Precision Manuals' 747-400 "Queen of the Skies"

by William Fowler and Anthony "Shepherd" Underwood

Article Type: Review
Article Date: May 15, 2006

Introduction by Anthony "Shepherd" Underwood:

Control Surfaces

Precision Manuals has long been held in high regard for their attention to detail, technical ability and dedication to the community. And now that they have created a Boeing 747-400 add-on for FS2004, we here at COMBATSIM.COM were eager to test it out.

PMDG's 747-400 "Queen of the Skies" includes the following features as described on their website:

Flight Model: Developed from scratch by our own aeronautics professional, the flight characteristics operate within a narrow margin of operator's specifications.

Set-up Options

New Night Lighting Technique: At night, this airliner cockpit will illuminate in all its glory, with three different intensities and complete standardization between the virtual cockpit and 2D panel night appearance.

Panel Lighting

Professional Features: Complete IRS system, Autopilot includes VNAV, LNAV, FL CHG and is capable of performing full autoland in the strongest of crosswinds.

New Failures Module: Set failures at random intervals or target specific systems with variable and progressive damage factors.

Sound Set: Recorded from the real flight deck, the sounds are complete from the powerful jet engines to the fire warning bells.

Virtual Cabin: In addition to the virtual cockpit, a virtual Upper Deck cabin in a First Class layout is available when using Active Camera 2004.

Passenger Cabin

Before we get into the hands-on portion of our review, let's look at some basic info for this exciting aircraft add-on:

  • Developer: Precision Manuals Development Group
  • Title: 747-400 Queen of the Skies
  • Min. Req.: P4 1.8 GHz (or AMD equiv), 512MB RAM, 64MB Graphics Card
  • Recommended: P4 3.0 GHz, 1GB RAM
  • Compatibility: WinXP only, FS2004 only
  • Installation: Internet connection required for installation
  • Download Size: 60MB
  • Price: $54.95

My first thought was that price of $54.95 was a bit out of line with what I am comfortable paying. Far too many times I have spent money on a product that failed to meet my expectations. However, given PMDGs history, I knew I would be getting the best bang for the buck from these guys.

Now, I want to turn over the controls of this review to William Fowler. William is a Chief Pilot for virtual airline Pacific Airways, and has joined me once again for the testing of this aircraft. William has well over 1,800 flight hours primarily on VATSIM and has a wealth of knowledge on heavy aircraft and long flights.

Hands-on Review by William Fowler:

  • Test system specifications:
    • CPU: Pentium 4 2.8GHz
    • Memory: 1GB DDR SDRAM
    • Graphics: ATI Radeon Sapphire 9200SE Atlantis 128MB Video Card
    • Control: Saitek X-52 Flight Control System
    • Aircraft version: 1.10
  • Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004 settings:
    • Resolution: 1280x960, 32 bit color
    • Weather: Fair Weather theme
    • AI Traffic: 70%
    • Scenery: SRTM Global Terrain Mesh available from Simviation.
  • Graphics Settings:
    • Aircraft: High
    • Weather: High
    • Scenery: Custom
    • Hardware: Frame rates locked at 25, antialiasing on, bilinear filtering selected
Initial Test Flight

After installing the aircraft and my VA liveries, the first thing I wanted to do was take her for a lap around the LAX traffic pattern flying strictly stick and rudder, with no autopilot assistance.

For this first flight, I left the aircraft in the state it was loaded in, with the engines running. After preflight checks and switching on the necessary lights, I taxied from Terminal 3 to runway 6R for a quick trip around the block. after obtaining takeoff clearance and a quick setup check of flaps and trim, I revved her up and off we went.

At rotation speed I found it relatively easy to hold the nose at the required 8 degree pitch while waiting for sufficient lift to get off the ground. Once she was in positive rate of climb the gear came up and we entered the left traffic pattern. Turning was very smooth, as would be expected, and we entered the downwind leg with no difficulties.

On the downwind leg, I flew about 15 miles out to sea at 4000 MSL before turning back inbound. Once again, the turning was very smooth and we came about through base and on to final, lining up with my initial departure runway 6R and bringing her in for a nice smooth landing before returning to Terminal 3.

After returning to the terminal, I just sat in the cockpit and experimented with different views and clicking on things just to see what I could find. There are plenty of cockpit animations just waiting to be discovered.

Initial impression: a well-designed aircraft that is relatively easy to fly by hand if it becomes necessary to do so.

In-Depth Analysis

For the in-depth analysis and testing, I once again loaded the aircraft up at Terminal 3, but this time after the aircraft loaded I loaded the cold and dark panel from the Load Panel State option in the PMDG pull down menu. I took that a step further by opening the overhead panel and turning off all the switches that was left on in that saved panel.

