AVSIM Commercial Aircraft Review

Mid Atlantic Air Museum DC-3 Download Pack

Product Information
Publisher: MAAM
Description:  Classic Aircraft Add-on

Download Size:
76 MB

Format:
Download or CD
Simulation Type:
FS9
Reviewed by: Chris Kiehl AVSIM Contributing Reviewer - August 25, 2007

Introduction

One of the most recognizable aircraft in Aviation history, has to be the Douglas DC-3. Even people who are not into Aviation seem to recognize it, or at least remember having seen this venerable and historic aircraft at some point. It can easily be said that the DC-3 changed Aviation history, allowing passenger travel to become more efficient, economic, and affordable. Its predecessors, the DC-1 and DC-2, were necessary evolutionary points, but obviously did not ever reach the level the DC-3 reached.

The DC-3 was introduced in 1935 as the Douglas Sleeper Transport for passenger operations, bringing into the market a faster and slightly more comfortable way to travel greater distances. It quickly became a resounding success, and caught the attention of several other groups looking for an economic transport and freight aircraft.

Soon after its success in the civilian market, the DC-3 was quickly adopted by the United States Armed Forces as a transport, known as the C-47. The C-47 was very widely and successfully deployed in WWII as a freight aircraft, shipping badly needed supplies across all theatres of the War. The C-47 also filled another historic role, most famously towing gliders and transporting paratroopers into Normandy during Operation Overlord and many other Allied paratrooper deployments throughout the War.

The British were also quick to adopt the C-47 military variant, renaming it the Dakota, and deploying it in similar fashions to its American military counterpart. A few countries also built the DC-3 under license; just to name one or two, Japan and Russia built the DC-3 and used it sparingly compared to America and Britain.

By War’s end, thousands of DC-3/C-47 airframes had been built, and the aircraft moved on to fill yet another important niche in the post-war civilian market. The DC-3 is capable of a relatively short field takeoff, while carrying a large payload. This combination was perfect for developing remote areas of places like Canada and Alaska, making it possible to get a tenable level of efficiency out of freight operations to these regions.

The DC-3 most likely changed the Aviation world through its wide use and great success in nearly every role it took on. Today, several hundred DC-3’s are still operating, their capabilities mentioned earlier keep it competitive, even for an old oil guzzling radial engine aircraft.

Installation and Documentation

This is one of my favorite points, because installation was remarkably easy. Once purchased, a download link is made available, and you simply download the 76 MB file. There is a short readme in the .zip folder, along with the .exe installer. The readme directs you to double click the executable installer, and away you go. Follow through with the installer’s directions, and your new DC-3 is ready to take to the skies.

Documentation included with MAAM’s DC-3 is very in-depth and detailed, containing just about any piece of information you could ask for. Additionally, download users can go to MAAM’s website and download the actual Pilots Operating Handbook from the freebies section. A scanned-in copy of the real deal, this POH includes some neat and historic information regarding operation of the DC-3.

My favorite point of the documentation is the fast loading and detailed checklists and reference documents, which can be accessed from the Flight Simulator kneeboard. Takeoff and landing distance data, every relevant V-speed, engine and ship specifications, power settings for every regime of flight, and a few useful and quick operating directions at the bottom. All of these important pieces of information, and more, are included just in the reference document.

Standard and ‘Tutorial’ checklists are included, and are also quite in-depth. The Standard checklist is everything that should be done to run the DC-3 nicely. The ‘tutorial’ checklist has nearly all the same information with a helpful pointer here and there regarding what actually works or does not work given the limitations of Flight Simulator. The starting point for both checklists also includes a useful ‘Contents’ area, allowing the user to simply click on the section they wish to view and zoom right to it.

The functionality and usefulness of the documentation still has me impressed, and I’ve used the documentation many times now.

Aircraft

The external model of the MAAM DC-3 looks good from nearly all distances, and all angles. I particularly like that extra attention to detail that was put in, without making the model so complex that it’s painful on the frame rates.


In MAAM’s recent downloadable release, an updated DC-3/C-47 model was included, and I will be focusing on that specific model and livery, the C-47 ‘Delivery Condition’, or as I‘ve come to know the ship, ‘Army 388.’

