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Simulated flight to history

Written by Jukka O. Kauppinen aka Grendel
Translated into English by Markku Herd

This article was originally published in the Siivet - Wings magazine in year 2001. The text is written mostly about the WarBirds flight simulator, but the descriptions of online flying match what you will find from any other flight simulators.

With flight simulators, it's possible to experience World War II aerial combats today. Most of the simulators sold in shops can be played only against computer-controlled opponents and they are set in a limited historical period. Online simulators played in the Internet don't have such limitations: environments change daily and other people fly along with you. The top title of online simulators is WarBirds, whose regularly played historical missions have ensured it favor especially among historical aviation enthusiasts.

Historical war missions on your home computer

In the realm of WarBirds, historians and planners among the players are constantly setting up historical battles onto the virtual skies. Thus net pilots have been enjoying a multitude of air combats that strive to represent actual incidents as closely as the parameters of current computer technology and the game permit. Throw in a pinch of imagination and a huge dose of hard work, and the result is a combination that has proven irresistible to many who look for a genuine World War II flight experience.

Along with straightforward flying, the historical scenarios are the best WarBirds has to offer. They give computer pilots an opportunity to transfer right into a virtual World War II. A replication of a historical battle, where air forces played a significant role, is created into the game, and then the virtual pilots are let loose. Although the initial setting is as close to reality as possible, what follows depends on the players themselves and history doesn't always repeat itself.

Knowing that the planes on your screen are piloted by living people makes every flight an unique experience. The human factor can make a difference any moment: perhaps the escorts don't find the bombers before interceptors do, a unit gets lost, an order to break away goes unnoticed... Anything can happen and you can never be sure of the outcome.

From small skirmishes to major battles

Historical battles are arranged in certain dates and times on servers that have been set up especially for the occasion. The most suitable map is used, the environment and front lines specified, and the plane selection is limited to historically correct. Since the simulator's arsenal consists of about sixty plane types from the air forces of the USA, Britain, Germany, the USSR and Japan between 1940 and '45, the action can be set up pretty freely in different battlefronts. There are three categories of historical scenarios:

Scenario Lite
is a small, 30-60 minute mini scenario played once a week, Sunday 10 PM. Being the most traditional combat series of WarBirds, the 192nd Scenario Lite was fought in January 2001. Some 600 mini scenarios have been played during the years, but unfortunately only the Sunday date suits to most Finnish players. Usually a single, relatively short mission is depicted.

The European Micro Scenario (EMC)
is a medium-size (120 minutes), three-part campaign that is aimed for European pilots and is flown once a week, Wednesday 10 PM. Designed by European pilots and fitted for our schedules, the EMC's are the most popular way to enjoy historical combat. The setting is bigger than that of Scenario Lite, representing a part of a larger battle. During the two hours each side flies several, usually 10-15, pre-planned missions. Each side has different but (naturally) conflicting aims. Thus the battles are often referred to as chess games in the sky, with both sides attempting to make tactically valuable strikes while repelling the enemy. Continuity is significant attraction to EMC's - the whole is divided to three weeks and the results of previous combats have an impact on the following ones, in the form of changing resources and targets, for example.

Major battles
are, as the name implies, large scenarios or multi-scenario campaigns arranged a couple of times a year. Major scenarios are rare experiences. Earlier they used to take two to four weeks, with missions flown on several days. For example, the "Pacific Solomons II" fough in 1997 consisted of nearly 20 individual combats. Late 1998 and early 1999 were spent with the 1940 invasion of France.

The attraction and scale of the combats - there were constantly over 200 pilots in the air from all around the world - can be seen in the effort of yours truly: I flew three combats each Saturday, nearly eight hours constantly in the virtual sky. But I also flew in the Wednesday combats targeted to American pilots, and those began at 3 AM. Nowadays the longer campaigns are partly replaced by the EMC's, and there are smaller but more intensive major battles in their stead. For example, during the December Midway, about 320 players flew over 500 combat missions in three hours.

