Wilco Airbus Series Vol 1
by Dave Gorman




Airbus Anyone?
 

Following on from their success with the A300 series, European aircraft consortium Airbus set their sights on a single-aisle short to medium range passenger airliner to rival the Boeing 727 and 737, whose dominance in that market was more or less universal. The result was the Airbus A320, with Air France launching commercial services in March 1988. The A320 featured a number of pioneering features for a civil airliner, most notably fully digital fly-by-wire flight control systems and a fully glass cockpit. It was also the first time that composite materials had been significantly used in a narrowbody airliner, and the ECAM (Electronic Centralised Aircraft Monitoring) concept, allowing all of the main aircraft systems to be monitored from the two glass screens in the centre of the cockpit. After the rise in oil prices in the late 1970s, Airbus also made the aircraft very efficient; in fact the A320 burns 50% less fuel than its old competitor, the B727. Airlines snapped them up as more aircraft were added to the A320 family, specifically the A319, A321 and most recently the A318, the aircraft went on to become the second-best selling jet airliner family of all time (after the Boeing 737).

PSS were responsible for the first real incarnation of the A320 series in FS. A320 Pro for FS2002 was a big hit when it came out, and with the patch for FS2004 it remains a favourite for many Airbus fans (yours truly among them) nearly 6 years on. A320 PIC from Wilco was the next proper simulation, but the lack of a 2D panel and a questionable visual model resulted in a product that was less popular than the PSS version. Now, Wilco are back with the Airbus Series Vol 1 Ė an advanced simulation of the A318, A319, A319CJ (bizjet version), A320, and A321. So itís good value, if nothing else. The Deluxe version also comes with a nice JustPlanes compilation video. I had a look to see if my old favourite finally had a worthy opponent.

All aircraft are available with a choice of CFM or IAE engines, except the A318 which can only be chosen with CFMs The A318 is modelled with the new-style LCD displays in the cockpit.

Iíll be honest and tell you that I have, in fact, had it for a while but have only just got it working. The MCDU had an annoying habit of causing FS9 to crash when I tried to use it. Oh well, After SP3a and a fresh new AIRAC the old girlís up and running and Iím enjoying it.

The installation process is simple, as long as you make sure you have the latest patch installed. Also, Wilco say itís a good idea to delete the fmgc.cfg file after installation and each navdata update to prevent crash-to-desktops. Users of the download version donít get the extra liveries (you will get them if you buy the boxed package from Just Flight) but they are available for free from Wilco. What you do get, however, in addition to the aircraft models and base liveries, are a range of very useful utilities for the A320 series. The Configurator, as it is called, contains a Configuration setup utility (also available from the Aircraft menu in FS), a Load Manager, a Fuel Planner, and a utility for setting custom keyboard commands. I was pleased with this Ė load managers and fuel planners particularly are a must for any payware addon in my book.

Included aircraft, liveries available a separate download

Upon loading the aircraft in FS, the first thing I noticed is how nice the panel looks. PSS may reign supreme in that department but not even their A320 panel is a match for 6 yearsí worth of new technology. Instrument legibility is exceptional and all of the LCD displays have a very high (but sadly non-adjustable because it does hit FPS) refresh rate. A lot of the buttons you will find on the panel are just eye-candy but for the most part the panel is functional and easy to use. The LCD displays can be called up for a larger view although the only one that ever really needs it is the lower ECAM display. The ECAM buttons would have been better attached to it though, they are currently located on the centre pedestal so looking at the ECAM actually requires two extra windows to be called up. Itís no big deal though, and I prefer it to the full-screen panel of PSS fame. One small bug I found in the panel is that when you load the panel in a Cold and Dark state, although the engines are turned off the ignition switches both remain in the On position Ė it can be a nasty surprise when you put the knob into IGN/START mode! One other thing I found strange was the lack of a weather radar in such a modern product, particularly when FeelThere already have the technology in their 737.

Moving into the VC (and Virtual Cabin), the pleasing appearance is kept up. I found the VC a bit hard on the FPS, although it was still usable for me, and the virtual cabin is good too. Needless to say, switches are fully clickable and functional in the VC.

Externally, the model is good but to be honest the freeware models from IFDG and Project Airbus are better, albeit without virtual cockpits. The liveries also lacked some small details, but for the most part were reasonably accurate and itís hard to complain when theyíre free. The paintkit leaves a lot to be desired, so all things considered the painters did a good job. I have a problem with the engine fan blades when the engines are on though, the textures seem to flicker a lot. Again though, itís not a big problem because I spend most of my time in the cockpit. If youíre willing to dispense with the virtual cockpit and cabin though, it would perhaps be a good idea to switch to the freeware models; without the VC/Cabin they will be a bit easier on FPS too.

