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An extraordinary Cessna 172S Skyhawk SP

Introduction

Let me be honest from the start …. X-Plane does provide a default Cessna 172 Skyhawk. Then there’s Carenado who offers a Cessna C172II Skyhawk and also the Cessna C172RG (Retractable Gear). With Airfoillabs we have another Cessna C172 or to be exactly, the C172S Skyhawk SP.

OK, the default C172 is so so, and that’s it. The Carenado C172 models offer much higher quality aircraft, so why should there be another C172 model? Normally this question isn’t so easy to answer since every developer wants their share in sales, but in this case the Airfoillabs C172S Skyhawk SP has many additional features I haven’t seen before. It’s already for a while on the market, and recently updated – May 2017 – for X-Plane 11. What it does offer, we will see that in a minute.

By the way, according to Juraj Rovensky “the aircraft model is a replica of the real model build in 2001, just before Cessna included the Garmin G1000 in the instrument panel.”

After some time playing and testing around with the Airfoillabs model, I’ve decided that I dedicate this Airfoillabs review to X-Plane 11. I did do some tests on X-Plane 10.51, but that basically gave the same results. The only things that would be different are the higher frame rates, the possibility to have a medium texture package and the environment looks different and therefore my screenshots. Even for me as experienced reviewer, I see many challenges by using X-Plane 11 instead.

But First Things First

We need to have a look at the installation process, what to configure (Rendering Options), the manuals to study and the additional user liveries to download.

Downloading
Normally there’s no need to highlight the downloading process, but there’s a bit more choice from the X-Plane.Org store page then you normally would expect and because of that, I thought it would be an idea to highlight this briefly.

As you can see on the 3 screenshots below, you’ve got the choice out of:
– AFL+Product+Manager+Windows+Installer.exe
– AFL+Product+Manager+MacOSX+Installer.app.zip
– AFL+Product+Manager+Linux+Installer.jar

I think it may be clear that you can choose for a Windows, Mac or Linux installer, but here’s more, applicable to each OS.

You can go for the Airfoillabs program manager that is not only the installer but it also offers you, whenever available, auto product update. This is a very handy option since there’s no longer a need to check if an updated product is released and thus the need to re-download the updated package. How this all works can be found by following the additional links below the Airfoillabs product manager.

And then, more or less at the end of each OS description, you’ll find the stand-alone X-Plane 10.51 non auto-update package with a separate link to the liveries.

The same is also applicable for the standalone X-Plane 11 package. All the liveries, optimized for X-Plane 11, are included in the aircraft package. But keep in mind, this package is not automatically updated when new released are available and therefore it is not the recommended X-Plane 11 package.

Installation
The installation process is simple. I have chosen for this time for the standalone installer, so the package that offers no update service. If you have not already done so, unzip the X-Plane 10 package and then copy and paste the complete folder into, for example, the ‘General Aviation’ folder under “aircraft”. You can, if you prefer, install it into a newly created sub-folder of General Aviation named ‘Airfoillabs’.

When you’re an X-Plane 11 simmer, and thus downloaded the standalone X-Plane 11 package, you can decide to install the Airfoillabs package in either the Laminar Research folder or create, again, your own Airfoillabs folder.

At startup of X-Plane 10.51 or X-Plane 11, and loading the Airfoillabs aircraft, an online or offline registration is needed. It’s an easy and accurate procedure to register your C172S Skyhawk SP. If you’ve done this sort of registration process before, it feels familiar, but don’t worry if you’re new to this, you’ll see how easy it is.

Documents
When you browse through the C172S Skyhawk SP folder you find a sub folder named ‘Documents’. This folder consists of three Acrobat files:
– License
– AIRFOILLABS Health Warning
– MANUAL

The License document is, I may assume, self-explanatory.
The AIRFOILLABS Health Warning document is something I’ve never come across before, but the fact that’s it’s included suggests that this can happen. The one page document deals with the topic ‘individuals may experience epileptic seizures’ when exposed to playing video games for example. As mentioned, I’ve never seen such a warning before and am not sure how often this would happen.

The last document is the MANUAL and you would therefore expect a user guide of the Cessna C172S Skyhawk SP, but the only text on this single page document is ‘Check for manual updates here: http://www.airfoillabs.com’.

At first instance, I found this rather weird. Why not just include the linked Acrobat file in the package? On the other hand, you have to have an Internet connection anyway, otherwise you would not have been able to download the package and register. The idea is according to Airfoillabs, to offer a link to the Airfoillabs website where you can always find the latest manual? Just view it as a different approach and in my opinion not a bad idea!

Once you’ve downloaded the manual from their website or read the contents via your Web browser, I would suggest you print it if you can. The MANUAL of 37 pages has a lot of information about the requirements, rendering options, installation instructions and possible problems, custom commands, predefined camera views, first steps, towing and the menu system.

It must be noted that the provided manual, as of this writing, is only for X-Plane 10 and not updated for X-Plane 11. This means, the Rendering Settings screenshots in this manual are from X-Plane 10 and another surprise, the X-Plane 10 version has 3 different aircraft texture packages; high, medium and low.

