AVSIM Commercial FSX Aircraft Review

A2A Simulations Piper J3 Cub With Accu-Sim

Product Information

Publishers:  A2A Simulations

Description: Single engine General Aviation tail dragger add-on + Accu-Sim flight model enhancement.

Download Size:
Cub - 169 MB / Accu-Sim - 99 MB

Format:
Download
Simulation Type:
FSX + SP2
Reviewed by: Jeff Shyluk AVSIM Senior Staff Reviewer - December 23, 2009

DISCLAIMER: The high level of realism in the A2A Piper J3 Cub allows users to simulate many real-world aviation procedures. Some of the procedures I will describe can be extremely dangerous outside of simulation. In no way is this review to be used as a guide on how to attempt these procedures on a real aircraft! This review is intended for entertainment and educational purposes only, and only for virtual aviation in FSX!

FOREWORD: My Personal Ode To The FSX Piper Cub

The default FSX Piper J3 Cub in all its glory. This class of aircraft is known as a "tail dragger", since one of the landing gear is mounted on the aft end of the tail. Tail draggers have a distinct tail-down nose-up aspect when on the ground.

Even before I became involved with AVSIM, I've been asked which is my favourite virtual aircraft to fly. I figure most people would expect me to choose one of the big Boeing passenger jets, or maybe a fighter craft. It seemed to me one of the best ways to kill a conversation on the topic of flight sim was to admit the truth: I've always loved the Piper J3 Cub in MS Flight Simulator the most. To be fair, every person who asked me this question has had their eyes glaze over in a completely unique and individual way. Only recently have I ever found sim pilots who would agree with me that the most fun in MSFS is flying very low and very slow. For my part, I was very excited when I heard the news that A2A Simulations was re-working the Piper Cub.

If I have to, I can come up with anecdotes to entertain the devotees of the FMC. For instance, 64 is a good number to use for FUEL ECON. But in my heart, I don't want to spend diluted hours diagnosing DISCO's in my flight plan, or poring over a poker hand of STARS for Frankfurt-Main. I want to get off the ground and fly into the sky as soon as I possibly can. I want to be stretching my wings to soar like a bird; I want my hands and feet firmly on the controls, and for those controls to be directly connected to wings and tail. That's my personal bias right there. I don't expect sim captains to agree with me, especially if they are fond of flying intercontinental great circle routes in their tricked-out jumbo jet. Some of my favourite flights are shorter than the wingspan of the new A380!

Here is what I like about the Piper Cub in FSX. I bring this up because I think these points are also valid when discussing the A2A Cub later in this article:

1) You just fly it. You don't have to manage any computerized controls. There aren't even any flaps to get jammed. If you give her gas, she goes, and when you don't she stops. Pull back on the stick and the houses get smaller. Push forward and they get bigger. Left and right moves you around the compass. If you get lost, just look out the window. It's simple and elemental flying, about as close to bird flight as we can get. I like that!

2) Challenge is there if you want it. The Piper J3 Cub is perhaps best described as "docile" in flight. It easily flies level and mostly straight. It's very forgiving of many mistakes. It's difficult to stall under most conditions. It's an ideal aircraft for practicing the fundamentals of flight: maintaining a level profile and trim, using coordinated turns, ascent and descent.

However, the Cub is a tail dragger. A tail dragger is an aircraft with two large landing gear in the front of the aircraft just abaft of the engine, and a third smaller gear at the end of the tail. By comparison, a Cessna 172 is a tricycle aircraft with all three gear under the center of gravity somewhere below the wing. Tricycle gear is easier to touch down because you don't have to worry so much about where the tail goes as you land.

Tail draggers like the Piper Cub do get led by the tail sometimes. Crosswinds will foul a tail dragger because its tail is usually much larger than that of a tricycle gear aircraft. Frequently, a Cub will "crab" in the wind: you fly at an angle into the wind to get to your next waypoint. Sometimes it almost looks like you are flying sideways, hence the crab-wise motion. What's worse is if the tail gets pushed into the wrong direction while you are on the ground. This results in a "ground loop". Sometimes a ground loop can be embarrassing, but it can also be dangerous if it causes a wing to strike the earth.

So to fully get into flying a tail dragger, you have to use some real human reflexes to fly your plane. "George" the autopilot is not along for any flight in a J3 Cub!

Tail dragger gear does have advantages over tricycle gear: you have greater control over your landing technique. You can land in a traditional flare on two wheels, or you can stick a three-wheel landing (a "three-pointer"). Three point landings usually take up less runway than a flare. If you stall your three pointer just right, your wings will act as air brakes and bring you to a stop almost like landing a helicopter. If you become an expert with the Cub, you can make some very short and precise two-point landings, though. You could land a J3 Cub in a ridiculously short piece of earth: a fairway on a golf course, a baseball field, a river bank, a hill top, maybe even a large front yard. A runway provides an almost luxurious amount of space to land a Cub.

3) As good as the Piper Cub was in FS9, it's even better in FSX. The Piper Cub got a lot of love from the developers who remade it for FSX from FS9. The FS9 version is riddled with polygonal holes in the visual model that were hidden from view as long as the pilot view was centered. A TrackIR showed all of the nasty rendering shortcuts in the virtual cockpit. The FSX version looks much better than the FS9 version, and it sounds and flies well, too. I think it's the ideal aircraft for using a TrackIR. You can even open the passenger door mid-flight and look down at the ground! All this goodness and the FSX Piper Cub is sweet on frame rates to boot. Who could ask for anything more?

INTRODUCTION: Out With The Old, In With The New

The A2A Simulations Piper J3 Cub. At first glance, it looks like the default FSX version, but you will quickly find the A2A version has many improvements.

As much as I appreciate the look and handling of the FSX Piper J3 Cub, it turns out that there is still a large gap between the virtual model and the real thing. For example, the stall point is critically important to making short-field landings. In FSX, the languid handling at cruise holds over to the edges of the flight envelope. It's hard to get a realistic stall out of FSX, and other low-speed manoeuvres like the slip (the controls stick and the rudder pressed hard in opposite directions) make the Cub feel like it's running on invisible rails.

Even worse, the center of gravity (CG) in the FSX Cub is unrealistic. Shocked gasps from the crowd! The CG is more than a nitpick, though. Real Cub pilots make the effort to carefully balance their rides. Fifty extra pounds over the tail will make it heavy enough to keep it from sailing into a messy ground loop, especially just after landing. Put the CG too far forward, and you risk the tail becoming too light. You also compound the chance that the aircraft becomes too nose-heavy, which can buy you a nasty prop strike. The 65 horsepower engine is enough (not by much) to get the Cub airborne, but it's no miracle worker. Overload the Cub and bad things will happen.

The FSX model just does not have the nuances that the Cub drivers come to expect. It is very good for learning the basics of handling a tail dragger, and a forgiving aircraft for learning pilotage. I love it for sight-seeing, as it's a stable virtual camera platform for screenshots, so long as the winds are gentle. But for those sim pilots that want more realism, there is now the Piper J3 Cub by A2A Simulations.

A2A Simulations' Piper J3 Cub. Here is a new version of the Piper Cub that comes crammed with enough refinements and features for two add-ons, let alone one. Truth be told, the full A2A Piper Cub experience really is two add-ons, both of which are integrated into a whole. The base add-on is the Cub itself, complete with superior quality looks, sounds, and handling. You can also purchase at a low price the Accu-Sim package which launches the A2A Piper Cub up to a new plane of excellence -- pun intended.

Accu-Sim Overview. Accu-Sim enhances the handling and flight systems of the Piper Cub. The base Cub add-on takes Microsoft flight sim technology as far as it can go, but there are limitations. Accu-Sim throws out the Microsoft simulation model, and re-writes the way FSX handles the Cub. For example, airflow from the prop now washes over the tail. This means that the elevators and rudder work better when the propeller is at top speed. You can even "stand" the Cub on its front wheels by gunning the throttle and holding the brakes. Air flow will lift the tail off the ground even as the rest of the aircraft is holding still.

With Accu-Sim, the engine becomes a series of interconnected systems. With FSX, fuel and air flow into the engine are abstracted. Accu-Sim creates connected systems within the engine. Fuel is modeled in the tanks, but also in the fuel lines and in the cylinders. Cutting off fuel with the prop spinning will quickly drain your fuel lines. If the lines are dry, the engine will never start even if there is fuel in the tank. You have to then use the engine primer to pump fuel back into the lines.

One of the many diagrams in the Accu-Sim manual. You will need to study the manual to get the most out of your A2A Cub. This image is courtesy of A2A Simulations.

Air also needs to flow into the engine. The carburetor heat switch in the FSX Cub is a novelty that will suck back five percent of your RPM (revolutions per minute, a measurement of engine output). In the Accu-Sim version, that little switch commands royal attention. Your carb will ice up on a dare, meaning that you need to keep the heat on as much as you can. Leaving the heat on all the time, though, strains your engine and can introduce debris from unfiltered air. The compromise is to turn the switch on and off, avoiding carb heat when you are on the ground to avoid sucking dirt into the engine.

Here's the thing: you can be lazy with the carb heat switch and chances are you won't fall out of the sky. Accu-Sim keeps track of your engine's operation over time, though. If you are hard on your engine, you are likely to see signs of increased wear and tear in the future. Issues crop up like less efficient cylinder compression, loss of top RPM, misfires, oil leakage, or even catastrophic engine failure. Fortunately, you can re-set your engine to factory specifications with the press of a button.

The Piper Cub may seem simple and unsophisticated compared to other aircraft. The physics that keeps the J3 Cub aloft can fill a volume of books, and A2A faithfully models as much of that as possible. Accu-Sim fills in many subtle details as well as a few obvious ones to make the Piper Cub as realistic a flying experience as can be had with FSX.

INSTALLATION & DOCUMENTATION: There's No Such Thing As Too Big A Manual

Test System

Intel Core 2 CPU 6600 @2.40GHz x2
2 GB RAM
NVIDIA geForce 8800GT Superclocked Edition
RealTek AC'97 Audio
Win XP SP3, FSX + Acceleration
Thrustmaster Top Gun Afterburner II
Logitech MX Revolution Laser Mouse
MS Digital Media Pro Keyboard
Saitek Pro Flight Rudder Pedals
TrackIR4:PRO
TrackClip PRO
XBOX 360 Controller
DBS Walk And Follow
Zinertek Ultimate Weather

Baseline FPS: 45

FPS in Review: 35

Flying Time:
40+ hours

The A2A Simulations Piper J3 Cub has two parts. The Cub is the basic package, and the Accu-Sim module adds on to that. You can certainly use the basic Cub on its own without the Accu-Sim package, but in my review I will primarily be looking at both parts as a whole.

Download file size. The Piper Cub on its own is a download of 169 MB. The Accu-Sim module is a separate download of 99 MB. There is also a patch and a hot fix as of this writing. The patch takes up another 65 MB, and the hot fix will need another 2 MB. Math whizzes will know that the A2A Cub will take up about 335 MB of hard drive space in total.

Installation. Installing the Cub involves clicking on the auto-installer. The installer will seek out your FSX folder and drop the Cub into the correct folders on its own. I did find the dialogue box for the installer a little confusing. Trust the default options, and the installer should work just fine. I first installed the Cub, then Accu-Sim, then the patch and the hot fix. That's four separate clicks. Installation is fast, so you should be ready to go in a snap.

After installation, FSX will ask you to accept two new .DLL files that have been installed. If you accept them, you won't have to deal with the .DLL install dialogue again.

Piper Cub Manual. If you are a thorough sim pilot, the most time-consuming part of the installation process is going through the manual. The manual for the Cub is a .PDF file that gets installed along with the aircraft. This manual is large, weighing in at 128 pages!

