AVSIM Commercial Aircraft Review

AlphaSim - SAAB JAS 39 Gripen

Product Information
Publisher: AlphaSim
Description:  Advanced fighter add-on

Download Size:
36 MB - FS9 59 MB - FSX

Format:
Download
Simulation Type:
FS9 & FSX
Reviewed by: Chris Kiehl AVSIM Contributing Reviewer - August 9, 2007

Introduction

The SAAB JAS 39 Gripen is a relatively unique jet aircraft, both because of its design accomplishments and levels of performance, not to mention its sharp lines. Being able to turn and dogfight with some of the most capable competition, and being able to land and operate from a short stretch of open highway makes the Gripen quite a ship.

The Gripen was designed for a multitude of missions for the Swedish military in the 1980’s, as an alternative for the Swedish Military over the American F-16 fighter and other similar aircraft.

The more regular design requirements would be its capability to engage Air-To-Air targets on a level competing with the F-16, as well as Air-To-Ground or Attack capability and Reconnaissance. Being an unstable airframe design combined with the canard and delta wing configuration, the Gripen accomplishes the turning and other dog fighting maneuvers well. Low speed handling is also a constant with the delta wing configuration, and assisted in the takeoff and landing distance requirements. Naturally, Mach 2.0 was desired, and at altitude the Gripen can easily achieve Mach 2.0.

A more difficult performance requirement for the Gripen was the capability to operate from 800 meter runways or ‘landing areas’ in the form of converted stretches of Swedish highway, should that ever became necessary. To accommodate this rather difficult requirement, the aircraft was fitted with leading edge slats and large trailing edge flaps. Upon touchdown, the canards could rotate downward to increase drag, acting as an additional speed brake and adding extra force pushing down on the brakes to increase their effectiveness. A very sturdy gear system also aides in this process, in case a rather rough touchdown may be occasionally necessary to stop in 800 meters.

A visually unique aircraft, the Gripen’s lines have some similarity to other fighter aircraft, but I find it to be all its own. The Gripen is something to write home about.

Installation

The installation of this Alphasim aircraft uses a zipped folder method, making download and installation simple. Use Windows Extraction Wizard or another applicable extraction utility, and extract the zip file to your FS9 main directory. The Gripen is now ready to take to the skies.

Documentation

Documentation from Alphasim tends to be on the limited side from my experiences, and personally, I don’t mind this. There is a very succinct and effective readme pointing out vital aircraft operation info, and an HTML checklist which can be accessed in the sim via the kneeboard.

The readme features sim-relevant information, and the checklist provides indepth flight and aircraft information.

This checklist isn’t just a checklist, it also contains even more very useful operating information.

2D Panels

The 2D panel is a nicely detailed, all XML gauge setup. Three MFDs or Multi Functional Display panels, are located below the HUD. In my mind, the functionality of these panels is seemingly endless. You can configure each of the three MFDs to show you exactly what you want to see, whether it is a GPS like moving map system, engine conditions, flight, and navigational data. The HUD on the 2D panel is relatively easy to read, and is quite smooth. I primarily fly from the VC, and this VC contains all the features that the 2D panel does.

The included sub-panels can be seen opened, and the second and third shots show the HUD brightness levels.

Three sub-panels are included, two of which are custom. These sub-panels include an electrical switches pack, a throttle quadrant with speed brake and parking brake levers, and the default FS9 GPS.

Virtual Cockpit

This part of the package does well, but nothing is perfect. As I mention in my reviews, the VC is the point of greatest scrutiny. However, everyone’s opinion does vary quite a bit. Here’s the 360 view from the VC, minus the 3, 6, and 9 o‘clock views as you only look straight through the canopy glass or seat back from these views.

The shot of the seat in the Gripen is almost an exact reproduction of the earlier Gripen cockpit. Also, I've enjoyed seeing the canards from the VC.

The Gripen VC is quite nice from my point of view. I enjoy the features Alphasim added, and don’t mind it’s simplicity. The documentation states to simply start this jet using Ctrl+E, which I’m happy to do, as I have no clue in real world combat fighter procedures. Several important switches are clickable, although not everything is. I don’t mind having only the vital FS switches clickable, lights switches, avionics and battery, and the radios and MFD panels.

Also, a neat little extra animation that is in the VC only, are the animated canards. You can see them deflecting up or down based on control inputs, and this is from the default VC eye point. I thought it was neat to see the control surfaces actually moving, and this would most likely be the only external feature of the craft you would see from inside.

The canard deflection animation is why I enjoy seeing them so much; every little detail or animation adds to immersion.

On to the MFD panels. These panels are excellent, and are fully configurable and clickable from the VC. You can set each of them to show a different information screen, and each of the screens can show any of the five available screens, in any order. I do enjoy this feature, and these MFD's seem to have no impact on performance. They even have a ‘dimmer’ button, however, the screens can only be dimmed from their default brightness, so I didn’t use this feature.

These shots showcase the functionality of the MFD panels. You can interchange them in any order you would prefer, and each window is capable of show the same thing.

Another very crucial part to any combat fighter, is the HUD or Heads Up Display. The HUD in the Alphasim Gripen VC is as detailed as its 2D counterpart, however it does fall back a bit. The readability of the HUD even back at 0.50 zoom isn’t bad, you can still make out vital pieces of information. From where I fly at 0.60 zoom, I can read everything on the HUD, and it only gets better flying from 0.75 and 1.00 zoom. Where it does fall back, is that the HUD in the VC is frame rate hungry, and I noticed a large drop in FPS using the VC HUD.

The forward virtual cockpit view at several different levels of zoom, and the HUD brightness in the VC can also be adjusted.

One additional feature that did not hold up well in my view, is the VC night lighting. I find it very difficult to see both the HUD, and instruments and MFD panels. Flying at night may not be what this simulation was primarily designed for in FS, but I do enjoy a night flight here and there in fighters. The HUD can’t really be brightened very much, even using the dimmer switches. After just having completed a half hour night flight, I was able to taxi, takeoff, fly, and land again with no issue. However, the VC gauge brightness seems too dim, and I could barely make out my speed and altitude.

After all has been said, I still enjoy flying this plane from the VC, minus the few issues.

External Model

I would say this is my favorite part of the package. Alphasim’s exterior modeling is some of the best I’ve seen, and this model is no exception.

As you can see, the Gripen is something to look at. I always enjoy watching a fighter land at a high AOA.

The lines of this FS model when compared to pictures of the real deal, show it to be quite accurately constructed. Additionally, several load outs with external fuel tank and missiles are included, with a selection of nationality schemes to choose from. The tandem two-seater version is also included, and both models include detailed and animated pilot figures that can be removed on command.

The various paint schemes, model, and loadout combinations included. Alphasim always makes finding the ship you want to fly easy, by putting all included versions under one listing when selecting aircraft.

Of course, all regular animations such as flight controls and flaps are there. Speed brake and leading edge slats are also represented nicely, along with some neat animations and special effects.

You can clearly see the large flaps and sturdy gear hanging down on approach, almost exactly as I've seen in real life photos of the Gripen.

When pulling a high speed turn, you’ll see thin white contrails flipping off of the wing tips. In addition to that, you’ll also see a white puffy contrail effect ripping backwards from the canards. These two effects look quite like the Gripens in tight turns in videos and pictures I’ve seen.

I really like the puffy contrail effect coming from the canards in high speed turns.

If you decide to jam the throttle forward, or past 99.1 N1 according to the documentation, you’ll see the afterburner effect light up. It’s quite subtle at first. The inside of the engine exhaust port is merely glowing a dull orange, signifying dry thrust. Suddenly, this dull orange turns bright, and then the thrust shoots out the back in the characteristic small diamond pattern flame effect. A throttle triggered effect for AB is always nice, and there is also a subtle smoke effect that will trail behind when using higher throttle settings, as well.

The subtle orange glow lets you know that you do have an engine putting out searing hot thrust. Just light the afterburner, and see the nozzle expand to its full size and push out a huge flame pattern.

Flight Dynamics

Flying these delta wing with canard configuration aircraft in FS is quite fun, and Alphasim seems to have a knack for doing it right. This flight model is alright, but doesn’t quite fly right from my perspective. Now, some may ask if I’ve flown a real Gripen. Of course, that answer is no, I have not. However, I’ve done the next best thing, I've read the included documentation, of course, and did additional research.

My initial test flights were conducted with no ordnance and approximately 45% fuel in the main internal tank. The plane is a joy to just fly, and peels off of the runway at almost the exact speeds mentioned in the documentation. It seems that unless the afterburner is lit, the Gripen will take its sweet time to get up to rotation speeds, even on an 8,000 foot runway.

Flying the Gripen may present you with a challenge, as keeping it stable and flying a smooth pattern was difficult for me at first. I can easily takeoff, fly fun maneuvers, and land this aircraft. However, getting it trimmed and maintaining pattern speed and altitude, was sometimes difficult for me. Flying high speed turns and booming and zooming may be what this aircraft is best for. This is definitely an aircraft you should practice in, and master. Since beginning the flight tests of this review, my abilities to keep the Gripen flying right have greatly improved.

Landing the Gripen is definitely a different process than what I was used to, like landing something like an F-16 at 160 KIAS.

Deploying the first notch of flaps at anything above 160 KIAS will cause the aircraft to go from level flight or a shallow descent, to a slight climb gaining a hundred or so feet. The Gripen does generate quite a bit of lift, and even more in ground effect with the delta wing configuration and flaps. It was designed to takeoff and land much more slowly, so the flaps are extremely draggy and generate lots of lift. With full flaps, the Gripen immediately starts slowing down as if a speed brake was deployed. As the documentation mentions, very little flair is needed due to this extra lift and ground effect. A gentle nose down motion when applying each notch of flaps will eliminate the unwanted climb and nose up attitude.

