High altitude action in an...

Airbus A 320 logo Gamer Gold

THALION * £34.99 * 1/2 meg * Joystick/mouse/keyboard * Out now

However exciting it may be, flying is, for most of us, limited to seat 10B on a 20-year-old airliner carrying us to our summer holiday resort.
At a cost of £5,000, give or take a grand, learning to fly even the smallest fixed-wing aircraft is financially out of reach of many and a trip into a multi-million pound simulator used by airlines is limited to spotty little kids writing to Jim'll Fix It or computer programmers on the Krypton Factor.

This is, perhaps, why flight sims on home computers are so popular. The Amiga has already seen its fair share though, with the exception of ProFlight they are little more than shoot-'em-ups based on fast military jets.
Serious fliers have really been limited to trips in a single-engined Cessna, courtesy of Flight Simulator 2. It used to be the best, but is rather sluggish compared to other software and desperately needs updating.

German software house Thalion have rolled out what can only be described as the best yet in Amiga simulation. Written by a Luftwaffe pilot, A320 Airbus puts you in the left-hand seat of a modern fly-by-wire jet of the same name.
Just like the guy that flew you to Corfu, it starts with a visit to flight briefing. A simple flight plan must be filled with details of the route, number of passengers (PAX), fuel weight and freight. The latest weather and the destination is printed.

During flight, the weather can deteriorate and the odd emergency means that you need to have a diversion airport planned. This happens mainly at the higher levels of the simulations.
Unlike other sims, the view is only from the Captain's side of the plane and you only use the left side of the instrument panel and windscreen. The view can be moved about though, so you can look to the left or right of the plane.
There isn't an option to look diagonally across out of the First Officer's window which seems a little strange. With it being an airliner, there is no need for a rear view.

Control is split between the keyboard and mouse or joystick. The mouse appeared to give the best results but it's probably one of those things that's down to an individual's choice. The keyboard commands are easy to remember and well placed.

The medium-sized airliner has one engine on each wing. They have to be started separately and once the power has stopped at 17 per cent they are increased together to get the plane rolling forward.
It starts with the place sitting on the nearest taxiway to the runway threshold, and so it's simply a case of turning on to the strip and straightening up on to the centreline before banging the power up for take off.
Once the speed has reached about 150 knots you should be able to get airborne. Lift the gear and you're on your way. It's as simple as that - nearly.

Finding the destination demands the use of genuine Jeppesen navigation charts, which are supplied in the box. Radio frequencies for beacons along the route must be entered into the navigation system and should be overflown.
With no instructions from air traffic control. They are a necessity unless the plane is to be flown around in circuits at one aerodrome. Actually, this isn't too much of a bad idea until you get the hand of things.

They say what goes up must come down and so once overhead the airfield you have to prepare to get the plane safely onto the ground. The instrument landing system, known simply as ILS, is an important piece of equipment for this bit of the flight.
Used for guiding aircraft towards the runway they, like beacons, transmit on certain frequencies. These can be found with other approach details in the 240-page manual and are, again, the same as those used by commercial pilots.

Two bars should appear on a dial on the right-hand side of the instrument panel. A perfect approach has these crossing at their centre and if they are not central, they'll indicate which direction to head in to get on course.

All the normal landing procedures have to be carried out. Control the speed using throttle, brakes and flaps and don't forget to lower the landing gear. If the undercarriage is lowered, three red lights on the panel will turn to green - if they don't you better start praying.

As the runway nears, a little light in the cockpit flashes to show that you've overflow the outer market - a beacon four miles from touch-down. Closer still you'll pass the inner marker.
Providing the landing goes as planned the engines are put into reverse thrust to help cut the plane's speed and the jet should be then be taxied off the runway. IT sounds easy but it's not.

Help is available through the autopilot. The A320 will be flown automatically at the correct height, power and direction and can even land itself. This is especially useful if the runway is covered in low cloud or fog.

None of the program's features appears to have been bunged in as an afterthought. Even the clouds have been thought about, flickering between different shades of grey before the aircraft pops out on the other side.

All major airfields from Southern Europe to Bodo in Norway are available and rivers and towns appear in the correct places. So, for example, if you lift from Frankfurt Main, within a minute or two you'll be flying over the Rhine. In addition to runway lights, every airfield has almost complete approach lighting. The exception is VASi lights which are used by pilots making visual landings to show whether the approach is above or below the correct path.

