Why a simulated Mustang will never live up to the legend

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

A P-51 fights a FW190 near Normandy in IL-2: 1946.

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.

The P-51D in DCS World.

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?

A trio of American metal in IL-2: Battle of Bodenplatte. The Mustang will be released sometime this fall.

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?

The cockpit interior the new P-51D Mustang for IL-2: Battle of Bodenplatte.

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.

Final thoughts

A pair of Mustangs in Il-2: Battle of Bodenplatte. Coming soon!

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!

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26 Comments Add yours

  1. Ian says:

    “I was in charge of putting new pilots through a quick, intensive training program, and the final flight included a mock dogfight with the new pilot in a P51 and one of us flying the P40. I can tell you that until a pilot knows the strengths and weaknesses of both airplanes, the P40 can make the P51 look outclassed. Using all the P40’s strengths, an innovative pilot could outfly a P51 at low altitudes, until the P51 jockey finally realizes that there is something more to fighting in the air than simply having the best airplane”.
    WW2 pilot Barry Davis from “Mustang” by Geoffry Ethel.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      Exceptional quote!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. bigalrico says:

    A nice comment on this subject. I think in general people just have the expectation to get an
    ” super plane “.
    In addition to the points you have already mentioned, I would also like to point out that the aerial battles took place mainly in the role of the bomber escort at 7000 meters +. Especially at high altitudes the Mustang was better than the 109s and 190s.
    I for my part believe that 1C will be the FM after the best certain conversion. I also have read the post in the forum about the P-47 and was surprised how positive the feedback of the pilot was (not that Il-2 would have muddied but it is now already a difference to sit in the plane or play a Sim).
    I’m looking forward to the bird and I’m curious how it will do.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. [DBS]T}{OR says:

    In order for the plane to live up to its legend, one has to first understand the legend. 🙂

    Mustang was a great all around plane, and this is true – it does need a skilled hand behind the stick in order to perform well. Not only that but understanding of the tactics. One of the misconceptions I see posted in the comments here – the Mustang’s FM did not just shine at +7000m. It was very capable plane on mid to low altitudes as well. And unlike a Spitfire, you have the option of running away when the situation doesn’t suit you.

    TBH it is a similar story with Fw-190. That plane is seriously capable in experienced hands. Not so much for novice pilots unless they understand it strengths and weaknesses. It requires discipline and good aiming.

    Two things I’d like to add to this article:

    1) FM issues: the game has glaring issues with its flaps modeling, and also with engine overheating timers (i.e. simplified logic for how long one can use war emergency power, the timer being the cool down period before you can again use WEP). One of the most affected planes is P-47. With full flaps down in-game it can also out turn a Spitfire. Spitfire OTOH, with flaps down can fly sideways almost indefinitely and is nearly impossible to stall like that. This needs to be looked into and has been reported several times already.

    Engine timers I know are being looked into and should be replaced with a more complex logic / system in the future. However, I haven’t found anything on the flaps and their weird effect on FM, experienced pilots already use this exploit to some extent when they can.

    Your comment “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.” is spot on, because no matter how good this sim is – it is far from perfect.

    Last but not least, P-47 loses control surfaces at same or lower speeds than LW counterparts. Thus pilots can not fly it to one of its strengths – diving away or down at your opponents. This also needs fixing.

    2) The LW planes (Bf-109 K4 in particular) have been given a powerful engine upgrade that saw very little or minimal service in WWII. If they do the same for P-51D (150 octane fuel), then there shouldn’t be any problems.

    All of this are legitimate concerns of myself and few others, who are aware of the flaws with the P-47. Here is hoping that the September patch addresses those, in addition to new US planes.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      All excellent points Thor! Thanks for weighing in. I hope we’ll see a remake of your Mustang compilation video some day 🙂

      I didn’t want to ignore the FM issues that the IL-2 series does have. I hope they will be solved in due time. On the other hand, it seems that no matter how good the modeling is, I suspect that some will be disappointed with the legend of the Mustang versus the simulated version.

      It happens every time.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. [DBS]T}{OR says:

        Thanks!

        There will always be people not happy with certain aspects of FM, that applies to every simulated war bird in all flight sims to date. Perhaps with
        the Mustang, due to its fame and glory – these things are more pronounced than with other planes.

        I commented on FM issues with hope that they get solved in near future. After all, BOBP is still very much WIP and this game has huge potential for setting a new benchmark.

        I too hope for another compilation. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

    2. harryvoyager says:

      I’m also going to raise some of the same counter arguments I’ve raised in the past; the control surface losses occur at the roll reversal speed, i.e. the speeds no pilot at the time used lest they kill themselves.

