First Class Simulations Avro Lancaster
By Nigel C. Martin (17 December 2009)
You know my normal approach to a review is to provide a very brief overview of the background and a 'splattering' of history, but today I am not. Why? Well all I have to say the review is all about the iconic, incredible, sublime Avro Lancaster! There we go, now we all know exactly what I am referring too (a clue is in the title!)
This will not be the only Lancaster on the add-on market. Indeed, I am aware of a couple, and probably not the last depicting this aircraft of such pedigree. My mantra, if any money is being asked for, the program has to achieve a certain standard. I really 'huff and puff' if I buy, open and install, only to find better freeware products. I can assure you, I have fired off many a less than complimentary comment to any developer who falls into this category. I don't think this will be the case for this Lanc though!
If the First Class Simulations Lancaster packaging and product pictures on the DVD case are to go by, this hits the mark with distinction. So, we will see with this latest offering. So let's get cracking.
What Is Included & Installation
The program is included on one CD-Rom firmly located inside the plastic case, along with other product information. No manual, but do not panic, there is one included which you can access via START/ALL PROGRAMS/FIRST CLASS SIMULATIONS/LANCASTER, accessing printable Overview and Tutorial. Don't worry about replanting 70 oak trees to compensate for the paper used, both are of reasonable length, and very informative and a must to print off so you can get the best from this program.
Those with FSX have the addition of two missions (great briefing notes included). They are located post installation, in the Missions Menu on the FSX Start Menu. I must add, that there are additional missions that will be freely downloadable from the First Class Simulations web site. Now that is a nice touch and appreciated. However, I have contacted FCS and these add-on missions (at time of review) are not yet available, but will be posted in the near future. I have tried both included missions, and I have to say I believe they could be a little more engaging, and a better voice that provides you with initial taxi clearance, etc., sounds like the most basic electronic voice, OK, these are free in FSX but I still think they could be improved. But a nice touch never the less.
I know I have previously said it, but I simply adore boxed flight sim programs. OK, downloadable are quicker, and in the main cheaper, but with a few system crashes behind me, two hard disk issues to boot, having the original CD-Roms, makes the re-installation process a whole lot easier, and convenient
In this package you get quite an array of Lancaster versions to select from. These include authentic reproductions of the Lancaster B1,B1 (Special) BIII, BIII (Special) BX,B 10MR and MR3 variants all presented in wartime liveries.
Installation? Well a breeze... No issues at all.
Before you do anything, load the aircraft of choice. Oh yes, do remember to select 'show all variants' so you will have the array of Lancasters to select from.
Make your aircraft version selection, and go the airport of choice, and take time to 'walk' around the aircraft in day light. Then, and only then, will you appreciate the incredible attention to detail.
One simple test of mine is to zoom in and see if the detail remains and does not disappear in some 'visual fog'. You will glad to hear, pin sharp detail is offered here. Actually if I was to single out all the elements I would be here for ages, so let's just focus on a few areas.
The external graphics seem incredibly realistic, gun locations fore and aft, engine nacelles and prop detail, olio legs and tires, (including Dunlop logo on the side walls, and tread pattern). The undercarriage is a truly work of art, moving surfaces, dynamic reflections to the plexi-glass locations, visible detail from an external perspective of the cockpit, bomb aimers and gunners positions, bombs and the machine guns, not forgetting the various crew depicted very well. When the engines are static, have a look at the props, they are feathered, and when you start the engines, the feathered blades turn ready to start. A very nice piece of detail indeed.
You will also see the crew depicted in great detail in all the usual places including a a flight engineer sitting just behind the pilot, also a chap taking a sneaky peek out of the starboard fuselage mid window. However, none of the figures move. A shame, there are some excellent freeware aircraft with superb moving pilots. A certain Chipmunk springs to mind. While I am on the crew issue, I tried to open the hatches via Shift E and the message appeared (and sound of a hatch closing) i.e. the doors are opening, but I did not see any crew access opening. Now it may be down to me, but it was odd I could not see any obvious sign.
The lighting, this my friends is one of the most realistic representation of wing tip lighting I have seen. So often the nav lights are depicted as a 'ball' of green and red and white light. Bu not here, they excellent in fact. When you select landing lights they drop from the underside of the wing, lovely detail.
On all of the options, you see incredible detail. Seek out the Lanc versions with the Tallboy Bomb and Bouncing Bomb attached, very good detail.
The interior does not disappoint in any way. The detail is at an incredible level, and you have interactive switching. I like the feature when the mouse curser is over the switch, text appears to tell you what its function is. I simply love the instrument panel, the detail and clarity is superb, and at night, the lighting is highly realistic.
The view out of the plexi-glass is superb, some beautiful reflections, adding to the realistic feel.
Take To The Skies
I located myself at RAF Dishfoth home of a decent long runway, positioned myself away from the active so I could test the taxiing capabilities. Engines cold, I started the engines, had to pop-out and see the effects of the mighty RR Merlin starting. Sure enough as the prop started, there was a cough, and smoke in the start sequence. This was repeated to all four engines. The engine sound effect is quite brilliant. Set to tick-over, released the brakes, and started the journey to the active. Braking was effective, and you have differential braking which works excellently. A breeze to taxi (now that makes a change!)
The keen of eye will see that the wheels unrealistically totally lock-up when the brakes are applied (at any speed!) in all cases. This clearly is a fault, a patch I am sure will sort this out.
So onto the active, apply full power, help the tail up. I had to input some rudder, which I am glad to say was very effective, add trim, and she will with a tad of back pressure take to the skies. Nice gentle climb rate, gear up, flaps up a notch, gear up. Nice subtle and accurate sound effects as the 'bits' retract.
Flying the Lancaster, as with any large bomber required a certain degree of forward planning, it is not a nimble fighter, which could 'turn on a sixpence'. I flew straight and level, climbed to the point of stall, recovered that ...slowly... and tried some rudder input while level. Very impressed, it seems the flight dynamics are spot-on. Or rather, I assume them to accurate; I have not personally flown very many real life bombers!
I found landing a tad challenging, but predictable, as adjustments to the long final required dexterity, and no heavy input, as you would over compensate, i.e. to much left/right... That was great fun.
What is nice, and very satisfying, is doing a three point landing. It requires lots of practice though.
I decided to fly in snow, and rain, some great effects, including taxiing and take off run. The water/snow being kicked up was really excellent. Also the view from the cockpit in such conditions looked very realistic. Boy was I glad I had my sheep skin flying suit on!
Braking from speed seems accurate (pity about the wheels locking up though as covered previously).
If you do not have a Lancaster lurking in your virtual hangar, get this one! I truly adore this offering; the package provides you with superbly accurate graphics, a model with seemingly accurate flight dynamics, and incredible sound effects.
Only one thing missing, what is it? Well, when the engines are selected into the idle mode (i.e. on final) the Roll Royce Merlin had a highly characteristic 'pop' but this I did not detect. Well, not strictly true, you can just detect a very quiet popping sound from the interior, but not on the external view.
I think the popping, and crew movement, problem with the wheels locking-up being sorted would have been the icing on the cake, perhaps an update? You could say, "my, that's being pedantic", perhaps you are right, but when you have a product of such quality, you start becoming 'hyper' observant.
Don't get me wrong I adore the sound effects, from the external and internal perspective, truly great job, which I may add, provides so much to the overall experience. I may also add, the crew while a little stilted, look very accurate. Mind you, perhaps not surprising, they have had some six hours with me at the front!
Some may want all sorts of other functions to be included, but from a personal perspective, I am very happy with a beautifully represented aircraft with accurate graphic and flight modeling at a reasonable price. I just want to fly it!
If this offering is anything to go by, First Class Simulations have in my view, come of age! Beware guys, this now becomes the quality bench mark, so I am really looking forward to seeing any subsequent offerings from the FCS Hangar!
With another sortie over, my flying suit and helmet on the hook, I am off to the pub!
To recap, atmospheric, nostalgic, superb. In my view, a must have. OK, not on the cheap side, and perhaps it could be a little cheaper, but it is a really nice collection of Lancasters.
Windows 7, Vista, XP
MS Flight Sim 2004 / FSX
304 MB free HD space - FS2004
567 MB free HD space - FSX
Tested for approximately 6 hours (FSX).
Works with Microsoft Flight Simulator X (with SP2 or Acceleration Pack) Duel Core Processor, 2 GB RAM,512 MB Graphics Card.
Microsoft Vista Ultimate
AMD Phenom 9950 Quad Core CPU
Windows Vista Ultimate
Microsoft Flight Simulator FSX
Onwards and Upwards.
Nigel C. Martin