Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Dawn over North Sea

Tonight in realtime I flew two sorties from Peterhead over the North Sea. Again, I was in torpedo armed beaufighter. The day's first flight took place in the pre-dawn period, with reduced visibility but enough light to see by. I was not the only flier online, there being a Heinkel 111 bomber doing similar duty for the germans based in Norway. I think both Heinz and myself were half hoping we wouldn't bump into each other in the mist. As it turned out, he struck my shipping roughly midway between our bases in the middle of the ocean, while I struck a tanker only a few miles off his shore and to the South of his flight path from Herda.

I was flying at about 800 ft, alternating left and right bank with trim, studying the ocean to each side looking for shipping. Eventually, I see a ship at about 1 o'clock, check my position by clock, bearing and speed just to make sure it's not a friendly boat, drop to wave level and release the torpedo just in time to clear the rigging of the (luckily) unarmed ship. It sinks within a couple minutes. I fly back to Scotland, finding myself about 50 miles south of familiar territory at land fall, and make my way carefully back up the coast. Seeing the lights of my runway, I put my plane into a long descent, touching down nicely.

I while later I take off again in the dawn. There's a fog around, but I expect it to lift. Sadly, it doesn't. After about 20 min of flying fairly low on instruments (like, 100 - 500 feet) my nerves start to play tricks and the horizon shifts in the grey murk. Relying on my instruments almost totally, I decide to abort the mission after spotting only one (friendly) ship, jettison the torpedo and head for home.

This time I make landfall to the North of my base, and only realise I am over land after carefully examining the landscape through a thickening fog at about 200 feet. Eventually realising my position, I home in my base and, looping out after a recognition run to bleed off speed, I touch down about half way down the lit up runway. I have nearly come to a halt when my brakes freeze on me and I wreck the propellers as the plane tilts forward. I think Heinz had even worse luck in the murk.

My crash landing still counts as a landing. It's the fourth landing I've made in a row, including my successful sortie there and back again in the predawn light. My success rate and confidence begins to increase.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Torpedo Strike over North Sea

Have just flown two more missions over to Norwegian coast and back (to Scotland) in a Beaufighter. Each time, carried a torpedo and was looking for enemy shipping. I was alone in the skies throughout.

First mission, kept to about 2000ft altitude, and headed east. Once I'd been flying for what I thought was long enough to place me over the 'front' line (and in sight of norwegian coast near Herdla), I dropped down to about a thousand feet and resolved to attack the next ship I saw. Whatever I did, I didn't want to get any closer to the coastline, made deadly by its AA defences.

Spotting a freighter, I sideslipped a large descending circle on its seaward side and dropped the torp from about a mile away, 200 feet between me and the sea. Immediately banking and circling upwards, I was able to see my missile miss the aft of the ship by a few metres. I'd not taken note of the rate of movement of the boat (I think)!

Circling over the boat once more, and giving it a spray of cannon fire from funnel height, I turned for home. Navigating by the grid, I came across the scottish coast where I expected to, and swept in for a clean landing on the airfield.

Second flight, much the same except I came across the sea at between 800 and 1000 feet. I used trim controls to keep me pointed the right direction, and read my plane's attitude in the air from the instrument panel whilst I scanned the seas on high magnification. In about the same area as before I came across a freighter (possibly the one I had missed previously - at 200 mph or more they all look the same). I immediately swept into an attack. I released the torp at about half the distance I had previously, and from under 100 feet. I climbed up over the ship in a banking climb, and was over 1200 feet when I received notice that I'd sunk the ship.

Celebrating, I headed for home again. This time the landing wasn't so crisp, coming in at too steep an angle and hence too fast I put the nose into the ground and flipped the craft onto its back. It still counts as a 'landing', however, and I walked free from the upside down plane.

Getting better.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Flying hours

I've continued to regularly fly over various virtual WWII battlefields in the online IL46 flightsim universe. Over the last few days I've concentrated on flying the beaufighter. I have flown them over Norway and New Guinea, as well as several pacific islands. I have carried bombs, rockets and torpedoes. I have gone in low and I have gone in high. I have had mixed success.

Norwegian server's Norwegian campaign had a couple missions where, taking off from northern scotland, the idea was to find and sink prowling u-boats near the coast of Norway. Trouble was, there was a lot of flak from both surface ships and the Norwegian coast. I flew two missions with rockets, and was shot down by flak both times. Didn't sink anything. The first time I went in at about a thousand feet. I managed to get rockets close to target and only got hit by unlucky shrapnel at extreme range on my way out over the waves. Second mission, I went in (stupidly) at 8000 ft, dropping to 3000ft near target and getting shot down before I had got any munitions off. I think I was gliding long and straight at the various gun's ideal height to shoot at sitting duck bombers.

