For FSX and FS2004 Published by First Class Simulations
Reviewed by David (“ddavid”) Williams
April 2010

Now, this is one aircraft that shouldn't need any introduction! Beginning life almost as a back of the envelope development, the Lancaster was conceived out of the poor performance of the Rolls Royce Vulture engines in the Avro Manchester. The prototype Lanc, as she was to become known, was basically the Manchester airframe with 4 x Merlins and an extended wingspan. After testing at A&AEE, Boscombe Down, the concept was rapidly proven and the Lancaster was put into production in early 1941. By the end of WWII, more than 7000 Lancasters had been built, both in the U.K. and Canada, and she had become the iconic heavy bomber that we know and love.

My own affair with her started on a rainy evening in Leicester Square - my folks had taken me to the pictures to see The Dam Busters film, starring Richard Todd and Michael Redgrave, and I came away with my ears ringing to that famous tune and the immortal line "That was bl**dy dangerous!", spoken by the bomb-aimer after a particularly low pass through the Derbyshire Dales. So, this was one review I was itching to get on with.......

The FCS Lancaster comes as a single CD-Rom which will install into either FSX and/or FS2004. With me, the installation process went extremely smoothly and took less than 10 minutes. Firing up FSX, I found 10 new aircraft in my virtual hangar - these were from a selection of RAF Squadrons, including 617, just as listed on the box. Upkeep and Grand Slam variants, together with the standard Merlin engined Mk I and Mk III. Good start, I thought. In addition, I found 2 new FSX Missions for the Lanc - an introductory Tutorial and a Mission based on a Food Relief operation. The installation also included several manuals, in 'pdf' format. More about these later.

Initial Impressions
There's nothing quite like a first date is there? Well, throwing caution to the wind, I chose one of the Mk III's and placed her on the active at, well, where else but RAF Scampton, home of the Dam Busters. I found myself in the pilot's seat with the 4 Packard Merlins humming sweetly. With anticipation, I changed to the external view, to start a 'walk round'. Now, FCS have done a fine job - the exterior model and textures are very good. From the intricate construction of the under-carriage to .303's in the 3 turrets, a close inspection revealed great attention to detail. The camouflage textures are realistic and appropriately drab - just as they should be - including some nice touches like the individualised decals painted on by the air-crews. The transparent cockpit and gun blisters give an excellent 3-D 'feel' to the model. But, like you, I was getting impatient - I had to get this beauty into the air.

First Flight
Back to the 2-D panel for take-off, I set flaps to 25% (1 notch) and increased the throttle on my trusty CH yoke. With the sound of the turbo-charged Merlins roaring in my ears, she slowly started to roll. Keeping to the centre-line was straightforward and, at around 90 KIAS the tail lifted, with rotation at around 110 KIAS. Climbing gently, with positive rate of climb, the gear came up with a couple of satisfying clunks and we were off. Trying a gentle turn to port at about 500' AGL and 150 KIAS was a revelation. In my excitement, I'd forgotten that the Lanc could be a bit ponderous in flight, especially when fully loaded, and the FCS model was just that! After over-correcting a little, we were soon on the down-wind leg with the objective of landing back at EGXP. Taking a bit more care this time, the base turn resulted in a reasonable line up for runway 05, so, with full flaps and the gear down, we made our final approach. Keeping the speed around 135 KIAS, the Lanc touched down, only a little ways after the numbers, with just a bit of a bump. Not wanting to bury the nose - a habitual failing of mine with tail-draggers - the brakes were applied with some trepidation after the tail wheel was down, and the speed bled off to allow for taxiing off the runway. Phew! Well, that was great - she might be ponderous, but she was predictable - a feature that must have been invaluable to those weary crews returning from night op's during the war.

Bombs and Animations
As you'd expect for the mainstay of Bomber Command during WWII, each of the 8 FCS standard Lancasters, with the exception of the Rescue and Reconnaissance variants, comes with a full complement of bombs - a single 4000 lb HC Mark II 'Cookie' and 8 x 500 lb MC's - all held neatly in the bomb bay. Two other 'special' Lancs have their own payload - 617's 1943 Provisioning Mk III with its Upkeep and, 2 years later, the reconfigured Mk I with Grand Slam.

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Although the bomb bay doors open a little too quickly IMHO, the internal details are excellent. Other animations like flaps, landing gear, rudders and rear wheel, are fine, but I would have liked to have seen the main crew door opening - and some form of bomb release animation would have added the final touch.

