Should you be interested in a few of our higher end propeller driven twins, some outstanding airport scenery, and are ready to take a look at an impressive flight simulator cockpit that all fits together like a well made custom glove, then you are in for a treat. I have been slowly, but not very slowly, assembling a Mad Catz/Saitek hardware cockpit that doesn’t totally take over your flight simulator desk or study or library.
This is where we act like Captain Kirk and explore the brave new world of physical throttles, yokes, combat pedals (just in case we come across any Klingons) and such. It actually looks a little more like someone combined Sulu’s and Uhura’s stations. The screens are much smaller than those on the USS Enterprise but just as effective. Warp drive is yet to be invented but many of the new features that I just witnessed in the RealAir Lancair Legacy review will be finding their way into this caliber add-on soon.
The plan is to show you around and explain what I have and how it works in FSX, and then take you for a series of ground and flight tests with some top tier FSX twins. The Avsim single engine compatibility review was published a few months ago. I have since added dual power quadrants, dual radio panels, eight new highly adaptable Flight Instrument Panels (FIPs), and the Backlit Information Panel (BIP).
Having such an outstanding hardware package, a full handful of the cream-of-the-crop twins and the opportunity to see how they perform when the gear is up, we need something out of the ordinary to see out the windows. How about we start the flight tests at Corfu, a striking Greek Island, and then move the fleet a few hundred miles north and see how they look when approaching Innsbruck. This will give us some performance figures at sea level with summer temperatures and then we can move up to higher altitudes and catch a few screenshots with a little snow on the mountains.
Just so you won’t be tempted to look ahead to see if your favorite twin is represented and how I chose Corfu and Innsbruck here is the cast and locations.
RealAir’s Turbine Duke, Flight1’s Britten-Norman BN-2 Islander, Carenado’s new B-58 Baron and high flying C90B King Air, and completing the five, the ever gorgeous Milviz Cessna 310R. So we have a slick turbine-powered corporate one, a down to earth small commuter, a smaller easy to fly weekender, a big high-flying fast hauler and an aerodynamically stunning one.
In case you are not familiar with these guys, I am going to give you a quick overview, describe my Saitek cockpit and then ask Scotty to transport the crew and fleet over to Corfu to get started.
Speaking of Corfu, I asked my friends over at Aerosoft to provide a couple of premium airport scenery packages for our multi-engine equipped aircraft tests. Mathijs instantly agreed, and provided not just an island airport but an entire island in photo-real scenery with some of the most unique approach and departure views anyplace. Well, anyplace other than Innsbruck, Austria with that famous circle to land approach and the series of scenic valleys and tight mountain passes.
I’m eager to get started.
I read a couple of reviews and both gave RealAir the highest possible marks for this latest iteration. I agree, this seems to be the current dream machine – it flies higher and faster, lands shorter, takes off quicker, and climbs faster than its predecessor. It not only looks better, it is an absolute knockout. The performance charts are almost unreal – 900 feet landing distance, 1000 feet takeoff roll, 9 minutes climb time to Fl250 with a pressurized cabin and six seats. All 3d, all VC, with absolutely stunning textures. It sports two legendary P&W PT6 A35 turboprop engines cranking out 550 shp each with those manly 4 bladed props and humongous exhausts. This makes the Turbine Duke a much more versatile aircraft that can get into and out of almost any runway.
This Turbine Duke is way more than the piston Duke with an engine upgrade. The list of new and innovative additions is long and distinguished. RealAir has included upgrades all over the panel, including the new easy to read Moritz 3d digital engine gauges.
The piston Duke was one of my very first FSX add-ons and now I have a choice, piston or turbine. I am just a performance kind of guy and the RealAir Turbine Duke has my idea of performance.
Speaking of performance, my not-so-old i7-870 PC is starting to get seriously strained with all this new hardware and the recent addition of several complex FSX add-ons. I was daydreaming about one of those new over clocked Intel Ivy Bridge CPUs with the blazingly fast memory with a SSD drive or two that would be personally limited to less than 10 add-ons - one in each of my personal categories.
Stunning level of detail both inside and out. Carenado Baron 58 cabin and typical chalet
First and foremost, my dream setup starts with a full Mad Catz/Saitek Pro Flight cockpit, then a really good video card, say the nVidia GTX680 and 3 matched Dell 24 IN HD monitors. My high and fast add-ons of choice are the PMDG 737NGX airliner and the new Aerosoft AirbusX Extended, and the low and slow choice is A2Asimulations J3 cub with Accu-sim. The high performance general aviation selection would be the new RealAir Lancair Legacy, an absolute knock-your-socks off kit plane with nearly unbelievable flight dynamics, visual and sound effects. On par with these would be my one military selection - the Milviz F-15E Strike Eagle. I need a basic twin just for routine transportation, and that could be any one of the 5 used in this review or even my ole trusty Cessna Skymaster 337H.
This leaves me with a few unnamed categories to fill. This could be a bush plane, a small commuter, a crop-duster, a helicopter, maybe a small acrobatic rocket or maybe one of Aerosoft’s new replacements, like the new Twotter or Beaver or . . . so many to choose from. More than likely, this will also include a holding spot for the ‘plane of the month’. I’ll have to get back with you on these last few but a slot should be reserved for the then current ‘review or evaluation’ aircraft. Of course all those scenery add-ons and utility programs don’t count in the 10, but will affect performance. The first general utility added will be A2A’s Accu-feel then a reload of some my Orbx scenery areas, leaving out those early areas that I never seem to have the time to see and maybe the latest REX. OK, so much for daydreaming, back to the multi-engine descriptions.
Flight1 nailed this one. The Islander is nothing special for looks – it doesn’t fly high or fast, it is actually a little boxy looking with a plain Jane cockpit and a non-graphic GPS that I will never figure out how to use, but it does have something special as I keep loading it up without thinking of any place to go in particular. It has unattractive oversized fixed gear, a big squarish non-descript wing, huge flaps and an unorthodox flight instrument layout, but it sure is fun to fly. It doesn’t look like a STOL but it most definitely performs like one. Can you imagine a 35 knot stall speed?
The sounds are the best of this bunch; no one has more realistic switch sounds, and just wait ‘til you hear it with Accu-feel running. It shakes and rattles, and moans and groans just as I would expect one flying in the Islands ferrying a full load of google-eyed tourists with their over-stuffed baggage and souvenirs. With good piloting technique you can usually make the first turnoff at most any airport and if you can land then you can takeoff so this brings a lot of really small airports into the picture. (Think Orbx) If you go on vacation or holiday you are sure to see several and will probably fly in one if you are in the islands or get off the beaten path.
I will never get use to the Bendix King KLN-90 GPS, although it is probably more capable than my Garmins. I like to have a visual picture of where I am and where I’m going. My brain is like my PC – very limited and often stressed out – so I need to spend my time enjoying my flying rather than learning another cryptic GPS/Nav system. I recently added the outstanding Reality XP Unlimited Pack to my hangar so in the future most all my planes will have a near real world GPS or two in the panel.
I never seemed to notice a sound bite for releasing the parking brake except on this Islander and the A2A B377 Stratoliner. It is probably all the little things and attention to detail that makes this one so special. I use hardware to tune my radios now, and the clicks for each digit sounds as real from the BN-2 sound set as from my Saitek radio panels. I understand a New Zealand real world operator was party to the sim version design and testing and it shows.
If you like engine sounds then this is one you will enjoy. That huge left Lycoming 0-540 is mounted just over your shoulder and you can glance at that big chromed spinner as you listen to the hum. With the high wing set back a ways the visibility is outstanding and that first power reduction on climb out is as real as I have felt and heard. The cockpit VC and smooth 3D gauge technology makes this one easy on the eyes and surprisingly easy on the frame rates.
Carenado Baron B58
The Baron has never been considered an over-achiever in any category but it is just about perfect as your basic personal conventional twin engine aircraft. Carrying 4-5 passengers in comfort at 200 knots with the safety of a second engine might be the ideal spec.
Flying the Baron is so relaxing. It is very docile in it handling, the sounds are spot on, the interior is immaculate, the 3d gauges are near perfect and it has good visibility over the nose and wings. If it looks a little like a Bonanza with a second engine with a Mentor tail it should because that is exactly what it is.
Last evening I watched a video showing off the newest Royal Turbine upgrade. Yep, you guessed it; a Turbine Baron using a couple of -21 PT-6’s replacing the Lycomings. It’s amazing what a cool million dollar upgrade will do for a half million dollar airplane. The Turbine Baron will cruise at almost 300Kts and has a 4,500 FPM rate of climb. The developer that brings this one to the FSX market will certainly have my undivided attention. This would be like the little cheerleader next door that fills out and grows up to be Miss America.
