Commercial Aircraft Review
Aerosoft / Digital Aviation
Piper PA31T Cheyenne X
/ Digital Aviation
Download or CD
FS9 & FSX
Martin AVSIM Staff Reviewer - February 26, 2008
the second iteration of the popular Piper Cheyenne turboprop from
Digital Aviation, published by Aerosoft. Updated for Flight Simulator
X (including SP2) and Windows Vista, the Cheyenne X is branded as
a new product altogether. Owners of the prior version can get the
new release at a discounted upgrade price.
version of the Piper Cheyenne for FS9 was reviewed by AVSIM’s
Zane Gard Jr. in late 2006 and can be found in the aircraft
reviews section. This time around, we’ll see what nearly
two years of additional development work brings to the virtual skies.
to extend my thanks to Alexander Metzger and Hans Hartmann of Digital
Aviation for providing me some insider information and answering
my questions as part of the background research for this article.
X was released right in time for the December 2007 holidays and already
has seen a patch published in February 2008 to correct a few issues
with the initial release.
team states the major new features in the Cheyenne X are:
- Improved interior lighting
- All models made with the FSX software development kit SP2
- XML animations
- Conversion of the simulator interface from FSUIPC to SimConnect
- Weather radar including navigation overlay and flight log display
- Improved Windows Vista compatibility
- Support for FSX SP2/Acceleration in DX9/DX10 modes
- GPS keyboard activation shortcut moved from scroll-lock (activates
ATC window in FSX) to Ctrl+Shift+K
version comes as a 217mb zip archive download through the Aerosoft
online store. A boxed product is also available for the same price,
although shipping charges are additional.
payment confirmation, a license key for the download version is almost
instantly provided to the e-mail address you provided. The bottom
of the purchase confirmation page has a link to the download file.
The link is valid for one year from the date of purchase. It is strongly
suggested on the web site that you make a backup of the installation
file and the license key in case re-install is needed. I like the
fact the product can be downloaded for some time.
for the product is also available to registered owners through the
support/update link available on the Aerosoft website’s product
page. While Digital Aviation makes patch betas available directly
through their support forum, the final official patch is only available
archive includes one setup executable (.exe), and two text files
holding the release notes and the license agreement. The product
is completely supported in German and English, with documentation
(and support forums) available in both languages.
finds the FSX install folder automatically
program is the usual Windows wizard based installer. The setup program
correctly detected my FSX installation on Windows Vista 64, prompted
me for the license key and the rest of the install was fully automatic.
one option is provided during the install: replace the default HALO.BMP
file to an “improved” version. A backup is well advised
before running the installer and overwriting the original file. HALO.BMP
is a texture file that impacts the halo around landing lights. This
change impacts all aircraft landing lights, not just the Cheyenne
all is said and done, some 500Mb of disk space will be dedicated
to the Cheyenne X between the aircraft and the documentation. For
aircraft re-painters, Digital Aviation also provides a separate 98Mb
paint kit download on their support site.
are in PDF format and can be found in the Digital Aviation/PA31 Cheyenne/Manuals
folder off the simulator’s install folder. A set is in German,
the other in English.
Operations Manual (AOM)
operations manual weighs in at a tome-esque 180 pages. Thumbing through
the AOM, we find that 45 pages are dedicated to detailed performance
data and graphs, 47 pages dedicated to normal and emergency procedures,
and the rest covering basic and advanced operations of each component
in the comprehensive avionics suite (Bendix King Crown, Trimble GPS
and KFC250/KFC300 autopilot).
the AOM is well written, and covers all the basics of operating the
aircraft as simulated. I did find the information covering the engineering
aspects of the aircraft systems curiously absent. Some information
on the layout and setup of the electrical, hydraulic, pneumatic and
other mechanical systems would have been welcome. Without this information,
the manual feels more like a software user’s guide rather than
an actual aircraft operations manual.
PDF file covers the operation of the new WXR2100 weather radar. With
only 2 pages, the manual only covers the very basics of operations
and no theory of operation. Lastly, a similarly light two page document
describes the usage of the Trimble 1000 GPS system.
tables and Procedure manuals
table document repeats the 48 pages of performance data found in
the AOM. Normal and emergency procedures in the AOM are also repeated
in the standalone procedures manual (47 pages). These are logically
laid out, and immediately found their place in a printed binder I
kept handy. The
Cheyenne X also includes FSX kneeboard pages for reference and normal
page flight tutorial manual provides clear instructions to follow
for each phase of flight. I found this document probably the most
helpful of the entire documentation set, as it covered all normal
operations for each phase of flight.