Don't get me wrong: I firmly believe that there is no such thing as a manual that is too big. The A2A Piper Cub manual is a big, long, satisfying read. But, you say, it's just a Piper Cub! Why is the manual so big for such a simple aircraft? I say, why not? The real manual for a SR-71 Blackbird runs to around 1052 pages (Issue E Change 2). That's roughly eight times bigger than the A2A Cub manual. So, assuming that the Blackbird is eight times more complex than the Piper Cub, the page count would be about right.

These images from the manual show off some of the features of the A2A Piper J3 Cub. This image is courtesy of A2A Simulations.

The manual was written by Mr. Mitchell Glicksman, an experienced Piper Cub pilot as well as a veteran of the F-105 Thunderchief. Mr. Glicksman approached writing the manual with zeal and an obvious love for the Cub. A large part of the document is a detailed history of the Cub, both from the point of view of historical research as well as Mr. Glicksman's personal experiences.

Although some of the writing gets technical and dense, overall the manual is an easy and fun read. Like any good flight in a Piper Cub, the manual does not always take the most direct path to its endpoint. There are frequent digressions and amusing asides. Even so, the information is valuable.

The history of the Piper J3 Cub is researched in detail; down to the mystery of how the Cub got its "J3" designation (it's a debatable mystery, though!). Mr. Glicksman recounts the development of the Cub, even giving street addresses for the factories that originally built the little yellow plane. A quick search of on-line maps shows that these landmarks of aviation history are now parking lots and highway on-ramps for the most part.

The Piper Cub is one of those classic airframes that has been refined many times over through modifications. A2A models a Cub towards the end of its production cycle in 1947, although some parts are modernized. We don't get to see the modified PA-11 "Cub Special" or the more powerful "SuperCub" in this package, just pure Piper Cub goodness. We do get some different landing gear with the A2A Cub, which reflect the usefulness the Cub has in wilderness flying. Specifically, the A2A Cub comes with standard wheel gear, floats for water landings, oversized tires for tundra landings, and skis for landing on snow and ice. The manual provides excellent advice on how to handle the Cub with each of these gear, and some insight on how good bush pilots operate.

Each and every usable device that is modeled in the A2A Cub gets at least a paragraph of explanation, if not a back story or an anecdote as well. We learn not just how an instrument is support to work, but why it works and how it got included into the Cub cockpit.

Accu-Sim Manual. If you purchase Accu-Sim, you will get another manual. The Accu-Sim manual is 48 pages long. Mostly, it illustrates the advancements and tweaks that Accu-sim makes to the A2A Piper Cub model. Notable enhancements include "Heidi" the interactive passenger, how to hand start the Cub (yes, you actually grip the prop and give it a spin!), how to manually tow your aircraft into position or row it with a paddle if you are on floats, how to set the cabin temperature, and how to maintain the engine to keep it running at its best. Most of the Accu-Sim procedures are covered in the A2A Piper Cub manual. The Accu-Sim manual looks at the enhanced features from the point of view of the developer. It's interesting reading.

FLIGHT MODEL (With Accu-Sim): The Reason You Spend That Extra Money On Good Controls

Well, what can I say here? The flight model for the A2A Piper Cub is one of the best I have ever flown in simulation, if not the absolute best. I like the default flight models for the FSX aircraft, in that you get a lot of value and variety for what you pay for. The aircraft in the Acceleration add-on are even better. But let's face it, now that developers have had the chance to work with FSX for a couple of years, the level of quality for most add-ons has seen tremendous improvement. Some add-ons are towering achievements in virtual aviation design. Take any or all of those stellar products and give them bronze and silver medals, my friends, because there is a new number one gold medal winner on the top of the all-star podium, and that's the A2A Piper Cub with Accu-Sim.

Now, the A2A Cub is not perfectly perfect. It does have some small issues which I will get to, but it does so many things right, the virtual model should be in the Smithsonian along with the real Cub. It even does things right that I never knew were wrong in flight sim.

Or, let's put it this way: we get used to the quirks in FSX because that's the way things are in the sim. That does not mean that there isn't room for improvement. The A2A manual suggests this scenario: what if you tossed a tennis ball and it stuck to the ground without bouncing? There's something missing with the tennis ball in this case, call it bounce, or realism, or whatever. The basics of ball motion and gravity are there, but you don't get everything. After a while, you just get used to what you are presented with, and you don't always know what is missing.

Now what if you went through FSX and found as many as you could of those bits and pieces of flight sim code that were missing their "bounce"? What if you could find ways of programming that extra realism into each line of flight model code? That's the difference I saw with Accu-Sim. There are routines and codes in FSX that are rendered as abstract concepts. Fuel, air flow, and electrical systems come to mind. You never see any rendered fuel in flight sim, but you know it's there because of your instruments. Accu-Sim makes fuel a dynamic and liquid resource. Fuel now takes up space in the engine, and must be combined with air and a spark of electricity to make the engine go. Hot air versus cold air versus filtered air and non-filtered air are now all important considerations when you adjust the carburetor heat switch. Even the spark is critical: how good of shape are your magnetos in? Is your engine stressed and prone to misfiring? These are the kind of things Accu-Sim brings to the A2A Piper Cub, and many more.

Pre-flight. FSX typically starts a flight with the engines running, the fuel tank full, and you are ready to go. It's not hard to tweak a flight to start differently, such as a "cold and dark" cockpit with all systems shut down. Even so, A2A makes it easier than ever to set the parameters of your pre-flight checklist.

The Piper Cub comes with a set of pop-up menus that simulate the loading, ground handling, and maintenance of your aircraft. As well, there are custom camera views that give you the "pilot's eye view" of certain parts of the Cub that would require the most attention. Combine these views and the menus, and you have the ability to fully simulate pre-flight procedures for the Cub.

Here are some of the custom menus. They light up at night. Also, I have adjusted the transparency and overlapped them to show off the effect. You can make the menus 100% transparent, which makes them at once highly pellucid (there's your new word for the day) and silly. To misquote the cult movie "Time Bandits", so that's what the invisible menu looks like!

I should also note that you can make the menus as transparent as you like, so that you can see other stuff while you work. You can even make the menus completely transparent, which is both silly and incredibly annoying. I can't think of any good reason to make the menus totally transparent, except in the situation where you feel you have to try it out in an AVSIM review. You know, to make sure the review is comprehensive. The result of making the menu transparent is that you absolutely cannot see it anymore. If you do want to see it again, you have to hunt around the screen with your mouse until you hit the transparency control hot button. Either don't make the menus 100% transparent, or wait for another patch that puts in a limiter to the transparency control.

Better still, instead of a transparency control, I would have liked to have seen a hot button to simply close the screen or minimize it. I end up right-clicking on the window and using the close command to get rid of the screen. It all seems a little awkward, given the attention to detail for the rest of the add-on.

The menus get darker late in the simulated day or night. If you ever find yourself flying at night, you can use the "L" key to light up the menus, making them easier to read. I don't have a multi-monitor setup, so I don't know if you can pull the menus onto another screen. I would guess this is possible, as you can move the menus around using click and drag.

I would like to see clickable cockpit icons for bringing up or closing these menus. The default aircraft all use an array of dashboard icons that are very visual, but not realistic. Other developers hide the icons in the clutter of the cockpit: click on the fuel gauge and the fuel pump window pops up, or click on a screw to arm the TOGA switch, or something along those lines. The A2A menus are very useful, but you have to either set up custom keystrokes, memorize the default keystrokes, or go through the FSX ALT menu to get at the Cub menus. None of these solutions are as elegant as being able to click on an icon, in my opinion.

Maintenance Hangar. This menu represents a quick consultation with your mechanic. You get a fair idea of how your engine is doing and how many hours you have flown your aircraft. With Accu-Sim, your engine will age from factory new down to completely worn out. As your engine ages, you should notice changes in its sound, performance, and behaviour. Once your engine has broken down or worn out, you will need to overhaul it.

The Maintenance Hangar menu.

Fortunately, all engine repairs are just a click on the "Overhaul" button in the Maintenance menu. There is no penalty or cost for overhauls. If you want a fresh engine every flight, just overhaul it before you take off.

Your engine life should last either 300 hours (12 1/2 days) or 1,800 hours (75 days). The former option greatly accelerates engine wear for sim pilots who would not expect to get in 1800 hours of flying time.

My experience with engine life has been negative, though. In my first twelve hours with the Cub, I've had to overhaul the engine three times already. I get a note from the mechanic saying that the engine has suffered a "rare and sudden failure", without explaining any more than that. Yes, I've been flying my Cub very hard, trying to push the boundaries of simulation. However, I would expect a brand new engine to last more than a few hours at a time. Crashing the Cub reduces the life of the engine considerably, which seems logical. Even a prop strike will probably be enough to warrant an overhaul.

Payload & Fuel Manager. This menu allows you direct control over how you load your aircraft. It's a little like the fuel and load manager in FSX, except that you can run it while inside your aircraft. You have a total weight for your aircraft will change depending on your load. According to the manual, the MTOW (Maximum Take-Off Weight) for the Cub is 1,220 pounds. The default weight of the A2A Cub is 1,015 pounds, which includes 72 pounds of fuel (12 gallons), one gallon of oil (I am guessing 6 pounds), and a trim pilot who weighs 170. If you emptied the Cub out completely, it weighs 766 pounds.

The Payload & Fuel Manager menu. Here I have loaded the MTOW of 1,220 lbs.

You can adjust your fuel load with a simple pushbutton system. You can also adjust the pilot weight to suit your own needs. You can add up to 20 pounds of baggage, which I assume gets stowed aft. I like to load the tail with as much weight as I can to make handling easier. Finally, you can add a lady passenger A2A has nicknamed "Heidi". Without Accu-sim, Heidi is just a source of weight and a visual model. With Accu-Sim, Heidi reacts to your handling of the aircraft and makes comments about the flight. I promise to tell more about Heidi later in my review.

The Payload menu also allows you to make easy maintenance fixes to your aircraft. The Radio button will allow you to instantly recharge the batteries on your hand-held radio (the Piper Cub has no electrical system). You can also check your engine oil level and condition, and swap out old oil for new as needed.

Lastly, you can ask for either Imperial units (which I have shown here) or Metric.

I wish the MTOW was displayed in this menu. A large sim pilot will take up a lot of the available weight, and if Heidi loves her Fettucini Ala Carbonara, it's easy to go over MTOW. Unfortunately, the aircraft specifics are not at all mentioned on the Kneeboard view, so you have to consult the manual or look up a Piper Cub on the Internet to get the correct MTOW.

For a small, lightweight, low horsepower aircraft like the Cub, weight management is critical. Not only does the weight have to be within tolerances, it also must not upset the CG (Center of Gravity). That's why solo Cub pilots usually sit in the back seat. If the pilot sat up front, the CG would shift too far forward and the Cub would be nose heavy. A nose heavy Cub would be prone to ground loops as the best case and prop strikes and nose hits on the ground as the worst. This is where the FSX Piper Cub fails, in that it always seems nose heavy. The A2A Cub provides much greater control over the CG, making for better handling, especially on the ground.

Controls Menu. Also known as "Mini Controls", this menu gives you a wide selection of controls for your Cub. The menu is broken down into two parts: MISC. and INFO., although I think there's a bunch of INFO in MISC and vice versa. It doesn't matter, it's all good.

MISC.: Here you can find the Tie Down control, which is used to secure your lightweight aircraft to concrete ballasts on the ground to keep it from blowing away in the wind when you are not using it. Tie Down has nothing to do with keeping Heidi in her seat, so don't even think about that. If anything, Tie Down is roughly like setting your parking brake, only more primitive.

