• MelJet 747-400 / Project Open Sky 747-400

    MelJet 747-400 / Project Open Sky 747-400

    By Lee James (7 January 2003)

    Having flown Boeing 747's on a regular basis since Flight Simulator 5.1 appeared, I have always looked for improvements in this aircraft both to the way it looks in Flight Simulator and in its flight performance. Ever since the first effort by Craig Mosher, a specialist in his field somewhat, many Flight Simulator fans have yearned for a really flyable model of the Queen of the Skies. It has been felt by many including myself that even from the earliest days of Flight Simulator FlightShop, this plane has never really got much better in its simulated form than, say, the 737 and more recently the 777 have over the versions that Microsoft have marketed. It has fallen to the freeware add-on designers to pave the way for better aircraft versions and Craig began the task with the 747 for Flight Simulator.

    Among the best of the early efforts to improve this aircraft and the way it flies in Flight Simulator came from Hans Van Whye, former sysop on the Flight Simulation Forum on Compuserve. Hans created just about the best flight model file for the jet around at the time. A native of Holland, he made this big jet feasible to fly in Flight Simulator for the first time. Around the same time, FlightShop, by Flight Simulator designer Bruce Artwick, was available with the ability to create new FS aircraft - and Craig Mosher's Jumbo Jet was on it. However, it has still taken some years before Microsoft decided to include this great jet as a default aircraft.

    That was then and this is now, as they say! Now we have the two newest and arguably the best 747-400's around since Phoenix Simulation Software (PSS) put together their great aircraft, panel and sounds for FS2000 about a year ago. And the panel and sounds all work nicely with these new jets!

       

    The Test Flights

    In order to look at both of these new offerings a bit closer and compare them, I flew both the Melvin Rafi version (MelJet) and the Project OpenSky version, online from London to Manchester and back. Both aircraft were British Airways livery repaints, the MelJet plane by Henry Lidster and the Project OpenSky jet by Gary Hayes. Both painters are virtual pilots, members of British Airways Virtual and in my humble opinion, great painters!

    I used the panel and sounds from Phoenix Simulation Software and I also used Squawkbox version 2.3.5 for FS2002 with real weather enabled, along with the HostSB module for Squawkbox to run in. I used Roger Wilco for voice ATC connecting to the VATSIM network. Both flights out and back were conducted with a TOGA takeoff with VNAV and LNAV armed from Gatwick followed by a manual landing at Manchester. Then the return trip was flown with a manual derated thrust takeoff from Manchester followed by a LAND 3 AutoLand back in London. Fuel was set at 20% in all five tanks on both jets. The MelJet showed 98076 lbs or 44486 kg whilst the Project OpenSky bird showed 94112 lbs or 42688 kg which actually was almost correctly reported by the Phoenix panel, as 42.2 kg. Cruise levels were 24000 feet up to Manchester and 23000 feet back down to London. Scenery for both Manchester and London Gatwick was by Gary Summons UK2000 versions for FS2002.

    It should be noted here that the FS2002 autopilot/autothrottle system, like its earlier version counterparts, leave a lot to be desired! Autothrottle hold during climb and descent is pretty rubbish and often I selected manual thrust to keep the speed where I wanted it. This is not anything wrong with the jets flown here, but is a failing of Flight Simulator. Hopefully, the next version, due out around November 2003, will fix this nagging problem with its airliners.

       

    The MelJet 747-400 Version III - Melvin Rafi

    First on the scene, after nearly a year's work, is the Gmax Boeing 747-400 created by Melvin Rafi. Melvin has been working on this aircraft for some time and he is well known for his love of the 747, with many, many repaints of his earlier versions for FS98 and FS2000 having been released by other painters.

    His version of the Boeng 747 is specially designed for FS2002 and it has all the eye candy you'll want - and it flies pretty good too! Features of this jet include properly extending flap system, fully sequenced gear, wonderful paint job, FS2002 lighting with good night illumination and moving nose wheel - something that I have never seen on any other model I've tried despite the claims of its existence on other jets! Melvin's jet looks good and has very realistic looking overwing views. Looking out over the wing you'll see nice engine pylons and spinning engine fans that also match the engine revolutions! I also flew the Singapore Airlines Tropical Wind version of his aircraft and that is pretty good to look at as well!

    Melvin's bird has no declared Zero Fuel Weight but the total fuel load in five tanks is shown as 383145 lbs which converts to 173792 kg. Those of you who use the Phoenix panel will discover an anomaly with the displayed fuel. The panel shows 159.3 kg which equates to 351196 lbs - quite a difference. This anomaly is evident with the Project OpenSky jet too. Not really sure where the problem lies, but it may not necessarily be the Phoenix panel. For the MelJet, I used a Zero Fuel Weight of 222.5 kg or 490528 lbs.

