Polychop Simulations DCS: SA342 Gazelle
I have been an avid helicopter simpilot ever since “Apache Longbow” on the Commodore C64, mostly flying everything rotary in FS9, FSX and P3D in the recent years. Whenever I proudly posted pictures of my Aerosoft or Nemeth Design UH-1 Huey, a friend suggested to get the DCS: UH-1H Huey to finally have a realistic flight model. That’s how I entered the world of DCS (thank’s Kevin!). As I grew up with the Hueys these are my favourite helos in any sim. Funny enough, in DCS I ended up almost entirely flying the Polychop Gazelle instead. Reason enough for a review of this magnificent little helicopter.
The Gazelle was originally designed by French manufacturer Sud Aviation, later Aérospatiale, as a replacement for the Alouette III as a light observation helicopter for the French Army. The maiden flight of the SA340 took place in 1967, by that time still with a conventional tail rotor assembly. In 1968 the second prototype received it’s trademark Fenestron tail rotor, allowing for greater speeds, making the Gazelle the fastest helicopter in it’s class reaching in excess of 300km/h.
In 1967 an agreement was signed between Aérospatiale and Westland Helicopters for a joint production of the Gazelle in both France and Great Britain. Later licence production was conducted by SOKO in Yoguslavia and Arab British Helicopter Company in Egypt.
Approximately 1,800 Gazelles were built between 1967 and 1996, with the Gazelle still serving in many air arms today.
Variants of the Gazelle saw extensive combat in Operation Desert Storm, the Lebanon, Syria and various other conflicts.
Purchase and installation
Polychop Simulations from Germany developed the Gazelle SA342M and SA342L for Eagle Dynamics Digital Combat Simulator with the official authorization of Airbus Helicopters. The Gazelle is available from the official DCS shop for a price of US$ 49.99 and is compativle with DCS 1.5 and DCS 2.0 Open Alpha.
The Gazelle comes with three PDF manuals: a 134 page strong flight manual covering all aspects of flying and fighting with the Gazelle SA342M, a 34 page strong manual covering the NADIR Mk I navigation suite and a 42 page strong manual for the included campaign “Operation Dixmude” for DCS 1.5. This answers an important question already “Does it come with a campaign?” – yes it does. And it is not just a simple campaign to please the buyers, it is a dynamic and complex campaign, that is great fun to fly.
A skin template in layered PSD format is available from the DCS download section for repainters.
By default the Polychop Gazelle comes with skins for the French (Combat, training and Tigermeet), semi-fictional skins for British, Israeli and Syrian Gazelles and purely fictional skins for Russian, German and Greek Cyprus machines. A great number of additional excellent skins is available from the DCS download section.
If you want a little more comprehensive reading, I could also recommend Chucks Guide for the SA342M: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-uSpZROuEd3Qk53ZlNKVVNnSFU/view?usp=sharing
In the sim
Let’s have a short look at the features of the SA342M according to the product page:
Key Features of DCS: SA342 Gazelle:
- Accurate and highly detailed six-degrees-freedom (6DOF) cockpit and external model
- Mouse interactive cockpit with authentic systems modeling
- Fully modeled weapon system including weapons sight and HOT 3
- Exciting and challenging campaign
- Interactive training missions
- AFM (Advanced Flight Model) that simulates all flight phases and characteristics of the Gazelle
- Inclusive flight manual
- Gazelle skins covering many countries
In the initial release Polychop offered the SA342M of the French Army Light Aviation (ALAT), a tank hunter version of the Gazelle, equipped with powerful VIVIANE optics for target acquisition and four HOT3 anti-tank missiles.
The next update will see the addition of the SA342L, a lighter version with less complex optics and armed with GIAT 20mm canon and a Telson 8 rocket pod.
Versions featuring Mistral missiles and a sniper team will follow.
Let’s have a look at the SA342M in the simulator. Walking around the helicopter reveals two things – how small it actually is, compared to the Huey or Mi-8 in DCS and, more importantly, how extremely well detailed it is. Pick any detail of the real world Gazelle and look it up on the Polychop version and you will see eye candy all over the place. Every nut and bolt seems to have been rendered with loving attention to detail.
The same applies for the cockpit, which almost fully functional (i.e. clickable). The instruments are readable without any problems and look just great. Especially when turning on the UV light and/or the red background illumination for night flying, it is just a joy to sit in this cockpit.
The SA342M cockpit is divided into the pilot’s seat (right) and the co-pilot/mission commander’s seat (left). The mission commander’s workplace is dominated by the Sagem CRT display coupled to the VIVIANE optics. The optics offer a black and white through the lens image or an infrared image.
The mission commander is responsible for target acquisition and weapon selection and firing of the HOT3 missiles. Due to the lack of multicrew, the Gazelle will mostly fight from a hovering position. For this the autopilot can be slaved to the VIVIANE optics. As a small simplification Polychop also enabled an auto collective mode to the auto hover, in real life the pilot is responsible for keeping the altitude while hovering. In future multicrew this feature can be disabled for more realism, but as a single player it comes in quite handy.
As you can see in the pictures above, the pilots do have sun visors (G key) and these are actually not just optical gimmicks, but they are working.
A word on the Night Vision Goggles (NVG). I strongly recommend to use Frenchy’s NVG mod for a far better night flying experience rather than using the default DCS NVG system. After experimenting a little bit, I fly the circled variant from the third picture. I will link to the mod at the end of the review.
Armament options on the SA342M variant are limited to no HOT 3, 2×1 HOT 3 (the typical configuration of the French Aviation Légère de l’Armée de Terre) or 2×2 HOT 3 missiles. In addition you can equip your Gazelle with an IR suppression and a sandfilter for operations in the desert.
As countermeasures you have a set of 20 flares and a Radar Warning Receiver. The latter is not completely functional yet. It does signal the threats, but the threat mapping function is not yet implemented.
Another thing to note is the sound. I was able to witness the Gazelle at various air shows and whistling sound of the engine and Fenestron is spot on. Same applies for the sound of rotor blades, also from within the cockpit. The whole immersion is just great.
The flight model
“What the f**k!?” was my first impression, when I was trying to take the Gazelle to the air for the first time. The Gazelle was all over the place and a feeling of frustration arose. But why? The reason is simple – beforehand I flew the Mi-8MT and the UH-1H Huey and was used to the inputs and stick defections needed to move these helicopters. One has to keep in mind, that the gross weight of the nimble Gazelle is only half that of the Huey, hence far smaller control inputs are needed to move it to the desired position.
Chuck recommends 70% saturation for the rudder and 80% for the cyclic, with these values the Gazelle becomes very controllable with my Saitek X-55. The stick deflections strongly remind me of my RC helicopter days and after the initial frustration the grin on my face got broader virtually every single minute I was flying this helicopter.
After a few hours I was able to maneuver it at lowest altitudes with high precision. I can assure you it is very rewarding feeling to move to your firing position below treetop level undetected by enemy radar. Experienced flyers will just chuckle about this, but after only a few hours on this type in DCS, it really feels great to achieve this.
There is a lot of controvery around the flight model of the Polychop SA342M Gazelle. Yes it is harder to fly than the trusted Huey or the truck-like Mi-8. The Grossweight of the Gazelle is less than 2000 kg, compared to almost 5 tons on the UH-1H and an amazing 12 tons on the Mi-8. Of course it reacts more directly to control inputs and too large stick deflections easily result in user induced oscillation. So one might say it is hard to fly. No, not if you spend some time with the Gazelle. Patience is the key in my opinion. At the beginning the learning curve with this add on is very shallow. But after a few hours it will get steeper and steeper. Polychop claim the flight model was tested by real life ALAT Gazelle pilots and only a few minor issues were found during testing and will be implemented in the next update.
I never had the pleasure to be at the controls of a real helicopter (only RC) so I cannot judge the realism of any of DCS’ helicopter add ons. What I can say is that, except for a few twerks, it does feel realistic to me. I will keep you updated on the changes in the upcoming update in regards of the flight model.
The SA342M was designed to operate from forward operating bases near the frontline and attack advancing Soviet tanks. With the demise of the iron curtain, the Gazelle saw combat action in the middle eastern theatre instead, mostly operating in large chains against Iraqi tanks. This is what the Gazelle does best – hunt enemy armor. Also when using the Lima variant with the 20mm and rocket pods, keep in mind your SA342 is no attack helicopter. Facing the enemy, all your armor that is between you and him is a few millimeters of acrylic glass. Even rifle fire can be lethal to your Gazelle and your crew, so try to fully exploit the 4 km range of your HOT 3 missiles and stay low – and by low I mean below 10 meters! What is unique to the Gazelle in DCS as far as I am aware of, is the fact the HOT 3 anti tank missiles are actually wire-guided missiles. Unlike the fire-and-forget AGM-114 Hellfire, you must keep the Gazelle’s target in the crosshairs all the way till the impact of the missile. A great danger is cutting the guidance wire. In the beginning I was too enthusiastic when engaging multiple targets. As I was used to, as soon as a missile was away, I selected the next weapons station to get ready for the next missile launch. Bad idea! Switching the weapons station while a HOT 3 is in the air, will cut the wire and subsequently the guidance of the missile.
