Looking at a bunch of similar aircraft over the last few days, I wondered why we have so many similar aircraft in the sim. Besides the obvious problem…that we are literally almost drowning in 737s, why so many similar, or even duplicate aircraft. For a sim with just a few developers (compared to “that other platform”) we are still struggling to bring all the world’s most popular aircraft to the party. Still. After. All. These. Years.
Yet, when you get right down to it, we DO have a nice, working variety of both commercial and general aviation aircraft in X-plane. What we lack, generally speaking, is a CHOICE of developers when it comes to almost any particular aircraft. If you want a payware quality MU-2, well, there’s Tom Kyler’s over at X-Aviation. If you want a 727 just head right on over to the Org Store for Jack’s Fly-J-Sim series. If you happen to want a 737, well, we got that covered, don’t we? Like…what flavor do you want?
Where we do have the most choice, for the most part, can be found in the area of General Aviation aircraft, and while it might be easy to think that all we have are choices between various Carenado models, we actually have a thriving GA aircraft development community regularly cranking out a steady supply of new files. Truly…not a bad position to be in, from either a market standpoint or as a customer, and I don’t hear too many complaints. And there are probably a bunch of people, both in the X-plane community and among the enlightened masses still enthralled with the whole “flight model on rails” thing, that have no idea of this diversity (after all, to the FsX/P3D world we’re the dead sim with no future whatsoever…).
So, I was looking over the Alabeo Piper PA31 Chieftain 350 the other day and I got to thinking…just how similar is the Alabeo file to Carenado’s PA31 Navajo? Or…how about the various Carenado Bonanza’s…because of the three available only one is truly Xp 11 compliant? And how many Cessna files do you have in your aircraft folder…aside from the default Cessna 172? How many developers are behind all those Cessna’s? Just one?
Well, perhaps its time to take a look at a few of these files, make a few obvious comparisons of our own, and with that in mind today we’re going to take a look at those big, heavy Pipers, then the three Bonanzas, and then a few of those single engine Cessna’s. How ’bout a few turboprops? We can do that next time out. Mooneys? Well, we did that – two months ago, so maybe we can round up a few Pipers singles for our next edition…
So, let’s look at those heavy Pipers twins today. Ready?
Yes, we’ve looked at both PA31s recently, but not side-by-side, as it were. So, let’s start by looking at that gorgeous Carenado Navajo, a very new file:
There’s a lot to love about this panel. It’s IFR ready with a radar altimeter, a full-featured HSI, as well as a Lean Assist module for help getting those power settings just right. There’s also full instrumentation on the right side, if that’s important to you. Lighting is fully realized and the aircraft looks brand-new. Performance is little less startling than in the Chieftain 350, but for someone looking for a heavy GA-IFR platform…look no further. This is a v11 file, too, and it shows in HDR lighting and with full PBR materials onboard…
In short, this is a really nice aircraft – and one of our very favorite GA files in Xp. If you want to move up from a Baron this should be on your list.
Score: 5 out of 5
Alabeo’s PA31 Chieftain 350 is virtually the same aircraft as the Navajo – and sports almost the same panel, but they’ve chosen to weather this one and “modernize” the panel with a G500 unit. Everything works but the beat-up effects just don’t work as well, not for me, anyway. The G500 unit offers all kinds of Bells and Whistles, yet there’s no radar altimeter and no Lean Assist module. There’s also a hodge-podge of lighting on this panel, so the net effect is simply not as coherent as the Navajo’s. Performance, with those twin turbocharged 350HP Lycomings – with counter rotating props, is nothing short of amazing.
This file is aimed at pilots wanting to get into the commuter airliner environment, and it works quite well for those with more experience. Newbies might want to keep away from this one until they’re comfortable in a Baron class airplane. A weird mix of avionics and funky lighting hurt this file’s score.
Score: 4 out of 5
Now let’s look at three classic Beech Bonanzas; all three are Carenado files but only one is an Xp v11 compliant file. Will that make a big difference? Well, let’s take a look, from oldest file to newest:
The panel on this file barely works these days in anything other than bright sunlight. Even in twilight conditions most instruments are difficult to read, while at night the situation turns dangerous. This v3.2 file was made for Xp10; it barely passes muster in v11 and is in serious need of a makeover. Too bad, as the old V-tail is an iconic aircraft that deserves better.
If you can stand daylight only OPS, however, this old file still delivers a decent flight model and a reasonably well equipped panel. As such it’s a viable choice for some.
