SGA DC-9 And MD-80/90/95/97
By Eric van der Veen (24 January 2005)
ollowing very successful earlier creations, SGA has recently released an impressive new aircraft package for FS2004. Oh well, it's not just an aircraft really, but an entire series. In fact, the scope of this release may be a first for flight simulation ever! We're talking about the family of DC-9 and MD-80 and their derivatives, as well as MD-90 and its derivatives. Released at the beginning of November, it found its way to desk flyers at an average of 3000 downloads per version within two weeks. So, obviously, many of you have formed an opinion on the aircraft. For those of you who haven't, or would be interested anyway, here follows how we feel about it...
In this review we'll start off by saying a few words on the real aircraft. We'll then cover the SGA package and installation. Next up is the visual model, followed by some flight impressions. We'll be dealing with the sound and flight model as well. So, covering it all I guess. Off we go…
Introduction to DC-9 and MD-80/90 series
This is an aircraft series that hardly needs any introduction at all. A well known sight throughout the world, the DC-9 family is one the most successful jet airliners of all times, ranking only behind its two competitors: the Boeing 737 family and the Airbus A320 family.
The DC-9 was born after the airlines wanted a small and cheap aircraft to serve short-haul routes, complementing the Boeing 707 and DC-8 as well as many propliners. In the UK, then-called BAC responded with their BAC 1-11. This sported a somewhat novel configuration of twin rear-fuselage engines and a T-tail. A similar configuration had only shortly before, in 1959, been introduced on the French Caravelle. Douglas announced the DC-9 in 1963, and Boeing the model 737 in 1965. Although the B737 became the bestseller, many crews loved the DC-9 for its smoothness of control and reliability.
The first model was the DC-9-14, delivered in 1966. Yes, that's correct…. from conception to first delivery in three to four years. That was normal business in those days. Since then the original aircraft rapidly evolved into numerous versions. Most significantly, the changes included fuselage stretch, more engine power, increased take-off weight and better high-lift devices for short-field performance. The full model list is DC-9-14, -15, -21, -31, -32, -33, -34, -41, -51, and C-9 for the military version.
The Douglas company, in the meantime merged into McDonnell-Douglas, then planned a series called the DC-9-80. Re-engined, stretched and with modernised avionics, it was later renamed the MD-80. From the MD-80 originated another family: MD-81, -82, -83, -87, and -88.* Up to this type, all had been equipped with the JT8D engine. This is a low bypass engine, reminiscent of the true turbojet. To today's standards it's rather noisy, but back then it was one of the new high performance engines.
After the MD-88 came the MD-90. Don't ask me what happened to -89 (or -84 and so on); aircraft number designation is truly rocket science. The MD-90 was essentially an MD-88 with new engines, the IAE V2500, to meet ever more-demanding noise regulations, a much longer range, and again modernized avionics. It was more or less specifically developed for Delta airlines. Finally the MD-95 was announced in 1991, as a modern variant similar in size to the original DC-9-30. Using the new BR-715 engine, the aircraft was conveniently renamed Boeing 717 after the merger with Boeing. Apparently, there are some interesting theories as to why Boeing had skipped the '717' number when it launched the B727.
So, let's take a look at the package. One of the great things of SGA is their dedicated website and forum, where they deal with your problems and inform you on progress. Check out their site at www.sgair.net for the latest news. It will show you that they keep working on their packages after they are released to the public. You can read there that for the DC-9/MD-80/MD-90 series, SGA is working on some freight versions and flight models that are specifically suited to all the versions.
Note that a patch was released a week after the original uploads to fix some issues.
What immediately strikes is the scope of the package. Available are no less than the DC-9 -14, -21, -32, -40, and -50 versions, as well as MD-83, -87, -90 and -95. Now, that's what I call good work. And don't be wrong…these aircraft are significantly different on the outside, so those guys must have spent a lot of work. Note for example the different tail cones and the much cleaner wing on the new models.
Furthermore, reflecting the huge number of airlines operating the aircraft, a very large number of liveries is available. Any of us will be able to make a suitable and realistic combination of model and livery. Can't choose? Take them all!
To reflect the different engines on the types, there are three sound sets available as a separate download for the JT8D, V2500 and BR715 engines.
And finally, there's a separate effects file for smoke and contrails.
Installation is straightforward; a single zip-file for each version base package including one or two liveries. No back-ups or overwrites, plain easy. The only manual action is that if you downloaded one of the sound files, you need to assign this to the respective aircraft. Otherwise you'll get the default B737 sound. I choose to make it as real as possible: JT8D sounds for the DC-9 series and MD-80 series, the V2500 for the MD-90, and the BR715 for the MD-95.
What's obviously not included, are the panels (2D and VC). A pity, but hey, the guys at SGA focussed on the aircraft and sound. There are some freeware panels out there, check the links a the end of this review. Also not included are manuals or checklists. If you want a full package, you'll have to assemble it yourself with different bits and pieces. And the SGA package provides an excellent starting point.
The visual model is full of detail, and nicely crafted; the distinctive lines of the real DC-9 are really well captured. And in spite of their looks, the models go really easy on the frame rate.
Let's go through some visual details….
The tail hook and wing fold keys are tied to the under-wingtip landing lights and tail stairs, respectively. The MD-90 also brings in a SkyChef truck when you extend the tail stair. According to SGA, each MD model has its own similar hidden animation.
I love the soot stain on the rear fuselage of the DC-9-21, which is just like the real aircraft.* There's a vent door just forward and below the left engine that opens and closes. The wingtips on some models have electro-static discharger strakes, there is an exhaust for the APU, and so on. Look at the chalk marks on the nose wheels. And if you look carefully, you can see that the beacon light of the DC-9's actually has a small rotating mirror! The MD-8x's and 9x's don't have this. It seems as if the models were built by several individuals, each with their own attention to detail and preferences.
