Aerosoft FDC Live Cockpit
By Gustavo Mercado (29 February 2008)
t is easy to remember the FS98 days and the first time I ever downloaded and tried a software to help make my flights feel more REAL, not boring and meaningless. FlightSim.Com's answer to my prayer was a zip file called Virtual CoPilot. After a 45 minute download on my 56k modem connection and a lengthy, complicated installation process I was up and running. When the first cabin announcement was triggered I thought I was in heaven.
Ten years later, after thousands of dollars, and a few gray hairs, the powers that be decided I would get the monumental task of reviewing FDC Live Cockpit. This is my second review ever, and like my first review, this too is a product made by Aerosoft.
If you are looking for more reality, a quick and easy way to bring all your aircraft to life, and a glimpse at what sitting in the left (or right) seat of a real airliner cockpit is like, then FDC is the product for you. Although it will not bring you the level of realism and detail as an FS2Crew product (let's be realistic, you really cannot ask that since FS2Crew is custom made for every aircraft) it will give you a professional and enjoyable airliner feel to all your FS hangar for one fair price, and one simple download.
FDC comes in a 286 mb zip file, which takes about 20 minutes to download depending on your internet connection. (It is also available in a boxed version.) Typical with Aerosoft products you receive a product key instantly after payment confirmation, which you later use to unlock a program that later installs the software in your system.
The first plus I got to mention about this product is that is downloadable. I spent months looking for a similar product, and most (if not all the competition) has to be purchased and ordered, a big inconvenience if you are overseas such as yours truly. The installation process itself takes sometime compared to other add-ons, about 15 minutes. An important thing to point out, for Windows Vista users, user account control must be turned off, or the program will not be able to interact with FSX. You will also need a copy of FSUIPC.
After all these conditions have been met you are ready to try your first flight with FDC Live Cockpit. It is recommended that you are at a departure gate, parked, with the engines off before launching the software. You must minimize FSX, run the FDC program, and set up a couple of parameters before flight. After choosing your preferred settings, you click connect, FSX comes back automatically and you are in the FDC environment.
FDC LIVE COCKPIT!
FDC live is basically two programs in one. It is a checklist generator / assistant, and it is also an airliner ambiance generator which provides flight crew passenger calls, and general ambience sounds to make you feel inside the cockpit of a real airliner. At the same time the two main features of the software are fully customizable, and can be changed and tuned to your heart's content. This is without a doubt the most valuable feature of FDC. Finally to complement your experience it also brings a number of extra features such as built in black box, an ATC chatter integrator and a GPWS.
The quick menu is the main interface between FDC and FSX. It will come up as soon as you click on the product and it contains all you need to operate FDC. When you click options you get the bulk of the menu in which you can customize all the functions that FDC offers to your best liking. As I said previously the program has the checklist generator and the flight deck calls. Both features of the program can work in two basic modes, either on full auto, in which you can decide at what time the flight deck call, or the checklist is called previously. You can also choose both features to work manually also, which basically assigns hot keys for checklists and calls to be made.
Whether you choose auto, or manual settings, both are very simple to use and can be easily customized. When on auto, you can decide at what altitude to call after take off checks, at what speed or with which time delay call taxi checks. On manual, you simply press the space bar when you are ready for the next checklist, or another hot key when ready for the cabin announcements. At the same time you can use other pre set or user adjusted hot keys to go back to a previous call, or to pause a checklist, or to restart it. You can either skip or go back through a full flight stage by clicking the correct hot key. The whole FDC experience is virtually in your hands, you cannot take a wrong call, because you can go back to it at the right time if need be.
When you first start using the software you will need to keep the hotkey list handy. You will have a hard time using the software if you do not have the hot keys close to you where you can consult them. After time they become familiar and you get to learn them rather easily. If you prefer to have your own hot keys, all of them are customizable, and can be changed in a matter of seconds; the software has some of the best interfaces for changing features in an easy and rapid manner.
The software has almost every airliner and general aviation airplane you will ever need. All aircraft have their own settings for their corresponding checklists, and basic info such as v speeds, and any other pertinent information. I tried the software with three add ons, the PIC 737-500, Level-D 767 and the PIC ERJ145. All the planes had no problems interacting with the software, and all their checklists were right on the money with minor exceptions. If you happen to have an airplane that is not on the FDC list, not to worry, you can ad your own aircraft to the list and you can make custom checklists and announcements for it.
