We all know the drill: helicopter pilots are a minority. Most people prefer fixed-wing aircraft. What happens when you introduce them to helicopters?
I love attending flight sim events. Granted, I haven’t been able to attend a lot of them, but the ones I have were absolutely amazing.
The contact with other simmers, talking to those that have never tried simming, showing the sim I use, talk about the brilliant Pro-Flight-Trainer Puma (I’m not trying to advertise anything here – I do love the kit and I cannot imagine myself flying helicopters in my sim without it). All that makes for a wonderful experience.
Most of the people I find in these events rarely or never tried flying a helicopter in their sims (or have never simmed at all). I found maybe two persons that have had some experience with helicopters. And, even them, had a blast while trying the PFT kit (again, not trying to advertise it).
In the events I have attended, people have a natural tendency for fighters or airliners. GA falls somewhere in the middle. And then they spot me and “my” helicopters. And the curiosity kicks in.
People are very curious about these machines. Perhaps even more as they realize there’s no one else dedicated to these virtual machines. So, they want to try it. I have had lines of people willing to give it a try. A lot of times I’ve had more people waiting in line to give it a try than any other of the guys around me. Being the only one with a given aircraft does that to you. And the darn curiosity!
“I’ve never tried helicopters” – I often hear from visitors – or “I’ve tried them but I really don’t get them”. Been there, done that, I tell them. I have started flying helicopters some 12 years ago in FS2004 and that didn’t go well.
I’ve been simming for over 20 years and by the time I started to get curious about helicopters, I gave it a shot with all my ignorance. I started my flight on the Bell 206, cranked up the “throttle” and crashed. And then crashed again. And again.
When I finally got it off the ground, I didn’t know what to do so I started playing with the joystick and the throttle, trying to understand what did what. And I gave up.
It was time to find some information about helicopters. I really wanted to give them a proper try. And, you see, that’s the first step for becoming a helicopter pilot (even a virtual one): resilience. And stubbornness. Lots, and lots, and lots of stubbornness. Lots.
I’ve learned all I could about helicopters and tried to evolve in this new challenge. I was starting to get hooked. And I never looked back. Helicopters now occupy 99.999% of my simming time.
I start by telling people a bit of this story because they need to realize helicopters are not easy. For those that tried it, it’s important for them to understand that they are not failing in this challenge. They just need to practice a lot, get their gear and sim straight and off they go.
For those trying helicopters for the first time, I really need to prepare them for what’s coming.
I tell them how helicopters work (the best I can in 2 minutes or less). I present them to the controls, tell them what they do and what they should expect. Point them a few numbers that they should have in mind for takeoff and put them in control.
And they crash. And crash. And crash again. And one more time.
But you know what? They don’t give up. They want to try it again and again. They now have the concept in their mind. They now know helicopter are challenging. But they still want to try them. They still want to takeoff and fly around.
I’m a mean guy though. I get them to try DreamFoil’s AS350 with the same settings I use in my regular simming (no stabilization, no curves, all hardcore). And they fail, of course. They have no chance. But they realize how sensitive helicopters are and how much you have to be on top of them.
By now, they have a new respect for the machine and the pilots. And they do it because they now know that they are not crashing out of ignorance (no disrespect intended) but because helicopters are really, REALLY hard.
I switch the helicopter to the X-Trident’s Bell 412 and tell them things will go better this time. Some of them crash a couple more times but then they start getting the hang of it. They take off and fly around. With a helicopter. For the first time.
The smile on their faces is priceless and the people behind us (there’s usually at least one or two persons watching, curiously, as the person trying the sim is trying so hard to do something so “basic” as taking off.
After a quick flight, it’s time to land and, again, things don’t get easy. Some manage to land, some crash. Some ask to try the AS350 again. And those watching it all become the next in line to try flying a virtual helicopter.
A few days ago, at an event, the folks behind the organization gave it a try as well, at the end of the day. One of them challenged the other to land on a bridge (with the 412) and, suddenly, we had a nice, fun, healthy competition between them. There were 4 sims in the room but they were all gathered around the helicopter sim, watching their colleagues giving their best shot, cheering for them.
I believe a lot of simmers out there don’t give helicopters a chance because they don’t either have the time to learn them or don’t know how to learn them (we can help). When they sit in front of the monitor and I start guiding them, stuff gets clear, they have a lending hand and they start to relax and have a blast.
And I have a blast as well. I love it. And people love helicopters. They just don’t know it yet!