Score: 3 out of 5
Another v3.2 Xp10 holdover, this A36 suffers from funky panel lighting and an almost bizarre choice of instruments. First, there’s no internal instrument lighting (except on the Aspen panel) and that squirrelly looking green lighting is either full on or all off, no in-between. And there are two sets of flight controls, yet the right side has zero primary flight instrumentation. But…the “36” has always been Beechcraft’s Flagship Model Bonanza…the most well-equipped – usually for the buyer who says “cost is no object.” I can’t see this model without a radar altimeter; further, I’d rather have a top of the line HSI than this glass rig. Anyway, the Aspen setup has not kept pace with the G1000NXi and this panel has room for the full NXi kit. Don’t believe it? Well then, take a look at the current Beech catalogue, at the 2018 G36 Bonanza.
Score: 3 out of 5
The venerable (and venerated) F33A Bonanza is currently the only model Carenado has updated to full V11 compliance – and it shows. Panel lighting is perfect, yet there’s still not a viable set of flight instruments on the right side. This panel IS equipped with a radar altimeter and a full-featured HSI, and in my book this is optimal unless moving up to the full G1000NXi. (note the right side instruments afforded on the factory G1000 installation below!). Still, for solo operation in X-plane it just doesn’t get any better than this, with a rock solid flight model and an amazing panel.
Unless you can manage to get your hands on this, the F33A is the best Bonanza in Xp11…
…and as such, the Carenado F33A earns a solid 5 out of 5, and yes, this too is one of my favorite GA aircraft files.
Now, let’s wrap up today’s post with a look at several Cessna singles.
The General Aviation world has been, for as long as I can remember, a divided place. Some pilots swear by Cessna, think they’re the best small singles ever, while other swear at Cessnas, any Cessna. Same for Piper and Beechcraft, and like the rest of our belief structures we tend to either inherit or adopt our parents beliefs. My dad liked Beechcrafts, always had a Bonanza or a Baron, though for a while he had a C210. And – predictably – he detested anything made by Piper, but this was after a few less than fun experiences with a Cherokee Six.
So it is funny, though not wildly unpredictable, that the same thing holds true in X-plane – to a degree. I am my father’s son, which means, I think, that my likes were – to a degree – informed by his, yet the beauty of a desktop flight simulator like Xp is that you can try things you might otherwise never get a chance to try.
And that’s why I love the Piper Navajo, pure and simple – in X-plane, at least. I’ve flown a Navajo on multiple occasions and I thought they were poorly built, but those aircraft were consigned to hauling heavy loads of air freight night after night, year after year. Though well maintained, they looked like hell and the engines always ran rough, but those airframes were racking up hours like crazy. Still, those airfreight companies had Cessna 404s and 414s too, and a bunch of old, beat up Barons, yet the Pipers were most everyones least favorite choice on those long West Texas nights.
So, this is my way of telling you I’m biased, because I am my father’s son. And I happen to love Cessna singles, as well as Beech Bonanzas, so read the following with a grain of salt.
When I got back into X-plane last October one of the first aircraft I opened was Laminar’s (so-called default) Cessna 172 Skyhawk, and after a five year break away from the sim its safe to say I was completely stunned by what I saw. The current 172 looks nothing like the last version I’d used, and in truth I think Laminar’s acf is about 99% as good as most GA singles out there, free or payware.
And then, a few weeks later, the G1000 equipped model came out. What a game changer.
You take an excellent model and build a breathtaking panel, texture it perfectly then add the absolute best mix of avionics there is. What else can you say? The G1000 equipped 172 is one of the best GA singles in X-plane, and I use it all the time because its both fun and fascinating to use.
So it’s no wonder why so many first time simmers come to X-plane and never venture beyond this aircraft file. Yes, it’s that good. No, it’s not perfect, but I’d be hard pressed to find a good reason not to recommend it to people new to the sim, or to the idea of flying generally. This is a docile, well equipped version that just happens to be a blast to fly, especially for people new to flying (even if this is a sim). This 172 is a confidence builder, forgiving in the way the real 172 is – especially when compared to a C150 or Cherokee 140, which many new pilots move up to after 40 or so hours in the smaller trainer. Then again, I’ve heard 707 captains say it was easier to land that airliner than a Cessna 150, but who knows, maybe they were Piper People!
Score: 5 out of 5
Alabeo’s new Cardinals (yes, plural, as both fixed and retractable geared models are included) may well be the best aircraft file someone new to X-plane should consider moving up to – after they’ve exhausted the 172 Skyhawk, that is. With similar handling characteristics AND a retractable gear, if all you think you ever want out of X-plane is to fly GA singles this could easily be the file to get.