Some will argue that going to battle with four anti-tank missiles will get boring quickly. I would agree, if all missions would just be about “take-off from FARP – hit 4 tanks – return to FARP”. Thankfully they don’t. There a lot of very interesting missions available and also the included campaign will keep you busy for a while.
In a multiplayer environment the Gazelle could also pose as a scout for other airborne assets. Seeking and identifying targets and relaying the target coordinates to fellow strikers like the A-10C.
At the time of writing the Gazelle is not capable of carrying any loads, neither troops nor sling loads. But at least the latter will be included in a future update, bringing along yet again more playing possibilities.
When the Gazelle was released I thought “how boring can that be…”, but out of a mood bought it anyway. Since then I hardly flew anything else in DCS. The first steps were frustrating, but as soon as the learning curve pointed upwards, I just fell in love with the nimble helicopter. I looks great, it sounds great, the systems work fine and it provides great playing options in DCS. It is the mixture of extreme low flying at day and night, maneuverability, NADIR and the wire guided missiles that make it stand out for me. You have to plan your ingress, attack positions and egress very carefully. There is no “let’s just fly and shoot something up” in the Gazelle and that challenge is what I love.
95% might seem too high for some people. I say, in contrary! When the RWR has it’s full functionality and we received the Mistral and Sniper team variants, then it will be the perfect 10.
Update – SA342L and more
With the update to DCS World 1.5.4 a major update for the Polychop Gazelle came along. While the change log is long, I will pick the two single most important features of the update: the revised flight model and the addition of the SA342L variant.
Polychop Simulations had their SA342 tested by real life Gazelle pilots of the 3e RHC of the French Aviation légère de l’armée de Terre. The feedback given resulted in a slightly changed flight model, making coordinated turns easier and people struggling with the Gazelle will most likely find it somewhat easier to fly now.
The SA342L is a lighter variant of the Gazelle, compared to the SA342M tank hunter. The Lima lacks the night vision capable VIVIANE optics, sporting the smaller daylight operations only ATHOS optics. The armament consists of a 20mm GIAT automatic machine canon with 240 rounds, with an impressive firing rate of 740 rounds/minute. The fighting range of the GIAT M621 is 1200 meters. With the GIAT canon mounted on the starboard side, the SA342L further features a rocket pod on the port side of the fuselage. The launcher carries 8 unguided 68mm SNEB rockets with a fighting range of 4000 meters. In contrary to the SA342M variant, where the weapons were fired by the co-pilot, the GIAT machine canon and the SNEB rockets are controlled by the pilot on L version. For aiming he has a deployable pilot sight, which will display the respective crosshair variants, depending on the selected weapons.
To accomodate for the new weapon selector panel, the radio has moved to underneath the co-pilot’s weapons panel.
So, how does this update change the overall outcome of this review? With the update and the addition of the SA342L the Gazelle turns into a whole new beast. While it was more of an ambush helicopter so far, hiding behind trees and popping up only to engage a target at long distance, the addition of the Lima variant has turned the Gazelle into a light gunship. Of course you still can’t attack strong enemy forces like in an Apache or Cobra – your armor still just is your plastic windscreen. But you can engage light enemy forces very effectively. The Mike version could destroy 4 targets with one weapon load. With the Lima you can easily destroy whole convoys of soft skin and lightly armoured vehicles. I was extremely impressed by the GIAT canon – a small burst of 2-4 rounds is lethal to most vehicles I encountered.
After the update, the flightmodel leaves no wishes open and the addition of two more weapon systems gives the score a boost. As there is another update announced, which will add the Mistral air-to-air missiles, I will leave a slight margin in the combat value score. Else, to me, this add on lacks nothing and is just perfect in every aspect.
Frenchy’s NVG mod: http://forums.eagle.ru/showthread.php?t=151646