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Classic Aircraft Review : Aircruiser 66-75 by Hangar 23


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Aircruiser 66-75 - Header.jpg

 

Classic Aircraft Review : Aircruiser 66-75 by Hangar 23

 

Very earlier classic aircraft are very interesting, more so when they are so rare. This aircraft is about as rare as you could could imagine, only 23 of them were built between 1930 and 1938. But they have a significant place in Aviation history, only to be replaced by the United States federal regulations that prohibited single-engine transports on United States airlines, virtually eliminating future markets for the Aircruiser.

 

Bellanca Aircruiser and Airbus were high-wing, single-engine aircraft built by Bellanca Aircraft Corporation of New Castle, Delaware. The aircraft was built as a "workhorse" intended for use as a passenger or cargo aircraft. It was available with wheels, floats or skis. The aircraft was powered by either a Wright Cyclone or Pratt or a Whitney Hornet engine. The Airbus and Aircruiser served as both commercial and military transports. The first Bellanca Airbus was built in 1930 as the P-100. An efficient design, it was capable of carrying 12 to 14 passengers depending on the cabin interior configuration, with later versions carrying up to 15.

 

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The Aircruiser's distinctive shape, gave it the moniker of "The Flying Ws" and this hardy design was still flying in Canada well into the 1970's . Is it a Bi-Plane, sort of, as the lower W is still a part aerodynamic surface. When you look at the design closely, it is extremely clever in holding up and bracing the main wing, as for also being a support for the landing wheels.

 

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The Aircruiser is a "Tail-Dragger", most were back in this 1930's period, but the early evolution of the multi-seat passenger aircraft is highly perceivable, back in the day, it was, still is a very innovative design. For an aircraft, it looks heavy, but sturdy is probably the best description

 

Hangar 23 is a not really a new entrant to the X-Plane Developers affiliation, but a ex-TorqueSim developer. Still the Aircruiser is an interesting one in the choice of aircraft to debut their talents in doing their own Studio. Technical information of the Aircruiser is rare, but there are two surviving in existence, "CF-BTW," a 1938 model in the Ericson Collection in Madras, Oregon, incredibly the aircraft is still airworthy. The second is "CF-AWR" named the "Eldorado Radium Silver Express", built in 1935, and is under restoration at the Western Canada Aviation Museum in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

 

Installation

The download for the Aircruiser is 1.18GB, with an installation of 1.38Gb. But the installation file/folder system is a slightly complicated. Hangar 23 has selected to put the main Aircruiser file within a folder of a folder? So the first folder is "Aircraft" followed by a folder named "Hangar 23" , with the actual "Aircruiser" aircraft folder inside, or buried in layers of folders? Honestly the first "Aircraft" folder is not required, so just install the "Hangar 23" Folder directly into your X-Plane "Aircraft" folder with the Aircruiser folder inside.

 

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All the installation notes are in the excellent manual, but the doubled up "Aircraft" folder creates confusion... 

 

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Detail and modeling

For an aircraft of this size, an installation size of 1.38Gb can only mean one thing, quality in detail. Remember this is a first time effort from Hangar 23, but the detail and quality is outstanding. Both an X-Plane 12 and X-Plane 11 versions are included in the package, but it is the XP12 version on show here with it's more exponential PBR (Physical Based Rendering) effects and lighting. And it really blows you away.

 

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X-PlaneReviews are usually quite lenient when the studio name is new, in overlooking sometimes even the obvious mistakes or poor areas of first time production...  But already with the quality of work behind Ulrich, you go straight into the "Masters" level, but this is still a first release from Hangar 23 is just outstanding...  and an highly impressive debut for the Studio!

 

And all with an aircraft so rare...  the beauty of Simulation is that iconic and classical aircraft can be recreated, their forgotten time, brought back and to live again, or in this case fly again. At the core of this Aircruiser Simulation is just that very aspect, bringing the past alive again for you to absorb and interact with. 

 

But this is outstanding work...  all the wing braces and support wires are sensationally done, every bolt, castle nut and Cotter Split Pins, are modeled here in detail, leading edge panels are worn and authentic, the struts in detail are excellent, you have to admire it all.

 

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If you are a detail junkie, who loves to spend time investigating the quality of the work, then you will love this aircraft, as it's a museum piece brought alive. The massive top wing looks canvas, and you can see the frame that the material covers, it's a lovely formed wing as well. Actually two separate wings, attached to the fuselage.

 

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This was the golden age of innovation for aircraft, the transition from wood, canvas to metal, so you get sometimes the mixture of the two eras in the one development as the changes moved on forward.

 

The detail is just gobsmacking. The panels are perfect and so are the bolts that hold them in place, windows and it's thick glass are worn and glazed to perfection... The Cyclone SGR-1820 it is rated at 760 hp, as is the giant three-bladed geared propeller, and all gloriously there to admire. The engines internal intricate detail of metal and brass pipework is very impressive.

 

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The Aircruiser is flat sided, there are no curves in the doors and the windows are more nautical portholes than aircraft, but it's all beautifully done, and it is all built like a tank!

 

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The two main landing wheels hubs, tyres are massive, but simplistic as well, detail is right down to large CirClip to hold the rim onto the hub.

 

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 There are four doors that can be opened, two small high cockpit access doors, one left passenger door, and a very big odd A shaped cargo door...  all four doors are so authentic to the design, with the Cargo door in two sections that folds.

 

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Honestly, it is like a flying shed inside, totally weird.

 

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The interior is impressively done, metal and wood dominate, SO much weight in the construction, how did this thing get off the ground?

 

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It's all metal piping and blocks of wood, many trees were felled in the creation of the interior, a far, far cry from the ultra clean, state-of-the-art LED lighting Airbus interiors...  this is doing it rough. The passenger seats are a pipeframe, with a strung canvas seat, you wouldn't want to go to far on them.

 

Pilot seats are a metal bucket, the pilot gets the luxury of a cushion, the CoPilot the hard metal base. The cushion is required not for comfort, but to be elevated to see over the extremely high instrument panel.

 

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The yoke is a big hefty iron thing, beautifully skillfully designed and modeled, you can hide it via a hotspot centre yoke. The side quadrant is again excellent, with the Throttle (T), Propeller (P) and Mixture (M) levers, notable that in 90 years the controls are still as relevant then as now. Lower rudder pedals are also big hefty iron contraptions, you need to be Popeye with his strong arms and legs to match, to fly the Aircruiser.

 

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Notable are the two trim winders, one left for pitch/elevator adjustment, and another on the forward roof for the rudder trim. Point to make is that there is no visual trim setting, so you don't know if they are both centred or not, but a guide is two full winder rotations each way. Note the old fashioned brake lever and flap selector handle.

 

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Main instrument panel is amazing, this is simply a panel with inset instruments that is highly authentic. Note the boxed Whiskey Compass

 

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Again the layout is quite familiar... with a Standard Six layout. Top left is the Airspeed Indicator (MPH/KNTS), Vertical Speed Indicator (V/S), very basic Rate of Turn Indicator, below offset is a Directional Vacuum Gyro (Heading), Altmeter and Horizontal Reference (bank).

 

Far left is a RPM dial, Manifold Pressure, and top right a CYL TEMP. Right panel has Volts, OAT (Outside AirPressure), Oil Temp/Pressure and Fuel Pressure...  top Ignition Switch, Fuel Gauges (twin), PPH (Pounds Per Hour) fuel flow and a ELGIN clock. Lower left are a row of switches that cover Battery, Generator, Nav (lights), Landing (light), Starter, Coil Booster, Fuel Pump, Panel Lights and Cabin Light. Far, far left is the fuel tank cock; Both, Left & Right.

 

It's all so impressively well done, the flaked tired black metal facia is very authentic to an aged old aircraft of this generation.

