Imagine that you are out for a nice sunny afternoon flight down Florida’s Atlantic coast. Out to the right is the beautiful lake and marsh filled terrain common to this area, and to the left is the spectacular Atlantic ocean filled with boats, surfers, and…wait a minute, what is that? A UFO? Some kind of secret military experiment? No, it’s the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle working its way to Sheppard Intl. Airport in Spaceville, Florida. What is the Lunar Landing Vehicle, and just what is this Spaceville, Florida you might ask. Well, in real life it might be something worth reporting to the control tower, but in FS9, it is all part of the new Lunar Pilot multiple aircraft and scenery add-on from the creative team at Things-To-Come.
Lunar Pilot is a new adventure for FS9 that consists of a P-51 Mustang, Lunar Landing Research Vehicle, and the city of Spaceville, Florida that houses Sheppard Intl. airport and an enormous indoor lunar terrain simulator, among many other intricately detailed towering, futuristic buildings. Located directly east of the Kennedy Space Center on the Atlantic coastline, Spaceville is the heart of the Lunar Pilot storyline made up of a series of flights.
As a pilot/astronaut working for NADA, you will need to pilot your P-51 from one of three locations to Sheppard Intl. airport in Spaceville to take part in lunar landing testing operations in the LLRV. Of course Flight Sim has not yet opened the skies beyond 100,000 feet, so you will perform this operation in an indoor lunar terrain simulator which is a re-creation of the surface of the moon. Succeed and you will have a story to tell your grandchildren for years, fail and you will become just another statistic.
By now you might be thinking that this is more like an episode of the Twilight Zone than an FS9 add-on. But you may be interested to know that the LLRV and a much less detailed version of the lunar terrain simulator are a real piece of history that date back to the early 1960’s. Used to train N.A.S.A. astronauts for moon landings, the lunar craft and terrain simulator were constructed to help train these pilots to better negotiate future lunar landings in an area with 1/6 the gravity of earth.
As for the P-51 and the storyline, well I don’t know that the astronauts ever flew a P-51 through horrific weather conditions to get to the test sight, but it sure makes for quite the adventure in Flight Sim. And that is what this program is all about; taking Flight Sim to the next level and making it do things that it was never really intended to do (in a good way of course).
In this review, I am going to show you just what it takes to make it as a Lunar Landing Research Vehicle Pilot and what the team at Things-To-Come has provided to get you on your way. The first thing you will need to do is visit their website at www.things-to-come.com and pick up the $34.95 Lunar Pilot download. While you’re their, you may want to check out the Jet Pack NG, which fits nicely into this program.
Installation and Documentation
Now that we have the downloaded Lunar Pilot, we’re ready to get this thing installed. Once unzipped, you will notice that there is an auto-install file included. Other than verifying the correct installation directory and agreeing to some terms and conditions, you can just sit back and let the auto-install do the dirty work.
There is no need to worry about any files being overwritten. Once complete, you will have a variety of folders added to the FS9 directory. In the aircraft folder will be two new folders containing the P-51 and the Lunar Landing Vehicle. The add-on scenery folder will have an additional folder that holds the Spaceville add-on scenery. And there will be a folder in the main FS9 directory containing a help file for the Lunar Pilot program, and four flights added to the flight folder.
Of all of these folders, the only one of any concern is the “Lunar Pilot” folder located in the main FS9 directory. There are two important files in here, one with an instructional guide for the Lunar Landing Vehicle’s panel, and the other containing a manual for the entire program. It would be wise to read both of these to help you get started. The operations manual is an all-inclusive guide to everything you will ever need to know about Lunar Pilot. Since this manual is rather large and contains so much in depth detail, I can not possibly list it all here, but I would suggest printing it out and taking a little time to read it. You will also get a history lesson on the actual LLRV and the people who piloted this craft in real life.
