Aerosoft – Robin DR400 X Review

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DR400 Cover

With this small French aircraft, Aerosoft and Joachim Schweigler released another fine GA aircraft upon the flightsim community. Let’s take a look!

The real Robin DR400 first saw the light in 1972, but is still in production now, over 40 years later. This alone should tell you it’s a great aircraft. While it hasn’t reached production numbers like for example the Cessna 172 or Piper PA28, more than 1300 aircraft have been built over the years, which isn’t bad at all. While it may not be a particularly well known aircraft in North America, it’s a familiar sight in many European countries. And it has a special place in my heart: my first 30-or-so flights in a glider started being towed by a DR400.
The Robin DR400 is a 4-seater, low wing monoplane. It has a fixed tricycle landing gear and is primarily constructed of wood covered with fabric. This makes if a very light and silent aircraft. Other striking features are the characteristic ‘cranked’ wing, and a large, bulbous canopy which opens by sliding the entire front section forward.
The version Aerosoft produced is based on D-EVEM, a DR400-140B flying around in Germany. They didn’t only copy this aircraft’s visuals and sounds, but also its flight characteristics, and even some of its quirks.

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Installation:

Aerosoft is by far the largest publisher of FS add-ons, so no surprise when I say they got their act together when it comes to installers. Most people who buy payware add-ons probably already have some Aerosoft add-ons, so this installer won’t offer any surprises. Bet let’s go through it nonetheless.

Of course, you first have to buy the product. At the moment, it costs €20.97 at SimMarket, although European customers will have to add the usual VAT, which raises the price to €24.95.
After purchase, you get a download link and a serial. Installing is as easy as downloading the file, extracting it, running the installer, and following the steps. The Robin works in both FSX and Prepar3D, and the installer will ask you in which sim you want to install the aircraft. You’ll have to enter your email address and the serial you got, and you’ll get a warning that files will be personalized as an anti-piracy measure.

When installation is finished, you’ll find 7 new entries in your aircraft selection menu, under “Avions Pierre Robin” as a manufacturer. You can also find 2 manuals in the Aerosoft folder in your main installation folder (FSX or P3D). Links to these manuals are also placed in the start menu in Windows.
Note that I only tested this add-on in FSX, because I still haven’t bought Prepar3D.

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Manuals:

As I said, there are 2 manuals available. The first one, in English, is written by Aerosoft, and covers just about anything. It isn’t a very long manual, only 35 pages, but it is very complete. Covering a little about the real aircraft, performance, procedures, the FSX cockpit layout… And it covers, in quite some detail, both custom GPS units that come with this add-on.
Short, easy to read, yet comprehensive, that’s what a manual should be like.
The second manual is in German, so you’ll need to be able to understand that language to use it, but if you can, it should be a very interesting read. This second manual is a copy of an actual real-life Robin DR400-140B manual, and comes in at 51 pages.

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Exterior:

When we take a look at the exterior of this add-on, the first thing we notice is that distinct Robin look. The developer, Joachim Schweigler, got that spot on.
This add-on delivers a very good looking, and as far as I can tell, accurate external model. Apart from getting the overall feel right, the details are also nice. Areas with a lot of details include the underside of the aircraft, with the exhaust among other details, and the top of the fuselage, with handles, antenna’s etc. The turning propeller on this aircraft also looks very good.

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Animations on the exterior are smooth and accurate, but there aren’t many special moving parts on this aircraft. Not on the real one, and not on this virtual version. Flight controls, wheels, prop and canopy, that’s about it. A small detail here, is that the manual mentions the nose wheel steering is locked out in flight on the real aircraft, but it clearly isn’t in this add-on. It would’ve been nice if that detail was simulated.
The textures on this model are also good. They may not be as sharp and as detailed as other recent products with the ever increasing resolution of textures nowadays, but they do the job and do it well. You get 7 repaints during installation, and a repaint kit is available if you want to create your own repaints. Several third-party repaints are already available for download.

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Interior:

In the inside, the story is basically the same as on the outside. You get a very nice, detailed model, covered with good textures. Again, the textures aren’t razor sharp when you zoom in a lot. But then again, why would they need to be? Clearly, a lot of work went in these textures, and they look great! A scratch here and there, reflections in the canopy, even the stitches in the seat covers. A lot of detail. Some of the labels in the cockpit are hard to read, but that’s because they’re so small, not because they’re blurry (they’re not). What I like best in the VC, are the sharp and detailed gauges. In the end, those are the parts you’ll be looking at most of the time when you’re not looking outside.

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What’s also nice, is that you get the interior in several different colors. In fact, of the 7 liveries you get in this package, no 2 interiors are the same!
There are some small errors in the labels, like a German label in the English cockpit, or a wrong registration on the compass deviation card, but these are minor, and I hope they’ll be fixed by the developer at some point.
As for animations, again, everything is very smooth. But what I like most, is how the instrument needles twitch and vibrate when the engine is running. This adds immensely to the immersion factor of this add-on.

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Panels and systems:

When it comes to 2D panels, we can be short. There aren’t any. Not even a popup for the GPS or radios. This aircraft is VFR only, so basically you’ll be looking outside a lot. A full 2D panels isn’t missed here,  in my opinion. What would be nice though, are popup panels for the GPS, and maybe the radios and transponder too.
What is included, although not technically a 2D panel, is a ‘Ready to fly’ or ‘Cold and dark’ configuration tool, which is located on the backside of the checklists sheet.

