The F/A-18 Hornet is one of the most versatile and successful fighters of all time. The F/A-18’s roots can be traced back to the USAF LFX (Light Fighter Experimental) fly off. The Lockheed Martin YF-16 beat out the Northrop YF-17 in the contest to become the USAF’s next light fighter, but the USN saw potential in the YF-17’s design.
After some tweaks and changes in the design, Northrop, aided by McDonnell Douglas, further developed the YF-17 into what eventually became the F/A-18A Hornet. The TF/A-18 training version became the F/A-18B Hornet. A major block (avionics) upgrade in 1987 saw the creation of the F/A-18C (Improved-A model) and the F/A-18D (Improved-B model) Hornets. The F/A-18 is one of the world’s most desirable combat aircraft as it can change its mission from Air-Air to Air-Ground with the flick of a switch. With the retiring of all F-14 Tomcats and the introduction of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, the F/A-18’s future looks very bright.
The F-117 Nighthawk was the world’s first combat stealth aircraft. The F-117’s story begins with the awarding of a contract to develop a stealthy aircraft for the USAF to Lockheed’s famous Skunk Works in 1973. The first similar stealth aircraft was the 60% scale proof of concept aircraft known only as “Have Blue”.
In 1979, the first F-117 was completed and made its first test flight. The F-117 went operational in October of 1983 with the last of the 59 aircraft delivered in 1990. The existence of the F-117 was completely denied by the Air Force until 1988, when a very low quality photograph was released to the public. The first time the F-117 saw combat was in 1989 when two were sent to bomb a Panamanian military installation.
The F-117’s true test was in the skies over Baghdad in 1990 during the first Gulf War. The F-117’s only combat loss came in the 1999 Yugoslavian conflict where one was shot down by an SA-3 Surface to Air Missile, the pilot survived. The future of the F-117 is rather bleak. With the introduction of the B-2 Spirit and the recent activation of the F/A-22 Raptor, the F-117’s days are numbered. The entire fleet is scheduled to be retired in 2008.
Installation and Documentation
Download and Installation of the X-Load package couldn’t have been any easier. All that it required was to download the file (9.77MB) and run the .exe installer file. The installer file required the product activation number and after inputting the number, X-Load was completely installed in less than 2 minutes.
The documentation for X-Load is a separate download available from the Captain Sim website. The manual is 10 pages in length and covers specifications, installation, missions, customer service, and one section on each aircraft. The manual also includes links to the free livery page on Captain Sim’s website.
After my first two flights with XLoad (one with each aircraft) I was both amazed and unpleasantly surprised at a few aspects of the package. First, I was impressed by the overall quality of the exterior models and custom animations. But I was disappointed at how much the aircraft had in common with the default F/A-18 Hornet that is included with Acceleration (and I am not just referring to XLoad’s F/A-18, but the F-117 as well). Though I was disappointed by some of the negative aspects of XLoad’s planes, I was still quite satisfied with the overall quality of the package.
Interior (Both Aircraft):
For those of you who have flown the Acceleration F/A-18, I suggest you skip the entire interior section of the review, as the VC is exactly the same as the one from the Acceleration aircraft. For those of you who have not flown the Acceleration F/A-18, I will start by telling you that it is, without competition, the best military VC that I have ever flown!
There are so many 3D features (you can tell that the entire fuel panel and the analogue backup gauges are modeled in 3D) including gauges, switches, knobs and handles that this VC provides an experience that is nearly life like, without the g-forces of course! Even the annunciator panel lights are modeled in 3D!
The VC also has an authentic “used” look with paint chipped away and a bit of dirt here and there that adds to the realism immensely. The flight controls move through their entire range of motion and most of the switches are clickable. A few problems that I had with the VC are that the gauges become quite difficult, if not impossible to read, when I zoom out for a broader view on landing, and when I open the refueling port on the F-117, I see the Navy probe from the F/A-18 from the VC instead.
Exterior Model (F/A-18D):
The normal exterior model of the F/A-18D improves only slightly over the F/A-18 from Acceleration, but there was nothing wrong with the Microsoft/Aces model in the first place. The “Bug’s” unique shape and configuration are well represented by the exterior model with an attention to detail that is matched by the support crew for the USN Blue Angels!
The F/A-18 from CaptainSim includes numerous custom animations that are not included on the default F/A-18. These animations include: Opening Radome (Visible in the VC), Moving and Sweeping Radar Dish, Extending Refueling Probe(Visible in the VC), Gun Loading Port (with 3D Bullets), Crew Boarding Ladder, Opening Canopy(also visible in the VC), Pitot Tube Covers, Engine Intake and Nozzle Covers, Wheel Chocks, Folding Wings, Custom Loadouts (using the loadout 2D panel), as well as the standard flaps, ailerons, elevators, speed brake, and the paraphernalia for carrier landings (Hook, Launch Bar).
