AVSIM Commercial Airlcraft Review

PSS Airbus A320 Family 

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Rating Guide

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The PSS Airbus A319 in Air Canada Colors

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The PSS Airbus A320 Panel

Publisher: Phoenix Software Simulation
Description:
The latest offering in a line of excellent packages from PSS
Download Size:
Variable
Format:
Executable Auto Live Install
Panel Type:
FS2002 Air Transport/IFR
Reviewed by: Pardave Lehry, AVSIM Associate Editor;
with additional analysis by Bryan York, AVSIM Staff Reviewer

Possible Commercial Rating Score: 1 to 5 stars with
5 stars being exceptional.
Please see details of our review rating policy here

Phoenix Simulation Software first entered the virtual commercial airliner market with their Boeing 777-200 package for FS2000. When that was released, we saw a package that contained some extremely detailed aircraft that came complete with nicely detailed panels and FMCs. Then came their Boeing 747-400, and once again, PSS grabbed the realism bar and swung it so far that even until today, no one has come up with a 747-400 package that models the aircraft and panel better. Now, after nearly a year-long hiatus, the PSS team is back, this time with their first Airbus release. The A320 family is the most successful family of aircraft in the Airbus portfolio. With almost 1700 aircraft flying for 108 airlines, the A320 family is becoming a common site at many airports. And now, PSS is giving you the chance to see why this aircraft is such a success.

Reader Survey

This survey is intended for those that have used this product or add-on. If you have used it, please let your fellow simulation enthusiasts know how you rate it by taking this survey. Please, if you have not used this product, do not take this poll (you can view the poll from the "Results" link below).

Review Poll
Have you used the PSS Airbus Pro?
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Good
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Taking it off my system

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Here, we have an Air Canada A319 getting ready for taxi
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Here's a comparison shot of a real Air Canada A319 to compare the level of detail between the real aircraft and what you get with the PSS Airbus. (Photograph courtesy Jason Whitebird and Airliners.net)

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And here's C-FZUL just after rota-tion, with gear going up

The Package

With the release of this package, PSS went with a completely new website that now requires users to log in to download the required user files and documentation. The A320 package is priced at 15 pounds and includes the six factory roll-out colors, and the panel and sound files for both the IAE V2500 and CFM56 engines. For 100 pounds, you can get everything – the panel, both sound packages, and over 90 liveries for all three models.

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Documentation and Installation

Documentation comes in the form of five downloadable PDF files. But in order to download the files, you must first register with the website. The manuals include an Aircraft Operating Manual, Charts, Tables, a tutorial flight, as well as a Systems manual that outlines how to use the panel and MCDU. They are all very well documented; although at times, they can get a little complex, particularly the Aircraft Operating Manual. And with the exception of the Charts and Tables and Systems Manuals, they lack pictures. As a mechanic, I love pictures and, as the saying goes, pictures speak a thousand words. It would have been nice to have some technical illustrations as with the Dreamfleet 737 manuals.

Installation is also interesting this time around, and if you're on a dial-up modem it's going to take a while – the download is a hefty one to say the least. When you make your purchase, you download a base installer and full installer, each being around 500kb in size. When you run the installers, they connect to the PSS servers and the downloading begins. (On a cable connection, the whole installation took just over half an hour).

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Test System

AMD Athlon XP 1700+
Windows XP Professional
512 Megs PC2100 RAM
MSI GeForce 3 Video Card
LG 52X CD ROM
Sound Blaster Audigy Sound
MS Sidewinder FF Joystick
Panasonic 19" Monitor

Flying Time:
23 hours over 2 weeks


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Here, we have the PFD, the ND, and the upper ECAM screen undocked from the main panel, giving us a "Project Magenta" style look.

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And here we have the lower ECAM screen undocked from the main panel.

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The Multi-function Control and Display Unit. This the Airbus version of the Flight Manangement Computer. Here, we have our departure airport set along with a DP for runway 26L.

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The overhead panel. The panel looks just about as real as the real thing although most of the switches here are just eye-candy. Only the absolutely necessary ones are available.

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The first screenshot at the top of the row showed the IFR version of the panel and the default view when the aircraft is loaded. This is the VFR panel and the one that you will most likely use when taxiing, taking off and landing.

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The radio stack. In most reviews, this would be just a standard radio stack. But here, you will find the one-stop engine start switches, along with throttle levers that work using detents.

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This is the wide-angle virtual cockpit shot. Just about all the gauges work, allowing for use of this view to fly the aircraft.

