Now, this was a plane I was really looking forward to. For the 10+ years FSX has been out, there has been no payware Cessna 172SP, to my knowledge. Carenado had made a C172N before, and of course, there was the A2A C172R which is very similar to the C172SP. But they were not the SP model, and they all had the old steam gauge layout. And really, you cannot even buy a brand new C172 with steam gauges anymore. And with the looming ADS-B Mandate I think we will see more FS add-ons with glass cockpits in the future.
This addon, in particular, interested me because this was the exact type of plane I learned to fly on in real life. I got my pilot’s license at Craig Airfield in Jacksonville, Florida, flying a 2006 Cessna 172SP with G1000 avionics – something that did not (really) exist in FS until now. Personally I like glass over steam gauges, and when I heard this thing would also use Navigraph data I was even more excited. Plus it was going to include a new feature, Synthetic Vision. This is something I’m kind of unsure about but it would be nice to see nonetheless.
But now that I finally got the plane and had some time with it, well. To put it bluntly – it’s too bad that it sucks!
Alright, where to begin. Let’s start with how I do reviews. When I’m testing an airplane, I write down every issue I find. Not everything makes it into the final review as some stuff is minor. This time, there are some minor things that I find really annoying – but they are by far nothing compared to some of the major problems with the aircraft. Normally I’d start with some information about the aircraft itself. However, we’re talking about a Cessna 172 here – it’s been explained to death. I will, however, put my normal spec sheet below.
I do need to mention that there is a subscription fee tied to this plane. So it’s finally come to that – we are doing subscription based add-ons now. I want to say right now I find the way this has gone down to be sad, and Carenado – nay, anyone who worked on this plane – should be embarrassed. If you’re going to attach a subscription fee to something, you need to make that something actually worth the fee. Plus, how much that fee is going to cost is something consumers should know before they buy it. It also would be nice if the thing the fee is attached to did not break the thing we paid for in the first place.
The price of the subscription fee has yet to be disclosed, despite the plane being out for several months now. The fee is for something minor – I’ll talk about it later in the review, but I don’t think the synthetic vision alone warrants the fee, especially considering the planes was practically unusable from the beginning anyway.
|Power Plant||Lycoming IO-360-L2A||VR (rotate)||55|
|Propeller||2 blade, Fixed Pitch, 76″||VX (Best Angle Climb)||62|
|Length||27′ 2″||VY (Best Rate Climb)||74|
|Height||8′ 11″||VFE (MAX Flap extend)||110|
|Wingspan||36′ 1″||VNO (MAX Cruise)||129|
|Seats||4||VNE (Never Exceed)||163|
|Empty Weight||1650LBS *||VS0 (Stall Dirty)||48|
|MAX Gross Weight||2558LBS *||VS1 (Stall Clean)||53|
|Useful Load||908LBS *|
|Fuel Capacity||52GAL (2 unusable)*|
|Takeoff Performance **|
|Clear 50′ Obstacle||1530′|
|Landing Performance **|
|Clear 50′ Obstacle||1335′|
* Weights and Fuel represented of Sim Aircraft, Not Real Aircraft
** Distances for a Sea Level Airfield, Standard Conditions, MAX Takeoff Weight
The Flight Model is actually not that bad. It matches pretty well my experiences in the real aircraft. There are some problems, notably, there is little to no left turn tendency. You get a left turning tendency on single engine props because of the physics the propeller asserts on the aircraft. It’s most notable when at low airspeed and high power, like on takeoff. Although there is a small left turning tendency in the plane, it’s very minor. This was also observed in slow flight.
One of the best ways to test the physics of a plane in any sim is to put the plane in slow flight. Doing so allows you to check several things. Your power and pitch controls get turned around in slow flight since you’re on the back side of the power curve. Power becomes your altitude control, and pitch becomes your airspeed control. The ailerons also get really mushy and barely effective, so you need to use rudder as your primary control for turning. I’m happy to report everything performed as it should. Reversed power and pitch, plus mushy ailerons. The only thing missing was the left turning tendency.
Other than that the airplane flies just like it should. Cruise performance matches the included performance charts, and the plane’s handling on the ground was quite good. It required significantly more power to get going on softer surfaces. However, the plane did tend to want to move when at idle power, albeit slowly. That’s something the real thing never did. The engine just did not produce enough thrust at idle to overcome static friction. Once you do get moving idle power can keep you moving, but it won’t get you moving.
