AVSIM Commercial Aircraft Review

Alpha Simulations C-130E Hercules 

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Rating Guide
Publisher: Alpha Simulations
Description:
The vererable Lockheed C-130E military transport airplane
Download Size:
38 MB for Base aircraft, variants and sound set (total of 9 files)
Format:
Automated installer
Simulator:
FS2002, CFS2
Reviewed by: Ian Scott, AVSIM Staff Reviewer

Possible Commercial Rating Score: 1 to 5 stars with 5 stars being exceptional.
Please see details of our review rating policy here

Introduction

I remember my first air show as though it was yesterday. It was sheer magic, with the usual finale of a military jet display team. But amazingly one of the highlights that stood out in my mind was not the jets, or the air refueling that was the first time thousands of people had ever seen it, or even the thunderclap of a sonic boom that was the feature of air shows in the 1950s before the environmental movement began to write the rules. A sight that amazed me so much that I still remember it over 40 years later was a USAF C-130 Hercules. It came in slow, hit the runway, threw the props in reverse and stopped on a dime. People were amazed. Then it reversed its props again and moved backwards to the runway threshold, not a very long distance away. People gasped. Then with an ear splitting roar it ignited JATO rockets and in a fiery trail of smoke and heat it blasted into the air like a helicopter, climbing steeply and so slowly that it almost seemed to be hovering. The crowd went wild and a young teenager saw something he never forgot.

A few years later the same young man rode in the back of a C-130 coming home from SE Asia, and although he was no longer the nave kid of a few years before, he still felt happy that he was getting to ride in an airplane that had been such a hero in happier times. (He was even happier that he scored the best seat in the cargo area, the leather padded seat of a bulldozer that was securely strapped down in the center. Everyone else got to sit hour after hour in the hard nylon straps of the troop seats).

And so when I got a chance to review a simulation of this great airplane produced by a respected payware producer Alpha Simulations, I jumped at the chance. What resulted is a somewhat mixed experience. An excellent visual model, a reasonable flight model but a poor panel and sound package marred the overall experience and left me feeling disappointed at what "might have been."

Test System

Athlon 1800 1.6 Ghz
1 Gb SDRAM
Windows XP Home Edition
nVidia GForce Ti4600 video card
CH Products F16 Combat Stick, Throttle and rudder pedals
Gateway EV910 19" Monitor

Flying Time:
8 hours over 8 days


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C-130 Virtual Cockpit. Note that the engine instruments and copilot's panel are not operative - they are painted onto the bitmap and do not work

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USAF low-vis markings

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Another view of the USAF low-vis C-130E

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RAF C130 with loading ramp down

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RAF C130 with refueling probe visible

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RAF C130 from above

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Egyptian C130 during gear lowering cycle

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Egyptian C130 with rear cargo ramp open in flight

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"Fat Albert," the famous Blue Angels logistics support aircraft

History

In a world of superlatives and "hype," only a few aircraft have truly earned the description "legendary." Of that small band, very few have been military transports. There is the "Tante Ju" of course, the "Iron Annie" officially known as the Junkers JU52. There is its allied equivalent, the C-47/Dakota/R4D/Skytrain/Goonie Bird etc. But in my view, even these two aviation giants pale in comparison with the champion air-lifter of all time, the Lockheed C-130 Hercules.

First flight was in 1954. More than 2,200 C-130s have since been built, and they are flown by more than 60 nations worldwide, in more than 70 variations. Many early models are still flying, "hauling trash" and fighting forest fires, taking off and landing on rough strips in steaming jungles and frozen tundra alike. And amazingly, it is still in production in the C130J version, which though physically similar to the original aircraft is in reality almost an entirely new design.

The C130's "legendary" status has been earned in many harrowing missions. Among those most notable were the hair-raising airlift missions into the besieged US Marine base at Khe Sanh in Vietnam, the astonishing Israeli hostage rescue at Entebbe, Uganda, and a quite recent mid-winter evacuation mission of a cancer patient (the base physician) at the American scientific outpost at the South Pole, conducted on skis in visibility so poor that those waiting on the ground did not see the aircraft until it stopped right in front of them.

