Surely there canít be anyone who hasnít heard of the Spitfire? The plane that arguably won us the Battle of Britain, (with the help of some bloody good pilots of course), itís not so much an aeroplane as part of our national heritage, and a global icon for plane lovers and nostalgia freaks everywhere. Seeing and hearing one fly overhead puts one in mind of long lazy summers, real ale, cream teas, Douglas Bader, Bentleys, Vera Lynn and the White Cliffs of Dover. Everything that makes you proud to be British, old chap. Whereís me bulldog and pipeÖ
Anyway, on to Just Flight and Aeroplane Heavenís offering, which gives you, not one, but 13 different Spitfires, lovingly re-created for FS2002 or 2004. 5 of these can be ported over to CFS3, and one to CFS2, giving you the chance to try them in combat against the Hun, but more of that later. These models cover more or less the entire production run of the Spitfire, from the original test prototype, which flew in 1938, to the final production Spitfire, the F Mk 22, which sounds more like a Formula 1 car, and had about as much in common performance wise with the original Spit, as a modern day sporty family saloon has with a McLaren F1. All of these different Marks also come in their different variants, and in a variety of paint schemes. To cap it all, you also get authentic wartime scenery of Duxford aerodrome and its surrounding landmarks, so you can do a victory roll over the local pub as you come home after shooting up a few Messerschmitts. Plus a complete manual with flying tips, etc, this is rather charmingly reproduced in the style of the original pilotís handbook.
So right off the starting blocks, this package represents pretty good value for money. But what about the planes inside the package? Well, I ainít no real pilot, but the reason I play computer flight sims, is to give me an impression of what it might be like to fly some of these exotic planes in real life. This immersion thingy is a difficult thing to get right, and many flight sim Ďmodelsí fall flat in my opinion. They may look the part, but if it looks like a Jumbo and flies like a Cessna when you get behind the controls, the whole thing fails to work, so to speak. A good flight sim plane is a mix of good visuals, authentic sound and, most of all, realistic and proper feedback to the old control inputs, such as you would expect. Now, Iíve read a few books on Spits, and I know about some of its tricks and traps for the unwary, so I was interested to see if these could be reproduced. Well, within the limits of FS technology, the answer is yes. For example, the long nose and tail dragger undercarriage made it a bugger to see where you were going on the ground, necessitating swinging the nose from side to side to see ahead. This poor visibility is well reproduced. It also tended to swing nastily on take off due to the torque from the engine, and was prone to vicious stalls and flat spins if pushed. All of these qualities are present, but most importantly, the fun of high-speed aerobatics, incredible manoeuvrability, and that engine noise! Sublime! Ooh dear Captain, calm down, youíre getting all hot and bothered!
Ahem. The aircraft all look beautiful in their various schemes, with all the different bits, bobs and dangly bits realistically animated and, in case youíre finding the old girl a bit of a handful, the written pilotís notes are supplemented with an interactive flying guide on the CD ROM, which is pretty good actually.
The icing on the cake, if you have CFS3, is the chance to take the Mk1, MkV and MkXIV into combat and try them out against Germanyís finest. It is instructive to pitch the Mk1 against its wartime nemesis in the Battle of Britain, the ME109, where it performs predictably well, and then trying it out against later German fighters, such as the Focke Wulf 190 - Oops, Iím dead, time for an upgrade! Jumping into the later MkV or MkXIV versions levels the playing field, and demonstrates why continual development and improvement of the Spitfire was necessary.
OK, thereís not a lot wrong here basically, and a hell of a lot right. If you are a flight sim aficionado, I canít think of a good reason not to buy this, unless vintage aeroplanes arenít your cup of tea I suppose. Of course itís not a lot of use if you have absolutely no interest in flight sims or aircraft in general, but then I guess you wouldnít be reading this.
In the meantime, Iím off to strap on me tin legs, beat up the airfield, and shoot down a brace of Heinkels before Tiffin. Tally Ho!!