INTRODUCTION: Half A Ton, Anytime, Anywhere
Set your flaps, push the throttles and roar into the skies with the new BeaverX by Aerosoft! This add-on aircraft designed exclusively for FSX, faithfully represents the iconic deHavilland DHC-2 Beaver, and arrives in your virtual flight hangar rarin' to go for wherever adventure and your imagination will take you. Already a very popular download at Aerosoft, the BeaverX is a great portal into the exciting world of FSX General Aviation for both novice and experienced sim pilots.
The deHavilland Aircraft Company (Canada) was founded to develop aircraft and pilots in support of World War Two. After the war, deHavilland Canada turned to developing sturdy, trustworthy airplanes for general aviation purposes. Their early designs tend to incorporate two main features: the aircraft had to be useable and serviceable in harsh climates such as Canada's northern hinterlands, and they had to have STOL capabilities (Short Take-Off and Landing).
The DHC-2 Beaver was the first bush plane to come out of the deHavilland (Canada) factory, following on the success of the DHC-1 Chipmunk, a post-war pilot training aircraft. A bush plane is intended to operate in remote locations, such as the African savannah, the Australian outback, and of course, northern Canada and Alaska. A bush pilot can expect to fly goods, medicine, machinery, passengers, and a whole host of other cargo into destinations on the map that, if he or she were lucky, would actually be on a map. Often enough, a bush plane won't have a nice runway or even a dirt strip to land on, but just a short bare patch of land, or a clear swath of snow or ice, or even a stretch of choppy water. Many people liken the DHC-2 Beaver to the ubiquitous half-ton truck. If you've ever driven such a vehicle, you probably have all sorts of friends and acquaintances who will help you find uses for that truck: moving things, delivery errands, large-scale shopping trips, landscaping duties, the list goes on. Well, imagine that your truck has wings and can fly, and then you have some idea of how incredibly useful a DHC-2 Beaver could be. Aerosoft proudly displays the slogan "Half A Ton, Anytime, Anywhere" on the front page of the Beaver manual.
Sadly, the real world deHavilland Beaver is out of production, meaning that no new Beavers are being assembled. Fortunately, Aerosoft will be more than happy to sell you a brand new virtual BeaverX. Of course, the half-a-ton of cargo you need to get from, say, Whitehorse in the Canadian Yukon to Juneau, Alaska, will have to be purely imaginary.
Although there are no new Beavers from the deHavilland factory, the current real-world fleet of DHC-2's continue to fly the airways. The Beaver is one of those rare aviation designs that is so versatile, that it continues to be a popular aircraft long after its projected life span. Part of the reason that the Beaver has never been mothballed is that manufacturers continue to make quality replacement parts for it.
An operational DHC-2 Beaver with purely original deHavilland parts would probably be hard to find. Most Beavers have been modified, tweaked, and modernized. As well as the original run of DHC-2's, which are powered by a Pratt & Whitney Wasp jr. R985 radial engine rated at 450 horsepower, there also exists a series of Beaver II aircraft refitted with a 520 horsepower Alvis Leonides radial engine, and some Turbo Beavers or Beaver III's which mount a 578 horsepower Pratt & Whitney turboprop in place of the original engine.
Then there are the famous Kenmore Beavers, which have been rebuilt by Kenmore Air, a small passenger airline company that has the rare distinction of building its own airplanes. Kenmore takes an old, worn-out Beaver and completely disassembles it. Then they repair or rebuild every single part, adding upgraded avionics, upholstery, landing gear or floats, as well as some of their own custom Kenmore mods. The largest operation is the installation of a brand new zero-hour engine. The entire rebuilding process takes about 4,500 hours, so if you have that kind of time, and around $350,000 or so on hand, you could rebuild your own Beaver the way the Kenmore engineers do. If you own FSX, you will find your very own replica Kenmore Beaver included within your deHavilland folder.
Which brings me to a rather obvious question: why bother with the Aerosoft BeaverX when there is a decent Beaver included with FSX? A large part of my review will attempt to answer that question in depth.
INSTALLATION & MANUAL: Cleared For Takeoff
My copy of BeaverX was downloaded from the Aerosoft website. The download was quite large, but not difficult for my cable modem to handle. The file I downloaded was about 234MB in size. Installation is easy: after product registration, the BeaverX installs itself into its proper folder, called “deHavilland Canada”, which is different from the “deHavilland” folder the FSX default Beaver lives in. You can search for a particular BeaverX either in the folder, or by choosing the "Aerosoft" selector in the "Publisher" filter of "Choose An Airplane". Please make sure you keep the registration code you receive from Aerosoft in a safe place!
Although that's all you really need to get your DHC-2 Beaver going, the manual does provide some extra goodies you can play with, if you don't mind editing the .CFG file for your chosen airplane. You can take your plane into the "repair shop" and swap out your vintage ADF (Automatic Direction Finder) gauge with a clock of indeterminate age and origin (although it's definitely not digital!), and you can choose among eight interior designs for the upholstery, and nine male pilot faces of various ethnic backgrounds. The manual will help you to perform these cosmetic changes, as they are easy to do.
The manual is a .PDF file of 36 pages, colourfully illustrated and written in a friendly style, although there are a few minor typos and mis-spellings of the sort that would indicate the BeaverX is the product of international overseas co-operation. All of the basic operations of the DHC-2 Beaver are covered in good detail, especially engine power management and typical cockpit settings for each phase of a normal flight. The manual also points out many features of the BeaverX including how to see the extra animations, how to open and close doors and access panels, how to operate the crop-dusting and fire-fighting Beaver variants, how to land with floats and skis versus wheels, and how to access the advanced failures and emergencies menu to really spice up your flight.
