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Written by Connor Stephenson   
Friday, 30 August 2013 20:20

Simulators – Learning to Fly

2007. The Year this expensive hobby found my 14 year old self.

When Uncle Pete was inspired to get back into the hobby after a 20 odd year break, I followed. It was then we bought Realflight G3 and started to learn, shortly after joining North Leeds Model Flying Club and buying an OS 52 powered Tutor 40.

Starting on what everyone starts on, Mode 2 (throttle left), as provided and advised by our local modelshop, it was soon realised that the vast majority of the club at that time, actually flew Mode 1. Making this change wasn’t the easiest thing, since Uncle Pete had the simulator on Mode 2. Changing this to mode 1 and the Futaba 6EXA, we took a few weeks off from eating, socialising to just sit and fly infront of a screen until our brains realised that Mode 1 was the way forward.

Why the change? Aerobatics being a route I wanted to go down, we were told it would be easier to learn aerobatics on mode 1, with the ailerons and elevator being separated from each other. Looking back I’m not sure it matters, there are equally good pilots who fly all manner of modes, it’s just whatever suits you. I’ve had experiences where I’ve wished the rudder was separate to the other 2, I know of people who fly with the throttle reversed, there are all manor of arguments for each one. My flying advanced quite dramatically on Mode 1 so it seemed to have sunk in.

When I started, Simulators were very much in the early stages of development. Companies like Great Planes had brought out there Simulator, Realflight G3 (now onto G6.5), Ikarus were just thinking about Aerofly Pro Deluxe and Phoenix didn’t exist. Countless conversations have sprung up about people not being able to take simulators seriously due to a few reasons:

-       It doesn’t feel real

-       It’s not real

-       The models aren’t like my own

-       In real life, I can’t just press a button and my model is fixed

-       “Fear Factor”

All these are things I’ve experienced with many different simulators, but one point still remains, inputs. Certainly, a few years ago the physics in some simulators were, in want of a better word, crap, and could only be seen as a “toy”, however the physics in any decent simulator these days won’t be far off spot on.

Yes the model might fly lighter, heavier, faster, slower, easier, harder than what you might fly at your local club field, but I wouldn’t mind betting it’ll help you with inputs, what to look for in so far as the model in the air and different phases of flight. You’ll make mistakes, lots of mistakes, but as I’ve already said, one button and the model re-appears, eventually you’ll learn how to get out of these mistakes, an experience you can take to the field and probably save you money and time!

Nowadays you can change the weather to quite a high degree of realism, with such things as wind, gusts, Variable wind direction, turbulence, thermals, conditions that actually exist in the real world. On the one I use which we’ll talk about later, you can add in radio failure, so you might have to fly the model to a safe landing with one aileron, or interference, not so much of a toy now, is it?

Obviously there isn’t a “fear” as such of crashing, but why spend £120+ and then fly round crashing all the time, give yourself aims, practice things you’re struggling with at the field, with a model similar to yours. You might struggle with the landing approach with your trainer, so practice with a trainer, not a 20lb F-16. Of course it should be fun, if you aren’t enjoying it you won’t learn.

To sum this section up then, Simulators can be used as an extremely useful tool. From starting my full size flying I was asked if I had a simulator, they agreed that for them it was a very useful tool, even to just keep their eye in when the weather isn’t so good, exactly like we could as modellers.

 Connor Stephenson