Flying a radio controlled airplane or helicopter is much like riding a bike. Someone can tell you all about riding a bike until they are blue in the face, but it does no good at all until you get on a bike and get a feel for the balance and control for yourself. And flying radio control models is much the same. You have to develop a feel for the balance and control which is unlike anything you have ever experienced before. Then, add to that the difficulty of flying the model while being on the ground. We are so used to being inside a car, for instance, to both see and feel the needed control inputs. However, all our model flying is performed outside and away from the model – sometimes at great distances.
The simulator therefore offers many benefits to both the novice flyer who wants to learn basic control techniques, and to the advanced flyer who is interested in practicing advanced 3D maneuvers. These benefits include:
- Fly before you buy. If you are not sure r/c 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.
- 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.
- Change weather parameters. Change the direction and speed of the wind, turbulence and other flight parameters to make your training more realistic.
- No fear of crashing. All learning mistakes on the computer are immediately repairable, at no cost, allowing you to fly with reckless abandon.
- 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.
- Reduce ware 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.
- 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.
- Simulate your own airplane or helicopter. You can change the model parameters to closely resemble the performance of your own model.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.