This is a ridiculously easy airplane to fly, what I’d call a total confidence builder. The panel is well equipped for VFR, while light IFR duties are possible too. Aside from the retractable gear, flying this aircraft is no more complicated than flying the Skyhawk, though because of the gear there’s an honest increase in speed and range. Because it’s an Alabeo file, all the neat features on the exterior model are right there, and again, as this is a fully up to date v11 file there’s HDR lighting and full PBR materials everywhere you look. In short, the visuals are simply excellent.
Here’re a few images of a quick trip I made from KTTF Custer to KMBS, about 80 miles north of Detroit. The KMBS file from Turbulent is one of the very best airports released so far this year, so please do check it out.
Again, this is an easy rider that ought to keep a smile on your face for years.
So yes, this is a v3.2 version, so it’s an Xp10 file that’s received a few tweaks to make it work well enough to stretch the file’s shelf life until a full v11 makeover can be delivered, but I’ve had very few problems with this file in the latest versions of the sim. Yes, a few manipulators don’t work too well, and yes, things aren’t as “pretty” as a file that’s received the full v11 treatment, but I love this Carenado Stationair, aka the Cessna 206.
This is an airplane you might find up in Alaska, or perhaps in Africa running medicine and lab work for MSF. Both the 206 and the 207 were Cessna’s biggest singles – until the 208 Grand Caravan came along – and for singles these birds are really bigger than expected out on a ramp. While not the fastest planes around, with one pilot onboard they can haul a bunch of stuff, reliably and through almost any kind of weather. And perhaps that’s why Cessna is still making the Stationair. If you’ll look at the link you’ll see the panel Carenado has put in this file is letter perfect to what Cessna is putting in their latest bird.
Combine that with a great flight model, decent sounds, and generally solid manipulators on the panel and you have the makings of a real classic. A non-G1000 version is also available.
Score: 5 out of 5
The 207 is a stretched variant of the 206, built from the late-60s through 1984, and the aircraft was (and is) popular with air-taxi operators. Later models went from seven to eight seats, and inadvertent tail-strikes became an issue. Too much linguini, eh Pauly?
This is a relatively new model by Alabeo and is fully Xp11 compliant; unfortunately there’s not a good way to make a black panel look like anything other than a big, black hole – so there’s just not a lot of contrast on this panel at night. This is a fairly simple panel, too, with basic IFR OPS possible but nothing more serious. The Garmin 530 is a nice touch, but there’s no instrumentation on the right side for a second pilot.
The exterior model is truly exceptional, and in practice Alabeo’s model feels as polished as Carenado’s 206. Still, I simply don’t like the black panel, especially at night.
Score: 4 out of 5
The 210 is one of Cessna’s most popular singles, and was produced from the late-50s through 1986; more than 20 Variants were produced, including two turbocharged/pressurized models. The 210 my dad bought was a second hand model that had been purchased new by the University of Nebraska Dept of Meteorology to do research on thunderstorms; it was a turbocharged model with an oxygen system onboard, and needless to say, any aircraft purchased to do research on thunderstorms in Tornado Alley has to be one tough mother.
The earliest 210s had a strut supported wing, but after the B-model the struts were gone – and yet somehow wing strength was never an issue on these aircraft. Well, Cessna has always had a reputation for superior engineering and great build quality. Anyway, my dad loved the airplane and so did I; though I only got to fly hands-on in it a few times you could tell it was something quite special, with a tremendous climb rate and a very smooth ride. The retractable landing gear provided kind of a springy effect on touchdown, too, and as the aircraft was relatively heavy there was very little “Cessna float” on your flare.
This is one of Carenado’s best GA singles ever, with tremendous panel lighting a highlight. I’ve included three images above showing three lighting permutations: 1) floods only; 2) floods and about half panel lighting (on a rheostat), and; 3) floods and full panel lighting. There are four lighting controls in addition to the red floods, so “getting it right” is easy to accomplish. Sounds are another highlight, and both the gears and flaps are satisfyingly clunky sounding.
There are dual Garmins, a good HSI as well as, oddly enough, a backup horizon on the far left side of the panel, but little on the right side. I’d prefer to see a radar altimeter in place of the extra horizon, and a lean assist module on the right side; other than that this is as fine a GA file as you’ll find in X-plane. In fact, the only other GA singles as good as this are the Carenado F33A Bonanza and Alabeo’s new Mooney M20 Ovation. The panel is a little too blue for my taste; a little more gray wouldn’t look so weird, but that’s just me, I guess.
Score: 5 out of 5
So, we’ll try to make a few more obvious comparisons over the next week or so. We’ll see you next time. Adios –