AVSIM Commercial Aircraft Review

Aerosoft/Digital Aviation Piper Cheyenne

Product Information
Publisher: Aerosoft / Digital Aviation
Description:  Add-on aircraft.
Download Size:
151 MB
Format:
Download or Boxed version
Simulation Type:
FS 2004
Reviewed by: Zane Gard Jr. AVSIM Sr Staff Reviewer - November 13, 2006

Introduction

The Piper Cheyenne is one of those workhorses that has garnered a reputation through many decades as a reliable, economical, twin engine turboprop.  The model was derived from the successful Navajo series of piston twins which share the PA-31 designation.  The Cheyenne is normally referred to as the PA-31T but can also referred to as the PAY1 and PAY2 depending on the specific model.  The airframe dates to the early 1960’s when Bill Piper wanted an executive six to eight seat twin engine aircraft.  What I notice missing from the historical accounts I could come across while researching this review, is that the design was purchased by Piper Aircraft from Ed Swearingen who was successfully selling his Merlin twin turboprop aircraft at the time and had abandoned the idea of a mini-Merlin.  That is what I recall as the hanger talk of the late 60’s and early 70’s.

The first Navajo flew in 1964 and development of the Cheyenne started shortly afterward as a progression of the Pressurized Navajo airframe.  The first prototype Cheyenne took to the sky in late 1969 but Piper soon discovered that the wings and control surfaces needed further modifications to handle the 620 shp Pratt & Whitney PT-6 turboprops which replaced the 310 hp turbocharged Lycomings used in the standard Navajo or even the 425 hp monster Lycomings used in the P-Navajo.  Development and production was further delayed by the tragic flooding of Piper’s Lock Haven plant in 1972, the unusable fuselages of several aircraft can still be seen there in the current Piper museum.

Deliveries finally started in 1974 and the aircraft was instantly recognized as a bit of a hot-rod.  1978 saw the release of a lower (500 shp) powered, less expensive variant, the Cheyenne I and the renaming of the original Cheyenne to Cheyenne II.  The following year the Cheyenne IIXL was introduced using the longer (by two feet) fuselage from the Navajo Chieftan and fitting 750 shp P & W PT-6’s.  The Cheyenne I was further refined in 1983 to produce more power at altitude and renamed the Cheyenne Ia.

Digital Aviation has brought us some memorable packages for FS2002 and FS2004.  Their Eurowings Professional consisted of five aircraft and airport scenery which were well received by the simming community.  They followed up with the Diamond Katana which included the 80 and 100 hp variants of that single engine two seat trainer/sport aircraft.  Their reputation for excellent visual models, instrument panel accuracy and ultra realistic flight modeling have placed them at the top of their game.

I grew up flying in and around this class of aircraft so I have a very keen interest in this particular airframe and have followed the development of just about every sim version that has been released, be it freeware or payware.  The development time for this particular release was very long because the Digital Aviation team are such perfectionists.  That’s not to say that the initial release was bug free either, there have been two service packs since the original release and there are still a couple of items being worked on as well as an updated FSX version yet to be released.  I was blown away by the initial release and only when really getting into it, found some of the bugs, which for the most part, have all been remedied.  When you are pushing the envelope of what is possible, these things happen.  I have noted on their support forum that they are very interactive with their customers, fast to respond to a problem and good at reporting what’s an acknowledged problem and if it is being worked on.

Test System

Athlon 64 4000+
Asus A8N SLI Premium
2GB DDR3200
Windows XP Pro
ATI Radeon x800 256MB
21” Sony Trinitron @ 1600x1200x32
14” Compaq V410 @ 1028x768x32
Track IR4PRo
CH Products Yoke
CH Products Pro Pedals
CH Throttle Quadrant
Aerosoft ACP Compact

Flying Time:
42 hours

Installation and Documentation

Installation is via a downloadable executable file that validates you as the buyer, there’s no sharing this file with your friends.  Aerosoft actually made a lot of friends in the simming community when it relaxed some of its anti-piracy procedures and validation process earlier this year and all you need to do now is enter the verification code sent to you after purchase on a computer with an internet connection.  The installer finds your FS2004 installation and asks you to verify it, after that the rest of the process is all automatic.  You do have the ability to choose to install the custom “halo” bitmap for landing (as well as other) lights which I did and found that I liked it so I kept it.

