Virtual Front Soldiers

Belarusian cyber-pilots are among the best five in the world rating
We didn’t expect ourselves that the innocent hobby of computer games, aviasimulators in particular, will gradually become something more than just a hobby, — says the commander of BY, Vitaly Nekrashevich. — At first we just flew. We communicated with people from many countries via Internet, exchanged information on World War II, had disputes on the advantages and disadvantages of different airplane models. And then we decided to gather Belaruisans into one team. It turned out that there are quite a lot of us! We decided to have meetings from time to time and fly together. And we added the “BY” abbreviation to our call signs. We were surprised to see that most of us are grown-up 30-year-old men.

The squadron soon joined the “Virtual Eastern Front” — an Internet project that imitated with a day’s precision the events that happened 60 years ago. The Belarusians piloting the digital copies of their grandfathers’ aircrafts went into combat with the “aces” of the “Third Reich” — virtual pilots from Germany, Italy, Austria, Finland. Our compatriots, by the way, often became winners in these battles.

Almost every virtual pilot, or virpl, as they call themselves, becomes a historian-practitioner after having flown hundreds of hours on the fighters and attack planes of World War II. He has experienced firsthand the twists and turns of piloting an aircraft that a common bench scientist cannot understand. For example, that in the models of I-16 fighter the pilots used to put a frying pan behind their seats. They did it to protect themselves at least this way — the pilot’s chair wasn’t equipped with the torso back protective armour. The virtual pilots often regret the fact that one cannot put a frying pan behind the seat of a virtual plane. Not a single history book will give you the answer to the question why during an air fight many of the soviet pilots raised the “cap” in the cabin and screwed on the retrospect mirror like in the car. The BY virpls often do the same when they fight — only this way you can see your enemy who is following you.

— And one time, on the threshold of the 9th of May, somebody got the idea to find a real World War II pilot, — recalls Vitaly. — Eventually we found Alexander Sergeyevich Shatsky, a war veteran who had bagged 8 German aircrafts. We had much to talk about! The first meeting lasted about 6 hours. “You ask me such questions, — he said, — as only the airdrome technical staff asked in the front.! How can you know all this?” Then we offered the veteran to sit at the helm of his airplane once again, after 60 years that have passed since that time. Alexander Sergeyevich told us how he bagged his first aircraft Ju-87 under Stalingrad. We modelled that situation. Of course, at first the veteran had difficulties with piloting, because the conditions are different from those that there were at the time he was at war. But Alexander Sergeyevich quickly got used to them and managed to bag the “Junkers”. And this is when he sat down at the computer for the first time in his life at the age of 83!

Some people say that computer games are harmful. It depends on the games. For example, an unprepared person will not be able to play “Il-2. Attack plane”, a simulator that the cyber-pilots use. First he will have to look through some technical literature, books on aerodynamics, fundamentals of piloting an aircraft. In the virtual flying school the trainees study half a year.

Only having mastered all the elements of aeronautics, having felt how the engine of I-16 dies out at sharp turns, having seen cracks on the two-centimetre armoured facial windscreen made by a missile fired from the gun of a German plane, the trainees are honoured with their first real mission sortie.

— But the main thing is not even mastering the details of flying, — assures me Vitaly Nekrashevich. — More important is the fact that children who come to us to play after a while start taking interest in history and come to understand who and how won this victory. And they argumentatively explain to the surprised Americans that World War II was won not by private Rian, but by his saviours.

Dmitry Korsak
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