I received an interesting link via Facebook, to a database of US Air Losses during the Vietnam conflict. I am a fan of the F-4 Phantom, and of course the A-4 Skyhawk, both of which featured prominently during the era. The search function on the database was pretty cool, and after couple of sample searches, I entered my date of birth as the criteria, to see what, if any, aircraft were lost on that day.
Much to my surprise there was only the one loss, but it was a TA-4 Skyhawk, with the Tactical Callsign “PLAYBOY 45” and it was flying perhaps my favourite mission; Forward Air Control. Why it’s spooky; – The Skyhawk link is obvious, but even more so given that it is a TA-4, similar to my sim… – The callsign “PLAYBOY 45”; “45” was my pilot number, which formed the basis of all my callsigns during my time with RAAFvirtual. – The mission; FAC, my favourite, and one I’ve been working on lately in DCS!
It has been a while (seems to be a common theme) since I did anything on the Skyhawk sim… tonight, with a few wee software updates and other fiddling around I got the sim up and running, in DCS with the VSN Hornet. This was to prove that I could get the sim running using my combination of software and ‘mods’
This is the VSN Hornet, running in the sim, with Maverick TV feed working 🙂
After a bit of a revelation it occurred to me that for a very long time I have been trying to create a simulation environment in my sims which is almost exactly the same as DCS:World provides. I have been, for a long time, been trying to develop a multi-platform ‘combat’ simulation, using the tools with which I am very familiar. I found it very interesting that I opted to stay with my known and familiar environment, rather than taking a leap…. In this case I was very ingrained in the development of FS9 content, I was comfortable working in the environment, I could ‘talk’ to the simulation, I understood the way most things worked inside the sim. What I was really after was a complete combat simulation covering air land and sea warfare, with a Tactical Commander function. DCS:World has always been on my radar, I have ‘played’ around with it over the years, but never anything more than that. Recently though, with my interest in VR, I have been learning more and more about how DCS works, and how I can develop content for it, and make it into the sim I’ve always been looking for!
So. I am now ‘officially’ (as officially as I do…) I have stopped development of TACOPS and pretty much all of my projects around trying to morph FS9 into a combat sim….. My focus now is on development of content for DCS, focusing on NZ and the Cold War era. My 737 and Arrow sims will continue, running FS9 and FSX respectively, but wont be trying to be involved in any ‘combat’ mission.
It is very odd to look back and contemplate all the time and effort I have spent on a project which was merely trying to replicate something which was already around..
So now it’s onward and upward… I can concentrate on using the best software for each of my sims, rather than trying to make the one platform do everything I wanted.
SO, New software plan – TA-4k Skyhawk will be running DCS:World. – Piper Arrow will be running FS9 and/or FSX – Boeing 737 will remain on FS9
The deadline for having the sim at least “flyable’ was Saturday, and I made it… just. We had a group of friends over for a ‘BBQ and Sim’ evening, and my mission was to get the Skyhawk sim converted over to DCS ‘enough’ for them to have a fly around. This got further complicated when I discovered that my oldest controller in the sim was not Win64 compatible… which lead to some hectic re-wiring, and trying to figure out how I had wired some of the earliest panels from *many* years ago.
After a few beverages, and some good music I had it all re-wired, and ready to test. Only thing which didn’t work (that I’ve found so far!) was the gear lever, which wasn’t bad given the significantly compressed time-frame on this part of the conversion. With the hardware (mostly) working it was time to start ‘mapping’ the various buttons and switches in DCS. For the purposes of the Saturday night flying, I only mapped the more important controls, allowing all the novice flyers to have some nice scenic flying.
Before the flying night I had three eight year old’s test the sim, headed by Nathan, my Chief Test Pilot… I figured if some 8 year old’s had fun, then a bunch of middle-aged, half drunk motorcyclists would be fine 😉
I didn’t take any photos on the night, but everyone had a ball, lots of sight-seeing around Vegas, and some ‘unplanned landings’….
Next morning, slightly hung-over, I tidied up the display-extraction tools to correctly display the Maverick TV Images on the RH DU, then did a wee test flight ironing out issues with the weapons systems.
After the past weeks experiments and steep learning curve, I am petty happy with where the sim is at. The path to a more-functional ‘Kahu-esq’ Skyhawk is clearer than it was. I am going to try and merge some of the Community A-4E project, with a TA-4k visual model and A-10A avionics. This will allow me to shoot Mavericks, drop laser guide bombs, and fire Sidewinders. The only thing missing is a radar, but for the most part I think it will give the best compromise feeling.
Sunday night, sitting on the couch writing this, I feel that I have accomplished a lot in the last few days. There is a lot more to do, and a lot more to learn, but it’s a good start. A very good start!
Sometimes you just have to take the plunge, and last night was *THAT* time. After procrastinating for so long about changing over the main PC in the Skyhawk sim, I decided to just do it, and figure it all out as I went along. First step was to fire up the sim in it’s current state, to say farewell.. I was going to go for a fly, but with my motivation levels at a high point, and not wanting to get distracted I decided to just take a couple of final photos then rip into it.
