A Coward in a Camel - An Iron Man flight sim diary

July 24

Two days' worth of sorties and nothing to show for it except frayed nerves and mounting frustration. This morning I made three runs on a balloon, used all my ammo, and still didn't manage to light it up. Bally awful shooting.

July 25

All sims should offer an iron-man option. Sign on the dotted line at the start of a career, and KIA means KIA. Playing RoF this way obviously doesn't generate military-grade dread, (only a fool would crave that) but it can foment a rather potent form of trepidation. I've noticed I've started hesitating before pressing the 'Fly Mission' button. I'm running my own internal pre-flight checks: “Tim, are you sure you're fully awake?”, “Might that lunchtime pint have impaired your piloting abilities?”

July 26

I'm in a field hospital. Yesterday evening the sky over Arras was alive with tumbling Camels and arcing Albatrosses. Two of the latter took a violent dislike to Camilla. I was in the process of making myself scarce when a burst of 7.92mm bale connected. My mount shivered. My vision dimmed. My inner cad screamed “Restart the mission before it's too late!” I told him where to go, and jinking like a whirligig, flick-rolled into a dive. No point checking your six, Stone. Just get this bus back on terra firma before you spark-out or shed a wing.

July 30

Rise of Flight quacks know their onions. After four days of treatment, my unspecified wound has healed and I'm back on squadron. No more marching merrily into dogfights for me. From now on I'm only going to take on the damaged and the unwary. Chivalry can go jump in the Marne.

Lawrence failed to return from a line patrol this evening.

August 1

On the last leg of an escort job with Howard and Davies I spy a Hun scout limping home at treetop level. A three-second squeeze of .303 amputates his top plane. He spins to the ground like a sycamore key while I weave westward, dodging raven-black Archie blooms.

August 2

My first airfield attack. Camilla feels subdued – sulky – with four 20lb bombs strapped to her belly. As we arrive over the target, the locals are loping into the air. Eggs jettisoned I turn my head to see two hangars rocked by muddy fountains of flame and – God – two Albatrosses tethering themselves to my tail. Why didn't I bomb from higher up? Why didn't I wait and watch from a safe distance for a while? Now I'm for it.

August 3

I'm in a field hospital. Again. Yesterday's raid was a proper shambles. Squadron Commander Atkinson is dead. So is Butler. I didn't see them go down. I was too busy praying my bullet-nibbled wings and blood-spattered hands would get me safely across No Man's Land.

I can't stop thinking about the end. When will it come? What form will it take? A bullet in the back... a fiery fall from 10,000 feet... a contretemps with a careless wingman? My guardian angel must be exhausted. I know I am.

August 9

Stalking a Hun two-seater through winding cumulus canyons. It takes a squirt of canvas-shredding MG14 fire to bring me to my senses.

August 10

The newly promoted Flight Sergeant Stone claimed his third scalp this morning – a lone Pfalz. It was a textbook ambush. Well, textbook up to the point when I accidentally rammed my foe's tail, necessitating yet another emergency landing.

Davies was wounded. Gilbert Howard is our new Commander.