Thrustmaster Airbus Captains Pack

Those of you who know me and have been reading my blog posts for the past 13+ years, know that I enjoy the immersion which the flight simulation hobby provides to us.  I’ve spent time, money and a lot of effort to build up my home simulator with various controllers from GoFlight (which sadly went bust a few years ago) and when flying my PMDG 737 I rarely need to use the mouse and keyboard during any phase of flight.  However, the same can’t be said for the Fenix A320.

Immersion Killer

Yes, ladies and gentlemen….I’ve been flying my Fenix Airbus A320 (and even the FSLabs back in P3D) with a yoke versus a sidestick or joystick controller.  But this is about to change as I recently gifted myself the Thrustmaster Airbus Captains Pack which contains the sidestick controller, the throttle quadrant plus to two additional add-on quadrants which control the speed brakes and the flaps.  Additionally, for the record….I did attempt to use an older Logitech Extreme 3D Pro joystick, but just found that I preferred the feel of the yoke versus the stick.

Finally, while I’ve spent the better part of the last 5-6 years flying an Airbus with a yoke, as I’ve been flying computer based sims for well over 40+ years….I only purchased my first yoke about 25 years ago.  Before that I had always used a joystick to control whatever aircraft I was flying as yokes really weren’t available way back when.

Why Change Now

Good question!  I suppose the really honest answer to this question boils down to the simple fact that I really wanted the same level of immersion with the Fenix A320 (and someday soon the Fenix A319/A321) that I have with the PMDG 737.  In addition, a few weeks ago I signed up for the pre-order release of the new WinWing FCU unit which once that is setup I’ll be more immersed into the world of Airbus and not need my mouse and keyboard nearly as much.

But there’s another reason

I’ve found I need to use different sensitivity settings on my old CH Products Yoke when controlling the Fenix A320 than what is needed with the PMDG 737.  Half the time I forget to adjust them and when they are setup for the 737, I really struggle with the flare in the Fenix and usually slam harder than I would like onto the runway.  The reason I’ve put up with this so long is I tend to fly the PMDG 737 about 75-80% of the time.  But I have a feeling I’ll fly the Fenix A320 a lot more now.

Unboxing, Setup and first Use

I must say, I was really impressed with the packaging.  The simulated “Red Tape” that reads remove before use made me chuckle.  I quickly unboxed it and began setting it all up.  In the box you’ll find two long USB cables and two shorter ones.  The shorter cables, about 3 inches in length will connect both the flap controller and the speed brakes controller to the main center throttle quadrant.  Then one of the longer USB cables can be used to connect this complete unit to your PC and same with the sidestick.  Depending on your configuration, you can use the sidestick as somewhat of a USB hub and connect the throttle quad to that.  But I have plenty of USB ports and just connected both to the PC.

Once that was done, it was time to download the drivers from the Thrustmaster website.  I initially had difficultly getting Windows to recognize the sidestick as by default it is set to work with an Xbox.  But there is a switch on the back to change that to PC and once done, Windows detected it just fine.  I quickly went through the calibration steps in Windows just to make sure everything worked.

Fenix Calibration

This caused me to pull a few hairs out at first.  Obviously I’m only going to use this setup when flying an Airbus.  I’ll revert back to my yoke and other hardware when flying a Boeing.  But it took me a few minutes to get the throttle quad to function correctly with the Fenix.  Thankfully, they have some good documentation on the Fenix website to assist in this effort.

After some additional time in removing some of the mappings which automatically get applied and which I don’t need, it was time for my first test flight.

Pros and Cons

Naturally there will always be some pros and cons to any hardware add-on.  While the Thrustmaster TCA hardware is plastic, it does appear to be well made.  The sidestick is the heaviest of the kit and does have a nice feel to it.  The buttons and leavers all appear to be smooth in their operation.

However, there are a few drawbacks that I’ve discovered after a few flights.  For example, the speed brake is just a lever and will not pull up as it does in the real aircraft to arm the spoilers.  However, I just mapped one of the buttons on the engine start panel to arm the spoilers.  Also, not really sure what the engineers had in mind when they planned the auto-brake switch as it is a rotating knob versus the push button controls found in the real Airbus A320.

Finally, if you suddenly lose all your Windows and MSFS sounds, it’s most likely because the sound settings have switched over to the TCA Sidestick audio device.  This is because the TCA Sidestick has a built in audio device where you can attach a headset if you desire.  As this is not something I’ll use, I just changed my audio devices back to my PC soundcard.

Final Thoughts

I really didn’t mean for this to become a review of the Thrustmaster TCA Airbus Captains Pack, but I guess in a way it turned out to be just that.  So far I’m pleased with the purchase and am certainly looking forward to receiving my Winwing FCU.  I believe the combination of these two pieces of kit will allow me to enjoy the Fenix A320 as much as I enjoy the PMDG 737 from an immersion point of view.

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

Jerry

P.S. I’ve actually been looking very closely at the Thrustmaster Boeing Yoke to replace my 25+ year old CH Products yoke.  When/If I do decide to pull the trigger on this purchase, I’ll certainly let you all know.

