The Flare Path: Missing Link

Back in the mid 1920s there wasn’t much point in going into a game retailer and asking to see their flight simulation selection. At best you’d be directed towards a display of dead pheasants, partridges and pigeons by a burly man with blood on his apron. At worst you’d be branded a “timewaster” and a “loon” by a burly man with blood on his apron, before being unceremoniously ejected from the shop. Until Edwin Albert Link’s electro-pneumatic pilot trainer arrived in 1929, flight simulation involved outstretched arms and enthusiastic droning; it was what children did on seeing the biplanes of touring barnstormers overhead.

An avid aviator and experienced pianola engineer, the visionary Mr. Link realised that the same technology that breathed life into the organs and player pianos manufactured in his father’s factory, could be used to create a device that would cut the costs and risks associated with pilot training. Utilizing a complicated system of bellows, pumps, tubes and belts, his original simulator was eighteen months in the making and took the form of a miniature stub-winged monoplane mounted on a mechanism-concealing pedestal. Once aboard, flightstick wagglers got to experience first-hand the unique challenges of controlling a craft that pitched and rolled (yaw came later) at the slightest provocation.

The world of aviation was slow to appreciate this faux flying machine. During the the early Thirties, unless you were a US amusement park visitor or a student at Link’s own New York flying school, you were unlikely to encounter one. It took a political scandal and a rash of pilot deaths to change mindsets. In February 1934 the US Army Air Corps was given responsibility for delivering airmail. Unprepared and ill-equipped for the task, they lost ten fliers in accidents within a fortnight of commencing operations. Blizzards combined with poor instrument flying ability were at the root of most of the prangs. Could Link’s ‘blue box’, now upgraded with rudder pedals and full instrumentation, help bridge the skills gap? After military officials saw for themselves an example of simulator-derived proficiency (Link flew through thick fog to attend one crucial meeting with Army officers) six trainers were purchased at $3500 a piece; the seeds of an eighty-year relationship and a multi-billion pound industry were sown.

It’s impossible to estimate how many lives the most common Link model, the ANT-18, has helped save over the years. During WW2 more than ten thousand of these devices emerged from workshops in the US, Canada, and the UK. Most Allied aviators that fought in Western Europe, the Pacific, North Africa and the Far East would have experienced the palm-moistening pressure of a blind-flying exercise at some point during their service.

Sitting under the simulator’s opaque canopy, scrutinising gauges and gingerly manipulating yoke and pedals, the incarcerated must have been acutely aware that every mistake and miscalculation was being recorded by ‘the crab’, an automatic position plotter that scrawled a telltale flightpath track on a map overlay at a connected station. Fliers that ended up miles from an intended destination would have faced searching questions from their instructor/assessor. Repeated failures on the ANT-18 during the early stages of an airforce career would almost certainly have put pilot wings out of reach.

I was reflecting on this as I clambered into the cockpit of a 1952 ANT-18 at a local aviation museum earlier this week. The machine in question was fitted with a clear canopy and the map table/instructor’s station was U/S, but there was still something slightly intimidating about its busy panel, mechanical bull stance and faint scent of lubricating oil and vacuum tubes. I’d been warned by my guide (a retired Phantom pilot) to expect a little control lag, but as the ANT-18 whirred into life (Cold start procedure: Flick one of the two magneto switches and lower a locking lever) what struck me first was the unexpected sensitivity of the controls. During my first minute or two ‘aloft’, the little blue mount lurched about like a lilo on a heavy swell. Very soon I found myself adopting a technique I sometimes resort to when flying challenging PC sims; I uncurled my fists from the yoke and relied on thumb and fingertips to suggest rather than decree direction changes.

Delicate digits eventually did the trick. The artificial horizon ceased its drunken wallowing and I felt ready to attempt a few gentle turns…

Here we go. A tentative tilt of the yoke. A complimentary soupçon of rudder and… CRIKEY! WOAH THERE! A glimpse of curved hangar roof is swiftly followed by a glimpse of sea-grey hangar floor. My guide who is perched on the Trainer steps like a reluctant paratrooper, hangs on like grim death while I struggle to get the Link level again. I start to wish I hadn’t mentioned my “years of simulator experience”.