The only other niggle is that the runway markings are not included, but this is a minor complaint and does little to spoil the simulation. Maybe they can be added in future versions.

The question "What else can you do other than fly around?" was asked more than once in the office. The answer is: not a lot. While it has plenty of interesting features, A320 is not intended as a action-packed game. This is one for those wanting to see what flying is really like.

As an indication of its realism, A320 Airbus has already been endorsed by Airbus Industries as the most realistic simulator for home computers, and Thalion are being supported by Lufthansa, who will supply pilots wings to people who progress from trainee to Captain on the simulator.

Upgrades to the program are already on the cards and will be available for a small price as each is released. Jeppesen have agreed to sell updates to charts at trade price.
At the end of the day, smooth graphics, realistic flying and good effects make this the Amiga simulator which others are going to be judged against.

Airbus A 320 logo

If you thought all flight sims were 'gung ho', and that they were more concerned with killing than flying, think again. Civilian airlines are now boarding at gate 98!

In the last few years combat aircraft have come with fly-by-wire and head-up display systems as standard. These work well, and they're now being employed on civil airliners, one of which is the Airbus A320.
The A320 is a twin-engined medium range job, with room for a couple of hundred people on board. It's a pan-European plane, parts of which are built in Germany, France and the UK, and its primary role is short-hauling its way around Europe.

In this simulation you get to fly a Lufthansa Airbus from the European city of your choice (within reason), to, er, another European city of your choice. The challenge is getting to grips with everything that a real pilot has to deal with. The detail included is immense, so don't expect just to whack the throttles and point at the sky.

Best-laid plans
Before you're allowed to get anywhere you must file a flight plan. You go to a screen where you must type in your airport of departure, arrival and any place you want to visit on the way. You must also put down how many passengers you're taking, how much freight and how many kilos of fuel you'll need. You also tell the bureaucrats whether you'll be flying on instruments or visual flight rules (VFR). If you select VFR you're limited to flying in the daytime and below the clouds.

Once the office bods are happy with your plan, you are dumped into the aircraft. You sit in the left-hand seat (traditionally the commander's chair) and in front of you is a 50-50 split between the view out and the controls.

As well as the fly-by-wire, your Airbus has a 'glass cockpit'. This means the old electro-mechanical gauges and dials have been replaced by a primary flight display (PFD). This is a TV screen displaying speed, altitude, artificial horizon info, heading and vertical speed. It's like a HUD, but it's down on the panel, so you can't see the sky through it.

Once you've cast your eyes over this array, it's time to spool up the engines. Each engine has separate controls, but you can control them both at once. OK, they're fired up. The power will settle at 17 per cent. Time to look for the runways and taxi-ways. When you've found the one you want, then it's throttles forwards until you start taxiing. The aircraft is controlled by the mouse, you can use it to steer on the ground by moving left and right. Once you find the runway, line up and kill the power.

The challenge is getting to grips with everything that a real pilot has to deal with.

Radio chaos
Before you blast off, you've got to sort out your route. This is where it gets complicated. Radio beacons or varying types litter your route. There are VORs, NDBs, and ILSs to sort out. Basically, you have to consult an aeronautical map and dial up the correct frequencies for the beacons you need, including the final one at the destination airport.

WHen these are locked in, a nav display comes into life. You get a set of cross-hairs which tell you which direction to go. You can then take off, head out in the right direction, get to the correct height (you'll be informed by ATC) and, er, fly along until you get there.

The graphics in A320 are almost incidental. You get half a screen of either day or night views of the ground, rivers, runways and fields. These seem pretty smooth, but the Airbus isn't cut out for low-level high-speed passes, so if you're playing properly, you don't get to see much ground detail. Sound is limited to engine noises and the odd warning. The engines sound excellent, and the feeling of power is real as you push them to the gate.,\

A320 is for the purist. It's not something you can launch into; you have to read the manual and study the control. It flies well, though, and you can tell when the fly-by-wire takes over (if you bank too far or try and stall). If you're a fan of civil aviation and you like mastering complex procedures as you approach at 130 knots, you'll enjoy it. But a game it's not, so don't expect excitement.

