Threshold Review: Scottish Aviation Bulldog by Origami Studios

November 3, 2020

The Bulldog sits cold and dark with chocks on its wheels, a pin in its pitot tube, and the most beautiful rendering of a fabric canopy cover I have seen in X-Plane. Remove the cover to unveil your virtual pilot and you will notice two things: first his unnerving, subhuman grin, and second his miniature size compared to the vast volume of the cockpit in which he sits; its extraordinary bulbousness is faithful to the real Bulldog - a plane whose form resembles a typical general aviation configuration but, up close, more suggests the clobbered together scraps of several crates found deep in a surplus hangar. 

The Beagle Pup, the civilian predecessor to the Bulldog, was so inelegantly arranged for assembly that Flight magazine originally mused it, “designed not for production but as a one-off special in which cost was no object.” The Pup cost nearly double its sticker price to produce and the manufacturer expected to break even only after 4,000 of the type sold; Beagle halted production at fewer than 200. The Bulldog, then, its military-trainer successor, received an even larger canopy, this time all glass, and is an oddity of an airframe magnificent to behold. Its nose is wide and long, appearing squashed in the vertical. Its wings are mighty in width and shallow in chord. It has strakes leading to its horizontal stabilizer to ensure airflow is not separated in the wake of the ridiculous dome on its head. Another strake hangs below the airplane’s tail, I assume compensating for the woeful lack of lateral stability that results from a fuselage whose combined gaping cross-section and nose-to-tail shortness refuse to allow a shapely axial streamline; and as if to confirm inherent stability problems, for a three passenger trainer the Bulldog has a rudder big enough to steer a Beechcraft.

Just a little extra length would surely remedy most of these compensations in aerostructure complexity, but something about the constraints impressed upon its designers wouldn’t allow that, and thus aviation was gifted with this strange cartoon of an airplane. This absurd machine is wonderfully charming, I think, and we are as lucky to have it exist in the physical world as we are to have Origami’s meticulous and honest recreation of it in our digital space. 

Visuals

Walk around Origami’s Bulldog in X-Plane 11 and you can grab its control surfaces (though not that behemoth of a rudder) and marvel at the mesh optimization, surface normals, and all other nerdy modeling perks. The developer has done a brilliant job giving the model texture; rivets bubble outward, its skin has gritty depth, the ribs of its ailerons and flaps look like they dig at the air. All the details that would provoke a double-take on the real Bulldog visually pop in the X-Plane variant, too; its tiny, flimsy landing gear look like an afterthought, as if the airframe were imagined without them, so when the plane bobbles around the runway, its nose gear piston wildly oscillating through braking or turning maneuvers, the whole piloting experience feels succinct. Sitting inside the Bulldog reminds me of the feeling a sedan driver (like myself) has when stepping into a truck or a van; a whole sky suddenly exists above your head. Behind the pilot and copilot seats is a compartment of eerily empty space occupied by only a fire extinguisher (some variants ship with an instructor’s seat in this position). 

The instrument panel is comfortably worn with a six-pack of core instruments in front of the pilot and subsystem gauges, HSIs, and radio stack off to the right. A small panel of switches and circuit breakers sit right behind the stick and all engine controls are on the center console.

The Bulldog is as simple and clear as an IFR aircraft gets, the perfect sim trainer, and the type of X-Plane module I would have loved to own as I was learning my way around clickable cockpits. Corners of the interior are softened with mesh normals to match worn textures and every component is well shaded. The Bulldog cockpit internals appear physically solid - a quality even some of the best X-Plane modules don’t achieve. 

Piloting

Origami haven’t provided a way to load the Bulldog with engines running, but they have included a UI popup window with checklists, fuel and payload management, and toggles for parking equipment. Startup is quick, as is warmup, and the pre-taxi checklist takes the pilot through subsystem checks that suggest a well-modeled engine and electrical package.

Once rolling, the Bulldog gives a better sense of driving an airplane on its wheels than I have experienced in most X-Plane modules; clumsy but predictable, it is clear to the pilot that getting her plane off the pavement and into the air is of high priority. Half flaps, full throttle, and 500 feet will lift a Bulldog at 60 mph; the plane almost will not stall.

Yank back on the stick below 60 mph and pitch rate drops so low that a pilot can almost fail to pull her plane into a full stall. The Bulldog is easily controllable un-powered: with full rear pitch deflection it will flutter at about 40 mph all the way to the ground (though sink rate will be high enough to send the plane to its maintenance hangar). 

The plane cruises with significant nose-down pitch attitude, maybe five degrees below the horizon, and a moderate speed of 120 mph; this is also the beginning of its aerobatics zone, and the pilot might find her plane, as I did, less snappy than its silouette suggests. Maybe either an intended or side-effect of those aforementioned strakes, the Bulldog roll rate is both as tame and as smooth as can be; the aircraft is so fully damped it can hang at a significant roll angle without righting itself to level.

To perform an aileron roll at any comfortable rate the pilot must assist with liberal rudder. In pitch, a full elevator deflection takes ages to progress the plane around a loop, and yet I experienced no sign of stall, and upon completion of my loop found myself exactly at my starting altitude and speed.

I do not quite understand the aerodynamics of this plane so the best I can describe them are predictable and reliable; again the Bulldog seems an excellent trainer aircraft. Pull up a video of the real Bulldog pulling a loop or rolling and the experience maps wonderfully to the Origami recreation - the gauges read the same, the required control inputs (mostly full stick in your desired direction), and maneuver timings all align, as well as I can assess, to the XP11 variant. 

The pilot view from inside this oversized bubble canopy is excellent; the Bulldog makes for a lovely touring plane. I used it mostly for sightseeing, and with one of the more carefully textured wings in the X-Plane library a pilot will find her unobstructed lateral views especially beautiful. I prefer to navigate without GPS, so the Bulldog’s lack of one appeals to me. The provided radios are a basic, useful navigation stack for tuning VOR and ILS signals.

There is no autopilot as of the original posting of this review, so a pilot will have to attend to her plane throughout each trip, though the tame nature of her plane’s dynamics allow for plenty of time in-between adjustments while skies are calm.

Summary

The Scottish Aviation Bulldog by Origami Studios is a striking model of a charming airplane. Airframe design oddities are visually accented, the cockpit interior is reassuring in its spaciousness and readability, flight handling is more solid than the vehicle’s profile would suggest, and ground handling is springy and enjoyable (a rare quality in XP11 modules). The Bulldog is simple, safe, and full of character, and has wings I could stare at for days; I love sitting inside this plane. The module is available for sale at the iniBuilds store.

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