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"SAM Launch!" is the last thing you want to hear as a combat pilot.

I've faced Russian-built Surface to Air Missiles in real life and I have a healthy respect for them. I've often wondered what it's like being on the other side of that engagement.

I've been playing flight simulators since I got my first Commodore Amiga back in the mid 1980s. The better ones have featured simulated SAMs. If you really want to have missiles eat your lunch, try attacking the Soviet carrier group in Strike Fighters North Atlantic. It ain't pretty.

My curiosity was piqued when I found a PC-based SAM simulation on the internet. It was developed by a veteran of the Hungarian military who operated many of these systems in the 1980s and 1990s.

The game advertises itself as being "Realistic to the Switch" and I believe it. The best part is - it was free! As I like to say, if it's free it's for me!

So what do you get for spending absolutely nothing? An awful lot of realism. This is a hard-core procedural simulator, not an arcade game. You have to flip the right switches in the right order or nothing happens. Oh, and all the switches are labeled in cyrillic. Good luck.

Fortunately the documentation that comes with the game is excellent and is available in multiple languages, including English.

You get a couple different versions of the SA-2 "Guideline", the SA-3 "Goa", SA-4 "Ganef", SA-5 "Gammon" and the dreaded ZSU-23 anti-aircraft system. He's working on adding the SA-8 to the next release. It's enough to give a B-52 driver nightmares.

You also get several historical scenarios. You can try to shoot down Gary Powers in his U-2 or defend Hanoi against the Yankee Air Pirates in their B-52s. Think you can take down an F-117 with an SA-3? It's been done and the game will teach you how to do it.

So how did I do? NATO could probably put on an airshow directly over my SAM battery and have nothing to worry about. Hanoi wouldn't exist today and the Israelis would have gone all the way to Cairo. It's hard folks!

I did managed to track a stray airliner that happened to fly straight and level through my sector.

The only things I was actually able to shoot were radar reflecting target balloons. If we're ever attacked by an enemy using tinfoil covered balloons - fear not! I've got this!

I found the SA-2 especially difficult. The console looks like something you'd see on Mystery Science Theater. That's because it's late 50s or early 60s analog technology.

Trying to acquire a target is a lot like tuning an old Philco TV set. You have to move your antennas to lock on to the target in azimuth, elevation and range.
You have to switch back and forth between various screens because in real life it took several people to operate one of these.

If you manage to lock on, then you have to select which guidance-mode the missile should used based on what the target is doing. High and fast? Low and slow? Low and fast? Jamming or not jamming?

Then and only then can you push the "ПУСК" button to launch the missile. I think "ПУСК" means "Die capitalist pig!" or something like that.

After all this work the actual missile launch is rather anticlimactic. There are no graphics of your missiles streaking skyward to blast the attacking Yankee hordes. You hear the rocket motor ignite and you see exactly what the SAM operators would see - not much. All you can do is watch the blip of your missile on the scope as it (hopefully) intersects with the target. If the target starts to rapidly slow down and lose altitude you probably hit it.

The historical scenarios are interesting. I never did get a shot at Gary Powers as he blissfully flew right through my sector. In the Arab-Israeli scenario the Israeli Air Force turned me into a greasy spot on the Egyptian desert.

As I already knew, trying to lock onto a rapidly maneuvering target that's also using jamming is pretty tough. I don't know just how tough because I never could do it.

In case your job wasn't tough enough already some scenarios feature Wild Weasel aircraft that fire anti-radiation missiles at you. I can't help but notice that the crew cab for the SA-2 sits directly under the antenna - exactly where the enemy missiles are trying to go. Yikes!

So far all I've played with are the SA-2 and SA-3. The SA-3 being the newer system is a bit easier to use.

So let's take a look at the game. Here's the main menu which lets you pick which type of missile you want to play with and a choice of practice or wartime scenarios. I'll choose a practice scenario for simplicity.

