The Lightning is the first all British supersonic jet fighter aircraft, which has its roots in the Cold War period, when there was a fear of Russian bombers flying at extremely high altitudes and the need to be able to counter that threat.
The jet also saw extensive service, not only with the Royal Air Force of Great Britain, but also with the Royal Saudi Air Force.
If you want to know any more about the origins of this aircraft, please refer to the manual which accompanies the package - it really is worth taking the time to read, trust me!
I remember that I always use to read about the Lightning and its incredible performance, so naturally my curiosity was tickled when Just Flight released their Lightning. Without further ado, let us see what it looks like!
Installation and documentation
After purchasing the aircraft from the website, you will have to activate it on your account at Just Flight, which is a quick and painless process. The downloadable installer is 301MB large, and download speeds are good as can be expected.
You simply double click on the installer, select to run it, and it will automatically check your license validity with the server at Just Flight. After that, you can select your preferred language, which will then take you to the rest of the installation.
As per usual you will be asked to confirm the EULA, then select your FSX directory, click next and the installation will then run. Installation will take about 30-45 seconds to complete, upon which you are prompted to restart your computer. Once you have done so, the installation is complete.
In your FSX directory, you will now have a Just Flight folder, including a EE Lightning sub-folder, inside of which you will find the following:-
1. A folder with the paintkit for the aircraft; and
2. Your flight manual.
The manual for the aircraft consists of 48 pages, which covers the following topics:-
1. An introduction, which is an extremely detailed and fascinating view into the history of the aircraft and the various different marks and technical specifications of the different aircraft;
2. A section covering the aircraft included in this package;
3. A detailed technical analyses of the aircraft’s specifications and performance data;
4. Installation guide;
5. A section titled “Getting to know the Lightning”, which explains some real world and simulator aspects of the aircraft;
6. A cockpit guide, including a quick start and normal (manual) start of the Lightning, which excludes the use of the gang bar (more on that later);
7. A guide on flying this magnificent aircraft;
9. Copyright information; and
10. A section on software piracy.
I found the manual to have been useful, friendly and to cover all the aspects that I needed to get the aircraft down (or up I suppose!). If you bought the boxed version, you would get the PDF manual in printed version as well.
You also get a very handy reference sheet in HMTL format which you can use inside of FSX as you would normal reference pages for your other aircraft, only this one is considerably more packed with useful information, not just the numbers required to fly the aircraft but also the location of all gauges and a brief explanation of what they do or what they indicate.
You also get profile information and some warnings about the aerodynamic efficiencies/deficiencies of this aircraft which you need to know, i.e. do not stall the aircraft below 120 KIAS in the stall, the airplane will enter an unrecoverable spin. And yes, it does!
So all in all I was very impressed with the documentation in this package and the little extra they did with the reference sheet, really does go a long way to add to the overall quality of not only the documentation, but the package as a whole.
Now, the exterior of this airplane is really pleasing to the eye! It definitely looks the part of the EE Lightning jet. Not only that, but every part moves and acts like you would expect it to. All the reflections that you would expect by today’s standards are present and the aircraft certainly has a brutish look to it, almost challenging anyone to look for trouble! Here are some screenshots of the exterior of this beauty:
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The interior of the aircraft is done to the same high quality as the exterior, and one of my personal favourite features of the interior is the tinted windows! If you look straight ahead through your little “HUD”, you will notice the light effect that is present there as well, very realistically and beautifully done!
Some of the analogue engine instruments are a little difficult to read, but they are mostly well done and gets the information across. You have a fully animated “control stick” right in front of you.
The engine start and radio panels to your right hand side are very crisp, clear and easily legible, also done to the same high standards as the rest of the VC. By the way, this aircraft does not come with a 2D panel.
The left panel of the aircraft is not as legible as the right hand side. This contains the throttles, the annunciator panel (which become more readable should an emergency or malfunction happen and they actually light up!). To the top left hand panel, you will find the clock, the airspeed indicator and the altimeter.
As can also be seen from my screenies, the aircraft actually show a bit of wear and tear inside, which is very nice, and also conveys the sort of “roughness” you would expect from a fighter jet, and especially one that has seen a fair bit of usage!
