The FMC, or Flight Management Computer (often interchangeably referred to as CDU, or Computer Display Unit), presents itself as the pilot's primary method of communication with the aircraft's FMS, or Flight Management System. Indeed, we have already introduced a fair few technical terms; none of which should be too alien for the avid flight simmer, especially those who pride themselves on flying “the heavies” on a regular basis.
Functioning as an electronic jack of all trades, the FMC can do almost anything. Through it, the pilot can program the desired routing, any holds, departure/arrival procedures, desired vertical flight profile, and even enter a whole range of performance information in exchange for a wealth of accurately calculated and aptly named “V-Speeds”. No wonder then, that the FMC is often attributed as the cause for the removal of flight engineers from aircraft cockpits.
Mirroring the real-life situation, when looking at flight simmers, it is rare to see a flight go by where the FMC does not make some form of appearance. From the Level-D 767 to the PMDG 747, add-on developers have gone to great lengths to ensure the software representation of their FMC operates within narrow margins of the real world counterpart.
It is perhaps for this reason a hardware representation of the FMC is so sought after by so many flight simmers. Indeed, there is nothing more satisfying than being able to interact with a real FMC keyboard, sitting right below a real colour FMC screen, without ever having to stare in an almost pseudo-zombie like fashion at the computer monitor ever again - you'll be wondering why you ever needed a mouse to use your FMC. In this review, we'll be looking at a Boeing 747/767 FMC from Spanish cockpit building giants Opencockpits, who are, coincidentally, celebrating their 10th anniversary at the time of writing.
I have reviewed a range of Opencockpits' products over the years, and this certainly promises to be the most exciting of the bunch!
Introduction, Features and Purchase Information
The Opencockpits 747/767 FMC is marketed as a highly accurate USB driven "plug 'n' play" FMC unit, designed to replicate every function (without exception) present on the real-world 747/767 FMC. The unit serves as a successor to their previous FMC units (hence v3) which have been selling well for many years. Indeed, many of the people reading this review may own one of the older versions of the Opencockpits FMC.
The FMC boasts the following features:
● Fully functional, ready-to-use unit that is of the exact same size, shape and colour as Boeing's very own 747/767 FMCs ;
● Easy to use USB connection (with USB cable included);
● 5” colour screen with 800x600 resolution, complete with contrast, brightness and positioning control;
● VGA (or RCA) connection to screen (with VGA cable included);
● Full backlighting with brightness control (BRT knob);
● Solid tactile engraved keyboard and line select keys (LSKs);
● Functional coloured FMC annunciators and warning lights (EXEC, MSG, OFST, DSPY and FAIL);
● 5V power supply included (for screen and backlighting); and
● Interfaced through Opencockpits' freeware SIOC system.
Perhaps the most significant features on this list are the FMC's backlighting (this really looks fantastic at twilight - more on this later), annunciators, and the VGA-driven screen (this is a godsend, again, more on this later). Indeed, these features were not present in the previous incarnation of Opencockpits' FMC and, indeed, are not present on the feature lists of other FMC suppliers.
“An impressive list of features!”, I hear you cry, but what of the cost?
The 747/767 FMC can be purchased through the Opencockpits website for 550 Euros, or around £470. This includes VAT and (international) shipping, and so the price will probably be slightly lower if you are ordering from mainland Europe or some other location closer to Spain.
£470 may seem like a lot, it is, but it really isn't. What do I mean by this? To my knowledge (and I've spent many hours searching), the Opencockpits 747/767 FMC is the lowest priced fully functional FMC available on the market.
NOTE: It is probably worth mentioning here that Opencockpits also sell a 737 FMC, identical in both concept and price. Almost everything contained within this review also applies to the 737 FMC. The only differences being the layout of the FMC keyboard, colour, and, of course, the software that it is used with.
NOTE 2: Remember the predecessor to the FMC v3 I mentioned earlier? Whilst it does not feature the luxuries of a beautiful VGA-driven screen, nor a backlit FMC keyboard or annunciators, it is still available to purchase at the Opencockpits website. The advantage to this unit is that it costs only 440 Euros, around £375. This may serve as a lower cost alternative to those who desire it - more on this later.
First Impressions and Setting Up
I received my FMC less than a week after Opencockpits had shipped it - a rather impressive time!
