FDG2 Strikes Again
A short while ago, I had the opportunity to explore the Fightertown Design Group 2 donationware B-17 package, which I found to be a great alternative to the premium modeled, and premium priced payware B-17 add-ons. So now I am going to take a look at another product from the crew at FDG2 that can do the same thing for those of you who have an interest in an affordable B-25.
In many ways the FDG2 B-25 is similar to the B-17 package. Both of them are modeled to provide excellent frame rates, they both have their fair share of positive and negative aspects, and they are both priced to attract simmers who don’t want to cough up a lot of money. But the B-25 package, available at www.donationware.net, takes the cost-value up a level.
That is because while you only get one model (the B-25J), and only two liveries, it comes at a very affordable donationware price of only $5.00. How can FDG2 give you a good quality B-25 for only $5.00? Well for starters, this aircraft has been available for quite a while now, meaning that it was modeled several technological cycles ago. In other words, don’t expect this aircraft to raise the bar.
What the FDG2 B-25 will do is give you the opportunity to put this fairly authentic, historically notable aircraft into your collection without having to spend all of this month’s Sim allowance. So let’s kick off this review with a look at the real deal, and then we will get the FDG2 model installed and see how will it stacks up.
The B-25 “Mitchell” a.k.a. The Billy Mitchell
The B-25 Mitchell is a twin engine medium bomber named after General Billy Mitchell, an aviation pioneer and advocate for an Air Force separate from the U.S. Army.
Development of the Mitchell began in the mid 1930’s, and was the result of several different aircraft programs. By the end of WWI,I more than 10,000 B-25’s had been built under a variety of designations, including the B-25 A,C,D,G,H, and J, the XB-25 E, F, and G, the TB-25 C,D,J,K,L,M, and N, the VB-25J, CB-25J, ZB-25D, ZXB-25E, and Navy variants including the PBJ-1 C,D,G,H and J.
Like other WWII bombers, the Mitchell had a number of crew positions (usually 6 crew members), including a pilot, co-pilot, navigator/bombardier, turret gunner/engineer, radio operator/ waist gunner, and / or a tail gunner, though different models called for different crew positions. Also, the nose assemblies on most of the models were interchangeable for different variants.
The B-25, depending on the model and payload, had a range of 1,350 to 2,700 miles (2,120 to 4,300 km), and could reach a maximum speed of 275 mph (442km/h), though it generally cruised around 230 mph (370 km/h), which was notably faster than the B-17. The Mitchell could reach 25,000 feet and carry a payload of 3,000 to 6,000 lbs of bombs, which complimented the 12 .50 caliber machine guns.
Of the countless missions performed by the B-25’s, perhaps none were more significant and astonishing than the Doolittle Raid on April 18, 1942. Named after the raid commander Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, this mission tasked 16 B-25’s to take off from the USS Hornet to strike Japan as a retaliatory effort for Pearl Harbor, and to show Japan that the U.S. air power could reach there territory.
For an added challenge to the plan, the Hornet was spotted much earlier than intended and the B-25’s were forced to takeoff earlier than anticipated. The extremely modified B-25’s made it off of the carrier and reached Japan where they dropped a devastating payload. After successfully striking the Japanese, the aircraft headed for the safety of China, which is where things became even more complicated.
Facing a number of adversities, including a lack of fuel to reach China, 15 of the aircraft crashed landed or had crews bail out on the Chinese coast, while one headed for Russia. The latter crew was consequently interned, but finally escaped through Iran in 1943. And though not everyone survived this, the longest mission ever flown by the B-25’s, it proved that the Japan was no longer safe from U.S. air attacks.
The “J” model was the last production B-25 model, which took its maiden flight on December 14th, 1943. Almost 4,400 “J” models were built, many of which were later fit with the bombardier’s greenhouse nose assembly, however, the solid nose assembly allowed for up 18 .50 Caliber machine guns. This model made up over 1/3 of all the B-25’s built.
The B-25, which was
also widely used by the RAF, served its purpose well, but unlike many other
radial engine aircraft of WWII, the jet age did not
end its usefulness quickly. In fact, it wasn’t until 1960 that the
U.S. officially retired its last B-25 from service. And now, thanks
to the team at FDG2, you can relive the experience of flying the B-25 for
low donationware price of just $5.00.
The Exterior Model
The FDG2 B-25 only comes with the “J” model, including two liveries; “Show Me”, and a representative of the 445th Bomber Squadron of the 321st Bomber Group. The “Show Me” variation is a dull two-toned greenish-teal over grey, and the 445th is a two-toned brown over a reflective silver/grey. Both variations have the appropriate nose art and aircraft markings, but they can be difficult to make out from a distance.
