utility, to improve performance in the VC. Conclusion here: great and gorgeous interior, but do you care about that cabin?
Performance in the VC is noticeably lower than in exterior. Without the passenger cabin, it’s slightly better. But that said, it’s certainly not that bad. At my very modest system, I get around 20 fps, on a default airport with good weather during the daytime. To compare, in the same situation the CS 757 and CS 767 do about the same, the PMDG J41 a little less (averaging around 17) and Aerosoft’s Airbus X does better, averaging around 25 fps.

Effects and animations:

Concerning animations, the 707 Captain brings you a great deal of them, and they’re all looking good. In the exterior views you get the usual: moving control surfaces, rolling wheels, etc. And they’re all looking good, no doubt about it, but there are a couple noteworthy animations. The gear retraction sequence is one of them. Also, the engine intake flaps (which open at high power settings, when the engine needs more air) are a nice touch. What I like best though, is the wingflex animation. You can nicely see how the wings strain to get this beast in the air, bending as they go. Very nice in my opinion. Apart from that, you have many, many other custom animations. Most of them are very nice, but there are a lot that you’d only use once, to see them, and never again after that: removable engine cowlings, engine covers, wheel chocks, escape slides, moving radar antenna… All very nice, that’s for sure, but not very useful. One thing that I’d like to see added though, is a visual representation of the ground power and ground air units, if you enable them.
The interior is just as stuffed with animations as the exterior. Just about everything in the VC moves, switches, dials, knobs… even some circuit breakers (although they have no real function). You can open the cockpit windows, or the entry door, adjust the seats or pedals, and many other custom animations.
Apart from animations, there are also some effects in the exterior. Most is just basic stuff: lighting etc. A note about the landing lights though. Although it’s more texture than effect related, the fuselage section illuminated by the landings lights is notably higher on one side compared to the other. Apart from the lighting, there are some nice custom effects to be found: custom engine start effects, engine smoke at high power settings, and custom fuel dump animations and effects. Of this all, I like the engine smoke best. Those old jet engines are known for the trail of black smoke they leave behind them, and this effect is very visible in FSX with the 707 Captain.
In the VC you get lighting as well of course, and I can say it’s worth doing the effort of flying this aircraft at night. The lighting is not adjustable, it’s on or off, no in between. But apart from that, the lighting is very good looking. Instrument lights, white flood lights, red flood lights, it makes the cockpit come alive in the dark. It is, however, not a bright cockpit at night. Even with the lights on, the instrument panels are quite dark. This is quite realistic for a bird as old as the 707.

Panels and systems:

