DeHavilland Dash 7 For FS2002 Pro
Or "How To Build Classic Freeware"
By Andrew Herd (18 October 2002)
ntil FS2002 hit the shelves, the lack of any really good DeHavilland Dash 7s or 8s for Flight Simulator was one of life's little mysteries. From a pilot's point of view, these are among some of the most interesting passenger transports around - because they are still flyable. Go up just one size bracket, to a 737 and you are into a whole new ball game, with a plane that demands a much more controlled environment. This isn't to say that Dash pilots go throwing their passengers all over the sky, but they shoehorn in and out of some extremely demanding strips and though their rates of climb don't look astounding on paper, just watch the angle they go out at next time you get the chance.
So I was extremely interested to see a heavyweight Gmax Dash 7 package hit the file library recently, particularly when it was followed up by a slew of repaints and the hint that further upgrades were to follow. When you consider that PSS are on the eve of releasing a Dash 8, it is clear that an important gap in the FS hangar has been plugged.
The Dash 7 was born of the belief that many cities would choose to develop centrally located commuter airports - a dream that didn't come to pass, thanks to planning regulations, though a scattering did appear, and continue to do so, though usually at the expense of long and searching public enquiries. The design aim behind the Dash 7 was to build a 50 seat regional airliner that could operate out of 3000 foot strips, and while only a hundred or so hulls were built, it laid the foundations for one of the most successful regional turboprops ever built, the Dash 8.
The program kicked off in the early seventies, centered around an advanced wing with full span double slotted trailing edge flaps and a two stage spoiler system that enhanced slow flight roll control as well as dumping lift. Four Pratt & Whitney PT6As, driving relatively slow revving props, were mounted on the wing, their wash contributing significantly to lift in critical parts of the flight envelope.
The first hull was delivered to Rocky Mountain Airways in early 1978 and the last to Tyrolean Airways almost exactly ten years later, when production ended following Boeing's takeover of de Havilland Canada. The production run might have been short, but the Dash 7 remains one of the best performing aircraft in its class; some say the best, because with full flaps it can fly low speed approaches at incredibly steep angles. Takeoff is no less spectacular, the set of figures I have here showing that at 41,000 lb, the Dash 7 needs a scant 2260 feet to take to the air. With a typical payload, range is 1140 nm, service ceiling 21,000 feet and max cruise is 230 knots - so you get a lot of airplane for the money, except in this case, you don't have to pay anything at all, because this package is free.
This FS2002 Professional Edition package was designed
by Milton Shupe, with a panel by Scott Thomas, textures by Joao Paz
and a sound set modified from an Aaron Swindle original. An
experienced team was involved in the alpha and beta testing, the
result being an enjoyable and largely bug free package. If you
check out the Dash 7 web site, you can get up to speed on
current details, known problems, repaint info and the FAQ.
The core package is a 17 Mb download that can be decompressed into the FS2002 folder with directory recursion checked. I didn't have any problems with the installation and have good reason to be grateful to Milton for it because it installed an FS2002 compatible version of FSSound.dll - I had lost my previous copy. In addition to the core package, which has DXT3 textures by default, three supplementary downloads are included, with 8, 16 and 32 bit textures. The default textures include alpha channels for reflections, but cut back a bit on the quality of the paint scheme; the 16 bit set increases the quality of the scheme, but loses the reflections; and the 32 bit textures give you everything, but may not run on some machines. I tried all three and decided that I liked the 16 bit set better than the DXT3s and the 32 bit best of all; but the latter set resulted in my PC (1.7 Ghz PIV with a 32 Mb GeForce 3) failing to load autogen textures some of the time. In the end I settled for the 16 bit set and interestingly enough, didn't miss the reflections much.
The first thing to say about the Dash 7 is that it is built in Gmax, so it is reasonably future-proof, in as much as it should be FS2004 compatible. If the next version of FS is called 2004, that is. Three liveries are supplied, for a Dash 7-103 Greenland Air and two variations of a Dash 7-100 in Tyrolean colors; a number of repaints have already appeared, my favorite being André Folkers Golden Gate Express livery. No doubt there will be many more, because this is unquestionably a classic piece of freeware, more remarkable because it is the lead author's first attempt at a full FS package. When I emailed Milton to tell him how impressed I was, he told me, 'I had never done design before, never an FDE, textures, sounds, panels, or anything. But, I do have a few personaility traits that kept me going: tenacity, dogged determination, stick-to-itiveness, intense focus, and a great fear of failure and embarrassment. That along with 30 years in Computer Systems Design and Telecommunications and a knack for art and music complete the initial requirements. Then, a full time job, and evenings and weekends to spend anyway I want to helped a lot. ;-)'
The result is a design with fully animated control surfaces, lights, passenger door, tail bumper, suspension parts, rolling wheels and tires, ground and roll spoilers, transparent, reflective 3D passenger and cockpit windows, outside wing, engine, prop left rear views, multilayered, glossy textures, night lighting and light map textures, transparent navigation and landing light lenses, a panel designed with technical advice from two Dash 7 pilots, and some seriously impressive STOL flight dynamics. Oh, and by the way, not only can you actually turn it around in a space you can understand, you can actually go backwards.
As I mentioned earlier, Flight Simulator isn't exactly awash with Dash 7 add-ons, so I asked Milton why he chose it for his first big project. 'First of all, I love the challenge of flying prop planes of any kind, but especially multi-engine props. After several years of FS98 jets, and some in FS2000, the turbo-props were the real challenge. But, I love gas and jet powered props,' he replied.
