The best helicopter simulator (2019 edition)

Are you curious about which one is the best helicopter simulator? Look no further. We take a look at the cons and pros of every sim out there.

I’ll admit it. This article is long overdue.

Our original “best helicopter simulator” goes back to 2016 . A lot has changed since then. Some sims have disappeared, others have evolved and a new one (which we will obviously not include in the list) is still in the making.

Virtual Reality is also becoming stronger and we now have a sim that we couldn’t include before because it didn’t have a helicopter until last year.

A lot has changed. But does our final verdict change as well? Let’s see. And let’s start with the usual suspects.

Microsoft Flight Simulator X (FSX)

Microsoft Flight Simulator X - screenshot by Hamza Omar
Microsoft Flight Simulator X - screenshot by Hamza Omar

Good old FSX is still around and kicking (and some folks still use FS2004).

Development of the sim has stopped years ago still, mostly due to the fact that people can use it as a base or a framework to build their dream sim, it’s still going strong. Not as stronger as before, of course, but the user base is still pretty strong.

Dovetail Games  picked it up and released FSX: SE (Steam Edition). The company recompiled the code and made it available via Steam .

This brought somewhat of a new life to the sim which is one of the most inexpensive in the market and a great gateway for simmers out there.

Microsoft Flight Simulator X - screenshot by Hamza Omar Microsoft Flight Simulator X - screenshot by Hamza Omar
Microsoft Flight Simulator X - screenshots by Hamza Omar

Helicopter wise, it’s frankly weak, though. The flight dynamics are pretty bad for rotorcraft. The helicopters feel heavy and you lose a lot of makes helicopters what they are.

Still, if you are not willing to spend a lot of money on a sim has proven itself over the years and, perhaps, make it as a less-expensive way to get into sims, it can help you achieve that.

You can make helicopters behave a lot better, though, with the use of Helicopter Total Realism (HTR) , which is a free module you can use that communicates with FSX and makes helicopters act a lot more like helicopters do. A lot.

So, FSX with HTR can become a great asset for a new pilot.

In a nutshell

Pros Cons
  • World scenery available;
  • Lots of excellent free and paid scenery, aircraft and other addons;
  • One of the cheapest sims in the market;
  • With HTR , it can become an interesting helicopter sim;
  • Most of the cockpits are interactive (depends on the aircraft);
  • Development ended years ago;
  • Age is noticeable;
  • The helicopter flight model (without HTR) is pretty bad;
  • VR-compatible only with 3rd-party applications (such as FlyInside )

Where to get it

Get Microsoft Flight Simulator X (Steam Edition) here .

Lockheed Martin’s Prepar3D (P3D)

Prepar3D - screenshot by Marc Morand
Prepar3D - screenshot by Marc Morand

Prepar3D is FSX’s big brother if you want to call it. Or a cousin.

P3D was developed from the same base as FSX, but for the professional market. It suffers from the same pitfalls as its “little brother”. We could expect that, being a sim still actively under development, we could have some good news regarding our beloved helicopters.

Unfortunately, since Lockheed Martin’s target is the professional market, the company prefers to let their customers build the tools to suit their needs.

Prepar3D - screenshot by Markus Hubner Prepar3D - screenshot by Markus Hubner
Prepar3D - screenshots by Markus Hubner

By means of a software development kit, Lockheed allows companies to custom-build things such as flight dynamics. As I interviewed Adam Breed , Lockheed Martin’s project manager for P3D, I asked him about any planned improvements for helicopters. The TL;DR: companies can use the software development kit.

So, I don’t think we’ll see any major improvements on P3D anytime soon.

The good news? Helicopter Total Realism (HTR)  is compatible with P3D so, we can make helicopters actually behave like helicopters in P3D as well.

In a nutshell

Pros Cons
  • World scenery available;
  • Lots of excellent free and paid scenery, aircraft and other addons;
  • Fully VR-compatible;
  • With HTR , it can become an interesting helicopter sim;
  • Most of the cockpits are interactive (depends on the aircraft);
  • The helicopter flight model (without HTR) is pretty bad;

Where to get it

Get Prepar3D here .

