Carenado M20R for Flight Simulator full review

Being first out of the gate has its advantages and right now there are just three aircraft in the Microsoft Flight Simulator Marketplace. The most recent entrant to the Marketplace is the Moody M20R by prolific flight sim aircraft developer Carenado and this is my review.

A bit of history

Static elements on display in Microsoft Flight Simulator with the Carenado M20R

The Mooney M20 family has a long history that stretches back to the beginnings of the post-war popularity of general aviation aircraft. The first test flight happened in 1953 and the type was officially introduced by 1955. Early versions featured partial wooden construction for the tail and wings before a fully aluminum body was introduced in the early 1960s. Over 11,000 M20’s have been built between 1955 and 2019.

The M20R Ovation that Carenado chose to represent is a sportier GA aircraft introduced by Mooney in 1994 with a 190 knot top speed and a ceiling of 20,000 feet. That sportiness is thanks to a Continental IO-550-G engine with 280 horsepower. The motivation to introduce this more powerful version was in direct response to modification kits that were being sold by other companies that added more powerful engines to earlier versions of the M20.

Sadly, after the great recession of 2008, Mooney struggled with financial troubles and by November of 2019 had closed up shop.

Zippy performance and steam gauges

Taxiing to the runway at Paderborn Lippstadt Airport.

With plenty of GA aircraft in Microsoft Flight Simulator by default, there are some ways that Carenado has distinguished their aircraft from the rest of the line-up and it starts with the aircraft itself. The M20R is a clean and fast aircraft with retractable landing gear, plenty of power and docile handling characteristics. It’s also an aircraft from 1994 rather than the 2020 era that nearly all of the Asobo defaults represent and that means that this aircraft eschews the now standard glass cockpits for the more traditional steam gauge with GNS 530.

All of that comes together in a nice package for someone looking for a traditional GA aircraft experience that as as much driven by the GPS as it is the more traditional VOR navigation methods.

Navigation with GPS is my preferred method personally and I found the GNS 530 to be very workable. The aircraft has autopilot although its very easy to hand fly as well. Quite unlike the Asobo aircraft, the trim response here is quick and immediate and feels more like the X-Plane, IL-2, and DCS aircraft I’m used to doing trim with rather than the slow to respond Flight Simulator types. I prefer the quick response.

First takeoff in the M20R Ovation

I took this aircraft up to about 190kts on a flight over California over to Las Vegas Nevada and I felt like that was a suitable indication of the aircraft’s speed. It made for a short trek between places and it felt great.

Handling characteristics

I like what Carenado has done with the M20R for Flight Simulator. The aircraft is fun to hand fly and is relatively stable. It feels like it has a bit of weight to it and the rudder response feels suitably dampened. It takes a bit of time for the nose to settle after some hard rudder maneuvers although its not that hard to return to centre without much fuss.

Putting the aircraft into a stall I found the handling to be extremely docile – something that made me suspicious that the flight modeling had been made a bit too easy. However, after reviewing some video from real M20’s in a stall, I’m prepared to drop that one. This seems to be an aircraft that doesn’t really have any nasty stall attributes which is great for a GA aircraft.

The sunshield does a good job of mostly blocking out the direct sunlight and it has cruise and engine settings printed on it as a bonus.

The biggest challenge flying it seems to be the drag or the lack of it. Trying to get the aircraft to slow down was more of a challenge than I’d been used to in other GA aircraft in Flight Simulator so far. I’m not sure if its a quirk of the real aircraft, noted for its clean lines and low drag, or if its something that needs a tweak.

Once settled into a suitable glide-slope, the aircraft is very easy to control and bring down to an easy landing.

Strong visuals and sounds

Finding the rays of sunlight in a rainstorm

Carenado has developed a reputation for strong visuals and they do not disappoint with the M20R. Crisp textures, suitable bump mapping, and four included liveries bring the M20R to life. I particularly like the look of the wings in certain lighting situations as they show their imperfections and hint at the underlying structure.

Having been spoiled with the extreme attention to detail from Asobo’s models, I do have to point out a few inconsistencies if you get very close up with the aircraft’s lights. The landing lights in particular appear to have a baked on texture which looks alright from a distance but doesn’t quite hold up when you get up close and personal. That’s an extremely small detail in what is overall an impressive visual presentation on the outside of the aircraft.

Heading into the cockpit and things continue to look great. The aircraft looks clean but not new at the same time with a suitable amount of wear and tear without looking like its been abandoned by its owners. I love the look of the leather seating in particular that has a comfortably worn appearance.

