Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m a retired Royal Air Force officer, fast jet pilot and flying instructor. I grew up just east of Belfast in Northern Ireland during the height of the Troubles and joined the RAF after leaving university. Even by that time I had quite a few flying hours with the Air Cadets (I’d worked as a Staff Cadet on one of the Air Experience Flights), been awarded a Flying Scholarship with the RAF at age 17 that I extended to gain my Private Pilot’s License, and then flown lots of hours with Queen’s University Air Squadron on the mighty Bulldog T1.
I joined the RAF in 1989, passed through Initial Officer Training at RAF College Cranwell and then went up to RAF Linton-on-Ouse for Basic Flying Training on the Jet Provost Mk 3 and 5 (the Tucano was just being introduced into Service). Advanced Flying Training followed on the Hawk T1 at RAF Valley, Anglesey, Wales, and then I made a move down to RAF Chivenor in Devon to complete Tactical Weapons Training on the Hawk T1A. This is the first time you use live weapons and start operating a military fast jet rather than just flying it; the course covers low level tactical navigation and formation, A-G bombs and guns on the weapons range and then simulated attacks off range, first as a singleton, then a pair and then with a bounce aircraft, air-to-air gunnery against a towed banner, 1v1 Basic Fighter Maneuvering and 2v1 Air Combat Maneuvering. Back in those days the Fast Jet chop rate was pretty high on all of those stages of training (around 50-60% on each of those courses) so it was a relief to make it through to my Operational Conversion Unit on the Tornado F3 at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire in summer ’92. I flew 2 tours on the F3 at Coningsby, the first on 5 (AC) Sqn and the second on 29 (F) Sqn, absolutely loved the aircraft and front line flying and have some very good memories (and a few sad ones) from those tours. When 29 (F) Sqn folded as part of the UK defence review process I was posted to RAF Valley again, this time to instruct on the Tactical Weapons Unit which was now badged as 74 (F) Sqn (later re-badged as 19 (F) Sqn).
While I had really not wanted to go to Valley, I really enjoyed the instructional role spending about ½ the tour in a Staneval role (Standards Evaluation, which also meant teaching new instructors as well as ab-initio pilots). Promotion out of that tour meant a short ground tour in Aviation Safety, followed by a tour as an accident investigator assisting Boards of Inquiry (best, most varied ground tour I did), then a year running the Joint Operations Centre in the HQ in the Falkland Islands (another very varied job). My last flying tour was as the UK Senior National Representative at NATO Flying Training Canada on the Hawk CT155s at CFB Cold Lake, Alberta, Canada. That was another great tour, teaching a similar syllabus to that at RAF Valley, but with better navigation kit and fewer valleys.
By the time I was posted back to the UK to a job in defence research at Farnborough I was already starting to feel the effects of an illness caused by a short time spent in the Gulf in 2003 during the early days of that war. As my illness worsened I had a final tour closer to home working in the project team in Bristol supporting Flight Simulation and Synthetic Training before being discharged in 2013 after a little over 23 years service. Amongst all that I got married and we had 3 kids. We now live in Somerset in the UK.
How long have you been playing flight sims?
I can still remember playing Janes AH64-D Longbow, Janes F/A18 and Janes WW2 Fighters back in the mid ‘90s. When I was instructing at RAF Valley a small group of us would lug whole PCs and CRT monitors up and down the road to each other’s houses and set up a LAN to play, and that was an absolute blast (especially the WW2 stuff). Then I stopped for a very long time – I moved to a Mac for my photography when digital SLRs became more widespread and it was only recently (just over 2 yrs ago) that I discovered DCS and got back into it big time. Having the time now to enjoy it really helps too.
What other related aviation or gaming interests do you have besides WW2 flight simming?
I really enjoy photography (all genres) and over the past few years (2020/COVID aside) have started getting back to airshows to enjoy aviation photography. My favorite airfield to visit is Old Warden where the Shuttleworth Collection is housed and displayed, but I’ve also enjoyed attending RIAT for the last few years for the zoomies.
