Here I am, cup of tea in hand, with a fleeting bit of spare time today, so I wanted to share another story with my fellow fliers.
I haven't had a lot of time to fly WOFF:UE lately, but I am happy to say that for the first time in years, I've had just enough time to progress my pilot careers. I have an intrepid flier in 1915 who just finished flight school in England and who is now flying daily sorties over the Western Front in the much maligned Morane Parasol. Another is wrestling with the recalcitrant Fokker EI. Another still is about to enter Bloody April in a SPAD VII after having won the Military Cross for downing a second balloon in two weeks. And my high-action German fliers in 1917 and 1918 keep me busy as well.
For me though, flight time is about more than progressing pilots or attempting to survive this digital recreation of the First World War, or even just about gaming at its most basic enjoyment. For me, getting in flight time is a massive form of therapy - one that started nineteen years ago this fall. Growing up in a dysfunctional home, gaming was an escape. Games like Gran Turismo, Grand Prix 3, Medal of Honor, and flight sims like European Air War and Red Baron II were an outlet for me to find relief. In 1999 my family got connected to the internet and I found the Delphi Flight Sim boards and not long after, SimHQ. I've yet to meet a better community than those who fly the old wooden kites. Here there's very little ego, lots of encouragement, and even being the youngest kid on the boards by quite some margin back then - always a warm welcome - even after a prolonged absence.
When my life gets busy my mind tends to get quite noisy. I can't stop thinking about all of the stresses, challenges, and sometimes - heartbreak - that we all deal with. Cycling helps a lot, but in the evening, or on a gorgeous fall weekend, I love to open up the windows and return to the skies over the Western Front. When I was a kid, our computer was in the loft of the house - and I have fond memories of smelling the wood furniture and the crisp fall air outside as I built up my hours in Red Baron 3D. It's odd to think of it now - but I've been flying Camels and SPADs and Fokkers for almost twenty years - that's five times the length of the actual war we simulate. The gear has improved a lot - from CRT's to flat panel monitors, head tracking devices, surround sound headphones, (still the same Sidewinder joystick, though), but the experience still gets me as much in my mid-thirties as it did in my teens. It quiets my brain, takes me out of the stress I'm processing, and puts me someplace else.
Maybe it's the realization that I'm not actually in a war - that the chaos in the sky is an order of magnitude more severe than anything I face in real life - that helps me recenter myself. Maybe it's just the process of it all: check my gauges, look around, check your six, look for your flight leader, check the map, and repeat, that help break the thought cycles that I can't otherwise stop. Whatever it is, it works and there have been times in my life when it's been a lifesaver - when it's pulled me back from the brink of darkness so immense I never thought I'd get out.
Today, I have an amazing life: I love my work, I love my hobbies, and I have a wonderful, loving partner who will look at me when I'm stressed and say, "why don't you go play some OFF?" She's always right - and I always feel better when I do.
Just sitting down to my desk, clipping the trackIR to my headphones, and pulling out the same old flight stick I've used since I was a kid, everything starts to feel better. Clicking through my career, re-familiarizing myself with the intelligence at the front, looking at the gorgeous renderings of the machines I'll fly and fight, and taking in the lovely soundtrack, everything slows down. By the time I tick over the engine and hear "Contact!" and the faint barking of a dog or the echo of a phonograph, I'm back again. I can't tell what age I am - just that I'm completely immersed in a hobby that I've genuinely loved for more than half of my life. And when things get stressful once more, I'm always grateful to have one more sortie.
So thanks - to the community for making me feel so welcome almost two decades ago - for OBD for starting this idea and creating the best WWI flight sim I've ever played, and for helping keep this passion of mine - something that I can't get enough of and which helps keep me sane in a world that is often anything but - going for so many years. I hope the ride never ends.
I hope all of you are able to get in some good flight time this fall. I can't wait to read about your exploits here.