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  • Writer's pictureSantiago "Cubeboy" Cuberos

Review: DCS F-4E Phantom II by Heatblur Simulations (Early Access)

There are only a select group of aircraft that are universally considered to be legendary, be it for their technological advancements, involvement in a famous conflict or even its role in mass media and entertainment. One of these legendary aircraft is, without a doubt, the famous F-4E Phantom II, due to its involvement in Vietnam and the countless countries it fought for. Thanks to Heatblur Simulations, we have the chance to fly this monster in DCS.



Released this Wednesday (05/22/2024) after a series of unexpected delays, this Cold War workhorse rapidly climbed in popularity as thousands of DCS players rushed to buy it and download it. We did not get media access to this module, therefore our review will consist of a first impressions approach to all the aspects of this module from a pilot-oriented POV. We will update this review as new versions get released, as well as whenever it receives new systems and/or new features like weapons. With this out of the way, let's begin!

 

EXTERNAL AND INTERNAL 3D MODELS


To say that Heatblur raised the bar with this release would be an understatement, and a disservice to this module. The developers and artists have completely outdone themselves in this department, and it is evident that their workflow is one that guaranteed the highest quality possible. Everything from the gorgeous curves and complex shapes of mechanical parts suck as the landing gear, to the unreal normalmaps that make everything come to life. All the small details, such as the remove before flight covers being installed on cold and dark aircraft, the strings flying in the wind, the hoses and cables from the Dash 60 connecting to the aircraft when external power and air are connected, etc. It is these touches that make Heatblur, well, Heatblur. That recognizable obsession with detail.


The only two modules that come even close to this level of quality are RAZBAM's F-15E and Heatblur's own F-14A/B; which has been the standard of quality until recently. That being said, it is clear that the Tomcat has been surpassed in every level possible by its younger and older cousin, the F-4E Phantom II. Here, have a look for yourself:


The cockpit is just sublime as well, with textures that leave me stunned as a fellow 3D/2D artist. The laser scans did wonders for the quality of this model, something which shows up clearly in the masterfully done normals and diffuse from the texture, as well as the work done with the roughmets. Both pilot and WSO pits are close to what I would consider to be works of art, and so, I would prefer you be the judge since beauty is in the eyes of the beholder:

Daytime


Nighttime



 

VISUAL AND SOUND EFFECTS


This is, usually, a make-or-break category for me. It is through visual and sound effects that digital aircraft come to life, and thankfully, it seems that Heatblur have once again struck gold with their work on F-4E. Visually, it is nothing short of impressive, both externally and internally. The cockpit feels tangible, especially with the shaking of the individual cockpit elements throughout the entire flight, from taxi to landing and everything in between.


You can hear the cockpit rattle and quake when you subject the aircraft to high G or high AoA scenarios, something that helps immensely to supplant the lack of physical feedback that real pilots would have had. It is nothing but astounding.



Externally, the most impressive part to us only shines when you subject the aircraft to some degree of Gs and AoA: The wing vapor. This has got to be the most brilliant display of volumetrics in any module so far. It is a spectacle and one that we adore.


The engine sound quality, which is a Heatblur staple, is present and as strong as ever. You can hear your engine go through its RPM range and, by ear, determine in which position your throttle is currently in. The afterburners are loud, and they do a characteristic "pop" sound when first engaged, something that has aided in determining if one has passed the detent or not. This type of feedback is nothing short of excellent, and aids in the sensation of flight that this module brings to the table.


 

FLIGHT MODELING


DISCLAIMER: This is always a tough category, as like with any other aircraft, there is a lot to take into consideration other than just the feel of the flight model. This category is the most subjective one in this article, as I do not have any real world experience with this craft. I will only base my opinion on practical experience and knowledge of practical aerodynamics and the theoretical behavior that an F-4E should have under certain scenarios. With the disclaimer out of the way, it is important to note that the Phantom is one of the best aircraft I have ever flown in DCS, and by a long shot. By this, I mean that it flies exactly how I expect a Phantom to fly: like a brick with wings. Flying this hunk of metal is a weird experience, something akin to riding a mildly intoxicated bull. Sometimes it is calm, and it lets you just hang out with him, in others it just straight up tries to murder you with evil intent.



The power coming from the J79s is palpable, and you will feel the thrust come when you engage those afterburners. Sometimes it feels like it wants nothing but to fly in a straight line, and to do it as fast as possible. This aircraft is the happiest when you are flying straight and not maneuvering much, something that is evident the moment you break that calm to enter a dogfight, or go defensive after being engaged.


She will pretend to be ok, she will try to be composed through the maneuver; but the moment you pull enough AoA and you deflect those spoilers and ailerons, that moment is when she will let you know who is in charge. You need to use your rudder to roll under high AoA scenarios, especially if you want to avoid rolling inverted in the middle of your dogfight.


These effects can somewhat be minimized by a new system that Heatblur has implemented: the stick deflection limit. This system, which is accessible through the Special menu, will limit the maximum force you are able to exert over the stick, allowing for smoother control inputs for the pilot. This, as well as the blending option, make the experience better for those of us that do not have force feedback sticks.



 

MISSION CAPABILITIES


This is a 3rd generation aircraft, and one which is usually considered to be the first "multirole" aircraft in US inventory. This means that, unlike other fighters of the era, it was somewhat capable of performing different types of missions in the same sortie. While this is technically true, the Phantom is still very much limited in this regard. You will be capable of doing both air-to-air, air-to-ground, SEAD and even anti-shipping missions with limited all-weather capabilities, which will be determined by your loadout and mission at hand. That being said, we want to make something very clear: this is no Viper, or Hornet, or Mudhen. It is not capable of performing stand-off attacks outside effective SAM ranges, nor is it capable of true modern BVR engagements. It is still a 3rd generation fighter-bomber with lots of capabilities, but all limited to the technology of the era it was built on.


You still have some "modern" luxuries, such as TV guided bombs and even a very early TGP for self-lasing and ranging, but if you come in expecting to be able to use that TGP the same way you would a LITENING pod, you are not in the right place. You will have the tools for the job it was built for, and she will make you work for it.


 

ARMAMENT


M61 VULCAN 20mm CANNON + SUU-23 GUNPOD

The defining characteristic of the F-4E model is its inclusion of a nose-mounted cannon! You have around 600 rounds with each rearm, so make them count. You can vary its fire rate to give you a bit more time on trigger. Not only that, but you can also mount an additional THREE M61s with the SUU-23 pods, neat!


AIM-9 SIDEWINDER

The classic heat-seeker missile is back for more, now with the Phantom. You can equip it on dual-racks on pylons 2 and 8, for a total of 4 missiles. It comes in many flavors:

  • AIM-9B

  • AIM-9J

  • AIM-9JULI (better J)

  • AIM-9L

  • AIM-9M

  • AIM-9P

  • AIM-9P3

  • AIM-9P5

  • Captive AIM- 9M (for those that like to practice dogfighting)


AIM-7 SPARROW

Your only radar-guided missile, and it is of the Semi-Active-Radar-Homing (SARH) variety. This will be your lifeline during dogfights and longer-ranged engagements, bordering even on BVR ranges. You have some flavors:


  • AIM-7E

  • AIM-7E2

  • AIM-7F

  • AIM-7M


IRON BOMBS, CLUSTER MUNITIONS AND RUNWAY PENETRATORS

You better get used to these, as they are the bread and butter of air-to-ground engagements with the Phantom. To say you have a variety to choose from would be wrong, you have more:


  • Mk.81 (250lbs x 24), 82 (500lbs x 24), 83 (1000lbs x 13) and 84 (2000lbs x 5)

  • M117 750lbs x 17

  • BLU-107/B Penetrators x 12

  • CBU-87 Clusters x 14

  • CBU-52 Clusters x 12

  • (NEW) CBU-1 & CBU-2 Dispensers x 5

  • Mk.20 Cluster x12


UNGUIDED ROCKETS

Nyom goes the rocket! You have some variants to choose from:


  • LAU-3 pods with 19 FFAR 2'75in rockets each x 15 pods. Total of 285 FFARs!

  • LAU-68 with 7 FFAR 2'75in rockets each x 6 pods. Total of 42 FFARs.


LASER GUIDED BOMBS

One of the first aircraft to ever deploy laser guided bombs in combat was the F-4! Now you get to use these same bombs, plus some more modern ones:

  • GBU-12 (500lbs x 6), GBU-10 (2000lbs x 4) GBU-24 (2000lbs Penetrator x 4)


TV GUIDED BOMBS