Carenado’s latest release into the Microsoft Flight Simulator store is one that caught my eye almost immediately. The Waco YMF-5 is a classic biplane design that dates back to the 1930’s and the golden age of aviation. With so many modern types in Flight Simulator, putting a classic aircraft and a biplane at that in the store definitely stands out. What’s this aircraft like to fly? How does it hold up in the new sim? Is it worth buying? I’ll try answer all three in this review.
UPDATE: Note that this review has been updated as of February 6, 2021 with new information.
A bit of history
The Waco F-series originated as a simple yet robust military biplane trainer in 1930. It also quickly became popular with private pilots in the 1930’s leading to a series of modifications that were made to the original airframe including the INF, KNF, RNF and ZNF. Each version sporting a progressively more powerful engine. The F-series history could have ended here and in the extensive pilot training programs of the 1930’s and 1940’s, but that wasn’t the end of its story as this biplane trainer has it found itself a second life.
Waco put the YMF-5, a redesigned and modernized variant of the classic bi-plane back into production in 1986. Production has continued and over 150 YMF-5’s have been completed in the subsequent years. If you have around $500,000 USD sitting around burning a hole in your pocket, you can even custom order your own new build Waco YMF-5 today with your choice of instrument panels including a full glass cockpit. For the rest of us, let’s check out this aircraft in Flight Simulator.
Classic exterior detailing
Carenado has reputation for putting together beautiful aircraft models into whatever sim they are working with and the YMF-5 is the best example of what their artist team can do. This classic biplane comes to life thanks to the impressive visual power of Microsoft Flight Simulator and the hard work of the artists involved. It is superbly detailed with high resolution textures, PBR materials, and extremely good 3D modeling. Every wire, strut, and surface has been given incredible attention to detail. It’s yet another example of just how good Microsoft Flight Simulator can look.
There’s a lot of shapes to represent including the iconic form fitted cowling around the type’s radial engine, the smooth fuselage, twin cockpits, and tail section. It has that 1930’s style that remains such a classic look right up to the modern day. It’s a small wonder that people are still interested in a new build of something like this.
There are five liveries included in the pack including a couple that are more flamboyantly coloured in red and red and yellow. Here’s what they all look like.
I’ve seen some comments on the forums that a classic biplane shouldn’t look this clean. However, YMF-5’s are relatively new builds by aircraft standards and while I don’t think Carenado went for the 2020 iteration (the cockpit gauges are more traditional), it is done as a clean aircraft. Perhaps more telling is just how clean many of these types are kept by their owners anyways. In the 21st century, the YMF-5 strikes me as being like one of those sports cars that only comes out on those nice sunny days and spends the rest of the time in the garage being waxed and cleaned – I see the same thing here.
The open air cockpit
That superb detailing on the exterior of the YMF5 is found on the interior as well. Modern steam gauges are cleanly and clearly laid out in this cockpit. Thanks to high resolution textures and excellent 3D detailing, they are also very easy to read at a glance. The detail can be found elsewhere in the cockpit too including the wood paneling, the lacquered finish on the control column, the seat cushion and every nook and cranny you can find.
There are also a pair of radios, a digital fuel gauge with a fuel flow indicator, and the trim wheel is fully animated as well as the trim indicator. There’s a tantalizing toggle switch in there for aerobatic smoke, however, it unfortunately doesn’t do anything. At least… not right now.
Carenado once again has their universal tablet present in this cockpit (easily hidden when not needed). It provides access to features such as ground power, a canvas cover for the front pilot/passenger seat, static elements including pylons and covers, and the ability to toggle the aircraft’s state from cold and dark to ready to taxi or ready to takeoff. The tablet also has a short checklist which I found to be adequate and I was easily able to start the aircraft with next to no instruction aside from the checklist.
The aircraft has mirrors which don’t appear to actually reflect much of anything useful (compared to the mirrors that I’ve seen in IL-2 or DCS World) but they do at least seem to pick up on the ambient lighting nearby which makes them look right at least. It also has fuel gauges that hang on the underside of the wings. These old style gauges are located in two small tubes, one for each fuel tank, and they slowly drop to the bottom as fuel runs out.
The YMF-5 is also night rated, unusual for a bi-plane, and it has appropriately lit instruments for VFR night flying. It looks great and it means that you can absolutely use this aircraft at night. A nice bonus I wasn’t expecting or aware of when I bought this.
I did find one graphical bug and that was the cockpit canopy from the side view (i.e. when you’re leaning out of the cockpit) has a graphical glitch that causes it to noticeably flicker. It’s a minor bug but one that can stick out in some cases. Fortunately, it cannot be seen when behind the windscreen.
And yes, I did test it out in a storm and the raindrops streak convincingly across the glass. However, your virtual pilot’s goggles are apparently hydrophobic as you won’t get any water on those.
