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Flight Log – Freeware Flying

July 25th, 2011 · No Comments · Gaming

So since I was on a break from airport development the past few weeks and thus had no new airports to fly to, I decided it was time to go through and check out the many freeware aircraft I had downloaded months ago all at once as I troved various download sites. They had been sitting on my FSX hard drive just taking up space – time to rectify that! I began by figuring out how to install them outside of the main FSX folder. This didn’t present too many problems. First I made sure to add a SimObjectPaths entry to the FSX.cfg file [Main] section that pointed towards the folder on my other hard drive. The second problem I came across was the fact that some of these aircraft use the default FSX sounds and gauges, so I also had to edit their sound.cfg and panel.cfg files. In sound.cfg, I needed to put in the full path of my FSX folder in the alias property. For the panel.cfg, some aircraft were using the “../” method of referencing a folder one level up the tree from the current one, assuming they were to be placed in the default Airplane folder in the FSX install location. So I needed to do a Find-Replace on all instances of “../” to change it to the full path of my FSX Aircraft folder.

Some aircraft just weren’t made for FSX, and many said so explicitly in the documentation but I tried them all anyways just to see. One by one I installed them, tweaked their files if needed and then loaded em up in the sim to see how they looked. Luckily, FSX can handle the addition of aircraft as it runs, since it reloads its database each time the Aircraft Selection window is called up. If the airplane just looked like crap, I deleted it. If it was missing too many gauges on the panel to be functional, I deleted it. If its propeller alpha was messed up and showing the blades as an opaque disc, I deleted it. In the end, I went through all my civilian helicopter and civilian single-prop airplane downloads and wound up with 47 various types of airplanes and helicopters to play around with.

The screenshot gallery above is a conglomeration of various different flights I’ve taken the past few weeks since my last Flight Log entry. I either started at Monmouth Executive, or I departed from an airport I had just arrived at. The first flight was in the Dodosim Bell 206B that saw me departing from Monmouth Executive and flying up to Linden via the Garden State Parkway and Route Linden. It was an uneventful and routine flight, with a touch of hampered visibility and light rain for a few minutes enroute. Landing at Linden proved to be a bit of an exercise as I am still not consistent with my landings being smooth in the Dodosim 206 – sometimes I can nail them other times I’m hovering and futzing about all over the place. This time it was the latter but I managed to get her down in one piece as the darkness grew deeper. But we already know my thoughts on the Dodosim, so let’s get on to some of the new aircraft.

Since I can’t remember where I downloaded most of these files from, I’m hosting some locally if I can’t find them on AVSIM or FlightSim.com. No point in people reading these reviews and then not being able to try them out if they want!

FS9 Cessna 182S Skylane FSX Conversion
(Download Link | Image Gallery)

This is pretty sweet, someone took the default FS9 Cessna Skylane and converted it to be fully FSX compatible. Not only that, but they brought over a crapton of different liveries (30 in all!!). My favorite is the one featured in the gallery, which sports a Jolly Roger on the tail. ARRRRRRR!!!! The 3D panel and cockpit are fully functional and there’s also a 2D panel included. Like most freeware craft though, no additional in-cockpit camera views are available and you’ll have to add them yourself. The radio stack is a bit hard to read from my normal .70 zoom level, but the rest of the instruments read clearly and function perfectly. All lights are functional, including the taxi light. The flight model has been tweaked from the default but not having flown the FS9 version I can’t comment on any improvements. However it does handle very well on the ground and in the air. Textures are still FS9-based and have not been upped in resolution for FSX, but they still look good. This aircraft is also set up to work with Shockwave lights. Because it’s a default aircraft in FS9, it comes with a checklist and reference file for the kneeboard.

In this aircraft I departed Monmouth Executive and navigated by dead reckoning and visual flight northwest to Old Bridge. Flying the pattern I slotted myself in between two aircraft, one that had just landed and one that was a few miles out on approach. I came down when that second aircraft was only 2 miles out and hastily exited the runway to clear it for them to land after me.

This is a definite must-have addition to your hangar!