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2024

I mentioned a little while ago when I wrote about the recent delay to system update 15 for Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 that I would take the time to write about the new version of MSFS2024 which is due to release sometime this year. While we don’t have a release date at this time, if history repeats itself (as it often does) we could expect a end of summer timeframe release.  But considering (at least in my opinion) MSFS2020 is absolutely fantastic and should get even better once SU15 drops the wait for me is a non-issue.

A New Sim Really?

Like many, when I first learned that Microsoft/Asobo were working on a brand new sim I was surprised.  Of course if you’ve been around the flight sim world as long as I have, you’ve seen many iterations of the sim.  After all, Microsoft released six different versions of Microsoft Flight Simulator between the years of 1996 and 2006.  Each of these new versions contained new features and functionality from their predecessors and in many ways they each took advantage of the quickly developing PC technology of the day.  I firmly believe this is also why we’re seeing a brand new version of Microsoft Flight Simulator some four years after the successful release of MSFS2020.  Let’s face it, while MSFS2020 released to us on PC in August of 2020, the planning and actual development began many years before.

Most Popular Sim?

As I’ve said before in other blog posts, when MSFS 2020 released, the flight sim community expanded immensely almost overnight.  This is especially true when MSFS2020 became available on the XBox platform almost a year later.  While the flight sim community might still be relatively small and niche compared to other game genres, we have proven to Microsoft and Asobo that we’re here, we’re active and we want the very best flight simulation that can be developed for the home flight simulation enthusiast.

We may never really know if at the time MSFS2020 was released, whether Microsoft had the plans at that time for MSFS2024.  While they may have speculated it would be a popular release, I think the direction the flight sim community wanted Microsoft to take the franchise has proven to be worth their efforts in continuing the franchise for many decades.

All The Benefits

There are many, many benefits to us as consumers of flight simulation add-ons (including both software and hardware) for Microsoft to continue updating the sim for hopefully decades to come.  While the software add-on market has always been relatively strong, the hardware market is also making a huge comeback.  The hardware market had sort of become a bit stale in the last few years before the release of MSFS2020.  Today we have many different hardware developers creating everything from yokes, joysticks, pedals, throttles and all the various components to truly become free of needing to use the mouse and keyboard.  I firmly believe this increase of the number of software and hardware developers is testament to the success of Microsoft Flight Simulator.

MSFS2024

I’m sure everyone has already viewed the teaser videos Microsoft released around the time of the announcement last year.  Much of the new mission content are things I’m really not interested in.  True, while I will probably spend time doing some of them…it’s just not something I’m overly excited about.  For me, what I enjoy about any flight sim is the open world opportunity to fly what I want to fly, wherever I choose to fly it.  But what might we expect to be included in MSFS2024 that we don’t have available today?

New Aircraft

I would expect much of what we consider the default aircraft included in MSFS2020 today will be made available in MSFS2024.  But there are a few new aircraft which should make their way into MSFS2020 such as the Beluga Airbus and Airbus A300M.  But again, these are probably aircraft that I will rarely fly in the sim.  But wait…there’s more to MSFS2024.

Weather Data Capabilities

Asobo have commented in a few of the developer streams of late that MSFS2024 weather data is going to get some changes from what we know about weather in MSFS2020.  Could we finally be able to import historical weather into the sim?  Again, time will tell and this is one of the reasons I’m holding out on purchasing ActiveSky FS which I discussed a few weeks ago.

Freeware Marketplace

Now this I’m potentially excited about.  The amount of good, quality freeware add-ons that we have witnessed come onto the scene with MSFS2020 is exceptional.  While I own a great deal of payware airport sceneries for MSFS2020, I’m using several freeware airport sceneries in some locations as either there is no payware available or the freeware looks and performs better than the payware.  But Microsoft have noticed the demand of freeware content and may one day offer it to be available in the Microsoft Marketplace.  Like I said, I’m really excited about this as while I keep track of all the scenery I have installed in my sim (which you can see here), having this ability to install from Marketplace and hopefully be notified of any updates is a game changer for me.  This of course will also be HUGE for those on the XBox platform.  But we’ll see if this comes to fruition.

Release Date

As I’ve previously stated in this article, at this time we do not know when MSFS2024 will be released.  While history can always be a good indicator of things like this, we really just don’t know.  We may learn more after the FSExpo taking place in June (21-23 June), but I’m going to take a huge guess and say that MSFS2024 will release sometime between August and the end of the year.

Future of MSFS2020

I’ve spoken to many fellow flight simmers and currently it’s about a 70/30 split on whether they’ll move to MSFS2024 once released.  This being approx. 70% saying yes to MFSF2024 and approx. 30% have said they’ll stay on MSFS2020 for now.  But what is the future of MSFS2020?  Well we do know that sometime in 2025, Microsoft/Asobo will release SU16.  With SU16 Microsoft/Asobo might bring some of the features that will be available in MSFS2024 into MSFS2020.  How much or how little just isn’t known at this time.

800lb Gorilla

I can’t close out this article without addressing the 800lb Gorilla in the room and that of course has to do with all the purchased add-ons from MSFS2020.  What will be available?  When will they be available and what will it all cost?

Unfortunately we really don’t have an absolute set of answers to those above mentioned questions.  What we do know is the vast majority of 3rd party developers have publicly stated while they are just as much in the dark as the rest of us concerning when MSFS2024 will release and the amount of changes required to make their add-ons available into the new sim, they all have plans to make them available for MSFS2024 just as quickly as possible.  In addition, most have stated that any already purchased MSFS2020 add-on will not require a full repurchase once available for MSFS2024.  However, depending on the level of effort to bring them into MSFS2024 is simply unknown at this time and therefore I suppose there could be a minimal charge necessary to offset any of this development work.

