Most veterans of Flight Simulator will remember Bill and Lynn Lyons, makers of the freeware and payware brand Custom Classics. The typical Lyon's package was about $12 and included one or more vintage aircraft, animated scenery, and some kind of boat or automobile. When you purchased something from them, it always had your name on it somewhere; that was the custom part.
The Lyons are retired now, and all of the Custom Classics are freeware; you can find them by searching for the authors’ name in the AVSIM file library. But Bill Lyons was not only a gifted modeler; he was also a generous teacher.
Bill Ortis, who made the package under review here, was a student of Lyons, and it shows in his work. His Bugatti Pylon Racer, which staff reviewer Marc Radford wrote about several weeks ago, was a Custom Classic in all but name. It was inexpensive, featured vintage airplanes, came with custom scenery, and included two ground vehicles.
The package under review here, Operation: Valkyrie, is made from the same pattern, only on a bigger scale. The airplanes are bigger, the models are more complicated, there is a water vessel as well as a ground vehicle, there is much, much more scenery, and whereas the Bugatti package came with 18 mission flights, Operation: Valkyrie has 65.
Together, the missions add up to a story and a career. It begins with a young German pilot learning to fly gliders. Soon, he is inducted into the Luftwaffe and learns to fly powered aircraft, first a single-engine trainer and later a six-engine transport. In the process, he becomes involved with a high-level conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler. This is where fiction merges with history: there was a conspiracy in real life, and its code name was Operation Valkyrie.
Installation and Documentation
This is a hefty download. It took me a couple of tries, but eventually I was able to get the whole file.
Once everything was unlocked, an installer program copied most of the files, but I still needed to move a few things manually with Windows Explorer. This was explained in a text file.
The manual, or Missions Center as it is called, consists of about 100 web pages, with German music from the 1930s and '40s playing in the background. (This can be disabled, if you don’t like it, by renaming some files.) Illustration is lavish. There are screenshots, blueprints for the vehicles, and labeled diagrams for the instrument panels and radio equipment. There are several maps, and for most of the custom airfields there is a labeled map telling you where to park and what the various buildings are (e.g., fuel depot, fire truck house, field barracks, hospital, parts and munitions storage).
A couple of the airports are left out (LIEB and LIAP), and a couple of the airport pages don’t work (Freiburg and Freiburg Gliderport). But the effort is appreciated. As I suggested in my review of FSDiscover!, knowing the name of a thing helps you to see it. Ortis has gone to a lot of effort making these airfields, but a lot of the detail he put in would go unnoticed if we didn’t have the maps. For example, knowing that there is a maintenance hangar at Eggersdorf, we can go look for it.
The rest of the pages are for missions, which I’ll talk about in due course.
There are three fully flyable aircraft in the Valkyrie package: the Schneider “Grunau Baby II” glider, the Bücker Bü-181 “Bestmann,” and the Messerschmitt Me-323 “Gigant.” None of these three is as famous as the Me-109 fighter that I reviewed this summer, or the He-111 bomber that is being reviewed this fall. A few words are in order, then, about the significance of each. First the glider.
Following World War I, Germany was banned from rebuilding its air force, but in the early 1930's the government began to sponsor glider clubs across the country. This was to train pilots for the Luftwaffe. After mastering gliders, trainee pilots would be introduced to powered flight via the Bücker Bestmann. Unlike the fighters that most of them would learn to fly later, the Bestmann was forgiving, easy to fly, not very fast, and not very cramped. (The cockpit seats two people side by side: student and teacher, or pilot and passenger.)
Once a pilot had mastered the Bestmann, he was ready to specialize: in fighters, bombers, or transport. Since fighters and bombers are already covered by other add-ons, Ortis decided to model a transport plane, the six-engine “Gigant.” This was the C-130 Hercules of its day: it could carry troops, tanks, even a small airplane.
In addition to the three aircraft, Valkyrie also comes with a ground vehicle and a submarine. The submarine, a Type VII-CU U-boat, doesn’t have much of a cockpit, but it’s steerable and can submerse to periscope depth. The ground vehicle is a Volkswagen Kübelwagen.
Like the Volkswagen Beetle, the Kübelwagen was designed by Ferdinand Porsche; it was an all-weather, all-terrain vehicle, and it was used by the Wehrmacht for most of the same tasks that were performed by jeeps in the U.S. Army. Unlike the jeep, the Kübelwagen didn’t have four-wheel drive, but it did have a flat bottom that could slide over snow. It also had bucket seats, which gave the vehicle its name: in German, “bucket car.” The model here comes in three different colors: gray, green, and tan (for Africa).
