Let me take you back to an era when governments and media hype had us all believing that an East against West, all-out nuclear war was just around the corner. This 40 year period in modern history has been called ‘The Cold War’, a war that thankfully did not occur, at least not in the way many pundits had predicted. During this period, weapon developments carried on at a break-neck pace with NATO in the West and the Warsaw Pact countries of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union forever trying to have the upper hand. The aircraft featured in this review are typical of this ‘arms race’ and had the Cold War turned hot during the 1960s, they may well have met in combat. Thankfully, that never happened; not least because the graceful Avro CF-105 Arrow was cancelled in a controversial (political) manner, too complicated to get into for the purpose of this review.
The Tu-22 (first called by NATO analysts ‘Bullshot’, which was deemed ‘inappropriate’, then 'Beauty,' which was felt to be too ‘complimentary’, and finally 'Blinder) did make it into service (the Soviet Union never really had to cancel anything for political reasons!) and served as a supersonic bomber and ECM aircraft for many years. This long service was not without controversy however; its advanced shape caused numerous stability problems which led to a loss rate not dissimilar to the F-104 Starfighter. Flown in anger by export customers like Iraq and Libya, the TU-22 now appears to have been retired by all its operators.
The Avro Arrow however, (designed as a missile equipped heavy interceptor) is widely thought (along with the British TSR-2) to be one of the finest projects sent to the scrap yard without a fair trial. With its demise, the Canadian military aviation industry virtually collapsed and its loss is still much lamented in Canada. Without this axe falling, it would not be hard to imagine the Arrow serving for many years with both the RCAF and several export countries that may even have included the USAF and the RAF.
So what have those doyens of military aviation, AlphaSim, made of these two futuristic looking Cold War rocket ships?
Purchasing and Installation
Buying AlphaSim aircraft is reasonably straightforward. Initially you need to create an account for yourself; this makes any future purchases easier and any fixes or updates will be made available to you via this account. After inputting your card details on their secure site, you are given a password and download code which you then take to the site’s download area (please write these codes down on paper, just to be on the safe side) to retrieve your purchase.
Once this has been done, you should download both files into your download folder (one for FS2004 and one for FSX). Texture artists will appreciate the master texture files, normally offered, on these download pages. Even if you do not yet own FSX, it is best to get the aircraft now and save it to a CD as AlphaSim only allows three downloads of each file in total. The files are standard zip files that need to be unzipped straight into the root FS2004 or FSX folders.
Simple it may be, but (as I have said before) I would have preferred an automatic install option, as many people still find any file management a little intimidating. For an experienced FS user, the purchase and installation was perfectly simple and straightforward. The TU-22 is 24MB (FS9) or 35MB (FSX) and the CF-105 weighs in at 36MB for each simulator version. These sizes of files are fine for broadband users and should just about be acceptable to potential customers, still using a dial-up connection.
Rather fittingly in alphabetical order, I loaded up the CF-105 Arrow in FS9 first, and was quite surprised to discover a rather basic looking model; not dissimilar to the AlphaSim models of two or three years ago. A little internet investigation told me (at least externally) the modeling team had in fact done a pretty good job; the real aircraft is indeed a simple and rather slab sided machine. Animations are kept pretty basic, (in addition to the usual control surfaces); only the missile bay and rather unique ‘clamshell’ canopy openings have been animated. You can also forget additional ‘eye candy’ items such as wheel chocks and pitot head covers, as usual with AlphaSim products, these are not included. As in all recent releases from AlphaSim, you are given some pretty impressive effects though; which more than makes up for the missing static items. As this machine never made it past flight testing, only the basic white and a prettier white/dayglo orange color scheme are included. However, I am pretty sure that some enterprising painters will redress this matter soon; albeit in fictional colors.
When selected, the Tu-22 will appear on your PC as a far more imposing creature! A dull metal color, it almost looks like it has been carved from a giant solid metal ingot. The intricate contouring of the fuselage has been done very well, giving the aircraft an almost ‘prehistoric predator’ stance. The equally unique entry method of the crew is modeled nicely; I wonder if anyone from the Tupolev design bureau was handed some Thunderbird 1 plans by the KGB, thinking that they were a Top Secret project!
Animation continues around both engine intakes and orifice and, as with the Arrow, a nice helping of effects enhances the model well. The choice of this variant (the missile carrying KD) is surprising, as (to my knowledge) it only served with the Soviet armed forces. This means that any exotic export color schemes (such as Libya or Iraq) cannot be authentically applied to the model. Despite this, the Blinder is another example of the continuing improvements made by the developers over the past year.
In The Driving Seats
The inside of the Canadian aircraft is almost as simple as the outside! I am not sure whether this interior is anything like the original; the use of ‘stock’ period AlphaSim gauges gives it an authentic look, but I am assuming a lot of this cockpit is conjecture rather than fact. Another small gripe is the lack of working switches in the virtual cockpit, although a start-up and shut-down are possible. If you demand absolute realism from your cockpit switch gear, this aircraft is not for you. Another dummy lever is marked ‘DRAG CHUTE’, something also missing from this model. With the advent of compatible models for both FS9 and FSX, it seems that frame rate hogs such as drag chutes have been left off both models; although it is a shame visually.
I understand why the developers have chosen this path; we spend almost all our time in the detailed cockpit, so why sacrifice detail here for something you can only really enjoy for a few seconds of replay. Maybe a ‘simulated’ chute without it actually materializing behind the aircraft, perhaps having a cockpit warning lamp and increased deceleration would have been a better route? Stopping both aircraft with conventional brakes seems wrong, particularly as the Blinder has no air brakes either!
The TU-22 aircraft is far more complex inside, but without any appreciable loss of frame rates. Infamous amongst Soviet pilots for its appallingly uncomfortable seats and difficult cockpit layout, I can now vouch for the truth of the latter at least! Both 2D (with a rather nice animated yoke) and VC look very convincing indeed. A quick look around the internet for internal cockpit shots (something we could only dream about a few years ago) confirmed the fact; the interior is as real as it looks, within the confines of MSFS.
Interior texturing does look like it has been simplified for the sake of smoothness and efficiency, but not enough to spoil the illusion of actually sitting in a Blinder cockpit. The view forward is obstructed by a central pillar as in the CF-105 (and many other machines of this era), but this has been helped by off-setting the pilot’s seating position within the cockpit. Although this helps with approaches a little, neither machine is conducive to a lot of VFR style flying; external visibility is not good from either cockpit. The gauges included are of the metric variety, which although authentic, may put some buyers off a little. Unlike many recent Russian aircraft for MSFS, you do not need to understand a 50 page manual just to turn on the GPU (not that the Blinder has one) and all the basic control operations are easily learnt.
In The Air
Before going into any specific details, I feel it necessary to point out a few facts about flight modeling within MSFS. All aircraft made by add-on designers are restricted to the basic profiles of flight model coding, written by the simulator developers and primarily covering the default MS aircraft flight envelopes. Without being cruel, these programmers have probably not even have heard of obscure aircraft like the Arrow or Blinder, let alone catered for their idiosyncratic flying characteristics within MSFS coding. Bearing these restrictions in mind, how have the AlphaSim teams coped with giving us the impression of flying these powerful machines?
The CF-105 Arrow Mk2 (the Mk1 was in truth a prototype to prove the concept, the Mk2 would have been the full production variant) had a reputation of being a real ‘pilot's aircraft’. Its chief test pilot Janusz Zurakowski (known as ‘Zura’ to everybody in the aviation world of the 1950s) flew the test program prior to cancellation and was totally delighted with the aircraft’s flight characteristics. Would the AlphaSim version get a seal of approval from the great man himself? I doubt it. The Arrow is a high performance, delta wing aircraft with no trailing wing flaps or conventional horizontal tail plane; this alone makes it difficult to model within the simulator restrictions detailed above. Add to this large (1950s vintage) engines with slow response times and poor cockpit visibility; you are looking at a lot of trouble, particularly when landing.
