The first of the warbirds are arriving in Microsoft Flight Simulator and Flying Iron Simulations’ Spitfire IX is the first payware warbird to be released for the sim. Being first doesn’t always mean being the best, but from outside appearances it looks like Flying Iron Simulations have put their prior warbird expertise in other simulations into this legendary aircraft for MSFS. What is this Spitfire like, how does it compare to other Spitfire’s out there in other sims and what can you do with it in MSFS? Let’s have a look in my detailed review!
A bit of history
Flying Iron Simulation’s Spitfire LF.IXc is a Merlin 66 powered late model Mark IX with a broad chord rudder. This was one of the later versions of the Spitfire IX to roll off the production line and was typical of a Spitfire in the middle and late parts of 1944. The broad chord rudder is one of the most notable differences from earlier versions of the IX and was implemented to help solve some lateral stability issues.
Designed in the mid 1930’s, the Spitfire conducted it’s first flight on March 5th, 1936 – just over 85 years ago! The Spitfire was intended from the outset to be a next generation of fast and capable interceptor fighter replacing the bi-planes of the 1920’s and 30’s and capable of defending Great Britain from bomber attack. With the spectre of war looming, it’s appearance and success once war broke out was extremely timely and it quickly became a symbol of resistance for the British Empire during the darkest days of the war.
The early Spitfire models fought in the Battle of Britain during the summer of 1940 and continued the fight through the channel war period of 1941 through 1944. In 1942, the Spitfire was challenged by the appearance of the Focke-Wulf Fw190 which appeared to have performance supremacy over the Mark V in use at the time. The Spitfire IX was the answer to the threat and was intended at first as a stop-gap measure by taking the in-production Mark V airframe and adding the Merlin 60 engine to it. The result was more speed and more altitude performance at levels the challenged the new Focke-Wulf fighter.
A Fw190 was captured around the time that the Spitfire IX began to enter service and was tested extensively. That development allowed the team at Rolls Royce to tailor a new Merlin engine variant, the Merlin 66, to enable the Spitfire IX to be faster at all altitudes. The tuning of the engine lead to the aircraft performing faster at a slightly lower critical altitude (albeit only by a couple thousand feet) and that lead to the F.IX designation for the Merlin 61 and 63 engine versions and LF.IX for the Merlin 66 powered version.
The Spitfire IX was the most produced version of the Spitfire and is in many ways the definitive variant of the fighter. It makes a lot of sense that Flying Iron Simulations chose to simulate this version.
The Spitfire is a dream in the air
For this section I’m going to use a lot of comparisons with other Spitfire IX’s in other simulations. For the basis of my comparison, I’ll be using the IL-2: Great Battles Spitfire LF.IXe fitted with a Merlin 66, E-type wing, broad chord rudder as well as the DCS World Spitfire LF.IXc with narrow chord rudder. NOTE: The following impressions were made with Update 1.0.1 from Flying Iron Simulations installed.
Ground handling of Flying Iron Simulation’s Spitfire IX is the easiest of the three in this comparison. I think this is more to do with Microsoft Flight Simulator and its ground handling model than anything else but it is worth noting. The tailwheel here is not free castering as it should be but instead appears to be connected and controlled by the rudder. That seems to help keep the aircraft well behaved and tracking straight during taxi which is somewhat unlike the other two Spitfire IX’s which are both difficult to taxi and require a lot of careful rudder dancing to keep straight. However, compared to everything else that I’ve experienced in MSFS to date, this is still one of the hardest to taxi successfully and taxi accidents as still quite possible if not carefully managed.
Takeoff run, with trim set, is more similar than different across all three Spitfires. Once the tail rises you really feel the P-factor kick in and people unfamiliar with warbird flying are going to struggle here until they learn to anticipate the kick. Careful rudder work is required to keep the Spitfire straight and my first takeoff was about as ugly here as it was with my first takeoff runs with the other two. I feel like I might have needed more nose up trim here than in the other two to get things going but that also seems to be common in MSFS.
Once cleaned up from takeoff, I can say almost immediately that this aircraft feels very familiar. It’s a type that I feel very much at home with in other sims and I had the same feeling here too.
With many hundreds of hours on the IL-2: Great Battles Series Spitfire IX in pitched multiplayer and single player battles and at least several more hours on the DCS: Spitfire IX, I can say that all three feel about the same while cruising along and while using the controls in cruise. The Spitfire is noted for being light on the elevator and heavier on the ailerons and you can feel that here. This Spitfire does have an interesting delay when rolling rapidly left and then right (or vice versa) that the other two do not.
