The Complete Guide to Computer Aviation
by Steve Smith
A CRITICAL BIBLIOGRAPHY
Read 'Em and… Whatever
Note: Don't pay too much mind to the astronomical prices for some of the big, lavishly illustrated airplane books—they seem to have been born to be remaindered…often at two bits on the dollar.
The Ace Factor, Spick (Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Md., 1988), 208 pages, $21.95. Why do only 5 percent of pilots account for 40 percent of all kills? Why are most aces blue-eyed? This is the definitive work on what makes an ace: personality, background, experience, training, and—the key—situational awareness. If you think you've got what it takes, read this before you invest in flying lessons.
Aerofax Extra series of single-type books (Specialty Press, Stillwater, Minn.), generally under $10 apiece. Like the Squadron/Signal series (below), each of these paperbacks is devoted to a single model of military aircraft (the MiG-29, say, or the Su-27), with development histories and technical descriptions. Indispensable for settling mess bets.
Air War South Atlantic, Ethell and Price (Macmillan, N.Y., 1983), 260 pages, $17.95. Despite the fact that the definitive Falklands simulation still hasn't been done, this is a must-read for anyone interested in Harrier jump jets and/or the 1982 Anglo-Argentinian conflict. A day-by-day, sortie-by-sortie, blow-by-blow account of the air war, seen from both sides, exhaustively researched (Ethell's and Price's figures seem more accurate than the British government's), with appendices containing vital stats for both Her Majesty's forces and the ill-fated Fuerza Aerea Agentina.
Arsenal of Democracy, Gervasi (Grove Press, N.Y., 1977), 240 pages, $19.50. A by now hopelessly dated survey of weapons of war and their cost—in 1970s dollars—to the taxpayer (or arms merchants). Also a from-left-field look at some aircraft you rarely see simulated, like the Cessna A-37 Dragonfly (aka "Tweety Bird"), Douglas Skyraider (the air support of last resort in 'Nam), Pilatus Porter (a CIA favorite, made under license as the Fairchild AU-23A Peacemaker), Helio Courier and Stallion, Rockwell OV-10 Bronco (which had the best view of the Gulf War), Lockheed P-3 Neptune and C-5A Galaxy— perfect fodder for Bruce Artwick's new Flight Simulator Flight Shop. Also some interesting info on guided missiles—it's amazing how long some of this stuff has been around.
Barons of the Sky, Biddle (Simon and Schuster, N.Y., 1991), 366 pages, $22.95. Robber barons is more like it. Far from the romantic visionaries of film legend, the early aviation pioneers were as thieving and rapacious a gang of thugs as ever flew…or got shot down. Biddle rips these industry leaders new sphincters in this blistering exposeé of the "good old days." Good reading, light on the flying stuff.
Computer Game Review (monthly); $3.95, $23.95/year. The staff admittedly doesn't much like flight sims…and it shows.
Computer Games Strategy Plus (monthly); $3.95, $32.00/year. Curmudgeon's flight sim column by a "Commander Crunch." I find I have saved more back issues of this mag than any other.
Computer Gaming World (monthly); $3.95, $28.00/year. Physically the biggest gaming mag (number of pages). The reviews are knowledgeable (often written by experts) and the tips/hints/strategy help is well informed.
Computer Shopper (monthly); $2.95, $29.97/year. Among computer futzers, this is the magazine with the buzz. Stuffed with hundreds of pages of mail-order deals on hardware and grab bag editorial tidbits. The best: flight-sim enthusiast (and real-life pilot) Alfred Poor's monthly column, "Aerodrome."
Dvorak's Guide to PC Games, Dvorak and Spear (Bantam, N.Y., 1991), 368 pages and two disks, $29.95. Cowritten by the world's most respected (and prolific) computer commentator, John Dvorak. Only a dozen or so pages of this tome apply to flight simulations and some of the remarks are a little too breathless ("Falcon 3.0 sports a 100 percent realistic cockpit!"—sure), but well organized and a quick read. Commo-nut Dvorak gives some good tips for on-line play, but overall a bit of a disappointment (particularly the games—no flight simulations—on the two disks).
Dynamix' Great War Planes, Basham, Pearson, and Cicora (Prima, Rocklin, Calif., 1993), 340 pages, $18.95. Covers A--10 Tank Killer, Aces of the Pacific, and The Red Baron, which would be a pretty disparate collection for any one person to own. This one smacks of a factory handout. Still, rare coverage for the soon-to-be-updated A-10.
