• FS2004 - A Century Of Flight Part 2: Historic Planes

    FS2004 - A Century Of Flight Part 2: Historic Planes

    By Andrew Herd (4 July 2003)

    In this piece in our introduction to FS2004, I am going to look at some of the historic planes that have been added to Flight Simulator. FS2004 would probably have been quite different if it had not so happened that this is the hundredth anniversary of the first powered flight. It is well known that this was made by the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk on 17th December 1903, and though there are always people prepared to advance the idea that other aviators beat them to it, none of these claims have really stood the test of time.

    What is less well known is that the original Wright Flyer, together with the working drawings and castings for the engine was donated to London's Science Museum by Orville Wright in 1928 after a dispute. After the first flights had been completed, the 1903 Flyer went into storage for a long time and when the time came to ship it, it was found that it had been damaged by a flood, so the aircraft had to be rebuilt for display.

    The Flyer stayed in London for twenty years, partly because the Smithsonian Institute were slow to recognise what Orville, his brother Wilbur, and Charles Taylor, their engineer, had achieved. The story behind this is better than anything you could read in a novel and is known in aviation history circles as 'The Great Squabble'. No doubt this will be retold many times in the months to come, but fortunately for us all, sanity eventually prevailed and the Flyer was repatriated in 1948, sailing back across the Atlantic as cargo on RMS Mauritania.

    As I remarked in the first article in this series, there are as many selections of great planes as there are pilots to fly them, but when FS2004 was being scoped, Microsoft decided they would not simulate aircraft where it was impossible either to find an original or a near exact replica in flying condition, which ruled out a number of aircraft which have equal or better claims to be in the list. So for better or worse, what you get is:

    • 1903 Wright Flyer
    • Curtiss JN-4D "Jenny"
    • Vickers F.B.27A Vimy
    • Ryan NYP "Spirit of St. Louis"
    • Ford 4-AT-E Tri-Motor
    • Model 5B Vega from Lockheed
    • Douglas DC-3
    • deHavilland DH-88 "Comet"
    • Piper J-3C-65 "Cub"

    Nine planes may not seem like a lot, but these are some of the best simulations I have ever seen and some have multiple liveries - I am sure they will be repainted endlessly by freeware developers and I am looking forward to a bare aluminium Flyer with full reflective textures (-:

    The visual models on the historic aircraft are nothing short of stunning and they all have 2 and 3D panels to match, with impeccable flight dynamics... and the sound sets aren't at all bad, either. But in many ways, the Flyer is the most interesting of them all, because it is the machine in which the Wrights solved the conundrum of how to make a controlled, powered, sustained flight. Others had made sustained, powered or controlled flights, but no-one had managed to do all three at once, and behind the Wrights' meticulous development schedule lay the uncomfortable knowledge that too many of their friends and acquaintances had died in accidents. The fact that they succeeded was no accident, which is evident in their well documented record of the Flyer's development, which shows the Wrights' capacity for painstaking research and a degree of attention to detail that none of their predecessors could match. In the final analysis, the reason the Flyer flew when other planes could not was that the Wrights took far more trouble to understand what little was known about the principles of flight than anyone else had ever done before. In the process they made many small discoveries, which they used to build more and more advanced machines until finally they were sure that they knew how to make a powered flight. They had more than a little luck on their side, but once they realised the importance of being able to exert control over their aircraft's tendency to roll and installed Taylor's brilliantly engineered little engine they were more or less assured of a place in the history books.

    The first time I flew the FS2004 Flyer, I stalled it and crashed. Second time too, but I took consolation in the fact that I was in good company; the reason Orville made that first powered flight being that Wilbur was the first man to stall wheelbarrow an airplane, putting him right at the head of a long line of students. Until that moment, I hadn't really thought about how the Wrights must have felt when they made that first hop, but though there was a reasonable amount of experience of flying gliders to draw on, they were literally launching themselves into the unknown on that day a century ago. Out of sympathy with Wilbur, I have simulated his first power on stall in the screenshot above...

    I guess I should have been prepared, because before I attempted the flight, I had read the briefing that popped up on the electronic kneeboard, but somehow, the idea of flying for twelve seconds doesn't sound so tough when you are viewing it from an age in which aircraft have managed to fly around the world non-stop. The simulation swept all such thoughts from my mind, because - assuming the flight model is accurate, and I am assured it is - the Flyer is damned near uncontrollable. After a bit of experimentation I changed from a yoke to a joystick, which made life a whole lot easier and discovered that the secret is never to stray too far from ground effect and not to make any sudden movements apart from correcting any roll the moment it occurs, before recentering the stick and waiting for the next departure from straight and level. Let more than ten or fifteen degrees develop and you won't be able to control it, the wing warping not being quite as efficient as one might wish it to be.