Aviation has delivered good models in the past, and the Cheyenne
X is no exception. Hans Hartmann says “converting the model
from FS9 to FSX (with two FSX SPs in between) turned out to be a
huge job which took the better part of one year”. The
models created by Tobias Ahlbrecht are a joy to look at, both from
an interior and exterior model perspective.
wiper detail and reflections
Aviation provides four versions of the Piper Cheyenne (I, IA, II
and IIXL). Each version has its own model and flight characteristics. Aside
from the extended IIXL version, there are few visual differences
between each model. The variations are mostly internal with different
powerplants and cockpit controls (the IIXL has a pneumatic bleed
system and three position condition levers for example).
and registration comes with its own cabin look and feel, although
they are primarily limited to upholstery color and a few texture
differences here and there. Each model also behaves differently both
on the ground and in the air.
X model selection
are created with the FSX SDK, and as such, use many of the new rendering
features in FSX, such as the self-shadow and enhanced reflective
textures. All liveries are high gloss and make the aircraft look
spanking new out of the factory.
models look so good, even up close, that I was surprised when I discovered
none of the models use the new bump map feature that produce more
realistic indentations in joints and rivet lines. Even with the bump
map eye candy missing, the Cheyenne X has, in my view, one of the
better rendered models of a twin turboprop I’ve seen in a simulator.
retract – note the actuator
on photographs of the real aircraft, it seems the exterior model shows
nearly every exterior detail, from the wing light chrome covers to
the contact points on the (functional) windshield wipers. The landing
gear is presented in full detail, including inside the wheel wells.
The windows and windshield are particularly well done.
of the expected animated control surfaces, there are three animated
doors, main, rear cargo and front cargo. Interestingly, the front
cargo door is mapped to the wing-fold function in FSX, where the
main and rear cargo doors are doors 1 and 2 in the simulator control
model curves on the wing.
the flaps and aileron struts by the wingtip.
no bump maps for the rivets but nicely done windows
cargo opens with FSX’s wing fold toggle
parked mode, the tow bar and chocks/cones are displayed
X includes three liveries for each model, so 12 in all. More can
be created with the paint kit.
X has a comprehensive set of 2D panels and has one of the most functional
3D environments to be found in an add-on, with almost every knob
and switch functional.
panels are, for the most part, unchanged from the original Cheyenne
product for FS9 except for the addition of the weather radar.
Panel switching is an easy task with click spots in obvious places
(so many add-ons place hot spots in strange areas) or through the normal
Flight Simulator controls (Shift + number).
2D panel (comes in IFR and VFR views as well), yoke hidden
2D panel, yoke visible
panels for the HIS and A/P
2D panel at night
Cockpit and cabin
office in the Cheyenne X is quite the experience. As with the exterior
model, the VC is very detailed and meticulously done. As with most
VC's, the 3D cockpit is best enjoyed with a head tracking or other
camera movement utility although default camera positions do help
to access all functions without them.
and knobs I could find were functional except for the circuit breakers.
The Cheyenne’s cockpit is relatively small, and nearly all
controls are accessible from the pilot’s seat, making the VC
very relevant. I would expect very little time to be spent in the
rather mundane 2D cockpit after experiencing the 3D cockpit the Cheyenne
X has to offer. I also found that every function has a tool tip associated
with it showing what the function does, and also applicable relevant
data (such as heading degrees). The designers of the 3D environment
have pulled off one of the very best 3D cockpits to be found today
in an add-on aircraft, including some very high end products.
||VC – upper
at night with dome light on
at night with dome light off
close up– note the instrument lights and the quantity of
working knobs and switches
||VC – upper
panel from copilot’s perspective
tank selectors is between the seats on the floor looking down
at the VC, the virtual cabin is also meticulously detailed. To be
enjoyed best, a camera movement utility will be needed to move about
the cabin. Where many products include adequate interior models,
the Cheyenne X is definitely as enjoyable on the inside as it is
from the outside without a major hit on frame rates.
from the cabin – I folded the table on the left.
view back from the cockpit
seat detail – there’s a web site scribbled on the
didn’t know Aerosoft was in the beverage business…
view and window with curtain detail
lighting effects include the navigation, wing light (left wing only),
tail, nose and wingtip taxi/landing lights.
