Written by emo, published March 4th, 2011. 1 comment(s).
Flight 2000 renovation, a sci-fi adventure!
Google’s rec.pinball groups has some big Flight 2000 (F2) fans who rate it as one of Stern’s best games and one who even rates it as his all time favourite game. This general enthusiasm seems backed up by its good sales figures in 1980 and with 6300 made it was sterns 2nd best seller of all time. Pinball was changing rabidly in 1980 and the hit of the year was Williams Firepower which no doubt raised the bar for Stern and the other manufactures. Stern reacted by stretching the current technology to its limits with F2. It is a widebody, was one of the first talking machines, one of the first solid state games with multiball, it had complex rules for its time, a beautiful ball locking mechanism, great art work, an original playfield layout and it was designed by Harry Williams.
Finding Flight 2000 took some work considering that there were 6,300 of them made but eventually a friend sold me one that he’d had for a while with the intention of doing up. The game suffered from the usual bad backglass problems and the big nine drop target assembly was missing. The glass was so bad that it was of no use. This meant that F2 sat in my garage until it got in the way and it was then moved to a friends while I searched for a glass and drop assembly.
I put out pleas for help on various sites for parts but no answer came until I had a reply from Europe and was told that a seller had both a glass and the target assembly at a reasonable price. The glass had some damage but was better than mine so I got them. Once back I decided that the glass really did need quite a bit of work before I would be happy with it so I decided to coat the back with one of the plasticote products that I had seen recommended on various sites. The idea is to coat and stabilize the back of the glass and then this gives a good base on which to re-touch the paintwork. I had done this before with my Paragon without any problems but with F2 it went horribly wrong!
I made sure that I selected the correct product and prepared well. I then applied the spray as I had with Paragon and it all seemed to go well but when I looked carefully at the glass front there appeared to be some staining in places. Still it was stable or so I thought, wrong! Over the next few weeks I had to watch ever widening cracks spread out across the backglass. In retrospect I think this was because the paintwork had become porous and rather than being coated by the product it absorbed it.
Months passed with no joy in my backglass search and I had high hopes of finding something at the Pinball Paradise pinball auction. Although there were a couple of Flight 2000’s there they either went for too much money or had poor glasses so I drew a blank. I visited the auction site a couple of weeks later as I had heard that a few games were still either unsold or uncollected. Amongst these was a very sorry Flight 2000. There were no keys to look inside and the playfield had a massive patch of bare wood in the centre but the backglass was OK. It had quite a bit of damage around the edges but I judged that this was repairable so I headed home poorer but with a Flight 2000 in the car.
The 1st F2 had been stored in a friend’s outhouse and it had the best playfield and cabinet of the two so I began cleaning it up. In the past it had been kept somewhere damp and I was alarmed to find that a mould had once again started to form on the playfield so the first task was major clean. There was a pile of bird poo in the body of the machine-this was easily removed by putting one hand in a poly bag and scooping out the jobbies, while holding my nose with the other hand-yuk. Never mind after a couple of hours and a disinfectant spray I was pleased with the result. I then chatted to the chap who had been storing it for me. “Is it all right?” he asked “its just we have a big problem with rats”. At his point I felt most unclean and needed to go and scrub up again!
The 2nd game had no keys and was stashed in another friends garage (we all need friends). This one was disassembled unceremoniously for spares. I was then able to set up a complete F2 at home in my garage.
The boards were a mess. The MPU had corrosion due to battery leakage and the power board had overheated so these were both sent off and fixed. The MPU had a capacitor fitted to replace the battery and ensure it never again encountered similar problems. I had to replace a few wires due to rat damage and the wiring loom as it had been cut.
This seems a good time for a rant! To dismantle Sterns you open the coin door and remove the connections from the power board and pull the wires up into the head, which can then be removed. With Bally’s it is the opposite i.e. you remove the connections from the boards in the head and drop the wiring into the body. I reckon that what happens with Sterns is that people start removing the connections in the head (as per Bally) and find its taking to long so they just cut through the wires-grrrr most annoying.
Anyway, I then checked that all the mechanical components moved freely and switched it on. This didn’t actually make that much difference as only a few bulbs working but at least it did make a few encouraging noises.
