Airborne is a 1996 pinball machine released by the short-lived Capcom Coin-Op pinball company. The machine was the first in almost a decade to be designed by Claude Fernandez, whose previous work included several early 80s Bally machines. The game places the player in the role of a pilot, who participates in six different international air shows, performing stunts and just showing off. This game is notable for its confusing ramp layout in the center and some difficult rules, which I intend to clear up a bit here… over 20 years since the machine first hit arcades.
- Left outlane - Not quite standard… at the bottom of the outlane, there is a diverter that can allow the ball to access a lock at certain times during game play. On the first ball of the game, the unlit lock will act as a one-time only kickback, but this function disappears as soon as either a ball is locked there or the first ball drains.
- Left inlane - Fed to by various shots on the left side of the playfield. Can be lit for Special if Ace status is achieved. Nothing can be lit through this lane, but it’s there. And it does feed the left flipper…
- Left saucer - A small saucer to the very left of the playfield, which can be made either off of a late shot from the right flipper or a lucky bounce. Balls can be locked here. This is also where lit Extra Balls are earned.
- SHOW targets - A bank of four drop targets is located directly above the left saucer. Completing these targets will light the lock at the left saucer and increment the score awarded by a shot to the saucer. If the AIR targets have been completed, completing these targets under a time limit will begin Night Flying.
- Tower orbit - This lane is located directly under the tower ramp and can be made until an orbit shot is made (either this one or the spinner lane), which will lower the entrance to the tower ramp. Shots to the orbit feed either the JET lanes to increase the bonus multipliers or can feed the back lock. If the back lock is lit, then the orbit will always be available.
- Tower ramp - This ramp can only reliably be made through the right flipper. There are two exits the ball can take when this ramp is shot. If a stunt involving the tower ramp is active, the ball will fly around the tower and feed the left flipper. Otherwise, the ball will feed the right flipper for repeated “Fly-By” shots worth increasing amounts of millions.
- Green standup target - A single target is located directly to the right of the tower ramp entrance. Hitting the target during normal play adds a letter to AIRBORNE, which will give a Mystery award when completed.
- Left yellow standup targets - Two standup targets are located in front of the tower itself. Hitting both targets will qualify the left outlane to lock a ball.
- JET lanes - Three rollover lanes located directly above the star bumpers will increase the bonus multiplier when completed. You can only access these lanes when the tower ramp is raised or through a weak shot to the spinner lane.
- Star bumpers - A standard set of three bumpers that can only be accessed when the tower ramp is lowered or by a lucky bounce. The value of the bumpers increases every 16 hits.
- The Injector - This is a unique pushing diverter located at the very top of the game, above the three jet entrances. When a ball is shot up the right ramp or plunged, pressing either flipper button will cause the diverter to send the ball into one of the three jet entrances. The entrance the ball enters is determined by how quickly you activate the Injector. At certain times, this device will be disabled. Completing all three jet entrances with the help of the injector will reward you with an upgrade. Each jet entrance also rewards increasing millions - 1 million times however many times the entrance has been shot.
- Left jet entrance - If the ball enters this area, it will feed the left flipper.
- Pilot’s seat - If the injector is timed just right, the ball will fall into the center lane and into the front of the model airplane. Balls can be locked here. Locking 2 balls here at any time will begin Dogfight Mayhem and feed the balls to the right flipper. If a game ends with a ball locked here, on default settings, the lock can be stolen by a different player the next time a ball is shot into this area.
- Right jet entrance - If the ball enters this area, it will feed the right flipper.
- Blue Angels formation - Just below the pilot’s seat is a group of six airplane inserts, and above said inserts is a complex layout of ramps and targets. There are two reverse scoop ramps (think the boat ramps in Fish Tales) with a standup target on each side of them, equaling a total of three. Making all five shots will light the center standup target to collect the formation award.
