There’s a new aircraft in my X-Plane 11 hangar. The first that I’ve bought in a long time primarily because I wanted to see what the compatibility situation would be like as the sim transitions away from X-Plane 11 and into X-Plane 12. Torquesim has provided added certainty by saying that any upgrades to X-Plane 12 would be free so with great confidence I bought the BN-2B Islander and this is my full review of the aircraft.
A bit of aircraft history
A British designed and constructed light utility aircraft, the story of the Britten-Norman BN-2 starts in the 1960s with a design that focused on carrying capacity and short takeoff and landing on rough airstrips. The BN-2 first flew in 1965 and showed up at the Paris Airshow just six days later to attract customers for the new aircraft.
Production began at the Britten-Norman factory at Bembridge on the Isle of Wight before later moving to Romania. Intreprinderea de Reparatii Material Aeronautic (IRMA) proved to be able to construct about 40-50 aircraft a year which stayed in place until production in Romania became more expensive. Production has since shifted back to the UK as of 2010 and Britten-Norman continue to make a number of different variants of the BN-2 including the civilian Islander and military utility focused Defender.
The BN-2 is famously operated in northern Scotland between the islands of Westray and Pap Westray. The total flight time is about 3-minutes and is the shortest scheduled commercial flight in the world.
Although possessing modest looks and capability, the simplicity and unique capabilities of the BN-2 have found itself in a niche that few other types can compete with. According to information that I’ve read, there are even thoughts of producing battery-electric powered prototypes that could take the BN-2 well into the future.
Torquesim have brought to life two versions of the BN-2 Islander. The aircraft I bought and am reviewing today is the BN-2B which is powered by two Lycoming O-540 engines with 260hp each. There’s also a BN-2T with a pair of Allison 250 turboprop engines which I may explore in a future review.
The aircraft packs a significant list of features that starts with an FMOD sound package, 4K PBR texturing and a highly detailed 3D model. The aircraft comes with custom avionics including a KFC225 Autopilot, GTX345 Transponder, KR87 ADF, and M800 Chronometer. There is also the built in X-Plane GNS530/GNS430 for navigation as well as RealityXP GNS530/430 and added support for RealityXP GTN 750/650 (sold separately). A custom electrical system with simulated circuit breakers, buses, generators, and battery and a load manager for helping calculate out your weight.
Torquesim offers a control panel that provides some key information. It lets you enable or disable chocks, cones, pitot covers, inlet covers, as well as turn on and off vibrations, glass reflections and even toggle if your aircraft comes with anti-ice equipment.
The aircraft also comes with a persistent state feature that leaves systems where they were from the last time you flew the aircraft. That did come with a bit of an issue as the battery was set to on when I first got into the aircraft and by the time I had familiarized myself with it, the battery was dead. Fortunately, a recharge is a menu click away. For the purists out there, this aircraft is going to check a lot of boxes when it comes to treating the aircraft between flights appropriately. Although its not quite as sophisticated as some of the other types out there, it certainly does offer some appeal through this.
The BN-2B comes with 9 liveries, a blank livery and a paint kit.
Visuals and sounds
Released in April of 2020, Torquesim have spent the last year working on and improving the BN-2. A good chunk of that work has been focused on fixing various visual issues and the BN-2 that you can fly today in fall of 2021 looks really good. It’s probably not the best looking X-Plane 11 aircraft I have but I feel like it’s close. That is, from a technical perspective. The BN-2 in terms of aesthetics is more utility truck than sleek sportscar.
Back in March of 2021, the aircraft received a significant visual overhaul and that meant tweaking the PBR, adding new dirt and wear textures, and upgrading all of their liveries to reflect the new standard.
The work done by the team on animations is very well done. From the operation of the flaps to the subtle shake of the analogue gauges, there’s a lot of little details to the aircraft that impress. The wear and tear on some gagues may not be the very best that I’ve seen but it is still quite good and it does give the BN-2B a lived in feel which seems well suited to an aircraft with this character.
