Flying the DHC Dash7 in FSX

Years ago, Milton Shupe and the rest of the Flightsimonline development team released a stunning de Havilland Canada Dash-7 for FS2002/FS2004.  This aircraft became a remarkable workhorse in my virtual hanger.  A four engined turboprop with STOL capabilities clearly is a very capable aircraft that earns its respect.

Sadly, when FSX debuted, the Dash-7 was left behind.  While it did sorta work in FSX, the usual bugs such as disappearing propellers and strange flight dynamics made this aircraft far from a joy to fly.  Lucky for FSX users, Shupe and team ported the recently updated FS2004 version to FSX.  I am happy to say that my workhorse is back for another beating in the FSX virtual hanger.

At dusk, the Dash-7 sits on the ramp at KSBA in FSX

At dusk, the Dash-7 sits on the ramp at KSBA in FSX

I flew it on a two test flights between KSBA and KONT and couldn’t have been happier.  The sounds, the virtual cockpit and cabin/cargo, the flight dynamics and the sexy fuselage all live up the expectation of its original release.  We are indebted to Shupe, Flightsimonline, and the rest of the team for bringing this update to our hangers.

< Visit the DHC Dash-7 Homepage >

Now go do some intense bush flying with tons of cargo!

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FlyJSim Releases Boeing 727 for X-Plane

As if Christmas came early this year, FlyJSim beat Santa Claus to the virtual flying gift with their long awaited release of the Boeing 727 for X-Plane 10.  Available as stand alone packages or a complete pack, the group offers the 727-100, 727-200Adv, and the 727-200F variants.  If this release is anywhere close to the quality of their existing Dash 8 Q400 model, the 727 is going to be an awesome experience!

FlyJSim releases the 727 series

FlyJSim releases the 727 series

If that hasn’t gotten your mouth watering, available separately are livery packs, such as “The American Classics Pack” from XPJets for the -200Adv model.  You can also purchase a pack that contains all 54 liveries across all three variants.

What surprises me is that by the time you buy the Complete 727 Model Pack ($62) with the Complete Livery Pack ($19.95), you are pushing north of $80.  While the sticker shock makes me change my underwear, when you realize you are getting a complete package of one of the most detailed and advanced models for X-Plane 10, suddenly that sticker shock seems like a bargain.  Of course, you could just purchase your favorite variant $32 individually.

< click to see the purchase options at the .Org store >

I know what I am doing this weekend… flying the virtual skies in a classic three holer!

FlyJSim 727-100 on approach to KSEA. Detailed cockpit is awesome.

FlyJSim 727-100 on approach to KSEA. Detailed cockpit is awesome.

Update – Purchased the complete variant pack and the complete livery pack. After a simple installation, I took the -100 variant in an Eastern Airlines “whisperjet” livery out for a flight from KPDX to KSEA.  I can say that I am speechless.  Everything I love about the Dash 8, applies to the 727.  The detailed cockpit, sounds, and exterior model are simply the best and justify the expense.

Banking turn from KPDX on a test flight to KSEA in the FlyJSim Boeing 727-100

Banking turn from KPDX on a test flight to KSEA in the FlyJSim Boeing 727-100

With three models and 54 liveries to explore, this X-Plane 10 add-on is going to keep me busy.  Time to  sit down with the manuals and start with cold and dark cockpit.  Full review coming soon!

 

Prepar3D Updates to Version 1.4

Prepar3D is Microsoft’s FSX under a new owner, Lockheed Martin.  Continuing on with the flight simulation tradition, Lockheed Martin has put its own twist on this new version of FSX.  While it is missing some of the more mainstream aircraft like the Boeing 737, just the fact that Lockheed Martin is continuing development of the platform is a huge win for the flight sim community.

Mooney’s Acclaim joins Prepar3D thanks to Lionheart Creations

This latest release shows their continued development, improvements include:

  • fixes for stutters or performance issues
  • Dialogs now remember their previous position
  • Various UI enhancements including the removal of the “apply” button
  • Added two new aircraft: Mooney Acclaim by Lionheart Creations, and the T-6 Texan II by IRIS
  • Fort Rucker area scenery expansion
  • Dozens of legacy scenery and database issues

Upgrading from a previous version (like 1.3) requires the user to download nearly 10G of data, conduct a full uninstall and then reinstall the program.  With this being 2012, such an upgrade procedure is cumbersome, but then Lockheed Martin is new to the consumer flight simulator market.  There is saying, “good things come to those who wait”, so patience is the key.

Beechcraft T-6 Texan II by IRIS in Prepar3d v1.4

I took both the Mooney and the Texan out for a spin around the Fort Rucker area to check out the new scenery.   I have to compliment Lockheed Martin on these additions.  The Mooney feels true to its brand, fast, sleek and forgiving.  While I am not a huge fan Texan II in the real world, I did enjoy flying this model.  It has gobs or power and is super fun to toss around.   I even managed to crash on landing as I came in a bit too fast and lost control.  Way cool!

