Throughout the history of aviation there have been aircraft which have truly captured the imagination of flight. Some because of their design and innovation, others for exploits in wars, and yet others for their performance. Then there are those aircraft which have been made famous simply by the pilots who flew them. The Aero Commander 500 is one such aircraft. A twin engined, light business aircraft, the Aero Commander 500 had a staid reputation due to its bulky shape, at least until the famed Bob Hoover got behind the controls. What Bob Hoover did in the Aero Commander 500 is not only a testament to his personal flying skills but also to the strength of this great aircraft.
In years past, the flight simming community has enjoyed the marvellous Milton Shupe freeware models of the Aero Commander 500 family for FS9 and FS2002. I, for one, have enjoyed countless hundreds of hours flying cargo runs in and out of some tight little airstrips in these aircraft.
Finally though, the community has been provided with an Aero Commander 500 for FSX and P3D and Carenado's release of the Aero Commander 500S 'Shrike Commander' has been much anticipated. For those who loved flying the earlier freeware versions of this aircraft you can now relive those experiences and for those looking for something new, well this is an aircraft worth serious consideration.
The Aero Commander 500S 'Shrike Commander' is a twin engine, high wing monoplane with a conventional tail, in the general aviation aircraft category intended for a light business role. It is powered by a pair of Lycoming IO-540-E1B5, air cooled, six cylinder, horizontally opposed, fuel injected, 290 hp engines and has seating for up to five passengers.
Originally designed in the early 1940s by the newly formed Aero Design and Engineering Company, later to become Aero Commander (1950) and then a Division of Rockwell International (from 1965). The prototype first flew on 23 April 1948 and after certification on 30 June 1950, the first production aircraft rolled out of the factory in August 1951. After an extensive production run across multiple variants, both civilian and military, and including turboprop variants, production culminated in 1986.
The Carenado Aero Commander 500S 'Shrike Commander' is currently available direct from Carenado and Carenado resellers as a download only product (some resellers also offer a master back-up CD / DVD service for a minor additional cost). It is priced at US$37.95, or the equivalent on currency cross rates. The download file size is 417MB and it requires 0.98GB of HDD space for installation. An activation key is issued on purchase and is used during installation and the installation process is intuitive and seamless.
General Overview. The somewhat unique and squat design of the Aero Commander 500S 'Shrike Commander' is evident from first views. Sitting low to the ground, it certainly appears bulky and with probably the most noticeable feature being the unusually oversized appearance of the main undercarriage struts and wheels. Nonetheless, its ungainly appearance also has a solid look and feel and provides an overall level of reassurance that the aircraft will deliver against its intended purpose.
Exterior. The Aero Commander 500S 'Shrike Commander' portrays a solid, functional, and fit for purpose design and there is nothing pretentious in the aircraft's lines. The extended, pointed nose is typical of the later Aero Commander 500 variants and also a typical feature of similar aircraft of this era, while the elongated rear fuselage provides space for baggage storage. The high mounted wings have a rather pronounced dihedral with unique winglets, and the triple bladed, Lycoming engines are housed in very compact and efficient cowlings.
Interior. Carenado has modelled the interior on a standard passenger configuration for the variant in a club seating arrangement. Textured seating, carpet, and padded side panels are typical of the era and consistent with the quality seen in the Carenado model range. The cabin is luxuriously appointed, although a little grungy, but consistent with the light business role the aircraft was designed for. The model is presented with a degree of wear and tear, particularly in the cockpit and the carpets, giving the true appearance and feel of an aircraft which has given solid service in its life. This is a pleasant change from the sometimes sanitary environments seen in aircraft add-ons.
Flight Instruments and Systems.The cockpit of the Aero Commander 500S 'Shrike Commander' represents the typical layout for the Aero Commander 500 series and the production period. The standard analogue flight instruments are typical of the model range and consistent with an aircraft of this category and age, and they are supplemented with the Garmin GNS 530 GPS unit and the Century III / Altimatic IIIc autopilot. This autopilot was typically installed on Piper aircraft and is similar to the autopilot units seen in other Carenado / Alabeo aircraft models.
Models and Liveries. The Aero Commander 500S 'Shrike Commander' is provided in a single model with six individual liveries (a selection only shown below). Each aircraft has a unique aircraft registration number and there is an additional blank texture for aircraft painting enthusiasts. The supplied paint schemes are of a retro style, again, consistent with the production era, and one presented in the livery of an Australian Customs Coastwatch aircraft. Displaying high quality, the surface textures, reflections, and shadings, along with additional scuff marks, scrape effects, dirt, oil, and grease stains, give each aircraft a realistic appearance.
