AVSIM Commercial Aircraft Review

Civil Air Patrol:
Search and Rescue

Product Information
Publisher: Abacus
Description:  Add-On Aircraft and Utility.

Download Size:
41 MB

Format:
Download & CD-ROM
Simulation Type:
FS9 and FS-X
Reviewed by: Adam Volcek AVSIM Staff Reviewer - March 26, 2007

Introduction

Do you ever wonder how search and rescue works? Better yet, do you wonder who is willing to be part of search and rescue? Enter onto the stage, the Civil Air Patrol or CAP. CAP is an official civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force, made up of volunteers, whose three missions include aerospace education, cadet programs, and operations. There are several facets to its operations, which include search and rescue, disaster relief, and now homeland security.

To better understand the role of CAP in SAR operations, Abacus has created Civil Air Patrol: Search and Rescue. CAP: SAR, as I’ll call it for now on, is an offshoot of CAP: Pilot released a while back, which included five aircraft and a basic mission creation capability. CAP: SAR takes the old CAP: Pilot and builds upon it a bit, creating two new aircraft and expanding upon the mission capability. It is available for download at $29 or via CD-ROM at $29.95. When you purchase CAP: SAR your key works for both FS9 and FSX versions, and accordingly this review has mostly been done in FS9, however differences in FSX will be noted.

In brief, CAP: SAR includes two aircraft, the first being the Cessna 182T, not to be confused with the turbocharged T182T. In addition to the C182T is the Maule MX-260, the naming of which I will comment on later. Both aircraft come with two paint schemes, old and new, and the Cessna comes with two panel options. One is with the standard steam instruments, the other with the new Garmin G1000 glass cockpit. Not only does CAP: SAR come with the two aircraft, it also comes with a mission builder system that is rather ingenious. In order to complete your custom made missions, CAP: SAR comes with 4 new instruments that equip your aircraft.

This review will run you through installation and documentation, then take a look at each of the aircraft. Finally, we’ll take a look at the mission builder and the 4 instruments you’ll find in the cockpit to help you complete the missions.

Installation and Documentation

Test System

ASUS A8N32-SLI Deluxe
AMD Athlon XP 3700+
Corsair XMS 2.5GB RAM
NVIDIA GeForce 7800GTX 256MB
WD 2x160GB SATA2
WD 2x250GB SATA2
WD 1x160GB SATA
Samsung 19” LCD DVI
Windows XP Pro
CH USB Yoke
CH USB Pedals
CH USB Throttle Quad

Flying Time:
15 hours

The download for each version is just over 40MB and were downloaded without a hitch, they're standard executable installers.

The first page on the install warns that it must be in the main FS9 folder, which the installer will look for in the registry. If not found, you must find the FS9 folder manually as well as the Flight Simulator Files folder in My Documents. My install found FS9 in the correct directory on another hard drive and the rest of the install went smoothly, it found my FS9 directory and completed successfully.

One glitch occurred on the last page, which has a box to check if you wish to look at the read me. Clicking this and then "Finish" leads to an error in finding the file that is looking for the read me for FSX, not FS9 that we are using. Just clicking cancel and you get the end result of an icon on the desktop for the Mission Builder, along with a program group in the start menu under Abacus. The FSX install went off with a hitch.

Now that the install is complete, let's look at the documentation. First off, there is a little pamphlet to get more information from CAP. Following that is the read-me file, which contains a little overview of the program, and simple "how to" instructions, much like a quick users guide. Then comes the manual that contains and expands upon the information in the read-me.

The manual doesn’t mention anything about the included aircraft, but does give some very good information about the mission builder and the 4 custom gauges for use in completing the missions you create. In case you need to freshen up on how to use the G1000, there is a separate manual that is a mixture of the real Garmin manual and some new pages. This manual is short for a G1000 manual and largely contains pictures and screen shots of the available pages and buttons on how the G1000 was implemented for this product. Be aware that this G1000 version is a very simplified implementation of its real-world counterpart. There are no notable differences when it comes to documentation for FSX.

Cessna

The visual model of the C182T overall isn’t too bad, but it does have some quirks. Some attention was given to detail and many of the antennae and other various protrusions found on the C182T are modeled and look good. Like I said though, there are some quirks, which leads me to believe that testing was shorter than it should have been in order to make a quality product. Some things that I have noticed include some bleed-through on the doors and others places where parts come together, but they are only noticeable on darker painted surfaces.

Another model anomaly that I noticed was the right elevator and trim tab. The very back edge is modeled with a slight vertical face, unlike the left side, that was either not textured at all or not textured correctly. Resulting is a blue trailing edge. There is also a texturing problem on the right flap trailing edge, in which you can see some red and blue striping meant for the top and bottom surface of the wing. One other complaint that I’ve got concerning the model, is that the white tail navigation light is missing.

