Battle of the Ansons: A2A or FSAddon?
Introduction: My Interest In The Anson
[By Kenneth Kerr] FSX. When I look back at my childhood and early teens, one of my most enduring memories is of the countless hours I spent making Airfix kits. I amassed more than one hundred 1/72 scale aircraft models in my collection over those years, and the hobby was my passion. I took great pride in the construction and painting of those models, and they represented most of the aircraft that typically get the limelight in the hobbyist’s eyes.
Among my numerous models of WW2 classics such as the Spitfire, Hurricane, Mustang, B-17 and Lancaster, there was one aircraft that I had not heard of until I made the kit. It was not the most exciting or glamorous of aircraft, but there was something about the design that appealed to me. As I recall, it was the vast amount of glass that surrounded the cabin. As I looked at the big windows along the fuselage of the model, I used to imagine being on the inside looking out. Even as a kid I figured the view would have been amazing! That aircraft was the Avro Anson.
As I grew into adulthood, my modelling hobby was left behind, and the models were boxed and stored in the attic at my folk’s house in Scotland. I also forgot all about the Avro Anson, not even thinking about it when Flight Simulation came into my life years later. But that was to change.
In 2010, I paid a visit to the Western Development Museum in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, and there I saw one of the first eight Ansons to come to Canada at the beginning of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. I remember being impressed by the presence it had, and once more I was amazed by those big windows. But it was in 2014 that “Faithful Annie” really returned to my awareness, on a bitterly-cold February day, and in a most unexpected manner.
On that day, I discovered a junk yard in a small village that I’d recently moved to, and after trudging through snow that was knee-deep, in temperatures colder than the inside of most household freezers, I came face-to-face with a number of Avro Anson relics, including a forward fuselage section complete with an instrument panel.
[Note: For format purposes, many images throughout this review are cropped. Click each image for full size resolution preview where desired.]
Having built several home cockpits over the years, I instantly had a vision of constructing an Anson simpit for FSX, but I knew the limitations of available space would probably prevent me from embarking on the project. Although I would later return to the junk yard and buy the instrument panel, at the time I left the fuselage where it was, and simply started looking for an Anson to fly in FSX.
It didn’t take long to come to the conclusion that the type had been somewhat neglected by the Flight Sim world over the years. While there had been a few models in the FS5-FS8 eras, as far as I could tell the only freeware model available for the entire FS9 period was built by Dave Garwood and released in early 2004.
I downloaded it and put it into FSX, adding the very simple VC that Dave had released two years after his original build. While the aircraft still looked pretty good from the outside, let’s say that it showed its age as far as the interior was concerned. None-the-less, kudos must be given to Mr. Garwood for filling a gap in the hangar for a decade. I have no doubt that if he were to build an Anson today, it would be as brilliant as his current V4 DH Dragon Rapide, a freeware release that is certainly up to today’s commercial standards.
So, having realized that Dave’s classic model was not going to suffice, I decided to look to the commercial world, and was delighted to learn that A2A Simulations Aircraft Factory division had released an Anson for FSX in late 2013. I bought it without hesitation, and for most of 2014 it was the sole example of the type in my personal FSX environment.
Then, late in 2014, FSAddon released their Anson collection to the market. As unlikely as it seemed to be, flight simmers suddenly had a choice between two great FSX Anson models, and A2A suddenly had competition on their hands. So which is the best value for money? And which of these products represents the best quality? Since I now have both the FSAddon collection and the Aircraft Factory product, that’s what this report will attempt to answer.
A Quick History Lesson
Looking at various flight simulation forums, it’s clear that many flight simmers know little or nothing about the Avro Anson. For that reason, let’s give an initial history of the type.
The Avro Anson began as a British airliner in the years prior to the outbreak of WW2. Imperial Airways wanted an aircraft they could use on a proposed route between England and Italy, and their specifications demanded that it carry up to six passengers at speeds of around 150 mph. A. V. Roe’s head of design, Roy Chadwick, came up with an appropriate twin-engine, low-wing design, and they designated it the Avro 652. Two aircraft were ordered, and they subsequently served the airline very well, until the worsening political situation in Europe changed things.
