Dawn Patrol

..as flown in the HFS Spitfire Mk.IX Simulator..

Biggin Hill is just starting to wake when I lower myself into the welcoming confines of the cockpit. The gentle rain of the evening has given way to scuddy clouds. Having strapped myself in I pull up the hatch and latch it firmly into place. I check that all the switches are in their off position, working carefully left to right in my now familiar routine. Set altitude and check alignment of the magnetic compass.

I move the throttle forward and the electrics come on, lighting up the undercarriage indicator and fuel pressure light. Fuel cock to open position and with 11 pulls of the wobble pump the fuel light goes off. Unlocking the primer pump I give it 4 cycles before locking it back in place. I crack the throttle open, flick the left and right magneto switches up, open the starter and boost coil switch covers before shouting “Prop Clear!”. With the stick pulled back between my knees I push the starter and boost buttons with my right hand, resting my left on the closed mixture cut-off lever.

The giant four bladed prop starts to churn around with a whine, swirling a chilly blast into my face. There’s an explosive blast as one cylinder fires, then another, sending shudders through the airframe. The peace of the morning is shattered by the monstrous roar of the Merlin. I move the mixture cutoff lever to full forward position and bring the throttle back to a steady 1000rpm. The mad vibrations become a steady throb. Checking that the oil pressure gauge comes alive I close the starter button covers and wait for the temperatures to rise.

The peace of the morning is shattered by the monstrous roar of the Merlin

This mornings’ mission is just to check out this particular aircraft prior to it being sent to a frontline unit. One of those rare days where you can just take it a little more easy and enjoy the beauty of flight.

A gentle gust from the north tugs idly at the windsock as I line up on runway 03. Final checks on the temperatures and trim before I start opening the throttle gently. The diminutive airframe jumps forward, pulled recklessly by those massive swirling blades and 1600hp of raw power. Keeping all of that aligned on the runway demands intense concentration and before I know it we are hoisted into the air. The pressure on my right leg starts pushing me up in the seat before I hastily center the rudder trim. Switching hands deftly I raise the undercarriage and pull the canopy closed. There is instant relief from the blast of wind, providing some room to clear one’s thoughts.

Biggin Hill – DCS World Channel Map

A shaft of golden sunlight to the north illuminates the Thames where it curves through London. Behind that hangs a dark murk. I start a climbing turn towards the lighter south-east. It looks set for a beautiful spring day as I pass through the first of many layers of scattered cloud. In the distance the Channel gleams a dappled bright silver and I can just make out the darker French coastline at the edge of visibility. I pull the airscrew control lever back, reducing the engine revolutions from 3000rpm to 2600rpm. Adjusting the throttle to a boost reading of 8psi the craft settles into a steady climb at 180mph.

At 14000ft the second stage supercharger kicks in. I open the oxygen cock and turn on the fuel tank pressurisation. She’s climbing like a homesick angel..

Suddenly a shudder and a loss of rpm. I glance at the gauges and see everything is normal, yet the big motor is faltering, gasping for fuel. We are just over 21000ft. Damn! I forgot to turn on the fuel pump after startup again! I reach under the big elevator trim wheel and flick the switch just in time to have the motor burst into life again! Shabby.. got to keep a clear head..

Incredibly immersive DCS World

In our steep climb to 30000ft we have passed over the coast and find ourselves over the Channel. Time to head back. I can not resist however to dive towards Calais, thinking I will just zoom over at high speed before they realise I am there. All looks very quiet from here and it feels like I am the only one out today. I bring the throttle back and dip the nose to a point just north of Calais. The airspeed indicator rushes around before settling at 450mph. The French coastline draws rapidly closer and I start pulling the Spitfire gently out of the dive using elevator trim, curving south over Calais. The port lies quietly with a few small ships in the harbour. I flash over the coastal defences, grateful that I must have caught their AA batteries napping.

A sudden flash of a yellow nose bowl catches my eye. I am not the only one out here! I crane my neck to see a Bf109 taking up a quarter rear aspect. He must have been tracking me, going at least as fast as am now. I roll to the right, pushing the throttle through the gate and start pulling towards him. He tries to stay on my tail but overshoots. As we start circling I can see I am gaining angles on him. We still have plenty of energy and he decides to pull into the vertical. I follow and he starts running out of speed before I do, turning into the cross of my gunsight. I manage a quick burst, the 20mm Hispano’s and .303 Brownings shudder through the airframe, but there is too much deflection and I miss. I flick back and am diving after him, gaining across the turn he has started. Another chance but he disappears under the long nose. I give another short burst, knowing he will be hit if he has not jinked left or right. I roll to see where he has gone. There he is, off to the right, starting another turn. Again I follow him, keeping outside his turn but making up the angles. Once more he goes vertical before I can get him into my sights, and once more I follow him. This time he misjudges his return and almost stalls as he flicks on his back. Another burst as he passes through my sights and I can see flashes as the cannon rips through his fuselage. I zoom past and roll onto my back before heading back down. I can see he was not been able to pull out of his dive and smoke pours from the hole where he disappeared in the rolling green countryside. Keeping the throttle wide open I head low over the waves back to the English coast. I keep jinking left and right while craning my neck to make sure no one else is following me. Once I am sure no one is I bring the boost pressure back to 4psi and bring down the RPM to 2600. The temperatures are high but not yet critical.

Another burst as he passes through my sights and I can see flashes as the cannon rips through his fuselage

Passing over Dover I head towards Folkestone and start gaining some altitude. The circuit at Hawkinge is empty and I bring the speed right down, entering a lazy turn left downwind. Canopy open and the wind lashes at my face again. Gear down. They lock in place with a thump. Flaps down and the nose dips markedly until I compensate with elevator trim. We curve in to the grass runway at 120mph, decreasing to 100 over the hedge. Keep her steady and don’t close the throttle yet.. We float 2 feet over the grass and I take care not to give too much elevator and risk a balloon. As the speed drops I keep the same height by gently and gradually continuing to raise the nose until we settle down onto the grass at stall speed in a perfect three point landing..Satisfaction! But we’re not there yet! Keep flying until she stops! She slows down gradually over the bumpy field and I keep on the rudders to keep her nose straight, only adding a few dabs of brake at the very end when all rudder authority has been lost. We turn off to the dispersal before I come to a halt before shutting her down. What a beautiful morning!

Taking off the VR headset I am returned to the atmospheric surroundings of The Hangar. Amazing, how immersive it is to fly in a real cockpit with force feedback, wind, vibration and virtual reality..!

The HFS Spitfire in The Hangar – Opening at the end of this month!

A core part of this experience is flying in the incredible DCS World using the WWII Assets and Channel Map. You are cast into an utterly convincing world at war 80 years ago. The fidelity of the Spitfire simulation is absolutely stunning. Developed by the team of Nick Grey of The Fighter Collection and Flying Legends Airshow fame, it speaks volumes to the inputs received from his corps of real world Spitfire pilots. No other simulation of the Spitfire has reached this level of accuracy, period..

Nick Grey of The Fighter Collection and Eagle Dynamics, creators of DCS World

This has been the deeply satisfying culmination of my effort over the last five years. I am now looking forward to being able to share this experience with anyone wishing to visit us here at The Hangar in Ireland!

The screen captures from DCS World here are off their website.

4 thoughts on “Dawn Patrol”

    1. Thanks Doug! It really is testament to how vivid and real the experience is that I can still recount and relive it days later!

  1. Wow! Multi-talented and a perfectionist to boot!
    I kept feeling my legs to make sure I wasn’t Douglas Bader…..

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