Update 1 - December 10, 2021
During the last couple of days, X-Rotors has released 2 updates, bringing the helicopter to version 1.02. You can check the changelog here.
Update 2 - December 18, 2021
X-Rotors released version 1.03, which brings a lot of changes to the helicopter. It may be time to revisit it and update this review soon.
The AW109 is one of those helicopters that get people’s attention. It looks sexy, it’s fast and it visits islands where dinosaurs live (if you were wondering, that’s probably where you know it from).
It’s a kind of a classic model that has ignored its age (delivery on the production model started in 1976 – 45 years ago) and has pushed through, being in service in over 30 countries and built in nearly 25 different models with various uses.
It is a workhorse that easily can become a favorite – or, at least, a highly respected and sought out by helicopter fans.
X-Rotors decided to bring us the AW109E Power Elite model, a stretched version of the AW109 E, an upgraded civilian model featuring Pratt & Whitney PW206C engines which we now have available for X-Plane 11.
Before I start with the actual review, I’d like to say I have had the help of two pilots with whom I have exchanged some thoughts about this model. Nick Bates, who collaborates with HeliSimmer.com and a few developers as a tester/destroyer of alphas and betas, and a former AW109 pilot who prefers to remain anonymous.
I often talk to pilots and simmers when doing my reviews but this time I relied a bit more on these two great gentlemen to help me out with some questions, doubts and to better understand some of the systems in the AW109.
Thank you very much to both.
When you get the AW109, you are provided with a couple of links on your account page at the X-Rotors website . One of those links is the installer while the other one is the documentation, a sort of a quick guide in pdf format.
Run the installer, enter your details and the X-Plane folder where you want it to be installed (for example \X-Plane 11\Aircraft\Helicopters), and off you go.
As a side note, some users have indicated they have issues with firewalls and anti-virus because the installer downloads the files from X-Rotors’ website. If that happens, try disabling these.
It’s not the drag-and-drop installation that we have on other products, but it works, and it may help some new users or those that may have some trouble understanding what goes where.
I’m not a fan of installers myself but I can see the value here.
X-Plane 12 only features
No, X-Plane 12 is not out yet. Still, on the official features list, we can find the following:
“Custom CAS advisories, cautions and warnings *
* Due to an xLua bug (XPD-10211) also affecting the 747-400, CAS isn’t visible on Windows until X-Plane 12 beta 1”
If you aren’t planning on getting X-Plane 12 when it comes out, this means you won’t have this working for you. If you aren’t planning on getting X-Plane 12 at all (some users still use X-Plane 10 currently) you may never get it to work.
Something to have in consideration. As a developer, I don’t really understand the decision. It’s like releasing an application for Windows 10 that has features that only work on Windows 11.
Model and textures
The 3D model has some room for improvement. I feel like the polygon count could perhaps be higher to provide more smoothness, especially in the cockpit which is where we will be spending most of our time.
Some details which I have seen developers have issues, such as the cyclic tube are smooth but larger areas which our eyes will meet more often could certainly use a bit more of work. You could say I am nitpicking, but the truth is that those details, especially around the glass, kinda spoil the experience as immersion gets broken.
Yes, my immersion gets broken when my cat comes to rub himself on my legs too, as I am sitting in my living room with a mini-monitor strapped to my face, but I’m sure you know what I mean.
I also found smoothness issues on the nose and a couple of other areas of the model. The tail cone also seems to be a bit longer than the real one. I spent some time comparing photos of the actual helicopter and it seems to me like it needed to be a bit smaller.
The textures are quite nice. The lettering is readable and sharp. I feel like some rivets and panel lines are a bit exaggerated but that is not a big deal.
Overall, I think the quality of the art could be a bit better, considering we are dealing with a payware model. If you look at the model and the textures in general, they do their job, but I would like to see a more polished interior myself.
The rotor and tail-rotor animations are a bit weird. They are simply not smooth. You can notice that during normal flight, but you can also notice that if you turn an engine off and then back on. The rotor stops as if it was starting from cold and dark.
The rotor cone (wing flex for helicopters) is also way too exaggerated. I think the real helicopter would probably break a blade if it was that big.
Everything else looks nice but the animations related to the rotor do have their issues.
The helicopter engine is pretty non-existent from the inside. I’m not sure if X-Rotors was trying to simulate the use of a helmet but even so, it sounds like it’s way too muffled.
