Eagle Dynamics has just made available for download the early access version of DCS: Spitfire LF Mk. IX, the latest in DCS World‘s World War II themed modules. I was fortunate enough to get a review copy from Eagle Dynamics and gave it a quick look to share with you.
Note: This is a preview, based on a early-release version that is believed to be a fair representative of what may eventually become the retail product. With the understanding that some features may be added, removed, or modified prior to the release, we give you this preview article which is simply a non-critical look at the features that may be included in the retail release. As usual, all material is subject to change, and all errors in content and facts are the author’s and the author’s alone.
The Spectacular Spit
The Supermarine Spitfire is the epitome of World War II aircraft. The unique silhouette of this single-seat elliptical wing British fighter has become an icon of the infamous Battle of Britain (much to the disappointment of fans of the Hawker Hurricane) and is instantly recognizable to just about anyone even vaguely familiar with aircraft from that era.
The Spitfire’s signature elliptical¹ wing is an interesting aerodynamic design in that lift is evenly distributed across the wing and induced drag (drag caused by generating lift) is minimized. This high-efficiency wing coupled with a high-powered Rolls-Royce Merlin or Griffon engine and a powerful constant-speed propeller resulted in a fast and nimble fighter, capable of top speeds well over 380 miles per hour.
¹Note that the Spitfire wing isn’t perfectly elliptical. While a true elliptical wing planform would provide ideal lift efficiency, it would also have a very sharp transition from normal flight to full-wing stall. Pilots, the finicky lot, tend to prefer a little warning that their aircraft is about to drop out of the sky.
Conceived as a bomber interceptor, the Spitfire originally carried a total of eight wing-mounted .303 machine guns to rip through Heinkels, Dorniers, and Junkers – oh my! There was great debate about the effectiveness of the .303 rounds and later variants carried different combinations of machine guns and 20mm Hispano cannons to good effect.
Over 20,000 Spitfires were produced between 1938 and 1948 in 24 major variants (i.e., “Marks”) and too many subvariants to count. Differences in variants included weaponry, constant improvements in engine power and technology, and updates to the wing and empennage for improved stability at ever faster airspeeds and higher altitudes. The scope of designs is so broad that an overview of them spans several pages on wikipedia.
Of the many Spitfire variants, Eagle Dynamics selected the LF Mark IX for their module, the variant that some historian buffs consider the “perfect Spitfire”. Successor to the popular Mk V, the LF Mk. IX was the most produced Spitfire subvariant (edging out the Mk VB by the tiniest of margins). Introduced as a stop-gap measure against the FW-190’s impressive capabilities, the Mk IX in our DCS module has a C-wing outfitted with two 20mm Hispano cannons and four Browning .303 machine guns and boasts an excellent rate of climb and excellent maneuverability at all altitudes.
The 27-liter displacement Merlin 66 12-cylinder engine produces 1,290 horsepower and gave the Mark IX its 404 miles per hour top speed. Filling the tanks with 150 octane gas and increasing boost pressure got the Merlin 66 to produce as much as 1,580 horsepower, but we don’t get that configuration in this module. The Bendix-Stromberg injection carburetor on the Merlin 66 removed the fuel-starvation issue that plagued earlier aircraft under negative g’s, taking away one maneuvering advantage from the Germans. The two-stage supercharger on the LF version was optimized for maximum power output at low altitudes (less than 20,000 ft), leaving the high-altitude fighting to the HF subvariants.
It should be noted that while our IX has the classic elliptical wing shape, there were common wing tip modifications for the Spitfire that produced different performance advantages: clipped wings improved roll rate while extended wingtips increased lift for higher altitude.
The DCS Spitfire’s external model is finely detailed, including fully articulated landing gear, flames popping out of the exhaust, and worn skin textures that feel real. There’s even a little door that opens up on the top of each wing to indicate that the split-flaps are deployed, just like in the real aircraft.
