Review: DCS F/A-18C Hornet by Eagle Dynamics
Once upon a time, the king of DCS modules was the A-10C. It reigned supreme in terms of capability, realism and popularity. But, those times are no-more. Released in June of 2018 into early access with some controversy regarding its initial systems, the F/A-18C Hornet has surpassed the A-10C in terms of popularity and, in some regards, combat capability. The Hornet has now cemented itself as the king of the carrier deck and of DCS: World as a whole. Today, we will be taking a look at this bug and its stinger to see if it is a fit for you. As always, our review will be separated in several sections for ease of reading: External and internal 3D models Visual and sound effects Flight modelling Mission capability Armament Ease of use and learning curve Super Carrier DLC Is this aircraft for you? REVIEW FIRST POSTED: 03/20/2021 UPDATED: 5/13/2022 EXTERNAL AND INTERNAL 3D MODELS When it comes to this are the Hornet both shines like a firefly at night and also falls short in some areas. Externally, the 3D model is nothing short of gorgeous. Every rivet and every panel line has been excruciatingly represented, I do not envy the 3D modeler and the 2D artists that worked on this model as it must have been painful to go and include all this detail. That being said, their work is some of the best in-game, very lovely. Additionally, for those that also delve into texture creation like I do, this model has very nice unwrapping and only consists of two main diffuses plus a couple of additional ones for the fuel tank as usual. Livery creation for this aircraft is far easier than, let's say, the Tomcat or the Eagle. Internally, the cockpit model is more than solid. It has been lovingly crafted to the best degree possible. The only complaints that I might have are minor details, mainly the use of baked reflections and the weird/unnatural weathering patters on the Up-front Controller (UFC) and the metal panels in general (last picture in the gallery bellow). I do not know if it is only me, but they look a bit unnatural and artificial when you compare them to the ones inside of the Viper's cockpit. That being said. Texture work is magnificent and weathering, aside from the previously mentioned, is spot on. It looks like a worn-out cockpit but not one that has been leaved on disrepair. Nicely done, ED. VISUAL AND SOUND EFFECTS This is an area of constant change for the Hornet as it has gone through several sound overhauls throughout its development, as well as visual ones. At first, external sounds were rough and surprisingly underwhelming, while the visual effects have always been absolutely stunning. Visually, as of the writing of this article, the Hornet has some of the best visual effects in-game. From the water vapor that appears on the LERX while at high AoA scenarios or the subtle but very well represented win-flex that occurs at high G. These are some of the things that make the Hornet an absolute blast to fly around. She is a looker and she knows it. Afterburners looks like actual afterburners, unlike previously where they used to look a bit artificial. The effect is not perfect nor is it ever going to be, but as it stands it is the best it has ever been and clearly an improvement over what used to be. Bellow there's screenshots of both vapor effects and afterburners, check them out. As for sound, the Hornet now has very solid internal and external sounds. It used to have what some might consider "not the best" or "meh" sound design, but all of that has changed. The roar and howl of the General Electric F404 engines is there in all their glory. Something else that I consider noteworthy is the fact that the sound for the M61 Vulcan cannon has drastically changed for all aircraft that use it, including the Hornet. It used to be noticeably muffled and packed less of a punch, but with the new sound design all of that has changed. Here are some samples we recorded so you can judge it for yourself, all of them were recorded in-game and were not modified in any way. EXAMPLES: Fly-by at around 450Kts, full military power: (Volume Warning) Various in-cockpit sounds (engine throttle, gun firing, annunciator): FLIGHT MODELING 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 a Hornet should have under certain scenarios. That being said, the Hornet does feel real enough for me to believe its depiction in the simulator. It behaves just like what I have read and seen on publicly available information. First, It has absolutely mind-blowingly good nose authority at high-AoA which lets it perform excellently in a dogfight. She can maintain energy really well thanks to the high thrust to weight ratio that it has, which comes in handy in fighting contemporary adversaries such as the Fulcrum or the Flanker. The behavior of the Flight Control System (FCS) is, however, another one of those things that I can only talk about subjectively. The FCS does seem to be less restrictive than on contemporary aircraft such as the F-16CM, with the ability to do what I