If you're new to the DCS World-world then it's quite simple to give you an idea of what to expect: high fidelity aircraft-flying experiences with free-form missions, training modules, and a variety of pre-programmed flying assignments that sit hand-in-hand with the game's mission and campaign editors. As if that wasn't enough to chew on, DCS Flaming Cliffs 3 is a module that offers four different aircraft for you to take control of in a handful of mission and free-form scenarios, and even a multiplayer to boot. No wonder so many people have a tricky time getting up and running with this complex world of digital combat simulation - these are a few tips to get you started.
More Simulator Than Game
The first thing worth a mention is that if you're completely new to flight simulators, DCS World is going to be significantly tougher to familiarise yourself with than shallow arcade-style flight games. It's even significantly more detailed than some fellow flight simulators such as the memorable warplane masterpiece Birds of Steel. There are heaps of keyboard commands to use in various stages of flight and during take-off, so be prepared for the level of detail that comes as standard in DCS World.
The Flaming Cliffs 3 module for DCS World is actually an ideal choice for beginners as it doesn't restrict you to one single plane or at best two (the base module only has the Su-25T Frogfoot and the weapon-less TF-51D planes to get you started) planes at a time. Flaming Cliffs 3 has a good number of planes to offer, which come in the form of the following aircraft:
- The A-10A Thunderbolt II
- The F-15C Eagle
- The Su-27/Su-33 Flanker
- MiG-29A/29S Fulcrum
- Su-25 Frogfoot (though this aircraft essentially comes free with the base DCS World module - a perfect plane for beginners).
General Flight Tips
These are just a few tips that apply to flying with pretty much any aircraft in the DCS World Flaming Cliffs 3 module. There will be some aircraft-specific references/exemptions of course, but these will be covered in the section below this which singles out individual aircraft where necessary due to important differences in hardware and the way they should be handled.
Read the Flight Manual
The first step to understanding how to fly is to actually understand the thing you're flying with. This is why there are flight manuals on the net, official documents that list pretty much everything you need to know about your aircraft.
You'll find the F-15C Manual here.
Download the MiG-29 Fulcrum Manual.
The A-10A manual can be found here.
Here's the Su-27 Flanker Flight Manual.
Don't use Jarring Movements
This point shouldn't be laboured over too much, but at the same time it is essential that you remember that you're not playing a flight game here - this is a simulation and should be treated as such. In practise, this means treating the movement controls with a reserved touch.
Specifically this gentle and reserved treatment refers to the throttle, the rudders, the stick, wheel/air brakes, and the flaps of the aircraft. When on the ground, for example, you should be easing up the throttle gradually and then gently easing off once you're in motion and are approaching the ideal taxiing speed as not to topple over or lose control.
Similarly, when you're just about to take off, it only takes a gentle pull back on the stick to generate enough lift to ease the plane off the ground. Pulling back too forcefully on the stick will cause your plane to crash almost immediately, requiring you to restart from the beginning of your mission once again.
The same also applies to the air brakes, throttle, and rudders once you're in the air. All of these should be eased on/off gently with time taken in between for the results of each to take effect. Using the left/right rudders during the taxi of your aircraft is a prime example here - just try turning too sharply with the F-15C aircraft and you'll learn that you can topple over quite easily if you're in simulation mode (as opposed to game mode, which handles a lot of the finer points of flying for you such as auto-rudder and certain G-Force effects).
Climb and Fall to the Appropriate Altitudes
The perfect altitude for each aircraft varies both by aircraft and by mission. Some aircraft are adept at working in particular altitude ranges, such as the F-15C for example, which works brilliantly at between two and five thousand feet when engaging targets in combat missions. Also, you're not going to do very well if you're at five thousand feet when approaching the runway for landing, so in this situation you need to dip downwards gently and descend to around fifteen hundred feet or so to begin landing preparations. Similar dips in altitude must also be employed for utilising air-to-ground missiles or weapons like unguided bombs.
Remember to Bring Up the Landing Gear (and flaps if applicable)
This basic preparation is mentioned in pretty much every take-off tutorial you'll find on YouTube as well as the tutorials within the DCS World Flaming Cliffs 3 module, but it can be easy to forget. Once you're off the ground and climbing in a steady fashion, remember to bring up the landing gear by pressing G and also to adjust the flaps by pressing F. The different flap positions and manifestations of their particular position will vary from aircraft to aircraft, but remembering these two important steps will make for a smoother climb and will allow you to avoid problems later on.
Use the HUD
Perhaps another obvious thing you should be doing in the game is paying attention to the HUD display in your aircraft. Many of the aircraft in the DCS World possess a HUD (this is the display that overlays certain portion of your canopy straight ahead of you and always above the physical instruments in your cockpit) which is extremely useful for discerning a whole host of variables that are essential during flying.
