Important: The minimum requirements and recommendations listed below are pointed towards the training of a 104th Cadet and in no way wathsoever represent any general form of recommendation of the 104th PHOENIX VFBS regarding certain flight gear or simulation software - apart from DCS - or any third party developer content. We do not favour specific manufacturers or developers. The requirements/ recommendations below are there to facilitate your training.
So, what is required that an applicant must have in order to become a 104th Cadet? Let's separate software and hardware first. We need you to have certain modules and software, so that you can participate in the training per se (and the modules/ aircraft used) and later on in the daily squadron life. And in order to achieve certain standards that we demand from you, you have to possess a minimum of flight gear and hardware, because precision is key. But don't panic, if you run on a budget, there are some cheap and good solutions that we can recommend. In any case our cadets should treat flying in DCS as a hobby, at least we hope they do. In that case, and if you can afford it, we recommend that you go for the good stuff right away, because you will sooner or later do it anyway, and you can save the money for the entry stick. At the end I will add a list of the main sticks around, forgive me if I have left out some.
(Note: keys for modules bought on steam will work with your standalone version from www.digitalcombatsimulator.com - but keys bought on the homepage won't work with steam. Personally I recommend to always have the standalone version and both stable and beta [or alpha] installed, but steam or no steam is up to you, if you can make the trainings, events, etc. Make sure you watch out for the sales.)
1. REQUIREMENTS (OBLIGATORY!):
Obviously you need DCS World, but more specific:
- DCS World openbeta 1.5 (Caucasus Map) [http://www.digitalcombatsimulator.com/en/downloads/world/stable/]
- DCS World openalpha 2.0 [http://www.digitalcombatsimulator.com/en/downloads/world/alpha/]
and to be able to fly some aircraft and participate in the 104th you need these modules:
- Nevada Test and Training Range (module: map) [http://www.digitalcombatsimulator.com/en/shop/terrains/nttr_terrain/]
- Flaming Cliffs 3 (module: a/c) [http://www.digitalcombatsimulator.com/en/shop/modules/dcs_flaming_cliffs_3/]
- L-39 Albatros (module: a/c) [http://www.digitalcombatsimulator.com/en/shop/modules/albatros/]
and - Tacview: In order to analyse your flights with your instructor, you will also need Tacview: http://tacview.strasoftware.com/download/latest/en/
Before you ask: Su25a, F-15C and Su-27 as standalone modules seperately do NOT suffice. The L-39 Albatros is a new prerequisite as the formation training in its entire duration is held in the L-39 with live backseat instructions. But trust us, it is worth every penny!
Please also expect that the Heatblur F-14 Tomcat and the DCS: F-18 will become part of obligatory modules in the future.
1.b PC Hardware:
Unfortunately, as good as you can afford it. The minimum requirements for DCS are too low in our opinion, so aim above - as high as you can. If however you are fine with the minimum requirements for DCS and it doesn't affect your flight, we shall ask nor more from you. Pls note that DCS does not support SLI.
1.c Flight Gear:
If you take flying sims seriously, sooner or later you WILL end up with a HOTAS. But let me say this loud and clear: IT IS NOT A MUST. However, a Joystick and an equivalent to a Throttle that is precise enough, are obligatory!
Let me put it like this: if your flight gear let's you pass the UPTs excellently (we expect no less!), then it is good enough. If it causes you struggle in your attempts, then it is not good enough. After all, the feeling between your hand and your stick (spare me the jokes) is essential. It is your muscle memory and the stick's ability to transform it into precise inputs what makes you "a good stick". And being a good stick, is what makes you a good fighter. But once again, let me emphasize, that there are very affordable good sticks, our own pilots have proven it often enough. And a prefab HOTAS is not a must - although WE DO HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT! And I will list some recommendations (and reasons) below.
2. RECOMMENDATIONS (OPTIONAL!):
Generally of course we recommend all the modules, each and every single aircraft has its brilliant aspects and surprising and satisfying moments. But if you don't have them all yet, or maybe none apart from FC3, and you'd like to get more, think about what we are doing in the 104th mostly, and why you'd like to be here. Exactly. So, I recommend you start with these two, apart from the requirements above. And when you go shopping, remind yourself that during your training you won't have much time for these modules. We want you to concentrate on your F-15C training:
- A-10C Warthog http://www.digitalcombatsimulator.com/en/shop/modules/dcs_a10c_warthog/
- Ka-50 Blackshark 2 http://www.digitalcombatsimulator.com/en/shop/modules/dcs_black_shark_2/
Rest assured with time you will know your preferences better, and select accordingly. But these two fall well into the kind of warfare that the 104th likes to simulate. Additionally you might want to consider the UH-1H Huey for support roles. But again, remember: we will predominantly need you in the F-15 and later F-18 / F-14. We're fighter jocks. We bomb to relax.
