Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Hello Mr. Posty! RK-3 AK grip? Yes please!

I actually ordered an RK-3 grip - or to be more precise a airsoft clone of the Zenitco RK-3 - quite some time ago, but unfortunately it turned into of of those online shopping nightmares. To be fair, some of this was my fault - I accidentally ordered the version of the Asura Dynamics RK-3 which is meant for GBB airsoft AKs. Du-oh!

An AK fully kitted out with Zenitco accessories, including the RK-3 grip.

Anyway, after a bit of a soap opera, which I won't bore you with, I finally received another RK-3 clone, this time a plastic one which is suitable for AEGs.

Zentico's tactical AK grip is something of an acquired taste, but it is very much of the Russian design aesthetic which suits the whole Kalashnikov 'beautifully ugly' persona.

The Mila Kunis of AK grips! (Is it attractive or is it not?)

It's actually a great shame that the first RK-3 clone grip I received was for GGBs only as it was absolutely gorgeous and was cast in aluminium (I was very sad about having to send it back). The replacement plastic grip - also made by Asura Dynamics - is not as nicely finished as there are some moulding blemishes and it's the sort black plastic which is more very dark grey (the aluminium version was a lustrous satin black). Ah well...

There is a positive side to the plastic RK-3, it's lighter and at $14.25 (from Ebairsoft) it's less than half the price of the aluminium version.

Well, that's another piece of Zenitco hardware (er, clone) in the bag, but there's still plenty more to collect before I have my AK-105 fully 'modernised'. I'll be looking at the forward grip accessories this month I think.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Battle of Britain Memorial Visitor Centre

Our summer vacation this year took in a quick visit to the BBMF visitor centre which is adjacent to Royal Air Force Coningsby, Lincolnshire. Over the years the wife and I have seen the BBMF - or at least some of it's star aircraft - fly over during air displays and remembrance anniversaries, so when we realised the home of the flight was on our route we couldn't pass up the chance to drop in for a visit!

On entering the Coningsby air base - to the accompaniment of some RAF Typhoons streaking overhead if you are as lucky as we were - you are met with the display board...

This board indicates which aircraft of the flight are 'at home' on any given day. Be sure to note that the aircraft are are usually very busy at displays and events on weekends and Bank Holidays, so be sure to plan your visit carefully if you want to see a particular aircraft. Our visit was on a Tuesday so we were treated to nearly a full house - though, sadly, one of the Hurricanes (my favourite aircraft) was away for some major work.

You cannot simply stroll around the flight hanger - this is a working RAF base after all - and every visit is conducted as part of a guided tour. But this is the best way to get the most out of the visit as the guides (all ex-RAF) are charming characters and very knowledgeable about the history and specification of all the aircraft in the flight.

Our guide began with a brief introduction to the legendary Rolls Royce Merlin and
Griffin engines. Did you know that the Merlin was also built by Ford and Packard?

 The tour is strictly 'hands off' and conducted from behind a barrier, but this is for your own safety as much as anything as it is a real working hanger with full maintenance work going on while you are visiting. Personally I find this fascinating, watching the RAF mechanics and engineers going about their work as we get a very informative history lesson from our guide.

As I mentioned above, there is a set 'cast', which on the day of our visit was made up of the following aircraft types; a Dakota, four Spitfires, one Hurricane, two Chipmunks and the Avro Lancaster.

Practically all of the aircraft (aside from the Dakota and Chipmunks) were in varying stages of disassembly for maintenance or repair. The Dakota and the Chipmunks are the flight training aircraft so are - I guess - most often in a flight ready state. Though the Dakota is also a display aircraft as it has been the mount of parachute display teams as it is equipped with authentic period 'para seats' and is used in commemorative parachute drops.

The unsung heroes of the flight are the two de Havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunks.
While these provide the single-engine training for would-be flight pilots they are
unique in their own way, one famous as having been fired on by Soviet troops!

Of course the planes we really want to see are the aircraft we most associate with the Battle of Britain itself, the Spitfires and the Hurricanes and you will not be disappointed with the range of types that are on view. The BBMF has models of the famous fighters dating from the early versions which took part in the battle to later and more advanced or more specialist examples of these legendary warbirds.

Our guide introduces us to an early a Mk.IIa, which originally flew in the Battle
of Britain in 1940, with 266 and 603 Squadrons.

While, over at the other side of the hanger, was a Mk IIc Hurricane and despite
being in a state of disassemble you can still recognise the distinctive 'Hump'!

