• Tutorial: Flying Helicopters In X-Plane

    Getting back to flying, I think it's safe to say that hovering is, without doubt, the hardest part of flying a helicopter. To fly forward or to do anything else in a helicopter, you have to master the hover.

    Hovering means control, lots of it, and to do that you need to understand how a helicopter works. With a European helicopter, the main blades usually spin clockwise - when viewed from above - but for American helicopters, the main blades spin counter-clockwise.

    When the engine (or engines) are applying power to the main rotors, in order to keep them spinning at the desired RPM, torque is produced. This has the tendency to spin the body of the helicopter in the opposite way. Spinning and hovering don't work together so this is where a tail rotor comes into play. Its job, and one that it does remarkably well, is to push the air in a direction that will keep the body from spinning.

    When you pull up on the collective, so as to gain height, the torque from the main rotor blades increases. This increased spinning force, created by the collective, causes the body of the helicopter to twist and so an additional action is needed to counter this.

    This is done by increasing/decreasing the blade pitch of the tail rotor (in real life by use of the pedals). This is done constantly, and also carefully in order to keep the spinning force in check. The rule here: don't take your feet off the pedals!

    The same applies to the cyclic stick, small precise and careful movements. Too much and you'll be too far the other way and you'll find yourself constantly overcorrecting.

    In X-Plane, whatever your chosen control method, the key is to be smooth. I fly using almost all of the default X-Plane key commands, which are:

    F2 = throttle up a bit
    F1 = throttle down a bit
    F3 = collective up a bit
    F4 = collective down a bit
    Z = left pedal
    X = center the pedals
    C = right pedal
    F5 = Mixture down (engine shutdown)
    F6 = Mixture up

    Keys Z, X C are my own keyboard assignments (not default) as they work best for me.

    The default key layout is how I have learnt, but everybody is different. By accessing the control menu of X-Plane it's possible to customize every single one of the control assignments to your liking; this goes for both the keyboard and joystick.

    So there you go, a simple but honest guide to helicopter flying. If you haven't ventured into the world of X-Plane, then I recommend giving it a go as the possibilities are truly endless. Yes, there will be frustration at the beginning, as with most challenges, but the rewards are oh so worth it.

    Thanks for letting me share my two cents!

    Hoot Gibson

    Tags: helicopter

    3 Comments
    1. flightman's Avatar
      flightman -
      "What I didn't know, and what I found pretty interesting, was that X-Plane uses real-time data (calculated many times per second) to give you the most advanced flight sim experience possible"
      Just like FSX then, in terms of feeding back real time data at least.

      The article is useful but it is more of an introduction to flying helicopters. It doesn't give much information about how to put this into practice as a tutorial should. You explained why it's difficult without giving any advice about overcoming that to fly under control.

      Using the keyboard to fly a helicopter has got to be the hardest method to master. It isn't easy with a joystick either but it's less frustrating. So kudos for succeeding with it.
    1. carizzi's Avatar
      carizzi -
      Using the keyboard to fly a helicopter has got to be the hardest method to master. It isn't easy with a joystick either but it's less frustrating. So kudos for succeeding with it.
      I fly helicopters in XP10 all the time. Also flew them extensively in FS2004, FSX. In my opinion I can't imagine a harder way to get started than trying the to fly the default XP helis with keyboard commands. Kudos to you if you can get that to the point where it's any kind of fun.

      If it helps anyone I think the real issue is getting your joystick sensitivity and "slope" (as adjustable in FSUIPC for FSX, XP10 settings menu) tuned so you can get reasonable control. (the Dreamfoil $ware a/c in XP have built in adjustable control sensitivity which is very helpful - perhaps others too don't know)

      Also if you have a joystick centering spring it's probably going to need to be tamed a bit (some videos on YouTube with DIY solutions). You will also need independent "rudder" control of some sort.

      Get started someplace where you have very detailed scenery so you have enough visual cues to actually have a fighting chance of having fun. Trying to hover over a low res generic scenery tile/texture with no objects for visual reference is like hovering in a dust cloud - good luck.

      Hope this helps
    1. flightman's Avatar
      flightman -
      Absolutely. Until you learn to hover under full control you won't fully master helicopter flying. Basically you have to learn in the same way a real helicopter pilot does.

      If nothing else the article got me to try helicopter flying in XPlane. So much better than helicopters in FSX.
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