AVSIM Commercial Aircraft Review

Captain Sim “Legendary C-130 Hercules” Part 2

Rating Guide
Publisher: Captain Sim
Description:  Add-On for MSFS 2004
Download Size:
81 MB
Format:
Executable Auto Install File
Simulation Type:
FS2004 Only
Reviewed by: Trevor Clark AVSIM Staff Reviewer

The AVSIM Commercial Rating System: 1 Star to 5 Stars (with 5 stars being exceptional) Please see details of our review rating policy here .

Historical Background

The term Legend is often overused in today’s society. In the world of aviation few aircraft have done more to earn this title than the Lockheed C-130 Hercules. Now, more than 50 years after its first flight, it is still the product of choice for almost all the world’s air forces and is constantly being upgraded, adapted and improved. From a serious weapon of war like the “AC-130 Gunship” to a real “Angel of Mercy” whenever disasters strike, this aircraft has done it all. Be it military or civil, there is a C-130 for almost every occasion, no wonder that the Flight Sim community have been eagerly awaiting a really top quality version, for years.

In part 2 of this review I will outline some of the turbulent events that have occurred to this product in the past weeks and what changes have been made, as well as some of the extras not covered in the initial installment.

Trials and Tribulations

Captain Sim Legendary C-130 Hercules must be one of the most heralded and anticipated add-ons in the history of MSFS. When it was eventually released (in late October) there was a flurry of eager purchasers beating a path to the developer’s door, credit card in hand. Within a few days, there were signs that all was not quite right with some aspects of this product.

It looked superb, that was never in doubt; but it became evident that customers suspected that this complicated machine had almost as many bugs as the Australian Outback! To compound matters, the developers also fell foul of a large e-commerce company that had been used to sell this product. With no Product Support Forum to air their grievances, some customers vowed never to patronise Captain Sim again and many potential customers kept their credit cards in their pockets.

I was reminded of the real world of military aviation history by what happened next. At the start of the Second World War, U.S and British designers (under pressure from their respective governments) developed a fighter and heavy bomber respectively. The fighter was the P-51A and the heavy bomber, the Avro Manchester. Despite all the best efforts of the design teams, these aircraft were not as good as had been hoped. It took operational user feedback and demands, to send the designers back to the drawing board. In a matter of weeks, two of the greatest allied aircraft were crafted out the original failures. The P-51D Mustang and the Avro Lancaste,r destined to become true legends

Maybe Captain Sim (under enormous pressure from hungry simmers or maybe simple commercial pressure to release this baby after a 3 year gestation), period got it wrong. So what did the developers do? They went back to their desktops and started to listen to what people were telling them, just as their illustrious predecessors had done.

 

Short Final - on glidepath

Navigator's Station

The empty cargo bay

Some screen shots showing the internal virtual environment of the C-130

Here are the 3 main steps that were taken.

Step 1, The Captain Sim Product Support Forum re-opens
Captain Sim re-opened their support forum a few weeks after the initial release of the C-130 (shortly after Avsim announced that an ‘unofficial’ support forum would be set up on this site!), many felt it was the duty of a premier developer to provide such things from the outset, a sentiment I share.

The C-130 Support Forum seems to a civilized place at the moment, however I am not in a position to monitor how ‘heavy handed’ any forum moderation may have been.

There are some polite (but quite forthright) rules and regulations posted by the Captain Sim staff, in a form that would make many ex-service personnel like me, feel quite at home. This may not be too surprising, as Captain Sim was actually founded by ex-Soviet aircrew!

It is also worth taking note that unless you are a native English speaker; it is all too easy for the ‘tone’ of your written statement to be taken a little out of context. Just try posting on some of the world’s FS forums to see what I mean! The Forum seems to be operating as one would expect, at least to the casual visitor, like me.

Step 2, Bugs or pilot blunders?
Within days of release, it was obvious to many serious flight simmers that the Legendary C-130 was far from “bug” free! Part of the problem stemmed from the shear complexity of both the real aircraft and the FS model. In the real world, the C-130 occupies between 3 and 5 full-time, fully qualified, professional aircrew. These people have undergone years of training and sat through countless examinations and training sessions before setting foot inside the real aircraft.

In FS2004, we find ourselves sitting alone in the captain’s seat within a second or two of selecting the aircraft. We also have no great pressure to sit down and read all those pages and pages of text, nobody is going to ground us, after all we own our entire FS virtual world. Nobody will ever ground us! Bugs were found in many areas, but sorting the bug from the blunder was going to be a big task.

