• Head-2-Head Feature IV: Heavy Lift Cargo Challenge

    Head-2-Head Feature IV: Heavy Lift Cargo Challenge

    By Ron Blehm
    October 24, 2011

    When I first started flying "similar" aircraft over the same route to compare performance (in this article) I had no idea that it would turn into a feature of pitting aircraft head-to-head in various challenges. Even later when I flew turbo twins around the Caribbean it was under the false assumption that the sim aircraft were modeled a bit realistically. Over the last few months we have talked on this feature about tweaking an L-1011's fuel consumption so that it can fly more than 800 miles and we've talked about tweaking the power settings on the default Caravan so that it can do over 250 knots. I gave the An-24 some extra horsepower for a high-altitude runway etc. Really, when we can easily start changing values and power settings we've opened a Pandora's Box of confusion and inaccuracy!

    Once you start tweaking settings in the CFG files you can make any kind of beast you want; I could make a DC-8 that flies Mach 2 and has a 15,000-mile range but can I really, honestly compare that to a downloaded 707? For a future segment of Head-2-Head I was flying a big, hulking 1930's radial prop plane that cruised easily at 350 knots! Already I needed to change some values and at that point one has to wonder what the value of a review really is? If a fella makes more than a couple of changes to a file than you really don't have the original download anymore and the review will serve no purpose at all. I'm having fun flying these features but I'm not sure what greater purpose I am serving for the FS community. I guess depending on the feedback, these features can continue or can go away; what do you think?

    Back in July when I did the Turboprop Challenge the An-24 did not come out so well. Of course not, it's big and strong and not made to fly in and out of little places like St. Bart's in the Caribbean! (Apparently also not suited well for Nepal either!) Well, this month we present something for the big, heavy haulers. The challenge will be to haul 120,000 pounds of cargo from Lalibella Ethiopia down to the Democratic Congo and arrive before dark. Lalibella is 6,500 feet above sea level and 1,100 miles later, Goma has a lava-shortened runway and few instrument guides.


    The first flight was in the biggest hauler of all, the An-225 (image above, left). Loading the 120,000 pounds was easy and after balancing a mere 108,000 pounds of fuel I was still pretty light all things considered. It is a bit nerve-wracking when you're at 6,500 feet and have used up 1/2 the runway getting to 90 knots but I was able to get airborne safely and soon enough though I was cruising along happily at 31,000 feet and planning my descent (above, right).


    Due to lava flows in 2000, the runway at Goma is just over 5,500 feet long (about the same as the elevation) and you can only land northbound; disconcerting considering I had "Fair Southerly" weather loaded (above, left). I descended over Lake Kivu and set-up for landing. I wanted to get down early to be sure I'd be able to get stopped before slamming into the lava beds at the north end. This thing must have some 737-sized flaps because it flies quite slowly in landing configuration. In reality I set the mains down a few meters early and had no trouble getting stopped (above, right).


    I taxied over to parking and shut down (above, left). This giant really doesn't fit here at all! We'll score "efficiency" as we've done before: time plus two seconds for each gallon of gas. The An-225 made the flight in 2.8 hours plus gas brought us to 36.6 hours total (above, right).

    Next up was the new Airbus A400. Now I know, a prop plane shouldn't be expected to compete with jets but I've had real-world Dash-8 pilots tell me about how their turboprops can perform as well and certainly more efficiently than some jets. So I loaded 120,000 pounds on board and saw that I really didn't have room for much gas. I settled on just 60,000 pounds which still had me 24,000 over the MTOW! At this point I figured I should throw this aircraft out as it's really not a fair challenge.


    However, just for my own entertainment, I flew it anyway! The thing leapt into the air out of Lalibella and climbed reasonably up through 12,000 feet but then started dropping off (above, left). With throttles maxed and climbing at a brisk one hundred feet per minute I reached 26,000 feet before stalling (above, center). I recovered at 18,000 feet and climbed back up for flight level 240. I got to 240 and held that for about 5 minutes until I stalled again. Finally I ended up solid at flight level 210. So far the A400 was failing the test but what do you expect when you are that far overloaded? I was a good hour from my top of descent when the sun set (above, right). I knew I'd be nearly 2 hours slower than the Antonov but continued on, eventually descending to 9,000 feet over the lake south of Goma. With utter darkness around, a notch of flaps in and full throttle I began my slow 180° turn back toward the VOR. That was the moment the giant turboprop decided to stop flying. With the black water just 4,000 feet below me I was unable to recover and crashed just off the coast of Rwanda, 22 miles south of Goma - all was lost! (I can't even tell you how much fuel I had left on board but the engines were still running; below, left).


    Okay, back to "reality". Next up was the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III (Mike Stone's model adjusted for FSX; above, center). 120,000 pounds of load, 100,000 pounds of gas and lots of trim I was able to get airborne before the end of the runway and climbed up to 31,000 feet (above, right). This was feeling nice! Two and a half hours later I descended over Lake Kivu, made the turn and landed and slowed easily (below, left). The C-17 made the flight in 3.1 hours which was actually slower than the An-225 but had burned significantly less gas and the C-17s total score was 29.9 hours. We had a new leader (below, center)!


    Finally I fired up the old timer, an Il-76 (above, right). Again, loading 120,000 pounds of cargo was no problem. I figured the older plane might not be as efficient so I put in more than twice the fuel burned by the C-17! The take-off from the Ethiopian highlands was truly scary as I didn't leave the ground until I was into the overrun area! I'm sure I buzzed some palm trees on the way out (below, left)! The climb and cruise portion was not too bad and reaching flight level 310 was reasonable. The flight was smooth and I was able to land safely just 2.9 hours later; slightly faster than the C-17 (below, center. I'm not quite sure how this all works out because I was using the autopilot and IAS for all flights but something in the climb and descent made both Russian jets faster than the Boeing.


    Anyway, when we total up the time and fuel for the IL-76 we have a heavy cargo winner!

    • IL-76 = 28.6 (above, right)
    • C-17 = 29.9
    • An-225 = 36.6
    • A400M = Failed

    Really, all the numbers are pretty close and I'd expect the An-225 to burn more gas just because of the size and aerodynamics. I suppose to be fair we need to pit the A400, C-130 and An-24 against each other, 25,000 pounds and some remote dirt strip in Afghanistan or something. Actually, sounds like fun...

    Now, if you find these features helpful or at the very least entertaining, do let me know and we'll continue next time for a quick sprint between a couple of heavy bombers.

    Ron Blehm
    [email protected]

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