Falcon 4.0: Pete Bonanni Interview
By: Dan 'Crash' Crenshaw
Date: June 17th, 1998
The F-16 Fighting Falcon is a compact, multirole fighter aircraft. It is highly maneuverable and has proven itself in air-to-air combat and air-to-surface attack. It provides a relatively low-cost, high-performance weapon system for the air forces of the United States and allied nations.
In an air combat role, the F-16's maneuverability and combat radius (distance it can fly to enter air combat, stay, fight and return) exceed that of all potential threat fighter aircraft. It can locate targets in all weather conditions and detect low flying aircraft in radar ground clutter. In an air-to-surface role, the F-16 can fly more than 500 miles (860 kilometers), deliver its weapons with superior accuracy, defend itself against enemy aircraft, and return to its starting point. An all-weather capability allows it to accurately deliver ordnance during non-visual bombing conditions.
COMBATSIM.COM® had a chance to speak with Pete "BOOMER" Bonanni, F-16 BFM instructor and flight instructor for the Air National Guard as well as consultant for FALCON 4, the greatly anticipated simulation from MicroProse. BOOMER talks to Dan Crenshaw about real BFM and FALCON 4.
(CSIM) Please give me a bit of background on your career.
(PB) I am a second generation fighter pilot who grew up on various fighter bases around the world. My father flew the F-94C, F-101, F105 and the F-4. After graduating from the Air Force Academy and pilot training I started my career fighters in the F-4 Phantom. In fact while I was at Clark Air Base in the Philippines I actually flew some of the same tail numbers that my father flew in Vietnam.
In the 90th I flew F-4Es and Gs. While I was at Clark the 90th converted from an Air-to-Air role to the Wild Weasel mission. I didn't go back and train in the "G" model but I flew G models occasionally because we had an equal number of Es and Gs in the squadron. From Clark I got assigned to 497th Fighter Squadron in Taegu, South Korea and flew the F-4D. The "D" model was a "hard wing" F-4 which meant that it didn't have the E model's leading edge slats.
Without those slats the jet flew VERY different at high AOA and I experienced a few wild rides and some pissed off back-seaters before I got used to slow speed fighting in the jet. At slow speed you could not use the ailerons at all. Just think about that. Here you were in a flat scissors with an F-5 and you needed to roll and pull to the left. If you actually moved the stick to the left several things would happen - none of them good.
First the back-seater would scream like he'd been kicked in a place that really hurts. Next the nose of the jet would slice violently in the opposite direction. The only way to regain control of the jet was to unload and by the time you got the Rhino flying straight again some ass hole in an F-5 was gunning you. I never really got a feel for the F-4D because after only 4 months at Taegu, I was selected to fly the greatest fighter ever built -- the F-16.
In August of 1981 the F-16 was more than just a new fighter. It was a concept - an idea about air combat that was fashioned into a machine. The first time I stood next to the jet I was transfixed. I had been around fighters all my life but this jet was different. Finally they built a fighter that not only was the right size (small) but also had the correct number of engines. They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder but no fighter pilot can see the lines of the F-16 without feeling deep admiration for the men and women who designed and built it.
The F-16 was even better from inside the cockpit. To put it simply the jet just felt right. It's hard to put it any other way. When you strap in and place your hands on the stick and throttle for the first time it's just hard to describe. It just felt so natural. My first thought was "so this is how a fighter cockpit is supposed to be".
Anyway, sorry for the nostalgia but it was truly a great feeling to be a part of the early days of the F-16. I spent the next 5 years in the F-16, first in the 35th Fighter Squadron in Kunsan, South Korea and then in the 63rd Fighter Squadron in MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. In route to being an Instructor Pilot at MacDill, I was selected to attended the F-16 Fighter Weapons School class at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. The Fighter Weapons School was an experience that had a lot in common with Basic Cadet Training at the Air Force Academy. The F-16 Fighter Weapons School was my most arduous Air Force experience to date and very hard to describe in just a few words.
