CLS Airbus A330 And A340 For FSX
By Rob van Leest (25 February 2008)
he A330 and A340 are wide-body medium to long range aircraft build by Airbus in France. Development was launched in 1987 and the first aircraft of the family entered service in 1987. Fly-by-wire technology originally developed for the Airbus A320 family is once again used and the cockpits are almost identical. Cockpit communality provides companies with a very easy and short possibility to convert pilots from one aircraft to another.
The aircraft can be bought in various models but the fuselage is basically the same apart from different lengths. Typical passenger numbers range from 250 to 320. With the development of the A330 Airbus tried to compete with the Boeing 767-300. The A340 was developed to complement the Airbus product range with a long haul four engine aircraft not being restricted to ETOPS requirements. In 1997 the family was enlarged with two more variants; A340-500 and A340-600. Although not every member of the family was that successful, Airbus managed to get orders for well over 1000 airplanes. Commercial Level Simulations now brings some of these aircraft to the virtual skies in FSX.
Commercial Level Simulations (CLS) has been producing flight simulator add-ons for quite some time already. My previous experience with their add-ons was good, so I was very interested in one of their latest releases for FSX. The Airbus A330 and A340 package for FSX was released in October last year. More recently CLS released the first service pack for this product. The reviewed product has been patched by this service pack. Halfway the review I installed service pack 2 as well.
What You Get
The package is available for download from the the Pilot Shop and will cost you about USD $45. Separately you can download 150 liveries from the CLS web site at no charge. You will be provided with a key via e-mail. You need this key during the installation process. SP1 is available for download at the CLS web site and is about 70 MB in size. After installation you will have:
- Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004 or FSX
- 1.6 GHz Intel Pentium IV or AMD equivilant
- Windows XP
- 512Mb RAM
- 128Mb 3D graphics accelerator card.
- A plugin sound card such as Soundblaster Audigy
- 1.2 gig free harddisk space for the base installation.
To review the bundle I used this system:
- Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 (2.40 GHz);
- Asus P5K Deluxe motherboard with 4GB RAM;
- NVidia GeForce 8800 GTS graphics card;
- Windows Vista operating system.
- FSX with SP1 and FSUIPC
- Active Sky X and X graphics (not used during tests to check the performance)
- All flights are made in areas with standard FSX scenery
Installation is very straight forward and easy. Open the file, enter you software key, verify that your FSX directory is shown correct and off you go. The service pack is extracted into a folder of your choice. It contains an executable file which updates the installation. You need the previously received software code during installation. Furthermore it contains some other updates for the add-on programs. They can be installed manually.
After installation you will have the four basic versions of the aircraft in FSX. I decided to get myself some add-on liveries and used the livery manager to install them. Through this nice add-on, this is very easy to do. Afterwards you will find the installed aircraft in the menu of FSX. CLS provides a manual with a lot of information and a step to step tutorial flight using the A330. All of this should get you started without any problems in a very short time.
From the beginning it became very clear that the developers made a huge effort providing a high quality and very detailed visual model of the aircraft. Everything is there including the smallest details. The aircraft simply look great. Jumping into the cockpit you will find a nice "desk" to do your job. You can choose to use the 2D or virtual (3D) cockpit. Off course there are various other views available as well.
The developers managed to find a good balance between a standard FSX aircraft with only basic things available and a full system simulation. Aircraft systems are partially simulated. Sometimes you need to consult the manual but there is no need to spend hours reading books to be able to even start the engines. A quick look at the tutorial flight in the manual will get you airborne in a short time. Let's take them for some flights and look into that in more detail.
Everything is modeled into the highest detail. I wasn't able to find any strange things beside some issues with the lighting at night. From the cockpit you can select four doors to be opened. There is a separate switch for each cargo door but I could not manage to open them one by one. Although the developers state that there are some issues with the connection of the air bridges, I have not seen anything of that. Air bridges connect nicely to the aircraft and the cargo trucks and belts find their way to the aircraft without any problems. The cockpit looks nice from the outside and is occupied by two pilots. The co-pilot looks quite sleepy...maybe he did too many long haul flights recently?
