By – Stephen Todd

The first time I loaded up the Captain Sim B-52, I was transported to childhood days of nostalgia. My dream was coming true, or at least, closer than I ever thought possible.

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with flight. More than that, I have loved military aviation.  Growing up during the Cold War, I was the son of an Air Force Senior NCO and Crew Chief. I have vivid memories of of watching aircraft such as KC-135 Stratotankers, F-4 Phantoms, and the iconic B-52 Stratofortress all billowing black smoke out from their exhaust, screaming down the runway and into the wild blue yonder. In some ways, they were graceful; in others they scared the living daylights out of me. Yet, I still dreamt of taking the controls and flying off on some mission during “Operation Chrome Dome” in the 1960’s.

My initial reaction was one of sheer amazement at the level of detail offered in the cockpit alone. Each panel, switch, button, screen -all of it- perfectly executed. You get a sense that you are actually in an aircraft, as if you are in the left seat, and there is a real sense of just how big the aircraft is. Nothing looks factory new, including the glass. There are signs of wear, use, repair on the panels and controls, and even scratches on the windscreen and windows.  This is exactly what I would have expected a real B-52 to be like, and just what had been expecting from this simulation. I would estimate that 95% of the flight deck is usable, and I was anxious to do so.

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Looking around I was happy to see that Captain Sim had modeled the “battle station” positions behind the cockpit, used by the Radar navigator (bombardier) and the Electronic Warfare Officer.  None of the switches of buttons on those panels worked, but that was acceptable. It’s essentially the extent of what a virtual cabin would be on this beast, and it’s pleasing to the eye.  Moving my view outside, I found the external model very well done.  I don’t have a lot of time around the real B-52, but it appeared that all the rivets, panel lines, lights and windows were placed perfectly.  The texture was not what I would consider high-definition, but it was done well enough that I wouldn’t be upset if I had spent money on it. The lights all seemed to work and were correctly placed when compared to the pictures I found on the internet. Overall, I was happy with what I saw

I wondered about the level of detail that awaited me in flight. Coming from Captain Sim, I knew it wouldn’t be as easy to fly as freeware, or lesser quality payware. I had flown some of their aircraft in Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004 (FS9) and I knew there was a high degree of attention paid to the details. I also knew that with this kind of detail, comes systems complexity. This is a part of their Fun Line of add-on’s, so I knew that some systems would be inoperable, as I would expect with a military aircraft.  After all, I don’t see the USAF giving away the secrets of this airplane for the entire world to see. However, it was still complex enough I needed to get into the manuals, so I can fly it like it was intended to be flown.

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I spent a solid 10 hours in the manuals; studying and trying to learn as much as I could about this aircraft. It may seem a bit on the extreme end, but I assure you it was not. I cannot stress enough how important it is to read the manuals. The real B-52 is a complex airplane and Captain Sim did a marvelous job incorporating many of the systems that make it work. I found, though, the simulated B-52 really in not that complex. It’s actually pretty straight forward. However, if you have any hope of accurately flying this aircraft, the manuals need to be your first stop.

Interestingly, (and brilliantly, in my opinion) the manuals do not come with the aircraft. Instead, you download them directly from the website. This reduces the size of the download, and therefore, the time it takes to download. They’re not protected either; you can simply go to the site and download them here.   Now that I had read the manuals and an understanding of the performance charts, weight and balance, and the start-up, operating and landing procedures, it was time to get this “Big Ugly Fat Fellow” into the air!

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I decided my first flight would be from Fairchild AFB, just outside Spokane, Washington, to Hill AFB in Ogden, Utah.  I spent about thirty minutes putting together a flight plan, gathering charts, VOR and ILS frequencies and ATC channels. I had also determined I was going to use the VORTAC.  My route would take me down through Idaho, then south east into Utah, where I would make my approach over The Great Salt Lake and into Hill AFB.  With the preparation completed for this flight, I called up the tower and got underway.

Ground handling was difficult at first. I had taxied large aircraft on the simulator before, but this was somehow more difficult.  I couldn’t quite make corners on the line like I wanted. I figured out that I needed to start my turns a little earlier, and perhaps increase the sensitivity on my pedals.  I also learned that going too far back on the throttle was a big mistake. Just like on a real jet, if you pull too much out, the engines will shut down.  I ended up having to restart twice on my way to the runway.  However, after a steep and important learning curve, I figured out how to make the turns correctly and keep it on the centerline. Once I had reached the runway, I went through my before takeoff checklist and got my take off clearance. Once cleared, I eased that old girl onto the runway and spooled up the engines.

