Aerosoft/PMDG Boeing 747-400
By Andrew Herd (21 April 2006)
Fired by the success of the 707, Boeing had just begun work on the design of a high capacity successor when the US military released a specification for a large transport. In the event Lockheed won the contract with the C-5, but Pan Am rescued Boeing by issuing a requirement for an airliner twice the size of the 707 and this design went on to become the 747 we know as the 'Queen of the Skies'. A variety of configurations were considered, including one with double decks running the whole length of the fuselage that turned out to be impractical for safety reasons, but in a far-sighted move Boeing opted for a high cockpit and shortened upper deck that allowed the nose to be hinged up. This not only made the 747 one of the most distinctive hulls ever built, it meant that cargo versions could swallow vast loads and ensured that production would go on for the best part of four decades.
Despite all the ingenuity that went into the design, development came near to bankrupting Boeing, involving as it did building an absolutely vast new assembly hall near Everett, Washington; and working with Pratt and Whitney on a new high bypass turbofan, the JT9D, an engine that was developed specifically for the new plane. However, the real problem was that when Pan Am signed up for 25 of the new hulls in 1966, Boeing agreed to start delivery in 1970, which allowed very little time to develop such an enormously sophisticated aircraft. As we know, the gamble paid off handsomely, with production far exceeding the company's original estimate of 400 hulls, but the 747's future was by no means assured at launch - concerns about the size and fuel consumption of the new plane meaning that many buyers opted for tri-jets like the DC-10 and the Tristar. Eventually, modern widebody jets like the larger Airbus models and Boeing's own 767 and 777 began to offer significant competition to the 747, but having become one of the world's favorite planes the hull remains in production and a new variant, known as the 747-8, has been announced with the idea of providing competition for the A380.
747 production started with the -100, built to fulfill the Pan Am contract and fitted with an upper lounge area behind the cockpit, a feature much appreciated by advertising agencies of the time, who vied with each other to provide wide angle views of the 'clipper' like interior and the spiral staircase to the upper deck. The -100B had a generally beefed up structure and this in turn was replaced by the 747SR, which was progressively modified to carry up to 563 people, but over shorter ranges than the original -100. Then came the -200, with more fuel and more powerful engines; and the 747SP, which was a cut-and-shut job designed to get Boeing out of a hole and allow it to compete with the trijets on something like level ground. Following the same theme, the -300 was actually intended a trijet, but the expected demand never materialised, so Boeing revamped it to include a stretched upper deck and increased the tankage yet again. Next was the -400, as featured here, which has extended wingtips, a modern glass cockpit, more economical engines, even more fuel and which does away with the flight engineer needed to operate the earlier models.
The 747 has understandably been a very popular plane with flight simmers and until FS2002 appeared, it was something of a mystery why Microsoft didn't include it as a default plane. As a result, numerous addon 747s have been released both as freeware and as payware, the ones that stand out for me on the payware side being Ralph Tofflemire's 747-200, which has undergone numerous upgrades over the past five years and is presently marketed under the 'Ready for Pushback' banner; the PSS 747-400, which is still available for FS2000/FS2002 under the 'World Airliners' tag. As far as freeware goes, you can take your pick, but my favorites are the Project Open Sky series and the MelJet 747.
Aerosoft's product arrived in a medium-thickness DVD style case, which contained the installation CD, two manuals and a 'cockpit views' guide, of which more later. Complex addon that this is, installation took a while, but it ultimately boils down to the usual simple matter of sticking the CD in the drive and following the prompts. The only decision that has to be made is about whether to do a full installation or not and unless hard disk space is a problem for you, I suggest installing the whole enchilada. Copy protection relies on a registration key which is pasted into the product case and the whole process ran without a hitch when I tried it. Eighteen liveries are included on the CD and these can be installed separately; in the process you are offered a choice between installing DXT3 or higher quality 32 bit textures, the latter being recommended if you have a high end system. Checking out the PMDG website revealed a wide selection of free liveries available for download, although there is some overlap between the files on the website and the installation set. I installed a few of the website liveries as part of the review and they worked fine.
The addon manual is 59 pages long and was in English in the version I reviewed. Reading this before loading the 747 for the first time is definitely a good idea, as PMDG have delivered much more than a plane and a set of liveries. For example, it is possible to save the panel in just about any state you want, to be reloaded later; you can specify nearly 150 different types of system failure; and there are a multitude of options related to panel setup. The Flight Management Computer (FMC) manual is a little shorter at 53 pages, but nonetheless, it is packed with information and you will struggle to fly the plane long distance without it. The cockpit views poster Aerosoft include is something of an innovation as far as simmers are concerned, but it will be a familiar aid to ATPLs, who spend many hours learning to feel their way around cockpit diagrams blindfold in order to get accredited and to pass checkrides.
In addition to the printed manuals, the installation creates a link on the start menu 'PMDG 747-400 operating manuals', which gives you access to a further eleven pdf documents, covering everything you could possibly need to know about the operation of the plane - be warned that it takes a while to read all of these, given that they total 384 pages. At this stage, readers will have divided neatly into two groups: one of which is thinking, "400 pages of manuals? Do me a favor!"; and the other is thinking, "Wow, I wonder how much it is, because I am gonna have to buy this one..." Suffice it to say that this is one of the most complex packages ever released for Flight Simulator and as such it makes a pair with the 'Ready for Pushback' 747-200, which simulates a (much) earlier generation of this legendary plane, allowing 747 fans to fly two quite different versions of their favorite heavy. It is amazing to think that only half a dozen years ago, such a situation would have been almost unimagineable.
Looking at the software in more detail, the one applet you get is a load manager, which is accessible from the start menu and can be found in the PMDG 747-400 operating manuals group - this allows you to set fuel and pax to any combination you want, with useful warnings should you try and exceed maximum takeoff weight. In practice, you don't need any more than this, because a 'PMDG' item appears on the FS2004 menu when the 747 is loaded and this allows you to alter just about any parameter you can think of, starting with whether the visual model includes a virtual cockpit (VC) or not - useful for simmers with lower spec systems - and going on to include options for such exotica as setting the inertial reference system (IRS) alignment time anywhere from a realistic ten minutes down to instantaneous. The pop-up dialog which is triggered by this menu item allows you to set up refresh and display parameters for the glass displays in the cockpit, alter the way the automatic flight director system (AFDS) works, fine tune volume levels for cockpit sounds and to directly fill the tankage, independently of the FS2004 system. This latter point is important, as PMDG took a decision very early on in the development to bypass many of Microsoft's core programming in order to achieve the ultimate in realism, with the result that when you set up a particular fuel load, for example, the addon correctly sets up the 747s fuel management system in order to save you the embarassment of running dry on the taxiway as a result of a valve being set in the wrong position.