By Mike Cameron, AVSIM reviewer
The following introduction was gathered from the product page and two articles published on www.fsxinsider.com, “Cargo Crew Release Announcement” and “Cargo Crew a Developers Perspective.” Cargo Crew is the second mission pack, following Dangerous Approaches, developed by acclaimed flight simulator developer, Jane Whittaker and published by Dovetail Games exclusively for FSX: Steam Edition. After starting this review I was provided the opportunity to review Dangerous Approaches so I will be reviewing that mission pack after Cargo Crew is completed. Jane is a leading aviation & transport journalist. Along with being the assistant editor of PC Pilot magazine, she is also a regular contributor to a wide range of publications including Airliner World. In addition to this, she writes pilot tutorials and training guides for aircraft, including the Airbus and Boeing fleets. She is also a regular contributor to Sky News and the BBC as a technical advisor for aviation matters.
Cargo pilot operations are one of the most exciting yet under represented areas of the flight simulator experience. Virtual simulator pilots have a tendency to fly the shiny new passenger jets, giving little thought to the life of a “freight dog” as cargo crews are affectionately termed. Even though some the most diverse and exciting flying in the world is with cargo operations. Cargo operators regularly fly to a variety of locations around the world using a wide range of aircraft.
According to Jane Whittaker, “I wanted to reflect that uniqueness and diversity with the Cargo Crew mission pack for FSX: SE, which is essentially an around the world trip. Cargo pilots, unlike their airline brethren are often away from home for over a month at a time on a long circumnavigation of the globe.” Cargo Crew consists of 20 FSX-SE missions ranging in duration from 30 minutes to three hours. The goal of Cargo Crew is to reproduce the full experience of operating a cargo air operation. You are the pilot in command and must deal with unexpected scheduling problems, severe weather, mechanical defects, airport diversions and more operational issues that will need to be overcome.
The primary purpose of this program is not just to simulate real world cargo flights but to also include the above unexpected situations that are part of being a real world cargo operator. You will not be flying alone on these flights; Angel Heaven Lee recorded approximately 200 unique pieces of dialog as she accompanies you as your trusty co-pilot! This dialog has been carefully designed to complement the instructions given to you by air traffic control. Nearly all of the flights have been designed to support ATC services within the flight simulator, which adds to both the realism level and the cockpit ambience. Jane decided to use the DC-3 as the aircraft of choice for these flights because a number of cargo carriers around the world still use this aircraft because it is a reliable go anywhere performer.
The DC-3 included in the package is a customized model designed by Daniel Dunn and includes a Cargo Crew livery. As with other FSX missions, you can fly other aircraft or change the weather: if you make changes to the mission you will not be given a badge for your flights, you will still receive success messages, trophy on screen, etc. but you will not get a “badge” on your logbook.
All of Jane Whittaker’s proceeds from Cargo Crew and Dangerous Approaches go to a very worthy cause, direct financial support Rosie Davies Appeal. Rosie has Caudal Regression Syndrome and is one just three people to undergo lifesaving and pioneering surgery. Rosie is still faced with ongoing medical costs and future surgeries so proceeds from these two products will help support this brave girl.
More details about Rosie are included at the end of the Cargo Crew manual and on the Avsim Jane Rachel Whittaker – Blue Sock Studios Official Support forum located here: http://forum.avsim.net/forum/733-jane-rachel-whittaker-blue-sock-studios-official-support-forum/ . William Reynolds of Avsim will also be conducting an interview with Jane sometime after this review is published, so we will learn more about how Rosie is doing from this.
If you are a new user to Steam, the flight simulator add-on installation procedure will be somewhat different than what you are probably used too. This process is really very easy with the major difference being you will be purchasing and activating the process through the Steam network. The nice thing about FSX-SE is that you can still purchase and install products from other developers and stores like you did with FSX but all products sold by Dovetail Games are exclusive to the FSX – Steam Edition, available only on Steam. I received the review copy of Cargo Crew directly from Dovetail games and I am going to do my best to explain the purchase and installation procedure. For detailed instructions with pictures, click here. Those of you that already have FSX-SE installed on their systems can skip ahead because the procedure is the same as when you purchased and installed FSX – Steam Edition.
