IL-2 Sturmovik for Beginners

by Len "Viking1" Hjalmarson

Article Type: Training
Article Date: February 20, 2002

Product Info

Product Name: IL-2 Sturmovik
Category: WWII Air Combat Simulation
Developer: Maddox Games
Publisher: Ubi Soft
Release Date: Released (Nov. 2001)
Min. Spec: PII 400 (or equiv.), 128 MB RAM, 3D Accelerator
Rec'd. Spec: PIII 600 or better, 256 MB RAM, 32 bit 3D accelerator with 32 MB RAM or better
Files & Links: Click Here

How Can I Do That?

The most common questions I receive from novice air combat pilots have to do with choice of aircraft, mechanics of online play, and air combat maneuvers and gunnery. Over the last six months I have addressed many of these questions through articles here, but not all of them. This article will briefly survey more of the common questions, suggest a useful configuration for beginners, and also discuss online scoring.

IL-2 Sturmovik (IL-2) has a reputation as an unforgiving WWII combat simulator. But the truth is deeper, as is often the case. It is the realism of the simulation that makes it such a powerful training device, enhanced by such features as the mission recorder and the ability to observe other pilots in flight from external views. Let’s begin by discussing the advantages of such training features.

Learning as an Observer

On occasion a friend will stop by my office during the day and find that I am online in a cooperative or dogfight mission. If I’m lucky I’m doing well, and not hitting the silk every five minutes—an embarrassing occurrence when you are trying to impress your friends!

Inevitably, where I am managing to fight and survive, I get comments like, “It looks easy…but I have a feeling it must be hard,” or, “How did you do that?” When I then narrate a maneuver while flying it, the lights begin to go on. It may be a bit harder than it looks, but most people can begin to grasp the basics when they watch a pilot maneuver in a combat environment.

IL-2 makes this simple to do, and observing an experienced pilot is a great way to learn the ropes. I recommend that a beginner find some articles on air combat maneuvers (there are several on this website) and then observe some fights in progress to begin to get an understanding of the dynamics.

To do this online, one only has to find a mission and then select an aircraft, and then leave it parked somewhere. If you enter an active dogfight area, choose a base that is further from the action so your parked aircraft won’t be shot to pieces while you sit there.

Next, use the SHIFT F2 combination to find friendly fighters, or CTL F2 combination to find enemy fighters. When you have found a pilot you can rotate the view with your mouse, or use F6 to toggle a pilot to target view. Sit back with your coffee or beer and watch the fun! Dang, why don’t they charge admission for this?

This bandit meets his end.

The trick is to move around the available fighters until you find a pilot who seems to know what he or she is doing. It won’t take you long to find out who this is—they tend to survive a bit longer than others and their gunnery is usually fairly accurate.

If you aren’t sure, just hit the “S” key on your keyboard to pull up the current scores. Ignore the ones who show “0” and find the pilot who has 100 or more points. 100 points are scored for each kill, and additional points are added for landing at a friendly base. Points are also awarded for ground targets.

Once you find a pilot who is on the scoreboard, note the color and number of his aircraft. This can sometimes be complicated where custom skins are in use or there are large numbers of pilots in the air.

Use the Mission Recorder

The track file recorder is another great way to learn maneuvers. Any time you fly offline you can choose to record your mission when you exit the mission. Save the file then access it later via the track file player.

The track file player allows the pilot to access recorded files and view them from any perspective and at varying speeds. It also allows changes to be made to the view perspective, and then the file can be re-saved with the changes.

Playing back a mission file gives the opportunity to observe your own actions, as well as the actions of the bandit. If you have flown a mission well, you can watch as your various actions, whether measured or intuitive, result in success. This will help you make your intuitive moves more conscious, and you can learn from yourself.

You can also observe the bandit’s responses to your various maneuvers. Seeing the fight from the bandit’s perspective is a revelation to some novices. It can be discouraging at first, (“Wow, I am just a sitting duck for him as he rips me to pieces!”) but it will also inspire a new awareness of the importance of maneuvering and jinking. Viewing track files where you were shot down will help you avoid repeating the same mistakes.

IL-2 Settings for the Beginner

Suggested settings for beginners

Your learning should begin offline, with the exception of observing the fight. Most online environments are far too hostile for the beginner, and will only result in discouragement.

Others, which use all EASY settings, simply create bad habits.

IL-2 is a learner’s environment partly because it is so configurable. IL-2 allows a user to select a wide variety of settings that make flying simpler and increase survivability. A pilot can choose to disable things like stalls and spins, and even make himself invulnerable.

There are some combinations of settings that will help the learner to grow in air combat ability, and some that will only reinforce bad habits. I will recommend a series of configurations that will reinforce good habits and promote learning.

The image above is a screen capture from the DIFFICULTY settings interface. Notice that the only settings I have disabled that relate to the flight model are “Realistic Landings” and “Engine Overheat.”

I believe that a beginner should fly with an accurate model from his first flights. This way he can learn the actual feel of his chosen aircraft, while not having to worry about running out of ammo or crash landing.

Some pilots would recommend two other settings: INVULNERABILITY and to disable REALISTIC GUNNERY. These settings are fine if you plan to use IL-2 as an action game, and if you want to turn your gunnery into space lasers. I’m not convinced that anyone should fly this way unless they intend never to move on to more realistic action.

No cockpit views

No cockpit gunsight

On the other hand, flying with the ability to turn off the cockpit helps the beginner keep track of his target. When you are first learning maneuvering and tracking skills, it’s a good idea to leave yourself this flexibility. I also recommend access to UNLIMITED AMMO while you learn to fight. You will quickly discover that you have to be far closer than you thought in order to get a hit or a kill.

The no-cockpit view has been designed by IL-2's developer, 1C:Maddox Games, with the beginner in mind. The pilot can still see critical settings, and a lot of other information has been added. You can see the gunsight view in the center, a 3D horizon marker in the lower center of the screen, and blue and red arrow indicators at the edges of the screen.

External with instruments

The arrow indicators tell the pilot the direction of friendly and enemy aircraft. The 3D horizon marker helps the pilot stay oriented if he is in the clouds or flying from an external view. By assisting you in maintaining your spatial orientation you will avoid smacking into the ground so often.

It is critical to gradually wean yourself away from the easy settings. After perhaps ten or fifteen hours with the easy settings, I recommend a change to the second level. The next step is to enable LIMITED AMMO, and COCKPIT ALWAYS ON. Landings can take a while to master, so experiment a bit and see how you do. Don’t feel badly if you need more training time for this one.

If you frequent online forums, you have likely heard the debate about certain view features and “realism.” It’s an academic debate only, since few of us have flown combat aircraft in the real world, and it’s rather ludicrous to talk about viewing realism when sitting in front of a flat screen display in the safety of an office with complete lack of depth perception.

In spite of that, some pilots assert that using an external view is always a cheat, while others make the same assertion about padlock view. Padlock view is an attempt to mitigate the limitations of a computer display, which lacks depth of field as well as forcing the player to manually change the view area in order to track the bandit.

External views are another attempt to mitigate the limits of the flat display and artificial environment. While the real pilot can tell whether he is ascending or descending by g forces and the weight of his body, and while the real pilot can usually tell his orientation to the horizon while his eyes are on the bandit, the simulation pilot can more easily be disoriented.

Player to target view

External player to target views help the pilot maintain his orientation relative to the bandit and the horizon. Furthermore, they are an excellent way to learn ACM.

The external player to target padlock is accessed with the F6 key. The player views the action from outside his aircraft looking across his aircraft to the bandit.

This 3D external view of the action allows the player to view the enemy as the center of the 3D world, as if his own aircraft is on a string tied to the center of the enemy aircraft. All his actions are now relative to that artificial center.

Initially a bit disorienting, with practice the player will see how his every control input affects his position relative to the enemy. Furthermore, the F6 key can be used to place other near enemies at the imaginary center point at any time.

This is a great way to learn air combat maneuvers and to practice them. Setting up a quick mission against an average single enemy should be the starting point. However, any mission online or offline where external views are enabled will allow the pilot to maneuver from this target locked external perspective.