Main Menu
The scenario builder allows you to add targets that will fly a programmed flight path. You can try your luck with fast moving MiGs or slow moving Cessnas. I've added a nice cooperative Malev 737 that will very conveniently circle my SA-2 battery.
Scenario builder
Here's the main panel for the SA-2 system. Since this is a practice scenario the missile arming switches are taped over. You could always count on the Soviets to pick the low tech solution when they could get away with it.
SA-2 Main Panel
Power up the systems and you're rewarded with the constant hum of machinery. It sounds like the antenna turning. I found it distracting after a bit and turned the volume down.

Once we've powered up the transmitter we can switch to the "Spoon Rest" acquisition radar to try to find our stray airliner.

Acquisition Radar
There is a feature that allows you to slave the target tracking radar to the Spoon Rest so that it automatically points to the designated blip. I found this feature very helpful. Once the target crosses your radar's "boresight" you can lock onto it and it will track automatically. You then go through the same process with the height-finder (elevation) and finally with the range gate. We now have the target locked in all three dimensions. Whew!

Here's a picture of the "Fan Song" radar control panel. The large dial at left is elevation and the dial at right is the direction (azimuth) the antenna is pointing. The red light tells us we're slaved to the acquisition radar. The three green lights show us locked on in all three dimensions.

"Fan Song" Fire Control Radar
This is what you see on the Fan Song radar. The screen on the right is azimuth and the screen on the left is elevation. The vertical lines represent the radar boresight for each antenna. The horizontal line represents the "range gate".

To manually lock on you have to mouse-click to move the antennas, which are very sensitive. I probably spent a good half hour before I finally managed to lock up a target.

Fan Song radar indication
This shows us locked on to the target (circled in red).

Since this is a practice scenario we only have dummy missiles. Nobody gets hurt.

In real life these guys must have had nerves of steel. The second you turn that radar on you've announced your presence to the world. You might as well have a big neon sign blinking "Here I am! Come shoot me!"

I've heard stories of North Vietnamese SAM operators being handcuffed to their consoles but I'm not sure I believe them. They were a pretty motivated bunch and I have no reason to doubt their bravery.

I think I like this game because the equipment is so wonderfully old school. It's an interesting look into how "the other half" operated. It's very high on realism but I would rate playability as moderate. Can't complain about the price though.

I certainly can appreciate the time and effort the game designer went through to recreate these systems for us. If you're tired of the same old flight simulators give the Sam Simulator a try. Good luck.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (34+ / 0-)

    If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

    by Major Kong on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 08:59:31 AM PDT

  •  is there a Jane Fonda app /nt (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ER Doc, River Rover, rduran

    Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be" - Barack Obama 04/27/2013 (@eState4Column5).

    by annieli on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 09:03:06 AM PDT

  •  Fascinating. (5+ / 0-)

    I'm guessing that there aren't many anti-aircraft weapon simulators out there, especially as compared with flight simulators. The only comparable game I can think of was the old Kesmai "Air Warrior" multiplayer on-line game, where you had the choice of piloting various aircraft or manning ground-based weapons. But that game wasn't in the same league as this, realism-wise. Love the old-school instruments.

  •  Try In a Naval Setting (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BMScott, se portland, Jay C, Simplify

    A little research reveals that the Soviets tried using the Fan Song aboard a converted heavy cruiser, apparently without much success.  Given the challenges of trying to establish lock on with a stationary ground-based radar site, one can imagine the challenges an operator would face trying to lock on with his own ship moving and maneuvering while the hostile aircraft were jinking all over the sky.  

    "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

    by PrahaPartizan on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 09:25:01 AM PDT

  •  Thanks for the review MK. I'm excited at the (4+ / 0-)

    prospect of acquiring a new skill.  

    Familiarity with operating a SAM site will look cool on my resume.

    Rivers are horses and kayaks are their saddles

    by River Rover on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 09:42:22 AM PDT

  •  Orbiter (10+ / 0-)

    First, that is pretty cool! I am going to have to check it out.

    You might find Orbiter interesting. Like SAM it is a hard core simulation not really a game. It is totally physics based. If you are trying to fly to the moon you actually have to go through all the steps of aligning your plan and timing your engine thrust so that your orbit elongates out to where the moon will be in about three days. My friends think I am crazy when I play it because I will sit there and carefully watch numbers for 10 minutes while I plan my Hohmann transfer.

    The community is outstanding. Do you want to see how high you can get Redstone? Maybe Project Murcury? Or fly the Airbus A380-800? It is all there and a LOT more.

    wine-1353780989

    Moon-Orbiter

    “We can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all the other possibilities.” - Winston Chuchill

    by se portland on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 09:43:29 AM PDT

    •  How would you rate this (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      se portland, xaxnar, Simplify

      Compared to Kerbil Space Program?

      If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

      by Major Kong on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 10:52:38 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Orbiter is more complex (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        xaxnar, Farugia, Simplify

        They are both great. Kerbal is defiantly easier to get up and going. In Orbiter you have to go though all the tedious steps, there are no real shortcuts. But, like I said, the Orbiter community is awesome. I have seen Kerbal enthusiast comment on how they wish the Orbiter crowd would get on board with their 'awesome JUJU'.

        There is a steep learning curve with Orbiter. As I understand it Kerbal started out as an idea to gamefy (is that even a word?) Orbiter. Kerbal is a bit more cartoony but you get to build stations and roster of astronauts. It is much more of a game, but still physics based.

        Building a new ship in Orbiter involves a bit of programming. In Kerbal you have already designed pieces you can just sort of snap together.

        If you are a totally geeky nerd Orbiter is the best choice.

        Oh, and Orbiter is free; Kerbal costs $27.

        “We can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all the other possibilities.” - Winston Chuchill

        by se portland on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 11:50:54 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Does Orbiter have relativistic (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          se portland

          effects yet and if so can you build a realistic antimatter powered relativistic spacecraft like the proposed Valkyrie ship and use it to visit the Proxima Cenauri system (I assume there is a time compression option so you can make months pass in minutes like in many other sims, or is it always 100% real time).

          You have watched Faux News, now lose 2d10 SAN.

          by Throw The Bums Out on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 04:17:56 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Well I know there is a mode for Proxima Cenauri (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Throw The Bums Out

            Along with a fictional planet. Getting their would be a bit boring. The time compression only goes up to 10,000x. We are talking about 3.5 hours at the speed of light. I really don't think the simulation takes into consideration faster than light travel.

            “We can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all the other possibilities.” - Winston Chuchill

            by se portland on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 05:08:11 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  No, not faster than light travel. Time dilation (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              se portland

              so that if you travel at 0.995c you could get to Proxima Centauri in only 0.4 to 0.5 years (shipboard time, of course) instead of the standard 4-5 years you would expect.

              You have watched Faux News, now lose 2d10 SAN.

              by Throw The Bums Out on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 05:17:51 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Apparently yes (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Throw The Bums Out

                I usually jut fly around the solar system, but their are people thinking like you already.

                From the Orbiter forum

                I have been currently working on (along with umpteen other distractions) the Valkyrie Project for orbiter. Due to the lack of details, I've had to make a lot of it up as I go along.

                    Click this bar to view the full image.

                Pictured is the Valkyrie boost unit. One is located on each end of the ship, for acceleration and deceleration. From left to right;

                Magnetic coil- the "nozzle" of Valkyrie, deflects charged anihillation products backward to produce thrust. Also deflects interstellar gas and recollects droplets for the droplet radiator. Droplet radiator supporting equipment would likely be on/within this structure, but are not modelled yet.

                Shadow shield- protects crew and antihydrogen from the gamma rays produced by the anihillation.

