PC Pilot

The Complete Guide to Computer Aviation
by Steve Smith


Maybe it's a regional thing, but growing up back east, the first Flight Simulator stunt I learned was flying between the World Trade Center towers in downtown New York ("Formation Flying—Manhattan" from the "Situations" menu) and out over the harbor, trying to hit the Statue of Liberty smack-dab on the mouth.

If you're from the West Coast, the first thing you may want to try is flying under the Golden Gate Bridge. Considering the span is hundreds of feet high and at least four times as wide, this is not too difficult. For a tougher challenge, try the Oakland Bay Bridge, which sits a lot closer to the water.

You can also loop around Alcatraz…silent sentinel of the bay…or slalom between the skyscrapers in the Financial District, avoiding the Transamerica Building's steely spike. In the opposite direction, just beyond the shore break, is the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Nimitz, waiting for you to practice your carrier "traps."

The Bay Area is terrific for flight. It has everything from hot, moist hills (producing thermal updrafts; "fuel" for sailplanes) to three convenient airports: San Francisco International, Oakland Metro, and Alameda Naval Air Station.

Back in Chicago, colossal O'Hare has more going on than at any other airport in Flight Simulator, with Boeing 767s taxiing around endlessly (try following one of these!), an imposing tower, terminal buildings, a refueling station, and runway "chase lights" (called RAILs, "Runway Alignment Indicator Lights") to show you the way home.

Plus, the game also has, under the "Entertainment" or "Nav/Com" menu, a purely fictional navigational aid, the psychedelic "EFIS/CFPD" display (for Electronic Flight Instrument Systems/Command Flight Path Display), a series of HUD (Head-Up Display) icons. You have a choice of telephone poles, squares, or a "yellow brick road"—to guide you down the proper glide path. (Hint: choose the rectangles—it's like driving through a well-lit tunnel.)

The latest release of Flight Simulator, version 5.0, also comes with two European cities—Paris and Munich—and their surrounding airports. As with earlier versions of Flight Simulator, you can build up a database of airports, cities, and other geographical features by buying "scenery disks" or downloading "scenery files" from on-line BBSs (Bulletin Board Services) like CompuServe.

Scenery files extend the geographical frontiers and detail beyond those of the original program. In the best-known example, Flight Simulator 4.0 enthusiasts who fancied island-hopping in the Caribbean wrote new files which extended the program's database from Key West, where the original map ended, island-by-island to the Bahamas, Cuba (you don't need Castro's permission), Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands … and eventually all the way down to Venezuela. One fanatic posted a nighttime scenery file that included every light on the Strip in Las Vegas.

For Flight Simulator 5.0, Mallard Software formerly a major vendor of scenery disks for Flight Sim 4.0, offered a disk with far more detailed views of San Francisco than those that ship with the program, as well as disks for Washington, D.C., and other cities. And Microsoft itself is becoming a scenery provider for the first time; its first disks provide marvelously detailed views of New York and Paris (the stained-glass windows of Notre Dame cathedral glow at night).

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