The FMC arrives in a nice cardboard box, and when opened, one is greeted by a respectable array of protective packaging. Actually, there's a point worth mentioning, of all the things Opencockpits have sent me over the years, not once do I recall seeing any sort of physical damage on any of the products. The FMC is well wrapped in thick bubble wrap and is surrounded by hundreds of small foam pellets.
After carefully removing all the foam, I separated out the constituent components of the FMC package (see photo below). As can be seen, other than the FMC itself, Opencockpits supply a USB cable, VGA cable and 5V power supply. Personally, I think this is a very nice gesture. Many companies these days expect you to provide your own cables.
One important note to make here is the mains socket part of the power supply is of the two-pin European type. To use the power supply in the UK, you'll have to replace this cable with a UK equivalent (any standard laptop cable or similar cable will do). Alternatively, you could, of course, use an adapter. It's important to note these precautions are for the power supply itself as the FMC suffers from no such incompatibility problems, as it uses a universal standard circular 5V power supply connection. As a result, if you have a 5V power supply of your own, this can be used with no problems.
NOTE: It is of paramount importance you use the transformer supplied by Opencockpits, or a suitable 5V transformer. When I say, “any laptop cable will do”, I am referring to the cable that connects the transformer to the mains, NOT the cable that has the transformer at one end and the circular plug at the other. This is because laptops operate at voltages other than 5V (19.5V for example), and so if you use the transformer from a laptop power supply, it will severely damage the FMC. See diagram for details.
After inspecting the FMC was in one piece, the time came to connect the FMC to my PC. Naturally, the process is rather straightforward! Simply connect one end of the USB cable to the FMC and the other end into a free USB slot of your choice. The USB port at the FMC end of things is located on a panel underneath the FMC keyboard. If all has gone well, the familiar “ding-dong” sound should be heard from the PC. That's the USB
The next step is to connect the 5V power supply to the FMC. Assuming you have sorted out a suitable cable arrangement, as discussed above, connect the 5V power supply to the circular plug located next to the USB socket. The 5V power supply provides power for the FMC's backlighting and also power for the screen.
After the 5V power supply has been connected, the backlighting should immediately come into effect. If not, rotate the BRT knob until you're comfortable with the brightness setting. Furthermore, a “NO SYNC” message should be displayed across the screen; this means the screen is receiving power, but no signal. Ignore this for now.
Setting up the screen warrants a small chapter of its own, it's a simple process, but there are many different possible configurations.
Configuring the FMC Screen
The final step is to connect the screen to your computer's graphics card. This can be done using the VGA cable provided by Opencockpits. Simply connect one end of the VGA cable to the FMC (the socket is adjacent to the USB and power sockets) and the other end of the VGA cable to a spare slot on your graphics card. Since it's 2014, most people reading this review will have a graphics card that provides only DVI outputs. As a result, a DVI to VGA adapter may be required. These often cost less than £1 from your local electronics store and can also be picked up cheaply from the internet.
There is also an RCA connector should you wish to use this. However, RCA has been rendered almost obsolete with today's modern graphics cards.
|Unfortunately, the VGA connector is a cause for concern.
The VGA connector is not securely held in place and wobbles around significantly. There appears to be two screws bolted to a small Perspex layer to act as a sort of makeshift bracket that is obviously designed to hold the VGA connector in place, however these screws seem to serve practically no function. The VGA connector is very flimsy and fragile.
In fact, the first time I connected everything up, the VGA connector screws actually snapped out of place! Needless to say, a good hour or two's worth of time was spent repairing the bracket.
Definitely room for improvement here.
NOTE: After taking the back off the FMC, tightening the bracket screws for the VGA connector, and putting everything back together, the unit feels about fifty times as rigid and the VGA connector stays solidly in place. Surely this was the way it was meant to be constructed in the first place? I can't help but think that somewhere along the line my particular unit has become very loose! Weird!
Anyway, back to the screen setup. Since the FMC utilises a simple VGA connection to your graphics card, it should be immediately recognised as a second monitor by Windows. Usually, Windows will automatically configure this second monitor with the correct settings. If all has gone well, the FMC screen should now act as an extension of your desktop background.
