AVSIM Commercial FSX Aircraft Review
Publishers: Flight 1 (Sky Unlimited)
Description: Vintage WWII Flight Experience Pack (A Ten Gallon experience).
|Reviewed by: Peter Hayes AVSIM Staff Reviewer - July 6, 2011|
This is a quirky little WW2 vintage package from Sky Unlimited. It comprises 5 Texan/Harvard/SNJ warplanes, a drivable Jeep, a WWII USS Aircraft Carrier (USS Monterey), a movie camera, and a fire capable 105mm Howitzer. These are all operational in their field and they represent quite a mix for our civilian Flight Simulator X.
The Texans or Harvards include 5 historical models; the AT6-D Harvard MkII/IV, SNJ-4C, T-6G, and LT-6G, their variants had quite different roles in WWII, so this is a nice mix to fly. The package promises 'an entire flight experience including new aircraft, vehicles, and artillery' all of which are controllable. Let's have a look at the history of the contents of the flight experience package.
The WWII Texan variants were called the 'North American T-6 Texan variants'. The Texan was designed as a single-engine (tandem seat) advanced trainer aircraft used to train pilots of the USAAF, USN, RAF and other air forces fighting on the allies' side during World War II. It had 3 different aliases, the US Air Force called it the "AT-6", the US Navy the "SNJ" and the RAF the "Harvard" (named after the University).
The first prototype was flown around 1935 and was in full production in 1937. The early variants had the prefix BC starting at BC-1 progressing to BC-2 before the final transformation into the AT-6 (AT = Advanced Trainer - sixth design). This progressed from the AT-6A (SNJ-3) to the AT-6G (SNJ-5), the latter being the models depicted in this package. The SNJ designation by the US Navy is obscure, one website (http://rwebs.net/avhistory/acdesig/usnavy.htm) thought that SNJ, meant Scout-Trainer built by North American, i.e. SN = "Scout Trainer and J = manufacturer in this case "North American Aviation Corp".
The USAAC (now the US Air Force) took delivery of its first AT-6s in 1939, being powered by the Wright R-1340-47 600 hp engine with a top speed just under 200 mph and with a provision to install a fixed 0.30 caliber machine gun over the right side of the engine cowling. (For an excellent history of the Texans visit: http://www.aviation-history.com/north-american/at6.html. and for details of the variants visit http://www.uswarplanes.net/at6.html).
The engine is mounted at the very front of the all-metal constructed aircraft, with the low mounted cantilever wings being sited just under the forward part of the cockpit and the fuselage at the rear ending in a single vertical tail surface. (Ref: http://www.militaryfactory.com/aircraft/detail.asp?aircraft_id=408)
Altogether, nearly 17,000 of all T-6 variants were built before, during and after WWII and many were still being used as a trainer well into the 1950's. (Note Wikipedia has an excellent article describing the T6 Variants here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T-6_Texan_variants). It is estimated that there are around 1500 Texans still around today ( less than 400 being airworthy), a remarkable feat.
The models that we have modeled by Sky Unlimited were designated:
T-6G - based on the earlier c1943) AT-6/T-6s re-built between 1949-1953. They have improved cockpit layout, increased fuel capacity, and modified landing gear with steerable tail - wheel, updated radios and a 600hp R-1340-AN-1 engine.
LT-6G - T-6Gs converted for battlefield surveillance and forward air controller duties.
SNJ-4 - aka AT-6C, with the SNJ-4C being SNJ-4s converted as deck landing trainers with arrester gear.
AT-6D - Based on the original BC1 design with minor modifications being the 6th variation and considered to be the ubiquitous trainer version built with squared-off wingtips and a triangular rudder.
Harvard MkII Harvard II - similar to AT-6 with a rear seat re-design, i.e. without provision for a rear gunner.
The Texans saw combat duty in Korea and Vietnam usually as forward air control aircraft or as light attack planes. They were used by main air forces throughout the world in various combat situations.
The Texan was the chameleon of WWII aircraft being used as a bomber, fighter, a spotter ("mosquito"), a strafer, a "Brass Taxi" and a patrol craft, as well as an "Advance Trainer". Handling characteristics eventually improved to the extent that the instruction book could state "It will take approximately 4½ turns to recover from a spin" a far cry better than the original "Do not intentionally spin the aircraft more than 1 turn".