Cessna 177RG Cardinal
(Download Link | Image Gallery)

This bird was created by a real 177 owner, who chose to model his actual airplane. It’s a basic model that doesn’t have any fine details to the exterior, but the animations do include cowl flaps and opening doors. The 3D panel is composed mainly of 2D gauges and switch clusters, so it doesn’t look as good as a fully 3D panel but everything is there and everything is functional so that’s really all that matters! Well, almost everything that is – my one beef with this plane’s cockpit is that I can’t find a parking brake indicator anywhere. On a whole, the textures are very “shiny” both inside and out, but not so much so that they are annoying. It’s just something you notice when the camera is at the right angle to the light. Some of the texturing work is pretty nifty tho – the windows for example are textured to recreate the warped-glass view of the bubble cockpit. Just like the radio stack in the 182S, it can be a bit difficult to make out the numbers at .70 zoom. You’ll find all the lights to be implemented properly – something I find most pleasing about a freeware aircraft because not even the default FSX 172 has taxi lights! There is no checklist for the kneeboard, however the author does include a document that details some of the operational procedures of the aircraft and discusses the flight model that has been tweaked to match the real aircraft as closely as possible. One important value he doesn’t mention I had to look up is the Vle, which luckily I found in the POH handbook online although it wasn’t listed anywhere but in the Let-Down checklist. A 2D panel is supplied but the aircraft is designed to be flown from the VC. There is also no pilot model.

I used the Robbinsville VOR to depart from Monmouth Executive and make for Trenton-Robbinsville. Up in the air the aircraft had the usual yaw issues that plague single-engine craft and I was able to rudder trim it stable. Don’t forget to raise the gears! It cruised very well (and very fast!) and in no time I was setting up for a straight-in approach to N87. However despite my calling final on the CTAF a Piper Cub decided to taxi onto the runway and take off anyways. Bastard! I slowed waaay down hoping to give him room to depart but you know these slow-poke Cubs. Took him forever to line up and start rolling down the runway so I had to pour on the power and go around. During my go-around I heard a call on the CTAF of an incoming flight 6 miles out. I can beat that, I thought, only to come around on final right behind the approaching aircraft. I actually flew under him as I made my second go-around. Yeeeesh! Finally I made my final approach clear of traffic and lemme say that this thing glides down so smooth – I’ve never felt such a rock solid descent from another aircraft. However, and the doc that comes with the aircraft does mention this, as you approach over the runway you’ll need to play with the rudder to keep her aligned – I wasn’t able to hold my heading and landed off to the side of the runway (which, ironically, saved me from crashing on a bug in the airport).

Not satisfied with my performance and knowing it was me not the airplane, I departed Trenton-Robbinsville for a dead-reckoning visual flight north to Central Jersey Regional to try my hand at another landing. I got a bit lost on the way since I missed that there were three railroad tracks I was going to cross over and not two, so I looked for the airport too early and ended up backtracking along the Raritan River to finally reach it. A check of the wind told me it was crossing the runway, though at a light 4-5kts. I should have listened to the CTAF longer to see which runway FSX was using for its traffic but I chose the one I thought was closest to upwind and set up my pattern and approach. I still wasn’t listening to the CTAF even though I was tuned in and giving my position, because on final I flew under a plane taking off from the opposite end of the runway. Erm. Oops. At least, this time I managed to keep my nice descent all the way down over the runway now that I knew I needed to work my rudder more to stay aligned properly.

So the exterior and interior modeling aren’t great, but again they are fully functional and the flight model is superb.

Cessna T206H Stationair Turbo
(Download Link | Image Gallery)

