Review: Carrier Strike Force by Abacus
By Scott Woodford
February 26, 2012
Arguably one of the better features of FSX is the wide variety of missions. One of the most challenging tasks to complete in these missions is aircraft carrier operations, particularly landing on a carrier deck. I have always had an interest in aircraft carrier operations, so when I found Carrier Strike Force by Abacus in the FS Pilot Shop, I knew I had found my next product review!
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Carrier Strike Force is available for FS2004 or FSX (both installers are included in the same purchase price and download). Purchase and installation from the Pilot Shop are very easy. The installation program installs all files in to the relevant folders within your FS root folder, and the missions are ready to fly without further effort required from the user.
Because no uninstall program is included, removing the product (if desired) requires manually deleting the aircraft via the Windows Control Panel. Once installed, virtual pilots will find 12 different missions listed under the category "Carrier Strike Force Missions". Half of these missions are listed as intermediate skill level, with the remainder listed as expert. Included with the missions are three different aircraft carriers. The Royal Navy's HMS Illustrious; the French supercarrier Charles De Gaulle; and USS Bonehomme Richard. Along with the carriers, there are three different aircraft included in the package, the F35 Lightning (JSF); AV-8B Harrier II Plus; and the Dassault Rafale M.
Right from the start, it was obvious to me that the performance of each of the aircraft would be nothing spectacular. I mean, $29 for three authentic, highly detailed aircraft models is unheard of! In real life, the Harrier and JSF possess vertical takeoff and landing capability, whilst the Rafale has a canard wing that lowers its effective landing speed to around 115 knots. Accordingly, of the aircraft carriers modelled in this package, only the French carrier is equipped with a catapult launch system and arresting cables for landing "traps".
Without knowing whether FSX limits the ability to accurately model fixed wing aircraft with vertical flights characteristics, I can only comment on the product as I find it. Whilst the Rafale performs and handles as one would expect from a conventional fixed wing aircraft, the story is much different with the Harrier and JSF. Normal flight is pretty standard, with no nasty surprises until the pilot begins to engage vertical thrust for an approach and landing.
Thrust vectoring in these two models is achieved by the flap controls. In a conventional aircraft, lowering the flaps gradually increases the lift generated by the wing allowing for lower speeds to be flown on approach. The Harrier and JSF on the other hand use engine thrust vectored downward to achieve this increased lift. The Harrier uses four exhaust jets, arranged in pairs either side of the fuselage, that rotate down in increments to vary the angle of the thrust. The JSF has a single jet exhaust at the rear of the aircraft, and it is this that which bends downwards to provide the extra lift for low speed flight. But this is where the problems begin.
Firstly, let me get the takeoff out of the way, as this is the least problematic. In both the Harrier and JSF, takeoff is achieved by selecting full "flap". This vectors a maximum amount of thrust downwards for the takeoff roll. Due to the inability to rotate the nozzles completely vertical, some rearward thrust is still present which means that as the throttle is advanced, each aircraft will begin to roll forwards. Continuing to add power will result in the aircraft leaving the deck and it is important that the pilot keeps the nose of the aircraft steady in the pitch axis. Too high, and the aircraft will begin to yaw uncontrollably before crashing. Too low, and the aircraft will begin to fly forward and down towards the deck at a great rate of knots!
During this takeoff procedure, the aircraft can be manoeuvred in a similar way to a helicopter. As a safe altitude is gained, the undercarriage can be retracted and the flaps very gradually raised. This rotates the engine nozzles rearward producing more forward thrust. Both aircraft accelerate quickly and once established in conventional flight, handle as you would expect. BUT!
On slowing for approach, when the pilot lowers the first stage of "flaps" the aircraft lurches upwards and slows down incredibly. Increasing the level of thrust vectoring results in bringing the aircraft to all but a hover, requiring a nose-down attitude to maintain forward momentum should you find yourself a little further from the landing zone than you anticipated. It is essential to monitor and manage your airspeed at this point as departure form controlled flight happens very quickly.
All of the included aircraft carriers are only available when selecting one of the included missions. Although all of the aircraft can be flown in "free flight", only the mission flights will render the carriers in the scenery. All carriers move, and include visual effects such as wake, hard landing surfaces, night lighting and, in the case of the Charles De Gaulle, animated blast shields and catapult system with steam effect.
None of the aircraft in this package are extraordinary in terms of visual modelling. They all have animated control surfaces, undercarriage, etc. All of the instrument panels are basic and certainly not what I would consider "high quality".
A ten page ReadMe document is included and gives a basic rundown of the package. Users are told in the manual that technical support is available via the Abacus web site. Further instructions ask users to check the posted FAQ's on the site before contacting the support team for further assistance.
In a word, disappointing. I would happily pay a little more for a product that featured more realistic flight models, and much more detailed visual effects. But then I suppose we all get what we pay for. Abacus Carrier Strike Force certainly isn't expensive although, all things considered, I think it is slightly over-priced for the quality of the results achieved in the product.
- FSX Acceleration and DX9
- AMD 64 X2 Dual Core 4600+ 2.4 GHz
- 2 GB RAM
- Saitek X52 stick and throttle