I got the B17 for review…so how should I start? There are only a few airplanes around with such an affectionate appeal as the B17. And there had been an excellent review by my senior reviewer colleague, Brian Fletcher just a few months ago about the same type, summing up the necessary details.
So I am keeping the history part short: The B17 was THE American bomber of the European WW2 theater. It had its maiden flight in 1938 and was used for strategic daylight precision bombing of German targets through 1942 by the USAAF. One third of the bomb load dropped on Germany during WWII were delivered by B17s. Although the B17G was carrying thirteen 0.5 inch (12.7 mm) machine guns for its defense, and armament was continuously improved from the B model on, the bomber formations were highly vulnerable to Luftwaffe fighters and especially on the final run, from AAA fire. Remember, they flew rock steady formations in daylight. One third of all B17's were lost in the war. In this situation, the B17 earned the reputation of being able to sustain severe structural damage yet nonetheless succeeded in bringing its crew back to England. And it seemed to have been a pilot’s plane.
Like perhaps most of you, I never flew in a B17. I never actually saw one - (yes, of course I watched “Memphis Belle”). But I have a sort of virtual acquaintance to the plane. My first contact with a B17 simulation was with Kesmai’s AirWarrior, if I remember correctly, and a little later with Warbirds. Since the Internet was not so common in those days, I had a very laggy connection and had to restrict my (sparse) online flying to bombers. I regretted that wholeheartedly, since I wanted to fly fighters. But to bring a crippled bird home with others aboard was a compensating reward.
The next B17 I was engaged with was Wayward Design’s “Flying Fortress – The mighty eight”. That put the realistic feeling of flying a B17 Bomber up another notch. Unfortunately, my limited hardware did not allow me to enjoy it to full extent, though it was one of the most impressive simulations for me at its time. A company called “Shockwave Productions” later bought the rights to that title, and that leads me over to two of the most exciting B17 models I had the pleasure to fly before conducting this review.
The B17 of Shockwave Production’s “Firepower”, a CFS III add-on that basically turned this simulation into a whole new game and the Shockwave Production’s FS9 add-on “Wings of Power: Heavy Bombers and Jets”, with a truly beautiful B17, amongst others. It was the Shockwave package that initiated my transition from combat flight simulations to FS9, which I owned for some time but did rarely used until then.
Now Shockwave Productions has introduced another B17, this time a single plane add-on for FSX only, with a complete new 3D model. This is what the review will be about.
The download is 54.9 mb (as of May 2007) and the installer is a graphically pleasant “click and forget” type. It installed the aircraft into the FSX directory, two links two Shockwave’s web page and a .pdf-manual. That’s it. The plane comes with two liveries, an aluminum one and an olive-drab one.
I have to book this on the con side, I fear. I am not going to whine about those days where I got a good spiral bound manual with my Apache Longbow helicopter, but what Shockwave has to offer here is below standard. Let me explain.
The B17 WOP II manual, as we know it, can be divided into three parts:
The first part, called “Wings of Power overview” (pages 5-11) is an introductory one with general information about Shockwave planes and the absolute realism concept. While it provides some enlighten information on WW2 aircraft in general, it resembles mainly a corporate identity handout and does not help a lot getting with around the actual airplane.
Part two is the actual simulation manual. It is titled “B17 Flying Fortress Overview” and comprises pages 12-18. It contains a couple of abbreviated checklists on every stage of flight and an excerpt of the B24’s autopilots manual, which seems to be the same for the B17. Now I know the B17 was a very forgiving airplane, a joy to fly, and it was a plane for pilots with about 200 hours under their belt and all that, but come on, merely six pages will do it?
Part three (pages 19-33) is a copy of the original B17 Pilot’s manual. It’s sure a great achievement if you created an airplane for a flight simulation and you can just point the user to the original pilot’s manual to handle it. In fact, I would call this the highest level of realism, and it sure speaks for the quality of the Shockwave add-ons. But this only partly works out, see below.
To give you an example: Concerning the approach, the manual states:” Calculate the power-off stalling speed based on the aircraft weight.” – How would I do this? There is no further hint given. The question may be either too dumb or indeed a little complex, as I received no answer on the Shockwave forum as well. On the other hand, you don’t necessarily need this information, as a 135 mph final always did it for me. But a further explanation would have been nice.
Another one: Regarding engine start, you are advised to turn on the avionics master. If I could only find it. There is no information about its location in the manual. A posting at the Shockwave board clarified it. The bomb bay doors will open with the spoiler’s key command. Again, nothing about this is mentioned in the manual. And again, a posting on the board clarified it.
So finally, I got most of my bits and pieces together, but a few more pages in the manual would have helped a lot. The autopilot is quite complex, things like this scream for a short tutorial.
Bump-mapped rivets? Paint chipping? Exhaust stains? Hatches? All sorts of small cooling rips and neat little other exhaust-like-thingies? 3D modeled valve shafts? 3D modeled ignition cables? Readable prop placards? Guns, guns, guns with textured cooling holes and ammo belts? A bombardier’s office with a Norden bombsight visible through a reflecting Plexiglas nose cone? Name it, they’ve done it. And we are not talking about the basics here like moving engine cowling flaps, visible prop pitch and 3D cut windows with glass.
Add to all that the most beautiful and authentic nose art (and there are others available, search for the paint jobs of John Terrell in the AVSIM-library) and the obligatory mission bomb paintings. I mentioned the bomb bay with actual bombs on the rack (… in case you should ever get access to the secret opening keystroke).
In short: A high level of detail, and a most beautiful depiction of the actual aircraft lines. Look at the screenshots. The 3D model is quite a passionate piece of work. It clearly shows the professional experience gathered from its predecessors in Firepower and WOP B17 I. Saying that, it is worth mentioning that the 3D model has been completely redone and is not a refurnished WOP B17 I model.
Lets get the 2D cockpit over with: It consists of 8 individual panels and gives a good 3D impression:
1. The main panel
It works like it is supposed to do and is of a standard quality. I cannot see any improvement over the “WOP: Heavy Bombers and Jets” package, in fact, I think the 2D panels common two both are the same (at least naming and the file sizes are). There seems to be an issue with the SP1 and the (non authentic) use of the flux compass as a VOR receiver. Since this is unrealistic anyway, I did not care. The developers are planning to remove this feature for the sake of reality/authenticity. One thing to point out is the neatly detailed ADF receiver unit, in which you have to tune in your NDB. It simulates old “steam radio”-like gauges and looks a lot better than the one in the DC3.
Now let’s turn to the VC. I know many of my AVSIM fellow simmers prefer flying in the 2D cockpit, but if you look for another argument of your transition over to VC flying and TrackIR using, the WOP B17 II VC is a most striking one: You can real ALL the placards, textures and gauges and you will hardly find a lever or knob that won’t work.
The gauges update rate is fast and everything worked very smooth on my system. Just running up the four engines in the VC with an eye on the instruments is a treat of its own, though it wears off a little after the 50th or so test flight. Among the more unusual levers and knobs you can toy around with are the manual hydraulic pump lever, the flight suite heater, the cabin cooler and the anti ice switches. You can calibrate your altimeter as you adjust and cage your artificial horizon.
The VC is a visual orgy and to the extent that FSX allows to simulate systems; the dials and levers all have functions. Limitations of FSX prohibited a working fire extinguisher system, I regretted this, since the switches in the cockpit are modeled in highest detail and can actually be switched as in real life.
The sound seems to be comparatively weak. It sure falls behind the outstanding visuals. The engine sound is good, most likely authentic, but nothing to write home about. As with many MSFS planes, the flaps sound seems way too loud in the cockpit. A real oddity is the fuel booster pump sound, as it is the predominating sound when looking forward in the cockpit, even with engines on. I am not the only user who pointed that out, and I think this is a bug. As recommended by Scott Gentile, I tried with several alternative sound setups, but that did not change it.
I felt somewhat challenged by the “Ultimate Realism” tag. So I decided to conduct some takeoff runs measured on the numbers. The method I used is a very crude one, so do not expect scientific results. Initially, I thought of Edwards AFB as a suitable location for this American bird. Then I realized that this airport is too high, and fellow simmers on the board pointed me to Charleston AFB, which is at sea level and makes a nice surrounding in FSX.
So from there, I configured the plane for the maximum weight of 62000 pounds and performed a 46” Hg manifold pressure takeoff with prop pitch set to 79% resulting in 2500 rpm on the run. This should give a takeoff distance of 4190 ft to clear a 50’ obstacle. My best result was 4290 ft to reach 50 ft., and I consider this pretty close.
Another thing that you can perform would be a war emergency power takeoff. This one is done with 55” Hg MP, 1/3 flaps and full prop speed resulting in 2760 rpm. It reduces your distance to clear a 50’ obstacle to 2850 ft. I did not check this number, but what speaks for the quality of the air file is that the normal takeoff, with its 46 Hg MP, results in the tail lifting off by itself. You do not have to apply stick pressure. With the full power procedure, you make a three point takeoff – both exactly as predicted in the pilot’s manual. Things like this make me smile. You can actually fly this plane by the numbers.
I checked on the time to reach 20.000 ft with 62.000 lbs, which was close enough to the published one (49 minutes vs. 38 minutes published). The fuel burned reaching 25.000 ft. was noted at 232 gallons, I used between 252 and 288 gallons. Again, I consider this very close, taken into account that I am no seasoned companies’ test pilot. There is a degree of uncertainty as to whether the WOP II model has the fuel capacity of the Tokyo tanks model, despite being able to carry bombs. So the total fuel amount taken for my calculations may not be entirely correct.
the Shockwave boards are scans of the original pilot’s
manual power setting tables. You can take them and adjust
throttle and prop pitch according to them. The results will be correct.
I should point
out here, that the supercharger control is tied to the power setting.
In the real B17, you could theoretically change them independent
of the power
settings, though you would adhere to the settings table. This is not
simulated, and my understanding is it's due to limitations of FSX.
Now even if I would know what it feels like to fly a B17, this highly subjective statement wouldn’t provide any real information to you. Let’s take a clean 1g stall at 50.000 lbs: Approaching the advertised 100 mph (102 to be correct), the nose will sink, not really drop, and a little later you notice a mild wing drop, in my case to the left. All you have to do is release the controls and the plane will recover, given that you have roughly 2000 ft between you and the ground. This is in good accordance with the published behavior in the official pilot’s manual.
I tried to spin it by applying full aileron and pulling the elevator, but never really succeeded. I managed to kick it into a somewhat downward spiraling role with the rudders finally, but wouldn’t call this a spin. I read that instructors managed to put a real B17 into a spin, so I'm not sure if it was me or the simulation.
Another thing is a “Memphis Belle” approach with the right gear up (and no attempt on my side to lower it on final). The plane will scrape with its right wing along the runway and you will finally pivot around this wingtip. This corresponds satisfactorily with WW2 footage of crash landings I have seen.
All in all, I conclude that the flight modeling is about on par with the visuals. Yup, I bought the “ultimate realism” stuff … SD research did a terrific job.
When it comes to system modeling, all my attempts to burn out an engine by overpowering and overheating it failed, and I conclude that system failures due to this are not modeled, sadly. I also checked if the wing anti-ice had any noticeable effect on the stall speed – it didn't. And I didn’t notice any effects when changing the intercooler settings or switching on oil dilution. But I don't know to what extent FSX allows when simulating systems like that. What works are the magnetos; you can perform a magneto check with an appropriate rpm drop.
Support, as far as I can tell
… is ok. As usual, when I check a plane, I subscribe to the producer's board if I hadn’t already done so in the past, and post my questions there, of course, incognito. I also check the threads available to get an impression on how the support deals with requests.
In the case of the WOP B17 II, the situation is a clear one with only a couple of threads at hand. The main figures responding to questions are Scott Gentile himself and one of the B17 modelers – may I call them artists? - Robert Rogalski. They take their time, and they fail somehow to inform the user about the current stage of affairs. And sometimes it struck me a little chaotic. But the general attitude is friendly and they care for their customers in the end.
So, let’s pull ourselves up through the little front hatch and strap into the seat. In the real thing, engine start needs at least a pilot, the copilot and someone positioning himself with a fire extinguisher behind the radial’s cowling.
The procedure in the sim is somewhat limited (maybe a certain Mr. York reads this and considers expanding his business into vintage planes, at least the B17 was the first USAAF plane with the use of checklists becoming mandatory from what I read …so it would be possible, wouldn’t it?). Nevertheless, the simulated startup is still interesting: We apply the brakes, switch on the three batteries and engage the carburetor air cleaner.
Mixture is set to auto rich, prop pitch adjusted to 79% (you would have to use tool tips to get it right, but it makes about ¾ of my pitch lever movement and works this way adjusted just as well), throttle an inch or so forward. Ignition is on. We begin with engine 3: I switch the right engine start lever into the start position for number three and make sure that the fire extinguisher lever points to number three as well. Then I move the right mesh lever upwards for number three and watch the blades spin. Ignition, the rpm gauge moves up to idle rpm. I engage the generator for number 3 and watch the voltmeter adjusting. We have to repeat this for 4,2 and 1.
Now taxi carefully to the threshold, remember pivoting turns are not allowed. Cleared for takeoff, we move the throttle slowly and smoothly till 46” Hg MP and compensate the slight drift to the left with right rudder. The tail lifts spontaneously; just a little back pressure and we are airborne. Positive rate of climb, geas up. Pilot:”Landing gear up left!” Copilot “Landing gear up right!” and the flight engineer would confirm “Tail wheel up!”. I throttle back to 35” Hg and adjust the prop pitch to 2300 rpm. Adjusting trim to 140 mph we are climbing further.
As with Firepower and WOP I, you can expect Mr .Gentile and his crew to excel here. Worth mentioning and hence displayed is the good volumetric lightning effect (Note: With Light Bloom OFF) and the very nice startup sequence: Starting an engine you get white smoke first, then black puffs, and thereafter everything is blown away with the propwash – sweet. Of course you get contrails and nice fireworks when doing a belly landing.
Compared to the stock DC3 VC, I did not notice any significant frame rate impairment. In the outside view however, I lost about 10 fps compared to the DC3, while panning around was actually smoother in the B17. I locked frames at 21 fps and was able to keep that up with good weather at less crowded airports.
One thing that bothered me were the ridiculous loading times when choosing the B17. An FSX startup with the B17 in free flight takes 150 seconds on my weekly defragmented system, while one with the default C172 takes less than 40 seconds!
Reviewer's Note: “As I have learned from Rob Barendregt in a recent thread about gauges on AVSIM, you can actually reduce the B17 loading time by just decompressing the two .cab files in its panels folder. This worked. ”
Summary / Closing Remarks
The manual leaves room for imporvement. That’s a pity, as a good manual is necessary for the customer to get the most out of this detailed aircraft. The sounds are less glorious. An aircraft configuration utility would have been nice. Apart from that, the plane continues Shockwave's tradition of graphically high detailed, faithfully modeled WWII aircraft. In fact, they did not just continue it; they raised the bar even a little further.
No matter if you are the spot view type, who trims it level and marvels at the plane in the external view, or the technical guy that just likes to fumble with the power settings and knobs, you will get your share. And with the right weather settings at an English grass field, you can achieve that “almost there ” feeling.
For those interested, I took a few shots from liveries NOT provided with the plane, but are available in the AVSIM library. They were all created by John Terrell.
What I Like About Wings of Power B17
What I Don't Like About Wings of Power B17
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