Looking for some extra passenger capacity? This craft’s got you covered with 4 seats to the rear – unfortunately things start off a bit disappointing right there because the Payload Settings screen only lets you adjust values for Pilot, Copilot and Baggage. So if you plan to fill those seats and have it affect the flight model I’m afraid you’re out of luck. In terms of modeling, both exterior and interior are well done, if not fully detailed. Textures are also of good quality both inside and out. The virtual cockpit has some character to it in the form of a briefcase and some soda cans in the passenger seat – it would be nice if you could turn them off though to properly simulate an empty seat. 2D panels are provided but as usual the VC is where you want to be. A mixture of 2D and 3D gauges and controls make up the main panel, and the compass is missing completely – there’s not even an entry for it in the panel.cfg file. The radio stack is stretched vertically making the numbers look tall and funny and the smaller ones, like on the DME and Transponder, are harder to read because of it. Since there are no views other than the default, it can be very hard to read the electronic map screen in front of the copilot’s seat. However there are some really cool and unique features of this craft that help make up for its shortcomings. For one the propeller spin mask is very nice – you can see the individual blades spin and the yellow tip outline. The exterior doors animation include the rear passenger scissor doors as well as the main cabin door. Finally, and coolest of all, you can open both the pilot and copilot windows! I love that stuff. But again, there are still some disappointments – for some reason I couldn’t get the engine compartment and sun visors to animate as the documentation says they are able to. Speaking of documentation, it’s all in French/Italian and has lots of pictures that don’t show up. There’s no checklist.

I took the Stationair out from Monmouth Executive on a VFR trip down along the coast of NJ to Eagle’s Nest. It’s pretty much the only convenient way to approach the airport thanks to the restricted airspace nearby. One thing I noticed right off the bat is that it’s very solid handling on the ground taxiing, and you don’t get as much of the delayed steering reaction you’ll find from the default 172, for example. Once airborne it was rock solid once I trimmed up for cruise and coasted down along the shore. Suddenly though I glanced at the RPM gauge, which I don’t notice much as I fly so close to sea level, and saw the needle was a good 200 RPM over redline. I pulled out on the propeller pitch to bring the RPM needle back to the green arc and puzzled over this behavior. I was only flying 1500 feet above sea level, atmospheric pressure was normal and had not noticed similar behavior in the other variable-pitch propeller aircraft I had flown. So this may be a slight error in the flight model.

Well, I haven’t deleted this aircraft from my hangar yet, so that says something. However its various shortcomings do make me less inclined to fly it very often. My main reason to fly this would be the extra cargo capacity when I want to simulate ferrying passengers, but without being able to model that what’s the point? Maybe if the flight model felt more unique…

 Grumman American AA-5A Cheetah
(Download Link | Image Gallery)

Alright! Something that’s not a Cessna ;) Here’s a nicely-modeled Grumman aircraft that amazingly squeezes 4 people into its body – you have to all climb in through the slide-back cockpit canopy (animated) – no doors! Unfortunately the weight and balance modeling does not take into account any extra passengers in the rear, it doesn’t even have a Baggage field. Missing stuff like this really takes a lot of value out of an airplane.  The interior of the plane is nicely done, although the gauges on the instrument panel do look a bit large and not very crisp. The radio stack is easy to read though! One cool thing about the gauges is that you can “cage” the attitude indicator, which locks it into place and is used when the gyroscope tumbles during acrobatic maneuvers to return it to its upright position. Unfortunately that’s the extent of the modeling – doing some spins and loops failed to tumble the attitude indicator. But it’s cool so see the functionality added anyways. However one thing that annoys me on this instrument panel is the heading indicator. You can turn the knob but since there’s no “bug” you actually move the heading card and then you have no idea which way you’re going! The magnetic compass appears to display backwards (see my next review for a fix), so unless you have a VOR to tune to and use your CDI gauge to calibrate the heading indicator you’re hosed. Speaking of the CDI, there’s a NAV2 CDI when there is no NAV2 radio on the stack. (I ended up removing it from the panel after realizing this). The Primer knob is interactive, but I’m not sure if it actually does anything since there’s no checklists or documentation included. The fuel tank selection can be confusing as well because the “OFF” panel is also labeled “BOTH”, yet setting the fuel switch to that panel will cut the engine, so it’s obviously not both tanks. I suppose it’s actually supposed to read “BOTH OFF” but if you’ve had a lot of experience with a plane that can cross-feed tanks it’s easy to not see it that way at first. All the lights are implemented, and although taxi lights don’t work at least it’s because this aircraft actually doesn’t have taxi lights! I must say I like how the windows have a “dirty” look to them and the propeller mask is also very well done.

