30.3.2024 – 13:13z

REVIEW: Shrike Simulations’ F-86F Sabre for MSFS is Great Classic Fun

The Shrike Simulations F-86F Sabre releases today for Microsoft Flight Simulator and is the latest in a growing market segment of military jets in this civil aviation-focused simulator. Military jets in MSFS have been in an awkward spot for a while. They often struggle to find purpose when the combat is stripped away. However, Shrike Simulations offers a solution: What if you lean into the fun?

I am not a “milsimmer,” but that puts me squarely in Shrike’s target audience. Their new F-86F Sabre for MSFS is designed to be accessible and affordable, and I believe they are staying on target. While compromises are made pursuing this goal, the result is a unique and fun experience – one that is only possible in such a classic bird.

Shrike Simulations F-86F Sabre Review Setup

I have been simming seriously since the release of Microsoft Flight Simulator in 2020, with almost exclusively civilian aircraft. I am a licensed private pilot in the United States. I reviewed the Shrike Simulations F-86F Sabre with a Logitech X56 HOTAS and Thrustmaster TFRP rudder pedals, as well as a Tobii 5 eye tracker. All currencies mentioned in this review are in USD.

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For performance comparison, my PC is powered by a Ryzen 5800X3D with an NVIDIA RTX3080 and 64GB of RAM. I sim on a 5120×1440 ultrawide monitor, which incurs a significant performance impact. The copy of the Shrike Simulations F-86F Sabre used for this review was kindly provided by Shrike Simulations. However, they have not attempted to influence the outcome of this review and the conclusions herein remain my own.

Blackbirds and Butcherbirds

If you’re like me, the Shrike Simulations name may be somewhat unfamiliar. They are actually a team with an excellent pedigree: Shrike Simulations is simply the sister branch of Blackbird Simulations, the company that brought us one of the best GA aircraft in Microsoft Flight Simulator: The Cessna 310R. They are the same team of developers, but their mission, to quote their website, is to deliver “opposites – accuracy and ease of use, quality and affordability.”

This distinction is important. When reviewing a product, I always compare it against the promises made by its marketing. Shrike Simulations is not promising “The most accurate rendition of the F-86 Sabre ever created.” Instead, Shrike is trying to give us an aircraft that is good-looking and fun, with a reasonable amount of accuracy, without breaking the bank.

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Shrike’s concept appeals to me as someone who often glances at military simulators but is thrown off by the complex learning curve. After all, I really just want to blast through MSFS’ beautiful world in something more exciting than the default aircraft. As a fan of classic aircraft, Shrike’s F-86F Sabre ticks all the boxes for me – at least on paper.

The Sword of the USAF

The North American Aviation F-86 Sabre was the first swept-wing jet fighter employed by the United States. Designed in 1947 to leapfrog America’s rivals, the F-86 was developed with aerodynamic data seized from German scientists at the end of World War II. Designed to fly at transonic speeds, the Sabre was an important transition for the United States Air Force into the jet age.

Armed with six .50-calibre machine guns and a varied arsenal of bombs and rockets, the F-86 Sabre served as a fighter and fighter-bomber during the Korean War. After the swept-wing MiG-15 crushed the earlier straight-wing American fighters, the F-86 was rushed into the conflict to counter the Soviet jet. After early struggles, the F-86F version finally closed the gap with many improvements, including a radar-aided gunsight that facilitated accurate fire in the battles over “MiG Alley.”

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The F-86 Sabre and its variants set many records and firsts, including taking Jacqueline Cochran supersonic in a Canadian-built Sabre Mark 3 – the first woman to break the sound barrier. After the Korean War, surplus F-86s would still serve important roles in foreign service, including being an operational testbed for the AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air homing missile while in service with the Republic of China Air Force during the 1958 Taiwan Strait crisis.

Pricing and Features

The Shrike Simulations F-86F Sabre is available from the Shrike Simulations website for $19.95. The aircraft will be released in the Marketplace in the coming weeks as well. The Sabre is installed via a simple installer, and after entering your product key installation is seamless.