Once again, if history repeats itself….most 3rd party developers will not have access to MSFS2024 until we all have access to it.  So the clock starts on any work required on these 3rd party add-ons the very same day we all can make our purchase of MSFS2024, download and install it.  While some in our community will be absolute idiots and begin posting in 3rd party developers forums, Discords etc. about when XYZ will be available…I urge everyone to be patient and just wait.  It will happen and it will happen just as soon as possible.

In Summary

For me, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2024 will be a day one purchase for me.  I will take the same, exact approach I did with MSFS2020.  I will install it and I will experience it most likely in a default Cessna 172.  I will continue to use MSFS2020 as my primary sim, utilizing the PMDG 737, (hopefully the 777-300ER), the Fenix A320 (and hopefully their A319/A321 as well) and patiently wait.  At such time these aircraft are available in the new sim, I will add them and progressively utilize MSFS2024 more and more,  Then at some point down the road MSFS2020 will be uninstalled and simply forgotten about just like P3Dv5 was.

Oh, One More Thing

Join me in crossing your fingers, toes etc. and perhaps even going so far as asking St. Joseph of Cupertino (Patron Saint of all things aviation) to intercede on our behalf, that from day one, MSFS2024 will open up their camera API functionality so that third party developer //42 can finally bring Chaseplane to MSFS.  While over the past couple of years I’ve managed to get somewhat used to the MSFS default camera system, for those of us that used Chaseplane back in P3D this would be a true game changer if it could be developed for the new sim.

If you’ve made it this far, Thank you!  My apologies for the lengthy blog post, but there was a lot that needed to be shared.  I will continue to share what information I can find on MSFS2024 as soon as more is known.  Of course, I’ll blog about all my experiences in the new sim once it’s on my PC.  What an amazing time this is for those of us involved in the hobby of flight simulation!

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

Jerry

ActiveSky for MSFS

Well blow me down…a few days ago HiFi Simulation Technologies have announced, and somewhat out of the blue I must add, that ActiveSky FS is coming for Microsoft Flight Simulator.  Actually by the time I got around to writing this it is already out.  ActiveSky FS is officially available for MSFS as of 18 April and many of the Twitch and YouTube content creators have already begun showcasing the new weather engine.  Before I provide my opinion, let me say the following.

In the olden days…

Back in my FSX and P3D days, ActiveSky was an absolute must have in the sim.  It was truly a game changing 3rd party product.  When MSFS first came out and because Asobo/Microsoft didn’t open up the API for 3rd party weather systems, HiFi Simulations made the announcement that at that time there would be no way for them to bring live weather into the sim.  I discussed this in greater detail in this blog post titled “Confused in Cleveland – Weather Addon for MSFS“.  According to what I’ve heard, Microsoft has made no changes to the sim as we know it to allow any 3rd party weather systems to function.  So essentially ActiveSky FS must have found a way for it to finally work.  But it appears all ActiveSky FS is doing is reading the METAR and using default MSFS clouds and other weather elements to depict what is going on around you.

After the initial release of Microsoft Flight Simulator almost four years ago, the built-in weather engine wasn’t very solid.  But over the years and especially the last 2+ years that I’ve been using MSFS exclusively, there have been vast improvements made to the weather engine and I personally have been very pleased with what I experience in the sim.  I’ve actually been so pleased with it that I really haven’t felt a need to think about any sort of 3rd party weather add-on.  Which is why the announcement from HiFi Simulation Technologies comes as such a surprise to myself and many others.

My Impressions

First, let me state up front that I do not own ActiveSky FS for MSFS.  Some could argue and question why I would even write a blog post about something that I don’t have any first hand experience with.  While this could be a good argument, I’m stubborn and this is my blog site and I can write about what I want to write about and you can read what you want to read.  LOL  I have plenty of loyal readers of this blog site that look to me for honest reviews and opinions and while I haven’t purchased and used ActiveSky FS, the information I do have is certainly worthy to share.

Like I said, I have viewed several hours of content from both YouTube and Twitch in the past 24 hours and have come to the conclusion that in the grand scheme of things, at this immediate point in time  there is no discernable difference between what I saw with my own eyes when showing MSFS with built in weather active versus with using ActiveSky FS.  If anything….one of the content creators who I watch often, discovered a couple of bugs in ActiveSky FS which are worthy enough to take  a more wait and see approach to this add-on.

I do believe in time, ActiveSky FS would be something I would purchase if and when 3rd party developers such as PMDG, Fenix etc. are able to connect into the ActiveSky FS API for possible weather radar depiction functions which obviously still are missing in MSFS.  However, I just can’t see a reason to spend my money on something that at this time doesn’t offer anything better than the default MSFS weather.  Of course, one other big advantage of ActiveSky FS at this time is the historical weather options which have been sadly missed in the default system.  But this isn’t something I use very often and honestly haven’t missed it that much over these past few years.

The other slightly disappointing fact in my observations with regards to the new ActiveSky FS is their UI or User Interface.  It’s basically the same UI from years ago.  Of course one could say if that works, why change it?  If felt clunky way back in the days of FSX/P3D and still looks the same way today.  Perhaps this is something they’ll change in time.  But who knows.