- Spinner lane - A small orbit that directs the ball towards the left flipper and lowers the tower ramp entrance if it hasn’t already been lowered. Reaching certain amounts of spinner hits will increase the Mach Speed of the jet, along with the spinner value itself.
- AIR targets - Another bank of three drop targets located in front of the spinner lane and to the left of the right ramp. Completing the targets will light the back lock if it isn’t already lit, and qualify the SHOW targets to start Night Flying.
- Right ramp - This ramp feeds the Injector area at the top of the game. If the injector isn’t used, the ball will feed the left flipper and repeated “Fly-By” shots can be scored, similarly to the tower ramp.
- Right yellow standup targets - This bank of two standup targets can be hit through lucky slingshot bounces - they’re tough to make with a direct shot. Completing the two targets will enable the right outlane diverter to send the ball back to the plunger. On default settings, the diverter is disabled either after it is used or after the ball it was enabled on ends.
- Right inlane - Just like the left inlane, it can be lit for Special upon reaching Ace status.
- Right outlane - Has a diverter that can feed back into the plunger lane.
- Slingshots - Standard. (Hey, at least something is standard on this game!)
- Plunger lane - At the start of a ball, the plunger lane will feed the injector area, where a skill shot into any of the three jet entrances can be made.
- Information grid - A ton of necessary information is displayed directly above the flippers:
- The upgrades are shown at the very left and right of the grid. In the center of the grid, the currently active country will be flashing or lit if it has been completed. Below the center of the grid is an insert that flashes if Night Flying is active, and below said insert are six more lights indicating your progress towards Ace status. Below the entire grid is a “Jet Again” light indicating whether or not an Extra Ball is available, along with the current bonus multiplier.
Plunge a ball to the top of the playfield, then use the Injector to send the ball down one of the jet entrances. The left or right entrances will award 1 or 4 million respectively, which alternate at the start of each ball. The pilot’s seat will lock a ball. Locking 2 balls in the pilot’s seat through a Skill Shot will begin Dogfight Mayhem, so technically, you could start Multiball in 2 flips on this game!
Airshows & Stunts:
Throughout the game, the player will constantly be participating in airshows across the world. The order of the airshows is the same every time. Once either all of the stunts required for an airshow have been finished or the hurry-up timer has run out, the player will automatically move onto the next country. Performing stunts will advance the player’s status from Sergeant to Ace, along with awarding some points. Each country has its own set of stunts to complete (in the specific order listed here):
- USA: Shoot the tower ramp to buzz the tower and send the ball to the left flipper. Then, complete the AIR targets.
- France: Reach Mach 1 at the spinner with enough hits. Then, complete the SHOW targets. Finally, make three fly-by shots to the left ramp.
- Germany: Complete the three center standup targets without hitting the reverse scoop ramps (otherwise, you will automatically fail the stunt). Then, shoot the tower ramp to buzz the tower and send the ball to the left flipper. Finally, complete the AIR targets.
- Britain: Hit any of the reverse scoop ramps 4 times. Then, complete both of the left yellow standup targets. Finally, make three fly-by shots to the right ramp.
- Italy: Shoot the tower ramp to buzz the tower and send the ball to the left flipper. Then, complete both sets of yellow standup targets. Afterwards, reach Mach 3 at the spinner by collecting enough hits. Finally, make a three-shot combo: left reverse scoop ramp to right ramp to spinner lane.
- Spain: Unlike the other countries, Spain’s stunts can be completed in any order. The drop targets, standup targets, and ramps can all be made once to complete a stunt. This is a good way to reach Ace status if you haven’t made the required amount of stunts, and if you’ve already passed the threshold, completing this country perfectly could give you some additional bonuses. After the stunts in this country are completed, shoot a ball into any ball lock to begin World Frenzy.