Step 3, The release of SP1, the ultimate bug killer?
Captain Sim announced there would be a patch within a week or so of release; they later produced a long list of fixes that would be attended to. Many were widely reported in the world’s forums, such as generators throwing themselves off-line when reverse thrust was engaged and an annoying “loop” in the sound files, others were more obscure and in reality, not noticed by many ‘ordinary’ users.

On the technical front (away from real or wannabe C-130 aircrew) there was a general feeling that if the faults could be fixed quickly, most users could live with them, for a short while.

This delay was kept to about 4 weeks, with the release of SP1 towards the end of November. Although a full product download is required, I have not heard of too many technical issues in re-installing the product, if the instructions are followed ‘to the letter’. Downloads of this new version must be made via the ACE system, explained later in this review.

Test System

Pentium P3 2.6 gHz
1024 mb SDRam
nVidea 5200FX
Internal Stereo sound Windows XP Home
CH pro Yoke CH Pedals

Flying Time:
20+ hours

What was never in dispute was the sheer quality of the modelling or the texturing and no patches would be needed to correct this aspect of the product.

This aircraft looked as good, if not better than anything that has been seen on FS2004, so far. It also worked quite smoothly, on many lesser specified PC systems. The same range of 3 variants The C-130E, C-130K and HC-130 are supplied. This gives a wide range of operating air force liveries, almost all (with the notable exception of the USCG) in various shades of grey. I am sure the experts amongst you could tell the different models apart from the performance changes within the flight model, but I could not discern any great difference at all.

No changes of any significance have been made to the model, a small number of changes have been made to some of the textures and the vehicle carried in the hold has now been properly marked, as a Hummer. On the sound front, gone is the annoying sound loop effect. The new sound file is much smoother with an overall sound not unlike the freeware P-3 models released earlier this year, hardly surprising as the engines are almost identical.

Some gauges have also been improved or modified. You can now have analogue or digital engine instruments (selected via ACE the facility, see below for details) for instance and some of the functional navigation and flight instruments have been improved upon.

Was it worth all the trouble and fuss?

It is difficult to discover what many customers feel about the release of SP1 because it seems to have been released with little or no great fanfare and precious little feedback on the world’s forums. What we are left with (in my opinion) is the product that we all hoped had been released in October!

Maybe not a legend like the P-51D or Lancaster; but what can only be described as the very best representation of the Lockheed C-130 Hercules that we are ever likely to see on the current generation of PC based home computers. What a pity it was not as good as this on day one!

So, to get back to what Part 2 of the review was originally intending to feature, I will give you an idea of the extras that were not covered in any detail in Part 1.

 

The main screen that you will use to configure and add new textures to your C-130

ACE and freeware texture sets

Captain Sim has always encouraged freeware painters to use their talents on its products and the C-130 is no exception. Within a couple of days of the product release, Avsim had a number of re-paints available, all of the same high quality of the originals. Applying these schemes is relatively simple using the ACE (Aircraft Configurator Editor) system which was installed with the aircraft on your desktop.

Just place your texture file in the appropriate file and run ACE. No editing cfg. files required. Whilst on the subject of ACE, this suffered from some problems before the release of SP1 and I am still not 100% sure it works as well as the designers intended, particularly when saving your fuel and payload settings. Another slightly annoying feature is that when you configure an aircraft to have external tanks, the entire model range is changed, not just the single aircraft. This is something I can live with, however it does look a little odd on some of the civil repaints, which seldom have these tanks fitted. Textures can also be selected as matt or semi-gloss using ACE. Civil re-paints may benefit from a nice shine, but all of your drab military aircraft will also treated to quick wash and brush up at the same time.

Speaking of civil re-paints; it is now possible to fly a number of these. My special favourite being the Air Contractors scheme by Giorgio La Pira. The real aircraft is one of the very few civil C-130 Hercules operating in Europe and is flown out of the Republic of Ireland, with a mainly ex-RAF crew. These civil variants will give virtual pilots a chance to re-enact some of the recent heroic actions performed on behalf of the UN after the recent natural disasters that have befallen our planet. Re-paints tend normally to vary in quality, but on this occasion I have yet to see a less than exemplary texture set released. All of the featured re-paints can be downloaded at the AVSIM File Library.

