Review: Airbus X Extended by Aerosoft
Since years now the flightsim community asks for a detailed and realistic add-on simulating the planes from the A 320 family. Many developers like Feelthere with their Airbus Series, BlackBoxSim with Airbus Xtreme Prologue and also Aerosoft with the Airbus X tried their luck to create a (more or less) realistic simulation of the top-selling airplane by Airbus Industries. Despite all this well-meant trys, none of all add-ons had great success and provided a solid simulation of all aircraft systems. With “version 2.0″ of Aersoft´s Airbus X, the developers redid the add-on from scratch and went much more into system depth.
To help you with your decision whether to buy the new version of the old Airbus X and to deal with the question whether the suffix “Extended” really pays off, we had a detailed look at the Airbus X Extended for you.
After the great success of the Airbus A300 and A310, Airbus started to develop a single aisle airplane in the 1980´s, which should be a direct competitor to the Boeing 737 and the Douglas DC-9. The project started with the name SA (single aisle) 1, 2 and 3 and should encompass the 130- to 188-seat market. After long negotiations, the project was renamed in A320 and started in February 1981. Together with Delta Air Lines, Airbus worked out a 150-seat aircraft with a range of 1,860 nautical miles. After a postponement of almost three years, because of disputes regarding the countries which would be included in the final assembly and production, the A320-project officially started on 1 March 1984. Air France was the first customer and ordered 16 A320-100s and 34 A320-200s partially only as option.
The first A320 rolled out on 14 February 1987 and had its maiden flight 8 days later on 22 February. After a flight test program of 1,200 airborne hours on 530 flights, the A320 received its JAA certification about one year after its roll-out on 26 February 1988. One month later, the first airplane was delivered to Air France, followed by more than 5,340 planes of the whole family (A318/A319/A320/A321) until today.
Multiple elements of the A320 revolutionized the aircraft industry and continued in all following Airbus planes, even in the A380 and the currently developed A350. For the first time ever in the aircraft industry a Fly-by-Wire system (FBW) has been used. Fly-by-Wire is a special system to actuate the controls of an aircraft. The pilot´s control input thus is send to a flight control computer, which randomizes the digital control input to an electrical respectively a hydraulic output that then moves the controls of the aircraft. Airbus even amplified that with a so called Flight Envelope Protection, which blocks as critical graded control inputs and an Autotrim system that automatically keeps an aircraft at the preset pitch level from the pilot. Another technical innovation was the A320 cockpit; it includes 6 LCD displays and a so called sides-tick on both sides of the cockpit, both were complete novelties for the commercial aircraft industry.
After the great success of the standard-model A320 and a high demand by the airlines, Airbus also introduced a stretched respectively a shrunken variant of the A320. The A321, which is also included in the Aerosoft Airbus X Extended, has a slightly modified wing and a stretched cabin for about 6.9 meters (22 ft 9 in). The A319 and A318 variants are both shorter than the original model A320 and are not included in the add-on.
Another model of the A320 is the currently developed A320 NEO (New Engine Option). It is a direct competitive model to the Boeing 737MAX and will feature, as the name says, new engines (CFM International LEAP-X and Pratt & Whitney PW1100G) and multiple enhancements to the wing, mainly new winglets called “Sharklets”. Besides the A320 and A321, Aerosoft included the A320 Demonstrator, a modified A320 with Sharklets installed.
Purchase & Installation
The Airbus X Extended can be bought as download or box from Aerosoft or other major flight sim stores for 39.95€. After purchasing, the installer file, which is about 900 MB in size, is available for download. As usual with the Aerosoft installer, the installation is conducted fast and without any difficulty. New in the V 1.04 installer is that a computer restart is needed after installation. Note that owners of the previous model Airbus X will get a reduced upgrade price, please see the Airbus X Extended product page for more information.
After the installation, the Airbus X Extended files are separated in two locations in the “Simobjects” and the “Aerosoft” folder of FSX and make up about 1.5 GB all in all.
A very important point for complex add-ons like the Airbus X Extended is always a detailed documentation. Fortunately, very detailed handbooks, system guides and step-by-step tutorials in different languages like English, German, Spanish, and so on are included. With these PDF-documents, even Airbus-beginners can familiarize with the A320 systems very well.
After the installation of the Airbus X Extended (AXE), I start its first flight with me as proud owner at the gate and set it to the Cold-and-Dark state. As a dutiful pilot, I start my first flight with an outside check.
At once the conspicuous bump mapping, which could be already seen at the older version Airbus X, attracts my attention. That feature is nicely done and increases the realism to a very high level. Also small details like wires or dampers on the gear or antennas and arrestors on the wing and the body of the plane are very well modeled. The Airbus X Extended includes different liveries for all included versions. Each livery set is a realistic copy of its archetype in reality. However it doesn´t bear the comparison with HD liveries we know from developers like Carenado or MCPhat. Along with the day textures also the night textures are well done, even though the quality – alike the day textures – isn´t the best. Counting rivets thus isn´t possible… More liveries are available via download services like Avsim. Special wishes can be posted in the Aerosoft Airbus X Extended livery thread.
Another important point is the exterior lighting system of an airplane. Unfortunately that isn´t programmed very well, contrariwise multiple exterior lights are working not correctly or not at all. An example therefor is the Wing Light: Although the switch in the cockpit is set to on, the Wing Light just isn´t illuminating or does rather not exist. Furthermore, the Nose and Landing Lights are working, although all power sources including the batteries are off. These points should be fixed with a future patch as they aren´t condign for an add-on with the suffix “Extended”…
The animations itselves are very well done. All controls of the different A 320 models are moving smooth and realistically. But also the extracting gear or the wipers at the cockpit windows satisfy with very detailed and smooth actions and are wonderfully animated. Of course also the reverse thrust which differs in the type of engine used is realized.
We return from our outside check and go ahead with the check at our operator´s position, the cockpit.
The Airbus X Extended does not include any 2D panel, only the 3D Virtual Cockpit. This might be a negative point for die-hard 2D panel flyers and holds some visibility problems indeed. An example therefor is that the MCDU can´t be read quite well from the standard camera position, which simultaneously enables an unhindered view at the Main Instrument Panel and out of the cockpit. Because of the slightly blurry lettering in the MCDU display, it always has to be zoomed in to program the FMGC. Other developers like PMDG with their NGX solved this problem more successfully.
The residual cockpit of the AXE however looks very nice and features realistic textures and authentic appearing 3D modeled knobs and switches. All elements like the main instrument panel, pedestal, overhead and the thrust lever have been lifelike designed. Also the Airbus typical illuminated knobs are looking very close to the real example. That is a big plus factor for the Airbus X Extended!
Of course, the animations in a proper VC also shouldn´t be missed out and they aren´t. All clickable knobs and levers are animated and can be controlled with right and left click of one´s mouse. Additionally to the standard aircraft systems, Aerosoft also included some more moveable parts, like opening windows, a swinging out stand-by-compass or sunshades that can be (virtually) pulled down. All these animations can be easily controlled with one mouse click and enable an easy and fast access to all controls like flaps and slats and the aircraft systems on the overhead or the pedestal. Though, the spoiler control lever breaks ranks as it can only be very slowly moved. If one has to reduce speed quickly for example during a steep approach, the spoilers need 4-5 seconds until they are fully deployed. In flight that can become very annoying as the needed time for a full extension in a contingency could be too long. To arm the speed brakes at this juncture is much easier; a right click in the up position sets the lever to arm automatically.
Besides the already mentioned points, especially on the lightning effects in the VC has been done a good job. Reflections of the sun in different angles or the blue shimmering reflexes of the displays at the bottom of the glarewings create a very realistic feeling. Also the back- and flood lightning of the panels has been very well programmed; all letters at the overhead or the pedestal are readable and the remaining flood lights create very realistic light cones in a warm-yellow tone. However, the cockpit lightning isn´t dimmable and can only be switched on or off. In consideration of the system depth and price of the AXE, that doesn´t really matter though.
A specialty of the virtual cockpit of the Airbus X Extended is the view system. It enables the virtual pilot to switch between different preset cockpit and wing views of the plane and can be opened via a small arrow in the top right respectively the top left corner of the screen. This system is a very nice feature to switch between the different views and panels quickly. Customers who use TrackIR or Ezdok Camera however should disable this function via Options – Views in the right MCDU.
To be able to test and review an add-on properly, it is important to look for the idea or philosophy the developers are programming an add-on with. The evaluation of the Airbus X Extended systems is from there taken as a basis of the below named points.
In the case of the Airbus X Extended, Aerosoft has completely redone almost all codes of the old Airbus X and has thus created a completely new product, which is much more detailed in the system depth and reality. However, Aerosoft included no (!) failure model and therefor also no simulation of the emergency systems as for example the fire extinguish system or the Ram Air Turbine (RAT). Furthermore the simulation is covered to be controlled only from the pilot seat; the right side of the cockpit, especially the right MCDU, is mainly intended for simulation-regarded things like ground services, options for sound or special features like pause at TOD, etc. and activating the virtual checklist and the virtual co-pilot function. Every interested costumer should keep that in mind when planning to buy the AXE.System simulation
After our out- and inside checks, we go about starting our new A 320. Following the flows and checklists that have been delivered with the AXE installer, we start the batteries and select the automatically provided ground power. We go ahead with aligning the ADIRS´s and program the FMGS for our first flight.
The MCDU and the FMGS in general is very realistically done. It is possible to program all important points for the flight, including a detailed performance and flight plan management. Within the flight, it can be switched between the different flight phases. SID´s and STAR´s can also be programmed without problems and holdings and Direct-Tos are possible as well. For the approach phase, all important points like QNH, transition altitude and decision height have to be set and are considered for the approach speed. Indeed, the MCDU is one of the Airbus X Extended features I like best.
One disadvantage of the takeoff thrust and V-speed planning is that the calculated speeds for takeoff (V1, Vr, V2) don´t match with calculations from external programs like TOPCAT and seem to be not correctly computed. This bug is acquainted with the developers and will be considered in one of the next patches.
Another important point of each modern airliner is the autoflight system. In the A 320 family this is done by the two FACs (Flight Augmentation Computers) which can be controlled via the FCU (Flight Control Unit) in the center glareshield. The FCU in the virtual cockpit is easily accessible and operable with right and left clicks with the mouse. The autopilot and autothrust are quite accurate and follow the predefined route very accurately. Also more complex actions like a CAT3 autoland with both autopilots are very well realized. Unfortunately the flight director in manual flight isn´t this realistically done. When for example selecting another altitude in the FCU when following the flight plan manually, the flight director doesn´t show a pitch change that should be done to descent or climb. It just keeps the same pitch and heading command as before the change of the altitude in the FCU. That state doesn´t change until activating the autopilot. When doing that, the plane starts to descent immediately whereat the flight director seems to follow the autopilot, not contrariwise as it should be…
Additionally there is a problem with the drawing of the route in the ND in some cases. Thereby, the route can have a “hole” in the monitored track or is even completely missing as it happened to me when programming a new approach after a go around. These points can be very disturbing in the respective flight phases and need to be fixed by the developers for an error free flying pleasure.
Besides the simulation of all navigation systems of a plane, of course also systems for the electrical supply or hydraulic pressure have a great importance. In the most cases, these are realized quite well in the AXE and serve their correct purpose. The ADIRS, or the electrical and hydraulic supply can be controlled and even systems like the PTU, the Power Transfer Unit that transfers the hydraulic pressure between the three different hydraulic systems when only one engine supplies that is simulated. On closer inspection, some negative points attract attention however. One fact, I already mentioned above is that the landing, runway turn off and nose lights can be switched on without any electrical power from the batteries, the APU or ground power. Another point is that the Flaps and Slats can be extracted with only the batteries switched to on and turned off electrical pumps. These points don´t bother in the normal use following all normal flows and checklists, but are another unrealistic element though that should be relatively easy to solve.
Virtual checklist & co-pilot
An optional feature that is included in the Airbus X Extended is the virtual checklist respectively virtual co-pilot function. It can be activated via the “Options” menu in the right MCDU. The virtual checklist is a simulated First Officer who reads the checklist for all flight phases. When the respective action has been executed by one, the (virtual) captain answers with the necessary validation.
The virtual co-pilot is an additional feature for the described virtual checklist. After activating it, the (female) co-pilot reads the checklists and over and above executes the tasks that a real FO would also do in reality. This can be very helpful, especially while approach and landing and is in the first instance more realistic than the handling of an airliner by only one person.
Both, the virtual checklist and the virtual co-pilot are very nice features of the AXE and enhance the reality to a higher level definitely. An option which has to be bought as “add-on for the add-on” like the software by FS2Crew for some add-on planes is already included in the AXE pack. A big plus for the Airbus X Extended!
As described above, the Airbus A 320 was the first airplane by Airbus that was equipped with a Fly-By-Wire (FBW) control system. That means, that all control inputs done by the pilots are evaluated by the F/CTL computer and – if the input does not lead to a dangerous flight attitude – are then being relayed to the correspondent control surface. The flight control surfaces so are electrically controlled and hydraulically activated. Additionally a so called Autotrim system is included, which keeps the lateral and horizontal attitude automatically after setting it with the sidestick. Furthermore no upward pitch movement is needed when flying a curve; the Autotrim system balances that automatically.
The realization of the FBW and Autotrim function in the Airbus X Extended is relatively well simulated and works in many flight phases. Excessive inputs that for example lead to a stall or overspeed situation are correctly solved with countersteering of the system. Also the so called Ground Mode in final approach that enables more sensible control inputs to the control surfaces is simulated. The Autotrim system however disappoints in one point. Although the attitude set by the pilot is hold and doesn´t require trim, this system has a problem with the balancing of the pitch when flying a curve. To keep the vertical speed, one has to control the pitch manually.
A nice tool that is included in the Airbus X Extended Pack is the “AirbusX-Fuel Planner”. With this program, one can set the fuel, passenger and freight weight of the plane or calculate the fuel which is needed for a defined trip distance and the resulting ZFW. Thereby, all important factors like the Taxi- and APU time or wind speed are considered for computing. A small negative aspect however is that the calculated Zero Fuel Weight or the Block Fuel isn´t transferred to the MCDU automatically or can be select with an LSK as for example known from add-on planes like the PMDG NGX, but has to be inserted manually. However, the Fuel Manager is another helpful feature that is already included in the AXE download and fulfills similar tasks as external programs the TOPCAT weight and balance tool do.
RAAS and Flight Recorder
Besides the Fuel Manager, the Airbus X Extended includes another two systems that raise the reality to a higher level. The first one is the so called Runway Awareness and Advisory System (RAAS) that is provided by FS2Crew. As the name says, this system supports the pilots with callouts in different situations like a misleadingly take-off on the taxiway, a too long landing, too high speed in approach, etc. The locked version of the FS2Crew RAAS Professional program is installed after the main installer of the AXE and can be used with this plane only. It can be controlled via the “Add-Ons – RAAS Professional” menu in the FSX window and is preset to the Airbus standard configuration, which means that it hasn´t to be belatedly configured.
During all my tests the RAAS system worked very well and without big problems. In some cases the registration whether the airplane stands on a run- or taxiway was wrong; this is a problem of the FS2Crew RAAS system however.
The second system that is included in the Airbus X Extended pack is a custom programed flight recorder tool. It is similar to the real aircrafts Quick Access (Data) Recorder and records important flight parameters from the moment the plane is powered up to its shut-down. It does not have the function of the real Flight Data Recorder (“Black Box”) however. After activating the system in the right MCDU, the Flight Recorder records all important flight parameters like Altitude, Speed, controls, gear, etc. To record especial important flight phases, a button on the right site of the pedestal is included which sets the current flight record to a “DFDR event”. This function is used to “bookmark” a flight record for example when having a problem with the simulation or aircraft systems.
To read out your flight records of a flight, the “AS Recorder Manager” is used. It shows the time and date of all flights already completed, which can be opened with a double click for further information. As the developers from Aerosoft stated, the Flight Recorder system might also be implemented in other Aerosoft planes in the future.
Of course a detailed aircraft add-on does not redound to a realistic simulation when the flight simulator is only showing a slide show instead of smooth 20-25 frames per second at least. In this point the Aerosoft Airbus X Extended comes of very well as it had a very stable frame rate that did never go below 22-24 FPS during my tests (see my computer specs at the end of this article). Two examples are the Mega Airport London Heathrow (EGLL) by Aerosoft with high traffic density and REX Essential Plus (Real Environment Xtreme) textures, where my frames were at 25 FPS in average, on airports like Mykonos by 29Palms (see our review) I even received around 50-60 frames per second. Of course the Airbus X Extended isn´t the most complex aircraft add-on on the market, but this really good frame rates are a big plus and earn praise for the developers!
Another Airbus for FSX again – but what answers the new version of the old Airbus X with the auspicious suffix “Extended”? Quite much in my opinion, and to go to such lengths the Airbus X Extended is the best or rather most consequent realized Airbus available on the market yet. The system philosophy behind it is strict and doesn´t raise the bar too high: No simulation of any abnormal or respectively emergency systems – that means that even systems that might be “normal” for some simmers like the Fire Extinguish system or the RAT (Ram Air Turbine) aren´t simulated consequently. Every user should evaluate this fact for himself, in my opinion this is better than an incomplete or even incorrect simulation of “all” systems however. And most notably you would probably never use these systems in a normal leisure-time flight.
Although the Airbus X Extended is by far not perfect and has smaller or bigger problems in its flight computer or the aircraft systems themselves in the current state (V 1.04), I can really suggest the purchase of this plane to every airliner pilot and IFR lover as it is the most consequent realized and maybe also the best Airbus A 320 simulation on the market yet.System Specs:
- Processor: Intel I5 @4.2 GHz
- Graphics Card: nVidia GTX 570
- RAM: 8 GB
- Storage: 120GB SSD