MH Reviews
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Airbus A320neo
For X-Plane 10 Developed by JARDesign Group
Reviewed by Jessica Bannister-Pearce
October 2014

Introduction

The Airbus A320 still feels like a 'Johnny come lately' when it comes to small passenger jets. Boeing's 737 arrived in the 1960s whilst the A320 was a child of the 1980s. Though the Boeing baby is the most popular single aisle aircraft ever sold, you would be hard pressed to find many 737 operators in Europe these days. The Airbus A320 has fought from nothing to be the 'go to' short range passenger jet in many parts of the world. The 737 may have the age, but the A320 has the brains.

Interestingly though, the A320 is underserved when it comes to flight sims. There is just one really good A320 available for FSX, with a PMDG level version still under development. Much of this has to do with the lack of help from Airbus themselves. Unlike Boeing, Airbus is not that keen to spill the beans on how the complex computer systems that make the A320 all work. Instead, developers have to rely on airlines and pilots to work out what makes the A320 tick. For X-Plane, things are a bit different. There are at least three A320s available, all offering various versions. JARDesign though, are the only ones to offer the next generation of A320, the A320neo (or New Engine Option), even though the prototype has just left the factory. Is it any good though?

What You Get

The JARDesign Airbus A320neo is available direct from JARDesign as a 'download only' product. The current price for the download is US$59.00 (not including taxes, as applicable) or the equivalent on currency cross rates. The A320neo comes as a single zip file and is placed in your 'Aircraft' folder in the X-Plane directory. That's it. I really love how easy it is installing anything into X-Plane. On first start up, you will be prompted to enter your serial number, which you will receive in the purchase confirmation email, and you are done. The aircraft comes with just one livery but there are plenty of free liveries available from the JARDesign web site and more available at x-plane.org

First Impressions

Loading into the cockpit, my first thought was, "mmm, nice". There is not a lot of detail, but that is because the Airbus cockpit is rather clean and sterile in real life. The greys and blues are very calming. Standing out immediately is the inclusion of the Controller Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC) panel on the centre MIP, just above the FMGS (or FMC for Boeing drivers). This little panel is available in real life as a substitute for radio communications, allowing pilots to ask for and receive clearances from ATC without ever talking to each other. At the minute neither VATSIM or IVAO offer CPDLC transmission, but it could be coming in the future. Instead, once your route is loaded in, you can use the panel to see the weather at your departure and arrival airports. It is a great touch and it sets the bar somewhat high for the rest of the aircraft.


Cockpit textures are exceptional


The centre console is rather nice to look at as well


The view of the overhead


The CPDLC and terrain displays look stunning and add yet more depth


Default cockpit view is a little off


It can be set to the right position very easily though

Leaving the cockpit for the moment, I turn to the cabin. Behind the cockpit door there is a great passenger cabin to view. To be honest, I do not really care about such features normally, but this is a nice rendition and allows me to set a few cameras for over the wing shots. So, it is not all bad.


Detail abounds


Even the seats feature safety cards and seat row numbering


The cabin view from First Class

Outside, the external model is pretty nice, and the new engines really look large compared to the old CFM56 models. Textures are good and the modelling is really rather impressive. Even the cargo holds are modelled. Anyone who thinks X-Plane means lower quality should think again.


The external model is excellent


Pre-flight settings are very nice


Texture wise, this aircraft is way up there


The winglets can be switched off in the sim

Getting Running

The Airbus is not unfamiliar to me, so getting to grips with the A320neo is not difficult. However, the A320neo is more than just an aircraft add-on. To your left you will notice a small green circle with an FPS reading above it. If the figure drops below 30, the circle turns red. Clicking on the circle though, brings up a rather cryptic looking set of options. These are the start of something a bit special. The options include opening and closing the various doors and cargo holds and calling for a push back tug. You can call the tug, steer it and tell it to 'sod off' when you are done. It is a nice feature and one that X-Plane needs.

Next is another great feature, Checklist. Clicking the before start checklist brings the virtual First Officer to life, I call him Mike. He is a bit fussy and not at all laid back like most Americans. Instead, if you have not done something on that checklist, he will tell you in no uncertain terms that "It is not ok, Sir!". He will also tell you what it is you have forgotten, so Mike is good like that. Once you have completed a checklist, the blue box surrounding the selection box turns green and you can use the arrow icons to move to the next checklist. Like Aerosoft's checklist option, it is a great added feature and it is free.

