Carenado C208B Grand Caravan EX.
FSX. Resident ADX Pilot: E.K. Hoffen is back! Please join me here in Alaska as I check out the new Cessna Caravan EX from Carendo. I'll be putting it through it's paces to see if it's a worthy stand alone addition to your fleet. Even if you have the previous Grand Caravan from Carenado you will still have to pony up full price for this bird. Is it worth it? Strap in to the copilot seat and ride along as I find out. Or die trying. Bandwidth Warning! This is my biggest review yet!
[Note: For format purposes, images are cropped. Click each image for full size resolution preview.]
Carenado has been producing some very beautiful aircraft for quite a few years now. My first was the Cessna U206, an aircraft I have many real world hours in. The 206 has been, along with the ubiquitous 207, the standard workhorse of the Alaskan back country and I was really excited when it was released. I've been a Carenado fan ever since. We all know the thing that sets their products apart is the shear beauty of the exterior and interior visuals; They are simply stunning. Yes, I know the flight models often aren't perfect and sometimes need varying degrees of tweaking to work right, but overall Carenado's GA aircraft are excellent. In fact, I believe the quality of other developer's add-on aircraft has had to improve because Carenado keeps raising the bar. I have flown most of the aircraft available from Carenado in the real world and I feel like they capture the feel of the real ones as close as possible here in the flight sim world.
So now I have the newest turbine release from Carenado and incidentally, from Cessna, too: the Caravan EX. The standard Caravan is another real world plane I have a fair amount of time in. It is a great airplane, especially here in Alaska. Lots of space to pack a load of Bypass Mail in along with some passengers and bags and head for the villages. Good visibility out the front and fully IFR and known-ice capable if the going gets nasty. And bleed air heat, thankyouthankyouthankyou for the bleed heat. My only beef with it was the lack of beans......not enough horsepower. This becomes painfully obvious when you're packin' ice at the MEA over the mountains at night. Why, oh why, did I become a pilot? I could have been a garbage truck driver...or a lawyer, anything but this right now! Wha....? Sorry, small flashback there. Anyway, the point is, the 'Van needed more power. Well, Cessna must have been paying attention, because now, only 30 years since it came out, the Caravan gets a horsepower boost. 867SHP up from 675SHP......not too shabby at all. And now Carenado has released a version for FSX/P3D for us 'Van drivers who need to get our fix.
Maybe because I'm a former subLogic Flight Simulator user(I was very, very young), or maybe I'm just easily impressed, but the Carenado Caravan EX absolutely blows my sock off. It looks amazing. I mean, even if you don't want to fly the thing...get it just to look at; it's a real work of art. One of the visual treats is the reflected lighting. The hue and tint of the sun reflecting off the windscreen and windows is very realistic and right lovely. Another bit of subtle goodness is the crazed Plexiglas effect...which was difficult to capture in a screenshot, you'll have to look closely for it, but is always noticeable from the VC when the sun is out.
The light effect on the windshield is the perfect hue and tint for Plexiglas.
Okay, it's very pretty, got it. How visually accurate is it? Well, I think it matches the real thing darn good. I've looked it over pretty close and so far I only have one observation: The TKS ice protection tank. This is a relatively new addition to the Caravan line starting about 4-5 years back. The Caravan has a notorious reputation in the ice. Cessna has countered this by hanging more and more pneumatic deice boots all over the airframe. They even added one to the pod. Eventually they ran out of places to put them, so they decided to try something new...well, new for them.
The weeping wing. Alcohol based anti-ice has been around for ages, and is somewhat effective as long as the flow is started before icing conditions are encountered....and you don't run out of fluid. The newer TKS weeping wings have an anti-ice mode (low-flow) and a de-ice mode that chemically removes any accumulated ice from the wing or tail leading edges. This system also spews the juice on the windshield, eliminating the need for the obnoxious hot plate.
All this special, life-saving fluid needs to be stored somewhere - which brings us back to the original subject: The TKS ice protection tank. With the cargo pod removed(it can be switched off), and the external ice protection tank installed(it can also be switched off), it is aerodynamically contoured to kind of blend with the belly....like a shark's fanny pack. If the pod is installed, the real plane has a tank designed to fit the belly pod's interior nice and snug, with a filler port on the side of the pod. The Carenado Caravan just puts the external tank in there with a filler port inside. It takes up space and looks weird when you open the pod doors.
Whew. All that to say the only visual inaccuracy I could find was that the ice protection tank with the cargo pod installed is wrong. And you have to open a hatch to see it. Yeah, I took the long way around on that one, but now you have a basic understanding of the TKS ice protection installed on the EX. And you can sleep at night knowing the plane is nearly perfect looks-wise. You're welcome.
Inside the cabin you will find a decidedly un-Alaskan space. Most operators up here will not be ordering an Oasis interior. Rubber floors and the terribly uncomfortable utility seats are the only way to go here. Imagine hosing moose blood or muktuk slime out of this baby...not a pretty picture. Although, most of the time the real mess is leaking soda from a triple-mailer or vomit from a particularly fun flight. But oh, man, that new airplane leather smell. I've been fortunate enough to be in several different brand-new Caravans equipped with dead cow-skins. It is a fine thing. Not Bentley fine, but very nice. The clean, crisp textures inside are what we have come to expect from Carenado. No complaints here, except I would have appreciated a choice between the Oasis and commuter interior for added realism.
So how does it work? With Service Pack 1 installed, pretty much like a Caravan. Start-up is PT6 simple, and using my flow patterns, I had it whining straight away. Hey, sounds good, too. Avionics Master on and G1000 initialized, time to enter a flight plan. Whoa! What's this? A new way of operating dials and knobs in FSX? Shore 'nough. When you mouse over a knob it becomes highlighted, and, if it has an inner or outer knob, just the one you want is highlighted and then you can just use the mouse wheel to turn it.
It makes twisting knobs easy, no more cursing the tiny hotspots in turbulence. One of those "how come I didn't think of this?" moments. It is intuitive and I find that I miss it when I fly something else. Okay, cool....let's get on with it....press direct and enter....a....destination....what....the....Ahrg.....now what is happening? It seems I cannot enter characters into the GPS using the keyboard like I have for years. When I do, I get three characters per key-press, in the VC and 2D PFD. So direct PANC looks like PPPAAA and so on. The MFD only puts two characters per key-press, but just as useless. I guess I will have to change my ways and use the fancy new knob turning action instead of my keyboard. Can do.
I decided the best way to run the EX through its paces would be during a 135.293(b) VFR check-ride as required by the FAA for commercial operations. A normal VFR check should take a little over an hour or so, depending on the check airman, but I am going to add a 135.299 line check which is required for scheduled operations and must include an airport other than the departure airport. To accomplish this, I will head west from the fabulous FTX Juneau to Gustavus which is a short, 15 minute hop across Lynn Canal. Time to commit some aviation.
A jab of power brings it to taxi speed where it is easy to steer and maintain the centerline. One other change to the EX besides the power, is the flaps now just have 3 positions - UP, TO/APR, and LAND.....basically eliminating the 10 degree setting and renaming the rest. On the taxi out, select TO/APR on the flaps, finish the Before Takeoff checklist and nearing the runway get the takeoff clearance.
A jab of power brings it to taxi speed where it is easy to steer and maintain the centerline. One other change to the EX besides the power, is the flaps now just have 3 positions - UP, TO/APR, and LAND..... basically eliminating the 10 degree setting and renaming the rest. On the taxi out, select TO/APR on the flaps, finish the Before Takeoff checklist and nearing the runway get the takeoff clearance.
Ready to go.
Set Takeoff power and after very little roll, rotate at 75 KIAS and climb away...flaps up after 95 KIAS. Best to make a few stops with the flap handle when retracting the flaps, they are very large and require a significant elevator trim adjustment...except, hmmm, can't really do this with the sim, though. Anyway, we'll set up a cruise climb westbound and feel this machine out. Handles just about like a real Caravan. Imagine that.
Whoops, looks like somebody forgot to remark the standby torque gauge.
Kudos to the sound guy. This is the best sounding Carenado yet. That's not really saying much, I guess. But, to my mostly ruined ears, they are getting better with each new release. The EX sounds very good, it even has that deep airframe rumble typical for Caravans and separate prop noise that works pretty good.
Another fault I found with this G1000 is the omission of the range rings. This is a dandy tool in real life(not to be use in lieu of careful planning and good common sense) for keeping track of your remaining fuel and any wind and fuel consumption variables encountered enroute. It seems to me that a bit of extra programming would be worth the time to include this function. But I guess a developer has to draw the line somewhere.
No, the cabin LCD's don't work.
Back to the flight. After some required takeoff and landings (short and soft field, and a rejected takeoff and landing, etc), we will head back over to Lynn Canal for some air work.
Short field T/O with a Vx climb.
Decent...but my feet must be asleep.
Good buffet simulation.
Dirty stall with a 20 degree bank.
My steep turns are within tolerance. Stalls have a decent feel to them with a nice buffet before the break. Positive recoveries and the stall series are done. Time for an instrument approach to Juneau. Planning a practice LDA X to runway 8 via the IAF at LYNN intersection, full procedure turn.
Procedure turn outbound.
Procedure turn inbound.
In my day all we had was steam powered gauges and the 5 T's....Turn, Twist, Time, Throttle, Talk.....or was it ....Twist, Turn...um, whatever. I really just used the force and it always worked out. Kids and their fancy TV screens and buttons these days.
The cockpit lighting is just right, very well modeled. I am thrilled to have realistic lighting, and not blaring, operating-room panel lighting.
A few step downs here.
Made it. Passed another one.
Now lets head down to Australia's outback for some beauty shots of this incredible airplane.
Let's warp back up to Whittier, Alaska for some short field work on a typical gravel strip. Honestly not where you would want to take such a shiny new airplane. Buts lets do it anyway.
Go-arounds not advisable.
planning a fence speed of 70 Knots.Perfect...just a bit of beta.Now to pick up some tourists. Gross weight T/O...looks short but the book says it will do it.
Here we go!
Airborne! With room to spare.
In conclusion. Do I like the Carenado Caravan EX? Unequivocally, yes, I love it....and you can't have it back. Is it perfect? No. But Nearly. It flies remarkably like the real thing, looks great, and I can navigate fine with the dash TV's, albeit admittedly, not entirely without some frustration. I was able to fly difficult IFR flights with ILS and GPS approaches just fine. And for all you G1000 pedants out there, well, you may be a little disappointed with the Garmin setup here, but the rest of the package more than makes up for it, at least in my opinion. And besides, with the real EX on the painful side of $2,000,000 this is a smoking deal.
My recommendation? If you are interested in Caravans, or airplanes, or cool stuff that's shiny, then you need to buy this. If you want a perfectly functional G1000, go rent a real one. That is all.
Keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all times,