Messing with DCS Black Shark 2

This is what going from the A-10C to the Ka-50 feels like

I've had a lot of fun with DCS A-10C, but it was the second DCS sim I bought. I originally got Black Shark when it was released, and immediately hit a brick wall with it. It was easily as complex as the A-10, everything was labelled in Russian, none of the tutorials were interactive, and in general the whole experience of learning was really painful, to the point where I just decided I wasn't up to the challenge.

Now, having gotten to know the A-10 fairly well, and given that Black Shark just got its 2.0 upgrade making it multiplayer compatible with DCS A-10, I decided to give it another spin.

On the upside, Black Shark 2's interface is generally analogous to DCS A-10's, so the mission editor etc are all the same. Additionally, the voice work has been translated to English, along with all the cockpit labels; This might seem like a copout, but I honestly didn't sign up to learn Russian; The language is a stylistic choice rather than a real facet of the aircraft, so I welcomed the change.

The tutorials were still a bit shit though, if not even worse this time around, being replaced with a bunch of grainy videos that refer to videos that don't even exist (yet..?), so back to the manual, and back to the notebook.

Remember! You must think in Russian!

The thing is, knowing how to cold start the A-10 made figuring out how to cold start the Ka-50 kind of a breeze. I felt like such a badass going into that cockpit and knowing what battery ac/dc, the inverter, what the APU did and so on, even without looking at the manual I managed to get the engines running and fumble my way off the ground (and into a building). This was already aeons beyond how I fared with Black Shark 1, so it was very encouraging!

Second, I now possessed a nice HOTAS stick/throttle set, as well as the TrackIR5, ready to assign all the useful axes and buttons to. All in all, I felt like everything was there for me to figure out how to fly the thing.

Well, let me tell you, if it wasn't obvious.. For as complex as the A-10 is, the aerodynamics and general maneuvering of a jet is a fairly intuitive thing. A helicopter is something entirely different. Whereas flying a plane around is something you can figure out in minutes, simply making a helicopter stay still is a challenge. The Black Shark has thoroughly humbled me.

Ridiculously ugly things.

A big part of the difficulty is understanding the difference between an inherently stable platform, like a fixed wing aircraft, and a totally unstable one, like a helicopter, where changes in attitude are exponential, and you must learn to compensate in reverse for everything you do. The simplest comparison I can think of is balancing a chopstick on your palm. The "big deal" with the Ka-50 is its degree of automation, however, and god, this thing has one of the most aggressive autopilot solutions I've come across. It's all there to let you perform the roles of both navigator/pilot and weapons officer (whereas the AH-64 has a crew of two to do the same), but the result is an aircraft that feels unusually argumentative.

Theoretically, this means you have a vehicle you "order around", rather than fly by the seat of your pants, and the shift between governing what the helo should try to do, versus what you want to do in the exact moment, can be super frustrating. In the A-10 you may have engaged the autopilot to hold your current heading, but when you take charge, the AP disengages itself. Not so on the Ka-50. You'll be heading in one direction, then try to bank to the left. Forgetting to hold the trimmer button, you come out of your turn with a helicopter that gently urges you to bank to the right, back to your original heading. The AP is designed to constantly be engaged, with you rather temporarily disengaging it during a maneuver before re-engaging after, to give the AP a new set of "orders".

But I really want to learn how to work around this stuff, even come to love it, because as a weapons platform the Ka-50 is kind of amazing.

First of all, a helmet mounted sight (HMS) system lets you simply look at a tank to slew your missile/gun onto it. In the A-10, this process, while not complicated, is book-keeping 2 or even 3 sensors. In the Ka-50, you simply look at a thing and push a button. By constantly slaving the gun to the HMS, you can track a moving target with your head movement while shooting at it. It feels like total science fiction. If the A-10 gets the HMS (as rumored), that plane is frankly going to be terrifyingly effective.

Additionally, there is a directness and simplicity to the Russian design that makes the A-10 seem a little convoluted sometimes. The sensor slew in the A-10 feels endlessly slow when compared to how quickly the Shkval targeting pod lets you scan and move the cursor on a target. While the A-10 TGP is clearly superior, the Shkval still "feels" better to use, and less argumentative than the Litening pod.

I'm going to stick with the Black Shark for a while; I miss the A-10 constantly, but there is something "dirty" and alien to this Russian helo that really makes me want to feel confident in it.

16 Comments
16 Comments
Edited by Sunjammer
This is what going from the A-10C to the Ka-50 feels like

I've had a lot of fun with DCS A-10C, but it was the second DCS sim I bought. I originally got Black Shark when it was released, and immediately hit a brick wall with it. It was easily as complex as the A-10, everything was labelled in Russian, none of the tutorials were interactive, and in general the whole experience of learning was really painful, to the point where I just decided I wasn't up to the challenge.

Now, having gotten to know the A-10 fairly well, and given that Black Shark just got its 2.0 upgrade making it multiplayer compatible with DCS A-10, I decided to give it another spin.

On the upside, Black Shark 2's interface is generally analogous to DCS A-10's, so the mission editor etc are all the same. Additionally, the voice work has been translated to English, along with all the cockpit labels; This might seem like a copout, but I honestly didn't sign up to learn Russian; The language is a stylistic choice rather than a real facet of the aircraft, so I welcomed the change.

The tutorials were still a bit shit though, if not even worse this time around, being replaced with a bunch of grainy videos that refer to videos that don't even exist (yet..?), so back to the manual, and back to the notebook.

Remember! You must think in Russian!

The thing is, knowing how to cold start the A-10 made figuring out how to cold start the Ka-50 kind of a breeze. I felt like such a badass going into that cockpit and knowing what battery ac/dc, the inverter, what the APU did and so on, even without looking at the manual I managed to get the engines running and fumble my way off the ground (and into a building). This was already aeons beyond how I fared with Black Shark 1, so it was very encouraging!

Second, I now possessed a nice HOTAS stick/throttle set, as well as the TrackIR5, ready to assign all the useful axes and buttons to. All in all, I felt like everything was there for me to figure out how to fly the thing.

Well, let me tell you, if it wasn't obvious.. For as complex as the A-10 is, the aerodynamics and general maneuvering of a jet is a fairly intuitive thing. A helicopter is something entirely different. Whereas flying a plane around is something you can figure out in minutes, simply making a helicopter stay still is a challenge. The Black Shark has thoroughly humbled me.

Ridiculously ugly things.

A big part of the difficulty is understanding the difference between an inherently stable platform, like a fixed wing aircraft, and a totally unstable one, like a helicopter, where changes in attitude are exponential, and you must learn to compensate in reverse for everything you do. The simplest comparison I can think of is balancing a chopstick on your palm. The "big deal" with the Ka-50 is its degree of automation, however, and god, this thing has one of the most aggressive autopilot solutions I've come across. It's all there to let you perform the roles of both navigator/pilot and weapons officer (whereas the AH-64 has a crew of two to do the same), but the result is an aircraft that feels unusually argumentative.

Theoretically, this means you have a vehicle you "order around", rather than fly by the seat of your pants, and the shift between governing what the helo should try to do, versus what you want to do in the exact moment, can be super frustrating. In the A-10 you may have engaged the autopilot to hold your current heading, but when you take charge, the AP disengages itself. Not so on the Ka-50. You'll be heading in one direction, then try to bank to the left. Forgetting to hold the trimmer button, you come out of your turn with a helicopter that gently urges you to bank to the right, back to your original heading. The AP is designed to constantly be engaged, with you rather temporarily disengaging it during a maneuver before re-engaging after, to give the AP a new set of "orders".

But I really want to learn how to work around this stuff, even come to love it, because as a weapons platform the Ka-50 is kind of amazing.

First of all, a helmet mounted sight (HMS) system lets you simply look at a tank to slew your missile/gun onto it. In the A-10, this process, while not complicated, is book-keeping 2 or even 3 sensors. In the Ka-50, you simply look at a thing and push a button. By constantly slaving the gun to the HMS, you can track a moving target with your head movement while shooting at it. It feels like total science fiction. If the A-10 gets the HMS (as rumored), that plane is frankly going to be terrifyingly effective.

Additionally, there is a directness and simplicity to the Russian design that makes the A-10 seem a little convoluted sometimes. The sensor slew in the A-10 feels endlessly slow when compared to how quickly the Shkval targeting pod lets you scan and move the cursor on a target. While the A-10 TGP is clearly superior, the Shkval still "feels" better to use, and less argumentative than the Litening pod.

I'm going to stick with the Black Shark for a while; I miss the A-10 constantly, but there is something "dirty" and alien to this Russian helo that really makes me want to feel confident in it.

Posted by Sliced_Bread

Well said. As much as I love and adore the A-10, I just find the Black Shark more fun. Helicopter tactics are more appealing, being able to hover safely behind a hill and get set up. Rather than a fixed wing where you're always moving, and therefore, on something of a time limit.

Also, the datalink stuff is WAY more intuitive.

Posted by Sunjammer

@Sliced_Bread: How do you feel about the trimmer/AP? I am having such difficulty getting used to that stuff.. Do you hold the trimmer when piloting? Do you use flight director mode much? Do you use pedals for the rudder?

Argh, so hard, haha

Posted by Sliced_Bread

The trimmer is kind of odd. You move the cyclic (control stick) to where you want it to be, tap the trim button, then center the cyclic and it should continue to act as it did in the previous position. I never really understood the flight director symbology, which made it quite useless to me lol. I never used it and don't feel like a worse fake pilot for it. I do have pedals, and highly recommend having some for general chopper flying, but a joystick with twist works just fine. Which reminds me, I think the trim button also effects rudder position same as cyclic.

Trim is better explained here.

Good luck, the shark is one of those things that will suddenly all make perfect sense out of nowhere (simpiphany?)

Posted by Sunjammer

@Sliced_Bread: Yeah I've watched everything I could find on the trimmer.. Buying pedals now. I was aware helos were more rudder-intensive, but not that the Ka-50 was particularly so :-/

How confident do you feel at this point? The A-10 is cozy to me, but the Ka-50 is like taming a wild buck. I hope the pedals will make a difference :-)

Posted by Mikemcn

I can't believe that Russia felt the need to develop a single seater attack helicopter. Your point about them being much more difficult to control is entirely accurate and I don't see how halving the brain power running the vehicle was a good idea.

Makes for a great flight sim though, no need for a co-op partner, same with the A-10.

Posted by Sliced_Bread

@Sunjammer: Confidence is just a matter of time spent, and I have way more time in the shark than the hog. The hardest part is just learning to fly the damn thing, the systems are actually pretty easy. Personally, the A-10c has too many systems for my short attention span.

The shark on the other hand just has a big old TV and the ABRIS which work together nicely to make killing take as few steps as possible. It's as easy as Find, Mark, Lock, Laze, Shoot. Need to fire two shots in one go? No need for MFDs and profiles and all that nonsense, just flick a switch and launch :) I just wish it had the hogs fancy RWR.

Posted by Venx0r

I've been flying a lot better ever since I learned a little about the autopilot. The autopilot is limited to 20% authority, which IRL is great for the aircraft's designers because they can disregard a bunch of redundancy since the worst it can do is make you correct up to 20% for a failed autopilot, but makes it so that I have to already have the aircraft pretty much doing what I want it to before I can engage the autopilot. For example, I already have to be in a nice trimmed hover before I engage the auto-hover mode, and then the autopilot just holds it for me while I'm staring at the shkval. When I'm not in auto-hover or route follow autopilot modes, I fly with the flight director on, which turns off the autopilot. It's important to realize that you want the autopilot off when maneuvering, otherwise you'll end up fighting its 20% all the time, which feels like random aircraft weirdness.

Posted by Sunjammer

@Venx0r: The secret to stop arguing with the autopilot is the trimmer, understanding the cyclic/collective relationship to speed and altitude, and for the most part to simply start trusting the AP to do what it does.

First of all, don't forget that holding the trimmer down disengages the autopilot until it is released, which leaves you temporarily flying as if the flight director was on. This is generally preferable to the flight director I feel, unless you are engaged defensive and need to focus on flying like a wild man. (spoiler: you will probably die anyway) My stick has a pinky handle I've assigned to trim, so holding it down while maneuvering is something I do instinctively.

Second, r-ctrl+enter for the controls indicator is so useful I always keep it on. Knowing how you're trimmed is something real pilots can tell intuitively, but we have to sort of remember where we trimmed. The control indicator just straight up shows us. This lets you do things like remember the correct cyclic trim for hover at a certain altitude, which lets you simply set it, and then "fight" the trim while maneuvering into the position you are trimmed for. It also means you can quickly trim for a certain velocity at a certain altitude; It means a lot to be able to confidently set your trim for a speed and not worry about your chopper hitting the dirt as long as you compensate with collective. Going into a hover or down below 30km/h when I want to is a piece of cake now.

