Aircraft expansion pack for Microsoft FSX
 

"Unlike most aircraft that started World War II as a front line combatant, the Vickers Wellington also finished it as well"
 

It's always nice to begin a review with a discussion point, so here's one to start you off... There's a Wellington in Shropshire, a Wellington in Somerset and a Duke. Knowing the UK, there are probably many more that I don't know about as well so, given that fact, which one do you think the Wellington bomber was named after - following the assumption that other RAF WW2 heavy bombers such as the Lancaster, Lincoln, Halifax, and the like were named after places? The answer, indirectly, is Somerset. But it's indirect because, apparently, the aircraft was intended to replace the pre-war Wellesley aircraft, named after Arthur Wellesley of the Napoleonic Wars, better known to most people as the Duke of Wellington.

Unlike most aircraft that started World War II as a front line combatant, the Vickers Wellington also finished it as well, having undergone a large number of upgrades and changes between versions, but still basically the same aircraft in 1945 as it was in 1939. It served in almost all theatres, with crews comprising a large number of different nationalities. It trained the crews of other, later, more potent heavy bombers, hunted U- and E-boats, provided Air Sea Rescue cover, transported troops, VIPs and casualties, dropped leaflets and agents over enemy territory and detonated magnetic mines. One aircraft was even fitted with a jet engine for tests. It also dropped the first British bombs of the war and was still dropping them at the end.

The Wellington package reviewed here is published by First Class Simulations in the UK as either a download or boxed product, featuring a number of aircraft variants, a scenery and, for FSX users, missions as well. Although the package is for both FS2004 and FSX, this review is of the boxed version installed in Microsoft FSX + Acceleration.

Installation

The basic installation for this package is a fairly standard disk-based executable file, requiring only confirmation of installation paths and the insertion of a key from the manual by the user. When you first run FSX after install, if you want to use the scenery, you'll need to add it to the library manually. Once that is done, you will find the Wellingtons under Aircraft manufacturer 'Vickers' or Publisher 'First Class Simulations'. If you use the Aircraft type option, then it's a 'Bomber', but I don't think I've ever actually used that to find an aircraft.

There is, unfortunately, a little sting in the tail when it comes to the patch and an add-on missions pack, which you have to download from the First Class Simulations website - but not in the usual method. Instead you have to "buy" them at a price of 0.00. If, like me, you have installed the package from a DVD box set, this means you have to set up an account at the site, add the two packages to your basket and go through the entire purchase procedure to download a patch. It's a bit unusual, to say the least, but I'm sure there's a reason for it somewhere. The only downside to this was that when we tried to obtain the files, the FCS website was very, very, slow indeed and it was a struggle to even reach the download page. I didn't have any failures, but Nick had several timeouts waiting for the site to load pages. Hopefully this was a one-off, but it did make life quite difficult for both of us.

Un-installation, should you wish to do so, is via the standard Windows Control Panel route - with separate uninstallers for the package itself and the extra missions. You'll also need to manually remove RAF Driffield from your scenery library.

Overall, apart from the slightly unusual method of obtaining the patch and add-on missions (plus the slow site issues!) the installation routines are pretty much standard and professionally presented.

Documentation

Because this review is of the boxed version of the Wellington, you actually get a printed manual - albeit only a short one comprising about 12 pages including the cover.

The manual covers the usual legal information, credits, how to contact support in case you have problems, etcetera, plus giving a background overview of the aircraft and instructions for how to install the scenery as discussed briefly above. Apart from the specifications for the Mk.1C variant, unfortunately, there are no instructions for how to operate the aircraft or even overviews of the panel. Instead, after installing the patch, you will find a number of Adobe PDF files in the "FCS_Wellington" subdirectory of your FSX installation. Two of these, FCS_Wellington_Panelmanual.pdf and Wellington_TutorialUK.pdf (presumably there are other languages, but I have not seen them), provide much more useful information on how to actually operate the aircraft - indeed the tutorial takes you on a flight up the East side of England from RAF Duxford in Cambridgeshire (home of the Imperial War Museum aircraft collection in the real world) to the included scenery of RAF Driffield in Lincolnshire.

One issue I do have with the tutorial is that it tells you during the start-up sequence to "Confirm that cylinder heat temperatures and oil pressure gauges are all within tolerances", while showing pictures of gauges with the engines shut down and no text to tell you what tolerances actually are.

Finally there is a PDF giving an overview of the two missions that come with the original package and a HTML webpage discussing registration of the product and support contacts, repeating what is in the manual.

Overall, with the inclusion of the new PDF files that come with the patch, the documentation with the package is adequate for the job. It's not overwhelming but is sufficient to operate the aircraft and is well put together and presented.

Exterior

The first question I always have to ask when looking at the outside of a new model is the very simple, basic, "does it look like it is supposed to" and yes, this model is definitely a Wellington. From the twin gun turret in the nose, past the cockpit screen, the long bomb bay doors on the underside and down to the conventional single fin tail and twin- or quad-gun turret at the back, each of the seven models provided in the package look like the bomber they intend to represent.

The variants included cover a range of radial-engined aircraft (the Merlin powered Mk II and Mk IA aircraft are not present) including operational bombers, Operational Training Unit (OTU) aircraft and a radar equipped Coastal Command Mk.XIV with the under-nose search radar housing.

Being one of very few aircraft that served throughout the war from start to finish, the range included is very appropriate and shows the range of duties the bomber served in. From research I've done outside this review, I already knew that crews still technically not ready for combat, from OTUs, regularly flew missions over enemy territory either dropping propaganda leaflets or even as part of the massive "thousand bomber" raids later in the war. From this perspective, it's good to see an OTU aircraft represented along with a Canadian squadron, a Polish squadron and a desert camouflaged tropical variant.

The actual visual differences between the aircraft are not great - for instance there's no increase in the number of propellor blades, gun turrets or windows - which is testament to the strength of the original design, which used a geodesic construction method pioneered by Barnes Wallis, who is far better known for a weapon he created than the design of the Wellington. It could be argued that between the Upkeep bombs and the Wellington, the latter had far more of an effect on the war than the more famous former, but that's not the subject of this text, so I'll leave it there. The importance of Wallis here is that the frame of the Wellington was clearly visible through the windows and, depending on which source you refer to, could also be seen through the linen skin stretched over the frame. On this model, it can only be seen through the windows.

The models are compiled to be FSX native, with the expected moving parts on the exterior. The retractable gear is particularly detailed, with a number of control hoses and boxes visible around the struts and wheels themselves, plus also inside the bays. The bomb bay, when the five doors are opened by using the shift-e-2 key combination, display no bombs, but the mounting clasps are present and detailed. Also, a look inside the cowlings of the radial engines reveals a lot of modelling, with texture-based effects kept to a minimum. Possibly the only thing lacking on the model is that there is no crew door modelled. Shift-e opens the windows on the sides of the cockpit, shift-e-2 the bomb bay, but there is no access hatch present.

Talking of textures, it is clear that a lot of work has gone into the texturing on this model. The bumps on the tyres, the brackets and rivets, but most of all the camouflage textures themselves. The skin of the model is intended to represent doped fabric - linen in the case of the Wellington. Unfortunately, on occasion, the effect is rather misplaced. As a straw poll, I asked a number of people what they thought the surface represented when looking at an image on the screen and the universal response was "wood". Not one person thought it looked like doped fabric. This is particularly noticeable on areas that aren't supposed to be fabric anyway, such as the metallic areas around the engine, but unfortunately the texture effect covers pretty much the entire non-transparent surface of the aircraft. To be fair, on the undersides it works very, very, well indeed and looks superb, but the effect is not what is intended on the camo paint unfortunately. This is a real pity because given the detail on the model and the fact that it is very clear that a lot of effort has gone into creating the textures, it detracts from what has been done beneath and around it.

To sum up the exterior modelling on these aircraft, the overall models are very good, with a lot of detail and no real visible frame rate hit resulting from it. Unfortunately, the lack of crew access doors and the wood rather than dope effect of the textures do detract from the effect.

Interior

So, given the amount of detail on the exterior, you'd hope that the interior would continue along the same lines - or at least I would - and the good news is that it does. The Wellington's Virtual Cockpit is very well made, with the geodesic structure again clearly visible and modelled. Only the cockpit area itself and the prop spinners are present in the VC, which caused some discussion at time of release about whether the engines of a Wellington are visible from the pilot's seat. I don't think there was ever an absolute resolution to the debate because the answer is both - you can only see the spinners when sitting back, but it wouldn't take much leaning forward to see the cowlings as well. In the modern age of TrackIR and equivalents, it is a truism that customers will look in all the places a modeller wishes they wouldn't, so I'd have to agree with those who said that they would have preferred engines to be visible. I'd also have preferred the complete nose in front of the cockpit to be modelled. As released, it only comes to a very sharp point roughly where the top of the frame would be and looking at the VC model from "outside" by moving the viewpoint forward shows that there are two panels, not meeting in the middle, that make the nose. This means that the right side panel is being viewed from the "inside" so is invisible - hence the sharp point on the left side panel.

The detailing on the VC panel is very good indeed. Gauges, switches and controls including those that cannot be used are all modelled and the panel is far from flat. The different "modules" that make up the panel are curved at the edges and modelled rather than just textured and all around the VC the textures are very good. Some sections appear to be a slightly lower resolution than the rest but there are rivets, screws, nuts and bolts everywhere, all textured and only the big screws right in front of your face on the glareshield don't look massively realistic. Even those, however, are perfectly acceptable and fit in with the rest of the VC. The general look and feel is of an aircraft that is not brand new from the factory, but has not yet been abused. There is dirt and wear, but not a massive amount. Gauges are clear and easy to read with only the DI being completely and the left fuel gauge partially hidden by the substantial yoke assembly. Fortunately, there is a compass on the floor near where the pilot's right foot would be, which makes setting a course reasonably easy. No autopilot is provided, nor are radios (which weren't handled by the pilot in the Wellington). Instead, the default "old world" radio stack and GPS295 can be popped up using shift-2 and shift-3 respectively.

The 2d panel appears to have a photoreal background which comes out blocky and not particularly well blended when compared to the VC version. The gauges are also much smaller and many of the controls are not visible. With left/right/up/down views now limited to seeing the VC in FSX cockpits, unfortunately the 2d panel in this package is nowhere near as usable as the VC - I'd recommend anyone trying to operate the aircraft did so using the virtual cockpit.

To conclude this section, I'd be honest and suggest that you forget the 2d panel exists. The VC is clear, smooth, well modelled and very well presented. The only problem I personally have with it is that the prop spinners share the textures they use in the external model and look like polished wood again. I cannot use my TrackIR as it argues with the window behind my desk and results in my having a broken virtual neck every two seconds. If I could, I'd probably lament the lack of modelled engines in the VC more than I do but without it, I can't say I miss them much at all.

Flying

The Wellington, particularly the early ones, will leave you in no doubt whatsoever of it's pre-World War II origins and vintage. This is no speed demon, the bomb load (although impressive at the time) isn't massive and against fighters, even early in the war, they got totally chewed up. The category it fits firmly into is a stable, steady, effective night bombing and patrol platform. Unfortunately of all the quantities that were built, the number of even partial airframes that still exist can be counted on the fingers of one hand and none of them are flyable so there is a distinct dearth of modern style flying notes for the type.

