This review is a bit unusual as it covers two products.The F-4 'Phantom II' from Milviz comes in two packages, each a completely separate product in its own right with differing models and features.As these two products are parallel products, I will review both here and call your attention to any difference as they become pertinent to the various points that I look at.
The McDonnell F-4 'Phantom II' was originally conceived in 1953 as a revision of the much troubled McDonnell F3H 'Demon'. It was designed as an interceptor for the US Navy, as the Navy already had the Douglas A-4 'Skyhawk' for ground attack and the Vought F-8 'Crusader' for dogfighting.
The F-4 prototype made its first flight on 27th May 1958 and, after some further development, went into production as the F-4 'Phantom II' and was introduced into service on 30th December 1960.
Many variants of the F-4 'Phantom II' were produced during its production life. These included variants for the US Navy, US Marine Corps, and US Air Force, and other variants tailored specifically for the export market, including the F-4K for the Royal Navy and the F-4M for the Royal Air Force. Both of these latter variants were based on the F-4J but were fitted with Rolls-Royce Spey engines.
The F-4 'Phantom II' saw action most notably in Vietnam but also in Operation Desert Storm with US forces. Iranian F-4s, sold by the US before the fall of the Shah, saw action in the Iran-Iraq war, and were in action as late as 2014 against ISIS in Iraq. Israeli F-4s saw action in the various Arab-Israeli conflicts and in 1982, RAF F-4s were on quick reaction alert at Ascension Island to protect the island from attack by Argentine forces during the Falklands War.
During its long service, the F-4 'Phantom II' was responsible for breaking several world records including:1959 - the world record zoom climb, reaching 98,557 ft in an F-4 prototype;
The F-4E (along with the F-4D) were the most numerously built variants and were built for the US Air Force, but were supplied to Australia, Egypt, Germany, Greece, Iran, Israel (the largest overseas buyer of F-4s), Japan, and Turkey. The F-4J variant was built for the US Navy and US Marine Corps. The F-4S variant was an upgraded F-4J.
Both the F-4E and the F-4J/F-4S packages are currently available direct from Milviz and Milviz resellers as a 'download only' product (some resellers also offer a master back-up CD / DVD service for a minor additional cost). The products are available separately or as a bundle (with two separate downloads), with the bundle providing a good saving over the individual products. On the Milviz web site, the products are priced at US$59.99 each or US$89.99 for the bundle, or the equivalent on currency cross rates.
A zip file is downloaded for each package and each contains a single executable of approximately 500MB, with installation being separate for each package. Installation sizes are 2GB and 1GB for the F-4E and F-4J/F-4S respectively. The installation process provides a menu which enables the user to decide which platform the installation is to be completed on. Once the platform is selected the install process takes a couple of minutes, after which a guide to the Phantom Desktop ACM and Task Bar Load-Out Manager is displayed. Also displayed is the Milviz Configuration Manager.
As the 'Phantom II' is a complex aircraft add-on, there are some events which can only be managed with a mouse in the cockpit. The Configuration Manager allows you to assign keyboard presses to those events, should you wish to do so. This is a very nice touch as it helps cockpit builders manage these bespoke events. With the install completed and the Configuration Manager set up, then the 'Phantom II' is ready to fly.
The Milviz web site also offers a number of supporting free downloads for each package. These include a separate User Guide, Flight Manual, and Paint Kit for each package and a livery pack for the F-4E. The Milviz forum at http://milviz.com/forum/ is worth checking out as it has a number of repaints for both packages.
Before we go any further let's do a walk-around of the various models. The F-4E package provides just the single variant, whilst in the F-4J/F-4S package there are actually three different aircraft included, the F-4J, the F-4J(UK) and the F-4S.
Some of the RAF F-4s were fitted with an additional radar in the tail. The standard F-4J (as seen above) has a standard tail plane. The version with the AWG Radar Warning Receiver mounted on the tail can be seen below. The UK versions had other differences as well, the biggest being Rolls-Royce engines, not something that will be visible to the simmer.
The detail in the external model is superb. Every detail is perfectly reproduced, including many animations and realistic surface textures. The contours of the aircraft are high resolution and finely detailed - clearly a lot of work has been put into this aircraft's exterior.
There are few visible differences between the F-4J and the F-4S, but they are apparent if you know where to look. One of the most obvious differences in the real world is the exhaust. The F-4 was known for its sooty trail and so much so that the aircraft was dubbed by some as 'Old Smokey'. Part of the upgrade of the F-4J to F-4S specifications included the fitting of smokeless engines.
Starting up the F-4S and advancing the throttles produces no smoke at all - full marks to Milviz for this. The other variants, the F-4E and the F-4J, produce an horrendous amount of thick black smoke as is visible in the F-4E screen shots below. At idle there is no smoke, but open up the throttles just a little and the black stuff comes pouring out.
Note the chin gun on the F-4E. This is a distinctive mark of this variant, and easy to identify.
Another nice feature of the exhaust are the variable exhaust nozzles. This is just one of the numerous animations this offering has both outside and inside the cockpit. The screenshots below show the nozzles at idle and with the throttles forward just 10%.
At idle, the nozzles are fully open, rack up the power and they shrink down. When you play with the throttle settings, the nozzles react accordingly. As you would expect with a quality offering, the afterburners light up when called for.
A nice feature of the configuration possibilities of this aircraft is that you can choose how afterburners are activated. You can configure a switch to activate afterburners so that full throttle with a throttle quadrant is full dry power, with a second action needed to activate the afterburners. Alternatively, you can configure the throttle quadrant to activate afterburners when the throttle goes over a percentage open. I set up my install to activate afterburners at 95% throttle. This works well, especially as the percentage is a variable, so you can tailor it to your own needs. More on this later under configuration tools.
Other animations over and above the usual control surfaces and canopy gear etc., include folding wings, extendable refuelling probe, and lowering arrester hook. The screen shot below shows all of these features.
All in all the exterior model is of the finest quality, attention to detail is second to none. The cockpit is well detailed as well. Perhaps it is time to have a look in 'the office'.
In this section of a review I like to check out how the add-on stacks up against the real thing. Below is a photograph of the front seat of a F-4J, and then below the photo is a screen shot of the Milviz F-4J cockpit from more or less the same perspective.
There are differences, but not that many. Given the large number of variants of F-4s sold worldwide, the longevity of service, and the refits and upgrades these aircraft had during their operational lives, I am confident this representation is wholly accurate - it is just not the actual aircraft in the photo.
The documentation provides detail in respect to what does what and most of the switches do what they are supposed to do. A very detailed pilot's cockpit indeed, both in looks and in action.
The same applies to the rear cockpit, although the differences are much smaller here. Again good to look at and full of functions as well.
There are no pop-up gauges with the Milviz F-4. You need to be able to move around the cockpit and zoom in and out to see and to use the levers switches and to look at the dials in any detail. In the standard FSX/Views/Instruments menu, there is only one option and that is AMC (more on this later), so there are no pop-up instrument panels to make life easier. Also, there are no handy, hover over tips in the cockpit, so if you don't know what an unlabelled instrument does, then all you can do is refer to the manual.
The above can be a tad irritating if all you want to do is to strap on the beast and head for the clouds, but this add-on is not designed to be a flight sim toy. It is a serious bit of kit, as I believe the real world equivalent was.
The sound set is just amazing, totally convincing and when compared to the real thing. It is totally convincing from every angle and at every aspect of the aircraft's performance - I could not fault it and it is probably as good as you will ever get. Milviz state that the sound set was taken from a real F-4. Believe it, it sounds just right.
There are a number of configuration tools available with both these products. Before you start, there is a Desktop ACM which allows you to select which model of you wish to configure and assign key instructions and joystick controls to various controls for the version chosen.
The Aircraft Configuration Manager allows you to assign events to either joystick controls or keyboard keys or key combinations. It is very useful for those critical controls which you have to react quickly with.
Inside the running add-on there is access to even more customisation. There is only one instrument view available in Instrument view, the AMC View. This view produces a window in which you can configure the payload of the chosen aircraft. Select a payload and drag it to one of the highlighted hard points and it will be added to your aircraft. Every time you add or subtract some stores you will notice the weight figures on the top right corner change. If you get an orange weight, you must be aware that this will significantly impair the aircraft performance. In the above screenshot, although Gross Weight is under the maximum, the aircraft is too heavy to land. I would have to burn fuel or lose about 5,500 lbs of weight before I can land safely.
From this tool you can also set or unset various details. For example, when on the ground, chocks can be displayed under the wheels by ticking the chocks item at the bottom of the manager. Finally, in the Add-ons menu there is a Milviz F-4 'Phantom II' menu item which leads us to three further menu items:Flight plan Menu Item - allows selection of steer points for navigation;
The general characteristics and performance specifications for the McDonnell F-4E 'Phantom II' are provided in the table. This is based on data provided by Milviz, and general research sources. Some of this data varies between sources and also may be an approximation due to variances in data and the specific aircraft modelled by Milviz.
The F-4 had one or two idiosyncrasies in her flight characteristics. On taking off there was a tendency for the nose to pitch up. Not at first, but after some speed was gained, and if uncontrolled, could put the aircraft into a stalling angle of attack.
A second, and potentially very dangerous characteristic, was the aircraft's distinct reaction to a high G turn at speed. This could quickly turn into a stall like loss of control which could take a lot of altitude loss to recover from.
The F-4's ceiling was 60,000 ft and the aircraft's top speed was just over Mach 2 at 40,000 ft. To test Milviz's flight model, I took to the air and deliberately put the aircraft into the two above idiosyncratic situations to see what happened, and then I tested the aircraft's ceiling and top speed. On taking off, with the Pitch Damper switched out and after some speed the nose did rise up, and then later, at speed, a sudden high G manoeuvre sent the aircraft all over the place. I was able to hit Mach 2 at 40,000 ft, and with a zoom climb I was able to reach 64,000 ft. So the flight characteristics seem to match the real thing. It is good to see the care taken with the flight model.
