Lockheed L-749 Constellation
By Paolo Baiardi (19 January 2011)
Part I: Review
Part I reviews the Lockheed L-749 Constellation by Manfred Jahn and 749 Team Team 749, alternate VC cockpit textures by Jan Visser.
The Lockheed L-749 Constellation is a four engine propliner, flown mainly between 1946 and 1968. Capable of carrying 40 passengers across continents (3500+ miles range) at a max altitude of 24,000 feet. It has been the "Air Force One" of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Microsoft Flight Simulator X (any version)
or Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004
FSUIPC add-on by Peter Dowson
Purchase And Installation:This aircraft is freeware. It can be downloaded directly here. The main support site is found here.
Fixes And Patches Available:
- FDE 1.1 upgrade
- Model update
- VC alternate colors update
- Wright 3350 sound pack by Friedrich Trachsel or Diego S. Barreto
A number of repaints are also available at www.flightsim.com.
Well, it was intimidating from a complexity standpoint. The engineering panel alone is enough to make you think "How am I going to fly this?" and then you realize immediately you need to read the manual. Actually, I have read it several times, coming back from time to time and asking questions around to clarify certain issues.
The first mistake I did was this one: I left the aircraft on the tarmac and started to look at the manual, reading page and after page. When I switched back to the Connie, I saw all the engines were on fire. Reason? I did not open the cowl flaps and the engines over-heated...
The manual contains 30+ pages: it details the aircraft history and evolution and then begins to describe the instrumentation and controls. Then more info about engine and fuel management, views available and so on. Additional sections describe how to operate the aircraft (take-off, climb, cruise, descent and approach) and notes about fuel usage. Finally, checklists.
This is an original FS2004 model. It works in FSX but it has been designed for FS2004. There are a number of very minor portover issues which are fully known and documented. The external model is good, but it is not so graphically stunning as a payware, FSX-native (e.g. the Just Flight one), model would be. The virtual cockpit is very good (a VC update is also available, allowing the user to select different background colors) and everything in the cockpit is fully working.
Outside, all control surfaces are moving. When the aircraft is parked with the main door opened, you can see the wheel chocks and the stair.
Inside, there is no cabin, just the cockpit area. A pity, it would have added to the immersion factor.
Engines And Fuel Management:
The Constellation has earned many nicknames, among others "The World's Best Tri-Motor" due to difficult engine management: it is somehow complex at the beginning, but once understood the logic, everthing makes sense. The procedure to start each engine is well-documented (you can't fly without the manual) and you have just to follow it. Of course, you can always CTRL+E to speed-up things, but that would defy the purpose of flying an aircraft like the Constellation.
As part of the engine management, you will have to change RPM and throttle settings to avoid damaging the engines, adjust cowl flaps to keep the engine temperatures within the limits, switch superchargers on and off according to the flight profile and modify the fuel/air mixture according to the altitude. All is manually done, the only exception being a "set fuel mixture" button which would have been the real-life equivalent of asking the flight engineer to take care of that. Note that you are supposed to fly at full realism, meaning that the FSX 'auto-mixture' option should be switched off.
The following pictures:
The engines can and will stop working if you misuse them, so keep that in mind. As part of the engine modeling, you will see that the first MAP ("Manifold Pressure") indicator in the VC (which react to the throttle) has a moving blue bug. This blue bug tells you the max power you can use without damaging the engines: its position changes according to factors like altitude, mixture, RPM and superchargers settings.
There are four engines and six fuel tanks: that means you will also need to monitor fuel usage, opening and closing fuel tanks and cross-feed the engines. You are not supposed to land exceeding MLW (Max Landing Weight) and you should not have any fuel left in the external tanks (located on the wings).
No glass panels here, but steam gauges all the way.
The four lit red buttons in the center are the prop reversers switches, which do not work in FSX. To reverse the propellers, you have to use the four red levers at the bottom.
In the upper cockpit, the panels to switch radio and nav frequencies and some engine controls (as the engine management was the FE duty): magnetos, main fuel valves and fuel dumps.
The outside visibility from the cockpit is rather limited, but good enough to land.