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When we talk about systems, there are some things that are worth talking about. First of all, this is an old-fashioned needle-and-gauge cockpit. No glass stuff, except for the GPS (which isn’t installed in every model). But it doesn’t have to be glass to have a nice simulation behind it.
A very nice feature of this Robin is the engine simulation, which is very realistic. For example: the engine will refuse to start if you forget to prime, or prime too little. You can even try to prime some more  if the engine starts to lose rpm and you primed to little at first. It’s very nice to see a sputtering engine spring back to life, instead of facing the embarrassment of it stopping completely and having to try again. The engine also performs as expected in all condition, and way more realistic than the default FSX engine model. You can even break the engine, although you’ll have to try and do it deliberately. So while it can break, it hasn’t happened to me under normal flying circumstances. I did break it once on purpose though, to make sure it ‘works’ as advertized.
Another nice feature, although I’m not sure whether I should mention it here, or with the interior animations, is airframe shake. The airframe will shake visibly during engine start and shutdown, and you’ll also see the ‘stall-buffet’.

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The final aspect I want to talk about in this section are the GPSs. There are 2 custom GPS systems included in this add-on. The first one is a full-color system called ‘Movmap 754’ and is built into the panel. The second is a black and white GPS based on the Garmin GPS III. Both these GPSs feature a moving map mode, a ‘nearest’ function, a cursor function and an HSI mode, in which the GPS displays an HSI-needle slaved to the current track you’re following. Both these units will see, and display, any loaded FSX flightplan. I like both units, and I love the fact the developers took the effort to include 2 units, and not just one, and not just the standard FSX GPS.
In the end, you get 3 different cockpit layouts (on top of the different interior colors). There’s one with the Movmap 754 GPS built into the panel. This one has no ADF, and the RMI gauge has an ‘inop’ sticker on it. The second layout has a working ADF receiver, and features the GPS III mounted over (but not ‘in’) an empty spot on the panel. The third and final cockpit layout has no GPS at all, but does have the ADF.
Note that I didn’t cover everything there’s to be said in this section, but I’ve tried to give a general impression of what to expect.

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Flight dynamics:

Now we reach the party piece. More than anything else, maybe more than everything else combined, it’s the flight behavior of this add-on that has won me over. Although I’ve never flown a DR400 myself, I have been a passenger in one. The way it flies in FSX just feels right. It’s very stable and very easy to fly if you keep your head in the game. But it will not be nice to you if you don’t pay attention. The most distinct feature is that this virtual DR400 will not fly straight. It always wants to turn left, and apparently, that’s behavior copied from their real-life reference aircraft: D-EVEM. This aircraft will need constant rudder input to fly straight. And there’s no rudder or aileron trim. So, this is not an aircraft which you can expect to get you where you want to go by just pointing the nose and trimming. It will need constant attention. Of course, not everyone has rudder pedals, and holding a rudder twist on a joystick for a prolonged time isn’t very comfortable. Therefore, an optional patch is available that eliminates the strong left turning tendency. Even with this quirk eliminated, this is still a very nice aircraft to fly.

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Sound:

The Robin also has a nice sound set. It has custom sounds for every usable control in the cockpit and everything else you might expect for a modern FS add-on. But there’s one aspect I like most of all, and that’s the engine. You can, at all times, hear what the engine is doing. You don’t need to see the instruments to be able to know if it’s running good or not. Even leaning the mixture can be done by listening to the engine! You will know, just by listening, when it is running as it should. A very detailed sound set for the engine, which I like very much.

Conclusion:

I was skeptical of this add-on at first, although as I said, I really like the real life DR400. The screenshots didn’t really convince me, and the feature list didn’t captivate me. But when I started flying the Robin in FSX, things changed. I really got to like it. It doesn’t boast the highest definition textures, or the glossiest finish, or the highest amount of animations, but that certainly doesn’t diminish its value. And while it doesn’t boast an enormous amount of fancy system-stuff on first sight, it does surprise you with its features when you start paying attention. It’s not the most impressive aircraft, neither in real life or FSX, but in the end, I think it’s one of the best GA add-ons available right now, and currently my favorite in its class by far.

Like:

– Everything related to the engine is detailed and accurate, without making it hard to use.
– Very good flight model
– Lots of variation in the good-looking interior models

Don’t like:

– You could say that the visuals aren’t setting new standards. But even saying that is really looking for something bad to say, because this certainly isn’t a bad looking add-on.

Links:

Aerosoft DR400 X on SimMarket

 

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My system:

Intel Core i5-2500K @ 4×3.3GHz (stock speed)
8GB DDR3 RAM
MSI N560GTX-Ti Twin Frozr II
Windows 7 64 bit
FSX Deluxe + Acceleration

Add-ons used in this review:

  • Aerosoft Robin DR400X
  • Real Environment Extreme Essentials Plus (textures)
  • Active sky 2012 (weather)
  • Aerosoft Andras Field
  • FTX Orbx YCDR Caloundra
  • FTX Orbx YPMQ Port Macquarie
  • FTX Orbx AU Gold region
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j.c.monteiro

Yes, I bought this one the day I bought LM Prepar3d, and I really enjoy it.

I just regret not being able to use the GPS that often because of there being no popup available :-/

Regarding the flight dynamics, it feels good, requiring rudder, although just as with any FSX / ESP / Prepar3D props it suffers from way to much torque-induced roll.

The real DR-400 will require sometimes rudder all the way up but it’s wings are level, and yaw-induced bank will come to play only if your really do not use rudder to coordinate at all…

Felidae

The developper about the non blocking nose wheel:I was not able to get it working right.