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33LIMA

Stalingrad Stuka - classic style

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Flying the Ju 87 over the front on the Volga - in Il-2 1946!

 

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Why fly the Stuka in 'classic' Il-2 - over Stalingrad, to boot - when you can fly it in Il-2: Battle of Stalingrad (BoS)? If you have access to both sims, that's a good question. The new sim models the Stuka to a level of detail that is visually much superior, plus BoS portrays the city and the battlefield around it in tremendous detail. See what I mean?

 

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Well, there are three reasons for playing this mission in the earlier sim, in my case. Firstly, I want to to make a comparison - to feature Stuka campaign mission reports from both sims, one after the other. Secondly, flying the Stuka and some Soviet fighers in the newer sim actually spurred me to do something I had only dabbled in before - start some serious Eastern Front campaigns in the older sim, for the VVS and flying the Stuka. And the third reason is this:

 

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At the moment, AI-flown Stukas in BoS regularly crack up soon after takeoff, often leaving you on your own, after your flight-mates have fire-balled or belly-flopped onto the snow. Well, that's the result I'm getting anyway, and I'm not alone. The solution, for now, appears to be - fly an air start. So that's likely what I'll do, for the next mission report. But for his one, I'm starting with the original sim. Well, not quite the original, since what we have now is a sim that's had about thirteen years development and modding. Here, I'm using Il-2 1946 with the latest Dark Blue World mod installed. The mission itself is, I believe, from a stock Stuka campaign. This is divided into several mini-campaigns, starting early on during Operation Barbarossa and extending to the Battle of Kursk and beyond. Having created a new pilot with the surname of the most famous and successful Stuka pilot, I was pleased to find out that I could go straight to the Battle of Stalingrad. So that's what I did.

 

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The Il-2 '46 Stuka has a comparatively lower-polygon 3d model but it's still a pleasing replica. Moreover, the sim features several Ju 87 variants, notably the early-war B version; the more angular D version most common on the Eastern Front; and the G model tankbuster with two 3.7 cm cannon. Here's the plane I'll be flying now, a Ju 87D-3. It has the correct fuselage code (A5+AH) for the campaign's unit, the 1st Staffel in I Gruppe, Stukageschwader 1 - 'A5' signifying StG1 and 'H' indicating the 1st Staffel, which is in I Gruppe. The second 'A' is my individual aircraft letter; one of IL-2's nice touches is of course that other aircraft not only also have the correct unit markings, they each have different, individual aircraft letters.

 

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A virtual tour of operations with an historical sqaudron is one thing that you don't get in BoS for now. In Il-2 '46 you do and you can look up your unit roster, where you can keep track of your comrades and your relative success...or the lack thereof, as the case may be. I dislike flying as a wingman, preferring the tactical challenges of flight leadership. So for my pilot, I have selected the rank of Hauptman, which I hope will give me plenty of opportunity to show my mettle as a Stuka leader...or again, the lack thereof, as the case may be.

 

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Here's the briefing for my first mission. We're kicking off in mid-September, just before 6th Army's first big attack into the city of Stalingrad itself; the snows and the first Soviet encircling attacks are still a couple of months away. In the second screenshot below, I have scrolled down the text to show how Il-2 lists your flight's composition, which BoS doesn't; though like BoS, I'm only going to find out that we've got an escort when I start the mission itself.

 

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And here we are on the runway, six Stukas in single file, with no less that eight Bf 109s lined up behind us. With an escort like that, surely we should be quite safe from any Bolsheviks foolish enough to try conclusions with the might of the Jagdwaffe!

 

One way or another, I would find out, soon enough.

 

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...to be continued!

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The hills steppes are alive, with the sound of music cannon fire...

 

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IL-2 '46 takeoffs mostly lack the drama of those of BoS and it wasn't long before I was airborne and climbing away from our grassy frontline airstrip. I came around in a wide, gently-climbing turn to the south-east and started looking ahead for a landmark near the horizon, to use as my marker for the next leg of my flight. This would take us straight to the objective. For campaign difficulty, I had set the mini-map to display my route and my own plane, but not other aircraft. This I find is a reasomable compromise between realism and playability, unless you prefer also to enjoy the challenge of more realistic navigation.