       

    Using the Phoenix panel and sounds the aircraft flies well and I made a standard takeoff from Gatwick's runway 26L with VNAV and LNAV enabled and TOGA selected. Takeoff was smooth with V2 shown on the Phoenix panel as 153 knots so I set 170 knots and 8.5 on the trim just to be safe. Climbing to 4000 feet was good after which I went to selected heading and speed control when vectored by ATC out of the Gatwick area due to other traffic. I found that the engines on Melvin's aircraft surged a lot backwards and forwards during climb and during flight below 10,000 feet. No real idea why this is. The Project OpenSky aircraft shows none of this effect.

    After being cleared by ATC to climb to flight level 240 for the cruise, I found the bird more than capable of climbing safely at 2200 feet per minute and the engines never really worked hard at all. The flight went without incident and I was able to enjoy the views inside and outside the jet as well as the very nice overwing views.

    The MelJet appears to have no flashing reflections of the belly red navigation light - a feature the Project OpenSky jet does support - but its lighting generally is a very good example of what FS2002 brings to night flying. Approach and landing at Manchester was easy and the bird handles very nicely if you make sure you have her configured properly. Landing with 30 flaps at 160 knots initially from 12 miles out, gear down and about plus 4 degrees nose up, we made a nice touchdown and reverse thrust brought us to a stop nicely. The aircraft turns nicely on the ground, even tight turns - and the turning nose wheel is helps a lot!

    The Project OpenSky Boeing 747-400 Version 3

    The most recent Boeing 747-400 for Flight Simulator is the Project OpenSky 747-400. Also a Gmax model and a collaboration of many of the now famous Project OpenSky members, this Jumbo is also a joy to behold. Perhaps the nicest thing about the jet I flew was the paint job - very realistic! For this test, I flew the Gary Hayes repaint of the jet, done in the latest British Airways livery and together with the new FS2002 lighting, it looks stunning!
       

    Features are much as the Melvin Rafi version, except that this bird has the reflective features that work very well indeed, including the reflections off of the engine nacelles when looking out over the wing - this was missing from the MelJet version. Both the outboard and inboard engines are almost fully visible from the overwing view. The nose gear lighting is also better on the Project OpenSky version. Generally, the lighting on this jet is a bit better than the MelJet aircraft but there is little between the two. One problem I did notice is that the reflections of the belly navigation red light sometimes did not show when switching to overwing view - then they would re-appear again. This may just be the workload for the graphics processor that has to cope with it all. The effects generally look good but those effects will vary from repaint to repaint. I have also flown a Japan Airlines livery repaint of the Project OpenSky plane and this is very nice too.

    Comparisons

    Both aircraft fly very well indeed. No problem with the climb power needed - in fact the N1 and N2 gauges showed lower numbers then I expected based on my experience in numerous takeoffs and landings while seated in the cockpit of the real aircraft - thanks to some very kind British Airways pilots and before September 11th. One thing I did notice is that both jets turn very wide while on autopilot. Flying the LAM standard instrument departure from Gatwick, involves a tight right turn almost reversing course and both jets were well off the SID when the turn was completed. Phoenix's own 747-400 turns in about half the arc that these two birds use. Since I was flying online, I did not time the turns but I plan to do this.

    My biggest thrill in flying these two birds was being able to look out over the wing, as a passenger would and enjoy the view from that position! I appreciate the realism required by some, and the efforts of Phoenix among others, to provide the proper correct inside cockpit views but the ability to look out over the wing from time to time, while flying, is very welcome. The DreamFleet 737 has this feature and the wing views are very nice. Imagine my surprise when I was able, on both jets, to see the leading edge flaps extend in animation from this overwing view! Fantastic! And they said it could not be done! The animated leading edge flaps extend in a more realistic sequence with the Project OpenSky jet but the wing and flap detail looks better on the MelJet offering and the latter, I would argue has perhaps the most realistic looking overwing views.

       

    Together with the FS2002 wing lighting, the effects are great. The Project OpenSky version supplied an EFFECTS folder as part of the downloaded zip file but no instructions as to where to place the contents of that folder were included. I have placed the files in the FS2002/EFFECTS folder and I seem to have the desired lighting effects fine.

