|DEVELOPER||TFDi Design||PRICE||$59.99 USD|
|PUBLISHER||TFDi Design||BUY FROM||TFDi Design Store|
The TFDi Design 717 has been one of the most highly anticipated addons for FSX and P3D for a couple of years now. It has seemed as if there may be a new kid on the block ready to bring us high fidelity aircraft simulations. The TFDi 717 has had its fair amount of hype, and after releasing on December 22 for $59.99 USD, it seemed as if everybody had this addon as quickly as the overloaded servers would allow.
TFDi said earlier in the year that 2016 would be “the year of the 717”. They did what most developers don’t by giving a release date. It seemed as if this added to the excitement of the 717. Developing anything is often a fluid process that can take two steps forward and one step back. As such, developers don’t like giving release dates because it puts them in a situation where they have to either release a product that isn’t finished, or deal with the angry customers. TFDi stayed true to their word by releasing the 717 in 2016, but does it hold up to the hype though?
Before we dive into the review, first you should know about the system I am using and my background. I’ve tested the TFDi 717 on my i5-2500K machine, overclocked to 4.5Ghz, with an nvidia GTX 960 4GB SSC, 8GB of DDR3-1333 ram, all running on my Corsair SSD. I’m using Prepar3d V3.4 as my sim of choice along side AS16, ASCA, ENVTEX, and various payware airports. I’m using version 188.8.131.52 of the 717 for this review.
As for my background, I’m a licensed Aircraft Dispatcher and I am using real world material as a reference for this review. Everything I’ve tested is in comparison with the IOE training material, real world manuals, and other documents used by a major airline that operates the Boeing 717. It should be noted that some aspects of FSX/P3D make it impossible to simulate everything, however that stuff shouldn’t be anything noticeable to the average simmer.
The installation of the 717 is actually a bit different than we’re used to. It’s actually an interesting way to go about things. Once you’ve purchased the TFDi 717 you’ll download the TFDi addon manager, not the aircraft. After installing the addon manager you can login to your TFDi account and the addon manager will download and install the aircraft to the sim of your choice. It’s very easy to use, and very smart in my opinion.
TFDi does offer some documentation with the aircraft, but it is very limited. To find the documents open the TFDi_717 folder in your SimObjects/Airplanes folder. You can also download the documentation on the TFDi website.
In my opinion the documentation was underwhelming and felt rushed. They include some documents detailing what buttons can be clicked, things like that. There is another that is a rough walk through of how to use the plane, and how to use the MCDU. It will get you flying if you read it, but it could’ve been done better in my opinion. There also isn’t any manual for using the Addon Manager, so you’ll have to figure that out on your own.
I’ve been using my real world manuals to fly this addon due to the lackluster documentation provided by TFDi. That isn’t an option everybody has, so I hope that TFDi will add more documentation over time. If not, perhaps I’ll create something for everybody to use.
The addon manager doesn’t just install the product, it actually does a lot more. First, the addon manager servers as an update tool. When TFDi releases an update all you have to do is open the addon manager and allow it to update your aircraft. No downloads, no hassle. It’s a very smart system.
In addition to installation and updates, the addon manager comes equipt with some familiar tools. There is a load manager built into the addon manager that will allow you to set up your payload and send it to the aircraft in sim. You can also go through and customize your experience with the aircraft by select imperial or metric weights, engine variants (18,500lbs or 21,000lbs thrust), auto rudder, and so forth.
There is one very neat and new feature I’ve never seen in an addon aircraft before. TFDi has introduced a “persistence” mode with the 717. What persistence allows you to do decide how your aircraft will load the next time you use it. If you turn this feature on your aircraft will be in the exact state you left it when you closed the sim. Every switch, button, knob, tuned frequencies, everything. It will be like you never left the aircraft. You can select this for each repaint, or for all of them. You can also turn it off if you’d like.
The persistence mode is fantastic and probably one of my favorite things about this addon. There is a drawback however. Should your sim crash, your aircraft will be how you left it. If your landing gear is up, it will load up and you will bounce around the ground. That’s fairly annoying, but a much bigger deal for those of you on FSX rather than P3D.
Model and Textures
The modeling work done on this aircraft is superb. It is absolutely beautiful. I really can’t say enough about the level of detail they’ve put into this aircraft. The attention to detail in the modeling of switches in the VC, external features, it is all there. The various animations are superb as well.
The textures are right there on par with the model as well. This aircraft is just simply gorgeous. I’d argue this is the most aesthetically pleasing aircraft ever produced for FSX/P3D. They’ve got just the right amount of dust and smudging on the screens. The shadows are perfect, and the immersion is incredible when you load up for the first time. TFDi did a fantastic job with this aircraft.
TFDi released three liveries that you’ll need to download, including Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, and Qantas Link. There is also a TFDi house livery if that tickles your fancy. My only complaint with the liveries is that I feel as if the aircraft are a little too clean. Some of you like shiny clean planes, so of you like of you like your aircraft a little dirty, I like mine in the middle. There isn’t much dirt or grime in these paints, and I wish there was. I’m sure we’ll see new paints pop up when the paintkit is released.
