Flight 1 Cessna 441 Conquest II For FS2004
By Andrew Herd (30 April 2004)
he Cessna 441 can, in many ways, be regarded as a turboprop powered equivalent of the 421 Golden Eagle, so it is fitting that Flight1 should have released simulations of both planes. The origins of the 421 have been discussed in a previous review, but in a nutshell, it was an attempt to provide a fast, piston-engined alternative to the growing numbers of turboprops in the skies. Cessna's rationale was that avgas being cheap, customers with limited capital would be tempted by the significant economies of purchasing a plane that wasn't driven by expensive turboprops.
Trouble was, it didn't work out that way. The 421 was a gamble that didn't pay off, partly because it turned out to be something of a maintenance nightmare, but mostly because the rising cost of avgas priced it out of most of its intended customers' reach. European sales collapsed after the petrol crisis - these days it would cost around $1500 to fill the tanks of a 421 in the UK, for example.
So on the basis that if you can't whup folk you might as well join them, Cessna bit the bullet and did a turboprop. The result was the 441, which is powered by a pair of Garrett TPE331s, producing over 600 hp a side. The 400 series is rather confusing, given that it includes planes like the 425, which is essentially a 421 with PT6As; and the Reims built Caravan II, which is a 441 without cabin pressurisation, again powered by a pair of PT6As. The 441, for what it is worth, shares a common fuselage with the 404 Titan, which is a piston engined (Continental GTSIO-520-Ms - geared and turbocharged, no less) pocket commuter liner. Nope, I don't know how they all fit into the scheme of things either.
The first thing to say about the 441's characteristics is that this is a very quick airplane - it is rumored that Cessna slightly regretted producing it, because it wasn't that much slower than some of their bizjets. With a maximum operating speed of 245 knots and a service ceiling of 35,000 feet, the 441 can hold its own in the airways and should be very popular with simmers who like short haul commuter flying. Given that the 441 is so fast, it has to be flown like a jet and the POH advised a powered approach at 99 knots (which I bet everyone who buys it will strictly observe, rather than adding the extra knot and relaxing...) right down to 50 feet. The engine management on turboprops is very different to piston engined aircraft. In practice, most TPs are flown nearly flat out all the time, since this makes them as efficient as possible; as an example of this, rpm settings of less than 96% aren't allowed while the Conquest is airborne. Broadly, once the condition levers are pulled back to 'cruise', the power is set by monitoring the Exhaust Gas Temperature (EGT) and once this is done, the levers are left where they are until the descent. The constant fiddling around with mixture, power and prop pitch that characterises piston engined flight has no place in a 441. If you have mastered flying the Baron and want to move up, Flight1's 441 is probably a more logical step than the default King Air, as the Microsoft plane has distinctly odd handling qualities.
The 441 was one of the first planes of its class to be equipped with a computer controlling torque and EGT, along with smart fuel management. Because of limitations of the FS2004 turboprop model (please, Microsoft, can we have a fix in the next version?), the sim flies as if the computer is always engaged. This leaves the pilot to control torque using the power levers and engine rpm with the condition levers - the onboard computer takes care of the pitch. Flight1 have pulled off the incredibly neat trick of separating torque and rpm control in the sim, which is the first time I can recall seeing this done, so kudos to them (and to anyone else who has managed to do it and who I have overlooked in the past!).
Flight1's 441 is a 64 Mb download from their web site and costs $24.95. At the moment there isn't a CD version, but no doubt one will be released sooner or later, as this has been the case with virtually all their other products. After the transaction has been processed, the user is supplied with a key which can be used to install the aircraft - a live Internet connection is necessary to allow this to be done, but after that the line can be dropped. I had no problems with the installation, Flight1 having got the bugs out of this system long ago. The installation creates a new program group with links to all the items needed to run the sim, including two manuals, a Pilot's Operating Handbook (POH) and a very useful tutorial - I wish that more addons included these.
The visual model is very nice indeed, although only one livery is included, as seems to be traditional with Flight1 releases. More liveries can be added using the supplied Text O Matic utility and judging by the track record Flight1 sims have for attracting freeware liveries, there is unlikely to be a shortage of schemes for the 441. (View available freeware add-on liveries) All the expected animations are there and the sim captures the purposeful look of the original very well. I installed the addon on a 3.0 Ghz Pentium, but it seemed to be very frame rate friendly and there is an option in the configuration utility to select a lower resolution VC, which should take care of any display issues on lower spec systems. Part of the reason for the smooth running of the sim is undoubtedly down to the way the developer hasn't gone mad with detailing in places like the gear wells, though I can't remember seeing an addon with working trailing link gear before and there is plenty to look at once you have got the 441 to cruise level on autopilot. While you are taking a look in spot plane mode, listen to the sound set which really shows those Garretts off.
The flight model is much better than the King Air's and as I said above, is one of the things that makes the 441 a logical step up from the default Baron. Being extremely picky, the one fault I could find with it is a tendency (admittedly peculiar to many FS planes) for the nose to come rather suddenly off the runway, so that it has to be pushed smartly back down again to maintain flying attitude, but otherwise the sim handles really well and gives about as good an impression of flying a real aircraft of this class as it is possible to get in Flight Simulator. It doesn't quite have the fighter like handling of the 421, but then neither does the real thing, yet it is a pleasing aircraft to fly. Approach stability is very good indeed and the 441 makes a very good platform for practicing ILS shoots.
The panel is one of the best I have ever seen. Flight1 are well known for their philosophy of releasing packages that give the user the same eyepoint as a real pilot; and they are a hard act to follow. The rectangular format of a computer screen severely limits how real FS panels can be and the relatively fixed viewpoint means that even the best virtual cockpit (VC) only approximates to the view a real pilot gets - so every solution ends up being a compromise. Flight1 have gone for what I think is the best option, which is to show a pilot's eye view of a limited section of panel directly in front of the left hand seat, putting the top of the glare shield where it should be in real life, and then stuck everything else on additional pop-up panels. This means that some instruments have had to be moved around compared to the real thing, but on the whole it works extremely well - the trick being to pop up the panels you need for each phase of flight and close down all the other stuff to reduce the clutter - or, if you have a powerful enough system, to undock everything and run it on a second monitor. Take a look at the full size shots and you will see that once again, Flight1 have produced the most fabulously crisp panel graphics and this, as much as anything else, is what goes to make the 441 such a great sim. It really does feel as if you might be there - the last time I recall seeing such a convincing set of gauges was in the MAAM-Sim B-25. The only snag here is that barometric pressure setting on the altimeter is only possible in inches of mercury, which are not commonly used outside the US.
The instrumentation is pretty good, as you might expect for a plane of this type, though in deference to its age, there is no glass and analog gauges rule. Though glass cockpits are extremely fashionable and Cessna are even fitting them in 172s these days, there isn't anything you can do with them that you can't do with a good set of steam gauges. The one thing that is missing in the 441 is a DME, though you can get a read-out by clicking in the center of the RMI - it would have been nice to see a proper gauge for this. The radios are the best set I have seen in a long while and it is a pleasure to use the stack, particularly given that the frequency selection has been set up in a way that is more intuitive than the standard method.
In recognition of the fact that pop-up panels have to be used to fly the sim properly, Flight1 have provided a 'panel manager' window that can be displayed by clicking on a switch at lower left on the main panel. The panel manager sits unobtrusively at top right and can be used to select popups as they are needed. Most, but not all of the sub-panels can also be selected using main panel hot-spots and between them all, the 441's systems have been simulated where possible, though some of the non-working switches have been left as bitmaps. Though this isn't the Vmax 747-200 simmers will be more than happy with what they find here and the 441 has the virtue of being just complex enough to be interesting, without having so many features that you end up spending all your simming time with your head stuck in a manual.
