Review: DCS Ka-50 Black Shark 2 by Eagle Dynamics
Even predating Digital Combat Simulator (DCS) as a platform, the Ka-50 Black Shark has the longest history of any module out there. Initially released in 2008, the then standalone Black Shark module was a success. Later on it was improved with a subsequent update which made it the Black Shark 2 in 2011. But do not let its age trick you into believing that this module is not worth it, as there is absolutely no doubt that this coaxial helicopter is a staple aircraft of both DCS: World and Eagle Dynamics themselves for a reason. Today we will be taking an in-depth look at this module, its upgrades, its capabilities and its future so that you, the reader, can determine if this peculiar whirlybird is for you. For that purpose, this review will be divided into several categories: External and internal 3D models Audiovisual effects Flight modelling Mission capability Armament Ease of use and learning curve The future of the module Is this aircraft for you? EXTERNAL AND INTERNAL 3D MODELS The Black Shark is a very unique-looking helicopter which can be identified immediately by almost everyone who knows a bit about helicopters. Fortunately, the in-game counterpart does this look justice. I was quite surprised by how detailed the external model was at first, since I was expecting a much lower quality model from a module that has its roots over a decade ago. It has lower resolution textures, for sure, but it is still good looking even after all these years. OLD BUT STILL DECENT The most detailed items on the external model are the lifting rotor mast and the cannon assembly. These two have higher resolution than some other details and they are pretty well animated for the time. It is worth noting that some of the default textures lack resolution and can not hold up to modern DCS standards, but it is not game breaking in the slightest. The cockpit, oh boy, the cockpit. At the moment, the Ka-50 has one of, if not the prettiest cockpits in the simulator thanks to the updated 3D mesh and high resolution textures it got earlier in February 2020. This all-new model has nothing to envy from much modern modules such as the Hornet or the Viper. It is simply a spectacle to see and a pleasure to use when compared to the older, very dated cockpit model. The fact that this came as a free update to all owners of the module is something I do have to applaud Eagle Dynamics on, that was a really good move on their part.
Here are some screenshots of the cockpit, please scroll through them to see the different panels and how the illumination affects them. Overall, while dated, it can still hold up for a little while. At least until Black Shark 3 arrives with its complete overhaul of the external model and an even better cockpit model. AUDIOVISUAL EFFECTS In this category, the Black Shark has some pretty interesting effects up its sleeve. The external lights look pretty much how they should with the exception of the blade tip lights which seem to be a little bit too dim to really be noticeable. There are not any grandiose vapor effects like in the fixed wing aircraft but there is something interesting that was animated but I will mention it on the flight modeling section as it is more pertinent there than here. Sound-wise, the Kamov sounds a bit more muffled and quiet than other helicopters but as far as I am aware, that's something that all coaxial systems have. The lack of a tail rotor means less noise, naturally. This does not mean that it is "quiet" per-se as rotary wing aircraft are going to be loud even at a stand-still; but when comparing it to the Huey or the Mi-8, it is relatively quieter. Inside of the cockpit it is pretty easy to know how your engines are performing just by listening, which is excellent and something that other modules lack; primarily fixed wing aircraft. The different audio warnings and advisory alerts have distinct sounds making them easy to differentiate even in the middle of a combat situation. The ones you will be hearing the most are the rotor overspeed warning, engine overspeed warning and your radar altimeter; you will like to fly this bird low and fast so get used to those. EXAMPLES: A short hop, notice the blade sound and engine ramp up as I start taking off, then the radar altitude warning kicks in and then the blade sound as I stop myself to enter a hover): A fly-by at the Kamov's top speed, 305 km/h. You can be sure that the overspeed alarm was ringing like crazy. FLIGHT MODELING Before I start, I would like to clarify that I am mostly a fixed wing pilot. Most of my thousands of hours of flight sim experience have been with all sorts of fixed wing aircraft, not with rotary wing. I do not know the exact number of hours I have spent on rotary wing aircraft on both XPlane11 or FS2004, but I know it is not enough to say that I am deeply knowledgeable on how helicopters behave inside flight simulators but I can defend myself with them. So my opinion in this category is one that comes from a more amateur side, unlike my fixed wing reviews. I will not be judging its realism either as I have never flown a helicopter in real life, and the only "real" helicopters I have flown are mini-coaxial RC helicopters as a child.
