The Ultimate Difficulty Setting

by Frank “Dart” Giger


Adjusting to full fine prop pitch, once again I climbed through the thick cloud cover that formed an almost complete blanket in the skies between 3,000 and 4,000 feet, nearly standing on the tail, my hand poised to push the throttle of my nearly cooking engine past the wire into emergency power. I’d lost my number one in the melee nearly a minute ago when we broke from the surprise attack from above, and the sweat was beading up beneath the visor as I whipped my head about, looking for the FW-190’s that were lurking about.

“Where are the Germans,” asks a strange, high pitched voice within the cockpit, beyond the headphones, faint over the strain of the engine, and then answered its own question, “probably behind you.”

“Mohawk, location…”  I say into the microphone, my voice clipped and anxious.

“Cloud,”  comes the croaked response. He sounds as concerned and uncertain as I am.

“You’re in trouble,”  says the distant voice.

There, to my right, not a hundred feet off, a Butcher Bird emerges from the blanket next to me, climbing in parallel.

Time stops.

We look at each other incredulously, neither touching the controls, as if in some bizarre formation, waiting to see who’s speed will bleed off first.

“I made the man jump out! It was too dangerous!”“Bail out! Bail out!” says the voice within the cockpit, “you’re gonna die!”

“NO!”  I holler over the din of the machine, defiantly. The stall is coming, the plane beginning to wallow, yet I hold. The Fokker is slowing as well, keeping perfect station…. he need only fail a split second before me. Contrails form on his wingtips and I see his elevator rising, the rudder beginning to flash in the sunshine as it works side to side.

I push to emergency power, knowing it will burn the engine in a few minutes if I keep it there. But the power I need is only for an instant more.

There! He drops the right wing, rolling over, and I hammer the rudder hard to hammerhead at the same time that a disembodied arm with a small hand reaches over my shoulder and presses a button on the joystick.

My plane noses over perfectly, aligning with the enemy’s six as the canopy falls away from the aircraft and I find myself in freefall just above the clouds, watching the virtual German disappear into the silk….

“Daddy,” my son says with relief, “I made the man jump out! It was too dangerous!”

Closterman may have struggled with these same clouds and faced death at the hands of FW-190’s, I muse, but at least he never had to put up with a defeatist ten year old sitting behind him while he did it.

Welcome to the real flight sim “Full Difficulty” switch — family.

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