P3D. Of the 4 aircraft Alabeo released this year, (it is 4 right?) 2 out of that 4 are among my personal top 10 aircraft I received this year. Those would be the Model D17 and the just released R66. I'd also add the Waco to that list as I picked up that aircraft early this year during a fire sale, but that aircraft was actually released last year. I'll admit, as excited as I was about the visuals of the R66 during production, I was a bit concerned about the FDE and handling characteristics given the fact that this is the very first whirlybird out of the Alabeo/Carenado world. After spending an entire day with the R66, I must say, damn good job there. Come along with me as we put the R66 through her paces and discover why Alabeo is the next Nemeth! Say what? I'll explain... Let's go!
[Note: For format purposes, images are cropped. Click each image for full size resolution preview.]
6 awesome eyecandy liveries!
A new entrant into the FS helicopter market!
And I really mean that. As I mentioned earlier, I was really concerned about how well this aircraft would handle. I remember when I first installed FS2002. Every time I attempted to take that default JetRanger for a spin, that is exactly what it would do. Spin like hell. It would not even crash! Instead, it would actually gain in altitude as it spun. It would totally piss me off subsequently turning me off to helicopter flying in FS. I never turned back.
But a couple years or so after the release of FS9, a friend of mine turned me on to Hovercontrol. If you are unaware of this site, you can find out about it at hovercontrol.com
What I discovered at Hovercontrol was the very helicopter that changed the way I felt about helicopter flying in FS. I'm talking about their legendary Bell412 freeware that follows every payware standard. This is where I first grasped the concept of just how important the FDE was in relation to helicopter flying. Some developers get it right, many get it wrong. Very wrong! There is something of an art to getting flight dynamics correct in FS.
Even the very best helicopters in FS are not 100% realistic to real life helicopter flying or even remotely similar to the flight dynamics of DCS from what I understand. But given the current limitations of FS, there is a very narrow margin of realism and controlability developers can achieve that can render a very exciting, challenging, and realistic experience.
Now the DCS people are always going to chime in and say FS helicopter flying sucks, it's not realistic at all, and DCS is way better. They very well may be right. But all I can say is: DCS people, this is not for you.
And please don't let me overstate just how big a disappointment Take on Helicopters was...
Now with the Hovercontrol B412, for the first time, I had an helicopter that didn't go AWOL every time I tried to bring it into a high elevation hover. This inspired me to to improve upon my skills till I reached the point where for the first time ever, I felt confident enough to actually purchase helicopter addons.
Quite naturally, Nemeth Designs was the very first direction I looked in. After having mastered their line of excellent freeware aircraft, I was confident enough in their skills to master a decent FDE to start dropping cash on their whirly birds. To date, I have not been disappointed with them. From there, I moved on to the many helicopter releases from AlphaSim now known as Virtavia. Another great helicopter developer worth mention is Area51. Those guys do a terrific job.
The thing is, and as I just mentioned a moment ago, there is a very narrow margin developers have to target to get the FDE right. Move more than 5% in any direction and you either go beyond the limitations of FS resulting is a horrible experience, or you wind up with something that is too easy to fly. As one ADX reader stated:
"...by their nature choppers are not easy to handle... if it handles too well, I wonder if the model has been "dumbed down" at all. Should feel a lot like balancing a top on a table that's tilting back and forth."
I would say this is more or less correct.
But flying itself is only half the beans. You have to be able to get it into a steady hover. And most of all, you have to be able to land on a very narrow and small target. Add a dose of crosswind in there, drop the visibility a bit, and you have a fantastic soup made of challenge and fun.
One product I highly recommend is Aerosoft's Coast Guard. It comes with landable cutters you can hand place anywhere you want. This is the product I used to practice and thus master my landing abilities on tight and narrow surfaces.
Needless to say, I am a seasoned chopper pilot in FS. So when one of my favorite developers first showed off an early preview of the R66, I nearly wet myself. Finally, it's in my hands.
Now right off the bat I can tell you: This baby has all the looks and spender of any Alabeo or Carenado aircraft. All the pristine visuals we have come (I have come) to expect complete with texture material shine effects and reflections, windows scratches, and animated blade shine effects.
The doors are independently animated for use with either the included control panel or the shift+e keys.
I am going to go off the bat right now and say on a visual features scale, this is by far the most beautiful helicopter I have ever seen created in FS. I have a feeling MilViz is looking to take over these rains very soon once their 407 hits the virtual shelves. Now I picked a bit at Nemeth in my opening statement and this is for a good reason. I personally consider Nemeth Designs to be the best in the FS helicopter business. Helicopters are their specialty. They do not create anything else. Thus naturally, on a comparison scale, they are the first I would want to compare my little R66 to. Based on what I have discovered here, we have a new top contender. And for the record, I love the guys at Nemeth. Let's have a look at the interior.
Again, I think we all would agree, it's every bit as good as anything that comes from Alabeo/Carenado. A very brand new look I can almost smell the fresh cow hide. The aircraft also comes with the reflective gauges to add to the immersion. I just love the glass reflections and tint which is only visible under certain lighting conditions. In my shots below, it's quite obvious.
Once we start her up, she vibrates to life. Yes, animated vibration. Okay just as a reminder, all my sliders are set to the most realistic P3D allows. Let's get airborne! The first I like to do before departing to our high elevation destination, is to put the aircraft into a hover bringing the aircraft to 0 airspeed in any direction.
My efforts were almost effortless. Okay, now we need to see how she climbs. How she performs at high altitude. Let's climb!
With the stunning vistas from this big bubble canopy, the R66 is the perfect FS addon to discover new sceneries! An almost entirely unobstructed view. The only thing the R66 is missing is the glass bubble below the rudder pedals. Track-IR fans like myself will get the most of this option.
Just can't get over how beautiful the visuals are with this product.
She performs very well at high altitude but it took me a while to get her settled onto the platform. Couple the high thin air with the winds up here I was at it for nearly 5 minutes before I got her stable enough to put her down. She is not nearly as stable as my Nemeth MD500 that I usually fly up here. This is a very good thing!
Below are a few shots of another livery I like. Actually, I really like them all. Here we get a look at stunning visual features only Alabeo can deliver. I'm so glad to see this signature quality on something more that a prop aircraft.
Another nice feature are the sounds. Highly realistic. If you own the aircraft already, you will notice that not only the sounds are accurate from the exterior and VC views, even from the tower view you hear the thumping of the rotor blades as the helicopter banks and comes and goes from view.
I did not capture it here, but the blade shine is amazing when the sun hits it from the right angle and lighting conditions. The same goes for the glass canopy scratches. I also like hot the blade tips in the direction of the control surface. Just like real life.
Night lighting is what you would expect, but I really wish the cabin lighting was a tad bit brighter.
The only real issues I discovered were 1. The start key did not seem to animate for me. 2. Under certain conditions, the landing lights bleed through the panel.
Besides this, I would have liked some of the exterior panels that cover the engine mechanics to be removable displaying the innards. But I imagine this would downgrade frames which I must say, performance is flawless.
What we have here is another example of Alabeo's affinity to not be defined by developing a certain type of aircraft. From acrobat, to crop dusters, to classic and modern bi-planes, to training aircraft, to helicopters. I can only imagine what this team will develop next. But one thing thing is certain, they should definitely develop more helicopters in the future. I consider the R66 to be a huge success. But the only way for you to know for sure is to see for yourself. And hey, at $22 bucks, why not??
Another great Alabeo release in the books!
Check it out here: http://www.alabeo.com/index.php?accion=product&correl=97