• Flight Sim Commander 9.0

    Flight Sim Commander 9.0

    By John J. Thuot II (21 January 2011)

    As many of you know, Aerosoft has had a utility out for flight sim pilots for a while now entitled Flight Sim Commander, which is quite the tool, and for many of us, is something that we wouldn't do without. The program offers a complete virtual flight bag of functions. We'll cover each of the main functions that I use in the review, but I'll do my best to explain each of the functions here for you in it as well so you can make your determination if this product is right for you in your simulation needs. Actually, this utility should be on everyone's needs - regardless weather you are a tin pusher hauling cargo or passengers on a 747 or a VFR bush pilot in the backwoods up in Washington State, or like to re-create real world adventures that other pilots have had using references from Flightaware.com - it's all possible using this program, Flight Sim Commander 9.0, the latest version. Ready to get started? Okay - get comfortable - you'll want to be for this one.

    I have to say from my past experiences with the program, this one is one of the best flight planners out there on the market already. Here's what's included with it:

    As listed on the Aerosoft web site:
    • flight planning for entire routes or route segments
    • display of both ground and airborne AI traffic
    • real-world and user waypoint database
    • North Atlantic Tracks, PACOTs
    • automatic logbook and blackbox recording
    • control zone checks for VFR flights
    • GPS with real-time display of all relevant parameters
    • procedure generator and fuel calculator
    • SIDs/STARs and customizable route segments
    • printable approach and departure charts
    • printable airport layout charts
    • VATSIM and IVAO support
    The Map window displays:
    • navigational aids (VOR, NDB, ILS, intersections, etc.)
    • airports (runways, taxiways, aprons, etc.)
    • airways (jetways and victorways)
    • airspaces (control zone, FIRs, etc.)
    • Minimum Safe Altitude (MSA)
    • wind direction and speed
    • major rivers and lakes
    • coastlines and state boundaries
    The GPS Window display:
    • general information: latitude, longitude, etc.
    • waypoint information
    • arrival airport information
    • weather report
    • ILS selection
    Flight Planning is provided for:
    • simple manual or automatic plans
    • navaid-to-navaid, victors airways, jet airways
    • combined plans with different route types
    • SIDs/STARs, Natracks
    • user-defined route segments
    AI Traffic is displayed with:
    • heading
    • ground speed
    • altitude
    • call sign or tail number
    • departure and destination airport
    Online pilot support:
    • VATSIM airspace structure
    • IVAO airspace structure
    • display of active controllers
    Charts and special windows
    • airport information
    • graphic and textual arrival chart
    • graphic and textual departure chart
    • automatic logbook
    • runway chart
    New Google Earth Interface
    • Flight plan displayed on Google Earth
    • Aircraft position able to be displayed on Google Earth
    • Playback entire flights on Google Earth
    Flight Planning for Entire Routes or Route Segments

    Well, here's the fun part of any flight planning software. When you get to the flight planning stage, you're really looking at the most grossly programmed part of the "out of the box" experience in the basic part of FSX as we know it, or at least that's how I feel about it. It is so difficult to edit routes, make real world re-creations (or at least that's one of the things I like to do with the simulator), and explore the world as other pilots see it through THEIR eyes. With services online such as Flight Aware, we can get airlines routes, even private GA aircraft routes, and copy and paste them into Flight Sim Commander, and we have a real world route and we're good to go. One thing that's nice, is that Flight Sim Commander gives us the option as to save them in popular formats as well too. Here's an example.

    Let's say we're looking for a flight plan for a Boeing 747-400. We'll use PMDG for example. Do a search on Airliners.net for USA and you'll come across registration N127UA. Plug it into Flightaware.net and you'll get back a route string. Now, all you have to do is copy the route string exactly as is into Flight Sim Commander 9.0.


    Adding flight plan in Flight Sim Commander

    Flight plan format screen with Google Earth option

    Now that the Flight Plan has been completed, we'll want to select the aircraft for it. You'll want to click the picture of the plane, then choose the 747-400 PMDG model, then click OK.

