First Impressions: DCS T-45C Goshawk mod by VNAO Simulations
After around two years of work, the mod team at Virtual Naval Air Operations (VNAO) have finally released an aircraft that a lot of us in the community were waiting in anticipation ever since it was announced: the T-45C Goshawk, a naval trainer aircraft that every naval aviator will fly at some point in their career.
This is not a review but only a first impression look at this mod's initial release (IR) build. The developers are still working on it as I write this article, so it is only natural that things will be improved over time. This article is based on my impressions of v1.0.
Additionally, I will treat this mod just by what it is: a mod. It shall not be judged or compared to paid modules. It is a community project made by a group of dedicated modders that made this aircraft with passion. That being said, there will be circumstances where I will need to reference paid modules to make an argument, but it shall not be directly compared to one.
With that out of the way, let's take a look at this trainer!
EXTERNAL AND INTERNAL 3D MODELS
This is an area that caught me off-guard, both because of how well executed it is and by the fact that some details seem to have passed through the artists eyes without being seen. The external model is gorgeous from almost every angle. Rivets, panel lines and even smaller details such as exhaust fume burns from the Gas Turbine Starter (GTS) are there!
The included liveries are absolutely great, with plenty of details and accurate markings that make these birds feel a bit more believable. Although it is when you start looking at it from certain angles that you can notice that some things are a bit off, particularly with the bump map textures for the wings, the exhaust pipe's model and texture. If it were not for these two details, this model would not have anything to envy from other aircraft in-game. Here are both examples:
From my limited experience working with 2D art for 3D models, I would amend this issue by applying a more matte texture to the tail pipe, alongside a normal map that would act as the "substitute" for the detailed engine exhaust, since a new model would add even more tris to an already overly detailed model (~2.000.000 tris). That would make it harder to run on lower-end machines.
The normalmap seems to be inverted and it is reflecting light from angles it should not, in addition to the panel lines being too thick. This should be fixable by re-inverting the texture and making the panel lines less thick. Since the developers have already done an excellent job with the external model, I think these solutions should not be outside of their capabilities.
Now, one area that they absolutely nailed was the internal model for the cockpit. This is a beauty, no other way to say it. Both the student and instructor cockpits are extremely detailed and very well made. Analog instrument and the Multi-Function Displays (MFD) screens look the part. Lighting is sublime as well, giving you a very nice experience and immersion feel.
I do have two very minor complaints, and when I say "minor", I mean it. The first of these is that, while under direct sunlight, the canopy glass' texture seems to be diffusing the sun's light in a very weird way. The second one is that some sunlight seems to go through the frame and illuminate the instruments in scenarios where they should be under full shadow.
Here are some examples:
This effect is a bit disorienting and I'd suggest that the canopy glass texture should receive an overhaul. I know that some of the textures were still WIP, so I hope this will be tackled in an upcoming update.
This effect seems to also affect other aircraft in-game. As far as my knowledge goes, this is a 3D issue. Light is passing through the shell that goes around the 3D model of the cockpit, making it look like the sun is going through the fuselage and straight into the instruments.
Again, this is not a deal breaker but something that could receive some attention later on once more important bugs are fixed.
I'll keep this section short and sweet. As long as you fly it within the expected flight envelope you will not find any issues with the flight model. It is a smooth ride from taxi to landing. Stall characteristics are a bit weird sometimes, but it is not a deal breaker. It is an aircraft that requires a lot of trim but that's a good thing, as that is an essential ability that every pilot should know even if they will fly something equipped with a FCS.
The behavior on the ground is solid as well, with lock-up mechanics on the nose wheel steering mechanism if it is operated wrongly. The aircraft does feel like it carries some weight to it, both on the ground and in the air. But, what happens when you get it out of its expected/tested flight envelope?
I did several test flights the same way that I did when I was testing EFM builds for the A-4E Community mod when they grabbed some of the active testers from their public Discord server as dedicated EFM testers. What do I mean by that? Well, I just tried to fly it like I'd normally would just with the difference of paying really close attention to everything and, whenever I would find a potential flaw, I'd try and track it down. What I experienced was a bit unexpected: I got it to go to Mach 1.4 on level flight, I zoom climbed to 75.000ft and I almost reached Mach 2 on a dive. I know that this is the initial build and that bugs are to be expected, but I was not expecting to get to supersonic speeds or to pull 20G on a corner with no consequence whatsoever.
The developers are aware of these issues, and they are working on solving them. I even notified them of the issue with excessive thrust at altitude despite it having been reported before. But this is a first impressions article and I have to be honest with my thoughts. What VNAO has is a great foundation, it reminds me to the first builds I tested of the EFM for the Skyhawk. The A-4E-C devs even had the same issues at first with excessive thrust at high altitudes, causing me to reach Mach 3.31 at some point! I know the devs at VNAO will solve these issues as they have shown they are passionate about this project.
This is a pure trainer and that's it. Forget about doing combat missions with this aircraft, if that is what you want you can download other community mods such as the A-4E or the A-29B. The Goshawk's mission is to get rookie pilots to the level where they can feel confident flying more advanced aircraft, like the Hornet, as their time with the Goshawk provided them with all the basic skills they needed.
You will be able to do all sorts of training sorties with this bird, though. From basic landing patterns to CASE I and CASE II recoveries on the carrier (due to the lack of ICLS, CASE III practices are not recommended) and basic air to ground and air to air weapon employment.
I did some mock dogfights with Hueman, a close friend of mine. I was surprised at the fact that I even managed to get him on my sights a couple of times, calling out simulated kills. This is something I was not expecting.
You will be surprised at how useful flying this bird is, even for experienced pilots. It is a much more raw experience than jumping straight into something with a flight computer. Also, this is the ONLY carrier-capable trainer in-game.
You are able to be both the pilot and the instructor for a friend thanks to its multi-crew capabilities. This means that you will be able to train your friends or that a veteran friend of yours can be your instructor! Pretty cool and useful.
BDU-33 SMOKE BOMBS
Perfect for practicing your aim and perfecting your bombing techniques. They are a great companion for this aircraft. They even have their custom bomb rack!
M274 SMOKE ROCKETS
Useful for practicing different scenarios, marking things for others to see, etc. They are fun to use, like any rocket would be. Give them a try!
THE FREE TRAINER THAT DCS NEEDED
There is something that I discussed earlier this month, and that was that DCS' newcomer experience is something that needed improvement. The free aircraft that come with the game are not enough to hook some people, making them turn around and leave DCS never to return. I think that what VNAO has done is solve one big piece of that puzzle.
This is not only a new free aircraft to DCS, but one that is capable of doing multi-crew training for FREE. As long as the mod is supported and is kept alive, new players will have a chance of getting a taste of a modern DCS aircraft and of getting to train with a friend or even a stranger on an organized training squadron! It might not be an official module nor might it be a perfectly polished mod in its current state, but it delivers in the area that matters the most: training new players. I am really happy that VNAO decided to release this mod publicly as it will help the entire community as a whole. Well done, VNAO!
DOWNLOAD THE MOD FROM HERE:
About the interviewer
Santiago "Cubeboy" Cuberos
Longtime aviation fanatic with particular preference towards military aviation and its history. Said interests date back to the early 2000's leading into his livelong dive into civil and combat flight simulators. He has been involved in a few communities but only started being active around the mid 2010's. Joined as a Spanish to English translator in 2017, he has been active as a writer and content manager ever since. Twitter | Discord: Cubeboy #9034