McDonnell Douglass MD-11
For FS2004 & FSX(Reviewed) Published by PMDG
Reviewed by Martin Wilby
September 2009


A complex airliner simulation for Flight Simulator 2004 and "X" developed by PMDG.

Precision Manuals Design Group brings us McDonnell Douglas’s finest tri-jet, continuing its proud tradition of providing the flight simulation enthusiast with high fidelity renditions of popular heavy airliners.

The three engine wide body airliner is an impressive site, both airborne and on the ground. With two engines mounted on under wing pylons and a third at the base of the vertical stabilizer the MD-11 is ideally suited for medium to long-range operations or hauling greater than 200,000 pounds of cargo around the world.

During the development phase, PMDG employed a highly skilled team of technical advisors from the aviation field. The development team had daily input from several sources, MD-11 captains, first officers, field technicians and training managers and in addition the expertise of engineers involved in the design and build of the aircraft at Douglas nearly two decades ago. An impressive group I’m sure you’ll agree!

Not content with that, PMDG validated each step of the development process in the training simulator to ensure that their rendition had been modelled correctly.

About The MD-11

McDonnell Douglass began the search for a DC-10 replacement way back in 1976. Unfortunately, after three DC-10 accidents in 1979 which engendered considerable media attention, the entire tri-jet program was seriously jeopardized. Doubts regarding the designs structural integrity persisted. At the same time, a downturn in the aviation industry resulted in all work on a DC-10 replacement being curtailed.

It was eleven years later before a DC-10 replacement finally became a reality and on January 10 1990 the MD-11 prototype was ceremoniously rolled out in preparation for its maiden flight.

The MD-11 is based on the DC-10, but with the addition of a stretched fuselage, greater wing span, the inclusion of winglets, refined airfoils on the wing and tail plane, new engines and increased use of composite materials. It also features an advanced digital cockpit decreasing the flight deck crew from the three required to operate the DC-10 to only two for the MD-11 by eliminating the need for a flight engineer.
The MD-11 features six interchangeable CRT screens and in addition, sophisticated Honeywell VIA 2000 computers. The aircrafts ‘Advanced Common Flightdeck’ or ACF is also fitted to the Boeing 717. In addition, the MD-11 is equipped with an Electronic Instrument System, a dual Flight Management System, a Central Fault Display System, a Global Positioning System, and an automatic landing capability for bad-weather operations.

The performance of the MD-11 has been controversial; many operators were irritated by the aircrafts tendency to fall short of the figures promised by McDonnell Douglas. Despite accusations of underpowered engines and counter accusations of excessive weight the cause of the aircrafts performance limitations fell squarely on the wing. McDonnell Douglas attempted to cut costs by enhancing the DC-10’s wing design rather than designing a completely new structure for the MD-11.

In an attempt to address the performance issues, McDonnell Douglas (with the help of NASA) addressed the aircrafts drag. They reduced the size of the horizontal stabilizer and installed fuel tanks near the tail in order to adjust the centre of gravity rearward.

The adverse effect of these modifications was a reduction in stability, so the decision was made to incorporate a sophisticated Longitudinal Stability Augmentation System (LSAS), designed to enhance longitudinal stability and also provide pitch altitude hold, pitch attitude limiting, pitch rate damping, auto pitch trim, speed protection, and stall protection.

The MD-11 was manufactured in five variants - MD-11, MD-11C, MD-11CF, MD-11ER, and MD-11F. The passenger version has a range of 6,840 NM and the freighter a range of 7,240 NM.

PMDG Documentation
As we’ve come to expect from PMDG a wealth of documentation is generously provided. A Flight Crew Operating Manual, an FMS Guide, Load Manger, Normal Checklists, Quick reference Handbook, Systems Manual and a 35 page Tutorial, are all available in the PDF format on your hard drive after installation. In addition, documentation, service packs and additional liveries are available on the developer’s web site.

Let’s face it, when you’re dealing with 1500 pages of information, plus a 35 page tutorial, it’s never going to be quick to unearth the relevant information. However, the manuals are arranged as logically as possible and provide an extensive resource for the serious simmer.

As you delve into the PDF’s it quickly becomes apparent that much of the information is direct from the authentic Boeing and McDonnell Douglas MD-11 documentation. That fact alone should be enough to put a smile on the hard core flight simulator enthusiast’s face.

