Commercial Aircraft Review
Flight Factor/StepToSky Boeing 767-300ER
|Add-on:||Realistic presentation of the Commercial Boeing 767-300ER Series|
|Publisher | Developer:||X-Plane.Org or Aerosoft | Flight Factor/StepToSky|
|Description:||Accurate Reproduction of the Boeing 767-300ER Series|
|Software Source / Size:||Download / approximately 2.2GB (unzipped)|
|Reviewed by:||Rick Verhoog|
|Published:||February 4th 2015|
|Hardware specifications:||- Intel Core i7 3770K @ 3.5 GHz|
|- 16GB DDR3-1600 MHz RAM|
|- Gigabyte GeForce GTX 970 G1 Gaming|
|- Saitek Pro Flight X55 Rhino|
|Software specifications:||- Windows 10 Pro 64-bit|
|- X-Plane 10.36|
|- Real Terra Haze|
|- Skymaxx Pro Version 2|
|- A variety of freeware airports found from the x-plane.org forums|
The Flight Factor/StepToSky 767 is a product that many, many people in the X-Plane community have been looking forward to. The anticipation, partially awakened by FF’s previous work and partially by the extremely large list of features, has risen to what is arguably the highest it’s ever been for an X-Plane product release. There’s really no point in asking whether or not the 767-300ER is worth that hype, but perhaps it’s worth it asking just how well all of those features are implemented and how they stack up to the previous efforts made by FF.
I can tell you right now that this will be a very, very lengthy review. A rather large part of that is simply the systems portion, so buckle up!
Some real-world info about the 767-300ER seems appropriate, as this is a study-level simulation. From Wikipedia:
The 767-300ER, the extended-range version of the 767-300, entered service with American Airlines in 1988. The type’s increased range was made possible by greater fuel tankage and a higher MTOW of 407,000 lb (185,000 kg). Design improvements allowed the available MTOW to increase to 412,000 lb (187,000 kg) by 1993. Power is provided by Pratt & Whitney PW4000, General Electric CF6, or Rolls-Royce RB211 engines. Typical routes for the type include Los Angeles to Frankfurt. The combination of increased capacity and range offered by the 767-300ER has been particularly attractive to both new and existing 767 operators. It is the most successful version of the aircraft, with more orders placed than all other variants combined. As of November 2015, 767-300ER deliveries stand at 583 with no unfilled orders. There were 467 examples in service as of July 2015. The type’s main competitor is the Airbus A330-200.
With this being the most successful version of an already popular aircraft, there is a lot of pressure on FF to get things right. Although I can already say that Flight Factor has done an amazing job, that much should be clear of such a popular dev team. Let’s dive right in and take a look at this incredible aircraft!
Installation and Documentation
After downloading the 767 from your preferred flightsim reseller, you’ll find yourself with a zip file that contains the aircraft. In case you decide to buy a livery package, just install those liveries by unzipping them and copy-pasting them into the Liveries folder, located inside the main folder for the 767.
Installation is a breeze as usual, with the only needed action being copying and pasting the aircraft into a folder of your choice inside the Aircraft folder. After starting X-Plane, the airplane will load all the systems etc. before X-Plane starts. Don’t worry, this is normal and has to happen every time you load the aircraft. It should only take a few seconds.
Documentation wise, this aircraft is obviously well-equipped. Containing a slightly adapted version the official Boeing FCOM, including both volumes and therefore being just over 1000 pages, this is a good indication of the systems depth and shows that the Boeing licensed-seal actually means something. There’s a manual and instruction on how to use the Remote CDU, a feature that I personally do not use due to it being most optimized for iPad Retina displays. Also, I just pop it out as 2D panel and then use keyboard typing.