    The difference between the Wrights and me is that I spent forty five hours training to fly, whereas they had not only to teach themselves, but build the first airplane, and I gained a totally new respect for them by flying the sim. Piloting the Flyer is so absorbing that most people won't have any spare attention left to admire the visual model, but once you have made a flight, use the instant replay feature to admire it in spot plane view, because it is probably the best FS plane I have ever set eyes upon. Of course, the other advantage the Wrights had was that the FAA wasn't around to tell them that what they were trying to do wasn't possible, but you have to hand it to them all the same.

    The next historic plane is the Curtiss Jenny. The Wrights and Curtiss were linked by a lawsuit launched when the brothers decided that Glen Curtiss had infringed one of their patents, a move which was instrumental in causing the Great Squabble. The immediate spinoff was that Curtiss went out and rebuilt a modified version of Professor Langley's ill-fated plane, making the claim that it had been the first aeroplane which was capable of flight, even though the original had an incurable habit of crashing into the Potomac and was powered by a steam engine. Curtiss upset the Wrights by building a plane with ailerons, which were vastly more efficient than wing-warping, but he was also instrumental in pioneering the development of floatplanes and flying boats.

    The JN-4D had the distinction of being the first mass-produced aircraft built in the US. The original Model "J" was actually designed in England by a young engineer by the name of B.D. Thomas, who had worked with Vickers and Sopwith. The J wasn't fast enough for the US Army, so Thomas was asked to design a new plane designated the model 'N', but after realising how much work was going to be involved, he he opted to save time by utilising the fuselage from the J, resulting in the 'JN'. Successive modifications advanced this through the JN-2 and 3 to the JN-4 and finally the 4D, showing that even in 1917, aircraft manufacturers had developed a passion for referring to their planes by obscure combinations of letters. Not one of the thousands of pilots who trained in the JN-4D for the war in Europe ever called it that; to them it was the 'Jenny', a remarkably forgiving trainer, which had just enough vices to keep the occupant of the rear seat interested. After the war thousands of Jennies came on the market at rock-bottom prices and many were bought by ex-service pilots who couldn't bear to be parted from flying and took up a career as barnstormers. Lindbergh was one of them and he did his share of wing walking and parachute jumps from a Jenny.

    If you want to know how to fly the simulated Jenny, you can read all about it in FS2004's new Learning Center, in the aircraft information section. A brief history of each plane is included, together with rather more extensive flying notes, but there isn't really that much to learn about the JN-4D, apart from the fact that you aren't going anywhere very quickly in it. The Jenny climbs at a sedate 300 feet per minute, cruises at sixty knots and as you can see from the panel, the cockpit workload isn't likely to become worryingly high. This is a plane that begs to be flown from the virtual cockpit and it has a flight model that seems to be pretty accurate. Maneuvers are best described as sedate, though it is hard to go really wrong with the Jenny, since it has built-in headwind and slows up the moment you cut the throttle. The development team have clearly paid a lot of attention to the ground handling and it definitely feels much more like a tail dragger than anything else I have seen in FS, though there is still a way to go on this. One thing to watch is the lack of an attitude indicator and of course you don't have flaps either, but if you want to get an idea of what trainers of its generation were like to fly, this one makes a great introduction.

    Unlike the Flyer, which comes in any colour you like as long as it is doped, you get three liveries for the Jenny: a military trainer, the blue and silver scheme shown here; and a red and black one. The visual models all look the part and the plane is equipped with a superb, fully-functional virtual cockpit (VC) as indeed do all the other planes. The sound set was recorded off a surviving original and I can imagine that this will become one of the most popular planes in the ACOF stable.

    Now it is one thing having a virtual hangar full of planes, but quite another adding some meaning to them, so Microsoft have extended the idea of the adventures which are traditionally included with Flight Simulator and have added a clutch of historic flights - so many in fact that it would take quite a while to work through them all, since some of them take days to fly. The Jenny flights include a recreation of the first US Airmail route from Washington DC to Philadelphia and New York - as originally flown by Lieutenant George L. Boyle. Boyle got lost almost immediately he left the field, ran out of gas and crashed on a farm only 25 miles away from his start point; but another pilot successfully completed the trip. If you manage to complete it, the whole flight takes about three and a half hours to fly and is a great test of your VFR (visual) navigational skills.