 

A selection of freeware re-paints uploaded to AVSIM.

The Manual

Flying ‘by the book’ has never featured highly on many peoples user profile with MSFS. With this product, this is indeed a pity. The manuals have been written with great care and diligence. Considering that the developers are not native English speakers, the manual is as easy to understand as most real world aircraft manuals, and that is no mean feat!

Despite this, spelling and grammar is far more polished than a great deal of manuals that accompany the average modern DVD recorder or mobile telephone. Each sub system is described in more than enough detail for the average user; all that is missing is an examination section to ensure you have absorbed all this important and intricate information. Performance figures and procedures are also well catered for in separate smaller manuals that can be referred to whilst on board.

If you really want to immerse yourself in this aircraft, (and you have just invested $51, remember) I suggest a trip to the local stationer’s store, to buy a nice set of ring binders, a ream of good quality paper and a new ink cartridge for your colour printer.

Now, when you hand over the money for all of these products (and I suspect it will cost more than just a few dollars), think for a second; was this product value for money or not? Just ponder the hours of work that has gone into that manual alone, let alone the research, modelling and texturing of the aircraft!

 

The three model versions available with this product, C-130E, C-130K and HC-130

Novel features

This aircraft has taken the MSFS platform, to what I think, may be its ultimate level. Every possible surface, door or window that you may want, will open. True, the maintenance panels stay in place; by ‘hey!’ you’re a flyer, not fixer. Animations seldom seen include appropriate flags that are flown whilst taxiing; a cargo vehicle that drives itself on and off in very smooth and realistic way and windscreen wipers that actually appear as if they are cleaning the screen!

Effects on offer include anti I.R. missile flares and wingtip fuel dumping. The fuel dumping effect is OK, but if you are in a position to require a dump of this expensive commodity, you should not have the time or inclination to pop outside to admire the pretty effects!

Smoke and start effects are well done, the quantity of smoke is dependant on engine settings; at times making the C-130 look rather like a wood burning locomotive than an aircraft. Although not in the same league as the AN-12, the C-130 is not a clean living aircraft when it comes to exhaust smoke in real life.

Conclusions

Was all the associated hype of the past two years over the top? Well, after spending 5 weeks with this aircraft, I admit that now, in its SP1 form, it does actually live up to all that hype!

I have witnessed a huge amount of bad feelings expressed about the attitude of the developer towards their customers, some justified, some not. Whatever you may think about this unfortunate situation, you cannot fault the sheer quality of this product’s design and finish, especially in this current release version.

Each time I look at the external model I get a tingle of excitement. The DVC is the nicest (and most authentic) I have ever used and the sound file (it even started to annoy me, after a while) has been much improved. The GTC now has that shrill sound that can cause discomfort to anyone unlucky enough to be in earshot of the real thing. The cockpit now sounds like you are wearing a more refined set of noise reducing headphones and is far more comfortable over longer periods of time.

Some things may still not be 100% perfect. For instance, I still have yet to get all four engines and all systems up and running from ‘cold and dark’ start situation , this may still be a bug, it may well be me! Whatever, I can live with it. I also find that some of the gauges, although quite smooth, do have a lower than perfect refresh rate. I suspect that this may not be so evident on a higher specified PC and that upgrade may be needed a little sooner than I thought.

With the impending release of a boxed version of the C-130 (to be marketed by Just Flight) any trepidation on the part of the potential download customer should be removed from the equation of whether or not to buy this product. It may also relieve you of the need to print nearly 400 pages of manuals!

The Captain Sim Legendary C-130 Hercules will be with us for a long time to come, once the dust has settled, I suspect it will become a benchmark product for FS2004.

Will this product one day earn the title ‘legendary’ within MSFS add-ons? Only time and a lot more satisfied customers will tell.


 

What I Like About Captain Sim's C-130
  • The feeling of realism from the virtual flight-deck, seldom experienced at this high level of detail.
  • The superbly detailed external model and totally realistic textures.
  • The ability of the flight model to portray the feel of the aircraft so well, within the limitations of MSFS 2004.
  • A level of detail and authenticity never seen before on an aircraft of this vintage.

 
What I Don't Like About Captain Sim's C-130
  • Some of the settings and changes made via ACE are saved across the whole model range, whether it is needed or not.
  • No sign of a virtual Flight Engineer on the external model.
  • A pity it required an update to become this good!

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