AVSIM Commercial Aircraft Review

AlphaSim

XB-70A-1 Valkyrie

Product Information
Publisher: AlphaSim

Description: Aircraft Add-on.

Download Size: 44 MB

Format: Download Simulation Type: FS9
Reviewed by: Marc Radford AVSIM Staff Reviewer - November 14, 2007

Historical Background

The North American XB-70 Valkyrie was designed to be a super fast, Mach 3 nuclear bomber for the United States Air Force's Strategic Air Command in the 1950s. The United States Air Force had strict requirements for this new plane to replace their B52’s in terms of payload and range, and to match the speed of their B58’s by 1965.

In 1955, the United States Air Force awarded both Boeing and North American to build the initial plane designs. In 1956, both submitted designs were deemed as overly complicated and too large; both Boeing and North American’s contracts were extended for further research. Over the next year, the initial requirement of mach .09 was largely superceded with the advancement of using a boron enriched jet fuel; enabling the Valkyrie to reach a top speed of mach 3 at 70,000 feet.

In 1957 the two companies submitted their final designs, North American’s design featuring the folding wingtips to catch the shock wave and generate "compression lift", was the winner. Compression Lift is a neat trick North American took advantage of. There is a wedge shape in the center of the 2 engine intakes which disrupts the air at high speeds, this allowed the Valkyrie to ride on the disrupted air which carried part of the plane's weight; the folding wing tips helped harness that wave to increase stability.

The official first flight of the XB-70 Valkyrie took place on September, 21, 1964. While on the runway ready to take off, a warning light was observed on the panel which turned out to be a fuse problem. After reading many articles on the test flying of the Valkyrie, it became very obvious each flight seemed to have problems ranging from hydraulic failures, landing gear not going up, part of the plane being ingested by its own engine intakes, right down to part of the leading edge of the right wing being ripped off. The military chase pilots following the plane, nicknamed the plane “Cecil, after Cecil the sea dragon as the plane design sort of resembled a dragon with its long neck. The chase pilots did not have a lot of confidence in the plane, as every single test flight had problems; they anticipated each flight to be the last one with a saying “Cecil is going to stub his toe”.

The military chase pilot’s premonition was correct, on June 8 1966 the Valkyrie, and one of the chase planes collided in mid-air killing the chase pilot, as well as one of the Valkyrie pilots, the main XB-70 pilot ejected to safety.

The Valkyrie XB-70 was finally cancelled due to increasing budget requirements, coupled with a change in the technological environment. There were 2 Valkyrie’s prototypes built, the surviving one found its permanent home at Nasa where it currently sits on display to be marveled at.

Introduction

Alphasim has made a solid name for themselves over the years, recreating many quality military add-ons for the Flight Simulator community. Over the years, I have focused primarily on jumbo jets, so this is my first official introduction to AlphaSim’s products.

Sometimes AVSIM reviewers have the opportunity to choose from a variety of products they wish to review, in the case of the Valkyrie XB-70, what caught my eye on the AlphaSim web page was the statement “a highly authentic flight model with carefully illustrated checklist”; this sounded right down my alley being one who enjoys strict checklists, real procedures, and realistic flight dynamics.

As mentioned, this is my first real introduction to their products. My understanding of their planes was realistic, but very simplified in regards to checklists and procedures; enabling more of a casual simmer to enjoy a great plane without investing many hours to learn how to actually fly them.

The Valkyrie XB-70 feature list seemed to contradict my initial impressions of their planes, so I was more then eager to try this beautiful plane out; I was more then willing to invest the time to learn all of the procedures and checklists and hopefully have this plane in my hanger.

Installation and Documentation

The Valkyrie XB-70 is a 44meg zip download for FS9, which I obtained via a fast direct link provided by the developer. I was very eager to get moving with this plane, so I unzipped it right away and I was absolutely dumbfounded, where is the install file? The file extracted to 2 directories, Aircraft and Effects, "so what went wrong", I tried to figure it out? I have never purchased an add-on that extracted to a couple of directories.

At this point I was pretty shocked, as it should almost be a prerequisite to have an install that is automated! Ok, so is it the end of the world that I needed to manually copy my new files into their respective places in my FS9 install directory? No.

So there really is no install to speak of, which also means there is no uninstall. You copy the files over manually, and there are your install details.