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And here we see the center part of the main panel. As you can see, the only thing that doesn't work on the ND is displaying the route.

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And the co-pilot's side.

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Here we're approaching the stall segment for the aircraft. On the real aircraft, it wouldn't really get this far since by that time, the various laws that govern the aircraft would kick in, preventing the aircraft from reaching this stage.

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Take a look at the last shot and compare it to this one. In the previous shot, you'll notice that the engines are at idle. In this shot, Alpha Floor has kicked in, causing the engines to produce full power.

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Here, we have a dusk shot of the virtual cockpit, with the sun shining in from the left side of the flight deck.

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Here, you'll notice the "More Drag" notice on the PFD, telling us to either reduce engine power, bring the flaps out, or bring the speed brakes up. Basically anything that will slow the aircraft down.

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The Aircraft

The A319, A320, and A321 are all available for purchase, in both the IAE V2500 and CFM56 engine variants. And the exterior matches the engine type. All aircraft are done in Gmax and have all the usual moving parts such as flight controls, gear and gear doors, and flaps, with the addition of moving wheels, bogies that compress and extend when taxiing and reverse thrust cowls that open when activated.

As mentioned, there are over 90 liveries available across all three models. Some liveries appear across all three models (Air Canada is the first one that comes to mind). And with all the new enhancements made to the graphics engine in FS2002, all these aircraft look spectacular. The attention to detail is out of this world. On later GeForce cards like my GeForce 3, you can almost say that some of the aircraft in the screenshots are real. And just like pictures speak a thousand words, the screenshots speak for the rest of the detailing.

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I paid a visit to the PSS forum after performing some flight testing and I noticed that some users were thinking of "parking" the aircraft because of flight dynamics issues and problems with ILS and auto-landing. Let us also not forget the much maligned frame rate issue. Based on my flight testing with all three models, though, I have not encountered any problems with the auto-land or ILS. Initially, there was a problem such that the aircraft refused to climb beyond approximately 12,000 feet with the speed being stuck at around 250-280 knots. If you encountered this problem, then you should know that PSS rectified it and required users to download an updated installer to correct the problem. (The frame rate issue has also been solved. Frame rates are now more than reasonable, but you'll still need a decent system if you want to run everything with the sliders at full max.) Nevertheless, the aircraft performs pretty close to the numbers published in the Charts and Tables manuals.

Indeed one of the things I really like (and this seems unique to PSS products) is that the PSS Bus can taxi using idle thrust—no more taxiing at 50 plus N1 to overcome MS's inability to figure out the proper coefficient of friction for concrete! Mind you in order to bring us this benefit PSS had to boost up the fuel flow rates at idle thrust, but it's well worth the minor sacrifice (not that anyone pays attention to fuel flow rates on the ground anyway.)

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Rotation speeds are pretty much bang-on for the various weights, although the aircraft seems to take a lot of runway. PSS acknowledges that their Bus likes to gobble up unrealistic amounts of runway (this really makes things interesting on the shorter strips—hey, the Bus is now a giant lawnmower—but unfortunately it was a compromise PSS had to make in order to realize accurate flying characteristics).

As with most narrow body jets, 300 knots is the ideal climb speed, and even with a full load of fuel, the aircraft can climb comfortably to FL310-FL330 range in one shot. It seems Airbus provided enough engine power on every jet except the A340-200 and -300 but have corrected it in the -500 and -600 series.

I tested the aircraft once for stall characteristics and the aircraft never recovered. With the weight at around 160,000 lbs, the stall chart gave us a figure of 170 knots clean. And the aircraft stalled at 160 knots. Close enough for me to conclude that the aircraft is as close to the published Airbus figures as possible. What's also cool is that the aircraft did exactly what the real aircraft would—well almost. (In the real Airbus the computers would simply not allow the pilot to stall the aircraft. Instead, the computer would ignore the pilot's control inputs to the extent that they would place the aircraft in an unsafe envelope. This is called 'Normal Law' and the PSS Bus models it for the most part, but if you pull back on the joystick hard enough you can override the system and stall the airplane. That's something you can't do on the real Bus.) All the same, the PSS Bus does model 'Alpha Floor'. When the computers sense excessive side stick movements or sense that the aircraft is really entering into an unsafe condition, the computers kick Alpha Floor in which sets the auto-throttle to absolute maximum power, regardless of where the throttles are. Alpha Floor is modeled but in the stall test I performed, the descent rate hit close to 45,000 feet per minute, meaning I had no chance of recovery. (Side note: The PSS Bus only models Normal Law. It does not model Direct or Alternate Law.)