The included manual is a PDF document that you can bring up from your “Start” menu under the “aeroSOFT” listing in the “Piper Cheyenne” folder.  This is a 180 page document that is very comprehensive and easy to follow and includes basically every aspect of operating this aircraft that you can do in the simulator.  There are large screenshots of the various panels that are numbered for identification of specific gauges, a glossary of terms, checklists for each phase of operation and finally performance charts for each of the specific models.  This closely matches the POH (Pilot’s Operating Handbook) that an owner of the real aircraft would have so all your questions are pretty much answered for you if you read the manual. 

A “Flight Tutorial” is also included as a PDF document that will walk you right through a flight in any of the included models, given you have the checklists also printed out so you can go through them when instructed to do so.  Personally, I give an A+ for the included documentation. I thought it was right on the money for what I needed.

Visual Model

Ready to get blown away?  This thing is drop dead gorgeous… and you don’t just get one model, you get four variations of the aircraft.  Each have their own subtle differences with the XL easily giving it away with its stretched fuselage and extra side window.  You can look at these from outside for hours and you won’t find a flaw.

I give very high marks to the design team for bringing to life this little turboprop hot rod in FS.  Were I to give any criticism, it is in the work that goes into painting one… this is not an easy sim aircraft to do a repaint as evidenced on some of their forum threads.  Fortunately, there are plenty of different paint jobs for each version and in various country schemes to boot.

Cheyenne I Cheyenne Ia
Cheyenne II Cheyenne II XL

This is one of those aircraft that has been modeled to such precision and detail that you can actually perform a walk around with Active Camera.  The rivet lines, the edges of control surfaces, trim tabs, lightning wicks, gear doors, landing gear linkage, even the edges of the entry and baggage doors look like you are looking at the real deal.  I just am in awe when I see this kind of attention to detail, all those months of waiting for the release were certainly worth it.

A walk-around of the Cheyenne II XL

And the night lighting is also something to behold.

The wingtip nav lights do give a bleed through the tip tanks and reflect off the wings
Ultra realistic cabin lighting including the overhead lights which operate via their pushbuttons

Panel

Here again Digital Aviation has upped the ante on all other aftermarket aircraft add-on manufacturers.  You like 2D panels?  You’re just gonna love the fact that you have so many possibilities for viewing the panel from the pilot’s or copilot’s seat.  The subpanels, center and overhead console are all reproduced with the kind of realism you usually don’t find in sim aircraft.  And everything, save for the circuit breakers, is functional.  That means if you can see a switch it works, if you see a knob it turns and actually does something.  Want to follow a checklist item for item?  This is the place to do it. 

One feature that I really was surprised by is the ground clearance switch.  Most developers don’t model this and many smaller aircraft don’t have one.  But larger aircraft with higher operating costs will, because with it you can just power up the com1/nav1 radio for your initial clearances.  I found this to work very well with VoxATC and was able to request my IFR clearance, then startup clearance before firing up the engines, nice touch.

Cheyenne I and Ia 2d panels and popups

Move into the VC and you are going to wonder if you are still in the 2D panel view till you hit the hat switch to move around.  This panel is reproduced in all its 3 dimensional glory for VC lovers and let me tell you, even if you don’t like VC’s, you are going to have to pay respect to this one.  There are a handful, and I’m talking counting on my fingers here, of aircraft that have had their Virtual Cockpits modeled to this level of detail and accuracy. 

