The Complete Guide to Computer Aviation
by Steve Smith
A MISSION YOU CAN REFUSE
You begin at the "Home Screen," styled like an operations center at a military air base. Here you choose your theater and the difficulty level ("Easy," "Moderate," "Hard," or "Extreme"); and toggle twelve parameters like "Flight Model," "Landings," and "Weapon Effectiveness" between "Standard" (that is, no sweat) and "Authentic" (that is, no way). At the "Extreme" level, all your parameters are "Authentic." You can sign up new pilots (you start as a second lieutenant), resurrect dead ones (there's a discrete telltale so you can see how many lives you've used up), admire your medals … or, via "Quickstart," jump into a mission-in-progress (you've just topped off your fuel load from a KC-10 tanker, say). Or you can go to the "Briefing Screen" to start a single mission or campaign. ("Quickstart" missions don't count, even though you could, theoretically, buy the farm. Choose "Training," however, and you're invulnerable.)
In the briefing room, you study mission objectives, check out intelligence reports, pore over maps, view reconnaissance film of the primary and secondary targets, and make note of nearby friendly air bases in case of an emergency landing (the wise pilot will also jot down the map coordinates in case his or her navigation avionics are shot out from under him or her). If you accept the mission, you go to the "Arming Screen" to choose your weapons (Sidewinders, Sparrows, AAMRAMs, and over a dozen types of air-to-ground ordnance). If you decline—this is the best part—in a wonderfully wry piece of animation, the adjutant shrugs, wads up your mission ticket into a ball, and expertly pitches it into a wastebasket. You are sent back to the "Home Screen."
You can fly your bird alone (the F-15E is affectionately, I think, called the "Mud Hen," because it often returns to base with bits of the target splattered on its undercarriage) or, in the multiplayer mode, one-on-one against an opponent; wingtip-to-wingtip with a buddy on a mission against the enemy (one of you flies cover while the other moves mud), or—this is a first—together with a Wizzo (WSO: Weapons Systems Officer; in the Navy, the GIB: Guy in Back), where one of you gets to fly the plane while the other wages electronic war from the backseat.
Both the pilot's cockpit and the WSO's 'pit are accurately simulated in Eagle III. Most of the essential information is served up on MPDs (Multi-Purpose Displays; computer monitor–like video screens), three in front and four in back, which can be cycled through a bewildering array of functions, so different in the "Standard" mode than in the "Authentic" mode that you are urged to read only the chapter which applies (in the confused and confusing manual) and not the other.
Normally, the WSO spends most of the mission hunched over his radar screens, navigating and managing weapons and countermeasures. In Eagle III, he can also fly the plane, although with no direct view over the nose (he stares at the back of the pilot's helmet and ejector seat); I'd hate to be in the suicide seat when my Wizzo boinged in for a landing.
Eagle III's multiplay communications are very quick and easy to set up, either via modem (up to 38,400 baud is supported; faster than most modems) or via null modem (direct serial-port-to-serial-port; the computers can be up to about fifty feet apart).