The U-2VS is an interesting and unique aircraft for the IL-2: Great Battles Series and it offers a variety of gameplay options for virtual pilots. The question that has lingered since December when it was released, however, is if this aircraft is worth the money and should you buy it? In this review I hope to give you a good sense of what it is, what it isn’t, and if you’ll appreciate adding the U-2VS to your virtual hangar.
First, a bit of history
Designed by the famous Soviet aircraft designer, Nikolai Polikarpov, the U-2 was designed to be a trainer aircraft. First flown in January of 1927, this versatile aircraft was designed to be an uncomplicated and reliable aircraft. Somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 were produced between 1927 and 1959 seeing wide service along the Eastern Front in World War II and in the hands of the North Korean Air Force during the Korean War.
The U-2 had several names and was renamed Po-2 after its designer following his death in 1944. It was also called Kukuruznik (essentially translating as crop duster) and received a NATO reporting name of “Mule.”
The U-2 was primarily a trainer but it was pressed into service performing everything from artillery spotting, to medivac transport, military liaison, and was also used to insert Soviet partisans behind enemy lines. Famously, and most relevant to a WWII combat sim, the U-2VS variant was armed and used primarily as a night time bomber harassing enemy troops and disrupting operations with its loud droning engine noise. UN forces in Korea nicknamed the aircraft “Bedcheck Charlie” and anti-air operations found it incredibly difficult to shoot the U-2VS down primarily owing to its night time operations and incredibly slow speed.
Do we need to talk about performance?
In some of my IL-2 aircraft reviews I talk about comparative performance versus other aircraft. With the U-2VS there isn’t much to talk about but here are some key performance attributes:
- Maximum tree air speed at sea level, engine mode – Takeoff, 1750 RPM: 151.7km/h
- Maximum tree air speed at 500 m, engine mode – Takeoff, 1740 RPM: 150.3km/h
- Maximum tree air speed at 1000 m, engine mode – Takeoff, 1730 RPM: 148.9km/h
- Climb rate: 500 m – 3 min. 5 sec., 1000 m – 6 min. 35 seconds.
- Maximum performance turn: 22..23 s, at 105..115 km/h IAS.
In short, the U-2VS is very slow in nearly everything it does. In the Specifications screen it is listed as having a climb rate of 38 minutes and 20 seconds to 3500 meters. I can’t imagine it would be very fast or useful at that altitude but that is what it’s naturally aspirated engine is capable of climbing to. The aircraft also has no wheel brakes, the tail skid is linked to the rudder, and the fixed pitch propeller requires manual engine RPM management.
Other handling attributes
The U-2VS handles exceptionally well aside from its performance figures. It’s difficult to stall, it turns on a dime, can perform loops, and I find it generally very easy and largely forgiving to fly. It’s ideal as a trainer aircraft with essentially no vices that I’ve seen represented in the IL-2 flight model.
You do need to use some coordination with the rudder to keep the nose centered but its not a serious issue. What you must always maintain, however, is a good sense of what speed you have. I advise making sure you have at least some altitude to work with. The climb rate is low and a medium sized hill can provide a legitimate concern on more hilly maps like the Kuban-map.
Weight is a serious issue with this aircraft as well. In one ill fated flight, I tried to take a fully fueled U-2VS on a bomb run also equipped with a turret gun, machine gun, and six FAB-50 bombs (or two FAB-100 and two FAB-50s). After attempting to gain altitude for a solid two kilometers I ran out of room and hit a row of trees. Be sparing with the options you choose.
Can be well equipped
The U-2VS without any attached options is a simple bi-plane trainer. Start adding modifications, however, and you begin to get some interesting capabilities. A ShKAS 7.62mm machine gun can be fitted on the side of the aircraft providing a limited strafing potential. Up to X FAB-50 or FAB-100 bombs can also be fitted on the aircraft. Eight rockets is another option with a small selection of ROS-82, RBS-82 and ROS-132 unguided rockets available as a modification.
