Mission No. 4 for Cap'n. Johnny Dobson and his Parasols.
(Note: healthy frame rates maintained with tweaks applied from my previous patch posted above - might also tinker with some settings in the AMD control panel too and will post any tips in the future should any further, good discoveries emerge.)
Our latest mission was to be a bombing run, with the Parasol carrying a few 20 kg combustibles, but owing to the worsening weather I and the boys decided on an arty spotting flight instead. It would have been foolhardy to attempt taking bombs up in these windy conditions, and in crates that could barely climb with pilot and observer on board. As well, wired to us last night from HQ was that at least one of our Parasols do a brief patrol of the area around Menen, further into the enemy's territory - to investigate a factory and bridges in that area, in the spirit of "forward action." Speculation was that this served as an aircraft factory, churning out on occasion German imitations of the Parasol, and also some other ungainly variants, with double and triple tails, that we have heard rumors of but have so far not witnessed at the front lines. We drew straws and I was chosen for the flight - my observer was not too keen on this outcome, but I managed to relieve him of some of his apprehensions with a small shot of Scotch mixed with water.
A new fellow was to go aloft with us too, in the second Parasol. His name was Sanderson and he had studied classical languages at Eton before the war - a well-read chap, we noticed right away. There was a running joke this morning that, in case of engine or other trouble, we would send him behind enemy lines first since he possibly could converse in German, and other languages too.
Soon the banter was over, we were fitted up in our lambskin outer garments, with goggles, helmets, and scarves all done up fastidiously, and off we went. Sanderson and his observer ascended first into the cloudy skies, with us following about a kilometer behind. We escorted them a bit to the south of Bailleul, whereupon, as instructed, their Parasol did a wide climbing turn towards Ypres. We however proceeded on a steady southeasterly course towards the lines, passing them south of the river and then working our way northwards, on their side of the lines - at first encountering Lille on the right, and a battle raging below on the left, and that we spotted for a while, observing the location of the German batteries there. After a couple of circles in the vicinity we headed further northwards, at an altitude of about 1900 m, and eventually found ourselves close to Menen and the bridges and factory we were ordered to assess.
There was so much rapidly-moving cloud cover that nothing was visible however, and we had to descend below 1000 m, more clearly to locate the bridges and factory. We spent nearly 10 minutes doing this, with me ever-careful to idle the engine on the Parasol as best I could, during the long descent, so as not to give away our location to any German guns in the area. We finally managed to take some photographs of the objects and then, eagerly, I pointed the nose of the Parasol in the direction of our lines, and we began a gentle climb into low-hanging clouds that had approached us in the meantime, almost as if calling out to us that we come hide inside. The cloud cover proved beneficial for we remained unnoticed by the artillery below, also by Archie, allowing us safely to climb ever higher before passing onto our side of the lines, around Messines - where some of the worst winds hit us that I remember since arriving at the front in April.
It was not raining, but the winds were so fearsome, and coming at our Parasol from several directions, that we received a right proper thrashing, constantly bobbing up and down, sinking to the left and right - and with barely any directional control being mustered from the Parasol's rudder. It wasn't until we spotted Armentieres to our left, and when we got slightly higher still, that the winds abated somewhat. The turbulent bobbing was nonetheless still present even for the descent towards our smaller of the two 'dromes north of Armentieres - I barely managed to land our crate, blipping the engine like a madman before taxiing to a stop in front of some sheds. Sanderson could be heard buzzing farther behind, having come in by now from the area around Ypres, although we could not spot him owing to the low cloud cover. In the meantime, while unfastening our harnesses and helmets, we noticed a single Be.2 descending towards the 'drome slightly south of us - and painting a rather odd picture on this day - of man and aeroplane, solitary and small, against an endless gray sky.