Main Panel: This panel looks and acts more like the real thing than any other panel Ive tried. Plus it has the added advantage of being able to sit in either the Captains position or the First Officers position.

Another advantage is that valuable panel real estate is not taken up by panel switching icons. PMDG instead has a separate switch panel which is always shown by default but can be turned off if desired simply by clicking on the support pylon in the front windscreen between the Captain and FO(Flight Officer positions. Click the same spot again to turn it back on. It can also be set to auto-hide by clicking on the pushpin icon in the upper left corner of the switch panel itself. Then, you click the pylon to show it, select the panel(s) you need, then the switch panel will auto-hide after about 5 seconds.

Ive flown several freeware 744s in my day, and have yet to find a freeware 744 panel that I actually like. The default Microsoft panel is in fact better than some of the add-ons Ive tried. Now, if I could have found a panel like this one for my freeware planes, I would have been much happier.

MCP (Master Control Panel): Again, pretty straightforward, if youve used other payware aircraft that model all the features included with this one. If youve used nothing but freeware, though, there will be a bit of a learning curve, but nothing too complex. Most notable is the modeling of the LNAV and VNAV systems, which most freeware aircraft dont bother to do again, not surprising because those systems require an FMC to operate, which, again, most freeware aircraft dont bother with. One point to keep in mind is the TO/GA switch location given the impracticality of modeling the switch at its actual location, PMDG has chosen to model this switch on the MCP panel. Click the upper left screw head to activate it. (If youre in the First Officers seat, the upper right screw head also functions as TO/GA.)

If youve never used an MCP like this before, it will be worth your time to take a look at the 16 page manual section dealing with it.

Overhead Panel: The overhead panel is laid out and designed to be easy to follow. Between the panel layout and EICAS messages, I was able to accomplish engine startup without having to refer to the documentation at all. The closest comparison I can make on an overhead would be with the Level D 767-300s overhead panel. If youre comfortable with theirs, the transition to this 744 overhead will not be difficult at all.

Overhead Engine Shutdown

Throttle Quad: Pretty much straightforward, with the controls youd expect to find throttles, thrust reverse levers, flaps, fuel cutoff switches, speed brake, trim indicator, etc.

FMC (Flight Managment Computer): Easily the most complicated system to master, which isnt surprising given all the functions it performs. If youve never used an FMC before, expect to invest a good bit of time learning all its functionality. You can pick up the basics after only a few flights, and the additional functionality will take some additional time.

If youve used the FMC in the PMDG 737NG series or the Level-D 767 this will be nothing new to you as all FMCs work basically the same way, with the primary differences in the systems modeled within it. There are a few systems that were not modeled, however everything you will need to make a flight is there, and there are a few extra nice-to-have features in place as well.

EICAS (Engine Instrumentation / Crew Alerting System): This is one of the additional panels provided that is exceptionally useful if you have to diagnose an in-flight failure. This panel is actually the lower EICAS display; the upper display is shown on the main panel in both Captain and FO modes. Using the keypad provided with the display panel, you can select any one of eight modes: ENG for engine info; STAT for a display of hydraulic pressures, APU speeds, voltages and control surface positions; ELEC for electrical bus info; FUEL for fuel system info; ECS for climate control and bleed air info; HYD for detailed hydraulic system info; DRS for exit door monitoring; GEAR for monitoring of landing gear tire pressures, brake temperatures, and door positions. Pressing the button for the currently selected mode will blank the display.

Lower EICAS

COM Center Pedestal: from here you can control the COM radios (the NAV radios are controlled by the FMC), transponder, autobrakes, rudder and aileron trim and other functions. There are more items modeled on the console than are actually functional; however you wont need the systems that are not modeled.

CHR Chronometer: Self-explanatory.

MSC (Master Speed Control): This panel has only three controls G/S inhibit, flap override, and Config Gnd override. I havent had to use any of them as of yet.

The Test Flight

I made a few preliminary test flights up and down the west coast in an attempt to learn the systems relatively quickly. Due to the learning curve there were a few errors made, but these were due to procedural problems, not problems with the aircraft itself.

For the final test flight I chose a relatively short flight, Los Angeles International, CA (KLAX) to Portland International, OR (KPDX).

My flight route for the test will be as follows: KLAX GMN4.EHF J65 CZQ LIN J189 LMT.MOXEE6 KPDX. Taking off from runway 6R at KLAX and landing at runway 28L at KPDX. For this flight my cruise altitude will be FL360.

Click for larger image.

