Third party developer IndiaFoxtEcho is travelling down a now familiar path offering up a high-fidelity trainer jet for DCS World. Modeling the Aermacchi MB-339 jet trainer and light attack aircraft, this module release comes packed with features. But with so many jet trainers already available for DCS World, does this one stand out above the crowd? Let’s try and answer that question as we dive into this review of the DCS: MB-339.
The MB-339’s story starts out not with the 339 but with the earlier MB-326. The project started out as a private venture by Macchi lead by Italian aeronautical engineer Ermanno Bazzocchi. It was only a private venture for a short period before an official requirement by the Italian Air Force for a light jet trainer came about and the MB-326 was selected to meet the requirement.
The MB-236 was heavily refined during its initial development period and started flying in early 1957. This type would go on to be fielded by dozens of operators worldwide ranging from Australia, Brazil, South Africa, and Argentina. By the 1970s, the Italian Air Force was looking to replace the now aged MB-326 fleet and Aermacchi responded with a heavily revised design that would become the MB-339.
The MB-339 is a distinct airplane with an obvious familiar relationship to the earlier design but retaining the same overall layout including the large canopy and wingtip fuel tanks. The Italian Air Force would become the principal operator of the type, however, some of the customers of the earlier MB-326 would go on to field the updated version with Argentina taking delivery of the MB-339 just a year before their war with the UK over control of the Falkland Islands.
The MB-339 has a limited combat history with it being the only Argentinian aircraft to operate from a captured Port Stanley during the invasion. Tensions between Eritrea and Ethopia in the late 1990s lead to hostilities and Eritrean MB-339s were used in combat performing bomb and rocket attacks. In one mission, Eritrean MB-339s were used to attack a fuel depot some 48 kilometers inside Ethiopia.
Modernized MB-339s are still in operation today although the new M-345 trainer is gradually taking over its role in the Italian Air Force.
The type is also known for its service as the aerobatic aircraft of the Frecce Tricolori from the Italian Air Force and the Al Fursan team from the United Arab Emirates Air Force.
This module has a history
The DCS: MB-339 started off life as a modification by the FrecceTricoloriVirtuali virtual aerobatics team. The mod got things off to a great start with some quality textures, a detailed cockpit, and even had its own external flight model (EFM). The mod team really went the extra mile to make sure that it was a reasonably high fidelity experience in its own right.
The last release of the mod had already filled in quite a few details by September of 2019 before making the switch towards becoming an officially recognized module with collaboration with IndiaFoxtEcho. That collaboration appears to have borne fruit as the aircraft has taken on life not only in DCS World but also in Microsoft Flight Simulator – absent the weapons of course.
As with every DCS World module, the DCS: MB-339 comes packing with a ton of features. External flight modeling incorporates engineering and test flight data from the real airplane and is fed into the flying experience within DCS World. The team reports that they have worked with real MB-339 pilots including members of the Frecce Tricolori to verify the flight model.
The airplane has a detailed 3D model with high resolution textures inside and out and includes both front and back seat cockpits into the model with network synchronization.
From a systems standpoint, the developers here have put in a substantial effort with the flight control system, electrical system and circuit breaker logic, hydraulic system, fuel system, oxygen and pressurization system, TACAN, VOR/ILS, and AHRS/GPS systems all integrated into the simulation. The airplane has DCS SRS support as is the norm these days.
Sharing this feature with just one other module, the MB-339 does have cockpit canopy fogging and icing, which means that there are times where you’ll need to use the defroster and deicing equipment to protect not only the engine from ice build-up but also the canopy.
And yes, the airplane does have armament and smoke systems available for use too.
When it comes to single player content, IndiaFoxtEcho have made sure that this aircraft has at least a couple of quick action scenarios available on most maps and a few missions in the mission selector too. There’s also a short mini-campaign that it comes packaged too. It’s not a lot but it’s a good start. There isn’t a lot of user generated content available just yet either so you may need to generate your own scenarios if you’re looking for something unique.
Most DCS World modules are at the top of the heap when it comes to visual details and the MB-339 is no exception. This is helped, in part, by DCS World being one of the best looking sims around and the team at IndiaFoxtEcho did a superb job on this aircraft as the airplane looks great on close inspection in almost every way.
Textures are top notch, wear and detailing are there, and surfaces have some good looking roughmet which make it really look superb in some lighting conditions. Get up close to the airplane and it shines. The only area where I thought a bit more work might be needed is on the engine tailpipe which takes on an obviously polygonal shape. In 2022 with the kind of polys that our modern GPUs can push, I feel like this could easily take on a bit more to make it look that much better. This issue aside, the visuals of the MB-339 are top notch and the aircraft certainly can sit alongside any other modern DCS module and look like it belongs.