Since WWII, the Texans have been used in many movies, e.g., in 'Tora! Tora! Tora!' and 'The Final Countdown', and 'A Bridge too Far', not necessarily as a Texan!
Specifications: (Reference: Wikipedia and http://www.aviation-history.com/north-american/at6.html )
Installation and Documentation
As my version was a download version, installation was as simple as clicking the 70MB exe file and using the very simple Flight 1 wrapper system; it installed the files in the \simobjects\planes folder including the movie camera, jeep, howitzer and aircraft carrier. In all, 10 folders are installed with the pre-fix su_ (sky unlimited) occupying approximately 250 MB of disk space.
In my opinion documentation was not up to a standard that you would expect from this type of model. There are series of text and htm files which can be accessed from the start menu\all programs\sky unlimited (which annoyingly closes down each time you close the text document) or via the relevant folders in the FSX\.\Simobjects\planes\su_ . . . folders.
These links contain uninstall methods, paint kits and the various notes for each model depicted. Annoyingly in the start menu documents, some of the reference/check manuals are missing and in reality the easiest way to access these lists is via the Kneeboard option in FSX. There are no real descriptions of how the variants differ from each other, and in FSX there is a 2D propeller and a 3D Propeller option for 2 of the variants but there is no description of the why they are different.
I asked about these via email in the support forum and received a prompt answer, but I feel that it is something that should go in the manual.
FSX Choice of Aircraft:
On my system in the Select aircraft menu in FSX under “Publisher”, I was presented with the tab for “Sky Unlimited” and this allows the choice of all 7 variants/5 liveries, for the planes, the jeep, the howitzer, the camera, the explosion locator pack and the USS Monterey.
Clicking on "details" I found one of the 12 choices reveals some interesting information on each variant, with the ATC information being specific to the model of aeroplane. Two of the aircraft have a choice for a 3D prop and a 2D Prop and as there is no explanation in the documentation of what this might mean, I emailed Sky Unlimited support and the response from John McKay of SU was that some of purchasers of the Texans didn't like the original 3D prop and so SU offered two versions of the plane.
One with the thick 3D prop and one with the traditional flat prop disk i.e. the 2D prop version. I really didn't notice any significant difference between the two as they both looked quite good. The variants and options offered are detailed above.
FSX Realism Settings
My flight control settings, were set to "Custom" – i.e. almost as realistic as you can get. However, I soon found out that there is a learning curve to get this bird off the ground, and initially I used easier settings until I became more proficient.
With realistic settings there was quite an amount of prop torque with the plane pulling to the left and needing opposite rudder to keep her on a straight line (tail wheel locked).
Payload, Fuel and Maintenance:
This is accessed via the default FSX options modified for the NA Texan variant specs. I did remove the co-pilot in this option but he was still there when I loaded the plane.
There is no maintenance or service options in this package, and engine failure, instrument faults are via the default FSX options. The plane usually has a fuel capacity of ≈110 gallons and say with 20 gallons not usable and 750 mile range taking approx 3.75 hours, meaning if my math is correct it slurps petrol at cruising speeds at around 20 - 24 gph or 8mpg in old money.
Starting with the Texans, etc as the default plane
I had no issues selecting the plane or opening it in FSX from the starting screen.
My frame rates in FSX, and more importantly smoothness, were unaffected by this plane, or any component included in the package.
The Texans appear to be fitted with 2 fuel tanks (plus a "reserve" inside the left fuel tank), with a low fuel warning light for <5 gallons remaining in the right fuel tank. The fuel level indicator of the left tank stops at 20 gallons, and there is no fuel level indicator for the reserve tank.
Any of the three tanks can be selected via separate fuel selectors, plus there are fuel gauges for each tank. The fuel pumps are non-operational due to the limitations of FSX. The fuel flow and usage was pretty accurate in the Sim. Note: There is no reserve fuel tank in either T-6 versions.
The Visual Façade or Exterior in the vernacular:
The exterior models are quite impressive. They have nice shiny textures with good shadow effects and from my comparisons to the real Texan, they look quite realistic. SU have given us a very reasonable version on how a polished aluminum skinned plane might look fresh from the factory.
Some of the painted models have realistic rivet detail. However when you get close up, the textures are not as smooth and round as other add-on aircraft in the same economic range and some of the details may not be as real as I expected. However, these are minor details and it looks very good sitting there on the tarmac and it does look like a real plane being in proportion to the real deal. The wheels look good on the tarmac having a suitable "flat-spot' where the realistic rubber tires meet the ground.
There are external differences between the variants including armament e.g. rockets and the various navigation aerials/transmitters which can be added or removed on the appropriate model. On the wings are strips for pilot/copilot access and the front, mid and rear (some models only) canopies open and close realistically using the usual FSX keyboard commands.
Again on some of the models you have a 'baggage' compartment which in the documentation states that it contains a starting handle (crank) for the engine but I only found a brief case. With some of the models, once the plane is parked you can add or hide the aircrew and there are also chocks and an animated ground crew appears.
As noted above, the Texans were a tail wheel, single engine (radial piston 600HP engine) cantilever low wing monoplane advanced trainer and the SU variants all have retractable landing gear plus all of these features are also modeled. The two seat, tandem oriented cockpit with a nicely rendered reflective glazed canopy is also vividly presented. SU have also modeled the twin bladed propeller (usually a Hamilton Standard Mod. N12-3040-211) with some variants having different methods of securing the prop to the plane.
With the engine running and moving the prop pitch control you can see the propeller blades move through the various pitch settings, fine to coarse and vice versa. The ID markings look very good and seem in proportion to the plane's dimensions as are the various lights, navigation, beacon, landing, etc.
The LT6G has Smoke Rockets (unlimited), designed to highlight a target and the plane is shown with these under the wings. They are fired using the "I" key and 4 smoke rockets are launched. On impact they grow into a simulated smoke cloud, staying visible for 10 minutes. You must press the "I" key to turn off "automatic" firing of the smoke rockets otherwise rockets will keep on firing every couple of minutes. A case of smoking can damage your simulator.
The SU FSX SNJ-4C aircraft also has a retractable tail hook (displayed to the rear of the plane) which is operated by a combination key stroke or button/switch on your flight controller. This is used for carrier landings.
Wear & Tear
Unfortunately, none of the planes show any signs of wear and tear they all look as though they are fresh from the assembly line, it would have been nice to see some oil streaks and/or accumulated grime and general wear.
Night Lighting is good and looks realistic. The landing lights are bright and effective. The cockpit looks great with a nice subdued deep red (see below). The navigation lights being correctly positioned on the wing extremities, and the landing/taxi light(s) illuminate the ground effectively. All the lights can be switched on and off from the VC or by using the usual FSX keystrokes.
Night Lighting in the VC
Jeep, Howitzer & USS Monterey
In all honesty, I was not as impressed with the jeep, howitzer or the USS Monterey; these seem to be just thrown in to complete the package and there is a distinct lack of detail and quality in these ancillary objects.
The howitzer fires with a loud bang and a huge puff of smoke which the documentation wisely points out can be cleared by setting some virtual wind to blow it away. The crew members are animated even to the extent of holding their ears as the howitzer is fired, but they are not dynamic having to be selected and changed via a key stroke.
The jeep does travel around so it's quite good to use to explore a particular area and it also has an animated crew member.
I positioned the USS Monterey in Holger Sandman's Tongass Fjord scenery in place of one of his AI ships and the ship floated and actually moved. I then tested all of the animations that include opening doors swiveling chairs, smoke, flags up and down, 4 bells to call to general quarters (No whoop whoop unfortunately) and bow wake, etc and they all worked as per the documentation. It is a great pity that more work hasn't gone into this model to make it more realistic and add basic aircraft carrier functionality as it sails quite well.
Note: The USS Monterey (CVL-26) was an Independence-class light aircraft carrier of the USN. It was originally a light cruiser converted into an aircraft carrier. (Ref Wikipedia)
The Interior (Darkest Africa with apologies to Mungo Park) or Cockpit aka Panel
The Texans all come with a 2-D cockpit as well as a VC. There are also pop-ups of the default navigation/communication radios and GPS 295 - not very realistic unfortunately.
The cockpit depicts the instruments of the time and as they are not as sophisticated as today's glass cockpit so there is minimal impact on frame rates. Unfortunately the cockpit was not to my taste as it looked slightly cartoonish and far too new, with the exception of the instrument panel which looks much better than the rest of the interior and it does show signs of wear, albeit exactly the same for each variant.
As I say, the gauges are clear and readable and stand out from the rest of the VC. Unfortunately, in close-up, items such as knobs and switches lack that smooth detail that we see on other models. The layout of everything looks good when compared to a real model and everything that should work, works with a mouse and/or keyboard/joystick click.
There is no documentation on what each instrument does and due to the deepness of the cockpit, a device such as TrackIR would be advantageous in viewing the various instruments and gauges during complex maneuvers such as take-off and landing, etc. You do not appear to be able to hide the joystick in the front cockpit. However, the joysticks are accurately modeled with some variants having a simple stick whilst others are of the "O" top variety, as in the real world variants.
I looked in vain for the Pilot's relief tube - (a tube horn is attached by a bracket to the bottom of each seat), but perhaps I was looking in the wrong area. What a great 'Jimmy Riddle' idea!
In a nice touch, SUP have also modeled the variations in the various models (see joystick) including a difference between the Texan and Harvard, e.g. the mixture control. In the Texan it moves from back to front going from lean to rich, whereas in the Harvard it goes the opposite direction. In the Harvard MkIV, the throttle is a big handle that you can get your whole hand around, whereas in the earlier versions it was a knob on the end of a lever. (Ref Sky Unlimited forum). Other differences are also modeled such as switches, map cases, etc.
Because there are two cockpits (in tandem) the documentation does cover how to move between the two i.e. by pressing the "A" key (next in category). The detail in the rear cockpit is the same as in the front one, but here you can "stow" the joystick by clicking it with the mouse.
Sitting in the rear seat can be quite disconcerting as the pilot's hand keeps coming up to meet you as he speaks into his virtual microphone in a cyclical manner, but the documentation does tell you to turn him off when sitting in his seat. Also featured is a manual gear lowering handle (for emergency use only). This is operated using the mouse and is a 2-step irreversible process which can be overridden using the "G" key.
Moving between the cockpits or even around one of them, I did occasionally note some texture aberrations on the wings and between the front and rear cockpits which thankfully disappeared on further movement.
The Pop-Ups and Switch selections
The Shift + Numeral Keys show the various pop-ups for each variation and these do differ according to the model. In the Harvard and Texan AT-6, if you move the viewpoint down in the VC, (Shift + Backspace) until you move below the seat (still no relief tube) you get an option to turn the crew on/off, whereas in the SNJ4C and the LT6/T6 models you get the same type of option (plus others) with a Shift + 7 key push.
The basic key strokes are:
In general, these are the default FSX controls and I assigned them to my Saitek X-52, TQ and rudder pedals, (assigning and calibrating in FSUIPC4) and they worked without issue. The various buttons and switches are also very easy to apply on your controller, and using FSUIPC4's plane specific options I was able to apply all assignments just to the Harvards, Texans and SNJ4C.
Once calibrated the plane responded to the controls as one would expect! I used separate assignments for the jeep and they worked very well, and just the default option for the howitzer. I never did get the USS Monterey in the water so I couldn't test the controls on that.
The planes have a glazed tandem sliding canopy system, with up to 3 separate canopies (front, center, rear) which can be opened and closed using the default FSX “Shift + E + numeral” toggle or the "/" key setting. On both wings there is a black tread strip for the pilots to climb aboard. On some variants the key strokes are different and the rear canopy cannot be opened. (See pictures above)
On the Ground
The airplane models are tail draggers and as such the first difference compared to a tricyclic landing gear is during taxiing. In a tail dragger the center of gravity is behind the landing gear, and hence the airplane does not want to go straight (push and pull a supermarket trolley to get the idea). The tail wants to come around and run in front of you because the C of G is pushing from behind.
When you push something, it's tricky to keep it going straight, but when you pull something (tricyclic LG), it comes along nice and straight behind you. (Ref: http://www.taildraggers.com/Documentation.aspx). Forward vision is poor and you need to use the S-track method of maneuvering during taxiing. Steering the plane using the Saitek rudder pedals and judicious use of the differential brakes was without issue.
