Update (May 5th) – Big Radials has released the first patch for the P-40B, fixing some of the minor issues we reported. We also added information about an industry-first with this product: STL files are included so you can 3D print your own flight control replicas!
Flight Simulator is living some kind of golden age with warbirds. While many simmers continue to complain about the lack of in-depth airliners (the A32NX being the only exception), and amidst continuous talk about the SDK lacking certain things that prevent developers from fully realizing their goals, we see, on the other hand, developers of simple, smaller airplanes, come up with really impressive projects. Is MSFS a small-aircraft heaven? At this point in time, it sure looks like it!
There’s now a growing number of very good general aviation airplanes (the Just Flight PA-28R Arrow III being the prime example of that), but there’s another category of airplanes that is surely starting to become a good example of what MSFS developers are capable of doing: vintage warbirds. Two releases so far deserve to be mentioned for their excellent quality: the FlyingIron Spitfire and the Milviz Corsair, two beautiful airplanes that set the bar not only in the realism of each individual simulation but also on the visual fidelity of each aircraft. Beautifully crafted, full of character airplanes, just as you’d want from old machines that have been on some of the most important events of our recent history. And there are more in the pipeline, like the elusive Spitfire from Aeroplane Heaven, a team that is also working on a P-51 Mustang… eventually!
There’s now a third entry into this list of excellent warbirds for MSFS: the recently released P-40B Tomahawk, from Big Radials, is a spectacular first entry from this team into Flight Simulator. Well, not exactly a first entry, since they already brought us the excellent conversion of an FSX classic, the Grumman Goose, but the P-40B is their first entirely new project, with a price tag to match. Despite some first-release hiccups, the Tomahawk is an extremely enjoyable aircraft, highly challenging and nuanced, a beast waiting to be tamed.
Like the FlyingIron Spitfire and the Milviz Corsair, we are looking at a World War II-era American aircraft, based on the P40 Warhawk and used by many Allied nations besides the US. The RAF used them extensively in the Middle East and North African theatres, where it was less exposed to the superior German fighters that prevailed in Europe in the early years of the war. The fact was that the Tomahawk’s lack of a supercharger hindered its abilities at higher altitudes, thus making it more suitable for the less demanding African and Asian scenarios.
Big Radials clearly recreated the P-40B with great attention to detail, and this is seen throughout the entire package. Visually, we are looking at a very accurate model of the real deal, with excellent textures inside and out. The Tomahawk looks beautifully used, as you would expect, something that can be seen on the outside and also in the cockpit. Here, everything that is within sight looks great, especially under direct light. For some reason, the panel textures seem to look much more flat when there’s no light hitting it directly, either from the sun or the pilot’s flashlight. There’s a big difference in detail depending on how the light hits the panel, an effect that we haven’t seen with the Corsair, for instance.
Another thing we are experiencing with the launch version is the tendency for some graphical glitches or shimmering, especially with some gauges in the cockpit, but also with the canopy on external views. The AI models that sometimes populate the airports also seem a little bugged, clipping through the scenery as if half-buried in the concrete. Any of these visual defects can hopefully be easily fixed on a future update, so we wouldn’t hold many reservations based on them. (Editor’s note: Big Radials has since released an update that fixes some of these issues and added some cool new features such as a gunsight, new liveries, and more).
There’s just a handful of liveries included with the Tomahawk, but they are all good-looking and realistic. The all-white Soviet repaint is particularly striking. Yes, the Tomahawk was indeed used by the Soviets during the war!
The P-40B also sounds very nice overall, especially the engine and its different tones, although we were hoping to the hear a more intense action from the cockpit switches. Every animation is followed by their respective unique sound, like the gear extension or the canopy opening, which also affects the audio environment in the cockpit – a nice touch that some developers seem to forget.
While the P-40B looks and sounds good, it’s when you starting messing with it that this bird steals the show. Prepare to be challenged, it will test your nerves! For starters, visibility isn’t great on the ground, due to the high nose. This is also a problem when coming for a land: a steep descent is highly recommended, as it allows for better runway visibility. At full flaps the P-40B drops like a rock, so take advantage of that.
Taking-off is an adventure in and on itself. Too much power and it will drift out of control, brake a little too much and you’ll nose-dive into the runway, so you better pay attention to those controls. Then, when in flight, keep that engine under close monitoring, or you risk killing it with too much manifold pressure. As you can see, your hands will be full, but in the end the Tomahawk flies very nicely and is a very immersive airplane.
We can’t really vouch for the flight model, but the P-40B seems to behave as you’d expect from a classic warbird – mostly. One aspect that we are not so sure about is when it comes to slower flying. The P-40B is quite responsive when at higher speeds, and rather less so when close to the lower speed limits, but it seems like it doesn’t like to stall, either with or without power. There’s no shuddering, no spins, just a lack of responsiveness, and then the nose drops slowly until airspeed comes back up again. Not what you would expect, but realistic, maybe?
If the challenging flight characteristics of the Tomahawk aren’t enough for you, there’s more to add to the experience. Obviously, in MSFS, guns are nothing more than aesthetic tubes on the fuselage, so Big Radials took the opportunity to use the cockpit’s left and right machine guns as a place to hold a radio, transponder, and the RTDM (Read The Damn Manual!) switches. These are particularly interesting, as they allow you to enable two additional “deeper” simulations, related to the operations with flaps and gear. Want to know how? Well… read the included manual, where everything is explained in detail. It involves an hydraulic pump.
Especially for those flying in VR (but something that can be appreciated by any home cockpit builder), is the inclusion of STL files which effectively allow you to 3D print some flight control replicas like trim wheels, levers, etc. These files, developed by AuthentiKit in close proximity with Big Radials, provide a way to seriously enhance your experience when flying the P-40B in VR, by giving you a tactile experience that closely resembles the real one, thus significantly augmenting the feeling of flying this aircraft in virtual reality. We think this is an especially cool feature that should be greatly appreciated by anyone looking to recreate at home a more realistic flying environment.
In the end, despite some minor shortcomings that should be easily fixable, we think the Tomahawk delivers. It’s a very fun airplane, one that asks for your full attention: both to learn it and to master it. It’s very rewarding to nail a take-off or a landing, and we can’t help but recommend it to anyone who loves warbirds.
The Big Radials P-40B Tomahawk is available from Big Radial’s website for AU$35.
One final note to a very special idea from Big Radials. When we asked for a review copy of the aircraft, the developers told us about their wish to see us, the press and content creators, to “pay it forward” and make a donation to a charity of our choice. A truly generous way to make a difference somewhere. We immediately felt compelled to do it and donated the cost of the aircraft (AU$35) to Angel Flight Australia, a charity that coordinates non-emergency flights to assist people in remote areas by enabling them to travel vast distances to get medical assistance. #payitforward!