Prepar3D Version 2 Is Out!

Prepar3D, by Lockheed Martin, takes a giant leap away from FSX with the latest release, version 2!  Out today, version 2 brings some pretty cool changes and adds a few cool aircraft as well.

prepar3d goes to version 2

First off, the rendering nows runs on DirectX 11.  This is a serious upgrade the FSX engine which ran on DirectX 9.  This enables pretty stellar dynamic shadows and a new HDR light system.  They upgraded the user interface, so the dejavu FSX experience is history!

< For a full list of Version 2 features, click here >

Second, four new aircraft join the virtual hangar.  Of course two Lockheed Martin models are included (why did you think otherwise?). The F-22 and F-35 are welcome additions.  The Extra 300s from Alabeo is a great gift for the fast and furious crowd.  Lastly, one of my favorite aircraft of all time joins the sim as default, the Beechcraft A-36 by Carenado (one of the most favorite modelers).

There is a great video by Michaelc136 over at YouTube showing off the new Version 2 UI, system preferences, etc.  Check it out here.

Sounds great, right?  It is, until you realize that being an early adopter counts against you for this “upgrade”.  Users who purchased v1.4 or early, have to purchase the sim all over again at full price.  Yep, $200 for a full license or sign your life away at $9.95/mo as a developer (annual upfront Developer is $120). This leaves a sour taste in this blogger’s mouth.  With X-Plane 10.25 retailing for $60, flat fee, and it offers an arguably competitive experience, users have a great excuse to say goodbye to Lockheed Martin even before trying it.  <  For more information on licensing options, click here >

Anyhow, version 2 is an impressive upgrade.  As soon as I can negotiate a lower rate, I will be purchasing version 2.  Stay tuned…

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A San Francisco Sunset and A Seattle Sunrise

Taking off from San Francisco can be exhilarating.  Add a low sun with cool lighting and you have the makings of an awesome screenshot.   Once you start to notice the Golden Gate Bridge in the background and downtown’s skyline, you have a piece of art.

 

SkySpirit2010 Boeing 767--200 framed by San Francisco landmarks

SkySpirit2010 Boeing 767–200 framed by San Francisco landmarks

On separate flight with the TDS Boeing 787-8 lifting off from SEA-TAC, the early morning lighting  gleaned off the fuselage and created another artistic screenshot.

TDS 787

TDS Boeing 787-8 in FSX leaving SEA-TAC for Tokyo in the early morning light.

It is no wonder sunset and sunrise are the most popular times for flights in flight simulator.  Whether you fly in FSX, P3D, or X-Plane, awesome lighting and memorable moments are all around your virtual world.

A Cessna 182RG Turbo for X-Plane

Surprises are always great unless they involve death or car crashes.  Luckily for the X-Plane community, this post doesn’t have anything to do with death or car crashes.  That means good news for the general aviation crowd running X-Plane (9 or 10 works).

The great news is the .Org (X-Plane.org) purchased from Shade Tree Micro Aviation (STMA, checkout their awesome DHC-3 Otter!) their Cessna Skylane Turbo RG model and have made it free to their members.  Whenever a former payware aircraft goes freeware, you have to take a step back and bring your expectations down a level.   In this case, they don’t have to come down too far.

STMA’s Cessna SkyLane 182RG for X-Plane

 

I took the Skylane out for a test flight from Three Forks, MT to Bozeman, MT and have to say my expectations were beyond met.  Granted this is an older model and you can tell it is more of X-Plane 8.6 refinement, but the panel, virtual cockpit, flight dynamics, and overall package are superb.   While perhaps lower in quality compared to Carenado’s payware, the overall package delivered here for free sets it apart.

The modeled interior is a welcoming place to spend a few hours.  While the refinement will likely be hard for some to get over, the fact is that the interior is there.  Seating for four, door handles, and yokes have been fully modeled.  While I was a bit disappointed with the 2D-like panel in the virtual cockpit, you have to remind yourself that everything you need is there; light switches, HSI, altimeter, throttles, etc.

Hey, it has a back seat!

The Skylane Turbo packs a bunch with over 200-hp and a cruise speed of 150+ knots.  The retractable gear is also fully animated and its just cool to watch it fold back into the stowed position with this model.    The flight dynamics are “reactive” yet forgiving.  True to the X-Plane feel, you have to fly this plane or set the auto pilot.

