Commercial FSX Aircraft Review



PMDG 737NGX


Publisher / Developer: Aerosoft / PMDG
Description: Real representation of the Boeing 737 NG -800/900 Series
Software Source / Size: DVD / 3GB
Flight Simulator: FSX
Reviewed by: Steven Bannwolf
Published: October 28th, 2012


Computer / Software Specifications
Computer System: - AMD Radeon HD 6800
- 4 Gigs RAM
- AMD Phenom II X4 955 Processor 3.20 GHz
- 1TB HDD
Software: - Flight Simulator X: Acceleration
- REX Essentials




















Introduction

The Boeing 737 series of aircraft are the best-selling aircraft series in the history of aviation. The very first 737-100 was built by Boeing in 1966, certified by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) in 1967 and first flown by Lufthansa in February 1968. Boeing has been producing them ever since. (Lufthansa was the first launch customer contracted in 1965 and was the only major customer for the 100 series) That brings today’s numbers to well above 7,000. On average, there are 1,250 737s airborne at any given time. That’s just one of the many reasons why when people think of airplanes, they think of a 737.

The most recent 737 models, the -800 and -900 are a bit different than the original -100 series. Boasting upgraded avionics and a great number of improvements, they have evolved fairly rapidly. PMDG is well known for making outstanding quality add ons for Flight Simulator. In fact, the PMDG 737 NGX is quite possibly a popular commercial airliner created for Flight Simulator and it’s an officially licensed Boeing product. The 737 has been modeled in Flight Sims for quite a while, but PMDG has gone above and beyond and spent much time on creating this aircraft in extreme detail. So, let’s jump into the most recognizable airliner of all time.


Installation and Manuals

I have the boxed copy of the product. It came with the DVD and an almost 100 page manual. Installation was just like any other disc product, smooth and painless. While the product was installing, I looked at my manual. Basically, it comes with an introduction, technical specifications, etc. It also includes a step-by-step tutorial flight for those who are completely new to flying the aircraft. The tutorial flight tells you what the systems are and the correct procedures, but it does something really cool – it tells you why you’re doing them. If you press a button, you’re told why it needed to be pressed and what it does. That’s actually makes things a lot easier for me to manage.

This plane is a challenge to fly. It’s been designed with the hardcore simmer in mind, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be flown if you prefer to just jump in and fly, but remember, the tutorial is in this case a great help. The manual is very in-depth and concise, and there's an abundance of other fan made tutorials online that you can refer to. In short, there’s a learning curve, but the reward is more than worth the time spent reading.

As I mentioned before, after a completed installation, you can access the various PMDG 737NGX manuals, a livery manager and a performance manager via the start menu button, and folder PMDG Simulations-PMDG 373NGX. The first manual is the FCTM (Flight Crew Training Manual) and is 416 pages thick. Looking closely into it, I think this is a mix of PMSDG and original Boeing data. The manual covers the following chapters:
- General information
- Ground operations
- Takeoff and initial climb
- Climb, Cruise, Descent and Holding
- Approach and missed approach
- Landing
- Maneuvers
- Non normal operations

The 2nd manual, named 737NGX Introduction, isn’t a thin book, having 134 pages, but it explains all about the PMDG 737NGX, starting from the installation and configuration, what kind of known conflicts FSX offers you and how to use the provided manuals. It also details how to handle knobs and switches with your mouse, customize your 737NGX with the help of the CDU, which failure to simulate, getting the most out of your 737NGX, limitations of the simulator and finally, how to deal with the Livery Manager. Overall, an interesting and very useful document. It’s absolutely worth to read or better yet, to print it.

The 3rd document is the 737NGX SDK (Software Developers Kit. For the regular flight simmer I think you can skip this, it's apparently intended for developers. According to PMDG “The purpose of the PMDG 737NGX SDK is to allow users a clean, simple methodology for creating third party applications that interface with the PMDG 737NGX series of software products.” Interesting, but not directly applicable to regular flight simmers.

The 4th and 5th manuals are actually tutorials and based on previous experience, they are well written tutorials. Tutorial 1 covers a flight from London Gatwick (EGKK) to Amsterdam Schiphol (EHAM) while tutorial 2 starts at Amsterdam Schiphol (EHAM) and flies to Innsbruck (LOWI). Going thru the tutorials I must say that it covers every check or action needed. At certain pages, I got the impression that the amount of text is a little too much or not directly linked to a screen shot. Overall though, very helpful tutorials!

