When I first started with this amazing hobby of RC helicopters, I noticed that the learning process is very fun and entertaining. As you know, I always recommend to start with fixed pitch and 3 channel helis to anyone asking my opinion, however, there is another (bit more expensive) way to learn this hobby that actually is quite interesting as well: With an RC flight simulator.
There are some pros and cons about this, but I think the best of getting a sim is that you can keep flying, over and over again, even if you dramatically crash your heli or airplane. On the other hand, I personally developed bad practices when hanging too much time with sims, which eventually lead me to crashes in the real world. Thus, even when I think simulators are great, nothing replaces the experience of holding a real RC heli (or any other aviation gadget) in the air, using a transmitter on your hands.
A good analogy I have for you is this: You can play lots of games about zombies and walking dead, but nothing would replace the experience of facing one and actually surviving.
What is a flight simulator?
However, you must know that an RC flight sim is not a game and it’s not a toy. It is a professionally designed tool to help you develop (and hone) specific skills, with a variety of scenarios such as aircraft model, weather conditions, easiness to fly, physics of the reality, and much more.
Confusing a simulator with a game is one of the main risks you face, I speak from experience. I used to spend lots of time with simulators that I could use on my mobile devices; to me they were like any other app, however, the look and feel of a touch screen is never the look and feel of a joystick. This is why the first thing you have to know is that an RC flight simulator is not a game.
I mentioned before bad practices and these are something I want to briefly discuss here.
- Skipping flight phases: A bad practice you can develop with any simulator is that you can simply close the software and that’s it. However, most crashes occur when trying to land the RC helicopter or airplane, so it is of vital importance to learn to control the take-off and landing phases. (These are some of the harder ones, so chances are you’ll skip them with a flight simulation software, especially if it’s an app that can be interrupted by a phone call.). Practice the complete experience from take-off to landing.
- Flight controls: Even some of the free simulators offer you options to increase or decrease flight difficulty. This is obviously aimed to help you get started, but once you feel comfortable and familiar with the operation of the ship, you should remove the aid-wheels and ride your bike like a big guy. This is something else that happened to me, and in many cases in combination with skipping phases of the flight. My recommendation is to use these aids at start, but after a few days, challenge yourself to get a more realistic experience and deactivate them. This will dramatically improve your learning curve.
- Never flying a real airship: This is something that can also happen to you. Some of the most famous flight simulators come with computerized versions of real models of RC aviation gadgets. The truth is that they may do a pretty good job in simulating the graphics, the specifications, and even the flight aerodynamics of each model; and for this reason some people get an RC flight simulator, such as the Phoenix RC Pro Simulator (great by the way!), and because of its amazing features they never apply what practiced to the real thing. Don’t let this happen to you, again, nothing can replace the real experience.
How to overcome these and other bad practices?
I just spoke about a few bad practices that happened to me, however you can find many more online. But now I want to give you my take about how to overcome them.
I could recommend you books, meditation classes, some affirmations, and even some religions; but the truth is very plain and simple: When you notice you’re doing something that may not be beneficial for your growth, stop doing it. How to know if it’s beneficial for your growth? – Simple: Is this challenging or not? If it is challenging you it’s definitely helping you grow.
Please don’t get me wrong here, some people just want to try flight simulators because they’re curious, but they are 100% sure that’s it for them. There is nothing wrong with this and if that’s your case, this is the end of the story. However, for those of you who are a bit intrigued about what flying a real RC helicopter, airplane, or drone would be like, and are truly looking to learn the skill and enjoy the hobby, for you guys, the best way to overcome the simulator is to simply take your bird, turn the switches on, and start applying what was learned in the virtual world.
However, if you’re starting with a flight simulator or want to start with one, don’t get me wrong here, this is a great idea and something you can enjoy. My best recommendation for you is to get your sim and your real heli at the same time, and after you practice for a few minutes with the virtual model, take your knowledge outside the computer and practice with your real gadget. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just because the sim doesn’t have your specific model it won’t help you, because the thing is to learn to fly, limitless, completely, and magnificently. This is why this hobby is so rewarding.
What is important to look for when getting an RC flight simulator?
Some of the most popular RC flight simulators are selling a lot the part of the amazing graphics and renderings of landscapes and models they have, however, you have to remember that this is fine when we speak about video games, but when we speak about simulation tools, the graphics may not be the most important thing.
I say this right now because it’s easy to mistake sims with video games, also, as I already said, some of the companies developing these tools are lately speaking a lot about graphics and less about simulation capabilities. Graphics are important, of course, but the ability to offer you an experience as real as possible is much more transcendental. The last will avoid you crashing your bird, while the first may not serve you at all for this. What’s the point on having a sharp image of the tree in front of you in the virtual world, if it’s not the same tree you’ll have to avoid in the real life? No my friends, graphics are fantastic for video games, but the ability to simulate is the 80% of the recipe to make a good flight simulator.
Now that we know this, let me tell you my view on this: It’s really hard to describe the simulation skills of a simulator! Because what my feel like a 7 to me, could be like a 4 for you. Not just that, but I may be thinking in a 1 to 10 scale while you may be considering a 1 to 100. Every single experience is different, and you must embrace the possibilities.
However, not everything is lost. It may be hard for me to tell you which simulator is the best, since it’s just my view, but if we take a look at what most people are saying there are pretty good chances that we find those which fit the most of us.
After hearing and reading a lot online, I’ve seen that the ones that most people talk about are AccuRC, Phoenix RC Pro Simulator, and RealFlight. These are the ones, according to most people, that will offer you the best simulation experience. They also feature some of the best and real models you can find off and online, and for this reason they have become very popular. Just so you know, these are my best ones as well.
Just so you know, there are other sims that you can get for free online, but I’m not discussing these here because the majority are controlled with a computer joystick or a keyboard, which will not provide the proper training for the person looking to master this skill. Most popular flight sims come or have to be used with a transmitter that more than often will also do the work when wanting to fly a real heli.
There you have it – Now is time to get the best one for you!
Now that you know this, it’s time to act! Make sure you get a nice and decent simulator and start practicing with a goal in mind. Don’t forget that this is not a game, but don’t forget to also enjoy the experience and have fun with it.
As always I’m thrilled to hear your thoughts and anything you want to share with us. If you happen to have any experience with flight simulators and you think I’m missing something here (which is likely to be) please leave a comment and join to the conversation. Don’t forget to share this on your social channels so that more people know about these fantastic RC flight simulators.