The Sikorsky Seahawk, a version of the U.S. Army’s Blackhawk helicopter, has been used by the U.S. Navy for reconnaissance, antisubmarine warfare, search and rescue, communications relay, and transport since the early 1980s. A Coast Guard version, which performs similar tasks, is called the Jayhawk. It’s not as fast or agile as the Apache I reviewed in April, and while it can carry guns, it doesn’t look as mean. What it’s good at is picking things up (like drowning swimmers), putting things down (like sonar buoys), and finding its way in foul weather (which there is a lot of at sea and on the coast).
In 2005, Aerosoft modeled the Seahawk for FS2004, and packaged it with a Wasp-class amphibious support vehicle as Seahawk and Boxer. One year later, they released the Jayhawk in a less expensive package called Coast Guard: To Serve and Protect; this was covered last fall by AVSIM staff reviewer Joseph Ellwood, and I bought it on his recommendation. A few months later, Aerosoft issued a free patch, to make both helicopters flyable in FSX. The patch was free, but wasn’t an upgrade: other than new camera views, it didn’t take advantage of FSX’s new features; also, like other helicopters converted from FS2004, the rotors would disappear in front of clouds. Nothing to complain about here: the patch was free, and if you owned the Seahawk or Jayhawk, you were happy to have it.
That was last year. This year, Aerosoft has been working hard to offer genuine upgrades: not just making its old products compatible with FSX, but making the upgraded products better than their originals; an example is Beaver X, which Jeff Shyluk reviewed this spring. Another example, which I will be looking at here, is Seahawk and Jayhawk X, which combines the two helicopters in one package, updates all of the visual models, and adds four landable ships. In what follows, I will usually just say “Seahawk,” but the features are the same in both helicopters; if anyone is interested, I like the Coast Guard paint scheme best of all, and that goes with the Jayhawk.
Installation and Documentation
Installation is easy, although you may need to download some updates. (As of this writing, there have been two; the current version is 2.11.) If you are purchasing the product in download form, you will receive a product key by email. I entered that in the install program, along with my account name and password, and the installer did the rest.
In English, the documentation runs to 68 pages. (There are also manuals in French and Spanish.) You don’t need to read all of it to get started, and there are lots of pictures; however, if you want to enjoy everything this package has to offer, you will need to spend some time studying the manual.
The one thing you must do right away is to move all of your aircraft realism sliders to the middle; that’s what the flight model is tuned for. Beyond that, there’s a detailed explanation of the helicopters avionics, start-up and shut-down procedures, how to steer the helicopter from the winch operator’s position, how to place landable ships in new locations, and three tutorials (including charts): two for IFR operations, and one for the helicopter’s auto hover system.
Finally, the manual explains the product’s file structure; this is useful if you want to customize something, or have an unusual set-up, and I am very happy to see it included. I also like the fact that you can download the manual from the product web page; the download is free, and it’s a good way to check the details of a product before you buy.
There’s a lot of detail here, both in the 3D modeling and in the skinning. In FS2004, the model was already at the limit for how many 3D elements you could have in any one aircraft, but that limit has been lifted now in FSX, and there are now four animated crewmen, as well as more flippable switches in the virtual cockpit. The package comes with fourteen liveries, including one for the U.S. Coast Guard, one for the Japanese Navy, one for the Spanish Navy, one for the Greek Navy, two for the Australian Navy, and eight for the U.S. Navy. More repaints are available in the AVSIM file library.
Bump mapping has been used to give 3D texture in the virtual cockpit, reflections have been improved on the outside, and the model will cast shadows on itself in exterior view. Most important of all, the rotor doesn’t disappear in front of clouds. I’ve commented on this in several of my reviews this year, and sometimes felt picky for doing so. (I felt less picky when the developer was charging a fee for the upgrade.) But for rotorcraft, it really makes a difference: the disc is big, and if it looks funny, the whole aircraft looks funny. The one feature of FSX modeling that doesn’t seem to be implemented is moving shadows in the virtual cockpit, which wasn’t available when this product was released.
