How I remember that cold morning in 1940. Ginger and I were in the Officers Mess. 'We really must get this mess cleared up,' I said. Suddenly the alarm! 'Scramble, Ginge, scramble!' I shouted. 'Oh dear,' he said, turning from the eggs. 'I've just started to fry them.'' Sometimes I have my doubts about Ginge...
Of all the aircraft in the history of aerial combat, the Supermarine Spitfire has the greatest aura of romance and adventure, bar none. Of revolutionary design, with a top speed of 350 mph and amazing manoeuverability, it became an integral part of Britain's airborne defence against Hitler. How many thrilled to the sight of this huge mechanical bird locked in deadly combat over the fields of Kent during the Battle of Britain?
Flight simulators are always among the first software releases for a home computer, but they've recently gained a new lease of life by giving you something to do once you get up into the air other than just flying from airfield to airfield. That something is... killing people! Now's your chance to test your canine canniness in a dog fight to the death against the beastly Boche, in what appears to be an accurate version of the Spitfire, with only minor compromises for the computer.
We've come to expect polished presentation from Mirrorsoft and this is no exception. The twenty four page booklet contains not only excellent clear instructions and step by step guides to getting off the ground and what to do when you find Adolph up your exhaust, but also a brief note on the theory of flight and a history of the plane (from which I cribbed the above potted facts...). There's also a four page insert containing the important controls and details, such as how to regain control if you foul up.
This attention to detail continues in the program, with separate options for Spectrum and Spectrum + keyboard controls! And the atmosphere is there too. Although you start with no flying hours, once you've made a successful landing you can save your log which provides continuity of character. Be warned though, as you rack up the hours you'll find the program becomes less forgiving of your errors, increasing your chances of pranging the crate - a nice way of handling difficulty levels.
There are two practice modes, for flying and combat, but the real test comes when you leap into the cramped cockpit, throw out a cramped cock or two, and rev up the engine - which sadly sounds more like a gnat in your helmet thanks to the legendary Speccy sound! Space toggles between the instrument panel and the cockpit view. So, taking note of where you can expect to encounter the Hun (in feet and compass bearing), it's up, up and away - probably instrument flying until you're in the danger zone. Actually the cockpit view is fairly bare, though Mirrorsoft claims you may eventually be able to use landmarks for navigation.
It's probably easier to use the map screen, again accessed by a single key stroke. Then it's war in the air and machine guns blazing as you try to out-manoeuvre the enemy. Here it's the screen view almost all the way and I found it as exciting as any arcade game, suddenly looping over to put a plane that was tailing me directly into my sights. You have to learn to pre-judge targets though and their tactics are cleverly programmed too.
Mission accomplished (and it's not that easy), it's back to base to swop stories of the Heinkel that nearly got away, with a few more flying hours to your credit. Spitfire 40 is a friendly program, not nearly so difficult to get into as some earlier simulators, and it's very engaging with its role playing element.
I snapped on the 'For Hire' light and prepared to taxi up the runway. 'Chocks away, Ginge!' I yelled. 'Aww - and I've only got the coffee cream and that's my favourite. he said. Quite seriously, I have my doubts about him.
No stopping to top up when you’re fighting Jerry, so keep an eye on the fuel gauge. With only 45 minutes flying time you’d be a fuel not to.
The Artificial Horizon, and watch it rock ‘n’ roll as you put your Spitfire through a few acrobatics. It also flashes if you’re being shot at. If you have problems understanding it an Altitude indicator has been added, bottom left.Revving up the engine is all important in flying. You’ll need it way up at 3,400 rpm to take off then down to 1,900 for cruising, so you’re all prepared for the odd burst of speed when you see the enemy.Your altimeter has two hands, for 100’s and 1,000’s of feet. It’s wise to try and take the enemy from above, but you can also play games of chicken, going into ground scraping rolls.When you set out you’ll be given a bearing for the enemy, but take time to work out the way back, using the compass here, unless you want to ditch it in a field.A neat little trick to take you out of harm’s way is to slide sideways. The top needle here indicates how far you’re Slipping while below it is Turn.
Like all those Road Safety ads say, use your rear view mirror. If you find you’ve got a plane on your tail, prepare to take evasive action!
Band-it’s at five o’ clock. So I’d better get this Fokker in my sights if I’m going to be home in time for Glen Miller.Though it’s not easy to see with the Spectrum’s resolution, there’s a pixel thick line here to indicate your speed. After all, when you’re locked in combat you don’t want the distractions of flicking to the instruments.A similar miniscule indicator here provides a guide to the rudder direction... if you can see the ruddy things.
The Hun over the Home Counties! You can use this as a rough guide bet when you reach the battle zone it’s a question of twisting and turning until you achieve visual contact.
A little poetic license in the map, to show where you are. At this stage you’re still in the vicinity of you base. The Map screen also provides a useful freeze facility.A useful bit of info from the johnnies at HQ. After all, you’d hate to miss the rendezvous because Jerry flew over you, wouldn’t you?The three squares are key areas, and successive presses on ‘N’ magnify the map to help align yourself with the runway. It’s advisable to get to know those green fields a bit before you fly too far from home.