Threshold Review: FlyingIron Simulations Spitfire LF Mk.IX

Copy Provided
By
Mike Cameron
August 5, 2019

Introduction

This introduction was gathered from military-history.org, spitfireperformance.com and the product page.

“Spitfires have hit the ground, touched the sea, bashed through trees, cut telegraph and high-tension wires, collided in the air, been shot to pieces, had rudders and parts of wings fall off, and yet made safe landings, with or without wheels,” wrote Australian Spitfire pilot John Vader. R.J. Mitchell, the Spitfire’s (also called Supermarine Spitfire) designer, learned his trade during WWI. He was conscious of the fragility of the early aircraft, and always considered pilot safety in his designs. Even when his designs were optimized for speed, such as those for the Schneider Trophy races, he never sacrificed his concern for the pilot. His masterpiece, the Spitfire, proved to be not only a beautiful plane much loved by its pilots, but also a robust and adaptable design. It was so adaptable that it was the only fighter in production before, through and after the war. Sadly, Mitchell died of cancer in June 1937 but was able to see his prototype fly before his death. 

His legacy long outlived him though, with the Spitfire reaching just about all corners of the globe in it's 23 year reign. Beside the main fighter, some Spitfire models became photo reconnaissance aircraft, others served in the Navy (christened the ‘Seafire.’) - versions of the Spitfire were equipped with machine-guns, cannons, rockets, bombs and almost every other armament imaginable. It could be used at high altitude or adapted as a ground attack plane - two variants were even tried with floats! By the end of the war, it had gone through 13 different designs of the propeller and in all, 20,351 Spitfires were produced by the RAF.

The Mark IX Spitfire was the successor to the Mark V with 5,500 produced with more than 1,000 being sent to Russia. During this time, increasing numbers of the aircraft were also being sent to Middle Eastern and Far Eastern theatres. 

Today, we check out FlyingIron Simulations' recently released rendition of the Mark IX Spitfire, so without further ado, let's get into it.

The Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IX, realised in X-Plane by FlyingIron Simulations.

Installation

Installation & setup is very easy if you are an experienced X-Plane user.  First, I do not know about this product sold at online retailers, but the review copy did not require entering a serial number or some other activation procedure. It is a breath of fresh air when developers and stores trust their customers to do the right thing and not abuse their ownership of the product. 

After copying the aircraft folder to the X-Plane\Aircraft folder, you are just about ready to start operating your new Spitfire. FlyingIron Simulations only provides a link to the work in progress Pilot Handbook. Though I would prefer a completed manual as part of the installation, the good news is it is still downloadable as a PDF document for you to read and print for later reference. It consists of 24 pages filled with valuable information that I consider required reading if you want to get the most out of the Spitfire. If you like reading the real-world Pilot Manual for the aircraft, there is a link to download it in the FlyingIron Simulations Pilot Handbook. Now is where it can become slightly more difficult if you are new to the X-Plane simulator platform. The Pilot Handbook recommends the SkunkCrafts Updater plugin for updating the Spitfire, but they fail to provide a link to download this program (you can find the download here).

Another task that needs to be done before operating the Spitfire that new users may not know how to perform is assigning custom bindings to their joystick buttons or switches. This is the first thing that the new user should learn after installing the simulator. At first, it can look intimidating with a very long list next to the button after selecting “Edit” that you want to assign this custom binding. The good news is that there is a search box for you to type the function that you are looking for and both the simulator and FlyingIron assignments should be listed for you to select.

Custom, Spitfire specific keybinds can be set via the "Keyboard" menu.

The Cockpit

I will just say this right now; the interior textures of the FlyingIron Simulations Spitfire are awesome! The instrument textures are very clear and easy to read, animations are fluid and the sound effects are very realistic. The Pilot’s Guide does a great job numbering the gauges on the instrument panel, I just wish they would have labelled the controls on the left and right-side panels. As with all my X-Plane aircraft, I like to assign custom view keys on the keyboard numpad. The first screen grab below is my default view for this aircraft. 

As with all nose-high, tail-wheeled aircraft, it can be hard to see over the cowling, so I like to adjust my eye-point slightly left of the instrument panel to help with taxiing. I also mapped some other views to my preference. There is a hidden click spot above the right-side controls that opens the VR/GUI box. There are several interior controls on this box, first, on the real Spitfire, the battery terminals would be connected by the ground crew but with the simulated version there is a button on the VR/GUI box. The other options available are the ability to tune & save radio presets, adjust radio volume, activate the autopilot (straight & level flight only), landing light control, display the gunsight, and enable the modern avionics (GPS and modern radio). 

The VR/GUI pop-up box.

It is important to remember that you must use your keyboard or X-Plane joystick assignment to power on the avionics.  I like that the modern option is available so, for example, if I am flying cross-country, I will use the modern radios, however, if I'm just doing manoeuvres, I'll use the classic instrument panel. 

Moving onwards - I had to hunt for the click-spot to open the canopy, but once I found it the animation and associated sound effect that followed were very good. When open, the small ladder can be lowered for entering and exiting the aircraft.  The interior lighting is also of very high quality.

The "modern" avionics preset includes an X-Plane default GNS 730.

Exterior Features

There are two different wing designs to choose from with this aircraft, clipped wings and the standard wing configuration. Each option has 10 custom paint jobs (liveries) to select.

Clipped & standard wing configurations respectively.

Like the interior, exterior textures on the Spitfire are outstanding with clear labelling and three-dimensional features. All the static elements that you would expect are included and can be enabled/disabled with the VR/GUI box. They are all very realistic looking, which is great. A static object not always included by aircraft developers is a Ground Power Unit, which is much appreciated in this case. It may be my hearing, but the GPU did not appear to have any sounds when powered on (which is performed with the ‘Master Battery’ button on the VR/GUI box). Other exterior items and effects like the exterior fuel tank and the landing lights are controlled with the aforementioned VR/GUI box.

The ground power unit.

Dusk is a good time to display the wonderful machine gun and landing light effects. I have owned many simulated aircraft over the years, including a few World War II-era fighter aircraft, and the Spitfire’s startup and engine exhaust is the most realistic looking that I have ever seen. The associated sound effects are also very good.

Engine exhaust effects in FlyingIron's Spitfire.

Flight Dynamics

First off, I am a novice when it comes to operating simulated World War II-era aircraft. I am not going to review complicated aerial manoeuvres but will review procedures from a simulator pilot with limited experience and try to still have a satisfying (fun) experience. 

Again, I recommend reading the very well written manual and creating the recommended joystick bindings it suggests. In my testing, I used the default X-Plane “VFR” weather preset to avoid adverse winds and visibility. 

The manual only provides minimal pre-flight procedures including setting the parking brake before engine start. I learned this the hard way (despite holding the brakes, the aircraft wanted to move forward after engine start), until figuring out how to apply the parking brake (reread the manual). Startup procedures are very straight forward, and I was able to start the engine without issue. The only times that I had an issue, even when following the checklist, is that I would forget the magneto switches. Taxiing requires some practice especially if you have not operated a tail-wheeled, nose high aircraft. The realistic way is to perform a series of small s-turns to see ahead of you. That is the easy part though, the hard part is controlling the power, speed and knowing when to brake. Basically, provide short bursts of power (about 1500 RPM), and turn with the rudders. If you must stop, reduce power to idle, let the Spitfire slow down on its own and then brake if necessary. Brake with too much speed and suffer the dreaded ground loop, which I have done a time or several in this and other tail-wheeled aircraft.

Taking off is very challenging and does require some practice to avoid clipping the wings. The manual does a good job explaining the recommended procedures for taking off and this is where I think this aircraft is somewhat forgiving for the novice pilot. The primary take-away is do not ram the throttle to full, instead, gradually add power to build up speed is the way to go. The checklist says to apply left stick (aileron), to counter propeller induced roll torque while also applying right rudder to offset the left yaw tendencies. This is easier said than done with a twist type joystick, but I managed without crashing, though maybe not staying on the runway before lifting off. For those users that are experienced with these types of aircraft, this procedure should not be an issue. 

