Before we start, let’s talk about how you say the name. Dorniers are manufactured in Germany, but Claude Dornier (1884-1969) was the son of a French wine merchant, so the name is pronounced “door-nyay.”
Now that’s cleared up, what was the Dornier Do 217? Beginning in 1940 the German air force used it for several tasks, as a medium bomber, a heavy bomber, a torpedo bomber, a night fighter, and (toward the end of the war) a high-altitude spotter. For a twin, it could carry heavy loads and, prior to the Heinkel He 177, it was the Luftwaffe’s largest bomber. There are even photos that show it being used to launch a high-altitude reconnaissance rocket.
Installation and Documentation
I installed version 1.2. Installation was easy, provided you already knew what to do. The download comes in the form of a zip file, and inside the zip are two folders: “Aircraft” and “Gauges.” Now, if you’ve ever downloaded a freeware aircraft, you can probably guess what to do: copy both folders into your FS9 folder and you’re done. But what if you’ve never installed a freeware aircraft successfully? There is a readme file that tells you what to do: “Extract all the files into your FS2004 root folder. The necessary sub-folders will be created automatically.” There are only two problems here. One, many simmers don’t know where their FS2004 root folder is. Two, the readme file is buried in the “ALPHA Dornier Do217K” subfolder of the “Aircraft” folder.
I don’t want to exaggerate: it’s not difficult if you’ve done it before and know what to expect. But for a beginner, installation is more difficult than it needs to be.
There’s a third problem with the readme file. It’s far, far too short: not counting the copyright information, only about 25 lines of text. This and the kneeboard checklist are the only documentation that come with the aircraft. What’s missing? Only most of the V speeds, including VFE (max flap extended speed), VLE (max gear extended speed), VLO (max gear operating speed), VMC (min control speed with critical engine failed), VNE (never exceed speed), VS (stall speed with gear up and flaps in), and VS0 (stall speed with gear down and flaps out). Within a couple of days, I was able to get most of this information by asking for it on the support forum, but these are basic, necessary numbers and they ought to appear somewhere in the documentation. An explanation of the autopilot and nav gear would have been welcome as well.
On the plus side, everything in the cockpit is well labeled with English-language tool tips.
That’s the worst of it, the documentation. Now, on to the best. This is a very good looking visual model. Contours are clean, textures are crisp.
What I like best are the animations. The usual ones are all here: ailerons, flaps, rudder, and landing gear. In addition, there are also four moving crew members: a pilot, a navigator, and two gunners. The navigator and pilot are both scanning the sky, and if you press the visor key the navigator will do some business with his charts. Meanwhile, the dorsal gunner is tracking something (Allied pilots, presumably) with his machine gun -- non-operative, alas, but we can’t blame Alphasim for that. This is Flight Simulator, not Combat Flight Simulator: we’re allowed to be vigilant, apparently, but not actually violent. There’s also a bomb bay with opening doors and two bombs. You can arm the bombs, drop them, and watch them fall, but when they hit the ground they won’t do anything. Again, blame Microsoft for that not Alphasim.
All four crew members have the same facial expression: grim. It’s a pity you can only see them from spot view. On the other hand, they aren’t there to obstruct your view in the virtual cabin. This last view only extends to the forward bulkhead, but there’s plenty to explore up front. The readme file gives instructions for how to move around, and I recommend that you try the chin gunner’s turret, which has great views of the landscape.
I don’t count rivets, but speaking of guns, there are six on these models: one dorsal, one nose (where the navigator sits), one chin, two cheeks, and one waist. From what I’ve read, some of the K-types had guns in the tail as well, but those aren’t modeled here. Only the dorsal gun seems to be animated, but that one animation creates a feeling of tension and watchfulness.
Now we get to the business end of the stick, the cockpit. I’m going to start with the nitty gritty and then pull back to describe the general effect and usability. In what follows, I will be referring primarily to the virtual cockpit (VC). The 2D cockpit on this aircraft is quite usable, and includes one feature that the 3D cockpit doesn’t: a removable yoke. But the VC gauges are just as clear, and the 3D environment is more fun to fly from, especially with TrackIR.
