Insight into Military Flight Simulation
December 19, 2014 3:51 PM   Subscribe

Ars Technica's Lee Hutchinson reviews a military grade F-18 flight simulator.
posted by juiceCake (26 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
That was delightful. Thanks!
posted by Elementary Penguin at 4:10 PM on December 19, 2014

This made me chuckle:
... if I augured the simulated fighter jet directly into a wheat field somewhere like a $61 million lawn dart.
Very cool :-)
posted by dg at 4:22 PM on December 19, 2014

lawn dart.

And that's one of those idioms that definitely does date the author. Hey, kids, we used to actually have a toy that... Well, we grew up in a very different world, indeed.
posted by mikelieman at 5:13 PM on December 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

Lawn darts (or Jarts, if you prefer) are great, and they're back, apparently.
posted by leotrotsky at 5:25 PM on December 19, 2014

Looking at banned toys .. They recalled slip & slides? That's my childhood right there! Taking off the end those suckers at speed would grind grass stains so deep you'd be green tinged for days afterward.
posted by leotrotsky at 5:33 PM on December 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

One of my indelible memories is playing Chuck Yeager's Advanced Flight Simulator (later Chuck Yeager's Advanced Flight Trainer) and having Chuck tell me "You really screwed the pooch!" when I t-boned a multi-million dollar jet into the dirt, I thought at the time if the sim was that hard, what the hell was actually flying an advanced jet like. Thanks JuiceCake, I love these ARS write ups.
posted by Divine_Wino at 6:40 PM on December 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Notch can have his fancy home. If I ever had the cash, a setup like this would be on my wishlist. I like when Sparky shows up in the comments to reply to a query on the genesis of his callsign: "It is not cool but it is mildly amusing and embarrassing as is the average callsign backstory. Of course, I'm not posting it here. My love to the crowd, but I imagine one day I might interview for a job with someone familiar with Google."
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:00 PM on December 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

They recalled slip & slides?


I got one of those for a birthday present when I was a kid, maybe 8 or 9. Literally the very first time I used it, I slipped and fell backwards onto my back, banging my head hard enough (on grass, no less) that I was light-headed for a while. It immediately got put away, and went back to the store the next day.

Oddly, we had Jarts for years, never once did anyone get hurt with them.
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:18 PM on December 19, 2014

Notch can have his fancy home. If I ever had the cash, a setup like this would be on my wishlist.

Right! I'd have multiple setups. And a waitstaff to provide drinks and all my friends would come over and harry the unfriendly skies and it would be a blast.

This is a dream unchanged since I was playing Chuck Yeager's flight sims on the C64.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:39 PM on December 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was fortunate enough to fly an E-3 simulator for a few minutes, and it was pretty impressive.

We had an instructor showing it off to us as part of a site visit, and he set it up for a standard takeoff from a local air field. He rolled it down the runway, and just after rotation at about fifty feet he said, "Alright, let's try something else." Pushed a couple buttons, and the simulation paused with us hanging in the air. I instinctively lunged for the controls because my body was telling me we're falling out of the sky right now do something!!!

Anyway, he reset it for an aerial refueling scenario and this is where I learned that formation flying large jets is hard. The AAR receptacle is just over the pilots' heads and the simulator is sophisticated enough that you'll hear the boom scraping over the top of the cockpit if you come in wrong (I swear I felt it vibrating, also, but that was probably just me). I tried capturing the boom, but I quickly got sucked in to the jet wake of the KC-135 we were following and overcorrected... and then overcorrected for that, and in about 15 seconds we were swinging wildly in and out of the jet wake. It's hard! But, the instructor did say that since they started using the simulator for AAR training, every single student has done their first real live aerial refueling maneuver perfectly.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:45 PM on December 19, 2014 [6 favorites]

nice eponysterical comment backseat pilot..theres that.
posted by sfts2 at 8:47 PM on December 19, 2014

This is a great post. I loved the pictures of the newer cockpit with the DLP projectors. Hutchinson does a great job describing the experience. I'd really love to do something like that.
posted by Roger Dodger at 8:50 PM on December 19, 2014

And that's one of those idioms that definitely does date the author.

