The Flare Path: Simple Pleasures

There is an underclass of aerodynes that even the encyclopaedic Microsoft Flight Simulator and the modded-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life IL-2 shuns. For the last four decades, aviation embarrassments like the Seddon Mayfly and Wight Quadruplane have been studiously ignored by flight sim fabricators. Until now – until SimplePlanes – curious simmers have had to imagine the terror of the De Bruyère C1 test pilot, the mingled shame and disappointment of the Percival P.74 designer.

The £10 SimplePlanes has been keeping my inner R. J. Mitchell H. F. Phillips royally entertained for most of the past week. Using lego-style blocks, malleable fuselage sausages and flight surfaces, and placeable power plants, pylons and wheels, I’ve built death-traps, dodos, and drunken sky porpoises. I’ve sprinkled debris over runways, carrier flight decks and mountain peaks. Only occasionally have I rued the slightly clumsy airframe editing tools, the detail-deficient fantasy maps, and the rather slim and unstructured scenario selection.

Incorporating weather-free but essentially plausible flight physics, Jundroo’s creation triggers the same design-test-modify-test-giggle-modify-test-scrap-design cycles as Kerbal Space Program. You fire it up with the intention of cobbling together a quick dive-bomber or a serviceable STOL aircraft, and, several hours later, shut it down, the proud father of a passable Boulton Paul Defiant replica or a bizarre boomerang-shaped flying boat.

Fourteen combat and performance challenges together with customisable dogfight and air race modes endeavour to nudge creativity in specific directions. An airframe perfect for dainty carrier landings probably won’t be ideal for speedy sky-hoop threading; one suited to economical long-range aviation is unlikely to be any good for SAM evasion.

While I’d like to have seen the missions glued together with a witty, character-stuffed narrative, if future updates introduce multiplayer racing and skirmishing, together with more plane components and editor options, I’ll happily overlook story shortcomings.

Right now it’s not easy to manoeuvre parts with precision in the 3D construction space. There seems to be no way to temporarily limit component movement to a single plane. Finding anchor points and dismantling existing assemblages can be fiddly too. Resourceful modders have got round some editor limitations by hacking xml files (The impressive efforts of community craftsmen can be perused/downloaded here); less dedicated souls are likely to find themselves reworking designs to accommodate tool restrictions and missing aircraft components.

In an ideal world SimplePlanes’ construction tool would have SketchUp’s power and polish, the game would come with an Outerra-calibre environment engine and challenges inspired by real aviation history. A small snobbish part of me wishes this utterly brilliant concept was in the hands of a PC-focussed dev with avgas in their veins and Putnam tomes on their bookshelves. A larger pragmatic part accepts that while SimplePlanes may never grow into the MSFS-scale genre-revitaliser I’ve been dreaming about for years it is destined to divert and delight thousands with its novelty, friendliness, and eat-your-geodetic-heart-out-Barnes-Wallis! moments of triumph.

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Last week while branding 2015 a wargaming annus mirablis I somehow failed to mention one of the year’s best releases. Free low-tech WW2 tank title Armoured Commander serves up some of the most intense and evocative campaign experiences in its class. My last Normandy tour was a classic example of the game at its permadeath-dealing best.

M4 Sherman ‘Andrasta’ trundled into the bocage on the morning of July 27th 1944 crewed by commander Tim Stone (selected skills: fire direction, battle leadership, and keen senses) gunner Andre Speltzer (quick trigger, knows weak spots) loader Fred Fillman (shell juggler) driver Joe Levard (cautious) and assistant driver Jesse Leach (eagle eyed). The day started well. After traversing a couple of map cells we surprised a Pz IV on the edge of a wood. Andre’s first shot, an HE shell (I like to travel with HE up the spout), immobilized the dappled foe. A follow-up brace of AP rounds delivered the coup de grace.

We were still basking in the glow of that early kill, still congratulating ourselves, when, a couple of hours later, we blundered into a minefield on the outskirts of a village and came under fire from Normandy’s best-emplaced Pak 38. Disabled by a mine blast and pecked at by that pesky hard-to-hit AT gun, there was little we could do but sit tight and wait for our abstracted comrades (in AC your tank is assumed to be supported by infantry and other AFVs) to smoke-shell and overrun the gun. While we waited Andrasta’s armour and our nerves were tested by several 50mm AP rounds. One impact stunned Jesse. Another lightly wounded Yours Truly. Worry was already well on its way to becoming panic when a grey ‘unidentified tank’ icon at medium range on our 2 o’clock morphed into a Panther G.

If that big cat had paused rather than pushed on into the kill-zone of another allied tank, the campaign could well have ended there and then. As it was, me and my men (though not Andrasta herself who was replaced by ‘Andrasta II’ – an up-gunned and up-armoured ‘Easy Eight’ Sherman – after a run-in with a Jagdpanzer IV during a counter-attack near Avranches on July 31st) survived a week of advances and dozens of nailbiting combats. By the time we found ourselves locked in a hopeless close-range duel with a Panther SW of Rennes on Aug 3, we’d liberated 39 map areas, destroying 51 enemy units in the process. I felt like we’d done our bit, and – though disappointed to be taking no further part in the push to Berlin – was pleased to see that ‘Tim Stone’ was the only KIA amongst the crew. Somehow the grievously wounded Andre, Fred, Joe and Jesse had managed to bale out before the inevitable fire took hold.

