We don’t need Carriers for Libya

Written by Ryan Crierie on Saturday, March 19, 2011 at 7:30 pm

Over at the USNI Blog they are posting annotated maps such as this one:

Followed by a statement such as this:

There is only one way to do this: Carrier Aviation. American Carrier Aviation.

If you have access to actual data, like I do; it is relatively easy to disabuse the USNI of it’s delusions.

F-15C Eagle (CFT) Standard Aircraft Characteristics – February 1992 (Multi MB PDF)

From reading this, you can deduce that the F-15C with CFTs and carrying four AIM-120 AMRAAM can perform anti-air operations out to an astounding 840 nautical mile combat radius.

That’s more than enough to cover Libya operating from NAS Sigonella, which has a quite decent USAF contigent there to support F-15C operations.

You might ask what is the difference between the 840 nm combat radius I quote and the more common 400~ nm combat radius encountered when the F-15C is talked about?

Well, if you read the SAC in detail, you find out that the 840nm combat radius is achieved by F-15Cs cruising at high altitude to and from the target. Their combat is five minutes at 50,000 feet at full power. This is Radius Mission V on the SAC sheet.

The more common 400~ nm combat radius is also in the SAC, and it’s described as the F-15Cs descending to 10,000 feet for combat, where they burn enough fuel to generate 144,000 feet of manouver energy. This is Radius Mission I on the SAC sheet.

Clearly in 2011, Captain Dahl of the USAF is not going to engage a pair of Libyan MiG-23s by descending to 10,000 feet and dogfighting with them until he can get a missile lock on with a Sidewinder. No, he’s going to shoot them down from long range and altitude with AIM-120s, avoiding the wasteful fuel-wasting high energy dogfight that restricts his combat radius.

Same thing would also occur with Lieutenant Pettibone of the USN.

If you look at the other assets the USAF can bring to the table, it becomes even more a case that the USN isn’t needed here.

A single B-2A can carry more than a hundred small diameter bombs, meaning that in a single night, a pair of B-2s operating from CONUS could wipe out pretty much the entire Libyan military, and do it for less expenditure than the roughly $100~ million dollars we just expended with Tactical Tomahawk missiles from USN assets.

The no-fly zone could then be enforced with USAF Predator or Reaper drones diverted from Central Command to loiter over Libyan airbases. If someone tries to taxi for takeoff on those bases, then a USAF Lieutenant in Nevada can command the drone to place a hellfire into the offending plane.

This is a situation uniquely suited to the USAF’s strengths of being able to place intense concentrated quantities of high explosive to any point on the globe within 48 hours, via strategic bomber flights lasting over thirty hours.

The USN’s own strengths come into play when you need to keep raining explosives down onto an enemy over a period of several days with no interruptions.

This is clearly not the case here, given the total decrepitude of the Libyan armed forces.

EDIT: There is also the case of the USN’s own operations over Afghanistan in October 2001 as part of the initial strikes against the Taliban. VF-14 flew a mission that was 1,700 miles round trip for a combat radius of 740~ nautical miles against targets near Mazar-e Sharif.

Categories: Aircraft, Strategy

The Avro Lancaster as A-Bomb Carrier

Written by Ryan Crierie on Friday, January 21, 2011 at 10:54 pm

For a brief time, paper studies were done concerning the use of reverse-lend-leased Avro Lancasters to carry the Atomic Bomb.

On paper it was theoretically possible from what I understand, due to the huge size of the Lancaster’s bomb bay. But when it was looked into in detail, it was not to be for several reasons.

1.) The flight crew could not access the bomb bay in flight on the Lancaster. This was required as a regular evolution both in training and the actual flight to arm the device via either inserting the powder charges and last half of the fissile material (Little Boy) or pulling the Arming Plugs (Fat Man).

2.) The Lancaster flew too slow and low to be survivable as a delivery platform for a non-parachute retarded atomic bomb. The B-29 was able to just barely get by due to the fact it flew much higher and faster than the Lancaster, and even then they had to do a violent corkscrew manouver to escape most of the blast wave’s force.

Why was parachute retardation not used?

There was very serious concern that the enemy would shoot at the bomb as it drifted to detonation altitude and dud it.

To guard against this, Fat Man had a 3/8″ thick steel case weighing 2,830 pounds.

Post-war when the nuclear inventory was not as sparse as it was during the early years, the armored casings went away, and parachute retardation became an acceptable tactic.

Categories: Aircraft, Nuclear Weapons

The Truth about the WS-10

Written by Ryan Crierie on Friday, January 7, 2011 at 5:22 pm

I’ve been reading up on the WS-10 lately with all the news in the media about the new Chinese J-14/J-20 Stealth fighter prototype.

One of the most common refrains by the ‘learned’ who say that we don’t need to worry about the J-20 is that “China cannot make engines”.

To support this, they usually trot out Russian sources who tell us that the WS-10 is a copy of the AL-31F, and that the Chinese can’t make a working copy of it; so thus, they are dependent on Russian Arms Exports for their superfighter(s).

The problem is, it’s not true.

The basic WS-10 technology dates to 1980 when China initated development of high performance engines to support next generation aircraft.

To support this in 1982 they bought two CFM-56 turbofans from the US. There was quite some concern over this at the time because the CFM-56 core is a derivative of the F101 core that powers the B-1, and the F101 was also worked up into the F110 core which powers some F-16s.

In 1986 with the technology in hand, Deng Xiaoping initaled the plan for turbofan development. By 1989 actual development and manufacture of the WS-10 core began and it achieved first power in December 1992.

