This weekend I had the opportunity to take my first flight in the upcoming Belsimtek F-5E Tiger II module for DCS World. Metal was bent. Tires were blown. And I’ve been banned from NTTR for the foreseeable future. So basically, things went just as I thought they would.
This article and accompanying images was written using a beta of both DCS World 2 and the Belsimtek F-5E module. Features may or may not be representative of the public release version.
Good morning gentlemen…the temperature is 110 degrees…
When I was offered up the chance to take the soon to be released Belsimtek F-5E module up for a spin, I almost called in sick to work to carve out the time. This won’t be an exhaustive review of what is in the module – I think the Live Streams by Wags have been quite revealing as far as what to expect from the module. Instead, this will be my first impressions on my first flight in the F-5E, so you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t post up radar detection range of the AN/APQ-153 vs. reality graphs and EM diagrams. For my flight, I just opened the mission editor and placed a single F-5E at Creech AFB/Indian Springs with full fuel and some Mk 82 Snakeye bombs. In keeping with my fascination for the The Nescient Cold & Dark Endeavor™, I did not consult the manual, and decided to just WAG my way through the start.
My first impression of the external model was (predictably) that I’m amazed at how far we’ve come with our consumer level simulations. Belsimtek have produced another masterpiece with beautiful lines, exceptional detail, and some fantastic paint schemes. Hopping in the cockpit you are presented with a clean and modern-ish looking panel that shares some of the “feel” that the A-10C has. I was actually surprised at how small the attitude indicator is – for some reason I was expecting a massive Space Shuttle sized ADI dominating the panel, but the “six pack” of primary flight instruments has a relatively small footprint on the panel. The air-to-air radar dominates the center of the panel while engine instrumentation and systems gauges occupy the right side of the panel.
For the next ten minutes I explored the cockpit and took note of where the majority of the switches were. As with most aircraft, you generally need electrical power, pneumatic power (sometimes), and fuel to get the process going. I tried turning on the battery and hitting the start switches to no avail. Then I figured that maybe the battery doesn’t provide start amperage and that a GPU is a requirement, so I pulled up the ground services menu and that was when I spotted both the GPU and Supply Air menu items. Once I had the ground crew provide external power AND air, I was able to hit the start button and took a wag at when to add the fuel. I was rewarded with a hot start, but I’ve been told that is actually a bug they are aware of. Soon I had the second engine up and running. I’m not sure if I was supposed to bring the generators on before or after the start, but I brought those online and consulted the caution panel to see what other outstanding items I had remaining (at least those that would trigger a caution light). I went around the cockpit and turned on the obvious things (oxygen, radios, TACAN, pitch and yaw dampers, and external lights) but was a bit puzzled about how I was supposed to set the flaps. There is a flap lever, but there is also a flap thumbs switch that has an AUTO setting. No idea (I’ll read the manual this week). I put the flaps down to an intermediate position and called it good.
Regarding fuel management – again, I have no idea if the BOOST PUMPS are supposed to be on for start and in-flight, but I did turn them on and also hit the switches for EXT FUEL and PYLONS. I think I only needed the CL tank on though. It looks like the panel used to have a switch position for F-5s equipped with tip tanks perhaps.
With the engines up and running, and the systems (more or less) initialized, I gave a burst of power to start taxiing. The aircraft (as I had it loaded: four bombs, centerline tank, and full internal fuel) required a good bit of breakaway thrust to get rolling. When I first applied rudder to turn, I realized the nosewheel wasn’t turning so I had to exit to the controls configuration to find and map a button to activate nosewheel steering. I can’t tell you how happy I am that we can now map controls on the fly in DCS World – that was a huge improvement and I know we are all thrilled to be able to do it. I mapped the NWS to the paddle switch on my TM Warthog since it is the same paddle I use for the MiG-21, Mi-8, and a few other modules. The NWS only works when you have the button pushed, which initially feels a bit odd.