Each aircraft has it's own story which is related to you by your guide. They also have particular paint schemes which illustrate each aircraft as it was historically during World War Two or to commemorate a particular pilot who served in that type. For example, the Spitfire Mk. IIa is painted in the 41 Squadron code 'EB-G', which represents the aircraft flown by Pilot Officer Eric Lock who, on 5 September 1940, destroyed three aircraft in a single sortie.

Spitfire Mark XVI

Griffon 66 engined Spitfire Mark XVI photo reconnaissance aircraft.

While the purpose of the flight is principally to act as a memorial to those that defended the country during the Battle of Britain - hence the flight's name - one of the three iconic aircraft which flies alongside the Spitfire and Hurricane fighters is not a veteran of that battle at all. None the less the legendary Avro Lancaster heavy bomber was a crucial part of the British campaign in the air during World War 2 and as such is a central member of the team.

This huge bomber is the grand finally of the hanger tour and like all the other aircraft in the flight it is unique and has it's own very interesting history. Aside from being one of the last two remaining flight worthy Lancasters in the world she appeared in two films: Operation Crossbow and The Guns of Navarone!

While the hanger tour ends - sadly - with the Lancaster we then adjourn to the small bomb display outside to get a idea about what the Lancaster was capable of. Aside from the plain old 500 Pound bomb - normally the Lanc was capable of carrying up to 14,000 Pounds of bombs - the display features the enormous 'Tall Boy' (12,000 Pound) bomb and the even bigger 'Grand Slam' (22,000 Pound) bomb. I was particularly interested in looking at the 'Tall Boy' as I had recently watched a documentary on the sinking of the German pocket battleship Tirpitz by several of these devastating bombs.

Three of the stars of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.

It was a wonderful visit and I highly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in history of aircraft. It's really important that these aircraft are kept flying as a reminder of the sacrifice that was made in order to keep this country free of Fascism. It's also important to remember that this is a part of the RAF, whose pilots and ground crew volunteer to serve as part of the historic flight.

Related Links:

• BBMF Visitor Centre, official RAF web site:

Wikipedia entry for Battle of Britain Memorial Flight - includes details about all the aircraft.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Russian Tactical AK upgrades - Part 2

I'll start off by saying that I had originally conceived this project as an upgrade for my AK-105, but having seen the range of terrific modern Russian AK accessories - by the likes of Zenico - I have decided to expand this project to include my good old AK-74MN.

Today I'm 'talking' mussel attachments, principally flash hiders or compensators. While raking back through my airsoft collection I realised that I have accumulated quite a few muzzle breaks and what not...

Russian mussel breaks and flash hiders, old and new
The two most recent acquisitions were sourced for my Russian Tactical AK project. I originally bought a lovely 'real steel' Tactika Tula DTK -"Coyote" compensator (24mm thread) before discovering the lovely stubby Zenitco DTC-2 compensator which was especially designed with the AK-104/5 in mind. So I forked out for a nice TWI airsoft replica of the DTC-2 as well this month!

Top: the DTC-2. Botom: Tactika Tula 'Coyote'.

The Coyote will now be installed on my old Kalash AK-74MN as part of a refurb, and I will attach the DTK-2 to my AK-105. The stubby profile of the later is a lot more in keeping with the compact nature of the AK-105 'carbine'.

As I mentioned in a prevous post, there are three airsoft manufacturers who are making replicas of Zenitco tactical AK products at the moment; GBL, Asura Dynamics and TWI. TWI is the 'top of the range' Taiwanese company as far as airsoft products go so I was pleased I manage to source their clone of the modern Russian muzzle brake.

This airsoft item has the full Zenitco trade marks on it - prominently displayed at the font of the compensator, which looks pretty cool...

However, this is NOT an officially licensed product (Zenitco have not issued any licences to make airsoft versions of their products), so just be aware that this is - legally - a counterfeit product.

Moreover, despite hearing a lot about TWI quality I was a little disappointed in the finish of this piece. My real Coyote break comes in a lovely satin black finish, while the DTK-2 is a flat grey colour. Nothing wrong with that, looking at the real thing it is about right I think, but it was a thin paint coat and quite scratched and the trademark is not printed on straight (it's not level when the compensator is screwed on).

Another slight problem was the 24mm thread. I found it very tight indeed and had to screw it on and off several times to get it to fit. Not what I expected from a 'premium' brand like TWI.

Still, the DTK-2 does look pretty cool...

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

World of Warships - Some (a lot of) thoughts

Having played WoWs pretty intensively over the past few weeks I have decided I have pretty much got a firm grasp of the game and so thought it was about time to record some of my thoughts about it and it's pros and cons.