What I miss are the necessary manuals/documents of the flight and aircraft system instruments. Also, there’s nothing about the Bendix/King and Garmin added to the package.

Liveries
The Airfoillabs C172SP for X-Plane 11 comes with 10 liveries of which one is a blank texture set. The other liveries are:
– N791JR- (Airfoillabs house),
– OK-DSF (Czech Republic)
– D-ESAE (green/orange waves)
– F-HFPL (brown/grey waves)
– N978AP (dark purple waves)
– N47332A (red/old blue)
– N47332B (light green/black)
– N47332C (light brown/purple)
– PH-KBA (KLM Aeroclub)

The above liveries are included in the X-Plane 11 Airfoillabs package while the same amount of liveries are also available for X-Plane 10.51, however, here the liveries are provided as a separate package and thus not included in the aircraft pack. At the time of writing, June, 2017, I found only one Airfoillabs livery at X-Plane.Org namely the Unbranded Livery for Airfoillabs Cessna 172 1.2.

First Impressions – Startup and Menus

Starting up
At startup of the Airfoillabs Cessna, you’re presented with a “Loading Aircraft Systems” window, followed by a “Welcome screen”. In the lower right-hand corner of the “Loading Aircraft Systems” window”, you can see which aircraft version you’re using. In this case it’s XP11 1.1.

The Welcome screen window can be disabled as well as that you can mute the aural welcome explanation. Oops, almost forgotten … do you go for the high- or low-resolution aircraft textures model? Right, you can choose for the low-resolution aircraft textures which are 2K or you go for the high-resolution aircraft textures. Those are 4K. Since my iMac is powerful enough, I go for the high-resolution textures. Except for the X-Plane 11 having only high and low-resolution textures sets, the other popup windows are the same with X-Plane 10.51.

X-Plane 11 screenshots

I could jump into the cockpit, start the engine and fly away, but perhaps it’s a better idea to first highlight in more detail the menus (applicable to both X-Plane 10.51 and X-Plane 11). Ho ho, hold on. For those who still use X-Plane 10.51, it would be a good idea to highlight a bit more the different texture sets. You’re able to load the following “acf” aircraft files:
– Airfoillabs_C172SP_high_res.acf
– Airfoillabs_C172SP_medium_res.acf
– Airfoillabs_C172SP_low_res.acf

As expected, the ‘high_res’ or high-resolution textures are used to give the aircraft model the best quality while medium is for reduced definition (file size smaller) and the low resolution with the smallest file provides the basic version. So far not difficult, right?

Which one you choose depends on your PC or Mac specification. Of course, the high-resolution textures are gorgeous, but if your PC or Mac can’t handle these (i.e. the overall size of the loaded textures for the C172SP is too great), then you will have to reduce your settings, or choose a lower res version. By the way, I checked the content of the ‘objects’ folder and compared the ‘h’, ‘m’ and ‘l’ files with each other. Most of the files are extra-large (h), smaller (m) and the smallest (l), but there are also some files that aren’t different, especially the ‘m’ and ‘l’ marked png files. If you have problems with your VRAM, it’s probably a good idea to check out the MANUAL.

X-Plane 10.51 screenshot of the different texture sets

Menus
On the left-hand side of the screen you’ll see a white square with a red arrow. When you click on the red arrow – a red circle appears – a transparent menu slides out with the following menu items:
– Quick Start
– Camera
– Weight and Fuel
– Settings
– Controllers
– Maintenance
– Failures
– Checklist

Quick Start
The Quick Start pop-up window setup can be seen on other developers’ products, although every modeller has their own ideas as to what’s important to simulate and what’s not. Airfoillabs has chosen for the following options:
– Autostart
– Cold and Dark
– Secure aircraft
– Prepare for start
– Connect GPU
– Flashlight

Some of the above quick start conditions are straightforward, but some aren’t so obvious for me, like the ‘prepare for start’. While sitting in the 3D cockpit I checked what happened when I ticked this box. I only heard something, but didn’t see anything. By the way … except for the ‘Connect GPU’, none of the other checkboxes change when you click on them. For the ‘Connect GPU’ checkbox a green mark appears indicating that the GPU is connected. When you click the ‘autostart’ checkbox, the same will happen when you deselect ‘start each flight cold and dark’.

The flashlight option in this Airfoillabs aircraft is already available in X-Plane 10, but has to be activated via the XP menu. Now, with one click, the flashlight is there and you’re ready for your external inspection.

Camera
The Camera pop-up window allows you to select predefined interior and exterior views. Not an innovation, but the movement from one to another view goes very smoothly. Very easy on the eye! Almost forgotten, you can change the actual FOV (Field Of View) too.
With the ‘Go In/Go Out’ checkbox you can jump in a split second outside and back inside the 3D cockpit.
The Smart Camera section allows you to control the G-effects as well as the gain for this. Read more about this in the MANUAL. At the bottom, you’ll find the ‘Dynamic View’ and ‘Simulated Walk’.

