My fellow virtual aviators, I write this baring my soul to admit something to you all. I've had the DCS World Heatblur F-14B for three months and still am not familiar with it enough to fly in combat. My interest is there, surely, but the feeling of necessity is missing. I still find myself flying and fighting in the same multirole maestro that was overwhelmingly suggested to me almost a year ago. As I approach a year of being "stung" by the F/A-18C Lot 20, the reality of a newcomer's decision to start with this aircraft is settling in. Its ability to easily do everything has hindered me from trying anything else. And many others have fallen into the same position I am in.
Years before I took to the skies of Digital Combat Simulator World (DCS), I was well aware of what it was. It is that combat flight simulator with video clips, screenshots, and immense guides that has long proliferated sim and non-sim flight groups and blogs for over a decade. But to those from the outside looking in, DCS is just as intimidating as it is impressive. With so many aircraft to choose from, a beginner can easily make a mistake on day one. Purchasing an aircraft that is not the best fit for them could sour their first experience with DCS and may result in them never coming back. In July 2020, I watched dozens of videos from content creators, read forum threads, and asked others I knew that frequently flew in this sim for their suggestions on what my first module should be. After all those conversations, the #1 recommended or mentioned aircraft was the F/A-18C Hornet by Eagle Dynamics.
This aircraft does everything a newcomer would expect of a modern fixed-wing combat aircraft. Whether it's from movies, documentaries, or other flight games and simulators, there's a certain level of technology that the general public visualizes when "fighter jets" come to mind. In DCS, the Hornet fits this perfectly. This 4th generation multirole aircraft can operate from aircraft carriers or airfields, aerial refuel, and has a built-in self-protection jammer. Its fly-by-wire system keeps the plane from turning in a way that could damage itself, and sturdy landing gear allows for rough landings. Vital information about the aircraft in flight, systems management, and weapons deployment is easily accessible in three information displays and a full HUD. That is further enhanced with a helmet-mounted display that increases situational awareness and presents access to off-boresight weapons launch. Its selection of munitions is one of the most diverse in DCS, enabling the Hornet to effectively handle multiple types of targets in a single mission. The following picture shows a loadout that's inadvisable to actually use in combat but demonstrates its flexibility.
That's anti-ship attack, SEAD, laser-guided bombs, medium-range glide bombs, a targeting pod, an AMRAAM, two IR missiles, and a centerline fuel tank.
It's obvious to me why the F/A-18C keeps becoming the go-to module for people giving DCS a first try. With the purchase of a single full-fidelity simulated aircraft, you can experience what seems like everything DCS has to offer.
Anyone that flies in online multiplayer servers will tell you that the Hornet is the most prolific aircraft. I've heard and read remarks against the Hornet that include "it handholds pilots," "noob plane," "you're not actually flying," and some other strongly worded opinions. Many of these responses were from DCS players with dozens or hundreds of hours that fly just about every aircraft available. Thinking back, what they were trying to express is similar to what I understand now, but they didn't explain it in the best of ways. It's not that the DCS World version of the F/A-18C is some sort of simplified aircraft explicitly made for novices. Because it is so easy to learn and flexible enough to tackle any mission, newcomers often never bother to fly anything else.
After 9 months of playing DCS, my perspective of this simulator has gradually changed. Rather than viewing it as a place to fly a simulated combat aircraft, you gradually come to the understanding that each aircraft in itself is a simulation. When you really think about it, the magic of DCS is that multiple aircraft are just as intricate or nearly as capable as the jack of all trades F/A-18C. That is to say, the characteristics between aircraft are so notably different that even flying the same sortie using other aircraft changes the overall experience of that sortie. There are comparable aircraft to the F/A-18C in terms of weapons capabilities and how advanced their aircraft systems are. Like the F-16C or JF-17. Even intentionally choosing aircraft wildly different in design philosophy from the Hornet like the AJS-37 Viggen or opting for the raw power of the F-14B Tomcat rekindles interest in learning new airplanes and truly seeing DCS in the various lenses (or, in this case, canopies) it has to offer.
Now, this all sounds like common sense to anyone that regularly flies in this simulator. Still, again, for the budding DCS World pilots that started with the complete package the Hornet provides, this isn't as apparent. And bluntly, it's not really something you even care about when you feel as though you already have everything you need. To those who find themselves as dedicated "Hornet mains" from day one, I'd say that if they've taken the time to become proficient with a single aircraft, they should be confident that they are more than capable of learning everything else DCS has to offer. Spread your wings and continue challenging yourselves, fellow "Bug" pilots! There is so much more to see!
About the Writer
Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza
Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. After founding Electrosphere.info, the first English Ace Combat database, he has been involved in creating flight game-related websites, communities, and events since 2005. He explores past and present flight games and simulators with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers. Read Staff Profile.