The Complete Guide to Computer Aviation
by Steve Smith
THE FIGHTER THAT CAN'T FIGHT
But in order to achieve near invisibility, the F-117A had to sacrifice almost everything else. It isn't supersonic (thus creating no sonic boom), it doesn't have an afterburner (thus lowering its infrared "observables"), it isn't even very fast (speed creates detectable surface heat). It has no active radar (which would be like a homing beacon), carries no defensive weapons (neither air-to-air missiles nor a gun), and besides, being a lifting body, isn't maneuverable enough to engage other aircraft anyway.
The F-117A survives by going about its business undetected and unmolested. It is a ground-strike aircraft—a bomber—pure and simple. Like its deliberately obfuscating "117A" designation, the "F-for-Fighter" prefix may also be deliberately misleading (its early history was so cloaked in secrecy that training flights were conducted only at night, from a secret air base within a much larger secret air base); it should be "A-for-Attack" or "B-for-Bomber."
So, as fascinating as the idea of a computer simulation based on stealth aircraft might sound, it would have little appeal to a mass audience more interested in air-to-air combat. As one customer in a software store told me at the height of the Gulf War, "I just want to shoot something down!"
MicroProse hasn't forgotten this guy. F-117A Stealth 2.0, a major revision of one of the all-time flight simulation classics, F-19 Stealth (the designation the "experts" insisted the F-117A would carry, before the F-117A was unveiled), is a trying-to-be-true reproduction of the real Nighthawk, but with a trapdoor that lets computer pilots go hammer and tongs after other air targets, just as if they were flying an F-15 Eagle.
In Stealth 2.0, MicroProse gives you the option of flying the Lockheed F-117A or the fanciful MicroProse F-117A, which sacrifices a large measure of stealthiness for air-to-air missiles (AAMRAMs and Sidewinders), a twenty-mike-mike cannon, and double the real Nighthawk's 4,000-pound payload. In neither case is there a serious attempt to reproduce an authentic flight model (the specifics are classified, but pilots report that the "Goblin" isn't so "Wobbly" after all), so both versions are capable of kiting around the sky like circus acrobats. Although even the MicroProse version would have a tough time chasing down frontline Warsaw Pact fighters, it can make quick work of slower air assets like the Antonov An-72 Coaler, the Ilyushin Il-76 Mainstay, or the lumbering Tupolev Tu-95 Bear.
The game begins with a long, drawn-out animation of a ground strike that culminates in a weapon's-eye view of a laser-guided bomb zeroing in on a hardened bunker. It errs in one respect: Gulf War footage showed the F-117A's technique was to fly two bombs into the target, one right after the other. The first blows the door down (or the roof in); the second destroys whatever's inside.
Check that. The game really begins with a copy-protection question: an aircraft ID. If you don't know the answers—most, like the A-10 Warthog, are pretty easy to recognize—you have to look them up in the manual.