Where it all started…
Ask a bunch of aviation enthusiasts which is the most important airliner Boeing ever built, and you’d get a lot of different answers. Some might say the Model 314 Clipper, it having ushered in reliable scheduled transoceanic travel. Perhaps the Model 247, being the first modern stressed-skin airliner capable of flying with one engine out. From more recent times, they might name the 747, which made long distance travel affordable for the masses, or perhaps the 737, it being the most successful airliner of all time, with thousands built in the past 42 years and still in production. I imagine pretty much all Boeing’s airliners would be in with a shot.
But if you asked the guy who founded the company – William Edward Boeing – he’d disagree with all of those choices; apparently there was only one picture of a Boeing aircraft on the wall of his family home, and that was a picture of the Boeing B-40.
The level of importance Mr Boeing placed on the B-40 was not mere nostalgia either. The B-40 was instrumental in the company’s expansion and success; it was a stepping stone that put Pratt and Whitney at the forefront of aero engine manufacturing too. To put it bluntly, the B-40 was one of the most significant aircraft in the whole of aviation history, yet if you ask the average aviation buff about it, the chances are they will only be vaguely aware of it. Somewhat unjustly, the B-40 seems to have fallen off the pages of the history books, overshadowed by the more spectacular contemporary feats of Charles Lindbergh, Wiley Post, Amy Johnson and Amelia Earhart, and of the aircraft they flew.
But the B-40 can now take its rightful place in the hearts - and the hangars - of flight simulation fans thanks to Golden Age Simulations. The good news is that whether you fly FS9 or FSX, you can fly this bird and it won’t even break the bank to do it.
Never heard of it…
To understand the massive significance of the B-40, we’ll have to indulge in a little history lesson, but don’t worry this one has a good deal of relevance to what you can do today in Flight Simulator. So if you skip this bit you’ll be missing out on some pretty cool facts.
We’re going back to the 1920’s, a period that was wonderfully distilled and captured on celluloid in the 1975 Robert Redford movie, The Great Waldo Pepper, which fictionalizes the birth of aviation in the golden age of flight in the USA. It’s one of the few times where Hollywood managed to get it just right. The world was busily recovering from the horrors of the Great War – as yet to acquire the WW1 name at that point - nobody then knew there would be a sequel. People were rocking to the sound of ragtime, new technology such as the telephone was coming into widespread use, nickelodeon picture theatres were springing up all over the place, and on the roads the Model T Ford was ubiquitous.
Meanwhile, motoring along in the skies overhead aircraft were beginning to demonstrate that they had uses other than for simply killing your fellow man over the Western Front. Enterprising barnstormers, back from the horrors of war-torn Europe, had purchased war-surplus DH4s and Jennies and were giving people their first glimpse of the aeroplane and occasionally offering pleasure flights to the daring public. Whilst on a more serious note, the US Postal Service was getting heavily involved in using these new-fangled contraptions to deliver mail across the United States.
So it was not the daring barnstormers who really pushed things, but rather the US Postal Service which was both the catalyst and the driving force behind civil aviation at this point. Genuine transport passenger flights were a rarity as were the aircraft in which one could make such a flight, and so the US Postal Service needed to find a reliable aircraft. Unfortunately, what they had was a motley collection of ex-military spotter and pursuit aircraft (not called fighters in those days) with which to try and establish air mail routes.
Worse however, was that few of these were domestic types. Much as the US had promised to blacken the skies over France with hordes of aircraft, they never really got up to speed with aircraft manufacture in the war years. Instead having to use French and British aircraft types and the trend continued on right after the war. Early US combat and civil aircraft were almost universally dismal in performance and often downright death traps, with only the Curtiss JN-4 ‘Jenny’ and the Thomas Morse ‘Scout’ (both essentially trainers) being of any particular note. Although in a slight dent to American pride, it had to be admitted that the New York company which built the Thomas Morse was founded by an English émigré, and the engine it used was French.
The birth of an aviation nation…
There was a plus side in having to use a ragged collection of ex-military types for air mail in the US though; it led to hundreds of companies sprouting up all over the land to specialize in modifying these old warbirds into something more suitable for carrying mail, and that meant these enterprising companies learned fast. Without the need to carry bombs, guns or heavy reconnaissance cameras, such aircraft generally had at least some horsepower to spare with which they could lift mail after following suitable modification. Among the companies indulging in this work was one founded by a certain Mr Boeing in 1916, as the Pacific Aero Products Company, which became the Boeing Airplane Company the following year.
