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    Beechcraft D17 Staggerwing


    Gaiiden

    Introduction

     

    I don’t think a plane has quite caught my eye the way the Alabeo Staggerwing did when I saw it for the first time in a screenshot on a forum. I was enraptured by the design of the aircraft and the “fast back” look I had always found catchy in cars, with the large slanted-back front window. The whole plane just radiates class and style. Plus it had a black and yellow livery, to which I just can’t say no.

     

    I checked it out further on Wikipedia and was pleased to find it’s actually the precursor to another one of my favorite aircraft, the Bonanza V-tail (modeled by Alabeo’s sibling company Carenado). I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised as both planes feature unique design elements. I’ve been pleased with Carenado products in the past and had yet to try anything from Alabeo so I figured I’d give the Staggerwing a whirl.

     

    Installation and Documentation

     

    Default Installation

     

    Installing the Staggerwing is a breeze. The installer finds the location of your FSX install (or P3D install depending on what you tell it), asks for your email and serial number to confirm purchase, and drops in all necessary files. Done. I personally prefer installers to give me the option to open the documentation after install, but this is not given to you at the end. Since there are no Start Menu folders created, you need to navigate to the install folder to open the included documents.

     

    Custom Installation

     

    If you’re like me and store your aircraft on another drive, the installer does let you change the folder to wherever you prefer. Note however that it will still install as if it’s going into the default FSX directory so you’ll get a SimObjects/Airplanes folder along with Sound, Effects and Gauge folders as well. Unless you want to move the non-Airplanes folder files to their proper place yourself, I recommend letting the Staggerwing install normally and then simply moving out just the aircraft folder, which is self-contained and doesn’t rely on any external assets for sounds and textures.

     

    Uninstallation

     

    Removing the Staggerwing can be done with the installer located in the install directory, or through the Control Panel. If you’re keeping track, you may notice some Sound and Effects files left behind after the uninstall but those are probably shared files – if you have no other Alabeo products you can remove them as well yourself (or with a program like Revo Uninstaller). Remember that if you moved the aircraft folder out of the original install location the uninstaller won’t find it and you need to delete it manually.

     

    Documentation

     

    A single PDF file with a page of statistics is all you get in the way of documentation for the aircraft. There’s no POH or even checklists to use with the kneeboard. While finalizing this review I found on the Alabeo product page a link to additional documentation including performance charts, the POH for the very-similar military version and a link to the Beechcraft Heritage Museum website. If that was there the whole time, I missed it while flying around for my review and I’m a bit disappointed it wasn’t included in a ReadMe file or something. But at least for the future (and this writing!) I have a better insight to how this craft operates/performs.

     

    Aircraft Selection

     

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    If you have a large library of aircraft finding your new hangar addition can be challenging sometimes, scrolling through all the thumbnails, which is why using the three sorting options up top helps a lot when the publisher makes the effort to allow you to use them properly. I would argue that “Beechcraft” should be the proper term to use for locating the Staggerwing under the “Aircraft manufacturer” sort rather than “Alabeo” (which is what you’d look for, and properly find, under the “Publisher” sort). Thankfully this is an easy change in the aircraft.cfg file by editing the ui_manufacturer property of each fltsim.x entry.

     

    Exterior Model

     

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    The craftsmanship that went into modeling the Staggerwing is extraordinary. The rivets pop off the surface, and the ribbing of the fuselage and wings shows off the modeling and texturing talent of the Alabeo team. The undercarriage of a retractable-gear aircraft is always one of the more complex areas of the plane and you can see everything down to the shocks and brake calipers, with the internal airframe showing in the gear wells. The textures are shiny and reflective but not over-done, and you can see areas that are actually a bit dull from wear/maintenance.

     

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    All control surfaces and moving parts are animated including landing gear, landing lights, flaps, ailerons, rudder, elevator, doors and you can even see I’ve deflected the trim tabs far enough to make them apparent on the bottom of the rudder and the inside of the elevators. The pilot also looks around, and you’ll even see him respond to all your control inputs (yoke, rudder, throttle).