Cheyenne only has one wing light on the left wing.
lights front (landing lights off).
cabin and panel dimmers are not simulated (they are only on or off),
the cabin dome light, the no-smoking and seatbelt signs and cabin
seat map lights are functional and very well done. We also have a
very pleasing backlit green lighting that permeates the upper and
lighting – widescreen VC
all, the interior comes to life at night and gives the Cheyenne X
a very convincing, almost photo-real night light for the cockpit,
instruments and cabin.
instruments – night
instruments – note the weather radar at work
seat – see the backlit effect
smoking and seatbelt signs are functional
view with dome light on
- Individual reading lights in the cabin work
||VC – dome
X’s only options are set through an in-flight panel (shift-7),
which I prefer to an external configuration utility.
option selects a cold and dark default setup. I found the cold and
dark setup (all systems powered off) is not nearly as simple to use
as checking the box. Here’s what can happen when a flight is
loaded with an incorrect cold and dark setup.
panel – in flight
things happen when loading a flight incorrectly such as these
flying cones – this flight was loaded on top of another
for cold and dark requires that the checkbox be set, and more importantly
from my tests, that you load the default FSX Cessna situation itself
cold and dark.
checkbox is a toggle that enables or disables the 3D yokes in the
virtual cockpit. I found this very useful as the yokes get in the
way of needed controls located below them. Such controls include
the parking brake, the pressurization and cabin comfort buttons,
and the fuel consumed gauge.
the Cheyenne X has the option to select the regular engine sound
set or a noise reduced set meant to reproduce the noise while wearing
headphones. Switching requires an FSX restart as new sound files
are loaded. I admit I didn’t care much for the noise reduced
set, not because it is not realistic – it is, but because the
other sounds in FSX don’t enjoy the same benefits. I ended
up with the strange setup with very low engine noises for my aircraft,
while at the same time an AI airport truck 100 meters away sounded
like it was next to me in the cockpit. A matter of preference, it’s
nice to have but I left it turned off to enjoy the superb sound set.
the ability to set fuel levels from the configuration panel. The
only way I found to set the fuel level was through the FSX fuel loader.
X includes two main new avionics features, namely a multi-mode weather
radar capable of displaying navigation and log data, the other, the
Trimble 1000 GPS unit.
Radar & Trimble GPS
is new to the Cheyenne X. The weather radar is able to display moisture
and terrain features, and in this version, compensates the lack of
a moving GPS map by showing navigation waypoints and flight log information.
|VC – the
Trimble (lower left) and the Weather radar (top right)
welcome message – circa 1980
flight plan loaded in FSX shows up in the weather display
|VC – Flight
plan loaded, log view
||VC – Trimble
||VC – Weather
radar on & Fuel level mode
1000 GPS unit is one of the early GPS designs from the early 80s.
No moving map or rendering of the airspace around you is available
here, although the weather radar can display your route.
up of weather radar and the navigation overlay
Aviation replaced the “aux” function of the real Trimble
with the ability to load the current FS flight plan. This saves an
amazing amount of typing, and also makes the Trimble unit compatible
with popular flight planners out there. Purists will probably want
to manually enter each waypoint in the system, it’s nice to
know a very fast shortcut is available. It also makes the Cheyenne
X easily work with any flight planning utility that produces FSX
native flight plans.
flight remains unchanged between the original Cheyenne product and
the Cheyenne X. Autopilot functions include a flight director, yaw
damper, altitude and heading holds, altitude capture, GPS/nav radio
tracking, localizer and glideslope capture. There is no vertical
speed hold, although the autopilot can control pitch and bank angles.
Cheyenne does not have an auto throttle system although I didn’t
find this a particular problem as long as I kept an eye on the engine
I’ve never flown in a real Cheyenne, I cannot comment on the
accuracy of flight characteristics. Each
aircraft model behaves distinctively different from the other, with
air handling significantly improved over the default turboprops (Baron
and King Air) in FSX. I find the default turboprops in FSX very jerky.