The F-15C Eagle's HUD is probably the best example of the typical HUD display in DCS World. The particulars of each plane's HUD display vary between aircraft, but they always display the vital information you'll need during stages like take-off, taxi, combat, and landing.
In navigation mode, the F-15C's HUD is incredible useful at displaying all you need to know about the position and heading of your aircraft. The W-shaped "datum" represents your plane whilst you also have the pitch scale, velocity vector, absolute altitude, aircraft speed, current heading, and heading scale, all of which allow you to navigate your aircraft to where you need it to go. Also pay attention to the G-Force indicator (bottom-right of the F-15C HUD indicating current and maximum allowed g-force) as this will stop your pilot from passing out during heavy-g combat manoeuvres like sharp turns/hefty pitching and rolling.
Again, using the F-15C as an example, you'll notice that you can rely on this display to help you navigate to points of interest in pretty much any mission you will encounter in Flaming Cliffs 3. The horizontal scale at the top of the display that acts as your compass - utilise this in conjunction with the waypoint markers in the bottom-right of the HUD display in the form. The numbers in the bottom right denote firstly the waypoint number (1 Nav, 2 Nav, 3 Nav etc.), then the distance to the waypoint (15.4 miles, for example), and then the time it will take to get to the indicated waypoint in minutes.
Remember, navigation is as easy as following the waypoints by lining up the ^ symbol on the compass display of the HUD with the increment line that faces downwards (the rest of the tiny increment lines you will notice emanate upwards from the horizontal compass line).
At its most basic, making your aircraft turn is pretty simple. all you really need to do is to bank in the direction in which you need to turn in order to get the aircraft to fly in that direction. The problem is that you also need to pay close attention to the altitude of the aircraft when turning as you will find that banking to the left also causes you to start losing altitude. When banking in either direction it is recommended that you pull back gently on the stick in order to avoid losing altitude.
The other factors involved when turning are your speed in knots and the resulting G-force that your speed during a turn will create. The ideal turning speed (taking the F-15C as an example) is between 300 and 350 knots. If you attempt a turn at a speed lower than 300 knots you will be in danger of simply falling out of the sky; too fast, and your turn will cause G-forces that are too great, resulting in the classic "over-G" warning and your pilot slowly losing consciousness.
Trimming is required of some aircraft in the Flaming Cliffs 3 module in order to keep them travelling at a steady altitude without the need for constantly playing around with the stick. When trimming is required you will know because even once you have no pressure on the stick in any direction its nose will still feel like it wants to dip or it will lean to one side (this happens when discharging weapons, causing the plane's weight distribution to change). Trimming should therefore be considered when you have changed altitude or have discharged weapons.
Though aircraft-specific controls may vary slightly depending on which craft you are piloting, trim controls in the Su-25T (the default, free-to-play aircraft of the basic Eagle Dynamics DCS World module) involve the combination of the Right CTRL key plus the following variables:
. - Trim Up
/ - Trim Right
; - Trim Down
, - Trim Left
So if you feel your aircraft is dipping to the left slightly because of firing a missile from the right-hand side, then you'll want to trim right in order to level out the aircraft. The same applies for any direction in which you may be rolling/dipping.
A Few Specifics
Here's a few tips focusing on the F-15 to give you an idea of the procedures in readying yourself for combat.
After trimming the F-15C using the above directives (do this once you're between 2000 and 5000 or so ft and plan to remain at this altitude and rough speed), you'll be able to prepare for combat if you're in a mission that requires such an approach. The F-15-C is an ideal aircraft for combat, particularly dogfights but even more so with Beyond-Visual-Range (BVR) combat. Press 2 to activate BVR mode for the radar, and then the i key to switch the radar on. Use the radar in conjunction with the Vertical Situation Display (the square display on the left of the screen).
The Vertical Situation Display allows you to lock on to targets - use the : < >? keys on the keyboard to move around what is called the target designator, which is the indicator that locks on to any targets that may be in range. Simply move the designator to any target on the display and press the Enter key to lock on. This also changes the HUD's display a little in that you'll notice the locked-on target showing as a square as well as the required range for successfully firing a missile showing on your altitude scale.
Pay attention to the altitude scale and fire missiles only when your > indicator falls between the two solid rectangle shapes on the altitude scale. Heat-seeking missiles can also be used as long as the HUD is in heat-seeking mode (activated by pressing 6). You'll need to be within around 10 miles of your target to do use a heat-seeking missile, but when you are simply ensure the target is inside the circle on the HUD before you fire.
If you're up for a full-on dogfight, then make use of the vertical scan and boresight modes (3 and 4 on the keyboard respectively, for turning and chase-based combat, again respectively). You'll be able to fire radar-guided missiles as well as use the cannon in cannon HUD mode (press space to fire the cannon when you're locked on the target.