Before doing anything, Cargo Crew uses the DC-3 aircraft and if are like me and moved the default aircraft to a backup folder, copy the DC-3 back to the FSX-SE Simobjects Aircraft folder or you will receive an error message when loading your first mission. Launch Steam from Windows and if necessary log in to your account. After purchase, the autoinstaller runs and sets itself up for you. Another difference between FSX and FSX-SE is that FSX-SE has a downloadable content folder (DLC) and items purchased on Steam are installed here. After this is completed which is very fast, the Cargo Crew missions will now display on the simulator Missions list. A 27 page manual is included and is also available on the product page and provides details for getting the most from Cargo Crew along with detailed briefings for each of the missions.
Getting Started and My First Flight
I am not going to complete all of the missions for this review due to time constraints but will attempt a variety of them. Before loading the mission I recommend having the printed manual open to the briefing page for that flight. The briefings provide destination airport information (frequencies, airport altitude and runway information) along with some hints and tips for completing the flight. The first flight is from Little River to San Francisco and is a short introductory flight that lets you become familiar with the Douglas DC-3. If you are unfamiliar with FSX-SE, all of these missions are selected from the simulator Missions menu, just select the Cargo Crew category. The simulator missions are arranged in difficulty order (Beginner, Intermediate & Advanced) rather than sequential order so early flights may not be Beginner level flights and may require more skill to complete. That is the nice thing about the missions in flight simulator, if you are very familiar with the DC-3, you can skip ahead to a mission of your choice. Completing one flight successfully before you are able to fly another is not required so these missions are accessible to all virtual pilots of all skill levels.
Load Cargo Crew 01 from the list and select “Go to Briefing”to open the briefing page will open that contains the same information as the printed briefing. When you are ready to fly the mission, click on the “Fly” button to load the flight into FSX-SE. After the DC-3 loads I get my first look at the excellent looking exterior paint and what looks like a well-used cockpit. I am going to enjoy having a co-pilot along for these flights because the quality of the voice acting is excellent. My copilot is Angel and she provides some information about your departure and what to do next. The only minor issue that I have with the co-pilot conversations is that the transcripts are not stored anywhere so it would be a good idea to take some notes. It would have been nice if this information would have been added to the kneeboard for reference. A couple of other introductory comments, if you have scenery installed for your departure airports, do not be surprised if your aircraft is parked in unusual areas. Simply use the FSX-SE slew or pushback commands to move the aircraft to a more appropriate location.
Secondly, if you are unfamiliar with the DC-3, I recommend doing some research to get the most out of the experience. The mission loads with both engines running so you do not need to worry about starting these engines, just remember to have your hardware mixture controls at the full rich or forward positions or one or both engines may not be started. I own the CH Throttle Quadrant and learned about this the hard way; I wondered why the right engine was not running. I spent more time than I would like trying to manually start this engine. Cargo Crew is very forgiving, as long as you notice this right away and move the levers to the proper position quickly, the engine will start without issue. If you do not have hardware controls than this will not be an issue because the auto-start sequence will do everything for you in the cockpit. Quickly, before moving on, if you are very experienced and want to start the DC-3 from a “cold and dark” condition, manually power down the engines and follow the aircraft checklists for the most realistic experience possible. I decided not to do this and I do not recommend trying this if you are new to this wonderful hobby.
