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McDonnell Douglas MD-80 Series by Rotate

Table of Contents

Due to the length and complexity of this product review, Angelique, your personal reviewer, thought it would be helpful to include a table of contents:

Introduction
The Maddog Legend
– MD-80 (McDonnell Douglas) Series
– Getting to know the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 Series Installation and Documentation

Installation, Documentation and Popups
– Installation
– Documentation
– Rotate MD-80 Popups

The MD88
– Daily walk-around check
– Cleaning the Virtual Cabin
– First Flight of the day cockpit impression Flight Dynamics

Flight Dynamics
– Updating Aerosoft NavData Pro AIRAC cycle
– Flight Plan Loading in General
– Flight tutorial and the Maddog feeling
– Another Flight

Sounds, Performance and FPS (Frames Per Second)
Summary

Introduction

I looked forward reviewing this McDonnell Douglas MD88 from Rotate though they could easily write MD-80 too. I have been a licensed ground engineer on the Super DC-9-82 or, put simply, I was an MD80 Series ground engineer. Let’s first look at the Rotate website and see what they have to tell us about this Maddog. It’s quite an impressive list and perhaps a little too long, but let me highlight a couple of these features:
– Precise flight model
– Fine tuned engine performance
– Engine starting and ignition system
– Thrust Rating Panel
– APU power system with simulated start-up logic
– AC/DC two buses generating and distribution system
– AC/DC loads and x-tie
– Ground operation pneumatics
– X-feed domain logic and pressure indicator
– IRS alignment runtime, NAV and ATT modes
– Improved autopilot with specific modes
– Speed modes: SPD and MACH sel. EPR LIM. FMS OVRD
– Horizontal Navigation: NAV, VOR/LOC, ILS
– Vertical navigation: VERT SPD, IAS/MACH, VNAV, ALT HLD
– Flight mode annunciator
– Flight planning, navigation, performance management and airplane guidance
– Custom PFD and ND
– Accurate navigation instruments and displays
– Flap handle with original DIAL-A-FLAP selection wheel
– Highly detailed 3D cockpit, passenger cabin and exterior model
– 10 high quality liveries
– Custom sounds, including engines, cockpit sounds etc.
– And so much more

You can check out all the features at the dedicated Rotate web page.

As a text introduction, X-Plane.Org starts with ‘This MD-80 is a most accurate replica of the popular aircraft, specifically the MD-88 variation. The realism of the 3D model and texture work is pure and delightful eye candy. The advanced systems simulation makes a solid experience for the exacting simmer’. I do agree with the part that refers to ‘eye candy’, but the comment ‘a most accurate replica of the popular aircraft’, needs some further investigation which I will try to explore during this impression.

The Maddog Legend

McDonnell Douglas MD-80 Series
The McDonnell Douglas MD80 Series – unfortunately later, part of the Boeing Commercial Airplanes group – is a quiet, fuel-efficient twinjet, which was certified by the Federal Aviation Administration in August 1980 and entered airline service in October of that year. Its Pratt & Whitney JT8D-200 Series engines, combined with its efficient aerodynamic design, allow the MD-80 to meet all current noise regulations while producing operating costs among the lowest in commercial aviation.

Four MD-80 models – the MD-81, MD-82, MD-83, and MD-88 – are 147 feet, 10 inches (45.08 meters) long and accommodate a maximum of 172 passengers. The MD-87 is 130 feet, 5 inches (39.76 m) in length, with a maximum passenger capacity of 139. Wingspan for all models is 107 feet, 10 inches (32.88 m). The MD-80 was produced at the Long Beach Division of Boeing Commercial Airplanes until December 1999.

The MD-80’s nonstop range is from 1,500 to 2,700 statute miles (2,410 to 4,345 km), depending on the model. The MD-81’s maximum takeoff weight is 140,000 lbs (63,503 kg); the MD-82’s and the MD-88’s are 149,500 lbs (67,812 kg).

The longer range MD-83 has a takeoff weight of 160,000 lbs (72,575 kg). The MD-87’s maximum takeoff gross weight is 140,000 lbs (63,503 kg), with an option to go to 149,500 lbs (67,812 kg).
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Operators range from the largest foreign and domestic trunk carriers to new startup airlines and charter operators. Swissair and Austrian Airlines began the first services, while American Airlines operates the largest number of MD-80s, a fleet of 275. In addition, 35 MD-80 airplanes were assembled and are operating in the People’s Republic of China.

Getting to know the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 Series
Consider this remarkable fact. This spring Delta Airlines is transferring flying from its 757s and Airbus Fleet to the MD88 and former Northwest DC9s. Despite the availability of much newer and more efficient aircraft, these tough and durable workhorses remain the backbone of the world’s largest airline’s domestic and close-in international system. How can it be that a design first put on paper in the 1950s has not only survived a dozen competing aircraft, but even the companies that built them?

The secret is the DC9-55, renamed ‘Super 80’ and finally called the MD80, is a very simple and robust airframe. Consider the published limitations and guidelines:
– Gear extension – 300 Knots Indicated
– Flaps 11 – 270 Knots Indicated
– Flaps 15 – 230 Knots Indicated
– Max Takeoff Weight – 147,000, or 149,500 lbs
– Max Takeoff Weight limited by structure after serial number 1194 – 160,000 lbs

Conclusion: the airplane is built like a tank!

Over the years the simple, small DC9 was stretched, stretched again, stretched again and stretched three more times. Like a 1950s hot rod, the engines got bigger; the wing was extended from the tips and the center section, and fancy new radios were bolted in the dash. As in a car of the 1950s, it has simple cables going to most of the controls; the brakes are not that good; the steering is a little loose; and you should watch out the engines to keep them from overheating, and sometimes it just is not as reliable as a newer design. However, it will drive up the road safely if operated within its limits and it does not come with big costs. Just curiosity …. The first screenshot below is the father of the MD-80 Series. It was the best-known transition from the Douglas DC-9 Series to the McDonnell Douglas MD 80 Series. The very first Douglas aircraft from this length and modifications, was known as the DC-9 Super 80. Later, the company became McDonnell Douglas.

