This is a review of Wilco/Just Flight’s 737 PIC by Jessica Bannister-Pearce.
Take a big breath, count to 4 and let it out. In that time, somewhere in the world, a 737 has just taken off. There are 4000 of them out there and thanks to Wilco and Just Flight, you can now be one of them.
The 737 started out in 1965, and have grown from the little -100 models through the new -900ER range. This is an aircraft with staying power. In fact the last series 100 aircraft finally retired in 2005, 38 years since production. Wilco has given us the chance of flying the -300 to -500 series of 737, known as the glass guppy to her pilots. So lets join the rest of the world’s airlines and see what we’re missing.
The box contains very little. The DVD and a small manual, and that’s it. Simple and to the point. Which is a problem I’ll tackle later.
Preparing to fly the 737 is simple. Before loading FS, though, you may want to run the configuration program found in the Just Flight Folder of your start menu. There are three there, one for each of the variants. -300, -400 and -500. Running these programs allows you to set the cockpit to cold and dark, to fully running. It also lets you set the total engine thrust to US or European standards. Best of all, you can set the amount of time the INS system takes to align, from the full 12 minutes to less than 30 seconds. You’ll only need to run these programs once, as the settings are saved until changed again. From there you’re free to start FS and get going. Just select the appropriate aircraft from the flight sim aircraft menu. There are a choice of over 50 Liveries both American and European airlines. (A personal favourite is Alaska Airlines’ “Tinkerbell” Livery) and then load your flight plan, change the load out and set the weather. Simple.
There’s only one thing to say about the exterior – Fantastic. The quality of the external models are second to none. You can see each rivet, enjoy the slow meticulous extension of the flaps, and marvel at the beauty of the paint schemes. But if you like the exterior, you’ll love the interior.
The Exterior model is just great looking
The ‘Office’ is beautifully rendered. The 2d Panels look realistic and are easy to read. The overhead panels are crisp and clear and all are easy to access. The VC is also glorious, although the seating position seems a little low. A quick adjustment soon sorts this problem. A pet hate, however, is that there are a few buttons that simply don’t work in the VC. For instance, the barometer adjustment dial doesn’t work in the VC, nor can you cancel the FMC/Autopilot/Autothrottle warning lights. Both of these options must be done in the 2D cockpit. A small point, perhaps, but an annoying one, none the less.
Thanks to FSX‘s new view facility, we have a chance to see the 737 from a passenger’s point of view. Selecting the cabin view places us just over the wing on the right hand side of the aircraft. A nice touch is the Flight Information screen on the ceiling of the cabin. They display speed, altitude, time since departure and distance travelled. As I said, a nice touch that brings back memories of charter flights to Spain from my childhood.
Hopefully the meal is as good as this cabin.
Navigation is handled via the FMS. Now this FMS isn’t just a basic version. It’s the full fat version as found on the real aircraft. As such, its complicated to use. You’re given a very basic run through in the manual, but it just scratches the surface. I’ve been flying the 737 for a few months now, and I still haven’t mastered all of its functions. The first thing you’ll need to is set the position of the aircraft to prime the INS system. As I mentioned before, this can take up to 12 minutes, and in that time you can’t move the aircraft. Whist that’s aligning, you can continue setting the FMS. Next you’ll need to set the Initial Reference page for the aircraft. This is all covered in the manual. Once done you can load the flight plan, or input your own. There’s no complicated file renaming, the plan just loads up from FS. Finally you’ll need to set the Vspeeds. To aid with this, Just Flight provide a printable checklist with Vspeed charts for each of the variants. This makes working out the Vspeed easy. Once you’ve entered them, the bugs on the ASI are set. The FMS is also fully SID/STARS ready, and updates can be obtained from Navigraph on the web. So you can select everything from the SID through to your STARS arrival, all of which is then tied to the MCP or autopilot. Wilco/Just Flight have not only managed to simulate the LNAV functions but also the VNAV functions as well. This means the autopilot can be engaged after takeoff, and it will happily fly the aircraft all the way down to the runway with autoland.
This is the best FMS I’ve come across yet! A manual would have been nice though.
Start up and Go
Getting up and running in the 737 is fairly simple. The supplied manual is written by Check Pilot Mike Ray. His writing style is easy to follow, with large diagrams pointing out the procedures to start the APU, then engines and setting both the FMS and MCP. The problem is that the information supplied is barely enough to get you into the air. For the newcomer, this could be severely off putting. There’s no PDF format Flight Manual which lets it down further. But the real annoyance for me was the fact that Capt Mike Ray mentions his own 737 Checkride manual several times within the supplied manual. After spending £30 on this add-on, it seems a damn cheek to try and sell you an extra manual (some $25 and only available in the US). When you consider that Flight 1 supply PDF manuals as standard with their software, and at a lower cost, I find this unacceptable.
The Overhead looks simple, and it is.
The manual issues aside though, the 737 itself is a joy to fly. The custom sound set is excellent. You get a Co-pilot to help you call out the VSpeeds on take-off, though only if “TOGA” is selected. (Typical lazy co-pilot). The whine of the CFM56 engines at start up is a sound I could never get tired of. I do miss the sound of disrupted airflow when the gear or spoilers are extended, and the sound of the gear hitting the runway seems a little harsh. No matter how gently I set her down, it always sounds as if I’ve just put the gear into the cabin!
The Nav system displays and the EHSI are lovely to see and perform smoothly. The addition of a working weather radar and TCAS systems add to the sense of realism, although the former will affect frame rates. A small niggle, though, is tuning the radio’s manually. It’s tricky as depending where you click determines which digits adjust. It can be frustrating when trying to quickly tune a new frequency or Navaid in quickly.
A big plus point with 737 PIC is the inclusion of support for GoFlight‘s MCP and other cockpit modules. Cockpit builders (myself included) will find this a real bonus.
Wilco/Just Flight have really gone to town to create a great product of a great lady of the sky. But it’s far from perfect. Apart from the various bugs I’ve mentioned, there are a few others that stop this product being truly perfect. One is the lack of call signs when using ATC. And I’m not talking of unknown airlines. Both BA and BMI Baby are missing although Air Lingus has it’s call sign in place. If all the Liveries had been lacking call signs, fair enough. But it seems to be hit and miss as to which airlines have them. Support is another problem. Released over here through Just flight, their support area is limited, partly due to Wilco not passing on updates. Wilco’s website will pass you on to FeelThere, the main developer of 737 PIC, where support is carried out via a forum. This is fine, but getting the run around shouldn’t really happen.
These are small problems that really shouldn’t overshadow the aircraft itself. The 737 is one of the greatest airliners ever made, and as she gets set to enter her 6th decade in the sky, she shows no sign of showing her age. The -3/4/500 may not be made any more, but that shouldn’t stop you enjoying the aircraft right now. If you’re looking for something a little more classic than the NG 737, then you could do a lot worse than the 737 PIC.
The MCP is in control. Good old George.
- A classic Aircraft
- Full FMS system
- Complete functionality of all systems
- GoFlight Compatibility
- More liveries than you can shake a stick at
- Poor Manual
- VC lacks complete functionality
- Support lacking from the US
- Not all airlines have Call signs
You may also be interested in these posts