Flight Replicas de Havilland DH.114 Heron
P3Dv2.3. Every now and then something comes along and takes me completely off guard. But simply not just by its sheer presence. It's the discovery and experience of something that in essence, exceeds my expectations. The classic DH.114 recently released from Flight Replicas is an example of one such experience to which I am referring. Prior to the DH.114, I had not had any experience with Flight Replicas. This is primarily due to lack of interest in their product lineup leaving them largely off my radar. I simply keep forgetting to check up on them from time to time. My bad. But thankfully to ADX readers, nothing gets by them and they ensure nothing gets by me. When a reader tipped me off to the development and release of the Flight Replicas DH.114, my interest in this developer manifested for the first time.
Now leading up to this review there is something of an interesting back story which I will share now in an effort to give you a thorough understanding of my thoughts and feelings as it pertains to this product.
Interest in FS's Heron be it as it may, was also met with quite a bit of uncertainty. Again, as stated, I had not yet experienced a Flight Replicas product before and as enticing as the Heron looked, its presentation by the developer left me wondering if this would be a worthy purchase. Based on the provided preview screenshots, the product in my eyes did not seem to sell itself to me as a high quality payware addon. Now initially, I choose not to interject this opinion into the post I had written notifying ADX readers that the product had been released. That is, until a reader left a reply on the post that more or less mirrored my own thoughts.
Marc D: "This is payware??? I wouldn't even take this for free..."
Now I did not agree with the not taking the product for free quip. That was pretty mean. But I had actually thought the product would be freeware. The quality in its representation did not appear to offer justification for its $30 price tag. As I replied with my own opinion: "I agree, for the quality, it's way too expensive. I'll be passing sadly..." which then prompted the developer to respond.
Flight Replicas: "How have you evaluated the quality, out of interest?"
How did I evaluate the quality? We'll it's quite simple actually. Everyone who is anyone in this community that has no previous experience with a particular developer's product has little choice but to judge a book by its cover. In this business, the availability to get refunds should a product not meet our expectations is quite rare as are demos. Many of us have parted with large sums of money over the years in the pursuit of quality product addons that fell short leaving us to hold the bag and losing money in the process. So, from time to time, I step out of my role as the mind behind AirDailyX and look at a product at face value from the mind of a consumer and evaluated the quality based on the product representation. I was interested, but unimpressed. At least, with the price. Hence my response:
"I should have been more clear in my response. To clarify my opinion, based on the provided screenshots, the quality level doesn't to me appear to justify its price and based on that, I would not risk buying it solely based on that. No refunds right? However, if you wish to send a copy I would be happy to take a closer look at it. But ADX aside, I wouldn't buy it at that price. But that doesn't mean others would share my opinion which is why the article was written. Don't get me wrong though, it is appealing."
Now quite naturally, I had mistakenly assumed that there was no refund policy. But (again, viewing from the perspective as a typical consumer) this allegation was based on 2 things
1. As stated, refunds in this community are rare and when they do exist, there is a policy regarding this.
2. There was no refund policy that I could find anywhere in the Flight Replicas website leaving me to assume there was not one in place.
3. No try before you buy demo version. Nothing to potentially woo in a new customer.
Flight Replicas: "We have always given refunds, from day one, if requested within a reasonable time from purchase. In fact, when, despite efforts, users have clearly had difficulties enjoying an aircraft due to not-up-to-spec hardware issues, for example, or something just doesn't work with their setup, we have given or offered refunds without even being asked."
Well that is terrific, that refunds are offered upon request or other support circumstances. Perhaps there should be an official policy regarding that? Now, in my opinion, after having provided the developer the exposure here on ADX, it's my contention that it would have deemed him prudent to send a press copy to perhaps persuade my "face value" based opinion. Instead, he sent me an email stating he was hesitant of sending me a review copy based on my comments while directing me to check out the "free" manual. I felt there was value in the opinion that constructive. The developer failed to see this even after correspondence under separate cover.
