Falcon 4.0 Tutorial

Falcon 4.0, from the new MicroProse (after it got bought out by Spectrum Holobyte), is one of the finest flight simulations ever seen on the PC. It does a near-perfect job of expanding on the strengths of its predecessor, Falcon 3.0, which for a long time after its release was regarded as the benchmark against which all other flight sims were to be measured. Although Falcon 4.0 did not receive quite as much prestige, it is a worthy successor.

Unfortunately, like too many flight sims, Falcon 4.0 is a little hard to digest for newcomers. Even those who've played many flight sims before may have a little trouble handling Falcon 4.0's 600-page manual, about twice the size of Falcon 3.0's landmark manual. Although Falcon 4.0 comes with some pretty good training missions that let you practice all the important aspects of the game before you actually fly real missions, I felt it might be in order to contribute my own tutorial which takes you step-by-step through some of the elements unique to Falcon 4.0.

This tutorial assumes that you have played some kind of flight sim before, and that you know the basics of how to actually fly an airplane (at least on a computer screen) using a joystick. (Falcon 4.0 requires a joystick. That's right, requires, not recommends; You can't play Falcon 4.0 without a joystick, so if you don't have one yet, Falcon 4.0 is a great excuse to go and get one.) So rather than walking you through the basics of taking off, how to turn, and how to navigate, I'll go directly into some of the more specific controls for how to operate the plane in a combat situation.

While you're learning Falcon 4.0, I recommend turning on "Invulnerability" in your options. Even if you're a seasoned flight simmer, the enemy pilots are awfully good even in the training missions, and it's helpful not having to worry about getting shot down when you're just trying to learn the controls for the game. Don't feel bad about turning invulnerability on, you'll turn it off again real soon.

From the main menu, begin by clicking on "Tactical Engagement". This is where you can select individual planned missions of various intents, most notably the training missions. Falcon 4.0 comes with 31 traning missions, and most of them are pretty good. Let's start with training mission number 13, "A-A Radar Modes".

The first thing you need to know about air-to-air radar modes is that you have four of them available, and you can cycle through them by pressing F1. These four modes are: RWS (Range While Scan), TWS (Track While Scan), VS (Velocity Search), and ACM (Air Combat Maneuvering). For your first air-to-air training mission, pick RWS; Press F1 until "RWS" appears in the left MFD.

Once you have RWS selected, you can tweak your radar settings quite a bit with several keys which adjust various settings. You can adjust the radar range with F3 and F4, you can adjust the radar azimuth (width) by pressing F8, you can adjust the number of bar scans (height) by pressing SHIFT-F8, and you can tilt the radar beam up and down by pressing F5 and F7. (Use F6 to center the beam vertically.) You may wish to play around with these settings for a while to get used to them and so you can observe how they affect the appearance of the A-A radar on the MFD screen.

Since this is an air-to-air radar training mission, the game has helpfully supplied you with enemy aircraft already in the air. You should notice several targets on the radar screen, which appear as small rectangles, or blips. These blips will move around the radar screen, reflecting the changing position of the target each time your radar beam passes over it. You should also be seeing a trail of dimmer blips streaming out from each target; These are known as "target histories", and they serve to give you some idea of where the target is going. They are not actual targets, but rather, they are places where the target *used* to be on your radar scope the last time the beam passed over that target. These histories simply serve to provide an illusion of motion, so you can more easily visualize where the target is going (since in fact each target is really just a static dot on the radar screen that does not move around).

Since these aircraft are hostile, you'll want to practice targeting them by locking your radar beam onto them. For this purpose, you're provided with a radar cursor. Use the cursor keys on your keyboard to slide the radar cursor around the radar screen; You should see it responding to the keys, moving up, down, left or right, depending on what key you press. (Yes, this really is what you have to do every time you want to lock up an air target.) Move the radar cursor over a target, and press the keypad 0 (Ins) key to lock up the target.

The target, which previously looked like a rectangle on your radar screen, should transform into a triangle shape with a line sticking out of it. (This line represents the direction the targeted aircraft is moving in.) If this happens, congratulations, you've successfully locked up a target. If you turn your attention to your HUD, you should notice that a TD (Target Designator) box has appeared, which simply looks like a square outline indicating the location of the target aircraft. You can use the TD box to steer toward the aircraft. (If the airplane is not within your HUD, then you'll get a locator line instead of a TD box; The locator line is a line that extends from the plane's gun cross and shows you which direction you need to point your nose in to be facing the target. Once the aircraft appears in your HUD, the locator line will disappear and the TD box will appear.)

Now let's try another radar mode. The other important long-range radar mode is TWS, or Track While Scan (pronounced "twiz"). Press F1 until RWS is replaced by TWS on your radar screen.

If you pay attention (and you still have some target(s) visible on the screen), you should notice that while previously only the target that you locked up appeared as a triangle in RWS mode, ALL of the targets now appear as triangles in TWS mode! This is because TWS mode allows you to track multiple targets at once, whereas RWS only lets you track one target at a time. TWS automatically begins tracking every aircraft that comes into your radar beam, and so you can see vector lines on all the aircraft. However, to get a TD box for an aircraft on your HUD, you must still lock up the target using the exact same technique you used to lock up a target in RWS mode.

Clearly, TWS has an advantage over RWS in that it lets you track multiple targets at once. So what's the advantage of using RWS? Well, for starters, TWS can be a little confusing; In RWS it's clear which target you're tracking on the screen, while in TWS it can be hard to tell. Also, TWS doesn't allow you as wide a radar beam as RWS does; While you can open up your radar beam width to as much as 60 degrees in RWS mode, the limit is 25 degrees in TWS mode, which means you can't see many airplanes using TWS unless they're almost right in front of your nose.

Once you feel comfortable using the main A-A radar modes of the F-16, you can go back to the training missions and try training missions 14 to 17, which give you practice in locking up targets and shooting them down with all of the main air-to-air weapons in the game (the cannon, the AIM-9 Sidewinder, the AIM-7 Sparrow, and the AIM-120 AMRAAM).

That's it for now... Hopefully I'll add more to this page later.

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