Doing this review has a sentimental value to it because the publisher’s intent was to carry on the legacy of Bill Lyons, who, for those uninitiated, was a legend in the classic flight simulator aircraft arena.
After inquiring about how Golden Age Simulations came to be, Paul Corish, Golden Age Simulations principal partner told me “Golden Age Simulations was started in 2006 by a small group of aviation enthusiasts who wanted to bring Golden Age Aircraft to Flight Simulator and to preserve the legacy of Bill Lyons, who brought quality, modestly priced models to the flight sim world.”
Gilbert Halpin is the founder of Golden Age Simulations, and this product includes a scenery package for Stormville, NY (N69, circa 1960) by Kobbe Farwick. Stormville is the very airfield where Gil “cut his teeth” as a young pilot and he has a number of vintage Stormville images. Kobbe Farwick created FSRealScenes.com, and has now merged with Golden Age Simulations.
Golden Age Simulations currently has 11 commercial and 13 freeware products, and true to their name, include WACO’s, Stinson’s, Boeing Model 40, Travel Air and more.
Since there are numerous websites where you can read the complete history of the Boeing Model 75 Stearman, including Wikipedia, Boeing and the CAF, I will only give you a brief history, then on to the review.
The Stearman Kaydet first flew November 26, 1934 as the model 73. An interesting note is it was designed and manufactured by the Stearman Division of United Aircraft, which Boeing acquired as a wholly owned subsidiary that same year. At that time United Aircraft also owned Boeing and United Airlines.
The prototype for the Stearman Model 75 first flew in 1936 and Boeing built a total of 8,584 Kaydets, and enough spares to build another 2,000 aircraft. An interesting note here is many publications state the Continental R-670 220hp engine powered both the Army PT-17 and Navy N2S, when in fact many Navy versions was powered by a Lycoming R-680-17 220hp engine.
Following military service, some engines were upgraded to the 295hp Lycoming R-680-9 powering the model A75L300 and finally the “Super” Stearman IB75 fitted with a 450 hp Pratt & Whitney Wasp Jr. Some current air show examples even have 600hp engines which I understand are not for the faint of heart.
There is really something mystical about flying a round engine airplane with so much history behind it, and oftentimes words cannot adequately describe the experience.
Installation and Documentation
The installation is easy and simple. From Golden Age Simulations Stearman product page you can choose to pay using the Flight1 wrapper, or through PayPal or PayLoadz. I have used both PayPal and the Flight1 wrapper with success.
You will receive a download link to the 39MB file. For users who purchased their Stearman before October 24th, there is a 31MB patch to correct an error in prop rotation animation, increase the dB of sound level in VC cockpit of the 220 hp powered models and add a custom magneto switch to the VC providing improved manipulation of the switch position.
After a successful install, you will find four versions of the Stearman in your hanger. Golden Age Simulations had modeled the Army PT-17, Navy N2S-3, the 300hp A75L300, and finally the 450hp Super Stearman. You MUST remember to activate the Stormville scenery through the FSX add scenery page if you want to use that scenery.
Documentation consists of a readme file and a “Meet the N2S” Power Point Presentation in the Golden Age Simulations folder within the FSX root folder. The Power Point show is a great experience because it is developed from the real world training material. In the “good old days”, training consisted of manuals with several hand drawn versions of the aircraft with a somewhat cartoonish feel to them. I wish the developer would have given the option during installation of adding document shortcuts to the desktop or start menu.
Each aircraft contains a model specific checklist and reference sheet accessed via the kneeboard. The Stearman is not a complex aircraft and therefore neither is the documentation. The available files are more than adequate for providing an authentic flight experience. Unfortunately there is no click spot in the cockpit to access the kneeboard, so those unfamiliar with the shift-f10 shortcut wouldn’t know the files existed in flight. Golden Age is aware of this and plans to add one in future releases.
Models and Textures
One of the most important thing to keep in mind as you read this, is Golden Age Simulations has priced their Stearman modestly at $24.95USD. It would be unfair to hold them to the same standard we expect from a $40 to $90 add-on.
Areas where I feel they fall short in textures and modeling are made up in other sections of this review. One more thing I would like to mention here is the lower level of detail up close. At first I thought this would bother me as I tested this product, but it did not. The trade off for more detail is lower frame rates, and I think this Stearman package found a good compromise between performance, price and quality.