 

Settled onto my course, I levelled off, throttled back and waited for the other five Stukas to close up into formation behind me.

 

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Two of them didn't make it, for some reason. They were last seen manouevring at lower level, gradually falling behind. Maybe I had left 'reliability' active in the difficulty setting (I usually disable it) and the leader had engine trouble but I'm really not sure why this happened. Anyway, I thought four of us should be enough to give the mission a good shot; so rather then scrub it, I decided to proceed.

 

With our four Stukas in formation, I opened up the throttle again and began another climb towards our assigned altitude of 3400m. The weather was fine and as I expected to be able to spot and keep 'eyes on' our airfield target from a reasonable distance out, I planed to make a conventional dive-bombing attack, straight off the 'line of march'.

 

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It wasn't long before I spotted some 109s weaving in the skies behind us, before settling down on our right. Our escort was on the job, one less thing to worry about! Despite it being late summer 1942, they were still flying early model 109s, E-7s by the look of it, from their drop-tanks.

 

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As might have been expected in such good flying weather, we were not alone in thinking that today would be a good day to bring some air power to bear on suitable targets. Our Soviet foes had exactly the same idea. In fact, no less than two enemy attacks were inbound in our vicinity: a flight of Sturmoviks and another of Pe-2s, each escorted by a pair of Ratas, tubby Polikarpov I-16s.

 

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About half-way to the target, in the area of the front lines, I heard somebody on the radio indicating fighters had been spotted ahead. Soon after this, watching the escorting 109s on my right, I saw them drop their tanks and swoop down on some unseen targets below and ahead of us.

 

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As it happened, they were attacking some Ratas. These fighters were quite effective in their day but my mid-1942 that day was past, even more so than for our 109Es. The latter had the advantage of height in this encounter, and they were using it.

 

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However, it all seemed to go downhill from there onwards. Before too long there was a panicky call on the radio from a 109 in trouble.

 

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It didn't get any better and in no time at all another 109 was going down. I didn't know at the time but most of the trouble seemed to be caused by one fellow, presumably a leader, with a black engine cowling and the number '1' painted in white on his green fin. Evidently he was something of a hot shot, perhaps an ace from the Spanish Civil War, where Soviet 'volunteer' pilots in Ratas had given the Condor Legion and their Heinkel 51s a hard time.

 

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It wasn't all one-way traffic though, for the Soviets, too, were taking losses. Quite a big air battle seemed to have developed around us, where at least three sorties and their escorts had come together in the same patch of sky.

 

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Unfortunately, all this combat seemed to have stripped us of our escort. On the positive side, we had so far escaped the attention of the enemy fighters. Soon, we had reached the western banks of the Volga north of Stalingrad, which was out of sight in the haze beyind my starboard wingtip. Orienting myself with the map, I adjusted our course so as to bring us in just north of our target, an airfield slightly north of an inlet across the wide Volga. So far, so good.

 

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...to be continued!

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The heat is turned up!

 

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So far, we had avoided getting caught up in the air fights that had broken out all around as we ran in towards the Soviet airfield which we were to attack. As we approached the far shore of the Volga, I was able to pick out the enemy runway, with what looked like a well-worn dispersal area to its lower right. My Stukas were already in echelon right formation and my plan was that once in position, I'd order one kette (3=plane 'vic') to attack flak and the others then to hit whatever ground targets they chose. At that point I would chop my throttle, extend my dive brakes and simply bunt over into a steep dive, trying to hit parked planes or hangars. No fancy wing overs or rolling inverted for me! I lined up my flight for the attack and we crept steadily onwards towards the point in the sky ahead where I would put my plan into action.

 

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By this point I had noticed that a second flight of Stukas was gradually drawing closer, out on our right. I had no idea what their target was - it turned out to be another airfield, slightly east of our own objective - but it was comforting that our flight was no longer alone in the sky.

