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F-14 Tomcat

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BetaIcon.png This is a beta module.

This module is still being developed and may still be missing some features and equipment options. It is playable and most of the content is there, but some final touches and fixes for minor bugs are still in the works. It is probably safe to buy unless you crave absolute fidelity and/or very few bugs.

F-14B icon.png

Finally, you can do some of that pilot shit. Actually, you can't, because your speed brakes won't deploy at high speed, and pulling hard on the stick will 1) break your INS, rendering most of your weapons and navigation systems useless, and 2) your wings will fall off. This is not a Sukhoi — you have no AoA inhibitor and no fly-by-wire, and just have to feel what the aircraft can do. Treat the 'cat (im)properly and can flat spin like a champ, though, so there is always that.

The DCS prop plane modules are all marked “fly a legend!” but if there was ever a candidate for that label among jet aircraft, it is the F-14 Tomcat. Heatblur's recreation is well on its way to become a legend of its own based on what it has achieved.

Features

The very heart of the F-14B is that it is a two-man aircraft, and this complication alone is shown in the two top features of the module (although the rest is nothing to sneeze at either):

  • True, fully functional, fully synced multicrew where a pilot and a RIO player can (and indeed must) coordinate their actions to make the aircraft do anything.
  • The JESTER and ICEMAN AI virtual RIO and pilot, for when your friends have no taste and have not bought the Tomcat.
  • A small but highly functional complement of air-to-air weapons, including the mythical AIM-54 Phoenix.
  • Updated missile physics that make the above work almost as expected.
  • A decent selection of air-to-ground weapons, including LGBs and the LANTIRN pod needed to guide them.
  • The ADM-141 TALD decoy missile to trick air defences into shooting at something else.
  • A curious collection of tools to make carrier landings really easy:
    • DLC — not the type you buy but rather a set of spoilers that let you shift your flight path up and down without altering your AoA.
    • A landing autopilot.
    • A landing auto throttle to run in conjunction with the autopilot.
    • A kneeboard score sheet where the LSO tells you exactly how horrible your landing was.
  • All kinds of temperamental radars and datalinks and optical scopes and other fiddly bits for the RIO to be endlessly frustrated by.

Missing features

While the F-14 module certainly feels very complete, it is still marked “Early Access” in the DCS store for the simple reason that it is still missing a couple of things:

  • The A variant, for those who really want to rough it out with weaker engines.
  • The TARPS reconnaissance pod for photography enthusiasts.
  • A completed manual that actually matches the aircraft model in the module and that provides full descriptions of equipment and procedures.

Comes with the built-in Operation: Cage the Bear campaign.

Flying the F-14

Flying the Tomcat can at times be a rather schizophrenic experience. On the one hand, it has ridiculous amounts of power and stonking huge control surfaces (including those variable wings) that makes it very stable and easy to control. On the other hand, while still essentially stable at low speeds, it needs a gentle hand to stay coordinated. On the third hand, as mentioned, it does not have any protections in place to keep the pilot from being stupid: pulling lots of AoA leads to a whole lot of shaking and loss of speed; pulling lots of G:s results in damaged on-board systems; and asymmetric forces can and will cause engine stalls and flat spins and all the horrible ends this entails.

Cockpit overview

Pilot's view:

F-14B pilot dashboard. F-14B pilot cockpit.

RIO's view:

F-14B RIO dashboard. F-14B RIO cockpit.

Getting into the air

When first getting into the Tomcat, the large panels and huge amount of switches, to say nothing of the fact that you have two separate cockpits to juggle, may seem intimidating. In practice, however, the 'Cat is almost trivial to get going, even from a carrier. There are three main snags and/or time-wasters that need to be kept in mind if doing a cold start: you need help from the ground crew to get the engines started, you need to wait until engines are running and providing power and airflow before you start any major systems, and you need to align the INS and program waypoints, which can take a while.

The manual and Chuck's guide linked below give a full account of the procedure, but the broad strokes are:

For the pilot

  • Connect ground power and air.
  • Turn the radios on so you can keep communicating with the ground and between the crew.
  • Isolate left and right hydraulics systems.
  • Crank the right engine, wait for it to spool up, then push its throttle out of detent.
  • When it's stable, do the same to the left engine.
  • Turn airflow to “Both” and open up the hydraulics again.
  • Disconnect ground power and air, and turn everything else on.
  • Set the wing sweep.
    (Push the emergency sweep handle fully forward, then push down and return to the rearmost position, then put the whole thing into Auto mode using the throttle switch.)
  • Put flaps and spoilers in the appropriate position.
    (Spoilers on and flaps up for a shore takeoff; spoilers off and flaps down for a carrier takeoff.)

