The developer recently confirmed that they are working on the OH-58D Kiowa for the sim. This caused a stir in the community, but we got to talk to the company’s CEO about it.
That said, the Kiowa announcement sure ruffled some feathers. Highly excited and extremely angry community members expressed their opinions, which is very normal when a lot of passion goes around.
We can’t say some of these community members are not right, though. The Gazelle has been having issues for quite some time and Polychop has been quiet about it – or even dismissing some of the issues.
And now, they are talking about a new release without fixing those issues. What gives?
Luckily, during my visit at FlightSim 2019 a few days ago, I got to meet Sven Borchert, Polychop’s CEO and got to sit down and talk about the Kiowa, the Gazelle and Polychop itself.
The first thing I wanted to know was exactly the reason why Polychop is releasing the Kiowa when the community is still waiting for the Gazelle to be fixed.
A few days ago, Polychop published a small announcement in the form of a thread reply on the DCS forums, clearly stating the company’s priorities had shifted and that the community was heard and that the Gazelle was, indeed, being reviewed.
I asked Sven about it and he told me that the team realizes the Gazelle has issues – a lot of which appeared after some DCS updates – and that the team is currently working to solve them after some internal turmoil, the expansion of the team (with a new coder and some other person doing other functions internally) and the idea that there were a lot of lessons learned with the Gazelle that they wanted to put in practice.
Above: Polychop Gazelle for DCS - PBR work on the tailboom
This led Polychop to start working on the new project “completely from scratch. Everything is new. Nothing is reused from the Gazelle at all. The only thing that’s reused from the Gazelle is basically, experience”.
As such, Polychop decided to fix the Gazelle but only after they got the new code, the new way of doing things (a new internal framework) so that they could take advantage of it and not only fix but actually improve the flight model, giving us a better product than the original one, which they had settled on. Kind of like a painting, which is never finished – the artist only abandons his work, Polychop had to decide when to let it go. But they have changed their minds. Twice.
So, yes. The Gazelle is being fixed. Polychop didn’t abandon it but they were working behind the scenes, on the tools to be able to fix, improve, expand and make maintenance of the module better and easier for the team.
Perhaps they didn’t communicate that before, though. But communication with the community is also something they are working on – and we already had a hint at that, looking at the forum post I linked to a few paragraphs above. In fact, one of the new team member’s is exactly someone appointed to be the new voice of Polychop.
So, what about the Kiowa?
You have probably seen some comments and posts saying that we don’t need another scout helicopter and that we need a real attack gunship instead.
While I tend to agree with that – although I think we need ALL the helicopters in ALL the sims – I have to say that, not being a fan of the Kiowa before, investigating a bit more about the helicopter and talking to Sven and our own Jeff Tucker about it made me realize that the biggest reason why I wasn’t a fan was purely because of ignorance.
I didn’t know enough about the helicopter, its crews and the work they have done to fully appreciate it and to understand why was it that Polychop wanted to model this helicopter.
You see, the Kiowa is special. Is special in the sense that the people that flew it are special. They are a community of their own. These are guys that, very much like the Hog drivers, risk their lives to protect the little guy down there on the ground. Minus the fact that they don’t fly around in a titanium tub, with lots of systems redundancies.
These are the men and women that stick their M9s and M4s out of the helicopter and shoot at folks down below, to either stop them or prevent them from hurting the soldiers in the field.
These are the men and women that were out there in the desert, risking it all at FARPs, waiting for Kiowas to return so they could rearm them and go back.
These are the men and women that risked their lives, in every mission, to get the job done or die trying. On missions as long or even longer as 9 hours.
Because of that, they are part of this fellowship. This community of people, pilots and ground crews that got this machine to fly to protect the guys below and to get the job done.
And, because of that, Polychop decided to immortalize this helicopter. In the words of Sven himself, “if we put it in code, code is something that can be eternal. So why not give this bird a place?”.
And so, Polychop went through, to immortalize it in digital format.
Jumping into the project
This same amazing community that gravitates around the Kiowa also provided an immense amount of help to Polychop. They embraced the project, understood Polychop’s reasons for doing it and jumped in.
This allowed the team to have contact with the people that flew and maintained this helicopter and provided them access to a remarkable amount of information that allowed them to start building this project with a very high degree of reassurance that they were doing it right.
There are, of course, limitations to the amount and type of information that they could get. You will still see some components, systems or details that are the result of some educated guesses, based on declassified documentation of similar systems or just by observation of public videos and other means of information.
