How flying helicopters made me a better simmer

Nov 08, 2016 | by Sérgio Costa
Like a lot of simmers out there, I have been using flight simulators for over 20 years. I've flown every kind of aircraft, all over the world, with and without using proper procedures. But it was helicopters that made me a better simmer.

How flying helicopters made me a better simmer

Helicopter simmers are a special bunch. We are not better or worse than other simmers. We are just special in the same sense a simmer that does 7-hour hauls is special. Or in the same way that a simmer that flies around Alaska in very nasty weather is special.

Just like those that fly the long-hauls or love the challenge of terrible weather, helicopters have great challenges to offer. And, just like with those other 2 types of flights, it requires you to have an extra dose of patience and be very focused.

Helicopters offered me a huge challenge. I had to start understanding a bit more about the physics behind these birds as well as adapt to my sim's flight engine in a way that fixed-wings never forced me to. I also had to change my hardware a bit and to handle the controls much more smoothly than before.

In time, I started getting the hang of controlling helicopters and became more and more precise with my controls - both the throttle (which is my collective) and the joystick (the cyclic).

Approaching Lisbon International Airport (LPPT)

I also started planning my landings a bit more carefully, giving me enough room to be able to react in case something went wrong. This was particularly true when I started using X-Plane and DCS. You see, FSX/P3D are very forgiving when it comes to modeling helicopters. Things like Vortex Ring State does not exist (unless you use HTR) so, in these seems, you can pretty much position yourself over a runway at 1000 feet, crank the cyclic down and there you go. Use some caution not to slam into the ground and you have landed.

Doing such a maneuver using HTR or in X-Plane or DCS will get you a few feet lower than the ground. You will crash. VRS will come into effect and you'll fall out of the sky.

This is a nasty effect that occurs when your horizontal speed is near zero and your vertical speed is quite high. To prevent this you will need to bleed off altitude while moving at a convenient and safe speed forward. So I had to start planning my landings a bit better.

Yes, you also have to do that on a fixed-wing aircraft. The thing is that I allowed myself to do some errors while approaching the runway because, let's face it, other that stalling or missing the runway, the risk with a fixed-wing was not too big. On a helicopter, things could turn very ugly, very fast.

When I transition to fixed-wing aircraft, all the stuff that I had to learn for helicopters kick in naturally and I realized that I was in much more control of my aircraft the whole time and I also paid a lot more attention to procedures, the surroundings and how to perform my maneuvers.

Flying a C172

Again, I'm not saying that helicopter pilots are better than other pilots. We are different. We learn different stuff and use what we learn in our virtual world to have the most fun we have with our hobby. Just like other simmers do.

What I have noticed, though, is that flying helicopters greatly helped me become a well-rounded simmer and allowed me to learn other things quicker. As such, it has greatly contributed to my enjoyment of this hobby we all love and cherish.

What about you? What is it that you think greatly helped you become a better simmer? Let us know in the comments below.

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'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.