Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a big fan of the F/A-18 Hornet and that I’ve spent a lot of time flying the DCS: F/A-18C Hornet in that sim. So, when news came that the Asobo team were bringing the F/A-18E Super Hornet to Microsoft Flight Simulator, I was very excited to see another sim get a Hornet of some kind.
Originally intended to be launched as part of the Top Gun: Maverick movie tie in, the Hornet is coming early with the new Game of the Year edition of Microsoft Flight Simulator while the rest of the content awaits the release of the movie next year. So, now that I’ve flown the Hornet around a bit, I wanted to give some of my impressions of the jet and help set expectations when you hop into the cockpit for the first time.
Before I get any further into this piece, I want to lay out what expectations you should have with this aircraft. First, Microsoft Flight Simulator is not a combat sim and that goes so far as to say that they have official policy that aircraft will not carry weapons when sold in the official Marketplace. I’m not particularly upset by this as it is a civil aviation sim and they haven’t modeled any of the things that weapons would do to aircraft, ground targets, or the like so that’s not the focus.
Next, the F/A-18E Super Hornet that they have put together is a free addition and one that was originally slated to be part of a movie tie in. More than that, prior versions of Flight Simulator have also featured the Hornet with many of the same limitations so in many ways this is a return to form for the series.
Finally, this was not created to be or intended as a full fidelity simulation of the Super Hornet.
Inside, outside, and start-up
Hopping into the cockpit, I can say that the team at Asobo does what they usually do in providing a nice clean factor finish aircraft that actually looks quite good. Most of the default aircraft in the sim look the part and this one does too.
That factory finish extends to the exterior of the model. Here I don’t think the team quite nailed the visual appeal of the Hornet, however, it’s still pretty good and it holds up well unless you get a little too close and look at the details.
They didn’t skimp too much, however, as there are all of the basic features of the jet modeled. The leading edge surfaces, the auto, takeoff and landing flaps, and even the hook and folding wings are modeled. I wasn’t expecting all of that but it is there.
Inside the cockpit, the aircraft once again looks the part and everything is where it should be. There are some differences between what I’m used to in the Charlie model in DCS but nothing is terribly out of place. Asobo didn’t ram a G1000 in somewhere where one shouldn’t be so for the casual flier this is pretty close to an authentic cockpit.
The same applies to the start-up sequence which has all of the basics of what I’m used to in the DCS Hornet. In-fact, I used my usual flow and I was able to start the jet up right away without a problem. There are plenty of things that are missing from that flow of course. There’s no OBOGS, no INS alignment, the MFD and HUD interfaces come right on, and there’s no attack radar, FLIR or other types of controls that you’d get with the higher end experience. But that’s not what this is.
Flying it around
I flew from MCAS Miramar, the famous home of Top Gun and the Fighter Weapons School, and it was neat to see as Asobo have given the airport some love with tons of Super Hornet’s kicking around and even some parked helicopters.
Taxiing out on the runway, it’s clear that this airbase is attracting lots of attention from other pilots as there were Super Hornet’s taking off and zooming around everywhere. I do with MSFS’ aircraft would have more prolonged sound effects as the jets rumble off into the distance but they don’t which does degrade the experience a bit. On the other hand, I did get some static from the sound system when there were a lot of jets around so it may just not be able to handle that.
Taking off I immediately discovered that the jet doesn’t go into afterburner. You get about 80% of your throttle. Once in the air I went in and bound a control to engage the afterburner. It’s not how it should be but that’s how they have done it and I do hope that it gets a fix. DCS has no problem giving us the full length of the throttle axis for this so MSFS should be able to do it too.
Pulling the jet into some maneuvers is where the experience is the least authentic. The jet feels altogether too light. By all rights, the reports that we have from pilots who have flown both C and E models are that the Super Hornet flies about the same but it’s just a bit heavier feeling. This feels as light as a feather and having recently done some aerobatics in the DCS version with no weapons or gear attached, I should have a similar feeling.
The FCS is also not modeled beyond the basics. It does react and stabilize the aircraft but it, perhaps unsurprisingly, doesn’t have the finely tuned response that the DCS version does. So you can get into a very high alpha situation and partially loose control of the aircraft with just a flick of a stick. It doesn’t feel right at all.
Landing the Super Hornet
The lightly sprung feeling of the Super Hornet in flight applies to the aircraft on landing as well. The aircraft glides along and doesn’t feel all that draggy. With the gear and flaps down, speed should bleed off quickly but it doesn’t and that means reducing the throttle well below what I normally do.
As a consequence, I struggled with my usual flow and feel with the Hornet and ended up landing hard and fast. Fortunately, the Hornet is designed to take a -850 fpm landing but I’m sure the maintenance team will be looking at the gear to make sure everything is still bolted together.
A lot of casual pilots in Microsoft Flight Simulator have been looking for a “go fast” experience. Some low to medium fidelity fighter jets have already sold in the marketplace and some really push the limits of what kind of low-end modeling should even be considered as payware but that’s another topic. Needless to say people want a fighter jet experience that they can more casually approach. This is what this aircraft is and the good thing is that it’s not half bad.
This isn’t a DCS module running at $80 USD with extreme detail lavished into everything from FCS system to the extensive weapons array. No, this is a fun fighter jet experience that you can take anywhere on the planet and have an experience with. For the more casual flight sim enthusiast, this is a decently authentic experience that looks and sort of feels a bit like a Super Hornet without sweating too many details. If you want to buzz your house at Mach 1.1, you can definitely do that!
There’s something else that this jet does for the sim. It introduces some new features such as supersonic flight which is now fully supported. TACAN also works now and you can use a lookup table to reference the appropriate TACAN combination for the specific nearby beacon. The afterburner effect is also not too bad (we’ve seen worse… *cough* X-Plane 12 F-14 video *cough*) although it gets a little blurry up close. Finally, it finally helps with the HUD rendering in the sim by introducing collimation and better contrast against brightly light areas. It could still improve but this is a big step up and it has already filtered out to other aircraft like the 787 which now has a collimated HUD too.
These are all good things for third party developers which can make use of these features in higher fidelity aircraft in the future. Having a foundation to build on here really helps so I’m glad to see the improvements.
All in all, this a fun jet experience for owners of Microsoft Flight Simulator. It doesn’t match the high fidelity experience you can have in DCS and it isn’t meant to. I’m off to buzz my house at Mach speed.