No beating around the bush here... A RC helicopter simulator is a powerful tool to help you learn to fly your RC helicopter.
"The purpose of a 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 will still be entertaining, but it won’t teach you how to fly.
So if you want to be entertained, any 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 a RC helicopter or airplane with a joy stick or on your keyboard – you are wasting your time.
The only way to learn to fly with a RC helicopter simulator is by using a real (or at least gutted out) RC transmitter. The good RC helicopter simulator programs come with either a gutted out USB adapted RC transmitter that plug 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 DIN trainer input port.
Flight physics are a little more subjective. I was
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.
RealFlight is certainly highly regarded as one of best simulators on the market.
The current RF7 version provide 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've converted over to Phoenix RC flight simulator, and have been 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 I must say I agree with them.
Watch Phoenix In Action
The Phoenix RC flight simulator comes in two 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.
At only $129.95 USD from Red Rocket Hobbies , this is the best value going for a capable, high quality RC helicopter simulator in my opinion and the best part is you never have to purchase expansion packs. 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. When the new version 5.0 came out for example, it was a very simple matter of logging onto Phoenix's site and download the new 5.0 version to replace my 4.0 version. That alone pushes the Phoenix RC simulator to the top of my sim list after having to spend a fair amount of money over the past several years purchasing updates for RealFlight. That said, the newest 6.0 & 7.0 versions of RealFlight are now supporting free updates as well - gotta love competition!
The other version of the Phoenix RC Flight Simulator
comes with a basic Spektrum DX4e radio for those of you who do not have a RC radio yet.
This is not a gutted radio either, it is a fully operational Spektrum DX4e that will work with any spectrum/JR DSM2 receiver. For only $159.99 USD at Red Rocket Hobbies, this is a great value RC helicopter simulator for people wanting to get into RC and are looking for both a simulator and a basic radio to start with - note however, the DX4e is a non computerized radio and it very basic (won't allow you to fly a CP heli), so take that into account.
This has become one of my favorite RC Helicopter Simulators to date. Heli-X has rich environments, an awesome list of models (including multi rotors), many flying environments, a good tool box of training aids, easy setup parameters, and of course the most important thing - outstanding 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 two 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.
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.