Douglas’s philosophy was to refine existing products instead of designing new ones. Consider the elevators: independent floating surfaces controlled by cables to a simple trim tab. As the airplane grew, geared tabs were added to help drive the elevator and anti-float tabs and finally, as the long tube’s CG range made deep stalls a problem, a hydraulic servo augmenter was rigged off the left system to drive the elevator down, and vortilons were added to help get the nose down, making stall recovery possible.

The Mach trim compensator mechanically moves the First Officer’s control column aft at Mach .80. If that sounds like a lot of stuff to avoid simply installing hydraulic power to the elevators, you’re right!

MD80 pilots are a special breed. While Boeing and Airbus pilots comfortably drive their aircraft with minimum effort through nicely coordinated hydraulic controls, the MD88 pilots pull on cables, quite literally. Bleed valves are attached to handles on the floor; the flight controls are small cable-operated trim tabs. These servo tabs act as tiny flight controls that move the trailing edge of the elevators and ailerons.

Instead of nicely integrated electronic flight decks with EICAS, position sensors and system schematics on glass, the MD80’s are a collection on different systems by various manufacturers that do not necessarily interact with each other well. The auto throttles roll back, then surge (called a ‘throttle burst’); sometimes the FMC is painfully slow and this results in problems with the autopilot, VNAV and auto throttles. The hydraulics can also be quirky; the ground spoilers sometimes fail to deploy on landing and the brakes are grabby.

In the Boeing and Airbus community pilots expect their airplanes to work normally. In the Maddog world, you are taught to assume your airplane’s automation might not work and some sort of manual intervention is expected. Every quirk has a procedure the pilot must memorise and deal with.

So why then is the MD80 popular with pilots and operators alike? First, it is cheap to operate, as cables are lighter than the hydraulics, with remote switches and relays to command monitor those systems. Compared to a 737 of similar capacity, the MD80 weighs about 10,000 lbs. less and pushes a smaller tube through the air. A new 737 is a $65 million purchase, while perfectly serviceable MD80’s can be found from $3.5 to $9 million.

From a maintenance standpoint, the MD80s are simple and this translates to real dollars, as a heavy maintenance check on a 757 is rumored to be much, much more expensive. On short flights, the greater efficiency of newer designs simply does not have the flight time to pay back the high acquisition cost. From a pilot’s perspective, the direct mechanical control provides a tactile feedback the newer airplanes lack and mastering the Maddog is a source of pride.

Installation, Documentation and Popups

Installation
I got the MD-80, actually MD-88 package, via Rotate, but the installation procedure isn’t really different when you buy it via X-Plane.Org. You simply unzip the package and copy and paste the contents into the ‘Heavy Metal’ aircraft folder, or if you wish you can install it in a dedicated ‘Rotate’ sub folder. It’s up to you. Once installed, start X-Plane and load the aircraft. You’ll be asked to enter the serial number you got via the email or you will find it on your dedicated Rotate MD-80 Series Org account.

The Documentation
Although the modelled MD-88 looks complex, not all systems are modelled as in the real aircraft. Nevertheless, the manuals provided are worth studying to get an appreciation of how the remaining systems work, and not forgetting, of course, the flight tutorial which is a good guide to help you out. That said, the Rotate MD-88 comes with the following Acrobat documents:
– Rotate-MD-80_Manual (127 pages)
– Rotate-MD-80_Pilot Hand Book Checklist (2 pages)
– Rotate-MD-80_Pilot Hand Book (23 pages)
– Rotate-MD-80_Tutorial Flight (40 pages)

The lengthy Rotate-MD-80_Manual covers all of the modelled aircraft systems, how they work or how they need to be controlled. It’s also worth mentioning that the aircraft comes with a completely modelled FMS and, because of that, you need a third party navigation database. The Rotate group has chosen the ‘NavData Pro’ from Aerosoft. Details about the navigation database can be found at page eight of the manual. When you scroll through the pages, you’ll notice that every system is described in detail, what’s modelled and what’s not, plus how to operate the systems. This manual also naturally includes a comprehensive section that deals with the FMS CDU.

The Rotate-MD-80_Pilot Hand Book Checklist is a compressed version of all the checklists. I deliberately use the word ‘compressed’ because the same checklist sections are also included in the pilot hand book.

With the 23-page Rotate-MD-80_Pilot Hand Book, you get full access to important information like aircraft limits, V speeds, checklist sections, and the overall normal procedures. Although these normal procedures could help you learn how to fly the aircraft, a better solution would be to print out and read the flight tutorial.

On that subject, I’m pleased to see that Rotate model includes a Rotate-MD-80_Tutorial Flight. Some prefer a video, but I’m happy with a written tutorial as long as it’s well drafted and documented. But I can say straight away, it’s a good and worthy document for learning how to handle and fly the MD-88. According to Rotate, ‘This will be a short flight from San Sebastian (LESO) to Madrid (LEMD). There are two beautifully made free sceneries for this airports. You can find LESO via this link and LEMD right here.’ One of the review sections will deal with this tutorial flight and then we’ll see how helpful this document is.

Rotate MD-80 Popups
Via the X-Plane menu “Plugins – Rotate MD-80”, you get access to a couple of features and background info about the model version. The “About” popup speaks for itself. Besides Rotate information, it offers your version number which could be important when you’ve got problems and want to contact Rotate for support.

