• Pearl Harbor

    Pearl Harbor

    By Bill Womack (30 August 2001)

    Flush from the revisionist summer spectacle starring dashing aviators Ben and Josh, I recently had the chance to experience the latest add-on for CFS2 from Flight One, December 7, 1941: Pearl Harbor. And let me tell you, I'm hooked. Granted, no one in this add-on has ever dated Gwyneth Paltrow. However, I think it's a much more faithful re-creation of the actual events of the attack that drove the U.S. into the war. And best yet, you can get out from behind that popcorn tub and into the action!

    The download version weighs in at a whopping 25 megabytes, so you might want to set it for an overnight download if you're still using a modem. Or you can get the boxed version. For your trouble, you get:

    • 1 very nice aircraft to fly (the Curtiss P40B)
    • 2 new AI planes (a PBY Catalina and a B-17)
    • 16 missions (8 Japanese and 8 American)
    • Some very detailed scenery
    • A copy of Flight One's Combat Clouds (the CFS2 version of the popular FSClouds)
    • A very detailed and immersive manual in HTML format

    The installer worked as expected, which is to say that it was trouble-free and put everything right where it belonged quickly and efficiently.

    Flying The P-40

    Just like in the movie (and incidentally, reality) one of the primary planes available to you as a U.S. aviator stationed on the island of Oahu at the time is the Curtiss P-40. It's a fine craft indeed, if a little long in the tooth at the start of the war. Roger Dial and Steve Small have done a marvelous job of capturing the look of the plane in the nicely appointed model. The paint is in great shape, with very little weathering - something that seems logical given that this plane has never seen combat before today. It wears a coat of O.D. green with early war USAAC insignia, including the red "meatball" on the wing. Likewise, the panel is faithful to the reference photos I was able to turn up. In a keeping with a welcome trend, there is also an excellent virtual cockpit with working gauges. This is all capped off with a magnificently rumbling engine, courtesy of the Sultan of Sim Sonics himself, Mike Hambly.

    Having never flown an actual P-40, I can't pretend to know how well the flight model stacks up against the real thing. However, I can say that it seems very accurate. Take-offs require a good deal of fore-pressure on the stick in order to lift the tail off the ground near rotation speed, otherwise you risk the ship rising and stalling before critical airspeed has been reached. Once aloft, you immediately realize that lateral movements of the stick will produce exaggerated results due to the excellent roll capabilities, and you learn to treat it gently to avoid snap rolls. Other than these caveats, the handling of this craft is fairly agile, given that it's a pre-war design that was considered nearly obsolete by 1941. It's not a fast machine by P-38/51 standards, but with a top end of 352 mph, it's got more raw speed than your opponents will in this add-on, even if they are more nimble. And then there's that fabulous roll rate, which you quickly learn will be one of your strongest assets in combat. Interestingly, the feel of this bird in flight is very different than that of the other well-known CFS2 P-40 by Jorge Alsina and Joe Amodea. I have a hunch that one of these flight models is under-tuned, I just don't know which. And ultimately, it doesn't really matter. Both are very entertaining to fly.

    Overall, it's hard to fault the developers for choosing the P-40 as the primary Army fighter. It's a well known plane, and very useful for building missions for other theaters of the war. However, articles that I've read recently point to the fact that of the planes that managed to get aloft on the 7th, most were Curtiss P-36s. As trainers, they were equipped with a mere one .30 caliber machine gun in the nose as their only armament, no pilot armor and no self-sealing tanks. Overall, the fight wasn't even close to fair, and relying on this plane would probably have made the game's dogfights as much a slaughter as the real ones.

    Revisit Oahu, Circa 1941

    Now that you've got another great aircraft to add to your collection, it's time for some accurate scenery to go with it. There were a number of military bases on the island of Oahu in 1941, and this add-on has modeled many of them. There's Kaneohe Air Station on the windward side, the small grass strip at Haleiwa which was used for training, Wheeler Air Base (crowded with rows of aircraft parked wingtip to wingtip to prevent sabotage), Hickam Air Base near Honolulu, Pearl Harbor airstrip on Ford Island, and of course Pearl Harbor itself. The harbor is complete with the great gray giants lined up along "Battleship Row" in a faithful recreation of the configuration that fateful day.

    The ships of Pearl Harbor are a fine example of one of the best aspects of this add-on, which is the balance achieved between realism and smoothness of game play. They could have gone into great detail re-creating the ships that were at anchorage in the harbor. Instead, the developers chose to use the stock CFS2 ships, with their greater frame rates. And it was a smart decision, too, because with so much happening in many of the missions, the battles would otherwise have become a slideshow on all but the mightiest of computers.

    One of my complaints about this package is the decision not to place many static scenery items on the provided airfields. After first going through a number of missions and loving the scenery, I was very disappointed to do a little free flight around the island, only to discover that the airfields were devoid of anything but runways and trees. I sure would like to have seen at least the buildings in that mode, and maybe even some of the static aircraft. Likewise, Pearl Harbor is an empty expanse of water if you're not flying missions.

    No Fair Fights Here

    As I mentioned earlier, there are a total of 16 missions provided in this pack, 8 for each side. I started off flying the American missions, maybe because I love a challenge. Knowing the history of this particular battle, and that I'm only a passable combatant at this stage in my development, I didn't think I'd last long against the Japanese onslaught. Surprisingly, I was wrong! The first three American missions involve getting airborne (which can be tricky if you take off from Wheeler), finding a patrol of Japanese Vals and Kates, and taking out as many as you can. It helps tremendously that they don't seem to be expecting any resistance, and it's fairly easy to slip up on a group of them from behind. Remember though, these ain't Zeros. They have tail gunners, so sneaking up from behind is not without peril. Ironically, one of the safest places to be is in front of a group of them! With only your wingman to help, the going is tough. But in mission #2, where the main goal is to knock down 10 enemy aircraft, I consistently got at least 7 before eating lead myself. After about five attempts, I was able to complete the mission successfully and make it back to Haleiwa! Is this accurate? Probably not. But it sure is fun! You get a feeling of accomplishment that sadly eluded most American flyers that day.

    Okay, I thought. If it's tough flying American missions because you're so totally outgunned and outnumbered, then flying the Japanese missions should be duck soup, right? Oh, so very wrong! My attempts at leading the first wave of attackers against Wheeler was none too successful. Somehow, though I had only myself and a wingman when flying for the Americans, angry Yanks are everywhere when I'm Japanese. And don't even mention the intense ack-ack when we get over Pearl Harbor itself! The action above Battleship Row is quite intense, and is probably the most realistically depicted element of this pack. It's quite difficult to stay alive as a Japanese flyer, much less accomplish your other mission goals. Again, this is not particularly true to what I've read on the subject of this battle, but it makes for some outstanding game play. On a slightly down note, my frame rates, which had been pretty good in most of the other missions in this add-on, took quite a dive (no pun intended) when flying for the Japanese over Pearl.

    In addition to the eight "historical" missions included, there are also 4 fictional missions for each side. These range from rescuing one of the AI PBYs included, to seeking revenge on the Japanese on December 8th for the Americans. In addition to carving up Pearl itself, you also get to take down a wayward patrol plane on the 6th, attack the carrier Enterprise, and even go back for a third helping at the Pearl Harbor oil storage depot. I really like this aspect... after all, if you're going to be able to relive history, it's very empowering to also be able to re-create it!

    The Wrap-Up

    So, did I like this add-on? Absolutely! I've flown nothing else in the two weeks that I've owned it. I loved the planes, both flyable and AI. The scenery, when you see it, is fantastic. The battles are furious, the odds stacked against you at every turn, and yet it's still possible to return home a hero. Top that, Hollywood! In addition, I liked the cloud effects from FS Combat Clouds - especially the fact that unlike their stock counterparts, they obscure aircraft labels when coming between your plane and the enemy. And the manual is first-rate, with good background materials and even memorabilia from the era. Here's the quick overview:


    • Great P-40
    • Detailed scenery
    • AI B-17 and PBY (very useful to mission builders!)
    • Great heated battle action on both sides
    • Very little static scenery
    • Slow frame rates over Pearl
    • Could have used a P-36 for greater realism

    Bill Womack
    [email protected]

    Designed and published by Flight 1 Software:

    Published in Europe by Just Flight:

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