AVSIM Commercial FSX Aircraft Review

American Aerolites
Falcon (v1.10)

Product Information

Publishers: Aerosoft

Description: two stroke, single cylinder one-engine ultra light aircraft with excellent stability and handling.

Download Size:
44 MB

Format:
Download
Simulation Type:
FSX
Reviewed by: Drew Sikora AVSIM Staff Reviewer - November 5, 2011

Introduction

How cool must it have been to buy an aircraft, hop in and fly out of your backyard (assuming you had the 200 feet of no obstacle takeoff roll) without needing any sort of certification or license? That was the idea behind the Falcon when it debuted back in the mid-80's. Of course, just because you could fly it without a license didn't mean you shouldn't seek some training, but given the inherent stability and forgiveness of the aircraft's design not a whole lot of time is needed. In fact, you were more likely to learn on an ultra light that was more difficult to handle than the Falcon. Sadly, all this is no longer possible today due to increased regulations and the fact that the Falcon is no longer in production, making them hard to get your hands on.

What makes the Falcon so stable in the air is a combination of push propeller and canard wing design. In regards to the propeller, pushing is always more efficient than pulling, and having the propeller in the rear means the airfoils are cutting through undisturbed air. You add to that the use of a canard wing on the nose; this wing comprises about 20% of the total lifting surface but carries roughly 25% of the load, therefore it will stall before the main wing and automatically regain flying speed. You'll experience some bobbing motion, commonly referred to as "porpoising", the length of oscillation will depend on your weight, but the aircraft will continue to fly level and is very averse to rolling and spinning.

Chuck Yeager was one of the more famous Falcon UL owners (courtesy aerofalcon.com)

So what happened? This sounds like an amazingly awesome ultra light aircraft! Unfortunately the parent company, American Aircraft, came under hard times during a period of lawsuits that sacked the aircraft industry. Although the Falcon's record was clean, the company as a whole could not stay in business and had to shut down. Private attempts at re-starting Falcon manufacturing - both the original design and newer, modern designs - have failed to find purchase in the current aviation industry, which is a shame to say the least.

You'll find a treasure trove of Falcon information on Michel Fithian's Falcon East website, which is referenced in the product manual, and is where I obtained the above history and will also be referencing throughout this review. Although I mentioned earlier that the Falcon is out of production, like all good aircraft there are plenty still flying, and some go up for sale every now and then. Michel lists those along with many other useful bits of Falcon resources and knowledge.

Installation and Documentation

InstallShield wizard screen

You are presented with an InstallShield Wizard to guide you through the process of getting the Falcon safely nested onto your hard drive. A well-known installer, InstallShield walks you through the process easily and as long as you have your registration number ready (check your email) you'll be good to go - no internet connection is required (unless you store your email online I suppose).

The installer does not tell you how much space on your disk the aircraft will take, but the website specifies this as being 100MB. Once the aircraft is installed you will get an Aerosoft folder added to your Start Menu if you don't already have one, and in there you will find the Falcon PDF manual. We'll get to that in a moment.

This is version 1.10, but you can get older (and newer) versions by visiting your account page on Aerosoft's website. Version 1.10 adds 2 new Falcon 3D models.

 

Default Installation

Following the installer like a good little end-user, I then loaded up FSX and found the aircraft in my selection menu with no problems.

Custom Installation

Test System

Computer Specs

- MSI P67A-GD65
- Intel i5 2500K @ 4.5GHz
- Corsair 8GB DDR3 1600
- Radeon HD 5870 1GB
- Catalyst 11.8
- WD VelociRaptor 10k RPM SATA 150GB
- Windows 7 x64
- FSX Acceleration
- Saitek X52, Pro Flight Yoke, Pro Flight Rudder Pedals

Flight Test Time:

15 hours

After removing the aircraft, I attempted to install it to a directory outside of the main FSX folder. It wouldn't allow me to do so and I was confused for a moment until I realized that what I had thought I read "... or choose other folder" really said "... or choose other FSX folder". Oops! That's what I get for skimming instructions.

However if you really must keep your aircraft, add-on or otherwise, separate from your main FSX folder there's nothing stopping you from moving the Falcon folder out of the default SimObjects folder into one of your choosing. Just note that if you do this, the uninstaller will not be able to find it and the product manual makes it clear that you should remove this product via the uninstaller. So don't forget to move the aircraft folder back before you wipe it off your system.

Uninstallation

You won't find a link in your Start Menu, so go to your Control Panel's program listing to uninstall the product from there as instructed by the manual. It will remove the aircraft folder (if you have any custom files in there they and the folder(s) will remain) and clean up the Falcon folder in your Start Menu. If this is your only Aerosoft product installed you will most likely have to remove the now-empty Aerosoft folder yourself - that might have been left untouched in case you had other Aerosoft products on your system. The uninstaller asked to restart your system after it was finished which I found strange but you can opt to restart when it's more convenient for you if you like.

Since I couldn't do a custom install, I was unable to check to see if any "shared" files were left in your FSX folders. Use a third-party uninstaller like REVO if you like to ensure all traces are removed from your system.

Documentation

Documentation-wise you'll get a product manual along with checklist and reference files for the FSX kneeboard. At first I was rather satisfied with the product manual as it appeared to give me all the information I required on the aircraft: a brief history, performance charts, listing of important airspeeds, checklists, emergency procedures (all of which you can simulate reasonably well), animations/hotspots not obvious to locate, and even nice aircraft and cockpit diagrams pointing out control surfaces, gauge functions, etc. There are some slight spelling/grammar issues but nothing that confuses your read of the aircraft instructions.

