PC Pilot

The Complete Guide to Computer Aviation
by Steve Smith


Within a year, chivalry was dead. Boelke's famous eight-point "Dicta," which became the air warrior's equivalent of von Clausewitz's "Vom Krieg," or Sun Tsu's "The Art of War," advocated gaining an advantage over your foe any way you could, and killing him before he knew what hit him.

As Edward ("Mick") Mannock, Britain's top ace (with seventy-three kills; behind only Manfred von Richthofen's eighty and Rene Fonck's seventy-five), put it: "The swines are better dead. No prisoners."

Yet for all its ferocity, The Great War still feels like a picnic in the Bois de Bologne beside, say, Desert Storm, and Red Baron (another game from Dynamix, publishers of the Aces series—see Chapter Ten) captures the sights and sounds of those comparatively innocent days. The game has gone on to become one of the best-selling flight sims of all time.

One of the reasons for the game's success probably has nothing whatsoever to do with nostalgia. It is simply that dogfighting is a lot more fun—at least in simulation—with the aircraft of that era than with today's insanely complicated, technologically musclebound wonder weapons.

In other words, if you find contemporary electronic warfare cold and clinical, try a Sopwith Camel—with a howling wind in your face, the smell of cordite in your nostrils, a chitty-chitty-bang-bang motor sputtering in front of you, and your goggles smearing with castor oil. And don't forget your shearling boots and silk scarf—the temperature could hit thirty below at twenty thousand feet in the dead of winter under a bomber's moon. (Why silk? Because your head is spinning around like Regan's in The Exorcist, looking for bogeys, and silk is the only thing that will keep you warm and not chafe your neck.)

But the planes weren't the main thing in World War I, and they aren't the main thing in Red Baron (although you do get thirty of them with the original game, plus another five if you buy the "Red Baron Mission Builder" add-on disk). Unlike postmodern warfare, where the weapons are the heroes and the heroes are forgotten (go on: name one ace who flew in the Gulf War), it really was the man, not the machine, in 1914.

Thus, although Red Baron does a good job of modeling the flight characteristics of a couple of dozen antique aircraft (rotary-engine aeroplanes, for instance, had so much torque—the whole engine spun with the prop: cylinders, heads, and all; only the crankshaft was stationary—that they handled entirely differently with full right rudder than with full left rudder), it is the personality quirks, beautifully reconstructed here, that give the game its authenticity.

The Red Baron himself, for instance. Just as he did eighty years ago, von Richthofen circles like a hawk above the battle, chooses his prey, then suddenly dives. His Fokker Dr. I triplane has a terrific rate of climb, so he will immediately zoom back up to a commanding altitude. (World War II's Mustang pilots used the same dive-and-zoom tactics.) If you engage him in a turning battle, he will try to force you into turning left, to your disadvantage (the result of torque reaction).

Or his brother, Lothar, a hothead who exhibits none of Manfred's guile and cunning. He quickly tires of circling, and will try to confound you with a dazzling series of corkscrews, scissors, and baroque curlicues. Only he's not as good as his brother. While he's showing off, you can finish him off.

Or Hermann Göring, later head of Hitler's Luftwaffe. Even in World War I he was overly cautious, risk-averse—he would not attack unless he was assured of victory. If you encounter him in Red Baron, you cannot lure him into a duel unless you are flying a demonstrably inferior aircraft.

They flew as they lived. And vice versa.

Consider Hugh Trenchard, a daredevil who went on to become "the father of the RAF." Before World War I, he had been wounded in the Boer War and was paralyzed from the waist down. Undaunted, he took up bobsledding, and one of his many horrific accidents suddenly gave him back the use of both legs.

They don't make 'em like that anymore.

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