Review: Handley-Page Hampden From Virtavia
By Wells Sullivan
December 3, 2011
There are three aircraft to choose from. The first is L4194 (ZM-B) of 185 squadron, based at Cottesmore (EGXJ). It was built by Handley Page at Cricklewood and delivered between August 1938 and June 1939. This aircraft probably joined 106 squadron when it moved from Cottesmore to Finningley (currently Doncaster-Sheffield, EGCN) on October 6, 1939. On the night of November 22/23, 1940, it was the only one lost out of three Hampdens sent on a mining operation near Lorient, France. None of the crew survived. It would seem that this scheme was selected from Warpaint 57, in which the serial numbers under the wings are incorrectly shown as L4914.
AE436 was one of several Hampdens from 144 squadron that were to be transferred to Russia after being converted into torpedo bombers. The idea was to provide protection for convoy PQ18. On September 4, 1942, at 2100 hrs, the aircraft departed from Sumburgh (EGPB). The plan was to refuel at Afrikanda before flying on to Vaenga, near Murmansk (ULMM). The aircraft didn't make it, having crashed into Mt. Tsatsa in Sweden (63 deg, 26' N, 13 deg 5.5' E). Two of the crew survived, while the others remained with the wreck until discovered in the mid 1970s. It was built by English Electric at Preston and delivered between October 1940 and October 1941.
Finally, we have AT225 of 1404 Met Flight, based at St. Eval (The closest would be St. Mawgan EGDG). It is the subject of the Valom 1/72 and Fonderie Miniature 1/48 scale plastic kits. The latter has the serial numbers in red, while the former is in grey. The profile in Warpaint 57 also shows the serial in grey and this is how the Virtavia model is displayed. Prior, this aircraft had been with 408 and 420 squadrons. It was delivered by English Electric, Preston, between October 1941 and March 1942. On August 3, 1943, the aircraft suffered from a collapsed undercarriage after a tire burst while taking off from RAF Davidstow Moor at 1100 hrs, on a training flight (according to the crash log). The Hampden File indicates that the aircraft was landing at St. Eval (in light of the previous source, this is probably not correct).
Looking for anything unusual, I noticed that the blade angle on the propellers was wrong for the Bristol Pegasus engines, which rotated in the opposite direction. Three crew members are visible, the pilot, upper rear gunner/wireless operator and front gunner/bomb aimer/navigator. The lower rear gunner is MIA. Oh wait, that must be me! No way! I'll have to kick that guy out of the pilot's seat! Using the tail hook command will open the crew access door. As well, the sliding hood over the cockpit and the upper rear gunner's cupola can also be opened when ready for action! The wing fold command will make the crew disappear. Overall, the excellent textures make the model look very authentic.
In The Cockpit
For reference, I obtained a copy of the pilot's notes for about half the cost of this model. All of the primary flying controls and surfaces are animated and work in the proper direction. The Hampden had controllable trim tabs on the elevator, port aileron and rudder, but only the elevator trim wheel is visible in the virtual cockpit and the tabs themselves are not animated. Rudder and aileron trim will have to be tested in flight. The elevator trim wheel rotates through five turns from full up to full down. However, it works backwards. To quote the pilot's notes, "The top of the hand-wheel should be moved forwards to counteract tail heaviness". Virtavia has chosen to assign landing gear and flaps to the propeller controls. In the real Hampden, there was a single control for both gear and flaps on the starboard side of the cockpit. It had four positions (flaps up/down, gear up/down). The pilot had to be careful to select the right position. The manual cautions against raising flaps until clear of the runway and completely stopped, presumably in case the landing gear is accidentally raised!
The gear and flaps were hydraulically actuated, with the pump on the starboard engine, which also drives the 500W generator. The electrical system was a 12V, 40 Ah supply. Below the throttles are the mixture and supercharger controls. Virtavia has both levers as mixture controls and they work in the opposite sense. The mixture was WEAK or LEAN when the lever was fully forward. A view is provided from the nose, which is nice. An autopilot is available as well as a GPS, for those that don't want to navigate by VOR or ADF. You may need to turn on the radio master to read the autopilot display, even though it will still function. There is no switch in the cockpit for this purpose, but the appropriate key combination should do it.