I’ve said it before, but attention to the little details is how excellent modules are made, and the designers of the Spitfire module were definitely paying attention. In additional to the flap indicator, there’s ribbing on the inside of the split flaps, bouncing landing struts, free castoring tailwheel, sliding canopy, opening and closing radiator vents, an oversized dentist’s mirror on the top of the cockpit…even the tape protecting the machine guns from cold air gets ripped off when you first fire.
As of the time of publishing this article, there are no loadouts in our early-access DCS module: no fuel tanks, bombs, rockets, or other stores. Although the Spitfire’s iconic role was air-to-air defense of the UK homeland, the Spitfire did carry drop tanks and bombs and I hope to see some loadouts added as the module progresses in maturity.
The UK and Russia get four custom paint jobs to pick from, while everyone else gets a default paintjob with the classic red and blue roundels on the wings.
Russia’s four liveries are from the 26th Gvardiya Istrebitel nyy Aviatsionyy Polk (GvIAP), 3rd AE/57th GvIAP, 57th GvIAP, and Lt. Col. V.A. Matsiyevitch’s paintjob from the 26th GvIAP.
The Spitfire’s cockpit is comfortingly straight-forward and simple – there isn’t a complex system in sight and no need to search for an English cockpit mod.
Folks used to the ball-and-plane slip-and-turn indicators will probably take some time getting used-to to the L-R version in the Spitfire: there’s no ball to step on! The push-to-measure fuel gauge can also be confusing, but it’s really straight forward. Just remember the gauge on the left of the front panel with the FULL and EMPTY markings is NOT your fuel gauge: it’s your oxygen supply level, which runs out pretty quick, so only engage it at altitude.
The P.8.M compass in front of the stick looks like it belongs more on the deck of a cargo ship instead of an aircraft, but luckily we have a directional gyro to give us a stable and more intuitive readout of heading. I need to do some testing with the combo, to see how the gyro drift fares over long cross countries, but my research so far has already revealed there are some pretty disturbing complications from drinking naphtha. I’ll definitely need to bring my own cooler.
While the partial bubble canopy greatly improves visibility over other WWII era cockpits, it’s still somewhat difficult to see behind you, and the low cockpit and large nose can make it frustrating to line up shots in a tight turning battle. An armored windscreen helps protect the pilot from head-on shots but the two fuel tanks just in front of the cockpit can make for some exciting moments!
Overall, the Spitfire LF Mk. IX is fun to fly. I don’t have a force-feedback joystick and, as with the Bf109, Fw190D, and P-51D modules, I find too easy to pull too hard on the stick and force a stall — often snap-rolling out of the fight — but this is an issue for anyone with a non-force-feedback controller. Practice and vigilance in avoiding that control will pay off dividends, but this experience does make me yearn for good FFB controls.
The powerful engine is almost too much to handle. Full RPM and boost and the aircraft leaps off the ground and claws its way to the clouds. The low-wingloading makes for great turning, but one of the side effects is higher parasitic/induce drag, which limits top-speeds, even with that beefy Merlin up front.
Ground handling is a bit challenging in the Spitfire but no more than should be expected. The tailwheel configuration, powerful engine, and single squeeze-axis wheelbrake make for some non-intuitive although believable behavior on the taxiway. Just as with your other tailwheel aircraft, slow and steady is the key. If anybody know of any mods for joysticks to add that analog squeeze stick for the brake axis, I would pay dearly for one.
Takeoff is generally easy – the rudder has sufficient authority pretty early in the takeoff roll. The landing rollout can be tough, however. The aircraft will slow enough to require use of the wheelbrakes for directional control and if you haven’t mastered the non-intuitive brake system (see previous paragraph), disaster will occur. Practice, practice, practice.
Engine systems modeling is well done: engine RPM and boost varies as expected with airspeed, altitude, and control inputs. Mind your limits, as even the all-powerful Merlin engine will grind and growl and sputter to an oily stop if punished enough.
Sounds are decent in this early-access module, but there are some areas that need work: machine gun fire sound is out of sync of the actual firing, there are random clunks inside the cockpit, etc. The Merlin is nice and throaty, the Hispano cannon is satisfactorily visceral, and the humming of the propeller helps you set the RPM by ear alone. The occasional sound issues don’t destroy the feeling of immersion and, given our past experience with ED modules, it’s not unreasonable to expect more improvements before the module is released, but any Spitfire audiophiles out there should be pre-warned!
