AVSIM Commercial Aircraft Review

A-6E INTRUDER +
THE EXPANSION PACK

Product Information

Publisher: AlphaSim

Description: Military Aircraft Add-on.

Download Size:
26 - 81 MB (4 parts)

Format:
Download
Simulation Type:
FS9 & FSX
Reviewed by: Gene Davis AVSIM Senior Staff Reviewer - January 14, 2008

Introduction

Test System

Computer Specs

Computer 1:
Intel Core Duo E6600
3GB Dual Channel Ram
ATI Radeon X1950 512
Saitek Flight Yoke
Saitek Throttles
CH Rudder Pedals
Saitek X52 Flight Controllers
Track IR 4
Patchberri Flight Panel

Computer 2:
P4 3.0 800 FSB W/HT
2GB Of Corsair Ram
ATI X1600 PRO 512
Saitek Cyborg 3d Joystick

Sims I use:
FS9, FSGW3, FSX

Flying Time:
25 hours

If there is one jet aircraft in this world that really seems to stand out, it has to be the retired A-6 Intruder! This aircraft saw service in the military from the early 60’s to the late 90’s and proved itself well as an integral part of the Military machine. I remember seeing the A6 Intruder for the first time as two of them were conducting low flying training missions over the Columbia River Gorge and since the age of simulating has started, I have always wanted an A6 that I could fly from the safety of my own desk.

The first Hollywood movie that really chronicled the A-6 Intruder in action was probably the "Flight Of The Intruder" that came out in 1991 and was based on the book written by Steven Coonts. I can still remember sitting in the theater watching in awe as they flew their birds through the dark of night. The movie itself is still a personal favorite of mine and every time it is on, I find myself watching it!

Alphasim has once again come through as being one of the first to release a payware package of this type, personally though, I think it is a long time coming. I remember reading back in the early days of FS2002 on one of the forums when someone was asking about the A6 and the reply was basically that it was a matter of choice and how people would really want such an aircraft and would it sell. I remember thinking that I would buy it!

There was a freeware A6 by Rick Sasala that eventually immerged for FS2002 and FS9 and the aircraft was fantastic. I do know that I had a lot of enjoyable flights in it. In fact, the Rick Sasala A6 was in my hanger and flown regularly up until last year when I lost my hard drive. There have also been a couple of EA6B Prowlers floating around out there, both freeware and payware, but they were not the true A6 Intruder and that is what I craved.

It is really funny as the first time I booted up FSX I couldn’t help but wonder if Rick’s A6 would work or not, but for some reason or another I never did try it and later read that the gauges in the cockpit would not work. My next adventure was that of the Abacus Flight Deck 4 upgrade to FSX, I had an EA6B Prowler, but no Intruder and I found myself wanting the Intruder something terrible. Then, one day as I logged on to check my mail, low and behold there was an announcement that Alphasim had released the Intruder and it was for FSX!

Installation and Documentation

As with all Alphasim aircraft, simply purchase the product via their website and download the installer and follow the instructions on how to get it into your own personal hanger. For this review, I ended up with both the FS9 and FSX versions, this is the way I wanted it as I still enjoy both sims. Documentation is at most simple; there is little need for a product manual with the A6.

Now, when you go the Alphasim website, you are going to find that they are offering the A6 Intruder Base Pack and an Expansion Pack. Initially this is what kept me away from this product as I really couldn’t justify the cost for both. The base package runs at a whopping $48.90 and the Expansion pack costs $18.81, for a total cost of $67.71! If you are an Intruder junky like I am, that is a small price to pay to feed a habit, but in all reality one can almost get away with just the base package and think about picking up the latter later on.

The A-6 Intruder from Alphasim

The base package of the Intruder comes with six model variations and 4 detailed paints that include both loaded and clean models of the aircraft. Now, if you are looking at the Expansion Pack, you will get another 5 variations with four more historically accurate paints bringing your overall total to 11 different aircraft and 8 different squadron paints to choose from.

