One of the most eagerly awaited add-ons for FSX in 2011 was
without doubt PMDG’s rendition of the Boeing 737NGX, at least
among those of us that like to fly airliners with as close to full
system simulation as you can get. When it finally released in
early August focus quickly switched over to the developers at
FS2Crew to deliver a Virtual First Officer for those that want to
fly the NGX the way it should be, with two pilots in the cockpit
(and perhaps also for those that found managing the NGX on their
own a bit too much to handle.
When PMDG finally sorted out the Software Developer Kit, not to mention the End User License Agreement for it in March 2012 FS2Crew put their product on the market within a couple of days.
What’s in the package
Traditionally FS2Crew have put out two separate versions of their product, one controlled by voice and one by buttons. For the NGX they opted to bundle the two versions into one product, but for the same price as one of the versions of previous releases. Included in the package is also a copy of their Video Marshaller, but I will leave him unmentioned in the review as it’s really is a product of its own.
There is also a Captain’s Set available that includes all of the above, and a copy of the 737NG Audio Ground School with a slight discount compared to buying both products separately.
Installation, support and documentation
I found the download from the FS2Crew server swift and without issues. The file is a mere 260 mb in size, so it should be a fairly quick affair with a good internet connection.
The initial installation process is very simple and doesn’t, surprisingly enough, even include a typing in an impossibly long key code or serial number. Once this is done you will find a shortcut to the FS2Crew NGX Config Manager on your desktop. Start this and activate either the voice or button control version in accordance with your preferred method of using FS2Crew.
The Config Manager also contains a link to the online documentation (more on this later) and a couple of other links to useful resources. It will also check for updates every time you launch the program. Once this is done you will need to bind three buttons in FSX for different commands (not necessary if you already have another FS2Crew product installed) and then you’re pretty much set to go.
There is however one more daunting task to address if you’re using the voice control version and never have used the windows speech recognition system before, training it to understand your commands. This is a rather time consuming and boring task, but it’s a very essential thing to do if you want to enjoy having that First Officer by your side. Being of a fairly optimistic nature I however decided to not adhere to the instructions in the manual and dove right in, only to find that the speech engine couldn’t understand a thing I said. In hindsight, considering English isn’t my primary language, perhaps I should have anticipated the problem, but I have now learned my lesson. And after running the training module for windows speech recognition five or six times I’m now more or less on speaking terms with my First Officer.
While on the subject of windows speech recognition there’s one more thing a prospective customer should be aware of. If you’re running windows Vista or Windows 7 you will need an English version of windows in order to be able to get the speech recognition. If, like me, you have another language on your windows installation you will need Ultimate edition of windows vista/7 to be able to change your language settings over to English. Unlike some other developers that utilize the windows speech recognition solution this limitations is clearly stated on the product page.
Support is done through a dedicated forum at AVSIM, and from what I have seen in the forum issues are taken seriously and responses come within a fairly quick timeframe. Any serious issues that the developers can reproduce and find a solution to get implemented in the next update. During the course of this review there have been a fair number of updates, but most of the review is based on version 1.3 & 1.4 for the voice control version and version 1.5 for the button control version. During the time it took me to write it there’s been another update to solve one issue that I never ran across.
In the initial release the only source documentation was provided through a dedicated webpage that you can access from the Config manager. The main idea behind this, and in my mind a sound idea, was that an online documentation could be easily kept up to date without the need to redistribute the manuals if some major error was found. But the concept was met with some skepticism on the forum, so as of version 1.1 a PDF-print out of the online documentation comes with the installer.
The documentation covers everything you need to get the most out of FS2Crew, including all work-flows and checklists that are covered in the product. If you are a new user of FS2Crew I strongly recommend that you read through the whole documentation before you start, there’s plenty of things in there that can help you get over the most common hurdles.
On the support forum there’s also plenty of “Cheat-sheets” and user contributed document that present what needs to be done in a more compressed manner. I’ve been using a document created by a Julio Cesar that can be found here In addition to the flows and checklists it also contains information on when along the timeline you can expect different things to happen.