During this time, the British Air Ministry was also looking for new aircraft. The clouds of war were beginning to gather on the horizon, and Britain was starting to re-arm just in case. An Air Ministry specification was drafted for a new general reconnaissance bomber, and Avro presented a militarized version of the 652. It was christened the Anson, and first flew in March of 1935. Following a competition with the D.H. Rapide, the Anson was chosen for RAF production, and the first examples were delivered to the RAF’s No. 48 Squadron at RAF Manston in March 1936. Designated the Anson Mk.1, the aircraft served initially in both coastal reconnaissance and navigation training roles. From the initial production batch of Ansons, a number of squadrons were formed over the next two years. At first these were painted in silver dope, but this changed after the Munich Crisis of 1938, and thereafter it was common to see Mk.1 RAF Ansons wearing green and brown camouflage patterns.
Although the Anson saw service throughout the war, and various versions continued flying for decades afterward, this initial history lesson provides more than enough background for the first section of our report. You see, while the FSAddon package provides multiple versions of the Anson, both military and civil, wartime and post-war, the A2A Aircraft Factory release only provides one model, the Mk.1 as represented in the first production batch of the aircraft. What does this mean? It means in a sense we are comparing apples and oranges when trying to provide a direct comparison of the two packages. For that reason, this report will consist of two sections. The first section will focus on comparing the A2A Aircraft Factory Mk.1 Anson with the corresponding FSAddon Mk.1 Anson, then section two will review the expanded range of Anson variants represented in the FSAddon package. It’s in section two that we’ll also draw some conclusions regarding the two product offerings.
Section One: Comparing The Early Mk.1’s
1. The Exterior of the Aircraft Factory Anson Mk.1:
The Aircraft Factory Anson package contains only the early Mk.1 Anson from the first production batch. We can deduce this because of the shape of the windshield. You see, the first production Ansons were designed with a steeply-sloping windshield, whereas the second production batch had a re-designed window treatment, with a more upright angle and less panes of glass. The reason for the change was the fact that the early windows simply let in too much of the often-present British rain!
The Aircraft Factory Anson is supplied in four historically-accurate paint schemes.
2. The exterior of the FSAddon Anson Mk.1:
Now, the FSAddon package also contains Mk.1 Ansons (plus a number of later variants), and these are also supplied in several colour schemes. However, most of their Mk.1’s represent the later production batches, complete with the revised windshield, so they will be left to the later section for review.
The FSAddon Anson that most-closely equates to the Aircraft Factory Anson is labelled as a GR.1 and this indeed has the early sloping windshield. That model is finished in RAF camouflage as seen below.
From the outside, the Aircraft Factory Anson offers a nice-looking aircraft, it’s also good on frame rates. It’s a simple and straightforward rendition of an early Mk.1.
This is also a very nice model to look at in FSX, but how does it compare with the Aircraft Factory example?
3. Exteriors compared:
There is no doubt that both A2A and FSAddon Ansons look good from the outside, but when push comes to a shove, one looks good and the other looks better. Which one do you think will win this round? If you are the proud owner of any of A2A’s “Accu-sim” range (Cessna 172, Piper Cherokee, Cessna 182), you’ll probably expect me to say that the A2A Anson beats the heck out of the contender from FSAddon. Well… sorry… if you think that – you’re wrong. You see, the A2A Anson comes from their “Aircraft Factory” range, and it was intended from the beginning to be a budget product. The fact is, this deliberate design rationale and market positioning shows itself in the product when it comes to certain aspects of exterior detail.
The Aircraft Factory brand serves as A2A's budget line of products. The Aircraft Factory line of products was created on the ideology of offering quality simulated aircraft at a low price. With realistic modelling the Aircraft Factory line is aimed at the get up and go type of flyer while keeping the basic checklists and systems in place ideal for new comers and a good starting point for users to move more systems intensive A2A products from the Wings of Silver, Wings of Power and ultimately Accu-sim aircraft. Ultimately, the Aircraft factory line is A2A's relaxed realism line from not just A2A's in house team but outside developers as well. The Anson is one of the aircraft produced by guest developers and released under the Aircraft Factory label. Any use of the term A2A in this review is only to denote the primary publisher of the product.
