• PBY-5 Catalina X By Aerosoft

    PBY-5 Catalina X By Aerosoft

    By Scott Woodford (24 April 2011

    The Consolidated PBY Catalina was an American-built flying boat which distinguished itself during World War II. The "PBY" in its title came from a military designation: "PB" for "Patrol Bomber", and "Y" designating the aircraft manufacturer being Consolidated Aircraft. The original aircraft entered production in 1936 with the final variant, the PBY-6A, being produced in 1945.

    Those familiar with military aviation, particularly during the war in the Pacific, will no doubt recognise the unusual shape of the Catalina. They were employed in a variety of roles including maritime reconnaissance (ship spotting), torpedo/bomb missions and, probably most important of all, maritime rescue missions. The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) developed a number of "Black Cat" squadrons during WWII as a long range strike force to lay sea mines around Singapore and China. Their most famous mission came in December 1944 when Black Cats from three separate squadrons flew a 15 hour mission to mine Manila Harbor in an effort to contain the Japanese Fleet and facilitate General MacArthur landing in the Philippines.

    The Catalina was crewed by four airmen, which included a radio operator/navigator who doubled as a nose gunner when the aircraft needed to defend itself. To get to the nose turret, the gunner had to crawl through a ridiculously small hole in the wall between the two sets of rudder pedals in the cockpit. The Cats were produced in a number of variants including dedicated floatplanes which required "beaching gear" to be fitted in order to leave the water for servicing, and true amphibious floatplanes fitted with their own retractable undercarriage. Aerosoft have paid due attention to this and have produced a number of aircraft to represent each of the variants.

    Product Purchase Analysis via FlightSim Pilot Shop>>

    Download from Pilot Shop

    Yes

    Cost (USD)

    $31.50

    File Size

    487 MB

    Auto-Installer Application

    Yes

    Protected by Licence Key

    Yes

    Operating Manual

    Yes

    Checklist/Reference Material

    Yes/Yes

    Uninstall Application

    No

    Installation

    Purchase and installation from the Pilot Shop are very easy. Contained within the product folder are two installation applications. The first for the original aircraft production, and a second application to update the installation to the latest specifications. The installation program installs all files in to the relevant folders within FSX, and the aircraft is ready to fly without further effort required from the user. Both installers require registration by using your email address and licence key, which is provided on the purchase page at the Pilot Shop.

    The aircraft manual is located within a new folder titled Aerosoft within your root FSX folder. The Aerosoft folder also contains a scenery folder for use with the Catalina. In reading the manual, virtual pilots are directed to the Aerosoft Forums for ongoing product support. Registration is free and the forums contain a wealth of information on every Aerosoft product. In looking at the Catalina X section, I found a further two updates to the aircraft which were not included in the original package hosted by the FS Pilot Shop. Each of these updates must be installed separately however, the most recent update to version 1.2 requires manual extraction/installation of the files. All updates require the same licence key validation as supplied at the time of purchase from the Pilot Shop.

    Because no uninstall program is included, removing the product (if desired) requires manually deleting the aircraft via the Windows Control Panel. Once installed, virtual pilots will find 16 different aircraft in their hangar however, the US Navy "Midway" aircraft seems to be duplicated. I will come back to this issue shortly.

    Performance

    A comparison of real-world performance data and Aerosoft aircraft data is included below.

    REAL AIRCRAFT DATA
    From Wikipedia >>

    VIRTUAL AIRCRAFT DATA
    From Testing in FSX

    Empty weight

    9,485 kg

    Empty weight

    8,090 kg

    Maximum take-off weight

    16,066 kg

    Maximum take-off weight

    16,065 kg

    Maximum speed

    173 knots

    Maximum speed

    180 knots

    Ceiling

    15,800 ft

    Ceiling

    14,500 ft

    Climb rate

    1,000 ft/min

    Climb rate

    1,500 fpm

    The Catalina is a step back in time to radial engines and uncomplicated cockpits. With a maximum speed of only 180 knots, virtual pilots have plenty of time to prepare for each stage of their flight. Flight control response is adequate but this is not a fighter. The Catalina will respond steadily and predictably to control input. One of the more interesting flight characteristics of this aircraft is its behavior in a dive, approaching VNE, or maximum speed. As airspeed increases, the lift generated by the enormous wing as well as the hull/fuselage results in the nose steadily pitching up to the point where the pilot cannot maintain a dive and the aircraft will begin to climb. Maintaining forward pressure on the stick will result in the aircraft porpoising through the air in a perpetual dive/climb cycle. Of course, this is easily solved by returning the control column to a neutral position and allowing the aircraft to stabilise.

    What this ultimately means is that descents must be well planned so that arrival at your destination is achieved at the correct altitude without the need to orbit.

    There are no flaps or slats on the Catalina. The aircraft stalls at 72 knots and is very docile. In fact, it didn't behave as I would have expected by dropping the nose. Instead, the Cat maintained a nose high attitude through the stall, and simply began losing altitude whilst maintaining an indicated airspeed of around 70 knots. Recovery was as simple as applying full power and easing the pressure on the controls with minimal loss in altitude.

    Thankfully, I was able to speak with Mr Gordon Glynn, a Catalina pilot for Australia's Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS). He confirmed the behavior of the Cat at the point of stall was not to drop the nose but rather wallow in the roll axis in a nose high attitude. He confirmed also that real-life stall speed for the Cat is 45 knots. On the subject of maximum speed, Mr. Glynn stated that VNE was 173 knots but that "you would never reach it". He also confirmed that the hull/fuselage of the aircraft at high speed had a tendency to lift the nose. While he couldn't comment on the porpoising effect that I experienced in the sim, his experience did lend a certain degree of validation to the FSX product behavior.