I had lots of spares and it was just as well as due to the damp storage and rusty condition of components I needed them. The upper playfield was a straight forward cleaning and re-rubbering operation with a few plastic repairs and a paint touch up here and there. The underside of the playfield was more like hard work. I had to change most of the bulb holders due to corrosion plus various other parts such as end of stroke switches and coil plungers. The flippers received a total rebuild, as did one the pop bumpers and the replacement drop target assembly slotted into place nicely. All that remained was to install 3 new balls and switch it on. The result was most satisfying as bulbs twinkled and after a bit of fiddling I was able to get a game.
The game didn’t impress that much on first play, as it was pretty slow but this was because one of the slingshots wasn’t working which was easily sorted. Then I gave the game a bit more slope and this improved things no end.
25 years on Sterns sometimes encounter problems with the speech chip and F2 didn’t even squeak but luckily I had a spare voice board with a chip. I checking the MPU board settings were set up so that it could speak a quick swap rectified things. The drop targets however proved a real pain. My limited electrical knowledge really showed here so my thanks to Ray for the advice. I spent hours or maybe days; trying to fix what I perceived was a mechanical problem and actually turned out to be electrical. The lamp driver board also powers the drop targets and this proved to be the problem. This was again fixed with a board swap. The remaining work on F2 was mainly cosmetic. I re-sprayed the damaged edges of the cabinet and manually touched up the backglass.
At last I was happy that I could now full fill my aim of playing what is reputably one of the best of the early 80’s talking machines.
Playing the game
The rules are easy to understand-spell “BLAST OFF” by hitting all 8 rollovers, lock two balls, countdown the drop targets by hitting the 5-4-3-2-1 in the right order, lock the 3rd ball to start multiball and the chance to get big scores. All simple enough but if the game is set up correctly it should be a challenge to get there.
As one of the first talkers the sounds warrant a special mention. F2 talks in a basic synthesized speech that goes well with its space theme. It tells you when you have spelled “Blast” and “off” by saying the appropriate word, announces locked balls as “1st stage complete”, “2nd stage complete, all stages complete” and counts down from 5 as you hit the appropriate drop targets, then finally it announces “Blast off” for Multiball. During “Blast Off” you get some great authentic sounds that anyone who recalls the early space missions on TV will remember. As each of the 3 balls is launched into play the sounds change as if parts of the rocket are being jettisoned and after burners were kicking in. This is outstanding good for a game of this age. During the main game hitting switches triggers spacey sounds. The lack of significant background sound is slightly disappointing but F2 has the usual big booming bonus count at the end of a good game that is a great feature on many Stern games of that period.
F2 didn’t impress me on first play. It doesn’t flow like some of the other sterns from the period. The ball can spend quite a while bouncing around the playfield before returning to the flippers so I couldn’t see the attraction at first. That’s because it is a nudging game. The double in lanes, the absence of lane changing and a centre post between the flippers ensures that your nudging skills are continually in use so it wasn’t long before I caught on and got into the game.
Mechanically the game is well designed and has a very nice ball locking and firing mechanism, which is commonly known as “the ball walker”. This device sorts the 3 balls into columns before firing them into play and works superbly.
There are some really satisfying shots in the game, including long shots into both top corners, raking spinner shots and a very unusual shot from the very end of one flipper up the opposing in-lane to pick up a rollover letter. F2 is a true landmark game. It combines the best features of the time, such as drop targets, speech and multiball, with the traditional nudging skills of older games.
Flight 2000 was the last big commercial success for SEI and it still looks and plays like the pedigree game that it is. It has plenty of depth, some really satisfying shots and lots of nudging. Like Big Game, its predecessor, the playfield is well designed and proves that “wide doesn’t have to mean slow” and in comparison you see a big progression in only a few months, with the addition of features such as multiball and speech.
There is a saying “to copy is the greatest form of flattery” and F2’s ball locking mechanism was copied on later games like Pinstar’s Gametron and Bally’s Transporter.
If you like early 80’s games then Flight 2000 is easy to understand, well designed and still well worth playing or owning-if you can find one. Unfortunately my F2 will have to go to make space for the next game but it’s been fun while it lasted and I’ll still have my Lightning to play if I have an attack of Stern Fever.
Eddie Mole Aug 2005-08-27