He didn't make it up. It's a term of art.
posted by dhartung at 11:31 PM on December 19, 2014

I remember reading an article a long time ago that said pilots of F-15s derogatorily called F-16s Lawn Darts.

When I was a kid I read an article in Omni magazine about a professional simulator that blew my mind in that it managed to make "flight simulation" into something Adult, and thus a little bit tedious, when at the time "Flight simulation" seemed the most exciting thing I could do with my new Pentium.

Unfortunately "Flight simulation" is now basically dead.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 2:12 AM on December 20, 2014

Ray Walston: you know that X-Plane 10 just shipped?

(Flight Simulation: definitely not dead, just a niche sector.)
posted by cstross at 5:03 AM on December 20, 2014

X-Plane 10 didn't just ship, it's been out since 2011, but 10.31 was released last month.

But yeah, flight simulation is very much not dead, it just, ahem, flies under the radar. MSFS is 8 years old at this point, but still the king of the jungle in flight simulation land, at least in terms of popularity. It has a ridiculous amount of commercial support to this day: terrain improvments, environment improvements, real world weather, obscenely detailed planes that have equally obscene amounts of documentation available, and so on.

I'm not even an FSX user, as I prefer X-Plane, so that's just stuff I know of off the top of my head from general hobby awareness.

FSX is indeed getting long in the tooth, but its future has gone in two promising directions: Lockheed Martin has rights to use the FSX base to develop Prepare3d, which is meant for "professional and academic use" only but sees a lot of recreational use anyway; and Dovetail Games have recently been licensed to bring out a Steam edition, and are working on a new simulator release for 2015, though I've not seen much detail on that yet.

Then, outside the MSFS world, there's X-Plane, which is sort of the idiot-savant of the flight simulator world. It uses a more advanced physics model than MSFS -- which is to say, it uses one at all. To potentially over simplify, MSFS doesn't really do detailed modelling of, say, airflow over the wings and the lift they generate. Instead, planes have what are basically lookup tables which describe how they operate in different flight conditions. X-Plane actually models the forces acting upon each part of the plane independently and integrates them into an overall flight model. Most professional pilots who've flown both, from what I've seen, will say that both methods are good, but X-Plane gets closer to reality, especially in non-normal situations.

Of course, X-Plane does have less of a network effect behind it, so it does lack the vast array of add-ons that FSX has, but there are still some very, very good modifications, including hugely enhanced terrain meshes which do great things to enchance the world; photo sceneries which combine well with OpenStreetMap based scenery generators to bring things ridiculously close to reality in areas that are well covered -- all of Europe and the major cities in the US, at least; and we're starting to get some planes that approach PMDG levels of authenticity. It's a very exciting time to be an X-Plane user right now; there's very much a feel of something about to reach critical mass.

Even beyond the simulators and their specific merits and add-ons, there's a whole community outside of the simulators themselves enhancing the experience. If you want to put some order in your flying by using what is essentially an advanced, multi-player mission generator and economic simulation, including the ability to buy both planes and FBOs at airports, check out FSEconomy. If you'd rather pretend to be an airline pilot, there are a massive number of virtual airlines out there which model, to various degrees of authenticity, the operations of both real world and fictional airlines. (I fly with Worldwide Virtual because they very casual about rules and regulations, and focus more on "just have fun with it", but there are many much more formalized VAs if that's your thing, too.) If you just want to fly with other pilots under authentic, human air traffic control, you have not one, not two, but three major online "virtual ATC" networks to choose from at the moment.

And this hasn't even begun to touch on the collection of additional utilities available to enhance your experience. I subscribe to a service which provides regular bundles of real-world navigation information updated along with their official counterparts, and have been thinking of subscribing to their cloud service which hosts procedures charts for airports around the world. (It's currently very easy to get charts for US-based airports -- I use this service to generate monthly updates for the entire US which I sync to my flight simulation PC via their WebDAV service -- but for international airports it can be more hit and miss with free services.) Then you have very detailed flight planning software, electronic flight bags, and, well... I think you get the idea. :)

This is just civilian flight sims. There's also the world of military flight simulation, which has its own obsessive devotees.