Another option brings up various ground options. You can call stairs and the catering truck. It is very much like AES or GSX for FSX, but free. You also set the aircraft load and fuel here. It is a fairly neat solution where you choose the load option to add passengers and cargo via a nice popup menu. The fuel works the same way with the option to add or remove fuel depending on the current load.


The ground vehicles are a cracking addition to the A320neo

Finally, written in red below all the options, is the word 'Park'. Click this to remove the wheel chocks. It will turn green when your all clear.

Engines Running

Once you have got the checklists done, route filled in, and the IRS aligned (all that happens in real time), it is time to pushback and get the engines running. Like many of the Airbus systems, this is heavily automated. Simply turn the engine mode switch to ignition and open the Engine 2 fuel cock. All the bleed valves adjust automatically and the engine fires up with no fuss. Do the same for Engine 1 and within two minutes, you are ready. The thing I noticed most with the JARDesign A320neo is the sound. X-Plane's sound system is not great, but JARDesign seem to have bypassed it via a plugin and all I can say is, "Wow". These are some of the best A320 sounds available. For best results, listen to it on 5.1 channel speakers for full effect.

I set the flaps, auto brake, arm the spoilers, and switch the passenger signs on so I can perform the usual Airbus 'Take-off Config' check. All is good, so I release the brakes. The larger engines certainly make a difference, for with a light load and the throttles at idle, the A320neo begins to roll. Power is everything.

As I begin to taxi, I run the 'Before Take-off' checklist, and Mike, my chatty First Officer barks the now familiar "It is not OK!" at me as I forget the odd thing here and there. I find the tiller setting to be a little fierce, with just the slightest touch needed to turn the aircraft. I may dial in a little null zone to stop me turning the wheels 90° without turning my joystick to fill deflection. As a nice touch, there is the inclusion of a 'Follow Me' vehicle. You need to tell it your taxi route (set it via the FM icon on the ground menu) and he will happily take you out to the runway, or to your assigned gate.


The follow me car is a great touch and adds depth to an already detailed aircraft

With the checks complete, I enter the runway and get set for take-off. Advancing the throttles, two things happen, the A320neo accelerates quickly and, for some reason, the 'V Speeds' I set, disappear from my speed tape. It is annoying as Mike read the speeds back to me prior to take-off. So, remembering roughly what they were, I rotate and hope the 'neo' lifts off. She does. The climb out is a bit frightening as the nose seems to want to dip down instead of a steady climb. Engaging the autopilot does not help and the aircraft seems more determined to plant itself into the ground. I check the autopilot and double check the altitude setting. Despite displaying the 'managed mode' dot, the altitude function is not set, so I settle for the 'Selected Climb' mode, just to start getting the nose up. It works and the aircraft settles into the routine flight.

Away from the perils of airline flying, I take a separate flight to test out the much vaulted Airbus safety systems. First up, I throw her into some tight turns. As expected, she stops at the limit, preventing me from going hard over. Next, I pull the nose up and the throttles back. Again, the safety features kick in and the engines hit full thrust whilst the nose holds position. Hand flying the A320neo is a nice experience and the aircraft feels heavy.

With our descent started and Mike whinging in his seat, I get set up for the approach. Here the CPDLC comes in handy, pulling the weather METAR from my destination. I elect to fly a manual approach, and boy, is it something. At slow speeds, the 'bus' is sweet and lumbering, without ever feeling too unresponsive. Over the threshold, and I flair just nicely to settle her onto the runway.

Nice Touches

There are several nice touches to this aircraft that really aid the immersion factor. Besides Mike, the cabin crew add a great number of announcements to your day, all triggered by 'in sim' actions. Switch on the seat belt signs and the cabin crew will let the passengers know. Then there is the cabin heating. Turn the dials up and you will get told it is too hot, turn them down, you will get told it is too cold. Even the cockpit can be adjusted, just to annoy Mike.

Away from Mike and the cabin crew, there are other great touches, like raindrops on the VC windows. Sadly, the wipers do not clear them away, but it is really great to see the rain bead and trickle down the glass.

My favourite feature though, is a rather hidden one. If you are familiar with EZDok for FSX, you will know how easy it makes getting around the cockpit, once your views are all set up that is. X-Plane however, has a camera system already built in that works more or less the same and is a doddle to set up. JARDesign have set the camera positions for you, so all you need to do is use your keyboard's numeric keypad to easily move around the cockpit. It is quick and simple. Add to this the ground vehicles and checklists, and there is a lot of added value to this aircraft.

