Alabeo C207 Skywagon

FSX. Having learnt to fly on the four seater Cessna 172, I was naturally excited when the time came to step up to the ‘six place’ Cessna 200 series family. The 206 is definitely an aeroplane intended as a business machine rather than a training airframe, with its double entry cabin entry doors in the rear, and capacity to haul around between 1300 lbs and 1600 lbs of money making payload (depending on the variant)- making it a workhouse renowned worldwide for its versatility and profitability for its owners.

Like many others from the Wichita factory, the 207 idea originated as an extension of a smaller sibling, in this case being the 206. Essentially a Stationair with an extra back seat, the Skywagon fuselage is 1.21 metres longer with a forward cargo locker added ahead of the firewall, and the double cabin doors positioned further aft allowing them both to open even whilst full flap is lowered (a notorious flaw that wasn’t possible on the 206). The wings, wing struts, fuselage and tail section were each strengthened to cope with the increased 200 lbs of extra payload, with the maximum all up weight improved from 3600 lbs to 3800 lbs. The four bolt wing attachment from the 206 was modified to a six bolt configuration, and tubular steel landing gear on the mains fitted along with an all new nose wheel steering section.

[Note: For format purposes, some images are cropped.  Click each image for full size resolution preview.]

6 Included Liveries. All With & Without Fairings. 

Whilst I haven’t logged time in the 207 myself yet (there are only two left registered in New Zealand at the time of writing), I’ve spoken to pilots who have operated them, and the general consensus was that having transferred up from the 206, the apparent power to weight performance wasn’t as generous.  This next quote perhaps sums up this point perfectly: “Handling and performance wise, the C207 is a dog. If you try to do in a C207 what you can easily do in the C206, be careful! It will kill you.” Operators preferred to use the larger capacity 207 on shorter routes, where the weight of fuel in the wing tanks could be traded in for extra fare paying passengers, to make the most of the 1910 lbs of useable weight.

However when I saw Alabeo start sharing preview screenshots for this model, there was something about the appearance that grabbed my attention and lured me in. I don’t know if was the aircrafts extra long nose, giving it the illusion of a great big powerful engine, or  the unproportionally long length of the fuselage, mimicking that of a limousine, but either way, I’d watched enough bush pilots throwing them around on Flying Wild Alaska to know that I wanted to give it a crack myself. The challenge would be to fully load it up in the sim, then attempt to fly it in and out of some airstrips that were perhaps right on the edge of its capability, to see if it was possible to tame the beast! 

Carenado had already set the bar for this shape of aeroplane with their 2013 release of the T206H, which I have been enjoying the quality modelling and flying characteristics of for many months now. The finish of all the Alabeo aircraft seems to be on par with their sister company, with both their C177 Cardinal and D17 Staggerwing addons in my virtual hanger getting plenty of flight time. The virtual cockpit visuals in particular impress me the most, with small attention to detail elements, such as the subtle wear and tear on fabric, and light scratching on the panels and Perspex surfaces creating a believable flying environment that really sets their general aviation products apart from the competition.  

Right, so the important bits first. US $29.95 is pretty dear for a lighty, but by the end of this review, hopefully I can convince you that the price tag is worth it! The 277mb .zip file includes a dual installer for both FSX and P3D, and features two models of aircraft: Regular and Bush, with the only noticeable difference on the latter variant being the absence of wheel spats for those rough unpaved runway surfaces you’ll be visiting in it!

Alabeo have included a simplified Garmin 530 GPS on both models, with RealityXP integration possible. Abundant 3D crafted knobs with reflective analogue gauge faces (that may be switched off to boost FPS) are included as you’d expect, and custom startup vibration and volumetric propeller effects have been listed on the Alabeo website as standout features. Whilst the rattle and shakes are noticeable and appreciated when starting up this heavy six cylinder Continental, the result isn’t anywhere close to an Accusim experience. The generic sounding engine audio has also attracted a little criticism from customers on various online message boards, but unless you’re a real purist, it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment factor. (In the real world you’d be wearing a headset to muffle the majority of  sound coming from forward of the firewall anyway.)

The exterior model is crafted cleanly, cleverly looking both new and old at the same time with the dynamic light reflections and weather paint textures, full of scratches and faded paintwork. The only disappointing aspect from my point of view, if at all, would be the lack of an openable forward cargo door, instead represented by a flat 2D outline drawn on in the .dds paint file. Apparently, the latches on said door had a tendency to wear out faster than expected and occasionally popped open from engine vibration on the takeoff roll, giving the pilot and passengers quite a fright. If Alabeo had been able to code this action as a random failure, it would have been brilliant to see from the VC view!

Anyhow, in to FSX now, after choosing my new Skywagon from the aircraft menu, the next thing I did was to hit the Fuel and Payload button. 100% fuel in both left and right tanks (158 litres a side), and 80 KG in each passenger seat, plus 75 KG in the nose locker brings the aircraft up to its maximum gross weight. As you can imagine, with the rear luggage locker so far back, it would be easy to overload the aircraft and bring the CoG aft of its limit. Particularly during unloading after landing, the tail could fall down on itself if care wasn't taken to keep some weight up the front end. Rumor has it that 207 pilots could pull the tail down touch the ground during preflight checks, and if it rose up again, the CoG was far enough forward! You can deliberately do this in the sim, and turn the 207 into a non flyable taildragger for the sake of illustrating this if you wish.

