Review: MFS2020 MB-339A/PAN by IndiaFoxtEcho
Microsoft Flight Simulator (2020) proudly retains its open modding environment from its FSX predecessor which produced excellent third-party add-ons that increased the simulator’s long shelf life. The IndiaFoxtEcho MB-339A is a stellar example of that expandability and offers, like it’s lead-in fighter trainer namesake presents, a great entry-level opportunity for high-speed acrobatic flight within the Microsoft Flight Simulator experience. DISCLAIMER: We were given a review copy of this expansion by IndiaFoxtEcho themselves, which we appreciate very much. Even then, they gave us complete creative freedom over this review and the opinions that will be written are our own. OVERVIEW The module includes two variants of the aircraft: The standard LIFT MB-339A, and the acrobatic oriented MB-339PAN—performance to the casual player might not be noticeable despite the change in fuel load and weight and balance, though the PAN does not include further liveries beyond that of only operator, the 313° Gruppo Addestramento Acrobatico, where its wing tanks have been accurately removed and replaced with a pair of smoke generators on mid-wing hardpoints. The cockpit has received an alteration, removing the gunsight and placing more emphasis with orientation on your heads-down instrumentation. The MB-339A is, as mentioned, a Lead-In Fighter Trainer produced by Aermacchi. The aircraft’s history is told in a quick brief within the specifications available in Hangar mode, and the loading screens will present you with quick single-sentence facts about the trainer. Delightfully well-detailed and presented with a generous selection of liveries, the MB-339 presents a picture-perfect representation of the trainer. I however unapologetically choose to fly in standard grey because I’m vanilla like that. DEVOTION TO DETAIL It is hard not to want to admire it in Hangar view for extended periods of time. It can’t be shown in a screenshot, but the movement of the pilot and copilot’s heads is a nice touch of detail. Sneaking a peek into the engine bay reveals a fully modeled stator—the devotion to ensure that every angle is authentic is greatly appreciated. The 4K-quality texturing does the aircraft the justice it deserves, with sharp clarity even in the densely-written caution markings prominently featured below the instructor’s seating position. Speaking of detail, you may want to sequester yourself in hangar mode for a bit anyway—getting familiar with the cockpit is a must. COCKPIT FAMILIARIZATION AND PROCEDURES I’m a simple flyer—I’m used to uncomplicated, straight forward cockpit designs in my simulators. I derive pleasure from simply hovering over a town in a DA42 or a C172. I even broke the bank and shelled out for the Deluxe edition of this game just so I could have a C172 with steam-gauges, since that is how I trained in reality. This results in my need to ID and manipulate flight systems using mouse-clicks. Yes, keybindings are always available, but it removes from the tactility and authenticity of the control. So when I want to unlock the parking brake, I search for it and click it from the cockpit, no matter what the aircraft may be, rather than just pressing a simple button. The open, user-friendly cockpits of the C172 or DA42 allow that no matter your skill level—the MB-339, not as much. The MB-339’s cockpit is a much more cramped affair, offering a mix between the simplicity of a turboprop and the complexity of a commuter jet. What’s most noticeable is how much more of a head swivel I need to identify each of my systems and ensure I can get to them. The parking brake might be open and visible just above my left knee, but the flap controls are well-hidden behind the throttle. Control density also presents a challenge—trying to manipulate those flap-controls by mouse click might instead see you unlock the canopy in mid-flight—thank goodness flight speeds in a trainer like this are manageably low. But that’s also what makes it fun for flyers like me. It sounds complicated, but it actually increases that feeling of authenticity that I want to pursue, and authentic it is. Unlike even a fair portion of the built-in modules provided by Microsoft, the MB-339 models operation of a significantly higher portion of the flight controls for the pilot. The developers of the 787 might think the de-icer isn’t important for your casual MS sim pilot, but the MB-339 generously gives me control over both the de-icer and the pitot heat. But most importantly, when I decide I want to take off from Alpha Ramp at KAPA from a dead stop, I can poke my way through the controls to go from static airframe to functioning machine in short time thanks to the legible and well-labeled English controls. Not to say that poking through controls is an easy affair. It took me a few tries to get everything started in the right order, and this is also where I found the most noticeable glitch in the sound design—should you keep the throttle at idle during power on, the aircraft will run through a foley of its engine spooling, but will then abruptly cut out. Should you start the aircraft with throttle full and parking brake engaged as designed, you likely won’t hear this cut off, since the sound of the engine operating as designed will mask the transition. Honestly, a minor gripe in an otherwise solid showing thus far. FLIGHT TEST AND FLIGHT MODELING So, with our aircraft powered on, flight systems and control surfaces tested and checked out, and engine humming along nicely, let’s go flying. To provide disclosure for my experience, my flight control system consists of a Saitek X52 Pro HOTAS (pre-Logitech buyout) and a set of Saitek Pro Rudder Pedals, tuned to my desired resistance. Taking off from 17L for a full 10,000 feet of asphalt, I’m able to reference the documentation provided with the module to tune my rotation speed with flaps set to take-off position and I’m in the air and climbing rapidly in about half the length of the runway. My sights are set on a loop around Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA and back again to KAPA, testing control response along the way. As I reach 8000 feet, the sun blinds me as I level out thanks to the non-foldable mirrors; what a frustratingly accurate detail. The roll-rate of the aircraft in its lightened fuel-state and lack of weight on its hardpoints is fast and tight, and when you’re used to flying lighter civilian aircraft it’s a refreshing echo of how it feels to jut around in an Extra 300, but at much higher speeds. The trainer is extremely stable. Trying to induce a departure is almost an exercise in futility at any speed. The MB-339 will gladly give you the room to recover yourself if you give it the altitude. Turn rates are modest, as they should be: 15 seconds in a full 360 with a loss of about 1500 feet from 11,000 starting. But the responsiveness of the aircraft cannot be understated. Low-speed flying in MB-339 feels like a dream. Once you’re in the air, your flight envelope feels limitless. It was effortless to follow major roads and highways through town at just 5800 ASL with just minor course adjustments. After some fun we return back to our departure point—this is where things get tricky. I won’t mince words—I had major trouble landing this thing. At the relatively high required speeds and, more importantly, very short undercarriage, it wasn’t until the fourth try of hitting the deck that I successfully came to a full stop. But once you’re on the ground, the brakes are wonderfully responsive and will slow you to a manageable taxi speed within what feels less than its spec'd distance of 1500 feet. CONCLUSIONS So—why the MB339? There are a number of add-on aircraft available out there—certainly ones promising more performance, more pizazz, more popularity. The reason is simple: download those and find out why you should have downloaded this in the first place. The MB-339 as produced by IndiaFoxtEcho is a fast, forgivable cruiser that works as the lead-in fighter trainer it is. It’s a pleasure to look at, and a pleasure to fly. It is not out of place in the MSFS environment by any means. It feels like a native add-on and flies true. My thanks to IndiaFoxtEcho for the review copy of their product and a delightful introduction to higher performance. About the Author T.J. "Millie" Archer T.J. "Millie" Archer is Life-long realist and aviation enthusiast. Once the co-founding Administrator of the Electrosphere.info English Ace Combat Database. In the present day he is freelance, roving the internet in search of the latest aviation news and entertainment.