Cessna T-37 Tweet
By Victor Knight (6 January 2004)
Perhaps, as a youngster, you sometimes gazed at a formation of military jets flying overhead and harbored the dream to one day fly a fighter jet yourself. Watching war movies on television, maybe you secretly yearned for the day that you, too, could join that elite band of men and women who get to play with the magnificent flying machines only the military can afford to provide. After studying hard for many years and having survived a rigorous selection process, plus a physical that leaves out nothing including the width of your rear end, the big day has arrived and you find yourself at a flight training school. The chance for you to prove that you have the right stuff fills you with apprehension. It is a daunting challenge, and it gets worse. Not only do you need to learn about all of the training aircraft's systems and learn to actually fly it, you must learn to fly it the way the Air Force wants it flown.
If you read my review of the British Vampire T-11 jet trainer of the 1950's, you may recall I reported that students experienced very real fear. Not of any physical danger, but of failure, of washing out. At the beginning, in my day, while lined up on parade we were told to glance at the students to the left and right of us. "If they are here three months from now," an instructor yelled, "you won't be!" Currently, the military spends over one million dollars training a pilot, and they want value for their money. The job of the instructors is to mold each intake of new students into fledgling military pilots. They do this with countless hours of classroom instruction, some 100 hours flying the T-37 jet, followed by more than 270 hours on the T-1 and T-38. In addition, many additional hours are spent in static and full-motion simulators. Often, it still isn't enough.
When Hernan Orellana, the leader of this simulation's project team, arrived at UPT, he did so as a Microsoft Flight Simulator enthusiast. He quickly realized what an advantage it would be if he could use a flight simulator version of the T-37 to augment the limited hours available on USAF simulators to practice the myriad of procedures necessary to graduate successfully. However, to be of any real value, the flight simulator version would need to replicate exactly the performance of the actual aircraft. Anything less would result in negative transfer, doing more harm than good. For example, undergraduates are taught to fly the airplane by memorizing about a dozen known pitch and power settings which will cause the aircraft to exhibit known performance. If you set 90% RPM in level flight, the T-37 will maintain 230 KIAS. 82% will give you 200 KIAS (pattern speeds). In a VFR pattern, extending the speed brake with the gear down will give you 120 KIAS. It is essential that any training simulator replicate these known values precisely. The flight model for this program are derived from NASA stability derivatives. When you fly this T-37 micro simulator, it is right on the money. In the Vampire review I also recommended that flight simulator users make every effort to learn to fly an aircraft accurately and correctly. Unfortunately, this is not easy to do. Most add-ons fall short on accurate performance. You will read reviews that state, "the flight model feels right," even when the reviewer has never set foot in a real life jet cockpit. This T-37 program offers flight simulator enthusiasts who want to learn to do things right, a rare opportunity to obtain some very real, accurate, experience and results.
As the development of flight simulator programs progresses, we see emphasis being placed on different aspects of flight simulation. For example, more accurate electrical and fuel management panels, systems failures, etc. Presently, Flight1 is offering a Cessna 152 far more accurate in its performance than any seen before. The Mid Atlantic Air Museum also attain total "fly by the book" accuracy with their B25J. These developers have recognized the big potential in creating add-ons that can be of real help to those actually learning to fly in the real world, or who desire to fly totally accurate flight models. This T-37 program, offers a rare opportunity to learn to fly a real military jet. For present undergraduate pilot trainees it is a no-brainer. Any student military pilot not availing himself or herself of this program would be plain nuts. The United States Air Force, in my not so humble opinion, should unquestionably adopt this micro simulator as part of its standard training program. They have an opportunity here, to add another very functional simulator experience for undergraduates at very little cost. Their present static simulators afford good familiarity with the cockpit environment and obviously should be retained. However, they have a lot of switches, etc. that are not functional. The full-motion simulators, while excellent, require a lot of maintenance and time spent in them by students is severely limited. This micro simulation allows students to practice instrument approaches and procedures, etc. over and over again until they get things right. Unlike most other military add-ons, this T-37 program models TACAN, and uses it as a DME data source, enabling students to practice instrument approaches just as in real life.
I will return to some of the technical aspects of this program later. However, most of the folk visiting this site and reading this review, will be flight simmers wanting to have a positive experience on their home computer. What does this T-37 program offer them? First, is the eye candy. Have no fear here, the Gmax model is superb. The T-37, presented in seven different liveries representing different flight schools and the original delivery model, is just wonderful. The clamshell cockpit affords the two pilots exceptional all-around visibility, and this is replicated very well here. The animations are very smooth, the wheels rotate (just love that sexy nose wheel), landing gear, flaps, spoilers, speed brake, all are there operating just as they would in the real world. This, too, is important, but we'll get to that later. The panel is photorealistic and exceptionally well done. You won't see the usual collection of default gauges here; these are the real thing. When UPT's first arrive they are given posters of what the instrument panel of the T-37 looks like. Tacked up on a wall, for familiarization purposes, they are a poor substitute for what is represented here. I never fully realized until now, just how little new flight school recruits know about airplanes and instruments. In my case, arriving at flight training school, I had already been in the Air Force for a couple of years, and had been trained as an instrument technician. I not only knew what the instruments were, their function and where they were located, I even knew how to fix them! A big advantage over the poor souls arriving from civilian life. At flight school, I thought I was just smart. Truth is, they had a lot to learn that had already been banged into my woolly head. There was no Microsoft Flight Simulator back then. I imagine that present day flight simmers also have a big advantage here. This panel makes you feel right at home. Everything is where it should be, and everything is fully functional. All sub systems and panels are represented. The program uses a set of mini icons to call them up. There is even a neat crosswind component calculator.
Present in this program for simulator pilots, though not included in the real life aircraft, are an autopilot and the FS2002 0r FS2004 versions of the GPS, plus a series of voice prompts (Bitchin' Betty), reminding you of correct procedures when you do things wrong. She will even advise when you are at "Bingo" fuel. This particular Betty sounds very sexy, so messing up became part of my routine! There is also a very authentic virtual cockpit, letting you see just where everything is located in the real aircraft. The sounds are recorded from real T-37 jets and from the full motion simulator. The accuracy of the sound is again vitally important, you will read why a little later on.
The T-37 is a Cessna training aircraft, but it is not your father's 150 or 172. It has low wing configuration, is powered with Continental J69-T25 twin jets each developing 1025 lbs. of thrust, and it has its quirks! First, there is a definite knack required to get the engines up and running. This is replicated as well as possible here. Full instructions come with the program, but to whet your appetite, just as in real life, you cannot start engine number two until engine number one is at 60% power. This is because you cannot obtain maximum electrical power until then. Remember, everything in this simulator is absolutely accurate. Each instrument has its own individual AC or DC power requirements. Electrical diagrams are provided, and these are accurately followed. For example, if the ADI looses its required AC power, it operates reliably for 9 minutes until the gyro becomes unusable. Some of the instruments are hybrid, using both AC and DC power, sufficient to say it is all properly replicated here. You will learn how to perform Ops Checks every fifteen minutes, which include cycling the fuel quantity gauge to determine fuel tank quantities. Using these features, it is possible to replicate in-flight failures and emergencies.
Another quirk of the Tweet, faithfully replicated here, is the long spool up time of the engines: around 14 seconds. A pilot who is a little fast on approach naturally wants to reduce speed. However, pulling the throttles back to slow or idle gives the pilot a very unpleasant surprise as the Tweet rapidly loses airspeed at low RPM's. You can easily crash this aircraft while waiting for the engines to spool back up. Realizing this, Cessna added thrust attenuators, which allow thrust to decrease significantly without having to reduce the power. These attenuators extend into the thrust stream whenever the speed brake is extended and the power reduced below 70% throttle angle on either engine. You will hear an audible rumble as the attenuators extend, just as in real life. Also at 70% RPM, with the gear retracted, a warning horn will sound. This warning sound also makes it easy to find the 70% setting used for landing. Remember, the sounds used in this package are real-life sounds. You will hear the rumble as the thrust attenuators extend, likewise when flaps or gear is extended. Do not expect to hear the usual flight simulator sounds, they are exaggerated for entertainment value and do not belong as part of an accurate simulation such as this.
Another neat feature, faithfully and accurately replicated here precisely to tech order, are the Tweet's spoilers. With the flaps extended the Tweet uses a spoiler system to create an artificial stall buffet. I doubt you will have ever flown a simulation as accurate as this rendition of the Tweet. To fully explain it all would take thousands of words; there's just so much to it. All of the drag devices are modeled correctly. The speed brake loses effectiveness at high-pressure altitudes and at lower speeds. Fuel flow rates vary realistically at different altitudes. Exhaust gas temperatures are accurate. It is all just as in real life.
The program comes complete with a lot of documentation to get you doing things right. You will find lots of check lists, quick reference charts and guides. The program may be downloaded from the team's website www.t37sim.com. The program is big, over 60 MB, and you will also need to install an update which is an additional 16 MB. For a program cost of $30.00, payable through Flight1 e/commerce system you are given a key to make the program operable. Installation is straightforward.
The Tweet is a nice airplane to fly, not as sensitive as most military jets, making it an excellent trainer. Add to this an ejection seat system and landing gear designed to withstand hard landings, and it's easy to understand why the T-37 has been around for a long time. For a twin engine jet, with a top speed of 360 mph (mach .40 at sea level), the Tweet isn't exactly a speed demon. Fuel duration is only about 90 minutes, although this flight time can be extended with the use of additional wing tanks.
If you are looking for a good aircraft to learn to fly military jets, this is the one. My highest commendation to those involved in its development: Hernan Orellana, project leader, graphics, model painter, sounds, testing, instruction manual. Julian Data, aerodynamics, testing. Ron Freimuth, aerodynamics. Jamal Ingram, 3D models, textures, testing. Ian Kerr, aerodynamics, and Justin lamb, model painter also gave help. So, start your engines, advance throttles to 60% to get rolling (maximum permitted by regulations), bring back throttles to idle and you will keep rolling with accurate turn radius, all as in the real world. Line up, set flaps to 50%, advance the throttles and enjoy your T-37 Tweet.
The only problem I encountered with the review version, was that the speed brake didn't operate properly when using the keyboard command. It functioned properly when engaged from the panel. I would have liked to see a lower price for the download, simply to encourage more recreational flight simmers to buy the program.
Recommended minimum system is Pentium 4 processor (1.4 GHz) 256 MB RAM, 32 MB video card with hardware acceleration, and Transform Lighting. As always, the more powerful your system, the better things will run.