As you fight battles you should hopefully be gaining experience, and therefore ranks in your chosen air force(s), allowing you to buy new planes as we did with the Swordfish in Part 1. Looking at the British tech tree, Rank 1 unlocks the Gladiator, a slightly better biplane fighter, Rank 2 gets us into monoplanes with the Hurricane Mk I and Blenheim Mk IV, and Rank 3 upgrades those to the Hurricane Mk II and Beaufort Mk VIII. You can put these into service to replace your starting biplanes; if you have 50,000 spare silver lions (completing the tutorial missions is a good way of earning a few) you can also recruit another crew for a hanger of five aircraft. Further crew can be recruited, but at the cost of real money golden eagles; the tutorials should have earned enough to cover an additional crew, but you should be sure you want to stick with a country before spending them. Extra crews are most useful in Arcade Battles, where you can use your whole hanger, if you’re planning to focus on Historical or Realistic battles then they’re less important.
The new aircraft you unlock come in three basic flavours: the Hurricanes are Fighters, the Blenheim and Beaufort are Bombers, and there are also Attackers, that don’t show up for the British until later.
Fighters, as the name suggests, are designed to fight other aircraft. Most fighters are single-engine single-seat planes like the Spitfire and Zero, but you also have heavy twin-engine fighters, Zerstörer in German terminology, typified in the early tiers by the Messerschmitt Bf-110; these tend to pack heavier armament at the cost of manoeuvrability. Many fighters can also fulfil a fighter-bomber role when fitted with a few bombs or rockets for a bit of ground attack, if you get bored of shooting at flying things.
The main job of a bomber is to… anyone? 5 points if you said “drop bombs”. The tutorials covered level bombing from altitude using the bombsight (F7), which is the role of most War Thunder bombers, starting with light and medium types like the Blenheim and Ju-88 and eventually culminating in massive heavy bombers like the Lancaster and B-17 Flying Fortress. There is also a dive bombing tutorial; some aircraft such as the Ju-87 Stuka and SBD Dauntless are specifically designed for dive bombing, and in the more realistic game modes you’ll rip your wings off when you try and pull out of a steep dive unless you’re in something designed for dive bombing. In Arcade mode, though, you can get away with it in even heavy bombers, which allows for more precise bomb placement and takes away the main advantage of the Stuka. (Update: as of Patch 1.29 the bombing mechanics have been changed; the cross in the bombsight on the ground now opens up showing increased dispersion of bombs as the angle of dive increases for level bombers, until it’s a circle with a line through it indicating bombs can’t be dropped at all in steep dives, even in arcade mode, giving specialist dive bombers their unique role back.) Most bombers are slow and lumbering, and easy meat for a fighter if unescorted; the basic AI gunners aren’t terribly effective, and though manning a turret yourself with F6 can give an attacker a nasty shock, as fighter armament gets heavier it’s not often a duel you can win. If you can’t get a friendly fighter escort the safest bet is often to stay up as high as you can, especially in the early tiers when less powerful engines mean it takes a long time for enemy fighters to gain altitude; if the enemy team are all distracted in low level engagements you should be safe, apart from the odd bit of flak, but watch out for high level respawns coming up to get you.
Attackers are generally ground attack aircraft that operate at low altitude rather than using a bombsight from high level, and many use cannon and rockets in their primary role as well as bombs. The definitive example is the Il-2 Sturmovik, others classified as Attackers in War Thunder are a bit of a mixed bag like the D3A Val, more of a dive bomber, the P47 Thunderbolt fighter-bomber and Bristol Beaufighter, more of a heavy fighter, though it can also carry a torpedo. Attackers fare better than bombers in aerial fights; you won’t want to end up in a one-on-one dogfight with anything too manoeuvrable, but heavy cannon armament like the Sturmovik and especially Beaufighter will make a mess of anything you can get the guns pointing at.
