In this review I am actually appending my own observations of this product to an earlier review conducted by my fellow AVSIM Staff Reviewer Peter Hayes in the beginning of July. This double-review was not done on purpose, I only happened across Peter's review by chance while researching the initial background information for my own review and realized I had chosen to review a product already covered. However it was decided that a second perspective can't hurt, and while I read through Peter's review and have nothing to contradict, there were some additional issues I noted with this product that he, myself and our editor Robert Whitwell agreed should be published.
If you have landed here first, then I strongly suggest you stop now and go read Peter's review as I will not be covering as many details of this product as he did, such as the additional vehicles and carrier operations. His pack also included an additional aircraft variance that was not included in the pack I received for review, but all the elements of my pack were contained in his.
Installation and Documentation
It should be noted that I installed the downloadable version of this product and had to verify my purchase through Flight 1's DRM system. As with all purchases I've done through Flight 1, the approval process went smoothly and I was on to the installation screen in no time. There is a disc version of this product available - it is unknown whether the disc requires activation as well.
The installer will, by default, ask you to install the Texans pack into your main Flight Simulator X folder location. If you have the space available on your drive and are not an advanced user of add-on software, this will more than suffice to get you up and running with no problems whatsoever. Once the installer finishes, you will find that a new group in your Start Menu has been created containing several separate documentation files and a link to the Sky Unlimited website.
You'll also find an uninstaller link (you can also remove this add-on through your Control Panel's Add/Remove Programs interface). The ReadMe file will helpfully point you to the location of these items.
If you are one who (like myself) prefers to save space on their main drive and load add-ons to a separate disk drive, you have this option as well since these aircraft are not required to be in the default FSX folders. Once you have installed the Texans pack outside of your main FSX folder it is a simple matter of moving the gauges, effects and sounds to their proper folders back in the main FSX folder and making sure the sim object folders (pre-pended with "su_") are moved to wherever you stash your add-on aircraft.
Alternatively you can do the basic install to the main FSX directory and then only need to move the sim object folders out to your remote add-on folder.
Note that this is an advanced technique and as such will require editing of the product's configuration files - both the Howitzer and the Incoming sim objects require that the alias field in their sound.cfg files are pointed towards the main FSX directory. If you're unfamiliar with these techniques but interested, searching the AVSIM forums will reveal more. Bottom line though is that advanced users can shuffle these aircraft around as you see fit.
There's a very important aspect to uninstalling this product that is left hidden from the user, which I personally find a little annoying. When you uninstall the Texans pack you get a dialog message confirming that the product has been removed from your hard drive. This is not entirely true.
When I asked about this in the AVSIM forums, I found (not surprisingly) that leaving behind certain files is a common thing as some can be considered "shared files" across several products by the same publisher. This is all well and good - if I were informed of it. As it is, I only know because I thought to go and check.
As stated in the forum post, the product left behind 17MB worth of files, so it's not even the size that I have a problem with, it's merely the fact that I was not told by the uninstaller that files remain on my machine. This is mainly because I have experienced programs that uninstall and tell me certain files or folders were unable to be removed and let me know where, in case I would prefer to go in and delete them myself.
Again, this is a common issue but it's also information I believe should be passed to the user.
The documentation for this product is actually quite decent in the information it provides - the major problem is in how it is presented. In addition to there being separate documents you have to open individually, each are no more than plain text or HTML files and the information itself is mainly brief notes that offer insight to aircraft operations or links to external sources (that require more windows to open) that contain additional information. So there is a good deal to read and absorb - you just have to go all over the place to get it.
Although a good deal of information is included, albeit scattered, there is one glaring omission: a lack of panel diagrams that identify the various gauges and switches in the cockpit (which are all laid out slightly different between the aircraft models included) - this is part of an even larger issue I will cover later.
One of the main things I wanted to add to Peter's review of the flight model was my own experience flying the aircraft as instructed in the free lesson video available online (one of the many reference links included in the documentation). You can purchase the entire instructional DVD for $17.95 (marked down from $19.95) that comes also with the Pilot's Operating Handbook for the Texan.
If you are looking for just the POH, I'm afraid you're out of luck trying to find one online for free. The best I could do was an Amazon listing that ran $13.95. It's a little disappointing that you're shelling out some extra dough for this material, especially for the POH when so many commercial aircraft add-ons these days include either parts of the actual POH or fully-converted manuals filled with values that can be used directly in the sim.