Under its fairground ride exterior, the ANT-18 hides some remarkably sophisticated features. As well as the sets of bellows that simulate pitch, roll and yaw movements, there’s a motor that can mimic turbulence. As I had a passenger riding shotgun while I flew, I didn’t have the opportunity to test the pre-stall buffet simulation or – gulp – the synthetic spins (Probably a good thing; a rather pretty Meteor U.16 was well within projectile vomit range) but before ‘landing’ I did play with the extensive radio apparatus on the right side of the pit and experiment with the three fully functioning trim wheels nestling against my left thigh. Simply sitting a few inches from a panel studded with beautiful analogue gauges was a joy. That impulse that drives some simmers to spend long years and small fortunes fabricating cockpit-shaped play spaces filled with period-appropriate controls and instruments – I’m beginning to understand it.

A surprising number of Link Trainers have survived the cutter’s torch. Diminutive, utilitarian, and faintly comical, they are easy things to overlook in museums full of WW2 icons and sleek jets. However, hurry past on your way to pat that P-51 or leer at that Lancaster and you’ll slight a true aviation landmark – the great-great-grandpappy of the PC sims we pilot and prize today.

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“Crank the enemy up to elite, increase jungle density, use political defeat and then drop me a line and tell me how it went…..”

Johan Nagel’s (the developer of Vietnam ’65) advice to anyone who’s still finding this refreshingly unconventional logistics-heavy COIN game too easy. Updated this week, V65 now features Phantom-grounding rainstorms, visible FoW, toggleable hexgrids, nameable units and villages, and numerous new skirmish customisation options (Full change list here). Though the older I get, the more I resent having to painstakingly handcraft my own wargame difficulty settings (nothing underlines artifice like commencing a battle with the question “How do you like your scraps?”) I’ll definitely be returning for a second tour now resistance has been stiffened.

What’s next now the patch is in country? Well, going by the following forum message, the V65 engine will shortly be taking on the Taliban.

 

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I was hoping to bring you some Scourge of War: Waterloo impressions today, but, though there’s less than a week to go before release, it appears NorbSoftDev and Matrix/Slitherine are still polishing buttons, ironing kilts, and painting “If found, please return to…” messages on cannonballs. Is SoW: Waterloo merely a camouflaged SoW: Gettysburg? Can NSD’s revised AI think like a Napoleonic tactician? Scour the following overview vids for clues.

 

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The Flare Path Foxer

Like Leicestershire’s fabled Lost City of Pewter, last week’s foxer theme remains undiscovered. Roman is convinced that some clever collage-educated reader will eventually spot a connection between the Bowers Fly Baby, the K9 self-propelled howitzer, the WW1 memorial plaque, the pulp mag, the Fairey Delta 1, the Class 53, Dandelion the bard, Harry Palmer and the ****** ******** hence the pair of puzzles pasted below.

 

All answers in one thread, please.

68 Comments

  1. All is Well says:

    Foxer:
    Is that a Centurion tank in the background?

    • All is Well says:

      (and in the foreground as well maybe?)

      • AFKAMC says:

        The small tank in the foreground is I think the Canadian Army Trophy (CAT).

        “…a tank gunnery competition established to foster excellence, camaraderie and competition among the armoured forces of the NATO countries in Western Europe.”

    • Shiloh says:

      Rod Steiger there, as Napoleon.

    • AFKAMC says:

      The badly landed plane is a slightly broken Siebel Si 204.

      • AFKAMC says:

        ..also built under licence by SNCAC as the NC.701/702 Martinet.

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          Schmouddle says:

          And also build without licence as Aero C-3 in Czechoslovakia.

    • Artiforg says:

      The statue looks like Cain by Henri Vidal (link to a side view from Wikipedia): LINK. Found in the Tuileries Garden in Paris.

      • All is Well says:

        Tuileries Palace was the residence of Napoleon, among others.

    • Rorschach617 says:

      Bloke bottom left. Aircraft carrier Landing Signal Officer?

    • AFKAMC says:

      The guy with the paddles looks like a landing signal officer off an aircraft carrier – possibly WW2 era?

    • Rorschach617 says:

      Between Napoleon and the CAT trophy, is that a Y-shaped bit of metal? The impromptu bombsights used during the Dambusters raid?

      • All is Well says:

        I think you’re right, sir! It’s called a “Dann” sight.

        • Rorschach617 says:

          I believe this particular sight to have come from “J for Johnnie”

          Cannot link the sight, but a Yahoo image search of “Dann Sight” brings up this picture. It is made of wood, and there is a small plaque behind the fork denotes which Lancaster it came from. Link to some corroboration below

          link to antiquestradegazette.com

    • Rorschach617 says:

      Background Centurion could be an Israeli Sho’t (if those markings to the right of the kit boxes are Hebrew).

