In aviation history, many aircraft designs are often over-shadowed. Sometimes it is due to the timing of the design and production, others because they were not common in mainstream use, or simply because other models were more popular and / or were produced in far more prolific numbers. The latter was certainly the case for the Curtiss-Wright C-46 Commando (sometimes referred to as the Curtiss C-46 Commando) which operated in the shadow of its more famous contemporary, the Douglas DC-3. Capable of carrying a payload of over twice that of the Douglas DC-3, and with a pressurised cabin, the C-46 Commando was most famous in its operations in the China – Burma – India Theatre of World War II. Proving to be the only aircraft capable of handling the wide range of adverse conditions flying "The Hump", it became the mainstay of operations in this theatre.
The C-46 Commando is another aircraft which has not attracted much attention as a commercial payware add-on for the flight sim community. A number of freeware versions have been developed over the years but some of these date back some years and for earlier iterations of flight simulators. Just Flight's association with Aeroplane Heaven, has focused on bringing a range of historical and extraordinary aircraft into the realm of the current generation of fight simulators. The C-46 Commando is another of these aircraft, and one which will appeal to flight simmers looking for that rugged passenger / cargo aircraft capable of flying into areas that others dare not go.
The Curtiss-Wright C-46 Commando is a low wing, twin engine, monoplane, with a retractable, tailwheel landing gear. Powered by two Pratt and Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp, 18 cylinder, air cooled, 2,000 hp (1,492 kW), radial engines, it is capable of seating up to 34 passengers, 40 troops, or carrying 15,000 lbs (6,800 kg) of cargo.
The prototype for what would become the C-46, the CW-20, was designed in 1937 as a private venture intended to compete with the Boeing Stratoliner and Douglas DC-4. The design utilised a patented fuselage conventionally referred to as a "figure eight" (or "double bubble") which enabled it to better withstand the pressure differential at high altitudes. This fuselage design was to give the C-46 Commando a very distinctive look. Presented to airlines as a 24 to 34 seat airliner, sufficient letters of intent and subsequent interest from the military was enough to proceed to production. With a first flight on 25 March 1940, the aircraft was introduced in 1941. Through its production life, the C-46 Commando went through a range of upgrades, with the USA military being the prime customer. When production ended in 1945, a total of 3,181 had been produced.
The Just Flight C-46 Commando is currently available direct from Just Flight and Just Flight resellers as a download only product (some resellers also offer a master back-up CD / DVD service for a minor additional cost). It is normally priced at £24.99, or the equivalent on currency cross rates. The download file size is 420MB and it requires 2GB of HDD/SSD space for installation. You are required to log in to your Just Flight account during installation to verify your purchase and the installation process which is intuitive and seamless.
The major model features of the C-46 Commando include:accurately modelled using official real world aircraft plans;
General Overview. There is no mistaking the Curtiss-Wright C-46 Commando. An imposing aircraft for its era, it has very distinctive lines. The size of the aircraft certainly gives the impression that it is workhorse, and one which can deal with jobs greater than and more demanding than its contemporaries. The modelling is very good and fully captures the design and purpose of the aircraft.
Exterior. The nose, cockpit window layout, and "figure eight" fuselage design are distinctive and set this aircraft apart from others. Notwithstanding the "figure eight" fuselage, the mid fuselage and wing area look similar to the Douglas DC-3 before giving way to the empennage and noticeably large vertical stabiliser. The size and shape of the vertical stabiliser design is also typical of other Curtiss-Wright designs. The C-46 Commando's big R-2800 Double Wasp radial engines are imposing, protruding well forward from the wing mounts, and they leave no doubt about the power and capability of the aircraft. The external model is of a high quality, displaying wonderful detail and the features of the aircraft.
Interior. The C-46 Commando is a workhorse and the interior reflects the aircraft's primary role. The interior is modelled on the various configurations, depending on the chosen livery, with the main entry to the cabin being via the passenger and small and large cargo doors on the rear left side of the fuselage. An additional forward door on the left side provides access to the cockpit. Although a cargo door is modelled on the right side, this is only visual and cannot be opened. The cabin area is typically spacious, with different configurations depending on the selected livery. There are no detailed internal views of the cabin area and the internal configuration is only visible from external views.
