Review: DCS MiG-21Bis Fishbed-N by Leatherneck Simulations
As one of the first third party modules available on DCS World, the Fishbed set the bar for quality with its release back in 2014. It was developed by Leatherneck Simulations, the company that housed many of the developers that would later become part of Heatblur Simulations after the split that resulted in both Heatblur and Magnitude 3/Leatherneck becoming separate studios. The Fishbed has proven to be an aircraft that, despite its age and system limitations, still holds a very important role in the DCS arena, as one of the only high fidelity Redfor aircraft currently in the sim, JF-17 aside. The older brothers of the Fishbed, the Fagot and the Farmer, are also available but neither of them have the multirole capabilities of this manned missile.
In this review I will tackle all areas which I personally look at before buying a module so that you, the reader, can make an informed decision as to if this Soviet era workhorse is for you. These areas are the following:
External and internal 3D models
Visual effects and sound design
Ease of use and learning curve
Bugs and Leatherneck's plan
Is this aircraft for you?
Thank you to my friend Hueman for his assistance on this review.
EXTERNAL AND INTERNAL 3D MODELS
This module has got to have one of the most beautiful 3D modeling assets in DCS. Even more when you consider that, despite being updated somewhat recently on the Phase 1 update, this module is almost 7 years old!
Every nook and cranny, every bolt and rivet has been masterfully represented on the external model, making it either a pleasure or a displeasure to look at depending on what you think of this aircraft's design features. Its long hump and tubular design make it instantly recognizable, to which Leatherneck went far and beyond to make it accurate.
To the right there is a small gallery of what I consider to be some of the details that make this module's 3D artwork masterful.
From the antennas and the pitot tube, to the spectacular texture work on the bare metal skins and complex meshes of the Tumansky R-25 engine. This is just a feast for the eyes to those that know this craft.
There is one exception to this beauty and that is that some of the liveries have certain mistakes on the roughmets. This is specifically noticeable as some of the painted liveries, such as the Slovakian-1998 livery, still have remnants of the Russian warning markings which are not on the skins as these countries have eliminated them and replaced them with their own language. An example of this can be found below on the Bugs section of this review.
Now, cockpit-wise, this aircraft has some of the best 3D artwork out there. It doesn't look new but rather heavily used. Textures still hold up wonderfully and instrument lighting, which has seen changes as DCS improves its lighting engine, looks stunning. I'll stop talking and I will let you take a look for yourself with the following gallery:
VISUAL EFFECTS AND SOUND DESIGN
External effects such as over-wing vapor, which is not the best I have seen in DCS, and a very unique afterburner are there. The afterburner effect was changed recently as part of the Phase 1 update, which made it much more distinct. Aside from that, the Fishbed lacks any kind of vapor vortexes like the ones present on the Harrier, Tomcat, Hornet and Viper. Although, none of the videos that I have watched of the Fishbed flying have shown vortexes forming on the wings.
Sound-wise, this module will either be your favorite or you will hate it. This was one of the first aircraft in DCS which exaggerates the engine sounds in the cockpit for the sake of pilot feedback. This is, in my honest opinion, one of the best things a module can do as it increases the pilot's awareness of what their engine is doing at any point of its RPM range. Be it idle, military or full afterburner, you will know. The sound of the switches is pretty snappy, and varies depending on what you are clicking, but not that much.
One complaint that I have with the sound is the way that the engine sound transitions from military power to full afterburner. In my opinion, it is way too sudden and sounds artificial. It is not terrible by any means, just something where I thought this module would have done better. The only other complaint I have is with the external sound and the way that it handles the throttle changes at a distance. From a mile and a half away you can clearly hear what RPM range the engine is, which is not something that should happen.
Here are the examples taken with maximum volume and no post processing:
Engine while on the ground: (Idle-->Full Afterburner-->Idle)
Listen to those breaks too!
Engine while in-flight: (Idle-->Full Afterburner-->Idle)
Fly-by at 510 knots, full afterburner: (Volume warning)
Notice the sound of throttle movements at the end!
This is, once again, an area in which I have to clarify that I have neither flown fighters or have been involved with military aircraft in real life. Most of my experience is derived from simulators and from theoretical knowledge about aerodynamics and flight dynamic simulation.
That being said, I am kind of divided on its flight model. On one hand it does not seem to have scripted behavior on stalls or high angles of attack. On the other, it does seem to have some very weird behavior when both at low speed and high angles of attack. If I were to overly-simplify this, I'd say that it simulates 95% of the flight regime to a very high degree but the other 5% feels a bit strange.
Here is an example of that strange behavior I have noticed. Aerodynamically, neither I or a very dear friend of mine that's an aeronautical engineer undergrad (Hueman) can not make sense of what is happening here. The movements could be generated by a yaw instability at high AoA, a characteristic that Fishbed does possess and the reason why they have a ventral fin. To be honest, this is a minor gripe; but it does not remove the fact that the event feels artificial in nature. That is just my subjective opinion, mind you.
From another angle/software:
Aside from this, the flight model does not have any other major "flaws". Landings are tricky at first due to the way the aircraft behaves while on glide slope but you will get used to them. To me it is, generally, a pleasure to fly not because it is easy but because it is an aircraft that requires your attention. Additionally, I have not seen a real Fishbed pilot complain about the accuracy of this flight model, but the ones I see complaining are other players such as myself.
This little bird can do most of what you ask of it. From interceptions/air to air, at which it excels since it is what this aircraft was mostly used for despite its awful radar, to air to ground attack and recon. Due to the way the soviets treated this aircraft, being a frontline fighter, it can carry a variety of weaponry of different shapes, sizes and capabilities. Your main limitations will be both range and precision capability.