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While we're on the aircraft, let's quickly take a look at the engine sounds. Mike Hambley is a master in his field of sound engineering and the sounds provided for the CFM56 and IAE V2500 powerplants are superb. He carries on the tradition of providing high quality sounds, just like what he started when PSS released the 777-200 package. The cockpit ambiance sound seems just right—not too loud, not too quiet. Mind you, it would be nice to hear the drone of the air-conditioning packs when you turn them on, but that a minor point hardly diminishes the overall quality of Hambley's excellent work.

The Panel

I'm going to put it quite bluntly. The panel is awfully bland. There's pretty much nothing except for four CRT screens, a bunch of switches, buttons, a lever and some standby instruments. But you know that's pretty much the way it is with every Airbus flight deck (with perhaps the exception of the A300/A310). Indeed, clean and efficient are the operative words here: anything the pilots don't need simply isn't there. In the real aircraft, the majority of the circuit breakers are downstairs in the Avionics and Equipment bay. In the real aircraft, six CRT screens, two in front of each pilot, one in the middle and one on the lower portion of the main panel are all that provide the pilot with information on the entire aircraft. And that's pretty much what you get here. If you like panels that look "busy," this isn't for you. All the information is delivered on four CRT screens.

When I first loaded the panel up, I was surprised to see it cover almost the entire screen (I'm referring to the IFR panel here.) The four CRT screens and the top third of the center pedestal are visible with this being the hot spot to bring up the MCDU as well as the control area for the lower ECAM screen. The main panel looks as real as it gets. It's not photo realistic mind you and it does have a bit of an FS98ish feel to it, but having worked on A320s, I can say with a great level of certainty that you can't get much closer than this. The PFD, ND and the ECAM all work like their real world counterparts. The PFD has the capability to display almost all of the various modes possible with the autopilot. It's so accurate, it even has the flashing magenta "Alpha Floor" warning when Alpha Floor is activated. The ND is an authentic Airbus ND and reminded me of the awesome utility from Chris Brett called EFIS98.

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Users of the Project Magneta PFDs and NDs will be familiar with this next innovation. Clicking anywhere on the CRT screens causes them to "undock" from the main panel, allowing them to be placed anywhere, and increasing their size to make them easier to read. This is a first in any panel and an absolutely fantastic innovation. I hope everyone adopts this style in their future panels.

But back to the surprise of the panel covering the entire screen. Before you start resizing it, check the manual as there is a conventional view that is also available. The only problem is that it's not a latched view so anytime you "turn your head" and return to the forward view, you're presented with the same full-screen panel view. It's not a big deal, but considering that PSS provided runway-perspective views in both the 777 and 747 panels, it should have been included here as well.

Along side the main panel are two (only two) pop-up panels: one for the throttle quadrant and one for the MCDU. An overhead panel that looks exactly like the real thing rounds out the entire cockpit. Most of the non-essential buttons like the IRS alignment switches and air conditioning buttons are not modeled—but that doesn't hinder from the overall realism experience, unless, of course, you're a hardcore realism purist who loves pushing buttons.

The glareshield can take some getting used to. On the real aircraft, the glareshield control knobs are used to activate certain autopilot functions. For example, pushing the heading control knob activates lateral navigation. Pulling the same knob activates the manual heading select feature. Same thing with the altitude control knob. Pushing and pulling it activates and deactivates vertical navigation respectively. (Essentially, you 'push' away to give the aircraft control, and you 'pull' toward yourself to take personal command of the aircraft.)

Climbs can be accomplished either by entering in a climb rate or by using an FPA (flight path angle). The difference between the two is the former uses a fixed climb rate, whereas the latter uses an angle. Whichever one you decide to use will be your choice, but for most of my flying, I used the climb rate.

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In a normal review, we wouldn't say much about the center quadrant. After all, there's not a lot here except for the thrust levers and the radios. Well, the radios are pretty much standard to what we're used to seeing. The thrust levers however are completely different from your standard Boeing aircraft. On every Boeing aircraft that has auto-throttle, the thrust levers move based on what the TMC (Thrust Management Computer) sets the engine thrust to. So if the TMC says that the thrust should be set to 93% N1, the throttle levers reflect this setting and will move with every engine power setting change. The advantage to this is when auto-throttle is disconnected, the pilots know exactly what the power setting should be.

Airbus used this method on their A300s and A310s. But when the A320 family was introduced, they went to a different technique for controlling engine power. Instead of employing the standard full motion thrust levers, Airbus chose to use levers that have fixed detents in the quadrant. This allows the pilots to set certain engine power settings precisely and quickly. You still have a certain amount of travel for phases of flight like the approach, but for all other realms, the fixed detents are used. On takeoff, the levers are moved to the TOGA position, which commands full power based on what the computer has deemed full power for the prevailing atmospheric conditions. At the climb power thrust reduction point, the levers are placed in the CL detent. Here, engine power is brought back to the climb setting. For the rest of the flight, that's where they – the throttles – are left. With the auto-throttle engaged, the pilots don't have to worry about the levers anymore. What's more, the levers don't move when the thrust management computer makes a power adjustment. And you can be sure to find this modeled with this package. At first, it took a bit of getting used to but it works like a charm and is quick, easy and precise. Instead of having to hit the TOGA button, just place the levers into the TOGA detent and the aircraft takes care of the rest. Just be sure to use the keyboard shortcut instead of bringing up the throttle quadrant every time.

Finally, a near fully functional virtual cockpit is also available for your flying enjoyment—it's absolutely fantastic for taxiing and sightseeing when you're sitting on autopilot. The VC is not as revolutionary as the VC we saw in the freeware Falcon, but all the same the VC looks really great, especially at night. But when I say near fully functional, though, about the only thing that I could see that didn't work was the ND. But everything else worked and it's a joy to fly the aircraft in this mode, although I had some problems with the fight director bars 'smearing' in the VC. Using the hat switch on your joystick, you can "turn" your view just like you would if you were in the real flight deck. Just a little quirk that I noticed when flying in virtual mode—the throttle levers moved during cruise flight. On the real aircraft, the throttle levers only move when the pilots move them. With the auto-throttle engaged, the levers shouldn't move. But in the virtual cockpit, they do move. It's not a big deal and nothing that will hamper from flying the panel, but where they got everything else nearly bang on, they should have been able to get this detail incorporated.

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The MCDU

Boeing calls it a flight management computer because that's what its primary task is to manage the flight based on certain aircraft parameters. Airbus calls it the MCDU (Multi-function Control and Display Unit). Its core function is pretty much the same as the Boeing FMC only it does it differently and uses colors as opposed to the pale green reminiscent of the 80s computer screens.

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Programming the MCDU is quite a bit different, though. When you load up the MCDU, you're presented with the INIT page. This is similar to the Boeing FMC INIT page, but instead of entering weight, you just enter your departure and arrival airport and your flight number. So where does the aircraft weight get entered? By hitting the NEXT PAGE key, another screen comes up that allows you to enter both the zero fuel weight of the aircraft and how much fuel is on board. Traditional Boeing "pilots" may find it a little weird that an aircraft that is entirely computer controlled still requires the fuel load to be entered manually. But that is the case with Airbus. Once that is done, the MCDU calculates the takeoff weight and an estimated landing weight. Next stop is the PERFormance page. Again, Airbus elected for manual pilot input of the V speeds, where Boeing FMCs calculate this automatically and allow pilots to either select or enter their own values. This information is available from the Charts and Tables manual. If you don't want to print all five volumes, at least print this one off because it's the one you'll go back to more often that the others.

Looking down on the chart, find the next highest weight for the weight of your aircraft and you'll find the three critical speeds along with the flap retract speed. These retract speeds however, are calculated for you by the MCDU. Once this setup is complete, it's on to entering your flight plan.

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If you used Chris Brett's EFIS98, you should have some idea of how Airbus handles entering of the waypoints. When you hit the F-PLAN button, you're presented with your departure airport, along with the Top of Climb and Top of Descent points that the MCDU has calculated. Entering the departure runway and departure procedures is done by pressing the line select key (LSK) next to the airport identifier. A page comes up with a DEPARTURE selection. Clicking the LSK presents the airport runways, and once selected the applicable departure points. One feature I liked about the MCDU was that you could cycle through each of the DPs with ease. On the Boeing FMCs, you would have to select the runway each time you wanted to select a different departure procedure. This is handy considering most of us don't have flight supplements for every airport in the world.