Half of the pilot-related accidents in the Baron occurred during landing, compared to 33 percent with other aircraft. Failure to extend or verify that the landing gear are down is the number one cause. Inadvertent retraction on rollout is the second. Baron pilots are nearly five times as likely to have problems with extending or retracting the gear at the wrong time as those flying comparable aircraft. This is both a training and aircraft design issue.
- AOPA Baron Safety Report
Carenado C90B King Air
Now we are getting into the high performance workhorse category. If you go to your local airport and ask for a charter, most likely you will be quoted prices for a King Air or maybe a Queen Air if the King is already out on business. This aircraft just looks like it means business; hauling a pilot and 7 passengers and baggage at 240 knots is no easy task. It takes two of those P&W PT6 550 shp turbines on the wings to carry the 10,000 pounds. Of course, it needs to fly in the rare air to achieve these speeds so it sports a pressurized cabin for those flights up to Fl300.
This Carenado edition has a big nice Avidyne display system with terrain and weather radar presentations in addition to the traffic, GPS, flight plan and airport data displays.
The King Air panel has many airliner type instruments with an easy to read layout. The individual radio units are spaced out nicely and very easy to see and operate. The EFIS is fully integrated; it has the Garmin GPS 400 with several small annunciation panels to keep you alert with aural cues and warnings.
A first glance either inside or out tells you this is a big airplane. I guess the assumption is that you already know the ins and outs and how to fly the King Air C90B because it does not come with a POH or even a few chapters as Carenado has been doing with some of their recent models. It does have 10 smaller pdf references for individual instruments and avionics and normal and emergency checklists and a one page limitations reference. The normal checklist is very extensive and provides the most hints at how to fly this one. The 8 performance charts are all for 8,500 pounds gross weight and max cruise power, although typical aircraft weights can vary from 7,000 to 10,000 pounds. These charts range from -30 deg C to +37 deg C. in mostly 10 deg increments. I think many flight simmers will be seeking more documentation to fully appreciate what they have in their hands.
Fortunately for us, a large number of Avsim members have flight time in King Airs from their real life and are willing to share their memories and thoughts with us. A visit to the Carenado support forum will reveal a long list of posts about how this and that really works along with suggested changes or fixes. Many complain it is not 100% like the ones they flew but they love just having one in FSX.
You will want to check that weight and balance each time you load it up and maybe set it to 8,500 pounds gross weight until you find more flight data.
Milviz Cessna 310R
This was Military Visualizations first purely general aviation product for FSX. Released late last year to some rave reviews about the flight dynamics and well deserved praise for how realistic the FSX model compares to the real world version in New Mexico. This R model has the elongated nose with additional baggage space and those nice 3 bladed props. Milviz seems to try to appeal to a very broad FSX base by including 3 selectable instrument panels. The "Analog" panel has the almost expected Garmin 530 and 430 GPS duo. The panel called "Free Radio" has the standard FSX radio stack and one GPS unit with moving map. The panel called "G1000" has the Garmin 1000 glass cockpit found in several of the default FSX aircraft.
Those sleek aerodynamically correct wing tip fuel tanks are a perfect match for the Cessna 310. The pointy nose, slick wing tip tanks and slanted vertical stabilizer makes this look like it is approaching cruise speed while still on the ground.
With a little break in recent trends Milviz has provided several 2d popup windows that enables close-ups of the GPS, engine instruments and switch panels. This one has lots of animations with all doors and the small window opening with a mouse click. The modeling is so real that the real world tendency to require substantial amounts of right rudder even when taxiing is present in the FSX model. This is not a model friendly to the full power run up with the brakes on then let’s go fly. If you are not on your toes on the take off roll you can easily end up in left field or taking out a couple of taxiway lights, and this is with both engines running. The recommended Cessna method is to add power gradually with increasing amounts of right rudder to maintain proper runway centerline alignment. Duh.
No one seems to be able to explain why this particular model has such a pronounced p-factor and torque effect with the constant tendency to go the left. I personally think similar models like the Beech Baron and Piper Seminole have similar habits but the developers smooth out some of the more aggressive characteristics to make those models a little more docile.
I don’t think we can have too much documentation for a simulation and Milviz delivers with quantity and quality for the Cessna 310R. This is just the opposite of Carenado who has been reducing the number of pages of the POH to almost nothing. According to Milviz, all of the manuals were written by real-world pilots and these manuals are very well organized with clear writing and plenty of images.
This one uses a large collection of real-world aircraft sounds and they appear to have all the sounds adapted almost perfectly. On my computer, the frame rates are not an issue. I seldom have any complaints other than I have a persistent AA problem across the board and I am still seeking those elusive magic nVidia settings. This shows up as running or racing lines along the GPS screens when the panel is moved or the view shifted.
Comparison of the models.
All pretty different except the panel layout similarities in the 3 Beech models.
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But, even these 3 models are different enough to make it interesting.
Why five? Like the Mercedes salesman told me about their 5 cylinder engine back in the 70s – 4 wasn’t enough and 6 was too many.
I initially considered adding a pure jet to the mix but found out that I must devote a lot of my time learning to fly it first and the two groups just don’t seem to play together very well. A follow on review will be dedicated to some of the most popular high flying corporate jets using the Mad Catz/Saitek cockpit. I just found out that Saitek is putting the finishing touches on 6 new FIP gauges designed specifically for high performance jet powered aircraft. These instrument updates and upgrades are usually free downloads.
I have several older FSX twins that remain truly fun to fly. I chose not to include them in the mix so as not to have so many that I would have to abbreviate the flying time to complete the review with a reasonable number of pages. A few that come to mind are the Aerosoft Twin Otter, PBY Catalina, and the nifty OV-10A Bronco, the Just Flight Beech Duchess, the Eaglesoftdg Twin Comanche, the Carenado Cessna 337H Skymaster and Cessna 340, and the RealAir Piston Duke. I have a few more twins in the back of my hangar or maybe tied down in the lower 40, but they fail to hold my attention long enough to get loaded in FSX usually due to something I would refer to as serious deficiencies or maybe just not on par with my expectations. I plan to load some of these up in FSX and take them for a short circuit just to make sure all the basic switches and nav aids are working but only report any short comings.
Flying a Twin Engine airplane
Most real world pilots usually, and should, go for their instrument rating shortly after the ink dries on their Private Pilots license. This is a smart thing to do and will probably keep you alive to fly another day. But, then what? Provided you have the funds, or maybe just good credit, a multi-engine rating is a nice thing to have. Especially if you happen to own one or have a friend with a plane with engines mounted on the wings. When things are working correctly, there is not much difference other than the view out the windows, and a few additional levers and dials, between a high performance single and your basic twin engine plane. I covered this in the Carenado Cessna 210T Centurion and the Cessna 337H Skymaster Avsim reviews last year.
The big difference is what happens and how quickly and how correctly the pilot responds to the loss of the critical engine. This is usually at the most inconvenient and most dangerous time – during your full power takeoff roll, immediately after rotation or during initial climb out. This is when those two additional little colored lines on the airspeed indicator earn their keep. The reason this seems to be the most popular time for engine failure is that both engines are churning at full power with full pitch on the props. Of course, this doesn’t explain why more single engine aircraft do not have engine failure at the time and at the same rate.
Practically the entire time that I was receiving dual instruction for my multi-engine rating in a Piper Aztec, I was learning emergency procedures. Multi-engine rating students usually already know how to fly a high performance single engine plane, it just what happens when the twin suddenly becomes a single at full power that makes for exciting and sometimes dangerous times. Sure enough, on my check ride, the examiner turned off the fuel to the right engine during my takeoff run and at about 20 feet in the air I get this really wild yaw. As I was expecting this to happen, I was not surprised and just considered it one more training flight.
Dead foot, dead engine – meaning the foot that is not being used on the rudder pedal to maintain some form of straight ahead alignment is on the side of the dead engine. Recheck to make sure as this can be a little confusing at the time. What you are looking to do is get the failed engine cleaned up, by this I mean the fuel turned off and the prop feathered to reduce drag. Crank in the necessary amount of trim to relieve your tired working foot, bank ever so slightly toward the failed engine, report your mishap to the tower, or the general public, and start making plans to get on the ground. Whatever you think are your priorities, your number one priority is to maintain control of the aircraft. Keeping the airspeed above the Vmc (red radial line) should be on your mind constantly. Remember the blue radial line airspeed will be the best speed for gaining altitude or losing the least altitude in some planes.
