The CPFlight 737 MCP (MCP737PRO) is a cockpit hardware device for flight simulation designed to replicate the newer Collins Mode Control Panel (MCP) found in Boeing 737NGs. CPFlight is based in Italy and the product was shipped to the United States.
This item was ordered along with the CPFlight EFI737PRO (EFIS) and BRACE_EL desktop bracket.
ORDERING / PRICE (in US Dollars)
$1350 – Purchased online at the CPFlight website – Jul 2014 (MCP cost only).
$47 – Optional desktop bracket (holds one EFIS and the MCP)
$135 – Shipping TOTAL for MCP, EFIS, and desktop bracket
$54 – US Customs TOTAL for MCP, EFIS, and desktop bracket
SHIPPING / PACKAGING
This item took a few days to ship after ordering as they were waiting on a back cover for the EFIS (ordered with the MCP) to come back from powder coating. It was shipped via UPS and arrived 6 days later. However, since I was not home to pay the U.S. Custom charges, it took another day to receive. UPS drivers only accept Checks & Money Orders for these charges, no cash or credit/debit cards.
TIP: For international deliveries arriving in the US. A little known time-saver is to call the UPS Billing Center at 866-493-7140 after the package clears customs (check your package tracking to determine when it is released from Customs). The Billing Center uses your tracking number and can process a credit/debit card over the phone to pay the customs charges. Within an hour or so, they notify the driver and clear the package for delivery.
The MCP and EFIS were in plastic bags, placed in cardboard holders, and covered with packing peanuts. This was all inside a fairly heavy-duty cardboard shipping outer box marked FRAGILE. The exterior shipping box did exhibit some minor evidence of a rough trip, but the major components within were not damaged. The desktop bracket arrived in a separate box, but at the same time.
One of the CMD button labels fell off during shipment and was found loose in the box. Also, the LNAV button label was starting to loosen. They are normally glued to the MCP buttons, but as the box sat in the back of a UPS delivery truck for over a day in 110F Arizona heat, it was not a surprise to see this. I was able to press the labels back into place and have had no issues with them since. A little dab of plastic-safe clear glue could also be used if the issue resurfaces. Overall, I am satisfied with the packaging CPFlight used to protect the item in transit as shipping anything overseas is not a delicate experience for anyone.
DRIVERS / MANUALS
Device drivers are not included and must be downloaded from CPFlight.
The manual was in English, simple and easy to follow, and included graphical depictions of the device and usage. It references the CPFlight website for drivers and current compatibility. Panel dimensions (471mm x 73mm x 33mm) and a template for cutting a custom hole for mounting are included. You may note that this is a little smaller than a real Boeing MCP, which is 475mm x 75 mm.
ASSEMBLY / INSTALLATION
The MCP is completely assembled out of the box. The optional desktop bracket included a set of stick-on rubber feet and four (4) black Phillips-head (crosshead) screws for mounting the MCP. The MCP fit perfectly into the bracket.
Included with the MCP:
- A 5-pin cable to connect the MCP to the EFIS
- A USB peripheral cable to connect the PC to the MCP
- A small plastic bag containing the firmware jumper and a 6-pin header to use when attaching the external switches and backlighting controls, with instructions
- A 120/240VAC switching power supply
NOTE: The power supply has a European-style Type C plug on it. It does not come with adapters for other countries such as the Type A plug we use here in the US. I bought a universal power strip on Amazon to connect it. It appears any 6V DC (1150mA) power supply can be used as long as the barrel plug connector for the MCP has the correct polarity and size.
There are 3 separate drivers/applications you need to install for the MCP:
- First, the USB driver. After this driver is installed, the MCP should be powered and connected as you will need the COM port number your PC automatically assigns to it. You can find this port number by opening Window’s Device Manager, expanding Ports (COM & LPT), and looking for CPFlight serial adapter. This FTDI chip driver only needs to be installed for your first CPFlight product as other CPFlight devices can use the same driver after that.
- Second, the communications driver. This allows the MCP to talk with FSX. Within my ProSim737 Avionics Suite, this is not required. I just selected the correct COM port within the ProSimCDU module and go. Other avionics software may require similar steps to set up MCP communication.
- Third, you need Pete Dowson’s popular FSUIPC library. However, FSUIPC does NOT need to be registered for the MCP to operate.
To integrate the CPFlight MCP Pro with the PMDG 737 NGX, I had to ensure that EnableDataBroadcast=1 was in the [SDK] section of the 737NGX_Options.ini file. This file is located in the …\Microsoft Flight Simulator X\PMDG\PMDG 737 NGX folder. Another add-on, I believe FS2Crew, had already added this line so I did not change anything. The MCP manual describes these changes, if needed.
If you installed the CPFlight communications driver, upon starting FSX, you will need trust the driver. Then, when you enter a compatible aircraft, you need to start the MCP software manually. You can do this via the FSX menu bar under Options, selecting FS_COM. Here is where it needs to know the COM port assigned to the MCP by your PC.
NOTE: Every time you use the in-game FSX menu FS_COM function, it opens another copy of the MCP software. Make sure you only have one copy running at a time!