Now one other thing I like to do is read through the aircraft’s CFG file. Sadly most developers get something wrong in here. Carenado is actually one of the better ones in regards to this – usually, they have the smallest number of things to need fixing in the CFG file. However, I must say I am disappointed this time. Not in the number of things I found wrong, but in just how obvious they were.
The biggest sin in the CFG file by far was the weight and balance data. For some reason Carenado did not define the lateral position of any of the payload stations, meaning all of them were positioned along the longitudinal axis of the aircraft. This makes it impossible to simulate one of the neat things about smaller airplanes. Which is just how much an effect off-center loads can have on the plane. What’s really sad is just how easy a problem like this is to fix. It would only take a few minutes to correct.
Flight Model Score: 6 (High Average)
Avionics and Systems
This was the part I was looking forward to. An actual C172 with a G1000. Now sadly I have yet to see anyone do the G1000 right. Even though you can download the training manual for free, no one has recreated that gauge accurately. Carenado has in the past had airplanes that use it. They did an okay recreation. Most of the stuff you would use regularly were available. This time, however, I was under the impression that the G1000 was rebuilt for this airplane.
If that’s true someone is going to hell for lying. Most of the same quirks and inaccuracies of the old G1000 gauges from Carenado are there. Though to their credit, they were better this time. Since I learned to fly on a G1000 I noticed almost every inaccuracy there was. But I know most of you probably won’t notice or care about most of them, so I’ll just point out the bigger ones.
The first thing I noticed was there was no electrical indication on the PFD with only the Standby battery on. Both the Master and Essentials bus should have some indications. However I do know ESP-based sims don’t properly simulate standby power systems, so I can forgive this error. However, we still do not get correct Master and Essential bus readings when the master battery is on. I suspect this is due to errors in the Electrical section of the CFG file. The only time correct indications are shown is when the engine is running.
Another problem was with the airspeed bugs. For some reason, they show V1, VR, and V2 – speeds that are not applicable to a C172. They should show VR, VX, VY, and VG. I was also surprised to find an ADF on this aircraft. Of the 4 C172’s I’ve flown in real life, only 1 had an ADF. Neither I nor the instructor in the plane with me knew how to use it. There’s one in this plane which I guess is cool if you use it. Except you won’t be able to because it won’t let you set the tens digit.
For some more advanced stuff, only basic flight planning options are replicated. You can program a flight plan, load a SID, STAR, and even airways. Relatively correctly, though not 100% like the real thing. However, that’s about all you can do. You can’t save the flight plan for future use, you can’t invert the flight plan to fly a return trip, you can’t set a parallel track, and user waypoints are not replicated at all. The Pan and zoom feature on the Map screen is not replicated either. Though that does not surprise me, it is unfortunate. The pan and zoom thing is something I thought would not be useful in a flight sim until I tried a gauge with it.
In addition to this, there are some quirks with other systems. Although V-NAV seems to work, the V-NAV path deviation does not pop up on descent when it should. The plane seems capable of flying LPV approaches to, however, no glideslope appears when flying these approaches. I am happy to report however the FMS is capable of loading RF leg types, and the autopilot can fly them accurately too.
You should be aware if you use Flight Level Change to make small adjustments to the speed bug because It will make very aggressive climbs and descents to capture a speed. Actually – capture is the wrong word, it will make such aggressive moves it shoots past the speed each time. And you may also run into a problem where the autopilot will not fly a correct heading, or slowly start off course when in NAV mode. Pressing D to resync the Heading indicator to the magnetic compass will fix this and is yet another example of a dev neglecting to put the correct information in the aircraft CFG file. Another easily fixed problem in a payware addon.
Avionics and Systems Score: 4 (Low Average)
Visuals and Audio
If there is one thing Carenado excels at, it is visuals, and this Cessna is no exception. The visuals are fantastic. The model quality is very good and the textures are excellent as well. Night lighting on both the interior and exterior is very well done too. Interior lights all have variable brightness levels except for the standby instruments, and the displays are nicely visible even without the internal lights turned on.
