Is there any aircraft more versatile and iconic than the DC-3? Popular among pilots, passengers and airline executives, the DC-3 “Dakota” never left anyone down.. During World War II, the C-47, the military variant, became the workhorse of all allied operations involving paradrops. Therefore, any DC-3/C-47 add-on for flight simulation is certain to be heavily scrutinized. There is tons of material available for the aircraft to learn and study from, so whether these are books, videos, manuals, photos, testimonies etc. Nitpickers will have all the resources they need to put any add-on under a heavy stress test. While it was not exactly crowded, the Prepar3D v4 market already had an excellent freeware C-47.
The Aeroplane Heaven (AH) C-47 / DC-3 was released early April 2020, at a price tag of €60 for both variants (each one is separately available for €36.05 for the C-47 and €39.75 for the DC-3). This high-end price tag and feature list raised big expectations – is the Aeroplane Heaven DC-3 worth it? We will look at just the DC-3 in this review.
The AH DC-3 comes under two separate files. The base file contains all that’s necessary to run the aircraft, and the second package contains the textures. The DC-3 base download is 646 Mb, and the texture pack is 661 Mb. The installation proposes you to install the aircraft either in the regular P3D folder or the Add-ons folder, for both v4 and v5. There is no previous installation detection. Thus, users must be careful to put the textures in the same folder as the base package though. This procedure is explained during the installation process, but automation of this feature could have been easier to beginners.
A manual reproducing a 1940 era style is included. The manual explains how to fly the aircraft, but also a few sim related features, such as Ctrl+E startup, or the selection of which GPS to use. Regarding this matter, the AH DC-3 offers 3 variants of the cockpit, all togglable very quickly directly from within the cockpit. You can choose from an “old school” cockpit without GPS, a mix of the Sperry autopilot along with the Flight1 GTN650, or a mix of the Flight1 GTN750 and the REX/Milviz Weather radar. All these additional instruments require a separate purchase. Before being able to toggle these variants in the cockpit, users will need to replace the panel.cfg with another one already provided within the panel folder for the GTN to turn on. While the process is very easy, beginners or people not too keen on tweaking P3D might not be familiar with the process, and the exact steps to take are not described in the manual. We’ll get more on navigating the aircraft a bit further down this review.
A quick word regarding the C-47: we have not reviewed this aircraft, however, most of the remarks that concern the DC-3 should be applicable to the C-47. Bear in mind that the AH C-47 rendition comes with a paradropping capability, has a different rear door and the cockpit has no GTN or weather radar integration. To conclude this feature list the AH DC-3 comes with two engine variants : the Wright Cyclone R-1820 and the more widespread Pratt & Whitney R-1830. However, both engines use the same flight dynamics. Apart from the obvious differences in shapes and looks, the P&W engine was more reliable and powerful. Overall, there is not a drastic difference in performance between the two, so it is understandable that in order to save time and cost, Aeroplane Heaven elected to simulate only one engine type. and that would be the P&W R-1830. If you still want to fly simulate the Wright engine performance, you can elect to limit your power to 2200 rpm at 40″ Hg at take-off, which should be close enough to the real thing.
Model, Textures and Sounds
Selecting the aircraft on the ramp, we are now ready to bring her around for a spin in the beautiful Californian sunshine. The exterior model and the PBR textures really strike the eye. Walking around the aircraft, I can’t help but zoom in to the many details. The 3D model is very well done. The riveting and PBR combination feels very realistic. It feels like if you touched your display, you would feel all the asperities and rivets. At night, the reflections on the fuselage are beautiful.
The virtual cockpit, where you will spend most of your time, is also charming. The textures are extremely detailed, wherever you take a look. The smallest writing is precise and legible. The aircraft feels relatively new, but there is some slight weathering here and there. It brings a sense of “old, but well maintained”, which is probably the best way to describe most of the DC-3 still flying in 2020. I almost expect to smell the distinctive smell. During the night, you can set the cockpit lighting as you wish, either full lighting during a thunderstorm, or set yourself a small resting ambience for long cruises.