More often than not, however, a small amount of fine-tuning is required after the screen has been recognised by Windows. To do this (on Windows 7 or Vista), click the start button, and then type “Display”. Click on the first option in the list (which should also be called “Display”); a window should appear. On the left hand side of this window, click the “Adjust Resolution” button. You should now be on the resolution adjustment tab, ready to set up the FMC screen.
This is what the resolution settings should look like for the FMC:
NOTE: For this example picture, I plugged the VGA cable of the FMC into graphics card slot 1. As a result, even though it's clearly not my “main” monitor, it appears as monitor number 1. On your PC, the monitor numbers will likely be different. These monitor numbers are not important. What IS important, are the settings below.
The resolution of the FMC screen should be set to 800x600, and the orientation set to Landscape. Perhaps the most important setting here is the “Multiple displays” setting. This should be set to “Extend these displays”.
One thing I forgot to mention. If your FMC screen hasn't been detected by Windows, click the “Detect” button. This should sort things out.
The FMC screen is now set up for use. I do realise, however, that many people (such as myself) will be using Matrox's TripleHead2Go (or a similar system such as Eyefinity). As a result, I've written a small section on setting up the FMC screen with TH2G.
Configuring the FMC Screen (with TH2G)
There are two possibilities here. Either, you are wanting to give the FMC screen a VGA slot of its own, or you are wanting to run the FMC screen off the TH2G unit. Both provide equally acceptable results.
Personally, I have my FMC screen running directly off my TH2G (Digital Edition). The other two slots on the TH2G unit are occupied by two 1024x768 monitors. Finally, I have my “main” 1280x1024 monitor running off graphics card slot number 2. As a result, my display setup looks like this:
This means that my TH2G unit (and indeed Windows) thinks the FMC screen is actually a 1024x768 monitor, when in fact we know it is an 800x600 screen. All in all, this makes no difference. All we're going to end up doing is dragging the (simulated) FMC screen over onto the (real-life) FMC monitor. These resolution differences would only cause a problem if you were intending to run some sort of animated display on the FMC
screen (i.e. using the virtual cockpit with the FMC monitor), which, lets face it, is most unlikely!
The second method is to give the FMC a graphics card slot of its own, and run the TH2G off the free graphics card slot. If this is the case, the display setup will look exactly the same as the above screenshot, except that your non-TH2G graphics card slot (i.e. display number 2 in the example screenshot above) will show the FMC monitor. Again, don't forget to set the resolution to 800x600 as per the previous section if you're giving the FMC a graphics card slot of its own.
To get the simulated FMC screen onto the actual, drag the simulated FMC across onto the FMC monitor and resize the simulated screen as desired. If you're using the Level-D 767, there is a small configuration file edit you can make in order to hide the FMC frame of the simulated FMC (i.e. so that just the screen part remains). Information on how to do this can be found at Nico Kaan's fantastic website (see links at end of review).
With the screen set up, we're ready to start testing the FMC!
Testing the FMC
Testing the Annunciators
To test the FMC, you'll need the latest version of SIOC from Opencockpits (don't worry, it's free!). See the download links at the end of the review.
Assuming you have installed SIOC correctly, and assuming you have the USB cable correctly plugged in, simply open up the SIOC.exe file. You should be presented with the following window:
As you can see, the only entry in the “Devices” window is the FMC, named “USBFMC V1.0”. It is important to note that on your PC, the “IDX = 4” and “Device = 224” entries will be different, for example, you may observe “Device = 128” or “Device = 57”. Furthermore, your system may show “IDX = *”. Don't worry about this.
On the initial SIOC window, click “SIOC Monitor”. The following window should be brought up:
From here, double click the “IDX = 4 – USBFMC v1.0” entry (again, the IDX entry will probably be a different number). This will bring up the module testing interface:
Through this interface, we can test the FMC's annunciators. Simply click the “ALL ON” button and all of the FMC's annunciators should illuminate. “ALL OFF” should perform the opposite function.
The observant among you will have noticed that despite there being only 5 outputs on the FMC, there are 10 available outputs to be triggered ON/OFF in the SIOC monitor software. This is indeed because there are 5 spare outputs on the FMC's interfacing circuit, which means, in principle, these outputs could be utilised for another purpose. Unfortunately, I don't know where these outputs are located (i.e. physical located on the FMC's circuit), but it shouldn't take the eager tinkerer too long to figure it out.
