Belsimtek F-86F Sabre for DCS World
A review by William Reynolds
A name and shape that almost requires no introduction.
The famous F-86 Sabre jet, as built by the North American Aircraft Company, now graces the virtual skies of Eagle Dynamics' DCS World.
Let's go back in time first.... the F-86 was developed during WW2, at a time when most dogfights were performed at the aircraft's maximum power and speed. Faster meant better, or so they thought. North American rolled out their first Jet model in 1944, the FJ1 Fury. It shared roughly the same straight wing as the famous P-51 Mustang, with the same systems but better performance at straight and level. Vying to meet an upgraded requirement for a Single Seat Fighter Bomber, North American took the FJ-1 back to the drawing board. Using research data gathered during the last period of WW2, the designers were able to experiment with a swept-wing design. It was found that a swept wing decreased drag and enabled better control at higher speeds, particularly closer to the speed of sound.
Designers eventually settled for a wing sweep of 35 degrees, and incorporated other technologies taken from captured German research. First flight was in 1947.
The initial production version F-86A was powered by a General Electric J47 engine with roughly 5000lb of thrust. It was armed with the tried and tested Browning .50 caliber machine gun, having 3 guns on either side of the fuselage. Later versions would introduce Bombs, Rockets and eventually, early models of the Sidewinder missile.
The initial versions of the F-86A were also equipped with the Mk18 Gyro Gunsight as equipped in the P-51 Mustang. A major advancement was achieved with the A-1CM gunsight, which was coupled with the AN/APG-30 ranging radar to give the Sabre a true edge in targeting capability. All F-86 fighters in the Korean theater were initially equipped with this new gunsight.
The Sabre entered service with the USAF in 1949. It was deployed to the Korean War to directly oppose the new MiG15 which had been introduced to the theater by Russia/North Korea/China. The MiG15 was simply faster and more powerful than anything in the theater at the time.
The MiG15 was still a superior aircraft. It could out-turn and out-climb the F-86, was faster at level flight, had a higher ceiling but could not out-dive the Sabre. The USAF put the small jet in the hands of experienced WW2 veterans and in their hands, the Sabre was the weapon that put the heat in the fight over Mig Alley.
The F-86E model was introduced to the Korean War, and it featured an "all moving tail"...it gave the pilot better control at speeds approaching Mach1, and the aircraft could recover from a high speed dive, whereas the MiG15 could not.
The F-86F model was introduced in 1953. It was the most widely produced model with over 2000 units taking to skies all over the world. Designers had removed the leading edge slats in the early versions of the -F, had a larger wing, upgraded engine, capabilities for Nuclear Bomb delivery, the new A4 gunsight and improved speed control for takeoff and landing.
The Sabre was also produced under license in Japan, Italy, Canada and Australia. It served in the conflicts between Pakistan and India, as well as China and Taiwan.
The Sabre remained in active service until 1994, when the Bolivian Air Force retired its last 4 examples from the Air Force Aerobatic display team. On a personal note, I do remember seeing these aircraft when my family was sent to Bolivia in 1984, and even had the misfortune of having an F-86E crash two blocks away from my house, a week before a ceremony with the US Air Force to celebrate 25 years of operations without a single accident or casualty. The aircraft had been practicing for the ceremony. Sadly, the pilot was killed as well as several people on the ground.
After purchasing through Eagle Dynamics' ESHOP or STEAM, you can download the aircraft package. It comes at a very compact 84.2Mb. Once installed and activated, you get a 25 page Quick Start Manual available via the Windows Start Menu. This is a very basic document covering cockpit layout and weapons employment. All standard stuff up to now.....
So what does Belsimtek tells us? first of all....IT IS A BETA....yes, you heard it right. You are purchasing a BETA product. Personally, I have purchased their UH-1H Huey and Mi8 Helicopters, both through their "BETA" program, and I have enjoyed every second of it. To each their own, of course, but Belsimtek have a good reputation for updating their software, and despite releasing at BETA, there is enough quality and functionality to make it enjoyable.
From their website:
- Normal crew: 1
- Maximum allowable gross: 20,611 lbs / 9,348 kg
- Basic weight: 11,125 lbs / 5,046 kg
- Useful load (with pilot 230 lbs): 6,607 lbs / 2,996 kg
- Weight with payload for normal mission: 15,175 lbs / 6,883 kg
- Fuel usable capacity internal (JP-4, 0.778 kg/l): 2,826 lbs / 435 gal / 1,282 kg / 1,647 l
- Fuel consumption rate (for loiter at 30,000 ft, CAS 192 kts, RPM 74%, gross weight 12,296-15,138 lbs): ~1,150 lbs/h / 522 kg/h
- Normal cruise speed (for maximum range at 35,000 ft, RPM 78%, gross weight 12,296-15,138 lbs): 260 kts / 482 km/h
- Maximum speed at sea level: 600 kts / 1,111 km/h
- Maximum speed at 33,000 feet: 313 kts / 580 km/h
- Service ceiling (for weight 14,000 lbs): 52,000 ft / 15,850 m
- Maximum rate of climb: 9,500 ft/min / 2,835 m/min
- Maximum range: 1,395 nm / 2,584 km
Not bad for a little jet...what about the systems?