The sounds are a bit more of a mixed bag. They have allegedly been improved, however, I find that there are some inconsistencies between interior and exterior sound quality. The interior sounds, where admittedly you do spend most of your time, are very good while the exterior don’t impress to the same extent. The engine starter sounds, the whine of the battery system when its energized, and the satisfying roar as the Lycoming engines sputter to life. Every switch also seems to have its own unique sound or at least they have only sparingly reused the sounds around the cockpit. That makes for some satisfying clicks. All of that is very good.
Less impressive are the flap sounds which I found quieter than the rest of the soundscape. And then there’s the exterior sounds which seem dull and uninspired. There’s no prop wash sound, no ambient noises (which I’ve grown accustomed to with my Aerobask products), and the drone of the engines is… well, dull. Go to a third person flypast view and it just doesn’t impress. There is room for improvement here, however, admittedly the interior sounds matter more than the exterior.
Flying the Islander
Having flown a lot of high performance aircraft in flight sims recently, flying the BN-2 is a bit of a different experience. Nope, I take that back – it’s a very different experience!
This is a slow, steady and stable aircraft without a lot of sporting feel to it. With a top speed of just 140kts and a low climb rate, you’re not going to cover ground quickly but you will on the other hand cruise along quite nicely at lower altitudes taking in the scenery.
This is an aircraft that doesn’t have a lot of extra power so you really need to pay attention to your weight and calculate your V1 as accurately as possible. Even if you’re like me and sometimes forego the details in favour of just getting out there and flying, you still need to give this aircraft some serious attention to get it off the ground.
On my first flight I lifted off too early and struggled to gain speed and altitude and ultimately crashed at the end of the runway. There’s little room for error here, especially with a fully loaded Islander. It’s a good challenge and a learning opportunity.
The BN-2 is ideal for flying short hops between islands or over short distances and into airports that other aircraft of a similar size or capacity cannot even contemplate landing at. The BN-2’s stall speed with its droop flaps gives it the ability to stall at just 40kts. Slow speed short landing strips are well within this aircraft’s capability.
This is formally a STOL (short takeoff and landing) aircraft as mentioned earlier with a landing distance of just 459 feet. The flaps on the BN-2 really provide a lot of drag so when it comes time to slow down you can count on them to get you down to the appropriate speed for landing – and quickly!
Torquesim lists in their features that they have carefully tuned and tested the flight model of the BN-2 and I can only say good things about how this aircraft feels. It feels big, steady and stable as I said earlier and the flight model physics feel fluid and believable. I’ve never flown a BN-2 so take what I saw with a grain of salt but Torquesim does say that they consulted with real BN-2 pilots who helped them tune the model.
About as complicated as a big Cessna
Starting into a new aircraft can be intimidating and one of the things that immediately struck me is how simple the BN-2 and well laid out the cockpit is. The standard six-pack instruments upfront is flanked by engine, navigation and autopilot features. The lights are located just behind the yoke and the power controls are all where you’d expect them to be on the pilots right side. Up above are the electrical and fuel systems.
I didn’t find this to be an intimidating aircraft. If you’re used to flying more simplistic aircraft like the Cessna 172, the BN-2 should be only a little bit more challenging with its two engines and limited power to weight.
That simplicity in operations does hide the challenge of flying a STOL aircraft into some challenging airports but that is the point where X-Plane and the BN-2B Islander become magical as this aircraft is intensely fun to fly into these locations. Life happens slowly in the BN-2B but that’s ok as you get to fly into those unique places.
The bottom line is that Torquesim have done a very good job of refining this aircraft since its release and the state of the BN-2B in late 2021 is excellent. Slightly disappointing exterior sounds aside, this aircraft is extremely well modeled, has lots of simulated depth to its systems, and it shows that a lot of time and care have been put into making this aircraft a reality.
The BN-2B is, on the other hand, not an exciting aircraft to fly. It’s slow and it always feels a bit underpowered and so if you jump into X-Plane wanting a zippy, sporty, or quick long hauler you won’t find any of those things with the BN-2B. No, this is an island hopping STOL aircraft with utility in mind and that is charming in its own way. If you want an aircraft with good depth and that more rugged back country feel the BN-2B is where it’s at!