A Sudden Youth Cure.
I am not talking of the plane, but of yours truly, when I first saw that the Rockwell Commander 112 A was released by Flight One… Yes, I flew a good number of instrument time on that aircraft in Europe in the late 70s, so I felt younger indeed and wanted to “fly” again on what a Vienna Schwechat ATC controller once called the “Rolls of General Aviation” on one of my trips (a friendly overstatement)!
Enough of emotional talk, it is a genuine enjoyment for me to review this simulation and check out whether my happy remembrance of the real Rockwell Commander 112A as a pilot will be matched by the pleasure of “flying” the software copy of it. A hard test for Flight One!
Download, install, pay, and fly.
The Flight1 purchasing system is easy and straightforward, the download fast, the installation a breeze and the “formalities” kept to a minimum and immediate. The support forum is friendly and efficient, and Flight One’s well known dedication to general aviation flight simulation is second to none.
If you never flew the Commander 112A before, the Flight1 manual will take you through all what you need to know in a clear and concise manner. A very helpful document and excellent presentation, no need to flip through pages you already know by heart, just click on those chapters you want to study in details or print. I had to revisit the limitation and performance pages forgotten after all those years. Should you – like me – have trouble to figure the… "figures" on those graphs from the screen, print those pages, their size will make them much more legible.
Lets go to the tarmac...
For the test flights I have chosen some of the nicest freeware sceneries for FS9 (Canary Sim 2006, Verona VFR and Milano VFR, all available at the AVSIM website), I thought this would give some attractive background to the screenies.
Before going to the airport, I selected which 112A I wanted, i.e. two-blade propeller (you have a choice of 2 or 3 blades), and analog instruments (you can also equip your plane with a wonderful Chelton set) and a normal aspirated engine. All these options are available in the Configuration Manager
In our manual, we find the three weight and balance graphs (Flight envelope, loading and moment).
My first encounter with the Flight 1 Rockwell Commander 112A was on the tarmac of La Palma in the Canary Islands. Here it was, with its graceful design (unfortunately without any choice for a European tail number, so we need repaints guys!). “Walking” closer (Active Camera), I appreciated the amount of attention to details of the exterior model, a reasonably good job indeed.
Opening all doors, including the baggage compartment, I could almost smell the leather of the seats (all right, I know, just kidding!), once again, good work on the inside of the cabin in 2D, I am less impressed by the 3D detailing.
Pre-flight checks: When are we going to be able to do the real thing, check oil level, open up and see the tanks levels, move the ailerons and elevator manually, kick the tires, put and remove blocks, open doors and hood by clicking on the handles instead of keyboard keys, and be rewarded by some nasty in flight failures if the pre flight inspection is not done properly or forgotten? Not yet in any case, that may sound like a gag, but I am convinced we shall see some of these items on future GA releases… Jokes apart, I was disappointed not to find some of the refinements available on other Flight One GA models. It is always disheartening to feel that we are never sure of what to expect on a new release from the same developer/publisher. Product consistency and improvement is what makes and strengthens brands.
Seen from outside, you will notice that your front seats are already occupied by two characters, a male pilot (whose head rotates in the direction the plane turns into), and a female doll (who never stops blinking her eyes). Both will make room for you and disappear the minute you board the plane.
Having found my 112A fit to fly, I jumped in the left seat and rediscovered with pleasure a panel that was once very familiar to my eyes. Well, not anymore when looking at the avionics though, Flight1 has equipped its plane with a superb Garmin GNS 430/530 set including GPS/NAV/COM. These were not part of my King IFR package in the 70s (neither was any GPS!), so some reading is in order and the documentation provided by Flight1 is again abundant and detailed in a 70 page manual. The panel design is clean and well laid out, all instruments are perfectly legible. In 2D you can call the following sub panels: Avionics (Garmin GNS), engine pedestal (with a smart engine rating card that can be zoomed), engine, electrical and fuel instruments sub panel, A/P (Chelton) and transponder (Garmin GTX 327), the engine controller JPI EDM 800 and the clock and CO guardian. If your forward visibility is not what you want, you can click the top of the panel to lower it, or make it smaller all together for your approach or taxi operations.
But I hasten to add that this plane is perfectly flyable from the 3D cockpit without ever looking at the 2D if you wish. Should you need to focus on any of the above panels or instruments, they can be called from the 3D cockpit, in particular each Chelton screen and the Garmin GNS through a simple click. Furthermore, should the yoke be in the way, just remove it by clicking on it. In my opinion, the analog instruments in the 3D cockpit could have been slightly better.
At night, I found the lighting adequate in both 2 and 3D (except for the sunset in 3D where I had to switch to the 2D panel to continue my flight). In the virtual cockpit, I did not notice two levels of lighting (except for the ceiling lights) as in 2D.
Some flight testing exploration
Switching batteries on, pleasant buzzing of the gyros getting up to speed, pump on (a bit loud), full rich, cowl flaps open, beacon on, “Clear prop” and the soft roaring of the 200HP Lycoming engine starts with a growl. The oil pressure is in the yellow band and so is the oil temperature. After taxiing for a while, both slowly move up to the green zone ready for the engine run-up.
