Jump to content

New Challenges

Recommended Posts

  • Founder


New Challenges

By Nels Anderson

While some refer to flight simulators as games, that really is not accurate. Games typically have a beginning and end, and often a fairly specific route between those two points. In contrast, a flight simulator gives you the world and some vehicles and you have to figure out what to do with it. This does not work for everyone, but for those who have a little adventure and imagination in them, a simulator can provide endless activity.


Modern sims offer enough options that you can explore many different aspects of aviation. You can take a bush plane and explore the wilderness or you can learn to fly a jetliner and navigate long distances around the globe. You can pilot a business jet and visit some of the smaller airports. You can fly a turboprop and live the life of an airline pilot while visiting a variety of destinations. You can learn VFR and IFR flying skills. You can learn to operate a GPS and an FMC. You can...


Well, it just goes on and on doesn't it?


I'm a real world GA pilot and have also tended to fly general aviation planes in the sim. I find this enjoyable as it lets me explore the world of the sim and go into pretty much any airport (depending on what specific plane I'm flying).


I was late coming to the newest Microsoft Flight Simulator, as my computer required an update before I could run it and I was still generally happy with X-Plane 11 and FSX. With MSFS 2020 and its striking scenery my urge to explore was really ignited so I was off in the basic GA planes offered. When one day my email revealed that Carenado had released a Piper PA28-181 Archer II, the plane I've flown the most in real life, I immediately made my first add-on purchase and did lots of flying in that plane.




But something had been on my mind for a while...a thought that I should try something new. Since so many people enjoy airliners I had thought about that. But as much as I appreciate the feeling of accomplishment that comes with mastering the complex systems in a jet, that wasn't it. I liked the idea of a smaller move up, to something like a King Air turboprop. That would still be suitable for sightseeing but also offer much greater speed and new challenges in systems and overall performance. I may still do this one day, but ultimately I decided on something completely different.




Yes, helicopters was the answer. This is something I'd thought about for a while. I'd tried the one helicopter lesson in X-Plane 11, but found it lacking and never persued it. But with MSFS 2020 now supporting helicopters natively and with two suitable aircraft in the default stable, one an ideal trainer, the choice was made.


I have to admit not being familiar with a Guimbal Cabri. I don't think I've ever seen one in the real world. Given a choice, I'd probably take a Robinson R22 instead, as that's what I see at all the flight schools around me. But the Cabri really is a pretty nice and modern chopper and it's there just waiting to be used, so that made the choice easy enough.



So, where to start? MSFS 2020 has some built-in lessons, but does not have helicopter training. Fortunately, there are already plenty of sim helicopter fans and quite a bit of information. HeliSimmer.com has a set of written tutorials that I used to start my training. Helicopters are complex machines in how they interact with the world. While they have controls that are somewhat similar to an airplane, i.e. the collective controls thrust and the cyclic controls direction like an airplane's yoke or stick does, use of these controls is a bit more complicated. In a helicopter, pretty much any control input causes secondary changes which require the use of one of the other controls to counteract. For one example, more thrust causes yaw which must be countered using the pedals. Until you understand the interactions, using the controls can give results that are not what you intended!


I also turned to Youtube videos, and there are quite a few available, some better than others, but actually being able to see what's happening along with the description is helpful.


But ultimately, and encouraged by several folk in the forums right here, it comes down to practice and more practice. 




While it might seem odd, the first step in flying a helicopter requires learning how to not to move--hovering. It's not as easy as you might think. As you gradually apply power and break free of the ground several things happen at once. Your increasing power causes increased torque which must be countered with the pedals so you don't start spinning. If there is any wind, as soon as you're free of the ground you need to use the cyclic to counter the wind pushing you. Even without wind you'll need to quickly find the center point where the cyclic is not directing the copter to move in some direction.


Then, you have to be able to hold it steady, while the wind may be changing. To further increase the challenge, the needed control inputs are truly tiny...while hovering if you watched my hand on the joystick you'd be hard pressed to see it moving, but slight adjustments are constantly being made.


I made it a point to try and practice every day and eventually practice paid off, I got noticeably better and also learned to hover taxi so I could move around on the ground.


Also worth mentioning is that MSFS 2020 offers pilot assist features for helicopters. Turning these on changes the vehicle from a mad whirling monster of doom to something merely difficult to control. Yes, I am still using these options, though knowing that it's a cheat. At some point I hope to get good enough to turn them off.




Finally the day came when I decided it was time to actually take off and fly. This is where I learned something interesting. In an airplane, when you want to take off you push the throttle forward and use all the power you can to get moving and airborne. Not so in a helicopter! Actually flying can require less power than it does to hover. So, to go from hovering to flying you can just push the stick forward and off you go. What's interesting is that as you gain speed the lift generated by the rotors actually increases, without adding power.