would consider riskier maneuvers without the FCS trying to over correct or compensate. The aircraft will always try to keep itself aloft and will also limit the amount of Gs you can pull as required by the load on the pylons. You do have the ability to override some of those limitations with the push of a button, but there is no such thing as a "FCS OFF" button. To me, the Hornet is one of the best handling aircraft currently in the simulator, both for veteran and rookie pilots alike. It will let you be aggressive when you need and it will help you when possible to avoid dying by your own mishandling, even if it means restricting some of your inputs. She is just a blast! MISSION CAPABILITIES If there is a single aircraft in DCS that truly is a representative of the power of a multi-role fighter, it is the Hornet. This is the aircraft that defined modern multirole capabilities, with its ability to perform multiple mission types at once without compromising on any being unparalleled as of the time of writing this review, with the only aircraft that come close being the Viper and the JF-17 or Jeff, as it has been lovingly named by the community. The Hornet is a fully fledged multirole 4th generation aircraft. At the touch of a button it can shift between anti-air and anti-surface operations with its radar automatically switched to the appropriate mode. The radar is powerful enough to provide scans of terrain that can be used for navigation and targeting while also being able to fire upon up to 8 air targets within seconds. It has systems that share target data with other Hornets in the flight, access to the best data link DCS has available and its detailed helmet mounted display allows it to maintain impressive situational awareness. The three screens in the cockpit allow for quick selection and display of multiple systems at once, rather than having to pick and choose a single system they want to focus on. Anti-ship, anti-air, air-to-ground, SEAD, CAS, Precision strikes, recon, COIN, etc. Every single mission type is possible with the Hornet; and thanks to its ability to do air to air refueling, it can do all of them far away from its home at sea or ground. Additionally, its capability to communicate with other aircraft through data link makes joint attacks a breeze, even more when smart weapons are being used. Nothing beats the feeling of sending a swarm of JSOWs in-land to strike a SAM site while a buddy is backing you up with HARMs. It is able to perform any kind of task you can imagine, with the exception of satellite intercepts. Those are only for the Eagle. ARMAMENT M61 VULCAN 20MM CANNON 578 rounds of pure destruction. The Vulcan has a particular quirk in this aircraft, its angle. It is angled 5° upwards as this allows for air to air benefits when on a dogfight; that is all great and dandy until you get to strafing a ground target. You will find yourself slightly pitching down to position the target, but that shouldn't be an issue as you have a very accurate radar guided pipper. This cannon is just fun, what can I say? AIM-9 SIDEWINDER The companion that will never disappoint. This missile will act the way you expect it, but they are a lot more interesting to use due to the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS). The JHMCS is wonderful to use with the more modern variants of the Sidewinder available to you, the 9X. With that combo, you get up to 180° of off-boresight capabilities! You have three variants available: AIM-9L AIM-9M AIM-9X AIM-7 SPARROW This will be your Fox-1 type missile. Do not underestimate this missile just because it lacks internal guidance, it can be just as capable as any other missile in the battlefield if employed correctly. You have three variants available as of the writing of this article: AIM-7F AIM-7M AIM-7MH AIM-120 AMRAAM One of the best Fox-3 type missiles right now. Long range, self-guidance and maneuverability make this missile a lethal weapon. The best (or worst, depending on your opinion) part is that you can carry as many as 10 of these on a full air to air loadout. You have two variants available: AIM-120B AIM-120C UNGUIDED ROCKETS If what you need is volume of fire and you have great trust in your aim, these are it. Nothing more to be said, to be honest.
You have two main rocket variants available: 2.75' HYDRA rockets available on both LAU-61 and LAU-68 pods. ZUNI rockets on LAU-10 pods. UNGUIDED BOMBS Good ol' iron bombs. They come in all shapes and sizes, not only limited to only irons.
Here is what you have as your selection: Mk.80 series bombs (Mk.82 on all of its low and high drag variants, Mk.83 and Mk.84) CBU-99 Clusters Mk.20 Rockeyes BDU Practice bombs GUIDED BOMBS My personal favorites, these bombs will hit hard and hit right on target. You have a very decent selection, including a much modern bomb that was added recently and a particularly cool yet kind of unjustifiable optically guided glide bomb! Laser guided GBU series:
Old Paveways such as GBU-10, 12, 16 and the much more recent GBU-24 Paveway III.
