Custom Classics VII: Piper Apache
By David Swindle (4 May 2004)
Bill and Lynn Lyons, well known for a variety of excellent vintage aircraft/scenery sets, have produced a rendition of an early Apache and they also included a charming 1950's Minnesota dairy farm scenery to add to the period feel of the package.
Purchase, Install And DocumentationThe package costs $12.50 and is purchased via PayPal (there is a snail mail option for those without credit cards). When they get your money, you will get two emails. One is a download link to the main part of the package (10.3 MB) and the other is the personalized textures for the registrations and scenery. Installing is simple as you just unzip to your main FS2004 folder and it is done.
The package also included directions to remove the "brake" message from the screen and also some new water textures. The Lyons have never included massive manuals, but a short HTML is included that gives background info and all the important bits and pieces of info about flying the plane. Although short, the manual is a perfect length and is useful without being so long and drawn out that no one reads it. The checklist and reference pages are very thorough and tell you everything you ever need to know about flying the Apache in a nice looking format that allows you to "check off" items you completed.
Visual Model/TexturesThe Custom Classics packages are well known for having nice looks and this one is no exception. The FSDS2 model perfectly captures the snub-nosed "flying sweet potato" look that makes it easy to spot an Apache on the ramp. Two versions are included (floats and wheels) with two liveries on floats and four on wheels available. The textures are top notch and include gorgeous reflections and dynamic shine. The colors are very authentic looking and all have age lines on the cowlings, wings and tail. These lines seem to be a little over done though and are the only detraction (albeit minor) from the otherwise perfect textures.
All of the normal animations like gear and flaps are included and some neat extras are in there too, such as the windshield cover, tie downs, bird nest, and animated dog and bird on the wheeled version which appear if the parking brake is on. The float version has an animated turtle and bird. Upon closer inspection through the nice looking widows, the passenger and pilot are fully animated as are the yoke and throttles (same for the gauges). If you fly too high in the winter, ice will appear on the nose and leading edges of the wings and tail (thankfully the de-icer seems to be atomic powered, and makes short work of your chilly guest).
Frame rates are very high on the external model and never did they drop below 21 FPS (locked at 25).
Panel/Virtual CockpitThe Apache was built in the 1950's and the panel reflects this. There are no fancy radios and no GPS although it is available in a separate window for the "navigationally challenged" simmers out there. The 2D panel, although functional, is not the prettiest thing in the world (much like the real one) and it possesses one annoying flaw. The background bitmap is pretty convincing (it changes depending on what paint scheme is loaded), although a little dark in places.
The only problem lies in the gauges. The gauges are a mix of mostly default with some custom ones as needed. I have nothing against default gauges, but in this case some of the engine instruments are VERY small and difficult to read and popup tool tips giving the readings are not implemented here, so setting power is quite difficult and necessitates use of the superb VC, so this doesn't detract much from the overall appeal of the package. All of the other gauges are fine however and a nifty period multifunction comm/nav/ADF unit is included. The popup windows are minimal and only consist of the throttle quadrant, the default GPS and the yokes (since they obstruct some gauges when visible). Despite the engine gauges, the panel is very well done and fits in with the VC very well.
The VC has always been the best part of a Custom Classics package and this one lives up to expectations. The panel looks superb and all the gauges are very fluid in movement (the engine gauges are still hard to see, but zooming in relieves that issue nicely). Most of the gauges and the windscreen incorporate their own reflections that allow you to see the yoke reflection move in the windscreen and reflections of terrain on gauge faces as you fly which adds immensely to the realism and immersion factor of the package. The interior is very nice and the upholstery looks real enough to make tired simmers wish for something that inviting at their PC. All of the knobs, levers, buttons and doohickeys are clickable and it is easy to fly the aircraft only from the VC.
