• Flight Replicas Me-262 Schwalbe

    Flight Replicas Me-262 Schwalbe

    By Matt Hinchliffe (16 February 2007)

    Basics

    The Messerschmitt 262 "Swallow" is well known for possibly being the Luftwaffe's scariest but most unreliable weapon. The world's first operational jet had many set backs in production, designed years before any suitable and durable engine could be made -- tungsten and chromium were not easy to get so cheaper alternatives made for short life and long replacement schedules. Despite being faster in climb and a straight line the cheap engines and complex production meant planes spent more time on the ground creating propaganda than they did actually in action.

    Although not successful on paper for the German war effort (the war ending before mass production), the plane went on to become the basis of many post-war designs. Swept wings and advanced aerodynamics led to detailed research and analysis of captured aircraft, ultimately resulting in the Gloster Meteor.

    So although physically unsuccessful in war terms the Me-262 had a large impact on aviation and as such new guy on the block Flight Replicas have indeed made a replica.

    The 70 MB download from the Pilot Shop is easy to install with a simple product key. You may be shocked to see the aircraft when fully installed comes in at a rather high 730 MB -- shocking because of only 7 paints (on 4 models) and simple maths tells us this is a bit extraordinary! Not to fear, textures are in full 32 bit meaning 70 MB per texture and easily compressible to around 20 MB using DXT3 or 8 bit formats (the latter suitable for the exterior). The sound set is also repeated four times adding quite a few megs. Instead of economising the developer had the foresight to see the less computer able could easily add and remove aircraft without accidentally removing something aliased -- the more computer competent among us can easily spend half an hour compressing and forwarding parts around anyway. The aircraft comes with no fancy configuration or anything of that sort -- it's just a set of planes.

               

    Exterior
    The key is in the title as mentioned before: replicas. The aircraft looks stunning with matte textures and super smooth model -- which is good considering the odd shape. The wheels and gear look really nice and near real looking (though mostly un-animated) pilot sits in the cockpit. The models vary little on the outside -- drop tanks, bulges and guns being the giveaways as many of textures are of course similar, featuring camo and a lick of color the appropriate pilot. The un-painted is my favourite as it is a little different and stands out from the rest.

    One problem that is apparent is the odd lighting on the wings, when wings catch the light or darken in the shade the flaps and slats seem to have the opposite reaction -- which is odd.

    Animations wise we're talking about the usual control surfaces, canopy and wheels. Tailhook can drop the underslung tanks (or they'll drop when empty) and the pilot can wiggle the stick.

    Interior

    No 2D panel just a beautiful virtual cockpit. Rendered in rather a few polygons and lined with rather a few textures to create a very smooth and good looking cockpit -- an attractive, clean and focussed place to sit. Basic Luftwaffe grey paint coats most of the interior with black and brightly colored accents. The glare shield, instrument rims, switches and window frames are much smoother than any other plane I've flown in -- much like a 2D rendering. Gauges are of course within the model producing refreshes as fast as your computer can go.

    The cockpit is not unlike Shockwave's highly acclaimed Wings of Power aircraft to look at -- not just in looks of course but in terms of quality. Unlike WOP aircraft however this VC doesn't have too much to click, but there's enough to be functional. Basic circuit breakers for battery, lights, pumps and pitot heat and engine start controls on the right console. The left console has nothing clickable and is little animated – only the throttle moves but it's all modelled in there. For most commands keys must be assigned as I imagine most of us have anyway. Nicely a sight can be clicked and moved into position then turned on and the canopy clicked to open. I guess you could say this cockpit is focussed, as pilots wouldn't be mousing around to click on a flaps lever anyway; it would just be there wouldn't it?

               

    Fly
    I wasn't sure at all what to expect in the original jet fighter, it looks pretty heavy and large but so do modern dog fighters or interceptors -- and we all know that has little bearing on reality. The ME-262 is in fact a very stable aircraft holding altitude and heading easily with trim while having a very solid feel to the bank and pitch. To the inexperienced or easy going flight simmer this is attractive and to the more experienced relaxing, knowing it wouldn't require mighty skill and sweat every time you needed to land (which is often with the high fuel burn). After flying Cloud9's F-104 Starfighter I was very happy to be on approach in this.

