The Complete Guide to Computer Aviation
by Steve Smith
SPECTRUM HOLOBYTE'S TORNADO
The Tornado is surely the most curious choice one could imagine for a simulation to be sold in the United States. If any aircraft could be said to have failed in the crucible of the Gulf War, it is the Panavia Tornado, a European fighter designed and built by an ad hoc consortium of German, British, and Italian aerospace companies and virtually unknown in this country (the simulation was originally developed in Great Britain).
Far from a general-purpose fighter, the Tornado GR.1 was conceived as a single-purpose strike aircraft, designed to come in under enemy radar and take out hostile air bases with the highly specialized JP-233 runway-cratering munitions and area-denial mines.
The Tornado had been developed twenty years ago, and by the onset of the Gulf War was well past its prime. In the interim it had perfected its specialty for one theater—central Europe—in the event of an all-out attack by the Warsaw Pact nations. A typical NATO flight profile called for GR.ls to come in low and fast, counting on the hilly terrain of central Europe to mask them from both radar and antiaircraft fire.
Surprise! The terrain in Iraq is flat as a board, and when the Tornados screamed in at sixty feet and six hundred knots, the Iraqis simply threw up "barrage boxes" of 23-mm Shilka fire at the approaches to the runways. When the Tornados hit the box they were torn to shreds. The tragedy is that this profile was totally unnecessary—Coalition "Wild Weasel" strikes had been so successful that there was virtually no radar to come in under! And about all the runways were used for was Iraqi aircraft defecting to Iran.
Despite the fact that Tornados represented only 4 percent of Coalition air assets, during the early days of the war they suffered 37 percent of the air losses. The low-level strikes were almost immediately halted, and an effort was made to vector the Tornados in at medium altitudes (twenty thousand feet), but their aiming mechanisms were utterly incapable of dealing with, say, multiple layers of wind velocities between the aircraft and their intended targets.
A further attempt was made to use the Tornados to deliver laser-guided bombs, but the only two TIALD (Thermal Imaging Airborne Laser Designator) pods in existence could not be carried by the Tornados, so a pair of ancient Buccaneer bombers had to be sent in ahead to "paint" the targets (mainly bridges) for the Tornados' 1000-pound bombs. By the time the RAF had all this sorted out, the forty-two-day air war was effectively over.
In the final tally, more Tornados were lost than any other Coalition type, despite flying only a fraction of the sorties overall.
Nonetheless, the idea of a Tornado sim has merit: if you've got the computer resources and the right program code, it's much more exciting to attack ground targets down low, where you can see plenty of detail (if it's there to see), than to hurl ordnance like bolts of lightning from on high, where the targets are just dots in the cross hairs.
Spectrum HoloByte's Tornado does include a wealth of ground detail—thousands of objects are clearly visible in three three-hundred-mile-by-three-hundred-mile battle areas: buildings (including what looks like a nuclear reactor), factories, bridges, power stations, tank farms, antenna towers, SAM sites, AAA batteries, railroad trains and truck convoys (one especially nice touch: the trucks' headlights piercing the night), and of course the air base runways that were the reallife Tornado's raison d'être.
Curiously, there are two levels of resolution—the higher of the two is used for the static displays (detailed maps, mission briefings, and menus, for example); and the lower resolution is for the flight sim itself. Obviously, the thinking here is that if the higher res is used for the sim, it will slow the frame rate, but the net effect is that the preparations for a flight look a whole lot better than the graphics of the Tornado in the air.
The real strength of Tornado is in the high-res mission planning. There are the usual single-mission and "Campaign" modes, as well as solo flights and multiplane sorties, with up to six Tornados at once. The mission profiles are quite elaborate—on some of the multiplane strikes, instead of approaching the target in a conventional formation, you might have three two-plane elements approaching it from different directions. At the end of your mission, there is a detailed debriefing and analysis, although no replay or VCR feature.
A Board Game with Wings
At its best, Tornado is less like a sim than a strategy board game (even the map looks like those typical strategy games, where all roads go straight north/south, east/west or at a 45-degree angle). There are even elaborate transparent map overlays like those favored by REMFs (no, it's not in the Glossary; but "RE" stands for Rear Echelon).
Flying in Tornado is a chore. Like every British sim I've seen, Tornado is gratuitously complex—you really have to want to master this game to claw your way through a tangle of obscure commands (and the documentation doesn't make your task any easier—at least they might have Americanized some of the more parochial British spellings and nomenclature—"reheat," for example, means "afterburner"). The interface is anything but intuitive.
The flight model seems reasonable enough—in the "Hard" mode you have to struggle with the controls from takeoff to touchdown, although automatic throttle and nap-of-the-earth terrain avoidance are available. SA suffers from not having a view out the back of the aircraft(!). Although the sky is full of Soviet airplanes, none seems as much of a threat as the pervasive and accurate SAM and AAA fire.
Another curiosity: there is a simulation within the simulation, the why of which escapes me. Before you advance to the "Combat" phase, you can practice on Tornado's "Simulator"…which looks, sounds, and feels exactly like the "Training" mode, except that you can have unlimited fuel and weapons, and you can walk away from crashes.
As for resources, the game doesn't seem terribly demanding. A fast 386 ought to do the trick, and it occupied less than ten megs on my hard disk. During the installation, I received dire warnings about my Files, Buffers, and Stacks parameters—a dedicated "boot disk" was urged—but once installed, the program seemed quite robust.
The sound is ghastly—more like what you'd expect from a Game Boy.
Note: Unlike the follow-on programs for Falcon 3.0 (see Chapter Four), such as "Operation: Fighting Tiger," "MiG-29," and "F/A-18 Hornet," Tornado is not part of Spectrum HoloByte's Electronic Battlefield Series and cannot be integrated with it.