Weight and Fuel
The Weight and Fuel pop-up window deals with, logically, adding or removing pilot or passenger weights in both Kilograms or Pounds as well as changing the amount of baggage. In addition, you’re able to add or remove fuel from the wing tanks, but perhaps the most important section of this pop-up window is the Center of Gravity graph. Gorgeous …. and well made!

Settings
The Settings pop-up window is divided into 6 parts; Logic, Sound, Glass Effects, Passengers, Needles Vibration and XPDR (ATC transponder) VFR code.
Within the logic section you can decide if you want the engine running at start, or have a pilot in the 3D cockpit. The display footer panel comes into view at the bottom of your screen and offers airspeed, altitude, heading and engine power. The display messages are pop-up windows with text information.

The sound section is basically the same as the X-Plane sound. Whenever you change any of the sound sliders in the Airfoillabs window, it will automatically be transferred to the X-Plane sound window.

The glass effects are divided into ‘glass’, ‘fog effect’ and ice effect’. When the glass box isn’t selected, you won’t see any glass in the 3D cockpit. The same is applicable for fog and icing conditions – when these are selected, the view from the cockpit will be affected and visibility will be reduced.

The passengers option allows you to show or hide the modeled persons. A matter of taste!

Although obvious what the needles vibration does depending on G-effects and engine vibration, it is an option I haven’t seen before with other GA aircraft. You could ask yourself if it is worth to add such tiny features in an aircraft, but for me as ex-ground engineer, I feel it’s a great option being implemented.

Depending on where you intend to fly, in my case I’ve parked my Cessna at the apron of ENOV, the VFR code should be set to 7000. When you decide to fly in the US, you should tick the “1200” code option. Actually, and this is as far as my knowledge goes, two other VFR codes are missing.

The following VFR Squawk Codes of the world list is taken from the VATSIM website:
– 1200 | VFR flight, this is the standard squawk code used in North American airspace when no other has been assigned.

– 7000 | VFR standard squawk code for most of European airspace.
– 0021 | VFR squawk code for German airspace (5000 feet and below)
– 0022 | VFR squawk code for German airspace (above 5000 feet)

Controllers
The Controllers pop-up window allows you to add or remove specific functionalities. For example, you could use default X-Plane axis settings or custom settings for pitch, roll and yaw. If you decide on X-Plane axis settings, the aircraft follows these unless you have entered custom axis settings in the Airfoillabs window.

Maintenance
The maintenance pop-up window shows you the current condition /wear of the engine components and aircraft systems. That said, all the engine components have a colored bar, by default light green (medium). During my and your flights, each individual component will, as in real, deteriorate. The amount of wear or deterioration is then indicated with a color change. When the individual component or system becomes fellow, you’re in the caution area. Amber and red, I assume, means that repair is needed. I write “assume” since “Repair” is written half way the amber and red bar.

Besides the maintenance field, you’ll see on the right-hand side a list of all systems or components that are included in the feature.

Failures and Behavior
This popup window is divided into 3 sections; Easy of Use, Failures Probability and Training Scenarios. The basic idea of this window and all the possible settings that can be made, is to give the simmer a kind of realistic feeling with the aircraft as it would behave in real. In real you never know when a failure pops up, in real you don’t know which component will fail, in real it doesn’t matter if you have a short or long flight, failure popup whenever something fails. I can’t say anything else then a great feature, especially when you love to fly GA aircraft that offer a high level of real wow factor.

Checklist
The Checklist pop-up window contains a real representation of the booklet used in the aircraft. It looks nice and professional. Remember that it isn’t an interactive checklist so it doesn’t highlight the checklist item when you are performing the tasks.

First Impressions – Weathered Look

What you like, what you prefer …. oops, that’s not quickly and easily answered. It has to do with the developer’s preference and if he/she want to include a weathered external model and wear inside the cabin and cockpit. As far this Airfoillabs model is concerned, I could hardly spot any implemented weathered look. The external model looks brand new and the same applies to the instrument panel, sidewalls, ceiling, seats etc. Does this disappoint me?

Personally, I would love to have seen it with slightly more weathering, but deciding whether or not to feature this has nothing to do with the functionality of the modelled Cessna C172S Skyhawk SP.

Walk around Check

When loading the aircraft in X-Plane 11, you’re sitting in the 3D cockpit. That’s not shocking news, right? But I just wrote that want to do a walk around check and of course, I can use for this – external look – the normal X-Plane keyboard commands to do so (Shift+4 or Shift+6 or while in the 3D cockpit, using the arrow keys to move to the exterior), but the Airfoillabs does offer something of its own.

Let’s do it the Airfoillabs way …. when you select from the Airfoillabs menu Camera, followed by Go Out/In, you’re positioned outside the aircraft. Not only that, you will hear that the ‘THE EXTERIOR MANIPULATION MODE IS NOW ACTIVE’. This means that all kinds of special Airfoillabs features/effects are now active. But what is the exterior manipulation mode doing?

Ok, as real as it gets!
Listen carefully .. sorry, read carefully!

