In The Hangar
The Cessna 152
Rather than jump straight into a jumbo jet, when I started using the simulator I decided to start at the bottom and work up. For me, this meant starting with the little Cessna 152, a classic training and flight school plane.
The 152 is a two seater, high-wing, general aviation airplane. Production started in 1977, mostly built at the Cessna factory in Wichita, Kansas. Production continued until 1985 by which time they had made 7,584 of them, many are still in use today.
Powered by a 4 cylinder Lycoming engine developing around 110Hp at 2,550 RPM, it had a gross weight of 757kg, being made of mostly aluminium kept its weight down. It could carry two persons and a small allowance of luggage or cargo. Cruising speed was 123mph with a range of up to 477 miles. Maximum service ceiling was 14,700ft but they were rarely taken to that altitude as they have a pretty low rate of climb, more likely to be spotted flying around 2,000 to 6,000 feet.
There were various instrument packs, most training school builds just feature the minimum items needed for safe flight and look like the one pictured above. There was no auto-pilot, no GPS back then and nearly all models built had dual controls.
The Cessna 172
Having put around 50 hours of flight in my simulated 152, I fancied a change, something a little more modern but still suitable for learning in. The next step up is the Cessna 172, pictured below, the 172 is a four-seater version of the 152 style.
The 172 still features the high wing, fixed wheels and dual controls as in the 152 but brings a larger body and a little more comfort. It weighs in at around 1,111kg and is powered by a slightly larger Lycoming engine offering some 160Hp. The 172 has a cruising speed of around 140mph and a range of 800 miles.
Measured by its long production run and popularity, the Cessna 172 is the most successful aircraft in history. Cessna delivered the first production model in 1956, and as of 2015, the company and its partners had built more than 44,000 units. It’s now 2022 and the aircraft remains in production.
There are many variants in the 172 range, earlier types still offered the basic analogue flight instruments but the one modelled in the simulator is the 172 Skyhawk with the G1000 glass cockpit, pictured below.
The ‘glass cockpit’ tag came when they introduced two large flight displays made by the well known Garmin company. Although pretty much identical units, the left one is configured to show the primary instrument displays and the right one shows the GPS maps and engine monitoring gauges.
We now have almost a full autopilot – the engine power still has to be manually controlled but the computer is capable of covering pretty much all other demands. It has full GPS, a flight planner, airport search listings and much more.
In the simulated world, stepping from a 152 into the 172 is a massive leap, although the basic flight information is still there, the way in which it is presented is totally new and there is far more detailed data in front of you. I guess in real life there would be a training day from Garmin maybe? From what little information I can find, having the two displays installed would cost around £40,000!
The Diamond DA62
It’s been a couple of months and another upgrade was desired. This time I went for a twin-prop low-wing design, the Diamond DA62.
The DA62 is a composite and carbon fibre built executive style plane, it can take up to 5 passengers plus the co-pilot in comfort. Powered by two Austro AE330 turbocharged 2 litre injection engines giving 180Hp each. It has a maximum altitude of 20,000 feet and speed of up to 192 knots. The first models were in the air in 2012.
With a maximum weight of 2,300kg it is more than twice the weight of the Cessna 172, the maximum range is around 1250 miles. The cockpit features the same Garmin G1000 flight computers as the Cessna 172 has so I did not need to learn anything there.
Control is via a joystick type control as seen above, the engines are controlled by a management system so there are no propeller pitch or fuel mixture controls, just a pair of power levers – this vastly simplifies engine management tasks for the pilot.
I have only taken a couple of flights so far, there is lot to learn as a heavier twin-prop is nothing like the little Cessna, added to that is the low-wing which obscures the side views plus the small windscreen area which obscures the forward view a fair bit.
My first flight was a short trip over Bedfordshire from my training airfield at Cranfield, pictured above. The second trip was a full GPS trip with ILS landing from Southend to London City airport, a video is shown below.
The Cessna C208B Grand Caravan
Time to move again, the DA62 was lovely but I never really liked the restricted forward view caused by the streamlined design. This time I went for the Cessna C208B “Grand Caravan”. The C208B is a larger, high-wing plane that seats seven passengers in comfort, there is also a cargo version.
