An aircraft spotter’s guide to GTA Online, part one

GTA Online

I love airplanes. I love the Grand Theft Auto series. A big reason I love the Grand Theft Auto series is its airplanes, and more specifically, the way they’re basically comic book analogues of real-world craft. GTA has always been more of an arcade game than a sim, at least when it comes to control inputs, but developer Rockstar has nonetheless done a bang-up job with what I like to call pseudo-realism.

GTA OnlineJust this week I discovered that all of GTAO’s aircraft feature working cockpit instruments! It’s one of those features that goes unnoticed if you play exclusively from a third-person perspective, but I love roaming around Los Santos as my avatar rather than as his puppeteer, so my personal immersion factor went through the roof when I hopped in a Duster and realized that my altimeter, airspeed indicator, and artificial horizon were functional!

GTA OnlineThe instruments add little in terms of gameplay, since the arcade flight model means that you’re never worried about maintaining a specific altitude, airspeed, or rate of climb so much as you’re worried about avoiding fast-approaching terrain and the looming sides of buildings.

Regardless, I love, love, love the fact that someone at Rockstar said hey guys, wouldn’t it be cool if we did this for the fun of it? It’s the sort of ballsy and feature-rich design ethos that’s largely absent from the MMORPG space in 2015, which is why I’m having so much trouble quitting the game even though I’ve finished the single-player campaign and I’m failing at turning my MMO buddies to the GTAO dark side.

Anyhow, this column was supposed to be about spotting real-world aircraft influences in GTAO. Or at least, that’s what I titled it. So let’s get back to that!

Oh and before we start on my little list here, it’s worth pointing out that a couple of the cooler flyable craft in GTA V’s single-player campaign are absent because they aren’t flyable online. I know, it sucks, but maybe Rockstar’s 747-analogue will make it into a future GTAO update.

Also, this list is for airplanes only because, hey, that’s what I like. Sorry, helicopter and blimp fans, but I don’t trust anything that’s up in the air without wings!

GTA OnlineThe Besra

Remember those black MIGs that Tom Cruise and company were jousting with in Top Gun? Well, they weren’t really MIGs; they were North American F-5s with black paint and red stars on their tails. And the F-5 seems to be the main source of inspiration for Rockstar’s Besra. It carries a single pilot and thus far I’ve not managed to find a hijackable one sitting around the game world. You can buy one off the in-game Elitas Travel website, though.

GTA OnlineThe Cuban 800

This twin-engine piston jobbie will seem familiar to you if you’ve made any headway in the single-player campaign, and it’s one of my favorites since its based on the gorgeous real-world Cessna 310. Like the Besra, it’s kinda scarce in GTAO unless you want to spend 240,000 of your hard-earned dollars on Elitas Travel.

GTA OnlineThe Duster

Rockstar’s Duster is a pretty good approximation of the real-world Stearman, albeit with a round cowling usually reserved for the 450-horsepower variants (and a goofy looking tail). Like its meatspace counterpart, the Duster holds one pilot — in the back seat for weight and balance reasons — and one passenger. Unlike its real-world counterpart, GTAO’s Duster can’t be flown by either occupant, which is a missed opportunity since it would be slick to offer a bit of dual instruction on occasion.

GTA OnlineThe Hydra

Rockstar’s Hydra is loosely based on the famous British Aerospace Harrier jumpjet, though it’s not a carbon copy. The defining vertical takeoff and landing feature is present and accounted for, and the Hydra makes for a fun change of pace that marries the speed of a jet with the maneuverability of a chopper.

I first encountered it in GTA Online’s Humane Raid EMP heist setup mission, as it carries the EMP in question and must be flown off of an aircraft carrier by one of the four players in your assault crew. You can also buy one for your personal use in GTAO if you’ve got a spare $3,000,000 lying about.

GTA OnlineThe Luxor

The Luxor is basically GTA’s answer to the venerable Learjet 45, though again it’s not an exact duplicate. It’s fast, but it also turns like a flying school bus, so I’m including it on my list of favorites mainly because it looks so pretty.

I’ve seen exactly one of them spawn in GTA Online thus far, but the good news is that there’s a cheaper version with the same sexy lines called the Shamal that’s nearly always parked on the ramp at Los Santos International. It lacks the badass black paint job, though, so you’ll have to decide if that’s worth the $1.5 million asking price on Elias.

GTA OnlineThe P-996 Lazer

As with the Hydra, my first experience with the Lazer came on that EMP heist. While my crew leader flew the Hydra off the deck of the USS Luxington carrier, I hopped in the Lazer pictured above and flew cover.

As you can see, it looks a lot like the real-world F-16, though it scraps the Fighting Falcon’s single vertical stabilizer for the double tail shown. It’s a riot to fly given its ludicrous speed and crazy roll rate. Oh, and Rockstar even threw on Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone in the background as we were making our escape.

GTA OnlineThe Velum

Unlike some of the rarer birds in this list, I’ve seen this one spawn randomly quite a few times at the Sandy Shores airfield in Blaine County. That’s great since otherwise it would’ve cost me a cool $450,000 to buy it from Elitas.

The Velum looks a lot like a real-world TBM turboprop, with a bit of Piper’s Malibu thrown in for good measure.

GTA OnlineThe Vestra

The Vestra’s an odd little duck, but one you’ll want to play with if you fancy flying through the steel and concrete canyons of downtown Los Santos. It’s tiny, but it packs a punch in terms of its powerful motors and its sensitive controls, which combine to make it ideal for tight turns and diving under bridges.

Sadly I haven’t seen a hijackable one in GTA Online, but it is one of the choices in the game’s myriad air race modes as well as buyable from — who else — Elitas Travel. It’s based on the realworld Cirrus Vision microjet.

And that’s all the time and space I have for this week’s column. Keep in mind that this isn’t a complete list of the aircraft available in GTAO. These are simply my current favorites!

Finally, here’s a quick tip that I wish someone had told me when I started collecting airplanes in the online version of GTA V: You can’t own hangars, so unlike your car collection that’s stored in the garage of whatever property you call home, your personal aircraft must be hand-delivered by Pegasus, whom you can dial up at any time on your in-game cell phone. Your bird of choice will then be waiting for you at the nearest airfield for a nominal fee of 200 in-game bucks.

Keep the blue side up!

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