Thursday, August 30, 2018

Meditations on Biplanes Part II - The Actual Biplanes

Based on the feedback discussed in the previous post, I thought it might be fun to turn the third dogfighting post, the one where I tackle complex scenarios that aren't one-on-one, into a biplane dogfight.  In principle, I think it should work, as I believe the Action chase system is robust enough to handle biplanes, and I think it'll give us an idea of some of the inner logic of that system.

To do that, I need biplanes, and we actually have four in GURPS.  GURPS Campaigns offers us a "barnstormer," but its stats are a bit dubious, and its unarmed in any case.  The next option are the biplane fighter-bombers from GURPS High-Tech, and I thought I would use those, until a little investigation showed me that they were really bombers, not the sort of fighters that an "ace" pilot would fly.  So, I did a little hunting, and uncovered two iconic fighters from the era: the Sopwith Camel (duh), and the Albatross D.II.

Naturally, one can simply convert real-world stats to GURPS stats with relative ease, but I also wanted to dive into GURPS Vehicles a little, to see how well everything holds up.  These definitely weren't built with GURPS Vehicles, but I'll include some commentary and how I might port some concepts into Psi-Wars.

Building a Biplane

You can find quite detailed biplane stats on wikipedia or just by perusing the internet.  They're doubtless not up to the standards of Hans-Christian Vortisch, but they don't need to be.  We just need something close enough for our example.  I wouldn't necessarily use these for a detailed WW1 combat scenario.

It turns out that most of the fighters use the same machine guns as the biplanes in High-Tech, which is both very convenient, and also a hint at how biplanes were built.  They seem largely to be wooden "kites" built around an engine, a gun system, and a pilot's seat, which is fitting.  That means that most of them used the same sorts of gear.  

When I looked into engines, this largely confirmed this. The Albatross D.II uses the Mercedes D.III engine, which is listed as alternately 120 KW or 130 KW, and as about 683 lbs.  When I went through GURPS Vehicles and tried to rebuild it as a TL 5-6 propeller engine, I found it didn't weigh nearly enough, but when you add a gasoline engine (TL 6, supercharged), I come to within a few pounds of the right weight.  The Sopwith Camel used (depending on its configuration) the Clerget 9B, which clocked in at 97 KW but weighs a mere 381 lbs; this is the equivalent of TL 5-6 propeller engine attached to a TL 6 HP gasoline engine (I read a comment about how the Mercedes D.III was inferior compared to the engines of other biplanes, and you can see that the Clerget is a better engine: it has less output but weighs nearly half of what the Mercedes D.III weighs; the Sopwith looks, stat for stat, to be a much better fighter than the Albatross D.II).

What struck me about the engines is that they're clearly built as a piece.  GURPS Spaceships makes things a bit too modular (people rarely insert two engines to get twice the power from their vehicle), but GURPS Vehicles tends to imply that everything is fundamentally connected somehow.  The reality seems somewhere in between: you do not have  "Sopwith drive train and internal combustion engine," but a Clerget 9B, which you could pull out and put in some other aircraft, or use for some other application.  I'd like to do something similar with Psi-Wars, if I'm honest.

The main reason for working out the details in Vehicles was to work out the acceleration value.  I can work out move and HP just fine; I can guess at HT and Hand/SR, but Acceleration I couldn't be sure.  I came away with an acceleration of a little over 3 miles per hour per hour for both fighters.  This is less than the fighter/bomber values of ~8 miles per hour.  I don't know where HT got those numbers, as I get 1.5 miles per hour for those vehicles when I reverse engineer the numbers.  For our purposes, let's assume Vehicles is wrong on acceleration and give our fighters an acceleration somewhere closer to 10 miles per hour: definitely faster than the fighter/bombers, but not to the point where the pilots are pulling hard Gs.

Beyond that, nothing else is much of a mystery.  They have no armor to speak of, and the rest can be absolutely determined by stats, or guessed at.

The Sopwith Camel

This British fighter is the most iconic fighter of WW1.  My stats come from the F.1 camel, which I found on Wikipedia; I presume it's the most common, if not the "best."  It uses the Vickers machine gun (I assume a Vickers Mk II, from HT page 131).  I chose a better handling of +1 to make it superior to the fighter/bombers it might escort, but I lowered the SR because it has an unfortunate reputation for aerial instability among pilots and a tendency to "turn" thanks to its rotary engine (You could definitely make the case that this was just a case of unfamiliarity, though, as when taught how to handle the Camel, the problem seemed to disappear). The HT is typical for a biplane.  SM is based on its length, not wingspan, as I suspect the HT numbers are.

ST: 40
Hnd/SR: +1/2
HT: 9f
Move: 5/57
LWt: 0.75
Load: 0.25
SM: +3
Occ: 1
DR: 3
Range: 220
Loc: O2W2Wi
Stall: 24

The Albatross D.II

This is the fighter of the legendary Red Baron, though it seems it was an unremarkable German fighter and perhaps even inferior to the English and French biplanes of the time.  It was equipped with the LMG08/15 (See HT130, under the Maxim MG08).  I'm assuming the better handling, but roughly the same stability as other biplanes; the length is just over 7 yards.  I would not fight you if you said it should be SM +3.  I don't have actual stats on the stall speed; that's an estimate, based on some guesswork and what Vehicles comes up with.  

ST: 45
Hnd/SR: +1/3
HT: 9f
Move: 5/55
LWt: 1
Load: 0.3
SM: +4
Occ: 1
DR: 3
Range: 160
Loc: O2W2Wi
Stall: 29

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