Over the last few months, I have been reintroduced to the world of an aviator during WW1. It all started with the release of Flyboys on DVD. Though the movie itself was nothing more than glorified love story of a WW1 aviator trying to cope with the decisions he has made in his life, I found that the aerial scenes were rather good. Seeing this movie took me back to the early days of Flight Simulation, remember Red Baron? I do, this was probably one of my all time favorite combat simulations ever released for the home computer and after watching the movie, I needed a fix.
After looking around a bit, I managed to find a demo of a game created in the image of the Flyboys movie, after trying the demo though, I quickly uninstalled it! My next step was to look at the Over Flanders Field series for CFS3. Well, let’s just say I don’t get along with CFS3 all that well and was eventually forced to just remove it from my computer. But lastly, I managed to find, totally by accident, Eagles First by Thirdwire Productions; you know the guys? The ones that did Strike Fighters, Wings Over Vietnam etc. I ultimately made the decision to buy it online and I was on my way to flying WW1 aircraft over the front.
The First aircraft I flew in Eagles First was the SE5A and it quickly became my favorite. I was flying over the war torn skies of Europe and was on my way to being a self proclaimed ace!
After finding Eagles First and spending quite a few hours with it, I was immediately drawn to one of Alphasim’s latest add-ons, the SE5A and its additional scenery package for MSFS, and I wondered could this give me a more realistic look at days gone by? So, today we hop aboard the SE5A from Alphasim in an attempt to cure a fix that needs fixing.
The Real SE5
In total, there were over 5,000 SE5A’s built during the course of WW1 and they were built by six different manufactures, but the first series of SE5’s were inherently unstable. The initial two prototypes were built and designed by Henry P Folland, J. Kenworthy and FW. Goodden (FW. Goodden lost his life in one of the prototypes when the wing structure failed) in 1916. These were lost in crashes due to an undetected weakness in the aircrafts wings. In the third prototype, this weakness was corrected as well as a problem with the aircraft's engine and the SE5 was well on its way to becoming the SE5A.
The Royal Aircraft Factory SE5 was introduced to the military in March of 1917 and only a month later did it make it to the front to see action. Ultimately, the SE5A entered service in June of that year and the plane was being flown by many of the popular aces of that time; Albert Ball originally didn’t care for the SE5A, but ultimately scored 17 kills with his. The aircraft saw major action during that summer and was instrumental in regaining air superiority for the allied forces during that time.
The real SE5A flew at a top speed of a 138 MPH with a maximum range of 300 miles and a service ceiling of 17,000 feet. The plane was equipped with 2 guns, one being a Lewis gun on the upper wing and the other being a forward firing Vickers machine gun with interrupting gear that allowed the gun to be fired in synchronization with the moving propeller.
If you look hard enough, you can still find SE5A’s flying today. In fact, a quick Google search revealed the restoration of one such aircraft as well as another site that listed an actual pilot report dating back to WW1 about flying the SE5A.
The SE5A From Alphasim
From the skies of WW1 comes the SE5A to our virtual skies of flight simulator. This time around you are placed in the seat of an old single engine bi-plane made of wood and cloth. The Alphasim SE5 is a virtual treat as it is nicely detailed with all of the traditional moving parts as well as an exceptionally detailed exterior model. Designed for both FS9 and FSX, I again found myself at the mercy of FS9 and Golden Wings as I wanted a relatively true-to-world and time feel for this aircraft and Golden Wings simply fits that bill.
Once installed, you will find a total of four different variations of the SE5A. In total there are three Royal Air Force liveries and one American livery that are all modeled after real world squadrons of that time. I am also sure if you look hard enough there will soon be more liveries available via the web on your favorite simulation websites.
The SE5A looks great in both sims, though you will find that the FSX version of the SE5 was created using some of FSX’s effects and lighting. So with the realistic shadowing, the SE5 does look great in FSX and it really performs there as well. I spent a good deal of time trying the FSX version and found that I really enjoyed it, its slow pace and easy on frame rates made this a wonderful choice when just doing a some VFR flying over MegaScenery’s recently released Phoenix add-on.
The SE5A from Alphasim also has a nice variety of effects, from takeoff to landing you will notice things like a functioning exhaust system with smoke effects and flame effects coming from the engines. There is also a nicely done damage model. If you come in too fast and crash on landing or wipe out on takeoff, the plane will actually break. In my case, I was coming in for a landing too fast and I managed to collapse the undercarriage of the plane, thus ending my career as an SE5A pilot; quick, fast and in a hurry.
I really can’t draw any real comparisons between the two because I simply don’t know how the SE5 performed back in its day, though it was known for its maneuverability and speed. The SE5 from Alphasim does require a lot of stick management and seems to require a lot of rudder control in its turns. Trying to fly the plane strictly from that of the flight stick creates some instability when trying to put the plane into a turn, which is what I believe is how it would have been in real life as with any plane for that matter.
Putting the aircraft through its paces was also quite enjoyable and I took what I learned from First Eagles and tried to implement those maneuvers into the SE5A from Alphasim, some were achievable and some weren’t. One of the maneuvers that I enjoy from First Eagles and usually scores me a kill, is when I have an enemy on my tail I pull back on the stick and apply full power. At the top of the climb and just before the plane stalls, I apply full right rudder and the aircraft spins on its axis and drops itself right behind the stalling enemy bogey. If you are quick enough to recover the aircraft and get your guns on the prey, you can score a kill.
Now, with the SE5A from Alphasim I find that when I try to implement that maneuver, the plane usually ends up spinning uncontrollably and I usually end up crashing. Which one is more realistic? Well, that is only for the SE5 experts to know and those types of maneuvers are not required in Flight Simulator as there are no enemy planes to go after, but it’s still fun trying!
I find that aircraft like the SE5A just fascinate me, as you really have to take question to the type of man that would fly one of these planes and to do the things that we have seen and read about in books and movies. It truly was a time of change and adventure and this aircraft reflects the courage of the men who used to fly them and it is paramount that the Alphasim SE5A cockpit reflect that.
Seen as advanced for its time, the SE5A cockpit is a journey into a different time and place. The panel is made of wood and the seating looks rather uncomfortable. As you climb in, you find yourself in awe at the overall simplicity of what was considered new and advanced during the days of WW1. The single mounted Lewis machine gun sits atop the wing and a set of very basic instruments adorn the cockpit. There is no GPS or advanced avionics, just the ones needed to monitor things like the engines RPM, speed and a compass.
The Alphasim SE5’s cockpit is available in both 2D or virtual, though I recommend that you fly this one from the virtual cockpit, the 2D panel is adequate and serves what little purpose it is needed for. If you have a Track IR this is the plane for you; you will literally feel the wind in your face as you fire up the Suiza engine. Maybe I should turn that table fan off, huh?
Seated in the cockpit, you will find that all of the levers and switches are clickable, though unfortunately none of them make any noise. This was a welcome change, as you don’t find yourself having to switch back and forth between the 2D and the VC views to make adjustments to the plane during your flight.
The sound that accompanies the SE5A is pretty good and serves its purpose for this type of aircraft; from engine startup to shutdown you can literally feel the aircraft. My only complaint about the sound is that there are no overstress sounds. Again, I am going to compare this with my experience with First Eagles. In First Eagles, you can get a feel for the aircraft when it is becoming overstressed simply by the sounds it makes and that would have been a nice feature in the Alphasim version.
Hearing the sound versus feeling the sound was a big selling point for me. Initially, I used the SE5A with my new speaker setup, I use an Altec Lansing system, and I was somewhat disappointed as I didn’t really feel like I was there as the sound didn’t put me in the cockpit. I am not saying the sound wasn’t good, it just didn’t grab me.
After looking for a good quality headset, I settled for the eDimensional Audio FX Headset and I have to tell you the difference for me was the difference between light and day as you just hear more. The intricacies of each individual sound file stand out more when it’s right there on your head rather than being pumped out through speakers into your room and the SE5A sound set did not disappoint with this type of setup.
Western Front Scenery
The scenery package from Alphasim was a little disappointing for me, as when I read the title it said Western Front. From that I assumed that it would include some portion of the actual war front to fly over, this was in error and I was left flying around aimlessly looking for more than just the airfield.
In reality, it only includes the airfield along with several AI aircraft that fly about the surrounding airspace. The airfield itself is nicely detailed and does offer a nice base of operations as it is littered with WW1 era style buildings, vehicles, planes and tents for the bases personnel. Unfortunately, there are no personnel or 3D animated objects except for the AI traffic. What I would have liked to have seen here would have been effects like smoke coming from the chimneys of the buildings and just more activity. It seems all to quiet for an Aerodrome during WW 1!
Once you have installed the scenery, there is a note in the readme file that the airport is listed as Western Front. No it's not. In reality, it is the Abbeville Aerodrome and exists in the same location as that of Abbeville of present time. This was really confusing, simply because I spent a good deal of time trying to figure where it was and I was finally able to locate a Flight file that was installed with the SE5 that placed me on the field and that is how I figured out where it was.
Taking off or flying into the Abbeville Aerodrome can be a bit tricky as I found out on several occasions during takeoff. If you are not paying attention, there are several large craters in the middle of the field and you can find yourself smashing into them rather unexpectedly. You must also watch out for other incoming and outgoing aircraft, or just simply remember to look over the side of the plane as you throttle up, because there just might be a building out in front of you.
For me, the choice of simulations, as far as the scenery is concerned, has to be that of FS9 and Golden Wings. The FSX version doesn’t do a whole lot for me as the actual airstrip is still visible through the grass field and the craters are nowhere to be seen, but for those of you with only FSX, it will fit the bill. The only other problem is that you are flying in a modern world instead of the Golden Age of Flight and in my opinion, that is where these two add-ons really do belong.
In The End
Alphasim aircraft, helicopters and scenery are just getting better and better. Every time I see a new release, I am awestruck at the level of detail and quality that they offer. I have been buying from Alphasim since FS9 was released and I have never been let down as they offer excellent support and a great product and it was only fitting that they offered up the SE5A!
Is the SE5A worth its price tag? Yes, if you are into the era of flight this aircraft represents. How about the scenery? Well, that is a whole other issue and I would have to say that it is worth it if you absolutely have to have a WW1 style airbase. If you have Golden Wings with FS9, then yes, a whole hearted yes! But, if you fly in the modern world, the airfield really won’t fit in; at least it didn’t for me when it came to FSX.
The plane itself costs $22.27 and the scenery rounds out at $13.36. If you look at it that you are spending $30 for a well crafted add-on for both FSX and FS9 you are getting a pretty good deal when compared to some other titles out on the market and with Alphasim's tradition of good quality add-ons, you really can’t go wrong.
What I Like About The SE5A & The Western Front
What I Don't Like About The SE5A & The Western Front
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