Aircraft Factory Variant
It would appear that the FSAddon Anson GR.1 is considerably more detailed on the exterior than the corresponding A2A Anson Mk.1. However, some astute readers might wonder where the machine gun is in the FSAddon turret? While the gun is always in a deployed position in the A2A Anson, it is supposed to be animated in the FSAddon aircraft. I say “supposed to be” because I simply could find no way to move it from its stowed position. Maybe I’m missing something?
4. The 2d cockpit options:
Many FS aircraft these days don’t have any kind of 2d instrument panel, and that is the case with both the A2A and FSAddon offerings. However, in the A2A aircraft there are several additional screens that pop up with the use of SHIFT+ keys. There’s nothing like that in the FSAddon offering, so the following information only pertains to the A2A Anson.
SHIFT+2 brings up the first in a series of Pilot’s Notes screens. Here’s the first one…
To the bottom right of the notes there’s a clickable link to move to the next (or previous) page. There are five pages, including notes on airspeeds, pre-flight checks, engine start, run up, take0ff, climb, level flight, approach and landing.
SHIFT+3 brings up a “controls” screen, as seen below:
From this screen you can click titles to crank the engines, open or close the door, set wheel chocks, turn on the magnetos, and activate the various lights. You are also supposed to be able to show or remove the pilot, navigator and radio operator, but clicking on these last three listings did nothing for me. Maybe I am once again missing something?
SHIFT+4 brings up a really neat navigation screen, as seen below
This screen is a lot of fun, and practical too. It’s like a moving map that you can use to overlay various display elements upon. The buttons to the left allow zooming, and also the addition of compass details, adjustable distance rings, terrain, airport/airspace information, ILS overlays, and more. This screen can also be activated in the VC by clicking on a leather pouch to the left of the pilot’s seat.
SHIFT+5 brings up a screen with a radio stack, HSI and VOR1. I did not take a screenshot because it’s pretty much standard FSX instruments.
With regard to 2d pop-ups, the A2A is the winner of this round by default. There’s nothing to compare these with in the FSAddon aircraft.
5. The Virtual Cockpits compared:
As with the exterior, so with the interior. To my eyes the VC of the A2A Anson Mk.1 is good, but the VC in the FSAddon one is better.
To begin with, there are simply more selectable views in the FSAddon offering. Once in the VC of the A2A aircraft, using the “A” key allows you to cycle between three VC views. These are:- Virtual Cockpit, Navigator, and Radio Operator. By comparison, the same action in the VC of the FSAddon Anson cycles through:- Virtual Cockpit, Fuel Tanks Interconnection Cock, Bombardier, Navigator, Radio Operator, and Dorsal Turret.
But it’s not just the number of views that puts the FSAddon aircraft ahead here, its also the level of detail in the VC. Once more I will let screenshots show you what I mean.
Aircraft Factory Variant
And then, there are a couple of very important VC positions ONLY available in the FSAddon version…
So… More views, and more detail. These two factors would already be enough to put the FSAddon VC ahead of the A2A, but there’s one more element. There’s simply more to do in the FSAddon VC.
While the A2A VC has plenty of click points in terms of buttons to press and levers to pull, the FSAddon goes one stage further. Over and above those obvious buttons and levers, the sim pilot can use the mouse to…
- Open the small triangular vents in the front quarter windows
- Open the forward right and forward left side windows
- Operate the rudder trim and set it by watching the chain links
- Pull down the gun sight
- Open or close the safety cover for the magneto switches
- Stow the co-pilot’s seat, which also makes the co-pilot visible or invisible from outside the aircraft
- Crank the lever to open or close the bomb bay doors
- Hide or show the control yoke by clicking on the main panel
- Put the control lock in place to prevent movement of the control yoke. This also removes all crew from the inside of the aircraft, and adds two mechanics working on the aircraft. One is sitting on a tractor, and the other is working on the engine. It also places pitot head covers, wheel chocks, etc.
- In some models the windshield wipers can be activated
- Looking back in the VC, side windows further aft in the cabin can also be clicked open.
This is a level of immersion simply not available in the A2A Anson, For all of the above reasons, (more windows, more detail and more immersion), in the battle of the VCs, I give this round to the FSAddon product.
6. Flying the Mk.1 Ansons
In the final analysis, no matter how good an aircraft looks in FSX, or any other sim platform for that matter, it’s also important that it is flyable, so let’s get these babies in the air and try them out in the virtual skies.
