Training with a Flight Simulator

Apr 07, 2012 4 Comments by

Although radio control airplanes and helicopters have been around for many years, it has only been since the early 1990s that simulators have been available to help us with the learning-to-fly process. For those of you who are too young to remember what computers were like back then, the personal computer (pc) was very limited in its speed, capacity and ease of use. This means the first simulators were slow, with poor graphics, and did not accurately simulate our models – at least by today’s standards.

Since then both computers and simulators have progressed hand-in-hand to where the simulator does an excellent job of representing the model in a very life-like manner, and increased processing speeds provide a virtually instantaneous response to our control inputs. However, to get the maximum benefit from any simulator, make sure your computer meets the simulators requirements for processing speed, hard drive capacity, video card, etc.

When using any simulator, train the way you intend to fly at the flying field, and then fly the way you trained at home. By this I mean to use your own transmitter whenever possible, use a neck strap or transmitter tray to support the transmitter, hold the control sticks in a comfortable and proper manner, and use the required switches and internal transmitter computer functions just as you will to adjust your own model.

There are a variety of ways to hold the transmitter sticks, but the way I have found the best for precise and smooth control input is to place your thumb on the top of the control stick, and then place the meaty part of your index finger (the part between the tip of the finger and the first joint) on the front of the control stick. Then slide the index finger up the front of the control stick until it just touches the base of the thumb. The thumb provides complete control of the model throughout the entire control stick range, while the index finger acts to steady and improve the accuracy of your movements, much like leaning against a tree is used to steady a rifle prior to firing.

Although the simulator has many benefits, it’s important to remember simulators only simulate. No matter how good the simulator program might be, there is nothing like flying your own model, with its unique characteristics, the sound of the engine, the smell of the exhaust, and your increased personal anxiety. So if you enjoy flying your simulator, you are really going to love flying your own model.

Some of the many benefits of flying with a simulator include:

  1. Fly before you buy. If you are not sure RC is really the hobby for you, many simulators come with their own controller (transmitter) which will let you get the feel of flying before you invest in a model, engine, radio, etc.
  2. Fly in any weather, at any time. Now you don’t have to wait for the weekend, or a nice weather day, to get in that flying practice for your latest maneuver.
  3. Change weather parameters. Change the direction and speed of the wind, turbulence and other flight parameters to make your training more realistic.
  4. No fear of crashing. All learning mistakes on the computer are immediately repairable, at no cost, allowing you to fly with reckless abandon.
  5. Save the cost of fuel. This is especially important if you like flying the larger models that use 12 to 16 ounces of fuel for each flight.
  6. Reduce wear and tear on model, radio, etc. Although models and their associated equipment last a long time by any standard, flying time on the simulator is virtually unlimited.
  7. Fly a variety of models at different airfields. Most simulators have a list of helicopters and airplanes, with a variety of flying sites to choose from, to make the learning process more enjoyable.
  8. Simulate your own airplane or helicopter. You can change the model parameters to closely resemble the performance of your own model.
  9. Vary model parameters. Size, weight, wingspan, pitch curves, throttle curves, swash plate efficiency, etc. can be changed so you can experiment with changes you may want to make to your own model.
  10. Defines safe areas to keep you from entering no fly zones. The simulator lets you know if you fly too close to yourself, the pits, etc. to make the training as realistic as possible to what it will be like at your local flying field.
  11. System failures test and improve your flying skills.  You can program in the possibility of having an engine or radio failure, at an unknown time during flight, to see how you would handle such an emergency.
  12. Built-in training system. Some programs will allow you to control only part of the model, with the simulator controlling the rest. As an example, you can choose to only control the aileron function, leaving all other control functions to the simulator. Once you feel comfortable with your performance, you can take over other control functions.
  13. Web site updates. As simulator programs improve, and new models and features are added, those updates are available through the simulator’s web site. Simulator add-ons are also available on cd to expand the capabilities of your simulator with new helicopters, airplanes, and flying sites.
  14. Practice with your own radio. Many simulators allow you to connect your transmitter to your computer. This allows you to get the feel of your own control sticks, operate the transmitter switches, use a transmitter tray, etc. just as you will be using at the flying field

Not all simulators have all the above features, and improvements are an on-going effort, so choose the simulator that has those features that are most important to you.

 

Paul Tradelius

About the author

A regular contributor to Model Airplane News, he is also the columnist for our “Rotor Speed” helicopter column. Paul has been flying RC helicopters since the early ‘80s and now enjoys all types of rotary machines, including scale and aerobatics, and he continues to experiment with modifications to improve performance.

4 Responses to “Training with a Flight Simulator”

  1. Oscar says:

    I’m old enough to remember the Flight Sim called Red Baron for the Amiga. True back then the graphics were bad compared to what we have become accustomed to. But for it’s day it was an awesome game. I agree, Flight Sims have come a long way. I love’em

  2. Paul Tradelius says:

    And what simulator are you using now? Does it have any specific features that you feel really improve your flying? As you can see in my photo, I’m using the Real Flight 6 and it has more features than I ever thought they could include in a simulator.

  3. Bill says:

    Any recommendation on a sim for the MAC

    • Paul Tradelius says:

      Good question Bill. I didn’t know the answer, so I e-mailed my editor, Debra Cleghorn, and she replied saying the Phoenix sim from Horizon Hobby will work with a MAC.

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