The Controls Menu. Some controls are ghosted out depending on the situation. You may also choose to turn off Accu-Sim if you have it installed. A tied down Cub is moored to some concrete ballast. This functions like a parking brake. Note the tail elevators are up, this is because I've wrapped the seatbelt around the joystick.
We recycle old tires for use as chocks. As my hero Red Green says: "If the women don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy." Wrapping the seatbelt around the joystick locks the controls. No, you can't use this as a cheap autopilot.

ou can use the Lock Controls button, which has you wrapping your seatbelt around the control stick to keep it from moving. Again, this is for storage, it's definitely not a primitive form of autopilot. Even if you wanted to try this in flight, the Lock Controls button is ghosted out if the engine is running or if the Cub is in the air.

You can operate the Carb Heat and Fuel Valve switches from this menu, which can be handy when you don't want to reach these out-of-the-way controls with the mouse and you don't want to set them up with custom key strokes.

You may also adjust the cockpit heater, which is just the thing to keep you from freezing on cold winter flights. Heidi with Accu-Sim will tell you how uncomfortable she is if you don't maintain a liveable cockpit temperature. The cabin heat mechanism is just a vent that shoots hot filtered air from the engine into the cabin, it's not an electrical coil. Many Piper Cubs, especially those built before 1947, won't have a cockpit heater, so this is a bit of a luxury. There is also a cabin heat knob on the dashboard, but sometimes using the menu control is easier.

If you like, you can put sunglasses on the visual models of Heidi and the male pilot figure using the MISC menu. This has no effect on how the Cub flies. It's just personal preference.

Lastly, you can use the menu to operate the Water Rudder. This is a small steerable plank that dips into the water for pontoon-equipped Cubs, and helps to steer the aircraft at low speeds.

The Mini Controls Menu allows you to put sunglasses on the pilot and/or the passenger as you see fit. A view of the water rudder. Note the canoe paddle. If you have Accu-Sim, you can use the paddle to row your Cub around. No fooling!

INFO.: At the top of the INFO menu are the thermometers. One records OAT (Outside Air Temperature), the other shows cabin temperature. Both thermometers read in Celsius and Fahrenheit scale. Since the cockpit area has a lot of glass and the engine puts out some heat, the cabin can get hot very quickly in sunny weather.

If you have Accu-Sim, you can use the extremely helpful Hand Tow. A Pier Cub is too small to need a tractor for pushback or for moving short distances on the ground without power. You can just pick up the tail and roll the Cub where you want her to go. A2A simulates this with the Hand Tow device. Simply click on an arrow, and the Cub will move in the desired direction at the speed you'd expect from somebody pushing the aircraft.

The Engine Autostart is the same as the CTRL-E key to safely start your Cub. Since there are no electrical systems in a Cub, the engine must be hand-cranked and started manually. At many airports, this procedure is becoming a lost art. Some places prohibit hand starting. The reason is if you don't know precisely what you are doing, you can be seriously injured by the spinning prop. I'll discuss hand-starts later in my review.

Likewise, Engine Auto-Shutdown safely kills the engine. With Accu-sim, its possible to stop the engine several ways. The manual recommends turning off the magnetos, which obliterates the spark in the cylinders. Cutting off the fuel switch will also stop the engine, but this will make the engine more difficult to hand start later.

Pressing Cold Start will turn off all of the systems in your Cub. If you want to attempt a hand start from the cold position, you will have to follow all of the procedures published in the manual.

Lastly, for Accu-Sim users, there is a switch to turn Accu-Sim on and off. That way you do not have to uninstall Accu-Sim if you are planning a flight where you don't want to use it. Also with Accu-sim, there is a volume slider switch that adjusts the loudness of the custom-made Piper Cub sound effects.

Hand Starts. If you wish to start your A2A Piper J3 Cub from cold and dark, you can attempt a hand start. On a real Piper Cub, there are no electrical systems: no battery, and certainly no electrical start switch. You need to crank the propeller a few times to get fuel, oil, and air into the engine cylinders. A magneto provides the spark to light the fuel. Basically, a magneto is the reverse of an electromagnet. Physical force pushes powerful magnets past a coil to induce a charge. This charge is brief, but powerful - a spark. The initial physical force to push the magneto comes from human power. Hopefully you had a good breakfast before you try hand-starting your Cub.

After the fuel is ignited by the spark, the internal combustion cycle should begin, and the magneto spark will be driven by the repetitive inertial motion of the engine. The big advantage of magnetos over electrically-powered starters is that the magneto needs no battery to function. Magnetos are also extremely reliable, which is why you still see them in contemporary aircraft as a back-up system. Magnetos do not always function well for high-performance engines where the spark timing may need to be adjusted. They work just fine with the slow-flying Cub.

The problem these days is finding somebody willing to crank the prop of a Piper Cub. If possible, the pilot should avoid doing the cranking. The moment the engine is engaged, the propeller spins very rapidly and can do great damage to anybody or anything in its arc. Many mechanics don't want to risk personal injury hand cranking a Piper Cub.

The A2A version with Accu-Sim automatically provides someone brave enough to hand start the Piper Cub every time: you. The good news is that you will never get injured hand starting the A2A Cub.

To perform the hand start, you need to set the fuel feed to ON. Fuel may flow into the engine, but if it does not, you can use the priming knob to pump fuel up the line. Lean on the foot brakes (If there was a mechanic, he or she would call "Brakes!". There are no call-outs in the A2A Cub, but I will include them for interest.). "Switch off!" Turn the magnetos to their OFF position. Open the throttle to idle. A Cub doesn't have the power to roll on its own on flat ground on idle. Even so, stay on the brakes.

This is the custom camera view for a hand start. The word "propeller" is a tool-tip icon. Accu-Sim users can use the mouse to give the prop a crank and start the engine by hand.

Now switch to the custom Hand Start camera view. You will be in position to crank the propeller. You can grab the prop with your mouse. Click and drag down slowly to move the prop blade. It's like grabbing it with your own hand! Pull the prop down through four revolutions or so. You will hear a squish on each compression stroke, which means the carburetor is primed with fuel.

"Switch on!" Turn the magnetos to BOTH (ON). With the prop pointing at about 45 degrees to the ground, grab on to the blade with your mouse, and yank it downward. In real life, this cranking and pulling would require some force, but with the A2A version, it's easy. You will hear the magnetos click as they make sparks, and the shuffling squish of the compression stroke. "Contact!" Possibly the prop will catch on the first attempt. Usually, I found that it did. Sometimes, I needed to make a second attempt. Once, the prop caught after a brief pause, just as I was reaching out to grab it and give it another pull. Although this is just simulation, that attempt sure made me feel a lot more cautious about hand starting a Cub. If it were a real aircraft, I doubt I would be typing many reviews for AVSIM for a good long time.

Be aware that to hand-start the A2A Piper Cub, you need to have Accu-Sim installed. Interestingly, you can grab and pull the propeller without Accu-Sim. However, the advanced internal engine modeling would be absent, and so cranking would have no effect.

Air Starts. Since I have gone into detail with hand starts, I may as well discuss air starts. Again, this is one of those dangerous things you can do in a Cub that you should avoid doing if at all possible. However, in flight sim there's no real harm in trying an air start.

The idea of an air start is similar to a hand start. You need to crank the prop to get the engine going. This time, however, you are already airborne. If for some reason during flight you lose engine power, you can attempt an air start. In level gliding, the propeller will windmill to a stop. You need to add some dive to increase the Cub's airspeed. Accu-Sim simulates the flow of air over the prop. With the boost in airspeed from a gentle dive, the prop should start to spin again. As it does, you can jiggle the magneto switch and if there is nothing wrong with your engine, it should roar back to life. As before, this only works with Accu-Sim installed.

Mt. Rushmore Adventure. DISCLAIMER: Do not ever attempt this outside of Flight Simulator!!! This is for entertainment purposes only, and is not for real world piloting. And it's stupid! But it was fun..

My question: could I air start an A2A Piper Cub by dropping it off a cliff? I chose the historic face of Mt. Rushmore because it's the most famous cliff I could think of at the moment. The hard part was getting an aircraft on top of the monument in FSX. First of all, it's a mountain and the air is rare up there. I cheated by boosting the barometric pressure as high as it can go in FSX. That's 35 inches Hg at sea level, if you are curious. That way, the Cub could get enough air for lift, otherwise it would never make the journey.

Screenshot proof of air starting a Piper Cub off the peak of Mount Rushmore. If you are curious, it took me three hours to set up that one shot. Next time I will try to get the lighting better. DISCLAIMER: This is for entertainment purposes only, and not for real world piloting!

Landing was not easy, either. I saved several approaches before I finally hit one where the brakes held and I could stop the motor. I was not pointing anywhere near where I wanted to go, but that was not a problem. I used the Hand Tow feature to reposition the aircraft. As an aside, this is the point where I discovered a bug where if the force of gravity greatly overcomes the direction you are pulling the Cub, SimConnect crashes FSX. This can happen if you are trying to pull the Cub up the face of Mt. Rushmore, for example. It's an uncommon situation, though, so I am not going to worry about waiting for A2A to patch this.

Once I had the aircraft in position, I primed the engine, switched on the magnetos and let go of the brakes. I was aiming for the logical gap between Presidents Lincoln and Roosevelt, but the terrain was very bumpy and the tundra tires bounced me to the left. Without engine power, I had no rudder steering, and the differential brakes did little to alter my course. Sir Isaac Newton was in control, and I was shooting past Mr. Lincoln's ear.

Suddenly, I slipped over the cliff and immediately I wished it was a lot taller. I pushed the nose down to grab some airspeed. A flat glide won't generate enough airflow to budge the propeller. As the trees loomed large in my view, the prop finally started to windmill. I believe I heard the magnetos click, and then the engine coughed to life. I missed hitting a large pine tree by maybe a couple of feet -- I had to review my leap several times in Replay to be sure!

So, yes, you can definitely air start the A2A Piper Cub by dropping it off a cliff. Should you do it? I say no. But if you try it (and you promise never ever to try this in a real aircraft!!!) it's a real blast.

Taxi. Using the Payload Manager, you can fine-tune to an extent the CG of your Piper J3 Cub. This aircraft is very sensitive to shifts in CG. I prefer to make the A2A Cub as tail heavy as I can. The heavier the tail, the easier the Cub seems to be to taxi and land. The extra weight helps to prevent ground loops. If you've flown the default FSX Cub, you probably have seen the ground loop.

I found A2A Piper Cub much easier to taxi than the default FSX Cub. It's not nearly as skittish. Being a tail dragger, the nose is high, which blocks your forward view. Likewise, if you are carrying Heidi, she blocks your forward view as well. To taxi and see ahead at the same time, you have to perform a series of S-turns. You weave left and right and look out of the side to see ahead. This is normal for tail draggers and not difficult in the A2A Cub. It's even easier with a TrackIR or other head-tracking device. Even without a head tracker, A2A provides "Lean Left" and "Lean Right" camera views that simulate where you need to look as you make your S-turns.

During normal taxi, forward visibility is blocked by the Cub's nose and your passenger's head. Choose to "lean left" or "lean right" using one of the provided custom camera views, and you will see any obstacles in your way. If you have a TrackIR, you can cheat by setting your eye point above the roof of the Cub.

A rudder turn with the A2A Piper Cub on the ground is more detailed than the default FSX Cub. A2A models the flow of air coming from the tractor propeller as it washes over the tail. This means that if you are rolling forward and you idle the engine, not much air will hit the tail when you apply rudder. As a result, the rudder will just barely turn the Cub. If you gun the engine, the blast of air on the tail is much stronger, and you will feel a positive rudder response.