Entering the waypoints is just like a normal Boeing FMC. Enter it in the scratchpad and press the LSK where you want to insert the waypoint. The next difference comes in entering waypoints using airways. With Boeing, waypoints were entered from the DEP/ARR page. With Airbus, the last waypoint is selected, followed by entering the airway name and the exit waypoint into the VIA/TO LSK. Again, this took some getting used to but at the end of the day, it led to some pretty speedy entries of some long flight plans. Entering STARs and the arrival runway is done exactly the same way only you select the arrival airport. Once the route has been entered, clear any flight plan discontinuities that may exist and that's it. No need to activate it. Just make sure you save it.

Just like a Boeing FMC, parameters for all the other phases of flight can be entered/adjusted on the MCDU's PERF page, just by selecting the NEXT PHASE LSK. The one that most will be interested in is the Approach phase. On the Approach screen, information such as airfield pressure, temperature along with the MDA and DH can be entered. The MCDU will also calculate a target landing speed but it's also a good idea to check this against the charts. Finally, as you near your destination, the approach phase has to be activated so it's a good idea to do this about 20-25 miles from your final approach fix. By doing so, the aircraft goes into approach mode and starts the speeds reduction, which, by the way, is all automatic. Neat stuff!

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On final, you have the choice of flying the aircraft or engage the Approach mode, sit back and watch while the aircraft does a full hands off landing. The autoland feature is modeled very well and the aircraft is extremely stable, even during some high cross wind landings.

For the hardcore purists out there, it should be noted that the general consensus is that the MCDU models about 80 percent of what the real McCoy does. A few things like wind predictions and holds are not yet modeled. A few others other things are not modeled as well (i.e., routing to your alternate), and some of things that are modeled have some issues. The Top-of-descent calculation point, for example, is simplified and if you start playing with altitude constraints, etc., then some of these issues may leave you scratching your head. There are no system failures to speak of (they would have been nice on this aircraft though -sitting on autopilot can get mighty boring), so at the end of the day if you're looking for an Airbus PS1.3 or Level D simulator, the PSS Bus isn't for you. Mind you, you can still have a lot of fun with this product. Indeed, making the transition from the Boeing to Airbus philosophy should be enough to keep you more than entertained.

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Utilities

As with most commercial add-on packages, this package contains a set of utilities that allow for easy adjustment of the aircraft.cfg file. One of the programs, the Airbus Configuration Utility, allows for panel adjustment and startup settings. The neatest thing about the panel configuration utility is that it allows you to assign keys to all the buttons on the panels. This is great news for home cockpit builders. The other utility is a fuel load calculation program, one for imperial loads and one for metric loads. A few weeks ago, PSS released a Load Editor that is similar to what the PSS 747, 777 and the Dreamfleet 737 load editors do. It's available from the My Files section on the PSS website.

Conclusion

PSS is known for some excellent commercial airliner packages. Their Boeing 747 and 777 packages were awesome and earned the coveted Avsim Online Award of Excellence in Flight Sim Design. And it's no different here. This is the first Airbus panel for FS2002 that more or less looks, feels, and works like the real thing. Yes, there are other Airbus panels that are freeware but most of them are just background bitmaps of the real panel with the default FS2002 gauges placed on it. As for the aircraft, they look nice, but there are aircraft that look pretty close to these babies and are available for free (IADG and Project Airbus come to mind right off the bat). The panel speaks wonders and just because of this, it is a recommended purchase. Features such as CRT screens that can be undocked (a la Project Magenta), Normal Law protection and a virtual cockpit that can actually be used to fly the aircraft all make for a well-rounded out package. It is definitely worth the 15 pounds. To make your purchase, head over to the PSS website, create yourself an account and make your purchase today.

 

What I Like About the PSS Airbus Package
  • Beautiful aircraft – the Gmax models are fantastic
  • Innovative – the pop-up CRT screens are amazing, and the IFR panel fits this aircraft to a 'T'
  • Huge pool of liveries to choose from
  • Detail in modeling real world features (Normal Law, throttle quadrant details)
  • MCDU that works and behaves like the real thing
  • Details in the panel comparable to the real world aircraft
  • The virtual cockpit and sounds are really nice
  • Taxiing at idle thrust

 
What I Don't Like About the PSS Airbus Package
  • Installation procedure can take a while, particularly for those still on dial-up connections
  • Panel configuration utility not working with Windows XP
  • A few little bugs here and there (but PSS is working hard to rectify them as we speak)
  • MCDU doesn't model holds
  • Frequently crashed to the desktop until deleted and restored my FS2002.cfg file. Go figure.


 

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