TFDi 717 Review

The 717. Born from the MD-80, the “Angry Puppy” as it is often referred to is the last hurrah from McDonnell Douglas before it was completely consumed into Boeing. Fitted with a modern glass cockpit and some of the most overpowered engines since the 777-200lr, this plane is a unique bird to fly. Now, TFDi has given us their best effort in reproducing this little thing. Is it any good? Let’s find out.

History

The Boeing 717 is a single aisle regional jet based off of the MD-80/DC-9 platform by the late aerospace company McDonnell Douglas. The jet that would come to fruition as the 717 began development in 1991 under the name “MD-95.” The dimensions and overall size class was comparable to the proposed DC-9-90 from a few years before. In 1994, the jet began taking orders. In October of 1995 ValuJet (later AirTran) signed for 50 of the jets plus an additional 50 options. McDonnell Douglas got no further orders until the company was acquired by Boeing in 1997. Most analysts predicted that Boeing would can the development of the jet.

But they didn’t. They continued to develop the jet under the “717” name. The plane received type certification on September 1st, 1999. Commercial service began a month afterwards, and TWA placed an order for 50 aircraft shortly following. Although sales had been slow, they began to pick up, and Qantas and Hawaiian loved their aircraft for their speed and dispatch reliability. But this was not to last for long. As competition increased from Embraer and Bombardier, as well as the downturn of airline travel caused by 9/11, the 717 had to be canceled in 2005. In total, 155 aircraft were delivered. This airplane is still common in the Qantaslink and Hawaiian fleets, and is still found in Delta’s fleet.

Visuals

This airplane is instantly recognizable as akin to it’s older brother. From the rear mounted engines to the winglet-less wings down to the eyebrow windows for the cockpit, it truly looks like a downsized MD-80. But hop inside and you will find that gone are the steampunk gauges and creamy-brown colors. In their place are 6 Displays that remind you of any Boeing/Airbus aircraft in recent history.

Exterior Visuals.

The exterior of this plane is modeled in gorgeous detail that rivals the likes of the Aerosoft A320 and PMDG 737. It’s smooth body combined with modeled passenger cabin give this plane a great look no matter what livery it dons. Everything down to the detailed gear and proper emergency exit markings make this plane a true treat to look at from the outside.

But there’s more! That’s just during the day. As the sun sets and you embark on your nighttime journey with the 717, you’ll notice how the lights gracefully light up the scenery around them to give you a true sense of immersion. Things like the logo light (although not reflecting off of anything) add an ambience that is up there with all of the big name addons. The only slight problem I have with the night lighting is that it looks a bit odd when you stare directly at the lights. They look illuminated, but they don’t quite blind you like you would expect.

Exterior: 9/10

Interior Visuals.

While the exterior is great to look at, any good pilot knows they need to stay in the cockpit most of they time. And thankfully, the inside is an even nicer place to be for screen junkies like me. The displays (arranged in a Q400 like formation) look beautiful, and although they don’t pop out, they are easy to read from almost any position within the VC. The PFD and ND are an odd blend of Boeing and Airbus philosophies, making for a new and challenging experience.

Above the displays is the MCP, where you control the autopilot. The displays for your inputs here are clean and crisp, and the knobs controlling them have some of the nicest overall feel and texture of any addon in the ESP world. The autopilot itself is again an odd hybrid of Airbus and Boeing, which makes from some very challenging times with the plane. Regardless, it looks and feels great. To either side of the MCP are the manipulators for the displays down below. The texturing on these buttons are some of the cleanest and sharpest things I have ever seen in flightsim. Much higher resolution than any other part of the cockpit, these singular buttons (which will be in your FOV pretty much the whole flight) look simply stunning.

We can move to the overhead panel where we find more beautiful switch modeling, but admittedly a slight lack of detail in the textures and labels. Especially during the day-night transitions, these labels looked jagged and low-res, even though during the day they are passable.

Speaking of night time, the VC also has great night lighting. While the flood lights are very weak, they do give off a very nice feel, and give the overhead panel switches really cool shadows that are just gorgeous. Admittedly some of the textures get fuzzed up at night, but it’s workable, and definitely not deal-breakingly bad.

Interior: 8.5/10

Sounds

Another art of the flightsim world is the soundset. Companies like BSS often sell $20 packs to improve your audio, but with this plane, it is not necessary. Like most high-end planes, it comes with it’s own custom built soundset. This one stands out from the rest by a long shot. From the whine of the electrics to the deep rumble of the engine start, this airplane is great to listen to. The automated callouts are also fully modeled, so you can “stabilizer motion” your way to your destination. And while the clicks knobs can sound pretty generic, what do you expect from a switch. There are only so many sounds it can make.