The engine has the high-pitch frequencies from a turbine engine, but I would like it to be louder. Turbines have a whine that you can really hear and while it’s there in the samples X-Rotors used, it feels it doesn’t have enough presence.
There is also a problem that was actually brought to my attention by Nick. I think there’s some blade slap, a low-frequency sound that makes us notice the actual loop, and, after some time, it can get in your nerves.
I didn’t notice it that much in the beginning but, over time, I started to notice it became too present and annoying. I think it’s something that could probably be taken care of with a sample from a different portion of any sounds recorded.
Throughout our tests, Nick, the other pilot and myself found a series of problems with several systems.
Turn one engine off, for example, and the FADEC over torques the other engine which shouldn’t happen. The second engine needs to do some extra work but not to a point where it breaks the gearbox.
Above: over-torquing engine 2 as engine 1 gets shut down.
If that engine goes off while you are flying, though, you better have trained your autorotations. When doing my testing, I shut an engine down to see how it was handled in OEI (One Engine Inoperative) regime. Even over-torqued, the second engine was useless to me as I could not get lift from the rotor system, so I performed an autorotation instead. More on that later.
Above: plunging to the ground as I have lost an engine. Not exactly what I was expecting to happen.
Inverters have no effect, and you can even skip them through your startup.
The autopilot also has its issues. Engaging the Altitude Hold (ALT), for example, gets the helicopter level and if you try to roll the helicopter, it will continuously be trying to level the helicopter in the roll axis. The same with the Vertical Speed Hold (VS).
There are a series of other small problems that I won’t list here. I got more and more frustrated as I tried the helicopter and talked with the other guys about it.
I managed to do some barrel rolls and loops with the AW109 and she kept going.
Even without the autopilot on, it was steady as a rock. As soon as I got it into a hover, it just stayed there.
You can just lift the collective and she goes up pretty much vertically without much or any pedal needed and not a lot of cyclic needed either. It feels a lot like a drone, even with the SAS turned off – which will force you to use a bit of pedal but not that much.
Flying the AW109 around feels a bit too much “on rails”, an expression we often use to express the foreseeable nature of a flight dynamics engine. I suspect X-Rotors may have glued the flight model a bit too much to the default S-76 which has the same feeling to me, but the AW109 can even take it a step further in the wrong direction.
This makes the AW109 easier to fly but it ends up taking away from realism, which is the opposite of what most of us are looking for.
I also found issues with pitch control as it’s quite sluggish. I needed to really push or pull the cyclic hard very often. Gaining speed was a real problem and I had to push the collective really, really hard to get any real movement.
Autorotations are not very easy as the model tends to be nose-heavy. They are manageable, though. I found that it tends to be very “floaty” near the ground and when I pulled the collective to cushion my landing it went up like a rocket on my first attempt as I miscalculated how much input I needed to provide. Weird, to say the least.
The community has received this release with mixed feelings, and we can see those that are very excited about it to those that feel frustrated by the lack of updates on X-Rotor’s previous model, the AW139, which still needs to be finished.
Yes, this is relevant as X-Rotors does have a history with the community.
So, X-Rotors put themselves in a bit of an impossible position where they have a product that is not ready, yet they decided to release a new one, which they are marketing as version 1.0 (the final product).
And it’s definitely not finished either. Far from it.
We can certainly find folks very happy about this AW109, probably just because they have something that resembles an AW109 and flies, and other users completely disappointed by what they got for the money they paid.
And I can’t say I disagree with the latter. This is not the release I was hoping we would get and that X-Rotors needed to have released.
I have to say I feel honestly frustrated and disappointed. Not mad, not bitter. Just disappointed as I was expecting a lot more from this product and I was very excited about it.
X-Rotors needed to come out with a flawless product, a finished product, something of very high quality that would set a new standard for the brand and would make a stand. Something that would have “dropped the mic” and show us that they mean serious business and that they are actively working to improve and bring great products to the market.
They needed to blow our minds out with this release and then go back to the AW139 and do that again.
But that didn’t happen. And that, for me, is highly frustrating as I have been rooting for X-Rotors and hoping they would find their way and do a real comeback for the sake of their name and our community.
Unfortunately, I can’t recommend the X-Rotors AW109 in its current form.