'Secondly, during the 70's, 80's, and early 90's I flew the Beech 99's, Shorts 330, and Dash 7's alot. I absolutely loved the Dash 7's low-RPM quiet roar, comfort, the effortless liftoff from a short roll, the high-wing beauty, and the long suspension to handle those short field landings. Thirdly, I tried for two years to convince a few quality designers to do a Dash 7, but no takers. So, one night in a multiplayer session frustrated with a bad air file and a FS98 model, I decided I would do one myself, thereby guaranteeing the level of quality I wanted.'
This might be the time for readers out there to take a look at what Milton has done here and start thinking about the possibilities. Have you ever thought of doing an add-on yourself? Because rather than doing a standard review, I am going to use this piece to show that a determined team can produce a great package at their first attempt, in the hope that it will inspire others out there to make their first steps in FS design.
As Milton points out, when you take on a project this size, it pays to get all the help you can. 'Thankfully I have a few talented friends as well or this Dash 7 would still be in development. Scott Thomas does a very nice job of balance and feel with his panels. As a member of our nightly multiplayer sessions, he and I had played with existing Dash 7's and he created a few panels each better than the next. I then began experimenting with air file improvements. Once I decided to get serious about the project, I invested two months on data collection, gathering tools, and creating alliances. With so many learning curves at hand, the challenge was on.'
Milton says his first big break was that he was fortunate enough to know Joao Paz of Alaskan Winds. 'Joao has done some awesome fictional paint work for Alaskan Winds and a few others I flew like the DHC6 and DC3. I knew Joao had something that transcended his art skills. Joao is a musician and music teacher, more particular than I am, I think. There could be no better person for this project; his textures really brought the Dash 7 to life.'
'With panel and textures in good hands, I needed sounds,' Milton continued. 'As it happens, I am also an avid C-130 fan, having flown them in Viet Nam. Aaron Swindle had an awesome set of C-130 sounds that would work perfectly for the Dash 7, if I could tone them down for the smaller engines. I wrote to Aaron who was tied up through the summer, but he graciously allowed me to modify the sounds. This was greatly appreciated ... but I have never modified a sound in my life. LOL. No problem, I could remember those Dash 7 sounds; I just need to duplicate them. After a few nights of experimenting, I had them down really close.'
'With things going well so far, the biggest issue for me would be the .air file. There are very few that I have flown in a C-130 or any larger 4-engine aircraft that I thought even came close to what I wanted for the Dash 7. The only way to do this was from scratch and to solicit expertise from real world pilots. I knew of one Dash 7 pilot and he was helping with technical data, pictures, and answers to my many questions; but he did not use Flight Simulator. I knew other real world pilots and after doing some Gmax model progress to show some credibility, I asked Don Moser and Glenn Davy for help. They jumped in with enthusiasm after I explained the STOL capabilities of the Dash 7. Later, four others came aboard including Bernt Stolle, our Dash 7 real world pilot, whose critiques would curl your toes. This we did in very short order for the air file, but he was very skillful at reminding me what the real Dash 7 looked like and how it functioned, and even sent picture comparisons.'
Having assembled a team of pilots and seasoned multiplayer flightsim veterans, Milton set out on a tough test cycle that lasted six months. Sheer excitement carried them through, '...we knew we had an awesome aircraft that was a great hand-flyer, loved by six real world pilots, and the comraderie was great. These guys flew nightly and had fun while I was grinding my way through the learning curves. Nearing the goal now, I needed a way to prove that we weren't overlooking things in our drive for success. I gathered a list of eighteen external recommended friends of team members for final beta testing. The Dash 7 was unleashed. For one week I had emails and nightly correction MP sessions; testing that was worth every single minute. Scott performed miracles in just a few days. I repackaged all the changes, and sent it out again. Minor problems, changes and then we were there. Ready for Release 1.'
But getting the package out there wasn't the end of it, according to Milton. 'I spent a week building a support web site, completing the documentation, getting advice from seasoned community members, and we sent her up the flag pole and crossed our collective fingers. The response was great, almost 20,000 downloads in one week from four sites. For seven months, I had emails about the Dash 7 and they all came through and then some. I have now lost track of repaints but thanks to Joao's awesome paint kits, we are getting some great repaints now from some talented repainters. The email has been extremely joyful to read after months of frustrating deevelopment. The Dash 7 Team has been my most awesome experience in a very long time. If nothing else comes from this project, I will always cherish the friends who helped make this happen.'
And in the future? 'There is a release 2, maybe a few surprises, maybe a virtual cockpit; though I think some of the expectations we have raised are getting unrealistic. The Dash 7 will remain different. Realism is number one priority, right up there with enjoyment. :-)'
'Next project? No plans for that. I did the Dash 7 because I love this aircraft. I did it for me and my friends and to give back to the community of designers and others who have contributed in many ways in this hobby. I did it because it needed to be done. This is a great de Havilland aircraft, fun to fly, and comfortable to be in. I hope it will bring thousands of hours of pleasure to all who experience her.'
The Dash 7 certainly pleases me. Yeah, the visual model isn't perfect and there isn't a virtual cockpit, and there are a few bits and pieces I would by preference do slightly differently, but I wish all commercial packages were this good. Where the Dash 7 triumphs is when you put the whole deal together and look at the balance the team has struck - it really does have something of the feel of a real plane and it is very rare that FS add-ons achieve this. I haven't investigated every last detail of the flight model, but the impressive thing about it is that it feels right and makes me want to try out difficult strips; drop full flap and you can parachute the Seven in, before flaring and dropping it right on the numbers. Take off is something else; get two notches of flaps set and the climb is like an elevator on rewind - but the best thing about it is that it is fun. This is the first sim aircraft of its class that I have enjoyed doing circuits in, and that, if nothing else, says something about the team the built it. So go ahead and try it.Andrew Herd
Download the DeHavilland Dash 7.
Download Dash 7 repaints.