The Flare Path: Mustangled Up In Blue

By Tim Stone on May 4th, 2012 at 1:00 pm.

You can tell a lot about a person from their favourite WW2 fighter. Hawker Hurricane admirers are hardworking, realistic, and loyal. Bf 109 fans are contrary and meticulous. Fiat Freccia fiends are Italian. Westland Whirlwind worshippers are prone to melancholy, and often smell faintly of aniseed. Mustang devotees are bold, impatient and have a very low tolerance for silly Flare Path introductions that claim you can tell a lot about a person from their favourite WW2 fighter.

I’m a Fairey Fulmar man myself. We’re shy and stoical. We know deep down that our preferred plane was probably better suited to tomato cultivation than aerial warfare, and are willing to accept that flight sim fabricators will never pander to us in the same extraordinary way they’re currently pandering towards the P-51 crowd.

Lucky Mustangophiles have just got their hands on the first of 2012′s bumper crop of high-fidelity P-51s. The Eagle Dynamics P-51D, made available to pre-orderers in beta form on Sunday, has ruffled the feathers of a few studio loyalists, but with its (relatively) simple instrumentation and heavy-duty flight and damage modelling, looks certain to charm those too old, too busy, or too exhausted to learn another modern jet or helo cockpit.

I’ve yet to apply the FP hammer to the FP piggy bank (actually it’s more of a Brewster Buffalo bank than a piggy bank). Perusal of the impressive 180-page manual suggests I’m unlikely to be disappointed when I do. I can’t remember the last time sim documentation made flying with a full tank sound so scary…

Or encouraged me to deal with an undercarriage malfunction like this…

And it’s ages since my control stick was last nibbled.

True, my hammer hand might have been harder to restrain, had ED provided a few CPU-controlled butcher-birds to tangle with, or the odd Sd.Kfz. 251 or Opel Blitz to strafe. As it stands, though dogfights with AI Mustangs are possible, I think I’m right in saying all bombs and rockets must be hurled at contemporary targets. Unless you’re possessed of a particularly active imagination, persuading yourself a T-72 is actually a Tiger could prove almost as difficult as pretending modern-day Georgia is 1944 Normandy or 1945 Bavaria.

The Eagle Dynamics P-51D’s main rival for Mustang supremacy – the deep-into-closed-beta A2A Simulations P-51D – will require even more mental squinting from the combat-curious. Dependence on FSX means no danger of death by Flakvierling, Fw 190 or exploding ammo train. If you come a cropper it will be as a result of hamfistedness or lax maintenance habits. As with all Accu-Sim craft, the condition of numerous components and systems will be persistently tracked. The harder you push your steed – the more you abuse it – the greater the chance of failures and performance degradation. Unless you stop by the hangar regularly, it won’t be long before you find yourself hobbling around the sky in a lame Mustang.

Scott Gentile’s crew also have another P-51 project underway. Built with the help of an ongoing restoration project, their version of the lightweight ‘H’ Mustang, won’t bear the Accu-Sim brand so won’t boast quite the forensic level of detail of its stablemate, however, knowing A2A, it’s still likely to do a damn fine job of persuading us our desks are 37ft long, and skinned with aluminium rather than veneer.

 

Hipper Than It Looks

Many British towns and cities have a Trafalgar Road or a Nelson Close. Very few have a Coronel Avenue or a Troubridge Crescent. It seems only naval historians and wargame devs are interested in commemorating crushing RN defeats and disgraced RN admirals.

Both the Battle of Coronel and the incident that led to the attempted court-martial of poor old ‘Windy’ Troubridge feature in the recently released Steam and Iron demo. A WWI naval wargame with rudimentary graphics and no campaign, but lashings of realism, a vast ship database, and a very flexible skirmish generator, SAI has been creating quite a buzz in the smokier corners of the grognard snug of late. You don’t have to spend long with the trial to understand the warm reception.

Though the visuals scream out for some Positech-style top-down gratuitousness, and tight demo time limits mean some of the seven supplied scenarios are over almost as soon as they’ve begun, there’s plenty of reasons to stick around. Where the last Jutland-era wargame to tie up at the RPS quay tested patience with its idiosyncratic camera and controls, this one is pleasingly conventional in the GUI department. Languorous bedroom Beattys can direct engagements simply by issuing course changes to flagships (other ships will do their best to maintain station). The more energetic may fuss with formation shapes, speed, targeting and the roles (scout, screen, support, etc.) of subordinate divisions.

Naval wargames often sink or swim on the quality of their damage models, so it’s nice to be able to report that SAI’s projectiles cause all kinds of mischief. Jammed turrets, buggered rudders, corspe-strewn bridges… there’s no anaemic hitpoint whittling here. Fire and flooding are the big killers, of course, but during my time with the improbably tiny (2.3MB!) trial I’ve also seen vessels die in incandescent instants, the victims of fluke magazine hits.

Shell accuracy algorithms incorporate all the obvious stuff – crew quality, range, target movement etc. –  but there’s also a clutch of more unexpected modifiers at work. The fact that your gun layers are having to peer through your own funnel smoke and into the glare of a setting or  rising sun might just explain why they’re struggling to put shell on steel.

 

Bibulous In The Bibliothèque

Did you attend the grand opening of the Flare Path Reading Room? It was quite a do. Antony Beevor cut the ribbon with wirecutters that once belonged to Siegfried Sassoon. Eric Hobsbawm got totally rat-arsed and punched David Starkey. Max Hastings spewed on Antonia Fraser’s shoes. Good times!

Many thanks to all those who contributed suggestions and continue to do so. If your volume has yet to appear on the shelves, that’s probably because the librarians have had problems placing it (It’s not simply good reads we’re after, it’s books spookily relevant to specific wargames and sims). Educated guesses have been made here and there, but a direct gaming link explained in a sentence or two would make Alison and Hereward’s job much easier.

 

The Flare Path Foxer

The catastrophic explosion of HMS Monmouth during FP’s last Steam and Iron session dislodged nine islands from the game’s globe. FP has found a tube of Arkwright’s Extra-Strong Archipelago Adhesive in his shed, but is uncertain where the islands should go. Can you help him?

 

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37 Comments »

  1. Premium User Badge

    MacBeth says:

    C: Iceland [easy difficulty]
    G: Tasmania [medium]
    ETA:
    E: Sardinia [tricky]
    EATA:
    H: Crete [medium]

    • Premium User Badge

      MacBeth says:

      Also:
      A: Trinidad

    • Premium User Badge

      Man Raised by Puffins says:

      f: Shikoku
      d: Hokkaido

      (thanks Shogun 2!)

      • Premium User Badge

        MacBeth says:

        Knew I recognised D from somewhere but couldn’t place it… quick work everybody :)

    • Tim Stone says:

      This week’s Flare Path flair points are lead-crystal and shaped like the Isle of Rum. Sealed forever(?) inside each one is 20ml of genuine Lamb’s Navy Rum.

      Transglobal MacBeth takes home an intoxicating five points.
      The Eurocentric I am a paranoid troll secures a cheek-flushing three points.
      Masters of the Pacific Man Raised by Puffins and mrpier leave with a whistle-wetting pair apiece.

  2. I am a paranoid troll says:

    c: Iceland
    e: Sardinia
    h: Crete

  3. Premium User Badge

    mrpier says:

    i: Hainan
    b: Mindanao

  4. BooleanBob says:

    My favourite fighter being the de Havilland Mosquito, I am of course a disregarded dilettante with a heart made of wood.

    Great column, as always. Any chance of an Iron and Steam AAR?

    (Oh, right, ‘Steam and Iron’. That doesn’t scan nearly so well, does it?)

    (Can’t help thinking it’s Steam and Iron to discourage mental associations with that most joyless of household chores.)

  5. Premium User Badge

    Tom-INH says:

    I don’t normally read this column but I must say: that is an excellent headline.

    • Premium User Badge

      felisc says:

      I can only encourage you to read this column more often. I mean i will never play any of those games (lack of patience) but flare path is a highly enjoyable read.

      • wodin says:

        You miss out my friend, really miss out on a whole new game world.

        • Premium User Badge

          felisc says:

          “Never play” was a bit strong. I meant “not right now”. I expect my tastes to evolve and change like they did in the past :) I’m certainly not closing any doors, variety and choice is fantastic.

  6. TheBigBookOfTerror says:

    Hawker Typhoon; DEFINE ME!

  7. Jimbo says:

    Here comes the story of the Hawker Hurricane.

  8. Fishbreath says:

    Great Scott. I have a friend who won’t be able to throw money at Steam and Iron fast enough.

  9. minerwilly says:

    Yes, I always find that people who like the Hurricane are quiet, dependable, hardworking types. Spitfire enthusiasts are noisy glory boys, who only sing when they are winning and probably support Man Utd.

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      I think I would be more of a Hurri man than Spit, but my granddad used to work on Spitfires during the war, so I have a certain family pride towards them.

      Mind you, pretty much ever aircraft with a Merlin in it was wonderful (eg Mossies, Lancs). Can anyone think of any that weren’t?

  10. Walsh says:

    There’s a difference between hurricanes and spitfires?

    • Dozer says:

      The Spitfire was a generation newer in its construction techniques, which made it considerably lighter, which made it a more capable aircraft. The Hurricane, built using older techniques, was much cheaper to build (about 2/3rds of the man-hours) and easier to fix.

  11. Walsh says:

    In other news, the first 3rd party DCS product was announced: Mig-21 http://forums.eagle.ru/showthread.php?t=87621

  12. Hydrogene says:

    Great column, as usual! Love the first lines!

    I’m a Polikarpov I-16. Curious, short tempered and fast to get in a spin.
    Actually no, I’m lying. (that’s also a sign of an I-16…)

  13. Two Buck Chuck says:

    I am contrary and meticulous, how did you know?! I’m also a fan of the Messerschmitt 410, does that make me a useless jack of all trades?

  14. Dozer says:

    The Fairey Fulmar is included as an AI aircraft in the latest incarnation of IL2 Sturmovik, if you want something easy to shoot down…

    Pre-WW2 groupthink is fascinating. The Navy were convinced that ocean-going aircraft required a dedicated navigator to find the aircraft carrier at the end of the flight, so they built two-man fighters like the Fulmar and Skua which were no match for land-based single-pilot fighters like the Bf 109.

  15. Fumarole says:

    It’s not a fighter but I’ve always been fond of the Ju 87b from my days playing Steel Panthers. Those things were absolutely lethal to enemy armor.

  16. Joshua Northey says:

    That island puzzle was fun, the only one I wasn’t 100% sure on was i) Hainan???

    I spent too much time studying geography and history and not enough time developing marketable skills :)

  17. kazriko says:

    I’m only mildly surprised you didn’t mention the Vought Corsair, as it seemed to be mostly in the Pacific… It’s still my favorite though.

  18. ChriScaflowne says:

    I see you have Bao Ninh’s “Sorrow of War” on yr Hoegaarden shelf. Exquisite taste in beer AND literature, sir.

  19. Kevin says:

    So now that ED has brought you back into the fold, are you going to have another bash at A-10C? I mean, take comfort you’re probably doing better than these guys”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=huVi6rdPE4I

    By the way, can we hear your thoughts on Wargame: European Escalation? Seems like the kind of game that’s totally up your alley.

  20. gabe says:

    What about Falcon BMS? I think I’ve read in one Flare Path that you guys wouldn’t write anything about it but didn’t tell why.

  21. zookeeper says:

    Most rewarding part of clicking on this story?

    Seeing The Sorrow of War in the bookshelf picture.

  22. Was Neurotic says:

    Damnit Stone, you’ve made me want to fly – something I last attempted in a Falcon on my cousin’s Amiga. :p