DCS: SSA Mod

Or “Sean’s Strategic Assets Mod” is my pet name for my conversion project… I plan on converting, with original modelers permission, a bunch of ‘Strategic’ aircraft from FS9 AI models. The idea is to build a mod around aircraft which would be based out of the theater of operations, and so would only be seen ‘in flight’. The reason for this is that until I learn the finer details of animation in Blender or 3D Studio, my models will be static, which is fine for the sorts of aircraft I am planning.
The plan is to convert a few ‘samples’, which I can use to send screenshots to the owners of the models, in the hope that they will grant permission for me to distribute their modified models.

DCS Library Development

For many years Military AI Works have produced excellent military scenery, many of which leverage of a series of ‘Object Libraries’ produced by many very talented designers. I have been using these libraries in my projects for a long time, and with my switch to DCS I felt a little lost without the breadth of objects available to “detail” airports with.
So, being the infernal tinkerer that I am, I have cobbled a workflow together which allows me to convert FS9 Object Libraries into DCS ‘mods’. It is a laborious task, with a lot of file editing and hand manipulation of 3d models, but it does work!

MAIW Objects scattered around a P-3 in DCS

While I was converting models I had a small experiment with static aircraft, converted from FS9 models. The P-3 in the picture above is by Jake Burrus, with my retro RNZAF AI paint, and looks quite good in the sim.

These first experiments with bringing my ‘familiar’ FS9 objects into DCS has started me thinking about how I can incorporate some of the design philosophies that have evolved over the years into the DCS world.

The flight line could get ‘interesting’

With a workflow established, and a bit more learning of the lua files which run everything in DCS, I got a little more ambitious and converted HMNZS Canterbury, and have it operating as a working vessel, with a landable helipad..

RNZAF Iroquois landing on HMNZS Canterbury…. a DCS First (I believe)

Another Sim Software Shuffle?

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.

‘Cougar’ in place on the desk. Perhaps a custom keyboard shelf will be next?

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.

And now with ‘Vector’ Graphics

Another evening of fiddling around with the Macchi paint, and with the help of some really useful documents I now have correct stencils for the cockpit sides.

With the paint and stencil documents in hand I can now accurately paint all the small details which will make the skin look more real. I am very pleased how it is looking so far!

Tonight, while testing the paint in DCS I played around with target marking using Mk76 practice bombs, which give off a puff of white smoke… the bombs modelled on the Macchi smoke for a long time, which I think will be quite useful for JTAC/AFAC ops online. Once the paint is published I will get some missions together to see if I can make it work. Possibly even look at modding the weapon system script to add some marking rockets to really make the Macchi into a FAC tool.

Joining on a Skyhawk after the successful target marking ‘test’ mission

Another ‘cool’ feature of the Macchi is the ‘back seat’ view. I really enjoy flying from the back, it makes me feel like I achieved my dream of being a strike instructor πŸ˜‰

Formation join on a 40 Sqn Herk

The ‘useful’ documents I referred to earlier came to me courtesy of an ex RNZAF guy who was my original contact to get me into the SKyhawk cockpit back in 2000…..

Download the Docs here:
RNZAF Macchi Paint Diagram
RNZAF Macchi Stencil Points


RNZAF_AI:DCS

After a bit of fiddling around, I have made strides in converting some of my RNZAF_AI repaints to their DCS counterparts. The latest project is the MB339 Macchi. I am using the excellent MB339A model from the ‘Frecce Tricolori Virtuali’ as my ‘MB339CB’ stand-in.

14 Sqn Macchi soars over Georgia

First pass, which involved morphing the FS9 repaint onto the DCS template, is complete, and looks pretty good.

Coming along well, still need to finalise the tip tanks

Next stage is to tidy the textures up a little and finalise the tip tank and weapon textures, and finally to replace the insignia and stencils with higher resolution details.

Meanwhile, as a fill-in for my own Huey paint I found an old DCS paint, which was not compatible with the current version. I have modified it, as an interim, to work in 2.5.4

‘Temporary’ paint on the Huey
C-130 and 727 ready to depart

40 Squadron is also coming along well, with the 727 complete, and the C-130 just needing a little tidying up..

Next on the agenda is the Sioux. A new addition to the virtual fleet, and just needs a simple paint ‘modification’. Good fun to fly too πŸ˜‰

Bell 47G, or ‘Sioux’ in military service, in ‘UN’ colours. Needs a lick of paint πŸ˜‰

Once these are completed my 1991 era RNZAF will be looking pretty healthy:
– A-4K Skyhawk (Pre Kahu)
– MB339CB Macchi
– C-130H Hercules
– Boeing 727
– UH-1H Iroquois
– Bell 47G Sioux

Exciting times in DCS are ahead! Once the paints are done I will be able to put some missions together with a pretty good representation of the RNZAF of the early 90’s.

Change of Sim Philosophy

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.

DSC:Combined Arms

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.

The tank sim I’ve been looking for…. bought ‘by accident’
The operational possibilities are almost endless…..

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.

An example of the A-10C Panel in Icarus

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.

December and Distractions

Well, since the Skyhawk appeared for DCS last month almost nothing has happened in the ManCave at all, apart from many *many* VR flights in the DCS Skyhawk!
First Don (that’s Mr. Skyhawk to you) came to visit and trialed the A-4 in VR

This is what Don had to say about the experience:
“This afternoon I got to experience flying the latest A-4 flight sim in VR (virtual reality). All I can say is WOW! So real. The cockpit detail is incredible and very accurate for a pre Kahu cockpit. The outside visuals are equally amazing, as is the flight model. I flew in formation with two other Skyhawks flown by some other Christchurch flight sim guys sitting at their home computers. Isn’t technology amazing. Thanks so much Sean. I WANT ONE!”

Don totally immersed in the experience!