Flying the Lancaster in Just Flight's venerable 'Dambusters' add-on for CFS2
There can't be many missions more famous than that flown in May 1943 by RAF Bomber Command's 617 Squadron to attack dams in the Ruhr, Germany. And justly so, for the mission was a triumph of technical ingenuity and airmanship, immortalised in the film named after the Dambusters. Flown with real Lancasters, some of the most impressive footage in the film was shot in daylight and recreated the squadron's low-flying practice over Derwent reservoir, with the mighty Lancs seen from above wheeling over the water as they made their practice runs.
The Just Flight CFS2 add on 'The Dam Busters' was officially licensed by the RAF and like most of the company's add-ons, comes in a nice, solid little box with a decent printed manual. It's far from a one-horse wonder. Subtitled '617 Squadron's Greatest Raids', as well as Operation Chastise, the dams mission, it provides many others, including raids on the Tirpitz, the Dortmund-Ems canal, the Bielefeld railway viaduct and the attack on Hitler's mountain-top lair at the Berchtesgaden. There's a variety of Lancaster variants, including the basic bomber and types adapted to carry the dam-busting 'Upkeep' mine and the Tallboy and ten-ton Grand Slam bombs; plus a pathfinder Mosquito, a late-model BXVI. There's even a Wellington bomber, included so you can fly one of the trial missions flown at Chesil Beach to try out the 'bouncing bomb' in daylight. I believe the add-on is still available:
Despite CFS2 not being built to handle bombers, the package does a rather good job, featuring such neat touches as the twin spotlights used for over-water height-finding and the 'wood and nails' rangefinder sight, both as developed for the dams raid. I believe the add-on was used as the basis for a TV documentary a few years back, which featured a crew drawn from current RAF personnel who were trained up and then attempted to re-fly the mission in a specially-made Lanc simulator.
As for the real thing, while we're lucky (in the UK anyway) to be able to see (and hear!) a real Lanc flying with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, you can get no better than this documentary, which features superb authentic wartime footage in colour:
Having recently once again watched and enjoyed the Dambusters movie, I thought I'd spool up Just Flight's add-on and fly one of the training missions, followed by at least some of the others. While the Dams raid and some others are in darkness, the package lets you fly them in daylight, if you wish. As I plan on doing it in the dark, there's little point in a screenshot-illustrated mission report on the dams raid itself so I thought I'd provide this short one of the training mission, as a little taster.
Here's the brief, using some of the custom screens that come with the add-on:
There's also a 'recce photograph, which shows the 'scenery' Derwent Dam that comes with the package, along with various RAF bases including Scampton and Woodhall Spa. The dam is crude but effective, and is neatly dressed up to look like a real-life RAF oblique recce picture.
For me, the star of this show is the Lancaster itself. The Just Flight version is nicely rendered by the standards of the time. And it has one outstanding feature - the engine sound. The roar and din of four Merlins at full throttle is an absolute joy and by far the best I've heard in any sim for any plane. And here she is, sitting at the end of the runway at RAF Scampton. She's a standard BI bomber, not the modified version cut away below to hold the drum-like dams weapon.
From the caption to the first screenie, you can see another of the add-on's nice touches - the pilot's injunction to the ground crew to remove the chocks. Neither can be seen but the accompanying audio is neat.
Looking right, I could see the airfield's buildings, a good selection including hangars and Nissen huts. Beside me was a tractor with some bomb tailers. Without further ado, I checked the controls, set the flaps down three notches, and started up. The engines fired up from left to right, bursting into life with a very satsfactory though muted roar. Ahead to the left you can see the controller's trailer, and beyond that a pair of parked Lancs. To the right, there's another parked aircraft, this time an RAF Dakota.
Now, came the mission's highlight - opening the throttles, and soaking up the din as the Merlins responded in full song. A bit of differential braking was needed to keep her on or near the centre line as we gathered speed, the rudders seeming ineffective, possibly as they are masked by that mighty Lancaster wing. Taking off in a crosswind is an even more interesting experience! Past the parked Lancs we went. As the speed increased I got the tail up and held her there until takeoff speed was reached. A gentle tug on the stick and we were airborne. I quickly retracted the undercart - the animation is a bit fast - and we were on our way!
...to be continued!
A stock CFS2 campaign mission in the Imperial Japanese Navy's famous Zero fighter!
