Rotate Sim MD-80
(NOTAM: This review is based off my purchased copy of the aircraft. I did not receive a free or trial copy. I also am not compensated or affiliated in any way with Rotate Sim.)
The transition from 2015 to 2016 is bringing a lot of highly anticipated products to the world of X-Plane that are sure to clean out even the deepest of wallets. But isn't that what being a "Junky" is all about? Like you, new flashy add-ons make me go silly like a kid in a candy store. Among the releases of the IXEG 737-300 Classic and the Flight Factor 767 comes the Rotate Sim MD-80 (The designator MD-80 refers to a series of aircraft and the model in the series selected by Rotate Sim is the MD-88). About a year ago they revealed their project like many other developers in a "Work In Progress" video. What initially made this MD-80 exciting was the incredible detail to the exterior 3D model. Potentially this would be the most beautiful 3D model of any aircraft in X-Plane. As more Rotate Sim MD-80 videos were released, the interior was coming together very nicely and the custom coded FMS was looking very promising as well. Unlike many new aircraft design teams, the time from first announcement to release was relatively quick at about a year. Let's take a look at this aircraft and see how it holds up to the marketing press.
Below are a few shots of the exterior. I must say the amount of attention and detail out into the modeling of the exterior are second to none. It is one thing to have a beautiful "paint job" but adding the realism of near perfect weathering all over the aircraft is a detail missed by many liveries in the X-Plane world. Check out the gallery of images X-Plane Junkies took of the exterior. Screen shots were taken at a texture resolution setting of Very High.
The exterior is obviously pretty stunning. The Rotate Sim MD-80 has detailed modeling in the cockpit but the cabin as well. To be honest I so rarely go into the cabin of aircraft I don't put much "wow" into cabin details and I would much rather have better performance than a cabin full of details. I know some of you really enjoy cabin details so I won't skimp on that part of the review. More on performance later, but let's check out the interior.
Visually this is a stunning aircraft worthy of naming it among the top add-ons for X-Plane. Rotate Sim has certainly not fallen short with the MD-80 3d Modeling and texturing. Let's now take a look at how this long awaited regional airliner flies.
One of the main reasons the Rotate Sim MD-80 was appealing to me is that most of the flights I do are about an hour or so. This makes regional type jets very tempting to load up in my hangar. I love my Flight Factor 777, but I truly only fly it a few times a year when I get that random weekend when I can do a long haul. The MD-80 is also familiar to me as I have made many trips as a passenger in MD-80's throughout the past few decades. Now that I have had a few days to complete 6 or 7 flights with different departures, arrivals and a good amount of hand flying I can give you an idea of what I experienced.
Thankfully the documentation is well done compared to many other aircraft developers. If you are first starting out, go through the Tutorial document first and spend some time with it. After that, the checklist documents will make a lot more sense. After I went through the start up a few times I realized this aircraft does not simulate as many of the systems as I thought it would. I could really care less that the anti-skid system isn't simulated but there are a few things that stuck out to me. For instance, it is perfectly ok with me that you only simulate one IRS, but there are two IRS knobs... And only one moves while the other is permanently stuck on OFF. In my mind I was thinking, "just make them both turn at the same time". Obviously all the critical systems are simulated and moving around the cockpit is visually stunning. All the major instruments are easy to read from the flying position which is nice for someone like me who likes to hand fly planes which seems to almost be a lost art in the world of the magenta. For anyone coming from a Boeing style plane, there will be a lot of familiarity with the auto pilot and FMC. Of course the Mad Dog is its own beast and there are unique quirks you will figure out along the way, but that is what makes getting a new aircraft exciting. One of the interesting quirks I discovered early is that there is no NAV Source selector like many other aircraft I have flown. There is a separate NAV and VOR/LOC button on the FGCP (equivalent to the MCP in a Boeing). The NAV button couples to the lateral navigation in the FMC and the VOR/LOC tracks a VHF navigation source. The MD-80's equivalent to APP (Approach Mode) is called ILS. Calculating the takeoff trim (Long Trim) is a bit of a mechanical process. There is a dial next to the throttles where you dial your flap setting and CG and a little window shows you what to set your trim to.
The first flight I took was just a lap around the pattern. I planned on hand flying the plane all the way around with the exception of using the auto throttle for takeoff. After engaging the EPR Limit I rolled down the runway inching closer to rotation speed. I gently pulled back on my Go Flight Pro Yoke and the nose lifted smoothly. Since the main wheels are way back, I felt like I was way above the ground before the wheels left the pavement. It was an interesting feeling that I have not experienced in the typical Boeing airliners. The requested trim setting seemed a little too nose up as the nose slowly kept creeping up and as it passed 20 degrees, I pushed the yoke forward and added a good amount of nose down trim so I could climb at about 15 degrees nose up. That attitude seemed about right as it held right at 160 knots with very little input on the yoke. I leveled off and configured to fly the pattern (a large pattern) at 210 knots indicated. Once it was trimmed out, the aircraft turns and flies so easily. I felt like I had a solid amount of command flying the plane. I reduced speed and configured to 15 flaps before the base turn and then on final I dropped the gear set flaps to 28. Just like the real thing, flying just above Vref the plane had about an 8 degree nose up attitude. You really don't flare this aircraft you just adjust the throttles to manage your decent speed and gently set the aircraft on runway. If you aren't ready, the nose will want to stay up after touchdown. Also like the real airplane you have to add a little forward yoke input to bring it down. Now that I knew it flew amazing with my hands and feet I was ready to take it for a more traditional MD-80 type flight.
I will be honest right now, this section is going to be all about the most difficult part of any aircraft developer to implement, the FMC. Any developer who takes on an aircraft that has an FMC is in for a development challenge unlike anything else in X-Plane. Navigating the FMC is similar to other Honewell style FMCs and the performance is responsive. There is no 2D pop up or method for using the keyboard to input data so you do a lot of mouse clicking. As the forums lit up just a few days before the release there is no FIX, HOLD or PROG page in the initial release. I don't fault the developers for not being able to have every feature ready for release even though some say leaving out the PROG and HOLD page means the aircraft was not ready for release. I miss the PROG page but it wasn't keeping me from enjoying the MD-80. As with any aircraft there are some FMC bugs in the v1.0 release but I have not run across any that distract from flying. There is one part of the FMC that makes a certain mode of flying inoperable however. Unfortunately the performance calculations for VNAV are not even close to the real aircraft and the root of the bad calculations is the black hole of math, the Cost Index. The developers have said they could find little to no information about CI for the MD-80 which isn't surprising given the math involves numbers that are very hard to get a hold of. They programmed the performance linear (CI calculations are far from linear) which yields very low climb/cruise/descent speeds for typical Cost Index entries like 40, 50 or 90. In order to get a cruise speed of M0.75 you need a CI of about 500 which then makes your climb speeds so high the aircraft will not reach cruise. On top of that the MD-80 CI range is from 0-255, not 0-999 like the developers programmed. Thankfully a developer from IXEG has chimed in with some info he has found on the MD-80's CI so hopefully better calculations for VNAV will come in the next update.
So how do you fly without proper VNAV calculations? I say easy. Fly it like the FlyJSim 737-200 TwinJet but with auto throttles. Set your auto throttles to EPR Limit for takeoff (in the TO engine mode), then after you accelerate to 250 KIAS, engage the IAS climb mode (at 250 IAS, and switch the engine mode to MCT or Maximum Continuous Thrust), at 10,000' MSL raise the IAS climb mode to 280 IAS. At about FL260 you will be at M0.68. At that time switch your climb mode from IAS to MACH then climb at M0.68 until your cruise altitude is reached. When you reach your cruise altitude, change your auto throttle mode from EPR Limit to Mach Hold at M0.745 or so. Don't forget to change your engine mode to CR or cruise now. For the descent, you will need to calculate the appropriate T/D on your own based on the STAR you are flying. When you start your descent, lower your auto throttle speed to M0.68. Once you are at that speed, engage the descent mach mode. The auto throttles will disengage, and then manually pull them back to just shy of idle. The plane will start descending at M0.68. Use the throttle to control your rate of descent to about 2000-2300 fpm. Pull the throttle back to descend faster or add some power to slow your descent rate. Once again at about FL260 your IAS will be at about 280. Switch the descent mode from Mach to IAS and descend the rest of the way at 280 IAS mode. Depending on your STAR you may have crossing restrictions at other speeds so be aware of that. As you pass through 10,000' MSL slow the descent mode to 250 (or less if crossing restrictions apply). From there I disengage the auto throttle switch and manually ride the throttles. To prepare for a possible go around, set the engine mode to TOGA. That way if you go around, engage the Auto Throttle switch then press EPR Limit to climb out.
Yes, I would love to fly with the ease of VNAV but in the end, flying more manually makes me feel like more of a pilot. It also gives me more to do during the flight instead of just monitoring a computer. Like I have already mentioned, the hand flying of this aircraft is great. I love to hand fly as much as possible on the departure and arrival phases of flight. When you are slowing for arrival, this plane needs to be trimmed correctly because it has a tendency to go way nose up on you if you don't. When trimmed correctly and you are slower than 200 KIAS expect a 5 to 8 degree nose up attitude. Anything above 10 degrees means you re not configured and/or trimmed properly. Always remember when coming in for a landing, pitch for speed and power for altitude. The most rewarding feature of a good landing is the sound effects of the spoilers deploying, wheels touching down and the thrust reversers.
One of the most asked questions I get about new complex aircraft is "How is the performance?". I flew this aircraft on two different systems, a PC (3.4GHz Quad Core i7, 8GB RAM, GTX770 4GB VRAM) and a 4 year old Mac (2.8GHz Quad Core i7, 16GB RAM, 650M 1GB VRAM). I usually call these setups a moderate performance setup (PC) and a low end performance setup (Mac). Of course if you have a slamming high end machine, you can expect noticeably better performance than my PC setup. For the sake of comparison I will compare the performance to the Flight Factor 757 and using SkyMaxx Pro v3 as well as at an airport with custom scenery and 3D Mesh v3. The idea of the performance comparison is to give a "real world" comparison of actual performance you might get rather than a developers "testing machine" that may only have the essentials installed for testing/development. Let's take a look at the performance on the PC first.
Let me first start out by saying this aircraft requires some horsepower. There are over 16,000 pixels from front to back of the external model. On the Mac I had to turn my render settings way down (texture resolution to Normal and no HDR) to even attempt a flight and at those settings it was't close to visually enjoyable. Let's move right along to the PC setup. The render settings were the same as all the previous flights I had done recently in the FlyJSim 737 and Flight Factor 757.
I sat at the gate (KPHX freeware from The Org) in the MD-80 and started looking around the cockpit getting a respectable 30 frames per second, very close to the 32 I was getting in the 757 at the same location. SkyMaxx was drawing some scattered clouds at the time with shadows turned on and the draw distance set to half way. Once I powered up the aircraft, turned on the systems and lights my frame rate dropped to 24. This is borderline enjoyable and if there was an overcast layer the frame rate would probably drop noticeably further. Meanwhile in the 757 I was at 30 fps powered up. With that being said, the textures in the MD-80 are certainly nicer to look at. I really wanted to try to have some headroom in my performance so I could handle overcast better, extend the draw distance of clouds so I dropped the texture resolution to High. Changing this setting got me about to a stable 30 fps with the systems running. There was very little detail sacrifice in the cockpit to worry about the downgrading the texture resolution. The airport buildings weren't as pretty as I was used to but it was still an enjoyable experience. Of course at altitude the frame rate jumps even higher. To sum this up, the MD-80's high texture resolution and solid 3D modeling will chew up a lot of VRAM and CPU clock cycles. Yes I think this could be flyable on a machine with 2GB VRAM but I think if you want a good experience, make sure you have 4GB of VRAM. As far as CPUs, my 3.4GHz Quad Core i7 certainly worked but once again you would most likely want a 4.0GHz i7.
The Rotate Sim MD-80 comes with 10 highly detailed liveries from airlines around the globe. The list includes:
- Delta (Old and New)
- Scandinavian Airlines (SAS)
- Air Liberté
- German Wings
- British Island Airways (BIA)
How does all this stack up in the end? A stellar 3D model, incredible delivered liveries and a wonderful hand flying experience balances the scale from the performance requirements and system quirks. This aircraft is worth the current $59.95 at The Org Store however that is dependent on some hopefully soon to be released maintenance updates. In all fairness to the developers, they have been very active in the support forums listening and helping users. It seems like they are eager to add features and fix bugs quickly. Like most aircraft released for X-Plane from new/young developers it was released with missing features. If you are one of those sim nerds that demands absolute perfection from v1.0 releases, this aircraft isn't for you but if you enjoy an aircraft that flies well with a stick and rudder, looks beautiful and is fun, don't hesitate on purchasing a v1.0 release. When I sit back after a flight in the Rotate Sim MD-80, I feel satisfied that I was able to fly a fun aircraft without anything getting in the way. Yes, it would be nice to have a PROG page in the FMC, yes it would be nice to have more systems modeled, it would be great to have proper VNAV calculations and for some it would be nice to have TCAS. I believe the spirit of this aircraft was not to be a true study level sim like the guys at IXEG are creating but to make a premium aircraft that very closely resembles one of the most popular regional airliners ever made. There is work to be done without a doubt but you will see me flying this bird online regularly.
- 3D Cockpit Model - A
- External 3D Model - A
- FMS Integration - C
- Systems Simulation - B-
- Auto Pilot - B-
- Flight Model - A
- Computer Performance - C-
OVERALL GRADE: B-
Get more info at www.RotateSim.com