                Particle beams- fire hydrogen and antihydrogen plasma at the magnetic coil for anihillation/fusion.

                Hydrogen tank- superlightweight construction housing slush hydrogen.

                Antihydrogen tank- essentially a gigantic penning trap; frozen antihydrogen is suspended by a magnetic field. Antihydrogen is harvested with a laser and sent to the particle beams via plasma conduits (how else do you pump antimatter? )

                Some details are as of yet missing- like the droplet shield infrastructure and the debris umbrellas for use during deceleration. I'm also not at all sure of how everything should fit together- the shadow shield can supposedly be much smaller than the hab module because if arranged right can eclipse the anihillation zone anyway. I have no idea what this arrangement would be, not having done any math behind it, and the way it's done now it seems to leave other equipment such as the propellant tanks and beam system rather exposed.

                Another issue is the payload. Currently I have it as a small payload bay for a lander and a few small modules that would supposedly house cryosleep chambers or something to that effect. The original Valkyrie had a hab module/lander spinning on a strut that would be counterbalanced by supplies. I'm not really sure about keeping the crew awake and in that confined space for years at a time.

                Comments and suggestions (and pointers at where I'm going terribly wrong) are welcome.

                “We can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all the other possibilities.” - Winston Chuchill

                by se portland on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 05:43:04 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Yes but will he include a patch to Orbiter (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  se portland

                  to add relativistic effects since apparently it doesn't include them?  Of course, doing so would require considerable experience with assembly language as it would probably require modifying the executable file itself.

                  You have watched Faux News, now lose 2d10 SAN.

                  by Throw The Bums Out on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 01:12:48 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

              •  I once put all of the big moons (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Throw The Bums Out

                in the solar system in orbit around Earth to make it a more leisurely tour. I am lazy.

                I also created a scenario where a comet was going to slam in to Australia and you had to send a craft out to divert it.

                There are limits to what you can do, but there is more than enough things you can do to challenge your imagination.

                “We can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all the other possibilities.” - Winston Chuchill

                by se portland on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 05:49:26 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

        •  I lost an awful lot of Kerbals (0+ / 0-)

          I think I still have a few of the little guys stranded on various moons and planets.

          If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

          by Major Kong on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 05:18:49 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Does one get to pick the type and number (0+ / 0-)

    of incoming aircraft?

    Would have been interesting on the ship to play with the radar shop (using this sim) and the ready room (using a tied in flight sim). Scenario debriefs might have been valuable learning tools.

    I also bet many times the radar seats were occupied by Warsaw Pact personnel.

    •  In the training scenarios you can (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BMScott

      You can set up multiple targets of different types and have them fly different flight paths.

      You can also practice "live fire" against target drones and balloons.

      I didn't have much luck against the drones.

      If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

      by Major Kong on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 10:52:14 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Space pen (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BMScott, Simplify

    Your example of the Soviet's use of tape reminded me of the old urban legend about NASA and the space pen. The legend goes that NASA spent millions of dollars (by 2013 it was up to $12 billion) developing a pen that would work in the weightless conditions of space. The Soviets solved the problem by using a pencil.

    The truth is America did use pencils on some early flights, but they were also aware that a broken pencil tip or graphite dust could potentially cause catastrophic electrical problems. NASA actually did try to develop a space pen, but abandon the project when cost where getting out of hand. Then in 1965 Paul C. Fisher invented a pressurized ink cartridge pen that would work in outer space. He sold 400 of them to the government at a cost of $6.00 a piece.