Figuring that - if I was going to be spending more time in CFS2 - I should get myself better re-acquainted with its ways and workings, I decided to kick off a stock campaign in the fighter which defined the Pacific War, Jiro Horikoshi's A6M Navy Type Zero Carrier fighter. I'd always had a soft spot for this plane, having built many a model back in the day, including in 1/72 those by Matchbox (A6M2), FROG (A6M3, later re-released by Matchbox Germany), Airfix (A6M2) and Revell (A6M5) and the excellent 1/32 A6M5 by the latter maker. The little Matchbox kit was always a favourite. Even though its Pearl Harbour version had the short wing of the later A6M5, it looked well left in the white plastic in which it was mostly moulded, with canopy frames picked out, motor cowling painted black and prop in silver. Nice box art too:
And of course there were the movies - specifically, the Zeros in 'Tora, Tora, Tora!' That was a flim made in a day - long gone, if the silly, rather sad comic-book aerial scenes in 'Pearl Harbour', 'Red Tails' and the like are anything to go by - when some film producers could contrive to show just a little bit of respect for their material. Nowadays it's just spectactular but contrived car chases on wings, often hiding behind the claim that they are 'Inspired by true events'. Ouch!
Anyhow a Zero it would be for me, in CFS2. I could have started at Pearl Harbour as I have the Just Flight add-on of that name but I'd never fully played a stock campaign before so started there, even though I knew this begins after 'the Hawaian Operation'.
While IL-2 Pacific Fighters has a better stock planeset and isn't restricted to fighters, CFS2 has a more representative set of ships, decent graphics and even now, is still a great choice for anyone wishing to fly in the PTO, not to mention the many add-ons, freeware and payware, still available.
I quite like the distinctive comic book style CFS2 campaign interface - which again, seems to hail from a mostly-lost era, when sim-makers added such little touches, which brought their campaigns to life . So I sat thru the Japanese pilot's subtitled soliloquy which nicely set the scene for my campaign. Then I got my briefing for our first mission. It was March 13th, 1942, and we were flying land-based Zeros based at Malaguna in New Guinea, supporting our offensive operations in the western Solomon Islands. On our first mission, my flight of thee Zeros was to escort some D3A 'Val' dive-bombers and B5N 'Kate' torpedo/level bombers to raid the enemy airfield at Buka. Serious air opposition was not expected and were were briefed to strafe the airfield, on arrival. A gentle start to our campaign...or a death trap? I would soon find out!
Having consulted the map. I took a quick look at the reconnaisance photograph of the objective. This is actually a very good feature. As it showed the location of the airfield flak, I should have used it to make a plan, allocating my wingmen to attack these positions first, once I'd eyeballed them on arrival.
But I was I a hurry, and instead, headed off to the flight line, where my mount awaited!
...to be continued!
Low-level precision raids in the 'Wooden Wonder', CFS2-style
Why a mission report on a sim released way back in 2000, you may ask? Well, there are three reasons for this, which go beyond a mere trip down memory lane.
Firstly, there's the relative dearth (in number, sometimes also in quality) of sim releases since then; such that many older sims still compare favourably, in features, if not graphically. IL-2 was released the year after CFS2 and it remains well worth playing. CFS2's graphics may be noticeably more dated but they're still quite serviceable and the sim itself benefited from a tremendous amount of additional freeware and payware content, extending its scope from the Pacific to Europe, Korea and even Vietnam.
Secondly, this report was intended to be first in a series comparing the 'Mossie' in different sims - at least, in CFS2, CFS3 and IL-2. I say 'was'...which leads me onto the third reason for a CFS2 mission report...
…which is that my dated but effective 8800GT graphics card gave up the ghost at the weekend, leaving me having to make do with the budget card it replaced (a 9300GS!). So for the next few months or so, it looks like I'll be dusting off some older sims…which is not entirely a bad thing. Or so I'm telling myself!
The add-on, the mission and the plane
A little while ago on another forum, Hauksbee posted about some famous Mosquito precision bombing missions, which included Operation Jericho, the raid on Amiens Prison designed to aid the escape of French Resistance captives believed to be facing execution. This brought to mind the Just Flight add-on for CFS2 called 'Mosquito Squadron' which I recalled featured this very mission, as well as the Gestapo HQ raids which had prompted Hauksbee's original post. You can find out more about the package, which I believe is still available, here:
I already had CFS2 installed on my (Vista 64) PC - I still enjoy firing up some of the historical missions for a rattle in a Zero or a Corsair - so I installed the add-on, spooled her up, created a new British pilot and kicked off the Mosquito campaign.
Sure enough, the campaign mission set included Op Jericho, along with many other representative or historical Mosquito raids. And though these are arranged in date order, to create the semblance of an operational tour or career, you can start the sequence with any mission you choose.
