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Aircraft Update: SA 315B Lama by Philip Ubben and Khamsin Studio

Dominic Smith

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Aircraft Update: SA 315B Lama by Philip Ubben and Khamsin Studio


By Stuart McGregor


I recently had the opportunity to try out the SA315B Lama by Philip Ubben and Khasim Studio during the beta run of X-Plane 12, and I am delighted to share my thoughts and experiences in this review.


In all honesty, I find the Lama to be an unusual-looking aircraft by today’s standards, with its bulging bubble canopy and open tubular fuselage exposing all its workings, and in a strange way, it reminds me of an insect that has had its wings pulled off. However, don’t be fooled by its rustic appearance, as it has some amazing characteristics and charm.


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Designed by the French Sud Aviation organisation to be able to cope with extreme conditions in terms of high altitudes and temperatures, the single turbine engine Lama was developed to perform in the mountainous regions of the Himalayas and has held several high-altitude records along the way. It is not the largest of aircraft by any means, only carrying up to 4 passengers or just over a tonne as a slung load, however, the fact it can operate comfortably in extreme altitudes does make it quite unique in many respects. Its main customer base has traditionally been military organisations operating in mountainous regions of the world, such as the Nepalese Army and Indian Air force, and its order book has stretched far and wide from Afghanistan to Peru.


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When you then consider the Lama’s roots are firmly planted in the late 1960s and early 1970s and it is still very much in use today, this is a real testament to the ingenuity and engineering expertise of the original Sud Aviation designers, and I am really delighted the developers have brought this amazing aircraft to life in both X-Plane 11 and now also X-Plane 12.


This review has included a couple of firsts for me, namely, it’s my first real venture into the X-Plane 12 environment since its general release to the public, and secondly, most of the testing I carried out was in VR with my Oculus Rif S. Traditionally my reviews have been carried out in the 2D world, however, this time I thought I would just try something a little different and give VR a try. It is worth noting that this review was using the beta 7 version of X-Plane 12 and there are clearly lots of bugs still to fix, (flickering clouds for example), however, I believe that this didn’t detract too much from the overall experience. In all honesty, even with the bugs, I have very much been enjoying the new features available in X-Plane 12, and I believe this all bodes well for the future of the sim.


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So back to the Lama. The Lama was originally released for X-Plane 11 in the second half of 2021, and if you opt to purchase the X-Plane 12 model, you also get the previous version as part of the package. For a comprehensive and in-depth review of the Lama, including its many systems, please follow the following link to Stephen Dutton's excellent X-Plane 11 article. I did take a quick look at the version 11 variant just to see what has changed, and although I didn’t spend a lot of time in the older version, there are significant upgrades in the new X-Plane 12 model. One of the most noticeable changes are the upgrades to the pop-out 3D tablet and the addition of the ‘Nightsun’ searchlight, and I will come back to that later. The Lama is currently retailing at x-plane.org for $32.95, and it was released in early September this year with the launch of X-Plane 12. Installation is extremely easy, just a case of downloading and drop into your Aircraft folder, that’s it.


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Once you have it installed, if you look in the “Documents” folder under “Comprehensive Manuals”, you will find all sorts of helpful documents provided in a mixture of English, German, and French. You will find an Introduction to the Lama that explains a little about the helicopter itself as well as the start-up and shut-down procedures, operational start-up and shut-down checklists explaining what to do and in which order, a  visual overview of the main instrument panels and functions, instructions on how to use the ‘Nightsun’ searchlight, an overview of the functionality provided via the 3D-tablet, and a list of FAQs that may answer some of the questions that you initially have. A separate document also describes the Pitch Indicator provided in the Lama and explains what it does and how to use it. In all honesty, I was a little confused by the explanation offered, however, I am sure with some practice it all makes sense. The developers also mentioned that in real life, as the unit is quite hard to read and would be a distraction during flight, most pilots consider any pitch limits throughout their flights prior to taking off. Nevertheless, it is a nice feature to have if you are looking for the best immersion possible and the dials are operational. There is one final document that is worth mentioning and that is the Quick Start Guide. This will give a few other general tips on how to get the best out of the Lama, and all these documents are worth reading to familiarize yourself with the numerous features the Lama has to offer.