Aerosoft has patched BeaverX up to version 2.30. In short time, they expect to release a boxed CD-ROM version of the DHC-2 Beaver, which should also be v2.30. BeaverX 2.30 makes some corrections to gauges, adds some floats and skis to some of the liveries, includes a new mission, and translates the English manual into Spanish, French, and German. If you have an older version of the BeaverX, you can download the patch for free from Aerosoft. Please be aware that you will need your valid BeaverX registration code to activate the patch! I had to spend a few anxious moments rummaging around for my code.
FLIGHT MODEL: Beaver Fever!
Right from the first moment I loaded it up, I saw that the Aerosoft BeaverX is the kind of simulated airplane that I know I wished for, and when I got it, I saw it had quality to spare. So, yes, I like this airplane a lot. That's not to say that the Aerosoft package doesn't have some issues, because like most real-world deHavilland Beavers, this one does carry some baggage. I will put my feelings about those issues into detail later in my review.
Overall, though, the BeaverX experience is positive. The deHavilland Beaver is renowned for its rugged simplicity in terms of flight and maintenance, and the FSX version copies that design faithfully. The DHC-2 Beaver that Aerosoft provides is more or less based upon the oldest Beaver I series, although there are some Kenmore-style modifications to the airplane, the most welcome of which are stronger landing gear, an up-to-date radio stack, and a retrofitted Garmin GPS (Global Positioning System). Since most real-world deHavilland Beavers are extensively modified nowadays, the Aerosoft designers chose to make the BeaverX reasonably contemporary as well, without breaking the budget of the sim bush pilot. So, the BeaverX doesn't really represent any one particular Beaver, but rather an inspired mixture of the best features the Beaver I series has to offer.
Aerosoft's BeaverX 2.30 comes with an incredible 47 different airframes from which to choose. These go beyond just changing the paint to get a new livery, but often represent some tweak in the model so that each DHC-2 Beaver flies somewhat differently from the others. By way of example, there are five Beavers that have amphibious landing gear, which means they have floats to land on water and also retractable wheels for runway landings. Then, there are 23 Beavers that have floats only, and should never set down on dry land (although it is possible to land the floats on ice and snow in FSX). Of those 23 Beavers, 17 can sit five passengers, while five Beavers are configured to seat eight passengers. The final Beaver floatplane doesn't carry passengers, but is equipped as a fire-fighting water bomber. Five are outfitted for bush landings in cold environments: three Beavers have snow skis for landing gear that also features retractable wheel, while two more have soft, oversized tundra wheels that are exceptionally useful for landing on uneven surfaces, such as the type found wherever there aren't any runways. Out of the remaining airplanes, 13 Beavers carry conventional tail-dragger style landing gear. The final Beaver, bringing the count to 47, is a tail-dragger that is outfitted with a functional crop-dusting rig.
Aerosoft feels that an empty deHavilland Beaver is an unwanted aircraft, so they generally load up some weight by default. Most of the Beavers have similar loads, but some remain fresh in my mind as being unique. The crop-duster variant stood out for me as the most challenging to fly, as it was heavy on take-off, wanted to twist to the left as I rolled down the runway, and seemed to carry around the extra inertia like there were sacks filled with bowling balls strapped to the wings. Well, let me be honest, I'm not at all being scientific about this. Look in the back of the cropduster, and you see a big, sealed, rust-coloured vat of chemicals just behind the pilot seat.
The cropduster's job is to chauffeur that hulking vat over the target crop field at high speed and extremely low altitude. The blur of the scenery as it raced past close enough to reach out and touch, plus the stolid weight of that vat, multiplied by what kind of disaster I was imagining if I clipped the landing gear on a fencepost or snapped a wing against the branch of a tree, magnified the sense of barely-contained danger.
Generally, though, the DH2-C Beaver is regarded as a very safe and forgiving airplane to fly, as long as you remain within the flight envelope. Basic characteristics of the real-world deHavilland Beaver hold true for the BeaverX. On takeoff, the Beaver will more or less leap into the air. It's a STOL aircraft, so this is to be expected even though it can be rather heavy. The Beaver is a tremendous climber, which makes it useful for dropping small numbers of skydivers in real life, as it can get to a good altitude quickly. Unfortunately, the BeaverX does not support dropping skydivers. The BeaverX seems happiest flying somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 feet, which may be too low for some amateur skydivers anyway.
Once in the air, the BeaverX is a stable air platform. As I mentioned with the cropduster, the airplane has a tendency to pull to the left, due to torque generated by the radial engine. Other than that, cruise flight is smooth and easy. The BeaverX is bottom-heavy, so the center of gravity shouldn't change much even with a big cargo load that is awkwardly placed. At the worst, you'll have to add extra trim to make flying easier, but too much trim will cost you some fuel due to inefficient flight. The bottom-heaviness also keeps the BeaverX from being acrobatic. It is possible to get the BeaverX upside-down, but the engine will make complaining noises and lose power, so you probably won't be challenging Patty Wagstaff for acrobatic glory in one of these. Since the center of gravity is low, the BeaverX is a forgiving aircraft to fly. Floats make the bottom even heavier, and carrying them will reduce your top speed as well, due to increased wind resistance.