Here is C-47 'Delivery Condition', my personal flagship and favorite of the fleet; it is also the craft on which the review will specifically focus.

The lines and small features of the model almost flawlessly capture the lines of the DC-3 in all included variants, and it all just looks good to me. On top of that, all of the little radio and navigation wires, hoops, and antennas that were all over the DC-3’s back and belly are nicely captured. Even the fabric covering on the control surfaces is noticeably different in appearance than the metal skin in the included bare metal paint schemes, a detail I love to see.

From those prop textures to the clean lines of this model, I just really enjoy watching one of my favorite historical aircraft come to life.

All regular animations are included, and all seem quite seamless in their appearance. Animated control surfaces and lighting, animated flaps, and big cowl flaps. The properly animated tail wheel is something I always look for with tail draggers, and it is correct in the sense that it ‘castors’ freely. Suspension, opening doors and cargo doors, and even internal animations like folding paratrooper bucket seats and cargo that can be added and removed, it all seems to be accounted for and done well. The gear retraction sequence is faster than I expected, but still accurate with one wheel retracting slightly ahead of the other. The propeller blades do change pitch when not in motion on the updated model, and I love the spinning prop textures included with this plane.

I believe the close-ups really hold their own nicely; the details of the textures on all craft are just as good. The only small catch is that on the older versions of the model, the engine textures from the front are a bit more blurry.

Now, for some neat eye candy. Several of the cargo and military DC-3/C-47 variants even feature a neat parachute dropping effect; paratroopers for the C-47 troop carriers, and boxes of freight with big white and red parachutes for the cargo variants. These effects appear in the form of 2 dimensional flat .bmp files, and remain around for just under a minute, so the potential for some neat screenshots is definitely there.

The Cargo and Paratrooper drop animations can be activated by hitting I on the keyboard, and really do add a lot of fun to the flight. Look below Engine 1 in the first shot to see the boxes falling before the shoot pops open.

The regular eye candy is also there in the form of a very nicely done startup smoke effect; these radials just belch smoke out upon startup for a decent amount of time, just as in real life. You’ll also notice a nice puff of smoke from the main gear upon touching down. Another neat feature just for fun on the military C-47 variants, is the faint blue formation lights on the top portions of the aircraft. These were used during the War, and were the only lights used during a night mission over enemy territory. This is why these lights were only on the top of the fuselage and wings, to avoid them being seen from below. As MAAM puts it, these lights were very faint, and very difficult for pilots to actually use.

In my mind, all of the included effects, especially the smoke effects, are very rich, detailed, and believable.

The radial engines on the model aren’t actually modeled, but a photoreal texture takes their place on the updated models, and does so very effectively. While a 3D modeled radial is nice to see, it can also be a polygon monster. In my opinion, MAAM’s choice of keeping the polygons down on this model was a spectacular choice, and leads to spectacular results.

2D Panel

The 2D portion of the review isn’t typically a point of great focus for me, as I don’t use the 2D panels very often, if at all. However, MAAM has once again caught my attention with this part of the package. The 2D panels are all photoreal representations of the actual panels and sub-panels from their DC-3.

There are 8 panels, each representing either a main panel, IFR panel, or a critical systems sub-panel in the plane. These system sub-panels range from cowl flaps, hydraulics, to electrical switches and radios; I’ll go into more detail on these neat extras.

Along with a photoreal 2D panel, several additional photoreal 2D panel variants and sub-panels are included. The functionality of the 2D panels and the sub-panels is superb, nearly everything is clickable. To begin, the main 2D panels are very crisp, and you get a Pilot and Co-Pilot 2D panel, along with an IFR counter-part for both seats.

The main and IFR panels for both Pilot and Co-Pilot are a nice feature, along with the photoreal panels for hydraulics and cowl flaps, electrical, engine management, and gear and flaps levers.

Also, the full 360 degree view around the cockpit is composed of photoreal shots from inside the DC-3. It’s really a neat feature; you get to see the cockpit as if you were inside the real ship.

Very nice photo real shots of the actual DC-3 cockpit in every direction, one of my favorite 2D panel features in this package.