- track IR 5: It is great if you have it, but once again, YOU DO NOT NEED IT. Many ppl will say you do, however the Ace of Aces, 104th_Maverick himself, has never used it. If you can cope, it is up to you. But if you can get it, do it! It will improve your experience dramatically. Leave it if you have specific problems with your neck/ spine. https://www.naturalpoint.com/trackir/
- FreeTrack: is a cheap alternative to track IR, but will require some effort from your side. You will mainly have to build your LED clip and will spend a bit more time setting everything up, but it is a good solution that doesn't differ much to track IR. You could also acquire the track IR pro clip (just the clip) and use it with FreeTrack. http://www.free-track.net/english/
- EDTracker: is a new and cheap, as well as 100% relyably and easy working solution. You get it for only 45 £ - and doesn't need any camera, it is a simple small box that you fix to your headset. It is not affected by sun, light, glasses or whatsoever, it works well with varifocal lenses, too. There is one downside to it: it is only 3 DOF (!), with the opentrack software however you can add roll to it. Which makes it effectivly 4 DOF only. As an entry headtreacker, I think it is still a valid recommendation though. http://www.edtracker.co.uk/
- used track IR 4 on ebay: same as track IR 5, only slightly less precise (and that is in a very unnoticeable margin). You should be able to find used ones for about 90$ on ebay. IMHO that is probably the best solution, if you don't want to spend the money for a new track IR 5.
AS THINGS HAVE CHANGED I DO RECOMMEND A VR SOLUTION, AS FOR NOW THAT WOULD BE THE OCCULUS RIFT. PLEASE NOTE THAT WHILE IT IS AN AWESOME EXPERIENCE, IT IS STILL WIP AND YOU SHOULD TRY BEFORE YOU BUY!
2.b.a Low End Flight Gear:
Again and again I see ppl who post on forums and facebook, that you need a HOTAS to become really good. They are the so-called "hardcore simmers", who don't understand that pushing a button is still pushing a button, no matter if it is a metal switch or a plastic key on your keyboard. Skill comes from experience and the ability to follow through with your workflow. But above everything else, skill comes from an increased SA, or Situational Awareness. Now, if flying with a stick that has a little throttle slider on it and the keyboard next to it let's you do your inputs in the required moment in the required order at the required parameters, then there is NOTHING wrong with this set up. Most important is your stick. Over the time your input will become more precise, because your muscle memory will become more complex. And the stick should be able to transform that into precise inputs ingame. And IMHO there is one stick above all that has the best price-value to offer:
- Logitech Extreme 3d Pro. It is good and precise enough to handle air to air refuelings, the throttle is mini and makes refueling difficult (but possible with disconnects), it has a very nice feel to the palm and is sturdy enough to feel like pulling weight. 12 Buttons, 8way hat switch and throttle-slider. And it costs around 50 $ only. You will get no better stick for the price, and it is this stick, that has been on rank 1 in DCS air to air for the past 6 years. It is also a twist stick, so you need no rudder pedals.
- X-52(pro or not) Throttle used on Ebay (or elsewhere). It is a great combination, if you run on a budget (and there is no shame in that), to run the Logitech Extreme 3d Pro together with a used X-52 or X-52pro throttle. Ask around, a lot of guys have them lying around and would probably give them away for shipping costs. DCS recognizes both seperately and you'll have nothing less than a HOTAS for the best budget you can get. If low end price range is yours, this is the ultimate set up for you. Avoid those semi-hotas solutions like the Thrustmaster T-Flight Hotas. They are great for arcade flying or space sims, etc., but come at the cost of precision.
2.b.b Mid Range Flight Gear:
I'll make it short. You want a hotas, but you don't want to spend quite as much. And yes, of course, having a hotas improves your experience and facilitates workflow, plus it feels and looks cool (in most cases). And yes, you should by a hotas. If you think you'll always settle rather in the mid range, there are some very decent sticks, I will list them from lower to higher price. But if you plan to get a high end stick at some point and rather sooner than later, you should skip this segment, start with the solution listed under low end above and then settle for a high end hotas.
