Combat flight simulator

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Simulation video games

Combat flight simulators are simulation video games (similar to amateur flight simulation software) used to simulate military aircraft and their operations. These are distinct from dedicated flight simulators used for professional pilot and military flight training which consist of realistic physical recreations of the actual aircraft cockpit, often with full-motion platform.

Combat flight simulation titles are more numerous than civilian flight simulators due to variety of subject matter available and market demand.


Prior to the rise of video games, Sega produced arcade games that resemble video games, but were in fact electro-mechanical games that used rear image projection in a manner similar to the ancient zoetrope to produce moving animations on a screen.[1] One such electro-mechanical game by Sega was Jet Rocket, a flight simulator featuring cockpit controls that could move the player aircraft around a landscape displayed on a screen and shoot missiles onto targets that explode when hit.[2] In 1975, Taito released an arcade video game simulator, Interceptor,[3] an early first-person combat flight simulator that involved piloting a jet fighter, using an eight-way joystick to aim with a crosshair and shoot at enemy aircraft that move in formations of two and scale in size depending on their distance to the player.[4] Atari Inc.'s Red Baron used QuadraScan graphics and sound effects to simulate first-person flight combat.[5]

The earliest version of Microsoft Flight Simulator (1982) had crude graphics, simple flight models – and a combat option, with "dog fighting" in a World War I Sopwith Camel. This feature was removed in the simulator after v4.0, though the Camel itself remained as one of the standard aircraft for some time. Shortly after Microsoft Flight Simulator was released for the 8-bit computer, Microsoft released Jet in 1985. This simulator used simple filled wire frame graphics and a small generic battle space to allow players to fight MiGs in an F-18 or F-16. The five or six frames per second refresh rate was barely playable. There were also titles released for the Atari 2600 that attempted to simulate flight combat. Two of the more successful examples are Mattel's Air Raiders (1982) and Milton Bradley's Spitfire Attack (1983). However, flight controls are limited on these as the 2600's controller consists of a joystick and a single button.

The early 2000s saw several rival publishers such as NovaLogic with titles like the Comanche Series that simulated helicopter combat and later Jane's WWII Fighters, which improved upon features such as more detailed visible damage. On consoles Namco launched Air Combat, for the original PlayStation, which would become the Ace Combat series. The series would continue with sequels for PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

In early 2000s Microsoft released Combat Flight Simulator WWII Europe Series (1998-2002). Ubisoft has released Lock On: Modern Air Combat (2003) and continuation into IL-2 Sturmovik series.

Newer software in the genre include Falcon 4.0: Allied Force (2005), Digital Combat Simulator (2008) and Rise of Flight (2009).


Combat flight simulators are usually classified according to their historical period, type of aircraft, level of detail (survey is less detailed than a study type).

Most modern simulators support both single- and multiplayer. Also many simulators belong to more than one category.

There are simulators for most modern periods and wars, including the following:

Simulator realism could be classified as following:

  • Arcade game (least realistic)
  • survey simulation
  • study simulation (most realistic)

There are arguments about which of these can be considered actual simulations instead of games.

Generally, simulation is expected to be imitation of real-world technology. This defines some rough guidelines on what might classify as combat flight simulation game as well and therefore every game with flying in them does not fit into "flight simulation".

World War I[edit]

Title Publisher/Developer Year Notes
Knights of the Sky MicroProse (1990)
Red Baron Sierra Entertainment (1990)
Wings Cinemaware (1990)
Dawn Patrol Rowan Software (1994)
Wings of Glory Origin Systems (1994)
Flying Corps Empire Interactive (1996)
Red Baron II Sierra (1997)
Red Baron 3D Sierra (1998)
First Eagles: The Great War 1918 Third Wire (2007)
Rise of Flight: The First Great Air War 777 Studios (2009)
Dogfighter Dark Water Studios (2010)

World War II[edit]