Taxiing around I was pretty impressed with the detail level of Creech AFB in ED’s Nevada/NTTR scenery. I’m actually surprised I waited so long to buy it (I picked it up during the Flash Sale this week). Yeah, I was able to toy around with it during testing of the Red Flag campaign, but that was a beta provided by Eagle and I always like to feel like a customer, so I bought it (and the M2000C – damn you ED and Razbam!!).
Pulling onto the runway I get my nosewheel lined up, advance the power, and release the brakes. The fighter rockets ahead, and about two seconds later I realize I’m drifting and I don’t have enough rudder authority to arrest my wandering from the centerline. I blip the NWS button and the aircraft goes into a powerslide to the right. Oops. Fortunately, I stay on the runway, so I taxi back and try again. This time I line up, ease the power in slowly and start rolling and leave the NWS button pressed as I make very, very tiny adjustments. At around 40 knots, I have enough rudder authority to release the NWS. It doesn’t help that I have a slight drift in my rudder pedals and I hadn’t set the proper deadzone to disregard it. Time to get a new set of pedals for sure…
As I climb out, I hit the gear lever and switch to the outside view to marvel at the beauty of the Tiger II and the surrounding scenery. Hmmm..odd gear retraction sequence, that nosewheel sure seems to linger. Oh crap..no way – really? It’s stuck? Apparently my takeoff was a bit too shallow and hot and I exceeded the gear retraction speed. I’m guessing that is in the manual somewhere…
Well, that’s kind of embarrassing. But wanting to be true to my first flight, I try to puzzle through it. I slow down and try to cycle the gear again. The mains come down and go back up again, but the nosewheel is definitely not going anywhere. Sigh. I head out away from Creech and start hunting on the panel for what I need to do to jettison my ordnance. I can see both SELECT JETTISON and EMER ALL JETT buttons and figure I can use the armament position select switches to just select the Mk 82 stations and the centerline fuel tank, then I hit the SELECT JETTISON button – kerthunk..a bunch of inert bombs drop off the jet…
Bravo! They didn’t blow up and my wings are clean. I still have near full internal fuel – and have no idea if there is a max landing weight prohibition, but why start looking things up at this point right? I cycle the gear down and get three down and locked indications.
Having never landed the aircraft before, I take a few minutes to slow to “on speed” based on the AOA indexer – which turns out to be around 165 knots or so. I can’t remember if I selected full flaps or if the AUTO system deployed them, but they are down. I scoot up in my seat a bit to give a little better view over the nose – remember, this HUD glass doesn’t give you any flight data, it is only there (I think) for some missile reticle stuff.
I swing around to line up on the same runway at Creech that I had departed from. The plane handles really nicely and if you get slow you get a bit of a rumble to warn you. The 160-165 approach speed seems to work out at whatever weight I’m at. Visibility over the nose is good.
I fly the same speed all the way down, and ease off the power in the flare. It wasn’t a greaser, but it wasn’t an arrival either. The nosewheel gives off a big puff of smoke – I’m not sure if this is because it is damaged or if it was because I relaxed the back pressure on the stick too much.
Then things get sort of exciting. When I mapped my nosewheel steering, I also had the foresight to map the braking chute release. So I hit that and the chute blossoms out and I rapidly start to slow..but I’m also drifting to the left (again). As my rudder loses authority, I close my eyes, and hit the NWS button and my rudder misalignment beast rears its ugly head again and I quickly lose control and start skidding. As I slide, the chute disappears (not sure if it is speed related or what) and sparks fly as my tires get shredded. At this point, I’m pretty sure the guy in the control tower is thinking maybe this guy should get some remedial training before he goes trundling off in this jet again. (And to think, I’m a pretty good helicopter pilot!)
I come to a screeching halt sideways on the runway..but even with three flat tires I’m able to thump-thump-thump taxi my aircraft to the shelter. I mean, those guys are gonna need some shade if they are going to be changing all those tires right?
I get my wheels all sorted out. Apologies were made. Cases of beer were promised. And soon, I was ready for Hop 2! This time, with the knowledge gained from the first flight, I’m way more delicate on the steering, ease the power in, allow speed to build gradually and then transition to traditional rudder inputs as the rudder becomes more effective. Immediately after liftoff, I come out of burner, pitch more aggressively to keep airspeed in check, and the gear retracts normally. Right on.
