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Classic Aircraft Review : Short Stirling Mk1-4 by Virtavia


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Classic Aircraft Review : Short Stirling Mk1-4 by Virtavia


The Short Stirling is a World War 2 era four-engined bomber that entered RAF service on the eve of WW2. It was originally the RAF's primary bomber, but with a few short falls in the design it then relegated the aircraft into a secondary role behind the Avro Lancaster and the Handley Page Halifax. 

Short Brothers or "Shorts" are a Northern Ireland based company known famously for their "Empire" Flying boats in the 1930's, that were also a good basis for a tactical bomber. The S.29 design was a derivative design of the Sunderland Flying boat, the wings and controls were the same, the construction was also identical and it even retained the slight upward bend at the rear of the fuselage, which had originally been intended to keep the Sunderland's tail clear of sea spray. So as originally designed, the S.29 was considered to be capable of favourable high-altitude performance.

But in the RAF's short sighted guidelines in that the wings must be shorter than 100ft (to fit in the current hangar size of 112 ft (34 m)) it restricted the Stirling's range and even worse ruined it's altitude capabilities. In it's relegated roles it was converted into a troop/parachute carrier of which it was highly successful, and in it's glider towing capability the Stirling also had a significant role in the D-Day Landings, sadly no Short Stirlings have survived to the current day.


Virtavia are known in X-Plane with the association with Dawson Designs. Most Virtavia aircraft are a cross platform conversion from their FlightSim counterparts, but since Dawson Designs has now departed the developer scene from many a few years back, a lot of the original Virtavia aircraft like the B29 Bomber, S-61 Seaking and the GlobeMaster C-17A are now mostly seriously dated or compromised in their access in the X-Plane Simulator.

Oddly here is the Short Stirling by Virtavia, and it is not currently known if it is FlightSim conversion by Virtavia directly or again a third-party conversion of the aircraft (the email address is for Virtavia), more interesting was why either party don't fix up the older aircraft to at least a usable current usability in X-Plane, in that is a strange orthodox, and would be in either party interests in if they are in continuing supporting the X-Plane Simulator if they are still in wanting releasing newer product?


Short Stirling Mk1-4 by Virtavia

There are three versions supplied of the Virtavia Sterling, which are the Mk.1 (W7451), The Mk.3 (EF411) and the Mk.4 (LK117) and all are based on real aircraft. This is the Mk.1. It was powered by a Bristol Hercules 14-cylinder, two-row, supercharged, air-cooled radial engine, at 1,356 hp (1,012 kW) at 2,750 rpm at 4,000 ft (1,220 m). The Mk.1 had the XI version and the Mks.3/4 had the XVI version. 


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Mk.1 (W7451).

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Main features : FN.5 front turret, FN.7 mid-upper turret, FN.4 tail turret. The engines have smaller type intakes, no lower oil cooler intakes. No cowlexhaust ring covers, shorter-type exhausts on outer engines.

High number of fuselage portholes. This was due to the original design brief requirement for use as a troop transport, which was not realised in the production variants until the later post-war Mk.5.


Mk.3 (EF411)

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Main features : FN.5 front turret, FN.50 mid-upper turret, FN.20 tail turret.

Engines have larger type intakes above, with circular oil cooler intakes underneath the cowl. Cowl exhaust ring covers commonly fitted, longer- type exhausts on all engines. The Mk.3 also had a reduced number of fuselage portholes.

The Mk.3 was the main variant of the Stirling, many earlier Mk.1 airframes were later converted to Mk.3 and Mk.4 variants. The rear windows of the main canopy and the fuselage portholes were partially painted over to reduce interior light visibilty to enemy aircraft. The porthole vertical stripe is often misinterpreted as a physical divider, whereas it was actually a stripe of black paint.

The Mk.3 also had more powerful Bristol Hercules XI 14-cyl. radial engines, these being the 1,650 hp improved version over the original Hercules II units which produced 1,375 hp. Most Mk.1 Stirlings were eventually upgraded with the XI engine and this simulation assumes this engine in all variants.


Mk.4 (LK117)

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Main features : Plexiglass fairing in place of front turret, no mid-upper turret, FN.20 tail turret.