The Hanchey Army Heliport (KHEY) is a cool addition to Prepar3D

Flying around Fort Rucker, I learned to appreciate the subtleties of the scenery.  I landed at the Hanchey Auxiliary on the north end of the base and was surprised to see a tank hiding in the trees and a well placed Humvee next to the control tower.   I felt like I landed at the real base and was about to get annihilated by a tank.  There are three other areas to check out, the  Hanchey Army Heliport, Knox Army Heliport, and the Cairns Army Field. All of which are nicely done with a great level of detail.

I really like the direction Lockheed Martin is going with Prepar3D.  By leveraging the flight sim community for “default” add-ons and adding some scenery, the future of Prepar3D is bright.   I can’t wait to see what future releases bring.  In the meantime, its time to start porting over my favorite MSFS aircraft!

Initial Thoughts on X-Plane 10

Update 12nov12: I wrote this post shortly after the initial release of X-Plane.  I didn’t have the best experience with the initial beta products.   However, almost a year has gone by and X-Plane 10 has evolved into a mainstream offering.   I am working on an update to this post and encourage everyone reading this to take these comments with a grain of salt.  If you just downloaded/installed X-Plane 10, grab the updated installer from the website and run the update as there are a lot fixes available.  Cheers! 

–begin original post–

Let me start by saying that my experience with X-Plane 10 was one of the most frustrating experiences I have ever had with a piece of software in my entire life.

Customer Experience Failure

I’ll skip the blow by blow, but the simple task of downloading X-Plane 10 web demo was a Thanksgiving nightmare, followed by the inability to even start the program, and finishing with such low frame rates, that I thought my monitor was showing me an old 8mm film. Then came a number of web updates and the requirement to download an installer from the website to install the DVDs.

The overall experience was a far cry from a smooth roll out of a new product. Clearly Laminar Research was not prepared for the release of software that still needed more testing and fixes prior to release.

X-Plane Eye Candy

With the full version of X-Plane 10 installed and about 20 hours dickering around with the rendering options, I have finally reached a point of content with X-Plane 10.  So, I thought I would post some screenshots of my initial testing.

The settings for my ’08 iMac

The trick to getting decent frame rates from X-Plane 10 is to turn EVERYTHING off and then start turning options back on and up.  It is a frustrating and lloooonnnngggg task.  Austin should design a little program that can set rendering options based on computer settings.  But then again, Austin is not that cool.

Challenger 300 at Sunset over Puget Sound

But after spending a lloooonnnngggg and frustrating time dickering with the rendering options, I was able to install one of my favorite X-Plane aircraft, the Challenger 300 by Ddenn Design, and fly from KPAE to KSEA and experience a few of the new X-Plane features.

The Stinson L5S, a very close cousin to the Piper Cub in FSX

I also realized that Laminar Research has clearly marketed X-Plane 10 as a direct alternative to FSX or Flight.  Included in the web demo are the Baron, a King Air C90B, and the Stinson L5S.  Similar aircraft in my default FSX hanger.  I was sad to see the Piper Malibu missing.

Initial Thoughts

My initial thoughts on X-Plane 10 are mixed.  While it represents a revolutionary step forward in simulation software, the customer experience of downloading the demo, installing it, and configuring it is down right atrocious. As an customer advocate, Laminar Research might have an awesome product, but the experience to use it is the pits.

To Buy or Not To Buy?

Is X-Plane 10 a “do not buy” product, as I stated in my tweet?  At this time, I will say that if you are willing to invest countless frustrating hours getting it configured and you own a powerful computer, buy it!

If you are an FSX user, I recommend waiting for Microsoft Flight, which will offer a far superior customer experience and better support. Since Microsoft has killed off Flight (rightfully so), the best alternative to X-Plane 10 is Prepar3D, despite its steep price tag.

For me, I paid $80 for this thing, so it will sit on my computer along side X-Plane 9.7, taunting me to mortgage my house so I can buy a super computer to properly run it. Until then, X-Plane 9.7 wins.

A Seriously Impressive Duke

With climb rate of 4,000 ft/min and two glorious turboprop engines attached to its six seat fuselage, you can’t help but question the sanity of such a thing.  Its like putting a V-8 in a Miata and wondering why the tires are bald after one lap.

One mean looking airplane!

As insane as it seems, it actually makes a lot of sense as an alternative to flying a jet.  Why not put jet-like performance on an aircraft that can deliver much lower operating costs?   Enter the Real Air Simulations Beechcraft Turbine Duke for FSX.  It is a regular six seat Duke twin-engine aircraft retro-fitted with PT6A turbine engines that take this bird to a new level.