Of course, they had problems through the 1990s with the turbine and compressor blades so flight testing didn’t begin until 2001/02. And of course there were problems which bedeviled it due to poor quality control, like a WS-10 exploding after takeoff in a test mule Su-27 in 2004.

The WS-10A finally passed it’s 40 day endurance test with no failures in November 2005.

Some Specifications:

0.78:1 bypass ratio
Compressor: 3 Fan and 9 Compressor Stages
Turbine: 1 High Pressure and 2 Low Pressure Stages
Diameter: 950mm inlet
Weight: 1,494 kg

0.571:1 Bypass Ratio
Compressor: 4 Fan and 9 Compressor Stages
Turbine: 2 single stage turbines
Diameter: 910mm inlet, 1,240mm external
Length: 4,950mm
Weight: 1,530 kg

As you can see, the WS-10 has a totally different internal layout, higher bypass ratio, and larger inlet than the AL-31F. So it is in no way a clone of the AL-31F.

So what does the WS-10 come close to resembling? Why yes, none other than the F110 with it’s 0.85:1 bypass ratio and the SAME exact compressor and turbine arrangement!

No wonder the WS-10 has suffered a very long protracted development and suffers from slow throttle response — the Chinese had to not only reverse engineer the CFM-56 turbofan core, but then re-militarize it back into a F110 clone.

That’s up there with the Japanese reverse engineering the Jumo 004B from a grainy photograph.

Oh, since they now have a working CFM-56 derivative core in production, making large, high bypass ratio turbofans for the Y-20 strategic airlifter is a lot easier.

Categories: Aircraft

The Little Crappy Ship I

Written by Ryan Crierie on Monday, September 13, 2010 at 9:28 pm

Recently Galrahn over at Information Dissemination has been on a tear trashing the LCS for the last week or so. The latest one is HERE

That post failed on several levels.

He focused on rather ludicrous problems with the LCS; such as the glassed in bridge being vunerable to enemy fire, or the fact that a RPG could penetrate the hull, since these are problems every naval warship has.

He’s right about how the Cult of Speed (TM) has crippled the program. It’s why both designs look the way they do.

It’s why they have the same power plant as the 60,000+ ton Queen Elizabeth CVs (two MT-30 gas turbines), in order to push a 3,000 ton ship up to 45+ knots.

Yes, that is not a typo. 45 plus knots.

To get that kind of capability; both designs had to be severely compromised.

1.) The sustained 45+ knot run capability means that of LCS’ 600-700 ton dead weight; a significant fraction of it is going to be fuel; far more than a conventional ship. This means less weight available for growth margins, non-fuel payload such as weapons and sensors.

Yes, I know you can say “look, we’ll just load only 60% of the fuel and permanently limit the ships to 34 knot top speeds” to grow the weight margins…but then that kind of defeats the whole purpose and design rationale for LCS.

2.) The hull had to be built very lightly with a very large amount of length between scantlings to reduce weight. This means that the ships’ service life is severely compromised, all the more so if they spend an appreciable amount of time at high speeds in moderate sea states and endure a lot of wave slamming.

3.) In keeping with the “build as light as possible”, both LCS designs were waived from US Navy Shock/Damage requirements, so the hulls could be built with thinner plates.

4.) Apparently one reason why cost has spiraled up for the design is that the systems integration task for LCS is horribly complicated by the extreme vibrational environment the whole weapons system has to endure — slamming into waves at 40 plus knots imposes a pretty harsh vibration/shock environment to LCS’ sensor suite/computer suite.

The Mark V Special Operations Craft is a cautionary tale towards this point. Even with special shock absorbing seats; the SEALs using the MK Vs kept getting hit with 20 gees as the MK Vs slammed into waves while going full blast at 47 to 50 knots.

Bruises, sprained ankles, chipped teeth, and various other injuries resulted. LCS is going to suffer from that at it’s full speed in anything but a calm sea state.

Honestly, I don’t foresee a long career for LCS. They’ll be testbeds for their entire lives and then quietly exit the fleet like DDG-1000 and 1001.

Categories: Oops, Ships

Fixing U.S. Naval Warship Names

Written by Ryan Crierie on Saturday, June 5, 2010 at 2:05 am

This Friday, I was in the U.S. Navy’s Photographic Archives in the Washington D.C. Navy Yard; and I ended up discussing U.S. Naval Warship names with Chuck Haberlein who works the desk there, after I had found a binder full of SECNAV name promulgations on a shelf. What it was doing in the PHOTOGRAPH ARCHIVES…I have no idea.

I suggested to him that the best way to show how stupid all of this had gotten lately was for the Naval Historical and Heritage Command to write a letter stating:

We at the Naval Historical and Heritage Command have unamiously, after discussion, decided that it should be proper that CVN-79 (UNNAMED) be named USS RICHARD M. NIXON, due to his service in the U.S. Naval Reserve, where he rose to the rank of CDR before becoming the 37th President of the United States.

If this name is not to the liking of SECNAV; we have a list of alternates:


Chuck literally nearly spewed the drink of water he was taking at that moment all over his computer, before he managed to restore sanity, which was very amusing in itself.

The idea here has merit — it would show the political masters of the Navy how absurd things have gotten lately; in that if you are a Congressman and voted yes on some Naval Appropriations bill, you can eventually get a warship named after yourself.

Categories: Ships

Obama’s space ‘vision’ is a pack of lies.

Written by Ryan Crierie on Friday, April 16, 2010 at 2:33 pm

In the interest of sanity, I’ll skip large parts of the speech; which opens with a history lesson of manned spaceflight, and the usual politicanese.


So let me start by being extremely clear: I am 100 percent committed to the mission of NASA and its future. (Applause.)