Worn but not too worn, this leather set looks incredible

Gauges and displays up front all look great too and are easy to read. They hold up when the sun goes low and you need to turn on either the flood lights or just the gauge lights themselves. A really impressive looking effect. There’s a mix of digital and analogue here that screams 1990’s and I love that the attention to detail here is so good that most of the time I don’t even think about the graphical representation and I just look at the gauges. The analogue gauges and the compass also shake a suitable amount for the motion of the aircraft which just adds a nice little touch of realism to the experience.

Final approach to McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas… visual approach. Look at all those lights!

The sounds in this aircraft are also excellent. From the push buttons to the creaking of the landing gear as you taxi to the engine throttling up. It sounds superb inside and out. My only complaint is that the audio level, versus other Flight Simulator aircraft, was a bit high and thus I needed to turn down my headphones to get to a more reasonable level.

Other features

The Carenado yoke tablet makes its second appearance

Carenado’s second aircraft in Flight Simulator features a now well established tablet that can be displayed on the aircraft’s yoke (something they also did for their Cessna 182T). This tablet is a reasonably immersive way to interact with some of the extra features of the aircraft such as configuring the aircraft with all of the covers, ribbons and pylons associated with a parked aircraft. You can also use the tablet (or click the levers) to open the doors and cargo area for the aircraft which is something I sorely miss on the Asobo aircraft.

The tablet also lets you configure the aircraft for cold and dark, ready to taxi, ready to fly and with a click of a button can get you up and going in no time flat. I really like this interface and I’m willing to bet we’re going to see this from a plethora of other Carenado products as time goes on.

Bugs, problems and a missing feature

Wind power generation on display in Germany.

The Carenado Mooney M20R is not without its problems. First, the autopilot associated with the GNS 530 seems to have some bugs. Enabling autopilot and turning on altitude hold seems to induce a bit of a roller-coaster ride of oscillations until the aircraft can settle down. In nav mode it has difficulty holding the course programmed in and so I’ve preferred to use heading mode and dialed it in myself using the course bug in the aircraft. How much of this is an issue with this aircraft versus it being a problem with all autopilots and GNS 530’s in Flight Simulator I’m not sure.

The GNS 530 also seems to randomly shut down (this is with failures off). There’s no rhyme or reason for it as it sometimes just fails to appear. I’ve also had it where both this and the radio stopped working together and the ATC dialogue telling me that I need to enable aircraft electric systems before I can contact ATC but my electrical systems were on and no amount of turning them on or off again would solve it.

It’s also interesting to note that Carenado is not using Flight Simulator’s pilot models but rather two rather serious looking gentlemen for their pilot model. I wouldn’t mind them using the configurable models from the sim to offer that extra level of customization.

Serious if a bit dour looking pilots on display in the M20R

Finally, there’s no interactive checklist use. One of Flight Simulator’s best features is the interactive checklist that highlights controls and walks you through a cold and dark startup. There is documentation from Carenado in the install folder but the checklist is a superior experience in my mind and one that I hope they plan to introduce as soon as possible.

Conclusion

Carenado have offered up an interesting aircraft that is, for now, somewhat unique in the Flight Simulator world with its steam gauges and 1994 aesthetic. Although I’m sure that uniqueness will wear off as more aircraft are added, there’s still a history to the Mooney M20 line that make this an interesting aircraft to own in the sim.

Speaking of purchasing, the M20R Ovation is available in the marketplace for $29.99 USD. I paid a bit more with the price coming in at $38.99 CDN (plus tax). For some that’s par for the course on third party aircraft add-on’s while others may scoff at the pricing.

This is a quality release on the whole held back by some bugs and the lack of use of the interactive checklist. I can heartily recommend this aircraft to people searching for a fun and fast GA aircraft with a more traditional cockpit arrangement.

Review at a glance

Pros

  • Fun and fast GA aircraft with retractable landing gear
  • Great visuals and sound
  • Good handling attributes
  • Traditional steam gauges (if you like that sort of thing)
  • The doors open

Cons

  • Quirky autopilot that can lead to a roller-coaster ride
  • GNS 530 sometimes doesn’t seem to display or work
  • Doesn’t use the built in checklist or pilot models

Screenshots

23 Comments Add yours

  1. Dmitriy Kozyrev says:

    Is it just me, or it doesn’t have neither rain or icing effects?

    Like

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      I didn’t test in icing conditions (that seems to now be not working properly in general) but rain effects I did and it works.

      Like

    2. Steven Williamson says:

      The 182T does not either. I checked the SDK, and it does show how to do the icing effects and rain effects, so they could add those effects if they wanted to.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. ShamrockOneFive says:

        I guess this is highlighting a weakness in the SDK. Hopefully these things are solved.

