Another quarter has passed with blazing speed. To say that it has been an interesting three months is quite the understatement. We hope that you are all keeping safe, healthy, and doing your part in flattening the curve(s). While we’re a remote team and impact on our development has been minimal due to quarantine measures, it’s difficult to avoid any and all impact - especially with family and friends involved, and with one team member already having been ill. Hopefully the Heatblur team will see absolutely minimal disruption to our continued development over the next few months, and we’ll keep you updated if anything should change.
This quarter we’ve been working diligently on getting some big ticket items ready, with the intention to ship them this quarter as well. We’ve ended up somewhat short of our ambitious goals shipping wise, as we’ve fallen slightly behind and tally only a few new features shipped in February and March, together with the usual slew of fixes and changes. For those of you who have not been following along each set of patch notes; here’s the full list of changes from Q1 2020:
- Added Cage the Bear campaign COOP version, thank you Kaba!
- Fixed Bone Strike mission for SP and COOP
- Updated most SP missions to have mission goals enabled
- Fix for datalink showing missiles
- Fixed various initialization issues
- Fix to nozzle logic during engine starts and shutdowns
- Tweaked damage resistance for engines and wing tanks - direct missile hits will cause more damage
- Aerodynamic damage improvements - direct missile hits will cause more damage
- Fix for doubling of trim rate when using a FFB stick (also ignore vJoy as a FFB device)
- Significantly improved drawcall efficiency of VDI and HUD - may boost FPS on drawcall/CPU constrained systems
- Added default pilot bindings for the new VKB F-14 stick
- Reduced audible range of exterior sounds
- Added new compressor stall sounds.
- Fixed sound files paths for RWR, KY-28 and Walkman (2.5.6 compatibility)
- Added lubber line to Whiskey Compass
- Fixed gaps in weapons selector on pilot’s stick
- Added RIO white floodlights
- Added CAP category knob CW/CCW keybindings
- Multiple low speed and ground effect handling qualities improvements in pitch axis
- Slightly Increased Stab Power (also in ground effect)
- Additional MIL and AB thrust tweaks for performance following stores drag improvements
- Tweaked drag while maneuvering above mach 1.2
- Reduced landing gear pitch moment
- Removed glass from collision model
- Fixed custom cockpit livery not registering (Thanks uboats!)
- Use INS for radar stabilization instead of real-time DCS values
- Fixed regression in angle limits of radar stabilization that caused contact/track loss in RWS/TWS at large pitch angles.
- Fixed the transponder panel code ranges: M1 00-73 (5 bit octal), M3 0000-7777 (12bit octal)
- Fixed regressions caused by SDK mismatch:
- Fixed trim not working
- Fixed debriefing window not appearing
- Fixed AIM-9 SEAM/Lock
- Mission starting in F10 view
- NEW! Added TID AVIA page (displaying AoA, Vertical velocity, ILS and ACLS), enabling the RIO to closely monitor landing procedures and assist the pilot with pattern work
- Fix for radar ground stabilization at high roll angles
- Fix for radar range scale reverting to 200NM during P-SEARCH HCU acquisition in multicrew
- Fix for RWS contacts on TID timing out too soon in a 1-bar scan
- Added COMM1_FREQ and COMM2_FREQ params exported to lua scripts for ARC-159 and ARC-182 radios (for example to be used with “cockpit param” in mission editor)
- Fix for AB lighting at too high of a throttle position
- Improvements to pilot stick travel animation
- Added afterburner markers on controls indicator
- Removed debug carrier glideslope on controls indicator
- Added FFB trim checkbox option for more realistic trim operation feel while using a FFB joystick (works if ANY non-vJoy FFB device is detected!)
- More realistic FFB travel with trim actuator movement
- Adjusted compressor stall spool dynamics
- Fine tuning of pitch axis handling qualities
More importantly, however, is of course what is to come and will be shipping in the near future.
The team is focused on launching two major features in the short term; The Forrestal class carriers and TWS-Auto functionality for the AWG-9.
Forrestal Class Carriers
I have egg on my face. I felt pretty safe in my statement here on hoggit that we’d launch the Forrestal in March; and our plans have revolved around doing a standalone, alpha/beta release here on the forums. This would allow us to gauge feedback and actively develop the carriers before merging them into our live branch and distributing the content through one of the next patches.
Unfortunately, we’ve had to take a few steps backwards with regards to all of our plans. Not only has our schedule slipped somewhat on completing the Forrestal itself; but the recent carrier launch issues and the work needing to be done to support the new Super Carrier module has kept things in flux. This is a frustrating scheduling miss for us as we were hoping to already have this content out late last year; but we’d rather keep things in the oven a little longer and provide a more enjoyable small-carrier experience. It is coming- you paid for it- we’ll deliver.
Another element to this has been the launch of the Super Carrier. We have great respect for our partners at Eagle, and while we don’t believe our Forrestals will cause any issues for the SC (especially since the Forrestal is not designed to have feature parity anyways!) - we still want to respectfully give the SC breathing room in the spotlight; as it is undoubtedly a great investment of time and effort by the ED team and an exciting product.
In the meantime; we’ll focus on getting out a Forrestal focused update to you all in the next week, and we’ll show off our work through some pleasing eye-candy and hopefully launch shortly thereafter (either through a download, or through a patch if the timing works out). In the meantime; our apologies for the missed timeline. This feature is a top priority for us.
We’re now very close to launching TWS-A!
Due to the size, complexity and importance of this feature, we will be doing a separate dedicated article on it in the coming few days.
F-14A work continues as one of our top priorities, outside of the Forrestal, Jester LANTIRN, -B engine gauges, and other big ticket items. Features still in development include;
- Artwork changes (engine nozzles, engine nacelles, sensors, differing cockpit panels, etc.)
- P&W TF30 Engines
- New soundset (and sound overhaul for F-14B!)
It’s very likely that we will launch the F-14A without all of its features implemented. This is to avoid a longer wait before everything is perfectly in place. We’ll try to keep the number of frankensteined elements to a minimum, however.
WiP TF-30 Nozzle
One of the biggest items on the agenda for the F-14A are the P&W TF30 engines. We’ve been busy adapting our engine models to simulate the TF-30. We’re pleased to announce that the TF30 equipped F-14A is ready for internal testing! Lets dive in depth on what this means;
F-14A TF30 Engine Development Update
In an attempt to keep things fairly short, the focus will mainly be on major differences between the TF30 and F110, as well as unique TF30 systems and characteristics. If you’d like to read more about turbofan engine components and their modeling, go here and here.
The F-14A is powered by two Pratt & Whitney TF30-P414A low-bypass turbofan engines with afterburner for thrust augmentation. The TF30 was originally developed by Pratt & Whitney in the early 60s for the cancelled F6D Missileer. An afterburner section was then added for its use on the product of the TFX program; the F-111. The Navy wasn’t satisfied with their version, the F-111B, and decided to go with a new design from Grumman Aerospace. To save cost and time, it was decided to re-use the engine from the TFX program and then upgrade the fleet with improved, higher-thrust engines later. This new design resulted in the F-14A, which entered service in 1974. The US Navy received 478 F-14A airframes and Iran received 79. It was 1986 by the time the higher thrust, F110-powered F-14B showed up, and in much smaller numbers than the F-14A.
Let’s get into the details of major features that differentiate the TF30’s operation from the F110:
The operation of the afterburner on the TF30 is similar to the F110 with the exception of the fuel control, which is divided into five “zones”. You can think of zones as a discrete state of the afterburner fuel control. Each zone lights progressively, increasing thrust as AB fuel flow increases with each zone. Because of this, it may take 8-10 seconds to go from idle all the way to Zone 5 afterburner. Check out a couple videos of the AB stages lighting here and here. If an AB blowout occurs, the AB fuel controller must be reset before attempting an AB re-light by taking the throttles out of AB range. The nozzle generally opens more at higher AB stages, but it may fluctuate to control turbine pressure ratio.
