In February of 2007 I packed up my car, left my wife and home, and headed to Cedar City, Utah to attend a flight school located at Cedar City Regional Airport (KCDC). The plane I flew for all but one of my flights there was a Cessna 172S, N577SP (I also flew her sister ship 6SP on a cross country). My first day at school was also my first two flights and the first two times I had sat in the front of an airplane. Trying to adjust to that the first time made my head spin, but by the second flight, I had started to adjust and wrap my mind around thing three-dimensional thinking that is aviation. By the time I returned home, my love for the Cessna 172 was seared. It is a plane and experience that I will never forget.
When I heard that A2A was producing a Cessna 172, I knew I had to try it out. I also knew that A2A had a reputation for excellence that they were going to jealously guard. I watched the development videos on YouTube and read many reviews online. Now, I know that I’m a little late to the party on this, but I wanted to make sure it was not going to be a flop and I had consciously decided I wanted to wait until I was at a point in my busy life that I could really put this plane through its paces. That is exactly what I did.
Now to be fair and give an accurate picture, I have used A2A products that friends have purchased for their simulators (on their machines!) and I do enjoy them. I also really respect these guys because they focus on providing as much realism as possible. They choose to produce aircraft that aren’t necessarily the most well known today (the Boeing 337 for example), then focusing on solid general aviation footprint. They then take it a few steps further by creating a super realistic flight dynamic and environment module called “Accu-Sim” and rolling it into a package that promises to dramatically improve the flight simulator experience. All in all, they’ve taken the path away from the mainstream and it appears, from an outside-looking-in view, that the choices they’ve made have paid off.
Speaking specifically about the Cessna 172, A2A went the extra mile by studying and recording the actual aircraft tin various conditions ranging from preflight, start up, taxi, take off, cruise, decent, landing and shut down. In case it hasn’t clicked, that’s all the phases of flight. They studied how the plane actually reacts and handles in various circumstances, how the gauges and avionics work, look and sound, then studied the propeller function. As if that weren’t enough, they even took along high quality recording devices to capture the real seal sound for everything from switches & opening and closing doors, to engine sounds and a myriad of things that is too long to list. Fortunately, A2A has listed them for you on their product page, just in case you wanted to know.
At this point, I want to mention two features that are intertwined and that I find very cool: The virtual maintenance hangar and real time maintenance condition. When I say real time maintenance condition, I don’t mean condition while you’re flying. I mean if you fly it and leave it alone for a month or two, good luck starting it! If you fowl a plug, it will still be fowled when you come back it it. This is because A2A has designed a way for the aircraft to determine when the last time you flew was, then apply a set of parameters that closely mimic real world conditions. Thus, an added degree of realism that allows you to almost test own an airplane. Oil, fuel, lubricants, and engine conditions are all affected. It even keeps track of flight hours on various parts and will require you to have annual inspections performed!
The maintenance hangar is exactly what it sounds like; the place that you can see your current aircraft condition, make repairs, swap tires, add or remove features, such as flap seals and engine warmers, as well as track the status on your A&P’s clipboard and have him perform your annuals. Now that you have some background about the incredible amount of work that went into faithfully recreating this timeless aircraft, I thought that it was only fitting if I pulled out my checklist and operated under real world conditions for my first flight. Frankly, doing anything less would be a bit of an insult.
The first step in preparing to fly if a thorough walk around of the aircraft. This is your chance to assess the mechanical health and readiness of the craft that you are about to bet your life on, so it needs to be thorough. A2A has provided you a guided walkthrough of the pre-flight inspection, with helping prospective aviators learn where to look and what to look for.
I was taught to start at the cabin and work counter-clockwise around the airplane. A2A has it mapped to work clockwise. Either is fine as long as it gets done. I chose to stay with my training and worked my way down the fuselage, to the empennage where I checked the elevators, vertical stabilizer (tail), up the other side of the fuselage, flaps, ailerons, lights, then continuing to move around to check the engine oil, fuel level and quality, propeller, pitot tube, struts and tires. I realize that’s a lot of information, but if you follow the steps that A2A has built in, you can sump fuel and see the quality of your current fuel state, check the oil, shake flaps, check cable connections and even lock the cargo compartment door. All in all, it’s a fully immersive experience and a fantastic learning tool that I wished I would have had.