    The Parameters for the aircraft have been easily selected, and now it's time to save the flight plan. You'll notice on the next screen when you save the plan that several key elements have been changed on this window.

    I'll explain them in just a bit. You may notice that this time around, not only to you have all your usual choices that you have had in the prior versions of Flight Sim Commander, but you have some new choices as well. Have you noticed the Google Earth choice? Well, the Google Earth choice is the coolest choice of all choices that are here now in my opinion.

    • The FS Commander Option of course is the option that allows Flight Sim Commander to be able to view the plan in the base program.
    • Flight Simulator X allows you to save in the FSX format so you can load it in the basic FSX GPS on the default aircraft.
    • Radar Contact is for those of us who own Radar Contact and want to be able to save in that programs output so that the controllers will be able to guide the aircraft along the route and see everything correctly right up front.
    • Squawkbox is for those VATSIM flyers who want to have it saved for VATSIM, so that they can automatically connect to their VATSIM accounts, enter their flight route, and have everything properly displayed and readable for the controllers so that they know where they're going and be able to alter any waypoints if necessary.
    • Level-D is for the Level-D 767 prorgram's FMC so that you can directly import the flight plan without having to input waypoint by waypoint saving a TON of time for yourself
    • IVAO is basically the same functionality as the VATSIM network
    • Project Magenta is the same functionality as Level-D
    • iFlyB747 is the same functionality as Level-D and PMDG
    • FSInn is another online flight service that is the same functionality as VATSIM and IVAO
    • XML is another language that Microsoft now recognizes for gauge programming that some GPS gauges now come in and will read this format.
    • X-Plane functionality is now offered too in this version, though I am not an X-Plane fan, for you X-Plane people you might now be interested in all this wonderful program has to offer.
    • Google Earth -- the cream of the crop! This is what I consider to be one of the most important of all new features. Basically what this does, when you do a flight, if you remember at the end to save your "Blackbox" recorder information for playback in Google Earth, you will see your flight path over Google Earth. That is one of the most handiest tools for you will be able to remember your flights when sharing your screen shots with others. No more trying to remember where you were when posting them online. Just load up Google Earth when writing your next forum post, and there's that city/town/road/lake etc.
    AI Traffic

    The air traffic is allowed to be displayed while you are flying in FSX. This comes in handy while you're flying weather you're an online flyer on VATSIM, or not, but ESPECIALLY if you're a VATSIM user, because not all VATSIM airports are controlled. Air traffic is displayed as following:

    • Air traffic information can be displayed in the air and on the ground. This means that you can display AI and multiplayer information LIVE. It will show active ground traffic and airborne traffic. Will also show to and from airport information for aircraft airborne and also altitude levels. If you get too close, it will change from orange to red, and even give audible warnings.
    • The heading of the air traffic is displayed
    • The altitude is displayed as well in numerical readout
    • The call sign for the airline or tail number for general aviation aircraft are displayed so you know what kind of flight it is
    • The departure and destination airport are also displayed so you know where the aircraft is en route to.
    AI traffic and VATSIM support displayed
    Online Pilot Support

    The online pilot support offers for those of us who are online pilots flying on VATSIM, the online air traffic control network, support that visually displays on the map screen. Before even venturing online to fly, it is highly recommended that you start your aircraft off a runway, and in a normal parking spot. When getting set up, you'll want to make sure you're fully registered with VATSIM - don't worry - it's fast, easy, and free. But do make sure you get fully familiarized with your aircraft and pilot lingo, you don't want to make a fool of yourself when all other ears and eyes are on you in the virtual skies - remember, you're no longer flying alone in this one...I had several embarrassing moments at first even when I got going, so I'm not the only one who had learning curves... I've been simming for more than 10 years as well too - and found it a little more than a humbling experience at first. Anyway, what's displayed is the following on the map:

    • VATSIM airspace structure
    • IVAO airspace structure
    • display of active controllers

    When you look at the map, you will see that it there are also yellow circles. Those yellow circles mean that they are active controllers who are able to assist you in your flight by voice or text messaging. Bear in mind, at the time of writing this review, it WAS on a Friday afternoon, still a work week in the US, and middle of the day, so many of us are working; that's probably the explanation of only two yellow circles at the time for who is active. When I checked a little later, there was another one active up north near the Buffalo area, so it is forever changing, as one logs on, and one logs off, forever granting us coverage, in different parts of our online flying world. The really cool thing is, when we're looking for the ultimate air traffic controller's package with different accents for traveling to different countries, you can't beat VATSIM, for here, you're speaking to real people as you do in the real world. Just don't forget that and show the proper respect as you would a real controller.

    One of the best features of Flight Sim Commander that I like, is that stated from the Aerosoft site, it lists down on the map every single:

    The Map Window Display

    • navigational aids (VOR, NDB, ILS, intersections, etc.)
    • airports (runways, taxiways, aprons, etc.)
    • airways (jetways and victorways)
    • airspaces (control zone, FIRs, etc.)
    • Minimum Safe Altitude (MSA)
    • wind direction and speed
    • major rivers and lakes
    • coastlines and state boundaries

    These come in handy for flight planning needs. It definitely helps in the Google Earth interface, especially for those of you who see my screen shot forum write ups and my history lessons, when I point out landmarks for what I'm flying over. Before, when I used to write them out, I used to get confused if I waited a couple of days. No more with the Google Earth Interface, but that is still a few features off in the review, but I'm sure for many will be the key selling point of this new version.

    Navigational Aids (VOR, NDB, ILS, intersections, etc.)

    In the air, these are the pilot's lifeline. This is what guides a plane from place to place, and helps us reach our destination, whether it be virtual or real world flying. Flightsim Commander displays all VOR's NDB's, ILSs, Intersections, and user waypoints on the map as you're flying. These are also entered into the flight plan window when you make your flight plan, show they will show in the string on the map as well, connecting the "dots" on your route from departure to destination. If you're like me, you'll like a full map, showing everything there is on it, so you'll check it off to show all, and that way you'll have all the information at your finger tips to have at a moment's notice and be able to dial in that ILS frequency on approach, VOR frequencies for your next waypoint, and if your VATSIM controller directs you to a "via" intersection, you'll be able to adjust your flight plan accordingly.

    Airports

    Of course, all airports are displayed on Flightsim Commander. Buy a new airport scenery or download one that wasn't included before? No problem! Simply use the Database tool and update your Flightsim Commander and it will read the new airport's parking layout and you'll be all good to go on your next flight. Grass airfields are even displayed in Flight Sim Commander by being a darker green runway and water runways are displayed by being colored in blue, so if you're a person who prefers float planes, you'll know where to start in your Goose in the water rather than having a shock and starting on dry land! The airports will also come in handy too as a feature for those of us who like to tweak our environments to perfection first before flying there, for it shows the AFCAD layout of the airport. You can see how basic it is first. If it doesn't appeal to you, you can feel free by looking up the airport on Google Earth, and possibly using Flight1's Instant Scenery 2 to enhance the airport and go from there before flying to and from it. (All optional, of course - I myself just hate barren airports.)

    Airways (Jetway and Victor)

    For jetway airway information to be displayed on the map, select the jet button. They will appear in a darker blue color.


    Jet Airways in displayed on the map

    Victor Airways displayed on map

    To understand the jetway airway and what their function in the aviation world is, click here for this interesting read. To Display Victor Airways on the map, simply click the "Vic" button, and those will appear.

    To fully understand the Victor Airway and what it means, click here for an explanation.

    Airspaces, Control Zones, and F.I.R.s

    As we all know the air around airports and the countries are broken down into various levels, or airspaces. Flight Sim Commander can display those as well. Here's Boston Logan broken down in Flightsim Commander, and smaller airports around Logan with airspaces structured properly.

    Flight Sim Commander and Air Spaces and Minimal Safe Altitudes Displayed
    Wind Direction

    An orange arrow (or whatever user designated color) in the top left corner of the screen) and is always pointed in the direction of the wind on line. It is also displayed at airfields as a green (or user designated) arrow on the airfield and pointed in the color. Always handy to know on approaches, especially for VFR flights, for choosing the correct runway on touchdown. No more guessing - you'll always land coming into the wind to slow down.

    Minimum Safe Altitude

    Minimum Safe Altitude is a fantastic tool that is available in Flight Sim Commander. We all know that there's something called the "ground" below us when flying, whether it be in the real world or in the flight sim, so one tool that comes in handy that Flight Sim Commander offers the virtual pilot is the Minimum Safe Altitude. To display it where your flying, simply click the MSA button on the left and you'll see a series of numbers on the map, and that will be your Minimum Safe Altitude. This comes in handy especially flying in mountainous areas such as Aspen, Colorado or other areas where you have to be alert to your surroundings.

    Major Rivers and Lakes

    Major rivers and lakes are displayed on the map at all times. Always good to know where bodies of water are if flying a float plane, or in the event of an emergency and need to ditch.

    Coastlines and Boundaries

    "When in flight...I am always aware of my exact position - I have no doubt you were aware of yours..." I am always reminded of that line from Iron Eagle when I see this feature. It IS always good to know where you are. Especially if you are an online flyer, on VATSIM, you'll be able to contact that next country's airspace before they contact you, and embarrass yourself in front of everyone on the network, and you'll look like a pro even if you're not...

    The GPS Window Display

    The GPS Window Display is another valuable utility that Flight Sim Commander has to offer pilots. Especially those of us that run the program on networked computers, we have an invaluable portion of the program at our mouse clicks.

    Though this portion of the program may look small, it is powerful. Basically, when you connect to the Flight Simulator, you're connecting through the GPS function of the Flight Sim Commander. This is what shows the aircraft's position in the map on the screen and along the flight plan, and displays oodles of information and also offers some nifty gadgets as well too that I'll get into a little further.

    The screen gives us a ton of information - as well as changes with each of the buttons that we click, but I'll explain this screen for now - this screen we're on right now is the MAIN screen. It gives your basic info - Altitude, AGL - Above Ground Level, True Airspeed, Ground Speed (which does vary) Heading, your Track, your True Heading, WCA or otherwise known as Wind Correction Angle, MgVR is also displayed, and finally your latitude and longitude is also displayed.

    The Waypoint Buttons and Arrival Buttons
       

    The waypoint button, marked WP just under the Gen button shows the next waypoint on your flight plan, unless you're just randomly flying about ... It will show the name, heading, bearing, estimated time of arrival, distance, altitude you'll be at, or should be at, above ground level, and true air speed, and of course the waypoint name in the top left corner.

    The Arrival Button

    This screen shows your arrival airport information - the name, altitude, and ATIS frequency so you can listen to the weather, the parking assignment, and estimated time of arrival.

    The Weather Button and Frequency Buttons
       

    This screen shows the surface weather for your destination, so you know what to expect - perfect for you VFR Sunday fliers, to know if you have to file an IFR flight plan and land with instruments - a perfect tool again flying on VATSIM - don't want to get in trouble flying with any controllers...

    The Frequency Button

    This screen I really like - I just learned about it today, as a matter of fact too - which is rather embarrassing to admit, but I will, because we learn something new all the time ... When you push this screen, you will find the frequencies of all ILS runways at the airport that is your destination airport so you can tune them into your nav radio. Very excellent tool to have and very convenient. No more zooming in on maps or thumbing through paper charts. It's all right here...

    The Runway Button

    This screen is handy not only for VFR flyers, but also handy for IFR flyers as well. It shows all runways at the destination airport and headings that they are situated. You can check the wind heading, select this button, and you have your appropriate runway for approach.