    Handling this aircraft on land is simple, just like any other conventional aircraft. However, once on the water, this flying boat is a handful. It does not have a water rudder. This means that it does not turn well on water. Turns need to be coordinated by application of power to the outboard engine whilst banking in to the turn to dip the inside float in to the water using the drag to help turn the aircraft. The designers state that this is true to real life operations, but also state that to assist in manoeuvring on water, they have included a water rudder type effect if the aircraft is travelling below 20 knots. Turns on the water are wide, and it is difficult to accurately stop alongside any given point such as docks.

           

    Visual Features

    The Aerosoft Catalina X isn't swimming with stunning visual effects but what it does have only adds to the experience of flying this aircraft. Animated control surfaces are standard. Both pilots turn their heads with rudder inputs. The default open/close exit command will cycle the waist blisters which open to reveal machine guns manned by a lone gunner. Inside the cockpit, latches on either of the side windows can be flicked to slide these windows open. Likewise, overhead hatches can also be opened using a corresponding mechanism. Wing floats are also animated and operated by a switch on the control column.

    The cockpit itself is relatively simple, but cluttered and cumbersome to fly with. The reason being that only a virtual panel is supplied with the aircraft. Using the Shift-2 combination will open the interactive aircraft checklist, which is quite a handy feature. It allows pilots to manually check off each item, which is then double checked by the copilot. Items confirmed set are designated by a green tick whilst those that still require some action are marked with a red cross or, in the case of an item checked by the pilot but not confirmed by the copilot, a red tick. Unfortunately, there are no pop-up panels included. Pilots are expected to either pan around the virtual cockpit and zoom in/out to operate the various switches and levers, or change views entirely to see the required panels and controls. In flight, this becomes an issue, particularly when trying to do things quickly such as operating the engine mixture controls. Which leads me to my next point. In order to have the engines operate as intended by Aerosoft, you MUST ensure the FSX automixture setting is turned OFF in the aircraft realism settings menu. Failure to do this will prevent proper starting of the engines.

    Operation of the switches and dials can be achieved either by mouse buttons (left click for up, right click for down) or by scrolling the mouse wheel. This is a natural action once you are used to the idea of using the scroll wheel for this function.

    Lighting is also supplied for night operations. The panel lighting is adequate and as I would expect for a real aircraft of this vintage. External lighting is sparse but once again expected for this type of aircraft. My only criticism of the external lighting is that the wing mounted landing light animations do not line up perfectly with the position of the landing light globes.

           

    Technical Features

    The supplied operating manual for the Aerosoft PBY Catalina X runs to 440 pages. Of this, only 100 pages actually relate to the simulated aircraft with the remaining pages purported to be a real operating manual for "The Dutch Cat" PH-PBY. Aside from the interest value, it is arguable whether this real operating manual offers any real assistance to operating the Aerosoft model.

    As mentioned earlier in this article, product support is by way of online forums. The suppliers state that this is to enable answers to problems to be supplied faster as each user then becomes part of the online support group being able to offer advice and identify issues as they come up. Having users from all over the world also means that given the various time zones throughout the world, it is reasonable to presume that at any given time of day, someone will be browsing the forums.

    After upgrading to v1.2 I did indeed identify a problem. For some reason, one of the aircraft (the afore-mentioned "Midway" model) was duplicated in the install. When trying to load the second of these aircraft, an error message was generated. Dismissing this message, I was then faced with an aircraft that was rendered correctly on the outside, but the cockpit panel was entirely black. I posted this issue on the forums and had an answer within a day with a possible solution that required opening and manually deleting part of the configuration file. This solution came from someone who on face value was involved in the Aerosoft production. What wasn't mentioned was a future patch or upgrade to rectify the issue.

    Please note, I am not associated with product designer, and do not offer technical support for their products. Any emails to me for assistance will be politely returned referring you to the designer in the first instance.

    The Verdict

    I am torn with this model. I have always had a soft spot for the Catalina and I would love to be able to give the Aerosoft model a glowing report. Unfortunately, it is sufficiently hard enough to handle on both water and in the air to detract from my overall opinion. Having to pan around the cockpit in order to operate the various essential systems is cumbersome. Having a system like TrackIR or similar would probably negate this issue, but I am guessing on this point. Whilst the online support forums are a good idea and offer timely answers, I was frustrated by having to download additional updates, including having to manually install the last of the updates. Visually, the aircraft models seem to be accurate and all the standard features that we come to expect of FSX models are included. Performance-wise the aircraft handles well and is a pleasure to fly once the art of engine management has been mastered.

    Because of these complications, I don't think this aircraft would be enjoyed by novice pilots. It is my opinion that only those with experience in advanced aircraft operation and an understanding of engine management would really enjoy operating the Aerosoft PBY Catalina X. If you fit this description, then I think the aircraft will give you plenty of enjoyable hours in the air for a reasonable cost.

    Test System

    FSX Acceleration & DX9
    AMD 64 X2 Dual Core 4600+ 2.4 GHz
    2 GB RAM
    Saitek X52 stick & throttle

    References

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consolidated_PBY_Catalina

    Acknowledgement

    I would like to thank Mr. Gordon Glynn, Catalina pilot for the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society, for his time and insight in speaking to me about the handling characteristics of the Catalina. For more information on HARS and their PBY6A Catalina VH-PBZ, visit http://www.hars.org.au/.


    HARS PBY6A Catalina VH-PBZ at the Australian International Airshow, 3 March 2011

    Scott Woodford
    welly616@gmail.com

    Learn More Here

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