Testing the FMC Keys
NOTE: This section contains a fair bit of SIOC coding designed to test the function of the FMC keys. If you're just interested in my criticisms and praises of the FMC, feel free to skip this section.
To test the FMC's keys, we'll need to make a short SIOC script. Don't worry, this requires only a few lines of software code. Even I can do it!
Firstly, open up SIOC and click on the “Edit .INI” button. This should open up a text file in notepad; we'll only be adding one line of text to this file. Paste the following line into the top of the file (give it a line of its own):
MASTER = 13, 13, X, Y
Once you've pasted this in, replace “X” with any number you want; this will be the index number of the device. Lets say, as an example, you decide to give it the index number of “4”. Next, replace “Y” with the USB device number of your FMC (this is the number that appears in the main SIOC window; a few paragraphs up - our device number was “224”). Your .INI file should now look like this:
Next, create another blank notepad file and paste the following (and only this) line into it:
Var 0001, name FMC_Keys, Link IOCARD_KEYS, Device X
Save the file as “FMC_Test” to any desired location.
After you've done this, replace “X” with the index number of your FMC as defined in the sioc.ini file (in our example, device “4”).
Then, start SIOC and click the “Edit Script” button. The following window should appear:
Click “Files”, then “Import .TXT”. Then, navigate and select the notepad file we just made. Click “Open” when this file is selected, and if all has gone well, the following window should appear:
Click OK. You'll now (hopefully!) be presented with the following:
This window means you have imported a script, and it has been successfully accepted and compiled by SIOC. From here, click “Files”, “Save as”, and navigate to the SIOC folder (located in C:/Program Files (x86)/IOCARDS/SIOC). Save it as “FMC_Test”.
Now you can close the Config_SIOC window. You should be presented with the main SIOC window once again. From here, click “Edit .INI”. This time, scroll until you see an entry that says “CONFIG_FILE=X”, where “X” is some sort of file name (possibly SIOC.ssi by default). Replace “X” with “FMC_Test.ssi”. Save the file, and then click “Reload” on the main SIOC window.
That's everything! Now we can test the FMC's keys.
After making sure the FMC is plugged in, click on the “IOCP Console” button. The following window should pop up:
Click the “Log ON” button near the top right. Now, whenever you press a button on the FMC, you should get a notification in the large white box on the left hand side. For example, in the following diagram, I have pressed the “G” key, followed by the “Z” key twice, and then the number “8”.
When you have finished testing the keys, simply close all of the open SIOC windows.
All in all, the complete testing process requires the creation of a text file, importing this into SIOC, and then running this file within SIOC.
As you have probably observed, this is quite a long winded process. However, testing the annunciators is relatively simple, it's a simple point and click GUI interface. Therefore, it logically follows that testing the FMC keys should be equally as simple – perhaps Opencockpits could develop (or integrate into the SIOC Monitor) some sort of facility for testing the FMC's inputs? I know from first-hand experience other Opencockpits products (for example, the 767 COM module) do not have this issue and can all be tested simply from within the SIOC Monitor interface.
Using the FMC with FS Aircraft
There is a small amount of configuration required to use the FMC with certain add-on aircraft for FS2004/FSX.
If you're wondering why the FMC doesn't simply work straight away with FS aircraft after being plugged in via USB, it's because the FMC is an immensely complicated piece of kit in terms of interfacing. Any plug and play USB radio, yoke, switch panel etc., have no problems interfacing via USB straight away, since these functions are all present in default aircraft. All these functions can be assigned through the default FSX menus and there's also plenty of FSUIPC controls available for these which pretty much ensures universal compatibility.
Conversely, the FMC is something not present in any default aircraft. As such, there are no inherent FSX accommodations for such a device as they are produced by add-on aircraft developers. To interface to these FMCs, SIOC needs something to talk to within the add-on aircraft or else nothing will happen. Thankfully, several add-on developers (such as Level-D Simulations) have included a Software Development Kit (SDK) which makes this task easy.
The point I'm making is, whichever FMC you choose to buy, interfacing isn't as straightforward as a USB switch panel or radio, even if the FMC is advertised as “plug and play”. Luckily, the Opencockpits FMC is one of the most flexible and easiest to interface to.
