First released in late December of 2015, the Rotatesim MD 80 was initially met with harsh criticism for it’s many bugs and missing features. The popular Youtuber Frooglesim made a video discussing the many flaws, as his friend (a captain on the MD 80 with 8,000hrs) tried desperately to get the plane to operate as intended. Froogle was even scared to upload the video for the amount of hate he feared it would get. I advised him to disable comments, and he agreed. So, not exactly a picturesque launch.
However, two major patches have been released since launch, which have improved upon functionality, as well as fix a metric ton of bugs since launch. Has this airplane been fixed to the point where it is worth the $60 asking price usually associated with very high quality addons? Lets find out…
The McDonnell Douglas MD 80 was developed in the 1970s amidst demand for higher capacity airplanes that could fit into tighter spaces. McDonnell Douglas decided to stretch their most popular airframe in the DC-9 to make the MD 80. The MD 80 was designed to carry 130 – 172 passengers on medium length routes, utilizing a 5 abreast seating configuration.
The MD 80 also made use of the much quieter and efficient JtD8-200 engines by Pratt & Whitney. This allowed the airplane to emit less noise, something that citizens living near airports certainly appreciated.
The MD 80 also came with very advanced avionics for it’s time. LNAV, VNAV, Autoland, and a myriad of other features came as standard with the airplane. This has kept the MD 80 relevant in the fleets of popular US carriers, like American Airlines and Delta Airlines, even in the present economy. On the flip side of the advanced avionics, the MD 80 boasted controls using hydraulics as well as wire, which made the airplane’s controls completely independent of any computers. The airplane can even be flown with the battery off, something I find truly astounding in the age of Airbus and computer nannying.
The Overhead panel may, at first, appear to be a complete and utter mess. Knobs have a hodge-podge appearance, and they seem to have been grouped together by no understandable logic. However, this is all intentional, as the real airplane was designed to look almost exactly like this. As an MD 80 pilot explained to me, having a lot of unique knobs helps in identifying what is what in a hurry, which is very useful for safety precautions. I was told that although the layout is counter-intuitive, it grows on you.
I had to agree. Although this at first appeared to just be poor cockpit design, you soon realize that it is a collection of ingenious ideas, all mashed together without much thought. For example, the engine start procedure makes a lot of sense: Enable an ignition system, turn on one of the engines via a switch. However, things got a little confusing once I found out that there was also a similar ignition system just for the APU. Both systems on their own work great, but collectively, they can be very confusing.
The main panel has many of the same issues that the overhead panel had. Every little piece of information has a display for it, and almost nothing shares a display with anything else. For example, the engines take up a huge display, though admittedly said display also houses flap configuration (a rare exception to the one dial or screen per piece of information rule.) All of your major flight information is there on displays /gauges, but it all looks a bit like a mid-range Cessna.
However, once again, this is not an issue with the developer. This is purely how the airplane was designed. When we look purely at what the developer has made, we see that everything is in crisp, sharp detail. Every little nook and cranny has been artfully crafted, and the result is that this is the prettiest cockpit in X-Plane. No question. This plane is pure eye candy to look at (the actual airplane design notwithstanding.)
If the interior model is gorgeous, the exterior model is literal art. meticulous detail and insane 4k resolution textures make this plane look simply drop dead amazing. There are incredibly convincing looks of wear, almost like a McPhat livery on steroids. Exterior animations look crisp and accurate, and most of the real detail is there. As with my other reviews, I insist that a picture is worth a thousand words, so here are a boat load of pictures I took, including some of a few custom liveries I made.
The systems in this airplane depict a slightly simplified version of the MD 80. Although the claims that this plane is “The most advanced MD 80 simulation ever” are true, this airplane still has quite a few missing functions preventing it from being considered study sim level. We’ll go over the major components in detail, so that you can see just what level of detail is in this addon.
The “Physical Systems” category covers everything that pertains to the actual direct operation of the airplane. Overall, this airplane does a good job of simulating the major functions of the aircraft. During startup, anything you are likely to use during the flight was modeled correctly. This includes things like the electrical system, the IRS system, engine startup, and various heating and ant-ice systems. However, things like the RAT were not modeled. While not an issue, I do find myself disappointed when I mouse over a random switch only to find that it is completely static. The one pro of this is that even though the systems aren’t modeled, the switch definitely is, which somewhat helps with the immersion factor (until you mouse over said switches, of course.)