There are some slight errors with the performance figures included however:

  • The Vx (best angle-of-climb speed) is correctly noted in the first reference table but in a later section under Flight Speeds it's defined as 40 mph instead of the previously defined and correct 35 mph. It is noted that the values in this second table are "guides" not "absolute values", but all other values listed both here and in the first table match up.
  • The Best Glide Ratio is incorrectly defined as 15:1 @ 35 mph - the correct definition according to the spec sheet is 15:1 @ 45 mph.
  • The range figures, both 75% and 55% power, are listed in the manual as 120 and 160 miles instead of 121 and 161 (no it's not a huge deal, yes it's worth noting).

It's true that some manuals display sim-only performance figures that don't match up exactly to their real-world counterparts thanks to limits within FSX, but no mention of this could be found anywhere in the manual.

Some notable performance figures not included are the Vne (Never Exceed) speed and the crosswind component. These omissions are mitigated however by the fact that the crosswind component is referenced in the Ground Handling section and almost all the airspeed indicators have a colored reference bar that clearly denotes the Vne with a red line.

Despite the small problems with the performance figures, I was still initially pleased with all of this - we'll get more into why I changed my mind throughout the review.

It should also be noted that although the product itself is at v1.10, the manual remains at v1.00

Aircraft Selection

Having a lot of aircraft in your hangar can make finding the one you want difficult. FSX provides several ways to sort aircraft and the Falcon can be found either by its manufacturer (American Aerolites), publisher (Aerosoft) or aircraft type (Ultra light). If needed, you'll have no trouble finding the aircraft.

Here though is where things began to get a little strange. I clicked on Details for the various Falcons available and they all only carried copyright information in the description box. I could visibly see that there were differences in the models - some had retractable nose gear, some had their rudder tips above the wing instead of under, etc. But I couldn't find out exactly what made them different from one another in any other regard. Oh, the manual had no mention of this either.

Searching for the Falcon by manufacturer
A sparse details section

The reason for this I discovered is because the aircraft is confined to a single SimObject folder. This means there is only one aircraft.cfg file and thus can only be a single description used for all Falcon variants included. I'm not an aircraft developer so I can't comment on the necessity of this, but as an end-user I wish they had been split into separate folders so I could read in the descriptions which variant had what capabilities, for example. And for other reasons mentioned later.

I decided to start off with the yellow-bodied Falcon variant, as yellow is my all-time favorite color (now you know).

Interior Model

As fate would have it, the yellow variant was the worst possible choice I could have made to begin flying this aircraft. Well okay it wasn't “the” worst - if I had picked one of two other variants I would have ended up with the same problem, but I digress. The aircraft loaded up and placed me in a cockpit that contained a panel full of instruments in metric units. Puzzled, I checked back in the manual and affirmed that I was correct in remembering all speed and height listings being in feet and miles per hour (weight and length were also measured in pounds and feet).

Yet here I was staring at a Vertical Speed Indicator measuring meters per second, an airspeed gauge measuring both knots and kilometers per hour, and an altitude gauge measuring kilometers. This panel also happened to match the one shown in the manual, so I didn't realize the truth right away. Grumbling, I took out my calculator and converted all the checklist speeds/heights and the performance values from the manual to their equivalent metric units so I could fly "by the numbers" as I tested.

After a few random flights I decided I had better see about those other variants - without wheel spats, with retractable gear, etc. So I loaded one up and surprise, surprise I was treated to an entirely different panel! Yay for altitude in feet! Yay for vertical speed in feet per minute!

That's not to say I have anything against the metric system - it was just completely confusing and frustrating to have to adapt the performance figures to use it (and I'm more familiar with these instruments anyways). I should also mention that only one of the variants, the Simgameit version, contains an airspeed indicator in miles per hour. Every other variant has either knots or both knots and kilometers per hour.

So why were the manual speeds listed in miles per hour?? According to the spec sheet, this aircraft is supposed to come with a MPH gauge (among other instrument inconsistencies). I quickly loaded up the remaining variants and found 3 unique instrument panel layouts.

Cylinder Head/Exhaust Gas Temperature in Celsius, Vertical Speed in Feet Per Minute, Altitude in Feet and Speed in Knots
Cylinder Head/Exhaust Gas Temperature in Fahrenheit, Vertical Speed in Meters Per Second, Altitude in Kilometers and Speed in Knots/Kilometers Per Hour (this was the panel in the manual and the first one I happened to use)
Cylinder Head Temperature in Fahrenheit, Exhaust Gas Temperature in Celsius, Vertical Speed in Feet Per Minute, Altitude in Feet and Speed in Miles Per Hour

Now that we've solved that mystery, let's have a closer look at the inside of this aircraft. I'm pleased to say it's absolutely fabulous. Varying instrument layouts aside, the modeling and texturing of the interior is amazing. The wonderful thing about small, simple aircraft is that they can be modeled down to the tiniest detail without much worry for performance hit and this was obviously not forgotten during development. You can zoom all the way in and inspect the very nuts and bolts holding the foot pedals to the floor.

The curved surfaces are all very smooth, although you will notice edges on the instrument panel even back at .70 zoom. The textures are soft and carry a good resolution - I can clearly make out the cross-stitch in my seat harness and the un-smoothed interior of the fuselage is sporting some excellent bump and reflective mapping that lets you see the rough surface clearly when the sun angles in right.