Panels and Interior
The 2-D Panel presents the main instruments very well and gives a clear view ahead. There's an optional set of Pop-up Control Icons at the RHS of the screen that gives access to several additional inset Control Panels including the Throttle Quadrant, the Engineer's Panel and Radio. Whilst not all of the instruments on these panels are live, there is adequate access to control functions like Fuel Pumps, Radio Frequencies, etc. One thing I did notice, however, apart from the Attitude Indicator, none of the other instruments on the main 2-D Panel have that nice pop-up 'box-out display' giving the instrument name and current value & units.

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On to the 3-D Panel or Virtual Cockpit (VC). This is great for flying - especially when you raise the viewpoint a little to give a better view over the nose. From the Pilot's seat, the interior model of the FCS Lancaster is excellent - all the dials, switches and handles are where you'd expect them to be, and most can be operated by the Mouse. Panning from left to right, you get a brilliant view of the countryside over the engines and wings. Looking down, and a little to the left, you'll spot the lever for opening the Bomb Bay Doors. You can be adventurous, and move the viewpoint around the interior of the Lanc, but be advised - the level of detail away from the cockpit is not so good. In fact, you'll be glad you're not the Bomb Aimer, as there's no Perspex in the nose! Obviously an omission that will be rectified by FCS sometime in the future.

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Three 'pdf format' Manuals are included on the CD-ROM:

  1. Installation - this gives a detailed guide to installing the FCS Lancaster into either FS2004 and FSX, a brief description of the Missions (FSX) together with how to get help from FCS, either via their website or direct, should you encounter any problems

  2. History - a well researched description of the Lanc's history, the aircraft's development at A.V.Roe, the many variations, together with their specific use, including the raids against the Ruhr dams and the Tirpitz. Further roles played by the Lancaster during WWII and after are also highlighted

  3. Tutorial - this provides FS2004 users the opportunity to carry out one of the FSX Missions included in the installation. The manual prepares the user for a 'tutorial' flight from Manchester's Ringway Airport, replicating the first test flights of the prototype Lancasters after they were produced by A.V.Roe at Newton Heath, nearby. Full pre-flight and start-up instructions are followed by a detailed description of take-off and landing, after a short flight.

FSX Missions
The 2 Missions provided by FCS include a First Flight Tutorial (see the Manual description above) and a Relief Supply Practice Mission, where your objective is to drop food packages onto a specified target area. Now, those of you who have tried the Missions as supplied by Microsoft, may find these FCS Missions a little basic. Let's be honest, developing Missions for FSX isn't straightforward, and FCS promise to make further Missions available by download from their website sometime in the future.

Before leaving you with my final thoughts on the FCS, I've to confess that this is the first proper review I've carried out. I've enjoyed the opportunity immensely and must thank First Class Simulations for providing me with the CD-ROM package to review. That said, I want to give you my honest views - so here goes:

  1. The FCS Lanc flies realistically and is a treat to fly. As such, I can really recommend it as an add-on for FSX;

  2. Exterior modelling is excellent and the 10 different models and textures cover the range of Lancaster variants quite adequately. I would have liked to have seen a Mk II, with the Hercules engines, but maybe FCS have that up their sleeve for the future;

  3. The 2-D Panel is fine and the VC at the pilot's viewpoint is good. However, I thought that a bit more interior detail could have been included - particularly for the Bomb Aimer;

  4. Sound was excellent - but I found the animations lacking. O.K., the standard animations are good, but the main purpose of the Lanc was to release bombs and this really should have been animated. Also, there's the question of the main exit not opening;

  5. I can't be enthusiastic about the 2 Missions included - I do hope this can be rectified by future download options, as this is a feature of FSX that is becoming increasingly attractive;

  6. Lastly, although the 3 Manuals were well presented, several details were missing, like how to find the lever to open the Bomb Bay Doors (which I had to go on the web to find out). Maybe FCS could augment their website with a Support Forum?

Scoring is not an easy task but, taking into account the price tag of £24.99, I’ll give the FCS Lancaster only 6 out of a possible 10. I think that, at that price, the standard of interior modelling, animations and documentation, should have been higher. And, quite honestly, I would have omitted the missions altogether.
But, as I derived so much enjoyment from flying her, I can forgive the Lanc - and, I guess, FCS - for these shortcomings! So, if flying a Lanc is your aim, you are in good hands with this offering from First Class Simulations. 

Mutley's Hangar score of 6/10

/David Williams

System Requirements
  • Flight Simulator X (Acceleration or SP2 required) or FS2004
  • Windows XP / Vista / Windows7 with the latest Service Packs
  • Pentium 2 GHz (Duo2Core Intel or equivalent advised)
  • 1 Gb RAM (2 Gb recommended)
  • 256Mb graphic card (512 MB recommended)
  • 224Mb Download size - available from FCS
  • 1Gb hard drive space