For someone who doesn't particularly enjoy flying in real life, I have always been a sucker for flight simulation games on my PC and various game consoles. My sons are known to routinely steer me away from any new games in this genre when we visit our local game emporium, as they know I will want it and deprive them of their valuable time in front of their Xbox 360, Wii or Playstation. While Dogfights: Season Two is lacking a joystick to keep the viewer in control of the situation, it offers many of the same visceral thrills as any good flight simulator does, with lots of point of view shots and other good CGI effects, all the while imparting some good history lessons along the way. This 17 episode boxed set is a wealth of information, couched between some great computer animated flight sequences. The set includes the following episodes:
Kamikaze. Japan's desperate efforts to turn the tide of World War II led them to this senseless enterprise, which was devastatingly effective (several thousand allied ships sunk, according to this episode, something I found astounding). This episode focuses largely on the sinking of the USS Laffey. I had always assumed that one singular kamikaze would attack any given ship prior to watching this episode, and was surprised to find out they would mass themselves and send one suicide bomber after another into the same target until the target was destroyed.
Jet vs. Jet. The Korean War is the focus of this episode, which details the exploits of the first pilots to engage in near supersonic speed dogfights. Much of the episode is given over to Korea's first ace, Jim Jabara, who managed to achieve ace status despite a questionable decision to fly after one of his tanks did not discharge from a wing, leaving him at a distinct disadvantage from both speed and maneuverability standpoints.
Thunderbolt describes the accomplishments of World War Two's most famous fighter, the B-47, also known as the Thunderbolt, which was responsible for bringing down over 4,000 German aircraft. The highly maneuverable Thunderbolts were frequently used to escort larger bombers like the B-17. One of the most amazing things shown in this episode is just how much damage a Thunderbolt could take and still keep flying, due to its aluminum and steel framework.
Gun Kills of Vietnam details the somewhat strange melding of an older technology, guns, with one of the newest, jets. The mid-60s saw the Americans still using slower propeller driven planes like the A-1 Skyraider (armed with machine guns) which were typically used for rescue missions. The episode starts with the first dogfight of Vietnam in 1965 with these planes (against a jet powered Mig). By 1967, the Americans were similarly using the jet-powered F-4s, which engage in dogfights as they accompany bombers to their mission.
Desert Aces has some of the cooler CGI effects as Mirages and Hawker Hunters battle it out in the Middle East, flying through various desert environments that made me think of an aerial version of the podrace in The Phantom Menace. Starting in 1966, with a conflict between Israel and Jordan, the episode then moves on to 1967's infamous Six Day War between Israel and Egypt. This episode features interviews with Giora Epstein, who at the time had only three combat missions in a Mirage but who went on to become the world's all-time leading jet ace with 17 kills. We then move on to Israel's next major conflict, 1973's Yom Kippur War, with Epstein doing battle (alone against 11 Mig's) over the Suez Canal, in the Israel built Nesher, a copy of the French Mirage V jets.
The First Dogfighters journeys back in time to World War I when the first airplanes reinvented modern warfare, taking battles to the new frontier of the sky. We tend to forget that these planes were open to the elements (at 15,000 feet, things are not exactly cozy), and as the episode opens in 1917 with an Albatross (who named that one?) flying over France, we're introduced to the rigors these early pilots faced from the weather, in this case 100 mile per hour winds. This episode is a treasure trove for vintage plane fanatics, featuring such great bi-planes as the British SE-5s and the three-winged German Fokker tri-plane.
Luftwaffe's Deadliest Mission describes a tactic I knew little about before watching this fascinating episode. Perhaps taking a cue from the Japanese suicide bombers, the German Luftwaffe's started flying their planes into American bombers to bring them down. This episode has some of the most frightening images as German BF-109s simply fly right into American bombers. Though the mission is suicidal in more ways than one (one mission alone contained over 1300 American planes flying over Germany), the terror of this strategy is brought to chilling life in this excellent episode.
No Room for Error is a more general overview of flying tactics, especially as planes come in closer and closer to ground level, all the while continuing their battle. A World War II battle where the dueling pilots came within a few hundred feet of the ground is explored, followed by a similar incident, this time with jets, during the Korean conflict. The third conflict portrayed, again at low levels, is a 1967 Vietnam battle with Americans chasing Mig-17s. When the speed of these aircraft is considered in tandem with their incredibly low altitudes, a good sense of the spectacular flying skills of the pilots on both sides of the conflict is given in compelling detail.
Night Fighters, while having one of the more interesting focal points of this entire series, is nonetheless somewhat visually hampered by that very focus: night fighting. The episode begins in 1944, with one of the first radar-equipped night fighting Hellcat squadrons. The Korea War in highlighted next with a 1953 mission featuring both F-3D Skyknight radar equipped jets and an entire squadron of B-29 bombers. A final segment on a 1999 dogfight shows how far night battle technology has come, as an F-15 Eagle escorts some Stealth fighters, which do not, obviously, show up on radar. The F-15's attempts to bring down a Mig while simultaneously not knowing where his compadres are provides some exciting moments. This episode has some fantastic explanations of radar and other technologies, but the actual dogfighting sequences are simply harder to see than in most of the other episodes, due to their nighttime setting.