As I moved around the exterior, performing my pre-flight check, I took the opportunity to keep up on another part of the check, looking at the skin. In this case, I knew there were not going to be cracks or defects, but I instead used it as a chance to look at how well the exterior was both modeled and textured. I have to say, I was not surprised. True to A2A style, it’s magnificent. The shape, size, and functionality was flawless. It seems that even the rivets were modeled, and that comes through the texture. All in all, one of the most realistic aircraft I’ve seen for FSX. My compliments to the modeler and texture artist(s).
Much like the exterior, the interior is exquisitely modeled. Featuring a tan and grey cloth seating upholstery, and the traditional beige plastics throughout the cabin. Looking around you will see that each rivet and screw is in its proper place. The overhead lights are modeled with separate switches and have the proper effect on the night lighting. Although not modeled, the overhead speaker and MIP mounted microphone look like they are ready to be used.
The main instrument panel and gauges are of particular interest to me. I knew going into this that I was going to be scrutinizing every detail of the panel because I’ve spend many hours looking at the real deal. A2A didn’t miss. The model I had at school did not have a GPS and the autopilot was disabled and marked INOP. So when I was first looking the plane over, having a panel configuration with both of those installed and working was foreign to me. However, through a menu option, you are able to change the avionics through three configurations, including the same one I had back in 2007.
I opted to stick with this configuration through my first two flights, and then tested the others. The volume panel, selector buttons, radio stack, DME and ADF worked perfectly and, again feature real world function and sound. Back in the day, as is the case now, I was able to really get into the “flying mindset” by using cues in the process. A big cue in that process was the sound of the avionics coming alive and that unmistakable long beep that happens when you flip the avionics master switch. The first time I started this aircraft, I got chills hearing it again. Many FSX GA aircraft feature a similar sound, but since A2A recorded the sound from the real aircraft, it just felt different. There is a legitimacy that you don’t get elsewhere. It seems odd, but it’s the absolute truth.
The gauges in this beautiful craft are absolutely spot on. They are clear, concise, and function identically to the real deal, including power off sag, restart, drift (if you enable it in the simulator), and movements. I’m not really sure who A2A has designing and programming their gauges, but they did a spectacular job and should probably get a raise. Other features of the interior include entry door windows that open and close, properly modeled and functioning yoke, pedals, throttle, mixture control, flaps selector switch, moving sun visors, and all of the toggle switches on the panel, which when used, deliver a satisfying click due to the excellent sound recordings. I think it’s safe to say the look and feel of a real Cessna 172 is certainly present.
Now that the pre-flight was done, it was time to start up and taxi. I once again went “by the book”. From the time I performed the flight control function check to the time the engine kicked over, it was real world operation and this little champ of an airplane rolled with it. However, unlike the real C172, this one didn’t start first try. It almost never took me less than three times to get it moving. On my third flight I actually killed my battery cranking the engine and had to replace it before I got it going. Incidentally, in a tip of the hat to the real time maintenance condition, it had been about ten days between my second and third flight and I hadn’t bothered to prime the engine or put the warmer on.
The way the airplane handles on the ground and in the air will vary depending on your control setup, settings and how you treat it. I run an all Saitek kit and have my sensitivity settings where I like them, which is about 70% forward with a slight null zone across all surfaces. With that in mind, the plane handled as expected on the ground. The rudder pedal steering seemed to be precise and I found no issues with the brakes being too light or heavy. In flight, it also performed just as I had expected. With the proper trim, very light inputs on control surfaces are all that is needed to affect the proper movement through all three axis. I performed a number of power on and power off stalls at various altitudes and found that the airplane not only performed predictably and on the right numbers, but it moved, shuttered and buffeted as a real one might. I attribute this to the excellent Accu Sim flight physics that included with the package.
Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?
I think you can tell from some of the words I used above that I really like what A2A has done. It is by far the best C172 simulation I have ever seen and, on many levels, the best actual simulation I’ve experienced. I cannot think of another simulated aircraft that has the maintenance options, flight physics and detail of this aircraft. If the folks over at Cessna haven’t given this thing a seal of approval, they should do it right now. For the rest of you, buy it! It’s more than worth the money.