Laminar Research’s X-Plane

X-Plane - screenshot by Bel Geode
X-Plane - screenshot by Bel Geode

X-Plane is a sim that has been growing a lot for the past few years.

Especially after the release of X-Plane 11, Laminar Research have managed to penetrate the market and get some big names onboard such as ORBX, for example.

The flight dynamics are top notch and you can find a lot of excellent products. You’ll also find some of the best helicopters in this sim. Unfortunately, we don’t have a huge fleet of aircraft for the sim but that seems to be slowly changing as more developers are working on helicopters for this sim.

X-Plane - screenshot by Gergely Debreceni X-Plane - screenshot by Jorge Pascoal
Left screenshot by Gergely Debreceni. Right screenshot by Jorge Pascoal

In a nutshell

Pros Cons
  • World scenery available;
  • Lots of excellent free and paid scenery, aircraft and other addons;
  • Fully VR-compatible;
  • Great flight model for helicopters;
  • Free demo available;
  • Cockpits are interactive (depends on the aircraft);
  • Not as much scenery available as P3D, for example but that is changing rapidly;
  • Still not a lot of choices for helicopters but that is slowly changing as more developers are joining the bandwagon;

Where to get it

Get X-Plane here .

Eagle Dynamics’ Digital Combat Simulator (DCS)

Digital Combat Simulator - screenshot by Joe Hudson
Digital Combat Simulator - screenshot by Joe Hudson

DCS is considered by many the pinnacle of combat flight simulation and of helicopter flight simulation.

The first part is true, the second one is debatable. No sim is perfect.

DCS has some amazing helicopters that perform pretty well. It’s one of my favorite sims and if you are a fan of military sims, this is, definitely the sim to get.

Aircraft (or modules, like ED calls them) take a long time to produce and are somewhat expensive (usually over $40 – some up to $80 but, thankfully, helicopters don’t usually fall into this category).

The scenery is gorgeous, although limited (only a few areas are available) so we can’t fly around the world. The level of detail on the helicopters (well, in aircraft in general) is impressive. You will certainly love any helicopter you try.

Digital Combat Simulator - screenshot by Roberto Linares Digital Combat Simulator - screenshot by Sérgio Costa
Left screnshot by Roberto Linares. Right screenshot by Sérgio Costa.

Curiously, the helicopters available in DCS are exactly the same we had back in 2016 when I wrote the first installment of this article : we have the  KA-50 Black Shark , the  Mil-Mi-8MTV2 , the UH-1H Huey  and the SA342 Gazelle .

Nothing changed here. Which is a shame.

Eagle Dynamics has announced the Mi-24 but we have no word on that whatsoever. There’s also a Bo-105 still in production but seems to be going slowly.

This is one of my favorite sims, along with X-Plane.

In a nutshell

Pros Cons
  • Great flight model for helicopters;
  • Fully VR-compatible;
  • Free demo available but only for fixed wings. It will allow you to see how it runs on our computer, though;
  • A must-have for any military aircraft fan;
  • Cockpits are interactive;
  • Powerful mission editor;
  • Limited (and paid) scenery (no flying around the world);
  • Limited (and paid) number of helicopters;

Where to get it

Get DCS here .

FlightGear

FlightGear - screenshot by Stuart Cassie
FlightGear - screenshot by Stuart Cassie

FlightGear is the only free sim in the list. It’s an open source project that has been out there for some years and even has been used on some projects by real aircraft industry companies.

The flight dynamics are pretty good but FlightGear suffers from the same a lot of open source projects do: the sim feels a lot like it’s done for the developers that work on it, not so much for the end user.

FlightGear - screenshot by Stuart Cassie FlightGear - screenshot by Stuart Cassie
FlightGear - screenshots by Stuart Cassie

As such it can be confusing to install, set up and the user interface, although a lot better than a couple of years ago, it’s still… Odd. It’s not really a user-friendly sim.

