I have had my eye on this simulator for some time now and the developers over at Ikarus were kind enough to allow me to review their first attempt at a mainstream flight simulator, aerofly FS. When I first learned I was going to review this, I was ecstatic! I had seen the videos on YouTube, the high-definition photos, read the website, and uncharacteristically, I bought the hype 100% (hook, line and sinker). I really wish I hadn’t.
Before we get started, let me give just a brief history on Ikarus. This company is well-known, in the RC world, for producing high quality simulators that help train those interested in learning how to fly RC aircraft. Their RC software can get up to around $150. Ok, enough history. I installed the game through Steam and got it activated; my pulse racing with anticipation the whole time. I booted the game up and I needed to re-activate it? Ok, no problem. The game starts and up pops a screen that asks how real I want the flight dynamics to be. No question about it, I want full realism so I select Expert. Now it’s time to select the aircraft. This is no easy choice since there are eight to choose from. Do I want the Cessna 172SP, the F/A-18 Hornet, the Robin 140, the Pitts S-2B, Extra 300, Discus bM, Swift S1, or the old school Sopwith Camel? Since I had trained on a Cessna 172SP in flight school, N577SP to be exact, I chose that.
To my surprise, the game loaded quickly and I was looking at the panel of a Cessna 172SP in what seemed like just a few seconds. I moused over the top of the screen and my menu options appeared. I very easily found the controller settings and got my Saitek yoke and throttle, as well as my CH Products pedals assigned. I was slightly shocked when I saw how few options there were for flight controls, and the game in general. No matter, I wanted to get that bad boy up in the air! When I returned to the cockpit view, I found myself drooling over the level of detail in the cabin. Oh my, was it pretty! The glare shield looked identical to the one in my real 172SP. The gauges presented were pretty good, but not identical and the radio stack looked amazing. All the decals were there and in the right places. In addition, the Lycoming IO-360 engine sounded absolutely spot on. I was in seventh heaven. Before I took to the air, I had to see the external model; and it was nothing short of magnificent. The level of detail that went into the high-definition modeling and textures is incredible! As I looked around the airport and surrounding world, I was struck how real and lifelike everything was. It was time to fly and I was as giddy as a schoolgirl at her first prom!
Before I loaded the game, I had done some flight planning. The game only gives you Switzerland in HD to fly in, which was fine because the older X Plane releases only gave you certain scenery and everything else was water; no big deal, so I planned to go from Birrfeld to Zurich (Birrfeld is the default airport). I figured this short flight would give me a good idea how the in-game navigation was. I found some frequencies I would need to track the VOR at Zurich and make a nice ILS landing. I also thought I could practice some NDB approaches with the GPS. I grabbed my small flight plan, opened up my checklist and got to work. First item, kill the engine because it starts you with it running. Being the good little aviator I am, I figured I could pull the mixture out and shut the engine off. I was wrong; it didn’t move. No matter, let’s just get on with the checklist.
- Parking Brake- Set.
- Aircraft Document- erm.. check.
- Flight Controls- Free and correct.
- Ignition Switch- On? Why can’t I turn it off?
- Fuel Selector: set to right.
- Master Switch- It’s on too. Why in the world can I not flip that switch?
And so it went; not one clickable switch in the entire aircraft. No light control, no transponder, and no radio; which means no VOR navigation and no ILS landing. That’s annoying, but it’s not the end of the world. Surely the plane would ground handle properly. To my delight, it did. After a very brief taxi test, I lined the airplane back up on the runway. I advanced the throttle and listened to the wonderful noise coming from the engine compartment. As I rolled down the runway my airspeed increased, I smoothly rotated at 65 knots indicated, and that beautiful Cessna gracefully took to the air. At last, I was flying.
The plane responded exactly how I would expect with regards to roll, pitch and yaw input. I climbed up and admired the panoramic, photoreal scenery that filled my windscreen from horizon to horizon. After I had climbed to 8,000 feet MSL, I decided to do some stalls. I made my clearing turns, and then did three power on and three power off stalls; perfection. Steep turns, S-turns, climbing turns and descending turns were all fabulous. I flew around looking at the mountains, the roads, the buildings; everything! I was absolutely lost in that moment. That is until I glanced at my watch and saw that it read 03:15. I had been having so much fun on this flight that I hadn’t noticed the 45 minutes I had just spent in my old friend, the Cessna 172SP. It was now time to land and get in bed. I pulled open my moving map, got my bearings, and then headed to Geneva- VFR.