The next two manuals are FCOMs 1 and 2 (Flight Crew Operations Manuals). Both are directly taken from the original Boeing 737NG. FCOM I deals with tables, tables and even more tables. When you want something to be “as real as it gets”, this is the “real” manual for you. I have my doubts if this FCOM I is not over the top with all those tables, but time will tell. FCOM II is one of those manuals you'll like. Although directly taken from the original Boeing 737NG, it offers a huge amount of detailed descriptions and operations of all the aircraft systems. I would suggest, however, that you print it out but then you'll have over 1200 pages and that might be a little too much. On the other hand, you can also decide to buy these manuals. PMDG also offers you all these manuals in printed versions, fitted together in a nice PMDG binder.

And finally, PMDG offers you the 737 Quick Reference Handbook (QRH). This 452 page QRH discusses all types of abnormal procedures and conditions and how to solve these. Useful, but first try to master the 737NGX under normal flight conditions.


The Cockpit

Well, what can I say? It’s amazing. I feel like I’m sitting in the actual cockpit of a 737. Every little thing is detailed, right down to the dust on the display screens. The lighting is beautiful day and night, the buttons are modeled with extreme attention to detail and everything works. Even the 2D cockpit looks great. Personally, I prefer flying at night because you can completely configure how you want the lighting to look like. It ranges from dim to bright and everywhere in between. No detail has been left out. Even the Heads Up Display (HUD), which folds up and down, looks incredible but only available in the Virtual Cockpit. It’s perfectly adjusted and displays accurate information based on what’s happening outside your aircraft and how you’ve configured your systems.

Now, PMDG has gone more than the extra mile when it comes to the systems and this is where their product really shines. You’ll be using your CDU (Control Display Unit) to set up everything from your way points to your fuel and passengers. PMDG has tried to integrate everything you need into one system so you don’t have to constantly switch back and forth for fuel and payload menus, as an example. It shows you all of the information for the aircraft, from thrust to weight to navigation. It’s very comprehensive and it’s extremely close to what you’d find on a real 737. I’d suggest reading the tutorial on how to use the CDU. It’s where you’ll be doing most of your flight setup. Even as I type this I’ve barely scratched the surface of how to use it and I find myself constantly reviewing the manuals so I don’t miss something. That said, I’m sure anyone can master it with practice.

Another major characteristic of PMDG is their attention to detail. After all, their name does have “Precision” in it. The VC is amazing looking from a distance, and when you get close up, it becomes downright beautiful. For instance, each dial on the AP is not just some “blob” if you zoom in. It’s lifelike, complete with wear and tear. That’s not to say everything on the plane is aged. It’s a relatively new model and resembles the “new plane” look quite well. This is actually something I really like. On the old 737s (real life and FSX), the cockpit was this weird brown/beige color that was an eyesore. Now it’s a cool grey that makes you feel like you’re the Captain of a next-gen super plane. In a way, you are.

Everything in the Virtual Cockpit is sharp and clear. It’s obvious someone went to great length to add the small details. From the sounds when you hit the “fasten seat belt” button to the dust and reflection on the CDU screens, if you want detail… you'll find it here.



Another intricacy is the HUD. I mentioned it before, but it deserves more attention. During your flight, flip it on and you’ll see the most detailed and amazing HUD a Flight Simulator can offer. It’s not a series of pixels strung together, it looks like a real HUD. Basically, it reports visually different aspects of the flight in real time. For those of you out there who want a cockpit you can micromanage, I think you’ve found your match. If you’re just itching to fly, don’t worry - there are several configurations (cold and dark, up and running, etc.) that you can select with a few button presses. Once again, you can manage just about everything in the plane without having to go through any other menu.

The 2D cockpit has received the same treatment. It doesn’t look like a photo with some dials on it – just the opposite. It’s been created from scratch, and looks fantastic. I prefer the VC myself, but if you like 2D cockpits you’ll be glad to know that it wasn’t forgotten in the creation of the airplane. It’s bit mapped beautifully and every switch works as you’d expect it with the exception of the throttle console. A very important development or lack there of. By the way, I found a way around that problem. Using the F9 and F 10 keys, I can go from the 2D to the VC throttle without having to use the A key and go through all of the other VC panels to get back to the 2D panel.



The systems on the PMDG 737NGX are well-known in the Flight Simulator world for being spot-on. After a few days of using all of the systems, I can confirm that. The autopilot works just as you’d expect it to, very smooth and easy to operate. Even changing the dial settings for inputting your heading or speed is painless. Something that a lot of people who use FSX airliners will appreciate. A few clicks here and there and you’re enjoying the scenery below. The FMC will do a lot of the work for you once you’ve input all of the relevant data. On your MFD (Multi Function Display) you’ll see the route (you can zoom in and out, etc) with all of the way points. These aren’t just lines that connect at weird angles. They represent your actual flight plan. The bottom line? Every single system is “almost” detailed to perfection. As far as I can judge, it seems that every single tiny detail is there.