      And with the actual pilot talking about the flap behavior being accurate in landing again points me towards to position that the flap lift under max power is, aside from the symmetric deployment, correct for the P-47. The asymmetry is what makes the flaps fatal to deploy in a dogfight, not their performance. Note the P-38 used the class of flaps and did use them in dog fights in the Pacific. They just didn’t have to apply full aileron during the deployment to keep the plane straight.

      If you want to fix that, push them to implement the flap asymmetry and aileron reversal, and knock it off trying to tune the lift profile into something it apparently never was.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. Eviscerador says:

      The mustang shines under 8.000 feet and above 15.000, but you have a ‘no performance’ strip in the middle were your supercharger is still at low blow but the air pressure is going down so your real max boost is less than 50.

      That is the altitude you should avoid like plague. Other than that, the Mustang will be able to hold its ground against any opponent.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Eviscerador says:

    As far as I know, eagle dynamics had a real mustang on their hands thanks to the Fighter Collection, and plenty of real life pilots feedback, so expect the DCS mustang to be spot on with performance and FM.

    Worst stuff for the mustang for a newbie is that it is very unforgiving and you need to be constantly trimming it to get its best. Once you learn to trim it your performance improves a lot.

    Also laminar wings and low drag means that even small changes in torque or trim can make pony go wild.

    The mustang strenghts were the ability to put a capable fighter everywhere in the ETO while also being simple to fly (transition fron the p40 or spitfire was easy) easy to build and easy to maintain.

    But to be honest they were always outnumbering the germans and their pilot training was spot on.

    The heavy lifting was done by the p38 and p40 against a properly trained pilots in Africa and Italy. Not to talk about the pacific…

    In fact, the p38 had almost the same ratio of losses than the mustang fighting against better enemies.

    The lightning suffered from complexity, bad pilot training, bad initial tactics and even then it delivered . In the ETO it was discarded soon but in the pacific any fighter wing would request more.

    I’d love to have a DCS Lightning…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      That’s the thing about the Mustang in DCS that is most interesting. ED has access to information and pilot experience like few others when it comes to the Mustang and that makes the aircraft that they put together a potential benchmark for how a Mustang should fly.

      And still there are many complaints about it. It’s tough for the legend to meet simulated reality.

      Like

      1. Eviscerador says:

        The main problem is that people expect the Mustang to just faceroll all oponents because of the “tales of wonder” about the Mustangs just annihilating the Luftwaffe.

        It just happens that technically the strenght of the mustang was not on its 1v1 capabilities, but on its low drag, finesse and range. Also high altitude performance where others just cannot keep the pace. But if you go under 15.000 feet and under 300 mph, then you are easy prey to german fighters with better power to weight ratio and heavier guns.

        In DCS combat servers nobody climbs up to 30.000 feet. Nothing to do there… so the kurfurst and the Spitfire reing supreme, with the Dora trying to zoom and boom enemy spitfires and the Mustang doing everything fine but not being excellent at anything (like it was on real life)

        In a 1v1 combat you should never engage if you don’t have speed advantage and even then, you have 2 or max 3 sweeps before the kurfurst or the dora catch you on speed and climb rate. You can out turn the Dora quite easily (if he is stupid enough to try) but the kurfurst will give you the time of your live and the better pilot will usually win.

        Also, most people forget to just drop half the gas on the mustang. 2 full loaded wing tanks is more than double what any other fighter in the game can take and you don’t need it.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. harryvoyager says:

      The other aspect is, as I understand it, laminar flow wings have some nasty and strange stall characteristics, simply because of what they are. If you track down a copy of Aeronautics for Naval Aviators and look at the curves, you’ll see just how weird laminar flow wings are.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Eviscerador says:

        Yep they had nasty stalls, mainly because any disruption of the laminar flow just cut the lift down a lot.

        The point of laminar wings is that they are designed to fly with full laminar flow and reduce at minimum the vortex and turbulence typical of previous wing sections, specifically around the envelope limits. That means way less drag and better speed and fuel efficiency.

        So when suddenly you have turbulent flow, the wing just stops working. If that happens in a turn, it will usually be an asymmetric stall with heavy induced roll and most likely a spin.

        That’s the reason the mustang needs fine trimming and good use of rudder when performing aerobatics. In other warbirds not using rudder means you turn less efficiently, but in the Pony it means you spin and will probably lose the fight.

        Liked by 3 people

    3. harryvoyager says:

      I’ll have to go through the handbook again, but as I understand it, they are also only laminar flow in specific speed ranges as well. Go to fast or to slow and the drag spikes far more than a conventional wing does.

