The DeHavilland Dash 8 was originally developed by DeHavilland Canada (DHC) in the early 1980’s as an adaptation of the Dash 7 regional airliner. The Dash 7, which was released in the mid 1970’s, had received only moderate success as a STOL (short takeoff and landing) four engine turboprop regional airliner (or feederliner) with a max of 40 seats, usually 32. With the Dash 8, DHC dropped having the STOL capability as well as losing two engines and mounted newly developed Pratt & Whitney PW100 turboprop engines which produced more power than the PT-6’s used in the Dash 7. These new engines were mounted to a very high aspect ratio wing giving the Dash 8 a considerably higher cruise speed and on a much lower fuel burn than the Dash 7’s four engines but more importantly, the Dash 8 had considerably lower overall operating costs. In fact, the Dash 8 had the lowest cost per passenger mile of any feederliner of that era. The only real negative for operators was that the Dash 8 was louder than the Dash 7.
In the simulation world, popular real life aircraft always seem to make their way into the sim. There were several freeware releases of the Dash 8 for earlier versions of MSFS including FS4 and on up. I’m reminded of the beautiful Dash 8 Rick Piper did for FS2000 but what really shook me up was when Oleksiy Frolov released his Dash 8 for FS2002. True, there was a Dash 8 included in FS2002 as part of the AI traffic package that heralded the introduction of somewhat intelligent air traffic for personal simulators. If you had your traffic slider set high you would see them all over the place but you still couldn’t fly them because Microsoft didn’t enable them in the selection menu. More than a few people did rewrites of all the AI traffic’s configuration files and they were made usable but they still didn’t include panels, virtual cockpits and specific sound sets. Most simmers also made the discovery that an aircraft designed to fly as AI traffic doesn’t always have very realistic flight dynamics for actual hands-on flying in the sim, in fact they are pretty awful. Oleksiy’s Dash 8 introduced the hobby simming world to very realistic handling of turboprop engines and also some features of the navigation radio equipment that MSFS hadn’t included.
What started as a freeware exercise in what could be accomplished using MSFS as a base, turned into a full fledged project resulting in the most complete and realistic Dash 8 simulation currently available for MSFS. Now understand when I make that statement, it is from a pilot’s point of view as this software package is directed to unofficial cockpit systems and flight management awareness. It is not sold as a training program because it is not recognized as an official approved training program. No MSFS based simulation has that kind of approval and cannot be marketed as such. I can assure you though, it is not your jump in and hit “ctrl-e” and go fly type of simulation either.
Aft of the virtual cockpit there is no virtual cabin, no wing views, no stewardess, no flushing potty. Not that those things detract from flying from the cockpit in any other sim, this simulation is designed for the captain/first officer and presents the armchair pilot with basically everything and anything his/her real world counterpart will find in the real Dash 8 cockpit and has the capability of simulating almost any failure scenario when a second person is manning the Instructor Panel program (usually from a networked computer). If you are wanting to experience the Dash 8 as a passenger or bystander and let the computer do your flying, there are less expensive simulations that will probably be more aimed at what you enjoy doing while simming.
Installation and Documentation
When you make your purchase of the Majestic Dash 8 you are faced with three choices, the Pilot version, Pro version and there is also a package for regional airlines to purchase multiple copies with management software and 1 year renewable support. I got the Pro version which is a 67.6 MB download. The Pro version adds some additional functionality over the Pilot’s edition (or Cockpit version as it used to be called) to the panel systems and additional failure modes to the Instructors Panel. The Instructor’s panel can also be brought up on a networked computer so a remote person can feed in diabolical failure sequences guaranteed to make even the most experienced Dash 8 pilot break into a cold sweat. The Pro version also has the ability through a registered version of FSUIPC to enable hardware actuation of all the FMC and autopilot controls. This is especially attractive to anyone building a home cockpit. The Pro version was ideal for utilizing the autopilot buttons on my ACP Compact and also allows configuration on GoFlight equipment.