Well now. This is indeed truly unfortunate. Because there is no other unique individual besides myself in this community that I am aware of that spends more time and resources on a daily basis promoting the developments of flight simulation products. Be it through daily news articles, reviews, or live broadcasts. Hell, in many cases, I do all three. Clearly, this was all lost on this developer who in my feeling, missed the entire point of AirDailyX and the work I do. But be that as it may, I still maintained an interest in this aircraft, so knowing that there actually was indeed a potential refund possibility, rather than purchase the Carenado Seneca V I still have my eye on, I elected for the Heron and gave Flight Replicas a chance.
So, how is the Heron exactly? Was I right in my initial opinion? Did this aircraft completely sweep me off my virtual feet? Or do I deserve a pie in the face? Let's find out.
[Note: For format purposes, some images are cropped. Click each image for full size resolution preview.]
Included Models, Liveries, & Features
The Flight Replicas de Havilland DH.114 Heron comes complete with nine different models incorporating both fixed and retractable gear variants. Besides this, models come complete with both accurate virtual cockpits with a choice of either upgraded early layouts or late model cockpit versions. Other features include:
- Removable yokes for full instrument vision plus single-pilot operations.
- Opening cockpit 'clearview' windows;
- Full NAVCOM radio and autopilot suite;
- Late models feature full-feathering propellers;
- Cockpit can be configured for single or dual pilot operation;
- Full passenger cabin (and toilet);
- Passenger window blinds can be raised and lowered;
- Choice of stowable entrance ladder, or full passenger stairs;
- Anti-static vanes that move with airflow;
- Animated pilots (external view);
- Bump mapping in appropriate areas;
- Carefully researched textures;
- Full flight operations manual, accurate and derived from the original;
The features list indeed seem interesting enough, but it's the details I am concerned about. And the only way to get into the details, is to get into the details. Let's start with the exterior and work our way in.
Now as I had mentioned earlier, I more or less had judged the product by the provided screenshots. After all, besides the manual, that's all I had to go on which was just not enough. One needs to feel it. Thus, again, I was intrigued, but very hesitant. Those product screenshots were just not selling me. So now loaded in the sim and sitting on the cold and damp ramp here on Orcas Island, did the model itself impress me? Well... Yes! In fact, I found that I was rather impressed with the representation of the external model and texturing. Besides this, the Heron is a very oddly attractive looking aircraft. I mean let's face it, we are attracted by looks first right? My initial intrigue with this aircraft was multiplied several times over as I performed my walk around.
Now quite naturally, we are not looking at Carenado quality here. But I didn't expect it to. The external application by Flight Replicas had more than enough presence to stand on its own two feet.... or three gear. But that being said, there were a number of things that could have made the representation even better leaving something to be desired.
Now as both versions looked good, it's the Fijian livery that caught my eye the most. It comes equipped with the retractable gear, so this is the one I chose for the review. Getting back to the external representation, caution cones, wheel chocks, and a "parking mode" are all visual features that would have enhanced the presentation. Vis-a-vis: eye candy. What was added however, were the boarding steps & step ladder which the former can be activated from a click spot from the VC and rear cabin near the exit. Besides this, this is a classic 50's aircraft but it looks brand new. I would have liked to have seen a model that had actually shown its age. A little beat up perhaps. But where I was absolutely unimpressed was the lack of animation on the exterior compartment doors. There are a few of them and none of them could be opened.
Now boarding via the single rear entrance, I found myself in a place no one wants to be upon having just boarded an aircraft: the lavatory! Well that's interesting! It smelled clean at least ;)
Now whereas the external model was well textured, upon boarding the aircraft and seeing the colored texture variations, I almost felt as if I had stepped into an episode of The Simpsons. Standing in the lav, I found that the sink bowl and toilet lid were animated components as well as both the cabin and cockpit door. Nice touches. But what I found was a great lack of texture depth and detail and seemingly over coloration of the doors and seats prompting me to run a search of what the interior really looks like.
