Aircraft add-on for Microsoft CFS2,FS9, FSX & Strike Fighters: Project 1

(Reviewed in FS9, FSX & SFP1)

 
 


Let me tell you a little story. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin. In 1944, the US Navy decided that, as everyone else was getting jets, they'd quite like some too. Preferably in time to invade Japan, which at the time was considered inevitable to win the war in the Pacific. One of the respondents to this request was a little company called "McDonnell", who sold the Navy an aircraft called the FD-1 Phantom in 1945, little knowing at the time, presumably, that twenty years later they would be adding a "II" to the name they gave their new model and going on to build an aircraft that would be the epitome of what a jet fighter should be for an entire generation.

The FD-1 had a single claim to fame - it was the first US jet powered aircraft to operate from an aircraft carrier - but it also only equipped a single US Navy squadron before being phased out of service as the 1940s ended. As is often the case, its replacement was being designed even before the Phantom entered service. Larger, longer ranged and more powerful, with four 20mm cannon rather than the four 0.5" machine guns that equipped the FD-1, that aircraft was the XFD-2 Banshee, later renamed to F2H when McDonnell's designation letter was changed from D to H in 1947.

Avid aviation readers might know the type from another, slightly altered, history: "Carlson's Canyon" or "The Bridges of Toko-Ri". Okay, so the actual aircraft that carried out these attacks during the war were prop-driven Skyraiders and the film version used F9F Panthers, but in James Michener's book, the attacks on the rail bridges in the canyon named after Skyraider strike commander "Swede" Carlson were carried out by a fictional Air Wing of F2H-2 Banshees.

So, rather fittingly to follow on from their recent Skyraider pack releases (I wonder whether they'll do a Panther next?!), the following is a review of the latest release from classic carrier aviation developers Razbam; The McDonnell F2H Banshee.
 

 

 

    

 
 
Installation

The Razbam package actually has four installers for this aircraft, one each for FS9, FSX, CFS2 and the various Third Wire titles that started out life with Strike Fighters: Project 1. None of these installers are small, ranging from over 80Mb for the FSX package down to a mere 39Mb for the CFS2 version.

The installers are fairly standard Clickteam ones that should be familiar to most users, with the single addition of an information page before the license that gives details of who designed what and for which version of the package. The fact that this page itself takes a minute or so to read gives you an idea of the number of versions included.

Possibly my only criticism of the installer is a Start menu item is added for each version, containing a link to the uninstallation application. I have no problem with this in itself, but it would possibly have been nicer to have a single "RAZBAM" entry, which all their packages then go under, rather than an individual one for each installation of each individual aircraft, it's a lot tidier.

Speaking of tidier, although not strictly an installer issue, I, personally, would prefer if model developers put themselves as the "publisher" in FSX config files rather than Aircraft Manufacturer. Razbam are far from alone in this, in fact I'd say a good quarter of add-ons I have installed do the same, but it saves me a lot of config file editing if they do it that way in the first place.

 
 

   

 
 
Documentation

The manuals are possibly the only point where this package is seriously lacking. In the version I have been provided to review, there is exactly zero documentation - no manual, no flight guide, no checklist, no aircraft reference. A quick look back at previous Razbam packages I have from the original FS2002 Skyhawks through to the Skyraiders says that this is nothing unusual for the developer as from all my downloads, I was only able to find one MS Word document covering any of them and that is mainly aircraft history. Unfortunately with a carrier aircraft, especially an early jet, I would really have liked to see at least a series of reference speeds.

Fortunately, the mainly interactive VC is populated with tooltips, so you can see what each control is by pausing your mouse over it. Personally, I'd still prefer a manual, though.
 
 
Exterior

The Banshee is never going to be an attractive aircraft. It has its charm, certainly, but like most early jets, it is definitely a case of function over form. The bubble-canopied cockpit is set forward of straight wings with slightly swept trailing edges, the roots of which contain the two turbojets that provide the Banshee's not inconsiderable thrust and the tips of which, on most models, carry drop tanks.

The Razbam model captures the lines of the aircraft well, with detail where it is required such as the landing gear, and textures providing it where modelling would just increase the poly count for no real reason, such as the bracing structure visible at the break when the wings are folded. In terms of FS version nativity, the developer confirms that the FS9 and X packages are, indeed, compiled for their relative simulators. None of the new texturing effects for FSX are included however, with the Banshees.

There are three versions of the Banshee included in the package, the earlier F2H-2 with mid-nose mounted guns and no radar and the later F2H-3 and F2H-4, which primarily differ in internal equipment fit-out so look very similar externally but have the gun ports low on the nose and further back to allow for the radar. The package also comes with a number of paint schemes for each version, comprising a number of US Navy, US Marine Corps and Royal Canadian Navy liveries. There are considerably more paints for the F2H-2 version than for any other, for some reason, but they're all reasonably detailed and weathered, perfectly acceptable for a product within the mid-budget range that the package fits into.

Finally, regarding the external models, there are versions included both with external ordinance and 'clean', the ones with external ordinance carrying two 500lb bombs and four unguided rockets, plus a later model with a refuel probe and one variant with early Sidewinder missiles. The refuel probes were not fitted until after the Korean War, so their inclusion on only the F2H-4 model is reasonable historically. One source I have states that they were fitted to F2H-3s as well, but I have been unable to corroborate this with photographs.

 

 

   

 

   

 
 
Interior

As the majority of the testing I have done for this package was in FSX Deluxe, I was pleased to find that the majority of controls in the VC are both "mousable" and functional. Indeed the only control that I found I needed which didn't appear to be was the tailhook lever. Fortunately I have that programmed to a button on my stick following experiences with foul weather approaches in any FS carrier aircraft, so it wasn't a massive problem for me.

In terms of panel layout, there are significant differences between the F2H-2 cockpits and those of the F2H-3 and -4, caused by the large radar screen (non-functional - static image) that dominates the later models' forward view. The result of this is that while the -2 has a fairly conventional, well laid out, panel, the -3 and -4 have gauges crammed around what would be a cumbersome cathode ray tube in the real aircraft. At my usual VC setting of 0.6 zoom, this meant that I had to look lower on the panel to find gauges that would normally be more directly in line of sight, which must have been a real pain in the neck for the pilots of real aircraft.

Radios and electrical controls are included on the right-hand side console of the VC, engine controls on the left and, apart from some of the light switches looking slightly odd by not appearing to quite meet the surface they sit on (a texturing effect), they are all easy to find and operate.

If you move the seat forward, and look down at the gauges, a second static panel appears to be positioned behind the gauges, which looks a little odd, but shouldn't affect most people when flying the aircraft from the "seat" position".

In terms of 2d panels, a full set are provided but unfortunately without simicons or clickspots to select them, so you have to use shift-2 to shift-5 to select between the normal "heads up" view, full panel and three subpanels for the side console switches. The panel graphics are well drawn, but it is obvious that the package is really designed to be flown from the VC.
 
 

   

 
 

   

 
 
Flying

I'll start this section with a simple statement. I've not crashed this aircraft yet on a carrier landing. If you knew my usual standard landing classic jets on decks, you'd realise how unusual that statement is, but the Banshees make even me look good.

To cut a long story short, the Razbam Banshees are stable and easy to fly, yet retain enough manoeuvrability to allow them to be flown pretty much any way the virtual pilot requires. I spent considerable amounts of time testing this package flying models both from conventional runways and the Abacus Flight Deck 4 carrier and, during that time, only came across one serious quirk. Fortunately, it's an amusing one rather than annoying - the Banshee's brakes are *terrible*!!

Following my first test flight from Seattle Tacoma, I flew the approach far too fast (without documentation to provide reference speeds, I was guessing) and floated down half the runway before the main gear touched. There's no thrust reverse on these early engines and application of full toe brake achieved very little, very slowly. As the edge lights went red, I popped out the spoilers in desperation and was just slow enough to take the end turn-off without tipping over onto a wingtip. Don't try approaching a short runway in these things unless it's for a touch-and-go. You won't get in. Just trust me on that.

In terms of numbers, the Banshee is firmly subsonic courtesy of its big, straight, slab wings, having a flight envelope at low level from a little above 100KIAS at full flap to around 550KIAS, clean with only the centre tank containing fuel. Speeds in excess of 450KIAS produce a gentle buffet, in FSX at least, reminding you that you are going a little fast for the aircraft's liking. The slatted spoilers, which extend dive-brake style from the upper wing, are very effective and are the only real way of effecting a rapid decrease in the aircraft's speed. The flight models are very 'slippery' and energy management is critical if you don't want to have to resort to those spoilers in the middle stages of an approach. In landing configuration with full flap and gear down, 140-150KIAS is a perfectly stable and acceptable approach speed to both conventional runways and carrier decks. If you are operating to a carrier, however, remember to significantly lighten your fuel load before landing, the undercarriage will collapse if you trap with full tanks.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoy flying the Banshee in all aspects of flight. I have found it easy to trim and stable when hand flying, yet canyon running at vaguely sensible speeds is no problem whatsoever and the wildlife of virtual Washington State and Southern California has probably given up taking cover as I scream past at treetop height, I have been doing it so often.
 
 

  

 

   

 
 
Enough of this Boring Talk... Let's Blow Stuff Up!!!

It's actually a little unfair to call the Banshee an out-and-out fighter. It's quite a big aircraft and, had they met MiG-15s over Korea, the chances are that F2Hs would have fared similarly to the other straight wing jets - not very well at all.

On the other hand, four 20mm cannon, above average range and under-wing weapon pylons did make the Banshee quite a good strike fighter and that is the role it primarily undertook in combat, very similar to that carried out by aircraft such as the Thunderbolt and Corsair during World War 2. That said, the first target I actually hit by more than luck flying F2H-4 Banshees in Strike Fighters: Project 1 was a MiG21. He was on the tail of another Banshee, I dropped into a lead pursuit in a left hand turn and fired - the MIG exploded. Would the same have happened in the real world? No. I think SFP1 might have made life a little easy for me there to say the least. Two MiG-21s and two MiG-17s should have eaten eight Banshees, all of which were armed as ground attack, for breakfast.

Ignoring my arming mistakes, however, the range of weaponry options available to you in SFP1 is pretty good. The F2H-2 is limited to two bombs on the inner pylons and four 2.5" HVAR rockets on the outers, while the F2H-4 can not only choose between different sizes of HVAR, but also 4x250lb Mk81s vice 2x500lb Mk82 bombs on the inner pylons and those new fangled AIM-9B Sidewinders on the outer two.

It's good fun to fly in combat, even though its ability to hold its own against afterburning, missile equipped opposition might be a little off!
 
 
 

   

 

   

 
 
Conclusion

The Banshee was retired in 1962, not a bad innings for a fighter conceived at the end of World War II, considering how much aircraft design had changed in the interim. It actually outlasted its designated successor, the F9F Panther and, like the real aircraft, the fact that this model doesn't have the latest features in an FSX world does little to detract from its usability and the value of it in the newer sim.

The fact that, unlike similar models from other mid-range FS developers such as Alphasim and Iris, Razbam supports combat flight sim platforms with their packages is a definite plus point. The choice of CFS2 rather than 3 is possibly an odd one at first glance, but considering that most combat "connoisseurs" prefer the older title and tend to write CFS3 off as a "game" rather than a "simulation", it is perhaps understandable.

Overall, the F2H Banshee is another good release from a good developer and, although it may not be everyone's cup of tea, if you have any interest at all in carrier aviation, it's worth adding this one to your collection for carrier landing practice. It'll be interesting to see how it works with the additions promised in the FSX "Acceleration!" add-on pack.
 
 

Click below to view a Banshee carrier landing in FS9

 

 
 

Please visit Razbam for more information on this product or visit the

product page on Simmarket to purchase.

 

 
 

Ian Pearson is a real world CAA PPL-IMC qualified pilot 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.
 

 

Images & video by Nick Churchill

 

 

 
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