All of the missions contain a flight plan loaded onto the default GPS and are Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) flight plans so you will be interacting with the simulator air traffic control system for the majority of these missions. I make my radio calls and taxi to the active runway. The DC-3 is a large tail wheeled aircraft that can be hard to see what is in front of you on the ground so if you would like, you can taxi from the exterior spot view if needed. Remember this is supposed to be a fun experience for all skill levels so the choice is yours. I depart Little River Airport without issue and am now enroute to San Francisco International (KSFO). For this flight, I decided to just fly but if you would like to simulate the most realistic experience, follow the checklists (available on the aircraft kneeboard), for all phases of flight. Other than the 2D GPS window, the DC-3 has a very old fashioned instrument panel that I will have to research later to know what everything is. Do not be intimidated by it, the DC-3 is a wonderful aircraft to hand fly, it is just larger than you may be used to if you primarily fly small general aviation aircraft. I recommend having the GPS open at all times to follow the flight plan course at first and to quickly know what heading that you are on later in the flight when ATC stats vectoring you to your destination.
Angel will occasionally let you know about airspeeds, setting the aircraft for approach so you are not totally alone. The documentation says that the DC-3 climbs slowly and is this ever true. Today’s flight is only 7000 feet and even though it took us awhile, the DC-3 climbs very smoothly. When arriving at the planned cruise altitude, Angel announces that we have arrived at are planned cruising altitude and because this is a short flight, ATC starts to assign headings for your approach into KSFO.
If you have not piloted the DC-3 before this will be your first challenge, manually flying this aircraft. You cannot follow the flight plan course on the GPS now because that is a direct flight plan and ATC is directing you off of this course. I had trouble reading the heading on the DC-3 instruments but the GPS displays the current heading also so that helps. The DC-3 does have a very basic autopilot installed (heading & altitude hold modes only), but my Saitek autopilot did work with this aircraft which helped when I had to take my hands off the controls to look at the checklist, map etc. Some may call this cheating but I call it letting my copilot take control of the aircraft and this is supposed to be a fun experience, if you have the tools, use them.
Other than the cruise level announcement, my copilot is very quiet on this flight but when starting the approach and landing phase she does communicate useful information for setting up the DC-3 for landing which is great. I was able to successfully fly the approach and land at KSFO and was rewarded with a congratulations message from Angel, the “Success” message from the simulator and was awarded a reward in my logbook. One flight complete, nineteen more to go, this is going to be a fun program to review. After being rewarded for a successful mission, you can end the mission now but I decided to taxi to parking to enhance the realism.
Cargo Crew Flight 02: Stansted to Prestwick
If you are new to the flight simulator experience and think the order of the Cargo Crew missions are from a beginning level to advanced, than you would be wrong. Mission Two starts our around the world journey generating revenue for our air cargo operation. This trip has some unexpected consequences enroute and thus the difficulty level has increased to an Advanced level instead of another Beginning level similar to the introductory flight. The choice is yours if you want to complete the missions by experience level or in sequential order; the end result will be the same if you complete all of the missions. Personally, I am going complete the missions in sequential order and this should provide me with a good idea of the challenges that I will encounter with the Cargo Crew mission pack.
The first revenue generating flight will depart Stansted, England and the planned destination is Prestwick Airport in Glasgow, Scotland. Angel again provides some useful information about this airport, cruise altitude and other similar departure and flight information that we received in the first mission. The engines are already running so I thought I would use the After Start and later checklists for a more realistic experience. This was a mistake because when I tried the propeller feathering check I lost RPM on the right propeller and needless to say this caused some problems. I started over and decided I will be very selective with my checklist actions until I know the DC-3 better. Angel is very quiet so far other than to announce that we have reached our cruising altitude and so far the flight has been uneventful but that is about to change. About 70 miles from the POL VOR, Angel announces that the right engine has failed and that I should attempt a restart. As you can see from my screen grab the situation is considerably worse and things are about to get interesting. After failing to restart this engine, Angel announces that we need to divert to the nearest airport now. I consult the map and there are a couple suitable airports near me. Apparently, the engine fire event is based on time and not distance because Angel suggests diverting to Manchester which is quite some distance from my current position.
