If you would like to fly the most exciting GA Twin released for FSX, and you admire a meticulously crafted aircraft, this RealAir package is for you. And if you already own the earlier (piston) version of the Duke, the upgrade is worth the money.
RealAir are well known for their award winning aircraft for FSX: The SF260 Marchetti, The Spitfire IX/XIV, The Citabria/Decathlon/Scout tail draggers, and the Beechcraft Duke. Now they have added another winner to their fleet. Before we go into what makes their aircraft so special, let’s talk a bit about the real-world aircraft they chose to model.
Quoting from the documentation:“The Duke was designed as a progression from Beechcraft’s Baron and the prototype first flew as long ago as 1966. The B60 Duke was the final variant built by Beechcraft and featured full pressurization and improved turbocharged Lycoming TIO-541 engines producing a maximum 380 hp each.
Performance is also significantly improved after fitment of turbine engines — the engines on the Turbine Duke are flat rated at 550hp each, up from the 380hp of the piston engines originally fitted to the B60 Duke. [ …. ]These new engines lift the performance of the Duke to a whole new level. Sustained climb rates of over 4000 fpm are now possible, max cruise speed is now up around 300kt TAS at altitude. A climb from sea level to 25,000ft can be done in as little as 9 to 12 minutes. Take off and landing distances have both been cut dramatically — takeoff runway required has gone from 2660 ft in the piston Duke down to 1000 ft in the turbine Duke. Landing distance has been cut from 3000 ft in the piston Duke down to 900 ft in the Turbine Duke. This makes the Turbine Duke not just a faster aircraft, but a much more versatile aircraft that can get into and out of runways that the piston powered Duke couldn’t touch.”
The Duke conversions are done by Rocket Engineering in Spokane, Washington. For a first hand look at what this company does, watch this interview with Darwin Conrad, their President, at Aero News interview . Also go visit their website at Royal Turbine.
Zane, a real world pilot, actually had the opportunity to fly a real Turbine Duke, nameplate N157JT and is well equipped to compare that experience to flying in the RealAir aircraft. As to his co-author, Bert, he is just an aviation nut, obsessed with really well done aircraft, who has never flown in the right seat of anything bigger than a Baron.
OK, now you know a bit about the airplane, let’s talk about what you get, when you order the FSX package.
Installation & Documentation:
The package comes as a 160 MB download, complete with an auto-installer which worked flawlessly on my system. You will end up with six individual airplanes, each with their own paint scheme and registration, and with three different color schemes in the cockpit. All great looking! The package can be purchased at the RealAir website.
The documentation is professionally put together and includes not only a comprehensive, well written and illustrated 60 page Flying Guide with all the information you need to be able to fly this aircraft, but also Normal and Emergency Procedures checklists. By the time you’ve finished skimming through the manuals, you’ll realize that you are looking at a high quality package and you’ll be itching to take this aircraft for a ride.
One option worth mentioning, is the option to integrate RXP Garmin 530 and/or 430 GPS units into the panel. The Duke comes with a nicely integrated default FSX GNS500, but the RXP gauges not only provide better functionality, but also look much better. If you already own an RXP Garmin, this option is a no-brainer. If not, I’d suggest seriously looking a buying an RXP 530 for this airplane.
The cockpit views:
Since you’ll be spending a lot of time here, the “feel” of the cockpit is essential to the suspension of disbelief that makes for a fabulous FSX aircraft. As you’ll see throughout the review, RealAir has done a great job with the outside model and most certainly with the flying characteristics of this airplane. But where this airplane is a clear step above its competitors, is in the cockpit.
RealAir was one of the pioneers of the Virtual Cockpit only design, which was not without controversy at the time. Quoting from the original Duke’s documentation: ”Since the critically acclaimed release of the RealAir Simulations Spitfire and SF260 aircraft, RealAir has stuck to its guns in continued development of the Virtual Cockpit-only approach to new aircraft, especially GA aircraft of the type we are known for. Our philosophy is this: 2d (static) panels were only made because the technology to build smooth and clear panels and gauges which you could see in a three-dimensional, dynamic environment in Flight Simulator were simply not of a worthwhile standard.”
Their developing further along this concept and sweating every detail has paid off. Where the original Duke was criticized for being too “clinical” in its cockpit look, the Turbo Duke has been reworked to add dust, reflections in the glass, and a small amount of wear and tear to make it look more like a real world workplace. The changes are subtle and some may not care either way, but for me, the original Duke is not a plane I go back to – I like the new look.
The combination of crystal clear, totally smooth moving gauges, the view of the spinning propellers, and the subtle movement of the panel in reaction to changes in flight direction, make for a superb simulation. It is easy to forget that you are flying in your basement, and instead just get lost in the sheer joy of flying, period!
What has not changed is the fact that all instruments work nicely and that you do not have to apply tweaks or live with workarounds to make your flight work as planned. With the optional RXP Garmins installed, you have a great plane for IFR flying, including LPV GPS guided landing approaches.
With the package comes a configuration manager that allows you to select realism settings, as well as graphics options.
