The F-117 Nighthawk Stealth Fighter Attack Aircraft is a direct descendant of the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works “Have Blue” program which sought the abilities to penetrate hostile airspace without being detected by enemy radar. This is done by using radar absorbent materials on a series of surfaces and edge profiles used to reflect radar into narrow signals away from the enemy radar. And while there are many other aspects of the aircraft that add to the stealth capabilities, it is the benefit of having an aircraft like this that I find the most interesting.
Even under the cover of darkness, conventional aircraft are subject to being discovered by enemy radar. This yields an opportunity for surface-to-air missiles (SAMS) and enemy aircraft to be deployed before the aircraft ever reaches its target. By sending in the F-117 first, it can take out these radar and SAM sights allowing conventional aircraft to enter the airspace with much less resistance. The F-117 program was, and in many respects still is, quite secretive. In fact, the existence of such an aircraft was not even made public until 1988, even though the concept for the current F-117A dated back 10 to 13 years earlier, depending on who you ask.
But fortunately for Sim enthusiasts, Commercial Level Simulations (CLS) won’t be keeping their recreation of the F-117 secret. For $16.25, you can now feel what it's like to travel the virtual skies with the CLS F-117 Nighthawk available at www.commerciallevel.com. Complete with 5 liveries on the VC and No VC models, the CLS Nighthawk is a step forward in the technological cycle in many ways. One of which is the fully functional primary and multiple flight displays with an active camera and target monitors.
But no matter how detailed you get with an aircraft, you must be historically correct if you want to get my money. And that is why this aircraft is in my inventory. Having been stationed at Holloman AFB, NM with the Nighthawks for 8 years, I can attest to the fact that CLS has undergone a very time consuming process of modeling this aircraft as true to life as Flight Sim will permit. This includes the exterior and interior modeling, texturing, sound set, and from what I have gathered, even the flight dynamics.
But it is not my opinion that matters here, it’s yours. So let me show you how I got this bird installed, then we can gather some screenshots and discuss the aircraft more in depth. Then, if I still like what I see, I can go ahead and put my stamp of approval on this package.
Installation and Documentation
The CLS F-117 comes complete with an automatic installation program activated simply by double-clicking on the downloaded file. By now, I would imagine that everyone is familiar with this type of installation, which requires little more than verifying the location of your FS9 directory and accepting some terms and conditions to using this product. After the auto-install is finished, you will have a folder added to the FS9 “aircraft” folder titled “CLS_FSae_F117A”. There is nothing in here that should be of any concern to you with the exception of a sub-folder that contains a diagram of the Nighthawk’s flight envelope.
During the last stages of the installation process you will encounter an option to install the manuals for this aircraft. I would highly recommend doing so as they are very informative and especially helpful for learning how to fly the F-117. You may choose to install them wherever you wish; in my case I have placed it in my main FS9 directory. The folder, which will be titled “CLS_F117_doc”, will contain a sub-folder that includes three manuals in PDF format.
The first manual is pretty much just an overview of the aircraft with a little history of the actual F-117 program. The other two manuals provide information for using the panel and virtual cockpit. Just about every gauge, switch, and knob are covered in these manuals in great detail. Combined, these three manuals should tell you all you need to know about operating this aircraft, but just in case you need a little more info, you can always take a flight over to the CLS website and send them a question through their contact page.
Both the aircraft and manual folders will combine to take up about 141 MB of your hard drive, but I have managed to lessen the space used by the aircraft folder from 137 MB down to 75.6 MB by compressing the files in the folder’s “properties” menu accessible by right-clicking on the F-117 folder. This has had absolutely no effect on Flight Simulator in any way whatsoever, but it has given me a little more disk space for more add-ons. Of course, I am not a computer expert, so perhaps one of our readers might be willing to comment on the pros and cons of compressing aircraft before I make that recommendation.
The Exterior Model
The CLS F-117 comes with liveries representing the 7th Fighter Squadron “Screaming Demons”, the 8th Fighter Squadron “Black Sheep”, and the 9th Fighter Squadron “Flying Knights”. Also included is a variation representing the 49th Operations Group commander’s aircraft, and an “eye catcher” with a U.S. flag scheme. The only real difference between the first four liveries I mentioned is the insignia. The U.S. flag scheme, however, has the stars and stripes on the bottom of the aircraft as taken from a promotional aircraft used by the U.S.A.F. for a few months.
The base texture of the model is done with a multitude of dark colors that make up a flat black scheme to simulate the radar absorbent material (RAM) used on the real Nighthawk. While much of the exterior model, such as the gold colored finish used to represent the film on the canopy, is textured, many components, such as the teeth-like edges of the canopy, have actually been modeled.
The animation includes the typical rotating wheels, extending and retracting landing gear, and rudders. But there is also some more advanced animation including a realistic suspension with hydraulic lifting rods, slit differential elevons, and radio antennas that extend and retract as you operate the radios.
There is a drag chute included with the model that can be set to open automatically, which usually happens when the nose gear touches down and the aircraft slows to around 80 knots or so. After the aircraft slows to around 30 knots, the chute will be jettisoned. Also on the model are engine blow-in doors on top of the engine fairings that open automatically when the aircraft slows to 160 knots. This is intended to help the aircraft when flying at low speeds as the grills restrict airflow.
I have also discovered an illuminated refueling port, which can be used to reset the fuel level back to full. Other lighting includes nav, beacons, and multiple part illuminations throughout the aircraft, the most notable being the gear bay. The landing and taxi lights, like all of the other lighting, have reflective lenses and provide minimal residual lighting. There is also some built in scenery activated on shutdown, including a bomb truck, chocks, stairs and more.
There is a lot to be said for how well CLS modeled this aircraft to represent the real deal. I believe that having actually modeled so much of the aircraft, as opposed to using texturing, is what makes this aircraft so realistic. As for the frame rates, I compared this aircraft to the default 777, Tri-motor, and C208 in a series of 10 flights each. The results are in and I found the F-117 to provide 1 to 3 frame rates less than these default aircraft, which was virtually unnoticeable to the naked eye. Now let’s go see if the interior can do that.
A Look Inside
From one side to the other, this virtual cockpit gave me the first impression of being very complex with more instrumentation than I would know what to do with. But after reading the manuals and spending a little time learning where everything is, I have found the VC to have become very user friendly.
By default you will be positioned very close to the panel with absolutely no view out either side of the cockpit. I have found the best view for me is to zoom out one time, and then to zoom out while holding the “shift” key twice more. This will put you close enough to the panel for the instruments to be legible and still allow you to see out of both sides of the cockpit.
The forward view of the panel in both the VC and 2D views is dominated by the HUD, Primary Flight Display, Multiple Flight Display, autopilot, and the forward and downward looking infrared (FLIR, DLIR). Within these instruments you will have the option of displaying aircraft information, nearest airport and frequency listings, target information, and an active camera among many other things.
Most of the instrumentation is perfectly legible if you back off from the panel a little. Since the vast majority of the switches, buttons, and controls in the VC and panel are fully functional, you may find yourself panning around quite a bit anyway. While your doing that, don’t forget to take a look at the ejection seat and automatic chute deployment instruments.
The entire VC and panel are illuminated with bright transparent gauges and a soft backlighting of green and red being the most prevalent. I was surprised to find that the interior lighting, which also displays the beacons, is not the least bit distracting in flight.
Obviously the cockpit and panel has been researched very well, but there is still one little issue that I have…the frame rates. Though the 2D panel did not have much of an impact, the virtual cockpit did cause me to adjust my scenery settings to compensate for a hit of up to 10 fps on average, and at times 15 fps below my default aircraft. However, if the frame rates become an issue, you may choose to use the “no vc” models.
It Doesn't Sound Very Stealthy
Yes, it may be virtually invisible to radar…but not to my eardrums. In reality, the Nighthawk actually has a very distinguishable and, at times, deafening high pitch roar. The engines have a two stage independent startup sequence, crisp and clear from both inside and outside of the aircraft. Shutdown is prolonged slightly longer than most of my jet aircraft, and again, very distinct in all views.
If you listen carefully, you just might notice the sounds of the gear retracting from the interior view, but that is just about all there is, with the exception of the occasional “click”, common to most aircraft when you utilize a panel switch. I think that I might have heard the bomb bay doors opening a few times, but with the dominating engine sounds, it can be hard to tell sometimes.
While I do like a loud aircraft, I should note that while in flight, the Nighthawk does drop a few decibels as you pull back to 2/3 throttle or so. That is not to say you can hear a pin drop, but it does give your ears a little break. I should remind everyone that the sound noise levels I describe is taken from the default sound settings in Flight Sim.
Can This Thing Actaully Fly?
Of course it can, but even the most experienced simmer may need some time to get this bird mastered. The only difficulty I had, at least for the first few test flights, was landing. I found it difficult to keep my airspeed correct without losing altitude a little too quickly. At times my vertical speed was in the range of -1000 FPM approaching the runway, but a little practice made perfect…or at least it made me a lot better than I was. And though I still have problems flaring correctly, I have found that the more landings I perform, the more comfortable I have become with the F-117. If I have learned anything about landing from using this aircraft, it is that I prefer performing a go-around as opposed to watching the landing gear break off.
In flight, I found the Nighthawk to possess a stable mixture of descent speed and less than sluggish handling. The maximum speed for this aircraft is 600 knots, but I have rarely crossed 550 knots at straight and level flight. Also, the ceiling is supposed to be 39,000 feet, but I have managed to break that barrier on a few occasions without too much in the way of adverse affects.
During takeoff, the optimal rollout speed is somewhere around 110 knots, though it will lift off fine a little slower if you don’t have the runway to get up to speed. I say that because this aircraft does require more runway to takeoff than you might be used to with other aircraft that have similar specs. Once you do get airborne, it is best to climb at or below 250 knots until you choose to lower your vertical speed. Much more speed than that can create instability. And though I have climbed at rates upwards of 3,000 FMP, I would not recommend much more than 2,000 to 2,500, unless you want to test your abilities at handling a stall.