Finnish pilots in virtual sky

There is a large group of Finnish players flying regularly in the scenarios. Although Finns were witnessed earlier too, the EMC's beginning in September 1998 offered a completely new concept. The active cooperation they encouraged had brilliant results immediately. During the first EMC, the Battle of Britain, Finnish pilots worked together to crush the British radar network, opening a route to bombers.

Finnish pilots joined forces officially on May 8th, 1999, with the New Guinea campaign. The idea of a completely Finnish squadron was born, one where the native language could be used for communication by taking advantage of the effective voice radio, a program that allows real time discussion with others online. Thus a squadron of Finns in Ki-61 Hien fighters took off into the New Guinea sky, encountered enemy P-38, P-40 and B-25 planes during the day and returned home with five victories.

Encouraged by the success, the cooperation intensified and in the EMC #6 on July '99, "Christmas at Rabaul," the net pilots came together to form the "Emperor's Finns" squadron. Teamwork created many new aces as the Ki-84 and Ki-61 fighters facing American P-38, P-39, P-40, P-47 and B-25 planes. Subsequently the Finns assisted the invasion of Crete, but the legend of flying Finns was truly born in August '99, as the EMC #8 brought the pilots back to 1940 and the British airspace.

The first episode of the three-part campaign went nicely by the Finns, but the second battle far exceeded all expectations of the pilots as well as the commanders, not to mention the opposition. The Finns flew the most dangerous missions of the battle, volunteering to the hardest missions, almost as cannon fodder. First the squadron's Messerschmitt 110's masqueraded as bombers at the outer limits of the enemy radar network, trying to attract the RAF away from the real bombers' way - and successful they were. After heavy battles many a plane returned home with literally empty tanks.

Following that, a second suicide mission was offered: Freie Jagd right to the core of the British air defense, again in Me 110's. History books discuss the efficiency of the Me 110 against the RAF, often agreeing that with better tactics the plane would been a lot more successful. The Finnish team proved this true: a slow-reacting squadron of Spitfires, taken by surprise by squadrons of Zerstörers attacking with altitude advantage, was almost completely wiped out with no losses. Perhaps the Zerstörers of the historical Luftwaffe should have used rocking-chair tactics as well. The highest praise came from the enemy commander: "It was particularly heartbreaking to see my last Spitfire squadron being brought down by 110's."

This was when the Finnish squadron was awarded the nickname "Überfinns Perkele". As a squadron it has been highly successful: by the time of writing (January/February 2001) of the nearly 70 battles fought, they have clearly lost only three. Still it is not a closed elite squadron, the ranks of the Überfinns are open to any Finnish WarBirds pilot. There are pilots of 14-60 years of age, average being about 30-35.

On all fronts

The battlefronts and situations can be changed quite freely in the Internet simulations. For example, in the EMC #20 "Jv44 - The Galland Circus" in October 2000, a small group of Me262 and Focke Wulf 190 pilots engaged a many times superior force of USAAF 8th AF fighters and tactical bombers. The wages of war swung from side to side - initially, thanks especially to fighters protecting the home base, the jets could operate almost freely. The final battle resulted in defeat though, as P-47's and P-51's patrolling the take-off and landing paths took the Me262's out of business.

Finnish pilots have flown everywhere in every role: in the cockpits of Me109's, 110's, Stukas and FW's during the Battle of Kursk, in night fighters against British bombers, on both sides of the African front flying 109's as well as Blenheims and P-40's, defending the Japanese islands against British carrier-based attacks, soaring in the Chinese sky in Ki-43's, fighting for the Fatherland against Allied bombers, and so on. Several turning points in European and Pacific theaters have been lived again, such as Pearl Harbor and Midway.

Many Finnish pilots fly online simulators because of the historical aspect. It's not possible to have a highly accurate representation of reality by the computer screen, but WarBirds can at least give you a touch of the magic of the old warbirds, and give an impression of what it may have been like.


Written by Jukka O. Kauppinen aka Grendel
Translated into English by Markku Herd

Last modified: 2004-06-13 16:23