P-47D Thunderbolt: A comparison across simulators
Originally published: 08/06/2021 - Updated: 05/06/2023
I have always wondered, ever since I bought DCS' P-47D module, about the amount of effort that goes into modeling warbirds. After all, I had been flying the Thunderbolt in IL-2 Great Battles for the past couple of years. I was surprised when, after spending around five flight hours with DCS' Thunderbolt, I found myself finding more and more differences between these two aircraft which are supposed to be extremely similar!
Before we start diving into the topic at hand, I would like to clarify that I have never flown a Thunderbolt in real life and that this is not meant to be a direct comparison to throw shade at either of these simulators. This article is meant as a piece that serves as a look into how different companies tackle a very similar aircraft and how they differ in their implementation. Additionally, I will only be using the P-47D-30 (Early) as DCS' entry.
THE OBVIOUS: D-28 AND D-30 ARE NOT EQUAL
To get the obvious out of the way, these two depictions are not from the same lot. The differences mainly are on the cockpit layout and the installation of compressibility flaps to aid in dives, both changes exclusive to the P-47D-30. Aside from that, both of these should be pretty similar. IL-2's Thunderbolt, the P-47D-28, is the one we will be taking a look at; not the D-22 added with the Normandy expansion.
The DCS D-30 (Early) has some interesting aspects, primarily that the model does not include the dorsal fin ahead of the vertical stabilizer. This would make this specific Jug a very early one for this model, particularly considering that it does have the thicker ailerons and dive recovery system installed.
The rest of the differences lie in the cockpit design, which I will talk more about in the next section. I just wanted to reassure that you, the reader, understood that these two aircraft are technically not the same model but that they share the large majority of their features.
The first I noticed was that both Jugs have very different cockpit scaling. From what I have heard, DCS' Thunderbolt was created by using a real airframe as the base for 3D modeling and IL-2's relied on blueprints and technical drawings to model theirs. These two approaches have led to different scaling of certain aspects of the cockpit while others are identical. For example, the frontal canopy frame on IL-2's version seems to be way thicker, but the general shape of the frame is accurate to the point where I can match both cockpits from each simulator side by side and continue the line perfectly. The other aspect on IL-2's cockpit that immediately caught my attention was that the gunsight was a tad bit larger and that the instrument panel was a tad bit smaller when compared to the ones in DCS. This could be either a difference between D-28 and D-30 airframes, but that seems unlikely as 28 could be retrofitted to 30 standards, so the dimensions must have been either the same or within the margin of error of the era. Either way, here is a comparison:
Aside from this, both models are great! Every nook and cranny is there. Something that took me a while to realize is that both aircraft have very different paint-schemes for their cockpits. Have a look at how they differ! DCS' Thunderbolt cockpit. Notice the duller colors and impressive weathering effects.
IL-2's Thunderbolt cockpit. Brighter colors, different pallet and less weathering.
MARK VIII GUNSIGHT DIFFERENCES
Interestingly, the Thunderbolts lot D-22 onwards were equipped with US Navy Mark VIII gunsights. These were usually equipped on aircraft such as the Hellcat, Wildcat, Corsair and other naval fighters. Both of our simulators have this exact sight with IL-2's including the addition of a back-up sight to the left of the main reflector. What came to my attention the moment I booted up DCS' Thunderbolt for the first time was that the pipper was completely different. In fact, it was exactly the one that US Navy aircraft had back in the day. IL-2's pipper was way more simple, here is a side by side of both sights:
IL-2 on the left and DCS on the right.
This difference led me to what I would describe as a rabbit hole of forum threads, defunct websites and incomplete manuals. All to figure out which was the more "Accurate". But, as with everything in life, the truth is neither black nor white. Both are accurate. The main source that led me to this conclusion was Aircraft Gunsights, a defunct website that was run by a collector. In the article linked above, he states the following:
As most P-47 reaching the European theater were modified to use the British Mark II gunsight (see above) before being sent to combat units, Material Command requested in July 1943 that, as an interim measure and until the new N-9 gunsight would be available in sufficient number, all P-47 leaving the production line should be equipped with the Navy Mark 8 gunsight.
An order of 5.400 sights was therefore placed in October 1943 (later increased to an unknown number) and the Mark 8, starting with the P-47 D-20 series, finally remained the standard P-47 gunsight until gyro K-14A gunsights became available in sufficient number early 1945.
In the same website you can see that the pipper is, in fact, the one that can be seen on IL-2's Thunderbolt! But that does not mean that IL-2's depiction is more accurate. Now, let's take a look at the Mark VIII sight as it can be seen in the US Air Force Museum. Specifically, in the exhibition about the P-47D:
If these two images are to be believed, then both depictions are equally realistic. I hope that my research was enough to take a level-headed approach to this controversial subject. Please, if you know more about the subject, contact me. I will correct any information
THE VERY PETTY DIFFERENCES
Both external models look amazing, with differences lying on such small details that I did not even bother mentioning them.
Sound-wise, yes, the DCS Jug would take the prize when it comes to realism but one has to understand that the IL-2 developers do not have access to an actual aircraft, unlike Eagle Dynamics.
IL-2's Thunderbolt at 200mph
DCS' Thunderbolt at 250mph, notice the high pitch noise from the turbo as it passes by.
CONCLUSION: DOES ANY OF THIS EVEN MATTER?
So, we have now taken a look at how these two simulators have depicted a very similar aircraft. There are differences and one can see that the Thunderbolt in DCS is more accurate when it comes to its internal 3D model. But does any of that accuracy matter when you can get 90% of the way and still get an incredible experience?
That would be the case for IL-2's Thunderbolt. Made as only a part of an expansion, it had a lot of passion and research poured into it. Is it the most accurate depiction of the P-47 out there? No, it is not, and that is fine. DCS' Thunderbolt is on a different league, with it costing more than the entirety of IL-2's Bodenplatte expansion, which includes 7 other aircraft aside from the Jug. It is natural that it will have much more detail and that it'll be made with accuracy in mind. The more I kept writing, the more I realized how little any of this mattered to me. I have learned to enjoy both for what they are, since both have allowed me to experience flying the warbird of my dreams. One that I have seen at a museum for 15 years of my life. Special thanks to Hueman, my dear friend, for helping me with the research. And thanks to the 368th Fighter Group for their wealth of available info on the Thunderbolt!
About the writer:
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 Co-Founder ever since. Twitter | Discord: Cubeboy #9034