Flying the DC-3 in a Simulator

WARNING: This information is outdated, but still provides some valuable insight to flying the DC-3 in a simulator. This page is more for nostalgic purposes. A large amount of the mentioned add-ons are no longer available.

PilotThe only sure way to increase your enjoyment of flying the DC-3 is to become more proficient. And that's just what will happen if you work your way through the following sections. Nine sections cover the pre-takeoff to landing procedures as well as slow flight and go-arounds. You'll learn and use those procedures in a thirty-minute flight from Newport State, R.I. to Provincetown, Mass. You'll love the 15-minute flight chosen to practice go around and short-field landing techniques and full details are in the Go-Around section. Fly from Quonset Airport, in North Kingstown, Rhode Island to Elizabeth Field on Fishers Island, N.Y. If your approach to Elizabeth Field's 1790 ft Runway 25 isn't perfect, you'll have to exercise a go-around.

We've chosen another airport for the short-field takeoff. It's Myricks Airport near Berkley, Mass., with a 2150 ft. turf runway. Should be a piece of cake with the right technique. See the Takeoff section for details.

The Sperry Autopilot, Fun Flights, and Checklists wrap up this chapter.

The DC-3, like all aircraft, should be "flown by the numbers." To get from one airport to another the pilot must takeoff at the proper speed, climb and descend at established rates and airspeeds, maintain desired headings and altitudes, navigate from one airport to another, perhaps perform an instrument approach to an airport, and land in a variety of wind and runway-surface conditions.

A typical flight has seven segments:

On occasion you'll also encounter two other flight situations:

While everyone has their favorite DC-3 aircraft and panel, Certain panel-aircraft combinations are required for the type-rating flights. These are noted after clicking the "New Pilots Enter Here" menu button. The various panel options are shown below for FS2004 back to FS98. Large-size instruments are on the panels so that you can quickly discern the effects of the flight and power controls. For best quality, video card and monitor permitting, set your Flight Simulator resolution to 1024 x 768 pixels or higher.

FSX Training Panel

Several of the items on the Instrument Panel are worth noting.  

Radio Magnetic Indicator 

RMIThe gauge on the lower left of the panel is a single-needle Radio Magnetic Indicator, the RMI. This gauge is used for ADF navigation. It derives its name from the fact that it indicates both the magnetic heading of the aircraft and the magnetic bearing to a station. Its compass card rotates with the directional gyro and so it accurately indicates the heading of the aircraft even when in turns. The RMI needle always points to the low frequency beacon tuned in by the ADF receiver. The aircraft's nose is straight up on all ADF gauges.

The RMI greatly simplifies ADF navigation since the needle indicates the magnetic bearing to the station, and hence the pilot need only turn the aircraft that heading to home to the beacon—not always, though. Go to the Navigation Tutorial, courtesy of DC-3 Airways Founder Charles Wood, to learn about that plus a lot of other really neat stuff that you can do when flying the ADF.

This ADF indicator shows an aircraft on a 076° heading with a 134° magnetic bearing to the beacon. This particular RMI gauge also digitally displays the bearing to the beacon, which further simplifies navigation. When the ADF receiver is off or the beacon is out of range, three dots appear in the digital window and the indicator's arrow points directly to the right.

Sperry Autopilot 

SperryA second "gauge" that may be unfamiliar is the Sperry "Gyropilot." The Gyropilot was the earliest commercial autopilot and considerably relieved the pilot's task of maintaining heading and altitude, although acceptance by early airline pilots was slow.

The Sperry has fewer functions than its more-modern counterparts. For example, it will not hold a specified altitude nor couple to the Instrument Landing System, the ILS. But with it, a pilot can very acceptably maintain the localizer heading and glide-slope rate of descent. It's kinda fun having some control over that. Makes you feel more like the pilot.

A later section describes the Sperry setup and operation.



