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Just Flight Spitfire (FSX)
Monday, 10 December 2007

Just about every person reading this review will know about the Spitfire and the role she played in WWII, most of you will probably have witnessed her in action at air shows around the world and heard that magnificent Rolls Royce V12 Merlin engine. The Spitfire is a single seat fighter which was used by the RAF and many other allied countries during WW11, its elliptical wing had a thin cross section which meant that it could achieve a higher top speed than the Hawker Hurricane and it was one of the finest fighters of it’s day.

The prototype Spitfire first flew in March 1936 from what is now Southampton airport and testing continued until May 1936 when the Air Ministry placed an order for 310 aircraft. In all over 20,000 Spitfires were produced in many variants, it was the only British fighter to be in continual production before, during and after WW11, the Mk V was the most common variant with over 6,000 being produced.

The first Spitfire to enter service with the RAF arrived at 19 squadron at Duxford in August 1938 (for those of you using FS2004 there is some free scenery for Duxford showing what it would have looked like during WWII). The first public viewing of the aircraft was on the 20th May 1939 during a display at Duxford, during which the pilot belly-landed the aircraft having forgotten to lower his under-carriage.

So now we turn our attention to the Just Flight team who have now released their Spitfire package, originally designed for FS2004, for FSX as a hefty 650mb download. Users who already have the package for FS2004 can upgrade to the FSX version via a free upgrade at the Just Flight site. At the time or writing the package only costs £17.99/€26.95/$32.99 which represent excellent value for money.

This package has been officially licensed by the RAF and has been developed by Aeroplane Heaven (Avro Lancaster & DeHavilland Tiger Moth). In all the download contains 39 aircraft that span 14 different marks of this legendary fighter, including a float version. I am reviewing the download version for FSX, but all models are compatible with FS2002 & FS2004; and 5 variants run with CFS3 and 2 with CFS2. It is worth noting however that this package will not work with FSX if you have the Acceleration Add-on Pack installed. With this being an old model I cannot envisage Just Flight spending time on a patch to make it compatible with FSX, which is a shame as it is fantastic, but it is understandable if they don’t release a patch as they will no doubt be focussing their attention on other high quality add-ons for FSX.

Each variant in the package has been thoroughly researched, and just like the real aircraft, no two models are the same. The 2D & 3D cockpits, panels, sounds and instruments have all been reproduced to a phenomenal level of accuracy and detail. As well as the aircraft you will receive a fully interactive multi-media manual showing you how to fly the Spitfire. Basically this is a series of short videos taking you through all phases of flight showing you the correct procedures. This is something that I haven’t seen with any other add-on package and though it was an excellent way of letting the end user get to grips with the basics of the aircraft in the minimal amount of time. All too often with printed manuals you spend most of the time looking for a certain switch or lever than you do flying the aircraft when you first buy it. With this method of learning you can see where the levers and switches are straight away so you know where to look when you jump into the cockpit and want to get up into the skies.

After downloading the package, which make take some time even for users with broadband, installation is very quick and easy as with all Just Flight products and you are ready to take to the virtual skies in a matter of minutes. My first view of the aircraft was of the 2D panel and my first impression was ‘how am I meant to fly this?’. The nose of the Spitfire is very long and with the plane being a tail dragger, visibility on the ground is practically nil looking forward. Taxing must be done making S-turns so that you can see where you are going. The 2D panel is very good, but I have seen better 2D panels, but with FSX being geared more towards the virtual cockpit more work appears to have been spent on the superb 3D panel. Even in the 3D panel the forward view is extremely limited (take that as being very realistic) but it is far better than the 2D cockpit. After watching the interactive manual (a PDF version is also available) it was easy enough to get this old war-bird up and running and listening to the fantastic sound-track of the engine, release the parking brake and apply full throttle and you are in the skies in no time at all, the Spitfire practically flies itself off the runway with very little user input. After climbing to a safe altitude it’s time to see what this aircraft handles like, which is how you would expect a fighter aircraft to handle. She is very agile and feels very light to manoeuvre from the inputs I made with my joystick.

This aircraft wants to fly, and fly fast. I found that she was very difficult to handle when flying at low speeds and in landing configuration, over time I became used to this and managed to set her up to so that I could handle her, but it took lots of practice. I had to find a new way of landing due to the fact that forward visibility is very poor because of that huge nose! I found it easiest to fly just to the right of the runway so that I could keep an eye on where it was, and then approach from a steep angle when coming into land, pulling out just before the threshold for a smooth landing (sometimes). I found that this way was easiest as I was able to see the runway when I was coming in to land. When I was setting up for landing the first few times I was taken by surprise at the violent lurches the Spitfire made upwards when deploying the flaps and gear, which are far more violent than with commercial and GA aircraft which I am much more used to flying. Over time it became easier to handle but still presented a challenge, which made it all the more fun. This is a very immersive add-on and really gives a good feel what the pilots must have been experiencing when flying during WWII.

When you step out of the cockpit and have a look around the aircraft, the exterior model is amazing. The attention to detail is second to none with every part of the aircraft looking ultra realistic. Even the belly or the aircraft has big black streaks down it from the exhaust gases. The Spitfire looks sleek and agile and every bit the fast and nimble fighter plane she is, yet at the same time managed to look graceful and elegant. I didn’t notice any jagged edges or blurred textures, just smooth lines with crisp textures all over the airframe. When I was up in the air I spent most of the time panning around the outside of the aircraft taking screenshots trying to show her off from every angle. It’s great when you are panning around the outside of the aircraft and the engine note changes depending on what angle you are viewing the aircraft from. The soundest has really captured the noise of the screaming engine brilliantly and as you move around the different variants each engine seems to sound a little different that the last one as each engine was different and had different power outputs. Opening the throttle fully produces a magnificent explosion of noise from the front of the aircraft, and sitting in the cockpit you have the best seat in the house to listen to it.

Overall I think that this package is very good and is excellent value for the money it costs. It’s a little disappointing that there are no plans at current to make it compatible for FSX with Acceleration installed, but this is an old add-on and Just Flight no doubt has many more new add-ons in development. This is the first fighter aircraft which I have flown at length on any version of Flight Simulator, and although at times it was very challenging, once I got to grips with the flight dynamics the Spitfire became easier to handle yet still presented a challenge at the same time. Landings at first were very difficult but over time because a bit easier as I found my own way to overcome the problems which the long nose of the aircraft presents. The 2D panel isn’t the best you will ever see but the 3D cockpit more than makes up for that and I found that the whole Spitfire experience was far better from the VC anyway. The best part of this package by a long way is the fantastic exterior model and soundest, the lines are ultra smooth and the engine sounds like the real thing. Despite the awesome modelling I my sim performance didn’t take a hit with the frame rates remaining steady and smooth. I like the interactive manual which helped me get to grips with the aircraft a lot quicker than if I had just read the manual and tried to operate her. This aircraft definitely will not sit in my virtual hangar gathering dust!

Check your six!