After your purchase you are emailed the link to download the installation program. Running that program will bring up an install screen that will give you a partial installation code and a blank space for the complete installation code. You have to email Majestic that partial code and you will get a return email with the complete install code. I noticed that the completed code had nothing in common with the partial code. If you are someone that is obsessed with changing computers every few months or reformatting your drive frequently I would recommend you have a prior email conversation with Majestic because this type of piracy protection takes time on their part and I don’t think they are going to take kindly to a monthly new installation of their software… I know I’d have questions about frequent reinstalls ;). This is not a big software company, and in fact only sells a highly specialized simulation of a single aircraft that has taken thousands of man hours to work on. If you are after a free copy download the free FS2002 version, it will certainly give you a little taste of what the full version is capable of.
I noticed that the full download version that I had gotten had the numbers 2_001 in the name. I did correctly assume that this meant it was version 2.001 and if that is the one you get you will need to download the 2.002 update/patch (another 11.1 mb) which does correct some rather important flight quality issues as well as other items listed on their website and forum. This software package does remain a work in progress and there are some items, most notably with the FMC, that are still being worked on. The installation itself did go smoothly via the auto executable installation file after entering the code and the patch was an easy install afterwards. A note about the patches, they will not allow for you to install the incorrect one or install over an existing patch installation. So for instance the 2.001 patch will give an error if you try to install it into the version 2.001 original file like the one I downloaded. It also won’t let you install the 2.001 patch after installing the 2.002 patch, so you don’t go messing up newer files with older ones.
The installation includes a full manual with a quick start guide that is accessed through the Start menu. It has explanations for the configuration file which is called an INI file, throttle INI calibration files, and Pro Edition custom keys and buttons. The index for the manual will link you to any of the above parts and if you are connected to the internet, it will also link you to instructional videos for takeoff, climb and using the instructors remote control panel. It also has links to Fanda’s forum which is where the support forum is for the payware Majestic Dash 8 and the earlier freeware Dash 8 for FS2002. There is also an A4 sized checklist you can print out for handy reference while simming, I suggest doing this.
While this manual does go over each of the panels and popups and detailed descriptions of the systems modeled, there is certainly an assumption that you are already familiar with aircraft systems and using aircraft in MSFS. There is also a complete lack of installation and more importantly setup instructions which I will relate just a little further down the page. This is not a beginners guide to MSFS but instead an overview of what the Majestic Dash 8 has been programmed to simulate in MSFS. In that sense it is a nicely laid out, an easy to follow progression of each part of the panel and systems diagrams (many hand drawn) explaining how they work and why certain systems have to be functioning correctly for them to work.
The Learning Curve After Installation
If you know nothing about aircraft and this is your first add-on since purchasing MSFS two weeks ago you are going to be on overload and screaming for HELP! If you already have been simming for some time and have Oleksiy’s freeware Dash 8 for FS2002 or Flight1’s ATR72 and are comfortable operating either of them you are going to find yourself making a little easier transition and while the 2D visuals aren’t as impressive as F1’s ATR (remember Dreamfleet had a hand in that one) I think you’ll find the system's modeling, especially the turboprop engine simulation and autopilot, even more realistic. I found the VC in the Majestic Dash 8 to be quite nicely done and really liked the worn look of some parts.
For owners of CH products Throttle Quadrant or any other multiple lever throttle unit that allows for individual throttle assignments all is not well in Toyland. Not from an operational standpoint but rather from a documentation regarding setup standpoint. I initially found that my throttles wouldn’t move, nor would the propeller pitch levers (my six levers are set for each of the three controls for engines 1 and 2). I’ve been through throttle problems before… remember my Feelthere ERJ145 review? I thought it might be a conflict with FSUIPC, so I reset the throttle calibration so FSUIPC wouldn’t alter the default MSFS calibration settings… no joy. Searched and searched through the included manual and found the INI file settings and chart which is supposed to be designed for use with CH products Throttle Quadrant (it is BTW) but that didn’t help and only left me confused. OK, got onto their forum and after doing a bit of searching, realized that if you are using an individual throttle controlling unit like CH products Throttle Quadrant you have to set them up to read only throttles 3 and 4, not 1 and 2. OK, I’ve got a configuration setup that I use for four engine aircraft so I started the sim with that one and used only the levers 3 and 4 on the CH unit (that’s what I thought that meant at first!). The throttles now were all over the place and basically impossible to control… now what do I do?
Going back to the forums, I realized that in fact throttle assignments 1 and 2 need to be disabled so there is no input from them at all. OK… set up a new configuration file so that levers 1 and 2 send information to throttles 3 and 4, set levers 3 and 4 to send information to prop 3 and 4 and now the throttle worked but the RPM’s were way too high. I couldn’t even get them down to 1,200 rpm with the levers full back. I emailed Majestic support and got an email back from Oleksiy instructing me to make absolute sure that there were no assignments sending any information to engines 1 and 2 and also to make sure there were no settings in FSUIPC that would alter any information for engines 1 and 2. Aah… finally tracked down my arch nemesis on this one.
I still had the prop calibration in FSUIPC set for my other aircraft. Thank goodness Peter Dowson set up FSUIPC to make individual aircraft assignments so I set that checkbox and then turned off any engine assignments that would alter engines 1 and 2 so they wouldn’t cause any interference. Now it really did work and I even found that properly calibrating the 3 and 4 assignments through FSUIPC for the throttles and prop levers, that I now had full control over their complete range of motion and could use the levers exclusively for all engine related adjustments including startup and fuel shut off. I love stories with a happy ending ;).
OK, now I can start the thing, and even control the engines but the learning curve is not over yet. Remember I said earlier this isn’t a hop in and fly type of simulation, right? One look at the CAWS display after successfully getting the engines started should give anyone a clue that they aren’t done yet preparing for taxi and a safe flight. This, fortunately, is an area where Majestic has done a good job with their manual and quick start guide.
The Quick Start guide will show you the individual 2D panels with screenshots and which "shift" commands to bring them up (or you can use the icons which are on the panel bar on the top left of the screen). You’ll get a quick run through of the PAX loader which you should at least do once before your first flight to set how many passengers and luggage you are carrying and balance the load. The next quick sample flight will talk you through startup and taxi and a VFR flight around the pattern.
The next sample flight will put an emphasis on operating the navigation radios and talks you through an IFR pattern at Augsberg airport in Germany (EDMA) and I really recommend doing this one until you are really comfortable with performing all the operations and not having to pause at any time from takeoff to landing. You get this second sample flight down and then learn to use the FMC and you can fly anywhere and do just about any procedure thrown at you.
The sim initially loads with the pilot’s side of the panel showing, the panel bar across the top left corner and the caution/warning panel (CAWS) across the top right corner. This is the normal default view and it is suggested you leave these three panels open for most flying. You can use the panel bar’s icons to switch between panels or you can shut off the panel bar and use keyboard commands. There are a total of nine 2D panels; there’s the pilot’s and the first officer’s panel, HUD, CAWS, overhead panel, captain’s side panel, power plant quadrant, center console and finally FMC zoom. These are all drawn as artwork instead of being photoreal and have an appearance similar to what you would find in a training manual. They are clear and reasonably easy to read although the print can appear small on some items. All the panels are best viewed in 1280x1024 resolution as this is how they were drawn.
The Virtual Cockpit is nicely done with basically all switches functional. I found that you can conduct an entire flight from startup to shutdown from the VC but there are certain screens where it is easier to see and get the mouse to operate the controls if you use the 2D part of the panel. I really liked the aged look of the panel with wear marks on high use areas like the throttle gates. The night lighting is also nicely done with separate controls for lighting different parts of the panel. The weather radar is functional only in the 2D panel and while it is true you can put a weather overlay onto either EFIS display, this function also only works in the 2D panel. The EFIS display in the VC remains clear of any sign of a working weather radar. I would like to see hotspots in the VC for the FMC and weather radar as it would be handy to just zoom into either of these gauges for easier programming and use.
There is a working FMC that covers much of what you would use the FMC for on most flights. Not all functions though are presently simulated but I am told that this is a work in progress and that more work will be released in a future patch. I found the unit to work like the real unit for those items that are programmed and it will handle basically any holding pattern you can throw at it. The most notable feature that I would like to see in the next patch, would be a full set of approaches available and some of the missing smaller airports added.