Everywhere in the cockpit, text labels are in German, but tool tips are in English. This is a good combination: it preserves realism, without sacrificing ease of use for English-language simmers. It also serves as a form of documentation: a vital one, in this instance, because the readme and checklist are so sparse.
VC textures are 16-bit quality and clearly legible, with the exception of the text labels on the electrical switches.
Gauge layout is non-standard and, I am assuming, authentic. For someone used to the modern T layout, a number of things will be disconcerting. First, the vertical speed indicator is high up and to the right on a separate panel. This isn’t a big problem, especially if you’re using TrackIR, but it does widen your instrument scan quite a bit. Again, that’s not Alphasim’s fault: blame Dornier. Second, the instruments use different scales from the ones we are used to. Airspeed is given in kilometers per hour (Km/h) rather than knots, altitude is given in meters instead of feet, and barometric pressure (as used to calibrate the altimeter) is measured in torrs (millimeters) rather than inches of mercury (Hg) or hectopascals (hPa).
No complaints here: if you are going to purchase a vintage aircraft, you expect it to look different; that is part of the pleasure. But when the checklist gives cruise and landing speeds in KIAS (knots indicated airspeed), my eyebrows shoot up. There are no KIAS in this cockpit, only Km/h! Never mind -- print out the checklist, whip out your pocket calculator, and pencil in the Km/h equivalents. Not hard, but that’s something Alphasim should have done when they wrote the checklist. Speaking of the checklist, you can pull it up from the K-type aircraft but not from the M-type. There’s an error in the M-type’s aircraft.cfg file, and the good news is it’s easy to fix; but that’s not something the customer should need to do, is it?
Here’s more good news: anything you can do in the 2D panel, you can do from the VC as well. Someone on the support forum asked about the bomb release switch, which seems to be on the 2D panel but not in the VC. Turns out the VC has its release switch on the bomb sight -- which is logical but not documented. Sigh.
More good news: where a pop-up would make things easier, the VC has one. If you are a VC purist and absolutely hate 2D pop-up panels, you don’t have to use them. But the radios and bomb controls, while conveniently placed for the navigator’s use, are not convenient for the pilot, even if he is equipped with TrackIR. To ease pilot workload, therefore, Alphasim has added easy-to-use pop-up panels for the radio gear, autopilot, and bomb controls.
There’s also a button to call up the default GPS -- but that would be cheating. What’s the alternative, though? To guide bombers to their targets, the Luftwaffe did develop a series of radio navigation systems: the Knickebein, X-Gerät, and Y-Gerät. These instruments aren’t modeled here, for a very simple reason: there are no signals for them to receive, either in the real world or Flight Simulator. This leaves two options: celestial navigation (which has been implemented elsewhere), or some kind of accommodation with modern technology.
Alphasim has chosen, wisely in my view, the path of accommodation. In addition to COM1, the radio stack includes a four-digit transponder, a VOR tuner, and an ADF tuner. The two navaid tuners both display their respective signal strengths. The tuning is intuitive, but setting the VOR bearing is not; the last time I checked, the consensus on the support forum was that Alphasim’s Do 217 doesn’t have a VOR, only an ADF. In fact, it does have a VOR, though its use isn’t documented and takes some experimenting to figure out. What is missing (so far as anyone one the forums can tell) is an ADF gauge. You can tune the frequency of a non-directional beacon (NDB) on the radio stack and verify the signal by its Morse code identifier, but there’s no needle anywhere that points to the NDB transmitter. That’s odd, and I won’t be shocked if one shows up somewhere. But to date, no one on the support forum has found it.
The autopilot panel is, like the rest of the cockpit, labeled in German and looks authentic. I would be surprised if the original Luftwaffe autopilot could fly an ILS approach, but I don’t mind the fact that this one can. It can also level the wings, maintain altitude, track a VOR, and follow a heading. The only thing missing is a heading bug on the vintage-looking heading indicator.
So much for the nitty gritty. How usable is the cockpit? Gauges are all clear, and gauge movement is smooth: not RealAir smooth, but smooth. Night lighting is adequate and pleasing, though I suspect the real thing was dim on purpose. In the virtual cockpit, the yoke gets in the way of the main turn coordinator, but there’s another, smaller turn coordinator above the main panel so this turns out not to be a problem.