Like I said, I’ll keep an eye on ActiveSky FS and hopefully in time the product will offer a lot more than what is available in the default MSFS weather systems.  While ActiveSky FS is reasonably priced at $24.99, it’s just not something I’m ready to commit to at this time.  But I would encourage anyone reading this to do their own research.

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

Jerry

Reader Question – Bredok3D A380

I realize this is the third “Reader Question” post I’ve made in recent weeks.  Yes, that’s true!  I’ve obviously been holding out waiting for the release of the PMDG 777-300ER as that will be a day-one purchase for me and within a few days I’m sure I would write about it.  So until that happens, and I’m still holding out we’ll have it before CTP on 20 April, (but that is looking less likely) here is another email question/comment from one of our blog readers.

Hello, I’m new to your blog site and have already discovered a wealth of information that has helped me tremendously in my flight sim hobby.  I’m considering purchasing the Bredok3D A380 from the MSFS in-game MarketPlace.  Do you have any experience with this aircraft?  I’ve read that FlyByWire is developing an A380, but as the A380 is my favorite aircraft I’m wondering if the newly released Bredok3D version is worth the money.  I have experience with the Fenix A320 and PMDG 737, is the Bedok3D A380 similar in quality?  Can you help?

Well….to answer your question, No….I do not have any experience with the Bredok3D A380 and I don’t plan to purchase it.  In my opinion it is a waste of money.  To take this one step further, I doubt I would even install this aircraft into my system if it were free or if I were given a copy of it.  I just dislike these Frankenstein type of aircraft that mostly utilize the default aircraft systems (in this case the default A320).  There are just too many developers that have taken this course with releasing add-on aircraft that may look from the outside to be what is advertised, only to find out they utilize the default aircraft.  Another example of this is CaptainSim’s Boeing 777 that when released used the default Boeing 747 systems.

I suppose you could consider me a bit of an add-on aircraft snob.  I don’t mind spending my hard earned money towards something like the Fenix A320 or the PMDG 737 (or hopefully soon to be released B777-300ER), but I’m just not going to waste my money on this trash.  It’s just not worth it in my opinion, especially considering that a freeware version of the A380 will release soon from a reputable developer (FlyByWire) who has a proven track record with their A32NX.

While I can appreciate that the A380 is your favorite aircraft, likewise the Boeing 777 is mine.  I’ve never been tempted to purchase anything other than the PMDG version once it releases and it’s been a really, really long wait as I completely uninstalled P3D about 2 years ago once the Fenix A320 and PMDG 737 released.  So it’s been more than two years since I’ve flown a 777 in the sim.  But the wait will certainly be worth it.

Bottom line and my complete open and honest opinion for you.  WAIT!!!!  Don’t spend your money on the Bredok3D A380 as in the long run I think feel you’ll be disappointed.  Especially when you state that you have experience with the Fenix A320 and PMDG 737.  Trust me, even without flying the Bredok3D A380, I can tell you the level of detail, level of quality and level of immersion in the Bredok3D A380 will be absolutely NOTHING like the Fenix or PMDG and I’m more than certain that the FBW team will blow everyone out of the water with their A380 once released.

If you’re just craving some larger, long-haul type aircraft until the FBW A380 releases, then have a look at the Horizon Simulations Boeing 787-9 or the Kuro Boeing 787-8.  Both of these are fine freeware representations of the Boeing Dreamliner.

There are far too many other quality aircraft which you can fly until the FBW A380 releases.  Have you tried the Horizon Simulations Boeing 787-9 or the Kuro Boeing 787-8?  Likewise, the Headwindsims Airbus A330-900Neo is likewise a fairly descent aircraft which I also have in my virtual hangar.

Scammers/Scamware

Final thoughts on this subject.  Some in the community refer to Bredok3D, CaptainSim etc. as scammers and call their products scamware.  While I’ll stop just short of calling them scammers and development of scamware, I will just say that buyers must beware of what they are getting from these types of developers and this is part of the problem.  Since the release of MSFS 2020, a very large number of newcomers have entered the hobby.  This is a very good thing for the hobby, but these individuals haven’t been around to witness the behavior of developers like this in the past and don’t understand the questions to ask.  They just see a shiny, new Airbus A380 and think that will be a quality aircraft.  Unfortunately, developers like Bredok3D, CaptainSim and many others like them are not going to stop doing what they are doing until such a time that their Frankenstein projects no longer sell.

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

Jerry

My Top MSFS Add-ons for 2023

It’s hard to believe the end of year is just days away.  The year really went fast, but I guess that is also part of getting older.  Anyway, I’ve been thinking about some of the MSFS add-ons which released this year and also wondering how it compares with 2022.  During 2022 we had some really amazing and much needed add-ons appear on the scene.  Most notably the Fenix A320, PMDG 737-800 and GSX Pro.  To be brutally honest, 2023 hasn’t really been as exciting as 2022 and much of that has to do with developer delays. 

Most of us speculated that PMDG might be able to get their Boeing 777 out before the end of the year and Fenix had also hoped to release their Airbus A319 and A321 airliners.  But unless something changes in the next few days, we’ll have to wait until 2024 for these.  I recently wrote about “What’s in store for us in the new year”?  Have a peek at that article and see if you agree on some of my non-scientific speculation. 