All of the gunner’s positions are modeled onto this aircraft, but only the pilot, co-pilot, and navigator are present. The waist gunners positions have a .50 caliber on each side, and there are more .50 cal machine guns on the nose assembly and tail, and the turret gunner has a couple as well. From afar each of the gunner’s positions look pretty good, but a close-up view will reveal some “so-so” texturing behind the waist gunner’s position and below the turret gunner.
The animations include all the usual suspects; ailerons, rudder, elevators, landing gear, and wheels. You can also open the bomb bay doors, but there isn’t much to see in there. None of the guns are animated, nor do they have any effects. I didn’t see any movement in the cockpit or nose either. However, the cockpit is modeled fairly descent from the external view.
The texturing on both variations comes down to a matter of taste. I like the 445th livery, especially with the reflective shine on the lower half of the fuselage, but the “Show Me” just isn’t my style. Neither of the liveries have what I would call a “show room” finish, but rather show indications of chipped paint, fading and the occasional weathering effect.
Both models have textured rivets and panel overlapping, but they are not distinct. Instead they seem to blend in with the surrounding paint a little too much. I have found a few minor flaws in the texturing, but nothing worth giving a second look. Between the two liveries, I would say that the 445th variation is perhaps just a bit more detailed, but they are both suitable for my virtual world.
The frame rates should not be an issue, even for simmers with modest systems. I found that while using the spot view, this model has absolutely no effect on my FPS whatsoever when compared to the default Boeing aircraft and the Learjet. And that is exactly what the designers had in mind when modeling this aircraft.
An Inside Look
The interior modeling in the B-25 is what I would call acceptable. There are certain aspects of the VC that are detailed quite well, while other areas could use a little work. The panel is authentic as far as the instruments and gauge placement is concerned, but there is some jagged modeling above the panel, and the texturing could be improved.
The gauges are backlit and flow smoothly, but they seem to be a little blurry at times. Most of the gauges are large enough that you can zoom out quite a bit and still read them just fine, which you may need to do for a more panoramic view. By default, I find the user's viewpoint in relation to the panel to be far too close to the panel, but lined up perfectly with the yoke.
The VC is very functional in the sense that the vast majority of the switches are useable. You can fly this aircraft from the VC from startup to shutdown without having to switch to the 2D panel, but some of the switches are inconvenient to use. This is because it is difficult to read the labels on each switch without zooming in, unless you use the cockpit tool tips, which are available in this model.
Aside from the panel and throttle quadrant, which is also fully functional, there is not a lot to see in the VC. There is nothing between the pilots seats and rear wall, and the modeling does not continue past the flight deck. There is, however, a good view of the outer half of the wings and the engines from the VC, and in fact, the view out of the cockpit is good from any angle.
The Panel and Sub-Panels
The panel included with the FDG B-25J is a very suitable representation of the real B-25. Though it is not very interactive. That is to say, there aren’t any switches or buttons available without the sub panels, but it does contain all of the necessary instrumentation you will need.
On the left side of the panel you will find the IAS, heading, turn, and attitude indicators, altimeter, and VSI. The gauges flow very smoothly and are all perfectly legible. The rest of the panel is made up of the tachometer, fuel gauge, RMI, manifold, oil, and fuel pressure gauges, engine and carburetor temp gauges, and a clock.
The panel provides a great view out of the aircraft, obstructed only by the windows framework, a compass, and the gun sight. The texturing on the panel represents the era of the B-25 quite well, and there is the occasional sign of wear and tear.
By use of the “shift” plus number keys 2-7 you will have access to the sub panels, some of which are unique and quite useful and others that I could do without. The first sub panel falls into the latter category as it gives you access to the autopilot, HSI, VOR indicator, and ADF. Not only is this panel out of place with the presence of the autopilot, but it does not fit with most of the other sub panels that are textured to represent WWII era instruments.
The next sub panel is one of those that does fit nicely with the rest of the aircraft. This is the radio panel, which contains the NAV 1 & 2, COM 1 & 2, ADF 1 & 2 band and audio selectors, and miscellaneous switches to select between the radios. But unfortunately, the next panel reverts back to what I deem to be unnecessary by displaying the default Garmin 295 GPS.