On the support forum, there has been some discussion of the rotor animation, and the consensus is that it looked better in FS2004; a fix has been talked about, but so far not issued. In addition to the rotors, the usual animations for helicopters are implemented here, plus a moving winch, a moving horizontal stabilizer, and (my favorite) a folding sequence for the rotor and tail.
The Seahawk and Jayhawk can both be parked on ships, so to save valuable deck space, they can both fold up to about half their normal footprint. Originally, the animation for this sequence was a little jerky, but this has been smoothed out in one of the updates. It’s very satisfying, when you have planted yourself on a small ship deck, to shut down all of the helicopter’s systems and then switch to external view for the fold-up sequence; not only is it surprising how small the helicopter can make itself, but it puts a seal on your feeling of accomplishment.
There are other good-looking helicopters for FSX: for example, the Agusta Westland EH-101 that comes with Acceleration. To my knowledge, though, there is no other helicopter product that even comes close to this one in the department of cockpit systems and avionics. You can fly without them, but you’ll be working harder than you need to.
The first thing to know about is the Stability Augmentation System (SAS), which is operated from the center pedestal and should be on all the time. This reduces a helicopter’s natural tendency to get out of control; it may sound like cheating, but the developers have worked closely with at least one Seahawk pilot, and apparently this is how the pro's fly in real life.
How often is it that more realistic is actually easier to fly? Not often, but apparently this is one of those times. If you have tried helicopters before, and given up because they were too hard, this one is less hard. This was true of the old version as well. The difference is that, in the FS2004 product, a red text message would announce every time that SAS adjusted the horizontal stabilizer; in FSX, that annoying message no longer appears.
Farther down on the pedestal, there is an auto hover system. Using this, it is possible to fly a complete mission, including take-off and landing, without touching your joystick. Depending on what you tell it do, the auto hover can lift off, hover in place, descend, move forward, move backward, or move sideways at a speed you set. It can hold a heading, just like a fixed wing autopilot, and if you have a route programmed in the flight planner or GPS, it can fly the whole thing for you.
The one thing you will probably need to do manually is climb and descend. The auto hover can handle altitudes up to 200 feet above ground level (as determined by radar altimeter). It can also hold higher altitudes (as measured by barometric pressure) once you are there, but you have to get there manually. You can even use auto hover to land.
Hardcore rotorheads may sneer, but if you are a beginner, auto hover is a great way to have fun right away. If you’re like me, you’ll use it less as your skill improves; I still fall back on it, though, for long flights when I am taking screenshots of scenery. The other time when it’s useful, even for advanced pilots, is when you’re conducting winch operations.
As of this writing, the winch and winch operated are animated, but they can’t pick up objects. For customers who have also purchased Acceleration, there is a description of how to enable this feature in the support forum, although it would be good if Aerosoft were to include this in a future update; look for the thread titled “Hoist in Seahawks X.” In the meantime, the winch operator can move the helicopter forward, backward, and side to side; this feature is new for FSX and can be used to line up the hull of the helicopter with objects on the ground that are invisible from the cockpit.
The other feature that sets this cockpit apart from other Flight Simulator helicopters is the avionics package. On the pedestal, there are two control display units (CDUs), which are similar in appearance to the FMS in a jetliner. Each unit can display information about the helicopter’s electrical and engine systems, the precise position of all control surfaces, navigation, and waypoint data for your flight plan. The two units are independent, so you can display a different page of data on each one. The same data is also available on the instrument panel (which has two large LCDs), so it’s actually possible to show three pages of data, if that’s what you want.
There are a couple of glitches, but no showstoppers. First, if you compare waypoints on the navigation panel with waypoints on the CDUs, you will notice that the waypoint numbers are different; this is a very minor bug. The other problem is not a bug so much as an unimplemented feature. According to the product web page, “Distance and time to fly for each waypoint” is available on the navigation display; distance to fly is, but time to fly is not. This would be genuinely useful, and I hope it will be included in a future update.
The main instrument panel is dominated by two large LCDs, with some analogue gauges for backup. If your computer has the horsepower, the LCDs can be undocked and moved to a second monitor, but there will be a hit on frame rates.
