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The flight simulator covered in “Airware” are software products, but simulators can also include hardware designed to improve a simulation’s realism. The use of a joystick adds a hardware component to the simulations that run on the PC. Cockpit simulators the size of houses are still used to train commercial airliner pilots. But in 1964 an ingenious group launched a truly unique hardware simulator for astronauts who were then preparing to fly the lunar module in NASA’s Apollo moon landing missions.

Lunar Pilot ($35, requires Microsoft Windows 2000/XP, 1.5 Ghz processor, 256MB RAM, 150MB hard drive space, CD-ROM drive, 64MB video card and a copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004, is a third party add-on to Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004 from a company called Things-to-Come (www.things-to-come. com). It’s really a simulation of a simulation. The Lunar Lander Research Vehicle (LLRV) was an actual flying platform simulating flight conditions of the Apollo Lunar Module craft that landed on the moon. The LLRV looked like a framework of metal bars surrounding a jet engine, which simulated the weightlessness of space by doing most of the work to keep the LLRV in the air, while smaller jets on the frame managed directional movement and provided the remaining sixth of thrust required to combat gravity. Because the LLRV lacked wings and a tail, the jet thrust was the only thing keeping it aloft, and controlling it was similar to flying a helicopter. The LLRV proved to be well-engineered, but could be dangerous to fly. Three of the five units built crashed. Neil Armstrong was one of three pilots who made good use of the LLRV’s ejection seat.

Lunar Pilot makes the LLRV available to Flight Simulator players. The LLRV is impressively illustrated and modeled. The vehicle looks just like it does in photos and even features a working ejection seat. The directional jets on the LLRV pass white smoke when fired, and the landing struts move when absorbing shock. The LLRV takes some practice to fly. More than in a regular aircraft, the pilot must always be thinking ahead and careful to avoid losing control.

The LLRV appears to be largely authentic. Some of the insignia on the vehicles and buildings in the package have been changed to a fictional version of NASA called NADA. Otherwise the vehicle looks and seems to act like its real-life counterpart, based on information in an interview with NASA pilot Dan Mallick, except for one comment he makes about the LLRV being a slow climber. In the game, the LLRV quickly ascends when the jet engine is pushed to high power at ground level.

The package includes several extras. A beautiful North American P-51 Mustang chase plane add-on is flyable in the game. There is a full digital manual with a history section that includes the Mallick interview. A scenery addition, the Lunar Terrain Simulator (LTS), adds yet more to the Flight Simulator content. The LTS is a fictional giant building. Within is terrain that poses as a patch of the moon’s surface. The LLRV pilot can practice lunar landings inside the LTS, but first has to pass a challenge: getting the LLRV into the LTS through a motorized iris valve on the building wall.

Also from the crew at Things-to-Come is JetPakNG ($10, requires Microsoft Windows 98/Me/2000/XP, 1.5 Ghz processor, 256MB RAM, 100MB hard drive space, CD-ROM drive and a copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004, Although a bit more whimsical than the authentic Lunar Pilot, this Flight Simulator add-on takes inspiration from the Bell Rocket Belt. Designed by Bell engineer Wendell Moore, the Rocket Belt enabled a man to fly without wings for about 20 seconds. The bulky backpack with hydrogen peroxide jets proved too noisy and fuel inefficient to suit the military, but the Rocket Belt found a niche based on its entertainment value at airshows and special events. In 1995 an updated version called the RB 2000 was built by independent engineers and investors, incorporating improvements in weight, fuel capacity and power. Still, the device’s flight duration was only extended to 30 seconds.

JetPakNG extrapolates what might happen given continued improvements in the Rocket Belt. The JetPakNG version of the belt is slimmer and features movable rocket nozzles that provide directional lift similar to those on a Boeing AV-8B Harrier II. And the power supply provides improved flight duration.

The developers did a nice job constructing JetPakNG, and the graphics and flight modeling are well done. The manual also includes a brief historic overview of the Bell Rocket Belt. The jet pack is fun to fly, and the lack of a traditional cockpit leaves the pilot’s view wide open. I managed to create some odd situations that threw the jet pack into a spin, forcing me to quit the flight and start over. But when I was not trying to fly like Superman, it proved to be entertaining as well as challenging.

These add-ons breathe fresh life into Flight Simulator. JetPakNG is only available as a download from the Things-to-Come Web site. Lunar Pilot at the listed price is also a download from the site, but can be ordered in CDROM format ($40) that comes with a short documentary video featuring LLRV/NASA pilot Jack Kluever. A deluxe edition CD-ROM ($70) comes with everything in the standard CD-ROM edition, plus a hard-copy replica of the original LLRV flight manual and a photo card signed by Kluever.


Originally published in the July 2006 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here