Sometimes even the most hard-over gee-whiz tech head needs a break. There comes a time when the alphabet soup of modern pointy nose sim combat gets cold and forms a filmy skim on the top. When this happens to me, I yearn for a simpler time when men were men, confirmed hits were more than a black puff in the distance, and you could still paint naked women on your trusty steed without being referred to sensitivity training. This used to mean a few weeks of EAW to clear the soul of such clutter as the finer points of antenna elevation, towed decoys, and kill envelopes. Lately, for yours truly, it has been a good dose of Mustang mud moving in MiG Alley.
Fig. 1. F-51 in the weeds
In the movie "Flight of the Intruder", there is a scene in which a pair of "Sandy" combat search and rescue (CSAR) escort A-1 Skyraiders pop up over a ridge. With corkscrew contrails forming off of the propeller tips as they beat the moist air into submission, those thirty seconds of film hold one of the finest images I have seen of combat aircraft in action. I love the old SPADs, and have always harbored a secret desire for an A-1 sim. The Close Air Support (CAS) mission in warfare has demanded throwbacks to a simpler time since the development of the turbine-powered aircraft. Alas, the A-1 was replaced (briefly) by the A-7 SLUF (Short Little Ugly…umm..Fellow) and later by the brutish yet capable A-10 Warthog.
A new century and still no Skyraider sim. But am I pouting? Negative! Thanks to the good folks at Rowan, we can fly the original anachronism in a turbine world- the F-51 Mustang.
A quick scan over the web confirms the fact that just about all of the press regarding MiG Alley has focused on the MiG-15 vs. F-86 Sabre dogfight. This is understandable since the air-to-air action in MA is outstanding and features the lead stars of this production. That's not to say, however, the supporting cast of MA are afterthoughts. The Korean War was, after all, primarily a ground war. Air to mud was a critical part of that conflict. Primarily, early straight-wing jets such as the USAF's F-80 and F-84 flew interdiction missions, while CAS missions were still carried out by piston aircraft. Rowan has done an excellent job at modeling the idiosyncrasies of each of the aircraft and their typical roles during the Korean conflict. In my opinion, they have created the best and most challenging model of the North American P/F-51 Mustang and it's primary post WWII mission of any sim thus far.
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Fig. 2. Enemy armour bites the dust
This is always the trickiest part- quantifying a PC based flight model with its real-life counterpart, especially if one's personal experience goes no further than sitting in the cockpit and wiping their own slobber off of the airframe. I have, however, talked to people who have flown the Mustang and even one who has flown a mock dogfight against one. The consensus is that while the 'Stang is truly the Cadillac of prop fighters, much of it's fabled maneuverability is overrated. It also reportedly has ground handling characteristics that require strict attention and a light touch. In a nutshell, that describes the F-51 modeled in MiG Alley.
With all the realism / difficulty sliders maxxed out (is there any other setting?), takeoff is very challenging. If the Mustang is a pussycat in the air, then she is a rabid, PCP snorting mountain lion during takeoff. The F-51 is, after all, a tail dragger with a huge 12-cylinder power plant swinging a massive four-bladed Hamilton-Standard prop- a Cessna 172 she ain't. Rowan has obviously taken modeling of torque and precession (or P-factor) effects to a sadistic new level. Throw in a dash of crosswind from the proper direction and you have something that pulls to the left harder than Jesse Jackson at a union rally. It takes a leg full of right rudder and light stabs of right wheel brake to keep you on the runway, let alone from merging with your wingman in a napalm-heated pile of aluminum. The trick? There isn't one that I've found-just lots of practice.
Once airborne, the F-51 is a joy to drive. Properly trimmed (a bit of a chore), the airplane goes precisely where you point it. The 'Stang slips with ease and the rudder has a great feel of authority without the ugly, unrealistic single-plane yaw that some sims sport. Both of these features are very useful when one needs to point the nose at bad guys. She rolls predictably and precisely, if not at an exactly eye-watering rate. The excellent cockpit shake that Rowan has thrown into all of the airplanes in MiG Alley gives plenty of warning of the onset of smooth air leaving the top of the wing, and this stall model reflects lowered forgiveness when heavily loaded. One minor disappointment is ham fisted slams of the throttle at low speed are tolerated better than physics would seem to dictate. There is no tendency to snap over to the left from the torque effects generated by such rough handling.
Landing is a bit tricky; at least once the mains are on the ground. One must dance on the controls lightly, using similar rudder and differential braking techniques as during takeoff. The airplane wants to ground loop so great care must be taken to prevent your mission from ending on a less than satisfactory note. I have a pair of gripes regarding take off and landing. Low speed ground loops cause even an unarmed airplane to explode, as if the fuel tanks are filled with nitroglycerine rather than high-octane gasoline. Also, the airplane seems to want to nose over (and once again explode) when brakes are applied heavily even at speeds less than ten knots. Perhaps these are just enhanced incentives to treat the aircraft with kid gloves- but they are annoying never the less.
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