I finally left the F-16 when I got out of the active Air Force and entered the Air National Guard. I went home to Virginia and transitioned to a different jet - the A-7D Corsair in the 149th Fighter Squadron. I really didn't need an F-16 appreciation experience but got one nonetheless. I spent the next 5 years flying the old A-7 and pining for 10 thousand pounds more thrust. It was not that the A-7 was that bad, it was just that it was no F-16.
Finally in 1991 the 149th Fighter Squadron received "C" model F-16s. All my previous time had been in the "A" model so I was a little skeptical of the C due to it's increased weight. When I first flew the jet in transition rides I could tell that the nose was a lot heavier but when I actually did BFM in the jet I was pleasantly surprised. The nose was heavier but with the new GE engine the jet had more thrust which made up for the increased weight - kind of. Nothing maneuvers like an "A" model F-16 in my opinion but in a fight against your clone - A versus C, it would probably be a push.
While in the F-4 I flew the D, E and G models over a two year period and then was lucky enough to transition into the F-16A in 1981. I flew the F-16A for just over a year and then attended the USAF Fighter Weapons School in January of 1983. After graduating from the Fighter Weapons School I flew as an Instructor Pilot for the next three years and then left the active duty Air Force for the Air National Guard. In the Air Guard I flew the A-7D for 5 years before finally getting back to the F-16 in 1991. I've flown the F-16C Block 30 since 91 and I expect to be in the jet for the rest of my career.
(CSIM) What is the closest you ever came to actual combat?
(PB) When my father went back to Vietnam in 1969 he told me, "every generation of fighter pilot has their war." Since becoming a fighter pilot I've waited for my war but so far the closest I have come is enforcing the No Fly Zones over Iraq and Bosnia. My father faced SAMs, AAA and MiGs over North Vietnam while so far all I have faced is a sore ass and leaky piddle packs.
(CSIM) How do you rate the F-16 as an overall fighter? What do you think are it's strengths and weaknesses?
(PB) The F-16 is the greatest fighter ever built. I know we can get into a "News Group" type debate over energy curves, payload, avionics, range and other various fighter characteristics. In my opinion however, the F-16 is still the best fighter in the world at what it was originally designed to do -- dogfight. In addition to dogfighting, the F-16 is also the best jet in the world at killing SAMs. When you add AMRAAM and LGBs to the jet you have a great all around fighter that is only a "stores jettison button" away from being the best maneuvering jet in the world.
(CSIM) How does the A/B differ from the C/D models? Include how it responds to the pilot and it's interface.
(PB) The A model F-16 is lighter. More specifically it has a lighter nose which means you can rate or move the nose better in an A model. The C model generally has more thrust than the A model which for the most part compensates for the greater weight of the C. I personally believe that an A model F-16 is a better dogfighter than a C model.
The exception to this statement would be the Block 50/52 C model. This Block has considerably more thrust than the Block 30 or Block 40 C models and may have a sustained turn advantage over an A model. The other difference between the A and C model is of course the cockpit. The C model has a completely different cockpit layout and a new radar which improves the combat capability of the jet. (CSIM) What is the closest match for the F16 in the Soviet fleet?
(PB) The Soviet fighter most comparable to the F-16 is the MiG-29. The MiG-29 matches up favorably to the F-16 in maneuverability but is inferior in avionics and weapons. The exception to this is the AA-11 Archer heat seeking missile. This missile provides the MiG-29 an excellent "close in" weapon.
(CSIM)If you had a chance to fly a Soviet fighter, what would it be and why?
(PB) The MiG-29 because that is the fighter that I would most likely face in combat and a chance to fly it would be helpful.
(CSIM) You are obviously most notable in the flight sim community due to your connection with FALCON 3.0 and the Art of the Kill book and video included with that game. How did you get hooked up with Spectrum Holobyte for this project?
(PB) Most people don't realize that Falcon 3.0 started as a low cost F-16 simulator for the Air National Guard. I worked with Gilman Louie, the current Chairman of MicroProse and the creator of the Falcon series, on a proposal to build an F-16 trainer. Spectrum-Holobyte was teamed with General Dynamics and another company called Perceptronics on the project and fortunately we lost the contract.