Liveries and Variants.
Just four aircraft are available after installation, passenger and cargo versions with a choice of two engine variants, namely the Pratt and Whitney 400 series or the General Electric CF6-80C series.

Only the PMDG liveries are provided, but don’t panic, a multitude of high quality additional liveries are available ‘free of charge’ on the developer’s web Site. A wise decision in my opinion, users are then free to download the liveries they desire rather than filling their hard drives with those they don’t.

Exterior Modelling
It has to be said, I have never been one to spend an inordinate amount of time admiring an add-ons exterior. Admiring each rivet and excitedly jumping for joy when I find a patch of engine exhaust soot smeared upon the fuselage is not my thing. However, I do expect a certain degree of quality and the PMDG MD-11, 3DS Max model, does not disappoint in that respect. The MD-11 exterior is accurately modeled and the freight variant is complete with animated main deck cargo door.
Exterior shots!

Realistic gear, flap, spoiler and slat movement is animated and in addition opening passenger and cargo doors, wings that flex in response to aerodynamic loads, and an Air Driven Generator (ADG).

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Flap detail - Click to enlarge image
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Flap detail - Click to enlarge image

2D Cockpit
As evident from the accompanying screenshots, there is a wealth of 2D panels available. No longer are the panel options controlled by the traditional PMDG panel switching device, instead, PMDG have developed a new ‘less visually distracting method’ of panel control. PMDG claim that this new panel control device offers finer control of 2D panel options.

The new system is based around click spots, strategically located around the panel. As the user hovers over the click spots with the mouse cursor, the symbol changes to inform the user which options are available.  In practice, I found this method a little strange at first, but it quickly became instinctive.

The 2D panel is where I spend most of my time, so thankfully the panel quality is reasonably good at moderate screen resolutions, although those using low resolutions may find the panel lettering somewhat blurry. I wouldn’t regard the 2D panels as the best I’ve encountered, but they are generally acceptable.

The trend with many developers seems to be toward the virtual cockpit only option and PMDG with their latest offering [the J41 Turboprop] have gone down that route. This is a mistake in my view as there are a multitude of flight simulator enthusiasts that prefer the 2D option. I sincerely hope that future products from the developer include the 2D panel option.

2D panel shots - Click on image to enlarge
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Virtual Cockpit
The virtual cockpit is on a par with other developer’s offerings, I wouldn’t proclaim it to be the best, but it is acceptable in terms of quality and I am confident that it will satisfy most users.

3D panel shots - Click on image to enlarge
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Flight Dynamics/Flying the PMDG MD-11
Let’s make one thing abundantly clear; this is not a ‘jump in and go’ simulation for the casual simmer. The PMDG MD-11 is a highly sophisticated rendition of a complex jet airliner. Therefore, to appreciate the product at its best, a certain degree of study is required. The exhaustive and highly detailed manuals provide that resource, and you would be well advised to read the sections you deem relevant for your initial foray.

Personally, I have been involved in flight simulation for many years, since Sir Clive Sinclair astonished us with his offerings. However, despite having considerable experience with Boeing and Airbus systems, I still found it necessary to study the manuals. The McDonnell Douglass MD-11 is not at all like a Boeing or an Airbus; the systems are different, different enough to require a degree of study.

Autoflight: Once the McDonnell Douglas philosophy is understood in regard to how the pilot interacts with the systems, the speed protection systems understood, and the aircraft correctly configured, the PMDG MD-11 is relatively easy to manage in auto-flight mode. However, a different philosophy is apparent in regard to some controls. For example, a Boeing heading knob is simplistic, whereas the MD-11 version has many functions. This can be confusing at first, but PMDG have very sensibly included different mouse symbols to clarify the function.

The ‘autoflight’ button is a prime example, not only does it engage the autopilot, but it also serves as an autothrust arming button. The ‘autoflight’ button is pressed once prior to takeoff to arm the autothrust and a second time in flight to engage the autopilot. Both autopilot and autothrust are disengaged from instinctive disconnect buttons that the user would be advised to map to their keyboard or flight controller.

Vertical navigation: Referred to as PROF [profile], functions well, both in the climb and descent. Lateral navigation however wasn’t perfect, although it has to be said, I have yet to come across an add-on in FSX that is perfect in this respect. There was a tendency on occasion, even at slow speed for the aircraft to under turn to a degree.

