One of the common questions out there is which aircraft should I choose for my first full fidelity jet fighter. While I’m a strong proponent of making that decision based on your own interests and desires on what you want to fly, when those questions do come up I sometimes make suggestions of one module or another but the one I keep coming back to is the DCS: F-5E Tiger II. Here’s why.
Start small and grow
Flight sims are not the most accessible forms of entertainment. If you’re new to flight simming you’ve probably arrived here more or less on your own or thanks to a friend that has encouraged/cajoled you into trying it out. It’s a great hobby and there are a ton of different ways to experience it, however, if its modern jet and air combat in general done at the highest levels of fidelity possible – DCS World is currently the only game in town and it does a very good job of providing a compelling experience.
DCS World’s biggest issue is the steep learning curve. If you’re new to sims that curve is more or less a tower with a steep vertical line. Even if you have some experience the challenge is still going to be there to become accustomed to the way things work.
I’ve learned that the best approach for most people is to take it one step at a time and start small. Smaller in this case is easier to digest and remember letting you learn individual abilities and repeating them a few times as you grow your understanding of aircraft over a period of time. I think that’s better than trying to get into the deep end with everything all at once – that means a longer curve and less fun along the way. And let’s face it, this is a hobby and we want to have some fun.
The F-14, F-16 and F/A-18 appeals to a great number of virtual pilots (myself included), however, it may be worthwhile trying something else before you get there. Why? These are complex jets with multitudes of systems of which many need some degree of mastery in before you’ll feel like you’re capable of using the jet in any meaningful way. That’s a steep climb. You can, however, make the climb a little more fun along the way by starting simpler and smaller.
The right combination
The DCS: F-5E is so often overlooked as an aircraft to buy and it usually ends up being something you pick up later on as a module that you just don’t have yet. I did that. It looked fun and I wanted to check out an iconic fighter design and low and behold I found an awful lot to like with the jet to the point where I regretted buying the others first and should have just started here.
The F-5 exists in an interesting sweet spot. It was designed as a low cost fighter and as such it has a surprising amount of performance packed into its diminutive package. With a projected top speed of Mach 1.63 it’s also fully supersonic and quite capable of pulling off some decent climb rates. It’s small wings and aerodynamic design help make this possible but without some of the handling issues of a frequent competitor – the MiG-21bis (an insanely fun DCS module but one that requires a skilled pilot at the controls… try this one later).
It’s quick and easy to fly sure but what else makes this the right choice as a starter jet? The F-5 is deceptively simple as well.
Looking around the cockpit you may see a lot of controls but by contrast to other types there aren’t actually that many controls once you start to break it down. And those controls? The simplest I’ve seen in any module. Configuring weapons can be a bit quirky at first but once you understand the interplay between the different configurations it makes sense and its adjusted by simple switches and knobs. It either works or it doesn’t work which takes a lot of guessing out of the equation. It also reduces the number of steps required to do something – although admittedly that’s because this jet doesn’t do everything that something fancier would.
The same can be said for systems like countermeasures, navigation and even the jet’s largely inadequate radar – it’s just good enough to learn the basics. It also comes with a decent RWR (radar warning receiver) so you can get into a situation where enemy jet fighters may try and target you and you’ll know more than the basics – essentially with a system that isn’t that different from what you see on the F-14, F-15, F-16, F/A-18 or A-10.
Satisfying and fun too
There’s no point in buying a jet you don’t like and so the other thing that I find good about the F-5 is that it’s a satisfying and fun jet to fly as well. The spritely performance from its twin afterburning turbojet engines, relative ease of handling, and an ample supply of mostly non-smart weapons means that you can go through the basics and learn how to use this jet in a short period of time and have fun doing it.
Even now I love going out for a flight in the F-5. There’s so much less in my way and that means I can get more to doing what I want to do in it. Loops and rolls, flying low and fast through a valley, practicing touch and go routines at an airport, using the aircraft’s twin 20mm cannons and AIM-9 missiles in air combat or dropping a few bombs or rockets on a target are all excellent ways to use the jet.
Finally, there’s still enough to the F-5 that you can use it as a training platform for a long time. Or take it onto a Cold War based server and put your skills and talents to the test in some challenging scenarios. There’s enough depth to this jet that you can know it well but still spend time truly mastering it. That’s a good thing!
Get it on sale
If you’re set to purchase your first full fidelity jet fighter I suggesting wait for a sale. Keep on using the free Su-25T or flying the more basic jets from Flaming Cliffs 3 and wait for the price to drop. At $60 the DCS: F-5E feels a bit steeply priced but during a sale that usually drops by half to just $30 USD. Now it’s much more palatable and by the time the next sale rolls around you’ll be ready to jump into something more sophisticated – secure with the knowledge that you know the F-5 and its systems.
Once you sit in the cockpit of any of those other jets you’ll see more switches, dials, knobs and screens but a lot of those systems will have similar terminology and even borrow a few of the same switches and knobs. You’ll be trained on a jet that helped get you to this point and ready to tackle the more complex systems. Just like in the real world where pilots train starting on simpler jets, this kind of learning process can be really beneficial and make that high end jet fighter a little less intimidating when the time comes.
How to learn it
If this sways you in any way to buy this jet for DCS World and you now have the question of “What now?” Here’s some added help that might get you on your way.
First, if you learn by reading and want to have some sort of manual close at hand I suggest going no further than Chuck’s Guides. Chuck has been doing guides for DCS World for years and his work is a go to for me with all of the jets that I fly. Chuck’s Guide on the DCS: F-5E is comprehensive. It covers every system and every component of the jet that is relevant in simulation. It’s also digestible with equal parts written and visual content that make learning and understanding easy to do.
Next up, YouTube tutorials are a great resource. There are hundreds available for DCS World and plenty for the DCS: F-5. There’s a new series that has just come on-line that also may provide some support using real world pilot training and teaching techniques that might help get you from parked on the ground to flying around. Requiem’s Air Combat Tutorial Library has hundreds of videos designed to get you flying with IL-2 but his latest series tackles to the DCS: F-5E specifically. Requiem’s background as both sim pilot and real world airline captain plus some contributors from veteran air force pilots have helped contribute to the depth and detail of this videos.
In addition to the videos, Requiem also has available Kneeboards and a PDF guide that works as a supplement to the videos. The unique feature here is the concept of flows. That is a step by step move through the cockpit interacting with the different components of the cockpit to enable systems and achieve the desired function. The flow is both checklist and visual reference and this method has been shown to help a lot of people visualize and memorize – useful when you don’t want to spend any more time than strictly necessary getting your jet into the sky.
Make the decision you want to make
At the end of the day, this is you doing your hobby and spending your money and so if jumping straight to something like an F-16 is the way you want to do it – go for it! Nobody should tell you emphatically that you must do or buy something first. The entire point of this article is to offer an alternative option if you’re finding yourself concerned about getting into the world of complex, full fidelity, fully clickable cockpits that DCS World offers with increasing variety.
No matter what you do, set out to have some fun and make sure you enjoy and are satisfied by the experience. That’s what keeps us all coming back!