Review: VERTIGO STUDIOS – F8F BEARCAT

Quick Summary:
This is a stunning aircraft from Vertigo Studios! I have waited sometime to review one of their war birds and finally it fitted in with my schedule.  VS have produced a very nice model of the WWII inspired warrior the Grumman Bearcat F8F.  It was affectionately called the ‘Bear’ and in racing guise the ‘Rare Bear’.  The historically correct liveries are just superb, giving astonishingly realistic interior and exterior detail.  It flies like a bear with a sore head, and like all the other Vertigo studios it has incredible detail, realistic flight dynamics, functionality and mind-blowing sounds.  I tried out my aerobatic skills on this plane which I had learned when reviewing the Extra and I found this aspect of its flight dynamics to be a lot of fun!  Come on in and wrestle with the ‘Bear’!


The VS F8F Grumman Bearcat — The Hitchcock or acrophobian Review

Background: (Courtesy of Wikipedia):
The Bearcat was designed during WWII and was basically a single-engine US Navy fighter aircraft, destined to be used on Aircraft carriers.  Although commissioned in 1943 with the first prototypes flying in 1944, ie just nine months later, but the first combat aircraft were not delivered until early 1945 and unfortunately WW II finished without the ‘Bear’ participating in any combat sorties.  Post-war it was still used by the US Navy but I could not ascertain if it undertook any combat missions.  However it did fly combat missions with the French air-force in Viet Nam (Indochina).  Because it was a navy plane it was also endowed with folding wings so that it fitted in the hangars of aircraft and/or escort carriers.  It was quickly superseded in the late 1940’s early 1950’s by the F9F Panther jet.

The plane was extremely aerobatic and agile (as I found out during my review) and was used by the US Navy’s elite Blue Angels (Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron) from 1946 to the early 50’s before they were disbanded.  The Bearcat aka ‘Rare Bear’ has been used extensively in air racing, setting may speed records including the 3 km World Speed Record for piston-driven aircraft (528.33 mph/850.26 km/h — 1989), and a new climb rate record (attaining 3,000 m (≈10,000′) in 92 seconds (equating to 6439 fpm (1960m/min — 1972).

Vertigo Studios models for FSX: F8F-1 and F8F-2
The F8F-1 was a single-seater fighter plane (low wing monoplane), with folding wings, a retractable tail-wheel, unique self-sealing fuel tanks, a very small dorsal fin, usually powered by a 2,100 hp (1,566 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-2800-34W Double Wasp radial piston engine (the same engine type powering the F6F Hellcat and the twin-engine F7F Tigercat), driving a 4-bladed metal (huge 12′) propeller.  Its armaments included with 4 x 0.5″ (12.7 mm) machine guns, plus rockets and bombs.  It could also be fitted with ancillary fuel tanks enhancing its range of operations. (Ref: Wikipedia)

The F8F-2 Bearcat was an ‘improved’ version, sporting a redesigned engine cowling, a taller dorsal fin and rudder, powered by a Pratt & Whitney R-2800-30W radial piston engine.  It was also equipped with 4x 0.79″ (20 mm) cannons. (Ref: Wikipedia)

Installation:
Installation was painless with a self extracting “exe” file which installed in the correct FSX locations.  It only installs in the simobjects\airplanes folder in its own folder VS_F8F.

Aircraft Selection:
On my system in the Current aircraft menu in FSX under “Publisher” I was presented with the tab for “Vertigo Studios” and this allows the choice of all 9 liveries.

Realism Settings, Custom:
Until I got used to the handling characteristics (see later) I set my realism settings full left, ie simple.  Later as I became more adept I moved them over to the right ie more realistic and less arcade-like.  In my early flights this plane was a handful, in other words there was a learning curve (for amateurs like me) to get this bird off the ground and into the air with any degree of dignity.

The Manual:
In a word, ‘superlative’, that is it is quite well written.  It covers all aspects of the plane with clear annotated pictures of the instrumentation, variants modelled, configuration editor, click spots, weaponry, general operations and reference charts.  The detail is clear and it is well worth reading before you attempt to fly the plane.  In the main the instruments are well described with annotations and you can soon deduce what does what.  There are quite a few clickable switches that operate instruments, open the canopy, gauges and lights etc, and these are described in detail.  The manual even lists known potential issues that you could see in FSX, so all in all it is a very comprehensive document.  The only ‘criticism’ there is no practical details on how to fly the plane.

The Visual Aspect
Outside the planes have nice clean lines and are good representations of the Bearcat especially when compared to the ‘real deal’.  Vertigo studios have customised the appearance with high-resolution materials which give a realistic appearance ie an almost 3 dimensional aspect to the aeroplane, whilst the textures have been optimised for optimum performance in FSX.  This type of modelling allows the plane to have extremely detailed areas showing off the sheen and reflectivity of the exterior skin including some very realistic shadows in relation to the position of the sun.  The planes fairly glow and ripple in the sunlight.  .


