AVSIM Commercial Aircraft Review

Flight 1 / RealAir
American Champion Aircraft
Scout Package 2007

Product Information

Publisher: Flight 1 / RealAir Simulations

Description: General aviation add-on aircraft.

Download Size:
77 MB

Format:
Download and CD
Simulation Type:
FSX
Reviewed by: Etienne Martin AVSIM Staff Reviewer - July 11, 2008

Introduction

American Champion Aircraft – Scout Package 2007 is the second release of the product from Real Air Simulations, this time updated for Flight Simulator X. In the box, we will find three tail-dragger airframes, the Citabria, the Scout and the Decathlon.

The three aircraft models are manufactured in Rochester, Wisconsin by American Champion Aircraft (ACA). The base design by Bellanca has been around for over forty years, and ACA still manufactures the frames today. Several enhancements to the original design were made in the form of higher output Lycoming engines, structural reinforcements for improved acrobatics, and the use of new materials.

The aircraft trio are very similar with most differences appearing under the hood and in the wings. The Decathlon has no flaps and squarely aims for the acrobatics segment. The Scout/Citabria pair is more at home as a workhorse/hauler, although both are also used to teach basic acrobatics. The Citabria has a harder time however, with its smaller engine.

Some specifications: 160 HP (Citabria), 180 HP (Scout/Decathlon) naturally aspirated Lycoming engines, a bit over 1,000 foot-per-minute best climb rate and a cruise speed below 130Kts, landing less than 1,500 ft and take-off in less than 800 feet, and only two seats (well, around 300lbs rated payload w/o fuel), 15,000 foot ceiling (Citabria) and 17,000 (Scout/Decathlon).

The aircraft in this package spell out short range utility flight, short runway (prepared or not) capability, and bush flying all the way although high mountain flights are a very difficult proposition.

Packaging

The boxed version has a single CD-ROM holding a 139Mb setup program. The CD also contains a folder with several promotional movies from Flight One - and a copy of the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to read the PDF documentation if needed. The box has a bonus 45 page color handbook that I will cover in the documentation section below.

The product is also available from Flight One as a 77Mb download. From what the vendor indicates on their web site, the download version is identical to the boxed version except for the printed documentation.

Installation

The setup program runs automatically after inserting the CD. The wizard installs the three aircraft and the configuration utility from Real Air, and the Bear Gulch scenery by Bill Womack of MAAM (Mid-Atlantic Air Museum) and freeware scenery fame.

At 115Mb for three aircraft, and 10Mb of extra scenery, the package has a relatively small footprint compared to the ever increasing size of many add-ons today.

The setup program offers to install the product in English, French or German languages, the program also detected that I have FS2004 installed and asked if I wanted both versions installed. Before we go on, I want to mention this article is based on the FSX product version only.

Three languages available Welcome screen The product installs both to FS2004 and FSX
Setup found the FSX folder automatically

Documentation

The boxed version of the product includes a 45 color manual named the “Pilots Briefing Handbook”. The pamphlet contains the history of the Citabria, Scout and Decathlon aircraft, product installation notes, how to use the configuration utility and keyboard reference. The handbook also includes aircraft performance data tables and normal procedures for each plane.

Real Air also includes five PDF documents available through the links created in the Windows startup menu by the setup program. One is a two page operational manual for the Bendix/King optional avionics package covering the automated flight functions if so equipped.

Next, there are three detailed operational handbooks, one each for the Scout, Citabria and Decathlon models. The handbooks include normal and emergency procedures, operation of the aircraft systems and specifications.

Lastly, we find the flying handbook, which covers more of the product features, including the list of new features of the product for Flight Simulator X.

New FSX features (from the product documentation)
• A completely new VC, designed from the ground up for FSX with new features including specular mapping.
• New truly 3D gauges that improve on our highly acclaimed ‘Smooth Gauges’.
• Improved gauge back-lighting that is visible in the day time as well as the night time (requires FSX SP1 to be installed).
• New camera views in the VC.
• Reworked exterior models compiled specifically for FSX, with improved textures.
• Improved sounds that utilize the new FSX sound features.
• Spinning capability with greater authenticity.
• New liveries.
• A new Config Panel.
• A new FSX version of the Bear Gulch scenery.
• Three VC color schemes — tan/brown, tan/red and black/grey.

Visuals

American Champion for FSX looks good, although the models are perhaps not as extremely detailed as some other products. Certainly, the trio of ACA aircrafts are not complex machines (compared to say, a 747) and have relatively few options on the airframe that naturally lead to extra animations and volumes of eye candy.

