By Jessica Bannister-Pearce for PC Pilot (Issue 84)
Piper aircraft has a very rich history. Along with Cessna, both companies probably hold over three quarters of the general aviation market. Undoubtedly, the most recognisable and most famous Piper aircraft is the humble J-3 Cub. During World War Two, 75% of all new pilots in the U.S. Civilian Pilot Training (CPT) program were trained on Cubs before moving on to bigger things. However, the Cub suffers more than a few problems. Firstly, it’s incredibly basic, with most examples only featuring five instruments on the instrument panel, you have to fly it from the rear seat and when it comes to passengers, one is your limit. Add to that its relatively sedate cruise speed, and one comes to the conclusion that the Piper Cub is a great aircraft only if
you’re not going far, and you’re not in a hurry! By the 1950s though, people were in a hurry – flying had become the pursuit of the ordinary man, and the ordinary man demanded more than the Cub could offer.
Enter the Pacer
The PA-20 Pacer first flew in 1949 and was released to the public in 1953. Despite showing its Cub heritage, the two aircraft couldn’t be more different. The Pacer featured room for four people, a cruise speed of 121kts and a range of nearly 500nm. Needless to say it was a success, selling nearly 8000 before it finished production in 1960. Today, there are still some 2000 Piper Pacers still flying. When it comes to FSX, this is the first time the aircraft has become available for this platform. So let’s take a look.
Lionheart Creations seems to revel in producing unusual aircraft and the Pacer is no exception. This project had an interesting development. According to Lionheart, the original idea was to model the PA-20 Pacer, however as word got around that they were working on the little Piper, people made various suggestions such as adding the PA-22 Tripacer or Pacer with a standard tricycle gear arrangement as opposed to its taildragging brother. Then there were calls for floats, then tundra tyres and so on. Before they knew it, the whole project had grown from one variant to many – with three different panel types and a host of other features that were new to everyone. So, included in the 266MB download are 33 aircraft, based around four different variants and three different panel types – all installable into FSX and P3D. There’s even a little bonus as well which I’ll come to later.
A Pacer for all occasions
Loading up the standard Pacer, the first thing I notice is the exterior paint. All of the models are finished in 2048 HD textures, double that of a standard FSX paint job. Inside though is a thing of beauty. From the fantastic looking ‘50s style white-rimmed yoke to the immaculate-looking red seats with white piping – the cabin oozes 1950’s charm and makes me feel like I should have a circular skirt and bobby socks on, just to fit in. The main panel is also nicely finished.
There are a few click spots included that use some new features. For example, click on the small squeezy bottle on the passenger seat and you can clean the bugs off of the windscreen. Click the windscreen itself to set its level of dirt, which is great if you want to experience what it’s really like doing some bush flying up north. You can also add some parcels to the back with a simple click and even the beautiful, if somewhat strange looking yokes, can be hidden.
Start-up, taxi and take-off
For all her good looks and charms though, she’s not as sweet as she looks. Getting the engine running is interesting in itself. It took me five minutes to realise there’s no battery switch on my first flight. The manual confirmed that for some reason, Piper never installed one on the PA-20. It also mentioned that the original starter was hidden under the pilot’s seat, which was interesting.
Fortunately, Lionheart kept the standard key starter since there’s no way to look under the seat. Armed with this knowledge, I primed the engine and gave her a turn. For a moment she sprang into life before spluttering to a stop. More manual checking told me to advance the throttle a little when starting. This worked and I was ready to go.
Taxiing in a taildragger is always fun and the PA-20 is no exception. Forward visibility is worse than poor, and a number of ‘S-turns’ were required to get to the runway. The aircraft behaved itself quite well though, with little sign of impending ground loops. Taking off, the Piper accelerates quickly and you’re in the air in no time.
Her short wings make the Pacer quite a stable little aircraft and as I begin to put her through some manoeuvres, it’s clear she’s as easy to fly as the little Cub. The Pacer trims easily and she can be hand-flown with just the thumb and finger. Don’t expect to throw her around though, because she’s just too docile. Try a stall and you’ll see what I mean: the stall is so benign at altitude it’s almost a non-event.
If the Pacer’s handling is tame, her engine isn’t. Once you get comfortable in the cruise, I found that she would easily exceed Vne (the ‘Never exceed speed’) by a good margin. Bringing the throttle back to around 75% kept the speed in check.
Landing the Pacer however can be difficult. The short wings don’t provide a lot of lift at low speeds and your altitude will tumble if you’re not careful. Keep your speed up and landing is pretty straightforward.
A change of Pace
Switching to the PA-22 Tripacer, this aircraft has a more modern feel. The yokes remain the same, but the tri-gear layout underneath makes the Tripacer easier to taxi. The cockpit layout is different as well, with more modern equipment filling the dashboard. Lionheart has done a lovely job of producing an aged look to the Tripacer’s panel though. Instruments look dusty, bits of paint have flaked off around the edges of the dials and the whole aircraft gives a nice, lived-in feel.
Flying is the same as the original Pacer except landing is a bit more, well, normal. Finally there’s the floatplane and bush Pacer. These aircraft feature an even newer panel, incorporating modern toggle switches, a battery and avionics switch and a fully functioning Garmin 430GPS. Instead of peeling paint, the panel is finished in carbon fibre. It’s a much more of a ‘workhorse-type’ looking aircraft, equipped for the harshest terrain.
The floatplane is great fun, featuring original vintage style floats. Take-off and landing offers you a little bit of a challenge, but again, like it’s wheeled brethren, it’s a gentle affair.
Beating around the Bush
So, the aircraft is pretty well made, there’s over 30 different ones to choose from and several variations in between. But that’s not the whole story. Included with the Pacer is a great set of scenery enhancements for Alaska, centred around an area to the south of Anchorage, near the small town of Hope. Lionheart has added various buildings to a few default fields that until now, have remained empty or with just a basic building.
Eight fields now feature whole communities, such as South Ga sline, which are filled with static aircraft and houses. That’s not even the best bit though. Also included are various new strips, hidden in the back country. From small cabins to ranger stations and glacial campsites, there are plenty of new places to seek out that can only be found with a GPS and some very dodgy ADF stations. If you’re lucky, you may even find a crashed UFO up on one glacier, although the US Military is there to clear it back to Area 51!
There are about 30 different back countries to try to find, and from experience, it isn’t easy. It’s a fantastic little addition. Coordinates are provided in the manual for each station, including ADF frequencies.
It’s hard not to like Lionheart’s Pacer. My only criticism would be the lack of an authentic soundset, as the engine is mapped from the default Maule. It would have been also nice if the aircraft description also listed the panel type installed as they can differ between the same type of aircraft. But that’s it. The aircraft itself is beautifully rendered, from the 2048 external textures to the stunning 1950’s cabin and panel. The bush plane looks equally good in its grubbiness, while the Tripacer’s aged panel is beautiful.
For all the beauty on show though, the Pacer has very little impact on frame rates. The little touches such as the three levels of dirt on the screen and the parcels for the back seats make this a quality aircraft to fly. But the star of the show for me was the included Alaskan scenery. It’s a bit of a pain that you have to install it into your scenery library yourself, but once installed, you’ll find hours of fun searching out the various hidden cabins. Add to that the improved default fields and you have one of the best bush plane packages available and priced at a ridiculous £16.99! At that price, what are you waiting for?
Come back to the fifties, without the need for a DeLorean!
This review was printed in a previous issue of PC Pilot and is based on the boxed version of FSX. There may be significant differences between your experience and that of the reviewer.
The Lionheart Creations’ Piper Pacer 180 is now 33% off in our Steam sale for a limited time. Grab it while you can!