• Fenix A320: The End of a Beta

    Fenix A320: The End of a Beta

    The A320 is now at the end of its beta phase. Over the last two days, we’ve circulated the first release candidate internally. As things go, building the second release candidate on Friday the 13th may not have been as wise an idea as I first thought, as that build showed some unstable behavior very fitting for the day. Thankfully, from this evening to last, we’ve identified the issue as not being our own, so we can resume our scheduled activities.

    That starts with this - a post to cover where we are now, what we’ve done, and what’s to come.

    The A320 received a fair amount of systems and flight model love during the beta period. While the feature set was complete, fixing through certain system behavior in this incredibly complex fly-by-wire aircraft forced, sometimes, cascading system changes up and down the aircraft - which made bug finding and fixing feel like an endeavor. And while it isn’t super flashy or interesting, I’m happy to say that things now look stable and representative, and will serve as an excellent baseline for us to move the aircraft forward to the next phase of its journey, post-launch and beyond, where we intend to robustly support and continue improving on the product to further enhance it.

    Apart from the systems team, the rest of us also spent a large portion of this time focusing on things that weren’t necessarily part of the airplane, but contributed to the overall customer journey and experience. Systems depth standing alone in an aircraft is an unfortunate scenario to find oneself in, as these simulations are sold to you as an experience - and what good is that experience if you don’t feel immersed in your surroundings? So, while the systems and flight model teams worked hard on bug fixing and stability, art and EFB teams worked on refining the customer experience.

    To be direct, I’m talking about things like seamless and synchronized real time loading. In the Fenix, for example, all you have to do now is import your flight plan to our EFB with one click (no file downloads here!), and from there choose whether you’d like to board in real time, quickly, or instantly. Our A320 will then take care of the rest.

    The dispatch office will whip up a preliminary loadsheet from your SimBrief flight plan, and a company message will arrive on your MCDU’s AOC messaging system with said preliminary load sheet.

    Then you begin your data entry, as fuel arrives the ECAM will let you know that the refuellers (to be clear - we don’t have a visual model for this…yet) are busy at work. Make sure to switch ON the No Smoking signs, and switch OFF the seatbelts for that one, airlines tend to be specific about these things. These things, however, are considerations you didn’t necessarily make before.

    Refueling complete, seat-belts ON, No Smoking to AUTO (our Airbus is configured with the No Smoking signs permanently on as most operators do, flicking the switch to AUTO leaves it controlling the emergency exit lighting - which is the “ding” you hear when the gear comes up and down) - and wrap up preparations ready to go. Make sure to keep an eye on the clock, however.

    Boarding is complete, the doors are automatically closed, the jetway automatically cast aside - and a few moments later your company inbox lights up again. It’s your final loadsheet. Now, in real life, when loading an aircraft - you’re given a preliminary loadsheet with the flightplan, and a final loadsheet after boarding, with what really ended up happening. Sometimes they match closely, and are compliant within a defined margin to one other. Other times, 4 people, 2 infants, and three tonnes of bananas were added at the last minute, so you’re running a little heavier than planned. Or alternatively, there were a few no-shows, so you’re a little lighter. Your CG also moves around as people chop and change seats at the gate, or the baggage handlers needed to move things around. It’s part of dealing with airline operations. And so, the same happens here. Sometimes your loadsheet is compliant. Other times, it’s a revision, and you’ll need to pause and redo your departure performance and some of your initialization weights.

    So you’ve had a revision, and need to quickly perform a recalculation. This sort of stuff happens, but unfortunately for you, most airliner ACARS systems perform automatic reporting to their respective OPS Centers. So, if you take your parking brake off a few minutes after when you were due to depart on your SimBrief plan - well, we’ll know. And we’ll tell you about it. An ADC (After Doors Closed) message will whizz its way into your inbox, your airline demanding to know why you’re running several minutes late. Don’t worry, we included a reference card. But make sure to fill out the ADC delay form in the MCDU’s AOC menu. The airline will be expecting it. And make sure you’ve accounted for the entire delay time period, otherwise they’ll send you back a message and ask you to.

    To cut the storyboarding short, as much as I’d like to continue - this sort of thing is persistent throughout the flight. You can send out messages for diversions, which will be received by your airline’s OPS center, and acknowledged. Pulling into stand, the aircraft will also handle deboarding for you. These kinds of features and details go a long way, in my eyes. It adds to the simulation of performing crew duties, and to the immersion of flying the aircraft.

    There’s more to the above, but I can only cover so much in text, so I’ll leave the rest of this for video and media content. The final thing to say about it is that you absolutely do not need to use this entire system if you simply want to pick up the aircraft and fly. That choice, we leave to you.

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    1 Comment
    1. felixfer's Avatar
      felixfer -
      Wonderful news! The FBW is great, but I really appreciate the possibity to enjoy a 'classic' Airbus.
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