On an older system – Just Flight Chipmunk

Hello there folks, this is Kenneth J. Kerr (A.k.a. “KJKSimmer” from some of the forums out there), and a warm welcome to the first “proper article” in the series “On an older system.” If you haven’t read the series intro, I invite you to follow the link HERE. But for quick review, here are the five principles that you need to remember when flight simming on an older computer.

  • You must have realistic expectations
  • You must find the compromise
  • You must bring the right attitude
  • You must pick your products wisely
  • You must be adventurous

In this article you will see hints of many of these principles, so keep an eye open for them. And now, get ready for take off, for we’re going to look at a little beauty of an aircraft that works fine on my old rig… The De Havilland Chipmunk, from Just Flight.

Telling a story

One of only three pictures that survive from my trips to RAF Newton in the early 70’s. The Bloodhound missile is hidden in the over-exposure just off the nose of the aircraft.

The Chipmunk is my all-time favorite aircraft, in fact I’ve been in love with it for almost 50 years. I turned 62 a few days ago, but when I was a mere lad of 13, it was “the Chippie” that introduced me to flight. I was in the Air Cadets, a member of 422 Squadron (Corby, Northants), and we’d made a trip up to RAF Newton (near Nottingham) to gain some Air Experience. It was a magical day for me. I remember being transfixed by the solitary Bloodhound ground-to-air missile that pointed skyward near one of the hangars. I recall wandering through a large collection of myriad types of aircraft being stored at the station for technical training, but most of all I remember that first ever taste of flight.

You didn’t walk out to the Chipmunk, you waddled out to it! Like the other cadets, I’d suffered the ordeal of having the parachute strapped to me after my pre-flight safety briefing. It was so tight that I couldn’t stand straight, and the straps between my legs seemed to threaten any hopes of future fatherhood! But all of that was immaterial, for my gaze had but one focus, the classical lines of Chipmunk WK591. Moments later, I clearly remember standing on the walk strip at the wing root, looking into the cockpit and wondering where the seat was! Then it dawned on me that the parachute WAS my seat, and with a little help from another cadet, I settled into the concave metal pan in the rear cockpit.

The fresh-faced 13-year old in cadet uniform in 1971. Almost 50 years ago…

With the engine already running, the harness was secured with the minimum of delay, and then the smelly rubber mask was fixed to my face. A brief radio check followed to make sure I could communicate with the pilot up front, then the canopy was closed, and we taxied out to the holding point of one of the grass runways. With the engine at high RPM during the run-up exercises, I distinctly recall wondering if the damn thing was going to shake itself to bits, but the noise was music to my ears, a symphony in the key of Gipsy Major. And then it was time. Position and hold for a few seconds, full power, a bit of light swinging from right to left as the rudder became effective, and we were taking to the air.

It was a defining moment of my life. I’d been an aviation nut for years already, but had never flown. I can still see those trees slipping away beneath the wings. All these decades later the details are crystal clear. I was looking out over the right wing, not the left, and there were roads getting smaller, with cars looking like the Corgi and Dinky toys I’d collected before turning to aviation. And then after a few minutes we were experiencing light G forces as the pilot demonstrated turning, and I was amazed at how the world seemed to pivot around the wingtip. After gaining altitude, I was given the controls, and I was hooked! “You’re a natural” the officer said, and somehow my 13-year old self thought I was flying a Spitfire! All-too-soon it was over, a mere 20 minutes according to my “3822” record of ATC service, but it was 20 minutes that I’ll remember as long as I live.

So, why have I shared this story in such detail with you? It’s to make a very important point. When I’m flying the Just Flight Chipmunk, do you really think that the most important thing to me is achieving high frame rates, or whether my old computer will allow full detail autogen and clouds? No. Because I am emotionally connected to the Chipmunk, the nostalgia takes over and masks the limitations imposed by my old system. This is positive psychology at work. It’s the brain making use of the Reticular Activating System to filter out extraneous sensory inputs. You focus on the memories, associations, and nostalgia that an addon engenders, and enjoy the experience regardless of what your system is (or is not) capable of.

And now, as we showcase the Just Flight Chipmunk, let’s re-live that first flight using my trusty old FSX.

The first test flight – British Canopy version at RAF Newton 

Getting ready for this first test flight, it’s worth listing the addons used for it.

  1. The Just Flight Chipmunk – British Canopy Version (Available HERE).
  2. A free repaint featuring WK591, done by Peter Watkins.
  3. A whole suite of ORBX scenery. (Global BASE, Global VECTOR, Global openLC Europe, EU England).