Title Publisher/Developer Year Notes
Ace of Aces Accolade (1986)
Battlehawks 1942 LucasFilm Games (1988)
Their Finest Hour LucasFilm Games (1989)
Chuck Yeager's Air Combat Electronic Arts (1991)
Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe LucasFilm Games (1991)
Aces of the Pacific Dynamix Sierra (1992)
B-17 Flying Fortress Vektor Grafix (1992)
Aces Over Europe Sierra (1993)
1942: The Pacific Air War MicroProse (1994)
Overlord Rowan Software (1994)
Air Warrior Kesmai (1995)
Fighter Duel Jaeger Software (1995)
Fighter Ace VR-1 Russia/BST Soft (1997)
Air Warrior II Kesmai (1997)
Air Warrior III Kesmai (1997)
European Air War MicroProse (1998)
Combat Flight Simulator WWII Europe Series Microsoft Games Studio (1998)
Fighter Squadron: The Screamin' Demons Over Europe Parsoft/Activision (1999)
Jane's WWII Fighters Jane's Combat Simulations (1999)
Aces High HiTech Creations (2000)
B-17 Flying Fortress: The Mighty 8th Wayward Design (2000)
Combat Flight Simulator 2 Microsoft Games Studio (2000)
Rowan's Battle of Britain Empire Interactive (2000)
IL-2 Sturmovik 1C:Maddox Games (2001)
Combat Flight Simulator 3: Battle for Europe Microsoft Games Studio (2002)
Pacific Fighters 1C:Maddox Games (2004)
Battle of Britain II: Wings of Victory A2A Simulations (2005)
IL-2 Sturmovik: 1946 1C:Maddox Games (2006)
Attack on Pearl Harbor Legendo Entertainment (2007)
Dogfights: The Game Kuma Reality Games (2007)
IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey Gaijin Entertainment (2009) Wings of Prey on PC
Heroes over Europe Transmission Games (2009)
IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover 1C:Maddox Games (2011)
Birds of Steel Gaijin Entertainment (2012)
IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad 1C Game Studios (2013)
World of Warplanes Wargaming (2013)
War Thunder Gaijin Entertainment (2013)
IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Moscow 1C Game Studios (2016)
IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Kuban 1C Game Studios (in development)

Korean War[edit]

Title Publisher/Developer Year Notes
Chuck Yeager's Air Combat Electronic Arts (1991)
MiG Alley Rowan Software (1999)
War Thunder Gaijin Entertainment (2013)

Vietnam War[edit]

Title Publisher/Developer Year Notes
Chuck Yeager's Air Combat Electronic Arts (1991)
Flight of the Intruder Spectrum Holobyte (1991)
Wings Over Vietnam Third Wire (2004)
Strike Fighters 2: Vietnam Third Wire (2009)
Mach Storm Namco (2013)


Title Publisher/Developer Year Notes
F-15 Strike Eagle MicroProse (1985)
Falcon Spectrum HoloByte (1987)
F/A-18 Interceptor Electronic Arts (1988)
F-19 Stealth Fighter MicroProse (1988)
F-15 Strike Eagle II MicroProse (1989)
Fighter Bomber Vektor Grafix (1989) released as Strike Aces in the USA
F29 Retaliator DID (1989) a fictional plane simulation
Apache Strike Activision (1989)
A-10 Tank Killer Dynamix (1990)
Chocks Away The Fourth Dimension (1990)
F-22 Interceptor Ingram Entertainment (1991)
F-117A Nighthawk Stealth Fighter 2.0 Microprose (1991)
LHX Electronic Arts (1991)
Top Gun: Danger Zone Konami (1991)
Birds of Prey Electronic Arts (1991)
Chuck Yeager's Air Combat Electronic Arts (1991)
AV-8B Harrier Assault Domark (1992)
Combat Air Patrol Psygnosis (1993)
F-15 Strike Eagle III MicroProse (1993)
Tornado Digital Integration (1993)
TFX DID (1993)
Dogfight MicroProse (1993)
Fleet Defender MicroProse (1994)
Strike Commander Origin Systems (1994)
Comanche Novalogic (1994)
EF2000 DID (1995)
Apache Longbow Digital Integration (1995)
Su-27 Flanker Eagle Dynamics (1995)
A-10 Attack! Parsoft Interactive (1995)
Air Combat Namco (1995)
Coala Empire Interactive (1995)
Comanche Novalogic (1995)
F-22 Lightning II Novalogic (1996)
Jane's AH-64D Longbow Jane's Combat Simulations (1996)
A-10 Cuba! Activision (1996)
Bogey Dead 6 SCEE (1996)
Jane's Fighters Anthology Electronic Arts (1997)
JSF Eidos (1997)
Hind Digital Integration (1997)
F-22 Raptor NovaLogic (1997)
F-22: Air Dominance Fighter DID (1997)
Jane's Longbow 2 Jane's Combat Simulations (1997)
Ace Combat 2 Namco (1997)
Falcon 3.0 Spectrum Holobyte (1997)
Comanche 3 Novalogic (1997)
Jane's F-15 Jane's Combat Simulations (1998)
Falcon 4.0 MicroProse (1998)
Enemy Engaged: Apache vs Havoc Razorworks (1998)
Aero Fighters Assault Paradigm Entertainment (1998)
Comanche Gold Novalogic (1998)
Mig-29 Fulcrum Novalogic (1998)
F-22 Lightning 3 NovaLogic (1999)
Jane's F/A-18 Jane's Combat Simulations (1999)
Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere Namco (2000)
AeroWings 2: Airstrike Crave Entertainment and CRI (2000)
Airforce Delta Konami (2000)
Eurofighter Typhoon DID (2001)
Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies Namco (2001)
Comanche 4 Novalogic (2001)
Flanker 2.5 Eagle Dynamics (2002)
Aces of the Air Highwaystar (2002)
AirForce Delta Storm Konami (2002)
Lock On: Modern Air Combat Eagle Dynamics (2003)
Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War Namco (2004)
Airforce Delta Strike Konami (2004)
Falcon 4.0: Allied Force Lead Pursuit (2005)
Red Jets Graffiti Entertainment (2006)
Wings Over Europe Third Wire Productions (2006)
Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception Namco (2006)
Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War Namco (2006)
Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation Namco (2007)
Strike Fighters 2 Third Wire Productions (2008)
Digital Combat Simulator Eagle Dynamics (2008) Modules from WW2 aircraft upto modern aircraft.
Ace Combat Xi: Skies of Incursion Namco (2009)
Ace Combat: Joint Assault Namco (2010)
Apache: Air Assault Gaijin Entertainment (2010)
Strike Fighters 2: North Atlantic Third Wire Productions (2012)
Take on Helicopters Bohemia Interactive (2012)
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Namco (2013)
Ace Combat Infinity Namco (2014)
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy Namco (2015)
Ace Combat 7 Namco (2017) (in development)
Combat Air Patrol 2 Sim155 Limited (in development)
Seven G (F-18 survey flight simulator in development)


