Review: Airfoillabs C172NG for X-Plane 11
By Joshua Moore
Throughout my years spent in flightsimulation, there is not one airplane I can think of that hasinfluenced my flight simulation hobby and my real world flying as muchas the Cessna 172. From my first time flying a simulator in 2010 at myfriend's house when I was only 8 years old, the Cessna 172 has had aplace in my heart, as I am sure it has for countless others. InFS2002, my earliest days of simming were spent perfecting how to landthe airplane, as taking off was the easy part. In FS2004, many hourswere spent listening to the calm voice of Rod Machado through thespeakers of my parent's old computer. I learned to fly the 172 as bestI could on the 15fps I had on that PC and FS9. I would watch hundredsof videos on YouTube of "Max Graphics FSX and P3D" and just dreamhopefully that someday I could have a PC powerful enough to run modernsimulators. That pipe dream got put on hold however, as I began savingmoney not for a computer, but to fly for real. As I began my flighttraining in 2019, the Cessna 172 was no longer a jagged image on mymonitor, but a living aircraft that I had to preflight each and everyflight.
Slowly and surely my big dreams of becoming a pilot became areality as I earned my PPL certificate on August 3rd of 2020, thoughin a smaller and cheaper C150. I got checked out to fly the 172 threedays later, and never looked back. I have flown every hour in mylogbook, save for the .5hrs I logged in a T-34 courtesy of a friend, aCessna 150, 172 and 177. As I fly more and more in the real world, myGA experience in the flight simulator has dwindled, being overshadowedby the likes of study level airliners and heavy jets, as I could notthink of many reasons, beside proficiency, that I would want to fly aGA airplane in a simulator, as I could just go to the airport and takea plane out when I wanted to. However, there came a time when thatability was taken away by a choice I had made at a recruiters office,one that required a signature on a piece of paper and a little over ayears worth of my time for training and 5 more years of reserveservice. I have been waiting on paperwork for the past 2 months to getpushed through so I can return to the skies piloting an airplaneagain, but the itch for GA flying came back in this time I have beengrounded, especially having been partway through my instrumentrating.
This opportunity to chip away at my desire to fly a GA airplane ofthe same quality as the real bird came in the form of the AirfoillabsC172NG. I was amazed by the sheer level of accuracy and attention todetail that AFL put into this recreation of the 172, and eager to flyan accurate 172 again, I was given the opportunity to review thisplane.
Introduction And History
So, a little about the Cessna 172. Having first flown in 1955, ithas since become the most produced GA airplane in the world with over44000 examples of the type spread over 20 different models. I myselfhave had the opportunity to fly the L, N, P, R, and S models, and Ican say they all fly differently, the S being the most difficult totransition to from the previous, for various reasons I'll mentionlater. The C172 model Airfoillabs has modelled for us is the C172Smodel, equipped with the full G1000 package, and arguably the best 172available on the flight simulation market, and certainly forX-Plane.
Documentation And First Impressions
The download and installation of the Airfoillabs C172 is quitesimple, and is installed automatically through their productmanager. Upon the initial loading of the aircraft, I am greeted by thevery familiar sight of the 172's cockpit, which on first inspectionlooks simply gorgeous. The attention to detail on the wear and tear,lighting, colors, texture, and shape is just amazing. The exteriormodel is by far one of the most detailed examples I have seen to datein any simulator, with the amount of customizable options to enhanceyour experience sure to fulfill any needs you may have. There is amenu bar that can be accessed by moving your mouse to the left side ofthe screen, and all the aircraft customization options can be accessedthrough there, as well as the tablet inside the cockpit. The onlything I could find that bugs me a bit is the glareshield, but I'll gothrough that later in the model section.
Tablet And Options
The tablet included is mounted to the right of the MFD on theinstrument panel, a decent location, though it would be cool to havean option for it to be mounted vertically on the yoke, an easierlocation to read your charts from Avitab, which is included. In all Ididn't really use the tablet that much, and much of the time had ithidden from view. I instead used my tablet paired with Foreflight forease of pulling my charts and to build proficiency with the app so Ican use it efficiently in the real aircraft.
Going through some of the options provided by Airfoillabs, you canfly almost any configuration you like, with the options for flap gapseals, vortex generators, bush tires, wheel fairings or no wheelfairings, AOA indicator, and other small details. The customizationoptions for your flight will easily suit your needs. I myself chose tofly the C172 without fairings, as I've only flown 172 with them, andfor the extra 1-2kts of airspeed, they are a pain to have to preflightwith, not to mention snow and ice buildup inside the fairings duringwinter operations.