As a whole the textures aren’t too bad. Each aircraft comes in two different flavors of CAP paint, one old style that you probably won’t see in very many places, and the new current style that will really catch your eye if you ever see one on your ramp. Each style is done nicely and includes some good detail like the many rivet lines and inspection plates that are found on the real bird.

There are two options for panels in the C182T, one being the old steam instruments and the other the new Garmin G1000 avionics suite. As a plus both versions are modeled with both a regular 2D and virtual cockpit.

Panel of the steam instrument C182T Panel of the Garmin G1000 C182T Garmin G1000 PFD and MFD

First off with the standard panel, all I’ve got to say is wow…unfortunately, it’s not a good wow. The standard panel looks like a beginner’s attempt at making a panel for the first time. The designers have gone for a realistic view from the left seat, unlike the default C182 panel that crams everything into one screen for the most part.

The main panel bitmap has a crude, untextured look to it, with a lot of empty space that could have been better utilized. To get at the rest of the instruments, multiple panels can be brought up with the use of mini-icons. The sub-panels are just as poorly done, and it shows by the stretching of gauges beyond their normal resolution that gives you a very pixilated instruments. In order to fully enjoy the aircraft you’ll have to fly it in the virtual cockpit that is done a lot better than it’s 2D counterpart.

The Garmin G1000 avionics available for the C182T are a nice treat in the package. While it doesn’t have the functionality of some of the dedicated products that are available, it does get the job done. Upon loading the aircraft, I came upon an “issue” that was fixed in very short order, kudos to the Abacus support team. It’s kind of hard to fly when both PFD and MFD do not work at all, but a couple of new files from Abacus, and all is well again.

My issue, which is only the 2nd time the Abacus team has had to face it, was an issue that could not have been caught during testing. However, there are several problems that I have found that should not have made the final product. Some of these include the fuel quantity that does not work in the MFD, too large of font on the PFD when changing ADF frequencies, and that some knobs do not work correctly on some pages, when they do on others.

One of the largest gross errors that I noticed was the usage of a “Load %” instrument, which I assume to be “%HP”, even though the real airplane uses a manifold pressure instrument. This decision is a large step in the opposite direction in terms of realism, and detracts heavily upon the product, in my opinion. I can only guess why they decided in going that route. All in all, while the G1000 2D panel is a step ahead of the steam instrument panel, please do yourself a favor, again, and use the virtual cockpit on the glass panel as well.

The aircraft sound is aliased to the default Cessna, so you will hear the common drones of the Lycoming IO-360. No, that is not a typing error. Yes, I know that the Cessna 182T comes standard equipped with the Lycoming IO-540, however the designers aliased the sound to the default C172 and not the C182. I have some reasoning, which will I will try to speculate on in the next section on Flight Dynamics.

Flight Dynamics

This is where a not so great aircraft, but certainly not terrible one, gets ever closer to having a one way ticket to the recycle bin. Many, many things have gone wrong in this category. I think that most, if not all, are due to a very big suspicion that the flight dynamics are a direct port, or at least really close, to that of the default C172S.

First thing I noticed that got my suspicions forming was the information on the aircraft selection screen, stating that this particular C182T had 50 less horsepower than the real deal. Checking the fuel and payload, resulted in even more confirmation. Empty and max gross weight is identical to the C172S, as is the fuel quantity. The typical empty and max gross weight of a C182T is about 2000 and 3100 respectively, while the standard tanks are possible of being filled with 87 gallons of usable gold…excuse me, fuel.

This C182T comes with 52. I hadn’t even started flying the airplane yet, and I could tell that things might not be like they should. While flight-testing the model, I was able to get speeds that are higher than real-world C182 speeds. So things just aren’t right there, maybe correct horsepower with incorrect low weight is to blame. Unrealistic RPM is also a problem, because the instruments correctly show 2400 as the maximum RPM, but during flight-testing the needle didn’t stop till around the 2600 mark.

I’m sorry Abacus, but if you are going to copy things, at least copy the right model.

Maule

Maule Air Incorporated is a company based in Georgia and makes the M-7 series of production aircraft. The aircraft is famous for it’s STOL capability and the CAP currently has 7 in its inventory.

Before we begin with the model, I became very confused as to exactly what aircraft they were trying to simulate. As it stands there is not an MX-260, as Abacus advertises the model, made by Maule, there is a 260HP version but goes under one of three types. A M-7-260 and M-7-260C, both tail-draggers with the difference being spring aluminum or oleo strut gear, or the tricycle MT-7-260. To muddy the waters further, the description in the simulator names the MT-235, which happens to be the model that the CAP really does fly. Other contradictions with the engine model and propeller equipped in the performance specifications section creates quite the headache. In the real world, both the –235 and the –260 are nearly identical except for engine and propeller, so I guess we’ve got a mixture of both in the MX-260.

