Inevitably, when you consider the symbolic aircraft of World War 2, the mind jumps immediately to a few marques – probably based on your nationality. The Englishman might think of Spitfires and Lancasters; Mustangs and Fortresses for the American and probably Me 109s and Junkers for the German enthusiast.
It’s rare to remember RAF Coastal Command – but if you did, you’d probably think of Sunderlands or Liberators. I imagine that Alphasim’s latest creation, the Lockheed Hudson wouldn’t be high on anybody’s list of classics, and that’s a shame because it’s symbolic in many different ways and actually has a number of ‘firsts’.
The initial RAF order of 200 Mk I and II Hudsons was the first large order for the Lockheed company. Hudson crews claimed the first RAF aircraft kill of the war, the first submarine sinking by the USN and fired the first shots in the war against Japan. Hudsons saw service in every theatre of the war, and were operated by every allied air force (and the Irish Air Corps). So, let’s look at the Alphasim Hudson.
Purchasing and Installation
Although this was a review copy, I’ve purchased from Alphasim in the past using the online download system. It’s easy and effective as long as you have a broadband connection or don’t mind waiting for a little while. You need to create an account for yourself, and then fill in a credit card ordering form after which you get a password and a code. You go to the download page, enter your code and the download begins.
The model comes in both FSX and FS2004 versions, and you’d be wise to download both and keep a backup. Having said that, you get three downloads from the site in case the first one goes awry.
The installation is as simple as unzipping the files into the root of the FS9 or FSX directory. I do like executable installers but at the end of the day, if you can’t understand how to use a ZIP program you probably won’t be using flight sim. There is no manual to speak of. The simple readme file gives some basic key assignments and the credits, but not much more.
The kneepad view, accessed using the F10 key, gives a lot more information including an overview of the instrument panel, checklists and recommended flight profiles. However, some information isn’t contained in any documentation and needs to be discovered by trial and error, or by asking on the Alphasim forums.
I don’t know about you, but when I get a new toy I just want to play with it immediately. After scanning the readme, I flashed up FSX and loaded the Hudson, creating a flight from RAF Valley, Anglesey which was and is a training base.
After the usual five minute FSX load, the Hudson was sitting waiting for me at the end of runway 01 with the engines running. So, with one lump of flaps applied and full power on, I wandered off down the runway and out to sea.
At this point I should highlight that my flight simming experience is wide ranging and has covered everything from single engine GA aircraft to multi-engine military. I’ve flown in one VA and two Virtual Air Forces and am a heavy user of FS Passenger and FSCargo for amusement purposes. Over the last three years (since I got back into flightsim) I’ve probably amassed several hundred hours stick time. I learned to fly real planes 25 years ago, but never pursued it as a career or graduated above the Cessna 172.
So, my first impression was that the Hudson handles “alright”. I was interested to see that there was an autopilot, but slightly disappointed to see that it was the standard Alphasim digital one, more of which anon. Landing, however, was a different story. I found that the airplane was ‘mushy’ at low speed, especially with the flaps and wheels out, although this may be entirely accurate. In the paragraphs that follow, I will explore this in more detail.
Last week, like many people, I didn’t know much about the Hudson. Today, thanks to the magic of the Internet and what my wife tells me is a stupidly large collection of reference books; I can tell you with a degree of authority that the Alphasim model represents two distinct aircraft types.
Firstly, the RAF Hudson Mk V, with turret as used by RAF Coastal Command, secondly the USAAF A-29, referred to as the Hudson Mk VI when supplied to Commonwealth Air Forces under Lend-Lease. This variant has no turret and some detail differences.
So, the aircraft are:
RAF Mk V – “OY-X” from
500 SQN 1942 AM667
The pictures of preserved examples look like the Alphasim model and vice-versa. The distinctive curve of the forward fuselage is very well reproduced. What looks wrong are the very obtrusive cable antennae between the fin and the fuselage which look as if they were constructed from battleship mooring lines. Posts on the Alphasim forum suggest that this is due to limitations in the modeling package being used.
The next point of contention lies in the construction shape and nature of the elevators. The model has port and starboard elevators but the real aircraft has a single elevator… photos of the flying example at Temora show this reasonably well but there was still a germ of doubt.
So, since the Australian War Memorial has a Hudson just down the road from me, I thought I’d check. Sadly, it’s not currently on display, but one of the incredibly helpful curating staff, Mr Paul Taylor, was able to photograph the tail unit of preserved Hudson A16-105 for me. Thanks Paul! I have sent these on to Alphasim, who have promised a model update soon.
I’d also like to note that most of the pictures I’ve seen show a prominent loop antenna aft of the cockpit, but the model has a faired-in version. Alphasim said that all their photos showed a faired antenna and it wasn’t worthwhile producing a separate model for such a small detail.
I really like
the texturing, particularly of the RAF models which look as if they have
done hard time at low level over the sea. In fact,
good. I found it hard to tell the FS9 and FSX models apart, the
comparison below is as close as I can get. The blurb claims that the FSX variant
includes bump-mapping, full specularity and shine, and that’s probably
true. in which case the texturing on the FS9 model is spectacularly
According to the Alphasim promotional material, the model contains animated entry doors, cowl flaps, bomb bay door and landing lights. I can confirm that these are, indeed, all there and animated correctly; as far as I can tell without seeing them work for real. I was slightly disappointed to see the bomb-bay empty, though. A load of Depth Bombs or 500 pounders wouldn’t have contributed many polys to the final model and would have been more atmospheric.
However, a nice touch is the provision of different pilots for the Mk V and VI. The Mk V pilot has a flying helmet and Mae West life jacket, while the Mk VI crew wear baseball caps. The crew figures are well detailed and the pilot’s head moves around as he scans the sky for ‘bogeys.’
To an extent, my criticism extends to the interior model. Looking at photos of the real thing reveals a mass of detail inside the cockpit and the navigator’s station, but on the model, everything aft of the Navigator’s cubby is bare and clean, cleaner than my lounge room in fact, and not even a photographic representation of the clutter.
By the same token, the cockpit seems very bare and sparse. I’ve flown simulated WW2 aircraft before and recognize that there were far fewer instruments back then, but comparing the Hudson cockpit to photos of the real one shows far fewer taps and dials visible.
Despite this, the 2D cockpit is useable with all the important gauges legible and tool tips for the remainder. It's as you’d expect since all of them have been developed and improved over a range of aircraft.
This is one advantage of having a library of gauges and instruments available, another is that you can churn out models quicker but the disadvantage is that after a while the cockpits seem a bit ‘samey’. For example, the ‘lights’ panel is the same across several Alphasim aircraft, including the Caribou.
As mentioned earlier, the autopilot is all digital which makes it easy to program and read. I am torn between the ease of use aspects and prototype fidelity in this respect. I can’t find any evidence that the Hudson was fitted with an autopilot but recognize that most simmers (myself included) won’t consider using an aircraft that doesn’t have one. I think a nice compromise would have been to produce a slightly more antique looking version, such as the one fitted to the default DC3, but the expedient solution is to ‘use the one we always use’.
The panel layout appears to be consistent with the real thing, that is to say, poorly laid out and inconvenient to use. Certainly there is no obvious “T” layout and this means that the plane is a bit of a bugger to fly, especially in the VC where the RMI is either out of sight behind the yoke, or obscured by the engine controls.
But then, this plane was designed before ergonomics were invented and instruments were placed where they fit on the panel. In this sense, Alphasim is to be commended!
The 2D cockpit is well drawn. I use the word drawn deliberately because it’s clearly an artist’s rendition and not photo-realistic. The 3D cockpit is well rendered, although far too uncluttered to be a military aircraft and a bit dark, in my mind.
You can see a hint of the nose area and some detail at the navigator’s station, and using the view movement buttons in FSX, I was able to explore these more thoroughly. The navigator’s station has pictures of the various radios and whatnot, while the bomb-aimer’s position has a seat and a basic bomb sight. Neither is as detailed as some recent productions.
Effects & sound
By pressing the “I” key, you get a fire and smoke effect in the port engine of the FS9 version or an impressive smoke effect in the port engine of the FSX version. The FSX version looks a lot less impressive - I wonder why they aren’t the same?
The Alphasim blurb says that the sound set “…is enough to make a grown man cry.” Now, I can report that at nearly 40, I am reasonably grown and yet not a tear was induced. The sounds are OK, reacting well to throttle changes and quite well layered but by no means as startling as promised on the cover. However, they are by no means bad, providing an audible indicator of engine performance.
Flying the Hudson
The Hudson was considered a "hot ship", and was not an easy aircraft to master compared to the docile Avro Anson it replaced. There were many accidents during conversion training. A chief cause was the Hudson's propensity to swing off of the runway during take-off and landing.
I’m a firm believer that the best way to evaluate an aircraft’s performance is to use it in the manner in which the original was used, so I tried to design my test plan for this aircraft around the sort of operations flown by the real thing. In all, I flew the Hudson for about fifteen hours, which I think is enough time to get familiar with the plane. My findings appear below:
For the first part of my test I spent 3 hours flying training flights from Biggs AFB, which is located near Fort Bliss, Texas. I used the USAAF A29 variant for these sessions, which were intended to cover ground handling, circuits and general flight manoeuvres, as well as assessing its performance in ‘hot desert’ conditions. I conducted the first 1.5 hour block using FS9, and then repeated the serial using FSX.
Both serials consisted of taxiing out to the runway, a series of circuits at various degrees of flap and power setting, climb out to safety height (10,000ft) then stalls and spins, loops and rolls, performance on single engine, glide and emergency landing.
Start-up & Ground Handling
It is possible to start the engines using the panel, although a number of times I found that while the taps were set properly, one or the other engine wouldn’t start until I pressed Ctrl+E. On the ground, this aircraft handles like a pig. There’s no forward view owing to the ground attitude of the airframe and I found the best way to taxi was to look out of the left quarter light and try to keep a constant distance from the edge of the taxiway. In the real world, I expect the bomb-aimer would have been keeping a lookout and guiding the skipper but unless you know your airfield intimately, I’d recommend taxiing using spot view (or setting up a bomb-aimer view in FSX.) Alphasim says that such a view was meant to be included, and will be in the next update.
There is a gauge that lets you adjust the seat up and down but I didn’t find this very helpful. I find the difficulty with this is always remembering where ‘normal’ is.
I understand that in the initial release, the braking was tricky, and differential braking didn’t work because of the sharpness of the braking. This has now been fixed or at least I didn’t suffer from it. Although there is a tail wheel lock in the cockpit, the tail wheel on the FS9 model neither rotates or castors (The FSX one castors as advertised.) I identified this to Alphasim, who responded that it would be fixed in the next update.
Once you make it to the runway, the takeoff is also “interesting”. With one notch of flaps on, I accelerated down the runway (looking frantically out the quarter light.) To my extreme alarm, I became airborne way before I expected to and was still unable to see out! On inspection, it appeared that the whole airplane leaves the earth shortly after the tail wheel, without the opportunity to nose down into normal flying attitude.
After a couple of goes, I was able to achieve a ‘normal’ tail dragger takeoff, but it’s distinctly tricky and not at all what I expected. I should point out that most of my tail dragger experience has been on Chipmunk, Beaver and other single engined jobs, none of which have behaved like this. But, I don’t think it’s quite right, and certainly takes a little practice. This aspect was the same in both FS9 and FSX.
Once I’d sorted out what had happened, I was at 4,000ft so the climb performance in FS9 is sprightly and matches Lockheed’s stated 2,500fpm. A series of circuits ensued, which established the veracity of Alphasim’s advice not to attempt landings with full flap. About 60° is enough or you wind up floating along the runway.
So, after a few circuits, I droned up to 10,000 feet, admiring the hills around Ft Bliss for some ‘lurks and jerks’. In FS9, I found that it was very difficult to get any sort of reaction in terms of the stall. You start losing altitude and the steering gets sloppy, but it’s not scary.
