‘Whoa, those are MiG-28s…no-ones been this close before’, cries a younger Anthony Edwards as a pair of ominous looking all-black jets streak by. Okay sure, to the hardened spotter, the 1988 film Top Gun might be considered nothing short of heretical in it’s proclamation of a non-existent mark of ‘MiG’, but to ‘Joe Public’ the F-5, with its sleek lines, and soviet-style red star, was a perfect pseudo bad guy.
The United States Navy had come to the very same conclusion in the 1970's when it adopted the F-5E as ‘bandit of choice’ for its Opposing Forces ‘aggressor’ squadrons in the dissimilar training role. The F-5E was considered well suited as an aggressor aircraft due to performance similarities with the MiG-21, and it is in this role that the F-5E is perhaps most associated.
The family lineage can be traced back to the late 1950's and early 1960's when a requirement for a low-cost, low-maintenance supersonic fighter for overseas export to U.S. allies existed. The design for the F-5A Freedom Fighter emerged from the Northrop drawing boards in 1962, with orders for some 636 aircraft received from 1964 until production ceased in 1972. The United States Air Force flirted with the F-5 for a while, with the type being operationally evaluated in Vietnam in the mid-60's. However, operational requirements for a light-weight fighter were limited with the USAF preferring to place their efforts in finding a training role for the aircraft, which it did successfully with the two-seat T-38 Talon variant of the airframe.
Overseas customers embraced the F-5A, which led to the development and emergence of a second generation F-5. The ‘E’ model, or Tiger II, saw some structural changes with an enlarged fuselage and wing area, though the main advances were made in upgraded avionics, particularly the radar.
The F-5/T-38 family has received a fair amount of attention from both payware and freeware camps, so I was particularly interested to see what AlphaSim, a well-known and prolific developer of military hardware add-ons, brought to the party with their latest offering, the F-5E Tiger II.
Installation and Documentation
The aircraft is available for both FS9 and FSX at a cost of £16/€21/$32, with both purchase and download from the AlphaSim website being a straight-forward affair. The files are a little over 70mb so you can expect prompt download times with a standard broadband connection.
There is no automatic installer (.exe file) included, so the installation process involves moving the necessary files from the ‘SimObjects’ and ‘Effects’ folders to the corresponding folders within FSX. Whilst it would have been nice to have the process automated, the practice of moving files across should be familiar to most and is, in this case, a quick and simple procedure.
The package includes nine aircraft in a variety of liveries and load outs, all of which have been very nicely done. The potent looking USN Aggressor variant and the striking red and white scheme of the Patrouille Swiss being particularly impressive.
The aircraft looks very striking sitting on the ramp in preparation for the walk-a-round. The external model is the real highlight of this product, taking advantage of bump mapping, self-shadowing and bloom effect. The chrome effect finish on the engine exhaust is a real treat and is further enhanced by the compatibility with DX10. I flew with the ‘DX10 preview’ box enabled for this review and experienced no adverse issues relating to the aircraft.
All animations are nicely modeled and include canopy and airbrake operation. The effects are well done and include afterburner, engine smoke, wing-tip vortices and tyre smoke on touchdown. Bringing in the afterburner progressively on the take-off roll will reward you with an impressive light and flicker effect.
Performance is very good, with frame rates remaining consistently high throughout the test. Whilst the test was performed on a fairly high-end rig, I would imagine that performance would be broadly similar to the default aircraft even on older systems. If you run default FSX aircraft okay, the Tiger shouldn’t present any issues.
Taming the Tiger
The aircraft accelerates well, but at high take-off weights you’ll find it difficult to get any elevator authority to lift the nose anything much before 130KIAS, which results in a fairly aggressive rotation to tempt the jet into the air. At lighter weights, it becomes a little easier to lift the nose early and allow the jet to fly itself off the runway. The aircraft climbs quickly and you need to be prompt in ‘cleaning up’ if you’ve maintained full afterburner. After experimenting a little, my preferred technique was to initially apply full afterburner during the take-off roll, then coming back to full military dry thrust shortly after rotating. This results in a good and manageable climb profile.
Climbing to a suitable altitude for some initial general handling work, the Tiger revealed itself to be fairly benign, producing more than a few wide smiles as I rolled the jet amid the myriad of clouds holding station above my chosen test area.
General handling characteristics are broadly similar to a number of military fast jet add-ons I have flown. There are no particular ‘gotchas’ waiting to catch you out, though the relatively high power-to-weight ratio does necessitate a fair degree of care and attention if you want to fly this jet accurately. Many supersonic jets of this era have a super-critical wing to optimize supersonic flight and so tend to be less than forgiving at the lower end of the speed range, such as is encountered during the approach and landing phase.
The Tiger is no different in this respect; approaches, particularly at high landing weights, are flown at high alpha (angle of attack), and care must be taken to stay the right side of the drag curve. That said, the approach presents no real difficultly once reference speeds are established. Slowing down is another matter, which is nice to see.
In contrast to some of the default aircraft, the brakes are not overly effective which will mean you’ll need enough space to accommodate the more realistic prolonged landing roll. The absence of a brake chute will be noticeable the first time you land the Tiger with the runway stop-end lights approaching faster than you’re perhaps used to.
The Tiger should be a popular choice for use in the multiplayer arena, with a fairly convincing simulated ACM (Air Combat Maneuvers) profile possible with this jet. The absence of [simulated] high stick forces, particularly in pitch during high energy maneuvering, is a concern for these sorts of sorties, as an abrupt pull will typically result in very strange behavior (not convincing enough to be an accelerated or high speed stall). This is a common issue with high performance military jet add-ons and suggests the root cause is a limitation within the physics algorithms deep within Flight Simulator, rather than an issue specific to the Tiger.
The Virtual Cockpit
(VC) is a nice place to spend some time maneuvering among the clouds or dropping
down for some fast ‘nap of the Earth’ low-level
mud-moving, but is not a fully functioning interface where ‘everything
does something’. To be honest, you’ll find the basic functionality
is there, and that may be enough for the sort of flying most will do in this
jet. Something like Track IR is ideally mated to the F-5E Tiger II.
The representation of the General Electric J85 turbojet appears well thought out with this sound set. The transition from the predominant and distinctive whine of the compressor to the throaty roar of the engine in afterburner is convincing, whilst the more ‘standard’ gear and flap sounds are less obvious as to their contribution to the overall experience.
Flying the Tiger is rewarding throughout most aspects of the flight envelope. Most (myself included) will have no stick time in a real F-5, though in general, it would be fair to say that the airfile delivers broadly what you would expect of such an aircraft. There are perhaps issues as you approach some of the more extreme regimes of flight, such as making the aircraft depart [from controlled flight] in any realistic fashion. Stick the F-5 on its tail, for instance, and despite a lengthy protestation, gravity will start to claw back the fight. However, once the aircraft’s speed decays there is a noticeable lack of any tendency for the aircraft to depart.
Despite these anomalies, the flight model should prove adequate for most phases of flight. Flying the circuit brings out the best in the airfile, as you have a nice challenge of staying above the drag curve on a high alpha, high power profile. Overall, the flight model is sound.
Summary / Closing Remarks
This release is very much of the ‘kick the tyres and light the fires’ mould. That is to say, one can quite easily load up the aircraft on the runway at your home airfield (assuming you have a long enough runway), firewall the throttle and zoom climb up into the heavens. Now, this is either a good thing or a bad thing, and it will largely depend in the kind of simming you have a preference for.
Some will likely pour scorn on such a practice, preferring always to start ‘cold and dark’, bringing the systems on line one by one, keeping it ‘as real as it gets’. In truth, I’m probably one of those types. However, that didn’t stop me enjoying the F-5E, and I have a feeling that the Tiger may attract a loyal following.
How does it compare to other fast jet add-ons on the market? Well, the Tiger doesn’t break any new ground, but then it doesn’t really make claim to either. It does stick to a tried and tested formula that appeals to a fair portion of the flight simulation community, and therein its value lies. Despite reservations about the fidelity of the flight model, the F-5E Tiger II is a nice addition to the hanger.
What I Like About The F-5E Tiger II
What I Don't Like About The F-5E Tiger II
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