Although, in my experience, the majority of pre and early war aircraft were equipped with free-castoring tail wheels rather than linking them to the rudder, like many FS add-ons this one is designed to be easier to control for those in the FS community that do not have rudder pedals. Taxiing the aircraft as a result is very easy, with surprisingly good visibility over the nose. The takeoff roll is unsurprising too, with only a slight amount of right rudder required to keep the nose on the centreline. A distinct forward push to get the tail flying, followed by a small amount of back pressure, will see the aircraft float into the air at around 120KIAS, although I did get it off at 100 at the expense of bouncing the tail wheel. Regardless of whether a notch of flap is set or not, the Wellington is unwilling to climb immediately after take off at heavy weights and getting the gear in is a priority, after which the nose can be raised as speed increases and vertical speed increases accordingly. With the throttles a little below redline, at cruise speeds, climbs in excess of 2000fpm are possible for short durations. Cruise speeds are not high themselves, with a little under 200KIAS being normal with most power settings I tried and descents are simply a matter of reducing throttle and allowing the nose to lower.

Closing the throttles completely causes the aircraft to slow dramatically and quite quickly, with a lot of up elevator required to retain straight and level flight. The stall speed of a Mk.X aircraft, with 50% fuel on board, a 2041kg bomb load and a clean configuration, was 95KIAS, while in approach configuration this decreased to around 80KIAS. In either configuration, the aircraft displayed incipient stall characteristics well before the on-screen message appeared, comprising twitchy pitch control and a wing drop following a slow loss of lateral control. In the clean configuration, the stall was far more severe than in approach configuration, with a faster and more aggressive wing drop (to either side) and a strong pitch down. In approach configuration the stall was much easier to spot and prevent, with even the simple application of power at the incipient stall stage preventing it deepening. Recovery from both incipient and full stall is otherwise conventional with no real surprises.

Although, as I previously mentioned, there is no autoflight mechanism in the aircraft, the Wellington is fortunately not difficult to trim for straight and level. What is more of an issue, on my machine at least, is that it rolls to the left. Not as much as the Alphasim LongEZ, which I reviewed a while ago and required a constant right stick input to fly straight and level, but it is visible and constant. To rule out poor stick or rudder calibration, I recalibrated both and checked the outputs were neutral using FSUIPC, then used keyboard controls to set the autopilot to heading and height hold before disabling the controls. When the autopilot was disconnected, there was an immediate roll to the left. Increasing the power to the port engine did nothing to reduce this effect, which is more pronounced at low speed than cruise and the only solution seems to be a little aileron trim needing to be applied. Unfortunately there is no control for this provided in the VC or on the 2d panel and it has to be set using the keyboard control (ctrl+num6 by default).

Like other stages of flight, landing the Wellington is not difficult. Only around +4" of boost is required to retain straight and level in full landing configuration, which seems a bit low to me - I'd be expecting a lot more drag from those large flaps. With good visibility over the nose, tracking the runway is easy and it only took a few attempts before I was managing near perfect three-point touchdowns every time.

Before I leave this section, there is one other sector of the flight model that I am really not sure about, which is the old classic secondary effects of controls. Normally speaking, when you change anything on an aircraft, something else happens. In a conventional aircraft (i.e. not a Twin Otter!), increasing power makes your nose go up and reducing power makes the nose go down. If you apply left rudder, the aircraft will roll left and if you apply right rudder, the aircraft will roll right. These effects have saved a fair few pilots' lives over time, as well as causing a fair few accidents, so are well covered in every flying textbook I've read. Unfortunately one of them - the rudder, doesn't seem to work properly in this flight model. When pressing the left rudder firmly in, the aircraft rolls, not left, but right - out of the turn. Likewise, if you press the right rudder, the aircraft rolls out of the turn to the left. A quick change from the Wellington to a Cessna, test, the secondary effects of the rudder are correct. Switch back to the Wimpey, they're reversed again. That's not right, unless someone can find me a good aerodynamic reason why it would be so.