Well!! What do you think?  Quite realistic eh?  The details on the SIM model pretty well reflect those seen in the real plane.

Liveries:
There are 6 liveries all based on real-life historically correct F8F-1 and F8F-2 Bearcats.  Apparently there are very few bearcats still flying, around a dozen at most!  The liveries include, a 1948 F8F-1 a 1946 F8F-1 USN Blue Angels; a 1951 F8F-1 French variant; a 1951 F8F-2 Chincoteague; a 1951 F8F-2 Miramar; and a 1950 F8F-2 Coral Sea Bearcat.

Pilot Access:
The canopy slides open to allow the pilot to get in and out and there is a well modelled canopy opening mechanism built into the VC.  It should be noted that you usually take-off and land in this plane with the canopy open.  The sounds provided with this model reflect what you would expect to hear when flying with an open or closed canopy.  Awesome!


Specifications (Courtesy Wikipedia):

  • Performance F8F-1 (Ref: Wikipedia)
  • Maximum speed: 421 mph (366 KIAS, 678 km/h)
  • Range: 1,105 mi (1,778 km)
  • Service ceiling: 38,700 ft (11,796 m)
  • Rate of climb: 4,570 ft/min (23.2 m/s)
  • Performance F8F-2
  • Maximum speed: 455 mph (405 KIAS, 730 km/h)
  • Range: 1,105 mi (1,778 km)
  • Service ceiling: 40,800 ft (12,436 m)
  • Rate of climb: 6,300 ft/min (32.0 m/s)

FPS:
I did not see any significant drop in performance (frame rates) in FSX in this plane.

Instruments in the Interior:
The instruments are comprehensive, clear, intuitive, and dating from 60+ years ago are all analogue and in the VS Bearcat they are stunningly rendered in ‘True3D’ making them (in the words of the vernacular) ‘come alive’.  There are well over 30 gauges/instruments that you need to check during flight, including the ‘usual suspects’ plus a sophisticated fuel tank selection lever/gauge and an accelerometer.  It should be noted that the gauges do not “pop-up” or increase in size when clicked (neither do they in real-life), so a TrackIR is almost a must have — it makes it so easy.  There are no 2D panels.  There appears to be only one cockpit layout for the 2 variants, I certainly couldn’t spot any major differences between them.  The cockpit and the instruments are illuminated at night via panel switches and the instrument lighting effects are very good, but I couldn’t see much change when I used the cockpit lighting switch.  The landing, taxiing, navigation and formation, etc lights are all modelled and controlled from switches in the cockpit.





Functions:
The ‘Shift + Numerical Key’ give quite a few options:
Shift + 2 displays a rudimentary radio


Shift +3 displays default GPS500 Pop-Up

Shift 4 + Shift 5 + Shift 6 shows the three Configuration Editor Screens singly or all together


Configuration Editor:
As shown above the dynamic configuration editor has 3 main screens which can be selected individually or all together.  It was excellent to see this type of editor which can dynamically add or load fuel and armaments to the Bearcat and that as the fuel is used and/or ammunition and bombs are depleted the flight characteristics of the plane are altered.  The editor is well described in the manual with pictorial representations of what the editor can change, ie fuel, armaments, Moline NTX tug, etc.  My only criticism is that I would have liked to see larger windows as the screens might be difficult to read with today’s huge LCD monitors at their current size.  However, having said that the editor is a great addition to this plane, and there is also a ‘smart’ pay load configuration utility for 3rd party re-painters.  In this review I have not dwelt on the armaments systems as I flew this as a ‘retired’ combat plane now in civilian guise.  I can report that all the weapons systems work as detailed in the manual.

The Payload:
These are set via the configuration editor, and when you load the wing fuel tanks, or bombs the actual wings dip as they are being loaded, likewise the whole plane ‘sinks’ down when you add the central fuel tank.

The Fuel System:
A sophisticated Fuel system is modelled in the VS Bearcat, including a complicated looking fuel selector control on the centre pedestal.  In the one long flight that I flew, I found that it was a really useful system to have in place to maximise fuel usage as well as balancing the plane.  If the plane is configured to load the wing tip and/or centre fuel tanks these can be selected using the ‘bomb and tank’ selector switches in the VC.  Also modelled are a Fuel Pump and a Fuel Gauge and the latter again useful for knowing when to switch to wing tanks from the main tank.


Starting the Engine:
The engine can be started manually, or by using Ctrl + E in FSX.  The manual start procedure is extremely realistic and is covered fully in the manual.  I used Ctrl + E, but then I’m lazy and want to fly!

