Aircraft add-on for Microsoft FS2004/FS9

 
The neighbourhood where I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee was a little rough around the edges, to put it diplomatically. It consisted mainly of a warren of small, well-worn single story homes, each with a patch of threadbare lawn. As a kid, there was one thing I loved about our part of town, howeveróthe proximity to the airport. How well I remember racing outside on a muggy summer afternoon, forsaking the air conditioning to spot the source of a deep rumbling drone that shook the window panes. It was a sound like no other; deeper and more menacing than the jetliners, and could only be one thing Ė a C-130 Hercules.

For sentimental reasons, among others, I was excited to hear that Captain Sim would be producing a C-130 for Flight Simulator. Now that itís been on the market for a while, I thought it would be fitting to put it through its paces and report on the results. Hereís the rub, however: like a great many Ďsimmers I know, my style of virtual flying seldom involves large or complex aircraft. Itís not that I donít find the ďheaviesĒ interesting, I simply donít have the time required to learn their complex systems. When Iíve carved out an hour to go flying, itís most unsatisfying to spend half of that time getting the plane ready to taxi. Consequently, I find myself gravitating towards lighter planes with their comparatively uncomplicated operation. What follows is my impression of a day spent operating this lumbering giant, from the viewpoint of a flyer who prefers stick and rudder flying to programming a flight management computer.
 
 

   

 

 

   

 
 
Walkaround

Iím a visual kind of guy. I canít help it. My family tree is peppered with artists, designers and the like, and Iím no exception. One of the things that will draw my attention to a particular aircraft is its look, and how well I think the developer rendered that look in the simulator. Captain Sim is one of my favourite companies in this respect, and the Herc is arguably their most amazing creation to date.

Clearly, a great deal of time was spent with a real C-130, with every nook and cranny being photographed and documented. The resulting model is a marvel of 3D design. Rivet counters, in fact, could have a field day just ďwalkingĒ around the outside of this beast and soaking up the extraordinary level of detail.
 
 

     

 
 
Get In and Sit Down

As much as I loved the exterior, however, I usually find myself spending a lot more time in the cockpit than wandering around the tarmac. Remember, Iím a light GA flyer mainly, so when I say cockpit, I mean, of course, the VC (virtual cockpit), and not the flat 2D panels. I get the 2D panelís usefulness, but it just doesnít do anything for me when it comes to feeling like you are flying the real thing. Also, I am the proud owner of a TrackIR head-tracking device, which makes the VC an order of magnitude more fun to use. Thankfully, Captain Sim have really cooked up a treat when it comes to VC flying in this plane. As detailed as the exterior is, I think the virtual cockpit is even more so. Every dial, switch, gauge and handle is there. Theyíve also taken great pains to model the subtle interplay of light and shadow in the VC textures, which complete the illusion of depth and substance.

One of the things that struck me on entering the cockpit was how roomy it seemed. And what a view! Surely, that enormous greenhouse encircling the flight crew would make for some dynamite VFR flying. It made me want to get it into the air as quickly as possible, to see what the world would look like from behind the yoke at 10,000 feet.
 
 

   

 

"All I had to do was set the fans to turning. Letís seeÖ oh god. Where do I start with the starting?"

 

   

 
 
Fire ĎEr Up and Go Flying

Confession: Iím familiar enough with most light single-engine aircraft that I seldom consult the checklists before firing them up and rolling out onto the ramp. I know, I know, itís a bad habit. After all, Iím in real PPL training too, and Iíd never consider preflighting and starting my real 172 without my handy checklist in one paw for reference. In my own defence, the stakes are considerably lower in FS, and as I mentioned at the beginning Iím usually pressed for time. That said, looking at this mass of switches and instruments was enough to convince me that there was no way Iíd get into the air in one piece without at least some cursory instruction.

This is the point at which, with most new FS aircraft, I will open the kneeboard and browse the checklists to try and get a sense of how it operates. If Iím still confused, I might even go so far as to flip to the ďreferenceĒ page and read up on V-speeds and the like. But golly, that would all be so much easier if the Hercules actually contained either of those bits of info!
This brings me to what I consider as Captain Simís weakest spot as a developer, the documentation. To be sure, there are several manuals provided in PDF format along with the base C-130 installation. But as someone who hadnít planned on delving into the nuances of each and every system before my first flight, they proved a bit overwhelming. Reams of information are presented in each of the cryptically-named documents, but the overall effect is more textbook than tutorial. What I longed for was some way to get the basic procedures down for engine start, taxi, and takeoff. Fortunately, where thereís a will (and a web connection), thereís a way. I found a great little intro on fsstation.com (http://www.fsstation.com/tutorials/captain-sim-lockheed-c130.html) that answered most of my rather basic questions about Herc operation.

Armed with a printout of the tutorial, I commenced to throwing switches and poking dials, and before you know it I had all four engines humming along. Mostly, the systems are more straightforward than they look, and the dated layout of the cockpit follows a fairly logical flow and order. Iíve gone through the start-up routine several times now, and Iím getting comfortable enough with it to rely on a basic checklist that I cobbled together from the tutorial.
Lighting the fires serves to highlight another of the C-130ís shortcomings Iím afraid, and thatís the sound set. Actually, some of the noises are quite nice. I loved firing up the gas turbine generator and hearing it scream to life. Not being familiar with the whereabouts of every Herc bit, I can only assume that itís located pretty close to the cockpit for the level of volume it produces. Switch throws produce a satisfying click, and almost every mouse action gives audible feedback, which I appreciate. For reasons I donít fully understand though, pressing the engine starter buttons triggers a looping click that would be appropriate once, but quickly gets on the nerves as you hold the button down for the time required for the spool up. While the sound of each mill spinning up is well done, the engine sounds quickly fade to a light buzz that seems much to innocuous once theyíre running. I had gotten the props spinning and was working my way through the checklist when I came to the flaps. Dropping them to 50% for takeoff resulted in what sounded like the default FS Cessna 172 flaps. This is definitely out of place in such a beautifully designed aircraft.
 
 

   

 
 
With everything humming along as it should, I nudged the power levers forward a hair to begin my taxi. My feet were hovering over my toe-brakes, poised to punch them when the plane inevitably shot out from under me. I was delighted to discover that this is one of the few turbine-powered FS aircraft Iíve flown that remains manageable throughout taxiing. A little nudge on the brakes now and then was all it took to keep the speed reasonable. The nose wheel steering was precise without overreacting. All in all, you definitely get the feeling youíre driving a rather large craft.

Takeoff was uneventful. Pushing the power levers forward (not too much!) poured on speed surprisingly quickly for such a whale, and in no time I was coming up on 100kts and Vr. The moment the wheels unstick is also a real differentiator between third-party FS aircraft. In many lighter planes, there seems to be a tendency to leap skyward as if a tether has been cut. The Hercules took wing in a much more stately fashion, climbing smoothly and crisply to altitude. I gave it a wing wag to test how responsive it would be, and it answered with enough authority to give me confidence, while also telegraphing the great weight of the body in motion.

 
 

   

 
 
I flew from Sitka, Alaska to Juneau Intíl, following the SSR VOR for most of the trip, and tuning into Juneauís NDB as I drew closer. For anyone who is used to flying by hand, this aircraft is simply a delight to pilot. Itís a confident climber, and responds to trim smoothly during all phases of flight. Perhaps owing to the less-than-slippery shape, it also reacts to power reductions by fairly quickly slowing, which comes in handy for short field ops where you have to dive for the deck at the last minute.
You might well ask how the autopilot works. I have no considered answer for you, however, since I never wanted to relinquish control during my short flight. This plane is too much fun to let the computer fly it for you. I did open the autopilot sub-panel, and the Smiths unit looks intriguing, definitely not your standard bit of kit. Maybe Iíll get tired of hand-flying it at some point and give it a try. Donít count on it, though ;-).

Landing for the first time was a laid-back affair; no white knuckle approach here. I was able to rein in the speed easily, and descended with 50% flaps to lightly kiss the tarmac after a brief flare. When I was done, I had a big grin pasted on my mug, the highest praise any FS aircraft can elicit, I think.
 
 

   

 
 
Conclusion

If you hadnít deduced already, I really enjoyed this aircraft. While itís true that itís a little large and complex for my usual Ďsimming, something tells me Iíll be back behind that worn yoke soon enough. The visual model is second to none--simply stunning. The sound set is uneven with some definite flaws, and there is a real need for some more basic documentation. Big kudos to CS for making the VC so highly functional, though. For someone who prides himself on stick-and-rudder flying, this is an excellent platform. The flight dynamics are better than any other Captain Sim product Iíve flown, which is nearly all of them. In fact, Iíd rank it among the best in terms of ďfeelĒ in flight.

I havenít even touched on the multiple and sometimes bizarre array of models theyíve released since the original (a Herc on floats? Blasphemy!). I know the military crowd will deeply appreciate the AC-130 Spectre gunship they just launched, and there are a number of other variants I have yet to load.

In my opinion, the C-130 is truly a Herculean effort (had to do it, sorry), and very well worth the price tag. And when that Hummer absolutely, positively has to be there overnight, who ya gonna call? You guessed it. This high-wing Cessna driver sez give it a try, you wonít regret it.
 
 

www.captainsim.com
www.justflight.com

 

BAFTA award Nominee
C-130 Hercules (Just Flight/Captain Sim)

 
 
 

   

 
 

Bill Womack
Is a writer and FS addon designer who enjoys playing God from time to time by creating little digital worlds. Some of his most recent dalliances include collections of pixels resembling airports in Southeast Alaska for FS Addon's "Tongass Fjords" and Aerosoft's "Freight Dogs", a bunch of dots on a screen that look like trucks and boxes for "FS Cargo", and some lovely mathematics and color guns firing off to trick the viewer into thinking they're at RAF West Malling in 1943 and Bear Gulch, Washington for RealAir Simulations. These places are not real, but Bill would appreciate it if you didn't tell his clients. Shh.

 
 

 
 

   

 

All images created by Nick Churchill

 
 

 
 

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