I am required to land at Manchester in order to successfully complete this mission. Angel says that I need to contact ATC and create a new IFR flight plan from my current position to Manchester. I could not extinguish the fire or shut down the engine but Angel still suggests that I am going to have to use rudder trim in order to compensate for the failed engine. I manage slowly to make my way to Manchester, continue to monitor my instruments and hope the airspeed does not continue to drop. As I approach this airport a lot of things start to happen, multiple radio changes, course and altitude changes as directed by ATC so you need to try to keep up with the aircraft. Remember you do have an autopilot and this does help with the workload somewhat. As you get closer to Manchester, Angel will call out some checklist items to help set the DC-3 up for landing. I manage to land safely and Angel lets me know that I did a terrific job and that maintenance is going to look at that engine. It was nice to have this additional dialog because it really adds to the experience and I look forward to what she is going to say on future flights.
After completing this flight, I know now that even though this mission was considered advanced, Cargo Crew is very forgiving and as long as you are able to land safely at the required destination, you will be rewarded for your efforts. I was unable to shut down the engine and I still received the award for completion. Experienced virtual pilots who regularly fly these advanced missions may have a problem with this simplicity but I do not because this product is primarily designed for the casual simulator pilot that would like a challenge without being impossible.
The only thing that would make the experience better would be if Angel would provide the procedures for engine shut down in flight so that it is as realistic as possible.
Cargo Crew 03, 04, 05: Manchester, Prestwick, Edinburgh & Humberside
Rather than skipping ahead to other missions, I am going to continue the review flights in order because these are all relatively short flights. I am also going to combine all of these missions in one section because there is some duplication. They also provide a good example of the skill level variety. Mission 03 is an Advanced level mission, 04 is an Intermediate level and 05 is a Beginning level mission. My air cargo operation has not gotten off to a good start. The repairs on the failed engine took two days to complete. Angel decided to stay with the aircraft during the repair process but I decided to take this time to explore the Manchester area. The mechanics decided that the engine needed to be replaced which will improve the reliability but in this time the weather has deteriorated, so this is going to be another challenging flight. As you can see from the screen grab it is raining heavily outside. Our cruise level for this flight is 8000 feet and I contact ATC for clearance. I have also decided to just enjoy the missions rather than following all of the checklists.
I am not familiar with the DC-3 so when I tried to follow the checklists, I experienced more troubles than it was worth, but if you want the extra challenge by all means, follow the checklist procedures. After departing Manchester I quickly fly into the clouds and the workload gets very busy. I receive multiple ATC calls; I need to maintain the assigned heading while at the same time climbing to the cruise altitude. The DC-3 is a very responsive aircraft to hand fly but I did open the GPS so that I could see what direction that I was flying, I had trouble reading the heading indicator installed on the DC-3. After I reach the cruise altitude I activate altitude hold on the autopilot. It would have been nice if my co-pilot would operate the radios, I believe it would greatly add to the experience. Luckily, it is simple mouse clicks to respond to air traffic control. There is not a lot to see on this flight because of the clouds for most of the flight and I also encounter turbulence along the way. It is a good thing that this is a cargo flight with no passengers to complain.
Angel announces that we have a lovely view of the coast but we are still in the clouds and cannot see a thing. This is one of the sometimes annoying things about the simulator missions; the voice conversations are scripted and may not correspond to where you are in the actual flight. A similar thing happened with the introductory flight, we were supposed to get a good view of the Golden Gate Bridge but with the way ATC vectored me to the runway, I did not get to see this landmark. I manage to land safely for another successful flight. Despite being an Advanced level mission, most users should not have a problem completing this flight.
Flight 04 is from Prestwick to Edinburgh is a short flight of only 45 minutes but can still be a challenge because there are time constraints involved with this flight. The goal of this transport flight is to transfer perishable food to Edinburgh Airport in 45 minutes or less. For this flight I am going to say that Angel has already prepared the aircraft for departure so I am just going to get in and start the trip as soon as possible. I am also going to use the autopilot for this trip. I just hope ATC does not waste my time by assigning constant back and forth headings for this trip. I could cancel the flight plan and fly direct but I would like to stay within the mission parameters so I will leave the flight plan enabled. Also, I think I already mentioned this but if you are unfamiliar with the DC-3 you can use your own aircraft if you would like but will not be rewarded for a successful completion. Besides trying to be an accurate representation of a real world air cargo operation, Cargo Crew was also designed to be fun for all skill levels of simulator pilots to enjoy.