One final note when using the sub-panels, is the radio sets. As the radios in the virtual cockpit aren’t clickable, you must use sub-panel Shift+5. The way the radios work on this sub-panel is quickly learned, and explained in detail. To manipulate the whole number on the radios, you right and left click the top of the outside dial. To manipulate the decimal numbers, you right and left click the inner dial. It took a moment of practice and memorization, but it really is a neat way of doing it. The Magnetos on the same sub-panel are manipulated in the same way, along with a few other switches on various sub and main 2D panels.

Virtual Cockpit

I’m right at home in this virtual cockpit. The level of detail still amazes me, especially for the seemingly non-existent hit on frame rates. Here’s the forward view from a variety of zoom levels:

You can see the gauges are relatively clear and readable even back at 0.50 zoom; the last shot shows where I fly it from, and I can easily read everything from 0.60 zoom.

MAAM apparently used high detail photos of the gauges which look very good, and don’t hurt performance one bit. The virtual cockpits and included cabins are quite seamless in their representation of the actual plane, and every detail seems to be accounted for. You can look in every direction in the VC, and you see all of the 2D photoreal picture features represented; from the fan to the heating ducts, it’s all there. I’ll take you on a short walk through of the flight deck and forward stations.

A full Virtual Cockpit and Cabin is included, and modeled quite nicely if you ask me. One of my favorite VC features is this whole immersive cabin.

Almost everything is clickable inside the VC of the updated ships, which is always a nice feature in my opinion. The switches are also easily and intuitively manipulated. You can easily grab and hold onto engine controls, or simply click the switches. The update speed of the gauges is slower than you might expect, but this is accurate for gauges of this period. I’ve flown in a couple of older planes using older gauges, and the older gauges do not update with lightning speed like some of the new simulator .XML, modeled gauges.

A close up of the main gauge panels; the clarity stands for itself in these shots.

Alongside a very detailed Virtual Cockpit, is a Virtual Cabin for the aircraft. It is really neat to use Active Camera and go all the way to the back where the door opens, and ‘walk’ up to your cockpit. The 11.5 degree static pitch can almost be felt; it's like you have to hike up to the cockpit and climb into your seat. Each different variation of the DC-3/C-47 includes a slightly different virtual cabin, whether it is a freighter with actual freight, or the C-47 with foldable paratrooper seats; the fun doesn’t seem to end in the ‘Virtual’ department.

You can see from the first shot here, that 'Hike' up to your cockpit, it actually looks like it's uphill to me. Additionally, there's the paratrooper seats out and then folded using the Tailhook Command, and cargo can be added or removed using the Spoiler Command.

The night lighting, to be mentioned briefly, is just what you would expect from a WWII era plane. A soft red floodlight illuminates the cockpit nicely, and you can easily identify everything in view.

There is one small catch I noticed, and it’s due to the update of the DC-3. The latest version of the plane, and my flagship, is the C-47 ‘Delivery Condition’. It has the clickable switches, as the older C-47 and DC-3 models did not have clickable switches.

Additionally, the older versions don’t feature clickable VC switches and levers. Another small downside is only some of the DC-3/C-47’s seem to have the new clickable levers and switches. Mid Atlantic Air Museum’s Bill Rambow quickly clarified this issue, stating: “The planes that feature the upgraded VC are the ones initially released as part of our "All Theaters C-47 Pack… These six updated ships are, the C-47 "Delivery Model", C-47A 224046 (Warton), RAF C-47 BBMF, C-47B CNAC, C-47B Air Commando, and the RAAF C-47A.

Sounds

This is probably the hardest part of any aircraft review for me to write, even though it’s usually the part I most enjoy of the package. When the sounds are done well and are very realistic, and come from the real deal, it can be hard to describe in words how great it all sounds.

Of course, since MAAM owns a DC-3 from which this package is obviously based on, they recorded the real sounds from their real DC-3. Additionally, I’ve heard the DC-3 under restoration at our local airport ; I’ve heard it startup and run, and even backfire once (sounded like a bomb going off, and was probably as loud). I simply love hearing a good sound pack with any aircraft, and this one takes the cake.