Once you are fairly certain you can get back to the airport or another nearby airport, you will need to start thinking about how well you can taxi with one engine. Hint, land long or pick a favorable runway if it will shorten you taxi route to the mechanic, otherwise he will be working on your brakes as well.
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Now don’t do anything stupid like losing an engine on takeoff, correctly identifying the failed engine, getting it feathered, and then come around and land gear up because is all the excitement you forgot your GUMP procedure. (Gas, Undercarriage, Mixture, Props) This would be a good time to run through the GUMP check several times just to make certain you don’t miss anything.
All of the add-ons that we will be looking at in this review respond normally to a full power engine failure and feathering. This is a good break from the standard simulator flight to practice engine out procedures. Another thing that you will be doing on a routine basis with a twin that you may or may not be doing with a single engine airplane is adding a step in the pre-takeoff procedures to check the propeller governor and feathering mechanism.
Many singles have constant speed props so you may already be cycling the prop a couple of times prior to takeoff to get the juices flowing and making sure the governor is indeed working that day. The feathering is reserved for aircraft with two or more engines and this may save your life one day by considerably reducing the drag of a dead engine thereby enabling you to climb to safety or extend your time in the air long enough to get to safe landing area or runway.
I will test each aircraft to make sure I can get back on the ground in one piece and park it in a decent spot after having a simulated engine failure. I always chuckle at the term ‘simulated simulated’ procedures. After you are back safe on the ground the taxi part may be more difficult than you think.
All this assumes that you have rudder pedals installed for your home cockpit. Having a FSX twin engine aircraft without rudder pedals and toe brakes is kind of like a one-armed paper hanger. It just ain’t going to work very well. Dual power quadrants are well worth the price of admission if you get the twin bug. There is just something unnatural about using a left mouse click for one throttle and a right mouse click for two throttles. I agree, it is better than nothing, but nowhere near as realistic as the 6 Saitek levers that I use. I enjoy the cold and dark individual engine starts, and actually look forward to a long taxi with lots of turns so I can use my differential throttles.
The Saitek Pro Flight Cockpit
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Let’s take a look at the Mad Catz/Saitek Pro flight Cockpit gear now. For convenience, let’s break the cockpit into physical sections, first you need a quality yoke and rudder pedals. Saitek has the Pro Flight Yoke and the Pro Flight Cessna Yoke models, I will be using the Cessna Yoke for this review.
In the rudder pedal department, Saitek has 3 choices, their namesake version, the Cessna version and the Combat version. I will be using the Combat Flight Pedals for this review, however, any of the three would be an excellent choice. The desktop is everything else, the throttles and power units, trim panel, switches panels, autopilot, flight instruments, radios and such. The desktop pieces come in three general shapes and sizes.
You have the wide, rectangular panels (11 x 3-3/8 inches), then you have the smaller rounded pieces for the throttle quadrants and big trim wheel, and then you have as many as you would like of the smaller square (3 3/4 x 3 ½ in), Flight Instrument Panels. For this review, I have 4 of the wider panels – the ever handy Switch Panel, the Multi Panel that I usually refer to as the Autopilot panel, but it also has flaps, trim, and auto throttle switches, and two of the outstanding radio/avionics panels that gives me eight illuminated large frequency displays. I also have the TPM that sports the more conventional single horizontal Throttle, Prop, and Mixture control with a group of 9 on/off toggle switches that I use for single engine operation.
On top of the TPM, I have mounted my dual quadrants (which fits exactly) for Throttles, Props, and Conditioners or Mixtures for twin engine flying and the really handy big Cessna trim wheel within easy reach as it is used all the time.
I have eight Flight Instrument Panels (FIPs). The physical arrangement of these little guys takes very little time depending on how many you choose to have. A grouping of 3 or 4 units would be considered a nice starter package. Six is considered a fairly normal setup and 8 or more is ideal. I think the 8 units will replicate most any add on that we would be flying in FSX. I usually like to have six flight instruments and two engine monitoring instruments. Of course, each of these individual FIPs can be cycled through your entire inventory of gauges and gauge faces using the convenient up/down lighted press switch at the center bottom of each unit. I have about 15 gauges to choose from and I’m adding more all the time.
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On the left bottom, I have the Switch Panel where most of the standard FSX switches and knobs are pre-configured. The large knob at the far left are the Left and Right magneto switches and starter, then moving right is the battery and alternator master switches. The ever elusive Avionics Master switch is in full view as opposed to hidden behind the yoke or down near your knee as in many planes, along with the fuel pump, de-ice, pitot heat and cowl flaps.
Rounding out the switches are the lighting starting with the panel lights, then your standard beacon, wing and tail navigation lights, strobe, taxi and landing lights. The 3 large, bright green triangle of lights are for the landing gear position indications and the big handy gear up/gear down knob is at the far right. Lots of bang for the buck with this panel. These are all full sized switches, knobs, and lights and have that nice positive feel and aural feedback when used.
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Above the Switch Panel and to the left of the flight instruments group, I have located the Multi Panel that combines a full autopilot with yellow lighted push to enable switches and a big white square AP on/off switch/indicator.
As expected, you can use keyboard keystrokes or assigned buttons or simply press the button on the Multi Panel for autopilot operation. The large, easy to read double-line red indicator status panel reads course, heading, indicated airspeed, vertical speed and altitude. Each is selected by the turn/twist knob at the upper left of the panel.
The silver dial immediately to the right of the indicator panel is a +/- turn dial for quickly dialing up your selections or you can use switches and dials in FSX or assigned buttons or keystrokes. The silver dial appears to have an inner and outer dial but is actually just made for large or small hands or maybe for large or small changes.
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The right third of the Multi Panel houses the Auto Throttle off/arm switch, the flaps up/down actuator switch and an elevator pitch trim roll wheel that is very accurate and easy to use.
The last two wide panel are the radio/avionics panels that I have dubbed Nav1 and Nav2 and they take up the Right side of the desktop. The two radio panels are exact duplicates but between the two units I have two comms, two navs, two transponders, two ADFs, and two VORs or LOCs. You select the radio or unit of choice then dial the frequency for use and/or display. With eight large, easy to read display windows, it sure simplifies tracking to a fix or flying an approach with DME readouts and such and radio frequencies in general.
Just like practically all the real world model Nav/Coms, you have a primary and secondary frequency with a push-to-exchange switch. Your Active frequency is the primary, of course, and your Standby frequency is the secondary. To add or change the 4 digit Transponder code you press the white switch used to exchange the Secondary/Primary or Standby/Active frequency. You just press the white switch one time for each digit and use the silver round knob just to the left of the white switch to move to the next digit position.
A feature that really impresses me is the input/output interfacing with the Simulator. By this I mean when you change a frequency on the Saitek Radio Panel or using the radio stack in FSX or on a panel mounted GPS or a popup window of either, the Saitek Radio Panel and FSX will both react accordingly.
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It doesn’t matter whether you change a frequency in FSX by mouse clicking a knob area or set a frequency on the Saitek Radio panel by physically turning the tuning knob, both radios are always in sync. This is great for “automatically” changing frequencies (like when using FS2Crew) or having ATC automatically changing radio frequencies.
The Saitek Pro Flight Cessna Yoke and Pedals have their own Avsim review. Please check out those details and come back and complete the multi-engine segment. Each unit requires one USB v2.0 connection and to be safe it probably should be a powered USB connection. The Pro Flight Cessna Yoke has an additional 3 available USBs and feeds one of the Power Quadrants with a PS2 cable connection. I have two powered USB hubs with 10 receptacles each. This gives me a few handy places for anything USB and some growth to add temporary drives or USB keys for moving files around.
The Saitek die cast alloy Combat Rudder Pedals round out the Cockpit hardware. The Combat Rudder Pedals are Saitek’s top of the line with independent left and right brake axis allowing for greater accuracy and precision when performing braking maneuvers.
Self-centering rudder axis works in conjunction with a user configurable dampening adjuster, allowing users to define levels of pressure required to operate rudder controls. A useful feature is that both foot plates are pre-set to an angle of 40%, but you have the option of adjusting the rake to 55% or 70%, which ever suites you best. One USB v2.0 is needed for connection. A small green illuminated light indicates power is on and ready to fly.
Each of these units can be purchased and added as individual pieces. There is no set priority or order but some groupings might seem more logical than others. Initially I had only the yoke, pedals and one power quadrant, and then added the TPM and Switch panels and felt blessed just to have those units. Then I added the second power quadrant and now can’t imagine having a cockpit without a dual quadrant.
