ADD-ON FOR X-PLANE 11
Raising the bar for X-Plane add-ons
JRollon Planes and Simcoders.com
In a virtual aviation world dominated by the big names such as Boeing, Piper, Cessna etc, it is refreshing to see a developer focus on a lesserknown aircraft that is still very much up to the challenge. Here we review the recently released SIAI-Marchetti SF260 for X-Plane 11.
The Italians, with brands including Ferrari, Piaggio and Aermacchi, are no strangers to good design whether it be for fashion, motor cars or aircraft. So when Stelio Frati designed a single-engine aerobatic aircraft that was also capable of being fitted with IFR avionics, it was quickly snatched up by SIAIMarchetti which could see the potential. Very soon after production started in 1964, the SF260 found great favour with the military as a two-seat trainer, although 3/4-seat civilian versions were also produced. One aircraft could be used for basic, aerobatic, ground attack and IFR training - very versatile indeed. It is powerful, fast, stable and robust and shared some performance characteristics of military jet trainers, making later transition easier for pilots.
Customers have included a large number of smaller air forces around the world with the SF-260 still in production today and which remains the principal military trainer of the Italian and Philippines Air Forces. Perhaps as you would expect of an aircraft with such a long production life, there are a number of variations to also allow more specialised functions such as fisheries patrol, airline pilot training and even active military engagement.
A perfect marriage
The X-Plane 11 product is the result of a collaboration between Javier Rollon of JRollon Planes and Simcoders.com. The download package reflects the SF260D and comes in two parts, the 261MB base package which includes the Simcoders Reality Expansion Pack, and an additional 1.3GB download which packs in nine liveries. JRollon Planes has been developing X-Plane aircraft for many years and Simcoders have brought their expertise of integrating an elevated level of realism to the aircraft systems. To allow you to fully appreciate the intricacies of the Reality Expansion Pack (REP), a comprehensive PDF manual is included along with checklists and performance tables.
At this point it is worth stating that this product is so impressive and feature-packed that it is a highlight of all X-Plane 11 releases of 2018.
We have covered as many features as possible in this review but to view a full listing you are encouraged to visit the product page on the website of X-Plane.org.
When you first load the SF260 in bright sunshine to check out the level of external graphics you immediately know you are going to run out of adjectives. The beautifully crisp textures glint in the sun and the level of detail on the paintwork is astounding with even the smallest decals readable. Using the Physically Based Rendering (PBR) feature of X-Plane 11, every reflection and dimple on the aircraft skin is visible in stunning realism.
The liveries and detail are excellent but add the ground objects such as animated pitot cover, intake plugs, tie-downs and canopy cover and you need to look hard several times to convince yourself this is not a photo of the real thing. In preparation for flight, they can all be easily removed via the SF260 plugin from the Plugin menu or as part of the integrated walk-around feature which also allows you to check the control surfaces, tyre wear, oil levels etc. With that done, open up the Maintenance Release and ensure there are no known issues and then check the aircraft weight and balance.
Cabin and panel
The models in the package are all four-seat versions (although the two in the back would need to be short) and configured with a stick rather than a yoke. Being developed as a military trainer, there is also an additional throttle on the left side of the firewall so the pilot can fly using the stick with his right hand.
The flow of adjectives starts again when you examine the busy panel. While reasonably conventional in layout, it does squeeze in dual VOR/ILS, ADF, GPS, autopilot and conveniently placed flaps indicator and accelerometer.
The large circuit breaker panel isn’t just eye candy - with them all functioning. The panel and gauges are all high definition with dust and scratches on the gauge faces. Beautiful!
Pre-flight preparations are simple, with pop-up checklists available allowing you to check them off as you work your way through them. While the start-up sequence is straightforward, a challenge can be thrown up by the Reality Expansion Pack. Get the sequence wrong or over prime and the engine can be a beast to start – just like the real thing. So you need to pay attention to factors such as ambient temperature and CHT (Cylinder Head Temperature) to get it right. In very cold weather, you can select the engine heater which will bring the oil and engine up to operating temperatures.
But if you really insist and just want to get flying, you can start the 260hp engine via the Automatic Engine Start feature.
Reality Expansion Pack
The Reality Expansion Pack is very sophisticated and monitors the aircraft systems constantly, requiring the pilot to be on guard and not be lazy about regular system checks.
The REP plugin menu gives you the option of displaying data to help you initially manage your techniques and warn of bad habits. Not all aircraft are pristine and new of course, so if you prefer, you can load various degrees of wear under general categories such as ‘Privately Owned New’ or perhaps ‘Flying Club’ where some pilots may not have been as diligent as yourself. In the more worn aircraft, you may discover faulty indicator lamps or even sticking gauges where you can ‘tap’ the offending light or gauge to temporarily remedy problems. Don’t forget to fix the problem later via the maintenance release however, or it will return. All this damage is cumulative, so over time you may see issues develop that, if left uncorrected, can result in failures.
There is even an hypoxia algorithm which causes tunnel visions and sluggish controls.
After warming the engine, you only need a tweak of the throttle to get rolling and this is the time to mention that Simcoders also produce a freeware utility called HeadShake, which is recommended for use with the SF260.
It simulates customisable head movements and engine and aircraft vibrations. One of the very nice features is the Taxi Look Ahead effect where the view turns smoothly into the turns as you taxi – you don’t need to touch your hat switch. If any of the head movements annoy you and seem excessive, simply adjust or even remove them from the Plugin menu.
They have even added a seat belt tensioner to the SF260 which you can tighten before aerobatics to limit the head-shake movement.
The engine torque on the 260hp engine is significant and smooth application of power is important to avoid an accidental tour of the airfield. The upside of this powerful engine is the brisk and short take-off run. Thanks to the large control surfaces, the aircraft feels light and very responsive and you soon learn to fly using just fingertip pressures. Economic cruise is typically at around a sprightly 150 knots and with full tanks, has a range of around 1,100nm.
During some cross-country legs, another feature slowly emerged across the canopy – ice. What starts as a small smudge slowly grows across the canopy and threatens to obscure all vision until you descend to lower, warmer levels. Given the large number of features discovered in the SF260, it would not surprise me to find more ‘Easter eggs’ as time goes by.
There is little point in producing one of the best military trainers if it doesn’t perform well aerobatically. The SF260 will perform all aerobatics realistically, including spins and flown well, you can perform a full complement of aerobatics with little loss in altitude. While flying the SF260 does command your attention, it’s just simply so much fun to fly. How many other GA aircraft are there which allow you to fly cross-country fast, land on rugged airstrips and do a few barrel rolls along the way? Spending a little time adjusting control sensitivities to your liking goes a long way to making the most of your experience.
This add-on is one of the best I’ve used for X-Plane 11 – period, and it’s certainly a highlight release of 2018. While it could be described as an advanced trainer, it can certainly be used by less experienced pilots who will be able to grow into the extensive features over time. Highly recommended.
PC Pilot Verdict
At a Glance: A high quality superb all-rounder at a very good price that performs incredibly realistically and is simply so much fun to ly.
Developer: JRollon Planes and Simcoders.com
Price: $44.95 (£35 approx).
Flight Model: Excellent
PC Pilot Score: