Acorn User1st March 1988
Published in Acorn User #068
A glider simulation may not be everyone's idea of action-packed adventure, but Simon Craven finds Glider Pilot 2 well worth a flight
Glider Pilot 2
Glider Pilot 2 is an unusual flight simulation program for the BBC B, B+ or Master. Most simulation programmers seek to capture the thrills of high performance fighter aeroplanes, and at first sight the idea of a powerless craft floating around the sky at 40mph does lack a certain glamour. But if you have grown tired of flying under the suspension bridge in Aviator, this product could revive your jaded sense of fun.
The start of each flight is a winch launch during which you must carefully monitor your angle of climb. Pull the nose up too far, too soon, and the tow hook slips off leaving you with an embarrassing lack of height, speed and ideas. Keep the nose too low and you will fail to gain the height needed to contact lift and thus prolong your flight.
Once off the line, the steady pull of gravity drags the glider inexorably earthwards, unless you manage to contact rising air. Then, with skill and a healthy measure of luck, you can gain altitude with it. Real-life glider pilots find lift in many forms, but the most common is the thermal lift which is reproduced here. As the ground heats in the sunshine, convection currents are set up, and rising warm air gives you the chance you need. This simulator has insufficient detail in the sky and ground to give the pilot the clues his real-life counterpart would use, such as the position of clouds or particular features in the terrain, but it compensates by including a digital readout of the distance in feet to the centre of the nearest thermal.
The screen display is simple. Clear instruments report on height, speed, course and rate of climb or descent, and there is an artificial horizon which comes in handy for cloud flying or when the map display is obscuring the outside view.
Ground features are limited to the home airfield and a number of beacons dotted around the imaginary world. Once you master the basics, the aim is to navigate a course around these and back to base.
The controls are equally simple - just the three primary flight controls of ailerons, elevators and rudder together with powerful spoilers which steepen the descent for accurate landings. Keyboard control is possible, but the use of an analogue joystick makes things easier and more realistic.
Much of the flying time is spent circling tightly to stay in lift, so it is easy to get disorientated. Another hazard to navigation is the effect of wind, which can carry you off at a considerable rate as you thermal upwards.
Sound effects are limited to the background roar and hiss of the airflow, which accurately changes in intensity as the speed of the glider rises and falls. The ominous hush that warns of a dangerous reduction in flying speed was, if anything, more helpful than the airspeed indicator itself just as in many real-life gliders.
The program is obviously the product of a low-budget operation - packaging and documentation are a little crude by the standards of the major games houses - but that in no way affects the quality and realism of the simulation itself. The only major criticism I can make of the programming is that sudden changes of attitude can occasionally beat the speed of the horizon-update routine, sometimes leaving a ghostly false horizon streaking the sky.
The actual content of the documentation is very informative. A small 16-page booklet explains the fundamentals of powerless flight and covers the features of the software thoroughly. Newcomers to flying or flight simulators would still do well to indulge in a little background reading.
Glider Pilot 2 lacks the instant gratification factor needed to endear itself to the shoot-'em-up brigade, but for confirmed flight simulation fans it is an interesting alternative to the better-known products. Judged purely as a simulator its superiority to recently released Spitfire '40 must be profoundly embarrassing to Mirrorsoft, especially given the small size of Apex Software. Real-life glider pilots will love it.