Everything seems to work as it should and the YMF5’s fixed pitch propeller realistically picks up RPM in a dive. The magnetos appear to work and during start-up the fuel pump seems to realistically feed fuel to the point where even if the pump is off, if its run for enough time, there will be enough fuel circulating to start the engine. There aren’t any fancy GPS systems here but I was able to make use of a radio beacon and the onboard navigation radio to fly to Santa Monica from Los Angeles on a cross country flight. On the whole, instrumentation is relatively basic but what is here seems to be well modeled.
My only disappointment would be with the negative G cut-out. A warning in the cockpit reads that negative G maneuvers should not be performed or the engine may cut out. So what did I do? A stick fully forward negative G push of course! Despite pushing all the way to 90 degrees down, not once did the engine experience any cutout. A small missed opportunity in an otherwise well modeled experience.
Carenado did a great job here with the sound design. Engine sounds are authentic and it shows as the aircraft’s start-up engine noises, fuel pump noises, and other cockpit sounds are great. So are the creaks and groans during quick turns and fast rolls. They have even captured that crack of the fixed pitch propeller as the tips approach the speed of sound.
There’s not much else to say except that it sounds superb and radial engine lovers should appreciate this sound set quite a bit!
Flying a classic
There’s two sides to this aircraft that I have to talk about separately as it has a kind of Jekyll and Hyde character at the moment. Let’s start with the good and then we’ll get to the more troubling.
In the air, the YMF5 is docile and even slightly heavy feeling. It is capable of aerobatics but it requires a lot of speed going in as its not a fast aircraft to begin with and it doesn’t hold energy particularly well. Even with my most successful attempts at a loop, the aircraft flopped over at the top of the loop. It’s fun to do that but is more suited to aileron rolls and more placid flying.
It’s a big heavy bi-plane rather than the more nimble WWI bi-plane fighters that I’m used to flying and it has none of the sharp handling characteristics that those aircraft do. It does feel a little too on centre and has very little in the way of asymmetric yaw. It also doesn’t need very much trim to get it into a stable state where you could effectively fly hands off. I’m not used to that in bi-planes and I wasn’t able to get a sense of what the real one flew like to be able to tell. A tiny bit more character would be welcome but that is entirely on personal preference.
You’ll miss none of that while you take this biplane on a cross country flight as it has no autopilot and you will need to be hands on the stick most of the time.
Ground handling woes
In the original 1.0 version of the WYMF-5’s release, the aircraft had some serious bugs in its ground handling. The tail wheel could cause the aircraft to become unnaturally stuck in place and takeoffs were a sometimes brutal affair with the aircraft suddenly and unrealistically veering off to the side during takeoff. Thanks to a 1.1 release, these issues have been resolved and this review has been updated to match the new state of the aircraft.
The YMF-5 is a tail dragger and is a bit more challenging to takeoff than some other types. Even with the corrections in version 1.1, the aircraft requires careful management with the tailwheel locked and the stick firmly back to keep the tail on the ground and tracking straight until the rudder can pick up enough air to get going. Fortunately, good technique now produces solid takeoffs under normal conditions rather than the unusual behavior in 1.0.
Landings are also more sensible now. The sensitive rudder/tail-wheel combination can be problematic at the end of a run but while on landing and touchdown it feels just fine. Follow the appropriate approach speed and sink rate and you’ll find the aircraft settles mostly without incident with a slight flare at the end. Crosswind technique doesn’t seem to be overly difficult and using some rudder and wing dip routine work fine.
Brakes are also relatively well implemented, and when taxiing, if you stand on them too hard, you can cause the aircraft’s tail to come up and even nose over. That part feels realistic and well implemented and reminds me of my experiences with the brakes in the DCS: Spitfire IX.
The Carenado YMF5 is a stunningly beautiful visual masterpiece of an aircraft that handles reasonably well in the air, offers plenty of great views and sightseeing opportunities within the sim and even brings with it some light aerobatic capabilities that add to the experience. It also has good systems modeling for the few systems that it has. It’s an aircraft with style and class that connects us with a romantic era of 1930’s aviation and Carenado has represented the visuals of that style spectacularly.
Thanks to the 1.1 update from Carenado that fixes the ground handling issues, I can now fully recommend this aircraft. The YMF-5 makes for an excellent aircraft that has simple to manage systems and a beautiful open air cockpit that offers great views from most angles. cruiser of a biplane that just looks stunning wherever you take it. It’s fun just to check out an area or fly short point to point flights cross country. It has no autopilot so be prepared to hand fly those longer routes.
Fun to fly and with gobs of style, this is a really fun GA aircraft for Microsoft Flight Simulator. Check the Carenado YMF-5 out for $14.99 USD on the Flight Simulator Marketplace.
Enjoy these screenshots of the YMF5 by Carenado!