Control surfaces also have been given great attention to detail - every switch and control is fully rendered in 3D. Not only will you see the control stick and foot pedals move, you'll see the control wires move, including the throttle cable leading back to the engine in variants where it's visible. You'll also see the brake handle on the stick pull back when brakes are applied and the rudder tip pedals push forward together when you apply dive brakes.

The brake lever on the stick will also lock back when you engage the parking brake, although it can be difficult at first when looking at it later to tell if it's back or forward from your in-cockpit viewpoint - you just have to get used to how it looks in both positions or test the brakes to see. Some variants allow you to enable an enclosed canopy for bad-/cold-weather flying.

The radio, control column, buttons and switches are all also textured to react to the environment lighting
Control actuation
3D modeling extends down to the cabling, nuts and screws
Seat and belt textures are crisp and detailed
Non-pull start variant (v1.00 models)
Pull start variant (v1.10 models)

It gets better when you look at the instrument panel, featuring custom 3D gauges. The glass covering all the instruments is reflective mapped (as is the GPS screen) so you'll see a hazy image of sky as you turn the aircraft about. The reflection will become less apparent as the sunlight is directed more fully on the gauge, brightening it as the light maps kick in. Even the compass ball appears to be a 3D sphere. The panel itself will brighten and reflect a lovely black metallic sheen as the light passes over it.

It's quite simply the most environment-enabled virtual cockpit I've ever had the pleasure of sitting in and I love how it reacts to the FSX world. That said, the gauges can become hard to read under the right lighting conditions - a fact of life for purists like me but the more casual simmer might find this to be an annoyance. They can also be hard to read at normal zoom levels (.7 - .8 for me), especially the magnetic compass, but you can see the needles just fine, so once you know where the numbers are it's all good.

Facing towards the sun, the reflection mapping is visible as shadows over the gauges
Facing away from the sun, the reflection map disappears as the light map brightens
At .70 zoom flying with the sun behind you can be difficult sometimes as it would be for real

My favorite feature available in some of the Falcon variants is the ability to see yourself in the cockpit. This is extremely cool - again the modeling and texturing are very well done - I can see the lines of corduroy in the jeans you wear! I'm not aware if FSX supports skeletons for models but if not, then this is some very nicely-done animation in how the pilot model reacts to your flight control inputs.

You'll see yourself throttle, move the stick and watch your legs extend to push the foot pedals. You'll even see your feet move back off the inner nose wheel pedals as you leave the ground and return when you land - which is a nice visual cue considering you can have trouble hearing your wheels touchdown most times. You'll even see both legs move while steering the nose wheel on the ground and then in flight only one leg will move as, unlike the nose wheel pedals, the rudder tip pedals are not linked so pushing on one pedal won't affect the other.

It's not perfect - you won't see yourself grasp the brake lever on the control column and deploying the rudder brakes sees both pedals move forward but not your legs. However, it's still a very nice feature I always fly with and it never gets fully in the way of operating the aircraft in flight.

Looking down, all strapped in nice and tight!
Control column movement animated, note the position of the feet on the inner nose wheel pedals
Up in the air, note how the feet have moved outwards to use the rudder tip pedals

While there are three different panels, there are also different aircraft interiors - 5 to be exact. Some have GPS units, another has labeled switches, one has a larger magneto switch than normal, and some have pull-starters in addition to an electronic starter. The GPS units aren't even the same - there's one that's mounted and one that's stowed until you turn it on.

Covered throttle cable, Ignition Key on instrument panel, larger instrument panel, normal canopy, labeled switches on side panel
Covered throttle cable, Ignition Key on side panel, smaller instrument panel, normal canopy
Covered throttle cable, Ignition Key on instrument panel, larger instrument panel, normal canopy, labeled switches on side panel, larger Magneto switch
Exposed throttle cable, larger panel, no Ignition Key, no side
panel, smaller canopy, vertically mounted radio, stowed GPS
(swings up when activated), different seat/harness, landing
gear peg, smaller throttle
Exposed throttle cable, Ignition Key on side panel, smaller
 Instrument panel, normal canopy, landing gear
peg, smaller throttle

This aircraft does not have a 2D panel, although you may still have a 2D panel view. This is actually pretty nice for an unobstructed forward-facing view. There are three pop-up windows available - a radio, transponder and GPS - although only the radio is available through a Shift+# key press.

Your three available 2D panels

Some niggling issues include the Simgameit variant's radio being mounted vertically on the side, which makes reading its standby frequency a bit difficult. In addition, the Simgameit variant is the only one built for flying in any kind of a dark situation safely (it has running lights) but lacks instrument lighting and is the only one with a speedometer that doesn't include colored reference bars, which would have made reading it in the dark easier.

This disclaimer helps to explain a lot of the
inconsistencies with the Simgameit variant

Also the Simgameit variant has a "Fuel L/R" switch even though the aircraft carries only one tank. Finally, the addition of two new aircraft variants in the v1.10 update included completely new instrument panels with switches and controls that were undocumented. Disabling tooltips for a performance/stability reason is a popular tweak and they shouldn't have been relied on to inform people of the function of these cockpit controls. Those slight issues aside, you have a strikingly detailed, well modeled interior.

I'm not done gushing yet. Let's step outside.