Scout with massive tundra wheels Citabria, teal colors Scout amphibian at Bear Gulch

The well done 3D models include the standard aileron/elevator and flap (if so fitted). The only door opens, front seat windows open on both sides, and we have a tail dragger setup therefore no retracting gear. The situation is different with the amphibian Scout, which not only has a retractable gear in the pontoons, but also water rudders that must be lowered in the water.

Our virtual pilot avatar looks like he was taken straight from Real Air’s Sia Marchetti SF-260, or is it the other way around? He looks left and right appropriately with the hands and arms responding to the stick movement.

The propellers have fixed pitch, so we do not find the prop control or animated blades. On this point, ACA offers a 2 bladed and optional 3 bladed propeller, this is found in the variants as modeled.

Decathlon Citabria over Boeing Field in Seattle  
Scout in flight Scout amphibian take-off, water rudders down Citabria on the approach

There are no options to pop the engine cowl to see the engine, or to climb into the back seat for that matter.

Real Air spent time on the exterior textures. Grime and wear provide an additional immersion factor. A small 4Mb texture patch is available from Real Air to correct a misaligned fuel port.

Scout amphibian detail Doors open Side view

Interior

As much as the exterior textures include detail, the interior VC has a distinctly different look. The cockpit seems right out of an Autodesk 3D Studio render, with that “perfect clean” feel. A bit more flair for the interior textures would be welcome, especially to blend better with the exterior look. Outside of a few scratches near the rudder pedals, everything looks entirely “too” computer modeled. That’s not a bad thing necessarily, but clearly a notch below what other add-on makers have been able to achieve in this area.

This is quickly forgotten as the VC is a joy to use. The expected animations and mouse clickable spots are present, noting that again, as far as aircraft add-ons go, the instrumentation and cockpit features in our ACA trio are somewhat basic.

Flap detail from cockpit The back seat (unusable)

What’s interesting, is that Real Air has actually removed most of the 2D panels found in the FS2004 product. Instead, camera views duplicate the panels found in the FS2004 version, and can be cycled via the keyboard.

It remains that the VC is best enjoyed with a head tracking device, especially if you get into acrobatics, just to help with spatial references. This can be very hard to get on a desktop PC, and manually swapping fixed views make that all the more difficult.

Instrumentation

For the virtual cockpit (VC), Real Air creates gauges in 3D. This adds a significant amount of realism to the panel, while making the gauges responsive and actually reduces the impact on FPS (lower impact on FPS than a Cessna 172 2D panel on my system).

Scout panel Right avionics Left looking down
Gauge detail Electrical / left fuel (breakers inop) Left hand controls

A unique aspect of American Champion for FSX is a configurable instrument panel via an external configuration utility. The tool lets you select instrument clusters and add/remove options for your aircraft such as the automatic pilot. I find the ability to modify the VC instrumentation based on custom options selected by the user is a novel feature, and a leading technical achievement.

3D gauges look incredible compared to the “normal” 2D gauge projected on a 3D cockpit Note the segments in the numeric radio displays, and the clock needles The only “2D” like panel

Variants & Configuration Utility

Real Air includes no less than 36 variants between configuration and paint schemes. The Decathlon liveries include the special starburst paint job, an option that can be purchased from ACS on the real product.

The configuration utility allows instruments to be added or removed for each variant. Some variants don’t allow the addition of the Bendix/King autopilot, staying true to options available to the real aircraft.

Panel Configuration Utility The configuration is specific to each variant

The simplicity of the aircraft makes for a relatively Spartan instrument cluster - no flight management systems and multiple flight displays will be found here. It is, however, very nice to be able to customize instruments according to your liking.

Lighting

As modeled, the aircraft include a dome light, a panel instrument light (backlit if running SP1/SP2), navigation lights and wing strobes. The dome light illuminates the cockpit at night from the outside. I found the landing light near useless, first because landing lights are not a strong point in the simulator itself, and more importantly, tail draggers don’t light up the runway until at speed.

Landing light Wing strobe from cockpit Rear view, a blip here as the tail light shows in the cockpit – this could be a video driver glitch
Cockpit at night Instrument / dome light on

Flight behavior

The suitability of the airframe for acrobatics is a definite plus to get away from the more mundane haul missions. The star model is, of course, the Decathlon, although through my testing, the amphibian Scout had surprisingly few problems executing the occasional loop and barrel roll, although it clearly didn’t like to stay upside down for very long, in spite of my best efforts with the stick and trim.