Because the first operational base for RAF Ansons was RAF Manston, I have chosen to also fly out of that airport in FSX. I am using ORBX England as a base scenery, and have added a slightly older version of UK2000’s airports to put more detail into the sim. I’ve also installed a superb series of AI ship addons available as freeware, so if you see a detailed ship or tw0 in the screenshots, that’s why!
Now, there are two ways to fly an aircraft in FSX, one is by the book, and the other is by the seat of your pants! With the A2A Anson, the 13-page manual simply gives little detail to fly it by the book. Performance references are very sparse, and are limited to maximum speed 188 mph at 7,000 ft, service ceiling 19,000 ft, rate of climb 750 ft/min, and climb and approach speed of 100 mph. The pop-up pilot’s notes adds cruise at 120-150 mph. Not a whole lot to go on to fly “by the book.”
The manual of the FSAddon collection is considerably larger than that of the A2A, coming in at 50 pages of PDF document as opposed to 13 pages. However, most of the manual deals with outlining the many different versions of Anson included in the collection, and describing the numerous animations mentioned earlier. While there are checklists (as there are in the A2A manual), not much more is added to the information given in the A2A manual in terms of operating the aircraft, with the exception of a few RPM/boost figures and a 130 mph speed to slow down to in preparation for landing.
Bottom line… This is going to be a “seat of your pants” flight test.
The Aircraft Factory Anson first….
I decide to start off with the A2A Anson. I set all aircraft realism sliders to maximum, and ask for real weather. Hmm, clear skies, winds calm… Oh well, I’ll take it! But wait, now that I’m back in the aircraft, I see some clouds over the North Sea… OK, let’s do it.
Into the VC, I set flaps… Hang on, it would appear the A2A Anson has either flaps fully retracted, or flaps fully down. Note to self… Check on the REAL Anson if this is the case. So, full flaps it is… And now I notice a placard on the panel of the A2A Anson, it says “Flaps must not be in the down position at speeds above 98 mph.” So, if I am to climb at around 100 mph, and approach at the same speed, just when am I supposed to use the flaps? Hmmm… Screw the flaps! I put them back up… Yeah yeah, “Seat of the pants” – I know!
Trim a bit forward, I apply full power, watching both the boost and RPM, and holding the yolk slightly forward to encourage the tailwheel to lift when ready. The right rudder input is essential to keep the aircraft barreling down the runway, and the tail lifts at around 65 mph. At 100 mph I notice the aircraft wants to become airborne, so with RPM’s at around “22”, and the boost at “+2″, I ease off the forward pressure on the yoke, and lift into the air. Gear up, I quickly accelerate to 120 mph, and then pull the stick back, and trim to maintain 100 mph and around 750 ft/min climb.
Suddenly my airspeed increases and I’m not sure why. The red light goes out indicating that the gear is now fully up, and that’s when I remember the Anson takes a LONG time to retract or deploy the wheels! I ease back on the power to ease stress on the engine, and work at trimming the aircraft all over again for the desired rate of climb and airspeed.
At this point, I really notice the beautiful throaty sound of the A2A’s engines. I turn up the speakers and let the vibrations pulsate through me.. Oh yeah!
I level off at 2,500 ft, and power back to a boost of -1, keeping the airspeed at around 120 mph. There’s some turbulence as I near the clouds, but the flight model is handling it nicely. Ahead I see a ship and decide to play coastal reconnaissance, just as they did for real. Power comes down, and I ease towards it at 132 mph and 500 ft/min descent rate. I decide to steepen the descent but as the speed rises to 150 mph, I ease the power off completely, and then hear the warning horn blaring because the gear is still up. In the real Anson, this horn was linked to airspeed, not engine RPM as it is here.
Now I’m making a right turn to ease in behind the ship. I’m going to fly along the starboard side of the vessel and take a screenshot to represent my reconnaissance of it. The gear warning is still blaring, it’s annoying, so I power up a little, watching the airspeed to avoid over-speeding the Anson. Turbulence increases and I have to carefully co-ordinate my turn as the aircraft wants to rotate around the roll axis slightly. Passing alongside the ship, the screenshots capture the moments.. Mission accomplished sir!
