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Boeing 377X
By: VFR Reviews

A2A Boeing 377 Stratocruiser
Reviewed by VFR reviews

The Boeing 377 ‘Stratocruiser’ was not, for all of its glamour and luxury, a
terribly successful aircraft. Only around 55 aircraft were built as airliners,
but military variants were produced in significant numbers. I learned recently
that the 377 was not originally created for civil use, but was rather a civilian
version of the C-97. With the aircraft being expensive to produce, poor fuel
efficiency from the massive P&W Wasp Major engines, and the first days of the
jet age, the Stratocruiser became obsolete and was forced out of service. While
the record of the girl is anything but prolific, the gleaming aluminium skin and
the low drone of the propellers are a monument to the days when people were less
hurried, companies were looking more to please and less to gain, and that entire
beautiful age of aviation when graceful aircraft winged their way to war.
Boeing377 Review

Please note that this was reviewed with the Accu-Sim expansion pack.

First Impressions
Between the Accu-sim expansion and the base package, I had a fair-sized download
of almost 250MB’s on my hands. Both installers ran smoothly, and the Accu-Sim
asked whether you’d like to fly with a British or American crew. Afterwards, I
checked my FSX folder, and sure enough there was an A2A folder and a group in
the start menu. First, I checked the manuals. Both the Accu-sim and the 377
manual are quite refreshing, and offer sufficient information on both the
package and the operation of the airplane. There are plenty of illustrations to
keep you interested, and the text is easily understandable unlike some
documentation for similar complex aircraft. Booting up the sim, I was confronted
by two variations and five liveries total. I like to see an addon with a lot of
liveries, and in some cases it’s justifiable only to have a few but in an
airliner like this I think we should have seen at least double this amount.
Undeterred by the lack of paints, I picked the shiniest, and began my first
flight.

Interior
The manual was rather good about giving detailed descriptions of the interior of
the aircraft modelled, but this actually only pertained to the load manager’s
configuration. So, when I first booted up, it was in a sort of tunnel vision
that I moved back to the cabin to see if any passenger quarters were modelled.
Sadly, there was nothing beyond the cockpit.

Boeing377 Review

Going back to my seat, I took in the rest of the cockpit. One of the most
eye-catching things, incidentally, is the pilots’ seats. They are of a dark,
satin blue material, studded with white dots. While this description brings to
mind a circus tent, they are actually surprisingly attractive and are modelled
well with moving armrests. The cockpit is dominated by the nineteen large
windows. The two directly in front of the pilots have working windshield wipers,
which can be controlled by the knob on the pilot’s side panel. I flew this plane
quite a bit in the rain, and like all FSX aircraft (to my knowledge) there were
no VC rain effects. The windows here provide a beautiful view, and it would be
quite stunning to have rain drops collecting on all of them.

The engineer’s station is by far the most complex, and as it turned out I spent
more time here than I expected. Looking up from his seat, and engineer is
confronted by rows of glass gauges and all sorts of switches. It’s a bit
overwhelming at first, but you soon acclimatize to the layout of the panel. Most
importantly, this is where the engineer would keep an eye on temperatures. With
the Accu-Sim pack, this airplane lives and dies on its engine temperature, and
you must monitor them carefully in order to maintain peak performance and for
that matter to keep the fan turning. A2A showed great dedication here, and all
of the many gauges work accurately. On some controls like the cowl flap
switches, there is a simple plate which you can pull up or down to move all of
the switches at once. This is present on some other systems controls here and on
the overhead fire panel.

The overhead panel is beautifully uncluttered, and if there were ever an
airliner that I would want to fly this would be it. Neatly arranged above your
head are the lighting controls, fire panel, and a few other systems like ADI and
the master, battery, and radio switches. I was a little disappointed with the
texture quality on some of the labelling here. It’s done in white paint, and can
look blurry from certain angles. It doesn’t impede operating the airplane, but
as it’s in a prominent location in the cockpit I’d expect more.

The navigator’s station never received a great amount of attention from me, as
I’ll confess that I have little patience with twiddling the knobs while at the
same time trying to keep the airplane in the air after take-off. However, the
radios from that time are modelled visually in surprising detail, and I’m
reminded of when I’ve seen very similar systems inside a B-17. However, these
don’t work for the most part, as I doubt FSX would ever permit accurate
programming of an older radio like this. Additionally, you can access the map
page by clicking on the map at the navigator’s desk. This brings up a 2D panel
which has the basic map controls of FSX, but tries to be a little more realistic
by hiding the airplane icon in the centre, and doesn’t display a route.
The pilot and co-pilot panels are nicely done with crisp textures and plenty of
detail. On the pilots side panel are the defroster controls and the defogging
controls, while the co-pilot's side panel has the hydraulic controls. The panels
themselves are fairly uncluttered, and while providing basic information, it’s
the guy at the navigator’s panel that really gets to know the airplane. The
pedestal is also nice, and contains the autopilot, throttle controls, turbo
controls, a working control lock, and other systems. All of this works, and
again all of it is done with superb attention to detail and high-quality
textures.
Boeing377 Review

Like a lot of add-ons nowadays, there is no 2D panel. However, the VC is frame
rate friendly, and if you’re using 2D to save frames then I don’t think the VC
here will be too bad. However, while they didn’t include a panel to fly the
plane, they did include some incredibly useful and creative little gadgets. For
instance, the real time load manages puts weight and fuel onto the airplane and
calculates centre of gravity. Another great gadget is a small panel where you
can select which engines you want to control. It’s pretty self-explanatory, but
this helps more than you might expect when taxiing the airplane. I don’t have
the money for a fancy throttle quadrant other than my joystick, so this is a
great improvement on having to drag the throttles around. There is another panel
which has some basic controls like exits, parking break, Accu-Sim on/off, and
some engine controls like cowl flaps and turbo’s.

Exterior-
The exterior of this aircraft, while fairly plain in concept, actually holds a
massive host of detail and has, for me, the attraction which only comes from a
vintage aircraft with aluminium skin. Certainly the most striking feature here
is the rivet work. Just as in the real airplane, the sides, wings, and all of
the surfaces are covered with row upon row of rivets, which add so much to the
airplane. If A2A decided not to model them, this would just be a standard addon,
but because they put in the effort, I recognize this as one of the most detailed
exteriors that I have ever seen produced for the simulator.

While the rivets may command your attention, there is certainly a lot more to
see. The engines are massive things with ungainly looking four-blade propellers
jutting from the wing. Keep in mind that this craft, and airliner of all things,
set the transcontinental speed record because of these hogs. While it was
actually the While they served the purpose of high speeds and high altitudes
(with the help of turbochargers) admirably, they sucked up gas at a fair clip.
The cowl flaps, RAM air intake, and intercooler flaps are all modelled quite
nicely, and have some details such as struts to support the cowl flaps.

The landing gear is, again, nicely done, and when you press the brakes while
taxiing the nose gear will compress quite smoothly. There isn’t a whole lot of
detail to be seen here, and the textures on the wheel hubs aren’t quite up to
snuff with the rest of the model.

There is a fascinating little bug to be found in this package. The jet ways will
come when called, but the door is located behind the wing where they wouldn’t be
able to connect anyway. However, the jet way makes its way below the airplane,
the wheels and stand fold to the side, and it parks in the middle of the ground.
This doesn’t affect the airplane much, but it is a bug and should be noted.

I think the lights deserve a bit of a mention here to. The night lighting inside
the plane is a little unusual, as the lights are red. Outside, my favourite
light is by far the rotating beacon light. It casts a beam of red light from
both sides as it whirls on top of the vertical stabilizer. The landing and taxi
lights are just big white lights, and shoot downward if the landing gear is
coming down of if the landing lights aren’t extended. Overall, between the
pulsing navigation lights, the beacon light, the bright passing and taxi lights,
and of course the landing lights, A2A added a lot to the airplane by including
3D lighting. For those who do not know, this effect casts light into the space
as it would in real life. The technology could use refining, as you would
usually only see this in real life when it’s very foggy, dusty, or rainy, but
the overall effect is quite nice.

Flight
This airplane behaves rather like a beluga whale on the ground rather than a
guppy, and can be a bit of a bear to taxi. Keep things slow, and you’ll be ok.
Generally, I taxied with all four engines, and you have to put the throttle
surprisingly far forward to get rolling. At the runway, I lowered the flaps to
twenty-five degrees, throttled up, and lifted off the nose at about 80 knots.
However, upon raising the landing gear, I heard my co-pilot's voice calmly
telling me that the engines are getting a bit hot. I left the controls and
rushed back to the engineers station to open the cowl flaps a little more, then
jumped back up to the pilot’s seat. The flights are filled with little action
scenes like this, as you’ll have to adjust your engine temperatures quite a bit
depending on what altitude you choose, the weather, and how fast you’d like to
go. On that note, I usually cruised at an indicated airspeed of about 200 knots
at 22,000 feet. This plane is perfectly capable of doing long hauls, and while
she’s slower than the jets of today, I found the 377 much more interesting to
fly as I gazed serenely out of those great windows.
Landing this bird is really straight forward, and while I did find myself
floating over the runway a good amount of the time, the landings were made more
interesting by the approval system. This system, as I call it, is simply the
sound effects that the Accu-Sim gives the airplane. If it’s a bad landing (I did
get this response once) you’ll hear screams, while a good landing rewards you
with applause. The manual says that you’ll see the tires bulging when placed on
the ground with weight, but I never noticed this. Perhaps it’s just too subtle.

Systems
Simplicity is, in my own humble opinion, a godsend in an airplane, and I cringe
when I see an FMC sitting by my side when I boot up. While the technological
advances in airliners have seen fit to eliminate two members from the crew, I
think there is something to be said for more crew and less multitasking on the
part of the pilot.

