• Special Report: Interview With Robert Randazzo Of PMDG

    Robert Randazzo Interview - November 2000

    Precision Manuals' Robert Randazzo & the 777

    1) The 777 is soon to be released. That is MY favorite airliner at this time. Your preview screens show it to be the most accurate visual model ever done in a computer sim, how is the cockpit going to be improved over what we see in the Excellence-Award Winning 767 collection?

    Well- I wouldn't say that it is the most accurate visual model done in any computer sim. Dimensionally, it is correct, but FLY! doesn't produce the type of graphic clarity that we need to really make that type of claim. A good example would be to look at PSS's 777. Their airplane isn't quite dimensionally perfect, but the texturing is probably the most exquisite I have ever seen in a sim. It is something that we (and others) are pushing TRI to accomplish in FLY!2....

    As for the cockpit model- it will be a vast improvement over the 767 because we have learned quite a bit in the process of our last two products. For example, we have discovered new ways to model the lighting within 3DStudio in order to produce a warmer, darker environment when the cockpit is rendered into images for FLY!. This results in a far more realistic cockpit that feels as though it is lit by ambient light and not by a series of spotlights pointed into certain places. Additionally, we have paid a significant amount of attention to ensuring that the ambient lighting between views is identical. This eliminates some of the jarring differences that we experienced on the 767.

    In addition, Marc has spent a tremendous amount of time building the cockpit in finite detail to includes such things as wrinkled paper charts, dispatch releases, hanging headset chords, real lambs-wool seats, stitched leather headrests and textured plastic flashing around the cockpit.

    The textures used for cockpit panel surfaces are far more realistic now, as well. The result is that the surfaces look more like those found on the actual airplane, rather than just being a smooth, textureless form.

    Marc finally convinced me to turn him loose creatively on this cockpit too- and he designed the 777 cockpit, including the companionway that leads from door 1L to the cockpit. This hallway includes two closets, two lavatories and all the relevant signage and curtains in the appropriate places. Based on his work, we were able to find a way to code the cockpit door so that it can be opened and closed, which produces a neat, immersive effect.

    Marc has a few other goodies in here too, including circuit breaker panels....which of course has given us some other ideas for neat features.

    2) FLY! has or appears to have a limitation to sound quality. All the jets sound like the Hawker in disguise. Since I have flown the real 777 simulator, I'll really be shocked if you can mimic the flightdeck engine and surrounding sounds. How are you planning to upgrade the sounds, and what might we be hearing that is new over the 767 set?

    Shiny new American 777-200 takes to the skies, sporting a great new metallic paint job and the most accurate physical model built to date.

    Well, I am fortunate to have access to both the airplane itself and the simulator. I attempted to obtain sounds from the simulator, but the results were a bit disappointing. I am also working with a recording device on the flight line, but those results have been mixed as well. I am currently researching better recording technologies, and expect that the right purchase should solve this problem. We anticipate including a much richer engine sound, which will eliminate the tinny quality of the original FLY! recording.

    We are also working on some ambient cockpit noise effects related to airwork ducting, and also replacing that horrendous noise that FLY! produces when you roll along the ground.... I've flown many airplanes but never heard a sound like that one... (Although I imagine that is what it sounds like to land with the gear up- so I hope never to hear such sounds...)

    3) What has been the response to your great flight models, from the airlines? Are there other people at the airlines that get excited about what your team has done, and about to do?

    I would be surprised if "The Airlines" knew we existed- but we get plenty of email from flight crew members. Without exception, they are highly complimentary of our efforts thus far and most of them offer their help and insight to future projects should we desire it. The trick becomes finding a way to thank them for their enthusiasm without hurting their feelings by turning them down. As an airline pilot, I don't think I am going too far out on a limb when I say that the fastest way to slow a process down is to get a bunch of pilots involved in the decision making! (smirk) We have testers who have been selected for reasons varying from their flight experience to their flight simulator experience- and we feel the mix is just right for what we are trying to accomplish. We normally recruit currently ATP pilots operating the equipment we are testing just to be sure we are in the right ballpark. The 777 will be no different. I've been involved with this airplane since mid 1994, so I have the pleasure of knowing many of the worlds most senior 777 crews.

    As for our flight models themselves, these are chiefly the work of Damian Clark. Damian has a remarkable talent for taking the flight envelope performance data and engineering performance data, mixing it with pilot's descriptions of the aircraft "feel" and coming up with a flight model that works. The numbers in the SVH might be a bit different than the actual lift/drag ratios that we receive with the flight envelope data- but I attribute this to the differences between reality and the desktop computer environment.