PAC started out building seaplanes intended for the US Navy and although their Model B1 (more often known as the B&W Seaplane) was not bought by the US Navy, both this and its sister aircraft were eventually sold in Canada for use carrying mail, thus becoming Mr Boeing’s first international aircraft deal. Since the B1 was actually designed by both Boeing and US Navy engineer George Conrad Westervelt, it was a technically a Pacific Aero Products creation and not a Boeing product. Nevertheless, thanks to this and to William Boeing’s expertise gained from his former career in the lumber business, the Boeing company was up and running.
Not long after the B&W was built, Boeing employed a Chinese naval graduate and seaplane aviator – Wong Tsu - as an aircraft designer and set about producing the first genuine all-Boeing product. Then, as now, China was a very go-ahead country where military aviation was concerned and a smart decision it was to employ Wong Tsu; his design for the Boeing B2 secured an order for 50 aircraft from the US Navy. Now there’s some unusual trivia for you, Boeing’s first aircraft - and one of the first aircraft for the US Navy - was designed by a Chinese bloke from Beijing!
This success aside, it was really the company’s experience in modifying military types for the US Postal Service which led to Boeing having a work force skilled enough to contemplate designing and building its own more advanced aircraft types. Ironically, this is where a former enemy’s aircraft gave them a bit of a leg up. To the victor the spoils, as they say; and among those spoils was perhaps the best German aircraft of the Great War – the Fokker DVII. The DVII might reasonably be compared to the Me262 from World War Two in this respect, in that it was picked over by the Allies when peace came with much being learned and copied.
For fact fans, the Fokker DVII is the only aircraft specifically mentioned in the Armistice demands at the end of the Great War, which stated that all Fokker DVIIs must be handed over to the Allied forces. That should give you some idea of how worried they were about the thing and the esteem in which it was held. This is hardly surprising given that it received design input from Germany’s premier fighter ace, Manfred Von Richthofen - the Red Baron himself.
Contrary to popular belief, the Fokker was a German aircraft only in terms of sponsorship and patronage and was really the product of Dutchman Anthony Fokker’s aircraft company. Nevertheless, when the wind ceased to blow Germany’s way after the Great War, and with an embargo on German aviation, Fokker was smart enough to hitch his wagon to the new star that was the burgeoning US aviation industry by nipping back over the border to Holland and starting to build stuff with lucrative export sales potential.
Among the advances ‘the Flying Dutchman’ brought to the world, was the use of highly advanced welded steel aircraft fuselages, something which gave his early airliner designs a head start. But Boeing, having of course had their hands on his DVII - with its welded fuselage construction - were not slow to realize that this was the way to go in spite of having been born from William E Boeing’s expertise with wood. In fact, one of Boeing’s first ever fighter aircraft - the FB-1 - was essentially nothing more than a redesigned Fokker DVII with a different engine. But even so, it was good enough for the US military to buy it in large numbers back in 1923.
Long before Kevin Costner was making money with the notion of delivering mail across the US with one horsepower, most of America’s early aircraft designers were similarly disposed to have a shot at it with 449 horses. And so we move forward a little, to 1926, and the difficult birth of Boeing’s first ever airliner; this being the year when the US Postal service finally tired of making do with old bombers and fighters to deliver the mail and deciding to put out a tender for a new aircraft suitable for the purpose.
However, with huge stocks of the V-12 water-cooled L-12 Liberty Engine the US had churned out for use in the Great War sat gathering dust in warehouses awaiting use, they specified that the new type had to use this engine. This was a mistake; the design was nearly ten years old at this point and what the engine offered in widespread availability, it lacked in performance with a power to weight ratio of just half a horsepower for every pound of weight. Somewhat predictably, most aircraft companies which submitted prototypes for the fly-off competition to select a contractor were hamstrung from truly innovating by having to use the heavy old Liberty Engine.
Boeing joins the competition…
Among the companies which put in a prototype for consideration was Boeing, who had already begun designing stuff in the hope of winning Army, Air Force and Navy contracts for newer types. However, these forces were also in love with their stockpiles of the Liberty Engine and often issued the same design stipulations for reasons of economy. Because of this, the fledgling B-40 type which Boeing submitted for evaluation by the US Postal Service, did not win the contract. It was an aircraft from Douglas which narrowly beat it to win the lucrative deal for 50 aircraft, this being a precursor to a business rivalry that would last well into the 20th century between the two companies.
