Airbus X Extended

There are few products which have produced a hype comparable to Airbus X Extended by Aerosoft. During the last months, a constant flow of announcements and delays were announced on their forum but nothing really happened for a long time, which caused sarcastic comments by many in the scene. However, shortly before Xmas, Aerosoft surprised everyone by releasing the product. In a frenzy not unlike those known to happen during releases of the latest mobile devices or Harry Potter books, Aerosofts online shop was totally overwhelmed during the first several days while all those who had previously sulked in private went for bust and bought in masses! Nevertheless I was able to obtain my software download without any hassle. Would Aerosoft be able to satisfy the high expectations they had been rising now? I was about to find out!

 

With flight simulation enthusiasts, the Airbus A320 has for a long time been a sore spot. The complexity of the airplane and the reluctance of Airbus to support a “high fidelity” representation has left Airbus Fans with several products leaving many unsatisfied. In the past several years, it was primarily Eric Marciano’s Airbusses distributed by Wilco which gave those without access to Airbus Full Flight Simulators a glimpse of what it is to fly these highly automated planes. Would Aerosoft now be able to top this product? They certainly did not two years ago, when the first edition of Airbus X turned out to be a beginner’s product at best, with phantastic visuals and sound but a cockpit which made Airbus pilots cringe. In an effort to keep things “easy” for those unwilling to read substantial manuals, the product manager Mathijs Kok went his own way and eliminated most of the automated systems which actually make Airbus flying easier than your average 737 or DC9, thereby archiving the exact opposite effect of what the target had been. Serious simmers therefore either never got the addon in the first place or discarded it after the first flight, not least because its limited navdatabase made it unsuitable for online flying. Thankfully, all these things have changed now.

 

As a consequence, Aerosoft announced the Airbus X Extended, which, they claim, should now satisfy also those wishing for a „real“ Airbus and not just a pretty visual and sound model. Most of the code was programmed once again, which meant that Airbus X Extended is in many regards a totally new product rather than just an upgrade. Features announced in the previews and forums had the scene in a frenzy of expectation. Finally, the new Airbus was said to feature a fully functional FMCG including complete managed modes in lateral and vertical axis. Support software such as the load editor and Airbus Connect X were equally revised and upgraded quite substantially. The result is a product which basically consists of the original Airbus X graphics and sound package with a newly developed cockpit.

 

The product features two types out of the A320 family: The A320 itself and its larger and longer brother, the A321. Both aircraft include IAE as well as CFM engine variants. Additionally there are “sharklet” versions of each airplane modelled.

 

Installation and first tests.

 

Downloading the product requires almost 900 mb of data, which thankfully were transferred to my hard drive with quite a good rate. The installation itself went quite expeditiously. I did notice that Aerosoft has not included its controversial Launcher. Inside the program group created by the installation folders with quite elaborate documentation as well as the load manager and Airbus X Connect icons can be found. The documentation is split into several sections. First of all, a general introduction to the product is included in several languages as well as procedures and technical sections. The most important document however is a “Step by Step” introduction to the product, which is designed to give the user a quick success in getting their Airbus flying. We shall look into that documentation and the included step by step flight later in more detail. The only shortcoming in the documentation side is that there are no performance data, something however which is somewhat compensated by the load editor. Navigation data may be updated either through Aerosofts own Navdata Pro or through Navigraph.

Graphics and Sound: Full marks!

 

If there was something which the initial Airbus X excelled in, it was in graphics and sound. As most of those elements have been retained from the original, the result is equally good. A variety of paints are included as well as three models for the A320 and A321. Animations are quite remarkable and take things a lot further than simply animating flight controls and main doors. Features include windmilling engines on the ground with the airplane parked, some interesting light effects and others. The cockpit animations are equally elaborate with openable windows as well as the folding table and magnetic compass, which can be made to appear. There are many more, it is well worth to read through the manual to discover them all.

 

Sound was where the original version excelled, with recordings done in simulators as well as the real airplane, this according to Mathijs Kok. Nothing has changed there, nor was there need to change anything. Additionally,  if so selected in the configuration menu, the simmer now gets to listen to cockpit sounds made by the virtual crew, who like normal humans will sneeze or sounds when they move. All those sounds can be controlled by a configuration menu.

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Tools and utilities.

 

Airbus Extended X includes a very nicely done configuration tool implemented into the MCDU2. It is on the 2nd MCDU on the first officers’ side where most functions can be activated or configured. This makes the MCDU2 the actual control panel for the simulator. First of all, it controls the loading or saving of specific panel states, which is very useful for repetitive flights or saved situations. It is certainly helpful with the declared goal by Mathijs Kok to keep the airplane manageable for beginners as well, but equally useful for experts. Default states include “Cold and dark” as well as “Ready to Taxi”, “Ready for Departure” and several more. By loading a state, the airplane will be totally configured for the phase of the flight, without however flight controls and MCDU1. This makes sense, however, it would be desirable to have the option to include the FMGS as well as the MCDU1 settings for user defined situations, so a real reset i.e. for landing training could be achieved. As it stands, the system is however very useful especially for test flights like ours here, where it was not necessary to constantly restart with cold and dark but to be able to set the plane to a take off ready state, feed the MCDU1 and simply have the next go.

