Overview of the B-52
Being one of only a few aircraft that served for its original operator for over 50 years, the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress is a true icon of military aviation, commonly known by everybody that works around these big aircraft as the BUFF (Big Ugly Fat Fellow). The real BUFF started its existence a long time ago. The USAF issued a contract for a large, long range bomber in 1946. The first designs by Boeing featured a turboprop powered aircraft, first with 6, later with 4 props. Some requirement changes later, this was changed to an jet powered aircraft with no less than 8 engines. The first B-52 flew in 1952, and they have been in service since 1955.
The variant provided by Captain Sim is the B-52H, first flown in 1960, in service since 1961, and production ended in 1962. The B-52H is the only variant of this gigantic bomber still in service today, more than 50 years after the first flight of the type.
The Captain Sim B-52 started its life when the BUFF was released. The BUFF was an exterior only package, without custom instruments, systems or a virtual cockpit. After much demand from customers, Captain Sim started working on a virtual cockpit for the BUFF. When this was released, it was called the B-52 Driver, the product I’m reviewing now. With the release of the Driver, the BUFF package became obsolete and was removed from the CS Webshop, although every feature of the BUFF returns in the B-52 Driver, along with a whole lot of new features, which I’ll cover later in the review.
Note though, that the B-52 Driver is part of Captain Sim’s so called ‘Fun Line’ which features (quoting from the CS Website): CS visual quality, essential systems programming, shorter production time, low price and is easy to use (end of quote). For clarity, the other Captain Sim line is the ‘Pro Line’, which features advanced systems etc, at a higher price. The B-52 Driver is available for FSX only.
I have almost every Captain Sim product, and installation and activation is the same with every one of them, and more importantly, is easy and trouble-free. When you buy the B-52 at the Captain Sim Webshop, you get an email containing a download link and a serial.
After downloading the installer (a simple .exe file), you run it and go through the usual ‘next’ and ‘I accept’ clicking. Upon reaching the activation screen, the installer will ask you whether you want to use instant activation, which requires an active internet connection, or you want to use offline activation, which requires having access to a second PC with internet access. I’ve never tried the offline activation thing, but if you have internet, the instant activation works just fine! You just enter your credentials, and the installer will check them against the Captain Sim server, after which you can install your product. No complicated steps, all very straight forward. On a side-note, I never experienced any problems with this, but I’ve heard on the CS forum that the installer doesn’t give an error message when you’re activation is invalid, instead, it will just install an inactivated product, which is in fact unusable in the sim. I haven’t checked this though, but if you experience this, reinstallation should solve it just fine. Best way to avoid it is just copy paste your serial, instead of retyping it and risking typo’s.
Apart from a couple of details, the B-52 Driver exterior is the same as the BUFF exterior only product. Captain Sim is known for its visual quality, and it shows.
The exterior model is very detailed and highly accurate. Even the smallest details are modeled. The engines (compressor blades) and landing gear are the best examples of these attention to visuals, being modeled to the smallest detail. But it’s visible beyond that: the antennas on the fuselage, vortex generators on the wings, the details on the flaps… To summarize: a very good looking and very detailed exterior model.
The textures are on the same level as the modeling: Captain Sim covered their B-52 in a texture resolution 4 times higher than their normal resolution, which wasn’t bad to start with. But of course, high definition textures are only as good as what you do with them. But no problem here, Captain Sim knows how to texture their aircraft. The textures on the B-52 feature a lot of details, ranging from small decals and warnings to very realistic looking wear, tear and dirt. I’m a fan of dirty aircraft, but it has to be realistic, and can’t be too much. Captain Sim passed with flying colors in my opinion. One small remark is that there’s only one livery included in the installer, a standard USAF gray livery. Not much of a problem even for those who like lots of liveries, as at the time I write this review, there are already more than 40 free liveries in the Captain Sim free liveries catalogue, and probably even more on download sites like avsim.com and flightsim.com, the captain sim forum and the free liveries catalogue are the places to find these repaints. I have installed and downloaded some of those liveries, and I have to say most of them are great quality. A result owing to a combination of the painter’s talents and Captain Sim’s great repaint kit available for free to those who bought the B-52 Driver.
Effects and animations:
The effects on the exterior model are limited. No special lights or anything like that, but you get normal FSX lights, accurately placed on the model. And you get engine smoke. Now the smoke is something I really like. Almost everybody has seen a video of a BUFF taking off leaving huge smoke trails behind. If you haven’t, search it on youtube, it certainly is impressive. Well, those effects are there in FSX. Huge clouds of black smoke behind all 8 engines, which are toggled by the power settings, so you won’t see them when the engines are idle, but you certainly will when you apply takeoff power.
The animations are more extensive then the effects. A lot more extensive. You obviously get the usual: rolling wheels, moving control surfaces (rudder, elevator and spoiler, the BUFF doesn’t have ailerons), flaps, gear retraction and the lot. The flaps are something I really like about this aircraft: it has gigantic flaps, which move really slow. The gear animation is also very nice to look at, and very accurate. The 4 main wheel bogies turn while being retracted to fit in the relatively narrow fuselage, while the wingtip wheels retract sideways into the wings. There are a lot more very nice animations: a brake parachute on landing, opening crew door and bomb bay doors, the refueling receptacle (these latter 2 controlled through a 2D Simicons panel), the auxiliary air intakes on the engines… But the most 2 impressive animations are the wingflex and the crosswind crab system. The B-52, with its huge wingspan, obviously experiences a lot of flexing in the wings. That’s why it has those wingtip running wheels. This is also very nicely modeled into this aircraft. Just select a wingview, and takeoff, or fly through some turbulence and you’ll see. The crosswind crab systems is another of those unique features of the real BUFF: for crosswind landings, the aircraft can turn all its 4 main wheel bogies in the same direction, up to 20 degrees, which makes crosswind landings a lot safer if executed correctly. This animation is also perfectly represented in the Captain Sim version. One thing I could find that isn’t right is the elevator trim animation that is working reversed. But that’s already on a list for the next update, whenever that may come.
The virtual cockpit is also a part of Captain Sims reputation for visual beauty and eye to detail. And no surprise: the B-52 VC is stunning! The entire upper flight deck is modeled, covering the positions for the pilot, copilot and an instructors seat in the front, and the Electronic Warfare officer and gunner stations in the back. The latter 2 are, unfortunately, completely modeled but not functional. In the front you get the unique B-52 flight deck with its abundance of gauges, switches, knobs and dials that come with an old, 8-engined beast. The modeling is very smooth, with no weird edged parts anywhere. If it’s nice and smooth in the real one, it nice and smooth in this one as well! The VC textures are apparently from the same line: very crisp, very realistic. Some wear and tear here and there. Actually, there’s quite a lot of wear and tear in the VC, but remember this is an old aircraft that’s been used a lot. But even so, the wear effects used by Captain Sim look so realistic they don’t distract for even a second. It’s just like being there for real. Besides great modeling and textures, the VC also features lots of animations. The control columns move, all working switches move, and the cockpit windows can be opened. Every time they release a new aircraft, Captain Sim manages to amaze me with how it looks, especially on the inside. Despite knowing what I could expect, they managed to do that once again with the B-52 Driver. I won’t comment on the accuracy of the modeling in the VC, as I’ve never even seen in BUFF in real life, let alone the interior, but it looks very good to me. Although people who flew it in real life will certainly find some differences. They always do.
Panels and Systems:
About panels I can be very, very short: there’s only one, the so-called Simicons panel. This is a very small panel just to control the bomb bay door and refueling receptacle animation. Besides this, no 2D panels. The systems aren’t all that detailed either, this being a ‘Fun Line’ product, but there are some features that deserve some attention here! First of all a note about engines. Unfortunately, FSX (and every version of MSFS before) has a hard coded limit of 4 engines per aircraft. Nothing developers can do about it. So, the obvious solution that Captain Sim also used here is to couple engines: instead of controlling the individual engines, you actually control the engine pods. So engines 1 and 2 are coupled, 3 and 4 are used as one and so forth. This is in everything: controlling the power, engines starts etc.