The Startup sounds from the inside and out are very detailed, and seem to embody everything I’ve heard when a real radial of this type starts. You’ll hear the mechanical whines of the engine energizing, and upon catching, the radial will chug to life for several seconds. The sounds from the outside are good, but the internal sounds from the cockpit of startup make you feel as if you’re really sitting in MAAM’s DC-3. Turn the sounds up, and suddenly you might forget you’re not actually in a DC-3.

Once running and idling, the external noises are almost deceptively quiet. Even big engines like these tend to be relatively quiet, until run up; unless you’re standing right next to them. Below 30” MP, the engines have a rougher and more mechanical, metal to metal sound to them. However, once you speed the engines up past 30”, the sounds becomes louder, smoother, and more refined. A well oiled radial is always fun to listen to when running at high power.

Upon shutting the plane down, the life seems to drain from the engines, and all you’ll hear is a hollow, loud mechanical sound as the props and cylinders shudder to a halt.

A neat sound feature I’ve noticed, which may not seem remarkable to some, is the ‘ground roll’ effect. When you are on your takeoff roll, or are just touching down, you’ll hear a light rattling. It makes it sound as if the airframe is actually there around you, and adds a great sensation of rolling the 12-ton aircraft down the runway. Upon touchdown, you’ll also hear a nice ‘chirping’ effect that lets you know you’ve made contact. Immediately after, you’ll hear that light rattling effect, and that continues until you either lift back off during a touch and go, or slow down enough to taxi off the runway. The rattling ceases abruptly as soon as you lift off again, provided that’s what you’re doing, and is a nice reminder that you’re airborne again.

Gear and flap sounds are included, of course, and are most probably recordings from the real deal, once again. Also, you’ll hear your ‘co-pilot’ announce certain flight conditions. Upon lowering or raising the gear, you’ll hear a voice confirm either “Gear Down and Locked”, or “Gear Up”.

The sounds of this package are top competition for my favorite part of the package.

Flight Dynamics

Never having flown a DC-3, I can’t testify directly as to how accurately this plane flies. However, I have flown a couple of tail draggers, and it does seem to follow a few general realism factors regarding tail draggers. That mentioned, it’s just a joy to fly.

Taxiing with the realistic flight model, a free castor tail wheel is a new challenge. However, if you have any experience with taxiing tail draggers with this flight model setup, it should come to you quickly. I was able to taxi the DC-3 exactly how I wanted to, and get the plane into position without issue.

Taxiing the DC-3 really isn't as difficult as it may seem, even using the realistic 180 degree 'castoring' tail wheel. A touch of differential braking will get the DC-3 to exactly where you want it.

Once lined up on your runway, you have a choice of applying the tail wheel lock. You can use this and still keep it down the centerline with a touch of differential braking here or there. Once the aircraft hits around 50 knots, the tail will come off the ground just as it should. No flaps are required unless you’re operating for a shorter field, in which case you should consult the reference page for takeoff distance data. The DC-3 happily peels off the runway at around 80 knots, and you can fold the gear up and be on your way.

Lined up right on the centerline-"Army 388 Cleared for Takeoff." As mentioned earlier, with just a touch of experience, taxiing is easily and professionally accomplished.

Once in climb or cruise, the aircraft is relatively easy to trim; it doesn’t have to be coerced into doing what you want it to. The DC-3 was always known as a pretty stable aircraft, and this seems to shine right through in this flight model.

Taking off is also easily accomplished using the procedures; make sure to lock the tail wheel, trim to takeoff, and simply give it some rudder in either direction. The tail comes up on it's own at about 50 KIAS, making rotation very easy at around 80 KIAS.

The in-flight characteristics such as stalls, steep turns, and side-slipping are relatively well represented. However, the plane does seem to stall in an odd fashion. Upon keeping the nose up to stall the DC-3, the nose wouldn’t dip violently. Instead, the plane maintained its attitude and just fell. Sometimes, the nose up attitude would increase and the flight dynamics would leave the realm of realistic, as many sim aircraft do with complex flight maneuvers like stalls.