What’s even more impressive is how well this one performs.  The clickspots work and aren’t too small for convenient operation, the gauge movement is extremely smooth and believable, you can fly a hands-on ILS using the Flight Director, and the night lighting is spectacular and once again… believable.  Even the windshield wipers move smoothly and leave a water streak behind at their edges.  If you are using a TrackIR, like I am, you aren’t going to want to leave… this is just too much darned fun.  You can even read the warnings and checklists included on the pilot’s window sill.

Cheyenne II 2d panels and popups

One of the decisions that Digital Aviation made in modeling the VC panel for the Cheyenne was to standardize the radio stack to something consistent with what you will find in reality and they modeled a full Bendix/King Silver Crown digital radio stack with an older Trimble Approach Plus GPS added.  This required custom programming of the Trimble GPS to work within the confines of MSFS while still retaining some of its own unique features.  Now all the knobs and buttons associated with these radios are also modeled into the VC, so there’s no switching out the radio stack for something else but it is all so beautifully done there’s really no need to.  You will notice that the Cheyenne I and Ia are fitted with a Bendix/King KFC250 autopilot and a Duke pressurization controller, while the more powerful Cheyennes have the KFC300 autopilot and a Garrett pressurization controller.

Cheyenne IIXL 2d panels and popups

The configuration manager allows the user to select between an original Vertical Speed Indicator or a replacement digital unit with TCAS display and also to remove the knobs from the non-functioning radar and the mechanical HSI to allow for replacing these units with such units as RealityXP’s WX500 weather radar and their JL2 or Sandel EHSI with moving maps if you are comfortable with modifying the panel configuration files.  I tried a few variations and ended up preferring the panel just as it was originally designed and with the mechanical VSI.  This is how I remember flying around in these aircraft, your personal preference may be different and thankfully the designers made it possible to make a few changes.

Spectacular night lighting and configuration manager allows swapping VSI for TCAS and removing radar knobs for RXP radar

If I really felt nitpicky, I would tell you that the remaining “bug” IS the heading bug!  When using the autopilot in GPS mode, the heading bug on the HSI will follow the instructions sent to the autopilot and as a result always display like you are using the heading bug.  While this might just look like an automatic function of the autopilot and HSI interaction, the real gauge has a completely manual adjustment for this heading bug so it doesn’t move on its own.  The only time this might even become an issue is if you were on a GPS tracking in the autopilot and were issued a turn to a specific heading and wanted to preset the heading bug before switching to heading mode on the autopilot.  You just have to remember to switch to heading mode first, which until patched, will result in your aircraft continuing straight ahead, then turn the heading bug to your new heading.

Cheyenne I VC Cheyenne Ia VC
Cheyenne II VC Cheyenne II XL VC

The custom programming of the Trimble GPS has had its moments of frustration too.  They’ve got it pretty good now but there are still a few items that pilots familiar with the real world unit have been consulting Digital Aviation about.  One thing you do want to remember is to move the aircraft to the location you want to depart from before selecting the Cheyenne in the aircraft selection menu, this is just a simple matter of selecting the airport or loading the saved flight plan before switching to the Cheyenne while still in the create flight menu.  If you attempt to load the Cheyenne first, then select an airport on the other side of the globe, the GPS will not have the correct database loaded.  This is because when you select the Cheyenne, the programming for the GPS looks at your location to load up the proper portion of the database.

That’s some of the best night lighting in the VC I’ve ever seen, I love the glow of the backlighting on the circuit breakers

Sounds

I’ve been there enough to tell you the sound recordings are genuine.  All the beeps from powering up the panel, the gyros coming to life, the autopilot disconnect, radar altimeter and TCAS are there.  The turboprop sounds bring a smile to my face as they take me back to flying around in the real deal.  You have two choices in the configuration manager, you can enable the “active noise reduction’ sound set or disable it.  I recommend making your first flight without the noise reduction, you will just love the prop sounds.  Then try the noise reduction set once, then switch it back to the sweet sounding one.