Carenado's rendition of the Aero Commander 500S 'Shrike Commander' is highly detailed and accurate, the visual quality is excellent, and it provides a faithful representation of the real world aircraft. All elements of the cockpit are clear and easy to read, with various alternative cockpit camera views available to provide more detailed clarity. Any noted visual variations were minor and are considered to be related to real world production variations or a degree of artistic licence on the part of the developer. Any noted issues and variations with cockpit functions and operation were considered minor and / or in the interests of simplifying the function for practical flight simulator use. Specific attention to the manual for the correct operation of the Century III / Altimatic IIIc autopilot flight system will ease any frustration or confusion in its operation
The animations of the primary and secondary control surfaces and other moving elements on the Aero Commander 500S 'Shrike Commander' are all modelled faithfully and include:
primary control surfaces - ailerons, elevator, and rudder;
secondary control surfaces - flaps;
others - elevator and rudder trim tabs, cockpit and cabin doors, baggage compartment door, cockpit windows; and
various static elements.
The lighting and lighting effects on the 500S 'Shrike Commander' are very good and are a realistic representation of the real world aircraft. The engine sounds are a very good representation, delivering a deep throaty and reverberating sound from idle and through the range, and with good stereo separation with view movement in the Virtual Cockpit view and external views.
The general characteristics and performance specifications for the Aero Commander 500S 'Shrike Commander' are provided in the table. This is based on data from the official Aero Commander 500S 'Shrike Commander' Pilot Operating Handbook, data provided by Carenado, and general research sources. Some of this data varies between sources and also may be an approximation due to variances in data and the specific aircraft modelled by Carenado.
A specific Test Flight was conducted to test the flight performance of Carenado's Aero Commander 500S 'Shrike Commander'. The flight was conducted in clear weather with a full fuel load and the aircraft at maximum take-off weight (MTOW). A cruise altitude of 7,000 ft was adopted and the route distance was particularly chosen to provide a basis upon which to test the range characteristics of the 500S 'Shrike Commander'.
The aircraft was easy to taxi. With flaps set at 1/4, aircraft rotation occurred at approximately 75 KIAS and effortlessly lifted off the runway, with a climb out which was consistent with the performance specifications for the aircraft. The 500S 'Shrike Commander' is very agile and it quickly establishes on the climb to cruise and climbed effortlessly until the aircraft was established at the cruise altitude.
During cruise, a power setting was established for cruise as per the performance tables. This cruise setting produced an average speed, fuel flow rate and an endurance reasonably consistent with the performance tables and the characteristics of the aircraft. Any noted variances in performance were minor and had negligible impact on the operation of the aircraft. The Test Flight confirms the modelling of the aircraft for speed and range performance to be reasonably accurate.
Configured for landing, with full flaps, and trimmed for a descent rate of approximately 500 ft/min, the aircraft's approach speed was approximately 90 KIAS and it touched down at approximately 75 KIAS, with a landing roll out comparable with the specifications for the aircraft.
In testing the accuracy of the instruments, based on the measured Test Flight, the speed indications on the airspeed indicator, were consistent with the averages measured. Additionally, when establishing a set rate of climb on the vertical speed indicator, the respective gain in altitude on the altimeter was achieved within the measured minute, and a standard rate turn was achieved within the measured two minute period using the turn coordinator.
There are six primary manuals / documents provided in Adobe Acrobat format (.pdf) for the Aero Commander 500S 'Shrike Commander':
Aero Commander 500S Autopilot Operation - this three page document details the operating of the autopilot flight system;
Aero Commander 500S Performance Tables - this six page document details the performance tables for the aircraft;
Aero Commander 500S References - this two page document details the airspeed limitations for the aircraft;
Aero Commander 500S Normal Procedures - this 10 page manual details the procedures for the normal operation of the aircraft;
Aero Commander 500S Emergency Procedures - this nine page manual details the emergency procedures for the aircraft; and
Recommended Settings - this two page document details recommended display and realism settings for the aircraft.
Additional documents provide information for P3D users and information on the integration of the Flight1 GTN 750 and Reality XP GNS 530 GPS units.
On a value for money assessment, the Carenado Aero Commander 500S 'Shrike Commander' is considered very good.
The aircraft model performed excellently within the existing settings I have in FSX. I have most of my settings set very high and there was no need to make any adjustments. There was no discernible frame rate impact directly attributable to the Carenado Aero Commander 500S 'Shrike Commander' and FSX continued to perform smoothly.
This version of the Carenado Aero Commander 500S 'Shrike Commander' is for FSX / FSX SE / P3D v2.5 or v3.0 only. Other specified technical requirements are as follows:Windows XP (with SP3 installed), Vista, or Windows 7 (32 or 64bit);
The Aero Commander 500S 'Shrike Commander' is a fantastic aircraft and Carenado have delivered again with a highly detailed and accurate model. The overall performance characteristics of the 500S 'Shrike Commander' are as you would expect and they make this a great aircraft to fly. I bet you could even pour a cup of iced tea whilst executing a 1g roll, just like Bob Hoover used to do.