Real Air Simulations is known for producing realism, putting an emphasis on flight dynamics and system operation rather than eye candy.  That isn’t to say the Duke’s model is poor, but the package is much more refined and complete compared to other payware offerings.  With this model, engine failure is quite real, so managing torque and prop speed is essential as I found out on a test flight when I blew both engines and had to make an emergency landing.

Take care of those engines!

While some might balk at the nearly $50 US price tag, the level of detail of this model is well worth it.  You aren’t paying for eye candy alone, but also realistic engine function and flight dynamics.    I’ve flown the Turbine Duke in FSX on three flights and have to say that I am extremely impressed.  This is probably the best commercial add-on for FSX yet.   A full review is coming soon, so check back in the next few days.

 

A Saratoga Joins X-Plane

The weather at Renton Municipal Airport was less than favorable.  With blowing wind at 19 knots, heavy rain and limited visibility to 1,500 feet, I knew taking off now was going to be a challenge.  In reality, I could either sit on the runway, waiting for the weather to clear, playing with the ashtray and all the click-able knobs, or I could attempt a takeoff and see what Carenado‘s latest model for X-Plane could do in such poor weather conditions.  With white knuckles, I took off.

Carenado Piper Saratoga

Carenado's Piper Saratoga leaving Renton field in dismal weather.

With such a strong crosswind, maximum deflection on the rudder pedals were required to keep this bird on the runway.  Forget about maintaining center line, keeping it on the runway was challenging enough.  Once airborne, the Piper Saratoga (PA-32R-301), took lightly to the skies, responding abruptly with every gust of wind.  I struggled to maintain visual reference outside the window, blurred by the driving rain, but scanned the instruments quickly to maintain climb rate and speed as much as possible.

As I moved the yoke around struggling to keep the aircraft pointed in the general direction of 350 degrees, I learned how forgiving the inputs were. I then realized that I was over controlling the aircraft and just let it settle in to with the wind.   The big problem was the driving rain… not only was it obnoxiously loud hitting the metal fuselage and windows, but it was making it difficult to maintain visual reference.

The goal was to fly directly north of Renton to Arlington field.   A very short flight, but long enough to get a taste of the Saratoga’s flight dynamics in X-Plane.  So, I started flying around rain cells using the weather map on my iPad (Carenado’s model doesn’t include one, but this is A Reality of My Own).  The nice thing about dodging rain is that it presents an excellent opportunity to put the Saratoga through its paces and mimic an acrobatic pilot.  I am happy to report that it handles quite nicely, predictably, and controlled.  It is certainly not a Mooney, but in a high banking turn, a predictable correction to the yoke brings the nose back to level.

On approach to Arlington, runway 11

The six person cabin is a great place to spend sometime, especially when it is raining outside.  The window curtains make you feel like you are visiting grandma’s house and there is that distinct aviation smell that really can’t be confused with that strange smell emanating from grandma.  Whether or not the curtains turn you on, Carenado did an excellent job delivering detail inside; the seats are nicely covered in fabric, the ashtrays open and close, the visor contains a quick reference guide, and the door actually opens when you click on the door handle.  Imagine that.

Deer on the runway! Quick, hand me my rifle!

More seriously though, passing Everett (KPAE) the weather cleared up and I firewalled the throttles.  With Arlington field in site, I made a shallow circle of the field from the south and prepared for landing on runway 11.  Unfortunately, the deer were out and force today and they tempted the hunter in me by running across the field on short final.  A distraction that would not deter me from a near perfect landing.

However, near perfect it was not.  I wasn’t paying attention to speed and stalled the aircraft about 8 feet from the surface. Ouch!  That was a hard touch down, but oh well, no one was bleeding.   Besides, after a flight through horrendous rain storms around Seattle, it was a good idea to make sure the passengers knew they were safely on the ground.

The Saratoga's classic lines.

In all seriousness folks, Carenado‘s Piper Saratoga for X-Plane 9 is a true gem.  It belongs in your virtual hanger along side their exquisite Mooney M20J.  The level of detail, both internally and externally, sets a new standard for realism. The flight dynamics are not scary and mimic the real thing (based on one flight in a real Saratoga).  The only improvement for Carenado is to somehow bring that unique aviation smell to our desktops.

Cheers!

Author: Carenado
Price: $25.95

PS… here is one more exterior detail shot… checkout them rivets!  The cool thing is that you watch the black antenna shake with aircraft movement!  Sweet!

Exterior detail, even on the white paint kit, is impressive.

ICARO AW139 Available Now!

For the rotorheads out there, ICARO released their AW139 model for FS2004 (FS9) over at Hovercontrol.com.  Head over and download both base packs.  Included are military, VIP, and tanker models.

While I haven’t had a chance to fly it, installing it and taking a moment to walk around this model really makes me want to get to know this bird better!  A full review will be coming this weekend!

Cheers!