Keep in mind, the steep turns and especially side-slips are fun to do in the DC-3. Specifically, I really enjoy side-slipping this giant; it seems to behave exactly as the real planes I’ve flown do in a side-slip. It quickly loses altitude with the double nose down attitude, and you can really fly a straight line, I even yawed a good 10-20 degrees to the right or left.

My favorite part of flying this ship is when I’m reducing engine power and slowing down to apply flaps and lower the gear for a landing. The gear can be lowered earlier than the flaps when under 145 knots, and the flaps can be lowered incrementally as speed decreases. Once you’ve applied more than once notch of flaps within the speed parameters, it’s probably a good idea to add a touch of power and trim. The gear and flaps can reduce speed quickly, but not so fast that you’ll drop like a brick. Once you get closer to the runway and enter ground effect, it seems so easy to accomplish a very low descent rate touchdown. I always do wheel landings in the DC-3 as a three pointer would be a tough challenge; besides, wheel landings have worked so far without an issue.

Three Point landings are possible with some practice, but not even recommended in real life. I prefer to do wheel landings myself, and they make it even easier to land at about 70 KIAS with flaps deployed. This three pointer shot was taken at about 60 KIAS, just hovering over stall speed.

One nuance I like specifically with this flight model, is the amount of rudder it takes to coordinate a turn when entered from level flight. You seem to need to kick quite a bit of rudder, both keeping the need for the pedals or twist there, but also effectively simulating the cable linkage on such a large aircraft. It must really take some muscle to get the DC-3 to do what you want, and you seem to ‘feel’ that when kicking the rudder into a turn. Upon exiting the turn back to level flight, you can almost let the rudders center entirely and the DC-3 will go back to coordinated level flight, maybe even with a bit of over correction in the other direction. Stepping on the ball is needed frequently, and this flight model simulates that effectively. The plane doesn’t ‘search’ or yaw erratically in level flight, but when turning, you’ll have to use your rudder to coordinate the big heavy bird through.

Another small note on the rudder dynamic, is that with the proper application of rudder correction, you can easily keep this giant down the centerline without issue or differential braking. I’ve seen many a sim aircraft that will simply veer off the runway even in light crosswinds, regardless of correction. That is not the case here; having flown many touch and goes, I can easily say that this one has a realistic rudder response.

One last thing I tested was single engine performance. I cut the Number 1 Engine in flight, and trimmed right rudder 9 degrees. Once set up, I was able to gently climb and turn the lumbering and labored DC-3, which it does become on one engine.

Single engine performance figured were right on, and the plane could easily be controlled safely with one engine shut down and feathered.

Performance

I was a bit skeptical at first, being an owner of the B-25 ‘Briefing Time’ package, which has always been notoriously difficult on my system. However, I was blown away by the smooth performance of the MAAM DC-3. Smooth as the default DC-3, or as smooth as silk from my perspective.

Test System

Pentium 4 2.8 Ghz
1.5 Gb RAM
512Mb FX 7600
160 GB HD
FS 9.1
AA: 4X; AS: 4X
HOTAS Joystick
CH Pro Rudder Pedals

Flying Time:
14.5 hours

I hardly noticed a drop of more than 10% of my average 26 FPS, so the MAAM DC-3 holds its own remarkably well in the performance department. Once in a blue moon, I would notice a 20% loss in frame rates, sporadically dropping to 20 FPS.

Regarding textures and texture reloads, well, that was not an issue at all. Once the textures loaded up initially, which took around 1-2 seconds, they did not need to reload again, period.

Overall, I am very impressed with the performance of the MAAM DC-3, and it will be a long lasting aircraft in my hangar for that reason alone.

Summary

Would I recommend the MAAM DC-3? Absolutely. This plane is a blast to fly, and if you’re into this historical period, it’s a grand slam. If you’re not quite into ‘Older Props’, give this one a try, it may make a believer out of you.

It flies well and looks very good doing it, and you’re supporting MAAM keeping these pieces of history flying. So, if you’re interested, head over to www.maam.org where you can purchase the download version. Or, if you wish, have a Boxed CD of the MAAM DC-3 shipped to you. Either way, it's quite a deal.

 

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