I’ve been enjoying DCS World to the point where I decided to take advantage of their Saturnailia Sale and buy a new airplane. I updated my CSAR (Combat Search and Rescue) mission to replace my unarmed trainer with a brand-new P-51 Mustang – complete with six 50-Caliber guns and mounting points for external stores. Before taking off, I went through the cockpit familiarization tutorial and learned how to turn on the gunsight.

The CSAR-Ex: “Lancer” – a B-1B – has made an unscheduled, unusually solid, terrain-assisted landing in a hillside northeast of Kutaisi. “Player” and two TF-51Ds scramble to search the area around the crash-site – it’s not a “smoking hole surrounded by used airplane parts” because the hole itself is on fire. Once survivors are located (in one randomly selected area out of three), “Nightingale” – a UH-60 Blackhawk – performs medivac and takes them back to Kutaisi.

I put on a custom paintjob and had the ground crew load the guns, hang a few rockets and two 75-gallon external fuel tanks. I know there’s one of my old friends out there – a ZSU-23-4 “Shilka.” I know this, because I put it there on a course to interfere with our search operation.

I’ve test-flown the mission a bunch of times in the trainer. If we don’t find the survivors before the Shilka arrives, he will shoot down the unarmed search and medivac flights. It puts a certain “time-pressure” on the operation.

First thing I notice about the P-51, when she’s loaded up to max weight, she doesn’t accelerate so good anymore. We struggle to keep the other search planes in sight, so I figure we’ll lighten the load by dropping the external fuel tanks. It’s only after I pull the lever that I think to check what’s below us.

It’s said that the three most useless things in flight are: the altitude above you, the runway behind you, and the fuel you left on the ground. The 147 gallons of AVGAS I just dropped on a suburban neighborhood in Eastern Europe – let’s just call it an early Christmas gift for someone using a petrol furnace and not an ecologically unsound disposal technique.

A thousand pounds lighter, we pick up some speed. We don’t win any prizes for racing, but the Shilka is still 8 miles away when we arrive at the B-1 barbeque and bonfire. Instead of flying the search pattern, waiting to be target practice for four radar-aimed 23mm cannons, it’s time to try out the capabilities of our new airplane – it has weapons.

I turn us east to face the self-propelled anti-aircraft artillery head on – well, sort of head on. We swing south and fly Nape of the Earth (NOE) using a convenient ridgeline to stay out of his sights until we’re within striking range. I arm the guns and roll the bomb selector switch over to rockets (single and instantaneous launch). The big, round, ground-attack-mode gun-site dutifully reflects off the glass, but it’s a little bright for this early in the morning. We fly a small circle while I roll the dimmer switch to a less offensive setting. Alright, “here we go!”

We break cover, crossing the ridgeline at two fifty knots. The Shilka is rolling along what passes for a highway in Geogian hill country; trees sporadically line either side of the road. The trees should be a bigger problem for him using guns than us lobbing 8-pound bombs on the tips of 100-pound rocket motors. We cross into his shooting range and nothing. Either he doesn’t see us or he doesn’t have the guns brought ’round yet. It doesn’t matter why; his silence is good for us. We get into our firing range, pickle and …


The rockets don’t launch. I mash the button on top of the stick repeatedly. Maybe it’s a fusing issue. We have six rockets on board, so I press three times for each one – a hundred and sixty eight total presses.

Climbing up the hillside to the north, I realize why the rocket’s didn’t fire – my stick is still configured for the TF-51D Trainer. In a sim, the various buttons on the controllers can be customized (mapped) to the various controls in the cockpit. The second trigger (pickle button) currently keys the under-wing recognition lights. These are useful in a search and rescue mission, because you can identify yourself to the people you’re trying to find.

We, on the other hand, buzzed the Shilka flashing: “Here I am! Please shoot me!” in Morse Code.

I’m not going to be able to fire the rockets. It’s a dumb reason to have a failure, but stuff breaks sometimes. A swarm of red tracers confirm that we have lost any element of surprise. We’re east of the Shilka, and the search area is west of him. I don’t know if our guns will fire, but we might as well attempt a strafing run on our way by. It would be better if we weren’t carrying 800 pounds of high-explosive and rocket fuel as ballast, but you gotta fly the plane you’re in.

We start our run and open fire at a mile and a half. The guns work, but I’ve fired too early – we’re still outside of our effective range. The Shilka answers – we’re not outside of his. We jink and slip left and right to avoid his bursts. We get in under a mile and lay on the guns. The dirt around him kicks up, and lead starts smacking his lightly-armored hull. “Yeah, get some!”

The run in is over in an instant, and we’re heading away fast and level. I’m not sure how much damage we actually did. A swarm of 23mm red fireflies illuminate my instrument cluster on their way by – clearly we didn’t do enough damage. There’s the crunch of a heavy metal slug punching holes in layers of light aircraft aluminum – we definitely didn’t do enough damage.

We circle, line up, and skim the treetops trying to confuse his radar and reduce the effectiveness of his guns. We squeeze off another burst and score more hits. We run away, and he sends a bullet-o-gram to inform us that he is still in the fight. Rinse and repeat. On our fifth pass, the Shilka’s engine catches fire and illuminates the trees we’re about to skim.

It’s weird the random things you notice at times. The thought that occurred to me just then was, “Huh, one tree is a lot taller than the others.”

Our right wingtip snags the top of the nordmann fir and decides it doesn’t want to be part of our airplane anymore. The P-51’s flight potential is dramatically reduced once you start shortening either wing.

I don’t even try to get the gear down. We belly flop into a field. When I write this story down, I’ll claim we landed right side up by some expert feat of control surface manipulation. In sim-reality, we touch down belly-first because that’s the part or the airplane that was facing the ground when we hit it. We slide, spin out, and roll over. The field is extraordinarily well lit. Even with the rising sun cresting the hills to the east, this field is like – oh, we’re on fire.

Rather than use the escape/eject key ([ctrl]+[e] three times), I exit the mission to look at the logs. Apparently I survived because the sim awarded my profile a purple heart and a promotion to major. I also got “victory” points for killing the Shilka, but I’d call it a draw.

The tree is terrain – it doesn’t earn points.

Sim: DCS World, single player
Region: Caucasus (Republic of Georgia, east of the Black Sea)
Base: Kutaisi International Airport
Aircraft: P-51 Mustang