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Choosing An RC Helicopter Flight Simulator

July 20th, 2008 · 10 Comments ·

Whether you’re a beginner who’s learning to fly, or an expert who wants to try out a new move, a good RC helicopter simulator is an invaluable tool to have in your arsenal.

Let’s face it, crashes in real life are expensive – and they’re discouraging

A single crash of your RC helicopter is likely to cover the cost of your average flight simulator so it only makes sense you use one. Even top ranked world RC heli champs practice on a simulator.

Simulators can save you money in other ways as well – there is also no fuel to buy, batteries to charge or fields to drive to. There’s also no weather to worry about – it doesn’t matter if it’s raining outside or there are hurricane force winds.

RC flight simulators have become a lot more popular over the last few years due to the increase in computing power and the decrease in price of fast computers.

RC helicopter simulators are computer programs which are designed to ‘simulate’ real life flying as closely as possible.

Today’s simulators boast everything from extremely realistic flight experiences, actual photographic scenery, training functions, and the abilities to create your own models and scenery.


Some simulators are so good, you can’t tell a screen shot of it from a real life picture.

While it’s not absolutely necessary – a fast computer, a good video card and a large monitor will go a long way to giving you the ultimate digital flying experience.

There are a lot of free simulators around like the FMS simulator and while they are fun to play around with, you’re not going to learn anything from them or become a better pilot.

So what makes a good simulator?

The simple answer is the one that’s the most realistic.

The most important thing you want is a flight simulator that mimics actual flight characteristics and physics or real life flight as closely as possible.

Stunning graphics or extra’s like flying lawnmowers aren’t that important if flying your simulator is nothing like flying your heli when you’re out at the field.

You want your thumbs to learn what does what and be able to carry consistency over from one to the other, otherwise it’s going to be that much harder to improve.

In fact, some simulators are so realistic, that they’re actually harder to fly than a real life heli. Figure that one out :)

The second most important thing you’ll want to look for is a simulator that has models available that is the same as the one you fly, or very similar to it.

You don’t want to practice on T-rex 450 when you fly a Raptor 90 – they fly nothing alike and are like apples and oranges. But you also don’t need the exact model you fly. Most quality 450 sized heli’s fly similarly and with a little tweaking, you can get the flying pretty closely to yours.

The third thing you want is a simulator that allows you to use your regular radio transmitter. It only makes sense that you learn and practice using the same equipment.

Some simulators like Realflight or Reflex have controllers available you can use for practicing and if you’re just playing around, that’s fine. But if you’re serious about improving your skills you’d ideally want to use the same controller whether you’re in front of your computer or at the field.

Another nice feature to look for is a simulator that uses real scenery – meaning a 3D panoramic image of a real life flying field. Not only is it eye pleasing, but it helps take you that bit further to simulate real flying and minimize the difference from computer to physical flight.

Some simulators like Reflex XTR will even allow you to create and add your own scenery and models which is a plus if you have a bit of spare time available.

A good site for downloading models, scenery and other simulator extras is www.rc-sim.de.

Here are some things to look for when choosing an RC helicopter simulator:

  • How closely does it mimic real life flight?
  • Is your RC helicopter model (or one like) it available?
  • If it’s not, is it possible to create one?
  • Does it have hover and other training capabilities?
  • Does it allow you to control variables like wind?
  • Will your computer handle it?
  • How customizable is it?
  • What do others have to say about it?
  • Can you record your flights?
  • Can you create your own scenery?

Some of the most popular RC helicopter simulators are listed below:

Reflex XTR –> www.reflex-sim.de

Pros:

  • Realistic flying physics
  • Uses your own radio or can buy a controller
  • Has hover training
  • Can create your own model / scenery
  • Free updates

Cons:

  • Need a faster computer than other sims
  • Not a lot of model or fields are included but can be found online for free
  • Expensive – $200+

RealFlight G4–> www.realflight.com

Pros:

  • Can use included controller or your own radio
  • Wide selection of models and flying fields
  • Can download free demo
  • Realistic flight and great graphics

Cons:

  • Need to pay for upgrades (expansion packs)
  • Expensive – $200+

Phoenix –> www.phoenix-sim.com

Pros:

  • Can use your own radio
  • Training tools (hover, autorotation
  • Cheaper than Reflex or Realflight
  • Large list of heli’s to choose from
  • Model editor

Cons:

  • Flight is not as realistic as Reflex or Realflight

Clearview –> www.rcflightsim.com

Pros:

  • Free demo download
  • Lots of heli models available
  • Autopilot training modes
  • Cheap – $40

Cons:

  • Flight is not as realistic as Reflex or Realflight

I’d recommend Reflex or Realflight as the simulators of choice. Refelx XTR is a little more realistic than Realflight, but Realflight has a bunch of extras and training functions.

If you’re brand new to RC helicopter flying, you might want to go with Realflight, but if you’re more experienced and just looking for something to practice new moves on, then I’d recommend Reflex. Though, if you can afford it, get both.