It means, for example, that you can literally walk around the aircraft using the assigned keyboard commands. But it’s not a question of just walking from the engine propeller via the left-hand wing to the tail and back via the right-hand wing. During your walk, you’re able to carry out a complete inspection, as you would do on the real Cessna C172SP. You can even remove the upper and lower engine cowling. No no, you don’t have to lift or lower them and then dump them on the apron or grass! This is done for you.

When you click the ‘hotspot’ on the upper and lower cowling, you can hear a pneumatic screwdriver sound as the two halves of the cowling are unscrewed. And, yes not surprisingly the whole piston engine is modelled in great detail. However, this was just an interesting example, isn’t it? But there’s more. On pages 18 to 34 of the MANUAL you will find all the ‘hotspots’ that either open or close something, install an item in place or inform you via a pop-up window with additional data what to check in that area or where to look for it.

Some words about the pop-up windows when doing a walk-around check. The checkboxes in front of a task or item are by default filled with a red X. When you’ve checked the item, you tick the checkbox yourself which turns into a green V mark. Curious how certain pop-up windows or removed cowlings look like? Check out the following screenshots.

Example screenshots with MANIPULATION MODE ACTIVE

When doing the walk-around check following the Airfoillabs way, I must admit that the quality of the external model and textures are superb. But as mentioned before, when you look for example at the leading edges of the wings, horizontal and vertical stabilizers, you see no weathering and these places are in most cases the first parts that come in contact with bugs etc. Also, I am not sure if the small aluminum plate underneath the wing near the wing tip is in reality black or covered with white texture material. Just a thought!

Suppose I am in the normal walk-around mode (via Shift+4 or within D cockpit and moving with the arrow keys to the exterior) and thus not using the Airfoillabs external camera option, I’m also not able to check the functionality of the ailerons, rudder and elevators. This is the same for the modelled cargo door. It won’t do anything in my normal walk-around check. So …. this is another good reason to do your external check with the build in Airfoillabs manipulation mode.

By the way, I’m also impressed about the sharp and clear readable text on, for example, the fuselage. Just aft of the cargo door there’s a static port, nothing special, but above this port is a small green placard with ‘STATIC PORT’ written on it. When zoomed into it, it stays sharp. Well done!

And this is the same for the stainless steel ‘Aircraft Identification’ plate on the left-hand side of the fuselage near the stabilizer. Amazing! Did you know that the Airfoillabs C172SP is fitted with a Pointer Inc. ELT (Emergency Locator Transmitter)? Check it out yourself on the right-hand side mid fuselage.

The 3D Cockpit

I have deliberately also installed the Carenado C172 Skyhawk version 3.0 and although this review deals with the Airfoillabs C172S Skyhawk SP, the approach of both companies is different, particularly when it comes to the external or internal textures.

The Carenado 3D cockpit looks very realistic due to the gorgeous looking textures on the sidewalls, ceiling, seat, carpet etc. That said, although the Airfoillabs doesn’t adopt this approach it does not mean it is not a fine representation of the real thing. Far from it. It just provides a totally different look and feel when sitting in the Airfoillabs cockpit.

Fortunately, you can’t compare the instrument panel of the Airfoillabs with the Carenado, so no need to dwell on this aspect. When you have a situation when the following keyboard keys ‘,’ the ‘.’ and the arrows don’t respond while the Q, E, R and F do work, then this is due to the ‘Airfoillabs G-Effects’ setting in the Camera menu. Just set it to ‘G-Effects’ OFF or BASIC. Either mode brings those commands back alive.

Zooming in on the individual indicators, Bendix/King and Garmin equipment, I have to point out that the modelled equipment is razor sharp. And this is not just restricted to the modelled equipment. This is also applicable to the placards on the instrument panel like the ‘carbon monoxide detector’.

Another nice and realistic feature is the automatic engine sound reduction when you put your headset in the left- or right-hand aircraft receptacles. But there are more surprises. All circuit breakers are operative. Not necessarily a new feature in X-Plane aircraft, but when they work as expected, then it’s very pleasing.

The modeled Airfoillabs C172S Skyhawk SP comes with the following radio and/or navigation equipment:
Bendix/King KMA 26 TSO
– Garmin GNS 430 (default X-plane unit)
Bendix/King KX 165A TSO
Bendix/King KR 87 TSO
Bendix/King KT76C TSO
Bendix/King KAP 140
Bendix/King KN 62A TSO

It’s a pity that none of these user guides for these instruments is included in the package, especially for those simmers who have no idea how to handle these Bendix/King instruments. I will try and help for those who need them. I found the official manual for every Bendix/King instrument. See the URL’s above.

For the modelled Garmin GNS 430, you can check the following (Courtesy of ‘The X-Plane Freeware Forum’):
– Go to the Garmin website
– Choose the following from the dropdown boxes | Avionics | Discontinued | GNS 430.

A list of available documentation will be shown. I suggest you choose ‘Quick Reference’ about three-quarters down. The full Pilot’s manual is really big and probably more than you initially need.

– Click the ‘Download’ text on the right of Quick Reference in the list box.

I have also discovered the following Garmin produced training videos. Check the first video out via this link and the second via this link.