If there were a way that the information used in these FMC simulations could be standardized, so all of the add-on aircraft that utilize an FMC could get updates from one place and then modify whatever they needed for their own individual uses, it would certainly be a good thing.
For sounds, Majestic actually stepped outside the box on this one. The sounds are generated through a DirectX modeling system that bypasses the way MSFS generates sounds. What do you miss? The changes in the sound going from inside the aircraft to outside and for that matte,r even the changes that will occur when turning your head in the VC (which aren’t really that realistic BTW).
What you gain is the most realistic depiction of what a Dash 8 sounds like from inside that is probably possible at this time. The engine spool up, application of take off power, climb, pulling back the prop levers for lower RPM use (especially 900 rpm which is typically used in cruise), all are better than anything I have heard before in the sim. I really liked pulling the prop levers back for cruise and feeling that low hum of those big propellers just shake my sim room… my wife had a different take on that by the way ;).
A nice feature that the sound programming for the Majestic Dash 8 includes, is the automatic cabin announcements and background music. This feature is not talked about in the manual. You can hear them faintly in the background and even have the ability to adjust their volume through the INI file if you want to change them. This really adds to the ambience while flying the Dash 8. I really didn’t listen that close to what was being said, just noticed that I heard something going on in the background at the appropriate times. It is good to be the captain.
As evidenced in Fanda’s forum, there have been countless hours refining the flight dynamics of the Majestic Dash 8. The purists out there… and you know who you are, are always wanting a simulated aircraft to “fly by the numbers” and this one is not going to disappoint. Fuel flow, engine temps, power settings, engine response time, stall speeds are all good representations of the published performance envelope of the real aircraft. How it feels though is also very important, all those numbers mean nothing in the sim if the plane handles in an unrealistic fashion. I had the experience of flying around in the original download which was version 2.001 before patching it to version 2.002. All the slow speed handling was very good in the earlier version but there was this funny glitch in yaw that would occur at cruise speeds which the patch fixed without a trace.
One thing that will take getting used to is the hand tiller for ground steering. Since you don’t have a hand tiller, the aileron control for your yoke will double for this during ground operations. Reading the manual you will notice that you have to have the hydraulic system on and the ground steering switch on for this to work and that it is automatically disconnected at speeds above 40-50 knots. What this hand tiller does give you is the ability to nearly turn the aircraft around on itself and is very handy in tight situations.
When we talk about the airfile, we usually think about the flying dynamics but in this particular aircraft it is worth going into the turboprop engine simulation that Oleksiy has been able to get right, where others have just worked around MSFS’s lack of true turboprop modeling. Even back when the first FS2002 version (the one you can download for free) was released, Oleksiy Frolov had put a great deal of time into finding a way to program the air and cfg files to emulate disc and reverse thrust without the need to use outside programming like what Pete Dowson has been able to do with FSUIPC. Oleksiy’s way was smoother though and had the right “feel” to it.
Fast forward to the payware versions of the Dash 8 and you see that he didn’t stop with the work he did on the FS2002 version. The present simulation of a twin engine turboprop is actually accomplished by making the sim think there are actually four engines. That is why if you are using a multiple lever throttle quadrant you have to… I will repeat that… HAVE TO set the throttle and prop assignments so that your lever movement effects only engines 3 and 4… I will also repeat that for those that skipped over my “learning curve” section… ONLY ENGINES 3 AND 4, THAT MEANS NO ASSIGNMENTS TO ENGINES 1 AND 2 AND NO CALIBRATION VIA FSUIPC FOR ENGINES 1 AND 2. OK… I think you might have it now.
In the INI file for the Dash 8 there are a bunch of initially confusing number sets that deal specifically with how the positions of levers 3 and 4 for the throttle and for the prop rpm will send information to the sim to also control engines 1 and 2 settings. And to make matters even more confusing, there is a set for when you are on the ground (the landing gear sensors are compressed) and when you are in the air. This last little ingenious addition to the INI file allows for the sim to alter just how far back you can pull the power levers while in flight, thus limiting flight operations to the flight idle position while disc and reverse thrust are available only on the ground. Oleksiy did include instructions on how to set this up so that full back only gives the disc position and no reverse thrust if that is your preference.