The left LCD is a navigation panel: it can display all of the information from the CDUs, but can also show a flight plan (if you have one programmed in the default GPS) and the location of nearby ships. (The ships displayed here are the static ones that ship with the product; AI boats and default carriers are not included although the location of static carriers, or any other object, can be entered manually in the helicopter’s ship database; this is done by editing a text file, the format of which is explained in the manual.)
The primary flight display, on the right side, shows digital representations of the basic flight instruments, as well as some advanced instruments that are particularly useful for flying helicopters. Wind bearing, wind velocity, and wind correction angle are all indicated on the compass, along with the bearing to any navaids (or to any of the ships, if you have one selected on the other panel). For IFR weather, there is also a hover gauge which (with practice) can be used to hold position even when there are no visible points of reference outside of the cockpit.
For night ops, there is instrument lighting. Startup and shutdown procedures are simplified (which is all right with me), and make use of an overhead panel. Because of where it’s placed in the virtual cockpit, this is a little awkward to use, even if you have TrackIR; but this isn’t something wrong with the model, and a camera view is provided that makes it easy to go through the checklist.
For engine start-up, you do need one switch, air source, that doesn’t work in the virtual cockpit. To get around this, you either need to pull up a 2D panel (which has everything you need) or, if that’s too much trouble, just hit control-E. Yes, there is still a 2D panel and, yes, you can start the helicopter with control-E.
Here is one last note that will save somebody a bit of frustration: when you switch to the Seahawk after flying something else, the instrument panel will display wrong information, and you will see red bars hanging down from the engine display on the right LCD panel. No one knows why this happens, but the fix is to cycle through all of the views using the "A" key until you get back to original VC view; once that is done, everything will be normal again.
Sounds are unchanged from the original products for FS2004, and do not take advantage of the new sim’s advanced stereo. In fairness to Aerosoft, there are few products that do. (The RealAir Marchetti is one of them.) It should go without saying that startup and shutdown sounds are included, but since they weren’t in the last helicopter package that AVSIM reviewed (from another developer, not Aerosoft), I will say it: the package comes with all of the sounds you would expect from payware.
The original version of this product, for FS2004, featured an aircraft carrier for helicopters, the USS Boxer. It’s still here and, as you can see from the screenshots, it is still a highly detailed model. The old Jayhawk product was cheaper, and came with a less detailed model of a Coast Guard cutter, the USS Bertholf. This is back too, minus the system of landing lights on its deck. For FS2004, there was a version of the Bertholf model which you could steer and sail; presumably someone might use it to explore the waterways of a place from sea level. This version has been dropped from the FSX product, but since I never used it, I can’t say that I miss it. The main thing that you can do with these ships is land on them.
In addition to the two ships already mentioned, the new version includes:
• A CG-50
destroyer, the USS Valley Forge.
None of the models, except the Boxer, is especially detailed; there is some animation, but in comparison with the helicopter, the modeling is less convincing (again, with the exception of Boxer). I mention this, not as a criticism, but to inform customers of what they are buying: this is a product for Flight Simulator, not Ship Simulator.
When you install the package, ships are stationed at seven locations in Europe and the United States. Using Google Earth and a tool called Shipyard, you can place copies of the ships anywhere in the world. To make it work, you need to read the manual, but you don’t need a degree in computer science.
I placed one in the Pamlico Sound, near my home in North Carolina, where I’ve seen the real Coast Guard on patrol; everything worked as it was supposed to, and in five minutes I had a new landing platform in the middle of a river. The latest update is supposed to add your new ship to the helicopter’s navigation database, but you still have to enter a sequential ID number for the ship, and since I didn’t know what the last ship’s number was off-hand, I ended up having to make the entry manually.
I find landing on the ships very satisfying. It’s hard, at first, because if you put down anywhere except in the center of the platform, you will either hit a railing or fall in the water. (In any case, you will need to turn off crash detection, because on some of the models, it can get triggered even when you are clear of all obstructions.)