The fourth sub panel displays the throttle quadrant, including the prop and mixture controls, trim, carburetor heat, fuel tank selectors, and the tail wheel lock control. This panel compliments the next, which includes the landing gear lever, gear latch, and flaps lever. And that leaves just one sub panel left, which you might just find to be the most useful of all.
Key command “Shift” + “7” will open the electrical panel, which can be placed into the “cockpit” or “virtual cockpit” views without interfering with any vital gauges or instruments. This panel contains switches for the panel, beacon, NAV, and landing lights, the de-ice and pitot heat, primers, fuel pumps, avionics master switch, generator, master battery switch, magnetos, ignition, and starter switches.
Aside from the couple of downsides I mentioned, like the autopilot for example, I think that this panel is a good representation of the real deal. The only improvement that I would really like to see is the addition of a co-pilot's panel, and perhaps even a view from one of the gunner’s stations or nose assembly.
The Sound Set (or lack thereof)
I have always had a hard time trying to describe an aircraft sound set; after all, putting sounds into words can be difficult. But it looks like I don’t have to worry about that for this review because the FDG2 B-25 aliases the default DC-3 sound set, which I’m sure you have all heard many times.
In reality the DC-3 sound file seems to work pretty good with the B-25, but it sort of lacks the power and grit that I was looking for. The DC-3 sound set is designed around the Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S1C36 radial engines at 1,200 hp each, but the B-25 has the Wright R-2600-29 engines producing 1,850 hp each.
I have chosen to replace the sound set with one that I found in my B-26, which is taken from the Pratt & Whitney R-2800-43 radial engines producing 1,900 hp each. This sound set seems a little more realistic and can be found as freeware with Dave Eckert’s B-26 model (HHIKER.zip), which is an aircraft I highly recommend downloading.
Now this part of the B-25 package might need a little work, at least when it comes to the pitch / elevator axis. Having my flight controls configured near perfectly for every other aircraft in my collection, I found the FDG2 B-25 pitch to be overly sensitive. Those of you that are familiar with altering airfiles can easily remedy this, and the rest of us can simply adjust the sensitivity levels in FS9 if you so choose.
The aircraft has a default empty weight of 21,181 lbs, with a payload of 1,200 lbs, and a maxed out fuel load of 974 gallons, which makes the gross weight 28,224 lbs. At this weight the B-25 needs very little room to get airborne; a couple thousand feet will do the trick. However, you can adjust the total gross weight as high as 41,800 lbs, which will require another 2,000 feet or so to get off the ground.
Once airborne you can get the B-25 up to around 275 mph, but that will require a tailwind. In most cases, I maxed out somewhere around 260 mph or so. Though the service ceiling is set for 24,200 feet, I have had no problems pushing upwards of 30,000 feet before stalling. I found the most economical flights to take place at 17,000-21,000 feet cruising at 220-230 mph.
The range of this model varies greatly depending on the fuel and payload settings. On my first flight, I had a fuel load of 80% with a full payload, which got me about 950 miles. Another flight got me 1,750 miles with a fuel load of 100% and no payload. On average, with the default fuel and payload settings, you should be able to span close to 1,400 miles, assuming that you leave the aerobatics alone.
Speaking of aerobatics, this model is definitely not for stunt flying. On the other hand, the pitch, roll, and yaw axis all respond very swiftly, and in some cases may seem a little too sensitive. Unlike the B-17, which I commented as …”taking ten minutes to complete a two minute turn”, the B-25 can cut a sharp bank, and maneuver very well.
When you have the runway in sight you may find it difficult to keep this plane lined up on your first few attempts. The roll and yaw axis sensitivities can cause you to overcorrect if you’re not careful. My biggest problem was trying to keep the nose from kissing the tail while flaring, mostly because of the “touchy” elevators.
Anyone Up For A Test Flight?
I couldn’t think of any better way to put the FDG2 B-25 to the test than by trying to recreate the Doolittle Raid. To do this, I have downloaded the freeware U.S.S. Hornet available in the Avsim file library as hornet.zip, and I have also recruited a few of my fellow simmers to accompany me on this mission. Of course, it won’t be an exact copy of the original but it should be fun nonetheless.
We began our journey by testing our ability at taking off in a very short distance by marking a runway at Hurlbert Field, Florida. This airstrip has a grass runway of 1,700 feet, so I figured that if we could get airborne by the half-way point, then we should be ready to try it on the carrier. Despite modifying the fuel and payload to favor a quick takeoff, this task was still much more difficult than I had anticipated.
