Guest Contributor “Chuck Owl” interviews VEAO team members regarding their P-40F module for DCS World and provides us with some initial impressions…
Note – this article contains images that depict an alpha state of the VEAO P-40F. Features are constantly being added, improved, fixed, and reworked, so these images may or may not represent the final product. Of particular note is that the version featured here is not the latest development version (which has remaining missing labels, gunsight glass and other cockpit details). – Chuck
VEAO Team Members and Responsibilities:
Chris – Director (business management, relationship with TFC, coding, texturing, animations, testing)
Pete – Consumer Products Manager (team management throughout build process, coding, testing)
Stig – Lead Software Developer (coding team management, coding standard expert, generating templates, EFM & ASM coding)
Rob – External Texture Artist (texturing, historical research, testing)
Kevin (Gibbage) – Cockpit texture artist and 3D modeller (interior cockpit texturing and modelling, renowned for his work on Il-2 Sturmovik series)
Q1: Choosing to develop the Kittyhawk is considered by many members of the flight sim community to be a bold and risky move. Why did VEAO choose to develop the P-40F instead of [insert-name-of-any-other-aircraft-on-your-personal-wishlist]? What drives the choice of a developer towards certain aircraft instead of others?
[Pete] I don’t consider the P-40F risky at all! When Chris and I first discussed the idea of doing some WW2 aircraft, utilizing the excellent relationship we have with have the pilots and engineers at The Fighter Collection at Duxford was the most logical place to start. So, we originally settled for the P-40F, Bearcat, Spitfire XIV and thanks to some access granted to us by another aircraft operator the Hispano Buchon.
We always have to make sure we have sufficient information available to us from a variety of sources. I wouldn’t consider doing an aircraft where I only had one unverifiable source of information. For us to make the best simulation possible of these aircraft, we need as much information as we can get. To that end, we realized very early on that these aircraft are much more than a set of data on a stats sheet and the feedback from the pilots and engineers helps huge amounts in that regard. We choose our aircraft based on the emotional connection we have with the plane and our interest in the subject. We would never do an aircraft that we are not passionate about; this is the main driving force behind the choice of a plane over others. Same goes for other developers. People have criticized Eagle Dynamics for choosing to develop a Mustang before, but their efforts culminated in a resounding success. We aim to do the same with the Kittyhawk. It is a bold move like you said, but we are confident that our P-40 will generate further interest for the DCS WWII scene if the quality is there.
Q2: Question to Pete, Rob and other members of the VEAO Team: what sparked your interest in aviation and flight simulation? How did VEAO come to be?
[Pete] For years, my father used to take me to airshows and we used to have long days in the sun with friends and family. From then on, I was always interested in aviation and that continued with me right through to today! Flight sims I first encountered on the Commodore 64 back in the early – mid-90’s with Fighter Bomber. Since then, it has always been something that I have spent my spare time doing, although it is only in the past few years that I have taken it quite as seriously as I do now. I think it was always the appeal of doing what I can do in reality, be that flying aerobatics in a Spitfire or fast and low in a Tornado.
[Rob] For as long as I can remember, I have always had an interest in aviation and history in general. Perhaps it’s because of my Dad’s hobby of parachuting from C-47s or because of my Grandfather’s service in the RAF… but aviation has always been a big part of my life. In 2005, my Dad took me to the Flying Legends airshow at Duxford where I first saw the Horsemen formation aerobatic team fly. From that day, simming became a major part of my life and slowly developed from learning to fly formation aerobatics to skinning and modding.
[Chris] VEAO as a company was officially formed in 2009 when we made a Eurofighter Typhoon FC2 module for the RAF Recruitment team for an airshow at Waddington that year. By then, we were already in discussion with TFC about future development of the sim and aircraft. I’ve always been interested in aviation and air shows since a small boy as I lived in Biggin Hill (old WWII air field with an amazingly rich history) and my love of aircraft and sims started there. Microsoft Flight Sim (version 1) was my first sim and I’ve flown many more since then.
Q3: What can you tell us about the Curtiss P-40’s design, production and history? Why are there “Tomahawk”, “Warhawk” and “Kittyhawk” variants? How did an American plane become part of other Allied aviation forces like the british RAF and the russian VVS?
