No beating around the bush here... An RC helicopter simulator is a powerful tool to help you learn to fly your RC helicopter.
"The purpose of an RC heli Simulator is to replicate in as much detail as possible, real aerodynamic physics and real RC helicopter control to help us fly the real thing."
I personally don’t care if the graphics are to die for and the models look 100% real – if they don’t behave almost 100% real and are controlled real, they won't teach you the necessary skills (stick movements in relation to aircraft response). If you don’t get real physics and real control, you have nothing more than a video game. Sure it may still be entertaining, but it won’t teach you how to fly.
So if you want to be entertained, any free RC helicopter simulator will do, if you want to learn to fly – keep reading.
Let’s look at control first because it is cut and dry. If you are trying to learn to fly an RC helicopter or airplane with a joystick or on your keyboard – you are wasting your time.
The only way to learn to fly with an RC helicopter simulator is by using a real (or at least gutted out) RC transmitter/radio. The main reason for this is anytime we are learning a new task, we build new pathways in our brains to control our motor functions (more commonly called "muscle memory").
In the case of learning to fly an RC helicopter, this relates to ultra fine control of our thumbs &/or forefingers, and thus we need to use the same controls we would in real life if we want to learn these necessary skills.
The good RC helicopter simulator programs come with either a gutted out USB adapted RC transmitter that plugs into a USB port on your computer, or come with a USB/DIN converter cable to plug directly into your own quality RC transmitter via the trainer input port.
Flight physics are a little more subjective. I'm primarily looking at helicopter flight. After reading many reviews, and trying several simulators, the same three (if you want the most realistic RC helicopter flight simulation going) are always head and shoulders above the rest.
There is one simulator however that is truly flying higher than all the rest when it comes to the best heli simulation going... The AccuRC RC Flight Simulator.
It not only simulates flight physics better then the rest; it
also simulates true RC helicopter ownership with component swap-outs, color changes, and seeing the actual functions of the components right down to using a virtual digital pitch gauge to set your collective & cyclic pitch angles while on the "virtual workbench". Plus you can tune the virtual flybarless
systems & gyros just like in real life. In fact you can tune just about anything
and change the setups just like in real life on both the radio and FBL
systems. This is the only simulator I have used to date that realistically replicates real heli setup values.
In short it's super intuitive for people who have RC heli experience or for any of my Setup & Tips eBook customers who want to use the same tame settings I show in the eBook on a sim bird first. As far as I'm concerned, I could just list this single simulator and be done with this entire write-up and you could just skip down to the simulator tips I have listed on the bottom quarter of this page. I've given my other RC helicopter simulators away since getting the AccuRC simulator - it's that superior in my opinion.
$129.95 USD with free updates to both software and models (downloaded
easily from Accurc's site), it's also one of the best value simulators on
the market. Out of the box it supports Spektrum & JR radios with the 3.5mm training ports. Different cable adapters for different radios are also available at very reasonable costs (all are under $15 bucks).
Best Of the Rest...
RealFlight is certainly highly regarded as one of best simulators on the market.
The current RF7.5 version provides some of the best flight simulation for both helicopters and airplanes to date. Everything is so good and it lets you customize literally hundreds of parameters.
Have a look...
Change the weather conditions, simulate radio or engine troubles, and fly with other on-line pilots just like at the real field but this time with the added entertainment of combat flying.
Don’t have an instructor to help you fly? No problem, yes there are virtual flight instructors to walk you through the basics up to intermediate level aerobatics. Unfortunately these "virtual instructors" don't come anywhere near to what a real instructor can teach you. They only show what to do, not how or why the aircraft behaves as it does and what to watch out for and what mistakes or situations can manifest resulting in a crash and that's a big missing element. Still, it's better than having no instructor at all.
This just scratches the surface. There is just so much this RC helicopter simulator will do. With so many flying environments and different aircraft from electric park fliers to turbine models, this is one simulator you will never out grow.
The other RC Helicopter Simulator that certainly deserves a big thumbs up is the Phoenix RC Flight Simulator.
I converted over to Phoenix RC flight simulator from RealFlight a few years ago and was very impressed; so much so I feel it's every bit as good as RealFlight for RC heli simulation. The Phoenix simulator focuses on what's important to many of us - FLYING.
Unlike RealFlight that is pushing the "entertainment" value with it's new generation of simulators; Phoenix's focus is on good simulation that will hone your flying skills without all the bells and whistles - this tends to make Phoenix much less taxing on your computer if you have a slower processor, less RAM, or not the best performing graphics card.
Many RC heli pilots worldwide passionately say it is the best RC helicopter flight simulator on the market and until AccuRC came along, I would agree.
Watch Phoenix In Action
The Phoenix RC flight simulator comes in a couple configurations. You can get it with, our without a radio/transmitter. The "Software Only" version does not come with a "gutted" RC transmitter to control your virtual model aircraft.
It supports real RC transmitters by way of a USB/DIN converter cable that plugs directly into the DIN trainer port of the most popular computerized radios on the market. Out of the box, the Phoenix sim supports Spektrum/JR radios but additional USB/DIN cables can be purchased for Futaba, Hitec, Multiplex, etc.
For about $130 beans, it's the same price as AccuRC's and represents good value with its free updates. When you’re ready for new Horizon Hobby or other aircraft and other scenery, simply visit phoenix-sim.com for free downloads. The free downloads also apply to updates to the simulator software as well.
As shown above, there is also the Phoenix RC Helicopter simulator version that comes with the Spektrum DX6i radio. This is a great value option if you need to get a decent entry level computerized radio (transmitter) as well as a sim.
Heli-X has rich environments, an awesome list of models (including lots of scale & multi rotors), many flying environments, a good tool box of training aids, easy setup parameters, and of course the most important thing - very good real feel physics.
This is a true no nonsense "meat & potatoes" RC helicopter simulator - period!
The other great thing with Heli-X is it comes in various versions to work on all systems (Windows, Mac OS-X, and Linux); so if you're a Mac user, pretty much your only RC Heli simulator option.
The one thing to be aware of with Heli-X is it's 100% rotary aircraft specific - no airplanes; so if you want a sim with airplanes as well, stick with RealFlight or Phoenix.
Unlike the previous three simulators I've listed here, Heli-X is downloaded right off their site so the only "hard goods" purchase you need to make is the USB/Radio cable or gutted USB radio. Heli-X has links to several types on their site if you don't already have one (I just use my old RealFlight USB Interlink controller for example).
You can first download a "DEMO" version with a limited heli & environment list. This is a nice feature so you can not only try it out to make sure you like it; but also make sure the version you download works with your computer and USB/radio cable/controller. If you decide you like it, you can unlock the full version by purchasing it on Heli-X's site using PayPal; you also get free updates.
At 50 euros it's right in line with the others and is one of the best RC helicopter simulators out there in my opinion (next to Accurc of course).
Here's the link to Heli-X web site for more info on this great simulator... Heli-X in action below.
Parting with $100 to $200 hard earned dollars for a RC helicopter/plane simulator may seem a bit excessive, but in the long run will pay for itself, usually many times over. This holds especially true once you start practicing more risky aerobatic maneuvers when crashes are more violent and much more costly in the "real world".
I can’t possibly go over all the different set up features on these RC helicopter flight simulators, but I can give you a few important tips that will make the best use of your RC helicopter flight simulation time.