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The Foxer

“…My mind rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most intricate analysis, the most abstruse foxer, and I am in my own proper atmosphere.”

Sherlock Holmes ‘The Sign of Four’

1. MYCR FTHLMS Mycroft Holmes (Firenz)
2. BRGP RL Borgia Pearl (Firenz)
3. DRTMR Dartmoor (Llewyn)
4. DN CNGMN dancing men (Firenz)
5. SC RFM LK saucer of milk (AriochRN)
6. NGNRSTH MB engineer’s thumb (Llewyn)
7. BN TPKR bent poker (Firenz)
8. STRG HTNDPKR straightened poker (Firenz)
9. NDRG RNDTRN underground train (skink74)
10. CTRC TKNF cataract knife (Llewyn)
11. MJRSH LT Major Sholto (Firenz)
12. BNS NBRNR Bunsen burner (Firenz)
13. MNGS mongoose (skink74)
14. SDN YPGTL LSTRTN Sidney Paget illustration (Firenz)
15. P MDN opium den (Firenz)
16. SCPDCN VCT escaped convict (skink74)
17. TRCH NPLYCGR Trichinopoly cigar (Llewyn)
18. CYNCPL LT Cyanea capillata (unsolved)
19. VN HR DRRR FL Von Herder air rifle (skink74)
20. BKRS TRT RRGLR Baker Street Irregulars (Firenz)
21.* SNCH BM hansom cab (skink74)
22.* SSPPP RRLN Persian slipper (AriochRN)
23.* ND RRL Irene Adler (skink74)
24.* THNG CDNG gigantic hound (AriochRN)
25.* RP PNG orange pip (AriochRN)

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Last summer my Chief Foxer Setter Google-Street-Viewed from Lands End to John o’ Groats in aid of The Distressed Defoxers Association. This year Roman is planning something even more ambitious – a charity cyber hike from Sainte-Mère-Église to Berchtesgaden. The ten snaps below are by-products of his bi-weekly-but-soon-to be-daily training sessions. Name the pictured locations to win Flare Path Flair Points made from self-belief and bunion plasters.

All answers in one thread, please.

56 Comments

  1. Jekhar says:

    Wow! Thanks for the SimplePlanes mention. This seems to be the Ys Flight/Rigs of Rods hybrid i always wanted.

    • Jekhar says:

      After perusing the steam forums and reviews, i guess i’ll wait a bit. The game seems big on ideas, but low on execution at the moment.

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      It looks a lot like the spaceplane side of KSP, only hopefully with slightly less wonky aerodynamics.

  2. All is Well says:

    FOXER THREAD
    h is in Bastogne, I believe?

    • unacom says:

      Yes, it is.

    • unacom says:

      G) might possibly be the technology museum in Sinsheim.

      • unacom says:

        My guess hinges on the blue panelling on the depot.
        I cannot place the plane, however.
        Feel free to shoot my theory full of holes.

        • Stugle says:

          I’m being Negative Ned today – I can say that it’s not Sinsheim (no Street View, and the photo spheres for the museum show a much more built-up and bustling place. Looks cool). I cannot, however, offer any suggestion as to what it actually is. Anyone have ideas about the type of plane on view?

          • unacom says:

            The engine cowling makes me think of Caudron. But I can´t place it.

          • Stugle says:

            Yes, the engine cowling looks unusual. I’m looking at Lockheed Electras (the earlier version) and the Twin Beech, but I haven’t found any pictures that show that kind of cowling.

          • unacom says:

            I´m getting desperate here.
            Twin-tail plane. Characteristic engine cowling. Post WW II. French or in french use?

          • unacom says:

            …de Havilland engine?

          • Stugle says:

            I found the plane! It’s a Dassault MD 315 Flamant! Now to find the display…

          • Stugle says:

            Here are the coordinates:

            link to google.com

            Not sure WHAT is there, as Google Maps gives me no clue.

          • Stugle says:

            Parc Aeronautique, says the sign at the gate. In Albert, Picardy, France.

          • unacom says:

            Chapeau! Thank you sir!

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      Matchstick says:

      C) is the Hawker Hunter on display outside Sion Aiport, Switzerland

    • unacom says:

      F) This is Woomera Missile Park with a Gloster Meteor.

    • AFKAMC says:

      I) is a De Havilland Heron – Croydon Airport?

    • Useful Dave says:

      Is A the T-34 used for the Liberation Monument in Wolomin?

      • Stugle says:

        I don’t think it is – I can see the monument on the satellite view, but it isn’t there on Street View. And when I looked at the photos that Google has for that location, the pedestal on the Wolomin monument looks different from the one in the Foxer.