I’ve come up with a short list of the add-ons that I added to the sim in 2023 that truly impressed me. 

Horizon Simulations Boeing 787-9

Anyone who publishes their top add-ons for 2023 and does not list this one at the very top or very near the top needs their head examined.  In my opinion, prior to the release of the Horizon Simulations Boeing 787-9 we were absolutely starving for a truly capable long-haul, widebody aircraft.  Naturally, the Horizon Sim 787-9 wouldn’t have been possible without the AAU2 Aircraft & Avionics Update released back in June.  This revolutionized both the default Dreamliner and 747 in MSFS and of course the developers at Horizon Simulations capitalized on that and released their aircraft.  The truly awesome thing about the Horizon Simulations Boeing 787-9 is it’s freeware.  Pending you own the Premium Deluxe version of MSFS, this aircraft is 100% free.  In addition to the bit about it being free, in my opinion it is just as good as the QualityWings 787 from P3D which we most likely will never see in MSFS. 

Kuro Boeing 787-8

Directly behind the above mentioned Horizon Simulations 787-9 is the Kuro 787-8.  These two could be interchangeable as for what might go into the #1 spot or the #2 spot.  I’m ranking the Kuro behind the Horizon simply because the Horizon Sim 787-9 was released about a month before the Kuro.  But they are both grade A representations of the Boeing Dreamliner and both (again in my opinion) exceed the QW Dreamliner which again, I must say we’ll never see in MSFS. 

Headwind Simulations Airbus A330-900

While I believe this aircraft may have actually released back in 2021, it really didn’t catch my attention until earlier this year after it had had plenty of time to get all the kinks worked out.  This was my first Airbus widebody to ever fly and I’ve had pretty good luck with it.  While I’m mostly a Boeing sim guy, this has been a fun aircraft to fly and I highly recommend checking out the Headwind Simulations Airbus A339X.

Various Airport Sceneries

I’ve added some really awesome airport to MSFS over the past year.  While I can’t be 100% certain that every one of these are new to 2023, they are new to me in the past year.  FlyTampa EHAM, iniBuilds KPSP, Flightbeam KMSP, MKStudios EIDW, Dominic Design KPHL and KIND (along with a few others that I am pretty sure were released in late 2022) all are excellent representations of their real world counterparts. 

Looking ahead to 2024

With regards to all the aircraft I mentioned in this recently blog post titled “What’s in store for us in the new year?” I failed to mention the FBW A380X.  Based on some of the screenshots and updated information which was released around the middle of December, the project is coming along and hopefully we may see this aircraft sometime in the new year.  Also, iniBuilds also just announced their plans to release an Airbus A350.  I’m not sure if we’ll see that in 2024, so time will tell.

I’m also really hopeful that someone will someday, someday really soon release a quality Dallas/Ft. Worth KDFW airport.  The Asobo version is ok, but it really doesn’t do this awesome airport justice.  FSDreamTeam has always been the developer to make DFW, so hopefully it is on their list for the new year. 

Of course, I’m really excited to see what Microsoft/Asobo releases with MSFS 2024.  I know this is a sore subject among the flight simulation community.  I provided some of my thoughts and opinions way back in June which you can read about if you so desire.  But I’m really excited about MSFS 2024 as I believe this new sim will be a truly amazing upgrade to what we have now. 

Well….that’s about all I can think of at the moment.  Yes, I do believe perhaps 2022 was a much bigger year for add-ons….but while 2023 might have been a bit of a sleeper, I think 2024 will really blow our socks off. 

I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!  I look forward to all that the new year has in store for us.

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

Jerry

P.S. I started writing this blog post in very early December.  The teasers from PMDG regarding their 777 and the assumed 737 MAX began gaining serious traction around the middle of the month.  As I’ve always released my “Top Add-ons” blog post just before Christmas, I did have hopes that I might need to edit it and slot in a new PMDG release.  After all, if PMDG had released either the 777 or the 737 MAX in the calendar year 2023, that release would have been my #1 add-on of the year.  However, as the 777 only went into beta testing around the 17th, I don’t anticipate it releasing until sometime in the first quarter of 2024. 

What’s in store for us in the new year?

We’re in the final weeks of 2023 and it has me wondering that we have to look forward to in the new year.  Of course the biggest possible thing could be the next iteration of Microsoft Flight Simulator.  Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, I’m sure you know that a brand new version of Microsoft Flight Simulator is being released sometime in 2024.  While many do not see this as a good thing, I certainly do.  I believe Microsoft/Asobo have hit certainly roadblocks in MSFS 2020 and the only way to carry it forward is to release a brand new sim which hopefully will have everything we love about MSFS 2020, will have fixed everything we dislike about it and lay the ground work for an even better simulator for decades to come.  While MSFS 2024 is certainly something to look forward to, many of us are still very much in love with 2020 and looking forward to a few new goodies.

PMDG 777

Yes, one of my favorite simulator aircraft should be available to us in the first half of 2024.  While there is no date and it is only my speculation, but I think we will see this in the first quarter of 2024.  But don’t hate on me if that doesn’t work out.  Thankfully we’ve had a really good Boeing 787 Dreamliner to keep us busy the past few months.  But the void created by not having the 777 is a really big one.  Let’s hope I’m right and we’ll see it sooner rather than later in the new year.

