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Dreamfleet & Flight 1 Software 737-400

After I received this package I was quite nervous about doing a review. I put it off with one excuse and another until after rebuilding a burnt out computer and after getting a polite reminder from Flight1 Software, I finally got at the review.

After I received this package I was quite nervous about doing a review. I put it off with one excuse and another until after rebuilding a burnt out computer and after getting a polite reminder from Flight1 Software, I finally got at the review. Now I had loaded and played around with the program and even had another commercial pilot over to look at it with me. Yet we were both daunted by the sheer level of professionalism, which was evident right away. There are criticisms to be made but they partly depend on the interests of this reviewer and that must be kept in mind. I anticipated the level of exactitude as I remember when Lou Betti, the founder of Dreamfleet, brought out the first Dreamfleet free download for FS2000, the Cessna 172. The thing I remember then was the great communications with the designer. There must have been thousands of comments going on in flightsim.com and Lou was answering most of them. This makes me actually honoured to do a review of such a team of programmers, including Terry Hill and the Flight1 software team. My bias is not towards detailed airliners and the exacting checklists, which accompany these, but having said that, this is precisely where this software fills a market niche. Flightsimmers range from absolute beginners who just fire up and crash all over the place. Many of them buy FS2002 and enjoy it but have not learned to download and install planes or modify scenery. Most of them do not buy add-ons. The bulk of 'simmers' are in the middle range. Maybe they are licensed pilots and maybe not, but they will do flights and the lessons and actually file flight plans and download new planes. Then there are addicts and those pushing the envelope. As virtual reality reaches Professional Flight Training levels we will see more and more of the kind of program being reviewed here. The market may be limited, but flight schools and commercial pilots as well as wannabe Airline Pilots are going to benefit from this 737 package.

The new package for FS2002 of the 'Greatest Airliners 737-400' comes in an Internet downloadable package or an ordered by mail, boxed package. The differences between these two are several. On the download version you can get the FS2000/2002 version (as in the boxed one) and the price is only $29.95 U.S. Of course it is instantly available. However this is such a complex package that one would wonder right away if the kind of pilot/simmer who would benefit from, and enjoy this software, would not actually prefer the advantage of the Video (currently in European format and soon to be in NTSC) and the manual written in English/German. The full price for the boxed package is $44.95.

Download and Internet Site
The download will proceed painlessly and then Flight1 refers you to the Dreamfleet website for further manuals. Here you can also pick up a free screen randomizer if you get bored seeing the opening Microsoft logo every time for FS2002. Also available are other Dreamfleet offerings. Also offered here are a host of addenda for the software, whether the downloaded version, or otherwise. Part of the program includes a Text-0-Matic utility for creating and modifying liveries. This will be looked at later, but many options are available at the site. Two of the most useful are the EHAM-EGLL flight tutorial with the DF737 and the FMC-VNAV Tutorial, both of which help with the most complex part of this program (at least it is to me). Conclusion:- Ignore the interactive website at your peril! There are hundreds of free download liveries of 737s in different Airline colours and these can be assimilated in Text-0-Matic.

Boxed Package
In the package you will receive the video, the booklet or Pilot's Manual and the CD of course. The booklet certainly puts Microsoft to shame, as they did not even include anything resembling a manual with FS2002 and Dreamfleet/Flight1 Software have excelled on this aspect. There are still other downloads on the Dreamfleet website, and here is where you find the full manual for the 737. Now there are a couple of hundred pages available online in *.pdf format and you can print manuals to your hearts content. If you want to see them on a monitor, while you fly, you will need two monitors in your setup. I have mentioned before how easy this is and any serious flightsimmer should just install them. Most newer graphic cards will let you. Personally I would like to see Dreamfleet or Flight1 offer a professional package with printed full manuals. For flying schools or young commercial pilots going into a test 737 simulator for the first time, $60 U.S. would not be too much to pay for a full package.

Text-o-Matic Utility
This utility allows one to create additional 737 aircraft and delete them at will. It is very simple to use and permits you to load the airline of your choice, or even to create one if you can work with textures first. Three steps are all it takes. Firstly you load a template file and then it automatically creates the night lighting and finally it will set a new aircraft into FS2002 Dreamfleet for you.

» View the Text-o-Matic

Load Manager

In this extra program you can vary passenger and cargo loads. For the true realist this is a great utility. You set realistically what you wish on any given flight.

Flying the 737
Wait a minute, it takes a while to set up the flight yet, but at least we can look at the panel and start trembling now. It takes hours to start getting comfortable with the Dreamfleet 737. After all this is a full commercial airliner package. Surely I cannot write a review without learning all aspects of this program over a few months! After four evenings of getting in to the program I can see that I am going to have to spend many evenings learning systems and controls and hydraulics, in order to benefit to the maximum from this program. I started some of the built in program flights and on both first trial flights had serious problems with the FMC. The FMC is one of the main selling features of this program. The booklet has a very good help chapter with a sample flight, and that is OK but it did not work for me. A download, available from the site, has a tutorial 'The DF734 FMC & VNAV' and I liked the honesty in the first few pages. The author says that his first half dozen attempts at using the FMC were disastrous. Perhaps Dreamfleet could make available an online interactive tutorial. I need it. Anyway just two flights into its use I can see the fun and satisfaction in getting it right, (well almost right). I did have problems with the FMC box itself as sometimes when brought up again; only half of its functions would show. I lost the flight plan a couple of times when first inputting. There are some audio teaching help files but I think Dreamfleet over estimate the average user and need to have an interactive online tutorial. You can learn it on its own, as it does not require FS2002 to be running and it has its own icon on your desktop. Once the flightplan and SIDS and STARS are into the FMC it is sent automatically through to the EADI and EHSI, these being the computerized HSI instruments basically. This combination of FMC and EHSI will fly the plane completely for you from just after take-off to the ground.