Each of the aircraft is represented in several configurations and liveries. For the glider and Bestmann, there are civilian liveries as well as military, and for the Gigant there are three different paint jobs (Navy gray, Africa tan, and desert camouflage) and four different cargo configurations. In its belly, the Gigant can carry (a) nothing, (b) a tank, (c) two Komet rocket planes, or (d) two Kübelwagen. Cargo loads through the nose, and when the clamshell doors open, the tank or Kübelwagen wheels out on a ramp.
All models, including the Kübelwagen, have animated drivers or pilots, and custom sound. My favorite sounds are those of the six-engine Gigant. I’ve never heard even one of these engines in real life, but they feel big.
Ortis has a background in automobile design, so the external models are (as we would expect) very convincing. In some cases, detail has been sacrificed for the sake of performance, but the contours are always right and the paint schemes are authentic except for one detail: there are no swastikas. I’ll say more about this under missions.
Care has been taken to make the cockpits authentic as well. In the Bestmann’s map compartment (which opens and closes) there is a tin of Scho-Ka-Kola energy chocolate, and on the back seat of the Kübelwagen there is a bottle of Afri-Cola. In the cockpit of the Gigant, you can smoke Eckstein No. 5 cigarettes. Gauges are metric, so altitudes are measured in meters and airspeeds in KPH (kilometers per hour). This is realistic, but slightly frustrating, because some (not all) of the checklist speeds are given in KIAS (knots indicated airspeed). Fortunately, there is a conversion table that’s accessible as a pop-up panel.
Also available through pop-ups are the radios, an autopilot, and a version of the default GPS. The radios are based on real-world gear, and while GPS wasn’t available during World War II, the buttons are labeled (in German) with an authentic war-time typeface. In addition to the usual cockpit animations, the Bestmann also has a button to adjust the position of your rudder pedals (for pilots with long legs), ventilation windows for pilot and co-pilot, and map compartments that open and close.
There is a lot of detail here, and Ortis has gone to great lengths searching for cockpit photos and dressing the interiors with authentic props. I do wish that the VC textures were more consistent. Some of them are high-resolution, but others are medium- and even low-resolution. (I’m thinking here, in particular, of the center panel on the Gigant and the engine cowlings as seen through the cockpit windows.) This is true of some gauges as well. For example, the airspeed indicator has very crisp-looking numbers, but not the altimeter.
Flight models are, as always, difficult for the non-pilot (such as myself) to comment on with any authority. The Bestmann is docile, as befits a trainer, but will bounce on the runway if you don’t land it right. (This makes it good practice for the Me-109.) The glider can make very sharp turns and (as one would expect) likes to stay in the air. Surprisingly, so does the Gigant, once it gets airborne!
Perhaps this is because the Gigant was originally designed as a glider. Another notable feature of the Gigant’s flight model is momentum: if you shake the wings, the heavy fuselage will sway like a pendulum. Wide turns are de rigeur, and uses lots of rudder. This behavior is more pronounced when the Gigant is loaded; the empty version has a separate flight model, and here the Gigant’s glider characteristics are more in evidence.
In addition to the five vehicles, Operation: Valkyrie also comes with nine war-time airfields and one submarine base:
• Tempelhof (EDDI),
the main airport in Berlin. When it was erected, the terminal long building
was one of the largest in the world. Its other notable
feature was a vast oval landing field. The modern airport is part of the default
scenery (although it is scheduled to be phased out in real life), but this
is the airport as it looked in the 1930s and 40s.
In addition to the eight war-time sceneries, there are also two post-war airfields in central Italy:
Preturo (LIAP), a small airport in the Apennine mountains east of Rome
There are no moving jetways, but there is moving ground traffic at some of the airports. Signage is authentic, and there are various types and sizes of airplane hangar. At most of these, a main ingredient of the scenery is AI traffic: Bestmann trainers, Gigant and Ju-52 transport planes, He-111 bombers, Me-109 fighters, and Me-163 interceptors. Should you stray into France, there is also a sortie of Heinkel bombers en route to the northern French coast from southern Germany; they leave EDSL at 1300Z and arrive at LFAT around 1430Z.
There is one problem that I noticed: at Eggersdorf, there is an invisible building that will crash your plane if you taxi into it. The work-around is to turn off crash detection for the airplane. I would prefer it, though, if the bug can’t be squashed that crash detection be turned off for the building when the scenery is compiled. This accomplishes the same thing, but doesn’t affect the rest of the sim (which adjusting aircraft realism does).