Flight Instruments, Avionics, and Aircraft Systems. The cockpit of the C-46 Commando is characteristic of the aircraft and the production era. A military (traditional) and modern instrument fitout is provided depending on the selected livery. In both cases, the primary flight instruments are all analogue with the modern fitout being presented with more modern versions of these instruments, and including a Bendix-King KR 87 ADF unit and the addition of a Garmin GNS 430 GPS unit. The cockpit panel displays evidence of wear marks, but the quality of the textures and rendering for the cockpit and instruments falls short of real high quality. Two marvellous features of the aircraft's systems are the realistic engine start up procedure and the fuel system. These systems replicate the real world aircraft and some attention to the manual may be necessary.
Lighting, Animations, and Sounds. The night lighting effect in the cockpit provides an excellent representation of the night lighting in the real world aircraft. The C-46 Commando includes the typical range of animations and static elements you would expect for such an aircraft. The engine sounds are an excellent representation of the C-46 Commando's big R-2800 Double Wasp radial engines, producing a lovely deep burbling sound at idle, which increases to a deep roar as the throttles are advanced. With a good surround sound system, you can literally feel the engines reverberate through your body and the engine sounds provide good stereo separation in both the internal and external views.
Models and Liveries. The C-46 Commando is provided in three models, military, cargo, and civilian, with 19 individual liveries (a selection showing below) provided across the model range. There is also a PSD paint kit available for aircraft painting enthusiasts. Displaying high quality, the surface textures, reflections, and shadings, give each aircraft a very good appearance. Whilst fuselage weathering and wear and tear marks, and dirt, exhaust, oil, and grease stains, add to the realistic presentation of the aircraft.
Issues. It is unclear which actual variant of the C-46 Commando has been modelled by Aeroplane Heaven. This is further confounded by the descriptions for each of the liveries which suggest no less than four variants are represented, namely the C-46A, C-46C, C-46D, and R5C-1 variants. The modelling of the cargo door on the rear starboard side of the fuselage was only introduced on the C-46F variant, but this variant also had squared off wing tips which are not represented on the aircraft. Whilst such issues would normally be considered as reasonable artistic licence, when this is stretched across four variants, with the fuselage of a fifth variant represented but not with the corresponding wing shape, it takes it beyond reasonable and crosses into a lack of attention to detail. Furthermore, a listed feature for the aircraft is "...modelled tread-blocks on the tires...", and in deed they are modelled and they look great. Come on though, let's be serious, tread blocks on the tyres, oh, how twee! When I fly, strange is it might sound, I fly from the cockpit, and even if I did view the outside of the aircraft, it is normally during flight and the gear is retracted anyway! Now, having such a listed feature as tread blocks on tyres would suggest other similarly fine detail, but sadly, no, that is where it stops. With such detail on the tyres, I would also expect to see a similar level of fine detail on the skin of the aircraft, such as rivets and screws on the panels. At best, you get seam lines where the panels meet. On the interior, most major elements of the instrumentation are clear and easy to read, but they lack any type of reflections on the instrument glass. In some instances it even appears some instruments have no glass. This lack of finer detail falls short of expectations for an add-on for the current series of flight simulators. A significant issue was noticed regarding the radio sets for the aircraft. As indicated in the manual, both military and modern aircraft are meant to have the traditional radio tuners in the overhead panel with these acting as a standby on the modern version. However, in all instances, the traditional radio sets do not exist and on the military models the Collins Microline radio stack is in the overhead panel. At which stage in development this changed is unclear but it is certainly not what is presented in the main manual, nor is it mentioned anywhere on the product support page on the Just Flight web site. An issue which is consistent with previous models produced by Aeroplane Heaven is the Garmin GNS 430 GPS unit. A 2D pop-up is available for the GPS, however, it uses the default Garmin GNS 500 GPS unit, a unit which lacks some of the functionality of the GNS 430 GPS unit.
Summary and Variations. Notwithstanding the issues, the C-46 Commando exhibits wonderful modelling and texture quality. Both the exterior and interior renditions of are detailed and reasonably accurate, providing a faithful representation of the real world aircraft. Any other 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.
The general characteristics and performance specifications for the C-46 Commando are provided in the table. This is based on data from the official C-46
A specific Test Flight was conducted to test the flight performance of the C-46 Commando. 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 20,000 ft was adopted and the route distance was particularly chosen to provide a basis upon which to test the range characteristics of the aircraft.
The aircraft can be challenging to steer whilst taxiing unless you are used to steering using asymmetric thrust, differential braking, and tailwheel lock, however, with practice, this will quickly become second nature. With trim set to the take-off position, aircraft rotation occurred at approximately 90 KIAS. The twin R-2800 Double Wasp engines provide the C-46 Commando with real power, as the aircraft lumbers into the air and these powerful radial engines enable the aircraft to maintain a steady rate of climb of approximately 1,000 ft/min at 90 KIAS.