That attention to detail is present inside the cockpit too. Materials are suitably worn but not overly dirty or difficult to scan. In fact, the cockpit of the MB-339 is a readable one with clear and legible instruments. This airplane does not have a glass cockpit although it does have a screen located on the AHRS/GPS system. The HUD I do find is a bit hard to read in some lighting conditions.
Often times sounds can really boost the immersion and I’m pleased to hear that these sounds are very good. Many switches and buttons have their own noises although I think a few are silent. Sounds for the flaps, landing gear, and even the air brake sound great. I have no idea if you’d actually hear them while flying this plane but they give good feedback to the activation of these systems.
I would like, on the interior sounds, to hear the engine and particularly the start-up just a bit more. It feels a bit quiet compared to the rest of the soundscape. Once powered up, the volume is at a good level so its just during the brief period from where the canopy closes to where you power up and start taxiing that I find the audio is just a bit quiet.
The external audio work is superb. Jet noises are high quality and sound really good for the type of jet engine employed. The distance work is also great with a suitable rumble as the jet recedes off into the distance. Nicely done!
Flying the MB-339
One thing that I have to remind myself while flying this is that this is a jet trainer and light attack plane. It’s intended to get real world jet pilots into more advanced aircraft by offering a simpler and tamer airplane to fly. The MB-339 appears to meet those requirements solidly in DCS standards by offering something that is less complex than a Mirage 2000, A-10 or an F-16.
The start-up process is incredibly simple and I amazed myself a bit by remembering how to do the start-up based on a video that I had watched days earlier. This is not a common experience for me as I usually need to awkwardly flip back and forth between manual and cockpit! Start-up involves flicking just a couple of switches and hitting the engine start button, waiting until the engine RPMs hit about 20% and then engaging the throttle. Turn on the HUD, align the GPS, do a couple of checks and the jet is basically ready to go. Its simple, easy and befitting of a jet trainer.
Taxiing before and after a flight is also very simple. Individual pedals for brakes are reasonably effective and a brief burst of 80% power on the throttle before dropping it back will get the jet taxiing quickly and easily.
Takeoff is a straightforward affair. Align yourself on the centerline, turn off the NWS (critical if you want to use the NWS when you land), power up and let the power build, release the brakes, and keep the aircraft straight until lift off. Try and lift off too soon and you’ll scrape the tail section of the airplane or even damage the landing gear. Gear and takeoff flaps must be retracted before 175 knots.
This jet is very easy to fly once in the air. When flying at speed you can absolutely bury the stick in your stomach and it’ll keep the turn up until you run out of speed at which point it does definitely stall but then only gently. I know in the marketing that IndiaFoxtEcho have indicated that their flight model has been verified by real MB-339 pilots and I had the good fortune to talk to a MB-326 pilot who confirmed that that aircraft was a joy to fly and very easy to manage so I’m going to assume that this ease of handling is a feature of the airplane.
The onboard navigation system is capable of doing quite a bit. VOR, ILS, waypoints, and custom markpoints and flight plans are all possible with the system.
It is an aerobatic airplane to be sure capable of sustaining a good turn and being capable of doing rolls, loops, and more. I’ve personally seen the Frecce Tricolori perform many years ago and was immensely impressed both with the team and with the jet. Little did I know that a couple of decades later I’d be trying to simulate a fraction of their flying in a PC flight simulator.
When fully armed, the MB-339 does become a bit sluggish and thus needs to be handled with a bit more care.
Landing the MB-339 is also easy to accomplish. The airbrake under the airplane is effective enough at slowing you down that you can then transition into flaps and landing gear while keeping the throttle on to modulate touchdown. Flaring is easy and the jet responds well right up to the point of touchdown. The biggest mistakes I’ve made is being used to a taller landing gear and misjudging the height before the MB-339 comfortably settles onto its nose-wheel. My landings have been decidedly more Hornet/Tomcat and not as gentle as I’ve needed but they have gotten better over time.
You can do almost everything from both front and back seats, however, only the front seat has the aiming reticle needed for weapons employment.
Combat and capabilities
The MB-339 is a light attack jet so it doesn’t come packing a massive payload nor does it have precision weaponry. What you instead have is a very simple and straightforward selection of weapons that can be fitted to the three weapons pylons on each wing.
M2 Browning .50cal and DEFA 30mm cannons can be slung under the wings in streamlined pods that give the aircraft gun capability. These are both good for strafing targets or engaging slow moving aircraft such as other light attack jets and helicopters. The DEFA’s 30mm firepower is the most fun of course!