Aviation says a few more tweaks and refinements were made to the
airfile for the Cheyenne X release. One improvement over the FS9
release is that it is now easier for the aircraft to backup just
with reverse propeller thrust.
the Cheyenne on the ground is a challenge, period. Keeping the centerline
at a reasonable speed can be an exercise in frustration, especially
with the higher power IIXL which mandates having the condition levers
in low-idle, unless you want to accelerate like a rocket. The throttles
respond with a significant (and very satisfying sound-wise) wind
up/down delay and if you use separate engine throttle controls, it
is very easy to overpower the steering/rudder inputs and turn on
thrust differential alone.
the Cheyenne becomes a rather docile and well mannered hotrod with
a solid 100 to 120 kts climb and is predicable all the way to the
edge of the performance envelope. I found the aircraft very responsive
to inputs and relatively easy to fly at slow or high speeds (max
is Mach 0.45). A typical high approach speed of 120Kts (up to ~140
will full flaps) can make things difficult – and fun. The plane
doesn’t want to slow down easily on the glideslope.
I found the Cheyenne I is by far the most behaved and well rounded
of all the aircraft depicted here (I, IA, II and IIXL).
and vertices effects
to the gate
the Cheyenne can hold its own with the big boys on approach at busy
airports without any problems, it is equally at home at smaller fields
and quite the versatile plane for VFR or IFR operations.
included in the Cheyenne X is recorded from the actual aircraft per
the product specifications. The default turboprop startup sound is
gone, replaced by a much more accurate turbine spool whine and a
very satisfying low rumble, especially when props are out of phase.
on my personal experience with the Dash-8, I found the sound set
very realistic and suitably deafening. That is probably why the noise-reduced
set is provided, although as I mentioned earlier, it’s probably
better to leave the full engine roar on. I found myself wanting to
increase the subwoofer output as it made the take-off run suitably
vibrating, enough to quickly annoy the rest of the family and have
me return to my headset in a hurry. Enough said.
two in-flight emergency engine restart procedures after turning one
of my engines off in flight. The first using the starter worked well
for me. I had a few issues with the second procedure, an air-start
with no starter, only using the windmill of the propeller. A shallow
dive at 200kts did the trick, although I had no luck below 200 (minimum
stated speed is 140kts). I was surprised that I experienced very
little yaw on one engine alone, so the yaw damper is very effective.
Flying on one engine didn’t seem to bother the aircraft much.
Not knowing the behavior of the real aircraft, I can’t judge
how accurate a simulation that is. I
was unable to find any options to simulate failures outside of what
is included in FSX.
QX9650 @ 4GHz
4 GB of RAM
NVIDIA 8800 Ultra
CH Products controllers
Windows Vista 64
virtual cockpit this complex, a slight drop in performance can be
expected although I am unable to quantify it given the other factors
that impact FPS in FSX. Load time was a bit slower than the default
Baron. There is an impact, but it is moderate.
the Cheyenne X delivers a detailed model with a complex VC with minimal
impact on overall frame rates.
Aviation provides support through its online forum that I found much
more detailed and useful than the Aerosoft product support forum.
noted that Digital Aviation moderators look at their forums during
the weekend and weeknights, and support question response time was
short based on the post dates.
and re-painters will be pleased to know that the Cheyenne X comes
with a paint kit which is downloadable from the Digital Aviation
forum. The paint kit includes several 1024x1024 texture source files
in Adobe Photoshop PSD format, one set for each aircraft model. Two
color JPEG images in the kit describe how the textures map to the
a bit disappointed that the PSD files include but four layers. Several
details are combined into layers, and I was unable to find the default
selection sets in the PSD as found with some other paint kits. This
makes repaints through details such as rivets and dirt/grime a bit
more difficult than it should be. Also, the textures are packed in
very few files so be prepared for odd rotation angles and split texture
artwork lineup issues. Clearly, past expertise with aircraft repaints
is recommended before attempting this.
X has the right mix of ingredients to duplicate an immersive feel
of flight, as best as can be achieved in a PC based simulation. Digital
Aviation joins the ranks of top development teams by taking FSX to
a new level with a very effective virtual cockpit and top exterior
itself lends itself well to casual VFR or the faster business of
IFR, and as such, the Cheyenne X is a flexible high performance turboprop
for anyone’s hangar.
always easy to focus on “I wish it would do this too”,
but the product has sufficient depth that my wish list is very short
indeed. The overall result is one of the more satisfying flying experiences
in Flight Simulator.