        That said, there appears to be an endless stream of T-34s on display, so I’m not any closer to positively identifying this particular one…

      • All is Well says:

        After looking at Google Maps, I’m fairly (almost entirely) certain that the T-34 depicted in A) is located along the road at Vyšný Komárnik, in Slovakia.

        • unacom says:

          Yes. The plinth looks good.

        • Stugle says:

          My God. I don’t know how you found that, but you’re absolutely right. Dukla Pass, on the E371, just across the border from Poland. Well done!

    • SteelPriest says:

      i is Croydon Airport and a de Havilland Heron (Wikipedia says).

    • All is Well says:

      B) is the Deelen Airbase Museum, if I’m not mistaken.

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      Grizzly says:

      Copy pasted for your convenience: J may just be Münsters panzermuseum.
      There may also be a flugaustellung hermeskeile in there.

      • unacom says:

        Thanks. Im pretty sure Hermeskeil isn´t represented here. It is however worth a visit.

      • Stugle says:

        It’s a Challenger tank outside of the Bovington Tank Museum.

    • Shiloh says:

      E) is a Bofors gun, isn’t it?

      • All is Well says:

        Yes it is – the one at the Pegasus/Bénouville bridge to be exact!

        • All is Well says:

          Correction: the one in the picture is placed in Bénouville, and there’s another one at the bridge itself.

          • All is Well says:

            I’ll correct myself again – they’re both placed at the bridge, just at opposite sides of the river.

          • Shiloh says:

            Bugger – I actually looked at Pegasus Bridge (because I’ve been there and my memory was jangling), but I didn’t make the connection with Bénouville.

            Well played sir.

    • AFKAMC says:

      D) is this one: link to flickriver.com

      But the actual location isn’t clear. Italian Air Force museum somewhere?

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      phuzz says:

      E) is an “L-70 Bofors” AA gun as far as I can tell, just looking for the canal/river it’s sat next to.

    • unacom says:

      Let´s recap:
      A) Wolomin War Memorial, Poland (?)
      B) Deelen Airbase Museum, Netherlands
      C) Sion Airport, Switzerland
      D) Aviation Museum Rimini, Italia
      E) Bénouville bridge, France
      F) Woomera Missile Park, Australia
      G) Technology Museum Sinsheim, Germany (?)
      H) Bastogne, Belgium
      I) Croydon Airport, United Kingdom
      J) Bovington Tank Museum

  3. unacom says:

    H) Is Bastogne. lace Général Mc Auliffe.

  4. unacom says:

    F) This is Woomera Missile Park with a Gloster Meteor.

  5. Kyzrati says:

    The ArmCom dev recently said that after a few more months of finishing off the remaining few big features, he’ll be setting off to create ArmCom 2 from scratch, so it can break free of the source material’s rules that kept this one from better adapting to video game form. (The current one being an interpretation of Patton’s Best.)

    I’m sure it’ll be great given that this was his first game, and built in only one year :D

  6. Unsheep says:

    I hope you can eventually do more in the game than just build planes and helicopters that fly, otherwise there’s a serious lack of purpose in the game. You should be able to do something with the things you make.

    Kerbals is very different from this, you do more than just build rockets, you can build space stations and planetary bases. There’s a bigger purpose with what you do.

    • Zenicetus says:

      I’m not sure it’s all that different from KSP. With that game, the goal is to figure out how to build components that satisfy the mission.

      Aircraft designers have mission goals too, like making something that can reach certain targets for speed, altitude, distance, and carrying capacity. Or capable of aircraft carrier takeoff and landing, vertical takeoff and landing, operation into very short primitive runways. In the combat world, the goal is being able to outmaneuver the enemy’s designs with tighter turning circles or more available energy in the fight.

      Maybe that isn’t as exotic as firing rockets into space, but it can still be fun to recreate the history of aviation in reaching those goals with a good design.

      BTW, this can already be done with the very good PlaneMaker module in X-Plane, using realistic parameters for airfoils, airframes, and engines. A lot of interesting work has been done by X-Plane users over the years, both historical recreations and some really wacky designs. Anyone who wants to get a little more serious about building weird and wonderful planes that might actually work, should check out X-Plane.

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      Phasma Felis says:

      There was quite a long while in the early development of KSP when that really was all you could do, though. The greatest goal was to make a rocket that could reach a stable orbit, and it was considered a very real challenger. Give this some time to develop.

  7. xyzzy frobozz says:

    You really should test fly my Woomera II.

    Sadly overlooked during WWII, it is a marvel of simple but robust Australian engineering. It’s an entirely conventional radial engined fighter of the era and, as such was overshadowed by its sexier in-line engined contemporaries.

    Sadly I can find absolutely no mention of it in any history of WWII, but if you’d like to fly it you can do so in Simple Planes. Completely free of vice its a potent if small fighter of similar ilk to the Mitsubishi Zero. The designer, Xyzzy Frobozz, really is a under-appreciated designer.

    Ahem.