Airfile

There a handful (yes there’s that counting on my fingers phrase again) of software magicians that can capture the flight dynamics envelope of an aircraft and break it down into numbers that actually convey the sense of what a real aircraft “feels” like when flying in the sim.  You can fiddle with numbers and get an aircraft to perform like the owners manual says it will, but it is a true art when the way an aircraft responds to input at each of the ends of its operating envelope that makes true masters stand out from the crowd.  Whenever see one of these five names in the list of credits for an aircraft, I already know that I will probably like it based on prior experience.  Alexander Metzger is one of those names, the rewards he has won in this business are well earned.  This is a passion and love of his and having been involved with him in the development of other products, I know first hand just how hard he works at it.

It would be very difficult to find a real pilot that didn’t like the handling qualities of the Navajo or Cheyenne series.  This is a pilot’s airplane that conveys that sense of what it is doing or about to do that makes it a joy to fly.  Each of the four variants have their own specific airfiles and tweaking of their configuration files to represent what the real aircraft is capable of.  You can follow the chart for a given weight, OAT (outside air temperature), and pressure altitude and see close to the book performance in runway use, climb rate, fuel burn and cruise speeds if that is what you are in to.

One item that will bite you if you haven’t read the manual is the first time you apply full throttle.  These Pratt & Whitney PT-6’s don’t have such niceties as a FADEC system and like their real world counterparts, don’t take well to ham fisted pilots.  You have to carefully watch your torque settings when applying take-off power to avoid an over-torque situation.  You also have to adjust your power settings during a climb to maintain power settings.  As you get higher in altitude, you have to switch over to monitoring your ITT (interstage turbine temperature) to avoid meltdown.  Cheyenne I and II models also have time limits on prop rpm so you have to lower your rpm settings shortly after takeoff.  This fortunately is correctly linked to the engine sounds so you get the proper sounds when bringing down the rpm instead of the typical Microsoft default engine sound programming which links rpm sound to throttle setting (that has always irritated me).

If you have spent the extra money to have nice hardware with an individual throttle quadrant, you are gonna love the sounds of going into and out of phase when adjusting these two engines.  You might also notice that the levers which you have programmed to move the mixture levers won’t move the condition levers in the Cheyenne.  This isn’t an oversight on the part of Digital Aviation, they did that on purpose.  In reality, the condition lever on Cheyenne’s is really a fuel cutoff valve with two positions (the 2XL has three), full forward for on, full back for off.  If you use the Microsoft default programming of this lever it has three positions, off, low idle and high idle (a position the Cheyenne I and II doesn’t have… high idle is where the default King Air 350 wants to accelerate to taxi speeds over 20 mph).  The decision was made to make this an active clickspot on the 2D panel throttle quadrant popup and in the VC.  It doesn’t react to joystick lever position and therefore keeps the Cheyenne responding to throttle input correctly.  I did discover that if you are using the registered version of FSUIPC and program your joystick assignments with FSUIPC (switching off your joystick in MSFS) that they do work, thank you Pete Dowson and Digital Aviation.

Engine Out Performance

OK, so I’m telling you how impressed I am with the flight dynamics programming.  Let’s put it to the test.  I’ve told you in the past I am leary of using the simulator in areas of performance that aren’t correctly simulated.  If you’re just using this for entertainment and are not a real world pilot then you can fly any way you want.  If you are a pilot though, the last thing you want to do is train yourself to respond to a situation in a fashion that would be… let’s say fatally dangerous. 

Now the real multi-engine trained old timers out there raise your hands.  These are the ones that risked life and limb by having an instructor pull the critical engine on usually a Piper Apache at a few hundred feet off the ground and just after takeoff, or a go-around leaving the pilot to use whatever portion of the remaining 150 hp on the good engine was available.  If the instructor really had a death wish he would pull the engine with the hydraulic pump so you would also have to manually retract the gear with a hand pump… all the while maintaining a controllable airspeed, control of the aircraft, and avoiding obstacles (because doing something this stupid will surely involve some sort of obstacle avoidance since you’re not going to be able to climb until you get that gear up).  It was only after the unnecessary loss of too many lives that the FAA revised multi-engine training engine protocol.