» View from the 737 Cockpit

I tried for my second flight, a download from Dreamfleet's site by Elmar Colbo. It was written for the Fs2000 earlier version of the 737 but it works OK. Once loaded, following his instructions I had the FMC working better but his earlier version was not so fancy with the STARS and I got messed up on those. Anyway I figured it would be easy enough to pick up an inbound ILS to Heathrow. The flight was from Schiphol to Heathrow at 15,000'. I took an Air Canada 737, which was one of many liveries available. I don't like all the gates and taxying stuff so usually get lined up near a runway and get FS2002 ATC to pick me up there. They seem willing. Here we get the U.S. bias on FS2002 of course. No European planes or voices to be heard around Amsterdam. Add-ons are improving that already however. The next thing to get familiar with is the overhead panel. As can be seen from this screen shot; this is complex and warrants a few moments to study. Take a deep breath and figure that you are probably going rapidly through a month or two of a training school in an airline environment, so if you crash a few times here don't get upset.

All the panels are neatly programmed to be available from the 'View Control Panel' kind of hidden on the lower left of the panel behind the control column and therefore innocuous and visible best when the control column is removed. The control column itself is active on its electric trim and autopilot disengage. The VCP gives all the views and really takes the place of the virtual cockpit. In addition, it can call up 8 or 9 functions (i.e. all the other panels) and they do not interfere with the flight even when on one monitor A whole separate radio panel gives you control on the usual stuff and the settings for the EHSI and, as with all Dreamfleet's other panels, a myriad of workable buttons and controls to provide one with several evenings of learning. The sheer detail in this 737 is amazing. I can go on and on with technical stuff on the other panels but I finally decided I had to just do a couple of flights and learn the rest later or I would never finish the review. I got ATC clearance, downloaded some real weather (FSMeteo 5.1). The weather was excellent so I took off and flight followed with FSNav and had an uneventful flight, flown by the FMC and the EHSI. Most of what it was supposed to do was OK but my programming into the FMC was still faulty and I had to take over manually and do the STARS for Heathrow 27L. The autopilot was back on for the descent and ILS, which it did nicely, but I took over manually at 400' and the landing was OK, except for forgetting the reverse thrust and overheating the brakes. Finally we taxi in to the gate at London with ATC permission.

Complaints:
FMC quite difficult and painstaking to use. I think user-friendliness could be improved on here, with no alteration to the program. The benefit from high-speed connections is so apparent when you get into interactive tutorials, but even with the large numbers of users still on modem connections this could be most useful. The built in audio/visual tutorial helps but I still ran up against non-recoverable errors when getting to SIDS and STARS input. This is such an important advance on previous programs that perhaps some of us need more help.

GPS:
I could not find a way to activate the autopilot just to fly an FS2002 installed flight plan, i.e. the standard Nav/GPS button. It seems to want everything planned through the FMC but I am lazy sometimes.

No virtual Cockpit views. I can understand why it is not included as there is so much to take in already, but I have got used to seeing it on most planes. It is true Microsoft left it off some of theirs as well. Perhaps it will follow in later versions. One similar to Yannik Lavigne's Falcon 50 would be nice as eye candy.

Conclusions:
First of all we need to answer why one would buy a 737 program when you could download a pretty good 737? Well the sheer volume of extra detail and panels and workable instruments in this package make that a non-issue. If you are in anyway serious about the 737 then this package is going to answer pretty well every question you would have before going to fly a real one. For a cost of less than 30 minutes in a Cessna 172 you can get many hours of serious simulator flying with this 737. It is probably the most complex review model I have looked at and guess what I will be learning in proper detail next winter. The real review should be written after that, sorry Flight1! The comment on the frame rate is something you just have to figure out. You are not flying this plane to look at beautiful scenery so knock down all the detail in textures etc. and go for a flyable frame rate of 15-20 especially when coming in to land. Even on a good computer you have to compromise.

Test Computer:
Athlon 1.4, 512 Mbs Ram, Geforce MX 420, 64 Mbs Ram, but it will run fine on less.

Score Card

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About This Author:
John Dale has been a member of COPA for thirty years, since he began to fly. He has accumulated 2500 hours on 65 types of aeroplanes and added Flight Simming to his addiction about two years ago. He is an Aviation Medical Examiner in Nelson BC, where he belongs to the Nelson Pilot’s Association. He also runs Flynorth.com, which offers aerial tours to the north, as well as a database of BC and northern flying tips. Details of this can be found at www.FlyNorth.com.
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