AVSIM Freeware Aircraft Review
DeHavilland DHC-7 (Dash-7)
and DHC-7 Cargo
 
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Product Guide
Click for larger image Dash-7 in Tyrolean Livery

Click for larger image
Dash-7 Panel
Design Team :
Milton Shupe (Aircraft, Sounds)
Scott Thomas (Panel)
Joao Paz (Textures)
Description:
Short Range Truboprop with outstanding STOL capabilities
D/L Size:
16,899 kb and 24,244 kb
Format:
Zipped
Simulators:
FS2002 Pro
Reviewed by: Ralph Hummel, AVSIM Staff Reviewer
Freeware Review Rating Policy: Freeware reviews are unrated, but may earn an Avsim special award. Please see details here.

 

The Models Reviewed

When I started this review the team around Milton Shupe had just released the Dash-7 V1 Passenger version, as I was about to buckle up the review Milton released the Cargo Version with added features of the Dash-7 so I decided to incorporate both releases into this review. Both versions install into different folders, but are easily accessed from within FS2002 under the DeHavilland section. If you copy the entire Panel folder of the Cargo Version to the Passenger Version you will actually be able to enjoy all of the enhancements that are included with the Cargo Version.

About the DeHavilland DHC-7 (“Dash-7”)

The Dash-7 completed its maiden flight on March 27th, 1975 with the first aircraft being delivered to Rocky Mountain Airways on February 3rd 1978. Just over 100 aircraft of this type were built until 1989. When DeHavilland Canada was taken over by Boeing production was stopped because the sister aircraft, the Dash-8, could service most routes faster and more economically. The Dash-7 was designed in anticipation of a growing number of city airports with short runways that would require aircraft that could come in and go out at steep angles and low airspeed. This development just did not happen, so the commercial market for this fifty-seated aircraft—other than in mountainous or remote regions with airports that have short runways—did not develop.

To achieve the desired flight characteristics for a STOL (short take-off or landing) aircraft the size of the Dash-7, DeHavilland developed a special system of dual fowler flaps that cover nearly 75% of the trailing edge of the wing and can be extended up to 45 degrees. The flaps automatically retract 20 degrees on touchdown to reduce lift and to help the breaking action of the aircraft. Since the flaps take up a lot of space the ailerons on the wings are very small. To provide the aircraft with enough roll control DeHavilland also equipped each wing with two additional small roll spoilers that extend together with the ailerons.

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The aircraft is equipped with four engines that provide plenty of safety margin in the case of an engine failure by reducing the effects of asymmetric thrust and still providing more than enough engine power with one engine out. The four-engine configuration also allows the aircraft to operate with very low take-off speeds and drastically reduces the length of runway needed to get airborne.

All of these special design features result in the aircraft performing less than optimally at cruise level. The maximum cruise speed of the Dash-7 is about 215 KTAS, which resulted in the aircraft not being the economic choice of airlines, unless the advantages of the STOL capabilities outweighed those factors.

Installation and Documentation

By unzipping the downloaded zip files directly into the FS2002 root folder the necessary files are installed to the relevant target folders.

Once the installation process is finished you will find in the aircraft folder of the Dash-7 extensive documentation about the history of the aircraft as well as an abundant source of supplementary and very interesting information about its operation and usage. This information can be found in the “Documentation” folder; additional information about the panel and how the gauges work is available in the “Panel” folder. In the documentation folder you will find the following items:

· Dash-7 V1 release notes and FAQ (Word document)
· Short Essay by Milton Shupe about the STOL capabilities of the aircraft (text format)
· Dash-7 technical specs (HTML)
· Dash-7 Flight report by K M Jones (HTML)
· Some technical drawings

This information is fun to read and provides an intimate view into the way the aircraft was and is used and how it is handled. If you read through these files prior to actually starting the simulator up to fly the Dash-7 for the first time you will enjoy the special handling capabilities of this aircraft even more.

In the “Panel” folder you find information concerning the included panel and the functionalities of the gauges that come with the aircraft. The instructions for the use of the panel are easy to understand, although I would have preferred to find the information concerning the panel together with the rest of the documentation in just one place in the “Documentation” Folder.

