DUST 514 Dropship Flying Guide

DUST 514 Dropship Flying Guide by Skihids

Before the Precursor build dropships were basically free aerial bumper cars used by snipers for quick jaunts to tower tops or by joyriders to squash infantry. They were as simple simple to operate as an amusement park ride and free which generated quite a bit of abuse by anyone with an inclination.

That all changed in the current build. Dropships fight physics now closely match reality and mastering them requires a degree of player skill. Some lament the change and others applaud it. Both camps are completely right if you share their premise. Those folks who prefer the old model view DUST through the lens of a dedicated FPS player where the gun game is paramount and all else serves that end. For them a dropship is now an overly demanding tool for the shooter and is just not workable. The other camp views piloting as a separate and equal role to the ground pounding gunner.

All primary roles need a mixture of player and character skill if they want to attract a dedicated following. Hardcore FPS players would scoff at a game that used heavy auto aim to remove any need for player skill in the gun game. Pilots are no less concerned with player skill. Talk to any real pilot for five minutes and this will come across very strongly, they are proud of having mastered flight. Precursor has defined piloting as a distinct specialty, one that I would like to welcome you into.

There is however a valid objection to this change. These things ARE difficult to learn to fly on your own, and they cost a few hundred thousand ISK each. Together this makes flight training both frustrating and very expensive. Forcing us to train on a hot battlefield where half your concentration is spent watching out for shoulder launched missiles is just too much for some.

My purpose for this thread is to help you learn to fly as easily and cheaply as possible. Hopefully you will graduate from the basic lessons with your original bird intact. I ask for your feedback on how well I have managed to accomplish this, and any tips you have on how to improve the guide.

So if you are ready to fly, go purchase your first Viper, toss on some militia shield extenders, fit a militia armor rep on it and head out for practice.

I strongly suggest you limit your initial flights to the spawn area in Skirmish. I have found this to always be an enemy free zone where I don’t have to worry about getting shot down.

Dropship Physics:

You need to understand the physics of dropship flight before you advance the throttle for the first time. Your mental model of how the ship is going to react to control inputs has to match reality or you will crash and be very frustrated with the whole ordeal.

A dropship is a pure vector thrust craft, and while it superficially resembles a helicopter, it’s not exactly the same. It is also very much different than a fixed wing aircraft and any flight time you have in one will be an initial liability until you unlearn those reflexes. A dropship flys just like its distant cousin the lunar lander.

Think of your dropship as a brick balanced on thrust. If you give it a shove it will drift along like an air-hockey puck until you push it another direction or it hits something. How do you give it a shove? If you tilt the ship part of the thrust holding it up will be directed away from the way the ship tilts and induce lateral movement. Of course that part is no longer supporting the ship against the vertical pull of gravity and the dropship is going to sink in proportion. Tilt just a little and you won’t notice, but flip it ninety degrees and you will know just how a brick doesn’t fly. You can maintain level flight by increasing thrust, at least up to the point you don’t have enough power left in reserve. The more you tilt the more you need, and the higher you fly the less you have to spare. Response is best near ground level and very mushy at the ship’s service ceiling where every bit of power is being used to maintain altitude.

Unlike a fixed wing or rotary wing aircraft, a dropship has no wing and that will likely be the most difficult concept to internalize as a new pilot. This has a few implications you need to be aware of:

1) All other aircraft can trade forward motion for altitude, but you cannot. An airplane obtains lift via airflow over the wing. The faster it moves, the more lift it generates. If it is diving at he ground it can pull up and use that energy to climb. You obtain lift directly from your engines, and speed will not affect it. Want to climb? Increase your throttle, don’t pull up. What happens if you panic and yank back? Well, part of the thrust that was holding you up was just redirected forward. Now you are sinking faster and moving slower (assuming you were flying forward). That isn’t going to get you over the top of that building, though it may keep you from slamming into it.

2) All other aircraft can fly inverted, not you. They do it by generating lift with the other side of the wing, albeit less efficiently in most cases. You can flip your ship upside down, but now all that thrust is now aiding gravity so don’t stay that way for long. This means you may perform a barrel roll, but it will resemble a squashed script “e” rather than a nice round “o”. Aerobatic pilots actually use inverted flight over the top of an inverted maneuver such as an inside loop to stretch out that part of the maneuver, and as we just discussed you cannot. Don’t expect to win a competition.

3) You cannot perform banked turns. This is really just an extension of the first point because a turn in a winged aircraft is just a climb with the lift directed inside the turn by rolling the craft before pitching up. This means that you will have to thrust just as hard and long to stop moving in a given direction as you did to get moving. No trading fast flight for a tight high G turn. You are skidding in the sky, not flying in the traditional sense.

Wait you say, I did perform a banked turn! Ok, you can duplicate the flight path by rolling, yawing, and thrusting, but you are pushing with pure thrust and not making use of airflow to produce lift for the turn. If you are turning 180 you have also wasted time boosting to one side and then back again. Instead take advantage of your difference and just pirroet in place so you are flying backwards, then drop your nose and cancel your movement before heading back. This could keep you from straying into the red zone. Of course it also leaves you hanging motionless in space which could be good or bad depending on the tactical situation.

4) You can hover and change altitude with your throttle alone. This part is just like a helicopter.

Flight Controls:

The next thing to understand is how the controls work. The left stick controls pitch, push forward and the nose drops, pull back and the nose rises. Raising the nose directs some of the thrust in the forward direction, dropping it will direct some thrust back and accelerate you forwad. The left stick also controls roll, push to the left and you will tilt left and move left. Push right and you do the opposite.

The right stick controls yaw. Push the stick right and the ship spins clockwise, left and the ship spins counter clockwise. This is the one control that won’t significantly alter the amount of thrust keeping your ship up. Turning does tilt the craft though so you will need to compensate for the induced roll.

Perhaps the most confusing control is the camera movement on the right stick because while it alters your sight picture of the ship it doesn’t actually change the pitch. You can’t fly the ship by changing the camera view, but you can easily confuse yourself into thinking that you did. At the start I suggest you avoid messing with the camera position. This may require conscious thought as it is easy to find yourself pushing in the vertical as you are adjusting yaw with horizontal movement of the stick. Later on you will be able to process an altered viewpoint without losing control.

Your first few flights:

The best way to learn is to boost up about ten feet over flat ground. This gives you an excellent frame of reference to judge speed and altitude and also affords you the opportunity to land quickly if you tire. The area behind your initial spawn in Skirmish is ideal as it should protect you from incoming fire and allow you to concentrate. You are better off without passengers to distract you, so warn them off or wait until teammates depart before calling your ship. You will be in 3rd person view upon entry. Leave it there for now.

Start by rolling and skidding left, then stop and skid right. Keep your touch light light and fly slow. The ship will tend to yaw to one side, so stay on the right stick and nudge it to keep the nose pointing forward. Your goal is to keep the nose glued forward as you slide back and forth via smooth coordination of both sticks. Don’t let yourself get low enough to drag on the ground or you may find yourself beached on your side. If that happens in a safe area you can just stay inside and wait for pickup at he end of the match and you won’t lose your ship.

If you need a break at any time just stop all movement and reduce thrust to set it back down.

Next practice turning in place. You will see that the faster you turn, the more you need to compensate for induced roll. Start slow and build up speed as you get he hang of it. Remember, smooth coordinated flight gives your gunners a stable platform. You don’t want to be yanking their sights off target and causing them to puke. Your reputation will ride on this.

Next pitch down to slide forward and pull back to arrest your motion. Pirroet and return.

Finally do the same in reverse. Your sight picture is at its worst in this maneuver and it’s easy to hit objects so don’t go too fast.

That should keep you busy for your first few flights. Take it slow and methodically. These basic ground reference maneuvers will set the foundation for your flying career. If all went well you haven’t broken a single bird.

Intermediate maneuvers:

You have mastered skidding around the sky on the four cardinal headings. Now you will mix them together. Set yourself up as before and skid forward to the right, stop, pivot, and repeat. Change it up and do the same thing to the left. The objective is to stay smooth and coordinated. Eventually you will stop thinking about your control inputs and the ship will become an extension of your will, going precisely where you picture. This is an exciting time for every student pilot.

Clear the area and do the same in reverse.

Now you are ready to land on a building or tower. I suggest you start with a shorter building where you will have more thrust in reserve. Boost up and slide on over to the roof. Remember, if you are below the roofline increase thrust, don’t pull up. This is where all your practice pays off. Center over the roof, reduce throttle, and settle down. Congratulations! This is the point where you will want to start using the camera view shift to peek over the nose to make sure you are centered on the roof. Be aware that a direct overhead view makes it very difficult to judge roll and pitch. Hopefully we will be granted basic flight instruments in a future release to compensate.

Do this until you feel comfortable, then head to the tall towers. It’s all the same here except for less reserve power as you are near your service ceiling. You may feel the excitement of looking way down at the battlefield. If so you are hooked, welcome to the fraternity of pilots!

You and thirty nine of your buddies hang around objective Charlie, listening to chatter about the great firefight over objective Foxtrot and wishing you could just do some shooting of your own.  Instead it’s a boring garrison detail for you.

