ADX FirstLook: Alabeo C404 Titan

[Reviewed By E.K. Hoffen] Hello fellow virtual aviators, and greetings from the temperate paradise of South Central Alaska. The weather is fine (if a bit damp), and I have just installed the latest and greatest from Alabeo: The Cessna 404 Titan. So, if cabin class piston twins are your thing, or if you are simply curious about Alabeo’s current level of awesome, then settle in for a few minutes as I give the Titan a quick flog and give you my opinion on how it all works. I’ve got way too much real world time in big Piper twins (turbine and piston), but just a little in the Cessna’s…though I think enough to tell if Alabeo got it right or missed the mark. Also, I do have a fair amount of time with geared engines, which need to be operated a little differently than normal, direct-drive engines. We’ll see if and how all this comes together with the Titan.

First off, as expected, it looks great. The proportions are as near to perfect as I can tell, and the textures are lovely. All the louvers, antennas, and other details are there, even down to the grease and grim on the belly and undersides of the engine nacelles. I like to see some wear and tear on my planes, gives them that extra bit of realism. I’ve flown some brand new planes before, and even they had a bit of grime on them after a few hours of flight. Yup, looks good. But then we expect this from Alabeo, they have always produced well-done visuals. 

The flight model on the 404 is, in my opinion, spot on. The controls are slightly heavy on roll, not too sensitive in pitch just like a big Cessna Twin. Very pleasant to hand fly, even in the clouds. And though the KFC200 autopilot is very close to perfect, I find myself flying this plane instead of just monitoring George. Just keep in mind the altitude alerter is just that, an alerter, not a selector.  

Alabeo has also managed to do some cool things with the sound. The engine sound seems accurate to me, definitely not default.  On start-up and shut-down, you can hear the gear lash noise that’s unique to geared engines. Very cool….although you should hear the lash at low idle RPMs also. The shaky starts and shut-downs that go with the sounds are a groovy touch, too. One small quibble is the left engine is much quieter than the right….which is weird when the right engine is shut down in flight. Maybe they have a reason for this, I don’t know.

A quick note on geared piston engines and sound. Besides the gear lash, geared engines make a noise when improperly operated. Geared engines are designed to always have the engines driving the propellers, never let the propellers drive the engines. Very low power settings during descents, especially steep descents will cause the propellers to drive the engines. This is not good for the longevity of the engines. They make a little buzzing/whining gear noise when the props are turning the engines, but this is not modeled with the Titan. To be fair, the noise is really hard to hear in real life, so I'm not too bummed it's not there.  

How about functionality? Well, I think they’ve done a decent job overall. Granted there isn’t a lot to do systems wise, but other than a few gripes, most everything you need is usable. The biggest issue for me is the propeller feathering; they use the same method as Carenado, which is super-lame if you are looking for a real world engine failure simulation. Here’s the deal: If one of your engines decides to pack it in on a light twin, the pilot goes through the engine failure routine. Power up, clean up, Identify, Verify, Feather, and then secure (mags and alternator off, reduce electrical load, etc.) using the checklist. Here is a detailed explanation of the procedure: If one your engines quits on takeoff or climb, make sure the operating engine is at full available power, and make sure the flaps and gear are up - very important to get all that drag put away. Then:  1. Identify the inop engine – Either use the “dead leg, dead engine” method or by scanning the gauges…or both. 2. Verify the inop engine – fully retard the suspected engine’s throttle lever, if everything goes real quiet, you have identified the wrong engine. Try again. If nothing changes, you proceed to the next step.  3. Feather the affected prop by fully retarding the correct propeller lever. Everything should get easier at this point. This should all be done quickly and carefully…if you’re in cruise or descent, you can do a little trouble shooting to try and restore power, but on takeoff, you better be on your game.

So, what’s the problem with the Titan? Just pull the prop lever back into feather, right? Well, It doesn’t work. Pulling back the lever using the pointer or a throttle console just puts the prop into a courser pitch, not fully into feather. To get it in to feather you have to do the CTRL+F2 thing, which will move it the rest of the way into feather along with moving the other propeller back a bit, too. This makes me crazy! Why not just have it move the rest of the way into feather? Yeah, I could do a bunch of faffing around with my console control manager or FSUIPC to get it to work….but then something will invariably go wrong with settings for other planes or something. What about folks who don’t have a throttle console or FSUIPC?  Again, maybe they have a reason for this, I don’t know; I once asked Carenado about this and they gave me no explanation.  Other developers make it work like it should.

Another problem I have with the systems is the omission of a vacuum pump on the left  engine. If you turn off the left engine, you lose all vacuum pressure, which means the pilot’s attitude indicator goes away. Most twins have vacuum pumps on both engines……including the 404. 

That’s not the only issue with the vacuum system. If the left engine is turned off, you lose vacuum, which means you lose the vacuum instruments…..which they got wrong. The vacuum driven gyro instruments should be the pilot’s attitude indicator and the copilot’s HSI. The Pilot’s HSI and copilot’s Attitude indicator (it even says “DC” on it) should be electric for obvious reasons. On the Alabeo 404, ALL the gyro instruments are vacuum powered. So, if you lose your vacuum pump or the left engine in the clouds or night, you‘re hosed. No back-ups. This is a real basic screw-up. Better turn off any failures.   

Almost done with my complaining, I promise.

I have to mention the Garmin 430….just like Carenado, it’s just a dressed up default unit. They did add Flight1 GTN and RealityXP capability, and I would recommend adding either of these units if you want some realistic GPS action. Unfortunately that’s more money to spend if you don’t have them already. 

Alabeo has fitted the Carenado Avidyne MFD, which is fine….it adds some useful features. This MFD is pretty good, I don’t have anything against it, but why add the separate radar unit if the Avidyne has it also? It doesn’t make sense to me, but not a big deal. 

No OAT gauge. An OAT gauge is required for IFR flight….I can’t find it. 

There is a knob just above the ADF that confuses me. It’s not labeled and I when I turn it, nothing seems to happen. I keep trying it in hope something will light up or move……

One last nit-pick. I'm a little disappointed with the documentation. Besides having to dig for it in the simobjects folder, they haven't given a whole lot of information on operation and systems, etc. They have included checklists and some performance charts, but no manuals or such. Anyone know the climb power settings? 

The night lighting is nice. I like that I can adjust different zones with the little sliders…..well, most of the zones. The flight instruments and engine gauges don’t seem to change, just on or off. And, I haven’t figured out how to turn off the passenger’s cabin lights. 

It might seem like I’m being harsh on Alabeo, but I really like the planes they turn out, and I don’t want them to get lazy with the overall quality of their products. Their 404 is a great plane with a few issues that hopefully will get fixed and not get spread to the next product. As they move to bigger and faster planes, I hope they will keep improving the systems and not just focus on the shiny parts. Please, please get some good beta testers involved and listen to them.

Anyway, in spite of the few hiccups, I really like this plane. I will be looking forward to the next Alabeo release with much anticipation.  

-E.K. Hoffen