I still have high hopes for the sim, and it seems to be heading the right way.

In a nutshell

Pros Cons
  • Free and open source;
  • Good choice of helicopters;
  • Good flight dynamics;
  • Some cockpits are interactive, but I haven’t seen a helicopter with full cockpit interaction;
  • Overall it doesn’t feel like a very polished product and that can turn people away;
  • Not exactly easy to set up and use;
  • No VR support;
  • Couldn’t find a helicopter with complete systems and startup procedures yet;

Where to get it

Get FlightGear here.

Take On Helicopters

Take On Helicopters - screenshot by Sérgio Costa
Take On Helicopters - screenshot by Sérgio Costa

Note: this section was added after the publishing of the article, on May 26th, 2019.

Take On Helicopters was a fast (and somewhat of a flop) incursion of Bohemia Interactive into the realm of helicopter flight simulation.

The sim builds heavily on its mission system and comes with a couple of campaigns that spread through a North American and South Asia regions.

You do get a lot to do such as long lining, transporting people as well as other missions, which is a lot more than other sims out there, but things get old quickly as you play all the missions and the campaigns. You can also build your own missions (some of them change each time you play them), which is rather nice.

Sadly, the helicopter systems are limited, and the cockpits are not clickable.

Take On Helicopters - screenshot by Sérgio CostaTake On Helicopters - screenshot by Sérgio Costa
Take On Helicopters - screenshots by Sérgio Costa

Take On Helicopters is rather entertaining – and challenging – but it’s not something I see myself using day in and day out. Honestly, it feels a lot like a game and there’s a reason for that: Bohemia Interactive made a helicopter game, not exactly a sim.

In a nutshell

Pros Cons
  • Pretty decent flight dynamics;
  • Multiplayer with co-op and competitive missions;
  • Good quality scenery;
  • Scenery is limited (2 cities);
  • No VR support;
  • Helicopters are similar to real ones but not a replica;
  • Limited systems and non-clickable cockpits;

Where to get it

Get Take On Helicopters here.

Bohemia Interactive ARMA III (yes, seriously)

ARMA III - screenshot by Roberto Linares
ARMA III - screenshot by Roberto Linares

Oh yeah. I can hear some of you cringe. And you may be right.

ARMA III is not a flight simulator. Not at all. But I had to add it to this list.

Why? Well, because ARMA III has actually a pretty decent flight model (based on the previously mentioned Take On: Helicopters). The scenery is incredible and it’s just too much fun to fly around, pick up some friends, drop them on top of a building, do some CSAR…

ARMA III - screenshot by Roberto Linares ARMA III - screenshot by Roberto Linares
ARMA III - screenshots by Roberto Linares

On some aspects, it’s all I wish DCS could be some day. Having actual people controlling the troops on the ground, talking to them, providing air support, it’s just a blast.

Turn the advanced flight model on and go, go, go!

In a nutshell

Pros Cons
  • Pretty decent flight dynamics;
  • Amazing scenery and performance even on very detailed areas;
  • Ability to interact with other players, have them board the helicopter, etc.
  • Amazing multiplayer abilities;
  • Very powerful mission editor;
  • Lots of potential;
  • ARMA III is not a flight simulator but an infantry simulator. Helicopters just happen to be there;
  • No helicopter systems or very basic ones;
  • No VR support;

Where to get it

Get ARMA III here.

FlyInside Simulator

FlyInside Simulator - screenshot by Sérgio Costa
FlyInside Simulator - screenshot by Sérgio Costa

FlyInside is somewhat of a “new kid on the block” while not actually being the new kid.

The company has entered the market with a solution that allowed FSX, P3D and X-Plane users to use their sims with VR (when P3D and X-Plane didn’t support VR yet). They have made quite a name for themselves and built an amazing reputation.

With the release of the native VR versions for these sims, though, FlyInside became redundant but the team didn’t quit, and they started working on their own flight simulator.

