This document contains the text of a review by Nigel Martin that appears on
Flight Deck 4
By Nigel Martin (21 August 2006)
Well, well here we are again, reviewing another commercially available download, this time from Abacus.
This little baby is somewhat different from the norm, "Ever fancied testing your skills landing an aircraft onto an aircraft carrier?" Well look no further. The latest release (I gather there have been three prior offerings) will allow to try, oh yes TRY, do not think because you can do the perfect three pointer, you have the right stuff to land (or as it has been said by Navy aviators, "The deck just gets in the way") onto the busy, VERY busy deck of a floating airport!
Hew, no problem, I can do it every time, a piece of cake...We will see...
Back to the product, well it is available in CD format and as a download, and if you already have Flight Deck 3 you can purchase an upgrade.
With two previous successful commercial downloads behind me, the download option was favorable, and it was a rapid process. Being impatient, this is the quickest way of getting my sea legs!
The download was an impressive 57.3 MB and it took some 18 minutes to complete the effortless process.
The program credentials are very impressive. The aircraft carrier all ops will take place upon and around is the mighty USS Ronald Reagan, positioned in various worldwide locations.
We can experience the brutal process of launch and recovery. Within this version there is a 'new' launch and recovery system, which is labelled as exclusive for Flight Deck 4, providing an easy to use catapult and cable recovery.
So, what hardware can we play with? An impressive line-up, some six aircraft and one helicopter. These are:
- F/A-18C Hornet
- F/A-18E Super Hornet
- E-2C Hawkeye
- S-3B Viking
- SH-60 Seahawk
- C-2A Greyhound
- EA-6B Prowler
With the new 'simplified' catapult and recovery system you can revel in the mayhem that is flight deck operations.
Be warned, there are some very 'mucky' weather conditions to test your mettle, (there are some perfect conditions too of course, for the naval ops beginner; not me you understand, I have sea water in my
veins! I have a feeling I will regret that statement?)
There are quite literally dozens of pre-set flights for each aircraft selected. The USS Ronald Reagan is positioned in four different geographical locations, these being:
Bay of Bengal
South China Seas
Coastal San Diego
From night and day conditions, to fog with near zero forward view conditions, testing times are ahead. Starting to sweat are we?
As with the previous paid for downloadable offering, I recently reviewed there isn't any. It is downloaded from the Pilot Shop. Just follow the instructions of purchase and download, which are frankly extremely easy to follow. You chose the Flight Deck 4 program from the Shop web site, make the purchase and it will then download in a quick and efficient manner.
You can purchase a downloadable upgrade if you already own Flight Deck 3.
Again, I found the entire process effortless, this being the third commercial aircraft package I have downloaded. I am getting quite a 'taste' for this process. Just pay and get instant access. Remember to back-up your new zip file. I know from experience how wonderfully stable our computers can be! My computer, well, expired recently, and if I had not copied all files, they would have been lost, so my brethren, COPY...MAKE BACK-UPS.
The file is a healthy 57.3 MB so in my simple logic, the size of the file again indicates the potential of great things to come.
Once the installation process has been completed, which in my case was effortless, you will find the options under 'Select Flight'. Select and opt for one of the many many versions on offer, and press 'fly', wait for the computer to update, hey presto there it is. And I must say, you will not be disappointed!
Once installed, I selected ready to launch option (Daylight conditions) in a Super Hornet (nothing like a gradual introduction naval aviationn!) I was immensely impressed with the exterior detail of the aircraft and the aircraft carrier. Carrier first. There are plenty of pieces of hardware located around the entire deck area, aircraft and various trucks. (There is even AI aircraft activity to add to the realism). The 'island' is again very convincing.
As you scan around you notice a plethora of detail. You can easily miss the bits and pieces, such is the attention to detail. So, have a good look around, because when you are approaching at a ridiculous speed, you will not be saying, " Oh what lovely rotating radars, the paint scheme is nice too...". You just may be concentrating on other things!
There are many examples of fantastic detail, but I must single out the approach lighting system and deck lighting, very nice. The protection grid system which overhangs the transom protecting the rudder, and rear of the ship typifies the attention to detail. The carrier paint scheme, as I have mentioned it above, is excellent, and I am sure is accurate, although I cannot be certain.
One more observation, the wake of the ship, this single item can render the offering into the unconvincing category, but not in this case. Abacus has done a fine job in creating a bow and stern effect that looks very good and provides you with a real illusion of forward movement.
Before moving on, when you are airborne, you will see, and rightly so, some other protective Navy vessels located around the carrier, well worth a 'buzz'.
As there are seven flyable offerings, I am not going to discuss each and every one. Suffice to say, the aircraft detail is extremely well presented. The proportions, ordinance, dynamic shine, graphics, opening cockpits, folding wings, tail hooks, flaps, air brakes, undercarriage and external lighting detail is all there. The various crews are also depicted in very accurate way.
You have the option of either 2D or 3D cockpit views which offers a flexible visual environment.
The sound for all the aircraft is again very convincing (very nice re-heat effects on the Hornet and Super Hornet), both from an internal and external perspective. The sound on the Seahawk (external) is not seamless but very near it. I found the ATC voices very clear. Oh yes, let's not forget the carrier sounds. The launch sequence leaves you in no doubt, that a steam catapult (invented and developed by the Royal Navy) has 'flung' you skywards, and landing, a massive thump as your undercarriage hits the deck and a great sound as the wire takes the tension. Very, very nice indeed.
Now this is interesting, you have seven aircraft to choose from and all of them have some excellent detail in the 2D option. All the instrumentation is clear to read and use. If seated in the Hornets you will see a fantastic Heads Up Display, which provides you with key data. Used in-line with the IFOLS "Meatball" landing system provides the pilot with accurate stream of data allowing you to catch the second wire every time! Interactive switches, and nice easy to see/use 'hot' switches normally positioned in front of you allows you to select such functions as airbrakes/tail hook/parking brake at a mere press of a distinctive button, allowing you to concentrate upon the task in hand.
The 3D option, it has to be said, is very well laid out with the instruments reasonably clear and accurate. All right, some detail is lacking and a little bland in parts, but this perspective provides a vital aid to positioning your steed downwind and lining up for long final. Remember you will have the ILS active, so a nice steady approach will pay dividends. In the Sea Hawk, if you scan to your left you will 'see your colleague', sitting in the right seat, not a perfect example, but a very nice effort.
Now this is the part the program is all about. Select an option from select a flight and read the useful description of the sortie. I selected night ILS zero viz! My aircraft? The Prowler. Within seconds, I was attempting to keep the aircraft within the red squares leading me to the deck (all comm radios are pre-selected for you). Keep an eye on the speed, contact the carrier and request a full stop landing. A couple of warnings re speed and flaps deployed, slower does it. As I near the carrier I am aware that very little corrective input is needed, VERY easy to over compensate. See the deck, on track, I have selected SHIFT 5 and got a view of the IFOLS (Meatball) system positioned to the left of my line of sight, (very useful!). Continued my approach, wow I'm on the deck and stopped!
I will tell you now, the last part happens very quickly! OK, turboprop are slightly slower but my friends beware. After landing I selected wings up, tail hook up and taxied to a parking spot (see pictures).
With my graduation over, I hopped into the 'office' of the Hornet, this time opting for a day launch. I was positioned on the catapult, parking brakes applied, steam appearing over the nose, a quick look to see the Yellow Jacked shooter crouched down, thumps up, a quick salute, (all right, I imagined that bit!) head back hard into my seat, full military power, hit the brakes... Wait for me! The Hornet has been catapulted off the deck (my stomach still on the deck!), bank to the port, positive rate of climb, gear up, flaps up, and watch that airspeed climb. Time for a landing me thinks.
Selected 3D cockpit to get my bearings (usual GPS map option is available). OK downwind, control input seems accurate and responsive,
request a full stop landing, that given and instructions responded to, I started my descent. Again I opted for the IFOLOS detail as above. This showed me on the glide slope, the HUD was good on track as well, the carrier detail is now on view, which is again excellent detail, lower, on deck full throttle ooops, missed, up and away a 180 was called for.
After my initial apparent ease of landing the Prowler (I now know to have been a fluke!) boy was I in for a shock! It isn't easy. I did manage to land it on the third attempt.
The Seahawk is a lovely docile beast, but do not be fooled, it will require careful handling. I concentrated on as accurate a take off and landing as I could. I love helicopters, and this did not let me down. Try 'standing off' as the AI Prowlers land. Not as easy as it sounds, but great fun.
I do not intend to describe all aircraft on offer, suffice to say the
above experience proved to fairly typical, such is the quality.
You will be glad to hear that all aircraft can be found in the Aircraft Option so if you wish, you can select them for any flight you see fit.
OBSERVATIONS & CONCLUSION
Abacus has to be applauded for the introduction of a 'different' experience we can have a 'play' with. Naval aviation is an incredible achievement, and demands the utmost respect to the pilots (and the deck crew) that land their aircraft onto a heaving pitching and rolling deck in filthy conditions both day and night. Wow awesome.
Just a thought, to add that 'extra' nail biting element, how about real pitching and rolling of the decks!? Maybe next time.
Since installing the program I have had endless fun, honing my skills in all sorts of areas, especially the ILS approaches.
I never owned any of the previous versions, so I cannot comment but what I would say, if there are other future versions anticipated, the experience can only get better.
I have to say however, I found some of the flight dynamics questionable, i.e. taxiing, even at slow speeds one aircraft slewed and did not turn. Some inputs seemed inaccurate, especially the rudder effect. I also found trimming not as accurate as it could have been.
I tried to select a 'quick' method of tail hook lowering using SHIFT+T. This in most cases did not function, however, if you have a look in the cockpit you will find a tail hook selection button which always worked. Oddly, when taking a close look at the Prowler taking off (immediately leaving the deck) I noted two tarmac color lines extending from the deck to the rear wheels. The moment I took 'pause'
off they disappeared.
Another quick observation, while the three wires are visible on the deck, when you 'pick one up' upon landing, they remain static, it should have been great to have them, well, hook, and show the tension of stopping and aircraft, and travel back to the ready position.
Probably my fault, but on a few sorties selected launch, in a Hawkeye and F-18 on both occasions, despite being told ready to launch all I had to do was to hit the brake and the catapult would function, it did not. And I crashed.
From experience, I found the best way is to select parking brake in all cases, (despite being informed this is already done for you) at the launch, and this worked perfectly.
As I have intimated earlier, I would have loved to see some humans on deck, maybe some AI helicopters standing off on SAR Recovery duty. Better flight dynamics in some cases, not all. Better cockpit detail, BUT, I can assure you, the negative points pale into insignificance once you start flying the take-offs and landings this offering is all about, let's not forget that. So, I love it. I have and continue to have great fun.
Maybe the provision of a 'training' aircraft into the fleet offering would have been nice touch. For the next time perhaps?
It really does provide the flight simmer that something bit different from the 'normal' flight environment.
Have fun, and keep dry!
Onwards and upwards.
Nigel C. Martin
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