      Sho’t means Whip, if that helps :)

      • All is Well says:

        Martinet (from AFKAMC’s identification above) is a type of whip. It’s also the name of a very strict French military commander who served under Louis XIV, Napoleon’s predecessor, who lived in Tuileries Palace. This obviously isn’t a real Foxer link, but I like how there’s some sort of interconnection anyway :)

        • AFKAMC says:

          Is the link – er, “corporal punishment”, for want of a better term?

          Israeli Centurion = whip
          Canadian Trophy = CAT = Cat o’ nine tails
          The LSO is holding paddles
          Dambusters = Operation Chastise
          “Rod” Steiger

          • Shiloh says:

            Napoleon was the Little Corporal :-)

          • Rorschach617 says:

            Cain = Cane?

          • Rorschach617 says:

            Well, that looks like a windows icon for a game middle right.

            Is there a game called Nazi-Spank?

            Not sure I want to know, really

          • Stugle says:

            I’m at work – I won’t be investigating ‘Nazi-$pank’. ;) What about the molecule, and the tunnel (?) pic?

          • Shiloh says:

            H3C is a methyl radical, apparently. But I can’t find an image where it’s bonded to O like that.

          • Rorschach617 says:

            I have to ask, is this the first ever NSFW Foxer? :)

          • Shiloh says:

            @Rohrschach – hmm, well, the skeletal diagram of the molecule does show numerous examples of chemical “bonds”. I wonder!

          • AFKAMC says:

            I’m no chemist, but guessing the chemical diagram is the substance in the body which causes pain?

            e.g. something like: COX-2, an enzyme responsible for inflammation and pain.

          • mrpier says:

            The molecule is Heroin.

          • Stugle says:

            Heroin, known as ‘smack’?

          • Rorschach617 says:

            Is there a strategy game where the name is shortened to an act of corporal punishment e.g. Squad Leader: Axis Punching might be shortened to SLAP by supporters?

          • Rorschach617 says:

            OK, how can I put this?

            I did a wikipedia search for “birching tunnel”, on the grounds that Birch/Birching is a plausible surname, with me so far?

            There is no birching tunnel. Wikipedia offers “Spanking: redirect of Spanking Tunnel”. There is such a thing as a spanking tunnel? Yes there is. A birthday tradition, where the birthday boy/girl crawls between the legs of their friends/classmates and get spanked as they go by. Apparently there are several videos on Youtube about this. I have not watched them. This is as far as I am prepared to go. Thus far, no further.

          • Hydrogene says:

            I don’t think the circular structure in the lower left is a tunnel. It looks more like the inside of a large rocket fuel tank. (Empty, obviously). Maybe an Apollo Saturn V rocket first stage…

          • AFKAMC says:

            The game icon is I think Supreme RULER 1936.

        • Stugle says:

          @Hydrogene – I had wondered if it might be something other than a tunnel. I wondered if it could be a submarine hull, under construction?

          Wikipedia tells me the Soviet Union deployed an ICBM with the NATO reporting name SS-17 Spanker, but I’ve been unable to locate any pictures of it under construction.

      • Stugle says:

        Turns out the first search result on Wikipedia for ‘Martinet’ shows it to be a type of whip, as well…

  2. Stugle says:

    Lovely piece on the flight simulator, Mssr. Stone!

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      Henke says:

      Seconded. That was a good read! :)

    • YashJ says:

      Yup agreed! Makes me wonder if those things were powered by analogue computers and what sort of computations those might have been doing. If it was integrations that would make the lineage even more direct! I want to read more about these simulators now…

      I wonder if it felt a little quaint to be in one of those without a digital monitor attached to it. That said the closest I’ve been to flying so far is sitting in an un-moving cockpit at the RAF museum but even that pushed the right buttons for me..

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      phuzz says:

      I learnt something new today, thanks Tim!

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      Phasma Felis says:

      It took me a bit to realize that this was an actual thing, and not one of Tim’s usual tall tales. It wasn’t until the video that I was certain. Fascinating.

      • Llewyn says:

        I’m glad I wasn’t the only one. All the way down – I skipped the video, shamefully – I was sure it was another of Tim’s flights of fancy. Even the photos didn’t convince me. “There’s an old saying in Tennessee,” I thought. I had to go and search for info elsewhere, reluctantly, expecting Google to point and laugh at me, before I finally believed.

        Thanks for telling us about this, Tim. Assuming it’s not some giant elaborate hoax you’re roped Wikipedia and the RAF Museum into, that is.

  3. Bookmark says:

    I’m seeing vague teeth related cues in last weeks teaser, Baby teeth, canine teeth, plaque and pulp. Not sure about the rest though.