I decide that this is probably typical of the flying many simmers will do with the Anson, so refrain from testing out such things as stalls, spins, never exceed speeds and even ceiling. So, I make a climbing turn westward, and am now heading back to RAF Manston.
A few miles away, I remember to drop the gear early. Easing back on the power, I let the speed drop to 120 mph and lazily use the gear switch on my throttle quadrant. By the time I am at a mid-left downwind for Manston, the gear is fully down and the light has gone out.
And then, as I make the turn from base to final approach, I notice something strange. At the beginning of the turn, the slip needle indeed suggests that I use left rudder to maintain a left turn. However, as I give the aircraft left rudder input, the needle swings further to the left instead of responding to the control input by centering. A wee bug maybe?
Easing onto final approach, speed is maintained easily at 100 mph. Then I allow it to drop below the 98 mph and deploy flaps. Final flare takes place at 80 mph, and I do a two instead of three pointer landing.
In short, the A2A flies nicely! Now let’s try the FSAddon aircraft in the same flight profile.
FSAddon Anson now…
Jumping into the FSAddon Anson immediately after the A2A, the first thing I notice is the vastly-different sound. It’s got more of a treble sound to it, not as resonant as that of the A2A. Truth be told, whether it is accurate or not I cannot say, but from a purely subjective point of view I prefer the sound of the A2A aircraft. I turn my speakers down a little.
I set flaps, noting that the FSAddon aircraft has multiple deflection positions. Again I’ll need to check on the reality of this. I notice the same placard on the panel, and decide not to use flaps, just as I had done on the earlier flight. Trimming the wheel forward, I notice a bug. The trim wheel in the VC acts the wrong way. Trimming nose down the wheel moves backwards instead of forwards. I notice this because I use a lever on my throttle for trim control. If I only used the mouse on the VC’s wheel, I would be in the wrong configuration for take off. Not a good thing! Take off is about the same as the A2A. Tailwheel up at around 65 mph, maybe a little higher, holding some right rudder, and I do notice less of a tendency for the aircraft to automatically become airborne. I think it takes a bit more backward pressure on the stick to get us off the runway, but this could be a trim issue, who knows. In the climb, I get a feeling that the FSAddon wants to fly faster with the gear down than the A2A did, and I notice when the red light goes out for the gear, there is no sudden increase in speed as I saw with the A2A. It’s as if a drag element is missing in the flight model of the FSAddon, where it is present in the A2A. Is the much-praised “Accu-sim” experience of A2A showing itself even just a little in the A2A flight model? I wonder.
Leveling off at 2,500 ft, I bring the power back to a boost of -1, and this brings the airspeed to 130 mph, a bit faster than the previous test flight. The weather has changed a little now, the clouds are a little lower, and this brings a bit more turbulence as I skirt their lower base. Time to look for ships! Off to my left there are two vessels visible. I drop the power right down to idle, and… aha!… no gear warning to annoy me this time! I make a descending-turn to the left, noticing a slightly greater roll than the A2A displayed as turbulence from the cloud hits the aircraft.
Watching the speed and descent rate, I decide to bring down the gun sight, and I also open the bomb bay doors just for fun. I maintain my descent so that the ship stays firmly in the sights. This really is more immersive than the approach I made in the A2A Anson as a result.
Within moments, make a positive identification. The ship is a cross-channel ferry. I ease slightly to the right, passing the ship’s port-side on a reciprocal heading. Better close those bomb doors!
As I climb out to the north, I decide to take another look at the now quickly-receding ferry, but this time from the turret!
That’s when I remembered the second ship that I’d seen a few moments ago. I make a bee-line to it, and capture another view that is only possible with the FSAddon product.
I’m heading back to RAF Manston now, and once again I notice a greater tendency for the turbulence to roll the aircraft than I experienced in the A2A Anson. This is not an aircraft you could fly hands-off in anything but calm weather. It’s making me work just a bit harder than it’s counterpart and competitor, quite a bit harder actually.
Descent and turn onto final are easy, I land a bit fast and bounce the aircraft a foot off the runway, but I bet a lot of students did that in Faithful Annie in real life too! My test flights are over, and so is the direct comparison of the A2A Anson and the FSAddon Anson. I will draw final conclusions at the end of the report, but now we need to look at the much greater Anson experience offered by the FSAddon product alone.
