Let’s Crash in Rise of Flight, Part Four

Hello, everyone. You may notice something a bit different about today’s adventure.

I got a haircut!
I got a haircut!

That’s right, we’re flying a different plane! This is the Sopwith Triplane. Triplanes are a unique feature of aerial battles in the First World War. They look a bit ridiculous at first, but they come with a few neat advantages. Strapping three wings onto your aircraft instead of two has the effect of increasing the rate at which you can climb, as well as allowing tighter turning. This should make those hectic dogfights a little more exciting, assuming I don’t get a little too ambitious and tear the plane apart. This particular model is the Sopwith Triplane in service with the Royal Navy’s 10 Squadron.

Getting to fly this beauty wasn’t the only reason for my transfer, however. That impulse was particularly driven by the increasing danger to life and limb I experienced while flying with 56 Squadron. That danger wasn’t just due to the well-practiced capacity I had for creative landing procedures, nor was it the increasingly treacherous missions I was being sent on in penance for my ingenious aircraft remodeling. No, the biggest danger was the trigger-happy tendencies of my allies combined with what I could only assume was an extremely lax standard in friend or foe identification.

Not the face, not the face!!
Not the face, not the face!!

The hail of lead from every direction, ally and adversary, landed me in the hospital not once, but twice.

I'm not sure if that's engine fluid... or brain matter.
I’m not sure if that’s engine fluid… or brain matter.

Honestly, it started to get a bit old, and when I was awarded with the Military Cross for my sterling effort at being shot at mercilessly by every pilot and his dog, I began to think command was taking the piss. I submitted my transfer papers and hoped that wherever I ended up, I’d be flying something a bit more distinctively friendly in the company of other fliers who weren’t criminally insane.

Drive faster, I think I see the squadron commander wielding a cricket bat.
Drive faster, I think I see the squadron commander wielding a cricket bat.

And that’s how I ended up with 10 Squadron. So far I haven’t been shot at by a friendly pilot once. The Triplane is brilliant to fly, the tighter turning is especially useful in catching those cunning jerry pilots, and after a couple of missions I even get to pick out a custom paint job. I opt for a nice blue trim, just to make extra sure I’m not mistaken for the bosch, and I fix another gun to the front as well, hoping that the extra firepower makes up for the increased ammunition consumption.

Flying in style.
Flying in style.

I’m raring to go and bring the fight all the way to Berlin, so I’m a bit disappointed when I keep getting assigned to escort patrols and balloon attack missions. I’m itching for some action.

Action doesn’t take long to arrive, however, because I’m soon rostered onto an offensive patrol over jerry’s side of the front. Here I encounter my first enemy fighter pilot since I joined up with the 10th. He’s flying an Albatros D.V, a relatively new German plane that entered service in May of 1917. He begins to evade me, but with my new plane’s increased manoeuvrability, I quickly end up on his tail and give him both barrels of my twin Vickers.

Deutschland uber this, pew pew!
Deutschland uber this, pew pew!

My rounds tear through canvas, ripping gaping holes in his wings as a rather distressing amount of smoke begins to disgorge from his engine. Jerry holds steady, keeping his plane under control with some expert flying. Impressed but not deterred, I follow him, firing burst after burst of machine-gun fire into his tail, trying to force him down. Eventually he loses it. His wounded craft begins to spiral down to earth. He gives one last valiant attempt to flatten out his trajectory before impacting the dirt with a terrifying bang.

Ouch.
Ouch.

He won’t be goosestepping away from that one. Feeling the adrenaline coursing through my veins and the weight of the remaining ammunition in my plane, I scan the horizon for more targets. My vanquished foe must have been on a solo patrol, because I can’t find a single other enemy plane in the sky. With that established, I take out my frustration on a nearby observation balloon.

"Mein Gott, drei Flügel! Wie genial!"
“Mein Gott, drei Flügel! Wie genial!”

Today isn’t a good day for the Prussian bird-watching society, as I send their airship plummeting back to land. I start to feel rather pleased with myself, maybe I really can be a heroic fighter ace! I should have checked my overconfidence, however, as the Imperial German Army decides to take that moment to teach me some humility.

Someone's been practicing.
Someone’s been practicing.

A direct hit from a flak gun sends both my plane and my ego tumbling back to earth. Any moral lesson life chose to teach me is rather cut short by the impact, and I once again find myself getting to know the French countryside rather intimately.

Bollocks.
Bollocks.

I land almost right on top of a German camp. Is this it? Is the war for me over? Am I doomed to eat nothing but sauerkraut and bratwurst for the rest of my life in captivity? Am I going to stop making ridiculous racial epithets that are quite possibly offensive to the German people?

Nah, she’ll be right.

Let’s Crash in Rise of Flight, Part Three

Reconnaissance! Casually flying around at low-altitude taking a peek at the enemy lines, recon is a fairly relaxed affair. I spend most of my time skimming treetops and buzzing towns, attempting to uncover enemy ground units, trains, vehicle convoys, that sort of thing.

Like a lazy Sunday.
Nice day for a picnic.

Usually this type of mission is done by twin-seater aircraft, so somebody else can hold the camera, but, in their infinite wisdom, command has decided I should have to juggle the camera and the flight controls at the same time. Luckily there’s very little danger. That is until I cross paths with a couple of enterprising Germans with the same idea. I’m starting to think command is deliberately trying to get me killed. Probably something to do with the repair bill I’ve racked up so far.

I'm getting deja vu.
I think I’m getting deja vu.

We end up spinning around in a strange sort of ballet as I try and get a fix on him and he tries to evade me. It goes on for so long I start to get dizzy and really wish they’d invented the air-sickness bag by 1917. My plane is more manoeuvrable than the twin-seat German craft, but I can’t get him in my sights for more than a couple of seconds. As far as I can tell, none of my hastily fired shots make it home. This is bad. His gun can swivel; mine can’t. And just to prove that history has a habit of repeating itself…

Yep, definitely deja vu.
Yep, definitely deja vu.

…command is definitely trying to kill me. I’ve got the worst luck when it comes to tackling these German recon planes. And now I’m particularly cross. Despite the engine fluid splattering my goggles, I’m not letting this one get away. I just had this uniform cleaned, damn it! I swing around and, squinting through the mess, attempt to get a bead on my adversary. He’s been lulled into a sense of security, either by the groaning, gurgling and sputtering of my engine, or the trail of smoke I’m leaving behind me. He lowers his altitude, flying straight and apparently ignoring me. After a moment, the German pilot comes to his senses and begins to swerve out of my line of fire.

Here we go again.
Here we go again.

I’m anticipating another ridiculous dance around the sky. Not sure if I can keep it up with the damage to my engine, I begin to think my wily foe will get away. Then something rather unexpected happens. One of my stray shots from before must have clipped an aileron, his tailplane or maybe even wounded the pilot himself. The German plane starts flying dangerously low, too low to be deliberate. After a couple of seconds, he meets a rather nasty end when he fails to pull up over some trees.

Nature is nasty.
The Ents really do hate technology.

I assume the trees won’t mind if I count this as a victory for myself. Unfortunately, the way command sees it, tailgunners exist as a sort of extension of the plane and not as people in their own right (how can I fault them really; I hate tailgunners) so I only get a single confirmed kill out of the mix. Any melancholy I had about shooting the enemy vanished with the water in my radiator. Speaking of radiators, the engine overheats and immediately conks out. I begin to recall a fitting quotation, something something learn nothing something something doomed to repeat something something, but it quickly eludes me as I plough headfirst into the dirt.

IT KEEPS HAPPENING
IT KEEPS HAPPENING

The amount of cranial trauma I experience on a daily basis really can’t be doing me any good. The good news is that the plane appears to be almost entirely intact this time. Being made out of mostly wood and canvas, it’s pretty bouncy. Unfortunately, despite how much the brain damage may have convinced me I can fly by flapping my arms, the rest of the mission is scrubbed. On the bright side, I ditched on the correct side of the trenches this time, so I spend the rest of the day dragging my plane back to the airfield. I’m sure everyone will be ecstatic to see I survived!

Let’s Crash in Rise of Flight, Part Two

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.

I told you the flight was top heavy.
I told you the flight was top heavy.

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!

Oh, the humanity!
Oh, the humanity!

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.

Success!
Success!

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.

What kind of loser needs a tail-gunner?
What kind of loser needs a tail-gunner?

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.

Does nobody bother using their indicators properly?
Bloody climate change!

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.

The jackboot's on the other foot now, Fritz!
The jackboot’s on the other foot now, Fritz!

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.

The pickelhaube is on the other... head?
The pickelhaube’s on the other… head?

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.

Bloody nature.
Bloody nature!

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.

How many lieutenants does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
How many lieutenants does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

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?

Let’s Crash in Rise of Flight, Part One

I recently acquired Rise of Flight in an IndieGala bundle for $6. What I thought was going to be a grognardy, overly-hardcore simulator experience actually turned out to be a lot of fun! So much fun I decided to make a foray into the game’s campaign mode.

Flying an ill-designed box-kite with a propellor attached has never been prettier.
Flying an ill-designed box-kite with a propellor attached has never been prettier.