 

 

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Menu

There is a banner menu "Hangar23Aircruiser" that has two menu options; "Options" and "GPS Style"

 

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Options: There are six options, Autopilot Toggle, Strain Gauge Toggle, Real Autorudder Toggle, Steerable Tailwheel, Show Pilot and Use Clipboard.

 

The Aircruiser comes with a very basic 2-Axis "Sparrow" Autopilot, basically a set "Holds" Pitch and Roll Rate. Second option is to add on a "Strain Gauge" or Trim indicator. Both are positioned lower centre panel

 

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We will go more into the "AutoRudder" in flight, but if you want to disconnect or activate the the AutoRudder you can do so via the menu option, you can also use the hotspot on the (front) Whiskey Compass to do the same action.

 

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The Tailwheel is steerable by the rudder pedals, but if you want a free castoring wheel, you can disconnect it via the "Steerable Tailwheel" option.

 

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There is the option to show or hide the pilot. He is fully animated in rudder and pitch (forwards & backwards) and seems to have his hands full in controlling the aircraft, he is very good here and well done.

 

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Next in the "options" menu is the "Use Clipboard". In the right side pocket there is a VR (Virtual Reality) clipboard (also clickable).

 

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This really the "Fuel & Weights" menu...  as you can adjust the fuel and Pilots, Passenger, Cargo weights by scrolling them in. They can be set in Lbs or Kgs and the "Load", "Empty" (weight) and Full Gross weight can be seen. You can "Save" your settings, and then "Load" them.

 

Another note is that between flights the Aircruiser will save and reload the same settings to the next flight, until you adjust them.

 

Last two separate items on the "Options" menu are "Reset AP Tuning" (Autopilot on/off) and "Reset AutoRudder Tuning", resets the rudder position to central.

 

An option not shown in the menus, is that if the power is switched off, then the chocks are positioned on the front wheels.

 

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The second setting of the menu tab is the "GPS Style", here you can select between the Laminar GNS 530 GPS, or one of the two RXP (Realistic) GNS 530 or GNS 750 GPS units if you have that external additional option. I don't have the Realistic option so that install is not visible here. The GPS units are position on the roof forward, with also a default custom style COMM radio above, and a Transponder panel below.

 

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Flying the Aircruiser 66-75

You can't at all see out of the Aircruiser, the long nose is way up there, blocking any view, as the tail is way back down there behind you. The only option is to lean very far left to try to see the ground.

 

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You would think the Aircruiser being so old-fashioned would be a pain to start, but it's quite benign and easy as long as you do the right procedure. Fuel on "Both", Fuel Pump on, then the most important switch, the "Boost Coil" switch to on. Mixture just to above the (Auto) lean red marker...  then up the "Starter" switch, the prop will turn, then gradually fire into a running engine... 

 

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Both the start up and shutdown of the Cyclone SGR-1820 is exceptional, no fast artificial start or shut down here, but it all comes with stutters and engine positions that are very noticeable, as is the churn of the starter motor against the pressures "clock", "clocking" of the starting engine, its a great and a very realistic re-enactment of the starting, and then the stutter of the engine shutting down, I loved it.

 

I have a horrible history of trying to control tail-draggers, spinning loose tail-wheels have given me loads of grief. But not here though... as mentioned you can disconnect the tail-wheel to be free, if you love that uncontrollable chaos. But for the rest of us the tail-wheel acts through the rudder pedals, but also through the usual "Tiller" yaw. This makes the Aircruiser very easy to manoeuvre around on the ground or on taxiways. Braking and the toe-brakes work normally as well.

 

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For once you not fighting the aircraft on the ground to go into the direction you want, but the view internally is hard work to keep it all on the narrow taxiway. So you have a habit of visually taxiing externally until you understand the aircraft more.

 

Very important is to adjust the rudder trim 50%, or a full winder turn to the right. The SGR-1820 is a very powerful force on takeoff, the asymmetric thrust is huge, it pulls you so hard to the left, that even full rudder is required off the line...

 

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The Aircruiser for all it's massive weight is sprightly off the line, your working the pedals to find the right balance to keep the aircraft straight, it does thankfully nicely change direction tail-wise to your inputs, very quickly the tail is up at 40 MPH, and there is tons of lift from those wings, at 60 MPH+ and your now flying. The point from "off the line" to "Airborne" is very short, so no flaps are required, time to adjust your direction is short as well...  so once off the ground I was already veering right away from the runway, I didn't try to correct it, but just went with the flow and climbing turn, then leveled it all out straighter when higher. With practise with your rudder inputs you could keep it in more of a straight line out...  it's a total feel thing, a feel for the aircraft.

 

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Pitch trimming is nice, but I recommend a keyboard input than the badly positioned side wall-winder, same for the rudder trim on the roof.

 

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You have so much power, the Aircruiser is super fast for an aircraft of this size and age...  it's a very physical aircraft to fly, you use the rudder all the time, then finally finding the right amount of input to keep the aircraft in a straight line, a tough idea, with the amount of asymmetric thrust coming at you all the time. The 66-75, as featured here, could produce up to 730 hp from sea level through 5800 ft, where then the power built higher to ~760 hp

 

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Maximum speed is 144 kn (165 mph, 266 km/h), (but it feels far faster), Range is an amazing 608 nmi (700 mi, 1,130 km), and the Service ceiling is 22,000 ft (6,700 m), but the average cruising altitude is around 10,000ft, still fast and high for a 90 year old design.

 

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Hangar 23 has provided a tool, called the "AutoRudder function", a sort of A.I. tool to take the strain out of flying the Aircruiser. On the ground the rudder control functions as usual. So it was important to properly trim the aircraft prior to takeoff and landing. In flight, the autorudder system then takes control of the rudder, and will attempt to keep a slip angle as dictated by the yaw axis of the joystick. This allows the pilot to slip the aircraft even while the autorudder is active, such that even crosswind operations become possible with the system active. In other words it flies like the X-Plane tool when you have no yaw axis joystick, the wings are connected to the rudder.

 

This gauge will merely prompts the pilot on the direction of trim needed to take load off the “servos”. Unlike the autopilot, the autorudder does not disconnect under a high strain, nor is it dependent upon the aircraft’s electrical system to operate (Cable operation).

 

When activated (via the menu, or Compass)  the autorudder has a visible gauge, located on the yaw trim handle base plate.

 

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If you are going to deactivate the autorudder during normal flight, first adjust the rudder trim according to the strain gauge, otherwise a very sudden and very unpleasant disconnection will occur. It works very well...  but switched off the AirCruiser has a habit of yawing left, almost going around in circles....

 

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You can try to trim it out? but it's hard to find a neutral flight, I did find a position input that worked, slight right rudder and slight stick right as well, but it's tiring for any distance, short or long...  the AutoPilot is not much better, tricky to use is to centre the heading.

 

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You adjust via the "Roll" or "Up/Dn" switches, as per the three lights, red (left), white (centre) and green (right). But there is a delay in the operation that can make you over trim, I never quite mastered it...  so again even on the Autopilot, I went into a slight bank in left handed circles and couldn't the aircraft fly in a straight line unless under manual control. It's the sort of tool that all of a sudden you will understand it and get it right, with time and persistence. This system is like the Sperry Type A-3A. You will need to trim the aircraft perfectly, so the heading is as close to where you want to go and level, flying as straight as you can, then turn on the AP, trying to trim later while the Autopilot is active is a far harder situation.

 

Lighting

Lighting internally and externally is basic, which is to be expected. There is one switch for the instrument lights, and another switch for the cabin lights, two spider-web looking ones forward and two roof lights rear, it all looks quite nice at night...

 

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The GPS install looks bright and also odd in this old cabin, but it's very well done and easy to use.

 

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Externally there are only again two light switches...  Navigation, red, green and white tail, the other light is a left wing mounted Landing light, that look and is quite effective. There are no strobes or beacon lights on the aircraft...

 

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Flight notes by Hangar 23 notes "DAY - NIGHT* - VFR...  *Poor visibility and the antiquated aircraft lighting scheme will present additional challenges during night flights". In other words it is not really an aircraft to be flown in the dark...

 

Sounds...  are a bit of a mixed bag. Overall they are excellent, the startup is an aural experience, and so is shutdown, external engine noises are very good right through the range of power outputs, that's the good. The poor is the buzzy interior sounds, that have a sameness of a consistent droning buzz with no fluctuations, even over a short distance I was distracted or even bored with the noise, The Aircruiser maybe really like that in the air, but I didn't really connect with them. The lower power outputs (on the throttle) are however better. Notable is the Aircruiser engine’s 16:11 gear ratio, for the propeller spins slower than the engine, but all readouts and aural sounds are based on the engine and adjustments should be made according to engine state rather than calculated propeller RPM.

 

Time to head back to Shoreham (EGKA). A tricky place to lineup, for the mass of trees around the field. All the runways are hidden from view...

 

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....   if the system is active on final approach, the autorudder will check if the rudder trim has been appropriately set for the upcoming power reduction. If the trim is not suitably centered, the system will intervene and reset the rudder trim to near center. This may be noted by the clicking of the trim’s chain drive, as well as a mild rolling tendency during finals. Myself I turned the automation off to feel the aircraft on the approach phase, plus a single wind of the rudder trim, to reset it as it was on the takeoff phase. The handling felt normal, as did the approach. If however the autorudder is active, then it will disconnect on landing.

 

Nose up to rub off the speed, as there is no "white flap use zone", I guessed in setting the flaps to below 100 MPH, actually below 90 MPH, and you get a slight lift on each extension...  but the transition now down to 80MPH with now a slight descent into Shoreham it all felt perfect. The flap lever or floor handle is extremely well done. It's both a brake handle and Flap handle in one.

 

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Over the coastline, and there is still no visual on the runways. Then finally the field is in view.... so I drop, in also trying to miss the treeline.

 

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...  but I realise I am too high, and becoming too fast in trying to get down to the grass strip. It's still a very good try....  but I have to abort and climb out!

 

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I will note the throttle inputs. If the Aircruiser is trimmed (correctly, or well). The Throttle control is very, very good, as you can control the height via the power. Full power to climb out was excellent (after that slight delay), but I found the Aircruiser to be quite normal in the approach/landing phase as any other heavy single-engined General Aviation aircraft. However you have to be aware of the weight around you with using the throttle power, and that tendency to yaw right with the huge power increase, but you soon adapt to the characteristics and the personality of the aircraft... fun? yes immensely, also a challenge to get the skills right in this cockpit.

 

I didn't want to lose sight of the field layout, now I had found it. So it was a tight turn around back to the other opposite threshold. But be aware that too tight a bank and the Aircruiser will slip badly and lose height towards the lowered wing, there a sweet spot to find in the bank and before the slip starts to emerge, all this is required to get the best rotation of the aircraft.  

 

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Lower and slower this time....  and it feels right.

 

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Then slowly descend, descend "keep it steady" and I touch around 65 MPH, I am not to worried about the speed, as the Aircruiser on grass will dramatically drag itself slower. Toe brakes are still the best tool to stop the aircraft rotating hard right, then left on you, as this happens once the tail goes down, it's tricky, but with practise it works in keeping you straight... 

 

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I'm down, and arrested before the end of the grass strip...  not bad I say.

 

Liveries

There are six liveries, one Blank (default), and two liveries that are blank white, but one has a metal nose cover, and another has the same metal nose cover & metal tanks. All are nostalgic except the off soft purple Landmark?

 

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Summary

Extremely rare aircraft are always interesting, this Bellanca Aircruiser or Airbus, is one of the rarest as only 23 aircraft were built between 1930 -1938, it is also the famed "The Flying W" and this hardy design was still flying in Canada well into the 1970's.

 

Hangar 23 is a not really a new entrant to the X-Plane Developers affiliation, but a ex-TorqueSim developer. And this unusual rare aircraft is their first project for the newly-named studio and the X-Plane Simulator. The Aircruiser is available as two separate packages for both X-Plane 12 (as shown here) and X-Plane 11.

 

The quality here with the Hangar 23 Bellanca aircraft is very much on show, as it is highly developed and polished. Modeling is absolutely first rate and the detail is highlighted by this experienced and mature developer. As the aircraft is so rare, the detail in the reproduction is simply outstanding, to the point of recreating an era from a long time ago, and with a couple of modern tools thrown in as well, but not to the distraction of the authenticity of the original aircraft. Obviously this is a project of a labour of love, but still delivered with quality and polish.

 

It is old fashioned in design, but the Aircruiser comes with so modern helpers like a "Sparrow" 2-Axis Autopilot, a custom AutoRudder feature, and GNS 530 GPS, and the option for Realistic RXP GNS 530 or GNS 750 GPS units. Tail-Wheel control can be via X-Plane style commands or free-castoring, that makes this aircraft easy for first time Tail-Dragger aircraft learning. Other options include Strain Gauges, Steerable Tailwheel, a fully animated Pilot and Clipboard with a Weights & Balance menu.

 

The Aircruisers unorthodox design does make it a challenge to fly, but I have had far worse and more difficult machines to cope with in the past. The helpers of course help, but once you master that huge powerful force forward, the "Shed" like design is oddly very nice and involving to fly. I dispise Tail-Draggers, but loved the Aircruiser quite a lot, no, a really lot more. The quality performance and well thought out physics, do bring the totally unique experience alive.

 

It is certainly a huge credit to the skills of the developer of what they have delivered here, certainly it is a very unique Simulation, but totally authentic as well, Secondly the release also shows off X-Plane 12's excellent dynamics and quality lighting. The Aircruiser 66-75 is very rare, but you can absorb yourself in this 1930's Golden Era of Aviation, and this aircraft is highly relatable to the same machine created over 90 Years ago....  Highly Recommended. 

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X-Plane Store logo sm.jpg

 

The Aircruiser 66-75 by Hangar 23 is now available from the X-Plane.OrgStore!... Here:

 

Aircruiser 66-75

Price is US$29.95

 

Requirements

X-Plane 12 and X-Plane 11   (2 separate packages)
Windows or Mac   (Linux not supported)
8 GB+ VRAM Recommended
Current version: 1.0 (January 30th 2024)
Download Size: 1.2 GB (each version)
 
Aircraft download is 1.18Gb, and unpacked, then installed in your X-Plane Aircraft folder 1.38Gb. Authorization on startup is required
 
Documents
  • X-Plane Aircruiser Handbook.pdf

The provided manual is excellent, a lot of detail, installation, setup and flying tips...  even Limitations and Operations.

 
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Windows  - 12th Gen IS1700 Core i7 12700K 12 Core 3.60 GHz CPU - 64bit -32 Gb single 1067 Mhz DDR4 2133PNY GeForce RTX 3080 10GB XLR8 - Samsung 970 EVO+ 2TB SSD

Software:   - Windows 11 Pro - X-Plane 12.09rc5 (This is a Release Candidate review).

Plugins: Traffic Global - JustFlight-Traffic (X-Plane.OrgStore) US$52.99 : Global SFD plugin US$30.00

Scenery or Aircraft

- EGKA - Shoreham - Brighton City Airport by NKdesign (X-Plane.orgStore) US$15.00
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Review by Stephen Dutton

11th February 2024

Copyright©2024: 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) All Rights Reserved

 

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