And finally, I think for those who want to know all about it, check out this Garmin GNS 430 user guide. By the way, the default 2D popup Garmin GNS 430 faceplate looks different however, the Airfoillabs Garmin faceplate looks very similar to the one you can find via this link. Most likely the Airfoillabs team has modified the default faceplate as well to give it a more realistic look.

Let’s go back to the 3D cockpit and cabin.
I highlighted before the difference between the photo real look of Carenado C172 Skyhawk cockpit and that of the Airfoillabs. Personally, I favour the photo real look and feel, but setting that aside the 3D modeling is so accurate, with even the tiny details being taken into account. As mentioned before almost everything is thought of: like having your headset – virtually of course – on your head or not. When you connect the leads into the receptacles the engine noise level is reduced. Great modelling!

Dial plates of the instruments are razor sharp; decals on the panel are of a very high quality; switches are accurately modelled and have a perfect shape; integral instrument lighting is gorgeous; the white panel flood lighting is perfectly adjustable and the seat track and lower construction are modelled with great detail. Perhaps you’ll never bother look at the seat frame, but believe me it’s well depicted too.

Some words about the virtual cabin.
The cabin seats, sidewalls, and ceiling are all very nice modeled, but it is missing that extra touch. That extra touch is the realistic look of, for example, the seating material. As we see with other GA developers, they mostly give it a leather look, of course, when it’s leather. When it’s made of another fabric, then photo real material is used or they created their own textures in a way to cover these parts and to give it that realistic look from the real aircraft.

My First Flight

Although I’m nervous about taking my first Airfoillabs test flight, I did have real PPL lessons in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, in a rented Cessna C152. Once I passed my PPL exam, I flew several hours in a Cessna C172. With that real-world experience, there’s no reason to be nervous about testing this Airfoillabs Cessna C172S Skyhawk SP.

I’ve decided to perform my test flights from KJGG (Williamsburg- Jamestown Airport) from Marc Leydecker which can be, by the way, downloaded via this X-Plained.Com link. Parked at the apron in front of the passenger building, I use the Airfoillabs checklist top startup everything from a cold and dark situation.

You could say ‘nothing special about this’, but it is a nicely created checklist with all kinds of relevant information included. In other words, the checklist is not only your guide for following the checklist items step-by-step, it also gives you information about crosswind components, short field takeoff values, rate of climb, cruise performances and landing distances.

My first trip is just a VFR flight without any preparations in respect to navigation aids. I’ve decided to takeoff from runway 13. From the apron, I taxi to the runway, do my last checks according to the checklist and off I go! The modelled Airfoillabs C172S Skyhawk SP taxies quite realistically as far as I can remember from the real C172, and when you pull out the throttle, the aircraft will actually stop by itself. Sound weird isn’t it, but this is not always the case with other GA developed models.

By the way: I’ve chosen to set the pitch, roll and yaw settings via the Airfoillabs ‘Controllers’ pop-up window. And bear in mind that you enable rudder and aileron trim. In other words, pitch trim is something that’s always enabled via X-Plane. I’m not 100 percent sure, but I’m wondering if the C172 has aileron trim as standard. Rudder trim, yes, but I’ve not heard that the Cessna C172 also has aileron trim?

Time to contact Juraj about this. According to Juraj “the aileron trim was implemented only because of user’s requests. I personally did not want it because the real model doesn’t have aileron and rudder trim so I made a compromise for those simmers. If disabled (by default), it is possible to experience the behavior which we added to the X-Plane normal aerodynamics of the model. This represents the P-Factor more accurately.”

Once in the air, the C172 is an easy to control aircraft. I can remember that, compared to the C152, the C172 is much more stable and not so sensitive to turbulence. Not surprisingly, the C172 is much heavier than its smaller brother/sister. Anyway, the modelled aircraft flies stable and, with the trims included, is easy to fly by hand. Of course, it’s helpful to have the AP connected and let this do the work, but there is really no need. As I have said before, flying under VFR conditions is straightforward and landmarks are my guide in finding my way from an altitude of 3000 feet.

Reaching this altitude, it is a good opportunity to check some practices. I first start with slow flights with and without flaps. After that, it’s time to do some pre-stall exercises which go, by the way, fine. The aural sound is, after checking with some YouTube movies, perfectly simulated and is indeed 5 to 10 knots before the actual stall speed.

As expected, at approximately 5 knots lower the aircraft starts shaking and a drop down via the right-hand side is noticeable.

After this I also tried steep turns although there’s nothing special about these except that you need to keep your aircraft at the intended altitude. With a roll of 45 degrees and not giving too much attention to your pitch channel, you’re easily falling down like a rock, so besides roll there’s a lot of pitch input needed to keep it at your intended altitude. Just practicing!

The necessary preparations for my KJGG approach and landing could be either a straight in approach for runway 13 or 31 or as it should be, following a VFR pattern. I’m in the position that I can see runway 13 right in front of me, so I decide to reduce speed, pitch down and descend to 1000 feet. Since PAPI helps me with my glide path, the only thing I need to keep in mind when selecting the flaps down is my airspeed. Don’t …. I repeat don’t reach the pre-stall speed. Worried that you and I will succeed? Don’t concern yourself. As mentioned before, the modelled C172 flies very well and is easy to handle.