- Fuel Control - Simulated....fuel leaks, Fuel Exhaustion (I tested this one!) are modeled.
- Electrical System...Both AC and DC systems simulated.
- Hydraulics....Aircraft has 3 systems. All fully modeled to some degree, expect full integration as the BETA progresses, at the moment it does not appear to have full effect on the model.
- Pressurization and Air Conditioning.....Modeled as well, beware here, some interesting effects can be observed if mismanaged.
And the heart of it...the power plant. This from the Aircraft Features list:
- The jet turbine model is based on the simulation of the gas-dynamic duct, the condition of which is closely interrelated to the air intake, compressor, combustion chamber, turbine, and exhaust cone models of operation. In addition to this, the engine fuel control system is fully simulated. All these models interrelate with each other and this makes it possible to attain manifestation of the following features:
- The successful start of the engine is provided only if the startup operation has been performed correctly: otherwise hung start and dead-start are possible
- Idle RPM depends on the flight mode: based on altitude and Mach number as well as on the atmospheric conditions of pressure and temperature
- Short engine over-speed and overheat may occur at active throttle input
- Acceleration time and throttle retardation as well as engine controllability (reaction lag on throttle) depend on RPM
- Value of the jet pipe temperature is modeled in exact detail and it depends on the engine operating condition, flight mode and atmospheric conditions
- Specific fuel consumption nonlinearly depends on the engine operating condition and flight mode
- Dynamics of the engine operating conditions (RPM and gas temperature) are simulated correctly during engine start up, in flight, and during engine shutdown
- The compressor autorotation regime of the engine from the approach flow was implemented as well as the ability to perform an air start (the success of which depends on the autorotation RPM)
- Penetration into regimes of uneven engine operation such as stall, flameout in the combustion chamber, etc. may occur
- Engine running at zero-G and negative-G load factors is restricted by capabilities of the fuel-feed system
- NOTE: Some of the features listed here are not yet available, but will come in subsequent updates.
- Minimum system requirements:
- OS 64-bit Windows Vista, 7 or 8;
- CPU: Core 2 Duo 2.0 GHz;
- RAM: 6 GB;
- Free hard disk space: 10 GB;
- Video: 512 MB RAM card, DirectX 9.0c - compatible;
- Sound: DirectX 9.0c - compatible; requires internet activation.
Recommended system requirements:
- OS 64-bit Windows Vista, 7 or 8;
- CPU: Core i5+;
- RAM: 8GB;
- Hard disk space: 10 GB;
- Video: Shader 3.0 or better; NVIDIA GeForce GTX560 / ATI 6950 DirectX 9.0c or better;
- Sound: DirectX 9.0c - compatible;
- DirectX: 9.0C; requires internet activation.
So this is a BETA, and only 84MB in size.... how much is there? Well... PLENTY!
The exterior model is very good, control surfaces move in perfect synchronization with your inputs, and the dynamic shadow effects are a great.
The cockpit is a real winner. This is a 1940s-vintage aircraft, but yet it is remarkably simple and just about every single switch is clickable. Let's have a quick look....just beyond your left arm, in what they call the "LEFT SIDE CONSOLE".
This panel has ambient controls, anti-ice, and trim. On the side of the fuselage (towards the top of the photo) you find a rotary switch which is the gun selector. The 3 lights you see lit up indicate all guns selected and ready to fire. Also visible is the single throttle lever with a twist grip (early HOTAS??) for manual target ranging, and the flaps lever.
Now slightly ahead, we find the "LEFT FORWARD CONSOLE":
This panel shows the fuel selector rotary knob, fuel tank jettison controls, as well as gear indicators and a few more anti ice controls.
The main panel...nice and clear instrumentation.
Take note of the Radio Compass, it needs to be calibrated before takeoff. Another set of instruments that will be critical for your survival are on the right hand side...RPM indicator and Exhaust Gas Temp indicators. They basically go hand in hand. The trick is...have the throttle up at maximum for extended periods of time, and your engine will be truly smoking. That is the purpose anyway, be warned, this feature is not yet active...I tried my best to "cook" my engine to no avail, but I have little doubt this feature will be added with the upcoming updates.
