RC flight simulators
- do you need one? Yes!
RC flight simulators can give you a very realistic radio control flight training experience, without having to leave the house!
'Sims' for home computers first became available in the late 1980s, but chunky computer graphics and slow computer processors really limited their realism.
But throughout the '90s, with the rapid improvement in home computers, radio control simulators quickly evolved into a very realistic radio control flight training aid, second only to side-by-side club instructor training.
Nowadays of course, with warp-speed computer processors and outstandingly realistic graphics, modern rc flight simulators such as the Phoenix and RealFlight 'G' series sims have become hugely popular.
Such simulators have reached into many homes and have become a 'must have' rc flying accessory; they have helped countless novice rc pilots learn the basics of radio control flight, and expert pilots rehearse their aerobatic and 3D routines to a faultless performance.
Above: the Phoenix is one of the top selling rc flight simulators.
A good quality rc simulator consists of very powerful software and may or may not include a realistic transmitter interface controller. The interface, where included, works in exactly the same way as a normal rc transmitter but instead of sending a radio signal to the receiver in the model, the signal passes through a cable to drive the software installed on your computer.
RC flight simulators that don't include a controller can be used with normal transmitters, although some of the cheaper sims have a limited numbers of compatible Tx's. But for the better flight simulators using your own transmitter is in fact the best option because it lets you get 100% familiar with the Tx that you'll use at the field.
Whichever Tx you do use, whether your own or a supplied controller, the aircraft's response to your control input is precise and accurate, within reason, and the smooth graphics and realistic engine sounds (accurately matched to your throttle stick movements) really make you feel like you're standing on the flight line, flying the real thing.
That said, there are of course a few differences between virtual and real rc flight training which you'll come to get used to. For example, the wind effect on most rc flight simulators doesn't include unpredictable gusts. Also, using any zoom feature on a sim can distract you from getting used to your plane's true position and orientation relative to you and the ground. But these are things that your real-life rc flight training will soon teach you!
As with everything else radio control, prices have dropped in recent years making a simulator quite affordable. And with most households now owning - or having access to - modern personal computers and laptops, sims have rocketed in popularity as a sensible and very effective training aid.
Modern day rc flight simulators such as Phoenix and RealFlight feature all the popular model aircraft including helicopters, gliders and turbine jets.
Phoenix, since striking a deal with rc product giants Horizon Hobby, feature a lot of Horizon's brand products such as planes and helicopters from ParkZone and E-flite. This is great news if you actually have one of their models, although you might need to tweak the flight characteristics on the sim to get it flying exactly like your model.
Events such as pylon racing, spot landing and limbo flying are available to really test your skills and online multi-player mode is also a great feature if you have a fast internet connection.
The better quality rc flight simulators feature a virtual flight school where professional rc pilots (from the real world!) teach you everything from basic take off and landing techniques to advanced aerobatic maneuvers. Each lesson is narrated by the pilot, and Tx stick movements are shown so you can see exactly what's happening and when.
Below are some screenshots from my Phoenix sim, these are the kind of images that you can expect from modern rc flight simulators (click on images to view larger):
And below is a snippet of the official Phoenix rc flight simulator demo (© Phoenix, full demo program is available from the Phoenix website). Bear in mind that the 'stickiness' of the flying site scenery is caused by the video capture software running - the actual sim runs smoothly.
Learning to fly radio control in this safe environment is as realistic as it gets without actually taking a trip to your local flying field. And of course it eliminates the dreaded aspect of learning to fly radio control - the damage zone! When learning to fly rc there's a good chance that your model will get damaged sooner or later, but learning on a flight simulator will help minimise those little 'incidents'.
Indeed, a big advantage with learning to fly on a rc simulator is that it gets you used to the 'reverse control', or 'reverse co-ordination', which is the term used when the aircraft is flying towards you and the turns become reversed i.e. left is right and vice versa. This is an invaluable advantage because reverse control catches so many new rc pilots out in their early days.
Another big advantage of owning an rc flight simulator is that there's no excuse not to fly ~ even when the weather is against you, you can still be practising all those maneuvers from the comfort of home, all the time teaching yourself to become a much better radio control pilot ready for that next trip to the flying field.
Keeping it real on RC flight simulators!
It's easy to see an rc flight sim as a glorified game consol, and you'd be forgiven for flying your virtual model in as many crazy ways as possible and trying to do the most spectacular crash ever. But don't! Remember that your sim is there to teach you to fly; when your virtual airplane or helicopter is spinning out of control, imagine that it's your actual aircraft and that it's going to cost you a few hundred bucks if you destroy it. Do all you can to try and recover, and get the model back to earth safely.
In other words, don't let yourself get into bad habits on your simulator because these will inevitably get transferred onto the flying field. Of course have fun with it and enjoy every moment, but remember why you bought the simulator in the first place, and use it accordingly - as a serious training aid to your flying.
Remember - a computer doesn't crash the same way as a model airplane does! If you're serious about rc flying, get an rc flight simulator!
Other RC flight simulators
I've talked about Phoenix and RealFlight on this page simply because that's what I have and I can recommend either one, although to be honest Phoenix is my favourite by far and that's the one I would tell people to buy. But other popular sims include FMS which is either a free download or sold in a package with 4 or 6 channel controller (and sometimes even bundled in with an RTF aircraft deal), Clearview, Reflex XTR and AeroFly Pro.
Really it's only AeroFly that comes close to the quality of Phoenix, but I'd still recommend Phoenix over and above all the others.
Shopping? Free ebook & $5 discount offer
In these hard times every little helps! RC Airplane World is happy to be associated with Red Rocket Hobbies and can offer you a $5 discount on any purchase made at the Red Rocket website; just enter coupon code RCAPW at the checkout.
Furthermore, if you purchase a Phoenix or RealFlight flight simulator through any of the product links on this page I will give you one of my ebooks for free, you can choose either The Beginner's Guide To Flying RC Airplanes or The Beginner's Guide To Flying RC Helicopters.
Worth $12.95 and $14.95 respectively, either ebook will compliment your rc flight training on Phoenix; just choose which ebook suits your preferred aircraft type (plane or heli).
How to claim your ebook: once you've purchased your sim through any of the bold links on this page just e-mail me via my contact page and let me know your order number. I'll verify the transaction with the store and send you your choice of ebook, free of charge!
Yes I get a small commission from any sales made, but we all need to live somehow! ;-)