If you follow the storyline in Lunar Pilot, the P-51 Mustang will be your first encounter with this program. With a range of 1000 miles at over 40,000 feet, this bird will be your means of transportation to Spaceville, and of course it is available in the aircraft selection menu for use anywhere else you wish. Though I would consider the P-51 to be the least impressive of all the components in this package, it is by no means lacking detail. The exterior model is historically accurate with a touch of modernism, or even futurism in the paint scheme. All of the control surfaces are fully animated, and I believe true to life. And of course you will get the standard rolling wheels, opening canopy, and lighting that have become a must in any add-on aircraft of this type.
The panel included with the Mustang is about as close to the real deal as I have seen in other replicas of this aircraft for FS9. Not exactly head turning, but then again the actual WWII era P-51 panel is not exactly a modern marvel. The sub-panels include the default Garmin GPS and radio stack. Because of the design of the panel, both of these panels can remain open without obstructing any of the gauges necessary for flight. The panel view does provide a great view outside of the aircraft to the front and either side. This is especially helpful when trying to find Sheppard Intl. in bad weather.
Stepping into the virtual cockpit you will notice that the panel extends much higher on the screen than in the cockpit view. This seems to exaggerate the tail dragger effect a little too much, but a slight pan to the left or right will make for a good view when taxiing. All of the standard controls are animated, such as the throttle, rudder pedals, and stick yoke. Don’t expect too much to the rear of the cockpit other than the seat and some aged texturing. In fact, the entire VC has an aged look to it, which adds a nice touch of realism to this aircraft. Other than the high extension, the VC panel is the same as the panel in the cockpit view.
The sound set included with the Mustang is actually one of the best that I have ever heard for a classic warbird. From either of the interior views, the sounds are cycled through a startup phase that resembles a “rough” start fairly well, then through a wind up phase with a slight touch of a whistling sound, then to the classic sound of an old radial engine at idle. When applying throttle, the engine winds up with the growl so familiar to WWII fighters. From the spot view, you may not hear the engine cycle through the phases quite as well, but the sounds remain distinctive nonetheless.
As far as the airfile is concerned, there is no default aircraft that I can compare it to, but you can probably imagine what a P-51 would fly like. It is fast, and very maneuverable, without being too touchy. If you perform any of the included flights, you will find yourself having to fight the heavy winds, and at times it can seem like a losing battle. But the Mustang has the power and enough stability to make it through. Takeoffs are quick and painless, landings can be a little more harsh. The aircraft tends to drop quickly on approach, and you may have to struggle to stay on a good glide path. Even the most experienced pilot may find a challenge sticking a perfect landing on a short strip. And to be honest, I like the challenge.
All in all, I would not define the Mustang as being cutting edge, but it is comparable to most other P-51 payware models. I do appreciate the fact that TTC took the time to include a specific sound set rather than using a default sound file. I also enjoy the NADA paint scheme and aged interior detail. And it does fly as I would expect a P-51 to fly. If it were independent from the Lunar Pilot program, I would still recommend it, given a reasonable price tag.
The Lunar Landing Research Vehicle (LLRV)
First flown on October 30, 1964 by a N.A.S.A X-15 pilot by the name of Joseph A. Walker, the LLRV is an open cockpit VTOL hovering aircraft used to train astronauts for lunar landings. Manufactured by Bell Aerosystems, the LLRV is powered by a General Electric CF-700-2V turbofan engine that provides 5/6 of the thrust keeping the vehicle aloft. The other 1/6 is provided by two hydrogen peroxide lift rockets, with six more acting as control surfaces to help balance the craft. 16 additional control thrusters are positioned for use in the event of an engine failure.
So how close is the Flight Sim version? I would say just about as close to its real world counterpart as you will ever see. The exterior model is tremendously detailed with all of the pipes, hoses, hydraulics, and hundreds, if not thousands of other individual components. The vertically mounted engine, lift rockets, and other powered control surfaces come together to provide a level of immaculate detail unsurpassed through the current cycle of technology, and most likely for a long time to come.
