The US Air Force keeps writing checks my body can’t cash

R-Type Delta

R-Type Delta (1999)

Bored on the job, I decided to investigate the possibility of a career change. I was therefore looking up the requirements to be a jet fighter pilot and bloody hell, the list was as long as your arm. I ask, do they want an air force or not? You’ll end up with nobody up there and the battle for air supremacy will be lost if you keep up that carry on. I’ve got more runner-up and participation medals than you can imagine, so clearly I’m a pretty qualified guy. But these Air Force heavies, all they wanna do is exclude you.

First of all, you need to hold a Bachelor’s degree. Can you believe it, I actually meet the first requirement. I was pretty chuffed with that. There was a bit of a footnote after that, which mentioned something about it having to be a competitive grade, with engineering or aeronautical disciplines preferred. So I’ll perhaps have to do a bit of doctoring there, but that’s no issue.

Next, the physical requirements. OK, for the US Air Force, and since I’m not a US citizen I’d be ineligible anyway but let’s pretend I am, then the height range I can fall into is 5’4 to 6’3, and I’m smack-bang in the middle of that. That’s the second hurdle, easily jumped. Does Commander Burkey sound good to you yet?

But then they had to go and spoil it all by including an eyesight requirement. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to have perfect sight, merely near-perfect. Did you know that 20/20 isn’t perfect vision? Did you know that the only 20s I ever see are in my bank account, and even then, only for brief periods?

Yes, unfortunately I even need glasses to drive. Still, I never much bothered driving with them, not even at night-time when nobody can see anything anyway, so I might still have a chance here. After all, it wasn’t vision but clairvoyance and a roadgoing sixth sense that got me through those frosty mornings, when the windscreen would be fully frozen and I’d be driving through rush hour traffic with almost no visibility bar a small, melted circle in the middle of the ice. An ability like that has to count for something in the Air Force, right?

I keep mentioning the Air Force in particular because if you fancy flying jets for the Navy, then you need to do water survival training, including getting into a terrifying contraption called a Helo Dunker that simulates a downed chopper filling up with water. It would probably be at this sticky point that I’d have to come clean to my commanding officer:

“Look mate, ah, commandant. Hate to cause a fuss or anything, but I can’t exactly swim, sir.” A look of incredulity, followed by a pucening of the face, and then…

“Whaaaat? The war is starting in three days! Didn’t you see that memo from the North Koreans?”

“Yeah, yeah, I know… like I say, hate to be a pain, but I don’t fancy water much.”

“You’re a dickhead, Burke.”

“Yes sir, you’re absolutely right sir.”

I’d be lucky to even get a dishonourable discharge. They’d probably just throw me into the water and have the burial-at-sea there and then. Get Jack Nicholson in to testify all kinds of lies about what happened. Which wouldn’t matter anyway, because Tom Cruise wouldn’t even bother defending my honour.

I keep mentioning the US military in particular as well because the planes we have in the Irish Air Corps are Pilatus PC-9s, which you really need to see for yourself – they look like they could be outmaneuvered by the Wright brothers, and they ain’t exactly gonna look good coming in to land on an aircraft carrier. Speaking of, part of your flight training will indeed involve landing on a carrier. Sounds horribly frightening, but I can do it with no issue on Top Gun NES so what’s the trouble?

Still, I best not mention that fact to the austere commander, if I’m lucky enough to still have one by that stage. Quote or make reference to Top Gun once in Navy Flight School and you get fined. Do it three times and you’ll most likely become subject to a blanket party and made to disappear.

Well, the upshot of all this is that I’m DQ’ed. That’s before we get anywhere near the rest of the physical exams, where nul points on the beep test won’t stand well to me anyway. To say nothing of actually flying those beasts, and coping with G-forces – I can barely cope with driving down a hill too fast. As a result, I’m resigned to a life of merely pretending to be a fighter pilot on realistic simulation games like Combat Flight Simulator, or Starwing.

Still, at least that opens up R-Type to me. Now here’s what you’d call a simulation: one hit and you’re brown bread, and it doesn’t matter what supplementary training you’ve had. I wouldn’t call that a return on investment, would you? Years of training someone, and they die in one second?

Anyway, 2D games in the PlayStation and Nintendo era were quickly becoming gauche, in favour or polygons and textures that make you feel like your eyes are melting out of your sockets. R-Type Delta went for a 2.5D approach, which works well – it’s still functionally the same 2D-planed shooter, where it’s you and your multi-functional Force Device against the alien Bydo, and nobody is going to help you.

Where the Super Nintendo’s R-Type III gave you three different Force Devices (three differently coloured, detachable spaceguns with different lasers, essentially), Delta pushes the barrel out by giving you three ships altogether, plus an unlockable one, giving you many different ways to play. There’s adjustable difficulty levels as well, not that Easy means Easy.

No, here “Easy” means “Earth has no chance” and “Hard” means “You’re dead, Earth is brown bread, your friends are toast and we’ve skinned your dog, too”. That said, the opening level is one of the best in gaming, in my opinion. Certainly in the shooting genre it stands out, even above R-Type III’s opener. It’s got great music, bundles of action and explosions galore.

That’s all well and good, but Stage 3 is where I tend to hit the wall. Quite literally, in this case – up to this point in the series, any brush with the wall spelled an embarrassing instadeath for your ship and the little ant-sized pixel of a pilot inside. Delta lets you scrape your ship against the wall as often as you want, giving you nothing more than a playful dig in the arm, an “ah, go on, we’ll let you away with it” kind of response.

But Stage 3 is the traditional R-Type battleship level, where the entire stage environment is an enemy battleship that you’ll be destroying in multiple parts, or a walking quadruped tank in this case. Drive your glass plane into this tank’s “walls”, which I tend to do many, many times in a row, and you’re gone. This leaves you sitting there for an uncomfortable half-second of deafening silence, bewildered, trying to determine what totalled your ship this time. What I want to know is, how do you let something six times the size of a Metal Gear sneak up on you in the first place?

I hate to admit it, but Stage 5 out of 7 is as far as I’ve gotten, and that’s on Easy mode. I know I mentioned being able to see into the future as I drove my little car through icy mornings, but I was at least helped out there by beeps from opposition cars, as well as vague outlines of rude gestures. That demonstrates a real attention to detail, you know, something that would have served me well in the Air Force. R-Type Delta, however, demands just a little bit more than that.

Though it kicks me into the dirt every time I attempt to beat it, this is a game I’m particularly fond of, even if it reminds me of my aviation inadequacies. But that’s why those guys rule the skies and probably bed a hundred women a night, while I must be content to sit down here on plain old Earth and get vaporised on my PS1. That’s just as well – if I can’t even be a virtual space-fighter pilot, what chance would the free world have in real life with me at the yoke?

17 January 2020

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