Oh, and you want hardware? Yeah, we got that. How much do you want to spend?

So yeah, as cstross said, not dead.
posted by jammer at 6:24 AM on December 20, 2014 [22 favorites]

Parenthetically, since I wanted to keep my own personal experience separate, I've most recently been flying that 757 I linked to above on a tour of the US put together by my VA and taking pretty pictures. I spent days going through the roughly 1300 pages of (authentic, but slightly abridged) Boeing training material that it comes with before I even began going through the detailed checklists for starting the thing up from cold and dark; getting it off the ground the first time felt like a major victory.

I've been both getting the feel for that and for Pilot2ATC, which is a rather raw but promising new tool for simulated air traffic control (and various other side features). I love flying on VATSIM, but with a wife, a small child, and a dog it can be hard to get enough uninterrupted time in the evenings to properly go through a multi-hour flight whilst flying under human control.

For all my life I've wanted to fly, but currently cannot get a PPL because reasons. For me, flight simulation provides a way of getting close to something I'd otherwise be unable to do at all. That's why I'm passionate about it.
posted by jammer at 6:51 AM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I got chatting to a commercial pilot recently, who told me about a competition they have running in their 737 simulator sessions. Their airline pays for simulator time per timeslot, not per scenario, so after the required simulation is complete the pilots use the leftover time to load up an approach to Gatwick and compete to see who can make the fastest pass under the really long passenger footbridge. By setting the throttle as fast as it will go, taking a nice steep dive, and cranking up the simulation's time compression, he claims to have done it at an apparent speed of well over Mach 2.

Flight simulators sound awesome, and I completely understand how people end up spending thousands on them.

...a rather raw but promising new tool for simulated air traffic control (and various other side features).
A decent air traffic control simulator is a weirdly appealing idea. I have absolutely no idea why, and I've never thought about it before, but I think I could really enjoy that. Something about shuffling all the pesky planes into nice neat patterns and systems, perhaps.
posted by metaBugs at 7:45 AM on December 20, 2014

A decent air traffic control simulator is a weirdly appealing idea. I have absolutely no idea why, and I've never thought about it before, but I think I could really enjoy that. Something about shuffling all the pesky planes into nice neat patterns and systems, perhaps.

You mean, a simulator for operating as an air traffic controller? This is also a thing, although even more fringe than flight simulation itself. You could go the route of joining VATSIM or IVAO and getting trained for doing online ATC, or you could buy software for simulating being an air traffic controller.

This right here would probably be your best bet along those lines, currently.
posted by jammer at 7:51 AM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

You don't necessarily need high end hardware for a flight sim if you're prepared to make allowances.
posted by Devonian at 9:00 AM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

APP Control is a fun air traffic controller game for iPhone, Mac, Android and blah blah blah.
posted by ReeMonster at 11:40 AM on December 20, 2014

I wonder if cheap FPV drones will start to be good competition for hobby flight simulators soon.
posted by miyabo at 9:50 PM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

The FAA is having a pretty successful go at making FPV illegal, so, probably not. I can't even argue with their reasoning, even though I wish there were a way for a middle ground that would allow for limited FPV that respected the obligation to see-and-avoid, maybe low-altitude in remote areas?
posted by Alterscape at 3:07 AM on December 21, 2014

Maybe someone could build a "drone park" in a remote area (of a country that allows them), and we could pay to fly them online? Drones are pretty small so only a square mile or two of interesting terrain would be necessary, and it could host many drones. You'd need smart software that allows you to almost crash without actually crashing, and a crew of people on the ground swapping out batteries.
posted by miyabo at 5:31 AM on December 21, 2014

Jammer - before you completely ruin my christmas and bank balance with broken dreams: where is the best summary site for computer requirements for Xplane? Not just the minimum but some reliable indication of what people feel gives a worthwhile experience?
posted by cromagnon at 8:44 AM on December 21, 2014

Noticed X-Plane 10 Global is on sale at Steam.
posted by juiceCake at 12:47 PM on December 22, 2014

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