Flight Settings and Taxiing:
As I state above I needed quite a few exploratory test flights with simple controls before I set the controls in FSX to realistic ie to the far right.  Obviously the Bearcat is a tail-dragger and with a large engine but due to its revolutionary bubble canopy the forward vision for taxiing is quite good and I didn’t have to resort to using snake like “S” manoeuvres to taxi.  I steered the plane using my Saitek pedals and the right or left brakes to make the necessary turns.  The tail wheel (which is retractable) was unlocked during the taxi procedures.

Take-Off:
In the first couple I forgot to lock the tail wheel and I did not get airborne but ploughed quite a few of the adjacent fields.  So the lesson learned is before take — off line up the plane on the centre of the runway and lock the tail wheel.  The one ‘weak’ point of the manual, if you can call it that, is that there are no real guidelines on how to fly the plane or what settings to use in FSX.  There is a real world section that describes ‘Normal Operating Procedures and Checklists’ (NOPC).

For take-off I followed the NOPC guidelines, following the supplied checklists regarding weight and balance and the pre-starting check.  I started the engine and taxied to the runway using the NOPC procedures.  In this plane you take off with the canopy open rather than closed.  With the Bear you need to advance the throttle slowly and smoothly, do it too fast and the torque effect will have you off the runway in the blink of an eye.  I also found that if you were not completely facing down the centre of the runway, having a locked tail wheel made it difficult to maintain a straight line.  I flew take-offs with and without flaps and fully loaded or unloaded.  There was quite a variation in how the plane handled feeling very heavy and sluggish when fully loaded and attaining a shorter take-off roll with full flaps.  The ground runs seemed varied according to runway type, headwind and load, but I couldn’t be really sure, but this plane comes off the ground in a very short time after you have gunned the throttle (as you would expect from a carrier based plane).  One thing that I found is that as soon as you are airborne you lift the gear immediately, as one real life pilot observed “On take-off you had to pull the gear up just as soon as you left the deck or you would have one gear hanging, and then you had to slow down below 140 KIAS to get both wheels up”.  I found that the plane with no flaps lifted off at around 80 -90 KIAS but accelerating fast to over 140 KIAS in the first few seconds of flight.  I used full throttle and did not push the stick forward as there is a great danger that the 12′ prop would hit the ground if you did.  Climbing was astonishing, up to 4,000′ fpm, depending on weight, altitude and conditions, so I was at my usual cruising height of around 5,000′ in <2 minutes.  You do need to keep the pressure on the stick otherwise the rate of climb increases and you could be in danger of stalling.  I used a technique that I used for the FSAddon Lysander in that as I gathered speed I adjusted the trim slightly down, meanwhile pulling the stick slightly further back to counter the effect The ceiling of this plane approaches 40,000′ depending on variant but the maximum that I achieved was 25,000′ and at that altitude it was stable and easy to fly.  Once airborne it feels very light so fine almost delicate movements on the joystick are the order of the day.  The higher the payload the heavier the plane feels.

In Flight:
Once you arrive at your ceiling height, it is quite is using the throttle, prop and trim to achieve smooth level flight.  The maximum speed is between 370 — 400 KIAS (Variant dependent) and I found that (for me) the best cruise speed in the F8F-1 was around 190 — 200 KIAS and 210 — 220 KIAS in the F8F-2.  There is a very basic autopilot (pitch and roll) but I didn’t use it as the plane was too much fun to fly!  As I’ve written before, any plane needs to be able to carry out the basics of flight, including, straight-and-level flight, turns, climbs, and descents, and the VS Bearcat does all of these and more with aplomb.

Stalls:
The stall was induced in level flight, at 10,000′ neutral trim at around 80- 90 KIAS with a bit of ‘stick-shaking’, the controls became very ‘woolly’ and the wing drops very rapidly, hence it was not too easy to correct even using the appropriate techniques, and on one occasion I went into multiple spins before I could retain level flight.  The stall speed was lower with full flaps and gear down and just as ‘difficult’ to recover!

Aerobatics:
Following the techniques I used when flying the Addictive Simulations — PITTS Special S1, I attempted the five basic aerobatic flight manoeuvrers:

  1. Lines (horizontal & vertical),
  2. Loops,
  3. Rolls,
  4. Spins, and
  5. Hammerheads.

Well I didn’t crash but neither was I entirely successful in executing all of these manoeuvrers, but the plane is incredibly agile it screams into every turn and roll, makes you quite giddy after a while.  I’m going to be practising in the next few months.

