Chipmunk Review 1

This review was originally posted on AirDailyX in 2014. It is re-published without edit or change.


INTRODUCTION:- This is not going to be your typical review! It’s going to be somewhat sentimental and personal, while hopefully also remaining entertaining and informative. I’m also going to start by answering the most pressing question first. You’re probably reading this because you want to know if it’s worth spending your money on the new De Havilland Chipmunk from Just Flight. So here’s the answer. It all depends on you! Hmm, not what you were expecting, right?

Think about it. If your preferred flight sim experience is virtual airline flying at FL360 while connected to VATSIM, and you never sit your virtual backside into a virtual general aviation cockpit, then chances are slim that the “Chippie” will appeal to your tastes. On the other hand, if (like me) your first flight was as an Air Cadet in the 70’s in a Chippie, then nostalgia will override any budgetary concerns and you’ve probably bought it already!

The point is this, we can wax lyrical until the cows come home about quality, appearance, liveries and ease of installation, but unless you are predisposed to flying the likes of the Chipmunk in FSX or P3D in the first place, it is all academic. However, having said that, if the Chippie is your kind of aircraft, then my recommendation is buy it, you will not be disappointed!

Ok, with that out of the way, let’s embark upon a sentimental journey together. You see for me the Chipmunk can never be divorced from emotional nostalgia, and I bet many of you feel the same way.

Turn back the clock to a simpler era in the 1970s. I was a 13-year-old kid back then and a member of 422 Squadron Air Training Corps in Corby, England. I was aviation daft but had never flown before, and on a day I will never forget, I was about to take to the air for the first time in RAF Chipmunk WK591.

As I waddled out of the hanger at RAF Newton, it was impossible to stand straight or even begin to look graceful. The Chipmunk did not have the luxury of a seat as such, instead your movement-restricting parachute became your seat when you nestled into a concave metal pan in the cockpit, and the Just Flight aircraft reproduces that faithfully.

After being strapped into the rear cockpit of the silver and dayglo aircraft, the engine was started and we taxied out beside the solitary Bloodhound missile that pointed skyward in a defiant show of defensive strength. Taking to the grass runway, power was applied in a glorious symphony in the key of Gipsy Major, and within moments we were heading into the sky.

I was absolutely amazed as I watched the trees and fields and cars drop away beneath those glorious wings, I had entered another world! We flew over Nottingham, and weaved our way over the countryside again, even taking in a few loops just for good measure. We landed all-too-soon, but for me the moment of that first climb was forever cemented in my mind, and just as eternally the Chipmunk had captured my heart.

Many years later I discovered flight simulation, and as the internet began to grow, I searched for a Chipmunk for FS95, but I was unable to find one that turned my crank! Then, I founded one of the first ever add-on companies for Flight Simulator, it was called “The VIP Group” and you can bet the Chippie was one of the aircraft I commissioned for the first of the “VIP Classic Wings” CDs.

By this time I had moved to Canada, and I remember a day when I flew a North American Harvard and a Canadian Chipmunk back to back. Daft as it may seem, I was as emotionally pumped to be back in a Chippie as I was to experience my first Harvard flight! That’s why I was delighted in the FS2004 days to discover Rick Piper’s original freeware Chipmunk, it had both the British “greenhouse” canopy, and the Canadian “bubble” version.

Later, FSX came onto the scene, and although Rick released the British versions for that platform, there was no sign of a Canadian one. I missed it greatly, but ended up building a simpit of the Chipmunk from which to fly his British one.

Funny isn’t it? Although I have spent thousands of dollars over the years on hundreds of FS aircraft, I still gravitated to the simple Chipmunk! Kudos and thanks to Mr. Piper for his contribution to the hobby!

And so we fast forward to 2014. About a month ago Just Flight issued the announcement that a new Chipmunk was imminent. It was a day of such rejoicing for me that it was almost a spiritual experience… Almost! (LOL). I enthusiastically looked at the preview screenshots, but just as quickly experienced disappointment because there was no Canadian version.

I sent an email to one of the folks at Just Flight, a man who still remembers when that company was our European publisher some 18 years ago! I practically begged for a Canadian version to be included in the package, and it seems I was not alone. I suspect the delay in product release has something to do with adding the Bubble-canopy version into the mix! Finally, on June 12, the email came through, The Just Flight Chipmunk had been released

THE JUST FLIGHT CHIPMUNK IS LAUNCHED:- I received the Chipmunk directly through Just Flight, and as a result the installation demanded internet connection to verify authentication of the files. I needed both the email and password associated with my Just Flight customer account, but after providing those, the installation continued smoothly.

