Ah… The H125/AS350, whatever you want to call it. The A-Star. The Ecureuil. The Squirrel.
Yes, it has many names.
Joshua Cowan released the H125 for Microsoft Flight Simulator, and I may have gotten a bit excited about it. After all, it’s my favorite (modern) helicopter.
Seeing it in Microsoft Flight Simulator is quite a treat for me, especially since I am using the sim more and more, despite still having some growing pains.
Enough about me and how much I like the real H125, let’s dive right into it but not without a small note: I have been exchanging notes with community member Ryan Van Dell, a real-world H125 pilot with a lot of experience in this model.
The H125 is not on the marketplace yet (and we don’t know when it will be as it depends on Microsoft) which means you’ll have to acquire it outside of the marketplace (at the Cowan Simulation website, for example) and install it manually.
As with any other addon, you’ll have to find your community folder and unzip the H125 into it. It’s as simple as that.
How she looks
Cowan Simulation has done an excellent job with the H125. Yes, there are some imperfections in the model but unless you are making a side-by-side (or layer-by-layer if you are using photoshop) comparison, you probably won’t notice any big issues.
The only section of the helicopter that does raise an eyebrow or two is one that I don’t think I’ve ever seen modeled perfectly on any 3D model, and I’ve seen a few.
That shape is just crazy hard to recreate and a nemesis for a lot of modelers out there. I remember DreamFoil Creations revamped the nose on their AS350 (unfortunately it was never released – at least until now) and I know that was quite hard.
Left photo credits: © Harry Hulsof - Air-Britain Photographic Images Collection
You can see in the images above that the bubble chin shape is a bit off.
But does it take away from the overall look of the helicopter? I don’t think it does. It’s not like the shape is completely botched and deformed and you can’t see it’s an H125, although, once you know it’s there, you know it’s there and you can’t unsee it.
Some other details are not exactly as they should be like the side windows, which have their shapes slightly different and there’s a curve in the back support of the skid that is also a bit off but, again, it’s nothing huge and you won’t even notice it unless you actually compare it with real photos. If you are doing that, you’re either writing a review or you’re doing this sim stuff wrong!
The interior is pretty well done and I’ve seen some folks complaining about blocky shapes which perhaps you can see in the seats, for example, but, again, it’s not really a deal breaker, especially since it’s not something that is right in front of you such a window pillar or the glare shield, for example.
This is quite a nice model and, despite some incorrections, which, again, you really need to be wanting to nitpick to find them out, I can’t say anything negative about it. It’s not a 10, but it’s pretty good.
And so are the textures and liveries. Joshua and the folks helping him out did a great job.
Speaking of liveries, there are 100 of them. I’m not kidding. It’s like livery overload with this helicopter. I doubt you don’t find something you like. But if you don’t, there’s also a paint kit available so, get to it and show us the livery you love!
Before diving “more seriously” into a helicopter, I always take it for a quick spin (no pun intended) just to familiarize myself with the flight dynamics.
I immediately noticed there’s a difference between this helicopter and the default ones – just like there is with the B206 and the MD500 (review pending at the time this review was published but we’ll get to it, I promise).
The H125 immediately felt more responsive. It is a squirrel, after all, right?
I took off, and flew around for a bit, probably with a big stupid smile on my face for flying her again in MSFS. Yes, I know there is another H125 in MSFS, but I flew Joshua’s model a LOT in X-Plane and I missed her in Microsoft’s sim.
The flight model felt pretty close to the one in X-Plane. I did notice a few differences but I will talk about them later. As for the first flight: I was happy. It was time to explore her a bit before diving into it a bit more.
As with other helicopters by Cowan Simulation, there are a few things we can customize on the helicopter. This is something I have seen folks struggle with in the past because they don’t know how to customize the helicopter.
To customize your H125, you’ll have to enter the ‘Weight and Balance’ settings.
In there, you’ll find a few (a lot?) items you can add to the helicopter:
- Passenger left
- Passenger right
- Medical (HEMS) version
- Around the world
- Utility with crate version
- Sling gear
- Cineflex camera
- Wire cutters
- Side basket
- Nose mirror
- Remove front doors
- Bear paws
- Long skid step
Adding the indicated weight will add the item or select the version. Removing the weight will do the opposite.
In case you’re wondering – I’ve seen some of you asking about it – the “around the world” version removes the back of the seats behind the pilot and adds a bunch of stuff: luggage, backpacks, etc. This was a version I asked Joshua about before he released the X-Plane version as this is certainly an amazing helicopter to fly around the globe. And he delivered! Thanks, Joshua!
Oh, and check out the utility version too. That was a very cool surprise for me and awesome of him for doing it. I guess we’ll be delivering helipads?
Documentation is really a weak point for Cowan Simulation. I would rather see a manual being released with the first version of the helicopter. Joshua usually releases this afterward with an update, which I believe will make the life of some folks a bit tough.