The tricky part is the landing, although it's not that hard to accomplish. Taildraggers don't tend to land well in heavy crosswinds, as they usually have a thick cross-section in the tail assembly that catches the wind and causes it to swing outwards. The BeaverX definitely exhibits this behaviour; thankfully, the landing gear is strong enough to forgive unorthodox approaches. The other thing the Beaver does, or rather does not do, is glide very well. Its heaviness prevents it from coasting very far with no engine power, although the large wings and the flaps when fully extended give tremendous lift. In fact, I found it often necessary to boost power quite a bit when on final approach to the runway (or ground/ice/water) to prevent a stall.
The BeaverX is forgiving in stalls, in that it doesn't spin or make any sudden unexpected movements. The nose will dip in a stall, and the BeaverX will lose altitude. Giving the BeaverX some forward stick and power is usually enough to break out of the stall, although I felt uncomfortable performing this recovery close to the ground. It's best not to let the speed dip below 60mph unless you are very careful with the throttle and the angle of attack of your DHC-2 Beaver.
Ground taxi in the BeaverX is extremely easy. I got the sense that the BeaverX was on rails when it was on the tarmac. The differential toe brakes work perfectly well, although they are not needed, as the FSX-style rudder steering is powerful. The BeaverX is not at all like the default Piper J-3 Cub, which for me seems to want to ground loop if I breathe wrong. My BeaverX wouldn't swing its tail around even on wet concrete with me jamming the throttle full on and waving the rudder around like a maniac. On the ground, the BeaverX simply goes where you point it.
The Aerosoft BeaverX is capable of landing and taking off from water. Again, the process is easy. I wasn't penalized for gunning the throttles and hauling on the stick to pull up from the water, but following correct flight operations resulted in a more realistic take-off. I felt a subtle "step up" as the floats came up out of the water: the BeaverX will display some hydroplaning properties as the speed over the water increases. At the top of the "step", the Beaver accelerates past stall speed, and then it will climb out of the water. Since the floats don't supply as much friction as tires, taking off in a crosswind with a float fitted DHC-2 Beaver is difficult. The tail started to catch the wind and haul the airplane over the moment I lifted the water rudders. On the other hand, if you have enough water, you shouldn't have to take off in a crosswind in the first place, as you can just taxi into the wind wherever it is coming from and take off.
Landing on water with BeaverX is easy. FSX doesn't generate large waves, so the surface of the water should not provide severe piloting challenges. Just make sure your intended landing path is clear. Sometimes, FSX seems to generate quite a few artifacts in the water, little strips of land and such, which can wreck a water landing. The DHC-2 Beaver will drift a bit on the water after landing, as there are no brakes. At slow speeds, you can safely lower the water rudders, which can help you steer on the water. As with other floatplanes in MSFS, the water rudders are very powerful and should only be used to steer at the slowest speeds.
COCKPIT: TrackIR Heaven
The Aerosoft BeaverX comes with basically one cockpit, and it has many features that you would not find in a DHC-2 fresh from the deHavilland factory. Given that real-world DHC-2 Beavers tend to be heavily modernized and modified, the BeaverX represents the type of plane you would find in today's air and marine ports. It does not replicate any one particular Beaver model, but rather represents a range of the better options you could reasonably afford if you were a bush pilot.
If you are a TrackIR user, the BeaverX should make you clap and cheer for joy: the 3D Virtual Cockpit is detailed and full of appeal. If you have yet to invest in a TrackIR system, and especially if you are a devotee of the 2D cockpit, the Aerosoft BeaverX is perhaps going to be a monumental disappointment to you.
Why? Because the Aerosoft BeaverX does not ship with a 2D cockpit at all!
I do have my personal views as to whether or not the lack of a 2D cockpit is a good thing or a bad thing. However, any individual who is considering purchasing the BeaverX should be aware that there is no 2D cockpit in the package, and decide accordingly if this feature is important to them or not.
As I had mentioned, the 3D cockpit is constructed beautifully. Attention has been paid to many details, so that looking around the cockpit, you feel as though you are sitting in a real DHC-2 Beaver. The main gauges are primarily from an older generation of aircraft, parts that are at least thirty to forty years old. Although you can use radio navigation to find your way around the world in the BeaverX, you won't be able to intercept any glideslopes as the Horizontal Situation Indicator (HSI) lacks a glideslope indicator.
Modernized instruments include a standard-looking Bendix-King radio stack with an integrated autopilot. The BeaverX seems to me to beg to be flown by hand, so I used the autopilot grudgingly, and only for the sake of this review. Verdict: the autopilot works. Although the radio stack is basic fare for FSX, even its placement is well thought out: it is angled towards the pilot, so that a TrackIR user can just look over and use the controls without having to lean, although to get at the more fiddly bits of the radio stack, you can always switch to a closer view.
Another modern addition is the Garmin GPS (Global Positioning System), which is permanently clamped to the left side of the dashboard. The antenna has to be pushed to one side because the windscreen would otherwise block it. No bush plane should leave the ground without a good GPS! TrackIR users can lean in to squint at the GPS, or they can be like everyone else and choose the dedicated GPS view. Some limitations to how FSX presents gauges in the virtual cockpit make the GPS a little hard to read at times, for myself, I primarily just used the GPS as a moving map while flying the BeaverX and discarded the more complicated GPS functions in favour of more traditional seat-of-the pants VFR (Visual Flight Rules) navigation.
