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The Flare Path: Ascension Day +1

Mr. Petrie (R.E.) is minutes away from losing control of 2C again. The Ascension Day questions started harmlessly enough (“How fast did he go up, Sir?”, “Did he wave to the Apossums?”) . It was only when Angela Jessop opened her mouth that the lesson began to disintegrate. Angela is of the opinion that Daedalus and Icarus were frauds, and Jesus was, technically, the first aviator. Her assertion that the Son of God probably owned an invisible helicopter, is, like all of Angela’s assertions, difficult to dispute. Mr Petrie mumbles something about omnipotence then closes his eyes, surrendering to the growing hubbub. Mentally he’s already at home, a glass of chilled Budvar in his hand, an evening of undisturbed Formula Truck and DCS UH-1H Huey stretching blissfully ahead of him.

It’s been an unusually good week here at Cuckoo Cottage, Upper Bumhope. Sim brilliance arrived from Brazil. Sim brilliance arrived from Belarus.

Belsimtek’s UH-1H Huey is the first of a new breed of high-fidelity third-party add-ons for free contemporary air combat sim DCS World. Humbled by DCS-calibre realism in the past, I anticipated spending my first day with the $50 beta, poring over manuals and practising cold-start rituals. In fact, I was airborne within thirty minutes, and smitten within the hour.

The Belarusian devs can’t take all the credit for the accessibility. Bell’s fifty-year-old design is, from a start-up perspective, naturally affable. Flick a handful of switches on the overhead console to ready the battery and generator, flick a few more on the panel between the seats to configure fuel pump and governor, prep hydraulics, set throttle and, bingo, you’re ready to prod the 1400hp Lycoming T53-L-13 engine into life. I’ve got a memory like a sieve but only needed to watch the included tutorial vid a couple of times. There is, as always, a one-key auto-start cheat, but in the circumstances, using it would be absurdly defeatist.

Operating the Huey’s various weapons is similarly straightforward. A single key press moves you to one of the airy/scary door gunner positions, and hands cyclic, collective, and rudder pedals over to a silicon stand-in. Target too tough for a mere MG? Jump back to the cockpit, and line up the dual miniguns (usable in either fixed or flexible modes) or lower that iconic glazed chin and send a flurry of Hydra rockets on their way.

The majority of the knobs and switches in the superbly rendered and highly functional cockpit are still mysteries to me. What’s great – unique – about the Huey is this ignorance isn’t a barrier to enjoyment or effectiveness. To squeeze every drop of simmy pleasure out of this second DCS helo, you will need to spend time with the doorstop pdf manual. To turn yourself into a bedroom Bob Mason, only practise and a half-decent flightstick are required.

All of my practising thus far has been done via the powerful-yet-simple DCS World editor rather the bundled Caucasus-based campaign. Buzzing about harassing innocent road traffic and alighting on unsuspecting bridges, buildings and roads, is an unalloyed joy thanks to wonderfully intuitive physics, a talktative airframe, and pleasingly robust skids. As long as you don’t do anything stupid like provoke retreating blade stalls, or put down on thoroughfares used by Georgia’s notoriously short-sighted/pig-headed bus drivers, catastrophes are relatively few and far between.


Admittedly, I’ve only flown in windless daytime conditions as yet. Also, most of my training targets have been harmless trucks and trains. I suspect it will be a week or two before I’m ready for the rigours of combat, and at least a month before I start bombarding Eagle Dynamics/Belsimtek with endless variations of the following email.

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am thoroughly enjoying your superb Huey add-on! The most fun I have had in a simulated combat helo since flying Digital Integration’s Hind in the late Nineties.

Is there any chance you will be releasing a Vietnam War map/campaign to go with this excellent add-on?

Yours incredibly hopefully,

Tim Stone Esq

 

Driving long distances without a trailer in Euro Truck Simulator 2 is evidence of poor planning or incredible carelessness. In Reiza Studios latest automotive offering it means you’re far less likely to finish last, or be ridiculed for decades to come in the sports bars of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.

The rFactor-engined Formula Truck has everything FP looks for in a race sim except hand gestures, mouse-steering, and pit-lane accidents. $25 buys you evocative physics, stirring audio, fallible AI, twelve largely unfamiliar tracks, and a collection of six unusually charismatic conveyances.

While their peers all seem obsessed with speed and glamour, Reiza have chosen to model vehicles at the brick privy end of the aerodynamic spectrum. Fortunately, what truck tractor units lack in sleekness they more than make up for in brute power and helpful cab height. At the wheel of the sim’s hissing, bellowing, squeaking Mercs, Scanias and Ivecos I feel like the faceless truck driver from Duel at least a couple of times per race, and find myself driving like him almost as often. When I grumbled about ETS2’s insipid engine notes and slightly soft-edged handling, this is what I was yearning for.

Set-up meddlers are welcomed with open suspension arms. A two-screen garage interface lets you tamper with everything from brake settings and gear ratios, to weight distribution and radiator size. I’m not quite sure what everything does yet, but suspect that a larger rad might be a wise mod in my case (a couple of recent races have ended prematurely with a pulsing red thermometer icon glaring at me from the top of the screen).

Mechanical failures, like every other realism-related feature in the game, are toggle-able. With all of the aids switched off, trucks are a handful, but spins and skids never feel unfair. Calamity usually has the good manners to tap you on the shoulder and show you his gold pocket-watch before punching you in the stomach and bundling you onto the turf. Nudging other competitors seems to be an accepted part of the sport (an AI agressiveness slider means you can minimise contact if you choose) but probably won’t win you too many friends in multiplayer.

 

The Flare Path Foxer


The Upper Bumhope OS map doesn’t show the best conker tree in the parish, the softest haystack, or the glades where the gazumilous thornies like to play. It’s flawed in other ways too. Last week, a party of carto-commandos consisting of Zachforrest, SominiTheCommenter, SuicideKing, Bhazor, stahlwerk, serioussgtstu, corinoco, and orranis spotted all but one of the following topographical typos…

1. A questionable quarry
2. A ridiculous railway
3. A fanciful footpath
4. A tower where there should be a steeple
5. A wayward windmill
6. An absent abode
7. Another absent abode
8. An overlooked outbuilding or two
9. An absurd orchard
10. An absurder oasis
11. A wandering wood
12. An invisible inn (The Dick Turpin really should be indicated with a ‘P’)
13. And a hillock masquerading as a minor mountain

The map scrutineers get highly-polished theodolite FP flair points, as does pertusaria whose explanation of the fate of OS man #3 is all-too plausible:

“I think the third cartographer caught the train to Mornington Crescent while he was still in a suitable mental state to perceive the railway line as existing, which is why he was never seen again in the vicinity of Upper Bumhope”

A common theme unites the seven aero elements in this week’s puzzle. Identify that theme to win stylish Flare Path underwear made from weather balloon foil and parachute silk.

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Tim Stone

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