MP Design Studio Aérospatiale SA-342 Gazelle
We are living in good times for Gazelle fans, with the third quality Gazelle released in a short period of time, after the magnificent Polychop Gazelle for DCS and the SOKO Mostar Gazela for FSX/P3D by MP Design Studio. Today I would like to introduce you to the newest Gazelle for heli simmers – the MP Design Studio Aerospatiale SA-342 Gazelle for FSX and P3D.
MP Design Studio is a young development team from Serbia, run by an active duty helicopter pilot with experience on the Gazelle. Their aim is to reproduce the Gazela (the licence built version) and the Gazelle in the best and most detailed way possible. Looking at the pricetag I was reluctant to give the Gazela or Gazella a try – rated at € 17.85 it costs just half of an average Nemeth Design or one third of a Milviz helicopter add on, so how good can it be? Let’s find out.
Purchase and download
The MP Design Studio SA-342 Gazelle is available at Simmarket for currently €17.85 and the download is some 400 MB in size. Along with the download comes a 15 page strong Quick Start Guide, which can be found in the folder of the military variant. Military variant? Yes, there are more than just one variant included, three to be precise:
* civil SA-342 with cargo hook (Swiss registration)
* civil SA-342 without hook (British registration)
* military SA-342 (French ALAT markings)
Thanks to the included paint kit in layered PSD format I am sure we will see many more attractive skins on the known file libraries soon.
As a great fan of the PolyChop Gazelle for DCS I was very skeptical of a rather cheap add on for FSX/P3D could keep up with it (to be honest I was in doubt, if it could get anywhere near it at all). So I had little expectations when loading the Gazelle into the sim for the first time for a test flight. This skepticism was blown away as soon as the Gazelle’s virtual cockpit appeared on my screen. I felt immediately at home in the cockpit and the first impression was more than just good. I started moving around in the cockpit using ChasePlane and my jaw dropped. When Milos from MP Design Studio said he wanted to recreate the Gazelle in the highest detail possible, he did not exaggerate. Roaming around you will find every cable, screw or connector not just as a nice texture, but modelled in 3D even on the backsides of the panels. They did not forget to bring the cockpit to life either. You will find maps, flight manuals or spare headsets for the passengers and of course each of the three models differs. The Swiss cargo hook version comes with additional switches for the hook operation, while the military version features the NADIR navigation computer system (which of course is functional).
Another strong point are the reflections. The large reflection on the bottom of the front window may be debateable, but even the wipers are reflected in the front screen – I really recommend to fly in some adverse weather to enjoy this effect.
Looking at the outside, the high level of detail continues. I admit I was stuck looking at the rotor head and watching how the cyclic and collective move the swash plate for minutes. Here as well all models differ slightly. Both civil variants have different air filters in front of the engine and of course the cargo version comes with a detailed hook and gear for the mirror.
The military version features the huge sand filter of desert operations, cable cutters and the oberservation bulb above the co-pilot’s head. It does not include any armament or weapons systems though.
The handling and the systems
While there are many payware helicopters available for FSX and P3D, only a handful actually feels realistic. I am not a helicopter pilot, so I can base my judgement only on videos, talks with experienced real world helicopter instructors and on my RC helicopters.
Let’s have a look at the official features list of the MP Design Studio Gazelle:
-Gauges glass reflection
-All labels and marks
– two operating modes (altitude hold, velocity hold)
– can maintain hover flight
– trimming effect
– realistic autopilot channel testing
-DOPPLER NAVIGATION SYSTEM:
– NADIR (fly your route created with Flight Planer, using doppler nav system)
-GROUND RESONANCE (occurs when a helicopter lands on the slopes which are over limitations)
-Translating tendency effect
-Transverse flow effect
-VORTEX RING STATE
-Lost of tail rotor effectiveness
-Hydraulic system failure/on/off effect
First thing I did, was shut the helicopter completely down, to try a start from cold and dark. I did not touch the quick start guide, I just repeated the steps I was familiar with from the PolyChop Gazelle in DCS. What can I say, it was an immediate success. Engine spool up shook the whole airframe, spool up times were realistic, as were the gyro power up times. The startup sequence is more complex than for instance in the Milviz Bell 407 or MD530F, but still there is no need for using CTRL + E here either.
Thanks to the three-channel autopilot/SAS it is an easy to enter a stable hover after take off and if you wish so, it will also keep you stable when hover taxiing. But all this also works by pure hand flying.
Starting the Gazelle
This brings us to the physics. The simulation of vortex ring state was well known to me from the Dodosim Bell 206 and just like in the little Jet Ranger you have to keep an eye (ear) on VRS in the Gazelle as well. There is no throwing the helicopter around like in a Nemeth Design helicopter, here you have to be gentle and careful or you will plummet powerless to the ground.
Something really new to me was the ground resonance effect. I can’t recall any of my other helicopters in FSX/P3D where I could not hover relaxed overhead sloping terrain. Not so in the Gazelle. I was flying in the Alps and when approaching the tricky helipads from LLH Simulations LLH-Heli add on, this effect was very noticeable and increases the workload tremendously. Same is valid, when trying to pick up sling load cargo next to a slope or from sloping terrain.
Landing the Gazelle at Courchevel (by LLH Simulation)
Performing an auto rotation
Generally speaking the Gazelle can be maneuvered with great precision, but it is far more demanding to do so compared to other add ons. To me, it feels very realistic.
While sling loading is quite a frequent task in DCS, I rarely see anyone do it in FSX/P3D. I gave it a try in the Gazelle and it was quite rewarding to succeed in it. Hooking up to the cargo is relatively easy, especially when using the AP/SAS to assist in the hover over the cargo. But flying the sling load from A to B is another thing. You will clearly feel the pendulum effect of the cargo, if you are too erratic on the flight controls. You will also feel the additional weight and VRS is always just around the corner waiting for you. So if you are looking for a little challenge, try flying some sling loads in the mountains.
Till now we have to rely on self edited or self created missions, but MP Design Studio told me they are planning to release an own mission pack for the Gazelle.
Finally a word on the sounds. The Gazelle (just like the Alouette) can be distinguished just by hearing them, from the whine of their Turbomeca turbine. MP Design Studio gives you exactly this sound. Overall the sounds are very realistic and create an immersive environment when flying the Gazelle.
Same is valid for the effects. Be it the shaking and rattling when the engine spools up (or powers down) or the extensive smoke and rotor wash effects, it all adds to an overall excellent immersion.
The rotor wash effect can be hard on less powerful graphic cards, so you might choose to enable it, otherwise it might turn into a slide show when viewing the heli from the outside. On my GTX970 it did not cause any problems though.
For me the MP Design Studio SA-342 Gazelle ranks as one of the top three helicopters in FSX/P3D. While it does not have as many options as the Milviz MD530F or Bell 407, it is at least en par in regards of level of detail and ahead in terms of flight physics – and all this for one third of the price tag. The 3D modelling is excellent, the textures are fine and the flight physics are second to none.
If I wanted to find a point of criticism, it would be the lack of more available liveries.
For heli simmers this add on in my opinion simply is a must have, especially at this ridiculously low pricing – a reason why I will go beyond the 10 points in the value for money rating.
Long story short – go buy it and enjoy flying the elegant Gazelle 😉