Queue up Kenny Loggins in your cassette tape player and get ready to take a ride to the danger zone because Heatblur has taken the wrapper off the F-14A for DCS World. This is the first of a couple of A model Tomcat’s coming to DCS World and it’s time to check in on the recently released aircraft. What does this new F-14 do for DCS World and your flight sim experience? Does it increase the value of buying the F-14? Time for a mini-review to help answer those questions.
Taking the F-14 on a ride back through time
The F-14 is so connected to nostalgia on so many levels that I can’t help but reference movies like Top Gun where the F-14A was featured so prominently. While the F-14B release in 2019 definitely tapped into that nostalgia in a big way, the F-14A brings us back to it and then adds a little extra on top.
The F-14A that has just released is an F-14A-135-GR (Late) model with avionics that match the F-14B model that we already have. So, what’s the difference? Well… it’s in the engines.
The F-14A comes with the TF-30 engines which make approximately 20% less thrust and had developed a reputation for performance problems. Navy Secretary John F. Lehman Jr. in 1984 said that the TF-30 and F-14 together was the worst engine to air frame mismatches in the Navy’s history. Twenty eight percent of all losses in the F-14 were attributable to the engine related problems.
The TF-30 was prone to compressor stall, particularly during high angle of attack and during rapid changes in thrust. Basically, everything that the F-14 would need to do in a dogfight. The loss of thrust and the F-14’s wide spacing between engines often lead to a flat spin and resulting losses of airframe and crew. Everyone knows what happened to “Goose” in Top Gun… that was a nod in that movie’s story to the issues with the TF-30.
If you are faced with choosing just one F-14 version to fly for your next mission and performance is the only consideration, you’ll choose the F-14B. It’s F110-GE-400 engine is quicker to respond, more reliable and not likely to have an issue with a compressor stall, and offers more thrust resulting in better acceleration and better turn rate in a dogfight.
So, while the F-14B is superior in all respects, I love my history and I like to have a challenge while flying a simulated aircraft. The F-14A offers plenty more in character where the F-14B is more refined. Heatblur has spent plenty of time making sure that their modeling of the TF-30 is up to their usual high standards.
Those compressor stalls that I was talking about earlier on the real jet? Modeled. Take the aircraft into too high an angle of attack, adjust the throttle too quickly, or fly it up too high and run it at full afterburner and you’ll increase your chances of stalling out the compressor. Other aspects of the engines character is modeled too. The long time that it takes for the engine to progress through the various afterburner stages is also part of the experience and you’ll notice that thrust comes on slowly and in bursts. You’ll hear it too! The TF-30 also kicks in asymmetrically even in ideal conditions so you’ll see the left engine light and then the right. Very cool from a simulation perspective.
Flying and fighting the F-14A
All of the challenges with the engines makes the F-14A slower to react in different situations. Be it needing power to maneuver in a dogfight, trying to get the right positioning for air-to-air refueling, or trying to find the groove for a carrier landing. Everything is made more challenging.
The real difference with this version was made crystal clear to me than when I did the “BFM Lion and Sun” scenario on the Persian Gulf map. This 1v1 versus a missile armed MiG-21bis has been my go-to mission when I wanted to practice a little dogfighting in the Tomcat. With the F-14B it’s much less of a challenge where the more powerful engines help push you through turns and let you gain a quick advantage against the MiG.
In the F-14A, I had to do a lot more work to stay in the fight and not let him get a shot off. In-fact, I lost most of my first engagements before I learned to be more conservative with my energy management and more aware of when I’d need thrust. Anticipating the need for more thrust a few seconds ahead of when I’d normally need it definitely adds to the challenge. So does trying to avoid a compressor stall and getting into a spin.
Carrier landings is where I next felt the most difference. Although my first landings were a success, I did have a couple of rough landings and a couple of bolters as I adjusted to the difference in both total available thrust and the speed at which thrust is added and removed. It requires a new approach and an awareness of which version you’re flying.
On the whole, I fly the F-14 much as I did before and there’s more the same than different, however, where those differences do exist, awareness and preparation are essential!
The way that the F-14 sounds has had a major update for both A and B models. Much of the change has been on the outside and it makes the jet sound even more authentic than before. There are new sounds from the intake side as well as from the engines and both F-14A and B have their own distinct engine notes and sound character. This is all from a module that needed very little attention with its excellent audio work already in place.
The TF-30’s multiple engine stages are represented by a series of low frequency rumbles. Going into afterburner is less of a singular experience as it is on most jets and more of a thing that happens over several seconds as each stage kicks in with a percussive rumble. It’s really quite fun if also a little disconcerting when you need to go fast. Also added is a compressor stall it self as well as the warning horn that plays in the cockpit when you get into trouble.
The F-14’s sounds were already top notch so everything Heatblur has done here just furthers the drive towards excellence. Other modules can still learn a thing or ten from the work done here.
The only thing that feels a little light on content right now is the F-14A’s available liveries. Although Heatblur showed off more in the lead up to launch (making me think there are some still to come), there are just four available liveries at the moment for the F-14A model specifically.
More to come
The best part about all of this is that there’s a little more still to come. The F-14A-95-GR is still in development and will come later. This early F-14A is lacking the TV sensor pod and external fuel tank attachments and represents the configuration sold to Iran and still being used by the IRIAF today. Then we have another F-14A-135-GR coming but this time its an early version with slightly different avionics. Notably, these two early models have a far less capable RWR with the ALR-45 installed so that should be interesting to have a look at.
The Forrestal-class carrier is still under development by Heatblur and so is the A-6 Intruder which Heatblur has been developing at a level traditionally associated with a flyable type (which has left rumours that the A-6 is still possibly coming as Heatblur’s next DCS module). These additional features, hopefully due sometime over the next several months, will help finish off and add plenty of depth to an already incredible module.
Only getting better
In the real world, you want your jet to be as capable as possible with as few problems as possible. In a flight simulator, you want to model the real world problems to add to the experience and the nostalgia and the challenge of flying something so problematic comes together in a fun way – Heatblur really nailed that here with the F-14A.
Heatblur continues to deliver a top-notch module that pushes the limits of what DCS World is capable of simulating and they are adding value to their product as time goes on. I’m enjoying both the F-14A and B models now even more as there’s options and choice with the type that let you fly in a wider variety of time periods and combat zones while maintaining historical authenticity. I also now appreciate the development efforts that went into making the Tomcat a better aircraft as time went on. The F-14A is a flawed aircraft, much more flawed than the F-14B, but I think I love it all the more because of that and because of the effort that Heatblur went through to make this an engaging simulated experience. From the big details to the small, F-14A is an excellent experience to have in a flight sim and I highly recommend it as one of DCS World’s best modules.