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Stephen

Aircraft Review : Alabeo Beechcraft D-17 Staggerwing

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When Alabeo release an aircraft it is a bit like meeting Forrest Gump and him offering you something from his box of chocolates “you just don’t know what you are going to get”. There are a few clues though. It is usually highly different. It is usually very Iconic and it is usually very well done but not totally absolutely functional.

Their latest release is the 1930’s aircraft the “Beechcraft D-17 Staggerwing”. and it fill out all the criteria. It is different, It is Ironic, It is very well done and some small things don’t work.

The “Staggerwing” (Meaning the upper and lower wings are “Staggered” to give a better view out of the front windows) was the aircraft of the 1930’s that represented you as a person of high standing. It was well loved by the Hollywood royalty of the period. The sort of same image you will get today by flouting off your new G350 Gulfstream Jet. It stood for “Rich”, “Powerful”...  and a global reaching exciting image!   - Of course pilots loved the power of the machine as well.

 

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History
Aircraft developer Walter H. Beech and airplane designer T. A. “Ted” Wells at the height of the Great Depression, joined forces to collaborate on a project to produce a large, powerful, and fast cabin biplane built specifically for the business executive. The Beechcraft Model 17, popularly known as the “Staggerwing” was first flown on November 4, 1932. It was not popular at first because of the high cost. Originally it was called the Model 17 with its negative stagger wing configuration (the upper wing staggered behind the lower) and unique shape maximized pilot visibility while negligibly reducing air interference between the wings. The fabric-covered fuselage was created with wood formers and stringers over a welded steel tube frame. Construction was highly complex and it was for its time the most innovated aircraft available with the Staggerwing’s retractable conventional landing gear, which was uncommon at that time that was combined with careful streamlining, light weight, and a powerful radial engine which helped it to perform very well. In mid-1930s, Beech then undertook a major redesign of the aircraft, to create the Model D17 Staggerwing (this Alabeo version). The D-17 featured a lengthened fuselage that improved the aircraft’s handling characteristics by increasing control leverage and the ailerons were relocated to the upper wings, eliminating interference with the flaps. Braking was also improved with a foot-operated brake linked to the rudder pedals.

In the Second World War the D-17 became even more popular as the need for a compact executive-type transport or courier aircraft became apparent, And so in 1942 the United States Army Air Forces ordered the first of 270 Model 17s for service within the United States and overseas as the UC-43. The U.S Navy also bought the aircraft and so did the British RAF and Royal Navy. Since then it has slipped in to fame and notes for its ‘muscular strength and delicate grace,’ and is rated highly for its ‘classic lines and symmetry.’”

 

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Design
Alabeo is a sister studio with Carenado and so they share a lot of design ideas and features. The main feature is that the quality is just as good as the Carenado’s but in a just slightly different form in that usually the form is more of a whole and not as completely constructed as the very highly detailed Carenado’s are, and that is reflected in the lower price and being slightly under US$20. The same quality but with just a slightly different design approach. But still the same of where it really counts.
And so the detailing on the “Staggerwing” is exceptionally good on this beautiful aircraft, It does look and feel slightly bulky because of that huge radial engine at the front. Look inside the cowling and you can see the wonderful air-cooled cylinders. This version uses the 9 cylinder Pratt & Whitney R-985-AN-1 with 450 hp (340 kW) at 2,300 rpm, and only the geared “supercharged” 600hp engine was bigger.

The fine wires on the wings are magnificent as are the smooth wing pylons, although the rear tailplane and elevators look very standard for the period.

 

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The highlight is the construction of the front and tailwheel (retractable) undercarriage. More art than design, Its is beautifully proportioned and detailed. Steel springs and levers and it is what we really love about simulation in the fact that just admiring these items can give you as much pleasure as flying the aircraft. The animation is first rate as well as even the tail-wheel retracts up into the tail which was unusual in this period

Alabeo use the same O (Options) menu panel as Carenado, but there are only three items listed here.

 

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The options are: Transparent Windshield - Instrument Reflections and you can open the - Passenger Door. The door opens but strangely stops between the wires? Very odd.

 

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Panel & Cabin
Aircraft where fitted out inside very differently in the 1930’s. It was either wire and canvas or like this Beechcraft a cross between a luxurious boat or an expensive automobile. Heavy leather and wood trim would sound crazy in today’s world of carbon-fibre and plastic... however the D-17 was created for the “Distinguished Business Gentleman”.

Alabeo have done a discerning job in the fit out of the cabin, with only one outstanding issue...  You can’t really see any of the work - It is really black down in there, so dark you can’t even see the yoke never mind the rudder pedals.

 

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You are restricted to using X-Plane’s Night-Vision to really find anything you want to usefully use. Lovely it all is in a sea of green. The Yoke can be positioned on the left or right by flipping it over to the new position, you can remove it completely if you want to as well.
Fumbling around you can find the lighting switches. A lovely thick clicky Ignition selector. A "press" to start the engine button that I really love to use and a great chunky trim wheel... The radio is a standard Bendix King 155A T50.

 

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The dials are recreated vintage with the standard six. Perfect in design and feel. The right side instruments consist of engine dials in RPM, Manifold Pressure, CHT, Amp’s, Carburettor (remember those!), Suction, Temp and Oil/Fuel gauges (LBS) - and a Omni-Bearing Indicator (OBI). As noted you can switch off the glass reflections - But why would you do that?  You really feel that 1930’s vibe,

The flap selector is a half metal square ring with three settings and flap use is restricted to under 95knts (110mph).

The panel lighting is gorgeous, I flew the “Staggerwing” in early morning light just adore those creamily lit dials. There is a red light situated high on the central windshield pillar to shine down on the dials at night. This effect turns the panel bloody red and again gives out a lovely feel to the cockpit.

There is the Carenado standard menu C (Camera) for setting “points of view” including the zoom function that is handy and the wing view (left or Right) with belly/tail cam are the highlight view points.

 

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HDR switched on the night-lighting is good with each (retractable) landing light in the wing giving its own light throw. The beacon is also totally realistic in its rotation and reflection. The Bluey/Green and red navigation lights are set out in a pod in front of the lower wing and are very authentic.

Time to Fly
On the lower part of the panel and hidden behind the yoke is a pull handle to lock the rear tail-wheel. To taxi is easy in theory but harder in practice. With the tail-wheel locked you can go straight but only take wide turns with the rudder. Un-lock the tail-wheel and you go around in circles on the same position?...  The trick is to use both. I don’t know if this is the correct real way you would control a tail-dragger like this, but you can’t have someone in a simulator to push your tail around to straighten you up on the runway either. And you have to be kind to the brakes as well. Hit the brake and with all that weight on the nose the aircraft will tip up at every touch of the handle - It looks like the aircraft has hiccups all the way to the runway.

 

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Once on the centreline with the tail-wheel locked. The “Staggerwing” is lovely from the word go, You don’t need any flap as you have a huge amount of lift from those double-wings. You can’t lift off to quickly either as you need the speed to get your tail up and straight and the aircraft ready to fly. That huge radial sounds glorious as the sounds are all in 3D. The effects from different angles (certainly in the turns) are excellent.

 

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All that weight helps you and balances the aircraft out to perfection, and so it is a really nice feel in your hands. There are no sudden movements but the best actions are to use slow maneuvers in what you want to do in that to either turn, gain height or simply hold a line to the horizon. One thing I did notice was that you had to get the right line of sight or angle of the aircraft to keep it at a level height. It was very easy to slowly wind downwards the altitude meter if you didn’t keep a close eye on the dial... And it is very hard to keep it there as well without gaining or losing height. The trim works well in this case (but you have to find it to use it).

 

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Concentration is high as you don’t have any aids to carry the workload. So flying even across the state or around and 300nm to 400nm is going to tire you out. I loved those wide turns and the aircraft climbs with ease and power, It is no rocketship by today's standards but it must have felt like one back then - but that is the attraction.

Maximum speed: 212 mph (184 knots, 341 km/h), Cruise speed: 202 mph (176 knots, 325 (km/h), Landing speed: 45 mph (39 knots, 72 km/h)), Range: 582 nm (670 mi, 1,078 km), Service ceiling: 25,000 ft (7,600 m), Rate of climb: 1,500 ft/min (7.6 m/s)

Adjusting the flaps down (remember to drop off a lot of speed first) will only cause a slight bump in the airflow as the speed drops away nicely to slow to your 30-40knts landing phase. The aircraft is as sturdy as a rock in this configuration,  nice with turns to the runway and keeping the runway line of sight straight are very easy to do. The drift down while dropping the power will give you an easy landing and for a tail-dragger it will stay pretty straight while tapering off the speed. You will need a lot of tarmac though to run out that speed as touching the brakes is not the thing to do. Just let the D-17 find its own pace to slow down and sink the tail down to a slow speed. Back on the ground you now only have to master the taxi all over again to get back to your parking area.

Liveries
There are Five liveries and the standard default “White”. You can get a little confused with the “White” because there is two of them... The one on the default file and another one in the “Liveries Folder”. The livery version is really Grey not white. The Beige is very white as well and is sponsored by “Gargoyles”... The blue is an “American Embassy” livery based in the United Kingdom. And finally the bright Red and Yellow. Liveries are HD and high quality, and all are excellent and with keeping in with the period.

 

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Conclusions
Alabeo stands for something different and with a quality set at a value price, and that is what you get here. The only mis-match on the aircraft is the door sitting in the wires, the tricky taxiing techniques and that dark cavern of a cabin. Otherwise it is very hard to fault this “Staggerwing” of an aircraft. It is sublime to fly, you feel the aircraft well through the controls and bask in those lovely wide turns. It finds you reaching out for your vintage aviator sun glasses and posing in a suit like Clark Gable or Cary Grant, or if of the fairer sex then Kathleen Hepburn. Stars...  Hollywood stars. And this is the aircraft to match theirs and your image.

The Alabeo Beechcraft D-17 “Staggerwing” is available now from the X-Plane.org Store : Staggerwing D17

Price is US$19.95

This Aircraft is available for X-Plane9 and X-Plane10

Documents: post-2-0-76833500-1378815552.jpg

Review By Stephen Dutton

 

10th September 2013

Alabeo : recommend certain settings for X-Plane 9 and 10...  But frame-rate is a not really an issue as the D-17 has a very high frame-rate because of its low footprint.

 

Developers Site : Alabeo.com

Review System Specifications:
Computer System:     
- 2.66 Ghz Intel Core i5 iMac 27”
- 6 Gb 1067 Mhz DDR3
- ATI Radeon HD 4850 512mb
Software:     
- Mac OS MountainLion 10.8.2
- X-Plane 10 Global ver 10.22 (final)
- ExtremeSceneryMAXX
Addons
- Saitek x52 Pro system Joystick and Throttle

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