Many of the historical combat simulators are classified as "survey simulators", because they include a variety (or survey) of aircraft from the period in question, typically from all nations participating in the conflict. Early simulators often suffered from flight models and instrument panels that differed little between aircraft, but more recent examples have excelled in this regard, forcing the virtual pilot to learn the carefully modelled strengths and weaknesses of the various types (e.g. the different fighting and flying styles of a Spitfire versus a Messerschmitt 109 in IL-2 Sturmovik or a Mitsubishi Zero versus a US Navy F4F Wildcat in Combat Flight Simulator 2). There have been modern jet survey simulators as well (US Navy Fighters by Jane's/Electronic Arts 1994, USAF by Jane's 1999) typically with simplified and generic modelling of radar, navigation, and weapons. The classic Electronic Arts published Jane's line of flight simulations ended by the start of the 2000s. Around the same time however, a new company, Third Wire emerged and continued its legacy by releasing a series of flight simulations with similar goals in mind. Tsuyoshi Kawahito, the series main developer was involved with the earlier Jane's titles and the new series, called Strike Fighters/Wings over..., featured similar simplified but improved weapon handling and flight model to earlier survey simulations while updating the visuals to the new decades level.


Modern jet combat aircraft and helicopters have a variety of complex electronic and weapon systems that are specific to a particular aircraft. This has led to a genre called the "study sim", which focuses on modelling an aircraft's systems as accurately as possible, often requiring thick manuals that rival the real manuals in detail. EF2000 might be an early iteration of such games, and when released by Digital Image Design (DiD) in 1995 it quickly garnered a cult following, including a user group that produced a detailed online manual of weapons and tactics. Soon afterward, a collaborative effort between Electronic Arts and Jane's specialized in such sims in the 1990s with titles such as Jane's Longbow, Jane's Longbow 2, Jane's F-15 and Jane's F/A-18.

Falcon 4.0 is perhaps the highest regarded example of this genre. This detailed simulation of the USAF F-16 Fighting Falcon was based on a series first begun in 1987 (Falcon). Later iterations improved the fidelity of avionics, weapons systems, physics, and flight models until version 4 was released by Spectrum HoloByte (later marketed by MicroProse) in 1998. Official development stopped after a few updates, but thanks to the intervention of MicroProse chairman Gilman Louie, the Falcon 4 community took over development of further versions and add-ons. As of 2011, the community development is still highly active.

Helicopter simulations have their own story, beginning with Gunship, by MicroProse, in 1986. Nearly ten years later, in 1995, Digital Integration released Apache Longbow. The most sophisticated helicopter game to date, it would only be exceeded by Origin the year following. In 1996, Jane's AH-64D Longbow was created by Origin Systems and released by Electronic Arts as part of the Jane's Combat Simulator series. The sequel, Jane's Longbow 2, was released late in 1997, improving every aspect of the game, particularly the terrain and objects. (Longbow 2 was one of the early simulations to take advantage of hardware accelerated graphics including advanced lighting). The following year, in 1998, Empire Interactive released Enemy Engaged: Apache vs Havoc allowing players to choose to fly for either the US or for Russia. Meanwhile, NovaLogic released the final iteration of their Comanche series in 2001.

