The trouble with bringing a storied aircraft into a flight sim is that it has to try and live up to the reputation that it made for itself. The Mustang is such an aircraft that has built up and incredible story about it and the pilots who flew it. Its impossible not to be pulled in by every word written about the aircraft The trouble is, every time a Mustang has appeared in a flight sim, virtual pilots seem to be disappointed with it. Let’s have a look at that and if there’s anything that 1CGS can do differently with their representation of the P-51D.
The legend of the Mustang
If you’re a aviation fan of any stripe you probably know the story about the Mustang. Designed by North American in 1940 as an alternative to a request for added P-40 production by the British, the P-51 used a lot of advanced aerodynamics to backup an otherwise conventional WWII fighter design. It wasn’t, however, until it was paired with the Rolls Royce Merlin engine that the aircraft developed its full reputation.
Able to fly from Britain to Berlin and back, the P-51B, C and D made a significant impact on the air war over Europe. The P-51 could do all of that long range flying and still bring with it six .50cal machine guns and a performance and agility level that could match the best that the Axis had to offer.
That’s the legend but what happens when it shows up in a flight sim?
Mustangs in a flight sim
I’ve been flying Mustang’s in flight sims since Aces of the Pacific and Aces Over Europe. I skipped a bunch of years (missing European Air War and Aces High) and then picked up the P-51 in the IL-2: Forgotten Battles Ace Expansion Pack.
In every sim I’ve flown the Mustang in, I’ve found it a great aircraft to fly but difficult to fight in without getting to know it first. In most sims it seems to have a difficult snap stall that makes it a bit difficult to turn taking a disciplined virtual pilot to get the most out of it.
Funny enough, reading through the message boards and forums for sims like Aces High also told a similar tale. A fast and capable fighter but one with some difficult handling attributes and every time there were virtual pilots disappointed with the aircraft.
We’ve improved the level of detail for flight sim modeling but the comments continue. The DCS: P-51D continues the trend. Some virtual pilots have made lots of comments about how the aircraft snaps out of turns and is difficult to fly sometimes.
With at least three or four different flight sims that I know of all having the Mustang receiving similar comments, it makes me wonder. Is it the sims? Is it us? What gives? Where’s that legendary aircraft we’ve all heard about?
Cadillac of the skies?
So how does the Mustang, the supposed Cadillac of the skies, and the legendary aircraft that brought the Luftwaffe to its knees and saved the Allied bombing effort, end up being so much of a challenge to represent in a flight sim. The answer is probably complicated but let me make three points on this.
First, these aircraft didn’t fly themselves in WWII. They were flown by pilots of varying training levels. When the P-51B through D came on the scene in 1944, American, British and other Allied pilots were part of some of the best training programs and curriculum that were available. Well trained pilots with lots of hours on their assigned type leads to do better flying and better flyers can extract the best out of their aircraft. Were Mustangs flown by some of the best trained pilots of WWII? You bet they were!
Second, real pilots sitting in the seats of their aircraft are always going to have a better sense of what their aircraft is doing. Where a sim pilot might launch the aircraft into a snap stall and wonder what happened, a real pilot is going to feel it coming at least some of the time and that combined with things like stick forces and other effects are going to make it easier for a real pilot to know what’s going on with the aircraft. This matters even more when the aircraft can go from smooth flying to a snap stall in a blink of an eye.
Third, I think the Mustang is a difficult aircraft to simulate properly. Past sims really struggled getting the Mustang’s attributes right and sims like DCS World I think are the closest we’ve been to a real Mustang so far – but even then there are charges that it’s not right.
It may be fast but the Mustang is also heavy (when fully fueled) and it has a low drag wing profile that makes it fast but it also makes stalls worse. Those same exceptional aerodynamics allow the Mustang to get impressive speed performance. Consider that the P-51D and the Spitfire IX have roughly the same Merlin engine and yet the draggier Spitfire can only do about 408 mph while the Mustang can do 440 mph.
So what can we expect from 1CGS’ P-51?
I have high hopes that 1CGS have approached the P-51D with the attention to detail and level of care that they usually do. While IL-2 is not perfect in the flight model department and there are quirks in the model that the team should probably go over… I remain satisfied that aircraft in the series fly pretty close to the way they should most of the time.
I’m not a real pilot and I don’t have time in a Mustang so its really hard for me to say exactly if something is right or wrong. Most of the time its probably somewhere in the middle.
Interestingly, on the IL-2 forum there was a post about an experience that the IL-2 sim pilot had with someone who did have time on a Mustang and a Thunderbolt (and was also a Reno Race winner). I found a few of the comments interesting:
During the flight, he flew the P47, took off, did rolls, steep turns, climbs, landings without crashing it (I was impressed , other pilots friends crash quick or are dizzy after a few minutes).
His impressions, P47 performance is spot on, P47 was a dog at low altitude, rate of climb spot on, feel of flight fantastic and feels realistic up to the ballooning when deploying flaps for landing.II./JG77_motoadve on the IL-2 forums
He also had this interesting line to say:
He asked for a P 51 but , I told him was not released yet, talking about the P41 (sic) he told me it has a nasty stall that will become an inverted spin easily and can take up to 8,000ft to recover.II./JG77_motoadve on the IL-2 forums
The person they were talking to also said that they thought the P-47 should be more resistant to some types of battle damage so obviously the representation of the aircraft isn’t perfect.
It’s hard for me to judge as I have no personal experience but I find comments like these interesting and it makes me think that we have far more that is modeled correctly than is modeled incorrectly. If the P-47 is behaving pretty much the way it should then I have hopes that the P-51 will too.
At the end of the day this is just a flight sim that is an entertainment product so I think keeping that perspective is important. I go in with high hopes for a great simulation Mustang and one that I can fly and have some fun in over the coming months and years.
I find the Mustang in DCS to be lots of fun to fly and I really hope that this one will be as well.
Will it be perfect? Probably not. Will it be pretty good? I suspect it will be if past history is any indication. Will it live up to the legend? It seems unlikely and its on that point that I suggest that there isn’t much 1CGS (or Eagle Dynamics) can do to make their Mustangs any more appealing than make sure their data and their sources are as good as they can be.
We’ll find out soon enough!