My latest ship - the mighty Pensacola cruiser.

Repetition and monotony?
I might as well get straight in there and tackle what I think might be one of the greatest criticisms of the game - repetitiveness and monotony.

Like World of Tanks (Wo)Warships is very formulaic. There is no dynamic or random elements to the game mode construction, like Counter Strike the maps are set and everyone knows 'where to go', the choke points and the camp spots (although I do take issue with the notion of 'camping' in WoWS). This is perhaps both the greatest weakness of the game and - in a perverse way - it most abiding charm.

My gaming friends and I always said about World of Tanks that the best thing was that it was a game you could play while having a good drink! Gameplay 'tactics' (such as they are) in either Tanks or Warships are pretty rudimentary and although a lot of YouTube Game 'celebs' make a lot of videos about the nuances of 'how to play' these games at the end of the day you could sleepwalk through a game if you wanted too and leave the result to fate (and still win half your games). Surviving the games is another matter though!

The game map (M). You can set your auto-pilot way-points on this so you can concentrate of firing
your guns or drinking beer! Already I bet you can see the chock points?

Once you have played a map a few times you pretty much know most of what you need to know, although in Warships the lack of geographic eye candy - as one might expect in a game about warfare on the high seas - is somewhat sparser that it was in World of tanks.

Both these issues lead to some making accusation s of repetition and monotony - with only the incentive to be constantly upgrading and acquiring new ships driving your incessant return to the game.

But I disagree. I like a 'no brainer game' and I think a lot of other people do to.

For a great many people - and a lot of them of a similar age to myself (+-middle-age) - World of Warships is a social activity in the same way that dominoes used to be in the golden days of the pub. Yes you will get those people that are supremely competitive and always trying to improve their game stats, but for the majority the game is almost secondary to the hilarity of the banter when together with ones friends.

So, repetition becomes a comfort zone where you don't have to concentrate too hard (because we all know men can't multitask) and the monotony is simply the absence of distraction so you can focus what concentration you do have available on your ship!

Something for everyone
Having said what I said above, World of Warships - like WoT - does offer a little something for all types of games. Yes it's great for the casual/social online gamer like me (my competitive days are far behind me now) but it also has enough depth built in to appeal to the more intense gamer.

First of the two great evils of the game...The grind. Many players judge their success in the game
by how far they have progressed up the Tech Tree. Not far enough? Then buy a ship!

Aside from the rather addictive nature of 'collecting stuff' - which the Wargame.Net developers are famed for (and from which they profit hugely) - there is a rather nice career path to the game that keeps you wanting to come back and 'just get a little more XP'!

Yes, in essence, World of Warships is the adult equivalent of those addictive trading cards you see kids spending all their pocket money on. Make no mistake, catch the bug and you could be tempted to fork out a lot of real coinage for 'better' ships! But even if you are a goody two-shoes and stick to the 'grind', it's still a insidiously obsessive pass time.

The second of the great World of... addictions, upgrading! How tempting it is to spend real money
on getting that 'must have' extra gadget on your virtual ship...Just a few more Doubloons? 

My thoughts on the ships...
Of course, the main attraction of the game is the ships and all credit to Wargaming.Net - their ship models are gorgeous. I never really knew that much about WW2 naval warfare and certainly not much either about the specification of the ships involved, so these digital models have really opened my eyes and I have learned a lot.

Destroyers: These are to WoWs what light tanks were to World of Tanks I suppose. They are the scouts, light fast and manoeuvrable greyhounds of the sea that whip about and spy out oncoming enemy ships, take advantage of opportunistic 'flag captures' and are - under the right situations - the bane of battleships and aircraft carriers!

One word sums up their potency - torpedoes!

 The moment that sums up destroyer action - what we call the 'oh shit' moment!

I am still getting used to this class of ship, I have only reached tier IV of the American destroyer line with a Tier IV Clemson class ship. And I am afraid I do find the temptation to go all psycho-torp is too much for me sometimes...If I spy a nice juicy battleship or - worse - a carrier - a red mist descends and it's 'all steam ahead'! (With - most times - predictably disastrous consequences for me.)

My latest destroyer - the slippery Japanese Minekaze!

Cruisers: This is my favourite class at the moment. I have reached tier V of the American line with a beautiful Cleveland Class ship.

These are the all rounders of the game but they do have a very specific job to do and that is to provide an anti-aircraft and anti-destroyer screen for your battleships (and sometimes your aircraft carriers, if nobody else remembers to do that job). As such you are kinda tied to the plans of the battleship drivers, you go where they go - but, having said that, the mutual cover you provide each other is good for both parties (especially when you bump into the enemy's battleships coming the other way).