Pulling the Spitfire into a tight turn also feels good here. A carefully modulated pull on the stick will initiate a tight turn that will deepen quickly as the speed drops off. Keep it going and the aircraft tends to wash out as the tips of the wings begin to stall. Pull too hard and the Spitfire will flop awkwardly into the turn very similarly to the DCS version. The IL-2 version will stall a bit more easily in this extreme scenario before recovering quickly while the other two will hold on longer and take a bit more time to ultimately recover.
My only real complaint here is with the rudder. As in most MSFS aircraft, it feels awkwardly on centre at all times. Hard over on the rudder and you get a bit of a roll but the aircraft feels relatively stable in flight. The nose also snaps back to centre without much fanfare. The IL-2 Spitfire more naturally returns to centre with a bit of yaw oscillation left and right while the DCS version has the most roll from hard rudder use and takes the longest to return to centre.
Landing here generally feels very good too. The Spitfire in all sims remains controllable down to near stall speeds and my almost instinctual nose up trim use came in use here as the speed bled off. There’s also an immediate nose down movement when the landing flaps are deployed and the experience felt the most like the DCS Spitfire IX. Touchdown feels like the other two Spitfire’s and is generally predictable unless too much power is applied.
Roll out after landing is very similar to taxiing with this being the easiest of the three as this Spitfire seems to keep tracking relatively straight down the runway. The only real danger here is over applying the brakes which can cause the Spitfire to nose over or if you overdo the rudder which can cause a tip over and wing scrape and an end to the flight.
Flying Iron Simulations has also included a clipped wing version. This behaves just as it does in the other sims with a quicker roll rate, slightly reduced turn and slightly worse stall character than the standard elliptical version.
Managing the systems
The system modeling here isn’t all that complex because the Spitfire isn’t that complex of an aircraft. There’s no glass cockpit, no GPS, no sophisticated waypoint or navigational systems here. The Spitfire is firmly a stick and rudder aircraft. What you look for in a warbird like this is the engine and cooling systems and here I have mixed thoughts.
First, the modeling on the whole is quite good for basic normal operation. Increase throttle and pitch and the booth pressure and RPM climb predictably and similarly to the other Spitfire’s that I know well. All of the usual power settings for the Spitfire apply here and a nice cruise at 4-7lbs of boost at 2500 rpm provides more than enough power to enjoy the aircraft.
I however, didn’t see the boost pressure fall off as the altitude changes or as the second stage supercharger comes on. Flicking the switch on the auto to F.S. lower gear option also doesn’t seem to do anything although the light does come on when you’re at the critical altitude for the second stage.
MSFS hasn’t had all that much in the way of failure modeling from other aircraft. Here I know from experience that both IL-2 and DCS Spitfire versions have failures baked in and if you push the engine too hard for too long it will cut out. Here I ran at max boost and RPM for at least a half an hour with no ill effects. Temperatures rose and then remained stable – even in a prolonged climb. So, you can certainly fly by the recommended numbers here but if you push things to the max there doesn’t seem to be any ill effects. At least right now.
Visual detailing inside and out
Let’s start by looking at the visual details of this aircraft. Flying Iron Simulations have touted that they used detailed CAD (Computer Assisted Design) files to build their model of the Spitfire and it appears to have paid off as this looks as real as any simulated Spitfire I’ve seen in any simulation.
The cockpit is well done with detailed textures throughout. The layout, having flown the Spitfire Mark IX in a number of different simulations, is immediately familiar and I see nothing out of place on this version. The look is right, the feel is right, instruments are crisp and easy to ready and the texture detailing is generally well done wherever I looked. There’s a few minor details here and there such as the weathering on some surfaces that might be better on other Spitfire IX models I’ve seen but that is nitpicking. Nearly everything inside the cockpit is clickable and animations for things like the wobble pump, the landing flap indicator, the door and sliding canopy are smooth and accurate.
Going to the exterior, this is once again an extremely well done exterior with my compliments to the model team. Everything from the shape of the canopy to the fairings on the wings for the type’s Hispano cannons are well modeled and the PBR reflections on this aircraft are also extremely good. There’s a couple of clear aluminum liveries which are very reflective while the traditional European camouflage versions are more matte in their appearance.
Speaking of liveries, there are seven that come with the aircraft including a couple of traditional options as well as a version inspired by the silver (G-IRTY) Spitfire that did a world tour in 2019. There’s also an Israeli Spitfire IX livery which saw service in that air force from 1948 to 1956.