The best feature of the VC is the passengers. Using the spoiler key makes your female passenger and a small dog appear. The passenger looks startlingly real and moves her hands and feet realistically; causing the diamond ring she wears to sparkle. The dog, sporting a face that seems to say "how can you not feed something this cute" looks around wags his tail, a very happy passenger if ever I saw one. Frame rates in the VC might bog down old systems, but mid and upper line machines will have no problem keeping good frame rates in any weather condition.
Flight ModelThe Apache was built as a general use light twin that could do multiengine training at low cost (an article from the 1970's says that $35 per hour was a high rate for an Apache rental, my, how times change) and the FS version reflects that perfectly. The flight model is spot on the performance figures and I found and it also just feels like a twin trainer should. It can take off in a reasonably short field and will get airborne at 65/70 kts. The manual says a best climb of 1150 FPM at 86 KTS and Lyon's version is probably as close to those numbers as the real Apache was new. Cruise happens at 130/146 KTS and the power/altitude/prop settings deliver the numbers they should with differences for weather and weight. Since the Apache has no turbochargers cruise will be below 10,000 feet (flying higher is possible but not practical) and it feels right at home at 3000 to 7000 feet.
One of the most impressive features is the single engine handling. The Apache was not known for its engine out performance and this is reflected very well. If an engine dies at altitude, the plane will descend to about 5000 feet, which is the single engine ceiling, and at very low altitudes it will actually climb (although it does so like a brick). Get a hot day and/or a higher altitude airport and the Apache might even stay aloft on one engine, but most of the time it will descend slowly but unalterably towards terra firma. Engine out handling is not terribly difficult but there is noticeable roll/yaw towards the dead engine, which is consistent with what I have been able to find.
Landing the Apache is not hard at all, but it is somewhat difficult to get slowed down from a steep descent from altitude to get within gear/flap limiting speeds. With a dirty stall of only 51 kts, small runways are easily accessible and I actually needed less distance to land the Apache than the stock 172. Ground handling is fine with no tendency to jump around or tip over, as some FS aircraft are wont to do. The only oddity of the flight model is that I was unable to get carb icing to happen, but this seems to be an FS flaw.
SoundThe sounds included are very nice and are so good that it is easy to forget you are sitting in front of a desk. The engines sound like a small GA engine should and are much nicer than any of the default sounds. Ground and wind sounds are also present and are at a perfect volume level, so much so that the blending of engine and wind noise is seamless as it is in the real world.
Scenery/FlightsAs was mentioned earlier in the review, a scenery depicting a 1950's Minnesota dairy farm is included. The farm has a small, sloping runway with a huge mud puddle in the middle of it (yes, you can finally play in the mud in FS). Fences border the runway and thus it is very narrow, and if you go through the puddle too slow, you sink up to the wings in mud and crash. Turning your ADF frequency to 000 lights the runway. The scenery looks very 1950's and includes a sign with the owner's name on it, along with two barns and a house bordering a field. The barns even come complete with cows in the back, but sadly they are static (I was disappointed since I wanted to try virtual cow tipping). Also included is a small stand and dock for air tours of Lake Superior (again with the owners name on it) and several ships ply Superiors waters, including a certain (in)famous ore hauler who "was the pride of the American side".
Six flights are included with the pack to show off all the effort that Bill and Lynn put into this product. They range from a nice springtime intro flight from your farm strip in nice weather to a difficult flight to Duluth in a Minnesota winter storm. Flights for the float plane are also included and take you on a flightseeing tour to looking for a stranded passenger ferry to deliver an engine part. A flight showing the icing feature is also included and is not to be missed. At no time during the flights did I hit any FPS drops and the immersion factor was so high that I was broad sided by an errant AI Caravan while looking at the beautiful water reflections included in the package.
Overall this is a great package for those who want to get away from the heavy iron that is so prevalent in FS and take a trip to a simpler time in a classic airplane. The sheer amount of goodies in the package means that it will take you a LONG time to see it all (if you ever do) and at only $12.50 it is 1/3 to cost of some single
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