The flight dynamics of this Boeing 767-300ER are up to the same high standard as you may expect. There are no weird movements, strange behavioral patterns or otherwise questionable events. Although I am not a real-life pilot, I have a decent understanding of how things should roughly feel and I can still assess whether or not things seem realistic and if discrepancies occur. I can confidently say that all is well in this department. Something that can happen, but isn’t the product’s fault, is that the wing flex can get very extreme. However, during my tests this only happened if you pushed the 767 beyond what it should realistically be able to take, or during extreme winds during which aircraft wouldn’t even be allowed to fly. This wingflex behavior occurs in more aircraft than just FF’s 767, so no point deduction there.
Handling on the ground is also, well, normal. There’s not much that could be off here, except for maybe an excessive turn rate. Do note that if you turn sharply, it may be hard to actually stop your turn. The aircraft tends to slide on quite a bit in that situation. Easy ways to counter this are to, of course, not turn as sharply, or to not turn for long, as the aircraft may slip on by itself. This occurs even if you counter steer, so be wary of that.
After taxiing to a runway, I usually line myself up and stand still for a second to do a final takeoff check. Setting power to about 50% to let the engines spool, I keep the brakes on. They’re easily able to handle this amount of power and the aircraft stays firmly put. At idle and with brakes off however, the aircraft tends to move a little anyway.
Setting takeoff thrust and engaging TOGA mode, and then releasing the brakes, causes the aircraft to start moving forward rapidly. It’s easy to keep this aircraft on the centerline, but the slight crosswind that’s present during one of my test flights pushes me a little off course, which is easily corrected as the aircraft smoothly flies into the wind. The Flight Director guides me down runway heading, compensating for the wind.
Engaging the autopilot makes the aircraft adjust smoothly to follow the flight director more precisely. No weird movements here either. The turn that comes up is perfectly followed by the autopilot. When I encounter some heavy precipitation/storms later on, I take the autopilot off LNAV mode and set a heading to evade the storms. The aircraft turns to the side smoothly, following the direction in which I rotate the heading knob. Once the storm is evaded, I turn back towards the route and when close to intercepting it, re-engage LNAV mode. The aircraft turns into the magenta route line smoothly.
The climb goes well and the aircraft doesn’t do anything weird with regards to the airspeed or vertical speed. Leveling out at my selected Flight Level, the thrust decreases and I enter my cruise phase.
About 5 nautical miles before the TOD, I start my descent manually. After a few moments, I start to pitch down and my altitude starts to decrease. It’s noticeable that this aircraft isn’t as slippery as the 777, with the “Drag required” FMC message rarely appearing. When it does appear, only a little spoiler action is required to regulate the airspeed.
Starting the approach, I check the important items again and once I get to the Initial Approach Fix for my STAR, I drop the flaps. The speed decreases and I monitor the systems and movements. Everything is smooth in terms of flight and the more I drop the flaps, the more the aircraft works to keep the proper speed up. On my final approach leg, I activate the localizer capture and once that happens, I arm the approach. Crossing the glideslope, the APP mode takes over and smoothly rotates me down onto the glideslope. The speed stays the same as the aircraft glides down and the autoland system guides me onto the runway. The entire flight was smooth, as it should be, and contained no strange surprises or AP disconnects. Deploying idle reverse once the aircraft has settled, the aircraft slows down smoothly and I exit the runway.
I’ve been positive about flight deck modeling before, crowning the JARDesign A330-200 as the best flight deck I have seen for X-Plane to date. The Flight Factor/StepToSky 767-300ER now shares that title, with some incredibly detailed and beautiful modeling. The materials, reflections and relief texturing are all superb.
While the 757 was already beautiful, it didn’t feel truly authentic and had some strange, overbearing reflections that had the ability to seriously interfere with the readability of the displays. The 767 is not like that, offering far more realistic reflections that can even be adjusted or turned off completely. Being inside the flight deck is an experience by itself when you take the time to inspect and appreciate the amount of love that went into making this happen. Something I noticed at one point which I have to mention, is the fact that the displays, still CRT’s, are actually slightly curved. This was the case with the old CRT monitors too and while it wasn’t present on the FF 757, the 767 has it. I’m not sure whether it’s a visual trick or actually modeled that way, but it looks amazing regardless.