I say fortunately because after losing the contract, Gilman took our design and some of the User Interface work that was complete and turned it into Falcon 3.0. So my input to Falcon 3.0 was in aiding Gilman Louie in the design of the F-16 trainer that later turned into Falcon 3.0. In the Falcon series there has been very few constants between each development effort. The exception to this of course is the involvement of Gilman Louie who is again providing the key vision for Falcon 4.0.
(CSIM) The Art of the Kill, was this your idea? How close does it follow your actual lessons for real pilots?
(PB) Art of the Kill was an idea pushed through by Gilman. The concept was first proposed to him by a young guy named Pat Gost. Pat helped work on the video while I wrote the content to include the script for the video and the manual. The Art of the Kill courseware is essentially identical to the course content taught in the F-16 training squadrons.
(CSIM) What are the most common maneuvering mistakes beginner fighter pilots make?
(PB) The most common BFM mistake made by new fighter pilots (in Falcon or the jet) is pointing at the target before you are ready to shoot. A pure pursuit path (pointing at the target) will almost always generate an overshoot. It is very hard to get most new fighter pilots to think in terms of driving the aircraft to another point in the sky besides directly at the bandit.
Everybody has a natural tendency to put the bandit in the HUD and in most cases unless you are shooting, this is the wrong thing to do. The other common mistake is trying to turn the jet at too high an airspeed or at other end of the spectrum -- getting too slow. These two mistakes can be lumped into the category of not managing your energy.
(CSIM) What is the toughest air combat maneuver to learn?
(PB) The toughest air combat maneuver to learn is controlling your lift vector when you are slow and tight. These situations occur when you are scissoring or in high low stacks. It is very hard to recreate various situations where mistakes are made so the learning curve for this type of fighting tends to be flat.
(CSIM) You are working with MicroProse on FALCON 4.0, probably the most anticipated flight sim sequel ever. What areas of the sim have you been asked to participate in?
(PB) I have provided fighter pilot input on a number of areas of Falcon 4.0 to include the flight model, avionics, bandit AI, sounds and the campaign. I have worked on most areas of Falcon 4.0 but I'm only a voice and not the hands that are actually building Falcon. The heavy lifting on this project is of course being done by the guys and gals writing code and drawing pictures.
(CSIM) I have read some posts from Leon Rosenshein and yourself on the flight model in FALCON 4.0. As a BETA tester, I have seen great strides in the handling of the aircraft. How close is the flight model to the real F-16C? (Altitude effects, feel, turning etc.)
(PB) The flight model is very accurate. I have talked about this before but in Falcon 4.0 you can pull the power back to idle and fly the altitude and airspeed flameout numbers right out of the F-16 Dash 1 flight manual and land the jet. Leon Rosenshein worked on the F-16 Unit Training Device (UTD) which is the simulator in all F-16 squadrons and Falcon 4.0 flies at least as good as the UTD.
(CSIM) Is the blackout in FALCON 4 set to a realistic level? Does it have a reasonable on set?
(PB) The black out model we used is based on centrifuge data. Leon Rosenshein used a data set created by the USAF to model this very thing in Air Force simulators. I know there will be plenty of debate over blackout models but I feel that if you are going to have one, ours is as accurate as you can make it. By the way, even though I know its based on accurate data, it still pisses me off too when I'm about to gun someone and my screen starts to go black. I guess its only natural.
(CSIM) The avionics package is very complex. How close to the real thing is it? How close to being able to actually being used for air force training is it? Is this the complete package or are there features that can not be modeled due to security issues?
(PB) Falcon 4.0 Avionics fall in a range that goes from very easy to the real jet. On the very easy side your radar displays all of the targets from a bird's eye perspective and it is easy to engage and shoot down the bandits. On the F-16 side of the scale you have a radar beam sweeping, range bins, radar cross section, probability of detection, in other words a highly detailed simulation of the radar fight.