I let it go for a couple days, and decided I'd give a go to wave hopping out to the target at high speed. When I went onto server this morning, there were over half a dozen flyers online, but they were flying over pacific islands. Luckily, there was a base with beaufighters I could fly, so I took one out for a raid on japanese airfield (while everyone else was (I hoped) busy dogfighting elsewhere).

I navigated by map to my IP ('initial point') and banked onto rocket run over island at under 2000 ft. I flew over enemy airfield and flak destroyers at about 400 mph and under 200 ft. Not low enough, I think, none of my eight rockets damaged anything. I circled up over a bay, and had a fuel tank punctured by ship anit air. The resultant fuel leak decided me to head straight back for base, so I continued my sweeping bank up and away from the enemy aa, coming back onto course several miles to the west of my approach at about 4000ft.

Just, however, as I put a few clouds between myself and the enemy island as I departed out of the range of their flak, I noticed some tracer bullets passing over my right wing. There was a jap plane somewhere behind me! I sideslipped off to the left, converting into a sliding, rolling undulating dive to under a thousand feet on full throttle - all the time heading towards my own fleet to the South. Several more times I saw tracer bullets miss me narrowly as I weaved in the sky. A couple times I felt something hit, but I trusted to the sturdy construction of my plane and my two powerful engines to pull me through if I could only put off the enemy's aim. Before long, I was under the AA umbrella thrown up by my own fleet, and my opponent gave up the chase. I eventually landed on my own field, damaging the propellors but otherwise bringing my plane home sound and on all of its wheels.

Finally, I constructed a brief training mission for making a torpedo run against a group of japanese destroyers. I have got the knack of this (high speed, low altitude, sense of timing) and look forward to trying out some sneak raids online.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

SCW miniatures gallery

In case you forgot, or never knew, I'm also occasionally into miniatures wargaming and have over the years slowly worked on my Spanish Civil War project. About a year ago I posted pictures on this blog of some of my efforts.

I recently came across this site of 28mm miniatures of the period. I think this is both amazing in its own right, as well as a resource for future efforts of my own. Worth a bit of a browse.

Favorite Flying Games

Regular readers of this blog know that for the last few months I have spent a lot of time flying flightsim 'games', either Pacific Fighters or IL 46. Do they know that I've had a thing for flying games for quite awhile?

I admit that a lot of flightsims (eg European Airwar) and more traditional 'physical' games about flying combat planes (eg. Avalon Hill classics such as 'Dauntless') haven't exactly excited me. And the concept of flying a civilian airliner or light plane around a peaceful map (ala Microsoft Flight Simulator) absolutely doesn't excite me.

Besides the two I play these days, other flightsims which have somwhat interested me include:

Pacific Airwar - particularly the aspect that allowed one to control entire fleets on large scale map, focus in and take control of a particular plane, swap planes under control, etc. The game also had the 'feel' which makes good flightsim games so immersive.

Janes ATF - modern jet combat. Never really understood the game's finer points but loved the vast sweeping battles and the relatively realistic terrain (for the era of about 10 years ago, that is).

B17 - More 'realistic'/difficult than the above two games, it was the functioning cockpits and difficulty of taxiing in this game that both totally frustrated and intrigued me.

Going back another ten years, there were two games which grabbed my attention more completely than anything else has until IL46 came along.

Wings - This was a graphic book game, one of those carefully designed games which usually only get one print run but whose components, luckily, seem to last forever. From memory, each player had a book with illustations on each of its pages of views from a cockpit. The players simultaneously planned and announced their actions for the turn, the announcements were cross indexed, and players turned pages in their respective books to get an updated view from the cockpit. I think we used dice for the shooting. The planes were WWI biplanes. It was great, truly excited the imagination.

Aces High - An old WWI biplane game which we played on my friend's amiga compter for over a year. Never lost its thrill. You could almost smell the oil, and I can still remember the sick feeling coming over me when given a trench strafing mission.

So what brought all of this on? Reading the review for the relatively recent card based flying combat game of 'Wings of War' over at Roll Dice Kick Ass.

Beaufighters over Norway

I've flown several flights from Peterhead airbase in Northern Scotland, across the North Sea to raid German bases in occupied Norway. Each such flight is taking between 50 min and an hour. I have flown two such missions tonight.

On the first, it was mid afternoon on the server and I was alone in the skies. I joined the Norwegian island chain of a coast about 50 miles south of first reconnaissance target of Gossen. By the time I swept across the airfield I was doing 400 mph. I discharged six rockets for one parked german plane. None of his aa got me as I pulled up and out onto course for my next target, Folosen (50 odd miles East along the island chain).