Turning the Cub involves using the engine to create airflow as well as standing on the differential brakes. Certainly a joystick with a good throttle coupled with rudder pedals with toe brakes make turning the A2A Cub a realistic experience.

Sometimes, you will need to make a tight turn on a small patch of land. One way to do it is to use the Mini Controls menu and Hand Tow your aircraft. This simulates getting out and pushing the Cub into position. Another way is to use the engine to lift the tail off of the ground.

Although it looks like I am moving fast, I am standing still. See the little BRAKES flag in the lower left corner? I am using the prop blast and a little bit of elevator to lift the tail of the ground and "stand" the Cub on her front wheels.

You must stand on the brakes as hard as you can. Then you gradually open up the throttle and push forward gently on the control stick at the same time. The airflow from the prop will lift the tail off of the ground, but your main wheels will remain stationary because you have applied the brakes. This will cause the Cub to "stand" on her main gear. Apply some rudder and release a small amount of differential braking, and the tail will swing right around.

This is a tricky manoeuvre. If you tip too far forward, you will cause a prop strike, which is very bad. In the real world, the prop will blast everything behind the aircraft, and that can cause damage too. Apart from making tight turns in the Cub, you can use this method to get a jump start on the runway. If your runway is very short, pick up the tail before you start to roll for maximum acceleration.

Take off. Your take off weight will greatly affect how easy it is to get your A2A Piper J3 Cub off the ground. Likewise, altitude and air density are also important to consider. Finally, drag will also be a factor. Are you carrying pontoons or those oversized arctic tires? If you plan your flight incorrectly, it's easy to make your A2A Cub unflyable, leaving you racing along the ground like a strange little yellow automobile with wings. This isn't so bad in open areas or on a long runway. In the bush, on a small improvised landing strip, weight, altitude, air density and drag are critical. After several flights with the A2A Cub, you should start to get a good feel for how much space you will need for take-offs and landings, just like a real bush pilot. You will likely also pay much more attention to the QNH in your METAR (or at least you may end up experimenting with the Barometric Pressure setting in the Advanced Weather Tab of the FSX Weather Menu)!

The Piper Cub loves flying near sea level, where the air is densest. If you are well under MTOW, you can open the throttle, and the Piper Cub will leap off the ground like an Olympic long jumper who forgot to come back to Earth. The sensation is almost like riding a helicopter. The Cub wings are so large and provide so much lift that the 65 horsepower engine should be more than sufficient to get you up in the air.

A close-up view of the altimeter and airspeed gauges. There are lots of extra numbers on these dials you will likely never use. Note the airspeed is in miles per hour, not knots.

Here is how a good take off works. From standing still, the Cub will roll out briskly. Near stall speed, about 40 miles an hour, the lift from the wing and the tail will cause the nose to dip a little and the tail to come up off the ground. Once this happens, your drag is reduced and ground effect will build, and the Cub will begin to fly at close to 45 mph. Note that the airspeed indicator in the A2A Cub is marked out in miles per hour and not knots, as it is in many real-world Cubs.

You can speed up the takeoff by pushing the nose down gently with the control stick. Under ideal calm conditions, the Cub will do this all by herself. As the tail comes up, you may need to apply gentle right rudder to counter gyroscopic precessional forces from the prop. In other words, the Cub has a slight tendency to veer left. At take-off speed, the Cub will lift-off by itself. You can also pull back gently on the stick to force the climb a little more.

Close to MTOW (Heidi went for seconds at the pasta bar), the Cub isn't so easy to handle. You will need to roll out like a Cessna or even an airliner before you get to take off speed. You will have to trim up the aircraft. The controls will feel sluggish and the Cub will want to wallow on the ground. She will take off reluctantly. Mitchell Glicksman jokes that the Cub only lifts off because the Earth is curved.

Wind can also affect your take off. A headwind is best, as this maximizes airflow past the wings and tail, and your Cub will feel like it is taking off like a rocket. A very slow rocket, mind you. In FSX, you can create a direct headwind of around 50 mph (43 knots), so that when you take off, the Cub will lift up like a helicopter. Note that this would be an extremely foolhardy stunt to attempt in the real world. In FSX, though, it's a ton of fun! The hard part is trying to land near where you started. If you try this in the sim, you will get a good lesson on how light aircraft can get tossed around like leaves in the wind.

Extreme simulated headwinds will lift you off like a helicopter. Here I am going vertical by a horizontal windsock. Don't ever try this in a real Cub! How will you get your aircraft safe back on the ground again? Crosswinds are a bear to deal with in a Cub.

A strong tailwind will hamper a take-off. Crosswinds will push at your tail like a weather vane. In those cases, you are going to need much more than the gentle rudder you used before. It's more like a samba on the foot pedals. Just because the Piper J3 Cub is an older, simpler airframe doesn't mean that the challenge isn't there! If you want an easier flight, all you have to do is reduce your weight and calm the winds.

Basic Flight. The Piper J3 Cub is an aircraft whose flight characteristics can scale from docile to frantic depending on the skill of the pilot. Originally, in the 1920's and '30's, the Cub and the Cub-like aircraft developed just before it were designed as a class of plane that could be bought and flown by nearly anybody. Although not absolutely dirt cheap, the Cub was constructed as simply and as economically as possible while still performing well in flight.

This design philosophy has led to an aircraft that is slow but efficient, and forgiving of most pilot mistakes. The Piper Cub enjoyed a robust production run as a trainer aircraft circa World War II. Expert pilots speak of flying the Cub as being very intuitive, and they have learned how to push the little yellow aircraft to its limits. At the edge of its flight envelope, the Cub is an astonishing performer, capable of some harrowing aerial acrobatics. Check out videos of the great Charlie Kulp, who was perhaps one of the greatest Cub pilots who ever lived. What he could do in his stock 1943 J3 Cub will amaze and astound you.

J3 Cubs that saw military service were designated as "0-59", "NE", or more commonly "L-4". They mostly saw duty as trainers, couriers, and reconnaissance aircraft. Troops referred to this class of aircraft as "grasshoppers".

Although you can use a Cub to get from Point A to Point B, you could probably get to your destination faster in a car. Many Cub pilots simply want to experience a couple of hours of flying like a bird - a noisy, oily-smelling bird - over their local airfield. The Piper Cub excels in this sort of flight.

I've already used the word "docile" to describe flying a Piper Cub. In calm conditions, the Cub is easy to handle. With proper trim, you could let go of the controls and the Cub will fly itself. Its only gripe is a very slight tendency to pull to the left. This turn is not strong enough to tip the oversized wings, though, so likely an uncontrolled Cub would slowly spiral up to its maximum cruising altitude. It would orbit until it ran out of fuel, and then glide gently back to Earth. With luck, it may even land itself.

I decided to try this out for myself in the sim. I took off and as soon as I knew the aircraft was stable, I completely let go of the controls. Sure enough, the aircraft sailed upwards. The last drop of fuel was spent, the engine discretely coughed and quit, and the nose dropped. The Cub stalled very gently and then stabilized at a little over 40 mph. Then she descended very slowly to Earth. I timed it with my stopwatch. The unpowered glide took 2 1/2 minutes to drop 100 feet of altitude. If you've started this at the maximum altitude, you could wait a long time before you touch the ground again.

At the eventual end of the flight, my Cub settled into a rather nice two-wheel landing. I flew this test using Clear Weather over a very flat region. Edwards Air Force Base (KEDW) in FSX would be perfect if you wanted to try this using a virtual A2A Piper Cub. Do not attempt this with a real Piper Cub!!

Powered by its 65-hp motor, the Cub is as eager to climb as its little engine will allow. It's easy to go up a few hundred feet, but you wouldn't be likely to take your Cub much higher than that. The A2A Piper Cub also seems a bit reluctant to descend. Its large yellow wings make for an efficient glide, and gently resist the attempt to push the nose down into a dive.

Banking turns are not complicated. Coordinated turns cause the Cub to come about smartly. A sharp banked turn almost feels like the Cub is spinning on a giant platter. It's generally difficult to stall the Cub. If you do stall, recovery tends to be quick, either by leveling the wings and giving the aircraft her nose, or by initiating a shallow dive. Since most flights are low to the ground to begin with, you may not have a lot of altitude available for a prolonged stall.

The most efficient cruise speed for the Cub is 55 mph. The Cub can go faster, but it costs fuel and engine wear to do so. The beauty of a 55 mph Cub in FSX is that you should never see blurry ground textures!

Advanced Flight. The A2A Piper Cub ramps up the flight model with regard to how the aircraft handles airflow. As I have mentioned earlier, the large wings give the Cub good powers of lift at the expense of drag. The Cub seems to be happiest either cruising or gliding. She does not so much appreciate having to descend, especially by pushing her nose down. The propeller has a fixed pitch blade, meaning you cannot adjust prop pitch when the engine rev's up. A prolonged dive could push the engine past the red line, which is not a good thing to do.

One great trick for losing altitude and airspeed without over-revving the engine is a forward slip. Simply push the control stick to one side and pull the rudder to the opposite side at the same time. This is called "crossing the controls". The drag will mount and the Cub will sink like you are riding an elevator. You can't have too much altitude in a Cub. If you need to be lower, for instance to shoot an approach, apply some slip and away you go. Wind and airspeed must be carefully gauged during a slip! Take it too far, and you will stall. A stall at low altitude would be catastrophic.

The forward slip seemed difficult with the original, unpatched release of the A2A Cub. For whatever reason, the flight model ignored drag and totally sailed, especially at low speeds. Ground effect kept me from landing anywhere near where I wanted to. Running into a thermal buoyed the original A2A Cub like a hot air balloon. The first patch fixed this sailing behaviour but introduced a prop that wouldn't idle properly. The complete solution at this writing is the v1.1 patch plus a beta hot fix that solves all of the issues nicely. If you already have the Cub but not the patch and the hot fix, I suggest you install those immediately.

The A2A Piper Cub makes an impressive, realistic stall. I feel this is an understatement. Default FSX has trouble coming up with realistic behaviour in stalls, and it does not perform well when you cross the controls. The A2A Cub, on the other hand, excels at forward and side slips, and it showcases stall behaviour wonderfully. The difference between default FSX and Accu-sim is enormous. To follow up on the tennis ball analogy I used earlier, Accu-Sim puts the bounce back into flight sim.

Acrobatic flight pushes the Cub to its limits.

It is possible to push the Cub into some exciting acrobatic moves. It's not uncommon to see an expert pilot put a stock J3 Cub though its paces at an air show. With altitude and airspeed, the Cub will loop, roll, and even make Cuban-8's. You'd never mistake the Cub for a fighter craft, though.

I had trouble with the hammerhead stall. This is where you travel fast and level, and then pull straight up. Cut the throttle, and the aircraft will stall with its nose up. At the top, add some throttle so that the rudder gets positive airflow and you can rudder right over. The aircraft will flip nose to tail, and you re-trace the path you took going up. What I tried was to add throttle at the top so as to make the Cub "hang" from its propeller, like one of the old German Fokker DVII biplanes from WWI. In the A2A Cub, this translated for me into a funky sideslip where the Cub fell onto one wing and then side slipped almost in a hover until it was upright. Some pilots call this a "falling leaf", where you stall, keep the stick back, and try to stay level using the rudder. For whatever reason, doing the falling leaf with backwards airflow created this weird feeling that the Cub wasn't generating any airspeed. It seemed to just hang in the sky. Maybe it's just me, though. I don't go around launching into hammerheads every day.

