PC Pilot

The Complete Guide to Computer Aviation
by Steve Smith


There is another kind of vertical flight—the so-called jump jet, simulated in Domark's AV-8B Harrier Assault and MicroProse's Jump Jet.

The Harrier started as a Doomsday project at the height of the Cold War. Paranoid that the Russians might launch a preemptive strike that would target every known air base in Western Europe, NATO wanted a fighter that could rise, Phoenix-like, from the ashes and strike back. The Harrier is a V/STOL (Vertical/Short Take-Off and Landing) aircraft, capable of operating from unprepared sites (such as country roads and clearings in the woods) with plenty of survivability and very little maintenance.

Although it looks like a conventional fighter, the Harrier's exhaust can be aimed straight down (providing lift), allowing it to rise vertically, like a helicopter. Once airborne, the exhaust nozzles are rotated 90 degrees aft (providing thrust), and it behaves like a halfway decent jet fighter.

The Harrier is a tiny plane, smaller than the F-16 Falcon (but bigger than World War II's largest fighter, the Do-335 Pfeil). And maneuverable. Although subsonic (afterburners would charbroil its four nozzles), the Harrier has a faster roll rate than even the quick-twitch Falcon. One of World War II's most maneuverable fighters, the Me-262 jet, could complete a 360-degree roll in less than four seconds. The Harrier can do it in two.

The Harrier can hover like a helicopter (the nozzles can actually rotate slightly more than 90 degrees, enabling it to fly backward). It can also VIFF (Vector in Forward Flight), meaning that if a bogey is right on your Six, suddenly rotating the nozzles in the middle of a dogfight has the effect of applying a massive air brake. Your Harrier comes to a virtual dead stop in midair, enabling you to come up on his Six. The Harrier's mettle was tested in the Falklands War in 1982, when RAF Sea Harriers thoroughly routed the Aerea Fuerza Argentina (which fielded modern French Mirages and Israeli Daggers as well as elderly Douglas Skyhawks).

McDonnell Douglas secured the rights to build a domestic version, the AV-8B, for the U.S. Marines, who were looking for a V/STOL aircraft that could take off and land from assault ships and provide air cover for amphibious landings. U.S. Harriers would have been hovering overhead had the Marines gone ashore in Kuwait in 1991, but the diversion was never carried out; Schwarzkopf opted instead for his celebrated "Hail Mary" play.

The Harriers in AV-8B and Jump Jet have remarkably similar flight models, and in the realistic modes are quite difficult to fly. That is, they're easy enough if you just fly them like conventional aircraft, but trying for a carrier trap (they land on decks a quarter the size of those of the supercarriers), you have to segue smoothly from forward flight to semihover to vertical set-down.

In vertical flight, real Harriers are subject to roll oscillation (like a tippy canoe), and even slight adjustments to the rudder can flip them over. This is all too accurately modeled here, despite the comment of one Harrier pilot, returning to his carrier in the middle of a blizzard during the Falklands campaign, that it is "easier to stop and then land on the deck" under such conditions "than it is to land on the deck and then stop."

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