The absence of a serious Sea King for FSX left a gaping hole in my flightsim experience. There are some freeware versions available, but none of them really suited my taste. Let’s see whether this payware offering from Virtavia did…
The Sea King took its maiden flight in 1959, entering service in 1961 as the HSS-2. It was renamed SH-3A in US Navy service in 1963. Originally designed by Sikorsky to be an amphibious anti-submarine warfare helicopter, it went on to perform a multitude of tasks. Sea Kings performed their intended ASW roles, but also flew anti-ship, search and rescue, transport, VIP-transport, airborne-early-warning, and other missions. The Sea King was license built by Agusta in Italy, Westland in the United Kingdom and Mitsubishi in Japan, while aircraft were assembled from Sikorsky-built parts in Canada. Despite being a military helicopter by design, Sikorsky successfully marketed civilian versions of the Sea King, designated S-61. Serving operators on each continent of the world, Sea Kings are getting old, and many operators either have replaced them, or are somewhere along the path of having them replaced.
The Virtavia Sea King promises to bring 10 different models in 20 different liveries, covering airframes built by all manufacturers. The product page on simMarket promises a visually stunning product, but doesn’t say much about systems. Although the product has been available since August 2010, it’s new on simMarket, hence this review. Just to be clear, I’m reviewing the FSX version here, although an FS2004 (FS9) version is also available.
After buying the Sea King, the obvious next step is downloading the package. This download is a 130MB zip-file. Inside this zip-file, there’s a .msi-installer. All there’s left to do is run the installer, accept the EULA, point it to your FSX location, and wait. A note here, the installer didn’t find my custom FSX location (F:\FSX) automatically, but I had to point it to it manually. A small downside, but apart from that, no problems with the installer. Note that there is no serial, but more importantly, no other unwieldy DRM-software.
Upon installation, you get 21 new entries in your FSX aircraft selection menu under Westland/Sikorsky, and a manual in the Virtavia folder in your FSX root folder. Installation is easy and trouble free, except for having to locate a custom FSX location manually. However, why all Sea King entries have to be under Westland/Sikorsky, and not under the manufacturer which actually built the represented helicopter (Westland for the British, Belgian, Egyptian,… helicopters, Sikorsky for the US airframes, and so on) beats me.
The exterior of the Virtavia Sea King doesn’t impress me. The general shape is good. The ‘core’ of the helicopter is modeled very well: the fuselage, tail, sponsons and gear. These sections are modeled accurately, and smooth. Good quality model. The texturing on these parts is also good. It’s clear and as long as you don’t zoom in, it stays sharp. However, as soon as you zoom in, even a little, on the fuselage, you lose sharpness. Virtavia used specular and bump maps on the Sea King. The specular work is very subtle, which is like it should be: you get a nice play off effects under some lighting. Nice touch! The bump mapping however, isn’t my taste. The entire airframe is covered in convex rivets like the real one. However, these bumped rivets on the FSX model look way, way too big. Therefore, they’re way to visible on the exterior model. They should be much smaller and more subtle, to look real. That said, however, I quite like these parts of the exterior model. Sure, I’ve seen better, but I’ve also seen far worse.
However, when we move on to the more model specific options, the story changes. Parts I mean here are antennas, foot bars, the rotors, and other miscellaneous stuff. When looking at these parts, the accuracy and the quality take a dive. And this both on textures and modeling. In my eyes, it looks like someone made the basic model with great care, but then grew tired of it, and smacked the other stuff on without caring about the quality. The worst of all are the rotors, both main and tail. The most distinct part of a helicopter, they deserve some attention when making a helicopter for FSX. To put it bluntly, they’re terrible. The modeling isn’t impressive, the textures are just bad and the animation doesn’t impress either. Honestly, the rotors on the default FSX helicopters look better, especially when turning.
There are some custom animations in the exterior model: a dipping sonar, for models equipped with one, and a radar dome on a moving arm on the Royal Navy Early Warning model.
I can be more positive about the interior model than the exterior. Especially when looking forward, the modeling and texturing is detailed, and of good quality. In contrast to the exterior, the interior is very weathered. Paint chips off on the emergency exit, on and around the screws in the instrument panels. It looks good. When looking behind you, you also get a fully modeled virtual cabin. The texture resolution and modeling isn’t as high-end and as detailed as in the actual cockpit, but you don’t look there often when flying in FSX. Even though it’s not as good looking as the actual virtual cockpit, I like this cabin, because there’s no door between the cabin and cockpit. If you turn your head, you can look straight to the back of the cabin.
Panels and systems:
Not much to say about panels. There are only 2, and those are the default FSX radio stack and GPS. I don’t mind, as I prefer 3D anyway, but people who prefer 2D panels will be disappointed.