Engines/cowls/intakes are the same as Mk.3. Front set of fuselage windows faired over, 'bubble' type window employed each side. 'Rebecca' aerials mounted on front fuselage.

Number of fuselage portholes depended on whether the airframe was a conversion from a Mk.1 or Mk.3, or a new-build Mk.4. Fitted with glider towing bridle and hinged stop guard frame aft of the ventral supply drop hatch, used to prevent the attached parachute lanyards of dropped canisters from whipping and damaging the aircraft.


Stirling Detail

The first commercial-quality simulation of the Stirling bomber was created by AlphaSim (Virtavia's old name) back in 2002. Since then the aircraft has been remodeled in FSX, P3D and now in X-Plane, so although an upgraded aircraft it has a long history. First impressions are actually very good, but you immediately notice the absence of NML normal mapping, or the Dot3 bump mapping, a requisite feature today, as it can instantly make the aircraft feel dated, as it does here noticeably.

But the highly detailed textures are very good and well detailed, and it sorta helps, but the reality is that 3d bump mapping is required to highlight the minute details, and certainly in a pre-war WW2 bomber.


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Cockpit canopy and all three (MK.1) gun turrets are excellent, high detail and comes with nice glasswork, and they feel nicely authentic. The glass feels slightly frosted, which gives it that era feel  as the glass/perspex quality was not as high as it is today, so it looks good.


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The highlight is the forward landing gear, the complex array of struts and supports are really well done modeling wise and the gear wrap-doors are excellent (and great to watch in action). Again it signifies the era's undercarriage technology and worth studying. Internal wheel bay is also well detailed and authentic.


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Tailwheel(s) are very unusual in being a pair, in a twin gear taildragger style which is something I have never seen before, and again the inner gear bay in detail is well done.


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The Bristol Hercules engines have been faithfully recreated with great internal detail. The different exhaust and air inlets between the types are sometimes very subtle but are different, and all well done here.


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Wing shape is good and bulbous, and they come with working aileron control rods, and nice realistic oil wear over the top of the wings is very authentic.


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The Stirling's cockpit is quite spacious and airy compared to most WW2 military cockpits (does that mean vulnerable as well?), but remember this the Short Flying boat cockpit redesigned for a bomber...  but it is excellent.


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The aircraft does feel new or restored, and not very war-torn, but well done it all is. All the construction of the canopy is excellent with the different frames all connected together with bolts and screws, the moment you sit in here you go "wow". It is pure modelling of course with not a lot of textures, but in a strange way it all works out very well... You really like it here.


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The navigator sits behind and on the lower deck, with access to the forward gun turret or bomb observer.


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The instrument panel is quite small, and for the pilot only in flying instruments, the right seat is for a monitor or backup pilot only. The super nice metal yokes can be hidden by pressing the "Y" key.


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Basically you have your flying instruments on the left and your engine readouts/gauges centre and the dials only show "boost' and "RPM" for each engine. The green colours are the gear position (down, and red up), which actually look LED modern, not the view of an aircraft that was flying 80 years ago, but it again in here it works very well.

Bomb door switches are lower right, and a lot on the left side is fake, but well done. But note the huge compass and the "AUTO CONTROLS" which is a very basic autopilot.


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On the right it is just the hull frames of the cockpit, but again it feels all very realistic. In your face central is the "Flaps" Panel with position and selection switch...


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Above are the huge "Trim Handles" for both pitch and rudder trim...  magnificent!


Lower is the very lever filled pedestal. Throttle levers (x4), Mixture levers (x2), RPM levers (x4), Parking Brake left, Landing Light right. Notable is the settings for the levers. I only have a x56 Rhino throttle, which is only two levers. I use the left one for the Throttles (all), and the right lever for the Mixture (all) which is very much like I fly a GA aircraft, the lower RPM levers are a bit of a problem, in that there is no setting to use? or can you not (easily?) move then manually, although they do have hotspot actions...


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....    the detail is really well done, and feel just like the bomber controls should look like.


The Rudder Pedals are also very nicely recreated as well, and are animated very realistically when you use them.