When doing your external inspection before the flight you will be able to see more. The landing gear are very detailed almost up to the last bolt and hydraulic hose. All antennas on the aircraft are there. You will notice that the ailerons and elevators are drooped because they are not supplied by any hydraulic power.
A disadvantage of very detailed external models is the impact they have on frame rates. It seems to me that the developers found a good balance. Stock aircraft have a slight impact on frame rates. The add-on liveries a little bit more because they are more detailed. Drop in frame rate is noticeable but very acceptable in my opinion.
When you come back from your external inspection and you are at a remote bay ... no worries. For you and your passengers CLS has provided a stair connected so you can board the aircraft without any problem. It can be selected through an icon from the cockpit. Another nice feature is the included pushback truck. The default FSX pushback does not connect to the nose wheel correctly so there is an option to use the CLS pushback truck to do the job for you.
In the aircraft you have both a 2D and virtual 3D cockpit available. On top of that you have wing views, nose landing gear camera, tail camera and pushback tug views. There is no virtual cabin installed. In the virtual cockpit you can select to fly from the left or right hand seat. Pushing a hidden click spot in the 2D cockpit opens up a small panel with icons. They can be used to access the various panels; overhead panel, lower ECAM display and ATC transponder. Another switch on the main panel opens a MCDU with some very basic functions.
In general the cockpit looks quite good. A strong point about it is the minimal effect on frame rates. Users who find the displays a little bit difficult to read can pop up the three main screens to a larger size. I found this to be very useful during takeoff and landing. Through the lower ECAM screen you can access all system pages. Fuel quantity can be displayed in kg, lbs or liters and there is an option to reset the fuel used counters. Navigation aids can be set from the MCDU or from a separate NAV1 panel on the lower pedestal. The ILS frequency and course can only be set from the NAV1 panel. I found this to be a little bit complicated and rather annoying thing.
If you are looking for a complete system simulation, this is not the product for you. As mentioned before, only some of the systems are simulated. The advantage however is that it will not take you hours of study to fly this aircraft. A nice feature I found was the option to jettison fuel. Be careful with this because the developers exaggerated the fuel jettison rate. I managed to dump about 80 tons within one minute. Actual fuel jettison rate on the A340 is about 1000 Kg per minute. Maybe this can be addressed in a future update.
Another good job is the virtual cockpit. Highly detailed and every knob available in the 2D cockpit can be controlled here as well. Virtual cockpits usually have a big hit on the performance of FSX but with this product CLS managed to reduce this to a very acceptable level. Some users reported memory leak and crash to desktop problems with the cockpit. I have experienced some issues likewise with the A330 cockpit only. CLS expects to address this issue in the next service pack.
I was disappointed with the automated systems. The MCDU is very basic and only accepts FSX flight plans. There is a direct to function but it is limited to points in the flight plan only since the system does not contain any databases. Users flying online might get into problems over here when the controller assigns different departures, arrivals or runways. The autopilot has only basic FSX modes and you will find yourself flying the aircraft in vertical speed during climb and descent. This might be nice for a light aircraft but it is highly unusual for jet aircraft. I realize that managed Airbus functions are very difficult to simulate but an open climb or open descent mode should be available for these kind of aircraft.
It took me quite some time to evaluate the flight dynamics because we are talking about medium to long haul aircraft. I took both the A330 and A340 on a number of flights with flight times varying between 1 to 12 hours. In total I spend well over 100 enjoyable hours in the cockpit comparing actual performance data with the characteristics of this product. The authors used Airbus documentation and a level-D flight simulator to develop the product and did quite a nice job in my opinion apart from some issues I found.
