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The Virtual Thunderbirds of Falcon4.0
by Su27 Angie

Many of you asked for an encore article to "Back to Basics: Formation Flying." What better way to celebrate formation flying than to emmulate the reknowned USAF Thunderbirds with Microprose's Falcon 4.0?

As a follow up, I decided to take Formation Flying to its highest level of expression: precision flying. Falcon 4.0 has the "Tbird" beautifully rendered in the DOGFIGHT module. This gave me the perfect opportunity to fly in the virtual skies as a member of the Thunderbirds. Compare for yourself this real picture of the Thunderbirds in action versus the Viper in its Falcon 4.0 dress blues.

T Birds
The Real Thing.

Until you try to fly with the precision that the real Thunderbirds do inside a flight sim, you can't really appreciate just how much skill and concentration these experts possess. The big difference is they can't hit the restart game button if they mess up.

T Birds in F4
Tbirds in F4

Only the very best pilots become the Thunderbirds and then only for a few years. I've watched the Navy's equivalent, the Blue Angels, for years out here in Southern California. In fact, once both the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels shared cockpits, and each obviously had the highest respect for the other.

While I find online dogfighting a great challenge, there is another side to both real and virtual flying that separates the hobby flier from the enthusiast: the discipline facet. There is a small group of virtual pilots that strive to do everything "by the book". By that I mean they are precise on how they plan a flight, taxi, communicate, take off, fly, land and even park. They do this whether or not they are on a combat mission or just flying recreationally. To qoute the "TopGun" movie: "I like that in a pilot".

It's this mental attitude that mind melds the sim to the virtual pilot. I believe discipline has as much to do with the immersion factor as does the production values of the sim itself. Throw a great sim into the equation, and you have the makings of what we all long for in flight simming: that "being there" experience.

There are many good sims out there that will get you there. My personal choices are Falcon4.0, Su27 Flanker, European Air War, GSC Hornet, Janes F15 and LongBow2. But when it comes to looking the part, nothing gets you closer to being a Thunderbird than does Falcon 4.0.

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T Birds in F4
F4 Tbirds in Flight Line

Once you get into Falcon4.0's Dogfight module, you can select the USA team. This will get you into the T'bird Viper F16. You can then either add an AI wingie or bring along some steady handed friends with good online connectivity. In Falcon 4.0's v1.06 release, you can only really get a total of 2 players stable online.

As for the AI wingies, unfortunately the wingman commands in the dogfight module are not active such that you could call your wingies to join up. So the best you can really do is a flight of two. The exception would be a total of three if you form up on an AI wingie and one other human wingie were to join. Word is that the multiplayer patch that will be part of 1.07 in the next few weeks will allow us to really get the full four and five ship T'bird formations working online.

T Birds in F4

With a two ship T'bird virtual airshow, you can have a lot of fun. The pictures you see in this article are a combination of offline and online multiplayer. If you have a really good connection (or cable!) you can get almost as close to the other ship as you can in offline play. Typically, in online play there is a warping effect that makes close formation even more challenging. There is a "hit bubble" around the planes so you really can't get any closer than what appears to be three or four virtual feet from the other ship. This is true whether online or not.

T Birds in F4

The real T'birds fly within 18 inches of each other at times. On the other hand, they have a lot more senses and communications available to them to aid in the coordination of the formation. The real T'birds also get to fly without the warp effect that plagues the virtual world. So as far as I see it, if you can get within a wing's length of the other ship and hold that position - you're doing great.

Snapping pictures is also a great challenge in the virtual world. You don't have chase planes to document your airshow. To complicate matters, there's no way to pause or freeze the action when online in DogFight mode. You can pause in TE missions, but until we see add on skin programs (maybe in patch 1.07?) we have to make do. You could use the ACMI, but the picture quality would be horrible.

Ed. Note: There is an autocapture feature in Hypersnap DX that would likely work very well for the purpose of airshow filming...

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 Last Updated April 13th, 1999

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