As a point of comment, though, it seems that some textures are missing. On some of the models, there's no texture on the gear struts, main gear doors, gear debris protector hood, aileron flange, nose gear axis (which is extending sideways beyond the wheels too), and vortillon (those are the underwing strakes that create a vortex over the wing. This causes the airflow over the wing to stick to the wing at high angles of attack, postponing the stall and thus reducing the minimum airspeed). But then again, on some of the models, it's all there.
Also note that with spoilers extended, the spoilers retract slightly when you move the ailerons. This compensates the increasing drag of downward deflected ailerons and increases the lift of the raising wing. A nice little details that helps to create smooth handling.
In the SGA forums you'll find more discussions on such details as wheel contact points and strut compression, but we'll leave that right there for now.
Well, what was it with a picture and a thousand words? Just take a close look for yourself. Let's roll!
Impressions from flight
*I took all the versions into flight, and will not go into details of each type individually. What follows is a generalized impression.
When loading the aircraft, the weight of the default payload with full tanks nicely corresponds to the maximum take-off weight. That's a good start.
And then my favorite: push-back with a tug? Naaaahhh…I don't think so. Just apply reverse thrust at the gate, and backwards we go. This is in fact quite common practise in the US with aircraft like DC-9 and B727. And no, applying brakes during such push-back will not tip the aircraft on its tail, as could be seen with some aircraft in FS2002.
We're lined-up and applying full power now. But these old the JT-8D engines really have a long spool-up time and it takes a while for them to come up to power. This is well recreated in the models...better bring lunch to your desk. Don't forget to lower some flaps for take-off. The DC-9, and in particular the series -20, was specially adopted for short field performance. And the different flap settings have a markable effect on take-off distance. In fact, a DC-9 without flaps is difficult to get off the ground. In 1987, the crew and passengers of a Northwest MD-82 found this out the hard way…consult the NTSB database for more information on this accident.
Once up and away, the engine smoke, wingtip condensation streaks and contrails show off nicely. A minor issue is that the wingtip condensation is always there, also when the aircraft is on the ground with zero speed. And, apart from the older models, also the MD-90 and MD-95 with their modern engines do smoke. This, for my part, is not entirely realistic. But a quick modification of the aircraft.cfg file cures this.
In cruise, the aircraft flies smoothly. It is during landing and final that the JT-8D engines require your attention. The long spool-up time is potentially dangerous, and you need to anticipate during deviations from the glide slope.
Also the OEO (One-Engine-Out) situation is good to handle, and so is crosswind.
On the return taxi, fortunately the aircraft doesn't start to roll on idle power. Ground control is good and smooth.
The sounds are simply amazing. This is where the package really separates the boys from the men. The noise level in the cockpit is really low, as you would expect from those rear-mounted engines. Remember that the front noise from the fan is much less than the roar of the exhaust. You need to get outside to hear the engines. The JT-8D's sound is really wonderful, with a great whine and roar. The V2500 is extremely smooth and muffled, and the BR715 has a very distinctive sound of its own. Erick Cantu did a very good job on these. No more words needed. Whatever you do, keep the sounds!
The quietness of the engines in the cockpit has the pleasant side-effect of making the wind noise and runway rattle all the more pronounced.
For the hardcore simmers among you, I took a look at the flight model as well. As always, it's difficult to really test this in FS2004, but I've tried a few things. I've got some good points and some comments.
What I like best is the fact that with the rear stairs still down, you won't get this bird off the ground or to fly. SGA accounted for this nicely. The flap effect is very pronounced, as you would expect, creating loads of lift and drag. The spoilers are equally full of effect. You either maintain airspeed and sink rapidly, or you pitch up sharply to keep altitude, but see your speed falling off. That must be really uncomfortable for the passengers. Use with prudence!
During cruise, the maximum speed closely matches the figures from technical specifications, and SGA may in fact have tuned the flight model to this. You can expect 480 KTAS at FL250 for the DC-9-50. The longer range of the MD-90 shows off nicely by mostly unchanged weights, but much improved fuel consumption.
But then FS2004 kicks in. As with many aircraft, the DC-9's and MD-80/90's all seem overpowered at low altitude. I was able to take-off within 70% of the documented runway distance. At maximum weight and full power, climb speed at sea level should be around 3000 fpm, but the DC-9-40 and MD-87 for example, rocketed skywards at over 4000 fpm. The MD-90 even achieved over 6000 fpm and still accelerated.
An issue that has been fixed by the patch is the roll rate. All of these SGA models initially seemed to behave finely, except for the DC-9-21, DC-9-50 and MD-95. They had unbelievably high roll rates. In fact I once, at low speed just after take-off (i.e. when the ailerons are supposed to be the least effective), rolled upside down in the blink of an eye. Well, as said, that has been corrected.
The patch is a bit of a drag to install if you have all the models. But hey, you know what it's good for now.
Summary and conclusions
SGA did a great job in supplying us with not just a new freeware aircraft, but an entire series; a tribute to the real aircraft. The DC-9 and MD-80/90 varieties may not be absent in any simmer's inventory.
The exterior model is great; smooth and detailed. With lots of liveries available, it's really a friend to all. There are a few minor glitches of missing textures.
The sounds really steal the show. It's worthwhile to just start FS, turn up your volume, spool up the engines and enjoy. No flying needed to get your kicks.
The flight model seems accurate, apart from the common issue of overpowering at sea level.
Great work from SGA!
Look at the SGA site
Download the patch file.
Download the sound files.
Eric van der Veen