Exterior Model

The attention to detail lavished on the interior is carried over to the exterior model as well - which is a good thing because unlike most aircraft, you're looking at a good deal of it while you fly. There are five main variants to the exterior aircraft model:

Wheel spats
No Wheel spats
Covered wing
Above-wing rudders, covered wing, lights,
retractable gear (not shown)
Above-wing rudders, retractable gear

Once again we're presented with minute detail and soft high-resolution textures down to the rivets. The light mapping gives a nice sheen to the aircraft as the sun catches it but it isn't too shiny to make the surface look flat and unrealistic. You can see fine detail in the wood spars making up the canard wing and the see-through wing cover on some models has a realistic opaqueness to it in addition to reflective mapping that makes the material seem even more life-like.

In addition to the 3D nuts holding various plane parts together, the Rotax engine shows off the fully exposed motor assembly, down to the pipes and hoses, and you can even see the engine through the air scoops. Looking behind the cockpit you'll spot the fuel tank, which seems right behind you when you look back from inside the cockpit but outside you can see it's actually recessed back into the fuselage a bit.

You'll find all the control surfaces to be animated as you would expect, but you'll also get to see the control rods in action as well. The nose wheel brake caliper will descend onto the wheel when you engage the brake.

Inside looking out - you'll see the exterior a lot while flying. Luckily it's worth looking at
Light mapping is most evident here as the setting sun glances off the wing surface, more on the solid parts
The ground shadow is properly cut up to match the rib structure and is solid for variants without transparent wings
A close-up look at the detail in the canard ribs, the rivets and the bolts holding the wing strut
The Rotax engine exposed and finely detailed
From the front we can see through the air scoops to the engine fan

The pilot you see sitting in the aircraft is essentially the same model as what you have when you toggle the in-cockpit pilot, the only difference being is that this model has a head (thankfully!). The head doesn't follow your control movements, but it does look around every now and then. The rest of the body - arms, legs, and hands - acts similar to the in-cockpit version as you move the stick, pedals and throttle controls. The only exception is that the legs move individually whether you are on the ground (when both should move) or in the air.

The new variants added for v1.10 include some new headgear for the pilot and it appears the pilot model for these new variants moves both legs when you use the foot pedals regardless of whether you are on the ground or in the air (when only one leg should move). Also, if you raise the landing gear while on the ground you don't crash, but the nose lowers to the ground and the pilot model will disappear so it makes you wonder if that's a bug or did you just "park" the aircraft?

Pilot model for the variants from v1.00
Pilot model with new headgear for the v1.10 variants
Parked? The nose lowers and the pilot disappears.
Or not? The craft rises and the pilot reappears on its own - raising/lowering the gear no longer has any effect but to leave you suspended

Exterior model issues include my inability to locate the hotspot on the "main wheel support" (quoted from the manual) to toggle the wheel spats on and off; the new v1.10 variants with retractable gear (a standard feature on the Falcon that is curiously missing from the original variants) are missing brake calipers. There appears to be an airspeed indicator mounted on the left wing strut although it is not referenced in the manual so I'm just making an educated guess here based on how I observed it operating; the landing light on the Simgameit version does not illuminate the ground for me (see earlier disclaimer though!).

Checklists

Now that the visual inspection is over we're almost ready to get airborne. Before we can do that however we need to review our operating procedures like every safety-minded pilot should! For this we head over to the checklist and reference speeds included with the product. These are available in the manual and also in the FSX kneeboard for reference in the sim.

Given that this aircraft is so simple to fly other than the engine start procedure, the checklists are more like descriptive steps than actual blow-by-blow procedures - and that's okay, they give you the information you need to get going. Speeds and performance data you should know to properly operate the aircraft are included in a reference table. There are some issues though.

Checklist and reference sheet in-game on the FSX Kneeboard
Checklist and reference sheet included within the product manual

Let's revisit the first and obvious problem with these checklists: they are written in only one system of measurement when there are two different systems represented between the aircraft variant's instrument panel gauges. If Aerosoft wants to assume that us Americans will only want to fly the non-metric variant that’s certainly their prerogative but it's never a good idea to make assumptions like this. Of course, to be completely fair, at the same time I'm assuming that they have a metric system checklist shipping out to European customers.

They also made the mistake of saying "Engine - Warm to 125 degrees" without specifying the unit of measurement and then giving you panels that contain either Celsius or Fahrenheit engine temperature gauges. Seeing where the Cylinder Head Temperature needle stops at idle in the sim has shown that this checklist item is measured in Fahrenheit (going back once more to assumptions, it would make sense given the units of measurement used throughout the manual are non-metric).

Various checklist versions could have been included to save the end-user from performing the conversions themselves to fly all the variants "by the numbers". However due to the fact mentioned earlier about the aircraft being confined to a single SimObject folder, you would have to manually rename files to switch between checklists for various Falcons as a folder can only contain one set of checklist/reference files.