I knew I had found the target area when I was surrounded by the black bursts of flak at around 4000 feet. But for the life of me I couldn't spot the town, its port, or the AA guns. I circled in ever increasing arcs for the next ten minutes, most of the time over patches of norwegian land in a sea of grungy blue. Eventually I recognised one of the islands, aligned myself with the reconnaisance target area, and again swept in low and fast. I didn't get off any rockets (no targets on my flightpath) but got some good photos. As I swept up onto a course for home at about 6000 feet, I went through a barrage of flak. I could see a hole big enough to stick my head through on my left wing. I had lost my rudder, and the plane was generally sluggish. I crept back over the north sea, navigated via the airfield of Banf to my home base. Sadly, I came in too quick and put too much strain on the airframe, cracking up just short of the runway.

Second flight was direct to Folosen with 2 x 500lb bombs for the sub in the harbour my recce had revealed. This time, it was just after sunset, so I had the western glow lighting up my targets as again I swept towards the harbour from the west. This time, however, I banked out over the northern sea to come in on a southerly bearing. Thus, the sub and its neighboring freighter presented their full lengths to my bomb run. Powering over the harbour, I released the bombs from less than 100 feet altitude. As I pulled up hard and fast I registered hits on two of the three AA emplacements at the harbour. Not as good as a sub, but satisfying.

I again flew direct for home, using large airfield at Banf as my IP. Sadly, I again misjudged my landing approach and stalled short of the runway, crashing fatally in the same field that I had earlier.

Good fun.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Beaufighter success at Historia

Between last night and this morning I have flown five missions on the 'Historia' server via hyperlobby. This server is run by the International Online Competition League. I have been quite impressed. It is almost full real difficulty, you have 'a speed bar' head up display of speed altitude and bearing so you don't need to look at cockpit instruments much, but apart from that it is all manual and no external views or icons.

On the first mission I flew in defence of Tobruk in a hurricane, but the mission ended before I had chance to get more than fleeting glimpse from a distance of a german bomber fleeing west across the desert.

The next two were flown in P40s, taking on the air defences over Palermo, Sicily. Packing a 500lb bomb each time, I mounted dive bomb runs on the ships and port facilities in the central harbour, coming in from about 3000m initially and dropping the bombs after a controlled diving glide to 100m over target. Not surprisingly, I got brought down by AA both times! But not until I'd sunk a freighter, wrecked a whole train and left half a road convoy in flames, however. Am making my ground attacks count for more these days!

There had been a lot of flyers at the start of the sesion when I joined the Tobruk game. There were only two others (Me109s) when I left. On the final flight, I'd had my engine destroyed by the AA and was somehow gliding back to my own lines. I was down to about 300m with the coast in sight, my airfield beckoning my wounded wings, when was shelled from behind by Flatspin in a 109. I managed to belly land the plane in the ocean at about 170kph, and evacuated the plane before it sank. At least I saved the pilot. Looking at the server stats page I see that I am Flatspin's first and only victim so far.

Flatsin is from Japan, the other 109 pilot was from Germany. Cool.

This morning I've flown two beaufighter missions against the airfields of Bologna in Northern Italy from my airbase about 50 km away. The first mission will have to go down as my first online genuinely successful mission, so will concentrate on that.

Got my 2 engine fighter bomber into gear at about 350 kph, followed the road map to my target area at about 600m. Swooped in on first run, depressing cannon at Junkers bomber near work sheds. Probably five shells and it blew up, together with the fuel starge tanks nearby. Swooping over the tarmac at 50m, did another shallow run at AA gun in front, missed because I got nervy as I dropped lower and lower. As I went over him, my right engine was shot out. I jigged up and away as fast as possible, then limped home over the mountains on one engine. Was getting more difficult as the other engine started to fade. Lucky my navigation skills are improving as I brought my wounded bird straight into approach run for my home base. Managed to get her down safely. Thus, after a successful ground attack I managed to land my plane on its wheels at its base. Success!

I returned for a final mission on the same Bologna map. This time I did a dog leg over Milan and approached target from the West. There were a couple Me 109s up and about, I didn't want to make it too easy for them. This time I also stayed down to about 100 m above ground the whole way. Had to keep my wits about me going through the mountain valleys. After initially becoming disoriented I recognised a goat track beneath, and used it to circle back over target airfield. I came in from the North, rocketed another bomber on tarmac from a couple hundred metres. This time, however, the AA got lucky and my pilot was killed by a lucky shot.

