Have you ever wished you could have a separate panel? Maybe even one using a touch screen but you lack the technical skills or think it might be too hard or too expensive? Sim Innovations' Air Manager comes to the rescue.
Air Manager is a great piece of software available for Desktop and the iPad. The version reviewed is the Desktop one, which was exactly what I needed to try it on my Microsoft Surface.
This software allows you to build your own panels, by using instruments that already exist (and which you can download for free). If a given instrument is not available, you can make your own. You'll need the art assets (png images) and some coding skills. It's not too hard to develop an instrument but you'll need to know what you're doing.
You can then use these panels with your flight simulation software. Air Manager supports FSX, Prepar3D and X-Plane and you can use it on Windows, Linux and Mac. Impressive.
First things first. Installation is pretty simple. You'll get 3 installation versions (again, for Windows, Linux and Mac) and some plugins to connect to your sim. Follow the installation wizard and you'll be ready to start.
Using a panel
After the installation, you'll want to either create a panel or get a premade one. Premade panels were either developed by Sim Innovations or other users and you can get them for free. Add it to your list and Air Manager will download all the required instruments.
You can also clone an existing panel -- handy if you want to build a panel based on another one -- or start one from scratch.
Like I said before, you can use pre-existing instruments (which you can, again, download for free from inside Air Manager) or you can edit or create your own.
You will need to know LUA (a programming language) and be able to do some 2D art. If your instrument needs a special font (for LCD/digital displays) you will need to add it to the instrument as well.
I cannot see how more complex instruments could be made (like a full-blown GPS) but for regular, simple instruments, the development process is pretty easy.
There are already quite a few instruments and premade panels you can use, so chances are you'll be able to start giving it a try with a few default aircraft and build from there.
Getting it to work
You have a couple of ways to use Air Manager. You can use it in the same computer as your sim (which works great if you have a multiple-monitor setup) or remotely.
There's a particular setting that you can change and indicate the IP of the computer where your sim is running. This should make it possible to use, for example, your FSX in a Windows box but having a Mac laptop act as a panel display.
In my case, I'm using a Microsoft Surface 3 Pro. The touch screen display and amazing resolution allows me to use it pretty well and control the radios, for example, with my left hand by touching and sliding rather than having to use the mouse.
I could also move it to my left and use it with the radio stack only. Especially for us, virtual helicopter pilots, the ability to control stuff with your left hand easily becomes even more important. We cannot simply drop the cyclic so adding more control over instruments by means of a touch screen that you can use with your left hand is really something.
Should you get it?
Yes. If you can have access to a touch screen monitor or an iPad that you can use as a panel, you should probably get it. I am using it quite a lot lately and it has helped me to control the instruments without wobbling the helicopter all over the place because I need to use my left hand to handle the cyclic so that I can use my right hand to move the mouse around.
Even if you are not a heli pilot but you want to have a dedicated panel, Air Manager can help you do just that without the need to make a huge investment.
There are a few things that can be tweaked but, while talking to the guys at Sim Innovations, some of them might be added in the future. The ability to export panels, for example, so we can build a panel in a computer and export it to another one would be handy. The amount of widows opened are also quite a lot but that should be fixed soon.
It would also be great to have the ability to select a texture to act as a background for the whole panel. This is something that can be done by means of an instrument but having a dedicated background would probably be easier to use.
All in all, Air Manager is a great software. If you don't want to take the plunge right away you can get a demo here before you purchase it.
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