Usually I start my reviews with a little background about the product in question. But how do you try to hold people's interest when it comes to the worlds most iconic airliner? Concorde is so close to so many people's heart, how can what is basically a lump of metal with some engines in it gain such an emotional attachment from us humans? Simple. Just take a look at some of the stats:
For 3 decades she was the only supersonic passenger
airliner – London-New York in just under 3 hours. In some ways
she was a time
machine as you arrived before you took off!
· She could fly at twice the speed of sound
· She was the flagship for the British Airways fleet
· The signature droop nose and delta wing
· Just look at her, she's gorgeous!.
Concorde was a product of an Anglo-French
government treaty, where the manufacturing efforts of
Aerospatiale and the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) were
combined. She first flew in 1969 and entered service in 1976
visiting destinations such as New York, Washington, Bahrain and
Caracas. Her distinctive looks and the fantastic roar of those 4
Rolls Royce/SNECMA Olympus engines put her in a class of one.
Microsoft attempted to bring her to our desktops in FS2000, but she was removed from later versions. In the past there have been fantastic Concorde add-ons, both freeware and payware, for flight sim but there has never been one for FSX. Until now.
The team at Flight Sim Labs have created, what they say, 'is the easiest to fly and most complete Concorde aircraft simulation ever to be produced for a desktop flight simulator'. That's quite a statement from a company making their first add-on. But if we delve deeper into the inner workings of FSLabs we can see that the founder (Lefteris Kalamaras) led PMDG's development team for 8 years. They are also joined by Andrew Wilson who ran the SSTSim team that created the most accurate Concorde add-on for FS9. That's quite a team that should, in theory, be able to produce something spectacular. It's taken them 2 years to make, I hope it was worth it.
Concorde X is available to purchase via electronic delivery (non-refundable) from the Flight Sim Labs website for €49.95 (a €10 saving on the normal price at the time of writing). Initially I thought that the €59.95 price tag was incredibly high and might put off some simmers who wanted to try out this exciting new add-on. After spending many hours with Concorde over the last few months I can firmly say that this price is a bargain. Once downloaded installation is very easy, enter your registration key when prompted and let the installer do it's work.
The initial release version had a couple of problems: You needed to download a 3rd party INS system in order for Concorde X to work, and the incredibly comprehensive documentation lacked a tutorial. Although straight away we were promised that a tutorial would follow shortly. Whilst having to download a 3rd party application was more of an inconvenience, I would have expected it to have been included in the download. This was quickly rectified with SP1 which included the INS system and also had a fantastic tutorial to help you get to grips with Concorde X. Anyone now purchasing Concorde X will have the INS included with their purchase. FSLabs have recently released SP2 which includes a performance calculator and fixes a few other issues which were found after SP1 was released. Do not be put off by these service packs, Concorde X is not bug-ridden; the service packs improve it.
Plentiful is the word I would use to describe the included documentation. The flying manual is 290 pages and covers everything you could ever wish to know about how to operate Concorde.
The step-by-step tutorial, a flight from Heathrow to New York is 154 pages long and covers everything needed for a successful flight. The tutorial is broken down into lots of sub-sections, so should you need a quick refresher about a particular phase of flight you can find that part quickly in the tutorial.
You are also given PDF flight plans of the popular Concorde routes to print out and follow along during your flights should you wish.
Hold on there! Don't just go jumping into FSX and expect to be up and running in no time – well, not just yet. Position yourself at your chosen airport in the default Ultralight, then load Concorde via the aircraft menu. Once loaded, don't touch anything for a few seconds whilst she fully loads. Your first impression should be of the virtual cockpit; I'll save you the wait. It's stunning, easily one of the best to date for FSX. For those with a lower specification PC you can opt to use the 2D cockpit, which is also brilliant. I've found recently that developers seem to pay little or no attention to the 2D cockpit, but not here. Many of the sub-panels containing the systems are 2D panels (over 35 for them) which help with performance. These panels have been created from over 5,000 (five thousand!) photos taken inside Concorde. Each panel has independent background, flood and instrument lighting.
|A small selection of views|
Click image for full size view
Click image for full size view
Click image for full size view
Click image for full size view
How about the exterior? After all, few of us will have been
inside the cockpit of Concorde. We know her best from the
outside, if the add-on doesn't measure up we wont be able to
immerse ourselves as much during flight. Switching to spot view
and panning around the aircraft is a joy, the model is spot on
with hardly any jaggies and fantastic detailing. Check out the
wheels and wheel bays, they look ultra realistic. All the
surfaces are custom animated: elevons, rudders, gear, visor &
nose, reheats, reverser buckets etc..