Unless you’re already good at flying helicopters, I recommend that you start with the Sea Fighter, because its landing platform has room for two helicopters and there’s more margin for error. If you find yourself struggling, check your realism settings to make sure they match the ones in the manual; this won’t make you a pro overnight, but it will make the helicopter respond the way it is supposed to, and give you a fighting chance.
Once you get the hang of it, there is a real feeling of accomplishment, and you can land on other platforms (such as building rooftops) with more confidence, because you’ve already mastered the more difficult skill of landing on a ship.
Do the ships move? The potential is there in FSX, but when this package was first released, none of them did. That’s changing slowly. In the latest update (2.11), there is a Coast Guard cutter a mile from Elmendorf AFB in Alaska. The weather’s bad, there’s a wind up, and the cutter is moving; if you’re good enough, you can fly and land on its deck. The other ships can be made to move as well, but the steps for doing so are somewhat involved. If you want to give it a try, a customer has posted instructions in the Aerosoft support forum; look for the thread titled “Navy Hawks X moving Xcraft - Valley Forge and LCS.”
I’m not a real-life pilot of anything, so my comments on the flight model will be, of necessity, brief and tentative. The Seahawk and Jayhawk are both heavy machines, which tends to dampen their movement and make them less skittish than, say, the default Robinson. The Stability Augmentation System, described above, makes them more stable still, and if you need even more stability, there is auto hover.
I’m nervous about saying it, but this is probably the easiest helicopter you can fly in Flight Simulator. Some people will read that and think it’s a euphemism for “unrealistic,” which it’s not meant to be. The flight model has been tested several times by at least one pilot who flies the real thing, and this has resulted in at least one change that I know of (to the center of gravity). Personally, I’m satisfied: it feels heavy, and while it’s challenging to fly the Seahawk, you can start having fun with it right away.
The auto hover feature, which I described earlier, is not unique to this product, but it’s implemented through the aircraft’s normal control surfaces, which results in more realistic behavior than I have seen elsewhere. If you program it to perform a very sharp turn, it will lose altitude until it recovers speed, but once that is done it will return to the altitude it was set for.
On the subject of altitude, the following notice was posted in the support forum by an Aerosoft staff member: “The real Seahawks can work up to 15,000 feet in some comfort, but to get the correct behavior low to the ground our model gets anemic just over 10,000 feet. But they never go there: long cruise is done at 3,500 feet, anything higher just makes it fly worse. They are really designed to be best between sea level and 1,000 feet.” That’s useful information, and should probably go in the manual.
All of the ships, except for the Boxer, are easy on frame rates. The Boxer isn’t, and the manual explains why: the complexity of the model is comparable to that of some airport sceneries (whereas the other ships are relatively simple). An update has improved frame rates on the Boxer somewhat, but you will still feel a hit. If the hit is too heavy, you can dial back the scenery slider and it will reduce the number of objects on deck.
The real question, of course, is what are frame rates like in the helicopter itself? According to the manual, this product “should be considered one of the most complex aircraft models you will use. We do not apologize for this…It’s a high end product that needs high end hardware.”
On my system (described at the side), frame rates for the Seahawk were at least flyable, even in bad weather or complex scenery. In good weather, outside of major cities, and with all of the ships except Boxer, I had comfortable FPS, but not as smooth as the EH-101 helicopter from Acceleration.
In my view, the Acceleration helicopter is just as good looking as the Aerosoft product, and I would willingly trade some of the Seahawk’s good looks for some extra FPS. This isn’t just a question of aesthetics; it really is easier to control a helicopter when you have high frame rates. What I wouldn’t give up (and what you don’t get with the Acceleration helo) is auto hover and advanced avionics; these also contribute to the Seahawk’s heavy frame rates., but I’m willing to accept the trade-off.
The download version of Seahawk and Jayhawk X sells for 30 euros (plus VAT if you live in Europe). If you already own Seahawk and Boxer and can provide a serial number, the download price drops to 20 euros. You can buy cheaper helicopters from other developers, but none better than this one, and maybe none as good.
What I Like About Seahawk and Jayhawk X
What I Don't Like About Seahawk and Jayhawk X
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