There are also some unexplained checklist items:

  • In the Short Field Approach checklist it tells you to "Deploy rudder dive brakes" but doesn't specify how to achieve this in the sim. Given the use of "brakes" in the name you figure they would behave like spoilers, so I mapped the slider of my X52 to the spoiler axis and was pleased to find that the rudder tips will both turn out incrementally as you adjust the axis control. Using a key press will toggle full deployment. There's also no mention of the fact that, even incrementally deployed using an axis, you'll still have rudder control while they are in use even though you will not see the rudder tips move until the air brakes are fully retracted again. This initially led me to erroneously believe you in fact did not retain individual tip rudder control while the dive brakes were deployed.
  • In the takeoff checklists it states: "Use nose wheel steering initially, use tip rudders only close to takeoff speed (around 25 mph)". Checking through the Falcon reference material in the website provided from the manual at the beginning of this review, the spec sheet confirms that there are inner pedals that control the nose wheel independent of the rudder tips, and while in-cockpit you'll see them animate if you move aside the control column (which is why I didn't notice them initially - they are also not pointed out in the manual's interior cockpit diagram). In the sim however the nose wheel and rudder pedals are always linked, even though when off the ground you'll no longer see the nose wheel turn. You can simulate two separate controls using FSUIPC's tiller functionality (I mapped it to the Z rotation of my X52), however while that appears to decouple the nose wheel from the rudder tips as you are now using two separate control axis, it should be noted that the rudder tips will still function through use of the tiller axis. Thanks to Peter Hayes for the tiller tip!
  • In the Short Field Approach checklist it mentions that you should use the "kill switch" to stop the engine just before touchdown, but doesn't actually detail what the "kill switch" is. What this is actually referring to is the Magneto switch or Ignition Key, which will kill the engine if you turn either of them to the off position anytime the engine is running. Other than using the mouse to select these controls, you can do this to the Magneto switch only using the key press event Engine (auto shutdown) - I have it set to the clutch button on my X52. If you want to kill the engine with the Ignition Key and leave the Magneto switch on, use the Master Ignition (on) event to toggle the key on and off. I might as well mention here too that the Starter 1 (on/off) event will push the Start button for you.

The only other remaining checklist issue was a possible misunderstanding that could result from the following item: "Use nose wheel steering initially, use tip rudders only close to takeoff speed (around 25 mph)". If someone skimming over or ignoring the performance figures came to this it could potentially be misinterpreted to mean the takeoff speed is around 25 mph. It's actually 35 mph and if you know this, the statement takes on a whole different meaning.

I use a free iPhone app Checklist Lite to manage my checklists - I ended up creating four separate checklists to meet the needs of the various instrument layouts and capabilities presented by the Falcons you can choose from, adding items like raising/lowering the gear, switching on and setting the radio and GPS, turning on the battery, etc.

Flight Model

Now that we have our procedures straight, it's time to take her up and see how she handles. All flying, unless otherwise specified, was done at full realism settings. All flights were carried out under the default Load and Balance settings, which includes full fuel load. In addition to doing a lot of taxiing, taking off, circling and landing, as well as random flying about, I set out on two actual cross country flights; one from KBLM to N51 in NJ and another from KCLM through the Olympic Mountains of the Pacific Northwest and returning.

Realism settings used during testing

Load and Balance

Before we can climb into the cockpit we need to ensure that we can leave the ground! Here's the step where we check to make sure we can carry the proper amount of fuel allowed and don't overload the aircraft past spec, which will lead to dangerous handling and the possibility of not even being able to take off.

All figures are correct except for the Max.
Gross Weight, which is 5 lbs light
You can properly load up to 5gal of fuel
2 weight stations as is proper for loading
FSX will warn you if you go over Max.
Gross Weight. Ignore at your own peril

According to the spec sheet, the Falcon sports a single fuel tank that carries 5 gallons of fuel. The empty weight is 250 lbs. but since the model of this FSX Falcon comes with a parachute, the empty weight is upped to 268 lbs. These are all reflected accurately in the aircraft's Fuel and Payload screen. You can adjust the payload between two weight stations: the Pilot and Accessories.

The spec sheet says Accessories should not be more than 20 total pounds and the pilot should weigh between 110-225 lbs, but FSX is unable to constrain payload values and so you can enter in any numbers you want here. A mention of these weight restrictions could have been made in the manual to help pilots keep the aircraft properly balanced for optimal handling and performance.

FSX does however, warn you if you load the aircraft past its Maximum Gross Weight - which is a bad thing to do as it will seriously impair the performance and handling of the aircraft. I pushed 571 pounds past MGW and barely made it off a 3000' runway climbing up at less than 300 FPM at 35 knots. So pay attention when you're setting up your payload and note also that the MGW given in the Fuel and Payload screen is 5 lbs less than is defined on the spec sheet - you have no choice though but to stick to this value in the sim. (Unless of course you feel comfortable editing the max_gross_weight property under the [WEIGHT_AND_BALANCE] section of the aircraft.cfg file - always make a backup!)

Preflight

This is really the only aspect of the flight where you're given specific checklist items to follow, and even then the procedure is half safety-oriented of checking to make sure things are off and clear before you start the engine, which involves simply turning on the Ignition Key and Magneto switch and then pressing the Start button.

With a cough and a chuff, the Rotax engine will buzz to life behind you and settle shortly into a pleasant hum. You're asked to pull the choke (labeled Primer in the cockpit over your right shoulder) and I always do, but this is more a matter of procedure than simulation as the engine will turn over just fine without it, even when I lowered the temperature to a chilly 15 degrees Fahrenheit in Denver. You'll want to keep an eye on the CHT gauge however, as it can take a little bit longer for the engine to warm up in colder conditions, but only by a few tens of seconds thanks to the small size of it.

Starter button located on the side panel
Pull start handle located over the shoulder

Some variants also include a pull-starter handle, which can be used instead of the starter button. There's no mention of whether it should be used in place of the starter button for any situation, however the Falcon diagram in the documentation does list it as being used for in-flight engine restarts. It should also be noted that this is listed on the Falcon literature as the method for starting the aircraft as well.

