Reviewer's Note: The version (v1.2) reviewed here is for FSX only.
INTRODUCTION: The Ferrari of twins.
Real World Piaggio: The Piaggio P180 Avanti II as manufactured by Piaggio Aero Industries is a twin-engine business turboprop that is both elegant and impressive not because it's from Italy but as a result of loads of technologically advanced and innovative design attributes, and because it's from Italy. Think Ferrari.
Is there a real world connection with Ferrari's prancing horse logo? Yes, Piaggio Aero is an official sponsor for Scuderia Ferrari, their racing team division, which proudly affixes their famous logos to their planes. They are not the only companies to display the prancing horse, and some of you may actually have an ACER laptop with the logo on it, since they too sponsor Ferrari's racing team.
Although Ferrari at one time financed Piaggio they no longer do so and Piaggio Aero is now an independent developer. The company itself was born from Rinaldo Piaggio SPA which has been around for a long time (see picture of P-111). There was a liaison with Learjet too but they pulled out.
The use of composite materials and aluminum alloys makes it both lightweight and strong. Certified in 2005 for single pilot operation, about 100 of the II series have been ordered to date, while there are more than 100 of the first model flying around. The Avanti I was introduced in 1990. Improvements found with the Avanti II include two Pratt and Whitney Canada PT6 series turboprop engines mounted in all-composite nacelles delivering its maximum speed of 0.7 Mach.
Two fuselage and two wing tanks allow for a 3300 km range from its 1585 liter capacity, putting it in the corporate class. It can also be flown out of short airstrips as it only requires 870 meters for take-off or landing. So what exactly are those little winglets in the front? Recall the Wright Brothers; they too used small wings in the front.
From the Piaggio Aero website I paraphrase: "The small forward wing…significantly reduces weight and drag…." It does not have any control surfaces but have integrated flaps on their trailing edge in tandem operation with the main flaps. Some other canard wing designs include the Beechcraft Starship and the Boeing Sonic Cruiser concept, both (?) mothballed after slight attempts at production.
The name canard, which is the French word for duck, relates to the position of the wings to the rear. Being positioned towards the rear removes the drag produced when conventional propeller vortices modify the wing's aerodynamics, and also minimizes cabin engine noise.
Also new with the II series is a Rockwell Collins avionics suite that includes liquid crystal flat displays, a Collins WXR-840 weather radar, an FMS 3000 flight management system, an AHS 3000 attitude system, an ALT-55B radar altimeter, dual Collins VIR-32 VOR and ADF-462 ADF supported by a DME-42 DME, serious stuff that will get you to where you want to go when you want to go there. Seating for five passengers is luxuriously placed in a spacious cabin that can be kept at sea-level pressure up to 24000 feet.
Wow! That's my dream machine. Unfortunately reality sets in and I must now divert your attention to our simulated real-world Avanti. All those exotic features also make it a tough cookie to replicate in a restrictive FSX environment. Can Wilco do the job well enough to make it a worthy add-on? Let's go see.
FSX World Piaggio: Wilco Publishing has been a well known developer within the sim community for as long as I can remember.
ADVERTISED FEATURES: Copied from the Wilco website (reduced/edited).
You can use PayPal to purchase this product if you do not like using your credit card online. CD shipments are made through UPS (not cheap).
Included with your purchase is a free car. Undoubtedly make-believe…
One important note: Wilco does not support problems encountered in a 64-bit environments such as the ones I use. Not sure what if any consequences this has on the universal applicability of my remarks in this review to all operating systems.
I had no problems with this installation (uses up 225 MB of disk space) as everything was clear and well planed with appropriate pop-ups to get the install right at each step of the way. You must have either SP1 or SP2 updates of FSX already installed. After choosing your language of preference, you are asked for the 3 segment key serial which must be entered one segment at a time, as you cannot cut and paste the whole line here.
If your path to FSX is not on your primary (usually C) drive, you must let it know or you will get the error I got below. And finally you can register your product which will keep you informed of any future updates to this product. From the start menu you can access the 20 page manual and 7 pages of performance data charts. The manual is available for free from their website so go check it out if this aircraft interests you. They've also posted a video and some screenshots at that same webpage.
I installed this product in a Windows 7 64-bit environment and did not have any problems whatsoever. But there is a notice in the manual that I've pictured above for instructions to follow if your install is not working, or if you want to avoid it not working. I also installed it on my VISTA 64-bit alternate boot partition and had no problems at all. I never had to follow the suggested preparations as I've shown above in "How to set up".