Before starting, we turn the battery on (it's always on by default) and check fuel contents. There are three fuel gauges. In the real Hampden, the main inner tank of 130 Imp Gal was indicated on the center fuel gauge with the left and right gauges corresponding to the front and rear outboard tanks of 87 and 110 Imp Gal. A switch below each gauge would select the right or left side of the aircraft. Although the total capacity is correct in the Virtavia model, the individual tankage is a little off. Virtavia has the gauges reading left side, right side and total. In the virtual cockpit, the total fuel is indicated on the left gauge, presumably so it is not blocked from view by the yoke. I found the lack of fuel tank selectors to be a problem when changing aircraft from say, a Cessna 172. Fuel would only be used from one side. To correct the problem, I switched to the DC-3, selected left and right side fuel tanks and then switched back to the Hampden.
The undercarriage indicator reads two green lights (2D panel only), meaning that the main and tail wheels are locked down. With the parking brake set, fuel cock levers ON, throttle open slightly, mixture RICH, cowling gills fully open and mags ON, the Hampden is started and warmed up with the propellers in coarse pitch. The start up smoke effect absolutely killed my frame rate in spot view! Once warmed up, the props are moved to fine pitch. While warming up, the hydraulic system is tested by lowering and raising the flaps. The triple brake pressure gauge is visible only in the virtual cockpit and should indicate at least 120 psi. I tested 100 psi. Next, the throttle is opened up to 0 boost (weak mixture cruise setting) to check the propeller controls. Opening up to +2.5 boost (rich mixture cruise setting), the mags are checked. The propeller must not be constant speeding or else you won't register any drop in RPM. This was the case and so I had to throttle back until the RPM dropped before checking the mag drop of less than 100 RPM. Incidentally, the number 2 and 3 mag switches are reversed in the virtual cockpit. Finally, going to full throttle correctly gave +6.75 psi boost and 2600 RPM and the aircraft held against the brakes! The oil pressure was checked at 40 psi. The carburetor heat controls are missing, but as it turned out, they weren't needed since the engines were not affected by icing conditions, for some reason.
This airplane handles like a trike. There is no need for differential braking or throttle while taxiing. Nor, is there any need to lock the tail wheel (there is no mention in the pilot's notes of any such capability). The tail wheel was not animated to show any steering angle with either rudder input or while the aircraft was turning. With the tail on the ground, it is impossible to nose over or ground loop.
A flap angle of 18 degrees was used for short takeoffs or at loads over 21,000 pounds. The starboard flap would deploy faster than the port flap unless the starboard engine was opened up to about 1/2 throttle, providing air resistance to the flap. Likewise, for landing, the flaps were simply selected to full down, to avoid uneven flap angles. The Virtavia model has six flap positions. They recommend using 15% for takeoff. Unless you go digging in the aircraft configuration file, you would have no idea which position corresponds to 15%, since the flap position gauges are not legible. As it turns out, the second notch down corresponds to 15%. If 15% equals 18 degrees, than 100% equals...120 degrees!
Elevator trim is neutral, the gills are closed and we're off! The plane will leave the ground in the three-point attitude at just over 80 mph, with the yoke about half way back. Should an engine fail on takeoff at normal loads (flaps up), the plane should be able to climb on one engine, provided that a speed of 120 MPH has been attained. The landing gear retracts in 8 seconds. As soon as 120 MPH is reached, I throttle back to climb power (+2.5 psi and 2250 RPM) and trim nose down about 1/8 of a turn on the wheel for climbing at 130 CAS. Climb power can be maintained up to 20000 ft, with boost then falling to zero by 24000 ft for a weak mixture cruise of 150 MPH IAS. Fuel consumption is about right, near 80 gal/hr.