Fenix Airbus A319 and A321

In a very much unexpected announcement a few months ago, the devs at Fenix announced that we would soon have their version of the Airbus A319 and A321 before the end of 2023.  I don’t believe they’ll make that deadline since they also had to delay the block 2 of their Airbus A320 which was originally planned to be released at the end of October.  With the delay for the A320 block 2, I would expect the A319/A321 to be delayed until sometime in the first half of the year.  While I would like to be as optimistic about the A319/A321 as I am with the PMDG 777, we’ll just have to see when block 2 comes out and how successful that is to then determine just how much longer it will be before the A319/A321 arrives.

Bluebird Simulations Boeing 757

Bluebird have been teasing us with status updates on their Boeing 757 throughout the last quarter of this year.  While it was originally believed that the 757 would release before the end of the year, Bluebird announced several months ago that would not be possible and they would not rush the product just to get it out to us.  I also believe we’ll see the 757 release in the first half of the year. 

PMDG 737 MAX

Could we have the PMDG 737 MAX before Microsoft 2024 arrives?  Of course we don’t know when MSFS 2024 will drop.  If history repeats itself, then it might happen in the late summer timeframe.  But who really knows.  Robert Randazzo, the CEO of PMDG has stated several times that PMDG have no plans to announce any release date for the MAX.  We’ll just wake up one day and there it will be.  But could this happen in the first or second half of 2024? 

iFly 737 MAX

In the past 24 hours, iFly have teased a few screenshots of their Boeing 737 MAX for MSFS 2020.  To be honest, I haven’t really paid a lot of attention to this product and don’t know just how far along they are in the process.  From what I’ve heard the iFly 737 MAX was successful in P3D and I would imagine we can expect nothing less for MSFS.  I did own the iFly 737 when it released for FSX many, many years ago.  iFly managed to release their 737 before PMDG by just a month or so (if memory serves).  But just as soon as PMDG released their 737, I bought it and never looked back.  So with this said, regardless of what iFly does, I believe I’m going to hold out for the PMDG MAX. 

Bottom Line

We must all practice patience and understand that these are all highly detailed and complex add-on aircraft.  None of these above mentioned developers are known to rush a product out the door just for the sake of releasing it.  They will release when they are ready and as a consumer, this truly is the very best policy. 

I truly believe 2024 will be another really great year for flight simulation.  What a great time to be involved. 

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

Jerry

New Gaming PC

In my last blog post where I discussed the upcoming MSFS AAU2 (Aircraft & Avionics Update) which is due to release on 23 June, I briefly mentioned some issues I had been having with my gaming PC.  The PC in question, I called GBS Beast Mark V (which was the 5th gaming machine I had built in recent years).  I built the machine in May of 2018 (5 years ago) and at the time it was pretty much top of the line with an Intel i7 8700K CPU, Nvidia 1080Ti GPU and 32GB of RAM.  It performed well with the games of that time period including American Truck Simulator, Euro Truck Simulator 2 and Prepar3D Flight Simulator.  It performed OK with the new Microsoft Flight Simulator.  However, sacrifices had to be made with some graphic settings in an effort to keep the FPS above the 30 FPS mark.

However, over the past month or so I had been experiencing several issues which caused concern for the overall health and longevity of the machine. I’m pretty good about keeping backups, so about two weeks ago I made a backup of everything I needed and a few days later the machine finally rolled over and said no more.  I quickly put a plan in place to start looking at the costs of building a new machine which would obviously be more powerful and hopefully future proof for at least another 5 years.

GBS Beast Mark VI

Obviously technology has taken a huge leap forward over the past several years and certainly so since 2018.  As previously stated, I wanted to try to future proof any new build everywhere possible.  As with previous builds, the most intensive gaming I play is flight sim.  To truly maximize the total immersion possible, any new build would need to have the very best CPU and GPU available and that’s what I’ve done with this new build.

GBS Beast Mark VI features an Intel i9 13900KF CPU on a Z790 motherboard and cooled with a liquid CPU cooler.  In addition, I’m going with  the top of the line Nvidia 4090 24GB GPU.  In addition, I’m adding three Samsung 990 Pro NVME SSD’s and reusing three Samsung 870 Evo SSD’s from the old machine.  Total storage capacity will be 8 TB.  In addition, I’m adding 32 GB RAM (DDR5) which is more than enough for the games I play and all this will be housed in a massive (largest case I’ve ever used due to the massive Nvidia 4090 GPU) Corsair 5000D Airflow ATX Case.

Testing Benchmarks

As I have stated many, many times over the years.  I tweak my system for smoothness and typically don’t concern myself too much with how many FPS I can get from the hardware.  As stated above, my old gaming machine was still capable of giving me a fairly smooth experience around the 30 FPS mark in Microsoft Flight Simulator.  Of course, I had to dialed down some of the graphics settings in order to achieve this, but nonetheless I was able to enjoy the sim just the same.

Of course, the beauty of having this extremely beefy system now with the i9 13900 KF CPU and the truly awesome Nvidia 4090 GPU, I’m pretty much able to run my graphics settings to the full extreme and still enjoy a smooth, buttery visual experience at 60+ FPS with both the Fenix Airbus A320 and the PMDG Boeing 737-800.

The WOW Factor

I’m literally blown away at the huge leap forward I’m experiencing with this new PC and it very much reminds me of how I felt 5 years ago when GBS Beast Mark V came to life.  But of course MSFS wasn’t around at that time and has completely changed the flight simulation landscape.  Over the next few weeks I’ll continue tweaking the new machine and will post my settings once they are all dialed in the way I want them.  While I’m not saying one cannot enjoy MSFS without a 4090 GPU, I will just say that it is absolute joy to see the virtual skies in all their glory without sacrificing performance.

It’s great to have a gaming machine once again and I look forward to many years of what I believe will be truly awesome experiences in all the simulation games I enjoy.  Obviously, Farming Simulator and American Truck/Euro Truck will certainly enjoy the benefits of the updated hardware, but of course not to the same level as MSFS since that is both a CPU and GPU extensive simulation.

Until next time…

Happy Gaming!

Jerry

Reader Question–FPS Concerns

One of the most common questions I receive from readers of my blog is regarding FPS improvements in Flight Sim and in recent months (for obvious reasons) these questions are concerning MSFS or Microsoft Flight Simulator (2020).  Just in the past few days I’ve received three different emails asking for pointers on just how to squeeze out a few more FPS on the platform.  While I’ve provided a few tips/answers to these emails already, I’ve selected one of those email questions to feature for this article.  Let’s go!

Hello Jerry, I’m really struggling to achieve 60 FPS within MSFS when flying either the PMDG 737 or the Fenix A320.  My hardware setup is not that much different from what you are showing on your blog site and I’ve also attempted to match your MSFS settings.  The best I seem to be able to achieve is about 35-40FPS with mostly clear skies.  But this number drops down to 25-30 FPS in cloudy/stormy conditions and about the best I can achieve on the ground is in the mid 20’s.  I’m fairly new to flight sim with MSFS being my first introduction.  I don’t seem to have these issues when flying the default Cessna and my other games also seem to be fine with 60+ FPS.  What gives?  JP

Thank you JP for your email.  First, allow me to state for the record that I don’t get a consistent 60 FPS in MSFS with my posted settings.  I never have.  For many years I used to really stress over this fact until I finally realized that within flight sim a steady 60 FPS isn’t necessary and second to that, is really, really difficult to achieve especially when flying the more complex airliners like PMDG.  On my current hardware configuration, really the only way one could achieve a steady 60 FPS will require the graphics settings to be turned down really low and that’s just not something I’m willing to do, nor do I feel is necessary.

One of the best solutions I can provide to you is fairly simple.  Setup your sim the way you like it, which will provide you a smooth visual experience and simply forget about the actual FPS number.  I realize this is probably the advice you were not wanting to hear, but trust me….once you get MSFS dialed in where you have stable visuals and just simply ignore the FPS number, your overall enjoyment factor will increase. 

Over the past couple of decades I’ve used all flight sim platforms from FSX, P3D and now MSFS.  I’ve always been somewhat behind when it comes to hardware specs.  Today, my gaming machine is approaching 5 years old.  When it was built and for a few months I perhaps could have considered it the top of the line at that time, but that’s no longer the case.  Even after upgrading my GPU to the 12 GB 3080 Ti back in the late summer of 2022, I’m still running an older spec CPU which went into the machine in 2018.  These specs just aren’t capable of running MSFS at a steady 60 FPS or more with the desired visual settings I require in the sim. 

Having said all that, what I can say is based on my current hardware and my MSFS settings which I’ve posted, I have a steady sim with zero lag, zero stutter and all the beautiful eye-candy that I require in my sim when flying the PMDG or the Fenix.  Some may argue with me, but flight sim does not require a solid 60 FPS to be enjoyable. 

In closing, the Microsoft/Asobo team have made incredible progress with better maximizing the performance of the platform and I’m sure over time this will continue.  In addition, the Fenix team have done the same with even more work currently in progress.  The best advice I can give anyone reading this is to dial in your graphics settings to the point where you can achieve a stable experience with no lag and no stutter, then forget about the FPS number.  Once you’ve done this, I promise you can enjoy flight sim without the stress of chasing 60 FPS. 

Until next time…

Happy Flying!

Jerry

MSFS Beta and Should You Participate

There are many reasons why the user community of Microsoft Flight Simulator or just about any major gaming title (simulation or otherwise) should participate in the various beta or early adopter updates released from time to time.  While in a perfect world, the developer behind any gaming title should have the resources to perform system testing to rule out major issues, the hard truth is most do not and there’s almost no way for any developer to test all the possible scenarios including hardware configurations and 3rd party add-ons/mods which all can and mostly likely will have an impact in the finished product.  In actuality, the developer (in this case Microsoft/Asobo) will perform their very best due diligence to ensure the update performs on a few different hardware configurations and generally leaves it up to 3rd party developers and mod creators to “shoe horn” their add-ons around what they’ve been provided.  So our participation in these beta programs (especially when feedback is sent back to the developer) is instrumental in the overall wellbeing of the gaming title.

Generally speaking, most 3rd party developers will participate in the beta programs for obvious reasons. But they do not receive the beta version in advance of the general public.  In other words, 3rd party developers like PMDG and Fenix only have access to the beta when it’s been made available to all of us.  The 3rd party devs will utilize the time between when the beta is released and it becomes GA (General Availability) to work out any issues with their add-on.  Of course in many situations this all becomes a fast moving target as there may be many iterations of the beta.  The time a 3rd party developer spends adjusting their add-on to function correctly with the beta could become a complete waste of time as changes are made and pushed out during the beta cycle.  In other words, in some cases the only way of truly knowing if a 3rd party add-on is going to work is to wait until the beta has become GA and been released to the entire community. 

Over the years, I’ve participated in many beta programs for all sorts of gaming titles.  Some have been positive, wonderful experiences of being able to gain access to new functionality or performance enhancements before everyone else.  But in a few cases these beta experiences have become an absolute nightmare.  In many cases the only way to escape the beta is to complete reinstall the current live version. As you can probably imagine this can be an extremely time consuming process.

A few weeks ago, Microsoft/Asobo began their open beta for the upcoming SU11 update and the word on the street is the experience hasn’t been an easy one.  Especially with some 3rd party aircraft and live weather.  Some 3rd party developers will do their best to provide solutions or workarounds for their products for the beta cycle, but most simply can’t and won’t guarantee functionality on a beta installation.  On the bright side, with regards to the SU11 beta, some users have reported experiencing a significant performance improvement from SU10. 

If you’re wondering if participating in the MSFS beta program is right for you, I would say it depends.  If you mainly fly default aircraft or if you still fly P3D/XPlane then participating in the SU11 beta  (or any future beta release) is probably OK for you.  However, if MSFS is your sole flight sim platform and you’re an every day flyer of add-on aircraft like the Fenix A320 or the PMDG 737, then I would highly suggest you hold off.  Bottom line, if you want full system compatibility between MSFS and 3rd party aircraft, then stay on the current live MSFS build.  Otherwise you may be in for a surprise when you attempt to fly your favorite 3rd party aircraft in the beta build. 

As always, thanks for reading.

Happy Flying!!!

Jerry

Fenix A320 for MSFS

It’s been a while since I took the time to write a flight sim blog post. I’ve been busy with lots of DIY projects and just enjoying the spare time I have flying.  As I discussed soon after the release of MSFS, I decided to continue to fly Prepar3D v5 for all my airliner flights and have enjoyed Microsoft Flight Simulator mostly for General Aviation flying.  While I recognized from the very beginning that MSFS was going to be the new flight simulator standard, I saw no immediate need to begin flying airliners in the platform until just recently for several reasons.

First, while I did briefly play around with the FBW A320 in MSFS and will admit that what that team accomplished with the FBW A320 project is truly amazing, I didn’t see it replacing the FSLabs A319, A320, A321 I had in P3Dv5.  Second, from a short-haul perspective….I had everything I truly needed between the FSLabs and the PMDG 737.  I truly was waiting for something to grab my attention to the point where it would suck me right into MSFS.  Third, I must admit that I’m super spoiled with using Chaseplane to handle all my camera views in P3D.  The MSFS camera view system is seriously lacking when compared to Chaseplane and as I’ve been a Chaseplane user from the very beginning, old habits are truly difficult to break.

While I’ve been anxiously awaiting PMDG’s release into MSFS, I was slight disappointed in their release strategy.  Don’t get me wrong, I understand the reason behind releasing the Boeing 737-700 first, followed by the 737-600 then finally the 737-800 followed by the 737-900.  After all, had PMDG released the B738 first, they might have struggled with getting the sales on the –700/-600.  But, for me personally I’m just not interested in owning a –700 or –600 variant.  My primary interests are in the 737-800 and the 737-900.  As I fly mostly American Airlines with some Alaska Airlines flights mixed in.  But I digress as this blog post is supposed to be about the Fenix A320.

I began hearing about the Fenix A320 project a few months ago.  I’ll be honest, I really didn’t pay much attention to it until the last 60-90 days before release.  But the more I read about it the more I anxiously awaited its release and realized this could be the airliner to finally bring me more into MSFS. After all, I absolutely love the visuals (eye candy) in MSFS over P3D and truly want to do more airliner flying in the new sim. 

The Fenix A320 was a day one purchase for me and since the release, install and setup…I’ve flown nothing but the Fenix in MSFS.  I’ve successfully logged 24 flights in the Fenix and absolutely love it.  I’ve managed to setup the MSFS camera system to a point where I can use it and have been having fun.  I’ve flown a variety of short flights (1-2 hours) and several longer flights of 3-4 hours.  Both the Fenix and MSFS have performed flawlessly.  I’ve also started adding a few airports into MSFS from both some freeware selections on Flightsim.to and a few payware options where I’ve had discounts from previous P3D purchases.  While I’m not ready to uninstall P3D as I plan to fly P3D tomorrow in the Boeing 777, I’ll do the majority of my short-haul operations, and certainly all my Airbus flying in MSFS. 

Final thoughts on the Fenix A320.  I don’t like to “Never Say Never”, but if the devs behind the Fenix project remain true to their word and release the additional engine types and sharklets for the A320 and if they also produce (in time) an A319 and A321, I’ll be a Fenix customer from this point forward and won’t even consider any future FSLabs purchases in the A319/A320/A321 categories.  But of course time will tell. 

As always, thank you for reading. 

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

Jerry

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