Taxi

Pushing the throttle to around 80% will get you moving, and once you start rolling you should quickly decrease throttle back to ~60% and let momentum do its thing, otherwise you'll find yourself gaining speed and quickly losing control. Remember you're light! Comfortable taxi speeds are in the range of 10-15 kts and the more wind you have the slower you should taxi.

The documentation cautions against taxiing in winds greater than 15 mph and you should heed this as building up even a little speed under these conditions can cause the craft to bank while turning - perhaps dangerously.

The Falcon steers via the nose wheel, and you can also only brake via the nose wheel. This means no differential braking and that your turn radius is dependent on how much you turn your nose wheel and how fast you are traveling. If you're going too slow you'll stop in mid-turn and if you're going too fast (20+ kts) you'll start to skid, bank and possibly drop a rudder tip into the ground. Between these two extremes and with some practice you can manage the throttle to make slightly tighter turns by staying just shy of stopping. In general though, you should make sure you have ample room to turn, wherever you're going.

Although not noted in the manual, if you have toe brakes on your rudder pedals you should disable them when flying the Falcon. Pressing the right toe brake will trigger the braking animations, but pressing on the left toe brake will have no visible effect unless you are moving, which is when you'll realize that you can differential brake the Falcon if you have toe braking enabled.

I assigned the brake to the trigger on my X52, which lacks analogue control of the brake (you're either full on or full off) but is more realistic and the brake is engaged gradually regardless - so you can tap the trigger to slow in small increments without seeing your head snap forward each time.

Takeoff

Established at 35 kts (40 mph) - minimum recommended
Climb speed in the Normal Takeoff checklist and the
canard completely obscures the horizon

Time to start rolling down the runway! Again, you pick up speed quickly at full throttle and your takeoff distance is only 200 feet, so be ready to go when you push the throttle forward. If there is even the slightest crosswind you will start to weathercock, which will turn your nose into the wind. At lighter wind speeds (less than 5 kts) this will seem like propeller torque effect common on larger planes and is easily countered with nose wheel steering. Any crosswind higher than 5 kts and you should follow the Crosswind Takeoff checklist. Exempt from the manual, the aircraft's crosswind component is 12.5 mph.

Rotation should happen at 35 mph, which you need to initiate by pulling back on the stick, or you will run up to about 50 mph before the aircraft decides to lift off the ground of its own accord. Climbing out at 40 mph requires you to pull all the way back until the canard wings just clear the horizon. This angle of climb takes some getting used to as you lose a lot of spatial reference - you can no longer see the horizon and there is no attitude indicator on your instrument panel.

If you are slewing due to wind, this is hard to detect with a slow-to-react magnetic compass (as it should be) as is catching yourself before you start banking and have to correct. I've tried upping my viewpoint (sitting up higher) which helps some and zooming way out, but that causes a fish-eye effect that doesn't help much either.

In the end you have to either get used to limited visual aid while climbing out or choose a slightly smaller climb angle to keep the horizon in view. If you have side monitors you're a lucky duck and will love having them for the peripheral vision.

Once you're airborne, another thing you might want to do is raise the gear if you have a variant that allows this. Since I had the pilot model activated at the time, it made it slightly difficult for me to miss seeing the green stub at the back of the control stick drop down and come back up as red to signify the gear being up as the legs do block this a bit. So for a while I was wondering how I could tell if the gear was up or down.

It was in reading the spec sheet that I found "Color-coded peg on aft of stick" listed for "Nose wheel retraction (ground only)". Wait, ground only? Well, certainly while testing I didn't notice any increase/decrease in performance while having the gear raised or lowered so I suppose there's no real reason to raise it at all in flight. Also, as mentioned earlier when you lower it on the ground the pilot model will disappear from the external spot view, so it seems this is a "parked" position for the aircraft. Again, a guess since the manual doesn't mention the gear peg or the proper use of the gear.

Cruise

First let's talk level flight. The manual does a good job of informing you that you control the aircraft's pitch mainly through throttle once you're in the air (there is no trim) and this is exactly how it is when you're flying in the sim. This essentially means that your cruise speed is locked - if you want to go faster you need to either accept the fact that you'll be climbing or hold the stick forward to stay level. Before you level out however, the craft will accurately "porpoise" or bob up and down until it settles into level flight.

Engine off (note hour meter), descent at ~300 fpm, stick full back and traveling 25 kts
although in this state if you have decent wind you will see yourself tracking with it over the ground

The aircraft is incredibly stable, as advertised, yet will respond to your control inputs without hesitation. Trying to stall the Falcon is a futile effort as mentioned earlier - the craft will simply pitch down and regain speed even with the stick fully back, then nose up, stall and repeat the process. You won't roll over or anything, just porpoise up and down, up and down - it's a neat way to simulate a roller coaster ride :)

You'll go from -.5 Gs to +1.5 Gs so it's definitely something you'd feel in real life. Hands up! Wheeee!! You can spin the aircraft, but not enough to send it tumbling.

One of the really cool things I found is that you can cut the throttle (or even just cut the engine for some peace and quiet other than the wind) and gradually pull the stick all the way back as your speed drops. Eventually you will stabilize at stall speed and just drift downwards at around 300 feet per minute. If you ever wanted to feel what it was like to parachute to the ground, here you go!