It again appears that this aircraft was created using a port of the default C172S. Lucky for us the weights are actually close between the Maule and the Cessna. Again, the fuel quantity is not correct, this Maule being able to hold the same 52 gallons, instead of the correct amount of 70 found in the real airplane.

Now that we’ve tackled that, we can proceed to the model, which is ok, but it does seem to have a lack of attention to detail and for the most part seems very basic, unlike the C182T model did. There is no moving trim tab. Even still, some things don’t quite look right. Overall, this model seems to sit too high than its real-world counterpart, less angle on the main gear and shorten the nose gear and it would be perfect.

Next comes a trademark item found in Maule aircraft, flaps that have a negative angle detent. The real-world Maule has detents at -7, 0, 24, 40, while this Maule seems to have detents at 0, 10, 20, and 40. Much like the C182T model, this model is also missing the white tail navigation light. One plus, I did not observe the amount of bleed through with the Maule model compared to the C182T

Looking at the textures, like the model comparison of the C182T and MX-260, the MX-260’s textures are lacking the detail that I observed with the C182T. There are both old and new style paint schemes, however I doubt that any were actually painted in the old scheme when they were obtained just over 5 years ago.

Unlike the Cessna, the Maule 2D panel is actually flyable for me. It is still far from what I expect from something that I pay for, but after the Cessna panel, you really can only get better. For the most part everything you need is located in the main panel, radios too. It is far from perfect though as the engine gauges were left out of the 2D panel, not only are they not on the main panel, there isn’t even a sub-panel with them. You have to use the virtual cockpit in order to see how your engine is performing. Speaking of the virtual cockpit, the view outside is phenomenal. With the observation windows, nearly all surfaces that are normally opaque have been replaced with windows. It's no wonder why CAP uses these, there are not that many blind spots with the Maule.

Maule panel on takeoff. Maule panel with direction finder locating ELT just to the right. Maule with the search target straight ahead.

At least the designers thought a little bit on the Maule and aliased the sound to the default C182 this time. So here you will be hearing correctly, the Lycoming IO-540 that you are all too familiar with.

So much for being a Maule. Since it is probably using the default Cessna flight dynamics, little was as it should be. Takeoff distance was nowhere close to the advertised 250ft, and landing distance was ballooned as well. Cruise speed was close but still a little high. The one thing that was close was the stall warning, which went off dead on with published numbers.

FSX Aircraft Differences

I will just lump the FSX section for the two aircraft into one, as there doesn’t seem to be much that was changed from its FS9 counterpart. In fact, so little has changed that they couldn’t even clean up the aircraft to display correctly in the aircraft selection screen. Thankfully they did include thumbnails of each one, but Abacus does not use the “publisher” field that FSX includes that further embraces and integrates aircraft from add-on developers. Instead, you must select “Abacus Search and Rescue” as its manufacturer like that of FS9.

In FSX, on selection of an aircraft you must go through the security, allowing the use of the four custom search and rescue gauges that are included. I’ve got an unresolved issue, in which the aircraft will not preview in the aircraft selection window and the whole preview window is just white. This effect also crossed over to the virtual cockpit and turned the entire screen white on selection of the VC. After installation of a registered version of FSUIPC, the virtual cockpit once again would display. I don’t know if they are related and I can’t get an answer from Abacus, but not seeing the aircraft in the selection window, while annoying, isn’t a deal breaker in itself.

Because of use of the default gauges, which have been updated in FSX, the panels seem to look a little nicer in FSX. Other than that, the two versions are identical, so you should have no surprises. It would have been nice for Abacus to integrate the FSX style missions into the product, but I feel that would justify them charging for an update.

Mission Builder

The mission builder with sector search for jumbo-jet crash.

If this package has a bright spot, it is with the mission builder and four custom gauges included in the aircraft.

One quick disclaimer, which Abacus explains as well, the mission builder does not create missions for use with the built-in mission capability of FSX. I have only just started to use FSX and the missions of FSX are a nice touch for some challenge, but you won’t be able to use it with CAP: SAR.

Launching the mission builder, you are greeted by a window that has everything you need in order to create your mission. It is a WYSIWYG editor that I found to be very intuitive, so reading the documentation isn’t really necessary unless you get stumped somewhere. Even if you do get stumped, simply click on the “How Do I…” button and it pulls up a little window with information on, you guessed it, how to do whatever you want to do.