I then added the Multi Panel and two Radio Panels. The big Cessna trim wheel came packaged with the Pro Flight Cessna Yoke.
My most recent addition is the very useful backlit status/info panel. All 24 status indicator tiles are assignable and you get about twice that many tiles to choose from. The inventory is growing all the time. This unit is far more useful in flight simulation than I first thought.
With no status illuminated, you have a totally blacked out panel. This one is the same physical size as the other wide panels with green, yellow, and red colors for normal, caution, and warning. The setup is super simple with a point and shoot, or click and drag the tile to your choice of locations. Background colors are selectable by a right mouse click. Then save your profile as an xml file and you are good to go. You then physically place the magnetic tile in the proper location. The holding case for the spare or unused tiles is really classy and high end like all the other Saitek equipment. Changes are just that simple. I can envision another dozen or so new tiles being made available in the future. I could use some like – Taxi Lights On, HDG, ALT, APR, Fuel Pump On, Auto Throttle Armed, Speed Brake Armed, and Reverse Thrust.
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The most impressive new addition is the eight Flight Instrument Panel units. Each of the units are identical; what makes them different is that you can assign a startup sequence in an XML file and you can select a unique gauge or gauge face for each unit. This can also be done on the fly. Should you have a limited number of units, you can preselect a grouping for various phases of flight - takeoff, cruise, approach and landing, etc.
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An internet search will reveal a few generous fellow flight simmers that are gifted enough to understand the coding required to build custom gauges and gauge faces for these Saitek Instrument Panels.
I am using gauges from Tom Tsui at FSX Times, where you will find a gold mine of useful information and from Phillipe Verhaege, a gauge designer, flight simmer, and real world military pilot. Phillipe builds some truly extraordinary engine gauges. In additional to these sources, Saitek is continually adding new gauges and faces and making them available as free downloads.
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You can find all your basic instruments and then you can find turbo prop gauge panels, for both single and multi-engines, you can find specific gauges for single engine Cessnas, Beech Barons, HISD, all sorts of navigation related gauges, etc. The only thing that I haven’t found yet, is a series of airspeed indicators with varying top ends. I would like to have about six in fact, with the top of the green arc stepping up in 50 knots or so increments from say 100 knots to 350 Knots. This would give me a good selection to choose from and would work for 95% of my non-airliner or military jet add-ons. Just a thought.
I took one of the airspeed indicator faces and made a makeshift Beech Baron airspeed indicator using a simple graphics drawing package. I then enlarged some of the numbers and widened the colored bands of a second airspeed indicator and added the red and blue bands for the faster flying King Air and Turbine Duke. Works for me.
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The airspeed indicator on the near right is a Boeing type display with a top speed of 400 Knots. This one was designed and uploaded by Tony Lammi in Finland. I created a face for the new RealAir Lancair Legacy and asked Tony to write the code to accurately move the needle when he returns from an extended holiday.
Here is Tom Tsui’s handiwork for his six basic gauges. Notice the outer ring that shouts Cessna. Tom has recently graduated from the Cessna 172 to the C210T Centurion. There is no going back, Tom.
Phillipe Verhaege takes gauge design to a whole new level with his custom gauges for individual FSX add-ons. All are downloadable and free. Most of Phillipe’s packages give the end user a choice of colors for the individual needles. Nice.
In addition to the selectable gauges and gauge faces, each FIP has 6 assignable buttons located along the left side and laid out vertically. These use the standard FSX assignments found in the SDK or they can be omitted and the real estate used for enlarged gauge faces.
When using the 6 assignable buttons the active gauge face is 240 x 240 pixels. Without the text for the 6 buttons the gauge face increases to 305 x 240 pixels.
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So my 8 FIPs give me up to 48 new assignable buttons within easy reach and with easy to read labels. This is a big improvement for us old guys that can’t easily see the small fonts and can’t remember which switch was assigned what function (gives the term CRS a whole new meaning). Study this selection of six gauges and you will see how the switch labels can be used or hidden but still be usable if you can remember what they do.
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It's tough to do this system justice with mere words, because flying with it is such a profoundly visual experience. We could spend days exploring the capabilities of these little boxes, but, I had rather go flying.
The FIPs have a built-in screen saver for when FSX is not running. The logo with the serial number gets a little old after a while but fortunately can be easily changed by pointing to a different folder or just adding your own Jpgs to the existing folder.
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The primary goal of this review is to explore how well our current crop of recent, top-tier multi-engine add-ons work with the Saitek Pro Flight Cockpit. I had originally intended to have a high end pure jet in the mix, but I realized the conventional prop twins and the high flying corporate twin jets are so different that I have spun them off for a future stand-alone review using the Saitek Cockpit. Look for a couple of the latest extreme Citations from Eaglesoftdg and the Flight1 Cessna Mustang for the G1000 lovers being flown using this hardware cockpit in the near future.
Any one of these FSX aircraft add-ons will stand out in any crowd, but when flown back to back or as a group they show just how well our developers have succeeded in delivering truly top notch aircraft.
When I purchased the RealAir Duke as my first twin engine general aviation add on for FSX I thought at the time how could anyone improve on this? Well, the Turbine Duke is a lot more than the piston Duke with new engines. There must be two pages of improvements listed. The Turbine Duke has more configuration options for the panel, has new digital readouts for many of the engine gauges that you can read with just a glance, and of course has several options for the Reality XP owners.
Don’t get excited about that 2nd monitor – it is just a screen capture
You can mix and match several color combinations for the cabin and panels.
I think the panel lighting improvements are one of the best, the back-lit gauges are very noticeable. Of course, the Turbine Duke has a working pressurization system.
Then the common question in the forums asked when Carenado will build a new twin. Once they got around to it, they pumped four models out in a matter of months. I reviewed the award winning Cessna 337H Skymaster late last year. We have the docile Baron and work horse King Air for our tests.
Flight1 delivered the BN-2 Islander almost two years ago to the delight of flight simmers around the world. This award winning design would just be another Flight1 hit if it didn’t fly so well, but it is the most nimble big plane that I have flown recently. It doesn’t fly fast or high, but it will land and takeoff from anything just looking like a runway or strip and haul a bunch of folks and their baggage. It’s a STOL mini commuter.
Military Visualizations, Milviz for short, may have to revisit their name. In addition to building helicopters and advanced fighters and a few commercial airliners and big bombers, they are making a new name for themselves with the recent release of their Cessna 310R and most recently, the Baron 55. The timing didn’t work out for the Baron 55 to be included in this review but it should be somewhat similar to the included Baron 58 – almost the same horsepower engines but, an older cabin layout with a very used look and feel. A recent SP1 brings this one up to speed.
Airport Scenery Add-ons
Kerkyra, more commonly known as Corfu, is a Greek island in the Ionian Sea to the north west of the Greek mainland. The island is located near the border between Greece and Albania and 60 miles east of lower Italy. Corfu has been a very popular holiday destination ever since air travel became cheap enough for the masses. The airport is Ioannis Kapodistrias (LGKR ). There is no ILS so the instrument approach is by VOR DME and T-VOR DME based on the airfield.
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Here are the highlights of Aerosoft’s CorfuX.
- Photo real texture (0.5-1.0m resolution) for whole Corfu Island
- Custom terrain mesh for the whole island
- Photo-realistic scenery covering the main and the old town and both ends of the approach path
- Fully custom 3D airport with all structures
- Custom HD ground textures with full FSX material properties (specular shine/water reflection) at airport
- Realistic approach lighting system
- Detailed rendition of Corfu’s famous landmarks on approach routes
- Advanced animations at the airport (flag/vehicle animations etc.)
- Detailed representation of old town and harbour
- 3D re-construction of the main ship port and rocky shores of the old town
- Very high frame rates
- Extensive manual (available before purchase)
- Simple tool to configure the scenery
This is really refreshing to see such a large area with the custom upgrades. The typical Greek island was not treated very well by the FSX developers as can be observed if you wander very far off the Island. Only the summer season is available and for some reason there are no navigation or approach charts included, not even a link. Google to the rescue - online pdf airport and approach/departure charts are available here
This is a large island by any standard being 227 square miles, it runs approximately 40 miles long with the greatest width about 20 miles. Corfu’s coastline spans 135 miles including capes. The Bay of St. George in the Northwestern part is especially scenic. The island is divided into three districts where the northern is mountainous, the center undulating, and the southern low-lying. In fact the airport’s runway elevation is only 5 feet and located in the eastern part of the central district.
