When your plane punishes you for not disengaging your gear in the form of wear on the hydraulics, you’re no longer simply in FSX. You’re in a PMDG simulation, and FSX only sits to provide the graphics. I’d like to welcome you, at last, to the PMDG 747 QoTS II Review. Let’s get going.
The Boeing 747-400 is the second most modern variant of the 747 series by Boeing, or more affectionately referred to as the “Queen of the Skies.” While she is getting a bit long in the tooth, the 747-400 is still a solid workhorse in the fleets of major airlines, and although the plane is beginning to struggle with efficiency, it will still be a staple of international travel for a long time to come.
From the base 747-400 to the 744D (a domestic model only sold in Japan) the 747-400 has been an absolute success during it’s life, something that can’t exactly be said about it’s newer and bigger brother, the 747-8i/f. Typically found on long range high density routes, it’s been a staple of aviation for big and busy routes worldwide.
When you first purchase the product (you purchase an FSX key OR a P3D key, not both) you get access to a single installer and product key. You download the installer, run it, allow it to do it’s thing, and it’ll be done in no time.Once it’s done installing, you’re left with the plane itself, and the wonderful PMDG operations manager. Using this operations manager, you can add and install PMDG liveries (either 3rd party or directly) as well as read documentation, and even update the plane. It’s a fantastic set of features, all in an easy to use app, but I would have liked to maybe see a fuel/payload calculator, if not an external load manager. Either way, I love the manager. On par with Aerosoft as the top repaint adding tool.
After digging through the immense amount of documentation provided with the airplane (we’ll dig into that a bit later) I got my FSX configured how they want it to be configured, and loaded into my wonderful LFPG scenery to be blown away. And I was. My Delta repaint was thankfully equipped with the CRT displays, and my first impression was that I had never seen an effect rivaling that screen curve in FSX ever before. You glance up to the fantastically modeled glareshield and MCP, look up to the crisp and accurate overhead panel, and down finally to the mish-mash looking pedestal. I think very few planes in FSX ever truly have character. Some developers try with worn down textures, but most devs just wind up with a neglected look, not a well taken care of but worn in look. The 747 is different. It feels cared for, not beaten down. But no amount of care can prevent wear, and that’s why the PMDG looks so great. It captures the wear, but not the neglect that so many developers wind up with when they try this effect.
Moving to the outside we find much of the same story. While the default PMDG liveries are a bit clean and shiny, it’s acceptable given they’re meant to replicate a fresh off of the line plane. Install an addon livery of your choice though, and the true “character” of the model will come out again. Dirt and grime exactly where it would be on the real airplane, but not excessive. Some liveries from older operators have a bit more dirt than the new fellas who have kept the airplane a bit tidier. The reflection mapping is also spot on, and really gives off a nice vibrancy to the plane.
PMDG are known not only as the top dogs in systems, but also in the visuals department, and this plane absolutely keeps their legacy. I might even dare to say that it is their best interior model yet. When I review other products, I dig for compromises in the model, but I just can’t find any major compromises in this cockpit. The text labeling for buttons and switches is incredibly crisp, and they don’t lose their sharp effect when you move in close, something I’ve only ever seen in the 64bit world of X-Plane. And it gets better, the switches are awesome as well. They look ever so slightly ground down and misaligned, which does wonders for the “worn in” effect. The overhead panel is exceptional when it comes to sharp labels and great buttons.
Speaking of buttons, something I don’t usually touch on but felt necessary in the QoTS is the animation of buttons and knobs. They’re fantastic, and seem to be especially smooth compared to similar products. There are also the small things in the animations, like how the IRS knobs move from off to align seamlessly, but go over a little bump when moved to nav. There’s also the delay between when the OVRD pumps for fuel are turned on and when the yellow VALVE message appears.
When the sun hides behind the earth and the moon comes out to shine, this plane shines equally as bright. The night lighting is the typical PMDG amazing affair. Sharp and precise panel lighting, and bright and vague dome lighting. Everything gives off a convincing effect, and it really has to be seen to be fully appreciated.
Hopping out of the flightdeck we can take a full gander at the machine we’re piloting. The shape is instantly recognizable as the queen, and looks absolutely surreal. I think I distinctly remember smiling when I went outside of the airplane for the first time. From the insane attention to detail on things like the gear to the appropriate and impressive dirt and grime effect some of the liveries have, this has to be one of the best external models in the entire flightsimming world. Again, when the natural lights go down and the artificial lights go up, the plane assumes a new persona, and looks equally as fantastic as during the day. Overall, extremely happy with the outside.