On the ground the aircraft behaves very well. Depending on the weight some power might be necessary to start the aircraft rolling. After that it usually coasts with the engines at or near idle slowing down a little bit in tight turns. Take off distance at various weights is very close to the books if you use the correct power settings. It would have been nice however if the developers would have provided some tables with maximum thrust settings for takeoff, climb and cruise. Lift-off sometimes occurs with a slight bump due the modeling of the bogey gear.
Initial climb is sometimes very slow! I have the impression that the drag of the flaps is somewhat exaggerated. This might get you into problems with the A330 on one engine at heavy weights. As soon as the flaps are retracted everything is much better. Climb performance needs to be adjusted for both aircraft. It almost seems that the developers mixed up the A330 and A340 performance during climb. The A330 is very slow to climb and the A340 climbs very fast. Compared with actual Airbus data the A330 uses about 25% longer to climb to your initial cruise level. The A340 rockets to your initial level in about half of the time required according the Airbus manuals.
Beside the limited functions the autopilot does a good job. Transitions into climb or descent causes some speed variations because of the realistic engine spool times. Using the NAV function of the autopilot the aircraft will follow the loaded flight plan without any problem. The route is displayed on the ND and the MCDU provides ETA and fuel predictions. The fuel burn of the A330 is about 20% lower than described in the Airbus manuals. For the A340 fuel burn I have to compliment the developers. On several 12+ hour long haul test flights the fuel burn showed a difference of a few percent only; a very good job!
People using external weather programs might know about an issue with rapid changing winds at cruise level. This causes many add-on aircraft to become uncontrollable. Luckily this is not the case with this product. The autopilot manages to recover even the most severe upsets.
Initial descent with idle thrust is a little bit fast for both aircraft models. At lower levels and with lower speeds it is quite accurate. The autopilot intercepts the ILS usually with a slight overshoot but can guide you down all the way to the ground. Both the A330 and A340 provided in this package make automatic landings without any problem. Touchdown causes the wings to flex proportional with the firmness of your landing. Reversers are modeled into detail on all aircraft.
In general I can conclude that the developers managed to work out a good flight model. Beside the mentioned performance issues, the aircraft fly perfect both on autopilot and during manual flight. For people who have difficulties flying the realistic flight model, the authors provide a simplified aircraft configuration file. Therefore the product can be used by beginners and more advanced FSX users.
When the sun sets, the cockpit lights are switched on and the brightness of the screens can be adjusted to your own preference. Landing and taxi lights are visible from the virtual cockpit. I could not manage to show them on ground using the 2D cockpit for some reason. I did not see any reports from other users about this so this might be a small problem with my system.
The aircraft at night from the outside shows the full range of lights available. Wing lights show a beautiful reflection on the leading edge of the wings and engines. The logo light is sometimes invisible because it seems to be hidden below the aircraft painting. I am sure there will be a solution for this.
Four different sound sets are available; three for the A330 (PW, GE and RR) and one for the A340 with CFM engines. It may require some adjustments of your sound sliders in FSX to make everything balanced. An explanation is available in the manual. The quality of the sound package is good. The files are quite large so users with a slower computer may need to reduce the sound quality in FSX to prevent some stutters here and there. A quite unrealistic thing is the sound when you switch on the fuel pumps. The developers should know that you do not hear the fuel pumps running all the way in front of these big aircraft. However, it is easy to enter the configuration files and adjust this to your liking.
When it comes to "as real as it gets"... You might end up a little bit disappointed. Although the aim of this product is not a full system simulation, the functionality of the flight management system and autopilot is too limited in my opinion. The flight model could use an update to adjust the climb and descent performance for both aircraft, and fuel burn for the A330.
These remarks are well compensated by a lot of eye-candy. Obviously the designers took a lot of time to make the aircraft look perfect from the outside. The support is very good and CLS is working hard to solve reported bugs. Since the package is released, CLS already fixed a lot of issues through updates and patches. If the developers continue like this I am sure that the product will improve to one of the better add-ons for FSX. It is installed on my computer and for sure it will stay there.
In short... a product with a lot of options to grow at a very reasonable price!