 

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At this point, the Soviet fighters decided that they would try to spoil our little party.  Unknown to me, a couple of Ratas had avoided or disengaged from the air fighting and were creeping up under our tails, intent on catching us by surprise.

 

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The first I knew of this was when my flight-mates, somewhat lower and on my right, spotted the ascending Ivan and their rear gunners cut loose. Tracers filled the skies between our flight and the Sovier fighter, as I woke up to our sudden danger.

 

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As the I-16's climb brought him up to my own level I turned slightly right, to give my own gunner a shot at him, but not so tightly as to disrupt our formation. Somebody's rounds hit home. small pieces flew uff the Soviet figher, which abrubtly zoomed up and away, pursued by streams of tracers from our fast-firing MG 81Z twin mounts.

 

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The fight wasn't over, though. A second enemy was also in the fight and he was closing rapidly from below and behind. Although I didn't know it, this was the hot shot, number 1 (on his rudder instead of the fin, on the RH side) with the black cowling.

 

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Again I was caught by surpirse as a stream of suddenly tracer swept past, fortunately not directed at me. Our air gunners were still very wide awake and the enemy's fire was instantly returned.

 

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The Rata tok some hits, broke off and disappeared from sight. Once again we levelled off and closed up.

 

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But the battle still wasn't over. The Ivan who'd gone high now came down at us again. This time, I took some hits, but the combined fire of our gunners quickly repaid the Soviet fighter in kind.

 

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The Rata rolled over and fell away inverted. Things settled down and tension eased, following by a feeling of elation that our four Stukas had endured and beaten off a determined series of figher attacks and were still in business.

 

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It was not a moment too soon, for we were now rapidly approaching the point at which we would need to make our attack on the enemy airfield ahead, if I was to succeed in my plan of attacking it directly from our line of approach.

 

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...to be continued!

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Let the Trumpets of Jericho play!

 

We were now very close to the point from which I reckoned I could pitch my Stuka forward and dive-bomb the enemy airfield ahead. I gave the second kette the order to attack AA guns. With just four aircraft out of six with me and not having checked earlier, I wasn't sure which kette the two who'd aborted earlier were from but at least somebody would target the flak while the rest of laid waste to sundry other targets. As it turned out, one Stuka dived away.

 

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At this point I got the rather prominent 'Mission complete' message, which seemed a bit generous. I had turned off 'No instant success' earlier in the campaign difficulty settings, which may or may not have had a bearing in this.

 

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I ordered the others to attack and just as I was about to dive myself, I looked back and saw what turned out to be one of a pair of fighters coming up behind. The wing dihedral meant they weren't Ratas but I didn't see any underwing radiators so I feared the newcomer might be a LaGG or a Yak. Too late - I was committed and could only hope that as in real life, a sleek fighter would not be able to stay with my slow-diving Stuka. I'd worry about what might come later, when I got that far...if I got that far!

 

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I can't recall the last time I tried a dive-bombing attack in Il-2 so I was very unsure how this would work. I lined up with the near end of the runway, intending to adjust my aim onto the best target I could latch onto when I got a clearer view ahead, as I dived. Then I chopped the throttle to idle and after waiting a few seconds for my airspeed to decay, popped open my dive brakes. And whoooa! My nose went down, my Stuka's siren began to emit that distinctive roaring whine and we were on our way!

 

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Before flying this mission, I had re-read Eric 'Winkle' Brown's account of his dive-bombing practice in 'Wings of the Luftwaffe' where he describes the Stuka as '...a genuine 90 degree screamer! for some reason the Ju 87D ferlt right standing on its nose.' He reported that opening the dive brakes initiated the dive and activated the automatic pull-out mechanism (which some units reportedly disconnected, prefering manual control). I was absolutely delighted to discover that Il-2 apparently replicated this so nicely. 

 

I quickly took in the view ahead as the ground rushed up. Unfortunately I had dived rather soon and saw that I was aiming short my target. So I eased off my dive angle to bring up my point of aim onto what looked like a row of aircraft parked conveniently on the near side of the runway.

