There are few interceptors out there that are as distinctive in design and rich in history than the English Electric Lightning. Anyone that has even a modicum of knowledge about military aviation during the Cold War will know that the Lightning F3 was English Electric's glorious interceptor jet designed to fulfil the role of combating the looming (though somewhat psychological) threat of Soviet bomber jets. Cold War buffs can now enjoy the Lightning F3 thanks to developer Dave Rowberry and publisher Aerosoft: the model runs in conjunction with Microsoft Flight Simulator X's framework.
If you're not fully aware of what's being reviewed here, it is an highly detailed model of the English Electric Lightning Aircraft - well known for its presence in the Cold War as an interceptor - that is compatible above all with Microsoft Flight Simulator X. This English Electric Lightning F3 Model was been developed by Dave Rowberry and published by flight-simulation experts Aerosoft to allow people to experience in fantastic detail the flight systems, aesthetics, and performance of an aircraft that has gone down in history as one of the great interceptor jets.
Cockpit, Internal Modelling
Dave Rowberry's passion for the aircraft shines through with the internal model as well as the exterior. Though the cockpit isn't entirely interactive (some of the instruments aren't functional mainly due to the limitations of Microsoft Flight Simulator X), you've got the almost all of the flight systems/hardware fully functioning in the cockpit including the Tactical Air Navigation System. Most distinctive here is the look-down radar, which comes with optional cover that allows you to view the screen in bright sunlight.
It is the tiny details which complete the realistic feel of the cockpit however, from the tiny numbers and letters visible on each of the individually-working dials to the worn-in feel of the cockpit provided by scratches on various angular surfaces and signs of wear and tear on the floor of the cockpit.
External Aircraft Model
The model itself is undeniably great to look at. You've got the distinctive swept-wing look that bears similarity to other great aircraft of the era such as the North American F-86 Sabre as well as the vertically-stacked twin-engine arrangement and the notched delta wing (somewhat triangular in shape). The exterior is reproduced in meticulous detail from the larger design features mentioned previously to the tiny air vents, notches, and panel distinctions. The flaps, air brakes, and other aircraft control systems are also present, fully-working, and fully-represented here.
Fire up the plane (after the fully-fledged start-up procedure) and you'll be pleased with the way the engines start up: slightly asymmetrical in nature, with one starting up a little before the other. Other external-view marvels include the different textures you can apply to the exterior (such as low-vis/camouflage and plain metal versions) as well as the meticulously-modelled sonic boom when going supersonic. Note that the air intake on the nose also varies!
The external model really cannot be argued with: it is obvious that this model is the result of a great quantity of passion for the subject matter.
It's hard to speak about the accuracy of a flight model without actual pilot credentials, but comparing the Lightning F3 to other aircraft models in simulators such as DCS World, it handles pretty much as you would expect it do: very challengingly, because well, flying is extremely difficult. As an interceptor, the Lightning F3 is extremely fast and you've got the usual G-Force limitations to consider to stop your pilot blacking out.
Starting up the aircraft is as meticulous a process as taking off, taxiing, landing, and pretty much anything else you're likely to do with it. You can take the Lightning to some impressive altitudes as well (towards 60,000 feet), though the official ceiling of the aircraft has never been officially confirmed and it becomes more difficult to handle the higher you take it.
Mid-flight refuelling is possible (and necessary due to the limited fuel quantity in the Lightning F3) but unfortunately you're not treated to a nice external view of a refuelling aircraft approaching and providing you with fuel. Instead, you simply hold a steady course and initiate the process in order to replenish fuel stores without ever seeing another aircraft.
The English Electric Lightning F3 is everything you could want from a flight simulation: accurate modelling (internal and external), challenging simulated physics (thanks to Microsoft Flight Simulator X's framework), and a certain historical significance one feels just because of the history of the aircraft. You're not going to get into the kind of combat that you'll experience in full-on combat simulators like the F-15C Model of Digital Combat Simulator, but you're still armed with missiles that can be squeezed. You'll have enough trouble keeping the plane in the air if you're a beginner however, but it's still enjoyable at whichever level of skill you may possess.