Power and speed in a compact package, the SkyLane Turbo is a great companion.

Perhaps one of the best features is the return you get in frame rates.  Running this model on X-Plane 9.70 on my old 2007 iMac with settings cranked fairly high, I was able to get 45+ fps, easy.  That means more processor power for the world around you.

< Cessna SkyLane Turbo 182RG for X-Plane  >

So, if you haven’t already skipped to this part (who reads these posts anyway?), you can download the model over at the .Org.  Just make sure to say a thank you to Shade Tree Micro Aviation and the .Org while you are over there.

 

A Douglas DC-8 by Kingfisher Addons

The Douglas DC-8 family of commercial jets were perfectly good airliners produced from 1958 to 1972. Production came to a close as newer, larger, and more efficient airliners such as the DC-10 and Boeing’s 747 changed the game for airliner design.   During its 14 years of production, the DC-8 competed quite successfully against the Boeing 707 and even collected a world record for the first commercial airliner to break the sound barrier during testing in 1961.

To me, the DC-8 represents a gorgeous design.  The unique shaped nose, to its squarish windows, the design was the epitome of modern jet design.   Lucky for us, Kingfisher Addons (Kfa), reproduced the model for us in FSX.  Before I go too much further, I want to point out Kingfisher’s  tagline:  simple virtual  aircraft.  For those of you who have been around the flight simulator hobby for a few years, might remember Mike Stone who had the goal of building unique aircraft for FS, but kept it simple.  Eye candy took a back seat to simplicity and low polygon count.

Kingfisher DC-8-73 FSX

The DC-8 taxis to the active at KVCV for a ferry flight Denver.

When I saw version 1.20 available at FlightSim, I jumped at the chance to put this aircraft through the aRoMO paces.  While I am pleased with the visual model (could be better, but it  fully represents the aircraft to my eye), the FDE leaves me wanting a little more refinement.

My test flight was from Victorville, CA (KVCV) to Denver International (KDEN) as a virtual ferry flight for a customer that had taken the DC-8-73 out of storage.   This modernized bird has the CFM-56 engines as opposed to the original JT3C it debuted with.

Kingfisher's DC-8-73 turning to course for Denver  International

Kingfisher’s DC-8-73 turning to course for Denver International.

The weather was clear, a bit breezy, but otherwise perfect flying weather.  With some passing showers in Denver, landing was sure to be a bit more exciting.   I was  hopeful as I pushed back and began to taxi.  The visual model is clearly not as detailed or refined as the SkySpirit models, but it does represent a DC-8 competently and it is light on the frame rates.  The animated nose gear  and flaps are there, as  is the opening passenger door.  The basics are all there.

DC-8 v1.3 panel with era appropriate gauges

Also, basic means no virtual cockpit.  While a bit of a bummer, the 2D panel is okay.

As I lined up to takeoff, added power and trim, I was surprised to see my view appear to flop back on my butt.  It seems a click of trim up from my joystick sends this bird into rocket straight up and trim down sends her into a sharp dive down. However, I after a few resets (thank goodness we have a reset button in FSX), I was  able to finesse the bird into being airborne without the use of trim at all.  Perhaps when Kingfisher means simple, they also mean simple when it comes to FDE and flight controls.   Personally, this aircraft is best flown with the autopilot on!  (note there is a known trim issue with v1.2.  A fix will be released with v1.3 when it is ready.)

Cruising over southern Utah

Cruising over southern Utah with the sun behind us.

As we continued toward Denver on autopilot, I couldn’t help but wonder about the tail number of this bird, N872TV.  So, I searched for N872TV and discovered links to photo archives from the 1980’s or so of  a TransAmerica DC-8-73.   While the single white livery included in the download simply bears the name of the model and engine type, I am happy to see a legitimate tail number adorn the aircraft.  Now, if only someone could provide some additional repaints… perhaps a rainbow United livery?

Descending over Colorado in the dark

Descending over Colorado in the dark

We started our descent in the dark with the vast Denver area of lights before us.  The mountain peaks hidden in the darkness made us glad we were descending from FL330.  Using the autopilot, I setup the approach to runway 7 at Denver.  Once on short final, I cut the autopilot and found the maneuverability of the DC-8 quite sluggish.  Granted this was an early jetliner, but the FDE seemed much more difficult to control than the HJG DC-8 I’ve flown before.

