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Friday, 28 June, 2002, 14:07 GMT 15:07 UK
Swapping keyboards for cockpits
Air Attack wallpaper, UK Air Attack Club
Only on the net can you fly one of these regularly
If you were in one of the pubs near the airfield in Leicester, UK, earlier this month you may have overheard a conversation straight out of the Second World War.

But if you did catch comments such as, "those Spitfires are tough opponents when handled right", or "it was raining Messerschmitts", don't worry you haven't entered a time warp.

In fact, you were probably sharing the bar with the players of the online air combat game Air Attack who for two days in June got the chance to swap cyberspace for airspace and fly for real.

The day was arranged by Lieutenant Jerry Tribe, a helicopter pilot with the Fleet Air Arm who is also part-owner of a Russian Yakovlev 52, a high-performance two-seater aeroplane decked out WWII FAA colours.

The Yak52 never saw combat and was first built in 1976 as a training aircraft.

High flying

For relaxation, Lieutenant Tribe "flies" online as a member of 616 Squadron, one of the many squadrons that fly together in online flight sims.

But there's nothing like the real thing, and over that June weekend he helped the "virtual" pilots make a dream come true, carrying out break turns and loops over the Leicestershire countryside.

The Air Attack day out
Jerry Tribe goes through some pre-flight checks
Everyone who went along got around 20 minutes or so in the air and some even took over the controls for a few exhilarating moments.

The bravest of the bunch also took the chance to try out some of those fancy moves that they had only ever done via a computer screen.

Did all those hours of virtual flying help?

Ian Wedge, who flies with 616 under the name of "Johnnie" Johnson in honour of the RAF's highest scoring pilot of WWII, was in no doubt.

Moving servers

"Certainly there are differences," he said, "but tricks like pulling back on the stick to keep a tight turn and using the rudder to keep the nose up when flying at 90 degrees worked like I expected."

"Absolutely brilliant, and we look forward to doing it again," he said.

The Air Attack day out
The gamers will be back for more
The community that has grown up around the Air Attack game is one of the most tight-knit and long-lasting on the web.

Air Attack started off over five years ago as the online version of the Fighter Ace series of games.

It was originally hosted on the Wireplay service but has been forced to move homes several times as several of its hosts have gone bankrupt or closed down.

Following the collapse of its German host earlier this year it was briefly left homeless, but is now reviving thanks to a sharing agreement with the Korean owners of the last remaining Air Attack server.

See also:

23 May 02 | Entertainment
09 Apr 02 | Science/Nature
10 Jan 02 | Entertainment
13 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
20 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
29 Oct 01 | dot life
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