As the Lockheed-Martin website states, "In truth, there is no airlift mission the C-130 has not flown. It carries troops, vehicles and armaments into battle; drops paratroopers and supplies from the sky; serves as airborne and ground refuelers; provides emergency evacuation and humanitarian relief; and conducts airborne early warning and maritime surveillance. It has recovered space capsules, and worn skis in Antarctica. Surviving the toughest flights, the roughest landings and the constant pounding of heavy cargo, many of the earliest C-130s are still active today. In the history of aviation design, the preeminent symbol for strength, durability and multi-mission success unquestionably belongs to the C-130 Hercules."

So let's now look at the Alpha Simulations' rendition of this legendary aircraft.

Panel

The 2D panel is, without a doubt, the weakest part of the package. It consists of a simple hand-painted bitmap of the Aircraft Commander's panel with some very basic flight instrumentation that does not even include the instruments for the four engines. The gauges themselves seem to be largely freeware quality holdovers from FS98. It's not that they are bad—they are simply not even close to being "cutting edge" nor are they remotely like a US built military aircraft of the C-130E era. Incredibly, they are also not adjustable in any way. There is no mouse "hot spot" to even change the barometric pressure on the altimeter. Pop-up panels are equally unimpressive, including a totally incongruous radio panel and autopilot from the default Leer and a throttle quadrant that includes "mixture controls" and is therefore clearly not a turboprop quadrant.

To be blunt about it, if this was a freeware panel I had downloaded, I would have glanced at it and immediately deleted it from my hard disk. It is definitely not a payware quality panel.

Virtual Cockpit (VC)

The virtual cockpit is significantly better than the 2D panel. Instrumentation is still very basic, with no working engine gauges at all, no gear lights and other missing features that are almost impossible to understand. But you can pan around something that does resemble a C-130 flight deck. It does not come close to the quality of products like the PSS Dash-8 or the Capt Sim Legendary 727, but then it doesn't cost as much either. If it was a freeware VC I would rate it as better than average. As payware, it is "average" but is definitely serviceable and I enjoyed flying the Herc from the VC while almost never using the 2D panel. But without any night textures, the VC is completely dark at night and the gauges are even unreadable in early or late daylight because of shadows.

Visual Model

This is the area Alpha Simulations always excel in and this product does not disappoint in the least. The supplied aircraft comes in two variants&#the basic C-130E in several liveries, and the modified RAF version that has a rather "Mickey Mouse" flight refueling probe on top of the aircraft that was hastily fitted during the Falklands War when the long flights to Ascension Island were stretching the "Herc's" capabilities to the full.

There are currently five different liveries of the basic C-130E plus the RAF one (which looks great). Of these, my favorites were the USAF "low-vis" and the flamboyant and beautiful "Fat Albert" of the US Navy display team, the Blue Angels. Alpha Simulations has also provided a paint kit and I suspect we will soon see plenty of other liveries becoming available.

Not only is the external design of the aircraft beautifully rendered, but there is an outstanding interior as well, viewable through several opening doors, including the rear cargo ramp as well as paratroop doors and the crew door. The aircraft looks absolutely right and the color schemes are wonderful, with examples provided from the Egyptian Air Force, from Austria and the US Coast Guard in addition to the two others previously mentioned. This is where the package really does offer value for money. The model is done in Gmax and the designer, Phil Perrot has done an outstanding job.

As with all of the other Alpha Simulations Gmax products I have tried, it looks wonderful as an AI aircraft and is easy on frame-rates. If military AI traffic is important to you in your overall FS experience (it is to me) then this product might be worth purchasing just for that reason alone. Seeing this beautiful aircraft waiting to take-off is a real thrill and unlike some add-ons, it will fly right as AI traffic after it takes off as well. Watching it land with a nice burst of smoke from the tires is a treat for the eyes.