Airshow Timer: Each airshow has a certain amount of time allotted for the player to complete the assigned stunts. This will usually be around 75 seconds. The timer can be extended either by activating Night Flying (which stops the timer for as long as the mode is active) or collecting the Jet Refueling upgrade (which will add 20 seconds to the current airshow and 5 seconds to every later airshow). After completing any airshow, a bonus will be awarded dependent on the amount of time remaining.
- Hurry-Up!: Once the timer has reached 10 seconds times the number of stunts currently remaining, the rules will change a bit: making the currently lit stunt will decrease the timer to the next lowest value. For instance, if three stunts are currently available, hurry-up will be activated at 30 seconds. Making a stunt during this time will set the timer to 20 seconds, and making the next stunt will set the timer to 10 seconds.
Night Flying: Completing the AIR targets at any time during normal play qualifies the SHOW targets to start Night Flying the next time they’re completed. Night Flying is a 30 second timed mode that interrupts the timer for the current country and lights all shots for 500,000 points each. Starting Night Flying early on, and then going exclusively for stunts can be a great way to maximize the timer bonus for completing a set of stunts. The mode becomes tougher the more times it is activated, as the SHOW targets are on a timer and after a certain amount of time has passed, you will have to complete the AIR targets to requalify them.
Upgrades: Completing all three of the jet entrances will collect an upgrade for your jet. These upgrades are awarded in a specific order and remain intact for the entire game (with the exception of two of them).
- Copilot - This upgrade gives you a secondary pilot who will guide you to certain stunts lit on the playfield by calling out which shots to make. The copilot becomes active after the first stunt in any country is made. When the ball lands in a lock and the copilot is active, the game will allow you to make a choice on whether or not to keep or eject the copilot. There’s no real award for doing either but the animation for ejecting the copilot is hilarious, it’s definitely worth seeing at least once.
- Jet Refueling - This upgrade adds 20 seconds to the current airshow and adds an additional 5 seconds to future airshows, turning the 75 second timer into an 80 second timer.
- Targeting Capabilities - This upgrade starts a timed hurry-up mode that interrupts and freezes the timers of every other feature currently active. Random shots on the playfield will light up one at a time for big points (7 million + 1 million increment). The first shot is lit for a total of 20 seconds and the shots afterwards are lit for two seconds less. The mode ends and normal play resumes when a shot isn’t made under the time limit.
- Engine Upgrade - This upgrade multiplies the Mach Spinner values by 3, meaning the spinner can go up to 1.5 million for a single spin.
Bonus Multipliers: Completing the JET rollover lanes advances the bonus multipliers up to a maximum of 10x. For whatever reason the multipliers don’t go in order on this game, 4x, 6x, and 9x are skipped due to there only being three inserts. The bonus multiplier is displayed above the flippers.
Airborne Mystery: Hitting the green standup target at any time during single ball play will collect letters in “AIRBORNE”. Completing the word will give the player a random Mystery award (with a cool animation to go along with it!). Some Mystery awards include:
- Points (12 million, 20 million, etc.)
- Collect Upgrade (the next one available)
- Spot Stunt
- Start Night Flying
- Light Extra Ball
- Light Special
Formation Awards: Completing the Blue Angels formation at the center of the playfield will light the center standup target to collect an award that becomes more valuable for every formation completed. These awards are, in order:
- 7 million
- 13 million
- 19 million & Light Extra Ball
- Light Special
Left Scoop Awards: Completing the SHOW drop targets will increment the award given to the player by the left scoop. Once an award is collected, it will reset until the drop targets are completed to increment it again. These awards are, in order:
- 800,000 (default award)
- 1.5 million
- 2.5 million
- 5 million & Light Extra Ball
Mach Spinner: Shooting the spinner enough times will increase the Mach Speed of the jet and increase the spinner value from 200k (Mach 1) to 350k (Mach 2) to 500k (Mach 3). Reaching certain levels of Mach Speeds is also required as a stunt at certain points in the game. If the Engine Upgrade has been collected, the spinner values will be multiplied by 3, meaning you could obtain 1.5 million from a single spin!