After what I believe has been the longest “installation and documentation” section I’ve written in a review, let’s continue to what it is the product actually does.
What it does
Those of you that have actually read everything I’ve already written should by now have figured out that what FS2Crew provides is a virtual first officer in the right seat of the cockpit (unfortunately it doesn’t add a 3D model in the Virtual cockpit). The first officer will assist you with every part of the normal procedures that the Pilot Not Flying (PNF) would do. It follows closely to the Standard Operating Procedures that come with the Boeing Documentation supplied by PMDG.
Your first officer can also help you with tuning radios, changing settings on the MCP or simply turn the APU On or Off. What it will not do is assist you in case of any emergency of or malfunction. For those that do wish to have that support there’s actually an extension in development, called “FS2Crew: Emergency NGX” that will add support for all non-normal checklists and flows that are covered in the Quick Reference Handbook. But let’s get back to the product in hand.
The product works through a set of 2D-panels as seen below. The majority of the panels are the same in both versions, but the main panel differs in appearance between the voice control and the button control version. Also, the Flight Attendant panel is only available in the button control version, if you click the corresponding button in the voice control version you will call for the flight attendant with a chime, and can ask her kindly to bring you some coffee.
Since most of what you experience with this product is audio based I was very pleased to find out that there’s no use of the somewhat awful “Text-to-Speech” engine that comes with windows. Instead the developers decided to actually record the sounds using real people. Included in the package are three separate sound sets, US, UK and Europe, all of them of very good quality.
That pretty much sums up what FS2Crew does for you, but let’s take this one step further.
Below you will find three videos that demonstrate most aspects of a flight using FS2Crew. During the 35 minutes of footage I hope I can give you a good insight in to how the product works. I have also avoided to cut out parts where FS2Crew fails to understand me, so you can get an idea on what commands can pose a problem, and how to work around them.
Enjoy the movies, and I’ll rejoin you further down on the page.
So, after having watched the movies above I hope you have a good picture of how the Voice Control version works, so let’s talk a bit about what differs between the Voice Control version and the Button Control version, apart from the obvious, before we wrap this review up.
As you can tell by the videos the Voice Control version it follows a pretty strict structure, and this is even more true with the Button Control version. Just as an example, if you’re running the Voice Control version and have told FS2Crew to expect to use external power at the gate upon arrival, but for one reason or another want to turn on the APU while you taxi into the gate you can simply ask your First Officer to turn it on, and once it’s producing power just tell him to connect it to the power bus.
This wouldn’t be possible in the Button Control version as your options will be limited to the flow for using external power at the gate. There’s also no way to ask your First Officer to do anything outside of what is included in the flows, such as manipulating the MCP or tuning the radios.
I’ve had a great time using FS2Crew, and the program has really added to the experience of flying the PMDG NGX. Instead of feeling stressed over everything that needs to be done enables me to focus my attention on flying the airplane rather than constantly flipping switches while trying to keep the plane under control.
The high quality sound sets that are included adds to the immersion up to the point where I actually reply to things that I really don’t need to reply to in order for the program to continue doing it’s thing. Judging by comments on the FS2Crew forum the only thing that other users seem to feel is lacking in the sound set is a female First Officer, but rumor has it that there will be one included in the FS2Crew: Emergency NGX release, and that it will be possible to use it in the standard version too.
While the initial release had a few major issues, such as the pushback sometimes restarted after you for some reason had to manually stop it, and adjustment of heading or course on the MCP at times got stuck in an infinite loop all major issues seem to have been resolved, and was so in a fairly short time frame.
• Ease of Use:
• Value for money:
Overall this gets a Mutley's Hangar score of 9.5/10
Review machine Spec: Intel Core i7 860 @ 2.8GGhz | 16Gb DDR III Ram @ 1600 mhz | GTX 560 TI OC 1GB Graphics |Windows 7 64bit Pro