Take a look at this little gem...it is a "Flip-Card" of Bombing Data. Put the mouse over the rotary card and you can go through the pages which show angles, lead, speed, etc. Very neat.
Above the Main Panel, we find the A-4 Gunsight. This was state of the art, folks, and when you use it, you have to marvel at the ingenuity of it.
If we start from the left, we see the small Missile Control and selector. Adjust the volume of the tone, select how many you wish to fire, etc. (this was added some time after the Korean War). In the middle of the picture, at the top you see a priceless bit of glass....the reflective gunsight. The A-4 projects a floating reticle for you to control together with your ranging radar. Very simple operation, and very effective. Below the glass and to the left we see a rotary card with the numbers 6 and 8 visible. This is the range indicator. You can set range manually if you wish (I have not tried) or simply read the value from the ranging radar. The red lamp just below it is the "lock" indicator. Be aware it appears the radar's range is too limited at the moment, I could not get results at beyond 1000ft and reading the many forums, it appears this should have a better range.
Below this instrument is another rotary switch: Radar range Sweep. As its name indicates, it is used to vary the sweep of the radar. Very useful for low altitude, to try to eliminate some of the ground clutter from the target. Under the Gunsight, in the middle of the picture you see a large round base with numbers on it, from 30 and increasing by multiples of 10 all the way to 120. This is the Target Wingspan Adjustment Knob. Basically if you know you are facing a MiG15, you would select the known wingspan and the Gunsight reticle will match the wingspan at whatever distance you have set to fire.
On the right of the picture, just under the right frame of the Gunsight, you will see a side-switch, just a small metal lever that moves left-right. This is your Mechanical Caging lever. It "cages" the sight when in transit to preserve the moving parts when it is not required. For safety and preservation of your virtual life in combat, it is recommended you uncage it prior to engaging anyone.
Now we move to the right side of the cockpit, to the right of the main instrument panel, what they call "RIGHT FORWARD CONSOLE"
This panel has the aircraft battery and engine power switches, as well as lights.
Continuing to look further to the right, we find the "RIGHT SIDE CONSOLE".
Here we find the Nav radios, just an ADF, but it is good fun to operate. How realistic is it? Well, remember this is a 40s-vintage early jet. If you set up (like me) your radios before departure, you will find that you need to push the engine to around 30% or the generators will not give you enough power to use your radio!
Looking towards the front once again, below the Instrument Panel, we find the WEAPONS CONTROL PANEL. As its name suggests, this is panel to select Guns, Missiles, Rockets or Bombs....also how many and how quickly you will fire. Nothing complicated, very easy layout, simple systems but very nicely presented with fully moving 3D switches. I did notice the Missile seeker tone remains on if you select Missiles and then back to gun, not sure if a bug, but will keep an eye out on updates.
How does it fly? Well.... let's start with the setup. This aircraft requires a ground cart for engine start. As part of your engine start process, you need to call your "Crew Chief" who will attach the cart and you will achieve engine start.
Part of the after-start process is closing the canopy. If you go to external view, you see your virtual pilot lowering his head to allow the canopy to close without giving him a headache before the flight has even started. Now we are ready to go...
Taxiing is fairly simple in theory but requires finesse. The engine will need a good amount of rpm before you get moving, and you need to press and hold the nose-wheel steering switch to steer the aircraft. Once lined up on the runway, they tell you to make small adjustments and rotate around 120kts.....well, let's just say it was harder than I thought, and ended up inspecting the damage modeling instead.
After skidding along and exiting the runway to the side, notice the damage to the nose wheel. Impressive...of course, I meant to do that.... not!
Just when I thought I was finally going to get airborne, I decided to inspect some more of the damage modeling....this time a little further down the runway. The fire started a few seconds after I came to a stop. Notice the damage in the right wing as well?
A later attempt saw me testing the ejection seat. This I was very pleased to see function at low speeds. Although I do believe the real aircraft required a fair amount of forward speed and minimum altitude before parachute opening, I was glad to see it deploy.
My fourth attempt saw me get airborne. Not before skidding sideways (both sides as I over corrected) and "lightly" touching the runway with the drop tanks. The end result....the nose gear would not retract, and I could not jettison the drop tanks!
Anyway, I returned my bruised ego to the chair the next day, re-read the manual and watched some very good videos on You Tube (some very clever people out there...) and to the skies we went.... in one piece!
Time to try out a few things...fire those guns...
Some fast level flights...your max speed does indeed vary with altitude...a tick of approval here.
Some Dogfights against an A-10C
The F-86 pack comes with a few Historical missions from the Korean War. You can relive some of the memorable missions against the MiG15. Great fun!
All said and done....what are the flight characteristics like? I obviously never flew the F-86, but reading what Belsimtek has stated in their website, it is a good, solid work in progress. The stall characteristics felt real enough. This is a slat-less aeroplane and it does indeed stall without much of the characteristic "shake" you would come to expect. It will stall to either side and although the real aircraft was famous for going into a spin if not careful, I found the F-86F a lot harder to spin and very easy to recover. The cockpit replicates the effect of "REDOUT" and "BLACKOUT" in the pilot....push or pull some G's and you will hear yourself grunting with the maneuver or you will "pass out" momentarily. If you do, you cannot control the aeroplane, you are a passenger, just like your pilot in the cockpit.
Take offs and landings will vary depending on payload, your stall speeds and power settings will also vary accordingly. This is an aircraft that can suffer damage in harsh hands (like mine) but it is faithful enough to stay with you if handled properly. Lower the gear at 240knots? You will lose the gear doors. The gear did extend but nosegear failed on landing.
Pull the "Canopy Jettison" red lever in the cockpit...well, surprise...the canopy DID jettison, and got a bit noisy (not too noisy thankfully).
Conclusion / Recommendations
Based on promise alone, this is a VERY good add-on for DCS. I had to keep reminding myself it is a BETA, the product is not yet complete, but it feels as good and as complete as a lot of payware addons you find in the market today. The cockpit was superb, very clear, very detailed. The exterior of the aircraft was very good, although textures were not as full as the cockpit, I can take that.
The instrumentation worked very well, although some of the effects read by the instruments are not implemented as yet. We can be patient, like I said, this product has a lot of promise, even in its BETA stage. The flight dynamics were very good, they did the job, although I had to say it felt it was missing a little bit more "bite", I was expecting a lot more surprises when pulling hard "G's" or nosing over quickly. There are no game-shattering bugs. It is a simple aeroplane with a first generation jet engine that requires careful management. But simple means the learning curve is nowhere near as steep as say the A-10C or indeed the Huey or upcoming MiG21, simple in this case, means master it quicker and enjoy sooner.
Would I recommend it? If you are a buff of the Korean War, of the F-86, of a good fast jet/vintage jet with enough systems to satisfy realistic cravings but not enough to require weeks of study and practice before mastering, or if you miss the good old DOS version of "Mig Alley" or maybe just plain curious for a good add on then yes, go for it! I found myself going back to the Historical Missions against those MiG15s and even creating my own missions for some great fun. No over the horizon stuff here...just Mk1 eyeball, determination, luck and a lot of satisfaction.
I will be following developments on this aircraft keenly, hope the updates are thorough and regular enough, but even as a work in progress, the crew chief is ready to help you settle into that cockpit and fly a true legend of the skies.
NOTE: After this review was completed, an update was released for DCS World as well as the F-86F Sabre, change log from the website:
- Excessive oxygen consume is fixed.
- IFF is on at cold start is fixed.
- Cockpit canopy operation and repair are fixed.
- Wrong pressure instrument readings during descent is fixed.
- External drop tanks not feeding the engine is fixed.
- Added new canopy 3D model.
- AIM-9B data and model corrected.
- Corrected description in Encyclopedia.
- Corrected cockpit and external 3D models.
- AIM-9 tone remains after switching from missiles to gun is fixed.
- Unstable lock on target above the horizon is fixed.
- Joystick buttons assignment is fixed.
- Hydraulic system failure influence on landing gear extension/retraction is fixed.
- Corrected nose wheel steering behaviour.
- Kneeboard point name are fixed.
- Mission briefing/kneeboard waypoint discrepancy is fixed.
- Corrected attitude indicator model and operation.
- Radio compass indicator model errors are fixed.
- AN5760 altimeter errors are fixed.
- Updated sounds.
- Weapon input corrected.
- Rocket jettison operation corrected.
- FFB effect disappearing after player crashes and restores is fixed.
- Engine oil pressure dependency of altitude is fixed.
- Player hypoxia corrected.
- Lighting Panel is fixed.
- Input scripts corrected.
- Incockpit hints corrected.
- Trim speed is decreased.
- A-4 Sight - Input Settings improvements.
- Added input category AN/ARC-27 UHF Radio.
- Added input category AN/APX-6 IFF Transponder.
- Added input category AN/ARN-6 Radio Compass.
- Joystick button No.5 has duplicate assignment in default Easy profile is fixed.
- Corrected some switches animation logic.
- Corrected landing gear sequence animation.
- Added engine’s compressor stall.
- The little Jet keeps getting better, folks!