Clicking the “Aircraft Management” menu item allows you to select or deselect certain equipment, the control to open/close doors and/or lower the FWD stair. Just in case you think … and what about the AFT stair … that one opens together with the AFT door control. The weight units toggle deals with swapping between pounds and kilograms although it must be said that it doesn’t show you what you’ve chosen or what’s currently active. You can only see this on the respective cockpit instruments.

These menu items are:
– GPU (Ground Power Unit) Toggle
– Fwd Door Toggle
– Fwd Stair Toggle
– Aft Door Toggle
– Cargo Doors Toggle
– Weight Units Toggle

The Rotate MD80

Daily walk-around check
As an ex MD-80 ground engineer, I’m always looking for something extraordinary. Is the modelled Rotate aircraft externally modelled in a way that I can do my first flight of the day maintenance check? It seems this Rotate model will allow me to do so, although I know that refilling the hydraulic systems won’t be possible, but I can live with that!

Once I’ve opened the passenger doors and cargo holds, I can check not only the wheels, struts, fuselage, wings, tail section, but also the FWD PAX and AFT stairs. By the way, opening and closing of the FWD/AFT PAX doors and CARGO HOLDS, as well as activating the GPU and changing between LBS/KG, is not done via a popup window, but via the FMS CDU LSK 5R ACFT MGMT>. This also means that there’s no other aircraft configuration possible, since the only Rotate plugin that’s featured is an ‘About’ popup window. Perhaps it would be a good idea for me to contact Rotate and see if they can help me out with this. Per Rotate “Manipulators in X-Plane only work in the interior views, so you have to move with an interior view to the doors and find the manipulator over the door areas (find for this an arrow pointing UP or DOWN) from outside/inside or you can use it via the FMS CDU however, for this you need electrical power.”

Hopefully with later updates, Rotate will include configuration options like changing the aircraft fuel, the amount of passenger and cargo load and perhaps even a popup V speeds reminder window.

Back to my daily maintenance check on the MD-88.
It’s a matter of taste whether you like it or not, but the Rotate MD-88 comes with a weathered-look which, bearing in mind the average aircraft age, is gorgeous. That ‘eye candy’ reference mentioned before is for this aspect absolutely worth it. When I walk from the nose of the aircraft to the tail via the left-hand wing, and back via the other side, I see an MD-88 that’s very close to the real thing. Of course, there’s always something that could be better, but for now I’m very pleased with what I see. The overall model looks great, and it even comes with all the tiny details. This starts with the high-quality 3D modelling of the NLG (Nose landing Gear). It’s dirty which fits in perfectly with the weathered effect and to be truthful I’ve never seen in real life a clean NLG strut, except when the aircraft has had a heavy maintenance check or when it was thoroughly washed. Other nice touches are the taxi/TO lights and the small mechanically linked NLG doors. A further close-up of the NLW (Nose landing Wheel) shows me that everything is there, including overpressure nipple, wheel bolt/nut assemblies and the tyre pressure nipple. All of this is modelled with great precision. At the rear of the NLG or should I say the NLWs, you’ll find the rain deflector, again very well modelled and absolutely a welcome eye candy item.

Although the MLG (Main Landing Gear) is quite different to the NLG, you’ll still find a lot of similarities. The tiny details can be found here too. Again, a dirty strut which is as real as it gets, and then a realistic modelled MLW with, as expected, all bolt/nuts assemblies and the tire pressure nipple … oops, just noticed – there’s no tire pressure nipple modelled. It appears that this item has been forgotten. However, the strut with hydraulic and electrical cables is not overlooked, and neither is the linkage that operates the strut retraction/extension as well as the small rods that operate the outboard mechanically operated door. And yes, the front linkage that holds the cables and hydraulic links is an eye candy feature too, but this also applies to the AFT torque links with shimmy damper. All tiny component details that are worth checking out.

While walking along the fuselage, you can immediately see the presence of NML (Normal Mapping for a 3D effect) files. Because of these, you can clearly see the aluminum skin plates that are held together by virtual rivets. Near the wing leading edge those rivets look suddenly bigger but – hold on – remember these are the screws that hold the wing to fuselage fairing in position. The fact that these screw heads are in real probably painted in the same color as the fairing is something that’s trivial. It’s impressive to see how the slats are modelled and how they extend. OK, it’s not really the extension/retraction that impresses me, but the way the tracks are made. Again, eye candy!

On reaching the wing tip, I’m almost blown away. The navigation and strobe light units (FWD and AFT) are gorgeous as well as the static dischargers. But there’s more to see when visiting this section of the wing: there are the static dischargers outboard of the ailerons at the fixed wing part, and then the many inspection panels and the ailerons themselves. Remember, we’re dealing here with an old aircraft type that has mechanically controlled ailerons. That said, each aileron has a trim tab and a control tab at the trailing edge. But what does this “really” mean? OK, let me try to explain. The aileron control tabs are operated by the aileron control wheels so that, as one tab moves up, the opposite tab moves down. The ailerons are operated aerodynamically. When the control tabs are deflected, aerodynamic forces on the tabs move the ailerons in the opposite direction.

So this is something different to modern aircraft that have hydraulically operated primary flight controls.

The next part of the wing is the flaps. These are fully hydraulically extended/retracted with the help of a hydraulic actuator; however, these are not modelled. I checked twice, but I couldn’t spot any actuator behind the flap fairings. Is it a problem or a disappointment? Yes and no! You can ask yourself if the modelling of a total of six hydraulic actuators is worth it. Honestly, it doesn’t change the way it’s made right now, but it looks rather weird that, with the flaps fully extended, there is nothing in between the flap fairings. By the way, this is also applicable to the spoiler panels. After you extend the spoiler panels, there’s no sign of a hydraulic actuator. They are extended without anything that links them to something.

