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 a full-motion platform.

Combat flight simulation titles are more numerous than civilian flight simulators due to the variety of subject matter available and market demand. Many free flight simulators, such as Digital Combat Simulator and War Thunder, can be downloaded for free off of the Internet.


Prior to the rise of modern-day video games, electro-mechanical games were produced that used rear image projection in a manner similar to the ancient zoetrope to produce moving animations on a screen.[1] This technology led to the rise of arcade games, as well as the first simulation video games in the late 1960s. One such electro-mechanical game was Jet Rocket, a flight simulator released by Sega in 1970 that featured cockpit controls that could move the player's aircraft around a landscape displayed on a screen and shoot missiles at targets that would explode when hit.[2] In 1975, Taito released the 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 and shoot at enemy aircraft.[4]

The 1980s experienced a wave of more advanced simulation video games with companies such as Atari Inc. releasing their own game called Red Baron in 1980, which used QuadraScan graphics and sound effects to simulate first-person flight combat.[5] Other games such as 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. 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. There were also titles released for the Atari 2600 that simulated flight combat, two examples being Mattel's Air Raiders (1982) and Milton Bradley's Spitfire Attack (1983).

During the 1990s and early 2000s, there was a transition from traditional video game platforms like arcades, to consoles such as the original Playstation, for their ability to be played at home. PC games remained popular during this time, as many publishers continued to produces games primarily for the PC platform. Due to the limitations and the relative simplicity of the controllers available for gaming consoles at the time, flight simulators remained largely absent from consoles for years to come.[6] Several rival publishers rose during this period such as NovaLogic with titles like the Comanche Series that simulated helicopter combat, and Electronic Arts with Jane's WWII Fighters which improved upon features such as detailed visible damage. Newer software in the genre include Falcon 4.0: Allied Force (2005), Digital Combat Simulator (2008) and Rise of Flight (2009). On consoles, Namco launched Air Combat (1995) for the original PlayStation, which later became the Ace Combat 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 classified according to their historical period, type of aircraft, and level of detail. This method of classifying means that many simulators belong to more than one category, which leads to arguments about what can be considered actual simulations instead of games. Generally, simulations are expected to be imitations of real-world technology, while games are not; therefore, every game with flying in them does not fit into the category of "flight simulation."

Simulator realism can be classified as the following:

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

The tables below define rough guidelines of what might classify as combat flight simulation games.

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)
Over Flanders Fields OBD Software (2005)
Wings Over Flanders Fields OBD Software (2014)
Rise of Flight: The First Great Air War 777 Studios (2009)

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)
Luftwaffe Commander Strategic Simulations, Inc. (1999)
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)
Heroes of the Pacific Transmission Games (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 (2017)
IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Midway 1C Game Studios (planned 2018) (in development)
IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Okinawa 1C Game Studios (planned 2018) (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/A-18 Korea Graphic Simulations Corporation (1997)
F-22 Raptor NovaLogic (1997)
F-22: Air Dominance Fighter DID (1997)
Jane's Longbow 2 Jane's Combat Simulations (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)
AeroWings 2: Airstrike Crave Entertainment and CRI (2000)
Airforce Delta Konami (2000)
Eurofighter Typhoon DID (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)
F/A-18 Operation Iraqi Freedom Graphsim Entertainment (2003)
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)
Strike Fighters 2 Third Wire Productions (2008)
Digital Combat Simulator Eagle Dynamics (2008) Modules from WW2 aircraft up to modern aircraft.
Apache: Air Assault Gaijin Entertainment (2010)
Strike Fighters 2: North Atlantic Third Wire Productions (2012)
Take on Helicopters Bohemia Interactive (2012)
Combat Air Patrol 2 Sim155 Limited (in development)
Seven G (F-18 survey flight simulator in development)


A survey simulation is a classification of simulator that includes a variety (or survey) of aircraft from the period in question. This type of classification applies to many historical combat simulators, and typically includes aircraft from all nations participating in the conflict. Early simulators suffered from flight models and instrument panels that differed little between aircraft. As the technology got better, so did the diversity of aircraft, which forced the virtual pilot to learn the carefully modelled strengths and weaknesses of the various types of aircraft (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).