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Now that you have installed the Lama and have read through the various documents, it is time to jump into the cockpit. There are two seats up front and three in the rear, and one of the first things you will notice is just how much of a view you have because of the bubble canopy. In VR especially, this is fabulous. For those who don’t have VR capability, this really is something that adds a totally new dimension to flying, and although it does take a little time to get used to, particularly when flying helicopters, the benefits far outweigh the negatives. The sense of depth that you get can’t be matched on any 2D screen, so when looking around the Lama’s cabin, you just want to reach out and grab everything. The instruments in the Lama are quite basic in terms of tech when compared to modern helicopters, however, I really prefer this as there are just fewer things to have to learn and ultimately worry about. Don’t get me wrong, tech is great and will often add in new safety features which is never a bad thing, however, sometimes it is just nice to be faced with some more basic instruments and controls.


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There is a small overhead panel above your head with lighting dimmer controls, switches to operate various electrical systems and a range of fuses, although the fuses are not functional.  I found the central pedestal dials fairly easy to read, although VR in the Rift S does have its limits when looking at small numbers and lettering, however, the textures overall are very nicely done and realistic. If you can crane your head around and look above and behind, you will see the rotor head and rotors, and the attention to detail is excellent, even down to unique part numbers on the rotor blades. When cold and dark it is worth just taking a few moments to try out the cyclic controls and watch the rotorhead assembly parts all moving in perfect unison. Pretty impressive!!


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To get the Lama started, you can go the fully manual route and follow the provided checklists, however, one of the features I really like was the automated start-up (and shut-down) that can be accessed via the 3D-tablet. The tablet can be opened by clicking on the text label to the right of the central console on the airframe, and this is one of the areas where the XP11 and XP12 variants differ. In the XP12 version, several new features have been added and there is now a complete second page that can be accessed. This allows you to toggle on or off various features such as the doors, snow skids, external mirror, searchlight, and rescue winch; you can also adjust the type of baskets and type of airspeed indicator and altimeter, and from the first page you can also adjust the weight distribution, centre of gravity and the fuel load (see the Quick Start Guide for guidance when rotors are running). In addition, you can also set the auto pitch limit and pitch fail mode and turn the rotors to the front prior to starting. In real life, this is important as it avoids rotor damage caused by the turbine exhaust and is a nice little feature that adds to the immersion. I liked the sound of these changes being made when you click the screen, it really makes you ‘feel’ the changes are taking place rather than just appearing.


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On page 2 of the tablet, you have options to adjust visual effects such as glass reflections, downwash, vibrations and how lights and strobes show up. On this page, you will also find the automatic checklists for start-up and shutdown, and these have audible speech samples that take you through the process which I really liked. You can also have the view change automatically to show you the relevant section, which is OK in 2D but made me feel a bit sick in 3D, so I just disabled it. The final feature I would like to mention, and to me, an important one is the Augmented Stability controls. This allows you to set the intensity on the Heading, Pitch and Roll stability, and I had this set to 15% for all three. I found that controlling the Lama with these all set to zero was pretty tuff, and this is something you can play around with to find your own sweet spot. As I mentioned, 15% did the trick for me.


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Before we get the engine fired up and attempt a flight, I just wanted to take some time to mention the exterior features and detailing of the Lama. In X-Plane 12, the Lama is a thing of unusual beauty, it really is, and the developers should be extremely proud of what they have achieved. Sitting on a wet apron with puddles of water, and then walking around the Lama, was a surreal experience. Again, the VR element just gives you a whole new perspective and dimension to explore, and being able to do a walk around and dive into all the nooks and crannies around the fuselage was a magical experience. Details like ropes and rucksacks in the baskets are well done and I have never seen this type of detail before. The quality of the textures are exquisite and really should be enjoyed by getting up close. I even noticed that the engine has a readable nameplate tag which really shows just how much care and attention the developers have taken when creating their Lama. One final feature which I believe is worth a mention is the gentle flex and swaying movement of the rotors in the wind. This really is exceptional, and I even found myself just mesmerized watching this for a few minutes. It still amazes me just how far flight simulation has come in the 10 years I have been a fan, and aircraft like the Lama in combination with modern sims like X-Plane 12, is a testament to the various developer’s skills and imagination. The continuous improvement is remarkable, and the fact we can all enjoy this from the comfort of our living rooms is quite mind-blowing when you think about it.


