AVSIM Commercial Aircraft Review

Dreamfleet Piper Archer II 

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Rating Guide

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The real Archer panel

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Archer panel by Dreamfleet

Publisher: Dreamfleet2000/Flight1
Description:
A complete aircraft package with custom made gauges, panel and sounds; including two utilities for textures and aircraft configuration
Download Size:
20.5 Mb (Available on cd as well)
Format:
Executable Auto Install File; key needed to unlock
Price:
19.95 USD
Reviewed by: GJ Bogaerts, AVSIM Staff reviewer

Possible Commercial Rating Score: 1 to 5 stars with
5 stars being exceptional.
Please see details of our review rating policy here

When I started having flying lessons a couple of years ago, the school I went to had only Cessnas, three 152s and two 172s. Nothing wrong with them of course; the 152 still has a special place in my heart. But I remember that from my very first lesson on I would regard rather jealously the beautiful low-winged Pipers on the airfield that belonged to another club. I thought the Pipers were cool, whereas the Cessnas, in my uninitiated opinion, were rather like the housewife's shopping cart.

Unfortunately I had to quit my flying lessons shortly after my first solo, so I've never gotten around (at least, not yet) to flying the real Piper; but I think I've come as close as I can get with the simulated version, kindly provided by Dreamfleet. This company is probably best known for its Boeing 737, a standard-setting product for jetliners, but Dreamfleet has ventured into the world of general aircraft as well: aside from the Piper Archer II, they've recently released an apparently beautiful Cessna Cardinal. To come is the venerable Boeing 727 and the twin-piston Cessna 310. With the Archer, they live up to their reputation for excellence. Only two minor irritations bug me in this product; but my overall impression is very favorable.

Test System

Medion P4 1.8 gHz
WindowsXP Home
512 Megs RAM
nVidia 200 TI 64 mb
24X DVD CD ROM
C-Media Stereo 3D Sound
CH Yoke LE USB
CH USB Rudder Pedals
Medion 17" Monitor


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This is the landing view panel. Compare it with the picture above to see the difference in views. Also notice the temperature read-out on the OAT gauge.

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The night lighting is superb.

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Another view of the panel, in flight this time.

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Touching down or ready for departure? Notice the texture difference between this picture and the next. The next one was taking with aircraft texture size notched up a couple of degrees.

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Load the luggage and check the engine. Notice the open cowling!

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In flight over Hawaii.

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In flight near Lausanne, Switzerland. See the wife and kids?

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Just after take-off, another trip in Hawaii.

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The virtual cockpit. You need to light the panel; unlighted, the gauges are hard to see.

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A look towards the back.

Installation and Documentation

After payment and download, you receive—in the best Flight1 tradition—a keyfile. Save this file on a safe location; the executable will ask for it, and if you don't have it setup can't continue. After installation, you will not have a brand new Archer, but rather one with a Lycoming engine that already has about 3000 hours of flying time. This replicates the real world plane after which this one was modeled.

You will not only have the Archer, but also two very nice utilities. With Text-o-Matic (TOM) comes Config-o-Matic (COM). The TOM we already knew from the 737. This tool easily changes the default texture of your aircraft to any template that you can download from the net. COM is rather new. This utility enables you to change the weights of passengers and luggage; to assign special keystrokes to certain functions on the panel; and to pick the kind of autopilot you want to use. The real world Archer has a single-axis Century 21 autopilot that can only change heading by use of the ailerons. You can slave the Century to NAV and GPS as well, and it also has an localizer and back course mode. However, if you prefer the default FS2002 2-axis autopilot that can also maintain altitude, you have to install this with the Config-o-Matic. You can also use this tool to reset the number of hours flown to zero, if you prefer.

Documentation is rather extensive. Dreamfleet has provided us with not only an Pilot Information Manual (that seems complete) but also a POH (Operations Handbook) that contains all the references and pertinent information as regards endurance, flap settings, limits, performance, procedures etcetera (these can be downloaded free from the Dreamfleet website). Some references and complete checklists are also available when flying by use of the kneeboard.

The package actually consists of 4 models: you can have the Archer with only the pilot on board, but also with either one, two or three passengers. When flying, the effect of the heavier load is less than you would imagine; but as someone once told me, the Piper is a rather heavy handler anyway, and you wouldn't notice an extra passenger as much as you would in a Cessna (where, on my first solo, I was amazed at the rapidity of acceleration and climb without having the instructor at my side).

Fire up!

It's time that we get to know this baby. Fire up your Flight Simulator (version 2002 is required) and find the plane. This is my first (minor) problem with Dreamfleet. Instead of putting their products in the appropriate place (sorted by aircraft or manufacturer name, for instance) they choose to insert their own folder in the airplanes list. So pick Dreamfleet, choose the Archer (one of the four versions), and take a good look at her.

Here I encountered a second minor glitch. At first, the textures didn't look good at all. On the contrary, they were very fuzzy; I couldn't read the registration. After some e-mailing with Tom Main of Flight1, he came up with a solution. I had my display settings for aircraft texture at its lowest point, since I seldom fly with exterior views anyway. I prefer to stay in the cockpit while in the air! Usually, this still allows for my several aircraft to show up normally, but the Archer is apparently a bit different. This plane requires that you crank up this setting a couple of notches. At least, on my system it did. Perhaps this is no problem for you; and anyway, after adjusting this setting, the problem was gone.

I had to go out to PHNL (Honolulu International Airport) to pick up my second hand Piper—no problem though, since I've always wanted to visit Hawai. So there I was, greeted by Hula girls, looking longingly at my new possession, when the first nice surprise came up. Shift-E not only opens the door (as it does on many aircraft, these days) but also the baggage compartment. Surprise number two: Shift-E, followed quickly by keypress-2, opens the cowling, and you actually get a look at the Lycoming engine that's sitting there. That's a first, as far as I know. It does take some practice to do this correctly, because timing is everything in this key-sequence.