The PC swap-out wasn’t too big of a deal, but running and sorting cables was… One day I will just rip all of this mess out and start again with cut-to-length cabling..
With the PC in place it was a case of figuring out what needed to be re-connected, and what wouldn’t work. So far the list of ‘wont work’ things is short; can’t connect my MIP monitor, due to the new PC only having one analogue output, and can’t connect my **seriously* old DB9 COM cable… which runs ACCIS. SO, PC in, fired up, windows updates done.. time to fire up DCS and see what happens. Of course, DCS needed updates.. many many updates, like 5Gb’s worth.
But finally, we got there! Nothing mapped, and only the stick <sort of> working but it flew.. and looks awesome!
Tonight I hope to start mapping some of the cockpit switches, and maybe define what I want to be able to do in the sim, at least in the short term.
After making my mock-up compass and clock I started looking for real components to replace them. It all started when I stumbled over an inoperative clock on a suppliers website, then a black compass showed up at work…. 2+2 in this case equals ‘yeehaa’ 🙂
After recently deciding on the software for each of my sims, and the shift of VR into the Skyhawk, I have had a bit of a re-think! This has mostly come about by my breaking out my old Thrustmaster Cougar HOTAS, and setting it up in DCS and FSX.
Another part of the reason for the shift has been a re-discovery of the joys of VR in other simulations. I spent a very relaxing evening driving from Oxnard, CA to Yuma, AZ in American Truck Simulator, which reminded me how much fun VR can be, beyond the ‘cockpit’ of the Skyhawk.
The new plan (until I change it again of course) is to run both DCS and FS9 on the Skyhawk, but skip the VR part, at least for now. I hope to put together a version of the A-4, with a modified version of the F-15C avionics, and simplified weapons, which will let me fly a ‘pseudo Kahu’ in the ‘pit, and join in multiplayer missions, while retaining VR capability on the current desk-based rig. This shift will mean FS9 will remain as the primary sim for the Skyhawk, with DCS being a development as time goes on.
Forward Air Control is something that I’ve always been interested in, so with a little bit of ‘fiddling’ with some files in DCS, I have a pseudo-FAC aircraft set up. I need to define and test some ‘proper’ weapon options, but this test, with WP rockets worked pretty well. Looking forward to some multi-player missions utilizing the FAC Cessna!
The more I explore DCS the more excited I am getting about integrating it into the Skyhawk sim. I have been looking into the options for panel software for DCS, and had some good experiments with Ikarus using the F-15c as my test bed. I need to work more on exporting data from the A-4, then I can move on to building a working panel.
One of the real attractions of using DCS in the sim is how pretty it looks. As I’ve been experimenting and testing I’ve grabbed a few screenshots, and you have to admit; they do look good!
The learning curve for DCS interfacing/moding is quite steep, but I am starting to get the hang of it. There are so many different aspects to this sim, which is of course true of FS9, it’s just that I’ve had 15 years to learn FS9!
After the developments in DCS over the past couple of months I have had a significant change in thinking on how I will operate my sims. Up till now I have been working on a single, standardized software install across all my sims, but with the recent DCS developments, and some recent experiences with Orbx scenery in our sims at work, I have had a major rethink on my plan.
With my recent experience in DCS I realized that work I had been doing on my ‘TACOPS’ application was basically trying to replicate what DCS has bulit in.
So. Big decision, but now my 3 main sims will be running *different* software as their primary platform:
The Skyhawk will be running DCS:World with the A-4 Community Mod installed as it’s primary Platform.
The Arrow will switch to FSX:SE with Orbx NZ:NI and NZ:SI scenery
The 737 will continue using FS9, with my mature scenery build.
The current F421/Termserver PC will switch over to running DCS:Combined Arms as a JTAC (Joint Terminal Air Controller) for the Skyhawk, while retaining FS9 and FSX to run alongside any of the other sims.
DCS:Combined Arms has been a bit of a revelation; I bought it for the JTAC role, but once I had it installed and running I discovered that I had unwittingly bought the Tank simulator which I have been looking for since the days of ‘Armored Fist’ from Novalogic.
Combined Arms allows you to control ground forces in the DCS Digital world, and to assume control of individual vehicles. This means that I can free-roam around the map in a Humvee, driving wherever I like, sight-seeing or designating targets for pilots in the mission.
This new philosophy means that each sim will be working to it’s own strengths, rather than focusing on interoperability. This does mean that I wont be trying to make the Arrow or 737 be anything other than what they are, and I wont be trying to turn FS9 into a pseudo-combat sim. The switch to DCS allows me to leverage of a true combat sim, with robust multiplayer, a complex mission scripting system, giving me the ability to build realistic missions for the Skyhawk, and with the former-F421 PC running DCS as well, the mission options are pretty wide ranging.
The Skyhawk will be running both VR and 2D, using the Community A-4 mod, and one of the DCS ‘Panel’ utilities to render a 2d panel on the lower screen in-cockpit.
The switch to DCS will finally allow me to have systems operating which have been merely a dream before now. A good example is the RWR display, which Icarus can render on a small monitor which I can mount behind the RWR display in the main panel.