Flying low & slow!
key.aero looks at the choices available to the private pilot in the flight sim world.
General Aviation (GA) aircraft are defined by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) as ‘an aircraft operation other than a commercial air transport operation or an aerial work operation’. In practical terms, it means all aviation not involving the military or the commercial airline industry. This includes training, private, business, leisure, sport flying, helicopters, gliding, etc.! So, if you thought civil flight simulation was just about airliners - read on!
Modern statistics emphasise the breadth and strength of General Aviation in today’s modern world. While it may not surprise you to read that there are more private licences in the world than commercial, there are eight times more GA aircraft in the UK than there are airliners; there are at least six times more light aircraft movements in the UK compared to commercial operations; 75% of all flying hours are by civil aircraft and around 85% of all aircraft departures worldwide are from GA stables.
GA aircraft come in all shapes, sizes and uses - let’s examine how some modern GA aircraft are utilised, what Flight Simulator add-ons are available and see if we can identify a few highly popular or ‘state of the art’ add-ons that not only meet any requirements for that aircraft type, but also take advantage of the features and effects available in modern simulators.
Piper Tomahawk basic trainer from Just Flight.Basic training
Most modern training aircraft are two-seat piston-engined propeller aircraft that offer docile handling characteristics, tricycle landing gear, excellent safety records and relatively low operating costs. While these criteria are essential for any modern training aircraft, there are some other aspects to consider and these are reflected in part by the different approaches to aircraft design practised by manufacturers. Training aircraft should also have excellent visibility; Cessna has opted for a high-wing design where it is located above the fuselage, which certainly gives unimpeded views of the ground and the airspace at or below your altitude. However, as you enter a bank, the wing obscures your view towards your direction of turn, so your observations before you turn are critical, particularly in high traffic areas such as the circuit. Conversely, Piper utilises a low-wing design where it is located below the fuselage - its Tomahawk trainer also has a bubble canopy design that allows a 360° view at and above the aircraft’s altitude, even during turns. However, the low wing impedes your view beneath it during all phases of flight. As in the real world, simulator pilots have their own preferences when it comes to training aircraft, but from my experience there is no doubt that of those aviators undertaking real world training, the two most popular aircraft used worldwide today are the Cessna 152 and the Piper Tomahawk.
For flight simmers, it is possible to purchase both types in a single package - Just Flight’s Flying Club X (FS2004 and FSX) contains a cross section of aircraft types you would typically expect to see in your local Aero Club. The early training models in particular offer stable and predictable handling just like their real-world counterparts and also have sufficiently detailed panels for you to learn correct visual training methods. You will not find complex avionics to confuse or distract the student pilot, you will not be able to do aerobatics or mind-numbing airspeeds – but this package is perfect for those who want quite a realistic, yet simple training environment (you can read a full review of Just Flight’s Flying Club X in issue 45 of PC Pilot magazine).
Piper Warriors are popular navigation trainers - this model from Just Flight’s Flying Club.The next step
Once initial basic training has been completed, many GA pilots move on to slightly larger aircraft that allow navigation and instrument flying training with minimal increases in training costs or aircraft complexity. Over the past few decades, this stage of flying training has again been dominated by two companies, Cessna and Piper; that’s not to say that other aircraft manufacturers don’t produce suitable models, it’s simply that the apparent targeting of this sector by Cessna and Piper, coupled with their long histories and excellent safety records, means that their aircraft are what you will most commonly come across. This aspect of training in current times often falls to the ubiquitous Cessna 172 and Piper Warrior. They are both four-place aircraft with larger engines, greater speed and range than their basic training counterparts. Again, the flight sim enthusiast is well catered for with Microsoft including the Cessna 172 as a default aircraft for at least two decades. The C172R is also and available from www.flight1.com (FS2004/FSX), with improved flight modelling, aircraft sounds and high quality bitmap panels. Alternatives for navigation and primary IFR training can also come from several other stables - Carenado’s Piper Cherokee 180F (FS2004/FSX), Aussim’s Piper Warrior v2.0 (FS2004/FSX) and Just Flight’s Piper Warrior (FS2004/FSX). Another very popular and well finished product is Carenado’s Beech T-34B Mentor, which, while initially used as a military trainer, does come in civilian variants with a retractable gear and constant speed propeller and is an excellent advanced trainer (see Joe Lavery’s review in issue 49 of PC Pilot).
Dreamfleet’s Bonanza A36 is a classic and very popular FS2004 add-on.Getting Private
The first thing newly qualified pilots want to do is take their family and friends on journeys and hopefully share some fuel costs! In the search for more speed and range, some are content to just fly aircraft with similar handling and design but with bigger engines, such as the Piper Archer and Cessna 182. Many progress to more complex light aircraft with design features such as retractable undercarriage and constant speed propellers.
This sector is very well represented in the FS world with every distributor offering a selection of what have become the world’s most popular class of aircraft. While the range available is impressive, one of the most popular over the years is the Dreamfleet Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (FS2004). Dreamfleet offers quality add-ons with many aircraft in the GA category and often utilise advanced avionics options, high quality graphics and have unique features such as large numbers of clickable ‘hot spots’ designed to mimic 3D virtual cockpit views while still using 2D panels. Other notable commercial examples from this category are Carenado’s Cessna C210 Centurion and Bonanza F33 and V35, which are both FS2004/ FSX compatible (indeed Coronado offers a large range of quality GA aircraft in this sector).
Just Flight’s Piper Seneca - one of the world’s most popular light twins.The cost of buying and operating twin piston-engined aircraft prevents most private pilots from flying ‘twins’, although business travellers often use them as they offer the security of more than one engine should you be unfortunate enough to experience an engine failure, providing scope to fly more safely in adverse weather and at night when you may not be able to select your preferred landing site!
The offerings in this sector are a little thinner in the flight sim world, but there are devoted followers for the Just Flight Seneca (FS2004/ FSX) and the Dreamfleet Baron (FS2004/ limited FSX only).
Just Flight’s Tiger Moth - you can almost smell the oil!Dragging your tail
Perhaps it’s the link to the days of ‘real’ flying, when you could smell the oil and hear and feel every buffet of wind - perhaps it’s the added challenges of limited views or awkward ground handling that require planning and a deft touch to master. Whatever the reason, everyone seems to love flying ‘tail draggers’. While many modern aircraft simulator add-ons are designed to emulate the modern, safe designs of their real-world equivalents, many tail-dragger simulators attempt to replicate the challenges these aircraft presented. Many GA flight sim ‘classics’ fall into this category - Just Flight produces Tiger Moth (FS2004/FSX), a package with a number of liveries and variations of this instantly recognisable airframe that was utilised extensively around the world as a trainer in the 1930s. The attention to detail extends down to the bare patches on the tyres and pilot’s eyes that blink! Hang an oily rag in front of an electric fan and you are transported back 70 years! Another truly outstanding example is Aerosoft’s Beaver (FS2004) and Beaver X (FSX); the package faithfully reproduces the various visual models, engine sounds and period cockpit in five variants including crop-duster, float plane and amphibian. The FSX version has been rebuilt from scratch and utilises many of the impressive features of FSX (for further information, read Jane Whittaker’s review in issue 47 of PC Pilot).
Digital Aviation’s Dornier Do-27 is one of the most innovative GA add-ons of recent times!Perhaps one the most innovative examples is Digital Aviation’s Dornier Do-27 (FS2004/FSX) - Digital Aviation has lifted the bar with this package. While demanding on lower end PCs, it offers features that no other sim aircraft of this type can with many never implemented in simulator aircraft before, making the experience incredibly immersive and addictive! In addition to the high levels of visual modelling, including flaking paint and visible signs of wear and tear, is the extraordinary way the aircraft responds to how you treat it! If you mishandle the engine, fuel systems, doors, scheduled services, or anything, the aircraft systems start to deteriorate and continued negligence or abrupt handling will cause an embarrassing failure! The attention to detail is simply astounding with vibrating instrument panels, fully working circuit breakers, a tent for camping trips - even a companion for those longer journeys! Read Jane Whittaker’s full review of the Do-27 in issue 44 of PC Pilot magazine.
Jordan Moore’s Bell 412 is available from Hovercontrol.com and is a delight to fly.Rotary wing
The Bell 206 Jet Ranger has been a familiar ‘helo’ to Microsoft Flight Sim users for many years, but many found that ‘wrestling the octopus’ was very demanding. Most of the difficulties relate to a misunderstanding of the aerodynamics involved and incorrectly tuned control devices. Nevertheless, rotary wing flying enjoys a very dedicated following and one of the world’s premier flight sim helicopter site is www.hovercontrol.com, which contains a range of high quality, freeware helicopter add-ons created by Jordan Moore and I strongly recommend its tutorial series.
Commercial helicopter add-ons are relatively few and far between in the Microsoft Flight Simulator world; www.abacuspub.com produces two ‘theme’ packages for rotary pilots for FS2004, Chopper Havoc and FS Whirlybird. Higher quality add-ons include Just Flight’s Schweizer 300CBi, a two-place training and aerial work helo. While strictly sneaking into the military genre, there are two commercial rotary wing products available from Aerosoft that of are of very high quality - one is the ‘Seahawk and Boxer’ (FS2004/FSX), which is based on the Sikorsky Seahawk military helicopter and includes a detailed model of a WASP support ship, and the second along a similar vein is ‘Coast Guard’.
Soaring is a challenging yet peaceful way to fly.Sail planes
Sail planes, or gliders, have been around a lot longer than the Wright Flyer, with many logged flights in the 19th century. There has been a recent resurgence in interest in simulated soaring with a wonderful DG Flgzeugbau DG-808S included as a default aircraft in FSX. Additionally, a number of default and freeware FSX missions are focused on soaring in some very scenic parts of the world.
Commercial add-ons for the most popular flight simulators - FS2004 and FSX - don’t exist, but there are a large number of quality freeware add-ons available. I urge you to visit Wolfgang Piper’s www.fsglider.de - this site is like a pictorial history of soaring with over 38 glider variations available that date back to the early 1930s. FSX contains a thermal ‘engine’ to realistically mimic thermal activity so that you can take advantage of both thermals and ridge lift.
Aerosoft’s Beaver X is truly outstanding if you fancy something different!Hardware
An important consideration is your computer’s overall performance - many modern GA simulator products are every bit as demanding on your PC as complex airliners and the product’s minimum PC specifications may only give you an adequate experience. You will generally be more satisfied if you select a model that runs smoothly on your PC rather than a high-end model that jerks and stutters and requires you to reduce your sim settings to cope. Also be aware that even some high-quality add-ons will not operate under different operating systems. While most PCs utilise Windows XP, new systems are usually supplied with Vista unless you have requested otherwise so be sure to check Vista compatibility with the distributor or retailer before you buy. Check out our hardware features on key.aero.
Extracted from an article first published in PC Pilot magazine Winter 2007
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