The cockpit and system sounds on the TFDi 717 are fantastic. Yet again, TFDI has hit a home run here. The switches are subtle, the rotary knobs have the perfect smooth click noise to them. The EGPWS is spot on (who doesn’t like Bitchin’ Betty though). The aural warnings are spot on. I really have nothing negative to say about the internal cockpit sounds. They’ve done a great job of adding to the immersion in the cockpit.
I do take issue with the engines sounds though. I think TFDi (actually TSS) dropped the ball here. The cockpit is relatively quiet, as it really is with the engines being mounted in the rear. I feel as if the wind sounds could be slightly louder, however it’s not bad up front. Where they lack is when you’re in a wing view or external view. They sound like generic, plane jane (pun intended), boring jet sounds. The real 717 has a loud engine with a fantastic buzz saw sound. I want to hear that, I want to feel that power when I fly this plane. Currently, it’s very boring. I’m hoping they either fix this at some point, or somebody third party creates a new sound pack for the plane.
I don’t want it to seem like I am completely trashing TFDi in the systems, so before I go on a long winded bit about some of the things I’ve found wrong with the plane, allow me to preface it by saying I think they’ve done a very good job and are on the right track. If they correct only the issues I mention in this review, this addon is in a completely different category. They’ve done a great job in creating accurate systems in the aircraft.
The visual aspects of the systems are all on point, and they’re close to having a very accurate simulation of the 717. They’ll need to correct a lot of things first, but they’re close. This is by no means some low detail, inaccurate aircraft. The real problem here is that they released the product way too early. Had they waited and put more effort into the systems I likely would be singing a different tune right now.
I do want to mention my favorite feature that is working, the dial-a-flap. This is such a cool feature, it gets me all giddy. The dial-a-flap allows you to enter any flap setting you want outside of the preselected states. If you want a flaps 5 setting, dial it in! If you need some extra lift but flaps 18 is too much, dial in 15! It’s a fantastic feature of the McDonnell Douglas series aircraft and TFDi got it working properly on the 717.
Now the bad. I’ll start with the MCDU, which is where the bulk of the issues originate from. The MCDU is missing features, has bugs, and is just a real pain to use at the moment. If they can fix a lot of the MCDU issues I’d say they would be close to a premier level addon.
The MCDU doesn’t display any times or fuel estimates. It makes it difficult to compare your fuel to that on your dispatch release when you don’t have the information needed. I’ve also had issues with the NAV/RAD page not loading an ILS frequency, and when entered manually, it displays an incorrect identifier. It’s the little issues like these that make this so incredibly frustrating.
One of the most discussed deficiencies in the MCDU is the lack of a top of climb or top of descent. It’s not present on the MCDU flight plan, nor is it drawn on the nav display. This isn’t a breaking feature if you know how to do the math to figure out your top of descent, but it is a basic feature that should be there. It obviously does calculate a TOD because if you reset your MCP altitude it will begin descent at TOD if in Profile mode.
Something I recently noticed is the inability to properly track a waypoint when you try to go direct. If ATC offers a shortcut and you try to go direct to a waypoint, the route will be redrawn on the nav display, but the aircraft will try to fly off in another direction as if it is trying to intercept a different route to the waypoint. It reminds me of using “activate leg” in the default GPS.
Another system that is fundamentally flawed and broken in certain cases is the ATS. Unlike your typical Boeing, the 717 uses the same autoflight system as the MD11 and the autothrust is integrated with the auto flight system. The ATS system functions sort of like an Airbus in the sense that it offers speed protection and will avoid and correct a low speed.
If you take a look at the PFD in the 717, specifically the speed tape, you’ll notice an amber bar. This bar represents what is referred to as “VMIN” on the bottom side, and “VMO” on the top. The VMIN is the minimum speed at which the aircraft can maneuver without stalling. It isn’t recommended to fly at VMIN, you should always ensure no less than VMIN +5. The VMO is the maximum operating airspeed, exceeding this speed could damage the aircraft. The ATS system is designed to offer protection against going below VMIN.
When the ATS is on, the system prevents against the MCDU, or pilot, entering a speed below VMIN +5 or above VMO -5. If a speed below VMIN +5 or above VMO -5 is entered the ATS should only go to no less than VMIN +5 or no more than VMO -5. When I originally wrote this review, the TFDi 717 would allow you to enter a low or high speed and the ATS would try to achieve whatever you enter. They’ve almost corrected it in version 184.108.40.206, however from time to time it will allow the speed to drop before correcting. The part TFDi did get correct is the protection against pilot error. If you disconnect the ATS and go into idle thrust the ATS will kick on and accelerate when you’ve gone below VMIN.