The attention to detail is visible in more obvious areas too, for instance the MCP panel. The VOR/DME displays and switches present on the left and right sides are both different. One is black with white text, the other is a lighter color with purple-pinkish text. I asked Roman from Flight Factor about this and he stated that they decided to do this for authenticity. According to him, it happens when parts are replaced by a newer versions, meaning they aimed for something a little different; which is the case here.
As for wear and usage marks, those are also present on the 767. The flight deck does not look lived in, but you can definitely see a healthy amount of wear marks and worn paint around the flight deck. This is something that the 757 lacked too. It kind of curbed the realism sense, because an aircraft of that age is bound to show it.
Moving around the flight deck, it becomes clear that every part of the flight deck has been cared for. Some of the switches on the back panel, where the flight engineer would traditionally sit, are operational as well! All the levers, knobs and buttons are well-modeled, look realistic when lit up and move/animate properly.
At night, the flight deck is impressive in an entirely different way. The subtle glow of the lighting along with the backlit knobs really immerses you. There is no layering of colors, so the glow of lights on panels to darkness as the reach of the lights fades away is as smooth as it should be. All the knobs that control lighting are functional and seem to control the correct lights.
Display brightness can be adjusted too, allowing for a more mellow and dark look for the entire flight deck at night, if that’s your thing. Personally, I find a medium setting for most light knobs to be the nicest to look at. The flight deck has soft lighting all around, so you can still see all the knobs, displays and more, but isn’t illuminated to a point where it feels like it’s daytime in the flight deck. By the way, the displays do in fact reflect on the underside of the MCP panel. They’re not static images; changing the weather radar view for instance does in fact alter the reflections.
No matter what lighting or time of day, everything remains readable (if you have enough light, of course). Text all throughout the cockpit is crisp and beautifully placed. Zooming in will of course start to show the end of the sharpness, but from a normal eyepoint and normal zoom usage, everything is clear and detailed. This goes for both physical text, for instance to indicate what knob does what, as well as text visible on displays like the PFD, ND and EICAS.
The cabin has also been given proper attention. Although no passengers are modeled, the seats, labels, doors and other detailed areas of the aircraft have all received attention. The wing views are beautiful, with the window frame around your outside view. Closed blinds of course do obstruct your view and while you can’t move the blinds manually, the 767 does include a feature that moves them automatically. More about that in the Systems part, though.
The more you look, the more you find. Extremely detailed landing gears with great animations, flaps and slats, spoilers and way more. It’s all there, animated properly and looking great. Coming in for a landing with flaps extended is always a treat in the 767-300ER. Getting up close, all linkages, struts and other construction parts have been included. Fully modeled, fully textured, fully animated. Even the gear cables have the correct colors and the tires have text on them.
Texturing wise, Flight Factor have managed something I have not yet seen. The outside has a reflective layer that actually looks pretty close to the metal reflection layer you see on actual aircraft. It’s relatively easy to find out how they did it, but I can imagine it being a lot of work. I won’t get into details as it seems to be sort of an FF premiere type thing. It’s something that I have personally been waiting for, because that is the layer that really adds some much-needed realism to objects.
The included liveries are pretty nice, making up a standard repository including the likes of Lufthansa and American Airlines. The standard exterior ‘layer’ includes tiny details like some text on the nose landing gear and warning texts around the aircraft. All the smaller parts like pitot tubes and static ports seem to be there too.
Lighting wise, it’s beautiful. The wing and landing lights illuminate the appropriate parts of the wings and body with a nice glow, where the red beacon lights shine beautifully onto the engines. Looking at the engines as you’re landing is a sight in itself, especially with some turbulence. The wings flexing up and down, the lights and the sounds and sights of flaps and control surfaces really impress, as is the standard nowadays! Everything is high-quality, with surfaces and lines fortunately not being vague or having jagged edges. The only issue I have is that with winglets, the white navigation lights on the wingtips seem to be coming from nowhere. They shift from the wingtip, where there is in fact a modeled place for the light, to on the winglet. The winglet is closed, so there’s no lighting spot. A little bit weird, hopefully Flight Factor will fix that!
Something else I’m not a big fan of is the very clear paneling lines all over the body. From what I can see both in real life and on pictures, they shouldn’t be visible, or at least not this much. Seeing those heavily present lines sort of ruins the appeal of the aircraft, making it look strangely segmented.
My biggest problem, however, is the wing flex. It’s been reworked for the 767 and works really well, but there’s something I really can’t ignore. The wings flex with 3 separate wing parts; in-between these parts, you can sometimes see the open gap in the model. Apart from this, the 2 lines for an entire wing make it look more like lines with angles than a nice rounded wing shape. Light hitting it at night shows off one of those lines pretty severely and it’s visible from a number of angles, even without lights shining on the wings.
As far as sound goes, there’s more to say than you would think this time around. This is positive, as it is a testament to the quality that BSS deliver: the sounds package for this aircraft was custom made by them. Where the average airliner for XP10 is relatively detailed with regards to sound, both inside and out, the FF 767 has decided to, once again, take things to the next level. While seated in the cockpit for the first time, fully started up (I usually don’t start cold and dark), I immediately had a look around. This involves playing around with switches (as far as I don’t screw up the airplane’s configuration too much). After flipping a few of the light switches, something caught my ear rather than my eye. It seemed that the switches all had different sounds. More random switch flipping confirmed my suspicions. Flight Factor has gone to the trouble of recording individual sounds for switches, which is a first for them. I applaud this decision, because not only can the same sound for every switch be extremely immersion-breaking (especially when it’s a bad sound), having this feature really made me realize just how much it adds.
The positional engine sound and the engine sound in general is very good. There’s a lot of detail and what feels like a lot of different accents and ‘parts’ to them. From the whine when you stand behind them to the roar of being in front of them at full throttle, it all sounds well done and detailed. The transition from low to high throttle and back is smooth, unlike some addons where you hear that the sound is ‘tiered’. That means you could hear the difference in tone between those tiers, which sounds digital and unrealistic. Such is not the case here, fortunately.
Flicking, clicking and dragging switches becomes much more of a joy when you hear a different sound for every switch. Yes, the sounds for individual switches are the same for that specific switch, so it’s not like there’s 6 sounds that a single switch can make, but that’s a little unnecessary and can also be unrealistic.
Systems wise, I was very pleasantly surprised. A lot of the nuances and little details have been captured, from the APU sound being very realistic to a rarely heard sound; that of the passengers. When loading and unloading, but also while the plane’s engines are shut down and the doors are open, you will hear noises as if you were at a terminal, with a load of passengers talking, walking and all the other appropriate sounds. Inside the cockpit, you’ll hear passenger voices talking and I believe there’s also the occasional cough in there, along with noises made by bags being stowed.
The sounds for gear, flaps and slats are very nice and realistic, with the gear making a lot of noise and possessing that familiar wind-wooshing noise that almost sounds like a vacuum or other form of suction is taking place, with a firm lock once finished. Extending the speedbrakes has a very audible effect as well, becoming louder and louder as they’re deployed more. Other noises like ground rolls, takeoff rolls, landing and rollout sounds are realistic as expected. The reverse thrust has a characteristic sound that is nicely balanced among other sounds. No sound gets drowned out or hidden unless it’s supposed to be, as it should be.
Positional audio has been excellently executed, as the passenger noises get louder and louder as you get further into the cabin. This is only possible after unlocking and opening the door, naturally! The one slightly disappointing thing is that, while FF decided to implement a passenger noise track with positional volume, there aren’t any passengers modeled in the cabin. I understand that this is a lot of work and not worth the effort, but that makes me wonder. Is it worth to have the positional passenger audio track, rather than just a single volume for when you’re in the cockpit? The only time I found it to actually add realism was during wing views.
Now, the PA system… This has been a thorn in the side of many a Flight Factor product user for a long time. The added realism of actually having a PA system is partially canceled out by a number of those PA announcements being recorded from the Microsoft Text To Speech function, dramatically lowering realism. However, you have the option to not use the PA. It’s a bit of a compromise, but it is what it is.
On the other hand is the flight attendant. This is a little different. If you leave a door open, set the temperature too high or low or do something else wrong that is related to cabin safety and comfort, there will be a sound from time to time. Looking at the overhead and pressing the button that is meant for FA communication will make the flight attendant say what’s on his mind. This is in the same Microsoft voice, by the way, so at least it’s consistent. The issue is that a large portion of people I’ve spoken to absolutely despises the flight attendant. They don’t want to bother listening to him and having to adjust the cabin temperatures in a simulation.
You may wonder if there isn’t a way to shut him off; there is. The solution is to press said comm. Button on the overhead a number of times, until a different, female flight attendant politely informs you that aforementioned male flight assistant has died. From that moment on, you will not be bothered anymore. However, this isn’t stated all that obviously and is a bit of an effort to go to in order to shut him up. A more convenient option would be to simply have a setting in the airplane menu. This caters to both sides. The side that just wants him gone and is happy to accept this being a study sim, but not a study sim to the level of having to cater to cabin occupants as well. On the other end, the side that wants the most immersion and realism they can get, which includes having to set temperatures and possibly use the PA system.
Externally, sounds are quite nice. However, the engine sounds aren’t my favorite. While they do seem realistic, I feel that there could have been some more ‘whoop’. The sounds seem a bit too smooth as it stands. A nice touch is that the passenger/terminal sound also plays from the outside, giving the impression of being at a busy terminal. Funnily enough, this even feels realistic to me when I’m on orbit view, hovering above the airplane where those sounds shouldn’t even be audible.
The sounds can be adjusted in the menu, allowing you to control all of the sound with one slider. This does mean there seem to be no individual sliders to, for instance, adjust engine sounds or callouts etc.
I know that this review has already been quite extensive, but this is most likely going to be the longest part. While this aircraft knows many intricate details when it comes to modeling, sounds and animations, the systems are also impressive, to say the least. Stepping up a large notch from the 757, the 767-300ER has received a new type of aircraft menu. This menu is both accessible from the old, trusted Plugins menu, as well as from the tablet that you can find in the cockpit, below the oxygen mask on the left side of the yoke. I’ll divide the systems section into subsections, because of how extensive it is. Starting, of course, with…
The onscreen menu
The tablet function is something that I’ve eagerly awaited, since it’s a huge hassle having to get the mouse to the top bar, clicking Plugins, moving down to the airplane’s name, clicking and then selecting the menu that I want to view. Now, you can simply press the tablet and said menu will appear. Not only is this easier, it also looks a lot sleeker and adds a lot of functionality. Alongside the improvements in this interface, many new options were added to the aircraft. Let’s take a look at the tabs one by one.
First up is the General tab. Here, you can set options for options that aren’t actual avionics stuff, but more sim-level options. Examples of this are hiding the yokes, setting the realistic WX radar and setting the FO side to be in control of the plane. Interestingly, the last option will set the default 3D cockpit view to the FO’s seat as well. Looking at some of the other options, I don’t really understand the use of all of them. For instance, why would anyone want to not enable the realistic weather radar? Maybe it has a performance impact on lower end systems, but I didn’t notice a hit. My PC is relatively powerful, though. Realistic sound, advanced windshear and mouse wheel enabling are also present, but again, no idea why you’d want them disabled.
Moving to the Ground tab, things are a little more interesting. Besides being a load manager, this also has ground options available. Fuel truck, Ground Power Unit and other such vehicles are selectable here. A little note: in order to load fuel and passengers, you’re required to have the stairs and fuel truck present. Of course, you will also find the push and pull options for the pushback truck here. The speed is controlled by throttle and your steering tiller and rudder axis control that truck. Maintenance is also available, which basically just resets your failures and usage data. I say usage data, because the plane registers flight hours and heightens the chance of failure based on that. Very neat, albeit not the most revolutionary thing. Lastly, the top section lets you save or load a configuration of vehicles of your choice.