- Fuel Control System
The fuel control is a hydromechanical unit with limited engine protection functionality. There is no digital engine control like a FADEC or AFTC to fully protect the engine from damage. A TIT limiter assists in preventing temperature excursions and has an authority equivalent to 2% RPM.
- Mach Lever
The Mach Lever is similar to the idle lockup protection feature on the F110. It limits engine RPM based on mach number to reduce supersonic inlet buzz (which can lead to compressor stalls) and control engine airflow. It also increases engine idle speed in high AOA flight to increase compressor stability margins.
- Mid Compression Bypass
In order to reduce pressure distortions at the compressor face, a bypass system ports air from the low pressure compressor into the fan bypass duct. This increases the quality of the air downstream and greatly reduces the chance of a compressor stall. However, it comes at a cost of about 3000 lbf (13344 N) of thrust per engine when active. It is activated in several scenarios where you likely need thrust the most; Zone 5 AB while the gear handle is down (takeoffs, wave-offs, and bolters), High AOA flight, and when large rudder commands are being applied. It also activates during gun firing and aerial refueling operations to reduce the chance of stall from ingesting gun gas or jet wash.
This image has been resized. Click this bar to view the full image. The original image is sized 625x783.
It’s easy to see that the TF30 has many subsystems that attempt to reduce the possibility of compressor stalls. That’s because the TF30s developed a reputation for issues, primarily compressor stalls at inopportune moments. However with some throttle and aviating discipline, they can be avoided. For what it’s worth, our primary pilot SME only had one stall in his entire Tomcat career, and he admits that it was caused by an erroneous throttle movement while at zero airspeed.
And with that, here’s a glimpse into the Tomcat dev world. This is a WIP version of a TF30 engine start with some of our debug tools running. The second is a takeoff to show the AB staging and spool-up times. Anything seen in these videos is subject to change and may not represent the final product.
F-14A TF30 Startup
F-14A TF30 Zone 5 Take-Off
Looking ahead, the TF30 subsystems will be wrapped up soon, along with engine performance tuning and testing.
We expect this to happen in the near future along with completion of the TF30 nozzle.
We don’t want to give a hard date on the F-14A but we hope (barring any major setbacks) to have an EA version out within the next couple DCS open beta cycles.
A more basic compressor stall model will ship with the EA release and it will be enhanced in subsequent updates.
There will likely be another mini update regarding compressor stalls once they are complete.
Future of the DCS: F-14
It’s important for us to note that we remain committed to a long and rich level of support for the F-14, as well as the inclusion of many new features and improvements yet to come. Just to get some perspective on our roadmap; here’s a non exhaustive list of what we’re planning to tackle in the near and medium term future:
- TWS Auto
- Jester LANTIRN (Voice + Functionality + Including input overhauls)
- A-6E & KA-6 AI
- TARPS (Limited Feature)
- Two Campaigns
- Forrestal Class Carriers
- Significant sound improvements
- New pilot models for cockpit
- Keybinding improvements
- Jester additions and improvements
- F-14B Digital EIG
- Various corrections -B vis a vis -A
- Improved Trap Model / Dynamics
- New Afterburner VFX
- AIM-54 Phoenix issues
- Yaw String
- New compressor stall effects and animations
- Completion of fire suppression systems
- Add progressive fire damage
- Jamming additions
- LAU-7 Art corrections
- MAK-79 bombclamp corrections
- cockpit panels:
- Various cockpit artwork corrections
- Addition of IFF interrogator panel
- Wheel Chocks
- Missing Oxygen gauge
- F-14A , including:
P&W TF30 engine model
MACH LEV position on Pilot’s master test panel
Aerodynamic fairing (bullet) cover for TCS
Art Changes: Nozzles, panels, etc.
New P&W TF30 Soundset
- …and more.
Stick with us and believe in us - we’re not going anywhere, and we will deliver on what we set out to do 4 years ago.
That’s it for this update; stay tuned for the article on the TWS-A in the next few days and another development update on the Forrestal class next week.