• Tutorial: Flying Helicopters In X-Plane

    Flying Helicopters In X-Plane

    By Hoot Gibson

    First things first...when it comes to flying helicopters in X-Plane, choosing the right one makes the world of difference.

    Many people give up on flying helicopters in X-Plane due to the fact that they think the sim is overly realistic. In their minds there's no possible way to tame a beast that's constantly trying to kill them! I felt the same way when I first tried to fly the old default X-Plane Robinson R44, created by my (now) good friend, Brett Sumpter. I crashed so many times it was unreal, so much so that I seriously thought about giving up. That was until I tried Criminy's Ka-50. What a difference counter-rotating main rotor blades made! No more anti-torque, trying to bring her under control. The result...a much smoother flight.

    In the air I found the Ka-50 seemed to fly more like an airplane than a helicopter, except that is when hovering (obviously). This reinvigorated my interest and got me wondering about helicopter realism in X-Plane vs other sims like FSX and FlightGear.

    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. The upshot of this realism is that helicopters are notoriously difficult to control. However, the problem in flying them in X-Plane lies more to do with controller setup, rather than the realistic flight model X-Plane so cleverly provides.

    In an ideal world, the perfect control setup would be a nice full length cyclic stick, a proper collective with twist grip throttles and a set of rudder pedals, but those items can sometimes be too expensive for the average flight sim enthusiast. For myself, I prefer to use the good old mouse and keyboard. Now that you have an idea of how helicopters work in X-Plane, it's time to choose your helicopter.

    Have you ever heard the expression, bigger is better? Well, with X-Plane, bigger means smoother. What I mean by this, is that the bigger the helicopter, the smoother it'll be in terms of cyclic response. With this in mind, remember at the beginning I mentioned the Robinson and my difficulty in flying it? Judging by its small size, it was, in hindsight, not the best helicopter to start with.

       

    But I'm not saying it can't be done, more that when I flew the Ka-50 and the default Sea King, I faired a lot better. The Sea King by the way (like the Robinson mentioned earlier) was also made by the talented Brett Sumpter.

    A quick note about my friend, Brett, if I may; I think it's fair to say that Brett has been instrumental in helping not only myself, but countless others in achieving helicopter greatness. Sure, it takes time to learn how to fly but without him, many of us would still be spinning in circles! Brett's wealth of knowledge regarding helicopters is almost unequalled in the X-Plane community and for that I take my hat off to him.

    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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