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Ultimate Airliners DC-9 Classic
Today we take a look at an aircraft and a company that many of you may be familiar with. Coolsky has been around for quite sometime and you might be well acquainted with their Super 80/Super 80 Pro aircrafts which were released a few years ago. These two aircrafts are still in wide use today and are of very high quality when it comes to systems simulation. Naturally, the graphics and exterior models are out of date but it doesn’t diminish the value of these two products.
When examining some of these features, we won’t go into every single detail as they can get quite extensive. I will however, highlight some of the most outstanding features of this product and give a general overview of others.
While discussing the exterior model, it is only fitting that we touch on the amazing textures that come with this aircraft. By now, the vast majority of flightsim enthusiasts are well familiar with Mcphat Studios and the amazing work that Terrence and his crew of painters and modelers are capable of.
The DC-9 has been a work in progress for these busy painters for well over a year now and the results justify the lengthy development time. The Coolsky DC-9 comes with 6 SD (Standard Definition) liveries. These liveries include Aeromexico, Alitalia, Eastern Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Scandinavian Airlines and Ansett Airlines of Australia. The SD liveries themselves look quite amazing and it is hard to imagine that it gets even better than this! Mcphat Studios has also made available Ultra High Definition Texture sets for the DC-9.
These repaints come in 4 separate volumes and are well worth checking out. I had the opportunity to test these UHDTs and I was quite blown away by the level of detail in these repaints. The only downside with these textures is the large amount of space required for installation. Nevertheless, if this is not an issue for you, then I am sure you will enjoy having these. You can check out these additional textures:
For those of you who would like to have these liveries in SD, Mcphat Studios has also made available a mega pack which includes 18 liveries in SD format.
The Mega Pack works out to be a great deal at 19.80 Euros. If you are considering the UHDTs, they are also quite affordable at the price of 12.99 Euros for 6 Liveries. Either way I can honestly say that you will be missing out if you don’t give these textures a try. They are by far the highest quality repaints available today. In fact, Mcphat Studios is so confident in their products that they have made this statement regarding the UHD Textures for the DC-9.
“With a pixel per meter ratio of 350+, these textures are by FACT the most detailed produced textures in the entire history of Flight Simulator, surpassing even our own PMDG NGX Textures. In the end though, it is not the pixel per meter ratio, but what you do with all those pixels. Quality over quantity.
Bigger is not always better, but it most certainly help. By building the entire kit from the ground up, by hand, we get to match all effects over the entire range of maps to the pixel. Which means that rivet you see on the diffuse map, is also bumped on the normal map and slightly reflects differently on the specular map. Because of the high pixel per meter ratio, we can then make a rivet look like a rivet and not a golf ball, and a panel line like a panel line and not a World War 1 trench.”
Photos showing the difference between the SD and UHD Textures
A statement like this speaks volumes and as you can see from some of the screenshots provided, Mcphat Studios has definitely delivered.
The modeling of the virtual cockpit itself was quite impressive. As one would expect by today’s standard, the virtual cockpit is fully 3D. Every gauge, switch, knob and circuit breaker has been accurately modeled and they work as expected in real life. The cockpit is also filled with many other items that contribute to the overall experience such as oxygen masks and even the Captain’s jacket.
All in all, the level of detail in the virtual cockpit makes it a dead ringer for the real thing. If you were impressed with the PMDG NGX virtual cockpit, then wait until you see this!
As far as the features of this aircraft go, I hardly know where to start. The DC-9 is laden with features and perhaps the most practical starting point may be the Coolsky Flight Center which is the first thing you see on your screen when the aircraft is loaded. The Flight Center consists of various tabs that guide you to a variety of functions and options available to the user. The first and perhaps the most innovative is the Auto Aircraft Config.
The Auto Config feature allows you to setup your aircraft according to the selected phase of flight or phase of operation. For example, let’s say that you have a limited amount of time during the day or night to do a quick flight. Normally, if you are a fanatic for realism, you may spend a lot of time planning and setting up your aircraft. However, if you have very little time at your disposal, you can choose to setup the aircraft for either Ready for Engine Start, Engines Running – Ready for Push & Taxi or Cleared for Takeoff.
