Aerosoft's Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt II
By David Swindle (16 December 2004)
To ensure survival of the pilot, the A-10 surrounds the cockpit in a "bathtub" made of titanium that will deflect anything up to a 23 mm shell by design, but the bathtub deflected 50 mm shells during testing. All of the flight controls have backups routed differently throughout the airframe, and there are also direct mechanical linkages if the hydraulic systems are shot out.
The A-10 can land and take off with a nominal bomb load in under 3000 feet from a dirt strip, and rearming and refueling requires under 30 minutes, allowing aircraft to fly many sorties in a short time. Although the A-10 is rugged, it also needs to be able to blow things up, and it does that very well. Unlike modern fighters which have a gun as a last-ditch weapon, the A-10 is built around a huge 7 barrel GAU-8 Gatling gun. The Gau-8 fires 30 mm rounds made of depleted uranium (each shell weighs about 1.5 lbs) at a rate of 4000 rounds per minute, so the 1174 rounds carried aboard the A-10 are good for roughly 17 seconds of firing. In addition to the cannon, 16,000 lbs of bombs, rockets, missiles and just about anything else can be carried externally. Although officially named the Thunderbolt II after the legendary Republic fighter of the second World War, the A-10's ungainly looks earned it the affectionate nickname of "Warthog" or just "Hog".
The A-10 was first based out of Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, AZ but it was soon deployed at several more bases around the US as well as in England, Germany, and Korea. By the late 1980's the A-10 was seen as unnecessary and retirement plans were drawn up. When the Gulf war erupted in 1991, the A-10 was sent in to see what it could do, and the results were impressive. A-10s roamed the desert and thoroughly terrorized Iraqi tank crews, truck drivers, or anything that moved with their cannons and other ordinance. A-10's racked up an amazing tally of kills, including a helicopter that was dispatched with cannon fire. In addition to anti armor, Hogs also served successfully as "Wartweasels" by attacking SAM sites. Far less successfully, A-10's also hunted Scuds, but failed to damage the nuisance missiles.
Since it was slated to be retired, the Warthog lacked the FLIR pods that allowed other aircraft to operate in the dark, but the pilots improvised by using the IR TV camera that was on the Maverick missiles as a makeshift FLIR. A-10's also got to show off their durability, with aircraft coming back despite direct hits from AAA or SAM's (I'd like to see the JSF or F-16 do THAT). After the first Gulf War, the Warthog was once again slated to be retired, but once again it got a chance to prove itself in combat. In Afghanistan, the A-10's loitering ability enabled it to act in a very efficient "on call" close support role. A-10's also served with distinction in the invasion of Iraq, and once again destroyed massive numbers of vehicles and tanks while providing valuable CAS.
Aerosoft's A-10 is available (as of this writing) only as 51 mb download and retails for either 29.95 or 25.95 Euros with the lower figure being for those in places that don't have VAT. Purchase is easy, but the download size is not good news for those still on dial-up connections. Installation is a snap, but an internet connection is needed for the product to "phone home" as an anti-piracy measure, and I had a little bit of trouble with the installer and my firewall not getting along (disabling the firewall when I installed solved it though).
Before you go looking for things to bomb, I highly recommend reading the manual. The manual consists of a good sized PDF that explains everything you need to know about the A-10 and how to use the fairly unique features in the flightsim version. The manual contains very useful diagrams and manages to give all the info needed without turning into an epic.
After installing, the aircraft can be found in the flightsim menus under "Fairchild-Republic". Three main models are available (each has a slightly different pre Gulf War model bringing the total to six), clean (no weapons or tanks), CAS (loaded with bombs, Maverick missiles, and Sidewinders) and Ferry (with a truly enormous external tank and Sidewinders). Each model has its own liveries, with the CAS having the most, Ferry having quite a few and the Clean model only has one. I personally found this slightly irritating and would have liked all the liveries available on all of the models.
After loading a flight, the first thing I did was look at the outside of the 'Hog. The models are superb and are very detailed, even down to the light lenses. All of the standard parts move smoothly, and the airbrake animation (the ailerons split) looks very nice. A well animated pilot is included, and he looks around on his own as well as responding to control inputs. The engine covers, entrance ladder, canopy, refueling door, and even the little ground fueling door and the pilot's visor are all animated and serve to highlight the work that went into this product.
The A-10 also has some impressive effects. Despite the fact that Microsoft didn't put weapons into the sim, Aerosoft still managed to simulate the GAU-8. The gun works by pulling the trigger on your joystick in the air (if you have rudder pedals, you have to hit the brakes there). From the cockpit, you hear the gun and see tracers shooting from the nose, and from the outside, you see smoke (although it seems a little lacking from what is shown in footage of the gun firing) as well as the gun spinning and tracers flying. All of this moving and lighting is also accompanied by the distinctive sound of airborne artillery. Aerosoft even limited the firing time to the correct 17 seconds, after which pulling the trigger results in nothing happening. It's worth noting that the gun effects are somewhat finicky and might take a while to get to work correctly (a tip, cycle through ALL of the 2D panel windows and use the switches to toggle the lights on and off a few times). I should also take the time to say that there are actually two sets of models available. The installed model has dynamic shine, which looks good and highlights the details of the model better, but some people may think the "dull" model to be more realistic.