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OK, so let’s start up the Lama. As mentioned, I just used the auto-start feature for simplicity, although I am sure it wouldn’t take much to do this manually if you wish. One of the first things you notice when the engine starts to spin up are the sounds of the turbine, this is particularly enhanced if you remove the doors or have them open. Although I have never stood next to a real Lama (animal or helicopter), the turbine sounds very authentic, and the richness of the sounds complements the visual features extremely well. You really get a sense of the power of the turbine as it goes through its various phases, and the tone changes further as the rotors spin up to their full speed. Be careful though with any throttle controls, as I did have a couple of engine fires along the way as I hadn’t closed my throttle. Incidentally, the smoke and flame effects are realistic although I would prefer not to have wrecked the engine as often as I did.


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Once you start the engine you will also see the pilot from the outside and he is very well-modelled and animated with head movements. Once everything had stabilised, I was able to hover taxi to my take-off point quite smoothly and with only a little effort on my controls. Perhaps it is worth mentioning that I am currently using a VKB Gladiator joystick and pedals and an old MaxFlight Stick collective, and the combination works well. The 3D tablet can be stowed via a click spot on the bottom left of the panel, although the tablet also doubles as the AviTab system, so if you would like to keep the map or other features up you can. In VR, I am using the OVR tool (it seems to still work in X-Plane 12), and I have the Super Sampling set to 1.5 and Asynchronous Spacewarp set to force 30 FPS, ASW enabled. This works well for me and is the best compromise over quality and performance. Out of VR, I was getting around 50+ FPS, and in VR, well it reduces the FPS to 27 in the Rift S.


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Having such an unobstructed view from the cockpit makes the Lama a joy to be in, so flying low and slow around the countryside and across towns was a fabulous experience. I was able to control the Lama quite easily and I found it very responsive to my inputs during both takeoff and landing. On the latter you do have to be careful you don’t get caught up in your own downwash, as then the ground does come up to meet you a lot faster than you would like. There is no autopilot in the Lama which means manual flying all the way as far as I could tell, but I like this. Helicopters by their very nature are unstable, so having the challenge of being able to keep all the various parts moving safely in the direction you want them to, gives you a real sense of satisfaction when you master it.


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When in flight after dark, I had a play around with the ‘Nightsun’ searchlight and this is great fun, particularly when you assign the controls to a hat switch. That way you can control the beam of light effortlessly and easily direct it to where you want it. According to the developer, the light start-up procedure is also modelled as in the real thing, so it does take a moment or two to switch on, again another nice piece of realism. At night, the cockpit instrument lighting is also very nicely done, and you can toggle between green and red, whichever takes your fancy. 


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The only thing that I felt was a little disappointing was the rescue winch, and I had to do a little research on the forums to understand if I was missing something. Other than switching on and off a red and white box object attached to the bottom of a thin white line, this was all I could see, and based on the quality of the rest of the helicopter, I thought I must have missed something… but nope… that is it. You can change the object to one of your own, or change the weight of the object to suit, however, this is all done via the X-Plane Weights & Balance menu under the Flight option in the ribbon menu. Here you adjust the details of the slung load, however, I think a few lines in the manual would be helpful, as, without it, I scratched my head for ages trying to work this out.


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This apart, the SA315B Lama by Philip Ubben and Khasim Studio is a fabulous example of what can be achieved within the X-Plane world, and I can safely say this is one of the best helicopters out there. I have tried most of what is available these days, and the Lama is up there with the best of them in terms of overall quality of build, features, and cost. I normally shy away from advising whether to buy something or not, as it does always come down to personal choice and depends on what you are looking for, however, if you are a helicopter fan, I think in this case I would make an exception. So, whether you are a serious helicopter flyer or someone just starting out, this Lama is well worth considering in my opinion.