The Encyclopedia of World Airpower, Gunston, Allward, Heatley, Hewish, and Hofton (Crescent, N.Y., 1980), 384 pages. Although the text is dry, unleavened laundry lists of dates each type was commissioned, first flown, produced, deployed, etc., it does describe nearly all the aircraft flying for all the world's air forces at the inception of the 1980s, with line drawings, 3-views, photographs, and unit insignia. Beautifully printed in Italy.
F-15 Strike Eagle III: The Official Strategy Guide, Russell (Prima, Rocklin, Calif., 1993), 328 pages, $24.95 (including disk). This book is sort of an apologia for the manual that comes with F-15 Strike Eagle III. Astonishingly, it is written by the same guy who claims to have written "a majority" of the original documentation. (If at first you don't succeed…) This make-good costs a hefty $24.95 (half the cost of the game itself), but includes a genuinely useful addon disk of upgrades and fixes.
Russell's book is a definite improvement on the manual, even if he's overly defensive about the program itself. The illustrations are certainly better (the maps are excellent) and the material is larded with valuable info on how to avoid sudden death, rack up huge scores, and score medals and promotions. The problem is that, as an "official" guide, it conspicuously lacks objectivity and tries too hard to gloss over the game's myriad flaws.
Falcon 3, Bornstein (Prima, Rocklin, Calif., 1993), 367 pages, $27.95 (including disk). Of all the books on all the flight sims in the world, this is the one to have. Subtitled "The Official Combat Strategy Book," this book is sanctioned by Spectrum HoloByte and contains secret information only an insider like Bornstein (who worked on the original documentation) could know. Among which: "Easter eggs" (hidden surprises) like using the "Shift-T" key combo to advance the apparent time of day (you can light up the night, but your opponents are still in the dark), or the miraculous "Pause-Tab-D-Tilde" sequence that lets you sneak through a trapdoor into a debug mode left there for the benefit of the programmers, or the coordinates of frivolous tableaux like the one where Godzilla menaces the Love Boat in the Kurile Islands theater on the "Operation: Fighting Tiger" disk. Nicely written, too. A treasure.
Falcon 3.0 Air Combat, Bonanni and Yee (Osborne McGraw-Hill, Berkeley, Calif., 1992), 350 pages. Although little more than further amplifications of the documentation that comes with Falcon 3.0, this book contains a wealth of tips for specific missions that will help keep you on top at the highest skill levels. The keyboard template would be more helpful if it fit a standard IBM keyboard.
Falcon 3: The Complete Handbook, Powell and Basham (Waite Group, Corte Madera, Calif., 1993), 652 pages, $34.95 (including disk). Another ho-hum rewrite of the (already extensive) owner's manual, but for two saving graces: one, much better illustrations than Bernstein's wonderful book; and two, the disk includes Spectrum HoloByte's Falcon 3 demo (also widely available on BBSs), surely the best demo ever—it gives a thorough taste of the game; is propelled by urgent, driving music; and contains this snippet of dialogue (an actual recording from the '86 Libyan Raid): "Shoot ém!" "I don't got a tone [sic]". "Lock him up, lock him up." [Whoosh!] "Fox Two! Fox Two!" [Ka-BOOM!] "Good kill! Good kill!" (N.B.: Other programs on disk are the same shareware programs that come with Bornstein's book.)
Fighters, Park (Thomasson—Grant, Charlottesville, Va., 1990), 228 pages. Moving, sensitive portrayal of fighter pilots (and their mind-set) through the eyes of a World War II aviator. Large, luscious, sensuous color photographs of fighter planes from the Curtiss D-III Headless Biplane to the fly-by-wire Grumann X-29. Great anecdotal histories of the men who made a difference.
Flight Simulator Companion, Bonanni (Bantam, N.Y., 1991), 210 pages, $24.95. Pete Bonanni has written more flight simulation books than any other writer, dead or alive. A former F-16 instructor, most of his copy is in the form of irrelevant braggadocio like this excerpt: "On this flight I was the attacker and the student we called Maggot was the defender. Maggot did a very good job on the first engagement holding me off but on the second engagement I closed in for a gun shot" blah-blah-blah. Is this in a book about Falcon 3.0 or Eagle III? No, this is in a book about peaceful, noncombative Flight Simulator. Needless to say, you don't learn too much about how to fly a Cessna from this. Next.
The Great Book of Modern Warplanes, Sweetman, Gething, Richardson, and Gunston (Portland House, N.Y., 1987), 648 pages, originally published in 10 volumes at $129.50 the set. This enormous volume has chapters on the F-4 Phantom, F-14 Tomcat, F-15 Eagle, F-16 Falcon, F/A-18 Hornet, A-10 Warthog, F-111 Aardvark, AV-8B Harrier, B-1 bomber, and the MiG family. Also contains fascinating explorations of issues like dogfighting technique, radar evasion, research and development, avionics, jet propulsion, armament, missiles, and a long list of specifications for each aircraft type. Indeed a "great" book…particularly if you can find it on sale (I got mine for $24.95).