I always fly with my simulator realism settings at 100%; on this model I suggest backing off a little. Reduce the realism slider to 50% and the aircraft is much easier to fly and despite a rather high roll rate (which seems odd given her bulk), it can give you a great deal of satisfaction.
If ‘Zura’ thought highly of the Arrow, few TU-22 pilots were very complementary about the Blinder; indeed the AlphaSim team has done a superb job (by accident or design?) into making this aircraft one of the trickiest FS machines I have ever flown! Because of the design of this aircraft, longitudinal stability was always an issue and I can vouch for that in this model too! For some reason, Tupolev neglected to fit any spoilers or air brakes to the Blinder, so controlling approach speeds, angles of attack and rates of descent (as well trying to see the runway) can cause a great amount of stress; even without any emergencies or cross-winds. I am not surprised so many aircraft were lost in accidents! It is very, very easy for things to get out of hand; if they do, never even attempt a landing.
In cruise mode, the aircraft has a superb ‘feel’ while flying manually and the autopilot functions as well as can be expected in an aircraft of this era. Performance figures were in keeping with these type of aircraft but a careful eye needs to be kept on all instrumentation to avoid embarrassment.
Few of us in the western world will ever have heard a Blinder in reality, even fewer a CF-105. Bearing that in mind, we still have some very nice sounds accompanying these aircraft; with the TU-22 coming out on top according to my ears. Both aircraft are easily capable of upsetting your neighbors if used at high volume and both are great improvements from the days when AlphaSim aircraft used default Lear and Boeing 737 sound files.
The Aircraft In FSX
Both aircraft install into FSX and have their ‘mug shots’ all ready and waiting when you elect to call them up within the appropriate menu choice. Despite the increased file size for the TU-22, she looks and sounds very similar in FSX and is just as difficult (possibly more so) to fly. While attempting to master her in FSX, I ‘bought the farm’ so many times, I seriously considered a new career in agricultural real estate! Strangely, I found the CF-105 a little easier to fly than I did in FS9, this may be an example of the enhanced flight modeling supposedly offered within FSX.
Now, I personally find most aircraft harder to fly on the new simulator, so this may be a reflection on the designers or a condemnation of my flying abilities, having spent years flying in FS9. Both aircraft do give a favorable set of frame rates within FSX (patched with SP1), so the trade-offs mentioned above will be worthwhile if you spend a lot of time flying this on simulator. If you can run the default Lear or Canadair, then both of these aircraft will work well on your system. On a slightly more negative note, both aircraft suffer from too much internal reflection effect inside the canopy reducing the already poor visibility even further. This can be addressed by editing the aircraft .cfg file.
When I was young, we kids avidly watched TV programs from the studios of Gerry Anderson with titles like ‘Thunderbirds’, ‘Stingray’ or ‘Captain Scarlet’. Strangely, both the aircraft featured in this review would sit happily alongside an Angel Interceptor and a Fire-flash airliner from these programs. I have really enjoyed the challenge of flying such exotic looking beasts, which was a dream of my childhood never to be realized in real life.
AlphaSim are producing new aircraft at a rate of up to three a month, making them by far the most prolific add-on producer for MSFS and have recently celebrated their 8th birthday; quite an achievement. The company has a loyal fan base eagerly awaiting every new release; with unusual product choices and ever improving qualities of the models the company should continue to grow and prosper. If you enjoy challenges beyond current airliners, make sure you keep an eye on the Alphasim website and forums; that much wished for warbird may already be on their drawing board.
These aircraft may not be as fully detailed or functional as some high-end projects, but they do come with a very high ‘fun factor’! Obscure types like this will never be truly authentic; but within the restrictions of the simulation platforms, one can still get a flavor of flying these types of aircraft. They can even get a little addictive, so when this review has been sent off for editing, I am going back to that TU-22 and I will master its quirks…or die trying!
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