PC Pilot

The Complete Guide to Computer Aviation
by Steve Smith


If you get good enough at Red Baron, one or more of these aces (there are nineteen in the original game; another five in the add-on disk) may challenge you to a duel. Or you may inadvertently encounter one on a routine patrol; you will immediately recognize aces by their fancy paint jobs: von Richthofen's Dreidecker was, of course, bright red; Immelmann's was green; Canadian ace Billy Bishop flew a blue-nosed Nieuport 17; Göring went from an all-black Albatross to an all-white Fokker D. VII, ever the aerial fop.

Just as the strengths and weaknesses of the aces are accurately reflected in Red Baron, so too are the mechanical characteristics of their aeroplanes. The Fokker D. VIII "Razor Back," for example, was a very fragile crate, as it is in the game: too much exuberance at the controls will rip the wings right off.

When the war started, Germany had 232 military aircraft; France had 138; England had 113. At first, the German Fokkers had the advantage, and it was the German pilots who developed the basic doctrines. Max Immelmann's specialty was basic flying skills—he could literally make an aeroplane stand on its tail, a maneuver then called an Immelmann turn (today, an inverted Split-S is called an Immelmann… don't ask me why). His comrade-in-arms, Oswald Boelke, laid down the basic fighter doctrine that is followed to this day.

Boelke recruited von Richthofen, who was, like many pilots, a nobleman, a horseman, and a crack shot. Not a natural pilot (he crashed on his first solo), he learned quickly, although he may have inadvertently caused the death of his mentor when he cut in ahead of him in the dogfight in which Boelke was killed.

After Immelmann, too, was killed, von Richthofen took command of the Kaiser's first Jagdgeschwader (fighter squadron; eventually there would be thirty-two). He painted his Fokker triplane (the most unstable aeroplane of the war; it was also the most maneuverable) blood-red to strike fear into the hearts of his enemies. He and his squadron became known as "The Red Baron and his Flying Circus" because, like a circus troop, they were transported from sector to sector by railroad car.

Von Richthofen awarded himself a silver cup for each of his eighty victories, but he was never the same after a head wound sidelined him for the better part of a year. He was killed close to the end of the war when he violated all the rules he had lived—and survived—by for so long: chasing an opponent over enemy-held territory at low altitude. Ground fire put a single round through his heart. He was a few days short of his twenty-sixth birthday.

After von Richthofen's death, Göring took over the Jagdgeschwader.

The Germans had steadily lost their initial advantage in the air as the Allied noose choked off aircraft production, just as it would thirty years later in World War II. Early on, the Germans were plagued by a two-front war, and, after Russia's withdrawal, by social unrest bordering on civil war. Finally, the Kaiser stepped down and Germany surrendered on November 11, 1918.

Red Baron allows you to fly historical missions (or, with "Red Baron Mission Builder," to create, save, fly, and modify your own), either as individual engagements or as part of a career. The historical missions include Immelmann's first kill and von Richthofen's last flight, among many others.

You can also choose one-on-one duels in "Dogfight a Famous Ace" (or many-on-many in "Dogfight a Squadron") but the strength of the game, as you might expect, is in the multimission career mode. Above the rank of captain (Hauptmann), you can select your own personal airplane, request a transfer to another air base, and command a squadron of up to three other wingmates in the air. The objective here, unlike the twenty-five or thirty-five missions in a World War II "tour of duty," is simply to survive until the end of the war. If you manage to not only survive but also top von Richthofen's eighty victories, you finish the game as "Ace of Aces."

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