 

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My dive was now rather shallow, but it would have to do. Ignoring the light and medium flak that I could now see and hear coming up, I let go my full load of bombs at what I judged the right moment. In fact I'm not entirely sure what happened, but there was some degree of automation about it. Either the bombs released themselved at a pre-set altitude and then pulled me out of the dive, or the pull-out kicked in automatically when I let go the bombs. Either way, IL-2 was doing a nice job or replicating the Stuka's unique dive-bombing systems.

 

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My flight-mates saw my success before I did and soon let me know that I'd actually managed to hit something. I retracted my dive brakes and turned west for the Volga, ready to recall my flight back into formation for the escape back towards friendly territory.

 

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At this point there was a loud bang from somewhere right behind and my aircraft bucked as a shower of tracer fire swept past. One of the enemy fighters - a Yak, it was - which had been unable to get me in my dive had now caught up with me! He promptly shot away a large portion of my starboard tailplane.

 

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To add insult to injury, the airfield flak was still peppering the sky around me as I crept away from the target area, struggling to keep my plane under control.

 

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It was only at this point that I suddenly remembered that I could call for help on the radio. I was delighted to hear a friendly voice tell me help was indeed on the way. At this point, the Volga seemed awfully wide and my Stuka seemed particularly slow, as well as unwilling to answer my control inputs. I managed to keep her straight and level but she seemed to want to crabb to the left, taking me the long way across what was already a rather wide stretch of water.

 

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Fighter cover now arrived, but unfortunately, it was enemy fighter cover. There was another flood of tracer and another bang. This time, my port wing departed, shot off just inboard of the undercarriage leg.

 

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This was clearly the end of my trip. I tried to bail out, but we were awfully low. No dice!

 

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I'm not entirely sure what happened after that. I followed the action for a while, watching some AI-flown Stukas do their thing, with some success. I'm pretty sure this was the other Stuka flight I'd seen earlier, attacking the more distant airfield. After bombing, they attacked with MGs, so they were a pretty determined bunch.

 

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Anyway, my first determined attempt at a 'classic' Il-2 Stuka campaign had come to a rather early end. However, while it lasted it was a very engaging exprerience. I wasn't massively enthusiastic about Il-2 until I got back into it and experienced the sim in its latest guise, and with the latest mods. Truly it was and still is a classic sim; as WW2 combat flight sims go, likely still the best all-rounder and still capable of delivering a great campaign experience.

 

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      Intrigued to find out how my first venture into virtual 1914 military aviation will work out, I wasted no time launching the mission, having made sure that in the difficulty settings, I had turned off flutter and wind effects (which the WW1 flight models can’t cope with – IIRC they result in planes having regular attacks of ‘the wobbles’).

      And this is what I saw. Truly, our airfield is a veritable diorama, packed with people, vehicles and other aircraft. While the people aren’t animated, it’s still an impressive spectacle, packed with interest.
       

       
      My number two tried a couple of times to get his engine running but each time it spluttered to a stop; possibly just as well as the bloke in front of him seemed disinclined to get out of his way. My motor showed no such reluctance and after a quick look around I decided to take off straight ahead, without worrying about runways. This worked out just fine, my lightweight aircraft lifting off at a speed which didn’t seem much faster than some of the trucks motoring around the airfield.
       

       
      Sitting roughly at mid-chord above a broad wing, it was obvious I wasn’t going to see much from the cockpit. The Voisins and Farmans parked around the airfield would have made much better reconnaissance machines, and indeed they served on after Nieuport monoplanes had disappeared from the front lines. Flying from the external view, I got a much better view of both my aircraft and its surroundings.
       

       

       
      And fine surroundings they were. Our airfield turned out to be on a little plateau set into the side of an impressive mountain, which comprised a series of peaks with lower ‘saddles’ in between. I resisted the temptation to play that song from that musical, but the hills, if not alive with the sound of music, certainly looked worth the trip.
       



