On mighty wings! DCS: F-14 Tomcat first impressions

Heatblur Simulations DCS: F-14B Tomcat was released into Early Access just a few weeks ago giving the flight sim public their first hands on with this module and with an aircraft that has made impressions to whole generations of aviation enthusiasts. Building a DCS World module to stand up to that kind of scrutiny is a very tall order but if my first impressions are anything to go by, Heatblur has met and exceeded those expectations and produced one of the most spectacular DCS modules we’ve seen to date.

Time to light the fires

The F-14 Tomcat design came out of a need by the U.S. Navy to field a new generation of fighter interceptor that could reach out and intercept Soviet bombers before they could get within cruise missile range of carrier battlegroups. I’m sure everyone who has ever read anything about the Tomcat will know that it was designed with the lessons learned from the failure of the F-111 project. Delivering a strike aircraft to the Air Force and a carrier interceptor for the Navy all in the same airframe proved to be too much. What that failure spawned what was ultimately one of the most effective carrier interceptors of all time.

The Tomcat was not without its flaws and the F-14A model suffered from issues relating to its the TF30 engines that had reliability and power related issues. Later models represented by the F-14B with new engines solved most of those problems. The ultimate F-14D version ultimately had a long career before being retired in 2006.

The F-14 is something else beyond just a jet – it’s also an aircraft that has been elevated to legendary status. The Tomcat was almost as much of a star in the 1986 blockbuster Top Gun as Tom Cruise was. I’m sure many of you have watched and re-watched that movie dozens of times (I sure have) and you can hardly go anywhere in the flight sim community without some Top Gun reference being dropped casually – you’ll find this article littered with them. I make no apologies.

With the DCS: F-14 Tomcat, Heatblur is tasked not only with bringing a top-grade flight sim product to DCS World but also tapping into that nostalgia factor. I think they have succeeded. More on that later.

Highway to the danger zone

Splash one F-5E in training.

My first flights in the F-14 Tomcat in DCS World have been a bit surprising. Despite its 64-foot (un-swept) wingspan, this enormous fighter is surprisingly light and easy to control. Don’t get me wrong, Heatblur’s flight model here feels as real as the best of the other top-notch flight models in DCS World with all of the weight, inertia, adverse yaw, and other flight dynamics that you’d expect from a massive twin-engine jet fighter.

I’ve written before about how the F-14 Tomcat exists in an interesting spot in the DCS World line-up with the power, sensors and overall capability of some of the more advanced jets but with the steam gauges and direct control flight surfaces that you expect from earlier generations of jet fighters. There’s no fly-by-wire here to protect you from trying to over-G the airplane.

High altitude in the F-14 over the Nevada desert.

The F-14 gets by on good piloting and a superb aerodynamic design that gives the jet plenty of advantages. It is both agile and relatively stable in most regimes of flight and that makes the F-14 is easy to fly in basic maneuvers. I was almost immediately at home in the jet after flying many of the other aircraft in the DCS World line-up.

Fly the F-14 well and it’s a rewarding fighter with heaps of performance potential. Fly it badly and it will bite back by throwing you out of a turn, fighting with your control inputs and putting you into a stall or spin that you may not be able to get out of. This, fortunately, doesn’t happen all that often but one must bear it in mind when you go flying.

Load up a few too many G’s and its all over for your F-14. Time to punch out!

You must pay close attention to things like your angle of attack and, perhaps more importantly, the G-meter. The F-14 has the power and control authority to break the airframe and break it easily. Overdo things too much and you’ll do everything from screw up the inertial navigation system leaving you with a broken HUD and all kinds of system failures. Or worse. See the below example for one of the few times that I really broke my jet. I promise never to do that again.

The F-14 is of course a carrier aircraft and its already fully capable of all deck operations including catapult take-offs and catching that third wire carrier landings. Heatblur has created an extremely cool feature called the trap sheet where you can see how successful you were with your carrier landing.

