Aerobatic fun? Reviewing Big Radials’ Nieuport 17!

Microsoft Flight Simulator holds appeal to a wide range of sim pilots. From the hardcore tubeliner pilots to general aviation, historical aviation, and even some aerobatics pilots. There’s a bit for everyone. So when Big Radials came along with a Nieuport 17 for Microsoft Flight Simulator, I was intrigued to see where it would fit in. Aerobatics? Sight seeing? How realistic is a WWI biplane in this sim? Let’s have a look!

Disclaimer

When the Nieuport 17 came out, Big Radials sent me review access. And then my sim stopped reliably working for several months (long story). Now that I’m flying again I wanted to fulfill my original promise to review the aircraft. As always, my thoughts are my own.

What’s a Nieuport 17? A bit of history

The Rise of Flight fans who read my blog will likely instantly know the N.17. This French-made sesquiplane (one and a half wings) scout emerged as a larger variant of the Nieuport 11. Thanks to its nimble handling and performance attributes, it helped to end the “Fokker Scourge” of 1916. The type was powered by a Le Rhône 9Ja 9-cylinder rotary engine making about 110 hp which was enough to propel the type to a respectable 92 knots.

Such was the success of the N.17 that it saw widespread service with the French, British, American and Russian air services at the time. However, WWI aviation technology moved quickly and by 1917 the emergence of the Albatross D.III saw the Nieuport start to struggle. In Allied service, types like the SPAD S.VII started to replace it.

The N.17’s legend lives on and a few of replicas exist as authentic recreations of this classic aircraft.

Flying on the wings of history

Big Radials had a consultant on their team who owns a replica of a Nieuport 17. Between that and their other research have managed to produce a very realistic replica of the real thing in my experience. Big Radials also have a design philosophy that emphasizes getting in and just flying the aircraft, or, as they put it, #FlyTheDamnPlane!

The Nieuport 17 fits that philosophy well as it isn’t overly complicated to fly from a systems perspective. This is not an airliner with a long set of checklists, flight planning, and performance calculations to do. This is the classic and early era of flight where wood, wire and canvas made up some imperfect aircraft and so the goal with the N.17 is absolutely to just fly the plane and experience the sensation of flight in a very visceral way.

As far as the flight model goes, I was reasonably impressed. This is a type that would undoubtedly benefit from the upcoming flight model improvements. Nonetheless, Big Radials has given it a good character. Although stalls are perhaps a bit too easy to modulate with the rudder, the control harmonization and the era’s heavier reliance on rudder over the other controls is absolutely apparent here. The manual even comes with a section teaching some basic aerobatic maneuver for non-combat flight sim pilots. Of course the N.17 can perform them relatively easily with good planning and ample coordination of stick and rudder.

On the ground, the aircraft is far easier to handle than I’m sure the real world version was as is the case with most trail draggers which seem to have steerable tailwheels. Doubly so here as the Nieuport was equipped with a skid and was intended to operate from primarily grass fields. Still, I appreciate this approach to making the type accessible in the context of this sim as you won’t find many WWI era fields to take off from.

Features

Big Radials tends to pack in the features and their Nieuport 17 has a good set of features too. All of the usual are here including 4K textures, PBR materials, real world sounds recorded from a real Nieuport.

The original did not carry a radio but this version does. A conceit to flying online with a functional and yet tastefully integrated radio fitted on the right-hand side of the cockpit. It’s small but it doesn’t seem out of place. Some modern avionics that are often fitted to replicas flying in the 21st century (and I’ve been fortunate in my life to get up close to more than a few WWI replicas) as well so this seems normal to me.

The aircraft also comes with two landing challenges and a trip (a “bush flight”) that seeks to recreate a route flown by Charles Godefroy which saw him fly through the Arc de Triomphe in protest that his pilots march in the 1919 celebration parade rather than fly.

The machine guns do “work” technically which is interesting as does the engine’s blip switch which temporarily halts the engine. Don’t overdo the blip switch or the engine will shut down. The manual mentions the possibility of fire although I wasn’t able to get that to happen.

There’s also a custom, historically attired pilot, and a wing ribbon that’s reasonably well animated.

Most of the types’ features are manipulated by a wooden clipboard with notes on it. This will let you view a start-up checklist as well as configure the wheel chocks, speed instrumentation, machine guns, and hide/unhide the radio.

Sounds

Like many MSFS aircraft, I found the Nieuports sounds to be a mixed bag. The engine sounds are authentic so start-up and shut down sound pretty good to me. While the engine is running in flight it also sounds pretty good but for some reason I wasn’t overly wowed either. The external and flyby sound is much less impressive.

It’s a simple airplane so there aren’t a lot of buttons and switches so the soundscape is relatively simple on the whole.

Final thoughts

Throughout my time with this airplane, I’ve been trying to figure out who this aircraft would appeal to and I think I’ve settled on two audiences. The first, is interested in historical aviation and wants to go back to the simpler days of the dawn of military aviation.

The other type of pilot wants to fly aerobatics. Sure, MSFS already has a couple of aerobatics planes, but I had far more fun with the Nieuport doing hammerheads and stalls here than with the Pits or Extra 300. The flight model is perhaps a bit forgiving (something common on MSFS aircraft) but it does have a satisfying stall model that impressed me. You can ride the edge of a stall with some good rudder work and that was immensely satisfying and even lent itself to a few hair raising moments.

Big Radials Nieuport 17 is, in short, a simple fun flying aircraft that doesn’t take long to get into and packs a decent number of features into its $25.00 AUD (about $18 USD) pricetag.

If you want to pick this aircraft up for Microsoft Flight Simulator, visit the Big Radials website to learn more.

Screenshots

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