These settings are not executed haphazardly. All of the systems, switches, knobs and levers will automatically be set according to the checklist. This feature can only be described as ingenious and it should rightly be a feature all add-ons!
Moving down to the Training section, this is were many of you newcomers to the world of high end add-ons SHOULD spend some time getting to know the aircraft. This section gives you step by step training in how to properly fly the aircraft. This is done by means of on screen instructions and arrows that guide you through each step of the checklist. Were necessary, the appropriate panels needed to access various systems on the checklist will open automatically!
After a few sessions of practice, you are sure to be a competent DC-9 pilot. For those of you who are seasoned FS pilots or even real world pilots, you too can benefit from this feature as it will serve as a visual aid to going through the checklist and it can also act as a refresher if you haven’t flown this type of aircraft in a while.
The Dispatch center is next to follow and I am sure that this is one of the tabs you will be visiting frequently. In the Dispatch section, you will have access to editing your aircraft’s payload and fuel. One of the features of this section that I absolutely loved was the Weight & Balance Control Form. This added so much to bringing you one step closer to flying the real aircraft and experiencing the same procedures and protocols of a real DC-9 pilot.
When changes are made to the passenger numbers, cargo and fuel the adjustments can be sent to the aircraft in real time. This means that gone are the days where you have to reload an aircraft whenever you make changes that affect your performance.
The Options section of the flight center is self explanatory and I need not go into detail on this section. Basically, this is where you set up your preferences on what you would like to experience when using this product. The next section we will look at (and I am sure you are very interested in) is the Failure tab.
Many of you will be happy to hear that this feature was included since there are quite a bit of FS users who enjoy pushing their skills to the limit. There are a number of failures that can be selected and set up by “triggers.” The one that surprised me the most was smoke in the cockpit. I wondered how on earth will you simulate smoke in the cockpit in FSX? Well, Espen surely delivered a surprise and instead of letting the cat out the bag, I will let you see and it experience it yourself!
The final two sections I will touch on are the NavSim and Schematics. The Navigation Simulator is another one of my favorite features of this aircraft. Back in the 1960s when the DC-9 was designed, FMS didn’t exist and the sole means of navigating was by means of VOR or NDB. I have always been an advocate of VOR and NDB navigation as this is what I personally consider to be one of the facets of flying that separated the men from the boys.
Let’s face it, its easy to hop in an aircraft, setup the FMS and let the aircraft do all the work. However, it takes a lot of knowledge and planning to do a VOR or NDB navigation flight plan. There are many things you need to consider and know off the top of your head to be a skillful navigator. For example, do you know what the 1 in 60 rule is? Can you fly an NDB approach by hand? What about flying a DME ARC? Are you familiar with flying inbound and outbound radials to intercept a waypoint that is not a VOR or NDB?
These are just some of the things that the Navigation Simulator will assist you with, but many of the concepts mentioned in my previous questions are things that you should be familiar with in order to fly VOR or NDB flight plans.
As shown in the photos above, the NavSim will show you all the VORs and NDBs around you on a moving map display. It also shows your position in relation to these radio navigation aids, along with your speed and bearing. The display also corresponds with your cockpit instruments (HSI) and the radio frequencies you have tuned on your radios. In a nutshell, this is almost a simulator in itself which gives you a mental picture of what you are doing. Hands down this is one of the most innovative features yet seen on any FS add-on aircraft.
The final feature we will look at is the Schematics page of the flight center. Have you ever tried to start the engines of an airplane, only to realize that no matter what you do, the engines just won’t start? Well this may not happen with all FS add-ons, but it will with the DC-9 if you are not familiar with the schematics of each aircraft system.
The Schematics page gives you an animated diagram of various systems in real time. This means that when you flip the left fuel pumps on the overhead panel, you will see the effect on your fuel system in real time. The same applies to many other systems including the electrical and hydraulic. If you have ever struggled in the past to grasp the complexity of these systems, rest assured that this feature will make it so much easier for you to understand the inner working of these systems.
This is yet again another innovative feature that I think will revolutionize the way we learn the systems of an aircraft. Espen has really outdone himself with this feature and I am sure you will enjoy using this!
As I had mentioned earlier, I won’t be going into every detail about the flight center and all of its features. If I did, this review might quickly turn into a novel! However, just to provide a general overview, some of the other features include Ground Ops which allows you to control various aspects of ground operations such as Pushback and Startup, Ground Power unit, Fwd and Aft Air Stairs, Engine Cowling, Cargo Doors and Cabin lights!