The Exterior

Now that we know that the Virtual Cockpit as well as the 2D cockpits are awesome, it’s time to give the exterior a thorough inspection.
We’ll start with the default livery. Even though it’s just what comes with the package, it’s a sight to behold. The colors are crisp and clear, with little to no pixilation. PMDG has obviously taken one thing into account. Detail! It’s the small details that really make the plane stand out. From being able to see through the passenger windows to watching your pilots set the systems of the plane, the detail has been given the highest priority. This is what really impresses me about the plane. I promise you that no matter where you look you’ll see that detail. For example, if you were to put the engines in full reverse, you can see the wiring and plating inside the engine when it opens. How’s that for detail?

Another amazing feature that's included is the lighting. These aren’t the bland “blobs” of lights that we think of in FSX, these are detailed lights that look like, well, lights. From strobes to lighting up the logo, it was so lifelike that I had to spend five minutes just staring at them. I’d heard a lot of good things about how PMDG puts detail into everything and I wasn’t let down.



The fine details of the plane are of a high level. For instance, zooming in on the plane will reward you with seeing the individual bolts and rivets of the wings or the fuselage. If you’re industrious, you can aim the camera correctly so that you’ll see through the aircraft via the passenger windows. If you open the wing exit doors, you’ll see the seats inside. I fell in love with the exterior and I really think that if you’re detail oriented, you’ll love this plane too. The animations deserve their own paragraph. Like everything else on the PMDG 737, they’re great. From flaps to full reverse thrust, it looks exactly as it does on the real 737.



In addition to these animations, PMDG has included the option to open every door on the aircraft for other add-ons that use them or just aesthetics. There’s also an option to add tire chocks and ground power units next to the plane. You’ll see what I mean in the exterior screen shots.

Now, let’s go for a walk-around inspection.
This walk-around check deals with a 737-800 with winglets. My walk-around is actually divided into checking the liverie's quality including the texture resolution and how well the external model is modeled. Both will lead to a positive answer although the McPhat Studios hand-made liveries are even of a higher quality. But for now I am very happy with the final result. Enough. Let’s start at the wingtips. I’m impressed with all of those tiny details like the rivets, bolts, scratches, light units and a weathered look and, while walking further, the way the slats / Krueger flaps and trailing edge flaps are modeled. With the components selected DOWN, I can clearly see the slat spindles, flap tracks and even the heating pipes for the Anti-Ice System. It almost looks real. It seems that no detail has been forgotten. Within this area, I also have an excellent view of the engine nose cowling and the side of the CFM engine. It doesn’t matter where you look, a more realistic engine I’ve hardly ever seen before. Approaching the MLG (Main Landing Gear) and wheel bay proves again that nothing has been forgotten. Look at the wheel hubs, tire shape, piping and wiring, etc. I’m aware that it will never match the real 737NG, given the required number of polygons, but overall I must say I am very pleased with the overall view and tiny details.



I continue my walk-around towards the tail. Checking the tail area demonstrates the horizontal and vertical surfaces as well as the fuselage rear section. Without any effort, I can easily see the rivets, static dischargers, APU doors etc. This part of the walk-around check is definitely a success, but it’s time to move on, back to the NLG (Nose Landing Gear) via the other side of the aircraft. Passing the cargo door, I’ll briefly visit the landing gear, quickly look into the MLG bay, then the flaps, flap fairings, ailerons, wingtip with winglet, slat/Kruger flaps, engine inlet, engine cowling, oil leackage check, engine inlet with fan blades etc. Sorry,but I could continue for hours to tell you about everything I’ve seen and not mentioned. There's just so much, it’s impossible to mention all those tiny details.



With the forward passenger door opened, it appears that much attention has been given to the door lining, but also the forward galley area. Passing the fuselage nose with the radom, even this is razor sharp! But there's more in this area. The pitot tubes look as real as you can get, which is partly due to the photo-real material. My walk-around check is almost completed and I’m sure I didn’t miss a spot, but on the other hand, with so many tiny details you easily forgot something. Overall, and as I said before, I'm very happy with the final result and PMDG has, as far as the exterior of the aircraft is concerned, delivered a masterpiece. Oh, and as a last note regarding the opening / closing of the doors and front air stairs, these and many more actions are initiated from the cockpits CDU (Control Display Unit).