Thirteen liveries, covering worldwide operators, are included with the Shrike Sabre. The bare-metal liveries with their bold flashes of color are phenomenal representations of this era of early fighter jets. Animated pilot avatars are also included and each one matches its bespoke livery. It is worth mentioning that Blackbird Simulations once released a version of the F-86F Sabre for FSX. This aircraft has been converted to MSFS and is available for free. However, the conversion lacks a fully functional cockpit.

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Weapons are included if you purchase the F-86F Sabre directly from Shrike, but will not be available on the Marketplace version. Functional drop tanks are included in each version and can be managed from the MSFS Payload Manager by adding weight to the outer pylons. Tanks, rockets and bombs can be jettisoned in-flight and the guns can be “fired” as well – although no impact is simulated.

In their short manual, Shrike provides a quick guide to the aircraft’s essential and special functions as well as a list of all Sabre-specific LVARs for home cockpit tinkers. In-sim checklists are also included, and while they are highly simplified, they include the essential information for me to get up and running – including crucial operational speeds. In this regard, Shrike fulfilled its mission of approachability, enabling me to get up and running with the F-86F Sabre in minutes, even as a total newcomer to military simulation.

Textures and Modeling

Shrike’s team is made up of the same expert artists who brought us the renowned F4U Corsair and Cessna 310R, and their talent is on full display here. The F-86F Sabre showcases the same expertise in material textures that captivates me on my 310R. The Sabre feels at home in MSFS and looks excellent from every angle. Externally, I particularly enjoy the exhaust glow and animated turbine vanes in the tail of the Sabre – watching it start up and scream through the sky is a special experience.

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The cockpit, too, is expertly done. Textures on the instrument panel are high-resolution, and while you can notice a drop in that resolution as you look aft, it is not in any way jarring. Weathering is applied well, with this well-maintained aircraft clearly showing its age in realistic ways. Suppose you’re going to buy a jet to have fun with in MSFS. In that case, it makes sense to purchase one from a completely different era as the default F/A-18 Super Hornet. I am pleased to say that the Shrike Simulations F-86F Sabre did an expert job of sending me back to the ’50s with its excellent visuals.

There are a couple of minor graphical shortcomings that I feel compelled to mention, but nothing that took me out of the experience. The model is simplified compared to the best available in MSFS, but Shrike has expertly smoothed over any rough edges with their texture work. In a couple of places, the “seams” are visible in the texture maps but not in areas that would be a constant distraction. Only the optional bombs and HVAR rockets are clearly substandard compared to the rest of the aircraft, but this was likely a choice made for performance reasons.

Overall, although it is possible that Shrike might have drawn on the foundation of their FSX rendition of the Sabre, they have not been content simply to port its visuals over. There is visual value in this new MSFS offering, and I have no bones to pick with the minor shortcomings at this price point. Performance in-sim is good as well. The Sabre typically delivered performance similar to high-fidelity GA aircraft, allowing me to use my eye tracker with ease at all but the most graphically intense custom airports.

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Sabre Rattle

The F-86 Sabre was powered by the General Electric J47 axial-flow turbojet engine, the first of its kind approved for commercial use in the United States. While the engine sounds of the Shrike F-86F Sabre effectively capture the high-pitched “whininess” of this early turbojet, they lack impact. There’s little to no low rumble, scream, or tearing to add “body” to the sounds, and there is no sense of vibration in the cockpit. Guns similarly lack impact with no vibration in the cockpit and muffled sounds.

The landing gear and flaps do sound good though, as do airflow effects that vary with speed and G-force, with high-G maneuvers buffeting the airframe. Switches, buttons and cockpit sounds likewise sound excellent. To be clear, I do not think the Sabre’s sounds sound bad, just that they are not a standout feature of this add-on. In the video below, I have showcased the engine sounds in particular, to decide for yourself.

Sound Example

Can you tell I am not a jet pilot? Note: The diesel generator sound you hear at startup should be accompanied by a model that typically spawns when you select external power, but for some reason did not show up when I started it for the video.

Systems Fidelity

Shrike is not promising that the F-86F Sabre for MSFS is the highest-fidelity rendition of this jet to ever come to your home sim. I respect them for this decision because as we have seen in the past promising the world can sometimes lead to disappointment when those expectations don’t match the delivery. Shrike has done a good job with the Sabre, smartly balancing their stated goals of accuracy and ease of use.