      Apparently it wasn’t just countering turbulence, it was filling the low pressure area over the wing that formed at speeds, but that area changed shape with airspeed. I don’t remember if that was a compressability affect or not, just that it was weird.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Matt Katz says:

    I wonder how the P-38 will be as a low level dogfighter. I know the roll-rate was poor but I read somewhere that the elevator design was phenomenal for high-spead turns.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Eviscerador says:

      The low speed handling was superb due to hydraulic controls, flaps, two engines and no torque.

      The roll rate issue was solved when they give the ailerons hydraulic boosters as well.

      The lightning could just hard turn to any side with little performance loss and torque induced stall. No single engine fighter could do that.

      It also had best performance in altitude and best climb rate of all american fighters, with same range as the mustang.

      The main problem was the bad high altitude heating for the pilot, low temperature problems al altitude due to too efficient intercoolers and bad tactics.

      Those problems were non-existent in the pacific. Heating wasn’t needed, range was much appreciated and dual engines were very welcomed in the long distance patrol. Also pacific lightning pilots were specifically trained in them and developed great team tactics, while ETO ones were usually transferred from p40 and spitfire squadrons with a lot of ‘bad habits’ already set in.

      Did I say I love the lightning?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. ShamrockOneFive says:

        It sounds like you might be a fan 🙂

        Very excited to take the P-38 back out into flight sim combat. I think I spent more time flying the P-38 in IL-2: 1946 than I did the Mustang. Lots of versatility with the Lightning and of course it looks like no other aircraft.

        Like

    2. ShamrockOneFive says:

      It shall be interesting to see how the P-38 ends up flying in IL-2. There are some advantages that the J-25 version we’re getting has that earlier versions did not and that includes boosted ailerons – that should give the P-38 a decent roll rate at high speeds.

      Like

  6. Blue 5 says:

    I agree with what others’s said. It is not an ‘easy’ fighter in the classic sim sense: low-speed turn and climb not great, works better in pairs at higher speed and generally better the higher you go. It can be extremely effective, but less so as a singleton on the deck.

    Also, the ability to go a long way, cruising at high speed and loiter with advantage are not generally reflected in sim operations.

    No one flying it in BoBp is likely to face formations of mediocre 109 pilots, laden with extra weapons and fuel, trying to focus on bombers / other targets while having to watch their backs.

    But flown with some discipline, staying fast and keeping as a pair it should be highly effective.

    Like

  7. Matt Katz says:

    All planes being compromises, the late model P51’s were optimized for maximum range and top-speed at altitude, The job was to defend the bomber stream from Me-262’s and Dora’s, not for low-speed turn-fighting with 109’s on the deck. The USAF didn’t really have a great turn-and-burn dogfighter I can think of, unless this late version P38 we’re getting can do it.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Mischiew Rithe says:

    Well said.

    It must be hard to release any plane and please a public in which most people never flew, even less flew that particular airplane. People get a lot of pre-conceived ideas, even more for such a legendary and iconic war machine. And, sitting in a chair with no other feedback than the visuals and sounds, as you said, even if they flew the aircraft they wouldn’t be able to compare (except by the numbers).

    It reminds me of that Bf-109 argument on whether it is possible to taxi-steer with the rudder. IL-2 says yes, DCS says no, and I was unable to find any account from actual pilots on the matter.

    We have to enjoy what we’re given, judge wether it’s plausible or not, but we can only trust the developers for the general FM behaviour. Which is not always easy 😉

    I hope the sounds are right 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Francesco Kasta says:

    It is fairly obvious that the most popular aircraft is going to get the most attention and therefore receive the most complaints. And even if a simulator can never be as accurate as real life that does Not mean the FM is wrong.

    We also have to take into account that many players have very little knowledge about proper flying, they just lack the basics. I have read countless posts which indicate that many players still have absolutely No idea that the purpose of the rudder is to counter adverse-yaw. These people slam the rudder around like there is No tomorrow, yet they feel entitled to their own opinion like everybody else.

    What I am saying is that criticism should always be appreciated as long as it is constructive and as long as people making it know what the heck they are talking about.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      Absolutely. If there’s legitimate criticism then we should definitely be open to it. I suspect, however, that much will be about reconciling the legend from the aircraft – a much more nebulous thing IMHO.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Blue 5 says:

        As the expression goes: never meet your heroes, as you will always leave disappinted.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Francesco Kasta says:

        Great article and insight by the way, I never really paid much attention to it but from a developer’s perspective I guess this stuff does matter. They are trying to satisfy paying customers after all.

        The real problem, I suspect, remains the fact that many people have next to No idea what they are talking about when they complain to the devs. So it is essential to discern the criticism coming from the real experts from the rest. I am No expert that is why I tend to just shut up on these matters.

        Like

      3. Francesco Kasta says:

        It’s exactly like BLUE 5 put it though.

        That is why I always try to keep my expectations moderately low: it’s hard to leave disappointed this way.

        Like

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