The Douglas A-4 Skyhawk is a lightweight, single engine attack
aircraft. The Skyhawk was designed by Ed Heinemann in response
U.S. Navy call for a jet-powered attack aircraft to replace the
Douglas built 2,960 Skyhawks between 1954 and 1979. Built small to be cost effective and so that more could be accommodated on an aircraft carrier, the lightweight, high-speed bombers were affectionately nicknamed "Heinemann's Hot Rod" (after Douglas designer Ed Heinemann). It was also nicknamed the Bantam Bomber, Mighty Mite and Scooter.
Skyhawks provided the U.S. Navy, Marines and friendly nations, with manoeuvrable yet powerful attack bombers that had great altitude and range capabilities, plus an unusual flexibility in armament capacity. There is a paint scheme of VA-164, A-4E, "Lady Jessie" named after Mrs. Jessie Beck and to accompany it, there is a very interesting story which can be read here: http://a4skyhawk.org/3e/va164/va164.htm
● Crew: 1
● Length: 40 ft 3 in (12.22 m)
● Wingspan: 26 ft 6 in (8.38 m)
● Height: 15 ft (4.57 m)
● Wing area: 259 ft² (24.15 m²)
● Max takeoff weight: 24,500 lb (11,136 kg)
● Power plant: 1× Pratt & Whitney J52-P8A turbojet, 9,300 lbf (10,000+ USMC A-4M and OA-4M) (41 kN)
● Maximum speed: 585 kn (673 mph, 1,077 km/h)
● Range: 1,700 nmi (2,000 mi, 3,220 km)
● Service ceiling: 42,250 ft (12,880 m)
● Rate of climb: 8,440 ft/min (43 m/s)
● g-limit: -3/+8 g
Installation was very straight forward and took only several minutes to complete. The installation procedure will vary slightly depending on where you purchased the Virtavia A-4 Skyhawk. The install package installs twenty- two different texture sets and load outs.
The documentation is extremely detailed in areas such as the Navigation Radar. However, I felt that a little more detail on the subject of carrier landings and more guidance for those with less knowledge about how to use aircraft navigation systems (possibly more of a step by step guide) would have been very helpful. I do not want to subtract from the importance of the information in the manual on the navigation equipment fitted into this aircraft because the A-4 was not fitted with today's modern navigation aids, so stepping back in time and using basic equipment is not always easy.
The cockpit modelling and textures are absolutely first class. I believe that the quality of this cockpit that Virtavia have achieved, has taken them a huge step forward. They have modelled a very accurate and realistic looking cockpit with textures that could compete with anything that any other FSX software developer could produce.
The instrumentation is smooth and the cockpit sounds are excellent. The level of detail of the Skyhawk's systems equipment, displayed in the cockpit, is first-rate. The APG-53A Radar is modelled and represented in great detail. The cockpit is extremely authentic and the layout has not been compromised. If the system could not be replicated due to FSX restrictions, the instruments are there, but do not fully function and they are few and far between.
Two small criticisms are that the generic FSX cockpit tool bar is shown on the lower left side of the cockpit. I think that this should be optional and that there should be an option to remove it. If you look over your shoulder and lean to the side, the air-intake is just visible and the modelling is not quite to the same standards that Virtavia have achieved with the rest of the aircraft.
The exterior modelling is superb, but once again just that little bit of untidiness is visible on the air-intake. However, it is not really noticeable from the exterior view.
It is a gorgeous looking aircraft which is built small, but it has that refined look of speed about it. I felt that it looked a little too perfect. I spent a lot of time looking at it in different lighting conditions and different angles, and I could not quite achieve that wow factor, but really struggled to see why. I am not sure if it came down to the panel lines looking slightly over done, the textures or just the fact it is too perfect. It did not seem to have that total look of realism about it.
There are a good selection of paint schemes included and they have tried to replicate the paint finish. The US Navy texture is quite flat yet the Australian and Blue Angels textures were quite metallic. It is nice to see that sort of attention to detail. The night lighting looked really impressive with the lights perfectly reflecting off the aircraft.
The carrier launch system is modelled, working and looks great. There is some nice work on the undercarriage, including the pipe work inside the wheel wells.
The Skyhawk’s systems have been replicated extremely well, but it is a very naive system compared to today's technology. The APG-53A radar gives several functions, including terrain clearance mode (TC MODE) which shows the height above ground by using lines that move closer together as you get closer to the ground. The air to ground mode (A\G MODE) is a basic system of assisting the pilot to the target by the use of a moving parallel line on the radar screen. Search mode (SRCH MODE) gives a very basic terrain image and there is a setting to display airports if required.
Terrain Clearance Mode
Air to Ground Mode
The Artificial Horizon played a major part in the navigation system of the Skyhawk, as with many aircraft of the Skyhawk’s day. The Artificial Horizon was one of the main visual interfaces with the aircraft navigation systems and the pilot, and once again this has been replicated graphically Terrain Clearance Mode and operationally extremely well.
Most of the systems are replicated and are fully functional. The ILS glideslope and LOC indicators are located on the artificial horizon. The autopilot has altitude hold, but will only hold your present altitude and not follow a set altitude. There is a heading mode that the aircraft will follow and you can set the speed by using the knob on the airspeed indicator.
One thing I did find, is that flying the A-4 Skyhawk took some adjusting to. After flying aircraft with modern systems, I initially found it difficult to get to grips with the fact that the systems of that era needed so much human intervention; that they were there more to assist than to actually fly Air to Ground Mode the aircraft for you. I think this highlighted what a good job Virtavia have done of replicating the Skyhawk’s systems.
The sound package with this aircraft is excellent. The sounds are clear, rich and very realistic, and I would say probably one of the best I have heard from a package like this. The switch sounds really do make it feel that you are operating a switch.
The external sounds are of a high quality that sounds more than convincing. The brake sounds are unique and sound like something I have never heard before. However, I am sure that Virtavia have done their home work on this and have produced a realistic sounding brake system.
I experienced one problem, the shut down procedure seemed to never end; it just kept going and never actually shut down. I tried it with several different sound cards and a reinstall, but the problem still existed. I think that even with this problem, the sound package is amazing.
This is an aircraft that has to be flown with respect and I think that Virtavia have captured it’s characteristics well. The glide ability seems quite accurate and it flies by the book. The feeling in the cockpit almost felt sterile, but after doing some research I think this statement from a pilot summoned it up well, “You feel almost like that you are sitting in a motionless cockpit with the world revolving around you." He was referring to the fact there was a lack of vibration and noise when in the cockpit. When on the ground it can turn on a sixpence and, if you accelerate too hard, you risk the aircraft going over on one side, The long undercarriage legs can make it quite unstable if manoeuvring too quickly.
This is not a criticism but more of a preference; that it would have been nice to have something like a feeling of de-acceleration and acceleration that signified you had deployed the speed brake aside from a warning light and a dramatic drop in speed.
I have left the carrier operation capabilities until this stage of the review. This aircraft captures the feeling of anxiety that I am sure would be experienced landing and taking off from an aircraft carrier, Virtavia seemed to have captured it well. However, I would have liked to see a little more information regarding carrier landings in the documentation.
I have included some screenshots, firstly to show that yes, I achieved it and secondly to show some excellent graphics, these include the hook up on the Skyhawk for the carrier launch and screenshots include Javier Fernandez’s fantastic carrier mod which is available as freeware.
When hooking up the Skyhawk for launching, the front wheel needs to be quite a way in front of the catapult hook up point. Press Ctrl-I and it hooks up showing the bridal system attached.
I think Virtavia have produced a really nice and very realistic aircraft. The cockpit is a dream and the systems have been replicated in great detail. The systems detail that they achieved is a credit to them. The sounds are as good as you can get.
There are some minor points which do not really affect the challenge of flying this aircraft realistically. The slight issue with the engine sound on shut down was something I could not resolve, but to be too critical would be harsh because the rest of the sound package is first-class. I think the untidy finish to the air-intake and generic FSX tool bar in the cockpit do not distract from the overall finish to the cockpit. The exterior finish is good but for me, just lacked that realistic finish. Once again, I am not quite sure why.
The overall product has been replicated and finished well. I feel that any negative points I have raised are minor when you compare it to the overall package. The sound package matches or is better than anything out there, combined with a superbly finished cockpit and extremely well replicated system. I did not see any frame rate impact at all. If you enjoy aircraft of this era then it's a must have. However I think that a slightly lower price would make it more attractive to many more flight sim enthusiasts.
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Final Mutley's Hangar Score 9/10
Review machine Spec: Intel i7 3.4Ghz | 16Gb DDR3 Ram |Nvidia 670 4gb |Windows 7 64bit