If you’re a true A-6 junkie like I am, then I think you will probably opt to have both, but it is not necessary to buy the expansion pack. Personally, for the cost I would have really liked to have seen the addition of an aircraft carrier to conduct air operations with or an airfield of some kind in and around a region where the A-6 aircraft saw service. That aside, the A6E is solid and performs remarkably well in either sim and looks its best in FSX.

The exterior model of the A-6E in both FSX and FS9 is highly detailed and looks really good in FSX. All of the traditional moving parts are visible on the aircraft as well as detailed payloads that change depending on which model you choose to fly. It is also important to mention that with the FSX version, all of the new features are taken advantage of and this aircraft does seem to be native to FSX as it is advertised.

Bump mapping, self shadowing and the bloom effect are all evident in the design of this jet as are the exterior effects. From the outside of the A-6 there will be engine smoke, 3 stage turbine glow of the engine, as well as wingtip and flap contrails. Both pilots are viewable from the outside of the aircraft and do move in conjunction with the movements of the aircraft, though I would have liked to have seen someone sitting in the seat next to me as the right seat remains empty from the virtual cockpit.

Another nice visual feature of this package is that the aircraft have a weathered and used look to them, not a new flashy paint job. When one considers the age of this plane it is quite reasonable in thinking you aren’t going to see them as they rolled off the assembly line. I was really surprised that there were no animations for things like chaff and flare, this is quite common in aircraft like this and it would have been a nice addition although it would just be eye candy.

The squadron markings are all historically accurate right down to what aircraft carrier the plane operated from. The included squadrons are VA-95 USS Enterprise, VA-34 USS America, VA-115 USS Midway, VMA 533 US Marines, and with the expansion pack you get VA-52 USS Kitty Hawk, VA-75 USS Eisenhower, VA-128 Whidbey Island, and finally the VA-196 Carl Vinson.

As for the flight model, I think it is relatively good as each weapon loadout seems to affect the overall performance of the aircraft and with a heavy load the A-6 does tend to stall easily when attempting tight maneuvers. It is possible to adjust the loads manually using the Windows Notepad and editing the aircraft configuration file, but in reality, it’s just a matter of picking which A-6 you want to fly.

Remove that load and the aircraft becomes agile, why there wasn’t the ability to jettison the ordnance is beyond me as that seems to have become one of the new big things with military aircraft in Flight Simulator. Even dropping the external fuel tanks would have been nice. I remember reading a post on a forum concerning the flight model and it was written by someone who said they had actually flown A-6’s and he had stated that the flight model was somewhat off and didn’t really match the real thing. For me, the model seems alright and the aircraft flies well and I have had many enjoyable flights in mine!

The Office

I was really impressed the first time I climbed into the cockpit of the A-6. It had a very authentic feel and I was anxious to see what it had to offer system wise. Sadly, this is where the product falls short as the cockpit is basic. Although it does include all of the necessary equipment to fly the bird, it doesn’t model individual systems and from what I found, most of the buttons and switches in the virtual cockpit are there for aesthetic value rather than serving a purpose. In fact, I had to switch back and forth from the virtual to the 2D panel just to access things like lights and radios, though I did finally find the switches for the lights, the radios require switching between the two.

The display in front of the pilot remains dark as well, there should have been something there but there isn’t and the display in front of the copilot is merely the Flight Simulator GPS map. Again, this package comes down to price and for the price Alphasim is asking, there really should have been more emphasis on aircraft systems and functionality from within.

A plane like this requires functionality. Take the tail hook for instance, there should be a way to lower it from within the virtual cockpit, but there is not and requires a keystroke. Same goes for starting the engines, simply hitting control E until both Engines are started, is it when it comes to firing up the A-6.

Complaining aside, the Virtual Cockpit and the 2D panel do serve their purpose, and the analog gauges are accurate looking and function well. Though I found that if you do not have the texture quality set to high in FSX, some of the gauges appear blurry.

I have also got to add that the 2D panel looks very good and was designed using all in XML. If you can get yourself away from the Virtual Cockpit, the 2D does deserve a look see, but I can’t imaging flying an aircraft like this without the virtual cockpit. Two years ago I never thought I would hear myself say "without a virtual cockpit"!

