The Complete Guide to Computer Aviation
by Steve Smith
THE "Y" FACTOR
So, in 1970, proposals were solicited for a small, lightweight fighter that could be purchased in sufficient numbers to go one-on-one with anything the Soviets could get past the outer cordon of F-15s. The two finalists were the YF-16 and Northrop's YF-17 (before the Pentagon mucked up the nomenclature, experimental aircraft carried the "X" prefix—for example, XP-80, XB-49). The Sixteen won, but despite the fact that the winner was supposed to equip all the services, the Navy, as it often does, went its own way, choosing the YF-17, which became, after further development, the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet (see below).
The F-16 prototype first flew in June 1974, and went into production with surprisingly few modifications. Since then, there have been a couple of variants, including a two-seater (the F-16B) and an experimental job with front canards (winglets) which enable it to fly in a straight line while pointed left, right, up, or down, or turn in one direction while rolled in another. The most numerous type is the F-16C, which is simulated in Falcon 3.0 (although the slightly simpler A-model HUD is also available in the game). Falcons are built under license by several nations (in Europe, it has largely replaced the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter); Japan's is called the FSX, which is available with the "Operation: Fighting Tiger" add-on disk, and gives it an antiship role as well.
Many more nations have purchased F-16s built at the main Fort Worth, Texas, facility (which covers hundreds of acres and has been building warplanes since World War II's B-24 Liberators), but few have felt its steel more often than Iraq, which has had Israel pound its nuclear weapons plant in the early 1980s (F-15s flew top cover) and the U.S. Air Force decimate its military infrastructure in the Gulf War. (The Air Force brought 250 Falcons to Al Minhad, the main air base in Abu Dhabi. They averaged 50 sorties apiece, 13,500 total. Each F-16 can carry up to ten tons of ordnance. That adds up to a world of hurt for those on the receiving end.)
Pilots love the F-16. Maybe too much. The aircraft is so forgiving that it breeds overconfidence, and the few accidents attributable to human error (it has a superb safety record) seem to share a common thread: the pilots became convinced that the plane is infallible.
The simulation goes infallibility one better. If at first you don't get the hang of controlling it, there's "Autopilot," but this autopilot isn't like the one in Flight Simulator, say, which keeps you on a certain heading and at a set altitude. Falcon's autopilot is one more than deserving of the name: hit "A" and the computer takes over completely…to the point where there's little input that it will accept from you (you can cycle through the targets it selects and get in the odd extra shot). But if you let it, it will fly the whole mission for you, from takeoff to touchdown. After you watch the computer do this for a while, you begin to get an inkling of what you might be able to do if you were in control…but I've never seen any human as good as the Silicon Pilot.