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The side windows can also be opened via "hotspots". The front side is opened via touching the base screw, and the pilot's side window via the handle, the rear Navigator window can also be opened. But the hotspots can be tricky to use unless you get your position correctly in the aircraft...


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...  the pilot's chair armrests can also be moved upwards (animated), In the menu there are notes to hide the excellent bomber crew (shift-F1), but it doesn't work, neither does the rear crew door with ladder (shift-F2). There are no menus or other features.


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The Stirling carries in Guns; 8 x 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Browning machine guns: 2 in powered nose turret, 4 in tail turret, 2 in dorsal turret, and a payload of up to 14,000 lb (6,350 kg) of bombs, it was however restricted to carry only 500 lb bombs.


The Bomb compartment doors are controlled via the panel right side centre with two panels covering "Bomb Doors" and "Bomb Doors Wings". Left panel opens the main fuselage doors with racks of 500 lb bombs, the right panel opens the inner wing bomb doors which is really well done here. Full load is 15-500 lb bombs.


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Selecting any Bomb door switch will produce again in your face a "Bombers" panel. Here you can "Arm" the bombs and "Release" them. You can release them in four options, "Salvo, Ripple, Pair or Single".


 Stirling - Bomb doors 5.jpg



Flying the Short Stirling

Time to taxi out to EGCN - Doncaster Sheffield's Rwy 20 or RAF Finningley that earlier hosted Vulcan Nuclear Bombers. The Strirling is nice to taxi, heavy, very heavy, but you are loaded with bombs. One quirk is that the Virtavia Striling has a tendency to change liveries for no reason, very odd...


The droning sounds of the Bristol Hercules engines that have been nicely recreated here and it all comes with doppler fly-by sound effects, and they are deep and throaty and feel very WW2. They were recorded from the real Bristol Hercules engine sounds, and that is highlighted here.


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As a class, the large and heavy four-engined tail-wheeled bombers such as this Stirling, Handley Page Halifax, Avro Lancaster and Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress could be a real handful on takeoff and landing, more so for the relatively young and inexperienced new pilots who formed the vast majority of the expanding Commonwealth and American air forces. Later heavy bomber designs such as the Consolidated B-24 Liberator and Boeing B-29 Superfortress used a nose-wheel (tricycle) configuration which was far more easier to control.


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The same is applicable here, put the power up and the Stirling will earlier track very nicely, but then start to pull progressively right, the small rudder does not have much effect either, so you have to work at the controls to stay straight, it can be done, but is quite hard to do. Notable was that in the real Stirling they learnt adjust the engine power (right throttles) to compensate for this effect, but unless you have a four-throttle system to find that power imbalance, then it is impossible to do with a twin-throttle setup...


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At around 95 Knots the Stirling will lift (Flaps 15º), and you then get more physical control... Climbout is around 1,000 ft/min, and recommended is the rate of climb of 800 ft/min but I found that around a 1,000 fpm is basically the best lifting speed without any loss of speed and still have some power in reserve.


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Watching the gear animations is well worth the time to clean up the aircraft, and to gain far more climbing speed.


Odd though is the "Auto Controls" or sort of Autopilot. It only works in the vertical or pitch mode. You turn it on when in a level flight, then switch the "Spin" in, then engage the "Clutch". The pitch is determined by the handle in degrees of minus or positive...


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...  but the turning selection handle is mostly impossible to use? There needs to be an increment or mouse wheel setting to make it more accurate. The point is "Why", because the the pitch trim can and does the same job far easier?


In the air the Stirling does look very good, but without the NML normal mapping and in the bright light, the shiny slab sides show easily the age of the modeling design, even feeling a decade old in simulation terms.


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But once trimmed out the Stirling is very nice to fly, as was the real aircraft. You could drone on like this or at night for hours, of which they did in the Second World War.


The Maximum speed of the Stirling was 282 mph (454 km/h, 245 kn) at 12,500 ft (3,800 m), with cruise speed of 200 mph (320 km/h, 170 kn). Range was actually very good at 2,330 mi (3,750 km, 2,020 nmi), but the service ceiling was restricted to 16,500 ft (5,000 m).


