Normally I like to try and get my first impressions within a few days of the release. I decided against that with the Hornet as I needed to climb up through the basic training before I felt like I was able to give any sort of reaction or proper response to this aircraft. Now, I’m ready to talk about my first thoughts on this new DCS module. Is it everything we have hoped for? Read on!
The Hornet really stands out
The first thing that stands out to me on the Hornet is just how detailed Eagle Dynamics has been with this aircraft. Although not all features are available yet, what we do have access to is extremely deep. It ranges from the MFD menus (the ones that work right now), the flight model and animations and textures to all of the extra skins from different squadrons, services, and nations. Eagle Dynamics is offering a lot with the Hornet and despite being early access, the Hornet actually has a lot going for it already.
The systems that are available feel finished or near finished and so too are the weapon systems. The ground attack arsenal consists of dumb and cluster munitions while the air-to-air options include the AIM-9L, AIM-7 in a couple of versions and the M61 Vulcan cannon. More air-to-air and ground attack weapons are yet to come and they will add substantially to the Hornet’s capabilities as time goes on.
The Hornet has a beautiful cockpit with plenty of details. I love how the HUD and MDFs come to life with a fade-in effect rather than being instantly on. The lighting and shadow effects in-cockpit are among the best I’ve seen in the DCS World engine so far. The big and small details really make this something special.
The sounds are also extremely good. Having been around Hornet’s in real life more than a few times I can really appreciate things like the engine start sounds and the roar of the engines as a Hornet shoots past. So too are the beeps and voice overs in-cockpit which sound good. They should, seeing as Eagle Dynamics worked with Boeing and licensed the use of the in-cockpit sounds and the voices too.
A flexible module
The F/A-18 represents a lot of different possibilities for sim pilots. To start, the type is regularly used in both land based and in carrier operations which distinguishes this type over other 4th gen jets that Eagle Dynamics could have done. This helps open up new experiences like catapult take-off and catching the wire on landing.
The F/A-18C Lot 20 version of the Hornet we have is firmly in the 4th Generation of fighter jets. This means its a digital aircraft with fly-by-wire systems and can easily switch between multiple different roles. It literally can switch roles from air-to-air to air-to-ground with the push of a button and it can do almost everything you can imagine a modern combat jet could be asked to perform. When all of its features are implemented, it will be able to do everything from ship strikes and destruction of enemy air defenses to combat air patrols. The Hornet is immensely flexible.
DCS: F/A-18C is an expensive module but it is also an excellent module to own as you can reconfigure your Hornet to meet the mission requirements ahead of you.
Want to go sightseeing? That’s easy. Aerobatics? You can take the pylons off and pretend to be a Blue Angel or fly one of the CF-18 demonstration team jets. Need to conduct a deep strike mission? Load up some bombs and some fuel tanks and fly really low to target. Soon enough, the Hornet will have precision guided munitions as well such as GPS and laser guided bombs, Maverick and Harpoon missiles and the HARM which will give BLUEFOR a great SEAD platform in multiplayer matches and make for some interesting single player.
Still lacking in some key features
As glowing as I am about the Hornet’s potential, in the here and now the F/A-18C does suffer from a lack of a few key features. As already mentioned, the Hornet is limited to unguided bombs and rockets. That famed multi-role capability is a bit limited for now.
The AIM-120 missile is also not yet implemented which means that the Hornet is out-ranged by enemies and far less flexible in combat than it will be when the AMRAAM becomes available. So too will the JHMCS combined with the AIM-9X which will make the F/A-18 one of the toughest close-in dogfighters in the series with the combination of the two allowing for some impressive off boresight engagements.
Don’t get me wrong, the Hornet is a capable aircraft in DCS World already and Eagle Dynamics rushed to get the AIM-7 implemented so players had at least some sort of BVR capability. ED was also very up front about what was and was not going to be a part of early access.
Still, I look forward to seeing more capabilities added over time. They will dramatically change how the aircraft can be used and how it stacks up in air to air battles.
Actually fairly accessible
I find the Hornet is fairly easy to get accustomed to. I’ve become comfortable with the basics of the F/A-18s systems more quickly than any other DCS World module I own. Start-up is easy. INS alignment takes almost no time at all compared to the Mirage 2000C’s long wait times and using the navigation system is almost intuitive thanks to the MFDs.
Once I got through a few quirks of how the various weapon systems work, I was able to setup some very basic rocket, bomb and various air-to-air engagements with relative ease. I still need to learn more but this module is fast becoming the one that I know the most about. I love the Mirage but I still struggle with getting systems to work – in the Hornet I’m able to get things to work nearly every time.
Other players appear to have taken to the Hornet far quicker than I which is not surprising. Still, I’m really getting a handle on this quickly which should speak to its ease of use. There are also plenty of help guides and tutorials available both on YouTube and around the forums.
If you compare the DCS: F/A-18C to most of the other modules out there, it already looks pretty good. Many essential systems are already implemented, it has close in and BVR capabilities, its radar has the bare necessities to get by, and it can do a bit of everything from low level drag bombing to CCIP drops from higher altitude and so much more.
The weapons list is already extensive even if its not anywhere close to being done that speaks to the flexibility of the aircraft that I’ve already talked about but also about the efforts that Eagle Dynamics has gone through to make this module already something you can use.
This isn’t a perfect release either. Cluster munitions have some bugs and seem to fall short of the target no matter what you do. There are also some flight model bugs with handling at low speeds with gear and flaps down. This state is apparently not working properly as the speed is dropping off far too quickly (although this may have been fixed in the most recent patch).
Still, during my playthrough I experienced no major show stopping bugs with the Hornet module itself.
The only direction from here is up and Eagle Dynamics have already delivered something that is really exceptional here. I can’t wait to see how the Hornet evolves in capabilities over time. We’ve heard that the HARM missile will be fairly early on the list of additional weapons and it will mark the beginning of a whole new feature for BLUEFOR pilots who have previously had almost no SEAD abilities (until the Sidearm firing AV-8B showed up anyways).
I think this module was worth the pre-order. Do you? Have you picked up the Hornet or are you waiting it out? Is it just not your thing? Love to hear your thoughts in the comments!