    The Auto Heading Button

    Press this button on the GPS Screen it will do just that - set your aircraft's autopilot to that heading, letting your flight be a hand's free experience, but you'll still have to control the altitude, etc...

    The Go-To Button

    This is one feature I've discovered for longer flights and have fallen in love with. I've often liked to start to read a novel or watch a little DVD while flying - so this comes out perfect on these "longer" journeys - this is a neat trick....simply click on the "Go To" button - and right click on your waypoint - in this case NORMY - and a red dot will appear...what happens next? Your aircraft's autopilot heading comes on, and your plane is guided to that waypoint - all under control from Flight Sim Commander. Truly one of the more versatile controls for cross country flights for those who like to relax a bit and take in the scenery. Cheating for some I'm sure, but try it, you'll like it. Just don't forget to select it for the next waypoint as well, or you'll go off course.

    Flight Planning

    A vast array of flight planning is provided in Flight Sim Commander.

    In Flight Sim Commander we get a vast array of flight planning tools. No longer is it the horribly programmed default flight planner in FSX or FS2004 that we're used to, but a robust flight planner that offers flexibility to be as creative as real world pilots are from our desktop. One thing that we can even do now as I've mentioned before is recreate real world flight plans, and I myself has done that before numerous times, and have enjoyed doing so each time.

    Take Piaggio Avanti, N5166P from Avanti Leasing LLC - there's Feelthere from Wilco Publishing that makes a great Piaggio - you can buy that, and make all the Piaggio flights you want and get the real world routing off Flightaware with Flight Sim Commander.

    For the simple or automatic routing Flight Sim Commander offers, you would just input for one of this aircraft's flights:

    KGBD to KLAS and 36000ft as the Altitude, save as IFR and Google Earth and that's it - You're done - you'd wind up with this as the result -


    Simple or automatic routing

    User defined route with real world re-created segment

    This is a navaid to navaid segment

    STAR displayed on map

    Flight Sim Commander also shows all SIDS and STARS for airports that do have this function - (Standard Instrument Departure and Standard Terminal Arrival Routes). In this case, the picture above shows Las Vegas Airport with one of its STARS selected.

    Are you an international flyer? You'll be glad to know that you haven't been left out - Natracks have been programmed in as well for airline routes and freighter routes to be able to go across the pond to our neighbors in Europe and other countries so that you can get proper routing as well, as seen in the image below...

    Natracks and Pacot Routes

    Natracks and Pacots are displayed for routes across the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean. You can select these to be turned on and off the map while traveling Oceanic Routes in Flight Sim Commander to Europe.

    Natracks and Pacots

    Charts And Special Windows

    Charts and special windows according to the Aerosoft site cover the following:

    • airport information
    • graphic and textual arrival chart
    • graphic and textual departure chart
    • automatic logbook
    • runway chart

    Let's take a more in depth look at it, shall we?

    When you go to the Flight Sim Commander screen, you will see the menu across the top. There's one button that comes in handy that you can go to and get all the airport information that you need at a mouse click away.

    Let's take a look at Dallas Ft. Worth for example. To bring up the airport information window, click on the airport with the magnifying glass, type in the ICAO code or identifier on it, and press enter, select your airport, and it brings it up.

    Dallas/Fort Worth displayed in airport information and also approach charts

    Here, you'll see all runways, parking spaces, ILS frequencies, right on your screen - you'll even see the associated BGL file. You can even print the information.

    The one thing that came handy recently for me in flying, is that there is an approach view section as well too. Basically when you click on this function, it will show you a display and have the altitude at which you are to intercept the glideslope for the arrival airport's runway.

    What this great tool does is like all our paper charts, it will show the route you take to get to the runway, and even the altitude to intercept the glideslope. This should solve the problem for all you international travelers out there, where you wonder how you can get airport charts for other countries.

    Textual Arrival Chart And Departure Charts

    The text information is to the right of the screen on each selected chart, and you can print everything out for your safe keeping at a later date if you prefer so you don't have to keep looking it up, or if you're like me, and have the networked PC's don't mind looking it up. It even shows your departure airport information as well. For the review purposes, I've shown the approach charts since everyone seems to be concerned more about approach validity for concerns of travel, especially on long airline flights, and don't want to have to redo do to false information.

    Autolog For Log Book Feature - (Separate From FSX/FS2004)

    There is also another feature I like that is included with Flight Sim Commander called the Automatic Log Book. How many have feared the day that we would have to reinstall FSX and lose all our hours that we have built up flying and that day finally comes? Well at least with Flight Sim Commander's Auto Log feature, you don't have to worry about that...there is the feature of Autolog - it will basically log every flight that you perform with Flight Sim Commander and keep track of your hours as well, so you have a nice safe back up.

    New Google Earth Interface

    This feature I saved for last, because I think it is the cream of the crop in features. It is the new interface with Google Earth! Yes, that's right - you read correctly - Google Earth!

    What does it offer? Well, several key features as listed from Aerosoft's web site:

    • Flight plan displayed on Google Earth
    • Aircraft position able to be displayed on Google Earth
    • Playback entire flights on Google Earth

    The Flight Plan Display on Google Earth is really cool. I have to say I like this feature, for those of you who may have seen my write ups on flights that I do in the screen shot forum, if I had waited a few days to write up my posts, forget it - I would be lost, and struggle, sometimes for hours to get it perfect matching up cities from the aerial view of Google Earth.

    No more guessing for me at least with this new feature. You can overlay your flight plan, and flight path in Google Earth getting instant results, and you'll be able to find your cities where you have taken your aerial photos from much easier, and have something to match them up with.

    Google Earth Interfaces

    The above screen shots show one of my recent flights I performed from Corpus Christi to Houston. The red line shows the flight path (can be changed to any color you prefer) but it comes in really handy to show your flying skills as well, even on approach when entering the pattern.

    The other cool thing that you can do is use Flight Sim Commander to display your aircraft position while in flight. You'll be able to see where you are at the moment, and it's cool with Google Earth's imagery, you can see what Microsoft is so different from the real world. It does give you the ability as well to show your aircraft position real time in Google Earth in flight if you choose to do so.

    When all is said and done with your flight plan, you can even play back the entire flight over Google Earth, again helpful for screen shot posters like myself, where you can get accurate locations of cities, towns, mountains nearby, etc. It's limitless with your imagination in the options you activate on the map. To be honest however, that is the only feature that I have had trouble to get working - otherwise, everything is quite sound with the program.

    I have to honestly say that if you allow yourself an add-on budget, make sure that you allow the funds to pick yourself up Flight Sim Commander 9.0 by Sascha Felix. It is truly a program that has more features than you can possibly imagine, that only help enhance the flight simulation experience beyond anything imaginable. I hope you find this review helpful, and decide to pick yourself up Flight Sim Commander. You will not regret this one - that's for sure. It has moved up to my top three favorite add-ons for Flight Simulator X, and that is really saying something with how fussy I am at making it an as close to real world experience as possible.

    I hope I have successfully convinced you all that you should rush out and buy Flight Sim Commander 9.0. I don't know where my flight simming would be today without it.

    Test Systems:

    Main Computer (for Flightsim):
    Dell Inspiron 531
    2.88 GHz Dual Core AMD Processor
    3 gigs of RAM
    1 gig MSI PCI-e Graphic Card
    Windows Vista 32 Bit Home Premium Sp 1/2

    Networked Computer:
    Dell Dimension 4600
    2.6 GHz Intel single core Processor
    2 gigs of RAM
    128mb AGP PNY Graphic Card Geforce 7600 GS
    Windows XP Sp1/2/3

    John Thuot II
    Ragtopjohnny01@aol.com

    Learn More Here