The flight engineer panel is full of instruments and controls. That is the place where a lot of time is spent if one wants to fly the Connie as it was in reality. According to the manual, the engine and fuel management procedures have been somehow simplified to cope with the workload and the limitations of FSX, still it is a complex task.
The flight engineer controls the engines (mixture, RPM, cowl flaps, starters, superchargers), the propellers and manages the fuel tanks (tank selection, pumps and cross feed valves to the engines).
The main group of instruments, from left to right and from top to bottom:
- Airspeed indicator; note that you do not have a separate machmeter
- Artificial horizon
- Altitude indicator
- Turn coordinator
- Main compass
- Vertical speed indicator
- Radio altimeter
In the bottom left corner you can see the O/M/I lights.
The Connie autopilot (a version of Calclassic's retro AP gauge) is a rather basic one. From left to right you have:
- A pitch control knob (remember: you can set the attitude, but not the airspeed)
- An altitude hold switch
- The main autopilot knob:
- AUTOPILOT = standard mode
- RANGE = NAV mode, to track a VOR
- LOC = NAV mode, to track an ILS (only the heading)
- LOC&GS = APR mode, to execute an ILS landing with autopilot
- An heading knob, used to make the aircraft turn left or right
- The main autopilot on/off switch (when on, the green light is lit)
As you can see, you have no controls to pre-set a certain altitude or heading or airspeed. However, it is still possible to use the related FSX keys (altitude or heading bug select keys, followed by '+' and '-').
Yoke, rudder, flap controls, trim controls and engines. That's all. The Connie has brakes (and you can hear them) so it can always steer on the ground without problems but no airbrakes.
How Does It Fly:
Very smooth. Despite its size, it is quite a responsive aircraft. Landing, at least in terms of speed, is not so different compared to an ordinary GA plane, as the Connie stall speed is close to 80 knots depending on the weight. Take-off is equally easy and it is the only moment when you can run the engines at full throttle (exceeding METO power): just remember to reduce as soon as possible the RPM and decrease the throttle according to the blue bug: you have two minutes to do that before risking to damage the engine. The co-pilot will assist you by telling when to rotate, calling the altitude out and so on.
If you want just to fly around, then after take-off all you have to do is close the cowl flaps to reduce drag, set the mixture (press Auto-Mixture once) and off you go. On the other hand, if you want to plan some long flight, you have to begin to think in terms of climbing and cruising stages. This is not a jet that can reach any altitude just by opening the throttle and pointing the nose up: as you climb you will need to adjust the mixture and that in turn will limit the available power so you may reach a situation in which you would need more power to keep climbing, but there isn't any! In those situations you need to cruise a bit at that altitude, burn fuel, decrease the weight and then restart climbing: "step climbing" in the fifties.
Fortunately, at approximately 8000-9000 you will be able to switch the superchargers to "High" (remember to set mixture to Auto-Rich) and get some extra power.
Always keep the airspeed under control while climbing: if you go below 150 knots you will have problems in regaining speed, unless you level the aircraft.
Descent from altitude for the approach is also a bit problematic, as there are (again!) limitations when reducing the throttle: you must not reduce more than 3" MAP per minute and you need to monitor the speed again. The reason for not reducing too quickly the throttle is the risk of excessive engine cooling.
Minor Issues Or Glitches:
- The red prop reversers buttons in the VC do not work. This is a portover issue and documented in the readme.txt file, prop reverse can be achieved by right-clicking the reverser levers instead
- Rain in VC mode: another portover issue and documented in the readme.txt: the solution is to download Joe Binka's VCRAIN.ZIP and install it in FSX\texture.
- The prop disks may not display properly (portover issue) but there are replacement and fully working alternative rotating propellers in the base model package. This issue is also documented in the readme.txt file
- An engine does not start unless its fuel pump is switched on. According to the manual, fuel pumps are associated to the fuel tank (1:1 fashion) and to start the engine only the fuel pump associated to the chosen fuel tank should be switched on. Instead, one has always to switch on the fuel pump related to the chosen fuel tank AND the fuel pump associated to the fuel tank coupled to the engine (so #1 for number #1 engine, #2 for number #2 and so on).