The Sound

The sound! Oh, you just got to love the sound of an A-6 Intruder! There is no other jet that seems to sound like it and I think the folks over at Alphasim have captured the exterior sound of the A-6 remarkably well. The interior sound though is another matter and I really think there could have been more inside the cockpit, more emphasis on warnings and even altitude callouts would have been nice. I was impressed with the sound of the aircraft from the inside as you roll down the runway for takeoff; you actually hear the components in the cockpit rattling.

The exterior sounds are good and from what I remember, capture the A-6 sound well; it’s the extra sounds that I tend to look at when reviewing an aircraft. Exterior wise all of the animated parts like the gear, flaps and canopy have a sound effect as does the afterburner, and it changes in tone as to whatever stage of flight you have it in. Starting and shutting down the engines is also modeled in the A-6, and it does take some time for the engines to spool up but the added effects are worth it.

Flying the A-6

One of the first things I did with the A-6 was jump onto a carrier using my Flight Deck 4 upgraded to work with FSX; I was ready for a go a good carrier launch. The aircraft worked well and launched on my first attempt, as I climbed out and away from the carrier, I quickly lost sight of the Carrier group through the cloud cover. I had forgotten that I had Active Sky running in the background and my clear day quickly went to about 5 miles of visibility in the fog. What to do now I thought?

I decided to give a carrier landing a shot. Dropping to about 800 feet, I slowed the aircraft down, then dropped the gear and the tail hook. I could just make out what I thought was the carrier ahead of me as I plowed in for a landing, but when I got within range to be able to see, I was lining up on an escort ship! Oops! Throttling up, bringing my gear and flaps up I went around for another run. This time I could make out the lights on the carrier, that’s what those are for! As I brought the A-6 in for a landing, I managed to catch the second wire and get the jet stopped. That was just too much fun and it is aircraft add-ons like this that make it fun!

The other flight I really enjoyed was flying out of KPDX in FS9 and going east through the Columbia River Gorge, hug the waterline and push those throttles to max but just remember there are bridges in the Gorge! This is a really fun flight if you want to go fast and sightsee. I usually end mine by flying east and then north over Goldendale and then back over Mount Hood and on to PDX again.

All of my experiences with the Alphasim A-6 were good and I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed tinkering around in the aircraft. It is a long time coming and I am so glad Alphasim took the leap and released the A-6 Intruder!

In The End

This aircraft is a matter of taste. If you like flying military jets and have an affinity for the Intruder like I do, you will probably want it. I have read that there is another A-6 coming out from another developer and you know what, I will probably get that one as well and continue to fly the Alphasim bird, just because I tend to like a variety even though it is the same aircraft from another developer, they may take their project farther.

FSX gives the Flight Sim user a new environment to play around in and at times has a much more realistic feeling than FS9, especially when it comes to the feeling of flight. Aircraft like the A-6 excel in this sim because they are designed native to FSX and this product really shows off in that environment, especially when it comes to simulating speed at low altitudes.

Again, price is the big deciding factor here as is taste. Do I think the price is a little too high, had the expansion pack been included and the price stayed at $50, I would say it is well worth it. But without the complex system modeling you really have to look at what you are getting for your buck and I think the $67 price tag is going to scare away a lot of people just because of its price.

In this day and age of money pinching you have to ask yourself, how much do I need this aircraft? But, on the other hand though if you skip one bottle of pop or one cup of coffee for a day per month, then this airplane add-on becomes affordable and it’s something you can keep going back to, as we all know where the pop and coffee end up!

 

 

What I Like About The A6

  • The aircraft!
  • The sound
  • 2D Panel
  • It is fun!

 

What I Don't Like About The A6

  • Virtual Cockpit needs more functionality
  • Many of the buttons in the VC are nothing but eye candy
  • If global texture size in FS isn’t at its highest setting the gauges in the A-6 a blurry
  • The price tag!

 

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