The impressive JT9D-217 engines are well modelled and, as before, NML files are included too. Although you need good lighting conditions, when you check the inlet of the nose cowling you can clearly see the IGV (Inlet Guide Vanes) and directly behind them the low-pressure compressor first stage. The first stage of the low-pressure compressor is sometimes called the fan, although this fan diameter is a completely different size when compared to, for example, a General Electric GE90, GE CF6-50, GE CF6-80, CFM or RR Trent engines.

You can also see that the Rotate developers didn’t forget the inside of the nose cowling which is a metal sound reduction layer. I’m pleased to see that the bottom skin of the engine cowling is full of dirty oil stripes. In real, the external engine cowling was never clean. Indeed, the engine was always leaking oil, of course, within limits. And therefore, I’m happy that they added these oil marks to the engine cowling skin. Finally, is the inspection of the thrust reverser with its bucket doors.

I have my views on the clean bucket doors, because these aren’t very clean in real, but I am also wondering about the modelled low pressure turbine. What did I find? … an impressive masterpiece of 3D modelling, and even though you won’t spend much time considering the engine’s exhaust, it’s still very well modelled and – with the right external lighting conditions – it’s gorgeous or put another way… highly realistic.

The tail of the aircraft with the AFT stair is very nice. It’s dirty, as expected, and the stair with AFT passenger door is particularly noteworthy; the placards on the fuselage are legible, as well as the flat tail cone. I mention flat tail cone quite deliberately because the very first MD80 models had a conical tail cone. Anyway, looking at the rudder and elevator from the ground is difficult, therefore I need a stair to see it better.

With my virtual stair, I’m able to see how the rudder and elevators are modelled, but first the rudder. The rudder can be operated in manual mode and hydraulically. When in manual mode, the rudder tab is mechanically controlled via the rudder pedals. In hydraulic mode, the rudder tab is locked and, via the rudder cable system, a hydraulic servo valve controls hydraulic pressure to a hydraulic actuator.

Although this probably goes into technical matters too deeply, at the front of the vertical fin you’ll see a pitot tube and a large hole. The pitot tube measures dynamic pressure for the rudder limiting system while the large hole is used to provide the air conditioning heat-exchangers with ram air. Both items are very well modelled.

As you all know, longitudinal control is provided by the elevator, elevator control tab, and elevator control system. Elevator positioning is accomplished by a combination of mechanical and hydraulic systems. The mechanical system positions the control tab through its full range of travel, and aerodynamic force acting on the control tab moves the elevator.

The hydraulic system supplements the mechanical system to drive the elevator in a down direction, only when 10 degrees or more of control tab movement is required to move the elevator downward. When moving from the outboard side of the horizontal stabilizer inwards, I see the presence of a couple of static dischargers, the anti-float tab, the geared tab and the control tab. They are all modelled which makes me very contented because that is what the real elevator looks like.

While I did my round, I also looked at the bottom as well as the top of the fuselage to check the presence of the modelled system antennas. Basically you can say that on the top of the fuselage – from front to the aft – you’ll find antennas for the ATC TRANSPONDER 1/2, VHF-2, ADF 1/2 and VOR/LOC 1/2. The bottom, same direction, can be found the MARKER BEACON, ATC TRANSPONDER 1/2, VHF-1, DME 1/2 and RAD ALT 1 and 2.

What’s left … the CARGO HOLDS.
Via the right-hand side of the fuselage I have a quick look into the opened cargo holds. It seems that the insides of each cargo hold is covered with textures. Opening the cargo holds is carried out by moving and thus unlocking the door latches, then pressing the door manually UP and finally locking the handle once more. This will then lock the door in the FULL UP position. Closing the door is done in the reverse order. Although this complete procedure isn’t simulated, that’s the reason you don’t need hydraulic pressure or electrical power.

With the inspection of the three cargo holds, I’ve also finished my daily maintenance walk-around inspection. Oops, almost forgotten … the external lighting! All the switches you need are on each end of the glareshield. The LOGO light switch is located on the overhead panel right-hand section LIGHTS. When I’ve selected all these, the only lights that aren’t working are the white STROBE ones, which is correct since this only work when the aircraft is airborne. In real, I would need to check these lights as well and since we couldn’t bring the aircraft into flight mode, we just pulled the right C/B’s (circuit breakers) to solve this issue.

OK, now I’m done and my overall impression is … you know. I’m quite impressed by the way this MD-88 looks and feels. The 3D modelling is of a very high quality, but that by itself doesn’t make an aircraft ‘exclusively exceptional’. For that we need to do a little more than just a walk-round check. We need to see the Virtual Cabin, the 3D cockpit and, most importantly, to fly the aircraft so we can establish what the ‘real’ flight characteristics are like.

Cleaning the Virtual Cabin
As in real life too, when the aircraft is parked at the gate and the jet way is connected to the left-hand front passenger door, the only way to enter the aircraft is via the AFT stair with entrance door. Sometimes, depending on the parked situation, the AFT stair and door are also used to let passengers in or out. This is to speed up passengers leaving the aircraft or boarding it. Anyway, I use the AFT stair to check the Virtual Cabin (VC). I’m aware that there are simmers who aren’t interested in a VC, but this is one that you should take the trouble to look at.

I mentioned this before, the AFT stair as well as the FWD stair too, are gorgeous. I can literally walk via the stair to the opened entrance door into the AFT cabin. Actually, the AFT cabin door is the beginning of the AFT pressure bulkhead. Just behind the AFT entrance door I spot on each side of the cabin the lavatories, as in reality. Then a little further on my left-hand side, the AFT galley or pantry. While walking, and checking the AFT galley, you’ve already got a great view of the modelled VC. It’s outstanding, no more words are needed … oops, again I used more words than needed!