Anyway, the systems here are quite nicely modelled, and it all works with just a
few bugs. I noticed that when I went through the start procedure, if I put the
start selector to engine four, the engine would start turning even if I didn’t
have the starter switches in. However, the engine start sequence in general is
most rewarding to watch and to carry out. This is, after all, a piston engine
aircraft, and while today’s jets can turn on their engines without much help,
this old bird had not one essential starter switch, but three: The primer, which
pumps fuel into the engine, the starter, which start turning the prop, and the
boost, which is rather like a fitter swinging the prop. With a gurgle and a
roar, the engine burst to life in a cloud of smoke, and it’s quite rewarding to
listen to this start-up audio, as well as the engines throughout the flight.
There is a basic autopilot in this plane, which is a life-saver on long flights.
It’s quite simple, but well modelled overall. When in a steady climb, turn on
the autopilot on and it will hold your direction. When you’ve reached your
altitude, click the altitude hold switch to maintain your altitude. If you need
to turn while in autopilot, swing the lever to point whichever direction you
need to travel. Let got of the lever when you’re facing your new direction.

While this is a fairly old airplane, it does have some of the amenities of the
modern aircraft. For instance, you can pressurize this bird to fly at 25,000
feet while your passengers feel that it’s only 5,500 feet. There’s an APU,
autopilot, air conditioning, and the other things that separated this from
aircraft like DC-3’s.
When you belly-land, a plume of smoke is thrown behind you as you slide through
the countryside. Whenever a wingtip touched the ground, it threw up sparks. As
you can imagine, this unplanned test of the effects did little to boost my
esteem. After I saw the effects in action I must say I’ve been much more careful
with my fuel planning.

Accu-Sim
The Accu-Sim expansion pack, in all honesty, quite simply makes this airplane. I
had little time for testing the 377 without Accu-Sim for the simple reason that
without it, it’s nothing more than a run of the mill addon with a nice exterior.
However, with Accu-Sim installed, the add-on is boosted from the mass of
standard add-ons to the really classy ones with not only good looks but good
plumbing. There are a number of features in the expansion, and I’ll try to go
through what I feel are the most important ones.
The crew audio is nicely done, and sounds realistically annoyed, bored, or even
slightly frantic; all in lovely British or American accents. I suppose I
shouldn’t say crew, as it’s only one voice doing the talking. You’ll hear verbal
reprimands for gunning the throttles on the ground without flaps down, the state
of your engines and whether they are too hot or too cold, warnings for high
speed with landing gear down, fuel warnings, and my personal favourite of the
co-pilot frantically exclaiming, “we’re running on fumes!” and then telling me
to get this bird down somewhere.

The engines programming is quite possibly the system that will give you the most
grief. A2A provided a 2D panel which has some of the basic controls of the
airplane, and all of what you need to manage the engines while in flight. I
insisted on hopping back to the engineers station, but the sane,
non-vintage-freak will probably be wise to use this handy little panel. Getting
back on topic, the engines are highly realistically modelled. If the
temperatures get too low, the spark plugs will foul, and when you raise the
throttle later you’ll see black smoke from the carbon being burnt off the plug.
When you turn on your limited Anti Detonation Injection supply, you have little
fear of the engines burning up beneath you. However, there’s not much in this
supply, and I usually was done with half of it before I switched it back to auto
after takeoff. When you turn this system off, close all of the engine cooling,
and simply gun the engines, you’ll soon hear the co-pilot informing you that you
have an engine fire. So, you switch the fire controls on whichever engine to
‘fire’, and push the switch to release the CO2. This action is accompanied by a
‘whoosh!’ of sound as the chemical is channelled to the engine.
Accu-Sim is most notable in the engines, but there are some really incredible
details which A2A had the ingenuity to program. For instance, (and this, to my
knowledge is unprecedented) if you fly for awhile the windows will fog up (your
co-pilot will mention this too). So, the pilot reaches over to his side panel
and cranks up the defroster. This soon clears the windows, and you’ll hear the
air as the switch is first turned, though it later fades to nothing.
Additionally, if the windshield wipers are going when there’s no rain, they’ll
squeak. You can also realistically control the speed of the wipers with a rotary
dial, again on the pilot’s side panel. When you turn in flight you’ll hear the
airplane creaking around you, and if you break on the ground, you’ll sometimes
hear the breaks squeaking.

Final Word
The A2A Boeing 377 Stratocruiser is, in my mind, a marvel of ingenuity and
dedication to perfection. Many companies would have happily released the base
package, then an Accu-Sim containing some fancy engine failure algorithms, but
A2A went beyond that and modelled some aspects which I would never have dreamt
of. The price is reasonable, but I urge you to by the Accu-Sim with the addon,
as it really is half of the simulation. This model has it all: a beautiful
exterior, decent interior, attention and devotion to detail, and the
all-important systems programming. I cannot describe this plane as anything but
a winner, and in stark contrast to the real aircraft’s history, A2A has
certainly experienced a wonderful success.
 
System Requirements: System Tested On:
Microsoft FSX
Windows XP SP2 OR Windows Vista
2.0GHz single core processor
250MB of HDD Space
512Mb Graphics Card
N/A

What I Don't Like What I Do Like
Nothing Everything

Price: £23.50 $36.99 €25.88 Rating: Gold
Reviewd By: VFR Reviews Date: 27 May 2009
YouTube Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W_A7Kp4R1Qw