A light twin with some unique system features
Just Flight has recently released the Beech Duchess for FSX/P3D which, as we found, has been packed with new features…
Born to compete
In the heyday of general aviation, all the major manufacturers produced a single engine, four-seat aircraft that could be used for more advanced training and cross-country flights.
Beechcraft’s offering was the Musketeer and its point of difference from other companies was its higher payload and very robust trailing landing gear. Then in the mid-1970s, Beechcraft was looking at developing an aircraft to compete with the emerging Piper PA-44 Seminole and Cessna C310 twin piston-engined aircraft.
They didn’t have to look too far and found the construction method of the Musketeer could be readily adapted to this light twin format without too much effort. The Duchess 76 quickly found its market and was commercially produced between 1974 and 1982.
Minimum System Requirements
Prepar3D v1/v2/v3/v4 or Flight Simulator X (Acceleration, Gold or Steam Edition required); 2.0GHz or any Dual Core; 2GB RAM; 1GB graphics card; Windows 10 / 8 / 7 /Vista / XP (32-bit or 64-bit); 2GB hard drive space.
Some believed the Duchess was designed as an executive’s ‘pleasure machine’ and weekend flyaway with a design life of just 20 years. This was readily apparent when compared to its stablemates, the iconic and powerful singleengine Bonanza and twin-engine Baron.
However the Duchess survives at many flying clubs and advanced training organisations around the world today and is regularly used for twin conversion and instrument rating training.
Just Flight package
The Just Flight package is a substantial 950MB download and includes a nicely put together and detailed manual that includes a tutorial flight and checklists, a paint kit, performance charts and no fewer than 11 liveries. At first glance you can spot many of the distinguishing features of the Duchess. The long nose had both an aerodynamic and a practical function as the nosewheel retracts forwards. The T-Tail, which also sets the Duchess apart, was quite radical when released and was claimed to deliver more speed and economy.
The high definition external textures are excellent and reflect an aircraft of this age and work history with oil stains and general wear and tear. The chocks and tie-downs are managed automatically and require the parking brake to be on and the master switch off before they will appear. The four-seat cabin is conventional other than it has both a left and right seat access hatch as well the rear luggage hatch. The panel itself is easily recognisable as being from the Beech stable, albeit not as strongly built or as well appointed as the Bonanza or Baron. Beech did retain the overall feel and management flow as the other aircraft in its range but without the trademark centre yoke configuration.
Currently primarily flying as a twin and IFR trainer, the avionics suite includes dual VOR/ILS, DME, ADF, transponder, Century IV autopilot and a Stormscope which will either display in a TCAS mode, or, if you have a suitable addon installed, any storm threats in your area.
Also, while a GPS unit is fitted, you can run the included switcher utility to change this to the Flight 1GTN 650/750 system. The detail in the 3D panel is very good and the Prepar3D model also features dynamic lighting for the gauges.
All the pre-flight preparations are very straightforward and aided by menus which allow you to check and top up fuel, oil and battery charge levels. A detailed interactive pop-up checklist can then assist you to perform all checklists from pre-flight to shut down. The circuit breakers are animated with some also interacting with aircraft systems – so beware! Start-up is a breeze but there is a very pronounced lag in the RPM after adjusting the throttles which feels more like a turbine engine than a small piston powerplant.
Adjusting the control sensitivities was well worth the time - after all a Duchess does not want to handle like a 777 or Typhoon Fighter - and the subsequent aircraft handling was a perfect blend of the stability you want in a light twin IFR trainer. Lining up and opening the throttles brings the engines alive and reveals the very authentic soundset as you accelerate down the runway.
Most piston twins ever built are fitted with identical engines and prop systems on either wing as this does bring some maintenance and cost advantages. A few makers, however, opted to fit powerplants with contra-rotating props, ie the props on each engine rotate in opposing directions. The Duchess has this configuration with the real benefit being there is no nose swing as you apply power and the aircraft tracks smoothly down the centreline, which is very nice and is one of the reasons it is still favoured by pilots converting to twins. While a pair of 180hp engines doesn’t sound a lot, the aerodynamic design of the Duchess means it is more than ample. The Duchess has been approved to operate on ocean ferry journeys loaded to 26% over Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) and still fly well! So with more conventional weights, it displays very good performance with the rotation speed of around 70-75 knots being achieved in around 1,000ft of runway.
A typical cruise climb speed to altitude is more like 100 knots with 24” and 2500rpm but you will need to possibly manage the cowl flaps and climb speed on hotter days.
General flight handling is stable with few surprises and this is one of the reasons it is now used as a twin and IFR trainer. A nice touch is the addition of an electric trim which can be activated from the main switch panel.
This trims for you so all you need to do is move the nose to the desired attitude, the trim will follow and you can simply release the yoke pressure. It has good authority over normal climb, cruise and descent phases but should be switched off on late approach.
You can expect the Duchess to cruise at around 155 knots. While cruising, you can take advantage of the Flight Computer popup, which provides constant data including groundspeed, endurance, range, fuel flow and more. With a range of 800nm, this is a useful feature for those who prefer not to be encumbered by calculations and charts.
When it is time for your descent, you must remember that the Duchess is normally aspirated and uses the carburettor heat controls. This is also a slippery aircraft and some advance planning is also needed to slow on late approach to be able to lower the gear at a low airspeed at just 100 knots or so. The book says to aim for 76 knots on finals but finding the lateral stability a bit low at reduced speeds, it was more comfortable to maintain 80-85 knots until very late finals.
When things go wrong
Okay, so the Just Flight Duchess performs well, but what about the demands of twin conversion training? Twin conversions include stall handling and the Just Flight model behaves exactly as the manual suggests – mild buffeting and gentle pitching with no nasty surprises.
Real-world light twins don’t fly well on a single engine with large yaw moments and the general inability to maintain altitude. While the Duchess does model this to some extent with partially feathering props and rudder trim controls, there are some inconsistencies with, for example, very little yaw moment which is away from the dead engine instead of towards it. But flown well, you can fly your injured aircraft back to an airfield. If the failure has impacted your ability to lower your landing gear, you can manually extend the gear by rotating the manual extension valve beneath the floor plate and the gear falls and locks into place. Nice touch!
This is a very solid product for those who are looking for a no-nonsense light IFR twin with some very nicely modelled features such as the electric trim, panel state saving and engine management functions. A few minor handling issues and blind spots in the cabin night lighting might detract the experience for some.
PC Pilot Verdict
At a Glance: A well-made light twin with some unique system features that will suit those looking for a step up from basic aircraft. It is equally at home as a tourer or IFR trainer.
Developer: Just Flight
Price: $41.99 (£33 approx)
Flight Model: Good
Graphics: Very good
Documentation: Very good
Systems: Very good