The MCP software takes focus away from FSX when it opens. As I exclusively run FSX in full screen, my FSX gets minimized to the task bar. I wish this happened in the background, without disturbing FSX. Perhaps, it should be integrated into an on-screen menu within FSX. Switching in and out of full screen in FSX is known to use up valuable VAS memory space.
After selecting the COM port, FSX takes focus again. Even if you select the wrong port, it will re-focus FSX. This can be troubling if you do not choose the correct port, so be sure it is correct the first time.
TIP: Anytime you change which USB port the MCP is connected to on the PC, there is a good chance that the COM port will change. This is a Windows thing, not the hardware.
There is an “AutoStart” feature in the MCP software that will auto-connect to the previously set COM port upon startup. This is great as it automatically starts the MCP during each flight, however, in my case, it does not re-focus back to FSX automatically. Again, this FS_COM driver should not be required with an external standalone avionics suite.
There are pins on the back of the MCP to activate TO/GA and A/T disconnect with momentary close switches such as those found on most aftermarket throttle quadrants. Additional pins allow external control of the MCP backlighting. I do not have an external backlight control as of yet, so I used the built in dimmer controls described in the manual to set my brightness levels. I will revisit this review ifhen I implement external dimming.
A built-in configuration mode can be accessed when the MCP is powered, but not connected to FSX yet. Here, you can change the backlight control, backlight dimming control, fast increment on the rotaries, and battery status options.
The MCP internal firmware can be updated with an included software utility. My unit was up to date on delivery (rev 1.17) and did not need to be changed. The manual details the update process quite well.
INTEGRATION / OPERATION
Once I got the drivers and configurations situated, I loaded up my PMDG NGX and began to test the MCP functionality. Everything worked exactly as per the on-screen MCP. A few times, the CPFlight MCP did seem to lose communication sync with the PMDG MCP, but this was due to having it plugged into a cheap ($20) Belkin USB hub running a half dozen other items. When I plugged it directly into the PC, it has been 100% accurate.
By default, the MCP displays are on when FSX is running. Using the MCP configuration mode mentioned above, I changed the battery status option from the default “Off” to “On” as I wanted it turn the MCP on and off based on the battery status in FSX. With the PMDG NGX in cold & dark, this doesn’t always work. Sometimes, the MCP only blinks off for a split second between battery status changes. I emailed support at CPFlight, and as of July 23rd 2014, Paulo is checking his code for a possible bug.
The PMDG’s Virtual Cockpit does somewhat affect the MCP backlighting via the Captain’s Main Panel lighting knob. It does not control the brightness, but turns it on/off at about halfway through the rotation of the knob.
I don’t fly the default FSX airliners, but I am told this MCP works with many of the default aircraft that have an autopilot. Not every function may work, but most do.
When using ProSim737, this MCP operates flawlessly.
There is a Support Page and forums on the CPFlight website.
I had numerous email exchanges with Claudio at CPFlight before purchasing this product. He communicated in English, answered quickly, and was always friendly. When I had a few support questions about the product after delivery, I received a response from Paulo, who was much the same. I’m taking a leap here, but my guess is Claudio and Paulo make up the CP in CPFlight.
After completing a few flights with the CPFlight MCP 737 Pro, I quickly realized that being able to adjust the MCP without touching the mouse is a whole new sense of freedom. After adapting from a clicking a mouse to physically touching hardware, I can now make MCP changes without having to take my eyes off the outside view.
The hardware itself is top notch. The construction is solid and has a great feel to it. The faceplate and knobs are plastic, the mount and backing cover are metal. No electronics are exposed. The rotaries are responsive and the displays are very easy to read. The refresh rate on the displays is extremely quick, but if you have sensitive eyes, you can detect the flickering. This is also visible if you ever try to take a quick photo of them. I had to use a long exposure to capture the images in this review.
The backlighting is dimmable LEDs which spread the light fairly evenly and are more warm than cool white. The faceplate is plastic, but the graphics are accurate and completely legible.
I am especially satisfied with the magnetic A/T arm switch (which can release manually or automatically right on cue after touchdown) and the true-to-life concentric rotaries.
Another huge reason I decided to go with the CPFlight hardware is the ability to daisy chain multiple other CPFlight modules from the MCP (such as both EFIS and many panels in the pedestal) and still only use one USB cable to the PC. These are features you simply do not find on most other MCP products.
If I am going to nitpick a little, there are also a few tiny cosmetic differences between the CPFlight MCP Pro and the real Collins unit. The C/O, SPD INTV, and ALT INTV buttons should sit in recessed depressions in the panel face, the digital displays should be backlit LCDs instead of LEDs, the green button indicator lights should have a “checkerboard” design, and there should be raised guards near the F/D switches and V/S selector wheel. None of these items affect the operation at all, however, there is a size difference that may have an impact on your cockpit build. The CPFlight MCP is a few mm smaller than a real MCP, so it may require custom mounting.
My only lingering issue is the cold and dark mode not always turning off the MCP when using the PMDG and I am hope this gets fixed soon. When using my ProSim737 Avionics Suite, the backlight comes on with the battery switch as expected. I was able to resolve the loose button labels and power supply incompatibility. Otherwise, this is a fantastic addition to any 737 desktop/cockpit flight simulation user and should be first on your list when considering an MCP. For these reasons, I give the CPFlight MCP 737 Pro a score of 9 out of 10.