But on the other hand, if funds are tight, you can try Clearview or Phoenix when you’re just starting. They’re still quite good, just not the best.

If you’re still not sure what to choose, many hobby stores have demos of some simulators that you can try out right in the store, so if you’re not sure what you’ll like, you can check them out in person. A lot of the websites mentioned above also have free demos you can download and try out.

While a simulator won’t replace a good instructor, teacher or mentor because they can help you with your setup, buddy box with you and offer customized advice, but they will go a long way to improving your flying abilities and confidence at the field.

When you think about it, there’s not really any reason not to get an RC helicopter flight simulator – it will pay for itself many times over and enable you to become a better all round RC helicopter pilot.

Have a question about this article or anything else RC Heli related? Ask it in our brand new RC Helicopter Forum and you'll get expert answers quick.

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Tags: RC Helicopter Articles

10 responses so far ↓

  • jonnie // Sep 3, 2008 at 2:19 pm

    Need to buy simulator for trex 500 have
    got windows vista and jr propo transmitter
    can you help. Thanks jonnie

  • James // Sep 15, 2008 at 8:05 pm

    What’s the benefit of realflight G4 over G3.5, if any, for learning to fly helicopters?

  • admin // Sep 18, 2008 at 2:17 am

    Hi Jonnie,

    Both Reflex XTR and Realflight have have the Trex 500 model available, so either one could work for you.

  • admin // Sep 18, 2008 at 2:24 am

    Hi James,

    There’s not really that much that’s different between Realflight G3.5 & G4.

    G4 has a few more models available, the ability to land float planes on water as well as slightly better graphics and flight characteristics.

    For flying heli’s, either would work well, though if it’s all the same to you, go with G4.

  • skimmer // Oct 18, 2008 at 7:42 am

    I currently have Realflight G3.5 and I am considering to purchase Phoenix just for the fun of it.

    I have searched to find the proceedure to create my own photofields. I have many panos I have imported into G3.5 to create fields. It appears that Phoenix requires that you send your images to them and they create the feilds for you. This is not an acceptable arragment for my needs.

    Can the user of Phoenix create their own fields without third party intervention just like the users of G3.5 are able to to?

  • admin // Oct 20, 2008 at 1:39 pm

    Hi Skimmer,

    I don’t use the Phoenix sim on a regular basis and haven’t created my own scenery for it, but here’s a link showing how it can be done:

    http://www.heliguy.com/Forum/make-your-own-phoenix-scenery-t20758.html

    You might also consider the Reflex simulator – it’s easy to make your own scenery and has the most realistic flight characteristics.

  • Fredrik // Jan 4, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    Hi, and thank you for this website. I have read most of the tips and how-to’s, and found very much interesting to read.

    To start with, I should mention that I haven’t that much of experience neither with simulator nor flying in reality. I have a Kyosho Caliber M24 as first helicopter (even if there are many opinions that it isn’t an entry-level model), and hoping to bring a EP Concept SR to life if I can find parts for it, so you know where I’m currently standing and my plan for the near(?) future.

    I have a question about why FMS isn’t a simulator that I can learn flying with (with you words, “you’re not going to learn anything from them or become a better pilot.”)?

    I’ve downloaded the RealFlight G4 Demo, and also briefly tried AeroFly Professional Deluxe, but at the moment I think FMS is the best one.
    Of course the graphics is far from RealFlight, but the helicopter seems more fragile when flying, specially compared to the demo of RealFlight.
    I’m not sure about adjustments in RealFlight, and I have to try it with a dummy control before I’m sure, but so far I prefer FMS due to the more careful control I think I will learn.

    From what I can understand, one of the first thing to do with a simulator is to make the movement of a helicopter into an “instinct”, and thereby know at least somewhat how to counter unexpected movements in addition to controlling the helicopter.

    So what do I gain from using RealFlight or Reflex instead of FMS when I’m still new in learning the basics?

  • admin // Jan 10, 2009 at 2:48 am

    Hey Fredrik,

    Having used FMS, RealFlight and Reflex and having them all installed on my office computer I can’t really compare FMS to the others in terms of quality, realistic physics and graphics – they’re not really in the same league.

    Both Reflex and Realflight heli’s fly a lot more like the real thing and also the ability to tune the models so specifically that they’ll match your actual RC heli almost exactly. The photo realistic scenery also helps a lot with at the field jitters and nervousness and makes practicing at home a lot more enjoyable.

    Realflight also offers beginner, intermediate and expert flying styles which make a big difference in how the model feels.

    Hope that helps some,

  • NIKOS B // Feb 20, 2009 at 8:34 am

    FDFDFWSTJFTGGH

  • airicopter flight siulator | Air // Apr 21, 2011 at 6:53 pm

    [...] Choosing An RC Helicopter Flight Simulator Jul 20, 2008 … What to look for when choosing a RC helicopter flight simulator including reviews, … [...]

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