Taking to the air in the Milviz F-4 is a real pleasure. Raw power gets you airborne quickly and a climb to 30,000 ft is very quick indeed. This aircraft is fast, very fast actually.
My first flight was interesting. I took off from RAF Valley in north Wales and headed south. I then proceeded to just have some fun flying around using the afterburners, getting the aircraft into a nice trim, hopping from the pilot's cockpit to the rear cockpit and back again - not for long, but just trying to get the feel of the aircraft. When I decided to return to Valley and land, I thought I had better find out where I was. I was surprised to find myself over south Wales. I had gone a long way in a very short space of time, and with this beauty capable of doing over Mach 2 in a straight line, and not run out of fuel when you get up to speed, a long way can be a very long way.
Flying this add-on feels good but it does have its tricky side. I found landing hard to master. The lack of easy to find landing speeds in the documentation did not help with this. It is a great add-on to fly, with a very convincing flight model, but it has much more to give if you want to take the time, for example it has a fully working Inertial Navigation System (INS) and a choice of no less than four methods of engine start.
The documentation for this add-on is supplied in PDF format and are easy to display and manage in the most part. However, the documentation is complicated.
The documentation consists of':
a User Guide for each aircraft package, i.e. one the F-4E and one for the F-4J/F-4S;
a document which provides information on the various aircraft management tools and their function; and
Flight Manuals for each package.
The User Guides provide information about the management tools and basic procedures of start-up and shutdown. These guides are extremely useful, especially if you like to begin you session with a cold and dark cockpit. Starting in this state will cause some vital controls to be locked until the time to use them has been arrived at via the correct start-up sequence, so reading them thoroughly will stop some confusion in the cockpit.
The second document, included in both packages, supports the use of the Desktop ACM and taskbar load out manager. This provides a full and detailed description and guide for this aspect of the product.
There are two further documents, one for each package, these are the Flight Manuals for the F-4E and the F-4J/F-4S aircraft respectively. These documents are huge (hundreds of pages) and contain all there is to know about each version of the aircraft. They seem to be the real world aircraft's Flight Manuals.
The User Guides refer to the large Flight Manuals, where appropriate, so that more information can be found in the larger documents. This reference, whilst very useful, points to the PDF page, rather than the actual document page, rendering the documents actual index useless for cross referencing. To find a page, the document must be viewed in a Adobe Reader with its own visible page numbering as the documents own page numbering are in in the format 'chapter/page'. It would have been better to supply both the Adobe page number and the real documents 'chapter/page' reference, as this would help finding and viewing information manually as well as electronically and would start the user off on getting a better understanding of how the aircraft's manual is structured.
Some simple, but vital information is not included Milviz's documents, approach data. This information is probably in the Flight Manual but I could not find it easily. With an aircraft add-on as complex as this, there is probably no set approach speed as outside factors, such as weight, would have to be accounted for. The approach and landing information is probably buried in some graph somewhere in the manual. As a minimum, an index of core information for all stages of flight, which points to the relevant chapter in the Flight Manual would be a huge improvement.
The F-4E and F-4J/F-4S packages are not cheap, even with the significant discount associated with the bundle offering. There are other add-ons which provide a similar level of detail that these packages do, but for less money. I think the price may put a lot of people off, but having said that I still think it is very good value for money. Each package is a lot of sim. As I have said above, these are not add-ons that you can just install and dive into. The price should be a warning in this respect, you get what you pay for, and in this case, you get a lot. I thought long and hard on the value rating for these add-ons. A lot of people will look at this and think it is a lot for a military aircraft. Some will want an aircraft which they can easily take-off in and hack around the sky in. Others want to start with the walk-around checklist and simulate all of the stages thereafter. In my scoring below, I have assumed that you, as I do, want to understand all and every aspect of the aircraft and want to spend several minutes of checks and processes before you even take to the air..
However, considering each package as a whole, the quality of the aircraft and the various configuration tools make these a pleasure to own. I think that to consider purchasing these add-ons at this price you must be a dedicated military flight simmer, but once you have made the plunge you will not regret it.
So often with a complex add-on such as these there is a performance price to pay. I was pleasantly surprised to find that these products had no more impact on my frame rates than other, much more simple add-ons. Frame rates were very good indeed, so flying these magnificent offerings is a pure pleasure, performance was excellent.
We are used to seeing two levels of aircraft add-on, e.g. the Airbus/Boeing offerings at under £20, and the same aircraft fully detailed at much higher price. Most flight simulator enthusiasts who fly "tubes" understand this is the case. They start cheap, and when the entry level add-on becomes too basic, they switch to something more complex, more akin to the real thing. There are many basic military aircraft add-ons out there, but the Milviz F-4 product offerings are ones which you graduate to.
In order to get the best from these two products, as soon as you install them, you need to go to the manual and read it. If you do not do this then you will find them a difficult aircraft to fly. Reading the documentation is a real investment.