This is going to be a different story than the typical news or editorials that I post here on Stormbirds.blog. Life can be stressful. A lot of sim pilots, myself included, really appreciate the power that sims have to take you out of reality for a little while and into something that is engrossing, challenging and immersive like few other entertainment genres can offer.
I want to share a story that was initially posted to the DCS World Facebook community. This is about Martin Zabel, a long time community contributor, who shared with us some heartbreaking news. His house burned to the ground in a recent fire. All of the humans in his family escaped to safety but a dog and 20 fish did not. Heartbreaking. Also going up in flames was his flight sim rig.
The community responded quickly and Martin reported back to us that dozens of people reached out offering financial support, clothes and, yes, even some flight sim equipment. It is hearbreaking to see such loss but heartwarming to hear about such generosity for people who we may not know in person or ever meet in real life.
Martin gave me permission to tell his story and share the upcoming piece which are entirely his own words. Should you feel compelled to offer some sort of support (and nothing is expected), Martin has also given me the e-mail address that he is using to accept PayPal donations: email@example.com
And now, without further delay, I present Martin’s post about what DCS and flight simming has meant to him as a kind of therapy for the trials in life. I think many of you will find some familiar feelings in this piece.
DCS therapy by Martin Zabel
Due to an unforeseeable turn of events that took place in the past few days (as I have shared with you informing my potential absence from our community) I was left stranded, in a way, facing life without the one main component that helps me to relax. DCS.
I am a gamer, as old as e-gamers come for that matter.
I enjoy how my PC via various games allows me to escape thoughts. Store them away for a few minutes, maybe….. maybe rarely hours.
Some do drugs for this, some consume alcohol. I am one of the persons that has to be bolded down to reality and have clear focus over anything, so drugs or alcohol are not an option, nor an acceptable medium for my taste and character for that matter. So…. Games it is.
Most games tend to have a relaxing effect on us but since most of them are a process of reflexes over brains, even strategic games at times fail to deliver pure relaxation.
I had the fortunate misfortune to cross DCS about 8 years past.
Su25 was my deliberate choice of bird, and soon after the M2000 and later on the F16.
Do I own other modules?
Some, like the Harrier I took out of interest, but most I took to support ED and the various teams that create modules. Christen Eagle you say? Absolutely. We need oddballs and I support that.
I vaguely fly other birds but it’s my Falcon for most of the time.
And yes, it’s a Falcon not a Viper in my book.
But how does DCS wash away my problems? What is the process that turns into healing?
Lets take a typical mission step by step.
First of all I find myself in a cockpit, standing. A friend in our group suggested that, and it rocks, I do it every time. I wear the VR and start standed. When I sit down it feels like a pilot sitting in the office.
I look around as if I sat there for the first time, I believe it is a natural human reflex to check the surroundings.
It is a ritual, probably one of the last things that happen as a reflex from now on.
Electrics on, fuel on, RPMs start to rise. The silence slowly gets displaced by the loud engine scream.
Turn right on the right console prep all things, set throttle to idle and start setting up on the DED the navigation coordinates. About 8 more minutes to go.
HUD stays unlit. When the HUD turns on its time to get serious. Its time to start business. For now it feels like arranging my pencils on desk prior to shift.
Left again. Countermeasures and RWR are set. Seat is armed and I lower the canopy at that point.
Be gone noise, well…. some of it at least.
Comms, setting up frequencies of alternative airports just in case.
Checking the SMS page setting up anything that needs to be set up.
This feels like a geisha preparing for a tea ceremony, the bird is set to perfection.
Our own little tea ceremony before the essence.
Time to pure the tea, time to serve a hot cup of bad news to anyone unlucky enough to cross path with me…. Us.
Taxi lights on, HUD on.
My own “Open for Business” sign.
I mostly TAXI through the airfield with my arms crossed over my chest letting the legs do the work. I check to the first waypoint direction to see how the weather looks in that direction. When I turn at a corner I look over my shoulder to see the rest of my flight. 2-3-4. They will have their hands full trying to keep in formation, thank goodness I am No1 cause I suck at formation flights. Spread formation you say? Like I would have it any other way, lol!
Runway… the last few meters that split our path to true Heaven.
Look right… No2 looks left. The others line up behind us.
Scan the sky around, all clear. Throttle is pushed to the stops.