Landing. Tail dragger landings come in two flavours: two wheel and three wheel. The two-wheel landing is easier to perform. You glide over the landing threshold and sink onto the two main front gear. Once they settle, you reduce speed and allow the tail to drop. This landing has the advantage that you can land at a slightly higher speed, and that you can see over the nose as you land. The disadvantages are that you usually take up more runway when you land and you also risk ground loops, especially in a cross-wind.

A two point landing. I ease the craft down onto her main wheels. As I decelerate, the tail gear will touch down. A three point landing. All three landing gear touch the ground at the same time. This requires practice to do well.

A three point landing is harder to perform. It's not too difficult in the default Piper Cub, but I find three-wheeled landings in the A2A Cub to be very challenging. Greasing three-pointers comes down to practice and repetition, so there's no excuse to ignore doing those touch-and-go's. A perfect three point landing also requires an exact understanding of the Cub's stall characteristics. To make that three pointer, you need to flare over the landing threshold and stall right before you wish to touch down. Holding the nose up as you stall should keep the tail wheel down as the wings bite into the air like giant flaps. All three wheels touch down at the same time. The advantage to this landing is that you need substantially less runway and that you have greater control over how the tail behaves. The disadvantage is that you won't see past your nose over the landing threshold.

COCKPIT VISUAL MODEL: Howdy, Heidi, Howdy!

Instead of showing windscreens and gauges, the 2D cockpit view provides easy access to a simple moving map and your hand-held radio.

The A2A Piper J3 Cub comes with a Virtual Cockpit (VC) but no 2-D cockpit. Is a 2-D cockpit even necessary on this aircraft? I like good 2-D instrumentation when there is a lot of information and a number of complex controls involved. For instance, a complicated radio stack is simplified by a good 2-D communications pop-up. A high-end MFD or FMC that has an array of buttons is usually easier to operate if it has a 2-D click-to-enlarge function.

The most complicated instrument on the A2A Piper Cub is the whiskey compass, and that's no exaggeration. With Accu-Sim, the whiskey compass truly becomes realistic.. but that's another story. My point is that the Cub dashboard would likely look the same with a 2-D cockpit as with a VC. Multiple 2-D views simulate the different eye points a pilot might need for flight. A2A includes excellent camera views for its VC. You can easily look around without using a TrackIR or a camera program just by picking one of the views.

The VC represents what you would see in a Piper Cub circa 1947. The aircraft has a metal tube fuselage with painted fabric covering. The cockpit is an enclosed metal and wooden shell with plenty of glass for the view out. The pilot and the passenger sit in tandem, with the pilot usually sitting in the rear seat. Perhaps the cockpit would be considered cozy or intimate if it did not sound like you were trapped in a washing machine filled with ball bearings, if it didn't smell like old engine oil and last month's hamburger wrappers, and if you were a hundred percent certain that the floor wasn't going to break through underneath your seat the moment you reached a thousand feet altitude. The Cub was designed to be flown by Everyman (or woman), but I think the typical person who flew the Cub in the 1940's might not have been as, ahem, large as some of us are now. The cockpit can be a tight fit for a large pilot or passenger.

The Virtual Cockpit. There's some glare and reflection on the glass, but not too much of it in my opinion. Notice how the whiskey compass can act as a crude attitude ball. Reverse view of the cockpit. Lots of accurate rivets and bolts!

I consider the FSX version of the Cub to have a much nicer VC than the FS9 version. Likewise, the A2A version is nicer than the FSX model. It's not a massive overhaul, but there are a lot of nice little features. The seats look more true to life, there are a few more clickable controls, and there are a few refinements like a more realistic-looking cable system as well as more visible rivets and bolts. All three iterations of the Cub, FS9, FSX, and A2A, look shiny and new. All of the Cubs I have seen for real look old and weathered, even if they have been lovingly maintained (the notable exception being Cubs in museums). I think it would be interesting to see some wear and tear in the cockpits, but this is my personal view only.

Views, windows & doors. One "cheat" that I used in the FS9 Piper Cub was to use my TrackIR to look outside of the cabin. I could intentionally set the eye point of the pilot beyond the cockpit of the glass, like leaning my head out of the window to see forward. The FSX version has hard glass windows that prevent this. The A2A version won't let me lean my head out of the side windows, but I can boost the eye point out of the roof of the aircraft. With this cheat, it's easy to look forward of the nose as I taxi, but it's definitely not realistic.

I think that many Piper Cub pilots enjoy how the aircraft can be flown with the cockpit door wide open! Usually, a pilot will secure the door into its open position while on the ground. Then, you have an unobstructed vista of the sky above and the ground below. It's also possible to open and close the door while in flight. To door latch system on a real Piper Cub is finicky, though.

The FSX version of the Piper Cub allows you to open and close the door with a keystroke (SHIFT-E) or by clicking on the doorknob. I always thought this was one of the most endearing features of this plane. You can also use the keystroke open and close the door in the A2A version. I was disappointed to discover that you can use the mouse to open the door, but there is nowhere to click to make the door close again. In this respect, the FSX default Cub bests the A2A model.

The A2A Cub does allow you to open and close the sliding window using the mouse, which is something you cannot do with the default FSX Cub. Opening the window will bring in some fresh air into the cockpit. Sometimes, you need that.

I can open the right side door with a mouse click. Unlike the FSX Piper Cub, I could not use the mouse to close the door again. You can open and close the left side window with the mouse.

Instruments. The dashboard up front features the famous whiskey compass, a simple altimeter, an airspeed indicator, which represent all of your flight instruments. A tachometer with timer is paired with basic oil temperature and pressure needles, which represent your engine instruments. Also up front is a control knob for cabin heat and an engine primer switch. Below are the rudder pedals and brakes. Flight control comes from a floor-mounted stick between the pilot's legs. Fuel cut-off and carb heat switches are mechanical knobs built somewhat inconveniently into the sides of the cockpit, whereas the throttle is mounted directly to the left within easy reach. The magneto switch is above the pilot's head. Every instrument is fully described, sometimes in pages of detail, in the A2A flight manual.

The dashboard. From left to right: cockpit heat control knob, tachometer, oil temperature and pressure gauges, whiskey compass with magnetic deviation chart, altimeter, airspeed, and engine primer pump.

Accu-Sim adds to the function of the whiskey compass, which is at its heart a magnetized needle floating in a sealed dome filled with kerosene. The Accu-Sim version faithfully renders all of the animated foibles of the compass. If you use it for serious navigation in the sim, pay attention to the handwritten card pasted to the dashboard with notes on magnetic compass deviation. In a pinch, you could even use the whiskey compass as a very crude attitude ball, as long as the Cub is stable.

2-D pop-up gauges include a clickable moving map and a handheld radio, which is the only device that needs batteries on the Cub. Note that if you forget to turn off the radio or recharge the batteries, it will die after about two hours of continuous use.

All of the instruments seem to be lifelike and faithfully reproduced from the original. The appealing little Bear Cub icon is featured on the altimeter. The action of the gauge needles is very fluid and responsive. The needles themselves are rendered with a small amount of drop-shadow, which makes them look realistic and three-dimensional. Accu-Sim enhances the gauges even more, as they will respond realistically to the mixture of fuel and air in the cylinders, vibrating in unison with the stroke of the engine.

"Heidi". "Heidi" is A2A Simulations' nickname for the passenger model that comes with the Piper J3 Cub. She is a cute young blonde woman who will sit in the front passenger seat. Without Accu-Sim, she simply sits and adds weight to the front of the plane. With Accu-Sim, she gains a voice and animation. She will look around, brace herself when you bank the Cub, make comments about flying or about how comfortable she is, and even spot other aircraft that she sees. I am not an expert with accents, but her voice sounds to me like she hails from the American south. Heidi reminds me of a woman I once met from Atlanta.

When enabled by Accu-Sim, Heidi the passenger lady grabs on to the forward braces as I apply a hard slip.

I have two opinions about Heidi, good and bad. Firstly, I love having people in the cockpit as I fly. Heidi has her limitations, but I feel that she is a tremendous step forward for adding realism to flight. As a Reviewer for AVSIM, I've spent a lot of time researching aircraft. The high point was a long visit to the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC. I strongly feel that the history of aviation is the story of the people who love to fly. The machines that we see modeled in flight sim are important, but they mean nothing without pilots, mechanics, passengers, entrepreneurs, and adventurers. Too many times, I have looked at a VC and remarked at how the aircraft seems to be flown by a crew of invisible ghosts for invisible ghosts as passengers.

Of course, modeling people is difficult from an artistic point of view and hard on computer system resources, which is why you don't see all that many humans with MSFS aircraft. But the people should be there: a trusty co-pilot, the helpful flight attendant, the ground crew who connects your aircraft to external power, the engineer who designed the heat-resistant paint for the firewall, and so on. I very much appreciate having Heidi on my flights with the A2A Cub.

Heidi from profile. Notice how tall her head is, especially her hair. As well, her neck seems thin and pinched, and it rides too high on her shoulders.

My gripe with Heidi is with how she looks. Put briefly, she is attractive but she is out of proportion. Her face is set too low on her head and her forehead is much too tall. Her neck is far too thin and sits incorrectly upon her shoulders. Looking at aesthetics, this type of artistic error bugs me to no end. Obviously the aircraft modelers have a great deal of talent. They can generate a fully realistic looking aircraft down to the lifelike cotter pins on the engine cowling. So if the art department can do that, why can't they make a human model with correct proportions? I spent years teaching classes in animation and character design, and I have seen this fault regularly. All it means is that the artists have spent too much time learning computer modeling and not enough time in life drawing class, learning the basics of human anatomy. Go back to art school!

When Heidi is not being used, her visual model is stuffed into the tail.

Mostly, I see Heidi from behind, as she sits in front when I fly. I don't see her low-slung face, so that's not a big issue. Her elongated head, though, makes her sit very tall in her seat. I myself am tall, but Heidi sits even taller, blocking the front view with her massive blonde cranium. I have a theory that Heidi's strange proportions may have something to do with the flyability of the A2A Cub. Her tall, thin neck allows Heidi to have low shoulders. This means that the pilot can see the gauges up front. If Heidi's neck was fixed, either her hair or her shoulders would block your view of the dials. Giving Heidi a short haircut should increase the visibility of the dashboard. Unfortunately, Heidi's hair is as rigid as it is long, so it never moves in a breeze. A shorter hairdo would make sense to me if you did not want to model secondary hair animations.

Heidi is also very thin. How you feel about rail-thin women is something that is a personal judgement. Heidi has to be thin, because when you choose not to have her as a passenger her visual model is stowed away in the empty tail space behind the cockpit. Ordinarily you won't see Heidi there, but the visual model has to go somewhere when she is not needed. If she wasn't thin, parts of her would stick out through the fuselage. Even so, I believe that Heidi could have better proportions and still fit in the back as required if her model was smaller.

Art School 101. A rare lecture from an AVSIM Reviewer, here I want to climb up on my soapbox for a moment. Basic human facial proportions can usually be divided two ways. The first is a vertical bias line that provides left and right symmetry to a face. The other is a horizontal eye line. The eye line almost always occurs half way between the top of the skull (often enough not the top of the hair) and the bottom of the chin. The vast majority of adults have their facial features aligned to the bias line and the eye line. There can be some variance, but usually not more than the diameter of the iris, the coloured part of the eye.

In Heidi's case, either her forehead is much too tall, which could indicate brain problems, or her hair is mounted too high on the model's head. Her eye line is too low, shifting her face downwards. The simplest solution would be to fix her hair. I have some simple diagrams to illustrate my point:

A sketch I've made to show proportions. Heidi's eye line. Her pupils should rest on the green line not the red one. Admittedly, the difference is small, but even 1/16 of an inch upwards would open up her facial expression considerably.
Before and after pics. I used Photoshop to alter Heidi's hair and to give her a more proportional neck. Image on the right altered by Jeff Shyluk.
Before and after of the usual view of Heidi. Shorter hair means the pilot can see more. As well, short hair does not have to be animated. Image on the right altered by Jeff Shyluk.