Audio is good too, everything sounds the way it should with 2 exceptions. The fuel tank selector sounds like you’re clicking a switch, which I find a bit weird but it’s no big deal. One thing that did stand out is there is no fan sound when you turn on the avionics bus. Carenado did actually separate the avionics switch into 2 separate switches just like the real aircraft. When you turn these switches on there is a fan that comes on to cool the electronics. These fans are audible when the engine is not running. It’s a small error, and the only reason I mention it is because I found nothing else wrong here.
Visuals and Audio Score: 8 (Above Average)
You know all the things I’ve listed, most of them are livable. They would not bring the final score down below a low-average by themselves. The plane would still be perfectly flyable despite those errors. However performance is one area where I do not hand out an average score – you either pass or fail. And this C172 fails! It fails on an epic scale!
Maybe its because I’m still running FSX but that’s no excuse for the low frame rates I got. When I first got the aircraft the frame rates were so low they were unplayable. We are talking 5fps, often less. Something was clearly wrong. Now I’ll spare you the details, but I was able to fix that issue by repairing the 2008 C++ redistributable. That seemed to fix the problem. However, it did not do much, the frame rate was still low when compared to other aircraft. Even similar Carenado planes.
The way I compare frame rates is by putting the plane in a repeatable situation. I note the airport, weather, and amount of AI traffic around. I then repeat the test with another similar aircraft. Even after the fix mentioned above the frame rate was never over 25fps, And even then it would drop down to 20 or lower when the aircraft was powered up and the displays were turned on. By comparison, the Carenado C182T (which has a G1000) got over 40fps in the same setup.
Now as I am still on FSX, Calum (our chief editor) installed the airplane into P3D. He got much better framerates, at least until he installed the synthetic vision system. Even then, his frame rates were still very playable. So it’s probably an FSX thing. But even then the frames are terrible on FSX, especially compared to other airplanes. And it’s only Carenado planes using their Navigraph system that have this issue. All other Carenado planes, or planes by other devs using Navigraph data, run fine. Something is royally messed up with the Carenado Navigraph stuff.
Performance Score: 2 (Below Average)
Let’s see, I’ve covered the flight model, avionics, and visuals – what else is there? Oh yeah, the synthetic vision thing. This is the part of the addon that we apparently have to pay a subscription fee for. If I understand it correctly what we are essentially paying for is hosting of the terrain database. With the synthetic vision system installed it actually makes use of a program called Websimconnect to stream the information to your sim.
This means a few things. First, it means there is going to be an always-online requirement. Second, there’s going to be a constant stream of data, with possibly not insignificantly sized packets too. So those of you who have to deal with data caps or have a limited download speed should beware. Due to issues I’ll mention in a second, I was not actually able to test the synthetic vision out myself.
I have to wonder, is the subscription fee worth it? Even though I did not get to see it for myself, I am doubtful synthetic vision alone is worth a subscription fee. Especially considering the points mentioned above. Maybe if more features were included, Such as the data link features that allow you to see Weather, NOTAMs, and TFR’s among other things in the gauge. Then maybe a subscription fee would be worth it. Not really though, no subscription fee is worth it for what’s at best DLC for a game. Especially such poorly performing DLC, with numerous issues in many other areas. Plus we still don’t know how much this subscription fee will cost.
Now is it unfair to say this given I was not able to experience it? Maybe, but I don’t care, because the reasons why I was unable to experience it pushed me over the edge. I actually said out loud “Screw this, I’m done! I’ve seen enough!” Wondering what it was? At first it was a Crash to desktop, every time I powered up the planes Id be greeted with my lovely desktop background and a ‘Fatal error’ message. But for some reason that seemed to sort itself out. One Day as if black magic occurred I was able to power on the plane and select the Synthetic vision options.
Let me say the plane does not come with synthetic vision enabled, You have to turn it on using a dedicated EXE file. It has a PDF with instructions and basic tutorial for the system so it’s not to hard. Its an extra step that honestly I’m not sure why it there, but whatever. Any way after the witching hour passed and I could use the synthetic vision I took off in a mountainous area, flipped the Map display TAWS on, and activated the synthetic vision on the PFD.