The refresh rate for the gauges seems to me to be acceptable. The needles don't move as smoothly as those found on 2D cockpit gauges, but they do respond well enough for most general aviation uses. The latest patch makes some of the gauges a little more accurate than before. Since the DHC-2 Beaver is not an acrobatic performer, I don't think it's a deal-breaker to have gauges that are just slightly slow.
For realistic flight, the gauge you will be watching most is the manifold pressure. This dial is a rough indicator of how much power your engine is generating, but it is important as it's possible to set the power with the throttle quite a bit higher than the engine is rated to support. For novice flight, this makes the BeaverX seem overpowered. If you fail to watch the manifold pressure gauge and maximize the throttle, prop, and mixture settings, the BeaverX will rocket into the sky with power to spare. There is no penalty in FSX for flying the BeaverX in this manner. I kept the levers to the firewall for several minutes without any complaints from the engine. In a real deHavilland Beaver, running the engine past its recommended rating for more than a minute should cause excessive engine wear, and might contribute to a catastrophic engine failure. So, if you want to fly the BeaverX in a realistic manner, you need to keep a careful watch on the manifold pressure gauge.
With a TrackIR, it's easy to keep up a visual pattern for checking gauges, as they are laid out logically. Without a TrackIR, I found this harder to do because I was relying more on the cycled viewpoints. The latest patch fixes some of the viewpoints so that it is easier to use all of the cockpit gauges. It is important to check on the manifold pressure gauge any time you are transitioning from one leg of your flight to the next, and it's also important to check on your airspeed indicator to avoid overspeed in the descent, and to avoid stalling when performing STOL manoeuvres. Searching for these gauges while looking out of the window during flight may tax the ability of a joystick hat view button.
One viewpoint that can be awkward is the one needed to operate the panel switches. The control yoke has a thick bar that passes directly in front of the lowermost part of the dashboard. A real deHavilland Beaver pilot probably would not be able to see those switches very easily either, but knowing where they are he or she could operate them by touch. FSX doesn't allow the sim pilot to touch the switches physically, at least not without a hardware add-on. I have to see the switch to operate it. The way to do this in a deHavilland Beaver is to lean forward over the yoke and look down. This is fairly easy to do with a TrackIR, and this view has been included in the patched BeaverX.
I discovered one guilty pleasure that is probably unrealistic when flying most DeHavilland Beavers, and that is opening the cockpit door while in flight. Each BeaverX airplane comes with its own set of animations that I will discuss later, but one trick that I learned was that the door handle for many of the variants is clickable. The door swings forward, which would probably be extremely unlikely during flight, not to mention dangerous, but with the door out of the way, the pilot gets a fantastic view of the scenery below. I've read about Piper Cub pilots removing the doors from their aircraft, and this is something I always wanted to try with MSFS. With a TrackIR, I can lean up against the leftmost edge of the cockpit and either peer straight down at the ground, or look ahead and barely manage to snag the handle to close the door again
EXTERIOR MODEL & ANIMATIONS: Homely Yet Hardy
If there was a worldwide beauty pageant for airplanes, who would win? If the judges were kind, perhaps a deHavilland Beaver might get noticed for congeniality, but it's not a pretty vehicle. Easy and fun to fly, yes, and straightforward to maintain. Nevertheless, in the department of aesthetics, the DH-2 Beaver is somewhat lacking. The oversized wings and flaps provide great lift, but look ungainly. The fuselage is designed to carry all manner of cargo, so it is more box-like than beautiful. The cabin is comfortable enough, but somewhat utilitarian. Even if the interior was gorgeous, you can't get around the fact that the oil filler for the engine is located inside the cockpit area, which over time can make everything inside the aircraft seem a bit slimy and smelling of lubricant.
Warts and all, Aerosoft does an excellent job of the visual models for the BeaverX. Every rivet is lovingly bump-mapped into a
realistic, shiny fuselage. The BeaverX takes good advantage of the visual advancements that FSX has to offer: 3DsMax modeling, self-shadowing, reflective paint, and bump-mapped textures. Aerosoft claims that the polygon count for their BeaverX is actually lower than that of the default FSX Beaver, yet the BeaverX has a highly detailed set of models. In terms of frame-rate friendliness, the BeaverX performs much like its counterpart the default FSX Beaver, so if you can run FSX, you can fly the Aerosoft BeaverX.
As I mentioned before, with patching, the BeaverX has 47 different aircraft to choose from, and I am told that more are on the way, including a long-range Beaver variant. Each model has some remarkable, unique detailing to it that makes each BeaverX different from the others. There is more involved than just swapping paint jobs. Some BeaverX's are more weathered than others, and some are definitely shiny and new looking. Many have different pieces added onto the exterior, like hand and foot holds, or a canoe paddle strapped to the inside of a float. The cropduster variant has a tiny propeller-driven motor slung beneath the fuselage: because when the chemical pump has its own independent power source, it is more efficient at spraying the payload over crops, according to the Aerosoft developers. These DHC-2 Beaver models are obviously a labour of love for the designers. There are a few little errors in the textures, such as reversed text and some textures that don't quite line up, but you have to look hard to find them.
