Lawrence T. Russell
Shelter from the Norm
Most military helicopters have all the subtlety of a city bus. They're big,
they're loud, and so they normally attract a lot of attention. Boeing
Sikorsky's RAH-66 Comanche is different. Besides being the Army's most
technologically advanced rotary aircraft, the Comanche is designed to survive
on the modern battlefield thanks to its low-observable (LO) stealth
Comanche 3 is NovaLogic's newest helicopter simulation. Its five campaigns
(referred to in the game as operations) feature a diverse mix of fast paced
combat missions. Players will find themselves performing everything from long
range surgical airstrikes to defensive combat air patrols. There are advancing
enemy tank columns to halt, submarines to hunt down and sink, trains to
de-rail, even nuclear reactors and chemical warfare plants to destroy. But
what really sets this simulation apart is its emphasis on the importance of
In this respect Comanche 3 is shelter from the norm. It's one simulation that
provides you with a change from all the cookie-cutter flight simulations that
flood the marketplace these days. This game uses no linear detection equations
or artificial radii with pre-set thresholds. All detection routines are
handled dynamically. As a pilot, you can't look at a given situation and think
to yourself "everything will be okay if I stay this far away from the enemy."
If only it were that simple...
Comanche 3 manipulates an enormous amount of data just to determine whether
you've been spotted so it's easy to get lost trying to keep track of it all.
Fortunately, a lot of what you need to remember is all common sense. But
before we get into all the ways you can maximize your stealthiness, let's
first take a look at how this simulation handles detection. Knowing how things
work ahead of time will make it easier for you to figure out ways to beat the
system later on.
There are two basic means of detection in the Comanche 3 "world": general
visibility and radar. All military objects (such as AAA guns, radar towers,
tanks, APCs, aircraft, etc.) are surrounded by a general zone of visibility.
Each zone is unique to that object and is based upon the object's capacity to
hear and see things going on around it. The size and shape of the zone depends
entirely upon the object doing the viewing. A naval vessel like the Nanuchka,
for example, has a much larger zone of visibility than a tank crew buttoned up
inside a T-80. What's more, the Nanuchka has a zone which fans out 360 whereas
a tank crew is limited to looking straight ahead through vision slits in the
This general zone of visibility is based primarily on sight but it takes into
account thermal and audio detection also. Objects have the ability to detect
other objects based on the amount of noise they make. Loud objects like tank
engines or helicopter rotors can be heard from a long way away. Even at night
when vision-based detection is degraded, objects equipped with thermal imagers
can see just fine, thank you... and of course, sound travels just as far at
night as it does during the day.
The second means of detection is based upon radar. Modern combat revolves
around the use of radar. Once spotted by radar, the enemy knows how high
you're flying and how fast you're going. They can tell the direction you're
heading and can guess where you came from. A good radar set can even tell what
make and model aircraft you happen to be driving.
Getting picked up on radar is like stepping on the proverbial third rail. It's
only a matter of time until something nasty shows up in your vicinity.
Luckily, not every object in Comanche 3 is equipped with its own radar. Fixed
wing enemy aircraft all have radar but ground vehicles, unless they are air
defense vehicles, typically will not. Naval vessels, on the other hand have
very powerful radar. You will want to stay away from them whenever possible.
Finally, important high-dollar targets like air bases or industrial complexes
will either have a radar installation nearby or will be defended by a radar
Between these two zones of detection you'd think that much of the map is
covered, but it isn't. There are some real gaps in the air defense- gaps large
enough to drive a truck through. Your job is easier, however. You don't need
to drive a truck; you only need to fly a Comanche through it. Here's how to do
Your Comanche is built to deflect radar waves rather than reflect them. Its
smooth external lines cause radar waves to flow around its fuselage instead of
catching on something and bouncing off. Things like exposing your bay doors or
leaving your landing gear down only serve to break up the Comanche's smooth
appearance and make it more vulnerable to detection. In fact, your helicopter
is almost twice as likely to be spotted on radar when your bay doors are open
so keep them closed. Having your landing gear extended does not have quite the
same impact, but it still has an affect.
Most of the radars in Comanche 3 happen to be of the pulse-Doppler variety.
These radars detect movement much easier when it is moving at a 90 angle in
relation to the direct of their beam. Crossing targets are easier to spot than
those approaching head-on so you're somewhat less likely to be detected when
traveling directly to or from the radar emitter itself. Always try to fly
directly toward or away from these radars where possible.
One last thing to keep in mind about radar is that it works according to
direct line-of-sight. In other words, it ain't Superman. It can't see through
mountains or around corners. Therefore, if you can keep solid terrain features
between you and the radar, it won't detect you. This technique of flying low
to avoid enemy radar is called flying "Nap of the Earth (NOE)." You'll be
doing a lot of this when flying the Comanche so get used to it.
Basically, if you're flying more than 50 feet off the ground you're screwing
up. Stay low and hug the terrain like a long lost relative. It may take you
longer to get where you're going, but that's okay. These missions are not foot
races so take your time. Keeping low breaks up a radar's line-of-sight. It
also lets you lose yourself in ground clutter and false echoes.
Staying low also helps minimize the chances of being spotted visually. Believe
it or not, this simulation takes flying in shadows into account- even during
the daytime. It actually reduces the chance an enemy object will detect you if
you are in a shadow as seen from the enemy's perspective. By the same token,
if you are back-lit by open sky, the enemy has a much easier time spotting
Enemy units are notorious gossips as well. They can't wait to tell their
comrades that they've spotted a Comanche in the neighborhood. Once an enemy
unit detects you, figure on everyone getting the message sooner, rather than
later. Of course, this can work in your favor also. Get the enemy's attention
focused on looking for you in one area, then move. Strike suddenly in one
spot, disappear, then strike again somewhere else. This is the Comanche way.
Here's one final little tip to keep in mind. The saying "There's safety in
numbers" doesn't apply here. When flying a Comanche, you're much safer on your
own. Consider this fact the next time you're blissfully flying along
accompanied by an "escort" of AH-64 Apaches; the enemy may not be able to hear
your super stealthy Comanche but they can damn sure hear those Apaches coming!
Once the enemy starts looking in their direction it won't be long before their
attention is drawn to you.
Flying a Comanche for a living is a dangerous profession but then again, so is
driving a cab in New York. If you'd rather go "tank-plinkin'" then worry about
picking up fares, just follow the common sense rules laid out for you in this
article. You'll do wonders for your chances of reaching retirement.
Fly low, fly slow, and try to keep something between you and the bad guys.
Oh... and whatever you do, keep those bay doors shut. It is often said the
Comanche has a radar cross-section the size of a postage stamp. A moment's
inattentiveness can turn this postage stamp into something akin to the
broadside of a barn. Good luck and good hunting.
Lawrence T. Russell