• Shorts SD3-60 Procedural Simulation

    Dai Griffiths' Shorts SD3-60

    By Andrew Herd (20 June 2000)

    SD3-60 in flight A new standard has been set in panels for Flight Simulator and anyone who wants to see what can be done by a programmer with real imagination should download download Dai Griffiths' Shorts SD3-60. This aircraft and panel package is for FS98, but it works well in FS2000 in my experience and it totally blows the competition away. When you bear in mind that this package is freeware, it puts some past releases into an unflattering perspective. The only package that comes near Dai's work is Bill Rambow and Roy Chaffin's R4D-6 NATS DC-3 though if you pushed me I would have to include the Dreamfleet Cessna panels, which set a very high design standard, if lacking the sheer depth of the SD3-60 panel. You will have noticed that I haven't included any commercial packages in my shortlist because quite simply, there aren't any out there that are even in the same ballpark. Dai Griffiths has raised the bar on flightsim development work and having flown his SD3-60 taxiing package I would need a great deal of persuasion before I parted with hard cash for any of the current commercial packages, and believe me, I have tried most of them.

    The SD3-60 had its origins in the 1963 SC-7 Skyvan, which sold 150 hulls before production was shut down in 1986. In the 1970s, Shorts revised the design, altering and stretching the airframe to create the SD3-30, which retained the high wing and twin tail of its predecessor. The design had its shortcomings, not least a lack of rudder area, which made it tricky to fly in a cross-wind and earned it the nickname "Sick Ship." In 1981, the SD3-60 was launched with a slight fuselage stretch and a single tail with a taller rudder. This is the aircraft Dai has modelled.

    So what sets Dai's SD3-60 apart? I suggest you try loading it and find out for yourself! The first thing you will notice is that there is the sound of silence. The engines are shut down and if you take a look around the office, all the gauges are dead. And don't bother pressing the start key, like I did, because it won't work. This one has to be started the Primary panel hard way...you will have to print out the manuals and settle down with a beer to read them. Dai designed this panel as a procedural simulator for Shorts and if you don't do everything by the book, the aircraft won't start.

    This SD3-60 is an almost exact simulation of the real thing, and barring one or two deviations from the real life procedures which were forced on him by the limitations of Flight Simulator, Dai has duplicated every routine which is needed to operate the plane. Every panel, gauge and switch is there and if you don't work through them in the right order, you won't be flying anywhere. This is the most complex panel I have ever used and it took me the best part of four hours before I knew it well enough to get the engines started and pull onto the runway.

    Once you are in the air, your challenges aren't over, by the way. As standard, it comes with a flight director, rather than an autopilot, just like the real aircraft, so you won't be able to leave it to fly itself; the other problem is that Dai has programmed a complex system of error simulations into the panel, so that unless you turn failures off, you are likely to have to deal with anything from complete hydraulics failure to Auxiliary Panels icing. This aircraft just wants to kill you, and if want to fly it for any length of time, you are going to have to become an expert on the emergencies and malfunctions checklists (not to mention keeping an eye out for emergency landing strips).

    The panels are not only a great feat of programming (there are about 100,000 lines of code here), but they are easy on the eye too. Every single instrument was built from scratch and they are a rare combination of functionality and style. Where the vast majority of FS aircraft have one or two panels at the most, the SD3-60 has no less than ten, and I guarantee that you will know them better than the back of your hand after you have made half a dozen flights. The primary flight instrument panel is the one you will spend most time with, but even if you cheat on the startup procedure and eliminate most of the pre-flight checks, you will have to open eight of them, and if you are anything like me, you will spend a great deal of time staring at the engine services panel, trying to work out which switches are pointing the wrong way.

    The majority of the panels are densely packed with switches, warning lights, LEDs and gauges, and they give a satisfying variety of clicks and clacks as you go through the start-up checks. Dai says that a competent Radios portion of panel crew can start up an SD3-60 in about ten minutes and with practice I am beginning to match that time, but as it is this aircraft is a full-time occupation for one person to handle and I'm beginning to wish I had a two monitor setup so I could lay all the panels out and scan them properly.