You can have VC window reflections, or clear glass, mip mapping of the outside textures or not, nose wheel steering connected to the rudder or a free castoring nose wheel, click and drag or left-click right-click mouse behavior, and many more options that allow you to tailor this aircraft to your personal preferences. I personally like to use the mouse wheel to turn the knobs and this works flawlessly.
First flights in the Turbine Duke (Bert Pieké):
My first flight was out of KSFO, San Francisco, and considerably more eventful than planned. The take-off went without a hitch, and pretty soon, I was flying with gear up and climbing at 3000 ft/min as you can see in the following screenshots.
No sooner had I arrived over the vineyards of the Napa Valley than to my great surprise, the left engine blew up! The left engine instruments quickly went to zero, and through the window, I could see oil streaking along the engine covers. The outside view was even more devastating.
OK, turn off fuel to the engine, feather the prop and check nearest airports on the Garmin. Santa Rosa it was. Dial in an RNAV approach and perform an engine out landing. Luckily, the plane handled quite nicely throughout the ordeal, but it was nice to be on the ground again.
One of the options in the configurator is to turn off random engine failures, so that got selected for the remainder of the review.
I’ve had the question on the forums, what a dual Garmin configuration buys you. Well, in the real world, it buys you a backup unit in case the first one fails, but in addition, it buys you a lot more information at your fingertips. When coming in for an approach, I often have the terrain view active on one unit, while tracking the flight plan on the other as can be seen in this emergency landing. Or, as below when landing in a flat area like CYVR Vancouver, it is nice to just have the map and flight plan open at the same time.
Interior and external views:
Going by the maxim that a picture is worth a thousand words, here are some screenshots of the interior and exterior of the Duke.
Altogether very nicely done, and no texture mismatches to be found – as a matter of fact, the various color schemes for the interior, as well as the exterior paints, are all well chosen and finished.
Sounds and effects:
The sounds are very convincing and it is quite nice to have two turbines humming outside, rather than two powerful six cylinder piston engines banging away.
The night-time illumination is good inside and out, although the landing lights are of the default FSX type and others have shown by now that custom lighting solutions can overcome some of the FSX imperfections and make for a more convincing effect.
Flying the real Turbine Duke (Zane Gard):
They did it, they did it, they really did it. I actually can’t believe it! Am I excited? Well, YES… I am! …and for multiple reasons.
First off, I’ve always admired the Beechcraft Duke. I remember in my youth when my father owned his Piper Navajo Chieftain that he admired the Duke for its Beechcraft build quality, its speed and the luxury of being pressurized. They were cool looking on the ramp too. They looked faster than any other twin with that long nose, swept back tail, huge engines and aggressive stance. For our use though they didn’t have enough seats so the 70’s went by with a passing admiration of this bird.
In the 80’s we did take a closer look at getting a Duke and I recall my father’s surprise that it didn’t have the performance he had expected given its cruise speed. It was what gets called a ground hog and despite all that power you wouldn’t want to operate it out of the shorter fields the Navajo could handle with ease. Truly what this aircraft needed was more power, and given the rather cranky reputation those big Lycomings were getting, a different power plant would certainly breathe some new life into an otherwise gorgeous personal transport.
Fast forward another twenty years and someone finally did put that notion to pen and enough paper to equal the gross weight of the aircraft and a certified modification to the B model Duke fitting the infamous Pratt & Whitney PT-6 turbine power plant was being built. What a cool idea, rid an otherwise wonderful aircraft of its only liability and turn it into a quiet, luxurious rocketship that would outrun most any other turbine aircraft available in the marketplace.
I was in a fortunate position as the programs chair for the Columbia Aviation Association a few years ago and got to invite the engineer that builds the Royal Turbine and some his staff to give a program on its development and demonstrate its phenomenal performance. Their flight from Spokane Washington to Aurora Oregon (just a few miles south of Portland) took a little less than an hour and they burned 65 gallons of Jet A getting there. That’s performance and fuel burn similar to the Socata TBM 700 except the Turbine Duke has two engine redundancy, costs about a third to purchase and a climb rate the TBM couldn’t touch even on the best of days.
The good fortune didn’t stop there. Prior to the meeting start, there were a few demonstration flights and during one of those I got to take the right seat of N157JT. I had been watching from the ramp outside the clubhouse for the two prior demos and we all were marveling at not only how quiet the aircraft was from outside on a high performance takeoff roll and climb out but also the performance. I can count on one hand the GA aircraft I have seen with this fast of acceleration on ground roll and then the incredible deck angle and continuous climb rate …and I’ll have fingers left over!
My first impression while taxiing out was surprise at how quiet the aircraft was inside. My father was sitting in the back seat and while we were wearing headsets we could have easily taken them off and had a regular voiced conversation. I figured this would change when we took off so the headsets remained on.
We pulled onto runway 35, held brakes and slowly brought the throttles forward watching temps and pressures until the RPM’s were at a steady max of 2,200. The brake were released and continued throttle application until max torque. The acceleration was more than brisk… it really pushed you into the seat but where was the loud noise I had expected? It was so quiet and smooth; the rush from the power was quite deceptive; you didn’t realize just how quick you were accelerating because it felt effortless for the aircraft. Nine seconds… that’s right nine seconds later we were rotating and the airspeed had quickly built to 120 knots indicated.