Quite a few liveries are included, spanning from the green of UK based aircraft of the late 1980's to the brown "peanut" paint of the 1990's and also a good deal of variations on the gull gray that modern A-10's wear. All of the textures are very sharp looking and include details of panel lines and rivets. Each of the liveries are somewhat weathered and the effect is very well done as it looks like normal wear as opposed to looking factory fresh or like it was just driven through mud. All of this detail on the textures comes at a price though, as my frame rates more than halved, but playing around with the sliders (especially autogen) got the frame rates to an acceptable level without sacrificing much in the way of detail. My only (very minor) issue with the liveries is that there is not a paint job for Davis-Monthan AFB, which was the A-10's initial base, and is now the biggest A-10 base in the US.
In reflecting with the cheap and simple philosophy behind the A-10, the aircraft has a very spartan but functional panel and Aerosoft captured this very well. The panel is quite a unique setup since it uses a LOT of bitmaps and the controls are scattered all over. The panel actually consists of six bitmaps of the upper panel (the normal view), the lower panel and engine gauges and two sections each along the right and left walls of the cockpit. All of these are swapped between by using a simple one-click diagram in the lower left corner of the screen. This setup allows the developers to put the controls where they should be, and this feature is exploited very well.
The bitmaps themselves are very sharp and look superb, and all of the gauges and labels are easy to read. The actual gauges on the panel are almost exclusively of the "steam" type with the only digital device being a single screen that can display a variety of flight critical information from navigation, to engine data and even the project credits (although I suspect the latter is not present in the real A-10). Despite the sheer number of switches and buttons on the panel, finding the correct switch is easy if you read the manual, and the overall result is a panel that is a good blend of realism and functionality without succumbing to the temptation to have a tremendous number of useless controls. My only complaint about the panel is that there isn't a default GPS, which means that you need to set up a flight plan within FS to get useful navigation data. Although there is a lot of detail, the panel is surprisingly easy on frame rates, but I really wouldn't recommend running this on anything less than a 1.5 gig machine.
VC's are an integral part of any payware add-on, and Aerosoft delivers the goods in this department. The modeling within the virtual cockpit is flawless with a massive number of 3D parts and none of the obvious 2D texturing that gets used in some VC's. Almost all of the switches that work in the 2D panel do so in the VC and all of the clickspots are good sized and don't overlap. Texturing within the VC is up to the same level as the modeling and looks stunning in the right lighting conditions. The gauges are also superb and move very smoothly. Night lighting is well done and is a nice shade of red instead of the nauseating pink that plagues the default aircraft. The VC is immersive, but if combined with the ActiveCamera add-on, the effect is stunningly realistic. All this detail causes a noticeable hit on the FPS, but as a credit to the developers, turning down the gauge quality adds a good boost in performance without causing a noticeable drop in quality.
The A-10 is renowned for its agility and ease of flying, and Aerosoft captured the spirit of the aircraft perfectly. Takeoff takes a while at high weights, but with a reduced fuel and bomb load, the A-10 fairly leaps off the ground. Once airborne, the A-10 is a joy to fly. Cruising flight isn't terribly impressive since the A-10 moves along at a pretty sedate 340 kts in cruise. Although 300 kts isn't impressive 5000 feet up, it feels very fast at 20 feet above the trees. Low level agility is what the A-10 does best, and the aircraft has a great roll rate and can practically turn on a dime throughout its speed range. Landing the A-10 is simple even on one engine, and the aircraft can be stopped in a very short distance. My only complaint about the flight model is that speed changes result in a rapid need for copious amounts of retrimming, which is a pain since trim is done so poorly in FS.
Any decent payware add-on, especially if it's military, needs a good set of sounds and the A-10 (courtesy of Aaron Swindle) has one of the best sound sets I have ever heard in FS. Having lived under the flight path of A-10's for 17 years, I can attest to the fact that they are VERY quiet at low altitudes and the sound package captures their odd sort of whine very well on the outside with no static or looping noticeable. The inside sounds are also very well done and give a great feeling of immersion with sounds for the canopy movement and APU all included. Some sounds are also included that are a bit of a mixed blessing.
Now the big question, "Is this worth my hard earned money?" My answer is, probably. Although the product is very well done overall, it's quite a strain on the hardware and so lower (and some mid) end systems most likely won't be able to run this with decent frame rates and the sliders anywhere but firmly left. But for people with high mid and upper end systems, the A-10 is a blast to fly and despite having a couple of issues here and there, I think it is a must have for military buffs or someone looking for an alternative to playing bus driver with heavy iron. With the addition of the gunnery range, it adds a whole new level of fun and immersion into FS.