F-35B Flight Simulator: Example of Realistic VRChat Aviation
Updated: Aug 5, 2021
The ever-advancing VRChat aviation community continues forward. As mentioned in our previous articles on this subject, the worlds vary in many ways. All of them shaped by the intentions of their creators. These creators usually try to balance authentic feeling aircraft controls with enough space for fun, arcade flight sim style air combat. However, a particular world in the VRChat aviation scene has set itself apart by pursuing a more realistic presentation of combat aviation.
Developed by world creator Leopard (れおぱぁど, VRChat, Twitter), the F-35B FlightSimulator is probably the most realistic and advanced military aviation flight world in VRChat at this time. Released to the public on December 26th, 2020, from the start, its inclusion of a working Panoramic Multifunction Display and the F-35B's conversion to short take-off and vertical landing configuration were immediate attention grabbers. While there is a launch trailer for this world, a more recent advertisement for an air combat tournament in June 2021 is a better representation of its current build:
In this case, "realistic" is defined by systems made available to the pilots and other external systems present within the world itself. Ultimately, all of this exists within a platform that's not tailor-made for these types of flight simulation, making all of this world creator's work that much more impressive. As I explain the details of this world, how advanced it is will become more apparent.
Starting with the surroundings, the primary launch point is from an amphibious assault ship with a full-scale airport and a short landing strip. The player spawn points include information boards in both English and Japanese languages. The boards present introductory information for basic flight controls, cockpit system operations, and credits for the materials used and people that assisted in creating the world. Settings for wind, gusts, weather conditions, time of day and radios are also available. Outside of player vs player combat, there are a number airborne and surface targets and non-combat challenges.
Fast travel between all three locations is possible with aircraft spawners available, giving players the option to immediately perform land-based operations if they wish. While there are no navigation or landing assistance systems on the short airfield, the airport and assault ship have a tactical air navigation system (TACAN), improved fresnel lens optical landing system (IFLOLS), precision approach path indicator (PAPI), and instrument landing systems (ILS). When used in conjunction with weather and wind settings that players can adjust, these systems are accurate enough to reliably land a Lightning II even in the worst possible conditions, day or night.
Flight characteristic-wise, the F-35Bs feel heavier and less maneuverable than most fixed-wing combat aircraft in other VRC aviation worlds. It's a noticeable difference compared to the more arcade-style flight handling found in a majority of the other aviation worlds that let aircraft pull high energy and post-stall maneuvers and quickly recover from them with just a few seconds of afterburner. Other notable flight characteristics include the moments of instability transitioning to and from short take-off and landing (STOL) configuration. During mid-air conversion, the engine is swiveled to angle downwards, the lift fan door is opened, and flaps and gear are lowered. The change in how the aircraft handles is immediate and requires careful management. Initiating a conversion at the wrong altitude, speed, or altitude can result in loss of flight control and lead to a crash. A picture in picture example of landing in the VRC F-35B is shown below with audio and video of an actual F-35B landing shown in the smaller screen.
Vertical landing is possible when certain conditions are met. First, the aircraft must have less than 25% fuel onboard with any external JDAMs (bombs) and missiles expended. At this lightweight, the F-35B can come into a hover. Its throttle now controls minor changes in forward speed, and the flight stick controls roll, yaw, ascent, and descent commands.
Two other unexpected functions to see working is an Auto Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto GCAS), which allows the aircraft to take control from the pilot to bring the aircraft back to safety. Even in full-scale combat flight sims, this is a function that's hardly seen. The example below shows side by side video and audio from the simulated version and a real Auto GCAS incident.
To dig deeper into this world's portrayal of the Lightning II would best be done by looking at its 19-page manual (available on Google Drive as of June 9th, 2021). It is only available in Japanese but has been written in a way that can easily be translated by software services like DeepL or Google Translate.
The user manual covers everything for symbology displayed on the PCD, heads-up display and helmet-mounted display, and cockpit layout. Attack and defense systems are also explained with radar max and minimum ranges, bearing-range-altitude readouts, and IFF information. A loadout diagram shows all possible configurations the F-35B can equip while it is landed in a serviceable area. Sections near the end of the user manual describe how to use the anti-craft weapons onboard the amphibious assault ship and personnel held FIM-92 Stinger systems.
Everything described in this article truly comes alive with a virtual reality headset and a pair of hand controllers. While even users with full body VR setups can move their feet to control the rudder pedals, users that have a monitor and keyboard-mouse can still give it a try.
While this simlite world is an outlier in the whole of #VRChat Aviation, it is the wonder of seeing aviation brought to this unusual platform that frequently brings me back to it. In a place where passion, hard work, and willingness to learn can enable creators to materialize their visions, it's energizing to see aviation enthusiasts from around the world create things like this.
To end this article, I reached out to the world creator for a statement to let their own thoughts be expressed:
"Hi, I'm Leopard (れおぱぁど), creator of the F-35BFlightSimulator. I've been visiting Sacchan's Test Pilots quite a few times since I started VRchat. This flight system is very realistic, and I'm very impressed with it.
"One day, I thought to myself, "If the instruments worked, could I make a more realistic flight simulator?" So, while gathering materials and studying programming, I created this world. I changed the concept of this world from a "fighter jet game" to a "flight simulator" and adjusted the game to achieve realistic behavior and systems. We have recreated every aspect of the aircraft, from the basic navigation system to the systems using the latest technology found only in the F-35."
"I hope that by playing in this world, you will be able to experience the fun and difficulty of flying. The VRchat aviation community has developed from Sacc's Flight and Vehicles [Prefab] to include acrobatic teams, battles in science fiction worlds, and many other fields. I'm very happy to see that many VRchatters are interested in airplanes, as I was too. I look forward to the further development of the aviation community in VRchat."
About the Writer
Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza
Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. A lifelong aviation enthusiast with a special interest in flight simulators and games. After founding Electrosphere.info, the first English Ace Combat database, he has been involved in creating aviation related websites, communities, and events since 2005. He continues to explore past and present flight games and sims with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers. | Twitter | Discord: RibbonBlue#8870 |