F-Sim Shuttle, a Space Shuttle landing simulator, is not a new app; I enjoyed playing it on my iPad
when the Shuttles were still flying. But it’s one to which I keep returning, even now that Atlantis, Discovery, Endeavour, and Enterprise have become museum pieces. That’s because it remains a fun and entertaining challenge, one that I have yet to fully master.
The mission is simple: You’re in the Shuttle’s cockpit at the controls, on landing approach to either the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) or Edwards Air Force Base, and it’s your job to guide the craft in for a safe landing. After all, your life and the lives of your crew (not to mention the fate of a valuable spacecraft) are at stake.
The same app works with the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch; I tested it on the iPad (an iPad 2 to be exact) because of its larger size and more generous screen area. The only control that you actually use is your device’s accelerometer. By tilting the screen, you try to keep the Shuttle on track (known as the outer glide path), by aligning your path (the “velocity vector”, shown as crosshairs) with a guidance icon (a tiny diamond) in the heads-up display. When you get low enough, the display changes, and eventually you “have to pull back on the stick” to perform a flare maneuver in preparation for landing, re-aligning with a second set of guides.
By clicking on the New Flight button at the top of the screen, you can choose between Final or Full approach; in Final approach you’re quickly descending on a steep but straight glide path towards the runway, while in Full approach you have to execute a turn before plunging into the steep final glide path. The Final approach takes about 1 minute 20 seconds from start to touchdown, while the Full approach about 3 minutes 40 seconds. In either case, you have the guidance icon as well as a corridor of virtual rectangles along the flight path to align with. Other data on the display, though when the shuttle descends to 4,000 feet the screen is “decluttered,” leaving just the guidance icons, altitude, and airspeed.
Once the flight is over, you can click on the Landing Analysis tab to view data about the flight, including vertical speed, airspeed, and groundspeed at main gear touchdown, how close you are to the touchdown zone and the runway’s centerline, gentleness of nose-gear touchdown, precision of approach/glide slope, and maximum weight on wheels. Safe results are highlighted in green, so-so ones in yellow, dangerous ones in orange, and disastrous ones in red. The Statistic tab keeps track of your flights, and how many were were perfect landings, good landings, safe landings (all considered successful landings), hard landings, crash-landings, crashes, and bailouts. If you go up against other people using Apple’s Game Center, their scores (up to 4) will display as well; tabs for leaderboards and achievements also show multi-player data.
If you click on New Flight, you can set the parameters: final or full approach; KSC or Edwards; the runway approach direction; day or night; clear or overcast; and control visibility, wind speed, turbulence, temperature, and pressure. You can also randomize the settings. For a new flight, you just click the green Start Flight arrow.
The Settings tab lets you set the Controls (iPad as well as autopilot settings), View, and Audio.
Flight Manuals Care of NASA
The Help section instructs you on how to steer the iPad, an introduction to the heads-up display, some tips on performing a successful landing, and presents an FAQ. A tutorial with a demo takes you through a perfect landing so you can see the Shuttle’s alignment in relation to the guides. The rest of the Help section, provided purely as background for the interested reader, consists of sections from NASA’s own Space Shuttle operations manual and other documents.
The real Space Shuttle is no longer flying, but you can try your hand in landing a virtual spaceship. It’s quick, fun, challenging, and addictive. If the app has a fault, it’s its single-minded focus. Unlike a conventional flight simulator, which gives you many more flight options, F-Sim Shuttle prepares you for a single mission. Some may tire of its repetition, as it’s a one-trick pony, but at least you get to vary the airstrip, time of day, cloud cover, and other parameters. And if mastering the landing of a spacecraft (even one that’s now out of service) appeals to you, this app should provide you with hours of challenging entertainment, one short flight at a time.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc