FDC FlightDeck Companion

Since its inception, Microsoft’s Flight Simulator was deemed by many to be a fdclittle too destitute in its approach as a stand slone Simulator. From the very first MSFS released right up to FS2000, pilots flew alone. No traffic. No ATC. No assistance. As a result many third party companies developed addons to satisfy the community, some being very successful. The latest FS2002 addresses this issue straight from the developers; Air Traffic Control and AI aircraft. Yet now, there is a greater strain than ever before on the average simmer who must complete not only checklists, aircraft preparation, flight plans and fly the plane, but also communicate with ATC. I have noticed that this ever increasing burden will turn many a simmer off flying a flight in a short space of time. The duty of checklists is usually given to the PNF, that is the pilot not flying, in our case, the First Officer. This helping hand in the cockpit (and more) is what Flight Deck Companion is all about.

Im sure most of you know Dave March. If you don’t you probably only began flight simming yesterday. Dave released a freeware program called S-Combo origionally for Pro Flight 2000, adding cabin announcements, ATC chatter and airport ambience sounds to PF2000 controlled flights. He soon realised its potential and re-released the program as a stand alone, compatible with most Simulators, which added the same functionality and more. The program became a huge success, and as such, he decided form his own company, Oncourse Software, and produce a full-scale, professional version, released as a commercial product. The CD case holds the slogan “Taking you to a new flight-level of realism” – and boy does it take you there.

FDC is a stand alone aplication which connects to FS(98, 2000 and 2002) and plays audio checklists for the aircraft you’re flying, aswell as cabin announcements, airport ambience, ATC (if you have ATC files to play) and a virtual co-pilot to work the flaps and gear. I will explain some of its main functions and option selection pages

The case itself is DVD style, as so many developers are using and comes packaged with a 10 page introduction booklet, introducing you to the intricacies of the program through a flight around London’s Luton airport in the Cessna 182RG; a peculiar aircraft to fly since you’ll be hearing cabin announcements throughout.

The FDC connection page shows not only the status of its connection to FS, but contains links to the options page, volume page, help page and flight logging page. FDC’s Options section however, reveals the true colours of this product. Inside, you find 15 different sub-sections containing options as to what voice sets to choose, what aircraft to select, a performance editor and checklist editor to name a few. What startled me about FDC is its easy of use. Nearly all the default FS2002 aircraft have been created with custom checklist and performance files and it’s simply a matter of choosing which one you wish to fly, and the appropriate checklist, configure some options (such as what altitude you wish the takeoff checklists to begin) and off you go. If you don’t fly the default aircraft you can either create your own checklist and performance file or just enter the aircraft’s V speeds and flaps settings.

There are also Cabin Crew announcements available, with 5 voice sets. These are UK crew, US crew, Spanish Crew, Spanish crew speaking spanish then english, and finally an english speaking spanish crew. You can choose what announcements to play and when and if they are all auto or if you wish to start them. You can choose when to play airport ambience sounds, which are the sounds of other aircraft around you, when to begin logging flight time and even when you want to play your own user files.

There are also 15 different voice sets to choose from for your Captain, First Officer and Engineer if you have one. The majority are American accents, although there are a couple of British accents and two female voices there.

The Checklist Editor, as the name implies, allows you to edit existing checklists or create your own form scratch. This is a lengthy process, which contains 3 stages, and requires you to select from different checklist options from pre-start checklists to parking checks, then arrange them in order and finally input what reply the captain is to give the PNF, such as “check” or “on”. Unfortunately the editor is slightly flawed, as a certain checklist item may not be available for, say, your taxi checks, but is available for your takeoff checks – and you cannot place it in your taxi checks section. Oncourse Software are aware of this problem, and may fix it in a patch. There are also a few items in the checklists which are said incorrectly, one such being “Engine and APJ fire switches” which should read correctly “Engine and APU fire switches”. This may slightly displease the purists among you, but consider this: There are literally thousands of items altogether to choose from to create your checklist, each with its own wav file – as a matter of fact, I counted 1,085 wav files in each voice folder – very impressive to say the least.

Another problem, or really annoyance, I should mention is that every week or so (from what I’ve seen), FDC asks for the CD to be inserted into the CD drive to authenticate the software, which is supposedly to deter Piracy. Nothing major, yet you would think that having the CD is proof enough.

The performance editor is more complex, but essentially it allows you to create a file which FDC will utilise to determin V speeds and flap calls for the aircraft. I won’t go into the intricate details, but you must know the total weight of your aeroplane and speeds at which the flaps must retract and extend. This, I thought, is a little too cumbersome for the casual Flight simmer, who is better off just entering the V speeds.

In Flight Simulator, the checklists are started with the Crtl+Space keys, and you are treated to a realistic departure briefing from the captain, informing the First Officer what they will do in the event of an emergency on takeoff. Some checklist items are interactive, meaning if you have not set them at the correct time, the captain will say something like “Ohh, how did I miss that?!”. The Cabin announcements are begun with the Ctrl-Shift-A keys and start with a gate briefing for the passengers; the following ones are automatic, based on the flight phase. The First Officer will even set the flaps, raise the flaps and work the gear for you, again based on flight phase.

Aswell as the options described above, there is a GPWS facility, a joystick/yoke button configuration utility, and a black box recorder and flight log.

The overall atmosphere created by the announcements, the Captain and First Officer, and the airport ambience is amazing – the sense of immersion in the simulator really gives you the impression that you are on a real flight deck, working with the crew as a team. It certainly removes the certain sense of lonelyness on flights. Yet there is still one thing I believe should have been included in FDC – cabin sounds. It would, you have to admit, be nice to hear some passengers chatting in the background/moving around etc. for those long cruise sections with nothing to do but monitor the instruments.

Considering the quality of the GUI with FDC and the massive amount of work carried into the project, it really is a fantastic addon. Despite its minor flaws, FDC is just what flight simmers have been craving for and is a leap forward in persuit of that continually elusive ‘realism’ factor. My hat’s off to Dave and his team, this is a superb piece of work. If you have looked and still feel you are not craving for it, then you haven’t looked hard enough.

Thanks to Dave March of Oncourse Software for his friendly support.

Required Specification:

Any system running Flight Simulator (98*, 200, 2002)

Minimum 75MB of HD space, 377Mb for full installation

*Interactive checklist items do not function with FS98

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