Maybe I am stretching the point too fine here. I appreciate your indulgence. I feel that if you are going to model an aircraft correctly down to the smallest fastener, you should also be prepared to make any human models you include to look as realistic as possible.

EXTERNAL MODEL: These Cubs Hit Home Runs, Too

I doubt that I could find fault in any of the A2A Piper J3 Cub exterior visual models. These aircraft look like they flew off the pages of the Piper showroom catalogue. As good as the default FSX model was for the year 2006, these modern-day beauties are just so much better.

Screenshots have a hard time doing the A2A Cub any justice. Part of the appeal of the A2A model is in subtle animation. When the engine is running, much of the aircraft is vibrating in sympathetic motion to the motor. These animations are simple two-stage motions, but they add so much realism to the flight model. You can see the engine cowling vibrate, the cockpit hum, the gauges jiggle, the fuel stick bobbing up and down, and so on. Nearly the entire aircraft is in motion, even if it is still on the ground.

Various views I have collected of the A2A Piper J3 Cub. You have to see the attention to detail to believe it! Clamps, brackets, and fasteners are all so real, you could almost take them apart with a screwdriver, if that didn't scratch the glass on your monitor.

Other parts, like ailerons, elevators, and rudder, all move as you'd expect. Tires rotate convincingly on the ground, and primitive shock absorbers bear the brunt of any hard landing. Prop wash effects like dynamic spray, snow, and dust look convincing in the FSX world.

Textures for the A2A Cub look photorealistic and are extremely accurate. This product uses large, high-quality textures which can take a few moments to load, especially on older computers. I suspect the size and detail of the textures will eat away a bit at frame rates, but these are truly superior textures. Absolutely top-notch texturing on the A2A Piper Cub, without question.

There's not much to see here, but if you squint maybe you can see the Cub with her night light on.

There are no night textures for the Cub, as it is intended to be a daytime VFR (Visual Flight Rules) aircraft. If you do fly your Cub at night, pressing "L" will activate a very dim invisible cockpit light that will glow just barely enough for you to see the dashboard.

The A2A Piper Cub download features nine different J3's. There are two basic Cubs, one with the traditional "Lock Haven Yellow" livery that evolved to become the official paint scheme of the Piper Cub, and one with an attractive blue fuselage. Three Cubs are mounted with floats for water operations. Two Cubs are yellow, one with painted floats and the other with the pontoons unpainted. The third floating Cub is painted in a spectacular and patriotic-looking American red, white, and blue. Two Cubs are equipped with ski gear, one yellow and the other marked with red and white Swiss emblems. The final two Piper Cubs carry the exciting overlarge tundra tires. One Cub is yellow, and the other is painted to represent historical military service with the RAF (the British Royal Air Force).

Each variant of the basic Cub looks, sounds, and handles differently from the others. So far in this review, I've mostly described the basic A2A Piper Cub with Accu-Sim. Let's take a look at the others:

Pontoons. Three Cubs with pontoons allow you to perform water take-offs and landings. Unfortunately, there are no Cubs with a combination of landing gear and pontoons like you would see on amphibious aircraft. If you want to switch from ground to water operations, you have to take a Cub up into the sky with wheels and then use the menu to choose a Cub with pontoons. I tried using Hand Tow to push a Cub on floats a few feet from the beach into the surf, but FSX resisted that attempt. It's not a procedure I would recommend, if only because it's tediously long.

Water operations in the A2A Cub are exciting and realistic. The pontoons add weight and drag which can strain the 65 hp engine.

There are three ways of steering your Cub on the water. The first is simply brute force, using prop wash and hard rudder to swerve the aircraft around. Variations on this there are the plowing taxi and the step taxi as described in the FSX Learning Center. The second is to drop the water rudder. This is a small steerable plank on the aft end of one of the pontoons. You can dip the water rudder into the water, and it will help you steer. An inconspicuous black handle to the left of the passenger seat operates the water rudder, or you can use a keystroke for it, or just use the Mini Control popup panel.

The third method of steering on the water is perhaps as obvious as it is innovative: you get out and row. You need Accu-Sim enabled for rowing. You will select the "Paddle" view of the Cub, which has you standing on the pontoon. Click on the canoe paddle to put it in your hands. With the paddle, simply click and drag over the water in a rowing motion. You'll splash a bit of water as you slowly haul the Cub in the direction you are rowing. Don't forget to replace the paddle when you are done!

This is the Paddle view. The oar is clickable with Accu-Sim enabled. Once you have the oar in hand, you may click and drag over the water to row your Cub into position.

The extra weight of the pontoons makes this Piper Cub heavier than the basic version. If you plan water operations, keep in mind that you won't be able to carry much payload. Fishing tackle and a box of hand-tied trout flies are much lighter than Heidi, and you still have a good reason to head for lake country with your Cub.

Accu-Sim will make water take-offs and landings much more challenging, as the flow of water past the pontoons is modeled Landings require that you touch down as gently as you can while keeping the tail up. Don't let the tail get too high, or the bows of the pontoons will dig into the water and cause the Cub to cartwheel! In a real Cub, you'd want to avoid wearing polarized sunglasses for a water landing because it's crucially important to see the surface of the water as much as possible. You can use the Mini Controls to remove your sunglasses in the A2A Cub for full realism.

When taking off, you must be sure that you are under your MTOW and that you have some headwind. The Cub doesn't have much power to spare for the takeoff. If you are becalmed on a lake above sea-level, you may not have enough atmosphere to create the lift you need to lift off. Be aware that the Cub requires more space on the water for take-offs than it does for landings. Practice take-offs before you try landing on that postage stamp sized lake!

Accu-Sim also provides what pilots who fly floatplanes call the "step". Just as fast moving air flowing around the wing generates lift, water flowing around a pontoon causes suction that pulls the aircraft down. There is a point where the aircraft has enough speed to lift off but not quite enough speed to avoid hydrodynamic suction. The design of the pontoon allows the Cub to hydroplane across the surface of the water. Laminar flow of water prevents take-off, but hydroplaning allows the Cub to gain just enough speed to break the hydrodynamic bond. It feels like the aircraft is about to lift off, but it doesn't, like pausing on a step (This is literally true. You are caught on the stepped portion of the underside of the float.). After a moment of hydroplaning, the Cub accelerates and then lifts off. Climb rate is anemic at best, but it's better than being stuck on the lake.

FSX provides a crude approximation of the step, and other floatplane add-ons improve on it. The A2A Piper Cub with Accu-Sim provides the most challenging version of the step I have yet come across. You really have to pay attention to those stick-and-rudder floatplane lessons if you want to get out of the habit of white-knuckle water take-offs in the A2A Piper J3 Cub.

Skis. A Piper Cub equipped with skis can take off and land on snow and ice. Skis won't land on liquid water. At least the skis don't weigh as much as pontoons. In FSX you can take off from a runway on skis, something you wouldn't do in a real Cub. Landing on snow and ice is on skis similar to landing with wheels. The tail wheel is replaced by a mini ski, allowing you to perform two point or three point landings.

Glacier operations. If you think this looks like crazy fun, imagine what it would be like to be doing this yourself! I got goose bumps just from taking this screenshot.

The big difference is that the skis are slippery. There are no brakes, and it's easily possible to slide out in an unexpected direction. Your main steering power is from prop wash running over the rudder. Failing that, there's always sincere prayer. In FSX, I suggest making three-point landings to keep the landing distance as short as possible. Keeping the tail down will turn the leading edge of the wings up, causing them to act like giant flaps. If you make a two-point landing, as soon as you slow down past stall speed pull up on the stick to dig the tail ski into the ground.

As with floats, is it important to prevent the Cub from tipping too far forward on its nose on taxi, take off, or landing. If the forward tips of the skis dig into the snow, you could easily cause the aircraft to tip onto its propeller, and that's a bad thing.

Tundra Tires. Also known as "arctic tires", tundra tires are oversized for landing on rough, rocky terrain. Recently, the tundra tire has become both more affordable and more reliable. This makes them an extremely popular accessory for bush pilots as well as weekend adventurers. Putting arctic tires on your aircraft allows you the freedom to land on just about anything. I've heard of a Cub with tundra tires being referred to as an "off-road SUV with wings". The attractive price and durability of tundra tires has turned bush piloting into an extreme sport for some individuals. In FSX, you can use the tundra tires to indulge in some truly spectacular landings.

A good tundra tire is much larger than a normal Cub tire. It has advanced treads and sidewalls for extended tire life. It is inflated to only about 4 psi., as compared to a typical automobile tire which may be inflated to 30-35 psi. This is the secret to how the tundra tire works. Under inflation allows the rubber tire to roll over most obstacles rather than to bounce over them. The A2A Piper Cub mounts two tundra tires up front, but retains its normal shopping-cart-style tail wheel in behind.

In FSX, you can land on regular wheels or tundra tires as you see fit, because even rough-looking terrain is usually quite flat. Bits of brush and other debris don't stop your virtual aircraft. Sim pilots who desire extra realism will want to take tundra tires for adventures into the bush where there are no runways.

Tundra tires on the A2A Piper Cub do act differently from normal tires. Taxi feels a little sloppy, although this is normal. When you make a turn using the tundra tires, you will notice that they will absorb some of the force of the turn. Tundra tires also feel "sticky" on concrete. There is a lot more rubber in contact with the surface of the tarmac. Taking off on concrete is not much different from using regular wheels, but landings are another story.

The moment you land on concrete with tundra tires, they will try to stick to the concrete. Momentum will throw the nose forward, possibly causing a prop strike. Two-wheel landings are not recommended on concrete with tundra tires. Three point landings on concrete will keep the nose up and the tail down, giving you a better landing. If you install tundra tires, you must also install heavier wheel brakes on a Piper Cub. These brakes will tend to grab, making the nose go down. As before, you want to avoid that. Try not to use the brakes at all when landing on the runway. Just coast down to taxi speed. The simplest way to avoid these woes is to avoid landing on concrete with tundra tires in the first place. They work better on just about anything that's not concrete or asphalt.

Accu-Sim allows the tundra tires to skip short distances across water. You can use still water as a brake to help you reach a narrow shoreline, or you can use the water to extend a runway area that's too short. It's a massive thrill! I can only speculate what this is like for the bush pilots who do this for real.

If you have Accu-Sim installed, you can use tundra tires to "skip" your Cub across a short distance of water. Tundra tires definitely do not float. They will bounce on the surface of water if you are flying fast enough. This is a very tricky manoeuvre, but it can save you from being stranded in the wilderness.

Here is the situation: you've landed your Cub with tundra tires on a small, remote flat area next to a tiny lake. You somehow forgot that you usually need more space to take off than to land. There are large pine trees that surround your landing zone except for a ribbon of beach that leads to the water. You tow your Cub to the very back of the clearing and point your nose at the water. You open the throttle and zoom towards the beach. The land beneath your wheels runs out before you even reach stall speed. However, you are going fast enough that the tundra tires will skip across the water, effectively increasing your "runway" out onto the lake. Now you can lift off and fly away.

This would never work with any other type of gear, so it's a good reason to equip the tundra tires even in FSX. Best to practice this a few times before you commit yourself. I found that if I skipped the Cub too hard, the tundra tires would grab the water and I ended up in a crash.