For the time being, the tutorial here is for the Level-D 767 only, however the FMC should work fine with Project Magenta and other cockpit building software products without any problems. It may be possible to use the PMDG 747/777 with the FMC, however, I have not been able to test this. Please note, if you are purchasing the 737 FMC, this IS compatible with the PMDG 737 with no known problems.
The Level-D Simulations 767
Using the FMC with the Level-D Simulations 767 (LDS 767) is actually very simple. In fact, using any Opencockpits product with the LDS 767 is simple.
This is thanks to a program called “Lekseecon”, developed by 767 cockpit builder Nico Kaan from the Netherlands. Lekseecon acts as a bridge between SIOC and the SDK of the LDS 767. What's more, every download of Lekseecon comes with multiple example scripts which only need to be slightly modified to work with your particular cockpit setup.
“But I am sick and tired of making all these scripts!”, a common cry of despair from cockpit builders. No problem! Lekseecon includes an executable file which automatically configures all your Opencockpits products to work seamlessly with the LDS 767. Lekseecon can be obtained for free at Nico's website. A link is provided at the bottom of the review.
Nico's website also contains loads of valuable tips and other information for SIOC, should you ever wish to get your hands dirty in the realm of SIOC scripting.
As a side note, all photographs and screenshots in this review have been taken using the LDS 767, since my home cockpit is based around a Boeing 767.
If you do encounter any problems, Nico has a support section on the MyCockpit.org website. He's always more than helpful regarding any Lekseecon problems.
Now we've set up the FMC to work with our desired aircraft, it's time to ask the important questions. How does the FMC perform? Is the Opencockpits FMC the cockpit builders dream, or are you better off sticking with the laborious point-and-click FMC programming method? What follows is a detailed run-down of each the components of the FMC. Rest assured, no stone has been left unturned!
The FMC Keys
As you have (hopefully!) worked out by now, the 747/767 FMC plays host to 69 keys. As these keys are accessed with considerable frequency throughout the flight, it is essential they are durable and do not wear down.
Thankfully, the keys of Opencockpits' FMC are one of its greatest strengths. The first thing to note is every single key is engraved. The vast majority of people reading this review will have some sort of flight simulator hardware. You may notice on other hardware, some, or perhaps all of the labels detailing the function of a switch or lever have been made simply by printing ink over a plastic surface. The keys on the Opencockpits FMC have been properly engraved, so when you press each key you can actually feel the indentation of each letter.
Secondly, the keys do not wear or scratch easily. That's not to say they will survive being thrown at a brick wall, but I can confirm after somewhat intensive use of the FMC they stand up to regular use with no problems. The only exception to this occurred upon receipt of my FMC, for some reason, the “9” key had worked its way out of place (probably a quirk during the shipping process). A very small application of Superglue had the key back in place in no time.
The keys complement the backlighting very well. The light is evenly distributed across the surface of each key and there is not much “bleed through” of light around the edges of the keys, there seems to be a small amount of bleed around the edges of some of the LSKs when viewed at a certain angle.
The FMC Screen
The screen itself is really quite special. This is perhaps one of the highest quality screens I have ever had the pleasure of working with, for several reasons.
Firstly, it's crystal clear and renders colours very sharply and the classic green FMC text looks really quite handsome at night. It's also very handy to use as a second monitor when you're not flying in flight simulator. Nothing beats the strange satisfaction of watching films through an FMC screen!
Secondly, the screen features a wonderful interactive menu interface that can adjust everything from brightness to screen position. Whilst screen controls are, naturally, expected with any sort of monitor, the interactive menu on the FMC screen is very pleasing to use. Interestingly, there is even a setting for “volume”. Perhaps the monitor initially featured some sort of sound system, before it was removed prior to use? Who
When my FMC first arrived, and after I had set the screen up, I noticed the FMC's screen was offset to the left (i.e. the right half of the screen was inoperative). The problem was near instantaneously fixed with a swift adjustment of the screen position settings from within the interactive menu. In all probability, you will probably have to do some small positional adjustments using the menu to get the screen exactly how you want it.
All of the buttons for the screen's menu (as well as the power source button) are located on the back of the FMC unit. This hides them nicely out of view, but also makes any screen adjustments very easy. I was half expecting to have to take the back off the FMC unit to fiddle around with the screen.