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While I’m here I hope to have one afternoon off for sightseeing. My wife asked me to bring home some Corfu cheese and Corfu butter, evidently only available here on the island. The approach and landing on runway 35 affords spectacular aerial views of Pontikonisi and the Vlaheraina Monastery. Corfu is very green compared to other Greek islands: There are an estimated 3 million olive trees here.
“The more I see from this place, the more I feel that no other spot on earth can be fuller of beauty” wrote Edward Lear in 1863 to describe the island of Corfu.
I’m using the Free Flight option of FSX to instantly relocate our 5 aircraft to the general aviation ramp at Corfu airport. I have no pecking order in mind, so I think I will start with the Baron 58. Using the 9 page Normal Checklist pdf provided in the download from Carenado, I have made some personal notes and have the kneeboard speeds handy. The provided full normal and emergency checklist pdf is 35 pages with the last 7 pages being the cruise tables.
When I startup FSX the Saitek Cockpit comes to life as part of the startup, the first indication is the Autopilot window illuminates along with a lamp check of all the lighted buttons. All eight Flight Instrument Panels should follow.
Sometimes one or two of the panels fail to come to life. A quick disconnect and reconnect of the USB connection corrects the problem every time. I suspect it is the 10 USB powered bar that I am using. I am looking for a higher quality powered USB bar to confirm this suspicion. There also may be some type of electrical contact spray or grease that can be used for better connectivity. Another suspicion is that I may be overloading the current draw of the powered USB bar.
Pilot’s view of the Carenado Baron 58’s beautiful interior
Beginning with a cold start for the first flight of the day, I notice one thing that is different from most of the FSX add-ons that I have – the Baron has dedicated magnetos and starter switches for each engine. This makes it especially nice using the Saitek cockpit hardware to start each engine. I use the Switch Panel Magnetos knob to select Both, but have assigned buttons on the Throttle Quadrant as the individual Left and Right engine starter switches. Using the provided checklist, I have removed all the red ‘remove before flight’ items, chocks and tie-downs and am now ready for engine start.
I checked that the control lock is removed and stowed, set the parking brake, glance around the cabin to make sure there are no loose items, Seats upright and adjusted for the takeoff position, seat belts secure, trim tab set for takeoff. I check that all avionics is Off, Landing Gear knob is in the down position with 3 green lights on the Saitek Switch Panel, cowl flaps open, fuel selector On fullest tank. OK, Before Start Checklist is complete.
Depending on the settings that FSX loaded with your aircraft, the Saitek Switch panel settings may be at odds. For instance, if you last shut down FSX while the aircraft was in flight, as in “Honey, dinner is ready”, but then loaded your current flight at an airport, then the landing gear will obviously be in the down position in FSX but the Saitek gear position will be in the Up or retracted position as you left it. A quick cycle of the switches that are On to the Off position and placing the Landing Gear handle to the down position will synchronize the Saitek cockpit and the FSX newly loaded aircraft. The new Backlit Information Panel, BIP, is great for a quick check of these switch and knob positions.
I slide the left mixture lever to the full rich, or full forward position. Same for the left engine Blue Prop lever, full forward to High RPM. I crack the left engine throttle about a half inch.
Using the Saitek Switch Panel, I press the red Master Battery and Alternator switches to the On position, Fuel pump switch to the On position then Off, Magnetos knob rotated to Both. Now I place the beacon light switch to the On position to warn anyone close by that we are about to start up the aircraft. One more visual check of my surroundings to make sure I am clear for engine start, I press the left engine start switch.
The engine comes to life with some coughing, belching and generally great sounds with the realistic visual cloud of smoke. A quick check of the Oil Pressure gauge for a minimum of 10 PSI, then adjust the RPM to 900. I repeat the engine start sequence for the Right engine. Great sounds, smoke, oil pressure check, set RPMs to 900. A check of the Voltmeter reveals the expected 28 volts of electricity available.
Make sure the cowl flaps remain full open for engine cooling while on the ground. I now press the Avionics Master switch to the On position on the Saitek Switch panel and turn on all radios and avionics. So far, every action that I have taken using the Saitek Cockpit has been mirrored, as expected, in the VC of the Carenado Baron. I will now turn on the nav lights and taxi light using the appropriate switch on the Saitek Switch Panel. Ready to taxi, release the Parking Brake. Add just enough throttle to start rolling, now follow the solid yellow line. Boy, these Combat Rudder Pedals sure have a nice fluid movement. A quick look around the well appointed Baron cabin, all is well. I never get tired of using the dual throttles for differential power while taxiing the twins.
Carenado Baron 58 on a leisurely indoctrination flight
It is a short taxi to the holding area for Runway 17 this morning, as the winds are light and variable, using only differential throttle control, no brakes needed even to come to a stop, just retard the throttles to idle. Very nice. We run through our Before Takeoff checklist. Parking brake on. The new Saitek BIP is great for a quick check of the panel and engines status.
There are two schools of thought on brakes – some use the parking brake, and others avoid the parking brake and simply use both toe brakes. I fall into the parking brake category. The only disadvantage I can see is the Parking Brake might not release and you could be stuck blocking traffic. In a lifetime of flying, I have never had a parking brake fail and I have never known anyone that admitted they experienced a parking brake failure. But, I suppose choices are a good thing.
Now I rev up the engines to 2,200 RPM and exercise the props a couple of times. This involves a cycle of the prop lever to make sure the governor is indeed working. We are looking for a 200-300 RPM drop. You can usually just go by the sound of the pitch changes. Then you advance the throttle about 1 inch of MP to see if the governor is holding the prop pitch steady.
Next we do the feathering check starting at 1,200 RPM. Of course, we don’t actually feather the engines in this test, we just see that it starts the feathering process when we retard the Prop levers into the full down, feather position.
Advance both throttle to 1700 RPM, on the Saitek switch panel I rotate the magneto switch/knob two clicks counterclockwise to select the Right mag, check the tachometer for a 50 RPM or so drop, back to Both, let the engine stabilize, now one click to the Left to select the Left Mag, observe the 50 RPM drop, OK now back to Both. I repeat the exact sequence for the Left engine.
My Carenado Baron 58 does not show any appreciable drop on the RPM gauge during the magneto checks but it does show a very visible drop in the Fuel Flow meter directly below the tachometer. The Baron also has a digital readout of fuel flow and it drops with the single mag selections. That makes sense to me, less RPM, less fuel flow.
The Baron has other nice touches like a bump or dip on the Ammeter when the flap motors are turning or switching the Pitot Heat On or when the landing lights come On. The Flight1 BN-2 and Milviz Cessna 310R have the realistic mag drop feature available and ammeter bumps in their add on. All these small touches just adds to the realism of the simulation.
Another check of the trim tabs for takeoff, using the Flaps switch on the Saitek switch panel I press down twice to set flaps to take-off. I check the flap indicator to make sure it’s working correctly and visually check the position of the flaps. One more check that the fuel selector is properly set for the fuller tank and the fuel tank gauges indicate the proper amount of fuel on board. I glance up at the magnetic compass and verify it agrees with the directional gyro. One more check that the controls are moving in the proper direction, have full travel and freedom of movement. You never can tell when you might have to do some sort of evasive action and need to make a very steep turn or something like that.
One item of note is the Saitek Pro Flight Cessna Yoke has a full 90 degrees of travel both left and right for aileron travel. Most simulator yokes do not.
Let’s review the critical speeds that we may need to know should we lose an engine on takeoff or while in flight and need to have these speeds fixed in our mind for our return for a landing. Starting with the slowest, VMCA – Single Engine Minimum Control Speed is 84 Knots (long Red Line on the Airspeed Indicator), and the Best Single Engine Rate of Climb speed, 100 Knots, (the Blue Line) then the two good engine numbers – for emergencies other than a loss of an engine. You can remember the red and blue radial lines are for single-engine operations.
VX, best angle of climb, 92 Kts,
VY, Best Rate of Climb Speed 105 Kts, and the
Max glide speed, 115 Kts (minimum sink rate)
I always set a mental picture of the critical engine, left in this case, failing between rotation and the end of the runway so I am ready with my plan of action and emergency procedures. When it doesn’t happen, I feel like I just made one more successful takeoff. If you are in the air, you should always be flying faster than the red line, always, and to be safe, not less than the blue line. I use the VMC speed as my start rotation indicator and then immediately accelerate to VY for climb out. I also keep my hand on the throttles during the takeoff roll and am ready to instantly fully retard both throttles should I have an engine failure or other emergency prior to rotation. This can make for some exciting and dangerous times in the cockpit.
