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.
Once upon a time, there once existed a spirit within the flight simulation community where talented individuals created many marvelous things to enhance the base simulator application. Everything from navigational aids, enhanced airport scenery and aircraft. At one time in our not so distant past, the quality freeware offerings outnumbered payware. As the base simulator began to evolve (circa FS9 –> FSX timeframe) the quality freeware began to decline and the rise of payware took hold. While I won’t pretend there’s absolutely no freeware available for P3D, I will tell you that the quality content is very few and far between.
Of course the X-Plane community has, for years and still very much to this day, enjoyed a very strong community spirit around freeware/shareware concepts. Many of the X-Plane users in the virtual airline I belong to have spent little to almost no money to enhance their simulation experience. Arguably, one of the very best freeware aircraft models ever known to exist is the Zibo 737. The Zibo 737 Project, led by a team of developers to expand the capabilities of the default 737 in X-Plane. Many who fly both the PMDG 737NG and the Zibo 737 will tell you the differences between the two are hardly noticeable. Others might describe the Zibo 737 as being on-par with Aerosoft quality. Either way, it’s a fantastic aircraft and absolutely free. Who can argue with free?
With the launch a few weeks ago of the new Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020, many were bracing themselves (and their wallets) for an onslaught of payware add-ons. After all, if you’ve spent the past decade or more flying study level aircraft the excitement of a brand new simulator may wear off fairly quickly once you climb into the flight deck of the default Airbus A320. Sure….it’s pretty. But within just a few minutes you realize you’ve taken a huge step backwards in the level of immersion as most features are labeled as Inop. I’ve even stated several times that for me, MSFS2020 will most certainly become my go-to flight simulator, but only once aircraft models from PMDG, FSLabs, QualityWings etc. become available. This won’t be happening this year. Most likely this won’t be happening until sometime late in Q1 2021 or perhaps even early Q2 2021.
In just the past week or so, there’s been news about a project underway to create a “Zibo” like experience with the default Airbus A320 in MSFS2020 called the MS2020 A32NX Project. I can tell you from first hand experience that what this team of developers have been able to do in the short time since the release of MSFS2020 has certainly piqued my interest in both MSFS2020 and the default Airbus A320 from an airliner perspective.
Understand, the project is still very much a work in progress. But they’ve certainly managed to excite me in such a way that I can certainly see myself flying the A320 in MSFS2020 on the VATSIM network very soon. Certainly much sooner than I originally believed would be possible.
Want to learn more?
Of course you do! I’d suggest watching the video I’ve embedded below which will bring you up to speed on the progress already made as well as what’s in-store for the very near future. The video description area will provide you with the links to download the mod and how to join the project’s Discord server so you can stay informed on the team’s progress. I hope this news excites you as much as it does me.
Thank you for reading this article. It’s much appreciated. For those who are thinking the MSFS2020 A320 project will never be on-par with the likes of the FSLabs A320, you are probably correct. However, as previously stated….the FSLabs Airbus series is most likely 4-6 months away from being available. I’d be willing to bet, the team working on the MSFS2020 A320 project will (in time) bring this up to a level of quality and realism as what we currently see with the Aerosoft A320 and perhaps beyond.
Many are asking if the same might also happen with the default Boeing 747 and Dreamliner. Unfortunately, due to the DRM status of these two aircraft…this may never be possible. But I suppose one should never say never.
Thanks for reading. I’ll soon provide an update to my experiences with the latest MSFS2020 patch. Stay tuned….
With the upcoming release of Microsoft’s Flight Simulator 2020, many might be wondering what the future holds for the 3rd party add-on market. In today’s FSX/Prepar3d and even X-Plane environments we must purchase, download and install dozens and dozens and sometimes even dozens more of extra add-ons to create an “As Real As It Gets” experience in our favorite simulator. While some of the add-on content is freeware for X-Plane users, the vast majority of quality add-ons for FSX/P3D is payware. All these extra components (while truly awesome) often present challenges in terms of compatibility and reliability of the base sim. With MSFS2020, will we still need all this extra stuff? The short answer is yes and no.
