The Cessna 206 was introduced in 1964 as the “Super Skywagon.” It was supposed to be the station wagon of the air: a family-size vehicle, suitable for carrying cargo as well as people. In 1970, Cessna renamed it the “Stationair,” and that is the name it still carries. Almost three years ago, Carenado released a Flight Simulator model of the G variant that was produced in the early 1980s; it was a big hit at the time, and reviewers greeted it enthusiastically (including Nick Preston, who reviewed the product for AVSIM).
Then FSX came out, and some old favorites stopped working. Almost immediately, Carenado issued a patch to make almost all of its products, including the Stationair, flyable in the new sim. Now, almost two years after FSX made its first appearance in stores, Carenado has begun issuing new versions of its old line-up, starting with the Stationair. I’ve been flying it almost exclusively for the last three weeks, and in this review I’ll report on what’s new, what’s old, what could be improved, and what still works.
Installation and Documentation
Installation is straightforward and automatic. Documentation, which comes in Acrobat format, has four parts: checklists, emergency procedures, panel explanations, and performance data.
The performance data (including graphs) will be welcome to flight sim experts and real-world pilots; but if you don’t know how to use it, the manual won’t teach you. Fortunately, the checklist gives recommended settings for all stages of flight.
All four manuals are well illustrated and print out attractively. This is fortunate, because a kneepad checklist is not included. The pages would use less ink if they didn’t all include a screenshot of the model on the right-hand margin, but that’s a minor complaint.
By my count,
Carenado’s Stationair comes in three different
models, with two variations for each model:
Some planes have one pilot, others have two, but I didn’t count these separately. All six variations have elegant lines. This was already true in FS2004, but in FSX, the models also have bump mapping, specular mapping, light bloom, and (in DX10 preview mode) dynamic shadows in the virtual cockpit.
I don’t have Vista, so I wasn’t able to appreciate this last feature, but the bump mapping is used to good effect; it’s especially noticeable on the fuselage, where it’s used to make the hull rivets catch sunlight, and on the wings, where it’s used to define the ribbing.
Texture quality has not changed since FS2004. This will disappoint customers with lots of video RAM, because there could be more detail. On the other hand, frame rates are high and -- this is important -- all of the old repaints can be reused. The FS2004 version was quite popular, so the library of existing repaints is already well populated. I installed and made thumbnails for about a dozen repaints, but that is (I’m estimating) only about a quarter of what’s available.
The gauges in the Stationair all look roughly familiar. If you’ve flown one of the default Cessnas, you should feel right at home. The main differences are age and quality. The Stationair gauges look about thirty years older than the default gauges -- which is about right, given the age of the planes being modeled -- and they’re noticeably crisper. This is a fun plane for VFR, but it’s also a solid platform for IFR.
The gauges are all clearly legible, and if you click on most of them, you can get a digital read-out, a magnified pop-up, or both. A 2D panel is available, and includes a special sub-panel to summon the various pop-ups. However the virtual cockpit is just as usable, and has better window views.
Two instruments deserve special mention: the Navomatic 300A autopilot and the fuel computer. The Navomatic does less than the default Cessna Caravan, in that there is no altitude hold. That’s a limitation of the real Navomatic, which the model has adhered to faithfully. In practice, though, this hardly matters: Carenado’s version of the Stationair is extremely easy to trim for level flight. It also has a better-than-default fuel computer, which displays gallons per hour, estimated range, gallons used, gallons remaining, gallons to destination, gallons in reserve, and flight time with remaining fuel.
The cabin behind the cockpit is outfitted with red seats; in the cargo version, you can click on these and the passenger seating will be replaced with crates. There are also three exits that can be opened and closed separately: the front cockpit door, the rear cabin door, and (in the cargo version) a pod door under the plane, which opens to reveal more crates and boxes.
Back in the cockpit, the PIC’s yoke can also be removed so that you can access the switches behind it. This is another example of something that’s true of the virtual cockpit in general: everything is designed to be usable.
My one criticism of the virtual cockpit, and my only reservation about the package as a whole, is the quality of the textures. If you remove the yoke (which I generally do), you notice that some of the labels are blurred: in one case, the avionics switch, to the point of not being legible.
To be sure, once you know what it is, you turn it on and forget about it for the rest of the flight, until it’s time to shut down the engine; one row of blurred labels isn’t a big deal. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be hard to fix. But the window frame, on the pilot’s side, is blurry too. Fixing this would be harder.
The problem, I’m guessing, is that the window frame is closer to the pilot’s eye than the instrument panel, and when objects are closer, you notice more of their flaws. (In contrast to the window frame, the stitching on the cockpit ceiling looks detailed and realistic; the difference, I’m guessing, is just that the ceiling is farther away.) There are at least three ways to address this. One is to use high definition textures; these are available, from a third-party, for Carenado’s Mooney and its new Cessna 182. Another solution is to model the frame in more detail; this is why the current generation of RealAir cockpits still look sharp even up close. A third solution is to bump map the surface of the window frame, so that its seams casts shadows.
Is all of this too technical? I’m not a modeler, but I notice when methods change. When it came out in 2006, this was a high-end cockpit, if not state-of-the-art. In 2008, it’s an advanced cockpit, with clear gauges and lots of click points; I still give it high points for usability.
Aesthetically, though, it belongs to an older generation: not the early 1980s when the real plane was manufactured, but two years ago, when the model was new. That being said, a lot of newer cockpits still don’t look as good as this one.
The sound files in this model do not seem to have not been updated. Sound cones, which are new in FSX, have not been defined. Does this matter? Not that I’ve noticed. The old sounds were already good, especially the engine. There might be better tests, but I like an engine sound that shakes my seat through the whole range of MPs and RPMs; this one does that.
Judging from the .air file’s date stamp, 9 November 2005, the Stationair’s flight model does not seem to have been updated. As mentioned before, it trims easily. Compared with some other popular bush planes -- I am thinking, in particular, of the ACA Scout and the Dornier Do-27 -- the Stationair does not tempt you into a low-speed stall on final approach. In fact, I don’t remember stalling at all.
With full flaps, the glide plane is relatively shallow, so it’s not quite as good as the De Havilland Beaver for fast descents. Still, it can be wedged into some short fields. Using the wheeled version, I was able to land on a grass runway 1,260 feet long -- and this was with a tree sticking up right in front of the runway, so I could only use about three quarters of the runway. No doubt a more skilful pilot could do even better.When banking, the ailerons have more authority than other Cessnas I’ve flown; if you don’t watch the turn indicator, it’s very easy to do a more-than-standard-rate turn when you don’t mean to.
Engine performance and fuel consumption have been calibrated to match the numbers in the pilot’s operating handbook (POH). Simmers who are familiar with the default Caravan will notice, first, that the Caravan is noticeably larger and heavier; and second, that its engine is less responsive.
If I could change one thing here, it wouldn’t be the flight model so much as the fuel system. The real Stationair is like the default Mooney: you can select right tank or left tank, but you can’t draw on both at the same time. If you don’t switch tanks periodically, one side of the aircraft will eventually get heavier than the other and the ship will start to list. This is a real effect, but the sim tends to exaggerate it.
Modelers deal with this exaggeration in different ways. With this model, you can offset the effect with rudder trim or you can use the autopilot to stay level. Other models (such as the RealAir SF.260) make a small compromise with realism and replace the fuel switch with something that can feed from both tanks. That’s my preferred solution, but I wouldn’t argue with someone who liked the other way better.
Frame rates are at least as good as the default Caravan, even though the model is more detailed.
Carenado sells the Stationair for US$30. There is no discount for upgraders, but there is a free patch that will make the old version flyable in the new sim. What do you get with the new version? On the outside, bump mapping, specular mapping, and light bloom; on the inside, dynamic shadows in the virtual cockpit. Also, your propeller won’t disappear in front of clouds.
From the developer’s point of view, this probably counts as an overhaul, because the model had to be recreated using new tools. From a customer’s point of view, the changes will seem incremental. On the one hand, it would have been nice to have sharper textures in the virtual cockpit. On the other hand, all of the old repaints are usable, the engine sound is still full, and the frame rates are still high.
What I Like About The Cessna U206G Stationair
What I Don't Like About The Cessna U206G Stationair
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