The external model features very high resolution textures for a crispness and clarity at all levels of detail.
If it was there in the real world, it's there in Concorde X. The attention to detail and realism is stunning, no stone has been left unturned. The real aircraft was handled by a crew of 3, so to help ease your workload a virtual flight engineer (VFE) has been included to take care of some of the more demanding tasks such as fuel management, cabin pressurisation and engine rating management duties. This is a brilliant inclusion and allows you to focus on the flying. Should you wish to do everything yourself, you can elect to turn off the VFE.
This is what you've been waiting for; the chance to lower the nose, switch on the reheats and apply full throttle. But you've not even got the systems working and engines running yet. Fear not, open the FSLabs configuration tool via the drop down menu on the FSX menu bar and select the 'Ready to go' panel state. This is a fantastic inclusion and prevents you having to spend a long time preparing the aircraft for flight only to find at the last minute you've missed something. Although taking her from cold and dark to cruise is a fantastic feeling. Once the engines fire into life, let things settle down for a few seconds before going any further.
Pay close attention to your rotation speed, initially I suffered a few tail strikes on take-off. Concorde is a long aircraft and yanking back hard on the stick isn't a great idea – be smooth. Once you are clear of the runway adjust your pitch to maintain 250kts; keep a close eye on the speed as it builds rapidly, especially when the reheats are engaged
This is where I think the 'Easiest Concorde' statement falls down slightly. The autopilot is totally different to other aircraft you will have in your hangar. I didn't have any problems due to using other versions of Concorde in FS9, but a beginner may struggle at first. There are lots of hints and tips on the FSLabs forums, and a quick search on the internet will help also. Full mastery of the autopilot is needed to get the most out of Concorde X.
I found that the autopilot performed immaculately during flight and never gave me any surprises. However try to plan your routes in as straight a line as possible, sharps turns at Mach 2 are not possible!
A word of warning: you cannot slave the autopilot to the FS GPS. In fact, a GPS isn't included. You have to fly her as the real pilots would have done using the INS. Whilst you can program each co-ordinate into the unit, this is very time consuming. Fortunately someone has released a tool which will convert any FS flight plan into a Concorde X INS flight plan which you can pre-load. The INS can only hold 10 waypoints, so pay close attention to your flight plan card as you will need to load the next section into the INS when prompted. It sounds complex but isn't.
Whilst the majority of the flight will be done using the autopilot, hand flying Concorde is a lot of fun, especially during climb out and landing. The ground effect has been recreated superbly during landing, fly by the numbers and each landing will be nice and smooth. At first it was difficult to taxi around the airport; Concorde's nose wheel is set a long way back from the cockpit so you need to feel as though you are on the grass before making the turn.
If you've ever been within 15 miles of Concorde taking off or landing you'll know the sound instantly. There is no other like it. (I say 15miles because I used to live about that distance from Leeds Bradford Airport (EGNM) and I could here her land and take-off). This is where so many add-ons loose points because your ears do not tell you that you are flying the aircraft you are in. Not so here. The Concorde X sound set has been produced from the real Concorde (before retirement) and takes advantage of the FSX sound cone technology to give an totally believable experience. Over 100 individual sounds are used in the cockpit, which again, have been recorded from the real cockpit, as well as sounds from Concorde simulators.
This add on was never going to fail to impress. The development team is one of the best out there and no stone was left unturned in their quest for absolute realism. Apart from the use of the autopilot it is easily the easiest and most complex Concorde simulation to date. For an airliner as complex as Concorde, this is a huge achievement. I've loved every minute of reviewing Concorde X and thank FSLabs for allowing me to do so.
Captain Adrian Thomson described the thrill of Concorde perfectly:
"Men of vision designed this wonderful machine, men of passion built her, and, I hope that it will be said, men of skill and daring flew her"
FSLabs have captured this perfectly.
Without any shadow of doubt, this add-on is given a Mutley's Hangar verdict of 10/10 and I am pleased to be able to award this product the Mutley's Hangar Award for Excellence. Well done Flight Sim Labs!