Aircraft add-on for Microsoft FS9/FSX

“I've spent a lot of time in this aircraft and I'm still enjoying it now as much as I was when the novelty value of having a shiny new toy was at its height.

Everyone, these days, appears to want fast turboprop advanced trainers. PZL make the 130 Orlik, Daewoo/KAI the KT-1 Woong Bee, Embraer the Tucano, which is also license built in the UK by Shorts/Bombardier, and Pilatus of Switzerland the PC-7 and PC-9. They all look pretty similar, they all do the same job, but of the options available, the US, Canadian and several other armed forces have recently selected the PC-9 as their step up from ab-initio trainers for military pilots. American variants of the PC-9 are modified from the standard design, license built by Hawker/Beechcraft and are the current carriers of a proud trainer name and heritage - they are designated T-6 Texan IIs..

Now, for most people, the designation T-6 and the name Texan evokes slab wings, framed canopies and the large Wasp radial of the World War II era trainer. Although the Raytheon Texan II does the same job, the aircraft themselves could not be much more different. For starters, the Texan II has replaced the short, wide, radial-engine-tipped nose with a long thin one housing a Pratt and Whitney PT6 turboprop. The heavily framed canopy has been replaced by a large bubble and the whole chunky "businesslike" fuselage of the North American model is now a slender, streamlined, speed orientated, shape.

So classic T-6 fanatics might be a teensy bit upset that their favourite aircraft has been replaced by a "Playstation Generation plastic toy", but is this rendition of that replacement aircraft any good?

Installation

The Iris Simulation T-6 package comes as a single 104Mb Clickteam executable installer that provides the user with a number of installation options, depending on the sim and the performance level of the system you are installing it to. The four radio buttons allow for DXT or 32-bit graphics for either FS9 or FSX and after making your choice and confirming the path to your chosen simulator, the installation completes to provide the aircraft within the sim and a single "IRIS Pro Series T-6A Texan II" Start menu group, containing the uninstall file link.

The only real comments I have regarding the installer are that it might have been nice to include a link to the documentation (discussed shortly) and, possibly, as someone whose screen is getting seriously bogged down by individual FS add-on folders when I select "All Programs", it might have been better to have two subdirectories installed, say "Iris Simulations" with "Pro Series T-6A Texan II" below it - that way, if you get follow up products from Iris, they only take up one folder at the "root" level, but you can select the different products by hovering the mouse over it. That's just personal preference, however, I think.

Un-installation can be done either by clicking the link provided, or through the Windows Add/Remove programs screen. One thing that is worth mentioning is that if you have installed the add-on to both versions of FS, only the last one installed can be removed automatically (e.g. if you installed to FSX, then FS9, the uninstaller will only remove the FS9 installation). This can be got around fairly easily by reinstalling to FSX then uninstalling it, but it's a bit of a nuisance - it's not Iris's problem, though, it's a problem common to most installation systems that offer multiple installation locations.

Documentation

While the documentation for the Iris T6 is pretty extensive, you won't find it anywhere on your system after install. Instead of providing the manual in the download, Iris have put the entire manual online here. Because the add-on is based on real-world training and operations manuals, the information available is pretty extensive and the intention of the developers is to add more to it over time. This aim is aided by only having a single source to update, rather than a having to provide new downloads for each update. Overall, the idea is pretty good and the information is both easy to find and understand, but there are times when I would have preferred the ability to print a single sheet, such as the checklists, "bold face" emergency actions or aircraft limitations page. Maybe a couple of downloadable PDFs for things such as the checklists, which are unlikely to change, might be an idea?.

When it comes to operating the aircraft, all the numbers and configurations you should need are included, from take-off and approach reference speeds to best glide speed. Most of them are in the checklists and bold face page, for easy access.

I could go on for a long time on this section, saying what is and isn't in the documentation and my opinions of it, but another advantage of the way it has been done is that you can go and take a look for yourself and form your own opinions.

Exterior

With the Service Pack installed, the T-6A package actually consists of two distinct versions of the aircraft - the "standard" advanced trainer version, with no external equipment or stores more than drop tanks, and the AT-6A Counter Insurgency/Weapons Trainer variant, with a sensor pod below the fuselage and hard points for armament (fixed when fitted, not droppable). Both versions come with a number of paint schemes including a number of fictitious ones to go with the real-world Texan II and RCAF Harvard II schemes. The T-6A has more liveries than the AT-6A, but many of these are very similar, for instance the US Navy Patuxent River NAS and USAF Laughlin AFB / Vance AFB liveries are next to identical.

The level of detail in the paints is quite acceptable for the market the aircraft are aimed at, with many of the placards and decals on the models readable when zoomed in, although some are a little "blurry" and pixellated. For those who keep track of such things, the texture files are 1024x1024 size, but the FS9 version having 32bit BMP format and the FSX version DDS format files, with both Bumpmap and Specular layers. The FSX version is a true FSX model with self-shadowing. Although I am running a pure DX9 system and cannot test this, I do not believe that virtual cockpit self shadowing in FSX is supported. A paint kit is included in the installation package, which can be found in an "Iris Paintkits" subfolder off your chosen sim's root directory.