The interior model, or let’s just say virtual cockpit view since there is really no interior, is made up of a square helicopter-like panel with a series of untypical instrumentation. Aside from the tachometer, artificial horizon, and other gauges is a two-button panel used for refueling the LLRV. I will discuss that more when we talk about Spaceville.
To either side of the pilot is basically a close-up view of the frame of the vehicle covered with a multitude of control switches. Directly in front of the seat is an ejection handle which is fully functional and activating it will lead to a sequence of events that eject the pilot from the LLRV. You will have a brief moment to watch the animation of the handle moving back before being automatically switched to the spot view. Then you will get to watch the pilot eject from the craft following a blast of flame and smoke.
The sound set included with the LLRV is one of a kind. It is kind of difficult to put sounds into words, but you can imagine the humming turbofan engine complimented by the deep groan of the lift rockets. Add that to the hissing and distinct hydraulic sounds of the control thrusters, and you have a sound set like no other.
Flying this vessel is another feature of this program that is like no other. Despite the fact that the LLRV hovers and flies similar to a helicopter, it takes on a more complicated set of dynamics. The control surfaces can be a little sensitive by default, but the manual will guide you on how to adjust the control sensitivity’s just right. The most important thing to remember when flying the LLRV is to respond to adverse movements quickly. If you feel the craft veering off to on direction without your consent, make the proper adjustments right away or it could lead to an uncontrollable situation.
All in all, I would describe the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle as a spectacular marvel very suitable for Flight Sim. And just as with the P-51, it is not restricted to Spaceville. I have found myself landing on buildings throughout the world, and using it to get a close-up view of the occasional landmark. Wouldn’t it be fun to see the passenger’s reactions when you drop that thing down at the terminal?
Spaceville and Sheppard Int'l Airport
Spaceville is the name given to the city that houses Sheppard Intl. Airport and the lunar landing facility. It is located just a stones throw east of the Kennedy Space Center in Titusville, Florida and is easily recognized from a distance by the enormous building in the center of town. This building houses the lunar landing sight which consists of a platform resembling the surface of the moon for landing the lunar craft on. Sheppard Intl. Airport is located on the south side and offers two ways to get into town. You can either use runway 36, which is an open approach, or the reciprocal runway 18, which offers the challenge of having to navigate some undulations on your way in.
Much of the city is made up of towering buildings, and of course the mammoth lunar landing sight. But you will also have the pleasure of touring the east side of town which is mostly hilly terrain, and the outskirts of the airport where the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle launch pad is located. There is an abundance of “eye candy” scattered throughout the city, including advertisements, highly detailed structures, and some things that I have still not yet identified. There is even a special refueling station for the LLRV. To use this refueling station you will need to guide the LLRV into the framework and push the top switch of the two located on the lower right side of the panel. This will bring the refueling unit towards the aircraft. Once it is in position, you can use the bottom switch to add fuel. When complete, just hit the top switch again and the refueling unit will push away from the LLRV.
Since the city is so large, both horizontally and vertically, you may think that it would look a little out of place when just flying by. But because of its close proximity to the Kennedy Space Center, it really fits in quite well. And if you ever get lost at sea, you can always look for the enormous lunar landing sight to find your way home.
The Story Line (as taken from the Lunar Pilot preview video)
Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to fly to Spaceville to take part in a lunar landing test flight. You may choose to depart Craig Municipal Airport in Jacksonville, Patrick Air Force Base in Cocoa Beach, or Cape Canaveral.
Regardless of where you begin, you will be using the P-51 Mustang to get to Spaceville. The Craig flight will require you to negotiate strong winds in stormy weather. The other two flights have moderate weather conditions and take place during the afternoon and at dusk respectively.
Once you land safely at Sheppard Intl. Airport in Spaceville, it is time to board the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle. Now you must navigate your way through the towering buildings and into the lunar landing test sight. This task is not as easy as it may seem, in large part because the LLRV takes time and patience to master. After a successful landing on the moon set in the large NADA building in the center of town, it is time to work your way back to the landing pad just south of the airport. Land the LLRV safely on the pad and you have completed your mission.