Another inclusion to this real world handling of turboprop engines is the ability to select the start/feather position. This is where you bring the prop lever while starting the engine and is also where many operators will operate one engine during ground operations to save on fuel burn. You will see in the screenshots that I used this setting for taxiing and it worked well with the visual depiction from outside even showing the slower moving propeller.
Turboprop engines… especially ones with big propellers are also known for being able to produce quite a bit of drag, enough to act as a speed brake when the power is brought back to flight idle. MSFS default turboprop flight dynamics are just modifications of the jet engine modeling and don’t really simulate this well at all. Majestic got this aspect of turboprop flight dynamics right and if you really want to come down fast and slow down at the same time you can do it. Just put the props in high rpm range (1,200 rpm) and bring the power back to flight idle and you can almost sense the feeling of being brought forward into your seatbelt as you watch the airspeed indicator spin down.
Aircraft of this size are not ones you go out and practice accelerated stalls and spins in. In fact, they are equipped with what is called a “stick shaker” and a “stick pusher.” Let the airspeed bleed off a little too much and you will start to hear the stick shaker at work. In real life, the noise of this is not what gets your attention. If you have let that much speed bleed off there is obviously something else occupying your attention and when that yoke really starts to shake around in your hands, well that will get any pilot’s attention with a real adrenalin pumping “what the heck is going on” type of reaction, and hopefully focus your attention back to flying the plane.
Let a little more airspeed bleed off and that impending stall is going to be cut short by the stick pusher and the whole yoke will move forward to drop the nose and build some speed back. I tried and tried to stall this thing and the best I could do was in full power steep climbs with the stick pulled all the way back. This resulted in a heck of racket with the stick shaker and aural warnings and the aircraft gently nosing down and building speed back up.
How About Flying That Demo Pattern at Minimums?
Now that title actually needs to be explained, because the Majestic Dash 8 simulation includes the HGS (Heads-up Guidance System) that can be installed in this class of turboprop feederliner. With this system, operators can perform takeoffs at approved airports with only 75 meters visibility. That is not a typo by the way, I did write 75 meters. Cat IIIa landings are also approved for this system and can be performed with a 50’ ceiling and 200 meters visibility. If you want to test this out for yourself, I would recommend becoming completely proficient at doing the example IFR procedure given in the Quick Start guide for Augsberg, Germany (EDMA). Then set your weather for the minimums and try it with the HGS.
You will need to follow the instructions for using this system given in the User’s Guide to the letter for it to work properly because both nav radios and EFIS displays need to be set correctly. Another thing you will notice using the HGS is you will have to turn off the autopilot upon establishing yourself on the ILS and hand fly the approach because the system doesn’t use the same inertial navigation data the autopilot does. Yes… that means you, the pilot, have to learn how to actually fly it and not rely on the autopilot ;). I just love this stuff :).
I set up the Lufthansa Dash 8 at EDMA parking and then used ASv6 to set the weather down to 81 meters visibility, then watched the fog as it slowly engulfed the airport and us. Taxiing out, I really wondered how badly one would want to take off in this kind of visibility. After all the radios and equipment was set up and I pulled on to the runway. I switched to the HUD for the HGS, applied take off power, released brakes and kept the line centered. As we rotated and started our climb the HGS switched to the primary mode and I went back to using the regular panel or VC to fly the rest of the procedure. If you wanted to practice an engine out during this low visibility takeoff you would switch to the first officer’s position because that is who is monitoring all the aircraft systems during this type of take off.
While flying the downwind leg, I went back into the ASv6 setup and set the visibility for 210 meters (aren’t sims a wonderful thing). Once established on the ILS, I went to the HGS and set it for Cat III on the HUD, this is only available as a selection once established on an ILS. I went to the HUD display and then switched off the autopilot. Keep that little circle inside the bigger circle and watch your speed. As you get closer and closer to the airport you will start to see the outline of the runway on the HUD and at this visibility, the ILS lights and end of runway just start to come into sight when the little ball starts to rise and a plus sign will appear in it indicating time to flare. I got a little low on this approach trying to look at the keyboard so I could hit the print screen key for a screenshot. Missed the plus sign but still managed to flare and get on the ground. You can see in the Jeppesen Simchart approach plate for EDMA that I did have some wind to contend with on the crosswind and base legs as evidenced by the drift but not bad considering I’ve only been flying the Dash 8 for a few weeks now.
