AVSIM Commercial Aircraft Review

Aerosoft / Digital Aviation
Piper PA31T Cheyenne X

Product Information

Publisher: Aerosoft / Digital Aviation

Description: Aircraft Add-on.

Download Size:
217 MB

Format:
Download or CD
Simulation Type:
FS9 & FSX
Reviewed by: Etienne Martin AVSIM Staff Reviewer - February 26, 2008

Introduction

This is the second iteration of the popular Piper Cheyenne turboprop from Digital Aviation, published by Aerosoft. Updated for Flight Simulator X (including SP2) and Windows Vista, the Cheyenne X is branded as a new product altogether. Owners of the prior version can get the new release at a discounted upgrade price.

The initial version of the Piper Cheyenne for FS9 was reviewed by AVSIM’s Zane Gard Jr. in late 2006 and can be found in the aircraft reviews section. This time around, we’ll see what nearly two years of additional development work brings to the virtual skies.

I want to extend my thanks to Alexander Metzger and Hans Hartmann of Digital Aviation for providing me some insider information and answering my questions as part of the background research for this article.

The Cheyenne X was released right in time for the December 2007 holidays and already has seen a patch published in February 2008 to correct a few issues with the initial release.

New features

The development team states the major new features in the Cheyenne X are:
- Improved interior lighting
- All models made with the FSX software development kit SP2
- XML animations
- Conversion of the simulator interface from FSUIPC to SimConnect
- Weather radar including navigation overlay and flight log display
- Improved Windows Vista compatibility
- Support for FSX SP2/Acceleration in DX9/DX10 modes
- GPS keyboard activation shortcut moved from scroll-lock (activates ATC window in FSX) to Ctrl+Shift+K

Packaging

The download version comes as a 217mb zip archive download through the Aerosoft online store. A boxed product is also available for the same price, although shipping charges are additional.

Upon payment confirmation, a license key for the download version is almost instantly provided to the e-mail address you provided. The bottom of the purchase confirmation page has a link to the download file. The link is valid for one year from the date of purchase. It is strongly suggested on the web site that you make a backup of the installation file and the license key in case re-install is needed. I like the fact the product can be downloaded for some time.

The patch for the product is also available to registered owners through the support/update link available on the Aerosoft website’s product page. While Digital Aviation makes patch betas available directly through their support forum, the final official patch is only available through Aerosoft.

Installation

The zip archive includes one setup executable (.exe), and two text files holding the release notes and the license agreement. The product is completely supported in German and English, with documentation (and support forums) available in both languages.

Main setup screen Registration Setup finds the FSX install folder automatically

The setup program is the usual Windows wizard based installer. The setup program correctly detected my FSX installation on Windows Vista 64, prompted me for the license key and the rest of the install was fully automatic.

Only one option is provided during the install: replace the default HALO.BMP file to an “improved” version. A backup is well advised before running the installer and overwriting the original file. HALO.BMP is a texture file that impacts the halo around landing lights. This change impacts all aircraft landing lights, not just the Cheyenne X.

When all is said and done, some 500Mb of disk space will be dedicated to the Cheyenne X between the aircraft and the documentation. For aircraft re-painters, Digital Aviation also provides a separate 98Mb paint kit download on their support site.

Documentation

The manuals are in PDF format and can be found in the Digital Aviation/PA31 Cheyenne/Manuals folder off the simulator’s install folder. A set is in German, the other in English.

Airplane Operations Manual (AOM)

The airplane operations manual weighs in at a tome-esque 180 pages. Thumbing through the AOM, we find that 45 pages are dedicated to detailed performance data and graphs, 47 pages dedicated to normal and emergency procedures, and the rest covering basic and advanced operations of each component in the comprehensive avionics suite (Bendix King Crown, Trimble GPS and KFC250/KFC300 autopilot).