[Rob] The Curtiss P-40 was a further developed of the Curtiss P-36 Hawk Series, the major change from the P-36 to the P-40 was the replacement of the Wright 1830 Radial engine with the Allison V-1710 V12 inline engine. Having first flown in 1938, the P-40 was continuously modified throughout the war and, despite the rapid progression of technology at the time, was still in service at the end of the war. By the time production ceased in late 1944, 13,000 P-40s had been produced.
Early P-40’s, which featured the long-nosed Allison V-1710, were known as Tomahawks and were spread across the globe, most notably by the famous ‘Flying Tigers’ of the AVG (American Volunteer Group). Tomahawks were also supplied to the British and Russian forces under the ‘Lend Lease’ Program. Most airworthy Tomahawks flying today were recovered from the Russian front, with one exception.
Later developments of the P-40 (The P-40D and onwards) were known as the ‘Warhawk’ by the Americans, or as the ‘Kittyhawk’ by the British. Whilst the P-40 is perhaps most famous for its service with the AVG, USAAF and RAF, it was used by many other nations including Canada, France, Australia, Brazil, Egypt, Finland, New Zealand etc.
Q4: What are some of the differences between the P-40B and P-40E variants flown by the renowned Flying Tigers and the P-40F modelled by VEAO?
[Rob] The P-40F was really a refinement or further development of the P-40E. Whilst the P-40 was quite a capable aircraft at low altitude, it suffered at higher altitudes due to the lack of a 2-stage supercharger. The F was an attempt to rectify this by replacing the Allison V-1710 found in the P-40E with a Packard built Merlin V-1650, similar to what you would find in a P-51 Mustang. Visually very similar to the P-40E, the main external difference is the lack of the carburetor scoop on the upper cowling. Some P-40Fs were built with the longer tail (like ours) to help counter the effects of increased torque, a modification which was also used on the later Allison-powered variants such as the P-40M.
Q5: What roles did the P-40F have in the Second World War, and how successful was it?
[Pete] The P-40F was, as Rob mentioned earlier, a successor to the already popular P-40B/C models and it attempted to cure some of the shortfalls of those designs. Although improved with the Merlin engine, it did not cure the altitude shortcomings of type. As such, it was switched roles into a fighter-bomber and has success in the low and dirty attack role throughout North Africa and Italy. For almost a year the type served well in the Pacific Theatre as well proving a competitive aircraft in low level and turning engagements.
Q6: Where did the “Kittyhawk” version used by the RAF (Royal Air Force) see action, and what opposition did it face?
[Pete] Mainly through North Africa and Italy, It encountered Bf.109’s, Bf.110’s as well as a variety of Italian aircraft. The type was also used extensively during the export program to the Soviet Union as well as being used by the FAFL (Forces Aériennes Françaises Libres of the Free French).
Q7: Speaking of the P-40F, how is the progress coming along?
[Pete] It’s coming along very well! We recently let the public have a first look at the new cockpit modelling and textures as well as getting their hands on more refined EFM and ASM models. As you can see from the screenshots included with this interview, there has been a lot of work happening on the P-40 since we unveiled it to the public and this will continue right up until the Beta release. While we were at Duxford we obtained more valuable feedback from a variety of warbird pilots and we will go away with this data and can continue to refine the EFM and ASM until it is as accurate as we can possible make it!
Q8: What did pilots have to say about the P-40 in terms of handling qualities, aircraft performance and operation?
[Pete] Although it doesn’t boom and zoom like others, the aircraft turns exceptionally well, It was also known as one of, if not the best, diving aircraft of its time. Stick that nose down, throw the manifold lever forwards and watch the speedo rack up! One of the pilots at Duxford said to me once, always stick to what an aircraft does best, don’t try and play away from home in them. In the case of the P-40, turn and dive, don’t try to run! Unless you can catch your opponent unaware, of course.
Q9: How are those handling qualities and aerodynamic performance reflected in the EFM (External Flight Model)? What can you tell us about the features implemented in your own in-house flight model? Will we be flying a re-skinned P-51 or a true P-40? How will the P-40 feel different from other WWII aircraft like the Mustang, FW.190 and Bf.109?
[Pete] This is absolutely not a re-skinned P-51D. All of our code is independent and created by our skilled team of programmers lead by our very own Stig. Pilots will soon find that the P-40F will not match the Fw190, Bf109 or P-51 in raw airspeed. This doesn’t mean that the fight is a lost cause though! If you can get your opponents into a turning fight at low altitude, then you will see that the aircraft performs very differently to others that are available. Pilots during war very rarely have equal equipment and even if there is superior equipment available they were not always lucky enough to be the pilot in it!
Q10: The external textures have always been VEAO’s strong suit. What can you tell us about the whole process behind making a proper “skin” for an aircraft? How much research goes into it? What makes it such a tedious task?
[Rob] For me, external textures are not a tedious task. Whilst it does have the occasional moment or two of repetition, I genuinely have a great amount of fun working on the external textures for our aircraft. The process starts with a trip to Duxford where we will do a walk around of the aircraft we’re working on gathering photos and making note of anything unusual. One thing to keep in mind when using airworthy warbirds as a reference is that they are not always 100% accurate. Most of them were retrofitted or modified due to lack of spare parts. Even during wartime production, Curtiss manufacturing facilities did produce a number of P-40s that were not as per engineering drawing for practical reasons like material/component shortage or production ramp-up; this caused a variance in terms of product homogeneity, which means that there are aircraft variants that flew with custom modifications that were often not recorded anywhere. To help us achieve the greatest level of accuracy and fidelity possible, we have a fantastic research team of Dom & Henrik who excel at finding images or information on absolutely everything I have ever asked them for. Once we have the information we need and the model is suitably unwrapped, we start with the basics of panels, rivets and some general weathering. The next major job is the bump maps which are required for some of the tools that we use later in the process to do some of the more detailed weathering. Every aircraft we work on has a slightly different process and I love watching the progress every few days as more detail is slowly added here and there.
Q11: Here is a question aimed at Kevin “Gibbage”, VEAO’s interior cockpit artist. There seems to have been a major overhaul for the P-40’s interior cockpit. The textures look much crisper, and the some parts of the model seem to have been completely reworked. What steps were taken in order to improve the internal cockpit?
[Kevin] The cockpit got a complete texture overhaul, with almost nothing remaining from the old textures. We used new, advanced software for procedural weathering using Quixel Suite, and baked in advanced lighting and shadows using Vray. Not only that, but we fully took advantage of DCS’ new PBR shader with full normal mapping. All this was done using 4K textures over 2K textures for ultra-sharp detail on computers that can handle it, while retaining the ability to lower the details back down to 2K for those who can’t, while still keeping a great look and feel. It’s not just about how the cockpit looks, but also about how it reacts to changing lighting conditions. As you maneuver the plane, light will glint off of subtle scratches in the paint, down to bare metal! Even small details down to the stitching of the leather head rest have gotten special care. I also studied the way pilots would enter and exit from the real aircraft to know where to put extra weathering, wear and tear throughout the cockpit.
Q12: The screenshots speak for themselves: the result is simply stunning. Well-done! What is the experience of this new texture artist?
[Kevin] I started modeling aircraft as a kid using plastic kits. It was always a dream of mine to be able to actually fly an aircraft that I built on my own! I eventually got that chance in 2001 when I started doing mods for the combat sim Il-2 Sturmovik with Oleg Maddox. I was able to model a great variety of aircraft, including the P-38 Lightning, Ki-43 Nakajima, P-80 Shooting Star and many more. I helped organize the Third Party modeling effort and help other artists in the process. After Il-2, I created aircraft for CFS3, FS2004, FSX and even Battlefield 2 as a Third Party artist. Then, I landed my dream job working at Microsoft on FS11. Sadly, FS11 was dropped by Microsoft, but they hired me to work on Microsoft Flight instead. I modeled and textured the Stearman, Maule and Icon A5. Today, I continue living my dream through DCS projects like the P-40F, Wildcat, and many others that have not yet been announced. The P-40F will be my official debut in DCS, so I look forward to hearing what people think of my work!
Q13: To what extent are the systems of the P-40 modelled? Are there fuel, hydraulic and electrical systems simulated? Are there some interesting quirks of the P-40 modelled in the simulation?
[Stig] All systems are modelled to deep physical simulation level, but we had to balance the simulation level that it is still processable by the current PC generation. We do simulate the original behavior of the hydraulic system which is quite different from other airplanes. We included a very interesting engine management feature – the boost lever, which has a crucial effect on the engine performance.
[Chuck] I recall Pete mentioning to me a number of interesting quirks being modelled in the simulation, such as variances of the altimeter reading depending on air pressure (meaning that the indicated altitude works as a true period altimeter with variance curves extrapolated from real-life data). As another example, the time required to raise the landing gear will vary with temperature since there is a relationship between hydraulic pressure and temperature modelled. There are also mechanical locks for the landing gear and flaps, which are exclusive. This means that if you forget to put the landing gear lever back to the Neutral position, you cannot move the flaps handle, and vice-versa: if in the circuit you put the flaps down and don’t return them to Neutral, you cannot lower or raise the gear lever.
Q14: How different is flying a P-40F from flying a more modern aircraft like the P-51D Mustang? Are there “old school” features like a hand-operated hydraulic pump for the landing gear?
[Stig] The P-40F is a different aircraft compared to the P-51D. The P-51D wing is using a laminar flow airfoil, a radiator exploiting the “Meredith Effect1”, and an engine with more power. This makes the P-51D fly faster at high altitudes. The P-40F, on the other hand, is quite maneuverable and very agile at lower speeds and low to medium altitude. Also, it has one of the fastest dive speeds of that time period. We have a lot of the “old school” features implemented, especially the hydraulic system including the hand pump, the special gear and flaps handling.
[Pete] There is an incredible level of detail in the ASM, be that hydraulics, electrics or any other system. The hydraulic system is fully modelled including the requirement to use the manual pump to achieve system lock. Some users may mistakenly send us bug reports about a collapsing gear, but it is a real-life feature of the plane: if the pilot fails to use the waggle stick…your landing gear may very well collapse the second it hits the ground! Things like the lock-out for the hydraulics with the flaps and gear systems are also fully implemented. We also have included feedback from the engineers into our ASM, known weaknesses and behaviours, some of which are off-book and not mentioned in the manuals but yet are commonly experienced by people on the ground. I am not going to go into those in detail, it will be more interesting to see DCS pilots discover them as the real pilots of the time would have had to do!
Systems like the fuel system include a common flow back issue, meaning that when you start a P-40 after it has been shut down for a while some fuel will back flow into the reserve tank: this has also been modelled. Unique behaviours of the gauges have also been included as well, so don’t always trust what your gauges tell you – trust your own eyes as well!
Q15: Will operating the engine beyond recommended limits have any effect on engine performance (including engine seizure)? To what extend is the depth of the complex engine management / model from a programming perspective?
[Stig] Yes, operating the engine beyond of its limits will have a lot effects on the engine performance and durability. The backbone of the engine simulation is a tailored thermodynamic model that gives an overall description of the processes inside the engine cycles. We mainly focus on energy related aspects like volumetric efficiency, heat transfers, etc. for analytical purposes. This information is utilized to calculate indicated work. This basic fluid mechanics and thermodynamics are extended basic coverage of detailed chemistry.
[Chuck] When flying the Kittyhawk, I also noticed that the speedometer and manifold gauges have some faults programmed in: the manifold pressure and airspeed needles will wobble when pulling a loop or during high-G turns.
Q16: What can you tell us about VEAO’s relationship with The Fighter Collection, and their role and influence in the development process of the P-40F?
[Chris] We have a great relationship with TFC and not just in terms of DCS. The team at Duxford are like our second family and we always enjoy visiting them throughout the year and not just for the air shows. Having the ability to climb all over TFC’s aircraft to get accurate data is an amazing privilege and the team are very accommodating with us.
[Pete] Over the years, we have built up a fantastic relationship not only with the pilots from TFC but also the engineers and volunteers as well. The work that they do is so important to the running of TFC and the knowledge and experience they have acquired over the years is invaluable to us. Everyone at TFC helps us in any way that they can and we cannot thank them enough for this as it really is an amazing resource to be able to call upon.
Q17: What validation processes are you using to ensure that the P-40F performs as intended? Did you have access to test pilots? What reference material did you use to generate the simulation model?
[Pete] We have access to over ten P-40 pilots who are willing to spend time with us refining our simulation model with their real life experiences. They help us translate those into the most immersive experience we can make. They obviously have their own notes and records to call upon as well as a great research team that scour the internet and databases for information that might be missing. We also have SMEs (subject matter experts) on pretty much every facet of aircraft operations. So, if we need to know something and we don’t already know it… we know someone who does!
Q18: What armament and equipment does VEAO intend to include for the P-40? Any bombs/rockets/external fuel tanks?
• 6 x .50 caliber machine-guns
• 2 x 500 lbs bombs or 2 x 250 lbs bombs
• Centreline external fuel tank
Q19: The road to the release of the Hawk EFM (External Flight Model) was a bumpy one. What did VEAO learn from this experience and how did these lessons learned have an effect on the development of the P-40?