OUTSIDE VIEWS: There are six liveries which I have pictured below: Most are very pleasing to the eye.
Doors: There are three aircraft doors that can be opened on this Avanti II; passenger, cargo, and engine, plus one shortcut to operate the interior's sunshades as seen from the outside view (another fix made in revision 1.2). I've included the gear doors which open with the gear up/down command. There were some forum posts reporting that the rear gear doors were not fully closing up but they must have fixed this (v1.2) as I see no such anomaly. Only thing still needing remedy is the sound made when you operate these sunshades from the outside; it sounds like the passenger door opening and closing; it does come across as obviously strange.
2D COCKPIT VIEWS:
There is only one cockpit related pop-up from the four icons at the bottom of the 2D cockpit, it is for the throttle quadrant, and it cannot be closed by clicking somewhere on the pop-up, you have to right-click and select "close window" from the little box, or use the shortcut from the Views/Instruments menu.
There are two clickable pop-ups, the PFD and the MFD glass display reproductions. Although I've stretched the PFD and MFD to fit well inside my widescreen's resolution of 1920x1200, you can see from the full snapshot of the 2D (first picture) that the gauges and circular graphics are not made widescreen friendly. At least this does not occur in the VC mode. The other pop-ups (all of them actually) are available from the FSX menu bar under Views/Instrument Panel.
There is a right and a left 2D view which are simply fixed VC views, but no upper and lower views. Night lighting in 2D is a green immersion flood source. The overlap of two panels, that of the main and the instrument landing panels, is in need of a fix. The nightlights on all of the pop-up panels such as the switch panel shown always has green lighting at night, except for the FMS which is green. This is inconsistent with the VC panel which uses a grayish blue at night for the switches. Most distressingly, there is no pop-up for the radios, which are awkward to dial in VC mode. But there is a switch for making the chocks and flags appear or disappear (*see picture). I find this very convenient, as most aircraft in FSX just use the parking brake for that purpose.
VC + CABIN VIEWS:
The fidelity of reproduction and for the relative placement of all relevant gauges of the Avanti II in VC view is quite well done, I must give Wilco credit for that. As seen in the snapshot comparison, it is very similar to a picture of the real Avanti II cockpit (from Piaggio Aero website) , except for the texture’s colors and some sizing which might be impractical to parallel. It would also be nice if in a later revision the map could be implemented, like it is with Flight1's Mustang.
Unlike the 2D panels, there is only one usable night lighting position, that of full lights, there being no lit instruments without it. You have to use the shortcut for panel lights, as there is no switch. This same shortcut also controls the cabin lights, which I would like to see have its own switch as well.
You have to slide your mouse (up/down) over the knob for the frequency dial changes. Now the 2D has the very useful clickable dial, so why can't the VC have that too? There being no pop-up for the radios, I do plan on making my own later from scratch. I'd create it from the 2D (for those who know how to do this….otherwise don't try it).
There are only a few things I do not like about the VC. One is that annoying strip for "Steep Approach Warning" that's right in your face, which is not in the real Avanti II (from the pictures above). It does not even follow the form of the panel mold, weird I'd say, it seems out of place and annoying. Another is the lighting: no instrument/gauge lighting unless you flood the whole VC and cabin too. But it’s better with the 2D panel.
FLYING THE AVANTI II:
I rarely use a 2D panel anymore so most of this section will only cover the 3D VC panel.
INTRO: For a cold startup I loaded up FSX's Maule and made sure everything was OFF while in 2D mode before loading an Avanti. I then saved this cold state as my default Avanti situation (in VC mode). Upon restarting FSX with that situation as my default flight, everything loaded as I wanted: I got a cold and dark, quiet VC. Nice.
After shutdown, the battery switch turns the sound off and the glass displays off. The radios and warning lights stay on though. The sole switch for the night lighting is global, it turns on all the cabin and cockpit lights. At dusk, the gauges still retain a good contrast to color brilliance aspect to be well read, but this fades at full night and you'll need the panel lights to see them well after dark.
Only one of the switches for the panel/cabin lighting does anything. Exterior lights all work with individual switches, and are really quite pleasant, with asynchronous strobes that are not too flashy. A nice effect.
START-UP: Wilco in the first pages of their manual only suggest the use of the shortcut from the FSX commands, but don't dismay, later on in the manual, pages 16 to 18, are full step-by-step operating procedures.
By following the procedures as listed in the manual I was able to start both engines without much ado, and if you check the annunciator panel lights, only the "brakes" should remain lit indicating a successful startup. A lot of the switches work, without any clicking sound though. There is quite a few that work but are of no observable consequence.
The throttles control the power settings, and a lifting and pulling of these towards the rear (bottom) will reverse thrust on the props. The other pair of levers affect fuel cutoff (lower parts), and the propeller speed and RPM. These conditioning levers are movable using the "mixture" shortcut from the key commands submenu entries. My joystick is a Saitek X52 which has loads of buttons (three modes each) that can be edited to profile for different things with different aircraft. Recommended.
The simulated engine startup includes a large puff of smoke being ejected from the prop area, which, if this ever happened to me in real life I would shut them down and go see a mechanic pronto.
TAXIING: You should wait for the engines torque (TQ) values to be the same before starting to taxi as this will cause the aircraft to turn. Prop levers must be low idle, and throttle must be increased very slowly, just a hair as they say.
Once I get it to 350 on the TQ readout, the aircraft commences to move a little, then I lower the TQ by using the FSX shortcut for "throttle decrease" just once, which brings TQ to about 180 which is near-OK for continuous taxi (without accelerating). One more touch of the shortcut will allow the TQ to go down to 90 (startup idle was initially 120) and causes the plane to roll to a stop without brakes. This will keep the plane manageable.
If you try to taxi by throttle alone you can speed up to 70 knots or so and have to use full brakes and more. Takes a bit of practice and you must keep an eye on the TQ values. I have a shortcut for both throttle decrease and one for increase using keys F9 and F10 respectively. This is also used to put the throttle into reverse (REV on the annunciator) which will happen if you over do it.
I cannot decide if this is my joystick or oversensitivity in the design of the add-on. There is a gap between TQ=150 and to TQ=390+ of two increments of my “F10 fix" where nothing seems to occur, then it jumps…not ideal but….
I also made a shortcut to the Landing Panel (shift-7?) for when I want to use the transponder or deactivate the NAV or activate the HDG as these things are ill-configured in the VC. Fix me please. The VC autopilot has minimal functionality with problems. Another bug is the Landing panel, where you cannot choose between Engines display and Nav display, you have to go to full 2D panel. Could this be due to my 64-bit environment?
In the end you do have access to all functions if you know where they are and how to use them. The manual is sparse and incomplete in my opinion.
Autopilot: In the real Avanti II, the autopilot's knobs turn but the buttons do not have little lights to indicate there on/off status. You read this off the PFD. The main AP on/off button does go in and out a bit as you can see it move in this VC, indicating its status by position, which is also indicated as ON in the PDF by the abbreviation CMD.
The altitude can easily be set in the VC (but it is not obvious…read on), but my shortcut for the altitude bug does not work in here. However, if you grab the altitude knob (mouse right-click-hold) and slide your mouse sideways left/right (NOT up/down), and if as a result the knob is rotating, either clockwise or counter, you can then easily get the altitude changed, just watch the PFD. But this increments by only 400 feet (why?).
The Vertical Speed adjustment only works when you have selected an altitude setting above ground level and the VSI is then turned ON. It is similarly done but uses an up/down sliding of the mouse (right-click-hold) although for this one I prefer to use the vertical speed bug (this one works) and increment it using my Saitek X52.
As in the 2D it increments by 100. In the 2D these increments of both altitude and VSI are nicely done by the conventional +/- being displayed and you just click on the appropriate side. The altimeter is similarly changed in the VC (left-right motions) but it is even more difficult to get it right. Similar sliding actions change the heading and course knobs, but with these two I also use my shortcut commands through my triple modal X52 joystick.
The Avanti's autopilot was able to keep the aircraft on the chosen glide slope and localizer without any noticeable difficulties.
Radios: Changing the frequencies on the three radios in the VC it is not as easy as in the 2D (uses -/+) but still quite manageable. First you select the radio you want changed. This is supposed to become highlighted by a little box, but in the VC it is almost invisible, so just take it for granted that it clicked. Then you use the dual knob for units or decimals sliding in the directions as shown in the picture above. A swap button on the left completes the changeover.
It is near impossible to change frequencies for the ADF and Transponder from the VC. You have to use the 2D panel for this, and I am surprised that Wilco has not fixed this yet even though they are at version 2? This could be awkward for those that use Radar Contact or fly on VATSIM. You have to use a shortcut to turn on/off the radio identifiers because there is none that I could see on either the 2D or the VC yet they work.
FMS: The Avanti's Flight Management System's display, the CDU, has 6 pages. This is a bare minimum flight planning instrument. Yes, you can enter your own position, but not much else. It can automatically load the FSX flight plan if you so chose, or you can enter each leg yourself. It does have Departure and Arrival procedures available from the installed NavDB data files. To activate a flight plan you simply load it, then use the 2D panel to select NAV or preferably use a shortcut while in the VC.
PFD and MFD: Both are pop-ups by clicking on them. The PFD always indicates at least 40 mph for the speed. This is insignificant to flight because once over that mark, the actual speed is displayed as verifiable from the shift-z info text. This is also the only place where you can see the status of the various autopilot commands. VOR information is limited to the ICAO codes for Nav1 and Nav2 until you are close to the facility whereas the MFD NAV page will display their distances earlier. An ADF needle cannot be found anywhere's even though there is an ADF radio.
The MFD is a dual purpose display; Engines and Navigation, with the latter having 3 separate pages available. These are rose, TCAS, and Arc modes. All three show the wind direction and speed. Unfortunately there is neither a terrain map nor a nav data page for nearest airport information and such things. There should be a shortcut for FSX's default GPS display.
NAV data from VOR's are displayed on the PFD whereas "next waypoint" data is on the MFD. The range is set by the knob to the left of the screen. Local traffic is seen on the rose and the arc but not the TCAS which is the opposite of what I'd expect. It being displayed on top of the MFD screen pages but accessed from the Weather instrument dials to the right of the MFD. It has limited use showing forward cloud areas only.
FSX is not as real as I'd like when it comes to replicating flight characteristics. There are so many details for a myriad of dynamic responses that are omitted from this sim that I cannot blame any manufacturer for the difficulties they are having. Nevertheless, an illusion of sorts is possible and with a little (a lot) of imagination you can pretend things are as they seem.
The trim always needs adjusting before take-off. If left as is you will need to reach 180 kts before a T/O roll is possible. If I zero the pitch trim, I can roll at 115 as the manual describes. This can be remedied in the aircraft configuration file for those in the know.
This said, I found the Avanti's response fairly good, except for the difficulty in taxiing, for which I've suggested a remedy earlier. The autopilot will not allow you to set altitudes beyond 41000 feet, so I guess that is one way to limit the serviceable ceiling. In VC the maximum altitude that can be set using the knob is 40000.
From the performance document supplied, rate of climb should max out at 2950 ft/min. After achieving a steady climbing speed of 250 at the default 1000 ft/min, I was able to maintain that speed while increasing the climb rate to 2900 ft/min until 9000 feet, after which the speed gradually decreased if I wanted to maintain this maximum climb rate. Passing Fl180 I was still keeping it above 200 KIAS while maintaining a steady 2900 ft/min, after that though the speed was decreasing too much so I reduced the climb to a reasonable 1200. Still impressive. At that rate I was able to regain speed.
Throttles and Prop are maxed with engine TQ and ITT in the red. Still keeping it steady at 218 KIAS climbing at 1200 ft/min through FL250. After this the speed decreased again so I lowered the rate of climb to 1000. That’s a ground speed of 357, not bad for a twin turboprop. At Fl300 the speed is down to 207 KIAS, good, and it is maintaining its assigned rate of climb. At Fl320 I am still maintaining 202 KIAS. It first dipped below 200 at FL 335. A lowest rate of 500 ft/min from FL350 onward allowed me to maintain 185 KIAS and to reach FL370 where I again lowered the rate to 200 (need 2D panel now) for a speed of 170 KIAS with some instability showing up. At 150 KIAS and FL370.
So the Avanti can get to high altitudes but it takes forever. Best to fly below FL330. After FL380 the airspeed is only 149 and falling. I stopped this experiment nearing FL390 and a speed of 126.
One engine rate of climb is reported to be 950 ft/min to a ceiling of 25000 feet. Once level at 2000 feet and at 250 KIAS I got one engine turned completely off. In the picture above, the prop is immobile which I think is incorrect. The rate of climb was set to 1000 feet/min and the Avanti was able to maintain that rate at 205 KIAS. I was able to increase the rate to 1600 without much drop in speed so the modeling in this case, is off. Another bizarre occurrence is the PDF, with the aileron and rudder trims set to enable level straight flight; they are indicating an incorrect position.
Cabin pressure was not following specs, as I was reading 15000 feet at FL240, not good. Stalls: It began a slow stall entry at 91 KIAS. The manual says 93, that's close enough. It was not that realistic though.
From the very start I noticed that the engine sounds inside the VC cockpit were way too loud for an aircraft that has its props far in the rear. OK if they were right next to the window, but the high level was deafening in comparison to what I was expecting after having composed the introduction covering the real Avanti II. After an adjustment to the FSX sounds slider, I got it just where I would think it should be…low. For an aircraft that prides itself on being quiet it seems the developers missed that one. I've tried to lower the engine sounds via the FXS options menu but they remained as loud as can be. Not a good sound configuration at all.
When you shut the engines down using the shortcut commands, the sound reduces by 90 % immediately, not realistic at all. Overall, sound management is not as good as some other payware aircraft I've used. I plan to change these settings to my own liking as soon as I've finished this review. They mention in the list of features on their website " Realistic sound experience with special effects", but I find this hard to believe. More like "Loud sounds with minimal effects".
If you start the engines manually while inside the VC, then go to spot view, the outside engines are a lot louder, but unfortunately you bring these louder sounds with you when you get back inside the VC. To add insult to injury, this phenomenon is inconsistent: sometimes it does it and sometimes it does not. Darn it.
I cannot seem to lower the outside view sound level. It is really loud and annoying. Even if I turn FSX's Engine sound slider OFF, it is the same loud sound. When the VC sound is up, you cannot here the gear or the flap sounds. I shut down the aircraft using the shortcut, cut the batteries and everything, and although the propellers are not moving, while inside the VC I still get loud engine sounds. But outside, I hear nothing at all! I have seen this with other aircraft.
Suggested Temporary Solutions:
1) If you really would like to change the sound profile, just mimic what your add-on AI is doing for aliasing sounds from another aircraft, or ask for instructions in the AVSIM forums. You can also just copy and paste the sound file from another aircraft into Wilco's main aircraft folder (rename the original folder first or you will lose it). I found those of the Pilatus PC12 appropriate, even though it is not a twin. It does the two engines in sequence and the shutdown is much nicer. But it is not the Avanti and is only a temporary fix while waiting for the manufacturer to do something about it.
2) The Avanti's cold and dark situation does not have the fuel pump sound active, thankfully, because the sound of the fuel pump is quite loud, like the pump was right under your seat without any sound insulation. Is that where the pump is? Scary. This sound is an inherent problem from FSX itself and can be remedied by a file replacement available freely from the AVSIM file library. It happens with a lot of aircraft but not all: when they are supposedly dark and cold, you still get this unrealistic background pump noise. The free file (use extended search for cdx.zip under FS2004-Miscellaneous category) corrects that for all aircraft as it is a sound file you exchange for the one in your main FSX sound subfolder.
DX9: I can only get this version of DX while under the Vista 64 OS. Performance here is not as smooth as in Windows 7 so I attribute it in part to the new DX11 which Vista cannot run.
DX11: Nevertheless flyable with a low AI setting. I got 9-13 fps landing at KSFO and 26+ at enroute altitude out of Sacramento (21 on KSMF tarmac, 20+ at T/O and climb) using my less than stellar system. Insignificant or no micro-stutters under Windows 7 64-bit. Under Vista 64 it performed noticeably less well, but that could be because the Windows 7 FSX was a fresh install.
DX10 Preview: In this mode under Windows 7, with bloom enabled, I get more micro-stutters and about 20% less frames per second. I don't use it.
I use the EMB series modifications for MSFS for a more realistic graphics experience.
SUMMARY/CLOSING REMARKS: The version (v1.2) reviewed here is that for FSX only.
I usually stick to writing reviews about sceneries, airports, and some utilities, so this review may not be as technically immersive as some of you may be used to getting from other more technically adept reviewers. With such limitations in mind I've tried to convey to the average reader a cursory set of ideas that might help them decide if this product is for them or not. It was not meant to be a deep and thorough in-depth evaluation or analysis of the product.
The overall outside appearances of Wilco's Avanti II reproductions are quite good. There is obviously a lot more work done here than what you would get from any freeware aircraft, but the level of sim-pilot ease of involvement and cabin texture quality is somewhat below the level found with the more expensive add-on payware products.
Frame rates are less than optimum considering the lower resolution of detail, but manageable with a descent system, and/or the lowering of some settings, especially AI. The car and the male and female figures in the cabin are a divergence from the essential.
For the low price they ask for this, it certainly is a fun aircraft to have in your hangar. It may not pass the scrutinizing demands of the perfectionists, aeronautical engineers, or even the expert VC flyers, but I did like it. Hopefully, more revisions will fix some of things I and others in related forums have pointed out. After all, they already have done two reversions as of the date of this review, so they do care.
What I Like About Wilco's Avanti II
What I Don't Like About Wilco's Avanti II
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