The Stirling's maximum bomb load could however be carried for only around 590 miles (950 km). On typical missions deep into Germany or Italy, a smaller 3,500-pound (1,600 kg) load was carried, consisting of seven 500-pound (230 kg) GP bombs; this payload was in the range of that which was already being carried by the RAF's medium bombers, such as the Vickers Wellington and by 1944, the de Havilland Mosquito. Perhaps the biggest weakness present in the design was that, although the bomb bay was large at 40 ft long (12 m), it had a pair of structural dividers that ran down the middle, limiting the bay to nothing larger than the 2,000-pound (910 kg) bomb. As the RAF started using the 4,000-pound (1,800 kg) "cookies" and even larger "specials", the Stirling became less useful.



As this is a WW2 aircraft, and a night bomber, there is basically no real internal lighting to speak of. Panel illumination is via two overhead red spot lights, that can be turned on/off, but not the red glow from the lights...  the only other lighting in the cockpit is a light over the compass which again you can switch on or off.


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The only other single switchable light is above the navigator's table, set down below you. Externally it is pretty basic as well, with two left wing landing lights and navigation lights, and that is it.


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You tend to curve the Stirling more than bank it tight, as you just feel your way around the turn, it handles very well though.


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Powering low over the ground at 2,000ft is exciting with the droning engines, a bombing run, not this time, but you can feel what it must have been like in those past dark days.


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Flap 15º reduces your speed to 105 knts, and there is a balloon as you drop them, 30º flap and your at 90 knts, but then dropping the gear creates even more drag, and your at 88 knts.


But go below this or 45º "Down" and the Stirling tends to yaw, weave or swing, even at 30º flap you get this, but nothing as bad as the flap full down position...


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...   there isn't a lot of rudder authority to counteract the yawing, and it makes the approach a very, very skillful exercise... 


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...   the Sterling is just not very happy at low approach speeds.


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But this is where the challenge kicks in, and getting that landing right becomes addictive.


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You need 80 knts to get it right, but I couldn't go under 85 knts-88 knts ish, if not you simply drop out of the air, which is another real life Sterling foible that has ruined many a flying career, known as a "dropped" landing, and it could cause serious structural damage. During its service life, it was not unknown for "dropped" landings to render Stirlings or other large four-engined bombers write-offs and suitable only for parts.


But here is the other side of the problem, get the speed too fast and you then turn yourself into a "Dambusters" bomb, and then bounce your way right down the runway, or mostly off it? It is a horrible feeling with no control of the aircraft until it stops or winds itself out. Then once the tail drops the right yaw then kicks in again, so you have to quick to catch that as well.


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If you get all right then the Stirling will slow down quite easily, but I do recommend foot brakes to control the direction, and by slightly touching them in the way to stop the aircraft moving left or right off the centreline. Grass landing are very much easier, because they take out a lot of the initial landing bounce and create more drag to keep you in a straight line... landing on grass is actually pretty easy compared to hard surfaces...  but you really have to feel for those novice pilots.


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As I mentioned the Stirling is highly addictive, get it wrong and it is very quickly; "Let's do that again, and try this, this time"...




The Short Stirling is a World War 2 era four-engined bomber that entered RAF service on the eve of WW2. It was originally the RAF's primary bomber but a few short falls in the design of restricting it's wingspan to 100ft relegated the aircraft into a secondary role behind the Avro Lancaster and the Handley Page Halifax. 


This aircraft comes from Virtavia, with a quite sporadic record in X-Plane. Originally cross-platformed from FlightSim by Dawson Designs, they have lately released revised their older aircraft back again into the X-Plane Simulator, with this Short Stirling and the Handley-Page Hampden as releases.


There is a lot to like here though. The modeling is very, very good, and World War two feel comes though very strongly. Sounds are not totally top notch, but still recorded from a real Bristol Hercules engines and in that have been nicely recreated here and come with doppler fly-by sound effects.

It is challenging in a realistic way to fly as the real aircraft was apparently a difficult beast until tamed by the pilot's skills. All bomb doors open and the bombs are active, but mostly the aircraft was used as a troop carrier or glider pulling aircraft. Three versions in the Mk.1, Mk. 3 and Mk.4 are all included, including the different details between the versions.