There were two files, and they were treated as separate installations. The main one contains the British-canopy version, while the second optionally adds  the Canadian version. Installation options include FSX, P3D version 1, and P3D version 2. Although I use P3D v1 quite often, I elected to place the Chippie in FSX for my first exposure to the product.

The British version comes in nine colour schemes.

  • RAF 6 AEF 70s/80s scheme  (WP901)
  • RAF early scheme (WP912)
  • RAF Cambridge University Air Squadron (WB588)
  • RAF No.2 Flying Training Squadron, Church Fenton (WG316)
  • RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (WK518)
  • “RCAF 671” – A civil aircraft (G-BNZC)
  • Red and white (G-ALWB)
  • Blue, white and gold (G-JFDH)
  • Silver and green (G-AKON)

The Canadian one is currently available in two schemes

  • An apparently fictional civil example  (F-CHIP)
  • C-FPOW, owned by the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, in the RCAF colours of  18035

With the abundant supply of Chipmunks still flying today, it probably won’t be long before there are tons of additional paint schemes available on the net for both variants. The good news is that the package includes a paint kit!

TEST FLIGHT #1 – FSX:- For my first test flight, I decided to fly from RAF Lossiemouth in the North of Scotland. My FSX setup includes photo-scenery from Generation X, Revolution-X autogen from Just Flight, and in this case a freeware scenery of Lossiemouth itself. I also have Traffic 360 from Just Flight, meaning there were plenty of RAF Tornados in the air and on the ground.

I’d set the weather to be fairly mild. The wind was 190 degrees at 8 knots, visibility 20 miles, and there were scattered clouds at about 5,000 ft. Temperatures were in the 60’s, and standard pressure was in effect.

I selected WG316, in the RAF’s red, white and grey scheme, and then located it on the ramp. “Walking” up to the aircraft I glanced at a line of Tornados sitting nearby. They had grace and presence and power, but just like that real-life day in my teens, my eyes kept returning to the Chippie.

I did a quick walk around of the aircraft, and it was love at first sight. I’m sure there are some purists out there who will find things to fault about the Just Flight rendition. Some people suggested that beta screenshots showed too much ribbing in the wings, others called into question some details about the undercarriage struts, but for me it was aeroplane heaven. Incidentally, it was Aeroplane Heaven that designed the Chippie for Just Flight. If you love their Spitfire and Hurricane, you’ll love this one too!

The usual keystroke of SHIFT+E opens up the canopy, continuing with SHIFT+E+2 reveals the Gipsy Major engine. Hit SHIFT+E+3 and the pilots disappear, chocks are added and the aircraft is tied down. I did this with the engine running and it looked a bit daft, but that’s not the fault of the designers! I turned the engine off and now it looked just right!

“Climbing” onto the wing I gazed lovingly into the Virtual Cockpit. Oh wow, it brought back memories, not only of my flights in the real aircraft, but also of my simpit which I’d demolished a few years ago when we moved house!

The VC is full of detail, it invites you to sit in it and explore the various buttons and levers, most of which have active mouse points. I positioned myself in the front seat and started exploring.

Nearby, a Tornado started up and taxied behind me. I glanced over and decided it was time to fly. Although there are detailed start-up procedures outlined in the manual, I was too impatient to get in the air and simply hit the start button on my throttle quadrant!  The engine roared into life with noticeable vibration in the VC, and I turned up the volume in my surround speakers as a big smile came to my face. The Gipsy she was a-singing!

While there are times that I would go through the manual step by step, this first flight was not such a time! Brakes off, and I started to taxi. A quick brake check, and then I noticed I didn’t have to use differential braking to turn. Good! While the need for differential brakes may be realistic in many FS models, the simple-simmer in me likes it when a mere press of the rudder sends me in the direction I wish to turn in! I took in a quick outside view, zooming in on the pilots. The guy in the back turned his head and looked directly at me, then returned his gaze to the heavier military hardware off the right wing.

