by John Salt - Updated September 2017
So, you're looking for a free RC helicopter simulator. However, are there any good ones that will truly help you learn to fly? Yes & no depending on what simulator features are important to you.
To be perfectly honest, I'm not a huge fan of most free simulators, simply because most of the ones I've tried offer poor representations of true RC flight.
Moreover, you still need some sort of USB cable or gutted RC transmitter so you can use a real method of controlling the aircraft on the simulator.
As you may recall me saying on my RC Simulator page, If you are using a game pad/joystick or keyboard to control your sim aircraft, you are wasting your time.
You must use the same method of controlling a real RC model via the sticks on an RC radio to build the required mussel memory / pathways from the good old processor up in the skull, down to your thumbs/fingers. Building that all up on a game pad or joystick won't do much when you head outside with your bird and RC radio in hand.
With the control method out of the way, let's get back to the free rc helicopter simulator discussion.
Yes there are a number of free RC helicopter simulator programs that you can down-load. There are also several free simulator APPs available at iTunes and Google Play. Most are actually entertaining and if just want to try one out, why not. Just don't think you will learn to fly a real RC helicopter with them.
As I just mentioned, the ones I tried are so far from what a RC heli flies like, I don’t know why they even put a helicopter on the menu.
The planes are easier to fly than real RC airplanes and the
helicopters are ridiculously easy to fly. How easy? Well let's just say
it is harder flying a
RC helicopter than the helis in most of these free simulators... they are that
bad. Specifically the flight feels "locked in" no variation, no changing
dynamics, and no true feel...
Okay, with all that said, there is one fairly good free RC Helicopter simulator out there by ClearView (screen shot pictured above).
This is actually not a free RC flight simulator per se, but you can download the "featured down" demo version for free, and it's a good way to get your feet wet with an RC heli simulator.
Don't expect Phoenix, RealFlight, Heli-X, or AccuRC's top end flight simulation physics quality and immersive virtual environments as you really do get what you pay for in the world of RC helicopter flight simulators; but ClearView's demo version is pretty good for the zero $ price tag.
As I just mentioned, the Free ClearView download is their demo version and has a few different aircraft you can try out. However, the simulation is not as good as the higher end RC helicopter simulators previously mentioned.
What many people don't realize however, is most of the higher end versions also have free demo downloads.
You will be limited to only a few aircraft to try and environments to fly in, but it's a great way to get a free RC helicopter simulator that works well, albeit limited in features.
It's also a great way to "test drive" them before putting your money down on the table.
Just remember however, you still get no RC controller interface/USB Radio adapter with any free download sim; so unless you already have something like that, you'll have to purchase it. This is were getting a higher end simulator out of the gate that comes with a controller or USB adapter offers value to offset the cost associated with purchasing it separately.
My RC Helicopter Flight Simulator Page goes over this in greater detail and has links to all the better heli sims so you can read up on them and see what they have in the way of free download versions. I also have simulator tips on that page to help you get the most out of your simulator time, many of which will apply to free demo versions as well.
There are a number of RC USB adapters you can get to use your current RC radio to control many different simulator programs (including the free demo versions).
Now, I'm not going to pretend for a second I have tried them all nor do I even know much about them. I use the higher end sims that come with these things standard so I've never had a need to spend money on one. I've also heard many compatibility issues with these things so you do take your chances with them being able to work with your particular simulator & radio so do your research before purchasing one.
That said, I did pick up a USB adapter from Hobby King a while back (just to get the most out of my shipping charges plus I was curious), and it does work - with Phoenix 4 at least.
Pictured above is the Hobby King Sim Box USB unit I purchased. I have it plugged into my Spektrum Radio's trainer port which is a standard USB to radio connectivity method; but you can also connect to a Receiver and use it wireless with any radio which is a pretty neat feature. For $15 bucks, it's a neat little unit, but I honestly have no idea how compatible it is with different sims.
At the end of the day, a free RC helicopter simulator or demo version is certainly an option if you just want to try them out and see what you think and have a little fun. However, if you know you are wanting a quality simulator to actually hone your flying skills that comes with a 100% working USB interface or adapter, stick with the higher end ones. They will likely save you money not to mention time and frustration in the long haul.