Bugs

As good as this aircraft is to look at and fly, there are a few annoying bugs that really let the side down. The biggest one for me happens at night. I flew into Salzburg in the evening, and as the sun set, my main displays slowly began to darken. By the time night fell, I had no displays at all, despite turning them up and checking the lighting in the cockpit. It is a real shame, as flying at night is something X-Plane excels at. The other big problem for me is the FMGS or autopilot. Flying in 'managed mode' should be fairly simple, and it is, as long as you do not touch anything. If you adjust the speed or heading controls, even just clicking on them to set 'managed mode' prior to take-off, it will not work. Instead, the aircraft will just ignore the route and sulk. I will admit, coming from a detailed Airbus add-on in FSX, I found this to be a huge surprise. All you can do is set your altitude and leave it at that.

Setting a SID first in your flight plan also caused problems, wherein the aircraft would not navigate at all, due to the first selected waypoint being the runway. Instead, you have to set your route first, then add the SID for it to function properly.

There are other bugs too. The MCDU is a bit hit and miss in places. Try as I might, on one flight I could not get it to add a 'direct to' waypoint to a flight plan. Instead, I had to type the name of the waypoint in and enter it on the main flight plan page, rather than using the correct 'next waypoint' entry point.

'Click spots' are also a bit difficult to get to, requiring precise positioning to achieve what you want. It is not helped by the mouse making a clicking sound, no matter where you are. I really do not like the way the FMGS is set either. To activate 'Managed Mode', you need to see a flat palm cursor to push the button, whilst 'Selected Mode' is activated using a pointing finger cursor to pull the knob towards you. I constantly got these confused. An arrow pointing towards the console and one pointing away would be a better choice.

My favourite bug though, had to be at Salzburg. I was taxing out to the runway, the aircraft went over a bump, slowly I might add, and thought it had landed and promptly deleted all the route and take-off data, all to the sound of applause from the cabin - normally a nice touch, but not on that flight!


Instrument lighting problem

Requirements

The JARDesign A320neo is for X-Plane 10.30 and later. Other specified technical requirements are as follows:
    ● Windows or OS X (32 or 64 bit); and
    ● Pentium V, 3GHz equivalent or higher, 8GB RAM, 1GB graphics card.

Conclusion

Creating an A320 for any sim is no easy thing. Given the amount of backwards engineering required to workout systems, I can only imagine most A320 developers are bald from pulling their hair out. This particular A320 must have left JARDesign really 'follicly challenged'. The bugs are numerous, and for certain aspects of the flight, they really ruin things.

Bugs aside though, you realise there is a real quality behind this aircraft. The cockpit textures are some of the best I have ever seen in any sim, and the nice touches, such as Mike, and the cabin crew, add a real immersive feel to the whole thing. The mountains of free liveries are a huge bonus and the ground vehicles which service your aircraft are really something.

All in all, this has been one of the most challenging aircraft I have ever flown. It is far too easy to make mistakes and stuff your flight up. Some of that is down to Airbus, but some of that is down to poor planning. For example, taking a screenshot ('Shift + Space') will drop the Ram Air Turbine without you realising it. Once it is down, it cuts the engine generators and the aircraft slowly depressurizes. There is no manual which really explains this, just a few tutorials on the web site which are short on detail and depth. You can download the four part FCOM, but at a few thousand pages, you would be hard pressed to make a dent on all the information it contains.

It would be easy to get caught up in the bugs, but JARDesign are constantly working on improving the aircraft. When it was first released, it was much worse than it is now. JARDesign have chipped away at it to produce a rough diamond of an aircraft. Pretty in places, uncut in others, but somehow, it's on the verge of being a real gem.


Liveries are free and plentiful

Verdict

A great rendition of an A320neo, let down by a silly bugs. However, it is a fantastic aircraft to fly and something JARDesign Group and X-Plane can be proud of.

Pros:
Quality crafted exterior and interior.
Realistic flight modelling.

Cons:
Anomalies and bugs, as identified.

Scores:
   ● External Model: 10/10
   ● Internal Model: 8.5/10
   ● Sounds: 10/10
   ● Flight Characteristics (does it fly by the numbers): 8.0/10
   ● Flight Dynamics (does it feel like what it looks like): 9.0/10
   ● Documentation: 6.0/10
   ● Value for Money: 9.0/10

The JARDesign Airbus A320neo is awarded an overall Mutley’s Hangar score of 8.6/10,
with a "Highly Recommended" and a Mutley's Hangar Silver Award.


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