The great flight model debate is something that has been going on since I started following online communities that involved flight simulators. If its a simulator of some kind then you can bet there is a multi-page debate about it somewhere.
On the face of it, a good debate on the relative merits of an aircraft can be invigorating. It can push you to discover new things about a favourite aircraft or open you up to the possibilities of different types of tactics when flying in a competitive multiplayer scenario.
These debates can also turn into heated discussions and some of the worst personal attacks that you can find in an online community. These kinds of things can go quickly from useful to poisonous in a short time.
When the developers are wrong
Sometimes…. the developers get it wrong. Over the years there have been a great many useful debates and discussions that lead to the kind of fact-finding required to properly address these issues.
A great benefit to studying aviation is the often impeccable record keeping and flight test data that is available to the public. These historical documents for all but the most recent aircraft are invaluable in settling (at least partially) debates and providing new information. Flight sim developers are often starving for more detailed and more informative sources.
Sometimes when sources aren’t available or details are obscured – small shortcuts get taken and aircraft don’t always live up to expectations. These are rarer than I suspect some people think but it does leave the door open to producing more accurate experiences.
Putting together a complex and accurate flight simulator environment in itself is a massive challenge. Then subjecting that to incredible scrutiny of players makes it even more of a challenge to make all parties happy. Realistically, there will be virtually no instances in which all players are fully satisfied. It hasn’t mattered if the game was European Air War by Microprose in 1998 or IL-2 Sturmovik in 2001 or IL-2: Battle of Moscow in 2015. It also hasn’t mattered if it was Flanker 1.0 or DCS – the debates in that community have been just as intense as the ones in the historical community.
When players feel its wrong
Often times the sources of complaints stem from a feeling that something is amiss. Usually this goes two possible ways:
- Player takes that feeling and attempts to confirm it through detailed tests by timing acceleration rates, or flying an aircraft to its maximum possible speed at different altitudes.
- Player takes to the forums and complains.
The second scenario happens with a much greater frequency than the first. There is a great reluctance to verify the feeling and there are plenty of good reasons for that from not knowing a good methodology or not fully understanding what the problem is – aeronautics is complex after all. Sometimes complaining in the forums driven by other motivations.
The first scenario is the one I like to see happen more frequently. Feeling something is wrong is the first step. That first step is usually based on reading something about the aircraft from a book or online and then not having it match the expected experience.
The second step is to verify that the scenario is wrong. Flying tests, recording results, and posting the data on forums or in direct messages to the developers can be helpful. But before you send in the data, its best to secure first-hand historical documentation to back up the claim. This is an often an academic pursuit which can make this route much more challenging.
Finding stall profiles or top speed acceleration numbers involve huge amounts of complex materials and depending on the subject matter can be time consuming. You’ll need to make sure you match the specific sub type of aircraft and sometimes issues like engine power, fuel quality, and the date of the test and allowable engine performance on that date is just as important.
For modern aircraft fans, things get more complex as flight performance levels are sometimes considered classified information. Do we really know the full capabilities of aircraft like the F-22? A lot of information is available but a lot is likely to remain shrouded in secrecy for years to come. One of many reasons why modern flight sim developers are often giving that aircraft and other cutting edge types a wider berth.
Flying is a complex thing and just as complicated is the simulation of it. Making aircraft behave in realistic fashion has always been a moving target as PCs get more powerful and are capable of more. We ask to do more with more complex feelings of flight and more nuanced and detailed flight models.
What we can do now is astounding. The details to the way that aircraft fly and the ability to feel differences between subtle sub types of aircraft make for a fascinating experience. But its one fraught with technical difficulty and personal expectation.
The next time your virtual aircraft feels wrong… Confirm your feelings. Read historical documentation, read pilot reports, and check on the nitty grity details. You’ll find that 1CGS, Eagle Dynamics, and other groups are doing their best to get things just right… and when they don’t, they are very interested in receiving more data. Data is what these things run on.
Happy flying in the virtual skies!