This is the second time that A2A has modeled a P-47 Thunderbolt. The first time, it was part of the “Wings of Power II” series for FS2004 and FSX. This time around, it’s “Wings of Power III” and the model is for FSX exclusively. It’s also more expensive: whereas the previous version is still available for $18 (US), the new version is $35 for the aircraft, $60 if you buy it with Accu-Sim. (For owners of the previous version, there is a $7 discount on the aircraft.) This raises at least two questions. First, what do you get for sixty dollars? Second, why launch a new series with the P-47?
Stocky, a slow climber, and with limited range, the “Jug” seems like an also-ran compared with the sleeker and more glamorous P-51 Mustang. True, the Thunderbolt was easier to maintain, but a better plane for comparison would be the Il-2 Sturmovik.
Both warplanes, the P-47 and the Il-2, specialized in dive bombing and ground attack, both could sustain heavy battle-damage, both were produced in massive quantities, and both were created by Slavs: Sergei Ilyushin, who designed the Il-2, was Russian and Alexander Kartveli, who designed the P-47, was from Georgia. The company that manufactured the Thunderbolt, Republic Aviation Corporation, was also founded by a Georgian émigré, Alexander de Seversky.
The Il-2 now has an entire game franchise named after it, which (by virtue of being the best World War II combat sim that there is right now) has made the plane much better known than it was even ten years ago. A2A’s Thunderbolt isn’t a whole new sim, but it opens up a new level of sophistication: one that, until now, was only accessible on high-end airline models like the Level D 767 and the PMDG 747.
Installation and Documentation
The download is sold in two parts, airplane and Accu-Sim, and each part comes with its own manual. If you are using Accu-Sim, you will need to study both; if not (and even if Accu-sim is installed, you can turn it off) you can just kick the tires and light the fires. But if that’s your style of flying, there are cheaper products that are just as much fun. A checklist is also available on the kneeboard, and there is a panel of pilot’s notes that you can pull up as well.
Finally, the A2A website includes several high-definition videos that walk you through standard procedures. These videos will show you, visually and with sound, exactly what Accu-Sim is, and how it changes the experience of flying a simulated prop fighter.
If, like me, you are the kind of person who does research on a product before buying it, these videos are the place to start. Yes, they are intended to sell you on the product; but unless you have a friend who already owns the product, there is no better way to see for yourself what you would be buying.
The Jug was built for power, not pulchritude. She was heavy, and she looked every pound. We need to distinguish, then, between the original design, which was ponderous, and the quality of the modeling, which is absolutely first-rate.
The ovoid shape of the noise is well captured, and there are three different propeller types. In addition to the usual animations, there are several cooler flaps (which, if you fly with Accu-Sim, you will actually need to open and close). But what gets and holds our attention, I think, is not the lines of the model so much as the textures, which are tack-sharp, and hold their sharpness even up close.
These are combined with an extremely subtle bump map, to give the illusion of a real metal skin: one that has been manufactured carefully, but not perfectly. Painted shadows can simulate the effect, but only from one angle; with bump mapping, shadows can lengthen and shorten dynamically, according to the lighting conditions. I commented on this enthusiastically in my review last year of the RealAir Spitfire; this model does the same thing just as well.
Several liveries come installed by default, and since the model has been released, customers have uploaded additional repaints to the AVSIM and Sim-Outhouse file libraries.
Drop tanks, rockets, and bombs are modeled as well, and can be added in various combinations before take-off, using a custom load-out panel. When you carry a heavier load, it will (of course) lengthen your take-off distance; that’s true of any plane in the sim. But with Accu-Sim, your load weight will also affect your suspension.
If you add a load while you are watching in spot plane view, you will see the landing gear compress; if you are watching from the virtual cockpit, you will see the cockpit go down, slightly, with reference to the horizon. By the same token, if you release a drop tank or bomb, you can watch it fall in the exterior view; but if you are in cockpit view, you will immediately notice the effect on the plane, which will feel much lighter; or, if you are dropping a wing tank, you will notice the balance of the plane shift, because one side is suddenly lighter.
If you land without your gear down, it is possible to survive, but you will bend the prop; and on your next flight you will need to perform engine maintenance. If you fly at night, and admire yourself from an exterior view, you will see A2A’s custom lighting system at work, in a beam that swings down from the fuselage and then snaps into place. (A2A’s Stratocruiser has the same feature.)