A characteristic that will be immediately apparent when flying the MD-11 is the high angle of attack. This is true to life, a consequence of the manufacturer’s decision to modify the DC-10 wing rather than design a new structure. Pitch at 250 knots, clean, and moderate weight can quite easily be as high as six degrees, high enough to warrant slat deployment, or even flap deployment.

In regard to the later, PMDG have accurately modelled the aircrafts ‘dial a flap’ system a movable detent for flap settings. Flap positions can be selected by turning the relevant control wheel until the desired flap setting appears in the FLAP.TO.SEL window. Fifteen non linear divisions are displayed in the window; they represent divisions between 10 and 25 degrees of flap deflection.

Hand Flying: Thanks to the LSAS system, hand flying is a pleasant experience. However, it has to be understood that the longitudinal Stability Augmentation System must be operated with finesse. Excessive pitch inputs can have undesired effects. This is as true of the real aircraft as it is the simulation.

During testing, I did experience sudden pitch changes; however I would be reluctant to blame the simulation as I am still less than expert in regard to the aircrafts operation. This occurrence could well be related to one of the aircrafts many protection systems saving me from my self. I believe I would need more flight hours in the MD-11 before I could say definitively that this highly complex product was bug free or indeed highlight any perceived issues.

Flight Management Computer
The developer provides a 242 page manual for the Honeywell Flight Management Computer; the size of the manual should be testament enough to the depth of the FMC’s simulation.

A nice touch by the developer was to include a FS Shortcuts page, pushback, cabin and cargo door opening, ground connections and refueling facilities are available.

FMS shots - Click on image to enlarge
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Review System: Intel Core 2 Duo E6700 (overclocked to 3.3.) nVidia 7900GTX graphics card. 2GB DDR2.
Excellent! Or at least on my system the performance was excellent. Frame rate was consistently high. The developer is to be congratulated for performance tuning such a highly complex simulation so well. It has to be considered also that my system is hardly a high end system anymore.

The first word that springs to mind is superb! Very few add-ons impress me in this respect but the MD-11 does. From the glorious sound of those huge engines spooling up, to the air-con and wind noise in the cockpit, every click and whir is believable and adds tremendously to the immersion factor.

Load manager
As you can see, the Load manager is fairly self-explanatory and can be utilized with or without Flight Simulator X running.

I must admit, I have lost count of the number of simulated aircraft I have flown over the years. I’ve also lost count of the number of times I have excitedly installed a new title, only to find myself filled with dismay, quickly followed by an overwhelming urge to remove the offending item from my hard drive and if available, smash into tiny fragments any DVD or packaging available.

The MD-11 is NOT one of those products! The PMDG MD-11 is the antithesis of such a scenario! A well designed, exhaustively researched, and highly sophisticated addition to Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X. It may well be that after further experience with the MD-11, more time to assimilate the vast amount of training material supplied with the product, that one or two inaccuracies or bugs are manifest. As yet however, I’ve not stumbled upon anything I couldn’t put down to my inexperience, my unfamiliarity with the rather quirky design of the various systems.

This is one of the few Flight simulator add-ons that have taken me by surprise right from the first flight. For example, a broad smile crept across my face the instant I heard the aural alerts. For a split second there I thought I was on the bridge of Captain Kirk’s Enterprise, listening to the electronic voice of the Federation vessels computer. Gene Rodenberry’s wife supplied the voice of course for the original Star Trek series, somehow I doubt she did the same for the MD-11, but it damn well sounded like it.

In this reviewer’s opinion, if you happen to be a fan of complex airliner simulations, then the PMDG MD-11 is a ‘must have’ addition to Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X.

Positive Aspects of the product
 • A highly detailed simulation, within the confines of Microsoft Flight Simulator X featuring accurate modelling of systems and the ability to set multiple failures.
• Extensive documentation and reference material supplied.
• Fully functional Load manger.
• Accurate flight dynamics.
• Fully functional Flight management System featuring departures, arrivals, performance etc.
• Numerous airline specific options selectable
• Fully immersive sound.
• All five ground proximity alerts modelled in detail.
• Dial-a-flap modelled.

Negative Aspects of the product
• Lateral navigation could have been more accurate when following departures and arrivals. A tendency to fly beyond waypoints was evident to a degree.

• None that I could say definitively were bugs. However, I did on occasion experience blank panels when ending a flight and attempting to configure another.

Score/Rating 9/10 

/Martin Wilby

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