A2A – WOP3 Spitfire + Accusim reviewed

Replacing the previous Wings of Power 2 version, the Wings of Power 3 Spitfire is the latest product available from A2A Simulations and was released together with the Accusim expansion pack for it. The WOP3 Spitfire gives you 3 types of early Spitfires: the MkIa, the MkIIa and MkIIb, in 4 different liveries. A2A has a quite a reputation for high quality aircraft, so let’s see if this virtual version is as good as it’s real life counterpart was more than 70 years ago.

The real Spitfire was designed as a high-performance, short-range interceptor by Supermarine Aviation Works. Designer R. J. Mitchell started designing a new, high-performance fighter in 1931. After submitting 2 designs which were not accepted by the British Air Ministry, Mitchell and it’s team started working on the type 300, what was eventually going to be the Spitfire. The prototype first flew in 1936, but production problems prevented the first production aircraft from flying before the 15th of May, 1938. Unfortunately, Mitchell never witnessed this event, as he died in 1937. Upon his death, Joseph ‘Joe’ Smith took over as chief designer. Of the two versions included in the WOP3 Spitfire product, the MkI and MkII, respectively 1567 and 921 units were delivered. The main improvements made in the MkII over the MkI were a more powerful engine, changes to the cooling system and switching the MkI’s electrical starter for a (at that time) more practical Coffman starter. Additionally, the MkIIb traded 4 of its 8 machineguns for 2 cannons.

Installation:

Installation is easy: just double click the installer,  the usual .exe file, and go through the usual ‘agree’ and ‘next’ steps. The installer doesn’t ask for any serial or key, so this makes it really easy. And you don’t have a key you can lose. To make the Spitfire work in FSX, you need to install an update for the DirectX SDK. No problem, as this is automatically started when the installer for the Spitfire is done, but this step might go wrong on Windows Vista of 7, if you didn’t run the installer as admin. Easy solution: always run installers as administrator, something I learned to do the hard way.
Installing the Accusim expansion pack is even easier, as the DirectX step is eliminated. The Accusim installer will check for a correct WOP3 Spitfire installation, and terminate if none is found on your pc.
As long as you remember to run as admin, installation of the entire package is very easy, trouble free and fast.

Exterior:

The exterior of this add-on is top notch, no doubt about it. Both the modeling and the texturing of the WOP3 Spitfire are very good. First of all, the modeling. The iconic shape of the Supermarine Spitfire is represented in beautiful detail in FSX. No jagged edges, it’s all very, very smooth. But not only the general shape and smoothness is good. The little details are just as well modeled. Antennas, landing gear detail, canopy detail, control surfaces… It’s all there, and it all looks amazingly good. Of course, good modeling doesn’t look good without good textures, but there’s no worry here. The texturing is at least as good as the modeling. Very clear, crisp and realistic textures, with some moderate wear, tear and dirt. I like it a lot, this isn’t a new aircraft you’re flying, it looks the part for an aircraft that’s on the front line of an intense conflict in my eyes. And it’s not only the diffuse (the color) textures either here. The entire aircraft is also covered in very realistic looking bump maps, which add extra depth without using 3D polygons. And, of course, the specular mapping (glossiness) and reflection mapping are also up to par. And maybe the best part is that it’s all mapped in 4096×4096 pixel tiles. So, crank up that texture_max_load setting (in the fsx.cfg file) and enjoy the visual beauty!
I have to say, there are many add-ons which I like for their exterior visuals, but ‘out of the box’, without extra add-ons or modifications, this is currently the best that I’ve seen. And, considering the above, maybe the most impressive of all is that the frame rates still are very good.

Interior:

The interior is the same story as the exterior. Very good modeling, with lots and lots of details, and everything nice and smooth. I’m amazed by the amount of details modeled in this VC. Every small detail is modeled in 3D. Also, all gauges are also 3D, which makes for very smooth and easy to read instruments. The texturing, once again, is very clear and crisp. And just like in the exterior, it shows that this isn’t a new aircraft. Again: realistic and good looking wear, tear and dirt. I’m not one for clean (as in unrealistic and brand new) aircraft, so I really like the visuals here. And also here, despite all the details, very good frame rates in the VC. Another very good thing about the VC is that the mouse click spots, something very important in a VC with so many switches, are easy to find, easy to use and the right size. I know of VC’s where you always have trouble trying to use that particular switch, or that lever which behaves really strange… not so in the A2A WOP3 Spitfire, this is like it should be.