Airbus A 320: Instrument Panel explanation
  1. Angle of Attack
  2. Preselected Heading
  3. Stall Warning
  4. Stall Warning
  5. Middle Marker
  6. Relative Bearing
  7. Absolute BEaring
  8. Left Engine Power
  1. Right Engine Power
  2. Slats/Flaps Indicator
  3. Landing Gear Indicator
  4. Electronnics Flight Control
  5. Hold Speed Indicator
  6. Distance Measuring Equipment
  7. Vertical Speed
  8. Radar Altimeter
  1. Compass
  2. Actual Speed
  3. Indicated Air Speed
  4. Input Lines/Beacon Selectors
  5. NDB Frequency 1
  6. VOR Frequemcy 2
  7. VOR navigation Frequency 1
  8. Flaps and Gear Info


Traditionally aeroplanes have had hydraulic-Mechanical control systems. This means that when the pilot moves the control stick and the rudder pedals, linkages connected to hydraulic cylinders transmit his movements to the ailerons, elevators and rudder.

Fighter aircraft, though, are designed with inherent instability. The idea is that a fighter doesn't want to sit happily flying straight and level. It's at its best in high turns or climbing and diving, and it should respond instantly to any movements on the controls.

Fly-by-wire, as seen on the F-16, F-18 and MiG 29 works like a digital computer joystick. Movements are transmitted into electrical pulses which are converted back into movements when they reach the plane's control surfaces. The advantage is that an on-board computer can monitor everything the pilot asks the plane to do. If the pilot puts the plane into a stalling situation, the computer can transmit its own signals to override him and avoid the stall. The computer is far more sensitive than the pilot, and can make adjustments thousands of times a second. IT can also be linked to the throttles to control and oversee everything. So it's possible to fly (with the computer's help) at speeds and angles which run rings round other aircraft.

Fly-by-wire is being installed onto the next generation of civil airliners for the opposite reason. Instead of making the aircraft capable of more violent manoeuvres, it's designed to prevent these, especially at low speeds. The Airbus Industrie A320 has got fly-by-wire technology as standard, and after a few teething problems, such as the Paris Air Show disasters, when the crew flew low and slow over the airfield and the plane thought it was landing. It overrode the throttles when they were pushed to full power, and the plane crashed into a wood.
Airbus Industrie say that this can never happen again.

Flight simulations are one of the most popular games on the Amiga. They seek to recreate the flying experience by generating a 3D world which you can fly around in an aircraft model that has been tweaked to mimic that of its real world counterpart. Both World War I and II aircraft have been simulated as has virtually every modern decent fighter aircraft. These tend to have heavy manuals, but the complexity forms part of the game's appeal.

Airbus A 320 logo

Die Triebwerke heulen auf, und ein gewaltiger Schub drückt mich in den Sitz. Ich ziehe den Steuerknüppel nach hinten, hole das Fahrwerk ein und will die Waffensysteme checken. Ein Blick auf die Karte: wo bin ich überhaupt? Im falschen Spiel - ich sitz' im Airbus!

Kein Zwillingsgeschütz am Bug, keine Raketen an Bord und auch keine Terroristennester, die man ausheben müßte - bei Thalions Airbus-Simulation geht's um Fliegen pur. Wem das zu wenig Nevenkitzel ist, der stellte sich halt vor, hinter seinem Computerisch würden 150 Passagiere hocken. Mein Gott, diese Verantwortung...

Um hier als Pilot Karriere zu machen, muß man daher den Flieger aus dem Effeff beherrschen, klar. Also steht am Anfang das Training, auch klar. Erst wenn Bruchlandung ein Fremdwort ist, sollte man dem Ruf der Pflicht folgen und sich an den Programmteil "Duty" wagen: Ein Logbuch wird angelegt, in dem Dienstgrad, Flüge, Flugstunden, Crashs und Leistungsdurchschnitt festgehalten werden. Neben den regulären Pflichtflügen müssen dann immer wieder Prüfungsflüge absolviert werden, um die karriereleiter hinaufzufallen. Welche Leistung dabei im Logbuch festgehalten wird, hängt entscheidend von der Landung ab - Abzüge in der Bewertung gibt es für fehlerhafte Sinkgeschwindigkeit, Neigung, verspäteten Aufsetzpunkt, Abweichung von der Bahnrichtung bzw. der "optimalen Resttreibstoffmenge".