Say what you will. Pros make this few second look so easy. For me it’s the first time my stomach starts twisting about. Shit can happen with my rudders and their crappy potentiometers, 140-160-180-Airborne.
Gear up. Radar to silent, don’t let enemies afar detect fresh emissions. No need so far.
At about 2000 feet I start correcting to course, this is the part I look down. The ground moves away and I feel as a king in heaven. I am living it, I am living my dream. Every time during my flight, this is the most thrilling moment for me.
The autopilot does the hard job for the next few minutes from now on.
Comms, request picture. With the eyes at the fully zoomed out HSD i try to pinpoint called out targets near our course. This is the strategic part of DCS.
What are the threats?
Where are they heading?
What is their potential task?
Will they bother us?
Are they coming or going?
If a BARCAP is in our way how much fuel does it take to avoid it and when to turn to give the least possible RCS for potential detection?
Ground threats? Where are the Doppler radars and where are the Pulse radars? What is their range, when to approach straight in when to go parallel. Questions over questions.
Radar is silent but the modes are preselected and fine tuned. Quick narrow scan for quick lock or wide with longer scan times? RWS or TWS?
The mission does not matter much from now on. One gradually sinks from strategic thinking to tactical thinking into Sieg Heil mode. Klausevitz was right. All plans go to hell on first contact with the enemy. Plans, planes. All goes down to hell. So Hell we shall be.
Assuming you..me…we, are the lucky bastards that return one way or the other to the base the procedure is always the same for all.
Check flight…. 1,3…. Two missing. Better then returning alone. I hate it when I am the only one to return. Why did I make it out alive when the rest failed? I feel sorry for the fallen ones but I got a bird to deliver to my ground crew, even if only as spare parts.
Here is the part where I check distance to home plate, ask for picture just to make certain no one is following, then check distance to alternate fields. What is my fuel consumption? What is my rest fuel? Keep monitoring, a leak might not be visible but can cripple our last few minutes to salvation.
The closer i get to the base the denser becomes traffic, some fly out some fly back, the occasional smoking bird trying to make it home ASAP seems soaring lower, ground smoke and fires from a potential strike that happened as long as we were out.
Everyone fighting his own war in his assigned little bubble of mayhem.
About 5 miles out at excellent speed and angle the gear lever reveals one of the last hidden surprises. Do the gear hydraulics work?
Three greens. All good. But how do you know for certain? The F16 with gear down feels like running with shoe laces tight together. You don’t have to look down to check, you can feel the handicap. This is the part I envy the F14s. With spread wings and full flaps they can land with such grace!
The F16 on the other end is a flying anvil. There is only one way to get it to land in one piece and a thousand ways to screw things up, not because I suck, and I don’t say I do not suck, but because…. Well, it’s an F16.
Approaching nicely, all seems ok, and I am treated like a pro by the other pilots still on the ground doing their thing.
I can tell cause the next packages wait their turn to take off so darn close on the runway while I try to keep the plane centered and level on final. The heart is skipping some beats. My broken rudder potentiometers are waiting for the next level of stupid to kick in and grand me the final blow. A fireball right at the last few seconds.
But not this time boys.
No weapons no fuel and some parts missing, the light bird makes it to 40knts almost with airbrakes only… almost. The canopy starts to open while I still roll down the runway and guide the bird with my toes while I cross my arms again across the chest. The loud sound of the engine is a balsam for sour ears at this point. I swear I can feel like fresh air is blowing in over the windshield or scooped up under the open bubble.
Full stop, engines off, helmet off.
The VR is placed on the side desk where its box with (I am not shitting you) a pillow waits for it.
Two seconds. Reality starts crawling back in.
The picture with the family on the left, the dog at the right side of my feet still sleeping, the fishes in the aquarium waiting because once the VR gets off the food comes out.
OK LIFE. I am ready again.
As you can see, there is nothing trivial about a DCS mission. Even fast training mission where you start mid air are not trivial. Failure is a permanent expectation that never seems to fail.
Only the right choices of sensor, in the right mode with the right timing deliver an acceptable result. When you complete the assigned task it does not happen, it was created. It is your own Mona Lisa even if the results look like a Pollock.
This is why DCS is my escape room, it does not take my problems away, it replaces them with assigned tasks, procedures and magic.
I would like to thank again the entire community to take a stand with me, I never felt alone facing what happened.
I will not sum up what I got as help, it was not a jackpot in anyway, it was more. It was hope. Hope and some new friends.