Now, what I typically do with addons is I break up the parts into little bite-sized sections and talk about each. That method doesn’t work here. 500, 1000, even 2000 words brings no justice to the level of simulation PMDG have actually achieved here. We’ll be going over a few important bits here, and then look at some of the quirky bits, but this by no means covers everything the product has to offer.
We’ll start first with the physical flight systems, like the engine controls, fuel controls, and hydraulics. Each one of these systems has been modeled absolutely completely and correctly. You’ll notice how each little electrical device puts a little bit of strain on the electrical system, and the hydraulic systems are never perfect, and all feel alive. The engines take forever to stat without autostart, and take a long time to spool up in general. Remember, this isn’t your A320, 737, or even 757. These engines are big, and take a bit of time to do what you want them to. To that point though, this airplane does support dual engine start, so you can fire off two engines at once.
We’ll move on to the (fully featured and too detailed to even cover) FMC and autoflight system. The first thing I personally noticed in this plane when I tried out the autopilot was how smooth it was. Most autopilots in flightsim tend to chase the needle, and as such, when you first engage autopilot they make jarring and quick violent movements to get exactly where it wanted to go. Not with this plane. It take its time, and it smooths out chasing the performance needles. When you engage autopilot, it slowly and deliberately gets itself where it wants to be, it doesn’t ever ‘jolt’ into place. Add to this the fantastic ILS performance and the multitude of features found within the FMC and you’ve got an amazing autoflight system.
While most addons utilize a separate application to manage the loading, unloading, and features of an airplane, PMDG have integrated all of it into the FMC, in the form of the FS Actions and PMDG setup pages. From here, you can modify and activate so many things that it would take 20 minutes and a really patient reader to explain it all. We have everything from ground services to door control to fuel and payload managment, all the way even to personally managing the (yet again fully featured and modeled) cabin lights. And that’s just the basic stuff, leaving out the incredibly detailed and intuitive failure system, equipment options, and 22 FMS pages of equipment modifications. 22 PAGES!
This plane also comes with it’s own service vehicles to dot around your airplane during start-up, and while they only display the PMDG colors and logos, they work very similarly to GSX vehicles. The plane also lets you change most of the colors on displays, like the brown and blue on the artificial horizon. You know, I think pink for the ground fits better.
And the feature list keeps going! You have the ability to download liveries directly from PMDG through the ops center, you have the 1,600 some-odd page FCOM they ship for use with the airplane, on top of the 500 pages of other PMDG-written documentation, that go anywhere from a troubleshooting guide to a fully guided tutorial flight from DEN-SFO. This addon may take the cake in terms of full fat features in the FS world.., the amount of stuff they managed to slam in there is jaw-dropping. Here’s the full feature list in case you were wondering:
- Complete From the Start – All variants of the 747-400 are included. These include the 747-400 passenger model, the 747-400M “combi” model, the 747-400BCF (Boeing Converted Freighter), the 747-400D domestic model used for a time on high-density short-haul routes in Japan, the 747-400F freighter, and the extended-range 747-400ER passenger model and 747-400ERF freighter. Each model has its own valid engine types that include the Rolls Royce RB211-524G, Pratt & Whitney PW4056 and PW4062, and General Electric CF6-80C2B1F and CF6-80C2B5F with their own accurately modelled performance data.
- Exterior Models – Exterior models are richly detailed with complex Leading Edge Devices and triple slotted flap mechanisms, realistic articulating main gear trucks, wing flex that reflects the ground bumps while taxiing, as well as realistic in-flight flex modeling. Texturing work is beautiful, with just the right amount of shine.
- Virtual Cockpit – The Virtual Cockpit includes dozens of physical layout options: ADF, ISFD vs analog standby gauges, RMIs, window frame styles, cockpit lavatory option, paravisual display (PVD), push to talk and taxi light options, and many more that are specific to aircraft model type as well as airline/operator specific options. The VC’s geometric modeling work is amazingly complete, accurate down to fractions of an inch as measured in the real cockpit.
- PMDG Service Vehicles – Have your 747-400 serviced by an entire fleet of PMDG Service vehicles. Each vehicle for a specific ground task is included. These are: Aircraft hydrant fuel pumper, catering and cabin service trucks that lift to the cabin doors, air-stair trucks, a bulk cargo loader, standard size hi-lift loaders for the lower deck cargo holds as well as the large hi-lift loader for the SCD and nose doors of the freighter models. Need the water tanks filled? A water truck will roll up to the aircraft along with a lavatory servicing vehicle to empty waste. You also get tail stands for the freighters, single and dual-plug GPU carts, terminal power units, as well as air start and air conditioning carts. Everything needed to service your airplane on the ground is included in the PMDG 747-400 Queen of the Skies II!
- PMDG Operations Center – Includes the PMDG Operation Center, a stand-alone application which manages livery downloads and installations, documentation, support and more. The OC also supports the PMDG Jetstream 4100, PMDG 737NGX and PMDG 777. We update this application frequently to add new features and functionality. New for the PMDG 747-400 Queen of the Skies II is micro-update capability directly through the OC. We intend to update the aircraft frequently through this feature rather than using new installers or service packs.could see.
- FMC – The flight management computer (FMC) contains all of the real life 747-400 FMC features including LNAV, extremely accurate VNAV speed and altitude predictions and the full complement of scratchpad warning messages that a real crew could see. RTE 2 is modelled and fully usable, as are advanced features like step-climbs, constant speed cruise and required time of arrival (RTA).
- Flight Model – Engine and flight modeling is within 5% of the actual Boeing aircraft performance charts, including data and parameters specific to the Pratt & Whitney, General Electric and Rolls Royce engine types.
- Autopilot – ultra smooth autopilot flight director system (AFDS) created for the 747 that replicates the precise yet smooth feeling you get from the real thing. Created with hours of video taken in the real airplane and actual 747-400 full flight simulator flying experience.
- Weather Radar – the PMDG 747-400 Queen of the Skies II features a working simulation of the Collins WXR-2100 weather radar. In conjunction with the Active Sky Next weather engine addon, the radar depicts actual precipitation returns (not clouds!) and gives you full control over tilt, gain and radar mode including turbulence and windshear detection. Integration with additional radar products such as REX WX Advantage coming soon!
- Sounds – A meticulously created soundset consisting of over 1200 individual files captures the raw power of the Pratt & Whitney, General Electric and Rolls Royce engines and cockpit environment. Every aspect of the engines is represented here, exactly pitch matched to real life recordings made at every 10% over the engine’s power range. Many cockpit sounds have multiple files behind them that are randomly selected to make each click sound subtly different, just like they do in the real world. Multiple soundsets exist including detailed modelling behind and in-front of the wing views. A new fully custom playback system allows for manipulation of the engine sounds as altitude and airspeed rise, allowing the slipstream to take over just as it does in real life. Two separate sets of ground crew calls are included and it will be possible in the future to create new sets yourself! Note: stereo soundset included, 5.1 soundset will be made available post-release.
- Cockpit Shake Modeling – A fully customized and realistic simulation of cockpit camera shake is included. This feature reacts realistically to the environment on the ground during taxi, takeoff and landing, as well as in-flight due to turbulence, stall buffet, speedbrake application and engine failure or stall.
- RAAS – Fully functional Runway Awareness and Advisory System which calls out runway names and other information for improved flight safety.
- User Interface – We’ve spared no effort in making the PMDG 747-400 Queen of the Skies II easy to use in terms of its user interface. The aircraft’s fuel, payload and the large number of airframe and cockpit options are adjustable on the fly from the FMC CDU without ever touching the FSX menus or pausing the sim.
- Exterior Lighting – 3D volumetric exterior lighting that lights up the FS scenery. You can even see the flash from the strobe lights when looking out the cockpit side windows. Improved over what was implemented in the PMDG 777.
- Liveries – Free downloadable liveries for numerous world airlines, easily installable using the Livery Downloader within the PMDG Operations Center application. At the time of release, well over 60 liveries were available in the OC with more being added every day.
- Documentation – Includes everything you will need to operate the PMDG 747-400 Queen of the Skies II. We’ve also included a 168 page introduction manual specific to the simulation and a 113 page tutorial flight to learn from as you fly.
This airplane also (at this point I think just for fun) comes with a fully featured, custom recorded and mastered soundset. Everything from the bass on the engine start to the high pitched roar of takeoff is crispy, delightful, and could almost be considered musical. The a Capella of the electrics and fuel pump whines followed up by the rock performance of engine start, to the main show during takeoff, this airplane is a delight to listen to.
You’re probably thinking “that’s all nice, but where’s the catch?” and while I could harp on about wingflexgate or the fact that the front bit of the airplane doesn’t show up in the pre-flight selector, I’m not going to. The only reason why is because those are the only two bugs I found in testing. This airplane is incredibly well refined for how new it is. Flightsimmers have come to expect a litany of bugs and missing features on launch, but not with this plane. It’s complete from the start. VAS and FPS were also impressive to boot. While VAS does take a hit, it’s excusable given the complexity of the airplane, and FPS was on par with a similarly detailed plane.
PMDG haven’t been around with a new plane in a long time, and there’s reason why. This is their most detailed plane yet, and absolutely lives up to both the hype and the (admittedly pricey) pricetag. If you’ve got money to spend and you want simulator bliss, PMDG is here with outstretched arms. I know I’d jump in.