AVSIM Commercial Aircraft Package Review

Level-D 767-300ER for FS2004 

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Rating Guide
Publisher: Flight1 Software
Developer: Level-D Simulations
Description:
Completely new implementation of Eric Ernst' "767 Pilot in Command" for FS2004
Download Size:
178 Mb
Format:
Executable Auto Install File
Package Type:
Aircraft/panel/sounds
Reviewed by: Maury Pratt, AVSIM Editor-at-Large

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

The transport aircraft simulation experience has evolved steadily since we first reviewed Eric Ernst' 767 Pilot in Command for FS2000 back in March 2001 (you also can read the March 2003 update review here). Eric, Wade Chafe, Pedro Sousa and Laurent Crenier made a major step forward with their ground-breaking 767PIC in capturing the experience not only of flying the Boeing 767 using its highly functional FMC but also in using the plane's various systems both to prepare it for flight and during the flight itself. Virtually all commercial aircraft sim add-on packages available for FS2004 now offer similar levels of realism, and indeed more with special feature add-ons such as Bryan York's FS2Crew for PMDG's 737 Next Generation series. Well, the 767PIC guys (see "Speaking of Credits" below) have been reincarnated as Level D Simulations—and we believe their 767 released just this past February establishes a new benchmark for both refinement and user interface design that ensures an enriching experience for the user "right out of the box" (well, download that is).

The reader should keep in mind the difficulty any reviewer faces in describing a product from two quite different perspectives—for the user who is relatively (or completely) new to the complexities of a modern air transport's flight deck, while at the same time attempting to satisfy an aficionado who expects the reviewer to comment on whatever specific features he is looking for. As experienced a reviewer as I am, I couldn't begin to take the time to study and exercise every feature and option offered in this package–even the available tutorials acknowledge that would take a thousand or so hours of study and practice. The genius of this package is that such elaborate study isn't at all necessary, because the package is so well designed and organized that those new to the genre can get going easily, with much satisfaction rather than frustration. Like, "where on the overhead is that thingy the checklist says I should set next? Set how?" Or, "Oh, I have to go find my zero fuel weight–now where's that again?

Ok, here's what I'm talking about. First of all, this plane/panel combination comes with more detailed instruments, selectable system functions, types of failure scenarios, cabin and crew dialogs and so forth than anything I've seen to date in an add-on for Microsoft's Flight Simulator, period. The lovely thing is that everything about it invites you to learn enough quickly to enjoy it early on, and then build on your knowledge and experience from there. For example, When you load the plane initially you'll see a set of tips that orients you to its general panel features, before you even take a preliminary look at the Operations Manual. Later on, you can select feature options you want to include or change from a drop-down menu that's been added to FS' menu bar. And once you get going (the default setting on startup is with the engines running and ready to go) and get familiar with where things are you'll indeed be attracted to their 173 page, fully illustrated 767-300 Operating Manual. Even cooler is the Aircraft Operating Tutorial B767-300ER written by the LDS Beta Team, a flight from Vancouver, Canada to San Francisco, California. There you'll find every step and switch setting from a cold & dark cockpit through to final shut-down; the charts you'll need, and a convenient Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) section at the end.

The Aircraft

This plane is—as are most other aircraft add-ons produced in the past year or so—excellent in appearance, highly detailed and a pleasure to fly. Its flying characteristics feel right for a plane of this power and size; professional pilots who've tested the Level-D 767 say it responds realistically to control inputs. And you can easily become addicted to its 'autoland' facility!

Also, as with other comparable packages, the aircraft's flight controls, Autopilot Flight Director System (AFDS) and Mode Control Panel (MCP), and the Flight Management System (i.e., the flight management computers (FMC) interact realistically, providing virtually automatic flying when you so desire. All significant aircraft systems are modeled. The virtual First Officer can handle chores such as raising the landing gear and retracting flaps (he announces each action) while you attend to more pressing matters during takeoff, and similarly during landings. By the way, there's a good variety of accents available.

There's a growing variety of liveries available without further charge; you use the supplied Repaint Manager to install any livery you've downloaded from the Level-D website. Also there's a Configuration Manager you run before loading FS2004 to select the plane's configuration (load with VC, with VC and wing views, or with just the 2D panels); you also indicate the passenger, cargo and fuel loading for upcoming flights here.

A feature many will appreciate is that the designers chose DXT3 technology (for faster loading and reduced demand on computer resources) with many of the supplied livery textures. On my system I got consistently high frame rates flying with the Delta Airlines current livery I chose.

