The new girls look different from the rest of the birds down at the ramp. The slant of their foreheads, those long willowy limbs, their stylish couture. They just must be French. As it turns out, they’re not your average French girls, either. Their family has a noble provenance stretching back to the dawn of powered flight. Their great-grandfather fought down low, skimming the foul air over the muddy trenches of Belgium. He was the first fighter ever, it’s said—the Morane-Saulnier L. Their grandfather, the M.S. 406, saw action in the opening days of WWII, but was unfortunately no match for the more nimble Bf-109.
In 1966, the girls’
family changed its name from Morane-Saulnier to Societe de Construction
d'Avions de Tourisme et d'Affaires, shortened for daily use to
SOCATA., and it’s from that branch of this notable clan that we have the
attractive pair of avions reviewed here, the solid and reliable SOCATA
TB200GT Tobago, and her wilder sister, the TB21GT Trinidad.
The Trinidad and Tobago in Flight Sim
The FS versions of these sleek and nimble craft are the brainchild of William Ortis, the lead developer behind Lionheart Creations, an up-and-coming studio that’s developing quite a catalogue of fine and unusual sim aircraft. If the TB collection is any measure, this is definitely a studio to watch.
Research for this review was done by flying the TB collection in FS2004, however they are also somewhat compatible with the new FSX. I installed in that sim as well, and while they show up in the aircraft menu, and can be selected and flown, the Becker radio stack on the Tobago doesn’t display in the FSX VC. I’ve been told Lionheart are aware of the problem, and are working on a solution. The setup was quick and painless as an installer should be. In addition to the aircraft, there’s an HTML manual with information on the TB line, including a brief history, an overview of the two models offered, and flying tips for each. This is a good start, however I would have liked to see more precise information for operating the aircraft, like a detailed checklist, performance charts, and a table of power settings. Granted, these aren’t heavy jets and don’t carry an airliner’s level of complexity, but a real pilot of one of these fine Socatas would need more than the information offered with this package. I did a little searching online, and wasn’t able to come up with much more information than Lionheart offered, however, so it’s possible that it simply wasn’t available to him. It’s a shame, but doesn’t affect the flying experience much unless you’re a numbers junkie.
Having given the
manual a cursory once-over and determined that this was a fairly simple
pair of birds to operate, I proceeded to load up a Trinidad for a test
flight. Here’s where you really begin to see the value in this package.
With each Socata, there are a host of livery options, many of them quite
wild and stylish. In the same way that the rakish lines and unusual angles
of the TB series telegraph their unique family lineage, the choice of
paint jobs sets them apart from the other planes at the tie-downs. Nobody
is going to confuse your TB21 in her day glow yellow and blue waves for a
Cessna, of that you can be certain.
The exterior lines of the Tobago and the Trinidad are nearly identical. They both feature a long cowling that starts with a pair of rectangular intake boxes, then sweeps in a long arc back to a stylishly raked windscreen, past that to a gracefully tapered fuselage, and a most unusual empennage arrangement. Both models feature a stabilator in place of the usual stabilizer/elevator combo, which is set behind and clear of the vertical stabilizer and rudder. The primary exterior difference between the two models is the arrangement of their landing gear—the Tobago’s is fixed, while the Trinidad sports retractable wheels perched on a pair of thick oleos that appear designed for carrier landings.
Both the TB200 and the TB21 are a delight to examine up close. To aid this, you can remove the cowling from the engines using the stock FS “wing fold” key command (you may have to set this up if you haven’t already—I don’t think it’s assigned by default in FS9) to reveal highly detailed version of the flat four-cylinder Lycoming in the Tobago, and the turbocharged six-cylinder in the Trinidad. If you’re into engines, these are beauties, resplendent with full detailing, including wires and plumbing. Even if your experience with aero engines is limited to checking the occasional oil level, these are worth a look.
endeavour, you probably won’t be alone. These TB girls tend to draw a
crowd, and you wouldn’t want to let public down. Reach over and pop the
latch on the doors (shift-e) and stand back as the gullwing ports
majestically rise, revealing the plush interior to a hushed rustle of
“oohs” and “ahhs”.
I am an unabashed fan of the VC in general for GA flying. I think it lends a greater sense of immersion and control to be able to flick my head around the cockpit, checking my situation and while keeping an eye on my gauges. This action is aided by the addition of a TrackIR head tracking device. I wouldn’t fly without one now.
Fortunately for those who share my VC obsession, Lionheart have included virtual cockpits in both TB models. Ducking your head into the well-appointed interior will reveal styling and layout more akin to a high-end automobile than your typical GA aircraft. The seats have an inviting contour, and face a unique triple-pod instrument panel. The left pod houses the instruments you’d expect for IFR flight, including the big six, an ADF and a VOR2 receiver. The right pod is outfitted with a tachometer, backup attitude indicator, 2 backup VOR receivers, chronometer, manifold pressure/fuel burn gauge, EGT temp, and a backup VSI.
The centre console contents are the primary interior difference between the Tobago and the Trinidad. In the Tobago, the narrow vertical space is consumed by a Becker radio stack, with 2 Comm, 2 Nav, Transponder and ADF radios. Their operation is simple, and they get the job done, but there’s nothing in the stack to get hot and bothered about.
The centre of the Trinidad ‘pit, however, contains some truly mouth-watering goodies in the form of the full SimFlyer Garmin suite. This is one of the strongest selling points for this package. The SimFlyer rig includes a GNS530 GPS unit, a GNS430 GPS, GMA340 audio panel, and a GTX330 Transponder, along with an ADF radio at the bottom. Taken as a unit, they provide a capable and advanced set of avionics, suitable for nearly any kind of flying from sunny day kiting to piercing a snowstorm on a midnight run. To get a look at the full features and operation of this setup, visit the tutorial by clicking here.