Hmmm... well... to be honest, other than using a photoreal application on those seats which is likely impossible to get, I can see some similarity. Those seat covers look horrible but ideally the operator opted to protect the fabric of the seats. But still, the seats could have been detailed much better. This representation is one of those jitters I felt when trying to determine if I would purchase the product. I felt that some parts of the product screamed freeware quality and standing here in the cabin, I still feel that way. In trying to justify the price, this should have been better. What I did like was the animated window shades visible from both the interior and exterior. Nice touch there. Another included feature is the ability to disappear the pilot twins from the external view. So in this case, some passengers would have been a nice addition from the outside as well. It looks bloody empty.
Finally making my way to the business end of the aircraft, I find I am pleased with the representation of the main panel. The gauges are of good quality and easy to read. Nicely animated and smooth as well. Everything appears to be in its place aside from several FO gauges being replaced by default Bendix King radio stack which was helpful. But here is a comparison to the real deal:
Still looking around the cramped cockpit, to the left of the captain's seat, I find the oil cooler shutter handles for the four engines (operational) along with the engine priming lever and master air valve (neither of which were operational). The pedestal included all the important components all of which were animated and functional.
Above the seats you will find the ammeter and deice unit (fully functional) along with animated opening cockpit windows.
Okay, all looks good here, let's get the show on the road.. er air...
Now I highly recommend you take time to familiarize yourself with the cockpit and functions before you fire her up. She is an old gal so get to know her a bit, it's worth it. A quick browse through the provided checklist which walked me through the simple startup process and all four spinners were purring like kittens. The engine sounds were quite good actually. Now grandma Heron here can get off the ground on short and unpaved airfields. KORS here is one example of a short field she can run on but you really want to ensure you have the proper fuel and weight balance suitable for each flight.
Another thing worthy of note is the taxi process. This is an aircraft for pedal users. Your twist stick is not going to cut it here. This is because the Heron uses a castering nose wheel (obvious when you look at it) which means you need to use independent differential braking to steer. The downside here was, when I spooled up for departure, granny was slow to get her ass really moving and third of the way down the runway the rudder still did not have enough airspeed to take control of direction forcing me to tip my toes to maintain the center line f'ing up my speeds. This freaked me out a bit. Not a whole lot of pavement left here so if I need to abort, I need to decide quick. Thankfully, about halfway through the rudder had enough breeze to yeild control. Now with all four engines barking unhindered, I quickly regained speed and rotated outward at 90kts.
Shit. I felt as if I was lifting a brick house off the ground. She's mighty might just lettin' it all hang out... Remember what I said about minding your weight. I really should have taken more fuel off. If a herd of turtles could fly, this is pretty much about how things felt. Slow! And I had to keep it under 10 above the horizon to ensure I didn't stall out. I elected to tip the nose a bit and gain more airspeed before continuing the climb to 10,000. For a four engine aircraft of this small size, it feels quite underpowered.
Once I finally got her up there, (what was it... 600ft per min? Dayummm...) what I discovered was admiration. I really, really like this airplane! She looks good and is really fun to fly. I had elected to hand fly her up to altitude and get the real feel for the sweet lady. The flight dynamics were good too. Not only was I discovering a new airplane and experience, I was also discovering Flight Replicas for the first time too. I finally tapped the AP and settled in for the long flight out to Longview Ranch the high desert. This would be a scenic journey on all accounts. Great plane, great vistas, this is what flight simulation is all about.
I really love the big windows too! Now looking out at those engines (I had a lot of time to think while en-route) I still had the feeling as if I really should be getting better performance. And indeed, I could have but not in this configuration. After only 150 airframes having been completed before the end of the production line, a few operators elected to give new leases on the life of their Heron fleets by way of implementing newly available kits most notably of which offered much lighter and higher rated engines. To my knowledge, there is only one Heron left still in service with such a config. Note the difference:
So for the $30 price tag, why not include the Riley conversion kit variants? Additionally, the developer noted in the manual that even though Heron's had a variety of internal layouts including those for medical and executive purposes, he had elected to implement only one layout for "simplicity's sake". Well to that I say screw the simplicity and bring it all on. Finally the DH.114 has gotten her day in flight simulation at an age when people are hungry for their NGX's, and 777's. Why not deliver ole girl her in all her potential glory? I am truly enjoying this product and I can already say it has earned the star in my P3D favorites menu, but from where I sit, there is much more that could have been done here. I sure as hell do not want a refund. I am falling in love here. But this is not an unconditional love. That price tag, even now... seems a bit high for what you don't get.