What if you want to Fly IFR?

Preparations
In that case, it would be helpful if you’re able to create your own flight plan and load it into the GNS 430. Right, let me help you with that. If you want, you can use Online Flight Planner to create a flight plan. Many others online and offline flight planning programs exist, but let me continue with this flight planning program. This online flight planner uses the same database as RouteFinder, but with several export options, one of which is X-Plane “fms” extension.

Creating flight plan EHBK-ELLX with OnlineFlightPlanner

As you can see for yourself, the created Online Flight Planner FP is a bit disappointing. It only contains one waypoint namely VOR LNO. What I prefer is following a couple of waypoints and perhaps a slight detour included before arriving at ELLX. This brings me then to another online flight planner; SkyVector. To make, save and send flight plan created with SkyVector, you need to create an account. No worries, it’s free!

In SkyVector I enter for the departure airport EHBK, and as arrival ELLX. Further on, I add the necessary waypoints that lay in-between. Perhaps not the most realistic way, but you’re free to add waypoints, NDBs or VOR stations of your choice. Overall, a nice and pleasant way to fiddle around. Only issue is … SkyVector can’t save in the X-Plane “fms” format. For that I need X-PlaneTools. The following screenshots show you a bit of the steps I made for creating this EHBKELLX flight plan. By the way; X-PlaneTools comes with a couple of videos that explains how to use the program.

Before I forget it, find her the direct link to the package that belongs to this IFR flight. I contains the flight plan file, the SkyVector navlog and the necessary charts from EHBK and ELLX.

Step-by-Step GNS 430 FP insertion
Copy the created fms file into the X-Plane root folder Output/FMS plans. With the fms file in this folder, you’re able to load the flight plan into the Garmin GNS 430.

Once you’ve copied and paste the aircraft into the FMS Plans folder, power up X-Plane 10 and the C172, click the flight plan button till you got the empty “ACTIVE FLIGHT PLAN” page. In case you see for some reason an illuminated green bar underneath WAYPOINT, first click once on the in the middle of the PUSH CRS knob. This will extinguish the illumination of the selected WAYPOINT line.

Next click once the knob right hand inner ring. The previous page (ACTIVE FLIGHT PLAN) is replaced by a “FLIGHT PLAN CATALOG”. Further on, in the field you see our flight plan file ehbkellx.fms

Next click once on the middle of the right hand inner knob (PUSH CRS). The selected flight plan, in our case ehbkellx.fms will be highlighted green. If you have more flight plans in the list then put your mouse near the right-hand outer ring, and click as much is needed to highlight ehbkellx.fms

Once your flight plan is highlighted, click the ENT (enter) pushbutton. Your GNS 430 goes back to the overview page and shows a loaded flight plan. Want to see the waypoints, click the FPL button

Just Fun … EHBK-ELLX

Although my real PPL flight lessons took all place in Florida, it’s fun to fly this time from EHBK (Maastricht Aachen Airport) to ELLX (Luxembourg Findel Airport). And then of course with an as real as it gets landscape below me, right? That can only be with the photo real sceneries from ZonePhoto. Are there any add-on airports for this IFR trip? Oh yes there are! Check it out in the Summary section of this review where I’ve collected all the freeware and payware add-on products I used in this review.

So, I created a EHBKELLX.fms file, copied that into X-Plane’s Output/FMS plans folder and loaded it into the Garmin GNS 430 as I explained before. I took off from runway 03 in a Northern direction. After lift-off, I climb out to 1000 feet, followed by the right-hand turn towards a heading of approximately 200 degrees. When you try it yourself – this heading – it could be that the heading is slightly different, but whatever it shows in the GNS 430, just follow the heading indicated towards VOR LNO.

Turn the heading bug degrees, but bear in mind that we won’t be using the HDG mode. Oops, almost forgotten. I connected the AP in NAV mode and added a vertical speed of 500 feet/minute and remember to select on the instrument panel above the NAV1 OBS indicator ‘GPS’ instead of NAV.

At approximately 4000 feet, I level off or more accurately the AP levels off the aircraft which gives me the time to check visually the externals of the Cessna. As stated earlier, the skin, wherever you look, is full of tiny details; the NML (Normal Mapping) or 3D effect of the skin, rivets and screws is clearly visible in a realistic way. But there’s also a small critical note; all the liveries are devoid of scratches, dents or weathered spots. This does not really reflect reality.

I also had a quick look at the passenger compartment and baggage area. It seems very nice, good 3D modeling but also here, too new! OK, I’m aware that this is my personal feeling and others could say it’s fine as it is; it’s just a comment for Airfoillabs and I will leave it up to them what they decide to do with it.