Most important of all, there are great views out the windows. There’s a lot of glass in this cockpit, and I don’t mean the gauges. This is a warbird for people who like scenery. I’ll say more about this in the conclusion.
How realistic is the flight modeling? This reviewer isn’t qualified to say. On the ground and in the air, it handles like a heavier, faster, and more powerful version of the default DC-3. For ground steering, you’ll need to use differential braking or (if you’ve got them) separate throttles for right and left engine. In the air, it likes a lot of rudder in turns, same as the DC-3. Despite being heavier though, the Do 217 climbs faster, climbs higher (FL320 vs. FL230 for the DC-3), and cruises faster (186 KIAS vs. 161). Startup procedures are similar as well: i.e., simplified compared with a real twin.
Alphasim’s Do 217 comes in two different versions, the K-type and the M. Both types were manufactured concurrently, the main difference being their engines. As the Alphasim website explains, “The K variant was powered by a 1,700 hp BMW 801D air cooled radial while the M versions had the 1,750 hp D.B. 603 liquid cooled powerplant with a 4 blade propeller but performance was nearly identical. The different engine configuration was implemented so production could continue if there was a shortage of either powerplant.” The two types have different flight models in the sim, but I couldn’t say what the difference is. That’s a shortcoming in the reviewer, though, not the product.
What you do notice right away are the two different soundsets. Again, I’ve never heard either engine in real life, so I’m not qualified to say what is realistic. The best I could do was compare the sounds with the ones in another sim, IL-2 Sturmovik: Forgotten Battles. For the K-type, I compared the Mistel Ju-88, which uses the same engine. To my ear, the Alphasim radials had more subtlety and variation. For the M-type, the closest approximation I could find was the Me-210 Ca-1, which is powered by the Daimler-Benz 605B. Here I thought IL-2 had the edge: there was less whirring and the sounds of the engine were more distinct. On the plus side, the M-type engines have a very satisfying sound when they shut down.
There is one thing missing in the soundset for these aircraft: wind noise. In a cockpit with this much glazing, there ought to be a lot of it. In fact, there is none. When, in the middle of a flight, you shut off the engines in the K-type, you can hear the props spinning but no wind. When you shut off the M-type engines, there is only silence.
With my three-year-old CPU and truly ancient video card, framerates in the Do 217 were lower than the default aircraft. Even so, the aircraft was still flyable from the VC, even in poor weather. I was pleasantly surprised: given how many gauges there are, and how much scenery is displayed through those large cockpit windows, I had expected a bigger drop. Beefier rigs (and anything with a decent video card) should have no trouble.
According to the product webpage, Alphasim’s Do 217 is for “FS2004/FSX only.” They don’t make a big "to do" about FSX compatibility, but the aircraft does in fact transfer easily. Until there’s another update, you’ll have to figure out the installation procedure for yourself and provide your own thumbnail.jpg for each of the texture folders. Once that’s done, though, the aircraft operates normally. I had trouble tuning an ADF frequency, but since there’s no actual ADF gauge in the cockpit, this didn’t detract any.
By war’s end, Dornier had manufactured more than 1,700 Do 217s. Of these, around 500 were of the K/M type which Alphasim used as the basis of its flightsim version. Why not one of the other types? If you’re curious, Google “Do 217” and look at some pictures. The first 217 to be manufactured on any scale was the E-type.
Although capable of carrying a heavy bomb payload, its lower cockpit wasn’t glazed (that is, it was covered with sheet metal instead of window glass). With the K and M types, introduced in spring 1942, the cockpit window got a lot bigger, with the result that the pilot and navigator could now look down on the terrain they were bombing. Later in the war, the 217 was used as a reconnaissance aircraft, partly because it could fly high and partly on account of that big cockpit bubble.
Today, there are lots of flightsim aircraft that can fly faster than the Do 217, reach higher altitudes, and carry heavier payloads. Few of them, however, offer such wide vistas from the cockpit. Priced at $36 (New Zealand dollars), Alphasim’s reproduction of the Do 217 for Flight Simulator is a solid aircraft, if not quite seamless. I wouldn’t recommend it for IFR, but for VFR the view is hard to beat.
Tell A Friend About this Review!
© 2006 - AVSIM
All Rights Reserved