For the Spitfire, dogfighting is where it’s at. The LF Mk IX way outclasses the other WWII aircraft currently in DCS World in the turning fight. The Instant Action dogfight mission, which pits you and an AI wingman against two Fw-190Ds, demonstrates that the capabilities of the Spitfire give even a mediocre pilot a clear advantage in the turning fight.
The ability to push negative g’s will be lost on pilots who didn’t have to suffer through the earlier Merlin engines, but bunting isn’t the Spitfire’s strength. That elliptical wing gives the Spitfire excellent turning capability and the enormous powerplant in the front end quickly restores lost energy: powerful tools for energy management in the turn. The Spitfire’s roll rate isn’t the best, but the ability to pull g’s and maintain speed helps win turning and scissor fights. The trick is getting your enemy to get down and dirty with you!
The bubble-ish canopy gives great visibility to the sides and above, but it’s easy to lose targets under the Spit’s large nose during a close turning battle. Bearing in closer or lagging into a more rearward position will give a more favorable sight picture, but will also take precious seconds away from the fight.
The fixed gunsight takes some getting used to. Without a gyro-aided scope like in the P-51D, knowing how to place the gunsight relative to your enemy aircraft takes a bit of study and a lot of practice.
One the aircraft is in your sights, however, the machine guns and cannons typically make quick work of the bandit. I’ve had a few instances where the Focke-Wulf I was engaging seemed to be encased in tank armor, deflecting or absorbing my .303 rounds, but, for the majority of engagements, control surfaces began fluttering away from the enemy aircraft after a single pull of the trigger.
The damage model on the Spitfire is also well done, especially for an early access model. In addition to external damage modelling, systems can get shot out inside the aircraft, such as the propeller governor, which can really ruin your day.
Where Oh Where Has My Normandy Gone?
Many folks will notice that we’re still flying WWII aircraft over Georgia and Nevada terrains with Cold War ground units. Not to worry, ED is still hard at work at developing their WWII Europe experience. If a historically accurate terrain and contemporary units are a must for you, however, you won’t find them in this module.
No campaigns ship with the early-access Spitfire module — I’m sure we can expect them as WWII terrains are released — but there are five instant action missions (Cold Start, Takeoff, Free Flight, Landing, and Dogfight) and two single missions (Battle Over The Lake and Sochi-Adler Defense). The two single missions are simple dogfighting missions, nothing complicated, but will help you test your dogfighting skills.
The flight manual that ships with the early-access module is impressive – 213 pages in all, more than a quarter of which is dedicated to describing the aircraft systems in satisfyingly excruciating detail.
In addition to excellent reference material on the aircraft systems, step-by-step pictorial checklists are included from startup through landing, as well as a few performance charts that are appreciated by number crunchers like me.
Normally $49.99 USD, the DCS: Spitfire LF Mk. IX module² is currently selling for $39.99. The Spitfire is a great module for early access at either price. There are still some bugs to squash and development remaining, and the limited number of missions stymies out-of-the-box single-player play, but the aircraft is fun to fly for flight itself, and there are already dedicated multiplayer servers with WWII dogfight missions to prove your mastery of this fine machine.
²The module is currently NOT compatible with Steam, but watch for a later update.
- Attention to detail is great. Visually stunning in the cockpit and in external views.
- Engine and flight modeling is superb. Really gives the feeling of flying a high-performance WWII fighter.
Could Be Better:
- Sounds. Not awful for an early release, but more work to be done here.
- Missions/units/terrain. More WWII era modules, terrain, and units are coming, but aren’t in place just yet.
Overall, if you’re eager for that WWII dogfighting experience in DCS, you will want to wait until the associated terrains and ground units come out. If you’re a fan of the Spitfire and want to bend those elliptical wings around the skies, no matter what the terrain is underneath you, you won’t be disappointed.
Big thanks to @Aeromechanical for his input and technical review of this article.