       
      After a bit of sight-seeing, orienting myself with the help of the map, I realised that my reconnaissance objective had been rather inconveniently sited at the top of the highest peak. As my rate of climb seemed to be rather close to the  ‘imperceptible’ end of the scale, this presented me with a bit of a problem. Throttle fully open, I settled into the best climb I could manage on a course parallel to the long side of the ridge or peaks. Compared to the WW2 planes I’m used to flying in Il-2, it felt like I was in a powered glider, and a nose-heavy one at that. Heck, this ‘racing’ plane felt slow, compared to the WW1 planes I’d flown in other sims. Slow...but not too sedate, with a tendency to dive away or begin a roll to either side, if I didn’t concentrate on keeping things level. With little dihedral, a small unbalanced rudder and wing warping for lateral control, this seemed to make sense. Quite an interesting experience in itself, the flight was shaping up to be.
       

       

       
      Realising that I was not going to gain enough height on one leg, I could not resist the temptation of turning right and crossing the ridgeline over one of the saddles. Even getting high enough to do this, took a certain amount of time and effort and I just scraped across. Having gone over the mountain to see what I could see, like the bear in the song the result was not unexpected – the other side of the mountain.
       

       

       
      I now flew a long leg away from the objective to gain sufficient height. That done, I turned around - gently, so as not to lose any of my precious height - and made my way back, aiming for the top of the correct peak.
       


       
       
      Finally I was right over the summit. I should have over-flown my objective to one side or the other, but I was quite keen for my track on the map to intersect the centre of the target marker, lest such precision was needed for mission success or to trigger some necessary mission event.

      In fact it worked – I got the ‘mission completed’ text so that was it. And I didn’t get shot at, or even see a single enemy aircraft. They were there, though, but I only realised that later, when I noticed an enemy aircraft icon on a screenshot which I had taken with the mini-map view briefly turned on!!! To be honest, I'd sort of forgotten the briefing, having been so taken up with the actual flying side of the challenge. And I had become rather fixated on overflying that big marker, as if I were genuinely on a recce flight. Anyway, the top of that mountain was about as bare as a mountain-top can be. Giving up on earlier ideas about putting in a flypast at the castle I’d seen on a lower peak nearby, I decided that honour had been satisfied; it was time to go home. A nice hot brandy in the Mess would help me recover from the rigours of flying amongst the mountains in my little powered glider. Down we went. The early aviators were in the habit of turning off their motors during a descent but I just cut the throttle to idle and experimented a bit with diving angle and airspeed. The unfamiliar flight model I found quite convincing; I have no idea at all how a real Nieuport 4 handled but this one felt just about perfect, for such an aircraft.
       

       
      It wasn't long before I was turning onto my final approach...although to the wrong airfield I believe, a deceptively-similar one on a similar mountainside plateau. I must have had my mind firmly set on that brandy!
       

       
      For a sortie on which I'd missed my opportunity to have my first air fight, I'd actually found the experience surprisingly absorbing. I think I'll try at least one more campaign mission in the Nieuport 4, before moving on to something more warlike. There's just something about the mission which seemed to capture so well the experience of stooging around in an aircraft that is little more than a docile but ungainly powered glider..albeit one with a sting.
       
      ...to be continued!
    • By 33LIMA
      Flying a vanilla campaign in the classic WW2 sim's latest mod!

       
      You can say what you like about the newest addition to the Il-2 line, Battle of Stalingrad (BoS) - and many of us do just that! But one thing it has done for me, is stimulate my interest in its predecessor's original, Eastern Front campaigns. No mean achievement, that, for until relatively recently, I'd regarded Il-2 as mainly offering planes I didn't especially want to fly, in places I didn't especially want to fly them, to adapt another simmer's comment.
       
      At the moment, I have two installs of Il-2 1946 - one for Dark Blue World (DBW), the other for the new Community User Patch (CUP). Due to different files, units and other factors, it seems likely to take a while, before many campaigns that work in DBW or other versions of Il-2, also work in CUP, though some already do and the list is growing steadily.
       