Flying the Gripen lightly loaded, I was able to stall it onto the runway at 95-100 KIAS as opposed to the 130 KIAS mentioned as approach and landing speed in the documentation. Afterward, I loaded ordnance and full internal fuel and was still able to land it at 100-105 KIAS, around 25-30 KIAS below the mentioned approach and touchdown speeds in the documentation.

From the limited additional information I was able to find, an internet source stated the stall speed of the Gripen C and D models is 170 and 180 KPH, respectively. Using these figures, converted to KIAS, the landing and touchdown speed of 95 to 105 KIAS in the sim is accurate. Perhaps, Alphasim’s documentation is implying to simply fly the final at 130 KIAS with full flaps and gear down, but touchdown is actually slower than 130.

I enjoy flying the Gripen, and I’m thinking you will, too. It was a bit of a challenge at first, but what fun would it be if it were not?

Sound

I do appreciate a great sound package, and it’s included in this add-on. Fire up the Gripen and crank the volume, and suddenly it sounds like you’re at a military air base. The sound of the engine idling is exactly what I’ve heard at air shows from similar aircraft and engine type. Upon startup, the APU can be faintly heard, until the main engine spools up and comes online. Then you’ll get a disconcerting and loud moan out of the aircraft, and engine readings will then stabilize. It’s like a wake up call letting you know your aircraft is hot.

There is a subtle whistling and whining effect when idling, which is very true of similar jets I’ve heard and seen taxi by at a couple of shows. The sound of whistling is very accurate for many turbine engines, and the sound for the Gripen is one of the best sound packs of this type I’ve heard.

When on the runway and powering up for takeoff, the whistle-whine seems to slip away as a loud, dull roar immediately takes over. Once again, from my limited perspective having heard only a few jets takeoff up close, this is quite accurate. Just listen to this plane on a fly-by at a high power setting, you’ll feel as if you’ve heard the real deal fly over, without the benefits of rattling windows.

The shutdown sounds are very nice, and realistic in the sense that the engine takes a while to spool and wind down. You’ll lose any depth or bass to the sound as soon as you hit the kill switch on the throttle sub-panel. The whistling is the only sound effect you’ll hear, as it slowly dissipates to nothing.

Performance

The Alphasim Gripen performs quite nicely in every regard, except one. With the VC HUD disabled via a simple switch in the 2D or VC on the panel below the HUD, the frame rates are excellent. However, enabling the HUD does reduce the frame rates rather noticeably in all views. I like to fly with a HUD, but this one didn’t do it for me in the performance area.

Test System

Pentium 4 2.8 Ghz
1.5 Gb RAM
512Mb FX 7600
160 GB HD
FS 9.1

Flying Time:
14.75 hours

I would like to mention the catch of the FS HUD situation, and it’s this. Although I’ve seen only a few HUD systems in FS that perform better, FS uses heavy BMP files for everything, including the HUD. Since Alphasim’s HUD is very crisp and clear, even back at 0.50 zoom, there is obviously a performance-for-detail tradeoff. In addition, Alphasim’s Technical Support told me that this had not been reported by anyone else, but my system is up to specifications.

Specifically, this loss in frame rates was approximately 40% greater than the average loss rate without the HUD. It should be noted that the screen doesn’t stutter the whole time with the HUD running, but when making flight inputs, it is noticed. Occasionally, the frame rate would drop down to the low teens when running the HUD. Even after a restart of my computer, and turning all unnecessary background programs off, it still stuttered a bit too much for me.

Other than that one small performance issue, the plane performed smoothly throughout my tests. The external model of the Gripen is gorgeous, and that doesn’t slow it down. The VC is almost my favorite point of this review, but it has a downside.

Summary

I greatly enjoyed the privilege of flying another of Alphasim’s masterfully crafted modern aircraft. FSX users will be happy to hear that the aircraft is fully FSX ready.

Alphasim seems to improve things each time I see one of their aircraft. Sometimes they simplify things to make it more enjoyable, like having only the vital switches needed in the VC. In other cases, they successfully make things more complex without making them more difficult to use. The MFD panels included are an excellent example of this. This add-on includes a remarkably complex computer flight system, that is easy for anyone to figure out and use.

Even though the Alphasim Gripen has a performance issue on my end, would I still recommend it? Absolutely. If you’re a SAAB fan, or just a collector of really intriguing modern fighters, get this package.

 

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The review above is a subjective assessment of the product by the author. There is no connection between the producer and the reviewer, and we feel this review is unbiased and truly reflects the performance of the product in the simming environment. This disclaimer is posted here in order to provide you with background information on the reviewer and any connections that may exist between him/her and the contributing party.

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