So committed, that you’re forcing us to start all over from square zero, and throwing away the last six years of development time and R&D money.


All that has to change. And with the strategy I’m outlining today, it will. We start by increasing NASA’s budget by $6 billion over the next five years, even — (applause) — I want people to understand the context of this. This is happening even as we have instituted a freeze on discretionary spending and sought to make cuts elsewhere in the budget.

So NASA, from the start, several months ago when I issued my budget, was one of the areas where we didn’t just maintain a freeze but we actually increased funding by $6 billion.

NASA FY2011 Budget Summary

Of that $6 billion increase, $2.5 billion goes to simply terminating Constellation and closing out the program via contractor payments; $1.8 billion goes to Climate Science funding, and $2 billion goes to the ISS; leaving virtually nothing for actual development of things that go places with people in them.

By doing that we will ramp up robotic exploration of the solar system, including a probe of the Sun’s atmosphere;

You mean Solar Probe, which was approved and begun in the last year of George W. Bush’s presidency?

new scouting missions to Mars and other destinations

You mean like the Mars Science Laboratory, a one ton nuclear powered rover that was approved for development in 2006, under George W. Bush’s administration?

and an advanced telescope to follow Hubble, allowing us to peer deeper into the universe than ever before.

You mean like the James E Webb Space Telescope? Development of it began in 1996 under the Clinton Administration.

We will increase Earth-based observation to improve our understanding of our climate and our world — science that will garner tangible benefits, helping us to protect our environment for future generations.

There are so many NASA programs for Earth Observation Satellites that began earlier under Clinton and Bush II which are just starting to be launched or reach the final phases of development; that I don’t know where to start….

And we will extend the life of the International Space Station likely by more than five years, while actually using it for its intended purpose: conducting advanced research that can help improve the daily lives of people here on Earth, as well as testing and improving upon our capabilities in space.

That’s nice. You do realize that the ISS alone takes up a third of your so-called budget increase for NASA?

This includes technologies like more efficient life support systems that will help reduce the cost of future missions. And in order to reach the space station, we will work with a growing array of private companies competing to make getting to space easier and more affordable. (Applause.)

You mean the NASA COTS program that effectively was begun and signed contracts with private companies under George W. Bush’s administration?

Now, I recognize that some have said it is unfeasible or unwise to work with the private sector in this way. I disagree.

Oh, look, his patented strawman! I was wondering when you’d show up!

*snips random talk about how private companies built space hardware for NASA*

By buying the services of space transportation — rather than the vehicles themselves — we can continue to ensure rigorous safety standards are met.

The history of private spaceflight is not a very pretty one.

It seems to waste a lot of money in pursuit of rather dubious technological ideas — you only need to google “Rotary Rocket” to find this. The best part was that Rotary Rocket basically only added a couple ISP; which was just barely enough to make the rotary blades and transmission effectively “free”.

Then there’s Musk’s SpaceX; which has spent a not inconsiderate amount of money on developing it’s own rocket engine, the Merlin which can only put 125,000 lbf of thrust in it’s latest incarnation.

This has led to SpaceX’s plans to go from Falcon 1 (600 kilograms to LEO) to Falcon 9 (10,000 kilograms to LEO) by simply clustering nine Merlins together.

Their plans for ever heavier payloads are more hilarious.

They plan for Falcon 9 Heavy (20,000 kilograms to LEO), to simply bolt on two extra Falcon 9 first stages, each with nine Merlin engines; so that on liftoff of a Falcon 9 Heavy, you have 27(!) engines firing. Anyone who has studied the history of the Soviet N-1 program realizes how bad an idea this is.

SpaceX could have vastly simplified the development of their rocket family if they had just bought the RS-68 engine from Rocketdyne, with a rating of 663,000 lbf. This would have enabled Falcon 9 to only need two engines, vastly simplifying the pump network that feeds fuel to the engines, and saved them a significant pile of money on engine development.

They could then have spent that money on the detail design for the other aspects of the rocket, like production engineering and maintenance engineering — so that the rocket could be produced cheaper and require less personnel to prepare for a flight.

In addition, as part of this effort, we will build on the good work already done on the Orion crew capsule. I’ve directed Charlie Bolden to immediately begin developing a rescue vehicle using this technology, so we are not forced to rely on foreign providers if it becomes necessary to quickly bring our people home from the International Space Station. And this Orion effort will be part of the technological foundation for advanced spacecraft to be used in future deep space missions. In fact, Orion will be readied for flight right here in this room. (Applause.)

So you’re turning an advanced manned spacecraft that would have flown to the moon and to near earth asteroids into a glorified rescue capsule. How are you going to carry out your grand plans without something more advanced than a lifeboat?

And all the talk about eventually converting Lifeboat-Orion into Mars-Orion are just that, fantasy.

How many spacecraft designs has NASA substantially re-designed and improved past the first man-rated design?

There were plans for Block III and Block IV Apollo CSMs, but they never got off the ground; and there were tons of plans or proposals for Block II Shuttles, which again, never got off the ground, leading to the Space Shuttle essentially being the same spacecraft that flew in 1981, minus a new glass cockpit, and changes to the SSMEs to improve reliability.

Next, we will invest more than $3 billion to conduct research on an advanced “heavy lift rocket” — a vehicle to efficiently send into orbit the crew capsules, propulsion systems, and large quantities of supplies needed to reach deep space. In developing this new vehicle, we will not only look at revising or modifying older models; we want to look at new designs, new materials, new technologies that will transform not just where we can go but what we can do when we get there. And we will finalize a rocket design no later than 2015 and then begin to build it.

