RealAir Simulations Citabria for Fly!II
By Andrew Herd (18 January 2002)
f ever an aircraft could be described as a classic pilot's plane, it is the Citabria, and if pilots have loved it, so have manufacturers. The history of the airframe goes way back and although the first Citabria flew in May '64, it could trace its roots back as far as the post-war Aeronca 7 Champion, to which it bears an obvious family resemblance, although the Aeronca has tandem, rather than side-by-side seating. The Champion was fantastically popular and at least 10,000 examples were sold immediately post-war, many of them to ex-service pilots who wanted a plane to continue their flying careers. In 1951 came a change in direction, the Champion Aircraft Corporation bought the production rights to the Aeronca and developed two new variants from it, the 7EC Traveller and the 7GCB Challenger and it was from the Challenger that the Citabria was born. The Citabria differed from the Challenger in that it had more glass in the cockpit, a squarer tail and was stressed for limited aerobatics (+5 -2 G); and while the original models lacked flaps, they offered a choice of a 100 Hp Continental O-200 or a 108 Hp Lycoming O-235. There was also a 150 Hp 0-320 powered variant known as the 7GCAA and the 7GCBC version was fitted with flaps.
In 1970 Bellanca took over production, shoe-horned a 115 Hp O-235 in the 7ECA and renamed it (confusingly) the Citabria; the 7GCAA became the Citabria 150 and the 7GCBC was known as the the Citabria 150S. The 7KCAB model which Champion had under development became the fully aerobatic 8KCAB Decathlon, which went on to be fitted with a 180 Hp engine and was relabelled the Super Decathlon - these are quite exciting planes if you can get any air time in one.
Other models included the Scout, designed for utility roles in 1970 and the updated 8GCBC in '74 which had a 180 Hp O-360, the longer wing and flaps. Bellanca's production ended in 1982, while Champion production limped on until about '86. Then, in 1990, in yet another change of ownership, American Champion took over. This company presently builds the 7ECA Citabria Aurora, the 7GCAA Citabria Adventure, the 7GCBC Citabria Explorer, the 8KCAB Super Decathlon, the Scout and the Scout CS, which has a constant speed propellor. All the models are broadly similar to their ancestors, save for metal spar wings, detail improvements to bring them up to modern standards and greater flexibility in powerplant choice. Rumor has it that the 7ACA Champ may even make it back into production one day, which leaves plenty of choice for anyone attempting to create a simulation. RealAir Simulations have chosen to recreate the Super Decathlon and the 160 horse Citabria from the American Champion production, sensible selections which show off the strengths of this wonderful little plane to advantage and make it clear why it has remained in production for so many years.
The Citabria is different to the majority of flightsim planes you will fly, because it is a taildragger. Providing you aren't a fully paid up bush pilot, nose wheel aircraft are pretty much the norm nowadays and this is reflected in flight simulation software, which only pays lip service to the differences between the two types of design. When it boils down to it, taildraggers are treated just like trike designs in sims, bar the fact that you can't see anything in front when you are taxiing and the tail drops with a thud when the airspeed dies - and that is about it. Needless to say, this is a gross oversimplification of reality and it denies flight simmers the opportunity to learn about the flight characteristics of some of the most interesting planes ever designed.
So why am I reviewing a Fly!II aircraft? Surely I only ever review Microsoft Flight Simulator planes? Well, yeah, that is true, but the one area where Fly! has consistently led Flight Simulator is in flight dynamics, which are far more fluid and realistic in Terminal Reality's offering than they are in Microsoft's - allowing developers who know what they are doing to demonstrate every type of aerobatic maneouvre. So when I was offered the chance to review RealAir's new package, it didn't take me long to say yes, especially since the two planes feature Robert Young flight dynamics.
The package, which costs $16.50 is available on-line from the RealAir web site - at present only for the PC although a Mac version is promised. This is great news for Apple users, who have been largely denied the fruits of the revolution in flight simulation we have seen over the last eighteen months. The link was fast and I had no problems with the web site, which is a design showpiece - other developers please take note. While I was downloading the software I couldn't help browsing and I notice that RealAir have a Seneca 5 and a LearJet 35a in development, so keep tuned to the site. If these are as good as the Citabria, every Fly!II user should be thinking of buying them.
Following my usual practice I extracted the zip into an empty directory, to find two directories and two files, one of them an html readme. The instructions in the readme are extremely clear - the package won't work unless the default Flyhawk is installed and Fly!II must be patched up to version 210. The purpose of this article isn't to review Fly!II, so all I am gonna say is that if you haven't patched your version yet, good luck with Terminal Reality's web site! For what it is worth, if you are a US user, you need the "complete patch for Fly!II" and if you are in the UK or elsewhere in Europe, you need "Fly!II patch #4".
Having digested the readme, I re-extracted the files to a permanent home and ran the installation by double-clicking "Citabria.exe". This brought up the adjacent screen and it was no problem following the prompts until the installer was done. I experienced no problems with the process and I have to compliment RealAir on the quality of their documentation, which is second to none. One thing the installation didn't do was to create a link to the citabria.exe file on my start menu or desktop, which would have been useful, as following up the various links on the page shown in the screen shot will let you learn everything you need to know about the planes. In the documentation folder you will also find a flying guide which is a wonderful resource for beginners, giving step by step instructions on how to perform simple aerobatics - and some of the harder stuff including Cuban eights and a split-S. There is also an abbreviated Pilot's Operating Handbook. Very neat. One thing you should not forget to do is to follow the instructions on setting the trim and exponentials for the two planes, or the flight models will end up like scalded cats on steroids.