Altogether, the AOM is well written, and covers all the basics of operating the aircraft as simulated. I did find the information covering the engineering aspects of the aircraft systems curiously absent. Some information on the layout and setup of the electrical, hydraulic, pneumatic and other mechanical systems would have been welcome. Without this information, the manual feels more like a software user’s guide rather than an actual aircraft operations manual.

Another PDF file covers the operation of the new WXR2100 weather radar. With only 2 pages, the manual only covers the very basics of operations and no theory of operation. Lastly, a similarly light two page document describes the usage of the Trimble 1000 GPS system.

Performance tables and Procedure manuals

The performance table document repeats the 48 pages of performance data found in the AOM. Normal and emergency procedures in the AOM are also repeated in the standalone procedures manual (47 pages). These are logically laid out, and immediately found their place in a printed binder I kept handy. The Cheyenne X also includes FSX kneeboard pages for reference and normal procedures (shift-F10).

Tutorials

An 8 page flight tutorial manual provides clear instructions to follow for each phase of flight. I found this document probably the most helpful of the entire documentation set, as it covered all normal operations for each phase of flight.

Visuals

Digital Aviation has delivered good models in the past, and the Cheyenne X is no exception. Hans Hartmann says “converting the model from FS9 to FSX (with two FSX SPs in between) turned out to be a huge job which took the better part of one year”. The models created by Tobias Ahlbrecht are a joy to look at, both from an interior and exterior model perspective.

Left nacelle Animated doors/stairs detail Nice wiper detail and reflections

Aircraft versions

Digital Aviation provides four versions of the Piper Cheyenne (I, IA, II and IIXL). Each version has its own model and flight characteristics. Aside from the extended IIXL version, there are few visual differences between each model. The variations are mostly internal with different powerplants and cockpit controls (the IIXL has a pneumatic bleed system and three position condition levers for example).

Each model and registration comes with its own cabin look and feel, although they are primarily limited to upholstery color and a few texture differences here and there. Each model also behaves differently both on the ground and in the air.

Cheyenne X model selection

Exteriors

The models are created with the FSX SDK, and as such, use many of the new rendering features in FSX, such as the self-shadow and enhanced reflective textures. All liveries are high gloss and make the aircraft look spanking new out of the factory.

The exterior models look so good, even up close, that I was surprised when I discovered none of the models use the new bump map feature that produce more realistic indentations in joints and rivet lines. Even with the bump map eye candy missing, the Cheyenne X has, in my view, one of the better rendered models of a twin turboprop I’ve seen in a simulator.

Underside detail Nose wheel Main gear
Gear retract – note the actuator Wheel well details Another angle


Based on photographs of the real aircraft, it seems the exterior model shows nearly every exterior detail, from the wing light chrome covers to the contact points on the (functional) windshield wipers. The landing gear is presented in full detail, including inside the wheel wells. The windows and windshield are particularly well done.

Outside of the expected animated control surfaces, there are three animated doors, main, rear cargo and front cargo. Interestingly, the front cargo door is mapped to the wing-fold function in FSX, where the main and rear cargo doors are doors 1 and 2 in the simulator control commands.

Smooth model curves on the wing. Note the flaps and aileron struts by the wingtip. Alas, no bump maps for the rivets but nicely done windows
All doors open. Front cargo opens with FSX’s wing fold toggle In parked mode, the tow bar and chocks/cones are displayed

Liveries

The Cheyenne X includes three liveries for each model, so 12 in all. More can be created with the paint kit.

Cheyenne I D-IBIW Cheyenne I D-ILCE Cheyenne I N-819SW
Cheyenne IA D-IFHZ Cheyenne IA F-GHJR Cheyenne IA OE-FKJ
Cheyenne II F-GHJV Cheyenne II N-707WD Cheyenne II PH-SFH
Cheyenne IIXL EC-IPZ Cheyenne IIXL G-CLDN Cheyenne IIXL HB-INX

Interior

The Cheyenne X has a comprehensive set of 2D panels and has one of the most functional 3D environments to be found in an add-on, with almost every knob and switch functional.