The Great Book of World War II Airplanes, Ethell, et al. (Crown, N.Y., 1984), 632 pages, originally published in 12 volumes at $190 the set. Subtitled "Twelve Aircraft That Changed the World," this large, heavy book is memorable for the extraordinarily detailed illustrations of Riku Watanabe. Different authors comment on the P-38 Lightning, the P-51 Mustang, the B-17 Flying Fortress, the Grumann Hellcat, the F-4U Corsair, the Supermarine Spitfire, the DeHavilland Mosquito, the Avro Lancaster, the Messerschmitt Bf-109, the Focke-Wulf FW-190, the Junkers Ju-87 Stuka, and the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. No library is complete without this book.
The Great Planes, Gilbert (Ridge Press, N.Y., 1970), 252 pages, $14.95. Just what it says—a half century's worth of planes that made history…and were worthy of it. James Gilbert, a British writer and pilot, describes what it's like to fly planes like Spads and Spits, Yaks and Cubs, Mustangs and Messerschmitts. A good read. Nicely illustrated, too.
Hi-Tech Planes, Geer (Chartwell, Secaucus, N.J., 1992), 112 pages. Written by a former Army helicopter pilot, this book is notable for its inclusion of later stuff like the RAH-66 Comanche, the AH-64 Apache (which acquitted itself so well in the Gulf War), the AH-1 Cobra, the V-22 Osprey, the YF-22 and YF-23 Advanced Tactical Fighters, the MiG-29 and -31, and the Su-27.
Interaction (bimonthly); $2.95, $8.95/4 issues. Once emblazoned with the tag-line "A blatantly biased look at games from the Sierra family of games," it has since turned coy. Indeed, this magazine is published by Sierra and refuses to acknowledge the existence of anybody else's games or the deficiencies of its own. Nonetheless, a good source of tips about the Aces series (Aces Over Europe, etc.), Red Baron, A-10 Tank Killer, and Sierra's on-line games.
Intercept (SIMCAP, Inc., 20 Lafayette Avenue, Kingston, N.Y. 12401), $20/year. A bimonthly—its publishing schedule is highly irregular—billing itself as the only publication for computer combat-sim pilots, Intercept features in-depth software reviews; tech briefs on aircraft, weapons, and tactics; surprisingly timely (and accurate) rumors; and really annoying egocentric fantasies ("There I was…"). Also a clearinghouse for on-line tournaments (Top Gun simulations, etc.). Quirky…but definitely worth it.
The Leading Edge, Boyne (Artabras, N.Y., 1986/1991), 232 pages, $35. No, not the computers of the same name, these are profiles of innovative aircraft, from the Wright Brothers' Flyer to the present, and, as they say, beyond. From pioneers like Bleriot, de Havilland, Fokker, and Messerschmitt to legends like Northrop, Johnson, MacCready, and Rutan. From early gliders to the still-under-wraps F-22. The main attraction is the photography, which is breathtaking and comprehensive. A classic.
Memphis Belle (Office of War Information, 1944, 39 minutes). No, not the Hollywood turkey of the same name; this is the real thing. Or at least as resonant as the War Department's propaganda wizards could make it appear. This is the story of one archetypal B-17F, the Eighth Air Force's celebrated Belle, and how it survived twenty-five missions…although not all of its crew did. Directed by Tinseltown biggie William Wyler, Memphis Belle was considered gritty cinema veritéin its day. Now it seems more than a little disingenuous.
Microsoft Flight Simulator: The Official Strategy Guide, Dargahi (Prima, Rocklin, Calif., 1994), 470 pages, $19.95. At last! The definitive Flight Simulator book, including coverage of Release 5.0. This weighty tome is so good that Microsoft should be packaging it with the program itself. Clear, comprehensive, and copiously illustrated, this is a must-have. Only the fact that it is an "official" guide mars its credibility (you won't find many disparaging remarks or comments on embarrassing omissions, such as the deletion of the World War I "situation" despite the continued presence of the World War I Sopwith Camel).
Modern Air Combat, Gunston and Spick (Crescent, N.Y., 1983), 224 pages. All the best-written aviation books, like this one, come from England. Instead of mindless compilations of hardware factules, this book does an excellent job of explaining how things work, and—more important—how things work together. For example, how fighter tactics have been adapted for missile warfare. If you're into combat sims, these illustrative examples are a lot easier to follow than the turgid prose that clogs most software documentation.
