Over the past several years Alex Pogensky (aka “Captain Sim”) and the crew at Captain Sim (CS) simulations have established a reputation for producing high fidelity aircraft addons for the MSFS and CFS series of sims.
Previous releases have included the L-39 jet trainer (for FS2002 & CFS2), MiG-21 fighter (for FS2002/2004 and CFS2), and Boeing 727 civil transport (for FS2002/2004). Without exception these products have been generally very well received in the sim community. So it was with high expectations that I received my review copy of Captain Sim’s latest release, the “Legendary F-104,” for MS FS2004. I was not disappointed.
Before looking at the sim aircraft a few words about this classic early jet era and Cold War fighter aircraft are in order. The Lockheed F-104 made its flying debut in 1954 as the XF-104. Like many other U.S. developed fighters the first XF-104 flight was from Edwards AFB in California. After an extended period of testing and some modifications of the original design the first F-104A models entered operational service with the USAF in 1958.
Officially named the “Starfighter” the F-104 was more commonly known as “the Zipper” for its high speed and rocket like appearance. Originally designed as a single seat daylight interceptor and air superiority aircraft the F-104 evolved over the years to many different missions and configurations including two seat, strike, all weather, and recon versions. In addition to the U.S. it served with distinction in the air forces of countries worldwide including Germany, Holland, Belgium, Italy, Greece, Canada, and Japan among others. The F-104 was also used by NASA for astronaut training, flight testing, and chase plane duties.
The Zipper was the first operational fighter capable of sustained speeds in excess of Mach 2. It also distinguished itself as the first aircraft to simultaneously hold the World Altitude and Speed records.
So Captain Sim’s “Legendary” label is certainly appropriate.
Installation and documentation
The CS Legendary F-104 is available in download and CD versions. I received my review copy as the download version which is an approximately 50 MB file. Having had a fair amount of trouble with my activation of the CS 727 download version back when it was first released I was a little bit leery of the process but am happy to report that the download, installation, and activation of the product was smooth as silk. I was up and flying within minutes. Two updates to the download version have been released since my initial installation in mid November 03. V1.1 and 1.2 can be accessed and downloaded via the included TCE “Check for Updates” utility and will bring your version to the current level.
Documentation consists of a User Manual in 2 parts. Part I is the Systems Manual and Part II is the Operations Manual. There are also sections on how to use the Texture and Configuration Editor (TCE) and the Instructor Pilot feature. The Systems Manual contains a description of the aircraft systems and detailed pictures of the instrument panels and various knobs and switches in the cockpit. The Operations Manual contains aircraft operating limits, checklists, performance charts, and take off and landing procedures charts. The look and feel of these documents was very much like the real world flight manuals I’ve seen and used for military aircraft. There’s not a lot of “how to” explanation in the Systems Manual so I had a fair amount of “trial and error” learning with some of the instruments when I first started flying. You’re dealing with 100% 50’s and 60’s era “steam gauges” here so expect some “retro” learning if you’re a modern EFIS simmer.
That said, it’s important to read the documentation before flying if you want to get the most out of the sim. “RTFM” as the saying goes. An important note is to always select the aircraft model you want to fly from the included TCE utility and NOT the default MSFS aircraft selection. Doing otherwise will result in the aircraft having the wrong weight, fuel load out, contact points, lights, and VC eye point. Not a good start in a high performance aircraft like the F-104!
The sim package includes 5 variations of the F-104G model (single seat) and 3 variations of the TF-104 (dual seat) model. The variants have to do with whether the aircraft is configured with wing tip tanks, pylon fuel tanks, and different weapons load outs. Overall there’s a very good representation of the different models and roles of the aircraft as it evolved over the years.
Included with the base package are 15 different aircraft liveries representing the major air forces of the world which flew the F-104 including 1 Soviet version. Doubtless this represents a test and evaluation model obtained from a third party country since the F-104 never saw actual Soviet or Eastern Bloc service. Additionally, there are plenty of freeware repaints available that you can add to your base livery stable. Installation of additional liveries is a snap with the included TCE utility.
As you can see from the screenshots the visual detail on the aircraft is excellent. I got almost as much enjoyment from doing an aircraft external visual walk around as I did from flying! In this regard it helps to have an enhanced viewing program like Active Camera 2004 to be able to see the detail from a real world point of view.
Rivets, maintenance access panels, oil streaks and weathering effects all combine to create a convincing visual picture of a real aircraft on your screen. In addition, the aircraft features the usual assortment of moving control surfaces, rolling wheels, smoke, and other visual effects we have all come to expect with FS2004 era sim aircraft. Included in this category for the CS F104 are an afterburner effect, an opening canopy, and drag chute deployment. This level of detail did not seem to impose any particular frame rate hit on my low end AMD 1.4 GHz test system. But then again I’m happy with frame rates in the high teens (I’ve got them locked at 20FPS) and that might not suit some simmers. What constitutes an acceptable FPS is a highly individual preference so you’ll have to make your own judgment there but I was happy and there were no noticeable pauses, slowdowns, or other negative impacts from the CS F104 high quality visuals.
Bottom line: I found the aircraft visuals to be outstanding. The screenshots illustrate this probably better than my words can do. Check ‘em out.
money instrument panels are the area where Captain Sim’s aircraft show
best. The F-104 comes with both a 2D and fully working Virtual Cockpit
(VC). Both are excellent although I spent most of my time in the VC.
The CS F104 incorporates 2 special features in addition to the basic aircraft. These are the Texture and Configuration Editor (TCE) and the Instructor Pilot (IP).
Users of other Captain Sim products, such as the 727, will be familiar with the TCE utility. It permits you to easily add liveries, check for updates, and select and configure your aircraft with fuel and weapons loads prior to flying. You can also select graphic and cold engine start options on the TCE. Interestingly the documentation on the TCE in the F104 package shows examples using the CS 727. This is most likely a proof reading error in the documentation. Anyway, I found the TCE to be a very useful feature.
The other special feature incorporates an “Instructor Pilot” (IP) using the voice of real world F104 pilot Andy Bush. The IP will make voice callouts at various stages of flight, usually when you exceed a flight limitation or are putting the aircraft in an unsafe configuration. In this regard Andy is more like a “Bitchin Betty” than an instructor. To be honest after the novelty wore off I found this feature to be more of an annoyance than a help. You have the option to turn the feature on or off. I fly with it off and I suspect most experienced simmers will also do so. This feature could be helpful to novice simmers.
|The TCE utility is where you select your aircraft and configure it. Don’t try this from the MSFS default aircraft selection menu.||
This shot shows how to import new liveries using the TCE. The documentation shows the CS 727 but it works fine for the F-104.
Overall I found the CS F104 to be equal to the current leading FS2004 add on products in terms of quality and functionality and among the best available add on aircraft currently on the market for FS2004. The VC alone is worth the price in my mind.
Military jets may not be every simmers cup of tea but if you would like to push the envelope a little this bird will help you do it.
Overall I rated this product at 4 out of 5 stars. For those of you who may not be familiar with the Avsim methodology of rating payware packages to achieve a 4-Star rating is quite difficult. To achieve a 5-Star rating is not only difficult, it requires that a product incorporate ground breaking technology and advance the frontiers of simming. The CS F104 is not groundbreaking in its technology but it certainly ranks with the best available current technology products. I can recommend it to any serious simmer without hesitation.
For more information and to purchase this add-on, go to Captain Sim’s website at: http://www.captainsim.com/.
What I Like About the Captain Sim Legendary F-104
What I Don't Like About the Captain Sim Legendary F-104
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