     

    When night falls or external lighting is otherwise required, the Staggerwing has a beacon, navigation lights and landing lights that can be controlled separately. The landing lights extend and retract with the gear, which is similar to most retractable-gear tricycle aircraft, except that there is one light located under each wing since there is no nose gear on the Staggerwing.  When it’s dark enough, you can see the internal cockpit lighting as well. If you’re a Shockwave3D user you will be out of luck here as all lights are attached to the model, not via the aircraft.cfg file.

     

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    To make it easier to enjoy the aircraft modeling, Alabeo included a good many external camera views for you to pick from.

     

    Interior Model

     

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    Inside the comfy confines of the 4-seat cabin we see the attention to detail has not wavered one iota. Leather seats, wood accents, carpeting beneath our feet… this truly was a luxury aircraft of its time. The 3D-modeled instruments are all easy to see and read as well as fully-functional when it comes to things like setting your compass or your attitude horizon. One instrument I struggled with at first was the fuel gauge, until I thought to Google the model and found it online with documentation.

     

    You can hide the yoke in the usual way by clicking on the column, but what I didn’t realize for some time (again, thanks to lack of documentation) is that you can also hide the support struts that cross your direct line of sight out the front window. The air vent near the base of the strut toggles the strut on and off, and if the mouse cursor didn’t change over the hot spot I doubt I would have ever stumbled across it otherwise. Removing the yoke and struts leaves a non-dynamic shadow of both features plastered on the control panel. I find it puzzling that the yoke shadow is there given the dynamic nature of a yoke  - why would you want a static shadow? If you want them removed, a forum member has offered up alternate textures.

     

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    When you need lights in the cockpit you have both cabin lighting and instrument lighting that can be controlled separately. The cabin lighting produces a soft red glow to retain your night vision and doesn’t cause any reflection off the window so you can still see well outside. The instrument lighting is a soft white light at the top of each gauge, which makes gauges that have to be read all the way around (like an altimeter) a bit hard to see fully while others like an amp gauge are fine lit like this. The Attitude and Navigation gauges are both unlit for some reason, but turning on the cabin lighting helps make them easier to read at night.

     

    Pressing Shift+2 brings up the options window, which lets you open the passenger door (there’s no click spot inside the cabin) and also gives you the option to tweak the visual style of the cockpit. If you feel the tint of the glass makes things too dark you can disable it altogether, same for reflection mapping on the instrument glass if you find them difficult to read.

     

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    Instrument reflections off
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    Instrument reflections on
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    Windshield tint disabled
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    Windshield tint enabled

     

    I always have tooltips on for new aircraft to find my way around at first, and the Staggerwing cockpit is well-labeled with the exception of the fuel tank selection controls, whose tips couldn’t tell the difference between the two valves, making things even more confusing since the labeling on the controls is difficult to read from the available camera angles. Also, the fuel gauge mentioned before would act up a bit from time to time, turning on when the Avionics switch was clearly in the down and off position.

     

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    Checklists and Reference

     

    I built my own checklist and procedures basing off the FS9 Beechcraft A36, which for the most part worked out well and were refined as I flew. If anyone wants them, you can contact me.

     

    The included datasheet PDF does have some V-speeds, but is missing a few vital ones including VLE, VLO and VR – VFE is noted on instrument panel. It’s not vital to know landing gear performance speeds as FSX will not rip off your gear if you exceed them but they are nice to have if you like to fly by the numbers. Thankfully you can find them with the documentation links mentioned previously.

     

    Flight Model

     

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    Realism setting used during this review

     

    Load and Balance

     

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    Above are the fuel and payload settings for the Staggerwing. As proper, you can top off 5 separate fuel tanks and add weight for 4 persons and baggage.