With a cleaned up jet, I’m able to climb up to the mid-20s and I play around with some steep turns and accelerated stalls. I don’t really over-G the jet, nor do I try to break it or get it to depart, I just sort of mush it around the sky. At speed, she snaps around pretty briskly even with bombs on the wings. I push the throttles into afterburner and the F-5E accelerates up to Mach 1 but with the external stores it looks like Mach 1 is around the limit in level flight.
I had up north toward Groom Lake, overfly the airport, and then continue up toward Rachel, which I remembered from the Red Flag article. I like Rachel because the crop fields up there are easy markers and there I’ve placed a couple fuel trucks in the mission editor. While I’m cruising up there I compare the fuel burns for military versus afterburner throttle settings and you can see how fuel consumption is over double with the reheat on (3400 lbs./hr. vs. 9500 lbs./hr.).
I easily spot the trucks at Rachel and set up my weapons release panel to drop two Mk 82s. I push the nose over into a shallow angle and release when the rate of closure and angle look right, remembering that the bombs are retarded, so I try to allow for that. After release, I pull up hard and glance over my shoulder to see the bombs land way short and without any explosion. Crap. I glance down again and see that though I had moved the EXTERNAL STORES rotary to the BOMB position, I had neglected to move the BOMBS ARM switch out of the left SAFE position, so they released without being armed. Well, at least the tower controller didn’t see that mistake. I deselect the outboard positions, select the inboard ones, and ARM the bombs this time.
I come back around, line up once again, and drop. This time we get an explosion, but I’m still short. For ground attacks, this aircraft is going to be an angles/airspeed/altitude bomber that will require practice and some good techniques that can be reliably repeated. It might be time to go re-read Andy Bush’s awesome Air-to-Ground Basics article once again.
So with little in the way of success with bombs, I hunt around in the cockpit and find the gun arm switch, flip it up, and I’m in business. The two stage trigger is really cool – the first press opens the wind deflector doors (or whatever they are called) and the second stage of the trigger fires the guns. In doing some testing, I found that you can fire the guns for about 12 seconds total, which doesn’t sound like much, but you can actually make a LOT of passes with that much trigger pull time.
Shooting at things is great fun. I’ll be very much interested to explore some of the other weaponry the F-5E can carry. With my rounds expended, I climbed away from Rachel (I’m guessing I won’t be given the key to the city?) and pointed the nose back toward Creech.
On the way back I went ahead and shut off one of engines with the FUEL SHUTOFF valve. At least in cruise, the process is feet on the floor event, with very little in the way of yaw, probably owing to the very close to centerline mounting of the engines. I’d imagine at low speed and full burner on one engine the resulting yaw would be much more pronounced (I haven’t tried it, but I will on my next hop). Even on a single engine the F-5E will scoot along and in full burner in level flight I was able to get near Mach 1 with no ordnance on the wing. I did not try other malfunctions or emergencies, but plan to explore the jet further.
In short order I was back at Creech and lining up on the runway, this time landing without incident. There is definitely a bit of a learning curve with the brakes and steering interaction, but it doesn’t take long to catch on. Just like taking off in the P-51 or Bf 109, there is a technique you have to learn and adjust to.
Well, what is there to say. Belsimtek have a reputation for quality modules, so it isn’t surprising that the F-5E is a continuation of their excellent product line. I think the F-5E is going to be extremely popular because it will be a great adversary for the MiG-21 and can also tangle with more modern fighters if the chessboard is evened up slightly by limiting the advanced radar missiles that will outclass the F-5E’s capabilities. The ability to carry a nice array of air-to-ground ordnance means that people like me will enjoy the challenge of flying under the CAP to strike and perhaps giving more advanced aircraft the occasional surprise with maneuverability. The module at present looks fantastic and very polished. Once I dig into the manual I’ll be able to comment more on the features I missed or got wrong – this was a very first-blush impression that I’m giving, but I really like what I’ve seen.
Chris “BeachAV8R” Frishmuth