Sound

At first I was really quite pleased with the sound set, one that is downloaded in four files. Reverse thrust is quite robust and sounds authentic. External and internal sounds are all okay, though there is no sound at all for gear retraction/lowering or for flaps. Start up sounds were very good, though there is an embarrassing silence between the time the turbines spool up and the props come out of ground fine and begin to roar. (There is no way to start the aircraft except by using the default keys.) But generally, it is a good sound set and would be a definite enhancement for the product but for one very serious problem. There is a bug in the sound set that causes it to go completely silent when you reduce thrust in the air. It just dies out to silence. I e-mailed Phil Perrot and asked him about this and he acknowledged that it did appear to be a bug that he could not figure out and therefore it was probably not going to be fixed. I also had the experience of FS2002 freezing on me several times and I suspect that the sound set might have had something to do with this, as after I replaced it with a different sound set I had no further problems.

Flight Model

Like most Alpha Simulations aircraft the flight model is competent, though not what I might call "refined." The aircraft does seem to behave within the performance parameters of an airplane of the size and vintage of the C-130. I have no way of saying it is or is not accurate, but it seemed okay, though it lacked the inertia that I would expect an airplane of that size and weight to have. Nonetheless, it was pleasant to fly and fairly "believable" without being exciting or challenging.

Manual

What manual? Other than a brief paragraph describing the aircraft in the aircraft.cfg file, there is no information given. But as there are no systems modeled, it really doesn't matter. You start the airplane with <Ctrl>+<E> and fly it. End of story.

Summary

I admire Alpha Simulations and I have purchased several of their products. They tackle projects that other companies wouldn't touch, primarily military aircraft and often ones that are not well known. They are prolific and you can count on finding a new item in either their preview section or newly available if you check their site every week or so. (I do). Their planes are relatively inexpensive though they have increased in price quite a bit lately. They also have a generous policy of releasing formerly payware products as freeware once they have reached a certain age, and some of these are really good. (I wish certain other companies who are still peddling old products to innocent consumers had the same integrity.)

All of this to say that I really wanted to like the C-130E they have produced. But I have to be honest and say that if you are looking for a really good simulation of the greatest military air-lifter and general purpose "maid of all work" of the 20th Century, then you are going to have to wait until the Captain Sim release, hopefully later this year.

However, if you can't wait to get your hands on a gorgeous looking C-130E that you can admire from the outside views and love to see as an AI aircraft, or just want to play with it for a while, then the Alpha Simulation C-130E is worth a look. It looks great and flies well. But the panel is atrocious, the sound is "bugged" and the VC is, well, okay. (Could be much better than okay if it was well instrumented and if there was any night lighting.)

If Alpha Simulations would adopt a higher standard for their panels, night textures and lighting for their VC and update and expand their gauge options, they could be a major force in the payware flight simulation field. Conversely, they could eliminate the panels and VC, put the time into the visual model and sell them for less, with the buyer using them for AI traffic or spending time finding panels and sound sets to go with them. But in this case, a substandard panel and gauges is just not an acceptable thing in a payware product that though modest in price, is still not freeware.

So it's only one lethargic "thumbs up" for this Herc. Like many of the women I dated in my single years, it looks great but you will quickly tire of it and will be content to see it passing by on the taxiway of your AI populated airfields. You can purchase and download this plane at the Alpha Simulations website.

 

What I Like About the AlphaSim C-130
  • Beautiful visual model - it looks great
  • Excellent liveries - especially gorgeous "Blue Angels" model
  • At $14 it is less expensive than most add-ons

 
What I Don't Like About the AlphaSim C-130
  • The 2D panel and gauges are disgraceful. They are not FS2002 payware quality
  • The sound set is "bugged"

 
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The review above is a subjective assessment of the product by the author. There is no connection between the producer and the reviewer, and we feel this review is unbiased and truly reflects the performance of the product in the simming environment. This disclaimer is posted here in order provide you with background information on the reviewer and connections that may exist between him/her and the contributing party.

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