Bandits on my six

It’s probably fair to say that I am not the world’s greatest fan of Microsoft products in general.  However, I will happily concede that they make excellent (software) flight simulators.

I remember playing Flight Simulator 4 on my computer back when I was at school (c. 1990) and being very impressed with it despite the primitive graphics (just a step up from wireframe) and the fact I had to try flying it with my keyboard and mouse, since I didn’t have access to a joystick let alone any more sophisticated flight simulator hardware rig.  Since then, I have continued, from time to time, to check out various flight sims, including several of Microsoft’s offerings (FS2004: A Century of Flight being the latest of theirs that I’ve tried – I realise with some shock that it is now 10 years old!).  Actually it’s probably a couple of years since I last flew my computer so I should probably get virtually airborne again soon.

For the most part, my interest has lain with civilian flight sims.  However I have had occasional forays into the world of combat flight sims, most especially with Microsoft’s Combat Flight Simulator (the original one from 1998) – mostly as a Spitfire or Hurricane pilot in various Battle of Britain related scenarios.

Although I haven’t taken CFS for a spin for quite a while now (at least 2 years and quite possibly 4 or 5), there is one phrase that I picked up from playing it which has stuck in my vocabulary and which I regularly use (talking to myself, which is probably a bad sign!) while cycling: “Bandit on my six”.

As far as I know, without having done extensive (or indeed any) research, this is authentic WW2 RAF slang.  A bandit refers to an enemy aircraft and six is a reference to the clockface method of giving directions (which, I think, is used and quite possibly originates in military contexts, although it’s also quite handy for other situations such as navigating at roundabouts).  In this system, the direction in which the speaker is facing (or which for other reasons is understood to mean “straight ahead”) is 12 o’clock.  Other directions are given with reference to this point and the position of the hour hand on a clockface (generally restricting it to whole hours, as far as I’m aware); so, 3 o’clock is due right, 6 o’clock directly behind, 9 o’clock due left and the other hours represent points between these cardinal directions.

In other words, “bandit on my six” means “enemy aircraft directly behind me”.  It crops up in CFS as radio traffic from (computer-controlled) fellow pilots in your squadron to helpfully alert you to the presence of enemy planes in case you didn’t spot them on your mini-map (or are playing with it turned off for extra realism).  As far as I can remember (though I could be completely wrong), enemy planes in other directions would be referred to in CFS (and in real life?) as “bandit at 3 o’clock” or whatever, but for ones directly behind it always seemed to be “on my six” rather than “at six o’clock”.

Of course, when I’m out on my bike I’m not generally being pursued by actual enemy aircraft.  Still, while other road users are not (I hope) deliberately out to get me, cars and other vehicles do represent something of a potential threat to a cyclist so it’s always as well to be aware of where they are.  To that end, and as far as I can remember unintentionally, I have developed the habit of saying to myself “bandit on my six” (or, if I’m coming up to a junction, possibly “bandit at 10 o’clock” or whatever direction is appropriate) as a way of ensuring I take note of where the traffic is.

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