On the easy levels the bandits are essentially just stoogeing around out there waiting to get poked by your missiles. On the realistic levels the bandits are "spike aware" at BVR ranges and will flat out ruin your day if your shit is not all in one sock. When you gaze into your tube (radar scope) you will have to detect Brackets, Post Holes, Drags, Beams and other standard bad guy intercept tactics.
It can be done but you will definitely not be able to crank Falcon 4.0 up to the limit and wail on the enemy while you simultaneously play grab ass with sweet Marie. If you can, hell I'm fighting some Eagles next week and may need your help.
( CSIM-Have you called BUBBA yet? ;-D )
The radar fight is one thing but don't forget that the Block 50 F-16 lives to kill SAMs. Falcon 4.0 has a very good HTS (Harm Targeting System) simulation to help you duke it out with the SAMs. Keep in mind however that some of them are mobile and at the higher levels of the game, the Integrated Air Defense System will demonstrate connectivity and cooperative tactics to include blinking, ambush and buddy launches to defeat the HTS. Of course I have not even mentioned the Targeting Pod, Maverick and a host of other weapons and avionic modes. Falcon 4.0 is very detailed and provides a lot of accurate information about the F-16 in combat.
As far as security issues are concerned, Falcon 4.0 provides realism by placing the fighter pilot in the most realistic combat simulation ever built. The avionics are realistic because they provide the information needed to survive and win in this environment. (CSIM) When involved in dogfights, how easy is it to become disoriented and do you feel the aids in any particular flight sim model the situation awareness in a dogfight particularly well?
(PB) In a real dogfight you seldom get disoriented. Getting disoriented in a real dogfight will probably result in you double-dribbling yourself off the ground. The same thing happens in flight sims too - lose control of the horizon and lose your life. It is much easier to lose control of the horizon in flight sims however.
Notice how I keep talking about the horizon rather than the bandit. It is usually easier to track the bandit in a flight sim than it is in the real jet but it's keeping track of the horizon that is the most critical. You may not believe this but just think about it. If you are near the mach and get pointed straight down how fast will you be losing altitude? How about 1,000 feet per second. You simply cannot lose track of the big ball or you will wind up a smoking hole.
So in flight sims and in the real jet you must keep track of the earth. The new Falcon 4.0 padlock view and the modified Hawkeye view both work well in a dogfight to help you keep your nose in control of the horizon.
(CSIM) There is a rumor that you have a desire to model the Soviet formations that aid in hiding the actual number of aircraft the RADAR picks up. How does this work and do you think will FALCON 4 see this feature?
(PB) Yes - of course bandits will use anti-sort tactics in Falcon 4.0. How could you model modern air combat if they didn't?
(CSIM) Could you give us some detail on how this works?
(PB) Sure. The high tech fighters such as the Su-27 and Mig-29 may mask their numbers on occasion but for the most part they will go lance to lance with you and the hombre with the biggest stick and fattest clue bag will fly home to the hacienda. The low tech fighters like MiG19/21/23 on the other hand may try to mask their numbers by being in resolution cell or with a post hole formation. Resolution cell just means that they will fly close together so you can only see a single target until you are very close.
A post hole is a formation where you fly directly above or below your wingman. Again this looks like a single target on radar and hides your numbers. Keep in mind again that bandit awareness and response to the tactical environment is scalable by setting the difficulty level. Making bandits smart Beyond Visual Range has been a challenge (not for me of course because I just talk about it to the engineers). I think that you can learn a lot about the nature air combat in the F-16 by fighting the "codehead pilots" in Falcon 4.0.
(CSIM) What part of flying an F-16 in a combat situation do you think FALCON 4 models most effectively and how does it differ from the real thing?
(PB) To answer your question directly I would say that we model the air war or what I call the "tactical environment" better than most other flight sims. In other words, Falcon 4.0 effectively recreates the shock and lethality of modern air combat from the perspective of the F-16 pilot. Falcon 3.0 and Falcon 4.0 are about the same thing - immersing the player into a realistic air war where knowledge of your jet, the enemy and your own capabilities are the key to victory.
(CSIM)Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. I am sure I speak for the entire flight sim community when I say we all look forward to seeing FALCON 4 and appreciate the input you have given to make it what it will be.
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