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REVIEW

Fly To Hawaii for FS2000

By Andrew Herd (15 October 2001) from Flightsim.com

 

Fly to Hawaii has been two years in the making, during which time it has been heavily trailed as a ground-breaking new product, so I received my copy with great interest. I already knew a good deal about the package from FlightSoft's website: it aims to provide an immersive ATC experience for both beginners and experienced flightsimmers alike by providing a series of adventures based around flights from Los Angeles International Airport, Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport, Maui’s Kahalui Airport, Kona's airport and Hawaii’s Honolulu International Airport. A DC10 with nine liveries and a detailed panel is provided, but the core of the product is the adventures, the aircraft and the scenery being just part of the experience.

FlightSoft as an organisation dates back to 1996, when it began life in the CompuServe forums, and its first product, "Tribute to the DC10," was launched in 1998 and picked up several awards. "Tribute" featured 27 DC10 liveries, three different cockpits, a complete sound set and five adventures. A popular feature of the package was a collection of situations which started you in a DC10 on final to one of a wide variety of airports, including the infamous Kai Tak, and a number of 'challenges,' including a recreation of a (crash) landing at Sioux Gateway airport in a DC-10 that lost its number two engine and therefore all hydraulic pressure. The crew were left without flight controls and could only manoeuver using differential engine thrust. But the stars of the package were the adventures, and they seem to have been enjoyed by almost everyone who flew them.

So as I sliced through the shrinkwrap, my thoughts were: having produced one classic add-on, was it possible that FlightSoft might have produced another?

The box is enormous. Its sheer size will make it one of the most noticeable products on any shelf of Flight Simulator add-ons, and as if that isn't enough, it is an absolute riot of color. This is the box to end all boxes - there is so much text on the back that my espresso went cold while I was reading it, so when I opened it, I was amazed to find only a single CD and a very slim startup manual.

Inserting the CD in the drive triggers autorun and from there the installation is very straightforward, as long as you don't throw away the jewel case and lose the key. When I restarted Flight Simulator, in addition to the aircraft and adventures, I found two new folders on my hard disc, containing one hundred and fifty flight plans, several check lists and instructions for many of the adventures, although there were no approach plates. This lack of printed paper follows the established principle of keeping costs down by relying on the user to print out the manual - which is annoying when you are spending hundreds of dollars on an office package, but perhaps not so unreasonable where flightsim add-ons are concerned, given the relatively small market, slim margins and complexity of the products involved.

So, I loaded up one of the planes. The visual models have twelve-sided fuselages, engines and tires, which makes them look slightly dated, but overall they stand up pretty well. There is plenty of animation, including rotating fans, and the landing gear, flaps, slats, spoilers, rudder, elevators, and ailerons all move. The cockpit glass is transparent, passenger windows illuminate, and night textures include subtle lighting of the tail logos, as shown in the screen shot. The textures are excellent. Overall the level of detail is up to the average of all but the very best commercial releases, and although the planes don't reach the heights of sophistication they might, they still look good and they are very kind to frame rates, an intentional choice by the developers which will be popular with the owners of lower spec'ed systems. The choice of liveries is varied enough to be interesting, and in addition to the civil planes, the developers have thrown in a USAF KC10 extender, if you fancy a bit of mid-air refuelling. The flight model seems to be about right for this class of aircraft; turns need a certain amount of planning, and inertia is a problem, my guess is that it must be reasonably close to the real thing.

The DC10 was built at the tail end of the analog cockpit era, and after reviewing all the recent Boeing simulations, it makes a refreshing change to fly an airliner that lacks any kind of glass instruments at all and which uses an Inertial Navigation System rather than a Flight Management Computer. Once you get your head around this plane, and particularly if you learn to use the INS, you will appreciate why glass panels became so popular, because on some of the flights you will have your work cut out just working out where you are.

While the INS was the last word in navigation gear when the DC10 was built, it will relieve many readers to hear from Pat Zoffreo, FlightSoft's President, that airlines which still fly the plane also use the GPS, and in some cases have even retro-fitted FMCs. "In carriers that still utilize the INS, the GPS is still there so both navigation systems are used to provide as much information to the pilot as possible," Pat told me. "So it is possible to use the moving map mode of the FS2000 GPS and work the INS Computer at the same time for the advanced and expert adventures ... this is what I do and it helps a great deal in spacial orientation."

The cockpit interior is based on photographs that have been suitably enhanced. My first impression was "FS98 plus", but once I had used the panel for a while I realised how much work had gone into the new release. The cockpit works well, the instruments are all readable, and while the panel isn't visually up to the standard of the "state-of-the-art", it is perfectly OK in the context of what the package is about. Once again, it doesn't hammer frame rates. Bearing in mind that the plane used as the basis of the simulation was fairly hard used, the upper panel has an area of fairly obvious dithering on the left which could do with tidying up, the INS images at lower right aren't in focus, the central pillar could do with some reworking, and the large knob on the INS panel is a bit blurred, but this hardly detracts from the overall effect. One problem is that in the current version, there are no window graphics, and for some strange reason the upper panel stays in view all the time, even when you look backward, which is kind of distracting. As you can see from the screen shot above, this is effectively an IFR panel, with a narrow slit to look out of - but this is a compromise forced on the designers by the complexity of the instrumentation - don't forget that the pilot's view can be adjusted from within Flight Simulator. Don't be fooled into thinking that the age of the plane makes the cockpit any simpler, by the way, this is just as complex a panel as you can find in any of the Boeing simulations available today.