After several attempts it became apparent that this aircraft would not take off in less than 800 feet, so we all decided to just head out for the carrier and hope for the best. Perhaps we could sustain just enough lift to fall off the deck and get airborne…perhaps not. Anyway, we all formed up somewhere over Pensacola and headed towards Point Loma in San Diego.
This part of the trip, though boring and uneventful at times, was actually a great training session for all of us. We used the 2,100 nm stretch to practice flying in formation, communications, and at each facility we stopped at, we practiced how to land without running in to each other. By the time we got to San Diego, we were all more than confident in our abilities to get this mission done right.
Unfortunately, we weren’t all able to keep the theme of the mission alive on our next leg, which took us to Wheeler AAF, Wahiawa, Hawaii. This leg, all 2,269 nm of it, was probably the most draining flight that I have ever taken. So despite every effort to remain historically accurate, I fell into the autopilot trap for a few hundred miles. But hey, I just couldn’t get my flight yoke greasy while I was eating dinner.
Once we made it to Hawaii, we decided to put the rest of the mission on hold for a few days. When we joined up again we were refreshed and ready to strike Japan, but the adversities started adding up really quick. The first problem came when we tried to put all sixteen B-25’s on the deck of the USS Hornet. They simply would not fit no matter how hard we tried. And even after a few people volunteered to leave the campaign, there was still not enough room to put the remaining aircraft on the carrier.
Despite our best efforts, we were only able to place 8 B-25’s on the Hornet and still leave enough room to take off. So we bid farewell to the other half of the team and got ready to launch. Since we were unable to get airborne at Hulbert Field, none of us were expecting to get off of the carrier in one piece. But to the surprise of us all, we actually managed to do it; it wasn’t pretty, but we did it. To get the B-25’s aloft we simply held the brakes until the RPM maxed out, then we let off the brakes and just before reaching the end of the deck we went to full flaps.
The aircraft would begin to fall off the end of the carrier, and then about half-way to the water we pulled back on the stick. Like I said, it wasn’t pretty but it worked. After the thrill of takeoff began to wear off, we all regrouped and joined up at around FL210. For the next couple of hours we didn’t have much to do but keep the aircraft trimmed.
Once we got a few miles from the Japanese islands we split up, opened our bomb bay doors, and made a low pass over the islands all the way to the mainland. We repeated this again once we got to the mainland, but by this time one of our planes was already lost after flying a little too low right into a tree. The rest pressed on heading towards China while I decided to be the black sheep and make for Russia.
Less than a half-hour later it was clear that we all had enough fuel to reach our destinations, so we decided to jettison our tanks down to the ¼ mark over the Sea of Japan. That gave everybody the chance to go in for a crash landing, which turned out to be the most exciting part of our mission. Four of the aircraft in the group going to China made it all the way to a grass strip and landed with no problems, one made a belly landing somewhere on the coast of North Korea, and the last B-25…well, it won’t be found without scuba gear.
As for me, I managed to make it somewhere near Vladivostok where I landed in an open field. With all of us on the ground we saluted our fallen comrade and congratulated each other on a great effort of a modified Doolittle Raid. On the bright side, our trip was a success but now I have a long trip home.
That’s All Folks
During my conclusion of the FDG2 B-17 review, I noted how that model made a great alternative for those of you who aren’t interested in paying top dollar for top quality, and that is exactly how I feel about this product. Sure you could go out and spend $20, $30, or even $40 dollars for a top of the line B-25, and if that’s what you want to do, then that’s what you should do. But if you are willing to sacrifice a little quality to save a lot of money, then I suggest giving this aircraft some thought.
I can think of a number of things that could improve this package; more model variations, more liveries, in-built scenery upon shutdown, and maybe even a waist gunner or tail gunner view. I would also like to see a few improvements made to the VC, and of course, an original sound set would have been nice. I could certainly do without the GPS and autopilot, and a detailed user manual would have been nice.
On the other hand, I can’t complain about the exterior modeling. The panel is definitely up to my standards, and the VC is…well, it’s not going to win any awards, but it gets the job done. And with the exception of the pitch axis, I am content with the airfile as well. In fact, I am, for the most part, very pleased with FDG2’s rendition of the B-25J, especially when I take the price into account.
So let me sum up my analysis very clearly. This product is by no means what I would consider “premium”, it is not a top-of-the-line model, and it does not compare to other quality versions of this aircraft like found in the Maam-Sim B-25 Briefing Time package. However, it is a good quality package that makes an excellent alternative if you would like to add a good B-25 to your hangar without coughing up a lot of money.
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