     

    Now, thankfully I found the additional documentation while finalizing this review because I was completely lost on how to properly use the dual fuel  feed valves. For one thing, turning the upper valve straight down would sometimes cut the fuel flow, and sometimes not. So I thought that was a bug. Then I experimented with both fuel selectors set to a tank and noted only one fuel tank was drawing fuel. So I thought that was another bug. Finally I noticed neither the Right nor Left tanks would ever draw fuel regardless of what the fuel valves were set to. By now I figured the whole valve system was messed up!

     

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    Then I saw the way the fuel valves are hooked up in the POH above and everything made sense. Turning the upper valve straight down allowed fuel from tanks selected by the lower valve to flow to the engine, so only one fuel tank would ever be used at a time and if the lower valve was cut or one of the tanks it feeds from was empty, the engine would cut. That solved two of my problems.

     

    The third problem does indeed seem to be a bug, as once I cleared the first two problems further experimentation revealed the Left and Right fuel tanks will not be utilized unless the corresponding Aux fuel tank is empty. The fuel feed diagram clearly shows the Left and Right tanks having their own feed, and are not fed through the Aux tanks.

     

    Below I’ve labeled the valves with their corresponding FSX fuel tank. Again the Left and Right tanks will draw from the corresponding Aux tank until that tank runs dry, which is why I have them labeled “(Aux)”.

     

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    Preflight

     

    Getting the Staggerwing up and running if it’s not already is as easy as flipping on the master battery, making sure you have a tank with fuel selected, setting the ignition switch to R, L or Both and pressing the Starter button to crank the engine. If you have the ignition set to Off and try the starter you’ll see the switch swing over to Both but the engine won’t catch unless you have it preset to R, L or Both. As expected, if you’re lacking fuel the engine won’t catch and if you’re lacking battery power it won’t even turn over and switching off the battery after the engine is running won’t kill it. Exercising the prop pitch will produce a change in RPM as proper but switching between L and R magnetos will not.

     

    Be careful not to load the Staggerwing after flying with another aircraft. I would suggest starting a new flight as loading the Staggerwing after a flight in my V-tail produced some quirky (and repeatable) behavior in the magneto switch.

     

    Takeoff

     

    Getting out to the runway is always a tough endeavor with a tail dragger like the Staggerwing. I don’t have a lot of experience with tail draggers so I generally hop out into spot view. You could also lift up your eye level or slowly weave back and forth across the taxiway to see past your nose. The weaving technique with the Staggerwing has to be done at low speeds however because the suspension is very loose and even when you’re barely moving and try to turn you’ll notice the slant as you dip to one side. I’ve never driven an aircraft like this where I thought I was going to bury a wingtip the moment I started turning around. It’s not really all that bad once you get used to it, but it can feel like a lot when you’re not used to other aircraft models behaving this way.

     

    The tail wheel can be locked via either the 3D cockpit control or the assigned hotkey, and it doesn’t take much of a roll at full throttle in still wind for you to get a good deal of rudder authority to keep you straight as you travel down the runway. The torque effect from the propeller is not as bad as it is on some aircraft. Soon you’re up on two wheels and pulling for the sky.

     

    Cruise

     

    Once you’ve climbed out and are ready to level off, the Staggerwing gives you more than enough available deflection in the trim tabs to get you level and keep you there as you push up to just over  200mph for cruise speed. Once you’re trimmed out and cruising the controls are as smooth as butter, and if you’re out to go sightseeing you can spend plenty of time gazing out the ample windows rather than on the instruments because this bird goes where you point it.

     

    If you’re off on a cross-country trip and need some navigational guidance a single VOR gauge will keep you on track, slaved to a navigation radio alongside your single com radio. Both are your standard Bendix/King-type of electronics with dual frequencies and a swap button. You can use the digital fuel gauge to swap between the amount of fuel you’ve burned so far, the amount (total) you have remaining and the HH:MM until your supply runs out at your current burn rate. Above that you always see your fuel flow in Gallons Per Hour. There are two more options, but they don’t function as a GPS unit with an open flight plan is required.