There’s another ATS issue when you’re landing. Standard procedure in the 717 is to leave the ATS system engaged even when hand flying an approach. It doesn’t matter if you’re in FMS mode, or you manually select a speed, the system should maintain VREF + 5 (unless manually commanding a speed) to 30 feet AGL at which point the system displays “RETARD” in the FMA and disconnects upon touchdown so that reverse thrust may be entered. Sadly this doesn’t exist on the TFDi 717 currently.
Some people are using AFS OVRD OFF (the two switches below the Autoflight button) which is a big no no, or you can disconnect the ATS by clicking the button on either side of the throttles. This is a serious flaw and I really think this needs to be high on their fix list. It does enter “RETARD” when you use autoland, but it does not disconnect the ATS. They need to extend this to work regardless of whether or not autopilot is being used, and it needs to disconnect automatically when reverse thrust is entered. It really seems as if the ATS is half baked currently.
Last, and I shouldn’t say last because there is more, but the way TFDi has made reverse thrust work is not the greatest. Most of us have a button mapped to our joy sticks, throttles, or yokes, and odds are that button will not work. TFDi has made it so that you must use F2, the ‘Throttle Decrease Quickly” command in P3D, to enter reverse thrust. This has lead to many questions in the forums about how to engage reverse thrust because you simply can’t do it the way everybody is use to. To go back to idle thrust you must hit F1, moving the throttle forward will not work. It’s rather annoying and I hope that they’ll make the more common methods work. If they could give us an option of what we want to use in the Addon Manager, that would work as well.
The TFDi 717 comes with the ability to fly “multi-crew”, or shared cockpit. This is becoming an increasingly popular requested feature in addons. The ability to fly with another person is a great experience. I can recall doing these sort of flights back in the FS9 days using the Leonardo Maddog.
Sadly, I wasn’t able to test this feature out. I haven’t found anybody willing to try it with me yet because they either aren’t interested in touching this until it gets fixed, or we have differing schedules. It seems that despite some issues it’s very good and works as advertised. We can give them the benefit of the doubt here because I’ve seen it in action during the live streams, and I trust the accounts of the people I asked. I’ll come back and update the review once I am able to test shared cockpit.
TFDi included an extra feature in this aircraft that I think deserves some attention. If you haven’t seen it yet, they’ve included a tablet in the cockpit. Many airlines have began getting rid of the heavy bags full of manuals and charts in favor of tablet devices. TFDi had the creative idea to include a table that allowed you to do the “extra” interactions with the aircraft. You can open doors, connect the GPU or ground air, set cones out or display wheel chocks. In addition, there is an applet that allows you to view images like a checklist, you can connect to friend and use shared cockpit, and you can set the aircraft in different states. It’s a very neat and creative feature.
I’d like to see them move the payload manager into the tablet, rather than the addon manager. If it is at all possible to open a PDF without killing performance, I’d love that too. Using an image is just a pain in the rear. I think they can do some more creative stuff with the tablet and I’m hopeful they will.
Performance is another area TFDi will need to improve for this addon to be considered among the elite. At release there was an abundance of complaints about poor FPS and the tablet being visually messed up. TFDi did a fantastic job trying to fix the problems, but there is still a lot of work to do. If you’re using SGSS for your AA, you’ll have to turn it off or suffer from low FPS. Even when you stop using it, performance isn’t always the greatest. It’s gotten much better since the initial release but there is work to still be done.
VAS isn’t much better with this aircraft at the moment. I’m running P3D and actually exceeded 3500MB of VAS at one point. For comparison, I don’t even get close to that with any of my other addons. When your VAS gets high, your FPS will suffer, so perhaps that is part of the FPS problem.
In conclusion, I think this is an addon with potential. At $59.99 the price is fantastic (in reference to the final completed product), and you can install the aircraft into FSX or P3D. I’m not willing to say the 717 belongs in the same discussion as PMDG, Majestic, or even Aerosoft for that matter, not yet anyway. They’ve got to fix system issues, and they’ve got to fix performance first. The good news is that I like the crew at TFDi and I think they’ll do this over time. I have a lot of faith in them to mold this into a high fidelity simulation of the 717. I think the problems come from the poor decision to release this aircraft before it was ready.
I’m not a fan of these paid beta practices, and I’d point this this exact situation as to why a developer shouldn’t ever give a release date and why they never do. Say what you want about those overdue addons we’re all still waiting for, but I bet we’ll have a well working product on release day. Putting yourself in a situation where you’ve got to release an unfinished plane or fend off the backlash of angry childish simmers who didn’t get the product when advertised is not a direction you want to go. What’s troubling is this is really a beta and they only just recently acknowledge the fact that it is a beta on the product page. That initially mislead people into thinking they’re getting a full simulation and a finished product.
TFDi is young, they’re learning, and they seem like a good bunch. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt here. I think they can deliver something special down the road. It is unfortunate that they released the 717 in the state that they did. If you’re willing to put up with the bugs then go ahead and get this addon. Help report bugs or point out flaws if you have the addon. If you like a more polished simulation, I’d say give it a few months, maybe even 6 months, and see where this is then. I hope to see big things from the 717 in the coming months, and I’m excited to see where this takes TFDi.