Animations in BeaverX display some high quality in their design. The deHavilland Beaver is intended to be a solid, simple aircraft to fly, so there aren't many complicated pieces that move around a lot. Looking out of a side window, you can clearly see the flaps as they pivot on their hinges. The BeaverX uses electrically operated flaps, which is an improvement over the manufacturer’s original flaps that needed to be pumped into place by hand. On landing, the wheels spin correctly, and the gear struts even bend a little as they absorb the force of a landing. If the propeller has stopped rotating, you can actually see the blades shift position when you operate the pitch control. In the air, the pilot model will turn his head to look where the rudder is pointing, and he leans into turns as well as climbs and dives. Doors can be opened and closed by the user, and you can remove the nose cowling to get a better look at the Wasp jr. R985 engine. Applying parking brakes will enable tie-down models, like pitot covers and mooring lines.
Specialty animations are included with the cropduster and the firefighter variants. The cropduster sprays white chemicals out of the sprayer nozzles that are slung beneath the wings. The firefighter spews vivid fire retardant coloured with ferric oxide that sticks to the ground wherever it hits. Both animations are controlled with the "smoke" command in FSX. Unfortunately, a bug in FSX at this writing prevents viewing the spray from all angles, so this feature is not as much fun yet as it could be. As a note, the spray for both the firefighter and the cropduster are largely cosmetic: the weight of the aircraft does not seem to be affected by jettisoning the liquid cargo.
If you don't think that getting a deHavilland Beaver from Point A to Point B is exciting enough, even if Point A is a steep mountain aerie and Point B is a snaky river at the base of a box canyon, then you can choose to activate the BeaverX failure menu. Instrument and equipment failures can be randomized or precisely controlled, and they can be as subtle as a slowly drifting attitude indicator or as drastic as a blazing engine fire.
SOUND SET: The Beaver That Roared
With its single radial engine as a power plant, the deHavilland Beaver trades off technical finesse for simple brute force. Even from the ground, it is a distinctively noisy aircraft. It makes sense that the Aerosoft BeaverX should come equipped with a thunderous sound set. Right from the very first moment the BeaverX loads up, it assails the sim pilot with a huge, full engine sound. After the momentary shock that something so loud and powerful could be living in my copy of FSX, I had to grin and turn up my speakers as far as they would go. There was no guessing as to what the neighbours thought I was doing.
Beyond being loud, the engine sounds are fully realized with an excellent dynamic range. The sounds have been mastered for the maximum of amplitude without getting the popping artifacts of "clipping", where you hear a crackling sound because the audio source was either too powerful for the recording device or your speakers. The engine belts out a wide range of realistic sounds, easily making the transition from low idle to full power with no hesitation. Quickly, I found that I could tune the pitch, mixture and throttle to get an optimal manifold pressure by audio cues alone (although I still kept up my visual scans of the instruments!). The BeaverX also has a nice set of other sounds: subtle rattles and thumps while the aircraft taxis, a hum when the electric fuel pump engages, the faint clatter that the water rudder handle will make when operated, and electric whirring sounds that represent the motion of the flaps.
An interesting feature that comes with the BeaverX is a new interactive audio checklist. It comes in the form of a note taped to the edge of the dashboard. If you want a reminder of a phase of your checklist, you click on that item on the note paper, and a voice will read out your checklist items. Although the DHC-2 Beaver is a straightforward aircraft to operate, Aerosoft has simplified some of the items even further for FSX, so that the checklists are somewhat more technical than a casual user needs to get the BeaverX up and running. The voice that reads out the checklist does so at a rapid machine gun pace, so I found it hard to follow. The checklists are printed out in the manual, so you can see them there as well.
OUTSTANDING ISSUES: Aerosoft Left Their Heart In San Francisco
One general goal of FSX seems to be to increase its appeal across a broader market of computer gamers and simmers. In my opinion, some developers may feel pressure to have more add-ons to their products, while others will do it for the love of their product, and just to make their customers smile. Either way, it seems to be a happy trend to get some extra goodies with the product that's paid for.
But what happens when the goodies go horribly wrong? Do you get bad goodies? Unfortunately, this seems to be the case with the small add-on scenery that comes with BeaverX, a model of fashionable Pier 39 in San Francisco. It's intended as a base of operations for West Coast American adventures, but I don't reckon it's a good sign to see the developers apologizing for it in the manual. To be fair, Aerosoft, like many other developers, are chasing the needle in terms of discovering what the pitfalls and rewards are of working with FSX. They learn as they develop their products, and as in any good learning curve, they are going to make some mistakes.
Pier 39 looks fairly appealing and realistic, with crowds of shoppers and on-lookers that are typical to the area (no sea lions, though!). Your BeaverX is moored to the pier at dawn, ready for take-off into adventure. Alcatraz Island beckons in the bay. As the many pleasure boats tied to the pier float leisurely in the morning air, you perform your pre-start checklist and start the engine. All clear on the right, all clear on the... waitaminnit... the boats are floating in the air? Another FSX bug manifests itself. Many of the boats in the Pier 39 scenery won't sit on the water properly, and float above it instead. Well, FSX is supposed to be a flight simulator and not a boat simulator, so maybe we will let that one pass. There are other places in the FSX world where things are floating in the air that never do so in real life.
Taxiing out of Aerosoft's Pier 39 quickly presents an issue where there is not very much room for a floatplane to operate. It's not impossible to navigate the narrow channel, but it does seem to be a tight fit for the BeaverX. The mouth of the pier is guarded by a single unseen pixel that stands sentinel to prevent the easy escape of the unwitting sim pilot. Several times when I tried this scenery, the floats would become inexplicably high-centered on this invisible point, and the adventure would literally grind to a halt a couple of dozen meters from where it began. Sometimes if I used maximum power, the BeaverX would become unstuck, and other times the floats remained fixed on the pixel as if it were the Rock of Gibraltar.