I should also point out the FSX settings I am going to fly with. I have a low target frame rate of only 17fps. This helps keep the blurries at bay on my old system while still representing an acceptable compromise to my eyes. Filtering and anti-aliasing is being handled by my video card instead of FSX. Global texture resolution is HIGH instead of VERY HIGH. I have set High-resolution for the virtual cockpit, and while allowing the aircraft to cast shadows on the ground, I have disabled shadows on the aircraft itself. Scenery settings are as recommended by the ORBX guide for EU England, (although dialed down one notch for scenery detail), and I’m setting cloud draw distance to minimum, with simple clouds only. In the weather menu I’ll make these clouds cirrus, between 8,000 and 11,000ft, and I’ll set a visibility of 20 miles. I’m not using any AI traffic on this flight as I am staying close to RAF Newton for which there is no traffic anyway. And, for the heck of it, I will set the date all the way back to October 9th, 1971… The date of my first flight. WK591 has just landed, and I’m waiting for the cadet in the back seat to be helped out so I can take his place!

As the poor, ill-looking kid is helped back to the briefing room, I climb up on the left wing and look into the cockpit. There’s that metal seat pan… Not very comfy, but practical if the man up front says “Jump, Jump, Jump!”

Well, that certainly hints back to the 13-year old me in 1971, but for this FSX test flight I’m taking the front seat! So into the VC I go, savoring once again the gloriously-classic cockpit surrounding me. The design team at De Havilland did a nice job with the real thing back in 1946, and Just Flight (actually I believe it was the Aeroplane Heaven design team), did a nice job about five years ago with this virtual example too.

Today I’ll forego the checklist. Yes, I do sometimes refer to a real Chipmunk manual when flying FSX, but this time I just want to get in the air and take some screenshots.  So, brakes off, a wee bit of power, and we’re heading out to runway 25, the same runway used on my real flight all those many years ago. After lining up, I slowly move the throttle forward, instantly remembering that I’d turned down the P-factor and torque settings to make it easier to maintain directional control on the take off run. Stick forward, and the tailwheel lifts at around 40 knots. By the time I reach 60, the aircraft is airborne. I keep a shallow pitch and accelerate up to 80 knots.

After reaching a safe altitude, several miles to the east of Newton, I explore again the flight characteristics of the aircraft. Controls are responsive, and I find the Chipmunk very easy to handle in banks of 30 degrees while turning through a full 360 degrees. Altitude is a doddle to maintain if you keep the appropriate attention on what you’re doing, and with a fair bit of effort you can keep the needle “somewhat” centered (An FSX issue more than a JF issue I feel).

Time to get more adventurous. Stalling is simple. Power off, hold back the stick and maintain altitude while keeping the rudder straight down the middle! The buffet comes on at 43 knots and the stall horn blares at 40 knots. Nose down, a bit of power, and I recover nicely with minimal altitude loss and no over-exertion on the airframe. Spins are another matter however. FSX was never good at reproducing accurate spin behavior, so let’s simply say that spinning the Chipmunk is not that satisfying. It’s more of a mush into a spiral dive than a spin, with the aircraft practically recovering itself. Even after five years of flying the JF Chipmunk, I still cannot reproduce a spin as sharply as I can in my A2A Cessna 172. Maybe that’s why both the real manual and JF manuals state, “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.”

While spins are all but impossible, aerobatics are a blast. Back in 1971 we looped the Chippie on my first flight. Time to do it here! I climb to 4,000ft, then maintain full power in a dive until 130 knots is achieved at around 3,700 ft. Stick back and up she goes! I’m over the top at 4,400 ft with 55 knots on the airspeed. I kill the power and watch the world fill the windscreen as the speed comes up again. Great fun, and I take a go-pro inspired screenshot to capture the moment.

After pulling these maneuvers, it’s time to settle down and simply admire the view. I have loved the JF Chipmunk since it came out, and have probably logged well over one thousand hours in it, and it still appeals to me as much as it did the first time I flew it! I look at the clock and see I’ve been up more than 20 minutes, that’s longer than my real life flight in 1971. I head back to RAF Newton, drop down without fuss onto the grass, and shut off the engine. The smile on my face and inner feeling of satisfaction says it all. And this on an old machine that many simmers would consider a dinosaur.

The second test flight – Canadian Canopy version at Tillsonburg, Ontario 

Once again, I will list the addons used for this flight.

  1. The Just Flight Chipmunk – DHC-1 B-2 Bubble Canopy Expansion (Available HERE).
  2. A free repaint featuring CF-BXH, part of a 3-ship Canadian collection painted by myself.
  3. A whole suite of ORBX scenery. (Global BASE, Global VECTOR, Global openLC North America, Free ORBX Tillsonburg airport).

Note that the weather conditions and FSX settings are basically what they were in the first flight, however, we are in a whole different continent, and a significantly different aircraft. So… Time for another story!