Speaking of stalling, the magic number is 136 knots. Anything less than that will attract certain disaster, but luckily the F-117 prefers the 160 to 190 knot range when landing. If you do breach the 136 knot limit during landing, you can rest assured that the aircraft will not drop like a rock right away. There is still sufficient time to regain your composure before it loses all thrust. If you remember to use the chute, the aircraft does not require a whole lot of room to slow down. A 5,000 foot runway will leave you with plenty of room.
Though I referred to the aircraft as being less than sluggish, it is not much less. Showboating is not much of an option here, as you will come to find out on your first two minute turn. But that is not to say that the aircraft turns like a battleship either. The formula here is very simple, as long as you stay within the recommended speed and altitude guidelines, it will handle just fine. Try pushing the envelope too much and you may get to test the ejection seat.
Let’s Make Sure It Really Can Fly
Even though I am not stunned by the Holloman Air Force Base and surrounding area scenery in FS9, it only makes sense that I take a flight out there with the Nighthawk. For this flight I am going to follow a triangular flight pattern that takes us from the base to El Paso, back up to Las Cruces, and then back to base. During this trip we will get a nice view of the White Sands National Monument, and I might even make a quick pass over Juarez, Mexico while we’re down in El Paso.
For a little added realism, I am going to sacrifice the AI traffic and perform this flight in multi-player mode so that I can have a wingman in a T-38. I began on the west ramp where I performed a brief pre-flight inspection. Then I hopped into the “cockpit view” for an unrestricted taxi past the T-38 ramp where I met up with my fellow simmer. After a brief exchange of greetings we were at the runway. Being the first to takeoff, I had become concerned about the aircraft pulling sharply to the left for the first few yards. I can not explain what caused that in this case, but a couple thousand feet and 110 knots later it really didn’t matter. A near perfect takeoff was in the books.
While climbing, I noticed that the aircraft is much less sluggish on the banks if I keep the nose down to 1,500 FPM or so. And that is what I did all the way up to 20,000 feet, which is where we will level out for the rest of this flight. Heading south towards El Paso was good competition for the most boring leg I have ever flown. With the exception of a chain of mountains to the east, there was nothing between me and sleep except the hardpan desert terrain.
Eventually a little excitement hit as the weather took a big turn for the worse. Perfect conditions arose to find out if this is a fair weather plane, or something that can handle whatever Mother Nature has to offer. I got my answer right away…it’s both. Though I managed to sneak through without a scratch, the high winds did have a notable affect on my stability, but nothing that I couldn’t handle. And all of this passed just in time to catch a glimpse of El Paso.
After a brief, “so I can say I’ve been their”, swing over Juarez, we headed northwest to Las Cruces with a pass along the Rio Grande. About this time, my wingman decided to start a race that I new I couldn’t win in this bird, and of course we got separated. But thanks to the magic of voice chat, we were back in formation by the time we reached town. Now, the only thing we have left is to head back to base and fill out our log books.
On the trip back I decided to see what kind of a ceiling this aircraft really has. After recovering from a stall at 45,000 feet, I figured that it is probably best to stick with what the manual tells me. After all of my fooling around, I have Holloman in my sights. A quick descent and picture perfect landing have left me wanting more, but I think I am going to quit on a good note. Unfortunately, I was so busy goofing off that I didn’t get to take a look a White Sands. But after panning back for a peak, I realized that I didn’t miss too much.
We taxied to the north ramp for a few memorable screenshots together and parted ways. All in all, I was very happy with the way this aircraft handled the foul weather and my lack of conformity with the rules. The only problem that I encountered was when the aircraft pulled to the left on takeoff, but that malfunction most likely rests with me and not the aircraft.
Hours and hours of examining this aircraft have made me feel that I can definitely give this bird my stamp of approval. I am satisfied with the way that the exterior model and virtual cockpit represent the Nighthawk, and the sound set is well above par. And though I can not be positive about the flight dynamics, the airfile does recreate the performance of how I would expect the F-117 to fly, or at least how I like it to.
I can think of a lot of things that would have been a nice addition to this package. Perhaps an AI model, maybe a T-38 AI and/or flyable model, or even an upgrade of Holloman Air Force Base. But in reality, $16.25 is already a great cost-value considering the going rate of comparable payware products.
I might not be so quick to recommend this aircraft for a novice simmer as I would the more experienced veteran of flying the virtual skies. But than again, this bird might just be what beginners need to develop the patience needed to master the art of flight. The point here is that it does take some time to master this aircraft. It was not until my third straight 12 hour day of inspecting this aircraft that I had my first perfect flight, perfect as far as my wingman is concerned anyhow.
So, if you can find the Commercial Level Simulations F-117
on your radar, than I would recommend getting your hands on this package, assuming
of aircraft interests you. I have only tried one other payware F-117, which
was twice as expensive and half as good. There may be others out there
of equivalent quality, but for my money I am sticking with this one.
|What I Like About The F-117|
|What I Don't Like About The F-117|
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