Let’s keep it short concerning panels: no ‘full’ 2D panels in the 707. 2D fans will be disappointed, but the VC is certainly good enough to do most flying. There are however a couple of smaller 2D panels available. There’s a Simicons panel, used to open and close other panels. There’s a Weather Radar panel, an Autopilot panel, a moving map, a crew messenger panel and an animations panel. The animations panel is a top-down view of the 707, with clickspots to actuate the custom animations, and to turn ground power and ground air on. The weather radar is just a 2D version of the weather radar also found in the VC. Same with the autopilot panel. The moving map is a map view for use with the custom Doppler navigation system. More on that later. The crew messenger panel is a small 2D panel you can use to play Captain and Flight Attendant messages to the passengers.
There is something to say about systems in this add-on. First of all, the 707 is an old aircraft, and Captain Sim modeled a flight deck that could be seen (with some minor alterations) on an early aircraft of the type. So, don’t expect any fancy displays, FMC/CDU operations or automation. That aside, the 707 Captain is very detailed in the old-fashioned systems found on real 707’s, which was state of the art when they were built. Most notable all over the cockpit is that all instruments are good old round steam gauges. They’re all sharp and easily readable, and the operation is very smooth. So a good job there.
Now, let’s take a look at navigation. I already said no fancy FMC/CDU stuff here, so it’s done the old-fashioned way. The Captain Sim 707 Captain supports the following ways of navigation: radio navigation (VOR-DME, ADF…), Doppler navigation, and INS navigation. The first is the easiest to describe. Using the radios, you tune in to default FSX radio stations. The information gathered there is displayed on the RMI and the HSI. DME navigation is displayed in the DME readout windows if you have the DME function switch set to ‘normal’. As this is a tried and tested method of navigation, that’s still in use today, radio navigation is quite important in the 707 Captain. It works just fine, although tuning the radios isn’t always as easy as it could be. A 2D radio panel would be a nice addition to the product.
Another way to navigate is the Doppler navigation system. The Doppler system sends a radar wave to the ground, and analyzes the reflection of that wave. Because of the Doppler shift in the radar frequency, the system can calculate groundspeed and track. In the cockpit, you can set a target heading and distance, and an instrument in the cockpit will compare the aircrafts position and track with the target track, and steer you to it. The same instrument will also display ground speed. It’s something to get used to, the Doppler navigation system, but it’s a very nice piece of equipment. The only thing you don’t have in the FSX version is the inherent inaccuracy of the (or any) real system.
The final mode of navigation in the 707 Captain is by using the INS (Inertial Navigation System). To do this, you need to have the freeware CIVA INS gauge installed, and you have to manually copy a panel.cfg file to activate it. Even so, the INS system in the VC is not functional in the version in this review (v1.3) as Captain Sim needs feedback from the original author. It is fully functional in the 2D view, but even then you only have one INS unit functional, while 2 or 3 would be used in real life. In the end, I don’t use the INS. I stick to radio navigation over land, and Doppler navigation over sea. This is easily doable, because the main drawback of the real Doppler navigation system isn’t there in FSX: the lack of accuracy.
I also want to tell you about the flight director and autopilot. In contrast to modern airliners, the 2 aren’t coupled or related in the 707 Captain. The autopilot can function without the flight director, and vice versa. That aside, both have almost the same functions. You can set them to keep an altitude (not achieve one), keep a heading, or you can slave them to the navigation system, whether you’re using radio navigation, Doppler or INS. However, you don’t have to expect much of either the autopilot or the flight director. They’re very old and early examples of the technology, and have been improved greatly since they were built into the 707. This inaccuracy has been coded into the CS version of the 707. You can use them, and they will help you, as long as you keep in mind that you, the pilot, have to fly the 707 a lot more than modern airliners like the 777 or A320 (or many others). I like the way how CS managed to get the ‘old’ feeling in these systems. No longer can you engage the autopilot and expect everything to go right. You have to monitor everything, and intervene when needed, or you’ll end up regretting it.
Then, on to the next big thing: engines and fuel. There’s a lot to say about those things in the 707. The 707 was flown by 3 people, you’ll have to do it alone in FSX. The engines on the 707 require some attention: the startup sequence is quite detailed (although CTRL+E will also work), and there’s no auto throttle, so you’ll be handling the engines manually the entire flight. A thing that helped real life 707 crews in doing this, were EPR tables. The EPR (Engine Pressure Ratio) is a way of expressing the power a jet engine is delivering. By setting the engines to a specific EPR in the cockpit, you could accurately predict take-off, climb and cruise performance. However, EPR simulation isn’t very realistic in the CS 707 Captain. It’s not realistic in the FSX engine code, which most add-ons (including the 707) use. So, you can set a specific EPR setting, and the aircraft will fly, however, it will not fly the numbers, and N1 and N2 will not be what the EPR charts make you expect them to be. I’ll talk more about flight characteristics later. Closely related to the engines, is the fuel system. And that off the 707 is more visible to the crew than on later airliners, as the Flight Engineer kept a close watch over it. The 707 has no less than 7 fuel tanks, 10 fuel boost pumps, 4 cross feed valves, 2 transfer valves, and 4 cutout switches. It’s very detailed, and you have to handle them all manually. It’s quite a task, combined with both flying and navigating as well, but it’s hugely satisfying when you get it right. Very nicely done by Captain Sim here. A little less good, is the fuel dumping system. The ‘crew-side’ of the thing is very accurate and detailed, with the right switches having to put in the right position to start dumping. However, the actual dumping doesn’t reflect what you’re doing on the dumping panel. Whatever way you set the switches, the 707 will start dumping one tank after another, outside right hand side first, then left, then back right etc. This causes huge fuel imbalances, making it hard or impossible to keep flying. It’s a system that shouldn’t be used very much, but it’s something that CS should’ve got right anyway.