Writing documentation is a hassle, I get it – I don’t like doing it myself – but it’s necessary to improve the onboarding of your users. Even with a manual, you’ll have folks asking basic questions. It’s even worse without it.
Systems and sounds
The H125 is a complex machine that makes it all easier for the pilot. Starting her up is nice and simple and it’s well simulated in Cowan Simulation’s H125.
The VEMD is there, doing its job but I wish we could switch the top screen. When we start her up, that screen shows the engine page with temp, torque, and RPM in 3 nice little gauges that I got used to when flying the DreamFoil Creations AS350. While it does appear on startup, once things start to roll, we lose it and we have no way of getting it back, which is a shame.
There’s something I have to talk about which is the throttle. Due to MSFS still having issues with the governor system, assigning a physical throttle may give you some problems. But here’s the thing: the way the H125B3 works is not the same as let’s say a Bell 407 or a Cabri G2 works. The throttle on the B3 is electronic, meaning we position it in a few positions like ‘Flight’ or ‘Idle’. There’s really no “in-between” so to speak as the FADEC does all the work. So, clicking on the throttle instead of rolling it off, at least for me, is not a huge deal, even during the startup or shutdown procedures.
Other than that, everything seems fine.
The sounds are clear and nicely done and while they seem a bit off from what I remember when enjoying AS350s closely, it does remind me of these amazing birds. I think I may be missing the turbine whine which I wish was present a bit more. To be honest, we probably don’t hear it that well from inside the helicopter, which is what matters the most to me.
Flying her some more
After checking out all the customization, starting her up, enjoying everything inside the cockpit moving, and listening to the sounds and some livery changes just for fun it was time to do some more flight testing.
One of the things that I found weird in the beginning was the fact that it didn’t need any major right pedal input. It actually required some left pedal sometimes and that raised a red flag for me. After all, the H125 rotor spins clockwise, meaning it should need right pedal.
And here was where Ryan’s input helped me understand Joshua’s work.
As Ryan puts it, this is the helicopter that can fly around the Everest. This thing is a workhorse and that tail rotor is a beast. It is. So much so that, in some situations you actually need to counter IT instead of the torque, so, left pedal is required. Crazy? I thought so too.
Controlling the Cowan Simulation H125 will require you to be on top of it. Joshua makes his helicopters very responsive, and this is THE responsive helicopter. Remember: it’s a squirrel.
Get into a hover and it will put you through your paces. It’s not a helicopter I would recommend to a newcomer but, at the same time, if you have the discipline and patience to learn how to fly it, you’ll pretty much be at home with any other helicopter.
Something else I found out was that it may require pedal at cruise, which is not normal. Yes, the Bell 407, in real life, does require some pedal due to the way the vertical stab was developed, but it’s not something normal and the H125 should not need it. Yet, it often does and Joshua is aware of the problem, but it's down to some limitations with the SDK. Right now, he is compromising so he can have the behavior he wants on other areas.
Something else that Ryan mentioned as we were exchanging thoughts was the fact that there’s a bit too much power available, which Joshua is already aware of and I am expecting it to be fixed in a future patch.
All in all, the Cowan Simulation H125 behaves quite well and within what’s to be expected, being the squirrely helicopter that its real counterpart is. This is not to say it’s uncontrollable – it’s not. But you do need to keep an eye (or two) on her but that’s part of the charm.
There are some limitations with the sim itself which are hard or impossible to overcome if a developer is not using highly customized coding. Cowan Simulation has decided to use Microsoft’s flight dynamics, which means you should be aware some things may not be exactly as with the real deal.
This doesn’t mean it’s a bad helicopter, though. Quite the opposite. Joshua and his team have done a terrific job.
About the liveries
The helicopter comes with 100 liveries, as I mentioned above but there’s something you should know: with a bit of work, any livery that was created for the Cowan Simulation H125 for X-Plane will work with the MSFS version.
It’s not a direct conversion, meaning it’s not just throwing the texture into the helicopter folder but it’s doable. If you have made your own livery for the X-Plane version and you also have the MSFS one, you can convert your work quite easily.
Here's an example of a livery I had done for X-Plane and converted it to MSFS. It took me more time to remember the structure of the folders and files than to actually get it all to work.
Joshua did it again. The H125 for MSFS is a fantastic helicopter and, as is usual with the Cowan Simulation releases, this is just the first iteration.
All the helicopters released by CowanSim go through a process that comprises an initial release, feedback gathering, bug hunting, and updates that will improve the helicopter, very often adding features and making the product better and better over time.
We are still in the first iteration of the H125, which means there’s a road ahead that will bring us better versions.
But this doesn’t mean the H125 is an unfinished or a bad product. This is an excellent first iteration. The flight dynamics are already fantastic, systems are working very well, and Joshua has offered us a huge amount of customization and a crazy number of liveries.
The Cowan Simulation H125 is a great product, super fun to fly, and very close to the real thing (according to Ryan’s feedback).
Do I recommend it? Oh yes, I do. Go get it.
Thank you to Ryan Van Dell for the insights and feedback as I was writing this article.