My best and worst impressions came from the models and textures. Overall the models were excellent with the exception of the leading edge of the aileron where it connects to the wing. It’s devoid of any detail. No hinges, no anything. Considering the attention to detail everywhere else, that issue does stand out. The other obvious issues are lack of hinge detail on the remaining control surfaces and missing cowl textures on the Super Stearman in VC. Those are not as glaring as the aileron modeling, but there nonetheless.
I was pleasantly surprised to find the tail wheel operation accurately modeled. The Army versions were fitted with a steerable tail wheel, where the Navy opted for a swiveled tail wheel with a lock. They are both modeled correctly. To the user this means on the Navy model, the tail wheel will swivel while taxiing and using the joystick to turn, whereas you can still make turns using the joystick, but will only see the tail wheel move with rudder movement on all other models.
The pilot has limited animation, where only the head looks right and left with rudder movement. It does not follow joystick movement.
The airframe on actual aircraft is primarily constructed of wood and fabric. The wing and fuselage replicate that construction method very accurately. It almost looks like you could poke a hole through the wing if you’re not careful.
Three of the four textures are exceptional. They are crisp, clean and look beautiful. I think the military versions should have looked a bit worn, but they are in new condition. Not a scratch on them. The A75L300 texture is a work of art, and my favorite to fly.
The wing textures of the Black Renegade 450hp Super Stearman are very blurry. I asked about that and was told “I made a compromise there working with a lower resolution texture for that version that I regret”. Since the other textures are high quality, the wing on the Renegade stands out as sub-standard. I would like to point out there should be an update in early 2010 to fix the limited number of texture issues, and release a few new models. This is tentative, but I believe it will happen sooner than later.
Items which will put a smile on your face are data plates on the engine cases and fuselage. They are legible and have the correct information printed on them. Detailed engines and polished wooden strut wire supports add to the eye candy. Even the fire extinguisher has different textures between the military and civilian models.
As I tried to come to a conclusion on the textures and modeling, I couldn’t help but think a commercial product, regardless of price point, should have more detailed control surface connections. The FSX default aircraft should be the baseline all commercial aircraft products exceed, and in this case the default aircraft have more control surface detail.
Support and Upgrades
This is one area where Golden Age Simulations shines. Their support is excellent and they even replied to one of my emails at 10pm Saturday with a comprehensive and intelligent answer to my questions.
I understand some of the larger developers don’t have the luxury of replying to every support email, and for that reason they’ve created support forums. In many cases the user only needs to read the manual to understand why the digital readout on the radios doesn’t work. (You have to TURN THEM ON. True support email)
Golden Age Simulations not only reads and responds to their emails, but actually listens to what their customers have to say. This Stearman package doesn’t come with a paint kit and many people voiced their concerns.
The expected expansion pack in early 2010 will include paint kits and updated flight dynamics for all versions, addition of the PT-13D, and possible a "duster" version.
Cockpit & Panel
If you are looking for a Garmin G1000 or Avidyne R9 panel you won’t find it here. What you will find are accurate panels for each model. This package only comes with a VC and no 2D panels are included. Each panel features a custom pop-up radio stack and FSX default GPS295. Most gauges are clear and easy to read. The Turn and Bank Indicator is legible but noticeably blurry compared to the surrounding gauges.
The cockpits are accurate, 99% functional (The control lock isn’t functional) and extremely clean. The detail level is low to keep the frame rates high. Again, I think the price, performance and detail compromise is within what I would expect.
Golden Age Simulations exceeded my expectations with features directly related to the individual models. The 220hp PT-17 and N2S-3 have fixed pitch propellers, where the later A75L300 and IB75 have constant speed propellers. The throttle boxes of the earlier models actually lack the propeller control matching the real aircraft. The later models are equipped with the propeller control taking the position of the old mixture, while the mixture lever was moved to the bottom of the throttle box. The developer took the time to accurately model each aircraft cockpit individually.
Additional features I really appreciated were the functionally modeled prop, carburetor heat and magneto controls. Although the prop control doesn’t actually move the propeller, the change in engine sounds and gauge readings for all controls is very convincing.
In the Model 75 Stearman you solo from the rear seat. This makes it truly difficult for ground operations. The pilot must use s-turns to navigate the taxiways and even in flight, the pilot must look through the windscreens and associated framework of both cockpits.
The Stearman does offer night lighting in both cockpits with realistic reflections on the fuselage. I’m happy to report the front seat is empty on all models of the Golden Age Simulations Stearman making for a much easier approach and landing.
Here is another area where this product exceeded my expectations. The sound files for each individual model were created by the very talented Mike Hambley. Mike is well known in the flight simulation community for high quality sound packages, and continues that tradition with this product.