No NML normal mapping (raised rivets and external detail) shows the age of the original design in the simulator, there is not a lot of textures either, but the detailed modeling does sort of covers a lot of these aspects. There are a few animations in, armrests, windows opening, bomb doors, but mostly there is very little in specialist features like no menus or static ground elements to add into the simulation, this all mostly just a focus on the flying.


I was surprised the Short's Sterling was or is as good as it is, considering its dated simulation and FlightSim history, it is old and you can't ignore that fact. But I like the feel and challenge the aircraft represents, and I like to be surprised. In fact with just a bit more development, it could turn a simple basic simulation into a much more very, and more modern one, not just being an older aircraft updated, but already there has been four updates since the release, so it is certainly proceeding in the right direction. So do I like the Virtavia Short Sterling, well yes and actually more than I would really like to admit!



X-Plane Store logo sm.jpg


Yes! the Short Stirling Mk1-4 by Virtavia  is NOW available from the X-Plane.Org Store here :


Short Stirling Mk1-4

Price is US$25.95


Aircraft variants included :
  • Stirling Mk.1 : W7451. 7 Squadron, RAF Oakington, Cambridgeshire, England, early 1941.
    Manufactured by Austin Motors, Longbridge, Birmingham.
  • Stirling Mk.3 : EF411. 149 Squadron, RAF Mildenhall, Suffolk, England, late 1942.
    Manufactured by Short Bros., Rochester, Kent.
  • Stirling Mk.4 : LK117 570 Squadron, RAF Harwell, Oxfordshire, England, 17 September 1944
    Manufactured by Short & Harland, Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Features :
  • PBR materials/textures used throughout
  • VR config file included, 3 cabin teleport hotspots
  • FMOD sounds package with multi-stage engines, pilot's slide window muting, switch clicks and other unique cockpit sounds
  • very detailed cockpit with numerous animations and mousable controls
  • working Automatic Controls (VS hold only, limited to 235kts)
  • working Lorentz Indicator (uses DME/NAV1 LOC)
  • working Beam Approach Indicator (uses NAV1 LOC)
  • crew ladder
  • togglable crew figures
  • 6 separate animated cockpit windows with unique sounds, animated bomb bay doors in both wings and fuselage
  • togglable bombs
  • animated cowl flaps
  • authentic flight model with checklist
  • 22-page illustrated User Operating Manual


X-Plane 11

Windows, Mac or Linux
4 GB VRAM Minimum - 8 GB+ VRAM Recommended
Download Size: 80 MB
Current version: 3.0 (May 10th 2022)


Download of the Virtavia Short Stirling is 76.1Mb and it is installed in your Aircraft Folder as a 116 Mb folder. There is no Auto-updater by Skunkcrafts for updates, so currently you have to redownload any updates via the X-Plane.OrgStore.


Provided are two documents Included with the package. A 24 page Manual that covers the aircraft's layouts and systems, and a "Checklist" with Normal Procedures. A version changelog is also provided.
  • Virtavia Stirling Checklist.txt
  • Virtavia Stirling Pilot Operating Manual.pdf



Aircraft Review by Stephen Dutton

14th May 2022

Copyright©2022: X-Plane Reviews


Review System Specifications: 

Computer System: Windows  -S1700 Core i7 12700K 12 Core 3.60 GHz CPU / 64bit -32 Gb single 1067 Mhz DDR4 2133 - ASUS GeForce GTX 1080 8Gb - Samsung Evo M2 2TB SSD - Sound : Yamaha Speakers YST-M200SP

Software:   - Windows 10 - X-Plane 11.55

Plugins: Global SFD plugin US$30.00 : Environment Engine by xEnviro US$69.90 : RK Apps XPRealistic v2 - US$34.99

Scenery or Aircraft

- EGCN - Doncaster Sheffield by Fly X (X-Plane.OrgStore) - US$17.99


(Disclaimer. All images and text in this review are the work and property of X-PlaneReviews, no sharing or copy of the content is allowed without consent from the author as per copyright conditions) All Rights Reserved


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