After a while VOR LNO comes in view and automatically after passing LNO, the next waypoint is presented. OK, in this case the next waypoint is ARCKY. Flying in a zigzag way, I fly over Belgium, then Germany, then Luxembourg and once again over Germany before my final approach for ELLX. I do this partly on the AP, but once a Cessna C172 is trimmed, it flies great, as well as the modeled Airfoillabs. Flying the Airfoillabs is of course different then flying the real thing.

In real you have “real” motion, when it’s cloudy, you feel the bumps, which is not the case on my Mac or any other PC. We need to accept that! Overall, flying with the help of the GNS 430 is already a pleasure, but suppose you want to fly from VOR/VORTAC beacons to another beacon or even a NDB, all is possible but need a bit more attention. That said, using the GNS 430 gives you also access to waypoints and this could be very handy in those areas where VOR/VORTAC or even NDB beacons are limited.

The overall trip is about 90NM, so not far, but long enough to test the GNS 430 and the AP. Before you know, you’re approaching ELLX. I’ve decided not to go for a pattern, but for a more or less a straight in approach for runway 06. In case you want to see a bit from the surrounding area, you could also go for runway 24. This means, you first fly to the south, making a full turn and plan the approach for the opposite runway. PAPI helps me with my glide path. ELLX doesn’t have ILS, but where you have a destination with ILS, you can select on the AP panel ‘APPROACH’.

Just a point to remember … in case you don’t believe that this can happen and be modelled … don’t forget when you’re flying to select CABIN HT and CABIN AIR. If it becomes too cold in the cockpit/cabin, your front and side windows will fog up and demisting is needed, unless of course you had deselected this option in the Airfoillabs ‘Settings – Glass Effects’ pop-up window.

What About …..

Let’s start with the sound. Without doubt very good and realistic. Although I can’t recall every sound I heard, I think everything is covered. Literally every operation you do in the cockpit has a sound effect. Is that all? Yes, there is more … find it out yourself by buying the aircraft since it’s worth it.

And what about frame rates.
The available frame rates are OK. OK means in relation to my rendering options settings and the fact that I’ve chosen the version with high-resolution textures. When I go for the medium or low, naturally the frame rates go up.

Regarding the frame rates, you should be able to get 20-30 FPS, but this is also related to your PC or Mac hardware specifications and your monitor screen resolution. In addition, the graphics adapter memory, the airport scenery you’re using and the X-Plane Rendering Settings are all important factors. When you use X-Plane 11, then it’s also possible with this version to get acceptable frame rates.

And also for X-Plane 11, it all depends on if you have X-Plane running in windowed mode or full screen, what are you Graphics settings, do you have a default airport installed, or perhaps a small airport or a heavy airport. And not to forget, do you use a environmental sky and cloud program or do you fly under CAVOK conditions? All that matters, with X-Plane 10.51 and X-Plane 11.

Summary

I think the summary section is the right place to offer you some additional information I got from Juraj Rovensky, lead developer from Airfoillabs. He would like to highlight a couple of things that are not so obvious, but worth to inform you about. That said, Juraj Rovensky would like to share with you the following subjects.

Inertia of the aircraft
According to my experience, some aspects of the inertia are not simulated in X-Plane therefore we tried to replicate it. If the rate of bank is high (airspeed influence is taken in consideration too), it takes the aircraft a little longer to settle or you can give a contra yoke movement to stop the bank more quickly.

Latency
We tried to implement this too, but what does it mean? In a real pitot static system you don’t see change in airspeed or vertical speed instantly. The same is implemented and modeled in our C172.

Turbulence bouncing
We also tried to replicate the behavior of the appropriate indicator needles to have a more bouncing effect as can observed in real Cessna 172.

Circuit Breakers
They are all functional, but to achieve this, it also means that we had to switch off some of the default failures functionality of X-Plane. In that respect we where able to create the correct behavior. Surprise … the next C172 model version will have custom failure settings. With that additional plugin programming, we are able to bring back this real failure behavior in our C172S Skyhawk SP.

Ok, that was quite interesting news from Juraj. As always, the review which is mainly based on the Airfoillabs X-Plane 11 version 1.1, ends with a summary.

Not a long summary since most aspects of the Airfoillabs aircraft have been discussed. Although it may be in essence just a Cessna C172, it offers a lot of additional or I should say ‘interesting and new’ features and it flies very well too. The features make this aircraft an extraordinary X-Plane add-on. You’ve got many pop-up windows to modify the aircraft behaviour or to switch between settings made in X-Plane or be overridden by the Airfoillabs menus.

Being able to adjust weight (passengers, pilots and baggage) and fuel quantity and see all of this in a Center of Gravity graph is great. It really adds something to this aircraft. Airfoillabs isn’t the first GA add-on that offers the Center of Gravity graph, nevertheless it is an interesting feature. The presence of the well-made checklist is very nice.

The lack of a weathered look in the internal and external modeling is a matter of taste. I’ve already expressed my feelings that I would love to see many more dents, scratches and weathered spots on the external model, since I think this is closer to reality. Don’t get me wrong, as it is now the Airfoillabs 3D model comes with many tiny details, razor sharp placards on the skin, many maintenance features including removal of the fuel caps with fuel selector tape. The same applies to the instrument and switch panels, console and for example the rudder/brake pedals. That said, the rudder/brake pedals seem too new. They are glossy as if nobody has ever touched them!