      Both to check out the compatibility of some stock Il-2 campaigns with CUP and to indulge my new-found interest in the Eastern Front variety, over the last month or two I've been running, on and off, a standard Soviet fighter campaign, flying one of the aircraft available in BoS - the rather sleek but not especially high-performing LaGG-3. Like other aircraft before and after, this seems to have been a basically decent design which needed a more powerful engine to turn it into a competitive fighter - which it got, when its inline engine was replaced by a radial, creating the Lavochkin La-5.
       
      From this campaign's timeframe, though, the La-5 is about a year away. It's July 1941, just weeks into Operation Barbarossa, and I'm flying a LaGG-3, defending our dearly-beloved Union of Soviet Socialistic Republics against the fascist hordes of Nazi Germany. And an interesting challenge it's been, keeping my virtual neck intact, up against superior numbers of superior planes and - historically, anyway - superior aircrew.
       

       
      So far, courtesy it seems of some Soviet Socialistic miracle, I have not only survived, but knocked down some enemy aircraft. I'm on my fifth mission, no less...but wondering how much longer my good fortune can possibly continue.
       
      Here's the latest briefing. As you can see, it's a fairly straightforward escort job, with a hint that we might want to shoot up some stuff on the ground at some point, too. Maybe it's a difficulty setting I applied when I created the campaign, but the usual Il-2 red and blue front lines aren't shown on the map. But I'll be able to gauge the whereabouts of the enemy from the front-line target the bombers we're to escort will hit. Happily, the target's not too far off, so I can fly the mission in real time with no need to use 'warp'...which as just as well, as Il-2's never had that, relying on autopilot and time acceleration.
       

       
      The briefing doesn't tell me how many are in our flight, or the type and strength of the bombers. Nor do we get their or our altitudes. I put this down to a level of uncertainty, even confusion, in an air force with its back against the wall...or perhaps, against a Commisar with a small-calibre pistol and a willingness to employ it, in stiffening our resolve, should that become necessary.
       
      At the flight line, I find that there are in fact three of us on this hop. Having chosen a high enough rank to avoid the (to me) hateful chore of formation-flying - and to enjoy the extra challenge of flight leadership - I'm at the head of the queue. This being a stock mission, there's none of the newer formation takeoffs. Happily, the default Il-2 conga line is a short one, today.
       

       
      The current LaGG-3 I find is a nicely-rendered bird. More rounded contours in some places, inside and out, would be nice but I'm not complaining. Her authentic, subtly-weathered camouflage and national markings are convincingly-applied. There's no sign of the original opaque Il-2 markings, which looked like the over-thick waterslide transfers you used to get on plastic kits, guaranteed to blot out all but the crudest surface detail. And the cockpit, though clearly well behind the latest self-shadowed, finely-curved marvels, is still quite serviceable.
       

       

       
      One new feature the LaGG does enjoy are more rounded wheels, and very welcome they are, too. Soon, I was aloft and retracting the gear. After the crazily finnicky ground handling of BoS, takeoffs in '46 are...well, whether more realistic or not, more what I'm used to.
       

       
      Another, older improvement to Il-2 that the modders have wrought is the engine sounds. I absolutely loathed the dreadful external engine drone of the original sim. That's a distant memory now, so I can admire my bird in the external view without feeling that I need to turn down the sound.
       

       
      In fact, so much was I enjoying the external aspect of my LaGG sweeping over the Steppes, that I decided to let the autopilot fly, for a bit. There was now sign of the bombers and I thought, rightly as it turned out, that my alter ego would have a better idea than I, were they were and at what height we should be.
       
      My number three lagged (sic!) for a bit but my number two wasn't long in catching up. We perhaps tend to take for granted these days such Il-2 wonders as different planes having different individual numbers but even now, not all sims have this and it's still a fine thing to behold.
       

       
      Three of us had left our airfield. How many would return, and would I be amongst them? The answers would not be long in coming.
       
      ...to be continued!
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