If anyone is interested some of my images are at http://www.edburrowsphotography.co.uk though I’m not that good at keeping my site up to date.
In 2018 I completed an aviation themed panel to celebrate 100 years of the Royal Air Force and gained my Craftsman with the Guild of Photographers. You can read more about that here https://spark.adobe.com/page/3M7fsguAat9GR/
What’s your all time favorite flight sim and why?
DCS, without any hesitation. I’m so often just amazed at how far simulation has come since my first 486SX25 PC. For me, it’s the combination of fidelity in modelling of both aircraft systems and flight models that appeal, and the immersion gained by flying in VR. Sprinkle on top the fun to be gained by adding SRS and a few buddies (or strangers) to coordinate online and it’s an absolute blast. I’m a bit of a DCS module junky and do enjoy flying most of what DCS has to offer, even if I’ve been concentrating on warbirds for the most part recently. I would love them to fix the multi crew issues on the trainers as they are a blast and a great teaching tool.
What got you into DCS and the warbirds in particular?
I miss flying. As far as DCS specifically goes I saw a video on YouTube (I think it was one of Ralfidude’s) and then researched it. I built a PC to play it, added VR when the Rift S released and am now midway through a rebuild. It was Phil’s YouTube channel that really introduced me to the warbirds and to Storm of War multiplayer. I suffer from fatigue quite badly so the typically shorter sorties in the warbirds really suit me and there are fewer HOTAS configurations to remember.
What interests you most as a player?
I enjoy flying a sortie. So start up with some form of intent in mind like a ground attack on a certain target, or a fighter sweep through a certain area until bingo fuel and then return for an overhead break and landing. Of course, plans always change but I prefer to at least start with an aim when I take off rather than just chasing radar returns. The most satisfaction though comes from coordinating with others on SRS and I’d encourage all the players to not be shy – use the radio. I’m really looking forward to the Mosquito and some longer low level bombing raids with a group of players.
Are you in a virtual squadron?
I’m in a group that flies fast jets and helos but I’ve been neglecting them a little of late (sorry chaps). Part of that has been waiting for a VR upgrade (that keeps getting delivery delays) that will make the jets that bit easier in VR (reading MFDs can be a little tricky in some of them at the moment) but mostly it’s because I’ve been enjoying SoW so much. On SoW I fly with JG 53 but will happily team up with anyone on SRS, and am generally happy to help anyone. If you type in the chat window though you’ll rarely get a response from me as it’s tricky to use in VR. I flew mostly Blue when I first started on SoW and the guys on JG 53 were mostly on at a similar time and very welcoming. It was a natural thing to join them, and since then a few more have joined us in the same way. It’s a really great relaxed bunch to fly with and we are just starting to try to get slightly larger numbers flying together, which has been some of the most enjoyable gaming I’ve ever had. I’m fortunate to have found them.
What kind of rig/ hardware setup do you have?
PC Specs are Ryzen 7 3800X on an MSI B450 motherboard with 64 Gb of 3600MHz RAM. DCS runs on an NVME drive. I currently have an RTX 2070 card and fly VR in a Rift S headset. I’m really happy with it and love playing DCS on it. Both the graphics card and headset are in the process of being upgraded to an AMD RX6800XT (if I can get hold of one) and a Reverb G2 that I should be receiving the very end of November. Interface wise, I have a Warthog throttle and stick top on a Virpil base (with extension) and a set of Thrustmaster TPR Pedals. I have a set of surround speakers for the main sounds and use the VR headset for radios etc. I bought a used car seat and built supports for the controls around that so it sits separate to my main monitor. It’s great!
Are you unhappy with any aspect of your setup right now that you’d change if you could?
Once I have my new VR headset and graphics card I’ll be even happier than I am now. I’m not sure I’ll need to change anything else for some time but I do need to invest in a second communications setup to make using LotATC a little easier. At the moment all my communications go through my VR headset so it’s a little awkward when using my monitor.
What’s the single best piece of Hardware you ever bought to make DCS WW2 (or WW2 simming in general) more enjoyable?