    In addition to the primary flight panel, there is the First Officer panel, holding the starboard engine instruments; a roof panel with the low pressure fuel levers and the crossfeed; the avionics panel with a complete suite of radios (if you want a GPS, you can add ACS-GPS to the setup); a center console with the engine controls, flaps, trim and control locks; the engine services panel, which holds all the electrics for start up; a hydraulics panel which you ignore at your peril; tiller and parking brake panel; lighting panel; and the systems test panel. Spread across the panels are literally hundreds of switches and gauges. Perhaps the only FS package which has ever come close to this degree of complexity is Lago's Mad Dog, and I regret to say that it has a lot of ground to make up. I haven't seen the FS2000 demo yet, but Lago are going to have to put in a great deal of hard work if they are to come anywhere near the degree of realism and reliability of Dai's programming.

    Services panel How is the SD3-60 to fly? Once you have got through the pre-flight and starting checks, the best moment is the first time you manage to get the engines started, and hear the PT6A's fire up and settle into a comfortable drone. You have still got the after start checks engine checks and reserve power system check to do before you can taxi out, but you will find yourself doing them all, because this package is so real if even comes with an oily rag in the zip file. On taxi, the first thing you will notice is how stable the aircraft is, thanks in part to a working control lock, which limits taxi speed to the real life maximum, and also how good the view forward is; despite the complexity of the primary flight panel, it doesn't obstruct the view and it is rarely necessary to switch it off to see where you are headed, even on approach.

    Take off and climb out highlight another area where the SD3-60 differs from any other FS aircraft I know. The first mistake I made was to forget to unlock the controls and the result was a very stately trundle at 25 knots down the centerline while I cursed the aircraft soundly. The second mistake SD3-60 taking off I made was to forget to engage the reserve power switches, which left me in a no-win situation when the starboard engine failed at fifty feet. They say a good landing is one you can walk away from, but I went clean through several hedges before I came to a halt. Though you need the joystick for direction, you really have to control the engines through the center console panel, and because the turboprop model is about as good a simulation as it can be under FS98, that means you have to pay attention to prop pitch as well as power. You can't just fly this baby with the stick and one control wheel, and if you try, you will have some nerve-wracking landings. This sounds a real pain, but fortunately, the flight model is extremely stable and with a practical top speed of under 200 knots, nothing happens too quickly. A good flight is just a question of a little bit of anticipation and letting things settle into a stable state before you try anything new; just like the real thing. If you get the approach set up right, landing is a real breeze, with touch down at a hundred knots and thirty degrees of flap down. Get it wrong and the supercritical wing means that you float endlessly down the runway into the same hedge I piled up into on take off.

    SD3-60 on approach to Lubeck Perhaps the most startling thing about this package is that despite its being the most complex flightsim aircraft I have ever flown, it seems to have virtually no impact on frame rates. Once again, this shows many commercial packages in a very bad light and FS developers in general would do well to give the SD3-60 a once over.

    What don't I like about it? Not much. I use FS2000 and though the aircraft works extremely well, it is frustrating to know that it can't take advantage of FS2000's turboprop mode. Dai has done a good job simulating it, but this is an FS98 design and it lives with its limitations. It has rapidly become my favorite aircraft and these days I rarely fly anything else apart from the R4D-6 NATS DC-3. Maybe if enough people download it and tell Dai how well he has done he will reconsider and start work on an update for FS2000.

    Don't miss this one.

    Likes:

    • Oustanding panels
    • Good aircraft to fly, good forward visibility
    • Good frame rate

    Dislikes:

    • Still has a few minor bugs (this is the first release)
    • No FS2000 version yet

    Andrew Herd
    [email protected]

    Download the Shorts SD3-60.


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