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Takeoff was spectacular. I took the throttles fully forward to Military Rated Thrust with jet black smoke belching out of all 8 of those powerful TF-33 engines. 136,000 pounds of thrust propelling me down the runway. As I held the yoke slightly forward, keeping the nose from coming up prematurely. Then, at 170 knots indicated, the big girls’ back side started to come up. I eased on the yoke and up I went, climbing at 1,500 feet per minute with a slightly nose down attitude. I worked the yoke and the pedals trying to keep this giant hunk of steel aligned on my desired path. I’ll admit it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.  I worked the flaps as my airspeed increased, and I step-climbed up to 33,000 feet – hand flying the entire time.

Now, it was time to switch on the auto pilot for a while. That may seem like an easy task, but I learned the key assignments I had programmed into my CH throttle were not adequate. I needed to use the controls that were built into the panel.  I ended up needing to pause the game for a few moments while I located the panel. (It would have been much easier if I had Track IR) I managed to switch on the altitude hold, but maintained manual horizontal and engine control.

Captainism

At that point, I knew my NAV frequency to track my next VOR needed to be switched. I had already blown my planned departure and I wanted to get on track. It took me a moment, but I realized the first number in the frequency was assumed. For example, if the frequency you desire is “110.10”, the display would real “1010”. With that in mind, I put in my next VOR frequency and flew my course.  I repeated this process smoothly through Idaho and even into my descent phase.  I caught the ILS into Hill AFB and made a beautiful, but slightly hard, landing.  Not bad for my first attempt, I thought.

I was eager to make more flights, to really push this machine to its limits – and my own.  I thought a few more hours were needed before a solid opinion could be reached, so I decided I would fly from Hill AFB down to Sheppard AFB, Texas.  From Sheppard AFB, I would go to Langley AFB, Virginia.  The flight out to Sheppard was much smoother. I got used to getting frequencies set and how the plane handled in a turn. I still struggled with trimming the plane properly, so I used altitude hold for the cruise phase. Landing was bang on, if I do say so myself.  The flight to Langley was the best yet, and I think I finally got the feel for the old girl. Even though I continued struggling with the trim a bit, I really enjoyed that flight. In fact, I was feeling so confident that I decided it was time to try out what I consider to be the best feature of the plane – The Crosswind Crab System.

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If you’ve ever tried to take off or land in a crosswind situation, you know how difficult it can be. Boeing, in their infinite designing wisdom that exceeds all others, designed a system into the B-52 that allows the pilot to turn all of the landing gear trucks to the runway heading, while the plane itself is turned into the wind. Now, in my case, it was only about 5 knots but it was a good enough excuse to me. I moved the dial in the cockpit, then paused the flight and switched to an external view. Sure enough, the landing gear had turned the direction I wanted it to. I resumed the flight and I’ll be darned if that thing didn’t land sideways!  I’ll admit, it was odd to fight my training and not correct the aircraft. As soon as I was at a taxi speed, I moved the lever back and the airplane actually changed course as it correct the landing gear position.

There is one more thing that needs mentioning. The EVS monitor is one of the features that might get overlooked a bit. This gives you the ability to see a radar image of your surroundings, in real time, and matched to your scenery. There are two modes, each giving you a different view and improving your situational awareness. However, I would say that for IFR flying in this behemoth, it’s a must.  There are so many other features and animations, that I simply cannot cover them all in this review. Suffice it to say, they did very well in that department.

Is It Worth Your Money?

Abso- freaking-lutely! It’s not the most complex aircraft I have ever flown, but it is certainly one of the most fun.  Captain Sim has made it complex enough to be somewhat realistic, but not too complex. There are no drawn out start-up sequences to go through (unless you want them), no FMC to program, and no fuss; yet it’s packed with enough features that make it fun and hundreds of animations that make it seem more realistic. The flight dynamics are fantastic, in my view. It flew exactly how I thought it should fly. It was no piece of cake at first, but with time and reading the manuals to learn about the aircraft, this has turned into one of my favorite add-on’s of all time!

Got an opinion on this review? Sound off!

Captain Sim B-52 Technical Summary:

Bugs/Crashes – None

Availability – Captain Sim

System Specs -  Windows 7, AMD Phenom II X4 965, 8GB RAM, Radeon HD 6670

Control Scheme – Saitek Pro Flight Yoke and Throttle, CH Products Pedals

Acquisition Method – Review Download

Note: The B-52 in this review is a downloadable aircraft from Captain Sim for use in Microsoft Flight Simulator X, and therefore, only a partial summary is warranted.

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