The flight guidance category covers everything related to the flight guidance, including the Autopilot, and the FMC. We’ll start with the FMC, which works just as any normal Boeing FMC would. Everything seems to work pretty well, although a few weird quirks still around. For example, when calculating V-Speeds, the airplane uses whatever flaps you have selected. This means that you cannot calculate V-Speeds until you are taxiing, which means being distracted from actually taxiing. A minor quirk, but it’s indicative of an underlying issue, a lack of polish.
The MCP functions as it should, which is to say, very counter-intuitively. For a full rundown of the steps you need to take to engage the proper flight guidance modes, I recommend reading and watching many tutorials. It took me a few takeoffs before I could comfortably engage the Autopilot without any issues or unexpected actions. Even with that said, I still screw it up on occasion, which should be a testament to the difficulty of this airplane. It’s amazing how a plane that has yet to gain enough features to even be considered for the “study sim level” title is the most difficult airplane in my hangar to fly.
This airplane is an absolute dream to hand-fly. The difference between this and a modern fly by wire plane is absolutely amazing. Instead of dictating to the airplane where you want to go, you fly the airplane there. As an actual airframe, the MD 80 lends itself well to high speeds and crosswind conditions. With a surplus of rudder and elevator authority, this airplane can change direction quickly, and respond to varying weather conditions with ease. The one thing I do dislike is the heavy feeling on takeoff and landing. Even though the V-Speeds are entirely correct, this airplane’s takeoff roll is anything but easy. First off, the airplane accelerates slower than a minivan would. What would be an easy takeoff in a modern jet becomes a harrowing near-death experience in the MD 80. Once you do build up enough speed, the airplane feels as if it is still well below rotation speed. You have to fight the controls to get the airplane to lift off the ground, and no matter how hard you try, this MD 80 will take it’s sweet old time to get up in the air. Luckily, after that point, the airplane feels light and responsive, so nothing to complain about there.
The sounds in this airplane are great. From start up to shut down, you can hear each system come to life and die down as they should. One thing to note about the MD 80 is that the engines are quite far away from the pilots, so the engine noise is dampened to a high level. This isn’t a fault with the model, but rather a characteristic of the actual airplane. As for the other systems, they are loud and clear. Squeaks and all. I’m looking at you, speedbrake lever.
My Real Experience:
I’m in a unique position for reviewing this addon. Back in December of 2015, I had the chance to sit in the flightdeck of a McDonnel Douglas MD 88, flying for a major US airline. I also had a chance to talk with a First Officer about his time with the MD 80. Compared to my personal experience with the real airplane, some things let me down. First off, I think this simulation gravely misrepresents the overall dimensions of the cockpit. It’s a small cockpit. I’m 6’2 and although the seat was plenty big enough, I could reach just about everywhere with ease. The sim cockpit seems quite large, in my opinion. I certainly think it could have been scaled down just a tiny bit for realism.
This however, is my personal opinion. For someone who’s never stepped foot in one of these flightdecks, everything looks very pleasant. Rotatesim did not intend for this to appeal to real pilots. Otherwise, it would have been a study sim. What Rotatesim made was a product for flightsimmers to enjoy, not practice on. Looking at it from that angle, I truly appreciate what Rotatesim have done. So what they left out that stupid mirror compass, a simmer won’t notice that. What they will notice are the beautiful textures, the satisfactory systems modeling, and the acceptable performance.
Should you buy this airplane? Let me answer your question with a question.
Who are you?
If you’re a casual simmer just looking for something fun and challenging to fly, this is one of the best airplanes you could possibly get. Of course you should buy it. But if you are someone who obsesses over small details, or prefers a complete simulation, this plane might not be for you. While it certainly is fun to fly, this airplane is not complete, and those who stress over that will find little value in this addon.
Thank you for reading. If this article helped you make a decision, leave a comment below to tell me about it. If you enjoyed the article, be sure to like it, and follow this blog to get notified when a new article is posted! See you next time around.
-David Waldron, FSXReviews
DISCLAIMER: This product was provided to me FREE OF CHARGE by x-plane.org, for the sole purpose of providing an un-biased review of the product.