    But that's not all! Flying the Project OpenSky 747-400 into Manchester in the darkness of a late autumn evening I looked out over the wing and saw the belly red navigation light reflecting off the inboard engine nacelle! In order to see the overwing view with the Phoenix panel in use, you must select Virtual Cockpit mode (hit the "S" key once) and then select the view as normal (SHIFT + KEYPAD 1 port side and SHIFT + KEYPAD 3 starboard side). So this way you get the best of both worlds!

    Both aircraft were able to execute a fully automatic landing using the Phoenix panel Autoland LAND 3 facility without any problem. All I did was to adjust the speed in the autopilot window here and there. The Project OpenSky aircraft needed more speed adjustments but both aircraft landed automatically using this great Phoenix facility, safely.

    I have to say also that frame rates were good and no real increase was detected (see the specifications below for the test system). Despite the detail in Gary Summons UK2000 sceneries, both aircraft were eminently flyable. Spot view produced no real decline in frame rates although things did slow a little. Landing speeds were set at about 160 knots for the final approach to allow for a good forward view.

    In summary, I have to say that there is little to choose between the two versions. These two 747-400's represent the cutting edge in Flight Simulator big aircraft to date, in my humble opinion. Add to this the Phoenix panel and sounds which again, in my opinion, have not yet been bettered (can you guys do it all again for FS2004?) and you have now a top notch version of the Queen of the Skies for Flight Simulator at last!

    Perhaps the Project OpenSky jet has the upper hand, mainly because I like the reflections on the engine nacelles at night and the night lighting in general in this bird. But then the MelJet has the turning nose wheel that works and it flies just slightly better than the Project OpenSky offering. No criticism of the flight model designers is intended in that statement - it is purely my opinion and my findings during my flights. Both aircraft represent a lot of work that seems to have gone into not just the way these two aircraft look and the eye candy bits - but also the flight model is very, very good. Few people are aware of just how easy it is to fly the real 747-400 by hand. I have seen wonderful examples of how it is possible to easily hand-fly this 370-ton aircraft around almost like it was a light plane! I'm happy to report that the flight model designers of both these birds have allowed for this. At the same time you will get the feeling of flying a heavy jet, make no mistake! And that's part of the fun!

    For me, as a virtual pilot with British Airways Virtual and long time flyer of the 747 and its variants, I have to admit that both these jets will remain in my hangar for some time to come. They are a joy to fly and have so many neat features that make them visually stunning to look at and if that was not enough, they show just how much of a leap forward this jet has made since Craig Moser introduced it in FlightShop all those years ago.

    Test System:
    • AMD Athlon XP 1900+ CPU;
    • Gigabyte Motherboard
    • 512MB PC2100 DDR RAM
    • Elsa Gladiac GeForce 3 64MB Grapics card
    • 30GB Western Digital 7200 Hard disk (500MB Virtual Memory cache set)
    • Windows 98 Second Edition with
    • Flight Simulator 2002 Pro version installed (Multiplayer mode used online)
    • Mitsubishi 1100 21" Monitor set at 1280x1024x16 resolution (as is Windows Desktop)
    Other Utilities:
    • Phoenix Simulation Software 744 panel V2 (FMC for in-flight navigation used) and sounds (RR Engines).
    • Roger Wilco voice software
    • Squawkbox 2.3.5
    • Host SB (host for above)
    • Dialup internet connection for online flight connected to the VATSIM Network.
    Lee James
    101500.66@compuserve.com

    Download MelJet 747-400's
    Download Project Open Sky 747-400's

    Links

    MelJet 747-400 (http://www.Meljet.com)
    Project OpenSky 747-400 (http://www.projectopensky.com)
    Phoenix Panel and sounds (http://www.phoenix-simulation.co.uk)
    British Airways Virtual (http://www.bavirtual.co.uk)
    Speedbird Online (http://www.speedbirdonline.co.uk)
    Scenery by Gary Summons (http://www.UK2000scenery.com)
    Vatsim Virtual ATC Network (http://www.vatsim.net)

    Please Note! This document is Copyright Lee James. No reproduction in whole or in part is permitted without the permission of the author. It should be appreciated that effects will differ from system to system and the author accepts no liability for features noted in this article that do not seem to be found when using these aircraft.

    About The Author

    Lee James is 46 and a father of two living in West Sussex, UK. He has 23 years in Aviation Security at Heathrow Airport in London and has been flying Flight Simulator since 1989. A former member of the World Flight Team for Children In Need, Lee was also a sysop on the former FSFORUM on Compuserve. Now a virtual pilot with British Airways Virtual and their Training Captain on the 747, Lee enjoys flying online both in Continental Europe and the US.