FlyInside Simulator - screenshot by Sérgio CostaFlyInside Simulator - screenshot by Sérgio Costa
FlyInside Simulator - screenshots by Sérgio Costa

FlyInside (the sim) is still under heavy development and it shows. Scenery is still a bit poor, although the aircraft have good quality.

The flight model is pretty decent, and the team is working towards making it a good sim for helicopters. In fact, a few of us at HeliSimmer (some of which are real pilots) have been in touch with the team and providing them with feedback, although they are working closely with pilots that are part of their team or able to help them “on premises”, which is always easier.

FlyInside still has a long way to go but it’s looking very promising.

In a nutshell

Pros Cons
  • Good flight dynamics (still work in progress);
  • Fully supports VR;
  • Still in a somewhat early stage of development;
  • Still limited in scenery and aircraft;

Where to get it

Get FlyInside Simulator here.

The newcomer: IPACS AeroflyFS2

Aerofly FS2 - screenshot by Sérgio Costa
Aerofly FS2 - screenshot by Sérgio Costa

Back in 2016, IPACS didn’t have any helicopters on their fleet. Last year, though, they released the Robinson R22 with the help of helicopter legend Claude Vuichard .

IPACS worked really hard to get the R22 as good as possible and a lot of real pilots say it’s an excellent rendition. Like I said, Claude Vuichard himself worked on the project and he swears by it .

AeroFly FS2 is a late contender but I have to say: it’s the best helicopter out there right now. Really, it is. A lot of you will probably be surprised and some even annoyed because I’m putting this in front of the DCS Huey or the Mi-8 but the truth is that the AeroFly FS2 R22 is an excellent helicopter with a lot of dynamics you don’t feel in DCS.

Aerofly FS2 - screenshot by Sérgio Costa Aerofly FS2 - screenshot by Sérgio Costa
Aerofly FS2 - screenshots by Sérgio Costa

I hope IPACS releases more helicopters. I don’t fly it that often, mostly because there’s no scenery for my country but if they release an AS350, for example, I’ll be all over Switzerland!

In a nutshell

Pros Cons
  • Amazing flight dynamics (probably the best out there right now);
  • Good quality scenery;
  • Fully supports VR;
  • Limited scenery and aircraft;
  • Scenery is still a bit bland;

Where to get it

Get AeroFly FS2 here .

The verdict

First of all, I can’t stress this enough: it doesn’t matter which sim you use . And my opinion shouldn’t matter either.

You should use whatever sim helps you achieve your goals. Be it just for fun or for learning purposes.

We all know people look for “the best” though so I can provide you with my opinion.

All right, then, all this being said, I have to say that the list didn’t change that much since 2016 and that, for me, X-Plane is the best sim for helicopters right now.

It has matured a lot in the last 3 years. Lots of new scenery has come out, amazing helicopters have also been released and the community grew as well, bringing us new tools and more and more material for us to have fun.

ORBX definitely entered the market (which I hoped they did back in 2016) and the future looks bright for the sim.

Yes, AeroFly FS2 still has the best helicopter (singular) and yes, DCS has amazing scenery (a few maps) but, overall, X-Plane is a more complete sim: you can fly the world, get great scenery and amazing helicopters with excellent flight dynamics and the community also grew and is more united than ever.

It natively and fully supports VR and Laminar is working to further improve the sim.

My second choice? DCS. And then Aerofly FS2.

That’s my personal choice, though.

What about you? What’s the best helicopter simulator for you? Leave your opinion in the comments below. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Sérgio Costa

About Sérgio Costa

Sérgio has been a flight simulation enthusiast for nearly 25 years. His passion with helicopters developed during MSFS 2000 when he discovered the complexity of these aircraft and the challenge it was to control them. Since then he has been primarily a helicopter flight simmer, trying his best not to crash and kill all his virtual passengers. Sérgio is HeliSimmer's editor and writer and one of the Three Grumpy Simmers, a YouTube series and Podcast produced together with YouTubers Bel Geode and NovaWing24, obviously dedicated to flight simulation.

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