The package comes with dedicated sounds, which I have mixed feelings about. The idling sounds are great, but I find there is a lack of consistency between idle and full throttle. The distinctive full throttle sounds are here, but they seemed to have been toned down a few steps. This means, that going from full power to idle, the difference is minor, and low idle in the air seems the same as on the ground, both have the same sound level, which feels awkward. Furthermore, the high power sounds seemed to have saturated the microphone that was used to record them. The AH DC-3 sounds are recognizable as a DC-3, but don’t seem equilibrated well enough, and I find them at best average.
Systems and Flying Characteristics
Just before release, Aeroplane Heaven teased the community with a video showing the startup sequence, showing off what was deemed a realistic startup. Unfortunately, early versions of the Aeroplane Heaven DC-3 proved buggy and tricky to start, ruining the experience for many users. This could have left a bitter taste to early AH DC-3 adopters. However, since version 1.2, which was released in early June, the startup sequence is now possible using either the GPU cart or the battery and does not crash the sim anymore. A useful tip though: as Aeroplane Heaven uses a custom mixture coding, make sure you use a default flight before loading the AH DC-3, and remember to press Ctrl+Shift+F4 before beginning the startup sequence. This ensures the mixture in the internal function of the simulator is set to full rich, which otherwise could interact with AH custom code and prevent correct startup.
The GPU cart is toggled by opening the crew door. The entire startup procedure is described in the manual and in the aforementioned video on Youtube. One big downturn though, is that the 3D model does not make it possible to count the required 15 blades during startup before switching on the magnetos, so the best way to find the right moment is to quickly count in your head up to 15. Not so good.
The DC-3 was advanced in its time, but remains a relatively simple aircraft. The electrical system is basic, and the only trick of the hydraulic system is the weird handling of the landing gear, which is raised or lowered using a combination of the latch and gear lever. AH correctly replicated the landing gear operation. It may not seem simple at first, but the manual describes the operation fairly well. Once the engines are started, the aircraft feels very alive. It shakes depending on engine power settings, it spits, and the engines seem to have a mind of their own, which is well within the character of the aircraft. Aeroplane Heaven markets this aircraft as realistic, and so is the taxi procedure. Taxing her is not very hard, but requires the use of separate throttle per engine and differential braking. This could be a letdown for some users who don’t use the separate throttle and rudder pedals with braking capabilities. As this case is not described in the manual, here is the FSElite advice. If you don’t own a differential braking device, my advice would be to assign keyboard commands to differential brakes in the simulator. Also, if you don’t own separate throttle, a good solution would be to use your mouse to move the throttle separately through the virtual cockpit. If it is really too difficult, your last resort solution is to start directly on the runway. However, once you are correctly lined-up on the runway (it is advised to roll a few meters straight on the runway in order to make sure the tail wheel is aligned), thanks to the tail wheel lock you will barely need to touch the rudder.
The aircraft is easy to get in the air and is particularly nice to hand fly. While I like to rely on the gyropilot for cruising parts, I find the AH DC-3 so pleasant to fly that during this testing, it was not rare for me to perform 2 hours flights only by using the trims. It feels like a real aircraft, where adverse yaw is noticeable, and finally, we can use the rudder pedals for something else other than taxi and aerobatics in the simulator. She handles well and is quite stable, and she remains smooth at the controls. Climbing takes a long time because of the slow speeds, but overall she can reach comfortable altitudes quite easily. Since the aircraft is not pressurized, it is advised not to descent to quickly in order to spare yours and your passenger’s ears, which means that descent planning must be done carefully. Landing is just like any general aviation aircraft because the speed is very close to a single prop general aviation aircraft, however, pilots must keep in mind that the cockpit sits high. This can lead to early touchdowns and hard landings. As expected, the aircraft has good short runway capability, thanks to its low flying speed. The brakes are not very strong, and even applying the full brakes will not pitch you over. This is just like we could expect from drum brakes designed in the 1930’s. Overall she’s a well-balanced bird.
Flying the Bird
Let’s hop back to navigation. As I mentioned it earlier in this review, I have to say GPS integration is smart. It is easy to switch between panels by clicking on the relevant hotspots. As described earlier in this review, the cockpit comes in three configurations. I find it is a shame that only the Flight1 GTN750 and 650 are supported though, with the RealityXP being left on the side of the road.