Occasionally (like destroyers) cruisers can form formidable 'wolf packs' and can lay waste to even the most intimidating battleships. This is done by using your superior manoeuvrability and speed (over the battleships) and splitting their fire - which essentially means circling the battleship from different directions so the poor blighter doesn't know who to shoot at first!

Battleships: The big guns! Range is your friend as speed and manoeuvrability certainly is not!

I have one battleship - a tier V Japanese premium battlewagon of the xxx class. And to be honest, while playing battleships sounds attractive - as you have the biggest punch and the greatest armour in the game - the plain fact is that YOU are on everyone else's hit list.

Destroyers - those annoying little midges of the warship world - swarm around you if you are not careful. loosing off streams of torpedoes. Cruisers will try and avoid you, but a couple of good cruiser captains can make your life hell - but it's the enemy's aircraft carriers that are the most frustrating danger as their squadrons of bombers hunt you down in what feels like a personal vendeta.

Obviously, your job is the destruction of the enemy's battleships - you slug it out in gargantuan long range duels looking for those all important 'citadel' hits. This is the only time - battleship versus battleship - that I opt for the armour piercing (AP) shells.

Aircraft carriers: This is the one class I haven't tried yet, but as I am getting more experienced in the game my friends and I are now starting to think that we must try this unique part of the game out.

These huge flat tops appear - at first - to be the games most vulnerable ships and many dismiss them as simply being World of Warship's equivalent to World of Tank's artillery. But think there is much more to them and they do have the potential to change the course of a game.

Using the aircraft carriers air force is something of a dark art and does make the whole exercise look more like a top-down RTS game rather than a naval warfare sim. But the coordination of your multiple little squadrons is something of a feet of juggling, more so the higher up the tiers you go and your squadron numbers increase.

To my mind the greatest threat that carriers present are their torpedo bombers. These drop their tin fish (if you do not have an adequate AA shield) far closer to you that destroyer can unleash their torpedoes. With destroyers you have a reasonable chance of avoiding their torps IF you have your wits about you, but the short distance at which the torpedo bombers drop their loads leaves you with a lot less room to manoeuvre!

Coordinate your attack, with a mic of torp bombers and dive bombers, and you battleship captain is left weeping as the inevitability of his immanent demise becomes ever so apparent and unavoidable.

(I can't show you some carrier play as I haven't got a carrier - but here's a clip which is sort of carrier related!)

HOWEVER, make no mistake - the aircraft carrier is at the top of everyone's most wanted list. While - tactically - battleships are the real game win makers frankly there is no better satisfaction in the game than sending a flat top down to a watery grave. To the point where many people get fixated when a carrier is spotted on the map (I have seen games lost because players who otherwise would have won a game with a flag capture have gone 'rogue' because they spied a carrier on the horizon)!

What I would like to see next for World of Warships
For me, the lack of innovative game modes is the main gripe about this game. Capture the flag can get a bit wearisome over the course of an evenings play.

So here are some game mode suggestions:

Convoy - Team 'A' must escort a convoy across the map. Team 'B' must locate them and then destroy 75% of the merchant ships to win.

Wake Island - Fond memories of the Wake Island map from Battlefield 2/3 has inspired this idea. The two opposing fleets must take Wake Island (by means of holding 3 of the 4 capturable points). Once captured this gives the occupying team team access to the island's airfield and land based bombers and fighters.

• Hunt the Bismark - One team acts as the hunters, the other as escort for the pocket battleship Bismark. The Bismark - captained randomly by one of the escort captains - can hide itself in a maze of fyords and inlets, or out to sea making use of think fog banks.

However, aside from game modes there are some other suggestions I have for improving the basic game features. Here are some of my ideas:

• Fog - already mentioned above I would like to see rome random weather effects like fog, patchy fog and heavy rain. All designed to reduce spotting range and make target identification and acquisition harder.

• Land based patrol bombers or reconnaissance - I'd like to see some of the bigger maritime patrol aircraft brought into the game, access to which is controlled by the capturing of key objectives. For example, if a team capture a flag that has a major port or sea base then that triggers a long range maritime patrol, and if during this patrol a capital ship is spotted that in turn triggers a land based bomber strike.

• Sea mines - I'd like to see some key 'flags' defended by mines, which would have to be 'swept' by suitably equipped destroyers or cruisers...

Oh, I could go on and on. But writing this is so much WoWS playing time!