But let's return to this instructional video, which is an actual video made back during the service of these aircraft so it's black and white and has that wonderful old-style narrative voicing. After watching the video I went back and made notes on each of the narrator's instructions to re-build the checklist that shipped with the plane to match what was in the video.
Up until this point I had only taken off and flown the plane just to get a general feel for it as I've never flown vintage-type aircraft or tail draggers. During takeoff I had not followed any checklist, just powered into the air and messed around.
To make my flights more realistic, I set up my Saitek X52 HOTAS for stick control, my Saitek Pro Flight Rudder Pedals for rudder control and I used the throttle quadrant from my Saitek Pro Flight Yoke (setting the yoke itself off to the side) on my left, swapping the pitch and mixture levers from the order you would usually find in an aircraft today (Throttle/Pitch/Mixture) to match those in the Texan cockpit (Throttle, Mixture, Pitch). I kept my X52 throttle to the left of the throttle quadrant for extra buttons.
After loading up my revised checklist, I did a quick review of the takeoff items and then executed my roll. After compensating for the torque yaw of the propeller, I pushed the stick forward at 70 MPH and the tail obediently rose from the ground. I held the stick forward until 92 MPH before pulling back and the aircraft rose easily from the runway and began to head for the blue yonder.
Retarding my throttle to 30" Hg manifold pressure and pitching my propeller to achieve 1950 RPM I then trimmed my elevator to climb out at around 110 MPH while retracting my gear and any flaps I had used. As I climbed through 250' AGL I began my turn out of the field and continued my climb. In short, the aircraft behaved exactly as the flight video.
I was even more pleased when I came to land for the first time. I had done a short VFR flight along the NJ shore at 2500' ASL to my destination and as I came up on the field I dropped down to 1000' AGL to enter the traffic pattern at a 45-degree angle. Here's where I got a little confused, since the video instructs you to enter on what you could call an "upper" downwind leg, which as you gradually spiral down then goes into crosswind, upwind, crosswind, downwind, base and final - so you actually end up circling the entire field before landing. I'm used to entering on an upwind or downwind and never crossing over in front of the runway I plan to land on.
So after I figured out from what side of the airport I needed to approach, I pulled up my revised landing checklist and began working through the items as I flew the spiral-down circle pattern around the airport. With the exception of one item, which I will cover in the next section, I achieved all the checklist items specified in the training video without any problems.
On my upwind leg, for example, I had my gear down, flaps set at 20-degrees, was at 500' AGL and I was able to keep my airspeed at just over 100 MPH - all as specified in the video. (It's interesting they use knots in the video when your airspeed gauge is in MPH). Coming around on my base leg after flying wingtip distance off the runway for my downwind leg I ended up perfectly centered on the runway, my speed was just right and I placed her gently on the ground in a 3-point landing configuration. I could hardly believe it.
Yes I've been flying virtual planes for many years now but this was my first WWII-era bird, my first tail dragger and BAM! perfect landing first try.
I figured it was beginner’s luck so I took off, powered back up to 1000' AGL and then turned around to re-enter the pattern and land once more. Again, the plane behaved exactly as the video said it would and after following my checklist I was back down safely and smoothly on the runway in no time with a big grin on my face.
If you are really interested in learning all the intricacies of handling this aircraft, I would recommend buying the full instructional DVD based on how well the plane handled compared to this one lesson on takeoffs and landings.
Having sung my high praise, now I have to go and tear these aircraft apart to reveal some issues I felt got in the way of me fully enjoying this product.
Rebuilding the checklists
You may have noticed in the previous section I mentioned modifying the checklists that shipped with the aircraft. This was needed not only to match them more closely with what was specified in the instructional video (I'm wondering why this wasn't done in the first place), but because some checklist items were non-functional or non-applicable.
In the documentation, there is a note mentioning the fact that a reserve fuel tank is not modeled. However it still tells you in the Engine Start checklist to set the fuel valve to Reserve tank. Since there is none, you will not be able to start the engine until you set the valve to either Right or Left tank.
In the Takeoff and Climb checklist you are instructed to switch off Reserve tank to Left tank at 1000' AGL - this is also instructed in the flight video so it's a proper checklist item yet you cannot do this since, again, there is no Reserve tank to start with.