But that was not the end of the story for the B-40 by any stretch of the imagination. Eddie Hubbard - a friend of William Boeing – was a Northwest air mail pilot who had previously worked for Boeing and flown the B&W seaplane with him on the first ever official international air mail flight between the US and Canada. Hubbard put Boeing in touch with Frederick Brant Rentschler. This was with a view of creating a re-born B-40 so that the partners could start an airline to bid for the Postal Service’s mail contracts, since it had recently announced the contracting out of mail routes to private airlines.
Rentschler had been the head honcho at the Wright Aeronautical Company but he was frustrated by outdated and blinkered business practices and had quit his post. He was a man with a vision, and that vision had seen him busily contemplating the way forward for aircraft design. He had come to the conclusion that what was needed was a much more reliable, lightweight engine which could offer more horsepower. Rentschler’s goal was to design an engine that would deliver at least one horsepower per pound of weight - twice what the Liberty could manage - and that meant it had to be air-cooled; ditching the weight of the cooling system. This at a time when everyone was convinced water-cooled engines were the only way forward, was largely due to the ubiquitous Liberty and the inherent superiority the water-cooled Fokker DVII had demonstrated.
Unfortunately, Rentschler’s business partners were mostly investment bankers and despite that seeming to be a good thing, at the time they were more interested in small quick profits than the long term potential that producing a new engine might create since it required development costs approaching half a million dollars. He would often entreat them: ‘Why carry water, when you can carry mail?’ but his sound reasoning and intelligent pleas always fell on deaf ears.
The beginning of a famous partnership…
To achieve his aims, Rentschler instead approached a Connecticut business – the Pratt and Whitney Machine Tool Company – and in partnership with them and their major monetary investment, he created an engine which would turn out to be one of the most successful of all time – the Pratt and Whitney Wasp Radial.
Ironically, Wright Aeronautical eventually profited from some of the groundwork laid by Rentschler when he was trying to get them to build an air-cooled radial, and this culminated in another legendary aero engine, the Wright Cyclone. As everyone knows, this is the engine which evolved into what powered perhaps the ultimate piston engine Boeing, the one that ushered in the nuclear age – the B-29 Superfortress.
Eddie Hubbard knew that if the Wasp engine was married to the Boeing B-40 fuselage, it would create an aircraft that would wipe the floor with any other companies bidding for the air mail contracts. Boeing had already toyed with the idea, and so naturally agreed. The two were so convinced of the potential for success, they put in a bid for a mail contract which equated to them being able to carry one pound of mail between Chicago and San Francisco for just 2 dollars and 88 cents, and they planned to carry passengers too! Their bid was a massive $1.37 less than the next nearest rival bid from Western Air Express and so needless to say, it won the contract. However, not everyone was convinced they could pull it off and the Postal Service demanded an enormous half-million dollar surety bond from Boeing, to guard against them not being able to make good on their promise. William Boeing’s confidence was such that he personally put this money up.
To make good on the deal, Boeing had to build and test 25 of the Pratt and Whitney Wasp equipped B-40As (having to beg some Wasp engines that had been allocated to the US Navy by calling in favors). They also had to form their own airline – Boeing Air Transport, complete with pilots and infrastructure. If they failed to make the July 1927 deadline, they would forfeit the half million dollar bond. That gave them less than six months to get everything ready, and all this at a time when civilian airlines were becoming subject to strict regulations enforced on them by pressure from railroad-friendly US Congressmen, notably Pennsylvania’s Clyde Kelly.
Kelly was the driving force behind the Air Mail Act of 1925, ostensibly under the guise of saving taxpayers money, but his motives were more in line with helping the railroad companies. What became known as the ‘Kelly Act’ prompted the move to using private companies for the deliveries of mail and forced greater regulation on the airlines and its pilots, including the introduction of a proper pilot’s license system. Notwithstanding these additional pressures, Boeing made the deadline with one day to spare and commenced mail deliveries on the first day of July 1927 with their shiny new, revamped B-40.
It was a staggering success and financially rewarding too, for a ticket to fly on the B-40 cost around 200 dollars back then, which equates to more than 2,000 dollars in today’s terms.
Ahead of its time…
The B-40A was an amazing aircraft for the period, and here’s another one for all you trivia fans; it was only the second ever aircraft to obtain a US type certification (pipped to the accolade of being the first one by another aircraft few will have heard of; the 1926 Buhl CA-3 Airster). The Boeing B40A could carry 1,200 lbs of mail in two cargo compartments along with two passengers, at around 140 mph and with 120 gallons of fuel in three fuel tanks, and it could haul all that stuff a long way too. An improved B model incorporated an up-rated Wasp engine, with a later C model up-rating the engine again by the use of the Wasp-derivative Pratt and Whitney Hornet. The C and revised B models also increased passenger capacity to four; were faster, more refined, and carried another twenty gallons of fuel too.
On top of all this, the Boeing B-40 demonstrated a remarkable safety record, one which went a long way toward improving the public image of passenger air travel in its early years. Even today, these statistics sound fairly impressive – in the first two years of operation, Boeing Air Transport’s B-40s flew five and a half million miles, delivered 1,300 tons of mail, 6,000 passengers, and during all that time there were only three fatalities which equates to one fatality every 1.75 million miles. Not bad going for the 1920’s and flying in all types of weather conditions!
Bringing back a Golden Age…
So, the first ever Boeing airliner, a genuine historic classic, a flying legend, and one that undoubtedly deserves a place in your virtual hangar, given that it still exhibits impressive performance even by today’s standards. However, all this is assuming Golden Age Simulations have done a good enough job of replicating the real thing. So let’s find out if they have managed to do so…
Installation and documentation
The Golden Age Simulations Boeing B-40 is available as a download from their website – www.goldenagesimulations.com – or from a number of other online sources, including SimMarket and Flight 1. Prices vary depending on where you purchase it, but it is listed as costing $19.95 on the developer’s website. You should note that this is the price for each version, not both of them; the FSX and FS9 variations being separate products. Worth noting too is that the FSX version is not a simple port over, it is a genuine FSX version so you do need the specific version for FS platform you would like to run the B-40 in.
A word of warning here by the way, if you go to the Golden Age Simulations website you’ll find there is a demonstration video of this B-40 and if you watch it, the moment you hear the engine start up, you will be reaching for your credit card as the audio for the engine on this thing is something to behold. The Golden Age Simulation’s website is well worth a visit even if you only have a passing interest in the B-40, since there are a number of freebie files to be had from there, including aircraft and scenery.
The B-40 download weighs in at 42Mb for the FS9 incarnation and 39Mb for the FSX version, indicating that they genuinely are different products for each sim. While that might sound fairly hefty in size for a simple biplane, that is because you don’t just get a simple biplane in this product. What you actually get is two genuinely different B-40 models (the B4 and the C variant, with three different paint schemes). You also get some scenery of what was once a very famous airstrip now no longer in existence, this being Alhambra Airport which is depicted circa 1930, but more on this later.
Whether for FS9 or FSX, the download arrives as a simple zip file, which when unzipped, gives you an installation exe file and some brief instructions on where to find more info after installation. In either incarnation, it installs faultlessly and places the three B-40s ready for use in your sim of choice, as well as some comprehensive PDF, Word and html file documentation about how to fly the thing. You’ll find this within the FS folder, and in the Model C’s folder too, although there is no Windows menu link to this stuff so you’ll have to navigate to those folders manually in order to find it. It is well worth doing that though, as among the goodies there are checklists and useful historical notes as well as something of a minor gem in terms of documentation too; this being a detailed report on what it is like to fly the real thing.
Building a dream
As an interesting little aside, it’s worth pointing out the story behind the restoration of what is now the oldest airworthy Boeing airliner in existence. For many years there were simply no airworthy B-40s at all, despite the fact that 82 of them were built, which is a large number for a specialist civil aircraft from the 1920s. But that wasn’t about to stop one of classic aviation’s most colorful characters – Addison Pemberton – from achieving his dream of flying one.
Addison and his family are the driving force behind Pemberton and Sons Aviation, a company with a reputation for doing fantastic restorations of classic biplanes. But for years Addison was prevented from his dream of flying a B-40 by the simple fact that there were none available to restore. Only two preserved examples are to be found in museums worldwide.
Undaunted, Addison sought to find the wreckage of a B-40 which crashed in fog on a mail flight in Oregon back in 1928, killing the single passenger and severely injuring Grant Donaldson, the pilot. But try as he might, he could not locate the wreckage despite an extensive search. A local legend that the aircraft had been carrying diamonds at the time of the crash (which seems to have some truth) prompted many to look for it unsuccessfully, until in 1993, an historian found the crash site and local aviation enthusiasts gained permission to recover the wreck with a view to displaying it as of significant historical interest.
But then they had the idea of contacting Pemberton and Sons Aviation to see if it would be possible to restore even though they held out little hope it could be done given the state of the burned out wreckage. This was all the prompting Addison Pemberton needed. However, if you think that sounds like an easy task, look at the picture of the burned out wreck below taken near the time of the crash and consider what over sixty years of exposure to the elements would have done to it…
Addison Pemberton is clearly a man who likes a challenge; 18,000 hours of work, spread over nine years, saw the charred incomplete wreckage of the crashed B-40 transformed into a gleaming pristine example of its former glory. Although obviously not all of the parts are original, nevertheless, enough of them are in there to make it genuinely the oldest airworthy Boeing airliner in existence! You can learn more about that restoration on the Pemberton’s website, and there is some really nice video footage of the B-40 which can be viewed too. here. Frankly, it’s worth a visit just to hear the thing crank up for the first time and to see the look of obvious joy on people’s faces, which you can do by viewing one of those videos.
But perhaps of more interest to flight simulation fans, Addison Pemberton provided much of the knowledge required to create the Golden Age Simulations B-40 and chipped in with advice and information on the flight characteristics when it was being developed. So unlike a lot of other classic aircraft which can grace the virtual skies of your simulator, this one has impeccable credentials from one of the few men in a position to know about such things, and he gives that advice freely in the product’s excellent and informative documentation.
External model and textures…
The external model on this particular add-on airliner has perhaps more significance than most other airliners in that you can see a lot of it even when you are sat in the cockpit, so we’ll have a good look at that aspect first.
Right from the start you notice that the B-40 is a fairly huge aircraft, which becomes even more apparent the moment you have something to compare it to. Viewing it in isolation with no frame of reference, it is easy to imagine the thing being comparable in size to other 1920’s biplanes, but it most certainly is not. With a 44 foot wingspan and a 33 foot long fuselage, the wingspan is wider than that of the 12-seater LearJet 60, and it is ten feet longer than a Model 75 Boeing Stearman. This isn’t some cutesy little stunt plane, and it doesn’t fly like one either!
Detail on the textures of the B-40 is a little disappointing to my eyes, as is the rather flat appearance of the colors, and I think it could perhaps have included a few more screws and such drawn upon them, along with some better shading to emulate the way light often falls on alloy and doped canvas in an uneven fashion (compare it to the above picture of the real thing). It’s not terribly bad by any stretch of the imagination, but I had a quick crack at tarting up those texture files a little bit to see if it would be possible to get something a little more pleasing without too much effort, and it seems this is so.
As it stands, although the paint schemes for all three B-40s you get in this package are wonderfully evocative of the era in terms of period design, they just look a little too ‘computery’ for my tastes. You might disagree of course, and there’s no doubt that it is still a very pretty thing to look at when draped in those colours; I just think it could be more so with a little effort. See the comparison pictures below for an expanded look at this point, but keep in mind that for any model you find in FS, replacement textures tend to abound (you are on AVSIM after all!), so this point alone should not be considered a deal breaker as there are more than enough talented freeware painters out there to make this a non-issue.
Regardless of texturing complaints, the above pictures show you that the 3D modeling itself is very good indeed and is indicative of what can be done with FSDS, which is the software used to make this model, as opposed to the more common G-Max you tend to find being used with commercial add-ons. Detail is not over the top, it is apparent that polygons have wisely been kept under control in order to provide some speedy frames per second, but not to any real visual detriment.
This is not everyone’s preference of course – some people want every nut and bolt modeled - but personally I am a fan of this more measured approach to 3D modeling, especially where FSX is concerned as it all adds to the fluidity and in the case of this model there is more than enough detail modeled to be convincing. Good frame rates are of course particularly important with an aircraft such as this, since it is likely you will fly it in good VFR weather at fairly low level, so for a change this is an airliner where you will want the autogen cranked up. Fortunately it performs very well when you do that (in either FS9 or FSX, since each version is a genuine native one), and this is to be applauded from a design standpoint.
That is not to say that modeling or texturing has been entirely frugal in its implementation; there are some particularly nice touches to be found. The engine detail is very well modeled, even going so far as to display the Pratt and Whitney logo in great detail on the engine block. In flight and when starting up, the exhausts emit a nice - if slightly alarming - gaseous flame effect too. The propeller boss is especially well animated, exhibiting the ‘wagon wheel effect’ of appearing to spin backwards every once in a while as seen on lots of film footage of propellers. Strictly speaking, the human eye rarely sees that kind of effect since it is caused by momentary synchronization of the propeller RPM with the gate speed of film through a camera, but I liked the effect all the same and it made the thing seem very believable to me.
Where dimensional accuracy is concerned, both the B-4 and C models are pretty spot on as far as I can tell and they have plenty of animated parts too, including the cargo hold doors, the cabin doors, and the engine cowling cooling vents. So no complaints there. One thing which is a little disappointing, however, is that the inter-wing bracing wires remain resolutely stationary. It’s nice to look out on the wing and see the ailerons and control linkages all moving. Every biplane I’ve ever flown seems to be alive when you look out at the rigging, which twangs and vibrates as the wings and flying wires flex under aerodynamic loads; seeing it sitting motionless as you belt along is something of a mood killer for me personally. It may be an FPS design constraint to not have animated the flying wires, but frankly I’d have happily taken any frame-rate hit to see this implemented as it is such an integral feature of the biplane experience.
So, the external modeling is pretty good but there’s a slight let down by the rather lackluster shading of the textures. This however, is infinitely preferable to the other way around since it is something which can easily be fixed by the user by simply repainting or downloading repainted textures.
Upon loading up the cockpit, you can see that this is a very different proposition from the average Boeing airliner. Whilst it is not as spartan as other aircraft of 1920’s vintage, navigational aids are at a minimum with what would nowadays be considered adequate only for VFR excursions in good weather. But it is an accurate representation of the equipment the first pioneering airline pilots found themselves using and is bound to instill a sense of admiration in those early flyers.
So, there is no standard modern blind flying panel; what you get is the old-style turn and slip indicator, a whiskey compass, an airspeed indicator and an altimeter, and that’s about it as far as flying aids goes. All the other dials – of which there are a fair few - are related to engine and electrical management. This is somewhat indicative of the relative lack of sophistication and reliability of engines back in the 1920’s, when engine management was as much an art as it was a science, and something pilots had to keep an eye on.
Fortunately for us, we do not have to set down in fields and get the spanners out every 200 miles to tighten up various bits and pieces, but we do still have to treat the engine with respect on this B-40 for it is well-enough modeled to mean that abusing it or ignoring those temperature gauges will see your flight curtailed.
Again, the cockpit textures are a little on the clean side for my tastes - maybe I’m just used to flying aeroplanes with dirt-strewn cockpits in real life - but I can live with it as it could well depict how the aircraft looked when brand new. Clean or not, everything seems very well modeled; all the linkages for the throttle cables and pushrods, rudder pedals and various accoutrements are present and correct with good animations too. Somewhat alarming upon first acquaintance, is how far back you are from the business end of things, and this provides a hint at how tricky visibility might be on final approach.
You might be surprised to note however, that things are not as archaic as you might expect. The engine operates in much the same way as a modern piston prop with carb heat and mixture doing all the same things as they do in your Cessna, so you don’t have to be some kind of arcane genius to fly it. Neither is this an aircraft that required a plucky mechanic to swing the prop, for it has a starter mechanism with one of the coolest crank up sounds you are ever likely to hear.
But one thing that is very much of the era in operation if not in looks is the avionics when it comes to the radio. This is where you know you are back in the early days and there is no concession to modernity other than a digital readout on a simple single channel radio, adequate for ATC directions and nothing more. Navigation in those days consisted of looking over the side for a convenient road or river, and at a push, landing in a field to ask a farmer where you are and you might well find yourself emulating that kind of flying. That’s not a bad point though; it is what makes this thing a fun challenge.
Watch your step ma’am…
The cockpit is not the only interior part of this aircraft – it was a passenger airliner after all – the passenger compartment is fully modeled too. There is no menu preset to get you into the cabin however, you have to indulge in Control+Shift with the Backspace and Enter keys to get you there. But it is worth the effort because what you find is a good representation of the period interior of the B-40. There is a possible discrepancy here though.
I have read that B-40 cabins were lined with metal, although to be fair I have also seen pictures of them lined with wood. What we have here is the latter option which to be fair, seems more evocative of the period and it is all properly laid out with the staggered seating of the original. The real thing also featured a telephone apparatus with which the pilot could inform his passengers of things such as preparation for landing, as he was otherwise completely out of touch from them. Since we have no passengers to worry about we don’t have to think about that, although it has not been forgotten on the aircraft cargo and payload menu which does accurately reflect the four passenger capacity of both the B4 and C models, as well as the correct fuel and cargo capabilities of these variants.
Cranking the thing up is a treat to the ears in either FS9 or FSX. The engine sounds and particularly the whine of the starter mechanism is one that will have you turning the volume up. There’s a fair old bit of smoke when you start with an impressive gout of flame out of the exhausts too, and it all promises a lot of fun in store.
The sound of another era…
The sound is in fact one of the major plus points of this aircraft in FS; with performance similar to a Cessna or Piper in terms of speed - about 140 knots flat out - but the lovely burbling sound of that Wasp radial as opposed to the drone of a Lycoming flat four, the B-40’s soundtrack as you cruise over the countryside is one to savor and makes you think of all those old movies you’ve seen with aeroplanes in them. Combine this with the excellent sideways panorama you get from that open cockpit, especially if you use Track-IR, and you can see the attraction of the B-40. So if you like a bit of VFR in FS and want something other than a typical modern spam can in which to do it, this is certainly one to consider.
Calling for clearance to taxi for the active on the simple radio brings you to the novelty of taxiing the B-40, with its limited forward visibility. The real thing would of course probably not have had to taxi very far in its heyday, doubtless doing little more than pointing into the wind and letting rip on a big field. The reality of this for biplanes these days, and especially ones of this size, is that a pair of ‘wing walkers’ would be a sensible precaution.
Fortunately for us, we can indulge in a bit of external view cheating, although that’s not as necessary as you might think; either shifting the cockpit view with the keyboard, or more entertainingly with Track-IR, it can be managed with surprising ease and it does tend to give you that pioneering ‘rakish silk scarf’ type of feeling as you ready for take off.
It’s very stable on the gear too, so you can indulge yourself with those showy tail-swinging burst of throttle turns if you wish, with little chance of scraping a wingtip. Feel free to dashingly stroke your Clark Gable-style moustache as you give the ladies a playful yet heroic wave just before you open the throttle. You will feel like doing so too as the engine cheerfully burbles and pops in a most convincing period manner.
All action and no torque…
Despite the B-40 having a fairly hefty engine in real life, not to mention a massive propeller which I suspect wound make for some pretty serious gyroscopic precession, one thing that is not much in evidence with the flight model of this FS incarnation is propeller torque. I didn’t particularly find that very believable personally, of course I’ve never flown one of these things in real life but I suspect at least some rudder correction would be necessary to keep it pointing down the tarmac given that it was felt necessary to weld a bit of extra length into the fuselage when the real thing was tested out. This overt stability on the roll was a bit of a disappointment, but it’s only one point of the flight model and if we are talking extremes, I’d probably prefer it to be like that than to be some torque-laden nightmare that you couldn’t get into the air at all without crashing half the time.
Still, what is not in the least bit disappointing is the throaty roar of that engine as you barrel down the runway, getting the tail up so you can see where you are going without leaning out to look past the venturi tube for the instruments. As you reach flying speed, this is where the thing does become much more convincing, climbing ponderously into the air with a real feeling that you are in something that is hauling some weight – this is no sprightly Tiger Moth.
There’s not much to choose between the FSX and FS9 versions, either in looks or in flight modeling, but if I had to pick one to go for I’d say choose the FSX version. This is not because the FS9 one lacks anything the FSX one has, but simply because with the more convincing turbulence and air movement of FSX the B-40 seems a bit more believable as it bops along on the unstable air of the newer sim. It’s still a fun thing in FS9 for all that.
Like the real thing, it does need a steady hand to keep it on course and the turbulence of FSX makes this more work than is the case in FS9. All of the control surfaces seem believable in both sim versions though, with a ponderous roll rate in spite of the dual ailerons and it creates a good impression of inertia befitting its size. That is not to say it is hard to fly; providing you watch the RPM and cylinder head temperatures it is not much more difficult to drive than the default FS Cessna. This might not be altogether realistic of course, but it does manage to convince you that it is what it supposes to be when the occasional quirk combines with the audio and heavy feel of the controls. The real thing can apparently have some issues with crossover speeds, but thankfully we don’t have to deal with that in this simulated version.
Notwithstanding the general ease with which it flies, if you take it for granted it can still jump up and bite you, especially where engine management is concerned on the C variant. Abuse or ignore the cylinder head temperatures and you’ll be looking at an engine fire. Although this stops short of turning your aircraft into a blazing comet, it will curtail your flight.
Into the wild blue yonder…
Despite emulating the vintage of the real thing to a fairly large degree, it is nevertheless possible to get the B-40 up to a respectable 14,000 feet without too much trouble if not carrying full fuel and ‘passengers’, although don’t expect to be there in five minutes. But even at that lofty height, the challenge of flying over or around nasty weather is one that will crop up on occasion.
Of course any higher than 14,000 feet and both you and that pre-supercharging era Wasp engine would be getting extremely short of breath and it would struggle to get much higher, although I didn’t persist in seeing just how far it could go, so maybe it could make it to 20,000 feet if you had an hour to spare in trying. But whatever the ultimate limit is the ability to go well above 10,000 feet does mean that the B-40 can get above at least some bad weather.
In usability terms, there’s no doubt it is more than a mere historical novelty but is still something that can challenge your skill at aviating with its limited instruments and navigation aids. So if you want to see how you’d stack up against the likes of Lindbergh, here’s your opportunity to find out. Even leaving aside the historical interest of it, you’ll find it a worthy addition to your virtual fleet as it makes an excellent VFR touring craft with its respectable endurance and speed, plus great sideways and downwards visibility from the cockpit.
Skills from the old school…
Navigational challenges aside, another awaits you when it is time to come back down to terra firma. With that big cowling stretching away in front of you, you’ll be looking at either a curved final approach or a sideslip. This makes landing a challenge and a much more entertaining prospect than your Cessna can offer.
Thankfully, this simulated version of the B-40 is well able to perform a sideslip and although it is not quite akin to how the real thing apparently can be when indulging in a bit of cross-control shenanigans - as noted, crossover speeds can apparently be marginal on the real thing - but it’s still enough of a challenge to provide some entertainment.
Sadly we don’t get the howling wires and windy complaining sigh most aircraft seem to exhibit when dropping in sideways, but if you can forgive that auditory lapse then there’s plenty of fun to be had in mastering the techniques necessary to pull off a landing with finesse and with a bit of practice you can land it so gently that you won’t even believe you’ve touched down yet.
So, we have a fun aeroplane, two actually, with three different liveries and let’s not forget that we also get some scenery too. For either FS9 or FSX, you get Alhambra Airport (KALH) in its 1930’s incarnation. This installs with the main aircraft installation’s exe file. You do have to enable it manually in the FS scenery library, although this only takes a second or two and is explained in the documentation in the unlikely event that you are unfamiliar with how to go about it.
Not to be confused with Hammock Field (7IS7) in the default FS which is located at Alhambra. The Alhambra Airport scenery which comes with the Golden Age Simulations B-40 was located in a district of Los Angeles California, and no longer exists in modern times. There is now a housing development and shopping mall where this airport used to be but back in the 30’s and 40’s, Alhambra Airport was no mere convenient field. At one point it had the largest hangar in the world, amongst other things. It was also famous for being the departure point for many Lockheed aircraft bound for Britain in the early days of WW2. So it’s an interesting one for the history buffs.
The scenery of the airport is nice enough although certainly nothing to write home about. Having said that, it would be churlish to look a gift horse in the mouth as it does provide an authentic backdrop for screenshots if nothing else. I would regard it as a nice bonus rather than a reason to buy the B-40. I think the aircraft itself is reason enough on that score.
What is worth bearing in mind is that the many freebies to be found on the Golden Age Simulations website would enable you to liven this scenery up considerably without too much effort so it need not remain as spartan as it appears in these screenshots. Although we cannot see it very clearly in the screenshots I have included, the B-40 does occasionally appear as an AI aircraft at this airfield too.
There’s no doubt this is not a hardcore simulation of the real thing. It’s a little too easy to fly in trickier parts of the envelope to make that claim, with it being almost impossible to stall or spin for one thing. But that does not make it unworthy by any stretch of the imagination, quite the opposite in fact. There’s more than enough of a challenge to be had from flying the thing even in spite of the omission of the real aircraft’s trickier foibles.
Simply getting from A to B in less than perfect weather with little in the way of navigational aids, whilst managing that engine, means this is certainly an aerial gauntlet being thrown your way. So if you think you are half the aviator you imagine yourself to be, this may well offer you the chance to prove it and see how you stack up against the aviation pioneers of years gone by. It makes a great stable mate for the default JN-4 of FS9 if biplanes are your bag.
Beyond simply the challenge of getting there in one piece, the Golden Age Simulations B-40 boasts a good many things to recommend about it, not least of which are the sounds, the effects and the lovely modeling job. It’s true the textures could do with a little TLC but that is by no means an insurmountable issue and merely an observation of my own preferences more than anything else.
I think for the price it is well worth considering if you are in the market for something of historical interest that is a little different, in addition to being eminently usable as well as challenging. I would suggest however, that if you have both FS9 and FSX that going for the FSX version would be the marginally wiser choice since it is friendly on frame rates (being a genuine native FSX model) and can take advantage of the superior default modeling of the newer sim’s air mass to offer a slightly more convincing feeling of flight.
But either way I think it makes for an interesting insight into how Boeing started, and I do recommend the B-40 because above all, it is great fun to fly.
Chocks away chaps…
What I Like About The B-40
What I Don't Like About The B-40
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