What new technologies are required for a heavy launch vehicle?


It is just a matter of national will to commit to the cost of designing and developing systems on a massive scale.

I would like to remind you that under Constellation, the Ares V heavy launch vehicle would have flown in 2018.

Now do you seriously think that under this new plan, NASA will somehow pick a design in 2015 and then have it flying in 2018 — just three years?

So this amounts to a massive defacto delay in the space program.

And I want everybody to understand: That’s at least two years earlier than previously planned — and that’s conservative, given that the previous program was behind schedule and over budget.

So in your brilliant wisdom, you are delaying the program and increasing the amount of time that the United States will not have a man-rated vehicle from five years to a decade or more.
And as other people than me have said; it’s no surprise Orion/Constellation was over budget and behind schedule — it was actually being built.

Other projects are within their budgets and ahead of their schedules because they aren’t being built, and are just paper studies.

At the same time, after decades of neglect, we will increase investment — right away — in other groundbreaking technologies that will allow astronauts to reach space sooner and more often, to travel farther and faster for less cost, and to live and work in space for longer periods of time more safely. That means tackling major scientific and technological challenges. How do we shield astronauts from radiation on longer missions? How do we harness resources on distant worlds? How do we supply spacecraft with energy needed for these far-reaching journeys? These are questions that we can answer and will answer. And these are the questions whose answers no doubt will reap untold benefits right here on Earth.

We answered all those questions 40 years ago with Apollo Applications, and then updated the questions 20 years ago when NASA began preliminary planning to support George H.W. Bush’s Mars initative.

Yes. Does anyone even remember that?

In May 1990, during a speech at Texas A&M, George H.W. Bush established 2019 as a goal for a manned landing on Mars.

A lot of NASA development work began to design heavy launch vehicles and the long term life support required to achieve this objective, and continued on during Mr. Bush’s remaining years in office.

However, after Bill Clinton took office, he ordered a review of NASA’s mission; which took three years to accomplish.

In September 1996 based on that review, Clinton cancelled Bush’s Manned Mars Landing by 2019, and instead committed NASA to putting a robot on Mars by 2000.

And like now, much was made of the need to increase efficiency in the space program by transferring activities to….the private sector.

So it’s 1996 all over again.


Some have said, for instance, that this plan gives up our leadership in space by failing to produce plans within NASA to reach low Earth orbit, instead of relying on companies and other countries. But we will actually reach space faster and more often under this new plan, in ways that will help us improve our technological capacity and lower our costs, which are both essential for the long-term sustainability of space flight. In fact, through our plan, we’ll be sending many more astronauts to space over the next decade. (Applause.)

On what? Russian Launch Vehicles under contract?

You just cancelled a man-rated launch system that would have flown in five years, and a heavy launch system that would have flown in eight years for…paper promises.

And if you seriously believe that SpaceX can man-rate the Falcon Nine….I have things to say about your sanity, or lack thereof.

There are also those who criticized our decision to end parts of Constellation as one that will hinder space exploration below [sic] low Earth orbit. But it’s precisely by investing in groundbreaking research and innovative companies that we will have the potential to rapidly transform our capabilities — even as we build on the important work already completed, through projects like Orion, for future missions. And unlike the previous program, we are setting a course with specific and achievable milestones.

In the immortal words of a recent congressman: YOU LIE!

Link to Bush II’s Speech Announcing Constellation

I shall summarize:

  • Finish the ISS by 2010. (last shuttle mission this year will finish it out basically)
  • Fly Manned Orion by 2014. (this has slipped by now to about 2015.)
  • Return to the Moon by 2015-20 (You can achieve a 2015 return if you do a repeat of Apollo 8; and the best a manned landing can be made is 2019; which is the first manned flight of the Altair lander is under current schedules).

Later on during the development of Constellation, NASA announced that in 2020, planning for a Mars mission would have begun with a tentative date of 2030+ for planning purposes.

Early in the next decade, a set of crewed flights will test and prove the systems required for exploration beyond low Earth orbit.

As opposed to Constellation, which would have this occur during this decade.

And by 2025, we expect new spacecraft designed for long journeys to allow us to begin the first-ever crewed missions beyond the Moon into deep space.

Under Constellation, we’d have those spacecraft by 2015-2018 and it would be a simple matter of converting the Earth Departure Stage of Constellation into a wet workshop living space for astronauts on these long duration missions — just like the proposed Apollo Applications Manned Flyby of Venus using a Block III Apollo CSM and a wetworkshop S-IVB.

So we’ll start — we’ll start by sending astronauts to an asteroid for the first time in history.

Once again, this was also proposed 40 years ago during Apollo Applications and then 40 years later during Constellation Applications — so what are you proposing, other than a decade-long delay as we’re forced to ground zero and starting all over?

By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. And a landing on Mars will follow. And I expect to be around to see it.

-You won’t be landing on Mars without a heavy lift vehicle, which you cancelled in favor of a nebulous design which won’t even have it’s design picked until five years from now.

But I want to repeat — I want to repeat this: Critical to deep space exploration will be the development of breakthrough propulsion systems and other advanced technologies. So I’m challenging NASA to break through these barriers. And we’ll give you the resources to break through these barriers. And I know you will, with ingenuity and intensity, because that’s what you’ve always done.

Now, I understand that some believe that we should attempt a return to the surface of the Moon first, as previously planned. But I just have to say pretty bluntly here: We’ve been there before. Buzz has been there. There’s a lot more of space to explore, and a lot more to learn when we do. So I believe it’s more important to ramp up our capabilities to reach — and operate at — a series of increasingly demanding targets, while advancing our technological capabilities with each step forward. And that’s what this strategy does. And that’s how we will ensure that our leadership in space is even stronger in this new century than it was in the last.

