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Flying old crankypants

"Captain, our carburetor temperatures are running hot.” I looked up from my airplane meal - microwaved pizza and a lukewarm beer - and peered over the flight engineer's shoulder. The carb temps were starting to push 50°C, so I toggled the intercooler flaps open a few notches with my mouse and patiently watched the numbers drop back into the green, wondering why that tool in the backseat couldn’t do it himself.

You'll find yourself asking that a lot with A2A Simulations' (née Shockwave Productions) newly released Flight Simulator X add-on, Wings of Silver Stratocruiser. Boeing's postwar Stratocruiser is an aviation legend, and once I saw the screenshots and read the press brief on this double-decker, four-engined beast, I couldn't wait to release the wheel chocks. As the left-seater in a four-person Boeing 377 flight crew, you get to twist every knob and adjust every lever on this cantankerously fussy airliner.

Wings of Silver Stratocruiser is a highly polished (and, at $36.99, somewhat overpriced) addition to the FSX hangar, but the real payoff comes when you mate it to A2A's companion Accu-Sim expansion pack - a must-have $25 realism mod that transforms the intricately detailed Boeing 377 flight deck into one of the most challenging flight-sim trials you'll ever experience.


Run these Pratt & Whitney engines too hard—even for a few minutes—and you’ll be roasting weenies off the resulting bonfire

How challenging? In my first hour with the software, I pancaked the 70-ton behemoth into the deck five times before I finally got a handle on its complex engine management controls. Slamming the throttles to the stops here will simply hasten the time it takes to turn those 3,500 horsepower Pratt & Whitney R4360 engines into flaming lumps of metal. This is a touchy-feely aircraft that demands careful monitoring and constant adjustments to stay aloft. Cowl flaps, carb heat, ADI (Anti-Detonant Injection), prop pitch, mixture controls, cold start-up checklists...everything works as advertised, and if you mess up any of it you may find yourself wrestling with a panicked passenger for the nearest parachute.

The Accu-Sim add-on does permit you to delegate turbo control to your engineer, but unless you disable the mod altogether (kinda pointless), you will personally control every single action from takeoff to touchdown. Your flight crew occasionally pitches in with verbal warnings and observations (Hey, Bozo…if your window’s fogged up, why don’t you turned the damned defrosters on yourself?) and the aircraft comes equipped with an elegant—and historically authentic—autopilot control to reduce the workload.

I'd planned a New York-to-Rio adventure for my maiden flight, but after studying the Accu-Sim expansion's complex fuel management system - you must manually redirect fuel from your wing and fuselage tanks to maintain the correct center of gravity - I opted instead for a 700-mile Vancouver-to-San Francisco hop. It was a smart decision because I was almost over Oregon before I reached my 25,000-foot cruising level (I knew I should have dumped some fuel), and the arduous climb out took every ounce of concentration I possessed. When I finally put the bird down in SFO four-and-a-half hours later, I was ready for a stiff drink.


This is definitely one of those situations where it helps to RTFM

Realism fans will appreciate the attention to detail that A2A applied to every mechanical system on the aircraft. Each of the four engines has a personality of its own and - as in real life - can return different readings and performance characteristics the deeper you advance into the flight. A nifty "crew report" window keeps you informed of every single hiccup while your overpaid crewmates (whom you can give British or American accents) scarf down peanuts and bitch about the engine temps.

If you're pilot enough to handle it, you'll find this one-of-a-kind beauty at A2A Simulations.

October 10, 2008 

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