Stalling is a lot more dramatic in FSX. The aeroplane actually starts to fall out of the sky and takes some skill and time to recover, initially 5,000ft of skill and time in my case, perhaps a more experienced pilot would be quicker.
I was unable to induce a spin in either FS9 or FSX, not sure why. In FS9, the aeroplane loops sweetly and rolls nicely. In fact, you can fling the plane around like a fighter with impunity, but in FSX I found the higher I got, the less happy the aircraft became. By 10,000ft, it was positively soggy on the controls and difficult to handle. I assume that this is because the FSX flight dynamics are more accurate than those of FS9. Getting to 10,000ft was an exercise in patience and the engines were labouring when I got there.
My normal drill at this stage would be to shut down one engine and measure performance, but I couldn’t do that on the Hudson. I cut the fuel, closed the throttle, detuned the prop and even set fire to the starboard engine! The dials changed and I lost some performance but that prop just kept on spinning. Later on the ground, I found that I had to use a key press to shut down the engines. Alphasim say that for technical reasons the fuel cut-off switches and tank selectors don’t work, and that I had in fact shut the engine down, but the prop was windmilling. This experience was common to both versions.
At 10,000ft in both versions, I found it difficult to maintain altitude on one engine, and impossible in the glide, as you’d expect. In fact, due to the high wing loading, the airplane does not glide well and I found the emergency landings to be challenging, especially in FSX.
The fact that I haven't mentioned frame rates so far does not mean that they weren't a consideration. The fact is that I didn't notice any particular performance hits or degradation at any time when flying this model. It is well designed and economical with the polygons.
Western Approaches, 1942 - 500 SQN
In this session, I planned to spend about 2.5 hours patrolling the Western Approaches in November. I guess I’m a bit of a convoy nerd, so I’d better explain that the Western Approaches refers to the block of the UK coastal waters through which most shipping had to pass in order to reach British west coast ports. As such, it was heavily patrolled by both sides during the whole war. In November 1942, No. 500 SQN was using Hudson Mk V aircraft to patrol the north western approaches from Wick in Scotland. So I decided to do the same.
This session, completed in FSX, allowed me to assess low-level performance over the sea in typically awful weather.
I tried to do the whole thing without using the GPS or FS Map and I don’t have FSNav installed on FSX yet, for obvious reasons, so I planned the mission in FSX and then flew timed legs with the weather in FSX set to “Heavy Snow”, which meant that I was using radio navaids a lot. The navaid gauges are very 2-dimensional, although not too hard to use, but did I mention that the RMI is buried behind other objects?
Flying IFR in this plane is irritating at best and positively tedious at worst. Doing it at low level over the water is the reason you carry a Navigator. There is a clock on the panel, but no stopwatch function, so flying timed legs is also difficult.
However, as an exercise in ‘back to basics’ it was actually quite fun. Without the FMC you have to rely on good instrument flying and the sense of elation when the airfield finally hove into sight at the end of the trip was profound.
To cut a long story short, my conclusions are that:
a. The FSX version of the plane is happiest between 2,000 and 5,000 feet,
Western Mediterranean, 1943 – 48 SQN
Gibraltar is a British territory controlling the choke-point at the mouth of the Mediterranean. As such, it was vital to maintain maritime patrols in the area to ensure that U-Boats couldn’t get in or out. The effectiveness of these patrols, over relatively shallow tidal water, was such that eventually Dönitz refused to commit further boats to the Med. A decisive factor in Allied sea control.
In early 1943, 48 SQN operated Hudson V aircraft from North Front airfield, Gibraltar (with a detachment to Iceland). This is long gone, so I flew my mission from Gibraltar airport, being careful to maintain Spanish neutrality on departure!
I flew this session in FS9, with an FSNav course plotted on a pleasant February evening. Being able to use FSNav steers made the flying a lot more pleasant, and the handling on the FS9 version meant I had only the usual amount of trouble flying a box search pattern. At nightfall I returned to Gib., owing to the absence of a Radar Gauge (plus the fact that I knew there weren’t any subs out there) and made a safe, if rather lumpy landing. After nearly fifteen hours and many circuits, landing this aircraft is still an interesting experience. (By the way, the destroyer you’ll see in some of the screenshots is not part of the package – I just wanted something to ‘buzz’.)
Night flying gave me the opportunity to look at the aircraft lighting – which appears to be in the right place, but way too bright for a wartime aircraft. The provision of a ‘dim’ option would be a nice touch. The landing lights focus at a useful distance, but of course are completely useless after landing because they are designed to work in flight attitude.
The RCG switch on the panel is supposed to illuminate the blue recognition lights, however these are commented out in the Aircraft CFG file because some customers get confused by having blue lights on the airplane.
While I was playing with the CFG file, I also amended the ATC name and type fields to read: Lockheed and Lockheed Hudson respectively. I hate to be called ‘experimental’! Why can’t this be done out of the box?
Northern Territory, 1942 – 13 SQN RAAF
For my final mission
in the Hudson, I elected to try and reproduce an Australian mission in which
Hudson bombers were used to drop supplies to Troops on the
Kokoda Trail. I decided to fly this in FSX, as the weather was likely to be
OK and it would give me a chance to try out the bomb-aimer view!
I did better on the second go and actually managed a landing back at base, but I feel that the airplane’s performance in FSX is too marginal for comfort without a bit more practice, especially at high altitudes in hot weather.
Alphasim have really stepped up to the mark here, providing the masters for each livery in the pack. I always like to take a look at these, partly because I like to dabble with a paintbrush myself and partly to see how the designer did it.
I’m very impressed by the quality of the painting, as I said earlier and more so after looking at the way the paint-kit is constructed. I had a bit of a play with it, and the next screenshot shows my effort at a Civilian Hudson, VH-AGP owned by Adastra Aerial Survey (this is the 1971 ‘orange’ livery.)
I found the kit easy to use (owing to a basic understanding of French?) and, if I have a criticism, it is that the tail fins are mirrored. A left and a right outer are provided, but are then reversed on the insides of the tail unit, if you see what I mean.
This is fine when depicting a military livery, but means that if you have lettering on the tail fins, it looks sort of odd. My version of AGP has the registration on the fuselage for that reason. (I’ll upload it to AVSIM when I’m happy with it.)
When I started writing this review, I had mixed feelings about the Hudson. While Alphasim have garnered a reputation for providing reasonably priced add-ons for flight simulators, my personal opinion is that the price for this success, perhaps even the price of ‘reasonableness’, has been attention to detail.
For example, given that I was able to find an image of a Hudson elevator within five minutes of searching, why is the model wrong? Why compromise on the autopilot, when a realistic-looking (and harder to use) antique replacement wouldn’t have been that much harder to produce? What’s the deal with the ground handling and weird takeoff?
More importantly, FSX offers new features that would make this plane easier to handle and possibly more fun to fly. Why not have working bombs? Why not have a view that helps you taxi more easily?
The flight handling makes the airplane challenging to fly (in FSX, at least) but it isn’t spectacular. In fact, in anything but clear skies it’s downright tedious to fly for long periods.
Then again, at NZ$40 (US$30), is the price still reasonable? You can get a lot more airplane in other packs for less money, especially at the sales.
I said I had mixed feelings, and that’s because I really want to like this aircraft. It’s not a classic and never will be, but it fills a niche and aside from the flaws I mentioned, the model is nice. The outstanding paintwork is by far the best bit of the package. Well done to Alphasim for stepping outside the box and producing a less common prototype. After all, how many Spitfires can you have?
At the end of the day, the Hudson is sort of ‘ho-hum’ in FS9, but is a lot more challenging in FSX. On balance, fifteen hours in this cockpit is probably enough but I look forward to reviewing the updated version.
What I Like About The Lockheed Hudson
What I Don't Like About The Lockheed Hudson
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