Enough diversion, let’s fly.  I set up a flight at Roseburg Regional airport in Oregon, a truly beautiful location on this green earth, nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains with a river running through it.  A low overcast day with a light crosswind and rain and just looking down that runway at the hill off the far end certainly sets the scenario for an engine out situation you would never want to go through in real life.

I picked the Cheyenne I with its 500 shp turboprops as it is the least powerful of all the Cheyennes and then loaded it up with full fuel, two adult males, two adult females and two children plus baggage for such a trip.  We were within 50 lbs of gross weight and within balance requirements for safe operation.

I held the brakes and advanced power smoothly, when the torque reading was passing 1,000 ft/lbs you could hear the props spin up to their governed max of 2,200 rpm, I then released the brakes, tracked centerline and smoothly set the power levers for 1,200 ft/lbs.  Passing through 80 knots everything looked good, 91 knots and rotate, positive rate of climb and gear lever to the up position and accelerate to 110 knots, which is single engine best rate of climb speed.  At 100’ AGL, I pulled the left engine which resulted in a pretty violent yaw to the left and I started losing airspeed, feather the left prop, hard right rudder (remember dead engine/dead rudder pedal), nose down to save airspeed and some right bank… this time not just for procedure but there’s that hill at the end of the runway remember?

I kept airspeed at 110 for best single engine climb but man did I have my hands full with terrain avoidance as we wound our way between the hills staying above the freeway.  You’ll note from the shots that I was facing climbing terrain and doing everything I could to keep in the air and in control.  At 300’ AGL, I had another set of hills to contend with and made another shallow turn to the right to sneak between them.  At about three minutes into the climb, I finally had 1,000’ between me and the valley floor and could start thinking about my options. Should I continue the shallow climb to 4,000’ and try to make the VOR or GPS approach back in to Roseburg?  Or should I follow the freeway, staying over lower terrain and try to make it to Eugene which would have a much safer and easier ILS approach? 

That’s the kind of tough decision a real pilot would have to face if they found themselves in the same situation and I think I would make the latter, were I to lose the second engine in the clouds and over the mountainous terrain around Roseburg. Trying to shoot the non-precision approach probably wouldn’t be the kind of thing you could walk away from.

Conclusion

You may have the impression from this review that I liked the Aerosoft/Digital Aviation Cheyenne.  If so, you read correctly. 

In my opinion this is one of those releases that raises the bar for all aspects of aircraft simulation, exceptional visual model, exceptional panel and systems simulation, exceptional sound set, easy to use configuration manager, exceptional flight dynamics and despite all its complexity, I found it to not be a big hit on frame rates. 

In the forums the question is frequently asked “what if you could only have one add-on?”  I have traditionally avoided these questions because I so much like the combination of add-ons I have used to create the simulation environment I like to fly in.  This is the one add-on to Microsoft’s Flight Simulator that I have to say would be my hands down pick if I could only have one. 

Congratulations Hans Hartmann, Tobias Ahlbrecht, Dr. Achim Bürger, Martin Georg, Alex Metzger, Christoph Winkler and the excellent beta team, a few of which I have had the pleasure of working with in other projects.  At the risk of ticking off another fine development team, which I also respect, I would love to encourage Digital Aviation to consider releasing a Piper Navajo package.  I know I’d be first in line.

 

What I Like About the Aerosoft Cheyenne
  • Exceptional visual model that stands up to close inspection
  • Exceptional panels and gauge modeling
  • Exceptional virtual cockpit and virtual cabin
  • Exceptional sound recordings
  • Exceptional flight dynamics
  • Easy to install
  • Well laid and easy to follow manual with many illustrations
  • Active and friendly support forum
  • Easy on frame rates on both my desktop and laptop systems

 
What I Don't Like About the Aerosoft Cheyenne
  • I could nitpick but I won’t because honestly I didn’t find anything I didn’t like about this add on

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