Now to the documentation, where was that to be found? It is located in the Aircraft directory as a HTML file. The documentation layout is alright, nothing to really impress you, but the information you need is there, and in the kneeboard of the plane which is very nice.

The documentation starts off right away by letting you know all the flight dynamics were taken right from the real authentic manual, and even goes further to tell you purchasing that manual would be a great addition to the plane; this was really comforting as I was looking for realism.

Next in the documentation is the statement “AlphaSim aircraft are primarily designed for people who like to spend their time flying rather than following lengthy and complicated procedures”; that is directly in line with my understanding of their planes, but was mislead by the information on their web page“a highly authentic flight model with carefully illustrated checklist”.

In all fairness, my interpretation of the list of features on their web page was my own understanding of what I read; mislead is a pretty strong word. I don’t believe their statements were inaccurate to what the documentation stated. So let us move on in the review and see what this add-on is really about.

1st Impression Before Flight

When I do a review, I put my sincere thoughts through each stage starting from download, to documentation, to actual hands on operation of the airplane; but at this stage in the process, I am not feeling great about this add-on's value.

So on to the next stage of loading the plane. I am very careful to ensure I have read all the manuals and documentation before trying to fly the plane to be fair to the developer and their supplied documentation. The plane loads with all the engines running as I expected, so I exited my session to load up a cold and dark cockpit so I could start the checklist supplied.

There is no preloaded flights and/or missions supplied. Before continuing any further, I contacted the developer to inquire how to get the plane to a cold and dark state so I can perform the authentic checklists supplied. The response from the developer came quick, in a nutshell as stated in their documentation, their planes are made to be flown by simplifying many things so the casual simmer can enjoy a great plane without all the complications of procedures. The company basically does not support cold and dark.

So what that means is, if you actually want to perform the authentic checklist commencing at engine start, you would need to load the plane, turn everything off manually, and then start the checklist by turning everything on again!

Are you the kind of simmer who is looking to sit in a cold and dark cockpit turning knobs, pushing buttons, getting the plane ready to start the engines? In all likelihood, I would think more simmers prefer not having to do any of those things, so I think AlphaSim holds true to all their statements in regards to keeping things less complicated, which is perfect if you are that kind of simmer.

This is the kind of review that starts out with a lot of turbulence, but finishes with a really nice landing; first let us see how the visuals look!

Exterior Model

(1) Sitting on the runway (2) Canard tip vortices effects (3) Close up of landing gear

What a beautiful looking airplane the XB-70 Valkyrie is and very unique to any other airplane. Since I started this review, I have used a real life photograph of the Valkyrie as my windows desktop background at work; I find AlphaSim’s model extremely accurate to its real life counterpart.

Image (1) shows the Valkyrie sitting on the runway. I love the prominent canard and large air intakes; also notice the wedge in between the intakes which disrupts the air at high speeds.

Image (2) shows the Valkyrie climbing at a rate of 4000 v/s to level off at 10,000 feet, notice the awesome looking canard tip vortices effect.

Image (3) shows the Valkyrie’s complicated landing gear. Unfortunately with a still picture it is hard to really show the quality of this model. The landing gear folds down like normal in the first phase, then the whole bottom wheels turn 90 degrees straight; this over complicated landing gear caused quite a few problems during flight testing.

(4) Passing mach .09 (5) Mach 3 at 75,000 (6) Passing 10,000

Image (4) shows the Valkyrie leveling off at 30,000 which is phase one for transonic flight. The folding wing tips are in position 1, indicating the plane is exceeding mach .09 as per the supplied checklist. Also note the afterburners, 6 engines, and the actual nozzles animate in line with the engine power settings.

Image (5) shows the Valkyrie cruising at 75,000 feet going mach 3, also note the wingtips are now down into position 2, indicating the plane is flying faster then mach 1.4 as per the supplied checklist. I personally prefer the look of this plane with the wingtips fully up, although I appreciate how unique the Valkyrie looks with the wingtips fully down, it looks a little weird for my taste.

Image (6) shows the Valkyrie passing 10,000 feet to level at 30,000 feet. This plane looks amazing as it cuts through the air. I suppose the “long neck” like design of the plane might resemble a sea monster, as the chase pilots dubbed the plane.

(7) Landing (8) Landing canard vortices (9) Center Wedge

Image (7) shows the Valkyrie’s wheels kissing the runway on landing. In real life, the Valkyrie utilized a parachute to aid in slowing down, AlphaSim’s version does replicate the effect of the parachute without modeling it. After a large number of landings, there was never really a problem coming to a safe stop on the runway.

Image (8) shows the Valkyrie’s nose dropping after landing, what an awesome shot of the canard tip vortices effect. These still shots do not capture how neat these different animated effects appear visually. The nose does take longer to drop then you are normally used to, but this just adds to the thrill of this plane.

Image (9) shows the Valkyrie’s center wedge between the 2 intakes, this disrupts the air at high speed to take advantage of compression lift.

2D Cockpit

(1) 2D Cockpit Normal (2) 2D Cockpit Left (3) 2D Cockpit Right

Image (1) The 2D Cockpit looks great, a large number of old style instruments fill the panel. The disappointing thing about this panel is how limited you are in operating all of these instruments, but I suppose this aligns to AlphaSim's design of quality aircraft without needing to spend hours just learning how to fly it.

Image (2) The left view is pretty limited, designed to be a mach 3 bomber you would not need to have the same spatial awareness as a jet fighter.

Image (3) The right view is a lot nicer than the left. It is consistent with quality of the rest of the airplane.

(4) 2D Cockpit Upper Right (5) 2D Cockpit Upper Left (6) 2D Cockpit Panels

Image (4) The upper right view is quite similar to the normal right view; again it aligns to the quality of the overall plane.

Image (5) Here we get a pretty good view of the upper left side of the cockpit, it has really nice texturing and is believable.

Image (6) All of the main panels are open. The comm. panel is very disappointing and does not even really fit with the design of the plane; it almost seems like a last minute throw in. GPS technology did not exist back in the 1950’s, so it is hard to hold AlphaSim at fault for using a standard version. The throttle panel is ok, and the engine shut off switches operate as expected, however, with the more simplified procedure list you will not be using them. The design of the light panel matches better with the plane design and all the lights are there including the pitot switch. The autopilot also matches closer to the design of the plane. All of the basic functions are present, including nav and the option to use GPS, which again was not available back in the 1950’s.

I have mixed feelings on the overall panel designs, but one thing is for sure, the comm. panel does not seem to fit in with the design.

VC Cockpit

(1) VC Cockpit Normal (2) VC Cockpit Normal looking down (3) VC Cockpit Normal looking down

Image (1) This is the normal VC Cockpit view, the quality looks really good and clear. I rarely fly using a VC cockpit, as lower end machines like mine suffer with much lower frame rates and in some planes become unflyable. The performance in this quality VC did drop my frame rates to an average around 17-19, however, I was pretty impressed with how solid the rates were, given my computer specs.

Image (2) One of the most common views for VC simmers; it is very clear and still good quality.

Image (3) The throttle shot is at 1.50 Zoom. It's very nice looking and accessible. Directly behind the throttle is the landing light switch.

(4) VC Cockpit Lower Right (5) VC Cockpit Lower Left (6) VC Cockpit Zoom 3x

Image (4) Great looking full panel shot. If you were disappointed with the limited amount of things to click on the 2D panel, you will be even more disappointed with what is clickable here. Still, all of the main items are clickable.

Image (5) I put this shot in for a good reason. Landing this bird is very difficult to say the least; using this exact view will help you greatly in judging your height when landing.

Image (6) This shot is at zoom 3.0, I was pretty impressed with the quality at this distance. However, nothing you see in this view as an example of anything clickable. Do I need a lot of clickable things? I personally enjoy all those operational buttons and knobs.

2nd Impression After Flight / Flight Dynamics

The moment I installed this plane, and read the documentation noting the streamlined process, coupled with disappointment of no cold and dark option on startup, I was pretty let down before the plane even left the runway.

I carefully studied the supplied checklist, prepared myself noting to be careful with the power and overspeed potential right after take off. I cranked the throttle right up bringing the engines to life, the mighty roar of 6 engines each outputting 31,000 lbf and started to push the plane on its way down the runway.

As per the checklist, rotation started at 145 knots and continued with full rotation at 165 knots. Pitching to 10 degrees, then holding that pitch until the plane leaves the runway, gear up, and away I went into the sky. The plane felt really fast and heavy, it is prohibited as per the authentic manual to perform any negative G’s or sudden movements in this aircraft. My first flight was quite short to say the least.

The most important thing to note in this review, "this plane is not for everyone". After putting in a handful of hours with the Valkyrie, I was really starting to love this plane. Aside from the engine start checklist not being used, the rest of the checklist is very important to be followed or else you will wind up taking many unexpected sky diving adventures.

Yes, the procedures are simplified by design, but this plane is not a grab the joystick and blast around doing mach 3. Achieving transonic is very similar in procedure as the Concorde using the Virtual Engineer. On the note of fuel, I performed many long distance flights with this bad boy, spanning continents and testing the max range at mach 3. As per the manual, the plane is capable of flying a maximum range of 10,000 miles on a full tank, try that at mach 3 the whole way and expect 3000 miles.

I don’t know about you, but 3000 miles in a jumbo jet is a long time at normal speed; 3000 miles in the Valkyrie is like 1.5 hours to 2 hours. If you fly in the Vatsim environment, you are basically limitless to which events, or airports you would like to depart from and arrive at; this was a big deal for me.

Remember what most reviews always said about the Concorde? Exactly the same here. This plane is suited for the simmer that enjoys much more of a hands on experience. That’s not to say you need to be a hardcore FS2004 junkie to learn this awesome airplane, it just means you need to follow the checklist to operate the plane properly.

So what is so hands on about it? The throttle, as warned in the documentation, can easily get ahead of you and this plane does not have an airbrake, so slowing down quickly can be difficult resulting in an over speed crash. Even with the autopilot, which I used heavily, from powering up those afterburners on the runway, to lifting off, it requires you to start throttling down before leaving the ground and enabling your IAS speed hold for 250 knots, assuming you want to fly realistically with the maximum speed under 10,000 ft. If you don’t fly that way, then you will still be required to throttle down big time right after you leave the runway.

Now we get to the next stage, put the Canard flap up and climb to 30,000 feet maintaining at least mach .09; if you are too slow when entering 30,000 feet, you may have to descend and repeat the process to achieve transonic flight. Also note as per the documentation, negative G’s and sudden movements are prohibited. This is not the kind of plane you're going to be doing barrel rolls in; your flying quite precisely by hand or playing it safe with the autopilot.

The challenge with this plane while climbing and meeting the requirements of certain speeds, at certain heights, is how much fine tuning you need to do with the throttle. The difference between overspeeding and flying too slow, is very small even with the autopilot automating everything else. Your speed and mach readings are very clear and easy to see, but you will find yourself with many overspeeds the first few times attempting transonic flight. The higher you climb, the harder it becomes to maintain or build speed, and you are climbing to 75,000 feet; by the time you’re up there at mach 3 it feels rewarding.

One thing to note on the 6 engines, Flight Simulator 2004 does not support control of more then 4 engines, so AlphaSim increased the output of the 4 engines so the simulation would match the 6 in the real Valkyrie. The switches for each 6 engines works as you would expect; but keep in mind if you want to turn off 1 engine for some reason, your really turning off more than the power of 1 engine and results might not be what you're looking for. I think the engines and performance are most likely very authentic with this trick, and design of the streamlined procedures makes this irrelevant.

Very Aggressive Climb

I have spent quite a bit of time in the Concorde using the virtual engineer for fuel; there are many similar procedures when preparing for transonic flight. The Concorde is much more agile in flight then the Valkyrie, get from A to B at mach 3, drop that nuclear warhead, and race away without any opposition to deal with; what kind of acrobats would you need to perform?

I hope when I told you there are to be no sudden movements and no negative G’s, that you didn't think this plane was going to be boring to fly; this plane is incredible! The Valkyrie is capable of performing breath taking maneuvers, like climbing aggressively at 9.9 v/s for a good portion of the initial climb to 30,000 feet. The image here is well beyond 9.9 v/s, you just have to exercise more patience if you want to increase your pitches dramatically. To aid you in not pulling excessive G’s, there is a G force instrument located clearly on the panel.

Once you get transonic flight under your belt, it is time for the moment of truth, landing back on earth in one piece. The checklist definitely needs to be observed here, especially if you’re following real world speed rules. I found the Concorde quite difficult at first to land, with its limited runway view from the cockpit; the Valkyrie rarely has a runway view ever on landing. So with no runway view at all, it's quite a different experience than having at least some visual cues on where you’re landing.

