PC Pilot

The Complete Guide to Computer Aviation
by Steve Smith


Velocity's JetFighter II has the best carrier traps—the bone-jarring "controlled crash" onto a carrier's deck—of any flight simulation. The programs's avionics accurately mimic the modern CLS (Carrier Landing System) that naval aviators have relied upon since the "meatball" replaced World War II's LSO (Landing Signal Officer), frantically waving his paddles, and was itself replaced by the electronic CLS.

Starting about six miles away from the U.S.S Constellation, you begin your descent toward what Tom Wolfe, in The Right Stuff, called "the heaving, greasy skillet." In JetFighter II, the carrier is always on an even keel, but you often have to find it in the dead of night, chasing the CLS cross hairs (called "flying the needles"), sliding down the glide slope toward the arrestor cables like a bird on a wire. You may not actually make eye contact until you're a couple of hundred meters astern. (You'd better be astern—you can land the wrong way, but—uh oh!—no cables.)

The centerpiece of JetFighter II is the Northrop F-23 Black Widow II (aka "The Gray Ghost"), the loser (to Lockheed's F-22 Lightning 2) in the bid to replace the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle as the next-generation U.S. air superiority fighter. Many observers feel the F-23 is the better aircraft (it is optimized for stealth; the F-22 is biased more toward dogfighting), but it was politically correct to reward Lockheed for its successful F-117A program and punish Northrop for its time and cost overruns on the B-2 bomber.

If you buy the "Operation: Lightning Storm" mission disk, you can also fly the winning F-22 in JetFighter II (its flight model here is identical to the F-23's), as well as Grumann's F-14 Tomcat (which is normally assigned to fleet defense), the F-16 Falcon (don't try carrier traps—no arrestor hook!) and the F/A-18 Hornet. All but the superfighters are afterthoughts.

Another thing JetFighter II does superbly: close-in dogfighting. At stand-off BVR (Beyond Visual Range) distances, it's unrealistically easy to get a missile lock on your opponent (although the target acquisition display looks convincingly authentic) and blow him away, but once you actually lock horns, it's a job and a half to get on his Six, and nearly impossible to bring him down with a guns shot.

The context of this sim is—to be charitable—ludicrous. In a right-wing screed reminiscent of John Milius' Red Dawn, Latin American Communists have invaded California, occupying L.A. and threatening San Francisco. You fly literally hundreds of missions (against an arsenal that includes MiG-29s and Su-27s) without making the slightest dent in the Red Menace.

This is a fun game, easy to learn, with excellent—if limited—graphics (downtown San Francisco at night is a sight to behold), and reasonable—if wildly optimistic—flight models. Moreover, JetFighter II allows up to eight players (no multiplayer mode, alas, and no replay, either) to customize their preferences for control settings. It also keeps meticulous records for each pilot of every round fired, bomb dropped, target hit, "spoof" (flare or chaff) expended, mission accomplished, successful landing (including your velocity and roll and Alpha angle), every bailout or crash, total time in the air, and so on.

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