    “We can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all the other possibilities.” - Winston Chuchill

    by se portland on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 10:48:26 AM PDT

  •  how long until the Pentagon puts out a UAV sim (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Major Kong

    so it can recruit the next generation of air warriors without having to train them--they've already trained themselves.  ;)

    In the end, reality always wins.

    by Lenny Flank on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 03:26:31 PM PDT

  •  A SAM simulator ... (0+ / 0-)

    Never has the old saying about modern warfare been truer:

    “Months of boredom punctuated by moments of extreme terror."
    To top that, it would take ... I don't know, a Minuteman simulator?
    “Years of absolute boredom punctuated by a single and final moment of terror."
    By the by, given the craptacular performances and poor range of the Fan Song radar, I'm wondering if those poor SA-2 operators wouldn't have been better off relying on a good olde network of look-outs, a bunch of dudes spread about with binoculars and radios looking for contrails and fast moving dots in the sky, only to turn on the radar at the last second, once given a coarse bearing and range by the look-outs.

    I deal in facts. My friends are few but fast.

    by Farugia on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 09:30:29 PM PDT

    •  I think they did just that (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Simplify, Farugia

      As part of an Integrated Air Defense they would probably be given the target range and bearing from whoever was running the early warning radar.

      I was engaged by Iraqi SAMs but they were afraid to leave their radars on for any length of time.

      All we got was a couple sweeps of an acquisition radar and then the missiles came up either ballistic or under visual guidance (some can do that).

      If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

      by Major Kong on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 05:17:51 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Yes, yes, but have you tried (0+ / 0-)

    Government and laws are the agreement we all make to secure everyone's freedom.

    by Simplify on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 01:33:31 AM PDT

  •  On X-Plane, how do you land a B-52? (0+ / 0-)

    I can't get the flare right. How do you control sink rate for that in real life, with pitch or with throttle?

    Government and laws are the agreement we all make to secure everyone's freedom.

    by Simplify on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 01:35:16 AM PDT

    •  It depends (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Simplify

      I'll have to assume that X-Plane has a fairly realistic B-52 model.

      Landing the BUFF is a bit different because you have the fore/aft landing gear setup.

      1. On final set airbrakes to position 4 (2/3 extended).

      Your landing flaps are the same as your takeoff flaps so you need the extra drag on final. You only have spoilers for roll, so this gives better roll response.

      2. For a G-model about 25,000 pph total fuel flow is a good target power setting on final. An H model would be less but I can't tell you how much.

      Other than that pitch and power are related, just like any other large jet.

      Above glideslope and slow? Then you have a pitch problem. Lower the nose.

      Above glideslope and fast? You're in a high energy state. Lower the nose and reduce power.

      Below glideslope and fast? You have a pitch problem. Raise the nose.

      Below glideslope and slow? You're in a low energy situation. Add power and raise the nose.

      3. As you cross the overrun, pull the power to idle and give it a good 3-4 seconds worth of nose-up trim.

      4. You must hold it off in the flare until the rear trucks touch down first. If the nose trucks touch first the plane will bounce.

      After touchdown -

      airbrakes 6 (all the way)
      drag chute deploy
      brakes apply

      If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

      by Major Kong on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 05:14:05 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Gee, I wonder what would happen (0+ / 0-)

    If you sent up a squadron or 2 of B-52s all flying the same pattern, turning at the same IP, at the same altitude, just a few moments apart?  Think you could hit 1 or two then??

    “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” Thomas Jefferson

    by markdd on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 01:13:24 PM PDT

    •  It works for F-117s as well (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      markdd

      That's how the Serbs were able to shoot down an F-117 with an SA-3. They knew when and where to expect it.

      Back in Desert Storm we started to see our planners doing the same thing. Some of us started going "Um, guys, I don't think this worked so great last time we did it."

      History doesn't repeat itself but it does rhyme.

      If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

      by Major Kong on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 01:51:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  IIRC SAC had to learn that Lesson (0+ / 0-)

        over Hanoi during the first part of Linebacker II.  Surprised the lesson was lost.

        “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” Thomas Jefferson

        by markdd on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 02:02:09 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Human nature (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          markdd, Farugia

          It's easier just to keep using the same route packages.

          "Hey, we haven't lost any yet....."

          If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

          by Major Kong on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 05:40:00 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

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