There are many things which cannot be simulated. G-Forces, truely dynamic weather, death … the list of things that a sim-pilot doesn’t experience goes on. There are, however, a few things where the reverse is true. A real pilot doesn’t have to pause in the middle of a stall recovery to take out the trash.

We are flying over the Nevada test range, scambling from Nellis AFB in a P-51 armed with full guns and six HVAR Rockets. We’ve climbed to about 2,000 feet AGL and are rushing at 260 knots to engage hostile forces to the northeast. Below us, we see the “blue-force” rolling out as we pass overhead. We are the only fixed-wing aircraft in the sky, but a flight of AH-64 Apaches is crossing from our right at about nine miles.

I spot a Red-Force MI-8 “Hip” transport helicopter six miles ahead. Sure that it is up to no good, we start a dive on it and give it a long burst from the six .50-calibre maching guns. Parts of the helicopter’s airframe peel away as we bank and avoid a midair meeting at 350 knots. We notice two more red-force helicopters advancing. These are SA342 Gazelles configured for ground attack. The Air Force term for such aircraft in this situation is “targets.”

We reverse our turn and level out, screaming straight at the Gazelles. At over four-hundred knots closure speed, a train leaving Chicago heading toward London and another train carrying cranberries gets stuck at an interchange… We manage to squeeze off a burst and score a few hits. I pull back on the throttle, the stick, and kick a rudder pedal bleeding off airspeed as we swing around to attack the French-made rotor-craft from behind.

It’s an ugly, wobbling, high-G turn but it works. We line up on the Gazelles at a mile and a half separation. We’re overtaking them at about 130 knots. I have labels turned on so I can see and identify enemy units and their distance. The distance counts down: 1.0 – 0.9 – 0.8 … I roll the distance knob on the gunsight all the way out and start tensing up – waiting to squeeze the trigger. The left helicopter peels off and turns to quit the field. I stay focused on the lead one.

“0.5 miles” An un-real thing happens. A cat decides she wants the kill. She leaps from the floor onto my desk and swats the the screen. The red-force helo starts spitting out flares as if it would save it from the mighty claw. I tell the cat to get out of the gunsight, and she does. She steps from the desk onto the keyboard before laying on my chest.

There are a large number of switches, dials, knobs, and levers in any given aircraft. In a sim, each and every one of those controls is represented by some combination of keys on the keyboard. Plus, there are simulation-specific controls represented by keys – like changing your view.

The cat has hit several controls all at once. Instead of looking at a helicopter growing larger in my gunsight, I’m suddenly staring at the left rudder-pedal and the fuel cutoff lever, which is in the wrong position.

There is still fuel in the lines, so the prop stays spinning as I attempt to remediate the situation. I say “attempt” because the engine suddenly stops with a bang and bursts into flame.

We are credited with an aerial kill when our engine block separates the tail-boom, engines, and rotor from the rest of the helicopter’s airframe. It is actually my third aerial kill by collision.

With the entire cockpit bathed in the harsh light of a full engine fire, it takes me a minute to realize we’re not dead – that is, I’m not dead, the airplane is a falling ball of burning bits. I hit the “get out of the burning cockpit” key sequence: [ctrl]+[e], [ctrl]+[e], [ctrl]+[e] and am rewarded by a view of the plane falling away as I jump and my parachute opens.

I stick with the ejected pilot POV and look around to see that we are markedly closer to blue than red forces. We touch down a few hundred yards away from the pair of open petroleum product fires in the desert. Seeing that we’re on the ground, the cat jumps off my chest and wanders away in search of food.

I guess there wasn’t enough meat on the Gazelle for her.

Sim: DCS World, single player
Region: Nevada Test Range (North of the City of Las Vegas, Nevada)
Base: Nellis AFB
Aircraft: P-51 Mustang