Calling the Sperry device an autopilot is a strong word to be used. The old school Sperry autopilot will not track an altitude or a route, but it will simply keep the aircraft in the state where you left it, and allow for small fine-tuning of the aircraft’s attitude. The autopilot is closer to an advanced trim than to a modern autopilot. This is why the correct term for the Sperry is a gyropilot. This also means that whichever panel configuration you choose, the GPS will not drive the DC-3 gyropilot, and you will still need to manually adjust pitch and roll as you fly. Same goes for altitude and rate of climb, where you will only be able to adjust the aircraft’s attitude. For those who rather not use the GPS, Aeroplane heaven had an excellent idea of including the freeware sextant gauge by Dave Bitzer and Mark Beaumont. The operation of a sextant during night flights was one of the only ways for pilots to navigate at times where radio navigation was unreliable and scarce. However, while the manual states that the Sextant User Manual is included in the package, I was unable to find it anywhere, even after making sure I had not misinstalled the aircraft. Hence, users will have to look for tutorials on the internet. The learning curve is steep but managing a night flight with the AH DC-3 is very rewarding. If you don’t want to use it either, the aircraft also comes with a classical radio navigation suite with VOR/ILS and NDB receivers. Overall, the DC-3 is not a fire and forget plane as modern aircraft can be, but it is an extremely rewarding task. My opinion is by combining both recent GPS and old school navigation, without breaking the immersion, AH managed to mix the best of both worlds without breaking each other. Users should take note that the C-47 can not be equipped with any GPS receiver, but once again this review is really just about the DC-3.
The AH DC-3 manual is very poor in terms of performance charts, so I had to pull off the internet a real-world DC-3 manual. I was surprised at first how accurate many of the performance values were. Actually, I thought I had made a mistake reading the charts the first time, but after rechecking several times I can confirm the aircraft flies just like the manual says. The range values can easily be confirmed by using the GTN650 or 750 integrated range and endurance calculators. It is surprisingly good, because achieving accurate performance on a 60 buck add-on is a place where many good looking add-ons fail.
Talking about failures, I tried to replicate the easiest failure on the simulator: engine overheating and subsequent failure. Anyone who has ever flown a piston engine aircraft knows that cooling the engine oil and managing the cylinder head temperature is paramount, especially on these old engines. The AH DC-3 manual has a whole chapter about heat management; but unfortunately, I was never able to blow any engine by overheating. Even pushing the throttle on the ground, cowl flaps closed, and waiting for 20 minutes, the temperatures were all over the place but the engine never failed me.
In the end, I have mixed feelings regarding the AH DC-3 handling characteristics. It is precise, it flies by the numbers, but is unbreakable. Mismanaging the engines and the aircraft has no direct consequence, and you could well run full gas for 6 hours if you’d like it. Flying the aircraft by the book is one thing, flying the aircraft by the book because otherwise, it will break is another step which was unfortunately not achieved here.
A key part of the success of an aircraft add-on is the availability of liveries. Unfortunately, more than two months after the initial release, the paint kit is not yet available, and users are stuck with default liveries. Knowing how many thousand liveries are just waiting to be painted for this bird because so many airlines used them, this is frustrating. No official word has been posted on the Aeroplane Heaven website, however, I was able to find out on a forum that Aeroplane Heaven was waiting for the Prepar3D v5 HotFix 2 release, just in case Lockheed Martin had changed the PBR materials behavior. The paint kit will come in two forms, one advanced paint kit that will be released with the upcoming livery packs, and a simpler one that will be downloadable from the AH website.
- Beautiful 3D model and textures
- Sextant and GPS navigation included
- Excellent flight dynamics
- Two engine models implemented ... but only one performance file
- Good FPS
- No failures
- No paintkit more than 3 months after release
- Average sounds
- Manual is missing some explanations on major features of the aircraft
- Ill-implemented installation process
Where are scores?
After listening to your feedback, we have decided that from February 5th 2020, we will no longer implement review scores. We will continue to provide high-quality reviews via our written, video and imagery to help you make an informed decision about a product. You can read more about it on our Review Guidelines Page.