The systems, well, there’s not much more to say about them than about the panels: there hardly are any. You get all basic instruments, and they work. Apart from the basic instruments, you get 2 custom gauges: first is a radar panel (with only on/off switch working). The second deserves some more attention: a hover gauge. The hover gauge has 3 modes. In mode A, it acts like a kind of attitude indicator: it’s 2 bars indicate roll and pitch, while 2 pointers indicate rudder pedal position and collective input. In mode C, the gauge is off. In mode D, the gauge shows forward airspeed (bottom of the gauge is 0 kts), vertical speed and drift from track according to the set navigation settings (radio or GPS). That’s how it works in the Virtavia Sea King. The product page on simMarket places special emphasis on this gauge, so I can’t just let it go by that it doesn’t work as advertised. Virtavia didn’t write their own manual about this gauge, but instead put a section of the real life Sea King’s manual in their manual. This should mean the gauge works as it should, but it doesn’t. Mode A, in real life, indicates input to the ASE servo valves. Mode C of course is perfectly accurate: the gauge is off. Mode D however, is also not realistic. In real life, mode D couples the gauge to the Doppler radar, and displays groundspeed, both forward, backward and sideways (center of the gauge is 0 kts). Additionally, it displays vertical speed. Now, this is completely different compared to how this gauge works in the Virtavia Sea King.
Another remark here, is that you can retract the wheels even on airframes that have a fixed undercarriage. What I mean, is that on those examples, the wheels always stay down in exterior views, but if you try to land while FSX thinks you retracted the gear, you will notice that you just sink through the ground and crash. It’s not a huge problem (just don’t retract the gear), but it’s just another one of those things that should’ve been done right, but isn’t.
I can live with the lack of system detail in this helicopter, as the product page doesn’t promise anything in this section either. However, I’m not impressed with the fact that the single gauge that does make it to the product page feature list, doesn’t work as it should.
As for other systems, please don’t expect anything. You can’t even do a semi-realistic startup or shutdown. But, as stated, it is never promised before purchase you could.
I’m perfectly aware of the fact that helicopter flight dynamics in FSX aren’t anything to speak about. However, even knowing that, I’m not impressed with how the Sea King handles. The Sea King is quite agile in real life, despite its size, and yet very stable. However, the Sea King in FSX beats everything. It’s way too sensitive on both pitch and roll. The rudder, luckily, seems a little more conservative. On the other end, the stability also breaks records. Despite needing constant (and at times very confusing and unrealistic) pitch inputs in forward flight, it doesn’t need any roll inputs at all, unless you want to bank, and apart from takeoff, doesn’t need any rudder input either. Another example, once you have the Sea King in a stable hover, all you have to do to stay in is to let go of all controls. I know only one way to achieve this in real life, and that’s called an autopilot. Too sensitive to roll and pitch inputs, but too stable in flight. That’s what I think of the Sea King handling.
Another note, which fits here, is that the helicopter starts to shake when on the ground with the engines shut down. This effect is absent when the engines are running, but is very noticeable, and quite annoying when they’re off.
Everything I said above is based on pictures, movies, personal preference or common sense. However, the sound is something I know all too well in real life. I’m Belgian, and Belgium happens to operate a squadron of 4 (used to be 5, 1 is now retired) Sea Kings. The Belgian mk. 48 is represented in this package, by the way. But, back on topic, because of where I currently live, I happen to see, and more importantly and prominently, hear Sea Kings on a regular basis. What I can say about this sound package: I like it. It really makes me hear the Sea Kings I’m used to. The Sea King makes a quite distinct sound, easily recognized from all other helicopters I regularly see in real life. This sound package really represents that sound. An old helicopter (you can almost hear it shake and rattle) with 2 turbines that makes a lot of noise. As longs as you don’t shut down the engines in FSX, you get a very realistic representation of the audible aspect of a Sea King. I’d even go as far as saying this is, in my personal opinion, the best part of this entire software package.
I can’t say I like this package from Virtavia. The basics of the external model are fine, but the finish is lacking. The virtual cockpit looks fine, but hardly anything is functional. The systems and flight dynamics lack, but if the exterior model would be a piece of art, you’d at least still have something. Now, the best part of this package is the sound set, which is licensed from Turbine Sound Studios (TSS). You pay €26 for this add-on on simMarket. In my opinion, a waste of money. If you’re fine with this level of quality though (which is your right, nothing negative meant by that remark) I think the price is too steep for what you get. My advice, spend your hard-earned money on something else. If, by any change, you absolutely need to have a Sea King, and the freeware packages available don’t suit you, it’s of course up to you to make up your own mind.
- Great sounds
- good looking fuselage, just don’t look at the rotors or other small stuff
- No system of note
- Terrible looking rotors and other exterior details