A few moments later, having received the okay from the tower, I lined up on the main runway and eased the throttle forward. With full realism there was some torque to deal with, nothing like the Alabeo SU-26 of course, but enough to remind you to play with the rudder to stay on the centreline. Stick forward and the tailwheel lifted at around 40 knots.

By the time I reached 60, the aircraft was airborne. I kept a very shallow pitch and accelerated up to 84 knots, and then continued to climb up to altitude for some airwork. The 36-page, included manual suggests climbing at 70 knots. Sometimes I was a bit slower, while at other times a little faster. I was not flying by the book on this flight, I was flying for fun!

After reaching a safe altitude, several miles to the east of Lossiemouth, I started to explore the flight characteristics of the aircraft. Controls were responsive and I found the Chippie very easy to handle in banks of 30 degrees while turning through a full 360 degrees. Altitude was a doddle to maintain, and when I finally found the right amount of rudder, I was able to keep the the needle centered.

I then got a bit more adventurous. Stalling was easy, power off, hold back the stick and maintain altitude while keeping the rudder straight down the middle! The buffet came on at 43 knots and the stall horn blared at 40 knots. Nose down, bit of power, and I recovered nicely with minimal altitude loss and no over-exertion on the airframe. Next would come the spins.

Now, before I go any further, we all know that FSX does not particularly shine at reproducing accurate spin behaviour. I also add that my sources at Just Flight have already told me that an FDE revision is likely, based on feedback from some real Chipmunk pilots. In other words, things might change! For now, let’s say that spinning the Chipmunk was not that satisfying!

With the stick all the way back, and full rudder, one time the aircraft simply mushed its way into a spiral dive and practically recovered itself. Another time it climbed after gaining speed, and one more try and I nailed it perfectly. My gut feeling was that I’d need to try quite a few times to get it right. So I went to the manual and found this phrase.

“For training safety, the aeroplane is intentionally difficult to spin properly in almost all centre of gravity positions. Therefore it is usually necessary to apply aileron against the intended direction of spin, in addition to the normal pro-spin control movements. Entry with central aileron will probably cause the aircraft to describe a semi-spiral. This is often confused with a true spin.”

To be honest, I thought Just Flight were making this up to cover the limitations of the simulation experience, but then I downloaded a pdf of the REAL aircraft manual and was shocked to read the same words therein! I guess practice will be needed to nail it after all.

It was time for some aerobatics, and I wanted to re-live a loop in the Chippie. I climbed to 4,000ft, then kept full power in a dive until 130 knots was achieved at around 3,700 ft. Stick back and up we went. Over the top at 4,300 ft with 50 knots on the airspeed. power off and watch the world fill the windscreen.. Oh Yeah, I liked that! I did it again from the back seat, pulled my view right out to wide angle and grabbed a screenshot as the poor sick student in the back would see it! – Hmm, no pilot in this view though!

After a while I decided it was time to return to Lossiemouth. The radio was still on frequency and the circuit was busy. None-the-less, I was cleared to enter the pattern, and joined on a left downwind for runway 23. As I flew over Lossiemouth harbour, my mind went back to a day in my early 20’s when I had stood on that jetty watching a big ship being battered by waves. Real memories intertwined with the flight sim experience, such moments truly suspend disbelief, and we are there, especially over photorealistic scenery! Onto final approach, the Lossiemouth golf course came into view.

After checking my airspeed “over the fence”, I glanced to my right and was quite satisfied to see three mighty Tornados waiting for a lowly Chipmunk to land! It’s down-right amazing how flight sim engenders such genuine emotions!

My first test flight ended by completely ignoring the ground control’s instructions on where I should park. I’d noticed something else on final approach, two Hawk trainers sitting in a totally different area of the station. That’s where I wanted to be, the screenshot was already prospectively in my mind as I taxied toward them.  Brakes on, mixture to lean, mags off, get rid of the crew, open canopy, and… A great shot to end the experience!

And that was my first flight with the Just Flight Chipmunk. My verdict? Totally and thoroughly enjoyable! To me, this is what flight sim is all about. It’s not always about flying by the numbers, nor nit-picking to discover every little fault that may or may not exist in an aircraft, it is about the fun!

As a mode of simple VFR transport in the FSX world, I am delighted with the Chipmunk! Speaking as a former Air Cadet from the 1970’s, this is my message to others like me. Don’t even think twice, buy it and re-live your youth! The Just Flight Chipmunk looks great, flies nice, and has a wonderful VC from which to experience the virtual world. The sound is enchanting, and the nostalgia factor is captivating.