Powered by a Pratt & Whitney PT6A-140 turboprop engine developing 847Hp the C208B is a powerful plane. It weighs up to 4000kg at maximum take off weight. The maximum cruising speed is 184 knots at 10,000 feet altitude.
The cockpit features the Garmin G1000 flight computer again, these are very popular units and again, it means I have less to learn.
I need to learn how to use a variable pitch prop and also the turboprop engine, totally different than the fixed props of my earlier planes.
After a few flights I can tell the C208B is far more difficult to fly than the smaller planes, the extra weight and size of it changes so much.
The Daher TBM930
Onwards and upwards, another change was due. This time I went executive and got the Daher TBM930 turboprop. The TBM930 seats a total of seven people in comfort, the interior is leather trimmed throughout, this comfort comes with a price tag of over £4m in 2022.
Powered by a Pratt & Whitney PT6A-66D turboprop engine developing 850Hp, it’s the fastest single-prop plane built to date with a cruise speed of 330 knots and a maximum altitude of 31,000 feet with its pressurised cabin.
The cockpit sees an upgrade to the Garmin G3000 glass cockpit suite, this gives more features and larger screens. I’ll need to do some studying on the G3000 as it’s a little different to the G1000 I have been using. 330 knots is a pretty big increase over the 192 knots of the Diamond DA62, even though both are very streamlined and the DA62 has twin engines!
The Cessna Citation CJ4
A massive jump this time, my first jet, a twin-engined executive model. The 10-seater Citation CJ4 was launched in 2010, today, in 2022 the price tag is a hefty £10m.
Powered by two Williams FJ44-4A turbofan engines, it can cruise at 45,000 feet and 450 knots. It has a range of up to 2165 miles.
The cockpit is a complete change for me, gone are the user-friendly Garmin glass screens, these are replaced with the Rockwell-Collins Proline system. This comes with four main displays and two lower ‘FMS’ units (flight management systems) where the route and other flight data is entered and computed.
A totally different flight experience – the CJ4 is more of a ‘systems’ plane than a sightseeing one, it’s mostly flown on autopilot and on pre-programmed routes, especially at high altitudes. Learning the systems is a major part of the experience unlike the smaller planes like the Cessna 172 etc where flying the plane and enjoying the view is more prominent.
It’s pretty much a pocket-rocket as well, it will climb at stunning rates, in fact it’s hard to stop it climbing. It’s fast, travelling at 350 knots is nothing like the 75 knots of the little Cessna 152, things happen fast at this speed.
I have a ton of stuff to learn I think.
The Spitfire Mk9
I stepped back in time and bought the Spitfire Mk9 add-on for a change and the fact that I love these iconic planes.
I’m not going to list the data/specs for this plane as it’s so well known, the modelling in the software is stunning and very realistic.
Being used to modern, computerised planes, the cockpit is spartan to say the least, it is also cramped and has no comforts at all apart from some padding on the seat base. Considering the clothing that was worn when flying these, the simulator really helps bring home the effort that these brave pilots put in.
There is no GPS, no flight plan, the compass is extremely hard to use, there is no forward visibility on the ground or when taking off/landing as that massive V12 engine fills the view totally. To taxi you have to lean left/right and swerve the plane in a zig-zag fashion to see the taxiway!
In flight its the most agile plane I have flown yet, fast, quick to respond and pretty much hard work to fly as it needs constant input unlike the modern planes that will almost fly themselves.
The Guimbal Cabri G2
The latest update to the sim brings with it two helicopters, I started with the smallest as it is supposed to be good for training – the Cabri G2 by Guimbal.
The G2 is a small two-seater helicopter designed for short-hop flights, training or personal transport. Launched in 2000, the cost today (2022) is around £350,000. Built from carbon fibre it is light and agile, the three-bladed rotor is powered by a 180Hp Lycoming O-360 piston engine. It can cruise at 104mph for around 4 hours.
The cockpit is simple, most of the controls are on the centre console with a group of switches on an overhead panel.
The only thing I can add is that flying a helicopter is nothing like a fixed-wing plane! It is a challenge to get it to lift off sensibly, difficult to hover and a real nail-biter when landing! Cruise flight on the other hand is pretty easy and its great being able to go really slow for a change.