The F-16 is one of the most prolific aircraft in fighter history. Immediately distinguishable among its contemporaries, this versatile fighter has undergone numerous renovations of its systems in order to stay up with the times. The exterior, however, needed little improvement from its original design by Lockheed Martin and has endured for over three decades. With the new Ďsquareishí fighters such as the F-22 and F-35 coming on the scene, one must appreciate the almost aquiline features of the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
As smoothly as ever, the 700MB download came swiftly from the Aerosoft server. The installer which this package uses is different from the usual Aerosoft one, but nonetheless worked well. After installing, there was nearly three gigabytes of F-16 on my hard drive. A quick check of the start menu and FSX folder revealed an uninstaller and a fifty page manual. The manual is very nicely written; it gives background information on the F-16 and its intricate array of blocks and models, as well as the necessary knowledge of how to operate the aircraft. It details all of the panels, and clearly tells which ones work and which do not. I think this was a very good step on Aerosoftís part, and I respect them all the more for it. By telling you all of that which does not work, one feels like you have bought an addon which has as much functionality as a default aircraft. Aerosoft was quite right in not modeling much of this because things like the IFF and Zeroize controls would have little use other than cheap entertainment for thirty seconds. However, what Aerosoft did model is done in the highest depth and quality. In addition to this, there is a brief instance of humour in the checklist which I appreciated very much, but Iíll leave you to find it. Upon first booting up FSX, one is confronted by a grand total of twenty-one models, sixty-one different liveries, and two missions. The missions are both very nicely done: one is of a simulated intercept, and the other is modeled around an escort of Air Force One. Are there any surprises? Youíll see....
When you think of the cockpit of a fighter, this is exactly what you imagine: large LCD screens, the HUD, a throttle on one side and control stick on the other, and the rock-hard seat. The F-16 was the pioneer of the side stick, as this and the arm supports make it easier for a pilot to continue maneuvering at high Gís. Aerosoft decided to give just a little bit of movement whereas the real-life equivalent is static and only senses forces applied to it.
The center console is definitely the hub of the cockpit, but most of the gauges here are simply backup ones for the HUD. For instance, there is a backup ADI, an airspeed indicator, and an altimeter. All of these can also be found on the HUD. Additionally, one finds that the pedals can be adjusted to suit the length of your legs. For that matter, the pedals will depress in correspondence with the brake button.
The HUD and the Integrated Control Panel are probably the most complex systems which the pilot can interact with. Most people are familiar with the HUD; this is a projection of data onto a thick plate of glass. Since this is directly in the pilotís field of vision, the pilot is allowed to keep his head up and watch his surroundings. Via the controls on the right console, you can configure all of the information which you want displayed here, from the radar altimeter to the flight path marker. The ICP controls some fairly obscure functions of the F-16, such as the Bingo fuel level, which allows you to set the amount of fuel which, for example, youíd need to fly back to base. A lot of this is non-functional, mostly because many of the F-16's systems would be useless gimmicks in FSX. The night lighting isnít terribly special, but rather just casts a soft yellow light on the cockpit.
On the whole, I wonder just how many of the Aerosoft F-16's half-million vertices were spent here, because this is one of the most detailed cockpits which I have ever seen. There are a plethora of small details, such as lines running to and from the HUD, a radiation hazard, and the HUD itself; one might also notice the rails which the pedals slide on or the jack which raises the canopy. Detail is the word upon which this cockpit is built, and thereís something unique or interesting from every angle. There are two variants of the cockpit included with this package, but on the whole there is little difference between the two.
Itís easy to think that bump maps or the like are the only things which can make a superb exterior. In some instances, this is true, for there is often only so much you can do to a surface which is only comprised of panels. However, on something like the F-16 it is not anything like this which makes the exterior so special; itís in the details. The fan spinning in the air intake, the individual flaps of the exhaust moving in unison in response to inputs from the throttle, or perhaps the way which the gear extends. In any case, the exterior begs little description simply because to know a real F-16 is to know the Aerosoft F-16.
Perhaps the most spectacular part of this aircraft is the engine. Aerosoft has modeled this down to the last soot stain, and the detail stood up to inspection even when I moved my viewpoint into the engie itself. The thrust nozzle narrows and widens depending on how the throttle is positioned, and all of the parts in it move realistically. I have very little knowledge on what the parts of a jet engine are called, but suffice it to say that after having recently seen an F-16 engine up close, I was very pleased. I think the screenshots will do a better job of describing this than I.
The landing gear and weapons are all composed of very crisp photoreal textures. There are plenty of details visible in the gear bays, such as motors to drive the doors and wires and tubes running down the struts. The missiles, bombs, and drop tanks also are beautifully created, even though they cannot be used. All of the bumps, sensors, and other hard points are modeled, and the lights are even located in their own glass enclosure.
Iím sure youíve heard a sword referred to as an extension of the arm; in all respects, the F-16 is much more the proverbial sword than perhaps any other aircraft. Itís a smaller fighter in proportion to some of its contemporaries, but that engine can propel it to fifty-thousand feet with dizzying rapidity.
For the most part, there are two ways which the F-16 flies: the way a heavily loaded aircraft handles or the way a Thunderbird or the like would fly. On lightly loaded F-16's, I began raising the nose at about 130 knots, and was in the air at 150 knots for takeoff. The drag and weight were incredibly evident on the takeoff role of the heavily loaded F-16's, and I wasnít in the air until at least 250 knots. As Aerosoft stresses in the manual, the difference in flying these is immense. If you go to the Stores page on either of the MFDís, you can see what Category your aircraft is in, and it will give you a limit to what Gís you should pull. After flying such models as the Thunderbird version the flight dynamics of the loaded F-16's seem incredibly heavy, but once youíve acclimatized itís easy to appreciate the skill with which the flight dynamics are modeled. There is only one issue in flying this aircraft. You cannot start the aircraft using the checklist unless you go to (for instance) the default C-172 and ensure that the mixture is to full rich. Then switch to the F-16 and it works wonderfully.
Upon reaching cruise, your hand may stray to the switches which control the rudimentary autopilot. Why do this, I say? Aerosoft took the initiative and programmed something which may be unique in the flight sim world, and that is the ability to track AI aircraft via the radar and the HUD. When a target appears on your radar or your moving map (which has real-time graphics of the land underneath you) you can select it using a click zone on the left MFD. You may have to cycle through the other AI dots on the radar, but when youíve reached your target it will briefly switch from red to green. Then, once you get close enough, there will be an indicator on the HUD showing where the target is in relation to you, and then lastly a box will appear on the HUD around the target. Sounds somewhat interesting, right? Itís surprisingly more than that, and I did this nearly every time I flew. Iím not sure whatís so fun about it, but hey, I was hooked.
One must keep in mind that flying an aircraft as maneuverable as the F-16 requires smooth performance. For the most part, the Aerosoft F-16 did not put undue stress on the frame rates. In some areas with heavy weather, traffic or certain addon on sceneries, the aircraft may become unflyable; just use your common sense. Compared to other Aerosoft products, this is indeed fairly hard on frames, but in the scope of the market it is very reasonable.
On the whole, the sound quality is the best Iíve heard for anything with a jet engine. When opening the canopy, youíre greeted by a whining screech which sounds exactly like the real thing. Engine start is greeted by the usual wind-up, and the sounds in flight vary from a roar to a whoosh of air depending on where the throttle is positioned. When you shut down the engine, there will be a quiet sound which sounds like the hot metal popping as it cools down. I only found one issue, and that is when going from full throttle to zero throttle the sounds stops for just a second before coming back to idle; to my knowledge, this is not realistic.
Features and Effects-
Even though Aerosoft devoted the bulk of their work to flying the aircraft itself, they did let some little things slip in. For one, by using the water rudder command, you can make the pilotís visor go up and down in the external model. Additionally, when you pull sufficient Gís, vapor effects appear over the wings, and the length varies with the G amount changes. These are static and are actually part of the model rather than effects so they donít flicker or anything. Aerosoft chose not to model these as effects because, with Acceleration, having effects on aircraft has become increasingly difficult. The same is true of the afterburner; it is static, but its length varies with the amount of thrust. The last notable feature which this package includes is in-flight refueling. This works quite well. Flip the switch in the cockpit, hold a fairly level attitude anywhere over 3000 feet and below 300 knots, and your tanks will slowly refill.
The Aerosoft F-16 Fighting Falcon represents a milestone in my experience with Aerosoft. Iíve always been happy with their aircraft, but here they have gone above and beyond and created an aircraft which holds all of what makes FSX so fun: as much programming as the limitations of the sim permits, a beautiful model, and simply fascinating gadgets and features which make this aircraft such a winner. I am very pleased with the sheer exhilaration which comes from flying this, and I canít say how pleased I am to see such a beautiful reproduction of an aircraft which has been neglected in the simulator.
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