GPS/INS guided GBU series:
GBU-31 and GBU-38 Last but not least, the AGM-62 Walleye, an optically guided precision guide bomb that allows man-in-the-loop guidance. Old but somewhat capable! AGM-154 JOINT STAND OFF WEAPON (JSOW) One of the most versatile weapons in the Hornet's arsenal. It comes with both a cluster (A variant) and bunker buster (C variant) warheads. These have the capability to glide on-target from a long ways away, as long as you give them the impulse they need. They can be programmed with their own approach vectors, burst heights and approach speeds as necessary. They are fun little bastards, you can carry up to 8 of them. AGM-84 HARPOON AND SLAM MISSILES Although both missiles use the same "base", they are completely different. The AGM-84D "Harpoon" is an anti-ship radar-guided missile capable of destroying even the mightiest of vessels, you can see them in action on the Mission Capability section of this review and above, being launched. The AGM-84E, on the other hand, is a Stand-off Land Attack Missile. It is guided by INS into a target with GPS coordinates. The SLAM and its range extended variant, the AGM-84H SLAM-ER can also be manually steered into a target. At a designated range from target, the missile transmits a video feed from its WALLEYE camera to the Hornet for target correction. You, as the pilot, directly control the missile's flight path during the last approach to target with the aid of the AWW-13 DATALINK POD, as seen in the picture bellow. This is called a man-in-the-loop system. AGM-88 HIGH-SPEED ANTI-RADIATION MISSILE The best Suppression of Enemy Air Defense (SEAD) weapon in the simulator. Period. With firing modes for self protection, seeking out emitting SAM radars and pre-emptively lobbing HARMs to catch them off guard. It's easy to deploy, precise and deadly. All you need to know to fall in love with it. AGM-65 MAVERICK Mavericks are always a welcomed weapon. Although, the Hornet can only have 4 at a time, so it is limited when it comes to time on station. It has two variants: AGM-65F (INFRARED) AGM-65E (LASER) AN/AAQ-28 LITENING POD One of the best sensor pods you can get, the LITENING provides incredible precision and impressive optical capabilities to aid in getting those guided munitions where they need to go. Equipped with both air to air and air to ground modes, it can also track everything than moves and even more. AN/ASQ-228 ATFLIR Functionally pretty similar to the LITENING, the ATFLIR is the second targeting pod which can be used by the Hornet. It operates in a similar way to the LITENING but with some differences in the display layout, controls, targeting and track logic, etc. Additionally, this is the only naval operations qualified targeting pod; meaning that if you want to go for full realism while deploying from a boat, this is your only choice. Practically, this limitation is not modeled in-game so it is up to you to choose which of these two TGPs serves you best. EASE OF USE AND LEARNING CURVE There is a reason why I have recommended this plane to all my friends who have wanted to try DCS out ever since the Hornet came out. It is the most modern aircraft that also has the smoothest learning curve out of every jet in DCS, period.
The aircraft's controls are intuitive and easy to map, even on simpler HOTAS systems with less buttons or hat switches. Impressively, the most capable aircraft in-game is also the one that is the easiest to use to its fullest with the least amount of buttons possible even when you take into consideration the sheer amount of things you can do in this aircraft. After updates in April 2022, its navigation systems are now so advanced that players who set up navigation correctly are able to utilize the Hornet’s automation. The Hornet is able to use automatic throttle control and couple its autopilot to waypoints and TACAN to fly itself without pilot inputs. With the automated carrier landing system the Hornet can essentially land itself back on an aircraft carrier with minimal inputs from the pilot. Additionally, the aircraft comes with a very detailed manual that has been kept up to date with every update that the module has had over the past three years. If that is not enough for you, then both Matt Wagner's official videos and the included training missions can get you up and running. My only gripe with the training missions is that there are none for some of the newer systems, which would be a very welcomed addition of development time permits. THE SUPER CARRIER DLC MODULE It feels kind of weird to talk about another module while reviewing another, but in this case it is completely unavoidable. These two module are like two peas in a pod, they were meant for each other. But that does not mean everything about this relationship is perfect. I have one gripe with the Super Carrier, its price. I know that development costs need to be paid and that there is more to the Super Carrier than just a pretty model. The LSO stations are awesome to use and offer a certain kind of experience that the diehard fans crave for, I get it because I have used them and they are pretty amazing. The deck crew is wonderfully modeled and animated as well, adding to the immersion factor when flying the Hornet from the ship. But in my honest opinion the price is too high, even more when taking in consideration the fact that the vanilla CVN-74 has an incorrectly sized bow which causes Tomcats to hit their wing tips at launch from catapults 1 and 2. This module should have come as an included bonus for everyone that buys the Hornet, Tomcat or the future Intruder: even when the team that developed the latter two is also making a Forrestal-class carrier that will be added to the base game assets for everyone to use. If the user doesn't own the Hornet but wants the Super Carrier, then the base price should be half of what it currently is.
I am aware that if you own the Hornet you get a permanent discount on the Super Carrier, but it is not enough. Even more when you consider the base price of the Hornet and not its price at discount during sales. I am not a game developer (yet) and I might have said something that is completely wrong from a gamedev standpoint, but as a consumer it is a bit hard to justify the price tag.
I love Eagle Dynamics and what they do, they have shown great dedication too keeping this simulator alive with constant patches and module releases and supporting their effort is enough reason for some to buy the carrier. Ultimately the decision of buying the Super Carrier module is up to you, the reader. Take into consideration the points I mentioned previously. IS THIS AIRCRAFT FOR YOU? If what you want in a module is: An amazing weapon platform. An excellent flight model that is fun from 0 kts to Mach 1.2. To be able to fill almost every role on a mission. To carry 10 AMRAAMs and lob them in disrespect towards your enemies. A lovingly crafted cockpit model that, despite its flaws, makes you feel like you are there. If you don't mind: The ridiculously simple learning curve. The hand-holding behavior that the FCS has sometimes. To be bored because you can do everything with just one plane. Being able to launch AMRAAMs from 50 miles away and kill a fly. If all or some of the above is what you want, then Eagle Dynamics' F/A-18C Hornet 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 the co-founder and writer ever since. Twitter | Discord: Cubeboy #9034