 

Another page will configure doors, another Ground Services such as external power. If external power is selected via a mobile GPU, the same appears next to the plane in the visual model, if power from the terminal is connected, it won’t.

 

The options page allows various and elaborate settings to configure the simulator to your liking. This is where you select the sounds you want to hear, cabin crew, cockpit crew, ATC or enhanced GPWS. ATC is not really helpful as it just adds non relevant chatter for atmosphere; the others however are nice and should be activated. The Views menu controls amongst other things a Virtual Cockpit View controller. As the aircraft has no 2D cockpit, this controller replaces it to an extent and allows fast transfer from view to view. It takes a bit of practice but becomes 2nd nature for anyone not equipped with a visual tracking device. 16 such views are pre-defined.

 

The checklist system is one of the more interesting features of the A320 Extended. It activates a virtual co-pilot who will read and execute checklists on demand. Together with the panel states, this allows a very expeditious work to get the airplane flight ready. It is quite realistic in so far that it adds what is there in the real airplane, a working pilot not flying or first officer. In some instances however, the system becomes almost too autonomous and will do things the pilot flying should be doing or at least control. The advantages outweigh this shortcoming by far however. It is advisable to run one’s own quick cockpit check after each checklist to avoid nasty surprises if the nice lady co-pilot has set something you don’t expect. Generally the sytem is fun and does a lot for the atmosphere and general impression this sim leaves.

 

Another feature included in the MCDU2 is a flight data recorder, programmed by Thomas Molitor of FS Flightkeeper fame. By activating it, many parameters of the flight are recorded for later review. The review can be done by using a tool included in the program group. It is a downscaled version of FS Flight Keeper and includes features such as to export the flight track to Google Earth.

 

A very nice feature is the possibility to pause the flight before the top of descent or even before the next waypoint. This allows the pilot flying to take a rest or to leave the sim for a short while and not miss the vital phases of the flight. Also this feature is controlled via MCDU2.

 

Introductory flight according checklist.

 

Following the Step by Step document I did what everyone new to the product should do and executed the flight from Frankfurt to Vienna described in it. I can fully recommend this as it is an excellent opportunity to familiarize yourself with this A320 version. It is particularly recommendable for people who know the A320 as they will miss out on a lot of features of the simulator itself if they simply use their knowledge to fly the airplane. And there are many such features. Some of them are within Aerosofts’ philosophy to keep beginners in the game as well as experts. This is achieved through the automated checklist and co-pilot functions, which will, if activated, take a lot of workload off the flying pilot. These automatisms are quite nice but require a certain discipline to keep to the sequences in order not to confuse them. Most checklists and sequences can however be reset by using the panel state feature, should something go seriously astray.

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According to the manual, I configured the airplane via MCDU2 to “Cold and Dark”. As mentioned before, the MCDU 2 is primarily there to manage the simulation. This is where you find the panel states, ground services, doors and this is where you start and reset checklist. It is also where you de-activate these features if you want to do your flights unassisted. For this flight, I turned them all on in order to test them. A small flag appears in the upper part of the window prompting me to start the Cockpit Preparation Checklist. Once the key “1” has been pressed as prompted, the virtual co-pilot will configure the airplane in a way that all I have to do is to program the MCDU 1, that is to initialize it and to enter the flight plan. The programming of the MCDU 1 is totally normal for people who know the plane. There are a few helpful functions included which are aimed to help the pilot flying to get done with the configuration faster. V-Speeds will be set automatically but can be overwritten manually, just to give an example. The important difference to the prior version of this MCDU is that most features are now available. Equally important is the fact that there is now a complete navdata base including SID/STAR’s as well as Airways and so on. This was one of the major points of dissatisfaction in the prior version which has been totally eliminated.

 

I followed the further instructions but got blocked at some stage as AES Lite included with the product did not want to start in my version. I therefore did push back and engine start manually. In order to resynchronize the checklist, I loaded the panel state “Ready to Taxi” and everything worked again as advertised. This is really a useful thing to have. Engine start and maneuvering on the ground is easy and normal. The pre departure checks as well, but one should have a close look at the important settings before taking to the skies following it as it did set some peculiar values into the autopilot control panel. I quickly corrected this and set speed and heading to managed before setting out for my first flight.

