Air Gunners and Bombardiers

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Three fighters in the WWIIOL:BE arsenal sport tailgunners (aka Air Gunners) for rear-aspect defence: the two Messerschmitt Bf.110 variants (-C4 and –C4/B) and the British Bristol Blenheim Mk.IF. All of the bombers and Junkers Ju-52 have single or multiple air gunners trained to various aspects of the sky – verily, the only aircraft without guns and gunners is the British Douglas C-47 "Dakota" troop transport. You the pilot may switch freely between the pilot seat and available air gunner positions using the numbered keys (1-9).

Crew positions are:

  1. Pilot
  2. Bombardier, Observer, or tail/dorsal gunner depending on the aircraft type
  3. Nose gunner (He-111), dorsal gunner (DB7/Havoc, Blenheim Mk IV, Ju-52)
  4. Dorsal gunner (He-111), belly gunner (DB7 only)
  5. Belly gunner (He-111)
  6. Port amidships gunner (He-111)
  7. Starboard amidships gunner (He-111)

In certain aircraft (He-111, Bf.110, DB7/Havoc) you will need to deploy certain air gunners by opening hatches or canopies (default key O) before you can operate the gun. Press F or primary joystick trigger to fire. The air gunner has a finite supply of ammunition loaded in drums, typically 10+ drums, so fire only when enemy aircraft are in effective range or you will find that you have run out of ammunition, or need to change drums, at the critical instant.

Air gunners are somewhat effective as a deterrent against attack though only really lethal at short range (less than 300 meters) and preferably en masse – flying in close formation drastically increases your life expectancy.

When flying and gunning on your lonesome you face a particularly bothersome conundrum: you cannot fly (to evade an onslaught or to improve your position) while occupying the air gunner position – you must choose between gunning or flying. When trimmed for stable flight or when using the Auto Pilot (A) you are basically a sitting duck unless you fly in formation, and when flying to evade an onslaught you are unable to take advantage of your defensive armament. The only realistic alternative is to Multi-Crew your aircraft with an additional crewmember, who assumes control over all crew stations (including the bombardier) while you remain locked in the pilot’s seat. This does however rob you of Situational Awareness afforded by scanning the sky from crewed positions – and if your gunner is not such a hot bombardier, the whole mission may be pointless. Choose and live with your choice!

Air Gunners

The air gunner has a restricted field of fire, and a severely restricted effective range. Cunning and careful enemy fighters will take advantage of this and only approach from a position outside the air gunner’s field of fire. Enemy fighters will typically attack from dead astern and slightly low, and only rarely attempt an attack high from the side or from an overhead position down. The most daunting problem is that when a fighter is in range for you to deliver effective fire, he too will be in range and gunning you down – and he has the more potent armament!

For this reason, the smart pilot must fly so as to maximize his chances of survival by giving the enemy fighter as little opportunity as possible. Formation flying is one way of dealing with this, but since you will only rarely fly in formation, something else is in order. Here are some basic tips:

  • Fly high and fast. The higher and faster you fly, the less co-altitude or better enemy you are likely to encounter. And when someone does target you, they will have to do so from low and behind, or level and behind – or spend an unholy amount of time positioning for a better attack (e.g. high sides).
  • When beset from astern, turn to face the enemy. Few fighters have mastered the head-on shot, especially in a tight corner. If you do not have time to turn fully around, make a 90-degree turn so as to force the enemy into a difficult deflection shot. As he overshoots, reverse again to put yourself close to the enemy.
  • If you have superior altitude, attempt to stay just above the enemy fighter either by spiraling around his shot window or by matching his turns. This will bring him low, slow and close enough for your air gunners to rain down effective fire on him.
  • If you are in a reasonably nimble aircraft (Ju-87, Blenheim Mk IF, Bf.110), make tight turns to force the enemy into a predictable position in your high rear aspect. These aircraft are especially capable against high-powered and heavy machines such as the FW-190 and Curtiss H-87, who cannot match your tight turn radius. With practice, you will even be able to gun them down with your forward-firing weapons – if you can get the enemy to bleed enough energy.
  • Sometimes it is better for the pilot to fly fairly steady so as to give the tail gunner a better shot opportunity - these situations are however highly dependent on timely transmissions between pilot and gunner, or the opportunity may not be recognized. The shot window is usually extremely brief and only manifests itself at minimum range - a bomber that flies a straight and level flight path for more than a few seconds in guns range is a godsend for all but the most inept fighter pilots.

The bombardier position

The bombardier (crew position 2) is responsible for raining down death and destruction on the poor hapless souls below. Using the bombardier takes a certain amount of practice, and it is highly recommended that you go offline and learn how to use the bombsight before venturing online.

In the He-111 and Blenheim Mk IV, the bombs are deployed with your secondary trigger or (B) key. The Blenheim Mk IV and Stuka Ju-87 bombers come equipped with more than one type of bomb: cycle between stores and select ordnance with the backspace key. Watch the “Secondary armament” readout in the lower left of your screen. In the DB7 and Havoc bombers you must perform one additional actions: you must open the bomb-bay doors (default key D) to get rid of your "eggs". Remember to close the bomb-bay doors (default key D) after heaving your stuff, or you will suffer a drag penalty that reduces your airspeed and impairs your maneuverability.

In the Ju-87 Stuka, Blenheim Mk IF, Bell P-39, Hurricane IIc, and Bf-110 fighter-bombers, it is the pilot who unleashes onboard stores with the secondary trigger or (B) key. Note that certain aircraft require the pilot to cycle between available ordnance types and main armament with (backspace).

Learn more about level bombing here.

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