     

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    The RPM gauge threw me for a bit while I was up and cruising around, because the needle would move in a complete circle and end up back around 1,000-2,000 RPM while I was at full power. When I looked closer I realized this was how the gauge was actually supposed to function, as once the needle circles back around to 0 RPM it’s actually reading 20,000 RPM. So the red line at 2,000 RPM is actually at 22,000 RPM. I’ve personally never seen an RPM gauge behave like this before. Yet another unique aspect of this aircraft!

     

    Landing

     

    The last tail dragger I flew for any length of time was for my review of the Sky Unlimited Texan back in 2011, so I tried to remember as much as I could when I began practicing pattern work and doing a few touch and goes. As mentioned before you have a lot of deflection available for the trim tabs, you can power down to approach speed and easily trim the aircraft out. I did a few approaches head-on and some with a side-slip. The Staggerwing handles well at low speeds as long as you think ahead of the aircraft properly. I had mostly two-wheel touchdowns although I did try for three-wheel and got better once I figured out the right angle to hold off my flare at. Remember the suspension is well-modeled on this aircraft so any braking will cause even more of a dip than you may be used to as you load up the shocks. I almost buried my nose on one landing braking too soon before my tail wheel settled. There’s no gear lock indicator so listen closely for the sound of the gear dropping and maybe hop out into spot view for a confirmation.

     

    Shutdown

     

    Once you’re parked just lean the mixture until the engine cuts. Or cut the fuel. Or shut off the ignition switch. There’s really no involved process to getting the Staggerwing ready for tie down. You don’t have any extra options with this model to display covers or chocks or anything like that.

     

    Sounds

     

    The sound set that comes with the aircraft includes all the sounds you’ll need to experience the Staggerwing. The audio is well-made and looping noises like the engine don’t have obvious hitches where the audio begins anew. I noticed a bit of a problem when shutting down the engine sometimes the proper shutdown noises would be a second or so delayed in kicking in, but this was mainly during testing when I was turning the engine on and off often, it wasn’t an issue I encountered during a normal flight with a single startup and shutdown.

     

    Performance

     

    Despite the outstanding model I didn’t notice any performance impact from the aircraft while flying around. I made several flights through areas around NJ I frequently fly my other aircraft and saw no difference in frame rate while behind the controls of the Staggerwing. Of course this depends on your system so check it against my specs to see if you might have any issues yourself.

     

    Conclusion

     

    Test System
    • MSI P67A-GD65
    • Intel i5 2500K @ 4.5GHz
    • Corsair 8GB DDR3 1600
    • Radeon HD 5870 1GB
    • Catalyst 13.4
    • WD VelociRaptor 10k RPM SATA 150GB
    • Windows 7 x64
    • FSX Acceleration

    Screenshots enhanced with
    REX, ENB, Shade
    Publisher: Alabeo
    Platform: FSX
    Format: Download (85.8)
    Reviewed By: Drew Sikora

    It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed an aircraft and in that time I have installed A2A’s Accu-feel program – I didn’t think about it until writing up this review but it was enabled the entire time I was flying the Staggerwing. I did a single flight recently with the program turned off and really couldn’t notice any difference worth mentioning. I think though for future reviews I will disable the program to get a more “standard” feel.

     

    In the end, I have found the Alabeo Staggerwing to be a great addition to my hangar and I love the craftsmanship and detail that have gone into producing the visual model. The flight model and systems are also done well enough to make this aircraft both challenging to fly and pleasing to look at.

     

    What I Like About the Staggerwing

    • Top-notch visual model and texturing with impressive level of detail
    • Lack of performance impact for such a complex-looking model
    • Easy installation/removal
    • Functioning custom fuel gauge and unique RPM indicator

    What I Dislike About the Staggerwing

    • Difficulty finding documents did lead to some early frustrations/confusion with the aircraft
    • Minor fuel-feed issue from Left and Right tanks


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