There's lots of "eye candy" too—passenger and cargo doors that open and close, even a working APU inlet door. For the ultimate in simulated emergency operations the ram air turbine with its spinning propeller deploys to supply electrical power if both engines shut down in flight.

It's evident too that a lot of work has gone into the plane's and crew's sounds. You'll hear that marvelous and unique GE CF6 whine; there are vocal intercom calls and responses with both flight attendants and ground crew members. Controls are provided to select and set volume levels for both cabin voices and gauge sound events (gear and flap movements, altitude callouts, GPWS, etc.).

Panel Display

One of the first things you'll notice is the supurb Virtual Cockpit. Not only can all the controls and switches be used in VC mode, but you can call up the 2D Overhead and MCP panels or view the 2D FMC to read messages or input data without leaving the virtual cockpit mode; you simply click on the virtual FMC for example. There are buttons on the 2D panel to call up the Overhead, Pedestal/radio controls, and FMC; toggle between Captain's and First Officer's panels; and also to call up a windowed MCP panel.

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The 2D panel detail is convincing and crisp; instrument legibility is exceptional!
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The LDS' VC is nicely rendered; all instruments and switches are live, though the ambience could be brighter when the sun doesn't happen to be from the side (don't overlook turning on the "Light Override" switch on the light switches panel to the right of the panel flood knobs to simulate a dome light).

Panel features

Test System

Dell XPS 3.6 GHz
WindowsXP
1 G RAM
nVidia 6800 GTO 256 Mb
Sidewinder 2 stick
Dell 19" Monitor

Flying Time:
8 hours over 8 days


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Overhead panel

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Pedestal controls and radios

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Virtual panel with MCP display overlay

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Setting up for approach, crossing STENS waypoint at 11,000 ft crossing restriction. Note the approach route displayed on both the FMS and EHSI in MAP mode.

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We've passed the HADLY waypoint, turning to cross the coast near Half Moon Bay.

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That's San Jose in sight as we near the OSI VOR. Note that I've reconfigured the EADI to show a more modern speed tape display as well as the 'V'-type FD symbol.

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Now we're lined up on the localizer and glide slope (the EHSI is now in ILS display mode). Note the Radio Altimeter, and particularly the EADI's 'rising runway' symbol.

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View looking down shows aircraft configured for landing.

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Detail of flaps deployed for landing

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Flaring just before touch-down. Again note the Radio Altimeter and rising runway symbol, as well as the decelerating speed trend vector on the speed tape.

The Main Instrument Panel:

You have all the EADI and EHSI cues you could want concerning your aircraft's position, speed and directional trends in relation to FMC computed values; these correspond with your selected takeoff and approach profiles. You can use the Level-D Carrier Options menu to choose either type FD bar style in the EADI, and also either the "standard" or the "speed tape" version of the EADI display. The latter provides readouts such as the FMC-computed V speeds and flap speed settings and Minimum Maneuvering Speed. There's a built-in TCAS in the EHSI's Map Dispoay mode as well as the Mode and Range settings and display options now offered in all the contemporary FS ATP panels.

To conserve space needed to display the full Pilot or First Officer panels, the Standby instruments (attitude, altimeter and airspeed gauge) are called up separately. <Shift>+<9> displays the Standby instrument set to the left of the EICAS display.

I've included a few screenshots I took during the approach phase of the Tutorial's sample flight from Vancouver to San Francisco to illustrate some interesting features of this aircraft and panel, such as the speed tape's 'speed trend vector' in the landing illustrated at the left.

Overhead Panel:

It's all here: IRS control panel, Yaw Damper & EEC, Hydraulic system controls, Battery and standby bus contruls, Electrical system controls, APU controls, Engine start controls, Fuel panel, Cabin communications panel, Pnuematic system controls, and more. As mentioned above, access to set or check settings is easily done from either the 2D or VC panels.

Pedestal:

In addition to the throttles, speed brake and trim controls, this panel's authentic and highly detailed layout includes the engine fuel controls, VHF radio controls, ADF receiver, ILS receiver, and Transponder / TCAS settings/controls; and also the Audio Control panel.

FMC:

This is possibly the most complete FMC implementation available to date. You can plan and program virtually every aspect of the plane's route and performance profile from the FMC. And there's much that's automated; I expected the V1 and V2 bugs along the MCP speed window to be set automatically (you click on a spot near the airspeed indicator once you've completed your FMC setup)—but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the ILS frequency for the selected destination airport and runway is tuned automatically during approach.