Actually flying isn't so different from an aircraft. You mostly use the cyclic as you would the stick in an aircraft. There are some differences, though, such as when flying straight you're always slightly tilted, with direction depending on the rotation of the main rotors. You also can slow down in ways that an aircraft never could.


But the thing is, when you're done flying you have to land, and as airplane pilots know that's usually the most challenging part. It's no different here but how it's done is different. None of the tutorials really explained this sufficiently so I kind of had to figure it out on my own.




Being a long time airplane pilot, I initially flew approaches much like I was used to in an airplane. This would work up to a point, but at first I kept getting oh so close when suddenly I'd lose lift and go plummeting down. Practice, practice, practice... Eventually I was able to figure it out and could transition from flight to hover somewhere over a nice big runway.


But of course that's not getting the benefit of flying a helicopter, which can do spot landings precisely on small spaces, like helipads but also anywhere desired. With more practice I'm now starting to get this but more work is still needed.



Enjoying Helicopters

I now have some 65 hours of helicopter flight time and am at a point where I can finally just enjoy going flying. I'm hardly proficient though and will need to continue practicing.




So, what to do as a helicopter pilot? Well, explore the MSFS 2020 world for sure. In a helicopter you typically fly low--500 feet AGL is usually a good height. This gives you quite a different perspective on the world than you get from a greater height.


Unfortunately, you also get to see the flaws in the flightsim scenery! The new scenery techniques work very well when viewed from a reasonable distance but up close you can see some really odd stuff!






But on the other hand, you get to see some of the finely detailed POI added to the sim that you'd be hard pressed to see at all at normal flight altitudes.




The other thing that is fun is off airport landings. Since you can land anywhere, it's fun to find challenging spots and see if you can do it. Even though my control is still a bit shaky I've managed to get into some pretty interesting spots.




So there you have it, my story on taking up a new challenge--so far! I still have room to improve my skills and many places to explore so this challenge will continue for a long time to come.


I imagine others have taken up their own challenge. In the comments section below, tell us about what new flightsim challenges you've taken up during your simming career.



  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

43 minutes ago, Nels_Anderson said:

Also worth mentioning is that MSFS 2020 offers pilot assist features for helicopters. Turning these on changes the vehicle from a mad whirling monster of doom to something merely difficult to control. Yes, I am still using these options, though knowing that it's a cheat. At some point I hope to get good enough to turn them off.

Nels, I really have enjoyed following your foray into the world of rotary-wing. You have taken a solid paced approach to learning this new skill with patience (and I'm sure a little frustration) and professionalism. In the forums you ask meaningful questions and have challenged me and others to offer just as meaningful answers. Glad to be able to welcome you to the low and slow side of aviation.


When you are ready to adventure to different helicopters, I would highly recommend the Bell 206 and Bell 47. https://flyinside-helis.com/

The 206 is a pure pleasure to fly for real, and the 47 offers views that can't be beat. 


Finally, concerning your comment above, I would say that using the pilot assist is definitely not cheating. Almost all newer helicopters have some form of trim (control centering) or stabilization system(s). Often one flies with these disengaged, which really improves your skills.


As for my rotary adventure, I've added "attempting" to fly in formation with AI helicopters in FSX.


Always remember, flying is heavenly; to hover, divine.



Always Aviate, then Navigate, then Communicate. And never be low on Fuel, Altitude, Airspeed, or Ideas.

phrog x 2.jpg

Laptop, Intel Core i7 CPU 1.80GHz 2.30 GHz, 8GB RAM, 64-bit, NVIDIA GeoForce MX 130, Extra large coffee-black.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As is usually the case I agree with Phrog.  I can certainly remember my RW flights with a H-34 after spending so many hours in a H-46.  Having to deal with rotor torque effect in hover with only one main rotor really took me back to the basics.  And yes, a 46 also has a very good SAS (Stability Augmentation System) and other enhancements which can really make you get lazy with the basics.


Plus max gross takeoffs and landings with tricycle gear, tail dragger gear, and skid gear are yet another form of challenges.   


Enjoy!!  And please post your reactions as well.  We look forward to seeing them!




Being an old chopper guy I usually fly low and slow.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Nice article, Nels, well done. You offer a very nice perspective, different from so many, and hopefully many folks will at least appreciate it, but preferably take up your challenge in one way or another.


Thanks for this.



Larry N.

As Skylab would say:

Remember: Aviation is NOT an exact Science!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...