The VRS F/A-18E Superbug. What can I say?
Well, if you're even slightly interested in the flight sim world, you have already heard about it. If you're into military flight simulation, you probably own it, too. So if you are reading this, you must either be really out of touch with flight simulation, or maybe just want a second (or fifteenth) opinion on this beast of a simulation. After all, it's price tag is quite hefty if you consider the cost of TacPack as well. So, is it worth it? (TL;DR: Yes.)
The F/A-18E "Super Hornet" is a further development of the F/A-18C, which is the trusty airframe currently used by the Blue Angels. It is a multirole fighter jet capable of carrier operation and started to replace the Navy's F-14 Tomcat in 1999.
The small team at VRS (Vertical Reality Simulations) took it upon them to develop a representation of the F/A-18E for FSX, as close to reality as possible, and - long story short - succeeded. With the release of the TacPack later on they even implemented actual weapon systems, something FSX hasn't seen before.
Part 1 - The Visuals
The header image already spoils what I'm going to say here. Even with the outdated FSX graphics engine this airplane looks amazing. The textures are crisp and the model is very detailed. Pretty 3D gauges, beautiful HUD, VRS has done everything right. You'll see your loadout on the wings and get vapor effects near sonic speed. The only thing that is sadly not modeled is wing flex, but as you'll spend most of the time looking forward it's forgivable. Prepar3D takes the visuals even further and the plane feels right at home with the new features and improved graphics engine, providing stunning visuals that tend to look like real photographs.
Part 2 - The Handling
Obviously I have never flown a real F-18 or any fighter jet for that matter (Do gliders count? They have similar bubble canopies. No? Fine.) but I imagine it would handle very much like the simulation. The F/A-18E's control system is fly-by-wire, which VRS fully implemented. In fact, all systems are based on the official NATOPS manuals and other declassified documents, so the simulation is modeled as closely to these descriptions as possible. Having flown a few planes in real life, this virtual representation is very believable and feels realistic, if that counts for something; and in flight sim I'd say that it does.
While some things like upside-down high alpha stunts a couple feet above the ground - shout out to Chris for that one - seem pretty impossible (then again, have you tried it IRL?) I would blame such "outtakes" on the engine limitations within FSX/P3D. If you stick to "normal" maneuvers, including formation flight and dogfighting, the Superbug handles as you would expect and feels right - whether you're at 25000ft going Mach 1.5 or 30ft above ground, full power, high alpha, near stall.
Part 3 - The Systems
While the depth of the simulation and it's steep learning curve don't make it a "hop in and fly" experience, VRS does offer an option to have it ready for takeoff. So if you're more interested in how it handles first before you inevitably have to learn how to work the systems, then you're free to take off and fly around before hitting the tutorials on the VRS Wiki. To get the most out of your plane you'll have to read it all - probably more than once, too. If you do however you will dive into one of the most detailed flight sim addons on the market, on par with the DCS A-10C or the PMDG products.
My final thoughts
It takes a lot of time to learn, but once you lock on with that AIM-9X or successfully air-to-air refuel during a long overseas flight you'll know why this plane is so enjoyable. A big plus: it's still updated regularly and support is superb. The believable/realistic flight model and in-depth systems make this the ultimate military jet addon for FSX and P3D - even if you're not in it for the combat simulation.
10/10 will just read manuals all day - Mazzn