Section Two – FSAddon's Expanded Anson Experience
As I said earlier, the A2A product only provides four repaints of the first version of the Anson Mk.1, for that reason everything you have read up to now has focused on comparing the A2A Mk.1 with the corresponding FSAddon Mk.1 (actually labeled as a GR.1). However, where the A2A product stops, the FSAddon product is just beginning. It’s no accident that FSAddon calls their product the Anson collection, for it truly is worthy of that terminology.
I’ve already mentioned that later Anson Mk.1’s witnessed a change in the shape and position of the windshield, but this was only one of many changes made to the Anson. Over the years there were changes to the engines, modifications to instrument panels, and massive revisions to the shape and size of the fuselage to accommodate differing roles, both military and civil. These major changes are represented in the FSAddon collection.
Instead of getting into great written descriptions, let’s once more allow pictures and captions to tell the tale. Take a look now at the sheer comprehensiveness of the FSAddon product.
1. The Anson versions from the outside
Although there were other designation marks in real life, these featured aircraft represent the major versions throughout the development of the Avro Anson. But it’s not just the exteriors that have been re-designed by FSAddon.
2. The Anson versions from the inside
3. The Anson With The Difference
With all these different versions, virtual cockpits and interiors, you might be forgiven for thinking you’ve already seen everything the FSAddon product offers… Well, there’s one more jewel in the crown.
And … The Conclusion…
As was stated way back in the early part of this report, when comparing the A2A Anson with the FSAddon Anson collection, we’re really comparing apples and oranges.
- The A2A product offers one basic version
- The FSAddon collection offers multiple versions with significant detail changes in each custom-designed version
- The A2A product provides four liveries
- The FSAddon collection provides 13 liveries
- The A2A product has one basic VC interior
- The FSAddon collection provides multiple interiors with different cockpits and cabins
Simply put, there’s no comparison when it comes to placing the two product packages side by side. For that reason, our first section only compared the most-similar Mk.1 Ansons from each company. So what do I think of that comparison?
- In terms of exterior detail, the vote goes to FSAddon
- In terms of interior detail, the vote goes to FSAddon
- In terms of number of VC view positions, the vote goes to FSAddon
- In terms of VC clickable interactivity, the vote goes to FSAddon
- In terms of additional 2d windows, the vote goes to A2A
- In terms of sound, the vote goes to A2A
- In terms of flight model and dynamics, the vote goes marginally to A2A
My take? I declare the winner in a direct model-for-model comparison to be FSAddon.
And what about value for money? This is where we must compare the two product offerings side-by-side, for ultimately, people vote with their hard-earned cash!
- The A2A Anson can be ordered from the A2A website currently for $16.99 USD.
- The A2A Anson is promoted only for use in FSX
- The FSAddon Anson Collection can be ordered now from SimMarket at around $25.73, but this is a conversion from Euros, so I would suppose the rate might fluctuate
- The FSAddon Anson collection is for both FSX and P3D
With less than $10 between the out-of-pocket costs of these two products, considering the massive amount of extra scope, features, and utility of the FSAddon product, it’s a no-brainer. The winner in terms of value for money is FSAddon.
And there’s one more matter you might want to consider. We are all part of a wonderful Flight Sim community, so how has that community supported each product through the creation and provision of re-paints. Looking at several of the most-popular sites, I have found only six repaints for the A2A Anson so far. For the FSAddon Anson, one major website alone has 42 repaints, with examples from many countries that were not represented in the original product.
Final word… If you only want one Avro Anson in your FSX skies, and you are on a budget, grab the A2A product and you really won’t be disappointed. But, if you want a comprehensive representation of the Anson in both FSX and P3d, with obviously-greater community support in terms of free repaints, you can spend an extra $10 (or less, depending on exchange rates) and be literally blown away by the value for money and quality of the FSAddon Anson collection.
In conclusion, the FSAddon Anson collection was the work of one designer, that’s right, one man! As far as I’m concerned Mr. Simon Smeiman is a master designer. He deserves all the praise and any income that comes to him for his two years of dedicated effort in producing the Anson collection. All I can say is, “Well done sir!”