Interview: DCS Saab Sk60B Developer Interview w/ Virtual Team 60
DCS has changed a lot in the past few years, specifically, the way that mods have now become a staple of the simulation's experience. There are very high quality community-made modules out there such as the A-4E, A-29B, T-45C, UH-60L, etc. Recently we noticed that another extremely high quality module was fast-approaching, one developed by members of the Virtual Team 60 : The Saab Sk60B, a Swedish jet trainer/light attack aircraft.
Just like last time, we contacted the leader of the Virtual Team 60, Fredrik "Breadmaker", and asked him everything about the Saab Sk.60 project, what the process of developing it has been and a lot about its quirks and features. I personally extend my thanks to Fredrik for allowing us to have this interview with us. This is part two of two of this interview set.
Taking on the task of creating a full-fidelity mod for DCS World is quite the undertaking. What led you to start this project?
Indeed it is! It actually started out as just a fun idea. We had a (very basic) 3D model of the SK60 and managed to put that over the MB-339 flight model and avionics. At the time it was just for fun, but soon after that the amazing Na1ve_Noob (yes that’s his nickname) contacted me and asked if I wanted help to make it a standalone mod. That was simply an offer I couldn’t refuse and the rest, as they say, is history.
Video of very early mod test
Who in Team60 is actively developing the module? Are there any other members from other communities collaborating in this project?
In Team 60 it’s mainly just me that’s doing the development. My area is the 3D modelling and the texturing as well as “team management”. My co-worker in the dev-team is Na1ve, as mentioned above. He’s doing all the coding and “under the hood” stuff that I don’t understand. Other than that we have some testers and SMEs. The Virtual Team 60 are part of the tester group. We figured that having an aerobatic team to test out the flight characteristics would be a good idea. It turns out we were right. 😊 But we have also got some former Swedish Airforce pilots and engineers who do some testing which helps a great deal. AND, what’s maybe the biggest benefit in terms of testing, fact checking and reference gathering is the fact that we’re collaborating with the Swedish Airforce Flight School. They get to use our mod in their VR training stations and we get feedback and information from them. That’s what I call a win-win situation.
How in-depth will the systems be in the Sk.60? Is there any system that required special attention?
As in-depth and realistic as we can make it given the tools we have without the third-party SDK from ED. We’re doing a highly accurate flight model, electrical systems, failures, damage model, weapons systems, radios, GPS, etc. The goal is to provide the most authentic SK60 experience we can. That’s a very important goal for us, especially since the real aircraft is going out of service in a few years.
Has the team run into any limitations due to not having the SDK? If so, how has the team dealt with them?
Well… We’ve run into some challenges, but not many limitations. The Saab 105 is a fairly basic aircraft which doesn’t have many complex systems. It has no guided weapons and stuff
like that. That means that we, so far, have been able to make all the functions we want. Almost 100% of that is due to Na1ve’s incredible talent with coding. It would for sure not be possible without him.
Will the mod have an External Flight Model (EFM)? If so, what can we expect in terms of the flight characteristics?
Yes. You can expect it to behave as close to the real aircraft as we can get it. It’s based on both performance measurements from Flight School and also aerodynamical calculations. It’s AWESOME to fly.
The mod will have multicrew, which is awesome for training purposes. Will the pilot and instructor cockpits be sync-able or will it work like other DCS mods in which cockpits are not synchronized between the crew?
We’re working on it. As it is with other mods, doing synced multicrew is a challenge which is hard to tackle. But we have an ambition to allow for a second pilot to sit in the right seat. That would make the trainer role complete - to be able to put a new pilot and an experienced pilot side by side in the same cockpit so the more experienced guy can give some hands on directions as how to do stuff like landing patterns, formation flying and so on. It would also be a possible task for the right seat guy to be a navigator when doing light-attack missions.
In terms of systems I noticed one peculiar system: the NS430 GPS navigational unit. Will this system be completely standalone or will users need to own the official GNS430 module to use it?
Haha that’s a good observation of you. 😉 We’re making it completely standalone so you don’t need to have the GNS430 module. I’m not entirely sure we can promise that it will include exactly all of the functionality that are in the real unit, but it will have a moving map and some basic navigation features at least. If I’m not mistaken I think it’s also going to be interacting with the EHSI so you’ll be able to see directions to next waypoint on that.
The module will also have the capabilities to carry out light attack mission, correct? Which weapons will be available with the mod?
Yes it does! The real Saab105 aircraft has carried a bunch of different weapons depending on which version it is. We’re doing the SK60B that is used in Sweden. It has 6 hardpoints, but it actually doesn’t have that many weapons. Only four, actually. There are:
30mm AKAN gun pod (it’s the same gun pod that the AJS37 uses, but we’re making our own version. The SK60 can carry 2 of these)
13,5cm SRAK (HE rockets. You can have up to 12 of these. Two on each pylon)
14,5cm PSRAK (HEAT rockets. You can have up to 6 of these. One on each pylon)
7,5cm TRAK (Practice rockets with no explosive warhead. You can have up to 6 of these.
I also noticed that both the external and internal 3D models and textures look fantastic. How difficult was it to create an accurate representation of the Sk60?
Thanks! It’s been very time consuming but fun! This is actually the first “real” 3D model I’ve ever done so I’ve needed to learn a whole lot along the way. I think the current version of the model is maybe iteration 5 or 6 since I’ve realized multiple times that it was better to start over and do it right than to try to polish the pile of dirt that was the first version..
The Flight School has provided a whole bunch of great reference images, measurements and blueprints for us that we’ve been able to use when doing the model. I can’t promise that everything is exactly 100% correct down to every single millimeter, but it’s pretty close. Of course we’ve had to take some creative liberty at some parts to make it reasonable for a game, but if I don’t tell you which parts those are I’d bet you probably won’t even notice.
The programs I’ve used for the 3D modelling is Blender while the texturing was done in Adobe Substance Painter and Photoshop.
One thing I’d like to say here is that ANYONE of you can do a model at this level if you put your mind to it. Like I said, this is the first model I’ve made and as long as you’re willing and ready to fail and learn along the way there’s nothing stopping you from doing an amazing model in the end.
The mod will be freely available for anyone that wants it once it is out, correct?
Yes it will! We want as many people as possible to be able to enjoy it and look forward to seeing people's reactions!
That will be it, thank you a lot for answering our interview! Is there anything else you would like to add before we conclude?
Thanks! It’s been a blast to answer the questions!
I’d like to emphasize what I said before. Doing a mod isn’t impossible as long as you have passion, patience and a learning attitude. We started this project in December 2020 and are now almost done. “Just do it!” as they say. 😊
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 the co-founder of Skyward ever since. Twitter | Discord: Cubeboy #9034