The sounds are as good, if not better, than the PSS sounds. The CFM engines in particular have a distinctive hum from the cockpit at full throttle, and the IAE engine sounds are well-done too. Again though, itís no big deal if theyíre not to your liking because there are replacements on Avsim for both of them, with the freeware CFM offering being particularly good. Aside from the engines, there are also sounds included for the APU and air conditioning packs among other details, and the end result leaves the cockpit sounding very alive and realistic. However, I was a bit disappointed to find that no co-pilot callouts (80kts, V1, Rotate, etc) were included when this is pretty much a standard feature in payware addons now.

Virtual cabins have been well modelled, although I would have liked a VC-only option too for lower spec systems. Night lighting in the 2D panel is pleasing and realistic. The CRT or LCD displays can be dimmed by the pilot

The FDE threw up a few problems when the package first came out, but they seem to have been mostly corrected now because it handles pretty well for me. Itís certainly better than the PSS one. The fly-by-wire systems on the Airbus make it very easy to hand-fly and that is something that Wilco has modelled well. The FMGC handles aircraft movements well, although it does seem to have some trouble with sharp turns (anything over 65 degrees really) but whether or not this is realistic I donít know. I also found that it seemed to have some trouble keeping its speed down on approach. The spoilers tend to be a bit reluctant to deploy via the / key sometimes too. There were also some very annoying bugs I found in my time flying the aircraft. Sometimes for no reason at all the aircraftís speed would shoot up to somewhere around 400KIAS, setting off all kinds of warning buzzers, in the climb. Keeping to the 250kt speed limit under 10,000ft is nigh-on impossible, and the nose has a tendency to drift upwards after takeoff. Also, a well-known problem has the nose lurching towards the ground on finals. Hard to replicate though, and Feelthere still havenít fixed it. For the most part, however, the FDE is a very good one and a credit to those who made it, especially when fly-by wire is so difficult to model in FS.

Wilco say that this is a frame-rate friendly product, but I can assure you I didnít find it as smooth as they imply. Itís OK without scenery and with few clouds, but crank up the weather or add some scenery like UK2000ís Manchester and the FPS plummet. As I stated earlier on, you can always give up the VC for a less-demanding freeware model. One thing that would have been nice for those with slower systems is a utility to adjust the refresh rate of the panel displays, as the high refresh rate on them may cause problems on slower PCs.

The PDF manuals of the Wilco download package are pretty good too. There is a useful Pilots Guide along with specifications, standard procedures and checklists for all of the models included. The Checklists and Procedures document is a particularly worthwhile read.

So, what about conclusions? Throughout this review I have been comparing this package to the ever-brilliant PSS rendition of the same aircraft, as Iím sure many Airbus fans will end up doing if they are thinking of buying this package. Itís been hard trying to decide if this package is as good, or better than, its old school opponent, but my feeling at the moment is that Ė dare I say it Ė it is. Itís a close call but itís hard to resist the crisp panel, great sounds, and good FDE of the newcomer over the older PSS package. Whether or not you are an Airbus addict this package is definitely worth trying out, whether you loved the PSS addon or this is your first step onto the Airbus experience from a Boeing, Cessna, or anything else. If this is your first time in a ďrealĒ Airbus, just remember to be patient because mastering the Airbus can take some time especially if you are used to flying Boeings. Practice makes perfect though, and the end result can be very rewarding indeed.

 

Dave's photo gallery - Click on image to see full size.

The whole A32x series is modeled in detail, from the A318 up to the A321. Even the corporate A319CJ is accounted
for.
Virtual cockpits throughout the package are detailed and functional. The A318 is modelled with the new-style LCD displays in the cockpit. I'd like to have seen these available as an option in the other aircraft, as they've been around for a while. All aircraft are available with a choice of CFM or IAE engines, except the A318 which can only be chosen with CFMs. Here is the A320, with IAE V2500 engines.

As is pretty much standard these days in addons, the CRTs and other instruments in the cockpit can be undocked for a larger view. I wasn't very happy with night lighting in the virtual cockpit, it's hard to get on/off and large parts of the
cockpit remain unlit.
Although the FDE has its flaws, handling overall is pretty good, with a good representation of the fly-by-wire systems in the Airbus - something that is hard to get right. 2D cockpits throughout are functional and eye-pleasing - Wilco have done a good job in that department.

Virtual cabins have been well modelled, although I would have liked a VC-only option too for lower spec systems. A "zoomed" panel view is available from the clever hidden group of buttons (visible here) in the bottom-left. I never found the zoomed panel necessary though - panel legibility is exceptional. Whilst not absolutely perfect, Wilco have done a good job of the external modelling and textures, which are available for free download from their website. Night lighting in the 2D panel is pleasing and realistic. The CRT or LCD displays can be dimmed by the pilot by scrolling the mousewheel on them.
 
 Links:-
 Wilco Publishing Home.
 Airbus V1 product page.
 
  Mutley says.. . . .

Thanks Dave for another very comprehensive review.

  

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