Other features are listed in the Options menu which will allow you to further customize your DC-9. All in all, the Flight Center is a feature that truly makes this product unique and a cut above the rest!
The Flying Experience
The DC-9 has always been my favorite aircraft. When I began my pilot training a few years ago it was with the ultimate goal of one day flying this aircraft. Sadly, DC-9s are disappearing from our skies and so much so that even “newer” MD80s are today being put out to pasture. This means that the privilege of seeing a DC-9-30 or any other DC-9 is becoming a very rare opportunity.
When the Coolsky DC-9 came along, I was very excited since it presented the opportunity to experience (from a simulator’s perspective), what it would have been like to fly this aircraft. I was at first a bit skeptical as to just how good a simulation this product would be. This was especially so after spending countless hours with other high end products such as the Leonardo Maddog, Concorde X and PMDG MD-11/NGX. I thought that a product like this would find it quite difficult to capture the attention of most simmers that have grown accustomed to the newer aircraft that have much newer technology.
Nevertheless, I have always been a fan of old school aircraft since they offer a much more rewarding challenge to fly. The first full flight that I completed with this aircraft was a flight from Boston to Philadelphia using the US Airways Livery. Normally, I would go over to FlightAware to find a suitable flight plan but that plan was quickly shot down when I remembered that this aircraft has no FMS!
While there is an option to use the FSX GPS, I opted not to do so in the spirit of trying to relive the old days of VOR to VOR navigation. Using a few enroute charts and myairplane.com, I was able to gather all the necessary information for my flight. It took me almost 30-45 minutes to properly plan out my route, radio frequencies and calculations for TOD. Some might say that this was excessive but I can assure you that planning a flight like this with charts and a plotter is no easy task.
After all of the planning was done, it was now time to start up and taxi to the runway. While on the topic of start up, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about the sound package that comes with the DC-9. If you are familiar with JT8D engines, you will likely recall that these engines have a VERY distinct sound. Coolsky did a good job in capturing the sound of this engine but I am sure that some of you will disagree. In fact, some have opted to use the latest Turbine Sound Studio DC-9 HD Soundset in place of the one that comes with the DC-9.
I have had the opportunity to try both and I have to say that it is a difficult call to say which is best. I can say however, that each soundset has characteristics that are similar and some that are very different. In the end, it all boils down to personal taste. If you would like to check out the Turbine Sound Studio Soundset, have a look at this video:
Going back to our flight, after the engines were started and stabilized, we taxied to the runway for an early morning departure. Some of the waypoints on my flight plan were non radio (SIDs & STARS) and it called for a lot of frequency changes and paying close attention to your DME from various VORs. I think it would be fair to say that the DC-9 will definitely keep you busy!
As far as my final thoughts on this product are concerned, I would rather not rehash everything that I already would have mentioned in this review. With that said, I think it would be best to end this review by answering the basic question of “Is this product really worth my money?”
Well, at a price of $49.95, I would say that the Coolsky DC-9 is well worth its weight in “gold”. The features that have been provided in this product are second to none and the only thing that can honestly prevent you from buying this product is simply your preference between modern or classic aircraft.
While the DC-9 does have its bugs (Artifacts/Flickering Issue), Espen has assured us all that he is working tirelessly to solve these problems. In fact, as I write this review, there is a group of customers working along with the development team to solve this issue which is considered to be minor. This issue arose due to the high complexity of the virtual cockpit. For this reason, a low poly model was developed and even more work is being done to reduce the number of polygons uses in the virtual cockpit without jeopardizing the overall quality of the product.
All things considered, I think that the innovative features provided in the Coolsky DC-9 warrants an Avsim Gold Star Award. Apart from one or two other products currently on the FS market, the DC-9 can rightly take its place as one of the most complex and innovative products available for FSX today. Why not give it a try yourself?
Reviewer’s Note - As of December 23, 2012, the developer has informed me that they have solved the flickering issue that some users have experienced. A service pack will be made available on their website for all to download. This update solves one of the major issues experienced when using this aircraft and brings it closer, if not at, the mark of perfection.
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