The gear retraction animation is very smooth with great sound effects. The Spitfire is a real pleasure to fly once off the ground but unless you activate the autopilot, requires that you keep your hand on the controls because of the Spitfire's left turning tendency. Initial climb performance is outstanding but sometime after passing 10,000 feet, the engine quit on me. Luckily, I had the checklist open and I had forgotten to switch on the Fuel Pressure Cock, once turning that on I was able to restart the engine without issue. I wanted to see how high I could fly with the LF engine, but I must not have applied the right settings because performance started to suffer after passing 15,000 feet. Before I knew it, I stalled and quickly entered a spin and could not recover before crashing. Good thing that this is a simulated aircraft - time to fly the standard wing with the Merlin 70 HF engine to see which is better for high altitude performance!

Before starting, I decide to “Reset all Systems” just in case there is any leftover damage from my previous flight. I take-off and start my climb but before seeing how high I can go, I decide to activate the autopilot. Also, on a bit of a side-note, before this flight I stored some frequencies in the radio using the VR/GUI box - this works as expected. The autopilot (straight and level only), also works as expected and is wonderful if you need to take your hands off the controls or capture a screen grab.

Continuing my climb, I keep admiring the work that FlyingIron Simulations put into the Spitfire. While in this trance, I almost forgot to turn on both oxygen controls so that I do not suffer the effects of lack of oxygen at altitude! Climb performance with the supercharger in “FS” mode is incredible - when I first turned it on the rate of climb was an outstanding 4000 FPM! After passing 27,000 feet, I was still climbing at 2800 to 3000 FPM, at 115 MPH or 147 Knots according to the XP map view. This is going to be a great aircraft if I need to quickly climb over a mountain range. At 30,000 feet, I level off and activate the autopilot. At full throttle, I monitor the airspeed and I am cruising at 240 MPH, wow! I am glad I am not paying for gas! 

Guns blazing!

Before descending to land, I decided to try some manoeuvres, hopefully without repeating my incident from the earlier flight. I first attempted a loop but after remembering my previous flight I change my mind and performed a successful roll. I had to be careful though, as the X-Plane red-out/black-out effects were ever tailing me in my manoeuvres. Unfortunately, I did not learn from my earlier mistakes, entered an unrecoverable spin and crashed again! The Spitfire is a wonderful aircraft to fly but the simulated pilot must know their limits or risk the consequences!

Moving onwards, the manual does a wonderful job explaining landing procedures, which I read several times, but I still had a hard time landing the Spitfire. Take-off may be a challenge, but landing for a novice like myself is an adventure to put it mildly. 

After crashing several times, I finally decided to start with the engine running to save some time. I was finally able to land without serious damage but was unable to stay on the runway, I will accept this. To conclude, despite being a challenge to land, the FlyingIron Simulations Spitfire is very fun to fly - I am going to keep practising until I can perform all aspects of flight without issue.

Conclusion

The FlyingIron Simulations LF Mk.IX Spitfire is a wonderful World War II-era warbird for the X-Plane 11 simulator. They have included everything that I expect from a premium aircraft - quality textures, smooth animations and awesome sound effects. The Spitfire can be a challenge to fly at times, but I believe that most users should be able to operate without issue after some practice. If your only simulated experience is with a C152 or other training aircraft, be prepared for a steep but rewarding learning curve. 

I only had a couple of minor issues, first, I wish a manual would have been included with the download. I understand that it is a work in progress, but I would have preferred something other than a web link to the Google Documents page. Also, it would have been nice to have a link to the manual on the FlyingIron product page for users that want to read the manual before purchase. This product requires the SkunkCrafts updater plugin to update this product and it would have been nice if a link to this software would have been included in the manual. 

Despite this, I have no problem recommending this aircraft. At USD $49.95 directly from the developer, it is on the expensive side but if you are looking for a quality simulated Spitfire, I believe this product is worth the price. 

I want to thank FlyingIron Simulations for supplying the review copy - you can purchase the Spitfire for yourself on their website here. It is also available from the X-Plane.org store.

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