Fly-Bys: Shooting the tower ramp or right ramp when it isn’t lit for a stunt (or, in the case of the right ramp, if the injector isn’t used) will qualify the ramp for successive Fly-By shots. These shots start out at 3 million and increase by 1 million per shot, up to a maximum of 6 million. The player who collects the highest amount of successive Fly-Bys is recognized by the game as the “Fly-By King” and can enter his or her initials at the end of the game.
Multiball Modes: There are two Multiball rounds that can be activated in Airborne. Both of these are separate from each other and can’t be stacked. Airshows will still be active during Multiball rounds.
- Dogfight Mayhem: This 2-ball Multiball is started upon locking two balls in the pilot’s seat. At the start of Dogfight Mayhem, the balls will be sent towards the right flipper and the player will be tasked with having to shoot each reverse scoop ramp three times to kill opposing pilots (don’t worry, it’s a simulation!) Each ramp shot scores a Jackpot worth 1.5 million. After either pilot has been killed, the ramp shot corresponding to the pilot will be worth 4 million points until Dogfight Mayhem ends, making this a very valuable round if you can repeatedly shoot either ramp. The mode ends when a ball drains. (Check out the rather amusing animation and sound for “losing” Dogfight Mayhem.)
- Air Frenzy: This 3-ball Multiball is started when 3 balls are locked in any of the locks around the playfield. Once the balls are locked, Air Frenzy will begin (with a really good buildup!) and the balls will be ejected. The goal of Air Frenzy is to collect four Jackpots at different shots, each one tougher than the last, while keeping 3 balls in play. These Jackpots are lit in order at the tower orbit (4 million), right reverse scoop ramp (5 million), left reverse scoop ramp (6 million), and lastly, the right ramp for a Super Jackpot (10 million). If three balls are in play, the Jackpot values will be doubled! The mode ends when the player returns to single-ball play.
World Frenzy: World Frenzy is the wizard mode of this table, which lights after finishing off the stunts in Spain. Shooting a ball into any of the locks on the playfield will start the mode and award you a payoff for each time Ace status was reached. These payoffs are:
- 1st Ace (6 stunts) - Light Extra Ball
- 2nd Ace (12 stunts) - Award Extra Ball
- 3rd Ace (18 stunts) - Light 1 Special
- 4th Ace (24 stunts) - Light 2 Specials
- 5th Ace+ (30 stunts) - 30 million
After the payoffs have been awarded, a 4-ball Multiball will begin with Jackpots lit on the ramps. A shot to the tower ramp will score a 5 million Jackpot, while a shot to the right ramp that goes all the way around to the left flipper will score a 15 million Jackpot. A weak shot to the right ramp that falls into one of the jet entrances will score a 10 million Jackpot. This Multiball has a long ball saver at the start. The mode ends once the player returns to single ball play; then, the player can return to completing sets of stunts in hopes of reaching World Frenzy again.
End of Ball Bonus: Bonus is calculated using several statistics:
- Base Bonus (100k no matter what)
- Drop Bonus (200k for each set of drop targets completed this ball)
- Fly-By Bonus (350k per Fly-By collected this ball)
- Stunt Bonus (200k per completed stunt this ball)
- Jet Speed Bonus (1k times the current speed of the jet)
all multiplied by the current bonus multiplier. If the bonus multiplier is high enough on a good ball, the bonus can be huge on this game!
- Always try and play for Air Frenzy. Dogfight Mayhem is easy to start but has far less potential points wise unless you’re good at shooting the reverse scoop ramps.
- Start Night Flying if you’re faced with a difficult stunt, like the combo stunt or Mach 3 stunt in Italy. This will freeze the timer and make it easier to collect a large payoff by completing the required stunts.
- It’s safe to ignore the Formation Awards, the three standup targets are dangerously close to the center drain.
- ALWAYS eject the copilot!