Friday, February 28, 2020

Gaming With Civil Air Patrol

As my local Civil Air Patrol squadron Aerospace Education officer it is my job to make aviation studies interesting and exciting. After all the cadets are forced to spend five days a week in uncomfortable desks listening to boring lectures; when they choose to attend an activity I feel I owe it to them that not only should it be educational, but fun.

One of the first activities I had the cadets do when I joined my new squadron six months ago was to fill out an interest survey. What they overwhelmingly told me was that they wanted hands-on activities and one session classes so we could cover lots of interest areas. During these past few months we've had classes on air combat, acrobatics, orbital mechanics, unmanned aerial vehicles, astronomy, naval aviation, rocketry, and even the history of Beeman's gum.

While the classes have had a high STEM component I have also needed to cover aviation history since it's also a big component of the CAP aerospace course. Naturally games have been part of these lessons.

To accent the lesson on air combat/acrobatics we finished with a game of WW I aerial combat based on Canvas Eagles/Blue Max/Biplane Barmy systems just to name a few. While a flight simulator would certainly have been closer to the real thing, it would have been difficult to find one that could handle 16 cadets at once. So while even a simplified 3D air combat board game is somewhat slow and complex it does allow plenty of time to discuss aviation history, maneuvers, energy management, and position among other
subjects.

Later in the fall while the newer cadets where working on their Goddard rockets for their Rocketry Badges I had the opportunity to cover the subject of orbital mechanics and rendezvous with the cadet officers. Rather than begin with a lecture I had them play a game of ASAT by Paper Forge Games. I modified it somewhat with a larger board, LEGO spacecraft, and Blue Gemini spacecraft. The object was to rendezvous with as many target satellites and return to earth with their limited fuel. I only gave the cadets the most basic of instructions and let them figure out the rules of orbital mechanics for themselves. As with McDivitt and White on Gemini 4, the game allowed me the opportunity to recreate the confusion and frustration of the early NASA docking attempts. The cadet who plays Kerbal Space Program caught on the fastest. ASAT has excellent potential for future classes. After the game I had a lecture on orbital mechanics, which having has hands-on experience was better understood by the cadets.

My newest game was run just a few weeks ago. The squadron had asked for a lesson on Naval aviation. For the lecture portion my cadet/AEO (who is working on his pilot's license) gave a brief class on carrier flight patterns and landing lights; a senior member who served in the Navy as a carrier flight deck crewman talked about the different crew positions on a carrier, and I gave a lecture on the history of carrier aviation before moving on to the game.

The game was designed to allow for team building, problem solving and a general overview of the problems of carrier flight operations. The flight operation portion was based on SPI's The Fast Carriers, while the combat segment generally came from Avalon Hills' Midway.

The two teams were composed of four carriers of 14 aircraft (eight bombers and six fighters), commanded by the red and blue admirals (the two most senior cadets). The admirals' job was to move the ships and authorize strikes.

Copy of a carrier chart
Each carrier was commanded by two cadets who's job was to manage carrier operations and move the air strikes. The most difficult portions of the game was carrier operation with moving the aircraft between the hanger to arming & fueling, to the flight deck and launching them to CAP, search teams, and strike teams. They also needed to make sure the deck was kept clear for returning aircraft since the game was based on WW2 carriers which generally could only launch or land aircraft.Because of the time period effective radar and satellites were not available so effective air searches where very important.

The game was run double-blind with the senior members serving as judges, and recording each fleet's movement and search request on a master board. If a search was effective (and many weren't), the judge reported the ships' location, but not always the correct number of carriers present. This reflected the inaccuracies of WW2 spotting which lead to confusion among the teams when they spotted more ships than were in the game.

Combat was held on a central battle board with the attackers and defenders bringing their forces to the table, and being surprised at what was actually there. A simple CRT was used with extra damage to carriers that had aircraft on the flight deck and/or being armed and refueled. I had warned them about that, but they didn't listen. After his second carrier took extra damage from planes on the flight deck the Red Admiral was a little upset with his captains.

As with the other games I have used with the cadets these provided lots of learning opportunities and a chance for the cadets to work together; and lots of fun. There is plenty of potential for many of the classic war games to be used in a teaching environment. The number of players doesn't matter, in fact many solo games are easier to adapt for a classroom than multi-player games. In fact one of the games I am currently working on is Avalon Hills B-17.

Other games with Civil Air Patrol: Battle of Britain, Golden Age Air Racing