Tundra tires are only a few pounds heavier than regular tires, but they create much more drag. Your stall speed is higher in a Cub with tundra tires. Bush pilots will circle a landing site many times to make sure it is safe. Unfortunately, slow turns at low altitude in a Cub with tundra tires can result in a hard stall. Stalls with the big tires occur faster than stalls with normal tires. You could be turning and looking out the window, not paying attention to your airspeed. Next thing you know the Cub tries to jump out from underneath your seat, the sky goes away, and Bang! that's the end of your flight. At least with FSX, there's a reset button. Even so, be careful at low speeds with the tundra tires!

SOUND FILE: The Piper Cub In A Low Key

The only quiet Piper Cub is one that's been donated to a museum. Any active Cub is a symphony of creaks, groans, and rattles, all mostly drowned out by wind slip and engine roar. A2A attempted to capture the entire spectrum of noises your Cub makes during flight and on the ground. I feel that A2A hits a mark somewhere between the lofty exclamations of the Accu-Sim manual and the lowly beep that my motherboard makes when it crashes. In other words, the range of sounds does indeed cover a wide range of events, but some of the sounds are better than others. This leaves me with an impression of audio mediocrity, despite the obvious attention paid to sound engineering in the Cub. It's all good, but could it be better?

The Accu-Sim manual tells me that no fewer than 390 separate sounds were recorded for the Piper Cub, using real-world sources. Some sounds are unique to the Cub. The primer pump, the propeller, and the squeak of the rudder pedals come to mind. Others sound very generic to me, such as the magneto switch, the water rudder lever, and even the grinding sound the floats make when you try to land on asphalt.

Some sounds are unique to the variant. For example, pontoons on the water sound different from skis on ice, and tundra wheels sound different from the regular gear. The engine sounds are realistic to the point where you can hear the pistons go through compression and combustion strokes. The magneto click has been enhanced so that you can hear it as well, which may not be entirely realistic. Still, it's cool. As the engine ages, you can definitely hear a difference in the timbre of the revolutions. When the engine has had it, you will hear pistons missing and the engine chugging and gasping for fuel. The timbre of the engine sound is a little deeper and richer than that of the default FSX Cub. I like the A2A sound set more than the one in FSX.

The Cub reacts to changes in the wind. If you gain a crosswind, you will hear the fuselage and wings creak and groan with torsion. The wind itself seems to sound tame and understated, though. I should hear the mass of air shift across the wings if I make a steep turn. I should sense that warning burble of wind right at the stall point. If I open the window or doors, I would like to hear a lot more wind and engine noise. FSX treats interior and exterior sounds as different entities, so this may not be easy to do.

Worse still, I found that Heidi mumbled several of her lines. The Piper Cub was never meant for intimate conversation. Even so, if I can hear magnetos click, I should also be able to hear clearly what Heidi has to say.

The Piper Cub is a VFR aircraft. Most likely, you should avoid flying in the rain with one. Some days, though it rains. A2A provides some unique rain noises, such as the sound of a gentle shower against the wings and fuselage. From the exterior view, you can hear the rain as it hits the ground. The higher you fly, the less you hear of this sound.

Many Cub pilots rely on their senses to fly their aircraft. Good audio is an important feature for simulating the Cub. You will quickly learn by listening if your Piper Cub is cruising easily or starting to feel stress from some problem that is yet unseen. The A2A sound suite seems to give me enough audio to sense how my Cub is doing, and that's probably good enough right there. I would like to hear even more, though.

OUTSTANDING ISSUES: The Bug List

A2A has released a stable and true to life model of the Piper J3 Cub. It flies by the numbers and works as advertised. As I see it, this product is without serious gripes. It is a limited aircraft in that you won't see high-end avionics, nor will you travel close to the speed of sound. If you are looking for high speed technical thrills, the Cub won't provide that. It is a versatile aircraft that rewards the sim pilot who has quality flight skills and high-end gaming controls.

As with any advanced flight model, the A2A Piper J3 Cub with Accu-sim will benefit from you having the best controls you can afford. A good joystick with a throttle control is important. Any tail dragger sim pilot will benefit from having rudder pedals with differential toe brakes. Finally, a good head-tracking device will help you maintain situational awareness and visibility as you fly. The Piper Cub isn't an aircraft where you need to be looking constantly at the instruments. It's a throwback to an earlier style of airplane where the pilot depended on his or her senses, experience, and instinct to fly.

Frame rates. I found that the A2A Cub flew best when the frame rates were high. Accu-Sim adds a lot of nuances to the Cub, but these enhancements are lost if your frame rate is dipping below 20 frames per second (fps). In addition, the A2A Cub with Accu-Sim does require a more powerful computer for the smoothest flight. Most Cubs only get to fly under calm VFR conditions in the real world, so if you can save on frame rates by clearing out the weather, so much the better. Likewise, the Cub is an excellent bush plane. You may enjoy flying over Savage Island more than Manhattan Island if your frame rates are typically low over New York.

My baseline fps was 45 with default FSX. The Cub brought my frame rate down to the 35-40 fps range, which is substantial to me. You own results may vary.

As I mentioned previously, the A2A Cub uses large, detailed textures. This can extend loading times and slow down frame rates on some computers. I found the slowdown to be noticeable, so I stayed out of scenery with high complexity. The Cub is an excellent bush plane, so much of the time, I did not even bother with AI traffic or even airports and runways.

Issues. I believe I have covered all of my thoughts about the A2A Piper Cub. Most of my issues are what I would consider personal gripes. I don't like Heidi's proportions and I wish she didn't sometimes mumble. I wish I could use a mouse click to close the cockpit door. I would like to see the custom menus for the Cub to be more user-friendly. I was hoping for more from the sound set. Above all, I wish I didn't have to overhaul the engine so much. Probably that last issue is due to mistakes I am making with the Cub.

My one true bug was that I could cause FSX to crash by either using the Hand Tow or the pontoon oar too aggressively. This caused SimConnect to time out, which forced me to re-boot FSX. This happened very rarely, and primarily because I was pushing the sim as hard as I could.

Despite how simple the Piper Cub is in design, the A2A version has a lot of in-depth modeling As a result, you may get unpredictable results if you switch between aircraft models too much, or if you rely on high rates of accelerated time. This caveat holds true for any detailed add-on aircraft for FSX. The A2A Cub is no exception.

Regardless of how I feel about these faults (or if anybody else sees them as such), I strongly believe that the positives of the A2A Piper J3 Cub far outstrip the negative aspects. This is a superior product that deserves great praise for what it does right rather than a list of gripes over what it does wrong.

THE LAST WORD: Bush Pilot Operations With Special Guest Loni Habersetzer

Bush pilot adventurer Mr. Loni Habersetzer poses with his SuperCub in Alaska. He graciously consented to an interview on what it is like to fly the way he does. Image courtesy L. Habersetzer.

Sim captains who enjoy passenger operations will usually find themselves either in the air or at an airport. While it's not unusual to operate a Piper Cub from an airport, it is an extremely capable bush aircraft. Some Cubs almost never see a runway. Even for someone like myself who enjoys exploring the vast FSX world, I had to work to get used to simulated bush pilot activities. The first step was to avoid the cities and ignore the runways.

I followed up a promising lead to find Mr. Loni Habersetzer, who is an expert Cub bush pilot. He teaches classes on how to fly with tundra tires and how to make extreme landings in remote wilderness and still be safe enough to take off. Mr. Habersetzer was most kind in answering my questions about what it is like to be a bush pilot.

Disclaimer!

1) This article is meant for entertainment purposes only! Although I will refer to real-world procedures, do not attempt them with a real aircraft! This article is meant for simulated flight only. Some of the items in this article can cause the Cub to fly outside of its intended flight envelope. The sad truth is that with low-level flight operations, one mistake might be enough to create a disaster. Even the Cub's lowly cruise speed of 50 mph is more than enough to kill on impact.

2) Loni Habersetzer flies exclusively a Super Cub, which is different from the J3 Cub in many respects. The Super Cub has a more powerful engine, weighs more, and uses flaps on the wings. Flap settings can tune the CG of the Super Cub in ways that are impossible for the J3 Cub. However, the basics of what he does with the Super Cub can be applied to the A2A Cub.

3) Loni Habersetzer does not use MSFS, nor does he endorse in any way FSX or A2A Simulations products, including the Piper Cub. He was, however, very helpful in describing how to get going as a bush pilot.

Getting Started. I am going to suggest several steps to become proficient as a sim bush pilot. Why fly in the virtual wilderness anyway? The Cub can get into remote areas and operate from some very precarious positions. Next time you are at altitude in FSX, take the time to look around. A good game that experienced pilots play is "Where Would I Land Right Now If I Lost The Engine?" Most of the time, you will try to find something long and flat. Preferably, you'd choose a runway. Less likely possibilities are roads or large clearings. Even less helpful would be to ditch in water. Well, now another game you can play is "Where Could I Land In A Cub?" One thing I am learning is that there are a lot of valid landing places for a Cub. Doing it the Loni Habersetzer way means choosing some particularly hazardous sites, but especially doing it safely.

LONI: I guess my greatest passion in Alaska has to be Glacier Operations. They combine all of the ultimate challenges that a Bush Pilot has to deal with in one single landing scenario i.e. High Altitude/Density Altitude, One Way, Steep Slope, and some of the most difficult type of terrain surface to accurately evaluate prior to the landing. Simply stated, "Its a Real Rush" to successfully land one of these spots. Now imagine doing this a dozen different times in one single day, and I can tell you that it is difficult to sleep that night, simply because you are still so "Keyed-Up”. I know that this is hard, if not impossible to try and explain to someone that has not ever experienced this.

Base Of Operations. To become proficient as a sim bush pilot, you should choose an appropriate base of operations, or have a few in mind. To begin with, start someplace civilized. That is, there could be roads, fields, or urban development nearby. Pick a small airport preferably with a paved runway. The airport should be as close to sea level as possible. The Cub prefers flying in dense air. Also, pick somewhere that is pretty but also with good frame rates. There are thousands of airports that would suit this need. I would suggest CYNJ Langley (Canada), as it has a rather short paved runway. PHDH Dillingham (Hawai'i), YPJT Jandakot (Australia), LIPZ Tessera (Italy), and LXGB Gibraltar come immediately to my mind, among many others.

Use this place to get used to your new Cub. Clear out the weather, use zero wind. Get rid of any AI traffic. Take off and learn how your Cub flies. Follow the nearby roads. Pick a house or some other landmark and practice orbiting around it left and right. Find a set of roads that make a large square a few city blocks to a side. Although KEPH Ephrata (USA) is not near sea level, you might want to visit it to see the giant "X-BOX" in FSX. It's a large artifact just west of the airport, you can't miss it. I am told this X-BOX is a set of markers for aerobatic sports. Use this X-BOX or any other box shape on the ground to practice making ninety degree turns.

This mysterious artifact is a box 1,000 meters to a side blocked out by massive stone markers. You will find it in FSX next to the KEPH Ephrata Municipal Airport, Washington, USA. You can use this area to measure out precisely how much room you need to do things in your Cub. Thanks to AVSIM members "Pastorpilot" (who named it The X-BOX) and "Anthony31fs" (who figured out what it was for).

Before you land, use the Weather menu to activate some wind, no more than 15-20 knots. Then try the same orbiting and turning exercises again. See how you can use the rudder on the A2A Cub. If you are familiar with the default Cub, you may unlearn some bad habits in the A2A version.

Turn the wind off again, and come in to land. Practice two wheel and then three wheel landings. I find three point landings more difficult in the A2A Cub than the default one. Practice makes perfect! Do as many touch and go's as you can. When you get proficient, turn the wind on again. Practice with headwinds, tailwinds, and crosswinds. Learn to perform slips to lose altitude in a hurry.