Click for larger view Dash-7 on STOL take-off Click for larger view Dash-7 in level flight Click for larger view Dash-7 initiating descent

The Aircraft

The aircraft itself is a GMAX model and features fully animated control surfaces, lights, moving rear passenger door, tail bumper, animated suspension parts, rolling wheels and tires, ground and roll spoilers, night lighting, taxi and landing lights, outside wing, engine and prop views, transparent cockpit and passenger windows, 3 liveries with detailed texture sets for the passenger version and 6 liveries for the cargo version that come with reflective or non-reflective options and in various bit-depths to enhance performance if needed. The aircraft also features a FDE flight characteristics file that was built from the ground up and is not merely an adaptation of existing turboprop-FDE files already available for download or included with Microsoft Flight Simulator 2002 Pro. Milton Shupe is the designer of the 3D-GMAX model and has also developed the FDE file.

Test System

Pentium IV 1.7 Windows XP Pro
256 MB RAM
Creative GF4 4600 TI
24X DVD CD ROM
Creative SB PCI
Microsoft Sidewinder
Siemens 17" Screen

Flying Time:
12 hours over 10 days

Joao Paz has created the textures. There are multiple versions of the textures included with the download file so every user can adapt the aircraft exterior textures according to his or her personal system specifications in order to optimize performance. The textures range from 8-bit non-reflective texture sets to 24-bit texture sets with reflections. I have tried all texture sets, but could only notice a marginal increase in system performance on my machine when using textures of lesser quality. Even in 8-bit the textures are of outstanding quality and well worth a lot of pre-flight checking.

The aircraft also comes with a custom 2D Panel designed by Scott Thomas and specifically adapted Sounds based on Aaron Swindle's C-130 Sound package.

Hundreds of hours of test flying have gone into the development of this aircraft. Among the testers there are pilots who have flown the Dash-7 in real life. This effort on the part of the design team has clearly paid off, as you will see a little bit further on in this article.

Pre-Flight Check

Since this aircraft is a STOL aircraft I have decided to take it for a series of test flights in an environment where this aircraft feels right at home: steep approaches and short runways. After some consideration I have selected the airport of “Saint Pons” (LFMR) at “Barcelonnette” in the French Alps for the base of my flight adventures with the Dash-7. The runway there is “only” 2620 feet long, situated in a long narrow valley and surrounded by towering mountain slopes. In the winter this a very busy skiing resort in the French Alps. What is even more interesting however is that at both ends of the runway mountains rise between 3000 and 5000 feet above the runway altitude only a few nautical miles distant from the runway ends. I just had to find out if the Dash-7 could fly into and out of this airport in a straight line if needed. As it turned out, she can. 2600 feet of runway is almost luxury for this aircraft. You can bring her to a complete stop and take off easily on runways of that length without having to back her up.

For my first couple of flights I have picked calm weather to first get a good feeling for the aircraft and decided to do a couple of standard patterns and touch-and go flight operations. The sun is shining and there is not a cloud in sight as I perform my preflight check following the checklists that the authors have provided with the aircraft. Once done with the checklists, I took a closer look at the paintwork and exterior visuals of the aircraft. It is nice to see that the paintwork has this “used feel” of an aircraft that has seen its years of service. One gets the feeling to see a few scratches here and there and there appear to be some dull patches in the paintwork, but then again that might just be down to the artistic work of Joao Paz.

The designers took great care on details—the fuselage has features such as footrests as well as the usual array of antennae and physical bulbs for the positional lighting. The main and front gears are modeled in great detail and when the aircraft rolls over rough ground terrain you can see the suspension moving nicely. The suspension extending and retracting can also be observed nicely on take off and landing.

As I completed my visual check; everything appeared to be in perfect working order and when I moved the controls I could visually verify that the control surfaces moved nicely and with very smooth animations, no abrupt extensions of spoilers, ailerons or rudders as can be seen even on some of the stock FS2002 aircraft.

Click for larger view The aircraft dark and cold Click for larger view Cockpit side-view

I went through the start-up checklist and manually started the engines one after the other. The included sound package is excellent—I could hear the low rumbling sound getting louder with each additional engine, which gave me a sense of raw power waiting to be unleashed. I also watched engine start-up from an outside view. Each engine begins to turn slowly and then increases RPM steadily. If you use CTRL-E to start the engines manually the whole process up to the point that all four engines are in sync takes about 90 seconds.

I then extended flaps to 45 degrees to get ready for a short runway take-off. The complete cycle takes about 20 seconds to extend the flaps fully, so beware that you have to plan ahead on your flap extensions when on intermediate or final when you want to reduce speed with the flaps, since extension or retraction is taking some time, probably more than you are used to from other turboprops. The extension animation itself is silky smooth and a pleasure to watch since you really get the feeling that the flaps get extended from within the wing.

The aircraft features working reverse thrust so I decided I would try to back her out of the ramp where I was parked myself. It works beautifully, however steering action through rudder inputs when in reverse is very limited, so you need to plan your turns well in advance. Once reverse thrust is reduced to idle again the aircraft has a tendency to lunge forward so you had better hit the brakes fast as soon as the backward motion has stopped completely. If you apply brakes while still moving backward you can actually get the aircraft to topple over backwards. If you don’t apply brakes at the precise moment the backward motion has stopped completely, the aircraft will lunge forward rather rapidly so you will lose a lot of the space gained by backing the aircraft up.

Getting airborne

Once I had had the aircraft lined up with the runway and in take-off configuration I applied take-off power as per the checklist and kept on the brakes on until the engines had spooled up to 80% torque and then released them. The aircraft smoothly started to roll and accelerate down the runway. Lift-off happened spot on at 78 KIAS within 7 seconds from releasing the brakes—now that’s what I call a short run with a 50-seated aircraft!!

As soon as the aircraft was in the air I immediately felt the torque effect of the four engines pulling the aircraft to the left and had to trim the rudder accordingly to counter this effect. Once trimmed the aircraft climbed out steadily; with the gear up it picked up some speed and I was able to retract flaps by 20 degrees. I climbed out in a straight line from runway 27, which means clearing a mountain of nearly 11000 feet altitude in the proximity, which the Dash-7 handled without a problem.

Coming back in

In order to come back to the airfield I had to climb to 12000 feet and fly a left pattern with the downwind leg over a neighboring valley. Since this meant doing it a lot higher than the usual 1500 feet AGL naturally I was very high when I turned on base so yet again another excellent opportunity to see how the aircraft handles. I took her in on a visual approach and had to drop rapidly down to the runway altitude and reduce speed at the same time. In this aircraft this is not a problem. The stall speed at maximum flaps is roughly at 80 kts, which means you can make those precarious approaches on short runways from high up with maximum flaps and speed brakes extended.

Click for larger view Touching down Click for larger view After full stop

You have to be aware though that as with all turboprops the engines need some more time to react to your control inputs, so you had better watch your airspeed closely because if you are low and you stall the aircraft, you won’t recover and a crash is inevitable.

To land I reduced power to idle, extended flaps to 25 degrees at level flight and waited until my airspeed had dropped below 140 kts to be able to extend the gear safely. With speed bleeding off rapidly I then further extended the flaps to full 45 degrees and dropped the nose to point straight at the beginning of the runway. This resulted in 25 degrees down pitch of the aircraft. In any other non-STOL aircraft you just cannot do that without picking up speed. The Dash-7 is different; airspeed dropped to just above 90 kts and stayed there all the way down.

Just before landing I pulled her out of the descent profile and flared, dropping another 15 kts and the Dash-7 settled down like a swan on a pond—spoilers deploying automatically and reverse thrust set as well as full braking power applied meant that I got the aircraft to a complete standstill in less than 6 seconds! That’s what I call a short runway landing. I still had two thirds of the runway left for take-off. Needles to say I tried just that and got airborne without a problem again.

The Panel

This must be said first: to really enjoy this aircraft’s flight dynamics you need to fly it under VFR conditions. The pure fun of flying this lady VFR, low down and into difficult terrain is what makes handling this aircraft special. There is an excellent 2D panel included with this package, that features a GPWS (Ground Proximity Warning System) as well as the special "Runway Info" gauge by Ernie Alston. This gauge allows you to select airports and the appropriate navigational aids such as the ILS frequency by runway through a window-based dialogue to set all navigation instruments with one click of a mouse. Unfortunately this gauge does not work properly in full-screen mode under DirectX 8.xx so if you plan to use the gauge then you should fly in windowed mode.

I thought the inclusion of this gauge to be a rather nifty thing since it saves a single person a lot of work, particularly if you are flying low and in a mountainous region. The work usually handled by the second pilot in the cockpit is now delegated to this gauge.

Click for arger image 2D Main Panel Click for larger image Overhead Panel Click for larger image Main Panel with night lighting
Click for larger image Runway Info Gauge

The main 2D-view of the panel is very close to the original flight deck of the Dash-7. All gauges that are included with the panel are working and are very nicely rendered. In resolutions below 1024x768 some of the gauges become very hard to read however. To solve this problem the panel designers have created a unique solution. With a click on a hotspot in the panel the primary instruments are magnified in size so that they can be read without a problem.

The flight deck is fully functional and despite the fact that there are many gauges crammed into a 2D panel it does not appear to be cluttered and you will never lose your orientation and sight of the important settings. All functions or gauges can be opened in separate window to display a full-scale version (for example the engine quadrant) either through a hotspot click or a keyboard shortcut.

Unfortunately the present version of the aircraft does not feature a virtual cockpit, but the authors of the aircraft told us that in future releases this “shortfall” may be corrected—however a VC will mean that frame-rates will drop. The included 2D Panel however is so good that flying without a VC is still most enjoyable. The cargo version adds the overhead panel to the aircraft which brings some extra functionality to the panel. One very nice effect is that in the annunciator panel a light displays the actual runway conditions as well as the surface type of the runway your are starting from or landing on.

Sounds

The aircraft package also comes with a custom sound-pack. The authors have adapted the C-130 package of Aaron Swindle and have adapted it for the Dash-7. This adaptation gives a unique feeling to the aircraft and the low rumble of the aircraft’s engines, the sounds when the hydraulic system works to deploy or retract the flaps and the sound when your gear makes contact with the runway add up to a wonderful experience that will immerse the pilot fully when flying this aircraft.

The GPWS sounds can be enabled or disabled optionally; this requires some tinkering with configuration files and also renaming of some sound files, but this is explained nicely in the provided readme file.

Extras of the Cargo Version

The cargo version adds a whole host of new features to this outstanding aircraft. These additions are in detail:

  • The exterior model is windowless with a large port side cargo door
  • Five pallets of cargo sit inside the Dash 7
  • The rudder is now more realistic with a double hinged movement
  • The intermediate slow prop appears with transparency for better transitioning
  • The .air and .cfg files were changed to make minor adjustments to flight dynamics and engine gauge readouts
  • The panel has had numerous changes
  • There is now an awesome realistic overhead panel that is also great for flying VFR
  • There is a very nice annunciator panel
  • There is a night Spot Lighted Panel
  • There are awesome new wet runway effects that spray water from the tires and leaves a trail of wake water behind. The annunciator panel also displays surface conditions .

Conclusion

This is one of the best freeware add-ons currently available for Microsoft Flightsimulator 2002. The dash-7 is a pilot’s aircraft, no fancy flight management systems or glass panels to fly this aircraft with, pure fun loaded hands-on flying coupled with a an outstanding visual model, exceptional flight dynamics, an outstanding panel and exceptional custom sounds make this aircraft without a doubt the best freeware turbo-prop rendition available, and it can stand up easily to commercial aircraft. Due to the fact that the authors are providing a separately available paint-kit for the aircraft that can be downloaded from their website, there are already scores of additional liveries available for the Dash-7.

You can download the DeHavilland DHC-7 passenger version here and the cargo version here from the AVSIM library and you can go to the Dash-7 project website for updates and support here. For more detailed information about the Dash-7 you can also visit to the excellent Dash-7 homepage here. This homepage is maintained by Siegfried Lenz, a real Dash-7 Pilot and beta tester of the Dash-7 for MSFS 2002.

What I Like About the Dash-7
  • Excellent GMAX model and flight dynamics
  • Wonderful hand drawn panel
  • Low Frame Rate impact
  • Various texture sets to optimize performance included
  • Innovative solutions with panel design
  • Good support homepage with dedicated FAQ available

What I Don't Like About the Dash-7
  • Documentation and Information about the aircraft spread out across various folders

About the Dash-7 Team

Milton Shupe, Scott Thomas and Joao Paz created the Dash-7. All three of them are exceptionally talented individuals that have brought this aircraft to us. Here is what they have to say about themselves and the work on the Dash-7:

The idea for the Dash-7 was born when Milton Shupe and Scott Thomas were flying a lot online together but found the available turboprops at the time to be lacking. This was around Christmas 2001. Since Milton had never done any design work prior to this Dash-7 much time was spent learning the various design tools available and since GMAX was included with FS2002 this was the tool the team settled upon. In total 2400 man hours were spent on the current Dash-7 project, with half of the time being vested in learning the tools available and actually doing the design of the aircraft and the other half working on the panel, sounds and textures as well as testing the aircraft.

It wasn’t only Milton, Scott and Joao that have worked hard on this aircraft over the last 10 months, but a host of testers, real world pilots and researchers have also contributed to the development of the aircraft, for which the designers are very grateful. In fact Milton mentioned to me that his greatest satisfaction was seeing the great teamwork and how the project came together and he would like to express his gratitude to all members on his team and all the other designers and members of various forums that have helped him mastering GMAX and the other tools he was using.

The teams favorite features of the aircraft’s design features are the suspension, the various texture sets provided and the unique way in which some of the panel functions have been incorporated.



 

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