There’s also a radio, landing light, navigation lights and an artificial horizon. Everything is optional and everything costs you weight so bring what you need and leave the rest is my suggestion.
Let’s talk about gameplay options
When the U-2VS arrived in December you could fly it in the quick mission builder and in multiplayer. With the release of 3.010 in February the U-2VS was given Stalingrad and Kuban career options and that is why I was holding off on my full review of this aircraft.
The single player experience
Single player brings some interesting gameplay experiences too. Both Stalingrad and Kuban scenarios feature U-2VS night bomber squadron missions that largely involve attacking enemy strong points defended by AAA and search lights. These missions create dramatic sequences facing down the search lights and trying to avoid them getting too much of a bead on you – when they do the AAA opens up and things get even more interesting.
These missions, however, do take a while to fly as your flight speed is naturally quite low. For the more high octane flyer, these missions aren’t going to offer very much excitement.
There are two notes surrounding these missions. First, the setup is very interesting with each U-2VS flying its own essentially independent mission in the dark against the same target. I don’t know if this was the standard practice for the U-2VS in real life but it’s reminiscent of night bomber raids that I’ve read about in the past.
Second, the missions are capably flown by the AI but I find their approach to be somewhat unrealistic with the AI bombing with level bombing precision from higher altitudes. Not something the U-2VS excels at – I’d like to see that tweaked for the U-2 version of these missions at some point in the future.
Though I know why it hasn’t happened with the current release, I was also hoping that we may see the U-2VS take up its artillery spotting role at some point in the future. 777 Studios and 1CGS have experience with this from Rise of Flight so I do hope that one day we’ll be able to add that to the list of things you can do with this aircraft.
In multiplayer the U-2VS functions as a light attack aircraft with an exceptionally low speed. Some players are flying them in online scenarios and doing quite well.
When confronted with enemy fighters, turning tightly close to the ground and using terrain as cover are the only options when evading attacks. The rear gunner can help a little as well (and yes that can be manned by a friend in the gunner seat).
It is hard work to be sure, but it can be fun and challenging in its own way and I’m looking forward to seeing a mass raid of U-2VS’ on a target coming from Knights of the Air or Tactical Air War or some other popular IL-2 server some day soon.
An aircraft for some but maybe not all
By now you may have a sense of what kind of aircraft and what types of roles you can perform with the U-2VS. The bi-plane is the second aircraft in the IL-2: Great Battles Series that diverges from the usual assortment of WWII combat aircraft. Together with the Ju52 we have an aircraft that isn’t a fighter, bomber, or attack aircraft and that makes it something special and unique. That makes the U-2VS intensely interesting to me.
The U-2VS will win no performance awards but it is incredibly fun to fly both in combat and as a free flight kind of aircraft. Like the Ju52, the U-2VS can be used for non-combat sight seeing but unlike the Ju52 you can also put the U-2VS in combat situations with its available armaments – bombing targets and strafing vehicles and fixed emplacements. Or you can just fly it at low level and admire some of the details in the world of IL-2 or challenge yourself to do three loop-de-loops under a bridge or through an open hangar. There are plenty of ways to fly the U-2VS.
The 3D model work and texture work are at the usual standards for the IL-2 series and you cannot tell that the U-2VS was developed, at least in part, by Ugra Media as a third-party developer for the series. The team apparently had access to a local U-2 in a museum which helped the team get the kind of close up experience that helped make the U-2VS look as good as it does. It sure feels authentic to me!
So, the ultimate question now then is if the U-2VS worth the $22.99 regular price? I’ve had enough fun and flight time with this aircraft to justify the price and I think this is a great experience for anyone who loves flying IL-2: Great Battles and all the things that the series offers. There’s no mistaking that it is a very simple 1920s era bi-plane fighting in a 1940s era war but that is what is just so appealing. If everything I’ve said is something that appeals to you grab the U-2VS from the IL-2 store right now.