The Zurich airport came into view and it was time to land. I descended, reduced my airspeed and lined it up for a straight in approach on runway 34. Right then, time to lower my flaps. I moved the lever on my controller and heard… absolutely nothing. I checked in the cabin and sure enough, the lever had moved and my flaps were down, but there wasn’t a sound. It was truly a bizarre moment. The rest of the approach and landing was great. The plane behaved just as I thought it would and I even got some ground effect and a slight crosswind to play with. I shut everything down and went to bed feeling very satisfied, but confused at what I was doing wrong to not have anything in the cabin clickable. Perhaps I got a bad download that missed installing the flap sound? Whatever it was, I decided to look into it after I got some sleep.
The next afternoon, when I woke up and got out of bed (don’t judge me!), I decided to give it another try with the F/A-18. I wish I hadn’t. This powerful fighter turned out to be nothing more than a supersonic, VFR plane, with nothing but a moving stick, throttle and a simple HUD to look at. Again, no function in the cockpit. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing; or not seeing in this instance. How could you release this wonderful jet and not give it any usability? Surely they had to know that F/A-18 enthusiasts would want to fly it. I left for work a few hours later feeling let down, upset and defeated. I had finally realized that there wasn’t anything wrong with my download, there was just nothing clickable or functional in the entire simulator. In fact, I struggle to call it a simulator at all. It meets my basic definition, but it misses the point almost entirely.
Normally, when one purchases a flight simulator, the expectation is the ability to aviate, navigate and communicate. Since nothing was functional, I could do little more than fly VFR around Switzerland. I had no communication radio, but even if I did, I couldn’t speak with anyone because there is no AI in the game. I had no navigation radio so I couldn’t track VOR’s or make ILS landings. I could not control my lights, mixture, doors or even the power switches. These are basic things that nearly all flight simulator pilots look for and they just were not there!
I flew all eight of the planes and I was only wowed by the Cessna. I have no experience with the others in real life, so I can’t tell you if they are true to life or not; but they flew about like I expected. Ground handling, however, was another story. They are so twitchy that I flipped or tipped every single one of them, except the gliders. In later tests, I even ground looped the Cessna.
Closer review of the scenery showed me that in broad, panoramic shots the scenery was wonderful. However, If you get close to it, you’ll see blurred texture. On one fight, I realized that the shadows weren’t moving and that I was flying over a big 3d satellite image. Granted, it is accurate to 3 meters, but it’s an image. Moving ground traffic? Forget about it. Worse yet, there is no day/night cycles. It’s like flying in a bad sci-fi movie about a time warp; as if somebody took a picture of Switzerland and stuck you inside of it alone, with 8 airplanes, and you can never get out. Every time I took a plane up, it diminished my feelings from that first flight. How could this have been so magical and then turned out to be such a dud? In fairness, Ikarus did address the day/night and scenery issues in their FAQ. To quote:
“Can I set a different time of day or even night?
The scenery of aerofly FS is based on real aerial images made at a certain time of day and a certain time of the year. So the current version does not allow the changing of time. We will consider this for a future update, since aerofly FS already features the ability to do real-time lighting computations.”
Read the FAQ here.
I should mention that there are objectives that are achievable and missions to fly, such as flying through green projected boxes to land at an airport. You get an award at different amounts of flight time, certain amount of landings, for taking off and even one for crashing. There are achievements like “rocket man” that you achieve by reaching 75,000 feet in a jet, or “upside down” for flying inverted for a certain amount of time. This gives some scenario play that could be good for newcomers, but for 15 year flight sim veterans like me, it’s trite.
Conclusion – Is it worth the money?
Not even close. These guys have to compete with the likes of Microsoft, X Plane, DCS, heck even the free open source game, Flight Gear, has more features. It makes me wonder who Ikarus really had in mind with this product. To me, this is nothing more than another RC training game that allows you to sit inside the cockpit. You can find better ways to spend the $39.99.