The trapsheet tool lets you see just how good (or bad) you were on landing.

The trapsheet This is a great learning tool and I hope that Heatblur and Eagle Dynamics can bring a variant of that to the Hornet too.

An artistic masterpiece

The F-14’s cockpit is beautifully detailed and is the best looking cockpit in DCS World at this point.

Heatblur has developed a bit of a reputation for producing some truly spectacular looking aircraft modules. Before Heatblur was Heatblur, the group worked with Leatherneck Simulations on the MiG-21bis which was very impressive when it first arrived on the scene. More recently, the Heatblur team worked on the DCS: AJS-37 Viggen which itself is something of masterpiece.

The F-14 is everything that those two modules represent and then takes things a step further. The F-14 is visually outstanding in every way that I know how to describe. The exterior is at the peak of what is possible in DCS World and the interior shows an attention to detail, realism and artistry that is unsurpassed. The only critique I could possibly offer would be to provide an optional version of the cockpit that is less weathered as the F-14 cockpit that we’ve got is well worn. Some are going to absolutely love that and others may want a cleaner appearance. It’s such a minor consideration considering the outstanding achievement that this represents.

The F-14s sound design is also extraordinary. Every switch, button, throttle movement, and control system has a sound associated with it. All of the sounds may be a little bit overdone as you’re unlikely to hear all of this in the real cockpit but I really think it adds something to those of us flying from our office chairs rather than in the real thing. The satisfying ‘thunk’ of some of the switches gives them real weight. The rumble of the afterburners is apparently artistic license too as the real jet is apparently very smooth in afterburner mode.

Flying with Meteor

The F-14 comes with its own 80’s inspired soundtrack – And you can play it from the cockpit!

Heatlbur wisely tugged at some of those nostalgic heartstrings by partnering with Jorge Ryes and Meteor Music whose 80s style retrowave music harkens back to the likes of Kenny Loggin’s Danger Zone and Harold Faltermeier’s Top Gun original soundtrack.

Meteor’s “Defender of the Fleet (Heatblur F-14 Original Soundtrack)” is simultaneously nostalgic to some of the source material without outright cribbing anything too closely. It strikes the right balance, finds its own sound and I absolutely love it. The album is available to buy or stream on all of the usual music sources but it’s also included in DCS World inside of the F-14 cockpit with key binds available for starting and stopping the music.

Give me a call, I’ll fly with you

Your pilot needs to salute the deck crew before launch. Meanwhile the RIO is very focused on what’s ahead.

Unlike the other jets that we’ve seen come to DCS World so far, the F-14 is very much a two-seater with a dedicated pilot and radar intercept officer (RIO). This is very much a two-person affair as the F-14’s 1970s and 80s electronics require a lot of manual operation and two cockpits worth of switches. This is both a great thing for people who want to play multiplayer and a challenge for those who fly single player or don’t belong to an organized group and have a dedicated RIO at your disposal. Fortunately, there’s a solution to that.

Heatblur solves that problem with Jester AI, your backseat companion who manages all the systems in the back seat. You interact with Jester via a “commo rose” style communications interface that works well enough and is intuitive enough. Some folks have cleverly used Voice Attack voice recognition software so that they can just talk to Jester.

The Jester AI interface features a “commo rose” style interface that lets you issue orders simply and easily.

How well does this work? For the most part, Jester does his job with a fair bit of competence. Occasionally I had difficulty getting him to pick the target I wanted to lock-up with the radar but for the most part Jester is doing exactly what you want him to do.

There have been community reports of Jester punching out of a damaged but functional F-14 prematurely (you’re left with the convertible version of the F-14 at that point). Jester also talks a little too much during inflight refueling. There probably other glitches with this AI system too but I personally have not experienced any serious issues. The whole system is quite an achievement and its something new for DCS World that we’ve never seen before. It makes the F-14 accessible to people without dedicated human RIOs and single player focused flyers as well.