    Given the attention to detail that has been lavished on the historic planes, it is a shame that there is so little contemporary scenery to go with them. I guess the team had to draw the line somewhere, but after you have read how to fly the plane, chosen a historic flight and read all about that, then admired the extraordinary attention to detail found in the cockpit - it comes as a bit of a shock to discover the mission starts with the Jenny parked next to a set of modern pumps at a modern airport that didn't even exist when the aircraft was designed. Sure, there is some period scenery: a couple of huts at Kitty Hawk and a barn full of chickens, but after FS2004 goes to such trouble to set the scene for the flights, finding yourself dumped unceremoniously in modern surroundings grates a little. The Lindbergh transatlantic adventure starts with a lame apology that the field the Spirit of St. Louis started out from is covered by a shopping mall these days, but there is no reason why the field could not have been recreated. And as for clashes with modern airports, well Bill Lyons has shown how easy it is to create scenery that changes dependent on the year set in Flight Simulator, so why not Microsoft? As it is, the lack of historic scenery creates an opportunity for add-on developers, such as Lago, who did a package which included Roosevelt Field and Le Bourget a while back. A good barnstorming/mail run scenery with a couple more planes and some challenging adventures would be a good seller, I suspect.

    Moving on, there is a Vickers Vimy, used to recreate the first flight across the Atlantic and also the first England to Australia flight by Ross and Keith Smith. The Vimy was originally designed as a First World War bomber and the attempt was prompted by the offer of a prize of £10,000 for the first direct transatlantic air journey. Although Alcock and Brown's epic adventure of 1919 is remembered less often than Lindbergh's, it was a fantastic achievement. The pair lost their radio early on, flew in fog most of the way on limited instruments, got the plane into a spin on one occasion - just managing to recover it, before finally making a landing in what looked like a green field, but turned out to be a bog. Alcock's laconic telegram announcing their success read: 'Vimy arrived Clifden 8:40 GMT. Machine damaged through landing in a bog. Alcock.' Damaged was an understatement; they were lucky to walk away from the crash. If you would like to read more about the flight, try here.

    The Microsoft Vimy is one of my favorites. The plane is big, with sloppy controls that make it handle like a ship, there being long delays before there is any response to movements of the stick, a characteristic fairly typical of big aircraft of the era and one which makes for interesting takeoffs and landings, particularly in any kind of a cross wind - not that pilots of the time had to contend with them too often. Airfields in those days were just that, without any designated runways and so it was rarely necessary to land in any direction other than directly head to wind - another reason why FS2004 could do with some period scenery. The Vimy visual model is a real treat for the eyes and the panels, like all the other historical planes are just fantastic. I know I am raving on, but FS2004 really is good; just take a look at how well those instruments are done. The compass in the Vimy is particularly good, you get two liveries as standard and I can't recall a sim of the same type with such a realistic feel to it.

    I raised a question at one of the press events for FS2004 regarding what is going to happen to the historic planes when FS2006 (or whatever) is released. This was mostly for selfish reasons, because I like 'em too much, but I think that others will develop a soft spot for them too. The answer was that it would probably be too much work to keep updating them, but that one or two are likely to be kept - perhaps the Cub and the DC3 - while it is possible that the remainder might be made available as an unsupported add-on. So if you like these as much as I do, email Microsoft and let them know you want 'em preserved.

    After the Vimy comes the Spirit of St. Louis, which barely needs any introduction from me. Anyone who is interested to know more about the flight can check out the review of Lago's 'Lucky Lindbergh' package elsewhere on this site. Lindbergh had a lot in common with the Wrights and it was no accident that he managed to fly non-stop from Paris to New York when others had failed, though he had a share of luck on his side too. The first thing most people will notice about the Spirit is how unstable it is and that is exactly how the original was designed to handle. It sounds whacky, intentionally making a plane difficult to fly, given that most of them are designed with the absolutely opposite philosophy, but Lindbergh had worked out that his best chance of survival was to fly in a single engined plane, given that most multis of the day couldn't hold altitude if one engine failed.

    That decision left Lindbergh without enough payload for a second crew member and that in turn meant that he had to stay awake for 33 hours. The only solution he could think of was to make the Spirit so twitchy that he would constantly have to fly it and by gosh, he succeeded. I would recommend reading his books about the flight, but even if you don't, Microsoft's flight model is as awful as it should be and just getting the sim off the ground will require your full attention if you set all the sliders to their most realistic level. The 2 and 3D panels are excellent and this is one plane where it is really worthwhile panning the point of view (POV) back so you can admire the cockpit. Besides, it gets you nearer to the view Lindbergh had, which isn't much - and good luck with the landing.

    Then we take a step forward to 1925, the Ford Trimotor and the beginning of viable airline travel. Before the twenties, airlines of a sort were created, but they mostly used modified ex-bombers and journeys were uncomfortable and frequently dangerous. The companies involved lived a precarious financial existence and went bust with monotonous regularity, but the Trimotor was the saving of many of them, before it gave way to the all conquering DC3. The Trimotor wasn't a Ford design, being the brainchild of the appropriately named 'Stout Metal Plane Company', but Henry Ford realised that there was money to be made in aviation and bought William B. Stout out. Unfortunately, the Trimotor used the same sheet metal system that Junkers did and Henry found himself on the receiving end of a lawsuit almost the moment he got the keys to the factory. He wasted no time with a countersuit and went on to build 195 of the model, found his own airline and to pioneer air radio navigation. You wouldn't guess it from the historical notes on the plane, but Ford was a visionary who once told an audience that in the future all aircraft would be made of metal, multi-engined and monoplanes, which was a startling view to hold in an age when the fabric covered biplanes were the norm.

    The Trimotor had a crew of two and carried 12 passengers seated on wicker chairs at a racy 96 knots; the main drawback being a service ceiling of 14500 feet, though in those pre-pressurised days, it was probably more than high enough for the passengers because the aircraft was completely unheated. The visual model in FS2004 is more than up to the standard of the other planes and it comes with three liveries, including one for the EAA plane - and I can see it getting its share of repaints. The cockpit is excellent, not least because of the superb instruments that the developers have graced it and its fellows with, and the VC is great too. In fact, you can take it as read that all the historic planes have fantastic panels - from now on I am only going to comment on specific features.

    The original Trimotor owed much of its success to being a pussycat in the air, although the fact that it had a good reliability record must have helped. It had a very wide track undercarriage and though lacking flaps it was easy to land; the only problem being that the trim was notoriously difficult to get right in the cruise, but it was so much better than anything that had preceded it that I doubt many of the pilots complained about that. The flight model reflects all of this, though I suspect it is easier to trim that the original, and it makes a good example of how much of an advance FS2004 has made in this area; not only does the plane swing on takeoff, but you need to hold some rudder in the climb and I can see it making some sales for hardware suppliers like PFC. Multi-engined aircraft of this generation were normally held straight by advancing one throttle ahead of the others and I'm itching to have a go at a unit that lets me do this now I have tried this plane.

    There are three flights to go with the Trimotor: a 1929 Maddux Airlines trip from LA to Bakersfield; a Pan-American Grace Airways jink through the high passes in the Andes; and a gruelling TAT transcontinental route with nine legs that takes the best part of twenty hours to complete - now imagine that one with proper period scenery? I can see dozens of Golden Era Virtual Airlines springing up just on the strength of this aircraft alone; but there was something better coming along, and that was the DC3.

    Andrew Herd
    [email protected]

    Visit our FS2004 message forum.

    Visit the official Microsoft web site.

    Read part 1 of this series.
    Read part 3 of this series.
    Read part 4 of this series.
    Read part 5 of this series.

    Read Andrew's FS2004 preview article.

    Dell Dimension 8300

    By Nels Anderson

    Here's the Dell 8300 system both inside and out.
    For a flight simulation experience that will blow your mind, FlightSim.Com recommends the new Dell Dimension 8300. Both reviewer Andrew Herd and I are now running this system.

    The flights for this article were made on a Dell Dimension 8300. This system currently holds the sweet spot in top end price-performance for a flight simulation screamer. It has all the power and performance features we have always wanted for realistic flight simulation (at a price we can easily afford). What's even more important, the Dimension 8300 is widely available around the world, unlike the Dell Dimension XPS which is only available in the United States at this time. Although we have extensively tested FS2004 on other systems and include such data to help readers make purchasing decisions, the Dimension 8300 allows the reviewing team to run A Century of Flight at the highest possible settings in order to demonstrate every feature.

    Dell engineers combined the very best in high performance with economical design to bring us the power of advanced technology at a very affordable cost. They built a multimedia machine that answers nearly every item on a flightsimmer's wish list with:

    • Extreme performance using an ultra-fast 3 GHz Intel Pentium 4 processor with Hyper-Threading Technology, 800 MHz front side bus and the Intel(r) 875P chipset.
    • Blazing fast 8X AGP port (with full 8X bandwidth) and DirectX 9 graphics support.
    • Dual channel DDR 400 MHz SDRAM memory for extreme performance with memory-intensive applications such as Microsoft Flight Simulator 2002, FS2004: A Century of Flight and Combat Flight Simulator 3.
    • The awesome 128MB ATI Radeon 9800 Pro video card.
    • The Sound Blaster Audigy 2 card for premium sound and extreme high-definition audio performance that rivals high-end home stereo and home theater systems.

      The Dell 8300 system installed and in use running FS2004 at FlightSim.Com world HQ.
    • Built-in 10/100 Ethernet port for instant network connections and broadband peripherals.
    • 250W power supply.
    • Quiet chassis with excellent cooling and heat dissipation.
    • Plenty of room for expansion with:
    • 2 - internal 3.5" bays
    • 2 - external 5.25" bays
    • 2 - external 3.5" bays
    • 4 - PCI, 1 -AGP slot
    • 8 - USB 2.0 ports,
    • 17" Dell UltraSharp Flat Panel Display set to 1280x1024 resolution and 32-bit color depth with all the graphics and effects sliders in FS2002 and FS2004: A Century of Flight set to their maximum positions.

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