During the Engine Run-Up checklist you are instructed to select the magnetos individually to check them. However the magneto switch only moves from Off to Both, although when it turns to Off I need to tap the minus key (after using the magneto select key) one more time to actually cut the engine. Regardless, moving the switch from Off to Both using the keystrokes to toggle the individual magnetos produces no visible effect on RPM.
In the Engine Shut-Down checklist you are told to switch off the Radio (Avionics) Master - the only problem is that this doesn't seem to exist. I have this switch set to a keystroke and as I repeatedly pressed it I looked about the cockpit to see if any knobs or switches moved. None did. I then loaded up another plane that had a functioning avionics switch, made sure it was in the off position and loaded back into one of the Texans. To my surprise I still received radio communications. I have not experienced another aircraft yet that allows comms to work while the avionics master is off.
Virtual cockpit is too interactive
I know this sounds strange, because even I love to sit in a cockpit and flick switches and turn dials and pull levers. However in doing so I expect that switch/dial/lever/etc to actually perform a function of the aircraft. When I first loaded up the plane, I spent a good 30 minutes playing around with the virtual cockpit trying to figure out what all the controls did. It took me an additional 15 minutes or so to come to the conclusion that some of these controls did absolutely nothing.
This probably would not have been anywhere as bad had the product shipped with diagrams that pointed out the name and purpose of every functional control in the virtual cockpit. However lacking that, I was forced into a long process of trial and error to figure out which controls were functional and which were merely decorative. It would have been a lot better in this case, lacking any cockpit documentation, if only the controls that did something were interactive. Realism is great, but at times you need to remember to stay within constraints of the simulation.
On a related note, I could not find any switch for the Carb Heat, which is a checklist item. I can use a keystroke, but then I have to remember if I actually turned it on or off - there's no indication of it that I could find. I found a Pitot Heat switch, which is somewhat similar to the fact that there are Alt/Bat Switches but seemingly no Avionics Switch.
What does this gauge do?
In addition to the lack of cockpit diagrams making me wondering which switches are operable, I had to spend some time figuring out some of these gauges. Again, I had never dealt with a vintage aircraft before so some of these gauges were new to me. I did figure them all out eventually but I wish it hadn't been assumed that I would know this already or that I would purchase the DVD or POH or visit one of the external resources and figure it out before jumping into the cockpit.
Landing gear warning horn
It says in the reference docs that pulling up your gear while sitting on the ground is a Bad Idea, as there is no system in place to prevent you from pancaking onto the tarmac. However pulling the gear lever while on the ground will only sound a warning horn. If you happen to leave the lever up during your takeoff roll and try to leave the ground, it will be difficult, as you descend instead while your gear retracts.
But parked on the tarmac, even with the engine running, produces no ill effects. Perhaps this is a true hazard in the actual aircraft, but again this is where limitations of the simulation should be recognized and notes like these removed from the documentation to avoid confusion. Either that or another note should be included that this is not modeled but is in fact a danger for the real aircraft.
Interesting electrical system
When you switch off your Alternator and Battery, all the lights will remain on. It could be that these lights are wired directly to the battery and thus are not affected when you cut power to the rest of the electrical systems on the aircraft. I loaded up several other aircraft in my library and experienced different results.
The default FSX Maule doesn't turn off any lights with its electrical switches either. The Carenado Bonanza V35B will turn off all but its landing lights, as will the default FSX Cessna 172. The FS9 Cessna 182 freeware that has been converted to FSX will turn off all lights when you kill the battery. So this may not be a real issue but I wish I knew for sure from reading the documentation.
Aileron trim, but no wheel
The ailerons have trim tabs you can see moving up and down when you toggle the appropriate keystrokes if you have them mapped - yet I could not find a trim wheel or switch or anything in the cockpit that seemed to operate these. I spent some time looking online to see if the Texan actually had aileron trim but couldn't find anything saying it did or it didn't.
Propeller pitch will cut engine
If you put the propeller into a high pitch during idle by pulling the lever all the way to the rear, the RPMs will slowly fall to 0 and the engine will cut out. Again, this could be one of those authentic details of the actual aircraft but I did not read anything in the documentation that mentioned this. I tried to use the pitch lever to cut the engine on several variable-pitch propeller aircraft in my library, including the default FSX P-51D but was unable to even register any serious RPM drop while idling at full high pitch.