One nice feature of this model, although not a new one by any means, is the ability to use a "Pre-Boarding Checklist" pop-up page to modify the visual model of the aircraft, accessible using the shift-2 panel shortcut. In addition to allowing you to remove the visual model of either one or both pilots, the panel also allows you to position and remove the airframe security and protection covers and wheel chocks.

The usual animated parts are available on the model, plus a number of extra ones such as the canopy handles. Only the canopy is animated as an exit, there are no baggage compartments or maintenance panels that can be opened and peeked inside and the tailhook/wing fold animations are not used.

In general, the aircraft exterior is to the expected high standard of any payware package. It holds no real surprises either way, but is both well designed and very representative of the real aircraft.

Interior

The virtual cockpit is one area that Iris have been working on, following customer feedback regarding earlier products and, while still perhaps not up with "top level" packages, the T-6's cockpit is a perfectly workable environment to fly from. The vast majority of switches and controls are clickable - certainly enough to follow the checklist - and although not all the switches "do something" other than maybe change the status of a light on a warning panel, there's a lot more present than there are in many products aimed at the comparable market. Possibly more to the point, you can operate the aircraft entirely from the VC without having to go to the 2d panel or subpanels to activate things. There are a couple of switches that work using the 2d which don't in the VC, but nothing that would stop you from operating the aircraft - for instance the internal lighting switches on the left side console function independently in 2d, but in the VC only flood lighting is available. The flood lighting, incidentally, is a very atmospheric blue, which works well.

The one possible thing that people might not like about the Texan II's Virtual Cockpit is that some may find it a little "lifeless". The textures on the panels are hand drawn rather than photoreal - I should imagine that getting hold of photographs of a T-6A's panel would be something of a challenge, to be fair - and the inside of the VC itself is very "flat" texture wise. Some areas of the cockpit look a little like untextured renders from Gmax package. If you think that will put you off from getting the model, however, don't. The VC is at least as good as those offered in similar products from competitors and in terms of functionality, a lot higher than many offer.

In terms of 2d panel coverage, the available sub-panels can be selected using a "panel manager" situated above where the pilot's left knee would be. This is also available in the VC, in case you are zoomed out to far to see specific numbers.

Both 2d and VC gauges are very crisp, clear and easy to read. There are a few things that you will need to learn or may not immediately spot, such as that although you click on the active frequency to change numbers, the ones that actually change are the smaller "standby" numbers - you then press a select key to switch frequencies. Of particular interest is the lower of the two displays immediately in front of the pilot, which appears at first glance to be a digital HSI. A quick glance further down, however, reveals a panel very similar to the EFIS panel in an airliner, allowing the mode of the display to be changed. The first press of the ARC button, for instance, changes the HSI to a 70 degree wide arc display. OK, but a second press overlays information from the default GPS database, allowing airports, navaids and waypoints to be shown. This display includes a flightplan line, loaded through the default GPS or planner.

It is worth discussing the GPS at this point, as all models are available in two versions - one with the default GPS500 built into the left side of the panel, and one with partially functional representation of the one in the real aircraft. Although you cannot enter information directly into this unit and none of the buttons have any function at all, it does nevertheless display useful information for navigation. If you program a route using the default flight planner, navigation information, current position and a deviation bar are displayed, allowing for a route to be followed whether a GPS overlay is selected on the navigation display or not. I've done a number of cross country flights in various versions of the T-6 and have used both the default FS and "standard" GPSs - I actually find myself usually flying using the "standard" one. It fits in better with the panel, if nothing else.

As I said at the top of this section, the VC is easily usable to operate the aircraft and, apart from a few drawbacks such as the fact that it is hard to change navigation display settings without switching to a 2d panel, it is definitely the way I choose to fly. Both 2d and 3d, however, are very usable and acceptable. I suspect that some users may be put off still by Iris's past reputation regarding VCs, but until very recently that group would have included me. In my opinion, this model is a good step forward for Iris. I am also informed that they intend to continue development of it, so hopefully there may be even more new toys to play with as time passes!

Flying

One of the features of the real world T-6A is that it is designed not to teach students how to fly a high performance prop aircraft, but instead as a lead-in to jet trainers. To this end, and simulated in this package, the aircraft is fitted with a system called "TAD" or Trim Aid Device. If you, like me, have a real problem keeping high performance props such as Spitfires and Mustangs (even the WW2 Texan!) in a straight line on takeoff, this is your dream come true - an electronic widget that automatically adjusts the rudder trim in response to engine torque and keeps you going straight down the runway, the same as you would in a jet. It also sets the tone nicely for how the aircraft in general flies and handles. It's an advanced trainer - you should know how to "just fly" by the time you get into it, so it provides you with as few surprises and quirks as possible. You are, after all, sitting in that seat to learn different things, or just at a faster speed, now.