Flight Dynamics and Sounds

According to PMDG, their 737NGX has within 5% of the actual operating specifications of the real aircraft. Since I’m not a real 737NG pilot, it’s difficult for me to confirm this. On the other hand, after flying it for a while, I think they did a great job. If you were to compare this aircraft to the default 737, the difference would be night and day. This PMDG 737 NGX handles just like you’d expect it to. It’s not a sports car, but it does fly with style. If you’d like some advice, here’s the one thing I’ve learned. Plan your steps ahead of time.

Now moving to what is possibly my favorite part of the package. The sounds. Out of all of the superb features, the sounds have really made it for me. I’m sure everyone who has flown on a 737 recognizes that sound when the plane is idle, taking off or in flight. PMDG has created them perfectly. I have nothing but positive things to say about the sounds for this aircraft. Every single sound in the plane has been accounted for, from turning on switches to the silent roar of the flaps. I am very impressed with how accurate everything sounds. The same amount of detail provided everywhere else on the plane has been applied to the sound set. If you’re a sound junkie, you won’t be disappointed.


The Flights

It’s time for the bird to take flight. PMDG has provided an almost 90-page tutorial flight manual. It’s extremely detailed and will guide you from programming the CDU to landing. It’s well written and explains what each step is and why you’re doing it. However, it will take quite a while to get it right. It took me at least 30 minutes to get started and another 30 to make sure I didn’t mess anything up, which I later found out I had. The satisfaction of getting the plane off of the ground was immense and I didn’t regret a moment of the time it took to using the manual.

Here are the highlights:
The tutorial flight takes you from London Gatwick (EGKK) to Amsterdam (EHAM), one of the more commonly flown routes in Europe. You’ll start on runway 08R with a 737-800 that’s fully powered up except for your flight specifications. The tutorial gives you specific details about selecting your fuel and payload (passengers). Cargo is calculated automatically. The neat thing is, you do this all with the CDU. None of it takes place in FSX’s menus. Instead, you choose your fuel levels, payload and failures (should you want them) all from the 737’s CDU. Once your fuel and payload is loaded, you’ll move on to inputting your route, which actually functions like a highway. For instance, the route the tutorial takes you on is CLN5P.CLN.UL620.REDFA.REDFA1A, which can boggle your mind if you don’t know what it’s talking about. The tutorial does a great job of explaining this, and to put it into a few words, it’s basically the “roads” you’re flying on.

Once you’ve input all of that into your CDU, you move on to the autopilot. The autopilot will pretty much do everything for you, save for takeoff and landing and it’s important to set it up correctly. This is actually where I made my error - I’d later find that out a few thousand feet above Great Britain - so be sure you double check your settings! After spending around 5 minutes setting up the MCP, you move to takeoff preparation. The FMC will tell you on the display and PFD when you need to rotate since you input all of your specifications earlier, so this part is a breeze. Not unimportant, the virtual co-pilot will announce for example “80 knots” etc. You know that sound when you’re on an aircraft and it begins to roll for takeoff? Yeah, it’s there. At around 400 feet, you activate the autopilot and while the aircraft flies itself you can take a minute to breathe again. This is the relatively easy part of the flight as all you have to do is monitor your systems and admire the view. Don’t forget to give the passengers a briefing on what the weather is like in Amsterdam.

You won’t have too long to admire the countryside and water below you before you have to prepare for descent. The tutorial will run you through managing your rate of descent and set up your systems to make your job a little easier. At this point, it shouldn’t be too difficult to land if you’ve programmed everything correctly.



On my descent, I disengaged the autopilot a little too early, probably around 5 or 10 minutes before landing. I thought it would’ve been interesting to see how the plane flew without the autopilot doing all of the work. The problem with that idea was this was my first time flying the aircraft realistically. As such, I had absolutely no idea what I was in for. I had disengaged the autopilot before the final few turns were executed and now I had to do all of that manually. First of all, the plane flies exactly as you’d expect a big hunk of metal would. Like an oversized bus. As I said before, you have to plan your moves carefully in advance. I didn’t. I tried to bank too hard after disengaging my autopilot and ended up looking like I was flying sideways. Oops! In my rush to correct the plane, I pulled back on the stick for too long and I was now traveling upwards at a 30 degree angle. Oops again! I regained my nerves and leveled the plane out. I decided to disregard the flight path from here on and just see if I could wing it and land the plane. That was my third mistake. I didn’t know when to put the flaps down, how to manage my rate of descent and I literally felt like a five year old behind the controls for the first time. In a sense, I was. I found a runway that wasn’t busy at EHAM and tried as best as I could to line myself up for landing.

Because I hadn’t watched my airspeed too closely, I was starting to stall at about a mile from the runway. I had to go to full power and pull up. By the time I had regained airspeed, I was a third of a way down the runway. I cut all power, deployed my speedbrakes and hoped for the best. I landed too fast, too far down the runway and too hard. I’m sure if this was reality I would’ve blown a tire from such a rough landing and lost my job. Somehow, I was able to stop the plane and get it off of the runway. I can smell the lawsuits already being directed at me and my airline. Oops once more!

So now that I had crash-landed in perfect conditions, I did the next perfectly logical step. I went to fly manually in terrible conditions.
I started in Seattle and gave the area the worst weather it would be safe to fly in. Some turbulence, lots of rain and moderate wind shear. Sitting at the gate waiting for my plane to boot up, I had the sinking feeling I was in over my head. I probably was. However, I went ahead anyway with my “sure to be doomed” flight. Taxiing to the runway was the easy part, except for a bit of sliding around because of the wind shear and wet tarmac. I would like to point out that the 737 taxis a lot better than I thought it would. It’s easy to make relatively sharp turns and manage your speed.



After lining up, turning on my windshield wiper (simply for the effect) and lowering my flaps, I throttled forward. The wind was coming directly at me at around 15 knots, so I knew I’d be in for a challenge. Oddly enough, pulling up with the plane is easier than expected, even in adverse conditions. You would think you’d have to pull back on the stick all the way and hold it, but you have to be rather precise and gentle with your movements. I was completely on my own this time. No autopilot. Just me, the plane, and a very nasty thunderstorm that’s sure to go down in Seattle’s history books. As I lifted off the runway, I encountered some moderate turbulence. Switching to my over-the-wing view, I saw the wings flexing with the added variables. I love the wing flex. It looks lifelike and just makes me feel like I’m on a plane.

However, there was little time to look at my wings, as I was already at too steep of an bank angle. As I brought the plane under control, I thought to myself that this should be easier than how it currently is, then I remembered I had forgotten to trim the aircraft. After trimming up, it was like having an autopilot on… to keep the plane level at least. The trimming for the PMDG 737NGX is different than you think it would be. It’s designed to be purposely slow. This actually helps you at higher altitudes to make more precise adjustments and not lose control of the plane.

I circled back around to land, the part of flying the 737 that I haven't quite mastered. Remember my disaster with my earlier flight when I tried to land? My attempt to land at KSEA went the same way, and I had to start over again about five times in order to land correctly. Even with all of my mishaps, the plane handled like a charm. Smooth movements, the occasional noise when I lowered the flaps. It all contributed to the experience. I felt like I was actually flying a living, breathing machine. Once I had landed, I activated my thrust reversers and slowed to taxiing speed. As I got off the runway and pulled to my gate, I couldn't help but imagine how much better things would've been if I was a better pilot. Oh well, practice makes perfect. It would’ve been nice to have a First Officer to do all of this work for me, though. A nice add-on is that from FS2Crew. For more information about the Virtual FS2Crew co-pilot, visit the dedicated FS2Crew website.


Performance, FPS and Bugs

The PMDG 737NGX has been known to be a performance hog, but I didn’t really experience any major drop in FPS (Frames Per Second) viewing the exterior or the interior, but keep in mind, your actual FPS will depend on each systems. The only issue I really had was when I’d switch from an exterior view to an interior view and the cockpit wouldn’t model itself for a few seconds. In other words, everything was grey for a few seconds while the cockpit loaded. However, that’s a minor issue and it never really occurs for more than a few seconds. With so much detail modeled in the systems, you’d expect to find a few bugs. I didn’t find any. Everything works as it should (or from what I’ve tested thus far) and I have no bugs to report.


Summary

To sum it all up, this 737NGX replica is a great add-on and worth being a PMDG. I'm incredibly impressed with this aircraft. Every single thing about it is excellent. It’s filled with enough features to keep any flight simmer busy for many months to come and PMDG should be proud of the work of art they have so painstakingly created. The attention to detail is staggering, the systems are spot-on, and the graphics are excellent. The fact of the matter is that there are so many features included with this product that there’s a chance that I missed a few details. I firmly believe that the popularity of this aircraft is well-deserved, and I know that it will set the standard for flight simulator airliners for years to come. If you’re looking for an extremely accurate, detailed plane from systems to aesthetics, look no further. The PMDG 737NGX is simply one of those “must-haves” for Flight Simulator.

More information about this PMDG product can be found at the dedicated Aerosoft web page.

With Greetings,
Steven Bannwolf


This review is written for Aerosoft News Service and published via the Aerosoft website. While the reviewer has complete journalistic freedom, we ask the reader to keep in mind where the review is posted.