The SA 315B Lama by Philip Ubben and Khamsin Studio is now available from the X-Plane.Org Store here:


SA 315B Lama XP12

Price at time of writing US$32.95


SA 315B comprehensive features list

  • Support for the entire X-Plane 12 cycle including patches and possible updates
  • Both versions XP12 and XP11 included
  •  for the XP11 features please look at the Lama XP11 shop page
  • Quick-start-document in English
  • Comprehensive flight manual documents in EN, FR and DE
  • Completely redesigned flight model to reflect all XP12 changes
  • X-Plane 12 weather effects compatible
  • "Safe-state" system which stores all tablet customizations when changing aircraft or exiting the simulator. Restores them when the Lama is reloaded
  • Lama's own "Artifical Stabilisation" system, which is of course integrated into the "Safe-State" system. Once thoroughly made, stability settings for the three control axes are stored and restored each time the Lama is reloaded
  • Automatic checklist including switchable acoustic speech and also switchable camera guidance to the operated switches for the complete sequence from "Cold and Dark" to "Ready to fly" and back again. Thus, the complete start-up and shut-down process can be marveled at and followed like in a movie theater
  • Full simulation of the SX-16 "Nightsun" searchlight including sound, gimbal assembly, focus adjustment, focus dependent light intensity and realistic on/off behavior
  • Rescue winch that automatically switches the attachment point for the bottom load rope from the load hook to the winch
  • Second selection option for the baskets on the outside of the helicopter
  • Possibility to mount a bubble door on the pilot's side
  • Ability to unhook both doors independently and fly without doors
  • FMOD 2 which, besides minor optimizations, now locally accounts for the opened doors
  • Instrument lighting switchable between red and green color
  • Vibration animations in the cockpit
  • High detail 3D-model and textures by khamsin studio
  • PBR textures
  • Completely animated rotor head and blade flex
  • Including Geforce plugin by Dreamfoil Helicopters (not native APPLE-arm M1/M2 compatible)
  • Very accurate flight model (including Autorotation) up to MTOW of 1950 kg
  • individual user setup friendly:
  • Uses only default joystick axes (throttle, collective, pitch, roll and yaw)
  • All custom commands access able via default X-Plane menu
  • Complete recreation of real power management including:
  • Real startup and shutdown procedures
  • Real centrifugal clutch management
  • Real turbine RPM-limiter
  • Real safety microswitches
  • Real usability of Collins-Pitch-Indicator
  • Hide able 3D-tablet including:
  • Custom weight-and-balance menu
  • Attach or detach external parts
  • Toggle able glass reflections
  • Toggle able custom downwash effect
  • Toggle able cockpit vibrations
  • Ability to choose out of four strobe light variants for addon liveries
  • Avitab integration
  • Toggle able power management helper bug
  • Let the groundcrew turn one blade up front for you
  • Four different strobe light effects for different liveries
  • Livery depending IAS gauge in km/h or KTS
  • Working slungload scale
  • VR compatible
  • Very FPS friendly



X-Plane 12  - or X-Plane 11(both versions included)
Windows, Mac* or Linux
4 GB VRAM Minimum - 8 GB+ VRAM Recommended
Download Size: 840 MB
Current version: 2.1b4 (September 26th 2022)


Review System Specifications:

Windows 10 64 Bit
CPU Intel i9-9900k
Nvidia RTX 2080 Ti

Oculus Rift S


Helicopter Review by Stuart McGregor
20th October 2022
Copyright©2022: X-Plane Reviews

(Disclaimer. All images and text in this review are the work and property of X-PlaneReviews, no sharing or copy of the content is allowed
without consent from the author as per copyright conditions) 







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  • Dominic Smith changed the title to Aircraft Update: SA 315B Lama by Philip Ubben and Khamsin Studio

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