Another area which can be daunting is the number of controls and different key combinations. Flying towards a target with AAA flying up at you, a couple of MiG-29’s lurking in the area, and trying to look at the key command list to see which keys you need to press to perform a certain function is VERY difficult. Before you know it you are either on top of the target — or dead! I appreciate that this is because of the level of accuracy in the sim that all these controls are necessary — but from a newbie point of view it can be frustrating sometimes… especially when you are trying to pull off a 4-key combination with everything going off around you.
Because of the complexity of all these key combinations, I have found that it is a little easier to try and use as many of the actual switches in the cockpit as opposed to pressing keys. But even this can be tough when you are changing views in the cockpit to find a switch in the heat of the moment. This is the kind of situation where the freeze function comes in very handy. You can freeze the game but still use all your instruments and radar, etc. I know its cheating a bit, but sometimes I find it’s the only way to cope with a hectic situation!
One of my most satisfying missions so far was an attack on a bridge (at this early stage in my F-16 career I prefer these types of targets as they are: a) big, b) pretty easy to find, c) they don’t move when I try to bomb them, and d) don’t shoot back!). Intelligence informs me that enemy forces are moving towards a NATO stronghold in preparation to launch an attack, and are trying to overrun a particular town. A 2-ship mission pops up on the schedule requesting that a bridge just outside of the town be destroyed. It’s expected the enemy forces will be crossing it so needs to be taken out before they get there. Sounds good to me. So I load up with some iron bombs, make sure I’ve got a couple of AIM-120’s and AIM-9’s just in case enemy fighters should try bothering me on the way, review my flight plan by checking for threats en-route, and then commit to the mission.
Once in the air, I set my bird up at 22,000 ft and adjust my air speed to get me to my second steerpoint on time. Then I go through my pre-battle checks. This is something I have trained myself to do while things are quiet and includes things such as switching off the external lights, making sure my A-A radar is set to 4 bar 40 mile (my preferred default mode… I suspect everyone has their own favorite) and clicking the master arm switch. There is nothing more frustrating than executing a perfect ingress and bomb run only to find the cue to hit the flight path marker — and nothing happens! Time is precious and having to swing round and line up a second run is not always advisable when people are trying to knock you out of the sky!
As I approach the ingress, I call AWACS one last time to make sure there are no bandits close enough to bother me. All clear. I call up my bombs on the SMS and opt to drop them as a pair. CCRP is my chosen method for this sortie. Don’t know whether CCRP is better than CCIP or vice versa at this point, but I seem to get on well with it. I am certainly open to advice on this subject. I line-up the steering cue with my flight path marker and hold the pickle button down until I hear the bombs release. Using the weapons view I follow my bombs down and see them obliterate the bridge at the first attempt. Success! But while I revel in my glory and stupidly ignore everything else around me, a MiG has crept into the picture and is out to cause me some hurt. I switch over to AIM-9M and we enter a twisty-turny fight. I manage to get on his tail and using the boresight mode, I lock him up. The AIM-9M tone turns from a low growl into a shriek and I dispatch the MIG into the green stuff.
I realize one area still needing to be read up on is how to evade missiles. My dogfight has dragged me quite some way off course and way too low. I’m into a threat area now. I see the launch warning light up along with a warning tone. Not really knowing what to do — and not wanting my “perfect mission” spoiled — I go into what can only be described as a “panic”. Dropping countermeasures and wrenching the stick back and left to try and roll my F16 around the sky, I hear the airframe creaking and a loud popping sound. A red light appears on the right eyebrow panel, but I’m too busy being ham-fisted to investigate. Thankfully, my luck is good this time and as I switch to an external view to see the trail of the missile streaking just behind me. I got away with it, but I certainly don’t claim it to be through skill or know how!
I set myself back on course and decide to investigate the red warning light. It is the FLCS warning (still not too sure what this is…) but the plane seems to be okay and I don’t notice anything that’s not working, so I set myself up on a heading to return home. With all the previous action side-tracking me from my original flight plan, I notice I am a little lower on fuel than I would like so decide to jettison my remaining bombs (does this help when trying to use less fuel? Seems logical to me…) and gently try to cruise back home. By the time I reach my home base, it is now early morning and there is a gentle mist rolling in through the hills. It looks stunning. I contact ATC and they talk me in for a landing which I execute without any problems, and exit out to the debrief screen where I am informed that the enemy units have been held up due to my destroying the bridge! There you have it. I actually made an impact on the war, and that is what makes the campaign so great. My one mission only played a small part, but it counted for something and that’s where the feeling of satisfaction makes it all worth while!