The Cessna Skymaster has long been one of my favorite aircraft. The concept of a two-engine airplane, but with the engines aligned on the aircraft’s centerline in a tractor/pusher configuration, is a unique way to mitigate some of the hazards of possible engine malfunctions such as adverse yaw. Being able to have two engines aligned with the fuselage and yet maintain a high wing also allows for great visibility from the airplane cabin.
I have long searched for freeware flight simulation models of this airplane but unable to find any of quality. Thus, I was quite pleased to learn that there was a third party developer of a C337 model, and even more enthused upon learning it was none other than Carenado. Anyone in this hobby with an interest in general aviation aircraft must surely be familiar with Carenado and aware that their renderings are second to none. The accuracy and attention to detail designed into their products has always been impressive. Spoiler alert: The Carenado Cessna 337 Skymaster does not disappoint in this regard.
Cessna started offering the 337 in 1965 and built 2191 civilian versions of them through 1980. The aircraft was perceived by many to be a 210 model with a second engine and revised tail section but while the interiors were similar, the 337 Skymaster had extensive engineering differences in order to accommodate the additional power plant. Unfortunately, one feature borrowed from the 210 was its inelegant and complicated landing gear.
The overwhelming positive feature of the Skymaster was its ability to deliver twin engine performance but without the nasty and dangerous adverse effects that usually accompany the in-flight failure of one of those engines, making the aircraft quite easy to fly. Any multi-engine rated pilot would find the transition to the Skymaster to be a breeze while pilots who might have multi experience only in this aircraft have a “centerline thrust only” restriction on their multi ticket. So while the C337 provides a good platform for learning the management of two engines, it does not emulate the characteristics of other twins, thus giving it a unique distinction and making it worthy of the Carenado treatment.
I received the aircraft as a download and installation was a non-event requiring little other than pointing the installer to the correct FSX location on the hard drive and letting it do its thing.
I was surprised, however, after installation when I went to select the C337in the FSX aircraft section. My only choice was a white, unpainted model. I went to the documentation which resided in an FSX>Carenado folder and found no mention of what exterior paints were standard. I posted a question on the unofficial Avsim Carenado forum and for good measure sent the same query to the Carenado support staff at the website address provided by Carenado when I registered on their website. I received responses from both within a few hours providing the same solution- which was to ensure that the ‘Select All Variations” box in the Aircraft Select section was checked. It had not been and doing so enabled six different variants to be present- red trim, blue trim, grey trim, Australian Coast Guard, Rhodesian Air Force, and a blank texture.
That documentation referenced a moment ago consists of six documents:
– a single page reference sheet of operating airspeeds, speed limitations, and best performance speeds in both miles per hour and knots indicated (I found this last point to be curious when I first noticed it but some research clarified the situation- apparently when the Skymaster was introduced the industry was split on whether to designate airspeeds in miles per hour or knots).
– a 33 page manual devoted to Normal Checklists, Emergency Checklists and Cruise Performance charts for six altitudes between 2500’ and 15000’. These appear to have been copied from the actual Cessna Operating Manual document as they utilize standard Cessna manual layouts, diagrams and typeface. For convenience, this manual can be summoned while operating the aircraft by invoking keyboard command SHIFT +2.
– 2 page reference for operating the installed Garmin GNS530 GPS receiver
– single page of keyboard shortcuts and instructions for replacing the standard GPS unit with the Reality XP unit (sold separately but supported in the aircraft)
– 2 pages of recommended FSX display and realism settings
As usual, Carenado has produced a stunningly beautiful aircraft rendition. The attention to detail is outstanding and I cannot remember the last time I was so distracted by the exterior view that I waited to start flying so that I could pan around and zoom in and out of the exterior view. The lines are clean and crisp and rivets stand out just as they should. It appears that even placards are in place on various surface areas as well.
However, one should not hesitate too long to get in and fly as the cockpit experience is also quite a pleasure. Prior to starting engines and departing, it is a good idea to leaf through the manual or at the very least, take a visual tour of the instrument panel as there may be some surprises…such as, the landing gear lever is not where one would expect, nor is the flap indicator. Most of the other instrumentation is straightforward; however, so anxious pilots will not have to wait too long before starting engines.
The C337 is engineered so that the front engine normally obtains its fuel feed from the left tank, while the right tank supplies the rear engine. It is said that the airplane has a tendency for the rear engine to overheat when in prolonged idle so many Skymaster operators taxi with the rear engine off and do not power it up until just before takeoff. Because of this, and just as a general sensible operating tactic, the recommendation when bringing up takeoff power is to lead with the rear engine and verify that it is running strong before firewalling the front one. That avoids an unpleasant, to say nothing of embarrassing, attempt to take off with only the front engine running.