- Saitek X-52: Around 120$, it's a classic, very nice for chopper flying, you might find it too soft on the spring though, if you like to pull hard when fighting in jets. Lots of little buttons. No split-throttle (one engine). IMO best low price entry hotas.
- Saitek X-52 Pro: Around 200$ (still unfortunately). Much better sensors than the X-52, but you will need teflon grease to get rid of the stiction problems around the shaft. If you get one in good shape that is build pre 2007, it means it is build pre-Madcatz, which is a very good thing, to say the least.
- Saitek X-55 Pro: Around 250 $. It is quite ok. If you have small hands the stick and the button and hat positions will be too wide, and it is a bit like a budget Warthog, but not bad at all. Once you grease the shaft it is smooth, it is quite precise and lets you change the spring force yourself. The throttle is suprisingly superb though, very precise, similar to the Warthog, but more inputs, since the switches don't stay, but flip back, which gives them two, instead of one inputs. It is a split throttle and feels nice and has plenty of buttons and switches. Despite the typical Saitek flaws, it is a decent stick.
All these three are twist sticks and spare you the use of rudder pedals. If you want rudder pedals in the mid range (there is no low range), I recommend the Saitek Pro Flight Combat Rudder Pedals or Ch Rudder Pedals. The Thrustmaster pedals should be ok, too.
2.b.c High End Flight Gear:
- CH Products, Fighter Stick, Throttle and Pedals. Each of the pieces comes seperately and costs around 130 $. Very durable, precise, will work after 10 years like on day one, not very elegant though, mainly very functional and build to last. Can't do anything wrong with that. Stick is an F-16 replica stick, full hotas, no split throttle.
- Thrustmaster Warthog. Of course, what else, the mother of joysticks today. Around 350 $. Yes, it is good. Yes you do want it. And no, there is nothing wrong with going for the Warthog right away, if you can get it. Let's be clear on one thing: if you apply to the 104th, we expect that you are clear enough on the matter that flying DCS is a hobby rather than a fancy that will pass. In most cases it is a life or at least years long hobby. So if you know that for yourself and you can afford or save up to it, there is no point in spending money for less quality stuff, although CH has the better quality when it comes to the build and endurance itself, at least so they say. It has a spilt throttle but no twiststick, so you'll need pedals with it.
- MFG Crosswind Rudder Pedals. Around 300 € plus shipping. The best rudder pedals you can get for private simulation. Nothing tops them, you order and they are handbuild for you. You'll wait at least 2 months after your order.
- SLAW Device Rudder Pedals. Around 500 € plus shipping. The even more best rudder pedals you can get for private simulation. The cherry on top of the cream. It tops the crosswinds, and nothing tops them already, so you can catch my drift (in yaw and awe). You will wait 2 to 4 months.
Again, these recommendations come from lots of experience in relevance to our squadron. Low End, Mid Range or High End - IT DOES NOT MATTER IF IT DOES THE JOB! So if you're not an applicant or cadet and read this out of curiousity, our arguements are referring to our training and are not meant for the casual pilot. If it helps, I'm glad, but rest assured we don't care if we didn't mention your favourite stick. Sry about that. These sticks are the most common and (still) present sticks to date.
In any case if an applicant is about to buy flight gear, the choice should in no way be made solely on the grounds of our recommendations. Google, read reviews, ask around and consider that you need the right tool for the right job.
For any kind of purchase, software or hardware, the applicant or cadet is responsible for himself and the squadron will not be hold accountable.
IMPORTANT NOTE: IN ORDER TO APPLY TO THE 104th YOU DO NOT NEED ANYTHING EXCEPT DCS 1.5 AND FLAMING CLIFFS 3. YOU CAN PURCHASE THE REST AFTER YOU PASSED THE UPTs, IF (!) YOU GET ACCEPTED. BUT YOUR TRAINING WILL NOT START UNTIL YOU MEET ALL REQUIREMENTS. HOWEVER YOU ARE EXPECTED TO START WITH YOUR TRAINING AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.
Note. All DCS standalone products (modules, campaigns, terrains) should be installed via DCS World ingame Module Manager only.