Anyone familiar with “round” engines knows, they not only have a very distinct sound, but it also changes with each engine type, aircraft, and cowling choice. Something many sound developers fail to do is capture the unique and difficult to hear sounds that define every engines personal character. In addition, blending the sounds to cover the vast sound spectrum from startup to shutdown without noticeable looping requires experience and serious dedication.
As I mentioned earlier, each aircraft has a dedicated and easily discernable sound set. Choosing any one of the aircraft, you can sit on the ramp with the engine at 1500prm, close your eyes and feel every cylinder firing, sensing the personalities of each different engine as they all make various small, but audible signatures in your mind.
Mike has done an admirable job that will leave you immersed in round engine glory, but there are a few areas where users will hear unrealistic sound changes. When slowly increasing the throttle, the inconstancies in changing sounds are minor, but firewall the throttle and you are in for a surprise.
Most of us won’t mind the minor blending issues as the sound package as a whole is excellent. One detail I fell in love with was the propeller sounds on the two high horsepower models.
The small 220hp engines on the military aircraft have a maximum of 2025RPM available. Not too much there, and a leisurely takeoff run. The 300hp A75L300 and 450hp Super Stearman on the other hand have propellers that approach the speed of sound at takeoff power and have a completely different and aggressive sound. Mike has done a great job of giving you the “WOW” factor as you advance the throttle to maximum power.
Other sounds include realistic engine level changes when the prop, carb heat and mags are checked, cockpit wind noise, and finally the sound of your own laughing as you rotate the Super Stearman off the runway.
I would like to preface this section with a quote from the reference page of the Golden Age Simulations Model 75 Stearman.
“It will be noted that in some respects, the performance delivered by this airplane does not match the performance quoted by many published sources. All performance data here is based on performance reported to me by pilots who currently own and fly Stearman aircraft. Most aircraft, especially when they reach this age, do not necessarily fly to the same “numbers,” so these numbers may not match those seen by other pilots in other airplanes.”
In the 25 hours I spent reviewing this product, twelve were dedicated to air files alone. Each aircraft has a separate air file which works out to 3 hours per aircraft. Testing an air file is the virtual equivalent of a real world test pilot, without the danger…oh yes, and no pay.
Contrary to popular belief, the daily grind of a modern test pilot is more about academics and data collection/verification than blazing holes in the sky. Testing the validity of a developers quoted “numbers” requires not only checking them against the model itself, but verifying they match the real world aircraft as well.
This Stearman package is fortunate enough to have air files which hide their flaws well. To the everyday user, these aircraft will be a blast to fly. The aircraft can be flown by the “book” all day long, unless you intend on doing things one shouldn’t be doing anyway.
At the edges of the envelope it begins to stray from what one would expect to see. For example, the early military versions have gravity fed carburetors. While inverted, the engine would lose power and if not corrected, die from fuel starvation. In both the PT-17 and N2S I could go inverted with no change in the engine’s performance. I emailed the developer and below is his response:
“Inverted flight: I duplicated your experience, went inverted, the engine sputtered but never quit. I've never studied inverted flight in any detail before, but the entry is for a gravity fed carburetor. It’s in the engine section of the configuration file. The model performed the same way in FS9 as FSX. I compared that with Bill Lyons Travelair Magic One and it performed in a similar manner in the engine did not quit, but the prop thrust did drop off and eventually I was not able to hold it inverted even with full nose up trim, it took a while though. This leads me to believe that there is another factor at work here besides the programming of the sim and I'll have to look into that with the fellow that does our flight dynamics.”
The only other problem I experienced was in the Super Stearman. At 7,000ft, full power and full nose up, the power-on stall should have occurred at around 45kias. Instead, I was indicating 43kias and climbing at 750fpm while the FSX “stall” message was showing.
The power-off stall didn’t come with a wing drop as expected, the aircraft just lost altitude with the wings level. After several hours of testing I finally did get the wing to drop, although it required some aggressive control inputs.
Summary / Closing Remarks
The Golden Age Simulations Model 75 Stearman is a great compromise in terms of price, detail, and performance. It is moderately priced with no loss of frame rate on most computers, and with that comes some level of detail loss in the model.
You get four individual “fun to fly” models, with separate sound and air files, along with excellent support for $6.25 each. I would definitely recommend this to the everyday virtual GA pilot, but for the hard core PMDG simmer, you might want to skip this one.
What I Like About The Stearman
What I Don't Like About The Stearman
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