Minimum Control Speed, Vmc, has many definitions but FAR 23.149 is very specific as it not only defines Vmc as the calibrated airspeed possible to maintain straight flight with the sudden loss of the critical engine with not more than a 5 degree bank, but goes on to list the aircraft takeoff configuration as max power on both engines, trimmed for takeoff, flaps set for takeoff, landing gear retracted and prop controls at takeoff position.
A quick check of the skies for any inbound traffic then a radio broadcast for the local traffic that we are rolling for takeoff on Runway 17 and will be turning Left after takeoff. Release the parking brake, line up with the centerline and a slowly add power. OK let’s checkout this local scenery. Let’s climb to 3,000 and fly the length of the Island to get a feel for our surroundings.
I am not going to go through all this minute detail for the remaining 4 add-ons. . . You’re welcome. I will discuss any differences as we go down the list. Of course the turbines are a bit different than the pistons.
Takeoffs on Runway 17 provide a great view of the harbor on climb out. Hey, I can see tourists in the swimming pool at the large hotel just off the end of the runway. When reviewing the local charts I see that Corfu has two marked flight practice areas, we will use one of these for our air work.
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Corfu has two designated local flying areas – one named Ropa across the island from the airport and the other area further North named Sidari. Sidari is from the Surface to 4,500 feet so that sounds like a better location for engine out procedure practice.
The Corfu X Manager is a click box with choices to ‘Decativate’ specific animations or effects should you have and older PC and need to conserve some FPS. I did not need to lessen any effects or animations with my setup but on minimal systems every FPS gained is good.
The runway 35 approach takes you past some nice scenery features like the Monastery of Vlaherna and the Corfu Holiday Palace. There is a low concrete bridge that is ideal for plane spotting and you can see a half dozen or so animated spotters sitting on the concrete guardrail on short final.
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Britten-Norman BN-2 Islander
Over the years, the BN-2 has spawned many variants with an almost endless combination of engine and cockpit variations. This BN-2 simulation is based on a real world example from Great Barrier X-Press Airlines, Auckland, New Zealand and is fitted with Lycoming 260hp engines. This is not your typical twin but then again maybe it is exactly what one would expect to see in a fly-off. Over 750 are still in service
around the world being used by commercial operators, police, and Armed forces. Over 30 military operators use the Islander as a light transport. Usually flown with a single pilot and up to 9 passengers, this all-purpose aircraft will put a smile on your face. The high resolution cockpit with the 3D gauges is very realistic and provides a very fluid simulator experience with no apparent impact on Frame rates.
I have the box version that comes with a 32 page printed manual and several pdf files including a 53 page user manual, 17 pages of real world looking performance charts, and 2 bonus UK airport scenery packages from UK2000. It also has a full Navdata pack from 2007 for the GPS and a paint kit and a short tutorial flight to introduce the use of the King KLN-90.
The airspeed indicator is in Knots, but all the specs are in MPH (must be a holdover from the 60s). I actually like the backup ASI better than the primary. Must be that the white, green and yellow bands are in the expected location that appeals to me. The landing configuration stall speed, 34 kts, is actually lower than the lowest tick on the airspeed indicator – 40 kts. Interesting.
The whole layout gives me the feeling that this was designed as a military transport, but evidently that is not the case. It may just be that I have so little exposure to 1960 designs from the UK. Enough background, let’s go fly it.
I think we are going to have to improvise just a little. One of the pre-start checklist items is to set the magnetos to off and turn the engines twice by hand. Oh my, really? This is stated as using a ‘real world BN-2 manual’ for the checklists. A few other tidbits, is to maintain at least 1,200 RPM to avoid fouling the plugs and keep it pointed into the wind for proper cooling. These O-540 engines have carburetor heat and the standard procedure for a cold start is to pump the throttle one to four times of full travel for priming. Right engine start first, then Left with Aux fuel pumps running.
That big tall rudder has enough authority to handle the taxi duties with the minimal use of brakes. This will enable me to use my dual throttles for all the ground work.
The pre takeoff engine and prop checks are the same as the Baron with the exception of the carb heat check. Use of 25 degrees of flaps is set for a normal takeoff. I like this comment from the manual: “The aircraft is easy to fly at all speeds and has no unusual features.” Now that’s not a comment you see every day. Nice.
The engine check sounds and animations are perfect. The mag drops are realistic and the carb heat checks are spot on. I also like the flap motor sounds.
I decided to ‘lose’ the right engine on takeoff and it was pretty much uneventful. The BN-2 climbs quite well on one engine with the dead engine feathered. Feathered props do not appear to be fully feathered but you can see plenty of movement in the prop angle with movement of the prop levers and full flat pitch is exactly that. I’m not sure why the feather position would not be closer to 90 degrees for minimum drag.
The external view sounds seems to come and go at times. I suspect this is a FSX trait as it happens on several different add-ons. Strangely, an adjustment of the throttles seems to bring the sounds back in line. I added my Reality XP 530 GPS to the popup window and use a click spot on the panel mounted King KLN-90. This way, the panel looks correct, but, I can navigate with state-of-the-art sim nav gear if needed. Lazy, lazy.
Milviz Cessna 310R
I guess the Cessna 310 has always been my idea of the sleek, fast, modern looking twin. Milviz’s attention to the really minor details are really nice. Just about anything that moves or shifts in the real world version also does so in the simulation. The documentation is as complete as one could expect so straight to the pre-start checklist we go. I see that in addition to the 117 page POH Milviz has included web based checklists. As I have a second monitor, this will be handy for me. The FSX Kneeboard is totally empty of C310R info, go figure.
The Milviz Cessna 310R cruising around Corfu
Of the five add-ons, the Cessna 310 is the only one that I have real world pilot in command logged time. It was a freshly overhauled with new paint ‘Q’ model but they are close enough for my memory work.
I am able to use my unlimited Reality XP GNS feature and replace the default GPS with dual XP530 units and my personal choice of autopilot. Sure improves the panel for me. I wonder why Cessna chose not to add bright blue knobs on the prop levers. Well, at least the shape is somewhat standard.
Carenado King Air C90B
Each time I load this aircraft in FSX I am more impressed at the enormity of the panel and cabin. This is a large and complex airplane with plenty of systems depth. The several small pdf files that come with the download will provide details on most of the installed components, like the Avidyne Multifunction Display, the EFIS, TACC, GPS Annunciator, etc. These are required reading if you are at all serious about flying the King. Most of these are not what I would consider mainstay units that you see every day in FSX. They are more specialized to this size and this age aircraft. The Normal and Emergency Checklist are extensive and easy to use, but what is totally missing is the full overview of the King Air C90, the systems, and procedures.
Carenado King Air C90B practicing engine out and other emergency procedures
Fortunately, should you be interested in investing some extensive reading and study time while spending zero additional dollars, I have found a professional level, very comprehensive systems manual and checklists for the C90B. It comes from the far side of the planet but is easily downloadable as a full color, 374 page pdf file. This Pilot Training Manual covers both the A and B models and is as complete as anyone could expect. You can Google this string and select a safe download site from the list: King Air C90-systemproc.zip I used the site that sounds like an Avsim sister site, but isn’t.
I received my July/August copy of PC Pilot magazine just in time to read Peter Stark’s article on the Carenado Beech C90B King Air. This article is loaded with slick, color images and Peter recounts the excellent blood lines and states it is a ‘dream to fly’.
An excellent flight tutorial is available specifically for this Carenado C90B King Air at Avsim. Search for Yoda and C90B. This is a good introductory flight in Orbx country from Mt. Vernon to Bowerman. This 110 mile/ 40 minute flight is the flight sim equivalent of a Flight Safety check ride. Everything you need to know is covered in the 20 page pdf. All checklists, ATC, weather, flight planning, startup, checks, the flight, approach, landing, shutdown, maps, charts, plates, everything and it is written to teach you systems and procedures not simply for you to experience the flight. Thanks Kurt for a superb document.
To test your knowledge transfer from this tutorial, you can fly the reverse leg using the RealAir Turbine Duke. You will need to improvise a little and properly plan your return or simply set favorable weather, fly the reciprocal headings, proper altitudes and make a visual approach into KBVS. As an alternate, you can substitute the Turbine Duke for the King Air and adapt to the cockpit differences for a second flight as Yoda envisioned.
RealAir Turbine Duke
Because the Turbine Duke and King Air C90B are the only two turbine powered aircraft in this review and the flight procedures are different enough from the 3 piston competitors, I will treat them as special, meaning only that I will compare them to each other and not to the piston powered trio.
