“DO I REALLY NEED A RC FLIGHT SIMULATOR TO LEARN HOW TO FLY RC HELICOPTERS OR AIRPLANES?”
Just in case anyone doesn’t know what a RC Flight Simulator is. It is a program that is loaded onto a personal computer that replicates the flight of RC helicopters and airplanes.
RC simulators are generally used as a learning tool to practice flying RC aircraft, or they can just be a fun and relaxing program to play with on your computer. The two I currently use are
and RealFlight; I find them both to be wonderful RC flight simulators.
If you are undecided between airplanes or helicopters, a simulator might help you out. The good ones have a large number of both planes and helicopters, so you can fly dozens of different aircraft to get a better feel for each.
The short answer to that is NO! Thousands of us have learned to fly without one - including me. When I was learning to fly RC helicopters, personal computers didn’t have enough power to create realistic physics of flight or realistic landscapes to fly in and affordable RC flight simulators were still several years away.
Yes, I now own two RC flight simulators - they are so useful! I actually find them more beneficial for more advanced flying and aerobatic practice than basic learning how to hover exercises. A RC flight simulator will of course help you learn how to hover, but in my opinion and that of many other folks who contact me, a RC sim's biggest strengths start shinning through when learning new orientations other than tail in and then while progressing to circuit flight all the way up to the craziest 3D flying you can conjure up in your imagine. You know, the kind of stuff you wouldn't even consider attempting on your real bird until you can do it without thinking about on your RC flight simulator first.
What makes a good RC Flight Simulator?
That is an easy one – realism - the more real the better. That’s not just flight physics or graphics - the method of controlling your RC helicopter is just as if not more important.
It's really important that you follow some kind of lesson plan on a simulator. I have seen too many people who "incorrectly" learn on a sim and pick up some very bad habits. This actually sets them back and can take them longer to "un-learn" these bad habits on the real thing than someone with no sim time at all.
As I said, RC flight sims are nothing more than tools, a destructive tool if used incorrectly. Check out my
section and the lesson plans so you have an idea of how to learn to fly a real RC helicopter and then you can safely apply those same lessons to your sim time.
This next point is very important and I cringe when see or hear this. Thankfully it is the exception and not the rule, but it is worth mentioning.
I have seen some advertisements and even heard some people in the RC hobby industry claiming that if you can fly a RC plane or helicopter on a simulator, you will have no problem flying real RC models. WRONG! A simulator is nothing more than a tool – it doesn’t come close to replicating all aspects of the RC helicopter or airplane.
RC flight simulators don’t teach you how to build a helicopter or set it or basic flight principles/physics. No matter how good simulators get – they will never replace hands on experience. As I touched on, the "real" feel of hovering and all the little nuances of actively piloting a real collective pitch RC helicopter are not duplicated with a simulator but they keep getting better.
There is also the "Fear Factor". Even with a hundred hours of simulator time under your belt, things have a way of becoming much more scary in the real world when you see hundreds or thousands of dollars hanging in the air. This "fear" generally causes you to panic and lose your nerve. Yes - the fear of a lighter wallet usually wins out over the skills learned on the sim.
I hear a lot of questions right now... something like “if you and thousands of other RC heli pilots learned without a simulator, and there are limitations, why should I even bother? I could save that money to get a better or bigger helicopter.”
That is absolutely true. If it boils down to getting a RC helicopter simulator or spending that extra money to get a better quality RC helicopter with a computerized radio – spend your money on the heli gear. However, I know for a fact if I had a simulator program when I was learning, it would have paid for itself - many times over.
Bottom line – simulators save time and money if used correctly and you understand the limitations. Try to budget for a good RC Flight simulator if at all possible. You don't necessarily need one when first learning to hover (as I said, all the little hovering nuances are not entirely duplicated), but once you know how to hover and are getting into forward flight and introduced to changing orientations, sims really start to shine and payoff. For learning aerobatics, they are in my opinion a must have!
One last point to consider when deciding if you should get a flight simulator when you are first starting out... Do you plan to take lessons from an experienced RC helicopter instructor?
Learning from an instructor is the best way to go because they can help you with your helicopter setup as well as learning how to fly them.
Unfortunately, there are many more people wanting to learn to fly RC helicopters than there are qualified RC heli instructors. Most of us have to learn on our own (yes I learned on my own to) and the RC flight simulator (if used correctly) makes that process quicker and more enjoyable.
The Setup & Tips For Electric Collective Pitch RC Helicopters e-book is all about setting up a collective pitch RC helicopter with a computerized radio to turn it into the perfect trainer. Click on the image of the book to find out more about what information is covered in this, my most popular & #1 selling e-book.
The 120/140 Degree Swashplate Setup & Levelling e-book shows how to properly setup and level a 120,135, or 140 degree electronically mixed swash to attain perfect interaction and a trimmed out bird off the bench. Click on the image of the book to learn more about it.
RC helicopter training gear is the essential training aid used when learning to hover and fly most RC helicopters, this e-book shows how to build them. If you want to learn more about what's inside, click on the image of the book.
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