If you really excel at one particular aspect of the game you might want to concentrate on a single type of aircraft, but generally it’s useful to have a mix in your hanger to allow you to fulfil different roles within a mission, such as ground attack at the start of a Domination map to clear out some targets, then switching to a fighter to defend the airfields. With a selection of aircraft of different ranks you can make tactical choices, like starting off in your lowest rank fighter and hoping that everyone else gets their better aircraft shot down, so you’ll have more of an advantage later in your better planes, but then if everyone else is doing that then maybe you’re better starting in your top aircraft to rank up some easy kills…
Some aircraft also have multiple possible weapon loads. Click the Weapons button (three bullets on the icon) to see the possible weapon selections; the Hurricane I, for example, can only ever have 8 .303 machine guns, but when you buy the Hurricane II at Rank 3 you get some more exciting choices:
As well as its machine guns, you can fit two bombs or six rockets. If you’re used to homing missiles in modern flight sims, by the way, these are unguided rockets, for air-to-ground attacks, although if you do happen to hit an aircraft with them (like a nice big bomber at close range) they will make a mess of it. You need to spend silver lions to unlock the options, but as they’re pretty cheap then unless you’re stone broke I’d suggest hitting the “Buy All Weapons” button. Once you’ve bought them, you can choose which to fit at the start of a battle or when you respawn:
I often like to start a battle in a fighter-bomber; head for the nearest enemy ground units, rattle off the bombs or rockets, then look out for any friendly bombers who might need an escort, and see how the battle is developing when it comes to respawning.
The Hurricane II has the extra options available from the start, but other aircraft like the Beaufort have to unlock extra fittings to get new weapons:
Looking at the “Modifications” section, you can see that the TBC pylons required to carry a torpedo require 22,000 aircraft experience:
I must confess that I don’t know the precise mechanics behind individual plane XP compared to country XP, player XP and crew XP. You can see the current total at the top of the the window (zero in the screenshot above in my newly purchased Beaufort); basically the more you fly and better you do, the more experience you get; keep checking back in and eventually you’ll be able buy the pylons to fit bigger bombs and torpedoes. Most aircraft can also upgrade their engines and reduce air resistance for better performance, with enough XP.
Update: Patch 1.29 introduced new ammunition loads for guns, allowing you to upgrade the default ammunition belts to include all sorts of fun like Armour Piercing, High Explosive and Incendiary bullets and shells. You need to unlock the options with Aircraft XP then buy them with silver lions, much like other Modifications.
Different calibre weapons of different nations have various options available; most have “omni-purpose”, a mixture of various ammunition types that should be suitable for all target types, and a “stealth” option with no tracers so that you don’t alert your target if you miss with your first burst (if you hit them, the big holes in their aeroplane are usually a bit of a giveaway). There are also some specific air and ground options, and a few other exotic choices like All High Explosive Incendiary Tracer, All The Time.
I’ve yet to find a definitive guide on the exact effects of the various ammunition types and the best choices, but the second half of this post on reddit at least explains the various acronyms and shows the different options.
While on the subject of weapon loads, a lot of bombers have the ability to carry a lot of light bombs or a few heavy bombs. The Su-2, for example, with the right pylons can carry 12 x 50kg bombs, or 6 x 100kg, or 2 x 250kg. Though, as per the old maxim, quantity has a quality all its own, I tend towards the other maxim that bigger is better. If you can get nicely lined up on a road packed with a column of vehicles it can be glorious to drop a long string of bombs down it, but irritatingly the enemy are seldom generous enough to lay out their forces in nice, geometric, easily bombable patterns. Larger bombs don’t have to be quite so precisely placed, particularly useful from high altitude, and some targets need heavy ordnance to destroy them.
Regarding weights, just to confuse people metric and imperial weights are used by different nations (e.g. 250lb bombs on the British Beaufort, 250kg bombs on the Soviet Su-2). 1kg = 2.2lb, so as a very rough rule of thumb you can multiply or divide by 2 to get a general idea of comparative bomb loads, or type a phrase like “500lb in kg” into Google and its handy-dandy converter will give you a more precise figure.
To wrap things up, Part 4 covers the most important feature of the game: painting your aircraft, along with some minor sections on crew skills, premium options and the like.