If you went to an aircraft designer and said “Build me an all round plane that is good for learning to fly in, gives you a good look at the scenery, is safe and reliable and will ferry a small family around on sightseeing trips at a reasonable price…” what would you get?
In the mid 1950’s Cessna came up with the 172. In fact they kept coming up with the 172 over and over again and simply couldn’t find a better recipe. Something like 23 model variants and 43000 flying 172s later and Cessna still hasn’t found a way to cook the recipe differently. It was and still is the single most successful aircraft to have graced the skies bar none .
With such a good recipe to work from, it was only a matter of time until Carenado gave this plane the “Carenado Touch” for FSX (you can buy it on simMarket here). With such a successful plane in the real world, how does the Carenado version of the Cessna 172N Skyhawk II meet the needs of the Flight Simulating Community?Â Read on…
The potted version (skip to summary)
The full version (read on)
Various screenshots – for those with time
What can you say about an aircraft type that is now teaching its third or even fourth generation of aspiring aviators to fly? The best thing to do is to visit the Wikipedia reference page for the Cessna C172 and read about it. I certainly don’t think this humble reviewer can top feats like flying the plane for over 64 days non-stop or landing on Red Square in Moscow at the height of the cold war. Stealth? Who needs stealth, when a standard trainer can reach the heart of Moscow without being shot down? Not even Tom Clancy could have come up with a better cold war thriller…
The 172’s reputation as an economical primary trainer has also helped air forces in many countries to train their aircrew efficiently and many of these countries also use this plane in internal security roles such as border patrol, search and rescue, observation and even policing roles. Even the USA has several “official duties” for this plane.
As already mentioned, the Cessna 172 is the most produced aircraft bar none (43000 aircraft built and still going). The next three aircraft are all out of production (Polikarpov Po-2, Ilyushin IL2 and Messerschmitt BF 109) after which the next most produced aircraft still in production is the Piper PA-28 (still in production, but at just under 33000 aircraft built, a long way away still).
So what is it about the 172 design that keeps it in the top sellers list? Primarily it is the combination of high wing and positive dihedral that keeps them popular. It is by far the most stable configuration for a standard airplane layout. It also gives the pilot a good all-round view of the terrain, another important plus. The structure is an aircraft mechanic’s “bread and butter” as it can be maintained with a minimum of tools and in the event of damage, the 172 is easily repaired. The Lycoming engines have an incredibly wide following and are equally easy to maintain. Finally, the 172 is easily adapted for IFR and night flight and is just as safe flying blind – you don’t want to be sitting in a “nervous plane” when you are learning to fly, in any conditions.
It is no surprise, therefore, that Microsoft have included the type over many years, or that Carenado can’t stay away from the design. You’d have to be really foolish to break a winning combination.
Now why don’t I just get on with it and take you on a tour of the Carenado Cessna 172N Skyhawk II
Purchase and downloading the 172 from any of the online stores is, by now, a relatively easy and safe procedure. Carenado’s shop system has proven itself reliable over the years and their support in the event of mistakes and slip ups is, from my own personal experience, exemplary. I did, in fact, make a mistake during my download of the 172 and received prompt help and advice from Carenado’s Fernando Herrera. Of course, it does help having problems during Central European times… Customers from the far corners of the planet may just have a slight wait.
The zip file that was downloaded unzips to an rtf “installation.rtf” file and an executable installer file just 28 MB small. The use of the rtf format is as widespread as the windows editor format and is opened by just about any Windows-based computer and although brief, it is always worth reading these readme files just to make sure that you have things right.
A double click on the C172NFSX.exe starts the install procedure and the rest is simply a matter of confirming a couple of on-screen questions, inserting your serial number and twiddling your thumbs for a very short moment. The net result is two basic model types (i.e. with or without wheel spats) and four colour variations – factory paint designs in red, orange blue and a special 50 year commemorative livery. The 28.8 MB of installer unpacks to around 165 MB of data in your “Sim Objects | Airplanes” folder.
So far so good. A quick search of the Windows “start” menu does, however, bring a small surprise: whereas other Carenado planes install a Start Menu Folder from which to access the manuals, the 172 doesn’t. A small search in the most obvious places finally turns the manual up in the Carenado C172 folder, so it’s no big deal anyway
First impressions count and I want to see the plane I am reviewing from the outside, exactly the same as I would, when approaching one in real life. After so many years of using the sim, I keep hoping I can remember the keyboard shortcuts, so I avert my eyes and try not to see the cockpit view while I press the S key.
I’ve chosen the 50th Anniversary Commemorative paint for my first encounter and I am not disappointed. What now greets my eyes is a very good looking sim-model. The lines look right; of course they do… the experienced eye looks at this plane and sees a good, sound, safe design. Even as a 3D model on screen, the Cessna design is convincing.