Sounds

As I mentioned in the flying section there are, unfortunately, very few modern resources to compare the sounds of this model to but to me the engine sounds of this package seem a little underplayed. I'd have expected a fairly deep, rumbling sound from a 1930s radial and those provided here seem more fitting to a more modern power plant - although a fairly large one, admittedly.

That said, there are no glaring problems with the sound at all. The engine sounds don't appear to have any of the clipping or obvious repeats than many add-ons have and the gear and flaps sounds seem (to my ears at least) to be much more appropriate to the type.

The sounds certainly don't particularly detract from the package although unlike some add-ons, I won't find myself just sitting on the apron applying and taking off power just to hear the effects with this one.

Scenery and Missions

In addition to the aircraft, the FCS Wellington package includes a scenery by Team SDB of RAF Driffield, a WW2 station in the "Bomber Country" of Lincolnshire on the East Coast of the UK and, with the add-on pack installed, a total of five new missions that can be completed.

I'll deal with the missions first and I'll be honest straight off. If you're expecting missions similar to those included with the default sim, XPack or add-ons such as RAZBAM's Intruders, you'll be sorely disappointed. If, like me, you were expecting some things to get you to fly the aircraft and operate it from Driffield, you'll be significantly less so, but even then there's not a massive amount of depth to them.

The "parcel drop" missions are the best of the five, in that at least they have something to do other than "fly the aircraft", but they (and the "unexpected events" mission that I correctly predicted as soon as I saw it) are narrated by the Microsoft Speech Engine. I'm sorry, but I really don't want to be told to take off, climb or whatever, in a World War 2 bomber, by Professor Stephen Hawking.

None of the missions come with rewards at the end and considering "Unexpected Events" is classified as Expert level, I found myself decidedly unchallenged by it (whereas what most mission developers now consider "Advanced" I tend to find a challenge). While I am glad to see missions included, unfortunately these really aren't that interesting and I very much doubt I'll be flying them again.

The scenery is considerably better than the missions. It's not perfect, in that some of the textures are very flat and look like they belong in an earlier sim and some of the models really do - they're FS9 scenery objects with the issues that using them in FSX brings - but overall it's good. The layout matches the information I have regarding Driffield between its World War I origins and the major changes made in late 1942 to give it hard runways and large bomber dispersals, which makes it the perfect period for the early war Wellingtons which make up most of this package. In fact apart from the textures, the only real thing was obviously wrong is that modern painted hold-shorts are on the taxiways short of the runways. These can be removed, yet the functionality retained, very easily by switching them to a type of "Hold Short - No Draw", so there's no real reason for them to be shown and they do detract from the period feel.

Unfortunately there is no AI traffic provided with the scenery. Instead, via a couple of freeware download sites, Team SDB have made available some flight plans using the Alphasim ex-payware (now freeware) Wellington package. These aircraft are quite suited to use as AI, because they are quite old models and as such fairly low poly. They are not FSX models, though, so can cause a significant hit on frame rate on some users' systems, plus for some reason they selected a Merlin powered variant from those available to act as AI, rather than a radial engined Wellington like all those included in the package, which spoils the effect a bit as well.

Conclusion

The FCS Wellington package is, overall, a good add-on. It has a few interesting foibles and design decisions that people might not agree with, but for anyone interested in WW2 operational aircraft, this one is a good one to add to the hangar. The scenery that comes with it is also another nice addition to the range of WW2 airfields that are increasingly appearing around the FSX UK but I'll be honest, I'd only bother with the AI traffic package if you really want it. If anyone wants me to swap it to a radial engined Alphasim Wellington, rather than the Merlin powered one, let me know via the forum here or my e-mail address and I'll do it.

Dan Dunn is far from unknown to the FS community and judging by this package's strengths, he'll hopefully be giving us more add-ons as time goes by... although a little additional patch for this one might not go amiss in the meantime, if that's possible?

For more information on the Vickers Wellington, visit its product page at the web site..

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All screenshots and pbotographs are Copyright screenshotartist.co.uk

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

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