The date was April 23, 1994. I’d been living in Canada for almost six years, and had not flown in a Chipmunk for two decades. On this particular day I was at Tillsonburg airport, Ontario. It was the home of the Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association, and I’d become a member in order to fly in those glorious warbirds. Early in the afternoon, I was strapped into the back seat of a Harvard Mk.2 (the North American Texan for US readers), and we were going through the run up checks at the end of the westbound runway. Suddenly, over the threshold came another beautiful yellow bird. But this was no Harvard, it was an ex RCAF Chipmunk, complete with the bubble canopy of course. It was amazing that my first flight in a Harvard would also be the catalyst to re-introduce me to an old friend. That day I flew in both the Harvard and Chipmunk.

For those who don’t know, the Chipmunk is a Canadian aircraft. Strictly speaking it is the DHC-1, meaning it was the first product of De Havilland Canada. While early prototypes had the British “Birdcage” style canopy, the Canadians went on to develop and adopt the “bubble” style for RCAF service, making the aircraft look more like a scaled-down fighter. There were many other changes too, and these included different instrumentation, a different undercarriage leg design, and the re-location of numerous switches in the cockpit. At first, Just Flight inferred they were only thinking of producing the British variant, but a few of us campaigned for the inclusion of the Canadian variant, and I’m happy they produced this upgrade as an additional paid item. Please note that you do require the British product in order to use the Canadian one. With that said, I present one of my own personal repaints of the Canadian version. Chipmunk CF-BXH, with the former RCAF code 18052.

As you can see, the bubble canopy indeed gives the aircraft a very different look, and having flown in both variants, I simply cannot understand why the RAF did not go for this. The visibility is amazing in comparison. Think of it this way. In the back seat of the British version you feel like you’re sitting IN the aircraft. In the back seat of the Canadian version you feel like you’re sitting ON it! With this particular repaint, I also opted to give the aircraft the civilian crew.

So, let’s get the Canadian machine up in the air. The flight characteristics are the same as the British variant, so we won’t go through the flight test procedures I often employ when testing FSX aircraft. Instead, we’ll simply call this a photo shoot, and as you look at the images below, take note of how many other differences you can find. It’s not a competition, so no prizes folks, but start off with this image of the front panel.

And now enjoy the following sequence, as we say kudos to Just Flight for the Chipmunk, and to ORBX for their transformation of Canada through their work as well.

The Just Flight product and the repaints

The British version (base product) 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 version (optional paid expansion) is 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

However, since the release of the product, the number of available colour schemes has increased dramatically through the work of third-party artists using the paint kit. Primary among the contributors is master-repainter Peter Watkins (Interviewed HERE). His repaints have included:-

  • An Australian civil registration
  • Many British civil registrations
  • A Canadian armed forces example
  • A Royal Danish Air Force example
  • A Belgian Air Force example
  • A US civil registration
  • A Canadian civil registration
  • Many Royal Air Force colour schemes from the silver-finish era
  • Many Royal Air Force colour schemes from the grey-finish era
  • A Royal Navy example
  • An Irish Air Corps example

I have also been active in repainting the Chipmunk. Included are:-

  • Three additional RCAF examples
  • Several British military examples in the red-white-grey scheme, including both RAF and British Army
  • Several early silver examples of the first British aircraft

I have also come across a few other liveries, including:-

  • The first Canadian “Birdcage canopy” protoypes
  • The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s latest colour scheme

While we have yet to see an example from Portugal (a major Chipmunk user), Chippie fans now have plenty of liveries available to them. Since it would take a very long time to illustrate them all with fullsize screenshots, let me simply whet your appetite by displaying images of thumbnails from the FSX aircraft selection screen. You can click on this image to see a larger version. And remember, you can do also do searches in the Flightsim.com library with such terms as “Peter Watkins Chipmunk” or “Just Flight Chipmunk.”

Conclusion

If you go back to the beginning of this article, you will recall the five principles upon which this series will be predicated. Clearly, this article touches all the bases.

  • In my use and testing of the Just Flight Chipmunk I always had realistic expectations of how FSX would perform on my old computer. I did not expect the Chipmunk to perform better than anything else in FSX on my system.
  • I also found the compromises, lowering settings from the maximum as needed.
  • I brought the right attitude, a determination to simply enjoy the product while leaving criticism and complaining out of the equation.
  • I picked the Chipmunk because it was something I loved, and I knew it would likely be a wise decision that would stand the test of time.
  • And in my use of the product I was adventurous, re-living real life flights from both British and Canadian locations.

With these principles in mind, my enjoyment of the Just Flight Chipmunk has now lasted at least five years, and shows no sign of abating, no matter how old my current computer may be. And, as for the Chipmunk itself? If you never fly small aircraft it probably won’t be for you. BUT, if you are a former Air Cadet (of a certain age), or a former RAF or RCAF pilot, or an enthusiast of the De Havilland brand, or one who loves great views out the cockpit when flying light aircraft, then the Just Flight Chipmunk is well worth adding to your collection.

I will see you next time,

    With best regards

             Kenneth J. Kerr