The TB line of aircraft was introduced in the late 1970's, and about 2200 had been built as of 2003, with almost 80 being constructed each year. The TB’s are built in the Socata factory at Tarbes, in the foothills of the French Pyrenees, and close to the pilgrimage town of Lourdes. The letters "TB" in the name in fact stand for Tarbes; not many people know that. The TB series comprising the TB9 Tampico, TB10 Tobago and TB 20 Trinidad were designed to provide a full range of aircraft types, from a 2-seater trainer at the bottom end to the 4-seater turbo-charged retractible tourer at the top end. Lionheart Creations have chosen to model the Tobago 200GT, an updated model based on the original TB10 which at 75% power cruises at 130 KTAS for a non-stop range of 600 nautical miles; and the TB21 Trinidad GT Turbo, which is equipped with a computer-controlled turbocharger. It is the fastest of all the TB GT's, being able to achieve 190 Knots at 25,000 feet.
When the TB range was introduced to the market, it marked a radical new departure in General Aviation design at that time. The previous generation of Cessna's and Piper's had cockpits that resembled (and arguably still do) the inside of 1960's automobiles - cramped, unattractive and completely unergonomic. The TB's changed all that. Instead of being as narrow as a Mini, the cockpit was now as wide as a Jaguar, so that two large pilots could sit together without literally rubbing shoulders together. Instruments and switches were arranged in a clear and attractive layout within very distinctive "pods". Engine controls were arranged in an airliner-style quadrant rather than being push-pull rods. Access was via distinctive "gull-wing" doors reminiscent of the long-defunct De Lorean automobile. And then of course there's the exterior. Sleek, aerodynamic, stylish, whatever is the opposite of "Spamcan" ("Tin of Foie Gras", perhaps?), that's how you describe the TB's. Overall, Socata's TB range advanced light aircraft design by 30 years at least.
Now if this all sounds like a hymn of praise, you're right, and I do confess to being the one-time owner of a share in a TB10 Tobago, so I can testify to its virtues first-hand. Not that it didn't have its little vices as well, particularly at take-off and landing. We'll come to those later.
Normally as reviewers we describe our experiences of virtual aircraft that we've never flown in real life. Not many of us have ever flown a Hercules or a Concorde or even a 737, so what we do is give an opinion on a piece of simulation software and try to assess, as best we can, the extent to which it matches the real thing. On the rare occasion, though, when we have flown the real thing, then we are making two judgements; what is it like as a piece of software, and does it agree with our real-life experience? So the unfortunate publisher is facing a double test in this situation. But in this case, how well have Lionheart Creations met my considerable expectations?
Installation & Documentation
Installation is via a 63 Mb download, which is then unlocked with a key supplied in return for purchase.
Installation is a very straightforward process, and everything goes in the right place without problem. The only thing that catches the eye is one or two "jokey" items in the Terms and Conditions. I presume they weren't written by a lawyer, because they betray a slight sense of humour. When we go to the Aircraft menu, we find a wide range of authentic Socata liveries for both the TB 200 GT and the TB 21 GT Turbo.
Documentation consists of a one (but very long) page HTML manual, that covers the basics of finding one's way around the cockpit, making the various animations work, and getting up into the air and returning to earth. When I first started to familiarise myself with the aircraft, I opened up the manual in a window alongside a windowed version of FS2004. My ears were then assaulted by the worst music clip I've heard for a long time, an electronic harmony backing track with a human voice that sounded in some pain. I wondered if I had stumbled across a form of undocumented cockpit animation, with the ADF tuned into a nearby VHF "world music" station. I quickly looked for the ADF, changed frequency, and then switched the entire avionics off, but still it persisted. I finally tracked the noise down to a music file that starts up when the Manual is opened. That music file is now in my Recycle Bin - the two were made for each other.
That aside, the Manual is smallish but it is fairly complete, given that this aircraft isn't as complex as a jet or turboprop. However I'd always prefer one in Word or Adobe to one in HTML, simply because then it can have a Table of Contents to allow us to look things up by page number. And there are two things I'd like to see added to it. One is a Checklist. This isn't a complex aircraft, but I definitely wouldn't advise heading off into the wide blue yonder without going through such a list - 300 feet above the runway and a coughing engine is not the time to remember to set the fuel tank lever correctly. The other thing is a table of propellor and manifold settings. The manual says "Adjust your engine RPM to a comfortable pace. If you wish a fast cruise, 75% throttle is recommended" which is fine, except that real-world TB pilots don't go for percentage or "comfort" settings, they go for specific settings (like 24" / 2200 rpm) that give them specific fuel burns, airspeeds and ranges. If a virtual pilot is going to choose this as their aircraft, then they'll want to do it as realistically as possible, and they'll need more information than they are getting.
In real life, the Trinidad and Tobago are extremely nice-looking aircraft, and Lionheart have captured their appearance well. The sleek lines, the smooth body shape, the attractive factory paint schemes are all there. On an Active Camera walk-round I was able to verify that all the bits that should have been there, were there, including the longitudinal strakes under the fuselage, and the small ADF aerial pod that's also underneath.
There are also some very nice animations. The usual "door open" commands cause the signature "gullwing" doors to rise, as well as the baggage door to the side. The FS9 "Wingfold" command in addition lifts off the engine canopy, displaying a Lycoming in all its glory. At this point, looking inside the cockpit or engine compartment reveals a stunning level of detail.