Let's hop in

The first thing that comes to mind when you get in the plane is the photoreal quality of the panel. Dreamfleet has gone out of its way to give the gauges and the boards a shiny, slightly reflective look. In the Config-o-Matic, you have the option whether you want the icons on the panel that indicate where to click for the hidden parts, such as trim, egt, radiostack and so on. Much more realistic of course is to read the manual, familiarize yourself with the hotspots on the main panel window, and use these. Then you find for instance that clicking anywhere on a fairly large band on top of the panel will load a landing view panel. This is basically the same as the main panel, but moved down a bit so it's easier to look at the runway. You also need the landing view panel if you want to know the outside air temperature.

Another advantage of reading the manual is that it teaches you how to start the engine ;-). The first time I had set the fuel mixture to rich, pumped the primer a couple of times, and tried to turn the key. Nothing happened. Until I found out that you have to actually right click for the engine switch to turn to both magnetos and to start. Left clicking turns the key leftward, which of course you'll need when you are testing the magnetos as part of your run-up procedure. You can even take the key out, which you do by clicking a hotspot just to the right of the ignition.

The next surprise: clicking on most gauges gives you a digital read-out of their value. Your fuel indicator no longer indicates 'just about half full', but 13.1 gallons! Your oil temperature is 178 Fahrenheit. Your indicated airspeed is 107 knots and your alternator provides 27 amps. Most gauges have this functionality; clicking them again make the digital read-outs go away. A very handy feature indeed, which makes up for the inherent disadvantage of flight simulators that gauge-values are more difficult to read than their real world counterparts.

Fuel management is a bit different, if you wish, from real-world procedure. There's a fuel selector available (that you can reach by right-clicking the fuel indicator) that has four positions: off, left, right and both. Real Pipers have only three, they lack the both-position. Naturally, it's entirely possible to evade the both position in the simulation as well and only use left or right.

There's a full avionics package, which means that this plane is certified for every kind of IFR flight as well. Pay special attention to some goodies on the radio stack, such as the timer and the transponder, both of which are executed in a different manner than we're used to.

Some people have complaints about frame rates when using the virtual panel. I have a fairly moderate system, but I didn't notice anything untoward. The virtual panel is visually very pleasing. Gauge-refresh rate could be better though.

And start the engine

If you follow the usual start up procedure (checklists, batteries, alternator, fuel rich, primer, fuel pump, ignition) you're in for a nice treat. You'll hear the pilot yell 'prop clear', just the way you're supposed to do it at the general aircraft parking ramp of any airport. But then—this engine sound! Lovely. I don't know how they did it, but this little beauty has the best general aircraft engine sound I've heard so far. This is great. Also, hear the fuel pump tick away—a sound that disappears after a couple of seconds because of the processor load.

Alright, we have permission to taxi to the active. We're gonna do what every flying tourist in Hawaii does: make a tour around the island. Should take us about an hour or so and gives us a nice opportunity to test the Piper and get some screenshots as well. Of course, I invited the wife and kids as well, as you can see ;-).

She handles really well (the plane, I mean). Taxiing is effortless and requires just a little bit of rudder. Use aileron deflection if you're driving this plane in a heavy crosswind. She's certified for takeoff for up to 17 knots crosswind, so she can handle some. The take-off roll is smooth, but she does seem to take a bit longer than in real life before she gets to rotate: I had to accelerate to about 70 knots, whereas the POH mentions 65 knots as maximum rotation speed.

In flight, there's really no problem at all. I've never flown a Piper myself, so I can't really compare, but she's sensitive to the pitch; trimming is fairly easy. You won't miss the altitude setting on the autopilot; if there are no wind changes, she remains at the desired altitude with only minimal trim adjustments. No complaints about turning capabilities as well, although I did find the natural tendency for a plane to lower the nose in turns to be a little bit unpredictable with the Piper. A standard turn would not always necessitate the same amount of back pressure on the yoke, in my experience. Of course, this might be due to my lousy flying technique as well.

Performance seems to be up to specs, generally. She stalls when she's supposed to. Although the EGT does have a moveable needle, leaning the mixture when getting up to altitude takes some experimenting. I had some problems at higher altitudes (over 9000 feet). She's certified for a 14000 ft ceiling, but I haven't tried that; I had the feeling it would take me all day to get there, even if I wanted to; I wouldn't recommend it though, since this plane does not have a pressurized cabin.

Landing, especially with the landing view panel in use, is fairly easy. She's stable on the approach and doesn't need many corrections. I cannot really tell whether engine settings (RPM) were up to the specs, but I did experience, after a bit of trial and error, fairly consistent settings which would lead to a standard 700 ft/min descent at 80 knots and flaps 2—no extra trimming necessary. Vref is usually 66 knots.

Conclusion

I think Dreamfleet has outdone itself. Sounds and panels are terrific, model and textures just a little bit less so. Flight dynamics seem very good. The two extra utilities are nice presents. This is one plane that's going to stay on my hard drive! The download version of Dreamfleet's Piper Archer II can be purchased from Flight1 for $19.95 USD (a boxed CD version also is available).

 

What I Like About the Archer
  • The extra goodies that come with the package (TOM & COM)
  • The sounds
  • Visual appearance of panel plus its extra functionality
  • Innovation in gauge handling (digital readouts)
  • The flight dynamics

 
What I Don't Like About the Archer
  • The fact that Dreamfleet messes up my aircraft list!


 

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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 provide you with background information on the reviewer and connections that may exist between him/her and the contributing party.

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