• Grumman HU-16B Albatross By Virtavia

    Review: Grumman HU-16B Albatross By Virtavia

    By Bill Stack
    22 November 2010


    Screen shots by Virtavia



    Grumman's HU-16 Albatross is a large twin-radial-engine amphibious flying boat. It was developed to land in open oceans to rescue downed pilots. Its deep boat hull and long length enable it to land in choppy seas up to four feet. While it can land in more severe conditions, it requires jet assisted take-off in rough seas greater than eight feet. A bit of pop trivia about this aircraft: Popular American singer Jimmy Buffett owns and flies a restored Grumman HU-16 Albatross according to Biography Base.


    PURCHASE FEATURES

    Instant download from the Pilot Shop

    YES

    Installation program

    YES

    License key required

    NO

    Copyright acknowledgment required

    NO

    Manual included

    NO

    Checklists & reference included

    YES

    Uninstall program included

    NO




    The following specifications are taken from Warbird Alley and fron the reference data sheet for Virtavia's model.


    AIRCRAFT SPECIFICATIONS
    Specifications Warbird Alley Virtavia
    Empty weight 22,883 lbs 20,000 lbs
    Max takeoff weight 35,700 lbs 36,000 lbs
    Cruise speed 150 mph not available
    Max speed not available 205 KIAS (236 mph)
    Range 2,850 miles not available
    Ceiling not available 21,500 ft
    Fuel capacity not available 1,075 US gallons internal
    Initial climb rate not available 1,200 ft/min



    These are among many features of the Grumman HU-16 Albatross listed by Virtavia:

    • Sixteen models including 12 high-definition texture sets
    • Authentic virtual cockpit with animations and mousable controls
    • Very high quality sound set by TSS
    • Authentic flight dynamics, water landings possible
    • Animated cowl flaps and prop pitch, cockpit, and cabin hatches
    • REALGAUGE technology

    This product was originally sold by Alphasim, which "ceased trading" according to a statement on its website. "However the majority of those products previously sold here with the AlphaSim brand name will still be available under the 'Virtavia' brand . . ." the website explains. The Virtavia model is the same as the AlphaSim model.



    PAINT SCHEMES

    Screen shots by Bill Stack



    Visual Features

    Virtavia's Grumman HU-16 Albatross is visually true compared with real-world photos I found on the Internet. Coincidentally, I had a wonderful opportunity recently to see a real-world model up close at the Tennessee Museum of Aviation in Sevierville, Tennessee. Looking at Virtavia's version in the flight simulator was much like looking at the real aircraft at the museum.

    The exteriors are outstanding. All dimensions and components are accurate. The paint schemes for the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Air Force, and Chalk's International Airlines are very realistic compared with photos I found. I was unable to find photos that matched all Virtavia's models, but that doesn't mean those are not realistic.

    The 3-D virtual cockpit is also true to photos I found. Although Virtavia's colors are different from the real-world photos, the layouts, controls, and instruments are all the same.

    The product description says: "separate illumination for cockpit flood and instrument faces." In addition to each instrument being illuminated, the cockpit itself is illuminated with a light source that seems to be between the seats, based on the light and dark sides of switches, controls, and seats. This effect simulates having a cabin light turned on.


    HU-16 ALBATROSS IN FLIGHT

    Screen shots by Bill Stack



    Technical Features

    Purchasing and installing this aircraft is very easy. The archive file contains the installation program, and it is small enough to download quickly. The installation program installs all needed files into the correct FSX folders. No license key or legal agreement are required.

    Sounds are unique to this aircraft, having been "expertly crafted by Turbine Sound Studios" according to Virtavia. They seem realistic for a large, radial-piston aircraft such as the HU-16 Albatross.

    The radio stack resembles radios from the 1940s, which makes simulating flight in this old bird more realistic.

    An autopilot is included, but it is "not 'period', for convenience only" according to the readme.txt file.

    Instruments use "REALGAUGE technology," which means the following according to descriptions I found on other aircraft sold by Alphasim and Virtavia: "Gauges are 3D models with complete 3D working parts such as needles, flags, etc. Gauges are fully mousable with switch parts all working correctly. RealGauge provides prefect smooth operation, high frame rate, and extremely crisp appearance. All gauges have custom nighttime illumination."

    The product description says: "All gauges are fully mousable with switch parts all working correctly." This is true, but gauges, controls and switches are so spread out in this large cockpit that using them requires repeatedly moving the 3D viewpoint, which diverts time and attention from flying the aircraft.

    I was unable to make the landing lights work. The "readme.txt" file accompanying this product says: "The HU-16B data available to us indicated that, although the cockpit was fitted with landing light switches, landing lights were not normally fitted to the aircraft. This is not untypical for aircraft of this period, even some jets did not have landing lights."

    There is no 2D main instrument panel, and Virtavia says it's not needed. Many simmers don't care about 2D panels, anyway, but some do like them. With instruments on the 3D panel being so spread out, a 2D panel would be helpful.

    Without a manual, I was unable to find how to use this product's special features such as opening the movable cockpit and cabin hatches mentioned in the product description.

    Technical support is available via forums or email forms on Virtavia's web site. They responded quickly to my inquiries about another of their aircraft that I reviewed, but I received no response to two emails about this aircraft that I sent via their website several days apart.


    COCKPIT AND PANELS
    Screen shots by Bill Stack



    Flight Modeling

    For realistic test flights, I went to Ford Island NALF (Naval Auxiliary Landing Facility) in Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.A. I used its land runway, which is at sea level, and the harbor waters next to the island for take-offs and landings.

