AVSIM Commercial FSX Aircraft Review

SBD Dauntless

Product Information

Publishers:  Vertigo Studios

Description: World War II-era dive bomber.

Download Size:
134 MB

Format:
Download
Simulation Type:
FSX
Reviewed by: David Wilson-Okamura AVSIM Senior Staff Reviewer - July 17, 2010

Introduction

World War II dispelled three myths about aerial bombing. First, it turned out that bombarded cities could be demoralized, but not terrorized into surrender. Second, even well-armed bombers like the B-17 Flying Fortress could not reach their targets without a fighter escort. Finally, there was no such thing as precision bombing.

In 1941, a review of photographic evidence found that only thirty percent of RAF bombers arrived within five miles of their target. The exception was dive bombing. The payloads that dive bombers could carry were small -- not more than two thousand pounds, compared with almost eighteen thousand pounds for the B-17 -- but they could be placed with much greater accuracy.

The most famous dive bomber of World War II is probably the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka. But the Stuka did not win any major battles; the only dive bombers that can make that claim are the Japanese Aichi D3A (“Val” to the Allies), which hit eighty percent of its targets in the Indian Ocean raid of 1942, and the American SBD Dauntless, which disabled or sank four Japanese carriers in 1942 and won the Battle of Midway -- by most accounts, the turning point of the war in the Pacific.

I first became acquainted with the Dauntless playing the game “Pacific Fighters,” because the Dauntless was used there in a series of training missions. For FS2004 there were two Dauntlesses, now both freeware. I flew the one from Sim-Outhouse.com, and it still makes great screenshots, even in FSX. I was waiting, though, for more eye candy, especially in the virtual cockpit.

The wait is now over. Last year Vertigo Studios (formerly Real Flight Simulations) released a model of the F6F Hellcat that was widely praised in the warbird community. The Dauntless is their second project (as a group, anyway) and I’ve been flying it for three months.

My verdict? One could ask for additional features (and, in a few places, sharper textures). The gap, however, between what’s possible in FSX and what’s available in this package isn’t wide enough to encourage competition from another developer. Like it or not, this is probably going to be the only Dauntless for FSX -- and I like it.

Installation and Documentation

Installation is straightforward, unless you have a 64-bit version of Windows. In that case, you will need to correct the path name for FSX, so that it reads Program Files (x86) instead of just Program Files. That was the only hiccup I encountered; and if I hadn’t made a note of it at the time, I would have forgotten about it. (Note to developers: the location of FSX can vary, so read it from the registry.)

The English manual is 21 pages long and well-illustrated. It explains the cockpit layout and some of the procedures -- including how to release a bomb. What we still need are engine settings for cruise flight; some guidance on engine temperature (it will fail if it gets too hot); and instructions for the autopilot.

External Model

The external model is a piece of real craftsmanship. The lines are true and the details are fine. Rivet-counters will not be disappointed. After three months of flying, I still don’t tire of looking out at the wing surface from the virtual cockpit.

Now that FSX has been out for more than three years, we are getting used to seeing 3D rivets (the most popular use of bump mapping). What we don’t always get, and what this modeler has achieved with specular mapping, is the illusion of textured metal surfaces. I’m also impressed by the delicate modeling of the dorsal antenna wire, the ventral landing gear, and the perforated dive flaps.

In addition to the usual animations for carrier-based warbirds -- control surfaces, dive flaps, cowl flaps, tail hook, landing gear, canopy, and prop -- there are also several animations that deserve special notice. One of these is the drop-down landing light; colored identification lights that can also be selected separately.

Another is the bullet-proof canopy that has three sections, each of which operates separately: the pilot’s canopy slides back; the gunner’s canopy slides forward; and a third canopy, at the rear, slides out to make way for a couple of machine guns. The machine guns don’t fire, but they do look great in screenshots. The pilot and gunner are animated too, and scan the skies with an intent gaze. Their right arms are both misshapen, but maybe it’s a war wound?

Real Dauntlesses could carry three bombs: a 500 or 1000 lb. between the landing gear, and a pair of 100 lb. bombs under the wings. Only the larger, center-line bomb is modeled here, but you can drop it. Since dive bombers release their payload in a near-vertical position, something has to be done to move the center-line bomb away from the fuselage, or it will strike the prop on the way down.

The real-life solution, which is modeled here, was to mount the bomb on a fork-shaped trapeze that swings out from the plane’s belly. What I’d really like to see is an explosion and smoke effect when the bomb hits the ground; I know that’s possible in FSX, but it’s not part of the package. You can still watch the bomb fall to the ground after you release it.

The real Dauntless went through several variants, SBD-1 through SBD-6. There was also a land-based version, A-24 Banshee that was purchased in small numbers by the U.S. Army; it was supposed to be the Army’s answer to the German Stuka. This package includes six paints, each of which represents a different phase in the Dauntless’s history, including the Banshee from an SBD-1 flown by the U.S. Marine Corps to an SBD-5 flown by the French navy after World War II.

All of the paints use the same 3D model, so technically these are all SBD-3s. Depending on what you want, this is either a reasonable economy (most customers won’t notice that a real SBD-5 didn’t have a carburetor intake on top of the engine cowling) or a gross disregard for historical accuracy. (“As if!”) What I notice is that all of the paints are extremely detailed, with lots of realistic weathering.

I’m not a repainter (so far), but I have browsed in the paint kit. The weathering is on its own layer, so if you change the paint colors it will still be part of the final texture.

Virtual Cockpit

In discussing the virtual cockpit (VC), I’m going to start with things that are missing or incomplete. Radios are partially modeled in the tail gunner’s cockpit, which also includes a separate altimeter, airspeed indicator, and 24-hour clock. Unfortunately, the clock hands don’t match the clock dial; this is true in the front seat as well.

The comm radios are tunable, but only through a 2D popup (borrowed from the default DC-3). This item doesn’t break my heart, but I mention it here so that readers know what they’re getting. There’s also not a good way to adjust the Dauntless’s autopilot. There’s an “on” switch in the front cockpit, but nothing on the instrument panel to select a heading or altitude.

I say “on the instrument panel,” because you can adjust both settings using the standard keyboard commands (e.g., control-shift-z followed by = to increase the altitude setting by one thousand feet); but there’s still no way to read your settings on a gauge.

Finally, the bombsight is not telescopic: the housing is exquisitely modeled, but it doesn’t in fact magnify the target. To be fair, I’ve never seen this done in Flight Simulator: though I’m guessing that it’s technically possible, I’m also guessing that it would suck down frame rates.

So much for what’s missing. I’ve gone into detail, because that’s part of a reviewer’s job: to notice things that aren’t obvious on a first acquaintance.

That being said, and taking the VC as a whole, this is a work of art. Like all of the best models that I’ve reviewed in the last year or two, it has 3D gauges -- which not only look better than 2D gauges, but move more smoothly and have better frame rates.

It also has richly-colored textures, in the style of A2A’s “Wings of Power” series. Labels are all legible, but the surfaces are worn and weathered, just like the exterior. The pilot’s seat (if you look directly down) is tattered and frayed, and the pilot’s headrest (which he needed for cat launches) has seen better days. The leather padding that’s stretched over the dash board looks organic too.

The real Dauntless had a slide-out map tray, which is modeled here as well. What’s displayed on the tray depends on a graphics file, SBD_map.dds, that you can edit with Photoshop, GIMP, or Paint.NET; I replaced mine with a war-time map of the Solomon Islands.

There are two places where the cockpit textures could be sharper: the frame around the canopy and the machine gun in the tail gunner’s cockpit. The textures elsewhere in the model are so well done that these two seem out of place; but I’m willing to forgive almost anything if it helps with frame rates.

Sound

The Dauntless’s sounds are licensed from Iris Simulations. I’ve compared them with YouTube recordings of real SBDs, and you can do the same by searching for “vertigo studios sbd dauntless.” Still, there are two things that you can’t get from YouTube.

First, Iris has used FSX’s sound cone feature to define where sounds come from. Second, in addition to the normal sounds (of engine, flaps, canopy, and wheels), the Vertigo model also includes ambient sounds for ground operations, the most noticeable of which is another Dauntless passing overhead. That’s a nice touch.

Flight Model

Apart for automobiles, I have never piloted anything. I have read whatever I could find about the Dauntless, and from what I can gather, the flight model is accurate.

Compared with other carrier-borne types from the same era, the Dauntless is very stable: a useful quality in a bombing platform. For a tail dragger, it also has good visibility in the landing attitude. Compared with the F4U Corsair (and I’ve owned at least three models of that) the Dauntless is easy to position on a runway or carrier deck.

Engine modeling is somewhat more sophisticated than the defaults. Actually, there are two engine models: easy and intermediate. The difference is that, with intermediate modeling, you have to control your engine temperatures. If you overheat, you’ll see white smoke, followed by black smoke and flames.

I would like it if the white smoke would quit after you got the temperature under control again, but the engine modeling isn’t quite that granular: once it starts to overheat, there’s no going back.

Test System

Core2Quad Q6600 @ 2.4 GHz
4 gigabytes RAM
Nvidia 8800 GT (512 Mb)
Samsung 20” widescreen LCD (1680 x 1050)
Windows 7 (64-bit)
TrackIR 3 with Vector Expansion
CH pedals, yoke
Saitek X45 throttle
Sidewinder Precision Pro joystick
Sound Blaster X-Fi XtremeGamer sound card
Logitech X-540 5.1 speaker system

Flying Time:
25 hours

Performance

On my rig, described above and locked at 20 fps, I get solid frame rates. I have heard reports from two customers who experienced lower frame rates, but their problems were both fixed by installing medium-resolution textures, in place of the high-resolution textures that the model was supplied with.

The new textures are available, along with the paint kit, from the “Downloads” page of the Vertigo Studios website.

Conclusion

The SBD Dauntless currently sells for £15 on the Vertigo website. A patch has been talked about but doesn’t seem to be imminent. If I could fix one thing, it would be the textures on the inside of the canopy frame. Some of the liveries also need a bit of touch-up paint on the aileron joints and flaps.

Even without a patch, this is a beautiful model inside and out. Recently, at the Pacific Air Museum in Pearl Harbor, I was able to photograph a real SBD-3 from very close range. By this time, I’d been flying the virtual Dauntless for about three months, but I was still noticing new things. When I got home, I fired up the sim and, sure enough, each of the new features that I had remarked on the real Dauntless was visible on the model as well.

Overall, this is a strong package and well priced. Framerates are good, it’s easy to fly, and it makes great screenshots.

 

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