LONI: How did I get involved in Flying SuperCubs? My Dad was a SuperCub pilot, so I basically grew up in the back seat of one. He also taught me how to fly and solo-ed me in the very same Cub that I now own and fly to this very day. How did I learn/become proficient at landing the Cub Off-Airport? Answer: Practice, Practice, Practice...... A lot I would fly a minimum of approximately 8 hours a week, and average around 250 Off-Airport Landings in that week, 4 weeks a month, 12 months a year, 365 days every day. It's not as important how much time you spend in the airplane, as it is what you are doing with the time you spend in it, i.e.: Off-Airport Take-Off & Landings.

Off-Airport. Once you master the basics of the Cub, which takes a lot of practice, you can move on to learning bush skills. At first, you will want to practice landing on surfaces other than runways. In FSX, mostly it's not as big a deal as it is in the real world. To add to the realism and to encourage you to stay off the pavement, be sure to use the Cub with the big tundra tires.

After your first take-off with the tundra tires, take the time to get used to flying with them. The extra drag will reduce your top airspeed as well as raise your stall speed. Practice banking and turning with the arctic tires. Low speed banked turns with tundra tires have been linked to dangerous stall situations in the Cub. Make sure you understand exactly how the stall works at higher altitudes before you try flying low.
Then bring the Cub in for a dirt landing near your base. If you haven't already done so, pick an airfield that gives you access to remote areas. Choose somewhere you think would be interesting: some islands in a river, a strip up north, a sandy bit of coastline, whatever tickles your fancy. Be aware that the Cub is sensitive to atmospheric density. If you want more challenge, pick an base that's well above sea level. Savage Island, Vermont (VT15) is an excellent choice. So is Lugano, Switzerland (LSZA), Scum Lake, Canada (CAW3), Jasper Ridge, Oregon (36OR), Kitale, Kenya (HKKT), Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, Mexico (MMPR)... you get the idea.

Concentrate on landing on surfaces other than a runway. Fly around and look for safe, open places to land. Practice landing with the tundra tires. On a regular Cub, three point landings are ideal, as you use less space and the propeller is kept pointing up, which can avoid prop strikes. With tundra tires, Loni Habersetzer has perfected his two-point landings. The tires add drag meaning that you can fly "behind the power curve". You stall into a controlled crash like a naval aviator landing on an aircraft carrier. The beefy tundra gear absorb the impact, you can keep the nose down a bit so that you can see better, and if you do it correctly, you will use even less space for landing. Mind you, Loni Habersetzer relies on precise management of his SuperCub flap settings, something you cannot do in a J3 Cub. Putting cargo weight in the tail will help you brake harder on landing, hopefully preventing a ground loop or a nose over.

Here is something you can easily do in FSX that's harder to do in a real Cub without having to get out for a short walk. Once you are consistent with your off-airport landings, you can measure out your landing distance. Simply use the Instant Replay feature after a landing, and choose the Top Down view. You can measure your landing in Cub lengths. A Piper J3 Cub is 22 feet long (6.7m). You can also use the same system to judge you much room you need to take off. Loni Habersetzer can land and take off his SuperCub in roughly 5-6 Cub lengths, around 100-150 feet!

LONI: How did I get started in Bush Instruction? I had been doing some "unofficial" training with friends and locals for several years here in Washington State, and as the "Big Tire" boom took off in the early to mid '90's, I kept getting more and more requests for this type of training. I also started to see a lot more Cubs getting bent, due to this "Big Tire" boom, i.e.: the increase in Off-Airport Operations, due to the increase in interest in using these newly acquired "Big Tires". So in 2004 I decided to make it official and start my own business, Cubdriver749er LLC to offer this instruction full time and anywhere in the world. I have seen a steady increase in business every year since then, with 2009 being my busiest to date.

Extreme. Extreme landings are safe landings, but you need a few things before you can be consistently successful with them:
1) You need to know how to handle your Cub with precision.
2) You need to know how much space you need for off-airport take-offs and landings.
3) You need to know exactly where the stall point is with tundra tires, and how to safely fly with them at low speed.

Loni Habersetzer's Cub way far away in the deep frozen mountainscape of Alaska. How did he get there? How did he get back? You can try and see for yourself in Flight Simulator. Image courtesy of L. Habersetzer.

Once you have all that, it's time to test yourself. You want to find the smallest possible place for you to land. Once you do so, you need to check it out absolutely. Real bush pilots will circle a landing site many times, looking very carefully at the terrain. Are there rocks, bushes, hidden logs, or other obstacles? Watch the wind. In the real world, you can look at the treetops to get an idea of where the wind is blowing. If the trees have leaves and the leaves appear to flicker or shimmer, the wind is quite strong. Unfortunately, FSX does not show this level of detail, but you can press SHIFT-Z to see local winds. If there is any doubt at all about landing in a particular spot, don't try it.

Start by flying fairly high aloft, maybe 1000' AGL (Above Ground Level). Get a sense of the wind and the overall terrain. Figure out which way you will hike if you cannot take off again. Descend a couple hundred of feet at a time. Each orbit will take you close to the ground. Survey for trees, power lines, water, big rocks, and so on. Loni Habersetzer might circle a potential landing spot a dozen times before he understands how to make his approach.

If the landing area is covered with snow, ice, sand, or loose dirt, it's a good idea to "drag" your landing strip. A drag is a sort of powered touch-and-go, where you allow the tundra tires to come into contact with the ground to test how solid your landing field is. If they punch though the ice and reveal a hidden log in an unseen hollow, you have the power to abort the approach. If you did not attempt a drag, the log could have ripped out your undercarriage on landing, at which point you would have plenty of time to consider how you will handle an approach in the future, should you survive to fly another Cub.

Water Hazard. At high speed, tundra tires are capable of skipping across the surface of water. A2A's Piper Cub with Accu-Sim simulates this. If you are looking for extreme landings, this you have to try. Pick a shoreline area for landing. It can be coastal or more likely the shore of a lake or a flat riverbank. Maybe even a sand bar. Follow the advice above for setting up your landing. This time, you will include some water in your approach. If you drag tundra tires across open water, you can lose a lot of speed. You can use this to your advantage as you land, as the water will naturally brake your landing roll. All you have to do is reach solid land before your speed runs out. Be extra careful that you don't nose over into the water! The Cub will have a strong tendency to flip her tail up if the tundra tires are not skipping exactly right.

When taking off, you can use water to lengthen your runway. Start by standing on the brakes and opening the throttle fully to pick up the tail. Then release the brakes. You can use water to extend your runway as long as you are moving quickly enough that the tundra tires start to skip.

The barometric pressure "cheat". Max out this value in the Advanced Weather Menu in FSX to allow your Cub to operate at higher altitudes than normal.

Glaciers. The Cub ski gear is useful for landing on snow and ice. Loni Habersetzer prefers using tundra tires. Glacier operations can be tricky because many glaciers occur at high altitudes. Here is where a SuperCub might have an edge over the J3 Cub: the SuperCub has a more powerful engine. If you can get a J3 Cub into the upper limits of its flight envelope, you can try landing on a glacier. Always orbit the landing site to make sure you can get in and out safely. Glaciers tend not to be flat, and in FSX they are also slippery. Dragging the area will help you understand which way the Cub might slide when you land. Also be aware that you may be landing uphill, which is unusual for FSX. As a last resort (this is totally a cheat!), you can go into the Weather Menu and manually boost the atmospheric barometric pressure to better suit the needs of your J3 Cub.

CONCLUSION: Executive Summary

Attention to detail. This American flag is correct, for it looks as if the wind is pushing the flag back as it is being carried forward by the Cub.

A2A Simulations has released their version of the Piper J3 Cub, which eclipses the default Cub found in FSX in almost every way. The A2A Cub comes with several variants, including high-quality paint jobs and exotic landing gear: floats, skis, and tundra tires. The attention to detail in the visual model is of the highest standard.

If the flight model was as appealing as the visuals, I'd be a happy sim pilot. In my opinion, the A2A Cub flies even better than it looks. I'm beyond pleased with this product; I am in awe. This aircraft goes so far off the charts for me that I've had to come up with new charts. Here is how it works. I try to gauge how long I have smiled while operating the A2A Cub. I can measure that by how much my smile muscles ache when I am done. I find that when I am flying the A2A Piper Cub, I am in a continuous cheesy-grin mode. Even writing about the Cub for this review cheers me up. I am really not used to smiling this much. And I am gushing.

Back down to Earth, the A2A Cub downloads in two parts which are purchased separately. The first part is the basic aircraft, which is on its own a complete champion. The second part is the Accu-Sim package for the A2A Cub. Without Accu-Sim, the A2A Cub enjoys a low price. Accu-Sim by itself does not cost a lot, but you need the base Cub to get anything out of Accu-Sim. The Cub and Accu-Sim together cost around the same as any other good quality add-on of this class of aircraft. Accu-Sim adds a variety of details that make flying the A2A Piper Cub a true to life adventure. If you can afford a slightly higher cost, I assure you that you will see great benefit from Accu-Sim. It's a product that I absolutely recommend, especially if you have even the smallest hint of fondness for the little yellow Cub. I am gushing again.

In cold weather (when you use the ski plane), Heidi changes into her winter clothes: a grey outfit, leotards, and a sweater.

With Accu-Sim, you can hand start your aircraft by setting up the engine and physically pulling on the prop. You can tow your aircraft around by hand like you would with a real Cub. You can even get out and row your pontoon Cub on water. Accu-Sim also provides you with Heidi, who is your optional interactive passenger. Should you choose to fly with Heidi, she will physically react to how you fly your plane, make appropriate comments, and even spot other aircraft in the air.

The A2A Cub does have a couple of small software quirks. Some of the early issues regarding the handling of the aircraft have been solved with a patch and a hot fix, which I highly recommend.

The A2A Simulations Piper J3 Cub is a state of the art presentation of one of the lowliest (or is it loveliest?) aircraft ever manufactured. It's also one of the most fun I've ever reviewed. As a token of how great this add-on is, I am pleased to present the AVSIM Gold Star Award to A2A Simulations for their version of the Piper Cub with Accu-Sim.

I would like to thank Mr. Loni Habersetzer for his willingness to be interviewed; he is a very busy pilot these days. Check out his website . Be sure to check out the photo galleries and the DVD's!

 

What I Like About The A2A Piper J3 Cub

  • Absolutely astounding fun factor! I can't keep my hands off this plane!
  • Accu-Sim delivers a new level of simulation fidelity
  • True-to-life flight model, including advanced slips and stalls
  • A variety of landing gear and paint jobs suitable for on and off-airport operations, including water
  • Hand tow your Cub, plus hand starts and air starts
  • Pontoons can be rowed, amazing "step" physics for water take-offs
  • Realistic tundra tire operations, including skipping across still water
  • Appealing "Heidi", the optional interactive passenger
  • Engine has a life span (which can be infinitely overhauled)
  • Advanced modeling of air and fuel flow
  • Realistic, responsive gauges
  • Extremely high detail in visual models, animated effects, and textures
  • Custom camera views and operational menus
  • Wide variety of custom sounds
  • Manual is detailed and well written

 

What I Don't Like About The A2A Piper J3 Cub

  • Sound file, especially exterior sounds are a little muted for my taste
  • Engine must be overhauled rather frequently if you fly like I do
  • "Heidi" mumbles some of her lines, her head and neck are out of proportion
  • Cannot close the cockpit door with the mouse like you can with default FSX Cub
  • Inelegant system for operating custom menus, including 100% transparency
  • Rare conflict with SimConnect forces FSX to crash

 

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