The canopy has excellent visibility on all sides. It is also fully animated and can be closed and opened to your heart’s desire! The targeting radar display has a very nice, high quality GPS type indication of where you can find airports, and it can be adjusted in terms of range as well. It serves in this simulation as a sort of moving map display rather than a targeting radar.
The night flying of this aircraft is gorgeous due to the beautiful, almost soft green lighting of the cockpit.
Depending also on the sun’s position, the reflections inside the cockpit changes, again as you would expect from today’s high detail models.
All in all then, the VC is beautifully modeled and the experience when flying it is one of “I am actually flying an EE Lightning jet!” Apart from the readability of one or two gauges, I don’t believe that any improvement is necessary at all! It is a masterpiece!
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Firing it up!
Now, this being an interceptor rather than an airliner, you would obviously expect the pilot simply to hop in, flip a few switches and have it at the ready to take off in a but a few seconds, since speed is of the essence for the role that this aircraft had been designed for.
Starting it up should therefore be quick and easy. Following the manual, I first start it up manually without using the gang bar. This involves the following steps:-
1. Turning on the ground power;
2. Flipping the Master Battery switch to on;
3. I turn the fuel cocks on;
4. I switch the fuel pumps on;
5. I select engine number 1 via the flip switch; and
6. I push the Engine 1 starter button just above that. I wait until the engine has lit up and then release the starter button.
7. I repeat steps 5 and 6 for engine number 2.
All that takes less time than to type it out! I then decide that even this is too much work, so I proceed to start it up again, this time using the red gang bar:-
1. I make sure that the fuel is cut off (Ctrl+Shift+F1);
2. I only switch on the ground power;
3. I flip the red gang bar up;
4. I follow steps 5 to 7 above.
Just always remember to have your parking brake set for the engine start, because when these beasts light up, the aircraft shoots forward!
After this I do a quick scan of the annunciator panels, I see that there are no huge issues to attend to. I then start to taxi out to the runway for my departure. If you wish you can always simulate a scramble by putting the plane down on the active runway, starting up and literally blasting away into the skies at a frightening rate!
When taxiing the aircraft out, I was impressed with the way it handled on the ground. It didn’t have that “empty” sort of feeling you sometimes get when taxiing simulations around on the ground. I really got the feeling that I am taxiing a bit of weight around the airport, and that this weight is supported by a suspension that is active.
Once on the runway, drop the flaps, check the annunciators once more, no alarms, nothing telling me that I am messing something up. I gently ease the throttles open to 92% whilst holding on the brakes. Just before reaching 92%, the brakes cannot stop the huge power anymore, I release the brakes and the aircraft start screaming down the runway.
Even with full fuel and payload, this monster accelerates like crazy! I reach my target speed of 150 KIAS within seconds! I then ease the nose up to 14 degrees. The wheels depart the asphalt at around 180 KIAS.
According to the manual, we should not retract the flaps until reaching 200 KIAS. I keep accelerating to 200 KIAS and pull the flaps up. Don’t worry about forgetting about this - the aircraft reminds you not so gently with alarms going off in the cockpit that you are approaching this speed and that you need to consider pulling up the flaps now!
The manual further instructs us that as we accelerate, we should start relying on the speed strip at higher airspeeds since the normal steam gauge to the left gets increasingly unreliable at higher speeds. So at around 300 KIAS I start focusing my attention to the speed strip. The Mach numbers are listed just below the KIAS values at the top of the strip.
The acceleration is still amazing! I reach Mach 1.00 in no time! Now, the idea behind this aircraft is to get from the ground to about 50 000 feet in no time, so I start putting the aircraft in a steep climb. Even at high climb angles, the airspeed increases in the higher twenties and mid-thirties of thousands of feet. Above 40 000 feet, you can start to feel a bit of a decrease in the performance, but you can still easily reach 50 000 feet plus in less than a minute since lifting off, as the aircraft claims to be able to do in real life. Now just hold on while I retrieve my stomach from the runway!
The actual performance claims are that the aircraft has a service ceiling of around 80 000 feet. Let us see if this is true. Although it take a bit of coaxing from the 60 000 feet and up, you can quite easily attain 80 000 feet. You reach the edges of space now, and as you look up, it is pitch dark above you- glorious... And freaky at the same time!
As you would expect, your maneuverability is quite limited at 80 000 feet, since the air density at these altitudes are minimal! You have to handle the aircraft quite gently to avoid doing all sorts of unintended maneuvers!