The Skymaster is simply a delight to fly- very responsive with good performance and great visibility due to the high wing configuration. Perhaps the best quality though is the sound. Inline twins or aircraft with a pusher propeller make a distinctive sound because of that rear-facing prop churning through disturbed air from the fuselage. It is a rumble quite unlike that produced by conventional twins and truly adds to the uniqueness of this aircraft. In some flight sim models the engine sound can be rather generic but this Carenado version implements the unique sound signature of the C337 and it is definitely different from any other twin.
In browsing the support forum for the C337, I came across a reference to the Oovee sound pack. After listening to the demo video I was convinced that it definitely takes the audio experience to another level and at US$13.00 is an add on that a serious Skymaster aficionado should consider obtaining.
As beautiful as the aircraft looks and performs, the polar opposite can be said of the process of retracting or extending the landing gear. Be glad that you are inside the airplane and therefore, unable to observe the sequence, which is nothing short of painful as the main gear twists and turns while fighting its way into the gear bay.
To Carenado’s credit, they have succeeded in replicating this excruciating process for those masochists who so choose to observe it.
Flight characteristics are very good. The airplane responds well to control inputs and with only the front engine visible from the pilot’s seat, it is easy to forget that this is actually a twin-engine machine. One can fiddle with the power settings of either engine at any time and airplane trajectory is scarcely affected-in contrast to conventional twins wherein a loss of power or uneven application thereof can quickly result in some attention-getting moments as control must be restored and maintained with aggressive use of flight controls and trim to keep everything moving in the same direction through the sky. The Skymaster is a utilitarian aircraft and not intended for sporty operations as evidenced by the fact that intentional spins arte prohibited. Of course, I had to go ahead and try it anyway. It is difficult to get the airplane to spin. Its stall characteristics are outstanding-a slight drop off to one side at the stall point and then the nose drops so recovery is easily initiated by adding a little power, waiting for airspeed to build, and then leveling off. Once I got the aircraft to reluctantly enter a spin, basic recovery techniques produced a return to stable flight.
The cabin is very well rendered with options to include the placement of wheel chocks, nose air intake covers, and wing tip pylon cones on the parked airplane.
Night lighting of the cockpit is also outstanding. All of the instruments are well illuminated and easy to read in both 2D and VC modes. My only lighting complaints are minor ones:
-the red beacon atop the right tail is weak with the flash not visible to the front of the plane and quite dim from the side and rear
-the landing light illuminates from the right side of the nose. The taxi light lights up from the left side, which makes the landing light no more powerful than the taxi light, and both lights need to be activated to make for effective and bright illumination.
-the NAV1 NAV2 annunciator in the Mode Selector panel on the instrument display remains illuminated even if the autopilot and flight director functions are off. It seems that the only way to turn off this light is to switch the avionics master off. This is, quite obviously, not a viable alternative and besides, doing so causes the digital engine performance display to go dark. So, if the only alternative is to live with what is after all just a small green light, I can do that.
I conducted a bit of investigating to explore these glitches. Not having access to an actual C337, I did the next best thing, which was an internet search. I found some Youtube videos of Skymasters both real and simulated and the short report of the results is that none of them displayed the same deficiencies I experienced. I posted a request to the Carenado support staff to elicit an answer and a few days later was informed by them that the NAV annunciator being illuminated signifies that a signal is being received. Further, they stated that the right nose light is the single landing light with the left one being the taxi light.
The response concerning the rotating beacon was: “this is a highly subjective issue and we are afraid that perceptions of brightness may vary from person to person”. While this is arguable, the fact is I do my flying from the cockpit views where the beacon is not visible anyway so it is, in the grand scheme of things, a minor issue for me.
However, on those few occasions when I do opt for an in-flight, exterior view this Carenado airplane is, as I alluded to earlier, a visual masterpiece. One facet that impressed me to no end is that with the engines running the exhaust pipes below the nose and at the rear of the fuselage can be seen to vibrate. This is a great effect and adds immensely to the sense of realism.
As stated, I was a big C337 fan before I knew this Carenado model existed. Nevertheless, even if I had not been so eager to add it to my hangar, I would have been quite pleased with this offering. It is visually stunning, flies beautifully and at $34.95, reasonably priced. The C337 Skymaster was an unusual aircraft and Carenado has issued a fine example of it for the flight simulation world.