"Aviator" - a flight sim program for Sun GX - does anyone have this installed? Can anyone run it and get screenshots or video?


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Sep 20, 2022

In 1989, two Sun employees (Bruce Factor and Curtis Priem) released the first version of a flight sim program called "Aviator" for Sun GX workstations. It was intended as a "tech demo game", showing off the capabilities of the GX hardware.

By 1991, the program had reached version 1.5, and Factor and Priem had formed a company ("Artificial Horizons Inc.") to market it. Earlier versions (up to and including v1.2) had been free, and could be obtained informally just by asking a Sun representative about them, but this was no longer the case. I think licenses started out at $150 per user. A demo version could still be downloaded for free, but this would only allow 60 seconds of play at a time.

Incidentally, someone has uploaded their copies of 1.2 and the 1.5.1 demo to http://bitsavers.org/bits/Sun/aviator/ .

Available planes at one point were the FA-18, X-29 and Boeing 727, although (if I understand the v1.2 readme correctly) the Batwing was planned to appear in a future version. I very much doubt that it actually did, copyright law being what it is. However, it was possible to construct new aircraft models, and perhaps new models for rockets/missiles. The below quote is from https://groups.google.com/g/comp.sys.sgi.misc/c/DKVVMEgO-0g/m/X4vjteZBMBYJ - I don't know if the "shuttle" it refers to is the Space Shuttle or a Star Trek shuttlecraft, though:

You can build your own craft. There is floating round klein bottles, shuttles etc.
I have also shot radar guided 727's from the wings of my FA18 (looks a little
Terrain data was taken from the Defense Mapping Agency/U.S. Geological Survey/Landsat, and included a 3D model of the Grand Canyon.

I don't think Aviator was ever ported to run on Sun hardware without a GX. By 1998, though, I think AHI were focusing on Windows NT, and their product had become "AVDS":

"The Aviator Visual Design Simulator (AVDS) is a set of PC-based flight
simulator and visualization tools designed to be used by engineers, students,
educators, and other researchers interested in aerospace research and
This was still the case up to 2006, and I think another company - or the same one under a different name - still sells the AVDS.

In case the name seemed familiar, Curtis Priem was also one of the co-founders of Nvidia. He did try to convert Aviator to run on Nvidia hardware, but apparently had to limit how low the plane could fly in this version. Apparently there was a bug resulting from Nvidia's use of quadrilaterals and perspective calculations that would cause the ground to "swell up and hit you" if you went any lower!

My request:

I've been doing research for a while, trying to answer this question on Stack Exchange:

Now, I believe that a modded version of SGI's own flight sim, or a video thereof, is the most likely answer. But Aviator is also a strong contender. It had the requisite canyon scenery, was released at the right time, had support for networked dogfights, and - most of all - the means to construct a model of a Klingon Bird-of-Prey to use as an in-game plane certainly existed!

I'd really like to get screenshots and/or video footage of the fighter planes flying through the Grand Canyon in the game, as these would help the person who posted the question to verify whether it was the one. However, I can't find any online, and I also don't have Sun hardware to run this on.

Could someone please run a version of Aviator on GX Sun hardware like a SPARCstation, and take some screenshots or post some footage to Youtube? I will be eternally grateful if anyone does!


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