The only things that might cause some confusion are the tie-down ropes and pitot-tube covers. These only disappear when you actually start the engine (at which time the pilot magically appears). Somehow it seems wrong to start the engine when attached to the ground by tie-downs, but it's just a matter of economising on key-strokes, and once you're inside the cockpit anyway, you don't notice them.
This is possibly a plane where you might prefer to use the VC for VFR flying and the 2D cockpit for IFR. Not that there's anything fundamentally wrong with the 2D. It's just that it seems to have been designed for readability, which it achieves perfectly, rather than being able to see over the glareshield. The pictures below will show what I mean. Having said that, I spent almost all my review time in the VC, VMC or IMC, day or night, and it was absolutely fine.
As a representation of a TB 200 or a TB 21 cockpit, it's an almost perfect likeness. Believe me, from many hours sitting inside one, it's about as close as you can get to the real thing. These are very distinctive aircraft for the "pods" that enclose the instrument and avionics clusters, and these "pods" have a very characteristic bumpy surface. Lionheart have captured this perfectly, with just the right textures and effects, especially in the VC. It's uncannily real.
The 2D panel doesn't quite fit in the screen, so there are some icons for moving around, but they are obvious and easy to use, so if you prefer 2D, and don't mind the limited visibility over the top, you'll like it. Using the numeric pad on the RHS of your keyboard, it's possible to use 2-key combinations that give you access to a variety of outside views. But for me the VC cockpit is where it comes into its own. As the happy owner of a newly-acquired TrackIR, this is where it really scores. The TB series have ergonomically-excellent cockpits anyway, but there's something about the pilot's position and the size of the cockpit in the VC that makes looking around the inside intuitive and operating it effortless. And it's equally realistic, day or night.
The instrument and avionics fit in both aircraft is as it is in real life. If you "only" fly a TB200, then the TB 21 gets the salivary glands working overtime, with no less than two separate GPS units, not to mention a full 3-axis autopilot including "altitude select". The TB 200 has no "altitude select", and no GPS within the centre pod, but apart from that, and the obvious absence of a working gear lever, it's the same. The TB 200 GPS appears in front of you with the right key depression, more or less as it might in real life. (We used to have ours in a rotating bracket suspended from the ceiling.).
To help you get around the panel, there are tooltips for identifying everything, together with the actual readout where it's a dial or a gauge. The one thing you won't find in the 2D, which is in the VC, is the trim wheel, which you will need to check its setting for takeoff.
It's a pleasure to sit in this cockpit. The only complaint I have is that when looking out at the landing light on the end of the left wing, it looks like a "bunny's tail" that's just been stuck on, rather than a light shining from within the housing. I'm sure Lionheart could fix that!
So how does it fly, and how does it compare to the real thing?
Very well, and very well. But I mentioned earlier that these aircraft do have their little vices. They display them on takeoff and landing, and result from their slightly unusual wing and tailplane geometry. So what happens is that on takeoff, you have to set the trim wheel to the takeoff setting, which is quite nose-up (and that's why you need to go to the VC to do this). This trim setting means that you don't have to pull too hard on the yoke to get it to rotate, as you would otherwise. But it also means that after rotation, the nose will continue to pitch up. If you don't trim forward smartly, you could eventually end up stalling, and you'll be late home for dinner. The flip side of this coin is on landing. The manual says that "Your wings will cause ground effect (a cushion of air) and your Tobago will gently float to the tarmac." Don't you believe it. Yes, it is a low-wing aircraft, and yes, the laws of aerodynamics say that it should float in ground effect, but this plane never got round to reading that book, and it lands with all the elegance of an overweight pelican. I have spent infinitely more time in a high-wing Cessna 172, floating along the runway and praying for it to land, especially in a crosswind, than I ever have in a low-wing TB10. It wants to get down to the ground as though it had a "hot date" waiting in the hangar, and it needs a lot of back-pressure to achieve anything approaching smoothness.
And I'm very pleased to say that Lionheart's TB 200 and TB 21simulate both of these behaviours very well. Both the pitch-up after takeoff, and the desire to land heavily. So that part of the flight model is bang-on. But how about the general behaviour up in the air? As I said earlier, it's a shame that the manual doesn't include the full range of propellor and manifold settings, because one of the pleasures of flying these aircraft is getting them just right. So I dug out my old set of numbers, and tried to see how they matched up with this simulation. And there the flight model proved its worth,because I constantly got within 10% of the numbers for airspeed, consumption, and rate of climb. Similarly the stall speed with gear and full flaps was very close to the calculated 59 knots, with a vicious nose-down break that is so typical of the real thing.
The sound set brought no surprises, it's that typical Lycoming growl that we all know and love. So I can honestly say that flying this virtual aircraft is as near as you can get to reality, while still sitting in front of a screen. And that includes the "little vices"!
Performance and Quality
Compared to the default FS9 Cessna 182, I measured a 25% reduction in frame rates in the VC, and 10% in the 2D cockpit. However frame rates remained comfortably above my 24 fps limit.
In my view, Lionheart's rendition of the Socata TB family is excellent. As virtual aircraft, they are a joy to look at, to sit in, and to fly. From my personal experience, they are an uncannily close simulation of the real thing. What more can I say? This is one plane that will definitely stay in my collection. Lionheart are currently working on an FSX version, and it's definitely one of the first aircraft that I will be trying out in that new environment. It's a pleasure I'm looking forward to.
|What I Like About the Lionheart Trinidad and Tobago|
|What I Don't Like About the Lionheart Trinidad and Tobago|
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