Exterior Model And Texturing
I've spent many an hour around 172s and so decided on a fullpreflight. I always start off at the base of the left wing. As Iworked my way around the aircraft doing a full preflight, madepossible by using the custom keybinds (you can set these up in theX-Plane menu to enable the ability to walk around the airplane), Ispent a good 10 minutes just soaking up the details that were put intothe exterior. Having the ability to just click the pitot tube coverson and off, as well as engine nacelle covers, baggage, chocks, andother details, just added to the immersion level I'd never seen in mysimulator. I can move the ailerons and flaps to ensure they had theirproper linkages and counterbalance and was happy to find all threecounterweights in the aileron and two in the elevator. Checking thefive fuel drain spots on the left wing, plus the five on the rightwing and three under the engine nacelle for a total of thirteen, wassuper easy and had quite nice animation. Again, the details thatAirfoillabs has managed to include speak for themselves. Checking thefuel levels is a painless process and allows you to fill the aircraftright up in the sim without needing to access a menu! In flight, thestatic discharge wicks move in the wind, and while only noticeable upclose, its yet another little detail that builds to the immersion thismodel provides! The only gripe I have about the exterior is that thereseems to be a lack of insects on the leading edges of the wing andcowling. I have hardly ever had a flight where I takeoff and land witha clean leading edge or cowling. There are always a few specs if notmore. It is a small gripe however and I am thoroughly impressed withthe aircraft exterior.
Interior Model And Texturing
The interior is where most simmers looking to purchase thisaircraft would spend their time, and I am happy to report that it is abeautiful representation of the 172's cockpit! I have a couple ofcomplaints, but I will discuss those later. The texture work on theaircraft interior is really well done, if not slightly lowerresolution than I'd like to see. MSFS has spoiled us with its insanelyhigh-resolution textures, and it's hard not to wish to have that samequality in X-Plane 11. You can see a bit of blurriness when up closeto the text, but really I never noticed it even on my 32" 1440pmonitor, so unless you look really close it's not a huge issue. Theback seat is very well done, and I absolutely love the colors and lookAirfoillabs chose to model. They nailed the interior color option. ThePanel is quite well done, and all the little details and nuances arerepresented accordingly in 3D.
The only issue I have with the entire cockpit is theglareshield. When Airfoillabs first posted images of the cockpitbefore it was released, my first thought about the glareshield wasthat something looked off, but I couldn't quite place it. Afterinstalling the aircraft, I went to look for myself by lining up acomparison photo of the AFL 172 cockpit compared to the real one, andyou may see what I'm talking about in the photo below. The glareshieldon the AFL172 is too rounded on the corners, whereas the real aircraftis straighter and has a sharper bend at the edge of theglareshield. This is my only issue with the interior and again, it'snot at all a showstopper, just a small accuracy thing. Airfoillabs hasdone amazing work with the model both inside and out, and with thatchange it would really improve the interior look in comparison withits real-world counterpart.
Avionics Options And Systems
If you are the sort of person that likes to customize your aircraftavionics, I'm afraid this isn't the best option for you. If you arehowever wanting a good quality G1000 aircraft that is a huge step upfrom the default G1000, then you won't be disappointed. Airfoillabshas taken the default G1000 and added lots of enhancements and fixesto simulate most of the every day needed functions included in theC172. You now have the ability to access the engine fuel burn and leanpages, with Lean Assist logic allowing you to fine tune the engine forpeak performance. It also includes Reversionary control for displayfailures, an accurate starting sequence and proper initializationmodes, minus the init screen on the MFD, which uses a custom AFL photowhere you would normally find your data expiration dates for the GPSdatabase. There are plenty of other enhancements throughout the G1000that will be sure to enhance your experience of the aircraft.
The other area that has been incredibly well modeled is theaircraft engine, where you have to properly prime the engine to get itstarted, plus manage the engine in all phases for smooth operation,monitor oil levels in the preflight and add oil as necessary, andcontrol the electrical system properly, including failures associatedwith each system. The circuit breakers in the cockpit all work andeffect their representative function accordingly when pulled, anamazing level of attention to detail.