There’s one other thing that I think is great here. I really appreciate Heatblur’s sense of humour when it comes to some of the recorded voice lines. Put the appropriate skin on the F-5E and Jester will identify them as MiG-28s (another one of those Top Gun references). Miss a carrier landing and you’ll get a bit of a reprimand from the back seat. Fly too low and the panic in his voice is palpable. He’ll also cheer you on as you maneuver for a guns kill or get a little impatient if you haven’t shot the bandit down yet. I love that attention to detail and that sense of humour built in. They didn’t have to do that but they did and they did it well.

The back seat RIO position is just as intricately modeled and detailed as the front seat.

Of course, you can also fly the F-14 with two humans at the control in multiplayer and that feature seems to work extremely well too. There are a few glitches but most of the experiences that I’ve heard and watched on YouTube have suggested to me that this works great and it provides a new way for players to work together.

What is available right now?

Sometimes, early access aircraft come with precious little to actually do with the jet aside from create your own missions or hop on a multiplayer server. Fortunately, there are some good options available right now.

Over a dozen single player missions are available with the majority of them focused on the Caucasus map with a few more for Persian Gulf and one set for Nevada. The missions are fully realized scenarios with complex tasking and the odd twist that you need to be prepared for.

There are also several instant action missions and a small selection of training missions. The training missions are well done but there aren’t enough of them to cover every system. That said, they do get you through the basics.

Flying those mighty wings into the future!

The DCS: F-14 comes with an awful lot of the aircraft’s systems working right out of the box and it does it with a surprising amount of polish. There have been glitches too and this is a technically challenging module that is pushing the limits of what Heatblur and Eagle Dynamics can do with DCS World.

The F-14 is also a bit more demanding on your system than most other modules. A little extra tweaking to get this working right may be required. The developers are working to iron out these kinks and solve some performance problems although I suspect at the end of the day that the F-14 is just a complex aircraft to simulate and it will need a little extra no matter what.

Early in the launch of the F-14, there have been many crash-to-desktop issues of which some seem to be caused by Jester AI. It’s been reported that the huge list of sound files for Jester caused some long loading times and, in some cases, outright inability to load into a mission too. These are teething problems for a module that is in early access (and one that is pushing limits) and it seems like they are being solved by both Heatblur and Eagle Dynamics with rapid pace. Already the F-14 seems to load more quickly and crashing issues have been eliminated or at least reduced.

There’s still also some content yet to come for this module. The F-14A (we have the B-model right now) is expected later in the year with its problematic TF30 engines, the Forrestal-class Carrier (at least a few of that class of ship are planned), and an AI-model of the A-6 Intruder which may later on become yet another flyable DCS World module in its own right. There’s also two-campaigns set to come for the F-14.

Final thoughts and considerations

Break turn over the Nevada desert.

I’ve kicked the tires, lit the fires, and flown the mighty wings of the F-14B Tomcat for DCS World in early access and I have one inescapable conclusion. Heatblur has a masterpiece of a module here in every respect by breaking new ground and pushing the limits of what DCS World is capable of.

DCS: F-14B in early access is incredible in nearly every way and held back only by some of the previously mentioned teething issues. I have full confidence that they will be sorted out and I think Heatblur has scored a home run with this jet. It has taken a while to get to this point and there’s still a bit of a journey ahead for Heatblur and the community but there’s nothing stopping me from not recommending this jet right now.

I offer only a couple of caveats to this magnificent module. First, if your system is already struggling to run DCS World then the F-14 may be a difficult module for you to enjoy. I know some in the community have experienced difficulties and I would caution if you already have performance concerns that you plan or at least temper expectations. With a powerful GPU, 16GB of RAM and a good SSD you should be fine and my personal experience has been remarkably smooth.

Over the sea in an F-14B.

