The 5 things you need to start flying helicopters

Are you a helicopter fan? Or perhaps one of those curious minds that always wanted to learn more about helicopters? Or you're just looking for the next challenge? Believe me: helicopters offer you a lot of those. Here are the 5 things you need to start flying helicopters.

DreamFoil Creations Bell 407 for X-Plane

Helicopters are amazing machine. They can hover, fly vertically, backwards and sideways. But all this comes at a cost. Helicopters are unstable platforms that will require you to be on top of them the whole time.

There are no shortcuts when you are learning to fly helicopters. There are no magic tricks and no secret that will get you flying these birds in no time.

Do you want to learn how to master them? Here's how to get started:

1. The obvious: get a flight simulator

Sounds about right. You do need a flight simulator. Which one? That's up to you. Do you want something easier or harder to fly? Helicopter simmers usually want the full experience and get it all as realistic as possible. This also means "hard as h*ll"!

Check out our article about the best sim for helicopters. Chances are you already have a great sim and you can do pretty well with it. There's no wrong sim out there in the market to get you started but if you want to simulate things are realistic as possible, you will need to use the right sim.

2. Keep the frames high

Helicopters need all our attention at all times and they will require you to constantly move your controls. Keeping the FPS high will mean that everything will be smooth. You will see everything as it happens and your control inputs will get into the sim when they are needed.

Get some better hardware or lower your sim visuals if you need but you should keep those frames at, at least 20 FPS. Anything lower than this and you will find yourself having a huge amount of trouble to control your helicopters.

3. Get a good joystick and pedals

I can't stress this enough. Especially the pedals part.

We need to control all axis of a helicopter. We need to be able to counter the action of the rotor by using the tail rotor which is controlled by the pedals. If you can't get some nice pedals, at least try to get a joystick with a twist grip or a HOTAS with rudder control. I have used both for years before purchasing my first rudder pedals and it worked just fine.

If you can, get a joystick that will allow you to remove or compress the centering spring. Reducing the force or removing the centering will make a difference. Check out some of the comments on that article.

If you can, get a dedicated helicopter kit. Helicopter controls are made the way they are for a reason -- they work -- and these kits replicate that.

Good hardware always makes a difference. This is particularly true for helicopters.

4. Practice, practice, practice

Sorry guys, there's no other way. You will need to practice. Then practice some more. Helicopters are not easy to control and you will need quite a few amount of time in order to start flying them decently.

Practice your hovers, practice your takeoffs and practice your landings. If you are using X-Plane or DCS you will find approaches and landings to be extra hard because of VRS (Vortex Ring State). How's that for an extra challenge?

5. Be (very) patient

You will crash and crash and crash and have rough landings and then crash some more. It will happen as you try to learn how to master these beasts. You will feel frustrated and think about giving up. You will see no progress. You will want to throw your computer of out the window.

Helicopters. Are. Hard. You will need to accept that. They are even harder to control on computers because you have less peripheral vision and no physical feedback. Pilots feel a lot of the aircraft -- often more than they actually see -- and that helps them get ahead of the machine.

When we use a sim, we are dealing with diminished visuals, physical sensation, computer gaming hardware (such as joysticks) and a complete lack of proper training (at least most of us).

Be patient. Very patient. Get a good sim, good hardware and practice a lot. Eventually things will get on track and you'll find yourself enjoying the amazing sensation of fully controlling a helicopter.

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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