Exterior Model (F-117):
The exterior model of the F-117 is the finest F-117 model that I have ever seen. The attention to detail was quite surprising given the disappointing interior. The model accurately represents the real mccoy’s angular, faceted, UFO-like shape. The wings have the ultra stealthy triple faceted surface and the “shoulders” (area where the engines are buried) are quite accurate.
After comparing the CaptainSim F-117 to the real Nighthawk, one of the things that impressed me the most was the accuracy of the extremely complex radar reflecting angles and shapes that allow the F-117 to penetrate airspace undetected. Just like the F/A-18, the F-117 has many fun features to be used both in the air and on the tarmac.
This eye candy includes: Opening Canopy, Auxiliary Air Intakes, Pitot Covers, Refueling Receiver, Wheel Chocks, Drag Chute, Configurable Weapons, Opening weapon doors, as well as moving flight controls and aircraft carrier paraphernalia.
As far as the 2D panel goes, there is a lot to be desired. The “Main Panel” of the 2D cockpit is nothing but a full screen version of the information projected onto the HUD. I think that with the amount of attention the Virtual Cockpit received, the 2D panel should include more of the instruments that a real F/A-18 has. In 2D mode, it is impossible to access any of the radios, switches, or even backup flight instruments!
The highlights of the 2D panel are the two sub-panels that CaptainSim includes to control the exterior features (animations and Weapons). The exterior control interfaces are easy to use and are a great addition to this add-on!
As a fan of the USN Blue Angels, I have been fortunate enough to hear the raw power put out by the F404 engines of the real F/A-18. However, an accurate comparison is difficult as the jets come by so fast that it is difficult to get a real feel for their sound. I was able to research the sounds of the Hornet using video resources that I have bought or shot myself. The sounds in both aircraft are the same that are used in the “default” F/A-18 from Acceleration. The sounds seem to be accurate from both inside and outside of the plane, with the exception of close in airshow style passes near the tower.
The biggest problem with the sounds of this pack is shared my many of the other X-Load components, and that is that the sound is used for both aircraft. I find it unrealistic that I can be flying a “mission” with the F-117 with the ‘burners cooking. (The F-117 does not have afterburners).
The F-117 has a different engine than the F/A-18 and it is also designed to be stealthy in all respects, and that includes reducing the acoustic and infrared emissions of the engines. The many steps taken to reduce heat and noise (most of which are classified) make the turbines sound vastly different than those of the F/A-18.
As you have probably guessed, I do not have any time in a real F/A-18; however I have been fortunate enough to spend time in a full cockpit simulator for a CF-18 (Canadian Hornet) on a family vacation to the Toronto area. I will confirm that the X-Load F/A-18 is quite similar in flight characteristics to the simulator that I flew.
The only problem with the airfile of the Hornet is the unrealistic behavior of the aircraft while landing, especially on a carrier. I have never seen a proper carrier landing end with the plane’s nose scraping the ground as it slides sideways down the deck after catching the 3-wire. The planes seem to slide sideways down the runway no matter what I do to correct any deviations from the center line. I am not satisfied with the landing behavior of either aircraft, but all other aspects of the F/A-18’s flight envelope are properly set up and executed.
The X-Load F-117’s flight envelope is a little bit wider than that of the real F-117. I found the flight dynamics to be acceptable in the speed range of 200-650 KIAS. Below 200KIAS, the F-117 exhibits the Wobblin-Goblin handling that the real F-117 is rumored to have. (The real F-117 does NOT handle as such because of its advanced fly-by-wire handling software. It is said that it is one of the friendliest flying aircraft in the Air Force’s inventory and mimics the A-7’s flight handling.)
The F-117’s shape and wing structure does make for difficult low speed flight, though is it not dangerous. The F-117 lands at a high speed and needs a drag parachute to slow down on most runways. The F-117 shares the landing issue with the F/A-18. (see the description above) The last problem that I have with the F-117’s airfile is that the plane is allowed to exceed the speed of sound, which it cannot do in real life. The first time I went that fast I had to look twice, as it is unheard of for an F-117 to go supersonic.
Summary / Closing Remarks
Despite the problems that X-Load has, it is still an excellent package and a great value. I would not suggest this package for anyone who has a tough time flying the Acceleration F/A-18 though, as I believe that the three planes share the same airfile. The pros of the X-Load package outweigh the cons in my opinion, but I will let you form you own opinion about whether X-Load would be for you.
The highlights of X-Load are definitely the model files and the VC. (Even though it is for the wrong plane) The worst parts of X-Load are the landing behavior of the planes, and the lack of a 2D cockpit that will be a turn-off for some pilots, mostly those flying with lower end systems.
What I Like About XLoad
What I Don't Like About XLoad
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