I must start this article with a confession. ‘I am a download junkie!’ There, I’ve said it, I have confessed to getting a real ‘buzz’ every time I find a new freeware aircraft or scenery that appeals to me and select that magic little word ‘save’, straight onto to my hard drive!. From the heady days of FS98, up until quite recently, I could guarantee a ‘fix’ on most days. My FS9 folder positively bulged at the seams and its loading times were measured in on a calendar rather than a watch, but I was happy, very happy indeed.
The recent advent of FSX, combined with the ever increasing demands of we ‘junkies’ (you know the drill, ‘it doesn’t have a VC, so I will not bother with it’ or ‘the C variant actually had 14 rivets on the lower access panel, so it is not really a great model’) has unfortunately sent many a freeware designer into premature retirement. So, I thought it is a good time to showcase a design team who still produce brilliant FS aircraft, complete with enough ‘bells and whistles’ to keep even the most demanding simmer happy and who have plans to continue building quality models well into the future!
In the United Kingdom it is said that every man needs a shed, a small (usually wooden) structure where he can store his tools or attend to his hobbies. This haven of solitude, away from the burdens of work and family life, is, more often than not, being replaced by a few quite hours in front of a PC. Therefore, I find it very fitting that one of the most prolific design teams based in the UK is called the Simshed.
Originally founded as a solo project by chief designer Brian Franklin in 2004, the Simshed has now been enhanced by the addition of a small team of texture artists and gauge gurus, each bringing an extra element of talent to Brian’s already established reputation. These team members are virtually all serving or retired Royal Air Force personnel, with many decades of service time between them. Because some of them are still currently on active service, (for security reasons) I will just call them by their first names; please take a bow Jim, Dyl, Neil and Doug.
Brian himself served 24 years in the RAF as a flight systems technician and currently works in London as an I.T. Manager. He commutes via Britain’s wonderful rail network to London from his home in Chester, a daily journey of over five hours! Luckily for us, his laptop is a perfect tool to do his design wizardry and he completes a great amount of this work while commuting by train.
From day one, the Simshed has had a theme; all their projects have served, or are serving with the Royal Air Force. With such a strong service history among the designers, this is hardly surprising. With that in mind, we will ignore the RAF policeman and take a peak in the Simshed hangar.
Please Note. All screenshots featured here were taken using the incredible (but payware) Flight Zone 02 Portland. Many of the aircraft featured below (along with many re-paints) are available in our File Library and all can be found at the Simshed website itself.
The Simshed Hangar Tour
Brian’s first Simshed offering was the Aerospatiale/Westland Puma HC1, now tucked away towards the back of the hangar. As he had spent part of his RAF career (as had your author) serving on this useful French designed tactical support helicopter, Brian was in a good position to create a great model, using personal experience in addition to the usual reference material. From this first design, it was obvious that a new talent had arrived on the freeware scene. The Puma featured a simple but authentic looking virtual cockpit, a custom sound file and flight dynamics that gave you (within the boundaries of MSFS) a real feeling of flying an aircraft of this type. It was these three key qualities that would become the hallmark of all Simshed designs. Even by today’s standards, this model of a Puma has never been bettered.
Brian’s next project was a BAE Nimrod MR2, the Anti-Submarine and Maritime Patrol aircraft of the Royal Air Force. Although a very different aircraft from the Puma, Brian still included a basic virtual cockpit and some very loud custom sound files. He also added some very nice touches, such as the ground service vehicles that appear on shutdown. As you would expect with an aircraft based on a 1950’s airliner (the D.H. Comet), the Nimrod is not exactly agile! However, in its normal environment at 200 ft over the Atlantic, she is stable and very rugged just like the real thing. She would win few, if any, beauty contests. A great virtue of this FS2004 version is the lack of a requirement to have a cast iron stomach. The real thing operates in a very turbulent environment and crews have become renown for their ability to enjoy fried Eggs and Bacon in flight, when many of us would be examining the inside of small paper bags!
Next, Brian (joined for this project by texture artist Dyl) went from one of the largest serving military types, to one of the smallest jets ever to serve in any air force and delighted many of us with (in my opinion), a real ‘mini masterpiece’. The Folland Gnat TR1 was a diminutive fast jet trainer, famous for being flown by the RAF’s display team "The Red Arrows" during the 1960’s and early 1970’s. Along side the Supermarine Spitfire, the Gnat was the favorite aircraft of the late lamented Ray Hannah, who led the Red Arrows during his RAF career. What a little gem she is too, the virtual cockpit gives the feel of fitting like a glove and gives a fantastic ‘feel like you’re there’ factor, not bettered until advent of recent pay-ware releases like the sublime Sibwings SAAB Safir. The Gnat’s performance (including a stunning rate of roll in display trim, thanks to semi illegally tripping a damper circuit on the ailerons!) puts it on a par with modern display aircraft, despite being designed (originally as a lightweight single seat fighter) in the 1950’s. Simshed included multiple models with both advanced trainers and aerobatic display team (The Red Arrows and their forerunners The Yellow Jacks) aircraft, in addition to the now customary original sound files. Brian also included a Paloust starter unit, an essential item to start this type of aircraft. I do suggest if you have not tried the Simshed Gnat, join the 6800 odd simmers who have downloaded her from the Avsim Library and take her for a spin; it is like being given the keys to a fantastic small sports car.
Having created a small fast jet, Brian turned his attention to the heavies again with his next release. The Lockheed C-130 Hercules is one of the true legends of aviation, but one that had not featured too highly in freeware releases for MSFS. The Simshed C-130 is the RAF C3 version, a stretched and updated version of the original C-130E version. Featuring a detailed virtual cockpit, (it is still the only freeware C-130 to have one of these), this aircraft became a very popular download indeed. The virtual cockpit may well not be up to the esteemed Capt Sim payware version, but as freeware, it is still the benchmark model of the extraordinary airframe, and (unlike the Capt Sim model) will run very happily, on any average specification PC.
With the addition of Jim and his XML gauge skills, Simshed really shifted up a gear with the release of the British developed version of the Brazilian advanced trainer, the Short Tucano T Mk. 1. Much of this new expertise helped them to use state-of-the-art custom gauges in both 2D and 3D cockpits and as Jim is a serving senior engineering officer, I am sure his recruitment also aided in reproducing the technical aspects of the real aircraft. This type of aircraft is perfect for giving pilots with experience of General Aviation types, a real first taste of modern military flying. This alone would have made this type a popular download, but the team’s ever improving standards of modeling and texturing (very evident in the screenshots) made the Tucano a real winner, with more currently than 6500 downloads from Avsim alone. As in most of his models (the Gnat in particular), Brian’s ability to portray the feel of the aircraft shines through here, when seated in the cockpit you have a true sense of being there, which is not an easy thing to re-create.
For his next project, Brian went back to an aircraft that both he and I had served on while in the RAF, our beloved Westland Wessex HC2. This aircraft took the original Sikorsky S 58 design and mated the airframe (designed originally to accommodate a single radial piston engine) with two small Rolls Royce Gnome turboshaft engines, driving the rotors through a coupling gearbox. This rugged and reliable old warhorse served the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force in a multitude of roles for over 30 years. When I arrived on a Wessex squadron in 1976 as a fresh face teenager, it was thought of as an old aircraft. A few years ago at an air show, I talked to the pilot of one of my old squadron’s current young pilots, only to discover he was not even born until ten years after I had joined the unit! We both agreed, however, what a wonderful old machine she was.
In MSFS, the Wessex is a total joy to anyone who takes the time required to learn to fly virtual rotary wing aircraft. With over 4500 downloads from the Avsim Library since September 2006, I am not the only one who thinks she is one of the best freeware helicopters yet released. If only somebody could design a virtual crewman to help with the rather restricted visibility of the Wessex, it would be even better! With practice, it is possible to land the aircraft from your rather lofty position and (once again) the superb virtual cockpit gives you real feeling of what it is like to fly this delightfully odd looking machine.
Well that completes the hangar tour of Simshed, but what of the future? By the time you read this, a Royal Navy Wessex pack will be available in the Avsim File Library. This 43 meg download contains 3 new models, the HU5 troop transport, the standard Mk1 in both general purpose and SAR paint schemes and an HAS3 anti-submarine variant. The team now has only one main variant on their list to build, the Wessex HCC4, used for many years by the Queens Flight to transport the British Royal Family to engagements within the UK. These highly polished examples were the UK's equivalent to Marine One in the USA.
Hopefully scheduled for a spring release is a magnificent looking HS 125 Dominie T Mk1, the RAF’s current multi-engine crew trainer. This aircraft now holds the title of longest serving aircraft in the current UK forces inventory (having entered service in 1965) and its executive jet origins are sure to make it a very popular airframe within the flight simulation community. Brian has let me take this aircraft up for some test flights and it promises to be a very special model indeed. As can be seen from the screenshots here, the Simshed models improve with every release. A look at their future projects on their website means the future looks very bright indeed. Brian will move onto FSX in the coming months, but intends to continue making FS9 compatible models for the foreseeable future. Whilst on my visit, I also managed to grab a rather interesting snap shot of one the shed’s future projects! I am expecting a knock at the door from a man in uniform, at any minute.
With this queue of wonderful new aircraft to look forward to, we freeware download ‘junkies’ can at least put off the day when we will have to pay for all our new additions to our hangars. This small team has provided tens of thousands of free downloads from Avsim alone (I would guess a figure in excess of 100,000 downloads across all the popular download sites, would be a conservative estimate), we should be eternally grateful to the guys of Simshed for all their hard work and dedication over the past two years. If these wonderful creations sold for $10 each (a figure lower than the average payware aircraft package), they would have grossed over $1 million………………. well in theory anyway.
A Parting Thought
The days of daily new models may soon be a thing of the past, but thanks to handful of freeware modelers worldwide quality downloads are still alive, it is up to us to keep it that way! If you download a model and detect a possible problem or discrepancy, do not fire off an e-mail of complaint to the designer. They have put literally hundreds of hours of work into their project and really do not need the hassle of replying to every critic who wants to show off his knowledge. If you are an avid aviation enthusiast, (but like me, no modeler), why not try to offer your services with beta testing future projects via the forums that most designers now have? It will give you an opportunity to actually be constructive in this hobby and help preserve one of the best features of this hobby (currently under great threat), the free add-on!
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