ADDITIONAL SCREENSHOTS IN FSX:- After completing my first test flight, I decided to fly some photographic sorties in FSX. Enjoy this collection before we move on to a second test flight!

TEST FLIGHT #2 – P3D v1.7:- I decided to fly my second test flight in P3D V1, this time making use of the Canadian aircraft. I found my files in the download folder once again, and re-initiated the installation process. This time there was no connecting to the internet to confirm authenticity. I simply directed the installation into the P3D folder, and the process continued without interruption.

I launched P3D on the 36″ TV I use as a primary monitor, and while it was loading decided to open up the pdf manual on my second monitor, a standard 19″ Acer unit. This time I was going to follow the procedure “by the book.”

My P3D saved situation opened with the Alabeo Cessna Cutlass sitting on the ramp at Westport Airport, just a few miles to the east of beautiful Bowerman in Pacific Northwest from Orbx. I wanted to stay within Orbx scenery, but not in the USA, and not in a Cessna. I loaded up the RCAF Chipmunk, and then shut everything down to a cold starting situation. Then I decided to relocate the aircraft to Penticton airport, in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley.

I saved the situation, and just before I was about to fly, I checked the time… The real time! WHAT?… How does flight sim do this to us? It was 1:40 in the morning! No wonder the house was so quiet… I thought I’d better call it a night, but there was one more task to perform before bed. I took a screenshot of my first look at the Canadian bird at a Canadian airport!  The test flight would wait for another day, but here’s that first screenshot!

Well gang, it’s another day, and I feel like Robin Williams… “Good Morning Viet…” No… “Good Morning AirDailyX’ers!” So let’s re-load P3D and get back to business!

As we’ve mentioned before, the most apparent difference between the Canadian Chipmunks and the British ones (or Portuguese examples for that matter) is the canopy. Actually, the first three prototypes off the line in Canada did have the greenhouse canopy, but according to one of my correspondents, numbers two and three were retro-fitted with bubbles when they became available.

Having flown both the British and Canadian variants in real life, it is hard to fathom why the RAF never adopted the Canadian canopy. The difference in visibility and perception is immense. In the British version, the canopy makes you feel that you are IN the aircraft. On the other hand, with the unrestricted view given by the Canadian canopy, you feel like you are ON the aircraft!

Another difference is the design of the undercarriage legs. From what I have seen, all RAF examples had a thick fairing around the leg. Canadian examples are devoid of this, making the leg look almost flimsy by comparison. As a result of this design difference, the British examples have the landing light on the port-side undercarriage leg, while the Canadian ones have a retractable light on the wing. These differences can be seen in the screenshots below.

There are also numerous differences in the design of the cockpit, most immediately obvious is the electrical binnacle mounted on the forward cockpit coaming in the Canadian aircraft. This re-positions numerous switches from their location in the British examples. Other changes include such things as a re-located fire extinguisher, more complex engine gauges, different radios, and more.

Okay, enough of the comparisons, let’s get the aircraft going! Sitting in the front seat in the VC, and with both British and Canadian manuals on my second monitor, I begin to go through the start-up process. All switches are set to OFF, and already I am struggling to locate things in the Canadian aircraft as opposed to their British counterpart! Brakes are ON, and I switch the electrical power to ground. A quick look at the trailing edge of the left wing shows the GPU has been attached to the aircraft. (Its position is forward of the wing in British aircraft).

I go to open the fuel cock, and here I notice another difference from the British aircraft. On my RAF examples the floor-mounted lever has two positions, either “on” or “cut” and the lever can be moved by the mouse. In the Canadian VC, there are three positions for the lever. “Right”, “off” and “left.” Despite the fact that the lever seems to be mouse clickable, I cannot get it to do anything when I try to click it or drag it. Maybe I am missing something here, or maybe it is a bug, at this point I do not know. Thankfully, the lever has defaulted to “left” so I hope I can start the beast!

Throttle half an inch,  mixture full rich, both mag switches on (forward), master switch on, open up the starter gate and hit the switch. The engine turns and fires into action with that lovely Gipsy sound. I switch the power source back to flight, note that the GPU has been removed, and then shut the starter gate that is unique to this Canadian machine. A quick check on the engine gauges shows everything is fine, and I also check the generator warning light. Hey, it’s on… And there’s the problem, I click the generator switch to on!  Yes, the light is out now.