Another interesting feature FDC carries is the virtual copilot. If you like to keep your hands busy with flying the aircraft and want to leave button pushing to someone else, FDC has the virtual copilot for you. By activating this mode the virtual copilot will handle most of the switches when calling for the checklists. With very little exceptions the software does a good job of taking care of the main switches, but with complex simulations such as PIC 737 you might want to keep your eyes out for certain things the virtual copilot might forget.
Aerosoft has done a marvelous job with keeping this product open for users to modify. You can record your own messages and checklists, and you can add your own set of ATC chatter files. Just with downloading ATC chatter files from the internet, you can add your own ATC ambiance to FDC. This interface makes it very simple for you to download, or create sound files to be used for checklists or ambience sounds...the options are limitless.
FLYING WITH FDC LIVE COCKPIT
A typical flight with FDC will start with your favorite aircraft parked at the gate of your choice with the engines off. Once a flight plan has been selected and set, you load FDC, you can do a quick run down on the options and check your local airport and destination airport, after entering the system will calculate the distance. For this flight we are going to fly with manual checklist calls, and auto cabin crew calls. As discussed prior all preferred parameters have been previously set. We choose our aircraft quickly and click connect to start the flight.
Once FDC is running, there is a pre selected delay before the system starts to give you time to set the FMC and make necessary calls to clearance delivery. After a couple of minutes the system calls out the first cabin call announcing the first safety message and preparations for gate departure. Shortly after I hit the space bar for the pre start checklist, this is the longest checklist and I usually I have all the parameters set, I listen to the checklist to confirm all is on order.
Shortly after setting all systems for the push and start we hit spacebar again and the before pushback check comes. While pushing back we activate the before start checks and begin with engine starts. The copilot goes through the two engine starts and verifies we have good starts and engines are stable. With both engines stable and copilot given the OK, it's time for the before taxi checks. At this time we set flaps and all necessary systems with the aid of the copilot.
Once we start to taxi to the active runway at a preset speed (15 knots in this case) the safety briefing comes up by the flight crew. This is the first negative comment, because the briefing is given halfway, it cuts right when the flight attendant asks to look at the video and then it goes silent instead of playing the video sounds. Approaching the runway we hit space bar again for the before take off checks. Once the checklist ends the cabin crew calls prepare for take off. On the take off roll all speeds are called, such as V speeds and rotation. Shortly after rotating copilot calls positive rate and takes the landing gear up.
Climb checks come shortly after calling flaps up, and in my system the message for refreshments is preset to play 15 minutes after takeoff. Once at cruise altitude all goes quiet, unless you have some ambience and chatter sounds. The action begins again when we begin the descent. Descent checklist comes up. The crew comes with descent compliance call passing 18000 feet like a charm. Close to intercepting the localizer we call for the approach checks and we don't get cabin announcements again till after landing.
Landing checklist is incorporated into the approach checklist, so the next checklist is the after landing checklist, once speed on the runway goes under 10 knots, cabin crew comes up with the taxi to the gate briefing.
After this there is only one more checklist, the parking checklist, which is blended with the shutdown check. After setting parking brakes on the flight progress is basically over. Another negative note is that the parking check leaves the aircraft cold and dark, not adequate if you have another flight. This can be fixed easily by not following the checklist and restarting FDC.
ALL SAID AND DONE
Highs - Easily downloadable file. The product has a remarkable ability to change to the user's taste and wishes, incredible job at creating a user friendly customizable product. All features are relatively easy to use, and easy to learn. Realistic, believable checklists and cabin crew calls. Great manual.
Lows - Annoying virtual copilot. Software has certain compatibility issues with Level-D 767 (could have been only on my system). Needed more cabin crew calls. Hot keys can get confusing.
The Verdict - All my respect to Aerosoft for the functionality and the flexibility of this software. This product truly adds a level of realism to your FSX experience, and considering the fact it can be blended for any aircraft out there, its value is way beyond the price.