On this flight, a countdown timer is displayed that lets you know exactly how much time that you have left. It took about five minutes to taxi and depart, so I have 40 minutes to go. I own the Orbx Scotland regional scenery and enjoy the nice landscapes that Scotland provides. Thankfully, ATC did not vector me to the destination runway and I enjoy a nice direct flight to Edinburgh. I successfully land at Edinburgh with about 14 minutes to spare and received the great flight comment from Angel. Even though this was an intermediate skill level mission, it was one of easiest to complete for me.
I already commented about this but if you are an expert than fill free to start from a totally cold and dark aircraft and do all of the checklist procedures. If you are new the wonderful flight simulator hobby, Cargo Crew is primarily designed with you in mind. The program is not scoring your entire trip and all that is required of you to receive a completion reward for a successful mission is to land at the mission destination airport and brake to a complete stop. The instrument panel of the DC-3 and following air traffic control instructions can be intimidating for beginning pilots but do not worry, just do your best and use the tools at your disposal (GPS & autopilot). I have arrived at the destination and other than the constant heading changes and some turbulence; this was a very routine flight that I would recommend as the second flight for new or inexperienced flight simulator pilots.
My only suggestion for future products that is going to be exclusive for FSX: Steam Edition would be to stagger the skill level of the flights meaning the early flights (01-05 etc.) have the Beginner skill level then increase the skill level in order as the flights progress. This way, the casual pilot can still enjoy the mission order without having to skip around in order to start at the beginning level and work their way up gradually to expert.
Final Review Flight: Cargo Crew 08 Copenhagen Rescue
For the final review flight, I am going to skip ahead to Cargo Crew 08 which provides another example of the variety and challenges that you may encounter with an air cargo operation. It would be pretty boring but probably realistic if all of your air cargo flights are transporting goods from point A to point B. With the flights that I have done so far, I have encountered bad instrument conditions, an engine fire and a time sensitive delivery. This flight we are tasked with dropping urgent medical supplies to a ferry boat that is in trouble and is sinking. I am sure there will be other challenges that you will encounter on the other Cargo Crew flights. This mission also does not use ATC and will be using the FSX Mission Pointer to help you find the sinking ferry. We start at Copenhagen Airport with engines running and receive a radio message about the ferry in trouble.
The airport emergency employees approach us about dropping the emergency supplies and we gladly accept. Unfortunately, this information is just part of the briefing without the added audio of the radio message and your acceptance, which is another feature that would be nice to have included in future mission packs. Angel does provide plenty of useful information about this rescue supply mission which is great.This is an intermediate skill level mission but might be a good one for the casual user because it does not use ATC and does use the mission pointer. The hard part is dropping the objects accurately. Personally, I have never liked these types of missions because have never been good at accurately dropping objects from aircraft in the simulator. We have approached the ferry and love the added details included with this mission, the ferry with oil or fuel surrounding it is included. I recommend using the external spot view for dropping the objects.
This is not realistic but unless Angel announces to drop now, and she does not, this is very hard to do from the cockpit of the DC-3. I drop all of the objects but I do not receive any input that I was successful or not. It would be nice to know here if I am successful at the air drop rather than waiting to land at Copenhagen to see if this mission is successful or not. I land at the airport but do not receive the “Success” message and when I try to end the mission it says that it is incomplete so I guess I failed at dropping the much needed supplies. I hope this is the only air drop type mission because I prefer the standard cargo runs to these “must be on target” type missions.
Maybe if it was easier to hit the target or ferry in this case or had some help from my co-pilot and received some type of acknowledgement successful or not, this would be more fun.