When I say outstanding, I mean that everything is there: nicely modelled ceiling panels, sidewall panels, EXIT signs, even the emergency floor lighting system, the portable flashlights, the overhead bins, and others. A small issue is the seat identification. This numbering system is displayed at the lower end of the overhead bins and should help passengers find their seats; however, all the seat numbers are the same. Ah, just a small detail which I picked up. Nothing to worry about! Before walking to the cockpit, I wanted to check the cabin lighting system and I must say it’s very nice. Before reaching the FWD galley, again as on the real aircraft, there is a lavatory on the left-hand side of the cabin. Once in the FWD galley, you can control the left-hand passenger door which also lowers the FWD stair. This works separately, but nothing to worry about.

The left AFT and right FWD service doors aren’t simulated, so providing catering service will be a little complicated! I think it’s time to enter the 3D cockpit and see ‘how it’s made’, right? Find the manipulator that controls the cockpit door (arrow UP/DOWN) and you get access to the modelled 3D cockpit.

First Flight of the day cockpit impression
Wow, what can I say, and what should I start with or where should I look first? Too many questions, but the eye candy cockpit is worth a compliment. It looks to me like a mixture of photo real and handmade textures. The balance is perfect and it really portrays a realistic presentation of the MD-80, as I can still remember from my days being a MD-80 Series ground engineer.

Although probably unnecessary to mention, but just in case I forget it: the captain and co-pilot seats aren’t adjustable; the armrests can be placed in the UP position and the sliding side windows can be controlled, but that’s it as far as I can make out. Further on, you can select the control column to make it disappear and reappear.

This is a very handy option because it’s difficult to read the ND (Navigation Display) and PFD (Primary Flight Display) with the control column in the way. Zooming in on the centre instrument panel, side panels, glare shield, overhead …. wherever I look, it’s gorgeous 3D modelling, as well as the placards and individual text, the knobs, the switches on the panels …. it’s all so realistic. And, as an added bonus I find that the panels, handles, knobs etc. are not brand new.

No, instead, you’ll find a lot of weathered parts which give the 3D cockpit a very realistic look and feel. And yes, it fits perfectly with the exterior which as you know is also weathered. This wear and tear is something you like or dislike, but as mentioned earlier, bearing in mind the age of this aircraft, it feels good, very good indeed!

Besides the weathered look, I’m also impressed by the high-quality 3D modelling. When you look at an angle at the instrument or overhead panels, you’ll be surprised to see the tiny details that are included. Dial plates are razor sharp as well as panel text, and even the tiny screws that hold the instruments in place are realistic and weathered too.

A good example of the use of photo real textures is the aircraft registration plate mounted on the center instrument panel, where you also find the aircraft SELCAL (Selective Calling) code and serial number plate. First of all … it’s sharp even when you zoom in closely, but it’s also a great representation. As mentioned, the main instrument panel and center panel are a mixture of handmade and photo real textures. Because of this the modelled MD-88 cockpit is superb.

But how well am I able to perform cockpit preparations?
I printed the official normal procedures list from Delta Airlines MD-88/90 and started with ‘First Flight of the Day’ until and including ‘After Start or Delayed Start Procedures – First Officer’. I could add the supplementary procedures to these normal procedures list to cover specific procedures, but the normal one will do, at least to see what is and what isn’t simulated. The first section is an external inspection which we have done already.

Then it starts with the ‘Interior Preflight’. A couple of items can be skipped since this deal with parts in the cockpit like emergency equipment, jump seat, baggage straps etc. Although the circuit breaker panels behind both the captain and co-pilot seats have very nicely modelled circuit breakers, these aren’t simulated which makes sense to me since this would be too complex.

One of the items to start with is a check of the AFT overhead panel. This panel offers ground service electrical power switching’s and lights, engine fire detection systems, an audio select panel and some circuit breakers. Although most of these aren’t necessary, none of this is simulated or if you prefer ‘functional’.

Following the lower overhead panel flow, I noticed that a couple of systems aren’t simulated or let’s put it this way, a switch, selector knob or guarded switches don’t do anything. I personally had hoped that at least every switch or selector knob would be functional, irrespective of whether it’s linked to a system.

In my view, another important system that isn’t fully simulated is the IRS (Inertial Reference System). Only IRU 1 functions, but IRU 2 switch doesn’t work. I don’t just want to highlight every part that isn’t working, because there’s still a lot that does work, but I sincerely hope that the Rotate group will add more functionality to the non-simulated systems. I can now continue with the normal procedures list, but with the necessary limitations because of those systems, switches and/or selector knobs that aren’t simulated.

What is and what isn’t is partly confirmed by Rotate in the ‘Rotate-MD-80_Manual’ which states as follows “Although our model entitles a high level of simulation (including a Flight Management System with SIDS and STARS), this is not a fully 100 percent simulated model. We have slightly simplified some systems and have left some minor secondary items out of the simulation. All those not simulated items and simplifications are pointed out in the first part of the manual.”

The only problem in my opinion is that it does not specifically identify what is and what isn’t working. So the best way to figure how the cockpit preparations work is to try it out and preferably using a tutorial. So my first flight of the day will be based on the flight tutorial when performing the cockpit preparations.

Flight Dynamics

Updating Aerosoft NavDataPro AIRAC cycle
Updating the AIRAC cycle with Aerosoft’s NavDataPro is needed as you might know.

The Rotate MD-80 comes with AIRAC cycle 1406 which is quite old, but no problem. This section will describe the procedure how to update your Rotate AIRAC DB if you own already a license of Aerosoft NavDataPro package. If not, check out the following Aerosoft eShop web page links.

Once you’ve installed the Aerosoft NavDataPro software – this section and thus the description is written for Mac OSX – you will find within the X-Plane root a subfolder named “NavDataPro”. Open it and click the NavDataPro app. Enter your email address and serial which you received via the email from Aerosoft. You’ll find in the list “Rotate MD-80”. Next, check for correctness of the path to the aircraft.