At the foot of the centre console is the throttle quadrant, with the throttle, prop, and mixture levers mounted jet-style, and a handful of switches to turn on various electrical and lighting components.
For weary flyers and the chronically lazy, each TB is fitted with a rudimentary but functional S-Tec 50 autopilot. The Trinidad goes one better and adds a King altitude selector into which you can pre-program a target altitude for basic Vnav. Actually, both planes have this unit, but it’s not technically part of the Tobago panel, and must be operated via a pop-up window instead of directly in the VC.
pop-up panels, I’ll take a second to reassure the 2D panel lovers that
they have been catered to also by Ortis and company. The flat panel is
serviceable but rudimentary looks-wise, with a set of stock FS gauges. It
takes up a considerable amount of the screen, so I wouldn't necessarily
recommend this view for approaches, but to each his own. This is one of
those planes where there’s very little advantage to a 2D view, in my
Wave off the drooling bystanders and climb in, it’s time to get things moving. As mentioned earlier, the checklists are not detailed, but better a basic list than none at all. The engine sounds have an appropriate level of “growl”, but I’d have preferred a set of headphone-dampened noises for the interior. Taxiing towards the runway, the plane will bob and weave unless you keep a light foot on the rudder the throttles open just a crack. I rolled over to the run-up area at my local airport (KTTD) and set about the usual business of getting ready to call for takeoff clearance when I noticed two things; the first is that the keys were swinging to and fro on their fob, dangling from the ignition. This is a nice detail that’s reminiscent of the king of such things, Bill Lyons. The second surprise wasn’t as welcome. Apparently, in these models you can’t switch the various magnetos on/off for testing. There seems to be just one animation of ignition, turning the key to the right and then back. Details, details. I guess I’ve never had an FS magneto fail on me in flight. In the real world, it’s another story…
I got my takeoff clearance and prepared myself to climb into the sky. One of the last items was to double-check that I’d set takeoff trim on the elevator trim wheel. This is only available in the VC, which is fine by me. I applied power evenly, splitting my attention between the centre line charging towards me, the manifold pressure readout, and my airspeed. This is where the TrackIR really shines. As I approached 25” manifold pressure, the engine sound grew frantic. I applied a touch of back pressure to the yoke and felt the nose wheel lift off at around 50 knots. Passing through 60, I pulled back a little more on the yoke, and the Trinidad lifted off in short order. I found that more nose-up trim was required before I could ease off on the yoke. I stowed the wheels and settled into a nice 1100fpm climb at 90KIAS.
The TB21 GT is quite the little sports car in the air. I was able to maintain my climb with little effort, levelling out at 10,000’ for a cruise to the coast. Once at altitude and headed in approximately the right direction, I switched on the S-Tec 50 and engaged both the altitude and nav holds. The click spots are a little tough to hit in the VC, but a popup is provided if you want to fight the mouse less when engaging the unit. Owing to the quickness of this bird, the ocean loomed large in my windscreen in no time, and I dropped down over the coast range, reverting to manual control of the plane. I found the pitch to be more sensitive to power changes than trim settings, causing me to struggle with the trim to get it set just right. Bleeding off airspeed in a descent requires a healthy throttling back, but as I approached KONP I was able to slow to the recommended 120 knots. On downwind I lowered the gear and a notch of flaps. There are only two flap settings in the TB: takeoff and landing. It seems advisable to use the takeoff setting until you’re fairly slow and have the runway made. In practice, I found it often unnecessary to use full flaps at all.
Keeping one eye
on the runway and the other on the airspeed indicator, I found I had to
carry a significant amount of power, even with half flaps, to maintain 70
knots. As the white stripes rose to meet me, I recalled the manual’s
admonition about the enhanced TB ground effect, and made sure
I wasn’t too fast as I began my flare. The float I experienced, or lack
thereof, didn’t mesh with the documentation, and I clopped firmly onto the
runway just before I thought I would. I’ll need to get that gear looked
at, but all in all it was quite a satisfying flight. I can definitely see
the appeal of the real-world application of these lovely birds.
The weather was unseasonably clear and balmy after I set down in Newport, so I grabbed a Snickers from the FBO and came back out to the ramp to give my Trinidad another inspection. Some interesting details became apparent as I poked around. For one thing, the luggage compartment opens (shift-e-2) revealing a load of good-looking bags that I didn’t know were there. I fumbled around the interior and discovered that I could move the back on the co-pilot's seat by clicking it, and also open the ashtray. Is that some Trinidad and Tobago currency in there?
After flying both versions of the TB offered in this package, I’m left with a nagging question: if you could fly the Trinidad, why on earth would you opt for the stodgier Tobago? I suppose if you had time in a real-world TB200, you might opt for that model in the sim as well, and of course it’s pretty hard to belly land a fixed gear aircraft, so there’s that simplicity going for it. Given the fact that we don’t have to pay for virtual insurance and care nothing for fuel slips, I’ll go with the sleeker, faster Trinidad every time. Besides, those SimFlyer avionics are hard to pass up.
These are very
well executed sim versions of a pair of interesting planes. The hardest
decision a virtual pilot will face will be whether to fly from spot view
to ogle their sexy lines, or the VC to enjoy their sumptuous interiors.
The flaws I found were minor, and ultimately didn’t detract much from my
enjoyment of flying them. For anyone with Cessna exhaustion or the
Beechcraft blues, these Socatas make a lively addition to the hangar.
Oops, gotta run. Some lookie-loo with a corn dog is about to drip mustard
on my leather seats!
Images by Nick Churchill