I also found the smoke on each wingtip is immensely helpful to track patterns.

One characteristic of the flight model that appeared very realistic to me was the behavior during a stall. My Decathlon behaved very predictably, with measured response to rudder and throttle inputs. I found this very rewarding, although I’d be hard pressed to say how the real thing behaves having never attempted this in real life.

Hammerhead stall (on the way down already, tail first) Measured rudder input points the plane in the desired direction
Scout amphibian acrobatics – possible yet the aircraft lets you know it doesn’t like it much The amphibian feels very heavy on the way down is definitely not on the nimble side
Scout amphibian physics at work here with a hot rod tight turn From above – remember to lower the water rudders – the tail rudder alone can’t turn you around easily

Failure model

I found no options for flight failure outside the default FSX failure model.

Performance

I didn’t observe any performance impact on my system, even in the VC. In fact, the FPS in the Scout were perceptibly (using my sophisticated Mark I eyeball sensor) better in the VC than with the default Cessna 172’s VC or 2D panel.

Additional Scenery

Real Air includes the Bear Gulch scenery by Bill Womack. Bear Gulch includes a grass/dirt strip lined by very tall trees, a hangar, and dock to the west of Seattle, WA. The documentation states the scenery has issues with terrain mesh add-ons, and is untested with scenery enhancement products like Ultimate Terrain.

I found that to be true indeed, using the default scenery with no add-ons is a must to be able to use the Bear Gulch scenery effectively. With Ultimate Terrain enabled, I ended up having a new road cross (and block) the lake in front of my Scout Amphibian, and the end of the grass runway ended up in a vertical cliff making take-offs near impossible. There was also no way for the scenery to take precedence either, or exclude other sceneries, even if loaded as the top layer in the scenery library.

The Bear Gulch strip Bear Gulch dock

Bear Gulch handled my terrain mesh add-on with no apparent problems. My results were definitely mixed and left me disappointed with tremendous potential as it is difficult to disable the other add-ons for such a small area covered, given their benefits elsewhere.

The Bear Gulch strip with Ultimate Terrain disabled – landing here is a challenge even if calm weather, with the tundra tires and flaps Same view with Ultimate Terrain enabled – note the problem at the end of the strip

Yet, Bear Gulch is challenging to say the least, and creates a good ambience that helps round up the product.

Several attempts to land were needed at Bear Gulch to avoid the above all too frequent outcome – good thing this is simulated.

Conclusion

Test System

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

Flying Time:
2 weeks

American Champion Aircraft X fills a gap in the short haul, go nearly anywhere aircraft category. It provides an excellent cockpit experience combined with a realistic flight behavior that can only make the bush pilot happy.

I particularly enjoyed the amphibian and tundra Scouts. They proved to be very versatile during my test flights in a variety of conditions, zipping around hills, creeks and dirt strips (certainly for the fun factor). Both nicely complement the default aircraft set included in FSX. Amphibian aircraft are such a rarity in FSX, that it is a major appeal of this product to me.

The Citabria variant is a good trainer, better in its flight behavior than the C172 included with FSX, although as a tail dragger, it may not be the easiest thing to start with. The “flapless” Decathlon is a capable acrobatics aircraft to take out for a spin and practice, although it is not suited for bush flying due to higher takeoff/landing speeds and runway length requirements.

To sum it up, I like to think of the trio of aircraft as the same plane available in three trims - “limited” (Citabria), “grand touring” (Scout) and “rally” (Decathlon).

Real Air has packed a lot of versatility and fun into this polished and well rounded add-on.

 

What I Like About The American Aircraft Champion for FSX

  • Flight model, especially stall modeling
  • Easy to learn and experiment with
  • Amphibian, tundra and acrobatics models in one package
  • Smooth virtual cockpits, especially when used with head tracking gear
  • Custom VC panel configuration tool – a novel idea
  • Use of new FSX materials

 

What I Don't Like About The American Aircraft Champion for FSX

  • Interior textures could use more “panache” to blend with the bush feel of the exterior
  • Bear Gulch scenery doesn’t work with some scenery add-ons (this is clearly stated in the documentation).

 

Printing

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American Aircraft Champion for FSX

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The review above is a subjective assessment of the product by the author. There is no connection between the producer and the reviewer, and we feel this review is unbiased and truly reflects the performance of the product in the simming environment. This disclaimer is posted here in order to provide you with background information on the reviewer and any connections that may exist between him/her and the contributing party.

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