 

Take off is conventional, the engines however may come up at their individual paces. It is advisable not simply to slam the throttles forward Concorde style, but to first stand them up to about 50% N1, then wait until both engines are synchronous and then set TOGA or FLEX as desired. As there are no noise concerns and free fuel included in this simulation, I selected TOGA for my first take off. The aircraft accelerates normally but requires a hearty pull on the side stick (or whatever flight controls you have, but remember, Airbus are stick driven and if you usually have a yoke, this is the time to unearth your joystick!) . Once airborne, fly by wire works adequately. It will hold a given pitch and bank as the real thing does, if found the roll rates a tad slow.

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After reaching cruising altitude, another check is done and the cabin crew announces the start of service. Obviously this does not include you as simulation does not go that far yet, but during cruise you have the chance to relax and to have a good look around in the flight deck.

 

Descent and approach are normal again, a lot is done by the PNF. A fully coupled ILS approach with CAT III autoland is working perfectly.  Flying by hand however, the rather inert flight controls may prove a bit disturbing. After leaving the runway the after landing check is read and after reaching the parking position, the shut down is done.

 

This first test flight left a very good impression with me. Several things that have been noticed by users elsewhere were not found by myself, the vertical path indication on the ND is missing however. After my first flight I did notice that several textures were no longer shown in outside view, something I had noticed before with other high memory addons. A fix proposed by PMDG corrects this.

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Second Test, free flight.

 

In order to confirm the findings oft he first flight, I did a second flight from Salzburg to Zürich. This time without the step by step manual but only based on my own experiences but with the use of the automated checklists. In order to reset the airplane properly, I restarted the flight with a different airplane. After loading the plane it is started up with engines running in what I call a “after work mode” where you simply want to sit in and fly. I programmed the MCDU, loaded the take off status and was ready to go. The route has however to be known beforehand, as import of external routes is not possible. So I checked a valid route and used a TRAUN departure, direct to MANAL then via Airway L856 to NEGRA and a subsequent arrival. Once you get used to it, it is a fast thing to do and actually realistic, as the real life set won’t allow imports either. One can save a once generated route as a company route which is then available for other flights. Take off was on runway 15 in Salzburg. The flight director commanded the turn nicely and it was without a problem to fly it by hand. After reaching the climb portion I started the automatic pilot and let the aircraft fly.

 

An warning on the center screen got my attention: Automatic Fuel Transfer in orange. A glance to the overhead panel shows a lighted button. After pressing it and therefore rendering the fuel transfer to manual, the warning disappeared. A further check of the fuel page showed no deficiencies. I did not notice any checklists appearing on the ECAM however, which actually should have happened. During this portion of the flight, I executed a few maneuvers to test the FBW and its envelope protections. They do work fine, as well the 30° and 66° bank tests pass. A check of the Alpha Floor protection also produced the desired results. Regaining the route is easy and worked fine.

 

We did get a TCAS resolution advisory as a crossing traffic came close to us and followed it. Worked fine too.

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Some problems appeared during approach. I entered a holding at the waypoint AMIKI using the normal procedure via lateral revision. Somehow the holding got entered, but only after the subsequent waypoint, creating a rather erratic flight path. I corrected it by hand. The holding itself worked fine, equally the exit from the hold. During the approach itself, the navigation path was not really able to do the complex way onto the final. I took the chance and flew the whole ILS manually. This worked fine and was easy to fly and land. That is if you have had some landings on the real aircraft or a full flight sim.

 

A third test flight ended with a crash to desktop, this in a go around after an eventless flight from Zürich to Altenrhein airport. The crash happened after I wanted to inspect the airplane from the outside. It is pretty obvious that this addon has a lot of memory consumption and therefore should be used with care and to implement fixes like the HighMemFix (google it). I did so and since then CTD’s have reduced to a minimum. I hear from people who run “naked” flight sims that they never experienced a CTD so far and I believe it, yet on sims which are full with addons, AI traffic and other visual objects, it appears that the limit is sometimes reached. This can be a fault of this addon, it does not have to be however. Loaded flight sims are a genuine problem and many of us should probably ask themselves if they really need all the junk which still infests the harddrive. Particularly sceneries and running products are a problem here, not so much airplane addons which are quiet when not in use. I have known this problem happen with the PMDG MD11 as well as the Concorde by FS Labs, the latter keeps failing on my current machine as well (I7,Win7-64 and 8GB RAM). The fix proposed by PMDG (Add the line highmemfix=1 into the graphics section of your fsx.cfg) fixes the MD11 problem and greatly reduces CTD’s with Airbus X.

 

In the mean time I have flown a lot with Airbus X Extended and implemented the hotfix proposed on the forum. Up to now most flights have ended without problems. I produced a CTD by running FSX for 3 days unattended with the plane on the ground with running systems, but otherwise it has behaved nicely. This confirms the memory issue. The more you will fly this Airbus, the more you get acquainted with it.

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Incidently, shortly after the test I was invited to test two fixed based sims for the A320 and found I had just had the sufficient “training” to sit in and work them as if it was my day job. Obviously, all the years on the Wilco Bus helped too but it certainly was not wrong to have flown about 50 hours on the Aerosoft Bus (my last Wilco flight was probably about 2 years back) to be able to jump right in and be familiar with the systems and, primarily, the FMC.

 

Small issues for the service pack.

 

There are a few things, which don’t work as good as I would like them. The green dot for best glide speed is missing on the PFD-Speed indicator, as well as the vertical guidance in the ND. These are small things which are not really a problem but should be corrected. The holding function should be debugged as well as the FBW finetuned a bit. The A320 is a lot livelier than this version. Primary concern is memory management. This should definitely be addressed and improved.  One other problem I found was a transit turn around, which again ended in a CTD. It should be possible to transit turn the airplane (land at an airport, refuel and take off again without resetting the simulation) but so far it appears that the safer way is to restart.

 

But all in all, most addons which appear on the market today have such issues, the great majority far more severe ones than this one! Generally, I am quite happy with the release and positively surprised. The new edition of the Aerosoft Airbus is definitely a big leap in the right direction. When Airbus X came out 2 years ago, it was primarily a nice to watch and listen to airplane, but no airbus simulation of significance due to the massive lack of system depth and the “easier” automatisation which made it fly like a 1970ties jet rather than the automated plane it is. Today’s situation with the release of the Extended version is a totally different one. This is a real Airbus as it is known and documented, with a working FMGC, adequate fly by wire and mostly correct navigation. The problems which do persist are comparatively insignificant and it is definitely a product which can be used without too big issues as is. If I recall tests of other very high fidelity sims which were only usable after the service pack, I can only repeat that Aerosoft has managed to surprise me very positively here. This product will have a permanent residence on my hard drive for sure, unlike quite a few others.

 

My conclusion therefore will not surprise you. In my opinion, Airbus X Extended has now reached a status it should have had from the beginning. Sound and graphics were and are attractive. For simmers who know the “other” Airbusses by Wilco or Phoenix, this one now has reached a point in its development where it can seriously challenge them and exceeds them in quite a few points. The castration of systems are finally gone, the FMGC and navigation data are useable and work. The depth of the systems is pretty good. Therefore, I see Airbus X Extended now as a product which makes the spread between a high fidelity product and one which is manageable for Airbus or even Flight Simulator newbies with some success. There is always room for improvement, yet it is not the goal of a thus priced addon to compare with full flight simulators, even though Airbus X Extended as it stands can easily be used to complement or get a first glimpse for someone transferring to the real thing. I am quite confident that the small issues remaining will be addressed. They are however no reason not to buy the product at this stage. Even if certain forum experts are full of “praise” right now, there are no show stoppers at all, very unlike releases of “top class” products by the reality gurus themselves in recent years.

 

The current issue of this Airbus is much more adequate than the first edition. It appears that Aerosoft has listened to those who even then told them clearly what the issue was and acted on it and turned a toy into a flight simulation with the heart of a real Airbus. And if you take a glimpse on certain “hidden” features, one may really ask what still is to come.

 

Was it ok to release the product in the state it is before Xmas? I think so. I don’t think there would have been much more achieved by streamlining the product further in house but now with the pressure of the first release gone and the product in the hands of the public it will become easier for the developers to see trends and react to them. Again, compared with some addons of recent times the “problems” are tiny and mostly insignificant. Maybe Aerosoft could have lessened the pressure on themselves if they had not resorted to the kind of “marketing” via the forum it did choose. Cliff hangers may work for you or against you after all. In this particular case, an attitude of expectation was generated which was harder to satisfy than it would have been without the tabloid style announcements.

 

Airbus X Extended is for me a success of an Airbus Simulation, which is probably one of the best so far available. I can therefore give my endorsement to it wholeheartedly. Who ever wishes to wait for that “perfect” Airbus may well do so, but, as I have been saying for years, personally I rather will fly a 99% bus than wait for an elusive 120% simulation which may or may not appear. I am not sorry today to have spent considerable amount of time with the Wilco line of Airbusses and even less so spending time with Airbus X Extended. My experience has helped me both when flying “real” full flight sims as well as now testing Airbus Addons such as this one. And in the end, that is what flight simulation is all about.

 

So all I can say is, have fun with it!

 

Urs Wildermuth

 

Developer: Aerosoft
Publisher: Aerosoft
Website: http://www.aerosoft.de
Compatibility FS X ,  Prepare 3D
Download: 900 MB
Price 39.90 € / 42,75 $
Pro Very good graphics and sound.Excellent support via tools and documentationGood simulation oft Airbus systems and philosophy

Good general concept.

Saving and loading of panel states

 

Contra: Memory intensive, may lead to CTD’sFly By Wire a tad too inert and “lame”, but correct in it’s basics.