2D panel system

The 2D panels are, for the most part, unchanged from the original Cheyenne product for FS9 except for the addition of the weather radar.
Panel switching is an easy task with click spots in obvious places (so many add-ons place hot spots in strange areas) or through the normal Flight Simulator controls (Shift + number).

Pilot’s 2D panel (comes in IFR and VFR views as well), yoke hidden Copilot’s 2D panel, yoke visible Popup panels for the HIS and A/P
Overhead 2D panel Center console popup Pilot’s 2D panel at night

3D Cockpit and cabin

The 3D office in the Cheyenne X is quite the experience. As with the exterior model, the VC is very detailed and meticulously done. As with most VC's, the 3D cockpit is best enjoyed with a head tracking or other camera movement utility although default camera positions do help to access all functions without them.

All switches and knobs I could find were functional except for the circuit breakers. The Cheyenne’s cockpit is relatively small, and nearly all controls are accessible from the pilot’s seat, making the VC very relevant. I would expect very little time to be spent in the rather mundane 2D cockpit after experiencing the 3D cockpit the Cheyenne X has to offer. I also found that every function has a tool tip associated with it showing what the function does, and also applicable relevant data (such as heading degrees). The designers of the 3D environment have pulled off one of the very best 3D cockpits to be found today in an add-on aircraft, including some very high end products.

The virtual office VC – upper panel Pilot panel
Copilot panel VC at night with dome light on VC at night with dome light off
VC close up– note the instrument lights and the quantity of working knobs and switches VC – upper panel from copilot’s perspective Fuel tank selectors is between the seats on the floor looking down and back

Inside the aircraft

Not stopping at the VC, the virtual cabin is also meticulously detailed. To be enjoyed best, a camera movement utility will be needed to move about the cabin. Where many products include adequate interior models, the Cheyenne X is definitely as enjoyable on the inside as it is from the outside without a major hit on frame rates.

Cockpit from the cabin – I folded the table on the left. The view back from the cockpit Copilot seat detail – there’s a web site scribbled on the paper note
Bookshelf detail I didn’t know Aerosoft was in the beverage business… Wing view and window with curtain detail

Lighting

Exterior lighting effects include the navigation, wing light (left wing only), tail, nose and wingtip taxi/landing lights.

Exterior lights rear The Cheyenne only has one wing light on the left wing. Exterior lights front (landing lights off).

While cabin and panel dimmers are not simulated (they are only on or off), the cabin dome light, the no-smoking and seatbelt signs and cabin seat map lights are functional and very well done. We also have a very pleasing backlit green lighting that permeates the upper and side panels.

Night lighting – widescreen VC

All in all, the interior comes to life at night and gives the Cheyenne X a very convincing, almost photo-real night light for the cockpit, instruments and cabin.

Pilot’s instruments – night Copilot’s instruments – note the weather radar at work Pilot’s seat – see the backlit effect
No smoking and seatbelt signs are functional Same view with dome light on
VC - Individual reading lights in the cabin work VC – dome light

Aircraft configuration

The Cheyenne X’s only options are set through an in-flight panel (shift-7), which I prefer to an external configuration utility.

The first option selects a cold and dark default setup. I found the cold and dark setup (all systems powered off) is not nearly as simple to use as checking the box. Here’s what can happen when a flight is loaded with an incorrect cold and dark setup.

Configuration panel – in flight Odd things happen when loading a flight incorrectly such as these flying cones – this flight was loaded on top of another add-on.

The procedure for cold and dark requires that the checkbox be set, and more importantly from my tests, that you load the default FSX Cessna situation itself cold and dark.

The second checkbox is a toggle that enables or disables the 3D yokes in the virtual cockpit. I found this very useful as the yokes get in the way of needed controls located below them. Such controls include the parking brake, the pressurization and cabin comfort buttons, and the fuel consumed gauge.

Next, the Cheyenne X has the option to select the regular engine sound set or a noise reduced set meant to reproduce the noise while wearing headphones. Switching requires an FSX restart as new sound files are loaded. I admit I didn’t care much for the noise reduced set, not because it is not realistic – it is, but because the other sounds in FSX don’t enjoy the same benefits. I ended up with the strange setup with very low engine noises for my aircraft, while at the same time an AI airport truck 100 meters away sounded like it was next to me in the cockpit. A matter of preference, it’s nice to have but I left it turned off to enjoy the superb sound set.

I missed the ability to set fuel levels from the configuration panel. The only way I found to set the fuel level was through the FSX fuel loader.

Avionics

The Cheyenne X includes two main new avionics features, namely a multi-mode weather radar capable of displaying navigation and log data, the other, the Trimble 1000 GPS unit.

Weather Radar & Trimble GPS

This is new to the Cheyenne X. The weather radar is able to display moisture and terrain features, and in this version, compensates the lack of a moving GPS map by showing navigation waypoints and flight log information.

VC – the Trimble (lower left) and the Weather radar (top right) Trimble welcome message – circa 1980 FSX flight plan loaded in FSX shows up in the weather display
VC – Flight plan loaded, log view VC – Trimble waypoint mode VC – Weather radar on & Fuel level mode

The Trimble 1000 GPS unit is one of the early GPS designs from the early 80s. No moving map or rendering of the airspace around you is available here, although the weather radar can display your route.

Close up of weather radar and the navigation overlay

Digital Aviation replaced the “aux” function of the real Trimble with the ability to load the current FS flight plan. This saves an amazing amount of typing, and also makes the Trimble unit compatible with popular flight planners out there. Purists will probably want to manually enter each waypoint in the system, it’s nice to know a very fast shortcut is available. It also makes the Cheyenne X easily work with any flight planning utility that produces FSX native flight plans.

Automated flight

Automated flight remains unchanged between the original Cheyenne product and the Cheyenne X. Autopilot functions include a flight director, yaw damper, altitude and heading holds, altitude capture, GPS/nav radio tracking, localizer and glideslope capture. There is no vertical speed hold, although the autopilot can control pitch and bank angles.

The Piper Cheyenne does not have an auto throttle system although I didn’t find this a particular problem as long as I kept an eye on the engine torque.

Flight behavior

Since I’ve never flown in a real Cheyenne, I cannot comment on the accuracy of flight characteristics. Each aircraft model behaves distinctively different from the other, with air handling significantly improved over the default turboprops (Baron and King Air) in FSX. I find the default turboprops in FSX very jerky.

Digital Aviation says a few more tweaks and refinements were made to the airfile for the Cheyenne X release. One improvement over the FS9 release is that it is now easier for the aircraft to backup just with reverse propeller thrust.

Handling the Cheyenne on the ground is a challenge, period. Keeping the centerline at a reasonable speed can be an exercise in frustration, especially with the higher power IIXL which mandates having the condition levers in low-idle, unless you want to accelerate like a rocket. The throttles respond with a significant (and very satisfying sound-wise) wind up/down delay and if you use separate engine throttle controls, it is very easy to overpower the steering/rudder inputs and turn on thrust differential alone.

Gibraltar departure Gear up Climb

Once airborne, the Cheyenne becomes a rather docile and well mannered hotrod with a solid 100 to 120 kts climb and is predicable all the way to the edge of the performance envelope. I found the aircraft very responsive to inputs and relatively easy to fly at slow or high speeds (max is Mach 0.45). A typical high approach speed of 120Kts (up to ~140 will full flaps) can make things difficult – and fun. The plane doesn’t want to slow down easily on the glideslope.

Overall, I found the Cheyenne I is by far the most behaved and well rounded of all the aircraft depicted here (I, IA, II and IIXL).

Denver (KDEN) approach Runway 07 lineup Finals
Flare Touchdown and vertices effects Taxi to the gate

While the Cheyenne can hold its own with the big boys on approach at busy airports without any problems, it is equally at home at smaller fields and quite the versatile plane for VFR or IFR operations.

Sound

The sound included in the Cheyenne X is recorded from the actual aircraft per the product specifications. The default turboprop startup sound is gone, replaced by a much more accurate turbine spool whine and a very satisfying low rumble, especially when props are out of phase.

Based on my personal experience with the Dash-8, I found the sound set very realistic and suitably deafening. That is probably why the noise-reduced set is provided, although as I mentioned earlier, it’s probably better to leave the full engine roar on. I found myself wanting to increase the subwoofer output as it made the take-off run suitably vibrating, enough to quickly annoy the rest of the family and have me return to my headset in a hurry. Enough said.

Failure model

I attempted two in-flight emergency engine restart procedures after turning one of my engines off in flight. The first using the starter worked well for me. I had a few issues with the second procedure, an air-start with no starter, only using the windmill of the propeller. A shallow dive at 200kts did the trick, although I had no luck below 200 (minimum stated speed is 140kts). I was surprised that I experienced very little yaw on one engine alone, so the yaw damper is very effective. Flying on one engine didn’t seem to bother the aircraft much. Not knowing the behavior of the real aircraft, I can’t judge how accurate a simulation that is. I was unable to find any options to simulate failures outside of what is included in FSX.

Performance

Test System

Intel QX9650 @ 4GHz
4 GB of RAM
NVIDIA 8800 Ultra
CH Products controllers
Windows Vista 64
FSX Acceleration/SP2

Flying Time:
53 hours

For a virtual cockpit this complex, a slight drop in performance can be expected although I am unable to quantify it given the other factors that impact FPS in FSX. Load time was a bit slower than the default Baron. There is an impact, but it is moderate.

Overall, the Cheyenne X delivers a detailed model with a complex VC with minimal impact on overall frame rates.

Support

Digital Aviation provides support through its online forum that I found much more detailed and useful than the Aerosoft product support forum.

I pleasantly noted that Digital Aviation moderators look at their forums during the weekend and weeknights, and support question response time was short based on the post dates.

Paint kit

Artists and re-painters will be pleased to know that the Cheyenne X comes with a paint kit which is downloadable from the Digital Aviation forum. The paint kit includes several 1024x1024 texture source files in Adobe Photoshop PSD format, one set for each aircraft model. Two color JPEG images in the kit describe how the textures map to the aircraft.

I was a bit disappointed that the PSD files include but four layers. Several details are combined into layers, and I was unable to find the default selection sets in the PSD as found with some other paint kits. This makes repaints through details such as rivets and dirt/grime a bit more difficult than it should be. Also, the textures are packed in very few files so be prepared for odd rotation angles and split texture artwork lineup issues. Clearly, past expertise with aircraft repaints is recommended before attempting this.

Conclusion

Cheyenne X has the right mix of ingredients to duplicate an immersive feel of flight, as best as can be achieved in a PC based simulation. Digital Aviation joins the ranks of top development teams by taking FSX to a new level with a very effective virtual cockpit and top exterior model.

The aircraft itself lends itself well to casual VFR or the faster business of IFR, and as such, the Cheyenne X is a flexible high performance turboprop for anyone’s hangar.

It is always easy to focus on “I wish it would do this too”, but the product has sufficient depth that my wish list is very short indeed. The overall result is one of the more satisfying flying experiences in Flight Simulator.

 

What I Like About Cheyenne X

  • Immersive product
  • Four distinct models with individual behaviors
  • Refined exterior and interior models
  • Top notch VC & gauges
  • Sound package
  • Paint kit availability

 

What I Don't Like About Cheyenne X

  • Lack of bump mapping for an FSX product is a bit of a let down
  • Non-FSX custom controls (e.g., condition levers) should have keyboard equivalents for custom cockpit/controls mapping – mouse only is not acceptable
  • Manuals are a bit light on engineering details

 

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Piper PA31T Cheyenne X

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