On the other hand, the quality of the instruments is really worth a compliment. Razor sharp instruments and decals wherever applicable. Furthermore, fluent indicator needle behaviour during their operation, great integral instrument lighting as well as flood panel lighting and a good-looking passenger compartment.

I hope that the Airfoillabs team will update the current manual. The current manual is only for X-Plane 10, but there’s no sign that it’s also applicable for X-Plane 11. An instrument panel description and operation would be a useful addition in my view. What’s also missing are the Bendix/King and Garmin manuals. If they can’t include them, then perhaps it’s an idea to list the links to the Bendix/King and Garmin websites.

The Airfoillabs model doesn’t yet offer mouse scroll functions or on-the-fly changing liveries. It’s always a matter of what you are expecting or where your main interests are. I tried to think back to my PPL lessons to compare how the C172 flew and how this model flies. I’ve got the impression that the Airfoillabs flies OK, but I’m not 100 percent sure if it follows the real flight characteristics.

Is the Airfoillabs a model that can be compared with the Carenado C172N Skyhawk? Every model has its strong and weak points, but I think it’s not fair to compare the two. When it comes to photo realistic look, then the Carenado wins, and we shouldn’t forget that the Carenado C172N comes also in a float version.

On the other hand, the X-Plane 10.51 Airfoillabs comes in three different resolution textures (X-Plane 11 model has only the high and low-resolution packages) which makes the model usable for low to high end computers. Furthermore, the Airfoillabs doesn’t have mouse scroll manipulators as I mentioned before, but it is designed from a totally different perspective and because of this, many new features are implemented on this C172.

OK, if it’s not fair to compare it with the Carenado C172N Skyhawk, then perhaps with the Alabeo C172RG Cutlass? Although the Alabeo has a RG (Retractable Gear), the instrument panel has a lot of similarities with the previous Carenado C172N model. Besides the advanced mouse scroll operation, the overall model has the same or perhaps some more features, while the Airfoillabs has a totally different approach.

Comparing the Airfoillabs with the default X-Plane C172 isn’t fair at all. The default C172 doesn’t have any specific features like those seen in the Carenado, Alabeo and Airfoillabs models. No, putting it simply the Airfoillabs C172S Skyhawk SP has a lot of potential and a large number of new features not seen before.

Have you become enthusiastic about the Airfoillabs C172S Skyhawk SP after reading this comprehensive review?

More information can be found at the Airfoillabs website and purchasing information can be found at the dedicated X-Plane.Org.

For this review, besides the payware Airfoillabs C172S Skyhawk SP, I used the following payware and freeware add-on sceneries:
– Freeware Marc Leydecker | West Point (KJGG)
– Freeware ZonePhoto | Ortho Photo Scenery
– Payware X-Plane.Org | JustSim ELLX Luxembourg Findel Airport for X-Plane 11
– Payware X-Plane.Org | JustSim ELLX Luxembourg Findel Airport for X-Plane 10.51
– Payware Aerosoft | Maastricht Aachen Airport
– Freeware XPFR | XPFR ELLX Luxembourg Findel Airport for X-Plane 10.51 and X-Plane 11

Additional Bendix manuals:
Bendix/King KMA 26 TSO
– Garmin GNS 430 (default X-plane unit)
Bendix/King KX 165A TSO
Bendix/King KR 87 TSO
Bendix/King KT76C TSO
Bendix/King KAP 140
Bendix/King KN 62A TSO

Feel free to contact me if you’ve got additional questions related to this impression. You can reach me via email Angelique.van.Campen@gmail.com or to Angelique@X-Plained.com.

With Greetings,
Angelique van Campen

 

 

Add-on: Payware Airfoillabs C172SP
Publisher | Developer: X-Plane.Org | Airfoillabs
Description: Realistic rendition of Cessna Skyhawk C172SP
Software Source / Size: Download / Approximately 2.3GB (unzipped)
Reviewed by: Angelique van Campen
Published: June 16th 2017
Hardware specifications: - iMac 27″ Late 2013
- Intel i7 3.5Ghz / 3.9Ghz
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780M 4GB
- 32GB 1600MHz DDR3
- 1 internal 1TB SSD (Sierra 10.12.4)
- 1 external 1TB SSD (El Capitan 10.11.6) | 1 external 1TB SSD (Windows 10 Pro)
- Saitek Pro Flight System X-52 Pro and X-56 Rhino
Software specifications: - Sierra (10.12.6 Dev) | El Capitan (10.11.6)
- Windows 10 Professional
- X-Plane 10.51c | X-Plane 10.51m | X-Plane 11.02b1

2 Comments

  1. Michiel Wiegers

    I’m always amazed at how extensive and with full details you make a review. You are an inspiration for us!

    Reply
    • Angelique van Campen

      Thanks Michiel for your reply and great to hear from you again! As you know me, it was and still is my pleasure to write, as far as possible, comprehensive and honest reviews for the X-Plane community.

      Reply

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