    I absolutely love the way our 767-300 flies. Of all our aircraft, this one has received the most number of compliments from fellow pilots. The 777 is about 40% through its flight envelope development cycle, and it is promising to surpass even the 767!

    4) Is it FLY!, or your talented physics programming that sets your airliners apart, from those created for FS2000?

    Hah hah. (Rich Harvey, stop squinting at the screen!) This is a chicken or egg argument, really. The best modeler in the world can't produce a good flight model if the base program isn't up to it. From the other side, the finest flight model base in the world doesn't mean that the modeler is going to come up with a sound flying model.

    I think FLY! has an outstanding flight model, within certain limits. The modeling of lift transition as a result of configuration changes and airspeed changes is absolutely fantastic. The model also does a great job of modeling the inherent stability of most airplanes. If there were a few weaknesses I'd complain to TRI about (and we have) they would be the high altitude model and the yaw model. We have found that it takes a significant amount of work to build an engine model that performs as expected throughout the entire flight envelope. In part this is due to the significant complexity of the turbojet engine model in FLY! (A minor type can really cause havoc with your engine model) but is also due partly to a poor upper atmosphere model. This problem should go away with FLY!2....

    The yaw problem in FLY! is a bit less complicated- but more noticeable. The airplane tends to yaw into turns at far too great a rate...

    As I mentioned earlier, however- I do feel that we have capitalized on the strengths of TRI's flight model in order to produce a fine flying airplane. I would prefer to model an airplane in FLY! above any other platform because of its detail.

    5) Would you ever create aircraft for MSFS again?

    That remains to be seen. We have certainly given some thought to porting our products into MSFS. The down side, however, is that MSFS really isn't capable of handling the kinds of things that we are working toward. Currently there are lots of very sharp add-ons for MSFS, but in reality the base systems upon which airliners are built are only vaguely defined within MSFS. We could certainly build a condition model logic that would force the simulator to behave appropriately, but I am not entirely sure the effort would be worth the reward given the glut of commercial products that currently do the same thing.

    Reality is important to our products at PMDG. Our goal is that our FLY! Airliner Series products will be 95%+ representative of the real airplane during 2001. The 777 is going to be the start of that leap forward.

    6) What is it that you like the best about flying one of your jets?

    Uhh....well.... If I am flying one of our jets, it generally means we have made some substantial progress toward a particular development goal. Between my real flying, PMDG development and the rest of my life, I really don't get much time to FLY! for fun. Before anyone feels sorry for me,

    On short final, as the tilted wheel trucks dangle for ground contact! Wow!
    however- I should point out that I do get to fly 80 hours a month in a real airplane, so I'm certainly not qualified to receive any sympathy! Aside from which, as many of the old timers in the simulation world know- I've been "all about reality" since I released my first freeware add-on back in 1995. (Remember my old KDEN scenery of DIA? That I know of- I was the first to model center-line lighting on taxiways....that was a fun project- and I learned a lot.... Remember my 777 for FSFW95? It released 5 years ago this week....boy have we come far since then!) The truth is that I really enjoy the challenge of bringing the reality of airliner flying to the desktop computer. Before I started flying for real- I was hungry for anything that appeared to realistically portray airline flying. Now that I have the time and resources to devote to the hobby- I feel a compelling need to be the one producing those add-ons. After all- what better to do with my spare time?

    7) What is it that you don't like about your product, that you want to improve upon?

    I think we have hit upon most of these already. Ignoring SDK related development of the displays, and the like- I really want to have better airplane modeling capability. I'd like to be able to produce visual models that can be textured to the detail level of FS2000. THAT would really make my day!

    8) What airplane do you currently fly in real life? Do you think that the FLY! Does the sim helps you in your proficiency? Do you ever get time just to sit down and fly FLY!?

    I answered most of that above...

    9) Other than the 777, can you look ahead to tell us what might be in the works?

    Oh....I left my crystal ball in the freezer- so it isn't seeing very clearly at the moment. Our next airplane after the 777 is going to by for FLY!2. I'd rather not talk about it in any detail, other than to say that...well....It'll be cool!

    Although it is absolutely not commercially viable, my personal wish would be for a DC-4, 6 or 7 for FLY!.... I only wish I had the time....

    Robert S. Randazzo

    Precision Manuals Development Group

    Visit our PMDG 767 Award-Winning Product Review Here!

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