Just because you’ve completed your mission, it doesn’t mean that the fun has to stop their. You can replay the mission from any departure airfield of your choosing. And you do not have to use the LLRV just in Spaceville. There are a number of locations throughout the world that would be fun to explore with this craft. In addition to this, Sheppard Intl. airport welcomes any aircraft you have in your fleet, assuming you can land it.
All of the flights can be accessed through the Flight Sim “select a flight” menu under the heading of “Lunar Pilot”. You can also visit Spaceville by entering Sheppard Intl. in the “create a flight” menu in the airport directory. It is also available under the ICAO code KNAD, or under the location listings as “Spaceville”.
Putting It All Together
You’ve seen the P-51, you’ve seen the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle, and you’ve seen Spaceville. Now let’s put them all together and take a flight, or two. Since I am from Jacksonville, I have selected the flight from Craig Municipal Airport (KCRG) to Sheppard Intl. Airport in Spaceville. The sun is just barely peaking over the horizon on this cool autumn morning as I perform my pre-flight inspection in the P-51. Everything looks good, so with clearance to taxi, I am on my way to the runway. Of course I got stuck behind some Sunday drivers, but eventually I made it to the runway, received clearance for takeoff, and was on my way.
It didn’t take long before the clear sunny morning turned into a dark overcast with some hectic winds. The closer I got to Spaceville, the worse the weather became. By the time I reached Daytona, the weather had become so foul that I decided to take a fuel brake at Daytona Beach Intl. I still have a full tank of gas, but I needed a reason to get out of the weather for a while. Eventually, the clouds broke open and let a little sunlight through and I was on my way again. Unfortunately it looks like someone was playing a trick on me, because by the time I got to cruising altitude, the storms were setting in worse then before. With a whole new respect for Mother Nature, I decided to keep pressing on and it wasn’t long before I found myself just outside of Spaceville.
I made it, or so I thought. With the sky dark and gloomy, rain blasting against the windshield, and winds tossing the aircraft around like a canoe in a tidal wave, I now had to find a way to navigate through the towering buildings to find Sheppard Intl. Airport. You would think that the GPS would be helpful, but even the GPS can’t keep up with a plane trying to negotiate hurricane type winds. Fortunately, I caught a glimpse of the runway and was able to keep my composure long enough for a go-around. After a brief tour of the city, I was finally lined up with the runway and ready to land. Staying lined up was an issue, but I made it nonetheless. Now I can park and go to the next flight which will put me in the Lunar Landing Vehicle. Maybe I’ll wait for the clouds to clear up a little first.
Tired of waiting, I moved on to the next leg of the flight. I was happy to find out that when I loaded the next flight, the weather was no longer a factor. It’s a good thing that the winds are gone, because the Lunar Landing Vehicle is enough of a challenge in calm skies. The object here is to depart the landing pad and make my way to the Lunar Landing test sight. This is not as easy as it may seem though. First you have to learn to control this vehicle, which is quite different than anything else I have ever flown. To learn this beast before I enter the test sight I will take a tour of the city now that I can see it a little better in the daylight.
After getting some close-ups
of the buildings and Sheppard Intl. I decided it was time to go inside the
biggest building of them all. This monstrous
building houses the lunar landing test sight which is basically a platform
the surface of the moon. To enter the building I must first approach
the only access point and hover while the door sloooowly opens. Doing that
practice. Once the door opens I can enter and fly freely around the building.
Now it’s time to try landing this craft. Landing on a flat surface is one
thing, but trying to do it on the moon is a whole different story. But, after
several attempts, I finally made it to a fairly level surface and was able to
set it down safely…well, let’s just say that nobody got hurt.
Speaking of getting home, I have my P-51 waiting for me with a full tank of gas. I hopped back in my plane and was on my way back to Jacksonville. This time the weather was much more polite, and I made it back in record time. And that was after stopping to look at the palm trees and pick up some oranges.
