AVSIM Commercial Aircraft Review

Captain Sim AC-130E Spectre

Product Information
Publisher: Captain Sim
Description:  Military Aircraft Add On
Download Size:
23.4 Mb
Format:
Download
Simulation Type:
FS 2004
Reviewed by: Alexis Esguerra AVSIM Sr Staff Reviewer - July 6, 2006

Introduction

When one speaks of the 4-engine Hercules, he or she is probably not too inclined to include such terms as ‘close air support’ or ‘air interdiction’ in the same breath. That is unless one is conjuring up the image of the AC-130, which is quite a different thing altogether. Indeed, few aircraft in the world come to close to raising the fine hairs on the back of the neck of an enemy trooper than this death-dealing beast.

Since the late 1960’s, AC-130s have been raising chaos on the battlefield in ways that can hardly be believed. Their arsenals include multi-barrel machine guns that can spit out thousands of rounds per minute (imagine 40+ rounds per second) and cannons that can shred unarmored structures and vehicles with ridiculous ease. And then there’s the M102, a gun firing an anti-tank sized shell, one of the biggest mounted on any aircraft ever. When one of these machines establishes a circular flightpath over a target, rest assured the fireworks that will shortly follow will be quite spectacular.

Captain Sim decided to expand their popular Hercules line into the exciting AC-130 realm. The centerpiece of this foray, and this associated review, is the AC-130E, also known by it’s moniker ‘Spectre’.

Installation and Documentation

Test System

CPU: AMD 64 X2 +3800
RAM: 2.0 GB
Video: NVidia 6800XT PCI-e X2 (SLI), 256MB each
Sound – SB Audigy
Joystick – MS Sidewinder FF2

Flying Time:
20 hours

AC-130E joins the ranks of add-on variants for the original Legendary C-130, which include the KC-130 (Tanker), CL-130 (Floatplane), C-130T (Fat Albert), and the C-130J (6-bladed props) All of these are wholly compatible with the boxed Just Flight’s C-130 Hercules as well. Happily, none require the baseline Legendary C-130 to

function, but be forewarned that there will be very specific differences between the buyer who owns that particular program and the one own does not. More on those differences later.

The 23.4MB installer isn’t quite downloaded directly from Captain Sim’s website. Using their own unique secure system, the download link is sent to the user and can only be accessed once the order numbe,r provided by Captain Sim after purchase, is punched in. If you’ve already bought yourself an expansion or two for Hercules, double check your wallet, for AC-130E costs $19.99 as opposed to $14.99 for the rest of its add-on brethren.

When run, the installer is pretty much Captain Sim standard, with little problems to worry about. It automatically determines whether or not a downloaded or boxed CS ‘Herc’ is already in your hard drive and takes the appropriate actions. Both installations come without as much as a hiccup. Also added is the ACE Configurator and the associated documentation.

As for documentation, it’s a touch on the light side, amounting to a grand total of sixteen pages. It doesn’t get into much detail on the aircraft or the package itself. Owners of the baseline C-130 will want to delve into that associated manual for the checklists and performance charts, and if you don’t own that package, consider downloading it from the Captain Sim website for free.

External Model

The aircraft Captain Sim chose for AC-130E was USAF #56-0509, one of the first Hercules chosen for conversion under the AC-130A project. Sometime during its existence, it was brought to ‘E’ standard as reference material will attest to, and had quite a lengthy history operating under at least two names – ‘Raids Kill um Dead’ and ‘Ultimate End’. AC-130E represents her appearance under the latter name, and my reference material suggests roughly around the time of Operation Desert Storm.

No complaints on what lies on the outside

The external model is gorgeous, and from what I’ve been able to dredge up photo-wise from the chosen period in 509’s life, appears to be almost spot on. The changes to the fuselage, done to accommodate all the necessary equipment to support ‘Spectre’s’ new mission, were nailed in the rendering. There’s a horde of mods that set ‘Spectre’ from the troop/cargo-trudging ‘Herc’, be it the pitot staic boom, the modified doors, optional engine shrouds, the Illuminator Operator’s bubble on the aft door, new antennas, or any of the other items not mentioned here.

But hey! Let’s move on to the single, most obvious change the AC-130 brought to the table; the guns themselves. The suite of weaponry denotes this ‘E’ as a product of the 1970’s “Pave Aegis’ project, which brought forth to the gunship world the M102 105mm howitzer (original ‘E’s’ mounted a pair of L60 Borfors in conjunction with the twin M61 Vulcans). The accuracy of each individual one’s appearance in every respect is excellent, furthering the menacing aura this plane already exudes.

Awesome! Simply AWESOME!!!

But what good is a menacing aura these days? Apparently not much from Captain Sim’s point of view, because each and every weapon the plane mounts…fires! Yes, you read right. A surprise exterior animation included in AC-130E is the visible result of pulling the trigger (or pushing the button as the sim implies) on any of the four guns. The 20mm’s whirl madly and the 40mm and 105mm recoil noticeably, all accompanied by an appropriate muzzle flash and smoke. And if that’s not enough, the Borfor spits out tracers while the act of firing the mighty howitzer actually has an effect on the plane’s flightpath (the blast from that weapon actually nudges the tail to the right). Oh the joy of immense firepower at your fingertips, even if it is only all for show (this is MS2004, after all).

Other animations and special features include an animated LLTV/Laser Platform where the forward left door lies, an animated radome shield mounted immediately aft of the ‘Black Crow’ array, and a working AN/ALQ-17 Illuminator, located in the modified aft left door.

I was somewhat saddened to discover that Captain Sim included but one single skin for AC-130E, but it’s a blow that’s softened when I take into account the accuracy and quality of the textures of the exterior model. Besides, if it’s something a user wants that badly, a community paint kit does exist, allowing one to recreate that ‘E’ gunship of choice.