You lack any kind of laser or TV guided bombs/missiles, with your only guided air to ground missile being the beam-riding Grom missile. You will have to rely on the good ol' Mk.1 eyeball to land most of your air to ground shots. But even with that said, operational range will be your major hindrance. No air-to-air refueling either, so you better plan your missions with a fuel stop or two. You can also do STO operations thanks to your RATO pods. Have a look:
Now, onto the armament!
Your internal cannon, even with its limited ammunition, is more than capable of dealing with aerial and lightly armored ground targets. You will learn how to love this thing!
AIR TO AIR MISSILES
Your main line of defense/offense against air targets, you have four types to choose from. They are not the most modern line-up but they get the job done. Do not underestimate them.
R-60 and R-60M (As modern as you will get)
R-13 (The soviet equivalent of an AIM-9P, they are good but not as good as an R-60M)
R-3S and R-3R (IR and Radar guided respectively, these are the oldest ones in your inventory)
From cluster munitions to your typical soviet line-up, these are as effective as your aim is.
The Fishbed does not have a CCIP indicator, so aside of some computer assistance with the pipper, you will be the one calculating your drops so make them count!
FAB-100, FAB-250/FAB-250 TU and FAB-500 M62 (your high-explosive munitions)
RBK-250 PTAB-2.5M (Cluster Bomb)
SAB-100 (Illumination bomb)
BetAB-500 (Bunker buster)
BL755 (Cluster bomb)
RBK-500 PTAB-10-5 (Cluster bomb)
These are what I use for most of my ground attack missions as they allow me more time on station. You have a small variety to choose from, almost the same as any other soviet fighter.
S-5 Rockets on pods of 16 (UB-16UM) or 32 (UB-32) per pod.
Kh-66 "GROM" MISSILE
A radar guided/beam riding missile. This is your only guided ground munition, and quite the good one. Point your pipper, press lock and fire away; as simple as that. This missile also has quite a large warhead so you will be able to engage light ships as well.
RN-24 AND RN-28 NUCLEAR BOMBS
This is the only aircraft in DCS that is capable of carrying tactical nuclear bombs. They do not have any special effect and their effectiveness is disappointingly low, but they are there! When deployed on multiplayer servers, if they are not banned, then please mind the explosive radius as it can kill air, including allied ones, units as far as 15 nautical miles.
RP-22SMA "SAPFIR" RADAR
This piece of soviet engineering has got to be one of the worse, if not the worst, air intercept radars I have ever had the displeasure of using. It is clunky and gets easily confused by both cloud and ground clutter as well as jamming. You aim it by aiming the entire aircraft, no TDC here. Oh, and did I forget that it is cooled by alcohol which gives it a run time of 20 minutes? I love it and the way it is implemented, but it is not pleasant to use.
You will inevitably be shot at some point. But don't fret as you do have your trusty SPS-141-100 Electronic Warfare pod/Chaff and Flares pod and your AS0-2 Dispensers. These will give you a bit more chance to evade missiles, as long as they have ammo. Don't forget your SPO-10 "Sirena-3" RWR, which should give you an idea of where and when you are getting shot at/locked.
EASE OF USE AND LEARNING CURVE
I'll be honest. This is not a beginner friendly aircraft. From its very soviet way of taxiing to its illogical system locations (by western standards), this aircraft has a steeper curve than other DCS modules. For reference: the F-5E, which many consider to be the western analog to the Fishbed, has a much more friendly learning curve due to its logical cockpit layout.
Tasks which are easier on the Tiger, such as bombing, become a bit more tedious on the Fishbed but not by much. You will have to put more time into learning the quirks and features of this fighter, primarily the positions of all the switches for each weapon employment. Once you get over those difficulties, I assure you that the Fishbed is well worth your time as it offers a very different experience that no other fighter can offer in DCS as of the time of writing.
Here is a small clip that I recorded for use in our social medias, proof that bombing on the Fishbed can be pin-point accurate if the pilot is as well!
BUGS AND LEATHERNECK'S PLAN
This is one of those modules on which I have found the weirdest of bugs. Not weird because of their obscurity but weird because of how easy they are to find. Here are three of the what I would consider "hard to miss bugs":
1- (ABOVE) Nosewheel tire clips through the ground when break is applied while taxiing at close to MTOW (Maximum Take-Off Weight). This causes the geometry on the nose wheel strut to hit the ground and causes sparks to come out.
2- (ABOVE) Problem light animation hovers if problem light is lit and pressed.
3. (ABOVE) Liveries utilize incorrect roughmets that do not correspond to their skin. This is evident on skins such as "Slovakia-1998", which has Russian text still present on the roughmets that does not correspond to the text on the skin. This leaves a "ghost image" of the Russian text when light reflects on the aircraft.
Now, these are only three of the bugs I felt like they were worth mentioning. They are not game-breaking nor do they make the Fishbed a bad module; but since the developers paid so much attention to detail in so many different areas, it feels odd to see these bugs are still a thing.
Leatherneck, or Magnitude 3 since both studios operate from the same umbrella, are still rolling out changes to the external assets of the Fishbed in two phases. Phase one was rolled out late last year, as I previously mentioned at the start of the review. Let's hope that some or all of these issues will be fixed with that patch.
IS THIS AIRCRAFT FOR YOU?
If what you want in a module is:
A challenging learning experience that requires your attention.
A third-generation multirole aircraft.
The feeling of being strapped to a missile.
A good dogfighter with poor visibility so that you can feel better when you shoot something down.
If you don't mind:
The very soviet design and way of operation.
Not having screens of any type to do modern jet stuff.
The limited guided air-to-ground capability.
The feeling of being strapped to a missile.
The quirks of a very, very old design.
If all or some of the above is what you want, then Leatherneck's MiG-21 Bis is for you
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 content manager ever since. Twitter | Discord: Cubeboy #9034