One of my 2023 goals has been to finally learn an airliner. I had a pretty good run with the default A320neo that came with Microsoft Flight simulator in a cross Canada challenge. But now I want to take it a bit further and learn a high fidelity version. I’ve just plonked down some cash and am now in the cockpit of the PMDG 737-600. This is a new journey I will document over the ensuing months as I learn this airplane and style of flying.
For some flight simmers, flying airliners is the way to go and everything else plays second fiddle to the airliner experience. High fidelity models have taken sometime to make their way into Microsoft Flight Simulator but these days we’re seeing a near explosion of options with the experience having been lead by freeware developers FlyByWire and payware developers PMDG, Fenix and JustFlight just to name some. So many more are currently in development.
I’ve played around with some airliner experiences before. I did a series of cross country flights from coast-to-coast-to-coast in Canada which got me started. Veteran airliner simmers will knock the default A320neo but its greatly simplified systems are actually a great way for someone who is very new to the whole airliner experience to jump in and feel accomplished without needing to know how the whole system works.
Now, however, I’m curious and want to know more about the in depth operations. In some ways, approaching an airliner is a bit like approaching something like the F/A-18C in DCS World. If you’re new to IFF systems, missiles and radars and targeting pods, the whole experience can be overwhelming and that’s kind of where I’m at with airliners. The Hornet feels easy compared to this for me!
Programming the FMC, tackling the VNAV, and managing all of the elements of planning the next flight are areas that I’ve touched on before but not as frequently as I will need to if I’m going to learn a bunch about flying an airliner. So… here I am! Learning new things in this still new year.
Why the 737-600
I waffled back and forth for months about which airliner would be the right decision.
Flight Sim Studio AG’s Embraer 175 early access appealed in a lot of ways because of the small size, short hops and because it was somewhat simpler with its early access status. Some of the issues with the airplane around performance and the potential for stability and system bugs caused me to shy away from it. Reliability when doing a deep dive into something is important too. I might eventually dive in but not right now.
I considered Fenix’s A320 which has an excellent reputation for being a top notch airliner. On the other hand, I’ve flown some A320 already and the A310 is also available in the sim for free if I wanted to fly that. I suspect that the Fenix may be in my sim hangar later in the year too so its very much on the table!
Then I looked at PMDG’s line-up. I considered the -600, the -700 and -800. Each is sold separately although they are all quite similar in overall operation with differences limited to some of the optional packages (like the BBJ and freighter options on the -700 and -800) and of course the size of the airplane. The -700 and -800 are longer.
Ultimately chose the 737-600 for a couple of reasons. First, the 737-600 is the cheapest of the bunch and that means that for many virtual pilots this may be the first full fidelity airliner that they consider buying. The same goes for me and getting into this airliner in this way might mimic the pathways of other sim pilots.
Second, learning the -600 means that the other slightly larger 737 models are open to me too. Paying for these separately does make it a bit challenging for many but if getting one became something I really wanted to do I could. Another pathway that I’m considering is to learn this 737-600 and then later when a different type like the 777 or 737 MAX becomes available I’d be well placed to learn those too with similar styles of operation across the Boeing line. The Zibo mod in X-Plane is an obvious option too opening that excellent freeware airplane and legendary type for X-Plane open to me in the future.
The -600 doesn’t have a BBJ or freight option and its also least popular of the NG versions of the 737 both in real life and in the sim world so presumably this helped suggest to PMDG that a lower price was the right move.
With just 69 produced, the majority of the the -600 aircraft went to launch customer SAS from Denmark and to Canadian airline company Westjet. The majority of these have been retired but some have found a second life with charter airlines too. As a bonus, it’s also the airplane of choice for the unofficially named Janet airline that flies employees into the secretive Area 51. All of this speaking to the prototypical scenarios that I can potentially fly just with the -600 version.
Aside from learning a lot to make this airplane work, I also am on a quest to make this experience as fun and straightforward as possible. I see some videos online of some long startup sequences spending anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes setting up before pushback. I want to get going much quicker than that and I want to prove that you can have a fun airliner experience that feels authentic without having to jump through every hoop.
For the purists, this will probably sound like nails on a chalkboard but I think there’s a whole new generation of simmers that are going to want to have that in-between experience. Or maybe its just me. Either way, this is the challenge that I intend to undertake!