In theory, if you find something off, you are probably a pilot or one of the ground crew members. So, you know why it’s not there and you know it’s not supposed to be in the first place.
A bad ass helicopter that’s more than “just” a scout
I have already mentioned that the Kiowa was pretty much a “grunt’s helicopter”, so to speak. A machine in which crews relied to provide the men down below the so much needed protection and support they required.
But the Kiowa was a lot more than that. It was a highly reliable, extremely bad ass helicopter. In fact, as he was diving deep into the helicopter and finding everything about this bird, he realized that “[…] the Kiowa was one of the best workhorses they had. […] They had a mission readiness, confirmed, of 98% in combat” so the helicopter was doing a lot of missions that people may have been given credit to Apaches or other aircraft.
This means that we should see a lot of serious action in the campaigns (more on that later), which is very promising.
A step forward
Polychop’s OH-58D is a step forward as it allowed Polychop to start working on an evolution of their previous work (the beforementioned Gazelle, which will also benefit from these changes), with internal benefits but also with better results on the final product.
It’s also a step forward for us, virtual pilots, for everything that Polychop seems to be putting on the table. The team believes this may be one of the most realistic helicopter simulations (for the consumer market) out there now.
Sven told me about some new weapons systems that are not even coded in DCS such as the ability to have “rocket layers” (a concept we will explain further down the road as Polychop releases more information) and that the team had coded mission cartridges, which allows you to create mission profiles and switch them on the fly. We will also be able to share those profiles with other pilots, which can help Kiowa flight teams immensely.
Another couple of important details to keep in mind is that the product is being licensed by Bell and that Polychop will release the final version. Not a "pre-order" or an "early-access" version, but the finished product.
The bad news: no multicrew
That’s right, folks. Sadly, we will have an AI pilot but no multicrew, “at the moment” because of issues with shared cockpit components – something that we have experienced in the Gazelle.
Sven said it’s very hard to do it properly and that the reason for the F-14 to be able to do it well it’s because, “as far as [he knows] it’s just one of two switches that these cockpits actually share”, which makes it all more simple.
Having a lot of common parts that both pilots can use, though, can be messy and Polychop wants to stay away from it “for now”.
Fair decision, I’d say. If you are not sure you can deliver something that will work properly, you may be better of not doing it at all. Another lesson learned from the Gazelle development cycle.
Giving the pilots something to do
The Kiowa, by itself, is an interesting helicopter but we obviously need something to do with it in the sim, so Polychop is planning to release two or three of campaigns.
One of these campaigns will be a training campaigns where some “complete training course of the United States Army where we learn to fly this aircraft step-by-step”. This really got me excited and it shows how much Polychop wants to help virtual pilots dig in, seriously, into the Kiowa.
A second campaign will take place in the free scenery for the Caucasus and the team is considering a third campaign (which they don’t want to confirm right now) in the Persian Gulf.
As with everything else with the project, the Kiowa community is pitching in and helping Polychop regarding mission parameters, profiles and planning. We cannot, of course, expect any classified data or information, but we can expect missions to be very close to the real deal (with some adaptations and artistic liberties).
Should we be excited about the Kiowa?
I know the DCS community is a demanding one. One of the most demanding inside the flight simulation community and it’s usually very hard on developers. Tough crowd!
For some time, now, we have seen Polychop taking some flak because of the issues with the Gazelle. Unfortunately, they have been silent until now. Fortunately, they decided to up their game on several fronts: they are making a brand-new product, improving the old Gazelle and doing some work community-wise as well.
Should you be excited about it? I think you should, yes. I know I am.
I am not only excited about having a new helicopter in DCS but also for the fact that it’s a Kiowa, that we can honor the people that flew and work on it and do some badass flying around with all the amazing weapons systems it can carry and fire.
I can’t wait to get my hands on the final product!
What’s next for Polychop?
Thinking about the next thing already? Geez… We ARE an impatient community, aren’t we?
All right, I know you didn’t ask (or did you?). I was just trying to find an excuse to mention this: Polychop has plans for more helicopters in the future. They have shared some ideas but, unfortunately, I cannot share them with you yet.
So, Polychop has a plan. Right now, though, they have their hands full with the Kiowa and the Gazelle.
I can tell you this, though: Polychop will be a company to keep an eye on and they are very willing to become the benchmark for helicopters.
We’ll be right here waiting for that to happen, Polychop. Do your thing.