by Roger Curtiss
Carenado has been producing general aviation aircraft models for a few years. Their product hangar is quite extensive and the company name is practically synonymous with ‘quality’ (or at least ‘quality textures).
A recent offering is the Beechcraft 350i King Air for FSX and P3D. Do you like turboprops? If so, this aircraft is worth consideration, although it is not perfect.
In summary, there are two good reasons to get this one. 1) It is a beautiful airplane rendered in the Carenado style. 2) The sound of the engines is extraordinary. Some flight sim engines make great noises when starting up butthen the engine sound becomes a background drone. In this King Air once the props are spinning at speed there is a high-pitched hum overlying the engine sound and it is a delight to experience(you will have to take my word on this due to the fact that print media sucks at playing audio).
I installed the aircraft to FSX and with the auto-installer it was a non-event, the most taxing element being the need to input the email address used to order the product and the serial # provided by Carenado. The company states that the install process should take only about a minute and that estimate was spot on. Once installed a selection of 8 different texture aircraft is present in the aircraft menu. Activating any one of them takes you to a very well defined exterior model with an attention to detail of the highest quality.
Not to detract from the bounty of these options, but it has always struck me as just a bit odd that so many different exterior textures are provided for aircraft when the flying is done from the cockpit and very little of the airplane’s exterior can be seen-not to mention what difference does it make if my exterior paint scheme is red or blue or anything else? If someone has a good explanation, I would welcome it).
Switching to the interior view, I was even more impressed.
The main flight deck view is in VC and it is very well presented. All instruments are clearly shown, the switches seem to have a brand new type gleam to them and the placards and switch identifiers are crisp and easy to read
Clicking on the yoke makes it disappear, providing easy access to the switches surrounding and behind it.
There is no 2-D cockpit per se, however, there is an option to display pop-up windows of individual gauges and control panels.
Eight .pdf manuals accompany the aircraft and are stored in an FSX> Carenado folder.
- Emergency Procedures- 10 pages of airspeeds and checklists to be utilized for engine failure, bleed air failure, pressurization issues, emergency descents and emergency landings.
- Normal Procedures- 20 pages of checklists for all phases of operation from Preflight to Shutdown and Secure. The lists are quite thorough…perhaps even too much so as, for example, the Preflight checklist consists of 70 line items, only 15 of which are relevant to simulator flight (many deal with walk-around inspection items, checking that circuit breakers are in and cabin lighting)
- Performance Tables-16 pages of graphs for stall speeds, cabin altitudes, V-speeds, cruise and range profiles and one-engine inoperative cruise power settings. These would be worthwhile to have at hand either printed out or on a separate monitor for easy reference
- References-1 page of reference speeds-climb (the climb speed remains constant to 10,000’ and then drops 10 kts for every 5000’ above that), and Vmca the minimum controllable airspeed which is 94 kts flaps up and 93 kts flaps down (if you are able to keep the speed from deviating that lost knot with flaps up I salute your superior airmanship)
- Proline 21 Guide- 13 pages describing (somewhat-more on this later) how to operate the five displays and control panels: PFD/MFD/Flight Guidance Panel/Display Control Panel/CDU
- RTU Manual-6 pages explaining how to operate the radios (If this is anything but your first add-on aircraft you would probably be able to figure this one out on your own-but a quick read certainly can’t hurt)
- Copyrights- one page that neither you or anyone else ever reads
- Recommended Settings-2 pages. A standardized Carenado document that applies to FSX settings for all of their aircraft. If you already own a Carenado plane these settings are probably already in place
Prior to operating the aircraft, I did the responsible thing and perused them all. An experienced simmer could likely just jump in the airplane and do a reasonable job of figuring out how everything works but as respectable pilots that is not how we roll.
I experienced a rather strange anomaly upon initial launch of the King Air, but I believe it is just a quirk in my particular setup. For my flight controls I utilize CH Yoke, TQ, and rudder pedals and more often than not when I start FSX this hardware is not recognized. I have to disconnect the USB plugs for each and re-connect them. Sometimes this will result in FSX crashing and a restart is necessary.
When I loaded up the King Air, each time I did the USB dance FSX quit. But three starts later all was well and fully functional.
For my first flight I chose to make a very short hop of just a few miles between two airports I had transited a few times during pilot training. I started up the airplane at Cleveland’s Burke Lakefront airport (KBKL) and flew for about five minutes to Cuyahoga County airport (KCGF). I wanted to simply get a feel for hand flying the aircraft and not have to program the FMS. I was able to get the engines started and taxi to the runway with little difficulty, although I found the King Air was a bit skittish in responding to steering inputs via the rudder pedals. Smooth control required a judicious blend of pedal inputs and power lever adjustments.
Advancing the levers for takeoff power produced an accompanying hearty growl from the engines and robust acceleration upon brake release. The aircraft was very responsive to control inputs and with all that power, smooth and measured control movement is needed. I steered for KCGFand lined up on runway 24. The approach was a bit high and fast and I chose to go around, making left traffic. The second time I kept the speed under control. Accustomed to flying heavier jets, I planned to delay landing gear extension until established on final, however, reducing speed low to the ground initiates a particularly obnoxious warning alarm that could only be silenced by extending the gear. Landing was uneventful and pulling the power levers to the aft beta thrust position resulted in a great noise from the props and loads of stopping power.