    Unlike the default or large, simple to fly aircraft however the Schwalbe is not without its quirks. Running on one engine can be pretty simple as only a small amount of rudder is needed to keep on track -- and while on the topic I must mention side slipping is pretty solid. With a slightly lighter load you can climb like a rocket (or very slowly compared to the F-104) and slow quickly with effective flaps. The flaps and auto-slats also provide a lot of lift so choosing the right setting is important depending on weight and runway length -- full flaps will have you landing slowly but then you'll be forced into a slow taxi to find the next exit.

    Fully loaded (and balanced to avoid tipping!) the plane is rather different, the take-off run will be very long and the climb out steady but this won't stop you easily reaching 30,000 feet.

    Sound and Docs
    The manual comes in three formats for us all to see and includes the usual aircraft history, basic flight checklist with numbers and cockpit diagrams for you to find your way around. The documentation is fairly compact but I think it suits the package in that it is simple and well rounded.

    The sounds are not quite as I would expect, they are somehow not as whiney or dirty as I expected and feel very smooth and clean (at least to what I expected) but they are again well constructed with no obvious looping or include no default leeched effects. Sounds such as the gear and flaps aren't obvious and unrealistic as in most add-ons and also have a basic technology buzz to them. It's a very good sound set, I just wish it sounded more like being in a rough, muddy Luftwaffe airfield in WWII.

               

    Performance

    The only downside to this package is the performance. My PC specs are below and with scenery set around 75% I got 15 FPS inside and about 20 FPS outside with all the weight being put onto the graphics card rendering those polygons. Even turning the scenery "off" left me with the same on the interior as my card struggles to render 30,000 polygons of aircraft and animate the world at the same time. As the aircraft was made in FSDS2 there was no limit on polygons -- new versions keep a maximum of 4mm. Having no limits makes the switches and dials super round, but super system intensive.

    Loading 70 MB or 35 MB - as I made it - of textures is not a problem, my RAM can easily cope with the add-on; but mapping onto all those polygons can take what seems like an age. Best practice for me was to pause for 20 seconds or never leave the cockpit/use the FS menu. The former is the more realistic way after all If you really want to speed up this loading and stop re-loads the best way is to ctrl alt delete and end "explorer.exe". This will eliminate Windows in many ways switching to the applications tab and new task to open flight sim will free a lot of RAM. FSAutostart can also help.

    If frame rates are really poor and your anti-aliasing is already set on the card I recommend getting into the FS9.cfg and turning off image smoothing and smooth view (SMOOTH_VIEW=0 IMAGE_SMOOTHING=0) as it will make a lot of a difference to your general sim world and all for the better as far as I can tell. Converting textures to DXT3 may not always be the best plan as they cannot be stored by your RAM as well (or so it seems) but keeping the cockpit at 32 bit and the exterior at 8 bit does well with little difference.

    Conclusion

    I have really enjoyed reviewing this aircraft as such basic jet operation of course no longer exists and it's great just having a few instruments in front of you. The quality of the modelling and textures is quite something else and in a style I've never seen before. The aircraft is fairly easy to fly, opening up an aircraft I suspect would normally be constrained to the fans. What this aircraft is constrained to however is a good graphics card as mentioned before. As a focussed, high quality product and work of art this package works well, but as a functional piece of simming for the masses? No, not yet.

    After Note:
    I just upgraded to an Nvidia 7600GS which I overclocked 150 MHz in total. This package runs far better on here, with frame rates not being too much of an issue – this add-on is still very intensive, but on a good PC like mine now is it runs adequately -- I'm sure many simmers have far more powerful machines and will love it.

               

    Summary

    + very smooth exterior and interior model
    + smooth gauges
    + great quality textures
    + simple package -- ability to remove models with no worries
    + For £10 I like it!

    - heavy! I think it killed my graphics card
    - Limited virtual cockpit functionality
    - Needs significant polygon loss to be a great add-on

    Test System

    • 3.4 GHz Pentium 4
    • 1.5 GB RAM
    • 256 MB Nvidia Gforce 5500

    Flight time: 27 hours

    Matt Hinchliffe
    info@forum-design.co.uk

    Learn More Here


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