2D/VC

Whether or not you already own Captain Sim’s C-130 has a huge impact on just how good or bad the 2D and VC worlds are in AC-130E. Assuming you do have it in your virtual hangar, it’s a little bit of both.

The good is the remodeled VC (more concisely, the Virtual Cabin which Captain Sim has dubbed ‘Combat Deck’). It is really a piece of work in its limited scope, with all the various gunner, sensor, and rest stations for the ‘guys/gals-in-back’ redone in great form. The weapons are another great example of this, whether it’s the 20mm ammo belts twisting and turning from the magazines to their respective Vulcans, or how the clarity of the detail helps the howitzer really convey it’s lethal power. Ammo racks are bolted to the bulkheads here and there, leave no margin for error as to what this modified Herc is all about (no animation, though). I really did enjoy exploring the inside of this revamped cabin, especially when I saddled up in the seat at one of the consoles, just imaging the possibilities.

A new mission… a new interior.

And here’s where bad comes into play. ‘Limited scope’ is a term I use because the cabin was all that was covered. When you reach the bulkhead that separates the cabin from the flight deck, that’s where the show ends. This was not the fault of Captain Sim as MSFS has a polygon count limitation (still disappointing, nonetheless). If you’re a die hard ‘Virtual Cockpit-fan’ interested in flying more than exploring, you might have to forego the Combat Deck option in ACE, but you’ll lose the new and improved cabin in the process (Ouch! Decisions, decisions.).

The Combat Deck ends here

Now assuming that you do forego the Combat Deck, this is where another bad manifests itself. There is no specific AC-130 virtual flight deck either. A close examination of the pilot’s office and immediate surroundings revealed that it’s a carry over from C-130. Granted, I’m no expert (I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting any ‘Spectre’s’ flight deck), but I do recall reading that the pilot has a special side-mounted HUD for aiming his howitzer and that the FCO’s (Fire Control Officer – aka FICO) station is right next to the navigator. Neither exist in AC-130E, and while I understand that creating a fresh VC from any number of the variations that exists for an AC-130 is extremely time-consuming, it still was something of a shot in the arm for me.

The last thing to cover is not so much a shortcoming as it is a warning. This add-on draws a lot from the original C-130, and if you choose to use it as a pure standalone, the net result is this: Without that program pre-existing on your hard drive, AC-130E will have nothing to draw upon in the way of a cockpit, either in 2D or VC. Instead, the 2D panel is aliased to FS2004’s default 747-400 panel, and no VC is available at all.

Other Shared/Unshared Lineages

Since we’re on the subject of sharing, let’s clear the air on the other two items that AC-130E does, or does not, share with C-130.

- Flight Model: AC-130E includes the original and quite excellent flight model of C-130. I’ll just leave it at the fact that it really does the job of mimicking the heavy transport feel and surprising short-field performance capabilities of the Hercules. It has to be experienced to be believed.

- Sound Set: Not shared. If you want to hear those Allisons scream their stuff in convincing accord throughout the throttle range (just one of the many sounds that were faithfully recreated), you’ll need the original C-130 program. If you don’t have it, the sound set shamefully aliases to the FS2004 default King Air. The exception to this rule are the guns, which (from smallest to largest) go BUZZZZZ, POM-POM-POM, and BOOOOMMMM respectively (and do so rather well).

Other Problems

If you already own AC-130E, you might already be aware of the two issues on the external model. The first is an interpretational error on the aircraft’s nose art; somehow, ‘Ultimate End’ became ‘Weirmare End’. The other is a mysterious light that appears well below the aircraft whenever the landing lights are activated. Captain Sim is already aware of these two issues at the time of this writing and are addressing them via patch somewhere down the road.

Performance

Baseline Tests Parameters: resolution - 1024x768x32 locked @ 30.0, detail / autogen levels – MAX, no traffic, no weather.

As with all previous renditions of C-130 that I’ve dealt with, AC-130E is one system friendly package. 28+ FPS was the norm in the baseline test session, and the only time I noticed any slow downs was when the VC loaded after long periods of operating under 2D mode… which is perfectly normal as compared to it’s ancestry. Going higher on the complexity scale will, of course, have the typical consequences; the slowdown I maxed out on averaged about 5-6 FPS.

In Closing

Usually, ‘In Closing’ is a fairly easy wrap up, but this is not the usual deal. Just how happy AC-130E will make a user depends heavily on (here comes the broken record, again) whether or not you own the baseline version.

At $19.99, I found it hard to justify the higher price of this add on when used as a standalone product. , Yes, you get the exterior, the new cabin, and the flight model, all of which are fantastic. Still the lack of sound and cockpits were items that I could not dismiss. It might have been a touch easier if AC-130E was at the same pricing as it’s previously released siblings, but the fact of the matter is that it is not.

Now if you happen to be in the situation where you plan to merge this product with C-130, then I can state rather confidently that AC-130E would be an excellent addition to your Hercules collection. I can’t imagine it going any other way, especially if you’re a die-hard ‘Spectre’ junkie (and if you already own C-130, you’re practically halfway there, right?). The accuracy of the modeling, both inside and out, is great, and will become even better once the two visual items are fixed. The higher prices might sting a bit, but when I consider the details this package brings to the table and how well the baseline package mixes in, I have to admit that it may be very well next to impossible to find a finer rendition of this gunship in FS2004.

 

What I Like About the AC-130E
  • A very convincing representation of the Hercules gunship variant.
  • Gun animation and sounds.
  • Excellent virtual interior (given MSFS restrictions).
  • System-friendly.

 
What I Don't Like About the AC-130E
  • 25% more expensive that previous CS Hercules variants.
  • Heavy reliance on the baseline Hercules package.
  • Only one skin provided.

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