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Aircraft Review - Cessna 172SP Skyhawk by AirfoilLabs

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Aircraft Review - Cessna 172SP Skyhawk by AirfoilLabs


That first flying lesson and the moment you are free to do your first solo, are two moments in your aviation career that will always be burnt hard deep into your memory. Just you and the machine and the freedom from the earth, you are flying and you now have no bounds to the earthly core below you. There are more chances than not that both of these great moments in your life will be behind the controls of this aircraft...  The Cessna 172SP.


It is the trainers, trainer aircraft, the workhorse of most flying clubs around the world, first flown in 1955 (nearly 60 years ago) and there are 43,000 172's scattered around the airfields of the world. They are the backbone of the General Aviation world, the Volkswagon Beetle of the plane world, the everyman's aircraft...  In other words there is a lot of them and they are all part of the aviation scenery all around you.

Things you did erase however out of your gilded memories are that the 172SP is morbidly slow and shockingly noisy, but lets not damage the cloud high dream.


The venerable Cessna 172 started life as a tricycle landing gear variant of the taildragger Cessna 170, that had a basic level of standard equipment. In January 1955, Cessna flew an improved variant of the Cessna 170, a Continental O-300-A-powered Cessna 170C with larger elevators and a more angular tailfin.  And although the variant was tested and certified, Cessna decided to modify it with a tricycle landing gear, and the modified Cessna 170C flew again on 12 June 1955. To reduce the time and cost of certification, the type was added to the Cessna 170 type certificate that then became known as the Model 172.


Later, the 172 was given its own type certificate, 3A12. The 172 became an overnight sales success, and over 1,400 were built in 1956, in its first full year of production. Early 172s were similar in appearance to the 170s, with the same straight aft fuselage and tall landing gear legs, although the 172 had a straight tailfin while the 170 had a rounded fin and rudder. Then later 172 versions incorporated revised landing gear and the swept-back tailfin, which is still in use today. The final aesthetic development incorporated in the mid-1960s, was a lowered rear deck allowing an aft window. Cessna advertised this added rear visibility as the "Omni-Vision.", and Cessna has not changed the airframe configuration since then, except for updates in avionics and engines, including the Garmin G1000 glass cockpit in 2005. Production halted in the mid-1980s, but resumed in 1996 with the 160 hp (120 kW) Cessna 172R Skyhawk. Cessna supplemented this in 1998 with the 180 hp (135 kW) Cessna 172S Skyhawk SP.



This C172SP is the first design from Czech studio AirfoilLabs. And being a new design from a new direction it is quite a different feel from most X-Plane standard aircraft. No doubt the starting brief was to create the most outstanding C172SP in X-Plane, and the aircraft is nothing but highly ambitious in creating that standard and refinement. But even at this point the skill and quality is there and there is no doubt about that and certainly AirfoilLabs are another welcome addition to the X-Plane world.


Cessna 172SP


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X-Plane comes with a default Cessna 172SP and it has already a 3d cabin and controls, It is very good and of course free if you have purchased the simulator. For many this aircraft is their first introduction to the simulator, but most new users will usually fly the huge default Boeing 747 which is a really silly thing to do as the aircraft requires a little experience with all that weight and heavy aircraft flying characteristics, and I am as guilty as everyone there.


The aircraft comes in three versions:

Low-res : Medium-res : High-res


Which is the weight of the textures in low/med/high in quality. The first thing you notice is that the aircraft is heavy, not only in the download but in the simulator and that is the penalty that comes with quality. No doubt that AirfoilLabs are aware of that and so hence the three choices, and the "Low" is well too low, in blurry texture writing on the panel and liveries, and the high is for only people that have computers that are run directly off nuclear power stations. So the "Medium" is the best compromise and that is what we are flying here.


First impressions are of a highly detailed design and the forementioned quality, no doubt this is an excellent 172SP. Detailing is deep and significant, with ribs, great paneling, riveting and the whole lot of screws and bolts holding the aircraft together. Glass is first rate and the whole machine has a real authentic look from the start. For a first time effort it is a very good design.


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The aircraft is fuselage full of features, there is a lot on the aircraft. But we will start with the menus.


The five "Menu" tabs are situated left centre of your screen. They represent (Q) Quickstart - (C) Camera - (P) Payload and Fuel - (S) Settings and (E) Engine Service Panel

We will start with the (C) Camera because it is important to understand the view system.


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In X-Plane you use a view system that is mostly set by using your keyboard to represent a certain view and your position inside and outside of the aircraft. The AirfoilLabs view system mostly over rules that feature by taking control of your views and giving you certain actions within that view field. That can cause some conflict between the two systems as we will see. But the way you should approach the views is to say be inside the AirfoilLabs views or out of them.


The idea is to give you a full view and control of the aircraft, it is very clever but has some restrictions. On the (C) Camera menu you press the "Go Outside" box to go into the system and that is noted by the notice at the bottom of your screen " Manipulation Mode Active" you can still use you left- right and forward - back movement keys to move around but they are slower (even with the -Shift double speed pressed down).

But you can then also access the many active zones all over the aircraft that are represented by the hand, press the zone areas on the forward upper and lower engine cowling panels, and there is a whirr of bolts coming off and the panel then split and rest on the ground in front of the aircraft and reveals the internal uprated Lycoming IO-360-L2A (200hp - 149kW).


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The beautifully constructed but fragile looking Lycoming is very well detailed and a great feature.

These active zones are positioned all over the aircraft. To check your fuel, you press on the step on either the side of the aircraft, and you are lifted onto the wing and the fuel tank cap rotates off. You can then adjust the fuel load of each tank via the menu.


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Pressing on the flap on the cowling will show you the oil stick.


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You can pull (manoeuvre) the aircraft by pressing on the front strut and pulling the handle and there are check items on the wheel covers. All static items like tie-downs (wings/rear) wheel chocks, pitot cover can be individually attached or hidden.  (note: when starting the aircraft and giving the aircraft throttle you may wonder why? It doesn't actually move?, it is usually the wheel chocks are still in place, but to remove them you have shutdown the engine again and move outside to do so, move again back inside and then restart the engine)


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Doors (Pilot's and Co-Pilot) can be opened by pressing on the latch and so can the baggage door to the rear.


All move-able surfaces can be checked on the walk-around, by placing the hand on the surface, items that can be checked (they move for you) are the flaps, ailerons, rear elevators and rudder.


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A lot of the items noted will only work if you are close to them, any distance and they don't work... the oil stick is quite hard to animate. From the menu you can connect an external GPU (Ground Power Unit) but only if the cowling is on the aircraft, again you press the small hatch (left high) to connect.


Get close to the door and the internal cabin is extremely well done, only the rudder pedals are a bit too shiny and not worn for my liking. The seating is well done and the internal fittings are first rate, the aircraft is however not grubby and tired like you find in an Carenado, but still very good.


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The panel is very authentic and well done, highly realistic. To get into the aircraft you press the centre of the seat and with that you are in the pilots seat. To get out again you press the step on the wheel support. Both actions are on the view "menu" and Pilot will put you in the drivers seat and Go Outside will put you on the ground again.

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You realize sorta quickly that you are a little restricted? you can rotate and angle up or down but not move actually left-right or up-down like you can with the X-Plane keys. To move you have to use the view menu and go to that position.


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You do get used to it...  in time, but you feel restricted overall. A fellow user that tried the system hated it, and if it gets confused with the X-Plane system you get a bad shudder and no more movement is possible. An escape from the shudder is press your X-Plane "Cinema Verite" key or (view) menu option, it is the only one that works? 


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In the rear it is nice and cosy back there. And the door can be closed by touching the catch, the window opens on both doors as well and the external sounds go up or down with them open or closed. A nice touch is when the engine is running the doors and windows if opened will vibrate in the slipstream and can't be fully opened, but will thankfully close.


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The (C)-Camera (views) menu covers a lot of options internally (including the various equipment views) and externally. The POV (Point of View) can be adjusted to get the best position and that is usually a required adjustment as it is too far back.


Panel and Instruments


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This being a trainer then the panel is set out in a basic configuration, just the main flight instruments front and centre. But the aircraft and instruments are not basic, basic...  there is a bit of power in there to do more than circuits.


The standard six instruments ( Airspeed Indicator, Attitude Indicator or Artificial Horizon, Altimeter, Turn Coordinator and Vertical Speed Indicator) are large and clear as they should be. Below is the engine RPM dial. To left are the four clear engine instruments in Fuel (both left and right tanks), EGT (exhaust gas temperature) and fuel flow, Oil pressure and Temperature and VAC (Vacuum) and AMP (amperage). In a bit of modernity there is up at the top a digital display for Temp, Volt and timer.


Right of the Standard Six are two CDI (course deviation indicator) for VOR OBS (Nav2) and NDB direction, a third (top) is a ILS alignment vertical and Horizontal) dial (Nav1). Top of the panel is the NAV/GPS switch. And on the Co-Pilots side you get just a large clock.


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Lower panel is the main key start switch, Power switches (master) and Avionics power switches. Set out between are the seven switches for lights, pitot heating and fuel pump. All the relevant push/pull fuses work, so don't mess around with them.


Lower centre is your panel lighting, throttle and mixture push/pull knobs, (note the small "lean" knob between the throttle and mixture knobs) flap lever is to the right in four positions 0º... 10º, 20º, 30º.  A large lovely trim wheel is beautifully done and nice to use

On the floor is a fuel tank selector (all or left/right tanks) and fuel cut off push/pull knob.


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The central equipment stack is quite comprehensive for a small trainer (and making the aircraft more powerful and versatile). So as we turn on the power and avionic power then the Eq Stack starts up. It is becoming common now in X-Plane to switch on individually the separate radio sets and you do so here as well.


It is a full Benedix/King suite with the standard X-Plane Garmin GNS430 GPS. Top to bottom is the standard COMM KMA 26 TSO, then the Garmin GPS which is also your COMM 1 and VOR 1 settings. The KX165A radio is your COMM 2 and VOR 2 set that works in conjunction with the very bottom KN62A for VOR distance, speed and time to the set waypoint. Then your KR87 is the ADF and flight time unit and the XPDR (Transponder) is a KT76C.


The autopilot is a comprehensive KAP 140 which we will come back to later, but all the equipment radio sets are excellent to use and are very authentic. A nice detailed compass sits mid central pillar.


On the (P) Payload and Fuel menu there are a few options in setting up the aircraft for flight.


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If you don't want to go scrabbling over the wings to put fuel in the aircraft then you can do so here, and adjust the oil quantity. You can add or takeout baggage in the small compartment behind the cabin and choose not only if you want a passenger but also very cleverly both the pilots and co-pilots weight in five settings, and the full payload and gross weight of the aircraft is shown.


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You can adjust both front seats front and back which is a nice touch and gives you a set up your right position feeling.


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Yoke is beautiful, certainly it is an added bonus if you have a Yoke and Rudder pedal set up, you can hide both yokes if you want more of a panel view, but they are nice to have in view.


Flying the AirfoilLabs Cessna 172SP


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Two more menu pages help with the start up and settings while flying. The first is (Q) - Quick Start, that gives you options on either the aircraft is quick start (auto) or cold when starting up (cold and dark is the default), "Secure aircraft" will shut the aircraft down and add in the static

elements in one click. "Prepare for Start" will have the aircraft ready to the point of turning the key. The option to connect the GPU and flashlight.


The other menu is the (S) - Settings menu. This page is more for the special effects (Smart Camera) and sound. You can select to start with the engine running, pilot in the seat on startup (never saw any pilot?) and a footer menu at the bottom of the screen for flight data.


There is a final menu tab for (E) Engine Service Panel but that system is not yet implemented, but looks very interesting.


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A lot of thought has gone into making sure the 172SP is totally authentic with the real Cessna. That is apparent in the way you start the aircraft. Make sure the fuel shutoff is in on the lower pedestal (fuel pump is on), and so is the lean knob...  mixture knob is too the dash and turn the key to start the engine. The propeller will turn but stutter? Try again...  no it still won't start?


Give the aircraft a little throttle, another key turn and...   the Lycoming IO-360-L2A will burst into life! Let the engine warm up and then settle it back into idle. Love it.


As the engine crackles your vision is slightly moving with the vibration. This is the G-Effect feature, and it is to give you an authentic movement as you fly the aircraft.


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Before departing I try out the lighting. The Navigation lights are beautiful and well done, and so is the tail beacon. There is a taxi and landing light in the left wing, but looking closer the actual light is a bit like a rough diamond than a smooth surface, but the light itself is good.

Park brake off with a loud thunk and we are moving.


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Touch the brake to check the forward speed and Whoa!  You get this severe forward movement that your head is about to go through the windscreen? Don't like that?  It is not the idea doesn't work it is the severity of it. X-Plane has two brake modes "regular" in 50% brake action and "Park" for 100% brake. Here you get 100% every time you even lightly touch the brakes, so you don't actually taxi but hop and bounce your way to the runway, so you try every angle not to "touch that damn brake", on landing it is a real pain in freezing the wheels and catapulting you out of your seat and into the glass, just for trying to slow down the aircraft. It is just too violent and at 50% would have been far better and softer, I didn't like it at all, and I doubt the real aircraft is as severe (I hope). The visual G-Effect movement is quite odd as well but you soon get used to it.


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Sounds are exceptional, there no doubt that AirfoilLabs has got the rough aircooled four-stroke clatter down right. On the hold the aircraft sounded perfectly authentic and real, throttle up and you get that roar and wind you know well. The aircraft has the excellent DreamEngine Sound plugin with 140 different sounds and range with Doppler Effect and Atmospheric Attenuation...  So okay it is very good.


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Throttle in and you are moving with the featured visual movement backwards, the thrust will send you slightly off line to the right but that is normal and needed to be corrected. At 65knts and the aircraft wants to fly and a slight pull of the yoke and your easily airborne. The aircraft is jittery when you first get all the axis loose together and you will find yourself looking for the aircraft's balance, certainly experience with the aircraft will smooth this out, but this is a first impression.


Once found it is great to balance and fly, this a basic trainer after all. It will however if you are not smooth then give you a very moving and visual disorientation, that can be again a bit too severe, and too the point here that I couldn't fly the aircraft and had switch it off as my pitch was sending me into the ground even as I was trying to keep the aircraft level, It is distortional to what is natural if you are trying to fly the aircraft. The basics are correct but it is just too disorientating for my tastes. All these movements are certainly great, but too violent and disorientating if you don't keep the aircraft very, very smooth, but even a bank turn can make you think you are on LSD!


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Trimming the aircraft is essential, and it takes a little practise to get the balance right. but you can feel the changes and the feel of this C172SP is very good so that helps. But trimming the Cessna perfectly has another reason to get it right...  The KAP 140 Autopilot is a real sensitive bugger unless that trim is absolutely, perfectly, annoyingly, frustratingly on the button in being absolutely minutely perfect to lock on. If not you get a beep, beep... and no activation. You actually think it is broken, but it is not... It just hates you!


Once (finally and ten NM off course) activated it is thankfully very good. You will love the Yoke action that follows the autopilots commands, but if you pull on the Yoke it will also disconnect for manual flying.


You are not going to go very fast anywhere in the C172SP, this little aircraft goes slower at 122knt cruising speed than most aircraft go on final approach, some even on the runway in reverse thrust...  So you have tons of time to take in the very slow moving scenery, Vertical speed is not riveting either at a top of 700 fpm or usually 500fpm and wanting to test out the aircraft's ceiling altitude 13,500 ft (4,100 m) is going to take an afternoon, going down thankfully is a little faster.


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Once you get over the embarrassment of the laughing birds as they overtake you, it is a lot of fun up here. The aircraft just trundles along and you enjoy watching people spend their hard earned cash at Walt Disney World Florida below you.


The aircraft comes with fully working systems (temperatures, electrics) and perfect performance data. Weight & balances replicated from an original aircraft with perfect lateral and longitudinal loads placement.


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Finally you turn to approach KORL or Orlando Executive Airport RWY25. There is a noted gap in the green speed zone between 85knts and 90kts and it is ideal to drop the flaps 10º, C172SP pilot's note the flaps come down like barn-doors and create lift, but I found it not so savage in this zone and you can easily adjust the flap setting to revolutions of the engine to maintain a good speed to lowering the altitude feeling, in other words you have plenty of control.


Keep the speed in the green zone and around 50knts and the aircraft will fly there all day, but it is perfect on approach, again the aircraft has good balance when trimmed correctly.


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Sliding under the 50knt zone will allow you to bleed off height and the slow speed can rest as low as 40knts when kissing the runway.


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You feel totally in control, and just don't spoil it by smashing your head against the windscreen by touching the brakes.


I couldn't sit on the ground at KORL very long as it was getting darker by the minute, and I had a long slow flight back to KLAL Lakeland-Linder. So once the passengers and their baggage was deposited I headed straight for the runway.


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Panel lighting is gorgeous and similar to the Carenado CT206H Turbo Stationair, in you have that strip lighting under the glareshield. The dials are clear and bright and very nice to fly by in the dark. There are two switchable spot lights over the front seats, but the rear cabin spot light does not work. A nice touch is the light over the lower fuel tank switch.


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External lighting is good as well in the dark. The Navigation lights look great as does the tail beacon, the taxi and landing lights are as noted before well don. In the cabin the strobe can be seen and you get this slight light flash as you crawl along.


Earlier flying in the dark in X-Plane was a fraught dark affair, but with the improvements and the better HDR it is now quite exciting to do. KLAL slips by on my left as I fall into a circuit to land on RWY 05, I used WIREY (227) NDB as a pointer to the lineup.


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With the slow approach speed of the C195SP, you have the one thing you never have on an approach and that is time. Time to get the centre line correct and the time to get speed exactly right. Coming in over the threshold and the single landing light starts to work, the instrumentation lighting is simply excellent as you can adjust it to stop glare but have good visual readings off the dials.


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As you come closer to the runway, the more the offset lighting beam becomes more focused and you can see the offset spill just from the one wing distinctively. It looks very realistic and I loved the effect it gave in front of the aircraft.


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Back at the office I shut the C172SP down and set out the static elements and a day's job was done. No doubt this is a great aircraft in this General Aviation category.


Liveries are few in - One blank white and two designs, but I sure many will soon grace the download files as every one creates their personal or private favorite.


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For a first time release as a designer then AirfoilLabs have done a sensational job. Their aim to create the best C172SP in X-Plane is certainly a very highly ambitious, but they have certainly had a very good stab at it and to a point succeeded in that aim. The basics are very good, and there is no doubt about that. but it does not feel X-Planey in that context, but pilots that own or have flown the C172SP say that the aircraft is very true to the original and so that is the whole point.


Updates and feedback from users has created a quick succession of revisions (and another to come in 1.40), but I would stress that the original release was very good anyway, this is just refining around the edges and tightening up, again AirfoilLabs are responding to the multitude of variables that can't be foreseen in the development stage, but their quick response shows skill and the ability to make this a top quality aircraft.

Certainly I really liked the aircraft, but found the views system a bit tight (but you get quickly used to it). The G-Effect feature is very good, but too dramatic in that you can even get disoriented in the aircraft and those brakes are so sharp and neck twisting...


     ... the aircraft is very clean, nice but needs a little more realism, like the huge amount of exhaust smoke (that looks really authentic) would certainly leave a trail of soot on your pristine paintwork, so a bit of airflow dirt or worn items and marked seats would build the aircraft to a more world weary state that Carenado do so well. It can be done as the propeller wear shows off that effect well.


But no doubt the list of features (and more to come) is long so you get a lot of aircraft for your investment. But that does come at a small cost with heavy textures in framerate. The Carenado C208B Caravan is 8frames lighter in the same context and X-Plane settings. That does not sound a lot, but it is the difference between dropping too low and having a smooth simulation and the AirfoilLabs C172SP did struggle in areas. Certainly AirfoilLabs are aware of this as to provide three settings (low-med-high) but really "med" is the only usable setting for most, unless you have a power computer. But you feel the frameweight.


But this is nitpicking on a very good aircraft, and details around the quality that you expect at this level. For feature wise and design/detailing it is exceptional and certainly anyone going for their PPL (or have one) this C172SP is a perfect training tool, and to a point that is the aim of the real aircraft's role, I would however as a complete novice start on X-Plane's basic C172 before graduating into this AirfoilLabs version, as it is more advanced and the features can be confusing if you can't fly the aircraft on the very basic level.


Ambitious, clever and fun, words you would never use for a basic aircraft trainer, but that is what the excellent Cessna 172SP Skyhawk is from AirfoilLabs, It is slightly different in feel as well but to the benefit...  Yes a great aircraft and another new standard in X-Plane in General Aviation.




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The Cessna 172SP Skyhawk by AirfoilLabs is available from the New X-Plane.Org Store here :


Cessna 172SP Skyhawk


And is priced at only US$34.95



Fully featured and including:

Very accurate Flight Model. Tested and approved by real world Cessna 172 SP pilots and flight instructor
Realistic weight and balance - lateral and longitudinal loads placement
Custom made flight characteristics derived from the real aircraft flight recordings and based on real flight manual performance data 
Calculation of real KIAS based on KCAS according to flight manual
Realistic stall characteristics
Climb performance according to flight manual performance data
Cruise performance data precise match (PRESS ALT, TEMP, POWER, KTAS, GPH)
Electrical system derived from the real ELECTRICAL SCHEMATIC
Functional Circuit Breakers logic


High resolution 4K textures
Easy to read, high-resolution panel
All switches, buttons and knobs animated
Volumetric side view prop effect
Realistic 3D night lights effects. 
Dynamic loading/unloading of 3D parts and plugin logic for FPS optimization




Installation :   Download file size is 585.20mb to your X-Plane - GA Aircraft Folder. Installed file size is 914.90mb

Notes: None

Documents :  You get a Manual that at this point is still a bit of work in progress.

Requirements : X-Plane 10.36+ - Windows, Mac or Linux - 64bit version- 8Gb RAM - 2.5Ghz CPU - 1Gb+ Dedicated VRAM Video Card

Current version: 1.31 - Last updated on August 15th 2015

Developer Support Site : (AirfoilLabs X-Plane.Org Support)




Review by Stephen Dutton

10th September 2015

Copyright©2015: X-Plane Reviews


Review System Specifications:

Computer System:  - 2.66 Ghz Intel Core i5 iMac 27”- 9 Gb 1067 Mhz DDR3 - ATI Radeon HD 6970M 2048 mb- Seagate 512gb SSD 

Software:   - Mac OS Yosemite 10.10.1 - X-Plane 10 Global ver 10.35 (final)

Addons - Saitek x52 Pro system Joystick and Throttle : Sound - Bose  Soundlink Mini : WorldTraffic v2

Scenery or Aircraft

- KLAL - Lakeland Linder Regional Airport 2.01 by Drankum (X-Plane.Org) - Free (note: personal added items in an office (okay demountable building and vehicles)

- KORL - Orlando Executive Airport/Destination Florida v8 by Tom Curtis (updated to Destination Florida 8 WED Edition 105 by Rocketman X-Plane.Org) - Free



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  • 4 weeks later...

There are a few liveries on the X-Plane.Org, but you have to be careful that you select the right one for the right version in Low-res : Medium-res : High-res, one won't work in another. The only way you can change the call sign is in the actual art; for the record it is "l_panel1.png" and the night version "l_panel_LIT.png". Both have to be changed and the audio rego change is done in Plane-Maker. SD

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  • Stephen unfeatured this topic

Well Dom I was born in the 1950's, the Cold War was my childhood. Czechoslovakia was over there and the only reason they changed it to the Czech Republic was that no one actually could spell it!, mostly it is still actually Czechoslovak, but in now two republic states.

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