The famous resource for flight simulation Threshold has published a beautiful video review of the AW109 version 1.02. As we are truly happy by reading that the helicopter already got some deserved attention before the current update 1.03 with its tremendous advancement on flight model, we are also happy to know that the review was written (and spoken) by a real AW109 airman, which makes us once more really proud about it.
In the meantime, our fan and Youtube channel owner Catchy Musselshared some nice pics of the update 1.03, nevertheless this attention is truly rewarding after the efforts of the last days to answer to the community requests.
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First thing to notice it’s the heavily improved flight model, now less “drone” and a lot more “helicopter” while keeping an enjoyable feel of control and hovering easiness. Speed and stability were both greatly enhanced, the helicopter will throw you above its maximum cruise speed of 154 knots without any bizarre behavior. You may also notice that taxiing has become easier, with just a lift of the collective and a little forward cyclic. Trimming was re-designed together with the FD authority. Landing gear won’t break your ears anymore. The rotor is also being reviewed by code and by animation, it’s now tuned to the gyroscopic precession, an effect of the real thing causing the highest blade pitch on the left side, not aft. Pilot is now visible in movies and invisible from cockpit. Sounds of turbine got a new life (!). This and much more together with an extended guide should keep you smiling and seated onboard for a longer time.
A huge thank you goes those who are making our life easier by heliping us out with heavy testing and to those of you who are keeping the appreciations and encouragement high since the very first release.
Why a single incredible review is putting a serious risk to our existence as developers and why isn’t doing any favour to the X-Plane community and to its author credibility.
With great surprise I’ve read last night what Sérgio Costa patron of HeliSimmer.com wrote about the AW109 I gave him for free in a review that can be easily defined as catastrophic. No one better than HeliSimmer has represented in recent years a pivot for the X-Plane helicopter community, but this time the review has gone far beyond imagination, destroying with rage almost every single piece of a brand new product as the worst ever.
Payware or not, every product is subject to judgment, but this has been misrepresented by opinions rather than facts far from the objective result, opinions that simply don’t tell the truth to the readers and end up having an impact not only on our sales but also on the credibility of their author.
I know what you’re thinking, this may be sort of an emotional protest for a bad rating, but the product sincerely deserved better, the community deserve other than reading about real pilots behind a home computer, three years of work and dedication deserve better than a poor 4/10 score. Let’s see why, let’s try to review the review one opinion at a time.
X-Plane 12 only features Wait! No one here has ever stated that the product is only compatible with X-Plane 12 and by saying that you are misleading your readers. When we write about CAS visiblity we talk about the same bug (XPD-10211) that afflicts the 747-400 and AW139, known since 2018 as we were the first to report and that only recently – Ben Supnik wrote to us in november – has been estimated in terms of resolution time. We wanted to make a transparency operation and tell the truth, nothing more. And no, it’s not like an application for Windows 11, it’s an X-Plane BUG – yes, it has bugs too, just like any other software – not our fault and definetely something the users needed to be aware of before purchasing the product.
Model and textures Here is the most useless part of the review. What Sérgio seems not knowing is that there is a limit to the number of polygons a developer can think of putting into a 3D product for home PCs. The greater the number of vertices, the lower the performance on the GPU. Having said that, our new Blender-based pipeline, other than providing an upstream measurement based on individual objects and cumulative weight, has allowed an exponential increase of the meshes appearance compared to the previous cycle (the AW139, to say). When he blather about polygon numbers and say that the cyclic tube (!) has areas for improvement, he seems willing not to do a constructive review but the exact opposite, making a personal impression to became a defect! Speaking about polygons, should they mean something to the reader, the AW109 fuseleage has over 644.000/145 vertices/objects, against the 170.000/317 of the AW139.
Animations Saying that the animations are weird (!) doesn’t tell the truth either, unless the only animation good to go is the poor one on the default S76 rotor, which is fluid because it has zero impact on GPU but in return it’s horrible. The AW109 swashplate, each single blade movement around it, the overall effect are something we dedicated months and the result is appropriate and in line with other similar products. Maybe suitable for critics, but still proper for a first release. Instead he goes analyzing infinitesimal details like talking about a high-end simulator worth millions of Euros, stumbling over an incredible lack of objectivity, like he wanted to tear the product apart. Austin Meyer himself – the X-Plane creator – tried the AW109 saying it’s really fine and good looking. For sure there are areas for improvement, like everything, but they are part of the progressive process of any software or game or whatever program for the office. Instead, cherry-picking is done on a endless myriad of things that lined up cannot do nothing but discourage the purchase and that’s exactly what’s happening, fatally discouraging us from keeping it up!
Sounds Here I must say I expected it, we weren’t 100% satisfied so the evaluation is ok, but we knew that. However, at the time of this article we already started to improve, particulary with the 1.02 release.
Pretty much all the rest… Asking real pilots – in this case as many as two – to test a videogame – that’s what it is to many – poses several problems. First of all because the presence of a real pilot represents the (incorrect) assumption that a correspondence between the experience of the real pilot and that of a gamer must be found, which obviously is not possible on a home PC and only really relevant in professional, hugely diverse and hugely expensive contexts. The experience with the home simulator, on the other hand, is extremely subjective and if as a real pilot you are saying that the product is crap, you are telling a lie, not only because it’s not but because you’re in a different context.
The second problem is the expectation of the reader, something in the heart of the sim business that we and Sergio knows well. The average user thinks “Wow! A real pilot, that must mean these guys are serious!” and ends up forgetting the unbridgeable distance made up of risk, study and other little problems of liability which are not in question here. But in the meantime he has read the article, spent his money, made impressions and bring conversions – read real money – to the website where the article was published.
And here we introduce a third problem, which is that – once more – of the credibility of those who put real pilots behind the reviews, as they (rightfully) don’t stop to evaluate the result for what it is, on a simmer POV, but instead they wheigh some homemade software against a real thing: a failure without appeal, of course.
Conclusions After having analyzed the AW109 under the microscope, before pleading the accused guilty and sentencing him to death by openly discouraging everyone from buying it, he produces an incredible flashback on the AW139 and some buzzword that has nothing to do with the product, with the sole purpose of supporting the unsustainable thesis that not even the AW109 is finished! We remain speechless, certain that, net of all considerations, the community deserves more than an indictment, built on the pretext of doing everyone a favor, but that doesn’t do anyone any favors.
Making clamour by destroying the work of a tiny developer might even make you pay some bills, but it will definitely make the community poorer. And this ridiculous review proves that we’ve been maybe looking at the wrong resource for the X-Plane helicopter scene.
The Rating As said in the opening, our AW109 scored an incredible 4/10 (!) Also incredible is that the arithmetic average of each of Sergio’s ratings (39/6) scores a 6,5 (which isn’t that bad) not a miserable 4. Here’s a screenshot from his website.
The rating logic isn’t something secondary in a website that does business by reviewing commercial products, not because it may ruin someone’s life – as it’s happening – but essentially because an unprecise, arbirary, clearly wrong rating won’t make that website trustful. Asking Sérgio about this, he replied that the score is not the average, but each rating has a different weight and that’s the problem, as the rating seems nothing but arbitrary.
To counter-prove this, we’ve been sending a couple of surveys to our current customers, and the suprising results will be published here.
In conclusion, the review was unfair as it was based on assumptions, lack of objectivity, opaque logic. Beside that, a review should serve to improve a product, certainly not to take a developer off the market. For each of this reasons this has been the very last time he got one of our product to review and I strongly discourage any developer letting him to do it. Definetely not as credible as he might want us to believe.
Better sound behaviour at start-ups and shut-downs;
Better engine response at higher altitudes;
Better rotor spooling-up speed;
Fixed minor 3D details on fuseleage and interiors;
Added blinking caution and warning lights with HDR spills;
AW139 4.00 RC4.1 Uploaded on 16/03/2019
Fixed rotors still moving when rotor brake caliper is at maximum pressure, an X-Plane issue bypass;
Fixed PMS issue still occourring after a power-off, now each engine starts, idles and restarts as expected;
Fixed over-TQ and rotor-high issue when switching from IDLE to FLT mode on PMS;
Fixed scaled shadows on cabin and panel, as X-Plane shaders won’t stop changing;
Fixed wrong electrical values on MFD;
Fixed rotor brake lever sound missing.
AW139 4.00 RC4 Uploaded on 11/03/2019
Rewritten SAS and ATT logic based upon AP1/2, FT and CPL activation, a huge fix but the most desired one by real pilots;
Rewritten autopilot FD modes from scratch so that they obey to the real logic, also added custom toggle commands;
Fixed excess of power (HP) and aircraft weights values, now real AW139 pilots should feel at home a lot better;
Fixed unrealistic display values and arrows behavior for NG, ITT, TQ and PI along with range warnings;
Fixed continuous input to trimming switches both on cyclic and collective, keep each hat switch pressed to increase or decrease values;
Fixed rotor brake’s caliper effectiveness, now it is proportional to the action on the lever and won’t turn the helicopter anymore;
Added a retractable spotlight to the belly, it can be switched on and pointed in any direction by using the rightside hat switch on the collective;
Enlarged cabin sound sphere, now VR pilots should not get outer sounds when attempting to lean their heads towards the window;
Fixed seats headrests issue on custom liveries showing both closed and open configurations, now they have the hole opened;
Fixed livery template UV map misplacements on tail boom, stabilizer, belly and added nose logo area, now authors can paint it just right;
Unified N2 102% commands into a single toggle, this is to help out the serious simmers with their hardware;
Making the old user guide available as a separate download, looking forward to write a much simpler procedural sheet;
Added cyclic and collective manipulators, this allow a greater usability for VR pilots with touchpads and mouse pilots as well;
Fixed invisible pedestals on custom liveries higher that 00 (default), fixed the livery template as well;
Fixed both fuel pumps needed to start one engine, now each engine is correctly related to its fuel pump;
Digital wind indicator back in place, now compensating the wind direction with the heading;
Fixed SAS REL and FD STBY buttons on cyclic, now they work as expected;
Fixed tires appearing raised from the ground;
Fixed minor details on cabin and external meshes;
Fixed nose glass transparency issue;
Raised avionics fans volume just right.
AW139 4.00 RC3 Uploaded on 07/02/2019
Fixed pedals still moving when CLTV/YAW trim is ON, now they stay in position unless CLTV/YAW REL (collective) is being pressed;
Fixed cyclic trim up and down function, now it trims pitch when FT is ON and IAS mode (FD) is OFF, otherwise it modifies IAS reference;
Fixed cyclic trim left and right function, now it trims roll when FT is ON and HDG mode (FD) is OFF, otherwise it modifies HDG reference;
Fixed engine power, fuel consumption and weights parameters;
Fixed Sagem® map display showing along with every user custom livery, now the instrument is finally gone (until version 4.1);
Fixed parking brake lever sound, now it’s there;
Refined rotor spooling up time, now closer to reality;
Fixed reversed CCD (Cursor Control Device) left and right function when LH (MFD) is selected, up and down function are fictional;
Updated livery template with a convenient UV map layer and instruction note, now it’s easier to identify parts of the fuseleage;
Updated custom livery folder logic, now additional liveries must be tied to sequential numbers (04, 05, …); this was done to prevent the off-shore external objects showing along with every custom livery, as they will show up only with the default off-shore liveries (Default 00 to 03).
AW139 4.00 RC2 Uploaded on 03/02/2019
Fixed the marching ants issue affecting many textures on some graphic cards due to wrong UV maps;
Fixed internal glass opacity, as reported too dark by many pilots using VR headsets;
Fixed collective trim up and down function when CLTV/YAW trim is ON, the hat switch trims collective, otherwise it changes the reference target value if a FD collective mode is engaged (ie. VS or ALT reference);
Fixed rotor brake strenght, now it’s a lot less brutal;
Whatever is your preferred simulated flight activity with our AW139, from mountain rescue to off-shore operations, you may have already encountered the need to trim your helicopter. In this article we’re going to explain ho to achieve a proper trim for both rotors and flight controls to ensure your flight is comfortable and efficient.
WHAT IS TRIMMING
Trimming means fine tuning your aircraft’s attitude. This is useful in simulated flights as well as in real ones to achieve maximum operational efficiency in terms of lower fuel consumptions, less pilot’s effort and comfort for your passengers. Trimming is related to each of your axis – pitch, roll and yaw – and each function is nicely reproduced and managed from the cyclic and collective sticks.
As the real AW139, our helicopter spots a force trimming device which allows you to get maximum control over the flight attitude. On the interseat MISC panel you have the Force Trim (FT) switch, when both autopilots are engaged (AP1, AP2 on the interseat panel) this little switch puts the AW139 autopilot from SAS mode (Stability Augmentation System or hands-on-controls) to ATT mode (Attitude or hands-off-controls).
ATT mode enables two distinct functions:
Couples the Flight Director (FD) to servos. Once a FD mode is selected (ie. HDG, ALT, etc…), this function allows the helicopter to fly autonomously and can be switched off by pressing CPL button (when it’s green) or by putting FT switch back to OFF;
Freezes your cyclic in position. This function in particular is needed to fly hands-off controls, as in reality. The cyclick stick can be kept in position at the desired forward speed and nose pitch angle. To temporarily unlock the cyclic, keep your hands on it and release the locking system by pushing the FT REL button on the cyclic stick. You can even assign a key or a joystick button to it. Pilots normally leave the FT switch ON.
When ATT mode is ON, the cyclic hat switch trims the cyclic left or right. Pressing it up or down increases or decreases airspeed when IAS (indicated air speed) FD mode is activated. When ATT mode is OFF, pressing it left or right set the heading bug left or right. Pressing it at the center activates the HOV (hovering) mode, see here for details.
At the right of the FT switch there’s the Collective / Yaw Trim switch. Once activated it allows you to:
Freeze your collective and pedals in position. Unlock them by using the CLTV/YAW REL switch below the collective stick. You can assign a key or a joystick button to it. When the CLTV/YAW trim switch is ON you can trim the collective up or down with the left hat switch (the one at the right controls the third external light spot below the fuseleage); normally the same hat switch has the function to set the reference target up or down once a FD collective mode (ie. ALTA or VS ) is activated;
Trim your yaw left or right with the collective hat switch (left one). This function is really useful on longer leveled flights to achieve comfort and optimize fuel consumptions. You can reset the yaw trim by pressing the switch on top;
Here’s a first article of a series dedicated to trouble-shooting. In this one we’ll explain how the auto-hover is operated on our AW139 version 4.00.
What you need to get first is how the auto-hover works in this very first release. Basically it works as the real one, once activated it will reduce all your X and Z axis velocity vectors to zero knots, in other words it will decelerate your horizontal directions until the helicopter will stay in position without speeding up, unless you decide. The Y axis, or vertical direction and speed, will be controlled through the collective. The more you raise it the higher the ascending speed and vice versa. Yaw, or nose heading around Y axis, is controlled with the pedals. Once activated, the autopilot attempts to keep the your heading steady. In adverse weather conditions, you may be asked to act a little bit more on the pedals. As explained in the guide provided with the product, auto-hover shoudn’t be engaged above 20 KTS. This is the limit speed above which the helicopter will have to reduce too much speed to keep the helicopter nearby where desired. Engaging the auto-hover abobe 20 KTS may give unpredictable results.
TYPES OF AUTO-HOVER
We’ve been actually implementing two types of auto-hover.
Type A is hands-ON-controls is untied to the FT (force trim) system of the aircraft, in order to leave the pilot more control on the rolling and pitching axis. It’s designed to help out during manouvers, approaches, in adverse weather conditions and can be used to decelerate the aircraft.
Type B is hands-OFF-controls and is tied to the FT (force trim) system. This is the stablest hovering mode and lets you put your hands off flight controls. When type B is engaged the nose pitches up +10° as described in this article. Being in conjunction with flight trim means that you can trim the direction and speed of auto-hover. As the real one, never exceed 60 KTS in this mode.
The two modes are mutually exclusive. They can be switched by switching ON (type B) or OFF (type A) the FT (force trim) switch on the MISC panel and then pressing HOV (hovering) mode button below on the FD (flight director) panel.
When Type B is engaged and no joystick is present, the collective raises automatically to the right blades pitch value, in other words it lets you achieve an automatic take-off, putting your aircraft steady ±5 ft.
CHANGES ON THE MFD
HOV mode is designed to reduce horizontal speeds to zero, as in reality. This means you will always control the ascent or descent of the helicopter through the collective. When activated, the HOV mode changes the HSI on the MFD with a compass showing the velocity trend and direction, just like the real one.
Indeed we are very happy to inaugurate our brand new blog with the story of the first release of the auto-hovering system we bring to X-Plane through our AW139. When we first announced it, we were actually stuck on the programming, but the best was yet to come.
[su_quote]BRAVO! BRAVO! BRAVO! I could go on about all kinds of aspects, the groundstone you have layed for future versions with the rebuild of the high res interior, sound, et cetera, et cetera. but you know the feeling when you jump into the machine and think you know everything and then you meet a totally different character, more sensitive and responsive, more powerfull in all aspects of flying and manoeuvring. I had the feeling I could thread a needle with it, even without auto hover.[/su_quote]
The auto-hover is a pricy optional that Leonardo usually puts on the table with SAR and oil platform customers, such as Era Helicopters and Bristow, and with every clients whose operational needs ask for maximum stability. We got documented about the real thing first and at the beginning we have to admit it was really frustrating to find a clue about how to obtain that effect. Speaking with other developers not only didn’t solve any of our doubts, but made our thinking even more confusing. We then contacted Austin and his answer was even more frustrating.
[su_quote]Wait! X-Plane autopilot it’s not designed for that![/su_quote]
What we wanted to get was an hovering experience similar to the one of X-Plane AI when it’s asked to manage our helicopter’s take off. Have you tried it yet? It performs beautiful, steady hoverings while waiting the tower controller for permission to raise the collective, give pedals and push cyclic forward. Hovering is also used by AI to taxi the helicopter and we thought it would have been a super-feature for our helicopters.
Whe take our time to study how this was done, then we got coffee and seated in front of X-Plane searching for insights. The first thing we did was freezing the AI right after the hovering was started, in order to get unlimited time to observe the hovering. Once we got there, we attempted to change the aircraft heading and roll ratio via certain autopilot datarefs, only to understand that they were disabled since version 9… Thanks, Austin!
It’s important to explain here that, differently from other simulation platforms, X-Plane’s main asset resides into its phisics model, maniacally built around the mimic of real, in an effort that puts X-Plane into another world, with features and results a lot more complex and veritable than the beautiful eye-candies of the simulator that we all love so much. This means the only way to get what we wanted should have been get by replicating the real behaviour of the real helicopter. No other chances or crazy tricks, such as disabling the flight model as we did on a second attempt. So we got back to study.
Here’s how the type rating manual of the real AW139 explains the feature:
«The HOV mode utilizes the blended AHRS-GPS ground velocity information to provide commands that maintain longitudinal and lateral aircraft ground velocities for hovering and low speed flying. The HOV can be manually engaged by pressing the HOV push button on the Guidance Controller or by pressing the beep trim (Chinese-Hat fifth position) on the cyclic hand-grip. At the engagement the HOV mode velocity references are set to zero». The last sentence was illuminating.
First we had to find and then set all possible movement vectors to zero in a way that each one could reach the 0 in a progressive manner. It was not an easy task because, once we identified the correct way to do it, the phisics model started to put a lot of resistance (and still does, as you can see from the nose cursor in HUD mode vibrating when IAS gets near to zero). Anyway, after a series of attempt we find the correct values that our script would have overwritten on command. And so we did.
[/su_column] [su_column size=”1/2″ center=”no” class=””]After e few lines of code and after creating a custom command to activate the plugin (you can assign it to a key to have the function ready when needed) the very first auto-hovering was a screaming surprise. The result was a stable, progressive hovering with just a flat pitch attitude which was not precisely what we wanted. The AW139 has the main rotor pitched -10° forward, while this solution makes cruise flight leveled and more comfortable for passengers, on the other hand it a little discomfort when hovering, because the nose pitches up +10° as the mast goes perpendicular to terrain.
We made to obtain this typical nose up attitude of the aircraft by associating the hover command to a specific pitching dataref, after a little more tweaking we got it working and tweeted joyfully about that. As you can see, the take-off (raise of collective) of the helicopter is indeed very sweet. This is due to an arbitrary automation we put on the blades pitch when flying with mouse. It’s obtained when ready for take-off by activating the FT (MISC PANEL) and the HOV button. This easter-egg – which is obviously not present on the real helicopter – raises the collective gently to the target pitch value, in other words the helicopter takes off and sets the hover automagically. Operating instructions here.[/su_column] [/su_row]
We hope you liked the story, it’s just a very little part of a huge effort of development running for three years now. We decided to share it to show how much effort is needed just to deliver one single feature of the helicopters we all love. Thanks for reading and spread the love for your developers!