You know, George W. Bush was smarter than you when he announced Constellation six years ago:

“Returning to the moon is an important step for our space program. Establishing an extended human presence on the moon could vastly reduce the costs of further space exploration, making possible ever more ambitious missions. Lifting heavy spacecraft and fuel out of the Earth’s gravity is expensive. Spacecraft assembled and provisioned on the moon could escape its far lower gravity using far less energy, and thus, far less cost. Also, the moon is home to abundant resources. Its soil contains raw materials that might be harvested and processed into rocket fuel or breathable air. We can use our time on the moon to develop and test new approaches and technologies and systems that will allow us to function in other, more challenging environments. The moon is a logical step toward further progress and achievement.”


I think I’ve hit my point for fisking.

The salient point that leaps out at me after having time to think over his speech:

He’s throwing up all these grand visions to divert anger away from his plan to kill off manned spaceflight in the United States.

Key points to be made:

1.) This speech could have been lifted from the Constellation planning documents of the last couple years, except with a 10+ year delay tacked onto everything, and major system components such as the Ares family terminated, the Orion spacecraft of which so much money has been spent on, reduced to a glorified lifeboat. He talks about replacements, but is incredibly vague about them.

2.) He talks grand visions of new manned spacecraft, but offers no money to fund their development — all the money in his so called budget increases is not going towards the part of NASA that builds and develops manned spacecraft.

3.) He talks about grand visions of new heavy launchers, but offers no real monetary increase to fund their development — and this is the kicker, he says a decision on the heavy launcher will be made…by 2015. Considering he’s up for election in 2012; this is a “kick the can down the road, it’s not my problem no more” decision of such gargantugan scope I haven’t seen in a while, if ever.

Categories: Space

Fallout 3: Game of the Year Edition Review

Written by Ryan Crierie on Tuesday, April 13, 2010 at 4:20 pm


War never changes.

The end of the world occurred pretty much as we had predicted. Too many humans, not enough space or resources to go around. The details are trivial and pointless, the reasons, as always, purely human ones.

In 2077, the earth was nearly wiped clean of human life. A great cleansing, an atomic spark struck by human hands, quickly raged out of control.

Spears of nuclear fire rained from the skies. Continents were swallowed in flames and fell beneath the boiling oceans. Humanity was almost extinguished, their spirits becoming part of the background radiation that blanketed the earth.

A quiet darkness fell across the planet, lasting many years. Few survived the devastation. Some had been fortunate enough to reach safety, taking shelter in great underground vaults…

Welcome back to the Wasteland, and the series that took RPGing out of the dungeons and into a post-apocalyptic retro-future.

Yes, I know I am about one year too late with this review; we all know Bethesda’s reputation for releasing games with bugs or performance problems; so I decided to wait a while until the game came down in price — while the Game of the Year Edition was still $49.99 in December 2009; it did have the advantages of being:

1.) Out of Box Patched to 1.7

2.) The Downloadable Content was Patched up (Apparently when they were first released, there were some bad bugs).

So without further ado, I dove back into the wasteland after several years’ absence.

Like you, at first, I was pretty apprehensive of the game after I heard that Bethesda was going to take it over, and that they were going to do it in a first person style format, rather than the traditional turn based format.

But Bethesda has managed to actually do a pretty fun and immersive game — the in-game counter on my last save game file after beating Broken Steel, the last DLC I did — was 69 hours. Add in about 5~ hours spent replaying after the usual — your character dies and you forgot to save recently enough, or trying to get through a tough bend.

Plus, there were one or two lockups that occured during gameplay, which forced me to go back a couple of saves to avoid the lockups from repeating again.

Of course, a player a bit more perceptive than me could probably easily cut about 10-15 hours off the game — I missed several key holotapes, extending the amount of time I spent doing the main quest, until I asked my brother “Where do I go to get the Main Quest moving again?”

So lets break things down by the numbers:

Technical Characteristics

Put simply, the game is beautiful, and runs decently on my Core 2 Quad Q6600 with a GeForce 8800 GTS.

Engaging Ghouls in Downtown DC

In 1280×1024 on a 4:3 LCD, I was getting decent and near smooth frame rates with about 2 or 4 anti aliasing samples turned on, and Anisotropic at about 15.

However, when I turned it up to 1980×1080 after getting a new 16:9 LCD monitor; I had to turn off anti-aliasing and turn anisotropic down to about 9 to get acceptable frame rates.

The DLC also seemed to run a bit slower or require more computing power than the normal game — which makes some sense — Bethesda had a very short period of time to put it together, and didn’t have time for optimization of some of the more complex elements of the scenery.

But what really showcases how far computers have come since the first Fallout is this comparison:

Pre-Rendered 'Talking Head' of Frank Horrigan in Fallout 2 (1997)

Dynamically Rendered Closeup of Scavenger in Fallout 3 (2008)

Gameplay Characteristics

VATS works pretty well, and I think it’s spoiled me towards FPSes; there should be a “screw this” button similar to ‘V’ that brings up a VATS-like system for other FPSes when you just don’t feel like playing a twitch shooter; but I don’t think the concept will catch on in anything other than the Fallout series, since the gaming world seems set on mediocre FPSes that port over well to consoles to cater to the twitch crowd.

There are a few annoyances which mar the otherwise smooth as greased snot gameplay of this game:

1.) While just about everything in the game is subtitled, the opening video; the radio stations, and the ending video which tells you what happened to who aren’t subtitled. ARGH, CURSE YOU BETHESDA.

(I was born deaf, and even though I have an implant, I cannot tell what someone is saying unless I can read lips).

2.) You cannot skip the opening sequences or speed it up, which makes starting a new game after the first play through quite tedious.

3.) The redunant lockpicking and hacking games — they’re amusing the first couple of times you try it; but after you’ve done it for the 100th time, you just wish that ‘force lock’ worked more often.

4.) The fact that you can’t pick or hack some locks/terminals unless you have a certain level of skill — this is pretty frustrating early on in your first playthrough of the game, when your wanderlust is at it’s highest.

5.) The fact that the GOAT test gives you an option to shoot a locked door in the vault off with a laser pistol to free old man whatever — but when you come to a locked door in the gameplay sequences, you have to either open it from a switch, find a key, or pick it — you can’t just pull out your plasma rifle and blow the lock off. Obviously, doors would need to have hitpoints under such a system, to prevent you from blowing open an armored door with a .32 pistol.

6.) While I do like the element of you having to travel to a location on a map before you can fast travel to it; to encourage you to explore the world map — this isn’t implemented on a low level — I don’t want to have to endlessly travel around Megaton to get to my house or to the Supply Store — I should be able to bring up the Local Map on my PIPBOY, and click on the location I want to fast travel to.

7.) The evil path as far as I can tell, isn’t as well implemented or as in-depth as the good path in the game.

8.) The rather simplistic weapons system in the game — apparently there are a million 10mm pistols in the Wastes, and they are all identical, save for special stat-modified ones that share the same 3d model as the stock weapons. The DLCs add a few more weapons, but quite a few weapons are useless basically, except for show purposes.

Hopefully for Fallout 4; they’ll implement a customizable weapon system — e.g. you could take this 10mm SMG, and modify it to have a hunting rifle scope you found in some abandoned ruins on the top of it — duct tape together two magazines for faster magazine changes; and top it off with some tinkering of the internals to get a faster rate of fire. That kind of stuff. Or you could hunt radscorpions to get their poison glands to allow you to make poisoned weapons or ammunition.

9.) Rather bland NPC interactions, compared to the earlier Fallouts. Don’t get me wrong, the interaction with NPCs is still pretty awesome — it’s just that in some instances, you really do have to wonder if the developers just ran out of time to script NPC interactives.

I do think Bethesda spent a bit too much time on getting celebrity voices like Liam Neeson and Malcolm McDowell for voice acting, and demanding that every single line in the game be spoken — this no doubt took away time and money from writing and scripting a whole bunch of other content which would have fleshed out the game — e.g. people behaving differently according to what you’re wearing — the Brotherhood shouldn’t even begin to give you the time of day if you’re wearing the Mad Max Hummungus raider outfit.

10. The stupid original ending. Please; for the love of god, when you get GOTY, put in the second DVD that comes with it, and install the DLC; then activate them via FalloutLauncher.exe under the DATA button. ESPECIALLY activate Broken Steel. Your sanity will thank you.

Atmosphere Characteristics

The game pretty much nails the Fallout universe feel of being in a post-apocalyptic wasteland and the zany humor of the universe quite well; e.g:

Federalists Enraged about Food Riots
By Walter “Street Beat” Munroe
Capital Post Staff Writer

It would appear that Washington’s tolerance for American social disorder has finally reached its breaking point.

In a recent public statement, White House spokesman Warren Eccleston said:

“Okay, Americans are hungry. We get it. Well I’ve got news for you – things are tough all over, people. The President himself has been forced to substitute cube steak for his nightly prime rib, and the only wine available is a detestable Chateau Montrose 2043. But does he whine? Does he take to the streets like a rabid Red? So please, good people, please. Wait in line. Get your food. And then go home. We’re Americans! We do not solve our problems with violence.”

And of course, we can’t forget the various hilarious industrial mishaps that get referenced at the Nuka-Cola plant, and elsewhere in the game — plus various corporate hilarity:

Weapons Policy #H31

As standard policy, all employees are required to carry low-grade military-class weaponry at all times (see HR Policy#A12). In the event of a hostile takeover, your desk can be used as a makeshift barricade. Position the desk between yourself and your opponent, then crouch behind the desk while firing any weapon approved on Form B43-2.

NOTE: Cafeteria privileges will be suspended in the event of a hostile takeover.

The Art guys at Bethesda really did outdo themselves on this one — they did a pretty good job of populating about 26 square kilometers of map with random destruction — making something that’s new is easy — applying entropy to it is hard to do consistently.

However, as others have mentioned elsewhere on the internet; there seems to be a pretty large disconnect between the artistic goals in large parts of the game, and how much time has passed since the War — e.g. a lot of the place looks like it’s been about 10-25 years since the bombs fell, as opposed to 200 — e.g. there are a lot of wood frame house wrecks left over from the war, when without maintenance, a wood frame house rots and collapses into a woodpile of junk in a decade or so due to plant life, weather, etc.

Let’s not get into the fact that a lot of pre-war tech still seems to work, e.g. you have computer terminals still functioning 200 years after the last person did maintenance on them — though I can understand that design decision — a glowing terminal tends to attract people’s attention in a dark ruined building, and thus will be noticed easier than a grey holodisk — thus allowing game ‘fluff’ to be noticed more often by people.

Final Summary

I really do think that this game is going to age pretty well technically and gameplay wise — as opposed to Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault (2004) — I got that one for the low, low price of $2.00 USD at a Friends of the Library Bookstore, and even at that low price, the dumbness is too much for me to put up with playing it.

Fallout 3 on the other hand, other than some annoying tropes that pretty much are endemic to the computer RPG genere — was good enough to hold my interest through several marathon gaming sessions — it’s been a damn long time since a game grabbed me enough to make me play it this intensively.

This was a big surprise to me — I had been expecting a lot worse going in.

I guess Bethesda sort of knew that they couldn’t half-ass it most of the time, the way they did with Oblivion, because Fallout was an intellectual property that was not only wider known to the general gaming community than ‘generic fantasy RPG aka The Elder Scrolls’ — it also cost a bit more — IIRC Bethesda paid Interplay like $1.3 million for the initial rights to Fallout 3; and then later bought out all of the remaining IP rights — so they could make a shitload more games in the universe.

Categories: Classic Gaming

The Death of PC Gaming

Written by Ryan Crierie on Monday, March 8, 2010 at 4:17 am

I assume many of you in the computer gaming world have been sort of following the trainwreck that is currently Ubisoft’s latest DRM that’s been applied to both Assassin’s Creed 2 and Silent Hunter 5.

Put simply, you MUST have an active internet connection on at all times in order to play either game. If your internet connection is interrupted for any reason, you’re dumped back to the main menu, and basically lose all progress since your last save.

But wait, it gets better!

Ubi’s servers have been suffering downtime!.

Yes that’s right. Even if you bought the game, even if you have a dedicated fiberoptic line into your home, you can’t play it because Ubi’s servers broke.

As for Silent Hunter 5 itself; the word on the street is that it’s a buggy, unplayable mess.

Long-standing bugs in the series, such as the save engine being basically broken, continue forward.

Basically, if you want a reliable patrol, you have to keep in mind these rules when saving:

–when submerged.
–when within 50km of a ship.
–when within 50km of a harbour.
–When within 50km of a sunk ship.

If you save while submerged, for example in Silent Hunter 4, your ship immediately incurs damage when your saved game is reloaded. And as a bonus, any damage you’ve inflicted to a ship with a near perfect torpedo spread is instantly erased.


I’ll quote Ducimus from subsim here:

The game keeps track if basic info. Speed, heading, position, ship type, stuff its equped with, etc. It does NOT keep track of things like damage incurred, shells expended, things of that nature.

What this means, is that in SH3, Sh4, and Sh5, when you damage a ship, you MUST follow through. The damage incurred, shells it expended, etc, is only kept track of while the ship is within 30KM of your own. ( At least i think its 30KM). After a ship gets away from you, and has exceeded 30KM distance, it is no longer rendered. So all temporary information is reset. After that, the game ony keeps track of basic information again, and does not render the ship until it is within 30KM. It does this to save system resources. (consider how many convoys and single ships the game is simultaniously tracking).

So as an example, you can create a single mission where a convoy of Allied battle ships are traveling in a 60KM circular route, but passing some stationary axis battleships. As the allied task force goes by, it will incurr damage, and use its shells firing its guns. Sit there and wait for it to come back, and it will be fully restored to prestine condition because it exceeded 30KM distance. The game stopped rendering it, and when it started to render it again as it came closer, it called upon the data files for the specifications of what to render.

This is what your encountering when you reload a saved game where you know you damaged a ship. The damage is not tracked. Its temporary data not written to file. So the moral of he story is, if you damage a ship and you really want to sink it, DO so before it gets too far away from you, or before you decided to save the game and quit.

Now, I was willing to be lenient with Silent Hunter 3 having these bugs, because it was Ubisoft Romania’s first major subsim and because a major game element (dynamic campaigns) were inserted into the game at the last minute due to a concerted community push. However, they’ve had two A++ titles since then (Silent Hunter 4 and 5) to fix these bugs and problems inherent in the game engine design.

By contrast, Fallout 3: Game of the Year Edition, which I recently finished playing through last month, basically kept track of the location of each weapon, body, item, and whatnot over a massive 26km2 map, and also tracked their damage states.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the PC gaming industry is dying.

First Person Shooters, such as Halflife Episode XLVI will continue to be made, along with the endless RTS swarm. Every couple of years, an interesting non FPS/RTS game like Fallout 3 or Hitman will come out; but for the most part, it will be a desert of MMORPGs and FPSes; with none of the innovative game designs that characterized the ‘Golden Age’ of PC gaming in the 1990s; such as Master of Orion, X-COM, etc.

Wargames were the first genre to die — it used to be in the 1990s, at least one title that was stocked at Comp-USA’s PC gaming section was a wargame from SSI or someone else. Now they’re all gone from the store shelves, and kept alive only by online-only publishers like HPS Simulations, or Matrix Games.

Flight Simulators were the next. Microsoft pulled the plug on the Flight Simulator series, and inexplicably killed Train Simulator 2 when it was substantially complete. Now, only Third Wire and Laminar Research are basically left of the flight simulation industry.

Yes, I know about Rise of Flight, but that game is heavily laden with DRM.

However, the Open Source/Freeware movement has slowly been picking up some of the slack left by the implosion of the PC gaming industry.

While you won’t get RPGs which are deep and as detailed as Mass Effect 1/2 or Fallout 3, due to the limitations of free time available to those who work on these things as hobbies; a lot of gaming categories offer decent, well made software packages.

Playable Software

Liked Microsoft Space Simulator? Then get Orbiter.

Liked Microsoft Flight Simulator? Then get Flight Gear.

Liked Transport Tycoon? Then get OpenTTD.

Liked Civilization II? Then get FreeCiv.

Liked Wing Commander/Privateer? Then get Vega Strike.

Liked Freespace 1/2? Then get The Freespace 2 Source Code Project. (You will need a copy of the original discs somewhere).

Liked Panzer General/Allied General? Then get PG Forever.

Categories: Uncategorized

Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. Make him faster, stronger. We have the money. We have the technology.

Written by Bucherm on Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 5:52 pm

I'd rather give my first born to the Roma than buy a Mac

The Mark Two

My computer is dead. Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him stronger, faster, better.

There MUST NOT be a computer gap with Ryan!

  • AMD 5850 Radeon GPU
  • Cooler Master ATCS 840
  • Windows 7 Home Premium
  • Intel Core i7-860 2.8Ghz CPU
  • Asus P7P55D-E PRO MoBo
  • Antec Earthwatts 650W
  • 4 GB Patriot DDR3 RAM
  • 64 GB Patriot Torqx SSD

Salvaged from the Mark One:

  • WD 500GB HDD
  • Creative Xi-fi sound card…maybe

It’s interesting how much more juice has been pumped into consumer IT in just two years. Compared to my Mark One build here the Mark Two is truly a beast. I understand that the few parts being used from the old one make this more like moving the ship’s bell to a new vessel than a true rebuild, but in these tough economic times this is what I’m using to rationalize it.

Categories: Uncategorized

The Secret Planes of Groom Lake — or why Aurora doesn’t exist

Written by Ryan Crierie on Sunday, January 24, 2010 at 8:03 am

Since the 1980s, there have long been rumors about all sorts of secret planes and projects flying out of Groom Lake (aka Area 51, aka whatever), including the hypothetical so-called Aurora, a hypersonic spyplane successor to the SR-71 Blackbird.

And since many of you are going to ask — If Aurora exists and is operational, where are the sonic booms from the thing as it performs it’s mission, or just during check flights? Even flying at the very edge of space, a hypersonic vehicle will generate some nice sonic booms by the time it reaches the ground — just look at Shuttle landings.

With Aurora out of the way; I believe the actual truth of what goes on at Groom Lake is far more mundane and prosaic. The Boeing ‘Bird of Prey’ is probably more typical of what goes on at Groom Lake these days than hypersonic spyplanes (as attractive as that may be).

If you look at the development and production times for modern combat aircraft, such as the F-22 (conceived in the 1980s, prototype flyoff in 1992, first sort of production model plane in 1998, and squadron service in 2006ish); you’ll see that they take a very long time.

Long enough indeed that an engineer can literally spend his entire career working on a single aircraft; which can have deleterious effects on morale if that program is cancelled; such as the LHX/Comanche program for the U.S. Army.

“Gee son, this is a photo of the helicopter I worked on.”

“What’s that son? No, it never entered service, they cancelled the program.”

There are other effects from the long stretched out procurement process of today, with only one major combat aircraft program every fifteen or twenty years nowadays (first the F-22, then the F-35).

It used to be in the good old days of aerospace (1940-1970), that there was a new requirement issued almost every year (or other year) for a new aircraft program, and many of these requirements actually made it to the point where serious design work began.

I’ve personally read and studied many of the proposals from the George Spangenberger files at Archives II. George S was a key player in the Navy’s Aircraft development desk for a long period of time covering from the late 1940s to apparently the late 1960s; and as such, there is a lot of unseen information on the various proposals which were put forth by different aircraft manufacturers for each requirement.

Usually, what happened was that the Navy issued an Type Specification (OS), and the manufacturers would then submit proposals for that Type Spec. In the case of the F8U Crusader competition, which was OS-130, Chance Vought, Douglas, Grumman, Lockheed, McDonnell, North American, Northrop, and Temco all submitted serious design proposals.

Each proposal was very detailed; with a large amount of paperwork detailing just about every specific thing you could think of, from structural calculations, aerodynamic calculations, and blueprints showing the proposed internal arrangement of the proposal aircraft.

Even if that company’s proposal was not picked; the engineers for that company gained valuable design experience in detail design, which is very demanding on the engineers.

Preliminary design, of which the best examples of can be found from various startup companies, think-tanks, and student design competitions — are much less demanding. They are basically rough aerodynamic calculations from computerized wind tunnel programs, plus some guesstimates regarding the structural fraction that the plane will have, and components that are scaled off existing components.

In many cases, components are basically blank spaces — e.g. the radar for the University of AWESOME Lightweight Fighter will have a 30 inch diameter dish, weigh 200 kilograms, and have an internal volume of 1m2. There’s no consideration of how the radar will be cooled; how it will be powered, etc.

Because aircraft competitions as mentioned earlier, come only every other decade, and now that the aerospace field has been shrunk to basically three firms (Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman); it’s now become much harder for engineers to gain ‘hands on’ experience in losing design proposals than it was in past decades.

This may be the part that the “black” world at Groom Lake plays in today’s Aerospace world.

They provide actual hands-on experience (using off the shelf parts) for engineers to learn the little tricks and crafts of their trade on projects that actually do fly; and keeping them in the “black” world provides two major benefits:

1.) It keeps development costs low, via everything being done off the board out of the ‘black’ world’s slush fund – and prevents congressional interference, such as some Senator asking “Why are we spending $50 million to develop a plane that doesn’t even have a modern radar on it?”

2.) It helps induct engineers into the ‘black world’ and lets the powers that be see who can handle the secrecy of the black world, and who cannot. For example, a background check only tells you if the guy doesn’t have any major pre-existing conditions that might be used for blackmail, isn’t an agent for another government; they don’t tell you about a man’s propensity to talk to his family or neighbors about what he’s working on.

So starting them off on a relatively unimportant project is a good idea, rather than starting them out on the B-3.

EDIT: Changed wording regarding speculative/preliminary design on input from E. Tylczak; an actual rokkit scientist.
EDIT: Typo of Aurora fixed.

Categories: Aircraft