Being an avid 767 pilot, I'm used to many visual aids right inside of the cockpit, not to mention a good visual on the runway. I was pretty foolish with my ego thinking I could tame this giant within a couple of attempts at landing. So I just figured I would go and fly a bunch of long distance routes expecting maybe a crash or two. The Valkyrie tamed me; it must have taken me about 13 horribly failed attempts to get it right.

Approaching the airport, you’re moving faster then you normally would in a jumbo jet. The checklist states around 350 knots or so, I was at 250 knots observing the speed under 10,000 rules. Slowing down to around 220 knots or so, I began my final to the runway, assuming you have set the nav frequency and course, then being fixated on just the needle ensuring your lined up correctly; at the same time you’re watching the glide slope waiting for that magic moment to hold your breath.

Next, turn off the autopilot altitude hold, drop your landing gear, making very slight forward pressure pushing the nose down, this is a much focused precision fine tuning on your descent speed to the glide slope; you’re also fixated on the DME reading trying to match all 3 instruments with no visual reference. Decreasing your speed to around 180 knots to 1000 feet, as you descend lower then 1000 feet you start to drop like a rock; it is time to put down the Canard flap to level you out and slow down your descent.

You have to fully trust your instruments; this is all you got, from the 2D Cockpit at least. In theory, using only your instruments should be a fairly easy adjustment to make to land the plane, but it doesn't take much for the Valkyrie to get ahead of you, and compensating to match the glide slope can be difficult.

Then the magic happened, I decided to try landing in the VC cockpit which gave me the advantage of seeing a visual of the ground to judge my ground height; this is when everything changed.

Landing the Valkyrie is a great feeling using the VC cockpit, it was the trick for me. When you can finally fly the Valkyrie from start to finish, you really get an appreciation for this plane. The plane is very unique in many ways, and the flight dynamics feel great; the plane feels very heavy and yet almost delicate. When landing, there is virtually no flair at all. Included in the download is a video of the plane landing to help you learn how it is done.

I was very impressed with the amount of hands on this plane requires, considering my initial views were very disappointing.

Test System

Pentium4 - 3Ghz HT
1 GiG of Ram
ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 128
SATA 160 GB HD
ActiveSky 6.5
Environment Pro

Flying Time:
25 hours

Performance

The plane ran very well on my system, allowing me to maintain 24.9 frames per second. This is what I am used to in 2D Cockpit, Spot, Tower. The VC cockpit, as always, is a frames eater, however, with the quality of graphics it ran quite well at around 17-18 fps. My choice to use the VC cockpit will only be on my landing.

There is also a nose ramp option which is modeled, yet is cosmetic similar to the Concorde visor creating drag. There is also an option to toggle pilots, this did not really work for me and many forum messages seemed to indicate it was “buggy” under FS9. I contacted the developer, again the response came quickly explaining it toggled the pilots on and off from the external views; such a small feature like this is just as easy forgotten anyway.

Summary / Closing Remarks

The Valkyrie XB-70 is really a great plane to fly, preferring more of a hands on approach. However, the average simmer looking for a little more will enjoy this plane if carefully observing the supplied checklist. My personal opinion is that this plane does align to AlphaSim’s streamlined procedure list, but there is also quite a bit of plane here to fly. I think maybe they wanted to offer a plane of this caliber with a little bit more to know then their average plane.

I had to manually copy my new files to the FS2004 directory, and there are no additional missions, scenarios, or startup options. Is this aircraft value for the money? You can address that question from many different perspectives, I choose the perspective of what else can you get out there at this caliber and price? Well, that answer is easy. Many great and highly respected planes with much more in the ways of options and extras are available.

I would of preferred this aircraft to be even more hands on, you can fly the Concorde with more aids, or less aids, start with engines running, start cold and dark, and it even has scenarios where you just need to start the engine. It would be nice to see them here too.

 

What I Like About The Valkyrie

  • The Valkyrie has a very unique and authentic flight model
  • The Valkyrie is very well done visually in both cockpit and external model
  • The vapor effects from the Canard and wing surface look awesome
  • The Valkyrie can cover huge distances, opening more FS world to cover

 

What I Don't Like About The Valkyrie

  • Hands down the price tag, with no added startup options, no added missions, you simply get the plane

 

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