Suddenly two fighters scream in, missiles impacting into your installations as they frantically search out the highly maneuverable craft with return fire of their own.  After a mere sixty seconds your commander is screaming to the MCC for assistance as his last AV turret is blown up and what is left of his sensor net reports two inbound flights of dropships.   About the time you spot one flight of five the missiles start raining down on your position from two directions at once.  The ground erupts as they slam into the outpost at a rate of twenty five per second.  Your buddy manages to get off a swarm of his own, but the lead dropship just soaks up the damage as you see it spider linked to the others in its formation.  Men are being shredded all around you as the two flights of five park right overhead.  The missile barrage ends and forty suits drop into your midst sowing instant chaos.  You fight a desperate battle, killing one after another, only to have them spawn over your head and drop again.  You go down, waiting for the spawn.  Quickly you orient yourself to the fight only to be cut down by the door gunners facing outwards from the main battle.  You spawn again and manage to find cover, but you just can’t make it back into the fight.  A desperate rush just gets you cut down again.  This time you don’t have a choice to reenter the fight, control is lost and you can’t spawn there again.  Less than four minutes from boredom to exile.

Taking objectives requires boots on the ground, and there are only three ways to get there.  A long boring hike, a jarring ride in an LAV through rough terrain or a quick trip in a dropship.  Commanders are going to rely upon their dropship pilots to get the troops to the fight and provide close air support to take objectives.  The job isn’t as sexy as flying a fighter, but without transport pilots war is a slow and dangerous hike through miles of hostile terrain.

Up to this point we have been using dropships as attack ships rather than the troop transports they are, and that’s why I see so many of them chased off or destroyed within a couple minutes of entering battle.  It’s a role they aren’t suited for, but lacking any other role we give it a shot.  It’s like using a Huey with two door gunners to mow down infantry.  All too soon someone whips out a shoulder launched missile and it goes down.

That will change as corporations form and larger units deploy.  I personally dropped 4-5 infantry units on objective B at the start of my  first corp battle this last weekend, and witnessed a scaled down version of the story above.  I was guarding objective C with one other team member as the real battle raged over objective B.  I checked my mini-map and scanned the horizon and saw no enemy.  Then a call over coms, “They’ve called in a dropship!”  Hmm, I think to myself, I wonder how effective it will be shooting down at B?  Before I knew it, the damn thing was over my head and I saw six suits (complete with names) falling just in front of our position.  I tossed grenades and started shooting,  but the two of us were overrun in seconds and they group hacked the objective, locking us out.  That is the true power of the dropship.

In support of this I suggest that you practice smooth high speed travel and accurate placement and hover over an objective.  Additionally we should start practicing formation flight and experiment with spider shielding the formation.

I can also foresee a formation of stealth ships uncloaking over an objective and raining down missiles as the first indication of their presence.

There will be so much fun to be had by all.

Surviving Combat

Ok, you’ve mastered the basics of flight and you’re itching to go out and earn some warpoints.  Here are a few tips to be more successful.

The most important trait you can cultivate as a pilot is situational awareness.  Fancy flying is great, but the best pilots never put themselves into a position that requires it.  That means knowing what and where the threats are and where your safe retreat zones are.  You can even lose track of your position on the map if it is filled with blowing dust.  You don’t want to be mindlessly flying around in a lazy circle and suddenly notice half your shields are gone with no idea what did it, what the nearest route of escape is and where there are likely to be additional threats that can take you down before you escape.  Good pilots make it look easy because they are constantly planning.

Situational awareness starts with where you decide to call for your ship to be delivered.  Is it open to sniping?  Are there red dots that came come in and pop you with an AR before you can board your craft?  And that goes for your gunners too.  Are they standing around staring up into the sky with their mouths open or are they scanning the area for red dots?

A great analogy is the game of pool.  Good players can run the table, and great players make it look inevitable.  Why?  Because they meticulously planed the route they took around the table to avoid traps and always give themselves an easy next shot.  Poor players think of only the next shot and find themselves boxed in without a second shot.  You notice that as a pilot when you are pinned up against a mountainside with no speed and a forge gunner taking you down.

Don’t be seduced by juicy targets. Keep asking yourself, “Where will I go if I get hit now?” and “What is the biggest threat for me right now?”  The kills will come if you keep your ship in the air.

The next most important tip is to always keep moving.  It is fun to drift lazily over the battlefield and let your gunners get easy shots, but one forge gunner can ruin your day in moments.  Don’t give them a stationary target.

Everyone knows that dropships can outrun swarms, but that doesn’t make them a non-threat.  It’s all too easy to find yourself slow and vulnerable.  The low flight ceiling imposed by the Codex build means you have little altitude to convert into horizontal motion in a hurry.  If you are at the edge of a map bordered by tall hills (I’m not going to dignify them with the term mountain) your ship will be wallowing in an attempt just to remain above terrain.  Tilt your ship to gain quick speed and you will contact that terrain and crash.  Even in the middle of the map you have precious little altitude to sacrifice in order to tip your ship past 45 degrees in emergency acceleration. That’s what can happen when you are only thinking that next target and not how to “run the table”.

A dropship is a team vehicle.  Its effectiveness is directly related to the ability of the pilot and gunners to act as a coordinated team.  Cultivate relationships with good gunners.  Random blue dots are a liability as they will shoot the ship and mess up your piloting.  They won’t have mic’s and won’t alert you to threats you can’t see.  It’s worth it to join a corp or visit the 0K0D channel to find dedicated gunners.  It takes practice to learn to lead shots from a moving ship and some folks will take to it more naturally than others.

Obviously your options multiply if you can tank a couple forge gun rounds without going down, so defense is a big part of your strategy.  I run a Myron so this advice is for shield tankers.  I run three 748hp shield extenders and one Clarity Ward Shield Booster.  Shield extenders are significantly better than shield hardeners in effect.  The top passive hardener only gives you a 15% percent bonus.  You would require a total shield strength of  5,000 Hp before a hardener would be a better deal than an extender.  Add the fact that the Shield Adaptation skill has a 5X cost and it’s ridiculous to consider.  Yes, you’ll have to skill up to L4 in Engineering to get  the PG to fit those extenders, but it’s far cheaper in skill points.   That puts a Myron at 3,944Hp not counting your Shield Management skill level.  Add L3 SM and you are at 4,199Hp.

With such a deep tank you can rely upon the shield booster to give you another effective 750 Hp (5 pulses of 150Hp) as you will most likely have the time to activate it and let it run for five seconds before your tank is depleted.  That can be used to regenerate your shields at a rate of 21 HP/second (with a 30 second cool down) which is a great deal when you consider that a Regeneration module won’t get you anywhere near that 91% increase over your natural regeneration rate of 23HP/second.  If you take your SM skill to L5 your ship can effectively have 5,119Hp in shields.

The non-Breach Proto Forge Gun base damage is 1,512Hp.  Add L5 Weapons at 10%, L5 Forge Gun Operations at 25%, and L5 Forge Gun Proficiency at 15% and you get 2,268 Hp of damage in one shot.  You can take two of those without going into armor, but only if you activate your booster before he gets off the second shot.  By then you had better be well on your way toward your safe zone.  You do know where that is without having to think about it, don’t you? Meanwhile your gunner took notice of the first strike and tossed a missile his way to mess up the forge gunners aim.

CRU’s should be reserved for corp battles.  They take up a high slot and a significant amount of CPU and PG that is better spent on defense.  But even more than that, the CRU will populate your ship with half a dozen clones, two of which are poor gunners and four more who should be on the ground.  It doesn’t do you team any good to have seven members tied up on to turrets.  The red dots will likely slaughter the remaining troops and are free to haul out more AV to use against you.

There is no way you haven’t already read that missile turrets are the way to go for weapons.  Buy the best ones you have the skill or ISK for.

You have a choice with your low slots.  It’s a choice between  20% damage modifiers and Nano Fiber Chassis mods. I use one of each.  The damage is too good to pass up, but I also prefer speed and agility.

While you can fit and even trigger the HAV and LAV prop mods they don’t do anything for you that I can determine.  I ran a series of tests including a ground rest to flight ceiling acceleration timing and a rotation timing test.  Neither yielded any significant results.  The Afterburner mod does work, but only the armor ship as enough PG to fit it, and that’s stripping the ship bare for it.

Skirmish has one safe zone for you, and most Ambush maps have two.  Nobody fights in them on the rocky map, but they are open for you to use to turn around or hide in.  Try to be useful in Skirmish.  You should already know what’s happing below you based on your situational awareness, so you should know where your gunners would be most appreciated.  Support objective pushes or pound the enemy as they try to overwhelm one of yours.

Don’t fly into a box canyon.  If you do you will have to slow down to turn around and that might mean swarms catching up to you.  That includes any tight space surrounded by hills.

Don’t worry too much about enemy dropships.  It’s extremely difficult to hit a moving target from a moving ship and you need several direct hits to make any difference.  One or even two enemy ships are unlikely to take you down, so keep an eye on them but don’t obsess about them either.  That said, if you do go after one go for the altitude advantage so your gunners can fire down and the enemy can’t fire up.

Despite all this you will eventually get hit by a flight of swarms that will stop you in your tracks and push you backwards.  Don’t try to reverse the momentum and resume your course.  That leaves an easy target as you hang in one place.  Instead, pivot and boost in whatever direction the swarms have you moving.

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