I almost forgot to mention this, but there’s one more big thing that is worth mentioning about the engines in the 707 Captain. For the first time in one of their FSX products, CS has built in the possibility to have and handle failures. By using the default FSX failures system, you can fail some stuff on the engines, and handle it in the cockpit. Best example of this (and the only one I tested, to be honest) is engine fires. Let the engine catch fire using the FSX menu, and you’ll hear and see it in the cockpit. And pulling the Engine Fire Handle will start extinguishing the fire. It’s not a very detailed failure system, but it’s nice to have nonetheless.
One final system I want to talk about is the weather radar. Captain Sim added a very nice looking weather radar gauge, both in the VC and in a 2D panel. Due to the way FSX displays and predicts weather, the function of this gauge is limited (the real deal finds precipitation, FSX only draws clouds in advance, but not rain), but nonetheless it does give a representative image of the weather around you, and you can use it to avoid the worst. It’s very nice, also looks very nice. One huge drawback is that it’s a real frame rate eater. I see my frame rates in the VC dropping by a third if I turn the WX radar on.

I won’t go into more specific systems anymore, as I covered to most important ones. At least those that will affect your flight the most. However, there’s a couple more things to say. First of all, aside the ‘inside-FSX’ aircraft, you also get the external ACE (Aircraft Configuration Editor) application, like on most Captain Sim products. ACE can be used to install and delete repaints, set some options (like VC only interior, or what exterior model you’d like to use), or change the passenger load of the aircraft. However, it does not give you gross weight or center of gravity information. It’s a handy tool, but is quite limited in functionality.
Second, and to conclude this section on systems, there’s one thing I’m really missing in the 707. That thing, is a panel state save/load function. I personally don’t like to sit behind my pc watching an aircraft in cruise for 5 hours or more, and I also don’t like to use time acceleration. So, I end up flying the 707 only on short legs, 2 hours or less. I’d love to do a transatlantic flight with the 707, but I’m not going to spend an entire day doing it. Being able to save or load panel states would make it a whole lot easier to do long flights. Also, it would make it possible to start from correct cold-and-dark, before-engine-start, or other panel states. Such a utility would add greatly to the value of this add-on.

Sound:

The sound set included with the 707 Captain is quite nice. In the exterior, it makes full use of FSX’s volumetric sound engine, so you’ll hear a different engine sound when looking at the front of your aircraft, compared to when you’re looking at the back. The engines also produce a realistic sound, over their entire power range. These old engines have their typical high-pitch whine, which is quite different from modern high-bypass turbofans. This ‘screaming’ noise is very well represented in FSX. In the cockpit, you’ll also get the engine sound, but also click sound from all knobs and switches. Everything you do in the VC has a sound associated with it. This makes turning switches so much more immersive.

Flight Model:

Generally speaking, the flight model looks quite nice. The very slow acceleration on takeoff is there clearly. Also, you will always notice that the 707 needs quite a lot of power to climb or accelerate. When looking at the other controls, the bulkiness of the 707 is represented. Rolling and pitching goes quite slowly, even with full deflection of the controls. However, something that is clearly too effective, is the elevator trim. It moves way, way too fast, making it very hard to correctly trim the 707 in flight. This can be edited by the user, but it’s again something CS should’ve gotten right themselves. Certainly knowing the same was true in the 727. Despite this elevator trim issue, the 707 is very nice to fly by hand. And luckily so, as you’ll be hand flying it a lot.
Despite being nice to fly, it is noticeable that it doesn’t fly ‘by the numbers’. For example, you can look for the V-speeds (V1, Vr and V2) in the manual. However, I noticed the 707 Captain doesn’t really stick to these values. Even when starting light, I didn’t manage to get it off the ground before V2, so about 20 knots past Vr. The same is true with landing speeds: if you fly it to Vref + 10, you’ll be very close to stalling, if not stalling already.
Despite these defects, I still consider the 707 Captain nice to fly. The only thing you have to do is keep it mind not to let it slow down too much, and remember that the engines take a long time to spool up from idle.