Nothing, nadda, zip, zero, zilch. All I got was a warning flag ‘Terrain Error’. So after waiting 3 weeks after the release of this plane to even receive the press copy, fighting problems associated with the navigraph files, dealing with the low frame rate to discover the numerous errors in the aircraft, and then a CTD issue that seemingly was just the plane not feeling like it wanted to fly that day. After all that the most advertised feature for this plane, the thing we are expected to pay a yearly subscription fee for, does not even work! At Least not for me, others apparently do have it working. So I guess it’s a gamble, buy into it at your own risk.
Now I read through the manual for Synthetic vision, it has a troubleshooting section. My errors not mentioned, but a ‘Terrain Fail’ error is. That error means your systems not capable of using WebGL. WebGL 1 is required to run the synthetic vision presumably due to the whole Websimconnect thing. This requirement is conveniently not mentioned on the store page for the aircraft, you can only find it in the synthetic vision guide. My system does support WebGL, you can use this website to see if yours does. If the spinning cube does not appear then you can’t use this addons biggest feature.
Also there were several reports of CTDs caused by the websimconnect thing by others on launch day. So yeah.
Now I know what many people are going to say. A lot of people will draw comparisons to services like Navigraph and Navdatapro. But there’s a very big difference that I want to point out. You don’t really need either of those services to use the plane. The aircraft is still perfectly usable with it’s included navigation data. Updating that data is nice, but it’s hardly a necessity. And with Navigraph and Navdatapro we know the price and what we are paying for. We are paying for a service, not paying for a feature of any one addon. Plus you’re allowed to keep and use the data you buy from them even after you stopped paying the fee. Nothing gets taken away.
With the streaming gauge system highly advertised, some may even say the core feature of the add-on is going to be taken away if you don’t pay the fee. Combine this with the dangerous precedent set by having a subscription-based add-on in an industry where prices rocketed past ridiculous a long time ago, I don’t like what I smell! At the very least Navigraph and Navdatapro actually work.
Other Considerations Score: 1 (Well Below Average)
One thing I always liked about Carenado was the pricing. There are hardly any of their add-ons that I’d say are overpriced. They are all fairly priced and I never feel like Carenado is being greedy with their pricing as I do with other developers. However this time things are different. There’s a subscription fee attached to this plane, despite numerous problems. Combined with the subpar performance in many other categories, I don’t feel that this aircraft is really worth the asking price.
Oh and that synthetic vision fee, that would make it 2 fees you have to pay to keep this plane running with the latest Navdata. Navigraphs fee ($30.94 annually) and the synthetic vision one (no known price yet but speculation seems to be around $10). That would make the total annual price for both $40. That’s more than the price of the plane on an annual basis. That’s another FS addon, that’s the price of your average high quality non-AAA video game. For one feature on some DLC for a game.
Maybe if in the future the problems are fixed, and the frame rate is improved, I could say it’s worth the asking price. And if you are in fact reading this in the far-flung future, and if the problems are indeed fixed, it might actually be worth it. Of course, you must consider that I’m on FSX, and as reported by Calum the performance is much better on P3D. In that case, it’s only a matter of fixing the other problems mentioned. Or these other problems may not be a big deal to you.
I can’t say that subscription fee is worth it though. Not for something as unimpressive as synthetic vision. Again, if the datalink features were included, then maybe. But even that’s a big maybe. I can say I like Carenado’s distribution process, after just going through the headache that is reinstalling a Flight 1 addon, all to have it not work and leaving $40 down the toilet. It is so nice to only have to worry with a simple EXE and key code. At this point I’d gladly pay extra just to not buy stuff from Flight 1. So it’s always nice to see a dev not use a completely broken system to distribute their addons.
Value Score: 3 (Moderately Below Average)
Not too shabby flight model, numerous yet livable inaccuracies/issues with the avionics, fantastic as usual with visuals and audio, subpar performance (triple bogey if you’re running FSX), and all the other stuff mentioned. I can honestly say I am disappointed.
A good recommended alternative would be the A2A Cessna 172R, or Carenados own C172N (especially if combined with either the Float or ski expansion for it). Neither one of these have a G1000, nor is either one of them the SP model. But they all work well, and the A2A is considered by many to be the pinnacle simulation of the Cessna 172. Plus both actually have good frame rates, and are a one and done purchase.