Scratch another bandit

Other Details: Choosing Aircraft, Convergence

I opened fire when the whole windshield was black with the enemy…at minimum range…it doesn’t matter what your angle is to hit or whether you are in a turn or any other maneuver.
Erich Hartmann, 352 victories

When novice pilots first load IL-2 they may be surprised to see that they can choose the convergence settings for machine guns and cannon, depending on the type of aircraft they fly. What is convergence and why is it important?

Convergence settings

Convergence is the point at which shells fired from guns along a parallel axis meet at that distance in space. While many understand this, not all understand that convergence is set in both the vertical and horizontal planes, correcting for gravity.

Furthermore, convergence settings can be made individually for both cannon and machine guns. The default setting in IL-2 is 300 meters, which means that shells fired from the cannon or machine guns on the Fw 190 will meet roughly at a point in space 300 meters ahead of the aircraft. In order to accomplish this, the guns are canted toward the center line of the aircraft and tilted slightly upwards.

Why not simply leave well enough alone? Why give the pilot a choice of settings anyway?

Every pilot has their preferred style of engagement. Few actual pilots would ever enter the furball type fight we see so often in online engagements, since entering a furball is trusting more to luck than skill. You simply can’t track that many targets at a time, and “lose sight, lose the fight” is proven online every day.

Most actual kills in air combat were made before the opponent knew he was a target. This reality, plus the fact that your guns are more effective at short range, meant that some pilots set their convergence as low as 120 meters. Others, especially those who considered themselves marksmen, set their convergence up to 250 meters. Some pilots also varied the convergence of guns and cannon, preferring to start firing with guns and as they closed to open fire with cannon.

The idea is to concentrate a bullet stream on the target at a given distance. Obviously, many forces will affect the flight of a given shell, so it is to the advantage of the shooter to minimize dispersion and concentrate fire power. I recommend that the beginner start at about 220 meters and then work downwards from this base to find the greatest success. Beginners tend to open fire early, and so the longer range will concentrate their firepower more effectively. [ NOTE ]

Target at 210 m

Aircraft Selection

There are some aircraft that beginners simply shouldn’t fly. I consider the MiG 3, the IL-2, the later Yaks and the Fw 190s as too difficult for beginners. The novice is wise to stick with stable air platforms like the Bf 109 G-2, the Yak 1 or Yak 3 and the La-5FN. Of these, the best choices are the Bf 109 and the La-5FN.

There are two common errors for beginning pilots: one is to choose the most maneuverable aircraft they can find, and the other is to choose the most firepower they can find. In the first instance, pilots attempt to score with the Yaks. The Yaks are very maneuverable, but also more unstable than the Bf 109s and the La-5.

The second error is to try to carry the most firepower possible. Beginners observe more experienced pilots flying Fw 190s with great effect, or flying the Yak 9T with its huge nose cannon. They conclude that more firepower is the way to score kills.

So they try to score with the Fw 190 (4x 20mm cannon), or with the 109s by loading up external cannon or the 30mm nose cannon. Unfortunately, they trade off maneuverability and stability and wind up spinning into earth frequently, or they wind up with a lighter aircraft on their tail and they are unable to escape.

It is far better to learn to fly on a more stable platform with lighter armament. The lighter armament requires more accurate gunnery at shorter ranges, both of which promote better habits for the beginner. Gunnery is a skill that the beginner should master early rather than relying on heavier firepower (the sharper blade rather than the bigger hammer).


This article has not discussed air combat maneuvers, but rather has offered suggestions toward the learning process. Articles on ACM can be found here and at other Internet locations, and the basics of maneuvers are often covered in manuals that accompany flight simulations (like European Air War, Combat Flight Simulator (I & II) and others).

IL-2 is a great simulation for the learned because it offers “realistic” conditions and a wide variety of aircraft and AI opponents. Furthermore, it offers excellent online experience and a mission recorder that the beginner can use to view his own actions after the fact. May your score continue to rise as you learn to fight in IL-2!

IL-2 Sturmovik Resources

IL-2: Forgotten Battles

Reviews & Features


Interviews with Oleg Maddox

Other Interviews

How-to Guides

Historic Retrospectives

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