MilViz takes on one of flight simulation’s favourite aircraft
FS2002 introduced several new features including AI traffic and built-in ATC and it also added the first GA twin of the ‘modern’ FS era, the Beechcraft B58 Baron. The Baron became an instant hit with FS enthusiasts, in part due to its speed, range and sleek styling. Interestingly, it is also the only GA piston twin ever offered ‘out of the box’ in Flight Simulator. It should not be a surprise then that third-party developers looked at its popularity and decided that the FS market was ripe for a more feature-laden and realistic Baron model than that of the default simulation.
Clash of the Barons
The latest entry into FS Baron market is from Colin Pearson’s MilViz (short for Military Visualizations) which has been steadily carving out a place for itself in the competitive world of FS add-ons. Previous entries in this contest have been from Dreamfleet and Carenado – though those models depict the longer B58 variant. With the bulk of its releases being orientated towards military fixed-wing and rotor aircraft, GA light twins may seem an unlikely addition to its portfolio, but MilViz is not exactly new to that arena. Its previous release, the Cessna C-310R (reviewed in PC Pilot issue 76), is a very nice representation of that iconic aircraft that I can heartily recommend. This release actually includes two models, the 260 horsepower Continental IO-470 powered B55 and later E55 – with the E55 offering a more powerful 285 horsepower Continental IO-520 which brought with it shorter take-offs and higher speeds.
My first impression of the MilViz Baron was that nothing jumped out and grabbed my attention, but like the 310, its visual details sneak up on you as you get closer and begin to notice things such as the very realistic and effective bump mapping on the engine cowls and fuselage, and the specular shine reflecting off the windows. If you look a bit closer still, you’ll notice that each of the six included schemes have seen some use in their day, showing definite signs of wear such as chipped and worn paint around the doors and access areas. Take the time to crawl around the underside and you will find some exquisite modelling and texturing in the undercarriage area. If you are into ‘rivet counting’ on FS models, you will have a field day here as every single rivet and fastener is present. I have to take my hat off to MilViz model and texture creator Ilona Debryskinisyeka for the apparent ‘labour of love’ that she put into modelling this aircraft.
One of the features that we have come to expect with the better aircraft add-ons is exterior animations and the MilViz Baron brings a small, but well presented, assortment which includes a set of chocks, cowl inlet covers and pitot covers. Another nifty little trick is a button to switch from a two-blade to a three-blade prop in real time, which can be selected from the same pop-up control panel as the other animations.
Please, step inside
Once you open the door and step inside, you will immediately notice the most apparent difference between the 55 models and the 58 that we are more familiar with. Like its cousin, the Bonanza, the Baron 55 has a four-place interior rather than the six-place ‘club seating’ arrangement found in the 58 models. At the business end of the cockpit you will find a distinctly ‘classic’ panel configuration that has been nicely upgraded with Garmin GNS 530 and GNS 430 GPS units as well as a Garmin GTX 330 transponder. This might be a good time to point out that MilViz provides a set of very comprehensive PDF manuals for the operation of each of the avionics systems as well as a 139-page POH (Pilot Operating Handbook) for the aircraft itself. Interestingly, I found no mention of the Bendix King autopilot in any of the manuals and though its operation is similar to that of the default FS unit, there is just enough difference to require a little explanation.
Like the exterior, the interior is evidence that a lot of time and skill went into the building of this model. Everything is beautifully modelled and again, each fastener and panel looks like it was pulled from the real thing. Once again, a great deal of care was invested in the textures which bear even the closest scrutiny. There is no mistaking that complete with its oh-so-chic woodgrain trim, this B55 hails from the 1970s or ’80s and if you are looking for a shiny, new showroom aircraft, this may not be the aircraft for you. The panels, yokes and various bits of interior trim have a distinctly ‘lived-in’ look with obvious signs of wear and tear. I make a special point of mentioning this because these effects are very difficult to texture convincingly and it would have been much simpler for MilViz to just make them new and shiny.
One of the little oddities that I came across is a ‘hot’ switchable configuration for the avionics stack. Below the stack is a switch that changes the placement of the components slightly and adds or removes a metal filler plate at the bottom. Since it doesn’t actually change any of the components and actually obscures the bottom buttons on the GNS 430, I’m really not sure of its purpose.
As for the working end of the cockpit, you will find true 3D gauges with reflective bezels that realistically pick up light and objects in front of them. Like the rest of the interior, the gauge faces come from large 2048×2048 texture sheets and will stay crisp at even the closest range. Fast refresh rates make the gauges perform as well as they look adding to an immersive cockpit environment.
Other nice touches include a co-pilot’s seat that tilts and moves forward for rear passenger ingress, plus an adjustable pilot’s seat and flip-down sun visors. The night lighting does a wonderful job of illuminating the cockpit without being harsh, though the addition of backlit gauges would have been a nice finishing touch rather than the ‘one light illuminates all’ approach.
Come fly with me
Since flying is what it is all about after all, how does the MilViz Baron measure up? Quite nicely I must say. From the moment you rotate for the first time, you will notice how stable and predictable this bird is. A little trimming is all it takes to initiate a nearly hands-off climb, cruise or descent. Turns feel nimble without being heavy and both models (especially the E55) are happy to climb without struggle just as their real counterparts.
FDE designers John Cagle and Berndt Stolle did their fair share of homework to get the flight dynamics right, since both the B and E models come in pretty much right on the numbers. Both clean and dirty stalls happened right where they were supposed to and just after the buzzer sounds, you will see your left wing begin to dip as does the real Baron. I would like to express a word of caution though. Do not dawdle once it does because failure to recover quickly will inevitably lead to an unrecoverable spin, which, by the way, has also been very nicely (if not ominously) modelled.
A tale of two autopilots
A FIRST TOUR OF THE MILVIZ BARON 55 might become a little confusing when you reach the autopilot… or should I say autopilots? Nestled among the array of modern avionics in the centre of the instrument panel lies the nice new Bendix King unit that drives the aircraft, but if you look just behind the left side of the yoke you will find an additional Century IV autopilot that was apparently original equipment with this type. You will also find that it is inoperative. It was put there to portray an aircraft that has been updated, but with the original autopilot left to fill the hole. So just to save you a little frustration, don’t spend a lot of time trying to make it work!
The final tally
From the first time I visited the MilViz website, I noticed that this Baron 55 package has been under development for quite a long time and spending a fair bit of time flying it tells me why. A great deal of work, thought, skill and care went into its design and construction and it shows not only in its beautiful appearance but in the way it flies. Even the documentation, where so many other developers just don’t ‘deliver’, is tremendously thorough and informative. Though FSX may come with a perfectly good Baron 58, any GA piston twin lover owes it to them self to invest in a high-fidelity model like this one to really capture the essence of flying a Baron.
By Tony Radmilovich
At a glance: As enjoyable to fly as to look at. The MilViz Beechcraft Baron 55 beautifully captures the essence of flying this classic high performance twin.
System Requirements: FSX SP2 or Acceleration. It is also designed for newer systems. Minimum requirements are 2.6 Core 2 Duo, 512MB Video Card and 300MB of free disk space.