Another aspect of this are the supplementary components to the experience. Scenery, utilities, and more all comprise the airliner experience in ways that flying bush planes and general aviation types that I normally fly don’t.
So, join me for this ongoing series through 2023 as I slowly and perhaps painfully attempt to learn an airliner… or two! Part two of this journey is right around the corner as I document my first full flight. Stay tuned for that!
12 Comments Add yours
I hope you enjoy the experience! I had the PMDG 737 way back in FS9 and it was my first quality time with a modern EFIS and FMS. Now I’ve come full circle and am a captain on the real thing.
One thing that really helped me out when it was big and overwhelming was an add-on called FS2Crew. It provided a virtual copilot that would work with you to do the flows and checklists, among other things. It took me from wondering if I was doing everything right to feeling more like a captain who confidently knew what was coming next.
Now I haven’t used FS2Crew since the FS9 days, but seeing as how they are still around 20 years later, I assume they are still making a quality product.
I generally prefer not to pile add-ons on top of add-ons when I’m learning something new, but somehow this hobby isn’t very conducive to that philosophy! At any rate, if you find yourself feeling a little lost, I would recommend checking it out.
Anyway I’m very excited to hear how it goes!
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This is a perfect series for me and I have very similar goals. I picked up the 737-600 recently and I want to approach it in a more simplified fashion to get maximum enjoyment out of the gate. Deeper learning can come in the future if I get the full airliner itch. I look forward to seeing how you get on and learning along with you
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Will follow with interest as I bought the PMDG 737 600 recently too with a view to learning an airliner properly.
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Glad this series is running parallel to others. I hope the next instalment proves helpful to you and others. And in a roundabout way… me!
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So glad you are learning this! There’s something about it that I just love and have done since it’s first iteration in 2003. FS2Crew was mentioned above, but I would suggest learning everything you possibly can before getting FS2Crew (which is awesome). There’s a lot to come as well for this module so you really are investing in something that will be taken care of for years.
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I’ve heard of FS2Crew before. I’ll have to look into it.
Definitely a lot to come from PMDG in this area so I hope it puts me in a good spot to report on it too.
Thanks for the encouragement! Any words of wisdom or suggestions while learning airliners?
Oh man, where to begin! What I love about passenger planes is having to fly exactly by the numbers: takeoffs, landings, stability, SIDs, STARs, ILS, RNAV approaches to and by the numbers, it’s literally years of entertainment.
I would start by getting really familiar with programming the FMS and using it in flight, while also using the (MCP) Mode Control Panel. Once you can dial in your own vectoring from a STAR, or learn what you best decent rates are (outside of the FMS), you’ll start to get to grips with handling these birds.
I recommend two YouTubers; 737NG Driver, and Flightdeck2sim. Both are 737 pilots and have all the knowledge and excellent training videos. Flightdeck2sim is the original PMDG YouTuber and is older training videos are actually from FS9 but they still apply. One of my favorites is the line training video which is THE place to start with the PMDG 737. Enjoy and good luck! I find it as addicting as flying the HB F-14 simply because it’s very chill once you’re in climbing and in cruise. Either side of that you’re busy with setting everything up!
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Hi Sean! Thanks for the comments and the links. Yep, I’ve watched most of those and while some of their tutorials are very good they also can be long and challenging to get through.
I’m trying to thread the needle between doing all of those airliner things as precisely as possible without getting so bogged down in the details of it that I don’t enjoy the flying part. It’s a challenge but I’m on it 🙂
Correction: it’s circuit training and the video can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNZqTAkX3Uk
(not sure what happened to my previous comment – trying again) Correction, it’s circuit training and the video can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNZqTAkX3Uk
Great choice! I had it in P3D and now in FS2023, too.
The default tutorial flight from KPDX to KSFO is a great way to get your feet wet.
Like the other guy said, FlightDeck2Sim & 737NG driver are great.
I also like Into The Blue Sims & 320 Sim Pilot (they’re Airbus guys but are very chill and both have content on the PMDG 737).
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Great suggestions. I’ve watched them as well. Their explanations can be long but I’ve watched three stuff too. The live streams are sometimes good to just see things in process.
I ended up doing a different first flight but it was great. And I had help!