Animations and effects:

Considering what I already said about the visuals, you probably know what to expect here. And yes, it does keep going on this note of excellence. Both in the exterior and the VC, this aircraft is beautifully animated. All animations are very smooth, and well timed. In the VC you get all the switches, knobs and levers which are very well animated. The thing I like best in the VC though, is the shaking and buffeting of the whole thing, and especially the gauges, when the engine is running. Looking very convincing. There are also some very nice animations in the exterior. Obviously, moving control surfaces, flaps, canopy and propeller. But there’s also an indicator probe on the wings which shows the pilot the positions of the gear (also visible from the VC), there are wheel chocks, retractable and adjustable landing lights, and even ground crew who can hold your tail down during engine run-up.
As for effects, first of all, A2A included their gorgeous 3D landing lights in the Spitfire. And they can even be adjusted in up-down position from the cockpit. Also, the pilot is very realistically modeled and animated in the exterior views. Other effects include position lights, exhaust smoke and a custom condensation trail at high altitude.

Panels and systems:

First note here: there is no main 2D panel. Instead, main aircraft control is done through the virtual cockpit. That being said, there are some very useful 2D popup panels. Not meant to depict actual aircraft panels, these popup panels are useful for the virtual pilot in controlling and managing the aircraft. First of all, you’ve got the pilot’s notes panel, which displays outside air temperature, ground speed, endurance range and fuel economy. It states the recommended power settings, and best of all, includes the checklists from aircraft acceptance all the way to approach and landing. A second panel is the controls panel, which lets you switch several systems on or off, without having to look for the correct control in the VC. Furthermore, it also controls some things you can’t control from the VC, like the wheel chocks and those crew to hold the tail down. Also, this panel can be used to put the aircraft in ‘cold and dark’ state, or perform an auto start if you want to get flying fast. If you also have Accusim for the Spitfire installed, you can use this panel to turn damage on or off. The payload and fuel manager does exactly that: manage fuel and payload. From pilots weight and ammunition, to engine oil, hydraulic fluid and pneumatic air. On top if this being easily accessible, it will also be ported over to later flights. So you will no longer fly a new aircraft each time you start FSX. Rather, you will fly the very same aircraft, in the very same state, you left last time. Further, there is a radio panel, a map panel and a maintenance hangar. This latter is mostly used if you have Accusim installed. I really like these 2D panels. First of all because of their clear layout. Instead of trying to be ‘aircraft-like’ they’re just clean panels, which allow you to access stuff fast. Also, those that could be useful in flight are relatively small and condensed, so that you can still see most of your screen with them open, and remain flying without losing control.
As for systems, well, it’s a Spitfire, so don’t expect anything fancy or hyper modern, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing for you to manage. In the contrary. Because of the lack of modern systems, there’s lots of things the pilot has to think about, while it’s nowadays done automatically. In the MkI, you even have to pump the gear manually! The only thing really automated is the mixture control. You can choose rich or lean, and the system controls it automatically to your preferred setting. With that out of the way, you still have to make sure the engine doesn’t overheat, keep an eye on your oil pressure and temperature, and lots of other things. If you want a realistically behaving WWII aircraft, this is something for you! But to take it to the next level, there’s always that Accusim expansion pack. More on that later.

Sounds:

This is, also a thing that’s really good in the WOP3 Spitfire, but still a whole lot better if you also have Accusim. In the standard version, you will get the awesome noise of that Rolls-Royce Merlin engine in the front. Now, this is some amazing sound! Not only does it sound good in real life, but it is represented superbly in FSX. The cockpit boasts some basic sounds for the switches, but to make it really come to life: read on!

Flight dynamics:

This isn’t very easy to verify most of the times, unless you fly the aircraft in real life. But A2A Simulations had help from real-life Spitfire pilots in modeling this, and they pride themselves in delivery great accuracy here, not only with the Spitfire but with all their aircraft. Not only do they try to get the extreme values (top speed, stall speed, operational ceiling) right, but also everything in between. Now, I’m no Spitfire pilot, but they do have me convinced with these flight dynamics. It already starts on the ground. The Spitfire has a very narrow wheel track, so you have to be careful not to turn the aircraft over in turns. Once you open up that throttle on the runway, you will feel the torque of those 1.000hp+ engines working, and you’ll have to exercise careful control to keep the aircraft on the centerline, and wings level when you lift off. With the center of gravity and wings near the nose of the aircraft, you have lots of elevator control, but you have to be careful, because it’s also very easy to increase the angle of attack too much, and stall the wings when your pulling into a turn. With its large elliptical wings, rolling isn’t the Spit’s best side, and you feel that in this flight model as well. In the end, this is a very, very good flight model in my opinion.