Click on the right-hand side “Commands” and tick “Select” and either use the small “Update” icon or the large icon at the top middle of the window. Within the popup window Select “Download” and after this process has been finished, press the button again which indicates now “Install”.

And then?
Everything you’ll find in the “navdata” folder needs to be copied and paste to the Rotate MD-80 NavData folder. Perhaps it’s an idea to first make a backup of the old AIRAC cycle data and then paste it. After restarting X-Plane and the Rotate MD-80, you’ll notice that the FMS CDU shows you the latest AIRAC cycle you’ve just installed.

Flight Plan Loading in General
Creating a flight plan could be with many programs, but let me highlight a couple of freeware possibilities. Let me start with Routefinder which offers you quickly a flight plan, but this is not in “X-Plane fms” format however, it does offer a “txt” extension.

If you don’t like Routefinder, you could check out FlightAware which offers real flight plans. Another very interesting website is simBrief. Register for free and a wealth of flight planning information becomes available. Thanks Michael for bringing this up!

You could also go for the browser X-Plane Flight Planner. A very nice program – however, you need to create your flight plan yourself while the previous programs generate a “real” flight plan for you, as far as real can be. FlightAware is doing this at least. And … the browser X-Plane Flight Planner is only generating the X-Plane fms format while we need to the rotate MD-80 a “txt” format. But there’s another possibility. I found the browser-based Online Flight Planner which seems to be a good one although I’m not 100 percent sure if the generated flight plans are as real as they should be. The good news is that it seems to do the same as RouteFinder, but with several export options, of which a few are “X-Plane fms” or the “txt” format and even a complete flight plan overview in Acrobat format. You can also find the correct aircraft type, namely the McDonnell Douglas MD-80.

An example of creating a flight plan with OnlineFlightPlanner. It uses the database from RouteFinder.

Ok, where and how to install your created txt flight plan? Drop the txt flight plan file in the Rotate MD-80 “saved-routes” folder. Keep the name as it is. In this example it’s our tutorial flight plan from LESO to LEMD thus the name will be LESOLEMD.txt.

Flight tutorial and the Maddog feeling

The flight tutorial covers, as mentioned before, a normal flight from LESO (San Sebastian) to LEMD (Madrid). The purpose that Rotate had in mind when they prepared this tutorial is to show the normal operation of the airplane with a fixed pattern of using the Auto Pilot modes. Although it’s a short flight, many cockpit preparations are covered, as far as possible, as well as other flight phases.

It would be a perfect way to explore the Rotate MD-88. As stated by Rotate themselves, the model is not a 100 percent replica of the real MD-88, but it’s still a complex aircraft and many aspects are not automated as with current modern aircraft. I would say, let’s try out the MD-88 with the help of the tutorial.

While doing all the cockpit preparations for the tutorial flight, I noticed that out of three position switches only two positions are implemented. Or take another example, the APU panel. Many switches on this subpanel aren’t simulated and I find that a bit of a shame. The moment I reach the glareshield preparations, and the switching of the FD (Flight Directors) you can immediately see that the DFGS (Digital Flight Guidance System) isn’t simulated as I had hoped it would be.

When you switch, the left FD switch ON, the other right-hand one moves ON as well. This means that the modelled MD-88 has no split DFGS. This isn’t a problem, but I sincerely hope that with future updates the Rotate developers will try to program the DFGS as it works in real. It’s worth asking Rotate about the DFGS implementation.

Per Ivan “The AP implements a custom sequencer, HNAV commands are driven by X-Plane logic, and VNAV commands are completely customized. The DFGS (Digital Flight Guidance System) has been modelled to resemble the original MD-80 Series, using the native X-Plane autopilot modes.”

Following the tutorial steps, I found them easy and straight forward. Text is always accompanied with screenshots which make it very easy to perform the preparation and to check yourself if that you have done the switching correctly. The modelled MD-88 isn’t – luckily – fitted with a default FMS CDU, but it has two realistic looking MD-88 CDUs; however, both CDUs are displaying the same pages. When you’re a diehard FMS CDU simmer, you won’t have any problems programming this LESO -LEMD flight, but if you’ve not got enough experience with FMS CDUs in general, I must point out that the FMS CDU tutorial part is well written and gives you all the necessary information.

I’m pleased so far. I’ve reach the taxi checklist which means all the previous preparations are completed and certainly with no stress. While taxiing to runway 4 bear in mind that, although you’re are sitting more or less above the NLG, the MLG is far behind you. If you choose to use the external view ‘Cltr+4’ during taxi, take care that the MLGs follow the taxi line when the aircraft makes a turn. When you let the NLG follow the taxi line, the MLGs won’t follow this line and, before you know, the MLGs are in the grass!

Before commencing the takeoff, I suggest that you read the tutorial once more since there’s lot to do after lift off. OK, you could switch ON the AP, NAV and VNAV buttons quickly, but try to view it as a challenge to master the MD-88 during the initial climb and remember the Auto Throttle takes care of the thrust. Once airborne, having a stabilized initial climb, retract the FLAPS/SLATS and, of course, don’t forget the landing gear.

Then, at a recommended moment, connect the AP, NAV and VNAV modes and recheck with the tutorial. I must say that I like this tutorial since it gives the exact steps to follow and when needed; for flight modes it offers some background information too. Once the MD-88 has levelled off at FL260, disconnect the AP and try to fly the aircraft by yourself. Try to play with a little roll and/or pitch and see what happens and see for yourself how quickly and accurately the AP controls the aircraft.

What I want to emphasise is that you will always be too late with corrections while the AP is faster every time and therefore more accurate in controlling pitch and roll.