        Are there more rain effects beyond windshield?

        Like

      2. Steven Williamson says:

        What I was saying is that the SDK DOES detail how to do the visual icing effects & rain effects. I just bought the M20R & tested it, I could not get any visual icing to appear, but the rain effects were great. From 182T reviews, looks like it is only missing the icing effects, looks like they both have all the rain effects. For a 182, I’m holding out hope for the A2A 182 coming to MSFS eventually.

        The great thing about the improved flight modeling in MSFS is that for the majority of developers that don’t do external flight modeling like A2A, they’re all getting a quality boost from it, sort of a “rising tide lifting all boats”. The M20R sure felt alive in the storms I was flying it in!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. ShamrockOneFive says:

        Thanks for clarifying! It’s great to have some insights into the SDK.

        The improved modeling does have a ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ effect doesn’t it? I love the GA aircraft getting rocked about by both subtle and more substantial turbulence. It’s quite good and makes this aircraft feel quite a bit more alive.

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    3. Paul John says:

      I can confirm that it has both icing and rain. However it’s a bit more difficult to ice this one than the default aircrafts, hence why you didn’t encounter it yet.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. ShamrockOneFive says:

        Makes sense! Thanks for checking on that Paul! It’s been a busy time since I wrote this review and I haven’t had a chance to check it myself.

        Like

  2. harryvoyager says:

    Very cool. I’m thinking I’ll probably pick it up. I’ve been holding off on doing much flying so far, because I really wanted a steam gauge advanced aircraft to buzz about in, and this looks a good one to start with.

    Thank you,

    Harry Voyager

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      Happy to help!

      Like

  3. Nick J says:

    I’m sure I read on the MSFS forums that the aircraft is equipped with spoilers – which may help to scrub speed on approach.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dmitriy Kozyrev says:

      Yes, it does have spoilers that are quite effective.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. ShamrockOneFive says:

        Great to know! I missed that while reading through the documentation. I’ll edit the article later to include that information!

        Like

  4. ClannK says:

    Thanks for this review. Since you operate in so many other high quality flight sims, there’s a level of trust in you that is hard to build with others.

    Glad to see Carenado has been able to create a pleasant flight model in MSFS – in P3D they are all locked on rails.

    I wonder if the GPS issues are related to the general MSFS GPS/AutoPilot wonkiness…?

    Funny thing is that I used to be all about steam gauge cockpits, but since MSFS came out, the Garmins have really grown on me (aside from the known issues).
    Now i’m flipped and don’t want to fly anything that isn’t sporting the Garmin system!

    In the meantime, Carenado has a great stable of aircraft to bring to the sim, and i’m looking forward to seeing how they progress.

    Good times ahead!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      Thanks ClannK! Covering a wider variety of sims recently has been my goal and with so much going on it’s been fun to loon at the bigger picture.

      The default flight model and weather modeling as a base seem to be a good thing for developers that traditionally haven’t had the best reputation for flight modeling.

      I’m sure there are issues here but this is still very much a fun aircraft to fly around. Feels real enough for me!

      Like

  5. Tapi says:

    Great review Shamrock, thanks.
    Would you or someone else here test if there are keybindings available for Garmin G530 and other avionics? Default aircrafts sadly miss a lot of keybindings. I hate to use a mouse while flying that is why I strongly prefer to map all the cockpit controls/knob/buttons to my Keyboard/keypad/hotas…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Mike Hows says:

    Good Review. Those electrical gremlins you mention are also present in quite a few other AC. They started after the last update.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      You’re right! The more I read the more they seem to be happening.

      Hopefully fixed in the next patch!

      Like

  7. Ed Truthan says:

    I believe you meant to say “GNS” 530 not “GTN” 530…. you may want to correct that in the review. You almost got me there! The GTN’s are the newer touchscreen 650 and 750, which to my knowledge are not yet available in FS2020. I’d pay a hefty sum if Reality XP (or another 3rd party) released the GTN’s for FS2020 as their so much easier to use than the old GNS models in the sim.

    Like

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      Hi Ed, you’re absolutely right! Smacking my forehead on missing that one. Thanks for the correction!

      Like

      1. Ed Truthan says:

        No problem… and FYI the “Cons” section still says “730” instead of “530”…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. ShamrockOneFive says:

        Now I think I’ve won this game of wack-a-mole. Thanks again! 🙂

        Like

  8. David says:

    Real Mooneys are indeed very hard to slow down, so it sounds like the sim has captured that trait accurately. And if you don’t get them slowed down enough, they can be very “floaty” on landing once they’re in the ground effect.

    Like

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