Okay, so what are the planes like? Well, those of you who have gotten used to the rather basic cockpit graphics of the default aircraft are in for a treat, because while the interiors of the new planes faithfully follow the Fly! "look", they are streets ahead of the Skyhawk and its associates, with sharp bitmaps and attractive, clear instrument faces - and both offer perspective cowl views, which is something I don't recall seeing before in Fly!.
There are separate panels for the Citabria and the Decathlon, the latter being rather more sparsely equipped and lacking either an artificial horizon or a DI - flying it is real seat of the pants stuff and boy, will you learn to love that turn and bank indicator. Both planes are fitted with a GPS, which beginners will welcome, although it seemed a touch out of place in the Decathlon; given the sparse fit on the rest of the panel, this is a plane which will probably spend most of its time being flown VFR. It would be nice to see an option to remove this to bring the panel into alignment with the Citabrias I have known, most of which were lucky to have more than the basic six on the dash! Maybe I am taking purism to an extreme here, but this is the kind of sim that almost makes you forget that you aren't in a real plane.
The interior views are to die for, with (for want of a better word) semi-photorealistic graphics, the switch panel view shown here being fairly typical of the quality on offer. You will want to read the manual fairly closely if you plan to give the starting procedure a trial, because if you opt to go down the "realistic" route, you won't get anywhere just by clicking the starter. RealAir have put a great deal of effort into making the operation of the sim as realistic as possible and all I can say is that once you have learned to start up the planes in this package, you could walk into a real Citabria and get it turning without any problem at all. The yell of "clear prop" in pure BBC English nearly made me choke.
The only downside is that there is a mismatch between the
quality of the animated graphics on the secondary windows and those
on the panel, the mixture control being a good case in point, but
this is a limitation imposed by Fly!II more than a design
deficiency, as far as I can see. I should point out that this is
the first Fly! aircraft ever to have fully animated levers and
control surfaces visible in both inside and outside views, which is
The planes look gorgeous. RealAir have opted for the standard American Champion color schemes as far as I can see, but these are nothing to complain about and the Decathlon in particular is something else to see, with its bright red candy-stripes. The visual model detailing is good by Fly!II standards, with a very high polygon count and both the planes are shown in "clean" condition, without any of the grime and scuffs that all real aircraft soon acquire. If you look carefully there are oil streaks eminating from the filler points on the upper wing, and the rivet area around the engine cover is stained too, but if RealAir ever do choose to offer any extra paint schemes, my personal choice would be to go for some harder worn ones, though the planes look just great as they are. The control surfaces are all animated (don't go looking for moving flaps on the Decathlon, it doesn't have 'em) and one of the nicer touches is the way the pilot's head moves with the controls. As an added bonus, RealAir have managed to sidestep the Fly! bug which causes the nav strobes to operate the wrong way around and flash too slowly, which is a welcome enhancement. Overall, these aircraft have just about the highest visual model quality I have seen in a Fly!II add-on and it will be interesting to see how other developers respond to the challenge.
How do they fly? I ain't gonna tell you, you'll just have to buy 'em and find out. Okay, all right, I'll just say a little bit about them, if you insist. These are seriously good simulations and if you don't fly anything apart from simulated aircraft, it is probably worthwile getting RealAir's package just to get a feel of what it is like. Granted, some things cannot be programmed, like the sensation of a badly balanced turn, or the awful feeling when you really lose it and pull a secondary stall, but within the realms of flight simulation, I have to say that the only rival Robert Young has where flight modelling is concerned is Steve Small. These planes are very good. There are some limitations carried over from the Fly!II architecture, notably the fact that you don't have to worry about ground loops, and the brakes and suspension aren't quite right, which is another Fly!II problem. But everything else is right and given the fact that I have yet to see a flight simulator which accurately models the tendency of tail wheel aircraft to chase their own tails, the ground handling issues aren't such a big deal.
I took both the planes through all the manoeuvres I could think of and I have to say I am impressed. In line with the originals, stalls are gentle, no more than a sudden increase in vertical rate and a falling nose, but you can get it into a very satisfying spin by doing a power-on stall and then crossing the controls after the nose drops. If you do get either plane into a spin, the recovery is very ladylike and a beginner should be able to do it without too much trouble - just closing the throttle and letting everything go was generally enough, although in real life I would advise a slightly more active recovery than that!
The best demonstration of how good the flight model of these planes is, is to do a low-wing crosswind approach, because this is the first simulated aircraft that I have found will do a sideslip anywhere near like the real thing. The dynamics of the sideslip are so good that flying these planes without rudder pedals is a bit of a waste and I would strongly advise you to get hold of a pair if you don't have them already, just to see what a difference they make. Three pointing these is another treat in store for those of you with yoke/rudder control systems and with the exception of the lack of any danger of a ground loop, it is the best tail-dragger sim I have yet seen.
By now you can't have helped noticing that the Citabria/Decathlon has turned on my lights, but it has also done two other things. First, it has made me look at the strengths of Fly!II in a new light. Fly! may lack the bells and whistles of FS2002, but has avoided some of the design pitfalls that are embedded so deeply in the Microsoft product. The strength of its flight model, combined with its availability on the Mac platform still make it a serious contender. The second thing this package has made me do is to add RealAir onto the (very) short list of commercial flightsim developers to whom I think it is worth paying serious attention - the fact that they have tackled such a potentially difficult first release with such aplomb definitely makes them a company worth watching.
I guess I don't have to tell you my final verdict - these two are just fun on wheels. My one wish is that RealAir consider porting them over to FS2002, because even if Microsoft's sim doesn't offer quite such good flight dynamics, it would bring the best taildraggers I have ever seen to an even wider audience.Andrew Herd
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