It's interesting that you can't set the ILS frequency from the Nav 1 freq window (located to the left of the Course setting) on the MCP. As explained in the FAQ,

"ILS is now modeled as it is in the real plane. To tune the ILS use the separate ILS receiver box on the pedestal. You cannot tune ILS frequencies in the reai aircraft's NAV reciever either; it will only accept valid VOR frequencies. It can also be tuned automatically by the FMC by selecting the 'FMC tunes ILS' in the Realism & carrier options under the Level-D menu. Note: you must select the arrival rwy in the FMC for this option to work."

There's a complete set of Thrust Management modes available. These are set within the FMC and are invoked automatically during flight, or can be invoked using the TMC buttons on the panel (to the right of the upper EICAS); Go Around can be commanded here. Another FMC feature simmers flying online with VATSIM or IVAO will really appreciate is that holding patterns can be defined and performed 'on-the-fly'.

One final but very useful thing... you can resume a flight (or repeat a saved situation) without loosing your FMC settings. A small thing perhaps, but I haven't seen this capability in other products, to continue the programmed flight plan at the point in time the flight had been saved—there was no way with those that I could discover to reload and reset the FMC without repeating the entire flight.

Documentation and Other Resources

The supplied Operating Manual describes each aircraft system in detail, and concludes with normal procedure checklists. The chapters recommended for initial study are (in this order):

Introduction and Overview
Inertial Reference System (IRS)
Automatic Flight Director System (AFDS)
Flight Instruments
Radios and Communications
Flight Management Computer (FMC)
Normal Procedures.

Each chapter is organized in three parts: narrative explaining how the system functions, all panel controls associated with the system, and highlights of normal procedures associated with the system. As an example, in the "Electrical System" chapter there are three pages describing each system component—battery, APU, external power, engine generators, and finally power distribution (bus configuration). This is followed with three pages of panel component illustrations and settings descriptions for the Battery and Standby Bus Controls, Electrical System Controls, and APU Controls. Lastly, Electrical System Normal Procedures (with notes on proper usage) are provided for the preflight, starting, in flight, and postflight phases.

There are other excellent resources as well. First, there's their own Level-D 767 Product Support forum at their website. Once you've purchased the product and registered for product support you'll have access to their Technical FAQs, a topics area where you can post questions to the support staff, and finally a special PILOTS HELPING PILOTS section where you can post questions about how to fly the 767. Also the LDS Beta Team recently released performance manuals for the LDS767, which lists data for runways 5,000 - 12,000 ft in both wet and dry conditions as well as Flaps 5, 15 & 20, together with a tutorial on using this data to calculate temperature derates and V-speeds. And looking furthur with a Google search I discovered another resource, the Level-D Flying Club website.

"FSBuild"

Ernie Alston's FSBuild is a great flight planning utility to create flight plans for the LDS 767. If you have the Version 2.2 build 184 or later of FSBuild you can export any flight plan to the flightplans folder, where it can be loaded into the FMS directly. I used FSBuild's 'auto generate' function to produce the route 'CYVR-SEA-J65-RBL-KSFO' for the tutorial flight. You'll also want to download Mike Bevington's FSB Aircraft Performance Profile and install the included files in your copy of FSBuild.

Not only is Earnie's FSBuild website interesting; he provides an amazing number of informational and related facility links. It's definitely worth a visit!

"PROCIO"

The LDS 767's FMC loads departure/ approach/ airport data (SIDs/STARs/IAPs) from an installed file proceduresdb.xml. Since the supplied file contains only representative airports, I used Ian Mitchell'S PROCIO freeware utility to include additional SID/STAR/IAP airports and terminal areas. You can download PROCIO6.zip here. I then downloaded a recent proceduresdb.xml file from Michael Bevington's website, using the PROCIO utility to add the airports/terminal areas I needed. I also found than individual departure, approach and airport procedures are posted regularly in Avsim's library; use the Extended Search facility using the term 'procio' to locate these.

Here's another helpful utility I've found: the Boeing 767 Quick Fuel Planner (Version 2.0) by Emilio Salceda. This freeware utility is a fuel calculator originally developed for use with 767 Pilot in Command. This version calculates the fuel in Lbs, Kg, US Gal or L. Some improvements were made also in the calculus routine.

More about the tutorials . . .

Level-D Simulations has also released their 767-300ER "Golden Argosy" Long Haul Tutorial. As their announcement explains, "Climb aboard the 'Golden Argosy' for an eight hour journey from New York’s Kennedy airport to Roma’s Fiumicino airport aboard the Level-D 767-300ER with B767 Captain, Tony Vallillo. Mr. Vallillo penned the 6 part series of “Golden Argosy” articles that were published at FlightSim.com in 2004. This 40 page tutorial is written in a step-by-step format based on LDS767’s Expanded Checklist. Captain Vallillo's real world "Golden Argosy" flight is interspersed throughout, offering real world perspective for the flight simmer. The tutorial includes charts and flight plans and is intended to assist the novice and intermediate LDS767 pilot. It's in the Avsim Library at lds2tut.zip

I think these tutorials are what make an outstanding product such as the LDS 767 a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Yes, you need an aircraft sim add-on capable of performing just as does the real thing, but then you need to know what these real-world procedures are. That's the role of a well-written tutorial. I especially recommend the 'Golden Argosy' tutorial because it contains a running commentary as to why pilot's and first officer's actions are performed in a specific way, together with lore about flying the B-767. The tutorial is easy to read, too—procedures are set out in step-by-step format for each flight phase (required actions are printed in red); these are interspersed with commentary (printed in italics). Color illustrations are plentiful; there are complete charts for both departure and destination airports, the flight plan itself, and finally a set of annotated panel illustrations. Well done, Captain, Tony Vallillo and the LDS Beta Team!

Conclusion

Overall I found this aircraft and panel to be on a par with the best of competing packages in this class. Though there are comparable features in other recent products, Level-D Simulations earns 5 star recognition because they've combined essentially all the truly worthwhile features into a seamless, well organized and trouble-free package. Bottom line—if you want to fly the Boeing 767 it doesn't get any better than this. Its systems functional implementation is among the best of any aircraft type I've seen. All this is yours for USD $39.95. You can further check out and order this outstanding package here.

Level-D's "Update 1" was released just as this review was ready to post. The update offers a few improvements and minor fixes, so you should download and install that as well. To the developers' credit I didn't encounter any bugs even with the original release.

Speaking of Credits:

It takes cooperative effort among many people to produce an add-on of this quality. The list of folks involved in developing and testing the LDS 767 reads like a "Who's who" of the flight sim world. We acknowledge their work here so our long-time readers will be aware of what these guys have been up to this past year or so!

Main Development: Wade Chafe, Laurent Crenier, Pedro Sousa (FMC)
Aircraft Visual Model: Yutaka Mitsushi
Aircraft & Panel Artwork: Yutaka Mitsushi, Gary Hayes, Eric Ernst
Technical advisors: David Barrington (B767 Captain), Eric Ernst (B767 First Officer), Marco Koolstra (B767 Engineer), Joe Panford (B767 Captain), Sean Trestrail (B767/A330 Captain)
Aircraft Sounds: Ben Alexander Brown, Eric Ernst, Tero Partanen
Aircraft Photographs: David Barrington, Eric Ernst, Mark McGrath
Pilot’s Manual: Eric Ernst
Crew Voices: Maree Bach, David Barrington, Gina Barrington, Dennis Di Franco, Ana Di Franco, Eric Ernst, Ian Mitchell, Daryl Shuttleworth, Martin Pailthorpe (B767 First Officer), John Triner, Bill Van Caulart, Jenny Van Caulart
Testing: Haroon Anwar, Jason Barlow, Dean Barry, Mike Bevington, Bill Van Caulart, Dennis Di Franco, Robert Hall, Lee Hetherington, Bob Klemm, Todd Legon, Mark McGrath, Ian Mitchell, Mike Murphy, Tero Partanen, Daryl Shuttleworth, Harv Stein

It's also interesting to hear about special contributions made by many of those on the development staff, and indeed others contributed to the overall effort:
Ian (aircraft systems); Mike Bevington (ftp server); Dennis Di Franco (ftp server & pdf formatting), Ron Freimuth (flight modelling advice), Lee Hetherington (TCAS Logic module), Mark McGrath (Weight & Balance), Ian Mitchell (ProcDBIO Utility), Tero Partanen (video recording & real simulator sessions), Richard Stefan (Navdata), Fraser Turner (thrust reverser and wing flex code).

 

What I Like About the Level-D 767
  • Superb aircraft, panel and systems implementation
  • Highly legible panels
  • Unfailing autoland system
  • Authentic EADI, EHSI, MCP and EICAS displays and functionality
  • Exceptionally complete FMC implementation
  • FMC resets automatically to current situation when resuming previously-saved flights
  • Package organization and thoughtful documentation layout reflect concern for ease of use.

 
What I Don't Like About the Level-D 767
  • No worries here!

 
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