The only thing I can find in this section that didn't seem quiteright was the engine start modeling. I have never had so much troublestarting the engine in the 172 as I have in the Airfoillabs. It isquite finicky when it comes to starting, and I have yet to get itstarted easily using the same techniques that work in the real plane:fuel pump on, mixture forward till fuel flow stabilizes, mixture out,fuel pump off, 1/4th inch throttle, crank over and slowly add themixture in. It will usually pop right off and stabilize around 1100rpmtill you bring it back to 1000. Hopefully this will be addressed andmake the startup process a little more friendly, but that is all Ihave for the negatives!
Flight Characteristics And Sounds
It can sometimes be hard to relate how a flight model feelscompared to the real airplane, and it can all depend on the yoke theuser has as well. A lot of how the 172 flew for me was in the yoke,specific pressure inputs to get it to turn, climb, descend, and dowhat I asked of it. It also changed between aircraft. I have flown172S models that have the older style KAP140 autopilot and a brand new172S with less than 100hrs and the integrated GFC700, the styleequipped on the AFL172. Unsurprisingly, the age of the aircraft andits use can influence how it flies, but so can the autopilot the planehas installed. The GFC700 can add a good bit of extra friction to theyoke and cause you to require more force to achieve the same movement,and that is something you cannot simulate without an expensive forcefeedback yoke, or 200 dollars and a trip to the airport for an hour offlight time to feel it for yourself. I think Airfoillabs has done anexcellent job with the flight model considering all the factors thatare present in a flight model and the "feel" of an airplane. If youremember from earlier, I mentioned the wings on an L model beingthinner than their N model counterpart. This is a nuance that can onlybe felt with a couple of flights interchanging between the two.
The S model has a firm commanding feel to it and has plenty ofauthority that allows precise control even at Minimum ControllableAirspeed, though sluggish. I struggled to keep the Airfoillabs 172 inMCA without it wanting to quickly stall out on me, but this can bepartly attributed to the lack of "seat of your pants" feeling younormally get in a real airplane. Power on stalls were spot on withwhat I was expecting to see, and the same with power off clean anddirty stalls. Steep turns passed with flying colors, requiring theexact same "half turn of trim" to assist the turn and keep thealtitude plus or minus 50 feet.
Takeoffs and Landings were great, with landings requiring a bitmore rudder control than I ever remember. My first attempt at a touchand go ended horribly with a gear failure after departing therunway. This can be attributed partly to crosswind, and the rudderinputs. I've had my pedals since I first got into simming in 2012, andthey were purchase used. They have seen better days with the brakeaxis no longer functioning and the rudder axis sometimes spiking. Thiswas no help in my futile attempt to keep it on the centerline. Thenext attempt went much better as I was more prepared to counter withsome slightly smaller pedal inputs. If you plan to go into negativeG's, watch out for FOD that may be floating up around the cockpit, alittle detail that is pretty cool to see when you aren't expectingit.
In all, the flight model is very close in most aspects to how thereal C172S flies, and I am quite happy with that!
The sounds are a custom FMOD and are quite well done, though Iwould love to see some improvements. The engine sounds are quite good,but the startup sound is decent at best, having the default X-Planereminiscent sound. The interior sounds are excellent, and AFL providesyou the opportunity to wear headphones with or without noisecancelling, and that really improves the experience. I will say therewere a couple of sounds that were either incorrect or ones that I'venever heard. These are the Autopilot Disconnect and the altitude alertsound, notifying you of your upcoming selected altitude. The othersound that is odd is the flaps sound. It has the sound of an old flapmotor out of a flight school C172 that has seen better days. Themotors I've heard on the 172S are always quiet and very smoothrunning. Hopefully these can be fixed, but other than that, the soundexperience is really well done.
The Airfoillabs C172NG is one of the nicest GA aircraft I haveflown in X-Plane 11, and the level of detail that has been put intothis aircraft by its developer really stands out. I highly recommendthis aircraft as a great way to learn the C172 and have a good flyingexperience. It is a great tool to practice proficiency for real pilotsif you just want to shoot approaches and practice failures to preparefor the what if. It is also a perfect aircraft for the casual VFRsimmer who wants to just fly around and explore. It has a great rangewith a fifty-three-gallon tank burning around nine gallons an hour, itwill get you anywhere you need to go! For me, it is the perfectbalance of both. I can supplement my IFR training with the simulatorat home and the full cockpit simulator at the airport to hone myskills and improve my procedures for the real world. At $49.95 USD itis competitively priced with other high-quality GA aircraft and isperfect for your next aircraft to add to the hangar!
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