Aircraft expansion pack for Microsoft FSX
 

"It'll still land on pretty much any runway you ask it to, but getting off it again might take a little more effort!"
 

Whenever anyone compiles a list of classic military aircraft, it is invariably dominated by fighters and attack aircraft. Whether the compiler's interest is piston aircraft and they list Spitfires, Bf109s, Mustangs and Flying Fortresses, or whether it's a more modern compilation of F-15s, B-52s, MiG-29s and Tornados, it's a rare event indeed when a freighter appears on one of these lists. It's strange, therefore, that one of the longest serving members of the world's armed forces fits firmly into the unglamorous, regularly ignored, cargo hauling category.

Lockheed's C-130 and its derivatives have been hauling stuff and people around the world now for over 50 years, having first flown as the YC-130 in on 23rd August 1954. Just counting the A, B, E and H "classic" models, about 2000 airframes have been delivered to airforces ranging across the entire globe from Australia, through Brazil, Canada and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Pakistan and the United Kingdom (they don't *quite* reach Z, but the US did operate a handful in Antarctica!) and with a further 113 civilian L-100 aircraft delivered, the Hercules truly is a ubiquitous aircraft. In 1996, a new era was launched with the addition to the fleet of the re-engined and glass cockpit equipped C-130J "Hercules II" and its stretched CC-130J sibling, ensuring the name will live on well into the 21st Century.

From the heat of African deserts to the icepack of Antarctica and the rain forests of South America, the Hercules truly is an aviation epic, so it's fitting that Captain Sim's original FS9 release of this aircraft (reviewed a while ago here by Bill Womack) was dubbed the "Legendary C-130". The package has now been updated to Microsoft's latest simulator version, FSX, and all the extra packs have finally been released so we thought we'd give it the once over again and see what's changed and what's been added. There's plenty of doors and access points to choose from on a Herc, so pick one and let's dive straight in.


Video courtesy of Jaggyroad Films

Installation

Depending on your choices in the shop, the Captain Sim C-130X comes as between one 45Mb installer for just the E-model basepack up to a total of three (the 45Mb basepack, a 25Mb Extra Pack 1 and a 30Mb Extra Pack 2) if you opt for the full set "Pro Pack", although each section can also be obtained separately if desired.

The installers are executable format, asking you for your path to FSX and registration information on the way through, with a requirement of 500Mb free space on your FS hard drive stated by the developer, which allows for all variants to be installed.

As part of the installation, a "Captain Sim" directory is added to your start menu, with a "C-130 X-perience" subfolder containing links to a single uninstaller for each pack added, the "ACE" Aircraft Configuration Editor and a link back to the developers' website for manuals, repaint kits and support. As you'd hopefully expect, with individual uninstall links, the uninstallers are renamed so don't do the catch-out trick of overwriting "uninstal.exe".

I won't dwell on the installer, because there's nothing overly unusual about it other than the security check, which confirms your order number and therefore requires an active internet connection. For the most part, it is a very straight forward and professional procedure.

Documentation

As you might gather from the fact that the installer has a link to point you at them, the manuals for this package are not contained within the download. Instead they are available to download from the product support pages at Captain Sim after purchase, comprising four Adobe PDF documents - part 1 being the User Manual, part 2 covering systems and equipment, part 3 procedures and checklists and part 4 the aircraft's performance.

In common with all Captain Sim manuals, they are professionally presented and contain a lot of information regarding the operation of the aircraft and the simulation of it that you are using. Checklists are included for operation, detailing everything you could possibly want to know while flying the sim and a few things you can't really use - at least not without add-ons that cause the failures described.

One nice thing about the Captain Sim manuals, which most developers don't include, is that they put in information such as turning distances and other useful, but not essential, information that adds to the feeling of depth in the simulation. FSX won't burst tyres or wreck undercarriage if you lock a wheel with differential power on, but knowing that you shouldn't, for people who want to go to that much depth, is an added incentive not to.

The manuals are based on those for a KC-130 tanker, so some of the information is only really relevant to that model, extension speeds for drogues, for instance. Most of it is valid across the board, however, such as takeoff and landing weight limits, flap and undercarriage speed limitations and reference speeds.

Overall, there is very little to complain about with the documentation for the pack, whether you are just looking for a step-by-step checklist to get the thing started and flying (although it does load running by default, in free flight), or whether you want information on how to operate it 'by the book'.

Pre-Flight

The Aircraft Configuration Editor software or ACE is a standard part of Captain Sim products these days and this one, much in the same style as the others, allows you to add or remove liveries and control the load of your aircraft. In addition to that, with the C130 ACE, you can control whether each individual aircraft (not livery) has red, white or green interior night lighting, digital or analogue engine gauges, whether you sit on the left or right of the 2d panel and whether the VC is included or not. The option to add or remove external tanks is included, as per the FS9 version released some time ago, but the option to add or remove the refuel probe is gone, in favour of including variations that either do or don't have it as part of expansion packs. What you can do, if you wish to have a drab wartime aircraft or a very polished one for air displays, is alter the amount of shine applied to the models' skin, with three options available to choose from.

It is worth noting that, carried over from the FS9 version of this aircraft, loads added to or removed from the aircraft's hold using the ACE utility affect only the load and balance of the aircraft and, unlike the drop tanks options or the cockpit options, do not affect the visual model. You can still have the animated Hummer that came with the FS9 aircraft, but otherwise there is still no visual load in the hold within the VC unless you are in the AC-130, as I'll discuss later.

Finally for this section, I'll just quickly note that the option to launch FS from the ACE utility is now gone as well. You now save the aircraft configuration from inside the ACE, but launch FS manually outside it.

Exterior

Most people should probably be aware by now that Captain Sim build exceptionally good looking models. Although this is an updated model from an earlier version of the sim, the modelling still stands up well against far more modern competition, yet doesn't have a significant frame rate hit either.

As I mentioned under installation above, there are three different component packs that make up a full set for the CS C-130. The first, the "Base Pack", provides a single variant - the C-130E that makes up the majority of the aircraft flying around the world - and includes the panels, sounds and VC interior that are used by all variants but the AC-130. It comes with seven liveries - primarily US Air Force, but also Australian, Canadian and Swedish and Italian aircraft are included.

The expansion packs add eight and nine models to this respectively, with Extra Pack 1 providing a C-130A early model, the USCG HC-130 and RAF C.Mk1 that used to be in the FS9 base pack, a couple of J variants plus the CL-130 floatplane, KC-130 tanker and C-130T "Fat Albert" JATO equipped aircraft of the Blue Angels USMC display team. The JATO system is only an effect, unfortunately, and doesn't actually affect the flight model of the aircraft at all.

Extra Pack 2 primarily consists of the "stretches", with C-130J-30, C-130H-30 and C.Mk3 variants included, along with the L-100 civilian variant, C-130H, a French C-130H and the LC-130 ski-equipped variant. There are also two of the more specialised Hercules conversions included - the NC-130H AEW&C variant and AC-130U "Spooky" gunship.

The NC-130H AEW&C (Airborne Early Warning and Control) platform is, at its most basic, a HC-130H fitted with the radome and electronics from a Grumman E-2C Hawkeye developed for the US Coast Guard by General Dynamics as an EC-130V. The single aircraft converted was a victim of budget cuts resulting in cancellation of the programme in 1993 and it was, in short succession, passed to the US Air Force, then to the Navy who used it as a test bed for upgrades to the Hawkeye systems. Possibly because of the model's inglorious history, not much information on it seems to be available other than that the radome produces a lot of drag and impacts the flight model of the real aircraft quite badly. Despite the shortcomings, however, plans are apparently still afoot within Lockheed Martin to offer the technology for export to customers who can't afford the more capable E-3 or B767 AWACS platforms, but with the HC-130H replaced by a more powerful C-130J as the base for the conversion.

The AC-130U "Spooky" is considerably better known, particularly by those of us in the FS community who like blowing things up in their spare time. Developed ultimately from the AC-47 gunship that saw service over Vietnam, but with considerably more firepower, the Spooky uses the same technique of mounting a lot of guns one side of the aircraft, then circling over an enemy position and pounding it into submission. To fulfil this role, the AC-130U, modelled here, is fitted with a pair of 25mm rotary cannon, a single 40mm Bofors gun and, possibly still the biggest gun still flying, a 105mm M102 Howitzer.


Video courtesy of Captain Sim

All of the "oddities", that is the AC-130U, KC-130 and NC-130H, all have visible loads in exterior view, although unfortunately as I will discuss shortly, this does not equate to seeing them in interior views. Also visible in exterior view but unfortunately not in the interior is the optional animated HMMWV "jeep", which can be loaded or unloaded visually using the animations screen.

Interior

The interior of the Captain Sim C-130 package is based, whatever the exterior model displays, on that of a C-130E with either a fully "steam driven" cockpit, or optional EICAS digital engine displays. Likewise, as mentioned above, except for the AC-130U, the interior of the cabin is always that of a cargo-configured aircraft with seats folded down either side.

A full VC is provided, with the majority of controls clickable and animated, alongside a large array of 2d panels and pop-ups. The graphics in all instances are very good indeed. The aircraft isn't entirely flyable from the VC, unfortunately, but where things can't be accessed directly, such as the radios, clicking on the unit itself will normally bring up the pop-up window required. If you just want to fly though, with no reference to the radios or radar, pretty much everything can be done without moving from your virtual seat. The doors control is a little tricky to access, being on the P2's side of the raised autopilot console, but that's easily enough to resolve by moving to the flight engineer's seat - the arm of the chair actually blocks view of the panel from the P2's seat, unfortunately.

Finally for the interior, as there is very little that has really changed since the FS9 version previously reviewed, I'll just mention that some of the external animations, such as the roof escape hatches, can be accessed by clicking on them in the VC.

Flying

If you already have the FS9 version of the C-130, you'll be pleased (or potentially otherwise) to know that the FSX version handles and flies pretty much the same. It'll still take off at a little over 100KIAS if you ask nicely, it'll still land on pretty much any runway you ask it to, but getting off it again might take a little more effort.

There was a lot of comment and conjecture when the expansion packs were released that the flight model would remain unchanged from the default and, for the most part, this stands up when you consider that almost all of them cruise at the same speeds when set to the same throttle settings and they land at similar speeds with full flap and throttles closed. They don't however fly identically, as I found out to my cost when trying to get the KC-130 out of a very small airstrip that I had happily got the C-130J out of previously, so I went and did some testing.

The basis of the test was very simple. At the end of the runway, apply maximum takeoff thrust, then release the brakes and let the aircraft accelerate to takeoff speed (I was assuming 120KIAS to be takeoff speed for the purpose of these tests), with 50% flap set. The results were as follows:

C-130A - 18 secs
C-130E - 18 secs
C-130J - 18 secs
C-130H-30 - 35secs
KC-130 - 30 secs
NC-130H - 26 secs

Now this might not be as conclusive as it seems, after all the A should almost certainly take more runway and longer to take off than the J, but even if the flight model remains the same, the different weights of the aircraft in the add-on packs do make a significant difference to the takeoff run. I should add, incidentally, that there was no "cargo" loaded on any aircraft for those tests. As I said before, once in the air, they reacted very similarly throughout the flight envelope, with only time-to-climb differing, as with the takeoff run, depending on the weight of the variant loaded.

That's all the discussion I'll do of the different variants for this section, simply because I want to talk briefly about simply how the thing flies, for those who haven't read Bill's previous review, or are just interested in a different viewpoint.

Put simply? It flies very nicely indeed by hand, and pretty well on autopilot... but see shortly, because there are a couple of (avoidable, but slightly irritating) issues. I've now hand-flown the C-130 on many occasions and apart from losing control trying to do something very stupid and in-flight-reverse all four engines to make a steep approach once, had no problems whatsoever.

The aircraft handles like a large, but fairly manoeuvrable, aircraft. There is a degree of lag - this is no fighter, after all - but you can throw it around if you are doing a combat approach and it will stay with you throughout all but the most extreme 'yanking and banking'. Stall speeds are, for the most part, below 100KIAS, although they do seem to vary with weight and, obviously, attitude. I did manage to get a STALL warning from FSX (although the aircraft stall warning was still quiet) at over 100KIAS in a very steep, tight, turn at one point. Dumping the nose and rolling wings level cleared it very quickly. Once you have stalled, it does take a while to recover, particularly if you have to wait for the engines to spool up, so you don't want to be doing that at very low altitude.

For longer flights, however, you'll almost certainly want to use the autoflight systems and as with the FS9 version again, Captain Sim have included a custom Smiths Industries one for you to do so. If you're only used to the default faux Bendix King set, this one might take some getting used to, but provided you have turned all the correct switches on (the manual explains this, of course) to enable the gauge, it's not actually that complicated. There's a big rotary switch on the main panel, duplicated for both sides, that selects between HDG, GPS, VOR/ILS1 and VOR/ILS2 for horizontal control, pitch control mode is controlled by a fore/aft toggle switch and ALT HOLD, TRACK and GLIDE[slope] modes are engaged by pressing the big octagonal selector buttons. Two things it does pretty well, at least within the confines of how I would expect (I've never used one) a 1960s vintage autopilot to work are that it does hold altitude well in turns and doesn't do the annoying thing that many aircraft do of continuing autopilot turns considerably past the bug setting and having to turn back.

There are, however, two modes that I don't find work that well - these are SPEED HOLD, which is supposed to retain a constant airspeed during climbs/descents and NAV/ILS selection track mode. Both of these, on two different installations I have tried them on (XP32 and Vista64, both FSX Acceleration), have hunted for a track, resulting in increasingly large errors with the nose until you turn the mode off and revert to another. Strangely, considering the error with the NAV hold functions, the GPS hold works perfectly... I can't explain that one. Also, as with other CS products for FSX, you cannot use the mousewheel to select the course and heading bugs, as attempting to do so will result in the gauge spinning continuously until you stop it with a left or right mouse click. It is these buttons that must be used to change settings.

Apart from these, comparatively minor as they are easily worked around, faults, flying the C-130X is an enjoyable experience and the challenge of getting it into and out of the most awkward and obnoxious strips you can think of is well worth the effort. My favourite so far has been a very lightly loaded KC-130 into and out of Bill Womack's (FSAddon payware) Plum Island strip in the North Eastern United States. It's designed for light GA, so the Herc really wasn't supposed to be there. It would never fit on the ramp, so using a lot of differential thrust and nosewheel steering, together with a touch of differential braking, I got the tanker to do a three-point turn in the taxiway and reversed it up the runway until it reached the end! Not sure if that's an approved technique, but hey, it worked, and that's what C-130s do best... pretty much whatever you want them to.

Conclusion

The Captain Sim C-130 has been around for a while now and has, indeed, had increased exposure recently as the result of a sale by the developers that slashed the price of the product for a day. Judging by the responses on the forums by new and existing users, the aircraft has been very well received by the majority of people who have flown it. I include myself amongst that number as the base pack for this was not a review copy and I have been using the product both in FS9 and since version 1.00 for FSX (it's now up to 1.30 and the two add-on packs were provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review).

As I said earlier in the review, I have now flown these add-ons for many, many hours around various parts of the world and in various conditions. There have been a few times when frame rates have been a problem, particularly in heavy weather, as I would expect with an add-on as complex as this but overall the experience has been a very good one. There are only a couple of commercial military transport aircraft available for FSX at the time of writing to the best of my knowledge, I have both and of the two, the CS C-130 is by far my favourite as my logbook will attest. It's not perfect, there are still a few bugs that have slipped through the net, but I have no problem at all recommending this to anyone with an interest in the type.

For more information on the C-130 Hercules, visit their product pages at the Captain Sim web site or simMarket.

If you'd like to comment on this review, please use our forum to do so.

All images are Copyright � screenshotartist.co.uk

Ian Pearson is a real world CAA PPL-IMC qualified pilot (unfortunately now lapsed) who has been hooked on civilian flight simming since Mail Pilot on the Commodore 64 and Thalion Airbus on the Amiga. He joined the MS Flightsim world with FS4 and almost immediately FS5.1CD, which was when his first attempt at designing aircraft went seriously pear shaped and he gave up. He has Beta tested for a number of well-known organisations and teams from FS98 through to the present day, but still hasn't found a way of making his addiction to Flight Simulation pay for itself, so officially works in the railway industry in the real world.

Nick Churchill has been providing images for marketing purposes of Flight Simulator products for several years and claims that staring at a virtual cockpit for too long can make you go blind.  

Cody Bergland created and has been a leading force in marketing in the flight simulation community. His works spans across many companies and stand alone products. Cody served 5 years active duty in the USAF as an electronic warfare technician but now dedicates his free time to his hobby of flight simulation and video production.

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