Accusim:

There aren’t many expansion packs for expansion packs for FSX. Accusim however, has become an established name, now that there are 5 Accusim expansion packs for A2A Aircraft available. I already mentioned where Accusim can come in above: systems and sound. Let’s do systems first.
Basically, with Accusim, you get rid of the FSX piston-engine simulation, and replace it by one far superior, far more realistic, and especially focused on one particular engine. In this case, obviously the Spitfire’s RR Merlin. There are a couple more systems modeled, but the engine and everything around it is the bulk of it. Now, if an engine runs, it runs. That obviously hasn’t changed. Or has it? Actually, we all know no 2 days are the same. The same goes for engines: it will run differently one day compared to the other. Now, this is what Accusim is all about. Making you hear, feel and see that difference. In order to do this, there are lots of systems modeled. The oil system takes oil temperature and viscosity in account, which will have an impact on your oil pressure. Outside air temperature and aircraft speed will have an effect on the cooling system, as well as landing gear and flaps, as they block the airflow through the radiator. Engine RPM will also affect engine temperature, and idling for too long will foul the spark plugs and cause the engine to run rough. Nice on paper, but of no use if it doesn’t deliver as promised, or when you don’t even notice. Luckily, or maybe not, depending on your skill and expertise with the aircraft, you will notice. Everything you do will have consequences. Not only on paper, but you will hear it in the sound, you will see it in the smoke coming from the exhaust, you will feel it in aircraft performance, and you will certainly see it the next time you open the maintenance hangar. That’s because, just like in a real engine, Accusim adds a complete damage simulation to the Spitfire. Everything can break. From your propeller, down to individual cylinders. This is simulation at its best! And the weird thing is, when you are proficient with the aircraft, you will hardly notice many of these functions, as you just know how to handle the aircraft without breaking it. That’s why there’s another function build in: natural wearing and failing of components, even if handled correctly. Ultimately, if damage gets to severe, whether it be through pilot error or normal wear and tear, you will be looking for a field nearby…

Another system covered in Accusim is the propeller. Like the tires of a car, the propeller on an aircraft turns the raw power of the engine in a usable force to move the aircraft. As different props will deliver different results, this is something where many people have broken their heads over trying to build the best. Especially in the years before WWII, and during the war, giant leap after giant leap has been taken in the design and production of aircraft propellers. Keeping up with this evolution, the Spitfire has been propelled by numerous different propellers during its life. A2A Simulations has modeled 3 variants used on the early Spitfires. The first one is a wooden, 2-bladed, fixed propeller. Second, a metal, 3-bladed, 2-speed propeller. This 2-speed has 2 stances: fine pitch, for flight at low speeds, and rough pitch, for high speed. Finally, the best prop included here is a 3-bladed constant speed propeller for the MkII Spitfire. You can choose which propeller you have on your aircraft in the maintenance hangar. This choice will affect aircraft performance, and the change is visible both in the exterior model and the VC.

Yet another nice system modeled is the oxygen system. The most visible aspect of this is the modeling of oxygen starvation if you fly to high without oxygen. In the early stages, the pilot will start to breath heavily, you vision will become impaired (modeled by constantly zooming in and out). Finally, if the situation isn’t rectified, the pilot will black out. If this happens, you will only see nothing in the VC. In the exterior, you will see that the pilot figure is unconscious, hanging forward in his seatbelts, as you can see in the screenshot  below. The only solution here is reaching a lower altitude and hope you regain consciousness before you hit the ground.

That about Accusim systems. Another aspect of Accusim is the sounds. It all starts with a very immersive cockpit, with specific sounds for every switch and event. But that’s not all. Everything I wrote above about the systems has its counterpart in the soundest. If the engine runs rough, you will not only see it on the gauges, but you will also hear it! If you land to hard, and damage your gear, you will also hear that. You will even hear your aircraft strain under high-g conditions. If the pilot is breathing heavily, you will hear it. If you manage to bring the oxygen system online with the right settings in time, you will hear the pilot taking some deep breaths, before the breathing calming down to normal.

Conclusion:

I’m reviewing 2 products here: the A2A Wings of Power 3 Spitfire, and the Accusim expansion pack for that same Spitfire. In my opinion, you need both, but that’s just me. Even without Accusim, the WOP3 Spitfire is an amazing add-on, well worth it’s (very reasonable) price. Great visuals, realistic systems and a top-notch flight model combine into one of (if not the) very best WWII add-ons for FSX. Add Accusim to it, and you will not have a good-looking, realistically handling aircraft, but something that’s really come to live. No more flying a new aircraft each time. That’s something I really love. In my view, this is an absolute must have for WWII fans, for systems simulator fans, for propeller aircraft fans… A2A Simulations have made a new benchmark here, and it will be difficult for others to match it.In my opinion, the WOP3 Spitfire together with the Accusim expansion pack is the most immersive flying experience for FSX today.

Rating:

5 out of 5

Links:

A2A Homepage

WOP 3 Spitfire simmarket page

Accusim for WOP3 Spitfire simmarket page

Official screenshots on the A2A Forum

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