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Live on JSR Classics

First Look: 747-200 Classic by Felis for X-Plane 11

Written by Chris Episkopos on August 25, 2021 at 6:48 PM UTC

Introduction

Few aircraft have captured the public’s imagination in the manner of the Boeing 747. Just over half a century after the Wright brothers first took humanity into the sky, this 300 tonne behemoth rolled out of the factory at Everett and with it a promise to revolutionise the way we travelled. Indeed, the world is a much smaller place today than it was 50 years ago in large part thanks to this aircraft and yet, its reign as Queen of The Skies is rapidly coming to an end. More fuel efficient twin engined widebodies and a move away from the traditional hub-and-spoke travel model in favour of lower density point-to-point routes have been slowly pushing the type into retirement, a trend which was hugely exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis.

Luckily for us flight sim enthusiasts, the simulator provides an opportunity to preserve classic aircraft like the 747 and a recent exciting development in the world of X-Plane has been the wildly anticipated 747-200 by Felis. In today’s review, we will be taking an exclusive first look at this rendition of history’s most recognisable aircraft.

 

Externals & Visual Modelling

The visual modelling of the aircraft is exceptional. The iconic and classic beauty of the 747 - the upper deck hump, the curves of the fuselage, the sleek swept back wings, and the towering six-story high tail - has all been faithfully brought to life in the sim. The attention to detail will please even the most scrupulous avgeeks out there and is helped by the incredible PBR texture work of the notorious painter DeltaWho who contributed extensively to this project.

The undercarriage of the aircraft has all of the bells and whistles you would expect down to the correct positioning of the brake hoses, the gentle bouncing of the shock absorbers as the aircraft rolls over imperfect tarmac, and, uniquely to the 747, the swivelling of the two rear gear assemblies to aid with steering on the ground.

The Pratt & Whitney JTD9 engines are beautifully modelled and animated, down even to the oscillations experienced when applying reverse thrust on landing. The wing flaps are also a thing of beauty - the 747 has a very complex flap system which was ground-breaking at the time the aircraft was first introduced - with an almost Russian nesting doll effect to the way that different degrees of flaps are progressively extended. Again, the attention to detail here is incredibly impressive and there is plenty of eye candy for wing views.

The passenger cabin is complete from the upper deck to the rear of the airplane with period-correct seating (no first class suites or lie flat business class to be found). The spiral staircase leading to the upper deck is particularly reminiscent of the glamourous design associated with the beginning of the jet age in the 1960s and 70s.

 

Flight Deck & Systems

Moving into the flight deck, you start to get a sense about just how complex an aircraft this is and what an engineering achievement it was for the time. There are 980 buttons, dials, and switches required to operate this aircraft and, amazingly, almost all of them are modelled in this addon. The panels are visually impressive and demonstrate a slightly used, scuffed quality to them, much as I imagine most of the real aircraft had during their lifetime. The texture work here is flawless and the night lighting is also superb – X-Plane still remains the king of the simulators when it comes to night flying and the night owls out there will not be disappointed.

The systems depth is remarkable and I think this is where this addon really shines. All of the systems are extensively modelled – from the electrical, fuel, and hydraulic systems to the auxiliary power unit and fuel jettison systems. Getting the aircraft from a cold-and-dark state to engines running is certainly a bit of a learning curve if coming from more modern aircraft, however those who are familiar with Boeing aircraft will notice some familiarities in the cockpit flows. You have some help with the checklister app and the voices of your virtual first officer and flight engineer which comes in handy during some particularly busy phases of flight (such as engine start).

For navigation, true to the original aircraft, there are three independent inertial navigation systems, custom programmed by Felis. These historic precursors to the FMC were a revolutionary development for the time as it allowed pilots to track their aircraft’s position independent of VOR or other navaids (something which massively improved safety on transoceanic flights). It is capable of containing up to nine waypoints at a time and can be updated throughout the flight to continue navigation to the endpoint. Other forms of navigation (VOR, ADF, etc.) can be used to crosscheck the INS system which has a tendency to lose accuracy over time and distance travelled. This is a fair bit more work than using the FMCs on more modern aircraft but is effective and true to what flight crews of the era would have used. Fortunately, Felis has made it much more accessible with the use of his custom electronic flight bag – it is possible to import your route with the default .fms extension in and load in the first 9 waypoints into the INS automatically. Felis also gives you the option to use the default X-Plane FMC if you’d rather forgo use of the INS – this is particularly useful for online flying where controllers may expect you to follow RNAV SID and STAR procedures. Many aircraft were later equipped with FMC systems so I don’t think this necessarily detracts hugely from realism.

The electronic flight bag included is intuitive to use and allows you to control the fuel and load, ground services, and includes a calculator to work out (and automatically set the bugs up) for your V-speeds and flap calculations. There are plenty of options that allow you to do things as realistically as possible or instantly set your fuel, load, and INS alignment. My only criticism (and this is very pedantic) is that the EFB looks a little rough around the edges. Some of the pages such as the laodsheet are in plain text and detract slightly from the otherwise outstanding visuals of this addon.

 

Flight Characteristics & Handling

I did a number of test flights in this aircraft to get a feel for her and also to test out all the various systems and features. I began by flying some patterns around London Heathrow. Setting takeoff thrust, it takes a bit of time for the engines to spool up. It takes almost two thirds of the runway to get to rotation speed, really giving you a sense of how massive this aircraft is. Once airborne, however, she is a delight to hand fly. The controls are very responsive and she feels very stable, even with a crosswind. The throttle is smooth and slightly sluggish, but provides plenty of power for climb and does not need a great deal of tweaking to get into the right position. Landing the aircraft took a bit of practice – my first few attempts were a bit hard at around -500fpm – but I managed to quickly get this down to a much more palatable -150fpm or so by flaring the aircraft slightly earlier and more slowly than you would, say, a 737. On touchdown, you hear the rattle and clacking of all the interior fixtures along with the reverse thrust of the JTD9s revving up. The fmod sounds, like everything else in this package, are excellent and incredibly immersive.

I did a full length sector flight from Los Angeles to London, running through all the procedures as accurately as possible. At the moment, there is no documentation to run through all the cockpit flows (though I’m told this is going to change before release) and the checklister app will pause if something is configured incorrectly, the first officer helpfully muttering ‘damn’ or the flight engineer cheerfully saying ‘ah, this.’ It took a bit of time to figure everything out, but I think the virtual voices of the crew were clear, concise, and helpful; certainly not a nuisance or a distraction. Taxiing is also something that takes a bit of getting used to – remember I mentioned that there is body gear steering on this aircraft which needs to be armed prior to pushback and disarmed prior to takeoff. Being positioned so high up above the taxiway also gives you a slightly skewed sense of how fast you are going – I found that I was taxiing at nearly 30 knots at some points.

With a nearly full load, it took the better part of 200nm to get up to cruise altitude, but once there, the aircraft comfortably maintained a cruise speed of Mach 0.85. It’s worth remembering that the 747 is an absolute bullet of an aircraft, second only to Concorde in speed. At several points on the trip, with the 80 knot Jetstream behind me, I think my groundspeed actually exceeded 600mph. Something that struck me about this aircraft, particularly compared to other aircraft from the same period, was actually how little input it needed until the descent stage. The fuel system did not need a great deal of attention for balancing and I didn’t need to keep a particularly close eye on the navigation or the throttle, as the INS and autothrottle system kept the aircraft where it needed to be.  In addition to this, the aircraft is capable of performing a full autoland, even up to the maximum crosswind limit. It’s worth remembering that Boeing’s engineers achieved this level of automation in an era where computers took up entire rooms in universities. In fact, it’s likely that the computer that controls the antilock brakes in your car is an order of magnitude more powerful than the computers running the INS and autoflight systems in the original 747s. Incredible, and faithfully brought to life by Felis in this simulation.

 

Negatives

It's hard to find much to complain about with this package. A few really minor things I noticed – the default viewpoint in the aircraft is centred behind the main instrument panel, to the left of the flight engineering panel. While it’s easy enough to set custom views with the numpad, I do think it would be better placed in the actual left seat as it is in most other aircraft. This is particularly annoying in VR, where I use buttons on my HOTAS X52 to switch between external and internal views. VR otherwise works pretty well even though formal VR support is going to come at some point after the aircraft’s release. In addition, I noticed there was no smoke effect on the tires on landing the aircraft. I also couldn’t map the speedbrake axis to my joystick for some reason, having to rely on clicking and dragging. Having said that, these are all minor and easily fixable issues and my experience with the aircraft was remarkably smooth. Despite being in beta at the moment, I didn’t notice any bugs during my 10-15 hours of flight. At the moment, the aircraft is only available in the JTD9 passenger variant, and custom failures are not modelled, though I understand this and multiple variants are in the pipeline for future releases.

 

Conclusion

This aircraft is easily on par with the best addons currently available for X-Plane. It is a visually gorgeous, study-level simulation of one of the most iconic aircraft ever built. In fact, I would go as far as to say that this is probably the most advanced and complete simulation of the 747-200 ever brought to the world of desktop flight simulation. Amazingly as well, despite the visuals and complexity of this aircraft, the performance on my machine was excellent and I never saw my framerate dip below about 35, despite high visual settings and lots of custom scenery. I had the privilege of flying aboard the 747-200 quite a bit as a child, and getting into the left seat of this aircraft and pushing the throttle forward to the takeoff thrust setting for the first time brought a huge smile to my face. I think this addon has something that simmers of all ages and experience will enjoy. I would say this is a must-have addon for the X-Plane platform and I am excited to see what further developments come from this project in the future.

The Felis 747-200 is due for release within the next few weeks and will be available on the X-Plane.org software store.

 

Additional Notes

Make sure to join Felis’s discord server at https://discord.gg/xzMBYaHFnp for updates.

Access to pre-release beta for this review kindly provided by Felis.

Review PC specs – Acer 17” gaming laptop, 8th generation Intel core i7 six core processor, NVIDIA GTX 1660Ti graphics card, 24 GB of DDR4 RAM.

For my exclusive on-air interview with Felis, please visit: https://anchor.fm/chris-episkopos/episodes/First-Look-at-the-747-200-with-Felis-e16dbdu