Accounts by pilots of aircraft they flew in, or against, are yet another source of flight model information. Although these descriptions are often interesting, and provide some utility, they have significant drawbacks. At minimum, pilot accounts also subject to basic problems with any remembrances of things past (i.e.- faulty memory, bravado, intentional lies, “spin”, etc.), especially if written years after the fact.
Furthermore, pilot accounts are usually non-quantitative in nature (e.g.- “My P-51 could outrun a Fw-190"), and therefore are more difficult to translate into game terms (i.e.- taking the same example, “how much faster was your P-51D-NA in level flight at 3,000 m than a Fw-190A-9").
Unfortunately, in most combat settings, I’m not sure that most pilots would be able to identify the exact model of opposing planes (e.g.- was that a Fw-190A8 or a Fw-190A9 that passed in front of me for my split-second deflection shot?) Even in-game, you often can’t tell the difference between models of opponents, unless you know the restricted plane-set for that mission. Please remember that, in real life, different models did not necessarily have uniform, “default” color schemes as they do in the Il-2 game (e.g.- it’s a dark green Y plane, so it must be a Mk II model). If your real-life Bf-109 outran a Spitfire in level flight, it makes a big difference as to which Spitfire you were facing from a quantitative perspective, since, according to specs, some Spits would be faster than your plane and others would be slower. Indeed, how many of you could recite the exact make, year, and model of each car that you pass on the freeway today, or that you were involved with in an auto accident five years ago? In any event, as we are all aware, misidentification of opposing aircraft is a common feature in all aerial warfare (e.g.- at times, any British fighter was later reported by Germans to be a Spitfire, or any Japanese fighter was reported by Americans to be a Zero). Taking the earlier example, maybe it was actually a Hurricane that you outran (you only could see him in your long six o’clock and you had only brief glances at him) instead of a Spitfire. We all see this sort of misidentification online all the time, which leads to many friendly kills as well as to mistaken calls about the type of enemy plane in the area.
Real-life also throws many variables into the mix when trying to base a flight model on pilot accounts, such as the type of mission flown and loadout of the planes (e.g.- did one plane have 15% fuel, not 80% fuel, or was one carrying bombs or rockets), respective pilot skills (e.g. - an Experten in a Fw190 may out-turn a rookie in a Spitfire even at low speeds), the speed and/or altitude characteristics of the fight (e.g.- at the right speed, a Wildcat will out-turn a Zero), the ever-important factors of luck and surprise, the fuel type and octane rating, maintenance standards, availability of parts and supplies for repair, need for jury-rigged repairs, the variable characteristics of individual planes, weather conditions, etc. Much of the time, however, at least some of these important variables are left out of the description by the pilot. There is the question of how well your anecdotal evidence is statistically representative of the planes in question. For instance, if you easily shot down two Georges in mid-1945 over Japan, you might think that they were bad planes, whereas it might have more to do with lesser-trained or lesser-experienced pilots who happened to be flying them at the time. Alternatively, if you were able to kill a Corsair with a single burst from your Zero, you might think they were easy to kill, even though you actually just got in a lucky shot. Maybe your Hurricane outran the Tony in Burma only because he lost sight of you over the jungle and gave you a good head-start, not because your plane was faster. Anecdotes can be representative of typical behavior and characteristics, but don’t have to be so representative.
Another important factor in accounts by pilots of aircraft is simply bias or prejudice in favor of, or against, whatever plane you flew. There are many examples of pilots refusing to fly, or at least resisting efforts to make them fly, “better” planes since they were familiar with the current ones, had been through “thick and thin” with the current ones, knew the proper tactics to use with the current planes, etc. If I had survived dozens of missions in a P-40E, and the P-40E had been able to get me home even with battle damage, I might think it was the best plane around, and be reluctant to transfer to the “better” P-51s. Of course, some pilots were probably “bitchers and moaners” and were never satisfied with the type of plane assigned to them, and their accounts describe the bad features of their plane.
Test Records for Flyable Historic Aircraft.
There are many WWII-era aircraft that remain in existence and in flyable condition, although alas fewer than we would prefer and fewer as time passes. Efforts have been made to qualitatively or quantitatively determine flight models of such planes based upon the existing flyable aircraft. That is useful, but again not necessarily accurate.
In the first place, most of these flyable historic aircraft probably receive more love and attention from the owners than do the family members of the owners (ha ha). They are generally “pampered” planes, with extraordinary amounts of care, maintenance, and attention. As such, they are not necessarily emblematic of a typical aircraft of that type in the field during WWII. They often have had upgrades in particular components, lubricants, and/or fuels over wartime versions. They also are probably not flown as “hard” as they might have been in real-life WWII (e.g.- a 54-yr old owner of a historic P-47D-22 worth $1 million, who has a wife and three kids, isn’t going to necessarily push the plane as hard as might a 20-yr. old “hot-shot” bachelor USAAF second lieutenant in combat with Bf-109G-14s over the Ardennes in January 1945), and modern test results may thus not necessarily reflect actual WWII capabilities.
Secondary sources such as books, magazine articles, online articles, and even forum chat can provide useful information about particular WWII aircraft and their flight models. Unfortunately, the question then becomes “on what source(s) did this secondary source base its opinion of a particular plane’s flight model”, which then brings up all of the issues discussed above.
General Impressions among Aviation Enthusiasts.
Frequently, a blanket statement about the real-life flight model of a particular aircraft based upon a general understanding of the community, such as “Everyone knows that a Spitfire can overturn a Bf-109". At times, there is some usefulness under a “wisdom of the crowd” theory (e.g.- if everyone thinks something, maybe there is something to it). On the other hand, as we all know, such a statement is frequently subject to bias, prejudices, and ignorance. Even if the statement is based upon a more educated understanding, we still have to address what sources were reviewed in coming up with that basis, and thus encounter the problems with sources discussed above.
Limitation of Sources.
It is also important to remember that not all of the above-described sources are available for each model of each Il-2-game aircraft. Some models of planes only have some of these sources, but not others. Depending upon what sources are available, or not available, there may be errors in our understanding of the flight models of particular aircraft.
Conclusion (to the cheers of all readers - ha).
In conclusion, in my opinion, there is NO single perfect source for the real-life “flight model” of aircraft in the Il-2 game. Each source has advantages and disadvantages, and none of them has the whole story. The true “flight model” (if one can exist) probably takes into account several of those sources. Consequently, before spouting off about how a particular flight model is unrealistic, consider your sources and the pros/cons of each of those sources and the fact that the “other side” might have its own legitimate [though also partially flawed] sources supporting its position. In short, each side is probably “right” to some degree, and each side is probably “wrong” to some degree.
We must all recognize that there is a relatively large “grey area” concerning real-life flight models of the Il-2-game aircraft. In fact, as many of you recognize, there are also dramatic differences of opinion on what constitutes the “in-game” flight models of particular Il-2 aircraft (e.g.- Hardball says X plane has a maximum speed of 550 kph at 1,000 m, Il-2 Compare says 565 kph, Official Manual says 545 kph, and my own experiments on Quick Mission Builder show 580 kph). In theory, the in-game flight models should be more readily capable of accurate measurement and determination than 60+ year old “real life” flight models, yet we still constantly argue about the in-game flight models.
Quite simply, we are doomed to argue and argue over these issues, and no one will likely ever have the “absolutely correct” answer. To be clear, I’m not saying that everyone’s argument is just as good as everyone else’s. Instead, some arguments are definitely wrong, some arguments are partly correct, and some arguments are mostly correct, but no arguments are absolutely and completely correct. When discussing in-game flight models, people ought to simply avoid blanket statements, and recognize that there can be reasonable, good faith opinions and arguments on the other side.
Just remember that when Storm of War (NOTE: the original name of Cliffs of Dover") finally comes out, we’ll all get to re-visit longstanding arguments over flight models of each and every aircraft (plus of the newly-added aircraft). I, for one, am studying up on the specifications of the S.25 Short Sunderland Mk. I Flying Boat so I can be prepared to argue about its flight model “ad nauseam” when SOW comes out (ha ha).