Alright so how does she fly? To test it out I departed from Eagle’s Nest and continued my run down the coast to Ocean City. You can immediately tell you’re dealing with a decently high power to weight ratio by how easy it is to get this bird moving on the ground, and how responsive it is turning about. It’s even more apparent in the air when you lift off and have to apply a good deal of right rudder to prevent the torque of the propeller from putting you into a barrel roll! But as I climbed out and trimmed up I enjoyed the responsiveness of the aircraft – it’s definitely one that inspires you to attempt some acrobatics. Instead, I just cruised serenely along the shore southwards and kept my eye on the DME indicator tuned to the Atlantic City VOR. I was going to DME arc around the Atlantic City Bravo airspace using just the DME. Previously on two occasions I had used the CDI gauge together with the DME to fly my arc, but for a new challenge this time I decided to just use the DME. It’s not that difficult, you just have to adjust your heading to make the speed indicator on your DME register 0kts, which means you’re pacing the station. The only difficulty arises in that you can’t tell if a reading of 8kts means you’re traveling away from the station at 8kts or towards the station at 8kts until you see the distance number tick up or down. So it’s a lot more of a wobbly back and forth path than using the CDI gauge to perform smooth turns around the station. But hey, it got the job done and kept me 13-14nm away from the ACY VOR and outside of Bravo airspace as I cruised at 200 feet above the floor level. I had flight-following activated with KACY as well since I was flying through one of their approach corridors. I arrived at Ocean City with no problems, the plane behaves very well during descent and approach.

Several unfortunate drawbacks diminish this aircraft, but its unique flight model and performance characteristics gives me reason to come back to it every now and again.

Grumman American AA-5B Tiger
(Download Link | Image Gallery)

This package comes with a model file and a .air file labeled a “B” variant of the AA-5 however none of the included documentation – which isn’t much – tells me if this is really a tweaked flight and visual model or just a re-labeled variant of the previous AA-5A I reviewed. The visual model is definitely tweaked – there are sun visors (un-animated as far as I could figure) added to the cockpit, for example. Flying it though I couldn’t feel any significant difference in the flight model but I will assume it’s been tweaked to match the “B” variant performance characteristics. It retains the same issues I had with the previous model, however this panel came with a proper magnetic compass, so it was a simple matter of copying out that gauge entry and replacing the magnetic compass gauge in the “A” variant’s panel.cfg file. Also this variant is missing a NAV1 CDI gauge, so I had to copy the gauge from the “A” variant over to the “B” variant. Then I deleted the VOR2 indicator in both. Well at least the panels are better now!

To test these wings out, I departed from Ocean City and headed inland, once again arcing around 13nm out from Atlantic City VOR to end up in the general vicinity of Hammonton Municipal. That worked like a charm and other than some traffic flying through the airspace, I hopped in the pattern and landed without any trouble. Again, I could not discern a noticeable difference in the flight model between this and the “A” variant.

If you’re going to try either of these planes, best to get them both so at least you can swap the gauges!

Bell 430
(Download Link | Image Gallery)

TO THE CHOPPAS!!! Enough of this boring fixed-wing nonsense, let’s check out some heliboppers. And not just any helicopters, but retractable gear choppers. Yes. They are so sexy. There, I said it. Skids are cool and all, but retractable gear is where it’s at. We start with an excellent GMAX model of the Bell 430, which does indeed look rather superb from the outside – the model itself is very smooth and streamlined, especially the exhaust ports, and the textures are well done. The rotor masks are also very nice-looking… but if you down through them you’ll see that they erase ground objects and textures, and the shadow they cast is a blocky texture. Given that this model was made for FSX, it’s a bit disappointing. Moving inside, things aren’t much better. The textures are very low-res, so much so that in some cases you see them stretching across polygons. The instrument panel gauges are not all very crisp, and the ADF guage comes up blank – I had to replace it with the default Bell 206B gauge, which worked okay. Again, thanks to there only being one VC view it’s practically impossible to read the DME gauge all the way over on the copilot’s side. The ADF select numbers are barely readable even when you zoom in. There’s also a gap between the panel and the covering on both corners exposing a little bit of forward view, enough to be annoying and too little to be helpful. A plus though is that you get a basic checklist and performance figures for your kneeboard, and there are a lot of decent liveries for this aircraft from civilian to law enforcement to medical. You can also have some models with skids. In what is sadly a common trend amongst these freeware models, weight and balance is once again ignored, and you can only set the weight for “Station 1″, which I assume is the pilot.

I flew this from Hammonton up to Princeton, and from the Wall Street Heliport around NY harbor in the Port Authority livery to land on the One Police Plaza helipad. The flight to Princeton was done at night so I got to check out the night lighting capabilities and the helicopter was well-equipped with switches for Nav, Beacon, Landing and Panel lights. Turning on panel lights had a strange effect of dimming the external nav lights, but that wasn’t a huge deal. The landing light, however, was not well-implemented – at least for me. Maybe it’s how I have FSX set up or the addition of REX textures but the landing light did not illuminate the ground at all and you could barely see it underneath the helicopter. I’m guessing this isn’t only my problem since someone went and added in Shockwave lights support for this model. Flight dynamics-wise, it’s definitely a different helicopter if you’re used to flying something like the Bell 206. The most noticeable difference is that it turns differently, you can’t bank hard like the 206 without sinking a lot in the process unless you add some power. You’ll also find as you pull back to stop from sinking the helicopter will want to slow to a hover. Speaking of power, for some reason the torque gauge registers 80% torque when my Saitek X52 throttle is at 50% thrust. If I open the throttle fully the torque needle will go all the way to 120. Reminds me of the Stationair’s weird RPM overspeed issue and makes me a bit uncertain of the quality of the flight dynamics.

It’s got issues, and the flight model may possibly be flawed, but it will challenge you in new ways as it handles differently than a stock helicopter and you’ll have to get used to setting up a nice long approach when it comes to landing because there is not much floor visibility once you’re over the pad so you want to see it the whole approach.

Bell 206L Longranger
(Download Link | Image Gallery)

The “L” variant of the 206 is, as its name suggests, for “Long” and that’s a literal interpretation of the variant as it is 30 inches longer than a regular 206. The model is very good looking externally, and there are a decent amount of varieties with the model itself – like having no doors, a camera for a news chopper, a searchlight for a police chopper, floats for a Coast Guard chopper, etc. Unfortunately things like the searchlight are not operable, and in fact the landing light does not exist at all although beacon and navigation lights are there, as is panel lighting. However unless you have these mapped to a joystick or key you’re going to have trouble turning them on since with the exception of the main panel and radio stack the interior cockpit just has flat textures for some control panels that offer no interactivity at all and in some cases are badly stretched over the polygon surface. The rotor mask is better than the 430 in that it doesn’t alter the appearance of object textures, but it still casts an unwanted shadow on the ground beneath the helicopter. There are no checklists or reference speeds included. A 2D panel is included, but there are no extra cockpit views. Again, we have a model with extra cargo capacity, and the weight and balance modeling has no support for it at all, only offering up weight loadouts for “Station 1″ and “Station 2″ which I assume equate to the copilot and pilot, respectively. Bah!

I took this chopper from the pad at One Police Plaza back to Wall Street heliport, buzzing around the city on patrol as I did so. It handles, unsurprisingly, much like the default Bell 206B. The only thing you need to remember is that if you’re ever in a tightly-confined landing zone that you have an extra 30 inches to make room for. Since it basically uses the default Bell 206B panel as well, all the instruments are readable and functional, although you’ll notice that bad texture stretching at the bottom of the radio stack. Actually I think that stretches the Transponder tuner out of sight. Bummer, luckily FSX ATC largely handles that for you anyways! Yea but still…

There’s not much special here, and the lack of weight and balance modeling annoys me, but the thing that makes this aircraft stand out most are the variety of visual models that will add some more role-playing opportunities for you in the sim. Quick, a car chase downtown – hop in the news chopper and get that on Tee Vee!!

Bell 222B
(Image Gallery)

I had intended to review this after flying it but upon searching for the download file I came across a much newer version than the one it seems I currently have installed right now. So you can check out the pictures but I’m going to hold off on my review until I can try the new model, as it sounds from the description alone like it fixes some of the problems I have with this one.

Oh dear, I just spent the majority of the day compiling this entry instead of working on KMIV. Sorry MSEA folks! ;) Will get back to work on that tomorrow… better update the schedule…

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