The Joker and the Thief of the Night

Ever since I discovered the excellent payware Flight Simulator X (FSX) add-on company known as A2A Simulations just over a month or so ago, I’ve been spell-bound by their add-on aircraft; namely the B17 Flying Fortress and also the B377 Stratocruiser. This blog post will detail their B17 offering for FSX…

Where to begin?

There’s so much to say about this add-on by A2A Simulations, it’s hard to pick where to begin; for one thing, this add-on comes with a feature known as “Accusim” which basically means this is as real as it gets. Virtually every system and feature present on the real-life B17 Flying Fortress appears to have been modelled in this add-on. Sure, there are limits imposed by Microsoft’s Flight Simulator engine itself, but those are few compared to what’s on offer here.

Full-real

So what’s this “Accusim” all about then? Well, for the first time (that I’m aware of anyway), we have here a truly ‘persistent’ aircraft modelled in a simulation. Damage, wear and tear, airframe and engine hours, it’s all here. When I first heard about this feature, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning…literally. Here we have an simulated aircraft that is more than just a 3d model with pretty textures and realistic sound effects; this thing is virtually a living and breathing system of components and things can (and do) go wrong if proper procedures and precautions are not taken. Maintenance items such as air and oil filters, spark plugs and the like are all modelled…even down to every last cylinder in each engine, you have damage and wear and tear that is all modelled as realistically as possible. And being a persistent model, this means that the plane is yours to live with (until you decide to delete the .dat file and start over perhaps).

I will let the video in this post do most of the talking, but it’s safe to say that most of the cockpit systems and functions you carry out in the course of flying this aircraft are 99% consistent with what the real pilots of the day had to perform as well. I have access to actual pilot’s and mechanic’s manuals for the B17 Flying Fortress as well as B&W training videos from back in the day and I can pretty much fly this plane exactly how to the real-world procedures and directives that were prescribed. Not only that, but the failures and issues that the real planes experienced are also modelled with this FSX add-on…things such as run-away turbos, landing gear failures, oil leaks, hydraulic failures, and battery deterioration – just to name a few.

The sheer depth of detail present in this add-on is nothing short of amazing – details such as battery-inverter whine, to the radial vibrations each engine experiences (a sign of which can sometimes mean things aren’t looking good for that engine), right down to brake squeal that is unique for each brake drum in the main wheels and authentic sound effects throughout the cockpit.

The Joker

The title of this blog post comes partly from the name of the B17 which I am currently flying in FSX (“Joker”), as well as the many waking hours it has stolen from me as I’ve flown it. Granted, I have only put around 25 airframe and engine hours on the aircraft so far, so things are going well and I haven’t suffered any major failures yet – perhaps a testament to my extra-awesome flying skills at least in part? Of course, running the plane and its engines properly and keeping up with maintenance always helps keep things ticking over smoothly. So far the only major issues I’ve had is with blowing landing gear motors (these seem to happen fairly randomly at times) and this is no biggie as there is always to manual-wind option to extend and retract the landing gear. A few flights back, I  experienced a run-away turbo on engine #3 just after take off and using the real-world prescribed procedures for dealing with this issue (coincidentally, which I only just watched the night before in a Boeing instructional video from the 1940s), I was able to save the engine from ripping itself to pieces due to its over-zealous turbocharger. I shut that engine down for the remainder of the flight and once on the ground again at my destination, ordered the mechanic to repair the turbo waste-gate.

In the hangar…

One thing A2A have done really well with this add-on is model a hangar and maintenance system for the B17. It’s probably early days for me to be complaining about having to do any major repairs on this bird, but I’d say that as the hours build up, more and more things will start to go wrong, and one will really get a sense of what it’s like to live with these machines day in and day out. No more will you be able to “reload” your plane and start with a brand new machine each time you want to fly – Accusim ensures that you’ll be living with the damage and the wear and tear you caused to the plane the last time you flew it. Get things slightly wrong, and you might suffer a premature oil leak or minor system failure, such as dead batteries if you forgot to turn on your engine generators. But really foul things up, (such as push too much boost through those radial engines or run them hard and fast for extended periods of time) and you might just find yourself with an engine (or engines!) on fire or suffer a total systems failure. Thankfully the B17 was known for its outright robustness and had a reputation for bringing crews back home even as it was riddled with bullet holes from the enemy and with multiple engines knocked out; so I guess you could say that if you had to ditch one of these things, something really must have gone amiss (or perhaps you were just really unlucky).

Along with the maintenance hangar, there is also a fully-featured fuel and payload manager provided (also manages things such as engine and hydraulic oil levels, fuel and oil grades, etc), along with several overlay interfaces in-game which help you give commands to your co-pilot and instruct your crew to perform certain other tasks as needed. It’s all integrated very well.

Smooth air

Once you get to grips with flying this machine, a lot of the procedures and processes for getting the thing prepared pre-flight, to takeoff, and then landing and shutting down, almost come as second nature. It’s true what they said in those old-time pilot training videos for the B17…that once you get to know this machine, it really becomes a lot ‘smaller’…and you almost forget that you have four massive turbo-supercharged 9-cylinder radial engines surrounding your cockpit and pushing you forth into the great blue yonder. The aircraft itself is very forgiving and easy to fly and if you treat her with respect, you will hardly go wrong; stalls are a piece of cake and there’s pretty much no surprises in-store when you do push the envelope…provided you’re not attempting to set a new world record for performing barrel rolls at 1,000 feet.

A2A have really put some nice touches into this add-on aircraft, and you will experience things such as radio broadcasts coming in and out of range as you fly about, and should you forget to set the cabin heat properly at 25,000 feet, your crew will definitely let you know about it! Similarly, if you leave the windows buttoned up on the tarmac with no cabin ventilation and the conditions are right, you’ll end up with fogged-in windows…quite embarrassing if you need to take off right now but find you can’t because you can’t see out of the windscreen!

Conclusion

There’s just too many things to say about this add-on from A2A Simulations, and its all fantastic stuff. If you’re into flight simulations or just want to experience what it’s like to fly an old-time warbird like the B17 in one of the most realistic ways available (short of jumping aboard the real thing and going for a fly), then I’d definitely recommend Flight Simulator X accompanied with this add-on from A2A. With credit where due to Microsoft for creating the excellent foundation that is Flight Simulator X, it’s still fairly safe to say that I probably won’t ever fly another FSX default airplane again after experiencing all that is Accusim. Microsoft, I hope you’re taking notes!

I’m going to close here as my ‘Joker’ is in the hangar and patiently waiting for me to take her up again. I will leave you with a video showing a typical start-up procedure for the plane and several screenshots (all unaltered). Enjoy (and check out the links at the bottom of this post for more info). Note: sky and weather effects courtesy of Real Environment Xtreme 2.

A2A Simulations – B17 Flying Fortress with Accusim (video)

 Links

http://www.a2asimulations.com/

http://www.realenvironmentxtreme.com/

http://www.microsoft.com/games/flightsimulatorx/