The Complete Guide to Computer Aviation
by Steve Smith
THE FALCON'S WORST NIGHTMARE
The one machine that can beat the Falcon, the MiG-29 (NATO code name: Fulcrum), is the centerpiece of the second add-on disk (after "Operation: Fighting Tiger"). Its full name is "MiG-29: Deadly Adversary of Falcon 3.0" and it is also available as a stand-alone game. Here you immerse yourself in the mirror image of the Falcon world, fighting in each of the six previously mentioned theaters, only now you're wearing a big red star. Just as in Falcon, you can fly head-to-head against other players (up to six on a Novell network), but here your opponent(s) may be either Falcons or other Fulcrums; your choice. This is as close to sim heaven as it gets.
The MiG-29 is actually slightly larger than the F-16 (about the size of the F/A-18 Hornet); with two engines to the F-16's one, the MiG has slightly better survivability. The major difference between the two fighters is that the Twenty-Nine is not a "fly-by-wire" aircraft; you control it the old-fashioned way: with plenty of body English…er, Russian. The MiG's advantage is that its flight envelope is not limited by software (the F-16's computers make it almost impossible to spin, for example); if the MiG pilot is good enough (the extra workload is enormous), he can fly much, much closer to the edge of the envelope.
The MiG's superiority in low-and-slow maneuvers was most spectacularly demonstrated at the 1990 Farnborough Air Show when a Fulcrum pulled its nose straight up in the air and sashayed past the reviewing stand like a dog walking on its hind legs, a show-stopper that has become known as the "Pugachev Cobra" after the first pilot brave enough to try it.
Far more useful in combat, however (you can only do the "Cobra" at a snail's pace), is the MiG-29's IRST (Infra-Red Search and Tracking) system, which works like the F-117A's forward-looking infrared imaging system, only better: like the Nighthawk (see Chapter Seven), the MiG can sneak up on you without any telltale radar emissions. It can also use the IRST to lock on air-to-air weapons, and its huge (30-mm) automated cannon—in real life, it has a helmet-mounted sight; in the sim, all you have to do is get the pipper on your target and it automatically squeezes off a five-round burst—is usually sufficient to finish off your adversary, given the doorstop weight of each 30-mm round.
Best Fulcrum anecdote: the smartest thing the Soviets ever did (before they went bankrupt) was, when they needed two aircraft the equivalents of the F-15 Eagle and the F-16 Falcon, they designed one airframe and built it in two sizes. Brilliant! This saved them a potful of rubles … and they stole the idea from us. When Lockheed was developing the F-117A Stealth, it "proved the concept" by building a three-fifths' size flying prototype to check out the basic aerodynamics.
Thus, fifteen years later, the Russian TsAGI (Tsentraly AeroGirodynamicheski Institut, or Central Aero- and Hydrodynamic Institute) avoided reinventing the wheel by developing one aerodynamic model and giving it to both Sukhoi for the Eagle-sized Su-27 Flanker and to Mikoyan-Gurevich for the Hornet-sized MiG-29.
Indeed, if you think the Hornet might stand a better chance against the Fulcrum than the Falcon, you can try your luck with the "F/A-18 Hornet: Naval Strike Fighter" add-on disk. Bearing little resemblance to the Northrop YF-17 proposal that lost the fly-off to General Dynamics' YF-16, the F/A-18 (the production version is built by McDonnell Douglas) is, as its name suggests, adept at—or at least tasked with—the attack role as well as its fighter duties. The Hornet is flown by both the Marines and the Navy (the only current fighter to fly for more than one service); it is the Navy version that is simulated here. And that means blue-water carrier ops.
As with F-14 Fleet Defender (see Chapter Six) and JetFighter II (see Chapter Thirteen), the Moment of Truth comes when trying to land on the deck of an aircraft carrier. After all, dogfighting isn't all that much different from one aircraft to another. But carrier traps separate the Sierra Hotel hot-shoes from the slackers, and here the "controlled crash" of carrier landings is chillingly portrayed. Your life—at least the simulated portion of it—passes before your eyes every time you try to squeeze a thirty thousand-pound aircraft into a space barely big enough to parallel-park a Chevy Beretta…at two hundred miles per hour.
And if you want to relive every agonizing moment, all variations of Falcon feature a VCR-like mission recorder, called ACMI (Air Combat Maneuvering Instrumentation). Unlike the skimpy fifty seconds of instant replay you get in Flight Simulator, ACMI can record twenty minutes of flight for every spare megabyte of expanded memory on your system board. And you can view playback either in the normal graphics mode or in a special wire-frame 3-D mode that pinpoints the exact location and altitude of every aircraft in your vicinity. Very handy for evaluating who did what to whom…and when they did it.
Speaking of documentation and graphics…
Falcon 3.0 comes with an excellent 342-page manual, chock full of lucid explanations and surprisingly good advice for real and virtual pilots alike. My favorite air-combat tip: avoid dogfights. Huh? Seriously: fly straight at your adversary, try to take him out with a "lip shot" (nose-to-nose), then keep right on going—there's nothing like a noisy dogfight to draw every enemy fighter within twenty miles to your overheated tailpipe. I tried it, and guess what—it works.
The documentation does a reasonable—if not terribly vivid—job of setting up the scenarios in each theater. Again, just like the real-world military, the ordinary grunt (or, in this case, Falcon driver) has little need to know why we're at war. The "F/A-18 Hornet" manual is more of the same. Only the MiG-29 Fulcrum handbook is different—the typeface is fake-Cyrillic and the tone is Soviet-style dogma. (Also cute: with a sound board, you get frantic radio calls in pidgin Russian.)