The Bloodiest Day, unlike most episodes in this series, concentrates on only one battle, in this case a May 10, 1972 tempest in Vietnam which turned out to be the worst day of air combat in that long conflict. Though more Vietnamese Migs were shot down on this day than in any other day of the war, it also provided several close calls for a lot of the U.S. Phantoms that were engaged in various dogfights. This episode in notable for the extensive use of vintage film of the actual battle unfolding, with fewer CGI elements utilized.
World War II's legendary dogfighter, the P-51 Mustang gets an entire episode to itself. This combat plane, which combined unusually long range, with incredible maneuverability and some serious firepower, is shown mowing down the enemy in three different battles. First up is a 1944 battle, featuring a squadron with one of my favorite nicknames in the series, the Blue-nosed Bastards of Bodney (otherwise known as the 352nd fighter group), as they attempt to help some B-17s take out a German oil refinery. Next up is a 1945 battle over Japan, where I had to laugh when the lead pilot, who is interviewed for this segment, said the hardest thing for him was staying awake on these missions. The final segment is another 1945 dogfight, this one kind of interesting because it features one of Germany's last technological breakthroughs before their ultimate defeat, jet fighters.
Dogfights of Desert Storm highlights the amazing technological advances of the past few decades as it details some of the aerial conflicts of the first Iraq war. The Americans, using F-15s, have to go up against several different models of MiG, and the possibility of friendly fire soon rears its ugly head. The incidents portrayed here have the pluses of being relatively recent, with several interviews from pilots involved in the skirmishes.
Probably the best single episode of this entire second season, Tuskegee Airmen gives a nice overview of the African American World War II fighter squadron, while concentrating on some of their dogfights. Though the episode concentrates on four 1944 and 1945 battles, where the Airmen were confronted with swarms of Nazi fighters, some more general history is imparted throughout this excellent episode, letting the viewer understand the incredible pressures these men were under to prove themselves worthy, not just as pilots, but, more incredibly, simply as men. This episode also benefits from some great first-person reminiscences by surviving Airmen.
MiG Killers of Midway doesn't refer to the epochal World War II battle (the MiG part is probably the first clue), but to the USS Midway in Vietnam, which brought down both the first and last MiGs there. Spanning the bulk of the United States' major involvement in the war, from 1965 to 1973, this episode is interesting in that it portrays not just the air fights that dominate all the other episodes, but the special skill necessary for operating planes off of an aircraft carrier.
For those with the need for speed, Supersonic takes us into the flight testing that resulted in some of the fastest jets known to man. One of the most engaging segments is one detailing the North Koreans' first glimpse of the swept-wing Sabres, which dealt a blow to their belief that their MiG technology was unassailable. The difficulties of firing accurately at these accelerated speeds is also highlighted in a segment on the F-4E Phantom.
Death of the Luftwaffe details Operation Bodenplatte, begun on January 1, 1945, which was the German air force's last real stand in World War II. This Belgian operation, defending an American airbase known as Y-29, features my favorite nicknamed force mentioned above, the Bluenosed Bastards of Bodney. This episode is especially interesting in that it features interviews with pilots from both sides of the conflict.
The final episode of the second season, Secret Weapons reveals some of the little-known new technologies used by both the Allies and Axis during World War II. Among the weapons profiled is the German rocket propelled plane, the ME-163 Komet, a blunt-nosed little craft that looks like it came out of a "Flash Gordon" serial. The pilot remembers that he had to wear an asbestos suit to protect himself from possible fire hazards should any of the fuel spill. The Japanese also took their kamikaze concept beneath the water and developed suicide submarines armed with massive explosives. One segment exploring remote controlled aircraft features a sortie flown by Joseph Kennedy, the ill-fated eldest Kennedy brother.
Overview: Dogfights is a generally compelling series that has an excellent and wisely broad focus that allows it to explore different aspects of aerial warfare. The computer animation is uniformly well-done, even if it occasionally relies on needless gimmicks like momentary "out of focus" moments as a jet speeds by and the like. Each episode generally features between two and four separate dogfight incidents which help to give concrete examples of ideas and strategies being discussed. While there is abundant CGI, there's also good usage of archival footage, and a lot of very informative interview segments, with both actual participants in the various battles, and a number of nicely articulate experts (including Survivor: Panama's Terry Deitz). If the show occasionally falls victim to its own predictable format, it is saved by the fascinating amount of lesser-known details it imparts about one very specific kind of warfare.
Once again History Channel misses the boat (or plane, as the case may be) by releasing this visually interesting series in an unenhanced 1.78:1 format. This series screams for an anamorphically enhanced transfer. Colors, saturation and sharpness are all excellent, and the CGI is for the most part quite brilliant.
The DD 2.0 soundtrack has a lot of nice effects, with great fidelity and separation. Interviews and narration are always placed front and center and are always easily heard.
Disc 5 contains a 30 minute featurette which gives some more information on various aircraft, aces and such episode participants as the USS Laffey.
Dogfights will easily appeal to any plane fan, whether or not they happen to like flight simulator games. Students of battle strategies will be similarly enthused by the series' attention to detail as it explores the final frontier (on this planet, anyway) of warfare. Recommended.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet