Since the release of Microsoft Flight Simulator last year, simmers have been hoping for a high-quality airliner for the simulator. It would appear that those wishes will come true with the upcoming Fenix Sim A320 for the sim. If you haven’t already seen the announcement article, I strongly suggest you take a look.
Whilst the announcement article gave a good idea of what the product is, I was given an extensive first look at a brand new product coming to Microsoft Flight Simulator. I went into this presentation with no clue what to expect, but what I came away with was something I haven’t felt in a long time; genuine excitement. In all my years of contributing to FSElite, this is only the second time where we have been given an extensive presentation on a product to help us understand what it’s all about. That other time? In Seattle with Microsoft for the new simulator. So this approach is extremely refreshing and helps us to now only share the news with you, but also go a little more in-depth about the product.
Project Lead, Aamir, started the Discord call by giving me a bit of background on this new development studio. Fenix Sim is an all-new development team of experienced developers and already has numerous pilot and engineering contacts. Some of those developers are from other well-regarded studios, all of whom have proven to be skilled and talented. This already gave me some hope that what I was about to see would be the real deal.
If I’m being honest, I was half expecting perhaps some renders, maybe some brief videos. After all, this has been a common thing with new developers announcing ‘study-level aircraft. To my surprise, the presentation I received was much more in-depth than I could have imagined. The aircraft was in a state where I was given a live tour of the plane in the simulator. It’s important to note that at the time of writing, it’s in an alpha state, meaning there is still plenty more work to do, but it’s in a good enough place to be able to start showing it off.
One of the first things Aamir did was dismiss this concept of “study-level” aircraft. This term has a certain connotation to it, and the whole team are behind the idea that what they’re making is a ‘high-fidelity’ aircraft. This means that the A320 will be full of in-depth simulations, quality texturing and modelling, along with other functionality that makes the experience more immersive for simmers. As such, don’t expect this aircraft to be referenced as a study-level aircraft.
Diving into the presentation, Aamir started with a detailed behind-the-scenes for the modelling process the team went through. For Fenix Sim, they were lucky to have access to a handful of real-world aircraft and spend quality time with the jets. For the A320, Fenix Sim took careful and considered steps to recreate the outside and inside of the iconic narrow-body plane. Using 3D scanning, the team were able to recreate a model that is incredibly accurate. When I was shown previews of the overhead, the landing light switches were slightly off centre which reflects an aircraft that has seen many years of use.
Quite often we joke about ‘rivet counters’ in this community. Those that want an aircraft so detailed and precise that the actual number of rivets match the aircraft. Well, all jokes aside, Fenix is going to that level of detail. When zooming into the modelling, you can see each rivet and screw. The screws are all at differing angles – just as they would be in real life. This is such a minor detail that has no impact on the flight, but this is just an example of the detail these guys are trying to achieve.
Beyond the modelling, the team has doubled down on how they have textured the A320. Using colour correction tools to get the right tones and hues in the cockpit, the team have managed to make an Airbus cockpit that looks like the real thing. Perhaps the most impressive tech I saw in the hour and a half presentation was the texture work on the outside of the aircraft. As the A320 is such a workhorse, it powers through many cycles, battling all kinds of weather and sees plenty of people on board. As such, dirt, grime, wear and tear all build up on the outside of the aircraft. During my virtual tour, areas around the engine where fluid may leak was represented, whilst the rudder was full of grime. Impressively, each of these areas were correctly textured with the right PBR material so that light would show this dirt in accurate circumstances. Words don’t do this work justice and hopefully, the screenshots will give you an idea of how this is very special.
Inside the cockpit, there’s just as much attention to detail. The fonts used are custom for this aircraft and vectored to match, pixel-for-pixel, the actual fonts used in the aircraft. The level of detail goes deeper for the displays themselves. A few screenshots shared highlighted that the LCD screens in the aircraft are simulated the same pixel density as the actual aircraft. Looking at the previews even closer and you can see how the light powering the screens add backlight bleed from specific angles.
An area I’ve not yet mentioned is the systems themselves. We’ve seen aircraft in the past model fuel flow, air, hydraulics and the like and the Fenix Sim A320 will be no different. Whilst all of those systems make this a living and breathing machine, there’s also plenty of work that has gone into the custom autopilot and FMC. Some of the functionality in the FMC goes beyond that of a product on Prepar3D that many (including myself) consider being the most realistic representation of an Airbus product. One example shared was the use of an FLS approach. No, not a typo. In fact, I didn’t know what an FLS approach was until Aamir told me. Essentially, in newer Airbus aircraft, the FMC can create a virtual glideslope and localiser to aid in non-precision approaches if one doesn’t exist at the airport. The team at Fenix Sim has taken this relatively new technology in the real world and has already implemented it into their product. Alongside this, functions such as lateral offsets, ETPs, RTAs, and step climbs are all included. This goes beyond what other simulated Airbus products do.
Something that was mentioned before the reveal of the Fenix Sim A320 was the fact that this aircraft will feature a comprehensive failure system. At the time of writing, 383 failures are currently available to use within the aircraft. The list of failures ranged from hydraulic issues and fuel leaks to engine failures and even radio malfunctions. One, of many, examples I was shown was the push to talk button for the captain getting stuck. This seemingly small issue will still prompt an ECAM message and expect you to run through a brief checklist to try and fix the problem. Although we didn’t spend much time on the failures in the presentation, it was mentioned that these failures can be switched on or off at a moments notice or have them armed for specific scenarios.
Real-world and Twitch streamer, Blackbox711 has said “these failure simulations are at a level where I can [use] the addon for my real world simulator-checkflights.” His sentiment is echoed by another streamer, KatiePilot. “As many know, my standards for a high fidelity A320 in any simulator are extremely high. The combination of systems depth of the Fenix A320 and exemplary visuals from MSFS make this a pleasure and exciting to fly – just like the real thing. Not to mention the fun I have failing one of the many systems it has to offer! I am truly ecstatic to share this with the world and bring people closer to the real thing than has ever been possible before.”
Whilst failures are not new in this hobby, there’s always one area that even the big names have yet to implement on their big jet aircraft. That feature is the functional use of 280 circuit breakers. Whilst this wasn’t shown explicitly to me during this chat, I was told that the logic and functionality is complete and ready to be added to future builds of the aircraft. Some circumstances will require you to pop a circuit breaker to reset a system or to complete switch off something in the aircraft.This will be modelled in the Fenix A320 and all from within the cockpit.
All of these great-sounding features will mean nothing if the performance is poor. This was something Aamir is very conscious of and shared some comparison imagery with me. The scenario presented was three different products sat at the same airport, same time of day and same weather conditions with the graphics at ‘ultra’ at 4K.
First up was the default Asobo A320 Neo, which was holding an average of 34.4 FPS. What was important to note was the spikes in the frame rendering, which is what causes the stuttering or choppy frames. There were a few of these spikes in this scenario. Next was the FlyByWire A32NX. In the same conditions, the sim was holding an average of 26.7 FPS, but with even more spikes than the default A320. This is expected considering the more in-depth systems and enhanced modelling. The final performance preview was with the current, unoptimised build of the Fenix A320. Same settings again, but performance, on average, saw 32.7 FPS. Furthermore, those spikes in the sim were also much less, resulting in a smoother experience. Again, this is an alpha build with no optimisations applied. Texturing has yet to be compressed and lots of debug code still inside whilst development continues. Aamir is hopeful that as they progress, even better performance will be achieved. It’s also worth noting that this is pre-Sim Update 5, which is expected to add 50-70% improved performance to the simulator.
How are they achieving this? Well, Aamir said this is down to the fact that systems are being simulated outside of the simulator, leaving the sim itself to spend time rendering the scenery, weather and other elements. This gives PCs the room to breathe whilst still providing a comprehensive experience. To reiterate, the performance examples given were only screenshots and more testing needs to be done before drawing any conclusions. Regardless, the team seem keen to provide a detailed aircraft whilst ensuring that simmers can run the plane without any performance issues.
One final thing I want to touch on is functionality not even related to the simulator. Aamir was really excited to tell me about the small things that some simmers may not even notice during their flights. It’s a little complex, so I’ll quote exactly what Aamir said in the press release:
“For example, the A320 uses a GPS-aided inertial navigation system. GPS being satellite based, when coverage is low or non-existent, degraded navigational accuracy is to be expected. This has never been represented in a consumer simulator due to the immense amount of work required for such a small part of the aircraft. However, we have introduced and implemented NORAD algorithms for determining satellite location and velocity in Earth orbit by downloading GPS ephemeris data on startup, so if you fly in an area with degraded coverage in real life, our airplane knows this and will degrade your navigational performance accordingly in sim. Your RNP and ANP are now relevant and important to keep an eye on, especially when shooting those RNAV approaches. The airplane is therefore not simply the same aircraft you flew from A-to-B in your simulator. Instead, it is a constantly changing environment based on real-world influences, much like the real thing.”
It’s another level of detail I didn’t know we needed in the simulator that certainly helps underpin this idea of the Fenix Sim A320 being a high fidelity aircraft.
I have barely scratched the surface of everything that I saw during the presentation. At the time of writing, I’m awaiting the final press kit in preparation for the big announcement so I’m unsure exactly how in-depth the screenshots will be. From what I saw though, there’s a lot of great promise coming from this product.
Throughout the entire presentation, it was clear that the team is aware they face some big challenges in bringing the product to the market. The first challenge is trust. How can we as a community trust that a complete newcomer to the market will deliver on what they’re promising? For me, this presentation and announcement style was the first step to gain that. This was no cookie-cutter presentation, nor was it hashed together to please me. This was put together with a lot of time and thought for what would be important questions. Aamir lead the presentation with passion, enthusiasm and knowledge of the aircraft. Highlighting little nuances only experienced pilots would notice in the aircraft and helping me further my knowledge of Airbus aircraft. For example, he showed me how once you put the gear down, the A320 will conduct a quick check of the alternate brakes, which is visible by the pressure gauge within the cockpit.
There will be comparisons between this and the FlyByWire A32NX and questions around “why do we need a payware A320 when we have a great freeware mod.” Aamir acknowledged this too and said that he and the team have “great respect” for what they’re doing. However, when side-by-side, it was clear to see how the Fenix A320 will do things differently from FBW’s very own A320 representation. The other obvious reason is the fact that the FBW is a model of the A320Neo, whilst this is the CEO version of the aircraft. There’s certainly room in the market for a great freeware mod and a quality payware version of a plane. Once it’s in our hands, we’ll be sure to find many more differences that will address how both can happily live in our sims for the long term.
Beyond the product itself, Fenix Sim is keen to avoid the pitfall of terrible customer service. Some specific details are yet to be confirmed, but the impression I had was that this was a team dedicated to ensuring those who need help will get it. And no, they won’t be relying on RTFM (read the fabulous manual) to help customers. With a team of people with experience on the aircraft, they want customers to feel “welcomed and comfortable” when approaching their support team. In fact, the team has hired a type-rated A320 pilot to provide customer service. This means you can ask an operational or technical question and get a response from someone really in the know.
As I said, I’m genuinely excited. Whilst that is the case, there’s also still plenty we don’t know yet about the aircraft. The level of detail shown in the presentation certainly seems impressive, but we’ve yet to get our hands on the aircraft. The fact I can tell you this much about the plane without having touched it just demonstrates how much is packed into the product so far. As the plane continues being put through its paces by their team and testers, we’ll hopefully hear and see more from the developers in the coming weeks. With so many levels to this aircraft to uncover, there’s going to be a lot for Fenix Sim to do to convey this to the community.
Another thing to note is that within the space of a year of the simulator being made publicly available, the fact we’re seeing aircraft of this fidelity is incredible. Whilst like many I was waiting on the household names to bring these types of aircraft to the simulator, I’m also happy to see newcomer developers step into that territory. The competition is certainly heating up, but more importantly, Microsoft Flight Simulator will soon be getting a truly in-depth airliner.
Fenix Sim and their A320 will be a product we’ll be keeping a very close eye on. There is a lot of promise here and we can’t wait to learn more. We’ll keep our expectations in check, but so far, things seem to be moving in the right direction for this new development team.
To continue following the development of the aircraft, we highly recommend you join the Fenix Simulations Discord community. Likewise, you can also check out their website for more information. We’re also able to tell you that a video of the aircraft in action will be shared via the Fenix Simulations Discord in the next few days.
Following this announcement post, Chewwy94 will be live on Twitch going through the images and media kit. He’ll also be joined by Fenix Simulations’ Aamir answering questions from the community.