Finally down on the latter end of the journey, I began preparing the aircraft for descent and arrival. On a quick side note, it is me or do the props practically disappear when spinning. The propspin animation could have been just a tad bit better.
The flaps and gear sounds are very good. Makes me wonder just how did the developer got the soundset. Are these sounds accurate? I'm not really sure but they are convincing enough. The flare and movements were so seamless, I forgot to think about them. This is a very good thing. The last thing I need is to think about horrible or subpar flight dynamics on final approach.
Using the differential breaking, the aircraft practically turns on a dime. Similar to that of an Avroliner. You can damn near turn a full circle without moving an inch forward. Steering with the toe-brakes is also a much different feel. Some may elect to make changes to the .CFG in an effort to utilise rudder steering as some have done with Carenado's Cirrus, but that is just laziness in my opinion. The same goes for the Majestic Q400. It's much better to leave the yoke steering active instead of using the pedals. It's always a good feeling to actually 'feel' as if we are actually flying something different. After all, it's a simulation.
This uneventful flight is one that I have no doubt will be among many. But it seems the retractable gear variant is the one that got all the action. So I choose my favorite fixed gear livery/model and took her up for a spin around the hungarian countryside. She truly does look beautiful.
Fixed Gear Gallery
Night Shots / Final Thoughts
The night light lighting was not bad. I was most impressed with the cabin.
Okay. Back to square one.
Every now and then something comes along and takes me completely off guard. But simply not just by its sheer presence. It's the discovery and experience of something that in essence, exceeds my expectations. So, how is the Heron exactly? Was I right in my initial opinion? Did this aircraft completely sweep me off my virtual feet? Or do I deserve a pie in the face?
Well I definitely would like a pie in my face. But not that rhubarb stuff. I never developed a taste for that. I don't care what Garrison Keillor says. Did this aircraft exceed my expectations? Well exceed yes. But only in the sense that I had really low expectations for this product. When a developer looks to selling a product, presentation is everything. Something can be learned from the likes of Carenado, Majestic, hell even Wilco is good at product presentation. So my note to the developer is, find a better way at showcasing your product. Sure, the current customer base already has a very good idea of what to expect. But it's about the new customer. The person like me who honestly would have spent my money elsewhere like that Seneca V had it not been for the notion of serving the ADX reader community by putting together this review. Overall, this aircraft is simply put: overpriced. And the sad thing about it is, there is so much potential here that it really could have been a $40 dollar product. If Carenado can get $40 for for simple Cessnas, this could have too. But it falls far short.
As mentioned above, there are a number of additions that can be implemented to make this a far better product. The interior texturing really leaves something to be desired and the external animations too limited. Now for about $18 bucks, I would have bought the product without question. Every product has its place within the different pricing tiers in the FS marketplace. And with 2014 nearly being a recordbreaker with the number of products that have arrived this year, plus what is still expected, it's important to price products appropriately.
That said, I really love this airplane. Sure this is something for a niche market but I really appreciate developers like this who really make the effort to deliver aircraft like this that we otherwise would not have and to that end, I am thankful. So thank you Flight Replicas for delivering the Heron and I really hope the other variants in this family will follow. Flight Replicas is really on my radar now and I will be watching this developer much more closely in the future.
Get your copy of Flight Replicas de Havilland DH.114 Heron here:
Other products featured in this review:
- Orbx Orcas Island: https://fullterrain.com/product/kors
- Orbx Longview Ranch: https://fullterrain.com/product/og39
- Orbx FTX PNW: https://fullterrain.com/product/og39
- LHSimulations Pecs Pogany: http://lhsimulations.com/freeware_zone/pecs-pogany-lhpp/
- REX4 Texture Direct: http://www.realenvironmentxtreme.com/
This appears to be this developer's largest aircraft development to date. He is going in the right direction and I really do admire the effort. It's a terrific airplane and I am confident if you get it, you will truly enjoy it. Okay back to my next leg in this adventure with this classic airplane. Time to depart grandma...