S.E.5A - Legends of Flight
For FSX Published by Just Flight
Reviewed by David (“ddavid”) Williams
Introduction and History
Reviewing the S.E.5A has been a most rewarding excercise. I'll admit that I knew very little about this amazing little machine before I embarked on the review - but, by golly, this excellent add-on from Just Flight has resolved that, as you will see.
The Royal Aircraft Factory, where both the S.E.5 and S.E.5A were designed, was sited just south east of the legendary Farnborough airfield, between the modern M3 and Aldershot in Hampshire. The Factory started out making balloons, or dirigibles as they were called then - and don't snigger - remember Sir Barnes Wallis cut his teeth designing the geodesic structure for the R100, before goiing on to design the Wellington and Upkeep! But I digress...
From around 1911, the Royal Aircraft Factory concentrated on developing bi-planes:
Single seat fighters, or Scout-Experimental, designated S.E.,
Fighter bi-planes, or Farman Experimental (pusher engines), designated F.E., and
Two-seat machines, or Reconnaissance Experimental, designated R.E.
Thus, the S.E.5. is the 5th 'Scout Experimental' bi-plane
developed at the Factory - now you know! Originally, in late
1916, the S.E.5 was equipped with 150 hp Hispano-Suiza V8
engine, but this was replaced in the S.E.5A, early in the
following year, by more powerful 200 hp engines from
Hispano-Souza and Wolseley.
The S.E.5 entered service in March 1917 with No. 56 Squadron RFC, on the Western Front. A further 29 RFC squadrons were subsequently equipped with this and the S.E.5A. Production totalled more than 5,300 aircraft - compare this with the 5,490 Sopwith Camels produced during roughly the same period.
Download and Installation
The "S.E.5A - Legends of Flight" Add-on is available for download directly from the Just Flight website (see details below), and you will need a reasonably good internet connection, as its size is approximately 114 Mb. Once you have entered your purchase details, the installer will automatically place the downloaded files straight into your FSX system, i.e. directly into your SimObjects\Airplanes and Gauges folders. The installation takes less than a couple of minutes at most, and you're ready to go. All credit to Just Flight for the installer, as the installation went ahead without any snags.
Now, you should always check to see how your FSX system has been updated by an installer, so I opened up my ...\Microsoft Flight Simulator X\SimObjects\Airplanes folder and found a new entry, a folder called "JF_SE5A". Inside this were the usual suspects: 6 new 'model' folders, 11 'Texture' folders, the normal set of 'Panel' and 'Sound' folders, CFG and AIR files, together with a couple of Check and Reference HTML files. No problems there, so let's find out what S.E.5.A variants Just Flight included.
S.E.5.A Models and Aircraft Variants
FSX fired up without any unusual warnings, so I went to Free Flight and hit the CHANGE CURRENT AIRCRAFT button.....
With 'Just Flight LTD' as the Publisher, the following models were revealed in Thumbnail form:
1. Hisso Twin-Blade K - a 40 Squadron S.E.5A flown by Capt. G.H. Lewis
2. Hisso Twin-Blade F - an 84 Squadron machine flown by Lt. T.V. Lord, October 1917
3. Hisso Four-Blade Nada Gana - belonging to a UK training unit of 1917
4. Viper Twin-Blade S - flown by 92 Squadron
5. Viper Four-Blade 19 - from "C" Flight, 25th Aero Squadron (U.S.A. Pursuit Squadron)
6. Hisso Twin-Blade Short Exhaust - as flown by Major J.B. McCudden, V.C.
7. Hisso Twin-Blade 4 - as flown by the 6th Traning Squadron in 1918
8. Hisso Four-Blade NZ - "Wanganui", a presentation aircraft from New Zealand
9. Viper Four-Blade Y - a 24 Squadron aircraft
Lastly, there's an excellent set of deliberately garish and
labelled textures designed to make it easy for
budding re-painters to produce their own colour schemes.
I thought I'd better get an idea of how she handled before 'going into combat', so I selected Farnborough (EGLF) as the airfield to start at and filed a flight plan to Southampton (EGHI), from where the original S.E.5As might have been flown to the Front Line. Capt Lewis's Twin-Blade machine, with the Hispano-Souza engine, sat proudly on the tarmac in the early morning sun. I tried to take in all the details - this would take some time, I thought! Following the manual's starting instructions, for the first time, was a little difficult - well, for me, anyway! - but I soon had her started. After an unexpected splutter of smoke, the V8 settled down to a satisfying purr, so we headed for the active.
Pushing the throttle fully forward, the S.E.5a started rolling. Keeping the nose straight was no problem with either the stick or the rudder and soon the view changed as the tail lifted at just over 50 knots.
Internal VC port wing view
Lower Internal VC
From the Manual, I had expected to rotate soon after, but we stayed on the ground until around 75 knots when the plane responded to the controls and lifted off. So far, so good..... Climbing to 1000 feet, I soon had a perfect view to both sides. Throttling back a bit, the S.E.5A cruised easily at 100 knots, so I did a quick circuit and then, climbing to around 2,500 feet, I headed southwards, towards the hills of the Isle of Wight, and Southampton.