Expansion packs:

There are currently 3 expansion packs available for the 707 Captain. They all do basically the same: they give you a new model and textures, but use the same VC and systems from the 707 Base Pack. The exception to this is that there are some changes to the 2D panels, so you can use some unique features of the expansion models.
Here are the 3 expansion models:

  • The 707-300C. This combi version of the 707 features a large cargo door on the main deck. With this model, you get 5 liveries to go with it. Changes in the 2D panel include an adapted animations panel, so you can open the cargo door. Also, you get a 2D panel to load freight containers into the aircraft.

  • VC-137. The former ‘Air Force One’ jet. It’s an improved 707, with a luxury interior in real life, and lots and lots of extra communication facilities. The exterior model accurately represents those changes, with lots and lots of extra antennas on the fuselage. It comes with one livery, representing SAM 27000. Captain Sim didn’t model a custom interior cabin for this expansion, but they also didn’t include the standard cabin from the 707 base pack. So, no cabin here. I don’t miss it though. There are also no custom systems for this aircraft. It’s only an exterior modification, although the background on the animations panel is changed to reflect the Presidential livery.

  • And finally, there’s the E-3 Sentry. This Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS) is a prominent player on any modern battlefield, monitoring the air activity of both friendly and enemy units. The E-3 expansion pack from Captain Sim brings an accurate exterior model, with extra antennas, no cabin windows, the large radome on the back and an in-flight-refueling receptacle, among other things. There’s again only 1 livery included, a USAF E-3. However, there are already several 3rd party repaints available for the sentry. Changes to the 2D panels consist of an update animations panel, and an extra 2D panel to rotate the radome, at 2 different speeds. There is no change in the VC, and there’s no cabin.

These 3 expansion packs are nice to have, but they are exterior changes only. There are no changes in operating systems, what makes the VC for the VC-137 and the E-3 not entirely realistic. I know what kind of work goes into creating a new 3D model and textures, but still, I think paying €10 for just one extra entry in your aircraft menu, without custom systems, is not very cheap. I like the expansion packs, and I fly them all quite often. But I think the 300C expansion pack is more value for your money than the other 2. In the end, it’s up to you whether you decide to buy them or not. If it weren’t for the money, I’d certainly do it. But whether they’re all worth another €10, is for you to decide.

Conclusion:

This has grown to be a long review about the Captain Sim 707 Captain. Longer than I thought it would be when I started writing, but it’s well worth it. The 707 is certainly not a perfect add-on. Some things could be better, going from minor details in the liveries, to a misbehaving fuel dump system, and the lack of a panel state save/load utility. Despite these defects, I think the 707 Captain is a very good add-on. It certainly has that feel of an old aircraft. You really have to do it yourself. And more than that, you have to do a 3-man job by your own. There is no fancy FMC to help you out, half the time you’re better off flying manually instead of using the autopilot, and navigating is in your hands. This is no easy, relaxed way of flying, but I like it a lot. If you’re into airliners, I would certainly recommend this add-on.

Like:

  • Great visuals
  • Representing the ‘feel’ of an old aircraft
  • good systems

Don’t like:

  • no panel state save/load utility
  • oversensitive elevator trim and several other minor issues
  • I’m no fan of the Doppler/INS ‘blend’ in systems. I’d prefer a VC with either one or the other, not both.

Useful links:

Captain Sim

SimMarket Product page

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Colin Ware
Wednesday, September 7, 2011 15:21

Very fun plane, but the “inacuracies” in the flight director are bad programming. The FD will turn on the autopilot, even though it isn’t supposed to and its commands for pitch are wildly wrong.

Why CS can’t program a correct flight director is beyond me. The Herc and the 727 both have unusable FDs…

Really a surprise given you spend more time looking at that gauge than any other…

Thank goodness for PMDG for setting the bar for releasing complete projects.