The next flight was to provide a greater workout of the entire system. I had given the manuals a reading a few days earlier and it was time to determine just how much I had learned of the nuances of the B350i. The flight route was Teterboro (KTEB) to Hyannisport Ma (KHYA) a trip of only 177nm and one-hour duration, but long enough to utilize all of the FMS functions. A cruise altitude of 15,000 ft. was selected.
The FMS is delivered with a 2013 Navigraph database that will certainly get most flights close to the latest procedures. Those with a Navigraph subscription can quickly add this aircraft to their mapping list and have the latest cycle installed.
I have programmed quite a few flights in Boeing, Airbus and Embraer FMS units and anyone with similar experience should have little difficulty with the Proline 21 unit installed in the King Air even without perusing the manual. Most functions to dial in a flight plan are straightforward with one annoying exception…cruise altitude. For some unfathomable reason, the default cruise altitude for the FMS is FL280 so unless another altitude is chosen by the pilot, that number will populate the flight plan unless there are some altitude constraints in the database of the flight plan route. The first problem is that the 28000 is inserted with the initial waypoint which makes it necessary for the pilot to estimate the distance needed to climb to an alternate cruise altitude and then insert that number adjacent to a waypoint at that spot in the plan. This is workable, however, inputting this revised altitude does not change any of the subsequent waypoints prior to the top of descent point. It becomes necessary to put that altitude at each cruise waypoint in the flight plan which, for a lengthy flight can entail a quite a few pages of them.
It simply seems illogical to set up the FMS in this manner and having an arbitrary default cruise altitude is a recipe for errors.
Getting the King Air pre-flighted and ready to go can be done by referring to the supplied checklists, but as I mentioned earlier, the vast majority of the preflight items are not applicable to a flight simulation model (at least not yet) so going through line by line is not essential. Preparation is made much easier by taking some time before attempting a flight to read through the checklist items and then examine the panel to determine the location of the appropriate switch or gauge. This will save time and expensive Jet-A fuel conducting the post-engine start items.
Unfortunately, that is the only way to familiarize oneself with the panel layout as there is no manual description of switches or displays other than avionics- a limitation that, apparently from forum comments, is a common problem from Carenado and is a real shame as here is a high fidelity simulation at a not so cheap price and the user has to stumble along and figure out how to work some of the systems.
During my flights I jotted down notes of systems, procedures and flight instrumentation presentations that were confusing and then re-read the manuals hoping for some additional insight- there wasn’t much to be gained there.
For example, I encountered a checklist item to test the annunciator lights, however, I was unable to locate a test button on the panel.
After engines start, there was an annunciator indication ‘RVS NOT READY’- I have no clue as to what this refers
During a flight I received a caution light that the Cabin Differential Pressure was high but I was not able to manipulate the cabin pressure controls to resolve the condition. There is a short section in the Emergency Procedures manual on action to be taken if such an indication is received but other than switching the Bleed Air Valves to ENVIR OFF, the recommended actions of oxygen masks and descent are tagged ‘As Required’.
There is an extremely annoying horn that sounds if (apparently) altitude is 2500’ AGL or less and landing gear is up. The Carenado support forum has little advice and nothing on this subject and the unofficial Carenado support forum at Flight 1 has an entry to activate the Inhibit Ground Warning button, however, this had no effect.
In short, a high-quality, sophisticated flight model warrants the inclusion of a comprehensive operations manual so that users do not have to grope about for instructions or solutions or visit support forums to hope to find answers. In this regard, Carenado is quite insufficient.
A subsequent flight proved to be quite frustrating. The flight plan was inputted, takeoff was uneventful and while climbing through 4000’ at 1500 fpm and 180 kts. I engaged the autopilot, FMS NAV and VNAV functions. (In fact, pushing either the NAV or VNAV buttons engages both and there is no way to operate with just one or the other). The King Air maintained the lateral course but would not climb. I engaged the Vertical Speed button and dialed in the climb rate. As the aircraft climbed the airspeed began to decrease dramatically-even though full power was being commanded. I noticed that the stabilizer trim had moved to full up even though the rate of climb was still at the set 1500 fpm rate. I could not disengage the trim so I disconnected the autopilot. The airplane had to be flown in a descent to obtain airspeed above stall speed and any attempt to climb, even at a minimal rate, would result in loss of airspeed. The aircraft continued to descend, elevator control was lost at 1000’ AGL altitude and the nose would not come up despite full aft yoke input. The airplane crashed. I reset the simulator and tried again with the exact same results.
Once again, there is scant documentation provided to ascertain why this might be occurring but the Proline 21 avionics seem to be the culprit. Most of my gripes with this airplane are related to autopilot and FMS functions. The comments in the limited support forums for Carenado products contain a few references to the poor quality of this avionics package and it does make one wonder why Carenado continues to include it in many of their products.
The takeaway for me is that while visually arresting and having an excellent sound package, there are too many deficiencies and frustrations in the aircraft operation and lack of explanatory documentation (Carenado-can you say ‘tutorial flight’?).
I have a limited time to conduct simulator flights and there are too many outstanding products out there to warrant fussing with a product that produces so much disappointment and frustration. If Carenado insists on pumping out products that do not fully replicate the systems touted, then they should consider charging less than $39.95 for a product.
Visually very impressive inside and out. Hand flying is enjoyable-which is a good thing since the autopilot and FMS leave much to be desired.
All in all, I had high expectations for this King Air and they were not realized. If you are seeking a fully representative simulation stay away from Carenado’s rendition of Proline 21 avionics or be prepared to be disappointed.
Nice effort Carenado but the state of the art is functionality and we would like to see improvements in that sense.