• P-51D Mustang From Flight1

    Review: P-51D Mustang From Flight1

    By Tony Dillon (7 May 2010)

    If you read your local general aviation press as avidly as I do, and if you have an interest in homebuilt, experimental aircraft, also as I do, then besides the fact that you're probably me, you might also have noticed that there is a real resurgence at the moment for P-51D Mustang replicas, with Titans and Loehles flooding the experimental market. So what better time for innovative add-on maestros, Flight1, to bring their own touch of 1940's wartime Americana to FSX?

           

    A massively versatile fighter and recon aircraft, the P-51D was a powerhouse both in and out of battle; massively manoeuvrable, with a massive range and bags of power from its Rolls Royce Merlin engine, the Mustang was adored by the RAF and USAF alike. Throw in an impressive array of arms, and you had a classic case of "death from above", often not even that far above, as its legendary handling made it ideal for extremely low-level attacks.

    So the first question that popped into my head while I ripped off the plastic was this - for an aircraft that is such a competent aerial attack vehicle, how is this going to stand up in the sedate world of civilian flight? It's all very well having a battery of six 50-calibre guns, but if nothing happens when you pull the trigger, why would you want this on your shopping list of hard-drive fillers?

    There are only really two answers to that: it's stunning to look at and is one of the most exciting aircraft you can fly. Plain and simple. Enthusiasts love the twitchy feedback, forcing you to fly it gently but firmly. They love its high seating position and great visibility. And, of course, they love to look at it. This is a beautiful aircraft. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

           

    What's In The Box?

    First things first, the obligatory unboxing. Flight1 never skimp when it comes to the packaging, and this is no exception. Sealed within the DVD case are the DVD itself, featuring a wide variety of P-51 variants plus a myriad of manuals, engine guides and performance charts, along with PDF renditions of both the Pilot's Operating Instructions and a reprint from FlyPast, covering a restoration of a stunning example of a P-51D now flying, which thanks to expert advice from the restorer himself, also features in this package. It's a real joy to read about the blood, sweat and love that went into keeping one of these fantastic machines in factory condition, and then to try it out for yourself! While supplemental to the main package, this is a fascinating read and makes the Mustang experience that little more immersive. A nice touch.

           

    First Impressions

    So, installer complete, FSX loaded, a suitable military airfield selected and time to select my aircraft. The first choice to make is which variant I'm going to take out - there are 15 to choose from, all authentically reproduced from real-life counterparts. The obvious one to take out, having read the FlyPast article, is Marinell, so I choose my variant, stick it on the active runway and load her up. So how does she look?

    In a word, spectacular. The level of detail present is nothing short of stunning. Every rivet, every dimple, every slightly worn aluminium skin is here. The effort that has gone in to replicating every subtle nuance of the original plane is evident on every single variant - this isn't just a simple frame with a large bitmap texture on it. The developers have taken a considerable amount of time to make sure every single detail is replicated correctly, with a myriad of nice, subtle touches and animations, like the engine cover opening for inspection or the pilot donning an oxygen mask once you reach 8,500 feet. Believe me, you are probably going to spend a long time just walking around her, finding every little treat before you climb in.

           

    Interior

    The fun doesn't stop there. Once you're inside, you are presented with one of the most detailed and interactive virtual cockpits I've ever seen. Every single control is present, clickable and animated. Sure, some of the more interesting controls, such as arming the bombs, might not produce an actual result, but it's still fun to setup the gunsights and go on a strafing run across the Lake District. Firing blanks, of course...

    For the traditionalists, there is a 2D cockpit, but to be honest it's purely functional. Some very basic dials arranged in a row along the bottom of the screen are all you're going to get here, but there's a very canny reason for that. You don't want to spend your time looking at dials, switches, gauges and the like. You want to fly, with as close to uninterrupted visibility as possible. So let's get her in the air!

           

    Enough Of Looking At It, What Does It Fly Like?

    The Mustang really is a two-faced beast. On the one hand it's a 70-year old warbird, and the ground handling shows its age. It's heavy, even for a taildragger. Tough to steer on the ground, you quickly realise that taxiing involves planning and plenty of pre-emptive rudder to keep her going where you need her to be.

    Get her in the air, though, and it's a completely different animal. Lythe, supple yet twitchy and sometimes quite unpredictable. If you're a GA jockey, who likes nothing more than pottering from your local airfield to the coast and back, this is going to scare the pants off you. A gentle touch on the stick is required to keep her straight and level, trimming and flaps should be approached with caution, as she's likely to kick up if you mess with her airflow even one little bit!

    Give the stick a bit more aggression, and you instantly see why the Mustang was so popular. Providing you have the reflexes (and I assume, a cast iron stomach), this is an enormously rewarding aircraft. Tight, high-G turns and rapid rolls are performed with ease, and the sheer power of that mighty Merlin engine can make for some very interesting landing approaches. Again, planning and plenty of pre-emptive control needed, but then if it wasn't a challenge, if it wasn't going to be edge-of-your-seat-sweaty-palms exciting, then why would you bother to step out of your sage, comfortable C172?

       

    Conclusion

    This is a hell of an aircraft, and Flight1 have done an incredible job of replicating the excitement and energy of flying one of the true classics. If you're tired of practising VFR navigation, and long-haul flights are starting to feel a bit, well, long-haul, then you can't go far wrong with this. Sometimes you need a little extra oomph to rejuvenate your simming, and this 70-year-old is just the kick in the pants you need.

    Tony Dillon
    [email protected]

    Learn More Here

    Other Flight1 Product Reviews:

    ATR 72-500
    Messerschmitt Bf 109
    Cessna 441 Conquest II


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