F18 Carrier Landing (iOS) is a Boatload of Fun

| Quick Look Review

Landing a jet fighter on an aircraft carrier is one of the hardest things humans do. So it’s a great candidate for a game, both as a challenge and as a sobering introduction to the real thing. This game has great visuals and is easy to fly, but it’s not really a technical flight simulator. That’s okay. It’s more than okay.

30,000 ft View

The Apple iPad is capable of some fabulous graphics. As a result, one might, at first glance, be tempted to consider this a highly technical simulator. But that’s not the idea here. Rather, one can just play a fun game with terrific visuals, pass some time — and the satisfaction of getting better in the game is palpable.

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White knuckle time

I was prepared to not like this game. One is using the tilt of the iPad, calibrated by the accelerometer, to fly the F/A-18 and not a joystick. The instruments are good-looking but incomplete. One might be tempted to wonder about the technical level and the respectability of the app.

That’s all nonsense. The Lite version is a free game (with ads). It looks good. It’s fun. It’s easy to fly. It’s challenging. What more could you ask for? And there’s a US$0.99 version that’s ad-free. This game packs a lot of delirious fun for zero dollars, so you can try it before you fork over the big bucks. In pennies.

Options

There’s background music that has a nice beat, but you can mute the music separately.

The simulation, er, game, doesn’t much care if you overspeed with the gear down. The navigation, in terms of finding the carrier, is rudimentary. There is no afterburner control. Basically you have control over the throttle, speed brakes, gear and attitude/roll control.

There’s very little control over the weather. The app supports nighttime, daylight, dusk and rain storm conditions, and they’ll be thrown at you randomly as you start each attempt. The rendering of the sky and clouds is simply, if I may use the word, awesome. When it rains, you’ll see lightning and streaks of water.

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The clouds and a wing-tip vortex in a high speed bank

As we found out with the F-Sim Space Shuttle Landing Simulator, input modes, especially a pseudo joystick can be very helpful. In this game, you’re constrained to pitch and roll control to change altitude and direction by tilting the iPad (or iPhone). The good news is that the developer has created a very easy to fly system, and while some may grumble that one cannot really do this flying thing without a joystick, there is more fun to be had by holding and tilting the iPad that one might imagine.

There’s no playback option, so you can’t go back and watch your landing as a learning experience. However, there is a nice fly-by/pan after you arrest so you can take some screen shots if you like. There is no scoring other than evaluation of the wire you caught each time.

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Post flight pan, to admire your landing

Control

You can play by looking through the HUD and see the cockpit instruments or you can watch from behind. I liked that second mode for starters because it’s easier to look down and gauge your position with respect to the carrier, the Nimitz, CVN-68. Also, in that rear-view mode, you’ll see the elevons twitch just like the real thing; it’s very cool.

The radar will guide you to the carrier (or land runway) with a green rectangle, and your radar will show you the direction and distance to the carrier. That’s about it.

The game has many limitations, of course, because it’s not a full-featured simulator. It’s designed to do its thing in a constrained way. For example, I tried a take off and climb from the land-based runway. I reached 45,000 ft, and the simulation just stopped. There’s no where to go from there.

The optical landing system doesn’t appear to be active. It’s always green.

Coaching and Docs

When you first start playing, there’s a coaching mode that tells you what to do next. From there, it’s pretty easy to get the hang of it. Because it’s just a game, there isn’t anything in the way of technical documentation. You just figure it out by trial and error and fly by the crude instrumentation and the seat of your pants.

Crashes are fairly well done visually. There’s no chance to eject if you stall, and that’s all too easy to do if you don’t manage the pitch control and throttle in unison. You’ll be rated by which wire you catch. Catching wire #1 (arresting gear) is hard. Catching wire #4 makes you a laggard. At first, you’ll probably be hot and high, and you’ll have to overfly the carrier and get into the landing pattern to line up with the carrier — which is in a different location with every attempt.

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High-speed overfly of the Nimitz

Post-Flight

I had a lot of fun with this app. The reason, I think, is because the visual presentation is so compelling. Sure, it’s a very limited game, but then that’s the point of game: make it realistic and fun to play. That’s all that’s needed, and this game delivers.

