DCS World is a digital combat simulator that contains a healthy quantity of modules, each offering different aircraft for aspiring pilots to commandeer. It is fairly heavy on the modern aircraft - that's what the majority of players will want to experience - but the beauty of Eagle Dynamics' Digital Combat Simulator is that it also offers some serious nostalgia, and in this case it comes in the form of the North American F-86F Sabre. History buffs and aviation enthusiasts will know this aircraft to be one of the most successful of the last 60 years, and now DCS World offers you the chance to jump into the cockpit in this seriously high-fidelity simulation that recreates the F-86F experience.
DCS World is arguably the best choice for those looking to experience combat as well as standard flight procedures in one package; choosing the F-86F Module is sensible for people that like to experience a part of history itself.
It's not useful in a review to go into too much detail about the aircraft's history, but suffice it to say that the F-86F played a pivotal role for the United States Air force during the Korean War and many successive conflicts including the Cold War for the US and many more wars for other nations that used the Sabre for its incredible speed and superiority in high-speed dogfights.
The F-86F is quite famous for being the first swept-wing fighter jet to enter into service in the USAF, acting as the only aircraft that could adequately counter the fellow swept-wing Soviet MiG-15 aircraft during the Korean War. It is partly because of this history that the DCS World F-86F Sabre module is so exhilarating to experience; you're literally flying an accurate simulation of a legendary aircraft that played a significant part in history.
Flying the Sabre
Belsimtek is the company responsible for the Sabre's flight model, which is of the PFM (professional flight model) variety. This is the most advanced and realistic flight model that can be found in any of the DCS World modules, ahead of the AFM (advanced flight model) and SFM (standard flight model). In practise this simply means that all of the components of the aircraft as well as the physics that underpin the whole experience are based as closely as possible on reality (for example the calculation of the forces acting upon the aircraft, the flight control systems, and the hydraulics, electrics, fuel, engine systems, etc.).
The professional flight model that the aircraft is based on is both extremely entertaining yet hugely challenging to fly. Beginners may wish to have game avionics and game flight mode enabled in order to take some of the stress out of simply keeping the plane in the air, getting it off the ground, and landing it safely. The aircraft's loyalty to true-to-life physics is astounding, and you'll find that the Sabre will want to fly with a nose-down orientation, leaving it up to you to correct the position of the aircraft by trimming it in the appropriate direction. This is something you'll find yourself doing very frequently when you change altitude or fire your missiles/drop bombs (it changes the weight distribution of the aircraft).
3D, Interactive Cockpit
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the F-86F is that it is one of the DCS World modules that sports fully 3D and interactive cockpit. This essentially means that instead of relying solely on keyboard commands to activate all of the required systems in the cockpit, you're interacting with it as you would be in real life, only using the mouse to slide, press, and toggle the hardware in the cockpit.
The Sabre is quite unforgiving when it comes to manoeuvres. Even those experienced at flight simulators may have difficulty keeping the Sabre in the air when performing high-speed turns as the aircraft soon enters into over-G territory very, very easily, resulting in more instantaneous blackouts than when flying the modern fighter jets. Still, as long as you're firm yet gradual with your stick movements you will be able to keep control of the aircraft provided you're properly trimmed up.
Another problem you may encounter is trying to fly the plane at an altitude that exceeds 28,000 feet above sea level (referred to as 28000 ft. MSL), at which point it becomes significantly more difficult to handle and almost impossible to fly at times. Manoeuvring must be done with care and control at this altitude since if you begin to nose dive you will fall extremely quickly and can enter into a spin much more readily than if you were flying at a much lower altitude.
Even when taxiing the plane you may find controlling the plane difficult as unlike many of the modern fighters in DCS World it has an independent nose wheel that must be activated with the nose wheel button in addition to being steered with rudders.
The numerous weapons aboard the F-86F are what put the "combat" in Digital Combat Simulator. There's a nice choice of weapons that are ideal for use against both airborne and ground-based targets. At the basic end of the weapons spectrum you've got the Colt-Browning M3 Machine Guns - there are six of these in total aboard the Sabre. In addition to the guns you also have the HVAR unguided rockets, with 16 to fire off before you'll have to land in order to rearm. For ground-based targets, you've also got two AN-M64 bombs to drop. That pretty much sums up the armaments in the Sabre.
Now, if you compare the roster of weapons to that of say the F-15C, then you're going to be somewhat underwhelmed. However, you must consider that what you are flying is a piece of history that was introduced over sixty years ago, so the relative lack of guided bombs and missiles cannot be a shortcoming that will be criticised here. This is a simulation of the F-86F, and a highly accurate one at that - to criticise an aircraft for being subject to the technological and other limitations of its time would be unfair. The weapons on the F-86F are still very fun to use and if anything are more entertaining and challenging than using the heat-seeking missiles of the F-15 and other such modern aircraft.
Vs. Modern Fighter Jets
It's quite an exhilarating experience to be able to pilot such an accurate flight model of such an historic aircraft, but how does it compare to modern-day fighter jets such as the supreme F-15C or the Su-27, two modules also available for the DCS World base game? The main difference is quite obviously the age of the fighter, which makes it a pretty different experience from the largely automated and digital-systems-dominated nature of more modern aviation systems. It can easily be said that flying the F-86F Sabre is like learning how to truly fly as a pilot that's less reliant on automation.
The F-86F obviously isn't as powerful as fighter jets that have been produced since it's retirement, though this by no means makes flying it any less challenging. In fact, due to the relative lack of the aforementioned automation in the form of automated targeting systems for the weapons and flight control systems, you are in many ways tested to your limits as you'll have to rely on fairly frequent trimming and re-trimming of the aircraft once you're in the air. You're also stuck with your machine guns for air-to-air combat - there are no heat-seeking missiles or guided bombs to speak of, remember?
The most fun you'll have in the F-86F is during dogfights because you're stripped back to basics. Using the machine gun to carefully take aim at your enemies' engines whilst simultaneously keeping the Sabre in the air is much more rewarding than simply locking on to a target and letting something like heat-seeking missiles do all the work for you, that's for sure.
The other difference between this plane and modern ones is of course its design. The cockpit is much simpler than that of the F-15C, it has swept-wing design, and it's only got one engine, making this a much more stripped-down experience than twin-engine aircraft. The squadron markings on the plane are also a nice touch, topping off the look of the plane and making it look incredibly realistic both inside and out.
The only way to conclude about the F-86F Sabre is positively. Firstly, it's an aircraft that provides quite a niche service amongst the relatively modern fighter jets of DCS World; it allows history buffs, aviation history fanatics, or pretty much anyone to experience a back-to-basics way of flying and fighting.
The PFM is extremely detailed and combined with the 3D cockpit requires a significantly more advanced level of skill than with any of the standard or even advanced flight models contained in some of the other DCS World modules. Still, there's nothing more entertaining than facing off against the Soviet MiG-15 jets (the mortal enemy of the Sabre, historically speaking, and one which you can read more about at About's Military History page) in such a realistic and genuinely challenging manner. Everything from the flight model to the aircraft modelling and textures reeks of DCS World quality, so it is highly recommended that you try out the F-86F Sabre.