The engine is limited, unless you push the lever forward to quickly, to a maximum of 100% torque and following your comparatively short takeoff run with a single stage of flap extended, you will find yourself rotating into a climb at around 100knots. The T-6 climbs easily, with no real engine management involved, and can be trimmed in pitch easily to maintain both a steady rate of climb and straight and level.

As I implied in the first paragraph of this section, the Iris T-6A is a very stable and easy aircraft to fly. On a cross country sector, you will be cruising at speeds approaching 250KIAS with 75-80% Torque at any reasonable flight level. I haven't tested the ceiling on the flight model, but spent some considerable time playing with the airliners in the lower flight levels during one cross country flight I made.

Stall speeds in the T-6A, flying with just the student on board and 33% fuel in the tanks, were 96KIAS clean and 77KIAS in approach configuration. With the instructor back and full tanks, the clean stall goes up to 99KIAS and approach configuration this drops to around 75KIAS again, although I got a different figure every time I tried!

Normally speaking a stall in this model is easily controllable, a relatively stable wings-level, nose high descent, and recovery is simply a matter of lowering the nose and advancing the throttle. If you fail to do this however, or provoke the aircraft with the ailerons and rudder, it will drop a wing and spin - I found it easier to enter a spin to the right than the left. The spin is conventional, as is recovery. You do need altitude to do it, however, and a low level spin will almost definitely be fatal.

Provided you survive your excursion from controlled flight, however, presumably at some point you will want to land - a task made difficult by the aircraft's innate "slipperiness" and easier, in turn, by the inclusion of an Angle of Attack indexer on the left side of the glareshield. If you've never learned to use one of these to help keep a constant speed on an approach, I can highly recommend them. They are, however, normally fitted to carrier aircraft so I'm not quite sure why the T-6 has one. I'll have to ask that. Approach speeds are are generally in the area of 100KIAS with full flap - the checklist says 90, but I find the nose attitude very high at that speed and you are fighting the AoA "donut" rather than using it. 100KIAS is a lot more stable approach. You will find, unless you begin your approach a long way out and are good at power management, that getting from a cruise speed down to 100KIAS in a descent is far from easy. Fortunately, the T-6 is fitted with an under-fuselage speedbrake/spoiler, which makes losing speed a lot easier and I found myself using it a lot to get down quickly. At any speed, if you find yourself losing it and need to go around, this is the point at which the TAD kicks in again and the aircraft climbs away straight ahead with the simple addition of power and a little up elevator movement.

Overall, the T-6 package in both guises can be summed up as an extremely stable flight model, easy to trim and suitable for pretty much any skill level of pilot.

Conclusion

I've spent a lot of time in this aircraft since receiving the review copy (rather too long in fact, I'd planned to release this review well before Christmas!!!) and am still enjoying it now as much as I was when the novelty value of having a shiny new toy was at its height.

Some of you may know that I have been quite vocal in the past about my opinions of Iris aircraft and, at times, David Brice, who heads up the team. The latter problem was, as usual, solved by sitting down and talking to the guy. The former has been very much changed by this latest release.

I think the T-6 Texan II is a little bit of a labour of love for Iris, in that they didn't intend to finish with it as soon as it had "been completed", but to come back to it in the future and add things as they learn how. That's definitely not to say it's a bad aircraft now or unfinished - it's not, it's complete and good in its own right, but I very much hope that the wish is carried through to fulfilment. Service pack 1 is proof of that - adding new models in addition to correcting a number of things, but it's the little things that always take the longest and that's now all that can be really added to this aircraft - the GPS, mainly. You may also have seen that David has been experimenting with droppable ordinance as part of a package with another developer. Maybe that's something else we'll see on the AT-6A given time? The website states that amongst other things, they intend to add the newer T-6B and AT-6B to the line as well.

Even right now, however, I really like this package. It's another one that'll stay installed for some considerable time.

Find out more about the Pro Series T-6/A Texan II  at the Iris web site or simMarket.

If you'd like to comment on this review, please use our forum to do so.


Ian Pearson is a real world CAA PPL-IMC qualified pilot who has been hooked on civilian flight simming since Mail Pilot on the Commodore 64 and Thalion Airbus on the Amiga. He joined the MS Flightsim world with FS4 and almost immediately FS5.1CD, which was when his first attempt at designing aircraft went seriously pear shaped and he gave up. He has Beta tested for a number of well-known organisations and teams from FS98 through to the present day, but still hasn't found a way of making his addiction to Flight Simulation pay for itself, so officially works in the railway industry in the real world.

Nick Churchill has been providing images for marketing purposes of Flight Simulator products for several years and claims that staring at a virtual cockpit for too long can make you go blind.

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