With western jets getting all the attention from both the media and the virtual world, it is always nice when something unusual looking comes along and gets all the forums asking “what is that!”
And it's even better when that aircraft then goes vertical, seemingly stalls then slides back on its tail. Before recovering (not that it was out of control in the first place) applying full thrust and climbing back up to 40000ft in under a minute.
The Sukhoi Flanker has been doing that since the early 80’s.
It comes as no surprise then, that Alphasim, creators of some of the finest fast jets for Flight Sim (amongst many other things), decided to develop the Flanker. They started with the Su-27, Su-35 and Su-37 which were released last year. After this, they developed the carrier variant of the Flanker series, the Su-33. Alongside this came scenery for the Russian Navy’s Flagship, the Admiral Kuznetsov.
The Real Kuznetsov, or Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov to give it its full name, was constructed at Nikolayev South Shipyard in Nikolayev and became fully operational in 1995, 10 years after its launch. It was supposed to be the lead ship in the Admiral Kuznetsov class, but only 2 were ever built, the second (named Varyag) is being sold to the People's Republic of China by the Ukraine under the condition she would never be refitted for combat. She is currently in dry-dock, incomplete. The Russian Flagship is expected to remain in service until 2030.
With my quick history lesson over, it is time to fly.
I’m not a fast jet fanatic. Nearly all of my time in Flight Simulator is spent with 100 other people accompanying me onboard. When I do fly by myself, the aircraft will go no more than 100 knots. So for me to venture out in a jet capable of traveling twice the speed of sound, hitting 16000ft before reaching the end of the runway and burning up the same amount of fuel I would use on a round trip from Bristol to Dublin in the same time it takes me to make a cup of tea, it takes a little persuading.
But when it comes to the Russian fighters, it is only a little persuading. Both the Sukhoi Flanker series and the MiG29 jets have been something I have wanted to throw around in FS for some time, if for nothing more than a break from the 9 hour long hauls.
I downloaded the 2 files (the Carrier and the Flanker) and installed them into FS. AlphaSim, strangely, does not provide an automated installer for the package. Although I have always preferred installing aircraft manually, many people don’t, especially when there are hundreds of gauges, effects and aircraft files to place in various locations.
The good news is that both the aircraft and the carrier, only contain a few files to be distributed about, and even with the most basic of FS knowledge, you will be launching from the carrier in no time. Provided, of course, you properly read the readme file. The "Flatten" files for the carrier have to be above the carrier scenery itself, otherwise it looks as if the Admiral Kuznetsov is riding along on a strange wave.
The aircraft comes in three load out variations and one paint scheme. Most Alphasim models have had hundreds of repaints appear on AVSIM shortly after release, however as of yet, the supplied colours are the only ones for this aircraft. The load out variations include one basic weapons load out, which seems rather light, but this is because the aircraft can only get airborne from the carrier with minimal weapons, one ECM variant (Electronic Counter Measures) and an air refuelling variant, complete with a drogue under its belly. It would be nice to have a ‘heavy’ load out for land takeoffs, but I suppose I should get the other Sukhoi Flanker package for that!
Once you have it all setup properly, you can use the "select a flight" screen to pick one of the flights preprogrammed by Alphasim to set you up on the deck of one of the 9 carrier locations, with all the radios readily tuned for a departure and return to the carrier. After selecting one of them, I got ready to light up the afterburners, and defy the laws of physics.
Burning up the runway for the first time
Unfortunately, the flight loaded a Cessna, as do they all. I wonder why Alphasim opted to do this, as I would much rather have the Su-33 in a cold and dark state sitting there once my flight loaded. On top of this, I found the ATC screen to be squashed up against the side of the screen and both com radios tuned to the deck (tower) frequency, thus creating an echo effect.
It was nice however to spend a little time watching the AI traffic flying about. AlphaSim provide some AI traffic for the carrier within the scenery download, which includes an AI version of the Su-33. They will taxi about the carrier and perform takeoffs and landings as you would expect to see on the carrier. They even have folding wings, just like the fully flyable variant!
After switching to the Su-33, I taxied to the ‘runway’. The Carrier control told me to taxi to the runway the AI was using, which was the landing runway. Instead, I went to the ramp takeoff points.
Taxing the aircraft is a little strange. It seems to me that the way the flight dynamics have been programmed allow for 3 ‘zones’ of throttle. One is idle, the second is enough power to taxi, and the third is massive amounts of thrust. This can make taxing slightly difficult as pushing the throttles too far forward can cause you to launch your aircraft over the side of the deck, whereas not using enough won’t get you anywhere. It’s not long before you get used to it though, and taxing becomes easier. The aircraft has a small turning circle, and is very stable. It hardly rolls during turns made under about 10-15 knots, which is much faster than you should be taxing at anyway.
After unfolding the wings, adding some flap and applying full power, The afterburner effects kick in and away we go. Well that was the plan. In actuality I released the parking breaks after the aircraft started shaking wildly under full power, and bounced up the ramp before dropping right into the ocean.
I figured it may be best to return to dry land before trying that again.
Getting to know the aircraft
The first flight put things into perspective. I had always thought that Alphasim made ‘out of the box’ aircraft. Ones that you can just pick up and fly. And to a certain extent I was right.
The frame rates of both the scenery and the aircraft seem to reflect those of simple add-ons. As they get more complex, the frame rate drops. With Alphasim there wasn’t any drop, and even when flying through the worst weather toward the carrier, the frame rates remained at the amount I had locked them to.
