• FS2004 - A Century Of Flight Part 3: More Historic Planes

    FS2004 - A Century Of Flight Part 3: More Historic Planes

    By Andrew Herd (7 July 2003)

    Every era has a plane to sing its tune and for America in the thirties, it was the Lockheed Vega, known to all for its record-breaking flights. The Vega was big, a very physically imposing high wing, single engine monoplane which was designed by John Northrop and Gerrard Vultee, pioneers who went on to establish their own aircraft companies.

    The Vega first flew in July 1927, but it was during the first few years of the 1930s that the aircraft established its reputation. Though it was designed as a transport, carrying four to six passengers and a crew of two, it was extremely reliable and saw extensive service with the airlines, including TWA and Braniff, which makes it a worthy target for repaints, those early schemes having an interest all of their own. Guess I might try my hand, if someone can give me a tutorial.

    The Vega will forever be associated with Amelia Earhart, but a New York society gal called Ruth Nichols attempted to become the first woman to fly the Atlantic solo in a Vega on June 22, 1931. Her destination, like Lindbergh's, was Paris, but she crashed at St. John, New Brunswick and was badly injured. A year later Earhart succeeded in the attempt, flying solo from Harborgrace, Newfoundland to Culmore, Northern Ireland.

    One of the Vegas in A Century of Flight is modelled after Amelia Earhart's plane, but there was another, even more famous Vega - the Winnie Mae - which Wiley Post flew around the world, despite having only one eye, a disability that would deny him a medical today. Post's first circumnavigation was made in 1931 with Harold Gatty as navigator and took him 8 days, 15 hours and 51 minutes. A couple of years later, in July 1933, Post did it again, this time flying solo and making the trip in 7 days, 18 hours and 49 minutes. Post was one hell of a pilot and could get a fully loaded Vega off the ground in 1900 feet, which sets a challenge for you to try and beat; but I warn you that with the realism settings set to high, the plane is not that easy to get off the ground, though it is less problematic once it is in the air. This is where the new working virtual cockpits come into their own, because they let you get on with flying the sim while you are free to look around and while I wouldn't like to lose the 2D panels, I can appreciate that their end is nigh.

    Two flights are included for the Vegas and it doesn't take any guessing to work out which ones they might be. Earhart's crossing shouldn't be a problem, after your 33 hour trip in the Spirit of St. Louis, but Post and Gatty's flight is a definite challenge. The flight briefing asks if you can beat their time in a slightly tongue in cheek aside, though you had better have a lot of time on your hands and an understanding partner if you have serious ambitions to try it. FS2004 gives you a slight edge over them, in as much as you have access to the world map and a handheld GPS, but personally, I think you ought to do it the hard way or not at all. After the second leg, it all looks pretty routine stuff, though I'll concede that the leg from Khabarovsk to Nome looks like it might be a little tricky; but c'mon, you can handle it.

    The first leg of the Post trip starts in the dark, which makes it a bit of a nightmare, but is a good opportunity to take a look at the new cockpit lighting (very nice), the illuminated runway signs (outstanding), and the city lights (FS2002 eat your heart out). The Vega flies like a pig at full load, but as long as you don't actually stand it on its tail, it will get you out of there in one piece and you can settle down to a week's concentrated flying.

    The Vega shares one characteristic with the Spirit of St. Louis, which is that it was a particularly functional looking airplane and I don't really think that red was its color, but get out there and start painting it guys! Microsoft have done their best to make it look as interesting as possible and as you can see, the panel is... I said I wouldn't use that word again, but it is very nice indeed. Let's see the Cessna panels done the same way in the next version, team.

    After the Vega, we cross the Atlantic to fly the de Havilland Comet, progenitor of the Mosquito and one of the most quixotic projects ever to be make it into the air. Sir Macpherson Robertson, an Australian industrialist, had put up a prize for an international air race from England to Australia as part of the celebrations marking the centenary of the State of Victoria. The race was really two in one, because there was an unlimited category and one based on a handicap which set a value on the load carried and was designed to put commercial aircraft in with a chance. As it happened, despite various hair-raising adventures, the Comet won outright, but because the rules stated that one competitor couldn't win both prizes, the handicap was awarded to the very deserving DC2.

    The incredible thing about the Comet was that it was designed and five hulls were built in a scant nine months. As an aircraft, the Comet is a great example of how the outwardly conservative de Havilland's engineers could think outside the envelope. It was based on the bold principle of a cantilevered, tapered wing built as thin as was technically possible using a stressed skin. All the fuel was carried in a fuselage, the pilots sat in tandem to reduce cross-sectional area and it had variable pitch props, flaps and a retractible undercarriage. The engines were a problem, but de Havilland's well tried Gypsy Six was adapted to have a raised compression ratio, providing 2,400 hp a side on take-off. The trouble was that none of this emphasis on speed made the Comet a pleasant aircraft and John Lewis once commented that he found it very interesting to fly, but hoped that they didn't make any more. The tapered wing resulted in an inevitable wing drop on landing, but Tom Campbell Black and Charles Scott won the race with a time of 70 hours, 54 minutes and 18 seconds, hotly pursued by the DC2. Scott wryly commented after the race that the experience had been '...lousy - and that's praising it' but I guess he was biased, given that they had just flown all the way across the Timor sea with one engine throttled right back because the gauge showed no oil pressure.

    As you can see, the ACOF Comet does justice to the original's sleek lines and it is one of the most interesting simulations to fly, not least because of its somewhat unconventional cockpit layout. The gear retraction sequence is the high point of the sim, with the hand winder revolving dementedly round and round as the undercarriage slowly winds into place. The original required a degree of concentration to fly, with flap deployment having the opposite effect to what you might expect, a problem which wasn't helped by the way the plane becomes steadily more tail heavy as fuel is burnt. This meant that it was necessary to actively manage the fuel towards the end of a flight, the object being to ensure that the front tank didn't run down to less than 70 gallons, or the Comet could become critically unstable.

    On the sim, the props work just as they should, starting in fine and using centrifugal force to coarsen the pitch once in flight, there being no pilot adjustment - so watch out if you have to go around, because even with low fuel it can be quite a challenge climbing out with the props set to coarse. In fact the whole approach phase is technically challenging, the Comet being a slippery design that requires careful handing; in many ways the sim has the best flight model of them all in FS2004, though I couldn't reproduce the wing drop, which I suspect is beyond the capacity of the simulation. Dropping the flaps causes the nose to nod very slightly and that's all.

    The DC2 that took the England to Australia race handicap prize sired the DC3, widely regarded as the first plane that allowed airlines to make money and an easy choice for A Century of Flight. There are four liveries in the sim, which provides a fine visual model - incidentally, all the planes have virtual interiors too, so there you won't get that awful sinking feeling if you shift the Point of View to take a trip back into a non-existent cabin. The panel will be familiar to all the R4D fans out there, though it has a civilian layout and for once Microsoft have been beaten at their own game by an add-on developer, because the MAAM simulation has a much more realistic cockpit even if the panel bitmap isn't quite as good as the one Microsoft provides.

    Though the manual describes the DC-3 as being 'about as easy an airliner as there is to fly' it isn't that easy and it isn't the sort of aircraft whose handling can be taken for granted. The design had its roots in a request by TWA's 29 year old vice president for a quick, comfortable twelve seater that had good engine out performance; the result was the Donald Douglas' DC-1, a truly revolutionary airplane, which had stressed skin, retracting wheels, flaps, variable pitch props, gyro driven Sperry instruments, an autopilot and (an unheard of luxury, this) a toilet. Progressive stretches of the DC-1 resulted in the 'Douglas Sleeper Transport', better known as the DC-3 and Douglas famously grumbled that he would be lucky to make a profit if he sold twice as many as American Airlines had ordered, the first production run being for ten hulls. Ten years later, the 10,656th aircraft rolled off the line.

    Real DC3s are beasts to fly, the swept wing and dihedral making it essential to hold aileron into wind on take off and they have a crosswind limit of around 22 knots, so you need to grant them your full attention. Given that the plane has a similar wing area to a 737 but a much lower loading, it will fly at a mere 50 knots, but it won't climb on one engine at less than 80, so on take off it is essential to hold a real DC3 on the ground until that speed is reached. There is a marked tendency for the tail to swing as it rises, bringing the need for differential power on take off (back to those twin throttle units, I am going to have to get hold of a set now) and the pilot's work is cut out between the need to keep the nose straight, forcing the stick forward and increasing power without overcooking the engines. Above 40 inches of manifold pressure the noise in the cockpit is staggeringly loud as those Pratt & Whitneys give every ounce of their available 2400 horsepower and then, shaking, rattling and rolling, she'll climb steadily away at 85 knots. Gear up is selected at 91 knots, which is the single engine climb out speed, but at top weight, if one of the ponies fails, you are only looking at twenty feet per minute climb, which may or may not be enough, depending on your situation. So easy isn't quite the word I would have chosen to describe it. Approach and landing are much the same, the DC-3 having been designed and built long before they really got to grips with aerodynamics and each stage of flap balloons the plane, which can make it quite a handful for an inexperienced pilot trying to cope with the aircraft's somewhat relaxed longitudinal stability. Crosswind approaches more or less have to be flown wing down because the ailerons are relatively ineffective and none but the brave try to three point them because of the DC-3's well known tendency to drop like a brick and then swing like fun.

    Microsoft's flight model doesn't quite serve up the goods on the DC-3 and creates the inadvertent impression that you could fly the plane one handed, which as you will have gathered, isn't quite the way it should be. Granted, it isn't easy to convey the impression of control forces in a sim, but the aircraft feels too sprightly, though they have got the ailerons just right. I'll leave you to make your own mind up, but in the final analysis, I guess I would have been easier to please if the DC-3 hadn't (a) been up against the flight models of all the other historic planes and (b) got such stiff competition in the form of R4D's panel. It isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it could have been better.

    There is one last historic plane and as far as I am concerned, Microsoft have made the perfect choice, because it is a Piper Cub. Flight simmers have been lucky enough to be served up with some outstanding add-on Cubs over the years, so we have all been a little spoiled, but I am pleased to say that the FS2004 Cub is one of the finest I have seen and it makes the perfect foil for the DC-3, being light and just a sheer pleasure to fly - which is as a Cub should be. The panel is typical of the quality on offer in A Century of Flight, with georgeous instruments that look so real you want to reach out and touch them. Even the fuel gauge works - that's the thing you can see sticking up there, and I can tell you it is a whole lot more reliable than most aircraft fuel gauges, which normally read either full, or empty, with no in between. The Cub gauge sinks slowly down as your flight progresses and when you can't see the white part any more it is time to think about landing. They knew how to organise things in those days. Needless to say, the plane is yellow.

    Right at the beginning of this series I remarked that you could take issue with the selection of planes and please be my guest and do just that in the forums. While some of my personal favorites have been left out, I can live with that, but to my mind there is one glaring omission and that is a simulation of an early jet airliner. The ACOF selection spans the years 1903 to 1938, leaving a yawning gap between the Cub and the Cessna 172, a 1955 design. The logical filler is an early civilian jet aircraft like the de Havilland Comet, or Sud Aviation's beautiful Caravelle, which would have the added advantage of making the selection less Anglocentric - and if I had the luxury of adding just one more plane, my choice would be a Bleriot XI to commemorate that first flight across the English Channel (La Manche, if you are French). Both these aircraft are flying, either as originals, or in replica form. Maybe someone out there would like to rise to the challenge?

    Andrew Herd
    [email protected]

    Visit our FS2004 message forum.

    Visit the official Microsoft web site.

    Read part 1 of this series.
    Read part 2 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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