The Digital Combat Simulator started with its first release DCS: Black Shark in 2008 a series of simulations, which can only be compared with Falcon 4.0 (and may excel the older simulation). The PC game simulates the Russian Kamov Ka-50 attack helicopter and was developed by Eagle Dynamics in cooperation with helicopter-manufacturer Kamov. The simulation features a complete and detailed cockpit of the Ka-50. All relevant switches are accurately modelled and functional. Over 500 key-commands are mapped, but the fully interactive cockpit allows virtually every switch and radio-button to be clicked and changed.[6]

Besides the traditional input-devices such as joystick, throttle and pedals, DCS has a built-in support for TrackIR with 6 DOF, creating, in conjunction with the interactive 3D-cockpit, a very realistic experience.

Since the release of Digital Combat Simulator World (DCS World), additional Eagle Dynamics developed or independently developed air and land vehicles have been progressively released as "modules" one by one, each module providing one or more vehicles per module. The latest module available for public purchase (beta release date 22 July 2016) features the F-5E-3 Tiger II.

Modern jet[edit]

This type includes all simulators of modern jet aircraft. These simulators can usually also be classified by their historical context or level of details (study versus survey). There have been many modern jet sims, some of them listed above under Survey Sims (USNF, USAF) and Study Sims (F-15, F/A-18, Falcon 4.0, Tornado). Some have concentrated on future fighters (e.g., F-22 Total Air War by Digital Image Design in 1998), while others have simulated well-known existing fighters (several AV-8 Harrier II sims, Fleet Defender, by MicroProse, F22 lightning 3, the latter based on F-22 Raptor, and many others). A recent example is Lock On: Modern Air Combat, which attempts to bridge the study/survey gap with quite detailed models of several US and Russian aircraft.


Most simulators listed can only be played by a single player, although most titles from the late 1990s on include some sort of multi-player/network capability. With single player combat simulators, everything other than the player's own aircraft is controlled by the program's "AI" (artificial intelligence). Although modern video games create fairly intelligent and independent behaviour for adversaries ("bandits") or allies ("friendlies"), advanced players find even the best to be too predictable. Multi-player games allow players to oppose one or many human players for a much more realistic and challenging experience. Some simulators exist only or primarily in internet multiplayer versions (e.g., Air Warrior, the massively multiplayer Fighter Ace, WarBirds, Aces High, World War II Online, Ace Online, War Thunder, Fighter Wing 2 and others).

Free combat flight simulators[edit]

Many free flight simulators, such as Digital Combat Simulator and War Thunder, can be downloaded for free off of the Internet.

Missions, campaigns, mission builders[edit]

However realistic their flight, weapon, and system models may be, combat flight sims remain video games and as such, many players seek replay value. Simulators enhance the replay value by not only offering a variety of single missions, but also randomly generated quick missions or longer campaigns consisting of several smaller mission or objectives. Many simulators also include "mission builders" which allow the player to create missions. The mission builder for Red Baron II was quite powerful, as was the mission builder for IL-2 Sturmovik and Rise of Flight.

Most campaigns are "dynamic flowing", which means they change according to the results of each successive mission, e.g. if the player destroys a "target of opportunity" which turns out to be a truck carrying an enemy leader then the campaign starts to take a different path. Some campaign models have been developed which are fully dynamic, and where successive missions take place in an environment which is persistent (destroy a building in one mission, it remains destroyed in the next and will only be rebuilt in view of limited resources, realistic time and strategic priorities, etc.). A notable pioneer in this area was Andy Hollis, producer of the Jane's Longbow series. Digital Image Design, with their release of F-22 Total Air War in 1998, took this to a level comparable to or beyond that of Falcon 4.0 allowing a transparency into the larger strategic battlefield by use of multiple screens and a "God's eye view."

Controls and other hardware[edit]

As real-time applications with a lot of things going on, combat flight simulators are among the most computer and graphics demanding applications at any given time, and many sim fans are constantly upgrading their hardware, including the most advanced graphics cards. These sims have also given rise to a variety of hardware add-ons such as "HOTAS" (hands on throttle and stick") controllers that allow full control of most functions without touching the keyboard. Voice control and head-tracking view control systems are also available for home flight sim enthusiasts.


  1. ^ D.S. Cohen, Killer Shark: The Undersea Horror Arcade Game from Jaws,, retrieved 2011-05-03 
  2. ^ Jet Rocket at the Killer List of Videogames
  3. ^ "Tomohiro Nishikado's biography at his company's web site". Dreams, Inc. Archived from the original on 1 April 2009. Retrieved 2011-03-27. 
  4. ^ Interceptor at the Killer List of Videogames
  5. ^ Pearl, Rick (June 1983). "Closet Classics". Electronic Games. p. 82. Retrieved 6 January 2015. 
  6. ^

External links[edit]