An aerobatic delight!
During my time in aviation, I’ve discovered there are three types of pilot. The first is a purely ‘by the book’ kind of pilot who enjoys a pleasant flight once a month with a passenger or two. Then there’s the ‘hooligan’, who loves nothing more than throwing an aircraft around like a dog with a stuffed bear. Finally, there’s the Jekyll and Hyde type. They’re a ‘by the book pilot’ in the week but at the weekends, anything goes. I’m probably closer to the ‘by the book’ pilot. My idea of heaven is a nice GA tourer and an IFR-ready panel. However, there are times when a ‘loop-the-loop’ would be nice. For the ‘hooligan’, there are few choices when it comes to a true aerobatic GA aircraft. One such model though is now available to sim pilots. Introducing the DCS: Christen Eagle II, by Leatherneck Simulations.
Not the Pitts!
The Christen Eagle II is a wonderful little twoseater biplane that’s similar to the Pitts special.
Originally designed in the 1970s, the Eagle revolutionised the home-build market. The whole aircraft is available as 24 separate kits that feature clear, detailed instructions and everything you need to build the little biplane. Compared with kit planes of the time, the Christen Eagle was a breath of fresh air. Much of the home-build market today took its cue from the Eagle. The body is a tubular steel frame with wings made of wood and fabric. So essentially it’s small, strong and light. Along with its frame, the Eagle is paired with a Lycoming AEIO-360 200hp engine. It features a steelsprung landing gear and by all accounts, a roomy cockpit. The Christen Eagle II proved to be the most popular model available, offering room for two. Today the aircraft is still available for sale, though the price, along with the required tools, may make your eyes water.
I have to admit that the Eagle makes me nervous. Being an aerobatic aircraft, it’s designed to be somewhat ‘unstable’; I dislike unstable. Making me even more nervous is that the Eagle is only available in DCS World. The sim has a reputation for its striking realism and spot-on flight modelling. The last time I flew within DCS, my flight ended in a fiery ball on the ground, much to the amusement of the PC Pilot Editor.
Still, I’m not averse to throwing an aircraft around. I’ve done a little training in the DH Chipmunk in my time. How bad can it be? Being DCS, I have a few ‘Mission’ options available to break me in gently. These range from ‘Cold Start’ to air races and more. It’s a nice touch and something to look at later. For now, a cold start seems best. Once I’m in the sim, I catch sight of aircraft. First impressions are positive. The little biplane looks pretty on the apron. Its colourful livery is all rainbowlike. It’s also surprising how small it really is. The lower wing sits quite close to the ground, so I hope I don’t ground-loop it.
Inside the cockpit things are, let’s say, spartan. As with a few aerobatic twoseaters, the pilot sits at the back while the main instruments are all in the front cockpit. Those instruments are kept to a minimum. Airspeed, altimeter and a basic turn and slip indicator are joined by a dual oil pressure/ temp gauge, manifold pressure/fuel flow gauge, RPM and a small EGT indicator. A small wet compass and a G-meter complete the instrumentation. It’s basic to say the least. This is not an aircraft you’ll be touring in.
In the back there are the main engine start controls, alternator, avionics and the obligatory ‘smoke on’ switch on the main panel, while to the left are the lighting controls. A single Com radio sits underneath the main panel and that’s it.
The main throttle is on the left, with mixture and prop controls sitting underneath that.
The main fuel tank valve is on the floor, with an elevator trim control just above it, which looks awkwardly placed. The whole cockpit is finished with great attention to de
The panel is bare but better equipped than some real-world Eagles. Above right: Even with the cockpit lighting on, there’s not much to see in the rear. Below: On the ramp, ready for action
Foggy weather and a strong wind make the landing a challenging prospect for the wooden-winged biplane.