No Longer Needed
While total immersion has always been my goal with flight sim, the eye-candy ranks right up there on my list of importance. After all, much of what we perceive to be a full immersive experience comes to us through what we see. Regardless of whether you fly low and slow or high and fast, the ground textures including roads, highways, rivers, lakes and railroads all add to the experience. In the world of FSX/P3D all this level of detail has generally been provided through various add-ons from Orbx including the Global Base Pack, Global Vector, Global Trees, Global TerraFlora, Global Buildings and different OpenLC products for each region of the world. Thankfully, right out of the box Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 has us covered with their highly accurate and stunning auto-gen provided by real world satellite imagery. However, don’t count Orbx out as there will be plenty of opportunity for them to continue to develop their awesome scenery add-ons specifically the smaller airports and perhaps some of the larger ones like KSAN (as an example).
Another example of add-ons which I believe will be obsolete in MSFS2020 is all the weather, cloud and sky texture add-ons which generally come to us via Hi-Fi (ActiveSky) and REX. Out of the box, the MSFS2020 weather engine along with the way sky and cloud textures are displayed appear to be as real as it gets. Of course the development teams at Microsoft has completely rewritten the book on how aircraft will experience changing weather conditions to a level not even available to us now with these 3rd party add-ons.
Finally I believe all these add-on shader type products such as EnvShade, PTA and Tomatoshade will also be unnecessary in MSFS2020. I truly believe that out of the box the visuals of everything including ground textures, aircraft textures, sky textures..etc. are all absolutely beautiful out of the box. This is not to say that any of these shader programs won’t make it to MSFS2020…I just don’t think they will be necessary. At least not necessary for my setup.
Needs Going Forward
Of course at the very top of the list will be all the wonderful add-on aircraft (study level and some not so much) from devs such as PMDG, FSLabs, A2A, QualityWings, Aerosoft and Carenado just to name a few. The limited information I’ve seen on the default Airbus A320 tells me that while this will be a fun aircraft to fly in the short-term, it’s not going to tick all the boxes for the seasoned flight simmer. At the time of this writing, only PMDG (to my knowledge) has provided any sort of timeline and that is looking like late Q1 2021. So we could be talking 6+ months before we see any study level aircraft in MSFS2020.
While many of the top add-on airport developers have posted pictures and details about their plans to release their airport add-ons for MSFS2020, these too will likely not be ready for release until several months after the release of the new sim. Of course, of the enhanced airports Microsoft is including in the release, it’s unclear to me how these would differ in quality from what the 3rd party developers will provide.
Expected Add-on Costs
I don’t want to speculate on exactly what the pricing will be for any 3rd party add-ons other than to say that I highly doubt we can expect to see any discounts from previous FSX/P3D purchases and certainly no free upgrades. While the FSX to P3D jump has been a similar platform and some add-ons purchased for FSX have received 100% free updates all the way to P3Dv5, MSFS2020 is a completely different platform and I believe all add-ons will also be practically brand new versions. In other words, I don’t believe these will be simple port overs from previous versions.
Additional Thoughts on Pricing
When P3D was first released, PMDG was the first to increase their pricing. At the time the reasons provided by PMDG was due to licensing and the simple fact that Prepar3D was not licensed for entertainment purposes like FSX had been. Here’s an old forum post discussing this (Jan. 2015). Other add-on developers like FSLabs also introduced their products at a premium price due to the P3D EULA. As Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 once again is marketed as a “for entertainment purposes” product, can we expect add-on pricing to drop? Well….your guess is as good as mine at this point in time. But I would guess if there is any price change towards a new EULA the change will be minimal.
As I’ve stated before, while I will most likely purchase Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 near day one and I will spend some time flying and looking around, I don’t plan to make the move to the new platform until my favorite study level aircraft are available. As I’m still currently unemployed (laid off in July after 22 years), I will also have to be frugal in my spending practices as I go along. Most likely I will focus my attention first on aircraft and just make do with the airports that come with MSFS2020. Then as time goes along and hopefully my job status will resolve itself in time, I can then purchase more things. But these COVID-19 times are difficult for many and the priorities of my family must come first before anything else.
Earlier this week I made the decision to return back to using the Aerosoft Airbus versions of the A319, A320 and A321 and thus (for now) grounding my FSLabs A319 and A320. While I truly believe the FSLabs versions of the popular Airbus aircraft are certainly more immersive and also more study-level, I’ve been battling some issues with the FSLabs which I’ve not be able to fully address.