Gear went up and we rotated to about a twenty degree deck angle which let me tell you felt almost straight up. I looked at the vertical speed indicator and it had hit its peg at 4,000 feet per minute. We were really going up in a hurry yet the quietness in the cockpit made it very comfortable. My father and I took off our headsets and were still able to have a conversation from front to back without yelling. He was smiling too; I could tell he knew they had gotten it right with this engine combination on the Duke.
We leveled off at 12,500 feet in 3 minutes and accelerated quickly to redline where the throttles were pulled back to keep us from overspeeding. I now got to take the aircraft through its paces with some S turns and found the general feel to be that of a heavily loaded Baron. Very balanced and pleasing, this is a pilot’s airplane, the type where you can’t wait to turn off the autopilot and feel it through your hands once again.
We headed back to Aurora all too soon. Throttle back for descent, crossed midfield at 2,000 feet above the ground and with an empty traffic pattern just dropped into the downwind leg keeping throttles back we decelerated to gear speed just before turning base, some flaps on base and then some more flaps on final. The speed management was so easy with the turbine engines and no worries about shock cooling those temperamental BIG Lycomings. We touched mains on the numbers, reverse thrust and pulled off the first taxiway intersection. Try that in the piston engine Duke and you’ll be buying expensive brakes often, I actually doubt you could get the piston engine version slowed fast enough for that first turnout.
That flight still remains vivid and in color as one of my favorite flying memories. This aircraft remains on my short list for creating a need for a personal aircraft. In the meantime it remains a want. A want that’s been fulfilled in the simulator.
When RealAir announced it was doing the Duke for FSX, I actually started emailing them about the Royal Turbine as a variant. They were very focused on getting the production piston version right which I don’t blame them for, so I figured it was going to be a pipe dream of mine that anyone would ever offer the turbine version.
I purchased the piston version when it was released and it quickly became one of my favorite aircraft to sim with since it so accurately depicted the look, sounds and feel of flying a real one. All with a minimum hit on frame rates so this was a winner in all regards, I have found some default aircraft that hit the frame rates worse. Still I longed for more power and to relive my experience in N157JT.
Then I saw the announcement on RealAir’s site about the Turbine Duke. Not only that, the pictures were depicting N157JT. Now, not only was the type aircraft I had flown being created for the sim by a top developer, THE actual aircraft I had flown was being done. Not only that, one of the favorite aircraft I have in my logbook. Am I getting through to you the excitement level this thing sparked? Not only did I have to have this… I HAD TO HAVE THIS!
Both Bert and I were selected for reviewing the aircraft for AVSIM and offered review copies. Neither Bert nor I were patient enough to wait for the emails from RealAir, we both purchased these on our own and were flying them before RealAir had even responded to the review request.
My first flight? Well of course I set up at Aurora, close to the parking for the CAA clubhouse, taxied out to runway 35 and recreated the takeoff roll and climb out I so vividly remembered in the real aircraft. And the RealAir simulation did not disappoint. Time after time I find this is a spot on simulation, the acceleration, the sounds, the climb rate, even the fuel burn with most situations is close enough to be right from the book numbers.
The 3D modeling of both the interior and exterior are so smooth and nicely done, the panel is a work of art and offers many variations from default GPS to dual RealityXP Garmin installations. Engine modeling is an area that RealAir did go far and above most developers. FSX unfortunately does a poor job of simulating any engine except for a fixed pitch piston engine. Their turboprop modeling is false enough to be nothing more than a novelty.
By careful programming and consideration of areas that might not be of as much importance RealAir has struck a very nice balance of realistic normal operation of the PT-6. You don’t jockey these throttles all over the place in a turbine, you smoothly set them and see what happens. Don’t expect the near instant response a piston engine provides and certainly don’t expect it to behave like the default King Air 350.
That said there a few situations where RealAir’s programming will cause the engines to overspeed and you’ll hear it. I’ll take the overspeed and keep the lag in response and better overall realism in operation compared to other PT-6 simulations I have used.
As you can tell from the above, we really like this package. In keeping with the real world airplane that is modeled, this package was built for enthusiastic Duke owners who not only want an adrenaline rush, but also a high performance – lower maintenance ownership experience.
The outside models are lovely and the feeling in the cockpit is unequalled. The feeling of “quality” is everywhere you look, including the flight model, documentation, and prompt and friendly support by the authors. If you like flying a twin, and have flown the Baron and want to take it “up a notch” this plane has much to offer. And if you already own the piston Duke, and want to add to the experience, the upgrade is definitely worth the money.
I give the RealAir Turbine Duke my highest recommendations as one of the most enjoyable simming aircraft ever released for FSX. It joins the Flight1 Cessna Mustang as one of the two aircraft I am most likely to use when simming. Nice job RealAir, now when I get a real one I’ll take your team up for a flight.
What We Like About The Turbine Duke
What We Don't Like About The Turbine Duke
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