AVSIM Commercial Aircraft Review

“Grumman Ironworks”
Alphasim A-6E/EA-6B
Baseline & Expansion Packages

Product Information

Publisher: Alphasim

Description: Military aircraft Add-on.

Download Size:
A-6E: 78.6 MB (Exp: 27.1 MB)
EA-6B: 84.5MB

Format:
Download
Simulation Type:
FS9 & FSX
Reviewed by: Alexis Esguerra - Senior Contributing Reviewer - February 16, 2008

Introduction

They were a pair of naval warplanes born in the sixties, and yet to this day, they both remain pinnacle examples of their respective types. One maintains the bragging rights of being able to carry the heaviest weapon load off the deck of an aircraft carrier, while the other outlasted it’s competition to remain one of the military’s primary platform for its specialized kind of warfare. Not surprisingly, both were created by an organization that is virtually synonymous with US carrier aviation, Grumman Aerospace Corporation (now known as Northrop Grumman), an organization renown for production of some of the finest aircraft ever to grace a flight deck.

The planes are the Intruder and the Prowler. The former earned itself quite the reputation for being able to plant a massive bomb load (upwards to three times the normal amount carried by a WW2 Flying Fortress) with pinpoint accuracy in any weather conditions. And then there’s the latter, so adept at denying an enemy the opportunity to take their shots, that it’s not only the Navy and Marine Corps primary electronic warfare aircraft, but also regularly requested for use by the Air Force.

Alphasim is well known throughout the flightsim community for its sizable inventory of the world’s military aircraft, both past and present. Well, their developers elected to bring both the Intruder and Prowler to the FS9 and FSX worlds, and have already seen to it to provide expansions for both packages. In this review, we shall take a closer look at what they’ve done with these two aircraft for the earlier MSFS release.

Installation and Documentation

The baseline A-6E Intruder & EA-6B packages came to this reviewer in zipped file formats, something I am not accustomed to for payware add-ons, but easily installed nonetheless. All are easily installed by extracting all the contents directly into the FS main directory – the files automatically go where they need to, so there are no headaches involved. The very same thing can be said about the installation of the Expansion Pack for Intruder, which must be purchased separately.

In the case of documentation, it’s a touch light, with a single README file and cockpit screenshots to familiarize the new pilot with his or her machine of choice. In addition, a couple of HTML files are included to provide some crucial data on how to operate it. All in all, they are adequate in getting the pilot up to speed.

Now, my personal preference for manuals, either printed or PDF format, not withstanding, caught me off guard with the lightness of the documentation when I considered the price of the software. At $50.08/$42.37 USD, the baseline packages are amongst the highest priced FS9 aircraft add-ons that I have come across. I did some documentation comparisons to other packages on my hard drive, and when I consider that some other add-ons in my hangar, more often than not, came with detailed checklists, reference charts, historical data, and (in one case) reference videos, the simplicity of A-6E/EA-6B extras honestly left me wanting for more.

Let’s Take A Look

Alphasim’s material covers the ‘E’ variant – the last main manufactured version – of Intruder, and the sole major version of the Prowler. For those not familiar with the histories of these aircraft, a bit of trivia here; the reason you’re doing a double take at familiarity between the two is because the Prowler literally evolved from the Intruder. In the mid-60s, some Intruders were modified by the Marine Corps to conduct electronic warfare missions, eventually resulting in an A-6 specifically made for that mission. The EA-6B was an improvement on that, using and building on the existing A-6 airframe. Just don’t try telling that to Prowler crews.

The base packs give numerous variations and appearances for both planes, and an available Expansion Pack exists for A-6E. They are based off of actual squadrons and equipment/weapon loadouts for each aircraft, and are listed below:

  Base Pack Expansion Pack
A-6E Intruder USS Enterprise VA-95 (Clean), USS Enterprise VA-95 (Harpoons), USS America VA-34 (Mavericks, Snakeyes), USS Midway VA-115 (Mk 82s), US Marines VMA-553 (GBU12s, Snakeyes), USS America VA-34 (HARMs) USS Kitty Hawk VA-52 (‘post-strike’ Empty TFRs), USS Kitty Hawk VA-52 (tanks only), USS Eisenhower VA-75 (GBU-10s), NAS Whidbey Island VA-128 (Walleyes, Snakeyes), USS Carl Vinson VA-196 (SLAMs)
EA-6B Prowler USS Kitty Hawk VAQ-131 (HARMs), USS Dwight D. Eisenhower VAQ-132 (ECM pods), USS Enterprise VAQ-134 (HARMs), USS Nimitz VAQ-135 (3 pods 2 tanks), US Marines VAQ-129 (3 pods 2 tanks), US Marines VMAQ 1 (HARM) N/A

You can’t fault them for providing variety, can you? With each base pack containing six differing variations apiece, there are certainly enough different Intruders & Prowlers to keep most simmers happy, and the existence of the Expansion pack with its additional five A-6s is surely a bonus for die-hard Intruder fans.

Starting on the outside, the first impressions are good ones. The squadron markings vary with a mix of markings from, I would guess, the 1980's onward. Many of these Grummans sport low-vis Tactical Paint Schemes, with several adorned with the more colorful markings reserved for Squadron Commanders or CAG birds. A couple of A-6E’s skins even allow us to see things in the pre-TPS days, where things were still gray, but in a slightly brighter way.

Detailwise, both Intruder and Prowler are on par. All major components are present, and are nicely rendered. I found an inconsistency here and there, but nothing as to detract from the general flavor of the aircraft. Close-ups are also good; for example, you won’t find any panel screws here, but the individual panels are easily discernable, as are antennae, gear components, etc. The only flaw I could find were the formation lights, which, while present, do not function at night. The exterior textures are well weathered as well; considering most of these planes are twice old enough to vote and the harsh sea environment they were built to work from, the highly-used look works well.

Same can be said for the weapons and external tanks when they happen to be attached. I brought in a friend who happened to be an ordinance handler in the Navy with direct experience in this aircraft type. Per his trained eye, general shapes and colors of the weaponry and equipment for both aircraft appear right, as do their placements on each individual variant.

Visually, the VC cockpits for both aircraft nail down the general appearance of each plane in question. True, the hood for the B/N’s side of the A-6E office in VC is missing, (I believe this is a deliberate omission on the part of Alphasim, it doubles in as a pseudo-navigation instrument) and the ECMO offices in the back of the EA-6B were not modeled, but when I compared them to snapshots of the real world machines, I wasn’t disappointed. 2D-wise, I have no up-close reference material, but the panels do reflect the general feel of a plane from the late 60’s / early 70’s.

Where the cockpits do fall short is in VC functionality, and it’s a hard fall. I found few of the switches and buttons actually worked in the virtual workplaces of the Intruder/Prowler flight crews, and there are inconsistencies in what ones do work between these siblings. For example, there are working light controls in A-6E, but I never found them in EA-6B. Conversely, the ‘jammer’ pilot may be able to switch nav frequencies in this view mode, but the ‘attack’ puke won’t. It forces a hop between VC and 2D, which is decidedly better in this regards.

Animations & Effects

Animations and special effects are also present here for both aircraft. The screenshots shows the good share of animations that are present, namely folding wings, opening canopy, extending panels for the steps, and less apparent, optional crew; a simple key combination does away with the flight crew if you don’t want them in the picture. You may wish to hold off from sending them into Shift+W oblivion, though, because I found that the pilot’s head is synched with roll input from the stick. Roll left and he glances left. Roll right, the same in the opposite direction. Nice.

Moving parts on these planes are standard flair and include the signature wingtip-mounted dive brakes, as are two other crucial features for a plane that operates from aircraft carriers – the tailhook and the folding wings.

As for special effects, they include visible representation of engine exhaust based on power setting, engine smoke, air condensation along the wing root, and wingtip vortices when the plane is flown under the right conditions. The first one, I’m a bit undecided about - at maximum throttle, the exhausts emanate an afterburner-like glow (neither aircraft were not equipped were afterburners), but at the same time, Alphasim kept the planes subsonic; I’ll chalk that one up to artistic license, and to be fair, it really does get the point across that you have the throttles to the stops.

Flight Model

Okay… the moment of truth - time to take this puppy to the air. I kind of wish that I could take these two birds off the deck of a carrier, but as I do not have one that I can use for the purpose of this review, I guess the ‘unsinkable’ nature of a land airport will suffice. Time to head to NAS Whidbey Island in Washington State, which serves as the place that many Prowler squadrons stay when they’re not deployed at sea.

Before we head out, another strange quirk of the Intruder/Prowler. I have several military aircraft in my stable, and just like them, various weapon loadouts are available for both of these planes. However, be forewarned that choosing a particular variant does not alter the physical weight of either A-6E or EA-6B. The user is required to enter these values manually in the aircraft’s Fuel/Weight window before any difference is felt. This was another issue that I found hard to accept. Predetermined weights spelled out in the FM for each variant would’ve been the way to go, if not a separate load editor altogether.

The good news is that, manually entering values aside, once you have the desired aircraft loaded to your preference, both Intruder and Prowler handle very well for the planes they represent. They fly pretty much as one would expect for aircraft of their class and weight – a little slow in the roll, and definitely with the heft of mass hinted in the control stick. The addition of more ordinance or equipment will be keenly felt, so make sure you don’t overload the aircraft. They aren’t fighters, but they dance around the sky when pushed and are capable of limited zoom maneuvers. Dump out the speed brakes and you’ll get them screaming towards Mother Earth at a good clip without danger of overspeed.

Performance

Test System

CPU: Pentium 4 E4400
RAM: 2.0 GB
Video: NVidia 6800XT PCI-e X2 (SLI), 256MB each
Sound – SB Audigy
Joystick – MS Sidewinder FF2

Flying Time:
30 hours

Baseline Tests Parameters: resolution - 1024x768x32 locked @ 30.0, detail / autogen levels – MAX, no traffic, no weather.

Both A-6E and EA-6B are very user friendly on the system resources. Each never reached 10% of a hit on the frame rates when running, averaging in the 29's the entire time.

In Closing

There is little doubt in this reviewer’s mind that Alphasim’s A-6E and EA-6B are perhaps the best representations of both types out there on the market. Unfortunately, that uniqueness comes at an unrealistic cost. Certainly, the Intruder and Prowler are not alone on the higher-echelons of the price scale, but a consumer should expect a lot more for that money. The lack of detailed documentation, preset loadouts or load editor, and light and inconsistent VC functionality makes it hard for me to justify what they’re asking for these packages.

Now assuming you are a die-hard aficionado of these two types, or if money is not an option, then I would wholly endorse the A-6E and EA-6B. They are excellent in external appearance and flight modeling (once the weights are tweaked), which to me are the prime requisites for any add-on I might purchase. In the absence of any comparable competition, they are definitely a long-awaited boon for any fan of these two jets.

 

What I Like About The A-6E/EA-6B

  • One of the best representations of both aircraft in question.
  • Excellent external model.
  • Great Flight Model (with adjustments if necessary)
  • Variety of schemes and visible loadouts (more so for A-6E with Expansion Pack)

 

What I Don't Like About A-6E/EA-6B

  • Extremely high price for base packages.
  • Overly simplified documentation.
  • Manual weight tweaking required for loadouts.
  • VC Functionality is inconsistent and lacking.

 

Printing

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A-6E / EA-6B

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