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Almost everything in the cockpit is clickable. Even if they don’t do exactly what they are supposed to, I can’t deny that it is entertaining to satisfyingly flip switches and push buttons and watch the aircraft react. That’s not to say that Shrike has neglected this aspect, however. Key systems such as fuel and hydraulics are modeled with a reasonable degree of precision, with smart compromises made to make it easier for morons like me to have a good time.

Much of this is down to bindings. For example, nose wheel steering is typically enabled while holding a button on the control stick, but Shrike has instead changed this to a toggle with the default behavior being on. The takeoff trim light, instead of turning off when the trim switch is released, goes out after a short duration to accommodate common trim bindings in MSFS. However, the trim itself is accurately modeled with high sensitivity, which is realistic for the aircraft.

I particularly enjoyed the way the Shrike Simulations F-86F Sabre replicates the behavior of the General Electric J47. Early turbojets had a significant amount of turbine lag and required careful attention to temperatures and power settings. The engine exhaust temperature spikes on startup and shutdown, and at low altitudes especially, demands attention to prevent it from overheating. But there is never any worry about falling out of the sky when you take the engine beyond its limits. While I do like add-ons that expertly replicate the care and maintenance required to keep an actual aircraft flying, I also like to put my feet up and indulge in some low-stakes fun.

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Flight Model and Physics: Different enough

The number of people qualified to judge the flight model of an F-86F Sabre to real life is dwindling as the months and years pass. As an unqualified newcomer to the military sim scene, I came into the review hoping for a unique flight model that would challenge me to learn some new skills and feel different enough from what is already available in the simulator to justify the expense. As with the systems, Shrike has done their job well – although I do wish they had gone the extra mile in one or two key places.

I believe that the flight model of the Shrike F-86F Sabre is primarily lacking when it comes to stall behavior. It’s far too docile in many regimes for what you’d expect from an early swept-wing jet. I was unable to replicate the violent rolls or spins that I found reported by some operational testing notes as well as discussions of renditions of this aircraft in other simulators. Unaccelerated stalls exhibited no buffeting, although accelerated stalls did.

But while it may not hit the book numbers to a T, it fulfilled the mission of providing an experience that challenged me and kept me engaged. Balancing lagging engine power with angle of attack and aircraft configuration, especially during approach, was a completely new skill set for me. The Shrike F-86F Sabre goes quickly from slippery fish that is impossible to slow down, to a brick being kept aloft by sheer willpower alone. It gave me enough leeway to have fun but still demanded my attention – and I look forward to spending more time with it now that the review period is over to master what it has to offer.

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Conclusion

In a simulator without combat, the military is stripped away from the military jet. This often puts these add-ons in the uncomfortable position of being little more than toys, only able to simulate flying the jet itself. Without the high-stakes dogfights, there are only so many times you can do canyon runs or “intercept” airliners, and MSFS’ hit-and-miss multiplayer makes it difficult to put together aerobatic displays with or for your friends.

When the “mission” is so homogeneous, does it even matter what aircraft you use to fulfill it? After all, the default F/A-18 Super Hornet can blast down canyons and perform acrobatics just as well as a payware jet at no additional cost. That puts the Shrike F-86F Sabre in an awkward position where it does need to justify its $20 price tag – but I think that Shrike has done that well. For me, this is exactly the type of jet I want.

The Shrike Simulations F-86F Sabre feels properly classic. It looks good in the sim and, while it might not be the most accurate flight model, it is unique enough to engage and challenge me. It might not ever fire its weapons in anger, but calling it a toy would not do justice to my experience. $20 is my upper limit for an add-on with this level of depth, however, but I would jump at it down in the $10-15 range or on sale.

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There are a lot of offerings in this product category that don’t live up to their promises. The Shrike Simulations F-86F Sabre is not one of them. It’s clear that Shrike has a very clear vision for what they want the F-86F Sabre to be and they have assembled it with passion and a love for the aircraft in question. It rises to justify its market positioning – at 300 knots, 4,000 fpm, and looking really good as it does.

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