For the flight testing I wanted to simulate some typical 207 ops in New Zealand, picking up a hunting party from a regional airport with a decent sized sealed runway, and then heading out into the bush to isolated narrow grass airstrips with slopes, difficult approach obstacles and one way limitations. If you own either Orbx FTX NZNI, NZSI or the Vector Land Class scenery packages, there are ample opportunities to do this.

On my first day with the 207, I selected Taupo (NZAP) as my departure point and set out for the Taharua Badlands strip (N609) with a self-imposed rule to not take a single screenshot, but rather prioritise learning the handling characteristics and nailing the V speeds from the flight manual (found in the aircraft folder directory rather than a shift and number combination within the sim). A point to remember is that these values are displayed in miles per hour, rather than knots on the air speed indicator! Climbing at 25”/2500rpm seemed to work nicely, with 24”/2400rpm square for the cruise. Above 3000 feet, I managed to learn the mixture to around 14gph (52 litres per hour), although one particular pilot I talked to said his company used to lean back to 12gph (45 litres per hour) which isn’t a bad consumption rate for an old IO-520!

At MAUW, the roll motion was definitely as sluggish as expected, although with moderate turbulence set up in my weather configuration screen, the weight of the laden aircraft aided it’s penetration through the bumps and it steadily hung in the air after a bit of rudder trim application. Positioning onto final for the first strip took several attempts to get right, with the high inertia in the turn leading me to overshoot the centreline roll out. I bounced nearly every touchdown during my first half a dozen landings as well, with a bad habit of chopping the manifold pressure far too early on the approach, leading to a high rate of sink come touchdown. A squeeze of power left on in the flare to hold the nose up fixed this, especially when deliberately coming in at the bottom of the white arc for the shorter airstrips. 

The following day, I based myself at Masteron (NZMS) and toured the local strips (N512, N513, N515, N516, and NZFT), either making touch and goes with a hasty retraction of full flap, or screeching on the brakes to the far end of the grass, before making a U-turn for an opposite direction departure. 

The flight manual states a pretty optimistic  ground run of 1100ft (335m) on takeoff, and 765ft on landing (233m) at sea level and ISA conditions, so I wanted to see if I could get anywhere close to these figures. It is fair to say that I was coming in pretty close to the flap down stall speed of 68mph on some occasions, with a very high nose. In fact I was having to ctrl+shift+backspace to raise my VC viewpoint to see over the cowl on some occasions, and I’d imagine this would have the 207 a very difficult aircraft to land flapless, or a very easy tricycle aircraft to tail strike!

On my third day of testing, I chose Milford Sound (NZMF) as my starting location, frequented by several sight seeing companies with 207’s until recently. Quintin (T004) was my first destination, down a series of steep sided valleys due south of the airport, known to be a difficult approach even on a calm day. I can land a C172 here well with a bit of concentration in the sim, although if I had been given keys to an actual 207, I definitely wouldn’t be attempting  this for real… long story short, I couldn’t keep it straight enough in the landing roll and the wingtips got covered in with some of the local native foliage- whoops!

A quick patch up and spin around saw a maximum performance takeoff, initially climbing up at VX ( Best angle) 76MPH to clear the trees before heading back to the Sound, out to sea and a turn north along to coast to Martins Bay. Next to the Hollyford River mouth are two airstrips in close proximity, Martins Bay Lodge (NZMJ) and Jerusalem Creek (N272), both used as a base for trampers (hikers)walking the famous Hollyford Track through the Southern Alps. 

The dimensions of these strips were similar to Quintin, 500m long and rather narrow, although the approach area is much broader and open, allowing one to take their time setting up. I was thankfully able to get in and out of NZMJ, recirculate, do the same at N272, and get airborne again without further discrediting myself. It was at this point that I glanced towards the wide open photoreal beach and thought- I might as well stick it on the shoreline to finish the day. Unfortunately different densities of wet and dry sand and wheel sink aren’t modelled in FSX, but I thought it would make a good photo opportunity none the less!

I’m sure there are countless other countries where this sort of flying could be repeated, with the western Alaskan wilderness and Okavango Delta springing to mind. It would be nice to have seen a turbo charged variant with a little more grunt included, but at the same time, the diminished power to weight ratio makes flying this aircraft without pranging it a rewarding task with operating off airport. I also thought it would be cool for Alabeo to add 3D passengers visible from the spot view according to how many passengers you load from the FSX payload menu, as the big empty cabin can feel a bit lonely. An internal cargo configuration would have worked just as well. Another gripe I had was when turning the fuel selector from left to right, or vica verca with the floor tank selector, the engine briefly cuts out passing the off position before coming to life again. In the real world, I’m sure the existing fuel in the lines to the manifolds would continue providing power for a wee while before anything coughed and spluttered, so I found this annoying when balancing the tank weights. Overall however I am very pleased with the product and happily endorse it to my fellow simmers!

Andrew U.