Aside from VR, my Thrustmaster TPR rudder pedals. Even though I bought them in a sale they were expensive but worth every penny, especially for the warbirds. Having a good brake axis for each foot really helps with ground handling, and a good rudder setup is needed to get most from each of the aircraft in the air.
What are your top THREE tips for new players?
- RTFM and ask questions. I think they go hand in hand – put in a little bit of effort on the easy stuff (how to start the aircraft for example) and ask questions on the harder more nuanced stuff (how to keep straight on the take off roll). The SoW discord is a great place to get help on your WW2 modules, as well as the Clash of Wings server and Discord that Healer set up to help WW2 newbies.
- Use the radio. The radio is as much an offensive and defensive tool as any guns you have, or any guns jink you fly. Who you are, where you are, what you are doing, what you are going to do, what you need, are good things to say on it. It also helps with number 1 above.
- Fly with a wingman. This will need you to do number 2, and probably number 1. You’ll find spotting easier (more eyes), and the whole experience so more enjoyable.
- As a bonus top tip – the in game chat window has options for talking to all or just allies. Don’t formulate your plans using the wrong one.
What is the single simplest/ lowest effort thing that ED can change about DCS WW2 to have the most positive impact right now?
I’ll offer two things here.
Firstly, revisit how the WW2 part of DCS is tested in the Closed Beta and get advice/support from those in the community that primarily fly the war birds (in preference to those that fly the jets first and warbirds only on occasion). Different things are important in the WW2 sim to the modern jet BVR arena and it doesn’t feel like that is reflected at the moment. I think that would also improve the ties between the hard core DCS WW2 simmers and ED developers that could only be a good thing.
Secondly, run a WW2 free fortnight. Allow players to use Normandy and the WW2 assets pack for a fortnight and over that period allow an axis and allied aircraft to be used free for 3-4 days. Run it separately to any jet/helo promotions to encourage regular jet players to try the warbirds and back it up with a sale on the WW2 modules.
How important is historicity to you when it comes to Warbird simulation? Do you want to full whack (historical airfields, matching plane-sets, historical weapons and paint-jobs) or are you happy with well detailed aircraft in an anachronistic or modern setting?
I think any answer to this one needs to be taken in the context of where DCS WW2 currently is, particularly considering the paucity of modules and the long development times needed to change that. Ideally, I’d like to see better, more coherent plane sets married with more correct maps (the Channel map feels like such a lost opportunity), but on the flip side I’m very happy to use what we have to enjoy the game. When MAC was announced, I did wonder if ED might eventually use that template of a ‘lighter sim’ for a WW2 theatre (more like IL2), but I’m not sure which aspect of the current modelling I would want to give up and compromise on for a faster development time and wider plane set. I do think there is always a need to balance historicity and enjoyability as it should after all be fun and we are flying in our comfortable warm studies, using VR or TrackIR, and not flying sleep deprived in cramped cold cockpits with the constant fear of death. I really think the team does a fantastic job on SoW to make it an enjoyable place for everyone given our current limitations. Everything in life is a compromise.
What’s the most frustrating WW2 Flight Sim controversy that comes up over and over again but shouldn’t because it’s really resolved?
Perhaps not a controversy but one that gets repeated time and again, “Which is the best WW2 module” and “What should I buy?”. Each of the aircraft has strengths and weaknesses, and each is capable of air to air and air to ground in the context that we fly them in. The aircraft statistics page on SoW bears that out (month after month the Anton comes out top in A-A kills/flying hour…). The beautiful thing about DCS, and why so many of us seem to prefer it to IL2, is the depth of the modelling and individuality of each of the aircraft. To provide that depth ED includes both strengths and weaknesses and that affords us the opportunity and satisfaction of learning how to take advantage of the former and mitigate the latter. Doing some extended flying on all the different warbirds is a great way to appreciate this aspect to our sim but I’m constantly surprised by how many will offer opinion without making the effort to first do that. It takes time in the cockpit to learn about an aircraft, and we all have different likes and dislikes. Pick an aircraft you want to learn, spend some time in it and enjoy it.