Since COVID-19 has me working from home since mid March, I’ve been using the time to enjoy flight sim. No, I’m not constantly flying all day when I should be working. But I do generally start up a 3-4 hour flight in the morning and time it to land during my lunch break. I will often depart for a second flight during lunch and time that to land just after my day has finished. Alternatively, I’ve loaded up a long-haul with a duration of 9-10 hours in the same fashion. During the in-flight time my capable first officer (auto pilot) is flying the aircraft. I’ve been doing this on an almost daily basis since the beginning of the quarantine and as a result have racked up a few hundred hours of flight time this way.
Aerosoft A321 American Airlines
When flying any of my PMDG aircraft (B738, B777 or B744) or the QualityWings B788 the autopilot just quietly controls the aircraft and there are no issues. However, when wanting to fly either of my FSLabs Airbus aircraft, the same can’t be said. Almost every time I fly the FSLabs aircraft I will experience constant auto pilot disconnects. These disconnects (unless I’m paying attention) usually end in with my aircraft doing a nose dive into the ground or water below.
The FSLabs forums do offer pointers on how to control this behavior. The main cause for this is turbulence and I’ve adjusted ActiveSky exactly how the info on the forums suggest. So much so there’s almost very little observed turbulence, yet the AP continues to disconnect. Short of flying without Activesky, I’m just not sure how else to try to resolve this issue. In reading the forums, I’m not the only one that (even when following the recommended settings) continue to experience this behavior on almost every flight.
Most say, this is just the behavior of the Airbus. I’m not a real world pilot and I don’t personally know anyone that is. But none of my Boeing aircraft (and the PMDG aircraft I own are just as study level as the FSLabs) behave in this way. So what I come away with is the tolerances within the FSLabs are just too restrictive as compared to what I’m used to.
So having said all this, I’ve returned to using the Aerosoft versions of the Airbus. In doing so, I’m quite surprised at just how much this aircraft has matured. The last time I seriously used the Aerosoft versions I was on P3Dv3. At that time they were pretty basic, certainly so when I compared them with the FSLabs. I still prefer my PMDG Boeing aircraft and I’m also enjoying the QW Dreamliner. But from time to time I do enjoy flying the Airbus series and for my Monday – Friday flights, the Aerosoft will work just fine. I may even pickup their A330 soon.
Not everyone appreciates the joy of study level aircraft in the flight sim world. At one point in time, I was one of these individuals. My argument (and I believed at the time it was a valid one), was simply I just didn’t have the available time to spend 30 minutes or more on the ground flipping switches and programming a complex FMS. I simply wanted to spend less time kicking the tires, and more time lighting the fires and flying.
It must sound strange…
…to a non-flight sim enthusiast that anyone would spend the amount of money and time on a hobby like this, but truly have no desire to learn to fly in the real world. The argument is a valid one, I’ve spent at least a high four figures (perhaps five) over the years which would have more than paid the costs of obtaining my PPL. While I absolutely love flying in real life (as a passenger), I just simply don’t share the same interest in obtaining my private pilots license.
There’s No Right or Wrong Way
Something my YouTube viewers have heard me say many, many times. There’s no right or wrong way to enjoy the hobby of flight simulation. I recently wrote an article titled, “Default/Freeware Aircraft in P3D v4” where I discussed some of the history of both default and freeware aircraft and the fact that there is nothing wrong with using these models to simulate flight. As I was writing that article, I saw a comment posted in one of the Facebook groups I follow. The individual discussed the fact that he simply doesn’t have the time to study, study level aircraft. He expressed many of the same reasons for not flying the complex study level aircraft which I mentioned in the first paragraph and his bottom line was he wanted to spend time flying for maximum enjoyment to escape the stresses of his day-to-day hectic life. Sound familiar? It does to me.
While I’ll always argue and defend the fact there’s no right or wrong way to enjoy flight simulation. I’ll also add that over the years I’ve found I actually get the maximum enjoyment from the more complex, study level, payware aircraft I once avoided.
Point A to Point B and EVERYTHING In-between
I absolutely enjoy all aspects of flight simulation. I enjoy the flight planning, the setup of the aircraft, the taxi, departure, climb, cruise, descent, arrival, approach, landing, taxi…..basically everything. To me, a flight from point A to point B isn’t complete unless all the I’s are dotted and all the T’s are crossed. Yes, it takes some time. But over the years I’ve developed a process which I use to both learn and also fly these types of aircraft.
New Tutorial Series
The past two articles I’ve written did get me to thinking that I should share my processes for how I conduct my flights with the payware, study level aircraft I enjoy flying. I’ve only really started the frame work portion of how I draft and write my articles so I’m not sure just how many tutorials or how in-depth they’ll actually be. But in keeping with my philosophy of “There’s No Right or Wrong Way”, if you are the type of simmer who enjoys dressing up like a real world airline captain and working through each and every checklist, then most likely you’ll not get a lot out of these future tutorials. HOWEVER, if you desire not to spend greater than 30 minutes, 45 minutes or even up to an hour on the ground just to enjoy a flight…then perhaps you’ll learn something from these upcoming tutorials. We’ll see.
The first article will focus mainly on how I learn/study the process of flying a new aircraft and I hope to bring that to you within the next week or so. As I’m looking at my calendar, I have two work related trips I’ll be taking in July, followed by one in early August. Then my wife and I are leaving for Belgium/England for two weeks in late August, early September. I honestly can’t wait for this vacation, but will do my best to at the very least get the tutorial series started before vacation.
As always, thanks for reading. Until next time….happy flying!
Sometimes, we have the idea or the mindset that “I’ll never do ____________” (insert word or phrase) because of this, that or some other reason. I suppose the phrase “Never, Say Never” comes roaring into my head. By the way, did you know the first recorded mention of the words “Never, Say Never” was from Charles Dickens’s Pickwick Papers in 1837. Anyway….I must say that I’ve recently purchased something which I’ve previously said I would never do. I also recognize the topic of this posting is extremely controversial within the flight simulation community. I’ll post some final thoughts at the end of this piece and will welcome any comments (pending they are civil) from my readers. Also, will just remind anyone reading this outside of my blog website (GrizzlyBearSims.com), my writings are syndicated on a few different other websites and the opinions expressed in this piece belong to me and may or may not be the same opinions expressed by the owners of those other websites.
Before I get long-winded, let me just say right off the bat that YES, I’ve purchased BOTH the Flight Sim Labs Airbus A320 and their newly released A319 aircraft. I’ll get into all the reasons for my change of opinions in just a moment. First, let me just provide a little background history regarding both Flight Sim Labs (FS Labs) and their Airbus aircraft.
First Things First
I first heard of FSLabs several years ago when I was researching information regarding home cockpit building and specifically some utilities FSLabs had developed for some third party hardware add-ons. Thanks for FSLabs as their solution helped me get my GoFlight hardware working with the older PMDG 747 in FSX. This was all around the 2009-10 timeframe.
Of course, I’ve also been aware of their Concorde-X and their A320-X aircraft add-ons for many years. I almost purchased the Concorde-X several years ago, but if I’m not mistaken…one of the reasons I didn’t was because I was transitioning from FSX to Prepar3D v2.x and at that point in time the Concorde-X was not compatible. While the Concorde-X is now compatible with P3D v2 and v3, it’s not compatible with v4.
Flight Sim Labs Airbus A320 in American Airlines livery.
If it’s not Boeing…
So you all know the saying, “If it’s not Boeing, I ain’t going”. Yea…I’ve felt that way for a long time both in the real world and also in the virtual sim world. But I have this little issue…perhaps some might say it falls into the superstition category…but typically when time permits I enjoy recreating my real world flights in the simulator. A few years ago I was flying from Denver to Indianapolis on Frontier Airlines for a business trip. The flight was going to be on an Airbus A319 and while I really had no experience with Airbus aircraft in the flight sim, I decided to do a little research. I discovered FSLabs offered an A320 and Aerosoft offered a package including the A318, A319, A320 and A321. At the time, it was sort of a no-brainer decision. I had a desire to fly the real-world Airbus A319 Frontier flight and Aerosoft had the add-on aircraft which was compatible with the sim I was using at the time.
Time Keeps on Slippin’, Slippin’, Slippin’….
…Into the Future. Yes, another musical lyric segue….but now as a few years have passed since my original purchase of the Airbus product, we find ourselves one year post Prepar3D v4 (64 bit) release and while many add-on developers were quick to release their P3D v4 compatible aircraft models, scenery and other add-ons….Aerosoft (as of the time of this writing) still haven’t released their Airbus series for P3D v4. But let me just say that this blog article is not about the Aerosoft Airbus delays.
Back on Topic
And back to my opening sentence of this writing. I’ve expressed my feelings towards the Flight Sim Labs PR debacle both here on my blog as well as in other corners of the web such as flight sim related forums and various Facebook flight sim groups. If you’re not aware of all that has transpired and you don’t care to read my older posting linked above, I’ll just quickly summarize the happenings over the past several months below:
In an effort to prevent pirating of the FSLabs A320X aircraft add-on, FSLabs inserted a bit of malware which only became active if the software was an illegal, pirated copy. FSLabs apologized, explained the reasons and admitted the action taken was “a bit heavy handed”.
A few months later, it was discovered that the FSLabs A320X installer was directly writing files into the system32 and SysWOW64 directories.
Then a little spat began to brew between FSLabs and the folks over at Reddit. Some threatening words and legal action were exchanged.
Finally, someone using the name “RandomRedditor” hacked the FSLabs website and forums.
While the actions taken by FSLabs was and is a major failure on their part, certainly two wrongs will never make it right. Meaning, the individual referring to himself/herself as “RandomRedditor” is just as much in the wrong as FSLabs has ever been (in my opinion).
My Change of Mind/Opinion
Let me state once again for the record, I condemn the actions taken by Flight Sim Labs in their effort of preventing the piracy of their software. However, I also recognize software piracy is wrong and as it relates specifically to our flight simulation hobby is directly damaging it by forcing developers to charge more for their add-ons. In other words, here’s yet another example of honest, hard-working individuals having to carry the burden for those who would rather steal.
Last week I was watching one of my favorite Twitch Streamers from the UK, Chewwy94. If you are unfamiliar with his channel I would encourage you to follow him. He’s an excellent flight sim streamer, he runs a very positive and informative channel and as I said, he’s truly one of the best doing what he is doing. Anyway, Chewwy (real name Matt) was showcasing a pre-release copy of the Airbus A319 from FSLabs. I don’t always have time to catch all of his streams, but it just so happened that I was in Orlando for work and spent the evening watching most of the replay of this particular stream.
Yes, at the very beginning of the stream my attitude matched pretty much what I had said in the past. More or less, that I didn’t plan on doing business with Flight Sim Labs due to their previous antics. But the more I watched, I began to reflect back to my early days with flight simulation. I’m often reminded just how far this hobby has come over the past 35 years that I’ve been flying computer based sims. If you weren’t around in the mid-80’s, here’s a little video I’ve shared previously of about 60 seconds of recorded footage showing subLogic’s Flight Simulator II for the Commodore 64.
Even in the past 18 years (the VATSIM age) the level of added immersion and realism which has been given to all of us by the various developers, has truly helped to bring meaning to the old Microsoft Flight Simulator slogan of “As Real As It Gets”. I had to take a minute to swallow my pride somewhat and realize that what I was actually seeing from my own two eyes on Matt’s stream was something I had never seen before. Yes…truly the future of flight simulation and that future had been developed by Flight Sim Labs.
Two Choices, One Decision
The reality of it all after watching Matt’s stream was I had two choices to make. I could continue down the path I was walking by simply avoiding doing business with FSLabs and hope that at some future time down the road some of the advancements FSLabs had coded into the A319 would make their way into other aircraft models. OR, I could take a lesson from a man who is of far greater importance than anyone I know and show a little forgiveness. After all, I tend to follow the advice of this man as much as I possibly can in my life and it’s worked out well so far.
Yes…I’m the proud owner of both the Flight Sim Labs Airbus A320 and the expansion A319. I’ve been reading, studying and learning this truly “study level” aircraft and will admit that I’ve learned more and have been challenged harder than I have ever been with any payware, “study level” aircraft add-on to date and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The flight sim hobby is more than just about flying virtual aircraft around a virtual world. While I have no interest in learning to fly in real life, I enjoy and very much appreciate the challenge of learning a complex, study level aircraft. Doing so (in my opinion) gives a much deeper appreciation for flight and adds the level of immersion we all seek from our favorite simulation based games. In time, I’ll write a review of the Flight Sim Labs Airbus A320 and A319 and share in greater detail all the immersion I feel should be celebrated by the community.
Finally, I will also add there are still very strong opinions and attitudes expressed by many towards both Flight Sim Labs and also towards those who use their products. I’ve expressed my opinions and my overall reasons for changing my mind and attitude. I welcome any comments on this subject, pending they remain civil and on point. I will not tolerate any hateful comments regardless if they are directed towards FSLabs or directed towards me. My money, my opinions, my decision, my blog site. Thank you for understanding!
Until next time….
P.S. I plan to write a more in-depth, review of the FSLabs Airbus A320/A319 in the coming weeks.