What’s more, the Carenado modellers have caught this feeling perfectly with their model and texture. The way the fuselage catches the early morning winter sunlight…
Carenado have captured (or should I say created?) a plane that has been looked after well. It’s a clean plane, obviously not brand spanking new, but certainly in a good condition. If this was an airplane for sale, I’d already be looking for my cheque book right about now.
Opening the doors and lowering the flaps, I take a wander round the outside and look into all the usual nooks and crannies. I can see that we already have some luggage aboard. Is it in the payload calculation? Checking the FSX payload configuration, we see that it isn’t. A small niggle, but nevertheless, attention to small detail makes a difference. (And of course, once we get into interior view, the luggage “disappears”)
All in all I have to say it is a very good looking model, and yet there is something… Ah yes! Dare I say this? The 50th anniversary paint looks incomplete. If you look at the rear of the plane from a slightly oblique viewpoint, you will se that the sides of the fuselage are a sort of eggshell colour and the rear upper is a kind of “paintkit white” and the trim lines appear to be “cut off”. This calls for a spot of research…
I have discussed this with Carenado’s Fernando Herrera and he has explained. If you look closely you will see that that part of the fuselage is rather well curved, so the “missing” parts of the blue and green trim-line would be right on the edge of the panel section on the other texture sheet and very distorted / pixellated. Maybe not the best solution, but then again, the best way on photo-real textures
But I will stick to the “first impressions” and they were definitely favourable. The aircraft looks good!
Carenado have always been renowned for their interior modelling and texturing. Their planes have always had that slightly worn look, not “battered, tattered and torn” just “loved”. The Carenado 172N is no exception. The photo-real interiors do have that “lived in” look. A small accidental tear in the baggage bay lining, slightly worn seat covers, slightly unevenly fastened screws and the indication of dirt and grime collecting in the joins…
You can even see where a bored student pilot has been picking at a loose corner on the “warnings” placard on the left hand cabin side. Even the ashtray is politically correct and you can no longer click it to open it. It is always a pleasure to sit in a Carenado cockpit!
The instruments on the panel are all crisp and clear, although the panel textures themselves, being photo-real textures do leave the text ever so slightly blurred. As stated, the gauges themselves are crisp and clear and when seen close up, you can see that even the gauge textures look real.
Another item of “attention to detail” needs to be mentioned here — the image I have used to show the panel detail shows the aircraft tail number to be N295DL (I have changed planes in the meantime) so a swift glance at the outside view reveals that the registration is, in fact, N259DL. Now it is very easy to be a critic, on the other hand one must look at one’s own work only to realise that these mistakes do happen. Lord knows I have made enough of this kind of “fluffy mistake” myself, so I really do understand that the Carenado team can miss this.
But then again, I know that now we users know, we can expect Carenado to fix these small mistakes. ;)Â And besides, these things could happen on a real plane too. Just image the ATC Guy’s comments though, when you call in to land in plane “A” and the ATC see plane “B”…
Anyway — enough of the quality assurance for now…
I had already prepared a “cold and dark” scenario for this review, so now’s a good time to use the check lists. For those readers who want to use the Carenado check lists, you will find them in the folder: C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Games\Microsoft Flight Simulator X\SimObjects\Airplanes\Carenado C172II N
(Note: the test PC has windows Vista 64 bit OS, if you have a 32 bit Windows, then you will not see (x86) )
The checklist procedure supplied by Carenado does the job more than adequately, so it is well worth printing it out and having it to hand. If not, open the on-screen checklist and familiarise yourself with the procedures.
Fortunately the 172 is designed and built for ease of use, so the procedures are simple and we have the engine running in no time at all. It is always nice to see the gauges moving as the plane warms up. Applying the brakes and revving the engine a little, you will see the oil temperature and pressure rise and then drop as you reduce throttle to idle again.
It is now just a short taxi to the threshold. Test the individual magnetos – there is a slight but noticeable drop in RPM (the needle does twitch just slightly) as you switch between magnetos.
At this point it is worth mentioning that Carenado cockpits do work a little bit better in 2D mode. Some users might find the “hot spots” for using mouse pointer to operate switches, knobs and dials a little too ‘tight’ in VC view mode. From VC view, simply use the shift+A shortcut and you have a 2D panel with clear and easy to use click-hotspots to set all the instruments and radios. Press A to return to VC if you are a VC fan. You can see from the comparison images that the 2D and VC panels are both good.