The lower half is where all your fuel and payload gets set. There’s something quite interesting about this. Where some add-ons let you set a number for different cabin parts or different cargo areas, and some let you select it all individually, sometimes even per seat, the 767 lets you input one number. However, you can then click the arrows next to it, and the aircraft will move those passengers or cargo units back and forth depending on your setting. Furthermore, you can let it optimize the Center of Gravity automatically, which means it will shift the weight around itself. You can then save (or load) a custom weight distribution.
The load/unload button speaks for itself. The interesting thing is the retouch load. This option is, supposedly, for redoing your load distribution after already having loaded the plane up once. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to work well for me with engines running. The fuel would not only load quite slowly, it would simply not go higher than a certain level (I believe 19,9 thousand lbs). Since most flights that are medium to long range exceed this amount, you need to be sure of your fuel planning, or else you can wait for the unload and then reloading of the aircraft. Perhaps others do not suffer from this issue, but I did. Having to start cold and dark in order to be able to use the retouch load, or shutting down your engines, seems counterproductive. If anything, the retouch load should work perfectly with engines running and not just with engines off, but the plane already loaded.
Moving on, we find the Airplane tab. There isn’t too much to explain here; you can set wingflex and reflection strength as well as effects intensity (although I’m not sure what those effects actually are). You also have your door control and the ability to remove or add the winglets. At present, they do not change the flight dynamics and range, but Roman has told me this is planned for the future. The dynamic blinds are quite fun though; as the name suggests, this makes the blinds of the aircraft cabin’s windows open and close dynamically, based on sun strength and whether or not a window is facing the sun. However, the windows don’t just go zero or a hundred percent blinds. Every window is different and there are multiple positions. A fun addition for outside views, but it can get annoying when you want to get wingviews from inside the cabin. Disabling this option doesn’t open all the blinds, nor can you manipulate them yourself, so it can get frustrating.
The failures tab speaks for itself. If there’s a failed system, it shows up here and gives you the ability to reset all failures to make everything work again. Yes, mistreating the plane can cause failures.
Avionics is a ‘change of pace’ compared to the other tabs, being focused on one thing alone and having many options for that specific part of the aircraft, some not yet implemented. As you can understand, there are multiple variants of parts, some having different ways of displaying information than others. That’s basically what this tab is about: changing around the look and feel of your avionics. From what or when things get displayed on your various cockpit instruments and screens, to how it gets displayed. Whether you want the Flight Director to have the vertical and horizontal bar or the V look. Whether or not you want the airspeed tape on the PFD, or just on the airspeed indicator to the left. Similar options exist for displaying the TAS and Ground Speed on the ND and various systems information items.
The About tab is pretty obvious; here you find info about the product and credits for who did what on the aircraft. The PA tab is filled with the Public Announcement functionality of the aircraft, displaying a list of what can be said by the cabin crew, from safety demonstrations to flight information like a canceled landing.
General systems modeling
The systems modeling inside the airplane itself is also superb, being a study-level aircraft, even more so than the 757 was. Many, many features are either implemented or planned for future updates. Some of the most impressive (and notable) examples of systems depth and detail are the weather and terrain radars. Not only are these both more well-implemented than any other add-on, even though there aren’t many that have a terrain radar, they’re also not noticeable when it comes to framerate hit. I can use both the displays without issue.
The weather radar is definitely the most impressive part for me, though. It’s a lot more accurate than any other solution for X-Plane 10. Where the default radar gives you a top-down view of the precipitation, Flight Factor has managed to implement a system where the radar actually has working tilt and gain functions. This means that the tilt angle you set will actually matter and give different pictures. The gain… well, the gain! It’s how much precipitation readings are intensified, allowing you to for instance filter some stuff out, or maybe get an idea of just how severe the middle of a storms is if there’s a big red patch. Setting the gain so that there’s a high threshold can show you where the most severe part of the big patch is by upping the lower thresholds, so suddenly what’s only red may become green and orange too, giving a more useful frame of reference.
