I know there's one -Nickers, but there may be others. I just tried my hand at writing something I've never written before - a pilot's report / review of an aircraft. I'd be very interested in your opinion, even if it's just "Too long - didn't finish it." Thanks - Mike. ----------------------------------------------------------------------- WARNING - AVIATION GEEK STUFF - SKIP IF THAT DOESN'T INTEREST YOU. I've had a flight sim (Flight Gear) on linux for a while now, but only recently learned how some rather basic stuff works - which makes it a whole lot more fun. So I've downloaded a shed-load of new aircraft to try out. One of them absolutely fascinates me, and I want to try and write a pilot's report about it. Now bear in mind, I've flown about five real aircraft in my life and never solo'd. I have flown a 172 and a 310, so I have some idea how the sim relates to the real world with those two. The aircraft I want to ramble about is the Beech Starship. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beech_Starship The wiki will tell you all about it, I just want to talk about what it's like to fly. In a nutshell, it's very good, but there are some traps for new players, which, along with the UFO looks and the composite materials construction, and the inherent conservatism of the buying community this aircraft was aimed at, probably account for it's demise. In the sim (not in real life) the model has the centre of gravity set well back to get the behaviour seen in the real thing. That means when the aircraft spawns, it can fall backwards and overbalance, so you're sitting stopped on the main gear, looking at the sky, with the nose-wheel eight foot off the ground, and the props casually rotating through a good two foot of nice San Francisco runway. Oh well. Take a moment to set the altimeter to zero (done through the Equipment / Instrument Settings menu) then set the parking brake ('B'), and give a dab of power. Once the revs come up, it over balances and lands the nose, and then you can release the brakes and roll. On take-off roll, the plane responds well to rudder / nose-wheel steering. That's because there's plenty of weight on the nose wheel. That's because the thrust line is high, driving the nose down. There's not much drag or weight, and there's quite a lot of power, so watch the speed because it builds up pretty quick, and unlike a 172 or 182, it doesn't just float itself off at its happy climbing speed, you need to rotate. You can lift the nose at as little as 80 KIAS, but it's probably better to wait until you have about 110. There are several reasons for this. One has to do with controlling yaw while the main wheels are down but the nose is not. That's more an issue on landing - and it can bite you quite hard - but it can become significant in a crosswind take-off as well. I'll say more about this when I talk about landing, but right now, let's just say you want all the wheels on the ground, or all the wheels off the ground, because steering the plane once the front wheel is up is next to impossible. A word on climb-out. Don't be concerned about letting the nose come up 20 ~ 30 degrees. There is no power shortage and the Starship climbs like a homesick angel. Be prepared to use a lot of back-stick to make it happen, though. The high thrust line is trying to push the nose down, while you're trying to drag it up, and the result can be lots of back stick and sharp, choppy pitch control because you're fighting the trim. There is a heap of elevator / carnard authority, which is a good thing because you need it. There is also a very broad range of adjustment on the elevator trim, because you need that too. The trim is very effective - unlike many planes (models in the sim) that let you twiddle endlessly with the wheel and do very little, a small change in the pitch trim of the Starship does make a significant difference. If you can fight the power and the trim, then get to about 1,000 feet and come back to about 60% power and trim the 'ship. The mouse-wheel will do that for you. About 200 KIAS, 40% ~ 50% power and level flight is very easy. Suddenly you don't have to hold the nose up any more. Now, change power settings, and all bets are off again, and more power will push the nose down, less will see it climb. We're not in Kansas any more, Toto. Conventional light aircraft are fairly tightly speed coupled. That is, something like a c172, with elevator trim about in the middle, will sit happily at about 75 ~ 80 knots. Gain or lose 15 knots, and the aircraft will pitch up or down quite significantly. The Starship will do that too, to some extent, but the power-on / nose down thing hides it, and the neutral trim for higher speeds hides it too. Keep an eye on the ASI, because the speed can be quite different to what you think it is. The Starship likes smooth transitions. It can handle (and sometimes needs) large amounts of stick, but it doesn't like sharp, nervous, dabbing inputs. Pilot induced oscillations, in all three axies, are a reality, and to confuse the pilot, the natural frequency of the oscillations is quite different in the three axies. Pitch is quick and sharp, and this can cause serious problems at some heights and speeds. Roll is fairly slow and yaw is very slow. In addition, there is significant Dutch Roll in the event of sudden roll transitions, which couples to yaw, which can then couple to pitch - and yaw is slow and pitch is fast. In addition, the cockpit is a long way forward of the centre of gravity, so you get thrown up and down quite a bit when the Starship porpoises. To give some idea what all that means, suppose you mess up your turn from base leg to finals, and need to put a dog-leg in your finals. So over the middle marker you bank 15 deg left, and the nose comes up, and the yaw doesn't immediately start. You stick forward slightly, to stay on slope, and then the nose yaws left, so you level the wings, but the yaw over runs and the nose drops - just as you went forward stick. Now you back stick, correct with a little right bank, and the nose comes up, the plane keeps yawing to the left, the nose keeps going up, you forward stick more, then the pendulum comes back. The nose swings right, you level the wings, the nose drops hard, you stick back but it keeps going down, you're now over the inner marker, at full back stick, at stall speed, the plane wildly yawing and pitching, and your speed has dropped because of the fuss, so you go for power, and the engines drive the nose clean into the ground. Full back stick just saves you, but by the time the nose is level, you've gone from 90 KIAS to 160 KIAS, and you're half way down the runway. So you chop the power - only to have the nose shoot up 40 deg because you still had full back stick on. The point is not that it's bad - it isn't. It is different. It has some dynamics that are quite different to a conventional light aircraft - or a conventional medium twin. Once you understand those dynamics, it's quite a nice thing to fly - stunning in some circumstances, simply brilliant, but many of the reflexes you learned in conventional light aircraft have to be learned all over again. Burt Rutan and Beechcraft would tell you, you cannot stall the aeroplane. In straight, level, stable, low speed flight, that's true. The loading on the canard is significantly higher than the main wings, and eventually, no amount of back stick will hold the nose up. You add power, and it will simply push the nose down more. That's good, in a stall recovery exercise at 5,000 feet. Helps get you out of a potentially dangerous situation even quicker and easier. It's not so good when you are low and slow and the ground is coming up to meet you, and you desperately need power and nose up at the same time. The most frightening thing that's happened to me in the Starship, is a high altitude, high speed stall. The aircraft is prone (at some speed and altitude combinations) to a quick and violent oscillation in pitch. This can be a classic PIO, or it can be an AUTO PILOT induced oscillation. At FL400, at 220 (ish) KIAS, this can increase in magnitude, before you can disengage the auto pilot, to the point where you are getting flashes of all-red-screen, then all-black-screen, etc, etc. Then the main planes stall. Well, one of them does. Snap roll. Your ground speed at this point is over 400 mph, so there's no shortage of momentum. You know the 'craft is rolling, but you're blacked out, and the moment of vision you got before the G turned out the lights, gave you whirling sea and sky and not much indication which way they're whirling. So you go full forward stick, which does nothing for a couple of seconds, then gives you the briefest flash of a whirling artificial horizon, followed by complete red-out. So, you are now in a reversed or inverted flat spin, horizontally oriented, at about 375 knots true airspeed. Full back stick. No response for a while, then we're back to blackout. Hmmmm. Partial stick forward does nothing - it takes full deflection, and there is a pause before it works, but you have to get off it, and perhaps counter with a dab of full back stick, to kill the oscillation with the nose pointed vaguely straight ahead. At that point, you get your vision back, and you can start using aileron to control the roll, which is running at about 720 ~ 1,000 deg / sec... And by the time you get that under control, you are in a 550 knot full power 60 deg dive at about 7,000 feet. There is enough room to pull out, but you will have to black yourself out again to do it. It's a pretty entertaining 30 ~ 40 seconds. I can thoroughly recommend it to anybody who's bored, and thinks he can fly. The obvious thing to do would be hit 'p' for PAUSE, or 'v' for VISION (from behind, so you can see what you're doing) but the reality gap vanishes at moments like that and you're really in that cockpit, fighting for your life, and when straight and level flight is resumed you're sweating and breathing heavy and feeling like an idiot. But it gets very real for that half minute or so. Another trap for new players turns up in low speed or high G turns. You bank and yank, and the yaw is slow to get started. So it seems to pitch up, then down as the nose begins to come around. You go for more back stick to keep the nose up, and then funny things begin to happen. The rate of turn increases, the nose comes back up, but the climb and sink says bad things and control is sloppy in three axies. You've stalled. There's no buffet, there may or may not be an audible stall warning, there's no strong nose-down pitching movement, and some (sloppy) control remains. Low airspeed and rapid descent demand power, but even the high thrust line will not get it together for you, unless you push the nose down. If you have enough altitude to