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Let’s first address the elephant in the room: I’m not a huge fan of the BlackBox Simulations Airbus series. I’ve personally had problems with it, but I know that many people have enjoyed the simulation. It certainly caught the community by surprise when people saw that the developers behind the “prologue” series were working on other products at the same time, but rest assured that this aircraft was a side project which hasn’t impacted the Airbus series. You can imagine then my surprise when BlackBox Simulations asked me to review their recent aircraft, the Cessna L-19C ‘Bird Dog’, and honestly, my expectations weren’t very high. You can then imagine my even greater surprise when I found myself having a relatively good time with their latest entry into the simulation world.
It’s no secret that previous projects from the team have been very much like Marmite: either love it or hate it. I of course had the same fear for the GA aircraft BBS have suddenly turned towards. However, we shouldn’t let previous perceptions impact this aircraft. So clear your head and let me explain why actually, the plane is pretty damn good.
I’ll start with the basics: what even is this aircraft? Firstly, it’s super old. The military aircraft was primarily used for observations when it was first introduced in the 1950s. With over 3000 built, it proved to be a popular and successful aircraft. Since the war, the aircraft has entered civilian service – in particular towing gliders. In fact, FSElite team member Vincent has been towed up by a few before. He’s aware of their power and reliability for serving this challenging task. We can understand then why Black Box Simulations felt it was a needed aircraft in the world of Flight Sim.
Installing the aircraft is quite easy thanks to the BlackBox Simulation pre-flight manager. Simply install the exe and then make sure you activate it. It’s pretty straight forward and if you’ve used their installers from other products, it’s the same thing here. Inside the pre-flight manager, you’ll be able to access the included liveries, as well as documentation. The documentation itself is quite simply a scanned copy of the aircraft manual. Whilst this shows off the detail, it’s not particular user friendly, and there’s no introduction guide to help you with the basics. Sure, it’s a pretty easy aircraft to manage, but it doesn’t help new users get comfortable with it quickly. You will also be able to adjust the weight and balance of the aircraft using the pre-flight manager, as well as fuel and payload. Once you’ve finalised all of that, loaded up the tanks, you can set off on your adventure.
Upon loading the aircraft, you’ll be in the front seat of the cockpit. The initial impressions of the aircraft didn’t really wow me. The texturing was quite basic with details such as dirt aornd scratches missing. For an old aircraft, I expected to find a substantial amount of wear and tear by the dials and switches. I’m not sure what aircraft they used to survey the aircraft, but it looks too clean to be believable. It’s the same for the dials themselves – there’s no dirt, fingerprints or evidence of advance texturing I would really like to see in this type of airplane, especially one of this age. These aircraft have stories to tell, but BlackBox Simulations haven’t captured this essence.
There are a good selection of liveries available in the pre-flight manager.
Looking past the disappointing initial reaction, I took to the skies. As I said earlier, these aircraft are powerful. With full throttle, I was off the ground in just a few seconds. The airplane slowly tilted up as I accelerated and the sounds of the engine powered through my speakers. I was actually surprised at high quality the sound set was actually. At last, I felt like I was flying an old bird! The engines were loud, sounded clunky and provided a great level of “oomf”. Spool the engine down, you’ll hear the pitch change subtly and the volume decrease. BBS have done a good job at bringing an authentic sound pack for the Cessna L19.
Flying the airplane felt good. The controls were responsive and it was interesting to see the mechanical controls move at the same time. I pulled off a few steep turns and the plane kept flying well. Push the controls forward and you’ll nose dive and start feeling the aircraft shake and pulling up, you’ll hear the engine start to stress under the increased G-force. It’s easy to get to grips, with no fancy Fly-by-wire or other gimmicks – this is pure flying as it was meant to be done.
As you fly around, you’ll start to notice some of the impressive features BlackBox Simulations have included with the Cessna L19. For example, there is a rear-view mirror on the right side of the front seat. At first, it doesn’t look like it does much; but actually, BBS have designed it to ensure it matches the textures which are reflected behind you. It’s far away from being clear enough to be able to fly in formations and see what’s behind you, but it’ll distinguish between the ground and sky.
In addition to this, there’s an in-sim menu that allows you to add wheel chocks, tie-downs as well as adjust the sound. The modelling of these is great, although I’m not sure if adjusting the volume does anything in the sim. It’s a nice touch, but would love to see this developed further in the future. For example, inputting fuel and payload would be so much easier within the sim like this, ala A2A.
The modelling of the aircraft has been done quite well. The external areas of the aeroplane looks like the real thing. There’s plenty of detail in the rivets, and other metallic surfaces, adding realism to the aircraft. I would prefer to see some dirtier textures on the liveries provided as again, it all looks a bit too clean. Looking around, I did notice that BlackBox Simulations also modelled the antenna on the rear of the aircraft to react appropriately depending on what the aircraft is doing. For example, when the engines are off, the black rod is perfectly still, but once you start the engines and you can see some small vibrations wiggle through it. The more power you apply, the more it moves. It’s a nice touch from the team who are often criticised for missing smaller details. It also flexes during high g-force as well. Another nice touch is the inclusion of rubber markings from your landings and pressing on the brakes. This is the first time I’ve seen an aircraft create this effect that remains on the ground for some time with no performance impact.
Inside of the Bird Dog, you will find some nicely modelled areas around the flight controls and in the back. The 2 person aircraft has everything you would expect from seats, to seatbelts and radios. When you pull or push the throttle, the levers and mechanics all move nicely and smoothly. I did note some areas under your feet that are lacking in detail, but it won’t spoil your appreciation for the aircraft.
As for the systems, the aircraft is pretty basic in real life, so there’s not much depth to the systems. And that’s the way it’s meant to be flown. With this in mind, everything works as you would expect. If there’s no fuel in the tank, guess what: there will be no fuel for the engine. As the L19 is based off of a Cessna 170, things like the magnetos work the same here as in that plane too. It’s a basic plane that means you can fly within a few minutes of familiarisation. There are no ‘special’ features when stalling or preforming out-of-limit manoeuvres you may find on other products, nor is there any aging elements meaning you can toss the aircraft around with no repercussions. In future, I would love to see an option to attach gliders to tow seeing as how they’re used for this purpose these days.
Performance-wise, it’s perfectly fine. No impact on frame rates and very minimal VAS usage (although this won’t really be a factor soon). As for the value for money – it depends on what you want. If you want to fly a classic bird and try out some bush flying, then you can’t go wrong. It’s got a lot of usability in terms of types of flying. It can also be a challenge to do some cross-country flying due to the limited fuel quantity. If that’s what you want, then the Bird Dog is a decent purchase and comes at a reasonable price for what you get.