That reminds me, about the engine start: despite this being a Fun Line product, you can actually do the entire startup from the VC. No popups required, no CTRL+E required… (although it works if you want to use it) All you have to do is move about the VC (use ‘a’ and the spacebar and mouse to look around) and click the right switches in the right order, and you’ll be up and running in no time flat.
Next system to look at: the crosswind crab system. I already talked about this when mentioning the animations, but obviously this comes back here. The crosswind crab system is pilot controlled, by a wheel on the center pedestal, and the crab angle is displayed on a gauge on the center panel in clear view for both pilots. As a virtual pilot, you also have to control this manually with the mouse, which isn’t always easy in the hectic situation of a crosswind approach. As for the actual working: it’s just visuals. There’s no need to do something special about it, because everybody knows the ground handling system in FSX is as broken as can be. Even a dry runway in FSX is as slippery as ice. Having landed a glider in real life only a slight degree crabbed in crosswind, I can tell you the real world is different. A heavy aircraft might even wreck it’s landing gear if making this mistake in real life. Not so in FSX, you probably already noticed that you just keep rolling straight even when the aircraft’s wheels are at an angle. Captain Sim neatly uses this fault in the FSX engine. Even so, I like the crosswind crab system, cause now you can tell yourself with some imagination it’s not FSX that’s broken, it’s the aircraft that solved the problem.
Finally, in my opinion the most impressive feature of the B-52 Driver is a fully working terrain radar. Activated in the cockpit by either the pilot or copilot, the terrain radar will display an accurate map of the surrounding terrain on a screen in front of each pilot. This is an old aircraft with old technology, so no fancy colors though. It’s all in tints of green. The brighter the green, the higher the terrain. It’s a very nice feature that keeps you from getting surprised when descending through a cloudbank, as long as you remember the limitations of the aircraft and the terrain radar.
The flight characteristics of the B-52 Driver are something I’m not entirely convinced by. First of all, the basic flight control inputs (roll, pitch and yaw) appear to be fine, also when comparing against youtube videos of the real one. The flaps also cause a lot of drag and extra lift when fully deployed. However, I can’t seem to manage to get the BUFF’s very typical level attitude takeoff or landing. I always have to lift the nose quite a lot to get it airborne, and lift the nose again for a comfortable landing, while the speeds are certainly not too low. Also, I know the B-52 has a lot of power with its eight engines, but still I can’t seem to lose the feeling it’s overpowered, at least when flying fast. The takeoff run takes quite some time, so that feels good, but once airborne it just keeps going and going. It shoots up like a rocket in climb, and has no problem getting to 450 knots in level flight at sea level. So both good and less good points here.
The soundset in this addon is good, but not spectacular. You get very nice engine sounds both exterior and in the VC, and what I like most of all, is that you get very nice sounds when you toggle switches in the cockpit. In my opinion, it’s not a spectacular soundset, but I don’t have any remarks about it either. It’s a part of the addon, and a good part, so I’ll just enjoy it.
The fact that this is a ‘fun line’ product says it all for me: it’s just great fun! It’s fun to look at (read: good looking), nice to fly despite some doubtful aspects of its behavior in flight, and it’s just enormous fun to play around in. No matter what you do: just hopping in and screwing around a little, or doing it all by the book and flying realistic simulated combat missions, this addon will ensure you enjoy it! The only thing I miss at the moment, is a load. In this first version, there’s only one model which is empty, and there’s no load manager as in the X-load package either. So no visible weapons, not in the bomb bay and not on the wing hardpoints. Besides that, I really like this addon, and Captain Sim mentioned in their forums they might (emphasis on might) add that feature in a future update if there’s enough interest from the customer base. For me, the B-52 Driver a not-too-serious, but lots of fun, addition to my virtual hangar, but you can make it almost as serious as you personally prefer.
- Great visuals inside and out
- A lot of fun in my opinion
- Lack of external loads and loadmanager
At the moment, I’m giving it a 4 on 5 rating, mainly because the gorgeous visuals, great terrain radar and the fact it can be so much fun. I just have 2 wishes for this product in future updates: a load manager (with the relevant visuals of course) and an improved set of flight dynamics.
Rating: 4 out of 5.