Another very important thing to mention here is FMC-sized screens are notoriously difficult to get hold of (for a reasonable price, that is). Somewhere along the line, there must have been an argument between aircraft manufacturers and monitor designers (the topic of which I couldn't even begin to guess), since almost all monitors on the market are at a mismatch with aircraft display specifications. In fact, many home-built FMCs designed by members of the cockpit building community feature slightly oversized screens which have been overlaid with a 5” FMC screen cut-out in order to obtain the proper size. Thankfully, Opencockpits' FMC is the correct size natively (I wonder where they got these from?).
The screen is also very nicely embedded into the unit. There's nothing sticking out the sides and, more importantly, you cannot see the edges of the LCD frame when viewing the FMC from above.
Viewing angle wise, the FMC screen is perfectly legible even at extreme angles of incidence (although why one would want to be looking at the FMC screen from such mysterious angles is quite puzzling).
A final point worthy of mention. The FMC screen lies below what appears to be a protective transparent layer, which is embedded into the FMC frame. What is quite impressive is the fact this layer appears (I do not want to test this theory!) to be made from real glass, which, if so, is a beautiful finishing touch.
The FMC's annunciators work perfectly fine - nothing really to talk about here!
There is a very small uneven amount of light distribution on each annunciator, the middle of each is slightly brighter than the upper and lower ends of each annunciator. This is probably because the LED is situated behind the centre of each annunciator. A possible solution could be to use more than one LED per annunciator.
Another thing worth mentioning is depending on the angle from which the FMC is viewed, it can look like an annunciator is illuminated when, in fact, it is the annunciator above which has been turned on. For example, when the “DSPY” annunciator is illuminated, if looking from low down at the bottom end of the FMC keyboard, it can look like the “FAIL” annunciator is illuminated. This could perhaps be solved by putting a blanking plate in between the “DSPY” and “FAIL” annunciators. This particular problem does not apply to the “EXEC” annunciator.
However, in all practicalities, the annunciators look great. This is especially so when all the annunciators are turned on alongside the backlighting at night - it makes for quite the light display!
Faceplate and Paint Quality
The workmanship on the FMC's faceplate is faultless. The panel is clearly defined and there are no messy edges on what is clearly quite a complex object to cut. The function keys are also elevated quite nicely above the rest of the FMC's keyboard as per the real unit. In fact, the faceplate is a flawless replica of the real thing - extremely impressive!
One of the focal points of every replica Boeing product is the infamous paint colour. Opencockpits have done a fine job replicating the characteristic "Boeing Brown" in both colour and texture (anyone building their own cockpit will know how difficult it is to source “proper” paint). The paint layer itself seems to be very durable and resistant to wear and tear (much like the FMC's keys), although that is no excuse to throw your FMC around the place!
The “BRT” label above the brightness control knob is also perfectly engraved. All in all, a fantastic job here.
Optional FMC Stand
Although I don't have one to review, Opencockpits do sell a special FMC stand which is worthy of mention.
The idea is many potential customers for the FMC unit will not have fully-functioning home cockpits, or, in other words, won't be able to install the FMC in its “proper” place. Thus, rather than having an FMC lying around flat on your desk, Opencockpits have produced a stand which allows you to orientate the FMC in a more desk-friendly position with ease.
The FMC stand will set you back 75 Euros (around £63), which is exclusive of postage (which will be the case if you order one alongside your FMC). This may seem a little steep, however it is very well designed, complete with non-slip rubber feet, a special perforated base to “hide” the USB and VGA cables, and even coloured matched DZUS fasteners.
I have little reluctance to say I am, quite literally, blown away by Opencockpits' FMC.
The feel and look of the unit is outstanding and has, in my opinion, been very generously priced, especially in comparison to some other (inferior) units bouncing around the market. The backlighting, engraving, FMC screen and tactile keys are absolutely perfect.
All in all, a work of art.
Nico Kaan's website (home of Lekseecon and all SIOC information): http://www.lekseecon.nl/
Opencockpits' Shop Page: http://www.opencockpits.com/catalog/#
• Exceptional build quality
• Beautiful FMC screen
• Fantastic backlighting
• Excellent value for money
• Very durable
• Impressive engraving
• Loose VGA connector
• Annunciator light bleeds though at certain viewing angles
|A Mutley’s Hangar score of 9/10, "Outstanding" and a Mutley's Hangar Gold Award.|