For years now, since the release of Flight Simulator X, the mantra of the flight sim world is “as real as it gets.” I know I have heard it everywhere during my flight simulation “career.” You fly your flights as close to real as you can; scenery add-ons, real world weather, real world aircraft repaints and so on. So why not make your flight planning rise to that level as well? Let me introduce to you Professional Flight Planner X (PFPX).
This section of the review will be short and sweet. Installing the software is very straight forward and you can accept all defaults of the installer. Or, if you choose, install to another drive of your choosing. The choices are there, but for this review I installed with all defaults in place.
When you first run PFPX, give it some time. It’s going to load the included AIRAC cycle, routes, plates, etc into the package for you. You can update the AIRAC cycles and I’ll touch on that later. For now, if you want to play around in the software first, it comes with the 1302 cycle included. When you first open the program, you’ll see a world map over-laid on the program itself.
Program, map moved
Inside the program itself you will see a familiar “ribbon” toolbar at the top with various controls to get you going. Tabs for schedule, flight, traffic and browser along with some other buttons for configuring the program. I recommend starting with the little gear icon to setup a bit of the program to fit you. Let’s take a look in each one.
Settings Gear Icon:
Don’t get overwhelmed in here. There is a lot of customization that you can use with this program. When you first open the options gear, you get the “Customize” area. This is where you can make the program look the way you want it to. Add or remove quick access toolbar (QAT) commands, change the style, or even the font sizes.
Move to the general area, and you can add your name to be printed on dispatches, user ID, and so on. This is also where the program can be set to auto-check for updates, a nice feature. To keep the online services running for weather, NOTAM data and organized track system, you need a yearly subscription. This is EUR 12,42 a year but you get the first year included. Again, if you are using this software you probably already pay for updated AIRAC cycles so about EUR 1 a month is not a bad investment. Speaking of AIRAC cycles, you can update PFPX with AIRAC data from either Aerosoft or Navigraph products. I personally use Navigraph but either will work and install for PFPX.
Move to the Planning/units and you can set weight to KG or Lbs., Feet or meters, and so on. Again fit this to your own personal or Virtual Airlines tastes. For my examples and review, I am going to use American measurements, lbs and feet, etc.
Moving on to database will check the AIRAC cycle and show you where it came from. In my case, I buy cycles from NAVIGRAPH but there are other options to choose from.
Under the weather area, you can choose online, or from your favorite weather program. ActiveSky, REX, and others. You can also set profiles as fixed if you so wish. For example, if you know you will be flying with ActiveSky weather in use, you can set your planning to use the same weather from the same program, giving you even closer to real numbers for wind and other factors.
The weights area allows you to set weights for adults, children, and baggage. Either to what you feel it should be, or if your VA specifies weights then use those.
Airlines codes is where you can set your VA’s 3-letter ID. For my examples I am going to be using the code for the VA I fly with, MidContinent Airlines (MCA). You can add your own or check to see if one exists for your airline already. This can be used throughout to set your airline on the end dispatch.
The network tab can be used if you fly online to get info from VATSIM or IVAO. If this ever changes you’ll be able to set the correct URL in here.
There is a little airplane icon in the upper left of the program. Clicking on it will bring you to the database where you can enter your entire fleet into the database. In the interest of time, I will only show a screen or two here showing you the options. For my examples, I have loaded one (1) B-737-800 with PMDG specs. Again, you can set as you wish here for whatever plane you want, and there is online help to set and where to find this exact info to enter. (Engines, weights, etc. from the aircraft cfg files for each aircraft, or use a template for PMDG 738 for example). Many popular add-on aircraft templates are included and the online community is constantly adding more.
Now that you have your personal settings done, let’s move on to getting a flight plan!
In this tab, you can setup an entire airline if you wish. Two choices to get you started here; “add” to add a new scheduled flight, or the “New” button to add a new unscheduled flight. Let’s start with Add button to add a scheduled flight for our airline.
As you can see from the window to the left, my default airline of MCA is filled in. Now I can fill in flight number, from and to airports, type of flight and so on. For my examples in this flight, I am using MCA1352 with service from KMCI to KJFK. It departs at 1600, arrives at 1840, and a 2:40 flight time (EET). All times are given in Zulu (GMT) time. I have made it repetitive with daily service and set forever (unlimited). I have made cargo and passengers random and set the air-frame to one of our 737-800’s. See the screen below with it all filled in.
Once you save that option above, you will now see a schedule like this:
This shows our one flight, daily, and gives the dates and times etc. If you wanted to now dispatch this flight, you’d simply click on a line above and hit the “plan flight” button. You’d then be given all of the options to get this flight ready. Let’s take a look at those screens.
You’ll notice I have some red lights on the planning area. This means you have work to do to finalize this flight. Clicking on each header for flight, aircraft, and so on will allow you to make changes and “set” those options. You can also let it choose some of them auto for you such as route, alternates can be set to find, and so on. Feel free to play around in here to see what all the options do. Even dispatch the entire flight and go fly it and see how close it is! For now, I have filled in all of the choices, got green lights, so I now hit “Quick Find route” just above the fill-in area.
Till now we have used everything included in the PFPX purchase. I will recommend to you to also get the TOPCAT package bundle. This will give you the incredible TOPCAT “TO/LD” program to compute take-off and landing data as well. Before computing this flight, I will now press the take-off button and landing button in sequence. It will also add it to the scratch pad for our use later. Finally, we hit the compute flight button. You’ll then see the entire flight plan in text format. You can change anything in here as you would any normal text editor. For our VA, we change “fuel bias” and put in its place cost index, which for most of our flights is .65. The sky truly is the limit here and you can edit anything you wish before saving.
From here you can now save the flight into the database, export to any number of commercial add-on aircraft for entry into the FMC, or release the flight. We’ll press that release button now. You’ll now be back at the schedule page, with a line item that now has a green check next to it. You can now highlight that and print flight plan. You’ll be taken to your system’s print dialog where you can either print or use a pdf creator to save it. I’ve attached the pdf file below for you to check out and as a download with this review. (link to PDF below)
I’ve only just scraped the surface of this incredible product, but I hope you can see just how powerful it is. I spoke to MCA’s chief dispatcher, Michael Collier, who is also a Flight Dispatcher for American Airlines. Which brings us to some really cool numbers.
I have the luxury of being friends with a real-world dispatcher. Michael Collier is a dispatcher for American Airlines and has been around long enough to go through a few airline mergers and land right side up with American. For comparison, I had him plan a real-world flight and then compare and contrast in PFPX. The results are incredible:
Mike states, “Flying time within 3 minutes and total fuel burn within 115 lbs. of real world flight planning system. Variances noted in comparison may be attributed to aircraft BIAS differences and slight variance in planned winds aloft. ” As you can see, this is a remarkable comparison and truly is as real as we can get it. I have included the rest of the full report below (click on link to download PDF) for you to review and see exactly what he planned, vs. what PFPX gave him.
The program itself had input from real world pilots and dispatchers and has set a new bar for the realism factor in planning. As with any product of this magnitude, I recommend you also read the manual that comes with the product. It is supplied in both English and German languages and will dig in even further to what this product can do! Now there truly is no excuse for incorrect flight plans!
Test System for review:
Hardware: MB: ASUS M5 A99FX Pro R2.0 | CPU: AMD Phenom II X4 970 @3.50Ghz | Memory: 16GB Crucial Ballistic Elite at timing 9-9-9-27 | Video: Asus R7 260x (Radeon) with 2GB DDR5 | Case: Azza Solano 1000 Full Tower | PSU: Thermaltake SMART M750W | Primary Drive: Seagate Barracuda 1TB at 7200RPM | Secondary Drive: 500GB Seagate Barracuda at 7200RPM | Backup Storage: WD MyCloud 2TB | DVD Drive: 24X SATA DVD Burner | Keyboard: Logitech G510s with LCD Display | Mouse: Logitech G100s | Stick: Logitech 3D Extreme
Software: Win7 64-Bit, Flight Sim X Acceleration, PMDG 737NGX, PMDG MD-11, PMDG 777, Level-D 767, Active Sky-Next, Plan-G Map, VATSIM vPilot, PFPX