In the campaign you take the role of a pilot fighting over the Western Front in the First World War. As a member of any of the active squadrons the game chooses to simulate, you engage in dynamically generated missions from combat patrols to recon sweeps and bombing runs, depending on your aircraft. I decided to record my campaign experiences playing as Sergeant Tommy Sparrow, a plucky young British fighter pilot named after the least threatening bird I could think of, in what will hopefully be a series of blog posts (assuming I don’t get killed in his first couple of missions).

I began my military career as a member of 56 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps. Formed on the 8th of June 1916, 56 Squadron was posted to France in April of 1917 and stationed at an airfield not far from Estrée-Blanche, in the idyllic French countryside. Unfortunately, for the first two days of the campaign a thunderstorm grounded all flights so I was left hitting the “Next Day” button hoping for some action. Thankfully, two days later on the 17th of July 1917, a Tuesday to be precise (Rise of Flight’s campaign is a day-by-day recreation), combat operations resume and I’m rostered to the very first flight that morning.

With two Captains and a Lieutenant, this is a pretty top-heavy flight.
With two Captains and a Lieutenant, this is a pretty top-heavy flight.

Thrown out of bed at a time which is far, far too early for any sane human-being to be awake, the pilots clamber into the cockpits of their assigned aircraft only to be met with more levers, gauges and pedals than a steampunk cosplayer’s wardrobe.

Nothing in this canvas bucket is correctly labeled.
Nothing in this canvas bucket is correctly labeled.

56 Squadron are flying the S.E.5a, an experimental biplane with a dodgy engine and an eccentric weapons loadout featuring one gun mounted on the top wing and another to the left on the front of the fuselage, making it difficult to shoot at anything and frustrating to reload. With enough waggling, prodding, poking and hair-pulling (or mashing the keyboard as the case may be), I manage to get the machine to start. After a bit of wobbling and wing-scraping around the aerodrome (joysticks are hard, hurhur), I figure out how to point the control stick in the “up” direction and the experimental fighter lurches uncomfortably into the sky. First on the agenda is regrouping with the rest of the squadron who have rather inconsiderately left me behind.

It sure was considerate of the engineers to put the engine exhaust in front of the pilot.
It sure was nice of the engineers to put the engine exhaust in front of the pilot.

After a lot more wobbling around and a complete inability to stay in any kind of cohesive formation, the patrol is off to an auspicious start. Careening over the vast brown mass known as the “front line”, I catch sight of the rest of the squadron engaged in a fierce dogfight with four German planes: two single-seat fighters and two twin-seat reconnaissance aircraft. While my squad-mates seem entranced with the fighters’ rather interesting methods of flying…

I hope they remembered to fasten their seatbelts.
I hope they remembered to fasten their seatbelts.

…I choose to pounce on one of the recon planes hoping they’ll make easier prey. After wobbling around some more in pursuit of a target that is theoretically much less manoeuvrable than myself, I manage to plant myself on the tail of one bosch flier for about as long as it takes for me to remember that my plane is also theoretically much faster.

Whoops.
Whoops.

Choosing to re-educate myself on the intricacies of the throttle (particularly the throttling down bit), I reorient myself for another attack. Slipping onto my target’s tail rather more smoothly this time, I finger the trigger. What I get in return is three rounds before my guns jam. Cursing the stupidity of the engineers who designed such a ridiculous aircraft, I start mashing the reload/unjam button, forgetting that the enemy tailgunner has been patiently watching me throughout all of this. He unleashes a quick burst and I’m given a face full of engine oil.

Brilliant.
Brilliant.

The engine begins sputtering and vomiting out smoke while the temperature gauge spins up so far into confusing imperial measurements I toss my calculator over the side. Gone are my hopes of medals and accolades from squad-mates at my heroic destruction of a German warplane, replaced with a dread that my fragile canvas and wood flying machine may meet the ground rather quickly with me inside. At least if this was a World War II simulator I’d have a parachute. No such luxury here.

The engine gives a last feeble gurgle before completely dying. As the oil clears from my goggles, I realise I’m going to have to land my plane unpowered. Thankfully, it’s barely heavier than a winged wheelbarrow give or take the hundreds of kilos of engine, so it shouldn’t be that difficult. I gently lose altitude, trying to keep the nose of the plane pointed towards the horizon and the landing gear pointed towards the ground and make a relatively soft touchdown in a random field.

Emphasis on "relatively".
Emphasis on “relatively”.

Miraculously, Sergeant Sparrow manages to walk away from what I’ll call my creative landing procedure without a scratch. Thus ends my first foray into aerial combat. Hopefully next time I’ll spare the paintwork.