Now Let's Go Fly
For our demo flight I was really into this "real as it gets" kind of thing. I initially wanted to make a flight my friend, who was training for Horizon Air, was telling me about. The approach into Hailey, Idaho is one of those box canyon types where after descending to a certain altitude you are committed to landing. In fact during his training, this was one of his simulated problems where he had an instructor cut an engine at this critical point in Horizon Air’s Dash 8 simulator. He chose to continue the landing which he later found was the only right decision. Alas, for me this wasn’t meant to be as I was to discover that there were no repaints of the Majestic Dash 8 Q300 for Horizon Air.
I tried the set up the flight in GJ Smith’s US Air repaint, only to discover that Hailey, Idaho isn’t in the FMC database. Now I was really ticked, but during my research for this article I discovered that Horizon Air doesn’t operate the model 300 Dash 8, only 200’s and 400’s so the fact I couldn’t find a repaint was actually based on reality. I also discovered that the FMC does cover most airports and basically all are on real world routings for this aircraft. The Fanda forum does indicate that the database for the FMC will be added to in future updates.
I made a second choice to make a BahamasAir flight and try to make it work with my Islands of the West Indies scenery by Chris Wilkes. Trouble is, BahamasAir doesn’t fly all the way down to those destinations… they need to fly baja mas! After making up a few flights myself, I decided to change my whole hemisphere for a third attempt at a real world flight. Some of my screenshots for this review are from those Bahamas flights.
GJ Smith has done this really nice looking repaint of the QuantasLink Dash 8 Q300 and I found a flight that was perfect for use with John “Koorby” Venema’s VOZ 1.2. QF2487 departs Horn Island (YHID) at 9:25 am and arrives at Cairnes (YBCS) at 11:20 am. For this flight I used VOZ to place the North texture sets and then made a flight that was set to a summer date. Remember VOZ only has summer textures unless you are using the Southeast region. If you live in the northern hemisphere you probably aren’t used to making a summer flight in January but that is what we are going to do in the land down under. I already had a saved set of ASv6 METAR’s for the January date chosen, had I not already saved them I could have downloaded them from Active Sky’s server by selecting their weather archives.
The Australian North is a very lush, green forested area very unlike the rest of the country. VOZ really does bring this to life in the sim and even many of these small airports have some added features compared to MSFS default. With the aircraft loaded and the FMC programmed for the flight, we were off at the appointed time in keeping with Qantas’ reputation. I also used VoxATC for this flight, after our initial vectors out of the airport area we were directed to continue our climb and intercept our flight path on R204.
Our cruising altitude of 23,000 feet gave us a ground speed of about 275 knots. While there were scattered clouds about, we were out of the clouds for the entire flight which allowed for some spectacular views of the scenery below. Our approach vectored us in for a straight-in ILS approach to runway 15 and we taxied up the terminal area with a little time to spare. You can see from the windsock beside the taxiway there was a fair headwind for that landing.
Oleksiy Frolov and Majestic have certainly created a very well thought out and as complete a simulation of the DHC Dash 8 Q 300 as is currently possible in FS2004. I will admit the price is higher than much of what can be considered its competition, especially if you opt for the Pro edition.
I have a great deal of aircraft I have purchased for the sim and some of them just sit without much use after their newness wears off. There are a few though that remain on my list of favorites because they capture so well what I am looking for in a very realistic simulation of flying and systems management. The Majestic Dash 8 has taken its place on that list and I really appreciate the work that has gone into providing the best simulation of a turboprop aircraft I have yet to come across.
didn’t have time
to really go into was the instructor’s panel, which I
find a very valuable tool especially if you plan to use
to help you through learning the Dash 8’s real life systems
and emergency procedures. I can just picture getting waived
off or having weather go below minimums on an ILS only to have
flap retraction and engine failure all hit at the same time!
|What I Like About the Dash 8|
|What I Don't Like About the Dash 8|
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