    • Bookmark says:

      Replying to my own post because i cant edit. Wikipedia informs me that dandelion means “lions tooth”.

    • AFKAMC says:

      Fairey Delta = tooth fairy

    • AFKAMC says:

      Palmer notation is a system used by dentists to associate information to a specific tooth.

    • Stugle says:

      The Class 53 used a Brush Traction system…

      • AFKAMC says:

        Also, is 53 a common number of “teeth” on a gear or bicycle chainring?

    • Hydrogene says:

      Well done Bookmark. It would make sense then that the Women in Crime magazine is a “Pulp”.
      As in “the soft sensitive tissue that fills the central cavity of a tooth”.

      • Hydrogene says:

        Zut! I’m an idiot. I should have read more carfully, pulp was already in bookmark’s list…

    • Rorschach617 says:

      K9 = Canine

      • Rorschach617 says:

        And Bookmark noticed this first!

        Good work, Bookmark, I hate it when Foxers survive the week :)

    • phlebas says:

      Kudos, Bookmark!
      The missing element is a diagram of a CAVITY magnetron, used for generating a radar pulse.

      • Stugle says:

        Thank you Bookmark for reviving (or putting down, depending on your preferred figure of speech) last week’s Foxer. And thank you phlebas for identifying that piece. I had no clue whatsoever and it was driving me nuts. :)

      • Hydrogene says:

        Ah at least I know what this technical diagram is! I was thinking of an electrical equipment, but couldn’t understand what it would be for. Thanks Phlebas!

  4. Electricfox says:

    I recall reading a good book ‘Cold War, Hot Wings’ by Chris Bain, and he was part of the crew testing out the Harrier simulator. To amuse himself while the boffins were calibrating he’d ‘fly’ the camera/aircraft down gaps between the scenery boards. One day one of the boffins found a dead spider and put it down one of the gaps. You can imagine the reaction from Chris when his simulated Harrier crashed into a giant spider at high speed.

  5. Bookmark says:

    Abyssuk pointed out in last weeks thread that the falcon logo is from a locomotive made by Brush Traction.

    • Bookmark says:

      Aargh, sorry about the different threads, I don’t know why this is happening.

  6. Rorschach617 says:

    OK, how can I put this?

    I did a wikipedia search for “birching tunnel”, on the grounds that Birch/Birching is a plausible surname, with me so far?

    There is no birching tunnel. Wikipedia offers “Spanking: redirect of Spanking Tunnel”. There is such a thing as a spanking tunnel? Yes there is. A birthday tradition, where the birthday boy/girl crawls between the legs of their friends/classmates and get spanked as they go by. Apparently there are several videos on Youtube about this. I have not watched them. This is as far as I am prepared to go. Thus far, no further.

  7. hunsnotdead says:

    Am i missing something, or there is really no mention of the Humble Slitherine Weekly Bundle in the article, nor on other parts of RPS.? Slitherine people finally reach out of their comfort zone, try a bundle with good games and great prices, and the world fails to notice? :O

    Nay, it cant be! We must scale the walls of Fort Niche, and save our brethren trapped in the dark dungeons of obscurity, shackled by extortionate prices, bewildered by Steam skeptics.

    link to humblebundle.com
    Humble Weekly Bundle: Slitherine

    1$ Minimum
    – Conquest! Medieval Realms – DRM Free + Android
    – Frontline: Road to Moscow – Steam
    link to store.steampowered.com
    – Battle Academy – Steam
    link to store.steampowered.com
    – Rise of Prussia Gold – Steam
    link to store.steampowered.com

    Pay $6 or more to unlock!
    – Qvadriga – Steam
    link to store.steampowered.com
    – Hell – Steam
    link to store.steampowered.com

    Pay $10 or more to unlock!
    – Close Combat: Gateway to Caen – Steam
    link to store.steampowered.com

    • Stugle says:

      Saw the Humble Bundle and am definitely planning on getting the $1 tier. Sounds like a great way to obtain Battle Academy.

  8. TheSplund says:

    Micheal Bentine, of Goon Show & Potty Time fame, used to tell the true story of a young RAF pilot who managed to get ‘shot down’ whilst flying a Link simulator – not sure if Bentine was the pilot in question but from all accounts it was a hilarious retelling that would be included in his after dinner speeches

  9. Dozer says:

    Incidentally Tim, you’re supposed to fly using thumb and forefinger only, not your whole fist, in any aircraft. Sounds like the Link is working fine!

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