Threshold recently had the exclusive opportunity to interview Denis V. Maslov and Roman Berezin of StepToSky and FlightFactor (respectively) as part of a piece on the upcoming Flat Panel Display System upgrade for the group's 757 recreation.
In our news article, which is viewable here, we only included the sections pertaining to the FPDS due to the large size of the interview. Here is the full version, where we cover all topics, from FPDS to the 777 version 2.
So, without further ado - Denis and Roman, welcome to Threshold!
>> First question: FlightFactor is one of the largest X-Plane brands out there. How did you come to be involved in this company, and where did you begin your X-Plane development journey?
Denis: Ok, it was several years ago. I was, and still am, a virtual pilot of the X-AiR (now X-Airways) virtual airline, and as a pilot, I saw many problems and inconveniences pilots face, so I decided to try to improve the situation and started to learn programming.
The first projects were X-NavAIDs-Tools (now obsolete) and X-CSL-Package, the traffic model library for IVAO for X-Plane. That was the beginning of my journey.
I and my friend Alex created StepToSky, and as a team we received an offer from Ramzzess (FlightFactor founder) to work together, and initially joined the 757/767 project.
>> Evidently the FPDS systems upgrade is not your first with the brand, so what other projects have you been involved in under FlightFactor? Which were your favourites to work on?
Denis: Personally I'm responsible for the improvements of the navigation systems, e.g. fmc, autopilot, irs, cdu, efis, etc. Also I'm responsible for several other things, like internal dev-ops.
>> The Flat Panel Display System upgrade is your latest project - could you please give us a rundown of what is added in this big new update?
Denis: It's a whole new integrated EFIS system! Four LCD displays with integrated symbol generators, three DCUs (Data Concentrator Unit) with integrations to other airplane systems which contain some internal logic, and two DCPs (Display Control Panel) which are connected to the left and right displays - to control range, baro setting, map modes etc. Also, there is a new DCP Altn button for source switching, to select alternate DCP control on each side. Finally, a new standby instrument ISFD (Integrated Standby Flight Display).
Of course, the new displays can be popped up and out, including the ISFD. EICASes cannot yet, but we have plans to add this feature to EICASes in the future.
>> Through a little research, we've found a few different types of retrofitted displays on 757's currently (for example, some have bezels between the PFD and ND, some do not) - what sort of specification are the ones included in this update? Which airlines would we find these new screens on?
Denis: I believe you are talking about the FPDS - Flat Panel Display System from IS&S and the LDS - Large Display System from Collins. First the one we have implemented has four separate displays. Several airlines have this setup, for example FedEx, Icelandair, etc.
>> The question that’s seemingly on everyone’s lips at the moment - what’s the plan on a release date for the FPDS upgrade?
Denis: As for today, September 04, then we plan to do it on this week.
>> Finally on the topic of FPDS: Some in the community have expressed discontent for the upgrade fee to be included, what is FlightFactor’s response/view on this?
Roman: it is important to understand that we now do this (work on X-Plane add-ons) as a full time job, as it has become complicated and complex. Thus, the time spent on an add-on, update or any work for that matter has to be valuated. Obviously, the "industry" has a standard, which we by the way, helped to set. We were one of the companies to release a large airliner (the 777, 8 years ago) and we set the standard of "free updates". Obviously, when we ship a product, we intend to update it for free, at least for the duration of the current X-Plane major version (in practice planes like the SSJ, 777 and A350 have been freely updated though the v9-v10-v11 transition). That said, it is important to understand that we intend to improve and develop only the "stated core functionality" of the product. Thus, any improvement of the autopilot, graphics or sounds is logically free as part of the ongoing update process.
On the other hand, an addition of a new fuselage like the 757-300 with its own dynamics, sounds and 3d, is not part of that process. Same with the FPDS. We have never said that FPDS will be part of the product, we never thought of it in the beginning, therefore it is a "separate product" or a "payware addition".
Please note, that the original packages will still be available for purchase and people who bought them can upgrade to the new, more complete product packages, with no loss of money. Simply put, we are not forcing the upgrade on anyone, but we also can't provide it for free. The time spent developing the new 3D and systems, could have been spent on a new plane, which no one would expect to be free, right :)
>> Moving on to the idea of FlightFactor as a whole, when put to our readers, by far the most requested question for you guys was about the 777 Version 2. Is there anything you’re able or allowed to discuss on this, perhaps to silence some of the rumours going around at the moment?
Roman: All we can say is, "there will be a v2".
>> For more of a behind-the-scenes look at you and the team, can you give us a brief look into how things run at FlightFactor day-to-day? Do you typically work together, in one big space, or is it more online communication?
Roman: We are a fully online company. Only two of our team members are front the same city and only two cohabitate, and the later is due to the fact that they are married. We have people from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia, Bulgaria and our support person Ben lives in Sweden now, not forgetting Philipp who moved to the US. We usually work in small teams and we have weekly skype meetings to discuss what each person did in the last period, make sure everybody is in the loop. We meet sometimes in pairs or groups but our tradition is to meat every two years in Moscow for the Moscow Aerospace Show, which was just a week ago.
>> How many people does FlightFactor employ, and how do you guys divide and complete projects? Is there a specific team for each aircraft - and if so, what were your favourites to work on?
Roman: We are 12-14 people now, depending on how one counts. Usually people do not work on specific projects but rather in a specific area of expertise. Yuri for example worked on the radar system, which was then implemented in several projects. Some people are involved only in specific projects though, like Michael, who is the a320u main developer.
>> Looking to the future, what plans do FlightFactor have? Are there some new areas you would like to target? New aircraft?
Roman: Our immediate goal is to get all our projects (4 planes) to the same high level people have grown to expect from FlightFactor. That means updates in some cases and v2s in others. Then.. yes, we have two major planes in the pipeline, but its too early to talk about it.
>> Also looking to the future, Microsoft recently debuted their next-generation flight sim at E3 this year - what are your thoughts on the new simulator from personal and/or business perspectives at FlightFactor?
Roman: it is really too early to say anything. Might be great, but be nothing. we shall see.
>> And lastly, to finally put an end to the debate: Is the company name spelled Flight Factor or FlightFactor?
Roman: I didn't realize there was a debate on the subject. But it is one word.
We'd like to thank Roman and Denis for taking the time out of their no-doubt very busy schedule to answer our questions, it's much appreciated!