My new favorite thing will be to climb a few thousand feet, cut the engine and just drift down as I admire the scenery below, wherever that may be. The Falcon is not able to be classified as a sailplane, but given the right conditions it can function similar to one. Not being too familiar with gliding, I did not test this ability.

Speaking of altitude though, this aircraft has a service ceiling of 15,000 feet - which is pretty impressive actually. The Falcon website states that it still holds the world record altitude of 26,900' for its class. Wow! In my Olympic Mountains flight I slowly climbed to 8,000 feet to clear the summit of Mt. Olympus and had no trouble doing so.

Approaching Mt. Olympus, still climbing
Brushing over the 7,980 foot peak

There seems to be a problem however with the amount of power this aircraft is putting out in the sim versus real life and even what's specified in the manual. For example, this aircraft has a Vne (Never Exceed) speed of 65 knots, yet at full throttle and level flight (pushing forward on the stick to maintain it) I'm pushing upwards of 80 knots. At 50% power I'm supposed to be traveling less than 39 knots (55% power is rated at 39 knots according to the spec sheet and manual) yet I'm cruising level at just over 50 knots.

I am at a loss to explain this gross oversight in the flight model. In fact, I was afraid some tampering I had done over the course of the review had knocked something out of whack, so I reinstalled the aircraft to check. However, loading a flight from the default install resulted in the same performance.

As for aerobatics in this aircraft, they are possible. I conducted both barrel rolls and loops but that's about it. To the question "Will it do aerobatics?" in the Falcon FAQ the answer is an emphatic "NO" although it does admit some aircraft owners have modified the Falcon to improve the performance envelope at the expense of stability and/or safety. I think it may also be a situation where yes, this aircraft is capable of simple aerobatics but is not meant for them to be performed and can't do so safely.

The aircraft starts giving signs of stress at the redline as appropriate but can be pushed much farther
before a crash is triggered
Throttle at 50%, stick neutral, flight level and speed is at a little over 50 kts when it should be no more than 39 kts (at 55% power)
Throttle at 100%, stick forward to hold level flight and speed is well past Vne (Never Exceed), sounds
of frame stress can be heard

When it comes to overstressing the aircraft, the Falcon development history states that the main wing can sustain Gs of 7/-3 while the forward wing can handle Gs of 10/-5. In my stunting, I was only able to pull +/- 5G's maximum, so you don't have to worry about overstressing the aircraft through maneuvers within its speed envelope. However, once you push past Vne, which is very easy, all bets are off even though it takes upwards of 90-100 knots for FSX to finally acknowledge that you've just torn apart your airplane.

Lastly, there is an electronic variometer built in to the Falcon although I could not find any reference of there being one in the real thing. This can be very annoying and unnecessary if you're not going to glide in this aircraft (although due to how air columns can affect the Falcon in general, it can be seen as a useful instrument in all conditions).

There are only two ways to disable it if you want to do so - deleting the [Variometers] section of the aircraft.cfg file or, if you don't like messing with that stuff and want a less permanent solution, loading up the Red White Blue Falcon variant and toggling off the variometer using a panel switch then going back to your preferred variant. It will stay off for all other variants until you restart the sim. Since the aircraft is in a single folder, you can't move the switch to other panels. Despite being an electronic instrument, turning off the battery switch to disable the variometer (as you do not need the battery for basic functionality of the aircraft) seems to only work in the aforementioned Falcon variant and in no others.

Landing

When it comes to getting back on the ground you have it pretty good. The Falcon is both light and durable so it will drift down easily and you can bump it around a great deal. I practically had to plow it into the ground to register a crash, which I feel is realistic. You're generally told to descend at around 50 mph (43 kts) but thanks to the quirky flight model this is tough to achieve without cutting the throttle and setting your descent rate to about 200-300 feet per minute - rather abysmally slow for a normal descent.

To achieve something like 500 fpm at 50 mph you'll need to deploy your rudder brakes, which also does a wonderful job in general of dropping you out of the sky if your approach ends up being too long. I end up using them almost all the time so I can come down fast (around 55 kts) and then slow up for touchdown.

15 kts of crosswind is pretty extreme for this little craft.
With no wing bank you're crabbing at an extreme angle
using just the tip rudders to stay aligned with the runway
Same crosswind component, but with some wing bank
as defined in the crosswind procedures to lessen the
amount of crabbing needed to stay aligned

If you want to have some fun landing, load up 15 kts of crosswind. Using rudder tips only you'll be staring at the runway out the side of your cockpit! It's pretty cool, like power sliding in a car. If you follow the procedure given in the manual you'll be able to line up with the runway better on approach by banking into the wind instead of just ruddering into it, but I prefer sideways because I'm crazy like that ;)

Shutdown

Just like starting up, shutting down the Falcon is a relatively simple procedure: flick the Magneto switch or turn the Ignition Key and you'll hear the engine wind down, sputter and die behind you. If you have the Battery switch on, you'll see the Tachometer switch from RPM to an Hour meter. At least hopefully you'll notice this as it took me a few flights to do so, and in that time I was wondering how I could get the hours to display like I saw in some screenshots because again no mention of this was made in the manual.

Sounds

The sounds you'll hear while flying the Falcon are multiple, and they all combine to present you with a greater understanding of how the aircraft is operating. The main thing you'll notice, thanks to the open canopy, is the wind rushing past you as you are flying through the air. The wind will sound different depending on how fast you're going so it's a nice indication of speed once you get to know what to listen for. I think it would have been cool if toggling the optional full-canopy would have cut down on this and outside noise in general by a small but noticeable amount.