Step number one is also where I encountered my only problem with the editor. Though a minor error, it really does show the quality of work, or lack thereof, that was put into this product. In case you can’t see it, it is the “Soft” by ID check box. Of course it should be “Sort”, and the proximity of the letters on the keyboard could have easily caused it, but simple testing of the product should have corrected it.

When you finish up creating the mission you have options to view and print a summary and worksheet to take with you in the simulator, save the flight plan for use with the included GPS and set the conditions for completing the mission. Click the “Fly Now!” button and off you go to find what you just created.

As I mentioned in the introduction, the mission builder is quite ingenious, and I haven’t seen anything like it before. After making all your choices, you create the mission by saving a scenery file in flight simulator. This file contains the object you want as well as effects and sounds, and then you fly the mission. But all this is worthless unless you have access to the 4 gauges included with the CAP aircraft.

There is no difference between FS9 and FSX besides the locations of where you save the files.

Gauges

There are four gauges that come with CAP: SAR to use with your created missions.

First is the communicator. I personally found little use for this gauge, and its use is not required or really needed, but it does add some realism when it comes to radio operations during a mission.

Next on the list is the GPS/Autopilot. If it looks familiar, it should be, it is a stripped down version of what seems to be Abacus’ go-to GPS/Autopilot that can be found in numerous titles. It is stated in the documentation, but I thought it worthy of mention, when flying a mission and loading up one of the CAP aircraft in the simulator the GPS/Autopilot automatically searches for and loads any flight plan that has the “AB_CAP.PLN” filename. If the flight plan that you saved has any other name, you will have to load it up manually. This GPS/Autopilot comes in handy and will fly your mission hands off so that you can spend most of your time looking out the window, searching, rather than flying. Unrealistic, but due to flight simulator limitations, necessary.

In order to search for an ELT, the package comes with two direction-finding gauges. One is analog, while the other is digital. The analog unit I will liken to a standard CDI, pointing either left or right in varying amounts to tell you which way to turn. The digital on the other hand works much like an ADF and will give you the relative bearing to the object. The gauges have one real-world feature that takes into account the effects of range and altitude on the signal, so that you will be able to hear it higher than when at low altitudes. Kudos to the design crew for that capability. Unfortunately, it does not take into account line of sight, which in the real world can be quite the conundrum.

I have found that using the DF gauges in the simulator, with the accuracy of the ELT at 100%, way too easy as it just follows theory. In the real world, using DF in an airplane can almost be an art, depending on the location of the ELT. If you want to be a realist, turn down the accuracy of the ELT, so that you are forced to look outside the airplane to find the object and not just flying with your eyes locked on the needles. Now you know why real CAP missions are flow with 3 or more people.

There is no difference in usage or capability of the gauges between FS9 and FSX.

Performance and Summary

The only thing that really caused a hit on frame rates was the use of the G1000 Cessna 182T, of which numbers were cut in half. Everything else was right near default aircraft rates, but considering the lack of detail and extensive use of default material this wasn’t a surprise at all.

The nicest thing I can seem to say about this product is that it has potential. Looking at the mission builder, you see a very friendly and intuitive interface, but to me the glaring error of “soft” vs. “sort” seems to be an ominous foreshadow of what is to come.

Then you bring up the Cessna 182T with standard instruments and are amazed at its cheap, poor rendition of a panel, and even more wowed that it seems to be a copy of a Cessna 172 when it comes to flight dynamics and sound. Only the external model has anything to be praised about. The Garmin G1000 panel looks a little bit better, but when pages don’t work as they should, even knowing you have reduced capability from the real thing, it is a disappointment.

The Maule, while being a refreshing step outside the normal box for add-on aircraft, also seems half-done. The model and textures aren’t very detailed, the panel is missing some key instruments, and the performance is anemic compared to what the Maule should be able to do, yet it still retains some characteristics of what it was copied from. Another big problem with it, the key thing in my book, is what model it's supposed to be simulating. You can’t compare things if you don’t know what you are comparing them to.

Like I said, the product has potential. Fix the small things with the mission editor, renovate the aircraft, and you would have a completely different package that would be worthy of purchase. It wouldn’t hurt to try and integrate the FSX style missions into the product as well. So far, as it stands, I have a hard time justifying the price when there are completely bug free detailed products out there for the same price or below what you pay for Civil Air Patrol: Search and Rescue.

What I Like About Civil Air Patrol: Search and Rescue

  • The Mission Builder – Easy WYSIWYG editor.
  • Flying Your Own Custom Mission – A sense of challenge that is otherwise missing in FS.

 

What I Don't Like About Civil Air Patrol: Search and Rescue

  • The Aircraft – Poor craftsmanship really degrades the product as a whole.
  • The Price – The quality of work does not warrant the price.

 

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