Digital Timer 

Digital TimerPilots should be wary when placing a timer on a panel. Many do not function properly in all situations. The timer on our DC-3, also designed by Ike Slack, works properly in every respect: It times correctly while flying, pauses when the Flight Simulator is paused, and continues to time properly in the various view modes. Start and stop the timer with the ST/SP button and after it is stopped, reset it with the RST button. It displays hours, minutes, and seconds.

Use it to time your flights and critical legs of instrument approaches, and as a reminder of when to begin your descent.

Once you begin using this instrument, you'll mount it on every panel, it's that useful. Since you have no copilot, this modern nicety can reduce your workload and eliminate much mental arithmetic.  

Radio Stack 

Radio StackThe default "coffee-grinder" radios in the FS DC-3 were replaced by a digital stack. Note that standby frequencies can be set in, allowing for quicker frequency changes. Pop-up the Radio Stack by clicking the Radio Simicon, idntifiable by its radio-tower image on it.
Click the radio knobs to change the frequencies up or down. Also click the "ID" button on the radio panels to hear the Morse identifier of the actively-tuned navaids.

On the Audio Panel at the bottom of the stack, the Audio Switch must be ON for each receiver that you expect to listen to.

Be certain to place the DME, at the top of the stack, in the Nav-1 position to display the distance to the Nav 1 station. Only Nav 1 is available on this training panel.  

Digital Readouts

Sim iconsThe GPS gauge has been removed from the training DC-3 since it was not available in the era of the DC-3. Note in the image to the left that the GPS Simicon has been replaced with one labeled "DIG." Clicking this Simicon will display digital readouts adjacent to the RMI and adjacent to VOR-1 for its OBS setting. You will find these digital displays helpful during the type-rating flights.

Flying Aircraft with Constant Speed Propellers

DC-3 Throttle QuadrantToo many flight-simmers miss the enjoyment of properly flying aircraft equipped with constant speed propellers. Constant speed props have been on airliners since the DC-3 and no longer is an aircraft "stuck in 2nd gear"—it can move into "first gear" to climb or into "3rd gear" for best cruise.

The constant speed prop adds a propeller control to the power quadrant and a manifold-pressure gauge to the instrument panel.

The drawing to the left is a typical DC-3 throttle quadrant. The engine-controls, from left to right, are the Propeller controls—white, the Throttles—black, and the Mixture controls—red. The robust elevator-trim wheel is to the far left.

The Propeller control sets the RPMs, the Throttle controls the engine power, and the Mixture control sets the ratio of fuel-to-air for the engines.

Mastery of these controls is critical, not only to obtain the best engine performance and propeller efficiency, but to prevent their misapplication, which in the worst case could damage the engines badly enough to require an unscheduled landing.

The Mixture Control varies the ratio of the fuel-to-air supplied to the engines. At sea level, where the air is heavier, more fuel, i.e., a richer mixture, may be fed to the engines. At higher altitudes, with thinner air, the amount of fuel delivered must be lowered, or "leaned out."

The fuel-to-air mixture in a DC-3 is controlled automatically and only one of three mixture-control positions need be selected: Maximum Rich, Auto Rich, and Auto Lean.

The propeller control sets the RPMs of the engine, not by varying the amount of fuel fed to the engine, but by varying the load on the engine. The more load put on an engine, it slows down, the less load, the RPMs increase. Pretty brutal, but that's the way it works. The prop control changes the load by changing the pitch of the propeller. We set the prop control by monitoring the tachometer. A governor on the propeller hub maintains the RPMs to the value set by the pilot.

In Flight Simulator, Ctrl–F1 and Ctrl–F4 are full-low and full-high RPM. Ctrl–F2 and Ctrl–F3 lower and raise the RPMs in increments. The Propeller Control on an external yoke controls RPMs more realistically.

Since we set the prop control with the tachometer, we need another indicator to set the throttle. That's the manifold pressure gauge, which monitors the pressure in the engine's intake manifold. Manifold pressure can't rise above approximately 30 in., atmospheric pressure, unless the engine is supercharged.