So, taxiing out of Pier 39 was for me rather joyless. There are other parts of the pier that are somewhat more open, but when I chose to return the Beaver to its narrow moorage of origin, there was no room to turn it around so that the nose pointed out to the bay. As a possible hub for user-created adventures, Pier 39 seems to me to be too narrow and restrictive, and in its own way, surreal. My understanding is that Aerosoft had been working on a detailed San Francisco scenery for FS9 and encountered many setbacks, and so they have put the project on hold for now. They do offer a free model of Alcatraz Island, complete with the prison, that you can download into FSX. I did myself a favour and downloaded this file, which installs easily and painlessly into FSX. I like it much better than Pier 39.
With the latest patch comes one of Aerosoft's early forays into FSX mission building. In the "Needle In A Haystack" mission, you play the part of a northern park ranger with a deHavilland Beaver who needs to rescue a downed pilot in the mountainous wilderness near Juneau, Alaska. The mission starts by exposing a secret ambition of mine, to be able to walk around the world in FSX outside of the airplane and do things. The point-of-view pilot sequence is all pre-animated, though, so you cannot actually interact with anything, and you path is automatic and predetermined to walk you from the hangar to your aircraft. I was able to look around, though, with a TrackIR, sort of like going for a stroll and looking around at the view.
Character voices establish the basic idea of the mission, and are delivered with what I would consider thick American accents. The voice work is acceptable, but not engineered to the same quality as the rest of the BeaverX audio. Soon enough, I am snaking my way along waypoints through river valleys and around mountains that up until now I only saw from 35,000 feet aloft as just another leg of a great circle intercontinental passenger run. The scenery is beautiful, remote, and deadly.
The mission itself was surprisingly challenging in two ways, one good and one not so good. In the good way, the path to the search area is in the middle of some very rugged terrain. The rescue pilot has to be very careful not to run into a mountainside. I found that I needed to make several "canyon turns" as described in the FSX Mission "Introduction to Mountain Flying" -- steep turns in a canyon area, short of the rather frightening emergency "box canyon turn" that some bush pilots have resorted to in real life. Once I arrived at where the downed pilot should be, I only saw wilderness. I completely missed finding the pilot, although I imagined him looking up at the sky as my BeaverX droned away in its characteristic fashion, shaking his fist and cursing that I never saw him. Eventually after several times circling, I felt I had to attempt the humblest manoeuvre of e-mailing Aerosoft and asking for help. Without giving away the end of the mission, they kindly told me that I must go into the FSX Options/Settings/General menu and turn on "Show Captioning" for missions; otherwise, I would have a more difficult time finding the lost pilot.
As for the bugs and negative issues I found in BeaverX, there are some small items worth noting. As mentioned before, a bug in FSX prevents you from seeing cropduster or firefighter spray in all views, which is unfortunate. I found a couple of small areas where the textures weren't perfect, but I had to go looking for these mistakes to find them. A couple of the cockpit switches are cosmetic only, when it would have been nice to see them operate. Specifically, they are the cabin heat and the boost coil switches. When operating the panel light switch, the nav light switch gets activated as well. This is a bug with the BeaverX of which Aerosoft is fully aware.
The other thing that bothers me might be somewhat controversial to some readers. Although I can alter the .CFG file to change pilot and interior skins, I would also have liked the ability to have cargo that is visible in the rear bay: crates, drums, containers, what have you. Even though I can adjust the weight of the airplane easily enough, looking around the virtual cockpit, I don't see what is causing all of this weight in the first place. For pilots who primarily fly with the 2D cockpit, this is a non-issue: your viewpoints are restricted to the compass points on your joystick hat switch or keyboard, so you don't necessarily get to look in the back of the plane. But to have a 3D cockpit of a cargo hauler that remains visually empty seems to me incongruous.
Aerosoft also went to a lot of trouble to make appealing pilot models; however, you only see them in external views. Again, if you have a detailed 3D cockpit and multiple viewpoints in it, it seems strange to me not to see a pilot figure in the front seat, like there is an invisible ghost operating the stick and rudder. That, I think is the controversial part. Some third-party developers do put in a pilot or a co-pilot figure into their VC, or even both. Some are more successful than others, although over time I have seen plenty of examples where artists who are extremely talented at modeling aircraft cannot render a properly proportioned human. Then, there are users whose frame rates will suffer because of the extra visual load of pilot figures and cargo models. Perhaps someday, the developers will reach a happy balance between putting realistic people into aircraft versus hardware requirements.
At this point, as I have to go into the .CFG file to make modifications, I would be happiest if I had the option to include visual interior models such as people and cargo. That way, if I wanted to see them, I could, and if I didn't want them, I could remove them. Some days, I want my flight sim to run at over 30 frames per second, and others I'd be happy with 10 fps, if only I could see that there was a pilot at the controls. Making these visuals a user-selectable option seems to me the best approach to solve this issue. That, and I would have liked to have a choice of female pilots as well as the male ones in the BeaverX.
THE BIG QUESTION: BeaverX Versus FSX Beaver
So now, we come to a big obvious question: why pay money for an Aerosoft BeaverX when Microsoft has modeled a Beaver as one of their default planes? That, and there are some very good freeware Beaver models for FS9 that can be ported into FSX, as well. If you are exclusively flying FS9, the BeaverX is not available to you, as it if purely for FSX only. In that case, you can either download one of the freeware Beavers from Avsim, or you can purchase the Aerosoft Beaver for FS9, which was a widely successful add-on for Aerosoft, and the inspiration for BeaverX.