The FMC is also very nice. However, it’s not as groundbreaking or functionally convenient as a number of other systems. You can pop it out into a 2D panel and you can select keyboard input, but that was possible on the 757 as well. The functionality also isn’t that much different. Fortunately, this does not mean it’s not good or extensive. It works well with all the other systems in the aircraft, including the autopilot of course. All basic steps are accurately implemented, from the initialization to route planning, including all the features the real-life FMC would have in that regard. Deleting waypoints, executing direct-to actions, holds, fixes with range rings and abeam points, all of that is present. During setup, when entering weights, CG and such information, you can simply click on the appropriate line select keys to auto-fill data. A luxury real-life pilots do not have, but one that is very much useful for our purposes. It makes for easier flight planning when you don’t want to plan every detail. Besides, not all calculations are entirely accurate.
The Progress page and performance initialization page during descent seem to be accurate, as is TOD calculation. I did have one issue where the aircraft would overshoot a turn and for some reason not make the turn to the next waypoint. This was with LNAV on and all other systems functioning normally too. Strangely enough, selecting LNAV after course correcting onto the route with heading select mode would make the aircraft turn back to that wrong heading. Eventually, it stayed roughly parallel to the magenta course and then did get back on track, turning onto final and when I pressed localizer, capturing that. Finally, after engaging approach mode, it descended as expected and landed perfectly, with all the autopilot cues functioning well.
Apart from these things, the rest of the aircraft systems is obviously well-executed too. GPWS warnings, EICAS messages, FMC messages, everything is present and correct. Leaving off the de-icing during icing conditions will light up ‘icing’ lights and leaving the park brake on or not deploying flaps as stated in the takeoff performance page give you an EICAS and audio warning. Pretty much every single knob, switch and display is implemented and works as it should. Not enabling something that may be small or unimportant in other airplanes could cost you your plane in this one. Not properly following checklists could mean that you get a mysterious issue that you don’t know how to solve – because you didn’t think that pressing a certain button would be necessary. Or maybe you simply get a call from the flight attendant, stating that you have left the seatbelt and no-smoking signs off. Although you don’t use or touch most of the knobs and systems during a regular flight, the simulation of it all makes things feel smooth and interesting as you start up and shut down. Knowing you have to watch what you do adds a layer of often wanted realism and immersion. Combine this with the breathtaking graphics and you have a winner.
Weather and terrain radar
One of the most exciting features in my eyes, these systems have seen a significant amount of care and attention from Flight Factor. The weather radar has a full simulation of its functions, from the gain function to the radar’s tilt and more ‘hidden’ characteristics like ground clutter; the refraction of the signal from the ground sending back false data. Using the weather radar is a breeze, but unlike the 777, it does not have automatic tilt functionality. This means you will have to keep an eye out yourself, to make sure you don’t have the tilt set to a wrong angle.
While I am sure that in principle the weather radar works as it should, it seemed that sometimes things went a bit differently. While on the ground and having the radar pointed slightly up or down, or neutral, I got some weird readings. On 0 and 1 degrees tilt, the radar seemed to show an accurate representation of the precipitation in the area. It wasn’t ground clutter, I know that much from how it looked and comparing it to the flat terrain ahead. However, when tilting to for instance 2 degrees or higher, all of the precipitation would disappear. This happened in flight as well as I found out later. The indicated precipitation started further away with the 0 and 1 degree settings, but 2 degrees up still showed nothing. This is of course not logical, nor is it accurate. The first overcast layer/cloud layer was at 300 feet and up, so although the 0 degree reading may still be correct, it should have shown at least something close on 2 degrees. Even at level flight with a +2 or +3 degree angle, there was no return over a 360 mile range. Yet, with a 0 degrees angle with nose pointing up a few degrees, there was a return. However, the right side display didn’t seem to refresh if it was set to one of those angles that didn’t work. All in all very strange.
