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Fly the unfriendly skies of Vietnam.

The Vietnam conflict may have featured the most unusual and varied air war in history. In the skies over Southeast Asia, helicopters really came into their own, jets and props worked together regularly and dissimilar air combat opened a lot of eyes. This rich pool of historical aviation is sparingly tapped in simulations, but Yankee Air Pirate hopes to improve that situation.

Yankee Air Pirate 2 ($24.95, requires Microsoft Windows Me/2000/XP/Vista, 2.0 Ghz processor, 1GB system RAM, 5GB hard drive space, 3D video card with 256MB video memory, is the second version of an add-on product for Wings Over Vietnam. “Airware” looked at WOV in 2005, judging it an interesting but flawed product. Headed by pilot John Shelton, the plucky Yankee Air Pirate 2 crew has worked since 2006 to add substantial content to WOV. On the product’s Web site, Shelton explains the premise behind YAP2 as a chance to tell the stories of Vietnam War aviators.

For a base fee of $24.95, owners of WOV get a CD-ROM disc that includes patches and new content to add to their existing game installation. Those lacking WOV can buy a double disc set for $29.95 that includes it. The YAP2 disc comes with the first of what will ultimately be 10 mission packs. Each successive mission pack must be purchased separately and contains 15 to 20 sorties.

Missions come straight from history. Con – sider this small sampling of the available and planned scenarios: Fly a Bell UH-1 Iroquois to LZ X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley, memorialized in Harold Moore and Joseph Galloway’s book We Were Soldiers Once…and Young. Take a Republic F-105D Thunderchief over Thud Ridge. Fly the modified McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom christened Chico the Gunfighter. Witness John McCain’s flight on a fateful October day in 1967. Drop sup – plies to troops from a Lockheed C-130 Hercules. Take post-strike photos in a Vought RF-8 Crusader. Heed the call of a forward air controller requesting aid for a Special Forces camp at Lang Vei, as chronicled by author William R. Phillips in Night of the Silver Stars. Some of the stories are more famous than others, but they’re all real.

While Shelton clearly prizes the scenarios, the content upgrades bring them fidelity. The most obvious changes are in the portrayal of Vietnam itself. WOV did a great job with planes, but left the land barren. Shelton’s crew has added vegetation, terrain artwork and cloud effects to substantially improve the game’s look. They’ve also added new vehicles and objects, including infantry. Additions like aerial refueling and the Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopter add texture to gameplay.

YAP2’s accouterments make for a more demanding sim. Where WOV runs well on older PCs, YAP2 is at its best on a powerful machine. Nevertheless, it is definitely an improvement over the original game. YAP2’s helicopter is a little wonky and doesn’t quite feel the same as other dedicated helicopter simulations I’ve tried. But overall the WOV flight model, considered somewhat relaxed for playability, is intact and still believable.

WOV caters to experienced gamers, and YAP2 doesn’t change that, even with some tutorial missions. There are many aviation functions to master, but the learning curve could make it tough for some of YAP2’s stories to be shared. And the mission briefings are brief indeed, so gamers craving more detail will need to resort to additional research.

It’s nice when a simulation has a few missions based on history, but uncommon and heartening for history buffs to see one entirely based on reality. To experience all YAP2 will ultimately offer will cost some money, but it’s a cheap price to pay for a twice in a lifetime experience.


Originally published in the September 2009 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here