Rotorway Flight Simulator


I have traveled all across this incredible country of ours providing flight instruction in a number of different helicopters. A few years back I was asked to travel to western South Dakota near Mt. Rushmore to fly a Rotorway helicopter flight simulator that Greg Anderson is developing with the help of Brett Sumpter. I had never flown a helicopter flight simulator so this sounded like it would be a lot of fun. What Greg was interested in was to see how someone with Rotorway Helicopter experience felt about the realism of his flight simulator.

It is usually quite cold in that part of the country around February so I was glad that this flying was going to be accomplished in the comfort of Greg's cozy log home. Here is Greg's story:

After I bought my Exec kit and ordered the KISS Aviation turbine conversion I had a lot of dead time to think about flying this helicopter. I had seen some flight simulators that looked like they would be fun to play with and may even provide some training benefit while I waited for parts. At first I was going to just get a basic system using minimal components, but as I searched for the appropriate controls it looked like a fairly realistic system could be built at relatively (everything's relative) modest cost. So I decided to see how close I could come to an accurate flying experience without leaving the basement.

The hardware layout is comprised of the Flight Link Advanced Rotor Wing Package, which is a set of full-size helicopter controls; cyclic, collective, throttle, and AT pedals. A desktop computer running Windows 2000 was assembled with an AMD XP 1800+ processor, 1GB of DDR RAM, and an ATI Pro 9000 video card with 64MB of DDR RAM. An NEC VT540 digital projector provides a life-sized view of the world out front. The projector screen was made from a sheet of flat white vinyl laminated to 1/4 inch plywood and the seat came from Summit Racing.

X-Plane flight simulator software was used because it is the only moderately priced gaming software whose aircraft fly based on aerodynamics rather than programmed responses to control inputs. When you move the controls in X-Plane you are actually changing the control surfaces of the programmed aircraft model and the aircraft is responding to changes in its airfoils. Also, X-Plane allows you to create an aircraft from scratch and fly it according to its aerodynamics. This feature allowed an Exec 162 and a Jet Exec to be designed and flown in the simulator with performance similar to the real thing.

Brett Sumpter, an experienced virtual aircraft designer, helicopter pilot, and genuine nice guy, graciously volunteered to create the Exec and Jet Exec for the simulator. To do this he used virtually all the data on the helicopter's airfoils, aerodynamics, engine power, control settings and weight & balance. For instance, the main rotor blades are modeled using their NACA profile, length, weight, rotating speed and angle of attack at full-up and full down collective. (When the simulator's collective is full-down the main rotor in the virtual model is at -1.5?, just as on the real thing.)

Brett also constructs an image of the aircraft from a 3D drawing that provides both aerodynamic info to the program and provides the proper visual effect for the pilot. The Exec and Jet Exec visual models shown are prototype silhouette images and the instrument cluster is also a generic cluster that is being used while the kinks are being worked out of the control system.

After putting the thing together and getting the models from Brett the only thing left to do was call in an unbiased expert to evaluate how accurately the whole contraption recreated the flying experience. So I called Orv Neisingh to try it out and tell me what I needed to do to make it right.

When I first arrived at Greg's beautiful log home in the hill country near Mt. Rushmore, we went right to work getting acquainted with the flight simulator. With the realistic helicopter cyclic, collective, throttle, and anti torque pedal controls the simulator has the feel of really being in an Exec. The simulator was actually pretty good at mimicking the way that the Exec helicopter flies with a few exceptions that need to be addressed by the program modeler.

The simulator is very good for learning the coordination of the helicopter controls with the other control inputs. As in the real helicopter, when power is added, the helicopter yaws to the left in the Exec models and to the right in the R22 and other models. As the simulator pilot adds collective and the helicopter begins to get light on the skids, the nose of the simulator Exec begins to turn to the left. The pilot must coordinate the addition of the proper amount of anti-torque pedal with the additional collective input to keep the nose from yawing.

As the collective is raised further the helicopter begins to slide forward and to the left, just like the real helicopter does. This movement is stopped by adding just the right amount of aft and right cyclic input. As the collective is further raised, the simulator pilot must coordinate all of the controls to keep the helicopter from yawing and sliding while he lifts it into a hover.

At this point the controls still need a bit of tweaking. On my first simulator pick-up the helicopter shot backwards and with application of forward cyclic it did a nose dive with predictable results. We tried a number of pick-ups and all had the same results due to either a glitch in the controls or the software. That is actually the reason that Greg had me travel the 2200 miles to fly the simulator. In order to have a realistic Rotorway flight simulation, the simulator needed to be test flown by someone with Rotorway helicopter experience.

Once we got the feel of the helicopter simulation we were able to fly realistic hover taxi, air taxi, and take off profiles. The approaches were not hard but when the helicopter got close to the ground in a hover it again had the tendency to shoot backwards as we landed. As you can see from the above photo, the simulated helicopter can and will crash when it is subjected to situations and control inputs that would cause the real helicopter to experience a dynamic rollover. We did crash this one several times during the learning phase, but unlike the real helicopter that usually requires a $30,000.00 rebuild after a rollover, the simulated helicopter is ready to fly with a click of the computer's mouse. When the software is adjusted correctly the helicopter should pick up just like the Exec and should give a very realistic hover and flight experience.

Once we had the feel for the simulator, we flew the Exec 162f and the Jet Exec from a number of airports that are accurately portrayed on the screen. Greg even took off from the Grand Canyon airport and flew down into the canyon and followed the Colorado River to Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam.

Overall I think that Greg is onto something here. When the simulator is complete with the final modeling of the controls and software finalized, this simulator will be a big help for anyone that is just getting into helicopter flight. The greatest advantage is from the realistic way that the simulated helicopter reacts to changes in the control inputs. The student pilot can learn the function of and interaction of the helicopter controls in the comfort of their own home prior to actually getting into the real helicopter.

Greg plans on flying his simulator and becoming proficient with it as he build his Jet Exec. In May Greg is planning on coming to our helicopter flight training facility here in Missouri to try his hand in our new R22. It will be interesting to see how much of a difference using the simulator makes in the rate of his learning to fly the real thing.

More flying adventures to come in the next issue.

Fly safe and enjoy those helicopters,

Orv Neisingh R/H CFI