Kurz und gut, Airbus A 320 setzt volle Länge auf Realismus. Kein Wunder, schließlich ist der Programmierer Rainer Bopf ja selbst Pilot. Das merkt man bereits an der Instrumentierung des Cockpits: Gegen den Airbus sehen die meisten (Computer-) Kampfflieger aus wie das Vehikel der Gebrüder Wright! Das merkt man aber auch am umfangreichen Fluggebiet: Sämtliche Flughafen und Funkleitstellen Westeuropas können angesteuert werden. Und nicht zuletzt merkt man es am schönen Handbuch: Alles und jedes wird ausführlichst erläutert, ohne daß das Manual den Umfang des New Yorker Telefonbuchs annimmt, selbst an eine Schnellstart-Erklärung wurde gedacht. Wer allerdings die Möglichkeiten das "sichersten Flugzeugs der Welt" wirklich ausreisen will, wird um ein genaues Studium nicht herumkommen.

Die Frage ist nur, ob die Mühe lohnt? Also, für Präsentation-Freaks bestimmt nicht - Cockpitperspektive, Blick aus den Seitenfenstern, Ende Gelände. Außenansichten fehlen völlig, Zwischenscreens gibt'kaum, und die Vektorlandschaften sind weder besonders detailliert gezeichnet, noch aufregend schnell animiert. Und der Sound? Glänzt bis auf Triebwerksgeräusche und Alarmpiepser durch Abwesenheit. Tja, das könnte man leicht als langweilig interpretieren, auch wenn es hundertmal der Realität entspricht. Warum also wurden keine Flugzugkatastrophen à la Hollywood eingebaut? Warum keine Beinahe-Zusammenstöße mit Militärmaschinen, Triebwerksausfälle, Entführungen, Schießereien? So werden wohl nur Super-Realos und angehende Lufthansa-Bedienstete echte Freude am Airbus haben. Schon ein bißchen schade... (pb)

Airbus A 320 logo

Remember that song at the end of Roy Castle's Record breakers? "Ooh-ooh-ooh dedication... Mmm-mmm-mmm-dedication... Ooh-ooh-ooh dedication... That's what you need..."? Well, that is what you are going to need in spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs and jokers if you want to make a go of A320 Airbus. If you have got a few spare months of time, by all means give it a go - but be warned. Most of the time probably won't be spent on the flight simulator, but poring over the masses of air charts and rules and regulations of flying and navigation that are supplied with the program.

The basic 'game'- though the term does not really fit in this case - involves progressing from student pilot to captain flying an A320, a commercial plane flying around Europe, North Africa and the North East. You have to spend so many flying hours before you are promoted, and you have to take special test flights to go up one rank. Once crash at any rank, or a poor performance on a test flight, means automatic demotion.

The main way the challenge increases is that at the lower ranks there are plenty of automatic functions to help you on your way (all of which are apparently true-to-life), but by the time you make it to the senior levels you have to do virtually everything yourself. This means having to understand all about radio beacons, approach charts and other aviations stuff not to mention make sense of the mass of supplied maps, all of which make as much sense as the final episode of Twin Peaks. Very realistic, I am sure, but the instructions on how to use them are scandalously brief, and nest to useless.

In fact, the manual is the program's real downfall. For a subject as complex as this it needed to be very clear, but while it gives the impression of being comprehensive it is actually a mes. It skims across important points leaving you completely bewildered and throws out jargon faster than an Open University course on insurance. Worst of all, the diagrams are appalling - instead of a decent clear annotated picture of the cockpit, tiny pieces of it are very fuzzily reproduced and briefly explained.

I do not know whether the flights are all in real time (the manual, of course, neglects to tell you) but it seems that way - each game takes an awfully long time. Once you are up in the air and on course, there is very little to do until you reach the destination, except try to make sens of the charts and avoid other aircraft.

What else is there to say? Well, the graphics are good enough, with the usual pretty featureless landscapes you get in flight sims, though it is a bit of a shame the cockpit bears little resemblance to the poster of a real A320 cockpit that comes with the program. The sound is impressively authentic, though.