Buried deep in the documentation is a section about the various modes which can be selected on the Nav radios, which are the ubiquitous Bendix King KX165A units. Apart from showing the standby frequency, each press of the mode button cycles you through showing a VOR CDI (useful for airways flights); or the TO and FROM radials from the currently tuned VOR, which lets you make a quick check on where you are relative to a navaid. If you set the standby frequency to a second VOR, this mode is perfect for doing cross-cuts.
The only vaguely complicated bit of the sim is the autopilot, which is a simplified version of the real 441 item. There is a master switch on bottom left of the panel which turns the unit on; an Alt Alert unit which can be used either to quickly preselect a target altitude, or to set an alert level (useful when you are asked to report passing); and the autopilot itself, which can be slaved either to the Nav1 radio, or to the GPS. The autopilot is normally turned on using the switch on the unit itself, or by pressing any of the mode buttons, the master switch being there to allow a quick disconnect, for example on landing. If an altitude is selected on the Alt Alert unit, pressing the arm switch on the latter will cause the aircraft to climb to that altitude at 1500 feet a minute. It is, however, possible to preselect altitude on the autopilot as well - and a rate of climb to reach it - these becoming effective as soon as you engage the autopilot and override the Alt Alert unit setting. Since the Alt Alert is right in front of you and the autopilot hidden out of the way in the stack, it is tempting to use the former unit all the time, since the 441 can climb at something like 1800 fpm all the way to its operating altitude.
The autopilot is something of a mixed bag. I found it worked well enough climbing to altitude, but was subject to snaking when the 441 did radial or localiser intercepts at more than 140 knots. This probably reflects use of the default FS2004 AP code and wasn't a serious problem unless I did ridiculously high angle or short final localiser intercepts - and it isn't that far different from how some real aircraft autopilots work, as it happens. But it could be improved for radial intercepts given the high cruise speed of the plane.
Moving on, the VC is okay without being anything particularly special. I ran it in high resolution mode most of the time and got good frame rates on my system. All the instruments I tried seem to work, though the radio frequencies were a little hard to read without shifting the eye point. Clicking on the Alt Alert unit in VC mode brings it up as an undocked window, even though it is possible to adjust the altitude directly on the panel, and DME is obtained by clicking on the face of the HSI, exactly the same way as it is done on the 2D panel.
The 441 sim probably has more in common with the Flight1 DC-9 than it does with the Meridian in the way it has been implemented. Flight1 have got less to prove this time, now that they have established themselves as a provider of top quality software. Meridian fans will yearn for a plane with more knobs and dials, but as far as sales to the average simmer are concerned, I reckon that the 441 is a far better bet for its developers. What we have here is a sim of a complex twin that has been made simple to operate and fun to fly without sacrificing the feeling of 'being there' that proves so elusive in the FS environment.
Interestingly, for all that VC mode should in theory feel more real than the 2D cockpit, I think the 441 proves once again that Flight Simulator still has a long way to go in this respect. To my eye, the 441's 2D panel is far more real than the VC and even the best FS2004 VCs aren't a patch on what can be achieved in other sims - as anyone who has seen the J8A panel in the Aces Expansion Pack for Forgotten Battles will agree, I am sure. The 441 could have a better VC, but I don't think it could be made so good that I would want to give up using that superb 2D panel in favor of it.
Bugs? Apart from the localiser intercept issue, I didn't find any, though as I have said before, my purpose in writing a review is not to do a beta test. If there are serious problems that I think should be taken into consideration before buying a sim, I will mention them, but in this case I didn't find any that were bad enough to bother the average simmer. Once again, Flight1 have produced an extremely pleasing simulation and as far as panel graphics are concerned, the competition eats their dust, which earns it an Armchair Aviator Award. At the price, the 441 should find its way onto most simmer's hard disks and I will be using it over the coming months as a standard to compare other sims against, which is a rare compliment.Andrew Herd