Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


AIR COMBAT simulations are fun. Here’s a classic approach that doesn’t require the Internet, or a computer, or even electricity. The Ace of Aces: WWI Air Combat Game series is based on wonderful gaming devices that are portable, compact, random-access, inexpensive and easily mastered. They’re called books.


Ace of Aces: WWI Air Combat Game, the Handy Rotary Series, by Alfred Leonardi and Douglas Kaufman, illustrations by Jerry Redding, Nova Game Designs, 1980. This and the others are quite collectible and not always inexpensive.

As its name suggests, the Handy Rotary Series pits two World War I aircraft powered by rotary engines, the Allies’ Sopwith Camel (also of Snoopy fame) and the German Fokker DR1 tri-plane.

As the authors note, each rotary-powered aeroplane had exceptional maneuverability because of its spinning engine mass—but only to the right. This nuance is built into the game’s aircraft maneuvering.

There’s a book for the Allies pilot and one for the German pilot. Each page shows the view from the respective cockpit—which may or may not show the enemy.

Below each picture—and eventually leading to the next view—are choices of speed (slow, cruising or fast) and of maneuver (left, straight or right).

For each turn of the game, each pilot chooses a speed and maneuver, below which is a page number to be called out to the opponent.

The pilots then turn to these “mid-turn pages,” the cockpit views of which are irrelevant. However, below each pilot’s chosen speed/maneuver is another page number.

This page number, the “end-turn page,” is identical for both pilots and shows each the new view resulting from the aeroplanes’ actions.

Here’s an example (admitted, rigged for quick resolution). Suppose the last end-turn page was page 34.


Each pilot sees the enemy flying in the opposite direction, close by on the right.

The Sopwith pilot chooses a slow, sharp U-turn to the right (the sort of maneuver in which rotary aircraft excel). The Fokker pilot chooses to maintain speed and make a banking maneuver to the right.

As neither plane is trailing the other, neither pilot communicates his intention. He simply tells the other the mid-turn page number associated with the maneuver. In this example, the Allied pilot tells the German “205.” The German tells the Allied pilot “4.”

Each turns to this mid-turn page, showing the end-turn page corresponding to his maneuver.


Mid-turn pages are generally different; their images don’t matter. It’s the mid-turn-page speed/maneuver number that’s important.

The German’s cruising right bank on the page 205 listing sends him page 16, as does the Allied pilot’s slow right U-turn on page 4.


Well done! This time around, the Allies pilot gets a close-range shot at the enemy..

Page 16 shows the result—the Sopwith pilot gets a close-range shot at the Fokker. Medium- and long-range hits are also possible.

The “T” on the Sopwith view identifies that it is now trailing the Fokker. This requires the German pilot to give directional information—left, straight or right, only—on subsequent turns until he evades the Sopwith.

In the simplest game, a close-range hit is worth 2 points, 6 points constituting a kill. With increasingly complex gaming, there are more involved damage scores, ratings of maneuver difficulty, limits on ammunition and other nuances.

I recall it was great intergenerational fun having dogfights with niece Charmaine when she was a tweeny.


Other aircraft choices include a Powerhouse Series, Spad XIII vs. Fokker D VII, 1981; early-war Flying Machines, Airco DH 2 vs. Fokker E III, 1983; and, rather more rare, Balloon Buster, 1985, with an Allied pilot contesting observation balloon machine-gunners—and flak.

The aircraft characteristics are modified appropriately in each game set. It’s also possible to mix-and-match, for instance, setting a high-performance Spad XIII against a hapless Fokker EIII.

What an instructive way to assess the immense advances in aviation wrought by World War I—and even without electricity. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2013

2 comments on “ACE OF ACES

  1. Milt Henry
    November 2, 2013

    Just a word of appreciation for your daily dose of wisdom. Your writings during your time with R&T were among my favorites, and I was pleased to see that you continue to enlighten. Due to your blog, I at least learn one new thing every day. Please proceed, Professor.

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This entry was posted on November 1, 2013 by in I Usta be an Editor Y'Know, Vintage Aero and tagged , .
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