So what can I say about a flight like this? I know that I will never get to do it in real life, but I never imagined doing it in Flight Sim either. Sure, anyone can fly a P-51 around, but how many have ever hopped in a lunar craft and landed on the moon? And there is no reason why you can’t change up the routine a little and perhaps try landing a helicopter at the test sight. Or maybe you could see if you can get your 747 into Sheppard Intl.
Another neat utility included with this program is called the Lunar Cam, which you may know better as FS Camera. This program runs outside of flight simulator providing for the default tower view to become an airport, approach, and fly-by view instead.
The program is accessible through the FS9 main directory and allows you to change the settings of the camera before or during a flight. You can adjust the camera settings distance, start angle, height, reaction to banking, longitudinal offset to the touchdown point, and much more. You can play with the settings until you have it just right or you can use the default settings, which were used for many of the screenshots in this review. The Lunar Pilot manual contains a section discussing the Lunar Cam, and will help you to get started.
Let's Sum It All Up
At this point you have seen everything that this program has to offer and may be considering whether or not it is worth the $34.95. Personally, I would define the price tag as reasonable given the current market rate of payware add-ons. You could easily pay the same price for just one aircraft. But in this case, you are actually getting a Lunar Landing Vehicle, which is of the highest quality, and a P-51 which is of satisfactory quality for payware. Add this to the Spaceville scenery area with Sheppard Intl. Airport and the lunar landing sight, all of which are also of the highest quality, and I would say that you’re getting a pretty good deal.
But it is every reviewer’s job to mention the ups and downs of each product. And despite my complete satisfaction with Lunar Pilot, there are two somewhat minor problems that should be discussed. First, I can pretty much guarantee that you will notice a significant frame rate drop around Spaceville if you have your display settings at 80% or above. Fortunately, Spaceville does not require you to have your display settings very high in order to enjoy the full detail of the city. Anything in the medium low to medium high range will provide for a good compromise between the frame rates and scenic detail. The P-51 and Lunar Craft did not have any impact on my frame rates outside of Spaceville whatsoever.
The other problem is the error message that you will see when exiting Flight Sim. This is the message that says “Microsoft Flight Simulator has encountered a problem and must close”, and then it gives you the option to restart the game if you wish. Since the error only occurs when you exit the game, it is really nothing more than an irritation. The help file included with the program touches on this issue a bit more, but from what I have gathered there is no fix currently available. Though I have not independently confirmed that it this only takes place when flying around Spaceville, I have never received the error message in any other circumstance.
And that just about does it for the negatives, so on to the positives we go. First, I would define this package as being of fantastic quality, capable of outliving the current technological cycle of Flight Sim add-ons for quite a while to come. By this, I am referring to the fact that what you may consider “bar raising” today, will likely be average in a few months. But with Lunar Pilot I have seen a level of detail in the Lunar Craft and the Spaceville scenery that I can’t imagine becoming less than stunning even after the next Flight Sim is released. It is still far too early to comment on the compatibility with the FSX.
Another plus, for me at least, is the way that the program differentiates from the normal routine of Flight Sim. I found it refreshing to fly a Lunar Craft through a futuristic city, into a building, and land on the moon. It’s certainly a far cry from flying a Cessna around town. Plus, I enjoy the fact that the city of Spaceville is not an eye sore when you are just flying by. Because of its close proximity to Cape Canaveral, it doesn’t really seem too far out of place. And if you ever get tired of flying your Lunar Craft, you’ve always got a nice P-51 which would look good in any collection.
all of this said, I would have to definitely recommend this package for anyone
looking to take Flight Sim to the next level. In fact,
I can’t imagine
anyone not finding something about this product that they would enjoy.
I am hopeful that there will be many more products in the future that will
allow you to take
Flight Sim in this direction. As for the clichés, well I would
give it the traditional two thumbs up, and yes, I would even call it
a must have. But
given the general theme of this product, I will just say that it is
out of this world.
|What I Like About Lunar Pilot|
|What I Don't Like About Lunar Pilot|
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