The origins of this type of aircraft can be traced back to the very dawn of military aviation. The need to observe and direct land forces was recognized during the U.S civil war and the idea was perfected over the ensuing century with the advent of fixed wing powered flight. The Cessna O-2A (O for Observation) was for some people the pinnacle of evolution and the type served with great distinction during the Vietnam war of the 1960’s and 70’s.
Developed from the revolutionary in-line twin engined Cessna 337 Skymaster (a model of which is also available from FSD international), this military version has received increased power, been stripped of all it’s creature comforts and also had some rather vicious weaponry fitted. Nowadays, appearing as a warbird at many air displays in the USA, the Cessna O-2A offers the private pilot (of less than superstar means), a chance to fly a small piece of military heritage at a fairly reasonable price.
As a fan of the ‘weird and wonderful’, I have long since been aware of this aircraft. My interest was first fired by building an Airfix plastic kit of the O-2 in my youth. Now (nearly 40 years later), I can at long last fulfill what my youthful imagination could not quite achieve; to try flying this ‘push-me-pull-you’ type of aircraft from the pilot’s seat!
Purchasing and Installation
FSD International have their own highly secure method of selling downloads. Those of a nervous disposition can actually read an online step-by-step guide of this process in advance of purchase. I encountered no real difficulties in downloading and the installation of this product was almost painless. My first install attempt did give me an odd error message at first; but the second attempt worked like clockwork. This secure system does mean that you have to be online to install the aircraft; but there other options available for those who fly on a dedicated FS computer without an internet connection. These are detailed within the installer and need to be read carefully.
A reasonable set of instructions are included explaining the panel functions, as well as detailing the multitude of opening doors and windows that have been included with this aircraft. An option of having two under-wing weapon sets or a clean airframe is also available; all selected (rather neatly) by ‘clicking points’ once in the VC mode. You can even remove the second pilot’s armored seat, which will give you a much enhanced field of view; observation is the role this aircraft was created for, after all!
This aircraft comes with a Load Manager program which allows you to configure the aircraft loading before flights outside of FS2004. Also included in this feature, are an aircraft maintenance module and a simple way to add your free repaints. You will probably need this device as the O-2 arrives with just a single USAF color scheme.
If you're like me, you have been flying MSFS products for some time and you will not need to be reminded that this team (designer Jim Goldman, panel designer Tim Dickens and flight model guru Steve Small) have been building fine FS aircraft for many years. This latest addition is no exception. From the superb detailing of the rather odd undercarriage to beautifully crafted little additions, such as the tie-down gear, this aircraft exudes top quality workmanship. From any angle, the aircraft itself has that perfect look we have come to expect from FSD International.
I did think that the pilot figure was not quite up to the standard of the rest of the aircraft though. With competitors such as RealAir and Carrendo producing totally animated and very life-like humans to fly their aircraft, this guy was just a little basic and ‘dummy-like’ by comparison. Apart from that minor point, this product displays superb detailing inside and out, with no loss of fluidity or effect on frame rates.
Because of the limitations of FS2004, you do not have the ability to try out any of the weaponry fitted. This is a shame, but no fault of FSD International. We can always hope that MS FSX may redress things on this front later in the year.
The panel, both in 2D form and in the VC, is an absolute dream. The smoothness of the gauges are easily equal to those state-of-the-art devices seen in the RealAir Spitfire and SF260. Sitting before this type of panel gives the GA pilot an opportunity to play ‘Top Gun’, without being out of his or her depth. Very much a military aircraft, but one that any Cessna pilot could take on easily without fear or trepidation.
FSD International has also included an option for the users of Reality XP equipment (if you already own it), to be fitted in this aircraft; but I believe the standard fit will be sufficient for almost all users. You can even install a ‘civil’ radio fit should you wish. Both of these options are set up in the Load Manager facility without the need for specialist knowledge of file swapping.
I found the night lighting in the VC was a little on the dim side. I am not sure if this is authentic, but it certainly does sharpen your concentration! Another small niggle for me, was the lack of a 2D ‘civil style’ panel to match the virtual one. When you click on the VC ‘civil’ panel option click area, the gun sight and weapons switches disappear (together with external stores themselves); however, you are left with the sight and selectors still in place on the 2D panel. This would have been a very simple addition to make (by pressing ALT+2 for instance), in my opinion, but does not really spoil the fun.
If you have ever seen one of these aircraft (or the Cessna Skymaster) in the flesh, you will be well aware of the characteristic sound created by this unusual engine and propeller arrangement. I am not sure if this aircraft has totally captured this distinctive sound perfectly; but (within the restrictions of FS2004) it does have a deep and rather ‘fruity’ sound that is certainly very satisfying to my ears.
In The Air
Once you are behind that splendid panel, you cannot help but feel ‘at one’ with this aircraft. With top flight modeler Steve Small working his magic, you know you have something special. With an engine for and aft canceling out most of the torque, this aircraft is a little gem in the air. You can imagine yourself flying alone over hostile territory bobbing and weaving, in and out of steep sided canyons and valleys. No wonder many O-2 pilots were usually seasoned fighter jockeys before they took up this assignment. If the real thing flew like this they must have really enjoyed throwing this little Cessna around the sky.
If you enjoy GA flying but yearn for something a little more special, this aircraft is for you. Take-offs and landings are a piece of cake and FSD International designer has fitted her with enough horns and alarms to ensure that you know when you have reached the aircraft’s limits. Top marks!
This aircraft is a ‘must have’ if you enjoy flying rather oddball aircraft. Sold at a price that will not cause your bank manager to blow his top ($26.95 download or $29.95 CD) and with some interesting repaints (the FSD Cessna 337 shares the same repaint template) now being released, give some variety you cannot really go wrong with. Performance is good too, even on my middle specification machine, low frame rates were never a problem. I would highly recommend this aircraft. This is a well designed, top quality product with bags of added ‘fun factor’ too!
|What I Like About The Cessna O2-A|
|What I Don't Like About The Cessna O2-A|
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