All in all, so it comes across as an accomplished, admirable piece of programming that, bearing the nearest thing to flying the real Airbus the sensible sign of £50, should appeal to committed aviation and flight sim buffs. I found it boring as sin though - to the point of being unplayable - and I suspect that will be the case for most of you out there too.

Airbus A 320 logo

The majority of flight simulatons have you whizzing around at excessive speeds blowing things up with your state-of-the-art war plane. Now, from German-based Thalion, comes a 'proper' flight sim where you swamp missiles for passengers and military fatigues for a pilot's cap.

As the Captain of a passenger plane, there's more to Airbus than just pulling the yoke and playing with the throttle. The first step on any journey is to plot the course, and to do this you need to input your destination, calculate how much fuel is required for the flight, and what route to take. However, before you even start the engines, calculations based on the cloud base, difference in air pressure and weather have to be entered to calibrate the planet's computer.

A320 oozes accuracy and Thalion claim that anyone who can pilot their computer version is ready for the real thing. Including in the package is a map featuring international low-altitude routes, approach coordniates, restricted air-space and flight routes. This reveals the complexity of the sim perfectly and the incredible detail it contains. Most of the controls are based around the mouse, but the keyboard comes into play for the engines and occasional navigation functions. Surprisingly, though, these simplify what could be a very difficult landing process.

Basically, Airbus's action is limited to taking-off, landing and pointing the plane in the right direction. This may sound a bit harsh, but the real skill comes in navigating and working the flight details before you take off.

Navigating is a complicated process which requires locking onto a beacon and planning your course to avoid other flights, bad weather and mountains. Once this is mastered you an graduate from training mode and take on a plane load of passengers. However, during the dull areas of inactivity, Thalion have added a 'time skip' key which allows you to bypass the boring in-flight movies and other routines of uninterrupted flying.

The A320 handles extremely well for a passenger aircraft, but don't expect it to be as nippy as an F-15; try to be flash in one of these and you'll wind up hitting the ground - fast. Additionally, because the plan takes a long time to respond, you'll have to think a few seconds ahead to make sure you straighten the aircraft. This is particularly true of making a landing, as last second corrections are vital. There's an instrument landing system (ILS) which must be used to find your glide-slope, but the last 30 seconds or so of an approach have to be done visually.

A series of well-designed screens lead you through the setting up of your flight, and the checking of the weather conditions. The cockpit layout is neat, with all the relevant instruments clearly displayed. Because the Airbus is a modern plane, most of the readouts are situated on a monitor, rather than a bank of dials which are usually common in commercial aircraft. This also comes across well in the computer version, although you can only input numbers through a fiddly on-screen numeric pad, which proves awkward to use.

In terms of presentation, the graphics and sound are simple, but very realistic. The engine effects consist of a few samples which change pitch according the how much throttle is being applied. Similarly, the graphics feature minimal and bland scenery, punctuated by the occasional special effect, such as the hazing when you go through a cloud, adding to the realism.

A320 Airbus is a very good simulation. It's both extremely detailed and accurate, but unless you're really into this kind of 'hard-core' sim, you could find the appeal wanes quickly. Had there been a disaster mode which caused the engines to cut-out, cabin pressure to drop or lightening to strike, the game would have much greater appeal. As it stands, though, this is most certainly the game for wannabe British Airways Pilots and realism freaks.

AIEEEE! WE'RE GOING TO DIE Anything can happen when you're trapped in a plane at 40,000 feet, or so American writers would have us believe. William Shatner, playing a priest, battled the Devil on a 747 in Terror at 30,000 Feet. After freeing several people from demonic possession, the evil one got the better of him, and a very crude cardboard cut-out of Shatner on a chromakey background was seen plummeting from the aircraft.

Airport '80 - The Concorde was a disaster of a movie. Terror strikes a goodwill flight to Russia for the 1980 Olympics. As the plane depressurises an arms dealer runs round destroying the evidence that links him to dirty deeds. As a rule, if you board plane with a nun, a pregnant woman, an alcoholic doctor and a seedy looking man in a black roll-neck and glasses, you'd better get a ticket for the next flight, because these are the perfect ingredients for a disaster movie.