When I reached the Solent, I turned back northwards for EGHI's runway 02. Now, the Manual recommends a fairly slow approach speed of 60 knots. I'm afraid my approach speed was at least 70 knots - I didn't feel happy with the lack of flaps! As the threshold came up, I tried throttling back to idle and the plane started to drop alarmingly - so, with a burst of throttle I got over the numbers and managed a fairly smooth touch-down on the wheels. Not quite a 3-pointer, but at least I was down in one piece - a result! Time to have a closer look at the S.E.5A, starting with the outside...
Up close, in Spot View, the S.E.5A invites you to touch! I'm not kidding - you could almost reach out and feel the undulating fabric of the wings. Each tensioning wire and spar can be seen - even details like the observation panels giving visual access to the control cables were there - amazing! The grain on the wooden propellor is perfectly textured - together with the metal strip designed to minimise damage should the Vickers machine gun interrupter gear malfunction. By now, you will have realised that I'm quite impressed - the developers have done a great job - their attention to detail is really very commendable. You need to see these details yourself to appreciate how realistic the S.E.5A appears!
Engine and fuselage close-up
SE5A internal VC Air Compass detail
Now, these old planes had a selection of quite clunky instruments - none of your smooth, facia mounted dials here. In the S.E.5A VC, each instrument dial sits behind glass, with a finely detailed needle and neatly inscribed figures. I particularly liked the Air Compass, which has a small, circular bezel, floating inside the instrument which, in turn, is mounted on gimbals. Nice! Another good feature is that the developers have included enough exterior fuselage in the VC mode for you to lean out of the cockpit to get a better view. This is a distinct advantage for landing, as the view from the normal sitting position is quite restricted.
Like most bi-planes of this period, the S.E.5A is fairly predictable in flight, particularly with the throttle open fully. When taking off, the tail lifts at around 55 knots and you can rotate when at 80 knots. I found climbing at 110 knots seemed to give a consistent rate of climb of about 1000 feet per minute - higher rates could be achieved for short periods before the speed dropped below 100 knots. Again, with full power, the S.E.5A is extemely manoueverable - a critical advantage when engaing the opposition - but you will notice a sharp drop in engine power if your pitch exceeds 75 degrees or if you should invert! The aircraft will stall at below 45 knots and you will need a fair altitude to pull out, even with the engine at full power. If the engine does cut out, then be decisive about where to attempt a forced landing - the S.E.5A does not glide very well. You have been warned!
Now, I am not a stunt man, but I thoroughly enjoyed putting the S.E.5A through her paces - she can achieve a very tight turn and will loop and roll well, given sufficient altitude as these manouevres can cause significant loss in height - well, with me they did, anyway!
External view gun cartridges animation
Upper Internal VC
Rudder, elevators and aelerons - both upper and lower surfaces - are all well animated and include the movement of the control cables together with those of the pedals and joystick in the VC Panel. The undercarriage wheels turn when taxying and the magneto crank handle is also animated as part of the engine start procedure. Various other animations include the ability to tilt the wing mounted Lewis gun in order for it to be re-loaded, together with an opening cover on the left side of the fuselage, which enables you to see the breach mechanism of the Vickers machine gun. The engine smoke effects can be turned on and off and, lastly, both machine guns can be fired - giving a very satisfying muzzle flash and accompanying bang, together with the emission of spent cartridge cases!
The 32 page Manual is packed with useful historical and technical information about the S.E.5A and its operation. Like previous vintage aircraft from the Just Flight hangar, the S.E.5A Manual is presented as if it had been printed by the Royal Flying Corp's typing pool - with the exception of the illustrations, of course! The historical section brings you up to speed on the situation during the First World War when the S.E.5 and, subsequently, the S.E.5A were developed at the Royal Aircraft Factory. This section includes details of who flew the machines when they entered service with the various Royal Flying Corps squadrons at the Front.
Just Flight have also included a comprehensive guide to the S.E.5A's operation and a guide to handling - including some hints on manouevres. The next section on the VC Panel explains the S.E.5A's controls and where to find the various instruments. In all, extremely useful and well presented.
Internal VC - Wing mounted gun
Internal VC - leaning out view
I can't really fault either the exterior or interior modelling of the S.E.5A - the developers clearly know their stuff. Installation was easy and the Manual a most useful reference.
Only one or two niggles, though! I do like Tool-Tips on instruments and, whilst I realise they may incur a significant overhead in guage design and can have a detrimental effect on frame-rate, Tool-Tips are a distinct advantage when trying to work out what that strange, vintage instrument is trying to tell you! Oh yes, just a detail really, I couldn't find how to fire the guns - however a quick post on Just Flight's Support Forum resulted in the answer - they fire with the Smoke Effect (Shift 'I') - problem solved.
You should have guessed, by now, that I really like Just Flight's S.E.5A.
Doing the review has been a pleasure and this add-on has broadened my knowledge of the Royal Flying Corps contribution to World War One quite considerably.
So, how does it score? the designers have produced a really authentic model. And, when I tell you that you can download the S.E.5A from Just Flight for only £19.99, then, I think you'll agree we me awarding this a score of 9 out of 10!
So, I'll meet you in the skies above the trenches - just look out for a red coloured tri-plane...