Jane’s F/A-18 Simulator

Hands down the second best way to fly an F/A-18E.

7_1Jane’s F/A-18 is not only the foremost naval aviation simulator to ever grace a hard drive, it’s also one of the finest jet combat sims around. It should be made clear right up front, however, that F/A-18 is not a product for casual flyers. This is the real deal. F/A-18 is a no-nonsense combat simulator that ambitiously attempts to model every aspect of the new F/A-18E Super Hornet in all of its complexity. Although the sim’s avionics and weapons modeling can be de-tuned slightly, there are still more than 180 individual keyboard and joystick commands to be mastered before the experience can be properly appreciated.

One of the most compelling aspects of F/A-18 is its remarkably authentic presentation of naval carrier operations. Whether you select one of the sim’s Instant Action, Single Mission, or Training sorties, or jump straight into its large North Cape campaign, you will more often than not be faced with the considerable challenge of launching and recovering your Hornet on the deck of a constantly pitching and rolling aircraft carrier.

The game’s four-part semi-dynamic campaign takes place in and around the Russian Kola Peninsula and involves a solid mix of Fleet Defense, CAP, CAS, SEAD, and Strike missions. The North Cape is a very busy place once the game’s shooting war heats up, and dedicated sim fans should delight in the highly immersive battlefield environment that the Jane’s crew has created. A tremendously deep Comms menu has also been implemented, and the incessant radio chatter can be almost overwhelming at times. Adding further fuel to the sim’s replayability is an enormous full-featured Mission Builder tool.

Jane’s combat sims have always set lofty new standards for quality avionics and flight modelling, and F/A-18 continues this. In fact, the Super Hornet’s avionics suite and weapons delivery systems are so comprehensively modeled that even the most grizzled of flight sim veterans will probably need to dive into the manual and some of the training missions just to get up to speed. Utilizing a 3D cockpit, the individual MPD (Multipurpose Display) screens found in F/A-18 offer the same level of functionality and authenticity one might associate with a full-blown military simulator. Line-of-sight radar, SEA surface search, multiple HARM launch modes, auto-tracking FLIR – they’re all in place, and they all work as advertised.

Then you have the various radar sub-modes and target acquisition features. The surprisingly cryptic manual does a poor job of offering a “how-to” primer for flight sim newbies. Even hardcore simmers will find themselves hitting the pause key quite regularly just to pore through the fine print and look up the correct procedure to arm and release the Hornet’s extensive collection of air-to-air and air-to-ground ordnance. It takes a while to get used to the cockpit – almost everything is clickable using the mouse. But once in command, it’s quite an experience.

14Although the avionics complexity in F/A-18 can be dialed back a few notches to accommodate first-time flyers, there is no such option with the sim’s physics engine. The advanced fly-by-wire characteristics of the Super Hornet allow the plane to practically fly itself. A computerized Flight Control System (FCS) makes it very difficult to exceed G-limits, so the flight model is consequently quite forgiving and stable. Weather conditions and different weapon loadouts will, however, have a noticeable effect on flight performance, as they should.

Make no mistake, Jane’s F/A-18 Simulator is a serious flight simulation for people who have the time and patience for it. Heavy brushes with the manual and training missions that will bite hours of your time are required before even attempting any of the campaign missions. But with such attention to detail as this, serious flight sims will likely be more than willing to make the sacrifice.

System Requirements: Pentium II 233 MHz, 64 MB RAM, Win95

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