Peter’s Aircraft Airbus A321 has been out now a few weeks, and both FlightTime56 and I have had a little time to look over the file and draw a few impressions, and we’ll do that in a series of posts over the next few days. First, some general information on the type may be in order if you’re unfamiliar with the type:
According to Wikipedia: “The A321 is stretch and first derivative of the standard A320. The variant was launched in 1988, when the A320 began operations. Compared with the A320, the A321′s major change is the stretched fuselage, which is lengthened by 6.94 metres (22 ft 9 in) which makes the A321 the largest among the A320 Family. This is achieved by adding a front plug immediately forward of wing 4.27 m (14 ft 0 in), and a 2.67 m (8 ft 9 in) rear plug.To maintain performance, double-slotted flaps were included, in addition to increasing the wing area by 4 m2 (43 sq ft), to 128 m2 (1,380 sq ft). Other minor modifications were made to accommodate the A321′s 9,600 kg (21,200 lb) increase in maximum takeoff weight, taking the MTOW to 83,000 kg (183,000 lb). The maiden flight of the first of two prototypes came on 11 March 1993. The A321 entered service in 1994.
“The basic A321-100 features a reduction in range compared to the A320 as extra fuel tankage was not added to the initial design to compensate for the extra weight. To overcome this Airbus launched the heavier and longer range A321-200 development in 1995 which has a full-passenger transcontinental US range. This is achieved through higher thrust engines (V2533-A5 or CFM56-5B3), minor structural strengthening, and greater fuel capacity with the installation of one 26,600 L (7,000 US gal) in the rear underfloor hold, or two 29,684 L (7,842 US gal) tanks.The A321-200 first flew in December 1996. Its direct competitor is the 757-200 and the 737-900/900ER.”
Below, a few real world images of the 321 in action:
This file has been eagerly awaited by Peter’s faithful for almost two years, and, after the success of his A380 this was to be expected, but there were many who just didn’t want the 380, and more than a few of these folks have been looking forward to this one as well. The big question then is: Can Peter’s latest file live up to expectations?
Join us now as FlightTime56 and I begin to look for some answers to this question.
You’ve perhaps heard us refer recently to the A321, like Peter’s A380 before it, as a “procedures SIM”, and this is an important matter to discuss and understand before proceeding with any analysis of this ACF, and indeed to understand and accept before purchasing this download.
So, just what do we mean by “procedures SIM” – in general terms? Well, simply put, this type of file places a tremendous amount of emphasis on the exactingly correct operation of almost all an aircraft’s mechanical and (increasingly) computational systems, and often at the expense of more visually detailed model components like opening doorways, cargo holds, and passenger cabins. These “procedures” ACF are then designed less for the “casual simmer” and are more often more in line with the expectations of those who want (or indeed, need) a very nearly exact replica of the real aircraft’s operational environment – or as close as can be realized given limitations imposed by SIM platforms and hardware requirements.
In short, you might not enjoy a “procedures SIM” if your goal is to shoot “touch and goes” or fly a few hundred miles VFR. Put another way, you might indeed enjoy the experience but you’ll also not be using the ACF to it’s fullest potential. That said, if you’ve got the bucks lying around and want to indulge, this is as good a product as any for such endeavors, and if you think you might someday want to dive in deeper in systems – a file like this one offers a lot of room to grow.
If, on the other hand, you are really keen to dig deep into an aircraft’s systems and procedures, a true procedures SIM is the only way to go – and Peter’s Airbus series is arguably the best in X-Plane. The IXEG 733 or XPJets 773 may well exceed Peter’s 321 in this regard, assuming either releases in my lifetime. That said, there are really very few files available for any platform that offer the operational depth you’ll find in Peter’s A321, so consider one more thing right now: Peter Hager has very nearly defined this niche in X-Plane, and there really wasn’t anything quite like his A380 until that ground-breaking file was released. PMDG has dominated the segment in FsX, and proven that there is a vibrant market for these types of files.
That said, Peter’s files feature very, very nice 2D cockpits, good exterior detailing, and exceptional fidelity to published procedures, and all his Airbus aircraft released to date have been real eye-openers to folks who’ve had no real experience in tubeliners. With OPS manual in hand, such a “pilot” in XP can gain his or her first real insights into the ultra complex world that is the modern flight deck. For some, one small peek may be enough to satisfy; for others, getting this small glimpse may well become the start of something very big indeed.
In short, these files can become so immersive, and so challenging, that you’ll never view XP the same way again. Procedures SIMs turn X-Plane into an effective, if somewhat unstructured, introduction to commercial aviation, and move “flight simulation” well beyond the realm of “entertainment” – and into what can be potentially a seriously useful training tool for more experienced “real world” aviators.
So “traditionally”, developers of procedures SIMs have not really spent a lot of time creating such esoteric items as opening cargo doors or recreating rich leather upholstery on First Class seating surfaces, and Peter’s A321 upholds this tradition. You’ll find no such cabin accouterments, and opening cabin doorways are limited to a single graphic on the central System Display’s “DOOR” page. If you insist on judging this level of modeling with Carenado Class interior/exterior detailing – it obviously falls short, but please, remember the developer’s intent!
Carenado isn’t producing an Airbus airliner with full systems fidelity, they’re producing relatively simple GA aircraft with comparatively modest systems. Even so, Carenado Class ACF seriously strain many mid-power computers as it stands today, and it’s probably fair to conclude that detailing an Airbus to Carenado standards would fatally strain all but the most powerful PCs or Macs – or worse.
The point here, if I may, is that ‘procedures SIM’ developers have to focus on what really matters to their stated purpose, and frankly, exterior detailing more often than not falls into the “nice, but is it really necessary…?” category. True…advances in both graphics engines and improving tools for 3D modeling are leading us ever onward toward the promised land…and that time where we might “have our cake and eat it too” may well be within reach. We may be on the cusp of entering an era in simulation where fully featured models can coexist peacefully with in-depth procedures simulation.
All we can say, based on what’s currently out there, is that we’re not there yet. When looking over Peter’s 321, I had to keep reminding myself of this one simple fact of life. Believe me…when you open up the OPS manuals all that other fluff becomes totally irrelevant.
So, the basics. The file is available from Peter’s Aircraft, and the current price is 39.90 Euros (close to fifty buckaroos), which places the file almost midway between the Q400 and the CRJ200, and which is a bit less dinero than the full A380 package.
The released file ships with a 2D only cockpit, while a Ramzzess produced 3D ‘pit is promised. You’ll have to have a hardware throttle to get this 321 off the ground too, but even one as simple as Saitek’s AV8R ought to suffice until you can work up the resources to get a full featured rig. Two engine style quadrants are fully supported, and I recommend these. The parking brake function must be mapped to an unused button (unlike the QPAC320), and nose wheel steering (as well as a disconnect) is fully implemented.
We received the file with liveries for BA, Lufthansa, SAS, and USAirways (seen above and just below). Each is excellent.
Exterior detailing is, to my eye anyway, very good indeed – as long as you don’t require the aforementioned goodies, like pax cabins, operating doors and cargo holds, etc. Landing gear detail is, as you can readily see below, as good as any other file out there.
Engine and reverser detail, ditto.
APU detail? Take a look.
Wings have always been Peter’s strength, and his 321 is just gorgeous in this regard. Some interior elements within the wing are simple gray textures, however. Again…priorities!
About the only questionable element I ran into on looking over the aircraft’s exterior is the right side landing light. In v10.05rc1 it appears mounted too far aft and very low, and the light so cast fully illuminates the trailing edge of the right wing. Ought to be a simple fix, assuming the problem lies in the ACF, and not in XP. If the problem lies in XP, hopefully the v10.10 update will take care of the issue.
Whether or not you like 2D cockpits – or even if you feel they’ve become a bit anachronistic – you simply have to admit that Peter’s 2D panels are a pure work of art. I frankly seem to spend so little time in 2D pits these days that I was hoping the file would release with Ramzzess’s 3D package already available or installed, but once again – and after spending several hours in here – I’ve been captivated by Peter’s work – all over again. Detail is outstanding (even for a 2D affair!), and his lighting setup is beyond reproach. Just look at the panel image below (a composite of the three available views), and be sure to click and enlarge:
The range of panel lighting adjustment is outstanding, and if you can’t get comfortable setting up and running in this cockpit you need to re-read the manual or take up knitting.
There are pop-up panels as well; for sounds (hotspot highlighted on the left pillar):
As well as for flight planning (click the screen on the MCDU to reveal or hide):
Because this is a 2D panel, some items, notably on the throttle quadrant, are either very small or at an odd angle for easy viewing, making operation difficult when first learning the ropes. As you get familiar with the panel and it’s components, operations (should) become second nature.
Documentation has long been Peter’s strength, and in fact without complete and thorough documentation the entire exercise of making a “procedures SIM” would become laughably moot, and that’s just one reason why we’ve been on such a crusade for so long to get payware developers to include thorough documentation. Indeed, I think part of the thrill when buying a new file like this Airbus comes from wading through not only good OPS manuals, but more broadly interesting information about the aircraft in general. One only need look over the material presented with the Hydroz PBY/Catalina to see what we’re getting at here, but Peter’s manuals are models of clarity and are well suited to the purpose. There’s no awkward prose, and there are copious illustrations to drive home the points being made. In short, there are none better.
At almost 200 pages you’ll want to skim the material at least once before you even begin flying this file, but there’s a learning curve with all such files and as said, that’s part of the fun here. If you’re somewhat familiar with the QPAC 320 FBW setup you’ll have a little head start…but just a little, and even so I suspect you’ll need several hours of close study to really get comfortable making a long IFR flight in this file…but then again, that’s the point, isn’t it?
Even flying the 321 around an airport to shoot a few touch and goes can get involved, unless of course you’ll be flying without any A/P or A/T assist. You can simply fly a non-coupled NPA (see page 179 of the manual for pointers), but again, doing so without understanding how you’re making the airplane perform (or underperform, as the case may be) seriously cuts into the reason for buying this file.
Once you’ve got the file onboard and your hardware configured (don’t ignore this step!), and after you’ve tripped through the manual a few times, you’ll be set to either download .FMS flight plans from the Org or (following the guidelines and pointers in Peter’s manual) make your own, and you’ll need as many flight plans as routes you intend to fly…it’s that simple.
Once you’ve got .FMS flight plans onboard and properly installed, you’ll simply need the OPS manual in hand as you work through chapter after chapter on operational limits, systems, auto flight OPS, normal and emergency OPS, and, oh well, you get the picture. You may want to print out the relevant pages from the PDF, or get the file over to your iPad.
You’ll also have to come to terms with the simplified landscape afforded by the 2D cockpit/panel, and may come to appreciate that this simplified front office eases some of your cockpit workflow. Having a Mac (and therefore no TrackIR) means moving around the ‘pit is not as straightforward as it might be whilst in 3D, and if so Mac-equipped, this layout actually works in your favor – somewhat. I will, however, still be looking forward to the 3D upgrade.
Getting an FMS plan entered and executed is about as far as I’ve come along the learning curve after a week or so. I’ve managed a few “straight in” (read: simple) instrument landings (uneventful…so far) and there’s ample satisfaction to be found when you finally “get it right”…but, as you can perhaps imagine, Airbus logic presents a steep learning curve for someone brought up on steam gauges.
No, not really…at least nothing definitive yet…just a jumble of impressions. FlightTime56 will follow up this post with more, soon, but a few words about Peter’s 321 are in order. First, this isn’t a file for neophytes. If you have no idea what an FMS is, or don’t yet have a firm grasp on instrument procedures, this file is probably overkill for you. More importantly, if the idea of a “procedures SIM” in general doesn’t appeal to you, you might enjoy this ACF on it’s merits, but without working your way through the manual a few times doing even simple cockpit chores will seem onerous. Still, it’s fun even used as such.
So…who’s this file for?
Well, Airbus junkies…first and foremost. Pilots in XP who want to take their SIM experience to the next level. Those who appreciate operational complexity and are willing to take the time to master a very complex flight deck. Probably of utmost importance, this file is one you’ll need to commit to, and stick with for quite a while, and I think it quite likely you’ll find this file a worthy companion for such a journey.
A lot of flying in flight SIMs involves getting “the next best thing” – week after week – and as a result many are always moving on to the latest and greatest files, and for many folks that’s just the nature of the beast and they’re as happy as clams. Peter’s A321 eschews this paradigm, however. It will demand your full attention for months, and will reward you commensurately; perhaps, I suspect, in the final analysis that’s why “procedures SIMs” command such respect. They reflect a sustained level of commitment, and that’s always a respectable pursuit in a community like ours.
Yes, a few trivial glitches remain, even in v3, but Peter Hager is always on top of his files. When a problem is found, it’s fixed. Period. And the fix is distributed to you, quickly. Period. His customer support is the class of X-Plane, so buying from Peter is a no stress affair.
That said, once again I’m still on the first part of this journey, and will keep you informed as I move-on through the manual.
So far, I’m very impressed, and I think you might be too. If you get the file, send us your impressions, your screenshots, your experiences. We’ll continue our coverage of this file as we work our way on through the material, and your insights may help us all, so fire away.
Until then. Hasta later – C