Kingfisher DC-8 landing at Denver

Landing at Denver, a little off center.

With some luck and slightly off center, the DC-8 touched down and quickly decelerated. Exiting the runway, I found that steering required a very low forward velocity.  As speed picked up, the nose gear seemed to become non-responsive.  I would expect  this as turning the nose wheel too much with too much speed can lead to skidding and excessive tire wear.  After a  few turns I got the hang of it and we parked at the gate.

With my first flight in the Kingfisher Addon DC-8 in the history books, I must say that I am impressed with their work.  The model delivers simplicity, but the FDE and trim needs work. It also needs a few good repaints. But beauty can come in many forms and in this package, beauty is simplicity and that is significant.

A Weekend Sim Moment

This weekend I purchased the DeHavilland Dash8-Q400 by FlyJSim for X-Plane and took it out on a series of test flights in the southwest USA.

Dash8-Q400 for X-Plane by FlyJSim

This is one spectacular aircraft and the moment that made the purchase worth it for me was maneuvering to final at KSAT in the late afternoon sunlight.  Banking through turns, monitoring instruments and watching the scenery the go by was an experience like no other.

The Virtual Cockpit of the FlyJSim Dash8

There is plenty more to come as I explore the world with my new realistic, model of the Dash8, but this is one moment I will never forget.

Cheers!

Cessa 172N For X-Plane

The Cessna 172 is a very familiar sight at many airports.  There is at least one or two in every flight school’s fleet and just about every pilot flew one as a student.   Flying the 172 is like a blast from the past and reminds me frequently of those tough lessens learned.

With Carenado’s entry into the X-Plane marketplace, it was only a matter of time that their FSX model made its way to the other side.  And, it just did.  Welcome the latest release from Carenado, the Cessna 172N model.

Carenado's Latest X-Plane model: Cessna 172N

Available with wheels, floats and skis, the model can be wrapped in one of four liveries depending on you preference of era (modern vs classic vs somewhere in between).   In addition, the package includes a lively sound set and some awesome animations including a pilot and suspension.

Suspension and Brake Detail

I had the chance to take the 172N faring model out for a quick touch and go at Oceano Airport (L52).  One of the first things I noticed was the throaty, deep rumble of the engine, which immediately brought back some interesting memories of doing run-ups as a student.

The second thing I noticed was the shine / reflection on the “glass” of the cockpit and exterior of the fuselage. Details like this bring a sense of realism to the simulator.  Walking around the outside, other details emerge, like the suspension detail of the front wheel and the brake pads on the main gear.

< Check out the X-Plane Directory for other great add-ons >

 

Moving inside, the usual detailed cockpit is all there.  Having spent time in a real 172, I immediately felt right at home and familiar.  Panning around with my joystick, I can see the cockpit from all angles and sure enough, it looks like a Cessna 172 interior.

The Camera Pop-up

One feature that really, really stood out to me was the quick reference “cameras” pop-up.  If you click the indentation where the N-number place would normally be, up pops a little click-able placard that gives you different views.  Included are options to enable skis and farings on the exterior as well switch interior views including Co-Pilot view, Nav and Switches, Fuel, and my favorite, “View From Rear.”

The "View From Rear" will surely entertain.

The “View From Rear” makes me appreciate how my grandmother felt during while recording (with an 8mm camera) my grandfather performing aerobatic maneuvers in a Piper while he was a test pilot.   I spent a few minutes flying from this view and quickly became air sick.

<check out my review of the Carenado Piper Saratoga SP for X-Plane>

Upon taking off, those throaty sounds gave me a very real feeling.  As I pushed the throttles forward, the deep bass in the sound (enhanced by my sub-woofer) started vibrating my desk and I could feel it in my joystick.  It really did feel real there for a bit.  Sweet! Talk about bringing back memories as a student pilot!

The model with floats.

So, what is there to not like about Carenado’s Cessna 172N for X-Plane? Not much.  It seems to be a little heavy on the frame rates compared to the Mooney they offer, but it is not as bad as the Saratoga (which kills my video card every time).   The included liveries don’t excite me much, but I am sure painters will take care of that issue shortly!

Lifting off on another X-Plane flight.

Would I recommend paying the $25.95 for this model?  Hell YES!  The package that you get is very complete and rivals payware costing twice as much.   With three models (including skis), a great set of sounds, multiple views and the awesome X-Plane community to support you, how could you go wrong with this purchase?