Back to the runway…
Release brakes and ease the throttle forward. The 172N accelerates smoothly and remains controllable — of course, “keyboard pilots” will have to remain active with their fingers to keep the plane lined up, but she is gentle with the pilot and after a few hundred feet she gets light on her wheels. Just a slight backpressure on the yoke and she’s airborne. Judging by the Plum Island runway, fully loaded she’s airborne in about a thousand feet and clearing 50 feet obstacles after about 1500 feet. This is pretty much what Cessna have in their specifications.
In the air, our Cessna gives a pretty good image as you can see here:
In a word: “Pleasant”
Once airborne, the Skyhawk settles into a steady climb and as you retract the flaps and level out, she’ll settle down into a steady cruise. This particular 172 is equipped for IFR flight, so you can fly in all conditions.
What will make flying the Cessna 172N more fun is to select “Real Weather” from the FSX menu options (remember, you don’t need those extras with strange sounding names — FSX does have a resident “real weather” tool) Of course, any external enhancements do help. Flying around Massachusetts on a wintry day with the weather turning from VMC to IMC can turn a nice calm flight into a real sweaty palms ride — especially if you have some kind of turbulence active.
The model does react to simulator weather and turbulence, yet even so, she remains controllable. If you have trimmed her out and set her on course, she will fly reasonably straight and level with only a minimum of correction every few minutes to keep her on track. If the simulator throws some turbulence at you, just keep a light hand on the stick in case it does turn wild. Under normal conditions though, that “ideal” design will simply settle down after a spot of “rough”.
Flying in IMC does, of course, mean you need help from your friendly neighbourhood ATC — as well as a good flight plan. But other than that, the gauges in the Carenado model work as advertised.
If you take this plane up to a safe height and then try some simple manoeuvres, you will find the stall characteristics safe and predictable — as long as you don’t do anything really silly, like keeping the stick back long after the stall. Some aerobatic manoeuvres are possible and the 172 will get you out of trouble as long as you have enough altitude. Remember to stick with the description I gave you above: “pleasant” and don’t try for “exciting”. You’ll get enough of “exciting” if you decide to fly IFR in bad weather!
As always, we humans are a forgetful species. If we don’t record something, we can forget what we have to do in a certain situation. In the Carenado aircraft folder you will find three PDF documents. The “Copyright” is obvious — and it includes a word of advice to the painters. More on that in the next chapter. Then you have a brief “172Nreference” document that gives the specification airspeeds. The third document is an eight page checklist, which gives you all the necessary normal and emergency procedures including a pre-flight walk-round checklist.
That really is all you need to enjoy the Skyhawk. If you do want more lessons and procedures, the FSX ‘Learning Centre’ has lessons for the willing student. If you want to know more about the plane itself, this is one aircraft that is not difficult to get information for. Any Internet search using “Cessna 172N” as a search text will get any amount of information, as you will have gathered from the introduction paragraphs.
In other words: Yes, it is a short manual. But that does not detract from the model, which is exactly what we want from an aircraft add-on of this type.
Of course, older users might well remember the very early FS software packages and the fact that it included a 90 page pilots’ manual plus a further 92 page booklet on air navigation. Despair not, for FSX has all the remaining information you need and a flight instructor sitting right next to you to talk you through procedures.
So I say that Carenado have done a good job of not overloading you with unnecessary documentation. The Cessna 172 is a “beginner’s plane” that will accompany most pilots throughout their whole flight careers.
Included in this model are two exterior models and two panels. The difference in the exterior models is the fact that you have the choice of aircraft with or without wheel spats. The only difference I can see in the panels though, is the fact that the background image has the different coloured cabin liner visible.
The model is well made and has all the familiar hallmarks of the Carenado development team. It looks as accurate as can be and there are no obvious visual inconsistencies between this 172N and any photos you can find on photographic library sites.
The only downside on this texture set is the fact that Carenado still map only half the plane to texture sheets. You will see only one fuselage side and one wing mapped, or only one side of the fin. To enable non-mirrored aircraft registrations, Carenado map a fixed portion of the rear fuselage for the “opposite side” parts. This means that all painters will be forced to paint the registration numbers halfway down the rear fuselage. Anywhere else and the writing will be mirrored.
Should we expect more for the price tag?
Now that is a different question indeed. There are many other more and less complex models available to the flight-simming community and there are equally as many different qualities. Carenado have put a 27$ price tag on this particular model. If you already have this plane, then you’ll know what you have got — most existing users are already more than satisfied by this model. If you are reading this review as part of the decision making process to buy, then judge by what you have read so far, continue to the end and then pull out your credit cards if you fall into the C172 pilot category.