Sounset: 9/10

Systems

Ah, here we are. what everybody wants to know about a high-end addon. How are the systems? Well, we’ll break it down like we usually do. Physical and Electronic systems.

Physical Systems

The physical systems include anything you regularly interface with that isn’t a screen or a keyboard. Those who have flown the MD-80 before will recognize the basic overhead panel layout, with a few minor differences. The systems on this plane work as expected, and are quite detailed. Typically you start with a GPU connected, and work your way up to the engines. We can start by aligning the IRS’s, which is a process that was copied straight from an A320. The switch layout, order, hell even the switches themselves essentially come straight from an Airbus. We can then move down and engage the Ext. Power, which will begin to bring the airplane to life. You then begin to work with the MCDU and such until it is time to start up the APU and Engines. The process for starting the APU and engines are similar to that of the MD80. You have to engage a starter pump before you can start the thing you want. Another weird quirk with the engine start procedure is that when you engage the starter for the engine you want, you immediately move the fuel cutoff switch on the pedestal to the “open” position. The computer manages when to introduce fuel, like in an Airbus.

Overall, the systems are quirky and new for any Boeing or Airbus pilot, but the seasoned flightsim veteran should have no issue figuring out the basic start procedure for this airplane.

Physical Systems: 8.9/10

Virtual Systems

The virtual systems mainly comprise of the MCDU and the auto-flight, as well as the MCP usage. We’ll start with the MCDU, which can be explained relatively simply. It’s an Airbus. I mean, there’s a reason I said MCDU not FMC. Everything to do with routing or initialization is directly out of an Airbus. Not even the slightest difference. The only place where the 717 has it’s own little touches are when you are calculating performance, and even then the pages still have way more in common with an A320 than a 737 or MD80. For flightsimmers, this shouldn’t be an issue though. The Airbus concept of an MCDU is almost universally loved and accepted by the aviation community as a whole.

MCDU: 9.5/10

Autoflight: Here we go. For those of you who have been on the TFDi forums, you may notice there are quite a few complaints about the autoflight, and how it doesn’t work. We’ll start with the basics of the system. There’s a VNAV, V/S, and ALT HOLD mode for altitudes, and LNAV and HDG hold for navigation. There’s also a speed hold mode, but I didn’t have much luck with engaging it. Out of all of these modes, I only got HDG and V/S to work on a regular basis. VNAV worked most of the time, but getting from VNAV onto the ILS didn’t seem to work, nor does the ND display TOC and TOD points. LNAV worked sometimes as well, but many users complained of poor “magenta line” performance (following the route.) ALT Hold never engaged for me, and I only successfully captured the ILS in this plane once.

So, as of right now, the autoflight isn’t very good. However, it has been improved massively since the plane released, and continues to get better with every frequent update. And while a lot of people complain about Magenta Line performance, LNAV has worked pretty well for me overall.

Current Autoflight: 5.5/10

Projected Score in 2 Months: 7.5-8/10.

Extra Features

This plane comes with both an in-plane tablet and a separate load manager. The load manager is extremely useful and easy to use, while also providing a way to auto-update your plane with the latest patches. This really helps the plane work as a seamless package, and ties the whole experience together. This is also paired with a tablet in the VC of the plane that can modify your door config, panel state, shared cockpit mode (yes this plane has shared cockpit) as well as fuel load. You can also use it to connect/disconnect the GPU, and view .png files as charts.

Extra features: 10/10

Flight Dynamics

So, if the plane doesn’t fly great using the computers, how does it fly under good ol’ stick and rudder conditions? Great! The powerful engines combined with the small form factor make this plane a pleasure to guide through the skies. It feels smooth and predictable, and performs well when the flaps and slats are dropped. I found it a bit difficult to figure out when to flare this plane, but that is something that will surely just come with practice.

Flight Dynamics: 9.5/10

Conclusion

This plane is modeled with some of the best eye-candy and detail in an FSX plane to date, and comes with pretty awesome systems to boot. But, I wouldn’t be in good conscience if i told you that this plane was all sunshine and happiness. The autoflight has caused a multitude of headaches, and while the plane is improving, it isn’t yet finished. It feels like a pre-release beta candidate. Really good and really close, but not quite there yet. Given a couple more months, I expect the great guys over at TFDi to have solved most of the issues, but that’s still 2 months to wait. And you’re still paying a full $60 for the plane. So, what do I suggest? I suggest you look at the numbers: Here’s all the scores added up to make a percentage: 76%   In two months, the projected score will be about 80%. That’s not a terrible score, and in fact if I weighted it with how much I personally enjoyed the airplane that would be up around 86%. That’s a solid B in most 10-point scale schools.

If you’re okay with being an “early adopter” of sorts, this plane is for you. If you prefer to have everything all polished and clean, I suggest you come back in a month or two, when I update this article again to inform you if my decision has changed.

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