Landing and Approach:
For landing, mixture is rich, prop pitch is full, cockpit open, elevator trim up, cowl flaps open and speed is reduced to about 170 KIAS at a height of 5,000’.  Descending, on final, I reduced speed progressively to around 120 — 130 KIAS at around 2,000 – 2,500’ to deploy gear and flaps, reducing to around 80 -100 KIAS over the threshold.  (Care is needed here, drop the speed too much and the controls become woolly and unresponsive and you’ve hit the ground before you realise it!)  At zero feet, I killed the throttle I pulled the stick back to attempt to achieve a 3-point landing.  This was not always successful, get it wrong and you pancake on the tarmac or bounce into space.  I tried not to use brakes as this plane slows rapidly once on the ground and minimal braking is required to bring it to a halt.


Aircraft Carriers:
This plane was used by the US Navy on Aircraft Carriers but unfortunately I did not have the time to set up my system with an aircraft carrier that the Bearcat could fly from and land on.  I hope that someone in the Sim community can design missions using this plane involving aircraft carriers.  I reckon that it would be quite a handful and the VS version does come equipped with a tail hook!

Defogger System:
This plane sports a realistic defogger system which is quite unique.  In flight as the outside temperature relative to the inside temperature changes the windscreen fogs up and you can’t see out of it.  So start up the ‘defogger’ and the windscreen clears!


Sounds:
The sounds are excellent giving a sense of realism inside and out and they appear to be based on a real world Pratt & Whitney R2800 engine.  The ancillary sounds are also very realistic and all use the VS patented 3D ‘Sound Cone’ Technology.

Repaints:
None that I could find, possibly too new, there are liveries available for the VS F6F Hellcat and the SBD Dauntless, so I’m sure there will soon be some for the F8F.  I could not find any mention of a paint kit.

Support:
Support is answered via email and there is also a dedicated community forum but not for support issues.

Summing Up:
A very nice aircraft and winner from Vertigo Studios, the quality and the quantity are there.  The flight dynamics are good, the visuals stunning, sounds awesome and the instruments brilliant.  This is a quality product and I can’t wait to try the VS DC3 when it is released.  My one criticism is the inclusion of a standard pop-up GPS500 which was too small for me until I re-sized it with FS Panel Studio.  A more realistic option would have been a ‘not built-in’ model like the ‘freebie’ GPS296 from SimFlyer or handheld such as an iPhone.  The manual is excellent; its only deficiency is that it does not cover how you would fly this model.  Both of these are minor and inconsequential criticisms.  If you are into fast piston engine aerobatic planes then the VS Bearcat is for you.  It is definitely one that I am glad to have in my hangar!!

WOW Factor: 9½/10
Peter Hayes, Australia, December 2010.

A Collection of the Important Bits:

  • Publisher: Vertigo Studios
  • Supplier: Simmarket by direct download: http://secure.simmarket.com/vertigo-studios-f8f-bearcat.phtml
  • Download File Size: 164MB (zip and exe file)
  • Installation File Size: Approx 300 Mb in Simobject Folder plus a Vertigo Studios entry containing the manual in the Windows\Start Menu\Programs area.
  • Simulator Requirement: FSX supports SP2 (or Acceleration/Gold) and DX10; – NOT SP1.  This plane was designed specifically for FSX and it shows.
  • OS Requirements: Win XP, Vista and/or Win 7;
  • Variants: 3 x models included, F8F-1 and F8F-2 plus a Multiplayer model
  • Paint Schemes: 6 historically accurate and detailed paint schemes:
  • Cockpit: 3D (VC) only
  • Supplementary: N/A
  • Testing System: Intel i7 860, 4GB DDR 1600 RAM, Windows 7, nVidia GTX460 1GB, 260.99 Driver, nVidia Inspector 1.94;
    FSX SP1 + SP2; 120GB SATA II OCZ Colossus SSD; Saitek X52 + Pro Pedals,
    No Tweaks all standard and no over-clocking.
  • Scenery: FSX standard, FTX Aus, GEXn, UTX Can, USA, Alaska, FSGenesis LC/Mesh; X-Graphics;
    FTX PNW, NA Blue Pacific Fjords; FTX Orcas Island; FTX Concrete Municipal.
  • Installation: Automatic via a self extracting exe file.
  • Manual: An extremely comprehensive manual at 82pp.
  • Support: support@vertigostudios.co.uk
  • Forum: (not support): http://vertigostudios.co.uk/forum/
  • Homepage: http://www.vertigostudios.co.uk
  • Updates: F8F Bear Cat patch v1.2 (In progress)
  • Uninstaller: Included
  • Paint Kit: None that I found.
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Colin Ware
Monday, December 6, 2010 20:37

Good review and good looking plane. It would be nice to know if it works seamlessly with FSX Acceleration carriers. That info is not available on the product page for the airplane either.

Thanks!