I turn on the radio master switch, located to the lower right of the panel in this case, and set the frequency to 122.90 for Penticton’s UNICOM.  Then, I unlock the locking lever on the P8 compass, and rotate the ring to get the correct heading, aligning the red N to the cross. I check the gyro while I’m at it, everything is set. I set the altimeter to the airfield elevation, and check all instruments for serviceability. Once more I check oil pressure and temperatures too.

I check that the brakes are still on, then ease the throttle up to 1500 RPM. Checking each mag, I hear a slight change in engine tone, but there’s no real RPM drop. Carb heat is applied for a moment, and this time the RPM drop is clear. Back to cold and 1500 RPM is restored. Throttle back and check for idle, it takes a moment for the RPM to settle, but it sits at 560 RPM.

I turn on the nav lights and notice a drop in the voltmeter, no worries. Looking outside, I check the windsock, I’ll be using the northerly runway. I set the flaps to one notch, set the trim, and make a call to advise traffic of my intentions. Look around, brakes off, power up, and then a quick brakes check. During taxi I check artificial horizon, direction indicator, and turn and slip indicator. At the holding point I repeat power and mag checks.

A quick call on frequency follows,  then one last check of controls full and free movement, and I line up on runway 34. There’s not a cloud in the summer sky, and I’m looking forward to the ride!

Once again I refer to the pilot’s manual. It says take off at 45 knots, and climb at 70. Okay, here goes!  Stick slightly forward, power up gently, and the tailwheel is up quickly. I notice less tendency to swing than I did on the first test flight, might be calmer wind conditions too. I’m so busy watching for that I don’t realize I’m at 60 knots already. Stick back and up we go. The take off was effortless.

I put the flaps up and trim for a 70 knot climb, taking time now to enjoy the Orbx scenery as I watch Penticton drop away beneath the yellow wings. It’s a gorgeous location in real life. The town nestles between two lakes (Okanagan to the north and Skaha to the south) and mountains to the east and west. Population is somewhere in the region of 33,000 and for us aviation buffs, the airport is right on the edge of the town. For my fellow Canadians, plenty of Timmies too! (Canada’s premier coffee shop for the rest of you!) Gotta’ love it! No wonder I want to move there!

I try some basic exercises again. Flight characteristics are the same as the British one from the first test, still can’t get the hang of spinning though. And I notice something else, no buffet as I approach the stall. Why? well it’s nothing to do with Just Flight. You see in FSX I have A2A’s Accu-Feel installed, but I don’t have it in P3D. That would explain why I also don’t hear as much wind noise in the Chippie in P3D.

Well, after a while of fun-filled flying, it’s time to head back to the airport. I love the visibility from the Canadian aircraft, it makes an ever better VFR choice than the British one! I slip into the rear seat and zoom out to wide angle to enjoy the view as I settle on the base leg for Penticton.

I settle easily onto final approach, two notches of flap over the fence, and kiss the runway with the main wheels… Another test flight was over!

CONCLUSIONS:- I’ve spent many hours with the Just Flight Chipmunk over the last few days, and of course my personal bias for the aircraft shows itself. However, even being as objective as possible, I have got to say that this is a frame-friendly, high-quality, visually-pleasing and beautifully-flying rendition of the classic aircraft.

Does that mean it is perfect? Probably not. I still can’t spin it worth a hoot, and I don’t know what happened to the fuel selector in the Canadian VC. Also, since I don’t fly a Chippie in real life, I cannot comment on the accuracy of the flight dynamics, but from an entertainment point of view I give it full marks!

Wish list? Would have been nice to see a Portuguese aircraft in the mix, also a few Royal Navy types, an army camouflage version, and some more RAF colours… BUT, that’s not the point is it? There’s a reason a paint kit is included, and that reason is community involvement. Watch how quickly the virtual paint cans come out!

Time will tell if the Canadian version is supplied as a free add-on for purchasers, or whether it will end up as a paid expansion pack. Keep an eye on Just Flight’s website for news of that decision after the initial launch-offer period is over. For now, my thanks to Just Flight for creating this classic, and a final nod of the hat to Rick Piper who filled the void with his freeware version for so many years!

Kenneth J. Kerr