By now I was beginning to regret having let my coffee go cold, because I had seen nothing that particularly turned me on since opening the box - but then I loaded one of the beginner adventures. At this point I am going to go on record and state that if anyone ever wants to sell a copy of Fly to Hawaii, all they need to do is to load the "Approach to Honolulu" adventure, un-pause it, and show it to the customers. If my coffee hadn't been securely on the table, I would have spilled the cup when the flight got going. Adventures, in my experience, expose you to garbled recordings, inexplicable silences, and the kind of crashes that most hackers would be proud to cause. I dread reviewing them; the only set I have ever liked is Aerosoft's Airline Pilot 1, while my award for the worst set I have ever seen belongs to Wilco, for the adventures bundled with their otherwise excellent Airport 2000 Volume 3. So I am not an adventure fan. But the approach to Honolulu had me spellbound, because it had an atmosphere of realism that I can't recall in a Flight Simulator adventure before - it really did make me feel as if I might really be there.

The beginner adventures - approaches to Honolulu, Maui and Kona airports, sit you in the left hand seat, being talked down by the co-pilot, who flies the plane right onto short final, before he lets you drop the gear and flaps and take her in, so there isn't anything that can go wrong. These adventures are pretty much flawless and a beginner would learn a great deal from just listening in. None of the landings are tricky, and they make a great introduction to flying the DC10. From there, you can either go on to the more advanced adventures, or you can fly any one of the fifty-three approach situations (and videos) that FlightSoft have included with the package, or you can choose to have a go at one of the 150 real-world flight plans for the aircraft. In many ways, this is the heart of the package, and while the beginner adventures and approaches aren't too challenging, some of the long over-water flight plans require a high degree of competence to execute. The initial impression that the lonely CD in its huge box gives of lack of content is quite wrong, because if you flew every single flight and adventure in here, it would keep you going just about forever.

The intermediate and advanced adventures are longer than the "beginner" versions. Typical of them is the DENNS intersection to Honolulu flight, which allows you to fly the entire arrival route, complete with ATC audio, without the tedium of navigating the four hour over water segment necessary to reach the start point from the US. The flight begins with the copilot contacting Honolulu Center, after which you are cleared to fly direct to Bambo Intersection and follow the Maggi 2 Arrival route, before you are vectored in. The whole flight takes about fifty minutes, and it is enjoyable, although the ATC is almost impossible to decipher at times (though this is pretty much the case in real life, the most common word association most pilots make with the word "ATC" is "what?"). Fortunately the co-pilot's repetitions saved the day. Pat Zoffreo told me that he sat down and edited around thirty days of complete ATC recordings and in every case the DENNS to HNL section was of deplorable quality, so this is a case of simulation duplicating life.

According to Pat, one of his aims was, "...to provide folks with a taste of what reality is like ... difficult transmissions and one must be constantly alert almost every moment." And he is right, Fly to Hawaii definitely does convey what it is like to listen to ATC, which at times gives you the urge to shout, "OK guys, you got me beat, can you throw away the toilet roll you're speaking through, now, and give it to me straight?"

On the other hand, the LAX departure and most of the others have crystal-clear ATC. Beginners might want to try the LAX-DINTY adventure early on, if only to see another side of Fly to Hawaii. Make sure you get the map of the airport fixed in your head first - then sit back and listen to the hard pressed controller trying to get you off the stand, a process which takes him nearly fifteen minutes, by the end of which time he is having to ask the pilots which stands they are on. Definitely a bad day.

If you want Fly to Hawaii to work, then you need to memorise the pullout card with the airspeed settings for the different stages of flight, and read the documentation extremely thoroughly, because departure from expected bahavior will put the plane in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is a problem all adventures suffer, whoever writes them, and in my experience, the longer an FS2000 adventure is, the more likely it is to go wrong somewhere. The core issue is the lack of interaction between Flight Simulator and the adventure compiler, which means that the program has no idea where the aircraft is. Go too fast or too slow, fail to descend at the right rate, wander off course or, for that matter, hit the pause key for too long, and the assumptions made by the adventure programmers about where the plane is at any time will be incorrect, and subsequent ATC instructions will make no sense. I have become inured to this problem when flying adventures over the years, and my conclusion is that Flight Simulator adventures will be problematic until it is fixed. Perhaps this is why we don't see so many adventures, because in the worst case, an accumulation of errors over a long flight can produce really laughable results.

One weakness specific to Fly to Hawaii is that the documentation, while prolific, has no clear flow, which means that you have to read everything to make sure you don't miss a vital procedure. Flying any adventure straight out of the box won't work, and I cannot stress enough the need to observe the airspeeds, climb and descent rates and other instructions. Go to bed with the speed reference card, and do not get out again until you know it by heart. The most vital document is the Los Angeles - Hawaii ATC Flight description, which takes you step by step through the adventure, beginning with starting the aircraft, and most importantly, programming the INS. Make sure you read this one, even if you never fly the adventure, because this is where the meat of the instructions are, and it must be some of the most exhaustive documentation for FS2000 I have ever seen, period. If you don't do this, and you fly free and easy, you will get used to hearing the co-pilot tell ATC that he has the runway in sight, when all you can see is blue water.
 


 

I like Fly to Hawaii. It has a kind of puppyish charm that keeps you coming back at it, and it will take me forever to work through all the approach situations. Clearly, a great deal of care and attention has gone into the package, and while the adventures inevitably have the problems that adventures have, the planes, panel and the approach situations more than make up for that. Sure, there isn't any scenery provided, and the panel could do with a bit of tidying up, but if you like the idea of a bit of retro-flying in the king of the tri-jets, Fly to Hawaii is the best game in town. Now, for my question: is it a classic? The answer is a guarded yes, I think it is. A tremendous amount of work has gone into producing an add-on that doesn't major on eye-candy, will run on virtually any machine that can run FS2000, and which is pure fun.

Andrew Herd