When we last left off, my plane was upside down somewhere in a French field. Luckily for me, the plane sustained all of the damage, leaving the rather less robust Sergeant Sparrow shaken but still in one piece. Unluckily for me, however, the plane needed to undergo repairs. Or rather it was left to grow moss behind the German lines, since I wasn’t paying attention to which side of the trenches I was crashing on, and a requisition form needed to be filled out to acquire a new one. Even less luckily than getting your foot stuck in the British Army’s bureaucracy, Captain Edgar Booth had also bought the proverbial farm.
With two wrecked planes and one wrecked pilot mangled somewhere within the wreckage, 56 Squadron isn’t doing particularly well. What is supposed to be an elite squadron full of experienced pilots flying experimental aeroplanes seems to be losing both rather quickly.
In order to add a bit of shine to the squadron’s record, the commander schedules a balloon attack. What this involves is picking on the various observation balloons the enemy has deployed over their side of the trenches with the intention of surveying the battlefield. We’ll fly in, pop a few holes in some balloons, have a jolly good laugh as they sink majestically back to land and… BLOODY HELL!
Who thought it was a good idea to use hydrogen as a lifting gas? I escape the fireball by the hair of my eyebrows (or lack thereof) and pull away quickly as the German anti-aircraft gunners take offence to having a flaming balloon dumped on their heads. Still, there’s cause for celebration as this marks my first confirmed kill! Or first confirmed horrifying explosion, anyway. Leaving my squad mates to discover the rest of the balloons’ inflammable nature for themselves, I duck out of the fight and make my first attempt at actually landing my plane safely back at the airfield.
I’m sure I’ll get it one of these days. Combat operations aren’t over, however, and after bolting on a spare propellor, unbending the wings and kicking it a bit to make sure, I’m back in the sky for escort duty. With some squad mates, I’ll be protecting a couple of recon planes as they make a sweep over the front lines, rather mirroring the enemy’s actions from the other day. Hopefully the enemy are also about as competent as I was.
The reconnaissance planes in this case are a couple of Airco DH.4s, a plane that was originally designed as a day-bomber. Flown by 55 Squadron, it comes with a swivelling Lewis Gun for protection, a Vickers Machine-Gun on the front and can carry roughly 200 kilograms of bombs. Or in this case a camera to take pictures of jerry.
Pottering around as the DH.4s take photographs, I’m absolutely chuffed at how much better my formation flying seems to be getting, at least until we hit some rather dense cloud cover.
I swerve around wildly, attempting to avoid a collision with my wingman in barely 50 metres of visibility. Thankfully my squadron seems to have taken extra lessons in crash avoidance, and we exit the cloud without so much as a bruised elbow. What we exit into, however, is a squadron of enemy planes. From up in the clouds we hold a decent advantage in altitude, one of the S.E.5a’s particular strengths. I dive into combat with the closest enemy plane.
I snap off a few wide shots before, as you’ll have guessed, my guns jam. I pass over the German as he swerves out of my angle of attack. I consider a variety of options including throwing the machine gun at him, moving in close and using it as a club, using my plane as a club, sobbing in frustration and various other extremely productive courses of action before I decide to just reload and come around for another go.
This time my guns don’t jam and I score a lucky hit on his engine block. The propellor sputters, dies and he begins gliding to the ground. Rather impressed I managed to take down an enemy aircraft without actually killing or horribly burning anybody this time, I follow him down. Considering all the many ways I can lord my victory over my erstwhile foe, wondering what kind of rations the hun eats, and whether or not friendship can bloom on the battlefield, I almost miss the fact his aircraft seems to be headed right for a bunch of trees. I desperately waggle my wings in an attempt to gain his attention, but he’s either not a student of frantic aeroplane sign-language, or my assault has rendered him unconscious. The German ploughs into the trees.
Wincing a bit, I fly over the crash site. I can’t see my enemy, meaning he either fell out of the aircraft as it crashed, or he’s twisted up somewhere in the wreckage. Either way, my second confirmed kill isn’t particularly jolly. War’s a bit melancholy, don’t you know! I take one last look at the smoking ruin of my enemy’s plane before turning and heading for home. Altogether the squadron downs two enemy planes.
Receiving a proper baptism of fire this time (rather than a baptism of engine fluid), I’m on my way to becoming an ace. Making a name for myself in the squadron, I should be considered for more important missions, and eventually I’ll even be able to choose my plane’s paint scheme.
Next time I’ll be going on my first solo reconnaissance mission. What could possibly go wrong?