    Having never flown a real HU-16 Albatross, I don't know how it should fly. The reference sheet says: "The Grumman HU-16B is a very forgiving aircraft to fly," and I found that quite true of this model. Its flight characteristics also seem mostly consistent with specifications I found on the Internet.

    Neither the checklist nor the reference sheet provide much guidance for flying this aircraft, so I flew in the manner that made the most sense. I monitored the airspeed indicator, the tachometer, and the manifold pressure, keeping them within safe ranges shown on the gauges.

    For taking off, I set the flaps one notch as specified in the checklist, then I throttled up to maximum, then I backed off the propeller pitch until the RPM gauge was just under the red line. This aircraft, which is just under maximum take-off weight, took off around 100 KTS. It takes a while to gain take-off speed, however, as might be expected of such an aircraft. It climbed out effortlessly at 1,000 feet per minute (the reference sheet says initial climb is 1,200 FPM).

    Straight and level flight is easy to maintain. The aircraft responds quickly to all pitch and bank inputs.

    Since the Virtavia reference sheet says the ceiling is 21,500, I set out to learn just how high this aircraft will go and how well it gets there. With default takeoff weight slightly less than maximum, I set the autopilot to 21,500 FT and a 1,000-FPM climb rate. It climbed at about 125 KTS in the lower altitudes, then its indicated airspeed reduced as it climbed through higher altitudes, which is normal. A quick calculation showed that its true airspeed at 10,000 FT was 140 KTS (KIAS 120). It stalled around 13,000 FT unfortunately, so I tried again with the vertical speed set to 700 FPM. Then it climbed at 175 KTS at lower altitudes. At 10,000 FT, it was 160 KIAS, 186 TAS. At 15,000, it was 136 KIAS 136, 171 TAS. At 20,000 FT, it was 102 KIAS, 140 TAS. When it reached 21,500, it was 90 KIAS, 126 TAS. After it leveled off and held 21,500 for a few minutes, its airspeed increased to 128 KIAS, 179 TAS. (All these TAS conversions are quick estimates that are not intended to be absolutely accurate.)

    Neither the checklist nor the reference sheet provide any guidance for landing. The reference sheet says the procedures for landing on water and land are the same. With flaps down one notch, the aircraft approached comfortably at 100 KTS, finaled at 80 KTS, and touched down at 70 KTS on land and on water.

    The aircraft taxis on dry land as any other aircraft its size does. Taxing on water is also easy. The reference sheet says it taxis without needing a rudder.

    Without an operating manual, there are no descriptions of the 1940s instruments, some of which are uncommon today. Ditto many of the switches and miscellaneous functions.

    Some of the major flight instruments (especially the altimeter and heading indicator) are hidden from the pilot's view by the yoke arm. To see them, the yoke must be pulled back, and that lifts the nose whether desired or not. Or, the cockpit viewpoint can be moved to a position above the yoke, which would be like leaning over it in a real Albatross cockpit. That makes finding and reading other instruments in the 3D panel more difficult, requiring another change of viewpoint. With no 2D panel and the 3D yoke arm in the way, operation of this aircraft is hindered. A 2D main panel and/or a removable yoke, which I've seen in some MSFS aircraft, would be helpful in this regard.


    NIGHT EFFECTS
    Screen shots by Bill Stack



    Checklists and Reference Data

    The checklist and reference files provide minimal guidance for flying this aircraft, and there is no manual. The reference sheet does not appear in the kneeboard because it is in Microsoft Word format (*.doc). It appeared normally in the kneeboard after I converted it to an HTML document.


    CHECKLISTS, REFERENCE DATA, POPUPS

    Checklist

    Reference Sheet

    Popup Windows

    Screen shots by Bill Stack



    Extra Features

    The propeller pitch is animated. It isn't noticeable while the engines are operating, but it is very obvious when the engines are still, as seen in my comparative screen shots.

    The product description says: "very realistic crew figures, togglable." I mouse clicked on both crewmen to see what "toggleable" means, but nothing happened.

    The product description says this aircraft has "opening cockpit and cabin hatches," but I found nothing anywhere telling how to open any hatches. So I looked for handles inside the cockpit and cabin but found nothing. Mouse clicking on the hatches and frames around them did nothing.

    I received no reply from Virtavia regarding my questions about "togglable" crew figures or opening hatches.


    EXTRA FEATURES
    Propeller Pitch Minimum
    Propeller Pitch Maximum

    Screen shot by Bill Stack



    More Information

    Information about the real Grumman HU-16 Albatross can be found at these websites, among others:

    Summary

    Virtavia's Grumman HU-16 Albatross is visually accurate and realistic inside and outside. Its overall flight modeling seems realistic for this type of aircraft, and it is consistent with performance data I found. Simulating landings in rough seas for which this aircraft was developed is impossible in Microsoft Flight Simulator because it doesn't simulate rough seas, so landing on open ocean in bad weather is about as close as we can get to that objective. Downloading and installing are quick and easy. The lack of operation manual and the lack of precise flight data and guidance in the reference sheet and checklists hinder realistic flight, however. Users must experiment with various engine, propeller, and flight controls to find the best operating conditions. Virtavia's lack of response to my two tech-support inquiries was disappointing, especially since they had responded quickly to my inquiries about a different aircraft. Notwithstanding these shortcomings, this aircraft could provide enough enjoyment to make its purchase worthwhile.


    Bill Stack
    billstack@flightsim.com


    Learn More About Virtavia's HU-16B Albatross.


    Bill Stack is author of several books about flight simulation, a regular author in flight-sim magazines, and a contributor to Flight Sim Com. His website is www.topskills.com