There is no complex computer programming required before you start the engines. What you do need however, is a certain understanding of what you can and cannot do. So I took to dry land. The first 10 minutes or so were spent looking around the panel, memorizing what every switch did. None are particularly well labeled. If you know Russian you will be able to read some descriptions, but for most switches you will have to refer to the kneeboard.
A useful picture of the panel, with all the main switches labeled, can be seen and this will help you fly. Unfortunately, this cannot be considered a ‘quick reference’ as many of the lines pointing to the switches cross over, and it can often be confusing. The label for the taxi lights and landing lights are a prime example of this confusion.
Once I had worked out what did what, I continued. Rather than opening up the throttles like I did before, I gently applied power. The aircraft still accelerated to a million, billion miles an hour in a nanosecond, but I was far more in control. After reading the flying tips, I made the smooth rotation and began a 75 degree nose up climb.
The aircraft will easily climb to 45000 ft at max takeoff weight of 72,750 lbs, and on initial climb will still build airspeed as you power through 10000 feet. It tends to struggle a bit as you reach the colder altitudes, but you will be well clear of ground fire by then.
To many potential Flanker buyers, the real selling point of this aircraft will be its amazing maneuverability, and its ability to do post-stall maneuvers. This includes tail slides and back flips. Alphasim say in the manual: “The Su 33 is capable of all advanced acrobatics and can perform post-stall maneuvers”. I found this to be true for the majority of flight. Its claim to be stable in slow flight was certainly not a lie and when crawling along you will not be in fear of loosing control.
The only problem I had was when the Indicated Airspeed read Zero. This naturally happened when trying to perform tail slides (as the aircraft would be traveling backwards). When hitting the magic number, the aircraft would rock and swing about wildly and unrealistically, which caused great frustration. It was a terrible shame as I would love to have created these Einstein defying maneuvers that the real aircraft can perform. I wouldn’t like to lay the blame entirely on Alphasim, because in the end, only so much can be done within FS and its flight model limitations.
That said, the aircraft was still highly maneuverable and tremendous fun to fly. I could hold it nose high at 60 kais and fly in formation with a Cessna, or I could hit mach 2 flying through a valley, before pulling 8G’s (the real aircrafts limit) in a turn.
And when making these maneuvers, suitable effects were displayed to add realism. Vapor would appear from the wingtips and on some variants, the missile pylons, and clouds would form just behind the canopy.
It is worth remembering 2 things when flying the aircraft though. If you are flying at full power, your fuel will burn VERY quickly. It took me less than 15 minutes to use up a full tank. In the manual it states that at 100 ft cruising at 1.06 mach you will burn 70,000 lbs of fuel every hour giving you a range of 10 nm for every 1000 lbs of fuel burnt. Thankfully the economic option is listed too, 430 lbs an hour, 0.80mach at 30000 ft. The range, 108 nm for every 100 lbs burn still isn’t great, but it will get you much further.
The other thing to remember is that things happen quickly. You need to keep locked in your head the data on takeoff flaps and gear. Before you know it you will be at mach 1, and that’s dangerous if you still have the flaps down. Trimming is very easy and I had no problems making adjustments whilst at 140 kais or 1200.
The admiral Kuznetsov Scenery does not come with working arrestor cables, and doesn’t come with working catapults. The latter is actually accurate, however for owners of Abacus’s Flight Deck 4, both can be added using the supplied files.
Because of the lack of arrestor cables, the tail hook is ineffective and another means of slowing down is needed. The breaks are therefore more powerful on the model to compensate. This can result in very bumpy landings though, which can spoil the perfect approach you worked so hard to make. Again, landing on terra firma is my preferred option until such time that I lay my hands on a copy of FD4.
I have already mentioned a few aspects of the panel, such as the documentation, but I just wanted to add a few more thoughts about it. Overall, I am extremely impressed. The panel is fully capable of IFR flight, although if you are using the autopilot you might want to keep speeds low, as the turning circle for 30 degrees of bank will grow much bigger at mach 1 and you can easily overshoot waypoints.
The pop-ups, which include a radio stack/autopilot and default GPS unit, are easy to access and the Autopilot and GPS is of equally high quality to the main panel.
As far as I could make out, all gauges were custom for the model. The altimeters and airspeed indicators were in western measurements, and although the eastern simmers among us will prefer Russian avionics, the west will be thankful Alphasim chose this. That said, the option to switch would be nice.
The package comes with custom sounds for the Su-33. Although I have never heard a Lyulka AL-31F fire up, and even if I did I would be hard pushed to recall it, the sounds seem to accurately represent an engine of this nature. When in the cockpit there is a suitable hum and outside, the Russian jet’s scream will fill your speakers.
I did a few comparisons to Sukhoi videos on "YouTube" and from the outside the noise matched perfectly.
Summary / Closing Remarks
I have certainly enjoyed my time in this aircraft. Although there are still things that I don’t like, I will continue to take this aircraft out for a spin, if not as regularly as some of my other fast jets. The addition of the carrier certainly adds for a flying challenge and getting the aircraft down on deck safely will take more than a few hours of practice.
The biggest let down in this package was the post stall maneuvers, but as I said, this cannot wholly be blamed on Alphasim.
All in all, a big thumbs up to Alphasim for producing this package. I’m off to burn some fuel!
What I Like About The Kuznetzov & Su-33
What I Don't Like About The Kuznetzov & Su-33
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