For the RIO

  • Arm the seats and close the canopy.
  • Wait until the engines are running and both engines are providing airflow.
  • Turn on radar/missile cooling.
    (If you don't do this and don't wait until air cooling is available, systems will start melting.)
  • Put the radar and IR/TV into standby mode (on the HCU).
  • Input the aircraft's current position.
    (Open up the kneeboard for current data; CAD to NAV mode; “Own A/C” selected; use “1” on the CAD keyboard to input latitude, 6 to input longitude, and 4 to input altitude at a minmumum; then turn the TID to the appropriate align mode).
  • While alignment is happening, input waypoints.
    (Open up the kneeboard for waypoint settings; CAD to TAC mode; select the appropriate steerpoint and input lat/long/altitude in the same way).

When all that is done and the aircraft is aligned, push in the parking brake handle and move into launch position. If on a carrier, line up with the catapult, kneel the aircraft, hook up using U and throttle up to MIL power — the Tomcat engines are so powerful that you don't need, and indeed shouldn't use full afterburner — and then salute the shooter with LShiftU to get sent into the air. If the wings are properly swept forward, the spoilers are doing what they should be doing, and flaps are in the right position, the Tomcat will pretty much get into the sky on its ow. Just pull the wheels up (and flaps in if those were used) and set off into the sunset.

Shooting something

Launching missiles can both be a very simple affair done almost entirely from the front seat, if you are just using Sidewinders and Sparrows in a close-in fight, or can be a complex affair of relative positioning, radar manipulation, and even launching that can done almost entirely from the back seat if using Phoenixes.

For the latter, good pilot-RIO coordination is required so for a quick method of just shooting a few Sparrows (or Sidewinders) off, the procedure is all in the pilot's hand:

  • On the display control panel, put the aircraft into A/A mode.
  • On the ACM panel, turn gun rate to high, turn on sidewinder cooling and missile preparation, and flip the master arm switch on.
  • On the stick, push the weapon selector switch into the SP/PH (Sparrow/Phoenix) or SW (Sidewinder) position.
  • Grope around under the left canopy rail until you find the Target Designation Switch.
  • Push the TDS forward or down to enter horizontal or vertical ACM scan mode.
  • Point the nose vaguely in the direction of an enemy aircraft so that the HUD scan indicator passes over the aircraft.
  • When locked up, for good measure and muscle memory, push the uncage button on the throttle.
    (This only really matters with sidewinders, but good habits are good.)
  • The VDI will show all kinds of cryptic ranging and steering information… once satisfy, press the trigger to shoot.

Using Phoenixes requires a more in-depth use of the Tomcat's formidable BVR capabilities, but also requires a good understanding of how the on-board radar works. Not even your AI RIO seems to fully grasp this. Even so, there is a fair amount of automation that, under the best of circumstances makes it pretty trivial too, and aside from the weapon selection (the pilot must move the weapon switch into SP/PH mode and push the switch to get to the Phoenixes) the rest can be done from the rear:

  • On the DDD panel, put the radar into TWS Auto mode.
  • Tell the pilot to vaguely point the aircraft towards some suspected targets, preferably at a similar altitude.
  • On the TID, the radar should translate detected returns into aircraft showing on the TID.
    (IFF:ing requires a fair amount of back-and-forth between DDD, TID, and CAP unless you have AWACS telling you the answer over data link.)
  • Unknown and hostile targets will automatically be assigned a priority number on the TID, showing that they are tracked.
  • If the pilot has armed and prepared the weapons properly up front, the red LAUNCH button should light up on the weapons control panel.
  • Press button, receive bacon.
    (Next to the launch button is a “NEXT” button that can be used to cycle to the next prioritised TWS target. Push and repeat as needed.)

Fancy extras

F-14B multicrew

In DCS, there are a couple of dream features that have consistently been asked for and/or stood in the way of fully satisfactory implementation of various modules such that DCS players always keep asking “when do we get [feature X]?!” One such used to be proper radar simulation, which Heatblur (then under then Leatherneck name) created for the MiG-21. Another was ground radar, which Heatblur achieved for the Viggen (years later, a final DCS-standard API has now finally been shown in a semi-official capacity with the JF-17).

A third and fourth feature that have been a constant source of complains on any and all DCS forums is missile physics and flight logic, and the ability to multi-crew aircraft that are all about the coordination of that crew. With the F-14B, Heatblur delivered on those two as well, and also on a number of other points that any Tomcat pilot will come to appreciate. The improved missile dynamics and behaviour (like proper lofting) that the Phoenix and revamped Sparrow brought along are almost incidental to these other features.

JESTER and ICEMAN

JESTER control menu

Perhaps the most immediately obvious of these features is the implementation of the JESTER AI: a virtual RIO for solo pilots that takes care of (almost) all the back-seat business while also helping the pilot with things like spotting and keeping track of enemies, warning of incoming threats and suggesting remedies, keeping track of the ground while the pilot is padlocked, doing landing call-outs and making snippy remarks when they're less than perfect. All this is done in a way that is remarkably unlike the omniscient and godlike capabilities of regular DCS AI. JESTER will try his best to do what is being asked, but will not be able to lock on to targets that the radar can't see — at times a highly frustrating limitation since you can see the target, so why on earth can't JESTER (or more accurately the radar)?!

JESTER can be commanded through a pop-up command select wheel to adjust the radar, countermeasures, air-to-ground weaponry, radio and navigation, data link and a few more back-seat systems. The one major omission is the inability to manipulate the LANTIRN pod or the IR/TV sensor in any way. All of this takes a bit of time — JESTER is a slow typist — so the pilot needs to plan ahead as to what will be needed. This, along with the sheer amount of different radar modes, parameters, and settings is perhaps the key point where the AI's apparent inability to do something useful finds its explanation: JESTER was asked for the wrong thing, too late, and now you are radar-mapping Saturn rather than the MiGs straight ahead.

ICEMAN control menu

If the player wants to take a more hands-on approach to the tasks to get around this, this is also possible. Jump into the back seat in solo flight and the ICEMAN AI will take over the pilot task. ICEMAN is not a very good pilot. He will generally manage not to fly into the ground, and has a similar pop-up command wheel where he can be told to change aircraft speed, heading, and altitude, but it is all done rather lazily and cannot be relied upon in any kind of close-range situation. A 90° turn will happily require a minute or three, and will have a radius best measured in tens of nautical miles. Still, with a bit of forethought, it can be made to manoeuvre into a good Phoenix firing position — just remember that there are no weapons controls (and certainly no way to make ICEMAN actually fire weapons) so a back-seat launch requires the player to do all the front-seat setup on their own.

Multicrew

In sharp contrast to the screen-spanning and fancy JESTER interface, the most significant and impressive feature of the F-14B module is also probably its most transparent and least immediately obvious. The Tomcat is a two-person aircraft — hence the need for the two AI:s — but that also means that to get the most out of the module, you need to have two players controlling it. And it is done spectacularly.

Other modules (e.g. the L-39 and SA342) have offered the means of having two player co-operate to navigate to and put rounds on a target, but none of them have done it so seamlessly and so completely as the Tomcat. None of the controls desync or latency shown in earlier modules is present here. As two players, not only can you see or hear the other person click around and make changes on displays and on the aircraft in general, but you can even reach over and directly control parts of the separate pits: if the RIO can see a button in the front seat he can (don't ask how) click it and have it actually change for the pilot. A more immediately and less trolling use for this is to let the RIO arm both ejection seats during start, of instance. In more practical terms, if the pilot sets his displays to repeat the TV, TID, or LANTIRN displays from the back seat, he can see the RIO input data, manipulate settings and all the stuff that makes those systems work.

Good communication between the seats is key to making the whole thing work, and the F-14B offers an unprecedented integration with the DCS SimpleRadio Standalone mod, letting in-cockpit PTT buttons override the usual comms menus and instead focus on activating SRS. The intercom system that lets pilot and RIO talk to each other is also fully supported by SRS.

The kneeboard

The F-14 trap score sheet (ugh!)

A final fancy feature that has become something of a Heatblur hallmark is the custom dynamic kneeboard pages that the module offer. Just like in the MiG-21, and even more so in the Viggen with its many target and radio presets, the F-14B kneeboard offers a plethora of useful and even critically necessary information. It offers the startup and navigation parameters that the RIO needs in order to make it possible to go anywhere (and, in the case of INS alignment, fire weapons), as well as communication references for the radio and datalink, and look-up charts and tables to let you set the right radar elevation to actually see anything.

The kneeboard also provides access to ground settings like countermeasure loadout, burst modes, GBU laser codes, and the general weapons loadout (without which the RIO will have a hard time arming the right pylons for AG weapons drops).

Finally, and most importantly from a bragging-rights perspective, the kneeboard has a trap sheet that records and grades your performance during carrier landings. This will show your trajectory in “the groove”, colour-coded to denote how far off the perfect heading and glideslope you are, and also list what landing aids you lazily decided to use. Obviously, you will want a clean, all-green line, a solid three-wire hookup, and no autopilot or ACLS (carrier ILS) systems usage. The only thing that is missing is weather data to show that you did all of that in hurricane winds with zero visibility.

Of note, related to sticking the landing as well as to using the F-14B in multicrew, it is worth nothing that the RIO usually has very little to do at this point other than perhaps making speed and altitude callouts (both of which are really covered by the on-speed indexer and the carrier Meatball anyway). Perhaps a better use of their time is to jump into the LSO view for the carrier if external views are avalable: from the F10 map, you can select the carrier and press LAltF9 to go into LSO camera view and see exactly how far off-centre the schlub up font is (the RIO does all the hard work in the Tomcat anyway). After landing, a quick check of the F9 ship view will tell what wire he managed to catch, if any.

F-14B in sunset

Links and files

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More information

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