At the beginning of this review you read that Carenado provide four liveries in 7 variations (the 50th anniversary paint is only on the model with wheel spats). I have pointed out a couple of texture problems, but these are relatively minor and do not affect the performance of this add-on. The only really noticeable visual “defect” would be the missing trim-lines that wrap over onto the upper rear fuselage for the anniversary paint scheme.
As is their style, Carenado paints are photorealistic. These are of very good quality and have been rendered excellently to a well laid out set of texture folders. Mapping is accurate and it is easy to identify the aircraft parts for painting.
Both the pilot model and texture have been well made and all the textures are clear and uncluttered.
More advanced buyers might look at the texture folders and notice that Carenado have only made dxt 5 bitmap textures and not used the dds format that is more commonly appropriate to the FSX SDK guidelines. If we didn’t have the latest version of the “DXTbmp” file conversion utility I would have said that Carenado have saved production time in using the “bmp” format. For those who want to, converting the textures to dds doesn’t take long and the results can be seen in the screenshots in this review on the “Blue” textured model.
As you can see — there is no visible difference. Nor was there any noticeable hit on framerates. Incidentally, that is a good cue! This model is easy on FPS, so framerate junkies and the rest of us will find that the 172N is a very pleasant aircraft on the computer and on your eyes too. Flying this plane, you will only have a performance complaint if you fly over very high density scenery areas.
At the time of writing this review, there is no known set of painters’ textures available, but that will no doubt soon be corrected. The layout and mapping is, as already stated, very good and only three texture sheets will be needed to create a new texture. Except tor the limitations of left or right side text on the aircraft, these textures “will do” for the average painter. Now with over 43000 172 models sold, we can expect a lot of repaints for this add-on.
One final aspect I would look at are the night textures. The reviewed model depicts a 172 with basic IFR instrumentation, so night flight should be no problem. Cabin and panel illumination is by means of a small spotlight mounted on the left hand forward cabin frame. It is operated by an innocuous little sliding switch a few inches below. Under dusk conditions, the panel lighting effect is fairly easy on the eyes, however when it is full dark outside, you might prefer to turn the light off as the panel does tend to glare a bit. But having done that, the instruments are rather dim.
Otherwise and all in all — a really attractive addon that will appeal to all flyers — because somewhere along the line they had to learn to fly.
If you like small planes you will just love this one. But even if you are a 747 captain, you will love this plane too! Even the tube flyers need a break and with this lovely little add-on the change is well worth it. Who knows… you may even remember what it was like when you learnt to fly.
She’s perfect for low and slow flight around your favourite scenery.
I have made a few negative comments in this review? Yes, but only from a painter’s aspect. There will be paints, but perhaps not as many as this model really deserves. Not all C172s have identical, mirrored left and right side paint schemes
So please take the comments as encouragement to all developers reading this.
I must also commend the developer on his input to this review. He has been very supportive, even where I have had to be critical.
The verdict? A “must have” for just about anyone who feels spoken to by the tabular summary below.
Good job Carenado, you don’t need to change things, despite the content of this review and even if I would dearly like to see a different texture mapping for the painting fraternity.
If you’re a person looking for a “Stars” rating, then a definite four out of five here!
The Summary in brief
|What it can do||What it can’t do||Who will like it||Pro||Con|
|Fly low and slow||Fly faster than about 120 Kts
||Simmers with highly detailed scenery addons||Well modelled||Not for the extreme painter
|It’s a great little GA for fun flights||GA Flyers||Accurate 3D model with good flight characteristics
|Useful for ab-initio learning
|Good IFR practice aircraft for beginners
||It is not an all-singing and dancing glass ‘pit
||Any aviator with an interest in the history of the world’s most popular aircraft||Fair Price||Â|
|Give you a relaxing flight on your PC||Cause you stress||Airliner, combat and fast jet pilots will enjoy the rest||Â||Â|
(I will add a caveat here: in some of the shots you will see shockwave lighting – some users might find the “built in” lights a bit dim)
AMD FX62 based
Foxconn AM2 Motherboard
3GB Corsair RAM
nVidia GeForce 8800 GTS graphics, 512 MB VRAM
Realtek onboard 8:1 sound
three x 250 GB SATA2 Hard drives
Windows Vista Home Premium, 64 bit
Chris ‘Eagleskinner’ Brisland is an aircraft engineer with flight experience. He was knitted over half a century ago and at his current age has collected quite a few books, videos and T-shirts. A simmer since the very early days of “PC Flight”, he has a broad knowledge of flying around bedrooms, studies and home-offices. You will often find him at his desk thinking up new paint schemes for sim-planes — “finger painting without the mess”. Find him online at the simFlight Forums and many of the other places flightsimmers lurk.
He’s still not come unravelled by the way, so don’t pick at any loose ends you might find…