begin with, the engines will eventually drive you forward out of the condition, but that takes time and height. Once the aeroplane does start flying right, you suddenly DO get the nose down moment from the power and the thrust line. Confusing. Not the stall behaviour you learned in a c172. The great thing about a flight sim, is that you can do dangerous and crazy stuff right down on the deck where you have great visual cues about what is actually happening. I got into that mess at middling altitude a few times, and then ran into it while buzzing the tower at San Francisco International. (Good one, Maverick.) At 100 feet, around well know landmarks, you can actually figure out what's going on, with regard to direction of travel versus heading. Suddenly the soggy control and rapid descent syndrome made sense. If you know what's happening, you can deal with it. That's the challenge with the Starship. Knowing and understanding what's happening. Once you know what's going on, it's usually pretty easy to deal with. So, I must have crashed this thing about a hundred times, right? Actually, no. I've had some pretty hairy moments, and a couple of landings I'm less than proud of. I've finished my landing run well off the side of the airstrip a few times. I've had the wheels on the ground and realised I'd have to go around again a few times too. But actually crashed it? Not once. The trim does change dramatically when you put the flaps down. It goes nose down, and the more flap you use, the more nose down it gets. The stalling speed with or without flap, is not that different. With flap, you get a more nose down attitude, which gives a better view of what you're doing on approach and flare, and it creates a lot of drag, which is very usefull in landing such a clean, slipery aeroplane. Without flap, it just hangs there, flying down the strip ten foot off the ground, laughing at you. Wheels down creates some drag, but the flaps create more. The problem can be that with a nose down attitude, you need even more back stick to hold the nose up, and maybe not a lot more airspeed to do it, but certainly not any less. The wiki article cites 95 KIAS as stall speed. In the model, 95 is about as low as you can safely go. It's not the minimum speed at which the aeroplane will fly, you can get it in the air and keep it there at less than 70. The speed 95 is significant because if you need to go around, and you're still flying, and you wind on enough power to overcome the drag of the flaps, the high thrust line will push the nose down into the runway, unless you have about 95 knots aboard. And at 95, you need full back stick to hold the nose up. You also need to use about two thirds throttle, until you can crank in some of that flap, because full throttle will drive you into the ground. Less than two thirds, and the drag is such that you won't accelerate. (And therefore, can't climb.) And at that moment, when you'd like flaps which can retract in less than two seconds, you find these take about 20 ~ 30 seconds to come out, and about the same to go in. There is a reason they're so slow - it's because of the very large change in pitch - it gives the pilot time to react. But it can paint you into a nasty corner if you mess up your landing. Before I leave landings, two other traps. Wing-strike and steering. Another good thing about the flaps is that the aircraft touches down the main gear, and the nose wheel is quite low. That means you can get off all that back stick, and perhaps even go forward a little, and get the nose wheel on the ground right quick. Not elegant, and in real life it would probably not impress your passengers, but while that front wheel stays up, you can't steer. (And surprisingly - it does - you'd think that after needing full back stick to stop it heading for China by the shortest route, it'd crash down in relief as soon as it could, but once the main gear is down, all that changes. It hangs there, so you need to put it down. Gently, but soon.) So, while the front wheel stays up - you can't steer the aeroplane. The rudders and vertical stabilisers are only just rearward of the main gear, rendering the rudders completely ineffective once the main wheels are down. Differential braking might work in real life, but seems to be disabled in the model, at least at anything over a brisk taxi. Problem is, even a one or two mph cross wind, will catch the front of the aeroplane, and carry it off in whatever direction, meaning the rear will follow. Quickish. And not a damn thing you can do about it until the nose wheel is down. You let go the stick, the nose drops a bit, you get on the rudder to straighten up.... and veer sharply off the runway anyway. Playing back the replay, shows the nose dropped from (say) 10 deg up to 3 deg up, and stayed there. It even shows the nose wheel turning faithfully and uselessly, with the rudders, in the opposite direction. The other thing your replay may show you, is that an attempt to bank in the direction you wish to go, and dab the main brakes when only the down-side wheel is on the ground, doesn't work, and will result in wing-strike at quite low angles. (And yes, I know you shouldn't stand an aeroplane on one wheel, much less brake while doing it, but as a last resort, it will usually steer the damn thing where you need it to go. Not this time.) One last bug / trap / feature, and a work around. If you use the auto pilot (and it mostly is a beauty - it'd be a shame not to) then you do sometimes need to get out of it in a hurry. Now, I HOPE this is only a bug in the model, and not a quirk of the real aircraft, but ... The auto pilot seems to use the elevator trim, rather than the elevators themselves, to control the aeroplane. Depending on what was happening when you quit the auto pilot, the trim may be a long - LONG way out from where it needs to be. So much so, that level flight is impossible. So much so, that much frantic mouse wheel twirling still doesn't get you there anything like fast enough. The work around? Cut the power back to idle, and put the auto pilot back on, just for a second or two, them get off it again. You may have to do it a couple of times, but it will end up trimmed about right sooner or later. It's an awful AWFUL lot quicker than trying to wind on all the trim you might need. The avionics package is rudimentary and I don't like it. Whether it's an accurate representation of what's in a real Starship, I don't know. The main MFD is the artificial horizon and the speed and altitude tapes. It also has the likeness of the top of the compass wheel, but I'd like to see a bit more of that. The radio nav functions are all implemented in the right side MFD, and if you can muddle your way through their operation on the ground, in a known location, then it all seems to be there and work, but it isn't intuitive to use. In the air – it's hopeless. If you added a couple of adjustment wheels to the front face, just like the old gyro / slave compass / VOR it mimics, it'd be a hell of a lot easier. Trying to make it work through the flight sim menu system while you're flying, is horrible. By contrast, the similar system in the Citation X (another plane I like a lot) works a treat. The auto pilot, like most other things, is accessible only through the flight sim menus. I could live with that if there was a hot key to kill it quick, because sometimes you need to get out of it in a hurry. At some speeds and heights, it is as stable and dependable as a rock. At others, not so good. 200 ~ 210 KIAS at FL200 – not the slightest problem. 250 at FL250? Can have a grand mal, but not often. 200 KIAS at FL410? Use the roll / heading control, firewall the throttles (which you need to do to reach that speed / altitude anyway) and fly pitch with the trim. The stick is a bit sensitive, but a few ticks of the mouse wheel will work wonders. Do not try to use the auto pilot pitch control at the that speed and height, it will (auto) PIO and try to kill you. The reason to use the auto pilot, is that while the radio nav stack is bad, the route planner will drop way points and end points straight into the auto pilot, and off you go. What navigation? Are we there yet? My only real beef with it is that I like to tune into VORs and DMEs and ADFs and VORTACs and stuff as I go – partly for practice, partly to have a second strategy if the auto pilot dies, partly because of boredom, but mostly because I'm learning to fly, and that means learning to use all that stuff. Reading the theory and understanding what you've read is one thing. Doing it – in the dark, with one engine out, trying to look up airports that might be nearby, might be transmitting, set the navs and twiddle the dials and understand what the beast is telling you – that isn't the same as reading it and thinking how logical it all sounds. It takes practice. So it sounds like an endless litany of complaints. Thing is, once you know what the potential pitfalls are, and how to avoid them, or at least recognise them and respond quickly, the thing is a joy to fly. It's fast. It's (mostly) stable. It can fly quite slow or quite fast. It climbs and accelerates as fast, and flies as high, as most corporate jets. It doesn't quite have their cruise speed, but it's not far off. As long as you don't mess up your landing or take off, it can work with very little runway. It can generate surprisingly high G at very low airspeeds, and turn very tight, as long as you watch for the onset of stall and react quickly. You can loop or half loop and roll out straight off the runway – just like a jet fighter. You can roll inverted at 200 KIAS at 3,000 feet and pull through. I have both a P51D and a Zero in the sim, and while I haven't yet tried that stunt in either of them, historical sources suggest a Zero needs about 4,000 and a Mustang needs over 6,000. Anyway, you don't need to handle it with kid gloves, but it does like slow, smooth movements of the controls. Quick and choppy is not good. It does fly absolutely beautifully – it's just a bit different. It's very clean and glides superbly. Some vehicles are quite deceiving, in that what they look like doesn't tell you what they're like to use. The Starship is an honest injun. What does it look like? What do those lines say? Light, fast, stylish, different, unconventional, futuristic, smooth, unique, - hell, even the name is appropriate. 'Starship.' Tells it like it is. This aeroplane was conceived in 1980 with the intention of superseding the King Air. If you think about why flying geeks love the King Air – this was the plane that Beech planned to replace it with, that was better in every way. That should tell you something. It is a fantastic aeroplane, but it has teeth. Ten years of development and 300 million dollars still couldn't quite change that.