Mustang Designer, Wagner (Orion, New York, 1990), 240 pages, $27.95. Now it can be told! The story of a German immigrant, Edgar Schmued, who was the chief designer of not only the P-51 Mustang but also the F-86 Sabre, the F-100 Supersabre, the F-5 Tiger, and the T-38 Talon. Only Clarence "Kelly" Johnson (progenitor of Lockheed's Hudson, Electra, Constellation, P-38, P-80, F-104, C-130, U-2, and SR-71) was more prolific than this unsung hero of American air power.
The Official Lucasfilm Air Combat Strategies Book, DeMaria and Fontaine (Prima, Rocklin, Calif., 1992), 470 pages, $18.95. One of several "official" books from Prima, this one is rich with historical background and excellent advice for computer fighter pilots (for example, a day-by-day, blow-by-blow account of the real Battle of Britain from July 10 to September 7, 1940; and the secrets of the games' scoring methods). Great quotes and anecdotes. I was a bit taken aback by the presence of several dozen fake (or heavily doctored) photographs, but their authenticity is immaterial to the usefulness of the volume. With a brief forward by Larry Holland, the genius behind the brilliant Lucasfilm trio (Battlehawks 1942, Their Finest Hour: The Battle of Britain, and Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe). A must-have.
PC Combat Simulations (quarterly), $4.50/issue. A magazine—like this book—interested as much in military aviation history as in computers or software.
PC Entertainment (bimonthly); $3.95, $17.95/year. Honest appraisals.
PC Games (monthly), $3.95. Reasonably competent reviews, reasonably well written.
PC Magazine (fortnightly); $2.95, $44.97/year. The most authoritative computer mag. Slides from plain English in the front of the book to pure nerd-speak in the back. Little interest in flight simulation, but hardware reviews are trustworthy.
Rand McNally Encyclopedia of Military Aircraft 1914 to the Present, Angelucci (Gallery Books, N.Y., 1990), 568 pages, $100. Beautifully printed in Italy, this is the single most informative military aviation book. The writing isn't exactly scintillating and the photography is kind of dull, but the presentation of facts and illustrations is monumental. Great for settling arguments like which war plane was produced in the greatest numbers (the Messerschmitt Bf-109: 35,000).
Simulations! (Box 85143, Tucson, AZ 85754). A six-times-a-year magazine (available only by subscription: $16/year) devoted to simulations of all kinds (flight, auto racing, sports, etc.), but primarily concerned with flight sims. The reviews—intelligent, insightful, entertainingly written—go into much greater detail than any other publication except the more manic Intercept. The hints are usable and the rumors newsworthy. Also: samizdat help books (Dynamix's Great War Planes series, World War II Air Combat Guide, etc.), cheap.
Squadron/Signal series of single-type books (Signal/Squadron, Carrollton, Tex.). If you develop an unquenchable thirst for a particular aircraft type, this is Gatorade. Now numbering in the hundreds, this series covers warbirds from World War II to the present—genesis, design, development, variants, deployment, etc., usually with pilots' comments on what they're like to fly.
Stealth, Richardson (Orion, N.Y., 1989), 188 pages, $24.95. A must-have companion to MicroProse's F-117A Stealth 2.0, of course, but also includes lengthy descriptions of "low-observables" technology, from early camouflage efforts to the Lockheed U-2 and SR-71, Rockwell B-1B, Northrop B-2, and the Advanced Tactical Fighters (YF-22 and YF-23), plus explanations of stealth operations, suppression, and countermeasures (like the radar-busting Wild Weasel squadrons). Profusely illustrated.
Target for Today (Video City Productions, 1985). This 85-minute documentary of the U.S. Eighth Air Force in action in the European Theater is narrated by some guy who sounds like his jaw is wired shut, and looks like the model for 12 O'Clock High. It shows the incredible complexity of staging thousand-bomber raids (up to one-third of the available planes were sent off in the wrong direction to decoy the Luftwaffe). The years have not been kind to the film stock, but if you love B-17s, this is a must-have.
Video Games and Computer Entertainment (monthly); $4.95, $19.95/year. Few flight sim articles.
Wings, Meyer (Thomasson-Grant, Charlottesville, Va., 1984), 144 pages, $39.95. A fabulous collection of Time-Life photographer Mark Meyer's razor-sharp aviation photography, with a pithy foreword by Chuck Yeager and extensive anecdotal commentary by contemporary pilots. Leaves a lasting impression of what it's like "up there." Beautifully printed in Japan. Large format. Highly recommended.