The app didn’t crash on me, as some have reported. There were no glitches or problems of any kind in this version 2.1, and believe me, I spent plenty of time obsessing over my landings, as I’m wont to do.

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Trapped!

F18 Carrier Landing Lite runs on iPhones back to the 3GS, iPod touch back to 3rd generation and any iPad. It requires iOS 4.3 or later.

A Wishlist

Even though it’s just a game, there are some things I’d like to see added for more realism. I don’t want much.

  • Ability to eject.
  • Other aircraft on the deck.
  • Control of the weather for each attempt.
  • An active optical landing system.
  • A replay mode.
  • Over-speed warning on gear.
  • A longer, more realistic wake from the carrier, so it’s easier to detect the direction of travel from a distance.

Update

Just as this review was published, version 3.0 was posted with replay mode and Game Center integration. The UI is cleaned up considerably, the detail of the F/A-18 is better, there’s more use of lights on the carrier and the Hornet, the crashes are more spectacular, the replay of the final approach to the carrier is excellent, from lots of different viewpoints, there’s a better radar indicator of the carrier location, and there are more social connections, like Facebook and Twitter. Plus, there’s more extensive scoring and a more extensive tutorial that teaches all the controls and has you practice flying through rectangles in the sky for control practice.  It’s just fantastic.

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Instant replay of your landing (or crash, or bolt) in version 3.0

Product: F18 Carrier Landing Lite v 2.1

Company: Rortos

List Price: Free

Pros:

Fun, easy to fly. Simple controls. Inexpensive. Fabulous visuals.

Cons:

Merely a game, not a full flight simulator.

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10 Comments Leave Your Own

iJack

“There?s no chance to eject if you stall, and that?s all too easy to do if you don?t manage the pitch control and throttle in unison.”

Remember children, in landing, pitch controls airspeed, and throttle controls rate of descent.

wab95

John:

Your columns are becoming hazardous to my professional productivity health.

First, there was the F-Sim Space Shuttle app (which I am pleased to say, after five attempts, I managed to land without blowing the tyres, and now can do some pretty good precision landing); and now this, the F18.

Both are great, although I spent more time than I should have playing with both, especially the F18 app, this weekend (but only during power outages - a frequent occurrence in my present location - at least that was the goal).

I agree, an eject button would be a plus. I lost count of how many times I died in both the fixed and carrier landings. My carrier landings are still more like Tomahawk missile attacks on the Nimitz than they are landings yet. A replay mode, allowing you to analyse your landings and mistakes, would hugely improve performance (which might also cut down on my repeat attempts and time on the app, perhaps there’s method to this madness). Still, I’m not sure why that isn’t a feature. Agree 100% on the overspeed warning. I’ll suggest these to the company.

Cheers.

Tinny

How do you turn while taxing?

John Martellaro

Tilt the iPad, left or right, like a steering wheel.

iJack

Tilt the iPad, left or right, like a steering wheel.

Really?  No rudder pedals?

Lancashire-Witch

I’m using the lite version. While flying around I’ve located a tank farm and a port with a ship at a wharf.  There’s a road that links the two.  Try landing on the road and taking off again - It’s good.

It’s also possible to land at the airbase and take off again by using the taxiway (on the hangar side of the runway) to get to the end of the runway.

All up this is a well engineered game. - and I’m not usually “into games”.

Jack

I’m having trouble aligning with the runway. Any suggestions? Fly-over to orient first? Am I missing a radar reading?

John Martellaro

I assume you mean the land runway, not the carrier. You might check the settings to see if there’s a croswind in effect. Make sure your speed is low to give you time to correct perhaps 20 kts above stall. Let us know how it goes.

Fabiola

Love the game, but would like to report a flaw -
A steeply banked turn will push the flight path pipper off-center, and it does not return to the center afterward. So the jet flies crooked afterward - very challenging to line up the carrier and land when flying sideways!
Also, a ‘padlock’ view of the target runway would be helpful

iJack

Tiny nit.

“The clouds and a contrail in a high speed bank”

It’s actually a wing-tip vortex, not a contrail.

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