Unguided bombs such as the classic Mk 81 250lb or Mk 82 500lb bomb can be fitted under the wings for some ground attack punch. These are aimed using the gunsight with the appropriate angle and reticle depression to get your bomb on target.
Zuni, Hydra, Snia, and Matra unguided rockets are among my favourites. These can be launched in singly, in pairs, or in a massive release of all rockets all at once. Visually impressive and generally effective when aimed effectively.
There’s also some more unique weapons too like the Durandal anti-runway bomb, BAT-100 concrete piercing bomb, Belouga and BL-66AC bomblet dispensing bombs, and the Snakeye high drag version of the Mk 82.
Although some later models of the MB-339 were equipped for air-to-air missiles, this version does not and so is limited in its anti-aircraft capacity. The cannons do make short work of other aerial targets if you can connect a few rounds.
There are no defensive countermeasures fitted to the MB-339. No EW suite, no chaff and flare dispensers and no RWR so don’t expect those capabilities.
Keeping things simple does have its advantages as the weapons panel on the MB-339 is very easy to use. Master arm on, select the pylon and pull the trigger. Bombs can be configured for nose and tail or just tail via the same panel. It really couldn’t be easier to manage and operate.
A few bugs (or features?)
There’s very little to criticize the MB-339 on but it does have a few bugs and some tweaks that might be needed.
Certain runway or taxiways can apparently cause the aircraft to just explode. It may have something to do with a bump in the runway. Less than pleasant when you’re taxiing along and suddenly… kaboom. I haven’t personally had it happen but several have reported it. The most recent patch may have mitigated or solved it altogether.
The next one involves G-loading. Pull a tight turn and you can exceed the structural tolerances for the wing. There is, however, no warning. No shake, no rumbling, no groaning or complaining or anything of the sort and the wing just detaches. Not unique to just this module as some others have it, but it is a bit of an annoyance. By contrast, the DCS: F-14 which is also very good at detaching a wing in more extreme scenarios, does it with a some complaining and it feels earned. Perhaps this is a feature but I feel like it teeters on the edge of a bug.
I had complained previously about the nose-wheel steering system being sensitive to harder landings. Also, in some user testing, even hard breaking could cause the system to fail. In these instances the system would not function until repaired or respawned. That issue seems to have been fixed in the most recent patch but do remember to turn off the NWS system before 50 knots on takeoff or it will fail – that’s part is a feature!
The projected gun reticle visibility might need a little tweak as its brightness is a little low on well lit days. Again, this might be more feature than bug depending on the brightness of the real thing.
Finally, I do find that a few switches in the cockpit have small click targets that make them hard to reach. The worst offenders are the light switches on the right side of the cockpit which I have trouble clicking on at times. Some of these are also not currently bindable so putting them on my HOTAS is impossible at the moment.
Aside from occasionally blowing up in some weird circumstances, none of the rest of these bugs are show stoppers and most are me being nitpicky.
I’m a bit surprised at how much this aircraft has grown on me over the course of the last couple of weeks. IndiaFoxtEcho have created a simple but complete jet trainer aircraft with just enough capability at making things to go boom for me to want to come back and fly it again and again.
In a sim like DCS World, where impressively performing jets like the F-16 are on tap, I find it sometimes hard to fly something less capable. On the other hand, mastering a simpler jet is refreshing as the learning curve is far shallower and the aircraft more forgiving on the whole. When you’ve gotten frustrated for the nth time on just what procedure you need to use to make something work on a more sophisticated jet, something like the MB-339 is the antidote with its simplicity.
If you love this class of airplane and can’t get enough of them, I’d put the MB-339 up there with the L-39 and C-101. It offers a high quality experience with great systems, excellent visuals, and a forgiving yet real feeling flight model. With its multiplayer two seat capability you can also use this as a realistic trainer if that’s how you like to operate your virtual squadron or fly with friends.
Although the MB-339 is not without some issues typical of early release, I suspect most of those will be sorted out in short order. IndiaFoxtEcho have established a good reputation with their Microsoft Flight Simulator projects of providing support months and years after initial release and being very transparent about it at the same time.
I also have to put in some kudos for delivering what is also a complete module. That was IndiaFoxtEcho’s stated goal with the project and they have been true to their word.
So, if you like flying a light attack jet with limited capabilities in a lower threat environment, flying training sorties, or if you just like doing aerobatics with some friends, the MB-339 will be an easy recommendation. This is a top notch effort and I’m looking forward to IndiaFoxtEcho’s next projects for DCS.