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My thoughts on the Cloud Surf Team A380

Yesterday, a developer called Cloud Surf Team announced that they would be developing an Airbus A380 for Prepar3d.

Queue loud cheers and a round of applause. Except… wait, WHO!?

That’s right, the shock announcement came from a team that is pretty much unknown to the Flight Sim community. Cloud Surf Team have only been around since August 2016. Well, publicly anyway. Don’t get me wrong, FSElite are extremely supportive of new developers, small developers and large developers. Size, in this case, doesn’t matter. However, there’s some really troubling aspects of this ‘announcement’ that has me worried and concerned.

Let’s begin with their development history. Of which there is very, very little.

The team originally announced back in August that they would be developing an Airbus A340-500 for FSX and Prepar3d. As of yesterday, this project has been cancelled in favour of this “A380”. So this begs my first question: If they were unable to complete this project, why do they think they can develop an A380? My honest opinion would be that they can’t.

I believe the main reason for the cancellation was that the project’s scope was becoming too great for them, development overran massively, and that there was competing products which offered a similar level of depth.

To quote Cloud Surf Team directly:

“We have decided to put the A340-500NG project on gold indefinatley, The main reason we have decided to do this was that great developers such as BlackBox Simulations were already developing one and they have the knowledge base and resources to create a A340-500 that would have been a lot more in depth at the time.”

Poor spelling and grammar aside, it’s clear that the team didn’t hold much hope out for their project. What it did do was allow them to learn from their mistakes and put their team of 6 to work on their next project.

So why do I believe the team are out of their depth?

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FSElite 2016 User Awards

To celebrate the start of 2017, we take a look back at some of the “Best-of” 2016. Everything from aircraft, and scenery to utility and publisher of the year.

The selection below was carefully picked by the FSElite team, and we’re looking to YOU to pick the best from the best.

All the products below have been released or updated in 2016. We’ve narrowed it down to 5 per category to make the selection easier. Of course, some names may appear more than once, and we’ve tried to make it as varied and fair as possible. Not everything and everyone’s favourite is here, but hopefully there’s a good selection to pick from.

By submitting your name and email address, and completing the form, we’ll enter you into a competition to win some free Flight Sim merchandise!

Use the Google form below.

Voting will close on February 10th 2017 at 2030zulu!

(If it doesn’t work, then follow this link): https://goo.gl/forms/lO1TlpKKMsPklFU83

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The Rise of Corporate Aviation

For years, the presence of general aviation within the flight simulation community has stood the test of time. Not always have the heavy metal airliners been everybody’s fancy. Though they may occupy the majority of traffic (at least from what I’ve noticed over the years), right behind them is the twin Cessna pilot in command.

Flight 1 Beechcraft King Air 200 with G1000 Avionics Suite


Today, developers and our computers alike are taking us further to satisfy our aesthetic appeal. Never would I have imagined the quality or joy I get from performing the RNAV 31L approach into Orbx’s Palm Springs airport using the PMDG 737 twelve years ago when I first started with flight simulator. Eventually, I would grow a bit tired of always flying the same scheduled routes using the same airplane. The excitement was slowly deteriorating. Maybe I’m not the only one who has experienced the loss of interest in our hobby, only to get the craving again just a few weeks later.

I seem to underestimate the actual number of flight simulator users out there. I’m sure, like me, there are a large number of individuals who try to make the simulation as real as possible. To me, that means: realistic fuel loading at the gate before pushback, following flows and checklists, the ability to share the same flight deck as my friend who lives across the country, and to load my aircraft in the last panel state I left it in at the airport I previously landed at. With advancements of our simulators (FSX: SE, P3D, XP10/11), developers are making my wishes come true. Slowly, but surely.

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Switching Simulators | How I’m going to decide what my next sim is

The time has come. Like FS9 before it, and FS8 before it. FSX is dying. It’s not dead yet, nor will it die overnight. It will be a slow process but eventually people will move on. Already addon devs are switching exclusively and soon the player base will follow. On the horizon we see 3 simulators heading our way. X-Plane 11, Prepar 3D v4, and Dovetails Flight Simulator. One of these 3 is what people are going to go to. One of these 3 is what I’m personally going to go to. With X-Plane’s minimum requirements and list of default airplanes released recently, I thought now’s a good time to talk about how I’m going to judge each sim, and ultimately how I will decide which to go with. My list is simple. Performance, graphical quality, available aircraft, extra features, Switching cost, the deal, avionics modeling, and flight model. And in that order of importance. The list is probably a wee bit different from what you’d expect; Notably avionics and flight model are on the bottom. This article I’d like to explain why I list those things in that order.

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Does it Hold Up | Integrated Simavionics

Default planes suck. We all know that. No it should not be the way of things, but it is. Notably defaults suck in the realm of navigation. Particularly Instrument Navigation, Specifically RNAV capability. The defaults all come with the GPS 500 or the GPS 295 on them. Which is not true RNAV equipment, Not in Flight Sim. Yeah it can follow a programmed route but for true RNAV status it needs to be able to load procedures. SIDs, STARs, and Approaches; as well as build flight plans in the gauge and edit them. So we have addon airplanes shipping with their own avionics. For example the PMDG 737 with its FMS. But addon airplanes cost a lot of money, and they tend to have a really steep learning curve. They aren’t necessarily known for their frame rate friendliness either. These things all combined created the need for a FMS that is generic enough to work on any aircraft in FSX, defaults or addons. But also cheap enough to be affordable to anyone. Enter Integrated Simavionics.

Integrated Simavionics (hereafter referred to as ISG) came out in 2011 and was developed by Ernie Alston. If that name sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the same guy who developed FSbuild; which was objectively  the best Flight planner for Flight sim for a long time running; though it’s since been replaced by things like ProFlightPlannerX and Simbreif ( it’s still my personal favorite though). He also assisted PMDG in developing their Jetstream 4100 by coding the FMS for it. That same FMS is one of the gauges you can get with this addon by the way, though it’s notably lacking in the more aircraft dependant features as it is meant to be generic. Now what is ISG? Put simply ISG is a collection of 9 gauges that are generic, meaning they work on any aircraft you put them on. But they are also integrated, meaning the gauges talk to one another. This means when you build a route on the FMC that route is shown on the NAV display. These gauges were meant to fill the gap of generic enough to work on anything, but realistic enough to be useable for more advanced flying. And honestly I think they filled it quite well. Over the years I’ve purchased a lot of addons for flight sim. Several of them were a waste of money. But I’ve never felt that for ISG. It was one of my earliest addons for flight sim. And I still use it to this day.

b737-2
This is the FSX Default 737-800 with Alejandro Rojas Lucena’s Virtual Cockpit mod, and I added ISG gauges to it. Checkout the Windshield rain effect. Haven’t seen a payware plane with that yet.

The best way I can think to describe ISG is by telling you what I use it for. It breathed a new breath of life into the default airplanes. There was a time when I could not afford fancy addons (wait I still cant). So I had to make due with defaults. But I was also getting into flying online. With realistic routes and the possibility of route changes. The default GPS really shows its issues when you get a clearance with a different route than what you filed. In the default 737, I had the ISG FMS. No problem, I just enter in the route I was cleared for. ISG then shows that route on my nav display, And commands the autopilot to follow it. I also get TCAS, and a rudimentary VNAV as well. Takeoff hit LNAV and I was on my way. Pretty similar to flying a fancy addon airplane. But this was a default.

When I hit LNAV I also get a notation on my PFD along with the other modes that autopilot was set to. I get a traffic warning of a nearby aircraft complete with resolution advisories. The controller gives me a short cut today. Im cleared to bypass the rest of my SID and proceed direct to a enroute waypoint. I get above ten thousand feet and press VNAV. The autopilot then commands the plane through the rest of the climb. And no I had not been drinking and was confusing the PMDG aircraft with a default. It was the default 737. I complet that flight and the next day I feel like flying some rich person to Key West. I take the default king air on this trip. It also features LNAV, partial VNAV, and TCAS. Wait a minute we are talking about the defaults. The massive piles of crap that somewhat resemble airplanes.

Have I pushed it hard enough? Well honestly it’s probably one of my favorite addons. And one of only 2 addons that to this day I would say are truly must haves, were it not for one problem we will talk about soon. Not only can this be used in defaults I have used it to improved countless freeware planes. Alejandro Rojas is well known in the freeware community for creating some of the best planes available for FSX. Including a MD83, P35, and C750. He also did several improvements to the default B738 and B744 cockpits. Giving them features usually only found on payware planes, and in some cases he’s got one up on the payware planes. He’s not the only freeware developer that makes amazing things. Richard Schwertfeger made a fantastic Global Express. That thing could be payware if it had better texture quality. All the planes came with a FMS by the way. But it was the freeware Bendix King FMS that is nothing more than the default GPS with a fake VNAV and looks like a FMS. But I have ISG. I replaced the avionics of those planes, with the ISG avionics. Payware? Where I’m going I don’t need Payware!

glex-4
A wide shot of the Virtual cockpit of the freeware Bombardier Global Express by Richard Schwertfeger. I added the ISG gauges to this aircraft. with that this aircraft features almost full system modeling. If the textures were a little better id call it payware quality.

Now it’s not all sunshine and lollipops don’t get me wrong. ISG comes with 9 gauges. And while the gauges are all pretty realistic, they contain some features that are locked away that make them much better. The biggest problem is that ISG is just the gauges. If you want to put them in the airplanes you’ll need a modified panel file for them. Now ISG does have panel retrofits for a lot of aircraft on their website. You can also build a panel for the aircraft yourself if you know how. And the gauges work fine as they come. But to really make them sing, you have to dive into their CFG files. There is documentation. Full walkthroughs of each gauge as well as documents on these special features im talking about. But the documentation for editing the associated files is not that straightforward. If it was not for the difficult process of actually getting the gauges working in an aircraft, ISG would score a lot higher.

By the way these gauges have navdata updates available by both Navigraph and NavDataPro. They also feature the ability to Load SIDs, STARs, IAPs, load a flight plan from a PLN file or their own special format, Save flight plans for future use, enter crossing restrictions that the airplane will adhere to; the FMS will also calculate a descent profile including crossings for each waypoint. Enter in any waypoint in the database to go direct to or add into an active flight plan (without erasing the flight plan). Enter Vspeed that will show up as speed bugs on the appropriate PFD. Meaning that entering in V1, VR, and V2 speeds on the boeing FMC will cause the V speed bugs to appear at the correct speed on the boeing 777 PFD. That’s the main stuff. There’s more but all the other features have to be unlocked by editing files and like I said the documentation is not the most straightforward.

I really feel as though I can’t put everything this addon can do to words so I’ve prepared the video above. Thats me Programing a Flight plan into the Honeywell GNS-XLS Flight Management System. It along with the 8 other gauges can be placed in any aircraft. In addition to that FMS, I modified the default King Air to have a Honeywell EFS50 ADI & EHSI, along with their associated control units. I also made a dedicated ISG CFG file for it which unlocks some of the more advanced features we talked about. I often choose to fly this King Air over the 2 other payware ones I have. You want to know the best part about ISG? It’s only $23, That’s it! That’s not that bad really. The only real complaint I have about it is the fact that unless you know how to edit panels it can be hard to get the most out of it. But it makes a great addon for thoughs of you who can’t afford a full addon aircraft like PMDG and company. Or for those of you who want to learn how to work the avionics in a less demanding setup than a complex addon aircraft. All the gauges work like their IRL counterparts. And ISG works on P3D to.

The Big question is Does this addon that was released in 2011, stand up today? Id say yes. Integrated Sim Avionics does withstand the test of time. It does exactly what it should do, and does it well. Its cheap enough that mostly anyone can afford it. It works on any airplane. There’s Minimal performance impact. Were it only for the actual panel installation process, and the overall user friendliness; I could call it a truly must have addon for anyone. My favorite part is the price. At only $23 its exactly where I personally would value it. See I can’t answer the question of weather or not this is worth your money. I dont know how much you value your money. I can only tell you that this addon is exactly in the price range I would put it if I was selling it.

By: Timothy Thomas

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Imgur album showing off the aircraft I have ISG installed on.

Integrated Simavionics

Alejandro Rojas freeware aircraft

Richard Schwertfeger Global express

X-Plane’s Marketing Strategy Needs Work!

So X-Plane 11 has been announced. In one of the most minute ways possible. It just sort of happened. Now I missed the announcement because I was busy dealing with a Hurricane, but once the storm past and power was back on, I sign onto Reddit and what do I see? X-Plane 11 announced! In the form of a Trailer and a presentation that’s roughly an hour long. And honestly, this has got to be the worst way I’ve ever seen to market a game. Yeah I said it! Flight Simming is a game like it or not. Now I don’t want to bash X-Plane around. The stuff they shown was really good. X-Plane 11 looks like it will be good. I want to point out the Marketing Strategy, or lack thereof. This presentation was really hard to watch. I actually could not bring myself to watch the whole thing, I skipped around to get the main points. I sat through the PC gaming conference at E3 2015. In the comfort of my own home watching a live stream. I found it unbearably boring. But even it was better than the X-Plane 11 presentation.

There are a lot of things wrong with the presentation. For one it’s a slide show, as opposed to having trailers and footage on display. Its recorded from a camera by someone who attended the event. Its recorded at an odd angle, and the sound recording is even worse than the video. Oh and my favorite part, someone keeps walking in front of the screen. The whole things screams amature hour. This here is the thing I want to talk about. Laminar research has terrible Marketing. This little presentation was poorly put together, poorly presented, and is just poor. It looks as though Laminar Research does not care about marketing their product.

xp11
A recent screenshot of Xplane 11 featuring the Citation X

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Are Flight Sim Add-ons Getting More Expensive?

The recent release of the Flight Sim Labs A320-X, which gives you the basic A320 with IAE and CFM engines only, has spurred a bit of a debate about what is an acceptable price for a FS addon these days. Sitting $99.95 for the FSX version, and rumored to be roughly $140 for the P3D version, the argument isn’t exactly out of left field. The price of addons, especially aircraft, has seemingly skyrocketed over the last six years. So, are these higher prices justifiable or is the community getting squeezed for all they’ve got?

Eight years ago before the release of the PMDG MD-11 we were all enjoying addons such as the Level-D 767, Leonardo Fly The Maddog, and PMDG’s “Boeing Officially Licensed” B747 and B737 for somewhere between $45 to $60. These were the top tier addons with the best systems and visuals, period. It didn’t seem as if it was too big of a deal to expect to pay that much for a quality addon, after all these guys have to make a profit and we are getting a full simulation. PMDG has seemly lead this charge of increasing prices for aircraft addons with their MD-11 being about $20 higher than the normal price at the time, which increased another $15 with the NGX if you get both the base pack and expansion, and then again another $25 with the T7 if you get the base pack and expansion. This is not even consider an even higher price for the P3D versions. Will the new 747 continue this trend? I guess we’ll find out.

q400qxeBut let’s not pretend that PMDG is the only one doing this. For years now people have been willing to pay Carenado upwards of $30-50 for aircraft like Cessna 172’s, Beech King Air’s, and other general aviation aircraft that look amazing but don’t fly nor function even close to the real aircraft. They even come with the default GPS baked right in. As long as the flight simulation community is willing to pay whatever a developer asks, they will not price aircraft reasonably. These are businesses after all, and if people are willing to pay a higher amount, then of course they are going to charge it. That’s the way it works, and unfortunately we have a lot of people willing to drink the developer kool-aid they are spoon fed. Personally, I think more aircraft developers should consider a model similar to that of Majestic, where you can get a fantastic addon minus some features you may not be interested in for a lesser price. They did a great job with the Q400 Pilot, Pro, and Training editions and even if you only bought the Pilot edition you still get a very in depth and fantastic Q400 simulation for an extremely reasonable $60.

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What Could FSFX Packages Special Announcement Be?

Before I even begin, I just want to point out that this is completely a speculation piece, based on facts and other insights (backed up with proof). Nothing here is “insider” knowledge. With that, enjoy the speculation.

 

UPDATE: 07/09/2016

We think we’ve solved the case. We strongly believe that this will be an EZDOK replacement.

UPDATE: 06/09/2016

What about X-Plane? Taylor, one of our readers, recently messaged me to ask what about a possible X-Plane package. He said has spoken to FSFX Packages in the past, and they have expressed massive interest in developing for X-Plane. With Laminar Research recently updating X-Plane’s particle engine, there’s certainly some hope. Coupled with the fact that we are beginning to get some high fidelity aircraft on the platform, such as PMDG’s DC-6 and IXEG’s 737 Classic, this could also be a possibility.

So earlier today, FSFX Packages announced that on September 21st at 7pm, they will be live streaming their “biggest” announcement yet. I’m very familiar with PR talk, so that’s words not to be chosen lightly. The big mystery is, however, what is the product?

If you don’t know FSFX Packages already, they’re a great bunch of guys who develop exceptional in-sim effects for both the environment as well as specific aircraft. So far, the team have covered PMDG’s 777 and 737, as well as Aerosoft’s A320 family and Flysimware’s Lear35 with the Majestic Q400 package coming very soon. If you don’t own any of those aircraft (if not, why not?!), then you can improve your weather effects with PrecipitFX.

So they already have an impressive catalogue of high quality add-ons that have changed the game in Flight Simulation.

So what could be next?

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