Modern jet survey simulators have been developed as well, such as US Navy Fighters (USNF) and Jane's USAF by Jane's/Electronic Arts, typically with simplified and generic modelling of radar, navigation, and weapons. The turn of the century saw advancements in technology that increased the capabilities of these simulators, simplifying and improving their weapon handling and flight models, as well as updated visuals. Titles featuring these improvements include Jane's Combat Simulations, a line of flight simulations originally developed by Electronic Arts and later continued by the company Third Wire, as well as the series Strike Fighters: Project 1 and Wings over Europe.


The "study sim" is a genre of simulation games that focuses on modelling an aircraft's systems as accurately as possible. Advancing computer technology made this possible, with the development of highly detailed models that improved upon the fidelity of avionics, weapons systems, physics, flight models, graphics, etc. and allowed for fully interactive cockpits where virtually every control was mapped and functional. This was important as modern jet combat aircraft and helicopters have a variety of complex electronic and weapon systems that are specific to a particular aircraft.

Early iterations of simulators in this genre include the release of EF2000 by Digital Image Design (DiD) which quickly garnered a dedicated following, including a user group that produced a detailed online manual of weapons and tactics, as well as the popular Falcon 4.0, a detailed simulation of the USAF F-16 Fighting Falcon. Official development of Falcon 4.0 stopped after a few updates and is now in development by the community, which is still highly active as of 2011. Other development of these simulators includes a collaborative and specialized effort between Electronic Arts and Jane's in the 1990s, with titles such as Jane's Longbow, Jane's Longbow 2, Jane's F-15 and Jane's F/A-18.

Helicopter simulations began in 1986 with the title Gunship by MicroProse. Nine years later, in 1995, Digital Integration released Apache Longbow, the most sophisticated helicopter simulation of the time. In 1996 it was exceeded by Jane's AH-64D Longbow, a game created by Origin Systems and released by Electronic Arts as part of the Jane's Combat Simulator series. The sequel, Jane's Longbow 2 (1997), was one of the earliest simulations to take advantage of hardware accelerated graphics, including advanced lighting. 1998 saw the release of Enemy Engaged: Apache vs Havoc by Empire Interactive, which allowed players to choose to fly for either the US or Russia.

The sophistication and intricacy of these simulators continued to grow, and in 2008 the Digital Combat Simulator (DCS) released DCS: Black Shark, the first of a series of simulations that featured a complete and detailed cockpit with all the relevant switches accurately modelled and functional, and mapped over 500 key-commands. DCS also supported a variety of input devices aside from the traditional joystick, throttle, and pedals, featuring built-in support for TrackIR with 6 degrees of freedom which, in conjunction with the interactive 3D-cockpit, created a very realistic experience.

Modern jet[edit]

Modern jet simulators are usually classified by their historical context or level of details (study versus survey). There have been many modern jet sims that concentrate on existing fighters (several AV-8 Harrier II sims, and others such as Fleet Defender by MicroProse, and F22 lightning 3 and F-22 Raptor by NovaLogic), whereas others concentrate on future fighters (e.g., F-22 Total Air War by Digital Image Design in 1998). While many simulators either classify as a study sim or a survey sim, Lock On: Modern Air Combat is an example of a game that attempts to bridge the study/survey gap with highly detailed models of several US and Russian aircraft.


Before multiplayer games becoming popular, many simulators could only be played by a single player. This continued to be the standard until the late 1990s when most titles included some sort of multi-player/network capability. In single-player combat simulators, every entity other than the players' own aircraft are controlled by the program's "AI" (artificial intelligence), and modern video games create very sophisticated and intelligent AI with independent behaviour for adversaries and allies. Multiplayer games, which usually also contain AI, allow players to oppose one or many human players. After the growth of the internet, many simulators were created that exist only or primarily as 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).


Missions, campaigns, mission builders[edit]

Many players of both video games and simulators seek games for their replay value. Simulators enhance the replay value by offering a variety of single missions consisting of short, randomly generated missions as well as longer campaigns consisting of several smaller mission or objectives. 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 (if a building is destroyed 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, allowed for a transparency into the larger strategic battlefield by use of multiple screens and a "God's eye view." Many simulators also include "mission builders" which allow the player to create their own missions.

Controls and other hardware[edit]

Combat flight simulators are among the most computer and graphics demanding applications at any given time, as they are real-time applications with multiple processes happening at once. This leads many simulation fans to constantly upgrade 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. ^ "Letters". Next Generation. No. 25. Imagine Media. January 1997. p. 190. 

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