Whatever you do, don't taxi too fast as the plane may nose dive into the tarmac if you stamp on the brake pedals to stop in an emergency. Remember to unlock the tail wheel for taxiing it makes it a lot easier!! As a word of caution make sure that you do not attempt to retract the gear whilst on the tarmac as you descend to the ground molto rapido as there is no safety mechanism to prevent retracting the gear when not in the air.
Note: The Jeep was easy to control and is fully maneuverable (using standard FSX controls); you could even use Shift + P to reverse it.
Starting the Engine:
This can be achieved manually using details from the documentation (which is quite realistic) or using that well known cheat "Ctrl + E". The manual procedure, including the post-start warm up procedures, are well described in the documentation.
When my realism settings were set to "Hard", I did discern some prop torque effect but not as much as the Real Air P51 for example, but still enough to have to use the rudder pedals to keep her on a straight line.
Again the documentation describes the various engine, propeller, mixture, and gear settings and I did notice that it did take quite a while for the tail wheel (which was locked for take-off) to come off the ground which was at around 60 KIAS, and lift off occurred at around 80 KIAS.
In take-off I had both canopies open and closed them once I had achieved a positive rate of climb as I think that this was the usual real world procedure. The gear (and flaps if used) was then retracted to reduce drag and speed picks up quickly, so I had to keep an eye on my rate of climb so that I did not overstress anything. At first, it seemed to me that the controls were light, skittish and woolly, but by altering my sensitivities and getting used to the plane, it became easier to achieve a nice smooth rate of climb at around 90KIAS in a non-bucking bronco manner.
Using the SNJ4C to take off from the USS Monterey was not easy, as you need to put the plane in a position just behind where you have just landed i.e. just in front of the arrestor wire , and ensure that you have a 15 knot headwind and that the US Monterey (an AI carrier) is traveling at 25 knots. Once you've done this, it’s full throttle and off you go into the wild blue yonder - maybe. I was fairly successful in taking off a little better than I was at landing! (See below)
In the Air
Again using the documentation to set the various parameters, i.e. propeller pitch, mixture (above 3,000') and throttle it was easy to achieve level flight by applying trim. In my reviews I look for the following characteristics in any plane i.e. how the plane handles, during climbs, cruise flight i.e. straight and level flight (and slow) flight, turns, descents, recovery (e.g. from stalls spins, etc) and general handling.
The SU Texans executed all of the parameters easily, and once I had mastered the flight controls, I found them as realistic as any other FSX plane to fly. In flight I used a cruising speed around 150 KIAS and a service ceiling of between 5,000' to 15,000' which the latter being achieved in ≈5 - 10 minutes. In these models I did not get sense of speed, and I have noticed this before even in supersonic planes, partly because inside the cockpit the engine sound does not rise in pitch and once it has settled to around 2000 rpm, the cockpit becomes relatively quiet.
Nevertheless, you do get this sense of speed if you approach the carrier too fast and end up in the drink because you didn't stop in time! On the whole it is quite a nice plane to fly once you have gotten used to the apparent control lightness.
I did not use the flaps much, but when I did in descent to landing, they certainly slowed the plane down and allowed (particularly on the carrier) lower approach speeds.
Descents to Landing
The plane needed a light touch to start the descent and in initiating the approach I reduced the speed to around 130 KIAS, by reducing the throttle (setting the mixture to rich) and descending at around 700'/sec, reducing to 500 ft/sec if going too fast. At around 110 KIAS I lowered the landing gear and reduced speed further to 85 - 90 KIAS before setting the flaps.
On final, I again reduced speed to around 60 KIAS and when flaring lowered to 50 - 55 KIAS. I did not always achieve this and there was a fair bit of bouncing or damage to the airframe before I got it right.
I used a different technique for carrier landing using the SNJ4C (and I have to admit I was only successful about 1 in 20 attempts). The documentation describes where you can find the USS Monterey which is just off the coast near Naval Air Station Pensacola (NAS Pensacola - KNPA).
I followed the procedure as in the documentation and the most important point to remember is to make sure that you have low fuel onboard when attempting a landing. You also need to remember to put the hook down otherwise you don't stop and will splash! This is not an easy procedure, as you have to get your speed just above stall speed otherwise you are too fast and of course if you sink too low at this sort of speed gaining height is almost impossible.
In the end I could land without inflicting too much damage on the plane or boat or giving the Texan an early bath.
I attempted a power-off landing (engine switched off) at 5,000' gliding to around 1,000’ with speed around 130 KIAS no flaps, (possibly the best glide speed) dropping to around 100 KIAS over the threshold and lowering the gear at the last possible moment to reduce any additional drag. This worked most times but I did have a few "dropped like stone" experiences before I perfected my technique.
Stalls and Spins
Texan pilots were warned: (The Pilots Manual ref http://www.aviation-history.com/north-american/at6.html) "Do not intentionally spin the aircraft more than one turn." Crash! Kaboom!
Apparently several fixes were tried; leading edge slats, wing slots, "drooped" wingtips etc., without much improvement! Well I can tell you that the SU Texan behaves just like this in FSX. Once in a stall or spin it took a lot of altitude and control to recover. I even managed to fly upside down at one point without going into an irrecoverable spin.
As in real life, the FSX Texan stalls clean at ≈65 KIAS and I certainly found that at first the Texan gently stalls and then suddenly continues into a vicious spin if you wait too long to release the back pressure. With stalls in this plane you definitely need altitude to recover.
When you crank this radial engine you hear the whine of the starter winding up and the bellowing growl of the engine starting and as 600HP of mechanical wizardry coughs into life, it blows smoke out as if it was really starting, and it finally stretches into the lazy growl of an idling giant.
Sky Unlimited have done well with the sounds. I found them a little muted and flat in the cockpit but very good outside except you could start to hear some repetition beginning if you listened long enough. On the whole, very good sounds and you get a set of bonus sounds with the USS Monterey.
In another nice touch, following the forum comments, SUP upgrades include the gear warning horn in the SNJ, AT6-D and T-6.
The Experience Pack sans planes
This includes the Jeep, the Howitzer, the USS Monterey, a special effects placement device, and an FSX Movie Camera locator device. The latter 2 apps are to do with movie making within FSX and one requires the addition of further software, and so I did not review either of these two items, but there are notes concerning their use in the documentation.
As I said earlier, the Jeep is a great exploration vehicle and it is easily controlled with a joystick, etc. However, the model is very basic and it does not have any instrumentation. Sounds are reasonable.
The Howitzer too is a novel idea, and it fires realistically enough with lots of smoke and having an animated gun crew, but it doesn't inflict any damage on any buildings and/or scenery in FSX. Again I felt that the model was not to a very high standard.
The USS Monterey functions OK as an AI aircraft carrier especially in landing and take-off. However, I feel that again the model is poor and the operation of take-off and landing are not very realistic.
You would probably need to add extra software such as 'Alphasim’s USS Enterprise aircraft carrier scenery' or ' Javier Fernandez's Carrier pack' as used with the VRS Superbug to enhance the simming experience. I did try to land the VRS Superbug on the Monterey but that was an abject failure, too fast and too low.
As I note above, the USS Monterey can be loaded as an 'aircraft' launched into the water where it will happily steam around ad infinitum. Unfortunately due to FSX restrictions, you can no longer land a plane on its deck. Again the model is pretty basic and I would have liked the team to have concentrated on making the USS Monterey much better looking and more realistically operational.
Re-Paints and Paint Kit
These can be found on the various websites, e.g. AVSIM, Flightsim, Sim-Outhouse, etc. A paint kit for all of the aircraft variants is included in this software package.
This is excellent being via email [firstname.lastname@example.org] or a dedicated forum [http://skyunlimited.net/skyboard/YaBB.pl?board=at6].
Summary / Closing Remarks
To be honest, I think that this package would have been a much better option if it was just sold with the NA Texan variants. In my opinion the 'experience pack' adds very little to our simming experience.
If the planes were subject to a few basic improvements to textures, they would be very nice additions to FSX as they fly (and sound) well enough. Having said that, the SUP Texans are nice planes to include in your hangar if vintage WWII warbirds is your thing.
What I Like About Texans Vol 2
What I Don't Like About Texans Vol 2
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