If you start flying the Falcon past Vne you'll begin to hear the airframe become affected - it's a warning sound you'll want to heed if you have your realism set to detect aircraft stress! The creaking and grinding will certainly get your attention and make you ease up on whatever you're doing.

Coming to a stop after a fast ground roll can cause your brake caliper to give a low-pitched squeal as you apply the brake hard.

The engine sounds just like a small little motor should, and it starts up and shuts down with distinctive coughs and sputters. The hum of the engine at idle will pitch up into a nice high-RPM whine when you open the throttle and from the cockpit the engine noise is smooth. From outside the aircraft however you can discern a loop in the engine audio towards the higher RPMs.

Because the craft is so light you won't get as audible a "bump" sound when you land properly - even a rough landing won't elicit much of an audible cue (I switched off crash detection and slammed it down as hard as possible to try and elicit more noise without success) but this isn't surprising and is actually what I would expect. Look to other things like your (hopefully properly calibrated) altitude gauge, aircraft ground shadows if you have them and the sun is right, kicking up smoke or turf with the main wheels, or the pilot model (if visible) placing his feet on the inner steering pedals to let you know when you've touched down.

If you like to use the gear in the air you'll get a nice whirr and thunk when it is raised but won't hear anything when it's lowered, so check the peg on the aft of the control stick (the Simgameit variant has indicator lights on the instrument panel) and hop out into spot view for a visual check as well.

One thing I found missing that I wish was there are sound effects for the buttons and switches. I like "clicking" a toggle switch.

Head 2 Head: FSX UL vs. Falcon UL

Okay, it's time to consider the question you've possibly been asking yourself this whole review - how does the Falcon stack up to the ultra light aircraft already included in FSX?

The only real thing the default UL has over the Falcon is that it is heavier and can handle more turbulence and higher airspeeds, but not a whole lot more - we're talking around 10-15 mph extra for things like Vne, maneuvering speed, climb speed, etc.

The exterior model of the FSX UL is
actually very nice, if busy
The interior however shows its lower-resolution textures
A face full of panel and bar, and a vertical spar still
Impeding your view when you're not looking down
Only one weight station for a tandem craft

That's not enough to make it better than the Falcon in my book. The default UL has less in the way of useful instruments, drops like a rock when you cut the engine, has a less detailed model with lower-resolution textures, greater obstructed forward visibility thanks to a closer and larger instrument panel and the bar control and although it's a 2-seater, there is no load station for adding a passenger in the Fuel and Payload screen.

Basically the default UL is a simplified aircraft. If you're looking for an ultra light with more complexity and realism in its operation, then the Falcon is an option for you to consider.

Conclusion

The American Aerolites Falcon is, if nothing else, a unique aircraft in its design - both aesthetically and aerodynamically. The model builder and texture artist both did a fabulous job capturing this aspect of the aircraft. It's great that as you're flying low and slow over picturesque scenery and gazing about from the Falcon's cockpit you'll be able to appreciate what you can see of the aircraft as much as what you can see of the scenery below. The blend of ultra light and glider works very well - as I said, climbing up a few thousand feet and switching off the engine is a wonderful thing.

I'm not pleased to have found such a large flaw in the flight model in regards to the speeds achievable with the aircraft. On the other hand, you can get around slightly faster and pushing the aircraft up to speeds in excess of Vne still requires you to forcibly do so by leaving the throttle full open and holding the nose level when the Falcon wants to climb. So under normal flying conditions you'll find yourself in the yellow airspeed band almost all the time, but you will never unintentionally overstress the aircraft. Still, it breaks down the overall realistic feel of the aircraft and is unfortunate.

Another thing I want to mention is that you may have noticed throughout this review I was very careful to refer to the different types of Falcons included as "variants" rather than "models". On the Aerosoft product page one of the features states: "All models included".

Certainly different 3D models were made for the FSX Falcon that sported various cockpit/panel layouts and things like rudder tips atop or below the wings - however if you take this statement to refer to "models" as in "manufactured models" as I did, then this feature is inaccurate as there were only two Falcon models produced, the Falcon UL (which is what this product is based off of) and the Falcon XP (a higher-performance model with tandem seating not included in this product).

Even FSX only considers the various Falcons to be variations - only one is displayed when you uncheck the box "Show all variations" at the bottom

 

What I Like About The Falcon

  • Excellent modeling and texture work
  • Environment mapping across all surfaces really places this aircraft "in" the simulation world
  • Soaring capabilities allow for peaceful and pleasant engine-off flight
  • Basic operational needs gets you up and flying quickly - no pages upon pages of checklists!
  • Responsive handling and rigid stability let you have fun maneuvering about and spend more time looking outside the cockpit when you're not.
  • In-cockpit pilot model

 

What I Don't Like About The Falcon

  • Inaccuracies in the flight model allow you to easily exceed airspeed limitations
  • Inaccurate performance numbers in various areas
  • Manual geared only to casual simmers
  • Only one checklist in one unit of measurement when various units are required for various panel layouts
  • Lack of switch click sounds and audible looping in external engine noise
  • Combined aircraft folder lacks descriptions for various 3D models and doesn't allow you to use multiple checklists without manually renaming files
  • Falcon XP model was not included, only Falcon UL

 

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American Aerolites Falcon

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