Missing throttle warning horn
It's unfortunate that although I was able to follow the landing procedures of the Texan instructional video pretty much to the letter, one omission jars you out of the authenticity, which is the lack of any warning horn when you retard the throttle in preparation for lowering your landing gear. However to be completely fair here, this may be me forcing too much realism into the simulation and the warning horn could simply not be able to be properly modeled.
Modern radio, autopilot
An oddity is the use of a pop-up window containing a Bendix King radio stack for communication and navigation tuning. This may be due to the radio controls being on a side panel facing upwards and thus impossible to see from the virtual cockpit. At the same time, it is possible to create a custom 2D panel that could have perhaps modeled the radio controls more accurately.
Furthermore, the Bendix King stack includes an autopilot panel on the bottom. I highly doubt the Texan had an autopilot (again searching the web produced no result saying it did or it didn't) and the autopilot panel, when activated, does not seem to actually function except when you select the HDG button, which will turn the aircraft to point magnetic North.
Given that I can (and did) go into the aircraft's panel.cfg file and remove this gauge and resize the panel to fit what now only includes the Comm, Nav DME and Transponder radios, I can't figure out why the developers left it in.
Mismatched navigation system
The navigation gauge of the Texan is a Radio Magnetic Indicator, which is used for navigation by tuning into both Non-Directional Beacons and VHF Omnidirectional Ranges. The big, fat needle is supposed to tune to a NDB while the skinny needle can be used to tune to a VOR to help pinpoint your position. However the radio stack does not include an ADF radio to enable you to tune into any NDBs. Instead you must use the NAV1 radio to tune into a VOR for the fat needle. The NAV2 radio will tune into a VOR as well (the DME will indicate it's picked up the station - wait why is there a DME?) but the little needle on the RMI gauge will not move.
The mystery deepened when I realized the ADF radio was in a separate 2D panel, which also for some reason contained a NAV/GPS switch, a clock, a VOR gauge and a Horizontal Situation Indicator. The HSI gauge made sense but why include a more modern version of the RMI instead of the RMI gauge itself?
To make matters worse, I seemed unable to change the frequency on the ADF radio with my mouse. Using keystrokes I highlighted the numbers but were unable to increment them with the +/- keys. I switched back to the radio stack window and changed all the frequencies there fine. I then loaded up the default FSX Cessna and changed the ADF radio frequency, loaded back into the Texan and noticed the ADF radio frequency was the same I had set it to in the Cessna, but I still could not change it.
Restarting FSX had no effect. I tried replacing the DME with an ADF radio in the radio stack but it still refused to change frequency.
A related note is that I like to use buttons on my joystick to cycle through the radios and gauges so I can then use a rocker switch to adjust the OBS selector on the VOR gauges. Unfortunately there's no way to select the compass card beneath the RMI gauge (the Heading Bug keystroke doesn't work either) and you have to use your mouse to set it.
This is not an experimental aircraft
The developers left the atc_type and atc_model properties of the aircraft configuration blank, which meant that when you called out on the CTAF/ATC channel you would identify yourself as "Experimental [tail number]". These fields could have been set to "NORTH AMERICAN" and "TEXAN" respectively (or something similar) with no ill effect to the sim if the user did not have a modified voice pack (using a tool like Edit Voice pack) to include these phrases. Instead you would just read off your tail number, and the "Experimental" call sign would have been dropped.
Summary / Closing Remarks
Based solely on the performance of the aircraft and their operation, I have very mixed feelings about this product. I'm not forgetting the fact that there are additional features included such as the Jeep and aircraft carrier, but if you read Peter's review prior to this as I suggested, you will see that these are nice additions but obviously not the main focus of the package.
While my remarks above reveal that coming to fully understand and appreciate this plane can be a bit of a rough road, it can also be worth the journey as the flight modeling is superb and she really is a fun aircraft to get around in.
If you are unfamiliar with the operation of vintage aircraft like this, I would not recommend this be your first foray into this area of aviation. If you're an old warbird fanatic looking to expand your library, then you'll no doubt enjoy this bird despite its quirks.The various modifications I made throughout the review process to the config files, checklists and even creating a "Texan" voice pack entry ("North American" is already added in there when you install Edit Voice pack) can be downloaded from the AVSIM File Library.
What I Like About Texans Vol 2
What I Don't Like About Texans Vol 2
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