One recurring item for our turbine powered planes is that in flight simulation we usually do not get a lot of specific documentation. This can be easily explained as we typically spend $50 or so on our add-ons while the real world owners spend a cool million or more for their aircraft upgrades. Also, with turbine powered aircraft, the airspeed indicator typically does not have a yellow arc as their piston counterparts do. Finally, we always have the questions about how to use the prop and mixture levers with a turbine. You will notice they are almost always referred to as condition or conditioning levers when connected to a turbine engine.
Should you purchase a turbine powered add-on that does not have a detailed or specific starting and operating procedure, you have been dealt a disservice. Suffice to say, the startup and engine checks are always a major portion of the simulation. Working against the developer and therefore against the end user, FSX has shortchanged us with most everything to do with turboprops. Practically all the innovations by the developers are workarounds or additional coding outside the FSX box. A few companies seem to have a knack to figuring out the hard stuff and making it work, I usually think of Aerosoft and RealAir Simulations to solve the turbine dilemma for FSX.
One caution for those who are just now stepping up from maybe low and slow aircraft to this level of sophistication – you have to learn to adapt to the higher speeds of this size and weight aircraft. Everything is more complicated, happens faster or quicker, and is not nearly as forgiving as that single engine variant.
RealAir’s Turbine Duke showing off its colors as it awaits its turn
The Avsim review of the Turbine Duke by Bert Pieke and Zane Gard should be on your list of required reading if you are even casually interested in this one. These seasoned reviewers team up and give it the one-two punch and it comes away with the Gold Star Award. Bert experienced an unexpected engine fire during his first flight for the review. If you wish to keep your hangar outfitted along the Royal Family lines, then the Baron, Duke and King are naturals.
Both of these add-ons performed superbly with the Saitek hardware Cockpit. No glitches, no gremlins, no hesitations, just pure clean fun. The near professional level cockpit coupled with these outstanding aircraft really does narrow the gap between desktop flight simulation and higher end simulation.
The feel of the Cessna Pro Flight yoke, combat rudder pedals, dual quadrant and large Cessna Trim wheel and the visual array along with the twisting, turning, pressing, flipping of the knobs and controls of the cockpit panels are a true delight. This setup may even be superior in some ways to the true, enclosed Pro level flight simulators. I still have a Pause key, for nature calls, and I can have a cup of coffee or two as I fly and write. I’m sure Flight Safety and the FAA would frown on such actions, but hey, this is flight simulation at its best.
Full Motion Flight Simulation
A couple of days ago I visited a new simulator based training facility located in a major shopping center. This company has 20 real world Cessna 172 SP aircraft at a nearby airport and plans to use 20 hours of logged simulator time as part of the minimum private pilot license requirements. All their simulator equipment is new Redbird stuff out of Austin, Texas. I flew one of their two full motion FMX models on a cross country flight starting near Palm Beach CA. The wrap around visibility was very realistic although I was disappointed that I couldn’t see the FSX sliders as they must have been set pretty far to the left (the resolution was very disappointing) and they used a desert area for their flight training area.
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This is all to maximize the FPS while using FSX with all that hardware plus driving 6 widescreen monitors. This one was setup with the G1000 panel and looked and felt pretty close to the real thing. I kept making turn after turn and finally the CFI just had to ask if I flew all my cross country legs in small circles. I was just getting use the feel in my butt while flying FSX and actually banking the aircraft. I don’t remember pulling any Gs though. I am going back next week and try the round gauge model. It is set up as a DA-42 or SR-22. One neat feature is that you must have a key to start the aircraft. It is a little red USB key that inserts into the panel.
This short experience was enough to make me start dreaming about some sort of wrap around viewing system at home. Maybe three 24 inch widescreen monitors would do the trick. I will just have to forego the full motion part as I don’t have the extra room in my study for the FMX box nor the $80,000 to get started. But, I have heard rumors that Saitek is working on a Cessna 172/182 lightweight cockpit structure that can be setup with all this existing hardware to replicate the cockpit for serious flight simming. I wonder if my wife would object if I converted our home theater room to a really big screen flight simulator. That ceiling mounted projector and 120 inch screen might be the perfect application.
I considered a cross country from Corfu to Innsbruck with each of the aircraft but in the end drew a name out the hat for the representative aircraft that gets us relocated to the Approaching Innsbruck flight area. The Carenado King Air C90B was selected to represent the group for the cross country from Corfu to Innsbruck.
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I used my Aivlasoft EFB to plan the flight and came up with slightly less than 600 NM on a generally NNW course. I chose to fly over water but stay close enough to the shoreline just in case the worst of the worst should happen – lose two engines while in flight. Even though this is extremely rare, why tempt fate? Even though these planes have a respectable glide ratio, none of them should be expected to float for very long after a water landing.
Carenado King Air C90B cruising along with the one
engine feathered between LGKR and LOWI
Using the old school VOR to VOR method, gives us a flight path just off the coast of Albania, Montenegro then across Croatia and over the mountains of Slovenia into Austria and our destination. Freeware Plan-G was chosen to illustrate the route.
Looking at the terrain for Austria reveals a lot of mountains but a few mountain passes that may make for some fun flying. I bet there are more ‘I Follow Roads’, IFR, than in many other areas. Those mountain peaks are in the blue fingernail altitude area if one chose to fly over rather than around them – assuming you do not have oxygen onboard.
Several major highways run along the valley floors so using a Michelin road map along with the Plan-G terrain maps should reveal some great side trips. I really like to fly low while following rivers or highways through the mountains – of course, I am referring to flight simulator flying, not in the real world.
Let’s see what ATC gives us for an approach when we slip into the area from the East. The ILS 26 approach with circle to land on Runway 08 at Innsbruck is world famous and used daily especially for the heavy iron.
Not only is Innsbruck one of the most demanding airports because of its geographical location which is in the middle of the Austrian Alps, but the climatic conditions can change so quickly and the fact that the airport’s location is at the edge of downtown Innsbruck make things a little tricky. That valley gets very narrow if you fail to control your headings and speeds during your approach. This has to be one of the most scenic areas for flying in all of Europe. Having a choice of seasons for the FSX scenery is a real bonus.
Flight1’s BN2 on long final for 26 over the city of Innsbruck.
This is a very common real world sight
The real Innsbruck airport operates as one of the most environmental friendly airports throughout the world, but they also have some of the most stringent operating rules – noise abatement, highly restricted night operations, bans on ultralights, etc.
This is the only major airport that I know that does not have any fixed parking spaces so you will not see any yellow lines. The follow-me trucks guide the aircraft to assigned parking positions.
For all the photo scenery used and the extensive details, the FPS is barely impacted provided you use the suggested settings for FSX.
There is not a lot of information in the Approaching Innsbruck manual other than the history and description of the airport and the history of building the software. Two items worthy of mention is the nifty Traffic Control for controlling the city and rail traffic and the Aerosoft Config Tool for setting the Seasons. These two make it so easy to customize the scenery and balance the FPS. Many add on scenery packages do not have the Seasons and Winter and Summer in Innsbruck are very different.
One of the standard approaches to LOWI starts as the ILS 26 directly over the city but many times ends up as the circle to land approach for runway 08. My Aivlasoft EFB does not have the circling approach listed as one of the Navigraph available approaches, but the ’ Visual Approach Chart’ that I downloaded from the VACC shows it quite well.
I have flown the circle to land on runway 08 several times now in most of the twins. This is a strikingly visual approach and you need to be on your game to execute it properly. Your headings and altitude do not have much variance and if not careful you can end up on the side of one of the small mountains or in someone’s backyard.
The Carenado Baron 58 executing the famous Circle to Land
on runway 08 at Innsbruck, LOWI
I chose to go missed on one of the circle to land approaches just to see the city from the airport side. Gorgeous add on for FSX.
Missed approach at LOWI just to see the downtown area from the airport side
The Carenado King Air C90B performed flawlessly for the photo shoot
I’m sure the Innsbruck Tower was thrilled when I declared an emergency during the peak traffic period. Checkout all those big guys over at the terminal.
The Carenado Baron 58 makes easy work landing on runway 26 with the right engine feathered
The Milviz Cessna 310R on approach to runway 08 at LOWI
I realize this is a somewhat discombobulated review and may have been hard to follow at times. I wanted to show off and test the Saitek hardware cockpit for the Avsim members but it needed to be a realistic test using some of our best add-ons. I believe it was successful for all parties. If one of your favorite aircraft didn’t get as much time in the sun as you may have wished or I failed to address something specific that you may have been expecting, then I apologize. I do tend to wander off on tangents and I am trying to submit less lengthy reviews.