That being said, even being such a rookie, I decided to make the Ka-50 the first full-fidelity helicopter I have ever tried in DCS. I was immediately surprised by how different it felt from other helicopters I had tried in the past. It was very easy to hover thanks to the characteristics the coaxial system which eliminate many of the undesirable torque-related behavior of single rotor helicopters. The only downside I noticed at first glance was the poor yaw authority it had, which is another quirk of coaxials. It is a very acrobatic machine, regardless of the yaw authority issues it has. Be careful while flying as you can enter a vortex ring state or hit your blades. At high speeds, there is a noticeable reduction in agility but I would not suggest being aggressive during this scenario either way due to the behavior the rotors have when pushed to these scenarios. Excuse me if I am wrong, but from what I know this is because the faster you fly, the more the rotor rolls to counter the blade's roll tendency. If you pull up on the cyclic, even just a couple of degrees, your blades will impact each other and your helicopter will not be more than a glorified hunk of metal barreling towards its fiery grave. At least you can eject from it. The Ka-50, being a single seat helicopter, had to be designed with pilot comfort in mind as the pilot had to also serve the role usually assigned to the gunner in other attack helicopters. For that reason, it has a very friendly autopilot system which acts as both an actual autopilot which follows waypoints as well as a stability enhancement system which helps the pilot through the entire flight envelope of the machine, even featuring an auto-hover mode. This helicopter is friendly to fly thanks to its coaxial system, its autopilot and its responsive collective controls. It is a fast and mean machine which taught me how fun helicopters can be. MISSION CAPABILITY This helo excels at what it was designed to do, which is to attack enemy armor while being able to perform reconnaissance of enemy positions and passing that information to allied units through its datalink. It is a front-line helicopter through and through. Of course this doesn't mean that it isn't capable of performing other more generalized tasks such as cargo lifting. Unlike the Mi-24P, the only task it can not perform is troop transport. THE "SHKVAL" TV SENSOR This front-mounted camera suite is what allows the Ka-50 to engage from a relatively extended stand-off range. It gives the pilot the ability to do target designation, recon and self-lase to use the beam-riding anti-tank missiles. When used alongside the "ABRIS" Advanced Moving Map System, it could allow several Ka-50s to communicate between each other sharing the intel they have gathered. This alongside the Helmet Mounted Sight (HMS) makes it easy to plan ahead and engage on the spot. The Black Shark can be just as scary as it is sneaky. I can plan ahead with updated enemy info provided through datalink, attack a target while popping in and out the terrain leaving the enemy wondering what happened. All without having to rely on in-game tools such as the F10 map or anything like that. That's just awesome. ARMAMENT SHIPUNOV 2A42 30MM CANNON A weapon which is shared between helicopters and APCs, this dual-fed cannon is a devastating weapon. Capable of utilizing both HE and AP shells on the same loadout, it offers versatility on the battlefield. You get 240 rounds of HE and 220 rounds of AP. AT-9 VIKHR (9А4172) ATGM This peculiar missile will be your main anti-armor weapon as you will have 12 at your disposal if you load two of the APU-6 launchers. With a pretty decent range between a half and eight kilometers during daytime conditions, these missiles are precise and get the job done. Kh-25 LASER GUIDED MISSILE This is the largest and deadliest single weapon you can carry on the helicopter. Possessing the longest effective range and the most precise delivery method, this missile is a must when you want to ensure that your target will not get away. I mean, this missile is indeed capable of sinking medium-sized ships under the right conditions! UNGUIDED ROCKETS When precision is a relative matter, these pods can pulverize an entire city block full of MRAPs without breaking a sweat. And you get different sizes to choose from too. From the 80mm S-8 rockets to the larger 122mm S-13. UNGUIDED BOMBS Although not the most effective weapon carried by a helicopter, you do have the option to carry both FAB-250 and FAB-500 unguided bombs as well as bomblet dispensers. Accuracy is completely out of the question with these weapons as you mostly have to rely on the good ol' Mark.1 Eyeball to determine the impact zone. Just like in ye old days. UPK-23 GUN PODS These are the most fun weapons to use, second to the unguided rockets. These are for those occasions in which you need the power of two GSH-30MM cannons apart from your own internal cannon. These have the same cannon as the one mounted on the MiG-21s, by the way, so these do not play around. Ammo is quite scarce, make it count! DEFENSIVE AND SURVIVAL EQUIPMENT Flares, flares and flares. This helicopter has one hundred and twenty-eight flares, sixty-four per dispenser. You can rest assured that if an Igla comes straight at you, the least of your worries should be running out of flares. You also have a more discrete but equally effective defensive system in the form of your L-140 Laser Detection System. Being composed of several laser sensors, you will know when someone is painting you with a laser and from where, allowing you to evade accordingly. But, if everything else fails and you found yourself trapped inside a flaming chuck of metal, you have one last line of defense to ensure your survival.The K-37-800 ejection seat means that, if you are still alive inside of the helicopter, that at the very least you will have a way out. Before ejection, all of the blades are blown away by explosive charges to avoid collision. It can be quite spectacular seeing it happen, just hope it does not happen to you! EASE OF USE AND LEARNING CURVE This helicopter is, in my honest opinion, the easiest one to get into. It has a lot of computer assistance and the lack of noticeable torque effect makes it infinitely simpler to fly than all the other helicopters available in Digital Combat Simulator. When it comes down to flying, those helicopters are more about the cyclic and rudder inputs to keep control of the aircraft. The amount of videos I have seen of people dying (both in-game and of laughter) in the Huey while trying to hover it for the first time is immense. And do not get me wrong, I like those helis as much as I like this one. But for a newcomer, the Kamov does feel a lot more friendly and intuitive. The only tricky part for me was getting used to using the trimmer, but that was about it! If I, a relatively amateur heli pilot, can fly it even from outside the cockpit to get shots like this; I am sure most other people can. Navigation is easy too, thanks to the "ABRIS" Advanced Moving Map System. The map is easy to read and pretty useful for almost everyone. Overall, this helicopter is a wonderful little machine engineered to be simple to use.
You have some training missions as well as a few campaigns to practice with, but as far as I have seen, the campaigns have not been updated in a long time making them kind of broken with the current terrain. Just be mindful of this when going in. THE FUTURE OF THIS MODULE Just like it just happened with the A-10C module as of time of writing, the Ka-50 is also receiving a paid update later in 2021. This update will not only add a new and improved external model made to the current DCS standards of quality but it will also add new capabilities such as the ability to carry air to air missiles, updated sensors and much more. We do not know much about the current state of development for the Black Shark 3 module, but we do have a couple of screenshots of the WIP updated external model. It's looking pretty good so far! I have high hopes for this release. It should be able to fix most grievances I personally have with the current module by and maximize the enjoyment factor of this wonderful machine. IS THIS AIRCRAFT FOR YOU If what you want in a module is: A fun and exciting aircraft. To dominate ground forces from a distance. A solid flight model with some interesting quirks A unique flight sim experience. If you don't mind: Getting used to a new type of aircraft. The lack of air to air weaponry. The dated external model. Being bullied for becoming a rotary wing fan. If all or some of the above is what you want, then ED's Ka-50 Black Shark 2 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