Second, the F-14 is a complex jet and it’s going to take a deep dive before most can get into all the systems. Some skill and practice are required to get you onboard a moving carrier deck and I found the F-14 is a bit more challenging than the F/A-18 is in this regard. It’s actually not the most difficult to get started up but you will need some time spent waiting for the INS to align.

Heatblur has an excellent manual online and there are dozens of YouTube tutorial videos from folks like Jabbers, Crash Laobi (with his usual brand of humour), 104th_Maverick, and the Grim Reapers so help is out there – just plan to spend some serious time learning how to get things working.

I’m still just scratching the surface with the module and it will be a multi-month learning process for me as I begin to get comfortable with this beast of a fighter. These are all just my first impressions with the first few hours of the F-14 now comfortably behind me. There’s a lot to learn.

Plenty of buttons are in the F-14’s cockpit, each one intricately detailed and each with its own satisfying sound.

This is one simulator module that lives up to the capability, nostalgia, and reputation that the real aircraft came with and somehow Heatblur was able to deliver that to us in this masterpiece that is the DCS: F-14. I have nothing but respect for the incredible work here and I can’t wait to see development continue.

These are just my impressions and I’d love to hear your comments as well. Feel free to share in the comments section!

Screenshots

The F-14 is a visual spectacular masterpiece and here are some of my screenshots of the jet in action.

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8 Comments Add yours

  1. rgargente says:

    Nice review!
    Didn’t you experience quite a lot of sliding in the deck while the engines are running? In my case it was really bad for example during the start up training mission. You end up sliding through half the deck!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      That’s one that I didn’t experience. I’ll keep an eye out for that one!

      Like

  2. Fernando says:

    Agree with all you said! Playing since the 80s with sims and this module is a dream.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Picchio says:

    And now, that question: which module? Tomcat or Hornet?

    Like

    1. Eviscerador says:

      If you can only pick one, I’d say Hornet. The tomcat is as good as ShamRock says, but once the Hornet is complete, it would be the supreme jack of all trades. There would be anything you can do.

      Strike – CAS – SEAD – CAP – Intercept – Carrier Ops – Dogfight

      Also, it will have an epic loadout option, everything from the good old Fox1 and Fox2 to the newest Fox3 and dogfighting Fox2. On the ground side, you’ll have almost everything in the Navy inventary, from iron bombs to retarded ones, cluster, LGB, JDAM, cruise missiles, antiship missiles, antitank missiles, antiradiation missiles…

      You will have a powerful 4th gen doppler air + ground radar with datalink and a very efficient glass cockpit without needing a RIO to operate everything.

      BUT, if you really like 3rd gen fighters with no fly by wire, raw power and steam gauges, the F14 is for you. Also, the AIM54C is really powerful in MP.

      But its ground attack role is a bit limited, more or less as a Su27. Sure you CAN try ground strikes, but most of the time you will want to stick to air superiority. Also, in case you are striking you have to forfeit your main A2A ordenance, so you are not like a Hornet that can strike and then go on CAP with full capabilities.

      The main problem with the Hornet is that so much features come with a cost, and it will take them another year to fully launch the bird to A10C levels. Maybe even more. So if you want it NOW, the Tomcat is better.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. ShamrockOneFive says:

      I’m working on a post about that to come soon. Both are excellent modules and both now have a lot of content. The F/A-18C still has a ways to go but that is largely because of the absolutely huge list of systems and weapons that it carries.

      Like

  4. Eviscerador says:

    Nice review! I will probably get the Tomcat sooner or later now that I’m confident with the results. I was really afraid of the amount of hype created, but they delivered.

    Still, my yearly DCS moneys are saved for the Mi 24 and the F16C in case they are released this year. If they aren’t, maybe…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      I was also worried about the F-14 hype. Fortunately, Heatblur have delivered the goods here!

      Hopefully we’ll know more about ED’s plans for the Mi-24 and F-16C soon. I know a lot of people are waiting for those.

      Like

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