Review: DCS MB-339A/PAN by Frecce Tricolori Virtuali
Updated: Sep 12, 2020
Made by the folks over at the Frecce Tricolori Virtuali team, the MB-339 is a free module based on the famous trainer made by Aermacchi during the late seventies that now serves with the Italian Air Force and many others as a trainer/light-attack aircraft. The type has seen combat over the skies of the Eritrean–Ethiopian War and the Falklands-War where it saw successful combat deployment.
In this review of their latest release (v.2.01) we will be taking a look into several different parts of the module and evaluating if this pretty but capable bird is a fit for your style of flying. These points will be divided in several sections:
Of note: This is a free module made by a dedicated community, therefore, it shall not be judged to the standards of a paid module.
External and internal 3D models
Visual and sound effects
Ease of use and learning curve
Unique module features
Is this aircraft for you?
EXTERNAL AND INTERNAL 3D MODELS
The external model is of very high quality even when compared to professionally made modules available for purchase. From the animations of the landing gear, the deployment of the taxi and landing lights to the fantastically recreated gunpods and weapon models. It has that feel of quality that a passion project such as this can bring to life.
One thing that does need to be pointed out as it is of importance. The external model lacks a visual damage state for when you receive damage, enter a collision, etc. This is a minor thing to point out but it is noteworthy nonetheless.
A lot of mods in DCS utilize cockpits from the Flaming Cliffs 3 module such as the F-15 or the Su-33. While useful to avoid coding, modelling and configuring a cockpit from zero this practice can prove immersion-breaking to some users. But the Frecce Tricolori Virtuali team went far and beyond with their project.
The pilot and instructor cockpits don't not fall behind the external model's quality. With the exception of some systems which are not modeled and all the critical systems are working and all flight critical instruments are working accordingly, such as a fully functional gun sight that looks wonderful in both day and night. The developers have said that many of the systems that are non-functional are being worked on so keep your hopes up for those.
VISUAL AND SOUND EFFECTS
In this area the module does the job but does not shine like it it does in other aspects. All the bells and whistles are there and in-cockpit lights do serve their job, but they do feel a bit off like they were a bit too unnatural. External lights and effects are good, having configurable navigation lights as well as a beacon and formation lights that have a very nice look to them.
When it comes to sounds, particularly in-cockpit sound, things are both excellent and serviceable. Switches sound nice when you click them giving you that feedback that is needed so that they feel believable and tangible. The engine does sound a bit too quiet for my liking but it does have a very clear RPM curve that allows you to know in what throttle position you are without having to look at at the gauge at all.
Here are two examples, both on-ground and in-flight:
Engine sound while on the ground: ( Idle-->Full Power-->Idle ):
Engine sound while in-flight: ( Idle-->Full Power-->Idle ):
This bird's EFM (External Flight Model) was modeled with the help of retired MB-339 pilots and even a couple of Aermacchi engineers which allowed the developers a step-up their ability to give the Macchi some life. The work put into making the feel of flight has not gone unnoticed as it does feel natural and I can say with confidence that this is the most accurate modded flight model in the game.
The Macchi feels like it wants to be flown thanks to its easy and forgiving flight characteristics which is to be expected from an aircraft that was designed to be a trainer. Do not let this "trainer" talk make you think that it is not able to do some incredible maneuvering and very high-g turns for all your acrobatic needs.
As expected, this aircraft excels in its training role thanks to the way it was built. The cockpit is shared by both a trainee and an instructor that sits in the back. The instructor has mirrored instruments that allow them to guide the trainee in a plethora of scenarios.
When not functioning as a training aircraft the Macchi is also capable of being a relatively effective light-attack aircraft. In this role, it performs surprisingly well giving its size and payload. It lacks dedicated air-to-air armament, relying on the use of gunpods to engage other aircraft. You will have to put your trust upon top-cover when you attack ground targets and hope that there are no MiGs hunting you.
The MB-339 also lacks any kind of countermeasures which is not rare for training aircraft and is not inherently a negative point but it needs to be noted as it restricts the situation in which this platform can be used effectively during combat. The best scenarios for this machine are low-threat targets such as anti-insurgent CAS (Close-Air-Support) missions in which air-superiority is secured.
Cost-effective and reliable, these will be your preferred weapons in almost every scenario as they allow for more staying time over the battlefield. They are capable of dealing with both infantry and lightly armored targets. They come in two flavors:
Two AN/M3 12.7mm Gun Pods ( 350 rounds each pod ).
Two DEFA 30mm gun pods ( 125 rounds in each pod ).
These are devastating when dealing with convoys and APC vehicles. You can carry a ton of ordinance with these pods and it can last quite a while if you do not salvo each pod like a lunatic.
Three pods are at your disposal:
LAU-10 ( 4 ZUNI rockets each and a maximum of two pods)
LR-25 ( 25 rockets each and a maximum of six pods)
MATRA TYPE 155 ( 18 rockets each and a maximum of six pods)
You can always mix pods to get a wider variety of pods in your loadout.
It is always fun to obliterate your enemy with devine wrath from the heavens, right?
That is what bombs do so having them available is always a great thing.
You sadly only have one type available to you but it does not mean that this type of bomb is not famous for being a reliable and efficient all-rounder:
Mk.82 (500lb~ low drag bomb. Six maximum)
There is also the BRD-4-250 Dispenser that comes with four Mk.76 and two ARF-8M3TP.
EASE OF USE AND LEARNING CURVE
As said before, this aircraft is easy to learn and fly with thanks to the way it was designed. Employing weapons comes with a certain difficult due to its lack of a dedicated HUD or any kind of aiming-aid system outside of its gunsight. Said gunsight operates in a way similar to most old aircraft seeing as you have to manually set your sight for every type of weapon by introducing a gunsight elevation value in mils adequate to the scenario. High-altitude bombing is out of the question as well. But once you learn how to use the sight, which is not hard, you will find yourself flying at tree-top level and bombing everything on sight like it was second nature to you.
UNIQUE MODULE FEATURES
There are a couple of noteworthy features that come packaged with this module which are multi-crew, voice-acted training missions and an in-depth smoke system. Other trainers such as the L-39 or the C-101 include multi-crew so that they can be used as actual in-game training aircraft. The MB-339 is not the exception to this rule since it also features a multi-crew capable cockpit although not to the levels of detail that the modules previously mentioned include but that is to be expected of a free module. The sole fact that they managed to get this module working with multi-crew is exceptional and remarkable.
Speaking of remarkable, the training missions that come with this mission are a treat. They are voice acted and masterfully done with scripts and triggers that give them an air of life that even paid modules lack. Done by Stefano Moretti, these missions are a key piece that makes the MB-339 module even better. The smoke system that is equipped to the MB-339 thanks to its PAN modification is something that most players will overlook very rapidly. This system has a lot of behing-the-curtain work that makes it stand out from the typical smokewinders. It is an addition that is really welcomed by acrobatic pilots and myself included.
IS THIS AIRCRAFT FOR YOU?
This is a plane that because of its features becomes a must-download for all DCS:World players. The team of Frecce Tricolori Virtuali gave the community what is a free module that doesn't feel like one and that is admirable. My thanks go to the team for letting the community enjoy this special machine that we would not otherwise be able to experience in our lifetime.
Get it here!
Rewritten as of the 9th of April, 2020 to improve quality. Original post date: 24th of March, 2020.
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