After you’ve reconnected the AP, it’s perhaps an idea to check once more the modelled 3D cockpit. When I try to look in every corner as well as underneath the glareshield panel, it seems – even in these remote areas – that nothing has been forgotten. Under the glareshield every wire is modelled, the fluorescent tubes are there, plus screws and other components.

I didn’t mention this before but it’s worth doing so now … the simulated instrument glass reflection. This can be seen on every indicator, but especially on the PFD, ND and overhead panel indicators.

I’ve reached my T/D (Top of Descent), and let the MD-88 do what it must do. There’s not much to do. The FMS takes care for the calculated speeds and I can relax. I think it’s a good idea to check the approach conditions and how to handle catching the ILS. This is a tricky part to be honest, but once the ILS localizer and glideslope paths are captured, the MD-88 does all the work for you. I decided to go for a manual approach for runway 18L.

Only problem is that I have no idea how real this approach is and thus how accurate the MD-88 flight characteristics are. The tutorial is a great help even though not all possible flight modes are discussed. It is good to have because we’re dealing here with an old aircraft type with many systems that aren’t automated like in modern Boeing and Airbus aircraft. Yes, it’s true that the DFGS was a very modern / digital Auto Flight system, but the DFGS is unfortunately not completely modelled.

As mentioned, the tutorial describes how to capture the ILS and that feels complex. You need to read this section not once but twice to understand how you can capture the ILS of 18L successfully.

Another Flight
This additional test flight wasn’t planned, but I wanted to check out more than just those things covered in the tutorial. I decided to depart from the same airport, and used the same saved flight plan to LEMD, but instead I ‘played around’ with the different AP modes. And since I have an active flight plan in place, I could also try out things on the FMS CDU, although not all buttons are active.

I depart from LESO runway 4, connect the AP, NAV and VNAV and let the aircraft first climb to cruising altitude FL260. I let the MD-88 stabilize at this cruising altitude before I start fiddling around. With the background information from Ivan who’s a Rotate developer, I was wondering if ‘Auto Slat Extend’ was implemented. Afterwards, Ivan told me that this is one of the default X-Plane functions, but for me it’s great to see that this works flawlessly. You can try it yourself.

Leave the Auto Pilot connected, but disconnect the Auto Throttle for a moment, but leave the throttle in the current position and keep the aircraft at for example 250 or 300 knots, whatever is applicable for your altitude. By the way, you can also switch to HDG HOLD but, before you do this, first align the heading bug with the actual heading you are flying. Back to the throttle. Select V/S mode and increase the V/S more and more.

At a certain moment while you switch to the external model view (Ctrl + 4), preferably zoomed in on the wing leading edge, you will notice that the slats will extend. Although you didn’t touch the FLAP/SLAT handle, you’ll see that the SLATS start to extend, not the FLAPS of course. When you decrease the vertical speed again, the SLATS will slowly retract. This function is actually part of the aircraft STALL protection.

For those who want to know a little more about it …. ‘At pre-stall recognition, either detection system provides an input to the autoslat system and extends the slats, if in mid-sealed position (half way), actuates the stall warning system by means of a pulsating input to the glareshield STALL lights (STALL flashes) and CAWS (Central Aural Warning Speakers) speakers, and activates a vocal warning. With slats extended and stall recognition conditions exceeded by programmed amounts, as detected by both computers, the control columns mechanically move forward simultaneously with appropriate elevator movement.

In addition, the STICK PUSHER PUSH TO INHIBIT switch-lights on the glareshield illuminate.’

After having seen this, and having the Auto Throttle back in command, it’s time to play with the different modes on the glareshield, as far as applicable of course. One thing not directly related to the ‘playing mode’ is to keep the HDG bug always aligned with the actual heading while following the flight plan. That said, when the aircraft moves on to the next waypoint, and the heading changes, manually move the HDG bug to the new heading.

Further on, I played around with the SPD SEL, MACH SEL, insert a DIR INTC (direct to) waypoint to see what the aircraft would do. Bear in mind that when you change the flight plan with for example the DIR INCT (or also known as DIR TO), the EXEC button pops up. Or try out to enter a VOR/DME beacon somewhere in the area and enter the frequency of this beacon and course on the captain’s glareshield panel.

Select the VOR/LOC button, monitor the FMA and the MD-88 should turn in this direction. If you decide to do this, it’s also a good idea to set the ND to ROSE which gives you the NAV 1 pointer and importantly it offers you DME indication too, if applicable. And I can’t say it enough, when you’re stabilized to this VOR/DME station, set the HDG accordingly.

And to complete it, add a second VOR/DME beacon on the right-hand side of the glareshield panel too. You won’t see anything on the ND ROSE, but on the RMI you will notice the double needle pointing to this beacon. Hold on, I have to correct myself … the ND ROSE will give you the VOR/DME 2 slant distance to this station.

All in all, there’s a lot to try and explore with this MD-88 aircraft.

Sound, Performance and FPS (Frames Per Second)

Sound
When it comes to MD-80 Series sounds I’ve got the idea that many real sounds have been recorded in an actual MD-80. I can’t remember all the sounds, but what I do recall are the sounds from, for example, the ENG FIRE TEST, STABILIZER, stabilizer motion (when moving the stabilizer suitcase handles long enough), FLAPS, STALL TEST, OVERSPEED, the external APU speed, and even the overall instrument sounds like the old-fashioned indicators with their synchro’s.

Performance
I can tell you everything about how I feel the MD-88 performs, but it would be helpful if we first check what Rotate must say about this. Per Rotate, the ‘MD-80 has been designed to optimize performance and to achieve an optimal CPU/GPU balance. However, it makes extensive use of V-RAM, and systems below 3GB might see a considerable increase of RAM/ CPU load. As a workaround, normal map files in the “objects” folder may be removed with a significant relief to the V-RAM usage, at the cost of visual quality.’

FPS (Frames Per Second)
That said, I’m pleased with the overall FPS performance. Yes, I’m also aware that my iMac is a heavy one, but even my iMac has its limitations. Still I’m happy with the impact on the system. With the following Rendering Settings, I could reach 30 to 35 FPS (full screen mode 2560 x 1440 pixels) although it also depends on for example having SkyMAXX Pro being active or not. But as everyone is aware it all depends on your PC or Mac hardware, your screen resolution, the rendering settings etc. Can I get even higher frame rates … oh yes, but of course I have to lower some of my rendering settings.

Summary

Oops, that was a long read, but I hope it was worth it. And for me it’s always a struggle to think ‘did I cover everything’? I believe that most of it is dealt with in this comprehensive impression, but it’s always possible that I’ve overlooked issues to highlight. And other problem is that the Rotate developers are constantly improving the model which is good news.

Nevertheless, I’m happy with the overall product. As said before, the Rotate group is constantly busy improving the model and, as far as I know, now work is focused on the FMS and CDU. Perhaps also a popup 2D FMS CDU? As with version 1.21 still no popup FMS CDU!

If and when Rotate decide to add more system functionality to the aircraft is something I am not aware of, but I sincerely hope they will do so. Right now, I feel it a shame that on the overhead panel of the modelled MD-80 some switches, knobs etc. aren’t functional and I really hope that Rotate will also add functionality to the second IRU. Besides that, a split EFIS control system would also be one of my requests. Perhaps you can recall I mentioned earlier: only one IRUI is simulated with a very short alignment period. But ok, that’s just what I would like to see.

What else is worth highlighting in such a long impression?
In case you want to know more about MD-80 Series, it is probably worth checking out the dedicated MD-80 Smartcockpit web page. These Acrobat files are free, but if you prefer them to have them on your iPhone or iPad, then you should go to this dedicated Apple iTunes web page. Remember, this will cost you 4,99 Euro, although I must admit that you not only get the MD-80 manuals, but all other aircraft manuals and procedures from Smartcockpit.

I know that there are many simmers out there who would love to see a pushback option, and to give it an even more realistic look a pushback truck. I could continue with other suggestions. It’s indeed worth pointing out because other XP developers do offer these add-ons in their aircraft package. I would be pleased of course if further additions like this were implemented, but I would love to see more functionality on, for example, the overhead panel, APU start logic etc.

Some summary words about the tutorial.
I said before that it’s sensible to include this tutorial especially for those who need help with all the preparations, but perhaps it’s also a good idea for the Rotate group to include the LESO-LEMD flight plan in the ‘saved routes’ folder. OK, it’s easy to make it yourself, but the Rotate MD-80 Series sub-folder ‘saved-routes’ actually comes with a few saved flight plans (KIAH-KATL, KLAX-KIAH and KLAX-KSFO), but not with the flight plan that is related to the tutorial!

OK, where can you get it?
More information about the Rotate MD-80 Series (now that you know better, it’s the MD-88 that’s modelled/simulated) can be found at the dedicated Rotate website (http://rotatesim.com) and the X-Plane.Org web page devoted to the aircraft. (http://store.x-plane.org/Rotate-MD-80_p_441.html)

For this review, I used the following freeware packages. (Although I didn’t install the Spain UHD packages, I can tell you that it is well worth downloading some of these high-quality photo real packages to give mother Earth a great look.)
Freeware | LESO San Sebastian Airport v1.0 from X-Plane.Org user tdg
Freeware | LEMD Madrid Airport v1.0 from X-Plane.Org user tdg
Freeware | SpainUHD Photorealistic Scenery

Regarding user liveries.
Search on X-Plane.Org using the word ‘Rotate’ and a bunch of user liveries popup. It’s a little bit too much to highlight them all in this impression, but it’s worth checking them one by one, since some are very nice. Although I’ve mentioned it a couple times, the Rotate MD-80 Series impressions is based on version model 1.21r build 1. It is tested on an iMac (see elsewhere my hardware/software specs) with macOS Sierra 10.12.2 and X-Plane 10.51.

Anything else?
In case there’s something you would like to know or to ask, you can always contact me via email Angelique.van.Campen@gmail.com or via Angelique@X-Plained.com.

With Greetings,
Angelique van Campen

Add-on: Realistic presentation of the MD-88
Publisher | Developer: X-Plane.Org | Rotate
Description: Accurate Reproduction of the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 Series
Software Source / Size: Download / approximately 3.1GB (unzipped)
Reviewed by: Angelique van Campen
Published: December 31st 2016
Hardware specifications: - Intel Core i7 3.5 GHz
- 32GB DDR3-1600 MHz RAM
- nVidia GeForce GTX 780m 4GB
- Saitek Pro Flight X52 Pro
Software specifications: - macOS Sierra 10.12.2
- X-Plane 10.51
- Skymaxx Pro Version 4.x
- A variety of freeware and payware airports

2 Comments

  1. Eli

    Excellent review. Really enjoy all your reviews!! Just one quick question – can I use Navigraph to update nav data?

    Reply
    • Angelique van Campen

      Hi Eli, thanks for your nice words. It’s much appreciated.

      Back to your question; yes, you can use Navigraph too, but need to do this manually, as follows: First rename under your Rotate MD80 aircraft NavData to whatever name you want for example to NavData_160x where the “x” indicates the number of the AIRAC that has been installed, but you can also rename it as NavData_backup. Next, unzip from the downloaded Navigraph “jardesign_a320neo_native_1612.zip”, and copy the contents of the unzipped package named “NavData” to the Rotate MD80 root folder. Startup X-Plane and the CDU will show you the AIRAC number of the installed package.

      Reply

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