This approach to a review – mixing FSX aircraft add-ons and modern computer flight simulator hardware – is not your mainstream type of review but may be interesting to some. I know for sure that the combination elevates the realism of flight simulation several rungs up the ladder. After watching the Olympics almost every evening while trudging along with another topic or two, I now wish there was a way to award team Gold Medals to the 5 developers and to Saitek.
I personally like the approach of using two airport scenery packages as bookends and flying between them. I might even suggest that Aerosoft start bundling some of their extensive collection of Mega Airports as real world routes. Surely several carriers fly between all of these destinations on a daily basis. Wouldn’t it be nice to see several one to two hour short haul airports shrink wrapped and sale priced for their new Airbus X Extended debut? (EDDF – LOWW will be the tutorial flight)
The Saitek Hardware Cockpit
While nothing can replace actual flight with its associated sounds, vibration, turbulence, smells and visceral feel, the Saitek Hardware Cockpit gets very high marks. It creates a new atmosphere for the sim pilot with real switches, gauges, instruments, knobs, levers, pedals and yoke.
This adds a totally new dimension to FSX flying, as you can spend more time using the external views while still having the flight controls and instruments available to you. As you can see in these photos and screenshots, you can fly the airplane with the same ease from the virtual cockpit view as in the external view. The big difference is the vastness of the field of vision in the external views.
The placement and stacking of the pieces are for your imagination and can be easily rearranged. I have my entire desktop cockpit on a wooden console and can add a slight twist or turn as needed. The 20 or so new USB cables can create a bit of desktop clutter and the assignment of keys and axes and the calibration of the controllers require some patience with FSX. Make sure you are always using the most up-to-date drivers from the Saitek support site. You will find some FAQs and installation hints there as well as lots of fellow simmers online to help out.
One caution is the use of this external hardware while flying in FSX is most assuredly habit forming. I think this falls into the category of ‘you really must try it yourself to be able to truly appreciate the boost in simulated reality.’ I assembled my cockpit piece by piece and now have a full desktop cockpit. I’m not sure how to measure how much PC ‘oomph’ is needed to drive all the hardware, but it is noticeable. I suspect the Flight Instrument Panels may require the most resources but have no data to support this. However, the substantial gain in enjoyment far outweighs any of the negatives. I would opt for a faster PC and keep the Saitek Cockpit.
Some of you may well be of the opinion that a desktop cockpit is not needed for typical FSX enjoyment, and you may be correct, but, the key word is ‘needed’. I may not need it but I sure want it. As a matter of fact, I doubt I would continue flying FSX without a simulator cockpit now that I have seen both sides of the coin.
Should you have deep pockets and enjoy our hobby, then by all means, go get it all tomorrow and witness some instant gratification. If you are on a budget as many of us are, then I suggest you slowly assemble your own cockpit at your chosen pace or budget. Speaking from recent experience, I would recommend a quality Yoke and Pedals as the initial purchase. Should you choose the Saitek Cessna Yoke the throttle quadrant and large trim wheel comes in the package. The pedal choices are easy, any of the 3 Saitek pedals will work fine in FSX. I use the Combat Pedals. The next installment is a toss-up depending on your specific type of flying. It could be a couple of panels, like the Multi Panel and Switch Panel combo or maybe one or two Radio panels or it could be any number of the Flight Instrument Panels. Fortunately, these FIPS can be assembled in any quantity and provide immediate pleasure and a quick boost of ‘closer to reality’.
If you want the maximum utilization of your cockpit, you will probably want to have dual throttles for multi-engine flight. This is a simple addition of a 2nd throttle quadrant. You can use only one set for single engine flights or you can add the TPM which replicates many single engine panels.
It seems whichever item I added last has been the more rewarding. The very last item I added was the Backlit Information Panel, BIP. The status panel is starting to show up in many of the newer flight models and is a welcome addition for me.
Short of the full motion enclosed cockpit that can easily sneak up on a hundred grand, this desktop cockpit may be the most bang for the buck available anywhere if you are ready for that next step in flight simulation. Saitek will soon be introducing a light weight cockpit structure that is custom built for all this hardware. A few dedicated cubic feet of quiet space, some air conditioning, and a game PC with this hardware installed in the cockpit structure can easily replicate a Cessna 182 or one of these twins. Woah! (I’m available for the review
My September 2012 issue of Flying magazine arrived yesterday and has an article entitled ‘Proficiency on a Budget’ that discusses ways to keep up your flying skills. At the end of the article is a summary of home-based simulators and games. The one that caught my eye is Sporty’s Saitek Flight Simulator pack that includes the yoke, pedals, quadrant and FSX for under $300. This should make a lot of wish lists.
The add-on Aircraft
As stated throughout the review, each of these 5 aces are just that. Although they look, feel, sound and fly very differently, they are all at the top of the heap. I would be hard pressed to choose one or even two as favorites from the group. Each has many superior features, and few faults. Some are better at different phases of flight but none should be considered inferior in any way. Sure, I often wish I could move one particular feature from one add-on to another, or use one sound pack with another one, and other such thoughts, but, at the end of the flight, I am perfectly happy with each one.
I am not a perfectionist and am not terribly bothered when some simple switch or instrument in a $40 add on does not perform exactly as the real world counterpart may in certain real world conditions. Most developers are diligent and provide patches or SP updates to fix glitches and make improvements. Many improvements are posted here at Avsim by talented members simply helping other members.
Flying these add-ons in FSX using the Saitek Cockpit increases the enjoyment factor tremendously. Nothing on the keyboard or joystick seems to be able to replace the actual action of physically moving a gear level to the Up position for Gear Up or pressing a dedicated Flap Lever for Flaps Down or feeling and hearing the click of a Fuel Pump switch being actuated.
I guess the one single simulator task that I personally enjoy the most is using the dual throttle controls in combination with the rudder pedals to taxi, takeoff, and land. I think this adds maximum realism to the simulation and elevates the reality factor an extra notch or two. A very close second is the cold and dark startup sequence using the Switch Panel and throttle quadrant. Of course, a quality sound system with a good subwoofer is almost mandatory.
The add-on Airport Scenery
Once you have experienced flying in and around an enhanced airport area, you can never go back to the FSX default. There are many choices of upgrades and many methods of enhancement. One is simply to purchase a download or a boxed version of an airport or two and fly between them. Should you choose the Aerosoft CorfuX and Approaching Innsbruck as I did, you will not be disappointed. Both provide a large enhanced area in addition to the greatly improved airport proper and with little impact on your FPS. The improvement over the FSX default is truly night and day.
Although, each airport has only one asphalt runway, you can be entertained in so many ways with the various approaches and just basic sightseeing flights in and around the areas. I like to just sit in my aircraft and watch all the ground activity that has been added. The automobile, bus, train, and water traffic adds plausibility to the approaches over the city and at the airports. The more I watch the more new items I discover. The Airport Enhancement Services, AES, is coming into its own as a full featured product, and the AI flights are adhering to real world schedules and properly modeled and painted aircraft. So crank up those traffic sliders a few notches and watch all the action.
| || |
| Test System |
• Intel quadcore i7- 870 2.93 Ghz
• 8 GB Installed Memory
• Win7 – 64 bit SP1
• 2 TB SATA II HD, 750 GB USB HD
• nVidia GTX-460 w/1GB Graphics
• Dell 24 IN WS HD monitor (2)
• Logitech Z-5500 5.1 Speakers
• Realtek HD 5.1 Audio, Grado SR-60
Test Time: 3 months
Commercial pilot license,
Airplane single engine land and sea,
Airplane multiengine land,
Instrument airplane, DC-3 type rating
Ground Instructor, Advanced, Instrument
Expired Certified Flight Instructor’s licenses
Avid Microsoft Flight Simulator user
Military Visualizations for providing the Cessna 310R for FSX.
Flight1.com for providing the BN-2 Islander for FSX.
Carenado for providing the Beech Baron 58 and King Air C90B for FSX.
Aerosoft for providing CorfuX and Approaching Innsbruck for FSX.
Mad Catz and Saitek for providing the Saitek cockpit equipment.
Patrick van der Nat for the nice screenshots. If they are really nice, Soya took them, all the others were mine or grabbed at commercial websites.
Saitek Cockpit items
- Pro Flight Cessna Yoke & Trim wheel
- Pro Flight dual Power Quadrants
- Pro Flight Combat Rudder Pedals
- Pro Flight TPM Panel, Switch Panel, Multi Panel
- Pro Flight Radio Panel (2 ea)
- Pro Flight Instrument Panels (FIPs) (8 ea)
- Pro Flight Backlit Instrument Panel (BIP)