Right, so enough of blundering around at the edge of space. Let us head down to around 40 000 to 45 000 feet and check the agility of the aircraft there. After all, it was intended as an interceptor at these altitudes!
Down here the aircraft is incredibly agile, and again, you get the sense of a high performance machine that allows you great maneuverability. The thrust, and in particular the thrust to weight ratio is just staggering!
You are also warned not to extend the speed brake above Mach 1.3. So, I now start to descend to put myself in a pattern for landing. The manual has two different speeds here - one when using flaps and the other one for not using flaps. I decide to do two landings to test it out; the first will be without flaps, gear and speed brakes, requiring me to enter the circuit at 230 KIAS.
I then maintain 185 KIAS on finals. I then drop the gear, preparing to land. A word of caution here: this aircraft’s descent profile has to be watched with the eyes of a hawk! The aircraft handles remarkably similar to the fantastic freeware F-86 Sabre in terms of energy management. It is very easy to find yourself running out of energy during the approach to the runway. This means that you will be too low and you will not be able to simply power yourself out of this and make a safe landing.
I found that when managing your energy properly, landing the aircraft is a joy! I have to note again that the feeling of the mass and inertia has been beautifully modeled and you really get a good sense of it once you have all sorts of protruding items, like flaps and gear dangling from the fuselage! The aircraft become a lot more sluggish and you have to watch the energy management even more.
On the first landing, with no flaps and speed brakes out, I touch down firmly, nothing unusual in a fighter jet. I immediately apply full power and blast off again to set myself up for a landing, this time with flaps down as well.
As I have already mentioned, this causes the aircraft to be a little more sluggish. I now enter the pattern with flaps and gear down. There is only one flap setting. The flaps are either fully extend or fully retracted. The manual says I have to enter the pattern at around 190 KIAS. I follow the manual, and set myself up accordingly.
I again pull of a firm but good landing. Once you deploy reverse thrust, a chute also deploys at the back of the aircraft to help slow it down, just like the real deal! I found the reverse thrust to be incredibly effective when slowing the aircraft down.
How about instrument landings? Yes, you have an instrument which is akin to the Cessna’s gauge, the two lines deviating up and down, left and right. You do have to land the aircraft yourself though - now auto land here! As per normal, you would simply set the radio frequency and use it like a normal ILS.
Once I taxi to the ramp, I shut down the aircraft by simply doing the following:-
1. I flip the gangbar switch to the opposite direction; and
2. I turn off all supply and secondary switches.
Although I have never actually flown a real Lightning before, I think this may be very close to the real deal! Only a real Lightning pilot will be able to give us a proper indication. My verdict? Close or not, I liked it...a lot!
I was pleasantly surprised by the sound package. I love the bruit force of the engine sounds, together with the afterburner. The flaps can be heard and clacking sounds of the gear being raised and lowered, they are all there. The sound package definitely adds a great deal to this package and just rounds it off very nicely.
I run a Q9550 Quad core CPU with 6GB RAM and a GTX480 with 768MB RAM. I found that frame rates rarely dipped below 40fps on my system. When flying near the edge of space, 100fps was pretty much the norm. That said, I do use the venetubo settings for my FSX and also have certain settings pulled back a little graphic wise. I don’t believe that anybody who can run FSX fairly decently on their system should have a problem with the add-on. It is however advised that you always observe the specifications listed by the developers!
As indicated above, I really liked the experience! I believe that the flight model was done remarkably well. It is obvious that a lot of research has gone into making the aircraft. It is a well rounded off product that will give F6 fans an enjoyable experience. It is also a sim which I found can be flown by the book.
So is it a package then just for F6 die-hard fans, or is it something for Joe Public as well? This is definitely a package for Joe Public, but the F6 diehard fans will certainly get a realistic and enjoyable experience from flying it!
The next obvious question - is it worth spending $ 30-65 on? The answer is yes. The price the developers charge for this add-on is more than reasonable and you are definitely getting your money’s worth for it!
What I like about it:
1. Very good flight model;
2. Excellent sound package;
3. Very high detail exterior and interior visual quality;
4. High systems fidelity;
5. The price!
What I didn’t like about it:
1. Uhm...The fact that I couldn’t shoot at anybody! Seriously though, there is nothing I can list here.