At holding point, while checking Left and Right magnetos, I don’t see any difference on the Amp meter (this could have been an added small touch). Three quick cycles on the propeller control to observe the loss in RPM, well reproduced (slightly on the high side). Flaps set, let’s go for some manoeuvres to check the aerodynamics of this simulation, like any pilot would do when first flying on a new aircraft. Upon take off, I am surprised about the almost lack of deviation from the take off axis: after putting my throttle gently to the firewall, I keep my feet off the rudder pedals and the plane remains on the runway, hardly pulling to the left. In all honesty, I cannot remember if the real plane yaw was that gentle.
Climbing from sea level at an OAT of 22°C, and keeping my KIAS at 90 kts, I could check that my VS were right on the dot with the rate of climb chart all the way up to 11000 ft. Oh that cowl flaps handle, how does one get it closed in the VC? Much easier in the 2D just a click!
After a quick descent to 5000 ft, I shut the throttle and look for the stall speed in clean configuration. At 60 kts, the alarm comes up and the plane dives immediately. Perhaps the warning horn could start sounding 5kts earlier so as to give some notice to the pilot and avoid the situation. Same exercise for the stall with all drags out, my alarm sounds at 50kts, but the plane would hardly stall, rather enter into a gentle descent, provided one keeps wings levelled of course. I found the horn sound discreet for a critical alarm (or the engine too loud). As a matter of comparison, when using the Chelton equipment variant, the Pitch Limit Indicator appears on your PFD like a hat above the flight path marker at 20kts above the GW clean stall speed, and turns red 5 knots above the stall speed. In all cases, the stall recovery is as easy as on the real plane. Steep turns are equally trouble-free and stable when the plane was adequately trimmed. Unusual attitude recoveries did not bring anything unexpected. Good job on the FDE of that plane, with the reservations expressed above. This assessment was confirmed with my later flights with various load/CG configurations.
To end this first test flight with some fun, I return to the airport and do what one cannot attempt in real life: I shut off the engine at 1500 ft on downwind to simulate an engine failure and… land safely on the runway keeping my glide speed at the recommended level.
Incredible piece of GA navigation equipment and display
Now that we are through with the initial “handover” flight, let’s review the features of the Chelton and Garmin equipments. These flat screens provide to the GA pilot as much information as an airline pilot will get from his glass cockpit setup. I never had an opportunity to use a Chelton set on a real airplane, but with my experience on heavies, I certainly had no problem adapting. Again, some reading will be needed so as to get the full potential of your instruments, as there are obvious operational differences with the “heavy” glass cockpits, but the documentation included in the package is well done. Within minutes, you will feel familiar with this wonderful instrumentation (unless of course you never “flew” any glass cockpit airliner before).
The PFD covers all features of an airliner PFD – and even more! - with very similar symbology although obviously adapted to the GA environment: at first one can easily get mixed up with the amount of information provided on a two-colour background. Performing a strong crosswind hand flown ILS approach in weather to the minima can be challenging the first time, just translating the visual data of the Flight Path Marker... Interesting info on a single engine airplane, the best glide speed is also indicated based on your GW.
The Multifunction display (MFD) is the equivalent of the ND in an airliner. Among the huge amount of info available, it can also tell you the fuel range and endurance for comparison with your route. A moving map or a traditional HIS can be shown as well as the terrain (please note this feature is only available in the Las Vegas/Palm Springs region).
In flight, I “played” with some of the instruments safety features such as the Unusual Attitude Recovery Mode, at night I put my aircraft in a steep pitch of 30° up or down and I was guided back to the blue line of the horizon by red chevrons, in addition, when diving, the “sink rate” lady wakes you up in case you felt like snoozing!
From the above description, you guessed that, with this equipment, you will have no excuse to get lost whether in IFR or VFR: to navigate on a light aircraft is now as easy as looking at a map with all the information you can dream of, and even more that you ever thought of using before. This Chelton cum Garmin combination represents the best instrumentation GA can get today. I tested each instrument thoroughly and found that they were delivering as advertised.
Performance and hardware Compatibility
FS hardware owners – such as GoFlight - your devices will interface well with all commands, in particular the autopilot. All my flights showed good video performance with a minimum of 18 FPS with heavy weather and 50% traffic. I could not really notice a significant negative impact of the 3D cockpit.
The Flight One Rockwell Commander 112A is an attractive package, not as refined as some other previous GA releases from Flight 1, but nevertheless a good rendition of an excellent plane which I enjoyed throughout my test flights. This was my first exposure to the Chelton/Garmin setup and, although my inclination for GA aircraft is to use analog gauges for sentimental reasons (and keep my brain cells active…), I must say that I was impressed by what this modern instrumentation can bring in terms of safety, performance and navigation information to the new age GA pilot. I suppose that a RW pilot would enjoy the possibility to learn this equipment on a simulator before using it thoroughly in flight, and the flight performance of the F1 Commander 112A would allow that and a reasonably good preparation for a type rating.
If you are an armchair
pilot and don’t care for the above exercises,
you might want to make comparisons with other Flight One General Aviation releases
already reviewed before making your purchase decision. If you like the Commander
112A and its equipment, then go for it, you will not be disappointed, but if
you prefer a good GA airplane with more “goodies”, then think twice,
Flight One has better alternatives.
|What I Like About The Commander 112A|
|What I Don't Like About The Commander 112A|
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