I consider the FSX Beaver to be one of the more appealing aircraft in the new simulator. The Kenmore Air Beaver represents the first time a real-world airline has been represented by Microsoft in their Flight Simulator product, and I even like the "San Juan Island Run" Mission in FSX, where I can play at being a pilot for Kenmore. The FSX Beaver is fun to fly, supports a detailed model, and seems to be reasonably accurate as far as flight dynamics are concerned, given the restrictions of the FSX algorithms. The FSX development team spent over 100 hours at Kenmore Air working on getting the FSX Beaver as good as it could be. The attention to detail shows in the high quality of their aircraft.
The Aerosoft BeaverX has a more detailed visual model than the FSX Beaver, which shows even at a glance. As accomplished as the FSX model is, the BeaverX takes the visual model a large step above and beyond that. There are quite a few more functional and visual details in the cockpit, as well as in the exterior models. As well, there are many more models of the DHC-2 Beaver to choose from in the Aerosoft package, so that you can find an aircraft to suit your flying style the best, including the adventuresome firefighter and cropduster variants.
The FSX Beaver and the BeaverX both feature professional-grade sound sets. The audio for the FSX Beaver is authentic-sounding, yet I felt that the bolder Aerosoft audio has a quality that injects a sense of fun into the realism. Audio aesthetics will often come down to matters of personal taste, so that it's difficult to describe in words how a sound set can make or break a simulation. At least the engine sounds are not aliased to a Cessna 172!
In terms of flight dynamics, both aircraft seem to be to be similar to one another, especially since both models represent a Mark I Beaver. FSX aircraft get something of an edge over FS9 models since the flight environment has been refined in the latest sim. There seems to me to exist a certain amount of rivalry between MSFS and Aerosoft regarding the validity of the Beaver's flight performance, so I don't want to step into that arena just now. Perhaps I would give the nod to the BeaverX over the FSX model; however, the reality is that both models have had many talented people working on them for a very long time. Both virtual Beavers are fun to fly.
So, let's answer the big question at the top. The heaviest advantage in favour of the BeaverX over the FSX Beaver is in the landing gear! For an aircraft that can haul a half a ton anytime, anywhere, the FSX Beaver is limited strictly to water operations, since it only comes with floats. If you want to perform marine port operations, you are limited to the United States, as I believe that MSFS does not come with true seaplane bases anywhere else in the world. The BeaverX comes fully equipped for operations on land, sea, snow, and combinations of all three.
The decision to purchase an Aerosoft BeaverX might come down to how much you want to pay for it. If you don't want to spend the money, the FSX Beaver is fun to fly, but has some big operational limits. The deHavilland Beaver is one of those rare, iconic classic aircraft that not only have historical value but also continue to write the future chapters in the books of aviation adventure. If you want a General Aviation model that can take you anywhere in the world, the Aerosoft BeaverX is an excellent purchase. It has proved so popular that Aerosoft is expanding their distribution of the BeaverX so that it can be acquired both as a download and as a boxed CD-ROM. I think that the BeaverX stands out as one of the truly excellent models for FSX, and provides a compelling reason to put down the FMC manuals for a while and just go flying!
CONCLUSION: Executive Summary
The BeaverX by Aerosoft is a new add-on aircraft exclusively for FSX. BeaverX models the rugged, popular, and versatile DHC-2 Beaver originally produced by deHavilland Canada. The BeaverX should be patched up to the latest version, which brings the total of flyable variants to 47, including aircraft with "normal" wheel gear, as well as floats, skis, oversized tundra wheels, or amphibious gear suitable for water and land operations at the flip of a cockpit switch. Most of the BeaverX aircraft have passenger seats, some have a cargo bay, while one carries a complete functional cropdusting rig, including wing sprayers, an operational chemical pump, and a vat of liquid payload right behind the pilot's seat. Another BeaverX is modified to carry firefighting nozzles that spray brightly-coloured fire retardant at the push of a button.
If you are a TrackIR user, you will have a lot to see and do in the detailed cockpit of the BeaverX. If not, you may be disappointed to find that the BeaverX does not come with a 2D cockpit at all. The patch improves the views that are available to the non-TrackIR Enhanced sim pilot, so that all of the operational gauges and switches are visible and available for use.
Flying the BeaverX is fun, simple, and above all, loud. The powerful Pratt & Whitney Wasp jr. radial engine and the oversized wings make the BeaverX ideal for bush-plane operations where take-off and landing space are extremely limited. For novice pilots, the BeaverX has power to spare, as it is easy to operate the engine at its maximum output for as long as you desire. If you prefer to fly by the numbers, you will have to watch your manifold pressure gauge to make sure you don't overstress the engine. This decreases the amount of engine power available to you, but the BeaverX should still be an eager climber. Although you cannot actually stress the engine to the breaking point, you can simulate the event with the failure commands menu.
The visual models are excellent, and take full advantage of the graphical advancements available in FSX. Although the models are detailed, they do not seem to cause my frame rate to suffer. I was getting the same frame rates with the BeaverX as I was with the default FSX Beaver.
The BeaverX package comes with a number of extras, of which the quality seems to vary. The patch includes a challenging rescue mission, which I liked, while the main package comes with a nifty interactive audio checklist for flight. BeaverX also comes with a scenery add-on: a floatplane base of operations at Pier 39 in San Francisco. I found this scenery to be disappointing and difficult to fly in and out of, so I greatly prefer the freeware add-on of Alcatraz Island from the Aerosoft website.
In most respects, I really enjoyed flight-testing the Aerosoft BeaverX for my review. The real-world deHavilland Beaver inspires a great deal of respect and admiration, as I discovered when I was doing the research for my article. The BeaverX, I think, represents an excellent effort to re-create the classic style of adventure one finds when flying in a real DHC-2 Beaver.
THE LAST WORD: Times Two!
For my reviews, I ordinarily like to have the developer say the last word in regards to their product. This time around, I have the privilege of having another authority present their views on the subject of the deHavilland Beaver. It is my pleasure to present to you Mr. Thomas F. Tilson, Director of Operations for Kenmore Air. He was kind enough to share some observations with me about the DHC-2 Beaver and its place in FSX, and I will print these in a little sidebar at the end of this article.
But first, some words from the creative team at Aerosoft. I asked them about developing the BeaverX as a new product for FSX, especially considering that their FS9 version of the DHC-2 Beaver was such a success:
"The Beaver is what we consider an ultimate aircraft. If there are MORE Beavers flying now then there are ten years ago and almost all of these are being actually used commercially, it simply means there is no newer aircraft that is better. And a LOT of people who use the Beaver will tell you this. We sold a great many of the aircraft for FS2004 and the upgrade market was worth a lot of money. We did upgrade our Beaver to an almost fully new development and almost 50% of FS2004 owners took the offer. We still sell a few dozen of the DHC-2 Beavers for FS2004 every single day. Updating the aircraft, even at the very cheap 65% discount offer, just makes a lot of commercial sense."
I asked the team about getting the BeaverX ready for shipment as a boxed product:
"The major issue was to get the 4 languages manual done (English, French, Spanish, German, we are very proud of that!). Most people know that major shops simply do not stock FS titles these days if they are not fully FSX specs so we are glad to get this to production. Boxed sales are causing us problems, we don’t mind saying that (as we do not mind customers being cautious about full FSX spec products, they have a right to demand progress)."
And, of course, the last word from Aerosoft, where they wish to tell the Avsim readership about the BeaverX add-on:
“We did the BeaverX as a test to see what FSX has to offer and how customers would pick up on it. Now working 60 hours a week with FSX, we are very aware of the issues, problems, and bugs. But we also see it IS the future and that it offers a path to the future we cannot ignore, as there is just too much good stuff to use. Graphically, the BeaverX is as good as we think we can do it as this moment (but we got stuff in development that's better), in systems we believe it is simple but solid, the BeaverX is not a PMDG 747 but a simple sturdy aircraft. Half a ton, anywhere, anytime.
Most important, we started to love FSX for creating this aircraft. It has potential that is just not visible for some people. There are issues to be solved by Microsoft and a lot of them will be solved with Service Pack 1 that we are all expecting any day now. But the BeaverX shows a lot of what is possible and that is why we are proud of this product. That is why we spend a lot of time on it.”
I really like it a lot when the developers are so passionate about their product. The deHavilland Beaver seems to be special in that flight sim pilots and real-world pilots alike share a passion for this one-of-a-kind aircraft. As Kenmore Aviation is geographically in the area of my back yard (they are based in Seattle, Washington, USA), I wanted to ask them about their experiences with the DCH-2 Beaver, and with Microsoft Flight Simulator. Tom Tilson, Kenmore Air Director of Operations replied to me:
"With the release of FSX, we are now starting to use it to demo to our newer pilots what several of our departure flight routes look like. For instance, our southbound Beaver departure corridors take us close to the Space Needle, and using FSX is a good way to show the 'new guys' what the 'correct' view should look like. Also, when talking to various government agencies about planned deployment in our operational areas, using FSX is a good way to show planners the effects of new building proposals on the Lake Union floatplane operations. During this year's Seattle Boat Show, Microsoft and Kenmore jointly sponsored a 'Fly A Kenmore Beaver' area of our booth where we had a very powerful system provided to us by MS with a widescreen monitor that let everybody see what our aircraft looked like while flying over Seattle and Puget Sound."
I asked Mr. Tilson to comment on FSX Beaver as well as the Aerosoft Beaver:
“Kenmore and Microsoft worked together on the Beaver for this release of FSX. The Microsoft team came out to the Air Harbor for both the Beaver and the Goose projects. All in all, it was very exciting, and Kenmore was proud to be instrumental in getting the Beaver 'right' and also being the first real airline included in a MSFS release."
As far as the Aerosoft Beaver is concerned, he said, "I have seen it, but do not know a lot about it. It looks like a very good product, and when I flew it, it seemed 'close' to the aircraft in performance. It seemed a bit overpowered from the actual aircraft but only when fully loaded in a steep slow climb."
Finally, I have some Internet links pertaining to my review for those who are interested:
Kenmore Air (documentary on How To Rebuild A Beaver, be sure to click on the "Watch the Tour" button!)
Aerosoft Canada (free download for Alcatraz Island scenery)
One final note: it looks like while I was writing my review, Aerosoft has released Patch 2.31! BeaverX users can download a free update that will give them five new liveries including a long-range deHavilland Beaver with extra fuel tanks. Looks like I've got some more flying to do!
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