I really enjoyed flying the beaufighter again. It was the first plane I flew on Pacific Fighters. Have also flown one recently on Norwegian server, on a mission from Scotland to hit german ships in harbour in Norway. That was at night and ended messily with AA shells blowing me up.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Morning off - Quick Flight

I've taken this morning off of work. Didn't get a good night's sleep last night, don't know why. Plan was to curl up and try for some sleep for a couple hours. That's what I'll do after putting up this post.

But, before going back to bed, I went and had a peek at Hyperlobby to see who's airborne at this time in the Northern hemisphere. It's a peculiarity of being in Oz that we are up at night when the rest of the techno world is out doing things in the day, and vica versa. Anyway, Norwegian server had 13 flyers up over Fukuoka, so I thought I'd leap at the opportunity of flying with these dudes. That's the advantage of having time off work.

Anyway, I was airborne for a total of about 40 min, flew a tomahawk (not a plane with which I'm very familiar). Never got anywhere near Fukuoka, as there were jap fighters raiding my aerodrome throughout. First flight, as soon as I'd gained 1000 feet I had Statchel on my tail in a zero (?). Led him a merry chase, most of the time without elevator controls. But never got away and he then took out my rudder, killed my pilot and sawed off my wings with his bullets.

Second flight, I took off through the strafing lines of bullets of a raiding zero, much to that pilot's disgust! If he'd looked carefully, he would have seen that his bullets were neatly passing over me. Anyway, I hadn't even got to a thousand feet this time when I had someone on my tail, pouring in the lead. Almost immediately I lost my rudder. Using semi-controlled spins (very dangerous without rudder!) I kept dodging death as he hugged my tail at the same time as circling back towards the runway. Just before I got to my IP (point where I turn for landing approach) I dropped flaps and cut engine. My tormentor overshot me, and was clear in my sights for about half a second. If I'd only had my finger on cannon button rather than (non existant) machine guns I might even have got him. Anyway, by the time he'd looped around, I'd dropped my plane into a crash landing on the field. At least I cheated someone of a kill. Not bad.

Last flight was pretty sad. I got off an up to over 2000 feet and started heading North. Noticed a combat on the deck a mile or two ahead. Couldn't work out who was who. Circled over for a look. Someone else took opportunity to circle onto my tail (point blank). I think it was Wandalen, took out my elevators immediately. Again, I found myself in a dying plane jigging around the sky with streams of deadly tracer whispering by on one side then the other. As I commenced my terminal dive, JTDawg (I think) crept up on Wandalen and exploded him in mid air. I saw it happen as I was looking backwards at the time. Didn't help me though, within seconds my plane was being bracketed with tracer from another zero, this time Statchel's. He must have got me with a bullet because he was credited with my kill when I crashed. What he really did, though, is prevent me from jigging and trying to raise my nose with use of rudder (in vertical bank). I'd lost too much height to bail, and was to steep in the dive to avoid a fatal crash. And that's how my norwegian flights went today.

A more social observation about the experience is that my fellow flyers (most of whom were on teamspeak) came across as they do through the written word, a decent bunch of blokes who flew for fun. They cut no slack but it wasn't personal. Such a nice change from so many of the other online gatherings of pilots. From my perspective these guys are good flyers without exception, there was no easy mark for me to attack or avoid. I'll enjoy taking them down one by one as I get better and earning respect as a pilot. The beauty of it is, they won't mind because they seem to have a similar attitude to the game. Is nice.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Puerto Rico

We did go and get Puerto Rico from the Game Shop at Tea Tree Plaza shopping centre. Cost about AU$70. Well worth it. As soon as we had it, we let Paul and Mark know we were keen on a game. No need to ask twice, they agreed to coming around our house in the evening and settling down to a few hours of fun. Mark even left his beloved O-game campaign (online MMORG space trading/conquest game) behind for a few precious hours!

Puerto Rico's components are good looking. Lots of small wooden pieces, colourful card player mats, crisp and solid 'cards' for buildings, doubloons etc. The 8 page rule book was tightly and clearly written, not too hard to understand the mechanics. Paul was a little perturbed that he couldn't work out a game strategy off of the rules, despite the fact that the mechanics were quite clear.

The game occurs over a number of 'rounds'. During each round and starting with the 'governer' for the turn, players take turns to adopt one of several 'roles' for that turn. They do their actions, followed by the other players, as appropriate for the role they chose. The next player then chooses a role and does the relevant actions, followed by the other players. This continues until each player has played one of the roles (there being more roles than players, not every role gets used each round). Once each player has played a role, the 'governer card' moves clockwise one player, the roles are all made available again, and the next round begins.