The quality of the best virtual cockpits (VCs) is now very high indeed. Two that stand out recently are the RealAir Spitfire and the Aerosoft F-16 that I reviewed last year. The Thunderbolt’s VC is in the same class, but achieves its effects by different means. Of course, all three models have custom gauges; and in the case of the RealAir and A2A models, the gauges are actually built into the airplane model, so that they respond more fluidly. Fluidly, but not flawlessly! By design, the gauges on this model have mechanical idiosyncrasies. Needles vibrate; the magnetic compass, suspended in kerosene, can take a moment or two to settle down.
Compared with the Spitfire and F-16, the Thunderbolt uses less 3D modeling; instead, it simulates depth with very detailed textures. They look realistic, but it’s a different style of realism: less hard-edged, more weathered. You can see the same difference if you compare the RealAir Spitfire with the A2A Spitfire (which I reviewed here two years ago, and which in the last year has been updated to full FSX-native status). I can see having a preference, but both styles look so good that it’s hard to complain.
Under the right conditions, the canopy will start to fog up; fortunately, there is a defroster. Unfortunately, this is a razorback-style cockpit, so rear visibility is limited. Fortunately, there are mirrors.
A 2D mini-panel is available but, like most newer models, the Thunderbolt is meant to be flown from the VC. There are, however, several 2D panels that make flying easier and, if you purchase Accu-Sim, enable you to perform engine maintenance.
These panels include:
In contrast with the VC, the 2D panels have a utilitarian look; if you want to, you can adjust the level of background transparency, but I didn’t find that useful or necessary.
The company that made this model, A2A Simulations, used to be known as Shockwave. I now have six of their models, and several things are consistent across the whole line. One is the subtle quality of all surface textures, both inside and out; another is the refinement of their sound sets. Scott Gentile, who is one of the A2A principals, is described on the A2A website as a professional musician; that does not surprise me at all.
If you are researching a purchase, the best way to get acquainted with the sounds on this model is to watch the first video on the website. This walks you through engine startup, and calls attention to some of the more subtle effects.
After studying the sound files, I can report two things. First, sound cones are implemented. (This wasn’t the case for the “Wings of Power II” series.) Second, there are more sounds files than usual, especially if you purchase the Accu-Sim module. How many? An average model uses between 40 and 60 sound files; with Accu-Sim, the P-47 uses more than 250.
What difference does it make? One that you’ll notice right away is the canopy. Oh, sure, there are lots of models that have good canopy sounds. But what happens to the engine sound when the canopy shuts? On every other model that I own, nothing: it’s just as loud. With this model, though, the engine sound is muted when the canopy finishes closing -- just as it would be in a real airplane.
Most of the Accu-Sim sounds are more subtle than this, but they aren’t just ear candy (which I like for its own sake too). They also convey information about the state of your engine (including whether it’s on fire), whether you’re stressing the airframe, even the state of your battery. Do batteries make noise? Not usually, but when they get low (or the weather’s cold), they take longer to spin up the inertial starter -- which is another sound you’ll pay attention to if you have Accu-Sim turned on.
My goal as a reviewer is to be useful to consumers and fair to developers. (Developers: if I say something in a review that’s not true, email me; after I have confirmed the error, I will notify the review editor and we will correct the text of the review.) But conscientiousness can only carry you so far.
I have never been a real-life pilot of anything, much less a World War II-era fighter-bomber. In some cases, I can read enough about the real plane to guess what it would be like to fly, but it’s still just a guess. For this reason, I find myself unable to form a judgment about which fighter product is better overall, this or the RealAir Spitfire.
In flight, the Thunderbolt feels as a heavy as it looks. Like many fighters from this era, it has a long engine cowling that obscures the pilot’s forward vision in climbs and on final. You can roll the Thunderbolt, but it’s a slow climber, so I wouldn’t want to loop it. With one notch of flaps, drag is high enough that you have to worry about keeping the engine cool -- and that, in my book, is really cool.
That was meant to sound clever, but what does it mean? There are two areas where Accu-Sim makes itself felt. One we have mentioned already: sound. The other is engine modeling.
With most simulated aircraft (including all of the fighters in A2A’s “Wings of Power II” series), you can run the engine forever at full power. In real life, that’s a recipe for an overhaul. Over the years, a few aircraft have modeled this, including Bill Lyons’ Challenger Ultralight and the Aeroworx Super King Air B200 (for FS2004) and, more recently, the Digital Aviation Dornier Do-27, the RealAir Spitfire, and the Aerosoft Hughes H1-B Racer (for FSX).
With about half of these, including the P-47, engine wear is cumulative: if you abuse your engine in one flight, the consequences will carry over into your next flight until you perform an engine overhaul (by clicking a text button on one of several 2D panels).
What’s new? With Accu-Sim, you have more gauges to monitor, and more ways of fixing problems when they arise. Most of these have to do with keeping your various temperatures in the green. If you’ve never bothered to look at your cylinder head temperature (CHT) before now, Accu-Sim will break your plane, then break your bad habit. The same goes for oil pressure and fuel pressure (things I never worried about in the sim before), and carburetor air temperature (CAT).
By my count, there are no fewer than five ways to keep the various temperatures under control, including three different cooling flaps, ADI fluid, and keeping your speed up. At higher altitudes, you will also need to manage (not just enjoy the benefits of) your turbo booster.
If you have Accu-Sim and use it, starting the engine can be a trial-and-error affair, with each error making the next attempt even more difficult (because the battery is lower). You will need to judge how many times the engine should be primed, based on the ambient temperature; and if you prime it too much, it will flood the engine. If the weather is cold and the oil is too viscous, you can add hot oil (using the Mini Panel) or dilute the oil with fuel (which will burn off when the engine heats up). And if all of this gets too tedious for you, there’s an autostart button on the 2D Mini Panel.
The only models that really comes close to this one in terms of engine care are A2A’s own Stratocruiser, where Accu-Sim was introduced last fall, and the Digital Aviation Do-27. The Do-27 isn’t as fussy about starting, but it’s slightly more fussy about the electrical system. When I say “fussy,” of course, I mean realistic.
Other ways you can damage the Accu-Sim-equipped P-47 include opening the flaps or extending the gear at high speed, landing with gear up, and overstraining the airframe. But that does not limit the number of ways you can crash.
If you fly too high and either forget to put on your oxygen mask or load oxygen on-board before take-off, you will black out and lose control of the aircraft. This assumes that you have not already used up all of your oxygen (which can happen) or that the oxygen system itself does not have a failure (since Accu-Sim also models system failures). I can think of several aircraft models that have working oxygen switches, but this is the first one I know of where there are consequences if you don’t use them.
Another modeling first: if you open the canopy in flight, the added drag will slow you down by several miles per hour. Since canopies were usually opened for take-off and landings, this is a big deal. Another thing that affects drag (and therefore speed) are the three different cooling vents: engine cowl flaps, oil cooler flaps, and intercooler flaps. Bombs and drop tanks increase drag as well.
What I’ve just been describing sounds a lot like the Do-27 from Digital Aviation that I reviewed here two years ago [LINK HERE TO MY REVIEW OF DO-27 X], but with several degrees of additional realism and a more sophisticated sound system. When I reviewed the Do-27, I wrote at length about why more realism, even more difficulty, is desirable in what, for most us, is a form of entertainment (if not a game). The answer, I argued then, can be summarized in a formula from a baseball movie, A League of Their Own: “The hard is what makes it great.” Even in fantasy, we desire structure.
The big differences between these two products are purpose, price, and performance. The P-47 is a fighter-bomber, the Do-27 is a bush flyer. With Accu-Sim, the P-47 costs about twice as much as the Do-27. But as much as I like the Do’s looks and realism, I haven’t flown it in over a year.
The reason is performance: unlike the P-47 under review here, the Do-27 is not a native-FSX model, and when you throw in some heavy weather the frame rates are just sluggish enough that other models are more fun. I’m hoping that will change with my next hardware upgrade.
In the meantime, though, the frame rates on the P-47, even with Accu-Sim, are close to the default prop aircraft and the RealAir Spitfire. Thank you, A2A, for making a beautiful, realistic model that’s fluid enough to actually enjoy.
As a reviewer, I have stopped trying to guess whether something is too expensive. This product is what the jewelers call a diamond of the first water. Without Accu-Sim, it’s cheaper but still not cheap; and while you still have exquisite textures, bump mapping, and a good-looking virtual cockpit, you don’t get in-depth engine and drag modeling, or the extra sounds that go with them.
In my view, these are what set this product apart from all of the prop fighter models that have come before, and merit the AVSIM Gold Star.
What I Like About The P-47 with Accu-Sim
What I Don't Like About The P-47 with Accu-Sim
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