For a great many years military and civilian flight training centers have recognized that there are better ways to teach some things than turning a pilot loose in the actual aircraft to sort things out. Ground schooling with textbooks and video aids is still as important as ever, and no pilot can be completely trained without in-air practice and hands-on experience. But simulators, mostly computer-based, have become recognized as a very effective and completely safe method of training.
Flight simulators have been available to RC'ers for several years, and the number of options is increasing yearly. Dave Brown has updated the software for his DOS-based simulators, and Skylark has a high-end simulator also available for DOS machines.
One of the lesser known simulators is the "R/C Aerochopper made by Ambrosia Microcomputer Products, Inc., 98 W. 63rd Street, Suite 371, Willowbrook, IL 60514. Their phone is (708) 655-0610. This unit is available in versions for IBM compatibles (286 or better), Amiga, Atari ST and Apple Macintosh computers. On all but the Mac it will run in color. R/C Aerochopper is the only simulator presently available for the Macintosh. It will run on the Plus, Classic and SE models (only).
Regardless of the computer, R/C Aerochopper lists at around $229. For this you get the software, cables, manuals and a specially modified Futaba transmitter that plugs into your serial port. The software I got was for the Apple Macintosh, and it is a small program that uses very little disk space or RAM. The software is not copy protected (since it's nearly useless without the transmitter) and is installed by simply copying to your hard disk. If you don't have a hard disk you can run the software from a floppy.
Included in all versions are simulations for four fixed wing and three helicopter models. The airplanes include a trainer, 'pattern' plane, ducted fan and a glider. The helis are two small models and one "60" chopper.
All aircraft can have flight characteristics altered to make them perform more or less however you wish. You can adjust weights, control "inertia," linearity of controls and interaction of controls (pitch and roll, etc.) as well as setting top and bottom collective settings. Weather and aircraft situation options are also offered.
Rather than list all the options available, this short review will look more at the practical use of this simulator.
To start with the bad news first, (since there's not much of it), R/C Aerochopper will NOT help anyone learn to program their computer radios. The interface, terminology and methods for adjusting aircraft response are not remotely similar to real-world. Also, you can program flight characteristics that are far from realistic, which isn't a drawback if you avoid it. And finally, as with all simulators, you do not have the three-dimensional visual feedback that is necessary for absolute realism.
None of these items detract from the ability of a pilot to make serious gains in piloting skills by using the simulator. With a model setup that's similar to your own heli, you can practice anything from tail-in hover to inverted aerobatics without risking more than a screen message telling you your model has been "completely destroyed" by your mistakes. Mere seconds later you're done with repairs and ready to take off again, no blood, sweat, swearing or Visa charges.
Within a few minutes I was able to approximate the handling of my Enforcer. I played for a bit, hovering and trying some forward flight, and found that I got comfortable quickly. Next, I took off and kicked the tail out for some nose-in hover. Within a few minutes of maneuvering I'd totally demolished my copter several times and accidently decapitated myself once. (I hate it when that happens!) This was about what was expected - the reason for buying the simulator in the first place was to develop some skills and reflexes for nose-in and inverted flight. In real life I'd had some difficulty with these flight attitudes, and was nervous about risking equipment. And that's the beauty of the simulators. You can practice nose-in (or any other attitude) until the control inputs become reflex. Then when you really DO have your chopper in the sky the time lag between brain and thumbs is greatly reduced or eliminated - and this means decreased likelyhood of expensive crashes and lengthy rebuilds.
Due to rotten flying weather I had about 20 hours of practice on the R/C Aerochopper before local weather improved to a flyable level. Most of that time was spend practicing nose-in and inverted flight. The next time I flew the Enforcer, the usefulness of the simulator became obvious. Despite a 15 mph wind I had very little trouble with nose-in maneuvering. My main problem with inverted hover was improper throttle and pitch curve setup, which was easily changed with the Infinity 660. The basic "mechanics" of the control inputs were almost reflexive - I didn't decapitate myself even once.
A couple of my good pattern-flying buddies from Utah who also fly helis took a shot at the simulator, and they were equally impressed with the realism of the software. Both agreed that the simulator could help develop reflexes necessary for unusual flight attitudes without risking expensive machines.
In all, I highly recommend the R/C Aerochopper or ANY simulator for the novice or intermediate heli pilot. The control inputs are realistic enough to hone your reflexes without busting up your helicopter. What more could you want?

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