There is no central 'board' which players move anything on, it's much more conceptual than most 'traditional' games. The developmental side of the game is much like 'civilisation', the taking of roles reminded me of 'geronimo'. The beauty of it all was that there was still a tremendous amount of interaction in this seemingly abstract game, and the theme (of developing a colonial plantation based society) rang true through the game. Made it easy to immerse oneself in the experience and have fun.

The idea is to make a prosperous little plantation economy, shipping goods back to the old world and developing infrastructure around the port. Population and production must be offset against investment and development. Despite all of the counters and cards, the game is neither fiddly nor messy. It is fairly easy to take in the situation at a glance.

At game's end (when the first player filled up all twelve available building spaces on his player mat), about 2 hours of playing time after we started, Paul had accumulated more wealth and infrastructure than anyone else and thus won the game on 62 victory points. Mark was second on 54, then Nancy on 43 and myself a distant last on 32.

It was a fun game, with plenty of interaction and everyone always engaged. There was no combat, but plenty of postitioning. Numerous strategies suggest themselves for future games, and we all agreed it would be even more fun with five players.

I have no doubt that it won't be long before we again play this engagingly elegant game of multi layered possibilities.

NB After everyone else had gone home I settled back into my cockpit for several hours flying. Flew Norwegian until I had been shot down three times by AA over japanese airfield at Okinawa, flying P47 D trying to take out those same AA! Then went up over Darwin on 'Zekes v Wildcats', got shot down twice by scrapping zeros. But, again, I managed to get into good gunnery positions several times only to be hunted down after my shooting let me down. Incremental improvement continues.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Off to the games shop

I love my wife! For weeks now she's been nagging me to go and check out a gameshop she's found about 10 min from home. So, on Thursday night, we hopped on the O-bahn (bus that runs on tracks through Adelaide's Linear Park along the Torrens River Valley) and 8 min later walked into the store.

This was just a recce mission, so I checked out the games there. Heaps of Eurogames, which I've been reading about a while now on Jerusalem Gamer and Games to Go. I checked out about a dozen or so of them before we left. Perhaps luckily, they didn't have Carcassone there or I would have probably got it then (having heard a lot of it and knowing it's a good introductory game). I say "luckily", because I wasn't familiar with the others that were there and so wasn't keen to buy any without running them through Board Game Geek to check out user reviews.

The one's that most intrigued me - Puerto Rico and Amon Ra. They seem to come up trumps on BGG, with Puerto Rico in particular coming up trumps as Number 1.

If they have it still, we'll be going off in a few minutes to get Puerto Rico. Can't wait to try it out!

PS - last night I finally managed to stalk down an opponent in a full realism flightsim, and then engage and outwit him in the dogfight (I was Kittyhawk and he was zero), sending him flaming to the seas beneath. Stalked a couple others, but they were better dogfighters and ended up getting me - though I did get some shots on target. Improvement continues!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Modelers are everywhere

I was making myself a cuppa at work a couple afternoons ago and started chatting with fellow from another area who was wandering past. Within a minute I knew he was a scale modeller who was relatively keen (I recalled having spotted some aircraft pictures at his worksite once and drew the obvious conclusions). I told him of my recent trip to model shop (still haven't got a model plane kit, but will soon). Before long we were trading stories and advice snippets.

Next morning I find a printout of the home page of the South Australian Plastic Modellers Association (SAPMA) where I work. So I snuck into his area yesterday and left a photocopy of the pamphlet I grabbed from the Greenock Air Museum on my recent visit.

Modelers are everwhere.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Midway Friends

I have just flown over US carrier fleet approaching Midway in a F4F wildcat. There was a real scrap online as about a dozen of our fighters battled a slightly superior number of Jap Bettys (2 engine level bomber) and Vals (divebomber), escorted by a bunch of nimble zeros. I don't know who was winning the fight when I logged out. I flew two missions here, the first I escorted a SBD bomber, piloted by ColorStone (Denmark), on raid towards Midway (in this scenario, occupied by Japs) to bomb their fleet in the attol. There were about 35 players online all up. Great fun. ColorStone was the only other one active on teamspeak. Nice guy, on my list of 'friends'

I have now flown with quite a few other flyers online, almost all of them way more experienced than myself, from all over the world. With the Teamspeak, I have carried on enjoyable conversations with pilots from Denmark (ColourStone), Australia (RAF_wolf and 650Chunder) and of course the US (JTDawg, LordX), amongst others.

It is a valid level of interactive gaming friendship - there is a certain level of keeness in the the shared interest zone that can be taken for granted. You don't accidentally get a fighter off a carrier by luck more than once. Anyway, time to go as I have a busy day at work tomorrow.