- None found
At http://calclassic.proboards.com/index.cgi you can access the forum to post questions and queries. The support is extremely good both in terms of response time and quality of their answers. The various members of the L-749 team, including Manfred Jahn himself post there often.
It is highly recommended to read the "Propliner Toturial" by Calclassic's "FSAviator" to understand the world of a propliner pilot (download here).
Who Could Appreciate This Plane:
This is not, definitively, a plane for everybody. If you are coming from a "push-throttle-and-off-you-go" plane the Constellation will simply overwhelm you. There are too many things to remember and you have to spend a considerable amount of time reading the manuals to understand how to fly the plane. In real life, the Connie was flown by two pilots and a flight engineer for good reasons, so you need to have a good grip of flying and engine management in general.
Extremely positive. This aircraft captures the propliner era and a certain way of flying. It exposes the pilot to problems that, in a world of glass panel and FADEC-controlled engines, have been forgotten. If you want a challenge, be a better pilot in terms of managing the airplane and understand its limits, fly in an "old fashion" way or just listening to the sound of big propellers humming outside, this is your plane.
Want a suggestion? Just forget you have a GPS installed and simply fly long-range using VORs, NDBs, sectional charts and taking occasional peeks from the cockpit. You won't regret it.
Intel Quad Core i7-920 @ 2.67 GHz
GeForce GTX 480
8 Gb RAM
3 x SATA HDs
Windows 7 64bit
FSX Acceleration, REX2/GET/UTX, ENB Series Mod
Part II: Interview With Manfred Jahn And His Team
Can you tell something about you, your background and the other members of the 749 Team?
Team 749 includes teachers, doctors, pilots, and engineers. Personally, I feel most comfortable with both feet on firm ground. Advertising the work in progress really worked well, allowing me to rope in members from the Calclassic forum hosted by Tom Gibson. One of the pilot's voices is Tom's actually. Our priorities in this project were modelling accuracy, technically realistic handling, and performance, and I believe we have come close to the look and feel and sound of this fascinating plane.
When did you start to make models for FS2004/FSX? What was the main drive?
I started out by making repaints and scenery for FS2002 before learning Gmax and tackling flying models in FS2004, generally post-WWII transport planes.
Why the Constellation (and later on, the Super Constellation)?
Available models at the time did not cover the versions I was interested in. Also they were either payware or without a VC.
How long did it take to develop and test the Connie? Since there is a team involved, how was the work split and coordinated?
The 749 is the last in this series of FS models, which started out back-to-front with the experimental Turbo Connie (YC-121F), then the 1649 Starliner and the 1049 Super Connies and their military variants (Warning Stars and Hurricane Hunters in particular), all reusing and modifying the initial Turbo Connie mesh. Teamwork was organized and distributed on a communal email basis and everybody contributed as best he could, with tweaks, testing, materials, and so on.
Sorry for asking, but why did you add a modern GPS?
Some users couldn't do without. Feel free to remove it for realism. Mind you, if you are a true sucker for punishment you can send your navigator up into the astrodome and let him navigate by sun/star position. (This may work in FS2004 only.)
Do you plan any further updates?
I don't at the moment, but the team is still active tweaking things under their own steam, and since they have the Gmax source there may well be, including perhaps the one missing model of the lot, the 049.
In which other aircraft projects have you been involved?
British types mainly: Pembroke, York, Lancastrian.
Can you tell something about your current work?
I am doing a C-47 (military DC-3) for FSX (and FS2004). Probably to be released as an exterior model only, as "Build your own Gooney" or some such.
Do you plan to switch in the future to FSX models only?
In the foreseeable future yes, but I would like to maintain backwards compatibility in the sense of porting FSX models to FS2004 rather than the other way round. The reason is, the "classic" propliner area is well supported by FS2004 scenery, AI, and aircraft types.
How do you see the future of flight simulations?
I am watching it with interest? I hope to God MS Flight will allow developers to contribute. If not then somebody should have their heads seen to.
Anything you would like to say? A suggestion to other designers, a remark about something important to you?
Naturally I'd like to thank the team for their unflagging effort, and people like Georg, Hans, Bill (L. and Fr.), Milton, Paco, Piglet, Rick, and many others, for their inspiring work and help.