The only glitches I spotted was some flickering on the canopy glass. It looks like the same kind of glitch that we’ve seen with a few other third party models and I hope they are able to fix it soon as it’s the only really annoying piece of the visual experience.
Symphony of sounds
Flying Iron Simulations understands the need for good sounds and with an aircraft like the Spitfire where the sound is nearly as iconic as its visual, getting the sounds right is important. Fortunately, their Spitfire IX comes with authentic Spitfire sounds for everything from the engine starting to the movement of the control surfaces (heard when the engine is off). The engine has that familiar symphonic Merlin drone that is so distinctive of the type and it sounds nearly as good as the gold standard for Spitfires sounds on the DCS: Spitfire IX.
Engine startup sounds range from the subtle bobbing noise from the bobble pump to the startup and roar of the Merlin’s engine starter system in operation before it coughs to life. It’s a really good sound set. There are appropriate creaks and groans too when the aircraft is put their hard maneuvers.
A few bugs
There are some bugs that I ran into while flying this Spitfire around. There’s a couple of visual glitches starting with the rear canopy. From some angles, it will display a flashing or strobing visual artifact. We’ve seen this on a few other aircraft too and they were nearly always solved so I’m sure it can be resolved here too. Another visual artifact is the starboard nav light which is blue instead of green.
When spawning into a Spitfire that’s started and ready on the taxiway, you need to hit “Ready to fly” as quickly as you can. If you let the aircraft taxi on its own, it will flip forward on its nose and end your flight. The AI scripting here doesn’t seem to be able to handle the gentle braking required.
When spawning into the aircraft, it starts with the wings level and the tail then drops to the ground. It’s not a problem but it has a bit weird looking. Carenado’s WYMF-5 bi-plane is also tail dragger and doesn’t have this problem so I’m assuming that this is an oversight that can be corrected in a parameter somewhere.
This aircraft does have an interactive checklist. In-fact, it’s the first third party aircraft not from Asobo Studios that has one in my experience. That said, the checklist does have a few issues as the camera does not focus on the cockpit item that needs to be clicked when you press the “eye” icon. It also has a habit of pointing at the nose of the aircraft as well as flashing blue on the object that you need to click. That was confusing to start but I eventually got over it.
What can you do with this aircraft?
For some of you, this will not be a question but for others there’s quite a bit to try and understand here. Just what can you do with this aircraft? The reason this comes up here and not on a review of something like the PA-44 Seminole is because the Spitfire is ostensibly a combat aircraft that was intended to shoot down enemy aircraft. In other sims that I have, it can do exactly that with the full arsenal of guns, bombs (and occasionally rockets) that the Spitfire Mark IX was equipped with. Here it can’t. It isn’t that kind of simulator.
You can still do some fun things with it. One flight I flew started and ended at RAF Coningsby, home of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. I did a short cross country flight from over to London and toured the city in a Spitfire. An essential experience if you pick this aircraft up! Another time I flew along the coast near Dover and took in the white cliffs. I flew the RAAF Spitfire down in New Zealand from famous WWII warbird mecca of Wanaka. Finally, I also flew from Ramat David Air Base over Haifa and around the northern tip of Israel to showcase that skin.
The benefit here is that you can take full advantage of the locations and scenery of Microsoft Flight Simulator and enjoy the power and performance of a late war Spitfire. And for some, that’s more than enough. Also, if you want to intercept airliners on the landing approach to an airport like Heathrow, you could…
A few glitches and concessions to Microsoft Flight Simulator’s weaker points aside, Flying Iron Simulations Spitfire IX is an excellent aircraft that offers yet another impressive Spitfire module to fly in a flight simulation.
Excellent visuals, strong sound effects, and a good flight model on the whole makes this an excellent aircraft to fly and a challenging warbird for sim pilots who may not be used to the quirks of handling that come from flying a high performance piston aircraft from the 1940’s. The aircraft is not flawless and has a few handling issues, a few visual glitches, and a few bugs but nothing that is critical. I expect these issues will be patched out soon and shouldn’t detract from an excellent Spitfire experience. Flying Iron Simulations have already released a patch since release and I’m sure remaining issues are well within this team’s grasp.
If you want to put the Spitfire into a combat situation, there are other sims and other Spitfire’s out there to enjoy. However, if you’re a civil aviation only person and you want to experience the quirks and the thrills of flying a warbird from any airport or airbase in the world, I can easily recommend this Spitfire to you as an aircraft that will accurately and authentically give you that experience in Microsoft Flight Simulator.