Tach & MP gauge

DC-3 Climb power settings: 2350 RPM,left, and 36 in. Manifold Pressure, right.  

Although the prop control sets the RPMs, it also affects the manifold pressure. (Unfortunately, MS did not include this critical feature in their default DC-3, but it is present with third-party DC-3s, so this explanation is included.) As RPMs are lowered, MP increases. Try it yourself. Put your aircraft in the air at cruise power, then reduce the RPMs with the prop control and watch the MP gauge climb. This interaction of RPMs and MP creates a potential hazard.

The combination of low RPMs and high MP heavily stresses an engine—sometimes to the extent of engine failure. So the pilot must follow the correct sequence of prop-throttle adjustments to avoid the danger zone of low RPM and high MP.

Understand that advancing the throttle increases the manifold pressure. Advancing the prop control towards "High RPM" lowers the MP because, like shifting to low gear in a car, this reduces the load on the engine. Here's the prop-throttle sequence rule:

Always adjust the control first that reduces manifold pressure.

When you need more engine power, i.e., for take-off, climbing from level flight, increasing cruise speed, or adding power when gear and flaps are lowered, always increase the RPMs first, the prop control (lowers the MP), then increase the throttle (increases the MP).

When reducing power to descend, or reducing from take-off power to climb power, or reducing to slow flight, always reduce the throttle first (lowers the MP) then reduce the RPMs (increases the MP). A second throttle adjustment is almost always necessary on power reductions to finalize the desired MP.

When climbing to cruise altitude, the manifold pressure decreases with altitude (air gets thinner) so increase the throttle as needed. The reverse is true on descending ... monitor the MP gauge, and adjust the throttle as necessary!

On final approach, or coming down the glide slope, advance the prop control to full RPM. Then, if a go-around is necessary, you only need to advance the throttle for full power. Adjust rate of descent with the throttle.

At low engine speeds, engine manufacturers recommend that RPMs (in hundreds) and MP be close to each other, i.e., for DC-3 descend, 1700 RPM and 18 in. MP.

Here are typical numbers from the 1953 Piedmont DC-3 flight manual

Aircraft Power Settings Card
Take-off  2700 RPM  48 in. MP
Climb  2350 RPM 36 in. MP
Cruise  2050 RPM 30 in. MP 
Descend  2000 RPM 20 in. MP

Remember that changing from take-off power to climb power is a reduction in power—throttle first.

Also note the manifold pressure at takeoff, 48 in. and climb, 36 in. ... both a clear indication that the DC-3 engines are supercharged since these numbers are above standard atmospheric pressure of about 30 in.

Create a similar Power-Setting Card for every aircraft that you fly, and stick to the numbers.

Now you can enjoy the feel and sound of properly flying propliners. And here's the throttle quadrant in motion!

The Throttle Quadrant in Motion 

Animated DC-3 Throttle QuadrantTrev Morson animated this Throttle image using his DC-3 Throttle Quadrant to illustrate the correct sequence for adjusting power.

Starting at take-off power, with all power levers forward, to reduce power to the cruise/climb configuration first pull back the Throttle levers, black knobs, to lower the Manifold Pressure, then pull back the Prop Controls, white knobs, to lower the RPM, and finally pull the Mixture Controls from "Emergency Rich" (Full Rich) to the "Cruise" position.

To increase power, as when climbing from one altitude to another, or leveling off after a descent, begin by moving the Prop controls forward to increase the RPM, then push the Throttle levers forward to increase Manifold Pressure, and enrichen the Mixture depending on altitude, etc.

This will become second nature as you accumulate DC-3 flight hours. And thanks to Trev Morson for providing this image.

A final note before moving to the actual DC-3 flights. Although the DC-3 tops my list of favorite aircraft, and I have put a lot of study into them, I have never piloted one. I've been in them, both on the ground, including the cockpit, and as a passenger in the air. If someone spots some errors or wrong methods/procedures in the flight sections, please e-mail me with the correct info, plus the basis of your corrected information.

Thank you very much.