To escape searchlights or night fighters, the Hampden could dive to a speed limit of 290 MPH. You can dive the Virtavia Hampden safely to that speed, but the needle is pegged at 240 MPH. You'll have to turn on the digital display or mouse over the 2D instrument to check your airspeed. I found that if I kept the VSI at or just under 4000 ft/min in a full throttle dive, I could avoid over-speeding. Leveling out at the full throttle height of 14000 ft gave 259 MPH TAS. As I slowed to check stall speeds, I noticed that the airplane behaved a little strangely as it had a tendency to climb as it slowed. Below 140 IAS, it started to show signs of positive stability. The stall was straight ahead and recovery was normal with a little forward pressure.
The Hampden had low directional stability. The pilot was instructed to be on guard against the development of sideslip and that feet should not be taken off the rudder. To quote the manual, "Sideslip produces a powerful tendency to bank which the heaviness of the ailerons makes it impossible to overcome directly at high speeds." "At low and moderate speeds, large sideslips may cause the rudder to lock over and rudder control can only be regained on increasing the speed." This was also a problem with the triangular tail fins of the early Halifaxes. While this might be difficult to model in FSX, I felt that the Virtavia Hampden could have been a little more willing to skid or slip.
No more than 1/2 aileron was needed to counter any rolling tendency from the application of full rudder, at any speed. There was no indication of the ailerons becoming heavy at high speeds. There was no appreciable sideslip with one engine shut down and the other at full takeoff power. Even just above the stall, the sideslip angle was less than 5 degrees. There seemed to be some kind of side force bug, acting in the wrong direction. With full rudder applied, the nose would initially swing in the expected direction, but then once the yaw angle was established, the heading would change in the opposite direction. This required banking in the same direction as the applied rudder to maintain heading. This is not normal side slipping or flat turning behavior.
I decided to explore single engine flight a bit more. Without pulling the prop control to coarse pitch, the plane cannot maintain height. With full coarse pitch, the propeller continued to windmill, but 155 mph was possible with the good engine at full power. The prop could only be stopped by reducing speed to less than 40 mph. This was accomplished by pulling the nose up as steeply as possible, followed by a stall. Then, 165 mph was attainable and I was able to cruise at 125 mph using +2.5 boost and 2250 RPM. Dropping the landing gear caused the plane to slow to 110 mph, again at full power. With the gear up and the bomb bay doors open, speed was 115 mph. Lowering the flaps caused absolutely no loss in airspeed! If you lose the port engine, you will also lose the vacuum pump and thus the artificial horizon. The real Hampden had a static port in the fuselage that could be selected. This option is missing in the Virtavia Hampden.
For landing, airspeed is reduced to 115 IAS for dropping the gear and 108 IAS for dropping flaps. The engine assisted approach is made at 85 IAS. Upon leaving the runway and coming to a complete stop, the flaps are raised. The cowl flaps are opened and the plane is taxied to parking. Upon setting the parking brake, the propeller is put into full coarse pitch by pulling the propeller control back and opening the throttle to about +1 psi boost. Oil is allowed to drain from the sump for about a minute, before shutting off the fuel and ignition switches.
It's nice that someone remembered the Hampden! The exterior model is gorgeous and almost worth the price by itself. I was disappointed that the aircraft systems and handling characteristics were not given the same attention to detail. It's almost as if they tried to appeal to a more casual user and thus reach a greater audience. Perhaps they felt that the Hampden would not be a popular subject. However, it would seem to me that those who would spend the money on a Hampden would be those with a genuine interest in the aircraft. I hope that Virtavia continues to support and update this aircraft in the future. It's the only way to keep 'em flyin'!
For this review, I am running FSX Acceleration on Windows 7 with a dual core E5200 at 2.50 GHz with 2 GB of RAM. The video card is an Nvidia GeForce 9500 GT with 1 GB RAM.
I purchased this model under the Alphasim brand name. It is now sold under the Virtavia brand. To my knowledge, the model has not been updated. I was not able to reach Virtavia at the time of this review, since the web site was "under construction". The zip file indicates version 1.1.