|Flight Performance in EAW
by Tom "KC" Basham
Lately there's been a lot of discussion about Microprose's European Air War, especially about stalling and spinning. A lot of the discussion indicates that EAW is too easy to spin, and therefore unrealistically difficult.
It appears to me that many of the discussions under estimate how much of a combat pilot's flight training is dedicated to maneuvering at the edge of the envelope… without pushing too far. In simplest of terms, stalls, spins, and other types of departures are nature's ways of punishing the pilot for pushing the aircraft too far.
As you may recall from other discussions on the physics of flight, the aircraft produces maximum lift (which is critical for both turn rate and turn radius performance) at maximum angle of attack (AOA). Pushing beyond maximum AOA, no matter how slightly, results in an accelerated stall (also known as a "high speed" stall). Other factors, such as the amount of yaw present at the time of the stall, can lead to spins or other out-of-control situations.
Given this, it's easy to see the importance of stall/post-stall effects in a simulation. Without them, the virtual pilot can merely pull the joystick back all the way and hold it there, turning the plane as hard as possible at all times. In real life, that will quickly lead to an accelerated stall… or worse.
In real life in a non-fly-by-wire aircraft, the pilot must work the stick back and forth, looking for the perfect spot at the edge of maximum AOA without pulling too far. Generally, many combat pilots fly with two hands on the stick, one to provide the "brute force" necessary to move the stick and the other to make small, precision movements necessary to ride the edge of the flight envelope.
Now, I cannot judge whether the yaw rate during a spin in a P-51 is exactly correct or not. I cannot determine if the Spitfire's stall speed is 5kts too slow or not. What I can say, though, is executing a high AOA, climbing turn will quickly bleed speed, lead to a stall, and develop into a spin if the sim pilot is not careful… just like real life.
Further, having flown somewhere around 50 mock BFM engagements in the T-34, I can say that more than most other sims, when I fly EAW my thought process matches that of my real-world experiences. I focus on the geometry between the target and myself. I focus on my airspeed. I focus on my stick position and try to find the maximum distance I can pull the stick without departing.
For me, this is far more important than knowing that the stall speed isn't off by a few knots or that top speed at a given altitude isn't 10 knots too slow. Changing those details may or may not change how I fly. Correctly or incorrectly implementing the stall/post-stall flight model, though, has a huge impact on how I fly and directly relates to how "realistic" I perceive the event to be.
Overall EAW has one of the most accurate representations of the transition from normal flight to high-AOA maneuvering to stall and finally to departure that I've seen in a sim. It more closely matches my experiences in aerobatic and BFM flying than most flight sims out there.
Perhaps the P-51 does stall 5 knots too soon (for example), but EAW emphasizes the same items and problems that my real-world instructor pilots emphasize. In the end, even if some specific numbers aren't quite right, I find EAW creates a better sensation of combat flight than most products because I thinking about the same things as when I strap into a real cockpit.
I'm no evangelist, and I understand that there are a fair number of people who don't agree about the accuracy of EAW. That's their prerogative, and fortunately we have a medium where such differences of opinion can be voiced and discussed. In parting, though, I will say that based on my experiences, those players who master EAW will have a little better understanding of what goes on in a real combat pilot's head (not to mention in the cockpit) during a dogfight. Good hunting!
Tom "KC" Basham is publisher of Debrief magazine, a print based magazine focusing on simulation and strategy gaming.
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Last Updated December 10th, 1998