So it was that I found myself at the planning screens for Operation Jericho, on 18 February 1944, leading a strike force of eight aircraft. All were Mosquito FBVIs, the fighter-bomber version packing four .303' machine guns and a similar number of 20mm cannon. Despite the latter taking up a good bit of space including the front half of the internal bomb bay, the FBVI still had a room in the rear half for a couple of 500lb bombs, less than the contemporary BIV glass-nosed bomber but capable of being supplemented by bombs or rockets carried under the outer wings. The famous 'Mossie' will need no introduction to anyone with any interest in WW2 aviation; she had a blistering performance for her day and was the envy of her enemies, excelling as day bomber, fighter-bomber, night fighter, anti-shipping and photo-recce aircraft. The 1960s film '633 Squadron' may (or may not!) be rather clichéd by modern standards but it was a feast of roaring Merlins and low-flying Wooden Wonders, with the odd bit of wooden special effects to match but totally free of the contrived Star Wars-style CGI which seems to blot most flying films nowadays.
Anyhow, back to our raid on Amiens Prison...the CFS2 planning screens, as usual, allowed me to switch crews between flight positions, inspect a map, check mission goals...and view a 'recce photo' of the target. This latter was most useful - it was a render of the target building, annotated to highlight the guard towers, walls and barracks that wanted bombing, as well as the jail block itself, which did not. This was useful, both to help me get 'eyes on' the target during the run in, and to make sure we attacked the right bits of it, only!
The default armament for my machine was rockets and I stuck with these as more accurate weapons (in my unpracticed hands, anyway!) than the HE bombs which I think were actually used on the real raid. Having quickly run through the planning phase - too quickly to take a screenshot, but you'lll be able to see the map at the debriefing stage, later - I kicked off the mission. And here we are, lined up on the runway at RAF Methwold:
Experienced CFS2 players will understand that this sim dates from the time when Microsoft flight sim landscapes were basically barren, apart from placed sets of 'scenery' objects, like the RAF airfield provided with 'Mosquito Squadron'. Despite being Pacific-based, CFS2 does at least include reasonably topographically accurate terrain for much of NW Europe and (as far as I know) the rest of the world, even if it is covered with nothing more than bland (but reasonably effective) textures and odd spots of scenery objects created and placed for specific missions.
Looking at our mounts, the Just Flight Mossie is a nice representation. The canopy framing looks a little slender but the machine's outline looks quite accurate; unlike the CFS3 Mossie, which was a BIV bomber with distinctive split (instead of flat-fronted) windscreen and glass nose painted over for the FBVI and FBXVIII variants, and had a rather poorly-shaped fin.
One negative about this CFS2 version is that the upper surface camouflage pattern is mirrored, whereas in real life the green 'shadow shading' on the upper surfaces was different on left and right sides. Otherwise, it is a reasonable representation of the mid-war Mossie scheme, which used the RAF fighter Command scheme of the day, later modified to use the same, lighter shade of grey above and below.
Inside, you get the old-fashioned fixed cockpit graphic and the less detailed virtual cockpit, the former only supporting snap view, the latter panning as well. Neither are up to IL-2 standards but CFS2 virtual cockpits are not bad, some considering them generally better than the CFS3 versions, though the Just Flight Mossie's is rather dark.
In the external view, I set the flaps to down one notch, checked the controls worked, and started engines, my two Merlins firing up one after the other. One of the highlights of this package - as with the Just Flight 'Dambusters' add-on - is the engine sounds, which are noisy, dramatic and effective, worthy of any current sim.
Brakes off and throttle briskly up to the limit, and I was on my way. Rudder was needed to keep her straight; with the rapid acceleration from my fast application of full throttle, it was easy to overcorrect and some care had to be taken to prevent my kite ground-looping. The CFS2 Mossie's wheels are not animated in rotation but they and the undercart look the part, unlike the undernourished articles on the CFS3 version. I was soon off the ground and retracting my gear.
Flaps up, I called up the 'radar'/Tactical Display/TAC - retained in CFS3, but changed from rectangular to an even more radar-like circular display - and checked the orientation of my first leg with the blue track line to the next waypoint. I climbed slowly and turned gently onto my course, at which point the track line turned green. Throttling back for a bit to enable my squadron to catch up, I looked around. Apart from the scenery objects representing RAF Methwold and the nearby village of that name, there was not much to be seen - open country with summer-like field textures, the odd beige-grey patch denoting an urban area, the flat landscape reasonably appropriate for the low-lying county of Norfolk in eastern England.
Settled on course and into formation, I set the TAC to display ground targets and used the 'warp' feature to avoid the long flight over Norfolk, across the Thames Estuary, over SE England then the English Channel and overland to Amiens in north-western France.
CFS2 campaign missions being scripted rather than 'dynamic', I was confident that unlike CFS3, warp would bring me out at a sensiblly low level, appropriate for this mission, not the 'one-size-fits-all' tens of thousands of feet of the later sim. And so it came to pass.
...to be continued!