I started with a cold and dark panel, external power was connected in addition to the aircraft batteries in order to begin IRS alignment and FMC programming. After the initial test flights to learn the system, programming the FMC only took about a few minutes, even with some changes I had to make after the initial programming. My fuel load wasnt as specified in the load manager so I had to adjust a few FMC settings after correcting it.

After IRS alignment and FMC programming was complete, I started the APU in order to get bleed air for engine startup and pack operation. While the passengers were boarding I set the MCP up with my cruise altitude, turned on the auto throttle and flight director, and also armed LNAV and VNAV modes.

Click for larger image.

Time to go! Pushback, engine start and taxi went without a hitch and we were at runway 6R within a few minutes. While at the hold short mark, time to make a few final settings flaps 10 for takeoff, activate transponder and TCAS, landing lights and strobes, auto brakes to RTO, the usual stuff. Finally it was our turn taxi into position, line up with the centerline and wait for the traffic ahead to clear. After clearance from LAX tower,I hit the TO/GA switch and we were off. The callouts from my virtual first officer were extremely helpful in hitting my marks for rotation and liftoff.

Click for larger image.

One item that Ive never seen in any other aircraft, and I have to give PMDG kudos for modeling this, is that the flap retraction schedule is shown right on the airspeed tape.

Click for larger image.

During the flight the FMC managed my cruise settings perfectly, maintaining the optimal speed and altitude. I received a few system messages on the EICAS when things required attention, such as the fuel system configuration.

Click for larger image.

At top of descent, an FMC message came up advising me to reset my MCP altitude. Once done, descent went very smoothly and according to schedule. One thing I would advise, if you will be landing on a runway which is directionally opposite your approach path, is to either add an extra waypoint or two to your flight path, or else take manual control of the approach whether via MCP input or hand-flight, otherwise you will turn to final while still well above the altitude you need to be at, requiring a much steeper dive than would be advisable or safe. I added an extra waypoint into my flight path to have some extra distance to bleed off altitude.

Click for larger image.

Landing time…This aircraft has full autoland capability modeled, but I did not use it for a couple of reasons first, I had problems somewhere with the setup (which I think is related to my procedure, not problems with the implementation); and second, the bigger reason, is that hand-flying the final approach is part of the fun for me. I let the APP mode grab the localizer and glide slope, then once she was established on track I disengaged everything and brought her down by hand, which I was once again impressed by the handling of this model. I brought her down for a nice smooth landing once again on 28L and taxied in to the terminal.

Click for larger image.

In all the testing I did, I only found one real problem with the model, and this problem is only apparent on the ground. As you read in my system specs I use a Saitek X-52 flight control system, which allows me to twist the stick left and right to maintain directional control on the ground. The problem is that when you twist the joystick, the aircraft will turn properly, however the nose gear does not rotate. If I pull the stick left and right like I was in the air and banking a turn, the nose gear works as expected. This is by no means a major problem, but it is something to watch out for.

Freighter Differences

I made a return flight KPDX-KLAX in the 744F. Everything is functionally the same with the freighter as it is with the passenger model; however there are a few visual differences. Most notable is the fact that the MCP has LED digital readouts rather than the old-style numeric wheel displays. There are a few other cosmetic differences scattered about on a couple of the panels as well.

Click for larger image.

Externally, there are also a few extra pieces of eye candy on the visual model, apart from the obvious. The entire nose cone is hinged to allow the nose to open up for cargo loading, in addition to the side cargo doors. There are also cargo loaders that can be toggled on and off, in addition to a tail stand and passenger stairs.

The freighter also comes with its own load manager specific to the needs of a cargo aircraft. It is just as easy to use as the passenger load manager.

The Bottom Line

This is a very well-designed and modeled aircraft, well worth the purchase price. When I saw that the base model was $54.95 US I was a bit skeptical; however, after flying her around for a while, Ive determined that the quality is nothing less than I would expect from a company with PMDGs reputation.

* * *

Conclusion by Anthony "Shepherd" Underwood

Thanks, William.

As you have read the in-depth testing and thoughts of a veteran flight sim pilot, it is very clear that PMDG has yet another benchmark setting, award-winning aircraft on their hands. With free add-on liveries of real-world airlines for the passenger and cargo version of the aircraft, it is ready for enjoyment with a quick and easy read to ensure familiarization of the aircraft. When you get as detailed an aircraft as the PMDG 747-400 "Queen of the Skies," you will also want to get Active Camera so you will be able to see the cabin layout and passenger class differences as well.

The bottom line is, for the beginner and veteran flier alike, the PMDG 747-400 offers a detailed aircraft that will give you many flights of enjoyment and a challenge that will keep you finding new things about the aircraft and your flying ability as well.

PMDGs 747-400 Queen of the Skies add-on for FS2004 is indeed a COMBATSIM.COM Top Pick.


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