Getting the blood pumping
While I can admire the Christen Eagle II all day, I need to prepare to fly this diminutive aircraft. The start-up sequence is unsurprisingly simple. With the canopy closed and locked, I follow the checklist printed on the front of the rear bulkhead. Battery on, fuel on, alternator set, crack the throttle open a little and then turn the starter. As the fuel pressure grows, the engine begins to burst into life, finally settling into a comforting burble. I set the brakes off and start my taxi out the runway. Taxiing taildraggers is not my favourite thing, and with the possibility of a ground-looping present in my mind, I keep the speed slow and the ‘S’ turns light. Very little power is needed to get the aircraft rolling, and once on the runway, a full power take-off is swift and slightly terrifying. I settle into a full power climb, pitching the nose up for a speed of 95kts and a climb rate of 2000fpm. I reach 3,000ft in what feels like moments. Bringing the throttle back, the aircraft settles into a steady cruise of around 160kts. Now it’s time to have some fun. To say the Christen Eagle is nimble would be an understatement. It can ‘turn on a dime and still give you nine cents change’.
She rolls with an ease and precision that I’m just not use to. A stall turn or two is easy to execute and even easier to recover from, While spinning the ‘old girl’ is both terrifying and satisfying, with the ability to pick your exit point from the spin and carry on as normal. Once the fun is over however, the aircraft becomes unexpectedly docile. From the precise, but somewhat unstable ‘tearaway’ of just a few moments ago, she becomes a perfect lady, cruising with little need to re-trim. Even at lower speeds she remains precise, if somewhat more respectable. It’s an impressive turnaround.
When it is time to land, the fun can begin again. The Eagle has no flaps and being a taildragger, the nose sits high on the approach.
I’ve read that a little side-slipping can help here but in general I manage fairly well, though I’ve yet to pull off a perfect three-pointer.
Letting your hair down
With the initial flight out of the way, it’s time to relax. The many missions available allow for some real fun. There are easy missions such as a basic landing and more difficult ones such as a foggy approach in very windy weather.
For a real challenge though, try out one of the air race options. They look simple but to date, I’ve yet to start one that doesn’t end in a flaming crater in the ground, which, somewhat embarrassingly, brings me to the damage model in the sim. It’s easy to put a dent in the aircraft if you’re not careful. After my first flight, I taxied back to the ramp only to discover I hadn’t set any toe brakes. The result was an unfortunate meeting of my aircraft and another Eagle sat on the ground. While this is embarrassing, I was impressed that the damage not only affected my aircraft with a bent prop, but the aircraft I hit lost its tail and wings. Bending the prop seemed to be my speciality for a while.
To relax, away from potential damage, I chose a mission called ‘A visit to the mechanic’. This was a simple flight down to Sochi, with a chance to enjoy a little VFR navigation and treat the Eagle like a lady. Even better was a fly-through-the-gate type of mission which takes on a scenic tour of the area with a small challenge of flying through some non-destructive gates. Along the way you may even pick up a fellow Christen Eagle II pilot for company.
I don’t ‘wander’ into DCS too often as its simply not my world as it were. With the Christen Eagle II however, things may change. As wonderful as the aircraft is, two small bugs jumped out at me during testing. First, with your smoke on, the cockpit floor shows the smoke outside through the solid footwell. The second involved an unexpected taxiing accident at Sochi where the aircraft left the tarmac and ‘tilted over’ a nonexistent edge. Both bugs are probably related to DCS World itself rather than the Eagle but that second one was a real surprise. Neither detracts from the overall experience however.
It’s a wonderfully fun aircraft to fool around with, though considering the other aircraft found in DCS World, I wonder if there’s enough appeal for people like our illustrious Editor (who basically lives in DCS World) to enjoy life in the unarmed lanes. That said, the Eagle could safely serve as an aerobatic trainer, allowing you to perfect combat manoeuvres. Either way, the Christen Eagle II is worthy of your attention whatever kind of pilot you are. If you’re looking for a quick flight, with no strings attached, this could be exactly what you’re looking for.
I, on the other hand, now need to complete that damn air race, preferably without my flight ending in a fiery ball on the ground… By Jessica Bannister-Pearce
PC Pilot Verdict
At a Glance: The DCS: Christen Eagle II excels at making you smile. A great flight model, realistic damage and a nice smattering of missions make this a fun aircraft to own.
Developer: Leatherneck Simulations.
Publisher: Eagle Dynamics
Download Price: $29.99 (£23 approx)
Flight Model: Excellent
Systems: Very good PC Pilot Score: