For the last couple of weeks I’ve been flying the P-40B from Big Radials. This simulation of the famous Curtiss fighter is the first for this company but likely not the last as the developers there are aiming to specialize on warbirds and plan on bringing a good number of them to Flight Simulator. After some time spent with this aircraft I try and answer some important questions. How does it fly? Is it fun? Realistic? What kind of experience can you have? Let’s have a look!
Big Radials sent me a copy of the P-40B for Microsoft Flight Simulator for the purposes of writing this review. As is my policy, I always disclose when a company has sent me something for review. Big Radials has not asserted any editorial control over this review and all of my thoughts are my own.
A bit of history
The Curtiss P-40 started life in the late 1930’s. Curtiss’ Chief Engineer, Don Berlin, experimented with modifying the company’s P-36 fighter replacing the radial engine with a sleeker and more powerful Allison V-1710 V-12 in-line engine. The result created one of the classic and iconic American fighters of WWII. The P-40B represents one of the earliest examples of the fighter series when it was, arguably, at its purest and before a large number of wartime modifications were made.
Serving with over two dozen countries across nearly ever major theatre of war from the Pacific to eastern Europe and over North Africa, the P-40 was never regarded as being one of the best fighters of WWII. It was, however, one that was available in numbers while other designs came online and so has a reputation of holding the line buying valuable time for other types.
By all rights the P-40 equipped squadrons gave a good accounting for themselves in difficult circumstances. Later models of the P-40 found themselves serving in more auxiliary roles where air superiority had already been achieved such as in the South Pacific over New Guinea in 1944.
A total of 46 British Commonwealth pilots achieved ace status, mostly in North-Africa, with the aircraft and many American pilots did as well across multiple theatres. The 99th Fighter Squadron, the African-American unit known as the “Tuskegee Airmen” or “Red Tails,” flew the P-40 into action until early 1944 with the unit successfully scoring kills against formidable foes including one confirmed Fw190 kill.
The P-40 has a troubled reputation but its classic looks and robustness have earned it an endearing place in the hearts of many.
Flying Big Radial’s P-40B
After following the start-up procedure mentioned in the manual, I started up P-40B’s Allison V-1710 V-12 engine and taxied out for my first flight.
Ground handling, like nearly all tail draggers in Microsoft Flight Simulator, is fairly easy. A bit of brake and rudder seems to easily control the direction of travel. The aircraft tracks straight down taxiways with little fuss. Slam on the brakes, however, and you risk nosing over.
Once out onto the runway that confidence continues as long as the tail stays planted on the ground. It will, however, betray you with a false sense of security at the exact moment that the tail comes up off the ground. The nose will swing wildly if not controlled.
Having flown tail draggers in other sims including DCS and IL-2 which specialize on these types, this sudden change in behavior feels a little disjointed with seemingly one set of rules for when the tailwheel is on the ground and another set once it’s up. This is more of a Flight Simulator thing than anything Big Radials has done and I think that Big Radials have done a pretty good job given the current state of the sim with tail draggers. The type behaves better than Carenado’s WYMF-5 did when that aircraft launched (that was exceptionally weird and later patched). Also, you’d expect it to be a bit more challenging on takeoff given the 1000+ horsepower available in the P-40B!
For a successful takeoff with the P-40, I recommend careful management of the rudder to counter the left turn tendency plus some back pressure on the stick. Careful management will help keep the aircraft flying straight down the runway and into a successful takeoff.
The P-40 requires a lot of nose-up trim on takeoff followed by significant adjustments to bring the nose down as speed increases. Real world pilot notes on the P-40’s flying character suggest that a lot of trim changes are required as speed increases and this tracks true here too. Although three ticks of upward trim are recommended in the notes, I think a little extra may be needed.
Once in the air, the P-40B has plenty of character! Ailerons are, at most speeds, reasonably effective giving the P-40 a decent roll rate and aerobatic abilities that you’d expect for from a fighter. The elevators on the other hand feel heavy and sluggish. Maybe a bit too sluggish compared to the other representations of the P-40 that I’ve flown in other sims, but it does nonetheless capture the character of the fighter reasonably well.
I do feel like rudder coordination is necessary to get the most out of tight turns and other aerobatic maneuvers, but it is a bit more on nose steady and stable than I’ve seen elsewhere. That is also true for various stall conditions in which this P-40 seems to prefer to just drop its nose rather than experience a wing stall with precession into a spin the way that I’d expect. It does happen, it just feels more dampened than I think it should.
Big Radial’s philosophy, which is splashed all over their website and the manual, is #FlyTheDamnPlane and for the most part that all rings true here. The type has character and except on the very edges of the flight model, this aircraft has plenty of it. It’s great for cruising around historical sights and locations and for doing the occasional loop, roll, and aerobatic display. It’s not as zippy or responsive as the Spitfire IX that I flew with Flying Iron Simulations portrayal of that aircraft and that tracks exactly right as a comparison point between the two aircraft.
Let’s talk engines for a moment and here Big Radials has done some work to ensure that their engine modeling is on point. Run the Allison at maximum power for too long and it will fail. Treat it right and it will continue on until you run out of fuel.
I love this attention to detail. It’s something worth bearing in mind as you set out for your first flights in the P-40B. This isn’t an aircraft that you can just run the engine at maximum power at all times but instead one that needs careful management and management done within the limits of what is recommended for the engine.
Still, there’s enough leeway here that you won’t immediately kill the engine either and its only after several minutes of abuse that you start finding out that things are going wrong. That all feels good to me.
Visual detailing inside and out
Getting a warbird to look just right is a big part of the job and here I think Big Radial has done a really good job of it. The P-40 is such an iconic type and the P-40B with its early style cowling, protruding .50cal machine gun barrels on the nose, and the complex swinging undercarriage system that sticks out of the aircraft underneath even when retracted, is all on brilliant display.
The type comes with several skins including an early model P-40B representing something you’d find at Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941, a winter painted Russian P-40 you’d find over Saint Petersburg (then Leningrad) in 1942, as well as an RAAF desert scheme, and a Tuskegee Airmen scheme. They are all good choices and represent the multi-national heritage of the aircraft well.
Skin detailing is generally excellent. The small reflective details are great while I would like to see a little more dirt, oil and grime in a few choice places where the type typically leaked oil or experienced a bit of streaking due to carbon depositing from the engine. The Russian scheme P-40 is also a bit more pure white than you’d have found from the real ones which were often poorly painted over. It’s a minor niggle all things considered.
One unique feature that I’ve never seen anywhere else is the modeling of panels that don’t quite 100% fit. You can see them in a few places and it’s a deliberate show of how some of these warbirds didn’t quite fit together after being banged up in the field. I’m not sure if it’s accurate or a little overdone but I appreciate the attention to detail regardless and I like the nod to these not being perfect aircraft.
Inside the cockpit, the attention to detail continues. Here there’s plenty of texture work to show off some of the chipped paint and well-worn areas. All of the switches, trim dials, wheels, and other buttons that I’ve pressed all work and are well animated. The cockpit lighting looks great too!
I have noticed a few minor glitches. Like many MSFS aircraft, there are some flickering textures on a few of the glass instruments as well as on the cockpit canopy when viewed from the outside. I’ve also noted that the pilot model on the Tuskegee tribute livery appears to be missing. Minor issues at best.
Sounds like it should
An area that I’ve neglected in past reviews is sound but I will not do so here as Big Radials has done a great job of getting the sounds of the P-40 right. From the starter, to the purr of the Allison inline engine to the sound of the landing gear coming up and down through its protracted sequence, I think they have got the sound right and it all helps remind you of the warbird status of the P-40B. It’s just a little more raw and unconstrained than modern turboprop engines and I do love that feeling.
It’s worth mentioning that little things like opening and closing the canopy modifies the sounds greatly.
I did notice a few sounds, such as the energizer, that have a notable loop to them. It’s a bit jarring but that issue is is largely the exception than the rule as nearly all other sounds are great.
It can be a tough thing to balance, trying to find the right mix, but in this case I think Big Radials has made the nearly all of the right moves to get the audio lined up nicely with their goal of making warbirds come to life in Microsoft Flight Simulator.
A good manual too
The included operations manual has all kinds of useful diagrams and information panels so that you know what each instrument does and how you can make use of it. Procedures are laid out plainly and clearly and so are the engine operating limits.
Notably, the design philosophy of this aircraft, the #FlyTheDamnPlane applies here too and so the guides are setup to give you the basics of what you need to know to go flying and have some fun in the sim first and then they back that up with depth when you need it.
The documentation reads well and I like the touch of attitude that provides encouragement to just go and try to fly the plane first. Sometimes we all need that and even as a veteran of warbirds in flight sims, these aircraft can offer an intimidation factor that you may not get if most of your sim experience is in a Cessna 152 or 172. Just fly it anyways and make ample use of the manual when you need to.
These pieces of hardware are available for purchase from AuthentiKit but they are also available with free 3D printing plans that will let you build your own if you have the gear and expertise to do so. A nice bonus!
Bush plane adventure
The ‘Northwest Staging Route’ bushplane adventure is also included with the Big Radials P-40. This mission see’s you fly a route through the Canadian Rockies and up into Alaska as part of the multi-step route that P-40 pilots would have flown to deliver P-40’s to the Soviet Union as part of the Lend Lease Program of WWII.
This is a fun recreation of that route and a really nice bonus that lets you trace history.
Final thoughts and conclusion
Big Radials’ P-40B is the first aircraft that the group has made for Microsoft Flight Simulator and I have to say that I’m impressed. This is a quality product that not only gets a lot of technical details correct but also gets the overall feeling of flying a warbird right. The little inconsistencies of these types, the character of the flying, and the design philosophy that gets you going and enjoying the aircraft are all on hand here. Simply put, Big Radials P-40B has style and substance.
There are a few issues as I mentioned above and they are mostly to do with the tail wheel modeling which is more of a Flight Simulator issue as well as having too gentle of a stall in my estimation. The P-40’s stall was also notorious in my reading and I don’t feel like that experience is fully realized here. At least, not yet.
My early days in flight simulation saw me taking to the skies in the likes of historic warbirds in sims like Aces of the Pacific and Aces Over Europe. These days, IL-2 and DCS World fill a lot of my warbird needs and I have questioned more than a few times what the point of flying a warbird in something like Microsoft Flight Simulator would bring to the table.
Over time I’ve found that to be centered around the joy of flying these historic recreations and letting them stretch their legs over just about any place on the planet. You want those experiences to be entertaining and enjoyable and I think Big Radials has captured that in all of the flights that I’ve taken in this aircraft so far.
For most people, the joys of flying these aircraft override most other considerations and for that reason I can easily recommend Big Radials P-40B as one that you should put on your list.