So, quit reading and go get! Start reliving those tense moments as a student pilot!

Cheers!

<link to Cessna 172N by Carenado>

A Tampico Joins the X-Plane Club

X-Plane is an awesome alternative to MS Flight Simulator and is under constant development.  Seems that updates are frequent and with X-Plane 10 on the horizon, it has a very bright future.

And! It just got better, with the release of the TB9 Tampico by Pascal Nicolas. Manufactured by Socata, the TB9 is a single engine, light twin that can carry up to 4 passengers.  Popular as an instrument trainer, many students with advanced ratings may have spent quite a bit of time in one.

Ready for takeoff, the TB9 has an elegant shape

So, I was eager to give Pascal’s new model a test flight.  In this case, I flew it from Santa Maria (KSMX) to Santa Barbara (KSBA) on a day with varied weather conditions in X-Plane.  I wasn’t sure what to expect as the winds were quite gusty at Santa Maria and Santa Barbara had a fog warning.  Maybe I was getting more than I bargained for, but I pushed the throttles forward, felt the power come up and released the brakes.  Away we went…

Turning to head 120 for Gaviota (KSMX below)

I quickly noticed the gusty winds and how severe the TB9 responded to them.  Once we cleared 500 feet and began our turn toward Gaviota, I considered turning back, but ultimately decided to continue the flight and see how it goes.  There was a very strong tendency for a left bank and we hopped around as the winds gusted, but I kept the wings generally flat and the nose pointed slightly up to maintain climb.

Once at 3,000 feet, I came to predict the handling and settled into a routine to constant adjustment to correct for the winds insatiable appetite to throw us off course.  In fact, the handling, expansive view forward, and quiet interior was really starting to grow on me.  As a fan of the Mooney M20J, the TB9 was a reasonable cruiser at a lower price point (free vs $30 for Carenado’s model).

Turning over Gaviota toward Santa Barbara

As we approached Gaviota, we made a turn toward the east to Santa Barbara, staying north of the 101 freeway.  Despite the clear skies, I could see fog creeping in in the distance, so I knew the beautiful weather was limited.  Would I land in Santa Barbara before the fog hit the airport?

Approaching KSBA, runway 15R is ours

With little air traffic and the clear skies, I pushed the Tampico to its limit, cruising at 160 knots.  With the wind dissipated flying didn’t require constant correction and I could relax a bit and enjoy the expansive view of paradise. The Tampico was turning out to be a great little companion.

KSBA from the office, coming in a little high

With clearance from the tower to land on runway 15R, I reduced power and pulled the nose up to bleed off speed.  But then I realized that I am higher than I should be, so I reduced power again to slow enough to engage the flaps.  At that point, I can start a more rapid descent without losing control of airspeed.   This was going to be an interesting approach, but we beat the fog!

Turning to course, I was still quite high.  Nosing the aircraft down, cutting power, and keeping my fingers crossed, I dove for the numbers.  Tower noticed this and asked if I wanted to go around, to which I answered, “no, I got it.”

Arriving at KSBA, just before the fog rolled in

Before I knew it, I was on the runway.  Watching airspeed, altitude and the runway, I put down about 1/3 down the runway in a perfect stall.  The aircraft rolled out and we turned left at the end of the runway.

Taxiing the Tampico is a joy.  With great visibility and responsive controls, it easily goes where you want it.  However, imprecise control inputs will be rewarded with chaos.  Upon turning to the ramp, I over reacted and steered hard to the right while hitting the brakes, resulting in a spin on the taxiway.  Oops.

The detailed cockpit

Arriving at the ramp, I set the brake, cut fuel and open the doors. The sweet smell of ocean and aircraft exhaust was like cow manure to a cowboy.  With the wheels chalked, electrical systems off and my bladder emptied, I complete the post flight walk around.

The fog arrived as the Tampico preps for a rest.

Just in time too, the fog came barreling in, causing some VFR pilots to divert north to Santa Ynez.  We admire the fog as it enroaches on the hills above Santa Barbara and say good afternoon to the Tampico, the airport and a day’s successful test flight.

Cheers!

Aircraft: Socata TB9 Tampico for X-Plane (<download>)
Author: Pascal Nicolas
File Size: ~20mb

Scenery: Santa Barbara Municipal (<download>)
Scenery Author: Martin (aka Partnair)
File Size: ~ 10mb