It probably goes without saying, but you can use the airfields with any airplane you please, not just the ones that are provided with the package. At last, somewhere to park our vintage warbirds! If you were flying Allied planes, this wasn’t a problem; there were already several good RAF sceneries for Flight Simulator, freeware as well as payware. But the Luftwaffe looked out of place on them, or at least hostile. What we needed were Axis airbases, with vintage buildings and vintage equipment, where military aircraft could take off and land without seeming to menace the civilian pilots and passengers. Now we have almost a dozen of them, all different, including some that are clustered for short flights, and some that are widely spaced for long flights.
Needless to say, not every base that the Luftwaffe ever flew out of has been modeled. Maybe someone could build such a package, but is there anyone who could afford to buy it? Instead, for the bases that he did build, Ortis has picked some very scenic locations: in Freiburg, the mountains of the Black Forest; in Italy, the central Apennines and southern coast. I ended up spending at least as much time exploring the area around the bases as the bases themselves.
I mentioned earlier that there are no swastikas on any of the aircraft. There were, I am guessing, two reasons for this. First, in some of the countries where people buy add-ons for Flight Simulator, the Hakenkreuz is illegal. Second, the theme of the missions is resistance to Hitler and his movement. Yes, you like to fly Axis warplanes, but you are still one of the good guys, because you are part of the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler and end the war. Since this is Flight Simulator, your main role in the conspiracy is to pilot high-level figures between various airfields.
There are 65 missions in the package, and they start with you driving (in the Kübelwagen) to a glider field over Freiburg. There are several missions for practicing gliders, until you transfer to Eggersdorf for more advanced training. Your first mission there is to taxi around the airfield in the Bücker Bestmann. When you’ve mastered that, you practice flying it. Later, you learn to pilot the Gigant. Interspersed with your training there are various missions with the glider, and once your training is over, there are more missions in Africa and southern Italy. Usually you are transporting something, either people or weapons. Eventually, you make contact with the conspirators and fly missions on their behalf.
To be clear: the missions in Operation: Valkyrie are not like the missions in FSX. That is, they don’t have elaborate scripts read by actors, with triggers in the scenery to produce various outcomes and green-tinted spotlights for clueless navigators. These are missions, rather, in the original and basic sense of the word, which is “sending.” That is, someone in charge sends you to go somewhere, and you go. Weather is sometimes an obstacle, but it is the only variable.
I do wish, for the longer missions, that the Bestmann and Gigant had their VOR equipment built-in to the virtual cockpit. (It is accessible through 2D pop-ups.) Again, however, I was struck by the locales that Ortis has chosen for some of the missions. I have never been to the southern coast of Italy, in real life or in the sim, but it looks very good in FSX, and there is a search mission in the Alps which is quite scenic as well.
This product was designed for FS2004 and then converted for FSX. It doesn’t use any of the new sim’s features, but the upgrade is free.
I did all of my testing in FSX, and found little to complain of. I did get an unexpected building crash in one of the GA parking spaces at Isadorro del Arco, which I’m guessing is due to differences in the default terrain mesh. If you load a flight with the submarine parked at Porto Salvo, your vehicle will start on the dock not in the water. I found also that the submarine has trouble steering in FSX. Finally, some of the missions are mixed up: the Mission Center describes one scenario, but when you load the mission it’s something different.
With a package as complex as this one, some bugs are inevitable, but there’s nothing here that a small service pack shouldn’t be able to fix.
On my system there is a noticeable but not distressing drop in frame rates compared with the default airplanes. Where I get a bigger drop is on the ground at some of the custom airports.
This is directly related to the density of AI traffic. For the purposes of Operation: Valkyrie, “full” AI is 24%. (Why not 100%? Because above 24%, the modern traffic disappears and you’re left with only vintage airplanes.) The next step down is 12%, which is what I have ended up using in FSX.
At that level, you won’t see any fighters on the ground, but there will be lots of Gigants and Ju-52s. If frame rates are still too low, you can go down further, to 6% and even 2%.
Operation: Valkyrie was originally released at $33 (US) and now sells for $24. The missions, if you fly them all, will keep you busy for at least a month, and when they’re done you will still have eleven vintage airports, three very different aircraft (each one configurable in different ways and in different liveries), one ground vehicle (with three paint schemes), one submarine, and one submarine pen.
Bill Lyons would be proud.
What I Like About Operation: Valkyrie
What I Don't Like About Operation: Valkyrie
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