[Chris] The actual EFM development for Hawk was pretty straight-forward. The biggest issue was the code interface between the ASM and EFM. The ASM programmer was no longer on the team and this in itself had challenges in that we had to learn that code over again when producing the interface code. Also, quite a few of the cockpit systems interact with the EFM like fuel, hydraulics, etc. and some had to be completely re-written to work with an advanced flight model and not a simple one as they were originally coded for. With the P-40F, we could start fresh using the lessons that we learned from Hawk, which made the whole process much smoother and straight-forward.
[Pete] Between the release of the Hawk and P-40, we did a number of organizational changes behind the scenes within VEAO. This fresh approach enabled us to change the way that we address certain challenges regarding the interface between the EFM and ASM. Although this meant more work in the short term than we would have liked, it very much is a system that has been developed with the future in mind and more succession in code from one project to the other where it is viable. Making templates has enabled us to have great modular approach to development of basic and rudimentary systems. For the avoidance of doubt, using a template does not mean that every aircraft operates the same way or behaves in the same manner. It simply means that we don’t have to program from scratch for each and every aircraft. We anticipate a smooth launch for P-40 and look forward to the public getting their hands on her!
Q20: As we’ve all seen, VEAO has been hard at work on both the P-40 and the Hawk. When is VEAO aiming for an Open Beta release?
[Chuck] I have flown the alpha version of the P-40 for a couple of hours now and I thought I would share some of my first impressions. I haven’t had time yet to check more advanced aspects of the Kittyhawk such as fuel systems, radios, or advanced flight manoeuvers, but as I did when testing other DCS aircraft, I have come to a point where I feel I have spent enough time to be able to provide an accurate picture of what we’re dealing with here. First, I saw that some switches within the cockpit are still a work-in-progress. Pete assured me that the VEAO team is hard at work to get these last few features implemented and bug-free. I also saw that the sounds were placeholders and once again, Pete assured me that they would be completely reworked before anyone could get their hands on it.
Having seen what the P-40 was a year ago, I can honestly say that what I saw then and what I see now is like comparing night and day. The P-40 feels like a much more mature product, and I have experienced no crashes at all. The framerate within the aircraft is stable and smooth (a solid 60+ frames per second). The flight model is nothing to sneer at either. Having flown hundreds of hours in Eagle Dynamics’ P-51D Mustang myself, I can assure you that the P-40’s flight model is at the very least on par with the Mustang in terms of “feeling of flight” and fidelity. I would even dare say that I found the P-40’s flight model to feel a little bit smoother and more fluid. I tried a couple of spins, snap rolls, and loops at different fuel settings: the aircraft felt heavy yet powerful enough to hold its own when using gravity to your advantage. Snap rolls require an impeccable timing with your rudder to come back in a level attitude: it will definitely be an interesting challenge for those who want to do aerobatic flying. Flying feels organic and natural, and mastering the P-40 in combat will be a real challenge that I am more than willing to take on. I have come to realize that being even a tenth of a second too late on a roll can be the difference between a “nailed it” and a “oh god what the hell is happening?” It is a real pilot’s plane: easy to fly, but hard to master. I am a sucker for little details and I was not disappointed. The more I flew the airplane, the more little quirks I discovered that I won’t spoil for you guys. Half the fun is finding out these little details for yourself and going “ah-haaaaaa!” once you finally figure out the “why” after Googling for hours.
Flying the P-40 feels like a completely different experience from flying the Mustang: you have little visibility in the front and it requires much more peripheral vision to fly this thing. In my opinion, the biggest difference was the complete re-work of the cockpit. Gibbage’s work is astounding and speaks for itself. The attention to detail and the quality of the metallic textures and 3D model bristling with eye-catching rivets, nuts and bolts brings VEAO’s Kittyhawk to a whole new level. With its stout landing gear and its sturdy wings, the aircraft just oozes American muscle. This isn’t your average general aviation airplane: each lever feels like it was taken from a farm tractor. Operating these switches and levers brings you into a very physical mode, showing that you required real muscle to operate the aircraft. If Pete, Chris and the VEAO Team keep up the good work, I think the P-40’s release will please most WWII fans. This new addition to the DCS WWII hangar is shaping up to be a solid product.
Many thanks to the VEAO Team for taking the time to answer our questions.