The biggest problem I have right now is understanding why systems sometimes fail. In the A-10C, inertial nav alignment takes about 4 minutes and it puts an indicator on the CDU to tell you when you're ready to go. The Ka-50 it's a lot more loose with it, and I'm still trying to figure out why sometimes the Shkval, SAI or even autopilot go off center. The classic case is auto turn to target ceasing to function properly, often with as big an error as 45 degrees, typically to the right of the target. I've been reading about fix points for realigning the PVI, and practically no missions i've flown have included fix points. Considering they are the one way to correctly realign the PVI, that's a huge bummer for us. I wish mission designers took the time to include that stuff, even if A-10s are the focus these days.

Posted by Venx0r

That seems like a lot of holding down the trim button. I guess I could give it a try.

I've never had any problems with alignment. The largest error I've seen with turn to target has been maybe a degree or two. You can set it to a mode where it re-aligns using the shkval. I use the auto-startup, so maybe you're not hitting that switch when you start? It's underneath the PVI (manual page 6-65 #22).

Posted by Sunjammer

@Venx0r: The way I understood it the Shkval re-align is still based on the pre-programmed fixpoint; The only difference is you don't fly over it, but point your Shkval at it. (page 367) A good test of how aligned the PVI is would be to grab a coordinate from the Abris (GPS), program it into the PVI (Inertial) as a target point, and then automatically align the Shkval to it to see where the INU thinks it is. When it's off, boy is it off. In an hour of flying or so it can be miles away.

It's not really that common a problem but I tend to stay in the air for a long time; Most of the campaign missions have flight times of something like a half hour to 45 minutes, so it doesn't crop up much then. In practise flights or multiplayer though, time can fly away.

Posted by mmzOne

I decided to buy this since I got some extra money.  Been playing it a couple of days now and I don't quite understand why everyone is saying (I mean in general) that copters are super hard to fly. Maybe I'm just natural. :D Having said that, today I had my first accident. After take off I was transitioning to cruise, when my blades decided to clip each other. Which resulted a rather sudden and quick involuntary landing. Apparently helicopters can't fly without rotor blades, who knew.
Also is this copter super easy to operate, or am I doing something wrong? I mean it's basically just fly to general area of enemy, locate it with TV, lock and fire.

Posted by Sunjammer

It is heavily automated, with autopilot handling throttle, altitude and heading hold and more. You can have this chopper both fly to and point itself at a target without you touching more than a few buttons.

Flying the thing is less problematic than being effective in it. If you're going by the campaign, you're not being pushed very hard; That stuff is easy pickings. Also, are you flying on sim or game settings? Because the difference is epic.

Edited by Venx0r

I went through a similar process of being like "hey, this is really easy to fly! Not much harder than the choppers in BF3" and then I realized it defaults to the "game" flight model. Put it on sim and you'll notice a difference!

Posted by mmzOne

I can see your points, but I have been playing on full sim mode whole time. Also I think that I selected my words rather poorly on previous post. It's not that I'm critisising the game, it's more like I'm amazed how simple the KA-50 systems are compared to what americans use. Like if you want to shoot guided missile to enemy tank and you compare how you do it in KA-50 and lets say a-10, the amount of work you need to do is quite different. (I haven't actually played a-10, so I'm just guessing based on from what I have seen on videos).
I have to agree with Sunjammer that being able to use the systems and being effective with them have difference.
 
Also on second note. Earlier on this week I kept thinking that it would be cool if KA had autopilot that could fly prearranged route automatically. After diggin around and watching training videos made from BS 1.0 training missions, I found the route mode! No more manual flight. Who knows what else I will find if I keep diggin. :D

Edited by Venx0r

I agree, in general the KA-50's systems are pretty simple and straight forward. The data link procedure in particular is super easy. One thing the A-10 has going for it in terms of easy-of-use is that the mavericks are fire and forget, so you can launch 4 in rapid succession and then break off and get out of there all while they're still in flight and tracking.

I still don't think the KA-50 is super easy to fly. :) I'm absolutely terrible at hitting things with rockets (and circle strafing in general), like 1 tank kill for every 20 fired. I'm getting better, though. I've noticed KA-50 flying is also making me a better A-10 pilot.