Another annoyance that I encountered during flight that doesn’t seem to make much sense to me was that, mostly during descent, the amount of indicated weather would be minimal to say the least. I understand that a weather radar ‘cuts’ through the sky at the selected angle, but there would be a visible band of returns maybe 5-10nm long on a -2 setting during a descent. This seems a bit excessive; to get a decently useful amount of information I’d have to use 5 different settings and make a mental image of the combination of them. With a slight nose down attitude for descent and a 0, -1 or -2 degree angle on the radar, I’d expected more return than just a tiny band that’s about 10 miles ahead. However, I could just be wrong and this may be entirely accurate; I may have been spoiled by other weather radars like that of the 777. Sometimes, during approach, the band would appear very close and very, very thin. Apart from this, the weather radar does its job well and when it shows a full image, it’s very nice and seems accurate.
The terrain radar does work well all the time. Both weather and terrain radar do a test display when started, after which they display data. The terrain visible on the display is quite accurate, coming from a database, as I was told by Roman. The shapes, colors and way terrain is displayed seem to match reality very closely. The radar is very useful if you want to be absolutely sure you’re clear and has proven useful to have on more than one occasion during very, very bad weather. Combined with the weather radar, there is now a powerful tool to raise situational awareness in XP10, for the first time also in a very realistic manner. The TCAS obviously also works with them and displays the other aircraft as it should, even from online networks.
Something Roman asked me to emphasize is the checklist feature. Simply put, it’s an interactive and very, very complete way to run down checklists. Lots of them, for many different situations. From the normal checklists like simple startup procedures and taxi, takeoff and landing checklists, all the way to non-normal and amplified checklists. With a large amount of checklists and a very comprehensive information system, displaying informational text in grey when necessary under the checklist item, starting and properly flying your aircraft has never been easier.
However, the most interesting feature may well be the little button in the top right that says ‘auto’. Although not always available because of required pilot control or input, when this button is available, it will automatically run the selected checklist for you. If it comes across an item that needs to be set by you, set it and it will continue. Likewise, if the item needs to be checked off, hit the Check button at the bottom and it will keep going. You can also override checklist items or even entire checklists. While this is a very handy feature, it is a good idea to get familiarized with the panels, their layout and what they mean anyway. Not knowing your way around the cockpit and then having to set hydraulic system knobs of which it is not immediately clear what they do is difficult. See the auto feature as sort of a (very fast) copilot; you still have to do some checks and settings yourself. When you do know where to find things, setting the aircraft up is a breeze, as all the checklist items seem to function properly and do the correct things at the correct times.
The 767-300ER features a number of ground vehicles, and although that’s far from standard, I’ll write a little bit about them. What I noticed right away is the detail: as you would expect, they look very nice. Their movements are realistic, with turning and moving tires and logical turning work. If you happen to not have the cargo door open, but activate the cargo loader, nothing will happen and the cargo transport belt will stay down until you open the cargo door. A nice touch! There aren’t any animated people on the stairs or bus, but it adds a lot of flair to the aircraft. They fit well with the doors and latches, as they should.
Buy it. It’s amazing and you will not regret it if you’re not set against Flight Factor/StepToSky. Yes, it may possess some features that you may dislike, but these can all be circumvented, and they don’t take away from the amazing core of the 767-300ER. It’s enormously extensive, detailed and feature-rich.
At the same time, this makes for some negative experiences from time to time. The amount of firsts partially contributes to that, but I can’t blame Flight Factor for pushing the boundaries. If you want a plane that’s easy to fly and easy to take care of, this is your thing. The aircraft menu is very well-executed (albeit sometimes lacking) and you will not be disappointed. Some bugs may still be present, like the one where people got hot starts because the fuel introduction was stated as being lower than it had to be. However, bugs will always be present and Flight Factor have fixed that by now. I’m very excited to see more features and variants implemented!
A few more shots that I didn’t necessarily want to fit with the other categories, but liked regardless, to show you a little more of how beautiful both this aircraft and X-Plane 10 can be!