During cruise, a cruise power setting was established with a manifold pressure setting of 40.0 inHg and an RPM setting of 2,100 RPM. With this cruise setting, the aircraft trims out and produces a ground speed of approximately 175 kts. At cruise, the performance settings and speed are considered reasonable for what could be expected of the aircraft, though this cannot be verified as no specific cruise settings are provided in the manual. However, during other phases of flight, notably the take-off, initial climb and climb to cruise, it was not possible to achieve the performance settings as outlined in the manual. The Test Flight confirms there are inconsistencies in the modelling of the aircraft against the performance figures in the manual.
Configured for landing, with full flaps, and trimmed for a descent rate of approximately 500 ft/min, the aircraft's approach speed was approximately 95 KIAS and it touched down at approximately 85 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.
The characteristics of the C-46 Commando reasonably met the expectations for this aircraft. The C-46 Commando is a big aircraft and it requires a lot of handling, particularly at slow speeds as it wallows around feeling more like a whale than an aircraft. However, it trims out nicely at cruise speed and its general characteristics are excellent. Overall, the aircraft model displays a reasonable rendition of the flight characteristics, however, the aircraft performance data presented in the manual could not be reproduced in the aircraft in flight.
A manual in Adobe Acrobat format (.pdf) consisting of 41 pages is provided for the C-46 Commando and it covers the necessary aspects for the operation of the aircraft including:
manual engine start procedures,
flying the aircraft, and
An additional three specific quick-start guides are provided for the Collins Microline radios (one page), Garmin GNS 430 GPS unit (27 pages), and the Bendix-King KR 87 ADF unit (three pages). There were noted discrepancies between the manual and the aircraft regarding the radio sets in the military (traditional) aircraft (see the Issues section above).
At £24.99, whilst some areas of the Just Flight C-46 Commando are disappointing, they are compensated for by other features. However, even after two major patch updates, the number of noted issues (and undetected ones too, I'm sure) are barely acceptable. Customers expect far more quality and less issues at this price. Consequently, the Value for Money for the Just Flight C-46 Commando is considered marginal.
The aircraft model performed excellently within the existing settings I have in P3D. 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 Just Flight C-46 Commando and P3D continued to perform smoothly.
This version of the Just Flight C-46 Commando is for FSX/FSX SE/P3D only. Other specified technical requirements are as follows:
FSX with SP2 installed (or Acceleration Pack), FSX Steam Edition, or Prepar3D (v1/v2/v3/v4); and
Pentium V, 2GHz CPU or similar, 2GB RAM, 1GB graphics card, and 2GB available HDD space.
The specifications of the computer on which the review was conducted are as follows:
Intel i7 990X Extreme 3.46GHz;
NVidia GTX980 G1 Gaming, 4GB, 1228/1329MHz;
12GB, Kingston DDR3, 2000MHz, XMP T1 CL9 HyperX;
Windows 7, (64bit); and
Lockheed Martin Prepar3D v4.
Additional Major Add-ons.Active Sky for P3Dv4, Active Sky Cloud Art, SPAD.neXt, FS Global Ultimate region series, Orbx FTX Global BASE, Orbx FTX Global VECTOR, Orbx FTX Global openLC series, Orbx FTX region series, Orbx FTX airport series, and Orbx FTX Trees HD.
The Just Flight C-46 Commando is a lovely aircraft. Aeroplane Heaven's overall modelling of the aircraft is wonderful and they have done a fine job of capturing the visual essence of this aircraft and its flying characteristics. If some of the more detailed and finer modelling was applied more consistently, this would lift the quality of this aircraft considerably, because having tread blocks on the tyres is just simply so twee. The flight characteristics are what you would expect of the Curtiss-Wright C-46 Commando and at MTOW you really get the sense that the aircraft is lumbering. However, there were notable discrepancies in the flight performance data. In so many ways, this is such a great aircraft add-on, but it appears Aeroplane Heaven are again, just not up to the task of producing the level of accuracy required and, indeed, expected. Even more so when claiming "...accurate flight dynamics based on real-world performance and handling data, developed with assistance from real-world C-46 pilots..." and then having a model which appears to fall short in so many areas. It is even more disappointing that after two major patch updates, issues of the nature identified still exist. Nonetheless, it is still a good aircraft to fly and it will certainly appeal to those looking for a unique aircraft with the extra payload capacity. If you can the ignore the identified issues, the Just Flight C-46 Commando is certainly worthy of consideration.